POPCORN! (Frances Louis)

When my first grade son flung his raggedy blue backpack onto the living room ottoman after school this past spring, I immediately sighed, and politely asked him to hang it on the set of hooks I had installed on the kitchen wall for that very purpose. My request however, went unheard as I mumbled mid-sentence and my eyes fell on a very old, very familiar, and very loved book that had slipped out of the bag and onto the floor.
"POPCORN!" I squealed. My son looked at me as if I had a screw loose (which, after a long day of parenting, probably had). I grabbed my son's hand and pulled him beside me on the couch. "Do you know what this is?" I asked, my hands gingerly touching the pages.
"A book," he replied, fear of my sudden change in behavior, clearly written on his face.
"Well, yes," I ceded. He was, after all, right. It was a book. But it was a special book. It was, and still is, my FAVORITE book. Which I told him as soon as I remembered how to speak again.
With its silly illustrations at my fingertips, I sought to tell my seven year-old, just why the thirty year-old book was my favorite. I'm not sure I succeeded. I mean, how can one share the memories of reading the book for the first time, of loving the fact that the book took place on one of my favorite holidays (Halloween) or the hours one spends just staring at the pictures and picking out which costumed bear you would have been if you had been invited to the doomed party?
I have never owned a copy of Popcorn. By the time I was actually old enough to afford a copy of the book, I had grown out of the early reader stage and had moved on to more age appropriate reading. I had actually forgotten all about the little bears and their Halloween party until that moment when my son brought it home for his own reading pleasure.
Maybe it's time I finally bought that book. Or maybe, with my son in my arms, I'd let him make his own memories of reading so he could tell stories to his own children of how grandma freaked when she saw a book from her childhood.

My Best Friends

Books are our friends. At least they've been mine for as far back as I can remember. My dad was born in 1910 and had a 7th grade education. Because his father died in 1920, my dad quit school to help support the family. But in spite of a limited education, my dad was one of the most intelligent people I've ever known. Why? He read. And he gave me his gift of loving to read.

In my "official" bio as an author it's mentioned that I was fortunate to have been able to travel with my parents when I was a child. For many years when I was small, souvenirs were often Little Golden Books, purchased in the different states where we stopped. Inside the cover, my mom or dad would write my name, the year, and the place where they bought the book. I have a very old and worn copy of Pinochio that they bought in Havana, Cuba.

But no matter how much we love them, we outgrow those little books.  In grade school I read a wide variety of types of books.  One of my favorites was A Rocket in My Pocket, a book of poetry that is no longer in print.  I memorized three of the poems in that book and will still happily recite them without even the slightest encouragement.  I also moved into much longer books and remember reading Beverly Cleary's Fifteen and similar books in fifth grade. Those were probably the beginning of my love affair with romance.  In high school my reading broadened and became quite eclectic with James A. Michener books and others, including Hawaii, Exodus, In Cold Blood and Valley of the Dolls.  (Specific page numbers of the latter were memorized and passed on to reader friends. ;) ) High school is also when I first read Georgette Heyer Regency books, and I bought and read every one of them I could find, quickly becoming not only a fan, but a romance fan.

Reading will always be a part of my life, but I wish I had more time to do it.  My oldest daughter was fortunate to have learned her love of books the same way I did--from my dad.  She inhales books of all kinds and is never without one or more at a time.  Her sisters also read, and we're passing that love down to their children.  Summertime means Friday is Library Day for my four oldest grands, who range in age from 3 to 9.  They, too, are learning that books are our friends. 

Adventures in Children's Books (Melissa Robbins)

Fortunately, I grew up with parents who encouraged reading. I have fond memories of them taking me to the coolest used bookstore. The shelves were so tall and close together that it felt like a maze. I loved strolling down the aisles looking for the perfect book, getting lost along the way. One dead end was my favorite. National Geographics with their distinct yellow binding, some quite old filled the four walls, floor to ceiling. Many of the NG's and their pictures ended up in my school reports.

As for the books I read as a child, my favorite, favorite children's book was (and still is) Riverboat Adventures by Eric and Lucy Child. I don't remember where it came from or who gave it to me. It's an English book filled with words with extra u's and words like cheeky that we Yanks don't use. Such a shame. Cheeky is such a fun word. The illustrations and adventures of an otter, mole, and mouse (who couldn't swim) on a riverboat enchanted me.

I spent many summers with my grandparents and at bedtime they would read my dad's old books, such as Pantaloon the bakery poodle, Nurse Nancy, Uncle Remus stories, and a book about a bunch of rabbits. I can't remember the name of it, but all the rabbits had names like, Molly, Jolly, Dolly, etc.

I was/is a HUGE fan of Richard Scarry. I LOVED how he drew all his animals, Huckle the cat, Lowly Worm, Pig Will and Pig Won't. I enjoy reading those stories to my kids who I'm happy to say like Richard Scarry as much as I do.

As I got older, I moved to chapter books, the Bunnicula series being one of my favorites. When I read the stories to my kids, I still laugh at the paranoia exploits of Chester the cat, who an avid reader is convinced the new family bunny is a vampire. Move over Edward. Piers Anthony's Xanth series about a mythical world with dragons, sorcery, and puns made my best friend Lauren and I pretend we were from that land and spent hours in the backyard.

After reading Treasure Island, my fascination with pirates began and started me off on my writing adventures. I had a big crush on Jim Hawkins and started a sequel with him and a girl who had a striking resemblance to me.

I have to admit I think it's wonderful when a book spans generations and our kids and grandkids can enjoy the same stories we enjoyed in our youth.

Fairy Tales Re-told (Penny Rader)

I loved reading fairy tales as a kid -- still do. Since I also get a kick out of reading re-imagined fairy tales in romance novel, I thought I would poke around the Internet and see if could find some guidance on how to re-tell a fairy tale. Here are a few snippets from articles I found:

"That’s what a good fairy-tale retelling should do: it should make you reconsider your preconceived notions of the story. But it can also go the other way: retellings can be a viewpoint for how we perceive our world."

"But before you begin writing your retelling, do your research. For a good chunk of popular fairy-tales, Wikipedia offers a list of retellings/references/uses, and will often list novels that feature your fairy-tale. Read up on them; see what the author has done."

"That’s part of the reason why fairy-tales have survived: they’re eternal; they offer us a wealth of potential stories and unanswered questions. Fairy-tales speak to us; they touch upon our primal fears and hopes, our nightmares and joys. Don’t be afraid when a fairy-tale speaks to you."

"While you can't revise another author's book and call it your own without getting immeasurable heckling and a lawsuit for plagiarism, there are indeed some basic plots which writers return to with great success. In the particular arena of romantic fiction, fairy tales often provide the framework for fascinating and original storylines -- even if 'Cinderella' has been retold ten thousand times."

"... the part that I want to emphasize here is the fact that having your plot -- and possibly theme -- outlined for you by the fairy tale can be extremely liberating. Your job is to personalize and expand the fairy tale, creating a fresh story instead of inventing an entirely new story from scratch."

"Maybe it's the inherent sense of justice in fairy tales that appeals to us all. Here, the bad get their punishment, the good are amply rewarded. And beauty must be more than skin deep. The possession of spiritual qualities - like generosity or a willingness to help or a good heart - is always rewarded with earthly riches. Love lasts forever in fairy tales and withstands any number of tests. There are adventures to be had and obstacles to be conquered, prizes to be won and character to be proven. And in the end, the main characters always live happily ever after."

"The themes and expectations of fairy tales have shaped romance as nothing else - and it could be argued that the most satisfying romances echo a familiar fairy tale in some way. Romance lets fairy tales "grow up" by giving more insight into relationships than is found in those children's tales."

"A good romance will echo the theme of a fairy tale, but will still manage to surprise us along the way. The characters will eventually live happily ever after, but the best of medieval romance will really make them earn their prize!"

"I once did a survey of fairy tales for a women’s studies course in college and found that about 75% of fairy tales had a female protagonist, and that they all had adventures, or did something active to change their situation for the better. They triumphed over evil in the end, completed their quest, or cleverly maneuvered their way into a better life."

"Jean Shinoda Bolen, who wrote GODDESSES IN EVERYWOMAN, says that each one of us lives one or more myths in our lifetime, putting our own spin on it. As a result, we can tap into our own myths and tell the stories in our own individual ways."

"...the universal truth within a fairytale is different for each person who reads it."

"That’s why writers can’t leave fairytales alone. Because fairytales ARE magic. Their magic is that of timelessness, of immortality. And by retelling them, we mere humans get a taste of immortality too."


For research purposes, here are a few links to fairy tales and novels based on fairy tales:

Folk and Fairy Tales (Rick Walton)

Researching the Folk Tale (Aaron Shephard)

A Fairy Tale Fiction Reading List (Journal of Mythic Arts)

Fairy Tale Romances (All About Romance)

Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Beauty and the Beast is one of my faves. Is there a specific fairy tale you'd like to see re-told, or maybe one you're tired of seeing? Have you re-told a fairy tale? Do you have any resources to share?

If you'd like a chance to win a pdf copy of my romance novel, Sapphire and Gold, which isn't exactly a fairy tale re-told but does feature Sleeping Beauty, leave a comment and your email addy. I'll draw a winner tomorrow evening after work.

We Are What We READ

Wow! I'll bet that comes as a surprise to you. But, if you think about it, it is true. Let me show you.

As a small child I was read bedtime stories from a collection of Children's Best Loved Bible Stories. My sister still has it. The pastel pictures are serene. She has kept that book through times when all she owned was in two suitcases and that book is HEAVY. Every night, right after saying our prayers, we'd get a story out of that book. I barely recall some of them. They could be why I was kicked out of a church at fourteen. You see the stories are wonderful, but they weren't exactly bible accurate. Many people are unaware of this. Awareness isn't comfortable. As a fourteen year old and now adult, I question things.

After I was able to read for myself, I found a set of pastel leather-bound classics. I had to read them, there weren't any other books--almost. One of those classics was Ivanhoe, which is ok for a story, but it is better split up quite a bit. Imagine a book containing Robin Hood, A Knight in Shining Armor, and Repunzel? That's Ivanhoe. Other classics included Tarzan, Water Babies, and Robinson Crusoe. Robin Hood had me play fighting with long sticks and sneaking up on unsuspecting travelers. Did I mention I grew up on a classic farm in southwest Kansas? We had a flashflood kind of dry creek with HUGE trees in it. Perfect Robin Hood areas. You can float down a creekbed in four inches of water flow. I and my siblings spent a lot of time as water babies.

That classic farm contained pigs, ponies, horses, dogs, cats, mice, fish, ducks, chickens, rats, cattle, calves, skunks, rabbits--both domestic and wild, turkeys, owls, cougars, coyotes, deer, bleached bones, bumble bees, wild roses, moss, miniature clams, coon-hunting hound dogs, raccoon, magpies, snakes, turtles, lizards of various kinds, and, of course motor cycles, bicycles, wheat, outbuildings, windmills, as well as trucks, trailers, combines, tractors, milking machines, cream separators, pasteurizers, swingsets, quicksand, waterholes, gardening, boating, fishing, and riding the water tank . The best yet, was that we lived in the fork of two of these creeks which would flash flood every spring for at least a week. During that week the school bus could not come. Many times the electricity would be off--sometimes for the duration. So, from Tarzan I could understand being alone and living with nature. I wasn't abandoned, but spent a lot of time alone. Tarzan coped. I too learned to cope and read animals, wind, and examine plants. There is a wonderful elephant-eared kind of tall plant which has leaves that feel like velvet. Great toilet paper. My sister and I called it toilet paper plant. Fuzzies are nasty little fuzzy looking things whose fuzz is actually tiny stickers that jut out any direction. If you get close to a fuzzy, you're going to need a knife to scrape them out of your hide. Yes, like Tarzan, I always carried a knife for just such emergencies. Still do.

I read Robinson Crusoe and read about his few grains of wheat and how long it took him to get them to grow and then replant until he had been marooned a few years and he finally had enough wheat to grind flour and make some bread. His determination, care, and finally, the reward of a loaf of bread struck me greatly. Crusoe's attempt to make a canoe and then to have made one too heavy to move. His crushing disappointment and yet I understood. On the farm sometimes things are built that seem like a great idea and then...oops...and you're stuck with a monument to your stupidity.

A book I read as soon as I found out the school had a library was The Village That Slept. I read it twice a school year for several years. It was about a plane going down in the Alps. A boy named Franz, a girl named Lydia, and a baby about a year old was all they found that survived. The three of them roamed the mountains until they found a deserted cabin and then later a deserted old village. The contents of Franz's rucksack kept them going until they could figure out where an old abandoned garden was. They lived carefully, yet well, while they waited for rescue. It took over a year. Self reliance was the lesson I learned there. If you can't be rescued, then be prepared to stay alive until you are. Life doesn't have to be awful while you're waiting. Many a time this lesson has been helpful to me.

And then I found the public library. Oh, my. Science fiction became my companion. I traveled to fare planets and fought while riding dragons. I read the entire science fiction section of our library at just the right time to start learning about being a smart Alec, I discovered Agent of the Terran Empire. Oh, my. He was the best at being such a quipish fellow with flagons of flash and irony (Think James Bond layered with backtalk). Probably many could do without my brand of speech, but just blame it on my reading material from a formative time....

Then ROMANCE became my companion. Oh. Oh, my, my, my, my, my!! I've read up it and down it, and then quite widely too. As I've gotten older, I've noticed a desire to watch my fellow man, especially the one I eventually married. So many things we read in romances that happen are definitely NOT true. Yet they make fun reading. They are things we (many women) would LIKE to have happen. Take the day my mister accused me of intentionally making him look foolish in front of a business someone. It was NOT true. I didn't know I did it. Worse why would anyone do that, let alone me? I was immediately cut to the quick and as we'd just pulled up in front of a hardware store, when he got out so did I. He went in the store and I stomped off across an empty lot towards the grocery store. I didn't tell him where I went. According to all the romances I'd read, he should have come to look for me and apologized. I was in front of the grocery store staring at the pay phone when it dawned on me that I didn't know who to call. Worse. I suddenly realized that if he'd walked off on ME, he could figure his own way home. I wouldn't be looking for his sorry rear. Ooops. Why would I expect him to act any differently than myself? Yikes! I went back to the corner of the grocery store and looked back at where the pickup should have been. It was gone. DANG! Suddenly, I heard the engine and it pulled into a carwash slot at the other end of the grocery store. My man got out and started washing the pickup. I quietly walked up to the passenger door and got in, not saying a word. Blessing my lucky stars, I kept my mouth shut and realized that perhaps I shouldn't rely on romance novels to learn about the care and feeding of a male. We didn't speak until we got home. He never realized I was only angry and walked off, he figured the fight was over and I'd gone to the grocery store for something. He'd noticed I wasn't in the pickup, but figured he'd wash the pickup before trying the store. I've never bothered to change his opinion of that--because the truth doesn't make me look too smart. We would, though, like to THINK our man would hunt us down to ask us what was the matter and beg forgiveness.

What does all of this mean? It means that my work reflects my reading material. It means my philosophy of life has been influenced, reflected, or perhaps resonated with what I read. As many writers will tell you, you can't write about things that don't go in your head first. What comes out, has had to have gone in before the writing begins. Even pure fantasy has had to have something that bases in reality or there can be no empathy.

So what? Well, so if you're a trifle bored with your writing and want to 'change' it up a bit, then read something off the wall for you. Go outside your comfort zone. For me, that would be reading something biographical. I'm not big on real people stories. They are usually so sad to me. But, that would be influencing my writing in a different direction and may be worth the time. However, if I do, I think I'd like to read about the mountain man, left for dead after a bear attack by his two companions. They took everything useful with them because they thought him dead. He dragged his broken, bleeding, body....and hunted them down. Or perhaps Winston Churchill's story. He escaped from somewhere in South Africa and made his way north....

Oh, see how even the things that I think I might be interested in have a similar theme to what I've read before. Maybe there is no such thing as change...just different. Maybe I am what I read--a questioning, survival obsessed, smart Alec, with romantic fantasy tendencies....

Where and When? J Vincent

On March 6, 2010 I wrote a blog titled A Magic Carpet of Books about my favorite books as a child—this month’s subject. You can find a link to it under the label Childhood Reading on the right side of the blog. Since I’ve covered that I’ve decided to go somewhere else but it took awhile for me to find “where.” After browsing I decided to go with a topic from Joan Stewart’s The Publicity Hound site from a blog she did on blog topics. This is the one I decided on with a twist of my own.

“If you could spend a week anywhere in the world, in any time period, where and when would it be? Would you write or read there, or do something else?”

I find this a tantalizing question. First I have to decide do I visit as an author or as myself. That I think of this is worrisome, sort of, but I have a very different view as an author than I do as a non-writer.

Where would Joan Vincent go and when? 1745 Scotland comes to mind. What was Bonnie Prince Charlie really like? What were the men thinking who swore fealty to him and condemned themselves as well as their men to such horrendous consequences?
I wouldn’t read or write but listen and observe—the same for all that follow. On second thought I’d probably write and read also.

But then there are the mid 1780’s Versailles. Did Louis and Marie Antoinette really eat cake while France disintegrated around them. I’ d love to be able to read the journals of the day and attend Madame de Stael’s salons (Gatherings of intellectuals to discuss anything from literature to politics.)

I droll at the thought of being among the Aide de Camps in Wellington’s headquarters in the peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. Or salivate at the idea of being in a townhouse or country estate during the regency.

Oh, oh, to be present at a session of the British Parliament—in both houses. Perhaps during the slavery debates in the early 1800’s. Then there the Parliament trial of Mary Anne Clark, the Duke of York’s mistress. She testified that she sold army commissions while he was Commander-in-Chief of the Army with his knowledge when he did not support their lavish lifestyle.

As “myself” (for want of a better term) I would love to visit the Lincoln Whitehouse. Or listen in on the Declaration of Independence arguments. I’d like to ride with the Pony Express, participate in a barn raising in Kansas in the 1870’s, join a gaggle of quilters in 1920 as they quilted, see the first flight of the Kitty Hawk, be with Jonas Salk when he realized he had a polio vaccine.

Now that I’ve burbled on forever tell me, where and when would you like to be?


Happy June fellow readers, writers and blog-a-maniacs. This month our topic is favorite books as a child and as an adult. What the H E double hockey sticks does the blog title have to do with the topic? Let me come out of the closet and admit my love for . . . . . . cookbooks. Inside those colorful pages, I flag the good stuff and X out the recipes my family gave a thumbs down to. I have hundreds of cookbooks. And I feel zero shame in admitting I’ve used nearly all of them. These books are splattered with sauce, butter, vanilla and various other ingredients. I love to cook and bake. There, I’ve said it. And now I’ll move on.

I grew up with Nancy Drew—well, let me rephrase that. I grew up (sort of) she didn’t. Still, I wanted to be like her. She was the coolest chick I almost knew. She was smart, clean-cut, solved mysteries before the end of the book and she pined after Ned in a way that made my heart go pitter-patter. What could be better for your average tween in the 1970’s to read?

Then I outgrew Nancy and Ned. We were like best friends who moved away from each other. We promised to write, but sadly, it never happened. Sigh…………. But then it happened. Just like my mom said it would. I got a new bff. Stephen King and baby did he turn me on to a whole new world.

I didn’t read much in high school because of school, work and a very full social calendar, much to my parent’s chagrin.

In my early 20’s I discovered my love of reading again and devoured Sidney Sheldon and Sandra Brown. OMG! Between those pages, I read about things that would have made Nancy Drew blush.

Today I opt for books with more story. More heart. There are several books that I’ve read over and over because I love them so much. First Lady and Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips are two of my favorites. Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer. Walking After Midnight by Karen Robards. And of course, my beloved cookbooks.