Thank you J.J. Abrams. I feel like a child again.

At the opening night screening of Pacific Rim I attended with my children, we sat in wide eyed wonder as one glorious monster after another came on screen to do battle with giant robots. The highlight for me was at the end of the scene were Gypsy Danger is battling Otachi and from nowhere the sword comes out and strikes the wining blow slicing the kaiju in half. The theatre fell silent as the giant robot and defeated kaiju tumbled back to earth from high in the atmosphere. From two rows behind me, in breathless exaltation, a young boy stood in his seat and blurted out into the silent room exactly what we all were thinking… “That was AWESOME!”

His raw, exuberant voice expressed that feeling of childlike wonder in a way that hardly any other expression could have. Laughter rippled across the room but we all knew exactly how he felt.

Much of modern popular entertainment is created by people trying to capture that inner child again. When they get it right they take us all with them. Harry Potter became so popular with adults because it reminded many of us of the sense of wonder we felt when reading the Hobbit or The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe for the first time. I recall being a young child and believing with all my heart that I could get to Narnia if I only had faith.

My great childhood (and adult I am not ashamed to say) love was Godzilla. I was lucky enough that my boys fell in love with the King of the Monsters in the same way I did. So this spring when the critics and “fans” alike were expressing their disappointment at Gareth Edwards Godzilla, my boys and I sat grinning until our cheeks hurt watching our favourite fictional monster brought to life on the big screen once more. Yes the dialogue was wooden, yes the human characters were one dimensional, yes there was not enough monster screen time (there never is btw) but these things were all true to each and every other Godzilla movie that had come before it. The difference was we watched as children not as cynical adults. And guess what? We loved every moment; as did my children watching the new Godzilla.

Godzilla 2014 hit on many more of the true fan Godzilla beats then it missed on and for a very specific genre movie trying and succeeding to find a mainstream audience that alone makes it a rousing success.

So if you haven’t seen the Episode VII teaser yet you must. If you don’t like Star Wars or sci-fi or any genre films really, then do not waste your time and do not waste ours with your criticisms. At their best these things are made for fans by fans. When it is done right we all feel it. Not those of you out there who do not get goose bumps at the mention of the Millennium Falcon or those that couldn’t care less who won the Battle for Hogwarts. This movie is being made by a true fans for all of us faithful who hold on to hope that some creative storyteller out there can take us out of our busy, serious, often stressful adult lives and remind us what is like to be ten again. To really believe in dragons, monsters and wookies.

So to everyone who worked so hard to bring us the new Star Wars trailer…

That was AWESOME!!!

FREE! Get Book I: the Dragon Egg Curse ebook for free this week...

To celebrate the completion of the first draft of book II I am offering book I free to Kindle users all week starting on November 24th.

It isn't required reading to enjoy the forthcoming second book but there is some connective tissue and the first book does set up the world of Professor Phippen Abercombie and his enchanted pantry.

Here is the Book I synopsis:

Phippen Abercrombie is a collector of adventures and he keeps his collection in sealed jars in his pantry. The timeless and mysterious Professor Abercrombie stores countless jars in his enchanted pantry each containing the unique past, present or future adventure of thousands of children. 

Fourteen year old Cameron Tate is preparing to make the best of the last couple days of summer holidays before returning to school. A bookish, imaginative, loner, Cameron is dreading returning to school where he struggles to fit in. When he reluctantly goes on an errand for his mother he soon finds himself following a talking weasel through the woods near his home to the mansion of Professor Phippen Abercrombie. 

The Professor presents Cameron with the opportunity to enter the pantry and seek out the jar labeled with his name, containing his adventure. Cameron retrieves his jar and twists the top off releasing a magical journey beyond anything he could ever have dreamed. 

In an instant he is transported to the cursed kingdom of Krotan. Accompanied by three young farmers, the King Aodhan, his brave knight Brogan and the knights warrior daughter Phaelan, Cameron must confront the evil witch Dagma Kaillech and the vengeful dragon Tiarnach. If Cameron is to defeat the Witch, save the Princess and bring to an end the curse that has plagued Krotan, he must trust in his new friends and find the courage in himself to stand up for what he believes is right. 

Filled with monsters, magic, acts of great heroism and sacrifice; The Dragon Egg Curse is a fantasy adventure for the young and the young at heart.

 

If you enjoy fantasy adventure, worlds within worlds and fairy tale inspired middle-grade fiction, then check out my first book, The Adventures of Phippen Abercrombie Book I: The Dragon Egg Curse.

And, it is FREE on Kindle November 24th to the November 28th.

Book II: the Monster Purge is completed!

Well, to put it more accurately, the first draft is completed.

Taking Stephen King's advice I have set it aside for several weeks. I am ready now to sit down and begin the arduous task of editing. I hope to have it ready early in the New Year.

In the mean time how about another excerpt?

To set this scene up our hero Destry and his sister Rylar have just been led to the mysterious Prof. Abercrombie by a talking crow named Carl. Abercrombie has shown them a door standing on its own in the middle of the a path through the park. He has told Destry that terrible deeds are beginning and that he must retrieve his jar from the pantry to set in motion his adventure and perhaps bring an end to the threat that has come to their lives.

 

 

Chapter 4

Enter the Pantry      

Destry pulled the door wide open. He had expected to see the path continuing on the other side, winding its way through the towering oaks, the sun shining through the late summer leaves which hadn't begun yet but were threatening to change colour. To his astonishment, this was not what he saw at all. He was looking at the inside of a small, perfectly normal pantry.

There were three walls with floor to ceiling shelves of preserves. He began to back up but he hit his sister who was directly behind him. She wasn’t budging so he stepped forward into the room. The moment he crossed the threshold something changed. He felt a tingle like static electricity all over his body. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He could hear something. It was music; very faint, very beautiful. He loved music and this bit he could hear now seemed to be calling to him as if it had been composed just for him. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

“Can you hear that?” He asked Rylar.

She strained to hear then shook her head.

“You can’t hear that music?”

“No,” she replied. “There is no music.”

‘There is,” he said. “I am not sure but I think it is coming from one of these jars.”

Destry walked into the pantry. He was leaning toward the shelf on the back wall with his head cocked slightly. He reached out for the shelf but as he did so it remained just beyond his reach. The shelf which had moments before been a couple feet wide was now several feet across and twice as tall as it had been. Destry stepped forward and the whole shelf turned away as if it is were on wheels. As it did so the shelves to each side did the same.

As the shelves rotated they revealed more shelves beyond and those shelves also rotated away revealing more and more shelves with every turn. Countless shelves came into view and the room expanded to accommodate them. What moments before had been a small rectangular pantry was turning into a vast library, a warehouse full of thousands upon thousands of jars.

Soon the shelves in their immediate area had settled into place and revealed row after row of similar shelves filled with jars. Destry looked at his sister. He took her hand and they started walking farther into the pantry.

He could still hear the music but now it sounded as if it was coming from a great distance. They looked more closely at the jars all around them. There were a myriad of shapes and sizes and each had hand written labels on them. Destry looked at the labels and tried to read the nearest ones. As soon as he felt he could read one the words would drift out of focus. He could almost read the writing revealing the contents of each jar and then the letters would scramble and drift into one another leaving the words illegible.

“This is really strange,” he told his sister.

She was holding his hand tightly and staying very close to him as they walked down aisle after aisle, passing shelf after shelf. They stopped and Destry picked up a jar to look at the contents.

“Look at this,” he held the jar out so Rylar could get a better look.

The contents which had initially appeared to be dill pickles now swam in and out of focus like images from a fading dream. The jars glowed with a warm radiant light that filled the cavernous room. In each jar the children could see glimpses of people, animals, landscapes, and machines. But no sooner would they see something they recognized and it would be gone. Destry put the jar he had been looking at back on the shelf and continued walking down the aisle. The song he could hear was growing louder now.

Destry looked around at the ever expanding room. Most of the jars shone with this inner radiance. They tantalized with hidden treasures. But some of parts of the pantry were corrupted. Entire sections were blackened and foul. The jars did not glow. These areas were ruined and decayed; corrupted by some illness. The jars in these spots were dead and colourless. Destry was reminded of mold on bread or rotten spots on a piece of fruit. He moved quickly past these cold, dead places yet they left him with an uneasy feeling.

 “This way,” he said and he started to walk faster. “The music is coming from over here.”

They walked on turning at the end of the row if the music seemed to be louder in one direction than the other. With every corner they rounded the music got a little louder. Rylar still could not hear anything but she trusted that her brother was on to something. The old man had said that this was Destry’s adventure so perhaps that was why only he could hear the song.

Destry stopped and Rylar walked right into his back. The aisle before them was one of the fouled regions. Jars were smashed on the floor and scattered across the shelves. Many were overturned and broken. Destry did not want to walk forward but something had changed here.

“It’s gone,” he said, turning his head this way and that as if he was trying to hear something. “It stopped just this instant.”

He let go of his sister’s hand and began exploring the jars on the shelves more closely. He was careful not to step on the shattered glass on the floor.

“What are you doing?” Rylar asked. She was looking around at the broken glass and cluttered shelves wondering why her brother had stopped here of all places.

“I am looking for my jar.” He replied. “It must be close by.”

“How will you know if it is yours?” she wondered.

“Not sure.” He admitted.

They both began looking through the jars for anything that looked different. Most of the jars around them had the same stubbornly elusive labels and swirling imagery coming from within. Some were grey and corrupted.

Rylar looked down at the broken jars on the floor. They made her feel uneasy. She remembered once seeing a dead dog on the side of the road when she was walking to school. The broken jars gave her that same kind of sinking feeling in her stomach.

She could hear a low buzzing sound and looked down among the wreckage on the floor. Her brother was still scanning the shelves. She saw broken glass, lids and something that looked like dried mud but nothing that seemed like it could be creating the buzzing.

Then she saw something that looked out of place, a large splinter of wood. She reached down to pick it up. When her finger first touched it she received a shock. She pulled her hand back quickly. After a moment she reached for the splinter again and was able to retrieve the piece of wood without incident. She examined it briefly and stuck it in her pocket. Without a word she turned back to watch her brother.

“Maybe we just take any one and the professor will tell us what to do.” She said as she stood up and looked around at the now millions of jars which populated the enormous room.

“No,” Destry mumbled as he kept pushing jars around on the shelf in front of him. “That doesn't seem…”

He never finished his thought. The back of his hand brushed up against a jar as he spoke and the song came ringing back to life in his mind, louder and clearer than before. He stopped and looked closely at the jar he had touched. It was covered in a thick layer of dust and had no images swirling inside of it. No inner radiance as the other jars had. It appeared to be filled with plaster or grey clay. He picked it up and turned it in his hand to look at the label. It was heavy. The beautiful song filled his mind. When his eyes set upon the label he was surprised to see that, unlike the other jars, he could read this one.

“What does it say?” Rylar was watching him closely.

He held the jar out to her with the label out so she could see for herself.

“I can’t read it,” she said as she screwed up her expression trying to make sense of what she was looking at. “The words are all gibberish. It makes no sense.”

“It is my name,” he said slowly, “and my age. It says Destry Grey, 14 years old.”

“Well,” she said smiling, the excitement back in her voice. “Bring it. Let’s go see what we are supposed to do.”

“I don’t know,” Destry spoke cautiously. “Should we do this? What if it is dangerous? We don’t know anything about this man.”

“Well,” she responded. “We do know that something weird is going on. Sophie is missing. You saw something strange last night in the courtyard. Then this old man with a talking crow shows up and says you are supposed to help with something. Now this room…” She waved her arms around. “…appears out of nowhere. I think we are supposed to help. I think this will help us find what happened to Sophie.”

Destry looked at the jar. It felt so heavy in his hand. He felt that the weight was more than physical. If he opened the jar he could possibly be responsible for helping, he usually avoided anything out of the ordinary; anything which didn't seem to be his business. However, he could feel the electric tingling sensation in his finger tips and he could still hear the music. It was probably the music more than anything which helped him decide to bring the jar out of the pantry.

“Okay,” he said finally looking up at his sister. “Let’s go see what Mr. Abercrombie says we are to do.”

They turned to head back down the aisle to where they came in. As they turned they were surprised to see the pantry instantly returned to its original proportions. They were now standing just inside the door and the sunlight was shining through the glass insert and the word Pantry etched in reverse.

Destry turned the knob and they walked back out into the park.




I hope that wet your appetite for the Adventures of Phippen Abercrombie, Book II: the Monster Purge.

Remember to check back often for progress on the editing process and maybe even another excerpt or two.

Thanks for reading.

One Year Anniversary...

It has been one year since I self published my first novel. The Adventures of Phippen Abercrombie, Book I: the Dragon Egg Curse.

As a one year anniversary cerebration I am offering my book for free this week on Amazon. If you have a fondness for fantasy adventure fairy tales, hidden worlds, dragons, princesses and heroic deeds it might be for you. 

Here is the first chapter to wet your appetite. If you enjoy it head follow the link starting Tuesday, January 21st to get your free copy. All I ask is if you enjoy the book please take the time to leave a review on Amazon.

So let's get to it shall we? 

 

Prologue

Abercrombie’s Pantry 

Cover - Complete w-egg.jpg

          Phippen Abercrombie is a collector of adventures, and he keeps his collection in sealed jars in his pantry. Very few people have ever seen the inside of Phippen’s pantry, for that matter very few have ever seen the outside. Even if you were one of the lucky few, it is unlikely you would see anything other than a common pantry door. If you were to open the door you would probably see nothing more than a small room filled with what appears to be jars of preserves. There would be many jars, hundreds, maybe thousands but nothing more unusual than that.

          If, however, you were a very special sort of person, the sort of person who was certain there were dragons and unicorns still to be found in the unexplored wilds of the world; or, perhaps you were the sort who could hear Santa Claus walking on the roof at Christmas; or maybe you were the most clever type of person who understood that you never, ever, ever left your closet door open, even a tiny crack, after dark. If you were the type of person who always hoped for adventures and expected one to start at any moment, around any corner, you might begin to see something different in the very special pantry of Professor Phippen Abercrombie.

          You see, if you looked in the pantry with the right frame of mind you might become aware of some things changing before your eyes.  Subtle changes at first, but growing more dramatic by the second. Where at first you saw three walls with shelves from floor to ceiling you would begin to see many shelves stretching high out of sight; row upon row like a vast library of preserves. The small room, which started out like any pantry, now looked like an enormous, never-ending storeroom cluttered with millions upon millions of jars.

          Perhaps, now,  you might look closer at the jars and you would find what only seconds before looked like canned peaches or pickled carrots, would begin to metamorphous into something wonderful. Inside were no longer fruits or vegetables but colors and images, swirling and changing before your eyes. You might see a beautiful girl on horseback wearing silver armor or a school of mermaids playing in the sunshine. However, you could hardly be sure you had seen these things before they would disappear and transform into something else. Every jar you looked at would contain glimpses more amazing than the jar before. Yet they would remain utterly elusive, teasing you with the secrets each jar contained.

          The labels, which had moments before read things like Marmalade Aug ’02 or Cherries Sept. 03, ‘01, soon became illegible. The words swimming out of focus as if you had let your eyes cross. Then new words would swim into view and they would almost make sense before you would lose them just as the images had done in the jars. However, your curiosity would keep you reading the labels, walking farther and farther into the pantry, certain that you could almost make them out and equally certain that the next would become clear. 

          If you were normally a sensible person perhaps at this point a voice in your head would tell you to be careful, that too much time was passing, and you were walking too far into the pantry. You might feel the urge to look back and see if the door was still within sight. Yet somehow you knew that to look back would break the spell and you would never find what you were looking for. Few had ever turned back once they had entered the pantry, for if they were the type to lose their nerve before such a grand adventure they likely would never have found their way into the pantry in the first place. 

          However, there were a few who had looked back to get their bearings only to find the door a short step behind them. Sadly, when they turned back into the pantry, reassured by what they saw, the room had returned to its original form, three walls covered in shelves of common preserves.

When these sad souls left the pantry they would never tell anyone what had happened in the room. In part because they weren’t sure what had happened and in part because they were ashamed at having been frightened by the unknown. Most of these individuals would always wonder in vain, what would have happened if they had not looked back.

          Yet, most adventurous souls would continue reading the labels looking for the one that would mean something to them. Looking for the label whose words would suddenly swim into focus. This would simply state your name and your current age - Bobby Smith, 13yrs or Katie Grayson, 14yrs.

That is what you sought in Phippen’s pantry; your jar, which contained your personal adventure. It may have been sitting there, waiting for you since your birth, or maybe much, much longer.  Or it may have been sitting there since the last adventurer brought it back to Professor Abercrombie. You would have no way of knowing and it would not matter anyhow. It was yours and if you were looking at it now was your time.

You would pick the jar up staring at it in disbelief.  “How can this be here? How did my name and age get on this? How could he know I was coming now, that I would be this old when I found my jar?” But most of all, “what is in this jar in my hand?”

Well, those answers would have to wait, for first; the Professor would like to have a word with you…

 

If you want to know what happens next here is the link once again. The Adventure's of Phippen Abercrombie, Book I .

Remember, it will be absolutely free this week starting on Tuesday,January 21st.

Enjoy!!

 

National Novel Writing Month, Part 1

Day two, 6% complete.  (You can follow my word count in the header if you feel so inclined.)

So far so good. However, am I still working on my novel from last year's NaNoWriMo?

Yes.

Do I intend on finishing my novel from last year?

A resounding, Yup. 

So why start a new one? Why not finish the old one instead of piling up 50 000 new words on a different story? 

Honestly?  I have no idea.

All I can figure is there is something about the challenge that I can't resist. This will be my third attempt. This story is by far the least prepared I have been when starting. But it is also the story I most want to get right. It is something that has be percolating in my mind for many years.

It doesn't belong in my genre of interest, middle grade fiction. In fact I do not know where it belongs. Part autobiographical, part fiction, part fantasy (maybe?). We will see. I am hoping the story will guide me. 

That is the thing about NaNoWriMo that I find so appealing. You do not have the time to second guess yourself. You do not have the time to endlessly revise, re-evaluate and redirect. You can't go back every day and reread all that you have covered thus far. You simply have to keep putting down another word, then another and another and lose yourself in the story. It is in some ways closer the that act of reading than it is to writing.

I must get back to it. Still about 500 words short for the day and I have nearly wasted 288 here… (hmmmm, how can I fit these words into my manuscript?)

 

 

 

 

Abandoned

Even the word is chilling. Abandoned.

There is something about abandoned places which touches us in a very primal way. Often beautiful, sometimes sad and always haunting. Places once inhabited by humans, now left to decay, have always fascinated and intrigued us.

From ancient ruins to the city of Pripyat in the Ukraine, to any local abandoned farm house, the absence of human activity in places meant to contain life has always had an undeniable draw. Crumbling stone, peeling paint and the signs of nature reclaiming the raw materials of construction brings to mind ghosts and spirits of those who may once have inhabited these long lost dwellings.

As sources of inspiration for writing, the solitude and loneliness of abandoned places is an endless bounty. The long neglected Hotel de Salto in Tequendama Falls near Bogota, Columbia brings to mind all manner of deeply rooted fears and anxieties. We can sympathise with these places as if they were almost human. They bring to mind issues of abandonment carried through from infancy. One of our first fears is to be lost, left behind and forgotten. These fears themselves abandoned, until looking upon a structure succumbing to this inevitable this fate, they return to forefront of our minds.

We carry these fears with us all through life into our twilight years. Anything we strive to achieve, any accomplishments we can claim, are at the deepest level, an effort to not be forgotten; to leave a mark when we are gone. Even having children and grandchildren feeds this desire to be remembered.

When I look at Michigan Central Station it is hard not feel a deep sadness that something created with so much care, love and attention has been left neglected to one day fade completely from memory. Like a massive greying corpse slowly losing its life and vitality, this once beautiful, vibrant hub of activity will soon leave nothing but a barely discernible foundation to show that it had once existed.

As a source of inspiration, perhaps these places can live once more, if only briefly, in the stories we tell. Imagination can once again bring them to life in new and unimagined ways from when they were first constructed. If you are a writer look upon this fishing hut slowly being reclaimed by the lake it once sat on the shore of and feel the words start to flow. Feel the echo of warm nights by the fire after a long day fishing. Of laughter and good times shared by friends, lovers and family.

Now, ever so slowly and persistently, time and nature are stealing these things back, turning them to rot and decay. A physical reminder that nothing is permanent. That everything we love, everything we do, everything we are will one day be abandoned despite every effort to avoid this fate. 

Grandma's Fries

My Grandmother passed away recently. My parents had children at a very young age which meant I have been fortunate enough to have had a long time with my grandparents. 

The day after my grandmother died I was working, trying to stay on task, however my mind kept wandering to memories of Grandma. Particularly times I spent with her when I was a child. She was well known in our family for her gift of making unparalleled french fries.

What follows are my thoughts on her french fries. I read this at her memorial and I it is a little off topic from my usual content but I wanted to post it here. 

 

My Grandma's fries

My grandma would make French fries and she would toss them with salt in a white enameled bowl with a dark blue rim. It had a chip in the enamel which had been worn smooth from years of use. These enamel bowls, if you have ever known one, seemed to always have a chip or two and you can see the metal heart of the bowl beneath.

The enamel will shine and gleam, silky smooth to the touch. But it is really the metal beneath which is the heart of the bowl, unseen but for the chip. To me, that bowl is one of the most significant artifacts from my childhood.

In our family my grandma's fries were legendary. The promise of that particular delicacy was persuasive beyond description. The words "Grandma's fries" still signifies pure bliss in my mind. All other fries after have always been and will always be compared on a scale where hers are the unattainable pinnacle of achievement. The recommendation "almost as good as grandma's fries" is the five star recommendation for French fries to anyone who ever tasted hers.

She made many culinary items I loved. Sweet buns, slightly burned on the bottom, butter horns I always felt were a little undersized leaving me no alternative than to eat more than one… or two… okay maybe three. Then there were dough boys dipped in sugar on the days when she made bread. Cabbage soup with vinegar, admittedly not for everyone but I loved it. There were cabbage rolls, porcupine meat balls and on and on but her fries… Oh man, her fries…

I simply cannot adequately describe her fries. They were perfect; absolutely no room for improvement. Hand cut, hand peeled, always with the same paring knife against her calloused thumb. Then double fried in a pot on the stove. I believe one of the keys to her success was the double frying. Then, finally tossed in salt in that enamel bowl.

It could have been any number of these details which set them apart from any other fry I have ever encountered. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. Maybe the brand of lard she used. The way she would re-use the remaining lard and add to it each time as required. Or perhaps it was her choice of potato variety. Or that she often used potatoes she had grown herself and were kept in the wood sided box in the basement.

Perhaps, it was none of these details. Maybe it was all of them and countless more I have forgotten or never knew. Maybe it is just nostalgia and longing for a lost thing I can never have again. It maybe something else which eludes me, like the name of a grade school friend I can't quite remember. So close, yet just out of reach, so really a world away.

I remember the peelings bitter and sweet. I remember eating the raw cut potatoes with salt and pepper. How she would, often need to cut more because we would all have our fingers in there. I can still see my Dad eating those small, raw, potato discs she had not yet cut into fries. I can see him shaking salt and pepper on them and then doing the same myself. The crisp, cool, starchy snap of that first bite.

Then, after the first frying, I remember how we would once again raid the bowl. Often causing her to have to peel and cut more potatoes, cut her thumb again, further delaying supper.

We all knew they were better at the end, but there was a separate and in its own way, equal pleasure at raiding the process through its various stages.

However, I do not believe her fries were so delicious, so perfect, so pure because of any of those things. For me, it was then, and will always be that bowl. I think you could repeat every other aspect of preparing her fries down to the most minute detail but if you didn't have that bowl you would be wasting your time.

I realize I have not seen that bowl in more than two decades. That quite likely I have it completely wrong. Maybe the rim was black, not blue. Perhaps it had many chips, not the single chip I recall. Maybe she used different bowls on different occasions.

I was only a child and countless factors affect how and why we remember things. I truly believe there are very few resources at our disposal that we can rely on less than our memories. Particularly, our childhood memories.

However, in this case that all makes zero difference to me. This is how I remember it. Certainly part myth and part reality but every bit my memory of Grandma.

As a child, a teenager even an adult, grandma's fries were my absolute favourite food. Nothing else was even close. I am acutely aware, as I write this, how I lack the vocabulary, the skills and the ability to convey how great Grandma's fries were. But I am certain anyone who was fortunate enough to have had them remembers them. They were part of our lives as significant for many of us as any of our memories of Grandma.

So I can't think of Grandma without thinking of French fries and the enamel bowl; passing it around the table taking fries out with the tongs or by the handful if the tongs were out of reach.

There is one more part, I remember. After supper there were often some fries left over. These weren't put away in the fridge; that would be ridiculous. They were left on the counter in a bowl. Maybes sometimes even the bowl. Every time you walked by you would grab a few. Then later, as appetites returned, some of us could be found hanging around the bowl finishing them off. Maybe some made it through to the next day on occasion but I doubt it was very often.

My Grandma's fries.

I don't remember the last time I had them. I have been racking my brain trying to remember. I won't of course, because it doesn't really matter. All I know for sure is I won't have them again.

I was thinking how I wish I had known when I was having them for the last time. I would have paid more attention, relished every bite. But I know that isn't true, because I could not have enjoyed them more or appreciated her more for making them.

I hope she knew that and I believe she did.

 

 

                                                                                                                                  This is dedicated to my Grandma. I miss you. 

 

                                                                                                                                                          photo credits: Google images

A Ghost Story

the box

On this chilly morning I awake to find a small wooden box sitting at the foot of my bed. I do not recognize this box for I have never seen it before.

I shiver as I sit up in bed. The sheet falls away from my chest letting the cold air press against my skin. I stretch and I yawn and I rub my swollen, red eyes. I say good morning to my lab Trevor who is sitting near the foot of the bed staring at the box.

“When did this arrive?” I inquire of my constant companion.

She barks; one short, sharp, loud bark.

It may be in answer to my question. I have no way of knowing. I do not speak dog and she, sadly, does not speak human. At least, not that she has shown me.  Alas, we share a space together, a deep enduring bond, many memories and a rudimentary understanding of what the other is thinking at any given moment.

Most often we make this work pretty well.

However, there are times, like when you awake to find a small wooden box you have never seen before sitting on the end of your bed, that it would be handy to be able to communicate with the only possible witness to the arrival of the box.

I slide down my bed closer to it. Trevor gets up and shuffles her furry feet, nails clicking on the hardwood floor. She seems uneasy so I reassure her.

“Easy girl,” She cocks her head and turns her ears forward.  She does not look any more at ease.

I shrug and reach for the box. Trevor barks again, louder this time. There is no doubt, she is behaving oddly but I guess that is to be expected under the circumstances.

I touch the box in spite of her warning. It is finely finished, very soft and warm. That seems peculiar. How can it be warm? This room is almost unbearably cold.

It is early spring; the temperature each day is wildly unpredictable. Jacket in the morning, short sleeves in the afternoon, sweater at night.  I have turned the furnace off already this year. I don’t want the boiler struggling to keep the house at the right temperature while I am struggling to pay the gas bills.

I pick up the box and Trevor whines, turning on the spot.

It is a very lovely piece. It has been inlaid with small angular cuts of some wood dissimilar from the main body of the box. The inlaid pieces seem to suggest some crude image.  A snake perhaps or a spirit, it may just be a random pattern.

I rotate the box in my hand. I feel something loose and heavy tumble inside. Trevor can take no more and she leaves the room. I watch her leave then turn my attention back to the box.

Approximately five inches by five inches by five inches, it fits comfortably in one hand.

I heft it up and down. There is an odd weight to it. I think it is the loose item inside. I turn it upright again, the item settles on the bottom of the box.

There is a very thin brass hinge inset along one edge and a keyhole on the opposing side.

I set the box on the bed side table and get out of bed. I pull on some jeans and a t-shirt. I pick up the box and walk down the hall.

I set the box on the kitchen table.

“Trevor,” I call for her. She doesn't come.

I look around my small home, she isn’t there.  Sometimes she does that.

There is no sign of her unless you count the picture of her and my wife when Trevor was just a puppy. It sits on the partner’s desk at the window, between my dusty antique Underwood and the unfinished manuscript in my out box.

I walk back into the kitchen and sit at the table looking at the ornate wooden box. I run my finger gently over the key hole.

I walk back to my bedroom and pull open the drawer on my night table. The table is an antique my aunt gave me. She had been given it by my grandfather when she was a girl and she passed it to me shortly after my wife died.

Ten years ago today there was a freak spring snow storm. Heavy wet snow collapsed roofs and toppled trees all over town. Amy had taken Trevor for a quick walk. The weather was horrible but the dog still needed to go out. She said she wouldn’t go far. It turns out she lied.

A large branch, over burdened by the snow, fell across the sidewalk and into the street just after she passed beneath it. She must have thought for a moment how fortunate she had been. If she had been only few seconds slower that branch would have crushed her.

She must have felt a tug at the end of the leash. Trevor was a puppy and had not yet learned how to walk on leash. He would pull behind frustratingly.

“Whose turn is it to take Trevor for a drag?” I would say. I was so clever.

That night it was Amy’s turn.

She must have turned back to see what had pulled on the leash. She didn’t see the car swerve to miss the branch. The driver likely hadn't seen her in the darkness and heavy snow. He lost control trying to avoid the branch and stop at the same time.  He slid right over Amy’s tiny frame and slammed into the very branch he was trying to avoid.

They said she died instantly. I guess that is supposed to make it better.

I remove the small, tarnished brass key which is the taped to the bottom of the drawer. I have always assumed it was the key for the drawer of the night table. I never tried it.

I walk down the hall back towards the kitchen. I sit down in front of the box.

I insert the key. It fits perfectly.

I remember hearing scratching at the door that night. It was only moments after Amy and Trevor had left. I recall wondering why they were back so quickly. I figured the weather was to treacherous for even a short walk. I was happy they were back so soon.

I opened the door and looked down at the small wet dog. She was dragging her leash behind her. Or rather what was left of it. It had torn in the middle. I reached down to stroke her wet fur and my hand came back bloody.

She wasn’t wet from the rain.

Presently, I look around the kitchen. The key sits in the box waiting for me to turn it.

“Trevor,” I call again.

I look back at the box.

That night I slipped on my shoes and followed the blood soaked puppy back out into the slushy snow and wind. We walked around the corner and I could see the accident. The dazed driver was on his phone calling emergency services, rubbing his brow as he gave the dispatcher the pertinent information.

There were children in the car. I could see one girl crying. I could see part of my wife’s coat bunched up under the vehicle just behind the front wheels and beneath the engine. I could see her small gloved hand reaching out from under the car at an odd angle. She still held the plastic end of the retractable leash in her lifeless fingers.

I looked at the branch, the small body of the lab puppy crushed beneath its weight.

I turned and saw Trevor still standing back on the opposite curb, blood soaked, broken leash attached to her collar.

I lost sight of that other Trevor as the rest of the night unfolded.

It is all a blur now. Police, ambulances, my parents, Amy’s parents, concerned friends, neighbors supposedly all there to help. I waited for the other Trevor to return. But she was gone as well. I figured I must have imagined her.

Now, I turn the key. I feel a satisfying click and I know the box is unlocked.

“Trevor. Come here girl. Time for breakfast,” I don’t even look around as I call this time I just stare transfixed at the box.

When I was home later that night, when everyone had finally left, when all the questions had been asked, all the crying cried, all the condolences given. I sat down at this very table in this very chair. I stared silently at the table top. I don’t know how long I sat like that; hours perhaps. Then the scratch came at the door again.

I got up and opened it. Trevor was back. She was clean now, and dry.

I let her in and I sat back down. She lay at my feet and went to sleep.

We sat like that the whole next day. The phone rang. I never answered it.

As I place my hand on the lid of the wood box and prepare to open it Trevor walks in to the kitchen.  Nails click, click, clicking away on the hardwood floor. I turn and look at her.

“You don’t think I should open this do you?”

She barks. She steps closer and sits down.

After some time they all started saying I needed to move on. I needed to get out and meet people. At the very least, get a new dog.

But I had a dog. I didn’t have Amy but for some reason I still had a dog. Except, no-one else knew I had a dog.

“How come you came back? Why didn’t she?” I ask her. Trevor does not respond. She just does the thing with the ears and the cocked head again.

I look at her a moment longer, sitting in the middle of the kitchen. She doesn't need to speak I know what she is thinking this time.

“I am opening it. I don’t care what you say.”

She stands up and walks out of the room. I can hear her nails clicking on the hardwood floor for a few steps and then nothing. She is gone.

I look back to the box. I am pretty sure I know where it came from. I am pretty sure I know what is in it.

It is warm, my house is cold, my heart is cold, and my dog is gone.

I lift the lid.

Lab Photo by Amy Letts Via epicfail.xepher.net

Heroes

Alice, Wendy, Peter, Dorothy, the Pevensie's, the Baudelaire children, Lyra, Harry, Ron and Hermione; which hero did you connect with? 

As critical as good villains are, a hero we can get behind and believe in may be even more so. I believe in some ways a hero is much more difficult to write. Particularly as an adult writing a juvenile or child hero.

I am currently reading The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. In Lyra, I think he has created a brilliant adolescent protagonist  She has all the amazing qualities which set her apart from the rest of the characters. She has skills, abilities and the history to make her a perfect heroine but she also has all the flaws of a child. In one moment she can be doing something amazing and in the next she is completely childish.

As a writer, it is so easy to forget to let our children heroes also be children.

Harry Potter is, of course, probably the most beloved child hero ever created and rightly so. I believe he strikes all the required qualities of a child protagonist almost without fail. For every incredible act of courage Harry does, he behaves childishly on many more occasions. He evolves to be mature beyond his years as the war he is in comes to an end but he should. Just as our 17 year old grandfathers and great grandfathers did when they went to war. I have seen photo's of my grandfather before he went to war at seventeen, eyes full of childish wonder and I have seen the photo's of when he came back. That naive young man was gone and could never come back.

When Harry Potter ended I think many readers wept not for the things he had done or the sacrifices which were made but because we felt as if we were losing a family member. What would we do now? Harry had gone like a child leaving home for college. What could possibly fill that void?

That is the goal. That is what a writer is tasked with when creating the hero. Make the reader amazed by their actions, abilities and the events the hero find themselves in but more importantly make us forget they are fictional characters. Remove them from the collection of words on the page which bring them to life and place them in our hearts and imaginations.

The best middle grade fiction does this. It reminds us of how we felt as a child. Our fears, hopes and confusion at the world around us. Then it takes us and throws us into fantastic, sometimes terrible situations and lets the child in us face fears and challenges which only inhabited our dreams when we were young.

I look forward to every moment I have left to spend with Lyra and I hope that I find she is always with me as Harry, Ron and Hermione have stayed with me. As Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, whom I did meet when I was a child, have always stayed with me.

Perhaps, in some way, these fictional children have helped me keep at bay the fears I had as a child. The fears I have mastered as an adult but which never truly left me.

Harry Potter image found on Piccsy

Lyra image by Tallychyck

Who is your Bogeyman?

Mine was, is, will always be, Jaws.

As I have been busily working away on my second novel I have been spending a lot of time contemplating what terrified me as a child.

My mother took me to see Jaws at a drive-in when I was five or six. That was probably the most profound 'entertainment' experience of my life. I am still, to this day, afraid of open water. Particularly at night. Now, being that I live a block away from one of the nicest recreation lakes in Canada this is actually a fear I often need to face.

But I love Jaws. It terrifies me now in the same way it did then. When I watch a horror today or read anything with a frightening villain, that is my high water mark. That is the experience I am hoping for, to be that frightened by someone else's imagination once again.

As a child, sharks were far from the only thing I was afraid of. My fertile young mind ran the gamut. Under the bed, in the closet, under the stairs, the dark, being alone and oddly tornadoes (not sure where that one came from). There were monsters hiding around every corner. As it should be.

I always loved the real life creepy crawlies. Snakes, spiders, bats, all the usual suspects don't frighten me one bit. For proof the second feature at the Drive-in was Kingdom of the Spiders. That just made me want a pet tarantula. Although, I am certain my mother found that show immeasurably more frightening than Jaws.

Now that I have four children of my own you would think I had a built in resource for what scares a child. Well, in this, kids today are quite different. Mine anyway. There isn't much that scares these kids. My children's ages are 8, 10, 13 and nearly 15.  We all watch the Walking Dead together every week there really isn't anything in there that scares them as much as it scares me. They love fantasy, horror, sci-fi and the darkest, Grimm style fairy tales you can come up with.

I realize all kids aren't like this. My children were literally raised in a movie theatre. Their mother was a theatre manager for most of their lives so they slept under a projector as babies and grew up watching a broad range of films over the last fifteen years. As a result they have a very high tolerance for things that might otherwise terrify a child. 

The one thing I do remember scaring the pants off them was the Pale Male from Pan's Labyrinth. That sets the bar pretty high for creating a terrifying villain if your target audience is the Milton children. That creature was frightening by any standard. You have to love a beastie that snatches fairies out of the air and eats them alive. 

So I suppose as I work on my next novel, one that is full of villains and nightmares, that is my goal. I want to frighten my children in the same way that Jaws terrified me. If you can reflect back 35 years later and still feel like a child at the thought of something you read in a book or saw in a film; if you still need to look behind the shower curtain because whatever your bogeyman was may be lurking there; or you can't go swimming in water over your head even when it is an inland lake, then you have been good and properly scared.

As a writer, when you create your villain, that is the best you can hope for.

Brilliant Joker image created by K4II0