In fifth grade I fell in love with a book.  I read the tale cover-to-cover with the single-minded obsession that’s unleashed in me whenever I find a compelling story.  The next week, at the school library, I turned my book in and checked out the sequel.

I liked my book so much I bought a paperback copy at the school book-fair.  Not wanting my book to be lonely I bought the sequel too.  In seventh grade, on the way home from school I left my book on the bus.  The next day a girl I knew handed it back to me.  Inside the front cover she had written my name in pencil, but she spelled my last name wrong.  Her handwriting distinguishes the copy as mine to this very day.

My book moved with me from mom’s house to dad’s house and back-and-forth again and again.  It followed me to the dorms in college, lived in a handful of apartments, and joined me for the years at my grandparents’ house.  Today it sits in my condo on the bookshelf in our living room.  Every year or two, no matter where I live or what has changed in my life, I scan my shelves looking for something to read.  Inevitably my hand falls on the worn spine of my book, because this is the tale that speaks to me over all the others on my shelves.

However, it wasn’t until winter dumped mountains of snow upon us last month that I realized the depth of what my book has done.  For the first time since I’ve started writing seriously, I went and pulled my book off its shelf.  I opened the cover, passed over my handwritten incorrectly spelled name, and turned to Chapter 1.

I worried that maybe this time it would be different.  That my writer’s brain would over analyze the author’s use of adverbs and choice for point of view.  That I would no longer get lost in the story because somehow, after twenty-three years, I had out grown the tale.  The story began and for the first two pages my brain screamed—throwing all my doubts at me.  By the third page the voice was talking, by the fourth whispering, and by the fifth it was silent.  Because this was my book, and it carries the magic that makes me want to be a writer.

It was just as I remembered, but at the same time it was different too.  I traveled with my heroine as she began a long, hard journey, and I thought Hey, that’s like in Color Eater.  I saw the places she traveled because of the vivid detail and dead-on imagery, and I thought Hey, that’s like in Color Eater.  I saw two minor characters subtly named after cartoon characters that were linked to one another, and I thought Hey, that’s like in Color Eater.  Page after page went by.  I loved every one of them, but by the end I knew what was different.

It’s not that her story was like the book I’ve been writing, it’s that my story was like the book she had written decades ago.  It’s that the author’s voice has spoken to me from the age of ten, and somewhere along the way her book became a part of me.  Whatever modicum of skill I possess was unconsciously modeled after her talent, and she is an aspect of the voice I hear when I write.  And I realized if I ever write something that shapes a whole person’s being, that’s when I will have done it right.

Cynthia Voigt changed my life when she wrote Homecoming.  I just didn’t know it until now.

I wonder if she has a book too?

 

p.s. This piece was written for an old blog of mine in March of 2013. At that time, I also forwarded this to Ms. Voigt. I was sitting on my boyfriend’s couch when the reply email came in, and I just kept saying, “She wrote back! She wrote back! She wrote back!” It took me a good twenty minutes before I could explain to him who had written back. It’s one of my favorite writer memories.

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