Compliments As Currency

For as long as I have can remember, people have told me that I am a good writer.  I have been advised to “get that published” more times than I can count. Right from my first original story written for a writing assignment in Grade Three, all the way through High School, into my professional role as a classroom teacher and now, in the golden glow of my retirement years, people have been very kind in their reactions to the words I write. Believe me, I am most appreciative of the positive feedback. If compliments were currency, you and I, Dear Reader, would be enjoying a wonderful meal at a fine restaurant, right now.

As I approached my retirement, one of the goals that I had set for myself was to give my writing a chance to grow into something more than social media posts and commentary. I wanted to rekindle my love of writing and of being creative. To do so meant devoting consistent periods of time each week to my craft. Being retired has been a wonderful tonic in that regard. The posts I have created for this blog have helped remind me of how it feels to be a writer. These posts have, also, caused me to have a more creative world view. Now, for example, when I am out for a stroll or mowing the lawn, my thoughts are not on the weeds in the grass but more, on how the shadows are being cast by the tree in my yard or the sound of the waves crashing on the shores of Lake Ontario. I used to think about work-related things, mere months ago. Now, I find myself thinking more like a writer would and that pleases me.

My last blog post was two and half weeks ago. Let me briefly explain my absence. I have not been idle.  After I published my last post, I began renovations on the sunroom that sits at the back of our house. For any of you who have done your own renovations, you know there is no getting around the fact that you have to work hard. Demolition takes times, as does prepping for the rebuild. Nails have to be nailed, word sawed to measure, paint applied in colours, floors laid. The work time used to complete the renovations came out of the quiet time I had been setting aside in the mornings for writing.

However, while working on my own in the sunroom, I had time to think. My thoughts manifested themselves in the form of an idea for a story. An original story that, in my mind, I saw as a Picture Book. So, as the paint was drying on the sunroom walls, I sat down and spent several days fleshing the story out and coming up with a rough copy or first draft.  I finished the story toward the middle of last week. At that point, I had some decisions to make.

The Children’s Literature market is a thriving segment of the Book Publishing Industry in North America. In my previous roles as a Teacher-Librarian or as a classroom educator, I have interacted with this market as a consumer. I have become familiar with publishing companies, with authors and with the process of marketing books. It is a big business; one that does not suffer fools lightly. Consequently, in order to be competitive with the tens of thousands of other authors seeking “to be published”, I knew that I had to treat this new story differently than I do for my blog posts, for instance.

I am in control of my blog posts. When I finish typing these words, I will not consult editors or illustrators or finance and marketing experts. Instead, I will simply click on the “Publish” button at the top of my screen and my words will be made available you in your home on your screen of choice.  It costs me, as the author and you, as the reader, nothing but time to be involved in this creative transaction.

That is not the case in the real world of book publishing. Books don’t appear in book stores and at on-line retailers by magic. They are produced, marketed, distributed and promoted by people who all need to be paid for their services. For any publishing company to agree to publish my story, they would have to consider, not only the literary merits of my work but, also, the probability of my book being a revenue-producing investment for the owner and/or shareholders of the company.  I get that. I understand and appreciate the business side of publishing my work. I cannot divorce the financial reality from wish to have my story see the light of day.

So, that having been said, I have decided to go ahead and initiate the publication process anyway and honour my original, pre-retirement goal of giving my writing a chance. Late last week, I sent a copy of my rough draft to two friends; one with experience in the world of kidlit and one with more experience in the craft of writing and creating memorable characters and scenes. I asked them both for feedback. I chose my two friends carefully because I knew that they would give targeted feedback that would help me polish the story for submission purposes. When I have received both critiques, I intend to let my eldest daughter, Leah, read my story. While slightly older than my intended audience, she will be a good judge as to the quality and reasonableness of my dialogue, for example. It is not easy having my writing critiqued because my story is my baby and, like most writers, I am very protective of it. But, to be the best story possible, I acknowledge the need for constructive advice. I feel fortunate to be part of a supportive community of writers. I know “my baby” is in good hands.

I will keep you all abreast of developments as they occur. I am happy that you are coming along for this part of my journey and invite you to see it through with me to fruition. Your support and encouragement is what has gotten me to this point in my writing career. Thanks for everything you do, in terms of reading my posts, sharing them with your friends, offering comments and so on. It all means the world to me.

51WGD151BGL

Gotta love the New Yorker Magazine. Hopefully, my story won’t lay an egg!

Come on!  You know you were thinking it, too. 🙂

Nature Nurture

A boy was born today.

The hospital played, “Ode to Joy” to announce his arrival.

For a moment,

Staff paused their treatments,

Patients forgot their pain.

Hope filled their hearts

…..for a moment.

33-word micro-fiction post about the whole Boys Will Be Boys debate going on in our society. Thanks to my pal, Emily, for the word nurture as a story prompt.

The Magic of a Moment

On August 14, 2003, while driving home, I pulled in for gas. It was approximately 4:00pm. Little did I realize that at that same moment, power surges were knocking the entire Northeast electrical grid offline, in what became known as the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003. By the time I arrived home, there was no electricity to be had anywhere in town.

Like many people, my wife and I were caught completely unprepared.

All of our means of communication (telephone, pre-wireless computers, radio), our food supply (stove and refrigerator) and our access to our financial resources (debit and credit cards) were all taken away from us in the blink of an eye. Between my wife and I, we had barely six dollars of actual cash on hand. The only food we had that didn’t require cooking or cooling were boxes of crackers, some cookies and dry cereal. The radio in our car still worked so, we spent time huddled in our garage, straining to hear any detail that might help us to understand what was happening and how we should respond.

But, the funny thing about the whole situation was that, after our initial moments of prancing madly about in panic, we came to realize that we were actually ok. Our world had gotten very quiet but, we were not hurt or in immediate danger. Everything slowed down. Our world shrunk to the parameters of our physical environment.

So, we lit our candles. We dined on our crackers and drank some warm wine we had in the basement. A friend came by so we chatted the evening away. And then, the real magic happened. The stars came out. The same stars that are always there but which lay covered in a blanket of artificial light from below. The stars came out and they were everywhere! What beauty! What majesty!

silhouette of man during nighttime
Photo by brenoanp on Pexels.com

There are many wonderful stories that emerged from that blackout. Stories of citizens who took the initiative to help direct traffic when the traffic lights went out. Folks with generators or barbeques who cooked meals for their neighbours or other passersby. People who called upon seniors and sat with them throughout the night in order to provide security and stability in a time of confusion. The good in our society shone brightly in the darkness of those hours.

But, what most people remember about that night is the stars.

 

 

Often, the most magical of moments are the ones you least prepare for. Those times when destiny arrives unannounced. My wife and I learned a lot about ourselves during that blackout. We are better prepared now for an emergency (in the sense of having a supply of food and water on hand at all times, having a small stash of cash safely tucked away in the house and so on). But, more than that, we have learned to slow down the pace of our lives and make time to enjoy the world around us.

Admittedly, we both still like our “screen time” and the access to information it gives us and the connectivity with the world it provides but, we also, realize the importance of making time for those “star-filled” moments that exist outside of the noise and hoopla, just waiting to be discovered. We make purposeful time, each and every day, just for us…..together and/or with our children….to talk about our day, to share our discoveries and our dreams, to go for walks and allow the beauty of the world around us to soak into every fibre of our being or, let’s be honest, to just be nosey, sometimes, too.

There was a time in our lives when we prided ourselves for our ability to multi-task and get so much done. How productive we both were. And, how little it really mattered when the power went out that August afternoon.

In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around, once and awhile, you could miss it.” The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003, gave us permission to stop the hustle and bustle of our lives and look around. What we saw in each other and in the world around us, was beautiful. It was the magic of a moment that revealed the joy and wonder of the world in which we live. For that, I am eternally grateful.

P.S. It is not by fluke that this work of art is my family’s favourite.

img_1417

Mother Love

artist celebrity freddie mercury idol
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There he was. His body now a bat-like wing, propped up by silken pillows on his favourite velvet settee in his parlour. The sunlight filtering in through draped windows

“Did you bring it,” he implored?!

I nodded and pulled out a notebook from inside of my coat. Loose pages fell into my hands.

“Good”, he said hoarsely. “Poetry on nakpin slips.”

A nurse appeared beside him with water. He drank eagerly from the straw.

“Feed me your words and I will sing them back in reply.”

“Are you sure,” I replied, looking down at my notes?

“Of course! One line at a time. Three times each. Use the best take as you see fit”.

He coughed. He cleared his throat. I fed him the first line from “Mother Love”.

His eyes kindled. He forced his body straighter. He summoned what was left of his life force. And he began to sing.

For a moment…..that moment….my preening, prancing peacock, who had commanded the grandest stages in the world, returned.

For a moment.

After a verse or two, he relaxed. His body folded back into his pillows. His eyes became ghosts. Quiet filled the void.

The greatest showman the world had ever known…..my friend….was gone.

The last song that Freddy Mercury lent his voice to was called Mother Love. When you listen to the song, you will note that bandmate Brian May sings the final verse or two; completing the song for his friend, arguably, the greatest showman in the modern music era.

I thank my friend, Geraldine Van Ginkel, for sending me this word prompt. It was an excellent choice.

Change

I want to start off by thanking everyone for providing me with such a great list of word prompts. I have plenty of inspiration to draw from in the days and weeks to come. I promise to use every word, at some point, in the next few weeks. So, if you don’t see your story right away, not to worry, it is bubbling away in the cauldron of my imagination and will be ready soon.

I was challenged this very day by one of my writing mentors, Jo-Anne Teal, to create a 33-word post that revolves around the word, “change”. She said that she was going to play along by publishing her own post tonight. So, I found some quiet moments this evening and cobbled together the following piece of writing. i hope that you like it.

 

    

close up of apple on top of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

The Other Side of the Fence

 

Once I was entrusted with the lives of young children. Now, my fingerprints are all that separate me from the predators. What a change being on the other side of the school fence.

 

If anyone wants to know the story behind this story, I will tell you in the comments. Feel free to ask. Thanks, as always, for spending some time in my world.

Throwback Throw Down!!!

This is a #ThrowbackThursday post.

When I first began using a blog as a means of expressing myself in writing and getting my words before an audience, I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with a writing website called Trifecta.  Each week, the folks at Trifecta issued two writing challenges; a short piece of writing that was only 33 words long and a longer piece which, if I remember correctly, was one hundred words.  Each challenge was based upon a single word that was given to us. Our task was to take that word and create a whole world around it.

One of the great benefits that I derived from writing for Trifecta was having the opportunity to meet so many incredibly talented and generous writers from all over the world.  These fine folks would post the most amazing works of fiction and would invite newbies, like me, to offer our thoughts and critiques. They, in turn,would do likewise for the work I submitted. Everyone was so kind. After a while, I felt like I actually belonged in the company of these artists and was beginning to be considered a peer.  Those were heady times.

Unfortunately, the Trifecta writing group disbanded a few years ago and the regular contributors have scattered, once more, to their corners of the world. I am lucky to have made friendships that have survived the end of Trifecta and that continue, via social media, to this day. I will list some of my favourite writers and their blogs at the end of this post.

But, for now, I want to ask for your help.  Since resurrecting my blog, I have not posted any creative writing. Not a single work of fiction. No one poem. Nothing. That needs to change. I want to get my Trifecta-style writing muscles back into shape so, I have a request. Once you have finished reading this post and are ready to comment, please leave me a one-word writing prompt. I will, in turn, take your word and create a 33-word story or a 100-word story….you decide.   In order to give you a flavour of what to expect, I am going to share with you two pieces of writing that received warm consideration from the Trifecta community back in the day; one is 33 words long and the other, 100 words long.

Throwback Post #1

This is a 33-word post. The word prompt was Devil. (It was near Halloween). We were instructed to use a photo or a video and build our story around it. I chose a video of when the Rolling Stones first appeared on American TV. Unlike The Beatles, the Stones were viewed as satanic from the get-go. So, my story went, as follows:

Watching Dad’s Cigarette Burn

Mom gasps…..quietly.

Dad stares. His cigarette burning down.

Mick, seemingly possessed, writhes on the stage.

The song ends.

Dad turns the TV off.

Silence fills the room but, the Devil remains.

I actually was awarded “First Place” for this piece. It was my one and only “triumph”, as it were.

Throwback Post #2:

This is a 100-word story. The word prompt was Hollow. My inspiration for this story were some of the kids I had as students in my classroom at school and the lives I knew they lived.

Waving at Stars

I hate the Super Bowl and the World Series and any other night that gives my Dad a reason to drink

If his teams wins, he drinks to celebrate.

If his teams loses, he gets angry and drinks to feel better.

When my Dad drinks, my Mom gets hit…..a lot.

No matter who wins the game, my Mom always loses.

I hate my Dad.

He never really hits me that much.

Before he gets to me, he’s usually used up his anger hitting Mom.

After he hits her, he always feels bad and says, “I love you” to her.

But, his words are hollow and won’t fix her heart.

I love my Mom.

Her heart is strong, though.

It must be to hold all the Love that she says she has for me.

Some nights, while Dad watches the game on TV, my Mom and me lay on blankets in the backyard.

We stare up at the night sky and look at the stars.

There are stars everywhere!

Some stars are small and others are big but, they all twinkle.

Like diamonds in our sky.

Mom says that on some stars, there might be a Mommy and her special boy on blankets in their yard.

Maybe that little space boy is waving at us right now.

We’d better wave back, just in case.

So, we wave at the stars, Mommy and me.

“Goddamn, fuckin’ refs!” Dad screams from the living room. A glass breaks.

Mom kisses my forehead.

She brushes the hair away from my eyes.

She asks me to look at the stars that twinkle and shine so bright.

To count them and keep on counting until I run out of numbers

or the sky out of stars.

She hugs me tight and holds me close.

I can feel her heart beating fast and strong.

“Promise me you’ll keep counting until I come back.”

I promise.

She gets up and goes inside.

I wave at the stars and start to count.

So, now you have a flavour for what you will get in return if you leave a one-word prompt for me. You can choose whether you want a 33-word story or a 100-word story but, one way or the other, a story is what you will see on the pages on this blog.

Here are some of the wonderfully talented writers I met over at Trifecta. If you think I am a good writer then, you’ll really like these folks. They are my role-models. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Bjorn Rudberg

Jo-Anne Teal

Tina Hickman

Barbara Purple Moose

Start with these four fine folks. If you like what you read on their blogs then, let me know and I will include more links in future posts. For now, thanks for reading. As always, I appreciate the fact that, out of all the things you could be doing with your time, you chose to spend these past few moments with me. Thank you.