I’ve done a few interviews – radio programs, podcasts, newspaper interviews – over the past fifteen years. I love talking about books and my passion for the written word with anyone who is interested. Invariably, at some point, the same question arises… Why do you do all the stuff… virtual book festivals, community service anthologies, flash fiction contests, the podcast? As I spend this last week of January, preparing for the next virtual festival, I thought I’d take a little time and write about it.
I’m pleasantly addicted to the written word. Growing up, my family was not religious. I think I can remember going to church half a dozen or so times before I was twelve, with my grandparents; and then when I was thirteen, with my mother for a little while. But let’s be clear, I did it so I could work in the nursery and read stories to the children, not so much to sit in the pews. When I did sit in the pews, my nose was in The Book, rather than paying attention to the rituals. I read it twice before I turned eighteen.
Instead of church, my parents took me and my siblings to the local library on Sunday afternoons. It was expected that we would check out at least two books per week, read them, and return them the following Sunday. One of the best gifts my parents gave me was cultivating my love of literacy. For the record, my three siblings did not turn out to be adult readers. The thought of that befuddles me.
Some of my most memorable “family time” was focused in the library. It was our weekly pilgrimage. In winter, we drove. But in summer, we climbed on our bikes and rode the three miles to that hallowed space. I can still remember being four years old, riding in the little seat on the back of my dad's bike - working feverishly not to let my toes fall in between the spokes. Once we got there, I was usually right up front on the carpet for story hour, soaking up all I could. Sometimes, I was the only child sitting there, waiting. But the librarians never disappointed. They read. I listened; and together, we traveled through time and had grand adventures. I insisted my mother sign me up for the summer reading program each year, until it was deemed, I was “too old.” I remember feeling hurt when I learned that I could no longer get the nifty little tracking chart and add stickers to it with each book I read… not to mention attending the party in August, to celebrate all those digested pages.
As I grew older and could be trusted to make the bicycle journey without getting myself killed, I continued the practice, often making the trip a couple times a week (times were different then). There was never a penalty for taking out too many books (sometimes my eyes were bigger than my literary stomach). And, if I wasn’t able to read a book or two, I could return them… no questions asked, and no ridicule for the oversight. The pure freedom and joy in that – I was mesmerized. There was a safety and a comfort found inside books.
When I was in seventh or eighth grade, a new recreation center was built just a half mile from my house. Along with the swimming pool, snack bar, ice arena, playground, and golf course, they built a library annex. Officially, it was called “The Little Library.” It was about the size of your average high school classroom… perhaps a bit bigger. Because of the limited space, they only shelved paperback books. I didn’t care. Books were books, it didn’t really matter what their covers looked like; three ring binders, staples, spiral bindings… I didn’t care, as long as they had words in them. An added treat was a bin filled with cassette tapes – books on tape; or as we referred to them back then, “Talking Books.” They were intended for adults with failing eyesight – but I loved them, especially at night, before falling asleep. It was like sitting on that carpet all over again, listening to people read stories to me. Literary ecstasy! Listening to stories at bedtime is still an indulgence I relish. The best part about this Little Library was that it was so close to my house – a mere eight minutes by bicycle – instead of the hour it usually took. And the bonus? It was directly across the street from the ice cream shop. Swimming, books, and ice cream; what could be better on a summer afternoon?
With the advent of high school, I couldn’t get enough time with the written word. I was that kid with her nose in a book on the bus, while walking the halls for those seven minutes between class periods (no, I didn’t walk into walls or bump into people), and skipping Algebra only to spend that hour tucked in a back corner of the library where no one noticed me, reading or writing. (Not too long ago, I was seen standing in line waiting for my COVID vaccine, reading a book. I got some strange looks.) During high school summers, I asked my parents to give me topics. When I wasn’t doing summer stock theatre, I was at the library writing research papers. Yes, I was THAT weirdo. I miss the card catalogue. It was like a treasure hunt.
I continued reading into my adult life just as voraciously – but not at all quickly. I savored the pages, I ingested them slowly, working to lose myself in the white space as I heard the voices, imagined the scenes, and felt all the emotions of a story. I learned later that among my friends, I was indeed a speedy reader, going through two or three in a week. I still read steadily throughout the year, but other pursuits like writing, book festivals, editing… you get it… keep me from reading as much as I’d like. I’m still swimming deep in the written word, I’m just doing it now more as an active participant rather than just an observer. Okay, there’s really no “just” about reading, but you get what I mean. Still, I have friends who read hundreds of books in a year, and I envy them. I raised my son with books and regular visits to the library, too. I’m pleased to report that now, in his thirties, he still enjoys reading and is a spectacular storyteller.
I turn fifty-nine this year, and as I’m looking at the second half of my life, I can’t imagine what the first half would have been like without words, books, and libraries. My passion for those little squiggles on a page drives me toward sharing the wonderment I’ve found in literature with as many other people as possible. But I don’t just want people to have an “appreciation” for books – I want them to really get jazzed about them. Okay, maybe not as neurotic as I am about it, but close would be nice.
The Indie Author community is tremendously vibrant. I think more people in the world should experience them the way I do. I’m sure there are wonderful writers in the Traditional publishing arena. Indeed, I know there are, I’ve read their books, met them, and gushed over their writing in person (making a complete fool of myself). But I live here, with Indies, and every day I’m getting to know these people and their stories. I’m a devoted fan to so many of them that I want to share them with readers who perhaps wouldn’t discover them otherwise. I also have an insatiable curiosity to meet more Indies and learn about their work. So, I host a podcast, “Indie Reads Aloud.” It’s a storytelling podcast where I introduce listeners to Indie Authors, and they read from their books. I do this to help authors gain more exposure, and to help give readers more alternatives when searching for new books to read. But really, it’s all very self-serving. Because the truth of the matter is, I’m still that six-year-old little girl who loves to listen to people read stories out loud. Instead of suppressing that childhood whimsy, I’m celebrating it.
I spend time facilitating the creation of several short story Anthologies each year that serve charity. Why? Because I want to give back to the world the sense of amazement and adventure that it gave me when it gave me story. I can’t think of a better way to enrich a community than by giving them books filled with ideas to germinate in their brains; perhaps offering perspectives, cultures, and possibilities that they may not have considered on their own.
I also do it for the authors. Discovering the courage to publish your work can be a daunting task. I am hopeful that if I repeat the earwig of crafting story and sending it out into the world, encouraging every timid author I encounter, then maybe more people will follow through on that dream with confidence. Yes, this is also a little self-serving, too. I love story. The more of them we flood into the world, the better, as far as I’m concerned. My goal is to die with a To-Be-Read Pile that I’ll never complete. I’m addicted to story, and completely unashamed.
Finally, I host Virtual Book Festivals (and in-person Festivals pre-COVID, and perhaps again soon). Why? Because I’m committed to doing all I can to build the Indie Author Community. We have some spectacular people in our circles, and I feel that I should do all I can to help them further their careers. Any business person will tell you that networking is an important part of cultivating success. I heard someone once say, “If you want to become wealthy, hang out with people who have money and find out how they did it.” Whether there’s truth to that or not, I couldn’t tell you. Money has never been a focal point of my existence. But I do know that by spending time with other authors, I have learned more about my chosen preoccupation than any college course I sat through or book I’ve read (sacrilege, I know). The truth is that by enriching our network, we grow the possibility to gain exposure for our work, we learn tips and tricks about the “business of writing,” and – It’s Simply Fun. If I’m going to dedicate my life to something, to follow a passion that calls to me, it would be silly not to enjoy it, right?
Yes, the Festivals also serve as another way for readers to discover books that perhaps they might have missed. Yes, it’s a way for authors to perhaps gain new fans and build their revenue streams. But primarily, I do it because I love meeting with authors, making friends with like-minded souls, learning from them, and filling my world with the energy that we all share for a common predilection. My not-so-secret wish is that other authors see the value in building our community, too. I feel like I have a responsibility to do all I can to support this community that has given so much to me. Most days I feel I could be doing more. So I try to do more.
There you have it. I obsessed. I am unable to live comfortably without story, and so I am doing what I can to ensure that the written word doesn’t have an expiration date.
If you’d like to join me in my quest, here are a few links you might check out:
Resources, Including Bookshops, Author Websites, and Other Nifty Stuff
Pages Promotions Community Service Projects
The Page Promotions 2023 Virtual Book Festival
The Passionate Plotter Books & Mentoring Programs
The Indie Reads Aloud Podcast
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