Thursday, July 31, 2014

THIS OLD HOUSE By CATHERINE LANIGAN

     I can't believe that tomorrow is the launch of my next Heartwarming book in my SHORES OF INDIAN LAKE series, HEART'S DESIRE.  

      I'm so excited about that, I feel like standing on my roof and shouting. But that's not my blog. 
     I went to a “gathering” a couple weeks ago and it was one of those times when I had enough time to talk to several folks. I know that by this point in your careers, most you of you have heard the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” a jillion times. Over the years, I’ve changed my answer again and again. When I first started writing, my answer was, “People.” Then it was, “Newspapers.”  Then it was, “God.”  Then, “I have no clue.”
     Now, my answer is, “All of the above.”  I get my ideas from everything I hear, see and read.  All these factoids get cataloged in my brain and stuffed away in some musty old brain trunk until I need them. Then on the days or nights when I’m hit by inspirational lightening, I go to the long-locked-away mental archive and shake out my info and use it.
     I like to think that I am quite utilitarian in the use of my brain and its faculties. 

     I make timelines and plot lines and I research my subject matter. I interview people, which is a whole lot better than the sound bite clunkers I find on the internet, though without it, we’d be back to looking things up in our encyclopedias. Possibly. I assembly all my information and then I shuffle all my stuff together and scramble to come up with a plausible plot and haunting characters who will bring real blood, bone and heart to my story.
     On the surface of our artistic lives, that’s how it done. Or is it?
     This past month, my husband and I have moved all our furniture out of the main rooms of my family home in order to rip out the carpet and expose the hardwood floor underneath. To understand this endeavor, it’s important to know that this old house was built in 1949 by my mother and father. It was just after WWII and the Korean War was heating up. There was no wood or even cement for building. They scavenged for everything. My mother saw a particular walnut two foot square parquet floor on the cover of House Beautiful Magazine and fell in love with it. She called the Merchandise Mart in Chicago to find out where to get that floor. It was one of a kind and only used for that photo shoot. It was lying in piles in the Merchandise Mart. My mother drove to Chicago, bought the floor and had it installed in this house.
     Over the years, the floor was damaged from sun, water, kids, spike heels and old age. She had the entire area covered with carpet.
     When I bought the house from my mother several years ago in order to provide for her in her last years, I also inherited a few pieces of furniture. It was always her intention that I have the burled wood secretary with the glassed-in library shelves on top. Though my husband and I moved in six years ago and put all our stuff, junk and some treasures in the house, THIS time when I was forced to move everything out, I found a section of half a dozen turn-of-last century romances.
     These books were the first books my mother had me read when I was ten or eleven years old. One of the books was leather covered and with pages turning to dust in my fingers. “Beaulah” was a favorite of my grandmother’s in the 1890’s.  “St. Elmo” was another and “The Charmer” was another. As I held the books in my hand, I literally felt like I’d slipped back to my youth. I could hear my mother rhapsodizing about these stories. She loved these romances and couldn't wait for me to read them and discuss them with her. Suddenly, we were not mother and daughter anymore, but fellow romance readers. Book club mates. Story critics. We were equals.
     Suddenly, my life as my mother’s “child” was over. Something was happening on a myriad of levels, though I didn't understand it all at the time. I was just reading a book. But those kinds of books would one day become my future. It does make me wonder if fate flits around and doesn't care where it lands, or if destiny is a precise blueprint that we follow each and every day of our lives and that our parents, siblings, friends and teachers are “in” on the mission we have somehow chosen for our lives.
     Makes me ponder---for very long periods of time.  But that’s another book entirely.
     For forty years I’d forgotten about my mother’s old romance books, though I remember I’d read “Gone with the Wind” five times before I hit high school. But I remember them now. And the themes are the same as today.  Reunion romances. War time (Civil War) romance. May-December loves. Star-crossed lovers. And always there was a new telling of Romeo and Juliet.
     Just as human nature does not change from generation to generation, neither do our situational problems with relationships. There’s a contemporary twist to every story now, but deep in the heart, the crises and rocks in the road are unchanged.
     I have to wonder now, how much of those old stories have stayed with me all these years? Are they lying deep down in my musty trunk with all my other factoids?  I’m beginning to think they talk to me quite often indeed. 


    
      

     

17 comments:

  1. My sister and I are still finding--and re-reading--Mom's old books. I just finished STORM HOUSE by Kathleen Norris. I didn't like it as well as I did all those years ago, but I liked the memories it invoked.

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    1. Oops. Apologies. The word should be "evoked". When I grow up I will become a writer and know these things.

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  2. Hi, Liz,
    I KNOW what you mean. There was one book, WIND FROM THE CAROLINAS, that my mother and I just adored way back when. I re-read about fifteen years ago when mother found it again. It was so boring and had NO story, but the history was amazing. It was the early 1700's in Jamaica and the Carolinas.

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  3. Beautiful post, Catherine. The oldest books I have were two my dad had to read in college: 'Vanity Fair' and 'Sons and Lovers'. Both have an old fabric covers and yellowing pages. I love how a house can hold so much history and so many memories.

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    1. Oh, my gosh! I have "Vanity Fair". I keep finding these amazing things as I rumble around this old house. I should have posted a picture of the house, because it's really odd looking. It is a mid century modern house, flat roof, straight lines and really boring. But I've tried to get the gardens to surround it in a way so has some color. Sometimes, when I walk in the yard, I can feel my Mom and my sister, Nancy, who came to plant things with me in my mother's failing years.

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  4. Catherine,
    You made me miss my mom. Neither my mom or dad were readers. Dad read the Bible and the newspaper. Mom, maybe a magazine. The oldest books that got past down were old school books, and some of those readers had great stories in them.

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  5. Catherine, Just reading your post brings up so many fond memories of books from my childhood. I, too, wonder how much those early reading experiences shape us. The first 'romance' I ever read was Jane Eyre, a book I borrowed from my best friend's mother. It seemed like an old book to me then--it had belonged to her mother. I fell in love with that story (and I fell hard for Mr. Rochester.) I ended up borrowing the book so much that one day she gave it to me! To this day, it's one of my most cherished possessions.

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    1. Carol, I'm sorry you don't have your mom with you either. I think those of us who had or have good relations with our moms are so so LUCKY! And I thank God that my mother made me read so much when I was young. I think the cool thing is that she taught me that reading fun books was fun---even though my Dad wanted us all to read the encyclopedia cover to cover...every book. Jeepers!

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  6. Hi, Catherine. Some of the romances I read in early childhood were actually Westerns because my dad have quite a collection. In some books, the romance was handled well, if too briefly. My mother loved magazines so I read a lot of short romance fiction in the old LIFE, LOOK, and POST. When I was in my teens, I loved Glenna Finley, who wrote fun romances with lots of electricity between hero and heroine. And speaking of good books - you and I are paired together in one of those UK two-fer volumes!

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    1. My dad HAD quite a collection. At least you got your grammar straight, Liz.

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    2. Muriel, I just got my copies and I was so honored to be sharing with you. Isn't that coolest? I gave one to my agent and she shrieked she was so excited!
      Speaking of Dads...my father read all those Zane Grey westerns. And you're right...I did read them. Not much romance, but I loved the old west. Then I lived in Arizona for several years and loved it even more.

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  7. Catherine, my parents weren't readers, but they bought my sister and I books galore for our birthdays and Christmas. And we had a great library for a small town. It was filled with donated books and volunteer librarians. My favorite books were Western romances. I still have a lot of Zane Grey's early books that are so well read the pages are falling out. Love your post, it makes us all look back and enjoy.

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  8. Catherine, I found your post very moving in a number of respects. Thinking of you living in the house your parents built and you grew up in makes me smile -- there must be a lot of love, past and present, in that home! I hope restoring the floor and rediscovering your mother's books both bring you great pleasure!

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  9. My mother loved the old romances, too. I think one of the first romances I read was Marjorie Morningstar. Thanks for reminding me of that book.

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  10. I agree, Catherine, on your "all of the above" comment on where you get your ideas. Ideas are everywhere, if we're just paying attention. :) I loved your USA Today Happily Ever After blog interview! And I love knowing you're a Gone with the Wind fan! :)

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  11. Love the story about finding your mother's old romance novels. The truth is always way more amazing than fiction! Thanks for sharing. :)

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  12. It's really wise to be able to look back on stuff once in a while, such as how you have gotten to the current point of your life. Your house is looking like a well-thought buy at that, with all its histories and legacies preserved. It's not easy to get a house, if you think of it, with the mortgage and savings that you'll have to go through and deal with, but you came through it! Congratulations to the release of your new book, by the way! All the best!

    Barry Sutton @ Iron Point Mortgage

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