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Life Between My Pages presents Jennie Shortridge
December 01, 2009
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We are pleased to bring you BCQ's own series, Life Between My Pages!
This series will feature a selected author each month who will share with you their personal story about how they got to where they are today.
Prepare to be completely WOWED by these writers! You've read their books, fallen in love with their style, now learn about their journey.
Each month, when the newsletter shows up in your inbox, look for the featured author's name in the subject line. Some authors you will immediately recognize, some you will not. We can assure you that every single author invited to participate will tell a story you won't want to miss!
When I was a kid, reading books saved me. I loved escaping into stories, becoming other girls who had adventures and solved problems and had families that acted the way families were supposed to. I loved series especially so that I could grow up with these other families: the Happy Hollisters, the Five Little Peppers, the Little House kids. I read every book my mom brought home from garage sales, flea markets, the library. Even the ones she got for herself, whether or not I completely understood them. All I wanted to do was read. All of us were this way—me, my three sisters, and our mom. See, when Mom was reading, we knew she was okay.
Our family had a secret.
At about the age of twelve, I started to figure out that our mother was different from other moms. Eventually it would be confirmed. She suffered from a combination of mental illnesses and personality disorders that either took her away from us or had her flying into rages, or high happy frenzies, or paranoid delusions, or just plain meanness—when she’d been nice moments before. We girls knew without being told that this was a secret. We found it best to close our bedroom doors and read when things were bad. My worldview was formed and informed through the books that welcomed me with happier, saner open arms. As I became a teenager and then a young adult, I remained drawn to strong female characters and to the women who wrote them. They became my “other” mothers.
Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Berg taught me that there were others in the world who faced similar problems, and that they survived. Alice Walker taught me that many people suffer and struggle, but that the jubilant spirit always wins. Amy Tan taught me that mothers and daughters never have easy relationships, and no matter how hard you try, you may come away disappointed. All of these women, and quite a few others, taught me to value the many different kinds of people in the world, and that all of them deserve compassion if not understanding, respect unless they’re pure evil. And few in this world are pure evil. Not even my mom at her worst times.
Reading, for me, led to writing. I wanted to do what these amazing authors did. I wanted to explain the world, to create something that made sense, to escape further from my own world. In junior high I wrote my first “book” about the summer that had just passed, the drugs I’d experimented with, the risks my friends and I had reveled in. I fictionalized it, of course, changing our names. Even though it was filled with illegal and ill-advised activities for a thirteen-year-old, it earned an A+. The teacher looked at me differently after he read that story. His eyes would soften; he’d kind of nod, like, I know you’ve got a tough life, kid. It was the first time I’d spoken the truth, not kept a secret, and it had broken through.
Flash way forward now, past high school, past my mother’s self destructive demise, past a couple of long-term relationships and a dozen jobs, a good career, a couple of mortgages, and a life that became, eventually, what I had always dreamed it could be be. I’d written in a variety of contexts but only for business or fun. When I burned out on corporate America at 35 years old, I quit and went home to my quiet house and wrote. And wrote. I wrote magazine articles, book reviews, short stories—you name it. I was hungry, suddenly, to write whatever I could. I figured out how to get them published, always on a quest to learn more about the publishing world and my place in it.
I began a novel in 1995. It went into a drawer in 1997. I began another one after that, and it was better. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote until I got a yes from a publisher in 2002. I’ve never stopped. I’m working on my fifth novel now, with two chapters sitting in my “New Book” file, just waiting to turn into a story about a courageous woman who has adventures, figures stuff out, and learns how to be happy.
All the time I was reading about those girls, those women, I was learning from them. I am blessed to have benefited from their life lessons. And all the time I was reading those wonderful authors, I was learning something else. I was learning how to write, how to tell a story, even if it wasn’t always a happy one.
Jennie Shortridge is the author of four novels: Riding with the Queen, Eating Heaven, Love & Biology at the Center of the Universe, and When She Flew.
Learn more about Jennie at www.jennieshortridge.com.
We hope you have the chance to slow down, relax, and enjoy your family and friends this season.
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