I’m a writer, so obviously I’d love to be able to pose as a language prodigy and tell everyone I was born with a copy of Hamlet in my hand, delighting my parents with my fluid crib readings of the Bard.
Unfortunately, that’s not the real story. In the real story, I’m a second child, and, as so often happens, my mother had already purged all that maternal “must teach daughter to read ASAP or will be failure as parent” anxiety from her psyche with my older sister. Mom adopted a far more laissez faire attitude with me. She read TO me, but she obviously figured hey, the nuns can handle the phonics-reading thing… the tuition is high enough, for heaven’s sake.
Even at six, it really nettled me that my sister could read, and I couldn’t. But for some reason I accepted that we had to wait till I started first grade. Word is, I was like a horse fidgeting at the starting gate. When the school bell went off, and the gate opened, I picked up a book, and from that moment until I conquered reading, no one saw my face. They saw only an open book with my convent-school uniform extending below it.
I ate with one hand, walked around bumping into things, bathed holding the pages above the water. It took me forever to put on my socks, because I had to dangle them out with my free hand, then wiggle my toes around like blind newborn kittens until they found the opening and wormed their way in.
Maybe because I waited so long, or because it was so exciting to teach myself, the books I read back then will always be extra special to me. Or maybe they were just terrific books. I made a point of buying as many of them as I could for my own kids—either vintage or reprints—and they loved the stories, too.
Here are a few I’ll never outgrow:
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson. This, I’m sure, is the book I’m holding in this picture, taken when I had just turned seven. I don’t know if Ferdinand made me a peace-maker personality, or if I loved Ferdinand because I already had that personality, but it felt as if this book had been written specifically for me.
The Golden Egg Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Wisegard. The bunny trying to figure out what will hatch from an egg he discovers enchanted me, because both he and the duck are so uninhibited and natural. They kick each other and roll each other down hills. They get impatient, and then get bored. It’s childhood in a nutshell…I mean, eggshell.
I Can Fly, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Mary Blair. Though I didn’t know it, this book introduced us to all kinds of poetic tricks, like rhyme and onomatopoeia. And we always acted it out, which was awesome.
The Bumper Book, a collection of stories and poems. Mostly, I adored the colorful pictures. The stories were too hard for me that year, but I’d heard the poems so often I learned to read the letters by matching them to the words I knew by heart. I remember reading aloud the lines “Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares! Christopher Robin is saying his prayers” with exactly the same intonation my mom had always used. Very grave, very reverent.
McElligot’s Pool, by Dr. Seuss. To this day, the opening line of this darling book is one of my favorites in all fiction. “Young man,” laughed the farmer, “you’re sort of a fool! You’ll never catch fish in McElligot’s Pool!” What kid doesn’t love to see the grumpy old pessimist realize he might be the fool?
What about you? Do you remember learning to read? Do you still own any of your favorite childhood books? Did you read any of them with your own children? I’m giving away a ten dollar gift certificate to Amazon.com to one randomly chosen poster today, so I hope you’ll take a minute so share!
One of my favorite things about being a writer is when I come up with a sentence or two that really captures the essence of a character, the book’s tone, the conflict, or the setting. I may hate every other line in a chapter, but thank goodness for that one fabulous paragraph that keeps me going. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from my most recent release, The Pirate Takes a Bride. Tell me your favorite and win a copy of the book (digital or print).
By the way, you can read the first three chapters of the book by clicking here.
“Stop calling me sweetheart.”
“You prefer another sobriquet? Because I can think of a few that fit you far better than sweetheart.”
“And I can think of several choice names for you. Starting with—”
He put a finger over her lips silencing her. “Save them for later.” He winked. “When we’re alone.”
“Nick!” She seethed his name. “Don’t just stand there. We’re being attacked by”—she glanced at the men—“highwaymen.”
“Pirates,” Nick drawled. “Well, privateers, actually.”
“Pirates?” She frowned, unwilling to believe it.
A tall whale-sized man who looked as though he could lift a cannon with one hand stepped closer. He grinned, showing several gaps where teeth should have been. “Argh.”
Nick lifted a coil of rigging line Mr. Fellowes must have left lying on the desk behind her. He dangled the rope in front of her. “Give me your hands.”
“You wouldn’t dare.” She took a step back but was out of room to retreat.
He grinned. “Then why are you trying to escape?”
“Nick, you can’t. You won’t. I know you won’t.”
“Sweetheart.” He unfurled the rope, letting it fall with a hiss and a thud. “I don’t think you know me as well as you think.”
“There was a time you welcomed my embrace,” he said.
She sat, grateful to shift positions and glared down at him. “That was before I knew the real you. That was when I was under your spell.”
“Spell?” His brows rose. “Are you insinuating I used some sort of magic to make you want me? I assure you my natural charm and charisma are all I need.”
She could not bear to listen to his arrogant remarks any longer. “Pardon me if I must escape your oozing charm for a moment.”
Nick knew that was unfounded optimism. “My luck is shot to hell, Mr. Chante, but I have one or two tricks up my sleeve. We run first, hope the wind changes or that dark cloud up ahead turns out to be the squall we predicted.”
“Throw everything nonessential overboard. Lighten ship as much as you can. But prepare for a fight. If it comes to a battle, we hit her and run.”
“Begging your pardon, Cap’n, but once she’s broadside, we’re done for.”
“Exactly, Mr. Chante. So we force her to sail past us.”
Chante gave him a look rife with warning. Nick held up a hand. “It’s risky, I know. But it could work. We wait until she’s close, so close we’re looking up her skirts, and then we ease the sheets and let her go by.”
So what’s your favorite? The romantic sparring, the shipboard lingo, or something else? Winner announced Sunday (hopefully, I’m traveling!).
“What I love belongs to me. Not the chairs and tables in my house, but the masterpieces of the world. It is only a question of loving them enough.”
–Elizabeth Asquith Bibesco
I don’t know who Bibesco is, really, but apparently she knows me. That quote sums up exactly how I feel about a few lovely things that are, to put it mildly, a bit out of my price-range. It’s a life philosophy that’s kept me from going crazy…or landing in jail.
For instance, I love the Tiffany fountain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC so much I’d probably go nuts—except that, decades ago, I decided it’s actually mine. The Met just houses it for me because I don’t have enough space to do it justice.
The same is true for John Everett Millais’ painting Ophelia.
Don’t ask me why I adore this painting so much. It doesn’t reflect any madness or suicidal tendencies on my part. Honest.
But I know it seems a little morbid. My poor mother-in-law learned it was my favorite painting shortly after His Highness and I got married. I’ll never forget her face as she frowned down at the glazed stare of drowning girl.
“Your favorite? Really?” Somehow she kept her voice as gentle as ever. “But… But why?”
That’s all she said out loud. Behind her eyes, though, her brain was pinging with questions. Like… “Oh, dear heaven…he’s married a nut job?” and “Too late for an annulment?”
And after a lifetime of looking at Ophelia only in books, as sad as a hungry kid in front of a candy-store window, I finally got to see it in real life.
A few years ago, we went to London for one of His Highness’s work conferences. While he attended meetings, I took a zillion tube rides and walked my feet raw to get to the Tate, where Ophelia hangs. I made a beeline for that room, plopped myself down on the bench in front of it, and drank its beauty in until they forced me to leave, nearly two hours later.
They probably suspected I was casing the joint, planning to come back at midnight, dressed like Catwoman. If only they’d known… I’m a chicken, not a cat, and would never risk exposing my jiggly bits in that outfit. Luckily, Bibesco’s wisdom has made my life of crime unnecessary.
Of course, many other beauties could be on the “MINE” list. Hundreds of them, probably…Chihuly glass and Faberge eggs and Tom Hiddleston and Mozart piano concertos and the Book of Kells.
photo credit: gdcgraphics via photopin cc
But that would be greedy. So I settle for “owning” those two masterpieces only. The rest just go on Pinterest.
How about you? Are there any treasures you love so much they feel like your own? Or are you one of those lucky, non-materialistic people who can be content without them?
“All who joy would win must share it.
Happiness was born a Twin.” –Lord Byron.
My father loved poetry. I adored my father; therefore I love poetry, too. I’m sure there’s a name for this reasoning in the math or logic world, but I don’t know what it is. (Fallacy? )
Anyhow, as a result, I frequently interpret my life in famous quotes, which makes me very annoying to a lot of people. This is not a deduction on my part. They actually tell me so.
But I can’t help it. Poetry isn’t just pretty. Sometimes, it is capital-T Truth. Like this past Sunday night. One of my books won a contest, and I didn’t have anyone to tell.
I was happy, of course. I was. Ecstatic. Really.
But His Highness was out doing errands. My son and daughter were busy being young and cool. My special writer buddies were living their own lives. It was Sunday night. NBA finals night. The Tonys night. Let’s use that pizza coupon night. Discover you’ve nothing to wear to work tomorrow and do emergency laundry night.
I couldn’t just start texting, busting into their family fun as if my news trumped all that. So I sent a few emails and waited. And waited. I felt like water trying to boil on a cold burner.
Finally, my husband came home, and all my considerate “remember you’re not the center of the universe” restraint evaporated. I bounded out to him, ignoring his struggle to lug in heavy boxes, and shouted, “Hey! Guess what about ME?”
He’s not the type to squee, but he is not a fool. Despite having no idea what the Holt Medallion is, he grinned, made a big fuss, hugged me, and the pot finally began to boil. Once all next-of-kin had been notified, I posted on Facebook. The famous “like this” friendliness began to flood in, and suddenly I was bubbling over with joy like a crazy woman.
So, for me at least, Byron got it right. Happiness really was born a twin.
What about you? Does an unshared joy feel a little flat? Who is your go-to person–the one you can’t wait to tell?
Since this is my first post with the wonderful Jaunty Quills, and I’m so excited about having new friends to share the writing world with, I’m giving away books to three of the people who comment here. If you win, you can choose either WILD FOR THE SHERIFF, the book that leads into my upcoming July release, or THE VINEYARD OF HOPES AND DREAMS, the book that just won the tuna fish…I mean Holt Medallion.
I hope you’ll check out BETTING ON THE COWBOY, which will be available July 1. It’s the second in my Sisters of Bell River Ranch series from Harlequin Superromance.
I just finished reading a book for my book club called The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It’s the story of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, how they met, married, and how the marriage ended. It’s not my typical reading material, and that’s what I love (and hate) about this book club. It pushes me to read books I would otherwise never pick up, and a lot of the time I agree with that first inclination.
I enjoyed The Paris Wife. It was engaging and well-written and I have a connection to Hemingway because my mother was born in Oak Park, IL, and my grandparents knew Hemingway’s father. The book is touted as being quite accurate, as far as these sorts of books go, but I’m sure that doesn’t mean every line is exactly what Hadley Richardson thought. And even though I am an author I find myself much more sympathetic to Hadley than I am to Ernest. He tends to exhibit what we would now label as “diva behavior.”
But there is one paragraph about Ernest Hemingway I could totally relate to. It really does sum up what so many of us love about being a writer. Here it is.
“I couldn’t reach into every part of Ernest and he didn’t want me to. He needed me to make him feel safe and backed up, yes, the same way I needed him. But he also liked that he could disappear into his work, away from me. And return when he wanted to.”
I remember when my daughter was a newborn and she never (or so it felt) slept or stopped crying, and I was exhausted and the days went in slow motion, the thing that saved me as I rocked her endlessly was being able to escape in my mind. I plotted much of The Rogue Pirate’s Bride walking and rocking that baby. I’m not a plotter, but I needed to go somewhere else besides that dark nursery and that wailing infant.
And still, when tragedies that don’t touch me occur, I escape into writing. On the day of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT, like many of you, I was saddened and horrified. I sat and watched the news reports coming in, each one more surreal than the last. When I couldn’t take any more, I turned off the TV and internet and escaped into my work in progress. Regency England and the world of my own making could sweep me away for a time. I could return when I wanted.
What about you? How do you “escape”? Christmas is over, but I’ll give one person who comments a choice of one of my recent books–The Making of a Duchess, The Making of a Gentleman, Lord and Lady Spy, The Rogue Pirate’s Bride, or When You Give a Duke a Diamond.