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November 29, 2010

Susan Mallery: Books Can Be the Best of Friends

Posted by Anonymous

SusanMallery.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Susan Mallery, the bestselling author of over one hundred romances and women’s fiction novels, including her latest: THE BEST OF FRIENDS. Below, she talks about the Christmas that she always dreamed of as a child, and how --- even in the worst of times --- books can be the best of friends.

What I remember most about Christmas when I was growing up is how I wanted to be part of a really big family. I was an only child, with parents who didn't get along at the best of times. Our house --- a very middle-class ranch in the distant suburbs of Los Angeles --- was either very quiet, with no one talking, or very loud with fighting. There weren't any other children around to play with, and there was no park to escape to.

I had friends at school --- friends with brothers and sisters and complaints about never having a room to themselves, or toys that stayed pristine. But nearly three years after she first entered my life, my much-loved Barbie could have been returned to the toy store as new --- it’s difficult to mess up toys when there is only one person who plays with them. While my parents gave me games, Operation is much less fun when there is no opponent. I envied my friends with their big families, their crowded dinners and their boisterous conversations; my best friend through middle and high school was one of six, and I always thought her house was a magical place. There wasn't much money there --- no one had milk with dinner; it was too expensive. But giving up milk seemed a small price to pay for a massive tree, the homemade gifts and the laughter.

When I wasn't with my friends, I was home, reading. Because, through my wonderful books, I had more friends than I could count. As a younger child, I read the classics: I spent Christmas with Meg and Jo and Amy and Beth, and I hung out with Nancy and solved crimes. I reread A LITTLE PRINCESS so many times that I literally reduced my book to tatters. My parents gave me a second copy --- a beautifully illustrated hardcover that I still have today.

But when I was 12, I discovered a whole new world. My best friend's mother had a stash of Harlequin romances in her sewing room. These were the forbidden books --- magical stories about dark, dangerous men who lived in exciting, foreign places, and the innocent women who fell in love with them. Back then, sex occurred behind closed doors, and the only hint that anything had happened was the heroine's smile the next morning --- perfect fodder for a future romance writer.

I thought I was being so clever, sneaking out a book every time I was over and returning the one I had read five or six times already. Then, the Christmas I was 13, my friend's mother gave me a wrapped package. Inside were five Harlequin romances. Not new --- the family couldn't afford new. But these were special because they were her favorites. She never said anything, never chastised me for borrowing her books without asking. I still remember the titles of the two I loved the best: DARK STAR and PALACE OF THE POMEGRANATE. Of course, I don't have to remember --- those books are in my bookcase next to my copy of A LITTLE PRINCESS.

Today, readers send me letters telling me how my books have helped them through tough times. While I love the letters and am grateful to know I have helped in some way, I consider what I do no more than passing on that which was given to me. For those of us who grew up in less than ideal situations, books are a way out --- a wonderful place to escape.

This holiday season I will be with my family. The time will be noisy and hectic, and there will be far too many presents under the tree. We will laugh together and create wonderful memories. My lovely mother-in-law will bake cookies and pie, and I will sneak fudge for breakfast on Christmas morning. I have created the Christmas I always dreamed of, and I live it every year. But when the celebrating is over and last of the turkey is put away, I will go pull out my beloved copy of A LITTLE PRINCESS, and I will remember how knowing that Sara found her way back to her family made another young girl so very happy.

Tomorrow, author Sheila Roberts reveals the reason behind her love for holiday snow globes.