Tag Archives: fiction

Memoir Monday, March 13th, 2017

Drop that ball

Oh, I’ll just write my next blog post tomorrow. Well, maybe I’ll wait another day. Make that two more days. Actually, better just to wait until next week.

Now it’s four weeks later and boy did I drop the ball on keeping my blog momentum going. The good news is, I did not stop writing during this time. I just stopped writing my Monday posts. And most of my Wednesday posts. And Friday posts, too. Although a part of me is realizing (not for the first time) I might have been a tad too optimistic in setting myself up to have three new blog posts each week.

It was easy to let my posts lapse, mostly because I told myself no one would notice.  Except someone did notice (no, not my husband). And I’ll tell you what: hearing a friend comment that they read my blog every week and wondering why I had stopped warmed my heart so much it was like I had just drunk a homemade hot chocolate made of Not Your Sugar Mamas dark chocolate (best dark chocolate in the history of time and handmade in Martha’s Vineyard).

I stopped blog writing because I had a February 28th deadline to spruce up my second middle grade book, Top Dog of K-9 Academy. The deadline I was working towards is for the Unicorn’s Writer Conference, upcoming on Saturday, March 25th, at Reid Castle in Purchase, NY.

Unicorn Writers Use this one

Specifically, I am meeting with six different agents and editors to receive feedback on the first 40 pages of the Top Dog manuscript.

This opportunity is HUGE in the book world because I get to sit down with industry professionals for 30-minute appointments and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of my manuscript. Usually at writing conferences the agent/editor appointments are limited to 10 minutes or less and you simply “pitch” your idea; that is, you tell them the gist of your story and they say yes or no whether you should submit the manuscript for consideration.

With these pitch sessions, there’s no guarantee anything more will come from the interaction.  I’ve only been to one conference so far where I pitched to three different agents, and even though all three asked me to submit my full picture book manuscripts, that was at the end of October and I still haven’t heard anything back.

I’ve also read on several writing blogs and websites that agents consider some aspects of the pitch session to be truly awful. Which I understand. As someone who used to exhaustively critique student research papers for a living, I know what’s it like to crush someone’s dream. In my case, it was a student’s dream of getting an ”A.” In an agent’s case, it’s someone’s dream of getting published.

Given these circumstances, the agent/editor sessions need to be approached carefully.  Some of the best advice I’ve received about my upcoming conference appointments has come from someone who worked in the publishing industry for many years for various publishing houses. She told me not to have expectations about getting an offer of representation, but to instead focus on next steps for my manuscript.

Not having expectations will be difficult for me. I have an incredibly active imagination; in fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m able to write so many stories.  And who doesn’t love to fantasize about their big break?

I have, however, been working on the challenge of letting go of expectations in other aspects of my life for a few years now, so I’m feeling confident I can remain neutral going into the appointments.  As an aside, I credit this step towards enlightenment to my 21-day meditation challenges with Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey.  They have a new challenge starting on April 10th.  It’s totally free and I highly recommend it, almost as much I recommend Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolate.

Anyway, I’m also feeling confident because I have a lot of faith in my manuscript, and as I further progress along the path to publication I can actually why this story could be published.  Aside from the fact that it’s funny and well-written (not just my opinion, by the way, but my class from the Mark Twain House and the critique groups I’ve been going to are quite enthusiastic), I’ve done my market research and my story has commercial appeal.  Two of the books in Publisher’s Weekly Best Books Middle Grade, 2016, featured animal narrators, and The Secret Life of Pets earned nearly a billion dollars worldwide.  In addition, nearly half of US homes have one or more dogs.  Considering my story features the antics of a pack of dogs narrated by a scrappy mutt named Lilly, I believe there’s broad appeal for this story in a market that is currently trendy, yet not saturated.

I think the fact that I also now approach publishing as a business and not just as a pie-in-the-sky dream to accomplish makes me a strong partner for agents and editors.  I am willing to put forth the time and effort towards branding, publicity, and marketing.

That’s why these agent and editor sessions will be so good for me.  Regardless of whether I end up with representation, my manuscript will be even stronger than when I started.  I will be in a better position to market myself.  And I will be several more steps closer to getting published.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing on my blog.  Most weeks….

Fox Through the Forest – Chapter 9

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Chapters 1-8

Chapter 9

Malcolm indeed had places to go.  But he didn’t get very far after.  He had been running for less than five minutes when he suddenly stopped.  The momentum  he’d felt after making his choice to leave Evergale Falls and his new friends behind completely clouded over the fact that he didn’t know where exactly he was going.

Malcolm knew he’d made the right decision to leave because in that instant when he realized he would have to stop to figure out a few things first, he felt disappointed he would be delayed in getting wherever it was he had to go.  But as Malcolm was quickly learning, some planning could be helpful on journeys to find wise, old owls and seeking unknown waterfalls and mountains.

Finding a nice tree to settle up against, Malcolm took stock of his situation.  Okay, he thought to himself, here’s what I know.  Nana has been known to live in an Elder tree on the western edge of the forest.  But, Milo heard she moved on to Whimzafir Mountain at the northern edge of the forest. 

As Malcolm stated the facts of his situation, he realized it wasn’t so bad at all.  There were a hundred billion places Nana Owl could be, yet he knew for certain about two of them.  Two out of a hundred billion seemed perfectly manageable…now which one should he choose?

Malcolm closed his eyes for a moment.  He thought of the mountain and waterfall from his dream.  Well, he already found a waterfall, so why not try for the mountain next?  Even if it wasn’t exactly the mountain of his dreams, the awe and beauty of Evergale Falls would stay with him for the rest of his life.  Maybe it would be even more beautiful?

With these thoughts, Malcolm hopped up and headed northward.  Although Malcolm trotted on a straight path, his mind kept wandering off.  He imagined meeting Nana Owl and what he’d say.  He also thought of what Whimzafir Moutnain would look like.  He pictured slate blue rocks jutting up from mossy green walkways.  Bright purple and pink flowers peeking out from cracks and crevices.  A brisk, cool wind snapping through the trees.

Malcolm inhaled as if he could smell the wonderful things he was imagining.  But the scent he picked up was not one of a majestic mountain.  No, it was one he was already familiar with.  Malcolm had become so lost in thought that he didn’t even notice anyone following behind him.  He turned around with wide eyes.

“Hello, there,” came the familiar voice.  “Mind if I come with you?”

To be continued….

Fox Through the Forest – Chapter 6

fox-through-the-forest

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

It was Malcolm’s waterfall!  No, not exactly like his dream for there was no mountain and it wasn’t quite as high.  But the beauty was the same, as was the colorful spread of flowers, their vibrancy muted from the darkness.  There seemed something enchanted about the waterfall, too, the way tiny tree limbs jutted out from rocks, their green leaves dancing in the moonlight.  Malcolm wondered if a spell had been cast over the waterfall eons ago the way everything shimmered in the night and what he was seeing was just a tiny hint of the magic still there.

“Malcolm!” called Ozzie, stuffing a strawberry into his mouth.  “What a pleasant surprise.  I thought you were sleeping,” and he waved a juicy-red paw in Malcolm’s direction.

Malcolm wondered for a moment if he was still asleep; surely this place could not be real.  He felt awed by its magic and it left him dazed, feeling more convinced than ever that there was some spell cast over this place.  The only hint it was real was he could almost feel the rush of water against his fur.  He took a tentative step forward, then another.  He was not going to speak until he knew whether this was real or not.

Ozzie beat him to it.  In one swift movement, the skunk scurried past Malcolm, took a flying leap, and shouted “CANNONBALL!”

Cool water splashed Malcolm all over.  The shock of it startled him, but it was enough for him to be certain this was no dream.  He shook out his fur as Ozzie bellowed in delight.

“You didn’t tell me berry night involved swimming,” said Malcom with a smile.

“You didn’t ask,” said Ozzie as he started doing the backstroke away from Malcolm.

“Where are we?”  Malcolm looked around, still feeling somewhat dazed by his surroundings.

“Evergale falls. Home to many animals, including myself, my family, and my friends.”  Ozzie stopped swimming and gestured at some of the other animals who were milling around the waterfall, eating berries and chattering away.  He then whistled and waved his hand. “Milo!  Arthur!  Come over here.  There’s someone I want you to meet.”

A porcupine and a beaver broke apart from the group.  They made their way over to Malcolm and Ozzie, who was now dripping wet, having exited the water.  “Guys,” said Ozzie, “I’d like you to meet Malcom.  He’s new to this part of the forest.”

“Hi Malcolm,” they said in unison.

Malcolm smiled in return.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

“What brings you here?” asked Arthur.

Ozzie chuckled.  “That’s old news –I already asked him that.  He said he’s on his way to see Nana Owl.”  Malcolm nodded his head in agreement.

“Oh, I met her once,” said Milo with enthusiasm.  “Now there’s a bird who really knows her stuff.”

“I knew it!” said Malcolm jumping up in the air, but Milo wasn’t done speaking.  He continued on with, “But I don’t think she’s on the western edge of the forest anymore.  My dear, new fox friend, I think you may be going the wrong way.”

To be continued….

Fox Through the Forest – Chapter 5

fox-through-the-forest

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Malcolm scampered off into the darkness, heading towards the laughter.  Normally, he would be cautious of running in the dark.  But the excitement of berry night and adventure flew with Malcolm as he leapt over logs and brush.  It was the same excitement he felt as the start of his journey for Nana Owl and the mountain and waterfall of his dreams.

As the laughter grew louder, Malcolm slowed down.  He didn’t know the etiquette for berry night and the last thing he wanted to do was intrude on someone else’s good time.  Still, Ozzie had invited him.  That should count for something.

The trees were beginning to thin as Malcolm made his way closer.  Moonlight now danced off the forest floor and overhead Malcolm could see stars twinkling in a deep blue sky.  He hadn’t realized in his haste to find Ozzie he was nearing the southern edge of the forest.

For a moment, Malcolm hesitated.  He had never been to this part of the forest before.  What would happen when he broke through the final line of trees?  What would he see?  Would he be safe?

The freedom and excitement of his nighttime run slowly waned as he realized the uncertainty of the unknown.  Yet, he was a fox of uncertainty, wasn’t he?  Hadn’t he proven that to himself when he started on this journey in the first place?  What would be the purpose now in being afraid?  Just because it was dark and he had never been here before?

Malcolm laughed at himself.  Had it been the daytime, these thoughts probably wouldn’t have even occurred to him.  It’s the same forest it’s always been, thought Malcolm.  The dark doesn’t change that.  Still, it might be prudent to get a better sense of the area.  Malcolm opened his senses to the world around him.

He heard new sounds, intermingled with the laughter from what he assumed was berry night.  There had to be more than just Ozzie there.  He could hear water running over stones, which reminded him of home.  But there was also a more forceful sound to the water.  A rushing, almost, as if the water was in a hurry to get somewhere.

A breeze ruffled Malcolm’s fur and he scented the air.  Yes, he could smell water, cool and crisp.  There was also the distinct musk of a skunk, though Malcolm could not tell for certain if it was Ozzie or not.  With another whiff, Malcolm confirmed there was not one skunk, but several.  Just as he was about to turn his nose back to the ground, a delicate sweetness enveloped him.  He inhaled deeply and let the scents carry him away.

Strawberry was the only sweet scent he could identify.  There was something else, too.  Not just one something else, but several, as their fruity bouquet swirled together into a mouth-watering aroma.  It made him want to sprint through the trees and dive head first into the berry bushes.

Malcolm could not see what was the out there past the tree line.  He imagined Ozzie and other skunks, soon to be his new friends, he hoped.  He pictured a creek, running over gray, brown, gold, and green stones.  He pictured bushes and bushes of berries, lined up for all to eat.

His mouth watered.  Malcolm’s feet began to move, as if he could not stop himself even if he wanted to.  He was running again, only this time it was a very short distance.  He burst through the trees and over a small hill.  Then he stopped, amazed at what he saw.

To be continued….

Fox Through the Forest – Chapter 4

fox-through-the-forest

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Now that Malcolm had decided his immediate course of action, he had some planning to do.  So Malcolm took a deep breath to steady himself and decided to ask his new friend for some advice.  “Do you know where I could sleep tonight?” he asked Ozzie.

“Sure,” Ozzie exclaimed.  “Use my napping tree.  It’s just about time for me to go out and about anyway.  I’m meeting up with some of my other friends.  It’s berry night tonight so we’re going to stock up.  I don’t suppose you would like to join us?”

Oh my goodness, thought Malcolm.  Berry night sounded very interesting, but he knew that if he went out with Ozzie and his friends he might become even more delayed in getting to Nana Owl’s.  So he made the decision that he thought would get him to where he really wanted to go and so he told Ozzie, “Thank you, I really appreciate your offer, but I need to get a good night’s sleep tonight so I can head out first thing tomorrow morning.”

“No worries,” Ozzie told him.  “Another time.  But we’ll have plenty of berries to spare.  Do you want me to leave you some?”

“That would be great,” said Malcolm.

“Of course,” said Ozzie like it really was nothing at all.  “Well, I’ll see you later,” and as Malcolm waved goodbye, Ozzie ran off into the twilight.

Wow, thought Malcolm as he headed towards his new bed for the night, Ozzie sure is nice.  At that moment Malcolm felt so glad he had gotten to know Ozzie for who he was instead of assuming the worst of him just because he was a skunk.

As he burrowed down into the log, Malcolm couldn’t believe the wonderful day he had.  He thought back over it and he felt like he was one lucky fox.  “Thank you, Carl,” Malcolm whispered into the night.  “And thank you, Jersey, and thank you Ozzie, too.”  Malcolm closed his eyes, but for some reason he kept thinking about Ozzie and berry night.  He wondered if they were having tons of fun.

Malcolm tried flopping over to get comfortable, but it didn’t help.  No matter what position he lay in or how he curled himself up, visions of Ozzie and berry night danced before his eyes.  Oh, this is ridiculous, Malcolm told himself.  I said no to berry night to get a good night’s sleep and now here I am not sleeping. 

With a sense of defeat and annoyance, Malcolm finally opened his eyes.  Ozzie’s napping tree which had but a few moments ago seemed so comfortable and cozy to Malcolm, now seemed cramped and rough.  He didn’t think he could stay in there one moment longer.  He popped out into the darkness and looked around.

Darkness loomed in every part of the forest, but for nighttime it was surprisingly noisy.  Malcolm could hear bugs rustling and tiny critters scurrying around.  Every so often the leaves would ruffle in the wind.  Then he heard a sound he wasn’t expecting, or at least he thought he did.

Malcolm jumped up on Ozzie’s napping tree and strained his ears.  He heard it again. Yes, it was exactly what he thought it was — laughter.  Malcolm decided not to wait another minute and he tore off in the direction the laughter was coming from.

To be continued….

Fox Through the Forest – Chapter 3

fox-through-the-forest

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

As Malcolm made his way through the forest, he had such a big smile on his face.  He was feeling good again.  Actually, he was feeling better than good and just because he felt like it he started singing a little song to himself.

Goin’ through the forest

See what I can find

So far found a squirrel

She was mighty kind

Nana Owl here I come

Help me find my way

Lookin’ for my mountain

What’s she gonna say?

As Malcolm continued on his way, he felt almost as if the rocks and the leaves and the trees were singing along with him and before he knew it Malcolm was singing at the top of his lungs, jumping around and dancing to his made-up song.

When he finished, Malcolm took a very deep bow, so low his head almost touched the ground.  All of sudden, he heard applause coming from not too far away.  Malcolm snapped his head up and saw someone watching him from inside a log.

“Oh well done, well done!”  The animal cried.  “That was quite the show.”

Malcolm, who had no idea anyone was watching him, didn’t know what to say.  So, he simply said, “Thank you,” and then added as an afterthought, “Who are you?”  Malcolm hoped it wasn’t a rude question to ask.

“My name’s Osbourne,” said the animal as he emerged from the log.  “But you can call me Ozzie.”

As Ozzie came towards him, it took all of Malcolm’s self-control to stand there and smile.  Malcolm couldn’t believe it, but Ozzie was a skunk!  He had never been so close to one before, and Malcolm half expected to be able to smell Ozzie before they were actually face to face with each other.  But to Malcolm’s surprise, Ozzie didn’t smell at all.  In fact, he smiled in such a warm and friendly way that Malcolm couldn’t help but smile back and say, “My name’s Malcolm.  It’s nice to meet you, Ozzie.”

“So what brings you to this part of the forest?” Ozzie asked Malcolm, swishing his tail back and forth.  For a moment, Malcolm felt nervous as he watched Ozzie’s tail, but then he realized that just because Ozzie was a skunk, didn’t mean that he was going to spray Malcolm.  Realizing just how silly his fears were, Malcolm answered, “I’m going to see Nana Owl.  I’m hoping she can help me find a place I’m looking for.”

“It sounds as if you are on quite the adventure,” Ozzie said.  Malcolm hadn’t thought about it like that before.  He had just wanted to find the mountain he had been dreaming of, but suddenly he became very pleased with the idea that he was an adventurer, so he told Ozzie, “Yes, I am.”

“Well you’re almost there,” Ozzie exclaimed.  “Just a few more hours to go.  Once you reach the forest’s edge, head north towards the tallest Elder tree.  That’s where I hear Nana Owl’s living these days.  You’ll know you’re going the right way when you see Sage Mountain in the distance.”

Malcolm couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  Nana Owl lived by a mountain!  That had to be a good sign and suddenly Malcolm couldn’t wait another moment.  But then he remembered being so hungry earlier in the day and he realized that not only would he have to figure out where to sleep that night, but he would eventually need more food.

Disappointment flooded through Malcolm as he realized he would have to delay getting to Nana Owl’s by one more day.  He realized, though,  that he didn’t have a choice in the matter.  First had to take care of himself because otherwise he might not get there at all.  I can wait one more day, Malcolm thought.  One more day didn’t seem like too long to wait.

To be continued….

 

Feast

feast

Sea Gull perched on the rocks.  Flecks of ocean foam sprayed him as he considered where to dive next.  Soon he was joined by several other gulls from around the bay.  Their heads bobbed along with the waves as they watched another gull swoop into the air, spiral down, and then dive into the water in one swift, sharp movement.  A second later, the gull emerged victorious as he ascended into the sky with the largest fish any of them had ever seen in his mouth.

Accolades punctuated the air as all the gulls squawked in raucous approval.  All the gulls, except one.  Sea Gull ruffled his feathers, but remained quiet.  He cast his gaze upon the gigantic fish and snapped his beak imagining what it would be like to have that much food.

Sea Gull had never caught anything so big, nor had anyone ever cheered for him.  The fish Sea Gull caught were always puny and he often spent more time hunting than he wanted to.  He found it unfair that he worked so hard for so little.  Bah, he thought.  If that other gull can catch such a big fish, there’s no reason I can’t too. 

Sea Gull took to the air and imagined the moist mounds of flesh that would soon be his, the wild praise he would receive from the other gulls, and the pride he would feel as a hunter.  He swooped and dived, swooped and dived.  But his only catch was so tiny, Sea Gull released it, embarrassed his prey so inadequate.

Sea Gull perched back on the rocks.  He watched as the other birds feasted, then took to the sky again.  The gulls who had been unsuccessful zeroed in on the fleshy remains, picking apart the bones.  Sea Gull huffed.  Just like he was not satisfied with a paltry catch, he did not want anyone’s leftovers.   Sea Gull wanted the biggest, juiciest fish he could find and when he got it, he would be the one leaving food behind.

It was time to hunt again, and Sea Gull flew into the air.  Disgusted as he heard fighting over the remaining fishy dregs, he flew further and further away until the other birds were specks in the distance.

Sea Gull redoubled his efforts as he dove into the water.  Only once did he almost catch a fish worthy of his standards.  Nearing exhaustion, he looked for rocks on which he could perch, but there were none.  Sea Gull’s only choice was to land on the beach.

The sand was thick and muddy.  Sea Gull’s tracks followed him as he looked for a good resting place.  Then he saw it.  Through the pebbles and broken shells was a clam – it was the biggest one he had ever seen.  Despite the ache that raged through his body, Sea Gull snatched up his new prey and made for the sky.

He flew through the air in jubilation.  Sea Gull could not wait to show off this find.  But as he started his descent to the rocky island where his fellow gulls perched, he swerved away and started a new ascent.

The only way to get this clam open would be to shatter it on the rocks; if he did, he would risk the other gulls scavenging his find.  Sea Gull had no choice but to fly away from everyone.  He found an isolated parking lot a few hundred feet away.

From high above, Sea Gull opened his beak.  He watched as the clam plummeted to the concrete below, the shell shattering into tiny pieces.  Sea Gull descended.  There was more meat in there than he imagined.  He gorged himself, looking around in triumph.

Only there was no one to witness his victory.  The clam, which had started off tasting rich and succulent, turned to rubber in his mouth.  Sea Gull could barely stomach to eat the rest as he realized his greatest victory would remain unknown to everyone but himself.

Sea Gull took to the sky, leaving the half-eaten clam on the beach.  As he flew back to the rocks, he heard a ruckus behind him.  There on the beach, several birds now fought over the rest of the clam.  He changed his course to return, so he could boast to the other gulls it had been he who left such a feast.  But by the time he got there, the clam had been gobbled up and the birds had flown on.  All that was left were the broken shells and Sea Gull’s empty stomach.

Garden Victory – A 6-Part Flash Fiction Series

garden-victory-6-part-series

“Hallelujah.”  Sophia repeated the last word of her father’s favorite song seven times as the music faded.  She closed her eyes on the last few, then allowed the final note to wash over her.  It did not bring her renewal or a sense of hope as it usually did and as Sophia made her way back to her seat she could not bear to look at anyone.

Tears lingered on Sophia’s face so she brushed them away with an errant hand.  She reached out for support, imagining she had someone next to her whose hand she could hold.   It was times like this Sophia second (and third and fourth) guessed her decision to end things with Colin.

Sophia had dialed Colin’s number several times that morning; yet every time she went to press call her father’s words of “never settle” ghosted through her mind.  So now she sat at her father’s funeral alone.

Oh, this is stupid, she thought to herself as she continued wiping away tears.  Sophia was not really alone, as she was surrounded by her mother, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.  Her heart beat full of love.   It just occasionally skipped a beat as there was one small piece of it missing.

Sophia had hoped Colin would fill that hole.  And he did in some ways.  Colin had many of the values important to Sophia, including honesty, determination, and intelligence.  What he did not have was a passion for the arts, particularly music, and that made Sophia feel like there was still room for someone else.  Thus, she ended their relationship.  Sophia did so with kindness and appreciation for what Colin had brought to her life because that was her father’s second life lesson – Never settle, but don’t be a jerk about it. 

Maybe it isn’t settling, Sophia thought as she watched her mother dab away her own tears with a handkerchief.  Maybe that’s just what love is – to find someone who helps fill the void.  It could be my fault.  Maybe I’m the one who made the hole too big to begin with.  Maybe it’s up to me to fill some of it on my own?

Sophia’s mother reached out and grabbed Sophia’s hand, jolting Sophia from her ruminations.  Here she was at her father’s funeral thinking about Colin.  Yes, she would call him tonight.  As she came to this decision, she felt the emptiness in her heart consume her and it felt like the moment she watched her father’s life pass from his body.

Oh, Dad! she cried from her heart and then she heard his words echo again, “Never settle.”  Sophia knew he was right and even though she craved even the smallest amount of intimate comfort, she would not call Colin.  That would do both a disservice, not to mention it would make her a jerk to reach out when she had no true intentions of rekindling their relationship.  She would honor her father that way, too.

For the rest of the day, Sophia stuck with her decision as she watched her father lowered into the ground and then celebrated his life with her loved ones over casseroles, sandwiches, and cakes.  She began to waiver as she gave her mother one more hug goodbye in the parking lot, and so she decided to pick up some work on her way home to hopefully keep her mind occupied.

Sophia’s heels echoed down the silent and dark hallway of her school as she made her way to the music room.  She felt small and lonely.  Dad, I need your help, she thought as she again considered calling Colin.

As Sophia opened the door and flipped on the light, she blinked a few times and then her eyes settled on the four beautiful sunflowers perched in a blue vase on her desk.  A card sat propped up on it and she reached out to open it.

Her eyes shined with unfallen tears as she read the contents:

Dear Miss Maxwell,

I’m so glad we found such a talented music teacher – hallelujah – I didn’t think this position would ever get filled!  Let me know if you have any questions about the school.  I was a newbie last year, so I know what it’s like and I’d be happy to show you around. 

Sincerely,

Peter Cohen (English Department)

Sophia read the card two more times.  She did not know who Peter Cohen was, but she could not help but notice the one word that tied him to her father.  In the quiet of the room, she started singing again.  It soothed that empty place in her heart and Sophia knew whatever happened, she would not settle.  She would find what she was looking for and in the meantime, she would sing.

Garden Victory Part 5

Before Peter knew it, he and Sadie had walked two blocks.  He turned around as she sniffed at a fire hydrant, trying to recount the steps they had taken that got them to their current location.  In the distance, he could hear the bells ringing from St. Michael’s steeple.  Peter sighed as the sound reminded him about the new music teacher at his school.

“Come on, Sadie, let’s keep walking.”  Peter tugged on her leash as they moved down the street, but the distance did not separate him from his thoughts of Miss Maxell.

He didn’t even know her first name.  She had started at the school last week.  Peter overheard her singing in the music room one day on his way to the teacher’s lounge.  He stopped outside the door and listened as she sang a Beatles’ medley to herself.  At first he stopped because the Beatles were his favorite band.  A few moments later he was hooked as her voice seemed to reach the very depth of his core and when she started in with Here Comes the Sun, a desire ignited in him to find a guitar and start playing along.

“But we don’t play the guitar anymore, do we, Sadie?”  Sadie ignored Peter as she was now sniffing a bench.  He let her sniff away to her heart’s content as he remembered the last time he played his guitar.  It was before his divorce three years ago.  Peter had just gotten back from an open mic night at the local pub when he found a note on the table.  Dear Peter, it began and then in a way so generic Peter wondered if she had copied the letter from the Internet, he found out his wife left him.

Since then, Peter turned into a shell of a man.  His day to day motions were simply to get him through to the next day, then week, then month, then year.  As he and Sadie ambled on, he felt a jolt inside him as he realized just how long it had been since he had even talked to another woman in that sort of way.  I don’t even know what I’d say to her, Peter argued with himself as he made the case for doing nothing.  I’d make a fool of myself. 

Or doing nothing would make you the fool came his own retort.  Peter tried to ignore this sentiment, otherwise that would mean putting himself out there and possibly getting hurt again.

“We don’t want that, do we, Sadie?” he asked to reassure himself.  Peter, expecting no response, was unprepared as Sadie pounced on something laying on the sidewalk and he felt himself tumble over.

As Peter straightened himself up, he saw Sadie struggling to get four long-stemmed sunflowers into her mouth.  Their bright yellows and reds burst through the gloom of his heart like a beacon of hope.

Peter gently pried them from Sadie’s mouth.  He dried them off with the side of his shirt and examined them.  They seemed no worse for wear and Peter looked around to see if anyone appeared to be missing them.  He stood up and held the flowers in his hand, staring down at them as an idea formed in his head.

“Good girl,” he told Sadie with a smile as they turned around to make their way home.  Peter knew exactly what he was going to do with these flowers and now he just had to find a card to write on so he could welcome Miss Maxwell to the school.

Garden Victory Part 4

Arthur watched from the back of the church as the congregation processed up the aisle.  Some of the people went back to their pews, where they belong, thought Arthur, and some of them headed for the exit.  As they walked past him, Arthur grunted, disgusted by the lack of respect these individuals had for the Body of Christ.  Damn you, he thought.  You’ll burn in hell for your sins.  Even though a large part of Arthur took comfort in this judgment, a smaller part pitied the fools.  Such a stupid price to pay, eternity in hell, just to avoid traffic.

Arthur checked his watch.  Mass had gone over long.  It was now six o’clock and they still had fifteen minutes to go.  It was the windbag priest. “Anything extra goes back to St. Michael’s,” he repeated a dozen times discussing the bishop’s annual appeal.   Finally, the priest got to “The Mass has ended.  Go in peace,” and Arthur headed for the nearest exit.

On the way out the door, Arthur made sure not to make eye contact with the woman collecting change for the parish’s refugee resettlement program.  Stupid immigrants.  He hated that St. Michael’s contributed so much money to these foreigners.  Why should a complete stranger get his money?

The woman tapped him on the arm.   “We could really use your help,” she said.

He ignored her and started walking faster.  As he headed across the street to his car, Arthur prayed the woman would leave him the hell alone.  He looked up just in time to see the look of horror on the young girl’s face as she slammed on her brakes.

“Watch where you’re going!” Arthur yelled.

“I’m sorry!”  The girl looked shaken. “Are you okay?” she asked, getting out of the car.

“No thanks to you,” he huffed.

“I was just trying to help.” Arthur didn’t say anything and started towards his car again.  The girl seemed to dither on the spot, then reached into her car and pulled out four sunflowers.  They had long stems.  “Here, take these,” she said as she shoved them into Arthur’s hands.  “To make up for almost hitting you.”  The girl seemed to think she was doing Arthur a great favor what with how she smiled getting back into her car.

Arthur threw the flowers on his front seat.  What the hell am I going to do with these, he thought as he drove away.  He hadn’t driven too far, when he noticed a flyer on his windshield.  It was asking for donations for refugees.  At a stop sign, he grabbed one of the flowers and tried to use its stem to remove the flyer.  It didn’t work, so he tossed it out the window.  He chucked the other three out after it.  There, he thought.  Maybe a refugee will find them.  He drove away leaving the flowers behind.  Arthur chuckled to himself.  Now, that’s the kind of charity I can get behind.

Garden Victory Part 3

Kayla sat in the parking lot.  Twice she opened her car door, but each time slammed it shut.  She kept looking through the restaurant window, seeing the girls clustered around a table.  They laughed and smiled, scooping up ketchup with French fries and slurping on sodas.  It was no different than the cafeteria at school.  Not one of them seemed to have a care in the world.

Kayla sighed, looking at her body.  She never knew what to feel about it, what with half the posts on her Facebook feed celebrating a big and curvy female body and the other half telling her she could get rid of her muffin top in as little as 21 days.  But Kayla liked her muffin top.  It gave her something to hold on to when she was feeling shy – she could cross her arms and hold herself tight – and then maybe she could get through whatever it was she needed to.

For right now, though, Kayla felt sure that getting past the girls inside was not something she needed to get through.  So she stayed in her car, turning it back on.  As she headed to the drive through she put down her window.  Just then, two of the girls came out, drink cups held in their hands like trophies.  They snickered as Kayla drove by and stopped a few feet ahead of them, waiting for the cars in front of her.

Kayla pretended not to notice as the girls strode past.  But she couldn’t ignore their calls of greeting.  “Hey Kayla,” one said.  “Watcha gonna get?”

Kayla shrugged, but the girl didn’t give up.  She pulled a dollar out of her pocket.  “Here,” she said, throwing it through the window and laughing.  “Keep it to their dollar menu.  Maybe then you won’t get so fat.”

The girl didn’t wait for Kayla’s response, which was good because Kayla didn’t have one other than to turn bright red.  Once the girls had gotten into their own cars and driven away, Kayla pulled her car out of the line and drove off in the other direction.

After a few miles, Kayla realized that she was lost.  She hit the GPS button on her phone and waited for its instruction.  “Turn left onto Hummingbird Lane,” it commanded, so Kayla did.

A quarter of a mile down the road, Kayla stopped.  There in front of someone’s yard was a beautiful display of cut flowers.  They were all propped up in paint buckets with the words 25 cents each written in black marker.  The buckets spanned the entire length of two picnic benches.  At one end was a metal box with an opening. Honor System it said.

Kayla grabbed the dollar bill on her seat.  She picked four sunflowers in various shades of reds and yellows and gave the dollar in payment.  She smiled as she got into her car, thinking that flowers were better than French fries anyway.

Garden Victory Part 2

Margie dragged the last of the empty paint buckets to her garage.  She would take them out to the curb later.  Back inside, she flopped on her couch and stared up at the ceiling.  She nodded in satisfaction.  Painting all her ceilings had been the right choice.  It took three long weeks, but what else would she have done with that time?

A little voice told Margie exactly what she could have done with that time.  For a second Margie considered knocking on Stella’s door.  They had been neighbors on Hummingbird Lane for over 10 years and best friends ever since.  Well, except for the last month.

Margie still wasn’t sure what happened.  Half-hoping, half -joking she asked if Stella would consider chopping down her weeping willow tree.  Margie’s new pool turned out to be one big hassle, especially the daily cleaning of debris.  Most of it came from Stella’s weeping willow.

“How dare you,” Stella yelled.  “Matthew planted that tree 30 years ago when we moved in!”

“I’m sorry,” Margie told her.  “I didn’t think….”

“That’s right you didn’t.  Just like you didn’t think when you decided to get that piece of shit pool in the first place.”

Their fight escalated after that with a lot of sweeping generalizations, over-exaggerations, and dredging up of the past as is wont to happen when two people who have a long history and love each other get into a fight.  Margie and Stella had not spoken since then, so Margie had plenty of free time on her hands.  Enough, to paint her chipped and cracked ceilings which Stella had pointed out made her house look run down.  As Margie continued to stare at her ceiling, her phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Margie?  It’s Sophia.  Listen, I know you and my mom haven’t talked much lately, but could you check on her?”

“Is Stella okay?

“No.  It’s my dad – he was diagnosed with cancer a month ago.”

“Jesus,” Margie breathed.  “I had no idea.  I’ll call her.”

“Margie, it was fast spreading.  The doctors said there was nothing they could do.  Dad died this morning.”

In a split second it was as if their fight last month had never happened.  “I’m going over there now,” Margie said and she hung up.

Margie found Stella laying in her garden, only it wasn’t a garden anymore.  Every single plant was hacked to shreds with the colorful blooms scattered everywhere.  She saw the weeping willow high above Stella’s house swaying in the breeze.  Margie’s own tears now echoed its sadness.   

“Come on,” Margie said as she picked up Stella from the ground.  “Let’s get you inside.”  As they walked to the house, Margie lamented the flowers they trampled on.  Then she remembered the empty paint buckets in her garage.  They could hold dozens of flowers.  Perhaps their beauty wouldn’t have to be wasted after all.  Margie gave Stella’s shoulder a squeeze.  “And don’t you worry, I’ll take care of this mess.”

Garden Victory Part 1

Stella stood among the sunflowers, daisies, peonies, hydrangeas, and roses.  The tears that rolled down her face hit the ground.  She looked around to see if her sorrow had been absorbed into their roots.  But the flowers didn’t wither and die.  Instead, they stood tall and luscious; the sun showering them with vibrancy and life.

“Traitors,” Stella muttered. “It’s like you don’t even care that he’s gone.”  Stella reached down and pulled her gardening apron to her, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes.  As she did a pair of shears fell out of the pocket.  She knelt down to pick them up, but stayed on the ground paralyzed by the flowers towering over her.  Were they really as callous as they seemed?

Stella turned the shears over and over in her hands.  The ground felt hard underneath her, but somehow that did not encourage Stella to get up.  What would Matthew say about her sitting in the garden, she wondered.  Would he behave in typical Matthew fashion and call her silly, laughing as he pulled her up? Give her a hug and a kiss on her forehead?

Well I’ll never know, Stella thought.  Matthew is dead and I’ll never know what he would think about this.  I’ll never know what he would think about anything again. 

Stella continued turning the gardening shears in her hands.  As she did, the words, Matthew is dead, turned over in her mind.  The words and movement both seemed involuntary and she didn’t know how to stop either.  She started squeezing the shears together, just for something different to do.  Then, as another torrent of tears was unleashed, Stella began hacking the flowers closest to her.  Down came the roses.

“Bravo,” they seemed to shout, taunting her with every snip of her shears.  “Now you’re getting somewhere.”  So, she kept going.  Down came the hydrangeas, then the peonies, and the daisies.  Last, came the sunflowers.  She did not stop until every flower laid on the ground, their remaining foliage and stems at half-mast of where they had once been.

Stella looked at her work.  “There,” she cried, sobbing into her hands.  “Now you’re dead, too.”  Stella wasn’t sure if she meant the garden or herself.  She sank to her knees again, but this time the ground wasn’t so hard.  The flowers cushioned her like a bed, soft and welcoming.  Stella laid down.    Maybe if she lay there long enough, the summer sun would somehow bring her back to life.  So she closed her eyes and waited.

Garden Victory Part 4

garden-victory-part-4

Arthur watched from the back of the church as the congregation processed up the aisle.  Some of the people went back to their pews, where they belong, thought Arthur, and some of them headed for the exit.  As they walked past him, Arthur grunted, disgusted by the lack of respect these individuals had for the Body of Christ.  Damn you, he thought.  You’ll burn in hell for your sins.  Even though a large part of Arthur took comfort in this judgment, a smaller part pitied the fools.  Such a stupid price to pay, eternity in hell, just to avoid traffic.

Arthur checked his watch.  Mass had gone over long.  It was now six o’clock and they still had fifteen minutes to go.  It was the windbag priest. “Anything extra goes back to St. Michael’s,” he repeated a dozen times discussing the bishop’s annual appeal.   Finally, the priest got to “The Mass has ended.  Go in peace,” and Arthur headed for the nearest exit.

On the way out the door, Arthur made sure not to make eye contact with the woman collecting change for the parish’s refugee resettlement program.  Stupid immigrants.  He hated that St. Michael’s contributed so much money to these foreigners.  Why should a complete stranger get his money?

The woman tapped him on the arm.   “We could really use your help,” she said.

He ignored her and started walking faster.  As he headed across the street to his car, Arthur prayed the woman would leave him the hell alone.  He looked up just in time to see the look of horror on the young girl’s face as she slammed on her brakes.

“Watch where you’re going!” Arthur yelled.

“I’m sorry!”  The girl looked shaken. “Are you okay?” she asked, getting out of the car.

“No thanks to you,” he huffed.

“I was just trying to help.” Arthur didn’t say anything and started towards his car again.  The girl seemed to dither on the spot, then reached into her car and pulled out four sunflowers.  They had long stems.  “Here, take these,” she said as she shoved them into Arthur’s hands.  “To make up for almost hitting you.”  The girl seemed to think she was doing Arthur a great favor what with how she smiled getting back into her car.

Arthur threw the flowers on his front seat.  What the hell am I going to do with these, he thought as he drove away.  He hadn’t driven too far, when he noticed a flyer on his windshield.  It was asking for donations for refugees.  At a stop sign, he grabbed one of the flowers and tried to use its stem to remove the flyer.  It didn’t work, so he tossed it out the window.  He chucked the other three out after it.  There, he thought.  Maybe a refugee will find them.  He drove away leaving the flowers behind.  Arthur chuckled to himself.  Now, that’s the kind of charity I can get behind.

Garden Victory Part 3

Kayla sat in the parking lot.  Twice she opened her car door, but each time slammed it shut.  She kept looking through the restaurant window, seeing the girls clustered around a table.  They laughed and smiled, scooping up ketchup with French fries and slurping on sodas.  It was no different than the cafeteria at school.  Not one of them seemed to have a care in the world.

Kayla sighed, looking at her body.  She never knew what to feel about it, what with half the posts on her Facebook feed celebrating a big and curvy female body and the other half telling her she could get rid of her muffin top in as little as 21 days.  But Kayla liked her muffin top.  It gave her something to hold on to when she was feeling shy – she could cross her arms and hold herself tight – and then maybe she could get through whatever it was she needed to.

For right now, though, Kayla felt sure that getting past the girls inside was not something she needed to get through.  So she stayed in her car, turning it back on.  As she headed to the drive through she put down her window.  Just then, two of the girls came out, drink cups held in their hands like trophies.  They snickered as Kayla drove by and stopped a few feet ahead of them, waiting for the cars in front of her.

Kayla pretended not to notice as the girls strode past.  But she couldn’t ignore their calls of greeting.  “Hey Kayla,” one said.  “Watcha gonna get?”

Kayla shrugged, but the girl didn’t give up.  She pulled a dollar out of her pocket.  “Here,” she said, throwing it through the window and laughing.  “Keep it to their dollar menu.  Maybe then you won’t get so fat.”

The girl didn’t wait for Kayla’s response, which was good because Kayla didn’t have one other than to turn bright red.  Once the girls had gotten into their own cars and driven away, Kayla pulled her car out of the line and drove off in the other direction.

After a few miles, Kayla realized that she was lost.  She hit the GPS button on her phone and waited for its instruction.  “Turn left onto Hummingbird Lane,” it commanded, so Kayla did.

A quarter of a mile down the road, Kayla stopped.  There in front of someone’s yard was a beautiful display of cut flowers.  They were all propped up in paint buckets with the words 25 cents each written in black marker.  The buckets spanned the entire length of two picnic benches.  At one end was a metal box with an opening. Honor System it said.

Kayla grabbed the dollar bill on her seat.  She picked four sunflowers in various shades of reds and yellows and gave the dollar in payment.  She smiled as she got into her car, thinking that flowers were better than French fries anyway.

Garden Victory Part 2

Margie dragged the last of the empty paint buckets to her garage.  She would take them out to the curb later.  Back inside, she flopped on her couch and stared up at the ceiling.  She nodded in satisfaction.  Painting all her ceilings had been the right choice.  It took three long weeks, but what else would she have done with that time?

A little voice told Margie exactly what she could have done with that time.  For a second Margie considered knocking on Stella’s door.  They had been neighbors on Hummingbird Lane for over 10 years and best friends ever since.  Well, except for the last month.

Margie still wasn’t sure what happened.  Half-hoping, half -joking she asked if Stella would consider chopping down her weeping willow tree.  Margie’s new pool turned out to be one big hassle, especially the daily cleaning of debris.  Most of it came from Stella’s weeping willow.

“How dare you,” Stella yelled.  “Matthew planted that tree 30 years ago when we moved in!”

“I’m sorry,” Margie told her.  “I didn’t think….”

“That’s right you didn’t.  Just like you didn’t think when you decided to get that piece of shit pool in the first place.”

Their fight escalated after that with a lot of sweeping generalizations, over-exaggerations, and dredging up of the past as is wont to happen when two people who have a long history and love each other get into a fight.  Margie and Stella had not spoken since then, so Margie had plenty of free time on her hands.  Enough, to paint her chipped and cracked ceilings which Stella had pointed out made her house look run down.  As Margie continued to stare at her ceiling, her phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Margie?  It’s Sophia.  Listen, I know you and my mom haven’t talked much lately, but could you check on her?”

“Is Stella okay?

“No.  It’s my dad – he was diagnosed with cancer a month ago.”

“Jesus,” Margie breathed.  “I had no idea.  I’ll call her.”

“Margie, it was fast spreading.  The doctors said there was nothing they could do.  Dad died this morning.”

In a split second it was as if their fight last month had never happened.  “I’m going over there now,” Margie said and she hung up.

Margie found Stella laying in her garden, only it wasn’t a garden anymore.  Every single plant was hacked to shreds with the colorful blooms scattered everywhere.  She saw the weeping willow high above Stella’s house swaying in the breeze.  Margie’s own tears now echoed its sadness.   

“Come on,” Margie said as she picked up Stella from the ground.  “Let’s get you inside.”  As they walked to the house, Margie lamented the flowers they trampled on.  Then she remembered the empty paint buckets in her garage.  They could hold dozens of flowers.  Perhaps their beauty wouldn’t have to be wasted after all.  Margie gave Stella’s shoulder a squeeze.  “And don’t you worry, I’ll take care of this mess.”

Garden Victory Part 1

Stella stood among the sunflowers, daisies, peonies, hydrangeas, and roses.  The tears that rolled down her face hit the ground.  She looked around to see if her sorrow had been absorbed into their roots.  But the flowers didn’t wither and die.  Instead, they stood tall and luscious; the sun showering them with vibrancy and life.

“Traitors,” Stella muttered. “It’s like you don’t even care that he’s gone.”  Stella reached down and pulled her gardening apron to her, wiping the remaining tears from her eyes.  As she did a pair of shears fell out of the pocket.  She knelt down to pick them up, but stayed on the ground paralyzed by the flowers towering over her.  Were they really as callous as they seemed?

Stella turned the shears over and over in her hands.  The ground felt hard underneath her, but somehow that did not encourage Stella to get up.  What would Matthew say about her sitting in the garden, she wondered.  Would he behave in typical Matthew fashion and call her silly, laughing as he pulled her up? Give her a hug and a kiss on her forehead?

Well I’ll never know, Stella thought.  Matthew is dead and I’ll never know what he would think about this.  I’ll never know what he would think about anything again. 

Stella continued turning the gardening shears in her hands.  As she did, the words, Matthew is dead, turned over in her mind.  The words and movement both seemed involuntary and she didn’t know how to stop either.  She started squeezing the shears together, just for something different to do.  Then, as another torrent of tears was unleashed, Stella began hacking the flowers closest to her.  Down came the roses.

“Bravo,” they seemed to shout, taunting her with every snip of her shears.  “Now you’re getting somewhere.”  So, she kept going.  Down came the hydrangeas, then the peonies, and the daisies.  Last, came the sunflowers.  She did not stop until every flower laid on the ground, their remaining foliage and stems at half-mast of where they had once been.

Stella looked at her work.  “There,” she cried, sobbing into her hands.  “Now you’re dead, too.”  Stella wasn’t sure if she meant the garden or herself.  She sank to her knees again, but this time the ground wasn’t so hard.  The flowers cushioned her like a bed, soft and welcoming.  Stella laid down.    Maybe if she lay there long enough, the summer sun would somehow bring her back to life.  So she closed her eyes and waited.

Memoir Monday, October 24th, 2016

polar-bears

I didn’t plan to write about bears two weeks in a row, but then this past Saturday happened.  It was completely unexpected, but I had the most extraordinary encounter with two bears, Gus and Ida.  These aren’t just any bears, they happen to be polar bears which is my favorite animal of all time.  Gus and Ida also happen to be figments of Caron Levis’ and Charles Santoso’s imagination, but that does not make them any less real to me.

This past weekend I was home in Harrisburg for a day before I headed to Fall Philly, a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event sponsored by the Eastern PA chapter.  While there, I went to the East Shore Branch of the Dauphin County Public Library to check out some of the latest children’s picture books (FYI – if you want to be a better writer, read as much as you can in the genre you’re interested in) and there they were, displayed on a wall.

ida-always

Ida, Always, was the first book I came across that day and so naturally I immediately picked it up and started reading – how could I resist a picture book about polar bears?! At about the halfway point, my eyes started tearing up.  By the end of the book, tears flowed down my cheeks and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my emotional unraveling at a simple children’s book about friendship, love, and loss.

As usual, no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to anyone other than themselves or their children,

so I wiped my eyes and tried to get my act together.

I can’t remember ever being so moved by a picture book.  When I was finished with it, all I wanted to do was call my husband and tell him I loved him.  Being still in the library, I didn’t think it an appropriate venue for an emotionally-charged phone call declaring gratitude and affection for our relationship, so I waited until I got home.  But even after I affirmed my love for him, I was still thinking about Ida, Always.

Reading this book was a gift; not only did it inspire me to connect with someone I love and feel appreciation for our life together, but it also inspired me as a writer.  These feelings are especially apt as I start pitching my own picture book stories to agents.

One of the things I struggle most with my own work is how to know when it’s my very best.  Last May I attended the SCBWI’s Wild, Wild, Midwest conference in Naperville, IL, where one of the recurring lessons presented throughout the conference was only submit your best writing.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t and it makes for very large slush piles and tired and frustrated agents and publishers.

At that conference, authors, agents, and publishers all made recommendations on how to revise your own work (which I do) and stressed the importance of critique groups (which I attend on a regular basis). 

But it’s hard to have an unbiased and blind eye towards your own writing in determining the quality of it.

That’s why I’m so excited and grateful for my most recent bear encounter.  I now have a new benchmark for my manuscripts.  In addition to following the typical rules of story arc, character development, and pacing, I will ask myself the following: what sort of emotional response does the story evoke?  If I cannot identify what I want my readers to feel because of my story and if I do not see evidence of that response in their feedback either through direct comments or personal observation, then I will know that my story still needs some more work.  I feel grateful to have this guidance and I am optimistic my writing will continue to improve.

In the meantime, I will continue to reflect upon Ida, Always, a story that is perfect in many ways.  Thank you for coming into my life.  If you end up being my only bear sighting for the time being, I’m okay with that.