Between the Pages: One Author’s Tribute to Her Influential Storytellers

In keeping this blog fresh with the #LifeBookWriting Challenge–yay, me for consistency, which should really roll over into my other blog on Publisher’s Marketplace–I was supposed to do the 6 Book Marketing Tips entry, but for several reasons I won’t: I’m not a rule-follower by nature (eat a dick, gravity and not being able to breathe underwater!); I’m still learning the finer points of marketing, most especially leaving the salesy ickyness out of it; and blogs all over cyberspace are teeming with information I’ll only repeat, since in indie publishing, a one-size-fits-most approach doesn’t work. And recent events changes this entry’s course, which was one where you DON’T see this all over the publishing angles of the Internet: Storytellers and authors who influenced my writing, fueled my imagination, and one author friend who talked this novelist down from the edge more than once kept me going when it seemed pointless.

This post is for the authors who died within the past fifteen years. Their works will live on, but having them in this plane is much more sweeter.

TOM CLANCY
Not one for military novels–his works like Rainbow Six, Patriot Games, and The Hunt For Red October were all optioned for movies and had great runsthey’re loaded with details the former servicemen-turned-author always put in his books. Clancy had found a niche, but never backed off telling thrillers that shone the United States government and its military in a scrutinizing light. But if the movie’s any indication why Red October was so widely received and popular, I can appreciate why his fan base will still readers long after his passing. (1947-2013)

MADELEINE L’ENGLE
The Newbery Medal and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award Winner for a book beginning with the love/hate line in storytelling world:–“It was a dark and stormy night …”–sure made A Wrinkle In Time a staple novel among sci-fi and fantasy fans. I haven’t read this book in a minute, but it’s not so much worth a revisit for research as it is for the sheer imagination of how L’Engle took a dreaded line, made a novel hers in a men-dominated science-fiction and fantasy genre few women authors broke ground in successfully, and set the foundation for young adult books when few then existed (mid 1960s). During a time in the industry when women authors were expected to put her initials on a book–S.E. Hinton, J.K. Rowling, H.A. Rey, et al; need I say more?–L’Engle, to put it simply, “did it her way” in a big way. She’ll always on my literary landscape. (1918-2007)

VINCE FLYNN
I first heard of him in the mid 1990s, roughly around the same time I’d heard about  Jurassic Park. After enjoying the rush of Memorial Day, Flynn hadn’t been on my TBR list in a time. Other authors crept in. Until cancer took him too young in 2013. But from how I understand it, the author’s novels were loosely parallel to the wildly popular Fox series 24, and Joel Surnow gave him several screen and script credits. I don’t know if Flynn’s books will re-appear on my TBR stacks, as I’m not a big fan of 3rd POV, but if he had some say in 24, he has some level of literary street cred. (1966-2013) 

ESTHER AVERILL
This American writer/illustrator was the one who sparked my renewed love for reading when I was eleven and hacked off nothing good was around to read. Known for her Jenny and The Cat Club stories, she also did The Fire Cat and “The School for Cats”  (I’m sensing a cat theme here, are you?). Set in New York City, the author sets up a clever way for the neighborhood cats to get together to socialize, and a perfect story for a shy child to express himself or herself in ways that begin a deep and adventurous friendship.  (1902-1992)

MICHAEL CRICHTON
When my mom first began reading The Andromeda Strain, I liked the title (c’mon, Andromeda? That name alone’s badass, but her mother was kind of a control freak bordering diva. Greek mythology, goddess of beauty whom Perseus had to save from the kraken–and how FOINE Harry Hamiln was in Clash of the Titans?  And speaking of Perseus, is Logan Lerman is a super-cute hottie from the Percy Jackson movies, or what? Ohhhh … right, Crichton. Sorry. Get me on cute guys, I’m like a squirrel on a ripe walnut :). ). But it wasn’t until hearing about this crazy scheme to build a park out of actual dinosaurs from DNA pulled from in a suspended mosquito in amber that got me curious (Jurassic Park).  A former MD, Crichton used his medical expertise to spin tales of what if in a biological sense–an unstoppable strain wiping out the planet, but it’s onboard your distant space station, too–or is it? He wove his stories with a balance of literary, ethics, imagination, theme, and wasn’t scared to go there with the antagonists–like Clancy, he saw them as the United States government–who thought they were good guys righting the world as it should be from their view. Another gone too soon.  (1942-2008)

PAULA DANZIGER
If Judy Blume put her stories on the literary landscape dealing with questions of life from a kid’s point of view, but sometimes left  more questions unanswered than resolved–and the first author to have her characters engage in sex as teens in Forever, as well as tackle a violent loss and moving on in Tiger Eyes–then Danziger was the one to put humor bordering on the ridiculous to serious topics (being overweight, popularity and peer pressure, divorce, standing up to what you believed in, managing family dynamics, dating somebody out of your circle, etc.). She, through her stories based on her niece’s experiences, made it okay to be different, her protagonists bold, truth-telling nonconformists, and struggle with it until they, and thus, the reader dealing with similar issues, had to find the courage in their own convictions–and stand on them, even if they stood alone. Just do it with gales of laughter through the sometimes tears. SCBWI definitely made a good choice in naming their Amber Brown Grants after her character of the series. (1944-2004)

SHARON CUPP PENNINGTON
And … we’re here.

I honestly thought I was fine up to this point–but then again, I didn’t personally know the aforementioned authors. All those were NYT best-sellers at one point or another, or won awards, honorary degrees, accolades to the Moon–which Has No Atmosphere, BTW :-)–and back.

I knew Sharon from a writing group I’d gotten involved with in 2008. One book rewrite, a few revisions, and hundreds of edits later, I’ve a product I’m not only fiercely proud of, but she graciously, diplomatically, and unbiasedly talked me down when other authors could take the shine off the sun with their feedback. I’m sure she felt like she was herding cats in this online group more than once over the years, and just had more heart, soul, charm, and prudence to know the difference to say what needed saying to parties involved.

But, privately, she told me how much she truly liked my Casebook characters, and, after reading the final draft in December 2013 and her final contact with me this November past, she realized how special they were and the story was. How excited she was for me the (now dead) book deal happened, and the book would see the light of day. She even liked the cover I detested. How’s that for a big-sister/writer-friend liking your refrigerator artwork when you don’t?

She died this past March after an extensive illness and complications rising from a car accident some years back. I only found out in early May. Time passed. I thought I was fine. I’m not. As with grief, some days are better than others, and each person works through it differently. But what really punched this in my throat for me: she was one of the rare, decent souls in this industry. I liken her to Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, where all she had was heart. Soul. Gentleness. A soft-spoken honestly in, like Scarlett didn’t know how much she’d need and miss Mellie until she died, I didn’t know how much I’d miss Sharon until she had gone.

Grief sucks, especially losing one of the few and far between kind authors this business could use much more of. But all I can do is somehow find the laughter in the tears, find the insanely ridiculous to grin at, and press on in my bold, truth-telling, nonconformist way. Her quiet power helped me do this. I’m forever grateful to do her this honor and the others on this #MemorialDay2016.

Much love, #BlueSkies, and tell hello to those other authors for me, Sharon!,
~ Missye

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