It’s tempting to think that the hunger for stories follows hard on the heels of our need for food and shelter. As far as I know, all cultures have rich story traditions. Those of us who write popular fiction feed a need that must surely be as old as humanity.
Readers look to assuage different tastes with different types of books. From the time I was able to choose my own novels, I always loved stories about times and places beyond my reach. The first novel of my very own that I remember reading was Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s “The Velvet Room.” I got it through the Scholastic Books order program at the elementary school in Cincinnati where I attended third grade. Remember filling out those order forms, and the careful deliberation that went into choosing however many books you could get? And then the exquisite anticipation when they arrived. I couldn’t wait to get them home and start reading.
"The Velvet Room" was about a twelve-year-old girl, Robin, whose family struggled to survive as itinerant workers in California in the 1930s Depression. When her father gets a job at the McCurdy ranch, life is better, but it's still hard. An unexpected friendship with an older woman who lives in a hidden cottage opens a new world to Robin. She sneaks into the derelict mansion on the ranch. There she finds the velvet room, full of magic and the promise of hope. I've forgotten the mystery Robin solved, but the velvet room is still clear in my mind and heart.
“The Velvet Room” whisked me into a world I’d heard about from my father, who had traveled from South Dakota, where his parents, both teachers who didn’t get paid through the summer, to work in the apricot and cherry orchards that belonged to their California relatives. At three years old, my dad was put to work cutting ‘cots grown on land my sister now owns. Like Robin, they lived in a tent community of itinerant workers. When I read “The Velvet Room,” I could see the kind of people who had worked in those orchards. I could smell the fields and feel the hard won stability Robin’s bare-bones four-room house represented. “The Velvet Room” whetted my appetite for more. More stories. More novels.
I still hunger for good stories. I like variety, but I can live for a good long time on a steady diet of romance and adventure. A little mystery, a little magic, a lot of history or a setting where I’ve never been—all add spice and savor. Because I like to read stories with these elements so much, that’s what I write.
I’m curious: What stories do you hunger for most?