My grandmother was a natural born storyteller. I used to beg her to tell me a story, to which she would respond, “A true story or a made up story?”
I always opted for a true story. From these stories I learned small tidbits of family history and events that involved Aunts, Uncles, Great grandparents or relatives I’d heard about but never met.
The best stories were the spooky ones. They included visits from those that had moved on to the otherside or a possible near miss with ghosts or other supernatural entities.
I’d wrap myself tightly in my blanket and snuggle close to Grandma’s comforting form as she sat at the edge of the bed looking into the past. I’d wait with great anticipation knowing she would spin a tale that would send chills up my little spine and stay with me for the rest of life.
To get you into the spirit of Halloween I’ll share one with you today. This version may not be word for word as grandma told it but I like to do a little spinning of my own.
It was October, the late ‘50’s. The nights had become cool but the Santa Ana winds still blew warm and true. Dry leaves skittered across the yard and came to rest around the base of the old oak tree and in other small corners of the property. Grandma was helping out at a church function that night and wouldn’t be home until late.
The parents of the teens next door were gone for the weekend, and like teenagers today, that meant it was the perfect opportunity to throw a party.
My grandmother had nine children, the youngest was a girl named Ruth.
While her sisters and brothers ran back and forth between the houses helping the neighbors set up; Auntie Ruth secretly made plans to sneak over and join in the fun. She knew as soon as one of her many protective siblings spotted her she’d be sent back home to do home work or one the many chores that needed attending. As the day went on she imagined herself perched in one of the tree branches watching the older kids dance and smooch. Maybe she’d hear bits of gossip she could relay to her sisters, or even something she could use as leverage when she wanted to borrow one of their precious sweaters.
“I see that look in your eye,” my Uncle Ralph said. “Don’t even think about going over there tonight. “
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ruth replied.
“I think you do, and if I see you anywhere around there you’ll regret it.” Ralph said, firmly.
Ruth waved her hand. “I don’t see what the big deal is, they’re just the kids next door.”
“Just the kids next door.” Her brother Chuck mimicked.
“Shut up, Chuck. You’re hardly older than me.” Ruth said.
“I’m old enough to go to the party, though,” Chuck teased.
Auntie Ruth shot him an angry look, but he just laughed her. Being the youngest was the worst!
“I mean it,” Uncle Ralph warned. “There will be a lot of kids that aren’t from this part of town and if any trouble starts up it could get dangerous, so stay away.”
Aunt Ruth turned away from the kitchen window that looked out to the neighbor’s yard. “Okay,” she said crossing her fingers behind her back.
Chuck pointed and laughed at her again until his older brother saw what he was doing and came up and smacked him upside the head.
Auntie Ruth was so tired of them treating her like a baby, and that Chuck, he was forever making her life miserable, constantly pulling pranks on her. He was far more immature than she was. If anyone should have to stay home, it should be him.
As the afternoon progressed Auntie Ruth watched her sisters come downstairs one by one, each looking as glamorous as the movie stars in Hollywood. She couldn’t wait until she was old enough to dress like that. She could dress up and just pretend to be a part of it all couldn’t she?
When the sun finally set, her handsome brothers escorted her sisters to the party next door.
Ruth opened the kitchen window to let the breeze carry the music in. She watched as the sky grew dark. Cars parked along the curb in front of her house and the one next door. She could see the headlights from cars looking for an empty spot. Soon even the curbs across the street were lined with cars.
When she was sure the party was well underway Auntie Ruth ran upstairs and slipped on her best skirt and sweater. She brushed the soft waves in her hair until they shined and put on just a little lipstick. She pinched her cheeks to give them a health pink glow.
Auntie Ruth hurried down the stairs anxious to be a part of the excitement. Just as she was about to go out the front door she remembered the open kitchen window and thought it might be best to close it before she left. She went into the kitchen and reached up to slide the window shut, when she found herself face to face with a male figure dressed in all black. He had soulless eyes and featureless face as pale as the moon. Terror streaked through her as she slammed the wooden window frame down. She was about to scream when she remembered Chuck and his practical jokes. She looked right at the dark figure pointed her finger at him and laughed. That’ll show him, she thought. He can’t scare me.
Aunt Ruth walked out to the porch. The house next door was packed. Even the driveway was full of kids talking and laughing. Their voices carried over to where Ruth stood and she began to have second thoughts about blending in with the crowd. The oak tree was the halfway mark between to the two houses so Auntie Ruth decided she’d stop there and check it out before going any further into the crowd. She walked over to the tree, leaves crunching under her feet, she hoped no one would hear her coming and think she was spying.
A few kids leaned against cars smoking cigarettes, while others paired off into dark corners making out. The fact that she didn’t recognize them gave her the courage she needed to go over and join the party.
She pulled a small compact from her pocketbook to check her hair and lipstick. As she looked at her reflection she saw the same pale-faced dark figure standing behind her. She jumped, then turned around, and punched him on the arm. “Chuck! You scared me half to death.”
The figure didn’t answer. He just stared eerily at her.
“Cut it out, Chuck, I’m not afraid of you and your stupid jokes,” she yelled.
The dark figure remained silent.
“Fine,” she said. “I’m going to get Ralph. He’ll put you in your place.”
The figure took at step closer and Ruth noticed that the face was so pale you could almost see through it. “That is a good mask though,” She laughed, as she left the tree and headed for the house.
As she got to the neighbor's yard one of her sisters friends saw her and asked, “ Ruthie, who was that creepy guy you were talking to?”
“That’s just my brother, Chuck.”
“It couldn’t be,” The friend said. “Chuck is right here in the house, talking to my boyfriend.”
The girl opened the door to the house and sure enough Uncle Chuck was sitting on the sofa talking to another guy.
Aunt Ruth and the girl told them what happened and they all ran outside but the dark figure had disappeared.
Okay it may not be all that scary to you, but imagine, I was only about seven and this was before Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers.
It's a little early but, Happy Halloween!
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
I heard a bit of bad news for some of my bookseller friends today. After many years of working for a well known bookstore, they are all losing their jobs. Their place of employment is closing.
I think of how much they all loved working together and how they’ve sacrificed going to better paying jobs because of their passion for books. It used to be a good company to work for; a company who cared about their employees and about books. Now they are focused on keeping up with the competition and the electronic age. They must get their piece of the pie. The world is changing and so many good things seem to be falling to the wayside for the sake of a dollar.
We must remember how precious the written word is, and how important the people who help bring that word to us are.
It is a bookseller who can make or break the success of a novel.
Don’t be fooled by the convenience of electronic reading devices. They are a great tool in helping you buy a book, but not so great in helping you choose a book. I have an e-reader so I’m not against owning one, but they are a sorry replacement for a bookseller in a bookstore.
A bookseller takes the time to talk to you, to ask questions, to get know what authors you’ve read in the past and why you like them. They will recommend similar authors. You might say all of that can all be done electronically as well, but what about the books you didn’t buy. What about the book your friend gave you. The one that you loved so much, but you’ve forgotten the title and the author.
A bookseller will know the questions to ask to help you find that book.
I’m so sad that my friends will not be continuing to do the work they’ve loved so much, and you should be sad too, because somewhere a community is losing a very important part of what they need, a bookstore in their neighborhood, and booksellers who care about putting a book in their hands. The children in that neighborhood won’t have a safe place to go for storytime or to get books for their school reading lists. Not everyone owns an e-reader.
So I ask all of you out there to visit your local bookstore often because you never know when it will be shutdown like so many others.
That neighborhood really needed that bookstore and now they’ll probably knock down the building and put a stupid casino there. It just makes me sad.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Hi, my name is Mary Ann and I can’t spell. It’s something I hate to admit, but it’s true. I am a misspeller. It’s not because I am lazy, or dumb, or uneducated. It’s just one of those things about me that I have learned to accept. My brain refuses to remember how to spell things.
You might wonder; what kind of writer can’t spell?
There are millions of us out there, hiding behind our spell checkers, auto correct buttons and pocket dictionaries.
We watch you from the sidelines, waiting to see how you spell a word so we can fake it. We are a crafty bunch, intermingling with you perfect spellers in writer’s groups, writing workshops and writing chat-rooms. You don’t even realize we are there. We hide our disability well.
So the next time someone asks you how to spell something simple, don’t judge. Just remember there’s enough room in the writing world for all of us. And yes, I know misspeller isn’t a word.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
I have decided to print out a calendar each month where I will write my weekly goals. The calendar will only be for writing things, like my goals for my WIP, and any contests I’d like to enter. I’m hoping this will keep me focused. Why don’t you try it, too? My goal for this week is to write one chapter of my work in progress which is a mystery story about twin sisters who befriend a ghost. I also hope to send in one query or a submission of one on my completed stories to a publisher. Wish me luck!
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Getting out into the world is a great way to spark inspiration.
Last night, I went to watch my great nephew play football. It's been years since I was in that kind of environment, it was so much fun. The autumn air was cool and a soft breeze brought the scent of old man winter just around the corner.
The bleachers were full of people old and young alike. Grandparents who held their breath watching the perfect pass and parents cheering as their kids marched across the field at halftime in the band.
In the front lines, fresh-faced cheer leaders sparkled with spirit, as their team colors in corkscrew ribbons bounced in swishing ponytails as the girls clapped and jumped in unison.
The rest of the kids , electrified by the energy from the crowd walked in packs pacing back and forth on a path between the concession stand and the bleachers; cell phones glued to their ears talking about who was doing what with whom. “You won’t believe who I just saw-slash-ran into!”
There’s a special kind of magic that brings people together in school colors and school spirit under the Friday night lights.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Somebody told me writing well is all about invoking the 5 senses and bringing your reader into the world you are writing about. Sooo much easier said than done.
Try this little exercise just for fun. Find a picture that speaks to you. Then write about it using all 5 senses. Sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Feel free to share your results.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
It was a bittersweet evening. I had wine and pizza with some writer friends. It was also a farewell get-together for one of our group members.
I believe that people come into our lives to teach us something and help us along in our journey. This friend did just that. I’ve learned so much from him this past year and I believe I have grown and improved as a writer. Thanks my friend you will be missed.