Shooting Marbles, A Lesson Learned

Not too long ago I wrote a longer short story titled, The Forgetful Man’s Disease. The story is set in the old Mill Village in West Columbia. It was a place I spent a lot of my childhood. The main character is based on my grandfather and many of the characters within the story are based on people I knew from the area.

Tonight, my brother-in-law, Stephen, came over and we talked about Dredging Up Memories, my second novel. (If you don’t have a copy of it, you can get it HERE). While we were talking, he on the couch across from me, and the house somewhat warm and a crime show playing on the television in the background, the subject turned to my grandfather.

I couldn’t help but talk about him and a particular story he told me.

My grandfather was a good guy. He preached and taught Sunday School for many, many years. He told great jokes—his timing was impeccable. But even better, he told awesome stories. Some of them have ended up in some of my own stories. One of them I would like to tell you about right now. It is a touch of real life that no one gets to see too often.

When I was around eleven, my brother and I began to grow apart. He was thirteen and the things we once had in common were nonexistent. Before that, we had been thick as thieves. We argued a lot and the first of several fist fights took place not too long before my grandfather asked me if I wanted to shoot marbles ‘out in the yard.’

Of course, I wanted to shoot marbles. I loved marbles.

My grandfather took me out in the yard and wiped the sand away from a small area. He drew a circle and we poured my bag of marbles into it. He picked a medium sized cow and I did the same. We walked a few feet away and began to shoot the cows at the marbles in the circle. For several minutes we played, each of us knocking marbles out of the circle, claiming them and putting them in our own separate piles.

When there were only two marbles left in the circle, my grandfather stopped playing. He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you about these two marbles.”

This meant he was going to tell a story. I always looked forward to his stories.

He plucked the two marbles from the circle and held them in his palm. He said, “This circle is your family. These marbles are your family members.” He motioned to the marbles in our two piles when he said that.

He then held up the two marbles. “These two marbles are you and your brother.”

He set them back in the circle and took his cow—what most folks would call a shooter—and took a shot at the two marbles. The cow struck home, scattering the two marbles. One of them left the circle. The other one remained inside.

As my grandfather always did, he told his story without a ton of dramatics, but with a straightforward message.

“Even if your brother leaves the circle, he is still your brother. That will never change.”

He picked up the marble that had left the circle and set it next to the other ones.

“Your family will always be your family. Your brother will always be your brother.”

He stood, patted me on the shoulder and nodded. I think he was proud of himself. He then walked off, leaving me looking at the two marbles in the circle and thinking about the lesson he had just taught me.

Though my brother and I would drift apart over the years, he has always been my brother. And that was his point. We would always be brothers, no matter what happened, no matter what direction we went in.

When I started writing, I tried to capture the flare my grandfather had with telling stories. Sometimes I succeed. Other times I don’t. But here is what I shoot for every time: I want my stories to stick, like my grandfather’s lesson that day. If you remember one of my stories and if one of them moved you, then I have done my job. It is what my grandfather did, and those are hefty shoes to follow in.

One more thing: that was the last time my grandfather and I played marbles. Yes, his lesson stuck.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

The Creeping Crud

~Sniffle sniffle, ah-choo, cough, hack, wheeze, sniffle sniffle~

This has been my life the last couple weeks.

I call it the Creeping Crud. Or the Lucas Pederson. (Sorry, inside joke to one of my friends. He’ll know what I’m talking about and probably get a good laugh out of it.)

This cold, allergy or whatever it is came at both a lousy time and a somewhat good time. Yeah, contradicting, I know. But, hear me out.

Wait, before I go there, let me give you a little back story to this.

The weekend before Thanksgiving we came home after my son’s final flag football game to find a little kitten in our yard. It took off running and got itself stuck between our privacy fence and the neighbor’s fence. We tried to entice it out with a bit of food–it was scrawny and looked like it hadn’t eaten in a very long time (even though the kitten couldn’t have been much over six weeks old, if that).

Throughout the day, my kids kept watch for the thing, fretting over it all the while. Then later that night it ended up in our house. This, after me saying, ‘No, we will not have another cat.’

Yeah, we know who won that little battle, don’t we?

My wife fell in love with it and the rest is history. So, now we have a new pet–a little kitten named Mia.

However, since that day I have been sick. I blame the kitten. I say I am allergic to the little thing (which, by the way, I have dubbed Hellspawn). My wife says for me to get over it. I’m not winning this battle and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

[[Side note: I grew up around cats. I have one appropriately named Pouncer. He’s eleven or twelve now. I’ve never been allergic to cats. However, the Hellspawn must have some special dander or maybe it’s Cat Scratch Fever, since the demon scratched me when I tried to pick it up. End side note.]]

Now that I have you completely sympathetic to my plight (yeah, right) I will get on to the real story at hand. This Creeping Crud (or Lucas Pederson. Take your choice.), complete with the sniffles, sneezing, coughing, heavy chest, headache, watery eyes and just overall blahness, has stuck with me now for 13 days. I hate it. One minute I feel okay, the next minute I want to stick a hot poker up my nose. It truly sucks.

Sleeping in bed is next to impossible, so the recliner has become my friend–oh, yes, it has. I have sneezed so many different ways that I can’t even begin to count them. My ribs hurt from all of the ah-choo’s and hacking I’ve done. I am tired of wiping my *^%$ nose. Thankfully, it’s not the other end running…

So, the timing sucks with Thanksgiving and my son’s birthday and my daughter’s drama group’s performance coming up and the parade and… oh yeah, work… But, it’s also kind of beneficial that it happened when it did. You see, I’ve been working on this series of stories titled Dredging Up Memories.

[[Side note: Shameless plug. You can find Dredging Up Memories at Tales of the Zombie Wars. Just follow the link and enjoy. End Side note.]]

In the current installment, my main character gets sick and thinks he is dying. He fears he will become one of the zombies that have plagued the world. I’m not going to tell you what happens, but being sick has helped me write some of the symptoms for my main character. It has helped me to write a more believable sickness into the story.

And that’s really what this blog is about.

To be good writers, we have to draw on life. To tell good stories, we have to make them as believable as possible–even stories with zombies in them. By drawing from the Creeping Crud that has kicked my tail end the last two weeks gives my main character’s sickness more depth. It makes it more believable.

That’s what we writers need to do with all of our characters: draw off of real life and put them in situations that the readers can believe. Rich characters with depth to them make for great stories, believable stories; stories you like or hate because of the main character was either loveable or detestable.

So, while I have suffered from this sickness, I have also paid a lot of attention to how my body feels. That way I can get it right on paper when I write about it.

To go with this, the little Hellspawn has, well, spawned a story idea as well, so I guess that’s one thing good about the kitten that my family loves.

I said all that in hopes of impressing upon you the importance of paying attention to your surroundings, your body, the weather, the way the world is, people and so on. If you know about the world, if you know about people and if you know about feelings, then you should be able to write an engaging tale. It’s our jobs, as writers, to tell stories in a way that makes our readers feel something. That’s the goal: make the readers feel… anything. Love. Happiness. Sadness. Disgust. Hate for a character. Anything at all. Give them something to feel and you give them something to remember.

For now, I’m A.J. and I’m out.

~Sniffle sniffle, ah-choo~

A Well Taught Lesson

Picture this:

A ten-year-old red headed girl with a wide smile and freckles on the bridge of her nose goes to her dad and says, “Daddy, I want to teach you a lesson.”

Whoa… whoa there little doggie. Teach me a lesson? How often do you hear that term and it is a positive thing? Usually it’s something like ‘boy, I’m gonna teach you a lesson…’ It’s not something I was certain I wanted to hear.

I looked at her with a touch of trepidation and said, “Okay.”

Off to her room we went.

She closed the door.

I admit I watched as the door closed and I felt a touch of… well… fear. After all, she was going to teach me a lesson.

[Side note #1: If you are wondering where my lovely wife was during this lesson learning I was going to get, she was in bed, taking a nap because at exactly 12:01 on Friday November 18th, she was going to be in the movie theater watching some sickening vampire love story.]

“Have a seat,” she said.

I listened, not wanting the lesson to be too painful if it came to that.

[Side note #2: For those who don’t know my daughter, she has been known to be a mix between Wednesday Addams and Mandy from The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy. If you don’t know who they are… well… look ‘em up.]

She pulled out her white board and the dry erase markers.

Okay, this may not be so bad, after all. At least there were no knives involved.

“Today, we are going to talk about the four steps of writing. Do you know what they are?”

“You tell me,” I said. My interest peaked a bit.

She took her white board and proceeded to write the numbers 1-4. And she said:

“First, there is the prewriting. It’s where you jot down your thoughts and ideas about what you are going to write.”

“Okay, brainstorming. I get that.”

She nodded and continued.

“Second we have your sloppy copy.”

I am not making this up. That is what she called it. Sloppy Copy.

[Side note #3: A few years ago I wrote an article about a copy shop called Super Soppy Sloppy Copies. It was a humor piece and, to say the least, it was fun to write. Say Super Soppy Sloppy Copies three times real fast and let me know if your tongue is all twisted in knots when you’re done.]

“Sloppy Copy?” I asked.

She gave me the rolling eyes look and shook her head. “The first draft, Daddy.”

Can you say sarcasm?

“The third thing is Revise.”

“Editing,” I said.

“If that’s what you want to call it, sure.”

I think she was irritated by my constant interjections.

“The fourth thing you have is your final draft. Do you understand so far?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Now, let’s relate this to getting up and going to school.”

You may be wondering what I was thinking at this point. How was she going to relate getting up in the morning to the four steps of writing?

“What do you do in the morning?” she said, but it was one of those questions that she didn’t want an answer to. Rhetorical, you know? “First you change your clothes. Then you brush your teeth. Next you put on your shoes. Finally, you eat.”

I counted on my fingers. Yup, there were four things there. Yet, I was perplexed as I tried to figure out how she was going to tie this into writing. I’m sure I’ve confused my share of you by doing the exact same thing in some of my blogs.

As she started relating the things together she drew a rough picture of a kid getting ready for school. I liked the simplicity of the image.

“When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is get dressed. This is like prewriting because I have to figure out what I’m going to wear and what goes with what. ‘Does this match this or does that go with these pants.’ Just like prewriting.”

She vigorously nodded her head at this point, an emphasis saying she’s right and she knew it.

And she was.

“What do I do next? I brush my teeth because, you know, when you wake up in the morning your breath stinks and it has that cruddy feel and it’s just… it’s just nasty. So I brush my teeth and get all the sloppiness off. That’s your sloppy copy or your first draft—you work at writing that story just like you work to brush those teeth.”

Point two could use a little work, but I think she has the gist of it and related it pretty well.

“The next thing you do is you put the shoes on.”

This is where she struggled for a moment. I could see it on her face as she tried to figure out how Revising/Editing was the same as putting on her shoes.

“When you put on your shoes you’re… well, you have to tie your shoes and… and sometimes you have to put the Velcro on and…”

She looked at me. I could see the wheels turning, but I also saw that look of disappointment on her face—disappointment in that she couldn’t relate the two together. Then it happened and she picked up steam.

“Sometimes when you put on a shoe, it doesn’t feel right on your foot or you don’t tie it so well or maybe the Velcro doesn’t go in place right and then you have to take the shoe off and look in it and maybe re-tie it so it doesn’t fall of your foot when you walk or maybe you have to fix the Velcro because it didn’t hold right. That’s like revising or editing.”

At this point Chloe looked at me with hopeful eyes.

“Great save, Chloe,” I said and smiled. “That was terrific. I love the way you didn’t give up until you figured out what to say and then when you did… you just rattled it off.”

“I improvised,” she said.

“Yes, you did.”

I was really proud of her for not getting upset and sticking with it, trying to come up with the right words to connect the two.

“Finally, I eat. It’s the last thing I do before going to school and when I’m done, I’m ready to go. And when you get your final draft done, you are finished with the story.”

She looked at me, again with those eyes seeking approval.

I smiled and looked at her white board, at the way she had written out the four steps to writing and related them to getting up in the morning. I looked at her little image of herself and I couldn’t help but smile bigger.

“That was awesome, Chloe,” I said and smiled.

“Did you like it?”

“Yes. It was great. You did a wonderful job teaching me about writing and your examples were great… especially the revising/editing example.”

I sat on her bed for a couple minutes looking at the white board and thinking about what she said. It was all very basic, but all very true and she got it… my daughter got it. She understood the steps to writing—probably better than many of us do.

So, I leave you with this:

Writing has four parts and you can relate them to getting up in the morning and getting ready to leave the house:

Prewriting: Getting dressed
Sloppy Copy: Brushing those yucky teeth
Revising: Putting on those shoes and making sure they’re on right and tied properly.
Final Draft: Eating

Let’s add a fifth one to that:

Submitting the story: Leaving the house.

My daughter taught me a lesson and it was painless, but rewarding…

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