The Value of Courage – “42” A Movie about Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson - Pasedena CA - throughtheluminarylens

The value of courage, my 200th post, the last day of 2013, baseball and a little taste from my upcoming novel – I have an eclectic mix of thoughts to share today.

When my kids were little, we had a set of books entitled, The Value Tales. These books featured people whose achievements fit the criteria of many important values – Believing in Yourself: Louis Pasteur, Helping: Harriet Tubman, Determination: Helen Keller, Kindness: Elizabeth Fry, Giving: Beethoven and many others. The book that was requested the most in our home was, The Value of Courage – The Story of Jackie Robinson.

Over the holidays, my husband Bruce and I had the opportunity to watch the movie “42” – The Jackie Robinson story. For the baseball lover, “42” is right up there with, The Natural and Field of Dreams.

That children’s book from long ago came to life for me as Branch Rickey, the Methodist, curmudgeon-like baseball executive (played brilliantly by Harrison Ford) devised a plan to break the colour barrier in Major League baseball by signing Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s courage in the face of rampant racism is vividly displayed in his ability to turn the other cheek. He holds his anger in check, refusing to retaliate in kind. This is grace under pressure at its finest.

At more than one dramatic point in the movie, Robinson asks Rickey why he’s so relentless in his plan to open the Major League to coloured players. The last time he asks this question, Robinson presses for more than a pat answer related to profit margins. Rickey shares his desire to return baseball to a pristine and idyllic state – the perfect thing it should always be.

The subject of baseball comes up in my debut novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight and its soon to be published sequel, The Light Never Lies. In the sequel, the characters discuss W.B. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe and how the game of baseball is a metaphor for life – a form of perfection to be strived for, not only on the field of dreams but also in the course of the day-to-day.

“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple . . .” (W.B Kinsella – Shoeless Joe)

In the following scenes from, The Light Never Lies, Beulah has been convinced to help coach a team of kids and the Crater Lake Timber Wolves have been revived to play an exhibition game against Beulah’s team.

“Liam tells me you have some enthusiasm for baseball. I’ve got a proposition for you.”

Beulah leaned back against the solid weight of the bakery’s long wooden table and folded her arms across her white-aproned chest. She nodded at Alex to continue.

“There’s this bunch of kids from the reserve over at Cedar Falls. They’d like to go to a baseball tournament down in Courtenay on the August long weekend. I’m looking for a coach.”

“Doesn’t a proposition mean you do something for me and I’ll do something for you? I’m not hearing the part about what’s in this for me. Do these kids even know how to play baseball?”

“Let’s say they are long on enthusiasm and short on skills.”

“Ya right . . . still not hearing what’s in it for me.”

****

Robbie changed the subject, “I’ll tell you what I think about that Trickster ball team. Those kids don’t know jack shit about baseball and they aren’t getting better, even though this is their fourth practice.”

Alex pointed his can of Coke at Robbie, “Watch your language; what the hell will people think . . . a kid your age talking like that.”

Beulah laughed, “I hear you, Robbie. We’re still a long, long way from moulding that crowd into any kind of team. I’ll tell you this, though – we might just be at the end of the beginning.” Beulah narrowed her eyes thoughtfully, her attention caught for a moment by the boats in the harbour. The riggings made a steady thwacking sound as they flapped in the wind that swooped over the breakwater and tossed the tops of the masts to and fro.

She remembered her first sight of the kids as they stumbled off the bus – black and grey hoodies pulled tight around scowling faces, a couple of the guys wearing leather jackets and stomping boots, one girl dressed like maybe she thought she would be trying out for a Much Music video. The sneering, adolescent attitude had not fooled Beulah. It didn’t begin to hide the aching need the kids had to be part of something none of them could even name. Alex was right about that – helping a kid find out what that something could be, was a project worth taking on.

She was brought out of her reverie when Alex hopped up from the bench. He eyed Beulah with a knowing look, “You are a woman who enjoys a challenge. I could tell that from the first day we met.”

****

Beulah ran over to the Tricksters dugout. She snapped at Alex, “You’re supposed to be giving these kids a pep talk . . . you could hear a pin drop in here.” Beulah pulled the kids into a huddle and got them raising their heads and cawing loudly. She stood back and studied her team. Alex had gotten the band to spring for uniforms, black with white trim. She hoped they wouldn’t be mistaken for magpies.

Beulah turned to see several members of the Timber Wolves glaring at her. She whacked hands with a few kids and ran back to the other side of the field.

Jillian walked out from the backstop fence where she had been chatting with Roland and stood behind the plate. She shouted, “Play ball,” and the game began.

Beulah kept Robbie busy running back and forth with messages for Alex about what he should be doing to coach her team. At one point, she was seen urging one of the Trickster players to head for home. The Timber Wolves howled for real when that happened but Beulah just laughed at them. At the end of the fifth inning, with the Tricksters down by two runs, she announced, “That’s that. I’m jumping ship.” She trotted off to the sound of loud boos from one side and rousing cheers from the other.

So there you have it – my 200th post and the last post of the year 2013. It seems auspicious to talk about courage. Challenges are always just around the corner. Grace under pressure is most often required. But life is a bit like baseball isn’t it? I’ll let Caleb have the last word with another sneak peek from, The Light Never Lies.

Beulah narrowed her eyes at Liam and frowned, “Are you going to sit there and make me give myself a good, stiff kick in the butt? You’re a great friend, you are.”

“Tell me what Caleb would have said. You saw a side of him that I never did.”

Beulah snorted, “Ya, a drinking side.” She was thoughtful as she answered, “Caleb would have said . . . What we have here, Beulah, best case scenario, is a temporary setback; worst case, a game changer. But there are still a few innings to play. Life is like a game of baseball. You never know when a grand slam is going to change the whole damn outcome. Then he’d have offered me that lucky watch.” She nodded her head towards the watch on Liam’s wrist.

Our passive solar home with photovoltaic solar electric array and solar hot water tank

Happy New Year from Fran – the day is bright and sunny on the West Coast of BC. Hope you have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and best wishes for 2014.

Beware Unreal Expectations

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With the year-end looming, I thought a productive exercise would be to  reflect on the past year – my first as a self-published author.

I came to fiction writing with pretty decent chops in the reading and writing departments – I’ve been a lifelong reader and I’m the author of a number of academic articles. Aside from the obvious growing pains that came with switching from nonfiction to fiction, writing my debut novel was nothing short of exhilarating. Then the rubber hit the road as the expression goes. I decided to self-publish, even though I had no experience with or understanding of the ins and outs of promoting and marketing a self-published book. The learning curve has been a steep one.

If you’re lucky, a few kind people will give you some far-from-glamorous advice early on in the self-publishing journey. It will go something like this – you have to be in this game for the long haul. Don’t expect overnight success. Selling your self-published book is going to be more like a slow burn than a super nova blazing through the sky. Plug away, write the next book and hang in there.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll nod your head and try to integrate such sage advice into your promotion and marketing plan. You’ll tell yourself to be patient and you’ll really try. But who among us doesn’t have a fantasy buried somewhere that says maybe, just maybe, I’ll be the one to make it big on Amazon right out of the chute?

The fuel that steadily feeds this fantasy is everywhere on social media. Posts claim that all a self-published author has to do is read the latest how-to book on cracking Amazon’s algorithms and sub-categories to sell thousands of e-books. Facebook sites and tweets brag that the author in question turned his or her book into a best seller in five easy steps. These messages are hard to ignore.

Maybe one day, when you’re feeling low about your drastically falling book sales, you’ll weaken. You may succumb to the temptation to throw some money at the problem. This is probably going to happen, so when the glitzy internet ad page, the Facebook boosts, or the blog tour don’t amount to much in terms of sales, don’t be too hard on yourself. We all go through this learning curve.

The entire self-publishing industry is moving incredibly fast. By the time you hear about the next best way to sell a ridiculous number of e-books it’s already going to be too late – everyone else has hopped on the bandwagon and saturated the market. I recently read a discussion thread that said putting books up for free on Amazon doesn’t work nearly as well as it used to. The market is overflowing with free e-books all the time. It’s getting as hard to stand out in the free e-book market as anywhere else. Go figure. Ditto for advertising on BookBub and several other previously go-to promotion sites.

In 2013 Amazon changed the manner in which giving away books affects the all-important ranking system. No longer is it a piece of cake to see a peak in sales after having had your book up listed as free for a period of time. Add to this the fact that publishing houses have allowed a significant drop in the price of e-books by their big name authors and you start to get the idea of what an uphill slog this whole self-publishing thing is going to be. The edge indie authors had when we set the prices of our e-books from 1.99 to 3.99 is quickly disappearing.

Given all of the above, here’s my 2014 go-to plan. I’ll write good stories. Then I’ll rewrite those stories so many times I won’t believe I could have done that many drafts. I’ll get them edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. I’ll make sure I have good covers and my books are properly formatted. Then I’ll put my books out there and let the public decide. I’ll do promotion that feels right to me. I know what suits me, what I can afford and what passes the smell test. I don’t have to spend money I don’t have, or give my hard work away for nothing, or spam out on Facebook and Twitter twenty-four hours a day. It isn’t a glamorous or glitzy plan but I’m pretty sure it is a long haul plan.

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One last thing – a disclaimer – I’m still in the early stages of working on what I’m calling my slow burn plan to becoming a successful indie author. I’m hoping that all I’ve said will prove to be true. My gut says yes! Come back and ask me in 2018. Please! By then I hope to have written and self-published five novels.

I’m an eternal optimist at heart. The above picture is of a poinsettia we had hanging around the cabin since last Christmas. We didn’t do anything special to ensure it would rejuvenate, but all on its own it decided to come back this year, beautiful and bright-red just in time for the holidays. When something like that happens, I can’t help but be optimistic.

A Special Christmas

Kristen's subdivision @ Christmas 2013

This is a re-worked story that appeared on my blog last year. Because that’s what writers do – re-work things. It was inspired by an email I had received that reminded me that Christmas is not an easy time for some people. I sat down to write and this story found its way into being. It isn’t filled with holiday cheer – it doesn’t sparkle and make you smile like a freshly decorated gingerbread house might. But if you’re lucky it could make you grateful for what you have. So – here goes.

A Special Christmas

She never let herself believe in anything as foolish as the magic of Christmas, but this year she couldn’t shake the feeling that something special was happening. It was as if time were standing still – her whole world poised on the precipice – watching and waiting.

She definitely had not anticipated magic. She had watched as early December slipped by like sodden leaves falling battered to the dark earth. Each day she dutifully ripped off a page of the tablet on the desktop calendar, feeling as though a part of her soul was being crumpled right along with the ball of paper that landed with a thud in the trash bin. Death was everywhere, now. It dogged her footsteps each day when she took the dog for a walk through the garden. Plants dragged down to the earth by the weight of the rain and the early frost. Everything was dark and decaying. Just the way they would all end up one day.

The doctor said they could bring Tabby home for Christmas. In the New Year there would be time enough for arranging hospice care. So she had followed his advice and somehow, against all odds, the magic of Christmas had sunk into her the way brandy would soak the cloth-wrapped fruitcake her mother used to make. There was a quality to the coloured lights and decorations, on the streets and in the stores, which brought tears to her eyes. They had taken three days to decorate the tree. The story of each ornament was told with breathless anticipation, all of them lingering over the details. Then someone would hang the ornament with the greatest care so that Tabby would be able to see each one from the hospital bed that now dominated the living room.

She had never before shopped for gifts when the only priority was the present moment. She bought a CD she knew Tabby would love to hear, a bottle of a light and fresh perfume to mask the ever-present smell of life slipping away, the prettiest flannel nightie to wrap around a body now diminished to skin and bones, a stuffed pink bunny – just like the one Tabby had as a toddler – this one brand new and so soft all she wanted to do was stroke it over and over. She couldn’t believe the absolute joy she felt as she wrapped each gift and laid it under the tree.

She piled up precious drops of time spent together – baking and icing sugar cookies, pouring over Christmas cards, playing Christmas music, laughing together as they placed a Santa hat on the dog’s furry head. She knew she was already storing these memories like a miser with every penny that came her way.

The living room was dark now as she sat curled up in the recliner. The rest of the family had gone to bed to deal in their dreams with their own versions of magic and pain. Tabby was asleep at last, the high sides of the hospital bed pulled up, the glint of the morphine drip catching the light from the Christmas tree. Her eyes traced the line of the IV tubing to the point where it snaked under the blanket. Her gaze shifted to the window and she saw the snow falling in huge, fat flakes to the ground. The trees, branches thickly covered, were already bowed under the weight like so many white garbed priests in supplicating prayer. The quiet was deep and total.

Her world was reduced to last moments. Tears washed down her cheeks unaware. The special moments of magic she felt wouldn’t change the fact that Tabby was going to die. Very soon now she was going to lose her seventeen year-old daughter – bury her before her grown-up life had even begun.

She rose silently and grabbed her coat and boots from the hall closet. She tugged on her gloves and wrapped a scarf around her neck. Out on the snow-covered lawn, among the tall trees, she turned slowly, her head thrown back. The snowflakes fell on her face. She watched the stars sparkle far away above her. All that was, all that had ever been, was now, this moment. It was all she had, all she could hang onto, all she could bear.

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Holiday Survival 101

A bit of a holiday survival strategy to think about as the Christmas busyness and family gatherings approach. Hope it helps.

Saying What Matters

The Saying What Matters Lady wants to remind all of you that the Christmas season can be a stressful time. For those of you who never experience any holiday madness in yourself or others, no need to keep reading – this post isn’t meant for you. Everyone else – listen up.

Christmas can be a time when we make unrealistic demands on ourselves and the people around us. I think this is because many of us have been sold a Hallmark/Hollywood/TV version of what Christmas is supposed to be like. The subsequent jolt between that fantasyland and our own reality often equals stress. That stress can lead to behaviours that are not pretty to witness, in ourselves or others.

But don’t despair. The Saying What Matters lady is going to share a two-step plan that might help to temper some of the insanity. But first we’re going to need an…

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Book Review Friday – Disappearing in Plain Sight

Patricia over at Writing Whims was kind enough to feature Disappearing in Plain Sight on her Author Wednesday spot and again on her Friday Book Review. Many thanks for her great interviewing skills and her fine review. I hope you’ll pop over and check out what she has to say about my debut novel and enjoy her great blog.

P.C. Zick - Author/Editor

Disappearing in Plain Sight - coverDisappearing in Plain Sight by Francis L. Guenette (see Author Wednesday interview with Ms. Guenette) is a beautifully executed novel about wounded souls attempting to heal and find their path in a life that hasn’t been kind—so far. The wounded bodies and minds converge in one lovely and isolated spot on Crater Lake on Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. It’s the ideal spot to disappear in plain sight.

The title reminds me of times in my own life when I felt as if I was melting into the corner as life went on around me. It’s not a pleasant state unless done by choice.

One line in the novel resonated with me, “When people talked and gathered he simply disappeared.”

The main characters inhabiting the less social side of Crater Lake disappear in plain sight, and no one even notices.

No one notices, that is…

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Mall-Santaphobia

Stanley Park Christmas Train, Vancouver BC

If the expression Mall-Santaphobia hasn’t already been coined it should be. I’ll take the credit for it if no else wants to. Mall-Santaphobia is best defined as a toddler’s extreme displeasure (soon turning to outright fear) of being dressed up in Christmas best, forced to wait in line forever and then plopped onto Santa’s knee in the centre of the local mall only to see mom backing away, saying, “Smile,” with an odd manic look on her face.

I confess to having never witnessed Mall-Santaphobia when my own kids were little and the explanation is a fairly simply one. There was no mall. And even if there had been one, I’m sure we would have raised our eyebrows in disbelief if anyone had suggested we wait in line and pay a significant portion of money to have the kids get a picture taken on Santa’s knee. Now, lest you think I raised my kids in the dark ages – not so. The times they have been a changing and that change has occurred quickly. Parenting today is a whole new ball game.

As soon as my granddaughter Emma was old enough to walk and scream the word NO, she developed a severe case of Mall-Santaphobia. Even the most distant tinkle of a sleigh bell or a jolly but faint HO-HO-HO, would cause her eyes to narrow and her little feet to dig into the ground as she began a steadily rising litany of no, no, NO.

In Emma’s case this condition generalized to include all life-size dressed-up characters, mascots and even clowns. I won’t describe the scene that occurred one Canada Day when a clown walked up to her and offered her a balloon. Suffice to say the clown moved on pretty darn fast.

But, back to the issue of Santa and the annual trek to the Mall for the all-important Christmas photo. Many parents place a high value on this event. My daughter happens to be one of those parents. Having a child with Mall-Santaphobia definitely throws a wrench into her well-laid plans.

DSC03340One year, I agreed to be part of a campaign that can only be described as serious desensitization training in order to facilitate that photo op. Emma and I took multiple trips to the mall, wandering all around Santa’s Workshop when Santa wasn’t there, getting closer and closer when he was. And I don’t want to confess the number of times we watched the Dora Christmas DVD with me emphasizing what a great guy Santa seemed to be and saying, “Look how much Dora likes Santa, Emma.” I was pretty sure that if she ever got close to Santa she was sure to say, “Ola, Santa. Feliz Navidad!” The outcome was somewhat of a success. That year, Emma agreed to stand by Santa and have her picture taken.

Emma & Brit with Santa 2011

 

Time went by and time makes a big difference in a young child’s life. Emma assured all of us that she had no problem with getting on Santa’s knee. Her younger sister Brit was only four months old and, being too young to raise an objection, she joined in for the fun. It was to be the beginning of a beautiful tradition of Christmas Santa photos. The sisters would wear  matching holiday outfits and be oh-so-cute.

 

 

Of course no one anticipated that Brit would come down with a case of Mall-Santaphobia. If Emma was going to be doing something we all thought it was a sure bet that Brit would be close behind her. Most days it seems she would follow her big sister into a lion’s den without a second thought. But along came Christmas 2012 and we discovered that  she clearly drew the line at Mall Santa’s cosy workshop.

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Waiting in the line-up was all well and good.

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Emma handled the whole thing with style. But Brit had to be dragged like a lamb to the slaughter. As you can tell – not a happy camper. Is that a hand held out in a begging plea for mercy?

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If you look carefully inside the fake plant you will see Grandpa Bruce with his camera.P1060034As we approached Santa’s workshop with the kids he was told he had to put his camera away. Well – saying something like that to a photographer is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. He was having none of it.

Fast-forward another year – December 2013. The dresses were even cuter this year. This photo was taken right before they left for the mall.

Emma and Brit dressed for Santa

Emma managed the whole event, yet again, with style.

Emma and Santa 2013

Unfortunately the trip ended worse than the year before for Brit – fancy red dress shoes skidding backwards across the shining tiles, her blond curls waving wildly as she shook her head and declared, “No Santa, no Santa, no Santa.” Suffice to say, she is too big now to be forced onto Santa’s knee against her will.

When I heard the sad news – no picture of Brit with Santa this year at all – I took a sympathetic tone and commiserated about the loss of what would most certainly have been the cutest photo yet. But inside me there was a part that rejoiced at this independent granddaughter who followed in her older sister’s footsteps and refused to be handed off to jolly old St. Nick. I know that next year they will appear, beautifully dressed, on Santa’s knee with big smiles on their faces. Mall-Santaphobia is a passing phase. But for now, I say – let’s hear it for the independent thinkers. All you little Mall-Santaphobics rock.