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Preview: Jumping off cliffs

Jumping off cliffs



and building my wings on the way down



Updated: 2018-01-15T10:32:46.259-06:00

 



Bright--the story behind the story (part one)

2017-08-29T11:38:32.721-05:00

A few readers have asked what inspired Bright and I've given my stock reply that a stranger with an ax at a campsite sparked the idea—and that's the truth. But all he really did was provide me with a likely villain. There is more to the story than that.

I was approaching my mid-forties and all at once I was very aware of how quickly things were moving, that that there was no going back, and I was almost certainly going to get old (hopefully) and then die. Most of us say, "Everybody's going to die someday," but we mean in fifty or sixty years, which might as well be a hundred when we're young. But when we're in our forties or fifties, "someday" can feel like a car speeding toward you on a one lane road on a dark night with headlights set to bright. The collision is inevitable.

I was not unhappy with my marriage and my life, not dissatisfied with what I'd accomplished (or what I hadn't), but those headlights were a lot closer than they were the previous year. I walked around like this for weeks, unable to shake the feeling of doom, and not at all sure what to do with it. By the time we went camping, I was teetering on the fringes of what seemed to be a ludicrous depression I simply couldn't shake.

Our second night there, we were sitting in front of a fire with glasses of wine, appreciating the stars, and just talking when I wearily confessed to Gary everything I was experiencing. He listened to every word I said without judgement, without impatience, and with unwavering attention.

And he understood. Completely. This is why it's called midlife, he said. Because we're closer to sixty-five than we are twenty-one and the idea of joining a group of people we've always viewed as members from a different tribe is unnerving. And it's normal to feel that way, even to grieve a little over the sense of loss. Then he talked about the new phase of life and the benefits of it (more time to ourselves, more time to pursue our own interests, grandkids, etc) and he encouraged me to look at the changes as new territory to be conquered as opposed to something to dread.

It didn't solve all my problems, but having someone say, "I know where you are. And it's okay to feel this way" was healing. I was able to spend the rest of the trip enjoying my husband's company, hiking, and sipping more wine by the campfire.

When we left for home a couple of days later, thanks to the ax-man and the fact that it was the first time we'd left the kids alone with no way to get a hold of us, and my inner crisis, I was in a strange place.

And--because I'm me--a narrative began running through my head. What if the guy with the ax had been something more than just a jerk who was trying to mess with our heads because we were interfering with his solitude? What if something had happened to us out there? Or what if I was going home to some kind of terrible disaster? And what if I'd somehow caused it all?










Darkness and Light

2017-05-03T15:29:50.087-05:00


*Unlocks door, enters, hits light switch. Nothing happens.*

*Curses the darkness*

*Lights candle*

*Blows dust off microphone and coughs *

*Pauses*

*Reflects thoughtfully on the echo and ponders the passage of time*

*Remembers intended audience with a start*

This thing still on?  If you're new here, my four year absence won't bother you a bit. But if you've been around for a while and have noticed the sudden flurry of activity in what you thought was an empty blog, you're not imagining things. I have returned.

Where have I been and what have I been doing?

Long story. Let me see if I can do it in less than a thousand words. I went back to college, got a degree, finished Bright, took some vacations, edited Bright, saw some boys graduate from high school and college, cried when they moved out, sighed when they move back in,  said goodbye to some beloved elderly dogs and cats, took more vacations, went back to work as a substitute teacher,  played with our first (adopted) granddaughter, saw the ultrasound of our first biological grandchild, and found a publisher for Bright.

*Counted* Yup less than a thousand words. And thank you. Grandchildren are our new favorite things.

Oh! BRIGHT! You want to know about BRIGHT. I'm glad you asked--in brief--


Hannah Whitfield is tired of living a lie. She's been so caught up in hiding her affair from her husband, Jeff, and three children she cannot remember the last time she was honest with anyone, including her lover, Clint. Telling Jeff the truth is the hardest thing she's ever done, but she expects Clint to understand when she ends the affair. After all, he is the one who said "When it's over, it's over." Instead Clint spends months stalking and intimidating Hannah. After months, Hannah believes she's finally convinced Clint to give up, and she and Jeff go camping. But Clint follows and his actions change Hannah's destiny forever.

A gripping supernatural thriller, BRIGHT is a story about love, forgiveness, and never giving up.

And here's a video designed by the publisher just for fun--



allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="270" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ks9uibKTPHw" width="480">



Conversations with Arrow

2013-11-10T23:51:49.618-06:00

So Arrow and I go for a walk every day. It’s good for both of us—reduces both of our broad mid-drifts and gives us both some fresh air. For my part, there is lots of deep breathing.  And not just because I’m walking fast either. It’s because the alternative involves shouting at the dog and I don’t want to do that. No. That’s not true. I do. But it won’t help. Well, that’s not true either. It will help me. But it won’t help Arrow.  So instead I have conversations with him in which I get to be the reasonable human being who wants one thing and one thing only: To walk side by side with my dog. Quiet companions who are contented to enjoy the dance of sun and shadows on a lonely stretch of road, listen to the skitters in the surrounding woods,  and watch  the occasional turtle easing its way across the road one silent, unhurried step after another. What I get instead is to be the helium balloon bouncing along at the other end of the lead while Arrow half-jogs, nose to the ground, tail wagging madly as he—in his mind—pursues whatever creature who was foolish enough to leave a trail. This is when the conversation takes place.  I throw on the brakes. “Arrow? Where are you supposed to be?”Pauses. Glances around. Glances back at the empty spot beside me. “Uhhh. There.”“Okay. Then WHY aren't you there?”“Because here is rabbits. And squirrels. And---“sniffs air—“Rottweiler.”“You can smell them from here too.”“Yes. Can. From here.”I remind myself that I’m talking to a simplistic creature and point to the space he’s supposed to be filling. “I mean there.”“No. Can’t.”“Why not?”Pauses. Seems to weigh the consequences of honesty. Shrugs (yes. Dogs do so shrug). “You talk too much.”“I do not! And I wouldn’t talk at all if you’d just walk beside me. And what’s that all got to do with smelling anyway?”“Can’t listen and smell. Too much.”“So don’t smell. You can do that later.”“Smelling better. Is rabbits. And squirrels. And (sniffs the air) Rottweiler.”“You know, I don’t ask much out of you. Just a simple, peaceful walk with my friend.”“I like walks.”“I know you do.” “You good friend.”Moved beyond words for a second, I finally manage a “Thanks Arrow.”“Yes. Walk more now? Friend?’“Sure, buddy. Just walk at my side for a while, okay?”“Kay. Quiet though.”“Deal.”And we go a couple of dozen steps more and—once again—he has wandered ahead of me and is beginning to pull. His head is down, his tail is wagging. And I am once again the thing at the other end of the lead full of hot air.“ARROW!”Looks back at me, surprised and, if I’m not mistaken, mildly annoyed. “Yes?’I’m out of civil words. I point to the lead and to the empty space at my side. He follows my gestures. Frowns. Puzzled. “What?” “You’re doing it again.”His look of puzzlement clears. “Oh! Here. Not there.”“Right!”“Is better here.”“It’s not better there.”“Right. Is better here.”“I mean. It’s better there—I point at the spot at my side—than where you are.”“No. Better here. Rabbit here. And squirrel.” Sniffs air. “And—“I know. I know! Rottweiler.”“No, Deer.”  “Fine. Please Arrow. Walk here—I mean—there.”“Only if you stop talking.”“I wasn’t talking.”“You talking right now.”“That’s because you’re not—here.”“Am here. Right here.”“This is here too, damn it!”Arrows ears perk, he tilts his head, and looks genuinely surprised. “That is here too?” It’s like I’ve just shown him a magic trick.“Right.”“I like here. I will walk here.” And he quietly returns to my side.“Thank you.”“Here is good. Can smell rabbits here.”“And squirrels?”“Shshsh. No talking.”[...]



Final Days

2013-05-21T18:53:19.641-05:00

The semester came to a strange end--with me tagging along with Jeremiah on his last day at his own campus and then driving me to mine for a final in a Critical Literature class. (By the way, any time the 23 year old whose job it is to deliver you somewhere on time tells you that he "knows a short cut" you have to acknowledge that your day took a wrong turn somewhere. And, yes, I meant every word of that pun).  I walked in to my final quite late and was braced for the professor (a favorite) to tell me that she was sorry, but rules were rules. Instead she waved off my explanation with a chuckle and handed me the test to take. Jeremiah and I had an uneventful drive home, talking about all things small and large. I must repeat myself here: He has grown into a fine man and not only am I proud of him, I genuinely like him as a human being.   Jeremiah graduated on Saturday. Though he rejected the idea of receiving his diploma publicly, he did celebrate with a group of fellow graduates and friends and didn't get home until after two am. As I understand it, he had a fantastic day (swimming, eating, and going to see the new Star Trek). We plan to celebrate as a family after pay day and he's happy with the idea of having yet another party.However, as those of you who follow me on Facebook know, we lost a dear long-time member of the family on Sunday morning. I have mentioned Oscar here more than once over the last seven or eight years and by now I think you all know that:Oscar liked bubbles, Puppies (the blur is Zippo, a visiting puppy),Snow, Fetch, And snuggles.  But his favorite thing in the whole world was his boy. Nothing even approached his devotion to him.Oscar will always be with us in spirit and in memory, I am sure of this.  Oscar's devotion to his boy and his courage when it really mattered were why I chose to include him as one of the three "co-stars" of The Way of things. (a children's story chronicled on this blog a couple of years ago). Oscar was the Hound. It was surprisingly easy to imagine him as a "castle guard" of sorts because the dog we knew would most certainly have done exactly what the Hound did. The Hound was deceptively fast—his cavernous jaws closing around every attacker, crushing them and moving to the next. He battled in the shadows, baying in fury and pain as he struck and was struck. His red-gold coat glowed in the dim light as though he was on fire.Though the story will probably always remain too personal a tale for the rest of the world to truly appreciate (I really think you have to know the real dogs), it does illustrate (metaphorically of course) the hugeness of each dog's impact on our lives and how we see them. Oscar was portrayed as brave and loyal because he was both. But more than that, he never missed an opportunity to express his feelings for us. We should all leave such a legacy behind. [...]



Coming Soon . . .

2013-05-03T17:14:52.605-05:00

The END of the semester!

Sometimes I have to make priority decisions and one of them was to give blogging a brief break while I focused on my studies.

Bits and pieces of news:

1)  Oldest Son is about to graduate from college. He may finally move out and stop eating all my food. I will miss him. You will hear about this. Stock tip: Buy shares in tissue companies. It's going to be a big month for them.

2) Other sons are all brilliant. You already knew that.

3) Gary remains handsome and smart. And remarkably patient. He is not allowed to get sick again this year. Ever really.

3) I've subbed "FUM". You may have read the excerpt here. If you didn't and want to, let me know and I'll send it to you. Publishers prefer not to find bits and pieces of work they're considering publishing online. More on this as it develops. Prepare for teeth gnashing and wailing as the rejections roll in. Stock tip: Buy shares in ear plug companies.

4) I expect to have Souvenir out by early June. Some things have changed--the addition of a story and the decision not to include another.

5) I hate Spanish. Not the people. The language. Well, not that exactly either--it's really lovely. I hate ME speaking it and trying to keep up with a professor from Spain who doesn't understand that some ears (brains?) are slower than others. This is likely to be the first B on my report card since returning to college.

6)  When I go looking for an MFA program (in the fall of 2015?) I'm going to have to find one that's genre friendly. More on that later.

7) Faulkner rocks. If you haven't read anything by him then do so. There will be a test.





Multi-tasking is bad for electronics

2013-03-02T11:24:54.773-06:00

For the next week or two, Gary and I will be sharing wheels because my blazer decided that just when it was needed the most (during ice and snow season) to go on strike until it is given a new fuel pump.Remember this: I wanted a horse.So after I drop Gary off in one town, I drive to the next and kill time until my first class (Spanish). I arrived, found a desk/chair on wheels thingy just outside the classroom door and decided to study. I went through my growing pile of index cards, trying to memorize two or three dozen new words, committing a little over half of them to memory. After that I turned to a program called "Babble' that--in this case--concentrated on Spanish words. It's a handy little app that uses several techniques to aid in helping the user pronounce and remember key words and phrases. After twenty or so minutes of this I noticed the classroom door was open and the room was empty, so I decided to head to my seat and continue working. However (and do not ask why) I didn't want to interrupt Babble, so I grabbed my backpack, slung it over my shoulder, while carrying my Nexus in one hand, with headphones still in, coffee cup in the other hand, and entered the classroom.I was nearly to my seat when a voice from behind me said, "Mary, you dropped this." I turned and a girl who I have a couple of classes with was holding my wallet which had fallen out of my unzipped backpack. I thanked her, held out my hand--the one holding the Nexus--and took it under the thumb that was also balancing the Nexus. Somehow, the following happened:1) I dropped my Nexus.2) This made me drop my backpack as I attempted to catch it. My cell phone bounced out of my backpack,  hit the floor, and popped a part, the battery skittering across the tile.3) And I looked like an idiot. 4) But I didn't spill my coffee. I quickly rescued the Nexus (which was THANK GOD unharmed) and put the cell phone back together (it was also fine) and thanked the girl who'd brought my wallet who as asking if I needed help. I was grateful when the professor entered and distracted everyone by speaking in Spanish a mile a minute. He handed back the test I was fretting about last week. I got a 97%--which was considerably better than I expected. I'd had an anxiety attack while taking it (something that happens less and less as I go along, but when it does, can simply ruin my day). Class went well. The professor asked us about somos gatos y perros. (our dogs and cats). He was much amused when I stated that I had seis gatos y seis perros. He asked for their llaman (names). Do you know how hard it is to remember the names of twelve animals when one is replying in a foreign language in front of a classroom? When I'd finished completely embarrassing myself, I asked him "Se dice 'rescue'?" He lit up and wrote the word on the board. It is "rescate".  After class I picked up my (now safely zipped) backpack. and turned to pick up my coat. It wasn't there.I turned and glanced toward the hall and spotted it, still over the back of the chair I'd been sitting in before class. "Oh. There it is," I said out loud to no one in particular.The classroom was mostly empty. The instructor was sitting at his desk writing something and wasn't paying any attention to me. But the young woman who'd handed me my wallet and seen me drop everything was watching.Very softly, she said, "Are you okay today?"And, you know, I really wasn't. I've been laboring under the weight of a fair amount of stress for the last couple of weeks or so. 'Working class stuff--never enough money and even less than usual lately, a husband who works for a company that seems to delight in punishing them mightily for minor infractions once again waiting for the powers that be to issue the newest one, a boy with some emotional issues which highlights our poor access to health care, a husband with some worrisome health concerns (see aforementioned lack[...]



FUM excerpt (removed sorry)

2013-05-02T10:22:01.815-05:00

 Removed as this work has been subbed



Gratuitous Story Dog Post

2013-02-21T16:15:23.716-06:00





She loves to watch the birds at the feeders. Oddly, unlike the rest of nature, she shows no interest in chasing them. 



What Irene Found (short-short story)

2013-02-01T13:10:39.448-06:00

 Important footnote (head note?): I've apparently become fond of a technique known as a Pandora's Box and am only just now aware of how often I center my stories around unknown items (mentioned, but unseen by the reader).  What Irene FoundThe couple stands six inches apart, on the sidewalk, hands in the pockets of army surplus slickers, her shoulders hunched, his squared. She is wearing boots that are too big for her small, slender body. He has on a blue hat with the words “Who Dat” in white lettering. On the side of the red brick building just behind them to their left is a large faded sign that advertises, “Zora’s Inn” with a large Italian Mama-face staring out, her mouth curved into a toothy, vapid smile. To the right, in another red brick building, a coffee shop advertises fresh donuts and 20 different kinds of hot beverages. Their backs are to this and to the crowd behind them, gathering on Water Street, some silent and grim, some talking and holding one another. The couple is as close to the barrier of orange traffic cones and yellow caution tape as they can stand without falling into the murky, frothing rush beyond. Where there had been a hollow in the land, there is now water that won’t go to bed, a river unbound by a dam that couldn't take the storm for another day, another hour, another moment. It  crumbled like stale bread, and the water it released swept out en mass, flicking boulders like they were marbles, the current clutching and dragging at the foundations of houses, of shops, of the roots of trees that had been there when Washington held his first ax.  The couple is engulfed in the roar of a cannonade that will not fade. On the opposite rise, across the torrent of water, is half a house. The contents of a living room are now open for public viewing—a TV dangling, a green couch teeters, arm chairs, book cases, a china cabinet already gone ahead. The basement is a ragged mouth spewing forth retired furniture, a furnace, boxes, a lawn mower, and rusty old bicycles.They are both thinking about the basement more than anything else. More than the loss of her grandmother’s china, his computer with all their business records, more than where they’ll sleep tonight, more than their neighbors’ homes being carried down river, one cross beam, one floor board, ten bricks, one stick of furniture at a time. Even more than their dog, who they last saw paddling in the current, looking back at them expectantly. There is a loud crack, a groan, and a nearby house gives into the incessant, nagging water. The crowd behind them whimpers as one and they can feel the group withdraw and clutch one another. Someone, probably the owner, moans. The house topples and pieces of it join the boiling exodus of debris.  The trees on the opposite bank are falling in two and three at a time as though they’d made a lover’s promise.But the couple is still thinking about the basement—or more specifically-its contents and when the tarp covered bundle inevitably appears in the water, they stop thinking about the basement and start thinking about it. They both gasp, she points at it.Look,she mouths.His expression shifts from startled to blank, stares through her as though he sees nothing but more river. His message is plain: Stop confessing.   He is hoping the tarp doesn't come off, that the bundle will float safely down river and settle in the recesses of some deep pool. Or the emergency crews will accidentally bulldoze it in with the boulders and the smashed trees. Maybe it will remain hidden. Maybe it will smell like the river and no one will notice it at all. Or perhaps will notice it, but assume it’s a dog that finally lost the fight with the current.She half-hopes that someone will find it, wants to answer questions, wants to tell someone—any[...]



Swallowing my pride

2013-01-20T08:45:11.601-06:00

I get to do this a lot. So I either have a lot more pride than most or I'm constantly having to learn to that it won't kill me to ask for help (those might be the same thing). My husband will tell you that I'm the one who doesn't like to stop and ask for directions.

This week I've had to do this more than usual. After three or four days of wrestling with the new template on my website I finally faced the humbling fact that I needed help. Okay, that's not true. After finding me in tears (yes, really--how embarrassing) on Sunday afternoon because I couldn't figure out why something wouldn't center right, my husband tactfully suggested that I seek out help from one of the two or three techs I know. I hemmed and hawed for two or three more hours and finally "resorted" to asking for help. That tech (Stacey Roberts) spotted part of the problem. My oldest son--who is about to graduate from college with a degree in computers--spotted another later. He then suggested that I contact a friend of his who is a systems' analyst for some large company. John probably realized that giving me the tools to do it myself was going to be easier than doing it for me. He explained the big-picture issue and sent me the link to a site that teaches people how to use HTML5 and CSS. The truly humbling part of this? I had this young man in Sunday School. About one thirty in the morning (I'm not obsessive or anything), after pouring over the information on the website, I spotted the last problem and resolved it. The fix was painfully simple. This explains why I write words, not html.

You can go look at it now. In fact, please do. Share it with all your friends. Tell the world, if you wouldn't mind. Not so much because I need you to advertise for me, but because after all this work it would be ashamed if nobody ever saw it.

 http://maryopaddock.com/








Dussel Would Approve

2013-01-11T08:10:43.288-06:00

 If you've been hanging around my blog for any length of time at all, you've probably noted that I like dogs and cats. I like 'em a lot.


Further more, I am a huge fan of animal shelters and what they represent to the millions of homeless animals in our country.  Among our pets (largely rescues) I've been fortunate to have three animals over the years that came from shelters--a Siamese named after E.E. Cummings (we dubbed him Eek), a Dachshund mix named Random (who passed away at sixteen years old in 2008), and, currently, Clancy. I consider myself a better person for knowing each of them. When I think about where they would have been without a middle man who could step in and provide for them until I came along, I shudder.


You know the ASPCA commercial with Sarah Mclachlan singing "Angel"? Yeah. It makes me cry too (It's okay, guys, I won't tell). As much as I appreciate the heart-wrenching power of that ad, I must say that I find positive advertising to be every bit as powerful. Below is an ad that not only encourages people to adopt from their local animal shelter, it celebrates the mission and the people involved. Further more, it is guaranteed that you will walk away singing "Take a Chance on Me". There's a better copy of it here--if you want to watch it on full screen: SPCA Pet Adoption Video


allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='https://www.blogger.com/video.g?token=AD6v5dwStjTYJL8E4ldp6QcDvqdEoS6mHaP5hDsr0i9waDNZdXoOUHXtE1uNYsClQiyQseBg_JHHR06Lmco' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />

My writing would not be what it is without the animals I've known. And because I cannot imagine my life without them, I rarely write a story that does not include one. Sometimes they're so close to the main character they almost displace them.  

Those of you who are curious about the title of the blog--Dussel is a dog in my book Fassen Files (and he is a good example of a main character being upstaged by the dog). Want to know more? Well, you'll have to read the book. You can find it here 





Tech Wars (Rambling thoughts and a bit of news besides)

2013-01-06T19:42:42.113-06:00

My oldest son upgraded my computer for me about two months ago--moving me to the newest thing--a solid state hard drive, a new quad-core motherboard, ram, etc--all in a shiny new case. You can tell that I'm not a techie because I'm not excited about its sporty appearance, nor am I quoting the specs. About ten years ago I would have been--largely because I probably built it myself. Times have changed and I no longer want to know what's under the hood. Now I just want it to take me the places I need to go as quickly as is reasonably possible. I want to know that it will still be running when I return, and that my data will be safe. My son rolls his eyes at me when I say this kind of thing. However my new computer is super-fast and that I love it and the boy who put it together for me.However when he re-installed the OS he forgot that my copy of Win7 is actually an upgrade, so for about two months Windows has been issuing me warnings that it was going to fire the doorman and turn off the electricity if I didn't deal with the situation. This meant looking for my Vista CD and re-installing it and then re-installing 7. The fallout? I'll also have to re-install Office, Expressions, Chrome, and that little farming game I like to play when I'm supposed to be writing or studying. Then I have to re-customize everything in Office so that I can format documents quickly, etc. A minor headache of course, but a headache all the same and I've been putting the project off.First I was just waiting for Christmas break, and then I was waiting for Christmas to be over, and then I was waiting to not be writing. Sure enough yesterday it shut off the background pictures and my desktop is black. And now I'm getting mafia like threats--"You could be a victim of fraudulent software, if you know what we mean. Contact Microsoft. We'll make you an offer you can't refuse . . ."   So I started moving files to another drive and backing up the pictures I've taken over the last month. In the process I found a file full of short stories that I hadn't so much forgotten as I had deemed them "not good enough". Not good enough because none of them are especially fun stories--and they are clearly from a period of time in which I was still attempting to write straight literary fiction. The work is actually pretty good, but I prefer the material that makes up the SING collection because it's more representative of my current longer works. As I looked through it I spotted an emerging theme. I clearly spend a lot of time thinking about women and our ability (or sometimes inability) to control not only our own destiny, but the destinies of those we love. There is some of this in SING, but it is far more pronounced in the earlier pieces. I didn't realize I was such a feminist.  At the rate I'm going, I will probably not complete Bright before May and even then it will need intensive edits to bring it to the standards I set. It will (hopefully) be released next August. Meanwhile I don't want to lose any audience I've gained--faithful and kind as they are, people do eventually shrug and wander away. So I've decided to release this collection under the title of the story that kind of defines it, "Souvenir".  Estimated date of release? Late February/early March. I'll know more once my primary beta reader (Gary) takes a gander at a couple of the pieces. Meanwhile, send good vibes my way as I wipe my drive and commence installing Vista, re-installing drivers and all the other software that makes this writing thing so much easier.  [...]



Money, December, and Writing

2013-01-03T20:30:07.445-06:00

What was it Douglas Adams said about money in Hitchhiker's Guide?This planet has -- or rather had -- a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.This blog has had a quiet month. Largely because I couldn't think of a thing to say that didn't eventually return to the topic mentioned above. Which is silly really, because I'm here to talk about writing and publishing and should be able to talk about them without referring to the lousy economy and how our paychecks just aren't stretching as far as it seems like they should. Right?But I guess it shouldn't be much of a surprise. It seems many people I've talked to over the last month or so have been subject to similar preoccupations. Probably because Christmas is when one is supposed to give gifts and gifts cost money (even handmade ones, unless you're inclined to keep craft supplies around). And of course there's that tedious fiscal cliff. I think we'e all a bit tired of looking over that precipice aren't we? It's high time we go find something with a better view.I'm going to stand over here. You can join me if you want.I can report this without flinching--I've been writing. I've been writing a lot. Bright is moving along nicely. Let me expand on that--nicely does not translate to a huge word count. I'm agonizing over every phrase even though I know I'll do more than one rewrite. And because I'm agonizing, my word count is about half of what it would be if I was just typing whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. However when I look back at the words I've been writing, I'm pleased. All in all, for a first draft--it is good. Solid even. I've decided to share a chapter with you. If you spot any typos or awkward phrasing, bear with me. It is still in the draft stage and I don't always spot them when I'm still involved with the story.To orient you--Sarah is the eccentric sister of Hannah, who, you might remember from the synopsis, is missing. Chapter thirty-something"There are exactly a hundred Night Crawlers in every container.""They are so big your customers will consider eating them instead of going fishing.""My drivers bring them to you in a pickup truck. They are specially packaged to withstand the trip."In response to every question, Sarah voiced the phrases she'd practiced in front of the mirror that morning. All phone calls had to be planned. All conversations rehearsed. Unrehearsed, unexpected questions were written down and the customer told that she would get back to them.  Sarah sat her kitchen table with her lap top open and her cell phone to her ear. Elliot snored at her feet, Butch and Sundance, the two strays she'd invited to stay for a few days six months ago were snoozing nearby. Though his cage was in the kitchen, Keester had flown to his perch in the front room, presumably to soak up some morning sunshine. He was pre-occupied and she was worried about his silence. People bought from her because she was reliable and honest, never shorted their shipments, always delivered when she said she was going to.  She knew they thought she was strange when they met her. She had trouble looking people in the eye, spoke in flat mono-tones, dressed in mismatched clothes, and said things that didn't make sense to anyone who didn't already know her. She didn't care what they thought as long as they paid their bills. But if she could figure out a way to avoid talking to anyone that wasn't family, she would. This potential customer was a litt[...]



Christmas Break--finally

2012-12-14T07:04:35.807-06:00

Finals are over and I really can't tell you how I did. It's not uncommon for me to arrive at the end of a test--especially an essay test--and find myself questioning everything I'm doing; from what I just wrote, to my entire purpose for taking the class, to my role in the universe. Often by the time I reach the last question I'm in a very "What the hell" kind of mood. On one occasion a couple of years ago I had to struggle mightily with the urge to write "This is a stupid test and I no longer feel like taking it." In my defense, I had a cold at the time and it was the third essay test I'd taken that day. Yesterday was no different. I'd spent four or so days studying for finals and I was simply fried. I don't remember what I wrote, but as I was drunk on lack of sleep and on literary overload, I have a terrible feeling that what probably seemed profound and beautiful by the dim light of exhaustion will be the sort of thing I'd quickly kill and bury in the backyard under any other circumstances.

I suspect I need to re-think my test taking strategy.

BUT I now have a month off from school and I'm trying to decide what to do with it. I know there will be some house cleaning, some Christmas decorating (our tree is up but still naked), some gift making, some blogging, and some writing. Okay, a lot of writing. And I need to spend some time sorting out my website, which I really like, except that the background loads slowly and I haven't worked out exactly why. And I need to spend a lot of time figuring out how this marketing thing works. More on that another time.

But today I'm going to putter and do exactly what I want to do (which will almost certainly include some cleaning--as the current state of affairs is just disturbing).   Watch this space for updates.




The Next Big Thing

2012-11-28T20:17:15.906-06:00

The following meme is courtesy of Ray Veen . I'm doing it a) because Ray is a sweet guy and doesn't often ask for favors, and b)  I'm a little brain dead this week, thanks to a big paper and prepping for finals.  and c) What writer doesn't like to talk about their work? At the end there will be an invitation and directions so you can join in.My answers below apply to my current work in progress--my sixth novel. 1. What is the working title of your book?  The working title of my current project is "Bright" as in--  "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." Revelation 22:1-5Trust me, it's relevant. 2. Where did the idea come from for the book? Multiple sources. The largest part of it was inspired by confronting my own mortality (midlife stuff) and, as a result, baring my soul to my husband while on a camping trip. I've already blogged about this here so I won't retell the story. But the primary conflict was presented in the form of a really strange guy who camped right next to us one night in the otherwise empty campground. For reasons known only to him, he positioned his entire campsite so it was facing us and every time we looked up from what we were doing, he was watching us. Being of a less suspicious mindset than his wife, Gary thought he was lonely and went over to introduce himself. While he was vaguely polite, he made it plain he wasn't interested in conversation nor did he want to join us. Late that the evening he trooped past our camp site multiple times while carrying an ax and retrieving dead fall from the woods--which meant he actually had to make a detour because the tree-line was behind his own campsite. When we woke up the next morning, he was gone--leaving his campfire still smoking. I have no idea what his real story was, but some day I'm either going to owe him a debt of thanks or an apology for inspiring one of the creepiest villains I've ever written. 3. What genre does your book fall under?  I really don't know. Spiritual chick-lit meets science fiction meets the supernatural genre?4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart? Just kidding. I'm not good at this.  I like Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, John Cusack, Harrison Ford, and the guy who plays Monroe on Grim,  See? This is why I don't write scripts . . .5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?For the record--I hate run on sentences . . .In the wake of an extramarital affair, a middle aged woman and her husband go on a camping trip  to relive the moment they first fell in love, but they're stalked by the woman's former lover who attempts to murder them both and in her final moments promises her he's going to kill her children as well, but he doesn't count on tenacity of a mother's love and the Powers-That-Be.  6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I am an indie writer for oh-so-many reasons. If I'm going to put the time into writing an entire boo[...]



SOJCast Interview

2012-11-16T17:26:01.563-06:00

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Stacey Roberts and Mark Gosson from the SOJCast had invited me to do an interview with them to talk about Fassen Files and Sing .  The newest SOJCast is now available for your listening pleasure. For those of you downloading episodes on iTunes it's entitled:  Needless Distraction . If you're not already a fan, then this would be a good time to become one. You might even learn something about politics (and certainly the election ballots) in Kentucky while you're there.  This interview was a lot less nerve wracking than I expected it to be and this is largely due to these guys' interviewing/people skills. Within a minute or two of talking I almost forgot the conversation was being recorded. In the course of the interview we discussed the creative process--always a topic of interest to me. I think this is true for a lot of writers--we all have the burning desire to know whether we're weird or whether our own process is broken or if there's an easier way to accomplish our ends.  Over the years, I've learned that while you might be able to break the "types" into large groups of people who write organically (no formal plotting--I'm a member of this group) and those who sit down with a map, timeline and notes, there really are no two people who do it the same exact way.  So when I meet two writers, like Stacey and Mark, who are successfully co-writing a book or a story, I'm fascinated. How does one dovetail two individual writing styles and habits? The only time anyone has ever offered to co-write anything with me, it was more like: Them:  Hey! I have an idea! Lets write a book together! Me: (Cautiously): Okaayy. I'm listening. Them: See! I have all these great ideas, but I just don't have the time to write them. So I was thinking that if I told them to you, then you could write them and publish them and we could split the proceeds.     So far I've managed to avoid laughing outright in anyone's face, but it's been close.   But these guys not only seem to do it successfully, in the same room, at the same computer, every week, they've managed to remain friends. Which should tell you something about the strength of their friendship. And this camaraderie shines through in their podcasts as well. I cannot wait for them to release their own work as I'm sure it's going to be every bit as good.  I've said it before, I'll say it again: Thanks guys. It was fun. And best of luck in your own writing. [...]



Invisible Puppies

2012-11-13T23:38:58.595-06:00

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this particular furry headache: her name is Story. I named her after one of my favorite things (let's face it, she looks more like a Story than she does Vanilla Ice Cream. And naming her Gary would have created a great deal of confusion around the house). By the way, do you know how often the noun "story" comes up in casual conversation? I do. And so does she. Oops.


I'd held off spaying Story until after her first heat as I usually do with my females. She came into season in August and passed without incident. Before I could make the appointment, life got in the way (among other things, the mini van decided that it wanted a new head gasket and refused to budge until we gave it one). So I decided to put off the spay until November.

Apparently Story got bored while waiting and decided to pretend she was pregnant. Then she gave birth to invisible puppies. She lays in her kennel and talks to them and nurses them (no, I'm not kidding) and frequently moves them around the house (judging from the places we keep finding her). Occasionally one of the puppies will look suspiciously like her favorite blue chew toy that just happens to be vaguely puppy shaped. This is can be a problem when one of the other dogs wants to play with said blue toy. You can imagine her dismay when one of the boys tried to get her to play fetch with it.  

The vet tells me this happens to 60% of unspayed females. He also assures me that she will return to her buoyant self in another week or so and does not need anti-psychotics. Currently she isn't speaking to any of the other dogs--I suspect they made fun of her--and running interference is no fun. She's spending a lot of time in solitary, which seems to be perfectly okay with her. After all, she has her puppies.

Meanwhile I feel like I used to when I'd bring my oldest son (then two and a half) his lunch and he'd ask me to set a place for his imaginary friend "Little". Being a good sport, I would oblige him, only to be told that Little was sitting somewhere else. Over the years, Little's family moved in with us too and sometimes there were parents and a little brother at the table. I never could remember what those people liked in their coffee.


 




Bright

2012-11-05T17:15:42.587-06:00

When I was a kid I once asked my dad if I could have a nightlight. He replied, "there's nothing there in the dark that isn't there in the light. You don't need one." Like a lot of little girls, I thought he knew everything, so I grew up without that nightlight, reciting Dad's words to myself whenever I was afraid, holding them out in front of me like a talisman, but wishing for a light instead.  Fast-forwarding to adulthood, I've determined that while he was right about lot of things, Dad was wrong about the darkness. It is populated with many things that aren't there during the day. Things that use darkness to their advantage. If you're with me on this, then I don't have to tell you that they have teeth; you already know. They are the things that worry you and keep you up at night, the regrets, the disappointments, the "why did I say that"s, and the unfounded fears that play and replay on our mental movie screens when we're tired or vulnerable. They are the monsters under the bed, the invisible psychos in the back seats in empty parking lots. And all they need is an unguarded moment in the darkness to take hold. I now freely admit to my need for a night light and am happy to provide one for others when they need it.The book "The Daylight Here" that I started writing in 2009 was the result of these things complicated by a low dose of  midlife crisis (mortality, oy . . . ). I needed a new night light, so I wrote one. Being me, and because it was a look at regrets, mortality, and the choices we make, it took the form of a ghost story, but it is about much more than that.In rereading it I've been struck by how much of it is good, solid work and how little editing the first two thirds needs. The last third was garbage. This happens sometimes, though I usually spot it before I get very far along. But now I remember why I put it down. Because I knew I'd taken a wrong turn, but I couldn't figure out how to fix it without tearing out part of it and, at the time, I didn't want to. Funny what a difference three  years can make. It was easy to hit that delete button.  While I was sitting in church yesterday morning I was thinking about this story (sorry God) and it came to me that I will feel better about the entire project if I settle on a permanent title that actually defines the purpose for the book. I contemplated what motivated me to write it in the first place of where I was emotionally at the time (not depressed, just not happy, and not sure what to do about it). For reasons that will become clear as I reveal more about the book, the word Bright crossed my mind. And then it crossed it again. It resonated. And I realized that is what it should have been called all along. Once I settled on the title I knew for the first time that this is the next book you will all see. Watch this blog for updates and excerpts in the coming months. Oh--and the villain in this one? He gives the author chills. I wonder why.   [...]



What's next? Good question . . .

2012-11-03T14:24:15.812-05:00

Once upon a time, when I finished one book I could choose to take some time off or move on to the next idea. I generally chose the latter, part because there was nearly always one waiting. Because I'm me, and more than a little single minded (the less kind might call me OCD, others obsessive, and still others a woman who wants to justify her lousy housekeeping), I nearly always finish what I start. In all I have six books and one collection of short stories. To be honest with you, I didn't realize that until just now. I've been telling people there were four. I obviously can't count. The list is as follows (in the order they were written)--1)Fassen Files  Smashwords and Amazon2) Witness Tree3) Troubled Waters4)Willow's Blood (sequel to TW)5) The Daylight Here 6) The Way of Things(A fairy tale for dog lovers)7) Sing Amazon  Smashwords Barnes and Noble and other ebook sites, including Sony and Itunes.As I was looking for something to put in the back of Fassen Files as a teaser for the next book, I settled on the Troubled Waters excerpt because I THINK I'd like to work on it next. However it's going to require a fair amount of editing as the technology I based it on is now (amazingly enough) obscure. People are relating to one another differently than they did in '07 (facebook, texting, etc). For the not--initiated, TW is about a network security specialist who has just started worked in a civilian capacity for the FBI. When her younger sister, Sophie, is murdered by a serial killer she met online, Sevin Waters fights back the only way she knows how. The problem? No one can figure out how the guy is getting in or out of young women's homes undetected. And then there's the sandalwood dust and the mysterious books . . .  Although I had to seek the expertise of more than one IT guy/gal and even had input from a former white hatter, this book was a lot of fun to write and I would not mind spending more time with it. The fact that it has a sequel makes it all the more appealing.However I'm a little torn between TW and The Daylight Here, which I've described as my first grown up book (with a supernatural twist, of course). Again, for those of you who haven't been reading here for the last few years--The Daylight Here is about a middle aged woman named Hannah who's confessed to her husband that she's had an affair and chooses to stay and make her marriage work. Unfortunately her obsessive ex-lover decides that if he can't have her, nobody can. And further more, he wants to make sure that everyone she loves pays for her choice. The race to stop him from accomplishing this is complicated by Hannah's murder. Yep. Hannah is a ghost and is hundreds of miles away from her family and must get there and somehow warn her children.   Frankly, this is a creepy story that strikes close to home. While I've never had an affair, I see exactly how it happens. Love is complicated and human beings, even the best of them, are fallible. It was a big jump forward for me to go from writing about single twenty-somethings to married-with-family forty-somethings. While it might not be as "safe" or as uncomplicated a topic as Troubled Waters, it may be a better demonstration of my skill as a writer.So there you go, now you know (almost) as much as I do. Decisions, decisions . . .[...]



Fassen Files is Here!

2012-10-31T19:20:14.190-05:00


Fassen Files is available on Amazon as well as Smashwords . I expect it to be available in other eBook stores in the coming weeks and when I have some more time I'll create a POD as well. I'll let you know when all this transpires. I've also updated my website to reflect the news and I've made some other changes as well: MaryOPaddock.com . The big official release date will be on Friday, but I feel that those of you who've been reading this blog for the last six years and helping behind the scenes deserve advanced notice.  

But the really big news--and I confess I'm excited about this (mixed with a bit of trepidation as well)--is that the fellas from the Sons of Joy Podcast, Mark Gosson (Word Tonic) and Stacey Roberts (Trailer Trash, with a Girl's Name) will be interviewing me by telephone on Friday. I'll let you all know when they post the link.  






Emerges briefly from the haze

2012-10-24T21:14:18.874-05:00

I'm nearly done with mid-terms. After this, the normal load of studying and writing papers will seem like nothing. My brain is tired and I don't like college anymore--which is usually how I feel after a marathon of studying like this.


I'm also preparing to release Fassen Files. This weekend I'll be formatting it, so ignore any bad words you hear coming from my home. I'm sure one of the kids probably turned the TV up too loud or something. Because it certainly won't me a cursing at Amazon or Smashwords' Meatgrinder program. I am behind schedule, but if all the forces of the universe cooperate, it should be out by the end of next week, which will still be October. Sort of.



Confession? I have great hopes for Fassen Files. Not because it's a better book than Sing, but it should have a broader appeal. In truth I'm pleased that SING is selling at all. Since July I've sold enough copies to buy a few new chew toys for Story and a couple of more eBooks (though my husband pointed out that it sort of defeats the purpose of making money selling eBooks if one just turns around and uses that money to buy more eBooks. The man clearly doesn't understand how this works). Granted, it isn't very much, but it's enough to make me want to try again.

I'm always hesitant to explain Fassen Files . If I tell people it's about a woman who found a psychic dog, they look at me funny. Like I don't know how cliched it sounds. In truth, the book is light, fun fiction, bordering on chic-lit, but not exactly, science fiction, but not exactly, and a love story, but only sort of (okay, more than sort of, but no more hints). It even has bad guys and spies and espionage (sort of). In the broadest terms possible, it's about the human animal connection, the "what-if" of our relationships with our dogs and how they change our lives. I want people to read this book and look at their own dog and briefly entertain the idea that he might just know a little more than they thought previously.

In case you need any convincing, here's a testimonial from a total stranger I met in my kitchen this morning:  
     
"Hello sir. Have you had a chance to read Mary O Paddock's newest book yet?"

"I'll have you know I stayed up until three am reading Fassen Files, and not just because my wife wrote it. If people like dogs and sci-fi they're going to love this book." *


So there you go. An unbiased, unsolicited opinion. No money changed hands for this endorsement. Though he might have gotten a kiss or two.


I'll have more to say over the weekend. So don't go away . . .

*True story.





Rant: Helicopter Parent (Part III)

2012-10-12T14:55:58.626-05:00

I haven't looked, but I'll bet there are at least two other entries in my blog's history that sound a bit like this and I had considered not posting it it all (I sometimes write rants like this and then decide that they are really more like diary fodder than anything and then delete them). But then I read Ray Veen's blog entry entitled, "Boys Don't Read" and decided that I'd share this one, if nothing else to draw attention to Ray's (go read it--you won't be disappointed). I am a writer as well as the mother of four boys and I'm growing concerned that not only will there be fewer boys reading in the future, but that there will be fewer of them writing as well.I think I may know why fewer boys are reading. As well as the reason that girls (on the average) are making better grades in school than boys are and that more of them are going to college. And, correspondingly, more are writing and reading. My English classes are dominated by girls (this semester, in my British Lit class, there are twenty-five girls and five guys. That's it--five).Our institutions of learning are in the process of creating an atmosphere that is friendlier to girls and their learning style than boys. I've seen it in action in the elementary school classroom: a 4th grade teacher told me that shortly after I met her that this was the worst class she'd ever had. Shortly afterwards I saw what her "problem" was. The class had thirteen boys and three girls. She didn't have a bad class at all. She had boys and they were being--well--boys. She wanted children who would enter the classroom in an orderly fashion without touching anything, go to their seats and get out their books without making any sounds. She wanted children who wouldn't call each other names like "butt-face" or have contests to see who could bounce an eraser off the whiteboard, if left unattended for more than five minutes. She wanted children who were clean and never wiggled. In full, she wanted girls. And I've heard it in college classes; like the professor who told a classroom full of young teachers in training that girls aren't as good at math as boys are and boys aren't good readers. Strangely though. he insisted that in the long run boys become better students than girls do. Evidence does NOT bear this out. In most graduating classes, most of the top ten positions held are by girls. Having taught four boys to not only be competent readers but taught them to love books and storytelling, I can comfortably assure you that boys can do this just as well as girls can. While I do love teaching I'm not an exceptional teacher and, while I think my boys are brilliant and wonderful, I'm fairly sure they're not THAT brilliant. In short, we're giving boys fewer and fewer reasons to love learning, to seek out books, and enjoy being students and we'd better realize this before it's too late. Today, I am fairly sure there is at least one teacher who has decided that I am one of these dreaded parents--the kind that doesn't want their child to ever receive a grade that doesn't reflect the huge worth of that child.Do I care? Yes. And No.I don't want to be the parent that teachers hate to see coming. And I really don't want my kid to get a grade they didn't earn. For the most part, early on in high school, I help them keep up with assignments and bug them to study when I suspect they're not doing enough of it. Generally after their freshman year, my goal is to fade out and be a nearly non-entity by the time they graduate. I re[...]



Fassen Files

2012-10-08T06:47:27.071-05:00


Coming Soon: 

Fassen Files 

by Mary O Paddock

October 8th
Every word in this journal is Trish's fault. She wants me to record my daily activities, thoughts, and insights for one year. At the end of this year, we'll look through all the words I've written and find what's wrong with me. I'm not sure how this is supposed to help. I told her that I know words—I know them well—and they've never done anything except get me in trouble. But maybe I need more trouble in my life. It's obvious I need something.
Ellen Gerhtz 




Maybe what Ellen needs is a small shaggy mutt who can do something highly unusual. Something that lots of other people would be interested in. People with power. People with guns. One of them will lover her. Another just sees her as in the way. 



Fassen: (ˈfasən): to believe 



From the Archives

2012-10-04T23:26:50.654-05:00

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you might have read that I recently suffered a hard drive crash.  This is a headache for most people, but can be a disaster for a writer who isn't good about backing up their work. I confess, I got complacent and have paid for it, though it could have been worse. I will have to rewrite the ending to the sequel to Troubled Waters--Willow's Blood (not the end of the world, especially as I have to re-draft it anyway) and I lost a few pages of Scrim (Aka "The Daylight Here"--which Gary tells me is a significantly better title--and so goes the ongoing debate), but the over all losses weren't as great as they could have been. Among the folders on a long-lost disc, I found numerous drafts of Fassen File (always fun to look back at what seemed like a good idea at the time). But the find of the decade was the unfinished sequel to Fassen Files and discovering that the idea is still sound enough to consider finishing (depending on the reception the first book, this summer).  Anyway--just for fun, and because I feel a need to post something writerly this week, I thought I'd share a poem from the long-lost files. The back story on this piece--While writing Witness Tree, I spent a fair amount of time reading up on the Bald Knobbers, a group of local vigilantes from the late 1800s. In brief, they started out a good idea. Kinney's men join up on a high bald knob,oathing death over naming names, swearingto smoke out bushwhackers, bullies and adulterers.They agree, God is our strength and we are His hands and feet.Kenny's men ride in sure and lean.They drop hickory switches on cabin stoops. Notes, A toothe for a tootheor If thine eye offends, plucke it out,are tied like gift tags, set swinging by breeze of boots doing God's work before He knows it needs doing.If sinners don't attend or leavebarns turn funeral pyres to milk cows and winter wheat.The wicked wake, see woolen horns by slant of flames And repent or run or load their gun. Those who aim report: demons wear boots and bleed.God cannot look upon unavenged sin so Kinney's men hang the unbowed from the lowest branch of the nearest oak. Or they hide by moon's leaching light and shoot oldest to youngest. They say,The sins of the fathers will be visited upon their children.Kinney's men join up on a high bald knob, argue over booty: redeemed soil, pretty widows.We have given. We have taken away.Pockets heavy with the gold of the forgiven,Kenny's men ride out sure, bellies over their belts.[...]



What do I have in common with a teenage girl in Michigan? Well . . .

2012-10-02T17:54:01.141-05:00

 When I read  Bullied Michigan Teen Shines . . .   on CNN, I couldn't help but shake my head.  The story was all too familiar. I am so very glad this young woman responded like this. It is the only way to come out of it with any sense of self-respect and very likely taught a valuable lesson to those who played this joke on her. For the record, I don't think those responsible for it were aware that what they were doing would be construed as bullying. Chances are, they thought she'd done something to earn it. This is how kids, especially teens, often work.  How do I know?  Well apart from having four kids of my own--two currently teenagers, the other two young adults, I was once an awkward teenage girl--and the target of ridicule myself.Back in the early 80s we were living in Northwest Arkansas in a small yellow farm house in an old, defunct mining town known as Zinc. Money was tight at our house and my brother and I wore a lot of thrift shop clothes that smelled like wood smoke during winter. When clothes wore thin, Mom patched them, and we wore them some more. We attended school in a nearby larger town, catching the long yellow school bus at six thirty every morning and returning at four thirty in the afternoon. My class had about thirty or so students, so the line between the haves and the have-nots was especially pronounced. There was no hiding in the crowd--everyone knew who you were and where you were from. I was one of the few kids in class that hadn't gone to school there since at least the early elementary years. Roy (not his real name), the boy in this story, often ran with the "in crowd" (kids with money, most of whom had gone to school together since kindergarten). I did not know him well--he was often foul-mouthed and rude (at least to me) and I chose to keep my distance (never quite knew what to do with that). I didn't find out until a couple of years later, when he momentarily let down his guard, that he was actually an excellent student and could be well-spoken and funny.While I had a handful of very good friends, I was not especially popular. Some of this was of my own making. I was not shy  (what a surprise, right?) and had strong opinions and wasn't afraid to voice them for fear of making someone else mad. I inhaled books, made good grades, and answered my teachers in the southern vernacular--"Yes ma'am"/"No ma'am"--which struck some of my peers as phony.  My parents may have been hippies, but my mother was a southerner and it naturally follows that she was strict about manners and respect for elders and dressing modestly. My grades were closely policed, as was my attitude. In mid-October, when it came time to nominate the Sophomore class Halloween King and Queen (a big all school event), the in-crowd was in high spirits. There was a lot of joking around, and, to be honest with you, I was only half paying attention to what they were doing. I was very likely reading or maybe talking to my best friend, Marty (that IS her real name). It was just one more thing I couldn't attend because we couldn't afford the extra gas to town or the clothes, and it involved dancing, which our Fundamental Baptist Church frowned on. Add not caring about basket ball at a small town school that played no other sports and my case for indifference is well solidified. Probably another reason I wasn't popular, come to think of it.Some[...]