Monday, September 26, 2011

Reading and Writing are Woven Through My Life

When I try to recall the various times and places and people who were important to me, I find that they are often linked in my mind to the books we shared, or the ones that I was reading while I was there.  Even times when I was completely tunes in to the "real world" were often more real in my mind, thanks to being able to compare and contrast them to the stories of other times and places.

My first memories are of sitting on my Mom or Grandma's lap and begging for "Chicken Little" again and again, or reaching out to poke the newspaper while balanced on one of Dad's knees at the breakfast table.
Reading to my guys began when they were born and a dozen years later they still love a good story
 I remember first Grade with books written in the strange phonics of ITA, where my Clifford, The Big Red Dog had Book spelled bwk and school was skwl.
I did not have social skills for dealing with people my own age.  Until I started school, I was surrounded with great grandparents and Great aunts and uncles and could easily talk to people in their 80's and 90's - but 5 or 6!!! No.

So reading became my refuge, hiding behind a book allowed me to escape eye contact and gave me experience and "friends" and practice at the things kids did and thought until I could finally leave Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden on the shelf and talk to flesh and blood friends too.
Hooked my son on Star Wars Novels and his first poem was about Star Wars

This freckle faced "Me" loved books

May be why glasses became essential in 4th grade and by this 10th grade shot no-one could imagine me without them
Even when I came out from behind the book, I used books as a way to connect to people.  I wrote my own stories and gained in confidence as people asked to see what I was writing and actually asked for more.  ARound 8th and 9th grade I discovered the other readers in my school, and we shared our passion for the best books by adding our name to the library waiting list.  I remember some of the most popular books were scary. I was thinking that Hunger Games was too twisted for Jr. High kids until I remembered that, that is when we were devouring, Flowers In the Attic, Carrie, Jaws, and The Exorcist.  Of course we also loved less scary books and The Outsiders and The  Once and Future King were big too.
I think I loved this dress due to Laura Ingalls
Freshman year of college, I really began writing poetry and met my husband.  He loved reading too, and we share a literature book from that year with several favorites, including, "A Rose For Miss Emily" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"  We wrote a lot that year but looking at my poems I see that they are less poetry and more a journal of the hormonal teenager who has found her "soul mate."
and my husband loved Dr. Doolittle so the animals also came thanks to books

We ended up having a house full of books, two sons, and at one time, a dozen parrots, 2 cats and 2 greyhounds.  The craziness often drove us to taking long road trips, where, instead of reading, we would listen to books on tape, and that is how I shared the first 4 Harry Potter books with boys who were too young to read them themselves.  Later the books were devoured by the boys on their own, but I miss those family drives with the story shared between us.
Going to See Writer, Timothy Zahn was a family Treat
Finally I got brave enough to publish my own fantasy novels, and they have slowly been making their way into the wider world, but not even the thrill of holding my first printed book can equal the feeling of having my family hanging on as I read aloud from 280 typewritten pages, and they were just as involved as when I was reading, "a real book" to them.
Thrilled to hold my first book in proof

Still Thrilled with two novels in print
 Still, I wondered, what leads from reading other peoples stories to needing to create my own?  My first "job" was helping my Grandpa, tan rabbit hides and mount them on fiberglass forms, with glass eyes and deer antlers.  I sold those, "Jack-a-lopes" to the tourists along with richly detailed stories of the life and habits of the critters.  I think that is when I became hooked on having an audience and knowing that my words had the power to make someone wait for the next one, or pull out their money, or laugh, just laugh.
Posing my Anne Geddes Sunflower baby in my Yard

Judy, my first and most faithful best friend

Oh Give Me a Home
Every game I made up for my dolls and my 2 younger brothers, every story I acted out to my classroom or told to my sons, drew me deeper into the part of me that finds reality best felt against the backdrop of creative storytelling.  I can feel pain and sorrow when a friend dies, but survive it a little easier because I've experienced it in a slightly more removed manner first, when reading Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Ghost Ship

In August, this year, I published the sequel to my Fantasy Novel, Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog.  The second book also stars Duffy, a young, stubborn boy who uses crutches and hates to be told "No."   Duffy Barkley: Seek Well also has some of the same characters and another adventure in Uhrlin.  I was delighted to take Duffy on another journey as well, and have him explore one of my favorite places, the Lake Atitlan area of Guatemala.

This Month, I have reduced the kindle price of the original book to 99 cents

 and priced the new kindle book at merely $2.99 in the hope that more people will be willing to test out their own interest in these adventure stories.

One of the parts of the sequel that was the most fun for me to imagine and write was a scene I have shivered at in other books and movies.  I find the idea of the abandoned, untouched home or ship to be a chilling mystery, and so Duffy Barkley: Seek Well, begins with the mystery of a Ghost Ship.

Prologue:  Ghost Ship

     On the colorless day that the ghost ship was discovered, the sea was calm and milk white.  The air was thick with fog and Captain Edward could not see from the port side of his “Morning Breeze” to the starboard railing.  Two years had passed since this area of the sea had been violated with the mining and upheaval of Smelter’s attempted wall building.  The ocean’s surface was forgiving, but the captain found himself wondering what the sea bed looked like now.
     His musings were interrupted by the voice from the Crow’s Nest.  “Ship off port bow!”  As the faintest grey silhouette of masts and sails became visible, the Captain ordered a full stop and squinted through the murky light.  “Ahoy, The Ship,” he called out and then echoed his call once and again, but the other ship did not respond.
     His men gathered along the railing, curiosity turned to un-ease as the larger ship remained silent and no sight of movement could be detected upon the decks which rose high above their own.  As they neared, they slowly began to fear that some calamity had befallen the larger vessel.
     The “Morning Breeze” had been coming from a cargo delivery from the Bobbing Islands to the Bison near the Geyser area on the mainland.  Their return cargo was bison wool, and under no urgent timeline.  There was obviously something wrong with the larger ship, that they had found dead in the water, and the captain did not hesitate to order a lifeboat lowered so that he and a few men could row over to investigate the . . ., he peered up at the name as it revealed itself from the mist, where it was painted in black letters, the “Soaring Schoomer.”

     Captain Edward pulled himself up the last rung of the ladder and hesitated.  The silence of the large sailing vessel was un-settling and complete. Yet even though there was no indication of life on board, there was a certain sense of violation involved in going, without permission, onto someone else’s ship.
    He stepped onto the wooden deck and the training of a life at sea forced him to call out, “Permission to come aboard?”  Even though he spoke softly, the words seemed to echo loudly – calling to ghosts or sea-monsters for unwanted attention.  The hesitation in his voice and the nerves that he didn’t want to be showing, forced him to raise his voice and repeat the greeting in the normal booming voice that he used to be heard on deck.  His men called it his, “command voice.”
     His footsteps were firm on the boards in spite of the unsettling nerves he felt from his toes, to the pit of his stomach, to the hair follicles on his head.  His men, following close upon his heels, were alert, but waited for his signal before moving to investigate the ship.  He had brought seven sailors with him, and ordered those who remained behind to stay on watch for any sign of trouble.
     The discoveries were as unsettling as the un-natural silence, and the men spoke in little more than whispers – in the respectful quiet of voices at a funeral.  The Soaring Schoomer was clearly built more for passengers than for cargo, but where were the passengers and crew?
     “None of the lifeboats are missing,” spoke a man who looked at the hooks and ties along the railing on both sides of the ship.  He dug into the stores in the small rowboat and noticed that it seemed to be a fairly typical supply, such as what they always kept stored in their lifeboats.  There were fishing hooks and lines, small solar water distillers for removing salt, warm, waterproof skins, and some small store of first aid materials and preserved food.  Nothing indicated that the stores had been accessed in any recent times.
     “The life vests do not appear to have been touched, sir.  I don’t know how many they had but this box is full,” another sailor said, and the thud as he let the wooden lid drop back into place made the silence ring briefly.
    Moving beyond the open space and into the dining room, the feeling of strangeness intensified.  Most of the tables were set as if expecting the passengers to file in momentarily.  There were platters of food, sitting waiting to be served along a counter between the galley and the dining area.  While the cooking area was clean and well kept, a few large, dirty pans, soaked in water that still retained some suds.  The large grill bore scouring powder and rags, as it waited to be scrubbed clean.
     Captain Edward gathered his men around him here in the little kitchen,  the smell of cooking still fresh around them.  “I am thinking that the next part of this investigation could turn ugly.”  He told them, “with no sign that anyone has left the ship, I am afraid of what we will find when we go below deck and begin to search the cabins.  Stay in pairs and if you find anyone who is obviously dead, DO NOT TOUCH THE BODY!  If this is a plague ship, we don’t want to catch any disease.  Of course, if you find someone who is alive, contact me.  I will be going to search the Captain’s cabin and to look for a ship’s log.  Just be very alert.  We have no idea what we are dealing with here.”

The Captain’s cabin was only a few steps from the helm.  Its heavy wooden door swung open with just a feather light push.  The room was empty but appeared lived in, as if the occupant had walked out, expecting to return momentarily. 
    There were articles of clothing and a shaving kit.  Many of the items that a person would grab before abandoning ship were out in plain sight, a photograph of a woman, some small treasured keepsakes. A leather bound ship’s log lay closed upon the desk next to a weighted down, unrolled chart.  The regular desk chair was pulled up by the chart, as was a much sturdier, larger, wooden bench.  At least two people had been studying the chart not long ago.
    Captain Edward stepped up to the desk to see what had caught their attention.  As the simple chart began to make sense to him, he blinked in surprise.  The Bobbing Islands, with their random movements, which kept them safe from many dangers, were shown, graphed and moving, along a seasonal, multi-year cycle.  Instantly the captain grasped the threat that this chart posed to the Islands and their security, but the words that he saw, inked up along the right hand margin of the chart made the hair on his arms rise and the blood in his veins turn icy.  “P. SB in Oohline.”
     Briefly he forgot the mystery of the empty ship and was blind to the cabin around him.  His mind’s eye focused on his memory of a laughing, snow white face and the green mane of the young lady who was Princess of the Bobbing Islands.  He saw her swimming with Orca, as sleek and beautiful as they when she leaped from the dark water in a cascade of diamond bright drops.
     The drumming of boot steps approaching the cabin across the wooden deck, then the deep voice of one of his men interrupted his fearful musings.  “Captain, Sir.  The cabins are empty.  There appears to be no one on board.  No sign of violence or struggle, no obviously missing trunks or personal belongings.  The ship does not appear to have been completely full, but there would seem to have been several passengers, including families with children.”
     Another sailor added his opinion as he approached, “If the ship was in a harbor, you’d swear they’d all walked onto the dock with every intention of being back in time for supper.”
     Captain Edward acknowledged the information with a nod and then glanced at the man again – looking questioningly at the cloth monkey in the crook of the sailor’s left arm.
     “Oh, right.  This?   This was tucked under a blanket with its head on a pillow and it just struck me. . . well,  . . . the child who tucked it in like that would not have just walked away and forgotten it.
     Again the captain nodded, and turned back to roll up the chart.  He tied it with a string and took it with him as he pulled the door closed behind him, then he stopped, turned back, and went inside once more to retrieve the leather bound ship’s log.  With the rolled chart, and heavy book safely secured, he closed the door again and directed his boarding party to make their way down the ladder for the return to their own ship.
     Now the decisions must be made.  If he left a skeleton crew on the abandoned vessel, they could limp it in to the nearest port.  But if the chart was the threat that he feared it was, and if that threat was focused upon the only child of the King and Queen, then speed in getting a message to . . .where? . . .The Bobbing Islands?   . . . Oohline?  Speed became his first, indeed his only priority.  He waved his men back off the ghostly ship.  They came at once, one of them still clutching the soft monkey and holding it to his shoulder as he might comfort his own babe.

     Captain Edward ran his hand along the sleek, rich, chocolate brown, wooden railing as he stepped once more onto his own “Morning Breeze.”  Through the caress on the wood, he felt an energy, which re-charged him and welcomed him home to a world that made sense.  The larger ship, looming above them, was well maintained and ship shape – but his little lady was loved and pampered and it showed in every gleaming inch.  He felt it in the way she gave her heart to leaping across the water at the merest thought from him.  “Make for the Bobbing Islands, full speed wherever possible.” He ordered
     Captain Edward’s mind was ever busy.  He considered where they were located and the fact that the Soaring Schoomer seemed to be mainly a passenger ship.  Thinking that they were a bit to the South and West of Uhrlin made the Captain consider possible enemies who might want to attack the Bobbing Islands.  None were immediately obvious, but the more that he considered the options, the more one country stayed in the forefront of his mind.  He didn’t really know much about them.  There had not been a lot of contact between the countries, but in the long distant past there had been war ships, which made instant raids against the shore towns and the islands.  The raiders took what they could, treasure or living being, and vanished over the ocean once more to somewhere to the west of the known sea.
     Glancing back at the ship he had ordered left to the sea’s mercy, he looked up into the rigging once more.  From the crow’s nest, a small strip of blue cloth fluttering in the light breeze was all that moved on all that large and eerie ship.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back to My Oregon Trail Novel

 Back on August 3rd, I wrote a post about getting into Pottermore as a Beta Tester and about the other activities of the summer, including the challenge to write a novel in a month on CampNaNoWriMo.  I posted the prologue to the book I am working on, tentatively titled, Double Time On the Oregon Trail.  I am aiming the book at the middle grades and it is a time travel story almost, the two 15 year old girls, traveling the Oregon Train 150 years apart, do not actually time travel, but they do both own the same lap desk, and sometimes when they open it, what they find is what the other girl had in it at that location, a journal and other items.
The girls are traveling similar routes. Kenyon is in a Dodge Caravan with her Dad and younger sister, while her pregnant mother sells their house and flies out later to meet them.

Della is in a wagon caravan with her pregnant mother, her dad and a younger brother.  A lot of other people start in the caravan, but several twists of fate leave their numbers less as time passes.

Writing this has been fun and is not as far from completion as when August began, but it didn't finish in the month of camp.  I make no excuses, but do admit that I like reading the research a little more than necessary. 
 It is very different from the two novels I have published about Duffy Barkley, which are purely based on fantasy and my own life experiences and so flow, uninterrupted by fact checking except for trying to maintain consistency from one book to the next as far as spelling and place names.

On Aug. 3rd I gave you the prologue about why the lap desk was special.  Today I will share what I wrote for Chapter 1

Chapter One – Kenyon

     “Dear Diary,
     OK, that sounds a bit stupid but how else am I supposed to start off with one of these things.  I’m not going to start naming you like Ann Frank did.  You’re no “Kitty” but I can see the appeal in believing that these words will be written to someone, anyone at all.  No one in my real life seems to be hearing a thing that I have to say.  OK!  That does sound like whining but nobody cares what I want or how I feel.  They are the grown-ups and they get to make all the decisions and I’m supposed to just smile and kiss all my friends good-by without one small word of resentment.”
     The pen dug in so sharply as it underlined the two words that the paper was sliced cleanly right through.
     Fifteen year old Kenyon glanced up from her refuge in the very back seat of the Dodge Caravan.  She was the farthest she could get from her Father in the driver’s seat and still be in the van.  In her lap she cradled a simple box of dark, weathered wood.  Resting on the sloping surface of the box was a blank book with rich, creamy pages.  Snoring gently beside her was a smaller version of herself, a five year old girl with matching, tanned skin and dark brown hair.  Kenyon returned to the words she was writing on the first page of the blank book.
     “I’m not usually such a grouch, but my whole, entire life is being destroyed and I am not only expected to let it happen, I actually have to pitch in and help it happen!  I am supposed to be starting my sophomore year with my friends, not that I’m super popularity girl or anything but I do have friends and they all go to the same school, My School, and it’s going to be a great year except I won’t be there.  I’m here!  I’m driving across the whole, boring country with my dictator Dad and my bratty sister and I have to be responsible for the brat so that Dad can relax after driving all day.  He could at least have let me get my learner’s permit so I could be driving too, but no, he wants to wait for me to have lessons when we don’t have a trailer to pull.  He tells me to grow-up all the time but tries to keep me his little girl at the same time. 
     “Speaking of little girls, what I have to do is babysit her through the evenings at different motel swimming pools and keep her entertained for long, hot, boring days in this old van.  She’s such a baby!  The trouble is that soon she won’t even be the baby of the family!  If Mom wasn’t pregnant she would be driving out with me and ‘lissa instead of staying home to finalize the sale of our house.  Dad could do that, but this way will be easier on her, so Dad and I find the new house in Oregon, and move things in and do all the hard work, then Mom just walks out our old door, flies to Oregon in like, half a day, and walks into the house we’ve gotten ready for her.”
     Kenyon turned the page in the book and twisted her pen between her fingers as she thought about the unfairness of her life.  It was a beautiful pen, expensive because of the squishy soft grip and the polished malachite casing.  The pen and lap desk had been a gift from Grandpa Walt.  She loved the aged wooden desk and the cool gleaming green stone of the pen like the aged brown of his skin and the gleaming green water of the river where he took her to skip stones, watch snapping turtles and gather honeysuckle.  The thought of him made her eyes burn with unshed tears and her throat feel tight.  She probably could guess he’d be at a Pirates game about now – something she might never do again!  She slid off the lid of the desk and idly sifted through contents she already knew by heart; thick creamy paper, rich with the perfume of the dried honeysuckle tucked between the stiff sheets and starting to absorb the scent of cedar from the box, envelopes, a small spiral notebook with black pages, a supply of pale gel pens, a calling card, a small mirror, pens and pencils, a pirate pennant, and a pink Swiss army knife.  There was also postage stamps and a Kennywood address book, the picture of raging rapids on the cover made her smile wistfully.  The entire box was made without a nail anywhere, smoothly joined by an expert craftsman.  Grandpa said it was probably old, maybe even a hundred years or more.  She slid the lid back into place and resumed writing.
     “Grandpa Walt would say I’m pouting.  I guess I am, but missing him is one of the things I’m pouting about.  I know he loves me and I love him so much.  He says he’ll call and talk to me every weekend and fly out to spend a week in Oregon at Christmas, but then he’ll go home to Pittsburgh and I’ll still be missing him!”
     The hot weight of her kid sister sleeping against her became unbearable, “Lissa, Get off me!  You’re sweaty.”
     “Lissa, I mean it – Move.  Wake up brat.”
     “Ung!  Kenny, stop shoving me.  Hey, read your book to me.”
     “No, Go back to sleep, just not on me.”
     “Read to me.”  The demand in her younger sister’s voice took a second to register in Kenyon’s mind.  She turned to see the small girl gazing at her with a sleepy pout.  “Read what you’re writing Kenny.”
     Kenyon snapped hr journal shut.  “No, ouch!  You made me drop my pen.  Now I have to unbuckle my seatbelt and you’re laying on the buckle.  Shove over.”
     “Read or I’ll tell Dad.  You’re supposed to entertain me.”
     Kenyon snatched up her pen and hastily stuffed it back in the lap desk and slid the desk beneath her seat.  “No way, Melissa.  Don’t pull my hair.”
     “I didn’t mean to pull your hair.  I was just sitting up.  You told me to move.  You don’t even love me.  You’d love to be an only child!  Let me see!”
     “Ouch, KENYON!”
   From the front seat, Dad called, “Kenyon, stop picking on your little sister.”
     “Don’t touch my journal, ever!  Wait.  Are you sure you aren’t still sleepy?  We’ll get there faster if you sleep.”
     “Get where?”
     “Dad’s looking for a market so we can get oil for the car and cold drinks for us.”
     “You sleep Kenyon.  Then I’ll get there faster.  NO, Don’t sleep read your journal and we’ll still get there faster.  Did you write about me and how we’ll swim every night?”
      She knew that Melissa would become even more determined if she was flatly refused.  “Really, it’s just boring old stuff I was writing while I was waiting for you to wake up.  I can’t wait to find out if Templeton breaks the egg.  I want to read more about Charlotte.  I’m having a hard time waiting but I didn’t want to peek ahead while you were sleeping.”
    “I’d kill you!  You can’t ever read Charlotte’s Web if I’m asleep!”
     Kenyon forced her eyes to look wide and innocent as she shrugged apologetically,  “I just wrote.”
     “Well, that yucky, boring stuff is OK when I’m asleep but never read ahead without me.  I’m ready now.”  Melissa turned imploring eyes upon her big sister and the journal was forgotten.
Often I just write for myself, because there is a part of me that is most myself when spinning stories, but this time especially I am curios about feedback and your comments would make me smile, even if you hate it, just to know someone cares enough to respond.

Thanks for taking the time to look.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September Resolutions & New School Year

My favorite people!

I have been in school for 42 years.  Is it any wonder then, that I think of September as the true "New Year" and that my mind turns without fail to thoughts of reassessing what I have done, what I have failed to do, and what I want to improve the next time around.

Teachers are a bit like farmers.  Our life revolves in cycles with the seasons.  We plant seeds that may not bear fruit until we are long gone and we sometimes feel like nothing changes, like we are caught in a routine of plodding through the same tired, worn out tracks until we can't hardly lift our heads from the pillow, which we do long before the sun does.  But then things change fast when they do change, from tiny kids to graduates, growing in spurts and blooming when our eyes are turned away for only a moment. Volunteering to grow in untilled soil where only a moment ago there was no sign of life.

 The routines seem unvaried with each season, open a cabinet you closed last year, put up the poser you have already pinned to the wall in the same place 9 years running, greet another room filled so tightly with young bodies that you know you have to go on a diet or you will never be able to squeeze those adult sized hips between the rows to see what the question is there in the middle of the room.
 But the routines can change, and the students are different, though they may have the same faces and last names and stun you by saying, "You used to teach my Dad. (Grandpa)"  Every year, the freshly custodianed classroom waits in pure potential.  This year can be different.  This year you can be all things to all people.  You can be super Mom, wonder teacher, writer for the crowds of adoring fans who will discover you.
 You can save the world, and your sanity and read the classics and get in shape.  And Blog about it as you do it.

You can wake up with a smile and kick the coffee habit and do your yoga and learn to fly a jet.  You can live all the dreams that Dr. Seuss promised you when you were going into the first, first day of school.

You can, again try to be better than you have been at the very same time that you can smile and love yourself, flaws and all.

 So I have been filling out calendar pages with commitments to myself and taking the time to see what I have accomplished this summer.

Goals                                                                   Reality

Repaint the house                          Well, really it hadn't happened in 15 years had it?

Publish my second Novel               YES!  Duffy Barkley:  Seek Well is available from bookstores and Amazon

Get in shape                                    No! moving hurts!  my shoulder is in agony, and there was good food by the computer while I was writing!

Go Camping with my family            Yes!  Not as Much as I wanted, but yes!!  And with friends

Enjoy the summer before my son's senior year          Yes!!  And make sure he knows I love him

Declutter the house                          Flylady helped but only in babysteps. Closet cleaned out, bookshelves done but piles still in sunroom

publicize my books                          some yes, some no  getting the hang of it to the point of boring some friends

 Things have not been perfect.  People have died, friends have needed my time, but that is Life, the part that reminds me that I am alive, for all the pain and laughter come with loving and living and being open to the world

 There is so much beauty in this world, and if I only teach my students one thing, I want to teach them to look beyond the negative news and the scary stories to the beauty and the goodness.

 I was reading an article about 9-11 and how everyone wants to remember, but this one man was saying we should remember, because we can't forget anyway, but what we really need to remember is 9-12, when the world hurried to help each other, and there was caring and support and love offered to the families - and we were all family.  Even when we feel alone and targeted, there is someone willing to come into the rubble and help us out

This September that's what I want to hold on to.