Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"The Sweet Serenity of Books" -- Patty Blount

What a fantastic topic we have this month -- how we read.

Those of you who know me know I treasure books and chocolate -- set me loose in a book store and I'm like a kid in a candy store. Set me loose in a Godiva shop and I'm just the way I am when cut loose in a book store. :)

I want it all!

When I was little, books provided an escape while my parents argued or my sister annoyed me. If the story was really good, I could be present in the middle of the chaos but only in body -- my mind sucked into those pages as surely as if I were the one living them. Books were my friends, my heroes, my secret crushes (my very first crush was Joe Hardy in the Hardy Boys). Books taught me about sex (who remembers "Ralph" from Judy Blume's Forever?) A book soothed my fear when I was diagnosed with scoliosis at age twelve.

Quite simply, books are magic.

When I was in elementary school, I had few friends. I wasn't pretty. I wasn't athletic. I kept trying to fit into various things -- I tried student government and the only vote I got was my own. Even my few friends voted for someone else. I tried basketball -- meh. I tried track and field -- maybe. I tried out for dance club and didn't get in. There was only one thing I was good at.

Reading.

When I grew up, nobody attended nursery school or pre-K. My first school experience was kindergarten at PS 32 in Flushing, New York. My mother, also a voracious reader, used to sit with me for hours teaching me phonix and simple words. By the time kindergarten started, I was reading those Little Golden books from the grocery store. Some of my favorite memories are our walks to the Queensborough Public Library branch on Francis Lewis Boulevard. She always let me choose a book that we'd read together.

As I grew, so did my love of books. I discovered Nancy Drew in second grade. We had a library period each week and it used to take me the whole week to finish a Nancy Drew novel. By the time I'd made it to the last book in the school library's collection, I was reading them in a single day. Today, if left alone, I can read half a dozen novels in a weekend. I moved on to The Bobsey Twins, Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys and Cherry Ames. Mom introduced me to non-fiction, too. I remember reading this enormous book called Karen. It was about Karen Killelea, a young girl with cerebral palsy. That book and Karen's story are what encouraged me to want to be a nurse when I grew up (I left nursing school after two years... a story for another blog post.) When I could choose my own books, I devoured Flowers in the Attic and Judy Blume.

(Mom doesn't know this but I read Sidney Sheldon's The Other Side of Midnight during lunch time trips to my grandmother's house.)

As I got older, I moved to romance. I read a bunch of Barbara Cartland stories and well -- they're just not my cup of tea. From there, I moved to the Harlequin Presents series and Harlequin Intrigue. Those were fun. When my sons were born, I tried so hard to carry on the same tradition. My oldest, sadly, doesn't enjoy reading the way I do, despite our trips to the library and our bedtime reading. But my youngest sure does. When he was little, I read him books 1 and 2 in the Harry Potter series.

Out loud.

I'm astounded I can still talk after attempting that.

I tried affecting a British accent and he loved it. We rented the movie and he was hooked when it occurred to him that his own imagination was way cooler than what the movie showed. We both dearly love the movies, though. As he grew, Harry Potter became "our thing." We waited anxiously for the next book or movie to be released and either read or saw it together. We had long and spirited disagreements over what the horcruxes would turn out to be and SPOILER ALERT! - whether Dumbledore was truly dead or just pretending.

Though my entire life could be measured by the books I've read, writing books was a dream I secretly nourished. When I told my mother I wanted to be a writer, she frowned and said I'd never earn a living doing that. I should find a real job. So, my first stories -- scrawled in the backs of math notebooks, never saw light. I was writing fan fiction before that was even a thing -- I used to write my own Hardy Boys mysteries. I graduated to actual fan fiction and when my son and I were immersed in Harry Potter, I used to stew over the fact that Rowling wasn't a trained writer -- she was a mom who wrote when her baby napped.

That inspired me to stop hiding my writing attempts and start showing them to people. I wrote mysteries, I wrote romances, I wrote stories about teenagers and even horror. My mother, who once said I could never earn a living writing, became my biggest fan. I wrote a romance called Border Lines about a doctor whose free clinic teeters on the brink of closure because neighbors are furious that she's providing care to illegal immigrants. The doctor falls for a British journalist who became so real, so alive for me, I still dream about him though I finished this book about seven years ago. When it was done, I sent it to Mom, who encouraged me to get it published. I queried a bunch of agents but never got a nibble and eventually, put it aside to write SEND, my debut novel. One evening, I was channel surfing and found Dancing With the Stars. (I don't watch much TV because evenings are my writing time.) With my jaw dangling, I called my mother and told her to turn on that channel. The man dancing the salsa was my journalist character! The actor dancing turned out to be Gilles Marini -- the famous naked neighbor showering outside in the Sex in the City movie. Though Gilles is not British and didn't have a pony-tail, his manner, his appeal and general look are so much like my character, my mom and I became instant Gilles fans.

I even went so far as to stalk friend him on Facebook to share this story. He replied "Border Lines sounds like an interesting project. I wish you good luck with it."

*swoons*

Where was I? Oh, right. Books. These words are painted on my living room wall:

The love of learning,
the sequestered nooks,
and all the sweet serenity of books.



I read for fun, for education, for inspiration, for escape. I read because books are magic. Who reading this blog post has read Gone Girl and didn't want to murder those characters? That's magic. Who's read Harry Potter and wished you could attend Hogwarts? Do you remember reading under the covers with a flashlight, just one more chapter? Missing a subway stop because you forgot you were on the train? Slept with the lights on because Stephen King scared the tar out of you?

It's all magic.


4 comments:

  1. Patty, I love this! You're so right about books being magic (but I confess I am still laughing and blushing about your reference to Ralph in Forever!)

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  2. Books ARE magic! I love that! And can you believe I've never read Nancy Drew??

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  3. It's so amazing how books affect everyone! Your post is wonderful! I feel your enthusiasm and think it's awesome you contacted Giles!! You have to share tips because I have my own celeb I want to contact because she reminds me of a character in my book. :-)

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