My love of reading began when my uncle read me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was five years old. Actually, he only made it through The Fellowship of the Ring because I was so traumatized after Gandalf died that he realized the books might be a bit too old for me. But it was too late. I’d been bitten by the reading bug.
My earliest memory from school is checking out as many mythology books as I could carry and reading them while sitting against the side of the school while other students played at recess. Summers, I’d stack up as many books as I could carry out of the library, read them in a week, then go back again. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl was an early favorite. By the time I got to middle and high school, I was hooked on science fiction and fantasy. I read a lot of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, not to mention Michael Moorcock, Ursula LeGuin, Stephen R. Donaldson, etc. I played Dungeons and Dragons. Lots of it. And that’s probably where I cut my writing teeth. I was always the Dungeon Master, and I spent days—no weeks or months writing out the campaign for my players. Those early campaigns were my early novels.
It wasn’t until high school that I discovered literary fiction. The first assigned book I remember loving was Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. For some reason, I couldn’t get into A Farewell to Arms, though I became a Hemingway fan later. Then, senior year, something happened. I read Irving’s The World According to Garp and W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and realized I wanted to be a writer. The problem was I didn’t believe I was smart enough or good enough to be a writer. Neither of my parents went to college. And though I read a lot growing up I had no models for what it meant to be a writer. For me, a writer was a dead genius. So, my writing stayed in the closet.
In college, I discovered Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (this time I loved him) and Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (still a favorite) along with Gardner’s Grendel. I also started a life long love of reading poetry. I used to listen to tapes of T.S. Eliot in the car on my way to and from work during the summers. I tried my hand at writing, even sent a few poems and stories to the student literary magazine at the University of Colorado. I was rejected every time. I decided I had no talent and quit writing. Though, I kept up my reading, going to graduate school for an MA in medieval literature and besides discovering Chaucer, Dante, and the Beowulf poet I fell in love with Toni Morrison, John Barth, and Pynchon
Fast-forward ten years, and something clicks in me after the birth of my first child. I don’t understand it, but a month after my daughter is born, I start getting up at five am to write—even after being awake most of the night trying to get her to sleep. I start writing every day—at first science fiction, but then literary fiction. And I jump back into reading with a vengeance. I read everything by Carver, Chekhov, and Faulkner. Three years later, I go back to grad school for my MFA and discover the great Latin American writers, who change me forever, writers like: García Márquez, José Donoso, Juan Rulfo, Clarice Lispector, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortazar. I rediscover my love affair with poetry, reading everything by Galway Kinnell, Mark Strand, Linda Hogan, and more. On to a PhD at the University of Denver, where I sink my writing teeth into Murakami and Ishiguro as well as H.D. and Russell Edson. I discover Javier Marias, J.M. Coetzee, José Saramago, Steven Millhauser, Yoko Tawada, and more international writers than I can count, writers who open me to new ways to shape narrative. I dip back into the Latin American poets—Neruda and Mistral, Huidobro and Vallejo, Parra and Paz—and add a dash of North Americans—Joanna Klink, Charles Wright, Mark Irwin, Laura Kasischke—to learn how to sound the heart of a poem, the heart of my own soul.
Reading and writing, for me, are two sides of the same coin. My ideas spring from my reading and my writing leads me to new authors. I think, maybe, just maybe, I could survive without writing. It wouldn’t be easy, but I could do it. But to survive without reading. Impossible.