I found out last week that Gilbert Morris went home to be with the Lord in February. (Yes, I’m super late to the party, I know.) I wasn’t expecting it to hit me so hard, but it did. Mr. Morris was probably one of the most influential people in my life, even though I never met him.
When I was nine, I got to go to Alaska. We stayed with a family with four kids, one of whom was a cool teenage girl whose room I ended up sleeping in. And being the shy, nerdy nine-year-old I was, I read her books. I don’t know how I made my selection, whether it was based on the cover or the title or the description on the back (side note: don’t you miss those?). But the book I picked up was The Caves That Time Forgot, the fourth book in the Seven Sleepers series. This girl owned books four, five, and six, and I read all three of them even though I was only at her house for about a week. I got home and requested the whole series the following Christmas.
The Seven Sleepers series was the first fantasy I ever read. I had never heard of fantasy before then (my exposure to Narnia had been minimal). I was intrigued. The stories I told myself with my dolls shifted away from stories about fleeing across the mountains to escape the invading soldiers (this storyline brought to you by The Inn of the Sixth Happiness starring Ingrid Bergman). This is where my first experiences with world building began. One storyline in particular involved a Ken and a Barbie who lived underwater in a big city (which I built using foam blocks). In this storyline, Ken played the role of Josh, and Barbie of Sarah.
I think I’ve mentioned Josh and Sarah before. They were my first genuine “one true pairing,” even though the term otp didn’t even exist yet. I liked the idea of the sort of introverted, plain guy who actually really did know what he was doing, but no one would listen to him. In retrospect, that’s probably because I’m an INFJ. I liked the idea that the quiet one was right all along. I liked the idea that following the handsome blond boy got you into trouble. (Just kidding, Dave, I love you too.) And I loved the idea of a girl who was passionate and intelligent and creative, all things that I wanted and still want to be known for.
So that’s the fantasy half of my writer aesthetic. Now here’s the other half.
I burned through the Seven Sleepers, all ten books as well as the seven in the spinoff series. I tried House of Winslow, but historical fiction still isn’t my favorite genre. It didn’t help that the plotline seemed to reboot with a new generation of Winslows every five books or so. I did better with Bonnets & Bugles, another ten-book series in the slightly more recent era of the American Civil War. But Mr. Morris wrote a lot of romance too, and I’m just not about that life. That left the Daystar Voyages.
At this point, my experience with fantasy had been limited, but my experience with sci-fi had been nonexistent, so I went in cautiously. But then I met Jerusha. Jerusha, again, is a very quiet, sort of introverted character who often gets talked over even though she totally knows what’s actually going on. This resonated deeply with me, and I burned right through the Daystar Voyages too.
Now, Daystar Voyages is predominantly sci-fi. But with all the romping around alien planets, there was a very strong undercurrent of fantasy. Keep in mind, this was in middle school, before I was writing my own stories. This was the “I like these characters I’m going to write my own stories about them” stage—again, long before fanfiction was a thing. And so my first stories were in worlds sort of like Earth, but not really, where things like dinosaurs would suddenly appear. They were adventures hopping from one shade of reality to the next, brainstormed and drafted with a cast of Barbies.
When I started dedicating serious energy to writing, my parents bought me How to Write and Sell a Christian Novel, my very first actual book on actual fiction writing. Not only did Mr. Morris show me what good writing could look like, he also taught me how to write it for myself.
So, Mr. Morris, thank you. Thank you for everything.