Penny Dreadfuls and Lifelong Learning

Back when printing was justing starting to become a viable way to share information publishing companies came up with the bright idea of publishing short novels on cheap paper for mass distribution.  Those novels were usually mysteries, westerns, or romances, and they were called Penny Dreadfuls, because the stories weren’t always what we would consider literature.  They were stories for the sake of having stories.  They were the kind of novels that I love most.

I call them trash novels, because the content is pretty predictable and when you’re done, it doesn’t hurt your feelings to toss the book it he trash.  I read a lot of those these days. Quick and easy mystery and suspense books that aren’t stellar in content or character.  I love them because it’s easy to fall into that world for a short while.  It’s  a break from reality.

One NightstandI can’t honestly say that’s all I read, though. While it’s my favorite leasure activity, reading those trash novels isn’t on the top of my list.  Instead, the books on my nightstands are a pretty eclectic mix of what’s going on in my life.  Both of my nightstands hold piles of books that fall generally into three categories: Christianity, Fiction, and Non-Fiction.

Christianity is the guiding force in my life, so I’m often reading through something that helps me build my faith.  The Bible is my top choice, and often the one that I read the most.  I wish I could say I read it every day, but the truth is, I don’t.  It’s still more used than any book I own, and I have more copies of the Bible than any other book I own.  Also on my Christianity reading list right now are a correspondence theology course that I’m working through very slowly, Lee Stroble’s The Case for Christ, and several Bible-study-type books.

Fiction is my reading love.  I love to read. I love to become part of a story.  I even love to create stories, though I’m no where near as good with that as I am with reading them.

When I turn to fiction, my first choice is usually suspense.  If there’s an element of romance, all the better.  But I’m not a picky reader.  I’ll pick up just about any fiction book I get my hands on when I have enough time to slip away into another world.

Growing up, I was a military brat who spent a lot of time on a military base overseas where the choices in activities were limited.  Without books, I’m pretty sure I would have wasted away into nothing.  I learned to love the classics first.  Wuthering Heights, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy were some ofMy books my favorites.  From those I moved to horror, romance, suspense–whatever I could find to read.  Librarians in whatever town or school I happened to live in always joked with me that there was nothing left in their library for me read.

Non-fiction is a necessity.  In my line of work (I actually do write non-fiction books for a living), I’m always learning something new.   So, there’s always a variety of non-fiction books on my night tables and every other surface in my house.  I’ve learned over the years that I can learn anything I want to learn if there’s been something written about it.  As a result, I’m a fountain of worthless information on a variety of topics that probably have no bearing anywhere but in my own life.

The MonstersCurrently, I’m tackling these two monsters: Googlepedia and Windows 7 Secrets.  Both for a project that I’m working on, and both massive tomes of information.  Should be fun!  But for me, that’s what books are about.  No matter what I’m reading, I’m getting something out of it.  A lesson, an adventure, or just plain fun.  And as an author, that’s the most I can hope others will get from my own books.

A Bibliophile’s Treasures

Shwhomp. Thud. Shwhomp. Thud.

See my treasure chest? Oh, I know. The wood is darkened almost black with stains and saltwater damage. The brass hinges and latches are speckled with rust. But it’s not the outside I want you to see. It’s the treasure within.

Come closer.

Oh come on. I promise it doesn’t bite. And neither do I…at least not much.

Are you ready?

Good.

Now close your eyes. Go on, close ‘em.

Creeeeak!

Now take a deep breath. Go on. This is one time it’s okay to inhale.

Can you smell it? The rich perfume of ancient ink? The sweet mustiness of paper on the verge of disintegration?  Isn’t it wonderful? A trunk full of books! So much more valuable than diamonds or emeralds or gold. After all, gold can be spent. Diamonds, stolen. Emeralds, destroyed. But books… or at least the stories inside last a second longer than life itself.

Where did I get such a treasure? I’m so glad you asked. I followed a treasure map. Strings of letters that formed words and sentences that led me straight to this wooden box. Now don’t ask me when I got the map. Or where. Because I just don’t remember. Just like I don’t remember when I learned that letters and words and sentences have meaning.

Okay. Now that you know what is inside and how I got it, open your eyes and I’ll show you what books are more precious to me than all the riches in Aladdin’s Cave and the Tower of London combined.

thumbnail.aspxTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This, in the form of an autographed copy, is my most valued treasure. The coming of age story of a brother and sister in small town, rural Alabama should be on everyone’s reading list. It is the only novel Harper Lee has written. Why? Perhaps because once you’ve obtained perfection, there simply isn’t anything more to say.

thumbnail.aspxHorton Hears a Who, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. What child doesn’t like Dr. Seuss? The rhythmic patterns. The nonsensical rhymes. But in these three books, there is so much more. Profound messages that one hopes will be carried into adulthood. To stand up for what you know is right. That redemption isn’t beyond reach… even for a homely green creature. The assurance that with one step, you can attain heights you never thought possible. The next time you read one of these to your children, listen to the message hidden within.

thumbnail.aspxCosmic Christmas by Max Lucado.  There’s a passage in this book that summarizes everything one could say about the grace of God. While Gabriel is in God’s heavenly office waiting to receive the vile containing the seed of God to take to Mary, Lucifer enters. The fallen angel, far removed from his once magnificent self, taunts God. Once his tirade is finished, God, in that still small voice asks the most profound question I think I have ever read. He looks at this being. This horrendous enemy and says. “Are you ready to come home?”

While my treasure chest is endless – Jan Karon’s Mitford series, Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – these books are wrapped carefully in silk and linen. Stored high above the waterline. Kept safe and secure so they can be read and enjoyed for years to come. Why? Because they touch my soul and leave behind messages so deep they seem unfathomable.

Born to Read

I was blessed by being born into a family of readers. One of the first lessons I remember learning is that “books are your friends.” My parents taught my brothers and me to treat books with respect, to cherish the words within them, and, when we had a question, to “look it up.” That love and respect for books and reading nurtured my love of learning and sense of wonder.

So, it’s hardly surprising that the only thing in my life stacked higher than my to-be-read and reads-in-progress piles is my pile of items needing filed. The following books have been pulled from my overflowing bookshelves and are either on my nightstand or next to my recliner — and are in various stages of read-ness:book-pile

  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser — a MUST read by all who would write
  • The Measure of a Lady by Deeanne Gist — a fun novel set during the California Gold Rush
  • The Inheritance by Tamera Alexander — one doesn’t have to venture too far into one of her books to understand why she’s won so many awards
  • Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan — Tagline: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively
  • Winning Every Day by Lou Holtz — yeah, I’m a sports fan. Besides, he used to coach the Razorbacks!
  • Glenn Beck’s Common Sense — I’ve already pre-ordered his next book
  • The Saga of the Pony Express by Joseph DiCerto — researching book two of my series
  • Think Harmony with Horses by Ray Hunt (one of those Horse Whisperer guys) — Let’s just say I could be happy to live out the rest of my days without every straddling another horse, but since I need to know more about them. This book was loaned to me by one of my cowboy friends.
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen — it’s almost comical that I own this book. And, yes, I’ve finished reading it. I just never put it away!
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain — my favorite book of all time. I read it every year or two, just for fun.
  • Freedom by Any Means by Betty DeRamus — another research book for my series in progress. This one is about the Underground Railroad.
  • Forbidden Fruit by Betty DeRamus — love stories from the Underground Railroad
  • Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style by Arthur Plotnik — Possibly one of the best writing books I own, it’s somewhat of a spoof on Shrunk & White’s rule book.
  • And, of course, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass — rarely a writing session goes by that I don’t refer to The Donald’s words of wisdom.

united_we_readLast week, I was invited to join in the nation’s “United We Read” program and visited our local junior high school. I was a bit nervous about reading to seventh-graders — a tough crowd! I told the librarian as much, wondering about my choice of material. Without even hearing what I’d selected, she said, “It doesn’t matter what you read. They won’t listen. They’ll lay on the floor, sleep, giggle, talk to their friends, and pretty much ignore you.”

She went on to explain that the first period’s reader, the president of our Chamber of Commerce, read from the newspaper and told the kids how newspapers help businessmen and women keep up with current events. The next reader, a woman recovering from an injury and subsequent knee surgery, read an excerpt from a self-help book and shared how it had helped her keep from being depressed during her down time. The students paid no attention.

Then, she asked, “So, what are you going to read?”

“I’m going to read them a story.”

According to the program’s guidelines, we were supposed to read something that helps us in our work and explain to the students why our particular passage is helpful to us. Being a storyteller by trade (a.k.a. — writer), sharing a story seemed logical to me.

baby_elephantBut I didn’t pick just any story — I read from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories — “The Elephant’s Child.” Maybe it was more third-grade than seventh, but I gave the characters unique voices as I read. The students hung on every word and clapped when I finished. One student even stood up and clapped. The librarian later told me that was the best read of the day. I wasn’t shocked — not because I did so well, but because everyone loves a great story.

I told the kids that through reading could be anything they wanted. Go anywhere they wanted. Do anything they choose. Ah, the joy of words!

Writers, especially, can do as we choose. Just recently, I donned a glamorous gown and danced at the palace of Versailles; rode astride a galloping steed at break-neck speed, leaving a band of warriors in the dust; strung a rope around a bad guy’s throat; and even delivered a baby.

And, if I’m ever feeling full of ‘satiable curiosity, I can always venture down to the banks of the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees, and ask the crocodile what he has for dinner.

A hidden treasure in Grandma’s cottage

Growing up, I spent my summer at my grandmother’s cottage. It was by a lake named “mouse”. The lake wasn’t shaped like a mouse, but there were lots of mice running underneath the cottage. Rain or shine, I was outside building treehouses in the woods, picking berries, searching for worms, taking off alone on the row boat with my little green fishing rod until I arrived to the lily pond where I caught more frogs than fish… Barbie dolls, books and dresses were for girls. I had cowboy figurines. I carried a pocketknife. I wore shorts and jeans. I was a tomboy with long hair.

The cottage was an old log house, with cold running water and a toilet outside. No hot water, no tub, no shower. To get to the second floor, I climbed a very steep staircase. The bedrooms had slanted ceilings, and the walls were finished only on one side. If I slept on the unfinished side, I saw the electric wires running between the 2×4s. Needless to say, I painfully learned at a young age that there were places I wasn’t supposed to stick my fingers.

They were no doors anywhere inside, only faded sheets with rips and tears from being pulled or tossed aside. Each room had crawling closets, blocked with old curtains. When it was truly miserable outside, I played in the closets where the inside walls were not finished. By squeezing between the 2×4s, I sneaked from one closet to the next. It felt like I was hiding in a maze of tunnels.

One day, among the dirty socks and worn-out tennis shoes littering my secret indoor playground, I found a small book stuck in a nook between the floor and the outside log wall. lumiereThe cover had faded to a dull pink and the loose pages had turned yellow. On it, it said Harlequin. Silly me, I thought that was the title, so don’t ask me for the real title of the book. It looked so old that I looked at the date in the inside cover. It said either 1952 or 53. The book had been hidden for over twenty years! That piqued my curiosity, so I read it in secret in case my mother didn’t approve. The love story of a nurse began my love story with books.

The first author that I remember asking for at the library was Barbara Cartland. Now that I think about it, she did write historical romance. Lorna, stop laughing! I know I told you I did read historical…

Nowadays, what do I read? Anything that looks good, though I’m partial toward romantic suspense.

Why did I read last? Yesterday, I finished Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Flukes. It was a nice, easy read with many twists and turns. Ms. Flukes incorporated cookie recipes throughout her book and I can’t wait to try some of them. In the weeks to come, the novel will migrate from my night table to my cookbook collection LOL.

What am I reading next? After seeing the movie, I’m debating between The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger or The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

At heart, I’m a tomboy who grew a lifetime passion for books. After my children were born, I made sure I read to them, and many Christmases later, books are still on everyone’s wishlist. But I do have one regret…I lost that little Harlequin book.

Back in the Saddle, Again.

I hide my face in shame. I have done less reading in the past year than I ever have. I have been working hard on my own manuscript, which included reading how to articles (too numerous to mention). And after learning more about writing I find it harder to enjoy reading because, like Shannon, I break down the writing instead of letting the author take me into the story. But, true to nature, I am getting back in the reading saddle again.

I was so excited a couple of weeks ago when I received in my mail a large envelope. I love receiving mail, so I dug right into it and found a wonderful treasure. It was Judith Miller’s book, The Carousel Painter. Judith did not let me down. Her characters are always so full of life, I can see them clearly in my mind’s eye. I loved the conflict and how she didn’t make it an easy resolution. It was a very welcomed break from pulling my hair out over my own writing. Thank you, Judith, now I won’t have to wear a wig to Denver.

Inkspirational pictures 1I am also researching the genre I am writing in. This past Saturday Lorna and I had the pleasure of seeing Mary Connealy at her book-signing in Omaha. While we were in the bookstore I picked up not only one of Mary’s books, but also four juvenile fiction books. The first book that I finished from that excursion is “Just Call Me Kate” by Dannah Gresh, which is part of the Secret Keeper Girls series. Dannah did a good job of honing in on the angst that so permeates pre-adolescence. She added a great mentor for our main character Kate in her art teacher Mrs. Velasquez. She gives Kate assignments which helps her to realize her crush is no more than an infatuation. In the end Kate is able to focus on the important things in life instead of obsessing over her older brother’s friend.

Inkspirational pictures 2I am currently reading “Sophie Under Pressure” by Nancy Rue, a Faith Girlz series book. So far I have found this book to be closer to my own writing. Although I am only a third of the way into the book, she has brought into play an undercurrent of conflict in which Sophie’s parents are not getting along. Sophie herself is in therapy once every two weeks. The part of the villain is played well by a group of popular girls our heroine has named the Corn Pops. Her group, from an earlier book in the series had been coined flakes, so they call themselves the Corn Flakes. Another conflict shows through with a group of boys who taunt the girls, whom they aptly name the Fruit Loops. I actually identify with the main character, not only for the conflict she is beginning to go through, but also due to the fact she is constantly side tracked by her imagination and day dreaming. I feel like I am back in school and wanting to come to Sophie’s aid.

Inkspirational pictures 3The other books I chose to research, but haven’t read yet are: “All That Glitters” by Nicole Dell and “What’s Up With Her?” by Bonnie Compton Hanson. Bonnie’s book is a Ponytail Girls series book, having come complete with a hair scrunchy attached. I also have Mary Connealy’s book “Cowboy Christmas” in my pile of must read books. I think I am remembering how to ride that horse. If not, I am sure Mary’s cowboy tale will remind me.

Love Affair Lost

Back in the good old days, I read for the sheer pleasure of it. Books took me to foreign lands, introduced me to fascinating, sometimes quirky characters, and I lived vicariously through the heroines of whom I read. Some of the protagonists spurred my imagination so, that I often dreamt of them.

My good old days were only ten years ago, before I started writing. I began my career as a novelist after reading one too many romance novels, where the hero and heroine took me into their bedroom, before the wedding. I didn’t want to join them there and after spending my hard earned money on the book, I skipped more than a third of the text. I wondered, why can’t someone write a clean romance novel?

I decided to write the kind of book that I enjoy—romance where no one goes to the bedroom unless they are married—to each other. When they get there, they shut the door and leave the reader outside in the hall. I vowed that I would never write anything that would embarrass my parents or child.

In the early days of my writing, I still enjoyed reading. However, after receiving a few rejection letters where the editor pointed out problems with my prose, I began to read more books about honing my craft.

Prepare to be bored, unless you’re a writer. In my recently read pile: Characters, Emotion, & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, Dialogue by Gloria Kempton, Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle, Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins, and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. Do you detect a theme here?

Plot&StructureMy to be read pile: Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell and Breathing Life into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon, Ph. D. I always have Sally Stuart’s 2009 Christian Market Guide handy.

I’m currently re-reading: Making a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld since I have a workshop to present in October on this topic.

Usually after I finish writing a novel, prepare it for publication, and send out my queries to publishers, I’m burnt out on writing. This is when I take the opportunity to read novels.

In fiction, I read to relax, so I usually stick with straight inspirational romance because I know it’s going to turn out like I want. Occasionally, I venture out into Women’s Fiction and Suspense, but I never can trust there will be a happily-ever-after, so it keeps me on edge.

Recently, I stretched my reading muscles into suspense with Angela Hunt’s The Elevator. Wow, what a ride. I couldn’t put it down even though I didn’t have time to keep reading. It definitely keyed me up.

The last novel, I read was Ever After by Karen Kingsbury. I enjoyed the book, it gripped me by the emotions, and it’s a great testament to patriotism. But the thing I didn’t want to happen, happened, and I bawled like a baby.

By the way, my unpublished Women’s Fiction novel has a happy ending.

In the end, I’ve honed my craft, but I’ve lost my love affair with books. I still read, but instead of getting lost in the plot and characters, I study the author’s style or at least try.

Gone With The WindMy favorite all-time novel is Gone With the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara, I love her and hate her all at the same time. Oh to create, such a complex character. One who is far from sweet, yet the reader roots for her. How did Margaret Mitchell do it? I’ve set out to discover her secret, but I always get caught up in the story. And it doesn’t even have a happy ending.

BibleAbout ten years ago, I attended a revival where the preacher asked for everyone who read their Bible daily to raise their hands. Only five people did and I wasn’t one of them. Since then, I read at least a chapter a day and I’ve read through five times. No one else has asked, but I’m prepared, just in case.

Confessions of a Book-a-holic

I cannot hide this painful truth any longer. My name is Lorna, and I’m a book-a-holic. And unlike some writers, I read both inside and outside my genre. So, not only do I read historicals, but I also read classics, science fiction, suspense, romance, women’s fiction, and non-fiction. Now, do you see how to-be-read book pile grows?

My nightstand looks like Barnes and Noble had the mother of all sales, and I took full advantage of it. However, the book pile has actually accumulated all summer—and most were bought at full price.

CarouselPainter I have one that belongs in everyone’s to-be-read pile. The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller is a terrific historical that will transport you to a new place and time. Judy’s research makes her writing so rich with detail that you could swear you smell the paint at the carousel factory. Not only will you love the main character, Carrington Brouwer, but you’ll also come away falling in love with carousels all over again.

Thepawn
Perhaps one of my most enjoyable reading experiences this summer was listening toThe Pawn by Steven James. A suspense novel, The Pawn had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. It had a wonderful tangling of two plots that made me think of our own Marlene’s writing. For an inspirational novel, it was gorier than I expected, but not any more than CSI. Steven James was awarded the Christy in suspense for the sequel, The Rook.

BeyondtheNightsmAnd I have to tell you about Marlo Schalesky’s Beyond the Night. Another  Christy (2009) winner, this romance is simply amazing. It’s a story of love conquering all, but with a twist I didn’t see coming. When the main character is injured in car accident, the reader is taken on journey through her memories—finding how love developed between her and the man now constantly at her side. If you haven’t picked this one up, you’re missing a great read!

AClaimofHerOwnAnother one I recently finished was Stephanie Whitson’s A Claim of Her Own. This historical romance had a great plot, and a nice twist. But what impressed me was the author’s ability to dig into deep emotions. I was amazed at how she was able to depict grief inside her characters. That’s a hard emotion to nail down, and if you’ve experienced it yourself, you know when the author isn’t portraying it realistically.

I also had the opporunity to listen to the original Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder on CD as my daughter and I drove to and from Minnesota. As I child, I remember being fascinated with Laura’s incredible adventure of moving to Kansas. Reading this classic again as an adult was eye-opening. I saw it more through the eyes of the parents—how much courage they needed and how much strength to settle in this virgin territory, only to be told to pick up and move on.  My daughter and I also visited the Little House on the Prairie museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, which made this re-reading experience especially rich. Maggie Brendan 1st bk cover

So, what am I reading right now? I have a romantic suspense, Against All Odds by Irene Hannon, in my van which is as good as the Dee Henderson books I’ve read and loved . In my living room, I’m reading A Vote of Confidence by Robin Lee Hatcher. And as for that bedroom pile, the debut book of fellow Revell author Maggie Brendan has reached the top of the pile, and I couldn’t be enjoying No Place for a Lady more.

So, do any of these tickle your reading bone? I sure hope so because each of these books is worth every penny and should take care of any reading fixes you might have.