Monday, April 30, 2007

Not Quite A Lady

Every time Loretta Chase comes out with a new book, I waiting at the bookstore to buy my copy or, in this instance, waiting for the postman to bring it as I'd pre-ordered it from amazon.

Not Quite A Lady arrived on Friday. I had it read before the weekend was over. I could have read it much more quickly if I hadn't had to write Flynn and Sara. But I need them to support my book-buying habit, so they take priority.

But I'm happy that I stole the time to read Loretta's latest. Lady Charlotte Hayward, the lady who isn't quite, certainly seems on the surface to be everything a lady ought to be. She's kind, generous, helpful, loving, a good daughter, a fine friend, a doting older sister. But Lady Charlotte has a secret . . . and that secret is what makes her 'not quite a lady.'

Darius Carsington, the youngest of the brothers featured in Loretta Chase's most recent books, is not interested in 'ladies' in any case. Women are fine, but 'ladies' require commitment and marriage, and Darius is interested in neither. He is that multi-faceted man -- a scholar and a rake -- and he sees no reason to change.

But once Darius meets Lady Charlotte, both their lives and their priorities begin to change.

Not Quite A Lady is a wonderful, lively read in which Loretta Chase's deft wit and humor mingle with deep emotion and which brings complex characters into conflict with society's rules.

I thoroughly enjoyed it -- right down to the pigs.

If you are looking for a good read, Not Quite A Lady is worth a look. And if you enjoy it, start picking up Loretta Chase's backlist, particularly Lord of Scoundrels, Mr Impossible, and Captives of the Night. They're all marvelous. Others are, too, but you can find that out for yourselves.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Four footed visitors

When I wrote that title I wasn't sure if I wanted to write about my twin grandsons who, between them, have four feet (though it often seems like more) and were here visiting this weekend for a brief time. Or if I wanted to write about the dog their dad is helping to look for a home for.

But since the dog is more in need of a home than they are (no one having decided they need to pack up and move on), I guess it will be the dog.

He's a great dog. Talented (he sits and stays and catches balls). Reasonably well-behaved (he didn't pull me off my feet when I took him outside and down the stairs like a dog I know and love has tried to do on various occasions). He also likes kids (including two year olds) and other dogs.

Sadly he can't stay in the home he is now living in. My son is considering adopting him (but this is possibly not the best idea). There are a few other local options, but there is also the wonderful Golden Rescue organization for our tri-state area. One of our earlier goldens, Jake, came to us from them. He was supposed to be passing through, but remained and became one of the family.

I know the twins would like this guy to stick around, too. I just thought I'd share him with you because he's an extra nice dog.

I'm also thinking maybe I can work him into a book and he could put it on his resume. Sparks the cat did that, and now he's got a brilliant home in one of the islands off the top end of Scotland (and no, I'm not kidding).

The book continues to go well. I continue to be amazed.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

And the winner is . . . !

Across the pond this past Friday The Romantic Novelists' Association had a gala luncheon at the elegant Savoy. On this occasion they presented the award for the best category romance novel entered that was published during 2006.

The shortlist was:

The Millionaire's Runaway Bride
by Catherine George
(Harlequin Mills & Boon)

And the winner was Nell Dixon for Marrying Max! Congratulations to Nell especially. But congratulations are in order for all the finalists.

It's a tough category with a lot of wonderful books entered by RNA members every year. And judging from the various blogs, it sounds like everyone had a brilliant time.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Nothing to whine about . . .

That's the thing, you see . . . when the book is going swimmingly, which it is, I want to spend all my time writing it and none of the time writing anything else (like my blog).

After all, I play here when everything is falling apart there. But nothing is falling apart right now. I had a great day with Flynn and Sara. I'm not sure Sara enjoyed it much -- or that Flynn is going to enjoy it later -- but I had a blast! I also got to write a conversation between Sara and her mom. And as Polly has always been one of my favorite heroines, I really enjoyed meeting up with her again.

Because the day went so well, I went out this evening with a friend to watch a Maori dance troupe which came to one of our local colleges to perform. They had the misfortune to have to do it in a gymnasium with terrible acoustics. But the dancers themselves were marvelous, the singing was really compelling. But the music they had to use for accompaniment was ruined by the sound system and the acoustics of the gym. Very much a shame because they were really worth watching.

I went to a similar performance at the museum in Auckland the first day we were in New Zealand. It was wonderful, but this one actually seemed even more 'authentic' or perhaps done with less 'showmanship' and so felt more 'real.'

At the one in Auckland I was drafted to learn how to swing poi. Perhaps that colored my memories 0f it as I'm not the world's most coordinated person. And with a 27 hour trip behind me and no sleep, it's a wonderI didn't hit myself in the eye! Still, it gave me a great appreciation for the dexterity of the dancers. Graceful Rn't Us, I fear.

Anyway, I have nothing to whine about regarding the book. It's zipping right along. Does this sort of thing happen to Nora Roberts all the time, I wonder? Perhaps that's why she writes so many more books than I do. Or maybe she just fights through the tough stuff with more energy. That's probably more likely.

In any case, most of the time I say, "Writing is easy and fun for me," I'm being sarcastic. I wouldn't be if I said it today. Some days it actually is.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Almost There

The odd thing about this book is that it was supposed to be set in Ireland. And I don't think we're getting there until chapter eight.

Maybe sooner, but not much. In fact I see now that it could be a much longer book. If I were doing it as a Special Edition or a single title, we'd be just about at the halfway point when we get to Ireland. But inasmuch as it's a Presents, it's going to have to be very tightly focused on the relationship and less on the other stuff that would also be a part of a bigger book.

I'm not sure I think that's the best use of the story, but it's what I've committed to, so it's what I've got. And having a focus is good, really. It keeps things from wandering all over. I must admit I'd like to be able to bring in more of the Irish stuff -- and the people and the story of what goes on there. Flynn's brother is an interesting guy. We may yet see more of him in a later book.

It's interesting, too, how little the collage actually had anything to do with the final book. I suppose that it should have told me something when I never put New York City in it at all, that New York wasn't important. And I did manage to get in a tiny piece of Montana.

At least I got the focus on the people right because really that's what it's all about. People. Relationships. It would be interesting to make a collage after the fact and see what I come up with then.

But in fact I think I like Twyla Tharp's box idea better. It's not so static. It's a place where I can gather stuff and sift through it and find connections.

I'm not a spatially visual person. So I probably do better when I have a box full of stuff (my mother would certainly agree with that!) than everything neat on a page, even if it's a big page.

It was fun to do the collage, but I'm thinking I'll try a box for the next one. Whose story will it be, I wonder? One of the Savas and Antonides bunch? Peter, perhaps? Or George, the physicist who locked himself in the lab when Theo was taking over my blog?

Or maybe Flynn's brother, Dev? Or Sara's sister, Lizzie? Or someone else entirely.

Possibilities abound. I'm getting exciting just thinking about it. But first I've got to finish this one. A week or two should do it. I hope.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The End of the Tunnel

It's there.

I can see it -- the light at the end of the tunnel.

It may be faint and far off, but it's perceptible. And I can actually see the track for the rest of the way. I spent today writing it all down. A rough draft, if you will, of the whole rest of the book. I sent it to my dear friend Anne Gracie to see if she could spot any gaping chasms I wasn't seeing. She wrote back, Nope. (or words to that effect).

I feel like I can breathe again. I knew it yesterday when my scratching paid off, even where I wasn't expecting it. I knew it when the penny dropped about Sara and a sense of home. I could glimpse it then in flashes, but today I could actually see it for long steady periods of time -- while I wrote.

So tomorrow I'm taking three hours off. I'm taking my mother to lunch to celebrate her anniversary of coming to live here. She's been here 6 years (she thinks eternity has nothing on this. Time moves slower where it snows, she says). But we are celebrating tomorrow.

And I have even more to celebrate than her anniversary. I can celebrate finally seeing that light!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Where Do You Get Your Ideas . . . again

One of the questions writers get asked most often is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

I think I already talked about that sometime last year. Maybe I've talked about it more than once. I could conceivably talk about it every single day because ideas are just . . . there.

They are the seed that is scattered every single day -- more seed than we could ever count -- and one day one seed will fall on ground ready to receive it. One day something someone says will strike a chord. One day a writer will see something or hear something or touch something -- and the mystery of what on earth those people in the book were muttering on about will suddenly become clear. The seed will blossom. The note will lead to another.

The book will -- finally -- get written.

Where do we get our ideas? By being receptive to whatever comes our way, by running it by our characters, listening to see if they have anything to say.

The reason I'm talking about this today is because three days ago one of my sons wrote me an email about a house going up for sale across the road from him. And because he is the eternal optimist, he thought it had great possibilities.

Of course he hadn't seen the house. So an hour later, because he isn't the sort to let grass grow under his feet, he went and introduced himself to the neighbor and asked to see it. And then he emailed me and said, "Well, there are things you'd have to do to the house. You'd have to do this and this and this." It was a fairly long list. We agreed it might not be the right house.

The next day he emailed me and said, "Every house you look at is going to be like that, you know."

Because we really like the house we live in now, except that it's not where we hope to be living full time in a couple of years, we can always think of things we'd like to be different in another house. "You really should buy a lot and build a house," he said. "That way you could have what you want."

It made a certain amount of sense. He often makes sense, but you do have to think of most of the negatives yourself, because he's not going to provide them. Not at first, anyway.

So I spent yesterday, whenever I took a break from Flynn and Sara, looking at house plans. Why not? It was a constructive way to pass the time. And I found some very interesting plans. And some very good ideas. And some architects whose thought processes mirrored how I like to think about houses and lifestyles. And so I checked to see if our library had their books. And, amazingly enough, they did.

So today I went and picked them up. And an hour spent with them this morning and I had all the rest of the pieces of my book!

The ideas I didn't even know I was missing -- except that last night I wrote a scene in which Flynn felt very content and it was such a foreign experience he was amazed -- were suddenly there -- in the books. Reading them I figured out what was missing -- Flynn's realization that Sara understands what it takes to make a home.

It might not mean anything to anyone else, but it unlocked the rest of the book for me. It was like the world came into focus.

I could see the world as Flynn saw it, as Sara saw it, as they would need to see it together in order to get to their happily ever after.

And interestingly enough, it fits right in with what I was talking about the other day about having changed the setting. Without having gone back to Elmer, I wouldn't have the house that Sara and Liam are living in. It wouldn't have the history, the connections, the sense of family that it does. And it wouldn't echo in a small American way the long history of Flynn's Irish castle. And the book wouldn't resonate the way I'm hoping that it will.

Not to mention the fact that The Not So Big House is a very good book. Some of the principles can even apply to castles. Or you can try to apply them

When I get a chance I'll have to write about it, too. Maybe it will be my next Twyla Tharp.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Going Home . . . figuratively

I've discovered that you can go home again. At least in books.

When Sara and Flynn couldn't get from the brownstone to the coffee shop in 4 months, I knew that something had to change. It was luck, I suppose, or desperation, that made me rethink the setting. It isn't something that I often think of changing. Usually I'm pretty clear on where a story belongs.

Once before, when I was beginning Finn's Twins, I made a setting switch. But that was the result of editorial suggestion. My very savvy editor said, "Instead of the Bahamas, why don't you think about setting it in New York City."

And I did consider it -- and eventually did it. And it completely changed the book. In fact it made the book heaps better. The energy in New York City pervaded the story, made Finn a very different type of guy, and gave him a whole different environment to react to and grow out of.

Maybe that's why, when Flynn and Sara couldn't make the trek in a straight line down a paved street to a coffee shop, I thought (eventually) that perhaps there was something in the setting that wasn't working for them. And I was right.

Moving the story's beginning back to Elmer made all the difference. Sara is at home in Elmer. She's in her element. She's confident, steady, stable, in control. She belongs there in a way she never belonged in New York. She's got her act together there. She's not searching. She's already found what she wants.

Or she thinks she has. And then she discovers that she might be wrong.

It's trickier for Flynn confronting her there, too. She's got reinforcements there. She's got a family circle. She's in control. And he has to come in and face the memories of what happened the last time he was there. He has to face her -- and their son. And then he has to get her out of there and halfway round the world to Ireland.

He's working on it. I'm wishing him luck. And at the same time, I've loved my trip back to Elmer, to meet up again with a lot of my old Code of the West characters.

It's been a lot of fun 'going home' again.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another of the Good Uns

When I first began to get serious about genealogy and family history research, I subscribed to the Association of Professional Genealogists mailing list online. You don't have to be a pro to do so, but you can certainly get an education by listening in. I did. And every now and then, when I was stumped by something (which I was far more often than I ever asked about), I posed a question.

Almost always someone with much more knowledge and expertise than I suggested appropriate ways to research what I was trying to tackle or offered the titles of books I might want to consult or articles in which the authors addressed how they had dealt with a similar problem.

The man who answered most frequently was a Canadian genealogist and librarian, Ken Aitken. When I began to look seriously at taking some courses to improve my knowledge and skills at research and analysis, it was Ken who pointed me toward useful places. And ultimately, when I chose to take some courses from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies which is affiliated with the University of Toronto, Ken ended up being the "mentor" for three of my courses.

From Ken I learned how to learn. As a reasonably quick study with most things, I tended to approach genealogy and family history from the same rather scattered approach. Think of it as the 'shot gun approach' to family history. You scatter a lot of shot, and occasionally you hit something. It helps, of course, if you're aiming in the right direction, which usually I was. But it wasn't very efficient and I was sure there had to be a better way.

There is. And Ken is the one who pointed me in the right direction. His course in article analysis taught me how to learn from other researchers. His suggestions about books on self-directed learning and social history both focused and ultimately broadened my research.

He was a man with a gift for teaching. And those of us whom he taught will benefit for the rest of our lives from his instruction.

For over a year Ken battled the effects of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Yesterday morning he passed away. The world is a poorer place without his humor and his insight and his knowledge. It has been lessened by the loss of a man who stepped up and offered help and suggestions and kindness to those who were seeking to learn. But it has been immeasurably enriched by his presence. And the gifts he gave to all of us who learned from him will, I hope, be passed on to those whose lives we touch.

Ken, we will miss you. We have been blessed by your presence. Congratulations on finally getting past all your research brick walls!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Scratching . . . . and Scrabbling

No, not scratching an itch.

In fact maybe not only scratching. Maybe scrabbling. Maybe both.

That's what writing a book is like.

In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp talks about 'scratching' as "the first steps of a creative act." They are, she says, "like groping in the dark: random, chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight."

That's the scratching part. The scraping together raw material, digging your fork or trowel in the earth and coming up with loose bits you can see have potential (and a lot of bits that, frankly, don't). It is "like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward."

Yes. In fact, in capital letters, YES!

But I think for me the process continues throughout the whole book. Maybe it does for her, too, in choreographing a dance. I don't know. But I do know that once I've got an idea, a toehold, it's not a clear shot up the mountain. Sometimes I''m in the thick of the forest and I can't see where the top is. And sometimes the damn mountain is so steep and so nearly vertical that it hasn't got a single tree -- or anything at all to grab onto.

That's the scrabbling part. That's where half-way up I look in every direction for the next handhold or toehold and go, "Ooops. Maybe this wasn't the right way."

In fact I did that once with Flynn and Sara. And I went back down and started again. I found a better set of toeholds, ones I was more comfortable with, ones I thought I could use to find my way to the top. They were new and they were challenging. It wasn't a well-traveled thoroughfare, believe me. But it seemed to work.

And now I'm halfway up the mountain and I've just taken a bend around a corner and I'm thinking, there's a toehold or a handhold or something here somewhere. I just have to find it. I might even have to scratch again, scrabble a little, dig my fingers in.

I'm hanging there now. Contemplating a patch of green (very very green) just a little further up. Ireland, as a matter of fact. I just have to get there -- and get Flynn and Sara there with me. But first I have to find the toehold -- or scratch one out that I can use for traction, for a step up.

I'm working on it.

(But I'd rather be baking something with rhubarb.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Surfeit of Rhubarb, part III

This is for those of you, like India, who have a surfeit of rhubarb. This is rather like, I suppose, an exhaltation of larks or a pride of lions -- a surfeit of rhubarb.

We have not reached the surfeit stage yet. In fact it's just getting going here. But we had that early spring followed by two weeks of The Return of Winter, which scared the bejesus out of anything that wanted to grow. So there is a certain amount of reluctance on the part of the local flora.

That does not seem to be the case in India's neck of the words (India the author, not India the country. India, the author, writes for Harlequin Presents. Watch out for her first book which is coming sometime later this year or early next -- don't know which. Also, she is the mother of the feline, Ruby, who has the hots for Sid. Just so you know.)

Anyway, India has asked for more rhubarb recipes. I am providing this one, which a friend assures me is very good, though I have never tried it. This year, provided we have plenty, I'll be trying it, too.
Rhubarb Almond Cake
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups rhubarb, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 9 inch round cake pans.
  2. Beat brown sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla together until smooth.
  3. Combine flour, salt and baking soda; add to sugar mixture alternately with milk. Beat until smooth.
  4. Stir in rhubarb and 1/2 cup almonds. Pour into prepared pans.
  5. In a small bowl, combine white sugar and butter or margarine. Stir in 1/4 cup almonds. Sprinkle topping over batter.
  6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until done. Makes 2 9" cakes.
  7. I wouldn't stack them and make a two layer cake, but you do what you want.

Flynn and Sara are working hard. If we keep these rhubarb recipes going a while I might actually be able to finish the book.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rhubarb, part II, the sequel

Sid is spelling it rhubrab, which works, I suppose. It probably is just as tasty spelled that way. He doesn't think so, as it clashes with his preferred salmon. Oh well. More for the rest of us.

I've come up with the rhubarb cake recipe (thanks to Nancy the cat slayer who keeps her recipes in better order than I do, and is able to lay her hands on my recipes even when I can't. And no, she didn't slay any cats, but we have photographic evidence of her with Archie of Ballyvolane looking reasonably, if accidentally, murderous).

Onward . . .

In case you have more rhubarb (or rhubrab) than you know what to do with -- and in case you have already made so many rhubarb delights that your nearest and dearest are saying, Enough already, here is the cake recipe, which I actually prefer (well, it's a toss-up, really. They're both very good).
Rhubarb Cake
preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 ½ c sugar
½ c shortening
2 eggs
cream shortening and sugar, add eggs. Beat together.

2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups flour
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1/3 c milk
Stir dry ingredients together.
Add them to creamed mixture alternately with the milk.
Fold in Rhubarb.
Spread in 9" by 13" pan (you can grease and flour the bottom lightly -- or at least grease it).
Sprinkle the batter with sugar or cinnamon and sugar.
Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Signs of Spring

It's that time of year again.

No, not deadline time, though it is that, too. Or almost.

It's time for rhubarb.

I got all excited because I thought I saw some in the grocery store the week before Easter -- and I thought, wow, that's early. And then it turned out to be some weird sort of red vegetable. Not the sort of thing you would want to make a pie out of. Or a crisp. Or a cobbler. Or a cake.

But now it's here. And so I've been taking a bit of time from the grindstone to track down my rhubarb recipes in preparation for making something good this coming weekend.

When we first moved to Iowa we lived next door to a lady with a collection of the world's best rhubarb recipes. She passed several on to me. One that I always make is called "Rhubarb Delight" -- and because you're all such nice people, I'm passing it on to you. I said I would last year -- and I never did. So here it is, and just in time, too.

Depending on the size of pie pan you have, you can adjust the ingredients up or down. I like this because it uses a fair amount of rhubarb (and I always add more because I have a big pie dish).

Elda's Rhubarb Delight
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine (I wouldn't use solid shortening here. Butter is best)
5 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Mix this together, reserve 1/2 cup, pat the rest into the bottom of your pie pan. You can, if you have enough, pat it up the sides, but DON'T put it out on the lip of the pan or it will burn and you won't enjoy it as much.
Bake this 10 minutes at 375 degrees

Mix together:
1 1/4 cups white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
pinch of salt
1/4 cup flour
2 1/4 cups of rhubarb, chopped fine.

Pour this filling on top of the at least slightly cooled bottom crust. Bake about 35 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool before serving.


If Blogger ever lets me post pictures, I will. Today it's resisting. So I'll put them up when it deigns to cooperate. If you're desperate for a look at the finished product click on that, the scroll down to June 9th. Or wait until tomorrow and hope that Blogger lets me put the photo in here.

I'm going back to Flynn who is in bed waiting for Sara -- who has other ideas.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The 13th Is Magic

The number of books I read as a child was monumental. And I remember a surprising number of them -- not the plot, not even necessarily the characters, but whether I liked them or not.

If they spoke to me then they were my friends. I remembered where they were shelved (and God help me if they ever re-shelved because I didn't cotton onto the Dewey Decimal System until my second year of high school. "Oh, that's what those little numbers are for!" Besides, in fiction there weren't little numbers, only letters. Bad system.)

One book I went back to over and over and over was called The 13th is Magic. I must have checked it out and read it a dozen times while I was in elementary school. It was written by Joan Howard who, as far as I knew then, had written no other books (I checked the library catalogue). In fact she had, both as Joan Howard and as Patricia Gordon. But as far as I knew The 13th is Magic was a one-off.

And what a one-off it was. . .

Later I tried to remember why I was so enamored of it. So I tracked it down on inter-library loan. You can imagine the librarian's surprise at that request. But she ordered it and a few weeks later, it appeared. And I held it in my hands again after nearly half a century (yes, I'm that old). I was almost afraid to open it for fear of being disappointed.

I needn't have worried. It was every bit as wonderful as I remembered.

The blurb for it says: 'New York is a magic city where almost anything can happen - especially if you live on the 13th floor of an apartment house on Central Park West. Now of course, since most people are superstitious there is no real 13th floor in hotels or apartment houses, and the one where Ronnie and Gillian live, although it is right above the 12th, is called the 14th. It is not until the day they find the black cat Merlin that they discover the magical 13th floor...''

And that's exactly what it's about -- a world full of promise, of possibilities, of potential for wonderful things to happen.

Just exactly what the wonderful things were escaped me at the time -- and they escape me now -- though I could go downstairs and look as I found a copy in a used bookshop in Wales a couple of years ago and gave it to myself for Christmas.

What was important about it was 1) that Miss Howard didn't write down just because she was writing for children. In fact the book was witty, charming and literate, every bit as readable by an adult as by a child, and 2) it promised adventure. It was a book about what might be, what could be . . . what if . . .

It excited my child's imagination. It tantalized and intrigued. It delighted. It still does.

And it had a cat.

Sid would say, 'Of course it had a cat. All wonderful books have cats.'

And while I'm not sure I would go that far, The 13th is Magic had a wonderful cat. Merlin was a cat of promise. He was the cat-alyst of the story, after all. Without Merlin none of it would ever have happened.

I'm thinking I need to give the fictional Sid a bigger part in Flynn and Sara. Maybe things will move faster if I do.

Got any favorite books you'd like to share? Kids books or otherwise? C'mon, Kate, I know you do.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Celebrate Your Local Library!

I want to forget the tortoises for the moment (or perhaps forever) and remind you all that it is National Library Week this week.

So if you're in the neighborhood of a library (and most of us are at some time or other), why not stop in and say thanks to your local librarian.

As a writer, libraries mean a lot to me. But even before I was a writer, I was a reader. And I became a reader because of our local library.

Our library sat in a squat faded pinkish-orange stuccoed building on Manhattan Avenue in Manhattan Beach. It was a mere block from the beach. I could stand on the corner and stare down the hill and see as far as the earth's curvature would let me.

But going inside the library, I could see forever.

I could travel the world and space and time. There were no boundaries -- only the promise of more wonderful worlds to come -- every time I opened a book.

The children's section, at one end of the building, had low shelves and a threadbare rug and several small stools to sit on if the rug got too hard -- or damp. I mostly remember the damp. I'm not sure the library had heat. I know it didn't have -- didn't need -- air conditioning. I doubt the heat because I remember sitting there for ages wrapped in my coat reading and reading and reading.

Outside the fog swirled around (I don't remember many sunny days because most of the time that close to the beach the "early morning fog" (now called "the marine layer") met the "late night fog" (also called "the marine layer) about 2 in the afternoon most of the year.

So everything in the library was slightly damp, and everything smelled a bit briny. It's a scent most people don't associate with libraries. But to this day I do. And I get nostalgic for books as well as the beach when I smell the sea.

The day I could finally print my name small enough to fit on the tiny space available on the index card inside the book meant that I could get my own library card. And it was a red letter day, believe me. I practiced and practiced. And even after I got it, I used to worry that my handwriting would get bigger and they would somehow take away my card. I also thought that I could have had it sooner if I'd had a very very short name. I envied kids named Ann Day and Jim Hsu.

After I got it I checked out the maximum six books every time I went. I was allowed to keep them two weeks. Of course I read them all that evening and wanted to go back the next day. My mother, who loved a good movie far more than a book, was less than thrilled. But she took me -- not every day, but far more often than I'm sure she enjoyed. I owe her a lot for that.

I owe the authors I read, too. We didn't have a large library, so I read every book at least once. And I always forgot everything that happened in it as soon as I read it. What I remembered was whether I liked it or not.

If I liked it, I remembered what color it was and where it was shelved, so I could check it out again soon and reread it and find the same sense of joy all over again.

When I was in late elementary school, they built a new library several blocks back from the ocean. They had heat in this building. And tables. And more shelves. And more books. It was amazing. I was also old enough to ride my bike there, which I did every day during the summer. I read every book there, too. I signed up for the summer reading program, but after two weeks they tossed me out because I read too many books. I didn't care. It wasn't the program I was there for -- it was the story.

It's always been about the story. Libraries are the home of promise, of potential, of hope. They also harbor their share of angst and misery and despair. But as a reader, you can pick and choose. You can find books of your heart (whatever they may be) there.

In the March 2007 Women's Day magazine there was an article about how the library changed my life. I read it avidly and encourage you to click on the link and check it out, too. These women's experiences with libraries were even more profound than mine. But I could identify with the joy and the world of possibilities that came out of all of them.

If you have your own "how the library changed my life" or "enriched my life" story, and you wouldn't mind sharing it, please put it in the comments section here. I'd love to read it. I'm sure others would, too.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I'm Not A Tortoise, Either!

I'm still sorting out Flynn and Sara, so I've invited my new friend to entertain you today. If he behaves, he gets a permanent place on the sidebar. We shall see. If you click on Little Heck, he will do hedgehoggy sorts of things (reputedly). I'm not sure about the hopping up into the air and spinning in a ball (the ones who live with Kate Walker never did that).

There seems to be a concerted effort to keep me from more tortoise posts. Hmmmm.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I Am NOT a Tortoise

My dear friend and ear-rubber, The Lady Across the Pond owns this blog. I believe you know her better as Anne McAllister, but I know her as TLATP who comes to visit Me on far too infrequent occasions . She brings me tokens of her affection and esteem – salmon is my preferred gift – and she knows just where to rub behind my ears.

So when my dear LATP told me that she was in A Quandary, naturally, like the Cat of Superior Breeding that I am, I came to her rescue.

TLATP's Quandary is this – if I did not post a Guest Blog for her then she would have to post yet another blog about tortoises. And, well to be frank, even nine lives are too short for yet more reptilian musings.

Feline musings on the other hand, well I am sure that there is never enough time for them. Especially the musings of A Cat of Superior Breeding.

Oh – my Mum has just told me that perhaps you may not actually know of me. How could this be? Have you been hiding somewhere? Do you never read TLATP's blog – or indeed that of My Mum. My Mum like TLATP is an Author. You, I expect will know her as Kate Walker. She and TLATP write Romances. I have little time for Books myself – you can't eat them and what is the use of something you can't eat - or sleep on.

I have tried sleeping on My Mum's Books and indeed the books written by TLATP, in fact I only recently tried the latest published books, The Santorini Bride by TLATP and Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride by My Mum (I needed to put them both together as, as well as being a Cat of Superior Breeding, I am also A Cat of Substance and one book is not sufficient for me) and while comfortable enough, they are not my choice of snoozing spot. That would be on the windowsill in My Mum's office – or around her keyboard when she is writing.

But the best is unselfish snoozing – like when I am testing out the beds in preparation for a visit from TLATP. Then the knowledge that I am snoozing on the beds with the purely selfless aim of making sure that TLATP will be comfortable when she comes to share it with me adds to my enjoyment of the


So for those of you who need a formal introduction, I

am Sid the Cat -- Sir Sidney St John Willoughby Portly-Lummox to be precise. ACOSB, Lord of Hellion's Bumpstead and Earl of Blubberhouses.

I used to be a wanderer in the world but one day My Mum opened her door and I came in and I knew this was where I really lived. Unfortunately I have to share with the Other Cats – Bob and Spiffy, two elderly gentlemen who have lived here many cat lives and – here is the unfortunate bit – I also have to share with one Dylan, my Nemesis. Dylan is Dylan the Villain and he and I are not best friends.

One of the important functions I fulfill in My Mum's life – other than warming her lap, making sure that the bed is comfortable, adding elegance and beauty to her life and of course providing the inspiration for all her heroes, is that I also help her choose the winners for her contests. I choose the winners by picking the cat crunchie I wish to eat first, and the name it rests on is the winner. If you have not yet entered one of my Mum's contests then I would recommend that you do so – the more entries there are, the more crunchies I get to choose from and an Abundance of Crunchies is an excellent thing in my opinion.

In fact, an Abundance of most things edible is an excellent thing. My favourite time of day (please note the correct spelling of 'favourite' which is not the way it is spelled Across The Pond and even I fear by my dear LATP) time of the day) is Teatime. This is when My Mum provides me with a little smackeral (or two) of something tasty. Sometimes she is busy – with something she describes as a 'hero' and this does tend to displease me.

If she is busy then I am left to the mercies of The Gentleman of The House and believe me you really cannot get good staff these days. TGOTH is somewhat slapdash in his serving of Teatime and tends to forget that I am partial to salmon – or tuna if there is a severe salmon shortage. Sometimes he even serves me my Tea in the same bowl as the one that Dylan has just used! And this is just not good enough. As I am sure you will appreciate.

My dear LATP is very good at being aware of my needs. She always brings salmon when she visits and she knows just the right place to rub behind my ears so that we both enjoy it the most. Because of this – and because I know how much she enjoys it, I graciously allow her to rub my head frequently when she visits.

This knowledge and skill is all the more unexpected because the LATP had been brought up by d-o-g-s! I am not fond of d-o-g-s - but I will admit that in the case of TLAP's Gunnar, a Dog of some pretty superior breeding himself, I will make an exception – so long as he stays on his side of the Pond. His canine brothers, Mr Micah and Young Mitch are also tolerable – except that Young Mitch does, apparently, bounce. I am not fond of bouncing or indeed being bounced. Especially not by a d-o-g.

Being ACOSB, I always in demand by the paparazzi. They are always trying to get exclusive and revealing shots of me. Because of this, I have graciously allowed My Mum to publish a monthly exclusive on her blog. The Cat Calendar has become the major media event of the year and many cats are now logging on just to view it.

Young Rosie, for example, the feminine feline of new Presents author, India Knight is always glad to see a pawtrait of me. But there is one thing I should warn you of – and that is the presence of a fraud – the Phraudulent Pheline – who has been known to appear posing as myself and publishes the phraudulent photographs in order to embarrass me. But as this Phraud only ever poses in silly and ungainly positions those of you with taste and intelligence will know at once that the pict

ures of not of Me but him.

In f act some of the pictures are so embarrassing that I would advise those of you with sensitive natures to look away fast as you might find them upsetting. I know I do.

So, this is my opening post as Guest Blogger in LATP's blog. I hope you have enjoyed it.

I am sure that you have, otherwise you would have had to be subjected to yet more posts about tortoises – and nowhere have I seen a Tortoise of Superior Breeding. And how, pray can you rub a tortoise behind the ear? Who would want to stroke a tortoise shell when you could hav

e my wondrously silky fur? Or would you want a tortoise to sit on you when you were sleeping? I rest my case.

So I have saved you from yet more Tortoises. It's a hard job, but someone has to do it. Any tokens of your appreciation - in the form of salmon – will be graciously accepted.

If you have any questions that you wish to ask me then feel free.

As TLATP is entangled with some persons named Flynn, and Sara and all these tortoises, I am sure that she w

ill welcome me back to answer them. I have already made a guest appearance in TLATP's current book – alongside Sara (I pray it was not one of the moments that she 'cut' as that would be a shame and a crime) so it will of course be a great book as a result.

I hav

e appeared in several of TLATP's books already, and I had a speaking part in one, and those where I have appeared have naturally become bestsellers. How could they fail when they have ACOSB's paw

stamp of approval. In fact I am amazed that Harlequin have not put that on the covers – Tested and Approved by Sid ACOSB. That would guaran

tee huge sales – don't you think?

It only remains for me to wish you and Happy and Tortoise Free weekend. I am now going to give the keyboard back to My Mum and retire to the windowsill for

a much needed snooze to while away the time between now and Teatime.