I meant to write this post on Mother's Day, but since I was working, I only had enough free time to call my mother, watch Game of Thrones, and then pass out. Still, I definitely feel the need to discuss what my mother gave me as a writer.
Despite having devoured The Lord of the Rings books so voraciously that my father (reputedly) said he'd have to grow hair on his hands and feet to get any attention, my mother is not generally a fantasy reader. She tried to help me out with critiquing some of my early fiction, but about the time she wondered, "Why are all their names so strange?" I realized she might not be my best choice of first reader.
But she always challenged me to think of things in a different way. My earliest stories involved a flock of rainbow sheep (... I don't even know where that came from), and when my second story had the same plotline as the first, she encouraged me to think of something new. She always modeled for me the ideal of marching to the tune of your own drummer, including homeschooling me at a time when this was a radical notion and most people had no idea what homeschooling even was. I can't even begin to estimate the impact this had on my ability, freedom and inclination to explore new ideas.
My mother never tried to fit a dodecahedral peg into a round hole. She let me practice cursive by writing a guide to a medieval castle, the surrounding town, and its people. And I learned parts of speech in a way I think provided me with a solid foundation: she put together cards with sequins, each shape / color representing a different part of speech, and had me invent sentences that matched the pattern. It was fun, it was concrete, and it got my imagination turning.
Then there was the word graveyard. "Here Lies (X) - Died of Overuse," the paper headstones read, with X being a bland, simple word, "Replaced by ..." It was my job to list as many synonyms, alternatives and replacements as I could think of.
As I grew older, she was (and still is) my cheerleader, even if my subject matter seemed foreign and bizarre to her. She's had confidence in me even when I don't (which, if I'm being honest, is more often than not). Then, of course, there was the moment when she read "Precious Cargo" from Space Sirens and raved about the story. But that was really just a bonus, a final footnote to the foundation and secure footing she gave me.