Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, December 19, 2005

Argh! I've been tagged!
I don't know what it means, but I've been tagged to write ten reading secrets by a good friend, Edie . It's kind of fun, though, because it gets me to think about something that is so much a part of me, that it's like someone asking you to think about breathing. I'm always shocked when I walk into other people's houses and slowly notice something horribly missing--no reading material! What do these people do? How can they NOT have reading material, even a magazine or two strewn around? It defies imagination. My house is always stuffed full of reading material--in fact that 's one of our biggest problems. We could start a small library. Actually, we have more books than our town's lending library already...

Just to be on the safe side and so I don't forget, I'll be passing on this curse of writing ten reading secrets to Suzanne, Michelle and Mai at:

What are my reading secrets? They're not secrets, really, so much as great memories...

1) My dad taught me to read before I went to school, using a chalk board, flash cards and this wonderful board with small pictures, like a picture of a cat, to help you pick up basic units of sounds. We did the traditional "sounding it out" strategies, and I thought it was a terrific game. Little did I know that my father was using this as preparation for his later experimentation with his children as beta testers for the work he was doing with the Air Force. All these years I thought he just liked to play word and math games with us, when in reality, he was developing psychological tests for his job. It wasn't until I went to college that he admitted he had done this horrible thing to us on the grounds that, "If a kid in elementary school can understand a set of exam questions, then someone who will be flying a fighter plane sure as heck ought to be able to pass the damn thing."

2) Not satisfied with just that, my dad also tortured me by sitting up with me and reading me stories at bedtime, until I entered the first grade. That fall, he started on "The Swiss Family Robinson" and got about half-way through when he stopped.
"What do you mean, you aren't going to read any more to me? The pirates are attacking the family - what happens next? You can't stop now!"
Dad smiled and handed me our regular nighttime snack of a bowl of hominy, and said, "If you want to know what happens, you'll have to read it yourself. Sweet dreams, kiddo, and put the bowl in the kitchen sink when you're done."
"ARGH!" I picked up the book. D^mn your eyes, I will read it!"
And I finished it. And followed it with, "The Ghost of Dibble Hollow" and "The Ghost Rock Mystery". Classics every one.

3) At about that time, my dad and mom may have had other reasons for not reading us bedtime stories anymore and making us more self-reliant in the reading department - they were both working and both going to school at night to earn their doctorates. In child development, no less. Both of them. No wonder I'm so messed up, what with dad doing demented Air Force psychological testing beta exams on me, and my mom practicing Skinner behavior modification techniques, it's a wonder I'm not completely wacko. Or maybe I am, and I'm just clever enough to hide it so I can pass as a normal person in most social situations. Or maybe I just think I'm passing as normal.

In any event, these educational opportunities pursued by my parents brought about a situation where we went to the University library at least once a week, if not more often. We'd all truck in, go through all the aisles and come out with armloads of books. Several times, we were told we could not take so many out at one time. That always really steamed me, although it did serve to delay the inevitable. It wasn't until I reached Junior High School that I foundered in dire straights. I'd read all the books they had in the mystery/fiction section, and a good many of the history, as well. ARGH!

Thankfully, at about that time, I found a used bookstore where I could find gothics (Oh, JOY!), mysteries, and science fiction for 25 cents. I also discovered Harlequin Romances, which I could get for 10 cents. I hadn't even realized there were romances. I liked the happy endings, but I have to confess, I still liked the gothics and mysteries better - with a straight romance, I was always wondering when the story (finding a dead body) was going to start and all the omigod, omigod emoting would end. Hmmm. Maybe all that problem-solving affected me more than I realized.

4) Tom Swift books. When I was in the 8th grade, my dad brought home a carton of the first twelve Tom Swift books published. What a great gift--I still have them. I loved all that weird, improbable science, and all those fascinating gizmos. Clearly, this was the first indication of another irreversible mental aberration, my love of technology. Gadgets. Computers. Smart phones. Wired magazine. If I was rich, my house would be stuffed with gadgets. As it is, we only have 5 computers, four printers, two switches, two routers, a handheld, an Alphasmart, two cell phones and a Blackberry, and there are only two of us living here. But, next year, I'm hoping to get a media center computer and a new television! (Our television is about 15 years old, but we actually don't watch it too much other than the weather and history channels because my husband and I are both readers...)

5) Before my dad died, I found out that he had once wanted to be a writer, too. He gave me several books he had on writing from the early part of the last century. My sister also wanted to be a writer, and has played around with it some, and I'm working hard at getting published, myself. Genetic? Who can say. My dad loved mysteries like Jonathan Gash's wonderful Lovejoy novels, and I love mysteries--particularly Lovejoy. Hmmmm. My mom loved romances (contemporary) and I like romances. Interesting. Children are definitely influenced by their parents, that's for sure.

6) But we aren't entirely just an amalgam of our donated genetic material. I have entire bookcases full of science fiction, and that's one thing neither of them could really "get into" although my dad did find a few fantasies he liked, such as Piers Anthony's wonderful Xanth series, and particularly "Ogre, Ogre". It took me weeks to convince him to try it, but once he did, I was then supplied with free reading material for quite some time, as dad would go out and buy all the books in the series and then hand them over to me when he was done.

7) Weird but true. My sister is a member of the Jane Austen society. I'm writing mysteries set in the Regency period in England, right around the period when Jane Austen was alive and writing! My sister is the one who got me interested in this period, mostly by supplying me with my first Georgette Heyer book, "The Masqueraders". I loved that book! That one, and "Faro's Daughter" are by far my favorites. Oddly enough, the Heyer books I like, however, are not the "straight, Regency romances" so much as the ones with a bit of intrigue and adventure in them, or broad humor such as "Faro's Daughter". I might never had heard of Jane Austen and the Regency period if not for my sister! Or know: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, for the wives of King Henry the Eighth. Another gem of historical information I remember from my sister's interest in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods of British history.

8) Lately, I've gotten sidetracked by a sort of non-fiction book that has been on the bestsellars list. My husband bought it while he was on a trip, and he gave it to me when he was done. It's called "Stiff" by Mary Roach. It's about...well, it's about stiffs. What happens to cadavers after the human in them has departed for parts unknown. It's hilarious in a sick sort of way, and absolutely fascinating. I'm having a hard time putting it down (okay, so part of that is because when I have to put the book down it's because I have to do something disagreeable such as clean the kitty litter box). When I was younger, I never thought about reading non-fiction outside of school. Maybe it's what happens when you get older and your mind (and posterior) broaden, or something like that, but lately, I've really enjoyed non-fiction...

9) "The Discoverers" by Daniel J. Boorstin. Get it. Read it. It's the history of almost everything of interest to humans. I couldn't put it down, even though it was non-fiction. Each page creates a unique "I didn't know that" moment. I didn't like "The Creators" as well as "The Discoverers", but both are exceptional. When I was in college, I became fascinated with art history, not because of the art so much, but because of what it revealed about the ideas influencing the artists. How they viewed society, what new inventions were changing their lives, and how they were adapting to those changes. This is the kind of information in "The Discoverers". I believe this is also a motivating factor in both writing and reading, at least for me. I'm trying to work out how we fit into the world around us, how our environment adapts to us and we adapt to it. How do I fit in? (Assuming I do fit in, which generally, I'm afraid I don't.) Sometimes, I think I'm reading to find the answer on how others find a place in society so I can extrapolate it to my own peculiar circumstances...

10) Oh, thank goodness. The final point. What else can I say about reading? It is so much a part of my life that I can't imagine not reading. Although, as I've gotten older and busier, I no longer feel so compelled to read a book to it's conclusion if I don't like it. Until a year ago, I always finished a book I started, and there wasn't a book in the house that I hadn't read. When I got new books, they would always get devoured within a month or two. Now, I have stacks of books I've gotten as gifts (or whatever) that I haven't even touched yet. I did the unthinkable a week ago, I gave away two books I've never even read. Five years ago, I wouldn't have done that. No way.

I still feel a little guilty about it, but I'm starting to have sympathy for all the strange or gross things my mom used to do. Like reuse a glass you used earlier. Or drinking a glass of milk and then filling the glass with water and drinking that, milky and gross though it may be. Eating leftovers. Not completing a book you've started. Giving away a book you haven't even read yet. But, you know what? When you're busy and maybe a wee bit stressed, you realize that you're the one washing the glasses and they're your own germs, anyway, and maybe you don't have time to worry about mixing a little milk-dregs with your water. And maybe you also don't have time to finish a book if it just doesn't "catch at you" and it's okay to give them away, too. Sanity or insanity, gross or not, it's all a matter of perspective, and my perspective is well over the hill now.

Whew. I've fulfilled my moral obligation. ;-)

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