Lessons of a Favorite Teacher: Like a String of Christmas Lights

pexels-photo-632205.jpegToday I found out that my favorite teacher passed away. Mr. Goins was 75 years old, and I never told him he was my favorite teacher. He was the first to teach me the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of journalism, the first to encourage me to check my sources and back them up, the first to impress upon me that journalism is facts only—my opinion and my point of view do not matter in true journalism.

Mr. Goins was too kind-hearted to be a journalist, but he was the best of the best at teaching it. He led the little band of would-be journalists who made up our high school newspaper The Broadcaster to multiple awards. In fact, it was while attending a ceremony to receive one of these awards that I first stepped foot into Howell Hall of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And I knew I would go there and get my degree in journalism. And I did.

I’m luckier than most. I managed to finagle my way into the job of editor of The Broadcaster during my senior year and I helped found The Purple Fridge, the literary magazine of our high school, which Mr. Goins also agreed to sponsor. So I worked closely with this gentle soul who guided and advised and helped, but never ordered. He never yelled, though once or twice I think we all saw those bushy eyebrows flare over the gold-rimmed spectacles he wore. And sometimes he’d take those glasses off and rub the tear-drop shaped indentations on his nose very wearily.

I’ll never forget going into The Broadcaster office—Mr. Goins’s classroom—after school to ask him a question and find him, more often than not, kicked back in his chair with his feet up on his desk smoking his pipe. He’d drop his feet to the floor and motion for me to take a seat nearby, puff on his pipe and listen, think, and answer. He was never to busy for a student.

I never thanked him for that. I never told him he inspired me to pursue my writing career or that I still remember his journalism lessons like they are Christmas lights strung along the journey of my writing career, lighting my way. But they are. His lessons live on in my life, and I treasure their light. Thank you, Mr. Goins.

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Poem: Next Time

imageNext Time

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Save us, they whispered.

She barely looked up from work.

“You’re fine,” she said.

“Don’t worry so much.”

 

Save us, they pleaded.

The man in the suit waved them away.

“Make an appointment,” he replied.

“I’m too busy now.”

 

Save us, they screamed.

Their parents heard and wept.

“We’re sorry,” they mourned.

“So sorry we failed.”

 

Avenge us, they demanded—

And their peers raised their heads.

“You shouldn’t have died,” they declared.

“We’ll stop it next time.”

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Begin at the Beginning

IMG_5147You know how you have a story to tell sometimes and you can’t figure out where to start? And then some smartass says “Begin at the beginning.” That’s not always easy, is it? Because maybe you start with waking up that morning and then you realize that you were late because you had a hangover and you had a hangover because your best friend from college was in town last night and you met and had drinks, but to begin with she was in town because she’s getting married… Well, maybe you get the idea.

My point is, finding the beginning of a novel is sort of like that. Sometimes you kick off your novel with a great first line. Like I had this awesome first line for my current work-in-progress. At least, I thought it was pretty good. Want to hear it? “I’m doing Dickens.” So I started there and proceeded…and realized pretty soon after that, damn it, that’s not the beginning of the story. It’s actually about a chapter in.

I tried flashbacks and having the characters discuss how they got to the point they were at, but I knew it wasn’t going to work. I would just have to sacrifice that perfect first line.

So now I no longer have the perfect first line. However, I do have what I feel is a pretty good beginning. I thought I might share it with you. This one will be a Christmas romance. It’s tentatively titled Dickens Magic, and may or may not be a part of the Sleight of Hand series. It’s still early, and I’m toying with making it a standalone. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Kate Joiner pulled another tray of hot biscuits from the oven, tossed four into a basket, and hit the bell for the waitress to pick up before turning back to make sure everything was running well in the rest of the kitchen. It was. Like a well-oiled machine. Her well-trained kitchen staff knew the drills perfectly. Even a busy summer brunch rush couldn’t throw them off.

If only her wait staff were as dependable. She frowned at the basket of biscuits still sitting on the counter, picked it up and stalked around the partition ready to scold whichever teenage waitress was neglecting her duties. However, as she rounded the corner, a young girl dressed in jeans and a “Book Marker Café” t-shirt almost ran into her.

“Quinn!” Kate gasped, stumbling backward and catching the girl in the same movement. “What’s the meaning of this? You guys all disappear during the busiest hour—”

She stopped, her eyes narrowing. “Why are you giggling?”

Quinn was undoubtedly laughing, but her eyes wore a more cautious, almost shocked look. As if she were amused but wasn’t sure she really should be. She got control of herself at Kate’s stern look, however, and swallowed hard. “It’s just—the…out there. There’s a woman in her nightgown.”

“Her nightgown?” Kate peered past the girl and her heart collapsed. There was indeed a woman in her nightgown. Alex’s mom. Mrs. Lawrence. One of the most fashionable women in town who seldom ever left her home without lipstick now sat at one of Kate’s front tables in a lace nightgown, her hair unbrushed and no makeup at all on her translucent skin. Kate nearly dropped the biscuits. “Oh my God.”

“We didn’t…know what to do. The other customers are pointing and whispering and some of them are leaving.” Quinn’s voice held no trace of laughter now. Evidently Kate’s reaction had convinced her which side of amusement she needed to come down on.

Kate took a deep breath. “Get the others in line. Take care of the other customers. Pack up orders to go. Give it to them for free if they don’t want to pay. I don’t care. Just, for God’s sake, don’t let anyone else point and laugh at her.” A lump rose in her throat and she swallowed hard. Then she straightened her back and hurried over to Patty Lawrence’s table, thinking the whole way about the mother of her best friend who’d made her chocolate chip cookies and given her rides to play rehearsals with Alex and had, more than once, organized a cast party for them. The sweetness of the memories gave her strength.

“Mrs. Lawrence.” She smiled as she set the biscuits on the table in front of the woman. “It’s so good to see you.”

Mrs. Lawrence looked up, blinked once and then smiled back. “Katie! It’s been ages.” She looked around. “What are you doing here?”

She doesn’t know where she is. She doesn’t know this is my café. Kate struggled for control. “Oh, Mrs. Lawrence. Don’t you remember? I went in on the business with my mother. She runs the book store and I run the café?”

“Oh. Oh, yes. Of course.” Mrs. Lawrence nodded, but she still looked a little befuddled. “Strange, isn’t it? Having books and a café? All…mixed up. Sort of like New York.” She spread her napkin primly over satin lap. “Well, I’ll start with coffee. The biscuits smell wonderful. Did I order them?”

Katie reached across and touched the woman’s hands. “Those are on the house. My specialty, Mrs. Lawrence. Tell me, have you spoken to Alex recently?”

“Oh, he’s so busy with his plays and things on Broadway.” The older woman fluttered her hands as if speaking of her son’s foibles and hobbies and not the Broadway career he’d built for himself. “I keep saying I’m going to go up and see this last one.” She leaned across the table, lowering her voice confidentially. “You know he plays a gay man, don’t you? But he’s not gay.”

“No, he’s not gay.” Katie squeezed her hands gently.

“This is a very nice place you have here, dear. It’s a little drafty, though.” Mrs. Lawrence shivered. “Maybe you could turn up the heat?”

“Turn up the heat?” Katie blinked. It was June and the thermometer was already at seventy-five degrees when she got up that morning. “Um…sure.” Seeing her chance, she half rose. “But maybe I can get you a sweater or something, Mrs. Lawrence. To keep you warm until—”

“A sweater? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m wearing my winter coat.” As she spoke, Mrs. Lawrence looked down and a horrible change came over her face. She looked back at Kate, then back down at her nightgown, covered her face and began to sob quietly. Kate helplessly knelt in front of her, put her arms around the woman and held her. And even as she did so, she thought, Now I have to call Alex.

****

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Prose Poem: Here Goes by Michelle Garren Flye

pexels-photo-533671.jpegHere Goes

By Michelle Garren Flye

Time for you to take the wheel. I’m tired and lost. You can find the way out. You have Snapchat and Twitter and the iPhone X—all I have is Goggle. I mean Google. And Amazon. Hey, I can buy us a Garmin. Maybe that would help. You know when I was your age, we had Rand McNally Road Atlases.

I don’t know when we got to this point. You an adult and me old. I remember when I looked at the world the way you can now: like it was mine to take. It’s not mine anymore. I failed. I didn’t do any of the things I meant to do. I didn’t fix the environment or get rid of guns or stop wars or any of the stuff I thought I would do. I don’t know how I got lost. Do you?

Can you see the road? Of course you can. Your eyes are young and your gaze is clear. I bet the way ahead looks straight to you. It gets harder later. Find your way now before your vision is clouded with smog and illusion.

Here goes. Take the wheel. Take the wheel and drive.

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not my child, a poem for yesterday’s lost

IMG_1763not my child
by michelle garren flye
not my child
screaming
crying
pleading
helpless
not my child
hiding
praying
cursing
alone
not my child
listening
waiting
hurting
lost
not my child
this time

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A Little Romance for Valentine’s Day

Writer’s note: When I say little, I do mean little. I used to write flash fiction—stories less than 1,000 words. Mine were often half prose poetry, half story. I set out this morning to write one for Valentine’s Day, sort of a little message to potential readers that it’s never too late to find a new author to love.

Other People’s Memories

By Michelle Garren Flye

The letter crumbled in her fingers when she pulled it from the pages of the old book. She smiled. She loved finding things in the old books she bought that belonged to their former owners. She’d once found a third-grade report card of a U.S. Senator in an old copy of The Hobbit. She often found bookmarks, grocery lists, recipes and little scribbles. She treasured these bits of other people’s lives, keeping them safe in a drawer of her desk.

Her husband didn’t like it. He said it was like taking something from a graveyard and would surely bring bad luck. He didn’t understand the draw of the tiny pieces of history she found. But because he loved her, he let it go. And because she loved him, she kept her little crypt of old memories quietly, without comment.

She read the letter and thought about how her husband would like it if he let himself. The book had belonged to an author he admired, so the letter most likely had too. She could leave the letter there, let him find it when she gave him the book. But would he see it as a treasure or a dark omen? A bit of the past come back to haunt him.

Maybe it was her chance to share her love of the old, but in the end, she decided it would be best to protect him from the accidental discovery. And she put the letter away with all her other antiquities, locking the drawer with a golden key.

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Poem: He Asked the Moon

I often try to make sense of world events and reconcile them with a belief in a higher power with little actual success. For the past month the news has been reporting about the super blue blood moon as if it were either apocalyptic or the answer to all our prayers. I wasn’t fooled. I’ve been taken by that sort of thing before. It’s just a moon in the end.

But it made me think, and when I think, I often write. And so in honor of yesterday’s super blue blood (on the West coast) moon, and dedicated to anyone who’s ever wished on the moon with my sympathy:

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Super Moon and Street Lamp

He Asked the Moon

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

How do you judge us?

He asked the moon.

Hanging in the black sky, cold and alone…

From your vantage you see all—

You watch and you judge.

 

Why don’t you do something?

He implored the moon.

The wars, the famine, killing and fear…

The deaths of the innocents—

Your gaze never wavers.

 

Who are you, anyway?

He cried at the moon.

Your silence is deafening, your light so cold.

Your powers are limitless—

You control the sea’s dance!

 

What would you have me do?

Replied the moon at long last.

Your world is foolish, but it’s not my affair.

You think it’s my choice to watch

Your self-obliteration?

 

Look within for help, man,

Advised the moon with indifference.

Have you no fellows who feel as you do?

Appeal to them for relief—

I was never meant to care.

 

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