“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end.”
So said the King to the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
People always ask me how I became a writer. The question makes you wonder if one ever becomes a writer. I grew up with so many books in the house. So did my two sisters and my brother, but it was only I who “became” a writer or who chose to be a writer or who fell in love with the idea of becoming a writer.
As a child, books held as much promise to me as the ticket booth for a carnival ride. Each book was a gateway to a strange new world. I began, like all children, with the fairy tales. As I got a little older, maybe five or six, no longer content with my mother reading me bedtime stories of her own choosing, I’d arrange to have a trip to National Book Store, my childhood Disneyland, my childhood Timezone, and I’d find myself at the shelf containing the LadyBird Series, little hardbound books that unlocked the worlds of Rapunzel, Puss in Boots, The Elves and the Shoemaker, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Pinocchio, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and more.
To me, the move to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was a big one. Whereas my Ladybird collection was one of miniature editions, my copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a big book, a real book with so many pages, more words than pictures. With that book in my hands, I felt like proclaiming to the world: “I am no longer a child.”
There were many sequels to L. Frank Baum’s work, some of which I read with as much gusto, particularly the first sequel The Marvelous Land of Oz and the third, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. The fourth sequel, The Road to Oz, was my last of the Oz books. That Road to Oz was my superhighway to adult fiction as from it, I advanced rather precociously to Harold Robbins‘s A Stone for Danny Fisher, my introduction to life as we live it, as I know it now, rife with pride and shame, virtue and vice, good and evil, poverty and riches, deprivation and indulgence — and sex, lots of it.
This is how it began. I thank God for my many adventures with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, Thumbelina, and The Little Mermaid, who all led me to yet greater adventures and exploits. When I began writing professionally, especially when I began writing for a magazine, I resented it that I spent so much of my childhood between the covers of these books and yet, when I could use them for an article as metaphors or allusions, I always found myself chasing the details to oblivion.
That was because in high school, tired of spending my life in the company of fictional characters, I decided to live it in the cafes, in the clubs, in the company of friends. I put my books in boxes and cast them aside. It was only when I found myself writing for a living that I rekindled my love affair with books and with words. It took me many years to get back in the habit, but I did get back and my world as well as my writing was so much richer for it.
I was a reader, a happy reader, an obsessive reader. That was how I became a writer. I am a reader still, not always happy, not as obsessive as I used to be, but only because many other things take up my time, as they should.
This is why, I think, for me, no matter how much I’ve done, no matter how much discipline and love I pour into it, writing will be always be a struggle, demanding great effort, as it should.