One of the side effects of my Christmas indulgence in books has been recovering my joy in reading. As a writer, I read — a lot. But I read about the business. I read books on craft. I read books written by my writing colleagues. I read in my genre. I read to learn the trends in fiction. But all that reading can sometimes feel like a chore. Taking a “reading break” over the holidays reminded me of how much I love a good story. From my earliest memories of bedtime stories to the latest novel, a good book has transported me to other worlds and other times. It has introduced me to characters who have stayed in my memory forever.
- Rumpelstiltskin. What a name! But whenever I look at a pile of straw, I remember the little man who could weave it into gold.
- Green hair, quite fashionable now, takes me to Prince Edward Island and a red-headed Anne who hated her hair.
- Inspector Gamache is firmly embedded in my heart, rather like a grandfather I’ve heard about but never met.
- Hester Prynne. Just the mere mention of her name puts me in a rage.
- I still ache for Rhett and Scarlet. How could they hurt each other so?
I’ve just turned the last page of The Piano Maker. Part mystery, part romance, this book included some fascinating details on how pianos are made. I don’t need to know those details to enjoy my piano, but the information is another reminder that reading for pleasure is not a waste of time, as some of our more Puritan ancestors might insist. Reading for pleasure broadens the mind, enhances the spirit and lifts the heart. It’s also a great way to make new friends. “What are you reading?” is a great conversation starter.
If you’ve finished this blog, go read something. I hope you’ll read one of my books, but that’s not necessary. If you are blessed to live in a part of the world where books are plentiful and the ability to read is ordinary, take advantage, and count your blessings.
I’ve just come back from a family reunion — the descendants of those pioneers I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks. We’re all older now. The cousins I knew as kids chasing through the hay fields are all grown up. Some are grandparents themselves. The old farmhouse has been renovated with a modern kitchen and new wiring, the barns expanded and modernized. Tractors and harvesters have taken the place of draft horses and hired men. What remains is the land and our story.
The fields, cleared by my grandfather yield corn and grains and hay, just as before. Cattle and babies live off its bounty. The valley traps the heat, the hills on either side offer a cool respite. I sit under a tent on Sunday morning and listen to a preacher talk about God and gardening while my eyes rest on the old homestead. It’s a wonderful moment of connection. I feel the pioneers smiling.
But it’s more than the place that draws us together, it is the stories. Cousins I hadn’t seen for decades gathered on the verandah and we talked about playing hide and seek in the big house. (It’s the only house I’ve ever known with both a front staircase and a back staircase, plus a couple of interconnecting rooms. Perfect for restless children!) Members of the succeeding generations added their stories, weaving their memories into the fabric of the family. That pioneer lady, with her eyes and heart set firmly on family, faith and farm, lives on in all of us. We each add another chapter, or maybe only a paragraph, but together we build the story of who we are, where we came from and what we stand for.
I’m sometimes annoyed at businesses or sports organizations that run advertisements that tell a story to align themselves with the nation or with a particular value. I keep thinking, “it’s only a game,” or “it’s only fast-food” but those ads remind us all of the importance of story and the importance of roots.
Some people dismiss fiction as fluff, preferring documentaries or hard news. Yet, story is who we are. It roots us in place and time, it encompasses us as a family or a nation or a world. A genealogy chart may show our blood lines, but it’s story that makes us human.
Here’s to my pioneer ancestors, here’s to family, and here’s to the storytellers among us, wherever you are.
When my book, The Man for Her, was sold to Kensington, a shock wave went around the romance writer’s circle. You see, my book was purchased in public at a writer’s conference, “Royal Rendezvous,” in Victoria, B.C. No one goes to a conference expecting to sell a manuscript. We go to conference and hope to meet an editor or agent who will request a partial of the manuscript and then we wait and hope and wait some more that she will request a complete manuscript.
When Hilary Sares from Kensington Books announced that she wanted to buy the top three entries in the historical category of the conference contest, the room went wild. I, on the other hand, sat there in a stupor. My friends had to tell me that, yes, she had said “buy” and yes, my book was sold and yes, I would get money. There was still more waiting and writing and re-writing and editing to come, but I had a contract.
The story of that sale spread through the romance community because it was so unusual. I’ve never heard of a similar contest result since. So, that book actually has two stories — the one inside the cover and the one about its publication.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of its publication, I’m offering it free on Kindle on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, Sept. 16 and 17. Hope you take advantage of the offer, and tell your friends.