I probably will never be able to pinpoint the exact moment in time that I knew I wanted to become a writer. Nor, for that matter, will I be able to pinpoint the precise reason. All I know is that when I was a kid I loved to read and I want to write books for other kids of that age to help them love reading as well as I did.
There were many places – both real and unreal – that fed my love of reading. Narnia, Middle Earth, Walnut Grove, Prince Edward Island. And there were authors: Susan Cooper, Madeline L’Engle, Enid Blyton, Author Ransome, Elizabeth Goudge. There were characters I fell in love with, and pets, there were styles of writing that I adored, and others that I found irritating or dull. There were turns of phrase, and words too, that changed my vocabulary, causing one friend in college to remark, “Gretchen, you have an entirely different vocabulary than I do.” Which, while untrue in many ways, was, perhaps, tinged with truth. I like to think that I never used those words to sound pretentious (the word I had used in that conversation was “vernacular” – not such a bizarre word, I didn’t think) but, perhaps, without meaning to, I sometimes did…
I recently returned from a wonderful vacation out on Orcas Island, Washington. I’ll post more about that in days to come. But for now, I’ll set the beaches and mountains and reunions aside to tell you about one small incident that occurred on the vacation that made my day…or, rather, my decade. At least in a literary sense.
For about ten years I have been searching for one of my favorite childhood books. Every so often I’d think of it and go to the internet to have a search. Only trouble was, I couldn’t remember the title, let alone the author. I thought the title was “The Mystery of the Hidden Staircase.” But every time I searched for that – or any variety thereof (The Mystery of the Lost Staircase, The Hidden Stairs, The Mysterious Staircase) – my search would come up with Nancy Drew books.
Not what I was looking for.
I even went so far as to inquire from a bookseller once if the book he was selling was set in Quebec and contained chapter titles about staircases. He never responded.
For, you see, those were the two of the four things I remembered about the book. I remembered the setting, I remembered the stairs, I remembered that somehow whistling came into play, and I remembered that the protagonist was a little girl and she solved the mystery of the stairs.
Beyond that I was stumped.
I did hold out one glimmer of hope over the years. My niece. She told me that she had a box of children’s books in storage and that when she could, she’d pull it out for me to look through. Finally the stars aligned and I was in Washington when the book box was available and so was I. Turns out there were actually two boxes. My hopes grew…yet I dared not hold out too much hope…it just seemed too much of a reach to think that they would have held on to that book for so many years.
I opened the first box. Lots of great books!! But not THE book.
Then I opened the second box.
I lifted out a book. Nope. Then set aside a few more, knowing they weren’t IT. Then I took out a gray, thin, hardback book.
The Mystery of Lonsome Manor, by Harriet Evatt.
My heart began to race. Could it be?
I turned to the Table of Contents. Quickly scanned, my hopes grew.
Then I turned to page one, chapter one. The words, “French Canada” jumped out at me. I flipped a few more pages. An Indian – yes, that sounds familiar, albeit politically incorrect – a sledge, a girl, the old manor house. Suddenly I knew and I shouted out in the middle of my niece’s living room, “This is IT!!!!!”
I didn’t cry. I didn’t hug it to my chest. What I did was stand up from my place on the floor, walk to my purse, put the book in my purse and zip it shut. It rode home with me in my carry-on, not in the large Huggies Diaper box full of books that we checked as luggage.
You may be thinking that I read it as soon as I possibly could.
I savored it first. Reveled in the anticipation. I even finished the book I was currently reading first (I was almost done with it) simply because I loved the feeling of KNOWING I had it. I even let my daughter start reading it on the plane.
And then, the afternoon of our first day home, I began to read. I finished it before bed.
And no, I was not disappointed.
Oh, it’s a little politically incorrect, as I mentioned, and it’s a wee bit old-fashioned (it’s copywrite is 1962) and it’s very abrupt in its mystery-solving (no prolonged searches or plot twists), but it was simple and sweet and a wee bit exciting and definitely a little mysterious.
I love it.
And that’s why I write. So that someone, someday, when he or she is 43 and wracking their minds for a good book for their daughter to read, or desperately searching for that book they loved as kids, will think of my book.
And be glad.