The Backyard Kids

I wrote the following story last year. I thought with all of the CoVid-19 chaos, a story would be a great escape. It’s not long. Enjoy and take care, xxoo

Growing up in the seventies, our only responsibility was to be occupied outside until dinner without ample blood loss or missing a limb.  An old apple tree situated on a backyard lot gave us cool shade from the searing pavement of our parking lot playground and enough activity to ensure we met that responsibility.  There were no monkey bars or climbing walls unless we trekked down to Steele Avenue Park.  Even then we had to have an older sibling or an adult accompany us to make our way.  No older sibling would be caught dead dragging his kid sister down an open street where actual people could see him.   We lived in a complex of townhouses that had been developed on an old apple orchard.  Some of the trees were saved, but the majority were destroyed to make room for the townhouses.  One backyard still had one of the old trees and it served as a gathering place for the kids in the neighborhood. It creaked and swayed in the wind, the tenuous branches daring us to climb and sit upon them, our bare legs scraping against the dry bark.   Summer days were spent climbing, making forts and playing around the trunk until dusk set in.  The tree was expansive with wide enveloping arms that stretched to the sky, inviting us to linger.  The crab apples became ammunition as the screams of innocent kids who wandered by the tree unaware of its silent occupants, echoed throughout the adjoining backyards.  These cries of pain elicited concerned adults to venture out onto their back steps to protest the unprovoked assaults.

An older kid nailed a two by floor across the middle branches of the tree making a perfect lookout spot.  If a kid got to the tree early enough he could sit on the plank with another kid and keep watch over the backyards, ammunition at the ready.  Kids who were good at climbing would clamber up around the crow’s nest to the top of the tree calling names and daring others to climb higher.  The tree was abandoned in the darkening night save for a few brave souls who remained hidden in her shadowy leaves determined to claim a spot on the plank.   I always had a sense of comfort sitting up in that tree, secreted away from the noise of the other kids’ roughhousing, the revving of car engines and slamming of screen doors.  My eyes closed I would raise my face into the cool leaves allowing the tree to wrap me in her false sense of security.  My feet would dangle precariously from the plank, the cold smooth wood underneath me, my hands clenched onto the encroaching branches.   I was directed not to ‘let go’ by my brother.   He was the only reason I was sitting up on the plank in the first place.  His fate was clenched in my fist as tight as those branches had I fallen.  I’m sure the phrase “Watch out for your sister and don’t let her climb that tree,” was said on more than one occasion.  Much to my delight my brother would pay no heed and would only allow me to get to the plank if he was there.  Otherwise, I was on my own.  I dared not climb without him, and usually, he would knock a kid or two out of the way just so I could get a chance to sit up there.  It was a glorious accomplishment and I relished every second.  I would sit and view the world, a queen on her pedestal overlooking her court.  The jostling and screams of wrestling boys and girls playing tag as several kids tried to climb the chain-link fence without getting their shorts stuck on the links that jutted out on the top.  It was an active and chaotic yard. 

 No one tried to kick anyone out of the crow’s nest or push anyone off.  If a kid got to the spot first, he owned it.  Plain and simple.  I wasn’t a very good climber.  My brother would make sure no one tried to knock me down or take my post, but he would climb up and ask me to move claiming it was his ‘turn’ on the plank.  I was obligated to climb down and gaze upwards at the kids higher than the plank seat as the crab apples tumbled to my feet; the damp earth trampled and worn from our sneakers’ incessant pounding.  The chain-link fence that surrounded the back yard sequestered the tree as if attempting to cage it from the adjacent parking lot of the businesses that it bunkered.   There was a hole in the fence just across the tree that provided a short cut to the variety store parking lot where it was twenty-five cents for a bottle of pop if it was drunk inside the store, and thirty cents if it was ported outside its doors.  I spent many days hovering around the pop machine inside the store trying to drink as fast as humanly possible to catch up to the other kids who were already down the path back to the tree.  Just like the crab apples, it didn’t make for very good stomachs afterward.  For most of that summer, we managed to skirt trouble and broken limbs with only sporadic blood loss.  Until one fateful day when we didn’t.  

That hot day in July started like any other.  The sun blistered the pavement sending kids for multiple requests to parents for change for popsicles and ice cream treats from the Dickie Dee truck.  We could hear his bell jingle from around the last housing development and the ensuing pandemonium resulted in chaotic line organizations for a chance to buy the first treat.   We gathered under the shade of the apple tree, our popsicles dripping down our bare legs making them sticky orange masses.  Blades of grass and dirt would stick to us making it look as if we rolled in glue and fresh grass cuttings, sending our mothers running for wet washcloths and exclamations of “What a mess!”  After the mass cleanup, we again pandered for the crow’s nest resulting in shrieks of dismay and more wrestling for branches still waiting for eager occupants.  Some kids trotted off to the nearby Thames River to throw rocks under the cool bridge or to watch the Americans moor their boats for the weekend.  The rest of us sat under the tree, relishing the shade and quiet rustle of the leaves.  A few boys sauntered by the tree, my brother among them giggling in hushed excitement at their new toy.

 A pellet gun had been presented.  I spotted the black handle and the fervor the boys expressed as they encased it in their small hands.  They took turns holding it, impressed with its power they perceived it held.  They ogled over its smooth finish and weighty trigger.  They practiced holding it in two hands and then in one hand, pointing it at the fence and then at the trunk of the tree.  They searched the branches for a wayward squirrel or latent wren that they could shoot.    Appalled that an innocent squirrel or bird could be maimed, the girls retreated to the parking lot to skip and dance among sprays of the water hose on a front lawn, leaving the boys to their prey.   Lunch turned into the late afternoon and once again we made our way back to the tree.  The boys were still hunched around the trunk.  I could see the black gun barrel protruding from my brother’s shaky hand.  He aimed intently at a bird perched on a high branch as it sang to the sky.  In horror, a young girl screamed out scaring the bird and obliterating my brother’s concentration.   A blast fragmented the quiet summer day.  The pellet had missed its intended target.  The little girl who had protested the impending slaughter of a bird slumped into a heap a few feet in front of me.  Blood seeped from her chest as her face contorted into a scowl.  I screamed in horror.  I stared into my brother’s ashen face, his eyes staring at the girl lying limp at my feet.  He dropped the gun and ran.  The other boys were quick to scream and run, one scurrying to the girl, one clamoring to a neighbor’s door pounding in panic.  I stood frozen in my spot, crying and sobbing in terror.  With the chaotic movements of parents and kids running and screaming, there was no time to think nor any time to move.  The ground reverberated with desperate feet.  Questions and demands were hurled through the humid air as the mother of the girl lifted her daughter’s sweat-soaked head checking for consciousness, blood soaking her hands.  I stared up at the apple tree.  Its quiet branches seemed less inviting, the leaves remained still in the weight of the afternoon heat.  It absorbed the chaos, the cries, and the blood.  The bird had flown away.  The tree stood steadfast and waited in stoic silence as the child was picked up and hoisted to a car to be transported to the hospital.  We were all ordered home at once, parents questioning kids, reprimanding the carelessness and providing as much comfort to other parents as possible.

We stayed inside for the rest of the day.  Few words were spoken as dinner was placed on the table, the heavy absence of my brother felt throughout the house.  Despite my mother’s searches he was nowhere to be found.  The police car was still outside even after my father had returned from work, a panic phone call urging him home at once.  He remained outside with the officer as dusk descended and games of hide and seek were long forbidden.  He stormed through the house snatching my brother’s grade five picture from the photo album.  It was the one with his half-smile and a straight bowl cut.  He shoved it into the police officer’s hand.  My mother paced in the hallway as we waited for news of him and the girl he shot, the evening growing darker with every step my mother took.   My eyelids grew heavy with sleep but I was determined to wait out the night and to see my brother home.  “He’s small,” I heard my father plead to the police officer.   Weeks passed, the summer retreated into fall and the neighborhood fell in step with the march of time.  The girl’s family moved, too distraught by her death to remain.  My parents’ guilt became too much and I watched my father pack a suitcase and leave without a “goodbye.”  My mother’s morning ritual of retching away her worry yet another sound I was forced to tune out.   My brother had flown away like the bird who escaped the intended pellet.  I still wait for his return.  

The following summer, we went back to the apple tree.  The crow’s nest remained and we continued to dare each other to climb up to reach it.  With my brother no longer there to knock kids out of the way for my ascent to the perch, I conceded to sitting beneath its expansive branches.  The leaves were in full bloom and the crab apples tumbled around me as I closed my eyes and listened to the echoes of the backyard kids.  They climbed higher up the tree, the limbs creaking beneath their weight and the leaves rustling with movement.   A tear slid down my face as I opened my eyes and clutched a crab apple from the ground.  A robin flew and perched on the chain-link fence in front of me, its head darting side to side.  It stayed despite the commotion and I clutched the crab apple tighter, ready to throw.  I raised my hand to strike and the robin gazed into my face as if daring me to follow through.  For a moment, I stared back.  The apple sailed from my grasp launching the robin skyward, its wings whipping the humid air.  I watched it as it flew high above the apple tree and out into the summer sky.     

Writing a Sequel

The undertaking of writing the second instalment of False Hope is beginning to make me nervous.  I remember how time consuming and all-encompassing it was writing the first book and I’m beginning to feel bogged down.   I have one chapter completed with work starting on the second.  The struggle of carving out time to write characters and scenes and implement accents and plot points is difficult when summer weather decides to make an appearance.  The sun shines and I want to be outside, not locked in a room in the basement writing the next big adventure.  The rarity of sunshine makes it all the more important for me to head outside while it lasts.  Autumn is packing its bags getting ready to move in and wave summer off into the grand abyss where the seasons-that-barely-happened go to die.   Before I know it, I’ll be welcoming students back for another year, scheduling tests and skipping lunches in favour of one more hour for testing.   I’m fearful my penchant to procrastinate will overtake me and I’ll finish Book Two around the same time any grandchildren I’ve been promised have graduated high school.  

I’m ever-aware of my tendency to simply give-up or to throw my hands up in the air and proclaim it all a bit too much before I’ve even given it my best shot. I managed to stay focused and finish the first round and I’m hoping my determination will see me through to the next.  I have big plans for Claire and Jimmy in Book Two and I’m hoping it will all come to fruition.  They may even run into some old friends from False Hope.  (That was a hint, by the way in case you missed it.)  

My notes are gathering in the purple notebook I used for the False Hope.  I’ll simply keep it moving with more notes chapter-by-chapter and flesh out some new characters I have in mind.  I always change around chapters and events according to how things logistically work out.  For example, in False Hope Julien was supposed to be accused of nefarious activities with the women he was photographing.  If you notice in the book, there are references to a rapist running around loose in town and even a dark hooded stranger bumping into Julien when he was standing outside the office building where Ashley worked.  That incident was initially a set-up to a much larger sub-plot.  I backed down at the last minute not wanting Julien to undergo any further scrutiny and bias from his colleagues.  He had enough on his plate.  

My work continues on Book Two and I hope my characters move forward with their lives, but not everything can go easily for them in their new circumstances.  I’ll try to keep the momentum going through bouts of soaking up the intermittent sunshine and my tendency to walk away.

 I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe drop a few more hints along the way, like Jimmy Feherty.  He’s an Irishman straight from Belfast with eyes only for Claire.  Or so he says….

 

Push The Button

My book is ready to drop in a few days.  All I have left to do is hit the little ‘publish’ button but I’m feeling a tad squeamish.  I get emails from authors who have self-published and want to sell me their guides on how to correctly publish my book.  Is there a wrong way?!

Let’s face it everyone has a guide, a book, a best-practices manual, a notebook full of tips; I even watched a video of an author with a giant binder full of…stuff, and I just have a button and a book.  What do I know?  Apparently, nothing.  After all, I don’t have a giant binder full of stuff.  

It’s a scary leap to jump off that self-publishing cliff with the world telling me I shouldn’t, I can’t, I-wouldn’t-do-it-if-I-were-you.

 NOT WITH THAT ATTITUDE, WORLD.

I’ve chosen to block out the negative vibes of, “Dumb author thinks she can publish her book.  Pfft” and instead I am focusing on, “Dumb author thinks she can publish her book!  Yay!”  There.  That’s more like it. 

The mere fact that I traveled the journey to get to the spot where I’m ready to publish, is a feat in itself.  I wrote a whole book.   

I waded through the self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy that plagues every writer and human on the planet.  I’m not over those feelings and hopefully, never will be.  They push me to be better and to expect better from myself.  I think those feelings were the catalyst that pushed me to finish. 

As the next few days unfold and I steady my finger over the ‘Publish now’ button, I’ll hold tight to the belief that I am worthy of pushing that damned button. 

All the while, I will allow my middle finger to wave freely at the world…and that binder full of ‘stuff’.  

A Sneak Peek

I’ve been inundating the internet with graphics of quotes from my book, False Hope. Below, is another I created to give a sense of Ashley’s thoughts on death, grief and hope. I’ve also given a brief summary of the book. Enjoy!

Ashley Wells is a young woman making her way in Toronto. A new job at a small law firm propels her into a romantic relationship with Jax Fuller, a handsome young intern destined to be her biggest mistake. As their bond deepens, Ashley can’t help but think Jax is hiding his true self. As she navigates through the deception, betrayal and grief she discovers the truth about her lover and the dangerous game he is playing. She becomes embroiled in a fight against a crime boss determined to stop at nothing even if it costs the lives of those she loves,. Ashley summons her courage to fight for justice, and in doing so, confronts the limits of the human spirit. In her final testament of love, Ashley forfeits the life she had for one filled with an uncertain path and an undiscovered landscape.

Romancing The Work

I just finished work on my first romantic fiction piece.  It took me over a year to write and my days were fraught with doubt, indecision, and wine.  I wrote the original manuscript over twenty-years ago.  At that time, I had pitched it to publishers, agents and to whoever I could find.  After the onslaught of rejection letters arrived, I decided to put it away.  I felt it was destined for the great slush pile in the sky.

Fast forward twenty years and that manuscript sat there daring me to open it and take a peek.  So I did.  The bones were still good, but the story and the characters needed work.  I needed better dialogue and a better plot.  I opened my ten-year-old laptop and started typing.  I bought a book on how to write a novel.  I researched websites on how to write a good romance.  I bought a fresh notebook and wrote character outlines, plot structures, subplots, point of views, dialogue and pretty much anything that popped into my head.

I kept a running recipe card summarizing each chapter so I could remember details of characters like birthdates, hair color, eye color, traits, jobs, families, and backstories.  I kept pictures of my old apartment in the back of the notebook so I could take it out and look at it remembering it in detail.  It is the inspiration for Ashley’s apartment in the book, right down to the weather-beaten picnic table and it was fun to relive that time through a character’s eyes.

I took the pile of rejection letters and went through them.  Again.  I researched how to write dialogue.  I researched plots and pacing.  I wrote and rewrote chapters.  I sat in my basement and isolated myself from everyone, who still insisted they needed to see what I was doing.  I took my ten-pound laptop to work and wrote outlines on my lunch break.  I rewrote the chapters at home in the evening.  I read and wrote for months.  Then I stopped.

I left the project for three months.  I’m not sure why.  By the fall, I was ready to tackle it again and began.  Again.  It took me until June to finish what I started. 

But I finished.

And I’m happy I didn’t give up.  I’m happy I didn’t listen to that voice telling me to put it away.  The voice that said it was too hard and complicated and no one would read it.  I’m happy the rejection letters sat in my file daring me to try again because, without all of that negative “I-knew-you-couldn’t-do-it” attitude, I proved them wrong.

My decision to self-publish was born from the above-noted rejection letters.  I didn’t think I was as bad as all of these lovely publishers and agents thought I was.   I am determined to get this book out into the world by the end of this month and I can’t wait.

Wading through all of the self-publishing advice and webinars and blogs can be tedious.  I picked one person who sounded knowledgeable and listened to his advice.  Some of it I used, and some I threw aside.  Not everything is written in stone.

I just want to publish a book.  Simple. 

Apparently, not.

There’s designing a cover and editing your work.  Selecting a platform and uploading files.  Formatting, ISBN numbers, social media, marketing, and the list goes on.

Tackle one thing at a time.  I started months ago researching book cover design.

I created a cover for the book using a free online service.  I just couldn’t find a resource or a designer that fit what I had in mind.  I used the suggestions I found online.  I researched the most appealing colors and the most attractive fonts.  I went through stock photos and templates.  I wasn’t liking anything I saw.  I stuck to my original plan and with a new YouTube vid in my mind, I designed what I wanted. 

 Through happenstance, my cover came to life.  I love it.

It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed every step of the process.  I’m now working on the outline for Book 2 and have ideas for the third.   I’m taking my time and I will publish when I feel I have everything set and ready to go. 

If you are working on your first novel, keep going.  You’ll want to give up and throw the laptop out of the window but resist.  Drink the wine and take a walk.  Then go back to it.  The journey in writing the book is the most fun. 

You’ll find there are no better words than “The End” staring back at you.

Little Girl Writing


In beginning a memoir project, I decided to dig through my old journals just to get a feel for what fifteen year old me was thinking. Holy cow, I think I should have just closed it up and left it be. Teenaged angst, early views on relationships and the all-important she likes him-he likes someone else drama happening. I didn’t remember writing any of the events that transpired in those pages, but I remember the feelings. The awkwardness. The shyness. The melodramatic events of school dances and hockey games; movie nights and trips to the record store; history classes and failed math tests. How much I missed my Dad.  

I skipped ahead to my second year of college to compare. It seems I grew up a bit in that time. The theatrical expressions were lessened and I spoke more of the transition of becoming my own person from that of a little girl in a confusing world. I loved living in the city. I loved working with the kids in residential treatment. I loved feeling necessary, intelligent and valued. I grew in college. I grew from a little girl writing down her daily activities to a young woman experiencing a life independent of parent, familiarity and routine. My entries were less frequent as I moved through classes and newfound friendships; downtown escapades and girl retreats up to northern Ontario. As I read through my second year the absence of the mention of my brother’s death was surprising. Not a word about one of the most traumatic events of my young life was there.  

The glaringly obvious absence of such an event should not have been a surprise. I must have thought I had outgrown the use of a journal and had no need to write such drama down on pages. I must have been so overwhelmed with emotion, I couldn’t bring myself to record it at all. I wish I had. I wish I would have written every last detail of it. The shattering phone call. The train ride home. The days leading up to the funeral. The Thanksgiving dinner where we laughed until we cried. The devastation of watching my brother grow from an impulsive angry child to a more mature independent young man with his own apartment and a girlfriend, then having it all taken away in an instant. His life was moving forward in a more positive adult direction. We were all breathing sighs of relief. And then it changed.  

It could have been cathartic. I remember thinking as I walked away from those difficult days with my mother and my family and boarded the train back to school that I was returning a different person. I remember thinking I wasn’t the same after his death. I had changed somehow. I had grown.

I have been journal writing these past few months on a more regular basis. It may not be filled with all of the drama and angst of my teenaged years, but I find it soothing to write my thoughts on paper. It may not be cathartic nor reveal a secret hidden meaning of life, but it certainly gives me perspective on my life now and my life then. Perspectives on my changing world as my children grow from kids to adults, embarking on their own journeys and new discoveries; and how I continue to fit in to their ever-evolving lives. Apparently, my main reason for living right now is dinner prep and food organization.  

With all of life’s changes, it’s nice to take a look at where we were and where we strive to be. Maybe keeping a journal is another way of taking stock and reflecting on the journey. If you are a journal writer, take a look back occasionally to see where you were.  

You may be surprised at how far you’ve come.