It’s National Library Week.
My first recollections of a library were of that glorious smell of old books from the branch at the school in my hometown. I long for that aroma of vanilla and mustiness all rolled into one. I remember curling up on a metal staircase in the library, finding a perch by a window and taking in my primers.
I learned to ride a bike at an early age, the incentive being the bookmobile that magically arrived a mile up the road from our home in the country. I’d hop on my little banana seat bike, basket laden with the previous week’s selection of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, past the pump house that provided the water to irrigate the surrounding corn fields, and onto the road that dead-ended into what was my grandparents’ farm.
There I’d find the library on wheels, waiting patiently for me.
I’d stand up my tippy-toes, reaching high up on to the shelves for a new Bobbsey Twins adventure, or to see if Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were available to read. Again.
My high school library fed my fascination with all things Edgar Allan Poe and helped me embrace Shakespeare. On to college, and the quiet spaces got me through exams and research papers.
Then my love affair took a break, as I entered the workplace. Not much time to read, as I made my mark in sales and management.
I got married and had three children faster than you could turn a page.
And the library took a whole new role in my life.
In its collections and story time programs at first, and then, in a way I never would have imagined.
When our ten-year old daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly, the library provided sanctuary.
First within the endless bereavement books I read, trying to find answers where there were none, and then as the site of the children’s book festival we established in Claire’s name.
These days I’ve been blessed to be in sections of libraries that many people never have reason to visit. Places that require special permission to enter and have names like Archives and Manuscripts Division and Rare Books Room.
These places, with their old book smell, take me back to that metal staircase, getting lost in letters and hoping to learn to string them together to form a word, a sentence. And they take me forward to places that allow me to create story.
For libraries have seen me grow from that little girl learning to read, to a woman honoring her daughter gone too soon, to the writer creating books now found on their shelves.
So thank you dear libraries, and all the incredible librarians and staff who have fed my passion, supported my mission, and helped with my writer’s journey.
I think we should celebrate you EVERY week.
I found a writing challenge while scrolling through Facebook as I enjoyed my coffee this morning.
“50 Precious Words” is the theme.
The contest is inspired by Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, which has over 700 words, but only 50 unique words.
So, children’s book author Vivian Kirkfield is encouraging us to put our thinking caps on and to keep the ink limited.
Even though my poem has 50 words in it (for those who know me both as writer and friend know that I would push it to the limit), it has a lot of back story.
It’s a reflection of my awareness that as I’ve segued into my role as Claire’s Day Founder versus Claire’s Day organizer, it’s time to keep working on my dream.
It is my goal to write something significant every day. It might be 50 words, or 1000, but I’m writing every day.
And, that at some point, should I be blessed with grandchildren, that I will have many books that “Nana” has written to share with them.
It is my hope to complete a manuscript a year, in the hopes that I’m published once a year.
Lofty? Perhaps. Impossible, absolutely not.
As the Queen in Alice in Wonderland so famously offered, “Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
In my case, fifty words before breakfast.
Enjoy my entry!
by Julie K. Rubini
We cuddle together, book opened wide.
It’s my favorite, because of what is inside.
A beautiful queen.
and everything in-between.
But, the best part is at the end,
on the book flap,
where there is a picture
of Nana, with me,
sitting in her lap.
I had so much fun today talking about all things Millie on Iowa Public Radio. Check it out!
Don’t you love reading a book that leaves you hanging at the end of a chapter? You can’t help but read on to the next chapter, and before you know it, you’ve read the entire book. Mystery writers are famous for finishing with cliffhangers.
While writing my biography of Millie Benson, I learned that another term for this practice was called a “holding point.” This is a more accurate reflection of my memories of nearly holding my breath in anticipation of whatever was going to happen next in the Nancy Drew Mystery Story I was reading at the time.
Recently I met an up-and-coming mystery writer at one of my book signings. Her name is Abby, and she is pictured here with her sister Madeline. Abby shared that the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories were her favorite books. She was thrilled to be buying my biography of the original ghostwriter of the series, and getting it personally signed. Abby, if you’re reading this, I was just as thrilled.
Abby sent me a note after our meeting, asking permission to use the character names of Nancy Drew and Ned Nickerson in a new mystery series she was creating. It almost broke my heart to tell her that I did not have the right to do so. Just as my book reflects all the massive permissions I had to obtain for images and text, so too would she. Simon & Schuster holds the keys to the Nancy Drew kingdom.
That was okay, Abby responded. She had a different character’s name in mind anyways.
I love that.
Life is full of holding points. We don’t know where it will take us, but we can’t wait to find out. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out the way we hoped for. But that’s okay. We come up with a new ending to our chapters. We hold our breath, turn the page, and carry on.
Thanks Abby for the inspiration.
“At my very core I’m just a Mom who wanted to lead by example and show my two children what it means to live, to truly live…”
What you didn’t see of this interview on WTVG for the incredible and humbling honor of receiving a YWCA Milestones award was what I said prior.
When asked what it meant to me to be recognized in the Education category, I replied that I was very humbled.
For although I’m not by title an educator (and have the utmost respect for those who are, including my daughter Kyle!), I feel as though I’ve been able to teach others through all that I am blessed to do. In my role as Claire’s Day Founder, Maumee City Councilwoman, and children’s book author, I’ve been able to share my wisdom.
The wisdom that came from reading books by bereaved parents, by listening to my peers on Council, becoming involved in the world of children’s literature, and learning what it takes to get published.
Most of all, the lessons I learned from all of you along the way.
Thank you for your guidance, your knowledge, your support.
You’ve helped me truly live.
I’ve said in the past that I’ve never suffered from writer’s block. Seriously.
For me, it’s more a case of blocking the time to write.
You know what they say though. Never say never.
I’ve found myself the last few weeks luxuriating in the presence of my two children being home on break. They’ve offered a great excuse not to sit at my computer and work on my manuscript.
Reality sunk in this morning when I realized my deadline is just over a month. And I’ve got four more chapters to write. Yikes.
Yet, what did I do today? I began a project that is long overdue. I started to make progress toward moving my home office into a bigger room.
Yep, the “little room where big things happen” (according to a fourth grader during a school visit), is just about to get bigger. Way bigger.
I write, plot, dream and chair dance in what was a sewing closet when we moved in 22 years ago. It measures 9’ x 6. My new creative space is 12 x 13, or so.
It was the guest room, and before that, Claire’s room for just six months before she left us.
It is my hope that this larger room with its purple energy and spirit will lend itself to even bigger things happening.
Even better yet, I’ll not be restricted to dancing in my chair.
Get ready room, here I come.
If I were a singer, I’d love to have these ladies as my backup crew.
But I’m not.
However, as a children’s book author, I couldn’t come up with a better group to have my back than children’s librarians.
And these ladies are no exception.
I had the opportunity to meet with Mary Lou, Rhonda and Diana last week prior to my presentation at their Brook Park Library.
Over excellent Italian food from a local restaurant, we talked about our shared experiences as book lovers.
We spoke of early childhood memories of riding bikes to the bookmobile, and hoping, with all fingers crossed, that another Nancy Drew Mystery Story was on the shelves.
We chatted about our experiences of sharing our love for reading with our children, and our similar rules for library visits. Each child was allowed to borrow as many books as they could carry.
We talked about what books sat on our night stands, and which ones we couldn’t put down.
These ladies then took these connecting points and shared them with the room packed with Nancy Drew and Millie Benson fans waiting to hear my lecture.
The librarians brought me to tears with their kind words. And made me laugh with their flashlight and magnifying glass props.
For the next hour I shared all that I had discovered about Millie.
The audience ranged from middle school girls and boys, to older fans. One woman had driven 100 miles to hear my presentation, two others were always at the library and just curious.
I had a blast, and based on the applause, enthusiastic response and book sales after, I think the audience did too.
I left the library feeling like I had connected with readers of all ages. I had touched their lives, just as they had touched mine.
I sang all the way home.
And thought about my backup crew.
“Read, read, read. That’s all I can say.”
Nancy Drew offered this incredible advice in the first Nancy Drew Mystery Story, written by Carolyn Keene.
I wished I’d written that. I’m sure that for years the real Carolyn Keene, Mildred “Millie” Augustine Wirt Benson, wished readers knew that she had.
The Secret of the Old Clock was not only the first Nancy Drew Mystery, it was the first Millie wrote for Edward Stratemeyer.
Millie was the original Carolyn Keene.
And Edward was the genius behind such series as The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, and yes, Nancy Drew.
Edward created the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which served as a “book packager”, a connection between ghostwriters he would hire and publishers.
Millie wrote 23 of the first 30 of the Nancy Drew Mystery Series. And then she went on to write a total of 135 books for children, often up to 13 books a year. And, while she was doing so, she was tending to her bed-ridden husband and her young daughter.
Then Millie became a reporter, working for the Toledo Times and The (Toledo) Blade for a combined 58 years.
As if that wasn’t enough, Millie obtained her private pilot’s license at the age of 62. She didn’t stop there. She applied for NASA’s Journalist in Space Program when she was in her eighties.
Millie once stated that a character she created, Penny Parker, was more Nancy Drew than Nancy Drew was.
I might suggest Millie Benson was more Nancy Drew than either of the fictional characters.
It was a fascinating journey researching and writing Millie’s biography.
Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist is available now at your favorite bookstore.
In the immortal words of Millie, “Read, read, read. That’s all I can say.”