I Wanted to be Them

At first I thought romance readers had a screw loose. I was a young teenager with an attitude. After all, why would you read about romance instead of doing it? Then, under the cover of darkness (or a blanket on my bed), I started reading a Harlequin Romance that had been left laying about at a friend's house. Oh, my. Yes, I was hooked the very first book. I kept my addiction to myself for quite a while. But Harlequins in those days not only took you to romance it took you to foreign countries and foreign ways of life. Exotic, hot, exiting locations where men were men and women were women. Men, not boys. Women, not the neighborhood ladies.

I wanted to be one of those women.

Then I found Georgette Heyer and her book The Grand Sophy. That book was so much a part of me for a while I read it over four times in the first year. It was the first book I'd ever read with layers of other character's stories intertwined. Oh, my. The balance, the angst, the humor, all of it a crashing delight. It even had a monkey!

I wanted to be Sophy.

I consumed all of Georgette Heyer's regencies that I could lay my hands on. Still, The Grand Sophy is one of my favorites. But in some of her others, I began to identify with the men too. I could see their problems and feel their frustration and so I began to understand character development.

Then I grew up and discovered other writers, such as Sharon Green and her epic tales of Mida. I learned more about the insides of people and what motivates them from her work, then I ever could attending a teen party. The depth of soul in her main characters as they face the rugged doomed future is all about putting one foot in front of another and sticking with the job. I began to understand perseverance. That perseverance isn't necessarily for heroic people, but for regular ones too.

I wanted to be like her heroine.

I read some stories by Jean Auel. Do you remember Clan of the Cave Bear? Her stories were of sacrifice and survival. And then too many people praised her books for bringing history of the ice age to life and she blew it. She began to lard her books with too much description of the ice age and not enough of her characters and she killed her books. Each one became longer and more awful. I learned from her that like criticism of your work, you should also treat praise carefully. Too much praise for the settings of her stories made her wish to add more of what the public praised her for. Bad idea. It unbalanced her beautiful work. Reading the last three books was like a mouse chewing a hay bale to get to a kernel of corn--lots of work for scant reward.

I wouldn't want to do what she did.

There are so many books that taught me so much about writing before I ever thought about putting pen to paper. Reading is important. It can teach so very much that you don't realize you're learning.


Joan Vincent said...

I agree completely that we learn so much by reading. Immersion reading (being laid up and reading over 200 regencies in 6 weeks) was how I learned how to write Regency romance. I was able to get a hold of so many regencies because my younger sister was a closet regency reader-I'll have to ask her why. Another side benefit of sharing favorite authors or genres -- it brought us much closer. With 9 years difference in age it was one of our first shared interest and through it we discovered may more.

I read the first two of Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear books. I'll check out Sharon Green. Always great to find a new author to read.