My Literary Roots

I can’t write a happy ending for the life of me. Believe me, I’ve tried. I suppose it’s a good thing, given that some people particularly enjoy unhappy endings. Combine that with a dry sense of humor and sassy characters, and there’s my writing style in a nutshell. Prompted by the upcoming Netflix release of  a visual adaption of A Series of Unfortunate Events, I’ve realized that my childhood reads, fostered by elementary school teachers, built the foundation on which my writing now stands.

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Three book series definitively influenced my creative style, the most prominent one being A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. This series was read to me on a scratchy blue carpet by my third grade teacher. She sat in a pink-cushioned rocking chair and told us she was determined to get as far into the series as possible. 10 out of the 13 books were published by then, so we had some work ahead of us. I was hooked as soon as she read the letter to the reader in the beginning, imploring us to put the book down and stop reading immediately. It warned of a miserable tale about orphans which would not end happily. Never before had I encountered such a writing tactic. I initially grew to love the name Lemony Snicket for the way it felt in my mouth when said aloud. What kept me fixated was his dark writing style, the voice of the narrator and the sheer bleakness of the plot. I began borrowing books from the teacher to read ahead, which I had never done before. Snicket is also the author who first made me interested in writing.

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Most children’s chapter books have bright and cheery characters and shallow plot points with perfectly orchestrated happy endings. They also tend to use frustratingly simple language. A Series of Unfortunate Events employs a more sophisticate approach. It portrays the misery of three previously rich and happy orphans, their parents having died in a fire, going from relative to relative trying to find a home. The characters of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are clever, likeable and real. One of my favorite aspects was the wealth of vocabulary found within the rough-trimmed pages. I remember impressing my family at my grandparent’s weekly dinner by correctly using the word “misnomer.” I still love collecting words, and I believe that habit, and the use of such vocabulary in my writing, started there.

What also started there was my inclination to bathe my stories in darkness and dry-as-bone humor. Lemony Snicket, or Daniel Handler as his birth certificate claims, maintains his persona even through interviews, and I learned from him an indelible commitment to my characters. I learned to constantly develop and strengthen them. He is one of my biggest literary idols— his series remains one of my beloved favorites to this day. I recommend it to nearly all ages.

Along with the dark aspect, my writing holds some chilling characteristics taken from another childhood series, Goosebumps. These children’s horror fiction books contained tales of the strange and the terrible, with a healthy dose of the creeps. I collected the books— I still have boxes of them in my closet in my parent’s house — and I adored the television shows and movies that accompanied them. I would beg my dad to rent the tapes from the video store, despite the fact they always made me unable to sleep at night. “Night of the Living Dummy” will still disturb me, even as a senior in college. “Slappy” is spookier than “Chucky.” R.L. Stine’s influence on my works is probably most evident in one of my characters, Ethan. He’s a serial killer with black eyes who preys on homeless and abandoned girls, “freeing” them from misery and deluding himself into thinking he’s being affectionate and loving about it. His hobbies include stalking, climbing trees, kidnapping and slow murder. Definite Goosebumps influence.

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The final series that influenced my characters was the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park. Her charming snark and blunt way of speaking manifests itself in several of my characters, as well as their dialogue with others. She sparked what I believe is now a constant underlying theme of feminism within my writing, having read about such a strong female character at such a young age. “Girls can be anything boys can be!” she once said. Junie B. Jones was unapologetically herself, including in nearly every chapter book that “My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don’t like Beatrice. I just like B and that’s all.” As a result, most of the characters I create have a good amount of sass and aren’t afraid to be themselves. My female characters especially take after her, two being Hazel and Ki, who are both fiercely independent and don’t mind being on their own, dealing with their ongoing struggles with resilience. They fit surprisingly well into the backdrop of bleak misery and sad endings. I believe they provide a nice balance.

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These books represent the literary roots of my creative expression. I am thankful to have had an education that introduced me to these series, and teachers that passed down a passion for reading and writing to me. Those teachers, along with Lemony Snicket, R.L. Stine and Barbara Park, fostered in me a unique writing style which I hope to share with many audiences in years to come.

-Emily, Intern

 

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