What exactly does ‘contemporary’ mean?

I ask, because this is one of the many aspects of writing for YA that make me feel I’m barking up the wrong tree. I’ve already written about the ‘kick ass’ injunction that to my mind misses the point about feminism completely. Same for the ‘diversity’ imperative. I recently read a review raving about a new YA space opera about colonising a new planet in which the reviewer went into overdrive about the most original and awesome aspect of the story, which was that all the characters in the story were queer. So much for the colonisation project, I thought, but more seriously—ALL the characters?

I admit; I’m completely out of the loop as far as modern culture is concerned. I don’t even know what’s on French TV never mind anybody else’s. The way people use the English language has changed since I learned to speak. It probably has in the US too, but on the odd occasion that husband tunes the tranny into BBC Radio 4, it’s like listening to a different language. The intonations are all different, and the way the phrases rise and fall in weird places and the fear of pronouncing vowels (Dr Heew springs to mind), make me wonder what my writing sounds like to these new Anglophones.

I recently had a story rejected by a magazine and was given quite extensive feedback. It was interesting, not because of what it told me about my writing, so much as what it told me about how other people were reading my writing. The story is set in pre-Christian northern Europe, and the main problem the editors had with it (apart from the unacceptable level of violence) was the language. It was suggested that it would be better written in a contemporary style. Whose contemporary did they mean, I wondered? The request was coming from people who objected that the word ‘fuck’ was anachronistic in the context of Iron Age Scandinavia. To my amateur knowledge, the word is of very early Proto-Germanic origin and predates the discovery of the Americas by possibly a thousand years. Just because it is used and used to death in modern American does not mean that Americans invented it! ‘Contemporary’, unless the setting is contemporary, is anachronistic, period.

I also find myself totally at sea with the naming of literary characters. Family names like Riley, Bailey, Taylor, Cameron, or Blake are commonly used as given names for male or female characters—not so common are Bottomly, Burtle or Pratt. Geological features like Brook, River, Sierra and Savannah pop up everywhere but I have yet to meet an Escarpment, Tundra or Swamp. You can call someone Red or Sienna, but not Yellow or Puce. Try it. “Hey, I’d like you to meet the twins Pratt and Puce.” There’s no logical reason why you should find yourself rolling your eyes at Pratt and Puce, any more than at Cameron and Sienna. But you would.

I don’t understand this mania for inventing names to be original. They end up being not. Maybe I’m just being fuddy-duddy, but it seems to me that nothing dates a story like its use of contemporary speech, especially when contemporary means cult phrases, original names or product placement. Imagine a novel full of Amstrad computers…

Promote Yourself: Linzé Brandon

My weekend guest author is Linzé Brandon, a prolific writer as you can see from the number of book covers in the gallery. Here is Linzé to tell us a little about herself.

Teaching herself to read before she went to school, it was the start of her life long love affair with books. Trained as an engineer, Linzé has worked as an export consultant and is presently a project manager at a company that designs and manufactures products for the military industry. Although she still loves to read, she also enjoys counted stitch embroidery, archery, fly fishing, painting abstracts, her husband’s medal winning photographs and watching Manchester United play.

She is one of the moderators of the Google+ group, Writer’s Rabbit Hole, and leads the Pretoria Writers Group, consisting of ten members, seven of which are published authors in various genres.

Linzé Brandon lives in Pretoria, South Africa, with her engineer husband and German Shepherds who are convinced that the world revolves only around them.

LinzeBrandon Author Photo small

Linzé writes in an extensive range of genres, and the book she has chosen to share today is the second volume of a fantasy romance series.

Keeper of the Dragon Sword_Cover_KINDLE

Keeper of the Dragon Sword – The Dragon Masters https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/301923

Synopsis

It was definitely not her week. Her uncle had been murdered, her life had been threatened, an old school friend had re-appeared, she had two body guards and a new home. Elizabeth L’Emery was not having a good time as the new owner and chief executive of the largest fabric manufacturer on Xa’an.

Randall Storm had missed his best friend from school, but he had so many secrets that staying away from her had seemed to be the only solution to keep her safe from the uncontrollable lust for blood of his dragon half. But when he was assigned to her protection detail, he didn’t want to be anywhere else.

As they search for ways to control his magic that didn’t enslave him – and didn’t kill her – more threats came to try and pull them apart. When the opportunity arises to put a weapon of incredible power into her hands, Elizabeth has to decide if the violence of the blood ritual would be worth the sacrifice of becoming the Keeper of the Dragon Sword.

Attacks, magic and sword battles ensue as they continue to fight for her life but in the end it might come down to the ultimate sacrifice of the dragon to keep his vow to serve his master with his life.

Was their partnership strong enough to survive the choice of enslavement to prevent a war against their people or a ritual that could kill the woman he loved?

Excerpt

Feeling a little depressed and exhausted by all the new happenings in her normally quiet life, Elizabeth fell straight into bed not even bothering to undress.

She woke the next morning with her heart pounding. It took a moment to recall the dream that was responsible for the aroused state of her body. It took another to realise that the tingling sensations in her left shoulder that would normally accompany her stimulated body, were not present.

“Oh hell,” she muttered, and threw back the covers.

There was no time for getting dressed. On silent feet she searched the bathroom. Nothing.

A search of the men’s bedroom and the other bathroom revealed no dragon either.

A hiss and a growl made her run for the main room. A hard arm held her back when she rushed towards the noise.

“Shh,” he whispered in her ear.

It was only Randall’s calm assurance that stopped her from pulling away. “She is fine.”

“What happened?”

She felt his arm loosen its tight hold on her waist, but he didn’t let go all together. “Your dragon surprised me. She must be producing mating pheromones, because my dragon was awake and on the floor before I had a chance to comprehend what was going on.”

She watched the two dragons circle each other, hissing and growling in turn. The mare was smaller than the dragon, but appeared unintimidated by the new addition to her territory. If nothing else, she seemed fascinated by him. Watching his every move. Her tail made slow sweeps behind her, as the two of them danced the introduction of meeting a potential mate.

Elizabeth took a better look at the dragon. He was red and black like her own dragon, but he had the most amazing blue eyes that dominated his face. They practically glowed with lust at the sight of the mare. But he was wary. Dragon mares didn’t submit to mating unless she was ready, or accepted the dragon. Dragons mated for life, but Elizabeth couldn’t be sure about hers. The dragon mare was part of her, but she couldn’t shift into its form. She was more like an alter ego, a primitive form of herself, than an actual independent entity.

“Will they mate?”

Randall tensed at the question and tightened his arm around her. He too watched as the dragons sized each other up. “I don’t think so. Dragons seldom mate at a first meeting. But we cannot take the chance that they will fight. Just keep still and let them decide,” he replied in the same quiet tone.

That was a surprise. “Why would they fight?”

She felt his chest move against her back. “Dragons of both sexes can be territorial. She must sense that I am a blood dragon, and that can put any female on edge.”

She frowned and turned her head to look up at him. In bare feet, he towered over her, head and shoulders. “You are a blood dragon? What does that mean?”

His expression froze into determined blankness.

Follow Linzé online:

Blog (Butterfly on a Broomstick) http://www.linzebrandon.blogspot.com
FB author page http://www.facebook.com/LinzeBrandonAuthor
Twitter http://www.twitter.com/LinzeBrandon

Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/LinzeBrandon

Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/LinzeBrandon

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6035313.Linze_Brandon

Google+ https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LinzéBrandon

Wattpad http://www.wattpad.com/user/LinzeBrandon

Book Links

Science Fiction

Don’t Call Me Sweetheart – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/383111

Erotic Romance

Their +1 – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/360607

Erotica

Bubble trouble – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/364605

Pixie Dust, Boots and Reindeer https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/391625

The Third Gender Series (Sci-fi Romance)

reGENESIS – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/430285

Hunger – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/213647

Perfect – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/269278

The Nations of Peace Series (Fantasy Romance)

Géra’s Gift – The Grandmasters – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/238397

Keeper of the Dragon Sword – The Dragon Masters https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/301923

Contemporary

The Cutting Horizon – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/430313

Thank you Linzé and best of luck with your newest release.

Promote Yourself: Bill Engleson

My guest today is Bill Engleson, an author from Denman Island. I had to look up Denman Island, having some vaguely ignorant idea that it was on the other side of the continent, somewhere in the frozen north beyond New Brunswick. Now I know that it is a small corner of paradise opposite Vancouver, I am green with envy. Bill is now Lucky Bill Engleson as far as I am concerned. In fact he is so lucky I have decided to post all of the excerpts he sent me, so put the kettle on now, put your feet up, and settle down for a long read.

Over to you now, Bill.

I have been writing recreationally since the early 1960’s.

When I retired from Social Work almost a dozen years ago, my partner and I and our two cats moved to Denman Island, a little community off the eastern shore of Vancouver Island. Our two cats have since gone to their reward but hopefully are satisfied with their replacements. We certainly are.

These past few years have been the most creative and productive period of my writing life.

Aside from short fiction, poetry, humorous and occasionally serious essays, and the intermittent letter to the editors of a number of anxiously awaiting newspapers, both local and national, I have recently published my first novel, Like a Child to Home, which depicts, in fictional form, aspects of the demanding child welfare world I experienced in a career that spanned 25 years.

I am currently writing a prequel to Like a Child to Home with the same protagonist, social worker Wally Rose. The book will be called Drawn towards the Sun.

One of my poems, Japandemonium, which was written very shortly after the terrible tsunami in Japan 3 years ago essentially to be performed at a fundraiser Open Stage in late March, 2011, is about to be published by Green Wind Press in an anthology of poetry from around the world commemorating that horrific disaster.

As do many others on our small Island, my partner and I both volunteer in a number of capacities,. Both of us chair the Board of Directors of separate key organizations. We have come to accept that the only way small communities can successfully function is to rely on volunteerism.

My Website/blog www.engleson.ca gives a fair picture of my various other writings and how to access my novel.

Bill Engleson

Here is an excerpt from Bill’s novel, Like a Child to Home. It can be read as a stand alone story.

       

Chapter 8

Monica Maggin,

Thursday Afternoon, November 15

As I got closer to Monica’s, my thoughts drifted to her and her 18-month old

daughter. Over the years, I had been the social worker for a handful of

young mothers, children 15, 16, 17 years of age, who tackled what I considered

the toughest job going; one I had failed miserably at. Often they came at the

duty of parenting with no real experience of having been parented themselves.

Many of their parents had lost their traction along the way, and their children

had been set aside. Some were outright abandoned, but frequently it was my

impression that they had been set down on the corner, so the parent could rest

up. If the parental recovery moment proved excessively long, pernicious time

would not permit them to resume their parental chore.

I was an apologist for the parents. Harsh assessments of their character

failings served no purpose. If the parent was still alive, reunion was always possible.

Most of the youth I worked with craved that reunion, although often

they would not admit it.

When a pregnant youth came my way, I was scrupulous in not attempting

to influence her about the decision to parent or not to parent. For many, the

struggle to decide was as intense as any struggle they would ever endure.

Monica had come to my office one Monday morning two years earlier. She was

three months pregnant. For the previous six months, she had been living with

her mother. Prior to that, she had lived with her dad from the time her parents

had split up when she was six. Her bond with her father was a powerful key in

her development. His death from cancer six months earlier had been preceded

by four years of escalating illness. She had become her father’s confidante and

nurse. There had been significant acrimony between her father and mother

and contact with her mother had been minimal. When her father died, she

had no other option but to go live with her mother.

“Oil and water,” Monica had said describing her relationship with her

mother the first day we met.

Denise Shaw, Monica’s mother, had not taken to her estranged daughter.

She was a hard working realtor with a long-standing, live-in partner, and

Monica had not blended well into their domestic arrangement. The mother-daughter

bond was further tested when Monica disclosed not only that she

was pregnant but that she was obligated to keep the baby. She felt this obligation

because she had suffered the loss of her father, and knew that he would

have wanted her to keep any child of hers. From my experience, this wasn’t a

casual, impulse-driven decision. I admired Monica’s resolve. Her mother and

stepfather tried to understand her position, but, though they never articulated

it clearly, it was fairly obvious that Denise Shaw and Ray Comeau did not

want to end up parenting the infant. Even though they insisted that she either

terminate or relinquish, she held her ground, and this precipitated her expulsion

from the home. I apprehended her, and in a matter of weeks, she became

a state ward. She lived in a good foster home until Samantha, her beautiful

child, was six months old. Finding a foster home that can care equally for the

infant as well as the infant’s child-mother is a challenge. Eventually, Monica’s

foster parents, and the foster mother in particular, found themselves increasingly

concerned about Samantha’s welfare. Small tiffs over day to day care

started to simmer. This predictable conflict was exacerbated by Monica’s occasional

comment that maybe she should have relinquished. She had tried to

involve Samantha’s father, a young man she no longer dated, in the baby’s life.

He was relatively transient, and the foster parents discouraged his half-hearted

attempts to play a part.

The placement cracked under the weight of the conflict. Because there had

been a marginal, yet legitimate, concern about the care of Samantha, Monica

agreed to allow Samantha to be brought voluntarily into care at age three

months. This essentially technical gesture allowed the foster home to receive

more funds for her care, but it also served to formalize Monica’s desperate and

wavering plan to relinquish. Complicating the situation was the appointment

of a social worker from another office to be Samantha’s social worker. The

intent of this was to assure that the baby’s interest were protected and kept

separate from Monica’s interest. Though this was a reasonable approach, it also

served to create a wedge between the interests of the mother and the interests

of her child. Something had to give. Monica decided that she and Samantha

should move out on their own. The voluntary care agreement ended and the

complexity of two workers came to a close when I negotiated a rocky ceasefire

to any protection concerns. This happened even though I had ignored a directive

from our chieftains in Victoria who were uncomfortable with the image

of two social workers from two different offices working at apparent cross

purposes. This conflict had evolved, plausibly enough, as I assisted Monica in

her corner and Samantha’s social worker struggled to ensure her baby’s rights

and safety were in place.

For the past year, Monica had lived on her own with her baby. I took her

out to lunch once every two to three months. She attended school as well as a

young parent’s support group. I thought she was doing just fine.

Monica’s apartment was located in a large, rundown complex, part of a

string of four-story apartment buildings that had seen way better days. I parked

in the rear and walked through the open-corridor underground parking to the

front entrance, buzzed her, and she let me in. I took the frail elevator to the

third floor, got out, and walked the hallway to her apartment. The door was

ajar. I knocked and she hollered from somewhere inside for me to come in.

I was saddened but not surprised to see that her housekeeping skills had

barely improved. She came out of the bathroom holding Sam on her hip,

looking thin, waiflike and smiling, and said, in a pitch more craggy with weary

age than her more usual chirpy tone, “Say it Wally. It needs a cleaning.”

“Consider it said,” I agreed, reaching for Sam. She handed her to me.

“Fresh diaper?”

“Yup.”

“I’m honoured.”

“The place might be a shambles but she’s spic and span. Look Wally, let me

dress her and we can go.”

I made a face at Sam, got a smile and a gurgle, and gave her back to Monica.

I could barely tie my own shoelaces when I was Monica’s age. I had been coddled

and exempt from obligation as a teen, both blessed and cursed by inspired

adolescent indolence. In hindsight, I wondered what part of my shallow teen

know-how allowed me to support youth like Monica. None of my experiences

came within a moon shot of her life, or the lives of young people similar to her.

Shortly, Sam was dressed and we lugged car seat, diaper bag, and a couple

of other baby trappings that meant little to me, into the elevator, down to the

main floor, out the building, and quickly to my car.

“I was thinking Japanese, if that was to your liking, Miss?” I said, knowing

Monica’s culinary tastes were somewhat more sophisticated than many of the

youth I dealt with.

“Where were you thinking…Yoshihara’s?”

“Yup.” We had eaten there once before, and I had promised we would go

there again.

It was a short drive, and we were there quickly.

The hostess showed us into a private room and we settled in to the intimacy

it afforded. The restaurant had a small low chair especially meant for securing

babes while adults dangled their feet in the well below the table.

We ordered two specials that included miso soup, a tray of delicacies

including tempura veggies and prawns, California rolls, and green tea.

“You want to know why I’m not at school?” she asked.

“No mystery there,” I offered. “You were destined to go to lunch with me.”

My stock answer generated a small smile. I had offered it only to give her

time to gather her forces to share what was slowing her down.

“My mother called on the weekend. I haven’t spoken to her since I was at

the Bensons. And then, it wasn’t really speaking…strictly yelling.”

Carol and Ted Benson had been the foster family for both her and Sam.

Monica still wanted to have a speaking relationship with them but the struggle

between the previous social worker for Sam and me had left a lot of emotionally

charged fissures. One of those was the slow repairing of the rift between

Monica and her mother. Denise Shaw, contrary to what I had expected, took a

shining to Carol and Ted Benson. Denise seemed to appreciate the safety and

care the foster family directed to both Monica and Samantha. However, once

Monica started to assert herself, Denise landed smack dab on the side of the

Benson’s. It was a logical landing emotionally, adult to adult, but it widened the

divide that had been closing between Denise and Monica.

“You must have been glad to hear from her? It’s been over six months of

cold shouldering,” I said optimistically.

“Yeah… glad… for about a minute.”

“So what, I have to extract everything you’re feeling? Like a dental shrink?”

That got a small smirk.

“Oh Jesus, it was great to hear her voice. She seemed to be happy to hear

mine but then she started asking all sorts of questions about Sam, was she

getting enough food? Was I missing any school? Wasn’t it about time I went

back to Carol and Ted’s? It turned into a humongous bitch session.”

“So, she called just to bitch at you?” I asked.

“Maybe not,” she conceded, “but it didn’t take her long to work up to it.”

After a gasp of breath, she added, “Actually, she was calling to tell me she and

Ray were getting married and she wanted me there.”

“Super,” I chirped in.

“She just wears me out, Wally. Mothers and motherhood just suck the life

out of me some days. I went to school yesterday but I just couldn’t get out of

bed this morning.”

Confessions of exhaustion from one so young invariably wore me out.

Aside from listening to her maternal woes, I had little to offer. I had successfully

tied my own hands. Denise had pretty much slammed the door in my

face once I had gone for a permanent order for Monica. And taking Monica’s

side when she moved out of the Benson foster home had sealed my consignment

to hell. Keeping the lines of communication open between youth and

parents was often the key to their growth and survival. Many times I had been

able to provide that intermediary conduit role. In Monica’s case, I wasn’t able

to and there really wasn’t anyone else in her life that could.

What might be needed now was a trusted middleman, a go-between,

someone who could renew the healing that events had failed to scab properly. I

could think of a couple of choices; Kate Morris could intervene, put me modestly

in my place by appealing to Denise to help her find a way to patch things

up as long as Wally was kept out of it. Another participant in Monica’s life

was Sheila Reicken, her teacher. Sheila had spent the past decade developing

a young parents program within her school, an inclusive program that supported

young parents to fully participate in learning, provided skilled daycare,

and normalized as much of their lives as possible.

Lunch arrived and we dug in. There wasn’t a whole lot Sam could eat but

she took a bit of the miso soup.

“So,” I asked, “besides marauding mothers, how are you doing otherwise?

Dating?”

“Like when would I have time?” she snapped back. “No, I want to and I

don’t. But I’m not. Between school and my parenting support group, that’s

about all I can squeeze in. Darren has visited a few times and he takes me out,

or sits Sam and frees me up a bit.”

Darren was a young man who had known Monica when she lived with her

dad and they had a pretty established, seemingly platonic friendship. I had met him

once on a home visit. He had been a neighbour of Monica and her dad’s in the

last couple of years of his life. Early on in my involvement with Monica, I had

requested a CPIC check on Darren just to insure that he was more or less on

the up and up. On the surface, he was just what he seemed, a young single guy

with a caring heart and no criminal record.

The balance of lunch was quiet. The food was good and we chatted about

the past, and more importantly, what the future might hold for her and her

baby. I restrained my barrage of focused questions, preferring to kick back and

enjoy the moment. Social workers on my team actively used lunch moments to

engage our clients, share small social interludes we are invariably nourished by.

Maintaining a balance between the professional and the caregiver was the

goal. I had worked with some social workers who actively shunned the sort of

intimacy shared lunch and open conversation permitted. Breaking bread with

teens had always seemed to me to be a valuable activity, and I built service

plans around that kind of relationship. There were youth who would have

none of it, youth too damaged to find any value in those sorts of quiet times, or

who simply had other things to do with their time. And that was fine. I likely

had a limit to my capacity to relax and share simple pleasures with youth. But I

wouldn’t intentionally be the one to set that limit.

As I was driving Monica and Samantha back home, I raised the notion

of finding an intermediary to talk to her mom. She knew Sheila a lot better

then she knew Kate but she agreed that Kate should give it a try. If she failed,

Sheila, as her teacher, had a better, less threatening chance. I told her that I

would ask Kate to touch base with her mother and see if we could get her

agreement to participate in mediation, or some process aimed at finding a less

painful way for them to communicate.

I dropped them off and got back to the office a little past 2:00 p.m. A big

lunch, last evening’s late hour carousing in the abandoned house, and too little

sleep had worn me down.

I checked my e-mails and phone messages. I am a bit of a throwback as

far as phone messages are concerned. Some years earlier, we were compelled

to accept electronic phone messaging. As a proud Luddite, I could not bring

myself to add one more beeping, ear-slaughtering electronic doodad to my

limited wired world. While the rest of my office mates had accepted their new

toy, I had simply refused. If someone called the office and wanted to leave a

message, one of the front office staff would take it. It was a simple act of defiance,

not much understood except perhaps by those people who were paid to

take messages and provide related supports to people like me.

It wasn’t a stretch to see that in the very near future, professionals would

be responsible for all of their record keeping. There might be some ethical

benefit to having sole responsibility for the work, the documentation and the

outcome, but what it also did was isolate the social worker, and that isolation

accelerated the burden of personal responsibility that most workers were shadowed

with. In and of itself, this was a reasonable complication, but most, in my

experience, buckled with the weight of it. I had crumbled some months earlier

with the insurmountable tonnage of it all. All of my layers of culpability had

crushed in on me, like multiple streams of lava, and eventually, inevitably, predictably,

I had hardened into immobility; I had become frozen in the moment, my

own petroglyph.

As much as I hated to admit it, I needed to rest my eyes.

I walked to the front of the office and told Roberta that I was going to take

a catnap for 20 minutes in the family room, where we had a sofa.

“Wake me in twenty, will ya Rob?” I had asked.

“Are you feeling okay?” she said, in a very concerned voice.

“Absolutely. It was a late night. Did Cathy tell you about our adventure?”

“She did, at coffee.”

“Well, maybe I’m just showing my age,” I replied.

“It’s about time,” she smiled.

“I love you too,” I said. “By the way, when is Cathy due back?”

“She said three, Wally. But you know she sometimes runs over time with

her youth.”

Didn’t we all sometimes, I asked myself. You could never give the youth

we worked with enough time. They would invariably suck the soul out of

you. Maybe that was our role; someone for the dispossessed to feed on, to

be nourished by our energy and wellness. And there were some very healthy

practitioners in the field. On that sheen of professional ice, I saw them skate so

well. In the taut skin of the professional, all the jiggles of misgiving, the waves

of apprehension, and the currents of despondency were held in check by that

tensor bandage of expertise.

But I had my own self-doubt, my own limits. The work culture I was

immersed in did not really embrace the sort of examination that would

encourage serious reflection. If it did, there would follow the compunction to

effect change. And change was actively discouraged. I mean, who had the time?

“If you would wake me at three, I’d appreciate it, Rob”

I fell asleep in seconds. It wasn’t an appreciably large couch, but I squirreled

into it and faded. I never used to nap. When I was younger, I could function

on five or six hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep. Those times had slipped

away from me, and my body and restless mind needed to adapt to the ways of

the older worker. My favourite dream reappeared. I am in the warm sun, the

topography is flat; the road I am walking on leads away into some far-flung

hills. I am thirsty, and water instantly appears. A cool spring gurgles by the side

of the road. I lower myself to the side of the stream, drink, and am quenched.

Hunger overtakes me. Food materializes. I sit at a table by the roadside; there

is a checkered table cloth, red wine in a clay jug, goat’s cheese, an assortment

of olives, and warm bread fresh from the oven. I feast and quaff the wine. A

breeze blows in from the sea, waves softly lap onto the beach that has replaced

the road I was trudging on.

I lie down on the sand and sleep, and dream of the mountains I will climb

when I am rested…..

 

Cover (1)

What follows is one of Bill’s Gentrified Soul articles that he publishes in the island’s monthly journal. It gives you an idea of what he is all about.

 

Part 39-Confessions of gentrified soul-A how-I-learned-to-work-then-leave-it-all-behind reminiscence

Bill Engleson

“I had to quit my taxi cab driving job because I had no way to get to work. The problem was I kept calling myself to come pick me up.” Jarod Kintz

An early episode of Leave it to Beaver has the Beaver, age 10, and Wally, age 12, sharing a newspaper route with 58 customers. They get the job in order to earn money to buy bikes.

Their job is not arduous! I should know.  I traipsed lightly as a paper boy for 4 years, from age 11 to 15 with, on average, 60+ customers. I did my route (I was route 66, incidentally, so I was thrilled to see the TV show come to the airwaves half-way through my paperboy exploits) on my lonesome. I didn’t have a younger brother tagging along. I did have a kid sister but she wasn’t all that collaborative.

Like the Beav and Wally, I had drive. Of course, I did subcontract out Mondays for most of those four years. Mondays, I bowled! 5 pin! I embraced, at a young age, a healthy work-play balance. In the fifties, there was great promise of much leisure time. I wanted to be ready.

Alas, the Beaver and Wally survive a little over a week in the news delivery game— actually, 26 minutes of real time. They lose their position because Ward, their papa, doesn’t trust them. He and mama June step in pre-emptively, without consulting the young entrepreneurs, and deliver the wrong Saturday papers, expired leftovers from the previous week! The lads are discharged because of interfering parental units! Ward makes amends in the end, gets them their job back by explaining what a meddling doofus he is, but, by then, his sons have moved on. They are off to see about getting a job at a supermarket. Packing boxes! An indoor job!

“I believe that if a man does a job as well as a woman, he should be paid as much.” Celeste Holm

The synchronicity for me is stupefying. I am relating like crazy. A few months after my paperboy days, I scored a job stocking shelves at a supermarket. Butter fingers that I was, I dropped copious jars of ketch-up—this in those long-ago, mostly pre-plastic days. The linoleum was regularly splattered with shards of glass and oozing buckets of blood-red condiment. During my apprenticeship, I had deftly manhandled all sorts of glass food products with a juggler’s dexterity. Unfortunately, that knack didn’t translate under fire. Like some gory theatre of war, the floors of the Nanaimo Safeway on Townsite Road ran crimson pretty much on my every shift. I was doomed.

Subsequently a red brick corner grocery store down the street from my house took a chance on my measly stocking skills. There was less of a factory feel to this job. I hung on to it for most of that year. The pace was manageable; damage was modest.

“Working cuts down on both folly and wisdom.” Mason Cooley (b. 1927) U.S. aphorist.

As I watched the LITB episode that one winter’s day, I began to wonder if anything I had ever done was truly original. Did my life somehow navigate in the same watery script-canal written for the Beav and his artificial family tree?

After my 4 year stint delivering the Nanaimo Daily Free Press, and before my two sojourns in the food retail racket, I worked briefly for a chiropractor. He had a business empire that included a soda fountain and a toy store along with his practice. I was fifteen and naively convinced myself that I had found my life’s target. With my considerable business flair, honed from four solid years of stick handling fiddly route collection payment requirements, not to mention the generous tips I was sometimes given, clearly because I was a crackerjack freckle-faced capitalist and budding sycophantic salesman, I was poised to take up my true calling in the kick-ass world of commerce.

“If my films make one more person miserable, I’ll feel I have done my job.” Woody Allen.

The job with Dr. Bone-Cruncher lasted a summer. I was sacked for playing with the toys. Which toys I can’t remember. Likely, they were not age appropriate. But it wasn’t the toys and their allure that did me in and ruined my career trajectory. Nah! It was the windows. The pre-Bill Gates kind. I could not avoid leaving streaks on the windows I was assigned to clean — the ones that faced the street— the ones that showed people what great coffee and milkshakes we made— the ones that displayed and tempted one and all to buy our toys and other confections.

To this day, I still don’t do windows well. It’s a habit I can’t break.

“When I quit working, I lost all sense of identity in about fifteen minutes.” Paige Rense (b. 1929), U.S. author and editor, recalling her brief period of being a housewife.

What I really started to write about in this column (and obviously got side-tracked from early on) was that sense of bereavement that accompanies the end of a career. It is akin to giving up smoking. Even though I haven’t smoked the noxious weed in over a quarter of a century, I still crave the grungy taste and smoky-fire flavour of cigarettes.

Every once in a while, I want to go back to work. I was a social worker. As stupidly mindless as the bureaucracy was that I found myself in, good and meaningful labour was possible. I have written a novel about it which will be released shortly. Initially I wrote Like a Child to Home, I believed, to purge my lingering work demons. I now think it was to resurrect them, to savour them once again.

For me, work was always about the people who shared my journey. That is what I miss most.

These days, I sometimes watch TV in order to catch a glimpse of how people doing work are portrayed. I feast on gorgeous worksite interplay. Cop shows that illustrate the nitty gritty of work demands and relationships most closely match my idealized memory of my abandoned work world.

Lost in this voyeuristic mix of simulated work situations and memories of early entrepreneurial yearnings are my derailed tycoon impulses. A chance friendship with a lovely family of leafletting communists and the sizzling political furnace that was SFU circa 1965 ruined me for corporate ascendancy. I could no more hang on to those business dreams than I could grip those elusive bottles of sugary Heinz relief.

But I still think about work, about my lifelong orientation to it, my continued bemusement by it, my forever exile from it.                 

Thank you, Bill Engleson for sharing some of your writing with us. It’s easy to see why you have chosen such a lifestyle—idyllic for some, hellish for others—if I had the chance I’d be there like a shot too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The author hot seat: That was nice. What was it?

My guest today is Tricia Drammeh, another indie author struggling for recognition. I have always been struck by the thoughtful nature of Tricia’s writing with her sensitive portraits of young people on the verge of adulthood but not quite sure what they are about to plunge into. They are all flawed human beings, some of them damaged, and not all of them come through the story without suffering. All of them though are believable and touching—the hallmark of a writer with her finger on the pulse of humanity.

J: Tell us what the story/your work is about, the setting, the background, and where it takes the reader.

T: I have four published novels in three different genres. My latest release is Better than Perfect, and it’s a contemporary novel with romantic elements. It’s based in a suburban of Columbus, Ohio. Here’s the blurb:
Twenty-three-year-old Karlie is in the type of rut some people never escape from. With few friends, no boyfriend, and no plans to graduate from college any time in the immediate future, Karlie is as stuck in her ways as the elderly neighbor she spends all her time with. When her world is invaded by two surly twins bound for criminal court, a too-good-to-be-true love interest, and a cute cop who keeps showing up at the most inopportune moments, Karlie can either fight against the changes in her life, or embrace them.

kindle cover

J: Sounds as though you have the ingredients of a maybe-romance. What inspired the story in the first place?

T: The story began as my Camp NaNoWriMo project two years ago. I thought it would be a great idea to write a vampire novel. Needless to say, this didn’t quite pan out. There’s not a single vampire in sight, though I did try to create a love interest who resembles many of the romantic heroes we find in Young Adult and New Adult novels—he’s rich, attractive, and showers Karlie with attention. At first, Karlie thinks he’s the perfect guy, but as she gets to know him, she begins to redefine “perfect.” She realizes that having a “perfect” boyfriend is not nearly as satisfying as making her own way in the world or achieving her dreams.

J: Did you try to get agents/publishers interested? What reactions did you get? Have they been helpful in promoting/marketing your work?

T: When I wrote my first novel, I did the query/rejection circuit. Most of the rejections I received were based solely on my query letter and not on the work at all. With Better than Perfect, I chose to skip the query process and went straight to self-publishing.

J: A story with a romantic element that doesn’t follow the standard romance formula must be difficult to market. Has it been a handicap not being able to stick a handy label onto your books?

T: It has. Better than Perfect loosely skirts the romance/chick-lit genres, though I worry that if I market it as “romance,” readers will complain there isn’t enough sex. The book focuses on the evolution of the main character, and in many ways, the love-interest is more of an antagonist than a romantic hero. This is why I’m on the fence about labeling it a romance novel.
Out of all my books, the most difficult book to label has been The Fifth Circle. I ended up not really promoting it at all. Though it features two young adult characters, the subject matter is too edgy to market toward young adults. With young adult books, it can be very difficult to portray realistic characters and some of the situations they face without offending parents who like to pretend teenagers live in a land of cotton candy, rainbows, and unicorns. And, since there is no fantasy or romance, I can’t market it as genre fiction. Basically, the book has been hanging out on Amazon for over a year and I’ve sold less than fifty copies.

tfc

J: That is exactly the problem that faces many writers—trying to shoehorn their book into category that just doesn’t describe the work adequately. Straight romance is easy enough to market, but there is a tendency for publishers to ask for more sweet sticky romance than the story needs. I had a YA dystopian novel turned down by a very reputable publisher because the romantic element wasn’t strong enough. Romance during the Apocalypse? In a new Ice Age? With packs of mutant wolfdogs and hordes of the undead? Then there are parental expectations to contend with when the protagonists are young people. The entire planet could be torn apart by total war but you’d still get parents complaining about swear words. So, if you don’t fit into the most popular size, how do you tackle promotion?

T: With my young adult paranormal books, I was able to contact reviewers and bloggers because those books neatly fit into genres and were clearly intended for the YA audience. That’s not to say promotion was easy—it wasn’t. But at least I had some idea where to begin. With Better than Perfect, it’s very newly released, so I haven’t done much promotion. I do plan to contact some romance bloggers and we’ll see how that goes.

J: If you were to direct the public towards your novels, whose fans would you solicit?

T: Fans of Marian Keyes, Jennifer Weiner, or Emily Giffin would enjoy my new book.

Anyone who’d like to learn more about my books can find me at my website: http://www.triciadrammeh.com. You can find links to all my books there.

Thank you Tricia for letting me interview you; I know self-promotion isn’t something you jump at. There are a lot of universal truths in your books that give them a depth not often found in novels about the trials and tribulations of young people juggling school and adulthood. There is nothing flippant or dewy eyed about your characters of the portrayal of their problems. For me, they exemplify exactly what I understand by the term young adults: young people on the cusp of adulthood, still dependant on the family environment however dysfunctional that may be, but already with some of the maturity, responsibilities, and outlook of adults.