Search This Blog

Monday, August 6, 2018

Books Books Books

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS – Elizabeth Clements

Books can entertain, irritate, inspire, transport, bore, heal, amuse, inform, depress, terrify, anger, educate, exhilarate, liberate, transform….The list of verbs is endless. But in a word, books are—magical!

For a little girl in the ‘50’s, living on a farm with no electricity, no playmates except my two dolls and a black and white dog, books opened up a new world for me. I can barely remember my very first book, probably before I even learned to read. I don’t recall the name or much about it except it was a chunky, 5x5 square hardcover book with lots of cartoon drawings. My next book was Alice in Wonderland, then Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer.

Oddly, I still remember a bit of what those covers looked like, shiny and colorful with no book jackets. My  mom also bought me Heidi and I read that book so many times I almost had it memorized. The Alps setting particularly appealed to me, perhaps because I was born in Austria, but sadly I was too young to recall any of it when we left. I like to think, though, that the Alpine images are somehow magically imprinted in my DNA. To this day I love the mountains and as soon as I see the outline of the Rockies as we head toward Calgary, my heart does a little happy dance and I feel happier the closer I get to Banff. It’s like coming home.

Once I learned to read, I acted out the fairy tales. I especially related to Cinderella, because initially, one of my chores was to dust and sweep every Saturday. I never passed a mirror without seeing Cinderella—it would take me a long time to dust….

Saturdays were special because it was our weekly trip to town to get groceries, and for me that meant a trip to the library. Our town theater didn’t sell popcorn on the premises, but one could buy it across the street at a little kiosk. I’d get my bag of popcorn and go to the library and visit with Mrs. Bolton and her orange and white tabby. I’d share my popcorn while visiting with them, then gather up an armload of juvenile mysteries and deposit them in the truck. Next, I’d buy a ten-cent ice-cold bottle of grape pop at the local news and tobacco store that had big water coolers stocked with all kinds of pop that musically rattled from the flow of water around the bottles. Then, off to the movies with my last quarter!

Gradually my reading interests drifted from Trixie Beldon and the Bobbsey Twins to teenage sleuths Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton and The Dana Girls. I don’t recall exactly when we got our black and white television, but I was well into my teens when I became hooked on the Perry Mason series and wanted to be just like Della Street. Actually many years later I did become a legal secretary, but my bosses sure weren’t Raymond Burr (laugh). More visits to the library with armloads of Erle Stanley Gardner’s books and I read every one available.

Mary Stewart became another beloved author. Her settings were so beautifully described that I saw the mountains and lakes, the twisting roads through the pines and in one unforgettable paragraph of description, she grounded it with something like…the smell of pig. Maybe I need to make another trip to the library because I would love to read that book again. It might have been Airs Above The Ground. In that genre of romantic mysteries, who can forget Daphne DuMaurier’s My Cousin Rachel or Rebecca and that unforgettable opening sentence: Last night I dreamed again I was in Manderley or something very similar.

I fell in love with adorable Little Joe on Bonanza until one day I really, really noticed tall dark and brooding Adam. I think that’s when I truly progressed into adult books, specifically historical romances written by Frank Yerby. And I read all the books written by Grace Livingston Hill, which, thinking back, were probably Christian romances, but so beautifully romantic to a teenage girl. I still vaguely recall one book where the heroine lived in a barn and the hero had it transformed into a beautiful home for her. I think I was intrigued and enchanted by the idea of such a caring and generous hero. Here’s a blurb I found about her books.

It's the "backstory" that makes Grace Livingston Hill's books come alive….Because they were contemporary fiction in Grace's day, her books are essentially a living history lesson. If you're a lover of 20th-century history, you'll find first-hand accounts of the way people lived and the issues of the day. Just take a look at the copyright date, brush up a bit on what was happening in that year, and you're ready to experience what it was like.
 Avon Books used to publish hard-cover nurse romances, so I raced through those, as well, but unlike my admiration for Della Street, I never aspired to become a nurse, despite the romantic stories. I’m far too squeamish at the sight of blood. Kudos, though, to the wonderful women who become nurses and surgeons.

Books about Scotland and Egypt fascinated me. I’ve jokingly said that I hoped I was the Laird’s beloved daughter and not the scullery maid (perhaps inspired by those Cinderella fairy tales?) And of course movies like the Ten Commandments and another oldie, The Robe, probably influenced my interest in Biblical epics. Beautiful, golden Helen of Troy played by Rosanna Podesta, stays vivid in my mind even to this day. Here’s a short video clip of the movie:

And then there was unforgettable Steve Reeves as Hercules. He was probably my first romantic hero with his handsome chiseled looks and muscled torso (even before Pernell Roberts from Bonanza)  Image result for *Steve Reeves

When I was ten I wanted to either become an archaeologist or a New York newspaper reporter. Books about Scotland or Egypt fascinated me, the latter probably influenced by Cecil DeMille’s epic classics. Becoming an author never occurred to me until one day, while expecting twins. I had to lie down a lot and dug into a shopping bag of Harlequin Romances that my mother had brought me. After reading a bunch of them, I became so incensed with one that I threw it against the wall and declared I can write better than that! A few years later, in the middle of making breakfast for my four sons, a plot dropped into my head and I turned a new page in my life (no pun intended).

Around about the time I went to secretarial college, I discovered another author to follow: Jean Plaidy. Oh, my, did she write a lot of books. History, especially English history, had always fascinated me and as a result of reading all her books, I became very knowledgeable of English, Scottish, French and Italian rulers. The Plantagenet monarchs fascinated  me. I think as a result of literally devouring her books and my English-Lit teachers emphasizing that every sentence should have a noun, verb and clause, well that all influenced my writing style, which was very formal, including the dialogue. I know it was the main reason my first book was rejected by Harlequin years later. And I wasted a lot of time not writing when life intervened and the creative juices chilled. Ah, so says the weary voice of experience.

Image result for serge anne golon angelique series

When I was twenty, I discovered Bertrice  Small’s The Kadin. For years I thought it was a true story, not just factual history woven throughout. Then one day I was intrigued by a beautiful gold-haired heroine gazing at me with her aquamarine eyes. I bought Angelique, the first of nine books translated from the French husband and wife writing team, Sergeanne Golon. I foolishly lent my entire collection to a co-worker and sadly, never got them back. To this day, Angelique remains my favorite romance heroine. That was an induction into sensual historicals, quite different  from Jean Plaidy’s historicals.

A few years later, Kathleen Woodiwiss published her first historical, The Flame and the Flower and ignited a sensuous blaze through the historical romance world, fanned even more when Rosemary Rogers debuted Ginny and Steve in Sweet Savage Love. 

What an era of exciting sensual romances that included Valerie Sherwood, Laurie McBain and Lisa Kleypas, to name a few. These ladies changed how historical romances were written. Actually it only reflected the changes taking place in the 1970’s. Avon Books led the way with their Avon Ladies. Avon even came out with a calendar with each month featuring a popular historical romance cover. I kept that calendar…and the gorgeous Tom Selleck/Magnum P.I calendar, too. lol.

Sadly, and to my indignation, these books eventually earned the reputation of being referred to as bodice-rippers because of the sexy covers and violence perpetrated on women, when in fact they were a more realistic portrayal of those historical times—women basically had no rights and were often possessions or pawns in arranged marriages. Often, they were a rich heiress and as soon as she was married, her fortune was taken over by her husband. Besides, human nature doesn’t change, just the window dressing.

In the early 90’s, I entered my first historical in RWA’s Golden Heart competition and it nearly made the finals, having gone to a fourth judge. Having come so close, I searched for books that had won awards and happened upon Hummingbird by LaVryle Spencer that had Golden Heart Winner stamped on the cover. Enchanted,  enthralled, I bought every book of hers I could find. I also discovered Elizabeth Lowell and love her westerns; her medieval trilogy is unforgettable.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance and influence of a great cover (and love mine that Livia created for Beneath A Horse-Thief Moon). I was in the bookstore one day and was drawn to a new release by an author I’d never read. The cover had a couple in a romantic pose on a four-poster bed, discreetly veiled by netting, but when you turned the step-back cover the netting was gone and WOW! Yet, I put it back because she was an unknown. Then, I reached for it again and read the back, and returned it to the shelf. Yet, the cover intrigued me, so I read a few pages and laughed right there in the bookstore. That book was called Seize the Fire. My Google search did not find that original cover on her reprints, but I bought every one of her books and they, along with LaVryle, Elizabeth, Sandra Hill and several other authors are on my keeper shelf.

One other author whose books I love and who is most famous for his westerns, particularly his Sackett books, is Louis L’Amour. However, he has two non-westerns that stand out in my mind: The Walking Drum and Last of the Breed. The latter fascinated me, of an American test pilot who crashed his test plane in Siberia and eluded capture for two years. It’s a story of gritty  survival and so far from my usual reading, but riveting.

Over the decades, the criteria shifted in romance, moving away from familiar themes. We still have Alpha males, especially popular Navy Seals romances and action-adventure tales, but the heroes are given a softer side where the heroine is concerned, and the heroines have become feistier, moving away from the delicate hot-house orchid stereotypes. I’ve particularly noticed the change as I’ve immersed myself in reading again. There are more labels for books now, perhaps like the movies that had to get PG ratings to protect the innocent.

Back in the snail-mail age before the Internet or Google, sharing of writing techniques wasn’t a click away. It meant trips to the library or bookstore. There was no writing group to join and exchange ideas and information. Answers to query letters took months and even longer to find an agent. I discovered Writer’s Digest Magazine and subscribed, but I was still too traumatized by that first rejection. So, I’d finish writing a book, put it aside and start a new book. You see, if I edited that book, it meant I should submit it and thus face another rejection, so I simply avoided submitting…very much to my regret twelve books later.

If the reader gleans nothing else from my blog, especially if you’re a writing novice, please take to heart not to repeat my mistake of self-protection by letting your book collect dust. There is so much information available on the Internet and an increasing number and variety of writers’ groups to join where writers willingly share information and writing tips. Submitting electronically these days is not only instant, but costs nothing compared to the carrier pigeon days of printing out your manuscript and including an SASE along with it to have it returned months later—hopefully with some comments scribbled in the margins.

I think it’s safe to say that for me, there is only one drawback to our electronic age—there is so much easy access that I am often lured away from writing because there are far too many interesting articles to read, groups to join, information to share, schmooze with authors, “clip” recipes, etc. So, discipline is more necessary than ever for this author—especially when procrastination is my middle name.

I hope my trip down memory lane has stirred some memories of favorite books with you or prompted you to look for some of those books that probably are only available in libraries now. For  me, I’d love to revisit these books I’ve mentioned. So many books, so little time. And I have books I still want to write…and dust off the ones I have written, edit them and send on their journey, a journey I was too vulnerable to take back in my thirties.

My dream of getting published came true this year and what a wonderful, exciting four months it has been. At times, I believe my smile stayed on for days! My only other little piece of advice I wish to share with you is follow your dream and never give up, no matter what it is. I never gave up on mine, but I stumbled during parts of the journey and pondered far too long by the roadside.

I've shared a rather long list of some of my favorite books and authors and have left many out. I’d love to hear about your reading experiences, what authors influenced you and motivated you to write.


  1. I enjoyed sharing your trip. Although we had a television early on, I still spent a great deal of time reading and visiting the library. I've told the story before of the librarian who wouldn't let me check out a book because it was 'too adult' for me. So, I checked it out the next time when another librarian was on duty. Don't think it scared me too much, although there are those who might question that. *Grin*

    I've read a lot of similar books, but my tendency was to read 'male' books about war,etc. Still, history always played a big part in my reading.

    I'm currently re-reading "Red Adam's Lady" by Grace Ingram. By far it is one of my very favorite 'romance' books from the past. Doris

    1. Thanks for popping by, Doris. I never got into war books, perhaps because it brought back unhappy memories for my mom plus war itself tends to bring me down. I guess that's why I love romances and their promise of HEA. I have tons of classics, and in my late 20's joined several book clubs and bought the classics. Les Miserables and Sense and Sensibility are favorites. The classics, like A Tale of Two Cities just take too long to "get to the action" but I respect them all for their endurance over the ages. I'll have to see if I can find a copy of Red Adam's Lady.

  2. Like Doris, my family had television when I was little, but my parents and grandparents read to me a lot. I didn't catch the reading-for-pleasure bug until fourth grade and my teacher read the Little House on the Prairie books aloud during the last 20 minutes of the school day. From there it was Trixie Belden and Louis L'Amour followed soon. I lean toward nonfiction and historical fiction. In high school, I started down the Shakespearean path, which led to the classics, and that's pretty much where I've stayed in my reading tastes.

    However, my favorite book is Marion Zimmer Bradley's epic story "The Mists of Avalon". Mary Stewart's King Arthur/Merlin books sent me down that reading path.

    1. I never got around to reading any of the Little House on the Prairie books, but I did watch the tv series. However, I read all the Anne of Green Gables books and still have them stashed somewhere. The first book in the series remains my favorite. Thanks goodness my mom supported my love of books and read a lot herself. My grandmother, however, never read and one time threatened to burn my books in the stove when I was visiting because I always had a book in my hand. Thank goodness the man for whom she was a housekeeper, leaped to my defence. I don't know how I would have ever explained to Mrs. Bolton, the librarian, that my library books got burned up in a woodstove.Ages ago I read a few of Marion Zimmer Bradley's books. Mary Stewart is fabulous. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your love of books.

  3. Elizabeth,
    What a wonderful post about your reading journey. Like you, my life seems to broken into what I was reading at the time. Childhood -- Nancy Drew; High School -- scifi/fantasy (Piers Anthony, Julian May, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley); College -- my OUT OF AFRICA phase, along with Jane Austen; Married life and children -- that's when I found romance novels (I gave my second child the middle name of Duncan because I was reading Scottish Historicals and my fourth child was named after a character in an Elizabeth Lowell book -- Hannah from Pearl Cove, one of my all-time favorites).

    They're all like old friends ...

  4. Thanks, Kristy. Like you, my reading went in phases and I went back and forth between mysteries and romance. LaVryle Spencer's Hummingbird had a huge impact on me. I really studied her story and got hooked on westerns and bought and collected all the books written by her, Elizabeth Lowell and Linda Lael Miller. I forgot to mention in my (long) post about Dorothy Garlock. I always had books scattered around the house and one day Doug started reading one of Dorothy's Books. He got so hooked on them, I'm sure he read all I'd bought (about 30 and counting) and always asked if I had another book of hers.I was so saddened by her death a while back. We exchanged letters and she encouraged me not to listen to the contest judges who criticized my dialogue that portrayed people of lesser education. I took her advice to heart and followed my instincts. Hubby also loved The Calder Books by Janet Dailey and went through all four of them. Funny, you should mention naming your middle child Duncan. My youngest was almost named Harley because I was reading an Harlequin and when I finished it(possibly a Dailey one) I was feeling a little romantic. So much for a "safe" time lol. We were on vacation, hence I remember the "culprit". I was broken-hearted when Elizabeth Lowell announced she was no longer writing westerns when she started her amazing Donovan family series. I bought all those books in hardecover because I love her books so much. Pearl Cove is such a good book. E.L.'s research is fabulous. I'm not much into sci-fi but I did buy those books that she co-wrote with her husband as AE Maxwell. We share the same birthday so that surely must make us kindred spirits? Thanks for stopping by and always being so supportive, Kristy.

    1. Elizabeth,
      I LOVE the Donovan series!! I still have an AE Maxwell book around here somewhere, although I never really could get into those. She had another book I really liked, something about a Diamond Tiger, and diamond mines. Loved the hero. My son that carries the middle name of Duncan was given the first name of Ben because I was reading a Linda Howard at the time, and that was the hero's name. Hehe. Still makes me chuckle.

    2. Each of the Donovan books had a theme and wow did she research and weave it into the mystery and the romance. I remember the one about jade had a very Chinese cover and a brilliant green for the jade. I'm not a sci-fi fan, but bought Fire Dancer. I loved the way Ms Lowell described her and in my mid's eye I could see the fire moving through her like fire lightning. Now I want to find that book, too. Her "Only" series of three books are amongst my absolute favorite western historicals. In my blog I forgot to mention Jill Marie Landis, who also wrote wonderful western historicals along the line of LaVryle Spencer. I had to smile, too, that you and I have similar impulses with names. Linda Howard writes wonderful books but I always wished she have more dialogue in her stories. Those solid pages of text we daunting sometimes. I no longer remember what this one book was about, but I still recall the title: Son of the Morning.I think she may have won an award for that book.

  5. Elizabeth, I believe so many of us who love to write also loved to read. Even though I was raised in a city and had electricity, Pop didn't want us to grow up addicted to TV, so he wouldn't let us have one. Once in a while Mom would find some old TV a friend was discarding and we would have a TV for a week or two before it broke down. My entertainment was to read. My parents enrolled me in a monthly club for Junior Classics so every month I got a wonderful new book to read. It was the best gift ever.
    Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson was one of my favorites. I read it 7 times. I loved the dashing Scotsman, Alan Breck, who saved David Balfour from disaster. I also live all of the Louisa May Alcott books, especially Rose In Bloom. Books unlock a reader's imagination and can transform and influence them for life.
    Loved your article, Elizabeth.

  6. I agree, Sarah, about writers being readers. I also believe tvs and video games don't do young children a favor, hence moderation is the important word. Playing outdoors, using their imagination, is so important. My 4 1/2 year-old grandson was here for our long weekend and he was on the go steady, but when he came inside, he'd sometimes pick up grandpa's iPad and find his favorite shows. My boys learned from Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, but with four of them, there was lots of fun to be had outdoors. We always read bedtime stories to our boys, but what really sticks out in my mind is Felix the Cat...Chris had that story memorized and he'd read aloud, then pause because that's where I had to turn the page, and he'd prattle some more, stop, turn until the story was told. And there was no fooling him with a longer story by trying to skip. Mommy, you missed a page. I totally agree, books unlock a reader's imagination.So relieved you liked my blog. I have to get the hang of wrap-around text. I did but when I posted it, I had to scramble to get them in again, it was taking frustratingly long and I wanted to get to bed because I knew there'd be no time when I got up--I had a grandson to play with and he helped making brunch by cracking eggs and helping lay out the bacon for the oven. I started three of my boys at an early age to learn to cook and they're excellent cooks, and one is a chef, so it's always fun when Danny comes home for a visit and I can watch the expert work.