Sunday, March 20, 2016

Five Women Who Changed My Writing Life

By Kasie Whitener

It’s Women’s History Month which always feels sort of bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s great to spend time thinking about those women who forged new paths, set records, and left their marks on history. On the other, it’s frustrating that there are still so many women stifled by their social circumstances.

Inevitably in March, I’ll come across some lengthy dialogue about influential women. Writers will name other writers, feminists will identify lawmakers or suffragettes, moms will name their moms or grandmothers.

I’ll wonder who my most influential women are and try to make a list which will inevitably forget someone. Like a first-time nominee winning an Oscar, I’ll add “so many others I know I’ve forgotten,” to the end of the list.

As this is a writers’ blog, I’ll stick to the ladies that influenced my writing life.

Enya’s Shepard Moons album came out when I was in high school. I never knew a woman’s voice could be so ethereal. She’s magical and she inspired me to think of the world in magical terms. It might feel like a leap from Enya to vampires, but the mysticism is the same whenever you suspend the boundaries of reality in storytelling.

Virginia Woolf.
Her approach to the stream-of-consciousness writing that her contemporaries are given credit for pioneering was a revolution for me. Not only did Mrs. Woolf suggest letting the character guide the story, she followed the character through the messy twists and turns of mundane existence and hung in there until the character revealed the uniqueness of her experience. My characters all lead my stories. I’ve called it “pantsing” before: writing without a plan or an outline.

VC Andrews.
I couldn’t get enough of the VC Andrews books when I was in sixth and seventh grades. About the same time, I moved to California and began writing what ultimately became After December (the novel I’m querying). Andrews created such vivid, flawed characters and then she tortured them mercilessly. I aspired to writing the same compelling just-outside-of-realism fiction.

Katherine Sutherland.
My seventh grade English teacher encouraged my fiction writing. I can’t remember if I ever showed her any of it and I can’t imagine what she would have thought. The five spiral notebooks I filled with skateboarding stories and my crush Brian being heroic have long since perished but I carried them everywhere with me in seventh grade.

Jodie Cain Smith.
Since becoming fast friends two years ago, Jodie has been my constant writing companion. She’ll read anything I give her, offer thoughtful and constructive feedback, and get as excited as I do about the stories. She talks about my characters like they’re real people. When she leaves for Mobile in a couple of weeks, she’ll take with her my safe place to be a writer. Not just writing, but a Writer. I’m forever grateful to her.

I’m sure there are a million other artists, writers, teachers, and friends who have inspired and encouraged my writing. This month it’s all about the women and these five have definitely left their marks.

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