Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dick Francis: My Inspiration

One winter Sunday afternoon when I was twelve I found myself with nothing to do. It was too cold to do much outside (even for us Minnesotans), and I had already played with the dog, brushed the cat, done my homework, and found nothing of interest on the three channels that passed for television back then. It was one of a handful of times in my life when I have been utterly bored. Then my mother changed my life forever.

I was sitting in a chair in the living room when my mother came out of the room we shared with a book in her hand. Now, I was a voracious reader and at twelve was reading well above my years, but I had not yet bumped into a real grown-up novel. Until now. "I think you might be ready for this," she said. And then she handed me a Dick Francis novel. I read the first sentence and was so hooked that I knew right then that I wanted to be a writer.

For the uninitiated, Dick Francis, a British author who was a former steeplechase jockey, rode for, among other clients, the Queen mother. His forty-two mysteries combined, horses, intrigue, love, and dysfunctional families, and I thought I had never read anything nearly as good. I still feel that way.

I had the good fortune to meet this award-winning author, my hero, in Nashville in the mid-1980s, when he came to town for a steeplechase event that was being held at Percy Warner Park. I rarely get star-struck, but I have to admit that I was quite nervous when we met. We chatted a few minutes about the weather, the race, Nashville, and his books, and I told him he was the reason I became a writer. He became quite flustered, but also shook my hand heartily and wished me well.

Dick Francis passed away recently at age 89, and his is a loss felt around the world. Many of us never get to meet our heroes, our inspirations. I was lucky.

Everyone needs someone to admire, to look up to. So who has inspired you? Who influenced your life? Your career? I hope you can post a comment and tell who means as much to you, and why.