Money Can’t Buy Happiness

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 1 Comment

A few months ago, a little Maltese dog named Trouble died in Sarasota, Florida.  Normally, such an event would not be cause for international news, except in this case, that dog had inherited more than $12 million dollars from its former owner, Leona Helmsley.

Worth around $8 billion when she died, Leona Helmsley had few friends and little interest in her family.  Dubbed the “Queen of Mean” for stiffing her employees, suing her family members, and ferocious temper, it is fairly obvious her wealth did not bring her happiness.  She cut two of her grandchildren out of her will because they failed to name their children after her dead husband.  The bulk of her $8 billion dollar estate was bequeathed to various charities to care for dogs.  She stipulated $12 million be designated to care for her own dog, Trouble.

Although the court later overturned many aspects of the will, Trouble lived in the lap of luxury until she died.  What sort of woman leaves $12 million to a dog and excludes most of her family?  I don’t know that Leona Helmsley’s eccentricities are any more profound because of her money….but that money certainly gave her a tool with which to bludgeon her family. 

 The writer in me wonders if her life would have been happier without the 8 billion dollars.

What is the Attraction of Paranormal Romance?

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance Leave a Comment

When the vampire craze first happened, I kept clear of it for about ten years.  Although I happily devour almost all forms of genre literature, something about those ridiculous covers and over-the-top titles turned me off.  A book called Dark Lover?  Or True Blood.  Really?

Eventually I decided to dip my toe in the water simply because I didn’t think I could be a professional within the romance industry and remain ignorant of a genre that was burning up the bestseller lists.  So I started with Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever

Oh my.  After reading Darkfever, I get it.  I got it so much I spent about a year devouring a ton of paranormals, from vampire to shape shifters, werewolves to time travelers.  They were wildly different in setting, tone, and sophistication, but one thing was almost constant.  The hero was always smoking hot.

He was dark, rugged, and masterful.  These guys represent unbridled emotion, packaged in a dangerous, powerful man whose confidence leaps off the page.    More often than not, the heroes of these novels have an inexplicable weakness for the heroine, which is another bonus.  Even when the hero’s fascination with the heroine seeps over into stalkerish territory (and I’m talking about you, Edward Cullen) there is something terribly appealing about bringing a powerful man to his knees.  Having the local kid at the 7-11 worship you?  Meh.  Having the stormy, powerful vampire willing to die for you?  Yes, please.

With the exception of urban fantasy, most of these paranormals feature a dominant hero paired with a fairly innocent, naive heroine.  These women are inevitably overwhelmed by their other-worldly heroes, who barge forward and take what they want without saying ‘please.’  The reader forgives him because it is a fantasy.  The rules are simply different for these guys.  By his very nature, the paranormal hero is untamed.  Wild.  He is force of nature that has no respect for rules or politically correct etiquette. 

Although some readers are repulsed by these ultimate Bad Boys, most are willing to suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride.  We are willing to accept behavior from a paranormal hero we would never tolerate in a novel that aims to be more true to life. 

What does this say about us as women?  I suppose I should feel guilty for my occasional foray into the paranormal world, but nope…. I don’t.  I am a big fan of suspending disbelief for a few hours.  

Wings of a Dream by Anne Mateer

Elizabeth Camden Recommended Reading 1 Comment

I am excited to talk about a new book by another Bethany House debut author, the lovely Anne Mateer.  Wings of a Dream is a wonderfully evocative novel about life on the home front during World War I.  Our heroine, Rebekah, is a young woman who longs to escape the vast loneliness of life on the rural Oklahoma prairie.  Instead, fate takes her to another isolated farm in Texas, where the Spanish Influenza epidemic is in full force.  Rebekah is the only person left to look after four children whose caretakers have all died, and whose father is fighting in France.   

Rebekah quickly attracts the attention of a number of lonely bachelors in town, but what about the children’s father, with whom she begins a correspondence while awaiting his return from the war?  The reader is never quite certain which suitor will win Rebekah’s hand until well into the novel.

I truly enjoyed this book, as the author captured the sense of loneliness and isolation Rebekah feels as the only adult on a remote farm.  At the same time, we see the sense of the community that had been established by the far-flung members of this rural Texas area.  In a time when so many of the men were called to serve abroad and other people had been clobbered by a life-threatening epidemic, a network of neighbors, including the postman, the pastor, the sheriff, and others band together to help look out for one another.  Nevertheless, on most days Rebekah is terribly alone on the farm with four young children to look after at the same time she needs to keep the farm running, get dinner on the table, and try to help her new neighbors as they battle sickness and despair. 

The author managed to pull off quite an accomplishment with this book.  She included aspects of high drama (people dropping like flies due to the war and flu) combined with the stark, homespun loneliness of an isolated existence created a unique feel to this novel that I highly recommend.  I can’t wait for Anne Mateer’s next book!

You can read Anne Mateer’s blog here.

Is That Old Book Priceless?

Elizabeth Camden The Book World Leave a Comment

The Antiques Roadshow was the first of many programs which convinced people they had hidden treasures buries in their attic.  In my day-job as I librarian, I regularly receive calls from people asking how much their old books are worth.  They often assume that age alone is enough to make an item valuable, but sadly, this is rarely the case. 

I distinctly remember a discussion I had with an elderly man who had a copy of his mother’s Complete Works of Shakespeare, dating from 1890.  After doing a bit of research, I was able to inform him that it would sell for around $4.  He was stunned, dismayed, and asked to see my supervisor…. who confirmed my findings.   Shakespeare is one of the most heavily printed authors in history, so his works are almost never considered “rare,” simply because the market has always been flooded with them.   

So how can you determine if your old book is a treasure?  Let’s take another highly printed author, Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame.  Most of these books will sell for under $10 at a second hand bookstore, but if you have a mint condition, first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) you shouldn’t part with it for less than $110,000.  

Now, let’s cut to the chase.  There is a great website called Bookfinder where you can enter a title to see how much it is currently selling for at various used and antiquarian markets. I love this site because it is so easy to use, and patrons no longer question my intelligence when I tell them their old book is not worth much.   

It is strange what can drive a book to become collectible.  Age, condition, importance of the title, and rarity are all important.   Many books, such as one of my favorite romances (Laura London’s The Windflower) have become collectible.  I paid $3.50 for The Windflower back in 1983, but BookFinder reports it is selling for around $40 in used bookstores. (FYI: The Windflower is a mainstream romance title.  Although tame by bodice ripper standards, it would not meet criteria for folks interested primarily in inspirational fiction.)  

If you think you have a treasure sitting on your bookshelves, give BookFinder a whirl.

What Inspires You?

Elizabeth Camden What Inspires You? 1 Comment

I have been helping my parents move, and we were going through boxes of old pictures.  Here is one that really captured my imagination: 


In the center are my great-grandparents, surrounded by their nine children.  They had a pretty difficult life.  Both were immigrants from Germany to America in the late 19th century, and never really learned to speak English very well.  They were poor.  Hand-to-mouth, where-are-we-going-to-get-rent-money poor.  And yet, most of their children did quite well in America.  I think there is a real pattern among second generation immigrants.  They are the children of daring, ambitious risk-takers who took on great sacrifices to forge a new life in America.  Perhaps it is no surprise that the children of such people are driven to succeed. 

My grandfather is in the back row, second from the right in the three-piece suit.  He had an amazing life story.  Forced to drop out of school around the 4th grade in order to help support the family, he never had many advantages in life other than being blessed with drive, determination, and a massive dose of raw intelligence.  He worked as an errand boy and typist at a bank and was listening and absorbing what he learned.  During World War I, he used that intelligence to get placed in a plumb position as the secretary to a General.  After the war he gradually climbed the corporate ladder at the bank.  When he retired in the 1960’s, he had risen to sit the Board of Directors for a Fortune 100 company.  

My other great-aunts and uncles all had fascinating stories that I enjoyed hearing from my parents.  As a writer, my mind was whirling with ideas for books.  My great-uncle John (standing behind the priest, Father Ed) served in World War I, was gassed, and had to spend considerable time convalescing.  By the time he was healthy enough to come home, his fiancé had married someone else.  He never really got over it, and never married.  I am so grateful I spent that afternoon going through old pictures when I still had an opportunity to hear stories about these people, most of whom I remember only as very, very old people at family reunions. 

If your parents are still alive, I urge you to go dig out some old family photographs and start asking questions.  You’ll never regret it.


Romantic Movies

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance Leave a Comment

I admit to being very persnickety about movies.  Frankly, I don’t like most of them.  I tend to prefer novels, which allow for much greater introspection than can be portrayed in a typical movie, especially movies that are targeting a mainstream audience.  I find when romance novels are made into film, they are pretty bad.  All that introspection just doesn’t translate well. 

That being said, I’m going to list my favorite romantic movies. Then I’m going to risk public ridicule by listing popular romantic movies others love, but I don’t.


Favorite romantic movies:

Dead Again.  I blogged about this movie here, and have gotten a little guff about it. But hey, I love romances where people sacrifice for each other and have a dash of turbulence along the way. 

Love Actually.  How can’t you adore a movie that’s got Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, and Colin Firth?  This movie explores all aspects of love: familial, platonic, unrequited, romantic, and physical.  Simply wonderful. 

Cinema Paradiso.  I feel a little bad about recommending this one, because although the movie is better than average, I am only recommending it because of the last five minutes.  And yes, you have to sit through two hours to get to that staggering final scene, but do those five minutes pack a wallop!

Romantic Movies Other People Love, but I Don’t:
Love Story
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Sleepless in Seattle
Officer and a Gentleman

The Joy of a Good Memoir

Elizabeth Camden The Book World, Writing Life Leave a Comment

I love a good memoir.  I find them so much more interesting than biographies, which are often written by an academic in a dry, dusty tone.  Biographies are usually more concerned with getting all the details right, whereas memoirs tend to give you insight into what it was like to be a different person.  People are notorious for shading their own life story, but memoirs provide fascinating insight into what makes people tick.

An example:  I read an old memoir written by Princess Ileana of Romania (pictured at the left).  She lived a life of immense privilege during the twilight years of European royalty, but also one of great turmoil.  As a young girl she lived through World War I, then as a married woman she endured World War II.  Romania had an uneasy alliance with Hitler, a man known to despise royalty, so she was in a precarious position for more than a decade.  During the war Princess Ileana turned her castle into a hospital and did her best to treat wounded soldiers, but it was a dangerous time to be a princess.  Romania fell to the communists shortly after the war, and although she tried to reach some sort of compromise with the country’s new leaders, she ultimately fled Romania with her children and built a new life for herself in Newton, Massachusetts.  Her marriage had been a political alliance and did not survive her emigration.  Princess Ileana ultimately decided to take holy vows, and lived the rest of her days as an abbess in a Pennsylvania convent.

Well!  Quite the story there!  She wrote her memoir, I Live Again, in 1952.  Frankly, the princess could have used a good editor.  The book is a long-winded slog and almost unreadable by contemporary standards, but the memoir is loaded with fascinating insight about what her life was like.  She writes about what it is like to live in a castle (drafty and uncomfortable) how to make friends with communists (watch out for the charming ones) and what to do when your brother is a king but also a national embarrassment (help his son stage a takeover.)

Naturally, Ileana lead an immensely controversial life.  Literary critics would classify her as an “unreliable narrator.”  Her husband flew for the Luftwaffe and she spent a number of years trying to forge shifting alliances with both the Nazis and the Communists.  She paints herself in a highly sympathetic light, and from this side of the Atlantic it is almost impossible to peer through past the walls of her castle to know what was really going on all those years. 

So why am I rambling on and on about a memoir?  As a writer, it is through devouring memoirs that I glean insight into what it is like to be somebody else.  Perhaps because I write about the late 19th century, I prefer memoirs written during that era.  I also enjoy contemporary memoirs, but they tend to dwell on psychological issues more than those of earlier days.  Here are a few other juicy old memoirs I have recently enjoyed:

My Four Years in Germany, by James Gerard (the U.S. ambassador to Germany during WWI)

Memoirs of a Publisher, by George Putnam (a real gadfly who knew absolutely everyone in the literary world of the late 19th century)

Why not Try God, by Mary Pickford (you know who she is!)