Story Time: How My Second Grade Teacher Scarred Me For Life

More on my adventures at Thrillerfest/Pitchfest and in NYC next time.

Today I want to tell you a little story.

So gather round, kiddies. Feel free to organize yourselves in a semi-circle if you’d like. It’s story time.

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First of all, I would like to state from the get-go that this isn’t about anything sexual. I’m sorry if you got that impression from the title, but there are lots of ways authority figures can damage young minds.

I was about seven years old at the time. My first grade teacher from the previous year had submitted my name for a new program known as G.A.T.E., an acronym for gifted and talented education.

Not to toot my own horn, but I was a pretty smart child. By the time I entered grade school, I had already written a book of silly little poems. One of my teachers even wanted me to try to publish them. Remember,  most of the kids my age couldn’t yet read, much less write.

Anyway, this program was intended to nurture gifted young minds. I don’t remember how often, but I believe it was a few times a week if not daily, we were pulled out of our regular class for an hour or so and given activities to spark our creativity.

My regular second-grade teacher resented the program with a passion (more on that later). She was very vocal about her opposition to the program and would mock it whenever the opportunity arose. This was usually when the G.A.T.E. teacher would come to collect me. She would often make snide comments about it being time for me to go be “special”. Other times she wouldn’t say a word, but her icy glare said it all.

One day, I was given a project that was right up my alley. I was told to pick three slips of paper from a hat. We were then given fifteen minutes to make up a story based on the words written on them. I got Hero, Phantom, and Dragon. Luckily, those three words all kind of go together. I think I wrote a story about a hero and his pet dragon going to fight the phantom. I can’t really remember because I was seven and that story only existed in print for about a half hour.

After my session, I was sent back to my regular class, story in hand. As soon as I walked in, my freshly penned (penciled?) story was snatched out of my hand.

“Let’s see what they’ve got you doing in there.” My teacher sneered.

She read it quickly and then laughed at me. I was then made to stand in front of the class while she read it out loud and openly mocked me and the rest of the class laughed. I was in tears by the time she was done. She handed it back to me and told me to go to my seat.

As I sat there, trying to stop sniffling, I slowly tore the story I had once been so proud of into tiny little pieces.

And that, my friends, is how a teacher can scar a child for life. It was years before I could pick up a pen in any sort of creative way again. Even now, I suffer from bouts of crippling anxiety and self-doubt. I question my worth and won’t write a thing for months at a time.

I also stopped engaging in class. This was the event that taught me to keep my head down and not stand out. I refused to raise my hand even when I knew the answer. (Which was often.) I would rarely do my homework. A habit that persisted through high-school which left adults scratching their heads because I pretty much always aced the standardized tests. I think deep down, it’s why I’ve always been terrified of being good at anything. It’s why I’m forty and only just now really trying to make something of myself.

Now I’m not blaming all my problems on this one event. Remember, I was also the fat kid people liked to pick on. Still, I would definitely consider this a formative event in my life.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been different if I had published that book of silly poems. They weren’t that great, but I think that the fact they were written by a six-year old would have sold a lot of copies.

Later, I learned that this particular teacher wanted the program to fail because she had tried to get her daughter in but she was rejected. It also didn’t help that my dad was a cop, just like her ex-husband.

I know she had her issues and she was only human, but, and I can’t state this enough. I WAS SEVEN!!! How could an adult who is supposed to teach kids bully a child like that? She was the authority figure, so I took her opinion as fact. I never told my parents about it. If I had, I’m sure they would have raised hell.

I’m not sure the school would have been able to really do anything about it though. They might have given her a warning, but back in the eighties, I don’t think it was technically against the rules. Besides, it would have been my word against hers. Maybe some of my classmates might have backed me up, but she had done her level best to indoctrinate them to dislike the program and, by extension, me.

I don’t write this looking for sympathy. I just want to make people aware that this sort of thing can happen. This is why I’m opposed to tenure among teachers. I’ve had some really bad ones in my day, but getting rid of them wasn’t possible.

Anyway, I promise next week’s offering will be much cheerier. It will be more about my adventures in NYC. I’ll definitely talk about the rest of my experiences at Thrillerfest and if there’s time, my adventures exploring the city.

I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to post three times a week. On Monday, I will follow my Girlfriend’s example and post about what I’ve been reading. Wednesday will be a general post about what’s going on in my life or whatever I feel like rambling about. And of course, there’s Flash Fiction Friday. Which reminds me, I need to get working on that.

So that’s it for today. I’ll see you guys on Friday.

Also, I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have about writing or anything else, so don’t be afraid. I can’t promise I’ll have a good answer, but I’ll answer.

Don’t forget to stalk me online.

www.justinmkelly.com

Check me out on Facebook

On Twitter @JustinMKelly1

My Amazon page, in case you want to read more

And on Goodreads

And on YouTube

I also post a copy of this blog on Tumblr

My Trip To NYC For Thrillerfest/Pitchfest 2016 part 2

Let’s see. Where was I?

Oh yes, I had just arrived at Thrillerfest and was starstruck by all the famous authors I saw just standing around like normal people. Thanks to the help of Sandra Brannan, author of the Liv Bergen mystery series, and my personal friend, I got checked in, received my swag, and found myself free to mingle amongst the crowd. The crowd filled with bestselling writers.

I was timid at first, but before long, I was in amongst them and feeling like a fraud. Who was I to talk to these celebrities having had nothing published yet?

Surprisingly, they all turned out to be pretty normal people. Or at least, as normal as us artistic types can be. The point is, none of them seemed to think they were any better than me and were even willing to give as much advice as I could take. They all seemed to remember when they were at my level and honestly, didn’t seem to think they were that far ahead of me.

The highlight was when I approached R.L. Stine and timidly called him Mr. Stine and he told me to call him Bob. Here I was, on a first name basis with an author I had read for years. I’m not going to claim I read them as a kid, because the first one came out when I was a senior in high-school, but I read all of them I could get my hands on when they did come out. Luckily my girlfriend at the time had little brothers.

Anyway, not wanting to take up too much of his time, I just asked for a picture.

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I chatted with Bob for a few minutes before making room for his other fans and mingled in the crowd. I was sure to talk to as many famous authors as I could, but I also talked to several people like me who were still looking to break in and find an agent. It truly felt like a community. There wasn’t any of that competitive backstabbing you get in other professions.

I do have to confess one thing though. A couple of times, I found myself talking to someone, thinking  they were there to find an agent like I was, but when I looked at their badge, I realized they were very successful authors that I just didn’t recognize. I’m not going to say their names just in case they ever read this blog. To be fair, it’s hard to memorize a face when you’ve only seen it on the back of a book.

Anyway, when the mingling was done, everyone who was pitching a book was ushered downstairs for orientation. We were told we would stand in line to meet each agent and would have a limited time to pitch. I can’t remember what the official time was (I believe it was either one or two minutes) but we would be given that time to pitch, then the agent would either say they weren’t interested or if they were, would tell you what they wanted and how to get it to them, Of course the agents had discretion to either extend your time, or to cut you off if they could tell they weren’t interested. Both happened to me, although I’m happy to say the former happened way more often than the latter.

After orientation, we were paired with successful authors who gave us helpful advice for pitching. I was paired with Lissa Price, author of Starters and Enders. She was very sweet and helpful. I was sorry to say I hadn’t read her books, but both Shannon and her sister had and loved them. I’m currently reading Starters.

My heart sank when, after my practice pitch, in which I had referred to my book as Dystopian YA, she told me that dystopian had become somewhat of a bad word in the publishing business and to avoid using it at all costs. With her help, we came up with an alternative genre. I can’t at the moment remember what that was, but she said other than that one thing, my pitch was good and sounded interesting. I shook her hand and thanked her profusely before making my way back upstairs to pitch.

My first pitch went very well and she asked me for pages. My second, not so much. I got a few words into my pitch and my brain completely locked up. I couldn’t for the life of me string together a coherent sentence. I started to panic. My heart started to race and I couldn’t even think. Finally, I had to get up and walk away. Looking back, I think it was just that this particular agent clearly wasn’t interested from the get go and showed it. His glazed over eyes flustered me and things went downhill from there.

After that, things began to go more smoothly. Even though I don’t think my alternative genre fooled anyone, there was still quite a bit of interest. Once I had pitched to everyone on my list, there was still some time left. I didn’t expect much, but I didn’t see any point in standing there twiddling my thumbs when there were agents willing to talk to me. Surprisingly, this strategy was more successful than I expected and two asked for pages.

All told, six agents wanted to see partials, and two wanted the whole thing. Even better, there were also publishers there and  I got a yes from my dream publisher. Again, I’m not going to name names, because I don’t want to jinx it.

After the pitching was done, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. the hard part was done. Now I could enjoy the rest of the convention, starting with the Thrillerfest opening reception. There, while enjoying some delicious food and cocktails, I was able to talk to more authors of all levels.

I found myself seeking out other pitchfest attendees just to find out how they did. I was afraid my success was just normal and some of the agents were just being polite. As it turned out, this was definitely not the case. Many of my fellow attendees had only gotten a couple of yesses, while some hadn’t gotten any at all. I found myself becoming more and more embarrassed at my success.

Finally, Sandra Brannan found me and asked how I had done. When I told her, she first looked surprised, then gave me a huge hug. Apparently, my success was very unusual indeed.

www.justinmkelly.com

Check me out on Facebook

On Twitter @JustinMKelly1

My Amazon page, in case you want to read more

And on Goodreads

And on YouTube

I also post a copy of this blog on Tumblr

 

 

 

 

Announcing Flash Fiction Friday. This Week: Water’s Edge

So I will post more on my trip to NYC tomorrow, but today, I’m introducing a new weekly feature I like to call Flash Fiction Friday. These will be very short pieces just to give you guys a taste of my writing in hopes you’ll want more. Consider it an appetizer. Just a little something to whet your appetite for something more substantial.

Or for you more cynical types, consider it that free sample the drug dealer gives you to get you hooked so you start jonesing for more.

This week’s story is not for the kiddies. Or maybe it is. I happen to think kids can handle a lot more than adults give them credit for.

Anyway, this week’s offering is a nasty little story I call

Water’s Edge

She knelt down at the edge of the hidden lake, hoping to see her reflection in the crystal water so she might check her hair. Billy would be there soon and she wanted it to be perfect. She gazed deeply into her makeshift mirror and nearly screamed. Looking back at her was not the freckled, yet blemish-free face she had seen a million times in her bedroom mirror. Gone were the perfect button nose and brown eyes flecked with gold.

Instead she saw something green. Something scaly. Something with gills and row after row of razor teeth. It stared back at her with eyes like black holes. Before she could scream, a green hand, the fingers webbed together, shot out of the water and grabbed her by the throat. She could feel warm blood trickling down her neck as the claws at the end of its fingers dug into her perfect skin. There was a sharp crack as the immensely powerful fingers crushed her windpipe, silencing the scream that might have been as she was dragged beneath the water.

Moments later, Billy stepped out of the forest. He looked around, expecting to see her waiting for him, but was greeted with nothing more than the wind blowing through the tall pines and making ripples on the otherwise glassy surface of the lake. “Girls” he thought, as he stripped his clothes off. He stopped at his underwear for a moment, wondering if he should leave them on, but then decided it would just be the two of them. Besides, that would mean walking home with wet skivvies. He quickly shed them and ran as fast as he could toward the water. As the dirt of the forest floor turned to sand at the water’s edge, he leapt high into the air executing a perfect dive in hopes she might be watching from the trees. He barely made a splash as he broke the surface.

.   .   .

So there you have it. I don’t write a lot of horror, but this idea came to me as I was trying to fall asleep the other day. I grabbed my phone and typed most of it right there before the story could get away from me.

If you’d like more, check out my links below. There are more short stories on the way as well as a couple of novels. Check back here regularly for updates.

www.justinmkelly.com

Check me out on Facebook

On Twitter @JustinMKelly1

My Amazon page, in case you want to read more

And on Goodreads

And on YouTube

I also post a copy of this blog on Tumblr

It’s March Already?!?!?!? My Trip To NYC For Thrillerfest/Pitchfest 2016 part 1

Are we really already two full months into the year already? Say it isn’t so. Well, I guess it’s better late than never.

So here it is, my first blog post of 2017.

A lot has happened between my last post and now. Unfortunately, not much of it has been writing related.

Actually, looking back at my last post, I realize that a lot has actually happened both in my personal life and my career. I’m just now realizing that I haven’t posted since May of last year. I truly am ashamed. Well, no point crying over spilled milk. I’m not going to promise to do better. I know I’ve made that promise over and over in the past and haven’t delivered. So this time, rather than tell you I’m going to post more regularly, I’ll just have to show you.

So as I was saying, a lot has happened in both my personal life and my career since my last post. The last time we talked, I was getting ready to go to Thrillerfest/Pitchfest in NYC. I went, and it was an absolutely amazing experience. Sandra Brannan, author of the Liv Bergen mystery series, and a personal friend of mine, runs Pitchfest. When she invited me to come, she described it as speed dating with agents. I couldn’t have been more excited.

Upon arriving in NYC, a city I haven’t visited since a class trip in seventh grade, I was amazed. I have spent my share of time in big cities, but none of them are quite like New York. Just the sheer press of people at all hours of the day and night is enough to make you claustrophobic. I climbed into my first New York taxi, and he dropped me off in front of my home for the several days, The Jane Hotel.

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It’s an awesome little throwback hotel complete with a staff dressed in classic bellboy uniforms. Everyone there was extremely helpful. They quickly checked me in without an issue and I took the elevator up to my room.

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That’s it. That’s the entire room. Actually, believe it or not, the picture makes it look a little bigger than it actually is. Apparently, when it opened, it catered to sailors who were used to tiny berths. Still, I was in The Big Apple to meet with publishers. I didn’t plan on spending much time in it anyway. Besides, at less than $100 a night for a guy flying solo, it was a great deal.

The next morning, I was up early, jumped in the communal shower at the end of the hall before most of the other guests were even awake, put on my best suit, and was out the door ready to make the long walk to the nearest subway station. I quickly rethought this when I was greeted with a blast as if from a hair dryer as I opened the doors. Knowing I was going to be meeting with agents, the last thing I wanted to do was walk over a mile in near 100 degree weather in a suit. I quickly slipped back inside and did the only sensible thing. I called myself an Uber.

Before I knew it, I was walking through the revolving door of the Grand Hyatt, NYC, ready to meet with agents. I did my best not to look like a tourist, but it’s hard when 1. you’re walking into such an enormous and beautiful lobby (They call it the GRAND for a reason), and 2. you have no idea where you’re supposed to be.

Fortunately, I noticed several people with badges around their necks who told me where to go. (No, not like that.)

Upon arriving on the proper floor, I was immediately starstruck. There were famous authors such as Lee Child, Heather Graham (the writer, not the actress), Gillian Flynn, and R.L. Stine, just standing around mingling with everyone else just like they were regular people.

As it turns out, they really are, but more on that later.

Luckily, I was brought back to earth by a familiar and smiling (if somewhat frazzled) face. Sandra Brannan quickly ran me through the registration process before bustling off to continue getting everything set up for Pitchfest.

I wasn’t expecting all the swag they gave me. Books by authors in attendance that hadn’t even been published yet. I believe one was a galley proof. I made sure to get as many of them signed as possible. There was also a baseball cap, my id badge, which came in a neck wallet which came in handy during the rest of my adventures in New York, and of course, itineraries, programs, and a map so I didn’t get lost.

And I think that’s where I need to stop for the day. I’ll post part two tomorrow, but unfortunately, there’s just too much to tell in one post.

I swear I won’t leave you hanging for too long.

Can Genre Fiction Also Be Literary?

When it comes to my writing, I’ve always had a bit of a dilemma.

Like a lot of writers, I have a fantasy in my head of being the modern era’s Hemingway or Faulkner. Perhaps sitting in a small cafe in Paris, dutifully punching out literary masterpieces that will be cherished throughout the ages. After all, isn’t that at least part of why people write? So that while we may pass from this earth, at least our thoughts and feelings might become immortal.

Still, while I do love reading the classics, I have to admit that my favorite books have always been in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres. Particularly fantasy. It probably won’t surprise most of you to find out that I’m a big nerd. I love nothing more than reading fantastic tales of swords and sorcery. Maybe I’ve always dreamed of being the valiant hero who saves the damsel in distress, (please forgive my chauvinism,) or maybe I just long for a time when courage and chivalry counted for something. Whatever the reason, I’ve always loved medieval history both factual and fictional. I still hold out hope that some day, an archaeologist will discover evidence of dragons. I’m such a fan of the genre, I’ve even taken up amateur blacksmithing as a hobby.

Because of this, I’m afraid I’ve developed a bit of a split personality when it comes to my writing. I switch from being the serious author who wants to immortalize his thoughts and feelings in print, to the writer who just wants to play and step into the shoes of his characters to live out the lives of people he will never be.

I’ve been doing some serious thinking about this recently and have come to a conclusion. Who says genre fiction can’t also be literary? Why can’t one piece of work be both entertaining and meaningful? Of course there are examples of books that, were they written today, would be pigeonholed into a specific genre but have still managed to become literary classics. Books such as The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, and Robin Hood. The question is, Can it be done today?

I guess there’s only one way to find out.

So I suppose the point of this rather rambling post is this. I’m going to be true to myself and write what I enjoy. Hopefully my more literary personality will be able to reconcile with my other side and I can find some peace. Or at the very least, I’ll be able to finish a project without questioning whether it’s really what I want to be writing.

Of course, the fantasy bar has been set fairly high by certain contemporary writers, (I’m looking at you George Martin,) but I think I’m up to the task.

One other perk of being a successful fantasy writer, if I get popular enough, I might be invited to Comic Con.

What do you think? Can a work of fantasy, sci-fi, or horror also be literary?

Leave your answer here, or on Twitter @JustinMKelly1, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jmkelly60. Also, please visit my website at http://justinmkelly.com/ (I have plans for a major overhaul but I’m concentrating on the writing itself right now.)

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