Sometimes, There’s This Book

Sometimes, there’s this Book. You know the one – it’s a book that you remember reading all your life. The one that you finish in record time, reading in great gulps, and then exclaim over, and pass along to someone else – all the while madly scrambling to see if the author has written anything else.

I was in high school, and I was on a Gothic-reading binge. Gothics had mystery, romance and a touch of suspense to them, all of which appealed to me. More importantly, they were readily available on the spinners and magazine racks in the stores of my hometown. And better yet, my mother would read them too, which meant that I could usually count on her to fund some of my reading habit.

One day, I found a book called Ammie, Come Home, by Barbara Michaels. It looked interesting, so I picked it up.

It was one of those Books.

In addition to the mystery and romance – which I had expected – Michaels had woven a deep stream of the paranormal into the book – which I had not expected. I loved it. In those days when urban fantasy did not exist as an official genre, Michaels was writing it.

Witch was the next of her books that I found. It confirmed that Michaels was an author I wanted more of, and more and more.

And the hunt was on. A book here, a book there – I found just enough to keep me tantalized and searching for still more.

It wasn’t until I got to college, with many bookstores available and larger libraries, that I found most of the rest of her books. I finally ran into that wall of having read everything I could find by a particular author, and was stuck waiting for each year’s new offering. A year is a long time to wait when you want that next book.

And then a librarian asked me if I knew that Barbara Michaels also wrote as Elizabeth Peters.

An orgy of reading followed.

Her Elizabeth Peters books had more archaeology and less of the supernatural, but they still sucked me right in and told a story that kept me there until I had consumed the entire book. Then they spit me out with a dreadful book hangover (that mix of rapturous oh-I-loved-it and miserable I-can’t-believe-it’s-done).

At least this time, when I hit the read-it-all wall, I could look forward to two new books a year.

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz (her real name) died this past week, at the age of 85. There will be no more new books to wait for.

I will miss opening up the new adventures of an old friend from past pages. I will miss meeting a new character ready to dazzle with me with humor, intelligence and just enough quirks to make them seem like a real person I would like to know better. I will miss the plot twists Michaels/Peters tossed at her readers, and the romance – not heavy-handed sex or erotica but simple, sweet romance – that was in many of her books. Her regular use of older heroines appealed to me, particularly as I reached maturity myself. It was nice to see that you didn’t have to be twenty-something to have adventures!

Michaels’/Peters’ strong female characters – who could rescue themselves, thankyouverymuch – and her touch of the Unknown  – these things drew me in from the first book, kept me coming back for more for four decades, and have strongly influenced my own writing.

I could go on and on about my favorite Michaels/Peters characters and books, but if I got started, it would be hard to stop. Suffice it to say that she created many, many favorites of mine over the years.

So here is a huge thank you to author who not only entertained me for many years, but helped shape the path of the writer I have become.

Rest in peace, Barbara. You were a wonderful story teller – the highest accolade I can give an author – and an incredible influence on me.

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Evolution of a Geek-Girl

I saw a video on Facebook today that I immediately identified with. I reposted it, and then started thinking and writing. Here’s the video, and the results of the thinking and writing.

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My first steps toward geekdom were small ones. I grew up in a small Southern town in the 1960’s and 70’s, and there really wasn’t a lot of fodder for geeks there at that time. Comic books, three channels on television (and an early bedtime) and a public library that ran to mainstream fiction were all I had at my disposal. Still, I showed potential early on; I spent weeks being a cat at age two, with a tail safety-pinned onto me (role-playing and cosplay, anyone?) until my dad brought home a kitten for me, and at age four, I had a fairy-tale character as an imaginary friend. (I reluctantly dismissed her when my mother questioned whether or not she was a “good” imaginary friend. Okay, fine, so she was a four-year-old version of Maleficent, the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty, but it was before she became evil, I swear! I just liked the name and the cool clothes she got to wear! I mean, purple and pink robes? Way cool! And well, magic, but like I said, it was totally before she went to the dark side.)

I did have comic books. My grandmother, who was a teacher who understood the value of comic books in getting kids to read for pleasure, had a large stack of them, which eventually filtered down to the vacation cabin on Black River, (where we spent most weekends) for my cousins and me to read on rainy days. I started with Casper and Ritchie Rich and worked my way up through Archie to Superman and finally into the realms of scary comics that told Twilight Zone-type stories. (My mother tried to steer me away from these, telling me they were too scary, but I loved them – partly because they were a semi-forbidden fruit.)

My mother was an early geek. She taught high school math and read what science fiction she could find in our small town. I still recall seeing Isaac Asimov’s books in paperback around the house. She also watched the original seasons of Star Trek. (It was on way past my bedtime, but on a few occasions when I could not sleep, I remember hearing the haunting sounds of the theme music.)

When I was seven, Mom got me seven of the 14 Oz books, by L. Frank Baum, setting my feet firmly on the path of fantasy and geekiness. Several years later, she gave me D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which I read over and over again. There wasn’t a lot of fantasy available for kids in the 1960s, so I did not read a lot of it besides Oz, myths and fairy tales. But I was ready and waiting, and read everything else I could get my hands on.

As I reached the middle and high school years, fantasy and science fiction became a little bit more mainstream, and therefore, available. Star Trek was in reruns, and I watched it faithfully. I found a few more books – the Narnia series, Watership Down (which was mainstream enough to appear on the book spinners at the drugstore) and the Asimov anthology Tomorrow’s Children, which the public library, for a wonder, actually had. During that era, Zenna Henderson’s short stories about The People were turned into a TV movie of the same name, and when I watched it, I wanted more. (Imagine my delight when, in college, I found the books this movie was based on!)

I sampled the harder science fiction my mother had around the house, but never found the right book to really draw me in. An aunt (who knew me better than I knew myself) gave me a boxed set of Tolkien one year, but I (stupidly) left it unopened on the shelf until I was in college, when I finally read the books. (I could have kicked myself to the bottom of the mines of Moria for ignoring it all those years. But at least I finally understood the graffiti “Gandalf Lives!” that adorned one of the buildings I saw every day on the way to class!)

I was the loner, the outsider, the girl who wrote poetry and got good grades and read a lot. The one who worked in the school library and took care of her parents. I wasn’t popular unless someone was looking for a person to torment for a while. And since what interested them did not interest me, I really didn’t care, except when they bullied me.

But something was missing. I just didn’t know what it was, yet. Dribs and drabs, drops and hints of what was to come for a lonely geek-girl who didn’t know that she was a geek – I was a butterfly still in the cocoon.

Then I went to college.

The University of Colorado in Boulder, in 1976, was a whole different world from the one I had grown up in.

Culture shock? Maybe a little. Okay, maybe more than a little. I had never even eaten a taco before. I had certainly not lived in a town with a real bookstore, let alone multiple bookstores!

I hadn’t been in the dorms more than a few weeks when someone introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. I was hooked, immediately. Planning adventures with fantasy creatures and treasures, or playing a character who traversed someone else’s creation? Heady, heady stuff. (I still have my first D&D books – the set of three little books in a little white box, plus the first expansions of Greyhawk and Blackmoor.)

I read my Tolkien books, finally, and I found Anne McCaffrey’s first two Dragonrider books on the shelves of the university bookstore. The second semester I met a guy who liked games, science fiction books and comics, and he took me with him down to Mile High Comics and Science Fiction on Pearl Street when he went to get his comics.

Oh myyyy, to quote George Takei.

I was set loose in a veritable feast – at that time, the store had nothing but new and used science fiction and fantasy books and comics. Anything you could want was in there.

I ended up with a part time job there.

And I married the guy who took me there.

Star Wars came out during the first summer I was in college. I will never forget the first time that Imperial Cruiser rumbled overhead on the huge screen, with surround-sound vibrating the theater. Just, wow.

Within a year of leaving that small town I grew up in, wondering what else there was in life, I was set free as a geek and loving it. I had friends, I had hobbies, I had passions. It changed my life.

Geek-girl? From the bottom of my heart, and proud of it.