One of the biggest things from my childhood that contributed to me becoming a writer was the fact that parents read to me every night before bed. It started as a tradition when we were too young to read for ourselves, to help me and my brothers fall asleep as many parents do. But we continued on every night long after we were able to read on our own. My dad was usually the reader and he loved doing it.
He grew up in theater so he didn’t just read books. He put on a performance. When he read us Harry Potter, each character had their own voice, accent and mannerisms. It was a one man show and when the movies came out, his version of Hagrid was a mirror image of Robert Coltrane’s performance. Our family life wasn’t perfect, but we had this 30-minute ritual every evening where we came together and enjoyed a new world together. While this alone inspired an interest in books and a love of reading, it wasn’t until one evening that my dad read Where The Red Fern Grows to me that I realized the power of good writing. I’d been assigned Where The Red Fern Grows by my third-grade teacher for a book project. Every evening my dad would read a section to me. Together we met Billy Collman, and we experienced the trials of his attempt to raise money. We celebrated when he finally bought his hunting dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. We held our breath as they competed in their first hunting competition and won. Finally, we came to the climax of the novel. A mountain lion kills Old Dan, leaving both Billy and Lil Ann heart broken. While Billy tries to carry on with his life, Lil Ann refuses to eat and withers away.
Here, my dad pauses. His face turns red and his lips pull thin. He tries to continue on, reading about the burial of Lil Ann, but his voice breaks and his Adam’s apple bobs. His eyes well over and he begins to sob, sitting on the corner of my bed, holding my third-grade project in his hands. Meanwhile, I sit under my pink duvet, holding a teddy bear to my chest and watching with confusion and fascination. Sure, I was upset about the dogs, but I was nine years old. I was expected to cry over dogs and children’s books. My dad was 40, smoked and drank beer. He watched football and mowed the lawn. He didn’t cry, ever. Now he was breaking down because a fictional dog died. I couldn’t believe it. With the right words, somehow Wilson Rawles made my dad have a physical reaction. Is that what books were really about? It isn’t just about wizards and magic and dragons. Those things are fun and I still read about wizards and magic and dragons every day, but books could be so much more. This was the power of an author, to push people past their comfort zones, to make them feel. To make people cry over characters who at one time only existed in their mind. That’s the day I decided I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write books that made people feel. That exposed people to new things. That made grown men cry. Everytime I doubt myself or wonder why I’m torturing myself to finish a novel that may never amount to anything, I remember Billy, Old Dan, Lil Ann and my dad crying at my bedside.
Sarah Foil is a writer, editor, and media manager based out of North Carolina. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA program and focuses on YA Fantasy. While her current passion project is her YA Fantasy trilogy, which is currently seeking representation, she spends much of time running and managing Sarahfoil.com, a resource for writers and readers of all kinds. She loves encouraging writers to continue to improve through her editing services and sharing her personal writing journey through blog posts and on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions about her services, please reach out via sarahfoil.com/contact.