Even with a bound copy of Irish Firebrands in my hand, I still have to laugh about it: I wrote a book! Nearly five hundred pages! All by myself! Where on Earth did it come from?
It’s been fashionable, on and off over the past century or so, to Blame One’s Mother for One’s Weird Stuff, so I guess I’ll join the crowd. My mother has always been what “They” call a “voracious reader”: She amassed a massive personal library that covered one entire wall of our large living room, and never sat down without a book to keep her company (except during family meals). Our local public library was in an ancient storefront with creaking board floors, on the short main street of a small town five miles away, and after Ma got her driver’s license, it was one of our regular haunts. When she lost her sight, I believe she wore out more than one “talking book” machine from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Ma had taught me to read and write by the time I was four years old. Then, on my first day at kindergarten, the teacher irately informed me that I must forget how to read and write, so she could teach me the “right way” to do it. I recall being very puzzled about that commandment. How does one purposely forget how to read and write? Of course, it was impossible – so I kept a low profile and kept my abilities to myself.
My mother encouraged my relationship with the written word by putting books in the room I shared with my younger sister – even the headboard of our bunk bed was a bookshelf! I remember consulting one of my “Little Golden Books” to find the correct spelling of the word “friend,” to write a sentence that I proudly showed to my mother.
I think I may have been about 12 years old when Ma contracted to buy me a complete set of sixty or so Zane Grey western novels (delivered three volumes at a time, for a dollar apiece plus postage, if I recall aright – I read every one of them numerous times, and I still own them), and I was about 16 when she let me sign up with a book subscription service called “The Doubleday Bargain Book Club.”
When Ma put adhesive tape over the letters on the keys of her manual typewriter and taught me to be a touch typist at the tender age of 10, I toyed with the idea of being a novelist, but never followed up on it. And frankly, I detested public school “creative writing” assignments.
But now and then I’d keep a diary, and many years into adulthood a big-city newspaper printed (for free) three Op Ed articles I sent over the transom; I was paid $10 for an article I wrote for a parenting tabloid; and I wrote a childbirth education workbook that I printed on my own photocopier and bound on my own comb-binding machine, to distribute to my pregnant students.
After I moved to Indiana, I began attending a book discussion club sponsored by the local public library. I started reading more modern stuff than what I’d inherited when Ma divested herself of her library, and while some of it was good enough for me to add to my collection, some of it was abysmally bad. I recall thinking, “A Big Name Publishing House PAID for THAT?!”
But it wasn’t until I was midway through graduate school that my subconscious mind apparently rebelled under the burden of all the “scholarly” writing assignments, and it took a sword and pike out of the thatch and decided to fight for its own little allotment of writing earth. So I scrounged up some unused notebook paper that was left over from the days when I homeschooled my three youngest children, I bought a packet of pencils and a couple of pink rubber erasers – and the rest, as They say, is history….