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December 23, 2011

Books. Writing. Reading.

By Barbara O’Neal

I remember the exact minute I decided to be a writer.

I was in the fifth grade. I was reading, because—let’s be honest here--I never did m 4552006370_036074f238_zuch of anything else. My bedroomwas at the back of the house and had two windows, giving it great light for lounging on the bed with a pack or two or Smarties or Sixlets to nibble on while I read. That day, I was propped up on pillows. It was a winter afternoon, the light just softening into a purple gloaming. My mother cooked supper, sending the smell of hamburger and onions into the air.

I was reading, though I can’t remember what. Out of nowhere, as if an angel dropped a note on the bed, it suddenly occurred to me that somebody wrote this book.

And I thought, quite clearly, “If writing is a job, why would anyone ever do anything else?”

At the time, I had no idea what was involved, but it wasn’t long before I started writing stories myself. All kinds of stories, because when you’re a kid no one cares if you write a literary sort of short short about a gruff grandfather one day and a magical novella about witches the next. My sisters and friends read them all.

I didn’t know it, but I had uncovered the single Great Truth about writing: Writers Write.

CoverYesterday, as I was stressing out over all my first world problems like whether the carpet in our basement will be here in time for Christmas, the UPS man delivered ARCs for my April book, The Garden of Happy Endings. I don’t mind telling you this book kicked my ass. I thought I was writing about a long-lost love, but it was really about women of faith and the church and where they fit and how people lose faith or keep it when really bad things happen. You know, little stuff like that.

But yesterday, I opened the box, and there was my book. There were the words I put down on the pages and the people I spent that year with. It has beautiful end papers and chapter headers. I read the dedication and got teary eyed all over again.

The book is born, right now. She lives. Wow. 

Writers face a lot of pressure these days to be social and public and sell lots of copies and make lists and make friends and send a newsletter, and all kinds of things I forget about because honestly I'm not that good at any of them, but whenever I hold a new book I've written, I think, Holy shit. I’m a writer. I DID this. THIS.

It was so unlikely, and yet, it was also, always, the work I was meant to do. That's a humble and honorable thing, to pick a path and stick with it, year after year, doing it as best you can. I attend to it, writing as truly as I can, writing stories that I'd really like to read myself so that maybe others will want to come along.  

Mainly, though, I do it for me. For that kid in her little bedroom who wanted to read more than she wanted to do anything. In a way, writing a novel is just like reading a novel, except that it lasts longer. I check out of this world and head into the one I’m making up and I love it.

How freakin’ lucky is that?

Here’s something else. I have been on a reading jag. I’m tired (see above—projects coming out my ears, pressures on writers, flooded basement, etc), and what I do when I’m tired is read and read and read. I check out of this world and check into somebody else’s.

I’m reading a couple of books every week. Everything you can think of—science fiction and memoirs and foodie novels and letters from literati, and essays and romances and women’s fiction and sagas. I’ve been saving the second book in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, Clash of Kings, for the Christmas holiday and can open it tomorrow, so I went back and refreshed my memory by reading the end of the first book, Game of Thrones.

And ---NO SPOILERS!---I fell to pieces all over again reading the final scenes with Daenerys, the brave and plucky young woman sold in marriage to a barbarian king—and proved herself over and over and over again until we see what a fine powerful queen she is. It’s heartbreaking and triumphant and intensely emotional and I love Martin for creating this character so that I can read about her.

I’m not a big fantasy reader. I like it in small doses, but mostly, it comes in 12-packs, which seems like a big commitment when I don’t even know you.  But my eldest son kept telling me, “Mom, I think you’d like it. Just try.”

I still resisted, until I called him one Sunday and he said he’d fallen asleep reading one of the books in the series, and when he woke up, he lifted the book off his chest and kept reading….and forgot to eat.

So. I read the first book.  It's that good.  Now I’m telling you that it’s amazing, and worth reading. If you’re intimidated by keeping all the names and places straight, start with an episode or two of the HBO series.

Books matter. They really, really matter. They matter to us as readers and they matter to us as writers. They can change the world, but more than that, they can change a day, a life, an hour, a year.

Which brings me to the last point. Us. You and me. Books and writing brought us all together here. We have so many ways now to find our tribes, our fellow readers and writers, people who share this passion. The internet has offered us almost immediate connection to the writers we love, to the stories they create, and given us glimpses of their lives in ways that were impossible twenty years ago. It has created communities like this one, readers and writers talking every day, and I feel lucky to have been here even for a short time. I'll miss it, just as you will. 

But I know we’ll meet again, wandering around the book communities we all love. Because we’re book freaks. We love reading and writing and talking about books. We’ll run into each other elsewhere.

Until then, I’ll miss you….and thanks for letting me be here.




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Thanks for coming, Barbara! I am so glad to have "met" you! Through TLC I found HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE (and loved it!). I look forward to April...

Barbara, you so eloquently portrayed your life as a little girl with her nose in a book; it could have been about me, and I'm sure it could have been about any number of others in our little community here. Except some of us are destined to only read the stories you tell, which is fine, too.

TLC gave me your writing, which was a lovely gift. I've enjoyed your books, and your blogs, and getting to know you just a little. Can't wait to read the new book; I wish you the greatest good luck with it.

When I was at Target the other day, buying Harry Potter books for my nearly-seven-year old grandson, I noticed they are selling How to Bake a Perfect Life. Brava! And thank you.

The first half of your post brought tears to my eyes. The second half made me want to try some new books.

Dear Barbara,

Oh, Barbara, Barbara, Barbara, I am really tired of crying this week! I will miss you and the other Tarts so much. I know there are other ways to keep in touch with my favorite authors, but I have loved TLC as a daily way to keep up. Life will not be the same!

Like Karen said, you probably described most of us when you described your childhood. No, I'm not an author, but I am fascinated by words. I'm probably the happiest when I'm reading. I mentioned the other day that one of my sisters still teases me that when we were kids, nearly every time she asked me to play with her, my response was "just let me finish reading this chapter."

I look forward to getting caught up on the books of yours that I haven't yet read, as well as all of the books you haven't yet written!

I have been reading THE MOST DEPRESSING BOOKS (for research) for the last couple of weeks. (Ask me anything about post-traumatic stress.) So I reallyreallyreally can't wait for that April book! Thanks so much for becoming a Tart, Barbara. It's been a joy to have you!

Nancy, I want to take this opportunity to thank YOU for inviting all these amazing women to join you on the TLC masthead. I'm sure I'm not alone in my gratitude for broadening my list of favorite authors via TLC.

You rock, honey.

Oh, Barbara, that's exactly what happened to me when I was around 8. I was nosing around in a trunk of my mother's keepsakes and came across some tentative beginnings of handwritten fairy tales she had once tried to write for her 2nd graders. I had never before made the connection between words on a page and walking-around people. I was thunderstruck at the idea that even one's own mother could be a writer. Once I made the connection, that was all I ever wanted to do.

Reading keeps me sane. In fact, a few years ago when I was dealing with a particularly difficult bout of depression following a job loss, I spent three weeks doing nothing but reading. I cruised through about 50 books, leaving the recliner only to eat, sleep and go to the library. Losing myself in stories gave me distance from my own issues. That bout of reading led me here, indirectly, because that's when I discovered Joshilyn Jackson's "gods in Alabama."

I can't remember not reading. I have a copy of "Raggedy Ann Stories" given to me when I was six - the inscription says, "For a little girl who likes to read." I never made that writing leap, so I am incredibly grateful that all of you have. I'm working my way through the authors here - Harley and Barbara and Heather so far, with more on the nightstand. Thank you, all of you, for sharing your imagination with us.

Okay, sidebar--we've just started watching Game of Thrones on ON Demand..and it is terrific!

Karen in Ohio, you are so right. She does rock.

I'm so relieved we'll still have Facebook. :-) And the Femmes Fatales, and Jungle Red. Wonder if we can set up a TLC reunion? Maybe when our books come out? And so eager to read Happy Ending, Barbara. Exactly what we all need!

See you here tomorrow, okay? I have something special I hope you'll read.

love love love

I was one of those "book kids" too. When my friends were getting bats and gloves, I was getting books. I remember an assignment from probably second grade. We were supposed to list the newspapers and magazines that the family subscribed to. A moment of silence now for the days of two daily newspapers. Another one for a newspaper worth reading. We were also supposed to write down how many books were in our house. The teacher thought two students had the wrong number. She called both houses, mine was one of them. I had written 1 with about a dozen zeros. My mother said "Yes, there are a lot of books in the house." Sadly, my classmate was also right about the number of books in her house, she wrote "0".

Thank you all for all of the good reads.

Why we write poster . . . so glad you do!!
. . . to make sense of the world, to express myself . . . because I can't NOT write . . http://www.stenhouse.com/html/whywewrite.htm?r=eb11e01

(one of many who read under the covers with a flashlight ;-)

Thank you, Barbara. xoxo <3

Reine, special thanks to you, which should have been in the post and got dropped because I was writing it at 8 o'clock last night after kids left (so excited over going baby shopping....THIS is how babies should come into the world) and baking cookies and getting carpet installed. But our conversation about women & the church really helped me write Garden. xoxoxox

Definitely will be back every day. I'm reading even if I don't always post (I sometimes read from my phone, and it's hard to type on that tiny keyboard with my big ole fingers).

Oh, all of us are readers! Alan, I love your part of the story, and can't imagine a house with zero books. That's the saddest thing ever. Karen and Deb and Edie. I know we all were readers like that. It's lovely to imagine us all in our little spots, curled up with books.

Children and Books

Freakonomics, I love Freakonomics, Has a chapter on children and books. Conventional wisdom is that if children have their own books, they will become good readers. Therefore various programs give books to children. According to Freakonomics, books are not magical tomes. Having your own book will not make you a good reader. A house that buys books makes readers.

This Chanukah has added six books (so far) to the Princesses libraries.

I'm so glad some of you found my books via Lipstick!

The book in Target, Karen, was one of the luckiest things ever to happen to my books. That Club pick is like a shooting star. It's STILL on the shelves after a year, which is amazing in this fast-changing world. Thanks for the report.

I adore Freakonomics. And yeah, seeing my mother and father and uncles and granmother and everybody else reading all the time, valuing books, talking about books, ignoring things to read books, and getting read to, all make me the insane reader I am.

I've been buying a ton of books this year. Lots of magical books for the kids on my list. There is so much great stuff out there.

Barbara, what a vivid rendering of the childhood of a bookworm! One that many of us could identify with.

Actually, books saved my life. I grew up in a home with violence and major neglect from the "adults" in our nuclear family. Learned to read long before school. Books enabled me to see that what was going on in my home was wrong, and that it wasn't my fault. They enabled me to see that life didn't have to be that way. I've known others who came through similar things without being readers, and they internalized the abuse and violence and blamed themselves for it. Many are still punishing themselves.

What makes children into readers most often is seeing their parents reading, especially reading to them. (No--or limited--TV helps.)

I remember being about ten and having gone on a Dickens binge and finally picked up a big biography of him. Reading about how he came to write Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers was my light-bulb moment. You could actually BECOME a writer.

Every day another Tart writes, and every day we all see how much more we're going to miss TLC!

First of all, thank you Alan. Your story was as moving as Barbara's post, which is saying something. And I agree with your second comment, except it's not even the buying books that makes readers. It's seeing the adults in the house reading and enjoying it.

My only child is 18 and an avid reader, and I attribute that in large part to what a prominent role reading always played in our time together. He had one of the longest bedtime routines around because both his parents took a turn reading with him before lights out. And he always saw his mom with her nose in a book and his dad with his nose in periodicals. Reading was just part of life as he saw it.

Yup. I was the adolescent whose mother would open my bedroom door and say, "Get your nose out of that book and go outside!" And she's a reader too. I had my first library card at age 4 - you just had to be able to write your name - and I would bring home piles of books and make my siblings read them to me. (Lucky me - to have 8 older siblings, 5 of them reading sisters.) My sister Sue can still recite "Green Eggs And Ham" by heart, from reading it over and over. My sister Kathy majored in English in college, and would bring me home books from her classes. She introduced me to The Secret Garden, and The Wind In The Willows. My sisters and I still share and recommend books to each other, and I've found so many friends the last 10 years through messageboards, blogs, and internet sites about reading and books.

Alan, you remind me of Lisa Scottoline's story of growing up, how her house had one "book" - TV Guide. I'm lucky enough to have seen her house now - there are shelves of books, and piles of them everywhere. I have piles too, and my husband seemed to think getting a Kindle would mean that I wouldn't buy so many "hard copy" books. Silly man.

I haven't read The Game Of Thrones (or any of the rest of them), because it didn't seem like it was my cup of tea. But I've heard so many great things, I will give it a shot.

Barbara, you made me tear up while reading this. Not only because I'm sad to lose this blog and the people here, which I certainly am, but because of your description of finding what you were meant to do. It's touching, and I admit, makes me a little envious. I'm so glad you did - I loved "How To Bake A Perfect Life" (after I read it, I immediately sent it to one of my sisters, lol), and look forward to such pleasure from more of your books.

Barbara, you are not only a blog sister, you are a kindred spirit. I was also a bookworm, but I was never smart enough to figure out that someone wrote those books. They just magically appeared at the library. It took the sisters at St. Thomas Aquinas High School to steer me into a writing career as a reporter.
I can't wait to read your new book. Congratulations.

Barbara, I love you. My magical "i'm going to be a writer moment" came much, much later for me, walking down a path in Maui in my forties, but I never looked back either.

Anything that can make a person forget to eat is (for me) miraculous.

Thank you for writing your books and thank you for joining the party. I have loved being your blog sister.

made me cry.

Barbara, I "discovered" you right here and have since fallen in love with your work and can hardly wait to read "The Garden of Happy Endings." Thank You for writing books I just love. (I've just downloaded The Care and Feeding of The Girls in the Basement).

Hi my name is Tina and I am a reader! I don't write, but think it is truly amazing what you people come up with for me to read.

I just received How To Bake A Perfect Life for Christmas from a friend. I can't wait to read it. It will be my first by you.

Since I first found this blog, through Sarah's website, I have been making my way through the best books by the most amazing writers. THANK YOU! I haven't been here in more than a week, so it was quite a shock to read that its almost over. I read for almost 2 years before I finally had the nerve to comment. I can't even tell you what finally made me do it, and I don't very often. It's been a funny, sad, angry (too many emotions to list)ride. I guess I'll finally have to do Facebook.

More on reading: Our parents read to us, too. When I was old enough, I began reading to my younger siblings. My parents had us enrolled in alll sorts of book clubs for kids. One of our grandmothers read to us, and she would even act out the stories! Her home looked like a school with all sorts of really great educational toys, crayons and paints and drawing paper and clay,etc AND the very best kids' magazines and books!

As an adult, I have had to buy new copies of some of my favorite books to replace the ones that fell to pieces from being reread numerous times.

When I was in college, I overheard a workman who was doing some work at our house just before Christmas telling my dad that he and his wife were having trouble deciding what to buy for their teenaged son. He asked my dad what he and my mom were getting for my brother, who was around the same age. When my dad said "books", the man's response was an incredulous "Why??" He was even more surprised to hear that that was what my brother had requested. Books and gift cards for bookstores are favorite gifts in my entire family. (Guess what I am giving to the younger generation for Christmas this year?)

What is the link for Femmes Fatales? I've been over to Jungle Red a few times but I still feel like the New Kid on the block there. People are nice but I still miss the TLC bloggers and backbloggers. Waaaaaaahhhh!!!! sniffle...

To all of you who are more recent TLC readers, you can go up to that gray rectangle below 'Recent Posts' and above the Indie books logo. The last entry is Archives on that rectangle with many years of posts to keep you busy.

Those of us who have been here from early years envy you your discoveries.

Apparently the Security Code Police returned after I made my before-work response this morning. Geesh!

And now they are gone again. Are they playing with my head??

I have older sisters and shared a room with one of them until I was 13, she wasn't a reader, I was. Made for a lot of lights out arguments! She was a year ahead of me in school and I copied and learned from all the school work she brought home so I was an early reader as well, also very bored in school those first few years as I had 'been there, done that' and wanted new work.

When I was about 8 it was summer vacation and I spent an afternoon reading an entire book in the front yard and ending up with an extreme sun burn, my mom gave me heck for not getting out of the sun. My excuse - the book was good. My town was so small it only had school libraries, no public one. Summers were hell, so I ended up reading my older sisters books and by the time I was 12 or so reading my moms paperbacks.

I lived for that Scholastic Book catalog as a kid. I would pour over that, count my allowance and try to get as many books as possible.

When I was sick a year and a half ago, I was in at-home quarantine for a few weeks, good thing I had books to re-read! Mind you I was so sick, it turns out I was not retaining anything and any new books wouldn't have stayed in my head anyways!

I am so glad this blog introduced me to such wonderful authors as you Barbara! I have loved 'meeting' authors and broadening my reading experience. I love reading and will miss this blog so much as part of my daily input. I have put the Garden of Happy Endings on my reading list and once again be frustrated to be in Canada because it will probably be May before I can get it!

Barbara, thank you. TLC helped me find you again, after having been enchanted by one of your first books, years ago, and then failing to write the title and author name down before returning the book to a friend.

My mother survived a devastatingly sad time in her life by reading . . . I started reading way early (the Bible, at 5??!) and read whole libraries of books systematically for years . . . memory would have the 'someone WRITES these?!' moment for me to be at age five, at which point I resolved to learn to be a writer in order to bring others the joy and help and magic I was experiencing. It took me a while to find my way through the shoulds and oughts of life to honor my writerly self, but, I'll get there.

Meanwhile, you and all the Tarts have shown such human humor, wisdom, goofiness, lovingkindness, courage and determination, it has been an inspiring ride.

I second the notion of TLC reunions!! Maybe new releases could be honored with a post here, and word could go out via FB of a new post, for those who don't have Google Reader or another service bringing such things to their attention. Pleeeeazzzzzzzzzzze.

Oh Barbara, you are really too kind. We talked at a time when I needed to talk. It was a gift that you gave me. I do look forward to reading THE GARDEN OF HAPPY ENDINGS.

Our conversation, actually inspired me to do more in the way of an alternative healing service at our church.


I agree with Laraine!! (And I'm glad I'm not addicted to anything stronger than books - or chocolate - because this TLC withrawal thing hasn't even started, and already I'm having mood swings...)

Gaylin! The Scholastic Catalog! Heaven.

Barbara, I have now 'liked' your page on facebook, I don't want to lose you when TLC is over. Your books have entertained me and given me hope, thank you.

I am so glad for FB, it means that I can keep up with little bits of TLC folks lives in the future, after 5 years of you being in my life almost daily, 2012 is going to be a letdown.

My mother taught all of us to read at a very early age and it was not long after that when I began telling my parents, sister, aunt & uncles and cousins stories that I made up. To this day, my mom tells stories about how I entertained the family on long trips.

Much of my pre-teen life was spent with my nose in a book, except for those times when I was, as my mother says, "scaring years off your poor mother's life". Given that she is nearly 84 and still going strong, I can only assume that her original lifespan was measured in centuries.

The first time I saw my name in print conected to my writing (in the roleplaying APA "Alarums & Excursions") I was a bit stunned. When I first saw my name on the cover of a book, it was definitely a "Holy Shit! I'm an author!" moment.

Thanks for adding your part to TLC, Barbara. I have enjoyed the whole ride.

Barbara I am so glad that you came here.
My daughter begging for those candies.."Smarties" brings back a lot of memories.
My Husband is really into the Game of thrones books and I bought him the whole set for Christmas,
I love, love love your writing Barbara and have bought two copies of your novels..one to give and one to keep.
I am wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Thanks for everything.

I'm SUPPOSED to be buying gift cards at the bookstore on the way home tonight. However, I'm getting a very strong feeling that I will "need" to buy books for myself, due to this whole thing of being deprived of my favorite authors on a daily basis within a very short time. My dilemma: which author's book(s) will I purchase? It's like being asked to pick my favorite child...sigh... Perhaps I'll sit out in the car for a few minutes writing down the names of all the Tarts on little strips of paper, and then I'll put them in the cupholder of my car, close my eyes, and pull out a name.

Now *I'm* getting all teary! Blog sisters....sniff. Thanks and big hugs back atcha.

Deb, laughing at the strips of paper. I sometimes take all the books to a table, shuffle them up, then close my eyes and pick a few. :)

Laraine, that's a great story. And Marie, you have a lucky husband.

Facebook is not as gathered together as it is here, but it's a way to keep track of everybody. I'm going to make a Lipstick feed and follow people that way.

Alan, I have had the pleasure of watching your daughters select books at Elaine's book signings (in addition to Elaine's, of course) -- it's wonderful! We had limited money and space when I was growing up, so we made good use of the library. I still love the library, because they keep their books in findable order . . . and they share!

When I was 7 my grandparents took me to Washington D.C., and Williamsburg during the summer. I read standing in all those lines. My grandparents talked about the lines for years, but I honestly don't remember them, since I had my Nancy Drew's and Trixie Belden's.

Will miss you ladies, but I'm keeping in touch on FB. If you thought you were getting rid of me, nice try but no luck! :)

Alan, I have had the pleasure of watching your daughters select books at Elaine's book signings (in addition to Elaine's, of course) -- it's wonderful! We had limited money and space when I was growing up, so we made good use of the library. I still love the library, because they keep their books in findable order . . . and they share!

Barbara thank you for the wonderful post. The memories you've brought back to me. Like most everyone here I spent a lot of my childhood with my nose in a book. I haven't thought about all those trips to the library and to the bookmobile that came every second Wednesday to the park behind West elementary. The scholastic catalog that was such sweet anticipation. I'm so glad you became a writer and then a Tart and so sad it's coming to an end.

So many things we have all had in common - the bookmobile! The Scholastic catalog! Reading under the covers by flashlight - my first all-night reading session was in high school, because I couldn't put Jane Eyre down until it was finished. The period after first my dad and then my stepdad died within months of each other, when I read obsessively so I didn't cry myself sick. The books you all have written have helped keep me sane, I think sometimes. I give thanks every day for books and authors.

The Scholastic catalog! Bliss beyond bliss. I always had the largest order when the books came in...what I did not know for many years was that my father gave up his lunch money so that I'd have books. How's that for love?

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