Saturday, June 28, 2014

To Realize True Value ...

To Realize True Value, Look Within

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we did get sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.” ~Buddha

To Realize


To realize the value
of a sister or brother:
ask someone
who doesn't have either.

To realize the value
of a mother and father:
ask an orphan.

To realize the value
of ten years:
ask a newly
divorced couple.

To realize the value
of four years:
ask a graduate.

To realize the value
of one year:
ask a student who
has failed a final exam.

To realize the value
of nine months:
ask a mother who
gave birth to a stillborn baby.

To realize the value
of one month:
ask a mother
who has given birth to
a premature baby .

To realize the value
of one week:
ask an editor of
a weekly newspaper.

To realize the value
of one minute:
ask a person
who has missed a train, bus or plane.

To realize the value
of one-second:
ask a person
who has survived an accident.

To realize the value
of one life:
visit the Vietnam Wall in DC

To realize the value
of a friend:
lose one.

To realize the value
of a family member:
visit Ground Zero
in New York City

Time waits for no one.
Treasure every moment you have.
You will treasure it even more when
you share it with someone special.

The origin of this poem is unknown, but its value is priceless.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Kid in Rock Land ...

Climbing Rocks in Rock Land
I was thinking, why is it that a hot summer day feels hotter when you're an adult?

Hot is hot, no matter how old you are ... it's the same heat.  But somehow, hot didn't matter, when I was a kid.

It was summer and summer was supposed to be hot.  Besides, there were so many things I loved to do and they were more important than a few sweat beads running down my face.

There were six of us kids and we used to love going to Grampa and Gramma Shannon's in the summer.  It was a ten-mile drive and the whole way there, we planned our day ...

We could go splashing in the river, or fishing on the river in Grampa's boat, or ... we could go to the one special place we all loved more than anything else. We called it 'Rock Land'.  I'll tell you about it, but first, you have to picture in where it was.

Grampa and Gramma's house sat just above the river and the dirt road that wound along the river, and it was nestled right at the bottom of a huge hill.

The hill was nearly straight up and covered with huge trees and house-size boulders and rocks for climbing.  Mother Nature had situated them in such a way that caves had been formed under some of them.

Rock Land days were full of pretending.  We were Indians, or pioneers, living in caves and my brothers were Daniel Boone and Jim Bowie, hunting for deer and bears.

One day, we noticed thick grape vines hanging from the trees above us. We climbed to the top of a rock, grabbed a vine with both hands, and swung out over the hill below -- there was no greater thrill.

Swinging on a Grapevine
All the way home in the car, we talked and laughed, and planned more adventures for our next visit to Grampa and Gramma's.

As I remember, we only had one accident there. My cousin, Bill, who was like a big brother, swung out on his vine one day and right into a hornet's nest.

All of us learned first-hand what the expression, 'mad as a hornet', really meant.  They bombarded poor Bill from every direction.  He promptly let go of the grapevine, fell head over heels down the hill, and broke his arm.

We boycotted Rock Land for a few weeks after that ... but only for a few.

Yeah, summer is hot, no matter how old you are.  But when you're a kid and it's summer and school is out, hot doesn't matter -- it's just great to be alive.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Children and Pretending ...

Children Pretending

“To be as a to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has a fairy godmother in its own soul.” ~Francis Thompson

Anyone who knows me can tell you, I love children. I raised three daughters, enjoyed a lot of author school visits at schools, and I have eleven grandchildren.

Writing for (and about) children is something I love to do. They have such an innocent view of their world, creative imaginations, and an endless passion for pretending. It’s something all children do, and they do it so well.

Most grownups think pretending is playing, but watch a group of preschool children while they pretend. They work hard as they rehearse and polish their skills at doing grownup things. They’re forever trying on new experiences, as well as Mommy and Daddy’s clothes.

Most grownups also think pretending is only for children, but we still pretend. Dreams, daydreams and fantasies aren't real, so when we do it, it must be pretending.

Only in a dream can we fly above the trees, and look down on friends and family on the ground.

Only in a dream, can we walk through town, look down and see ten or twenty-dollar bills just waiting to be picked up and stuffed in our pockets.

Only in a dream are we chased by a tiger and unable to run because our feet won’t budge, or worse, we can run, but only in slow motion!

And only in a dream would Tom Selleck and I ... oh, never mind ...

Who hasn’t fantasized about picking THE winning Powerball number? Can't you almost feel the adrenalin rush as you plan what you'll do with your winnings?

How about the first warm day of spring, when you stare out your office window and ‘see’ yourself hiking in the woods, or fishing on a lake? Or maybe, you 'see' yourself driving a little red sports car with the top down and the wind blowing your hair.

Heck, in a daydream, we can see ourselves just about anywhere, but where we really are -- in a stuffy office, staring out a dirty window with three hours left till quitting time.

Nearly everyone's daydreamed about getting a nice raise, or fantasized about telling their boss off, because we didn’t get a raise at all. So it’s safe to say, as grownups, we do still pretend.

Oops, I gotta go ... my daughter just walked in with my grandchildren.

To the world, I'm Grammy Heck and I'm going to babysit for a few hours, but ... Shhhhhhh, just between you and me, today we’re really pirates. 

We're going to draw a treasure map, fly to Never Never Land, and I get to be Captain Hook, and that’s really GOOD, 'cause I was getting tired of always being Tinker Bell ...

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Now I'm Three and I Know ...

CJ at Three
Pretty much all of the honest truth-telling there is in the world is done by children. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

A couple of years ago, I spent weeks trying to come up with an idea for one last children's poem so I could finish a preschool poetry book that I wanted to self-publish.

I was having no luck at all ... that is, until I started thinking about my eleven grandchildren when they were about three years old. Children try so hard to make sense out of the world around them.

One by one, all of the funny, goofy, things they used to say began to pop into my mind.

Gratefully, I started to write ...

This poem sounds best when you read it out loud in your best 'three-year old' voice. Oh, and when you get to the long run-on sentence, say it fast! 

I would give just about anything to hear you read it ...

Now I'm Three and I Know ...

by CJ Heck

I know never touch fire, that’s hot,
but I can touch ice, 'cause it’s not,
and puppies are soft and kitties are too,
(so’s most of the stuff moms and dads give to you).

I know never tell people they’re fat.
(It will hurt them, if I do that).
I know rocks aren’t for throwing at others
but it’s OK to throw pillows at brothers.

I know daddy says swears I can’t say,
and I have to wear clothes out to play,
... 'cause one time I went outside naked and Mrs. Johnson saw me and she called Mommy and Mommy came outside and got mad (sniffle) and she yelled at me (sniff-sniff) and I had to sit in a chair for a time out and ...

I know cookies smell better than cheese,
and to get one, I have to say please.
I know how to go pee in the potty,
but not in my pants, 'cause that’s naughty.

I know flowers don't needs any feet,
and no dessert, if I don’t eat my meat.
I know I got to blow boogers in tissue,
and don't wipe off where ladies kiss you.

When I wake mommy up, never holler,
pennies are not more than a dollar,
and scissors are never for cutting my hair,
(the barber does that, but I hate going there).

I laugh 'cause it's better than cry,
and you can’t squeeze a worm, it will die.
I know Daddy will laugh when I burp,
and Mommy’s kiss helps if I hurt.

I know SO many things, now I'm three.
This stuff helps me be a good ME.
I know lots more than I did when I’m two,
all the stuff that I can and I can’t do.

Hugs from the little kid in me ... to the little kid in you.
~ CJ

From the Book, Me Too! Preschool Poetry

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Monday, June 23, 2014

Just Passing Through: The Stranger

Marlborough Man

Magnetism:  one of the Six Fundamental Forces of the Universe, with the other five being Gravity, Duct Tape, Whining, Remote Control, and The Force That Pulls Dogs Toward The Groins Of Strangers.” ~Dave Barry

A Short Story

by CJ Heck

People who know me know I’m well-grounded, practical, fairly logical, painfully honest, and I don’t believe in love at first sight. However, I do believe in something at first sight -- but wait, I’ll tell you what happened. You decide.

I find it interesting, what our senses can pull out of the recesses of our mind into the now, with a smell, a taste, even a sound we heard a long time ago. Something, anything, can be recalled and relived, as though it happened only minutes ago.

There’s a whole day like that and it lingers, hidden in my mind, until my senses suddenly bring it up and out.

I can still taste the gritty dust the wind blew across my face on a sweltering summer’s day; still hear the ding-ding-ding at the old-fashioned red and white gas pumps, as someone filled their tank, and I can still smell the mingled aromas of diesel and gas.

As I recall, it was the middle of August, during what we called 'the dog days of summer'. It was stinking hot. I was on a road trip to nowhere in particular, just going from here to there, and taking a few days to do it.

I had stopped for gas and an orange soda at a truck stop somewhere along a two-lane road. I remember the hot wind blowing dust, and it was gritty, and it covered everything that got in its way.

Not ready to get back inside the steamy car, I sat on a large rock under the only tree I could find, savoring the ice cold soda and mopping the sweat and grime from my face and neck with a wet paper towel from the ladies room.

I remember hearing door hinges whining in protest and as I glanced up, I saw a man, a perfect stranger, climbing out of an old blue pickup parked to the side of the gas pumps.

He was walking straight towards me, wearing run-down leather boots and the wind was ruffling his sandy blond hair. Even now, I’m not sure why I was so mesmerized by the sight of him, but I was.

I can still see him walking.  He was tall and wiry, with long legs moving him along in a slow, bowlegged stride that literally reinvented the swagger. It was pure poetry.

As he got closer, I saw a tanned face road mapped with lines, and he was squinting at me through ice-blue eyes.

When he caught me staring, he touched a finger to the hat cocked to one side, threw me a wink, a quick nod, and then a crooked smile. “Maaa’am.” That’s all he said, but it was enough. I had heard his Texas drawl.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when he passed by, my eyes were drawn to the back of those tight worn jeans and the perfect butt that filled them.  Lord, I hope my mouth was closed.

It wasn’t that he was Marlboro-Man handsome.  What he did have was a rugged muscular look, one that hinted of riding horses, squinting into the sun all day and sleeping under the stars at night. It was all of that, and being perfectly packaged in tight jeans and a blue plaid shirt with pearl snaps and rolled up sleeves.

My emotions ran high that afternoon so long ago. Maybe it was the love I had for westerns as a child, maybe his Texan drawl -- I guess I'll never really know.  The only thing that ever passed between us was a wink, a nod, and a crooked smile.

But I’ll never forget the day when I fell --- not in love, but definitely something, by the side of the road with a man I never met ... someone just passing through.

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Saturday, June 21, 2014

On Writing Stinkers and Gems ...

A Real Stinker ...

Stinkers and Gems

Sometimes, I write a real stinker ...
sometimes, I write a nice gem.
More often than not, it’s a mixture of both
that somehow escapes through my pen.

I know what to do with the good ones,
& the stinkers will all crash and burn,
but what do I do with the ones that are both?
It's something that I can’t discern ...

Right now they all go in drawers,
(male and female, they must multiply),
when I open the drawers, it seems there are more
than I recall putting inside.

I hope there’s a poetry warehouse.
If there is, I must go there some day,
for I’ve run out of drawers & some smell pretty bad,
yet they’re too good to just throw away ...

[from "Anatomy of a Poet", by CJ Heck]
Available at Amazon

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Friday, June 20, 2014

Inspiration: The Golden Gate ...

Golden Gate Garden
I was having my coffee this morning and trying to decide what to write about.

To be honest, I was actually waiting for my muse.  She gives me my inspiration, but I've noticed the older I get, the more she tends to sleep in ...

Maybe I could write about something I remember from my childhood.  Most of my writing does have its roots deep in my childhood.

I remember having so many questions about the world and its workings, and all the different ways everything around me touched my life. It was such a carefree time then, full of make-believe and pretending, and anything and everything could be an adventure.

I remember when I was six, we had an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Tucker.  She lived all by herself in a huge old Victorian house, three doors down from ours. Her house had these pretty scrolled designs up where both sides of the roof slanted down and her front porch was filled with huge feathery ferns in hanging pots all along the wide railing. Her porch was further dressed up with white wicker chairs, a couch, and two glass-topped wicker tables.

I liked Mrs. Tucker, and her beautiful house, but oh, how I loved her back yard.  If there was a paradise, this was how I always imagined it would look.

Her back yard was entirely fenced in by an old white wooden fence.  There was a gate right in the center with a brass latch and hinges that glowed bright yellow when the sun shined on it -- I called it The Golden Gate.

You could barely see the fence, because of a huge rose bush that climbed up and over, almost covering it. And oh the scent!  I remember the sweet scent, even now, because it followed me everywhere.  So did the smell of her enormous lilac bushes that, to this small girl, seemed to reach up to the sky.

In the center of Mrs. Tucker's yard was a pond with the biggest gold fish I had ever seen. There was a small fountain on one side, too, and I loved hearing the peaceful trickling of the falling water. The pond was carefully outlined by different sizes of rocks and all sorts of plants and flowers were intertwined among the rocks.

At the back left corner of her yard, there was an old apple tree. From it's trunk at a right angle, grew one long straight-as-a-rail branch. There Mrs. Tucker had hung a wooden porch swing.  It had a padded seat with flowered pillows -- and this is where the magic was, for me.

I loved to sit in the swing, listen to the water, breathe in the flowers, and let my imagination soar. It was as though Mrs. Tucker's house didn't exist at all, only the magic of The Golden Gate garden.  There, I knew anything was possible, because time stood perfectly still.

Well, at least until mama called me home for dinner ...

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

There are All Kinds of Hurt

Boo Boo
This morning was one of those mornings when I woke up missing my dad.  After two years, his passing still hurts.

Then I got to thinking about hurt, how there are so many different kinds. Anyone can be hurt -- it sure doesn’t discriminate. Hurt is painful, whether it's physical, mental, or emotional.

When my children were small, it was so easy to fix hurts. Most only required a little rinsing with water, Mommy’s ‘red paint’ (Mercurochrome), and a Bandaid ("To keep all the blood inside where it won't leak out").  Then I kissed the bandaid and gave a hug.  It was so simple to be a hero back then.

As they got older, hurt was more about feelings and that took a lot more time and patience.  You had to explain that not everyone we meet will like us, other kids don’t always play fair, and maybe the teacher does have favorites, but she is human, too.

It’s more difficult to explain that kind of hurt to a child. They want to know, "Why?"  Why don’t some children play fair? Why would someone say or do something to hurt them when they didn’t do anything to deserve it?  Why does the teacher always let the same child always pass out papers and run errands?

I didn't understand all the why‘s then and I still don't always understand why now.  It's a fact -- life isn't always fair.  No wonder it was difficult trying to explain it to a child.

But the real challenge came when I had to teach them that two wrongs don’t ever make a right and it’s wrong to retaliate.

We spend their entire childhoods telling them to be nice; be truthful; don’t hit; do unto others the way you want them to do unto you; if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all; and my personal favorite -- the one my mother used a lot when I was growing up -- say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

But not every parent teaches these same principles to children.  Hurt doesn’t get any easier with age. As an adult, it hurts to have someone say something mean to us, or about us. It hurts not to get the promotion we worked so hard for.

And it really hurts when someone we love dies ...

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Publishers, A Rant ...

Lovely Books ... We Want Them to be Ours

by CJ Heck

As writers, we know the importance of, (and the hunger for), getting our work published by reputable publishers.

We pour our hearts into the writing, we polish it, edit it, read and have it read, and then we edit some more and when that's done, we turn it into the finished product, our manuscript. That's a daunting task!

After our manuscript is done, we spend more time, gas, and money at the book store to buy our annual copy of the Writer’s Digest book designed for our specific genre.

Once home, we spend days reading about all of the publishers to find EXACTLY what they're looking for: fiction, non-fiction, poetry (rhyming or non-rhyming), memoirs, essays, flash fiction, short-shorts, short story collections, scripts, screenplays, et al.

That done, we narrow that list to those who accept submissions without our need for an agent. (By the way, I’ve noticed this list is shrinking with each new edition of Writer’s Market, no matter what the genre).

We study this shortened list to see whether they are accepting manuscript submissions in precisely what we write and in the genre they accept (children, young adult, romance, fantasy, science fiction, western, erotica, religion, spiritual, and new age).

Out of that group, we look for those who accept manuscripts NOW. Some only accept manuscripts during a specified reading period, May 1 to July 1, for instance.

The list is further narrowed down to find those that do not require “exclusive” submissions.  This means we cannot submit elsewhere, until we've heard back from them, either yea, or nay. It has been my experience that publishers can take anywhere from three months to forever to notify you.

So, you can see how an exclusive submission can inhibit your progress towards finding a publisher. You can't send it to a second, until you hear back from the first ... and fewer and fewer are even notifying you at all. Some even put a caveat in their Writers Digest listing, stating that if you haven’t heard from them within a specified length of time, to consider your manuscript rejected.

The final list we come up with is:

* Publishers who accept your genre.
* Publishers who accept what you write in that genre.
* Publishers accepting submissions now.
* Publishers that accept multiple submissions.
* Publishers that don’t require an agent’s involvement.

Our job now is to study each one on our final list of publishers and carefully follow their submission guidelines. We are warned to follow the instructions exactly! After all the hard work and time spent, we don’t want our manuscript ending up in 'file thirteen' (the waste basket), because we missed some critical condition, or command.

We double space the manuscript, add the extra space between paragraphs, do the Title Page precisely how they want it, paginate, add the page count to the top right, follow the rule of staples vs. paper clips, write a summary, include a short bio, any publishing credits we may have, and the SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) so they can notify you - IF they notify you at all.

At last, our submission is perfect. We're sure to only send a copy, not the original, and with hope and pride, we take it to the local post office.

Now comes the hard part ("How can it be harder than what we’ve already been through?" You ask). With fingers crossed, we wait ... and wait ... and wait.

Six months later, the day finally arrives! We receive a letter from a publisher!

HUH?  What's this?  A ... form letter?
Dear Writer: 
Thank you for your manuscript submission to (publishing company).

We have read your manuscript, ___________________ (title handwritten),
and after careful consideration, we have checked the appropriate box below: 
well-written ___
has merit ___
interesting ___
needs work ___
inappropriate ___
does not fit our current list ___ 
We wish you good luck submitting your work elsewhere.
We've learned the importance of looking at a rejection letter as a stepping stone, but ... is it just me, or do all writers feel a lot more than rejected by a form rejection letter?  We put a heck of a lot of work, prep time, waiting time, and a lot of money into our submissions.

I realize publishers are busy and they also get hundreds of submissions, but if they would just give us a “heads up” as to what they ARE looking for in the last sentence of a rejection letter, it would save them time -- less rejection letters to send out, and less money. There would be less in the slush pile on the floor pushed up against a wall gathering dust and waiting to be waded through by an already overworked, underpaid staff.

What ARE they looking for?

What MIGHT fit into their present needs?  We may already have something really good that IS perfect for their current list.

Why is it that publishers don’t add one more tiny, itsy-bitsy sentence to the bottom of their form rejection letter?

Hey publishers ... tell us what it is you ARE looking for that WOULD fit your current list.

That's it for now.  I'm done ranting ...

So, You Want to be Published ...

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Climbing Adventure

A Little Boy Climbing a Rock
I love watching a child who is deep in the world of pretending.

You can usually tell they're pretending, because the expression on their face says they're someone somewhere, anywhere other than who and where they are.

Sometimes it's obvious:  rescuing a princess from an evil castle, fiercely thrusting a cardboard sword, wearing mommy's kitchen strainer on their head.

Other times, they might only be taking a little longer to climb the stairs up to bedtime, but you can tell they are into the moment ...


(A Preschool Adventure)
by CJ Heck

Climbing-climbing up the rock
through the woods, my hands are locked
on the rope so prickly-prickly
past a pine tree, tickly-tickly.

Climbing-climbing, higher-higher,
muscles feel like they’re on fire!
Through the dry leaves, rustle-rustle,
feel the wind push, hustle-hustle.

A long long way to the tippity top.
Hold on tight or flippity flop!
One foot here, then one foot there,
wish steps in rocks were everywhere ...

Huffing-puffing, not quite there.
Look out! There’s a grizzly bear!
Shhh-shhh, use tippy-toes ...
He’s turning now. See, there he goes ...

Snakes beside me, gliding-sliding!
Need a place for hiding-hiding!
Danger-danger! I can see
the snakes are esss-ing after me!

But no, they’re going in the ground
through those holes going down-down
Oh no, growling-growling from behind!
If I turn, what will I find?

A grumpy-grumpy scary thing?
I wish I had a bell to ring!
It’s getting dark! It's hard to see
the something else that’s chasing me!

Oh my gosh! I’m at the top.
I guess for now, I have to stop.
That was fun. I love pretending
but I wish stairs were never-ending ...

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Cookie Jar Adventure

Raiding the Cookie Jar
I grew up in the days when the Nickels Bread truck would make home deliveries every Saturday morning. The bread man always seemed to come at the perfect time, too. The cartoons were on TV, we kids were up, and mommy and daddy weren't ...

All six of us would meet the driver at the door, our mouths watering, deciding what and how much to choose, from his huge tray of baked goods.

Donuts were always a favorite and it didn't matter what kind, although my favorite was always the creme sticks.

We knew daddy loved pecan rolls, so we always got a package of those for him -- lucky for dad, we didn't care for the nuts on top.

Now days, bread trucks and Saturday morning deliveries are a thing of the past and children don't even realize what they are missing.

But I'd be willing to bet there are a few who wake up before mommy and daddy and they secretly raid the cookie jar ...

The Cookie Jar

A Preschool Adventure
by CJ Heck

Wakey-wakey from our beds,
thoughts of cookies in our heads.

Mom's and Daddy's eyes are closed.
(They are sleeping. They won't know).

Hurry-hurry, on the double!
If they wake, we'll be in trouble!

Blankies, pillows, on the floor.
Squeaky-squeaky goes the door.

Shhh, shhh, tippy-toe.
To the kitchen we will go.

Sneaky-sneaky down the hall,
bare feet creeping 'long the wall.

C'mon, Sissy, it's not far,
there it is, the cookie jar!

I can't reach it, I'm too small.
Let's get a chair to make us tall.

Shuffle-shuffle, scooty chair,
pushy-pushy, almost there.

Clinky-clinky goes the top,
hold it tight, or it will drop!

Giggle, giggle, tee-hee-hee,
two for YOU, and two for ME.

Uh oh, Sissy, turn around ...
Mom and Daddy. We've been found.

Peeky-peeky, Mom and Dad,
are you angry? Are you mad?

Whisper-whisper, over there ...
they want to know if we will share!

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Lifetime of "Change" ...

Good Manners
I was thinking about change this morning, how there are so many different kinds of change.

We spend our entire lives wishing for, surrounded by, forced to, immersed in, wondering about, and planning on ... change.

Then, when you reach my age, you just wake up one morning and notice you have grown resistant to making changes.  I think there's a certain comfort in keeping things the way you finally have them.

The most significant changes began during our childhood.  Our parents taught us the first ways we needed to change. Most of the change was taught so we would be accepted by others and so we wouldn't appear offensive to society.

Of course, most of those changes came, because we got caught doing something wrong in the first place:
"Chew with your mouth closed." 
"Don't talk with your mouth full." 
"Do not touch/scratch/fondle your private parts in public." 
"Cover your mouth when you burp/sneeze/cough." 
"Do not fart/pass gas/have a barking spider in public." 
"Do not hit your brother/sister/the dog."
"Wipe your feet, before you come in the house." 
"Don't say that word again in this house."
 As a child, it seemed that everyone we knew/didn't know wanted us to change ...

Then as we got a little older, our change came more from within:
We wanted better grades, so we changed our study habits. 
We had a bad hair day, so we asked a friend who did their hair. 
Our friend pushed us down in the playground, so we made a new friend. 
We said a bad word, got our mouth washed out with soap, so we said it in private, or only among our friends.

As adults, change came because we chose to make a change:
This job/boss sucks ... 
My wife/husband cheats/abuses ... 
My nose/belly is too big ... 
My boobs are too small ...   
This car is old ... 
My hair is getting gray ... 
This coffee/pizza/restaurant is awful ... 
I got a speeding ticket ... 
I hate this old wallpaper/paint ... 
I don't like this music/TV station ... 
This house is too big/ too small ... 
I would love to have children ...

And with that one monumental decision -- the choice to have a child -- the cycle of change begins all over again.

I think the changes we resent most are those pointed out by someone we love. It hurts to be told we would be loved, only if we change.

This brings me to a joke I heard years ago, "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?" The answer, "It depends on whether or not the light bulb wants to change."

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Insanity of Writing: by Luke Romyn

Insanity of a Writer
[reprinted by grateful permission]

Why would anyone want to write?

It devours your soul, growing from a tiny gnat into the most fearsome of beasts, spouting fire upon daily life and snatching the flesh from your relationships.

A writer neither eats nor breathes anything other than words. A piece of toast becomes the “charred aftermath of an apathetic cuisinier”. A simple breath becomes a “raspy inhalation of one immersed in existence”.

No, only an idiot would ever take up the task of wielding words. And I am one such as he.

From the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep, I battle with that dragon, fighting the drudgery of reality until the times when I might cast my spells of imagery.

Everything in my life revolves around it, my heart yearns for it with every beat, my brain wanders into realms of fantasy every chance it gets – dangerous stuff when crossing the road. All I can think of is the next tale, the next exploration of what might be.

I read others’ words and learn from them whenever possible – for I know I’m far from omnipotent, only an idiot thinks he is. I weather the storms of bad reviews and revel in the glory of the golden ones. All in pursuit of that dream, that illusory faultless tome. Will I ever find it? I have my doubts, but every writer does.

You can’t please everyone. Stephen King, a master of the craft, still gets bad reviews. How is this even possible? I’ve read his work, his words, his imaginary imaginings, and he holds greatness within his grasp. So how is it that such a brilliant wordsmith is unable to compose perfection?

J.K. Rowling wrote a series which buffeted the literary world, drawing readers into a grand tapestry of adventure through the eyes of a junior wizard. More and more people loved her work every day – and yet there were still those who remained unhappy, who complained and whined about her words with increasing fervor with each released novel. Now every book she releases is compared to her past, a yardstick nobody could maintain.

William Shakespeare, arguably the greatest playwright the world has ever seen, is despised by child and adult alike for his use of language long untouched in regular society. His soul screamed with emotion yearning for release through words, yet now it is scorned and scribbled upon, stretched into scripts filled with Hollywood pretension, the true majesty of his acts a mere shadow of the stage plays they once were.

So perfection in writing seems an unattainable goal. Does that mean I should give up? You might as well ask if I should give up breathing simply because there is a possibility I might inhale a bee and die horribly as my throat strangled me from within.

Or perhaps I should stop eating for fear of swallowing improperly prepared meat, which might develop into a mutinous stomach tsunami, tearing apart my innards like a raging bull.

No, I am a writer. This is my fate, my road through life. I will create worlds and people who wander through them, all in an effort of discovering that sacred enigma that none before me have unlocked.

But even if I don’t, I intend to produce a lot of drama along the way. For I am a soldier of fiction, a traveler of fantasy, an entrapper of imagination.

But above it all, I am a fool who believes I can.

Luke Romyn

About the Author

Luke Romyn spent many years, fifteen in fact, working in the security industry. From doorwork in some of Australia’s roughest pubs and clubs to protecting Mickey Mouse and the Disney crew from the overzealous jaws of tenacious toddlers, Luke has worked throughout Australia and internationally in a vast array of roles.

He’s done close protection for UK celebrities in Fiji and chased feral pigs and snakes out of the jungle film sets on Steven Spielberg’s and Tom Hank’s epic: The Pacific. There are few things Luke hasn’t seen.

With all this experience behind him, it would be tempting to write a set of memoirs. Instead, Luke utilized it to fuel his own expansive imagination and began writing fiction. Initially starting with short stories, Luke rapidly progressed onto novels. His first book, THE DARK PATH, is now out and swiftly became a #1 best selling Horror and was also voted in the Top Ten Horror novels of 2009.

Visit Luke's Website

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Having a Successful Book Signing

An Author Signing Books

Finally, after a long and excruciating wait, your book is released to the public.

You're still basking in the glow of being an Author, and suddenly, along comes an invitation to the first of many book signings at a bookstore.

Now what? How do you make this event stress-free and successful?

First of all, work with the bookstore. They're going to be investing their staff, their time, and their money in you, by ordering advance copies of your book, printing signs and posters to introduce you and your book, paying for newspaper ads about the time and date of your signing, and possibly radio and TV, as well.

There are many things you can do to make the day go smoothly, besides the obvious:
Dress professionally
Arrive early
Be excited to meet new people 
Think of the store as your ‘home’ for the event. If you approach it that way, you'll enjoy yourself, as well as sign and sell books.  People love meeting the Authors behind new books.

* Ask to be seated either close to the entrance, where you can be like an unofficial greeter, or if you're a children’s author, in the children’s section of the bookstore.

You never know if you might get the chance, during a few slow minutes, to read your book to a group of children ... then the children will tell their parents what a great person you are for reading the book to them and this brings even more sales.

* Have some bookmarks printed, or design and print your own. Also have your business cards with you. Both are invaluable. When people walk down the aisle near you, smile, go over and introduce yourself, "Hi, I’m John Smith and I’m signing my books here, today." (Public Speaking: A Necessary Evil)

* Shake their hand and give them a bookmark, or a business card, to take with them.

The whole purpose of a book signing is to sell your books. People buy from people they like, so your goal should be to first sell yourself.

Most of the people you give a business card or bookmark to almost always stop back, before they leave the store, and they will probably look at your book ... some may even buy one.

* Check with the bookstore a week or so before your signing. Ask whether there will be posters or signs where you'll be. They usually do provide them, but if not, make your own. Print a full color copy of your book cover and glue it, and your author photo, to a poster. If you have any book reviews or press releases, glue those to your poster, too.

* You can also print some small bi-folded signs on white card stock to stand on your table. Have them say something like, “Introducing John Smith, Author of “The Little Purple Duck”, or with only your name, if you want to keep it simple.

* If you really want to draw people to your table, bring some cookies or brownies with you and pile them on a plate next to where you're set up.  (Don't laugh, I met an author who did this and she said it worked well!)

* It’s important that you have realistic expectations.
Always hope for the best, expect the worst, and the end result will fall somewhere in between.
* Last, but not least, smile!  Be yourself and have fun! And remember, everyone who walks into the store is a potential customer ... and future reader of your book.

I wish you much success ...

Also See:  How to have a Successful Author School Visit

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Successful Author School Visits: For Authors

School Visit in Circleville, Ohio

The other day, we were discussing author school visits in one of the writing groups I belong to.  

The discussion actually started from my article about public public speaking.  One of the authors in the group then asked the following:
"Hi C.J. Thank you for another helpful article. However, for those of us who have never done a school visit, can you do another article on the content of your presentation? 
Do you talk about the writing process, read part of your story, ask a student to read a chapter? Do you include Powerpoint presentations, run a book trailer video? 
How do you run your session?" 
I will cover what I have learned through thirteen years of school presentations, but please keep in mind, this is only what worked best for me when planning, setting up, and doing an author school visit.

There are many variables when we're talking about how to do school visits.  Every author is different.  We all have different personalities, different styles of public speaking, and different ways to relate to children.  Always be yourself and do what you feel comfortable doing.

Use this only as a guide.  You will find your own groove after doing a couple of them -- and it will probably be much better than mine!

Setting Up an Author School Visit:

Author school visits are usually set up through the school's Reading Specialist, although each school handles this in their own way.  

Before I make my initial contact with a school, I call ahead to find out the name and title of the person who sets up their author school visits for the coming year.

Then you can make contact in several ways.  Some authors, (me included), have used post cards, which are printed much like a larger version of a business card, with a photo of your book(s) and one of you, contact information, the types of programs you offer, etc.  

Besides school visits, I also do poetry workshops and speak to PTA's and parents about the importance of poetry in schools.  This is something I also include on the post card.

Another way to make an initial contact is to send what I call a school packet, which is a modified press kit.  You can include whatever you feel is important, but this is what is in mine:
Past school visit references
A list of publishing credits
A copy of your book and a bookmark
Stickers pertaining to your book(s), or characters from your book(s)
Advance Book Order Form to send home with students w/price
An Intro Form to send home about you, your book(s), and your school visit
Copies of news clippings, magazine articles, about you and your book(s)
A list of ways I can work with the school so they can afford to hire me 
**This is all put in a folder with side pockets and dropped off, or mailed

What to Expect:

Schools want to know,"What can we do to make it a success?"

Authors want to know the same, "What should I expect and how can I make it a success?"

Always plan ahead.  Address as Much as Possible When You First Set it Up:

* Be honest and open about what you will do and how much you will charge. State your daily rate and the number of presentations you can, or will, do for that daily rate. 
Most of us set our own fees, depending on our experience level.  
In the case of an author with a first school visit, you might want to set a low fee to start, just to get your feet wet and to get some school visit references.  
The next year, as a more experienced speaker, and with the references you have from your first year, you could then raise your fee.
* If you are only able to do two presentations per day, make that clear in your first phone conversation with the school.  I can comfortably do five presentations in a day, before my voice gives out.  (I love the schools that only need you to do four ...)

* Be honest about the group size you're comfortable with. If you LOVE speaking to a full auditorium of teachers, students, and at times, even parents, then say so. If you would rather keep the groups small, then tell them that, as well. 
* Keep in mind, the smaller the group, the more presentations you will have to do to include all of the school's classes and teachers.
* Tell the school what props you will need to have on hand for your author visit: easel, pointer, chalkboard and chalk, chair, stool, rocking chair, rug to sit on, microphone, podium, bottled water, tissues.

* Find out where your presentations will be: auditorium (on stage), cafeteria, library, classrooms, hallway or loading dock. Again, talk to the school about the maximum number of students you would be comfortable speaking to -- this is very important.

* Find out where you should park and what time to arrive at the school to meet your contact, the office staff, take a potty break, and to set up.

What Do I Include in a Presentation?

You are  limited only by your own imagination.  Be inventive.  Be different.  Be yourself.

* First and foremost, the teachers and the children know you are a children's author, so if you don't do anything else, read your book(s), or part of your book(s) during your presentation.

I have found that the first five minutes are the most important.  I don't know them, and they certainly don't know me.  

Since I am a children's poet, I always break the ice with them this way:

"How many of you LOVE poetry?"  (gets a show of hands)
"How many HATE poetry?"  (usually one or two hands)
"C'mon, be honest.  How many hate poetry?  It's okay, really."  (more hands)
"Okay. I'm going to take that as a challenge!"
"Did you know poetry touches your life every day?"  (doubtful looks all around)
"When you listen to the radio, songs have lyrics and lyrics are what?"  ("Poems!")
"How about commercials?  Some have rhyme and rhythm. Those are what?"  ("Poems!")
(then I sing the Oscar Meyer wiener song and of course everyone laughs)
"When mom has a birthday, what do you buy at a Hallmark store?"  ("a card!")
(I have a couple of funny rhyming cards I read to them)
What did those cards have?"  ("Poems!")
"Another kind of poem that I know you know.  Tongue twisters!"  ("Yeah!")
I have one I use and I say it slowly first, then have them say it.
Then I say it faster and they will, too.
Then I split the room in half and do a challenge between the two sides ... 
Then I have only the teachers do the tongue twister and ask the kids, "Were they fast enough?" 
The kids always yell, "No!", so the teachers have to do it again. (lots of laughter)
After this, I ask again, "So, how many still hate poetry?"  (no hands at all, only big smiles)

CJ with Tongue Twister Behind on Easel
I use this tongue twister, but I've used others, too:
One-one was a racehorse.  
Two-two was one, too.  
When One-one won one race, 
Two-two won one, too.

Anyway, this is what works for me.  It's a great ice-breaker and the kids are  ready for my presentation, because they feel they know me.

More Things to Address Before the School Visit:

* Be clear and up front about what you charge for traveling, room and/or board, and any other expenses you might incur.

* Find out when you will be paid, i.e., the day of the school visit, or in the case of Title One, how long you will have to wait for the board's approval and your check.

* Find out whether the local media (radio, TV, newspapers) will be contacted about your school visit, whether they will attend, whether time will be set aside during that day for interviews and photos. 
Be sure to ask the media for copies of the newspaper article after it appears and make sure they have your address.  This can then be added to your school packet!
* Create an invoice (nearly all schools require one) for services rendered. It should have the name, address and phone number of the school, the name of your contact there, all charges, and a total for your school visit. 

Make sure your invoice has your personal contact information -- I have mine centered at the bottom in smaller print. Mail to the school in advance, and make sure you bring along a backup copy on the day of your school visit, just in case.

Book Sales:

Talk with the school about how book sales will be handled before your school visit.
When and where you will sign books: cafeteria, teachers' room, during lunch, office, etc.,
Who will collect the money?
How much you discount the price of your book(s).  I do, some don't.
Be sure to take pre-orders for books prior to the school visit.

School Visit Schedule:

* Ask for your school visit schedule as soon as they can give you one, so you can plan. You need to know:
How much time do you have for each presentation?  30 minutes?  An hour?
The ages of each group so you can modify your presentation to be age-appropriate.
When to be in your assigned area for signing books with pens, bookmarks, etc., 
(Again, make sure you know when you will do this. During lunch break? After the last presentation?)
* Keep accurate records (copies of everything) for the IRS: the total for the entire school visit, i.e., amount you received for the actual day, or days, of presentations, number of books sold and the dollar amount, any expenses incurred (gas, mileage, plane ticket, room, food, etc.) that were not already paid to you, or for you, by the school.

* After you get home, be sure and send a "Thank You" note to your contact at the school. You never know whether that might make the difference in them having you back another time.

Working With Schools so They Can Afford You:

I have a print-out that I always put in my school visit packet about ways to help a school pay for my author school visit.  Here it is:

"There are Ways to Get Me to Your School for Less"

1. Split the cost of a plane ticket, lodging, and meals with other local schools in your town. I'll spend one day in 'School A', one day in 'School B', one day in 'School C', etc.

2. Arrange to have me come to your school when I'm already going to be in your area and save the cost of a plane ticket, or a charge per mile to drive.

3. Have a school raffle and sell tickets for chances to win a copy of each of my three books, before my visit. I'll even donate the books for your raffle.

4. Arrange for a fun place in your area for me to bring my partner on a mini vacation: a cabin in the mountains, an apartment on the beach, a cute little Bed & Breakfast, etc. You arrange for accommodations for a few days, I'll spend a day at your school for free.

5. Have me come during the time you're having interesting people come. I love meeting other writers or illustrators and I just might lower my price for the chance to get to share ideas with someone new.

6. You're a friend, or relative and I'm going to be in your area for some reason.

7. Arrange to hold a contest: "Dinner with the Author Night". Open it up to the whole town, advertise in the local papers and radio, sell chances for $5.00 each. The winning family will have dinner with the author, the school will more than make the cost of the school visit, and everyone wins. I will even donate copies of my three books as a gift for the winning family.

You may laugh, but I've experienced almost everything on that list.  The ideas work, trust me.

I think that covers just about everything.  If you think of any other questions that I haven't addressed here, please feel free to email me. I'm always happy to help in any way I can. 

I hope you have a great school visit!

Also See:
How to Have Successful Book Signings

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Monday, June 9, 2014

Here at the Gate: by Christine Campbell

Format:  Paperback and Kindle
298 pages
Publisher: (May 14, 2014)

About the Book

Mhairi had worked hard to build herself a normal, stable life, but there had always been a dark fear inside her.

No matter how happy she was, it was always there. It followed her about like a black bat, haunting her nights, hiding in a corner during her days, flapping out at odd moments, scaring the wits out of her.

It was as though she was standing outside a high-walled garden, barred from the secret of her past by the wrought-iron gate.

She could see all the bushes and trees, the rhododendron and hydrangea. She could even smell the roses and the honeysuckle, but then the gate would swing shut and she was outside and it was dark.

Now her happy, settled life was being threatened and she knew she had to force through the darkness. She needed to remember what she had spent a lifetime forgetting.

Other Books by Christine Campbell

Family Matters

Christine Campbell
About The Author

Hi! I’m Christine Campbell.  I live in Edinburgh, United Kingdom and I am the mother of five grown children and ten grandchildren.

I’m a writer, a novelist, in particular. I write contemporary fiction: strongly character-based, relationship novel, with a smidgen of romance and a generous dusting of mystery and detection.

I have completed five novels.  Four are published so far, with another almost ready to leave home and see the big wide world and, even more importantly, to be seen by it. 

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Sunday, June 8, 2014

So, You Want to be Published ...

Getting Published - Having a Book With Our Name on the Front

Where to Begin:

Writers often ask me where they should start in trying to get their manuscript published.

I always tell them, I am no expert. I used the hunt-and-peck method, because I didn't know how to begin, who to ask, or where I should start. But I am glad to share a few things I learned by trial and error to get you started.

One of the first things I always suggest is, get your work (and your name) out there.  Join some writer groups and communities online and post your work.  And if you ever hope to be published, for heaven's sake, use your own name.

If you hope to sell your books someday, you want your work, and your name, to be recognized.  How else will anyone know what you’ve written?

The web is full of excellent writing by cutsie pen names like “fluffy kitten” or “Pearl Onion”, but it isn’t professional, or wise, especially if they ever want to publish under their real name at some point.  No one will know who they are ...

There are many writing communities online, but a few of my favorite ones are Authors Den (fiction, non-fiction, essays, articles, poetry), PoemHunter (poems, lyrics), and the Arcanum Café (mostly poetry).

Most offer critiquing of your work by other writers, with helpful suggestions as to how to make necessary changes. Of course, you should also read and critique the work of other writers, in return. I’ve read some excellent writing through these communities and I’ve also made some lasting friendships.

Another step that will get your work and your name noticed: create a website to showcase your work. There are many sites online that offer to host free websites. Often they have different looks and designs to pick from and, with a few choices on your part, your site will be up and running in just a few minutes.

Once you have your website set up, submit the URL to search engines, link it to a blog you may have, or put the link to it on your page in communities like Facebook. Again, you want to gain as much visibility for you and your work as you can.

Okay, you’ve posted your work at writing communities and you have a website, or blog. And you’re getting some excellent feedback from both. Now it’s time to decide if this is enough for you.

Are you satisfied, merely having a nice following, or do you still want to be published so bad that you can taste it?

If you answered 'yes' to the above question, then the next step is to go to a bookstore either in your community, or online. Invest in a copy of the Writer’s Digest book that applies to the particular type of work you do.

You’ll find Writer’s Digest books for poetry, fiction and non-fiction, memoirs, and so on. They also have one for children’s writers and illustrators. These books come out once a year and they will be like a Bible to you for facts and information, i.e., where and how to send your work to magazines, periodicals and publishers.

When it comes to submitting your manuscript to publishers, be careful. Always read their rules for submissions. Each publisher is specific in how they want to be approached by writers.

Some only want agented material, so you'll have to forgo those, unless you want to take the time to try and get an agent. (There are Writers Digest books geared to getting an agent, as well).

Some publishers will only accept exclusive manuscript submissions. This means you send your manuscript only to them and then wait for them to either accept, or reject, your work for publication. It can take anywhere from three to six months to hear back from them … and there are some cases where it takes even longer … and still other cases where you won’t hear back -- at all.

There are also a few who require you to submit a query letter first.  If they are interested in hearing more, based on what you said in your query, they will invite you to send your manuscript.

Here’s a little heads up about manuscripts and submissions:

Never send your original manuscript, only a copy.
Always make sure it’s spell-checked.
Always double space.
Put the word count in the top right corner.
If the publisher says no staples … they mean no staples. Use a clip.
Always include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), or you will never hear from them.

Nothing will get your precious manuscript trashed faster than sloppy work, spelling errors, and not following their rules. Again, each publisher is very specific with their submission guidelines.  Refer to your Writers Digest book (your submission Bible) for every publisher you send to.

The competition is fierce these days. Publishers can have three-foot piles of manuscript submissions, sometimes monthly. Believe me, I’ve seen the piles.

They get so many manuscripts, they can afford to be picky. But don’t worry, most of the information you’ll need is explained somewhere in the Writers Digest book you buy. There are also interesting articles and interviews peppered throughout, so you actually gain a lot by buying a copy.

I’ve left one of the most important steps until last. Edit, edit, edit.

Cut out all unnecessary dialogue, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, anything not crucial to the story, as well as any obvious fillers.  Read your manuscript out loud. See how it sounds. Edit.

Read it out loud to others and get their opinions. Edit again.

When you’ve edited, edit again, and then again.  Read it aloud to yourself and others one last time, before taking it to the post office.

I know this seems extreme, but if you don't tighten it up, be assured, their editors will -- and your finished book might not end up the way you want it to be.

That’s about it. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things worth mentioning, but at least you have a guide to getting started. If you have any questions, you can always email me. I will be happy to help in any way I can.

Just one more thing.  If you're like me, you'll get a pile of rejections, before you get that one 'yes', but that’s okay!  Don't take it personally -- if you joined those writing communities I mentioned above, you will be somewhat used to having your work scrutinized.

But also keep in mind that a rejection might only mean that what you sent to that particular publisher on that particular day wasn't what they were looking for at that particular time.  You may have sent the ultimate best story about a little purple duck, when they were looking for one about a green pony.  They never tell you.

You can't wear your feelings on your sleeve.  Be persistent and persevere.  Remember, it only takes one 'yes' and you’re published.

I wish you success!

Writers Digest Books at Amazon

Email CJ

See also:
Publishers, A Rant ...

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Why Do Poets Write Poetry?

Poetry Isn't Easy

A friend once asked me why I write poetry.

She had a creepy look on her face that told me she secretly equated writing poetry with juggling snakes, or worse, licking a germy fly swatter. 

Well, maybe the look on her face wasn't quite that bad, but her expression did remind me of someone sucking on a lemon wedge.

I don't know why poetry gets such a bad rap. I write fiction, non-fiction, flash fiction, memoirs, essays, and three blogs, and I can tell you honestly that poetry is much harder to write.

When you write most anything else, you have a lot of leeway -- pages and pages to tell a story.  Not so, when writing poetry. A poem has to be condensed, without straying from the main theme, and it also usually has a beginning, middle and end.

I can only speak for myself, but I'm reasonably sure other poets would understand. Maybe they can't explain the 'why they write it' any better than I, but they can certainly understand the love for writing poetry.

A poet writes poetry because they love poetry.  It is a challenge -- and not everyone can do it.

While I'm convinced writing poetry is not a disease, it could be called an addiction -- and with no twelve-step program for recovery.

Based on my friend's question, I asked myself, "Why do I write poetry?" I mean, other than the obvious, which is that I can't NOT write poetry. If that's an addiction, well then, I enjoy my addiction. In fact, I actually revel in it.

(You can often find me scribbling thoughts and ideas wherever I am, on whatever I can find, if I get a sudden inspiration.)

To be honest, I probably should have explained to my friend that for me to hold back a poem would be like trying to hold in a sneeze. When I finally let out, it just feels good. Again, other poets would understand what I'm talking about.

I simply explained to my friend that there are thoughts and ideas down inside that I have to get out. They're uncomfortable where they are.

I told her to think of it like having a mosquito bite you can't quite reach. When you finally find someone to scratch it, it just feels good.

So I will continue to live with my addiction, no matter what friends, or anyone else, may think.

But Geez-Louise, I've got to make this short.  I feel a poetic sneeze coming on and it's gonna feel so good when I finally let it out ...

CJ's Poetry for Children:
Barking Spiders (and Other Such Stuff)
Barking Spiders 2 (sequel)
Me Too! Preschool Poetry

Poetry for Adults:
Anatomy of a Poet

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Stew: My Story

CJ and Roommate, Chris
by CJ Heck

Saying goodbye to the last of the first class passengers as they deplaned had become methodical.

It was the middle of the night, my feet hurt, I was tired and trying my best not to sound sing-song with my goodbyes. Keeping focused was difficult. My thoughts were wandering elsewhere.

It was the last night of my nonstop coast-to-coast run for the month. This flight had been long and difficult. For one thing, the passengers had had way too much to drink and they'd become overly rowdy.

We'd been forced to take a two-hour layover at O’Hare so the ground crew could repair an engine problem. As an apology for the delay (and with the best of intentions), the captain instructed us to open the bar, once we were back in the air.

I was really looking forward to my four days off, before the next cycle, when it would begin again for another month. One good thing, the next month my flights would get me home at a decent hour -- no more 2:00 a.m. arrivals, feeling totally used up and washed out.

I had made plans the day before to join my three roommates for a bicycle ride on Angel Island on my first day off. We had done this several times before and it was one of our favorite weekend haunts ... oh, I just remembered, I have to buy the sourdough bread. The other girls were bringing the wine, cheese, and a blanket to sit on.

How I loved San Francisco. It was beginning of the 70's and hippies were still hanging out on downtown corners with their beads and music, wearing bright flower garlands in their hair.

I loved the quaint cable cars that clacked up and down the busy, steeply-angled streets. It was local custom that each conductor composed a special beat, which he always played on the bell of his cable car. Each became known by his own unique beat, and the more complicated it was, the better -- my favorite was the cable car that went to The Cannery and Ghirradelli Square. That conductor rang an awesome mean beat on his bell and his cable car was always packed with regulars and tourists.

Half Moon Bay
On Sunday, we were going to Half Moon Bay to soak up some rays on the warm sand. There was never a lack of things to do in San Francisco, only a lack of time in which to do them.

I remember thinking, "Finally, the coach section and then we’re through."

More smiles, more good-byes, although I was acutely aware I had lost the battle to sing-song halfway through first class. My smile felt as though it was bordering on an all out grimace, but I was almost done and then I would head for home.

The fear in icy tendrils prickled the nape of my neck as I walked through the all but deserted parking lot. I chose to ignore the feeling, chalking it up to the hour and being drag-my-butt tired from the long flight. The engine problem at O'Hare had added two hours and it was now 4:30 in the morning -- no wonder I was dragging and feeling hinky.

As always, walking through the lot, I marveled at how the dew crystallized on the hoods of the few remaining cars, creating a twinkling diamond field under the bright lights of the parking lot.

Odd, I thought, this feeling. That night was no different from any other late night flight. I was always tired after, but I usually felt almost rejuvenated by being earthbound and heading home -- and my four days off.

To speed the mindless walk to my car, I thought about the goings on of yet another red eye special, although special was way too nice a word. The work was grueling and the hours long that a flight attendant spent on her feet babysitting jet loads of bored passengers who were anxious, themselves to be home.

Trans World Airlines Logo
I really loved my job with Trans World Airlines, aka TWA. It’s what I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember. Oh, there were parts of it that rankled, the wandering hands of the crew for instance, but easy enough to fend off, if you knew how.

I grinned as I thought about their almost universal arrogance and well-used line, “So, sweetie, what did YOU do before joining us in the air?”

With smug satisfaction, I recalled my latest comeback, just that evening, “I was a stock car driver, sir. A damned good one, too.” Another favorite I often used, "I was a lady wrestler, sir, usually in mud or jello."

Usually, a knife-sharp comment, a demure smile and the ever popular batted eyelashes were all that was needed to deflate even the most amorous jerk, mid-grope.

Yet passengers could be even worse. I wish I had a dollar for every time I asked, “And you, sir? What can I get you?  Coffee, tea, milk, a cocktail?” only to hear the way-too-familiar response:

“I’ll take you, little lady! Har de har har.” Then he would give a “see-what-a-big-man-I-am” nod to his seatmates. I tried never to dignify the remarks with an answer and, instead, gave them a well-practiced smile which said, ”Oh, you clever man, you.”

After flying for awhile, you discovered there were ways of getting even, with even the biggest big-shot. Devious? Maybe. Necessary? Abso-friggin-lutely.

“Oops! Oh my! I’m so sorry, sir! It must have been the turbulence. Let me get you a few napkins so you can wipe that wine (cola, tomato juice, hot coffee) off of your nice trousers.”

Or that night, I had picked up a dinner tray from a playboy type and found a room key to the Fairmont Hotel and a one-hundred dollar bill tucked under his used napkin. DUH. As if I would ever be so stupid. For the most part though, those kinds of passengers were the exception, rather than the rule.

To me, the irony was obvious, at least back in those days when hijackings to Cuba were always in the news. At the very first sign of a problem, the bad apples were always the first, and loudest, to bombard the flight attendants with pleas for help in getting off the plane. We were suddenly promoted to angels of the skies,where only moments before, we had been treated like flying call girls. Ah, yes, the glamorous life of a flight attendant ...

It sure was different from the Brady Bunch family in which I was raised. San Francisco seemed like the perfect place to be back then. It also seemed like the perfect place to heal, after I buried my new husband -- and my rose-colored glasses -- the year before. Doug had been an army combat medic and one of the casualties of war in Vietnam. I had been only twenty then, and devastated.

After nearly a year, with love and the best of intentions, my family told me they believed the best thing for me was to get back into some semblance of life.

So, with my family's encouragement, I wrote a letter to TWA and then flew to Kansas City for interviews. I was accepted.  Two weeks later, I boarded another plane, this time to their training academy for six weeks in Kansas City. After graduation, I found myself in the most sought after domicile in the whole TWA family.

Walking through the lot, I shivered. Strange that I should again feel ice-cold terror prickling, interrupting the after-flight mind ramblings that were the norm.

"Jeez oh man, this is nuts," I thought, as the razor sharp panic again snaked up my spine and sunk its teeth in. Again I ignored the inner voice. It was more than a whisper, but it wasn’t yet at Defcon One.

CJ and "Alfie"
I couldn’t have seen from that distance the broken glass twinkling on the pavement below the driver’s window of my car.

I would have been horrified to see the long thin slice cut through the rag top of my most prized possession, a little red Alpha Romeo. "Alfie" was an older model, but it had been a present to myself, and I treated that car like it was a long awaited child.

I also couldn’t have sensed HIM from that distance, but the little voice down inside me had, and it had at once spoken. Then a second time, and then again, but I still failed to listen.

But he was there, all right. He was hidey-holed and waiting like a creepy spider ready to bite. His mind was filled with who knows what feral thoughts and his crotch was bulging with a sick anticipation.

The comings and goings in the lot had been followed under the comforting cover of night, his trusted friend. He had watched my routine and he knew it well. He watched, planned, and waited. He really didn’t care who’s thighs he got to part. He had merely learned my routine. His mind erupted like a boil as he sat and waited for the red eye special that night, while a sick smile played across his face.

Suddenly, the fear was overwhelming, like the static in the air when lightning is about to strike. This time, just as I opened the car door, I heard my little voice inside booming like God’s own thunder.

He came at me then with a punch to the face. He held a knife between us in his other hand like an amulet for good luck. His rage for all women let loose and he demanded “Put out, stew, you fuckin' bitch!” There were more punches, more yelling. "Shuddup, bitch! I'm gonna fuck you up good!"

I never really heard the rest of his words. I never actually felt the punches, because that’s when my mind took flight. Mind curdling screams rang out into the night, one scream on top of another, and another. I didn’t realize, but they were mine.

”The screaming is what saved her ass”, the officer said later down at the station. The screaming, and that elderly couple who found her walking, still screaming, right down the center of a busy two-lane with cars whizzing by in both directions."

Thank God, they stopped and convinced me to get in their car for a ride to the police station. The couple was still there, too. I could see them sitting on a bench by the wall in the long hallway, wringing their hands, waiting to see if there was anything else they could do. I remember hugging them as I was leaving, wishing my mom and dad were there.

As for me, when anyone asked, all I could remember was having feet like lead and being unable to move, completely frozen to the twinkling pavement. Imagine that. Even through it all, I remember seeing the twinkling glass on the pavement.

Now, in looking back, it had been like some bizarre one-act comedy. One actor screaming like a lovesick concert fan, the other, a boxer punching a dummy in the ring, like some eerie, Mexican standoff. Which one would break first and run?

Thank God, it was the sinister star of the play. He had lost all interest in the crazed screaming woman. He ran, his legs like pistons pumping, propelling him towards whatever hell hole he called home that night.

They never did catch him -- oh, I really didn’t think they would. I wasn’t able to tell the authorities much. I walked into the airline terminal the next day, though, and quit on the spot, wearing my cuts and bruises like my husband’s medals from Nam.

I did feel the punches that day, and somehow, I knew it would never be the same again. The girl-next-door flight attendant bubble I had strived so hard for had burst out there in that nearly deserted parking lot, amidst the dewy diamond fields and the twinkles on the pavement.

“A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write.” ~CJ Heck