I have always been a voracious reader, beginning at a very young age. By the time I hit kindergarten I was well into chapter books.
As a child, when I got in trouble and was disciplined, my mother stopped sending me to my bedroom for punishment because I was quite content to spend the afternoon in there, curled up on the bed reading (instead of thinking about how naughty I had been). So, I was sent to my parent’s bedroom where they had this tiny bookshelf of volumes by Agatha Christie and Rex Stout (good ol’ Archie, my first childhood crush).
So naturally, I started reading these (in secret, of course) – and if need be – used the dictionary to make sense of them.
My Grandmother’s house was old with a basement that had a dirt floor. I hated that basement. It was full of spiderwebs and smelled of dank. And given she was a woman of the depression, it was packed with ancient preserves, old egg cartons, and stacks of faded newspapers. But there was this little room in the back with shelves full of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series. Paperback books published in the 40s and 50s. (All of which I still have). And somehow, each time we visited I would find the courage to brave the steep wooden stairs and shadowy corners to get to that room and to that shelf.
Though my Grandmother is long dead, I still reread these books to this day. As a child, I liked the challenge of figuring out the murderer. As an adult, I appreciate the meticulous way Gardner plots and writes his stories. The characters are smart, witty and delightful. And when I started teaching myself to write, it is the Perry Mason stories I emulated (I wrote long lists of legal questions and answers mimicking cross-examination, but really I was far more interested in describing murder).
It is to Gardner, I attribute the seeds of my life-long love of mystery and suspense.
He died on March 11, 1970 — before I was born — but he has been ever so influential in my writing career. And for that, I thank him for sharing his talent with the world.
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