by Dee Ernst
I grew up in a house of books.
There was a ledge that ran the length of our hallway, about four feet tall and maybe two feet wide, and it was there that my parents lined up their books. There were conventional bookcases all around the house as well, but when you turned into the hallway, there they were, like soldiers in a row. Books, just sitting there, waiting to be read.
I was one of those precocious children who learned to read very early and always had to have something printed in front of me. At the breakfast table I could, and would, read every inch of the cereal box. I had blown through all of Nancy Drew by about the second grade, and often cast a jealous eye on my parents’ books.
We did not have a lot of money when I was first growing up. Most books came from garage sales and used-book sales. Luckily, my favorite aunt and uncle, also my godparents, had no children and were lavish with their gifts of books. One year I got a series of animal books – Black Beauty, Lassie-Come-Home, Rascal – six in all, hardbound, with red binding. I still have them. Another year I got a ten-volume set of ‘Great Literature for Children’. It included a book of just poetry, stories about holidays, abridged classics. I re-read them over and over. I still have them, too.
I also still have the bookcase that my father bought for me, so I could have a place in my room for all my own books. It was terribly important to me at the time. We went together and picked it out. He sanded it down and painted it antique white, then outlined the delicate curves cut out around the top with gold so it would match my French Provincial bedroom set.
When I got old enough to read what my parents were reading, all sorts of worlds opened up. My father liked art, opera, photography, old cars and guns. My mom liked more popular fiction, and loved her mysteries – Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardener, Agatha Christie. By the time I was in the fourth grade, I knew the difference between Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot and could tell an Austin Healey Sprite from an M.G. No small feat for a ten-year-old.
I also started writing when I was about ten. We had a Royal typewriter, and I’d plunk away with two fingers. My earliest influences were Walter Farley and Albert Peyson Terhune, so I wrote stories involving an adventurous young girl who did not live in a boring, middle-class suburb and did not have a bratty younger brother, but did have an ever-changing entourage of four-legged companions.
I wanted to be a writer up until I was finally getting out of college and could possibly do something about it. By then I had discovered sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, and as the real world crept in, whatever dream was left of writing The Great American Novel faded away.
Fast-forward twenty years. I was a stay-at-home mom with my second daughter, then three, and I was listening to Joan Hamburg on WOR talk radio in New York. Her guest (and I wish I could remember her name so that I could thank her) was saying that when women wanted to re-invent themselves, the easiest way to do it was to remember what you were doing when you were 10 years old. Try to make a career out of whatever you were playing, she said, because it was probably something you loved.
So I sat down and started to write. My first book taught me how to get around – in Word, in different manuscript formats, and on LiteraryAgent.com. My second book got me a terrific agent who never gave up. My third book, Better Off Without Him, gave me a hard lesson on the world of publishing in a depressed economy, and how to self-publish in 67 not-so-easy lessons.
So now I’m a writer. I’m a part-time bookseller at Barnes&Noble. I’m a full-time mom, wife, cook, gardener, walker-of-dogs…the list is endless, as many of you know. But I’m also a writer. I’m working on another book – another two books, actually. So I guess that really makes me a writer. It took me a while to think of myself that way. One of the reasons it took me so long to post an introduction here was because I had no idea what I could possibly say. Who am I, after all, to warrant a spot alongside these fine women who have been working so long and so well at their chosen craft?
As it turns out, I’m a writer. At last.