Someone asked me the other day who my favorite authors are. I had to think about it for a while, because I appreciate good writing and quality craftsmanship, and that combination isn't easy to find these days. In the end, I came up with several favorites whose works I've enjoyed over the years, some of the longest lasting being Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dürrenmatt, Kafka, Dostoevsky, and even Donald Barthelme for his mastery of the short story. But only one writer changed my life forever more than fifty years ago. It was a guy who went by the name of J. D. Salinger.
I was a freshman in high school when our teacher assigned the book, The Catcher in the Rye, for a report. Thinking it was a story about baseball (freshman, remember), I decided to read it rather than merely peruse Cliff's Notes and skate through the assignment, as usual. Well, it wasn't long before I fell in love with Holden Caulfield's brashness and the power of his creator's literary voice. They got me thinking about how cool it would be to be an author and how fortunate Salinger was to have a name as distinctive as J. D. You know, only those two initials out front.
Just for fun, I began contemplating what sort of by-line I would have used had I ever decided to write a book. You know. J. D. Salinger. D. J. Herda. J. D. Salinger. D. J. Herda.
Wait a minute! It struck me like a thunder clap. How coincidental was that? Loving a book by an author who just happened to have the same two first initials (albeit inverted) as I?
From there, I made the proverbial hop-skip-jump decision to try writing my first book, which I did. And you know what? It was absolutely horrible. Called God Bless the Construction Workers, the only thing I managed to get right throughout the entire process was spelling my name correctly on the cover sheet.
Needless to say, I've been writing ever since. And, while Salinger's personal life isn't exactly something I've ever wanted to emulate, I owe his book everything in the way of gratitude. Once that can of worms was opened, no one could ever seem to get it closed again.
Particularly not me.
Oh, and that first book? The one that Salinger inspired me to write? I still have a copy of the original manuscript somewhere, and, believe me, that's exactly where it's going to remain: somewhere.