Like all writers, the main reason I'm a writer is that I'm a reader. I grew up in East Lake, just up the hill from the old Cascade Plunge swimming pool and about a block away from the Hillcrest Sanitarium. I was also within easy driving distance of the East Lake branch of the Birmingham Public Library.
The beautiful old library was built in 1927 and served the Howard College East Lake campus. (Howard College later became Samford University, my college alma mater). I remember well the tall ceilings and the enormous stacks, full of the most marvelous, musty, mysterios tomes. I wanted to read every one of them!
One of the earliest books I remember loving was Sam, Bangs and Moonshine by Evaline Ness, a whimsical story about a young girl whose whimsical fantastical tales lead her friend into danger, forcing her to understand that fanciful thought has consequences as well as rewards. I loved it so much I later bought a copy as an adult.
I also loved a book titled The Green Poodles, by Charlotte Baker. I loved quirky British girl Fern, whose show poodle Juliet introduced the world of dog breeding and training to her American cousins. It was actually my introduction to Shakespeare, too, as Fern and her cousins named their puppies after Shakespearean characters. (And, of course, there was a dogsnatching mystery to be solved, whetting my appetite for all things mysterious).
Besides the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries I used to borrow from my church library, I discovered a more adult mystery series at the old East Lake Library: Dell Shannon's Luis Mendoza police procedural series. Discovering this odd, gritty series featuring a Mexican-American Los Angeles police Lieutenant and his stable of detectives addicted me to mysteries and police procedurals. I think they've also had an enduring influence on the kinds of books I write today.
It was an introduction to a city I'd heard of but really knew nothing about, and the Luis Mendoza mysteries displayed both the beauty of the glittery town of Los Angeles in its sixties and seventies heyday as well as the darker, seamier side of Tinseltown. It taught me a really good lesson about verisimilitude in my storytelling. Even if I'm writing about a fictional town rather than a real one, I try to create a place with its own character and history. I want it to feel as real as Dell Shannon's Los Angeles feels to the readers of Luis Mendoza mysteries.
And I also discovered Harlequin romances at the library. One of my earliest was Gone Before Morning by Lilian Peake. Though the hero was a brooding alpha who didn't always treat the heroine the way he should, I was sucked in by the hooks--a heroine pretending to be someone she wasn't, a somewhat misogynistic hero with a good reason for being so, and a troublesome little moppet in desperate need of a mother's love. Plus, the heroine had been an English Lit major who'd had trouble finding a decent job with that kind of degree--something I would later in life sympathize with a lot more than I did when I first read the book.
I read as many of Lilian Peake's books as I could get my hands on, then Elizabeth Hunter, Anne Mather, Betty Neels, Debbie Macomber, and finally—FINALLY—I discovered Harlequin Intrigues and knew I'd found the kind of stories I wanted to write.
So, you may ask, what brought about this bout of nostalgia now? Well, my eighth Harlequin Intrigue, Bachelor Sheriff, came out this week. The story reunites a pair of people who'd been polar opposites in high school--the nerdy brainiac girl with a dark family secret and the handsome, popular football star from a loving family who barely knew the girl existed. When a mysterious arson fire brings them back into each other's orbit, Aaron Cooper discovers that Melissa Draper, the girl he can barely remember from high school is quickly becoming the woman he can't get out of his head.
Over the course of the story, both of them get to indulge in a little nostalgia, which led me to think about my own past, and especially the wonderful library that introduced me to a passion for books that would eventually lead me to my career as a writer.
So, readers and writers--do you have some library nostalgia to share? Or maybe it was a favorite bookstore or a family members whose wall of bookshelves proved a temptation far too powerful to resist. Tell us your favorite book memories.