Worst Gift Ever

A funny/sad story by one of my students:

Worst Gift Ever

By D. L. King

I just had to have a bike. Every eight-and-a-half year old boy had a bike. It was a rule or something. Even girls had bikes. I had to do everything just like all the other kids, or I’d be different. I couldn’t be different. I hated being different.

In the summer, the neighborhood kids rode their bikes in the street in front of our house. I sat on a rock and watched them circle round and round, listening to their happiness. If only I could ride a bike, they’d like me. Then I’d be a real boy.

One time, Dad found me in the toy aisle of W.T. Grant, staring up at a baby-blue two-wheeler with chrome handlebars and black plastic grips. I loved the smell of its new rubber tires and fresh paint. Dad stared at me for a minute then said, “Let’s go.” I followed him out to the car.

“Robbie got a new bike, Dad,” I hinted one night after supper. “It’s a purple metal-flake Schwinn with a banana seat. It even has three speeds. It’s really cool.” I threw in a pitiful sigh for effect. He gave me his usual don’t-bother-me look and hid behind his newspaper. Dad hardly ever smiled. Especially at me.

Mom was always mad about something. I could never tell if she’d give me just a cold stare, or start slamming cupboard doors. I didn’t bother her with my dreams anymore.

At school, I daydreamed about Christmas morning and my new bike. I’d hop into the living room, our plastic tree glowing with fake happiness, perfectly wrapped presents under the green branches. And out in front, my beautiful baby-blue bike, leaning on its kickstand. Christmas would be happy this year! I almost felt normal.

When the real Christmas Eve finally came, me and my brother were ordered to bed early. Mom and Dad had to stay up late wrapping presents and putting my bike together. Then they’d park it where the whole family could see how much they liked me.

Morning came. I hopped up the stairs, around the railing, into the living room. My heart pounded, full of excitement and dreams. I’d finally show the neighborhood kids I was just like them.

There was no bike.

In front of the tree was a stupid wagon. It wasn’t even blue. It was red. I hated red. It wasn’t even a Radio Flyer wagon. It was a Murray wagon. Who ever heard of a Murray wagon? It had four wheels, not two. It didn’t have a chain or pedals. How was I supposed to keep up with the neighborhood kids in a dumb old wagon?

I got the message. I’d never be a real boy. Mom and Dad might as well have stuck a big sign in our front yard: A stupid little kid lives here. He thinks he can pedal a two-wheeled bike with only one leg.

Self-publishing: First things first

Jean Harkin

Jean Harkin

(A guest post by Jean Harkin, JPHARKIN@aol.com)

Oops! I may have put the cart before the horse. In August 2016 I published my short story collection, Night in Alcatraz: and Other Uncanny Tales. Not until April 2017 did I begin research for my blog series on self-publishing. Maybe I should have asked the questions before I published. I learned much about self-publishing by writing my blog series. Fortunately I did a few things right, but I also made some goofs in publishing my book.

For instance:

1) Just before I self-published my book, successful authors were advising other writers to establish a social networking presence. Dragging my feet, I joined Facebook. I also started an author page on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/jeanatwritersmill), where I post my blog and feature my books. Acquiring a blog site on Goodreads was easier for me than signing up on Blogger, WordPress, Weebly, GoDaddy or other popular web hosting sites.

2) I began organizing and revising my stories in March 2016. I did something right: I made sure all the stories were edited. But I did something wrong: I didn’t state on the opening page (with copyright info, etc.) that the stories were edited and by whom, although I did note where many of the stories were previously published.

3) To print and publish my book, I used Createspace. That was a good decision in some ways, bad in others.

Good: Createspace offers user-friendly uploading and production; free ISBN number for print copy; e-book made available on Kindle; automatic exposure on Amazon and Amazon international; print copy available on demand to buyers through other online sellers; and the author can purchase their own copies direct from Createspace at a reduced price. An especially nice perk is the fast, friendly and professional help service Createspace provides by phone or online.

Bad: I recently discovered that independent booksellers will not stock books printed by Createspace or affiliated in any way with Amazon. Those booksellers see Amazon as a market bully. The indie sellers can’t sell my print books as cheaply as Amazon can and still make a worthwhile profit. Either I or the store would be shorted. I haven’t been able to determine, however, why the walk-in Amazon store at Washington Square in Portland, Oregon, won’t stock my book and won’t respond to my queries.

4) About marketing: While royalties on my book sales slowly accumulate, I haven’t received one payment. Apparently I must wait until $100 is reached; meanwhile Amazon makes money on each sale. (There may be a way to collect payments through direct bank deposit, but I haven’t checked that out.)

What I did right (but not perfectly): I offered my book for sale at local venues, including the Oregon Historical Society’s annual Christmas Cheer book festival. I’ve gotten the word out about my book—most recently to my high school alumni magazine and on the website of Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA). I recently joined that group—another smart move. Of course my book, Night in Alcatraz; and Other Uncanny Tales is featured on my Goodreads author page.

So far, so good as far as reviews on Night in Alcatraz: and Other Uncanny Tales. I’m grateful to readers for 5 stars on Amazon and 4.5 on Goodreads.

To plan or not to plan

By nature a planner, I’m the queen of bulleted checklists. I love calendars and spend a lot of time filling them out.

In many ways, planning can be helpful. Scheduling my time—deciding what writing project to focus on next and when and where I’m going to work on it—means when I sit down to write I’m ready and know what to do. I jump right in.

Planning also reduces stress because after I assign each project a spot on my calendar, I don’t need to think about it, although I might. There are lots of useful, healthy reasons to plan. But it can also hold you back, pen you in and prevent you from reaching out. Which is why spontaneity also has its place, along with throwing caution to the wind and being less rigid.

So every once in a while I turn on my computer and open a random file. I did just that recently and came across a draft of the blog you’re reading right now.

Reading June 15 in Portland, Oregon

You’re invited! Bring a friend!

I’m hosting and reading at Nancy’s Amazing Assemblage of Yarn Spinners, Tall Tale Tellers and Big Fat Liars. The reading will take place Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. in the Copeland Commons room of TaborSpace, https://taborspace.org/, 5441 SE Belmont St. Portland, OR 97215. Free. Donations accepted. Raffle, food and drink. Readers will include: Howard Schneider, Jamie Caulley, Kerry McPherson, Mark Alejos and Nancy Woods. Visit us on Facebook. For more information: nancy@nancy-woods.com, nancy-woods.com

Small color poster for social media 6-15-17 event

Reading to take place June 15

The public is invited to the first performance of Nancy’s Amazing Crew of Yarn Spinners, Tall Tale Tellers and Big Fat Liars. The evening will include readings by Nancy Woods and several of  her students, including Catherine Magdalena, Kerry McPherson, Howard Schneider, Jamie Caulley and Mark Alejos.

The reading will take place Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. It will take place in the Copeland Commons room of TaborSpace, 5441 SE Belmont St. Portland, OR 97215. Free. Donations accepted.

Poem: Let’s Hear it for Green-leafed Trees

Let’s Hear it for Green-leafed Trees

By Nancy Woods

 

Each fall, red-leafed maples

Grab all the attention

Garnering oohs and ahs

With bus tours centered around them

 

But where would they be

Without the earlier, green-leafed versions

That transform into burnt-orange

Showstoppers

 

Brash is one way of being

Meanwhile, give a shout out

To the quiet side of yourself

That occasionally gives way to the bold

Tales from Tillamook (A serial novel)

“It’s gotta be Randy,” Pennie told me when the lights went out.

Whenever the power goes out, Randy’s name comes up because he’s the unlicensed electrician in charge of all things electrical in the 100-plus-year-old Tillamook Building where Pennie and I lease space. She rents a room for her Curly Girls (and Guys) Hair Salon. I rent one where I write.

That day I was sitting in Pennie’s one-chair salon where, every six weeks, she does her best to tame my frizzy hair. After a few minutes, the lights came back on.

“I hope the power surge didn’t fry my computer,” I said, talking into the mirror that reflected Pennie’s image. Tall and strong, she wielded a flat iron in one hand and a hairbrush in the other.

“If it does,” she said, gradually pulling the iron away from my head, “you could try billing John.” John is our landlord.

“Yeah, right,” I said. “Like that’s gonna work.” Years of trying to make a living as a writer had turned me into a sceptic.

Just then we heard a knock on the door. A second later, Randy poked his head inside.

“Hi, girls,” he said, throwing us a smile. “I know. I should have told you I was going to work on the wiring in the basement but no one was around when I showed up this morning and John’s in a hurry to update the old lines, so I decided to go ahead.” It was hard to get angry with Randy. A small, sinewy man continually covered in dust, he was just making it, like the rest of us, and needed every job he could get. “Is there anything you need to have done?” Randy continued with a pleading look on his face. “I’m offering a special on window cleaning this month, and you know my motto: I Can Fix Everything Except Your Love Life.”

“But that’s where Twyla needs help!” Pennie blurted out before clamping her mouth shut.

“Hey!” I said, offended at hearing the truth. “I actually met a guy last week. Didn’t I tell you?”

“Yes you did but going to a fundraiser for the arts and talking to someone isn’t a date,” Pennie said.

This time it was Randy who laughed. “So,” he said, “what can I do for you both?”

Pennie and I exchanged a glance in the mirror. Over the years we’d both hired Randy to do odd jobs but we always ended up regretting it. The door lock he’d installed for Pennie never worked quite right, and the rug he’d replaced for me had soon wrinkled, tripping the students who met in my space.

“I…uh…,” Pennie stammered.

“We’ll think about it,” I said. “Really. We will.”

“Okay,” Randy said. The look of concern on his face was soon replaced by a smile and a wink. After Randy closed the door. Pennie twirled me around so she could reach my bangs.

“You’re the only client I know who has cowlicks in back and front,” she said while yanking at my hair.

“Ouch!” I yelled. “Watch it.”

“Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain,” Pennie said.

(To be continued)