Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Death of the Storybook

I recently submitted a story to an agent for a critique.  She said that my writing was good.  Her only concern was that she didn't feel my work would be mainstream.  At 996 words it was considered too long to be a picture book and that there was no longer a market for storybooks.
No more storybooks?
I was told that parents want to read short books to their children at bedtime, 300 - 500 words ideally.  It saddened me to think that at the end of the day, when work is over and lessons are complete and the kitchen is cleaned and you finally get to see your child, all you can offer them is 300 words.
That's not to say that there aren't many wonderful books written to that length. But that comment did seem to speak to our hurried and harried way of life.
My first thought to the agent's advice was, 'Okay, I can do that.  Shorter?  No problem.'  And I could, if I wanted to.  The thing is, I like writing storybooks.  I like stories that are lyrical, that are just as much for the parents as the children.  Stories that are, dare I say it, sweet.
If I have a message in my work it is for parents and it is this.  Pay Attention.  Childhood is over in the blink of an eye and trust me, it's not the children who grow up and remember those bedtime stories.  It's the parents who pick up a long forgotten book and remember how it felt to be snuggled up against their little one lost in the midst of a story.  A fairy tale perhaps.
How long are we allowed into the world of our own children?  Not long.  The real world with all of its demands asserts itself far too soon.  And we are left with the task of saying everything we have to say in 300 words.
So I will continue to write my storybooks.  Perhaps I will read them to a grandchild one day, all 1,000 words of them.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Flight of Sebastian Bean

Chapter 1
Stories like this one always begin in misery.
There was a time when Sebastian Bean had two parents, a beautiful mother and a handsome father.  They all lived together in a tall narrow house on a lovely tree lined street in a fashionable area of a quaint and historic city.  Sebastian had a bedroom of his own and in it he had a wall filled with bookshelves and on the shelves hundreds of books, so many that his fathered attached a ladder that slid on a rail so that he could reach the books at the top.    From the long window above his desk he could see all the way to the square in the centre of town where a marble fountain burbled and people fed the pigeons.  And very often in the evenings he would walk with his parents down to the ice cream shop where he ordered a chocolate peppermint cone that he ate with great enjoyment.  At night his mother would come in and kiss him goodnight and before he fell asleep he would say, ‘I am very lucky’.  And he was.  He was a very, very lucky boy and then all at once he wasn’t.
One Sunday morning Sebastian woke to the sun streaming through his window and the birds singing in the trees.  There was no reason for him to think that it wouldn’t be another lucky day in his very lucky life.  But when he sat up in bed and listened to the house he was filled with a feeling that he was not used to.   Something wasn’t right.  He got out of his bed and opened his door and peered into the hall.  What he saw was his father was talking to Doctor  Little.  The doctor shook his head and put his hand on Arthur Bean’s  shoulder and patted it twice.  Sebastian stepped farther out into the hall.  ‘Father?’ he called and in the single word were a million questions.  “Go back to your room Sebastian,” said his father.  “I will be in shortly”. 
Sebastian went back to his room and sat on his bed and the feeling that something was very wrong grew and grew until his father came in with the news that his mother had contracted a terrible influenza and that he must pack a bag at once and go and stay with his grandmother so that he didn’t get infected as well.  Had Sebastian known how important what he put into his suitcase was going to be he would have packed more carefully.  But he was so worried about his mother he couldn’t think.  His father made him wear a mask across his nose so that he didn’t breathe in any of the germs that had made his mother sick and as he passed the door to their bedroom Sebastian called ‘Goodbye mumma.’  He didn’t know if she heard him and sadly he would never know for his mother died the next morning. 
Over the next while Sebastian was sadder than I have words to describe.  He missed his mother terribly and to make matters worse it seemed that his father had forgotten him.  Sebastian remained with his grandmother and only saw his father from time to time and each time his father seemed more of a stranger to Sebastian.  He spoke quietly and he never remembered to hug Sebastian and always left without taking him back home. His grandmother told him that his father was sad too and that he would come around and that time was a great healer. 
The spring went by and turned to summer and then to autumn and finally to winter and spring again.  And then one day when Sebastian and his grandmother were working in her flower beds turning over the black dirt and getting them ready for planting a long black car snaked its way up the drive and parked in front of the house.  Sebastian stood and dusted his hands off on the back of his pants.  The door of the car opened and his father climbed out.  “Hello Sebastian!” he boomed in the voice he used to use.  “I’ve come to take you home!”  Sebastian was so surprised that he could not seem to move.  He wanted to run into his father’s arms with relief , but he couldn’t seem to do anything but stand in one spot with his mouth hanging open in surprise.  His grandmother stepped forward and placed her hand on Sebastian’s back.  “Well,” she said, “isn’t this wonderful.”  But her voice didn’t sound excited, it sounded very much like Sebastian was feeling.  She was saying happy words but they sounded anything but.  Sebastian’s father stood there grinning and Sebastian stood in the same place and his grandmother stood behind him.  They may have stood this way for a good long time had the other door on the car not opened with a creak capturing their attention. 
“Arthur,” said a dark velvet voice.  “Will you help me out?”  Sebastian’s father hurried to the other side of the car and extended his hand.  A gloved hand appeared and wrapped itself around his own.  As Mr. Bean raised his hand a long thin woman was revealed.  She wore a tight fitting skirt and had an ostrich plume in her hat.  She had a long thin nose to match the rest of her and a wide red mouth.  “Sebastian,” said his father, “there is someone I’d like you to meet.  This is, well it’s, your, I should say.. my wife.  Your stepmother.”  Suddenly the air in Nanny’s yard became very still.  Even the birds were shocked into silence.  “Hello Sebastian,” purred the thin woman.  “It is such a pleasure to meet you at last.  Arthur has told me so many things about you I feel as if I know you already.”  Her voice dripped all over Sebastian and she smiled.  He still had not moved a muscle although his mind had begun to race inside of him.  This person, this stepmother person was going to live with them.  Sleep in their house, in his mother’s bed, use her things, sit in her chair.  No it couldn’t be.  But as he watched his father’s face and saw him smiling at the thin woman he realized it was real.  Horribly, awfully real.  She smiled at Sebastian revealing a row of well manicured teeth and he was somewhat relieved to see that they weren’t pointed.  “I’m afraid it’s come as a shock to you,” the thin woman went on, “Arthur, shame on you.  I told you he should have been warned. You may call me Sinthia my dear.”  At last Sebastian found his voice.  “It’s nice to meet you,” he managed.  Mr. Bean stepped closer to Sebastian and ruffled his hair.  “He’s alright aren’t you son?”  Sebastian was so surprised at being ruffled by his father that he, for a moment, forgot to be shocked at the situation that was presenting itself in Nanny’s garden.  It had been so long since Arthur Bean had shown his son any affection at all that Sebastian didn’t quite know how to respond.  Little boys aren’t so different than puppies really.  Even if you haven’t paid much attention to it a puppy will always forgive his owner at the first sign of kindness and that is exactly what Sebastian did.  In that split second he looked at his father and smiled and thought ‘maybe it will be alright’.  Poor Sebastian, he was so happy for a little affection he didn’t even hear the other car door open until a very fat and freckly kind of a voice said, “If I don’t get something to eat in the next 5 minutes my blood sugar will plummet.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013


the end that we fear
is coming
on cold breath and silent feet
don't listen
the whisper of foretelling
cannot be heard
no ear attuned
to the sound of finality exists
don't look
for it is invisible
just somewhere
at once
don't touch it
it can't be felt
but inside
where the knowing grows
an uneasy peculiarity
is hiding in the shadows
waiting for the moment
we forget

Monday, August 12, 2013

What Kind of Writer Are You?

I have asked myself this question many times, taken online quizzes and submitted samples for analysis and at the end of it all I’ve determined that I don’t one hundred percent know what kind of writer I am.  I should know.  Shouldn’t I?   I know what I like to write.  I like to write poetry when I’m particularly stressed or emotional.  I write quickly without any rules and let the words arrive of their own volition.  There was a time when I wrote a poem every night before bed.  I wrote them all at once, without stopping to edit or revise or allow myself time to think about it much.  And I found this kind of writing gave me a tremendous sense of release.  Other times I write in vignettes painting a picture with broad gestures and very little shading. These stories usually arrive as a whole at inopportune moments and I find myself scrambling for some paper and a pencil and write until the story is done or my brain kicks in and puts an end to it.  Sometimes I write historical fiction.  I like the narrative, the flowery prose, the use of language.  And I like to write for children.  
If you asked me what kind of a book I would most like to publish, the genre I would most like to be known for, I would have to say that I would like to be known as a children’s author.  I’d be over the moon to be able to tell a story like Kate DiCamillo does or Roald Dahl or Brian Selznick or J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman.  I love the imagination behind children’s fiction.   I love the idea that parents are flawed, that animals talk and that little boys can live in clock towers or become wizards or be raised in graveyards.  It is a magical genre and I want to be a magician.  
Writing for children satisfies the part of me that is unwilling to grow up.  Or is it unable?  When I sit down to work on a children’s story I feel a certain sense of melancholy.  It’s painful.  I think it’s fear.  I’m afraid that I want it so badly that I’ll never get it.  I feel like I’m 12 years old with my eye on a new bike and only 3 dollars in my piggy bank.  I want the bike, I’m working for the bike, but there’s no guarantee that I’ll ever get the bike.  The thing is that if I don’t do the work I remove the possibility.
Possibilities are what children’s books are all about. 
Today I watched Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech ‘Make Good Art’.  He talked about worry and how it kept him from enjoying the journey some of the time.  It’s keeping me from enjoying the journey as well.  Not that I’m in the same stratosphere as Mr. Gaiman as a writer but he is also a human who worries sometimes.
I’ve decided that I am a multi-faceted writer just as I am a multi-faceted person.  I don’t have to pick one.  I just have to make good art. 

Friday, May 17, 2013


a single bloom
red upon stone
afraid to pluck it
in case there are no more
it withers where it grows
instead of spreading seeds
just a momentary thrill
amidst the cracks
out of place
and ill suited
dried up and then forgotten


Unable to bridge the gap
between longing and outcome
I lie transfixed
by the ceiling and the way the gray light
leaves smudges in the corners.
Wanting isn't enough
to pull the curtains
let the light in
face the day.
It's not enough
to get out of my own way.
And so the wanting sits
like a parasite to my host
feeding from within
and laying waste to desire
leaving only the burning.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A new take on Maudlin Manor

Once upon a time ago
There lived a pair of twins
 Rotten little apples
Stuck their dolls with pins
They looked like little angels
Wrapped in silk and pearls
But they were rotten little devils
Masquerading as little girls
They lived in the house called Maudlin
A family name I suppose
But suited to the children
So very lachrymose
They have a nasty habit
Of staring straight ahead
They may have been alive once
But now they’re very dead
They haunt the Maudlin Manor
Walk the creaky floors
Open up the windows
Slam the wooden doors
Take things that they shouldn’t
And hide them where they can
Walk from room to room
Always holding hands