Mo Willems might be my hero.

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A children’s book can give you a glimpse into your deepest soul. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye.

I remember the first time my son brought home Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems from the school library. I loved reading to my kids, but I really never connected with Pigeon. Why he was so popular with my kids, I never really knew. I loved the Frances books, anything by Rosemary Wells, and when they started bringing home little beginning readers like Henry and Mudge, I was in seventh heaven!

But the Pigeon? Every time one of my kids brought one of those home, I just rolled my eyes.

Turns out I missed the point. Pigeon is much deeper and much more shallow at the same time. He’s a philosopher and a spoiled child wrapped into one, which is kind of how I see myself. Maybe I just didn’t like seeing myself on the pages of a children’s book?

How do I know all this about Pigeon? I read an interview with his creator. Check it out here: Mo Willems Interview. (My thanks to my friend Liz for referring me to this article!)

Mo Willems’s admittedly incredible ability to look into my soul and pull a pigeon out of it notwithstanding, he says some very insightful things about the nature of art and creativity and writing. “Books are sculptures” is indeed one of them. What took me most by surprise, though, was the revelation that he’s not just writing to inspire kids. He’s writing to inspire the parents to do and say and live the way they want their kids to do and say and live.

Consider this: “[W}e constantly hear, ‘Our children are the future,’ but we seldom say, ‘Hey we’re the present and it’s incumbent on us to be present.’ So there’s this silliness, but there’s also a, ‘You can do it, too.'”

Thank you, Mo Willems!

I’m 49 years old. I’ve just published my first children’s book (Jessica Entirely by Shelley Gee). I also privately published my first collection of poetry Times and Ties. I’m taking singing lessons and auditioning for plays. I’m inspired by my kids, and my only regret right now is that I’ve never done any of these things before. I didn’t model my life by living my dreams. If anything, they’ve modeled for me by bringing home books for me to read that I wouldn’t normally have read, and introducing me to movies and television and a slew of pets I never would have chosen to bring into my life.

So I’ll presume to add a little to Mr. Willems’s statements. Be inspiring to your children, but don’t be afraid to be inspired by them, too. A family circle is beneficial to all.

Something I wrote:

Jessica smiled in spite of her worries about her friends. They all had friends in town and friends who evacuated and friends who might have lost their homes in the storm. But she had her family right there with her and the idea of helping made her feel much better about things in general. She took a deep breath and followed her family to the kitchen, happier than she ever had been at the prospect of spending an hour or two with them at the table.

Poem: Teetering

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There’s no guardrail here.

A few days ago, I visited the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go, even if it was on my bucket list. The Grand Canyon is a bit of a challenge for someone with even a mild fear of heights, and I definitely have at least that. But I found once I got there that the paths were wide and I could walk on the side away from the canyon and enjoy the view.

My kids were another story entirely. It seemed they were intent on walking as close to the edge as I would allow. I was constantly calling or motioning them back from what seemed like a precipitous edge down which they were sure to fall. My oldest finally looked at me with exasperation and said, “You bring me to a big hole in the ground and tell me to stay away from the big hole in the ground!”

I laughed, but it’s true. I told him to stay away from the hole in the ground because I want to protect him. I don’t want him to fall.

Of course, while we were looking at the big hole in the ground, the United States teetered on the brink of far worse. We put our toes over the very edge of a very dark, deep hole waiting to drown us in war (and don’t fool yourself that it won’t be nuclear). We’re still balancing on the edge of that black pit, but it’s full of our sins just waiting to pull us in. Sins like helpless children held prisoner without decent beds or meals. Environmental regulations rolled back every day in favor of money. A clueless leader who has lost the respect of every nation on earth except those hoping to profit from his ignorance. And our blind eyes turned to all of it.

Remember the feeling of standing on the edge of a pool waiting to plunge in but not quite ready for the cold water to envelop your steaming skin? Remember the feel of the rough concrete beneath your feet as you leaned forward just a little more, spreading your arms for balance so you didn’t fall too soon but you might fall any minute?

Remember the moment your toes finally lost their grip and you plunged in before you were ready and the hopelessness of knowing the icy water would shock your skin and pull you down?

We’re teetering on the edge of something far worse now.

 

Teetering

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Toe slides…

Over the edge…

Arms spread…

Balanced,

But mindful.

 

Lean a little more—how far can we go?

How far before…

The balance

Slips?

And we

Fall?

 

Wobbling,

Swaying,

Sliding,

It may be

Fate,

But—

 

Who will see the plunge and watch us flatten the world?

Can anyone stop it?

Please?

Facebook storytelling: I’m fine, and you?

I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook about how nobody believes your Facebook posts about your perfect family, so why don’t you just tell the truth?

LOL.

Truth is not really what Facebook is for. It never has been. Facebook started out being a sort of public bragbook for friends you never see. Remember those things? I made them after all my kids’ births to carry around in my purse and show to my friends—see how cute my kids are? Of course, that was before the camera phone. Now I can whip out my phone and show you my last vacation, my new puppy, my car, my son’s graduation, a video of my daughter singing, my other son’s last basketball game—you get the picture.

My point is, Facebook is the equivalent of saying “just fine and you” when someone asks how you are. I mean, if I answered that question honestly every day, I’d get some pretty peculiar looks. A couple of times I’ve gotten some glimpses into acquaintances real lives on Facebook. Every single time, someone closer than me to that person starts begging them to stop putting family stuff on Facebook.

In our hearts, we know everyone we know doesn’t have a perfect life and family. Marriages are in trouble, kids have problems, people make mistakes they can’t take back. Friends and family pass away, we fail each other, we fail ourselves, we neglect the world around us. Life sucks sometimes and all we can do is survive.

I’m fine. How are you?

Dickens Magic: My Exception Proves Nothing

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This picture has nothing to do with this post. It’s just a pretty picture I took and posted here to catch your eye. Do you like it?

I’ve never liked that phrase “the exception that proves the rule”. If there’s an exception, then it proves the rule is faulty, right? Or does it prove that there is a rule to begin with? Or is it that you’re “testing” (proving) the rule with your exception?

No matter what, the expression is rife with possibilities for misinterpretation.

Which is why I’ve decided that Dickens Magic, which is most definitely an exception to my normal formula for Sleight of Hand books, proves nothing. Nothing except that I will go where my characters and their story lead me.

But how is Dickens Magic different from my other books? First of all, the hero and heroine are not magicians. Neither one of them. They aren’t involved in magic (at first, at least) in any way.

Second, Dickens Magic does not take place in any exotic locales like Las Vegas or the Caribbean or Hollywood. There is one very brief scene in New York City. The rest of the book is set entirely in New Bern, N.C., one of the least exotic locales you could ever want to visit.

Third, Dickens Magic’s setting centers around a building. It’s actually a building I love. The Masonic Theatre where RiverTowne Players performs. And it’s based on my own theatrical exploits. I tell everyone my recent desire to be an actress is my midlife crisis. And I’m good with that. But the truth is, if I had never walked into that theater with my daughter when she auditioned for The Little Mermaid, Jr. at the age of five, that midlife crisis would probably have lain dormant forever. I couldn’t do it anywhere else, I’m pretty sure.

Finally, I never put myself in my books. I can honestly say I’ve never read one of my books and seen myself in it. But this one, I kind of did, although I didn’t realize it until the final round of editing. It startled me at first when I noticed it, and certainly it’s not a real clear portrait of who I am, but it’s there. I’m not one of the main characters, though, so don’t think I think I’m the multitalented Kate.

So, my exception is out there. It doesn’t prove a thing. I’ll return to the rules (or most of them, at least) next time. Though maybe I’ll decide it’s more fun breaking the rules, especially the rules I’ve made myself.

 

The importance of secondary characters in Becoming Magic

It’s a common misconception that a romance has two characters: hero and heroine. Unless you literally strand those two characters on a deserted island, you must create characters who figure into their daily lives. And unless they work and live in the same place, those secondary characters are going to be different.

I always strive to have secondary characters serve a purpose. I feel like old friends or family members can help reveal something about the main characters’ backstories or character traits that we didn’t already know. For this reason, I brought in Connor’s brother Jeff, the handsome pilot of Connor’s private plane, and Mira, Carole’s cute if a little immature college student sister. I feel like Mira probably serves more of a purpose to the storyline since she’s at first jealous of Carole’s relationship with Connor and later appalled that her sister would leave him. Check out these two short excerpts that illustrate the ways these two characters serve their purpose. First Jeff:

“Forgive my brother, ma’am. Jeff Wallace. The older sibling of the Wallace clan.”

Carole’s jaw dropped. “Oh. Well, that explains some stuff, then.” She felt like an idiot. The two men were very similar in height, build and features. She glanced at Connor. “You might have mentioned that your brother was the pilot.”

“Sorry.” Connor didn’t look at all sorry. “You just seemed so certain of yourself, I didn’t want to disappoint you.” He smiled a little wickedly. “I mean, it’s a shame to disabuse you of the notion that I lose touch with who and what I am whenever I’m offered a bit of Hollywood hospitality.” He turned to his brother. “Sorry, bro. She drank your champagne. You got another glass?”

Carole’s face felt aflame with embarrassment. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I—”

“He’s messing with you.” Jeff punched his brother in the arm. “Cut it out.” He turned back to Carole. “I never drink when I fly. Of course the champagne was meant for you. He called ahead to arrange it.”

And now Mira:

Mira stood in the doorway. “Better take some jeans and sweaters too. Just in case Connor takes you hiking. I hear he likes to hike.” She spoke casually, but Carole detected a glitter in her eyes. Was that really envy? As long as she could remember, Mira had been the prettier one, the more glam one, the one everyone loved without effort. Carole was smart and decent enough looking, but her little sister outshone her at every turn.

Carole frowned. “What’s up?”

“What do you mean, what’s up?” Mira didn’t meet her eyes.

“I mean you sound all jealous or something. Like I stole your boyfriend. This is work, Mira.”

“Ugh!” Mira threw her hands into the air. “I’m sorry. I just…maybe in a way you are stealing my boyfriend.”

“I was not aware of this thing between you and Connor Wallace,” Carole said solemnly.

Mira’s lips twitched. “Don’t laugh. You go to L.A. and be spotted on Connor Wallace’s arm, you’re stealing a lot of girls’ boyfriend. Because it’ll mean he’s off the market.”

“Why on earth would it mean that? He’s dated lots of women.”

“Because you’re the kind of girl a guy dates when he’s ready to settle down.”

Of course, my Sleight of Hand books wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from one of my other magical couples. In this case, Walt and Sabrina from Movie Magic are (slight spoiler alert if you haven’t read their story yet) planning their wedding and working on Connor’s documentary about becoming a magician. In a way, they serve almost parental roles for Carole, who has been Walt’s assistant since high school. Here’s just a taste of what they’re doing in the book:

Connor pulled out the linking rings, ready to manipulate them, and paused, his eyes on the engagement ring. “Well, that’s not right.” He pretended to try to get the ring off only to have it caught between two rings. He looked up. “Did somebody lose this?”

The audience tittered, but it had a surprised, anticipatory sound to it. Connor worked the rings again, managing only to get the engagement ring looped over three. He worked until he had managed to get it off all but one. “Finally.” He set the others aside. “I think this ring will only be released into the hands of its rightful owner.” He tossed it up into the air and caught it, the ring still in place. He glanced around, turning to Carole. “Is this yours?” He tossed it to her.

She caught it with pride, holding it up to display the diamond still hanging on.

“It would appear not.” Connor held out a hand and she threw it back, watching as he caught it expertly. He appeared to think. “I have an idea. Maybe I need another magician’s help with this one.” He swung around to Walt and threw the ring to him.

Walt caught it, tossing it back in one fluid motion, then turning to drop to one knee in front of Sabrina. He held up the diamond ring. “No magic is equal to what you’ve done to me. Say you’ll stay in my life forever.”

Tears spilled over onto Sabrina’s cheeks, amazing Carole. She’d never seen Sabrina cry before. But as she held out her hand to let him place the ring on her finger, she could only nod, wordless and obviously happy.

In a very real way, this book—and the whole Sleight of Hand series is about family. It’s a very large family made up of lots of smaller families, but they’re all bound together by a love of magic and each other. And a belief that love is a magic all its own.

A Poem for My Daughter

When she was born, I finished the process of becoming a mother of three.

For My Daughter

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

You’re my heart and my soul,

You’re a star in my sky.

You made our family whole,

When the stork dropped you by.

 

You are loved, my firefly,

Never doubt your self-worth.

No one else could satisfy

Your place on this earth.

National Poetry Month: Poem 3

Poem 3:

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By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Today’s the day.

Seventeen.

Amazing how the years

Aren’t long enough.

Filled with Moments.

Moments to live over and over again

And Moments to wish you had back.

 

Nobody said it’d be easy.

Did they?

Nobody said there’d be no regrets

Or that everything would be perfect.

They said

You’ll be a family.

We are.

We have been

From that first Moment

Of love.