So you can read my books

Monday, September 20, 2010


{"There is a garden in every childhood --

an enchanted place where colors are brighter,

the air softer,

and the morning more fragrant than ever again."

- Elizabeth Lawrence.}

Some have emailed me asking about the mysterious League of Five that I mentioned in yesterday's post.

I forget that I have new friends, unfamiliar with my older posts.

The origins of the League of Five stretches back to my childhood.

That league was given birth by :

Mystery and wonder.

They were the seeds from which grew the League of Five.

I've talked about Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY with its stunning illustrations by Steele Savage.

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 the League of Five. And my tales show it.

But I want to speak on what the League of Five taught me ... and what it might teach you :


{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 men, 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 cities, 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.

And here's another the League of Five would see in the theater together, nudging each other like small boys again :


  1. Roland, you've got to stop making me cry. This was a lovely post.

    The book that left its mark on me was To Kill A Mockingbird. When I was in highschool I wasn't that great a student. Not because I couldn't, but because I didn't want to. I was a dreamer. I danced to my own drummer and took a lot of flack for not wanting to be like everyone else and get into the same sorts of trouble the other kids were getting into. It was a painful time, but I stuck to my guns.

    It was a class assignment to read the book. I didn't know anything about the book and I had never even seen the movie, but, I did know that Gregory Peck was in it. So, somewhere around eleven or twelve o'clock at night (the night before the assignment was due). I realized that I hadn't read the book. I got myself cozy in bed with my little bedside lamp, thinking I would just "skim" to get me through the quiz. And with the picture of Gregory Peck as Atticus in my head - I started to read. I read the entire book. I stayed up all night and went to school with no sleep, but it was worth it. It remains my favorite book and one of my all-time favorite movies.

    While it hasn't influenced my writing to date, I would very much like to explore that path and, actually have just begun to do so. It's a style I call "lazy" but not in a bad way at all. By lazy I mean, Harper Lee invited me over for a julep on the front porch swing. I sipped and she talked. She told me a tale of her childhood. That kind of story telling is an art and I could only hope to one day be able to tell a story like that.

  2. Lovely. :)

    There are quite a number of books that have influenced my writing but the three that have had the most impact would be:

    1.) Harry Potter by JK Rowling for its fantastical touch (and for getting me interested in writing novels to begin with)

    2.) Out by Natsuo Kirino for its stark portrait of Japan and its dark thrills

    3.) Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller for its wit, theme of loneliness, and the unstoppably wonderful prose of Ms. Heller

    On a lighter note, The Tourist is lookin' pretty cool. ;]

  3. Let me sop up the tears for a minute.

    Loved this story. I can picture the scene. What a wise and kind mother.

    My first favorite writers, oddly, were Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Hardy. They so captured how subtley cruel people can be to each other. The undercurrents of life.

    Sadly, or not, I couldn't sell their writing to my friends:)

  4. Wendy : Sorry to make you cry. If it makes you feel any better, I got misty-eyed a bit writing it. As I've said before, THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM shaped how I thought a man of God should act (Gregory Peck's first film.) His BIG COUNTRY helped shape what I thought it took just to be a man.

    Amanda : I think J K Rowling has inspired many to write. In a way, Roger Zelazny did something similar for me.

    Terry : I didn't mean to make you cry. I could never get the League of Five to appreciate Roger Zelazny either -- until I got them hooked on his NINE PRINCES IN AMBER : a story of a man awakening in a hospital with no memory of how he got there -- and his leg in a cast though his leg was not broken -- discovering a strange deck of Tarot cards, with one card bearing his own face.

    Cue the spooky music. I hooked them.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone.

  5. I remember the post telling of the League of Five. I remember it made me cry. Dang it, this one did, too. I didn't know that you were the only surviving member. That in itself sounds like a wonderful, tragic, heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant story.

    As for books, well....Mythology in elementary school. LOTR and Thomas Covenant in high school. Much later, I gave away copy after copy of Lightning. Then, I found a book that nearly unseats Lightning....Unwind by Neal Shusterman. I dare you to read it.

    It starts off a little set things in place. It is one of the most provocative books I have ever read. Were I a high school English teacher, it would be on my required list.

    And, to be completely honest, I talk about your Ghost of a Chance serial all the time. A couple people have read posts, but they're not bloggers. Another person checks in sometimes but isn't a blogger, either. He has a pretty heavy load this semester, too. But he liked what he read. Everyone that has read a post liked it....

    As for genre, I do love adventure, action, flawed heroes, impossible odds, internal struggles....yeah, I'd say those books had an affect.....

  6. Words Crafter : Thanks for spreading the word for GHOST OF A CHANCE. My four friends are gone physically, but I hear their voices all the time -- I think I will even feel their elbows in my ribs when I watch THE TOURIST this December!

  7. Strange. Today with my post involving BEAU GESTE and Gary Cooper, my blog was visited by someone from Morocco. Gary Cooper also played a French Foreign Legionnaire with Marlene Dietrich in a movie called, MOROCCO.

    Maybe my League of Five friends slipped over to Morocco to pull on their old friend's chain in response to my writing of them.

    I like to think so.

  8. You reminded me of something. I think you and Elliot may need a 12 step program to overcome, or at the very least, moderate, your addiction to Angelina....hahahahaha

    Hope you have a great evening!

  9. That was a wonderful look at your childhood, Roland. I wish that I had had a tight-nit group of pals like that...and a mother who would entertain us with such classics. Some great lessons there and I will print it off for future reference.

    I can't recall sharing anything profound that I've read with others. I don't make a habit of reading a book twice either, but I re-read "The Razor's Edge" by Maugham. What could hold more mystery to a teenager than the insightful Larry Darrel in India? Kipling's "Kim" also made an impression on me as a boy. Funny that they both took place in part or entirely in India...sorry, kind of rambled on there. Thanks for the clarification about the League of Five.

  10. Alan : For me, a good book is like a good joke : I just have to share. But tastes in reading are more narrow than in humor, so I can't share with too many with prose.

    In junior high, it is easier, for the tastes are broader : mystery, adventure, exotic locales.

    THE RAZOR'S EDGE, of course, deserves to be read multiple times. Some books become old friends to me, and I just read certain passages out of them over and over.

    I'm glad you enjoyed my post. Roland

  11. My last two years of high school, a good friend introduced me to THE WHITE DRAGON by Anne McCaffrey. We made a club of it. I was Lessa, of course.

    Still am, when I need courage and brilliance.


  12. This is one of the best posts I've read. Helpful writing tips plus a delightful look back at your childhood, the precious journey you and your friends shared. Memories of your lovely mom reading the stories. Priceless! (and yes, I too cried)