Guest Post

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Okay, time for Christmas stuff

cj Sez: Now that I'm fully stuffed with Thanksgiving dinner, it's time to find my Christmas spirit ... not that it's been lost. It's just been in storage. In boxes. In the closets. In the garage. But Saturday, I retrieved the outside lights and hung them up then set the timer for an automatic shut-off six hours after they go on (at dusk). I like to have my outside Christmas lights operating for at least a month if I'm going to go to the up-and-down-the-ladder effort to get them up. Happy to tell you, I couldn't wait until tomorrow to have them come on. Ergo, tonight, my eaves are glittering with color! Yay. Now, I'm in the mood to shop, shop, shop. Scary thought.

Rather than try to create some incentive for all you writers to sit down and write over the holiday season -- especially for those who've just gone through NaNoWriMo (hope you met your goal), I think I'll serialize one of my favorite Christmas short stories. I picked this piece in honor of the memory of my friend, Tracy Hurley, who helped me get the story ready for submission. Thanks, Tracy. I miss you.

"Dancing with Daddy" was published by Adams Media in 2008 in their anthology CHRISTMAS THROUGH A CHILD'S EYES, edited by Helen Szymanski. I wrote this memory under my maiden name, Marilyn Olsein. Here is this week's excerpt of "Dancing with Daddy":

    Living in a small town in Texas during World War II was tough, especially at Christmas. My father, disqualified from the Armed Forces because of his age, was working in an auto factory in Michigan, trying to earn more money than farming paid.
     When I remember my childhood, the phrase "dirt poor" comes to mind, but we--Mama, my brother, my two sisters, and me--always managed a wonderful Christmas. Mama's family came to our house for dinner, and Mama made pans of Swedish cardamom rolls, the sweet smell filling the whole house. Grampa would bring in a couple of chickens for Mama to roast and fry, and we'd have cornbread dressing, white and sweet potatoes, corn, and green beans that Gramma had canned. We ate, laughed, sang, and carried on all day and into the night.
     Not long after that hateful war ended, Mama sat us down on the screened porch and told us we'd spend our next Christmas in Michigan. We were moving to Detroit to be with Daddy.
     I was terrified. We all were--even Mama, I think. Detroit was at least a hundred thousand times bigger than Melvin, Texas.
     "Mama, doesn't it snow up there . . . a lot?" Phyllis asked. At twelve, she was the oldest.
     I was born in Texas, and at the age of seven, I could remember seeing snow only once--the Christmas the Army gave all my uncles holiday leave. Uncle Steve, Mama's youngest brother and my favorite, chased me down a slippery road and washed my face with a handful of cold, melting flakes.
     "It's not like snow in Texas," I said. "Detroit snow is black."
     "Don't tell fibs, Marilyn," Mama scolded. "Snow is white wherever it falls."
     "Maybe it's white when it first comes down in Detroit, but Daddy's letter said coal smoke from the factories makes it black," I insisted. I imagined Detroit as a city without color, all black, gray, and white.
     "You'll find out soon enough," Mama said. "We'll be in Detroit for the first snowfall." She saw my face cloud up. "And crying won't change things."
     I didn't want to spend Christmas in a cold, dirty city with a stranger, for that's what Daddy had become to me.

I think the idea for the anthology was a wonderful one and a lot of older writers responded with their favorite, and wonderfully written, childhood memories. I do believe, however, it'd also be a marvelous exercise for young writers whose memories haven't been clouded by the years between then and now. Do you have a young writer in your family? Bet you'd be surprised at what their favorite memory is.

That's all for this post. I'll finish the story next time. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.


PS: The 'toon is from Facebook.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Charles McInnis, Writer and Friend

Last Saturday, my friend, Kat Kennedy, and I drove over the bay to join other writers, friends, and family members of Charles McInnis at the Fairhope Library. We all gathered to honor our friend and remember. There was a lot of laughter as people shared some of the antics of Charles as he grew into adulthood and some of the fond memories of recent experiences. Charles was one of those people we all strive to be - generous with time and ideas, gifted with the written word, blessed with a dry sense of humor that sent people into guffaws, creative and curious. Kat shares her memories of Charles from her recent post on Tea Cakes and Whiskey, her website.  http/  It is a lovely tribute to a quiet, yet powerful, man. Charles, you will be missed. 

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have people come into our lives who make us better. My friend Charles McInnis was such a person. My favorite question from Charles was "What if?" 
Charles was always encouraging and helpful to everyone he met. He had a way of making you feel like you were the most talented person in the room, but we all knew that he was. His talents went far beyond writing, teaching and photography. He had that talent so few of us have -- the talent to bring out the best in others. To point out possibilities. To believe in ourselves. To ask, What if?
I first meet Charles at a writer's editing group. We hit it off immediately. We discovered that we had grown up a stone's throw away from each other, in the same east Alabama county. I had taught at Horseshoe Bend, the setting for one of his stories. That was always common ground for us. I knew where Frog Eye, Alabama was located. He knew my childhood doctor in Eufaula, Alabama. It seems that every time we got together, we would find out something new we had in common.
 I had brought a little short story to the group for feedback. Within an hour of getting home, Charles emailed me with one of his "what ifs?" Throughout the rest of that year we would bounce ideas off one another, meeting when we could to discuss writing and writers. He always made time to give me feedback on my work. We both were similar in what we found funny, and I loved reading and commenting on whatever he was writing.
Charles was a wealth of information. He was a retired physics teacher. He could talk about the subject on a level that even a retired Literature teacher could understand. (This is no easy feat!) We talked about our travels. He was always eager to hear about where I'd been and offer suggestions of where to go when I went to New York. 
Even when an illness kept me at home for much of last year, and I didn't see him as often as I would have liked, he would send along a web address or an article for me to read.
One of the last emails we exchanged was a list of unusual Alabama towns. I told him that was working on an article about unusual Alabama town names, and he immediately started sending suggestions: Screamer (a town we both knew well), Frog Eye, Smuteye, Bug Tussle, Scratch Ankle, Buzzard Roost, Half Chance. He could have said that's interesting, I'll have to read it. But that wasn't Charles. He took the time to look up towns and send them to me. He was one to always go the extra mile. 
I will miss our chats and collaborations. He was a driving force behind my first book. In fact, he did the cover for me. (Without being asked.) He just did it. That was Charles. He contacted me when it was published to say he had bought a copy. I had one for him, but he felt strongly about supporting indie authors, so he had already bought one. That was Charles. We were working on a project, and he had made a mock-up of a magazine cover which read: Tea Cakes and Whiskey, a new story of dysfunction, by Kat Kennedy. I said, "Now, I have to write this story." I was setting up my website at the time and asked him if I could use Tea Cakes and Whiskey for its title. I didn't want to steal such a wonderful idea. And of course, he said, "It's yours. It fits you." That was Charles.
When I attended the memorial for Charles on Saturday, I felt blessed to be among the people he called friends. I think he would have liked the tribute. It was simple and beautiful and moving. As we shared our stories about Charles and his impact on us and the community, I was reminded of how very generous and giving he was to everyone.
I was looking through some old emails and edits from Charles and ran across something he wrote in answer to the question: How do you find time to write?
I think the most valuable thing to do in fiction is to give the characters important things to do. Writing becomes easy then, and the characters perform. You must write in order to see what your characters are going to say and do. It is difficult to write about characters doing mundane things. Finding time to write when characters have clear objectives is easy.
Certainly, Charles didn't write about mundane things. His stories are funny and creative. I think his words on 'making time' fit perfectly with how he lived his life. He made time. Time to help, to create, to travel, to learn, to teach, to care for others. He told me one day when we were planning a group picnic, "I'll bring my never-used kayak. There are no stories for a never-used kayak."
I hope we all learn from Charles the truth of that simple phrase. Use your kayak! Live your life! Make a difference in any way you can! Charles made a difference.
I am eternally grateful for his encouragement and guidance. So I ask the question, "What if?" What if we all lived life to the fullest as Charles did? What if we gave our time and knowledge to others without expecting anything in return? What if we use our kayak? 
Happy kayaking, my friend.