The first time my poetry got published

When I was in junior high — Pioneer Junior High, home of the Bears — our school newspaper had a poetry contest. I had moved across town from another junior high, Orchard, home of the Bulldogs, a couple of years before.

Annuals from Orchard Junior High and Pioneer Junior High, 76-79.

Annuals from Orchard Junior High and Pioneer Junior High, 76-79.

It has been a long time, and I believe both junior highs are now middle schools, and neither one has newspapers anymore.

I don’t think the poetry contest was a regular yearly thing. I think it was a “one off” that our school newspaper was trying out in my 9th grade year; it was a glorious “one off” as far as I was concerned.

I remember being really excited at the prospect of a poetry contest. I figured that this was it. This would be the thing that would prove I was a writer. And I think it was also the first time I actually considered sharing my poetry with others. Before this, I don’t think I ever really thought about other people reading what I wrote — I mean, not really (other than silly day dreams, and Paul McCartney songs on the radio in the early morning helped with that). The whole concept that someone other than my teachers or my mom might read what I wrote was foreign. On the other hand, I knew I needed to enter this contest. And I think my mind filed the poetry I’d be submitting in the “homework” portion of my brain to keep me from freaking out about it.

So, I approached it as I would any homework, like I was working on an essay for class, and assumed that only the teacher advisor, and maybe the newspaper students, would ever see the poems I submitted.

The little house on Pear Lane.

The little house on Pear Lane.

But maybe I should back up a little — give you a little history.

When Gramma and Grampa decided to leave Wenatchee, my mom and my sister and I moved from the little house on Pear Lane with a double corner lot, a huge back garden, a little play house and a cool basement, to the tiny two-bedroom duplex on Dakota on the other side of town with a dime-sized yard. Not very far as things went, but far enough to put me in a different school district. Far enough to leave behind friends I’d made my first year of junior high, leave behind track and volleyball coaches and orchestra teachers and cute boys I had crushes on, and then have to get to know new friends or old friends from grade school again, whilst wondering if I would be able to please my new track and volleyball coaches and orchestra teachers. Would I find new boys to have crushes on?

So, what I’m trying to say is that even after being at PJH for a year, I felt the need to prove myself. I really was holding onto this poetry thing like a lifeline to do that.

When we’d lived on Pear Lane, my sister and I had shared a room in the basement. We’d built forts out of our closets and beds. We’d played “avoid the monsters on the floor” (the creamy linoleum floor had those pink, gold, and black star things on it) and other games. When I wrote it was with visions of becoming another Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, or L.M. Montgomery. In my world, I was Jo March.

The window I left open so Peter Pan could visit.

The window I left open so Peter Pan could visit.

My sister’s bed had been by the door at the bottom of the stairs and mine had been by the small window that was high up in the wall. I’d left that window open every night when I was really young in hopes that Peter Pan would come to visit. Later I kept it open just to annoy my sister. (It was a basement window with a screen, hidden at the side of the house, in a small town, so no one cared I left it open.)

When we lived on Dakota, once again my sister got the bed by the door, and I got the bed by the window. But this time we were on the ground the floor and the windows looked over the little hedge and the yard onto the small street. We had carpet on the floors and shared a closet with a sliding door and were older, so no more did we build forts or play “keep away from the monsters on the floor.” Instead, we — what would they call it these days? We were “establishing our territories.” We put duct tape down the center of the room. We charged each other 1/4 of a penny every time we touched the other person’s side of the room. Trouble was, my sister’s side was by the door. I had to run down the short hall and do the long jump to get to my side of the room without touching hers, which was only successful about half the time since that was not one of the things I was good at in track.

I probably still owe her money from then.

I still loved being next to the window, though. It was my own little corner of the world. The windows were larger and let in more light. They only opened out a little ways, though, and I didn’t leave them open at night as much anymore. I was old enough now to have seen scary movies and know about the monsters who broke into houses. I wrote messages to my friends in runes or codes, coloring the paper with mom’s leftover coffee so it would look like parchment (she was so annoyed when she found out). And my bed by the window is where I sat to work on my poems for the contest that year. I remember sitting there in the early morning, and sometimes in the evening, looking out the window while I wrote and rewrote lines, crossed it all out and started over again.

I remember working on two poems that year. One I had written mostly while we lived in the little house on Pear Lane. It was simple, following the seasons of the year, and about being a kid in a small town: riding bikes, running along canal roads, running through the sprinkler in the summer, playing in the snow in the winter. I began it on Pear Lane, but I finished it on Dakota. I remember calling it “Childhood.”

Then there was the other poem I worked on, but only on Dakota. It was specific to my immediate condition and was full of young teenage angst and yearning. It hurt so much to express all that that it felt good. I called it “Alone.”

I had put my entire young self into those poems. And then, somehow, I had the confidence and bravery to actually enter them into the contest. A contest where people might read them who hated them, who might point at me and laugh at my ridiculousness. But at least one of them, “Alone,” made it. I think I remember getting third place, but that didn’t matter. It placed, and because of that was published in the school newspaper.

I was so proud! So happy. I don’t even remember the other poems that made it in. I think I remember some semi-cute guy offhandedly saying to me, “cool poem” in one of my classes. It put me over the moon.

I brought home my copy of the school newspaper and swore I’d always keep it. This would always be mine. No one would take it away from me. I’d always have this newspaper as proof I’d been published somewhere.

But, well, things don’t always turn out the way you think. I learned a valuable lesson — to always keep extra copies of what you’ve had published, to keep tearsheets, to keep the original poem or story somewhere safe. Because I lost the copy of that school newspaper with my poem in it, and the copy of the poem as well. I’ve moved several times in my life since then. Every time I have to go through old boxes I think, “I wonder where those poems went.” I look again, just in case. Still not there. They’re long gone in some landfill, probably decomposed by now.

I used to go online every so often and see if anyone had scanned in old copies of the annuals and newspaper from back then. Maybe I’d run into my poem. I even wrote Pioneer Middle School to see if they kept copies of their old newspapers (they don’t). The real world is not Sunnydale and I don’t have a Willow to hack in online and find things that aren’t there.

While I know from the perspective I have as a middle-aged adult that these poems were probably childish first attempts at poetry, “juvenalia” as a friend calls such things, they were my first attempts at poetry. My first attempts at poetry where I actually won something. My first attempts that got published. I will always honor them. I will always miss them.


When notes and critique become a balm for the soul

The proofreader at work, besides coming in to proof for us a few days a month, used to teach high school English, and now coaches kids on how to prepare for college. She’s also a mom and a grandmother, and all round nice person.

When she comes in, we snatch the occasional brief conversation here and again. Since I proofread outside of work and used to write and proofread and such for a research (read term paper mill) company, we meet in a unique place. So, when I published “Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm” last month, I thought she might enjoy reading a copy. The only copy I had I needed to go through for errors, but she said once I had a final copy, she’d love to see it. So, the next day, I brought in one of the faulty copies I had of “Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons?” (I had the whole thing starting on a left hand page instead of the right hand page and had ordered a bunch before realizing it and fixing the error.) I told her it was hers to keep and do with as she would, but I thought she might get a kick out of it. She said she’d share it with someone else who teaches younger kids and let me know what they thought, which is always a good thing to know if you’re hitting some kind of mark or not.

She told me about one of her favorite books, “My Grandma Could Do Anything,” which she reads to her grandkids. And then we put the paper to bed for the month and she was off again until this month.

Then, last week, her first day of proofreading this month, after she got settled, she came back to my desk with a couple of tiny Post-it Notes with notes from her nine-year-old grandson, who’d been reading through the “Miss Simmons” book. He was only halfway through and really liked it, so she asked if he could keep it another month and I said, “OF COURSE!” And told her he could keep it. And then let me look at the notes on it.

Now, on Lulu, I’ve set the age at nine years old and up, but that was just a guess; actually hearing from a nine-year-old boy was like striking a vein of gold.

The first comment was, of course, the best. “Really scary, great story. Can I get the book back to finish it?” YES!

He saw that the page numbers were on the inside corners of the pages numbers and explained it was hard to find them when looking up the chapters and could I please remember to keep them on the outside corners. Good eye! Future editor, here! I nodded at that, because that was one of the faults I’d had to correct after that copy.

I like the prologue.”  That’s important to note, because you don’t need the prologue, and he told his grandma that normally he doesn’t like to read prologues, but this one he did. And he also said he wasn’t going to read the epilogue. So, cool!

I like the chapter headings and the cursive writing.” They’re a Schoolhouse font that I’m in love with for these little things I’m doing. I don’t use them in the e-book copies, but they’re fun in the print editions.

I knew my drawing wasn't good enough to be pretty, but I'm glad it was good enough to be scary.

I knew my drawing wasn’t good enough to be pretty, but I’m kind of glad it was scary.

I didn’t like the pictures.” And he thought the pictures of Miss Simmons were too scary. I’m not really an artist, so I knew I couldn’t do pretty, but I got a secret thrill hearing they were scary. Though, I understand not liking scary pictures. That’s a little bit of a downer. But cool, still.




It got me interested right away!” Always a good note to get back from a reader!

So, I have those notes up on my bulletin board next to other notes I’ve received from people who read some of my other stories. Notes that encourage me and keep me writing. My “cheerleaders.”

On top of THAT, our proofreader also brought in the “Grandma Could Do Anything” book, which I read in little breaks throughout the day. If you’re one of my friends who’s kids might be having grandkids in the future, then you might end up with it headed your way. It’s the cutest kids books ever! Perfect for grammas to read with their young grandkids.

I had also passed onto her a final copy of my own “Gramma” book, and I look forward to hearing notes back on that one as well, if she likes it and passes it onto one of her grandkids.

On the whole, this experience was like a balm for my soul in the middle of all the crap that’s been going on lately.

Have a cup of tea with that balm for your soul?

Have a cup of tea with that balm for your soul?

Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm — Illustrated

Cover of Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm.

Cover of Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm.

Back during the summer of 2011, a short story I had written, “Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm,” was published in Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) magazine “Beyond Centauri.” Soon after it came out, my first novella, The G.O.D. Factor, was also published by SDP. As a run up to the publication of the novella, I read a scene from my short story here that you can listen to / watch if you’re in the mood.

(Side note: SDP had a long and venerable history in the genre small press world and I was proud to have my story published in various publications there, as well as a couple of novellas. However, “Beyond Centauri”  and “Aoife’s Kiss” and other of SDP’s books were bought up and then squashed by White Cat Publications. And if you see anything by me on White Cat Publications, I don’t have anything to do with that. I’ve never received any money from any sales of books or stories by me on that site, if any have even sold. SDP no longer exists except as some weird blog site obviously owned by someone who must have bought the domain name. You can try to find some of the original SDP stuff, such as Scifaikuest at Alban Lake Publishing, and they officially carry some of my books and do actually pay me when those books sell. Though if you just want something by me you can also bypass them altogether for some of my stuff and find me at Lulu and Amazon. Okay, side note over. Just remember White Cat bad, Alban Lake good, and when in doubt, just go to Amazon.)

Later I self-published “Gramma and the Giant Tomato Worm” in a collection of stories called Uncommon Faire: A Fiction Sideshow (available on Lulu here and on Amazon here). If you just want to read a collection of some of my short stories, then that’s a good place to start. It’s also available as an e-book to check out for free at Biblioboard, if your library system subscribes and you can find it (I have a hard time finding it and always seem to have to write a librarian for help).

This spring, after a year of change and death, I decided to pull the story out again, update it a little, spruce it up with some of my homemade illustrations and photos, and publish it by itself. I wanted to do something that would get my creative juices flowing again. The ebook is available on both Amazon and Lulu, if you just want to read it on its own. But if you’re considering getting it for kids you know, I suggest the paperback, which right now is only on Lulu. The paperback has pages where someone can continue writing more stories about Gramma or draw other squishy, scary bugs to write stories about. It’ll be on Amazon eventually, for those of you wanting to save on shipping charges, just keep checking back to my author page. I’m told it should be there in about six weeks.

Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons? An Excerpt

Previously published on Blogetary 1.0 October 2014.

And here’s a video of me reading the prologue and first Chapter of Who Will Sub for Miss Simmons? I apologize for the fumbles I did it on one take rather than trying to do it more than that. But you can also read a preview of the first chapter elsewhere on my blog if you prefer not to watch me trying to imitate Miss Simmons. Click the picture or the link above to go to the YouTube video.

Me trying to imitate Miss Simmons.

Me trying to imitate Miss Simmons.