Books: A part of my childhood, a part of my adulthood

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My earliest memory of books was when my dad read nursery rhymes to me—about  kings and queens, farmers and peasants—a precursor to fairy tales. When I won first place for my nonfiction piece, “A Memoir of Mother Goose,” I told my old professor that I had a slight “obsession with Mother Goose.” He’d chuckled and said it could be worse.

Mom and I read the Encyclopedia Brown series together, often in the car when my parents sold lamps and lampshades at an outdoor flea market in Summerdale, Alabama. Books were my salvation from boredom. If I didn’t have a new book, I’d reread an old one. I think I read Mom, You’re Fired! by Lou Kassem every day in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where I stayed with my grandparents every summer as an adolescent and tween. I also read many stories in the Mostly Magic installment of the Through Golden Windows series, printed in 1958; I loved all the retro books my grandmother’s bookcases were filled with. I remember it was a lot more fun to sift through books than it was to surf through channels.

Still is. 

Many Moons by James Thurber was (and still is) my all-time favorite children’s book, but I also loved the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar and The Face on the Milk Carton series by Caroline B. Cooney.

I guess you could say I’ve always been a series girl—The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin in elementary, Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal in middle, and V.C. Andrews in high school—the last of which I stopped reading when Andrew Neiderman (Andrews’ ghostwriter) turned out to be a hack.

I read many a Harlequin romance in my early twenties, which I deemed as research. (I wanted to write for them.)  My mom and I shared a lot of books—Tami Hoag, Lisa Jackson, and Sandra Brown—the usual suspects.  

In my late twenties and early thirties, I fell in love with Linda Hall novels—Christian fiction that didn’t resort to caricatures (as a lot of Christian fiction does). I reread her books every so often, but LaVyrle Spencer’s Small Town Girl will always be my favorite. I remember reading it when I was live-in nannying for three girls in Sidney, Montana, and feeling a bit homesick. The book is set in fictional Wintergreen, Missouri, which, is close to Poplar Bluff. It was because of that reference, perhaps, that I called my Aunt Cheryll (she and my uncle had recently split up after 27 years of marriage), with her telling me that she loved me; I realized then she would always be Aunt Cheryll to me.  

If I had to choose three classic novels that top all the others I’ve read thus far, it would be Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (Ironically, the films that were adapted from these fine works were flawless.) Sometimes I wonder if it were the heroines of these novels that make them so beloved—a feisty Southern belle who toughened up when push came to pushing back ten times harder and two precocious girls (one of them a storyteller, the other, a writer).

Though television programming has become portable with the advent of cell phones, back in the eighties and nineties, reading was the perfect, portable form of entertainment. At night, when I could no longer see (no Kindles then), I’d make up stories in my head.

My dad instilled in me, through poetry, a legacy of literacy—just as my mom shared that legacy with me. Thus, I am passing this legacy on to my daughter, who loves Mother Goose as much as I always will.

Updated 12/4/2019

A “nice” rejection letter

My rejection letter from “The Kid’s Ark” for my story, “Little Addie Brown Eyes”:

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Dear Sarah,.

Hello! Thank you so much for your submission to the Kids’ Ark’s theme “One of a Kind.” Your story was great and quite creative. Unfortunately, we simply didn’t have enough space to use it. Thank you again for submitting it and we hope to see more from you for future themes.
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Blessings over you and your work for His Kingdom!
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Joy Mygrants
Story Editor
The Kids’ Ark
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Theme Description: One of a Kind
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The Bible says in Isaiah 49: 1 “Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name”. Each zebra has a set of stripes that is an individual as a set of fingerprints. Stripes on the front of all zebra’s form a triangle pattern, but no two zebra’s are alike. Scientist think that zebra’s may even be able to identify each other by their stripes.
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We are looking for stories that will tell how the Lord made each of us unique. Also, that God does not make mistakes. The Lord has an assignment for every person that is born. We need to pray, study the Bible and ask Jesus what we are to do for him while on this earth.

Categorically, some of the best books I’ve read (thus far)

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LDS (Mormon fiction):  Shannon’s Mirror, by Luisa M. Perkins

  • I think a girl/woman of any age can enjoy this book, LDS or not.  Thirteen years ago, a friend of mine mentioned this book; the title stuck in my head until I finally bought it a few years ago.  It is a very beautiful, but very sad story, about how the quest for perfectionism (which I, as a former LDS woman, struggled with) can lead to heartache and destruction.

Christian fiction:  Any books by Linda Hall

  • This is the kind of Christian fiction I like–where Christians are real people who question things.  Rich in character, and description, too, but in a way that paints a picture as you read rather than slowing the momentum of the story.

Harlequin romance:  Redeeming Claire, by Cynthia Rutledge

  • Good Harlequin romances are as hard to find as an adverb in a Stephen King novel (or so I’ve heard), but this one is a gem because again, Christians are portrayed as regular people, not holier-than-thou or square as Wally Cleaver.  And it’s actually funny!

Mainstream romance:  Small Town Girl, by LaVyrle Spencer

  • I’ve read this book several times, and will read it several more.  It’s about a country music star who goes back home to help her mother and ends up falling in love with the one boy, now a man, whom she taunted all through high school.  The fact that Poplar Bluff, Missouri, the little town I was born in, was mentioned, was a bonus.

Memoir:  In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer, by Irene Gut Opdyke

  • Though the subject matter isn’t unique, the voice was.

Biography:  Natasha:  The Biography of Natalie Wood, by Suzanne Finstad

  • I’ve been a fan of Natalie ever since I saw her as a little girl in “Miracle on 34th Street”, for she reminded me so much of myself when I was at that age.  She also personified physical beauty that did not come in blond hair and blue eyes (which I, and every other girl I knew, wanted growing up).  This book read like creative nonfiction.  I do think one would have to be at least a lukewarm fan to get pleasure from this book.

Chick lit:  Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella

  • Story and protagonist are hilarious (though I hope Becky learns her lesson by the end of the series).

Beach read:  The Sunday Wife, by Cassandra King

  • Though the author’s personal views are quite different from my own (and were presented in a very one-dimensional way), I enjoyed this because the friendship of two women was the focus, relegating the romance to the background.  Again, a bonus was that Pensacola, Florida (“The Buckle of the Bible Belt”/”The Redneck Riviera”), the town where I live, was mentioned.

Gothic horror:  Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews

  • I first read this book in high school and was hooked on V.C., till her ghostwriter became a hack.  I love this book because it’s just the kind of story I like to write.

Children’s book:  Many Moons, by James Thurber

  • I had read this book once, many years when I was in elementary school, and it stayed with me for almost 30 years, after I had my own daughter.  It epitomizes one of my favorite scriptures, “…and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

On writing:  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:  How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne, Dave King and George Booth

  • This book opened my eyes on how to break my stories up into scenes–how to show, rather than tell.

Best nonfiction/religious book (besides the Bible):  What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?:  The Positive Impact of Christianity in History, by Dr. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe

  • This was an enlightening book.  I’d never thought about how life might be different had Jesus not come yet.  Whether or not you’re a Christian, I think it makes for a thought-provoking read.

Having fun with lists and languages

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a fan of Shakespeare.  I have always found  his work boring (even though I’m supposed to like it).  Maybe there isn’t enough yolk in my head to like what I have been told is one of the greats.  However, I do think it is possible to appreciate something without liking it.  Shakespeare did invent many new words, many of which I like, so, I came up with a few myself.

Snowblowhard:  one who chooses to live in the South, but complains about everything Southern (like the weather, for instance).  A friend of a friend (on Facebook)  referred to Florida Christmases as fake because we didn’t have snow.

Raggedbagger:  woman who carries a designer handbag while dressed like a bum.

Paddyfibber:  one who claims to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

Stackie (see shelfie:  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=shelfie):  a stack, or tower, of books that have not yet made it to a shelf.

Crucifixation (I can’t take credit for this one, as my brother made it up):  one who is fascinated by the macabre elements of religion (exorcism, speaking in tongues, etc.).

Manicurist:  I know this is already a word, but I think it should be brought back.  Nail technician just isn’t an accurate of a description, and this is coming from someone who was an administrative assistant (which is really a glorified secretary with receptionist duties).

Multi-tabber (liken to multi-tasker)–one who has at least several tabs open on their Internet at one time.  This is me.

Mom joke (a.k.a. lame joke):  if you knew my mom, you’d understand.  An example of a mom joke:  Q:  What did the one casket say to the other casket that had a cold?  A:  Is that you coffin?

Femoir:  a fake memoir.  See:  http://listverse.com/2010/03/06/top-10-infamous-fake-memoirs/

Fictionary:  This list!

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Maybe one of the amendments to my list of New Year’s Resolutions should be to learn at least one new word a day, but to learn that new word, I have to use it.

One of the reasons I enjoyed the Shopaholic series so much was because it was set in England, and I learned some British words/slang.  One of my favorite English phrases is “cheesed off” (which means disgusted or fed up).

When I lived in Montana, they used the word “spendy” to mean pricey.  In Southeast Missouri, where my family is from, they use the term “whopper-jawed” (I think that means jacked-up), and my parents still say “warsh” instead of “wash.”

Local lingo adds an authentic flavor to a piece of writing.  A setting is an important character, even if the place is made up.  I’d rather see an author make up a setting than do injustice to a real one.  Peyton Place was made up but felt very real (I’m referring to the movie and not the book).  Of course, it was based on a real place, like Sinclair Lewis’s Zenith, Missouri, in Elmer Gantry (another example where the movie was far better than the book).  Even Oz felt like a real place–just not on Earth.

One of the many reasons I love Christian author Linda Hall’s books is because almost all of them are set in Maine–a place I’d love to visit someday.  I also tend to gravitate towards books set in New Orleans (ironically, a place I have no desire to visit); the only reason I read any of Elin Hilderbrand’s novels was because most of them were set on Nantucket Island (where I’ve wanted to visit ever since I became a fan of the Wings TV series).  Dorothea Benton Frank’s Sullivan’s Island has made me want to go there, too.  However, the last two authors only made me want to visit the settings of their novels, not read another one.

Setting is great, but character still matters.

Updated 1/13/2020

On Writing

Being a part of a local writer’s group has enriched my writing experience immensely. Through it, I’ve met like-minded people to share my work with, made new friends, and I’m always super motivated after the meeting—a feeling that carries me till the next.

I’ve taken a hiatus from my novel writing and am concentrating on completing shorter pieces; writing a novel is a grand investment of one’s time.

Writing smaller pieces, I can submit more work and enter more contests, thus increasing my chances of being published and maybe even making a little money.

I decided, after querying over fifty agents, that self-publishing is probably going to be the way to go with my first novel. I just want to get this one book out there and be done with it. I love the writing part of the business, but the introvert in me hates the marketing part. I’m a writer, not a salesgirl.

I had considered publishing it under the pseudonym of Katherine Mayfield (a character from Beverly Lewis’s series, The Heritage of Lancaster County, who leaves the Amish faith to become a Mennonite), but it just wouldn’t be the same with another name on the cover.

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