Monday, April 14, 2008

A Life in Books

Mother ReadingStarting from when I was a crawling infant, books have fascinated me. In those early days, books about animals, particularly dogs, were my pleasure. Grandmother ReadingI was content to sit on the floor—next to all the books I'd dropped and scattered in my search for the tops favorite doggy book—and turn the pages of that book backwards and forwards for a long time. My mother had to replace that book thrice, because my toddler hands weren't particularly friendly to it. Nonfiction children's books were my schtik then, not storybooks. "Animals don't wear clothes," my two-year self scoffed.

Little Girl with a BookHowever, right around the time, I entered into my memory, i.e., I became aware of myself and could recall myself doing things, I was always be found listening to my mother or my grandmother read me stories. Whenever my grandmother came to visit, every afternoon after lunch and right before her siesta, she would tell me one of her stories. On some trips, she brought fiction magazines along with her. Sometimes, she would tell me a story she'd memorized just for me, and sometimes, she would simply make one up. Sunday afternoon storytimes were saved for my mother and the tales in the Sunday newspaper.

Older Girl ReadingMousie, mousie was the first story I learned to read. Reading to FatherOnce I discovered I could do it all by myself (and didn't have to wait hours until lunch was over), I wanted to learn to read as fast as I could. I pestered my dad, my cousins, visitors, anyone who knew how to read and didn't mind my stumbling over the most basic words. I was a diligent student then, because I realized the freedom there was to be had in being able to read. However, I was also surprised to discover that my interest in being told stories did not wane.

Studying the ClassicsAround the summer I turned eight, my mother felt that she needed to give me a jump-start onto the road to reading the classics, the masters. So she took me to a professor of English at the university, who might be able to recommend a few books to me. When we visited the professor at home, to my horror, she had a pile of twenty thick, dusty hardcovers minus their jackets sitting on a table next to her chair. Deliberate ReadingThese she told me were the most classic of the classics. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Little Women were part that set, but I was in too much shock to care. I saw my entire vacation wasted in a dreary bookish fashion. I also knew protesting was futile, so I picked those books up and returned home, with a coerced promise that not only would I read them all, but that I would recite a précis of each book on the day I returned them. Pouf! Two months down the drain.

Reading is Fascinating Ah, but Genteel Readers, this was not the case at all. It was a seminal period in my reading history. I had discovered The Romance Novel. Reading by FlashlightThe Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Scarlet Pimpernel were in that lot, too, and they were all romantic tales with swashbuckling heroes performing heroic deeds of honor and deviltry. I was hooked. When I surfaced from my required reading, I started noticing my friends giggling over certain books, reading some passages aloud amongst them and sniggering, stealthily exchanging said books, and making sure that those books did not land in curious tween hands, like mine. The more they hid and carried on in hushed giggles, the curiouser and curiouser I became and all the more determined to lay hands on them.

Reading is Guilty PleasureI bided my time, and one day a Mills and Boon book fell in my sticky hands en route from one friend to the other. I spirited it home and accompanied by blushes, glgggles, a flashlight, and a dictionary: I. Read .It. Then I discovered the source of their stash. I joined a circulation library, ponied up all my allowance for the privilege of brazenly borrowing the naughty Barbara Cartlands, Anne Mathers, and Betty Neels. I also discovered Enid Blyton, Francine Pascal, and Nancy Drew. Since I openly read the latter set, those were the ones my parents came to dislike. (Thank goodness they never discovered the romances.) "That blighted Blyton" was my dad's oft-voiced exasperation over the sight of me still in my school uniform on the yellow couch in front of the balcony doors, when he returned home from work an hour and a half after my return from school. In defiance of the blight, I penciled a short book Enid-Blyton-style on farm life in rural England. It was much pooh-poohed by the family. I gave up writing.

Serious ReadingI moved away from the categories when I discovered Georgette Heyer at fourteen. I was now into big books with bigger stories.Serious Reading requires Comfy CouchThis rejeuvenated my interest in the romantic classics, and some of them like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, I read in every format it was published in, including the unabridged 1300-page doorstoppers. I continued to read the Enid Blytons though. (Er, I still do.)

Pen and PaperHigh school was when I discovered that not only what I wrote was good, but that people wanted to read it. At that time, it was literary criticism pieces and essays, but my two English teachers were full of praise and support of my writing, and that gave me more and more confidence to put words on paper. TBR PileReading took a backseat as I took the time to write, but the writing was solely to impress the teachers. I wrote because they were convinced I could write, not because of an inner urge or a belief that I could write even without the encouraging words. So, you can guess what happened next, Genteel Readers.

Young Woman ReadingI went to engineering school, and I stopped writing. Then it was onto to graduate school, then a move to the west coast, a software engineering job, marriage, and childbirth. This was life, and it was super busy, but I returned to my first love: reading. I also took year-long certificate courses in fiction writing, nonfiction writing, and editing, and followed those up with internships with a book publisher and a magazine. Being home a lot with an infant gave me a lot of time to think. That led to a freelance career in fits and starts: book reviews, magazine articles, proofreading, and book doctoring.

Lady WritingThen came the seminal moment in June 2006 when I discovered romance author blogs Squawk Radio and Risky Regencies on an aimless web-surfing night. I was so completely taken in and made to feel at home, there was no question of not returning every day to read and later on to comment. And hope unfurled within me: I, too, would like to write a romance novel. Not some day, but starting right then. So, I did. Two medieval novels, one set in Scotland in the 1100s and another in England during the time of King Alfred the Great. Then I spent months wallowing in despair that I would never be a published author.

Woman Writing in PersuasionThen there was another seminal moment: three change coaches came into my life with the new year of 2008. They came bearing gifts: a safety net, a supporting cushion, a bottom kicker, and a hard nose. Their self-imposed goal was to make me want to be all that I can be (quoting Joan Kayse), and then to make me do it.

So, Genteel Readers, tell me how books have played a part in your lives.
Did you always want to be a writer? When did you pen your first novel?
When did you first openly admit to a stranger in a coffee shop that you write romance novels?


Kelly Krysten said...

I didn't want to be a writer until I discovered romance novels.
Now, I always wrote, but I didn't want to be a writer as a profession.
The first time, and even still, I told someone I wanted to be a romance novelist they sort of laughed and said,"Seriously?"
Men also seem to be put off by it. *sigh* oh well, eventually I'll find a guy that won't scoff at it, AND won't look at it as an invitation.
To this day the only people that take me seriously are my family and my on-line buddies, and really they're all that matter.

Keira Soleore said...

Ditto Kelly on the "being taken seriously." My husband is very supportive, as are my change coaches, and online friends. The online writing community incredibly supportive, isn't it? I love, love visiting various blogs and boards, commenting, questioning, and supporting writers in various phases of their careers and the highly intelligent and fun readers.

What project are you working on now? Will you be going to National in SF?

Kelly Krysten said...

I want to go to National so badly! But, alas, no I won't be attending. I'm currently working on my same old WIP. Every time I've tried to abandon it it's popped back up to the surface begging me to write it. SO, this time, I intend to finish revisisng it. If for no other reason than to get it to leave me

Kelly Krysten said...

That was *revising.

Santa said...

Fantastic blog, Keira!

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all time favorite books and one I reach for time and again.

I can't say that I've always wanted to be a writer. I've just always wanted to write. And as I said yesterday, Squawk and Risky Regencies along with Eloisa James' BB introduced me to a world of possibilities. I found that I loved reading these fabulous romances but that I also wanted to write one as well. I have been fortunate to have come to know some pretty amazing authors and have gained from their generous natures when it comes to writing. The same can be said for the community of aspiring writers I've also come to be a part of!

Gotta buzz. I'll join in as I can!

Amanda McCabe said...

Great blog, Keira! I love hearing about other people's reading/writing journeys. :)

I think I decided to be a writer when I was in the 3rd grade and won a state writing contest with a story I wrote (something epic about a bowl of fruit becoming mutant giants and taking over the school--my teacher entered it in the contest). It was easy and fun to write, and it got me attention--what could be better? LOL. My mother also read to me a great deal, and the first book I read by myself (aloud to her) was "Eloise at the Plaza". I so wanted to go live in a hotel. :)

And I LOVE "Scarlet Pimpernel"! I first read it in a summer flurry of classics--Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Gone With the Wind--and those are all still some of my favorites.

Anna Campbell said...

Keira, what a wonderful post. And it really reminded me of how I became such a reader too. My parents were very determined I wouldn't be able to read until I went to school so I wasn't bored (and that's school, not kindy!). So I hit grade one and couldn't read but I can remember Christmas holidays after that first year of school and nobody would read me a story. Hmm, could it be that they were tired of that after being badgered solidly? So I picked up a story about a bear that could ride a bicycle and started to read it. Wow, I COULD read! Whodathunkit? And I've spent the rest of my life with my nose buried in a book, actually. And my first attempt at writing a book was an Enid Blyton rip-off too about horse napping. I was in grade three and my teacher was most impressed. It's a bit like Amanda says - all that unstinting praise at that vulnerable age can lead to a lifetime of sin! ;-)

Diane Gaston said...

yikes. I'm at the library and almost out of time... my internet is down at home.

It took me about 2 or 3 years before I admitted to my Work colleagues that I was writing Romance. They were surprisingly supportive

Gotta go!!! but I just had to stop by before my time is out.

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hi Keira! I loved your description of wanting to read so badly. I was that way too. My dad's a Librarian and all my sibs could read. I was DYING to read so I taught myself around four or so. I've never looked back. And Oh! The Scarlet Pimpernel. And Monte Cristo, the Musketeers, Man in the Iron Mask...LOVED them. :> It took me a long time to admit I wrote, much less Romance. Now I say it proudly and enjoy the reactions. Usually, I'm pleasantly surprised, so I shouldn't say it that way. Ha! With my book about to be out in June, I'm saying it a LOT now, so I'm fast getting over any angst I had about it. Great post!

Anna Sugden said...

Great post, Keira. I too was an early reader and have had my nose burrowed in a book pretty much ever since! My dad was a big reader and my mum always loved reading me stories.

Apparently, even as a child, though, I'd make up the words to the story if I didn't like the ones the author had written *grin*.

I discovered Mills & Boons (Robyn Donald, Betty Neels, Charlotte Lamb)and Denise Robins at an early age. Also Georgette Heyer and Anya Seton ... as well as Catherine Cookson. Must admit though, I've never read Woodiwiss or Rosemary Rogers.

I've always read a wide variety of things ... if only I had time to read all that I wanted to. But, sadly, I can't even keep up with all the romances, let alone anything else.

As for writing romances, I was outed in a local newspaper back home when I did well in a national writing competition sponsored by M&B. I was amazed by how many people were positive about it.

jo robertson said...

Keira, what beautiful and inspiring experiences you write about!

I was a tomboy and not all that voracious a reader until college where writing took the form of analysis papers and a little poetry for all those college heartbreaks LOL.

I didn't write romance fiction until a few years ago and oh, I wish I'd started earlier. I feel so behind everyone else!

Candice Hern said...

Great blog, Keira. I was an early reader, too. I was a sickly kid and in the hospital a lot, and rather than just lie there, I read. I begged for books and more books. But my mother wasn't as wise as yours and I had to discover the classics on my own. But I did, and I'm still working my way through them!

Like Kelly, I never dreamed of writing fiction until I discovered romance novels and fell in love with them. Once I had found the sort of books I had been longing to read -- the ones with hopeful, happy endings, not the ones where the heroines throw themselves under trains -- it wasn't long before story ideas began to buzz around in my head and I decided to try my hand at writing them down. And I've never looked back ...

Janga said...

What a fascinating topic, Keira!

I started reading at five, but my early reading was less ambitious than yours, Keira. It was limited to children's books until I started reading my mother's books the summer I turned ten. That was a wonderful summer--P&P, Jane Eyre, and stacks of Emilie Loring romances. I have been mixing literary and popular fiction ever since.

I started writing at six and from that point on thought of myself as a writer, although thinking of myself as a romance writer is quite a recent development.

Janet Mullany said...

Great topic, Keira, and I love the way you used the pics in your post.

Hmmm...I think my writing came about from a combination of menopause (I was fortunate enough to be stuck with creativity rather than hot flashes) and having a job where I had time on my hands.

But before that, I read and read. Everything. I didn't read much romance and I guess I became a romance writer by default (I've been told all along I'm not a romance writer) and also because romance writers write to get published, which is what I wanted to do.

When did you first openly admit to a stranger in a coffee shop that you write romance novels?
My technique is to tell people I write about sex, passion, and how love screws up my characters' lives; and I'm pubbed as a romance writer. If they smirk I ask them what sort of books they write.

Works like a charm. Mind you, I haven't tried it on Salman Rushdie yet.

Annie West said...

Hi Keira,

Loved this post. Laughed at the idea of being taken to a university professor at the age of 8. What a great mum!

My own daughter (teen) is currently on a Russian novel binge. I'm hoping that one day she'll work her way round to romances. She read 'Crime and Punishment' and I said what about 'War and Peace'? (Still remember it as a great romance). She picked up 'Dead Souls' instead (lesson, never make a direct suggestion. What would I know? I'm just mum!) But I've discovered she has a soft spot for Jane Austen so there's hope (G)!

Personally, I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. Being read to and then reading myself. I too remember discovering Georgette Heyer and picking up category romances and being hooked (oh, they were daring!). But I didn't start to think about writing till later. Yes, I toyed with writing an adventure story or two as a kid, but to believe I could write a story others would want to pick up off the shelf? That took a long time. Now I've discovered it's the best feeling when you write a story you love.

Sorry, I'm rambling. But your blog was so terrific. Thanks, Keira!


Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Keira, my mother told me that I used to reach for the newspaper when I was in my crib, so I guess I was always going to be a big reader. As for writing, I think I was always making up stories, but I wrote my first novel at the age of 10. It was mystery novel ala Nancy Drew starring a girl like me, which I promptly sent off to Grosset & Dunlap (I had even done my own illustrations!), just knowing they couldn't wait to publish it. Alas, I got my first rejection letter.

La Belle Americaine said...

Ah...books. Books kept me sane in my hectic, anxious childhood. It's only now I realize that it was the fact that I read so much and so widely that enabled me to have dreams and aspirations many kids who've grown up in homes similar to mine never even think of. As for writing, I penned my first novel when I was 6--it was hardbound, illustrated by me and everything and detailed a typical Sunday for my family. Unfortunately, it's long gone, but I do have the second book I wrote and illustrated, about two mice who take a vacation to the beach--and it's rather telling that erm, it's unfinished after fifteen years. *g* Regarding that last part...I haven't even admitted to anyone I even read romance novels, they have such a stigma in academic circles. ::bad romance author::

Cassondra said...

Keira, what a great blog!

So sorry I've been AWOL. It's been a crazy month. I'm glad I didn't miss this blog though. It's so cool to find out how people got started reading and writing.

Reading saved me when I was a kid. A few years ago I saw my first and second grade teachers at a reunion and they said, "you were always such a good student if we could just get you to put down whatever book you were reading." But I don't remember them ever discouraging me, and thank God for that.

I was always told I should be a writer, but it was always some deep philosophical ramblings that caught people's eyes. Never fiction. I just never wrote fiction. I never thought of doing it. Until I found romance novels--somewhat late in life because they were the AntiChrist in our house. Once I read several I knew that's what I wanted to do.

I'm afraid if that impressive stack of books had been foisted on me at age 8, I'd never have been seen again. And I don't think I would have been a writer. I'd have been intimidated!