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When the Stars Reach Back

     Do you remember the first time a book really got to you? The most memorable ones crawl inside your head and your heart and will never leave you. Once opened and read they cannot be closed again.
     I was reminded of this reader/author alchemy after replying to a quiz on Facebook.
     The quiz was directed at writers. The gist of it was to name 15 authors who have influenced you and that will always stick with you. There was no requirement to list them in order.
     I wrote:

---Walt Whitman
---Bram Stoker
---Arthur C. Clarke
---Stephen King
---Anne Rice
---Ray Bradbury
---James M. Cain
---Thomas Harris
---Willa Cather
---William Styron
---John Steinbeck
---Mark Helprin
---Flannery O'Connor
---Roger Zelazny
---E. L. Doctorow

     Once I'd given my answers there were more names that surfaced from the depths of memory. One name in particular nagged at me, its importance so strong I felt compelled to add it to the list. It was a 16th selection.
     I wrote:

     Thomas Tryon should be added to this list.

     If I'd made my list according to who was the most influential for me he would've been listed first.
     You see, Thomas Tryon inspired me to become a writer.

     I've been interested in writing since around the age of ten. As I read more books and stories the torrent of words absorbed into my mind and I began to discover the wondrous variety of storytelling employed by authors. There appeared to be no limits to the kinds of stories one could write (or read). My favorite books explore the regions of the human heart. These were the kinds of stories I wanted to write.
     It was all because of Lady.

     After years as a successful actor Thomas Tryon caught the writing bug and began a second career as a best selling author of popular fiction. By the time he wrote and published his third novel I was well-acquainted with his fine storytelling skills. I had already eagerly devoured The Other and Harvest Home, his pair of now classic and milestone horror novels of spooky New England towns and their troubled inhabitants. There weren't many novels of popular horror in the early 1970's in those pre-Stephen King days. Of the quartet of biggest selling horror titles Tryon had written two of them. He was the man. (The titles were Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, and Tryons' The Other, and Harvest Home)

     I instantly fell in love with the cover art, beautiful in its simplicity and muted colors. I was surprised to discover that Lady wasn't another horror tale like his first two novels. Horror or not, I felt certain I would enjoy reading it. Tryon was a good writer and I trusted him to deliver a worthy tale. The coming of age story about a boy growing up in New England during the 1930's spoke to me like no other had before.
     Lady remains one of my favorite books. Ever.
     By the time I arrived at its poignant conclusion I'd experienced a full range of emotions. I wept for the beauty of it, mourning characters who'd been lost, for innocence lost as the main character realizes those he trusted and loved may not be so trustworthy or lovable as he first believed. I wept because it was over and I had no more story to read and I missed being a part of their lives. I felt unable to form words or think of anything else, to articulate what I'd just experienced.
     I shared my joy with others, encouraging friends to read it.
     But I wanted more. I wanted to tell the author how much the book meant to me, how deeply moved I was by his words.
     We are encouraged to reach for the stars.
     I wrote him a letter.
     I have no recollection of what I wrote, I only recall the intent was to let him know how much I loved reading his work, how special I felt Lady was, and that I wanted to be a writer too.
     I'd never been shy about making contact with people of interest.
     I found out that sometimes the stars reach back.

     He wrote me a reply.
     The note was dated February 7, 1977
     On fine, embossed stationary he typed:

Dear Mr. Jarrell:

Thank you for your kind words. It is always nice to feel appreciated. I am glad to learn you sold your first poem. The only advice I can give you is, if you really want to write, to write. Many people think it's easy. Let me tell you it is not. Like any profession, it takes years of apprenticeship before one is ready and able to make one's way in the professional world. But if you feel you have a vision you want to convey then keep working at it. Keep in practice and the day will come.

I worked for two years on The Other. I ran out of money and had to borrow from friends, but I believed I could do it, I had been writing short stories for myself for many years.

Good luck in your endeavors.

Thomas Tryon

     His personal note of encouragement was a wonderful gift for a young man with aspirations to be a man of letters, unsure of his talent or his chances. His kindness is something I'll never forget.

     Many years later I got to meet him.
     I traveled west to Las Vegas in June 1990 for the annual American Booksellers Association convention (now called Book Expo America). Publishers spotlight their biggest and best summer and fall titles. Author appearances are a major attraction.
     There was a long line to meet Mr. Tryon and score a copy of his newest novel. He was still a handsome man, tall and well-groomed.
     He gave me a firm handshake.
     "Hello. My name is Curt Jarrell. It's nice to meet you. You wrote one of my favorite books. Lady. I even wrote you a letter to tell you about it."
     "Did I write you back?"
     "Yes, you did."
     "Would you like your book inscribed any special way?"
     "Just 'To Curt' would be great."
     He signed and we shook hands again.
     "Thank you."
     I'm sure I was glowing.
     Thomas Tryon. Cool!

     Thomas Tryon passed away in September of the following year at the age of 65.

     2014 is the 40th anniversary of the publication of Lady. All of Tryon's most popular books are available as e-books. Only his debut novel The Other is currently in print as a paperback. As influential as his work was I'm surprised and saddened more people don't read his books today. He helped pave the way for the explosion in popularity of horror fiction and the famous names everyone knows today. (King, Straub, Rice, McCammon)
     A few years ago I bought a hardcover copy of Lady for my collection.
     I'm so lucky to have discovered the work of Thomas Tryon.
     As a reader I am thankful to have the books he wrote to experience again and again. As a writer I am happy to have the letter of encouragement he sent to the young writer I was. Meeting him and thanking him in person remains a warm memory to this day.

...(I)t's good when one feels the affections of the past. They are among the lasting things-----they will never leave us.
     And as Lady had told me, never is a long, long time.

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Tryon.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 17th, 2014 08:36 pm (UTC)
new to me
I always feel sort of bad when a friend talks highly of an author and I've never heard of the person, like I'm missing something great, and I freely admit that that might just be the case. I'll have to put this fellow on my list. It's gotten quite long, and I may need an entire second life to catch up on my reading.
Apr. 17th, 2014 09:09 pm (UTC)
Re: new to me
I think you'd like his books, Scott. I hope you get the chance to try one or two of his books.
Michael Albright
Sep. 28th, 2015 03:39 pm (UTC)
Very nice!
I enjoyed this very much. I have The Other and Harvest Home, but I have not read them yet. It us enjoyable to read thoughts and feelings readers and writers have of the work of their peers in the writing world. In the end, we are all human, beating those drums at the stars (Flaubert), flawed and beautiful. Some days, it seems ironic and painful; then, other days, it seems lovely. Thanks for your thoughts.
My list of have to reads:
1. Annie Proulx
2. Mark Spragg
3. Pete Fromm
4. Tim O'Brien
5. Truman Capote
6. Toni Morrison
7. H. P. Lovecraft
8. Caitlín R. Kiernan
9. Rick Bass
10. David Guterson
11. Ernest Hemingway
12. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
13. Stephen King
15. Nathaniel Hawthorne
Short Stories
16. Raymond Carver
17. John Updike
18. John Cheever
19. M. R. James
20. Arthur Conan Doyle
Nature Writers
21. Barry Lopez
22. Annie Dillard
23. Anne Zwinger
24. Mary Oliver
25. Emily Dickinson
26. Ted Kooser
27. Billy Collins
28. Ralph Waldo Emerson
29. Diane Ackerman
30. Ann Fadiman
31. Anne Lamott

Edited at 2015-09-28 03:42 pm (UTC)
Sep. 29th, 2015 01:16 am (UTC)
Re: Very nice!
Thanks for your comments, Mick. And thank you for sharing your own favorites. I've still got lots of reading to do.
Jan. 17th, 2017 09:45 pm (UTC)
Test, just a test
Hello. And Bye.
Jan. 18th, 2017 01:54 am (UTC)
Re: Test, just a test
Hello. Your test message has reached me. I hope you enjoyed the post. Bye.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )