Today 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.
For absent friends and family.
By Michelle Garren Flye
it’s a Gift, she said, holding it tight.
why don’t you open it? i replied.
oh no, she laughed, you don’t open it.
i studied the golden wrappings,
the shiny, shimmering bow.
what do you do with it then? i said.
for answer, she breathed and laughed and cried—
she played and lived as the Gift slowly faded.
but she held it like a treasure the whole time.
only then did i see my own Gift bound in gold.
i wondered how i hadn’t noticed it before—
though i’d held it until its light had gone.
I’ll take a quick break from promoting Movie Magic (see the beautiful cover to the right) to talk a little bit about one of the most powerful and potentially addictive parts of writing: Creation. Because along with creation comes the ability to kill with impunity within the realm of your creation, that is.
There’s a saying that’s popular among writers. It’s on bumper stickers, coffee cups and t-shirts. “I’m a writer. Don’t piss me off or I’ll put you in a book and kill you.” While I’ve never actually done that, I have killed people off in books to move the story along. In fact, in my very first published book Secrets of the Lotus, I killed off the heroine’s imprisoned brother in order to bring her and the hero closer. Heartless? Cold? Maybe. But here’s the result:
Dan bolted up the stairs rather than wait for the elevator. The door of her apartment was ajar. He went in to find her standing in the kitchen drinking a glass of wine, her eyes red.
“Jo?” He closed the door. “What’s up?”
“He’s dead. James.” Josie lifted her glass as if in a toast. Dan could see tears running down her cheeks. “There was some kind of riot, something stupid. But somebody had one of those weapons, the ones they make out of spoons—what do they call them?”
“A shiv?” Dan pulled the term from some movie or other, then felt like an idiot since he was fairly certain she didn’t really care. He crossed the room and took the wineglass from her, leading her into the living room, tossing some cushions on the floor and sitting with her in his arms. “I’m sorry, baby.”
She felt good enough against him to make him feel guilty, but he also knew her well enough to realize what she needed from him at that moment, and if he let her go, he wasn’t sure what would happen to her. He touched his lips to her hair, allowed himself to breathe her scent and offered her the only real comfort he could.
Since then, in twelve books, I have only (sort of) killed off five characters. I say “sort of” because, well, two of those were characters you didn’t really know but that affected the heroines’ backstories, and one of them had a twist that’s not revealed yet. As in he died, but… (Read the Synchronicity series if you want to know what I’m talking about!)
But of all the deaths of all my characters, the only one that really surprised me was the death in Weeds and Flowers. I say it surprised me because I knew this character had more to accomplish in the story. Hell, he’s talking in the last chapter of the book! It was only after I wrote his death scene that I realized he was a ghost.
The phone rang at six thirty the next morning. I groaned and rolled over. No fair being woken up so early on a Saturday. I heard David’s voice on the phone, muffled. He talked for several minutes, his voice low and somehow ominous, like the first growls of thunder. I rolled over onto my back. Silence fell, a humid shadow over the house. Then I heard Mom’s voice, a flicker of lightning. With my eyes closed so I couldn’t see the bright sunlight that snuck past my shades, I felt a thunderstorm approaching. Them Mom cried “No!”, the lightning struck and I sat up, wide awake. Something awful had happened.
J.K. Rowling cried when she killed off Snape. Agatha Christie supposedly killed Poirot because she was falling in love with him. Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes because he was tired of him…and later regretted it. I guess my point—other than trying to entice you to read two of my earliest books—is that with creation comes the ability to destroy. Even if it’s just imaginary people in an imaginary world. It’s thrilling and addicting and devastating at the same time.
For those who don’t know, it’s been a rough couple weeks in my household while dealing with pets. My cat, who has been sick for roughly a month, tested positive for feline leukemia last week, even though she was negative as a kitten and is completely indoors. Well, she’s been on antibiotics and steroids and things are looking up for her, thankfully. However, we were dealt a horrible blow two days ago when my sweet, valiant little Freddy, who was spending time in the backyard with our other dog, was bitten by a copperhead. He died about three hours later. I have this horrible, haunting, heartbreaking feeling that I somehow, unwittingly, traded the life of one beloved pet for another. I’m grateful for my cat’s recovery, but I miss my dog. So I wrote this for both of them.
By Michelle Garren Flye
The beauty that remains
Can’t take your place
Though she may try.
She can’t fill the dark shadow
Left by your absence.
She may comfort and help,
She may make me smile,
And her purrs may even delight.
I’m glad my beauty remains,
But my heart will always miss
The spot you once filled.
Another one of my heroes died this week, and it’s left a bigger hole in the world than I’d anticipated. I mean, people die. Even the stars we admire from afar. I’ve got more heroes in heaven than I do on earth at this point. Walt Disney, Mark Twain, Bing Crosby, Steve Jobs… Yet, it just seems so wrong that David Bowie isn’t still here.
Why him more than the others? It’s hard to say, really. I wasn’t the best David Bowie fan. I didn’t love everything he ever put out. I didn’t buy every album. I tended to pick and choose, more of a greatest hits than a B-side fan. I never went to a concert. I own a lot of his music, but I don’t listen to it all the time.
I think he was my Elvis. The one artist that won’t be replaced for me. It’s not just that it’ll be difficult. There won’t be another David Bowie. That incredibly elastic voice and personality can’t be replaced. We won’t see another Major Tom or Ziggy Stardust or Jareth or Thin White Duke. Not again.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mourn him. I didn’t know him. But I’ll never listen to his music again without a sense of loss and the impermanence of life. Which means his music doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it did. I can’t just fall in love with his croon and wonder at the hidden meanings to his lyrics. And it’s that loss that I mourn.
So good-bye, Mr. Bowie. I’ll miss you every time I hear your voice.
The cicadas are dying. It’s just what they do every year about this time. Throughout July they’re very loud–so loud and so constant, you barely hear them. But around the beginning of August, they start dropping out of the trees. That’s when you become aware of them. Instead of a continual, deafening, whirring chorus, fewer of the insects sing, and it’s a softer, less consistent song. Sometimes they even fall silent.
And you realize they’ve been singing all along and you didn’t really notice it.
While walking my puppy (who has to be walked at least once every hour), I came across a dying one today. He was still struggling to fly. I thought about how many times I’ve walked my pup this summer (innumerable–I think I mentioned how often he has to be walked) and realized I only noticed the cicadas a handful of times. But I heard their rattling chatter every time I went outside. Loud as it was, it faded into the background, became part of what I expected.
Soon I’ll walk outside and not hear them and I’ll notice it. The air will grow chillier, the sound of children confined to schoolyards in the day. Darkness will fall earlier and summer will end.
My puppy wanted to play with the cicada we found flopping ungracefully on the driveway, but I pulled him away. I was glad I did because in the next instant the cicada got his feet under him and summoned enough strength to whir back up into the trees. I’ll be able to hear him sing again. For a little while longer.