The Serenity of Influence

“Mary had had it. The kids—kids?—Seth was forty and Stefani was forty-one—had been fighting since San Cristobol. You are. I am not. Yes you are. Cramped in the back seat of the rental car, Mary translated their back and forth invectives into Spanish for the softness, the quick prettiness of the language, but her pulse beat with impatience and her stomach started to churn.”

This is author Molly Giles  reading from her award-winning book All the Wrong Places (Lost Horse Press) in the Creekside Room of the Mill Valley Public Library last night. The room was quiet except for the giggles and laughter that would erupt as it became clear that Molly’s story was a hilarious part sendup, part searing social commentary, of the grandma packed up in a rug and transported on the roof of a car. Imagine that urban legend told from the point of view of grandma. You must read it and die laughing. Also you can take writing workshops with Molly Giles at Book Passage. I took a workshop with Molly years ago and it helped me understand plot (but I’m still lousy at it).

As Molly read last night, I found that little compartment of my brain that is ever alert for messages from the muse taking in ideas for writing short stories. Her story read like European cinema, her style was so refined and well-crafted I felt I imbibed it like a cup of calming herbal tea. Harold Bloom, a crusty but respected literary critic might call this The Anxiety of Influence (a 1967 academic oeuvre). However, no one writes in a vacuum (oh, except for James Joyce, but that’s another story). I call it The Serenity of Influence.

I have been under the influence a lot lately thanks to Lisa Alpine’s “Travel Writer Series,” which is where I heard Molly Giles and other great local writers. I would like to give a bow and a nod to the women whose stories I could listen to over and over and have that compartment in my brain furiously taking dictation (message to muse, message to muse) for future writings. I love being influenced by these writers. I feel so serene. So I’m starting a Serenity List of women in my sphere (the SF Bay Area) who bring on that mind-altering state (later I’ll do a list for the men, don’t fret). This is just a starter list of the writers I’ve recently listened to as part of Lisa’s Travel Writers Series:

Lisa Alpine
Christina Ammon
Erin Byrne
Molly Giles
Laurie McAndish King
Kristen Koza
Diane LeBow
Kimberley Lovato
Jill Robinson
Maxine Rose Schur
Nicole Zimmerman


  1. wow. Camille. Thank you~!