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Saturday, February 18, 2023

Saturday Thoughts: The Joy of Reading



As I mentioned in last weeks “The Struggle is Real” post, I have been trying to find ways to refill the creative well within that has gone dry.


One of the ways I’ve been doing that is to make time to read again.  It may sound counterproductive, reading instead of writing.  But it was a lifelong love of reading that made me want to be a writer in the first place.  I think most of us get so caught up in reading things on our phone these days, we forget to sit down with a good old fashioned book.  And that is something I need to work on.

We had a rare 65 degree February day here recently, and when I went to bed with my book in hand that night it was still pretty nice outside.  I couldn’t resist the urge to crack my bedroom window open and allow the fresh night air in.  As I sat there reading, the distant sounds of people outside enjoying the weather, the odd car going past as people arrived home brought back a lot of memories of reading near an open window late into the night as a kid.


The more I thought on it, the more I realized how many happy memories of mine involve the joy of reading.  So I thought I’d blog a bit today about some of the books that have stayed with me over the years and put me on the path to writing.  All of these authors played a role in that journey, and I am grateful to each of them.


Author Carolyn Haywood passed away in 1990, but I wish there was a way to thank her for the many hours of enjoyment I had reading her Betsy series when I was young.  Our local library was just down the street, so at least once a week my mom, sister and I would walk there and lug home entire bags full of books.  I read, and frequently re-read, every Betsy book available.  For some reason, this one stuck with me as a favorite of the series.  And I have vivid memories of sitting up late on a warm summer night, my window fan rattling away as I happily devoured page after page until I could no longer keep my eyes open. 


Depending on when you were born, you were introduced to Nancy Drew and her friends with a different cover for this book.  But I still remember the Christmas when this one first appeared under the tree, along with volumes 2, 3, and 4.  I recall diving into this story—probably Christmas night—and not emerging until quite some time later.  And the panic that set in when I was nearly finished with the fourth volume and would soon be out of Nancy Drew books—I needed more!  Imagine my surprise years later to learn Carolyn Keene was actually several different people LOL. Well I owe them all a huge thank you, as well.  Nancy kept me company through the flu, cold winter weekends, sleepless nights and countless summer afternoons. 


It’s been so many years since I read this book for the first time, I can no longer  recall where I found it (probably the attic, there were loads of books in my parents attic), but I seem to recall the book looked like this--old and worn, with that wonderful old book smell.   A good sized bench swing graced the front porch of the house I grew up in, and on hot summer days, the roll up blinds that kept the sun off the front of the house were lowered.  It was a peaceful, cozy place to sit and read.  (If you are getting the sense that I was not an athlete, or someone who played sports or ran around in the heat of the day, you would be correct, no summer tan ever graced this book worm’s skin).  It’s sad that this story has come under so much fire in recent years.  It is a work of fiction, after all, nothing more. But those of us with a passion for history are grateful to Margaret Mitchell for taking stories she grew up hearing —along with her own wonderful imagination—and giving us a glimpse of a time and place that no longer exists.  Politics aside, it's a great story about survival, determination and courage. You both love Scarlett and despise her, sometimes at the same time, throughout the book—but you can’t stop reading. Each time I re-read it, a different character emerges as my favorite so in many ways, it’s new to me every time.  I am definitely overdue to re-read this. Shout out to BFF and super talented western author Kim Turner, who gets pestered with all my questions related to Georgia, Atlanta and GWTW.    

This one may seem like an odd entry, but this was the book that introduced me to romance novels and I've never forgotten the unique title.  Only my copy didn’t have a cover.  My mom worked in a department store and when they closed out their book department, all the covers had to be torn off and returned to the publisher as proof the books had been destroyed.  But my mother knew her daughters loved to read and she—and many of the other employees—took home the books rather than see them tossed in a dumpster.  I am glad she did.  What I liked best about these books was they were the perfect size to fit inside my textbooks at school LOL.  In most classes. we were seated alphabetically and since my last name began with an M, I usually sat toward the back of the room--often with the textbook propped open and a Harlequin romance tucked inside.  This explains a lot about my algebra grade LOL. 


My introduction to the world of historical romance came some years later when I found this in the attic.  Not sure why my mom and Grandma were hiding that box of romance novels (though I am sure we can guess why) but one summer afternoon when I was looking for something to read, I stumbled across it—and pulled this one out.  I had always been a history buff, but this story made me fall in love with the combination of history and romance.  And no one puts words on the page quite like LaVyrle Spencer.  I was hooked.


This was my first introduction to native American historical romance, an era I still love to this day.  I devoured this entire series –and then read them all again.  There are aspects of these early romance novels that are no longer politically correct, including depictions of rape –but back then, I didn’t care. I was caught up in the love story of Alicia and Gray Eagle.  I’ve never forgotten them.


I still have my very dog eared copies of all of Pamela Morsi’s original historical romances and re-read them from time to time.  I vividly remember finding this one in the bookstore, and the skitter of excitement at finding a story that was “different.”  And different it was.  The humor, the imperfect hero and heroine, the poor mountain folk as characters pulled me right in and made me rethink what a historical romance "had" to be.  Pamela Morsi taught me it was possible to combine history, romance and humor. 


There have been thousands of books over the years whose characters have kept me company long into the night.  But if you love to read there is nothing quite like that experience of traveling to another place and time and being absorbed into another world--all from the comfort of your favorite reading spot.  It is one of life’s little pleasures,  and the very thing that made me want to be a writer.   

I realize this was lengthy, so whether you scrolled or read through—thank you for stopping by.  I hope you’ll leave a comment, either here or on FB, telling me about some of your favorite reading experiences and the stories that touched your heart and made you want to be a writer.



Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Struggle is Real Week 7: Refilling the Well



Nicole, why didn’t you put your toys away when I asked you to?”

“I meant to, Grandma, but…”

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions, young lady.”


I had a lot of conversations like that with my Grandma growing up.  If you were raised Catholic or had an Irish grandma, you may have heard similar phrases.  The sky was always falling.  Everything was doom and gloom.  Everything led to hell and everyone, it seemed, was headed there “in a handbasket”.

Even those of us who failed to put away our toys. 

I never fully understood that phrase, but the words did leave me with the lasting image of a foggy night and a dark winding road leading up to towering iron gates where a flashing neon sign featured a character that looked suspiciously like the creature on the Underwood Potted Meat label. 

This past week those words have echoed in my brain.  Good intentions. Road to hell.  

Well I don’t think not hitting my writing goals for the fourth straight week in a row will lead to hell (Grandma, I’m sure, would disagree).  But when I realized that my own thinking was becoming clouded with doom and gloom and negativity I wondered if those things weren’t impacting my writing.  The words are there, but the most important part—the butt in chair part—was not. 

I actually had a scene come at me—as they tend to do when we least expect it—full force a week or so back that I could not wait to sit down and write.  Yet I still haven’t done it.  No reason why other than me just not taking the time.  Yes I am still as busy as ever.  Yes I am still focusing on work.  But why didn’t I do it? 

Then I remembered a phrase a dear friend used to use.  “Fill that well up again”.  She was talking about writing and trying to write when “the well has run dry.” Sometimes, she would say, we need to do non writing things --watch movies, read, take a walk--to motivate ourselves to want to write again.

 Could that be it?  All the issues I’ve had these past few weeks, could it just be that in spite of the muse being alive and well and tossing ideas at me, the writing well needs a bit of ... water?

So I have been doing a lot of reading.  Not on my phone, the old fashioned kind of reading with an actual book. Not just to inspire my muse, but to inspire me to want to write again.  Last night’s rare balmy February temperatures found me tucked into bed with the window cracked open, happily reading by the glow of a booklight like I did when I was a kid.  And today I am feeling much closer to my characters and more motivated.  

And even though Mother Nature has taken away the warm breezes and sent us reminders (by way of damp, chilly rain) that it’s still winter, I am really looking forward to reading again tonight. 

If you are still with me this far in, I appreciate your time.  And I apologize for the late blog.  I just couldn’t find a way to say—yet again—that I failed to meet my goals. 

But on the outside chance you are struggling, too, here I am to remind you that it’s not just you, and it’s not just me.  Making the time and finding the time are two different things.  And sometimes we sabotage ourselves.  And sometimes we fall short of the goals we set for ourselves time and time gain.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The Struggle is Real Week 6: Oops, I Did it Again


Did you ever play Dodge Ball?  I won’t say I have fond memories of it. I was pretty good at the “dodging” aspect but throwing and actually hitting something wasn’t in my skill set.  So yep, I was one of those always chosen last.

Anyway, some weeks it feels like I am back there in Miss Teeboone’s gym class at Virgil I Grissom elementary school dodging those flying balls.  Some weeks life flings stuff your way with all the aggression of a pre-pubescent boy who is still angry you beat him in last week’s spelling bee.  

Yes, that’s where I have been.  Dodging all sorts of missiles, or so it seems.  Bills-still sorting out the issue with FILs electricity bill. Caregiving--some weeks are just "those" weeks.  Family--always something, let's just leave it at that.  Puppy training, aka exhausting myself so hyper puppy will be less hyper LOL.  And work.  Lots and lots of work.  As I have said before, some weeks ya gotta go where the money is.  So that, unfortunately, has had to be my main focus.  

I did manage to eek in a few piddly writing moments, just to touch base with my characters once or twice.  But once again I did not meet the daily goal I had set for myself, even though it was fairly small. 

Is it just me, or did 2023 come in like a tidal wave?  It just hasn’t let up even once.  And it has yet to allow me to come up for air. 

I guess if it was easy we wouldn’t call it “pushing yourself”.  But I am not giving up.  Writing has been my balm, my comfort, my therapy for far too many years for me to let life keep pushing it out of my reach.  

But, my friends, the struggle is real.  

And it continues.  

Leave me a comment either here or on FB to let me know how you did this week.


The Struggle is Real Week 8: When Life Hits Back

  It’s been nearly two weeks since my last post. Did anyone notice I was missing?   But I have good news/bad news.   The good news. I wr...