Category Archives: Teaching

What would you do if he knocked on your door? By Bonnie Hearn Hill

lucas“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.” 

His name wasn’t Lucas, the way it is in my novel, Goodbye Forever. His name, he said, was Joshua. I can tell you that because it turned out to be a lie.

He stopped by my house one spring morning as I picked up the newspaper from my front lawn and asked if I knew where the elementary school was. I told him I did.

“Could you give me a ride?” he asked. “I’m late.”

I’m a sucker for little kids, and I live in one of the safest neighborhoods in our Central California community. Without thinking about it, I said, “Sure. Get in,” and we drove the two blocks to his school.

He asked about the make of my car. I told him.

“That’s nice,” he replied in a soft voice.

I took a second look at him. An impeccably put-together little guy, right down to his dark, carefully gelled hair, he smiled back at me.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Joshua. What’s yours?”

“Bonnie. How old are you?”

“Ten. I’m in the fifth grade.” I pulled in front of the school. “It’s Friday,” he said. “Snack bar. Could you loan me a dollar?”

He had already spotted the one in my change tray. I handed it to him.

As he headed toward the school, my phone rang, and my best friend asked why I wasn’t at home so that we could go to the gym as planned.

“I was driving a little boy to school,” I said.

“Are you out of your mind?” she shouted. “He could have an older brother. He could be setting you up for something. What were you thinking?”

I’m not sure what I was thinking.

That Saturday, when I spoke to a local writing group, I told them my story. I was trying to make the point that plots aren’t as important as what the writer brings to them.

“So,” I said, “if this were your story, how would you finish it?”

They made my point by coming up with answers as different as they were.

“He disappears, and the last person he was seen with was a woman driving a car like yours.”

“He gets out, and you realize you have driven into a Twilight Zone 1950s small town with no way out.”

“He was a figment of your imagination. You were trying to heal from some kind of crisis and invented this kid to help you do that.”

“It’s a horror novel. He’s bait to bring home dinner, and you’re it.”

They proved my point. Everyone took the initial event and made it their own story. They also warned me to be careful with my own real-life story.

“Next time, he’ll ask for five dollars,” one of them said.

“Or fifty,” added another.

The following Monday was so fragrant with spring air that I opened my front door and let the breeze drift through my security screen. As I worked in my study, someone knocked on the screen door.

“It’s me,” said a quiet voice.

I walked to the door, and there stood Joshua.

“I’m late for school again,” he said.

“Does your mom know you’re here?”

“Sure.” His grin grew wider. “It’s fine with her if you drive me.”

“Then let’s just call her, shall we? Just to be sure.”

“Never mind.” He began to back up. “That’s OK.”

“Because you didn’t talk to your mom.” I opened the door and raised my voice. “Did you?”

“No.” He turned and began to run.

What if he had knocked on the wrong door? I asked myself. He could be in danger, and I couldn’t forget this until I saw it through. Because I had no choice, I called his school. When I described what happened, the school secretary said, “I know the kid you’re talking about.” She emailed me his photo, and a little boy with enormous eyes and carefully gelled hair smiled up at me.

“That’s Joshua,” I said.

“It’s not his real name,” she told me, “but he is in fifth grade. He’s been stealing food and money from other kids, although his family is well off. This is the first time we heard of him knocking on doors in the neighborhood.” She paused and added, “He just walked in. The counselor’s taking him to the principal’s office right now.”

That was the last I heard of Joshua. After two years, I haven’t seen him again, although one Halloween I did hear a knock on my door and a soft voice saying, “It’s me.”

Did I invent the sound out of the many voices of children in my neighborhood that night? Was it another kid trying to coax me out of one more treat? Was it Joshua?

What would you do if he knocked on your door?

I wrote a book.

The kids in that book—a novel—didn’t get the help they needed. I hope Joshua did.

* * *

Bonnie Hearn Hill writes suspense tied to social issues. GOODBYE FOREVER is the second in the Kit Doyle series. It’s about a Sacramento, CA crime blogger who goes underground as a runaway teen.

DO YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY? by John B. Rosenman

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Okay, folks, here is a test. Leave a comment after you’ve read this post and tell me which of these five jokes are funny and humorous, and which are not. If you want to keep it simple, just write the number of the joke and Yes or No. If you want, you can explain your answer. Hey, here we go.

1. What has four legs and an arm? Answer: A happy pit bull.

2. A family of mice were surprised by a big cat. Father Mouse jumped and said, Bow-wow!” The cat ran away. “What was that, Father?” asked Baby Mouse. “Well, son, that’s why it’s important to learn a second language.” Submitted by BH LEE

3. Want to get people excited? Just put Alka-Seltzer in your mouth and pretend you’re  possessed by the devil.

4. Whoever invented “Knock-Knock” jokes should get a no-bell prize.

5. A man walks into a bar with a small dog under his arm and sits down at the counter, placing the dog on the stool next to him. The bartender says, “Sorry, pal. No dogs allowed.” The man says, “But this is a special dog – he talks!” “Yeah, right,” says the bartender. “Now get out of here before I throw you out.” “No, wait,” says the man. “I’ll prove it.” He turns to the dog and asks, “What do you normally find on top of a house?” “Roof!” says the dog, wagging his tail. “Listen, pal…” says the bartender.” Wait,” says the man, “I’ll ask another question.” He turns to the dog again and asks, “What’s the opposite of soft?” “Ruff!” exclaims the dog. “Quit wasting my time and get out of here,” says the bartender. “One more chance,” pleads the man. Turning to the dog again, he asks, “Who was the greatest baseball player that ever lived?” “Ruth!” barks the dog. “Okay, that’s it!” says the bartender, and physically throws both man and dog out the door and onto the street. Turning to the man, the dogs shrugs and says, “Maybe I should have said Dimaggio?”

What are the correct answers? The point of course is that it’s hard to say because humor is often subjective, and we don’t agree on what’s funny. What’s a knee-snapper to one person is stupid, offensive, or simply pointless to another. What doubles up your Aunt Matilda in helpless mirth leaves your Uncle Walt unfazed. Whatever you do, though, be careful joking about politics or religion. I once pissed off a friend by telling a brief Mitt Romney joke.

What about dirty jokes—do you like them? Say, have you heard the one about the travelling salesman and the one-eyed whore? She… Naw, I better not tell it. Okay, do you know how to tell who’s a virgin in Virginia? (or supply your own state name). The answer: By her out-of-state license plate.

You don’t think the last joke is funny? In addition to it being flat, dumb, and in bad taste, it’s sexist, discriminatory against women. Perhaps you believe that jokes which offend people shouldn’t be published.

Well, I think people should be offended sometimes. Their feathers should be ruffled and even plucked clean off on occasion. I for one love some dirty jokes and those which are often politically incorrect. I love Aristophanes’ classic sexual comedy Lysistrata in which Grecian women go on a sex strike to stop the Peloponnesian War. However, there is a limit. For example, I just checked some jokes online about Jews, Blacks, and Catholics, and they are REALLY offensive, so you won’t see them here.

You see, I do have some taste.
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What about your writing? Your short stories and your novels, your biographies, essays, and poems? How far are you willing to go in using humor? What chances are you willing to take? Do all your jokes have to be “clean”? Perhaps if you write a book which doesn’t offend anyone, which only supports what is safe and acceptable, your book wasn’t worth writing in the first place.

Do you like jokes at your own expense? I do, as long as they aren’t mean-spirited and go too far. I like to poke fun at my unique dancing style, which causes my partners to duck and run for cover. We know that comedians sometimes deride themselves and find humor in their personal and painful experiences. If they came up the hard way in poverty, they may work it into their routines. As a comedian, Jack Benny depended largely on three self-deprecatory jokes: (1), he was always thirty-nine years old, (2) he was a notorious tightwad, and (3) he was a terrible violin player. I believe the last two are false.

We often use humor in satirical works to ridicule and correct human vices and follies. Vices are much worse than follies. They include such sins as greed, hypocrisy, and cruelty. Plus corrupt political and social systems. Think of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. Orwell’s Animal Farm. The humor is sometimes biting and laser-sharp, as well as deliciously delicate, capable of eviscerating its targets without mussing their hair. In a presidential debate, Ronald Reagan once used a critical question concerning his advanced age to demolish his opponent. He said, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” When Megyn Kelly recently said Donald Trump called women derogatory names like “fat pig” and “dog,” did he go too far when he said, “Only Rosie O’Donnell”? Bad taste or not, his interruption received the biggest laugh of the first Republican debate.

Have you ever watched the skits on Saturday Night Live which lampoon political and entertainment leaders? C’mon, you know you’ve howled at some of them, ignoring your better (and less interesting) nature. A guilty pleasure is still a pleasure, right?

Many jokes and cracks will offend somebody. Hell, they are meant to. As for you, Dear Reader, use your own judgment but be willing to take chances now and then. And if you are personally offended or attacked, try to live and let live. Above all, remember what Geoffrey Chaucer wrote concerning the brilliant but outrageous Miller’s narrative in The Canterbury Tales. Whatever you do, do not “maken earnest out of game.”

End

 

John B. Rosenman, a retired English professor from Norfolk State University, has published over 300 stories and 20 books. His work includes science fiction and dark erotic fiction. “The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes won the 2011 annual readers’ poll from “Preditors and Editors.” In 2013, Musa Publishing awarded his time travel story “Killers” their Top Pick. He is the former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and the previous editor of Horror Magazine.

An excerpt from The Contrary Canadian by Clayton Bye

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We spent years driving past the rock on the way to our camp north of Dryden. Never gave it anything more than a casual glance. Our middle child, Jackson, was the one who found her.

“Stop,” he yelled. “Stop the car!”

I backed up through a cloud of road-dust. Jackson told us to take a good look at the boulder that stood at the side of the road. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Slowly, like an image moving across a film screen in a science fiction or fantasy movie, the face of an old woman emerged from the dust.

Unable to accept that we’d been blind to this wonder  for so long, I got out of the car and walked over to the boulder. It was covered with lichens; The rock had been there for a long time.

Once seen, you can never forget the stone we came to call Baba. She’d been hidden from us for a long time, had existed in a world apart. But once our eyes were finally open, we became so enamoured with her that we developed the habit of stopping to visit.

Our perspective, how we see the world around us, how we determine the relative importance of things, is a complicated issue. What we see, hear, touch, taste and smell is modified and manipulated by a set of mental filters of unbelievable power and complexity. These filters can blind us to something in plain sight just as easily as they can lead us to see things that aren’t there.

As a student of the mind, I’ve had occasion to witness the power of such “perspective filters.” Try picking an impending event, focus your attention on it, roll the idea of the thing around in your mind. If you study this future with the filter of anticipation, you’ll find yourself looking forward to what’s coming. Screen your mental images of the future with the filter of dread, and you’ll begin to turn away.

Our mental filters find their origin in our opinions, beliefs and convictions. They can cause us to see ghosts, or they can render invisible a needed jacket that’s in plain view. They can narrow our vision to the extent that we see the negative in a relationship while also ignoring the good. Dual edged swords, these filters have the power to ruin our lives or make us heroic.

We can spend a lifetime trying to understand the power of perspective. But it isn’t necessary. I believe the easiest way to gain control of our lives (at least in the short-term) is to forget about understanding these filters and use them like any other tools in our toolbox. A hammer is a hammer, right? You don’t need to understand the science behind the tool to be able to use it to drive a nail.

So, when you want to do something and can’t seem to find the motivation, instead of trying to understand the big picture, why not try looking at the situation from different angles? Ask yourself “How could I do this and also have fun?” Poke and prod the situation until you find something you can focus on that’s exciting, that’s important to you. Keep at it until you come up with a plan of action that feels good or right. Then go to work.

You don’t need to understand perspective to change it. All you need to know is that it’s possible to alter your perspective by changing your focus.  

For example, you can take emotion out of play by ignoring what you’re feeling and putting your focus on the job at hand. I’ve done this many times. The simple choice of doing something, of throwing yourself into a task, then allowing the so-called motivation to follow when and if it wills,  can  result in the muting of the emotion which was dragging you down. Your actions may even generate a positive emotion to replace the unwanted one.

I’m not counselling you to ignore your problems. You’ll want to go back and deal with the underlying cause of the negative emotion, but it’s much easier to do this from a comparative emotional distance and after you’ve removed yourself from the situation. Do things on purpose. Become proactive, rather than reactive.

Let me be as clear about this as possible… Specific intentions are powerful commands your mind will act on. If you’re willing to put your focus on what’s desired and follow up with action, then some amazing things will begin to happen.

 

Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 11 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and reviews, he has also published 4 books under the imprint Chase Enterprises Publishing. These books, published for others, include 3 award winning anthologies and a stunning memoir about what it’s like to live with and die from anorexia. Visit his e-store at http://shop.claytonbye.com.
Mr. Bye also offers a wide range of writing related services, including small business management for writers.

Somewhere in the Middle of China By Bonnie Hearn Hill

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 I was in my twenty-fourth year as a writer and my ninth year as a newspaper editor when I began teaching an adult school writing class. In that class, on one of those clear fall California evenings in 1992, I met Pat Snider. All I remember about that first night is the smell of rain through the open window of the classroom and the faces blurring before me as I gripped the podium. I was new to teaching and terrified. Once I began to speak, the trembling within me subsided, and the magic began to take over, an almost palpable energy that passed between the students and me.

We were as unlikely a group as one could imagine. Walter, the African-American retired military man, had been the first black teacher in a conservative district. He was finding words to express what, to paraphrase James Baldwin, was the realization that, in a world of Gary Coopers, he was an Indian. Anita, a retired bookkeeper, experimented with confession stories. Bob, a bearded computer geek, was a card-carrying member of the NRA and the writer of essays just a shade to the right of where most of us were politically comfortable. Maria, a feisty forensic nurse relocated from Brooklyn, wrote biting articles on prison reform.

The intensity increased throughout our weeks together. Anita sold the story she had reworked countless times. Bob became a guest columnist for our newspaper. Although Pat Snider never spoke and didn’t read in class, she did turn in a poem. It was rough, as I recall, and I tried to combine encouragement with honest criticism. Yet I was too new to teaching to know that the ones who sit in the back row and never speak are often the ones who need the most attention.

The class ended before Christmas, and to my surprise, I received a card from Pat. It contained a poem, “Ode to a Teacher.” She spoke of a fear that is common to all of us who dare to be writers—a fear of starting too late, of not being good enough. She wrote, too, of a teacher who guided her, who, as she put it, “…takes my hand and tells me I can fly.”

It felt like undeserved praise. In my reply, I said, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” and I encouraged her to continue writing. The following March, I received a handwritten note from her, saying that her husband’s job had ended, and they would have to “move on.”

“My question is, may I keep in contact by mail?” she asked. “Never having written before, I now can’t seem to stop, to whatever end. As my dear George would say in the idiom of his beloved West Virginia, ‘Think someone done left the door open.’”

I told her to keep in touch but received only a Christmas card from her that year. By that time, I was caught up in the demands of the next session. In a world of rejection, doubt, and the smug sanity only non-writers enjoy, my students and I became the ultimate support group for each other.

On the last day of that year, we met at a local café to celebrate the selection of Maria, the nurse, from almost two hundred applicants, to replace Bob as guest columnist for our newspaper. Maria often said that Bob was so far to the political right and she so far to the left, that, “We meet somewhere in the middle of China.”

Her statement resonated, perhaps because it reflected the essence of the class.  Our differences in politics, philosophy, and the workings of the world were little compared to the real obstacles we shared as writers—the challenge of that blank page, the isolation, the inevitable rejection, the fear.

Bob was the last to arrive at the restaurant that day.  He walked up to our table, grinning, as he held up a tiny flashlight.

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“I’m passing on the torch,” he said, and then he handed the flashlight to Maria.

Sitting next to Walter, I watched the unlikely couple at the head of the table.  The youthful, bearded conservative and the white-haired Amnesty International advocate talked quietly, their heads close, the tiny light flickering between them.

“Only in our group,” Walter said, his voice catching.

As I reviewed my lecture notes several weeks later, the phone rang. The voice of the woman on the other end was unfamiliar and strangely disturbing.

“I’m Pat Snider’s daughter,” she began. “I found your number with some of her poems.”  She sounded far away, tired.

My mouth went dry. I didn’t want whatever I was going to hear next.

“Is Pat all right?”

“Cancer. The hospice worker just left.” She began to cry softly.  “I don’t even know why I’m dragging you into all of this. You meant so much to her that I thought maybe if you two could just talk…”

“Of course,” I said, and wondered what I could say to a dying woman I had barely known.

“I’ll call you back once she wakes up. It’s going to mean so much to her.”

Instead, Pat’s husband, phoned to say she hadn’t wakened at all.

Anita, the confession writer, moved to another state that summer. Bob began working nights but kept in touch. Maria left the class as her involvement in prison reform demanded more time, and she later co-authored a book for the families of prisoners. Walter remained, “a lifer,” he said, blending with each new group of students.

Over years of teaching others like Pat, the quiet ones, it occurs to me that had I been lucky enough to find a class when I was starting out, I would also have been that almost invisible student in the back row.

Regardless of how Pat found my classroom, she got exactly what she needed there, as many of us did. In that room, somewhere in the middle of China perhaps, she too found kinship, validation, and a reason to believe. It is the most any of us who write, regardless of when we begin or how much time we have left, can ask.

 

California author Bonnie Hearn Hill’s fourteenth novel, IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN, will publish in the UK in March, 2015 and in the United States four months later. It will be followed in 2016 by GOODBYE FOREVER, the second in that series. A conference speaker and mentor to writers, she writes suspense that deals with social justice and women’s issues. A film based on one of her books is currently in pre-production.

Link to INTERN
http://www.amazon.com/Intern-Bonnie-Hearn-Hill/dp/1484932110/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Link to KILLER BODY
http://www.amazon.com/Killer-Body-Bonnie-Hearn-Hill/dp/1484089987/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1415037965&sr=1-1