So you can read my books

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Mystery and wonder.

They were the elements that drew me into reading for myself.

I've talked earlier about how Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY with its stunning illustrations by Steele Savage was the first book I chose for myself to read.

As a child I caught sight of mythic Proteus rising from the wine dark sea,

And heard shadowed Triton blow death from his wreathed horn.

Mythology and fantasy were the mid-wives of my imagination. And my tales show it. But I want to speak of what fiction I first chose for myself ... and what lessons I learned from those novels.


{Mystery is the siren call for all lovers of fiction. Better to leave out commas than mystery in your tales.}

Its first sentence : "The place was silent and aware."


A desert fortress manned by the dead. Every French Foreign Legionnaire was standing at his post along the wall. Every man held a rife aimed out at the endless sands. Every man was dead.

Who stood the last dead man up?

That question drove me to check out a book as thick as the Bible. I remember sitting down that April 1st with my four junior high chums in study hall. They couldn't get over the size of the book. They looked at me like I was crazy. Then, I told them the mystery.

Tommy and Gary snapped up the remaining two copies in the school library. Raymond and B.J. (we called him Beej) had to go to the two different branches of the city library for their copies.

And then, my four friends, sluggish students at best, were racing with me through the pages to discover the solution to the mystery. But then came stolen jewels and desert danger. We were hooked.

Mid-way through the book, I discovered the classic movie marathon that Saturday was going to show BEAU GESTE, starring Gary Cooper and Ray Milland.

The five of us roughed it that night in front of the TV. After the movie, we planned on sleeping on the floor of my front room. It would be like we were French Foreign Legionnaires on a mission.

We were enthralled. We booed the bad guys. We cheered on Gary Cooper. And we sniffed back embarassing tears when he died.

But with the mystery solved, my four friends didn't want to go on. The solution fizzled the fun of the reading. We all moped. A throat was cleared. We turned around.

Mother sat with a leather-bound volume in her hands, and with her voice blessed with the magic of the Lakota Storyteller and the lyrical beauty of the Celtic bard, she smiled, "Let me read you five something --



{And he will keep your readers' interest up high -- so no lukewarm antagonists. Think epic. Think primal.}

Mother, in her rich, deep voice, read low like distant thunder :

"Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline,

high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan,

a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of true cat-green.

Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government--

which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence.

Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."

She put down the book on her lap and intoned, "That, young ones, is the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu. Do you want to hear more?"

Man, did we! And so the League of Five was born.

For every Saturday night for the rest of that year and all through my last year of junior high, we sat cross-legged on the front room floor and listened to all thirteen of the Fu Manchu novels ...

along with the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starting with "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." I never went to sleep after that without looking at my headboard!


{Instill that truth into your tale, and it will intensify the fragility of the human body and the enduring courage of its spirit.

And if it teaches your readers to hold gently and gratefully the love they find, so much the better.}

Unknown to us, Mother was teaching us the value of a mind that thought beneath the surface, that grew stronger with use as with any muscle.

We made special nights of it when the classic movie marathon played any Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Fu Manchu movie. Flash Gordon with Ming the Merciless was great. It was like seeing Fu Manchu in a space opera.

But the seasons pulled us apart to different high schools, to different destinations.

Fatal car accident. War. Disease. Mugger's bullet.

Until now, only I remain of the League of Five.

But every April 1st, in the late evening hours, I sit down and pull BEAU GESTE from the shelf. I read aloud the words, "The place was silent and aware."

And no matter the room I find myself ...

it is silent ...

and it is aware.

I see five wide-eyed boys, their eyes gleaming with wonder and awe, listening once more to my mother reading into the wee hours of the morning,

her voice a beacon in the darkness of our imaginations.

I pull down my worn copy of THE INSIDIOUS DR. FU MANCHU and turn to chapter two with Sir Denis Nayland Smith's description of his adversary.

After a few moments, the words blur. But that is all right. I know the words by heart.

What novel meant so much to you that you just had to share it with a friend or friends? Tell me. I'd like to know.

Compare it to what you are writing now. Did it have any effect on your style or genre of writing? Please write me on that, too.

For Donna's Lakota friend and for those who wonder what Elu looks like :


  1. *sniff* I would have happily been the sixth. Your mother sounds completely wonderful. The Irish part of me is happy that Celtic blood runs through your family's veins. Dean Koont's Watchers and Lightning. Einstein broke my heart and Stefan created a longing for someone to love me like he loved Laura. My WIP (I'm writing again! Woohoo), if I can get it right, is going to rip out the hearts of the readers. No one is safe, not even the MC. Yet she hopes. She lives. Never give up. Never surrender. I only really liked Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. But I love his Code Hero. My MC is a Code Hero. It's fact, fiction, fantasy, and faith. On a different note, have you ever seen the movie Airheads with Brenden Frasier? They 'kidnap' a radio station and force them to play their music. Ultimately, their music is great and people want it. I'm thinking about kidnapping a publishing house...

  2. I really, really (infinite number of adverbs) enjoyed this post. What an amazing thing - to share a love of fiction adventure with not only your friends, but your mom.

    I was a Junior in high school when I first picked up a book to read that wasn't assigned by a teacher. My parents didn't approve of such sedentary activities as reading for pleasure. But I met some kids in my 3rd year of high school who read avidly and consistently. My kind of people actually, though I never acted on my desires.

    Anne McCaffrey's THE WHITE DRAGON was the first novel I read because one of my friends recommended it. And we formed a sort of club over it. We read to each other, and acted out roles from our favorite scenes and characters. And moved on to other fantasy novels. The friendship I gained in that first pleasure reading hooked me solely on fantasy for a long time to come.

    Its still my favorite read. But honestly, I can't imagine not having a copy of The White Dragon in my house. I'd never thought about it quite in this light before. Thank you Roland for bringing up this cherished memory - and obsessive compulsion I wasn't aware I had.

    I'll be here a while, perusing your site. I love all your music selections; but I have a Lakota friend that I was discussing music with this afternoon, and promised to send a link to one of your songs. He doesn't like modern Native American music, but I promised he'd love this one, if for nothing more than the speech at the middle-end of the live concert. Just beautiful, and he will, of course, understand the language - not just the passion. I don't remember the name of the combined artists, but I'll recognize the cover post.

    Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with me, and others Roland.


    word verif: misled. Hmm, I truly hope not tonight.

  3. I'm just dragging in from another gauntlet, guys. But thanks for the nice words.

    Ted, I left a word on your blog.

    Words Crafter : My dream is to win the lottery and start my own publishing company. Dream is the key word. Thanks for liking my words as you do. It means a lot.

    Donna : I've missed you. NIGHTWISH is the group. Search my site using their name and the name Elu, and I'm sure you'll find the post. If my mind weren't weary mush, I would remember. Sorry.

  4. What a wonderful post! Such wonderful memories all entwined with books and reading. My genre a child and teenager was historical fiction. I traded books with my mother and we would sit at the kitchen table and discuss them over cups of tea and scones in the afternoons. The first one that comes to mind is Desiree by Annemarie Selinko

  5. You're Awesome Roland. My friend thanks you too.


  6. This is one of the best posts I've read. I can picture you and your friends sitting around, reading big, fat books, or listening to your mom read, and watching the classics on tv. Thanks for that great image. Nearly every book I read, I want to share it with a friend. Probably the latest most influencial book for me was The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

  7. Great post!!!

    I linked this in my Friday Five over at Kate's Library!