Showing posts with label library. Show all posts
Showing posts with label library. Show all posts

28 February 2015

Books and the Art of Theft

Puzzled by the title?  It’s simple.
In high school, I had to read Lord of the Flies, The Chrysalids, On the Beach, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and a whack of Shakespeare.

Yuck.  Way to kill the love of reading.  All sorts of preaching and moral crap in the first four.  (Which, as you will see by the end of this post, doesn’t suit me well.)

Torture, it was, having to read those dreary books, at a time when I was craving excitement.  Already, I had a slight rep for recklessness. (It was the admittedly questionable incident of burying the French class attendance sheet in the woods on Grouse Mountain, but I digress…)

And then we got to pick a ‘classic’ to read.  Groan.  Some savvy librarian took pity on me, and put a book in my hand. 



A writer was born that day.

This is what books could be like!  Swashbuckling adventure with swords and horses, and imminent danger to yourself and virtue, from which – sometimes – you could not escape (poor Rebecca.) 

I was hooked, man.  And this book was written how long ago?  1820?

Occasionally, people will ask if a teacher had a special influence on me as a writer.  I say, sadly, no to that.

But a librarian did.  To this day, I won’t forget her, and that book, and what it caused me to do.

1.    Write the swashbuckling medieval time travel Land’s End series, starting with the Top 100 bestseller Rowena Through the Wall. 

2.    Steal a book.  Yes, this humble reader, unable to part with that beloved Ivanhoe, claimed to lose the book, and paid the fine.  Damn the guilt.  The book was mine.

3.    Write The Goddaughter series, which has nothing to do with swashbuckling medieval adventure, and everything to do with theft.  Which, of course, I had personally experienced due to a book called Ivanhoe.

The lust for something you just have to have.  The willingness to take all sorts of risks way out of
proportion, to possess that one thing.

A book like my own Rowena and the Viking Warlord made me a thief at the age of sixteen.  And the experience of being a thief enticed me to write The Goddaughter’s Revenge, over thirty years later.

My entire writing career (200 publications, 9 awards) is because of Sir Walter Scott and one sympathetic librarian.

Thanks to you both, wherever you are. 

Just wondering...did a single book get you started on a life of  Tell us below in the comments.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books. You can buy them at  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.  She lurks at

24 September 2012

Childhood Memories

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

This week I opened a quart carton of orange sherbet. Yum. I've had orange sherbet through the years yet, somehow, this time my childhood memories flooded back (maybe old age kicking in, who knows?) I suddenly felt as if I were eleven again, visiting my dad for the summer in Fort Worth, Texas. My parents divorced when I was young. Both parents remarried and during the whole school year, I lived with my mother, step-dad and two little sisters, out on the high plains of Texas, forty miles from Lubbock in the small town of Post, TX. Post then had a population of about three thousand folks and this was back in the olden days when ice cream was only available in grocery stores and drug stores. The most flavors I remember were vanilla, chocolate, Neapolitan, and strawberry. In the summer, when I went to visit my dad in the big city of Fort Worth for a couple of weeks, one of the first things we did was to drive over to Baskin Robbins where, at that time, they offered thirty-one flavors of ice cream. I'd look at everything they had and every single time order the same sherbet, served in an ice cream cone. I have no idea why. They had banana nut, peppermint, chocolate mint, cherry vanilla, regular vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, peach, Neapolitan, and something with nuts, maybe butter pecan. They also had orange, lime and pineapple sherbet. I don't remember any of the other thirty-one flavors but for some strange reason orange sherbet really seemed like the best of the best to me and that's what I'd buy.

This nostalgic trip got me thinking about my childhood memories of reading. I honestly don't remember not liking to read and really not sure when I began reading. A little before first grade and then from first grade on I read and still read as much as I can now. I lived with my grandmother in Houston for my first grade and then my mother remarried and I moved to Post, TX when school was out. I spent a lot of the summer playing outside, but I also spent a lot of time reading...sometimes reading outside. My parents bought me books. Post didn't have a library then but there was a small library at our church. Most of the books at the church were biographies but written for children. So I learned about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, and George Washington Carver from these bios. At home mother bought, Heidi, Black Beauty, Grimm's Fairy Tales and Bible Story books. I loved the Bobbsey Twins and a series called The Sugar Creek Gang, which was about a boy and his pals but I liked adventures and the boys were always having those.

I probably started reading Nancy Drew when I was nine or ten years old and devoured those. I think I tried the Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belton, but Nancy was my idol. She had a really cool dad, an even cooler convertible and she solved mysteries. But my big love for mysteries really grabbed me totally when I was twelve and my father handed me a stack of his paperback books: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott and Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason and his Bertha Cool and Donald Lam detectives, and John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. I thought Private Eye books were awesome and Perry Mason was so exciting by the revelation of the murderer in the trial.

Soon I matriculated to high school and devoured as many of their mysteries as I could find...Daphne du Maurier, Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Agatha Christi, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dashiell Hammet, Rex Stout. I could go on and on but you get the idea. I still read spies and thrillers, Ian Flemming, John le Carre, Alistair McClain and I soon discovered John D. MacDonald wrote other books besides the Travis McGee series. In the meantime, Post TX got a public library and my mother became one of the volunteer librarians and when they were able to hire a librarian full time, my mom got the job. She had only gone to the 8th grade in school but she had gotten a GED and she took some college classes by correspondence. She took many of the continuing education classes the library offered. That was her dream job and also helped add to my "have read" growing list of books. Is it any wonder that I wound up writing mysteries and owning a mystery bookstore?

In exploring my childhood memories which I decided to share with each of you I reveal how I managed to fall in love with mysteries and private eyes in particular. What about you?

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to the kitchen to have a bowl of orange sherbet.

29 January 2012

Guilty of Abandonment and Worried

by Louis Willis

“Libraries are the homes of critical thought, of long-term cultural preservation, and of democratic access to knowledge. This can’t end with the Internet.” Nathan Torkington ‘Where It All Went Wrong’.
Buying books and doing research online has made me feel guilty for having, for the last four or five years, neglected, no abandoned, my local library. I worry that libraries, like dinosaurs, might become extinct, and eBooks will replace pBooks. 

In the article from l which I took the above quotation, Nathan Torkington in his address to the National and State Librarians of Australasia in Auckland argues that libraries must catch up with the digital age, especially for researchers. He notes that libraries no longer have a monopoly on research and that the younger generations will increasingly do their research online.

In November, I read another article online (forgot to copy the URL or the name of the author) about how libraries get rid of old books through sales or destruction to make room for newer books. I thought that libraries sold old books or gave them to charity but never considered the fact that they destroy them. I am what the author calls an absolutist, and I hate the very idea of destroying books, even those by obscure authors on esoteric subjects.

The two articles made me think about the Lawson McGhee Library here in Knoxville. I got my first library card at the Cansler Branch for Colored when I was 9 or 10. The summer when I was 12, I dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player, and checked out as many books as I was allowed on baseball, one of which introduced me to Wee Willie Keeler. He taught me, a small guy like him, how to “hit’em where they ain’t.” I learned that libraries where I could get book to learn how to do just about anything, and could also study African American history. 

Whenever I moved to a new city, one of the first thing I would do was get a library card. The first big library I visited was the Chicago Public Library. Walking among the stacks was what I expect heaven to be like if I make it through the Pearly Gate. I next visited the library in Chicago that houses books by and about African Americans to do research for an undergraduate project in American Literature. It was truly a delightful surprise: a building full of books about Black people.

Last year, the Lawson McGhee Library System celebrated its 125th anniversary. I last visited the main library downtown in 2006 or 2007, and the branch library in my community of Burlington in 2008. I feel guilty that I stopped attending the yearly book sale at which time I bought as many books as I could carry in a plastic bag for three dollars. It was my way of contributing to the library fund.

Lawson McGhee has embraced the digital age. I knew that it lent audio books and DVDs, but I was surprised to learn that it lends eBooks, and that the main library and several branches have wireless Internet access for customers, and also provide computers and Microsoft Office for public use. My New Year pledge to the library will be my physical attendance again at the book sales and occasional borrowing of books, including eBooks. I’ll have to be careful about borrowing eBooks, however, because I might  continue the bad habit of not visiting the library in person.

The upside to borrowing eBooks is you don’t have to worry about them being overdue and find yourself in the situation as a five year old girl did in Massachusetts.

On January 4, 2012 the Guardian published a story about a five- year-old girl In a small Massachusetts town who had two overdue library books. The police “…swooped on the home of” the little girl. Seeing the police, she stared crying and asked her mother if the policeman was going to arrest her. If she had checked out eBooks, maybe no cops would have “swooped” on her home.
I worry but refuse to believe that eBooks will replace pBooks, and the Internet will replace libraries. Of course, some politician might decide one day that Internet libraries cost less than real libraries in real buildings.

16 November 2011


by Robert Lopresti

I just read a very good mystery novel, which I don't  recommend you read.  This is not because of my natural perversity, but because I want to save you from the unnatural perversity of starting a series at the end.  Farewell, Miss Zukas is the  last volume in a series, and the reason for that is one reason I am bringing up the book at all.  It gives us a chance to discuss some of the trends in the publishing world.  I do hope I convince you to look up the early books in the series, which are available at least electronically.

First of all, full disclosure.  The author, Jo  Dereske, is a friend of mine and a fellow librarian. (In fact, this book contains a brief mention of "Rob, the mystery writer."  He sounds like a fascinating character and I wish we had heard more about him.)

The heroine of these books is Wilhelmina Zukas, a librarian who works at the public library in Bellehaven, Washington.  And here we get into an endless series of inside jokes;  Jo and I both live in Bellingham, Washington, which Bellehaven resembles to a remarkable degree.  (She has pointed out the many benefits of fictionalizing her setting; for example, eliminating a mall she doesn't like.)

So what is Helma Zukas like?  Smart, introverted, private, small, neat...the word repressed comes to mind.  Clearly Dereske was playing with the stereotype of the librarian. (Most people in the field love Miss Zukas.)   
You see, Helma is far too complex and interesting to see as a mere stereotype.  Quiet and introverted, yes.  But meek?  Never.  In almost every book she stuns quarrelers into silence with her “silver dime voice.”  In one novel she destroys library records so that the police can’t violate the privacy of a book borrower.  (And if that seems a far-fetched series of events consider this  which happened in the same county that contains Bellingham.)  

So Helma is a force to be reckoned with.  Now, consider her best friend since fifth grade, Ruth Winthrop.  Ruth is an artist.  She is tall (and wears heels to emphasize it).  She is also loud, brassy, dresses in wild colors and is as easy with men as Helma is not.  Although these two opposites would gladly take a bullet for each other, they can't stand to be iin the same room for more than an hour.  Dereske has received many emails from women asking "How do you know about me and my best friend?"

The author’s ability to connect to her audience is relevant to my point and we will get back to it, but here is an example: I once heard Dereske read a portion in which Miss Zukas filing some cards in alphabetical order and Dereske got quite rapturous about the meditation-like peace that comes with  alphabetizing.  I don’t know how many of the audience were librarians but I heard any number of guilty giggles from people who had experienced that same pleasure.

Helma is supported (or more usually, hindered) by a large collection of associates, like the  young children’s librarian Glory Shandy,  who is always ready with constructive criticism  about Helma’s appearance.  (When someone gives Helma an unwanted  free visit to a beauty consultant Glory enthuses "He's probably very good at disguising mature skin.")  

But the two most important supporting characters are what you might call a couple of soulmates of Miss Z.  Police Chief Wayne Gallant came to town just after a nasty divorce, which means Helma has a crush on the only person around as nervous about relationships as herself.  And Helma reluctantly takes in (but never talks to or touches) a stray animal who becomes known as Boy Cat Zukas, because that’s what the vet calls him.  Boy Cat is as standoffish as his owner and they seem made for each other.

The first eleven books were published by Avon, which then chose not to renew the contract.  Dereske has no complaints; she understands that the economy forced the decision, and she was willing to call the series over.

But remember what I said about Jo's relationship with her readers?  They were insistent that  the saga needed an ending.  After holding discussions with  some mainstream publishers, she decided to self-publish.  And that brings us to Farewell, Miss Zukas,  which winds up most of the strings of the story and brings our heroine to a happy ending.

And speaking of happy endings, you can see this story as depressing  (good authors are losing publishers left and right) or positive (authors are taking control of their destiny).  But in the spirit of natural perversity I am going to end with a favorite passage from the very beginning of Miss Zukas And The Island Murders
On [Miss Zukas'] desk blotter lay a week-old newspaper article listing ten books a local group, calling themselves Save Your Kids, demanded be withdrawn from the library collection.  Two of the books, including Madonna's SEX, weren't even owned by the library, although twenty-three patrons had requested them since the article appeared....

Eve pointed to the Save Your Kids article on Helma's desk and stuck out her lower lip.  "Why ban Little Red Riding Hood?  What did SHE ever do?"

"I believe it was the wolf who did it," Helma said.  "But don't worry, she's safe.  Fortunately, the Constitution's still in effect."

If you like funny mysteries with quirky characters, you can't do much better than to take a trip to Bellehaven.