Monday, October 14, 2013

My Love of the Victorian Era - Where It All Began

Note: Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Long, long ago, little Susanna (me) and her mother visited their favorite place in the mall: Waldenbooks.  I was a lucky girl because my mother said she would buy me a book.  She drew A Little Princess from the shelf. It was lovely and pristine then, not the ragged Velveteen Rabbit of a book that rests beside me on the table as I type.  It still had its pretty pink cover adorned with a lovely Tasha Tudor illustration. I hadn't written “Susanna Loves Tommy” in a heart on the back page yet and the binding hadn't come unglued. 

“I think you may like this book, Susanna,” my mom had said.


For the record, my mom is a bookoholic and is rather adamant about the books she recommends.  Fortunately, she has excellent taste. She calls, emails, or texts me about books that she thinks I should read. If I am sitting alone in a chair, she will plop a book in my lap and order me to read it.  However, that day in the bookshop, the only book I wanted was Heidi.  My teacher had read it aloud in school and I was enamored of Heidi and Alm Uncle who were hanging out in the mountains, just eating cheese and herding goats. So I threw a nice little “If I don’t get Heidi, I will just die” tantrum in the store.

A Little Princess was forgotten until that Christmas when I found it under the tree.

“I think you may like this book, Susanna,” my mom said again. 

Then she read it to me when I was captive at bedtime. I couldn't escape the story.   I was going hear it whether I liked it or not.  And my mother was right.  (She is always right about book recommendations.)  I was entranced by dark-eyed Sara Crewe, who lived in a girl’s school in Victorian London, entertaining her classmates by making up stories, until her father dies, and she is forced to live in the attics as a pauper, making  friends with mice.  I wanted to be Sara, except for the pauper and rodent part, of course.

So, you ask, this is fine and all, but who was Tommy? Well, that’s rather Victorian as well. He played Oliver Twist in my very first play Oliver! I was cast as unnamed orphan and member of Fagin’s gang. I drew the heart and names while waiting backstage, watching Tommy and the Artful Dodger sing.

So, fast forward maybe nine years. I’m twenty-one, and I've published my first novel Wicked Little Secrets which I wrote in two weeks. Okay, that’s a total lie. Fast forward thirty something years. I've published my second novel Wicked Little Secrets which took a year and a half to write and revise.  It’s about a young lady, Vivienne Taylor, whose father is just a few pounds from the dreaded Victorian debtor’s prison, and she’s caught in a blackmail scandal. The only person who can help is her childhood idol Lord Dashiell.  
Of course, my prose is a little “wickeder” than Frances Hodgson Burnett and Charles Dickens, but the influence is there.

Available Soon

What are some of your favorite childhood books and how have they continued to influence you as an adult? 


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21 comments:

  1. I always loved The Black Stallion as a child. I don't know hat it influenced me much. I also loved Star Wars and read all of those books very young. I was a strange child. I did write a book with a heroine who loved Star Wars.

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  2. Hi, Susanna! I'm with Shana; I loved the Black Stallion books, plus Marguerite Henry's horse books. I also read and reread the Little House series. These Happy Golden Years was my favorite because of the romance between Laura and Almanzo. In hindsight, that was probably a clue as to my future career. :)

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  3. @ShanaGalen -- My daughter adores Star Wars as well. The Disney princesses just didn't work for her. I think it was the lack of a blaster. And Hans Solo continues to, umm, influence me.

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  4. @Theresa Romain I read all the Little House books, but I don’t remember them as well as the TV series. Every week my entire family would watch that show (yes, I’m so old that I actually saw the new episodes and not the reruns). My favorite romance in the TV series is when Mary is sent away to the blind school and meets Adam. And I really miss Michael Landon.

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  5. I loved the Little House books because of my father, who passed down his box set to me. When my oldest daughter had a Little House on the Prairie themed holiday party last year, those books came in handy and brought back so many memories! But my #1 favorite series of books from my childhood is Nancy Drew. I spent most of the 3rd grade reading every single book in the original series, checking out 2 or 3 at a time from the library (their collection mostly had the gold-spined editions). I still remember the first one I read: The Clue of the Dancing Puppet. The cover intrigued me and once I read it, I had to back and start the series from #1!

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  6. You'll laugh but it was Little House in the Big Woods because it was fascinating to me to read about so much self-sufficiency during a time of high commercialism. Have grown up to do lots in cooking, baking, gardening, and crafting...didn't follow with the hunting or fishing, though. :)

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  7. I was and am an avid reader. I never really saw my mom sit down and read a book but she took us to the library (now that she's older she reads a lot). And I would read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I have bought my now grown daughters tons of books lol. One loves to read and one not so much.

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  8. @Melonie. You were Nancy Drew, and I was Trixie Belden! I remember those golden Nancy Drew spines all lined up. My favorite was the ghostly girl on the cover of The Mystery At Lilac Inn. I know that I must have read that book, but now I can't remember the plot. Nor can I remember the plots of those dozens of Trixie Beldens I read. I remember a really creepy book that I adored called The Children of Green Knowe.

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  9. @Lil – I had the same fascination with those details. Even now I get the Lehman’s Store catalog https://www.lehmans.com/ which claims to be “simple products for a simpler life.” I looked at the lanterns and non-electric appliances on the catalog pages and daydream about going off grid….dressed as Laura Ingalls, of course.

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  10. @Catslady -- Do you find it hard buying books for your grandchildren? With my own children, it’s hit or miss. They gobbled up the cat warrior series but won’t touch Rick Riordan’s books (which I like.) My daughter loves Harry Potter, but neither of them was interested in the His Dark Materials series (which I like.)

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  11. Reading has always been a passion and I'd read anything from Faulkner to the back of the cereal boxes! As a child, I think I read everything in the school library and if I liked a book, I read it more than once.

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  12. @Carolyn Thanks for stopping in! I can't remember where I put my car keys,phone,purse etc. from day to day, but I can clearly envision the layout of the local library of my childhood.

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  13. A Little Princess was one of my childhood favorites as well--a young character in my current book, A Song at Twilight, even owes her first name and some of her personality to the heroine. And then there are Elfrida Vipont's Kit Haverard books--The Lark in the Morning--about an English Quaker girl learning to become a professional singer in the late 1940s. I re-read them recently and with much more comprehension than I'd had as a kid, and they remain a big influence on the way I handle music in my stories. And I went through a phase as a very young writer in which most of my heroines owed something to Anne of Green Gables, though I suspect my readers are lucky to have been spared those! :-D

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  14. @Pamela. Yay! Another Little Princess fan! I'm curious to know what you mean about how to handle music in your books. What technique did Elfrida Vipont use? I will check out Song at Twilight. Thanks!

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  15. Susanna, it's not so much technique that Vipont uses, although she does show how Kit's teacher brings her along, little by little, letting her talent develop naturally over the years, without forcing her to take on songs that she's not physically ready for. But Vipont makes music very much a vital presence in the books, something joyous and transformative. Kit has to suffer through a lot of really bad music recitals put on by her domineering older cousin/guardian, and so she doesn't gain a true appreciation of singing until she pays a visit to her maternal cousins, who come from a musical family. Plus, she learns that her late mother had originally planned to be a professional singer, so Kit comes by her own raw talent naturally. Lovely books, and they are being reprinted by several small press publishers, so I recommend them.

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  16. The Lark in the Morn and The Lark on the Wing are the first two. And then there are two more about Kit's niece Laura, who's stagestruck: The Spring of the Year and Flowering Spring. And now I'll stop yakking and return the thread to other commenters. :-D

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  17. I loved The Boxcar Children series. I loved reading their stories and wondered what it was like to live like that. I pretended with my cousins that had woods in the back of their house that we were the boxcar children and had a fort out there.

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  18. I loved Black Beauty and the Albert Payson Terhune books about dogs when I was a child but I usually devoured whatever I could get my hands on (and Miss Osborne the Mop is a title that sticks with me as well, lol). Kudos to your mom for nourishing your love of reading!

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  19. @Pamela -- Oh, do keep yakking. I’m a musicoholic but a terrible musician. I always like to hear how musicians think about music. I’m curious if the singer was a 1940s Big Band singer or operatic or traditional. I will have to check out the books. Thank you for your lovely comments.

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  20. @Chris – I miss playing in the woods. Sometimes I think I’m a writer so I can “pretend play” again. It’s a joy to inhabit another character and situation for a while. Thank you for visiting!

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  21. @Elf - Thank you! Lots of Black Beauty fans here. Yes, my mother has been a major influence in what I read.

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