When you inhale books the way I do (and always have), many fade into the background of your consciousness. I have ready MANY a book only once and forgotten many of them in the wake of a lucky few. In general, I don't re-read books... There are only so many hours in a day and days in a life; I need to keep moving forward, devouring new books, pushing through that TBR pile and the local library's extensive fiction collection. If I'm going to read it again, it's gotta be GOOD.
I recently discussed this with a friend, one who often re-reads her favorite books, and did some reflecting on the books I have read multiple times--and why. Why those books? And I realized something important. Not only did I like these books, but they changed me somehow. Some changed how I look at life, at myself, at reading, and at writing. There are books in this world that just find you. They get you, and you get them. It's a magical experience to find one of those literary gems. When I do, I want to live in those pages again and again.
And that's the thought train that led me to this blog post series: The 5 Books That Shaped Me. I use the term 'shaped' in the broad sense, since some have almost 'dropped a pin' in a certain place in my life, helping to shape the road map of who I am and where I've gotten so far in my life.
Without further ado, here's the first book:
Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White
If you know me, then you know the irony of this book's appearance on my list. I am absolutely, irredeemably afraid of spiders. My arachnophobia runs deep, my friends, and there's no amount of therapy that's going to help. Yet, this sweet, poignant book about a spider left an indelible mark on my childhood. How? Why?
In a way, maybe I am Wilbur, the little pig in desperate need of the love and acceptance of a true friend. He is the runt of the litter, rejected by Zuckerberg for being too small and useless. The farmer's daughter Fern falls in love with him and pleads for his life. But once he has been spared from death, even with Fern's love and friendship, he spends his days and nights alone in his pen, where the other animals are uninterested in him. Pigs are smelly and gross, right? And he's the only one of his kind, so he has no companion to snuggle with at night or keep him company when he's scared. Wilbur is the piggie embodiment of rejection, sadness, solitude, and anxiety. Young Stephanie could relate.
Enter Charlotte, the beautiful little spider who inexplicably loves Wilbur. She has the extrovert energy this little quadrupedal introvert needs. She declares them friends, promises to keep him company when he can't sleep at night, and gives him a reason to smile. All she asks in return is a quiet corner of his barn where she can spin her webs to catch her dinner and eat in peace, without the threat of being squished by anyone.
When Wilbur's life comes under threat again, and not even Fern can save him, Charlotte is the one who swings in with a plan. Overnight, she spins beautiful webs that help Wilbur in two ways: 1. getting him attention as some amazing freak-show of a pig who can write in spiderwebs and 2. boosting his confidence with positive, empowering words. Charlotte calls him Some Pig, Radiant, and Humble in her artwork. Although I am not "some pig," the feeling I got when I witnessed the love of one friend to another has stuck with me forever.
Perhaps this is the reason I am so free about expressing love and friendship for others. Perhaps this book is why I have unknowingly dedicated my writing to relationships, character growth, and self-discovery. And perhaps I found some strength in those webs too. It's hard to say exactly how this book affected me, because it's been a part of who I am for about 30 years.
I don't know where my original copy is, but I don't need it anymore. Charlotte and Wilbur live in my heart for free, forever.
Come back next week for Book 2!
Well, hello there, and welcome to the new year. I don't believe in resolutions, which are just really lofty goals we create to drive ourselves insane, but I do believe in fresh starts. With that in mind, I invite you along the journey I'm planning for 2022.
What's on the horizon? New novels, new short stories, new essays, new pen names, new writing goals, and a whole lot more. I'm going all-in on myself this year, because I'm strapping in for one big exciting ride. Look for news in the coming weeks and months. That's all I can say for now, but I'll post again soon!
What are you planning to take on in 2022?
That's right... Under Renovation is now available in paperback and digital formats via Amazon! To celebrate, I'm hosting my first ever online book launch via Zoom. Join me on Wednesday, July 22 at 8PM!
This will be a casual, open-house style event so join when you can and stay as long as you like!
Open House event 8pm - 11pm
8:30pm - Excerpt reading from "Under Renovation"
9:00pm - Q&A session
**Raffles and signings will occur throughout the event**
I'll be raffling off copies of all of my books. And one lucky person will win their very own character in my next book!!
ABOUT THE BOOK
Quinn Davis may have too many responsibilities on her plate, but she's making it work. Mostly. After her parents died in a tragic accident seven years ago, Quinn stepped away from her own goals and dedicated herself to filling their shoes. She spends her days as the president of her father's charity foundation, her evenings as a drama teacher, and the rest of her time as the family caretaker.
When she meets Theo Miller, the widowed single father of a drama student, their instant attraction forces Quinn to look at how tragedy has shaped her life. Coping with his own grief, Theo opens his heart to Quinn. but can she let him into hers?
Under Renovation will be available next week! In case you can't possibly wait that long, here's a fun excerpt to keep you entertained! Keep your eyes on the News page for updates, coming soon!
The following scene takes place just following the first time Quinn and Theo have met. He has volunteered to help her with set-building projects at the community theater. His young son Oliver (7), is a student in the program. At this point in the story, Quinn hasn't learned about Theo's late wife (not a spoiler, that's in the summary) and can't figure out WHY he's still wearing a ring...
----- from Chapter Five, Under Renovation -----
Theo and Oliver walked into the auditorium on time, holding hands while the little Miller gave his dad a full tour. Side by side, Oliver looked like his tiny clone, right down to the dimples.
"Miss Quinn!” Oliver is possibly the happiest, most excitable child I’ve ever known. “This is my dad!”
“Yes, we met on Tuesday, remember?” I made eye contact with Theo, who seemed equally amused. “I’m so happy you’re both here! Shall we get to work, gentlemen?”
Oliver joined the other kids for a vocal warmup with Faith, my best friend and the program's director. Theo and I headed for the workshop backstage. The best way to get a newbie acclimated to the tech life is with a power drill. Theo said he’d be more comfortable trying out tech stuff, but I had no idea if he was the handy type. If he isn’t, he will be by the time I’ve finished with him.
“The next thing on my to-do list is a second staircase. It needs to match this one.” I kicked the first one with the toe of my shoe. “Well, it’s only three steps, so I guess you can’t call it a whole case of stairs, but you get what I’m saying.”
“I can do that,” he said, encouraged. Theo headed right for the two-by-fours stacked in the corner and plugged in the power drill nearby. He sat down on the floor and started laying out the materials, ready to go. It seems I won’t be teaching much today.
I picked up a second drill and sat on the floor nearby, in front of my own project, but couldn’t focus right away. I admired him working, fully concentrating, hands steady. A man using power tools is… hot? I let my mind wander to, uh… places. Theo raised his head and we made eye contact. Busted.
I blurted the first words that came to mind. “You clearly don’t need my supervision.”
“No,” he said with a shrug. “But I enjoy your company.”
“That’s good,” I said with a smile. “Because you’re stuck with me all day.”
“Eh, it’s not so bad,” he teased. “What are you working on?”
“This bad boy right here,” I pointed to the upside down 4x4 platform in front of me. “Needs some legs before we can use it. This will go on the stage—with the stairs on either side so the kids can get up and down. We’ll need two more of these to make the whole thing.
Theo noticed the drill in my hand and slid the box of screws across the dusty floor in my direction.
“So, Theo,” I began nervously. “What do you do for work?”
“I’m a project manager,” he said. Whirrrrr.
“Is that like a contractor?”
“I work with contractors, but it’s a different thing,” he explained. “Basically, I manage the entire construction project from beginning to end. So, I work with the client, the architect, and the different kinds of contractors to make sure everything gets done right, on time, and within the budget.”
“That’s… cool. I mean, it sounds like it could be interesting.”
“It’s a lot like what you do here, to be honest. Instead of a construction job, it’s a show. And you’re managing all these tech projects, making sure it all gets done.”
“Maybe, but it’s Faith’s program. I just volunteer.”
“I think that would technically make her your client,” he said with a grin. “Somebody’s gotta make sure the kids have a floor for tap dancing.”
“And I guess that would make you one of my contractors…”
He laughed, lining up the top of the second stair. Theo was working quickly—I was impressed.
“So where are you guys from? You said you just moved here, right?”
“Yeah, Oliver and I moved from Chicago in January. I grew up a few towns over from here, but I got married and stayed in Illinois after college,” he paused. Whirrrrr. “The company I work for opened a Boston location and they offered me a promotion if I transferred.”
“So here you are.”
“So here I am. It made sense to come home,” he said, eyes still on the drill. “Since it was just the two of us, I wanted Oliver to have more family around. My parents are still living in the house where I grew up. I bought a house here though, didn’t want to be too close to Mom and Dad.”
“Sure,” I said, trying to focus on my job. Let’s review… only he and Oliver moved to Boston, to be closer to family. Where was his wife? Were they separated? He wouldn’t move so far away from his son’s mother if it were temporary. So maybe divorced? But then, he probably wouldn’t still have a wedding ring on. Was she in the military and deployed somewhere? The ring made more sense if that were true, but why would someone move in the middle of their spouse’s tour?
Faith often criticized me for being too nosy, so I decided to just drop it. Something was not lining up, but it was none of my business. Time for a subject change…
“So, what do you do for fun?” I asked.
“Let’s see… cooking, going to the movies on rainy days, hiking with Ollie… I also enjoy crossword puzzles and long walks on the beach.” He looked up, finally, and we smiled at each other. “Is my interview over now?”
“What can I say? You’re more interesting than I am.”
“I doubt that,” he said with a grin. “What does the talented Miss Quinn do outside the theater?”
“Lots of stuff,” I hesitated, searching for a concise way to explain it all. I gave up. “It’s… complicated.”
“Okay…?” Theo pulled the first staircase toward him and tried to tighten some of the screws, but they were perfect, obviously. No adjustments required. Satisfied, he moved closer to me.
“Mostly, I’m just the president of a charity foundation.”
“Just?” he said, handing me a couple screws to finish the second leg. “That sounds like a big deal.”
I shrugged. “It’s only a few days a week, plus events.”
“And? I sense the list goes on…”
“I help out at my uncle’s bar a couple times a week.”
“You’re a bartender?”
“Me?” I couldn’t help it, I laughed. I could only imagine Shawn and Charlie letting me pour drinks. They don’t even let me mix my own drinks. That’s on par with letting Charlie file his own taxes. “No, back office stuff, mostly accounting. I started helping him when…” Nope. “A while ago.”
“Charity president, theater director, private accountant.” He counted it all out on his fingers. “Any other pursuits?”
“Volunteering, here and there,” I added. “I spend most of my free time at the animal shelter, the library, and the senior center. And I like to help out with the soccer team fundraisers when I can.”
“Wow,” he said, with a playful smirk on his face. “It’s just too bad you don’t have enough to keep you busy.”
“I’m sure I could find some room on my calendar somewhere…” I countered. That was a little more forward than I’d planned on being, but the more I talked to him, the braver I got. “If I needed to.”
He raised his eyebrow at me with the hint of a smile on his lips. And in that moment, I realized two things. One, that he was absolutely, totally, devastatingly handsome. Second, that he seemed reasonably receptive to the idea of spending time with me on purpose.
“Alright,” I said, switching gears. For my own safety. “There are two legs left to attach to this platform. You’ve got a drill; I’ve got a drill. I’ll race you.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” he asked, with that charming expression still on his face.
“Okay fine,” he smirked, narrowing his eyes. It was kinda sexy. No, it was a lot sexy. “You’re on.”
“Ready?” He nodded. “Set?” He focused on his hands, lining up the drill and the screw. “Go!”
I worked quickly, driving two screws into one side of the platform, straight into the leg. Then I scooted around and did the same thing to the other side. I should’ve set a timer for myself. I might’ve broken my previous record.
“Done!” I shouted, putting my hands up. And just a split second after me, Theo did the same. “Oooh, so close! Sorry, Miller.”
He scowled. “That was definitely a tie. And even if you were a second faster than me, which you weren’t,” he said, with mock defensiveness. I tilted my head. “It’s only because your hands are so little. Easier to move around the tight spots.”
“Don’t hate the player,” I said defiantly. Standing up, I placed two hands beneath one side of the platform. “Can you help me flip this thing?”
Theo got up, grabbed the side opposite me, and we turned it over. Then I climbed on top of it, about a foot from the floor, and jumped up and down a couple times.
“I like to test these out before a bunch of kids dance on them.”
Riding that wave of boldness, bolstered by the adrenaline of competition, I forgot to be nervous. I extended a hand to Theo and said, “Get up here.”
And he did.
“Look how confident I am in your carpentry skills,” he said, then stomped his feet a few times. “Seems as sturdy as my corner.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I laughed, then performed a perfect time-step over his side. Ten years of tap dance lessons, all preparing me for that moment… “It’ll do.”
I laughed and swatted him on the arm—which was precisely the moment my adrenaline dissipated. Physical contact was just a tad too far under the circumstances—wasn’t it? Theo grabbed his arm, feigning injury, and stepped toward me.
“Ouch, Miss Quinn…” he said, trying not to laugh.
“If that hurt,” I said, boldly looking him in the eye. “Then you don’t wanna see my right hook.”
He smiled, and the mood suddenly shifted. We both seemed to realize how close together we were, just inches away. My heart pounded. More adrenaline, right? Nothing to do with his eyes. I desperately wanted to ask about his wife. She wasn’t around—where was she? And is it okay to be staring at him like this?
“Well,” I said, blinking. The reminder was sobering. “We still need two more of these. No racing this time. I don’t want to embarrass you twice in one day. You’d never come back.”
He nodded, laughing, but didn’t speak again for a while. It also took us an extra minute to climb down.
That's right... I'm back! It's been a very challenging few years for my writing. What can I say? Some of that life stuff just got in the way of my writing. But all this time, since publishing Socially Awkward in 2012, all I've wanted was to get back to telling stories.
And here I am!
It has taken more than a year and a half to properly tell the story of Quinn Davis and Theo Miller, but it was worth the wait. This book confronts the effects of devastating loss and the challenge of rebuilding yourself and your life. Sure, Under Renovation will give you plenty of reasons to cry, but you'll fall in love with these characters as they find a way to love each other... and of course, I can guarantee plenty of laughs along the way.
Keep an eye on my website for an official summary, publication date, and information on a special launch party coming later this month!