Tuesday, May 6, 2008
It's my pleasure to introduce......
When I wrote Savannah from Savannah, my very first attempt into the world of fiction, I never dreamed where this road would take me. But what it did take were people that believed in me along the way.
The first person was my close friend and agent at the time Esther Fedorkevich. After reading the first couple hundred pages of what would become my own personal attempt at a Gone With the Wind epic, finally coming in at over 600 pages...she said, "I think this is good!"
"You're not serious." I told her.
"Yes, I am. Let me pitch it and see what happens."
And she did.
The other person that took a chance on me and believed in my ability to tell a story was my Editor, Ami McConnell. I'll never forget the first day we sat across from each other over salads at The Tin Angel restaurant on West End Avenue here in Nashville. We had so much in common. We had both lived in Charleston. And we both loved cokes. McDonald cokes. She even knew about their calibration system! And she loved my story. And she helped create it into a dream allowing me to walk into a bookstore and see it on the shelf.
There have also been two moments in my life where people have basically called me into my destiny. The first was Nancy Alcorn, founder and president of Mercy Ministries of America, who called me on the phone about six months after I moved to Nashville. Only the night before I had been sitting in the floor of my apartment crying and telling my parents over the phone that if something didn't happen I was coming home. Two days later I was in Nancy's office helping her finish her book Echoes of Mercy. When she called me that night to ask for my help I said, "Nancy, I'm not a writer."
She said, "Oh, yes you are."
And from that day forward I was. Because one woman believed I could be.
The second time came when my friend David Spring asked me to help him teach a college and career class at the church we attended at the time. I said, "David, I don't teach." (You think I'd learn to quit saying what I don't do.) And he said, "But I really think you are and I think this is something you should do." That statement started what has now been ten years of traveling and teaching.
Today, it is my privilege to call four young people into their destiny. I introduce you to four writers. I say that, because they simply are. They are incredibly talented individuals and it is my privilege to have read their stories. I honestly wish I could have posted all one hundred and fifteen stories I received. They were amazing! I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and heart of these young people. But more than that at their incredible gift to tell a story. May you enjoy this preview of what will possibly be some of our future's finest story-tellers....
The Music Box
“Sam, what are we gonna do?” Alex asked worry filled her expression.
“I have no idea Alex.” Sam replied sadly disappointed.
“Well?” Alex paused, thinking. “What do you think Kayla?”
“Uh.” I searched my mind for a reasonable answer, but there wasn’t one. “That music box belonged to our great grandma. She’s dead. Where could it have gone if no one else knew about it?”
“Well, it’s gone so obviously someone does.” Sam retorted almost angry.
“Why would someone want an old silver music box with an ‘L’ on it?” Alex practically thought out loud.
“It doesn’t make sense!” I was frustrated. I was the youngest of the family. Samantha, Sam, was the oldest, and Alexandria, or Alex, was just older than me. I guess you could say that we were the least proud family in our town. The only family without a boy, to help Pa work on the farm. That’s why he left us.
Mom is still sad even though that was years ago. She works all day in the village square, selling handmade trinkets. Me and my sisters would stay home all day because schooling was not offered to girls. I think that is just stupid! We are just as smart as the men may be smarter. I have gotten over that though, I had been wishing for this since I was five when all my real playmates had gone off to school, eight years ago.
“It doesn’t even work well.” I stated the fact as if it was part of a mystery, cause it was. This was a Sanders’ family mystery, and if no one else helped me I would solve it myself.
“But remember what value it held for Louisa. It was gold to her.” Alex added considering this to be a clue in the mystery of the music box.
“Shy does it matter? It’s gone and we’re never going to see it again!” Sam angrily said as she shut the trunk of the family heirlooms, where the music box once laid.
“Sam!” I nearly yelled. This was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. I wasn’t going to let it slide. “Although mom wouldn’t care if it was gone, she’s probably happy about it. But this belonged to dad’s mother and her mother! We have to get it back!” I was fuming! “This was our mystery to solve and trust me I will!””
“Well don’t plan on me giving you any help.” Sam said as she stood and left the room.
“Why does it matter so much McKayla?” Alex asked as she too stood.
I was the only one left kneeling on the floor. I stared up at her. She had called me by my full name. Only my mother had ever really called me that. Alex was actually the one that had started to call me that when I was little.
“Because-I don’t want to sit around stitching all day! I want to have fun!” Mother would have yelled at me for that. Me, Sam and Alex were her employees, we help make what she sells.
“Well,” Alex paused again. She had to decide. “I am going to do my chores, but if you need my help or ever need to talk, I am here.” After saying this she too left the room. Alex was always the sister I liked more, because she was so stick-to-the-rules type of person like Sam. She was my friend.
I couldn’t blame Sam though. She was sixteen and legal for marriage. No one had asked her yet and she was nearing seventeen years. She had courted a few men but no one said she was the right one. It would ruin her reputation running around figuring out a mystery.
“Thank you Alex. I owe you something for this.” I said. I knew she couldn’t hear me, cause she had left, but it made me feel better to say it.
I opened the trunk again. No better place to look for clues, then the place that once held the stolen music box. I removed a few old quilts and some old men’s clothing. They used to be dads but he left most of his possessions. That is mostly how we got the music box. He gave it to her when they married. She put it in the trunk with everything that was a reminder of dad. She put it in the attic where she thought we wouldn’t find it, but when she’s gone we come up anyway.
I then emptied other little trinkets onto the floor. There were paintings, necklaces, baby outfits, and even some wooden toys. They must have been mine when I was little.
My hand reached into the trunk to retrieve the last item. It was a little pink bag with designs stitched on it. I had never seen this in all the years I had looked at and played with the items in the trunk. There was no way I had overlooked it. This was new.
“What in the world?” I said aloud, even though no one could hear me. I undid the button that held the purse closed. I paused before I put my hand in the purse and pulled two items out.
I set the purse down and looked at the items from the purse. There was a locket, nicer than anything that we had a purple gem locked into a steel circle. It was on a silver chain. Inside the gem was a letter “M.”
“Whose name starts with a ‘M’ other than mine?” I asked aloud. “M…M…” I searched my mind for a good explanation. “Madelyn!”
I realized after a moment, that was my mother’s name. I didn’t know her by that name because she went by Lynn. Her parents spelled her name like that because that’s what one of their friend’s name was. They had always liked it.”
My attention then turned to the slip of paper that was also in the purse. It read:
I am sorry. I am only doing what I think is right.
The throne awaits me and you said you wanted nothing
to do with it! So you implied that you did want anything to do with me. This necklace is yours now.
My mouth dropped open. Is my dad really going to be king? I flipped the paper over again to make sure there wasn’t more. This is my biggest clue yet. Had my own father stolen the music box? Something caught my eye:
black smith, right
3rd right house, it
It was squabbled handwriting but it may be more of a clue. I looked farther down the page and found what I was looking for:
Don’t be late
I read it again. He was meeting somewhere, at the inn at 5pm. It must be about 4:20. I have to go- now! I took the necklace and put it on. I couldn’t leave it. I stuffed the note in my apron pocket. I grabbed what I knew was dad’s cloak and put it on, leaving the hood down. I ran down the stairs extremely grateful that no one saw me. I ran out the door.
It wasn’t uncommon for people to wear cloaks this time of year. It was fall. Dusk wouldn’t be in too long. It would signal that I was late. I kept to the outskirts of town. I wouldn’t want to meet up with my mother.
I had lived in this town my whole life and I knew it very well. I came to a place I knew I was safe to enter into. It was nearest to the inn, and a place I wouldn’t meet my mother.
I let out a sigh as the inn came into sight. There were lots of horses and carriages up front, because it was the only inn in town. I pulled the hood of my cloak over my head to cover my hair. Women didn’t really come into this part of town, but I had to.
It was silly to be so attached to this music box and to get into this much trouble for it, but I really wanted to see my father again. He left when I was four, nine years ago and I vaguely remember him at all.
Then the sound was so clear that I knew it was near, the music box’s song. The tune would sing me to sleep every night when he still lived with us, and for a little after he left. It was music to my ears then, now it was a haunting sound, I knew my father was near. A branch broke and I whipped around. There was a boy in the street, about my age but no younger. I recognized him, but knew he couldn’t be my father.
“My music box!” I whimpered as I saw him turning the handle allowing it to play on.
“Actually-I think it is my father’s music box.” The voice was menacing.
What does he mean his father? Are we related? “What are you talking about your… my voice trailed off when I saw him, my very own father walking toward us.
The young man flipped around to face the man too. Only I spoke, “Father?”
He looked at me in surprise. He studied me, but showed no emotion in his eyes. My hands shot up and pushed my hood back to show him who I was. He stared in the dusk at me. I stared back. This wasn’t how I thought it would be.
“McKayla?” He asked astonished.
“Yes-dad.” I managed to answer.
“Eric run- hurry!”
My mouth dropped open. What had my father just said? “Wait dad!” I began to run after them but found it hopeless to keep up with them “My music box!” I tried to reach for it but it was a helpless cause. They were running away, far away from me now.
Although it was helpless, I stepped toward them. My foot stepped on something small. I bent down and picked it up.
It was my music box.
As he drove past miles and miles of countryside, Jacob couldn’t help but wonder what awaited him. He was traveling to his great uncle’s house, whom he had never met before in his life. His uncle was the president of a major road-building company, and had gained millions of dollars throughout his lifetime. Jacob was nervous about his destination.
“What if he’s mean?” He would ask himself. He was in a way, pessimistic about meeting his great uncle.
Jacob loved to listen to music. He loved all types of jazz, Latin, classical, contemporary. There wasn’t anything he didn’t like. For this reason, rarely would you see him without his IPod headphones bolted into his ears, when he wasn’t in school of course. As much as Jacob enjoyed listening to music, he never seemed to develop any talent for a musical instrument. Over the years, he had tried piano, guitar, drums, even going so far as the vibraphone when he developed a taste for jazz. It just didn’t come naturally. He could read music, just not play it.
As he entered the gates, he was amazed at what he saw. He had been closing his eyes; mesmerized by the new Radiohead album he had bought, and had missed driving through Montgomery. For the first time in several hours, he removed his earbuds. His uncle’s house sat on at least two acres of land, with clear deer and ducks everywhere.
“When we enter the house, I want you to take off your shoes right away.” His mom demanded.
Jacob looked down at his worn-out Converse.
“How long do we plan to stay?” Jacob was unsure about the whole trip.
“I’m not sure. We might make it a day trip, or spend the night if he offers. Is your hair okay?”
“Yeah.” Jacob ran his fingers through his brown hair as the butler walked out of the ten-foot tall wooden doors. He trodded with such perfection over to the minivan it appeared he was floating. While he and his mom talked, Jacob plugged in his headphones once again.
“He’s quite the music lover, is he not?” the butler asked, referring to Jacob sitting in the car.
“Yes,” Jacob’s mom said with a laugh, “He was born with a love for music.”
“Does he play an instrument?”
“We’ve tried many times to find him something, but he doesn’t seem to have a knack for anything. Jacob?” He was resuming his Radiohead album. When he saw his mom waving to him. He paused the song, and scurried out of the van and over to his mother. “Jacob, this is Mr. Blear, he will be showing us in.”
“Ah, yes of course, a pleasure to meet you, master Jacob.” Mr. Blear said with an affectionate smile.
“Follow me please.” As they walked along the path up to the front door, Mr. Blear noticed the earbud hanging out of Jacob’s left pocket. “I see you are always prepared for a concert?” Mr. Blear asked with a touch of humor. Jacob immediately put his hand in his IPod pocket. His face flushed. “Never a wrong time for music, I suppose.” Mr. Blear chuckled. Jacob’s mom stared him down scornfully.
“Welcome to the mansion.” Mr. Blear said as he opened one of the large, stained mahogany doors. As Jacob took off his shoes, his mom pleased, he saw a man in a wheelchair inch towards them. He smiled.
“Hello Jacob! It’s so nice to finally meet you. You’re quite taller than I expected you to be.”
“Master Jacob, my I show you to the music room?” Mr. Blear gestured to the winding stairs.
“You go have fun. I’m sure there’s something in there you’ll like.” His great uncle said. As Jacob and Mr. Blear walked down a large corridor, he couldn’t help but ask. “Why is he in a wheelchair?”
“He was in an accident many years ago, and it damaged his spine. He can no longer walk. It’s very unfortunate.” Mr. Blear said. Jacob looked at the green-carpeted floor. “Here is the music room.” Mr. Blear bellowed as he opened another mahogany door, a few feet shorter than the front one. Jacob was tingling all over with excitement.
“What he saw amazed him. Everywhere, every single corner of the room was covered with instruments, some of which he didn’t even recognize. In the very center of the room, elevated above the rest, was a grand piano, black and shining. “Wow, “ he whispered.
“A Steinway, the best in the world,” Mr. Blear said. “It’s his favorite to play, mainly because he has to sit when he plays it.”
“Do you play piano, Jacob?” Jacob turned around to see his great uncle entering the room. He wondered how he managed to get up the stairs.
“Elevator,” Mr. Blear whispered, noticing Jacob’s quizzical expression.
“Yep, this one’s my baby, I play it everyday.” his great uncle said, staring at the piano the whole time. Jacob was looking around the room, his eyes moving from a French horn, a bassoon, and a small piano-looking thing he recognized as a harpsichord. Finally, in the far left corner of the room, he saw a big, wooden instrument, like a bloated violin. “What is that?” Jacob said, pointing to the monstrous instrument.
“Oh, that’s a contrabass.” his uncle said. Jacob recognized the term. “Or a double bass, stand-up bass, take your pick.”
“It’s huge!” Jacob exclaimed.
“Would you like to play it?” his great uncle asked.
“Well, I don’t know…” Jacob didn’t want to embarrass himself.
“Mr. Blear, fetch him something to read.”
“Right away.” Mr. Blear said with a bow and exited the room.
Jacob stood in front of the giant. “Is it heavy?” he asked.
“You’d be surprised,” his great uncle responded.
Jacob lifted the contrabass from its stand, amazed at how light it was. “Do you know how it’s tuned?” his great uncle asked.
“No, I don’t.” Jacob responded.
“EADG. Top four strings of a guitar.”
Jacob plucked each string. “Oh, okay. That makes it easier.” He pounded out a basic 1 3 5 progression, amazed at how easy it was to locate the notes, considering there were no frets. Just then Mr. Blair re-entered the room. “Sir, I have selected a J.S. Back piece.”
“Excellent. Help me to my stool.” He was helped over to his piano stool.
“Here you are.” Mr. Blair handed Jacob his sheet, which he noticed was entitled. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” He knew the contrabass was a bass instrument, and began reading the notes and placing his fingers in the correct positions. “G,G,D,G…” he whispered to himself.
“Are you ready?” his great uncle asked him.
“Yep. I’m ready.”
“One, two, three, two, two, three,” his great uncle counted in. Jacob became locked into the music, his fingers automatically moving as he read the notes. His mom walked into the room, her mouth agape at the sight of Jacob playing the large instrument. Jacob looked up from his music, glad he had landed on a three-measure G, to see a tear running down his mother’s cheek. He was happy. He had found his instrument.
It was a brisk fall morning. The clouds were billowing over the orb of light that was the sun. I can’t say that I was glad to be inside, John L. Finnigan Middle School, but that’s where I was and at least it was warm. I glanced through the window and longed to throw on my jacket and sprint through that sweet-smelling, emerald grass.
I tuned out the extremely boring science lecture that I was getting from my extremely annoying teacher. I then turned to look at the empty seat next to mine I sighed. That’s how things always were with me- alone. It’s not that I don’t want to have friends, but nobody likes me. I was abruptly brought back to the dull classroom by a loud knock on the door. In walked our principal, not so closely followed by a rather small girl with blue jeans and a button-down, red sweater.
The girl had blonde hair that was almost white and curious, almond-shaped blue eyes. She bowed her head and stared at the floor. The principal’s demanding voice boomed off the walls. “Class,” he said, or otherwise yelled, “This is McKenna McPherson. She’ll be joining you from now on.”
He gave McKenna a hard clap on the back, almost sending her sprawling into the front row of desks. He chuckled nervously as he quickly exited the room. “McKenna,” my science teacher droned in his usual flat tone, “you can seat yourself next to Ellie.” He pointed in my direction.
McKenna nodded silently and practically ran to that empty chair. She sat down and the extremely boring science lecture resumed. I leaned over to her and whispered to her. “So…where are you from?”
McKenna grabbed both the pencil and the paper that I was supposed to be using for notes. She wrote something on the paper and then handed it to me. This was the oddest girl I’d ever seen. I looked nervously at the paper, not knowing what to expect:
That’s all it said. I gave her a weird look. McKenna took the paper back and wrote something else. I grabbed it eagerly this time:
I can’t talk. I’m sorry.
Well, that was strange. Was she afraid of the science teacher catching her? I told her that there was no possible way this could happen because the science teacher could talk through a semi-truck crashing into the school building. But, yet again, she scribbled something on the sheet:
It’s not like that. I really can’t talk.
I tried to hide my shock, but I have a feeling it didn’t work. She was a mute! Oh, the horror! How did she live? I felt the paper brush against my open palm. I looked at it:
Do you like classical music? I do. I play piano.
She really turned that thing around. I love classical music. I play the clarinet. I told her all this and more with great enthusiasm. We conversed in our special way animatedly for the rest of the period. Afterward, I invited her to sit with me at lunch. We discovered that both shared enjoyment of reading and writing as well as our passion for classical music.
As the days, weeks, and months passed by, McKenna and I became best of friends. We were scarcely ever seen apart. Soon the time came for students to begin auditioning for the school talent show. I was not going to try out. I love playing my clarinet-without people watching. McKenna was going to try though. On the day of auditions, I climbed onto the almost-empty bleachers and waited for McKenna’s turn. I was very worried about her because McKenna has huge confidence issues.
If she made the show her confidence level would raise a mile; but if she didn’t, she would shrink back into herself. When McKenna walked onto the “stage” and sat down or the piano bench, my hands were already sweating from nervousness. What if she did horrible? I had never heard her play before. She might stink! All of my anxious thoughts drifted away as McKenna began to play. Her fingers flew across the black and white keys at a mile a minute. It went from sad to joyous to majestic and other sounds and emotions too beautiful to explain.
I met her outside and we began to walk home. “McKenna,” I started, but could not find the words to finish. She flashed her amazingly happy smile at me and the right thing to say popped into my mind. “I loved it, McKenna. I really loved it.”
The next day, I arrived at school first. I sprinted to the audition results, feeling positively sure that McKenna had made it. My face turned grim when I realized that she had not. I couldn’t understand how she had not met their standards; she was a musical prodigy. I then remembered that the judges had been three teenage boys. Of course, they wouldn’t have quite enjoyed McKenna’s performance as much as I had.
I watched McKenna’s face for disappointment, but none showed. She took a pen out of her pocket and wrote something on her hand. She held it out to me:
Life goes on.
The Guy on the Corner of 32 and West
“Mike get up!” yelled my mom from the bottom of the stairs, “Today’s the day!”
I rolled over in bed and thought to myself. That’s what she’s been saying for five months. Life was hard for a twenty-four year old living with his parents. Apparently, this was the lucky day for me to get a job. “Lucky number 153 I think.” I mumbled as I trudged across the hall to the bathroom.
I couldn’t help but be depressed about the day. Some old house, same old parents, same old guy on the corner pointing and laughing at “Mike the guy that live with his mom.”
I walked out to the car and thought. No, today is the day. I ran upstairs and put on my dad’s blue and black dress suit, then I grabbed my mom’s set of keys and ran out to the garage. I opened the door to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and started it up. The engine purred and laughed at the 99’ Jeep Wrangler that was mine, and I drove out into a brisk Illinois morning.
I drove about fifteen miles into Chicago and began to browse my options. Burger King, American Eagle, all too low-class for me today. Then I saw the brand new BMW factory billboard saying: New assistant plant manager wanted. I drove to the outskirts of town and found it. I parked in the Assistant Manager space. Nothing like a little confidence, I thought.
I walked in through the crystal-clear glass doors and sought out the front desk. I asked the receptionist where I could get a job application. She smiled and handed me a slip of paper and a heavy silver pen.
I began filling out the application when she asked, “Is that your car over there?”
I replied smugly, “Why, yes it is.”
She whispered, “I’d park it out back. Mr. Parks doesn’t like other European cars. It might help you get the job.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll do that now.”
When I returned, she ushered me into a back room where I was seated in front of a serious looking man. He eyed me once then held out his hand. I handed him my application. He looked at it briefly, then said, “Welcome to Chicago BMW, Mr. Crews, I’ll show you your office.”
A week later, I drove through Chicago in my BMW 735 CI and stopped on the corner of 32 and West Street and rolled down the window. I pointed at the guy and said, “Hey, isn’t that the guy who needs to get a job?” He looked up as I sped off chuckling to myself.