5 Awesome Advancements

You may know that I tend to rant like an old man when it comes to technology. I launch enthusiastically into “when I was a kid” speeches without invitation. And let’s face it: the SciFi industry has capitalized on apocalyptic visions of the future. I’ll be the first person to admit that it’s a whole lot of fun to explore a future world that is troubled or even warped. And most of us are able to look at our own history and admit some of the negatives that technology has brought into society. So this post is about the positive fruits of advancing technology!

1.Connectivity. Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming how connected we are to the world. I mean, should you really be trying to keep up with all 400 Facebook friends? But it is pretty miraculous how you can move across the country and still be provided glimpses into the lives of the people you left behind. Plus cell phones, Skype/Facetime, e-mail and on and on.

2. Transportation. Cars. Airplanes. Railroads. The ability to travel all over the world. Need I say more?

3. Movies. Don’t judge me for this one, but I am a storyteller at heart! When you think about it, it is pretty amazing that we can create stories in such an immersive way. Although there is a lot of fluff and wasted million-dollar-budgets floating around out there, I could list a number of movies that have positively impacted me. Movies can raise awareness about unknown issues, they can give us a glimpse of how our fellow humans on another continent live, they can encourage and inspire us, and they can convict us to change our lives or the way we see other people.

Two recent examples for me were “The Life of Pi” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” I wasn’t super impressed with Pi up until the very end when it struck a resounding gong inside my heart. I used to work with broken teenage girls who would make up stories and cause a whole lot of fuss just to avoid dealing with the past traumas in their lives. And Mitty just may be the best movie ever made. Full of fun, adventure, beautiful scenery, and thoughts about what living your life should look like it comforts and inspires me! Movies are pretty awesome. I wonder what comes next? I’m not gonna lie, I’ve always been inspired by the holo deck on Star Trek. Would I like to live out an adventure?

4. Music. Music is balm for the soul. I rarely think about this, but back in the day, music was more of a privilege for the upper class and even for them it wasn’t always accessible. Now I have music from all over the world and several hundred years back in time at my fingertips! Maybe in the future, in my holo deck, I can have a five piece string ensemble constantly serenading me while I write.

5. Medicine. These days there seems to be a lot of debate about different developing medicines, or even well-established ones. But I don’t think anyone can deny that it is miraculous how much modern medicine can assist those who are handicapped/disabled. Wheelchairs. Prosthetics. Surgery. Quality of life is increasing for so many people.

If you could invent one thing to make life better, what would it be?

Overstimulation vs Real Life

My family went bowling the other night. It was a new bowling alley. My parents had never been on a Friday night and I hadn’t been at all. We were all a little taken aback when we found gigantic TV screens everywhere, lights turned down, and loud music pumping. Granted, half of the building is a sports bar. But even the bowling section seemed more dedicated to TV and food than bowling. Our biggest complaint was that the guide arrows half way down the alley were invisible in the dark (I will put in here that my family has a long bowling tradition. We take it pretty seriously). We all bowled terrible. The noise and flashing images were completely distracting.

After one game we abandoned ship to go watch a movie. Appropriately, my dad chose “Star Trek: Insurrection.” The movie itself was a bit of a flop. But the content was interesting. At the center of the plot was a community of people (the Ba’ku) who was as technologically advanced as Starfleet, but chose to abandon that technology for a simpler lifestyle.

Those who know me probably know how often I get frustrated by technology saturation. (This may well be the first of many rants) But I can’t deny how attractive it is and how easily I get sucked into it. Not only is it alarmingly easy to binge watch T.V. shows on Hulu, waste hours on Facebook, pretend you are living someone else’s life on Pinterest, and watch tutorials on YouTube, but there is significant peer pressure to do so.

When I do take breaks from social media, people guilt trip me for not keeping up with them. As soon as I take a break from Pinterest my friend tells me all the practical ways its changed her life for the better. And then there’s the fact that if I cut out social media/technology from my life to spend time with people, most of those people are spending time on technology themselves. So I am left alone and disconnected from the world and I inevitably feel like I am missing out on life (as if life were now defined by the internet). That’s why a “coordinated attack” is probably the only really viable option. As with other things, it’s important to find people in your life who share the same values.

But I am not saying that all this technology is necessarily bad. It just changes how you live your life. Like anything, it can be unhealthy when it is abused. Through it all, make sure you have real connections with real people in your life.

Review of A Passage to India

I’ve heard E. M. Forster’s name thrown around in the literary world, but didn’t know much about him. I finally picked up a copy of “A Passage to India” in a used bookstore because I’ve seen it often pop up on those “100 books to read before you die” lists. But to be honest, I was expecting him to be pretentious and overbearing (especially when writing about colonization). I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Take a look at two of his quotes from the book:

“Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend. There are periods in the most thrilling day during which nothing happens, and though we continue to exclaim ‘I do enjoy myself’ or ‘I am horrified’ we are insincere. ‘As far as I feel anything, it is enjoyment, horror’ – it’s no more than that really, and a perfectly adjusted organism would be silent.” E.M. Forster

“Adventures do occur, but not punctually. Life rarely gives us what we want at the moment we consider appropriate.” E.M. Forster

The book was peppered with small insights like this that increased its interest for me. In addition to that, I thought his characters were very well thought out and patiently exposed.

All that being said, it wasn’t my favorite book. But it was definitely one that lodged itself in my mind. His fascinating three-fold division of the book from Mosque, Caves, and Temple as a typification of cross-cultural relationships is pretty brilliant. As I understood it:

“Mosque” is the honeymoon stage. It is the stage when you see similarities and are delighted by differences. It is the stage when you see the mistakes your countrymen have made and determine to be different.

“Caves” comes after some time has passed. Usually some larger event helps you to see the insurmountable differences between your two cultures. You become disillusioned. Your loyalty returns to your home country and the familiarity and protection it affords. Emotions like frustration, anger, bitterness, and judgment crop up. Sometimes this isn’t one big event, but a lot of smaller events.

“Temple” is the final phase, which I might say that not everyone reaches. It comes after more time has passed and you have re-established your identity with your own culture. Some of the fondness for the new culture returns. You reunite with old friends and are now able to establish a mutual respect without demanding that each other change. You both acknowledge the degrees of separation between you and are able to be respectful of each others’ culture.

At this point in the book, however, “India” and “England” separate because they are unable to be friends. But I think if he had changed the ending there would have been a fourth stage although I’m not sure what it would have been called.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book and I salute the author.

Oh the Drama

Portrait of little girl crying with tears rolling down her cheek

So this post kind of springs off of one I wrote a few days ago about conflict. Not long ago when I actually started researching tips about writing I came across a common piece of advice, which I like to call, “Amp up the drama!” It boils down to this: Find a scene dull? Pour in tension. Ask yourself how the situation could be worse. Throw in miscommunication, bad weather, terrible timing, etc.

Now, as a reader I had already picked up on this. There are so many times when I recognized, “That was the worst possible moment he could have asked her that question.” Or think about the scene from “The Princess Diaries,” where Mia runs away, her car breaks down, it starts pouring rain, and her convertible top won’t go up. I’m surprised they didn’t have her slip and sprain her ankle. The audience isn’t dumb. They can usually tell when their emotions are being strung along.

And that’s kind of the problem I have with this advice. I understand the value of tension and difficult situations. They often show a different side to your character and they keep the reader interested. But if your book is made up entirely of super dramatic, unlikely situations then I personally feel that it loses a bit of substance. Sure, it’s a thrill to read–and these types of books are often the ones that keep you up all night on an adrenaline rush.

The books that stick with me and become my favorites are often “quieter.” Sure they have good conflict dashed in there, with a couple of wonderfully crafted dramatic scenes too. The difference is the bulk of story surrounding these moments. Usually, there are people that I can relate to who are facing relatable situations in life. I recently read “Villette” by Charlotte Bronte after my sister recommended it. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I really did (although I can’t say it made it to my favorites list). Lucy is a quiet, ordinary character. I very much related to her thoughts and feelings as she traveled abroad as a single woman for the first time. She goes to France and manages to get a job as a nanny. Eventually she is given the opportunity to teach English. Although there are definitely some dramatic and unusual scenes in the book, the majority of it describes the day to day life at a girls boarding school. The driving force of the book is the characterization.

So basically, yes, you can write a flashy, dramatic piece and it might sell well. But there is this extra element-I’m not sure what to call it-that turns the ordinary into beautiful. Those books stay with me because I feel like I can integrate them into my life, and I can have a place in their world. They become friends. There’s enough drama in life. Just spend an hour with a group of teenage girls. Life is so very much deeper than pomp and flash. I’m not going to lie, though, and say that I have never used pomp and flash to move my stories along. I have. And I think it’s been a good step for me as an author to understand how plot and character moves along. But I am striving to be better.

Make ‘Em Laugh

It’s a line from one of my favorite movies. Actually it’s an entire song. Donald O’Connor for president!

For a long time I relished the melancholy films. I still do now and then. But for the last few years I have been drawn to the feel good, comedic, and family films.

Donald O’Connor was right: the world wants to laugh. Life is hard enough. Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting old.

I have a goal to write a hilarious book. But that will probably be in another fifteen years when I’ve gained oodles of wisdom. I’ll have you know, although my resting face may convince you I’m nothing more than a melancholy philosopher, I’ll have you know my inner dialogue is cheeky and facetious.

I very much respect anyone who can make me laugh. But I find it quite difficult.

Character Conflict

I’m not sure when I realized it, but disagreement can be one of the easiest ways to drive dialogue and plot forward. When people disagree they are forced to explain themselves more clearly. Plus, if one character is playing the devil’s advocate, you can lay out the strengths and weaknesses and potential perils. It’s a great tool. It also shows how the characters interact when they are not pleased with each other. How do they respond when they feel threatened or disrespected? It tests the relationship and allows for growth.

But recently I feel like I’ve been using it too much. Granted, sometimes when I am editing I have to read sections and chapters and in the whole manuscript over and over again. It can feel like I am repeating arguments and conflict over and over again.

Early on in my writing I had very little conflict between characters. At that point in my life I hadn’t experienced a lot of conflict in my relationships. We moved so much that there were few relationships that lasted more than a few years. And I was shy and quiet. If I felt uncomfortable with someone, I simply wouldn’t pursue friendship. Sometimes I would even cut them off. My relationships with my siblings were the important ones that I held onto.

On the other hand, I did start arguing a lot with my sister in high school. I don’t remember it as arguing, but my family does. I recognized in late middle school that I liked to play devil’s advocate. I like to look at every topic from both sides. So if my sister took one side, I naturally took the other and argued it very loyally whether I believed it or not. She took it personally. (Oops)

So I’m on the fence about this. There are two characters that I’m working with at this point who seem to be having a lot of conflict. This may sound strange, but I’m trying to figure out why. I went into this book with a  clear plan for these two. They were going to experience a major disagreement and stop speaking for a while. But as I’ve been examining the arc of their relationships I feel like they have a lot of mini arguments (or maybe it’s the repeat readings that seems to multiply them). Here’s the thing: in my life I don’t argue with people I don’t trust. It’s that simple. It I think that you’re going to misunderstand me I wait and try to communicate it in another way. If I’m unsure of your standing on the issue I keep it to myself.

I don’t engage in conflict for the sake of itself. Conflict and disagreement are a sign of trust. These two characters have pretty much been honest the entire time. They bounce ideas off each other. They call each other out. Sometimes it’s a challenging relationship, but it’s a safe relationship.

I guess I’m just trying to figure out if my readers see it as a healthy relationship or not. Do they argue too much? Could I communicate their relationship in another way?

I am considering adding some more fluff and bonding. Does that make me weak? It makes me feel like I might be compromising. But in truth, I know these characters in a way my readers don’t. All they know is what I put on the page. #thestruggleisreal

Architecture and Books

In his book, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Victor Hugo spends a great deal of time talking about architecture. (The last few years I have been delving into the classics!) Besides spending thirty plus pages simply describing the formation, layout, character, and changes to the city of Paris, he spends a whole chapter dissecting a statement from one of his characters: “The book will kill the edifice.”

The argument is twofold. First, that the new age of learning and literature would overflow the age of the church. Second, that the book was literally the new form of architecture. Of course he goes on to explain this in detail. He claims that architecture was literally a form of writing before the printing press was invented. Men used stone and structure to communicate all of their major ideas. It certainly  is worth thinking about. Before the days of the printing press everything had to be hand copied, or copied with block letters. Ideas were passed on through conversation. The great cathedrals certainly did have a great impression on the every day life of the people.

I love architecture. I miss the classic/historic architecture found throughout Europe that is so obviously missing in America. I do think buildings represent ideas. As a kid we used to move a lot and so I experienced a large variety of houses. The structure and layout of a house has always been important to me. In middle school I used to spend hours sketching our floor plans. A house is more than just a structure to protect for the elements. It provides space. It provides the shell and the context for your life. It can, in a large part, determine how you feel while you are inside. Trapped? Cut off from sunlight? Or protected? Some houses allow the air to pass through and mix with the sunshine in a manner that make you feel alive.

In a sense, that is what I would like to accomplish with my writing. I want to create a space for my reader to interact with the characters, the plot, and the setting. The greatest writing I have read allows the reader to take ownership of the story. Sometimes I am afraid that I get so very specific with my vision that I shut the reader out. I’m not sure how to change that. I’m not sure how to create a world where I invite the reader to participate, but I’m working on it.

And I think it goes without saying that if I could write a book that was as lasting and magnificent as the cathedral of Notre Dame, I would die a happy woman. I believe it is possible…

10 Things You Might Not Know About Me

1. I play guitar (decently) and sing (acceptably). I will always live with the sister-inferiority-complex, but it is a fact that my sister’s vocal skills are American Idol worthy. A couple of years ago we produced a few songs together (they’re a little rough because we don’t have a studio of our own-shocking, I know). I wrote the lyrics and recorded a conceptual melody for her to work with. She used her keyboard and impressive pipes to turn them into reality (often changing my melody entirely-for the better). The really impressive thing is that we accomplished this from opposite sides of the country.

One of the songs is based on my book “The Creation of Jack.” It is the best of the bunch and still gives me chills. Hopefully, I will upload it to my site soon, so stay tuned!!

2. I have a black cat named Maximus. He is a sweetheart. I once heard that people who hate cats used to be mice in another life. (heehee)

3. I hiked Mt. Whitney in 2013 (and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done!) Camping at 12,000 ft for two nights (pre and post- ascent) was phenomenal. The wind came whipping down the mountainside and in the middle of the night the stars were delicious.


4. I secretly wish I was a dancer. 

5. At one point I could take off, fly a pattern, and land a small Cessna 172 with little-to-no help from my dad. (It’s been a few years, so don’t stick me in an airplane and tell me to perform!)

6. My sophomore year in high school I was convinced I was going to attend CalTech and major in aerospace engineering. Yeah, that didn’t happen. (But, I still love science!)

7. My all time favorite Disney character is Stitch. I can’t help it. He is a lost little, destructive, monster who just wants to find his family! Lilo loves him unconditionally inspire of his evil streak. Best of all, he was created to be a monster, but Lilo’s love helps him overcome his programming to become a “little angel.” (Sound familiar? heh heh. I guess it’s no secret I’m drawn to underdogs who overcome the odds they were dealt.)

8. I think that I probably express less that 10% of what’s on my mind. (People who know me should weigh in on this). I don’t know what the statistics are for average people, but I have reason to believe that my percentage is significantly smaller. It’s not because I don’t like you or don’t trust you. I just have a complicated filter process. The good news for you is that a lot of this stored up 90% comes out in my writing! If you ever want to pick my brain, reading my work is a good start.

9. I am not good at telling personal stories–at least not until a significant amount of time has passed (for example 5-10 years). This may seem odd, because I love story-telling on the page! But there is a big difference between telling stories about myself and constructing stories that are important to me.

10. Even after having lived in America for 10+ years, I find that there are still some large gaps in my cultural knowledge. If I don’t pick up on cultural references my friends have been known to turn to me say, “Oh, you were in the jungle.”

Well, there are ten fun facts about me! Anything surprise you? Anything you identify with? (If you also have a black cat named Maximus, I definitely want to hear from you!!)

Stick Shifts, “Tomorrowland,” and “Star Wars”

My dream car is a Honda Civic CRX hatchback with manual transmission. No power steering. No electronic windows (you have to hand roll them up and down. Remember that?). I’m not ashamed. But I realize that my beloved car looks like a dinosaur compared to the futuristic cars they’re pumping out nowadays. Which got me thinking…

Let’s say in a hundred years all of our futuristic predictions come true. Unless they solve world hunger and economic inequality, even in 2115 someone’s going to be flying the “CRX stick shift” version of spacecraft. Right? But how many futuristic movies are clean, polished, and a hundred percent high tech?

Recently I went with my parents to see “Tomorrowland.” Of course in this case Tomorrowland wasn’t actually in the future, but in a separate dimension. Still, their “vision” of a technologically advanced society was white, clean, and jet-pack ridden. Well, except for when young Frank enters it with his dirty, dysfunction jet pack. That would be me. My little hatchback with unpredictable air conditioning would be the dirty, reject jet-pack. I would be the person with the outdated technology, or even the “unsafe,” because it’s cheaper. Which got me thinking…

Isn’t that kind of what the Millennium Falcon is in Star Wars? It’s not exactly the cutting edge of technology in the Empire. Leia calls it a piece of junk and it breaks down about every twenty minutes of the franchise. Kudos to you George Lucas, for not making your futuristic Empire made up completely reliable technology. As a side note I believe Joss Whedon also did a good job of showing the lower end of society in his futuristic series “Firefly.”

Prediction how technology is going to impact/infiltrate society is difficult. For example, some cutting edge technologies never make it down to street level. I recently watched a video from 2010 about “the house of the future.” They claimed that the technology they were showing wouldn’t hit the streets for five years. They had TV screens all throughout the house: on the fridge, on the mirror etc. Someone pointed out in the comments that technology has trended a different direction: we have smaller screens on our smart phones that we just take from room to room.

I salute authors who can portray a realistic vision of how complex technology would integrate into daily life. I have to admit I think I struggle in that area (maybe because I am anything but trendy).

10 Books That Changed My Life and Impacted My Writing

In no particular order. (If I had to rank them from 1-10 I would need about a month to analyze them first!)

  1. The Lord of The Rings

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien


Shocking, I know. But I decided to take a risk and boldly stand by this literary leper. ;P I want to know what author was not inspired/influenced/impacted/impressed by Tolkien’s fantastic trilogy. I recently re-read the series after ten years and I now have a different perspective and a few more years of experience under the belt. (To read my full review of the series click here: http://ebdawsonwriting.com/reviews/books/the-lord-of-the-rings/) Although the movies were, of course, wildly popular, Tolkien’s writing style isn’t exactly pop-fiction. He builds events very slowly, paying intricate attention to detail. I confess I first read the books as a teenager, after the movies came out and I remember growing impatient with Tolkien’s writing at times. As an adult, I adored every bit of it.

2. Ender’s Game

Author: Orson Scott Card

I believe somewhere in the intro Card admitted he hadn’t aimed at writing a literary masterpiece, but a work that was accessible and easy to digest. I first read this work as I was transitioning out of childhood and into adulthood (although for me that line was very blurry for a long time). I loved Card’s style–how it was short and to the point. I have realized since that people either loved it or hated it. One of my sisters, for example, didn’t like it at all. There really are only two kinds of “Ender’s Game” readers: those who “get it” and are completely enraptured by the characters and ideas, and those who don’t. Personally, I completely resonated with Ender–his intelligence, compassion, and desire to “immerse himself in someone else’s will” (as Graff puts it). And to me this is still one of the greatest books on leadership.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia

Author: C.S. Lewis

Hands down favorite books as a kid. Before I could read I used to stare at the covers in wonder and fear, trying to understand the mysteries they portrayed. I love Lewis’ narration style and subtle commentary on “proper society.” I loved all of the children. When the books were adapted into films someone was defending a lot of the changes by saying, “Lewis didn’t really understand children, so we had to add in some more realistic elements.” It made me very angry. The films made them more annoying. They made them try to act like adults (Susan telling Peter at the river, “This isn’t our fight, let’s go home.” And Peter trying to send the other three home just before the battle. Ugh. Most of the changes to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I could stomach. I still like the film. But when I went and saw “Prince Caspian,” in theaters I went home and I cried. A little dramatic, I know, but proof of how they are so deeply embedded in my heart)

My brother and sisters and I are TCK’s (Third Culture Kids), which means we also had a “secret world” that no one around us could understand. So I instantly understood the Pevensie children (and Eustace and Jill). They were our friends. And they were noble and brave. They didn’t try to be responsible adults. They just did their best. Anyway, these books will always be a favorite because of their rich imagination and compelling themes.

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglas Adams

Bizarre. Quixotic. Hilarious. I’ve always tended more toward drama and adventure in my reading. This was probably the first comedic book that I read. And I loved it. Hugely creative, it takes you from one side of the universe to the next (or to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe in the sequel) and often makes no sense whatsoever, but remains remarkably insightful. It makes fun of society and makes fun of itself. It taught me how to laugh at myself and for that I owe Douglas Adams a debt.

You might not think so at first glance, but it is also very much a philosophical work. Some critics have said that since Adams tears apart every philosophy and worldview that his work is nihilistic. I strongly disagree. I think if it were nihilistic it would leave the reader thinking that life was pointless. But in me it always creates a new vigor for life. It’s true he makes fun of a lot of philosophies, but he also gives you a new appreciation for the simple things in life.

5. Moby Dick

Author: Herman Melville

For a long time I had no desire to read this book. It sounded boring and/or brutal. And I always heard bits and pieces about how crazy Captain Ahab was. A number of years ago, however, I discovered that classics are free on Kindle (oh happy day!). I made a resolution to read more classics. I think I started Moby Dick about two years ago. But let’s be honest…although I appreciate and respect Kindle, I hate reading more than a few pages on any digital device. My attention wanes quickly and my commitment to the book wanes even faster. So, even though I was intrigued by the opening (I had no idea Moby Dick started out so funny), I hit a roadblock not long after they set sail. I decided to borrow Moby Dick from the library, but at that point I was so busy that I wasn’t making it very far. Finally, I found a copy at a used bookstore and I jumped in whole-heartedly. Even so, it took me a while to plough through.

Needless to say, Moby Dick and I were on-and-off companions for at least two years. It became very comforting, actually. After a few weeks, I’d find myself with some free time and I’d pick it up again and submerge myself into the world of ships, salt-water, and an oil-lamp industry powered by the killing of whales. Granted, there were some scenes that I shuddered at. But it helped that Ishmael (the narrator) often hinted that he understood the barbarism of what they were doing.

In any case, the majority of the book (although based around the premise of hunting whales) is really about the life at sea: the ship and the men who manned it. Melville is a master of prose. His descriptions of the the ship and the ocean (at sunrise, through storms, through glorious weather) is absolutely captivating. His character portrayals are hilarious and haunting. Frankly, I fell in love. Years ago my English professor drove me crazy for a whole semester by marking down my papers to B’s (yes, I was that type of student). In high school I had mastered the art of long, complicated sentences and was quite proud of it. This particular professor was not impressed. He didn’t give me an A until I learned to communicate directly and to the point. Today, I am very grateful for that. However, when it comes to story telling, I have different thoughts. There is part of me that appreciates clear-cut writing (like Card’s “Ender’s Game”). But there is nothing quite like a story that builds a rapport with you over many pages, wrapping its arms of descriptive narrative around you like a warm blanket. Right now I would describe myself as a clear-cut author. But someday I would love to be a Herman Melville.

6. The Giver

Author: Lois Lowry

Besides “The Chronicles of Narnia,” it was one of the first dystopian/fantasy/SciFi/futuristic novel I had ever read. I love how Lois Lowry instantly submerges you into this world. It is easy to picture and to swallow. There’s a mix of simplicity and complex technology in this world. And I immediately identified and fell in love with the themes.

The ultimate message–that pain is important because it teaches you and adds contrast to joy–resonated deeply with me. I don’t remember if it actually made me cry, but it makes me want to cry every time I read it. It spoke so very deeply into my life without even knowing me and showed me how to live my life better.


7. The Man Who Was Thursday

Author: G.K. Chesteron

This may be the first real surprise on the list. I can guess that most of you have never heard of it. I hadn’t either until a few years ago. G.K. Chesterton became one of my favorite authors in 2012. He has a unique ability to dive into philosophical/political/moral issues with a sense of humor and well-grounded reason. Human minds are so very different. When you’re a kid you tend to think everybody’s about the same (or maybe that was just me). I used to get so surprised when people behaved in a way that I couldn’t understand. As an adult I have realized that there are as many different ways of thinking as there are jelly belly flavors (bad example?). It becomes even more obvious when you run across that person who thinks exactly like you do. G. K. Chesterton is one of those for me. I was pretty familiar with his nonfiction works when I finally decided to read, “The Man Who was Thursday.” I won’t spoil it for you.

All I will say is this: it surprised me in a way no book has in a long time. It takes some very unexpected twists and at one point I considered maybe Chesterton had gone mad. There were several times when I thought, “He can’t do that! What is he doing?” What I love about it is that he incorporates his philosophical thought into every scene and every character. But not being a Chesterton expert, I only understood about half of what he was trying to communicate until after I had read an analysis of the book. Just like it’s one of my goals to be a Herman Melville author, it is one of my goals to be able to write fiction with rich, layered philosophical undertones.

8. The Odyssey

Author: Homer

This one’s been a favorite since high school. I have a soft spot for mythology. There really is only one word to describe it: epic. Heroes, villains, great deeds, the extravagance of the wealthy, the jealousy of the gods, the hospitality of the stranger, the burning desire of one man to get home. I once wrote a 12 page paper on the theme of hospitality in this book. Why has it influenced me as a writer? While doing the research for that paper I came to realize something. You can learn a lot about Homer’s audience if you apply a critical eye. This isn’t a historical narrative of Greek life. It is a story to entertain, but also one that encompasses their dreams, hopes, and values. The wealthy heroes often do nothing but lay around all day having extravagant feasts. That isn’t exactly my recipe for happiness (I would get bored pretty quickly). But maybe it was for them.

My point is this: five hundred years from now, when people read the heap of novels that we have amassed, what are they going to deduce about us, the readers? In my paper I made a case that Homer’s audience were average, hard-working people who needed the ideal of hospitality in order to survive in a perilous time (I’ll add that many historians share my opinion). What will future historians deduce about us when they read, “The Hunger Games,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Life of Pi,” or the Harry Potter series. (I’m not necessarily condemning them or praising them. I just want you to think about the messages of each.) Honestly, I think there is a lot of junk out there. I think that most popular fiction has turned into a game of “let’s play the what-if game and live out our fantasies/nightmares through our characters.” There is a place for examining the “what-ifs” and there is a place for pure entertainment. But I want to be the kind of story teller who improves the lives of her readers. And I want to affirm that there are many authors out there (even mainstream ones) who write extremely entertaining fiction with moving and inspiring messages.

9. 1984

Author: George Orwell

This was a controversial pick for me. But I realized this list isn’t necessarily about books that I love, but books that impacted me for better or for worse. The truth is that I hated this book. I read it the summer of my sixteenth year. I remember the day I finished reading it and the feelings that swept over me. Thank goodness a huge rainstorm came in that day or I would have been extremely depressed. I grant that the book raises a lot of interesting themes and questions. I grant that a lot of critics hail it as visionary.

I was personally horrified by the ending. Orwell takes the reader into some very deep, dark, psychological waters and then promptly ends the book. Now, maybe I’m just sensitive (I am, actually. But not in the weepy kind of way. It’s just that ideas take deep root in my mind) but it wasn’t worth it. From this book I learned that there is a line. I grant that there is a time to explore the dark, morbid side of humanity, but only if you can come out the other side with a ray of hope. This book showed me the line that I don’t want to cross. I’m sure Orwell had his reasons for how he wrote this book. I have made a commitment that I will always write hope into my books. (I don’t think that means all of my stories must have happy endings)

10. Lord of the Flies

Author: William Golding

This was another controversial pick for me. I think it is appropriate because it shows the other side of my argument from the last book. This isn’t a happy book. I think I know more people who hate this book more than they hated “1984”. I respect that. It goes to show that everyone takes away something different from a book and people are entitled to their opinions. I didn’t love this book, but I did like it. Even so, I only read it once and I’m not sure I’ll ever read it again. It was intriguing and emotionally charged. Parts of it were horrifying. But over all it was thought provoking. It was one of those books that snagged a corner of my mind and has tenaciously hung on for the past eleven years in the midst of many novels that have passed in and out of memory. For me it wasn’t a pleasant read, but it was a worthwhile read.

Whew! I made it! When I decided on making this list I thought it would be a piece of cake, but it actually took a great deal of thought. I have read a lot of books. Some of my favorites didn’t make it on this list, because even though I love them, I can’t say they impacted me as an author. Some of them are guilty pleasures that just make me feel warm and fuzzy (Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South”). I may have to look back at this list and edit it in five years.

What are some of the books that have impacted you the most? Any thoughts on the ones I chose?