Legacy Blog #29: Freshman Year

My Beloved Daughter,

Starting high school back in Van Buren, MO, was more of a shock that you would expect.  I had left in the third grade and was returning in the ninth.  People I’d known before had changed significantly during my absence.  Aside from physically maturing, they had formed their cliques.

And I, having been away, was not included in them.

The ridicule started almost immediately.  I had gained quite a bit of weight during my tenure in Campbell.  Plenty of afternoon cartoons—along with a certain teacher who overloaded us with homework—took away my outside time.  Over my time there, I grew to hate being outside.

And my gut expanded.

The friends that I’d left when I moved away were no longer my friends when I had returned.  They had become the popular kids, athletes and class clowns.  And, like most of the popular kids that you’ll find in school, they kept themselves popular by putting down those who weren’t popular.  I hated going to school and would often fake being sick to keep from having to go.

There were exceptions, of course.  Some kids seemed to be above that game.  Two guys in particular, Bryan Hawkins and Joseph Markham, were friendly to those of us who were less than popular and didn’t seem to care who noticed.  I’d trade NES games with Bryan, who was a preacher’s kid.  Joseph often went out of his way to stop the ridicule that I would get.

There was Candy Adams, a pretty girl who was on the drill team (I think), who was kind to pretty much everybody.  I kept in touch with her after high school and we carpooled to college when were both going to Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff.

And there was your Uncle Evan.  Moving to Van Buren from Alaska in January of 1990, he sat next to me in English.  I can remember seeing him draw a map one day and asking him about it.  Lo and behold, we both played Dungeons & Dragons!  He and I struck up a friendship that has lasted for nearly thirty years.

My cousin Mark married Mary Clardy that very same year.  Her brothers and sister became long-term friends of mine and we’d all play D&D and video games together.

And this was all just my freshman year.  Also, during that year, I had Speech (I think it’s called Public Speaking now) and English with Tim Hager that year.  Aside from his encouragement in my writing, he also played a major role in me leaving the liberal mindset behind for the more practical (in my not-so-humble opinion) conservative point of view.

I grew to adore our school librarian, Mrs. McDowell.  She had been there when I started Kindergarten and was there when I graduated from High School.  She even wrote a college recommendation letter when I was thinking of going to College of the Ozarks and needed two teachers to recommend me to them.

There was Mr. Freeman, the science teacher and one of the most intelligent men I have still ever met.  He complimented me on being a hard worker and became one of my favorites from that point on.

Despite all of these positives, I still hated going to school and putting myself in the midst of those who took pleasure in putting me down.  But my grades suffered and I got my first failing mark that year.  So I decided to go into my sophomore year with a new attitude.  I resolved to lose weight that summer (not having more than two channels in the outskirts of Van Buren made that much easier than I had thought that it would be).  And, while the ridicule of my peers had made me dread going to school, I went into the summer resolved to begin the following year fresh, only missing school if I was truly sick.  And I followed through on that resolution.  How did I manage to change my attitude about school for the next year?

I made more friends.

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Legacy Blog #28: Strong, Arkansas

My Beloved Daughter,

Strong, Arkansas, was a nice little town, situated about seventeen miles north of the border to Louisiana.  It had an even smaller population that winter-time Van Buren.  The junior high school, where I spent the last half of my eighth-grade year, was tiny.  Everyone was friendly.  Unlike the other schools that I had gone to, the cliques in this school weren’t hateful.  Nobody treated me poorly.  Nobody picked on me or put me down.  Over all, it was a peaceful school.

And, yet, I was miserable.  Yes, Campbell had bullies and mean kids.  But I also had good friends there.  I had kids I’d hang out with outside of school.  We’d ride bikes together, play video games together, watch movies together . . ..

I didn’t have those kinds of friends in Southern Arkansas.  The kids in school treated me well.  Outside of school, nobody ever visited.  I usually spent my time in my room, hand-writing my stories and playing my NES.  The only person who was ever around was my cousin, Leon, who lived in nearby El Dorado.  I saw him maybe once every other week or so.  Your Uncle Greg drove a truck for Uncle Roger and lived in that finished sunroom in the house for a while, but he was ten years older than me and didn’t want to hang out with his kid brother, needless to say.

Two important things to my later life came into play while we were living there.  First, I watched a horror movie (Witchboard) that I had recorded when we were still living in Campbell.  I hadn’t figured out how to program it to stop at a certain time and it recorded the movie that came on after it.  That movie, American Ninja 2, caught my attention and I watched it over and over.  I visited the two video rental places in town and rented every ninja movie that I could find.  I was obsessed.  And, as you can tell from my ADVENTURE CHRONICLES series, that obsession hasn’t faded in the last nearly thirty years.

The second—and much more important thing—was that your Grandpa Chuck  got hurt again.  He had ridden to Baton Rouge, LA, to keep your Uncle Ronald company while he made a delivery for Uncle Roger.  While at that warehouse in Louisiana, your Grandpa was helping to unload boxes and didn’t realize that Uncle Ronald was backing up in a forklift.

Yep.  Your Grandpa Chuck got run over by a forklift.  With his emphysema, he was so short of breath while moving those boxes, the beeping of the reverse sound from the forklift didn’t register in his head.  His leg was broken in seven places.

Within a month of us living in Arkansas, Grandpa Chuck was on Workman’s Comp.  He spent the next several months healing up.  Afterward, it was decided that your Grandpa was going to have to file for Disability.

The Workman’s Compensation continued as we moved back to Van Buren.  Since we owned the land there, it was necessary to move there in order to save money.

We lived in Southern Arkansas from March of 1989 until September of 1989.

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Legacy Blog #27: What’s in a Word?

My Beloved Daughter,

I’m going to leave chronological order again this week.  I was discussing regional versions of different languages with a couple of coworkers today and it reminded me of your Grandma Pat.

As you know, she was a southern woman.  I did tend to get irritated at how she pronounced wash.  She always put the r in it.  She’d pronounce it “warsh,” which your mother and, now, you do.  As I type this, Microsoft Word puts a squiggly red line under that spelling.  Do you know why?  BECAUSE THAT IS NOT THE PROPER SPELLING OR PRONUNCIATION!!!

Grandma Pat had other special ways of saying things.  We would shop at “Walmarts.”  The middle of the week was “Wenjday.”

Your Grandpa Chuck would join in on the fun, too.  When we had spaghetti, we were eating “Eyetalian.”  And the little truck that he wanted me to get was a “Tyeota,” rather than a “Toyota.”

GG also had her unique way of saying things.  For example, I would heat food up in the “Micawave.”

And then I met your mother.  She brought her Americanized version of English words.  To check the oil in the car, I had to pop the bonnet.  To stow the luggage for a trip, I had to pop the boot.  If it was raining, she wanted me to grab the bumbershoot.

She was also funny in that she picked up the accent of anyone she was around.  We’d go visit my parents and she‘d come back to St. Charles sounding like a hillbilly.

So your creative way of speaking comes to you honestly.

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Legacy Blog #26: The Move to Arkansas

My Beloved Daughter,

Our final year in Campbell was a whirlwind.  Not long after buying that house on Franklin Street, your Grandpa Chuck’s employer trumped up a reason to fire him.  Something about him being a couple of minutes late getting back on the boat from shore leave.  Considering that he had worked for them for ten years, letting his lungs deteriorate in the process, he had never been late before.  One time and he was fired?  I think there was more going on there.  We did go after them for a financial settlement over his health issues.  Since it literally took them four years to settle, I’ll get to that in a later post.

So, after he was fired by the towing company, he went to work as a diesel mechanic for your Grandma Pat’s brother, Uncle Roger, at his company in El Dorado, Arkansas.  This kept him gone longer and he had to travel to see us, so he wasn’t making enough to support us in Campbell and keep himself fed in Arkansas.  To try to supplement the income, Grandma Pat got a job as a nurse’s aide, working with Aunt Ruth in a nursing home in the nearby town of Malden, Missouri.  It went well for a while, until she hit a snag.

Your Grandma Pat had worked as a nurse’s aide before I was born.  She liked taking care of people, so it fit.  Unfortunately, by the time I was in junior high (what you now call “middle school”), it required a certification.  And Grandma Pat didn’t know if she could handle going back to school that late in life.  So she ended up quitting the job.  It was decided that we would move out of that house in Campbell and move down to join Grandpa Chuck in Arkansas.

Our last week in Campbell, during the early part of March of 1989, was a freezing one.  I had just celebrated my fourteenth birthday, to little fanfare.  We couldn’t afford to pay the gas bill and the gas company came out and shut it off . . . again, during 0ne of the coldest winters on record.  We spent a week in that house, bundled up at all times in blankets.

Then, Grandpa Chuck and Uncle Ronald, who was driving a truck for Uncle Roger’s company, showed up in one of those trucks and a completely empty trailer.  In the middle of the night, we loaded everything we owned into that truck.  I grabbed my cat, Linus, and joined Grandma in her car and we drove the six hours to southern Arkansas, to a little town called Strong.

Linus threw up on me sometime during the trip.

I remember the house that we moved into down there.  It was actually very nice.  It had a sunroom that had been finished with carpet, along with two bedrooms.  It was smaller than what we had lived in in Campbell.  But at least it was warm.

And it was the first time that Grandpa Chuck had worked in a job where he could come home every night since I was five years old.

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Interview with J.L. MacDonald, Author of the NIGHTCAT Series

Today, we have a treat.  My good friend, J.L. MacDonald, has granted me an interview.  Enjoy!

 

  • Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?I had thought about it years ago when I first started writing.  I didn’t want to be a complete mystery so I decided to use my initials and last name instead so there’s a bit of anonymity but not completely.  In the future I’d like to write some other genres and I may write under a pen name then to avoid confusion for the readers who might see my name and automatically think the book is about superheroes.
  • What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?I’ve been extremely lucky in that department.  My best friend is an incredible editor/proofreader.  (It was due to his editing of my stories that he decided to take the writing plunge himself)

     

  • Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?I think it would really depend on what they are wanting to write and how much research they’d like to do on the subject.  I wouldn’t think it would be much different than a female author writing for a male character or vice versa (as an example).

    The writer could always use their … Vulcaness for lack of a better word…to their advantage as well.  They could very well have a character that is pretty stoic.

    Another thing is to take an emotion you are comfortable with and use that as a basis.  As an example, let’s say I have a character that LOVES sports whereas I don’t.  What I can do is use my passion of something else and transpose it to how that character feels.  I’d of course have to do some research on the actual sport to get the terminology correct.

    If a person wants to write, nothing should stop them from doing so.

     

  • If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?Don’t let the empty MS Word page mock you or intimidate you.  Ignore it, and the negative voices it your head, and just write.  First drafts aren’t supposed to be perfect. Just get the idea down.  You can’t edit something if it’s not there.
  • What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?Renting a table at the Regina Comic Con a few years back.  It was the first time I sold anything at a con so that experience was quite new to me.  I also met Keith Dobranski (AKA Mod Master Heroclix) who knew me on Deviant Art.  Neither one of us knew that we only lived an hour away.  We became quick friends and Keith has done the cover art for “Metahumans vs Robots” and “Metahumans vs The Ultimate Evil”.  Keith is a phenomenal artist and I like to poke his brain about art related questions I have.

     

  • What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?So far I’ve only written two short stories from a male POV and I didn’t feel it was much different than writing from a female POV.  When I wrote the one story from Det. David Rayner’s viewpoint, I was staying true to the character’s personality.  He’s appeared in all, if not most, of my Nightcat stories so I know him pretty well and didn’t find it that difficult to write.

    In my first Nightcat novel, several things happen to her that could only happen to a female.  I may share the same gender as Nightcat, but our experiences are vastly different so in that respect so for me there’s no more difficulty writing for a female character than for a male character.

     

  • Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?I do because you can sometimes get good feedback.  I don’t have that many reviews at the moment, and only one had some criticisms.  I feel like I can learn from those types of reviews and become a better writer.

    I don’t mind if someone didn’t care for the book as everyone has different tastes.  If I got a “This book sucks” review, without any explanation, then I’d be scratching my head trying to figure out if it was the genre they didn’t like, the writing or if they were simply a troll.

     

  • If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?Oh, that’s easy.  Write more.
  • Have you ever Googled yourself?Some days when I’m bored.  I have a fairly common name (there was one other person in my hometown that had the same first and last name and same middle initial) so I get a fair amount of hits. I’ve also Googled various character names of mine out of curiosity.

     

 

    1. So, you probably get asked this a lot but where did you get the idea for Nightcat?

      I actually came up with the idea when I started high school.  I was just getting into the superhero genre with the X-Men and Spider-man cartoons.  I noticed that female cat characters were, for the most part, someone that had a penchant for cats and had lots ot tech to simulate a cat’s abilities.  At the time I was also a big fan of Disney’s Gargoyles.  One of the storylines involved human/cat hybrids.  That got the cogs in my head turning and I it was then I decided to make a superhero that was actually a cat.  One of the things I grappled with early on is whether or not to give Nightcat a mask.  I’m a bit of a softie and didn’t want her to permanently be in a cat form, so I gave her the ability to change back into her human form.  That basically gave her a built-in secret identity so logically she wouldn’t need to hide her identity with a face covering.  I know there are some superheroes out there that don’t wear masks, but I think there’s more that do.  Back then it was almost part of what made a superhero a superhero.  It took me a while to come to get comfortable with the fact that Nightcat had no need for a mask.  When I look back on it, I’m glad I didn’t give her one.  It’s far easier to draw an expressive face on her without worrying about trying to convey it through a mask. 

 

  • How much of you is in Dana Harker?A fair amount actually.  When I started writing about her, I knew I wanted to look at all aspects of her life and personality.  I didn’t want to the character to be two dimensional.  And being a newbie writer at the time, I used myself as a template in a way.  I sat down and thought of my own likes and dislikes and gave some of them to Dana.  Dana isn’t a carbon copy of me, she’s definitely her own person.  We’re both techies and work with computers, but our jobs are quite different. She’s also a lot more comfortable being around people.  Dana likes her alone time, but she isn’t socially awkward.  Our sense of humour also differs a lot.

    In regards to the similarities in appearance, it’s really only the red hair that’s the same.  And honestly, I didn’t make her a Ginger because I’m one.  Before I even thought what Dana would look like, I figured out Nightcat’s look and worked “backwards” to figure out Dana’s.  Nightcat’s hair style, and colour, was inspired by Simba from The Lion King.  Other than Nightcat’s alternate leg structure her body structure is the same in human form so it would stand to reason Dana would retain Nightcat’s red hair.
  • How much of you is in Nightcat?It’s funny, because this answer is much different than the answer to the last question, even though Nightcat and Dana are the same person.  Nighcat’s personality is pretty similar to Dana’s albeit a bit more outgoing.  She can also handle being in the public eye without worrying what others think.  Dana can handle it as well,but she would prefer to stay in the background. She also knows that she can’t really do that when she’s Nightcat so she just rolls with it.

    Nightcat is quite good at making quips.  It’s like she doesn’t really have to hold back like Dana would have to at work. I tend to think of great comeback lines long after the conversation is over.

    Nightcat is quite confident.  It’s not like she ever has to worry for her own safety (generally speaking)  She knows that if something happens, she’ll be able to deal with it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not agoraphobic or anything but I don’t exactly walk down dark alleys at night either.

     

  • If you could have a crossover between Nightcat and any mainstream comic character, who would it be?  Would they start out as misunderstood opponents or would they be pals right off the bat?It’s kind of a toss up between Spider-man and Deadpool.  Spidey is my favourite and I think he and Nightcat would get along, though his constant quips might make her shake her head.  Plus there’s the age difference, depending on the version of Spider-Man of course.  Nightcat is in her late 20s and if Spidey is depicted in his teens, there could be a small some disconnect there.  For the most part, I think they’d get along.  Possibly even having a teenage Spidey looking up to her.

    As much as I love Spidey, I think a crossover between Nightcat and Deadpool would be far more humorous.  DP’s juvenile behaviour and childish sense of humour would really throw Nightcat for a loop, and she would have no idea how to react.

 

 

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Legacy Blog #25: Grandpa Chuck’s Emphysema

My Beloved Daughter,

As we’ve mentioned before, your Grandpa Chuck had many health issues.  He used to tell me how, when he broke his leg falling off of that building when he was still married to his first wife, he had spent so much time with his leg elevated in the hospital that he had to force it down when he was walking out to the car after being released.  I don’t know how serious he was . . . your grandpa was always such a joker.

The emphysema was much more serious.  There was no cure.  I remember the early stages of what caused him to go in to be diagnosed.  He would come in from doing something outside, like mowing the grass or working on a car, only to sit in his chair and breathe like he had just finished running a marathon.

Of course, your Great-Grandpa Winfred had emphysema but the only side-effect that I remember was him coughing up stuff all the time.  I didn’t realize that he had trouble breathing.  Of a truth, your Grandpa Chuck probably wouldn’t have deteriorated as far as he did, had it not been for two things.

First, the emphysema was caused mostly from working with ammonia, which was hauled on the barges that his company moved up and down the Mississippi River.  From what I understand, an employee was only supposed to work on them for five years and then be moved to a different position.  Your Grandpa was one of the best employees that they had, however.  Rather than moving him off after five years, they kept him there and put him in charge of the bargemen.  It took him specifically telling them that he couldn’t work in the ammonia anymore before they did the right thing and moved him into the engine room.

We can’t place all of the blame on the ammonia.  Your Grandpa was a smoker.  I don’t recall if he smoked as much as your Grandma Pat (I tend to think that NOBODY smoked as much as her), but he did smoke.  It took our family physician telling him—way after your Grandpa Chuck’s health had deteriorated to a point of him not being able to work—that he wouldn’t survive another year, before he finally put the cancer sticks down and quit cold turkey.  I think he finally quit when I was maybe twenty.  I know he wasn’t smoking anymore when I met your mother at twenty-two.

I look back at the sacrifices that he made for his family and it still brings tears to my eyes.  Although he never really held any ill-will toward his employer, I have looked at their website in bitterness.  Unlike when your Grandpa slaved away for them, they now consistently get EPA awards for their barges, as they have figured out how to keep them safe for their employees.  I just wonder how many lungs had to be damaged before they made the effort to do so?

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Updates

It’s been a bit since my last blog update.  I’ll be getting back into the swing of things this week.  I should have my weekly “Legacy Blog” back up and running on Friday.  Just a few updates, for now.

My family and I went on a cruise to the Bahamas in the middle of February (I love working at a travel agency!).  We had a great time and it was memorable getting to share this experience of my daughter’s leaving the country with her.  It was her first trip abroad and she really enjoyed herself, even making a new friend that she’s keeping in contact with via email.

I turned forty-two on the 2nd of March.  At first, it seemed like an unimportant year.  After all, the next milestone for me is fifty.  Ugh!  I consoled myself by remembering that, according to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the number forty-two is the answer to the question of life.  So, I’ve got that going for me.

I’m going to force myself to get back into writing.  I’ve gotten several chapters into Book Seven and hit a wall.  I have the ending scene in my head . . . I just can’t bring the characters to that point.  I’ll get there, though.

Finally, as I write this, it’s my father’s birthday.  He would have been seventy-five years-old today.  We lost him eleven years ago and that’s just proof that time doesn’t heal all wounds.  I still miss him as much as ever.

Until next time, God Bless.

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