Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Case of the Velvet Claws -- A Review

Scott D. Parker

(After finishing the Erle Stanley Gardner book I mentioned last weekend, I still find myself in an ESG mood. I've rediscovered the Perry Mason TV show, currently airing on MeTV.* And, frankly, I ran out of time this week, so I'm posting here my take on the first Perry Mason book. I wrote this review nearly four years ago. Makes me want to start reading some other Mason titles.

Back with a normal post next week.

*If you get MeTV on your cable TV listing, give it a look. They are broadcasting some fantastic old shows: Combat, Rockford Files, Dobie Gillis, Perry Mason, Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, Wild Wild West. )

Perry Mason. Bet you instantly thought of Raymond Burr, the actor who played Mason on CBS from 1955-66, right? Who didn’t? I did as I read The Case of the Velvet Claws, the first Perry Mason novel, published in 1933. I’ve been wanting to read some Perry Mason novels (there are 80) for awhile but I didn’t want to start just anywhere. Sure, I’ve been told by more than one source that there is no chronological order to these books. Be that as it may, I am a purist when it comes to series. And, as a writer and creator of characters myself, I wanted to see how Erle Stanley Gardner started when he created the most famous lawyer in crime fiction.

Picturing Burr is not a bad place to start. You see, Mason in the novels is hardly described at all. His secretary, Della Street, gets more words of description (“slim of figure, steady of eye”) than does Perry Mason. The one feature of Mason’s physical appearance that Gardner describes more than once are his eyes. In fact, it only takes six sentences from page one to get a description of Perry Mason’s eyes:
"Only the eyes changed expression. He [Mason] gave the impression of being a thinker and a fighter, a man who could work with infinite patience to jockey an adversary into just the right position, and then finish him with one terrific punch.”
Knowing what I do about the television shows—Mason never loses—it’s remarkable that there, in paragraph one of book one, the Mason template is laid out. Three pages later, Mason, himself, lays out his mission statement to his new client:
"Nobody ever called on me to organize a corporation, and I’ve never yet probated an estate. I haven’t drawn up over a dozen contracts in my life, and I wouldn’t know how to go about foreclosing a mortage. People that come to me don’t come to because they like the looks of my eyes, or the way my office is furnished, or because they’ve known me at a club. They come to me because they need me. They come to me because they want to hire me for what I can do.”
She (the client) looked up at him then. “Just what is it that you do, Mr. Mason?” she asked.

He snapped out two words at her. “I fight!”
Hard to argue with that line. And Mrs. Eva Griffin doesn’t. She’s in trouble and she hires Mason to help her get out of it. The previous evening, Mrs. Griffin was out with Harrison Burke, a man who was not her husband, a man running for office. When a hold-up occurs at the hotel where they were dancing and dining, the police arrive. One of the sergeants, a friend of Burke, recognizes him and knows that the newspaper reporters will have a field day with the news of Burke and a married woman. That officer allows them to stay away from the reporters and then smuggles them out the back. Everything’s good to go except Frank Locke, the editor of Spicy Bits, a gossip rag, finds out and threatens to publish the information.

Now, Mrs. Griffin is asking Perry Mason to help her. His first response: have Burke pay Locke off. That surprised me a little, knowing what I know about the TV version and Mason's stone cold integrity. And with Mason’s fixation on money, he not unlike Bertha Cool, Gardner’s other famous creation. But Mrs. Griffin refuses because she wants to keep Burke’s name out of the papers. She lays down some cash on Mason’s table and gives her new lawyer one tidbit of information: Locke has a secret he’s trying to keep hidden. Mason rushes off to expose the secret and use it as leverage against Locke. The trail leads to one George Belter, owner of Spicy Bits. And his wife is there, none other than Mason’s client, Mrs. Eva Belter.

From this point, the book races along but not before George Belter’s shot dead, and Eva Belter tells the police that she heard Perry Mason’s voice in her husband’s bedroom seconds before the gunshot. Now, Mason must clear his own name while simultaneously looking out for the interests of his client. You think he can do it? Seriously, do you?

I am not an avid watcher of the TV show so I can’t say how Burr-as-Mason goes about doing his job. And I’ve only read book #1 so, if Mason changed his tactics throughout the novels, I can’t know about it either. I will say this: Mason is quite hand-on in this case. In fact, the most surprising thing he does is sock a guy to the ground. Didn’t see that kind of action coming, but loved it. Another interesting aspect of this case was how soon Mason had an idea as to the truth of the entire plot. But he needed proof. And he went about getting the proof in ways I also didn’t see coming. He set up on of the characters, not knowing, for sure, if his set-up would work. For example, he went to a pawn shop owner and paid the man $50 to verify that whomever Mason came back with was, in fact, the purchaser of the gun used in the crime. Now, as a reader, I got to wondering: who will Mason bring back? Later, Mason goes to another character and all but blackmails that character into saying something that needed to be said in front of a third party. Brilliant tactics but not entirely on the up-and-up.

The language of the book is obviously dated in places. Gardner loves his adverbs and uses some of them over and over again, including the word “meaningly.” In an effort not to type (or dictate as Gardner did) the word “car” or “automobile” constantly, Gardner interchanges the word “machine.” It’s a bit odd to read a car described that way. And, like William Colt MacDonald in Mascarada Pass, Gardner spells out, phonetically, drunken speech, employing words like “fixsh,” “shtayed,” and “coursh.” Humorous and easy to understand but, again, things we modern writers could never get away with.

And speaking of things you can’t get away with, there’s Gardner’s choice of the word “girl” to describe Della Street. She’s 27 and, while we never get the age of Perry Mason, he can’t be that much older than she. But, nonetheless, Gardner has “the girl” get a file or “the girl” answer the phone or “the girl” take down dictation. The biggest shock of the story—and I don’t this is giving anything away; apologies if it’s so—was when Della and Perry kissed. It didn’t seem romantic and I didn’t get the impression that there was something more. But it was there. You never saw that in the TV show. Just one more reason to read these books, especially the early ones, to see how Perry Mason was originally portrayed.

There’s a quote about Erle Stanley Gardner on the back cover of the Hard Case Crime edition of Top of the Heap, a Cool and Lam story that, I think, sums up Gardner’s technique of crafting a story: "Among his many other virtues, Erle Stanley Gardner is surely the finest constructor of hyper-intricate puzzles in evidence..." The Case of the Velvet Claws is certainly intricate, a well-crafted tale. Heck, half the fun was re-reading chapter 1 when everything was set up, now that I knew the ending. But, like a good mystery author, all the clues were there. When Mason delivers his summation, you want to smack yourself on the forehead. (His summation, by the way, was not in a courtroom, something I, of course, kept waiting for. Not in this book. Perhaps Book #2.) As hard-boiled as the book is, this is the coziest mystery book I’ve read, perhaps ever. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to many more Perry Mason mysteries.

Historical Note: the edition I have is the 16th printing from Pocket Book, June 1944. What makes this edition unique is the wartime nature of the presentation. On the back cover, in a small black square, are the words “Share this book with someone in uniform.” At the end of the book, after the story and biographical information, is a page imploring the reader to buy war savings stamps and certificates. Lastly, there is a list of books published by Pocket Books, seven pages long, complete with asterisks noting which titles fall under 8 oz. and, thus, can be sent overseas without any written authorization. These seven pages are peppered with testimonials by servicemen from around the globe. The most telling feature of the introduction is about the POWs. Those Americans imprisoned by Germany can receive books via a Prisoner-of-War Service established by Pocket Books. Interestingly, the Americans captured by Japan were not allowed to be sent books. It’s a fascinating snapshot of a country at war and how even the simplest of entertainments—a mystery book—cannot escape the all-consuming nature of a world at war and the call to do one’s part.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad (from your no. 1 son!)

By Russel D McLean

Waddaya mean I’m late?

Yes this is later in the day than usual, but its down to lack of planning on my part. See, today is my dad’s Birthday (a significant one) so I deliberately changed my days off from work so I could see him. Unfortunately this resulted in me getting very confused about days of the week and saving a very very good* post on revision on my laptop and not putting it on DSD. (don’t worry I’ll post it for next week)

However, it does mean I have this ten minute gap in which to get online and say happy 65 to my dad. After all, he is the one who made me turn to crime.

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with become an SF writer. I wanted to be the next Philip K Dick without the slight madness and the multiple marriages. But try as I might, I wasn’t getting anywhere. Until my dad gave me a copy of Mr Majestyk by Elmore Leonard and When The Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block. Sci-fi still formed a major part of my reading after that, but interspersed with these brilliant, dark, engrossing contemporary crime novels. I devoured them. I moved onto other authors such as James Ellroy. And eventually moved into crime writing.

I also sneaked a listen to my dad’s stories, which he wrote for BBC4 back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. He was a talented writer, and I think that while he only did it occasionally, I could see where my need to tell stories came from (I also figured that he got paid for these stories, so conceivably if you wrote even more than he did you might be able to earn a living from scribbling – boy was that notion in for a pummeling over the next decade or so!)

My dad had always fuelled my passion for storytelling. When I was young he would record my favourite stories on tape for me to listen to. He would read The Hobbit with me at bedtime and did a great job voicing the Trolls (from what I remember). He encouraged me to write. He encouraged me to read.

So happy birthday, Dad. I hope you’ve had a great day and thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me over the years (not just the beard I clearly inherited). To celebrate, here’s a little number from one of your old vinyl’s that I loved as a kid (and still do today!)

*probably. But then again, probably not.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Way Of The Gun

By Jay Stringer

"Not money. Fifteen Million dollars. Money is what yo take to the grocery store. It's what you get out of the ATM. Fifteen Million dollars is not money."

I just re-watched The Way Of The Gun.

I last saw it about ten years ago. I liked it, but I couldn't have given you any reason why. This was also at a time when I thought Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were the dog's bollocks, and I loved The Usual Suspects.

A decade on, and my tastes are different. In some cases those years have thrown things at me that have changed my world view. In others, I've simply come to expect different things from a crime film. The biggest change, I suppose, is that now I'm a crime writer myself, and I have a more analytical view of story-telling. I can't sit through Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. I still have a lot of love for The Usual Suspects, but it seems to me that what I like about it is different to what pop culture remembers it for. Despite these changes -or perhaps because of them- I found that I liked The Way Of The Gun far more than before. I can also give reasons.

The main reason? It's a crime film.

It's a film about crime and criminals. It's not an excuse for a director to play some hip music from the past and to show off some witty dialogue. It's not violence or revenge porn. It's not a film with any telegraphed tricks up it's sleeve. It's a crime film. And crime can get nasty. It can get dirty and bloody.

It seems to me that we all spend a certain amount of time hiding from that. I've written before about the tourism aspect of crime fiction. The fantasy. We can be guided through some murky waters by a strong protagonist, wrapped up in some witty banter, and escape unharmed. There's a very safe feeling to a lot of crime fiction, which seems to me to defeat the purpose.

Hot off the Oscar winning success of The Usual Suspects, screenwriter Chris McQuarrie thought that all the doors would be opening for him. He was a young writer with a ton of ideas and a little gold statue that said people should listen to them. But nobody did. Hollywood was only interested in his ideas if they came wrapped in a neat little bundle that looked, sounded, and packaged like The Usual Suspects. So if Hollywood was demanding another crime film from him, he decided he would give it to them. All the way.

The film was very much a reaction against the genre fare of it's time. The cameras stepped back and got out of peoples faces. The editing slowed down, the scenes played longer. The violence, when it happened, was nasty and had consequences. Watching it a decade removed from it's context, all of these choices still stand out, but I think rather than feeling reactionary they make the film feel far more timeless than it's contemporaries.

It's not a film without problems, though. McQuarrie makes a few structural choices that cause the film to feel a little too self conscious at first. Rather than committing to it's tone from the outset, he tries to lure the audience in with a bait and switch. It starts out making a play at being the very kind of film that McQuarrie was acting against, with a loud Rolling Stones track, some funny dialogue, and some cool looking characters. We see Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe, and we know them, they're film stars, so they must be our heroes. Then the 'cool crime film' is interrupted as Del Toro and Phillippe, surrounded by a crowd who are out for their blood, start the fight by punching the two women of the group. They get their assess handed to them and the film has told half of it's story right there- these guys are not nice, but they're what we've got. Also, they may lose, but they'll go down fighting, and they'll find a way to mess you up as they fall. For the next few scenes we have an uncomfortable battle between the two different tones. Some moments commit fully to the bleak realism, while others are still trying to play it cool with some overly stylised dialogue. There's a scene in a sperm-donor clinic that's not as funny as it thinks it is, and then an exposition scene in the waiting room that belongs in a much weaker film. If McQaurrie had been a little more experienced a director, and a little more sure of his voice, he may well have simply committed to the bleak tone from the outset and stuck with it.

Once we get past these early problems though, the film finds it's feet and never looks back. The Way Of The Gun may not be quite the Peckinpah masterpiece that it seems to be aiming for, but we still get a classic crime film that's ageing better than most.

Del Toro and Phillippe play two career criminals who, "for the record," shall be known as 'Mr Longbaugh' and 'Mr Parker.' They hatch a plan that involves kidnapping a pregnant Juliette Lewis to make a quick buck, before finding out that they've picked a fight with the mob. We already know how this goes from seeing them pick a fight with two women in a crowd of men. They're in all the way, there is no going back, and nothing is going to go smoothly.

Something else that probably sailed straight over my head a decade ago is that the film isn't really Longbaugh or Parker's story. They are our way in and out, our framing device, but really it's James Caan's character, Joe Sarno, who is the centre of the tale. To say more than that would be to ruin the story for anyone who hasn't seen it, but I will say his performance is note perfect.

The narrative unfolds as if there was a studio executive at McQuarrie's shoulder while he wrote the script, but every time the exec told him to turn right, he turned left. Each chance to lighten the mood is passed up in favour of making it darker. Each chance to veer the course back into being a hip and cool crime film is ignored in favour of following the rules of cause and effect.

By the time we reach the climactic gun fight, we have found a very different form of tension. This isn't a scene in which we're rooting for good guys against bad guys and hoping someone comes out of it alive, this is a scene in which we're already convinced everyone is fucked and are simply wondering who is going to get hurt the most. If people get shot, they fall down. If someone does a Hollywood stunt jump across the screen, they're going to land hard on broken glass.

I think McQaurrie is returning to directing now with a Lee Child adaptation and then an action film. I'm not sure what I'll get out of his upcoming projects, but i know that in The Way Of The Gun I found an often overlooked classic. It's a shame that the years in between haven't given us more of his films, because I think he would have gone on to do even better. This was very much the project of a young man finding his voice, and I think it could or should have been followed with some stone-wall classics.

"You know what I'm gonna tell God when I see him? I'm gonna tell him I was framed."

Reminder; Jay's debut novel OLD GOLD is available for pre-order now. You can join his mailing list here. He promises to stop talking about these two things -and in third person- someday soon. Or never. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

ROUND TWO: Beat To A Pulp

First, Thea Harrison was kind enough to invite me over to her place to talk about the difference between a short story collection and a collection of linked stories. Here

Second, David Cranmer and a heaping handful of fine folks have put together another BEAT TO A PULP anthology. It's the Round Two edition and is available along the Amazon. More information on the book is available from Mr. Cranmer himself.

The book, with an introduction by Sophie Littlefield, contains stories by many of your favorites -- Charles Adai, Patti Abbott, Chris F. Holm, James Reasoner, Vicki Hendricks, Hilary Davidson, Bill Crider, and many more, including one of my Oscar Martello stories.

My story starts off in Pittsburg, Kansas, home of the national champion Gorillas. (Go, Gus!)

Here's how the story opens:

Missed Flight

All I had to do before I left was close up some loose ends. Simple. Which is why the old man picked me. Simple. "So you found the boy and then what?" I asked Georgie Martin.

"I took him back to his mom and dad, like I was told to do."
Georgie was sitting across from me in a booth at Harry's restaurant in Pittsburg, Kansas. It was a straight-shot diner: booths down the left, tables in the middle, counter on the right. I took the last bite of my burger. Some coffee. "You didn't notice any marks on the boy? Cuts? Burns?"

Georgie was looking past me, to the big windows in the front, trying to keep his mind off things. "I dunno, Oscar. I just figured whatever had happened to the boy, you know, he'd gotten beaten up or something."
"And you handed him off?"
"That's what the old man told me to do. I swear. Find the boy. Bring him back to his parents. It took me three goddamned weeks, man. It wasn't easy."
"Sorry it was so difficult." I drank the last of my coffee, looked at the grounds in the bottom of the cup. 

Tried to take a breath so I wouldn't kill him right there. "I'm sure if the boy was still alive he'd feel bad for you." I set the cup down on the table as carefully as I could, trying not to rattle anything.
Georgie flapped his mouth like he was letting air out of a balloon. "C'mon man, it ain't like that. I'm just saying I didn't know. Wasn't any way for me to know. I just did what I was told."
"The kid was twelve, Georgie. Didn't you even talk to him?"

He wiped some ketchup off of his mouth with the inside of his wrist. "Kid didn't talk. Just cried. All the way from Cassoday to Wichita."
"You tried?"
"Tried, hell." Georgie was shifting around now, pulling at his collar. "He wouldn't talk. Just cried."
"You ever think why he might be crying?" The space behind my head was throbbing and I was trying to take another deep breath. Keep this all calm.
"Somebody had kidnapped him. Molested him. Whatever. If they'd have just gone to the cops." Georgie looked around the restaurant, maybe looking for support from people he didn't know. Maybe looking for a way out.
"You know they couldn't do that," I said, holding my empty coffee cup out for the waitress, a pleasant enough teenager without any apparent piercings or ink.
"I know the old man said that," he said. "Hell, even people like us can get help from the cops sometimes."

The waitress stopped moving when she heard the "people like us" and "cops."
"We're fine here," I said to her without looking. She reached down to take away my plate. I grabbed her wrist and moved it away from the table. "I'll let you know when we need you."
She left in short, skidding steps to the back of the place. I leaned forward. "Keep your voice down. This has to end here."

"Sorry," he said. "I'm just, it's just." He stopped for a second, took a deep breath. "I feel responsible."
"For turning the kid back over to his parents so they could continue to molest him? Yeah. I can see how you might."

Georgie put his chin in his hands and rubbed his eyes.
I leaned back into the bench. He wasn't a bad guy. We'd worked together before. He'd always done right before. He'd just made a mistake this time. That's what he'd tell you.
"I didn't know that. How could I know that?"
I leaned over the table and said in a harsh whisper, "You were with the kid. Did you even think to ask him why he was crying?"
"He wouldn't say nothing. Not one thing." His jaw was shaking. Caffeine. Fear. Realization.
"'OK?' That all you got? I take the kid back and he hangs himself because of that and all you got is 'OK'?"

"Geez, Oscar. I thought you were here to help me clean this thing up. I thought you were on my side. Isn't that what you do? Isn't that why the old man sent you?"
"That's right." I looked into my coffee cup, swirled it around like I was looking at tea leaves. Nothing. "So you didn't discuss this with anyone? No cops? No reporters? Not your barber?"
Georgie ran his fingers over his stubbled head. He smiled. "No, man. I do what I'm told. Me, you, the old man. That's it."
"And the parents?"
George screwed up his face. "Who?"
"The kid's parents. The congressman and his wife. You talked to them when you dropped off their son."
The life fell out of his face. He stared at me. "Oh, yeah. Geez. How are we gonna handle them? Think they'll talk?"

I signaled for the waitress to bring the check. "We'll have to think of something. They know who you are?" She put the check on the table next to ours and went away.
"No, man. I just dropped the kid off and said we'd be in touch. They grabbed the kid and carried him into the house. I never got out of the car."
I frowned at Georgie's word choice. "You said 'we'??" The question hung there for a second.
"Yeah. I didn't say who, though."
I nodded.

I took the check and Georgie made a show of searching his pockets for money.
"I got this, Georgie."
He dropped his shoulders and breathed out of his nose. "Thanks, man. I'll get the next one."
"It's OK. Don't worry about it."
"No, really. I'm good for it. Next meal is on me."
I threw an extra twenty on the table. "Fine." I stood. "Where'd you park?"
He scooted out from behind the booth and took a step towards the back. "I'm out behind the place. Where are you?"
"I'm out front. Lemme pull my car around back and we'll come up with something."

He walked towards the back door and I went out the front.
When I got out the door, I turned and headed behind the building, checking my pockets, feeling the weight.
Georgie was standing beside his car, smoking a cigar when I came around the corner. He jerked up. "Geez, man. You scared me." He looked past me. "Where's your car?"
He looked surprised and a little air came out of his mouth when I caught him in the temple with the brass knuckles. He dropped between his Taurus and a pick-up, so I was able to snap his neck without too much trouble. I pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, taking the credit cards and a couple hundred bucks in cash. Looks like the next meal was on him.


The story, along with many others, can be found in BEAT TO A PULP: ROUND TWO -- 386 pages of goodness.

Buy it here.

And if you want to talk about short stories -- chronological collections versus a linked collection -- I'm over at Thea Harrison's here talking about my newest collection, COUNTRY HARDBALL, a book currently in the hands of my agent, Stacia Decker (aka World's Best Agent).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about tension in a story.  How to build it.  How to keep it.  How to dole out answers to the questions you've been asking and still building suspense.

One of the biggest problems with the TV series LOST (other than the silly last 15 minutes of the finale) was the fact that all the characters were keeping secrets from each other.  I don't mean real secrets, the kind people have to keep.  No, they wouldn't tell the other people about the BIG things.  Things that, if the right people knew, would solve all their problems.

That's a cheap way to build suspense.

So, right now, as I'm drafting.  I'm trying to give the answers as I figure them out and still be able to raise the stakes.  Each answer to should lead to another question. 

The other way to build tension is to keep your character down.  Keep beat the crap out of him.  Not physically, but emotionally.  Every time he takes a step forward, you kick that goal away from him.  Make him go further for it.

Yeah, I've got tension on the brain.

And since I'm so caught up in the story I'm writing, you get a short post today.  Sorry guys. 

But if you want to read more from me, you can check out my new blog Beers 'N' Books. Let me know what you think.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why I Decided to Publish Crash & Burn by Jonathan Woods

When I first read Crash & Burn it struck me how much was packed into such a short form.  This is the longest story in the Speedloader anthology and though it's word count may betray the designation it reminded me of a novelette with how much was packed into it. 

At his best Woods is able to generate more character development in a couple of lines then other writers are in whole pages.  And his plots, with all of the action, twists and turns that you would expect, are crazier then books ten times longer.  All of this while at the same time being bat shit crazier then everyone else. 

So, for a fan of dark fiction, crime, noir or otherwise, Woods is the real deal.

I went into my first reading of Crash & Burn with some expectations of liking it.  But that familiarity isn't enough for a story to be accepted by an editor.  It needs to deliver and earn it's place just like anyone else.  Crash & Burn does, and is a showcase for the best of Woods' abilities in short fiction.

In short, that is why I decided to publish Crash & Burn by Jonathan Woods.

PS - His debut novel, A Death in Mexico, just recently came out.  I'm slowly picking my way through it and am really enjoying it so far.

Currently Reading: Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephan Graham Jones

Currently Listening: Mission Bell by Amos Lee

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Setting down roots...

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Yesterday, family and friends gathered to plant an oak tree in memory of my father-in-law, Joseph Blanco.  My son had a blast digging the hole (with lots of help) and going through all the steps to make sure the tree has the best start possible.  Giving the roots room to spread and the necessary nutrition will ensure that the tree grows strong and tall. 

As my son stood next to the tree, I realized that this event is one of many that will feed my son’s roots and help mold him into the person he is going to be.  While I wish his grandfather was here to help mold him into that person, every story he hears about his “Papa” and each visit to that oak tree will influence his life.  I have no idea how that influence will manifest itself, but I know my son’s roots will in some way reflect those experiences.

Which got me thinking…on this blog I have confessed that never in my childhood did I dream of being a writer.  I often feel guilty when telling this to aspiring authors who knew from the moment they could read that they wanted to tell their own stories.  And yet, today, as I helped put the tree in the ground, I realized that while I never dreamed of having my name on the cover of a book the foundation to be a writer was there—in my roots. 

As a child I loved to read.  Starting in first grade, I went to my school and town library and checked out book after book.  The Boxcar Children.  Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.  Where the Red Fern Grows.  Homecoming.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  About grade 5 I started graduating to Agatha Christie.  Stephen King.  David Eddings.  Peter Straub.  Thrillers.  Mysteries.  Horror.  Romance.  Science Fiction.  Fantasy.  If the book was written, I wanted to read it. 

All because I was given the gift of loving books from my parents and teachers.   

My mother read to me before I could read on my own.  (And she’ll tell you that even when I could read on my own I still wanted her to read to me…probably because I loved that time we spent together more than the words on the page.  My mom rocks!)  My teachers made reading feel like an adventure—one I didn’t want to miss out on.  That foundation…those roots made me start reading books without their encouragement. 

The gift of reading was the most important present I have ever been given by the people who loved and instructed me when I was younger.  The choice to read outside of the classroom was arguably the most important decision my young self made.  The books I have read…the joy and escape and thoughtful moments I have received from them continue to feed me.  They help my personal roots grow and have provided foundation for the rest of my life.

So, while I didn’t always want to be a writer…the love of the written word…the foundation…the passion for books was waiting to be tapped.  If I dared to try.  I only hope that the roots that I am helping my son grow prove to be as strong.

****PS...Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there who have given strong foundations to your children.  You are to be celebrated and admired.