©2019 Norma Libman Website design and maintenance by gwpriester.com
The Story of the Story - What I Wrote and Why (Excerpt) By Norma Libman INTRODUCTION I wasn’t supposed to be a writer. And yet. I grew up in a home in Chicago that was filled with books. Bookcases lined the walls of our living room and dining room and bedrooms. At one point my parents bought three or four new bookcases and put them down the middle of the living room and called it a room divider. They were quite pleased with their dual-purpose wall and didn’t mind that one already small room was now two even smaller rooms. Later they built an addition to the house, a room that was to serve as an office for my father, and shifted the bookcase room dividers into the new room and we had our old living room back. Books were revered. Reading was encouraged and lauded. No subject was off-limits. We could read anything, though my father did frown on comic books. Still, he didn’t forbid them, just let us know we could do better. And I did read everything I could get my hands on. During summers I would ride my bike to the library every two weeks. The bicycle had a basket in front of the handlebars that would comfortably hold fourteen books, all from the juvenile section. That was the limit a child could borrow, and the maximum time allowed for keeping the books was two weeks. It worked out perfectly; I read a book a day, all summer long. This was when I was approximately between the ages of eight and twelve, in the early 1950’s. I never attended summer camp – it was never even discussed as an option as my parents likely could not have afforded it in those days – so I had plenty of time. And of course I was one of those kids who read with a flashlight under the covers in bed at night, so that opened up another whole block of reading time for me. But who were the writers of all these books in my house – mostly histories, especially about World War II and the Holocaust, and all the current novels as they appeared on the best-seller lists – that my parents kept purchasing and trying to “find room for”? They certainly weren’t people we knew personally. With one exception. My mother sort of knew Saul Bellow and he was one of the most important writers of the day, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, no less. She had gone to school with him. They were two years apart and weren’t friends but she knew who he was. He was weird, she said. I never knew exactly what she meant by that and it was hardly a professional opinion. But did she, and maybe my father as well, form their view of writers based on that slim thread of experience? The general feeling was that writing was not a “normal” profession. It was not what “regular” people did to earn a living. Of my brother Alan, who was to become the editor of a professional journal, my parents said he was “doing his own thing” when asked what his occupation was. I think they just didn’t have the vocabulary to describe a career that was even remotely literary. They saw themselves as regular, middle-class people, striving to raise normal children. So there was a love of books. And, ironically, a sort of disdain for the people who wrote them. Despite this mixed message, I wrote my first “book” at age eight. Probably more like a longish short story, it was a mystery in the style of Nancy Drew, the girl detective that all my friends and I were reading. (The boys, of course, were reading The Hardy Boys series.) That was all I knew of mysteries at the time and I invented a teenage girl protagonist – I can no longer remember her name – who solved a problem I also can’t remember. I drew a map of the town to help me plot the story. As best as I recall, if a stranger had picked up the manuscript and read it she would have judged it to have been written by an eight-year-old. I was no prodigy. But I wanted to be a writer, even though I didn’t think it was an actual job someone could aspire to or study for. TOP OF PAGE
©2019 Norma Libman Website design and maintenance gwpriester.com
The Story of the Story - What I Wrote and Why (Excerpt) By Norma Libman INTRODUCTION I wasn’t supposed to be a writer. And yet. I grew up in a home in Chicago that was filled with books. Bookcases lined the walls of our living room and dining room and bedrooms. At one point my parents bought three or four new bookcases and put them down the middle of the living room and called it a room divider. They were quite pleased with their dual-purpose wall and didn’t mind that one already small room was now two even smaller rooms. Later they built an addition to the house, a room that was to serve as an office for my father, and shifted the bookcase room dividers into the new room and we had our old living room back. Books were revered. Reading was encouraged and lauded. No subject was off- limits. We could read anything, though my father did frown on comic books. Still, he didn’t forbid them, just let us know we could do better. And I did read everything I could get my hands on. During summers I would ride my bike to the library every two weeks. The bicycle had a basket in front of the handlebars that would comfortably hold fourteen books, all from the juvenile section. That was the limit a child could borrow, and the maximum time allowed for keeping the books was two weeks. It worked out perfectly; I read a book a day, all summer long. This was when I was approximately between the ages of eight and twelve, in the early 1950’s. I never attended summer camp – it was never even discussed as an option as my parents likely could not have afforded it in those days – so I had plenty of time. And of course I was one of those kids who read with a flashlight under the covers in bed at night, so that opened up another whole block of reading time for me. But who were the writers of all these books in my house – mostly histories, especially about World War II and the Holocaust, and all the current novels as they appeared on the best-seller lists – that my parents kept purchasing and trying to “find room for”? They certainly weren’t people we knew personally. With one exception. My mother sort of knew Saul Bellow and he was one of the most important writers of the day, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, no less. She had gone to school with him. They were two years apart and weren’t friends but she knew who he was. He was weird, she said. I never knew exactly what she meant by that and it was hardly a professional opinion. But did she, and maybe my father as well, form their view of writers based on that slim thread of experience? The general feeling was that writing was not a “normal” profession. It was not what “regular” people did to earn a living. Of my brother Alan, who was to become the editor of a professional journal, my parents said he was “doing his own thing” when asked what his occupation was. I think they just didn’t have the vocabulary to describe a career that was even remotely literary. They saw themselves as regular, middle-class people, striving to raise normal children. So there was a love of books. And, ironically, a sort of disdain for the people who wrote them. Despite this mixed message, I wrote my first “book” at age eight. Probably more like a longish short story, it was a mystery in the style of Nancy Drew, the girl detective that all my friends and I were reading. (The boys, of course, were reading The Hardy Boys series.) That was all I knew of mysteries at the time and I invented a teenage girl protagonist – I can no longer remember her name – who solved a problem I also can’t remember. I drew a map of the town to help me plot the story. As best as I recall, if a stranger had picked up the manuscript and read it she would have judged it to have been written by an eight-year-old. I was no prodigy. But I wanted to be a writer, even though I didn’t think it was an actual job someone could aspire to or study for. TOP OF PAGE