Monday, May 6, 2013

Carpe Annum Tribute

An important component of Carpe Annum – claiming the year – is claiming the past. Taking stock and acknowledging how we got to this point in our lives as writers.  Identifying the layers of the bedrock we’ve built upon, including great books, great writers, mentors and encouragers great and small, who steered and cheered us on.  This segues naturally into a Mother’s Day appreciation since next Sunday is THE day.  (Get those cards in the mail today, if you haven’t already.)

My sweet mother just turned ’91 or 90, whichever.’  I chuckled to myself when she said this. It was so similar to the opening of Water For Elephants.  What’s a year when you’re approaching a century?  I credit her for introducing me to a lifetime of reading.  

I remember the excitement when a package came in the mail for me at the age of five or six containing three books by a new children’s author named Dr. Seuss.  I assume The Cat in the Hat arrived first, or whatever, as mom says. Every few months another package arrived with more books until we had a small collection.  I think I had first seen them in the dentist’s office.  I had soft teeth, and having bitten my old dentist (not soft enough, apparently), he had referred me to a new-fangled pediatric dentist who very wisely prescribed a pre-appointment sedative and filled his waiting room with children’s books.  Later, reading them to my own children, I realized my mother must have gone nuts repeating those nonsensical rhymes over and over, but she never quit, even after I could recite them by heart.  My particular favorites were Put Me in the Zoo, Go Dog Go, and One Fish Two Fish.  Interestingly, Dr. Seuss credits his own mother with inspiring him to write books.  You can read about his journey (27 rejections for the Cat in the Hat) at

When I was older, mom took me to the library and signed for me to get my own library card.  It was the first official card in my plastic wallet.  The children’s books were located in a snuggly, low-ceilinged basement that muffled all sounds of outside civilization.  I could have brought my sleeping bag and settled in. I overheard mom telling the librarian that my teacher said I was ahead of my grade in reading, and the librarian showed me the stacks for more advanced reading.  It was something mom never would have told me, not wanting my head to ‘get big.’ Parents had to keep their kids' feet on the ground in the 1960s.

Later, mom and I read Victoria Holt’s books until we could predict the endings, and moved on to Agatha Christie and L.M. Montgomery.  The day came in my adolescence when I picked up a paperback novelization of one of my favorite shows, The Avengers.  Not the Marvel Comics superheroes – I’m talking John Steed and Emma Peel, the British agents.  I argued hotly for it and she clucked her tongue and shook her head before allowing me to buy it with the caveat that if there was inappropriate material, I would stop reading. Now we were swimming out past the buoy into unknown literary waters.  She trusted me and I felt mature enough to handle whatever it contained. I had no intention of getting rid of it.  I read the book in my room, anxious that ‘the passage’ might appear.  And, of course, it did – not even a scene, but an offhand comment that shocked me. By today’s standards, it was mild, but I felt chagrined and tossed the paperback with my favorite actors on the cover in a place where she would never find it.  To her credit, she never asked about it until a year or so later.  I simply acknowledged that she was right and she never said another word.  Good form, mom.

Then, in high school English class, we read West Side Story.  I was a bit shocked and disturbed by one scene in the book which I felt was inappropriate for high school, and I skipped over it.  Mom, of course, managed to pick up the book and flip to THAT scene, which triggered a tirade and a threat to call the principal’s office. I talked her down from the edge, assuring her that it was the only book that had anything offensive in it that we had read and she cooled off. I mean, if you overlooked Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace, which she didn’t need to know about.  

Mom and I continued to swap book titles until our tastes parted ways.  She even read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But she loved a good mystery best of all.  She read so many from her local library that she had to make a small mark inside the cover when she was done so she wouldn’t check it out again.  I was shocked that she would be so bold as to mark in a library book.  Well, maybe not.

I think the thing I appreciate the most is that she didn’t discourage me when I said I wanted to write.  Mom was never overly demonstrative – so not her generation.  But she proudly took my first book into the library where the librarian added it to a display case for local authors.  I dedicated that book to her and my family, but the dedication page was inadvertently omitted (stuff happens) and the page made it into the next book.

Whose shoulders do you stand on in your writing journey?  Who has helped you build a foundation to Carpe Annum?  We’d love to hear!


Sharon K. Souza said...

Debbie, I love this post! What great memories you have, and what a sweet tribute to your mother! I wish you could be with her this Mother's Day.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Sharon. Mothers are so influential when it comes to passing along a love for literature to their children. It's hard to believe that there are people out there who do not understand the importance of it for healthy development in many ares of life.

Megan Sayer said...

Whose shoulders do I stand on in my writing journey?
Well, to tell you the truth I owe more than I can tell you to this group of novelists I met a couple of years ago. They've done more for me than I could ever repay them for, and I absolutely wouldn't be the writer I am today--or, in all seriousness, the person I am today--without their encouragement and support and faith in me.
They write this blog that I read without fail. You should check it out, seriously. It's at

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Wow, Megan, we're all blushing. :P
Thank you for your encouragement to us! And I know that your children will remember their terrific mom who opened up a whole world of reading to them.

Latayne C Scott said...

Ah, my mom had my number. One day I turned on the vacuum cleaner, happened to notice my new Sherlock Holmes mystery half-read, sat down and continued reading while the vacuum ran, and she discovered me. The penalty? She kept the book for a week. ARRRRGGGHH. I still remember that.

Latayne C Scott said...

I just realized I didn't answer your question about upon whose shoulders I stood in my writing journey. My answer: practically everybody I read.

Cherry Odelberg said...

I started to ask if there was hope for me as a writer if I had no shoulders to stand on. Then, I read Latayne's two comments above. Yeah, I had plenty of shoulders, plenty of boosts. They were called books. I loved them inordinately. My cousin was a year older and she read voraciously. Even today, when we meet, we are likely to exchange books. Arriving at her house for luncheon last December, it was amazing how many women handed her a book bag as she took their coats.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Cherry, you are so right. Every good book is a step up for a writer. And it sounds like your cousin's shoulders may have given you a boost.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

My mum learned to read with her children. (she had five to practice with). She has severe dislexia and dropped out of grade school. That didn't stop her from reading us bed time stories every night. Arthur Ransom, A. A.. Milne, L. M. Montgomery, Rudyard Kipling. Even when some could read better than her we prefered to snuggle cheek by gowl to hear her. It is a highlight of my childhood.

V. Gingerich said...

This post makes me smile and nod. My mom guarded my books, too, sniffing out contraband like a bloodhound, finally leaving me to read the classics or nothing at all. Thanks, Mom!

I'm currently reading The Innocents Abroad for the first time, and just yesterday I ran across a familiar phrase-"let us draw the curtain over the rest of the scene". Twain used almost that same phrase in Tom Sawyer. It reminded me of when I was a young teen, reading many of the same books my mom had read, and we'd litter our day's with book quotes. I called her Marme, from Little Women, we "sipped gruel" instead of eating Shurefine cheerioes, and whenever anyone did anything dreadful we'd say, "Oh, let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene."

So yeah, Mom gave me my love for books, and books gave me my love for writing.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

When my middle school refused to let me read 'Frankenstein' (because I would "never understand it"), my mom bought a copy for me. It was the first classic that I owned (the youngest of four, I didn't have a whole lot that was just mine). I'd say my mom propped me up on her shoulders that day!

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Henrietta, what great memories you and your sibs share. :)
And Wanderer, your mother sounds like a hoot! I'm going to find an opportunity to use that phrase, one way or another.
Susie, how very brave you were. I'm a lightweight when it comes to reading intense stories that like (tried it). Bravo to your mom!