I don't think it is possible to be a decent fiction writer and not be a prolific reader. I spent many blissful hours during my youth reading an eclectic array of books such as Treasure Island, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Rendezvous with Rama, The Old Man and the Boy, The Bronze Bow, Mysterious Island, Ice Station Zebra, Roots, and The Reivers, just to name a few. (If you're keeping score, that's Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Ruark, Elizabeth George Speare, Jules Verne, Alistair MacLean, Alex Haley, and William Faulkner, respectively.)
The most influential book of my life, hands down, was Daybreak – 2250 A.D. by Andre Norton. I have a theory about sci-fi that goes, "If you aren't exposed to it at a young age when your brain is still plastic and your mind is willing to accept worlds that push the boundaries of imagination, odds are you probably don't like science fiction." The first real novel I have memory of is Daybreak – 2250 A.D. (originally titled Star Man's Son). I was five years old.
My older brother and I laid on my sister's bed as she read aloud a "bedtime story" that nearly blew my young, fertile mind. This wasn't Little Red Riding Hood, Br'er Rabbit, or even Winnie the Pooh. Oh no! This was a story about a young mutant named Fors who ventures out into a post-apocalyptic world with his giant cat Lura in search of knowledge and redemption. Along the way he encounters rusted-out atomic-powered cars, broken roads, ruined cities, human-rat hybrids, and a budding civilization of lizard creatures. WHOA...
This was serious stuff! Conflict that went far beyond getting a honey jar stuck on your head or being thrown into a briar patch. Science fiction had jump-started my imagination – and I wanted more! Of course, the fact that the story was also a morality tale about human fallibility and the dangers of nuclear proliferation were lost on me, but I was hooked on the art of story-telling, hard and forever.
Daybreak – 2250 A.D.
The second-most important event in my literary life was the advent of audio books – specifically Audible.com. As with most people these days, ever-increasing career and family obligations took a heavy toll on my free time. The hours a week I spent reading in my youth were reduced to minutes, taken in spurts here and there and in down-time binges. What little free time I had left after career and family was mostly spent on physical activities such as karate, body shaping, and running. As much as I loved reading, my commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle was a slightly higher priority. It is an unfortunate truth that exercise and recreational reading exist at opposite ends of the fitness scale. "Reading leads to sitting. Sitting leads to fatness. Fatness leads to early death. Opposed to death, I am." (With all due apologies to Yoda.)
And then a friend at work introduced me to Audible and that changed forever. Instead of dreading my four-mile runs (something I do for fitness, not pleasure), I began to look forward to them because it meant I would hear the next chapter or plot twist. Instead of being bored t0 the verge of insanity by the mindless repetition of putting one foot in front the other, Audible transformed running into an opportunity to rediscover lost worlds, find new heroes, and solve mind-twisting mysteries. No longer did running and reading repel each other as if they were like-ends of a magnet, they now magically worked together to enhance the experience of both.
Soon, I was listening to books while mowing the grass, painting the house, washing my truck (OK, I don't really do that one very often), taking a long trip, or when any other such opportunity presented itself. In the past 10 years I have read hundreds of books, both fiction and non-fiction. Balance has been restored and life is better than ever. If you have a love of books and reading but have had to make similar compromises, I can not overstate what a magnificent solution Audible can be.