Monday, August 29, 2011

Women and the Word!

"Life can't defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death." Edna Ferber

Occasionally someone will ask me how long I've been writing, and I tell them it all began because I was a chatty child who was cursed with vivid dreams. One day my mother, who cherished a bit of silence, gave me a sharpened pencil and a little blue notebook. "Don't tell me your dream," she said. "Write it down." I was seven.

But the truth is I was a bit younger when my mother decided my wild stories could be easily translated with fingerpaints to large sheets of white paper on an easel. I was four (and extremely verbal).

Luckily enough, my family moved to a small town from a big city when I was seven, and the local library was within walking distance. I spent a lot of hours haunting that place, searching out every nook and cranny for the best places to spend an afternoon. (And I learned to be quiet!)

While I read a number of authors (Ray Bradbury, Ian Fleming, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Mark Twain, James Michener), my early favorites also included a number of women writers and their excellent works: Edna Ferber's So Big, Sue Grafton's Keziah Dane, Mary McCarthy's The Group, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and stories by Leigh Brackett, Flannery O'Connor, and Shirley Jackson.

It was Jackson's "The Lottery" that made me want to be a writer. Her story struck me with such emotion and stayed with me for days and days. I wanted to be able to do that: to strike a cord so strongly in another person that images and feelings would last and last.

Recently, after a run of rereading all of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels and enjoying a full dive into the previously unread writings of James W. Hall, Dennis Lehane, Joseph Finder, Jonathon King, and Michael Koryta, I wondered if I hadn't been short-changing my ink-slinging sisters. Of course, I'd read books by women authors: Margaret Atwood, Poppy Z. Brite, Chelsea Cain, Yvonne Navarro, P. D. Cacek, Laura Lippmann, Alafair Burke, Karen Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen, and Jean Rabe come quickly to mind, but...

Well, let me just put the blame on Hank Phillippi Ryan. Her name kept popping up all over. I finally caved and Googled her. Like me, she's a Hoosier. And she writes mysteries. Her Charley McNally series includes four books so far: Prime Time, Face Time, Air Time, and Drive Time. And each one is such a joy to read. Charley has spunk and attitude and deep doubts she'll mess up. Hank's style loosened me up and helped open my door wide to women writers I might never have considered. What a snob I've been. What an airhead.

In the past few weeks, I've consumed most of Barbara Samuel's backlist: Heart of a Knight, A Winter Ballad, A Bed of Spices, Lucien's Fall, In the Midnight Rain, The Black Angel, and Night of Fire. Who knew there were fantastic storytellers in Romance fiction? I didn't. And behind these titles are stories of hardscrabble survivors dealing with age, genre, class, religious, and race prejudices. Abuse. Abandonment. And of course, love. And what's the matter with that?

Writer Ferber said: "I think in order to write really well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice -- they all make fine fuel."

Indeed they do! All parts of that crazy, mixed-up lover of mine: writing.

Next up: I rip my heart out as I admit my feelings for my Nook e-reader.

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