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

Poetry in Motion Pictures

In Pollyanna,
I saw myself as the Sunday school girl
who focused on the “Happy Texts,”
because it helped me “keep the faith.”

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,
I saw myself in Francie Nolan—
that lies weren’t lies if they were written as stories.

In The Wizard of Oz,
I saw myself as Dorothy—
who fell asleep to dreams
well-lived.

In The Sound of Music,
I saw myself as Liesl von Trapp,
who saw the greatness of her country
diminishing.

In Kitty Foyle,
I saw myself as “that sassy Mick”—
once in love with an unattainable man.

In Elmer Gantry,
I saw myself as Sister Sharon Falconer—
whose faith was strong,
even as her love for a man made her weak.

In Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,
I saw myself as Milly,
who tried to smooth out a rough-hewn man.

In Gone with the Wind,
I saw myself as Scarlett O’Hara—
who proved that strength and tenacity
could save it all.

Classic movies have always been
my happy distraction,
for in them,
I saw the parallels of my own life,
and though their pain wasn’t my pain,
their joys were my joys.

Micropoetry Monday: Irony

When she gave birth to the daughter
who would cause her screams,
she did not know she was giving birth
to her own death 20 years later-
a death that would silence those screams.

She lived a life without regrets,
but then, she had no memory.
It was bliss.

Rhett
For if only he’d known she’d asked for him,
he would’ve never left Tara,
with Ashley alone & aggrieved—
Ashley, a milquetoast remnant of The Old South.
This Old South,
burnt & faded from Bonnie Blue
to bleached denim,
was now ashes that were
gone with the wind.

She was sorry she ever lied,
for because of her lie,
the lie became a truth.

For she’d wanted 7 children
& 1 husband,
but ended up with 7 husbands
& 1 child–
all because she had put
her husbands before the 1.

Micropoetry Monday: Our Beautiful South

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Over sweet tea on the verandah,
two Southern belles
& two Southern gents,
decided to be Yankees for a day,
& butter was no longer a staple.

Growing up working class,
with collars as blue as the Bonnie Blue flag
& politics scarlet-red,
with a bloodline as white as Irish potatoes
that ran through their veins,
the O’Mara family was becoming gone with the wind,
their Confederate grey ashes blowing in the breeze.

Wilting on the front porch in blue rocking chairs
with sweet tea in Mason jars,
Miss Iris & Miss Lily spoke of the war no one felt anymore.

Ida Claire, a Southern belle
who identified as a Yankee—
suddenly found that her time was
cut by half & unable to roll her r’s,
for they had disappeared.

They ate grits sweet & savory,
in the sweet & low country,
elevating them with the spice of life,
& the herb that grew in Bubba’s hanging garden–
a potted plant or a planted pot–
they never knew what.

15 Life Lessons Learned From Classic Movies

 

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Written lies can be stories.  (Just don’t print them as truth.)
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird: Sometimes there are consequences for doing the right thing.
  3. Gone with the Wind: You might lose your soul-mate by pining for someone else’s.
  4. Clash by Night: “It’s who I am” is not an excuse for being a jerk.
  5. Johnny Belinda: Sometimes you say it best when you say nothing at all.
  6. 9-5: If you want good office morale, treat your employees right.
  7. Office Space: “Humans weren’t meant to sit in a cubicle all day.”
  8. 12 Angry Men: “Not guilty” isn’t the same thing as “innocent”.
  9. The Night of the Hunter: Religion can wound, and it can heal; it depends upon the application.
  10. It’s a Wonderful Life: Your life matters more than you realize.
  11. Miracle on 34th Street:  Let children be children.
  12. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Never stop wooing your wife.
  13. Meet Me in St. Louis: A love of home and a sense of belonging is more important than more money.
  14. The Sound of Music:  Even in the darkest of times, music can be one’s salvation.
  15. Sullivan’s Travels: Making people laugh has intrinsic value.

Micropoetry Monday: Ekphrastic Poetry

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She’d learned it all from Lucy–
how a life of grand schemes
& wars of the sexes made it worth living,
how one could come to America an immigrant & not make do but do well,
how a small apartment in the city could become a spacious house in the country,
how lifelong best friends & a long-awaited child
could be part of anyone’s American Dream.

Scarlett
Tomorrow was always another day—
that mythical time when all would be well.
Yet she pined for the one man
who represented that lost cause
in which she’d found happiness.

Caroline Carmichael had found purpose in a stolen life,
rather than the life she had chosen as Martha Sedgwick.
She was the water,
Hillary & Winston the powdered mix,
& blended, they made up the Instant Family.

Little Women
Beth was but a faint percussion,
Amy, a bold stroke of fresh color,
while Jo captured & condensed life as she knew it,
& Meg mothered the future.

She was one in a dozen,
a ginger with a snap,
the heart of a lion,
the breadth of a lamb.

Prequels and Sequels vs. Retellings and “The Wizard of Oz”

Is either necessary?  I think most books are better left to stand alone, like “Gone with the Wind”.  I just read where a prequel to “GWTW” is in the works.  Wasn’t “Scarlett” (which, I admit, I never read) bad enough?  Maybe I just don’t want to like “Scarlett”.  I see writers who write sequels or prequels to famous novels as piggybacking off another author’s success.

I prefer retellings.

That said, years ago, when I was an avid fan of V.C. Andrews, I wrote a sequel to “My Sweet Audrina”–the only stand-alone novel V.C. wrote.  I don’t know whatever happened to it, but I am tempted to go back and rewrite it.  I know I could do better in V.C.’s stead than that hack, Andrew Neiderman.  (Most anyone could.)

I’d also thought about writing a sequel to “Pollyanna” (even though the movie was much better than the book), only to find that one had already been written by the author, Eleanor H. Porter.

What’s worse to me, though, is when an author like Nicholas Sparks writes a sweet story (“The Notebook”), and then pens an abysmal sequel (“The Wedding”).  For me, if the same author writes the sequel, it’s hard to separate the two.  Still, it doesn’t diminish the original book for me–I don’t let it.

I watched “The Wizard of Oz” last night.  Still a delight!  I hadn’t watched it since I was a kid, and I picked up on the allegorical nature of the film I didn’t back then.  To me, brains, heart and courage were something only a “wizard” (i.e. God) could give a person.  Glinda was Dorothy’s guardian angel.  The “yellow brick road” was the road paved with gold that led to Heaven (i.e. the Emerald City).  The poppies were drugs that caused them to lose ambition and the snow that refreshed them represented manna.

I tried watching “Oz:  The Great and Powerful”, but gave up about halfway through.  Such a disappointment it was, but one cannot help but compare it to the original, which was as bright as this one was dark.  Had it been a retelling and not a prequel (though the premise had potential), I might have at least finished it.

It’s been years since I read the book by L. Frank Baum, but I don’t recall there being a Good Witch of the South.  I just wrote a story about her and Dorothy’s granddaughter for a short story contest.  The theme was “alien” and what it means to us, so I made Dorothy’s granddaughter an illegal alien in the land of Oz.  Aliens from outer space was too obvious.

The biggest project I’m working on now in relation to this topic is a set of fractured fairy tales juxtaposed with Biblical allegories (i.e. “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel).

This is what “Writer’s Digest” had to say about writing a sequel to someone else’s book:  http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/legal-questions/updated-can-you-write-the-sequel-to-someone-elses-book

Looks like I’ll have to publish my sequel, simply titled, “Audrina”, for free on a V.C. fanfiction site.  (That was how the author of “Fifty Shades of Gray” got started; the story was developed from a “Twilight” fanfiction series and published on fanfiction websites.)

Are there any sequels (or prequels) you’d like to read or even write yourself?

When a movie makes you want to read the book

Once in awhile, I’ll watch a movie that intrigues me enough by what it doesn’t show (or tell) to want to read the book.  The movie I am referring to is “Rachel, Rachel” from 1968, starring Joanne Woodward.  It is about a 35-year old virgin schoolteacher named Rachel Cameron who has lived in the same, New England town all her life with her mother, whom she allows to run her life.  Rachel grew up surrounded by death–her family lived above her father’s funeral parlor.  We are not only privy to cryptic flashbacks, but also get to see inside her head–of her imagining things she wants to do, but cannot bring herself to.

This film isn’t without flaws, but it made me think, and is the kind of movie that stays with me for days afterward.  It is interesting that it is following the scene in the tabernacle (where Rachel has a breakthrough of some sort–I wouldn’t call it a conversion) that she falls from grace, because whatever was going on in that room, made her want to feel again.

I have always loved stories set in New England, perhaps because I live in an area where we have two seasons–summer and winter (without snow).  Though I love covered bridges and the changing of the leaves, I am a beach girl at heart, and would live in flip-flops year round if I could.

“Rachel, Rachel” is the kind of film that needs to be watched more than once, because you won’t catch everything the first time.  Much can be learned from is not said or shown.  There is more to the story, and I will be reading the book (“A Jest of God” by Margaret Laurence).

I can count on one hand the number of movies that made me want to read the book:  “Flowers in the Attic” (great score, but not even a good movie–the premise just intrigued me), “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, “The Hunger Games” (for the same reason I want to read Ms. Laurence’s book–I needed more backstory), to name a few.  Of course, if I loved the movie, the book cannot compare (as was the case with “Gone with the Wind”).

The same is true if I loved the book, the movie cannot compare, as was the case with “Flowers in the Attic”.

Then there are books that just should not be made into movies, like books by LaVyrle Spencer (a hit-and-miss author for me), and Belva Plain, to name a couple.

Can you judge a book by its title?

Several years ago, I heard that Harlequin romance read every manuscript they received, and so I began writing short romance novels, tailoring them specifically for that market.  I won’t lie–I’ve always believed they would publish anything.  One book I read had a character named Darren, also spelled Darrin.  I couldn’t help but think of the two Darrins on “Bewitched”.

I’ve read about a hundred Harlequin romances (for research more than pleasure), and I’ve probably liked about five of them.  Most of the titles (and characters) are forgettable.  (Though much meatier, I can barely name any of the Lisa Jackson and Sandra Brown books I’ve read.)  However, there is a market for these little books, and so I’ve been working on a handful of titles–I just need to write the stories that go with them!

I ended up writing two novels, “Regina Fair”, a light, fluffy romance for the Harlequin American romance line, and “A Splash of Blue”, a darker novel for one of the other lines.  I came up with “Regina Fair” for the title (it was originally “Regina’s Rainbow”) when I read that Audrey Hepburn’s “Sabrina” was originally “Sabrina Fair”; someone thought that sounded too highbrow (fearing they would think “Vanity Fair”), and so it was shortened.

My protagonist, Regina Morrow, is a refined girl who works a blue-collar job (she is a grocery clerk).  I wanted to show (and not tell) that a girl could have class without money and/or a white-collar job.  Plus, a character like that is more relatable than most of the contestants that compete on “The Bachelor”.

“A Splash of Blue” is about a young woman who runs away from her mother’s smothering love to become a mermaid for Soda Springs water park (based on Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida; I’ve been there, and it is truly a relic from the 1950’s).  This title is reminiscent of the 1965 movie, “A Patch of Blue”.

I do think the greatest books have the most memorable titles (“Gone with the Wind”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”), and a catchy title (like a book cover that pops) is important, as are character names.  Did you know Pansy was Scarlett O’Hara’s original name?  Or that Mickey was born Mortimer Mouse?  I can’t imagine it either.