I can remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was eight years old and lying on my bed. Reading. My favorite place and my favorite activity. Indeed, so much so, as punishment when I was bad my mother used to send me outside to play.
All I wanted was to be alone in my room. Reading. And waiting for my real mother, the Queen, to arrive. I'd imagine her walking down the street, the neighbors watching through their curtains. Exclaiming that the odd little Penny girl hadn't been lying after all. Then the Queen would ring the bell, and take me home. And, as a reward for the agony of being raised by such a family, I got to choose three people to be executed. Even then violent death figured large. So I'd spend happy hours making the list of the three people who'd so hurt me that day they had to die. Though, to be honest, it wasn't all that difficult since I had two brothers and they were always on the list. That pretty much left just one space.
And that's when I knew I wanted to write. While reading Charlotte's Web.
I'd been terrified of spiders and was one of those annoying, dramatic little girls who'd spot a Daddy Longlegs and shriek, then run screaming to my room. But at some stage while lying on my bed I realized Charlotte was a spider! And I loved Charlotte.
And in that moment two miracles occurred. My fear of spiders disappeared and I knew I wanted to be a writer. In that instant I understood the power of the word to heal. I understood the magnificent gift of being freed from having to wonder what was in a dark corner or scurrying around in the garage. It was Charlotte. That's all.
How wonderful that moment was. And I knew I wanted to be a part of that world that could banish fears. Later in life I learned, as we all do, the power of the word to hurt. To kill even. Anyone who says "Sticks and stones my break my bones but words will never hurt me" was probably at the launching end of a few verbal attacks, not the receiving. Those of us who've been called names know the scars.
But we also know the choice. Words can heal. Words can take away fears. Words can lift us up, ennoble us, embolden us. How lovely is that?
Forty years later my first book was published, and I took it into the children's section and introduced it to it's grandmother, Charlotte's Web. And together we thanked her.
Editor's Note: Louise Penny is the award winning author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series. Her latest book, The Brutal Telling, has been named a Barnes & Noble Recommends Main Selection.