Press-Republican

August 1, 2011

Never without a book

LOIS CLERMONT, Editor
Press-Republican

---- — I remember the magical feeling when, as a kid, I had saved up enough money for a new book and got to go to the back of Marie Beemer's stationery store on Brinkerhoff Street to make my selection.

In those days, I was reading the Black Stallion and Nancy Drew series, and I can still picture standing in that little cubby trying to decide which book to buy.

In have always loved to read. In school, I actually enjoyed "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," Shakespeare and other classics we had to read for English class.

In my college years, I read everything by Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, Herman Hesse, Charles Dickens, Tennessee Williams and others. I thought "Wuthering Heights" was the best love story I ever read — still do.

Now, in my reading, I mix classics with biographies and modern novels (among my favorite books in recent years are "The Kite Runner" and "The Secret Life of Bees.")

Besides an occasional Agatha Christie, though, I rarely read mysteries. But I became interested in one recently when I attended the Friends of Plattsburgh Public Library annual luncheon and heard the guest speaker, Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Although she lives in Maine, the author — whose latest book made the New York Times list — has a big connection to Plattsburgh. Her parents met here.

Her father was a B-47 pilot/navigator from Alabama who was stationed at Plattsburgh Air Force Base when he met her mother, a Plattsburgh State student named Lois — I always take note of that name as I meet so few.

They married before Lois entered her senior year at Plattsburgh State, and their daughter was born in Argyle, Washington County, six days after her mother's graduation.

Sadly, the author's father died in the 1962 crash of a B-47 on Mount  Wright in the Adirondacks.

Spencer-Fleming said that growing up in this area made a "deep impact" on her. Her mystery series is set in an imaginary Adirondack community called Miller's Kill but has many references to real regional places and institutions: the Northway, Plattsburgh, SUNY Albany, Saratoga, the Glens Falls Hospital, the Glens Falls Post Star and more. It's interesting to read a book where you have that much name recognition.

Besides the rarely used setting, the book has an unusual protagonist: a female Episcopalian priest, who interacts with the local sheriff.

"I grew up as a reader, and I grew up hearing stories, but I never imagined I could be a writer," Spencer-Fleming told people at the Plattsburgh luncheon.

But with encouragement from her mother, she gave it a try, submitting first a science-fiction manuscript, then switching to mystery writing.

"Writing really fed me in a way I had not been fed before," she said.

Apparently, the feeding paid off. Her first book, "In The Bleak Midwinter," won the Agatha Award, the Malice Domestic Award, the Anthony Award, the Dilys Award, The Barry Award and the Macavity Award, prompting her publisher to proclaim: "No other author has ever won all six awards for their first novel!"

If you like to read — and summer usually includes some extra time for that — you may be interested to check out this book. I breezed through it in a few days and definitely want to read the followup book.

But right now, I'm hooked on "The Hunger Games" series. There's always a stack of books to read.