FAKE NEWS, ALTERNATE REALITIES, & SELF-DOUBT – HOW A LONG-LOST REJECTION LETTER ROCKED MY SOCKS OFF

 

For 3 years, I’ve been spending 6-8 weeks at home, 3 days on the train, 6-8 weeks across the border with my mom, 3 days back on the train… And repeat. I’m so fortunate to still have Mom to read old family letters in German to, to have 2:00 brunch and play MadLibs with, to share the odd wry comment or giggle.

It’s quite a switch from her house to mine, and every time I get home, the forest of books and undergrowth of paper/s seems to be, well, flourishing. This last time, it was suddenly too much.

Within 12 hours of getting back, I’m clearing off shelves and emptying drawers; inspecting one note or form or clipping at a time; determinedly filling the recycling bag. Until I find this:

 

Okay, wait—

This was the Enizagam Fiction Contest.

2013.

Fiction Judge Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.

I submitted my story Child.

Child WON that contest.

It was published in the next issue of Enizagam.

I was there in Oakland to read at the launch.

(I have a photo—I can prove it!)

I take a deep breath and read the letter again. ???

Maybe… as we leave years and layers of documents to their own devices, they begin to get seriously bored? Start joking around with each other? Come up with alternate versions of reality, parallel possibilities, some good old fake news?

I mean, I won, yes?

I DID.

Reading the letter to my son now, I’m beginning to veer ever so slightly off base: “You remember when I won, right? You read the story. Remember how… I mean, look, the issue’s right here on the bookcase with my other publications!”

Um. The issue’s not there.

For a moment, I really do believe in an alternate universe where:

Child went unrecognized.

I was advised to try again.

(Maybe I was kidding myself.)

(Maybe none of my writing was any good.)

(Maybe I wasn’t even a writer.)

Doubt. A growing dizziness. In self-defense, I go to bed.

*  *  *

Middle-of-the-night realization, verified early the next morning:

Of course—I submitted 2 stories to that particular contest.

 

 Rent Asunder was, in that disconcerting letter, the one enjoyed but not accepted.

Child made it.

Reality rules.

Zephyr, an Onboard Mystery – Part 2

 

Sunrise gilds the Utah desert and tints the far mountains a dusky rose. My curtains open all night, I wake slowly, watching faint tracks winding to a spill of water, another shelf of tumbleweed and scrub, the hawk motionlessly surveying all…

And then I wake suddenly. Zephyr! What are we going to do? It’s not like we ever came up with a rescue plan. And how long till Grand Junction?

I scarf my breakfast, and hurry to the lounge car, but of course, despite confused dreams of cats and conductors, neither of us has any new ideas. The rest of the cat crew still asleep, we decide that all we can do when we get there is act as independent observers, play it by ear.

“And if we have to, somehow save her.” We both sigh. Yes, somehow.

The Book Cliffs…

Ruby Canyon…

Fruita…

And then the endless rail yards that mean we’re there.

Detraining, my fellow cat champion from coach and I from sleeper, we scan for Humane Society officers, head toward the crew car. Now what?

The first conductor we ask seems, strangely, to know nothing about a cat. Not good. But the second has excellent news. “The stationmaster here decided to take her home.”

He’s going by right now, in fact, Zephyr’s carrier balanced on the seat next to him in the cart.

“Thank you!”

“That’s so great!”

Before long, the whole cat crew has converged in the station to say their goodbyes.

Except…

From the receiver of the station phone as the stationmaster holds it away from his head: “You are NOT bringing another cat home!”

Oh. Fifteen minutes till departure. We all look sadly at each other, then back at the sleeping cat.

It’s another crew change, apparently, Salt Lake City engineers heading toward their rides, and new ones arriving. A conductor checks in at the wicket, and as we study her, it’s as if we’ve been inspired en masse.

Zephyr is lifted out of her carrier. “Did you hear about her yet? Look at how sweet…”

“With us since California!”

“Isn’t she gorgeous?”

Conductor Spaulding leans in closer. “She certainly is a pretty one.”

“We named her Zephyr.” I think we’re all holding our breath.

“Maybe when I get back from this run, I can ask around for a friend who could take her.”

But in the meantime?!

She continues to pat her. “Or at least get her to a no-kill shelter.”

Not a happy ending after all? But then as if by miracle, the cat finds her way into the conductor’s  arms just as a quick-thinking fan says, “Right, so, we named her Zephyr Spaulding.”

Time slows down, then speeds up, and when the whistle suddenly sounds, Conductor Spaulding carefully sets Zephyr back in her carrier. “Okay, I’m crazy but I’m going to keep her. Ready to go, girl?”

Zephyr Spaulding closes her eyes and seems to smile as she boards her namesake once again, for Nebraska, Iowa and parts east…

‘BOARD!

 

Zephyr, an Onboard Mystery – Part 1

…California Zephyr, eastbound…

Swaying back to her seat from the baggage area, she hears faint cries, but no, it would be somebody’s tablet, another passenger without headphones. Never mind.

Patches of almost-Christmas snow in the Sierra Nevadas, and then

Truckee…

Reno…

Sailing through Sparks…

No, wait, that was definitely a meow. Make that much meowing. Where’s it coming from?

Dark falls over the desert. As she pulls suitcase after suitcase off the luggage rack, the yowling becomes more urgent. Other passengers circle. It is a cat. Trapped in a soft carrier beneath three layers of bags. Black. Wide- and golden-eyed. Whose?

Word spreads. “Couple in the next coach had a cat out at the last stop.” Ah. Thank goodness. But not. The couple, finally located, is surprised, even offended. “Our cat’s right here. It’s not like we have two.”

Cold night in Winnemucca…

By now it’s a whole convocation track-side—coach and sleeping car passengers, assistant conductor, car attendant, then the conductor, who’s sought the owner from dining car to locomotive, and drawn a blank. And so?

“Wish I could keep her.”

“I’ll take her, seriously.”

“Unfortunately, she’s not Amtrak property, so we couldn’t release her.” The assistant conductor sighs, pats her again.

“Are we positive somebody didn’t fall asleep, and they just haven’t heard us?”

“But she was meowing way before Reno, so it’s been, like, at least five hours!”

“Hey, there’s a can of food in her carrier. Can we feed her?”

“Of course.” Next thing, the conductor’s back with a bowl of water. “We’ve radioed management. We’ll have to follow their lead.”

By the time we reboard, word is that someone from the animal shelter will be meeting her in Elko.

Meanwhile, the cat posse takes things into their own hands: an entire parade through the coach cars, cat protesting in the forefront, and no passenger unquestioned. But nothing.

Elko…

Nobody there to meet the cat. The shelter’s already closed, so now our newly-named Zephyr’s been taken to the crew cab for the night; she’ll be picked up instead tomorrow in Grand Junction. But now we’re worried.

Tête-a tête in the lounge car till well past midnight… What will they do? Is it a no-kill shelter? Google says not. We can’t let that happen! What if one of us went to the new crew getting on in Salt Lake City and said, ‘Man, I just woke up and I can’t find my cat!’ Or else, let’s see, if the clearly elder of us played the memory loss card, and…

No, we’re getting way too overtired here. Nothing we can do. The only plan is to meet here again just before Grand Junction, and hope for inspiration…

~ To be continued ~

100 YEARS BACK, 12 YEARS FORWARD – REFLECTIONS ON REMEMBRANCE DAY 2018

We commemorate the end, 100 years ago today, of a war. We weren’t there, but still we can feel the relief, the weight finally lifted, the peace that is so necessary to our souls.

Breathing deep, shifting our eyes forward, today we too need to serve―not cross an ocean and fight an enemy, but to fight, right here, in our own homes and hearts, the greater enemy of unsustainable habits that are marching us toward the most terrible of possible wars, over food and water and a square foot of safe land.

Fight our self-centred thoughts and unthinking actions; our insistence that everything’s okay because so it seems to be for ourselves; our knee-jerk wish for always more; our belief that we are entitled to what we have, and others not so much; our unwillingness to look at what we are doing to the world, the creatures upon it, our children and each other; our lack of will to make the biggest or even the smallest change; our turning, again, a blind eye; our unadmitted greed, which sets the stage for Nothing for Anyone; our refusal to really care…

History says that we must care. Caring, to be real, must take shape in hope and in action.

Today, please, 100 years out, take a first fighting action to help spare us all from a future worse than any war.

Need action ideas? Please ask.

BACK IN KANSAS – STORIES OF A HIGH SCHOOL REUNION

    All of us come bringing stories to this late-September Midwestern place of reunion (bring them everywhere, really). It’s just that many of mine are already jotted down, input, printed or published. This ends up being a gift―to me, and hopefully to others, as I listen to old and new friends, and often find a story that fits each tale.

– As a classmate’s wife talks about living in Florida, I hand her my way-too-late-trip-to-Disney World story, Room on the Planet

– A fellow grad I don’t quite remember has lived, like me, the sadness of their father’s struggle with Parkinsons― that’s what the above story is really about; I give them a copy…

– The lost-girl-in-LA story, Rent Asunder, goes to a California classmate…

– To a physician and then a friend lamenting their forgetfulness goes The Edible and the Beauteous and the Dead, about a man finding the gift in his gradual loss of words…

–  One classmate worked for NASA, and now writes science fiction―to him, some climate fiction, Water and Oil, or the reluctant robot story, At the Corner of Railroad and What Looks Like Amen

And of course as I listen to highlights, ponder the decades, and wonder at how the cliques and gaps and chasms have become as nothing (how all we are about here is finding common ground), now memory and inspiration fold into each other―it looks like there will be more stories to come ~

Hey, we’re all classmates in this strange school of life. If any of the above stories speak to you, email me at aschultz@mail.ubc.ca, and I’ll send you a copy. Or give me another topic that’s on your mind―there just might be an app, I mean, a real live story for that…  

 

 

 

Excited & Tarrying… plus an Excerpt

  Jan. 20

I am beyond excited to be almost finished writing my first Middle Grade novel, which could be summed up as Diverse Step-family meets Rude Ghosts…

Or, excited and tarrying, as it’s a disconcerting feeling to be done with a world one’s been living in for 2+ years. That could be why I keep thinking of another must-add scene, a loose thread that hasn’t been tied up yet, just one more conversation, a couple more pages that really nail the theme…

Jan. 27  

Seven pages later, four crucial scenes written, I think I really am on the last chapter. I don’t want to let it go. At this point, even the upcoming drudge-work of checking chronology and searching for words repeated too often, the daunting days of revision, sound good.

Okay, before I steel myself to go back to that last chapter, a random excerpt, just for fun:

*******

Back in my room, even though it’s probably only about 2:00, I whip on my thickest flannel pajamas.  Still way too cold. Socks, slippers, the pink sweatshirt from yesterday. And just for good measure, the long Indian scarf Dad gave me when he and Mom told us they were getting married. It feels good to have it on.

“Sally McMally?”

Grandpa’s in the kitchen, it sounds like, and I do want to go hang out. Except I’m really scared he saw that the Book is gone. “Ya?” I cross my fingers and am about to head for the door when something rustles under the bed. Or squeaks. Or yowls and flies out from under it chasing something that’s even faster.

Perched on my chair hugging my knees, I squint at the little chase scene and then roll my eyes. It’s Calico. And nothing. Or just whatever it is that she keeps batting ahead of her like a maniac. Probably a crumpled-up piece of newspaper. Wrong. It’s like there are sparks flying from it and kind of a trail of blue-green smoke. It’s what’s left of one of the pages of the Book, which is hidden way back under the bed. And then Calico half-hisses half-growls at me like, What the heck are you looking at?

This is when Grandpa rolls down the hall to my door tooting the bicycle horn he seems to think was a good addition to his walker, and says fairly grumpily, “Tea will be stone-cold at this rate. Your mother’s off shopping again.”

Okay, tea with my grandfather sounds just fine right now. I cross the room fast, keeping my eyes on Calico. And the page between her paws. Safe. I think. But then Grandpa’s eyes widen and he looks like he’s going to have a stroke. Oh man, did he figure it out? I spin around and stare into my room but except for the cat stretching up on its hind legs and trying to push the page, which has stopped sparking, smoking or anything else unusual, under my pillow, there’s nothing astonishing going on…

*******

Winning Unbeknownst

   Knew my story “Bread” was a finalist for the Cedric Award. But now we were rolling through Colorado (could have been Utah, possibly Nevada). No wi-fi. Finally checked emails in Sacramento. But forgot about the other email account. Home. Busy writing and editing (myself and others). About a week later, happened to look at the Cedrics website. Then found the email announcement. Hello, I’d won the 2017 Cedric Literary Award in Fiction…

Honoured & grateful. Will post an excerpt soon…

“Figment of Footlights and Reverb”, an excerpt from the short story

…Another alley, somewhat wider, crosses this one, meanders west, invites her in. When she steps, sudden, into it, there is now just a little more light; fading garlands roping a splintering roughhewn door, candles in a window, sleeping or sliding figures that flash in moon glow on either side. The sudden gleam of brass hinges, a silver latch, then fluted window frames in rose-pink walls…

Silhouettes bend whispering around a fitful circle of spark and glowing coals. A sleeping cow; nearby the flat blue screen of cellphone cradled in a wrinkled hand, a twist of incense. Princess’ heart quickens. There really is everything yet to know!

As she performs a clumsy pirouette, wanting to pull every vision, every sound into her mind, twine them around her soul, there is a tap on her shoulder.

“Hey.”

It is the boy, the handsome one, the one from Ramlila Maidan. Right. That one. Rude it may be, but she does not answer him a word. How did he― What is he even doing here? This moment? It is only hers

Place of Departure

 

Schenectady, N.Y. to Walpole, Mass., Philadelphia to Chicago to Kansas City… As a child, I had no say, saw place as something that might not last, escaped into the unfailing world of books.

Finally, then choices ― Vermont for college, Italy like home rediscovered, and graduate school in British Columbia leading me at long last to a place to stay, a place to write about and to stand up for. Though I’m first and foremost a prose writer, it is in poems that I freeze-frame lake and log boom, new moon, clear-cut cedars, still-tall pines and the Friday night sidewalks of skid row Vancouver.

And yet, after decades, BC has quietly begun to serve also as the template for my novels and stories, providing an achingly beautiful place of departure for the ravaged world of my climate fiction. Even as we who live here simultaneously spoil and protect it, BC becomes ever more my platea, the open space that sustains me, from which I declaim the truths I have the honor of glimpsing in sea and fellow place keepers and wide wide sky…