Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Sara and Melissa Talk About...Authors

We've been running a column series (for three years now!) to get more personal with our readers. This month, we're talking about a topic that is very important to CLC...authors!

We're always open to topic suggestions, so please don't hesitate to share those in the comments. We'd also love to know if you can relate to anything we've said or hear your own thoughts on the topic. So don't be shy. :) We look forward to getting to know you as much as we're letting you get to know us. You can find our previous columns here, in case you missed them. 

Sara Steven:

This is an abbreviated short story that I’d written for one of the writing courses I’d been enrolled in while attending college two years ago. It sums up the impact authors have had on me since childhood, forever solidifying my love of reading and the genres I gravitate towards.

 An Ox, A Fox, and a Scythe

My first narrative experience began with an ox, his sizable body prominent in a yellow sweater, polka dotted tie skimming a hairless chest. The clumsy shoes he wore gaped wide in the toe area, appearing to devour pebbles while a grim fox looked on, sipping tea from a chipped cup.

I sat on my grandmother’s expansive lap, the color coordinated necklaces she wore to match her outfits pressed gently against the back of my head. An illustrated book called “There Are Rocks in My Socks!” Said the Ox to the Fox had been left open, fingers skimming pages while she read aloud to me.

“My word,” she remarked, mimicking the wise old pelican from the story who had seen the blunders the ox had been put through, the flips and kicks and flicks, in order to remove rocks from his socks, poor directives from an uninformed fox. “My eyes must be blurred. I’ve never seen anything quite so absurd.”

The fact that she sounded out the words, that I could see them as well as hear them, gave me courage to attempt to read alone, most of it by memory, at first. But soon I identified with what the author Patricia Thomas and my grandmother had set out to achieve: a gateway into something magical.

…books had become my hobby, a hybrid of my past exposures, the sex and flora. They created a new pathway into authors like V.C. Andrews and the Flowers in the Attic series, and Francine Pascal and the Sweet Valley High books that even to this day remind me of shiny spider fiats driven by gorgeous teenage girls, with the occasional girlfriend who suffers from drug overdoses. In an effort to balance out the severity of teenaged high jinks, I read The Baby-Sitters Club, discovering Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey. Claudia was my favorite character created by Ann M. Martin. She could be artistic and daring, and it was rare for her to delve into preteen social dysmorphia that I’d witnessed during my own adolescent years.

…In my teen years, the carpeted halls of the local library had been a regular occurrence, moving up one aisle and then the other, through various genres and nonfiction, the fiction sections. I slid my fingers along the spines of the books. Robin Cook. Bret Easton Ellis. Thomas Harris. Invasion. American Psycho. Hannibal. Stephen King novels lined up alphabetically, their large plastic covers crinkled and aged. Children of the Corn. Pet Sematary. I continued on until my fingers rested on The Stand, the thickest among the group. When I pulled it from the shelf, it left a gaping hole.

The cover fascinated me. Two characters, one in white, the other in black. One wielded a sword, the other a scythe.

The librarian stamped the date card in the inner pocket of the book, sliding it in my direction. “Are you sure you should be reading that? It will give you nightmares.”

I tucked the book under my arm, glimmers of rebellion leaking. After locking away in my bedroom, I started reading The Stand, all 823 pages of it. The urge to leave my room never happened, not unless nature called. Every second was devoted to the proverbial fight, the good vs. the evil. The cover of the book represented just that; the fight against good and evil, with the Man in Black carrying a scythe. He represented death, and I did not have nightmares.

The Stand opened up a new door into the world of The King, and several hours later when I’d closed the book, I knew I would read every single thing the man had ever written, starting in chronological order with Carrie.

The horror genre influenced my writing style during those tumultuous teen years, prompting me to create stories about teenagers locked in prison cells, forced to gnaw off their appendages in order to escape, or secret murderers hidden behind masks, reminiscent of Scream. Yet decades have taught me that there is more to fear than the gore and blood and the unknown of my favorite novels. I left the world of horror and entered into the catharsis of recreating my own life experiences, dipping into what is real. It’s just as scary. I mix realism with fiction, and in doing so, it’s given me a way to voice out loud the hidden demons that attempt to burrow inside, wielding swords and scythes, like a secret. They say to write what you know. I lived through what I know.

I purchased the Ox book after my first son had been born. While reading to him, and then to his younger brother when he entered the world nearly six years later, I would use various tones and inflections while reading the parts of the characters in the story, just like what my grandmother had done for me all those years ago. It’s funny that my gateway experience with an eager to please ox, an egotist fox, and an impressionable scythe would help me to develop a life-long relationship with books; their genres, their characters, and their formats. It’s a tradition, an experience I’ve been able to pass on to my own children.

My now fifteen-year old first born who had experiences with the ox and fox, just like his old mother had, is showing an interest in Stephen King, but instead of the scythe, it is the simple naivety of John Coffey from The Green Mile that has drawn him in, a stark electrical chair set against a backdrop of prison cells, blue-green hazy and out of focus on the cover.

Melissa Amster:

I apologize in advance, but I am phoning it in this month. That is because I did a post about authors before I knew this would be a topic (chosen by Sara this month). Therefore, I am sharing a bit from a post I did at my personal blog a while back about V.C. Andrews. To see the whole post, visit the link in the previous sentence. 

When I was in seventh grade, I saw that all the popular kids were reading V.C. Andrews' books. I didn't have even the slightest chance of becoming popular, but I thought I'd give them a whirl to at least try to fit in. The next time I went to the library, I looked for her books and all I could find was a copy of Heaven, the first book of her second series. It looked interesting, so I decided to check it out. My mom thought it was going to be a horror novel and warned me to put it down if I got scared. Thing was, I couldn't put it down. At all! It was so incredibly good from start to finish. Then I started checking out the other books from that series (Casteel), as well as the books from the Dollanganger series, where Flowers in the Attic is from. There was also My Sweet Audrina, which stood on its own and was such an interesting and haunting story.

Casteel series

During the summer between seventh and eighth grade, when I wasn't practicing for my Bat Mitzvah, I was devouring V.C. Andrews' books. I had a friend who also was interested in them. Instead of talking or doing activities when we got together, we'd lay on one of our beds and read. She'd whisper the words as she was reading, which drove me crazy until I was able to tune her out because I was so absorbed in the story. I also got my maternal grandmother to read them. And later, my sister caught the V.C. Andrews fever, as well. Toward the end of my high school years, my friends and I would mark the pages that had "steamy" scenes on them, even though they seemed pretty tame compared to the stuff I've read as an adult. Still, we thought we were being so daring...

Dollanganger series

During my sophomore year of college, I learned HTML and was able to put together a V.C. Andrews website. I then started a fan club through it. It was a lot of fun and I met so many interesting people. We'd discuss V.C. Andrews novels, as well as general things in life. There were some people I met with whom I had a great friendship at the time and then it either fizzled out or went completely downhill. There's one friend I'd still love to find, but she doesn't have an online presence yet. (If anyone knows Shannon Sawicki from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, please put us in touch! She's probably in her early forties now.) I'm still friends with a few women from the club, as either we've stayed in touch throughout the years or we've reconnected through Facebook. So you can see that way before I started CLC, I was connecting people through their love of V.C. Andrews' books!

Who are your favorite authors?

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