Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Open Letter to LJ Smith

Dear LJ Smith,

When I was about ten years old, you changed my life.

I had always enjoyed reading and loved books with a passion, and I had always crafted rather horribly-written short stories on my notebook paper during class. But when I was ten I was going through my sister's bookshelves (because she had all the good books) and discovered "The Vampire Diaries." I still remember the dark blue and black cover, and curiously turned the book over to take a peek at the back.

I instantly stole the entire series from her shelf and hid in my room for the rest of the day, listening to Ace of Base on my stereo as I read each and every page of the three-book series. (To this day, I still think of "The Vampire Diaries" whenever I hear any Ace of Base song, and I always remember how it felt to be sitting there curled up on my bed, caught up in the excitement and devouring every word of those books.)

I remember sobbing uncontrollably at the end of book three, when Elena dies, and cursing the author who had given me such an unhappy ending. But as soon as I stopped crying, I reopened book one and re-read my favorite parts, then moved onto book two and then book three.

I honestly can't tell you how many times I have read "The Vampire Diaries" books one through three. I lost count a long time ago. But I had memorized scenes. I pictured them so vividly in my mind I dreamed about them. Elena and Damon became ingrained in my heart and in my soul, shaping my character from that day forward.

Once I finished "The Vampire Diaries" I immediately went to my sister's room, searching for more books with the author LJ Smith on the spine. I begged my mother take me to the bookstore so I could find more. I still remember her hesitation at my "teen-book" purchases, but I was insistent. I had to read more from this magnificent author, who had made me feel a way I had never felt before. Who had opened my eyes to a world I had never dreamed existed. Who wrote in such a way I felt like I was there, living through each scene with the characters.

Over the next few years I read every book you ever published. I own every book you ever wrote, and I have read each of them at least three times. The trilogies I have read at least a dozen times. Each book, especially each trilogy, changed me. It made me see the world in a new way. It opened my mind to greater possibilities than what I had seen before. Even as I grew up, I was faithful to your books, always leaving a spot on my shelf for my "LJ Smith" collection. When my parents started making me trade in books, I never touched yours. I would never loan them to friends in fear they would not return them. And whenever I had a bad day or something was wrong, I would always go to my favorite books, find my favorite scenes, and read until I felt better. In total I have probably spent months curled up in front of my bookshelf, reading your books.

When I started trying to write real stories, not just the few pages on notebook paper, it was your books I looked to for inspiration. I had read your writing for so long and found it so ingrained in me as a person the words that flowed from my fingertips were all in your style. In your terms. My first stories were horrible, shameless rip offs of yours. I even fanfic'd a few of them, before fanfic was even a real thing on the internet. I was desperate for the stories of these characters I loved to continue on, even if I was the only one reading them.

Your writing was always something I tried to emulate--something I strove desperately to learn from and duplicate and make my own. I could never do it; I'm not as good as you. But your stories made me want to try. You made me want to be a better writer. To be a writer.

Even now, almost twenty years later, I still hold all those strains of your writing in my heart. I still think about Cassie and Adam's connection--their silver cord. I still love the bad boys like Gabriel and Damon and still prefer their character type over any other. I still tend to write (and read) books laced with fantasy. Because of you. Because your writing changed my life.

I am no longer at the age where a book can change my life or my personality the way it did back when I was reading your books--and I'm glad. I'm glad you were the one who was there when I was at that age. I'm glad it was your books I found. I'm glad I was able to experience your books at a time when I was learning to become a person, and incorporated pieces from all of your characters into who I am today.

I will never be able to express how much I appreciate you as an author, a mentor, or as a person. I'm just not as good of a writer as you. But someday I hope to meet you, and give you a hug, and tell you that you are as important to me and helped shape my life as much as my parents did.

I look forward to the next piece you unveil to share with the world. I know I'll be right there holding your book in my hand, ready to experience the next journey you take us on.

All my love and appreciation,