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A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments! and often have guest bloggers.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

What Makes A Writer? Nature or Nurture?

by Janis Patterson
What makes a writer? Is it genetic? Or the way we are raised? Or something we choose that we feel we must follow? Or all of the above?

To begin with let me say I am the third generation of a wordsmith family. One grandfather was a small-town newspaper publisher in a time and place where that was a position of power. Both grandmothers were at one time teachers. My father was editor and/or publisher of several Texas newspapers, taught journalism at Texas A&M (he also separated the journalism department from the English department and made it a separate discipline) and, with my mother started and owned one of the top 300 advertising agencies in the US. My mother was an English teacher, a play producer and a magazine columnist. I started working in the family agency when I was nine – as a stripper, no less. (And no, it’s not what you’re thinking, but it is a great line to use at a cocktail party!) I graduated to writing copy when I was twelve.

Obviously I didn’t have a snowball’s chance of becoming anything else but some variety of wordsmith!

But was it nature or nurture? Yes, our house was full of books. It still is. The Husband and I live in a house with two dedicated libraries and a hobby room with five enormous bookshelves. For that matter, little drifts of books stacked on the floor and almost every flat surface seem to breed in our house. But not all readers become writers, so I ask again, is it nature or nurture?

I don’t know, but the question did strike me a couple of days ago. I was going through some papers of my late father’s and there, between two of the radio scripts he had written long ago, was a copy of my birth announcement.

It’s a simple thing, a plain white piece of paper with black print with a left-hand fold so it opens like a book. On the cover is the image of a book with the title “Janis Susan – Announcing a New Edition – Best Book of the Year.” There is also a picture of a rather startlingly disgruntled looking stork in a top hat and glasses. I always wondered why he had such a peculiar look on his face.

Open the ‘book’ and it says “The Author and Publisher proudly announce the issuance of their 19XX (no, I’m not going to tell you the year!) edition entitled Janis Susan May.”

Below that, it says “Author – Donald W. May – Publisher – Aletha B. May.”

Below that it says “Publication Date – (the date of my birth) – DeLuxe Edition, with pink and white binding weighs X pounds X ounces (I’m not going to tell you that  either, then or now!). Cover jacket – white, removable. Reprints and Second Editions not available this year.”

See? I was doomed from the beginning. Nature or nurture makes no difference, for when one’s beginning of life is announced as a book, one really has no choice but to become a writer.

In the for what it’s worth department, my father did the announcement himself. He had a telling wit and I personally think the concept hilarious. My sentimentalist mother loathed it and, once recovered from her ordeal, sent out very proper handwritten announcements herself, probably confusing a lot of people as to whether the Mays had had one child or two.


Sometimes, knowing the many dichotomies of my nature, I wonder that myself. But then, I am a writer.

19 comments:

Rose Anderson said...

I enjoyed your post, Susan. It must be in the blood. Best luck in the new year.

Morgan Mandel said...

How wonderful to grow up in such an environment! Though I don't remember my parents reading very often, growing up my brothers and I made many trips to the library. My brothers still do. I use my Kindle instead now.

Morgan Mandel

Fran McNabb said...

Janis, love your post. How wonderful that you had such a background. I grew in an opposite environment. I did manage to go to college and "find" myself through the help of a professor. I have no idea where my love of writing came from!

Cathy Perkins said...

What a wonderful way to grow up!

My mother encourage (aided and abetted) my love of reading. No clue where the drive to write came from.

Andrea Cooper said...

It's wonderful that you had the amazing upbringing with books and experience.
I didn't read until my twenties because the books I craved (magic, fantasy, etc.) where not allowed in my parent's house.
I've heard of parents refusing to allow their kids to read comic books. I say if they won't read anything else, let them read comic books - eventually it will lead to a love of reading and they'll get into other forms of literature.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Love that literary birth announcement, so clever!

I don't think nurture alone is enough to make someone a writer, but I hesitate to say it's genetic. Maybe some day we'll know for sure.

Enjoyed the post.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Oh, I love that birth announcement! How precious, especially that your father would take the time to make it.

Nature v. Nurture? Probably a combination. I think some people are natural-born storytellers. (I don't think I am. I had to work at the craft to learn it, though I did absorb a lot of it through movies, TV, and lots and lots of reading). :)

earlwstaggs said...


Susan, if you can figure out what made you the talented and entertaining writer you are, call me. We'll bottle it, sell it, and make a fortune.

J Wachowski said...

What a hoot! Of course your mom was annoyed--she was listed as the publisher & not the author? What's up with that?! :)

Rita said...

How wonderful.
As a child my story telling and writing was discouraged by all the adults in my life. Six years ago I decided to put my big girl panties on and write. I think we are born story tellers. We become writers because we are encourages and in spite of circumstances.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Love the birth announcement! No writers in my family but we are all readers, and I grew up surrounded by books.

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

not nurtured in my family. not another writer in sight. lol. maybe your dad was a prophet.

Elise Warner said...

Loved your birth announcement. Your parents sound delightful. Everyone in my family read, read, read--don't know of anyone who wrote until I came into the picture.

Janice Seagraves said...

Love your dad's baby announcement, he had a great wit.

Janice!

Pat Marinelli said...

Love the birth announcement. Agree your Mom should have been listed as author.

I come from a family that read. Mom read everything, Dad only read newspaper. He was dyslexic as am I. I always read fiction. It was non-fiction and directions that threw me for a loop. Still have trouble with them.

A write. I was tell my twin sister stories before we even spoke English according to my Mom. I started writing fiction after I finally passed my special reading class. I volunteered in the library at age 9. My parents although they encouraged reading, discouraged writing. Told me I needed to grow up. I burned my notebook full of stories when I left home at age 23. I regret that. I didn't write again until my kids were grown.

Grandmother was a teacher, Mom worked for a newspaper as a photojournalist. Being I started so young and twin doesn't write, I'd say I was born to writing.

Shelley Munro said...

Writing is definitely in your family! We always had lots of books around the place while growing up, but I'm the first writer in our family.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post. I love your Dad's sense of humor.

Debra Andrews

Beate Boeker said...

How wonderful, to be welcomed into the world as a Special Edition! And how apt! Love it!

Cindy Sample said...

What a great story, Janis. I discovered our library when I was four and it was my favorite place to visit growing up. By the time I was eight I knew I wanted to be a mystery author. I just didn't realize it would take another 5 decades before it became reality. But it's never too late! Thanks for sharing.

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