When I was nine and read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, I wanted to be Jo March.

Not just because she was a free-spirited tomboy and I was an introverted “scaredy-cat.”  Not just because she had sisters and I was a “lonely only.”  But mostly because she spent hours of solitude making up and writing stories, which she later acted out to the cheers and encouragement of family and friends.  I wanted to do all of that, too.

I wrote my earliest stories in Jo’s voice and in the voices of many other authors and characters over the years.  For example, at 13, after reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird when it first came out, I began to channel Scout Finch, who was sassy, sensitive, smart, and spoke like a Southerner, to which I, a native of New Orleans, could deeply relate.  Scout eventually led me to the voices of Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty – and John Kennedy O’Toole, who captured the unique dialect of our mutual hometown in A Confederacy of Dunces better than anyone I’ve read to this day.

As a teen, I was drawn (some might say predictably) to the clever, sarcastic, urbane, witty voices of Dorothy Parker and James Thurber.  In college, while earning my degree in  journalism, which required writing volumes of fact-based, tightly structured stories, I wrote free-form poetry for my own amusement and pleasure, fancying myself as e.e. cummings [sic], Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams.  And due to my acting and theatre studies, my other creative writing efforts, though not necessarily plays, frequently emulated the voices of playwrights, including Anton Chekov, Henrik Ibsen, Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, and, of course, New Orleans denizens Lillian Hellman and Tennessee Williams.

Because life happened after I moved to Los Angeles while making plans to be an actor and writer (apologies to John Lennon), I stopped doing both for a while, but when I retired, I decided to give them another try.  I quickly achieved some success as an actor in various community theatre productions.  But when I took my first writing class, I was dismayed that the only voice I heard was mine telling me that my previous works had been merely imitative, and that I was really an imposter as a writer with nothing of my own to say.

Discouraged, I returned to the source – Little Women – for inspiration and found my beloved Jo’s bracing response to Professor Bhaer’s harsh criticism of her writing, “And who made you the high priest of what’s good and bad?”  I also found a somewhat encouraging quote in one of her journals by Alcott herself, “I enjoy romancing to suit myself; and though my tales are silly, they are not bad.”

But what helped most was something I heard an actor say about making choices on how to play a part.  “No matter what you choose,” he said, “plant your feet and own it.”

So, I now can guarantee all my stories, including Stealing Almonds in this issue of Litbreak – while certainly firmly rooted in the voices of Jo March and all who have populated my literary life since – are unquestionably written in the voice of Ria Parody Erlich.  Sometimes life gives you second chances.