Almost every writer--indeed, any type of artist--is asked who influenced them the most in following their dream. I can point to several authors I admire and many teachers and instructors who mentored me in the craft of writing, but perhaps the biggest and definitely the earliest influence in my life was my father.
He was born in rural northern New Mexico, a little town called San Ignacio that barely exists on the map anymore, in 1919. He grew up in a large farming family and left school in sixth grade to help out on the farm. His health was never great (it wasn't until he was in his late 70s that he was diagnosed with a thyroid condition that had affected his heart most of his life) but he was always a hard worker. He joined the Army and was stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas (in El Paso) where he met and married my mother, raised a family, and lived the rest of his life.
Like most hard-working men of his generation, he never said much and he wasn't the demonstrative sort. The actions that spoke louder than words went beyond making sure there was a roof over our head or food on the table. Books and other reading materials filled our house--encyclopedias, classic novels, just about any books published by Reader's Digest about animals, history, and geography, and an impressive collection of Reader's Digest magazines from 1975 and on. Back then, the magazine included a lot of "snippets" from current works of fiction and non-fiction. My father would share with me stories taken from books by James Herriot (we both loved the Yorkshire vet even if his English colloquialisms were a little hard for us West Texans to understand!), Erma Bombeck and Patrick F. McManus (how I learned to find and write about humor in everyday life), Ray Bradbury (no better writing teacher ever), and "Drama in Real Life" stories about people in death-defying situations.
I came to realize, years later, that my father loved learning. Television documentaries, along with some musical variety programs (anyone remember those?), were his favorite shows to watch, especially shows about myths and mysteries, crime stories, history, nature, you name it. He was, as Ray Bradbury put it, "an amiable compost heap" of subjects of interest. And he found in me a willing accomplice to help him explore them.
He also loved to tell stories. Hearing him talk about his childhood years growing up on the farm (especially the stories about him and his brothers and their farm dog) and the years he served in the Army Air Corps, taught me a few things about how to engage an audience. His stories still linger in my memory, the images he created with a few words still adorn my heart. The fact that my mystery series is set in rural New Mexico is a testament to the love my father instilled in me of his home state. Even the parish church in fictional Bonney is named after my father's home town.
There was no one I ever wanted to please more with my work, whether at school, at home, or, in later years, my jobs and my own life. I couldn't wait to share good news or accomplishments with him--a good grade, a short story or poem I had penned on my own, a cake I had baked, promotions or awards at work, even the new deck or cabinets we had installed in our home (my husband has always been gracious about sharing the spotlight with my dad. He considers it an honor!) And when things didn't go well, no matter what, he was always there to remind me that there was no shame in failure unless it kept me from trying again. It might seem odd to some people, but he always had a matter-of-fact attitude about my successes... as if it were no surprise to him that I had done well. I know now that he was probably bursting with pride but, true to his nature, a simple smile and glimmer in his eyes conveyed more than a dozen roses would have.
My father passed away in 2009. I was just starting my hunt for a publisher for my mystery series. For once, I hadn't told my dad about my desire to be a writer or my dream to be published. Perhaps I worried that this was THE impossible dream, one that all his encouragement would not help me achieve. Or maybe I feared that I wouldn't live up to his expectations--after all, books were his only extravagance and luxury. What if my books weren't good enough? Still, I know in my heart that he suspected that, deep down, I harbored a desire to write. Maybe, with a father's intuition, he knew what my dreams were and silently rooted for me all along.
I only wish I could have seen his face when my first book was published.
Happy birthday, Daddy. Thank you and I love you.
Amy M. Bennett is the author of the Black Horse Campground mystery series and still very much a Daddy's girl. http://www.amymbennettbooks.com/