Walking Distance

More than once in The Eye-Dancers, Ryan Swinton wishes he could go back to a simpler time, when he was just a little kid, unconcerned with his reputation and the pressure he now feels to continually come up with new jokes.  Ryan is the class clown, and everyone expects him to be a one-man comedy show.  He lives with the pressure of always trying to make people laugh.  If he arrives at a punch line and no one “gets it,” it’s one of the worst feelings in the world to him.  But if they laugh . . .  if they laugh . . .

It’s a harmful cycle Ryan needs to work on.  Being too dependent on others’ approval causes him a great deal of stress.  And so he yearns for that simpler time–when he didn’t worry about punch lines and first-rate deliveries and searching far and wide for fresh, funny material.  He sees five-year-olds, six-year-olds, and wonders if they realize how fortunate they are.  If only he could return to those carefree days . . .

But Thomas Wolfe would say, “You can’t go home again,” and for all of Ryan’s longing, ultimately he must learn to find more peace in the present.  Wishing he could go back to his early childhood will avail him nothing.

Someone else needed to learn that, too.  Martin Sloan, a stressed-out thirty-six-year-old executive in an episode of The Twilight Zone called “Walking Distance.”

martin

When getting his car serviced at a gas station, Martin realizes he’s not far from his hometown.  He hasn’t been back this way in years, and asks the attendant how far away the town is.  When he learns it’s just a couple miles–“walking distance”–Martin decides to leave his car, and walk back to the town where he grew up.

But when he arrives, a strange thing happens.  Everything appears as it did twenty-five years ago, when he was a kid living in the town.  He smiles at the old-fashioned cars and reminders of his youth.

happymartin

Walking around aimlessly, he eventually encounters an oddly familiar boy–himself as a child!  He sees himself carving something onto a post . . .

martinandmartin

Remembering the act, amazed that he’s witnessing himself from a quarter-century ago, Martin tries to strike up a conversation with the boy–with his child self.  But the boy, startled, runs away.

He doesn’t know how, but Martin is back in time, back where he wants to be.  He doesn’t want to return to his hectic job, his fast-paced life in the city.  He wants to stay here, in the small town where he grew up, marooned in an idyllic and eternal childhood.

Later, Martin sees himself as a boy again, on a carousel.  He gets on the carousel himself, wanting to talk to the boy.  He wants to tell his childhood self to enjoy this time–there’s no other time in life like it.  But once again, the boy is scared, panics, and falls off the carousel, injuring his leg.

brokenleg

Suddenly, the adult Martin shrieks in pain, too, and grabs hold of his leg.  He resolves to visit his old house, see his parents.  We see him walk away with a noticeable limp.

When he reaches his childhood home, his mother and father don’t recognize him.  Martin tries to convince his father.  He shows him his ID, his drivers license from twenty-five years in the future.  Finally his father understands–this is his adult son, returned.  With compassion, Martin’s father tells him he must go back.  Go back to the year where he belongs.

“You have to leave here,” he says.  “There’s no room, there’s no place.  Do you understand that?”  He goes on to say, “We only get one chance.  Maybe there’s only one summer to every customer.  That little boy, the one I know–the one who belongs here–this is his summer, just as it was yours once.  Don’t make him share it.”

At the end of the episode, Martin walks back to the gas station, back, in essence, to the present day, still with a limp.  He tells the attendant the limp is from an old accident, a long time ago, twenty-five years ago–when he fell off of a carousel.

It’s a lesson learned the hard way–we can’t go back.  We can only go forward.  The closing narration of the episode goes like this . . .

“Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things, but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives – trying to go home again. And also like all men, perhaps there’ll be an occasion – maybe a summer night sometime – when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of his past. And perhaps across his mind, there’ll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he’ll smile then, too, because he’ll know that it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory, not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind – and that are a part of the Twilight Zone.”

These “errant wishes,” these “laughing ghosts” are things we all must face, at one time or another.

Ryan Swinton, perhaps, is fortunate.  He faces them, and has a chance to deal with them, at a very early age . . .

Thanks as always for reading!

–Mike

Making Sure Grronk Doesn’t Turn Into Chuck

Have you ever read a novel or watched a TV series where a character of some prominence appears near the beginning of the story, but then never shows up again?  And, even worse, is never even mentioned again?  It’s as if they never existed in the first place.  Granted, for very minor characters, this isn’t an issue.  In fact, it would be an awkward tale indeed if we felt compelled to bring back even the most trivial of characters for an encore scene.  But if a character leaves an impression, if a character exchanges in a lengthy dialogue or does something noteworthy for the story, it’s probably a good idea to bring them back at a later point, or, at the least, mention them again.

Perhaps one of the most notorious (though often laughed-about) occurrences of this character-who-disappears-act comes from the 1970s sitcom Happy Days.  I have watched reruns of Happy Days many times–guilty as charged!  I especially enjoy the first two seasons, when the show really tried to portray a 1950s look and feel.  Of course, the story revolved around Richie Cunningham (played by Ron Howard).

richie

 

And one of the supporting characters during the first season was Richie’s older brother, Chuck.

chuck

 

Now, it’s true that they never developed Chuck as a character.  He pretty much just chewed gum and dribbled a basketball around everywhere he went.  He had all the depth of an eight-by-ten white envelope (non-self-sealing at that!).  Nevertheless, he was the main character’s brother.  And yet, after season one, he just . . . disappeared.  Gone without a whisper, without a trace.  It was as if he’d never existed at all.  Just a wisp, a figment of viewers’ imaginations from that inaugural season of the show.  Again, given that his character offered nothing of substance to the story line, his boot off the set wasn’t a big deal.  But not to mention him?  Not to say, “Oh, we just got a letter from Chuck.  He’s doing okay at college”?  Not to give even the smallest of details about what became of him?  That’s just sloppy, even if it has morphed into something of a pop culture joke.  They should have acknowledged Chuck’s existence post-season one.

When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I wanted to make sure I didn’t follow in the same footsteps as Happy Days.  In chapter four of the novel, we meet Marc Kuslanski for the first time.  He of course is one of the four main characters in the story.  But in that same chapter, we also meet Matt Giselmo.  Or, as Joe Marma likes to call him, Grronk.  Grronk is not a major character–but he is significant in his own way, and that becomes clearer after the boys find themselves in the variant town of Colbyville.  I tried to make sure, when I introduced Grronk early on, that he was a memorable character–annoying enough to stay with the reader.  Obnoxious enough to leave an impression.  So when we see him again (or someone very close to him–I’m trying not to insert a plot spoiler here) much later in the book, hopefully we remember him from chapter four.

The key, though, was–after giving Grronk so much screen time in chapter four, I needed to reintroduce him at a later point.  Not to do so would cheat the reader.  Just like Happy Days did with their audience.  I know that I, for one, would like to know what became of old Chuck Cunningham.  Maybe he went off to star in the NBA.  Maybe he drifted around and never found a direction in life.  Maybe he settled down, got married, worked in an office.  The possibilities are endless.

What happened to Chuck? . . .  Sounds like the basis for a story.  Maybe I should go ask Grronk.  He’s bound to have some ideas.

Thanks for reading!  I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday.

–Mike

A Very (Corny) Christmas

I admit it.  I enjoy corny things.  The kinds of things that make you shake your head, mutter under your breath, and yet . . . and yet . . . they just have a certain charm to them you can’t resist.

Take It’s A Wonderful Life.  It’s corny, sure it is.  But it’s also my all-time favorite movie.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy hard-edged, gritty drama just as much as the next guy.  But if I want something to put me in a good mood, I’ll pull out an old comic book, tune it to The Honeymooners, or watch Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in this timeless holiday classic.

In fact, in The Eye-Dancers, I did give a tip of the author’s cap to It’s A Wonderful Life.  In the movie, the small town where the action takes place is called Bedford Falls.  In The Eye-Dancers, the story begins in Bedford–without the “Falls”!  Much of The Eye-Dancers takes place in the variant town of Colbyville, but it’s definitely no accident that it begins in Bedford.

I’ve seen It’s A Wonderful Life  many times, yet I still choke up at the end.  Yes, I shake my head.  Yes, I tell myself not to be such a sap.  But then Jimmy Stewart starts singing “Auld Lang Syne” and the bell rings and Clarence gets his wings . . .

Maybe I’ll get a chance to watch some of it again this week.  And it’ll get to me.  It always does.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday!

–Mike

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Once again, I am reminded how fortunate I was when I decided to create a WordPress site for The Eye-Dancers.  When I started this site, my knowledge of blogging and website-making was about as close to zero as one can get in this information/technology age.  I’ve been learning as I go, and have really enjoyed the process.

More than anything, I’ve enjoyed the wonderful interactions with fellow writers and bloggers.  This has been fun, and, hopefully, things are just getting started.

Thanks so much to Sheri Bessi and her great site, The Other Side of Ugly, for nominating me for this award.  It is very much appreciated!  If you haven’t visited Sheri’s site, please do.  It is full of inspirational and thought-provoking posts that stay with you long after you read them.

The rules for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award are:

To thank and link the blogger that has nominated you.

Then post the award logo to your blog.

Write a post on the nomination and nominate 15 other very inspiring bloggers.

Notify them and then tell 7 things about yourself.

very inspiring blogger award

Here the 7 things about myself:

1.  I have long been a big fan of old, collectible comic books.  I started collecting them at a young age, and still enjoy opening an old comic, looking over the decades-old mail-order advertisements, and reading the often-corny, but always-entertaining stories.  I have individual comic book issues dating back to the 1940s, and that old thrill still hits me when I pull a comic out of its Mylar sleeve and dig in.  Favorite titles include:  The Fantastic Four, Action Comics, Superman, The Amazing Spider-Man, Strange Adventures (a charming sci-fi title from the ’50s and ’60s), and Mystery in Space (likewise, a sci-fi title from the ’50s and ’60s).

2.  Back in the eighth grade, my English teacher instilled in me two lasting things:  One was an appreciation for grammar. (Her pet-peeve was when people say, “Just between you and I,” or, “That’s for you and I  . . .”  “Never, ever, use a subject as the object of a preposition,” she would say, fire in her eyes.  “Take out the ‘you.’  Would you then say, ‘That’s for I?'”  I think–conservative estimate here–she must have gone over this two-dozen times that year.)  She also introduced me to the world of Anne of Green Gables.  For a long time, I was the only male I knew who admitted to liking the book!  But I’m sure there are many others who do.  It’s a timeless classic.  Because of my enjoyment of the Anne books in particular and L.M. Montgomery’s writing in general, I’ve had the privilege of visiting Prince Edward Island, Canada.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It is, in short, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

3.  Even though I grew up in upstate western New York, just outside of Rochester, and now live in northern New England, I am not a Buffalo Bills nor a New England Patriots fan.  I’m a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan.  I started liking them at the age of eight, and haven’t stopped since . . .

4.  I have been a vegetarian since 1994.

5.  When I was growing up, one of my very best friends in the world was a cocker spaniel named Poopsie.  He was my forever friend–and always will be.  But don’t blame me for the name!  He was actually Poopsie IV.  It was a family tradition that had started before I was even born–all dogs in the family were to be named “Poopsie.”  My nickname for him was “Bubba,” which, come to think of it, may not have been much better . . .

6.  When I was a kid, I was remarkably shy.  One day, in first grade, my teacher, surely recognizing this, decided it would be good for me to go into one of the sixth-grade classrooms, stand in front of the “big kids,” and read to them.  Dutifully, I trudged to their room, knocked, and entered, with my back to the class.  I sidestepped over to the sixth-grade teacher’s desk, my back still to the class, as I looked at the black board in front of me.  Then I began to read whatever it was my teacher had assigned me to read aloud–I don’t remember what it was.  I do remember reading the entire text, and then, finished, sidestepping my way out of the room.  I never once looked at the class.

7.  I tend to be very nostalgic and sentimental.  It sometimes comes out in my writing–and I always need to guard against it.  Sentiment is fine.  Feeling, heart . . .  But overly sentimental usually is a problem when it comes to storytelling.  It’s a fine line between the two, as it is with so many aspects of good vs. bad writing.

And now, to pass the baton!  Here are 15 wonderful websites, listed here in no particular order.  Each offers something different, and all offer something great.  I strongly recommend that you click on each of these links and visit these wonderful websites . . .

http://jenniferpaetsch.com/

http://kelihasablog.wordpress.com/

http://evilnymphstuff.wordpress.com/

http://howevernever.wordpress.com/

http://yourejustadumbass.wordpress.com/

http://reshumalhotra.com/

http://seyisandradavid.org/

http://tammysalyer.wordpress.com/

http://bringmorebooks.wordpress.com/

http://zendictive.wordpress.com/

http://wideawakebutdreaming.wordpress.com/

http://shannonathompson.com/

http://deannaswriting.wordpress.com/

http://talesofbooksandbands.com/

http://patspublishing.wordpress.com/

Thanks so much, as always, for reading!

— Mike

The Hardest Words . . .

In The Eye-Dancers, each of the main characters has his issues, his hang-ups that he needs to get a handle on.  For Joe Marma, his number-one hang-up is his temper.  He is quick to throw a punch, reluctant to stop and think, and reconsider.  But at one point in the story, his impetuous nature nearly ruins everything.  It takes his friend Ryan Swinton to intervene–a very unlikely occurrence, since Joe has always been the leader, and Ryan the follower.  It’s an epiphany moment for Ryan.  He finally realizes he can make the hard decisions, confront a difficult and tense situation head-on.

But it’s also an epiphany moment for Joe.  He at last comes to see that sometimes it’s better to walk away from a fight.  He’s no angel–he never will be.  But a lesson is learned, and he realizes he’s been wrong before.  He’s lost his head.  Gotten into trouble.  He finally admits it, and resolves to do something about it.

Admitting you’re wrong isn’t easy.  “I’m sorry, I was wrong,” may be the most difficult words to say in our or any language!  They often curl up and die before ever leaving the lips.  But wouldn’t things often be better for all of us if we did say these words?  I know I have regrets. . . .

One of them occurred over twenty years ago, when I was a sophomore in high school.  Looking at the details of the situation, it may not seem that important–it may seem trivial, in fact.  But it meant a lot.  It was a big deal to me.  And it changed the dynamic of an old friendship.  Besides, aren’t the “small” things, the “little” things, often the triggers that set off a conflict?  Maybe we have unspoken frustrations we’re feeling toward someone else.  We bury our hurts.  And then . . . something small, something that should be insignificant (a misplaced item, an errand forgotten due to a busy and stressful day . . .) sets us off, and we spew out our pent-up anger.

Joe Marma learned this difficult lesson, just in time.  I wish I could have.

What follows is a personal essay I wrote recently.  I guess I wrote it for myself.  But I’d like to share it.   And, Tony, if you ever come across this post–I hope you read it, old friend . . .

“I’m Sorry, Tony”

Copyright 2012 by Michael S. Fedison

**************

Tony eyed the just-thrown card, shook his head.  “You don’t want to play that,” he said.  “Pick it up.”

Ken looked at him, puzzled.  I was, too.  What was this about?

“What do you mean?” Ken asked.  All around us, the sounds of the cafeteria buzzed—students carrying their lunch trays back to their tables, girls laughing and talking, varsity lettermen bragging about their conquests on the ball field.

“Just pick it up,” Tony said.  “Throw something lower.”

As soon as Tony said that, I knew what he must be up to.  If Ken threw a lower card, Tony might be able to nail me with the Queen of Spades, hitting me with thirteen points.  But why did he want to resort to such extreme measures?  I was the one who had taught these guys how to play Hearts a few weeks ago.  Each day, during lunch, Tony, Ken, Joe, and I played.  And now he wanted to cheat, just to dump the Queen on me?

Ken picked up his card, threw a lower one, just as Tony had said.  I guess that was to be expected.  Tony had a way about him.  It wasn’t only that he was the most muscular tenth grader in the school.  People just responded to him.  If he said to do something, usually you did it.  But this was crossing the line.  I felt the blood rush to my face.

Tony smiled at me.  Well, smirked was probably more like it.  “There you go,” he said, and laid the Queen of Spades atop the small pile of cards, face-up, on the tabletop.

I swallowed.  “No way,” I said.  How did he think he could get away with this?  And why did he do it in the first place?  We’d been friends since the third grade—he was my oldest friend in school.  I thought we liked and respected each other.  I wondered if I had been wrong about that.

Ken and Joe both sat there, probably not too worried about any of this.  Surely, Tony and I could resolve it.

“I’m not taking the thirteen points,” I said.  From the table behind us, someone told a joke, and his friends moaned at the punch line.  “I mean, c’mon, you cheated!  You told him to throw another card.  You can’t do that.  Let’s just replay the hand.”

Tony smirked again.  “We don’t need to replay any hand,” he said.  “That Queen is yours.  You’re the one who got stuck with it.”

Brilliant.  Just brilliant.  My heart rate accelerated.  It was getting more difficult to think clearly.  He couldn’t just expect me to go along with this nonsense.

I told him again I wouldn’t take the points.  It wasn’t fair.  But he would hear none of it.  When I realized he wasn’t going to budge, I decided I’d make a deal with him.

“Okay,” I said, “listen.  Why don’t you take seven points, and I take six?  I mean, you told Ken to pick up his card.  Why don’t we just split the points, then?”

Tony shook his head, and actually appeared offended at the suggestion.  “I’m not taking any points,” he said.  “That’s your Queen laying there.”  He muttered under his breath, as if to say, Stop being such a stupid jerk.

I couldn’t believe it.  How could he be getting mad at me?  He gathered up the loose cards, placed them onto the deck, then put the deck away.  We were finished, at least for today.  I noticed that Joe and Ken now looked a little troubled.  I’m sure neither of them had expected this situation to escalate.  I hadn’t, either, but why was Tony being so unreasonable?  Couldn’t he just admit that he cheated and put an end to this?

Apparently, he couldn’t.  I don’t remember the rest of that lunch period very well.  All I remember is feeling betrayed and disgusted that my friend would act this way.  Tony didn’t say anything more to me the rest of the afternoon.

The incident stuck with me, didn’t let go.  That night, as I lay in bed, I thought about what to do in the morning.  Should I go up to Tony and tell him to forget about it?  That we should just drop the matter?  No!  The more I turned it over in my mind, the angrier I became.  He had some nerve acting upset with me for telling him to split the points between us.  I had been trying to do him a favor with that idea!  And I still didn’t understand why he’d cheated in the first place.  What was his angle?  Whatever it was, he was the one who had done something wrong, not me.

Tony avoided me the next morning.  Normally, he walked down to my home room and struck up a conversation with me for a few minutes to start each day.  But he was nowhere to be seen.  Later, in class, neither of us regarded the other.  The same rage I had felt the day before rose up in me again, only this time it was even stronger.  I hadn’t expected him to act like this.  I had really thought he would apologize, or at least admit he’d cheated.  But he didn’t do anything.  He acted as though I were the one who should come clean.

By the time I sat down at lunch, next to Joe and across from Ken and Tony, my nerves were as taught as coiled springs.  I hoped Tony knew better than to break out the cards.  I didn’t want anything to do with Hearts.  Not now, not ever.  At least, not with him.  Not until he admitted that he’d cheated.

Sure enough, after we had eaten and still had a good half hour left before we had to go back to class, Tony reached into his pocket and took out the box of cards.  Then he opened it, removed the deck, and prepared to deal.

“Wanna play?”  He made it seem like he was asking everyone, but I knew he was asking me.  There was no apology, no “I was wrong.”  Apparently, there never would be.  He wanted to pretend he had never told Ken to pick up his card and throw another in its place.  He wanted yesterday’s game to count.

I knew this was the key moment.  If I said, “Okay, let’s play,” everything would be forgotten.  Except . . . that wasn’t true.  I wouldn’t forget.  And I couldn’t let him get away with this.

“No,” I said.  “Never again.”

It’s funny.  As soon as I said those words, I felt both justified and terrible.  Mine was a righteous stance.  I would no longer play cards with a cheater.  If Tony wouldn’t come right out and say he had cheated, if he wouldn’t agree to disregard yesterday’s game, why should I ever play with him again?  But at the same time, I knew I was making a mistake.  It seemed like a small thing—just a card game at lunchtime.  But it had sprouted bristles and fangs and long, sinuous veins, and turned into something much larger.  Even back then, even in the heat of the moment, I understood that.

Tony’s features hardened.  His face turned red.  I could tell he hadn’t expected me to say that.  He acted as though I had slapped him, or embarrassed him.  Maybe I had.  Any opportunity we might have had then to talk the problem out, to come to some kind of agreement, passed in an instant.  He picked up the cards, put them in the box, then back in his pocket.  I just sat there, silent, wondering what I had done, and questioning whether or not it had been worth the price.

Tony and I didn’t speak after that.  We’d pass each other in the halls without even a glance.  Oh, we still sat together at lunch with Ken and Joe, but we never talked to each other.  I would talk to Ken and Joe, and so would Tony, but I wouldn’t say a word to Tony.  Ken and Joe must have hated it.  They were caught in the middle . . . though I didn’t take that into consideration too much at the time.

After a while, I hoped Tony and I might patch things up.  But I expected him to make the first move.  Besides, this new silent treatment had begun to define our relationship.  It’s strange how something like that can seep into your bones and steel your heart.  I hated it, but felt powerless to do anything about it.

The worst moment came a few weeks later, in English class.  The teacher wanted us to pair up, and Tony sat in front of me.  He was supposed to turn around and work with me.  But he didn’t.  Everyone waited.  All the other students were paired up, but Tony remained seated, face forward, back to me.

Finally the teacher said, “Tony, what’s up?  Why aren’t you working with Mike?”

There was a pause.  Then Tony said, “Because I don’t like him.”

I wanted to fall through the floor, into the basement amidst the boilers and rusty metal pipes.  I hadn’t wanted to work with Tony, either, under the circumstances, but I was shocked he would publicize his new attitude toward me in front of the whole class.  And was it really true?  Did he actually despise me now?  It was all so weird.  We had been friends for years!  How could one card game completely overpower everything else?

But it had.

The remainder of tenth grade was trying.  I continued to eat lunch with Ken, Joe, and Tony, even after the English class fiasco.  I just wanted summer vacation to arrive so I could get out of school.  I breathed a sigh of relief when it finally did.

But the fall came too quickly, and before I knew it, it was time for my junior year to start.  I hadn’t thought about Tony much throughout the summer, but as September neared, I resolved that something had to be done.  We couldn’t just avoid each other.  And yet . . . I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go up to him and try to set things right.  I’m not sure if it was pride, fear of rejection, uncertainty about his response . . . maybe it was all three.  Maybe I was just stubborn.

Before home room, the first day of school, Tony walked up to me.  I tensed.  But then he just started talking, acting as if the last semester of our sophomore year had never happened.  Acting as if we had never argued over a stupid card game.  He didn’t come right out and apologize, and I didn’t, either.  We just picked up where we had left off before our quarrel.  Or so it seemed.

It was a great relief to have Tony back as my friend.  But it wasn’t the same.  Sure, we got along fine, but there was something unspoken between us, something that flowed beneath the surface like a toxic river.  We had buried the hatchet, it was true.  But we hadn’t dealt with the issue.  Why had he cheated?  Why had he gotten so mad when I called him out on it?  Why did I make such a big deal out of it?  We never addressed any of these questions.  And I don’t think our friendship was ever quite the same again.

I haven’t seen Tony or talked with him since we graduated from high school.

Now, more than twenty years later, I still look back on that card game with regret.  I wish I could go back in time, shake myself, and say, “Don’t take it so seriously!  It’s not worth the cost.”  Or I wish I could whisper in the ear of my sixteen-year-old self and say, “Did you ever wonder why he cheated?  Maybe you did something to get under his skin without realizing it.”  That is certainly possible.  I never thought of Tony as a cheater.  He was a good kid.  And I did sometimes mouth off back then, get a bit too full of myself.  Maybe I had made him feel stupid when I was teaching him how to play Hearts.  Maybe I had said something condescending about the way he played a hand once.  I don’t know.  I don’t remember.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if the root of the trouble began with something just like that.

More than anything, I regret my smallness, my pettiness.  I cringe when I think back to that moment when Tony had pulled out the cards and said, “Wanna play?”  In his own way, he was trying to move on, I think, to put the argument behind us.  I could have said, “Okay, but don’t tell anyone what card to throw anymore,” and I’m sure he would have responded well.

And I feel bad that, on the first day of eleventh grade, he had walked up to me.  He had made the first move.  I wish I had.

All I can do now is say, “Tony, you did cheat, and that did make me mad.  But you must have had a reason, I guess.”

And I can say, also, two decades after the fact, but better late than never, “I shouldn’t have overreacted the way I did.  I should have been able to let it go.

“I’m sorry, Tony.  I was wrong.”

*******************

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Eye of the Beholder

One of the fundamental themes in The Eye-Dancers is self-acceptance.  Each of the main characters suffers in one way or another from a low self-esteem, and each struggles with insecurities.  As the story unfolds, the characters must confront these struggles within themselves.  They ultimately find themselves a long way from home.  There are dangers and pitfalls seemingly around every corner.  But amid the turmoil and threat of a strange and alien world, they realize one essential truth–they cannot hope to survive, cannot possibly find a way out of their predicament, unless they learn to come to terms with their own inner demons.

For Mitchell Brant, his insecurities often manifest themselves through lies and tall tales.  Not content with the way things are, he invents stories to make himself seem “more” than he really is.  It takes the gentle guidance of a new friend to help him begin to see that he doesn’t need to pretend.  He doesn’t need to elaborate.  He’s okay the way he is.

It’s a problem all of us have struggled with at one time or another.  Are we “good” enough?  Are we attractive enough?  Smart enough?  And one of the things science fiction can do is challenge our beliefs, take us on a fantastic journey that, ultimately, causes us to look at things more deeply–to examine ourselves, or the larger world around us.

The original Twilight Zone, the black-and-white show from the early 1960s, with Rod Serling as the host, was often able to accomplish this.  There are many memorable episodes, but perhaps none more so than “Eye of the Beholder.”

In the episode, a woman, Janet Tyler, her face heavily bandaged, lies in a hospital bed.  We cannot see what she looks like, but we quickly realize she is terribly disfigured.  This latest attempt was the eleventh surgery to try to make her look “normal.”  She openly calls herself a “freak.”  And the doctors admit she is a “bad and unfortunate” case.

bandage

The first half of the episode deals with Janet’s emotional state, her hopes and dreams that maybe, just maybe, when the bandages are taken off, she will look like everyone else, no longer a freak, a pariah, an outcast.  And then the bandages are removed . . .

The doctors and nurses gasp and pull back.  Before we even see her face, we realize the surgery must have been a failure.  But the true discovery is about to take place.

Throughout the episode, the doctors and nurses have been in the shadows, the lighting eerie, the camera never showing us anyone’s face.  While watching the episode for the first time, you don’t even really consider this.  After all, the scenes are shot through Janet Tyler’s point of view, and since her face is completely concealed beneath her thick bandages, she cannot see the doctors and nurses either.  Besides, we are all focused on her.  What does she look like?  Will she be healed?

Now, the bandages removed, the medical staff gasping in horror at her features, we finally “see” Janet Tyler.  She is young, beautiful, with flawless features.

ddouglas

And now we see, for the first time, the doctors and nurses–they have distorted, misshapen faces.  Grotesque.  And yet they are recoiling from the beautiful woman before them.  And she wishes she looked like them.

grotesque1

grotesque2

It is a memorable story that proves the old cliche.

I will let Rod Serling finish this post for me.  This is his closing narration from the episode . . .

*************

“Now the questions that come to mind. Where is this place and when is it, what kind of world where ugliness is the norm and beauty the deviation from that norm? The answer is, it doesn’t make a difference. Because the old saying is true. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in this year or a hundred years hence, on this planet or wherever there is human life, perhaps out among the stars. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson to be learned – in the Twilight Zone.”

*************

If you haven’t ever watched The Twilight Zone, I strongly encourage you to do so.  It’s an old, old show, but it holds up very well, and the themes it explores are universal, timeless, and enduring.

Just ask Mitchell Brant.  I’m sure he’d agree.

Thanks as always for reading!

–Mike

The Next Big Thing

One of the really nice things about starting The Eye-Dancers blog has been the interaction I’ve had with fellow bloggers.  As a part of that, I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in The Next Big Thing.  Many thanks to Maddie Cochere for her invitation.  Please take a look at Maddie’s website–she is doing great things!

The Next Big Thing is a lot of fun and it offers writers a chance to pass the baton, as it were, from week to week.  It’s a wonderful opportunity, and again, I am thrilled to be a part of it.  There are a series of questions to be answered–the same for everyone who takes part in The Next Big Thing.

1. What is the working title of your book?

The Eye-Dancers

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

On the surface, this is a simple question, but really, “where did you get your idea” questions are never altogether straightforward–at least not for me!  I am of the belief that writers don’t “get” ideas so much as ideas come to them.  This particular idea came to me first a long time ago–when I was a teenager (longer ago than I care to admit)!  I had a dream.  In the dream, I was looking out through the front window, into the street.  And there, beneath the street light, was a little girl, seven, maybe eight years old.  She was partially transparent–like a ghost, a spirit, not of this earth.  She had the bluest eyes I had ever seen, and she gestured for me to come outside with her.  (To anyone who has read Chapter One of The Eye-Dancers, this scene will be strikingly familiar!)  I woke up from that dream, and for years couldn’t figure out what to do with it.  The image of the “ghost girl” remained locked away, in an “ideas-vault,” and I wondered if it would ever be opened.  Then, just a few years ago, I had the same dream!  But this time, upon waking up, the basic idea of The Eye-Dancers took shape.  That’s how ideas so often happen. They come to you, unasked for, unplanned.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

 I would call it young adult sci-fi/fantasy–though it is not hard-core sci-fi, nor is it high fantasy.  It’s a young adult story with sci-fi and fantasy elements, and, it’s my hope, an imaginative plot that will take readers on a wild ride.


4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Is it okay to skip a question?  I have such clear, distinct images of the characters in The Eye-Dancers, I honestly cannot think of any actors to play the parts.  Of course, if the day ever came when a decision on such matters had to be made, I’d consider that a wonderful “problem” to have!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

A one-sentence synopsis is very hard to come up with!  But if I had to, it would go something like this . . .

Four seventh-graders are transported to a strange world, and the only one who can help them find their way back home is the mysterious little girl with the swirling, hypnotic blue eyes.

6. What is the longer synopsis of your book?

 I will go ahead and use the blurb I have up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble . . .

Seventh-grader Mitchell Brant and three of his classmates inexplicably wake up at the back edge of a softball field to the sounds of a game, the cheering of the crowd. None of them remembers coming here. And as they soon learn, “here” is like no place they’ve ever seen. Cars resemble antiques from the 1950s. There are no cell phones, no PCs. Even the spelling of words is slightly off.

A compulsive liar, constantly telling fantastic stories to garner attention and approval, Mitchell can only wish this were just one more of his tall tales. But it isn’t. It’s all too real. Together, as they confront unexpected and life-threatening dangers, Mitchell and his friends must overcome their bickering and insecurities to learn what happened, where they are, and how to get back home.

The answers can be found only in the mysterious little girl with the blue, hypnotic eyes. The one they had each dreamed of three nights in a row before arriving here. She is their only hope. And, as they eventually discover, they are her only hope.

And time is running out.

7. Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

 It is an indie e-book (self-published).

8. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

 The first draft took about two and a half years. 

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

 Another question that, on the surface, seems simple, but which is really quite complex.  First and foremost, my experiences growing up in Rochester, New York, the friends I shared, the adventures we had, the ideas and speculations we discussed–just kids having fun and wondering.  Imagining.  Those experiences are still very much alive in me, and they were the primary motivating factor when I wrote The Eye-Dancers

But also, I have always been the kind of person to ask, “What is the meaning of it all?  What, in its essence, is the ‘reality’ we all speak of?  Are things perhaps not quite what they seem?  Are they more layered?  Are there other realities, other truths, which we know no part of?”  The Eye-Dancers is a composite of all those questions and (hopefully) more.  It is the story of young friendship, overcoming obstacles, learning to believe in yourself, and keeping the faith.

In the end, it’s the characters in The Eye-Dancers who kept me dialed in, who kept me focused even on the days when the writing was hard and the creative process an uphill climb.  In a nutshell, the book was inspired by the child in all of us, the part of us that wonders why things are as they are, and that is eager to discover new and exciting frontiers.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I think (hope!) that there are various elements to The Eye-Dancers, enough disparate qualities to attract readers from across the spectrum.  If you enjoy character-driven fiction, I hope you give The Eye-Dancers a look, because it is the characters–their problems, their overcoming of adversity, their self-discovery and need to confront their own insecurities–who lie at the heart of the story.  If you enjoy sci-fi and fantasy, there are “ghost girls” and dreams and parallel universes, quantum physics and world-building and possibilities of time travel.  If you like mainstream fiction, there are many subplots and character-driven moments that, with hope, will cause you to care about and root for the boys in their quest to get back home.

And, it’s my earnest hope . . . if you simply like an interesting, imaginative story, then you will you enjoy The Eye-Dancers.

Once again, I am very grateful for this wonderful opportunity to participate in The Next Big Thing.  It was a lot of fun answering these questions.  And it’s also a privilege to pass the baton on to two other remarkable authors.

Jennifer Paetsch at her site, JenniferPaetsch.com, and Sheri Bessi at her site, The Other Side of Ugly, will answer these same questions next week!  Please join them for the next installment of The Next Big Thing . . .

–Mike

 

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: