Culls and Keepers

Last weekend I did a fairly ruthless culling of the bookshelves in my bedroom and living room. Romance, mystery, and science fiction, mostly. I’m a bookaholic and always have been. Always will be, I’m sure. But from time to time I have to deal with reality, and overflowing shelves.

I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while, but I think the tipping point came when I wandered into the local Half-Price Books looking for something they didn’t have. Came out with three books anyway, two historical romances and Steve Berry’s latest thriller. I’ve downloaded a few books to my Kindle lately, too. And then there’s Amazon Prime, encouraging me to preorder books, pay no shipping, and find them in my mailbox on Tuesday. Yep, it’s been nearly every Tuesday lately, and I’ve got two more coming in August.

So I spent a good chunk of last Saturday and Sunday going through books, pulling out ones I have enjoyed but will probably never read again, and books I really thought I’d read, but haven’t. Let’s face it, there has to be a limit to how long a book sits on the To Be Read shelf. Sooner or later you have to admit that it’s just not gonna happen. When you realize you’ve fallen six books behind on a series you once read eagerly, it may be time to put those books back in circulation.

I didn’t touch the shelves of non-fiction and research books. Occasionally I have to hit those, too, but perhaps not as often. I look things up. I sort of, vaguely, know what’s there. Last week I went to a meeting of the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter. The speaker mentioned two books in her talk on gender differences in writing (referring to characters, not writers, but the audience that night was all women): You Just Don’t Undertand, by Deborah Tannen, and Fiction Is Folks by Robert Newton Peck. I’ve read those, I said to myself on the way home, but not recently. Searching the non-fiction shelves (in the hall and the unused office), I found Tannen’s book (must reread) but not Peck’s. Not yet anyway, although I did turn up two copies (two different editions on two different shelves) of Dwight Swain’s Creating Characters.

Don’t worry: I still have a lifetime supply of books on my shelves (and my Kindle) and no intention of boycotting the booksellers in the future. (Probably just as well I didn’t make it to the RWA National Conference this week—all those free books are impossible to resist.)

Here’s one that’s earned a place on my keeper shelf: Sally Kilpatrick’s debut novel, The Happy Hour The Happy Hour ChoirChoir, is a pleasure to read, treating some serious subjects with humor, well-developed characters, and a warm small town setting. Beulah Land is content playing piano at a honky tonk, with a jazzed-up version of her namesake hymn as her signature piece, until she’s maneuvered into playing piano for County Line Methodist Church—and its attractive but stubborn new minister. This is a wonderful story about what family really means—you may not be able to pick your relatives, but if you’re lucky you can build a family from scratch. Beulah has a lot to deal with in her estrangement from her family, grief for her past, the deteriorating health of a dear friend, and an unexpected bond with a new friend, but she handles it all realistically, touching the reader’s heart as she does. I really loved this book.

Memories of BK Reeves

My dear friend and writing mentor, Barbara Reeves Kolaski, passed away a week ago today. Although she had been ill for some time, she had a long, eventful, and happy life, but there’s an empty space in my world now that she’s gone.

BK ReevesBarbara published several romance novels under the name Barbara Reeves, and raised a family as Barbara Kolaski, but to her writing students and RWA friends she was always BK Reeves.

I met BK about twenty years ago through the Bay Area Writers League, which met here in Seabrook, southeast of Houston. We became friends working on BAWL’s annual writers conference, and BK read some of my work through its contest. She invited me to weekend retreats at her boat house in Surfside, where I met writers with wide ranging interests. In 1996 I went to a workshop sponsored by the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter, because BK was one of the speakers, and immediately joined the National RWA and the HBA chapter. I still didn’t know what I was writing, more science fiction than anything else, but I’d begun reading futuristic romance, and that seemed like it might be a good fit.

BK taught Creative Writing classes for the Continuing Education division of San Jacinto College, and I signed up for one. And then another. And then another. I have no idea how many of those eight to twelve week courses I took over the next few years. It wasn’t that the subject matter really changed much from one class to the next (I still have a fat binder full of the handouts), but the opportunity to spend one evening a week with other writers, and to have BK critique my work as it progressed was irresistible. I became fast friends with several other perennial students, as we fought our way through writing projects and hashed them out at the nearest IHOP with BK after class. I wrote the first draft of Tempting Fate in those classes, and the beginning of Paper Hearts.

When my late husband could no longer bear to stay home alone at night, I signed him up, too, and BK welcomed him. Jack and BK were about the same age, and I remember going across Houston to a writers conference with the two of them happily singing songs from the 1930s and 40s as I drove.

When BK no longer felt safe driving, she gave up the San Jacinto classes, but a group of us continued to meet at her house a couple of evenings a month; now and then we’d even have sleep-over weekends in the big house where she’d raised her three children. We called ourselves BK’s groupies: me, Kay Sakaris (we still call one another “Other Kay”), Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Ann Peake, and BK’s daughter Anne-Marie Novark.  Over the years Terri and Kathy moved out of the Houston area, Other Kay, Ann and I had full time jobs, life got in the way, and BK’s health worsened, until getting together became a sadly rare event, but BK’s inspiration remained.

BK (center) and the Groupies: (from left) Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Kay Hudson, Kay Sakaris, Ann Peake (Anne-Marie Novark took the picture)

BK (center) and the Groupies: (from left) Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Kay Hudson, Kay Sakaris, Ann Peake (Anne-Marie Novark took the picture)

I have so many wonderful memories of BK: her encouragement, her insistence that I have a “writer’s brain,” her faith in me as an editor, her kindness to Jack as he slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s. She introduced me to the writing community, and through her classes, BAWL, and RWA I have met so many of my friends. I look at my bookshelves and see reminders of her: her books, of course; a little ceramic newspaper office she gave me because much of Paper Hearts revolves around a newspaper; my place card from a table she sponsored at a charity luncheon; a photo of BK, Kathy Gresham, Jack and me at another luncheon; a plaque from BAWL, because she made sure I was at an event I hadn’t planned to attend, so I would receive it first hand.

BK’s books are out of print now, alas. She wrote all her life, from the time she was a little girl in West Texas, but she didn’t pull out her manuscripts and begin rewriting them for publication until her husband, Stosh, passed away in the late 80s. She used to tell us that she bought her first computer on the way home from Stosh’s funeral—this may have been a slight exaggeration, but not by much. She published several traditional Regency romances in the early 90s, with plenty of sexual tension but no explicit sex. But she could, and did, write hot sex with the best, as she showed when she rewrote an early western story into an interracial historical romance called My Buffalo Soldier. She often made remarks that wildly contradicted her sweet, grandmotherly appearance, and (most) people loved her for them.

It wouldn’t surprise BK to know that one of my first reactions to hearing of her passing (from one of the Groupies) was, “Well, I have to write about BK.” Life was research to her, meant to be both enjoyed and recycled as material for the next writing project. It might surprise her to know it’s taken me a week, but I’ve written this in my head too many times to count. There are just too many memories to include (although we agreed that neither one of us could say “Hello” in less than five hundred words).

Barbara Reeves Kolaski was laid to rest on Saturday with her favorite pen in her hands. I have no doubt she’s using it today at some afterlife Writer’s Retreat. After all, it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Fall Must Be Coming

When I left for the weekend Friday morning, I looked in vain for any sign of the hurricane lilies that pop up near the front of my yard every year.  Not a hint.  I was afraid that another very dry summer had shut them down.  But this noon when I returned from a weekend on Galveston Island, there they were, three or four full blooms, and quite a few more stalks at various stages.  According to a Q&A piece in this morning’s Houston Chronicle, mine are probably Lycoris radiata, also known as naked ladies because the foliage only appears after the blooms fade.  They’re late this year; they usually bloom in early to mid September, at the peak of the Texas Gulf Coast hurricane season.  According to our local weather reporters, our section of the Gulf Coast has been struck by post-September hurricanes only three times in the last hundred and fifty years.  The last one was a smallish storm called Jerry, which passed directly over my house in October 1985, the only time I’ve ever walked out my front door into the eye of a hurricane.

First Lilies

I spent the weekend on Galveston Island with friends from the Houston Bay Area chapter of RWA, talking about writing.  There was some actual writing involved, and quite a bit of wine.  Also some football games on the big TV in the living room, but the two or three dedicated fans were kind enough to leave the sound off.  Well, the TV sound was off, but there was quite a lot of yelling, too.   Colleen Thompson took this picture of me, and Cheryl Bolen and Leslie Marshman did the organizing.  Leslie won our eternal gratitude when she talked Sean at Mario’s Ristorante in Galveston into delivering pizzas, even though we were a bit outside their usual delivery limit.




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