My mother read to me

“Why do you write?” is a question that most authors who find themselves famous enough will eventually face in an interview. I don’t anticipate that happening, but as luck would have it, it’s Mother’s Day, and that means I can give my answer anyway.

Most authors whose answer to this question get quoted enough for you to have read them have something clever to say. Isaac Asimov, for instance, said he wrote for the same reason he breathed: because if he stopped, he would die. This was not only pithy, but also had the virtue of being true in the inverse case, so far as anyone has noticed.

I don’t have a clever answer.

If you were to ask me why I write, I would ask you to clarify what you meant by “why”. It’s a slippery word, and I don’t trust it. We squeeze out of these three letters and one syllable more uses than a Hobbit can cram into “Good morning.” Do you mean for what purpose do I write? Or do you mean what is my motivation for writing? Or do you mean what is the reason that I write the things that I do and not other things? Or do you mean what proximate cause impels me to write in the moment?

In the very unlikely event that you were still interested in my answer, and the further unlikely event that you clarified that what you meant was the ultimate root cause of my condition of being a writer, I would tell you this:

My mother read to me.

When I was very young, she read to me and my siblings The Chronicles of Narnia (in the proper narrative order, thank you very much), and The Hobbit, and the Wrinkle in Time series, and other things, including the works of Mark Twain.

I was very young when all this started, young enough that I was not aware I had an age. I said “siblings” up there mostly out of force of habit as I’ve had decades to get used to being one out of four. It was just my older brother and myself at the beginning. As the younger one, I had the privilege of going along for the ride. There were frequent stops to define words and explain things that were unfamiliar to us.

I’m grateful for this experience for many reasons. It meant that I could greet a large number of the books I encountered throughout my schooling as old friends. Having heard A Wind in the Door meant that when I was diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder before I was midway through elementary school, I had a frame of reference for what would otherwise have been incomprehensible and thus terrifying. It means I get an additional layer of nostalgia when I put on an audiobook of one of my childhood favorites.

And I am dead certain that it is the ultimate reason I am a writer today.

Oh, there were steps along the way. I doubt I would have become a writer if I hadn’t gotten into D&D and other roleplaying games, which I wouldn’t have gotten into without comic books. My interest in writing also spun out of my interest in computer game development, which came out of video games. There was a certain amount of tagging along after my older brother in those things, naturally.

I think he probably retained more of those early story  times than I did, having been older at the time, but I daresay they were more of a foundational experience for me, having been younger at the time. Because of my mother, I grew up speaking fantasy as a first tongue. I walked in what ifs almost from my first steps. My world has been a multiverse for as long as I have known it.

Today, I thank my mother not just for giving me life, but giving me lives, and a shining multitude of worlds to spin them in. It is because of you, Mom, that I look deeper, go further, and ask what if?

Happy Mother’s Day.