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

20180217_144906

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

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.

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.