Santa Doesn’t Visit Poor Kids

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“You say that to shock people,” the love of my life offers. I offer him more cheese and crackers and drink the last of his Sam Adams Winter Lager. It’s bitter and I make a face.

“Maybe,” I agree, “but it’s true.”

I hadn’t been teaching in an urban school long before I changed my December curriculum. No one cared what I taught my special ed. Kindergartners as long as they quit running naked in the halls and didn’t leave puddles of pee on the newly waxed floors. When Christmastime came at my new school, I approached the Principal about taking the kids to the mall to see Santa. He was dubious but made arrangements for a school bus. I told the kids we were going to see Santa, but Elvis objected.

“No see Santa,” he insisted, but I ignored him- a mistake I tried never to make again.

The gentle white Santa sat on his throne, in all his splendor, and called for my class. Milton went first. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and he wouldn’t let the old man touch him. Inching away, he knocked over a fake reindeer and a small tree. Comforted with a candy cane, he sucked on it without removing the plastic.

While I was trying to get Dalton to spit out the fake snow he was cramming into his mouth with both hands, Elvis strutted up to the waiting Santa. Six years old, street-smart and wise, he had something to say and no adult was stopping him.

“How come you no come my house?” Elvis shouted. “You no like me? I’se good boy!” Good for Elvis is a relative term- meaning in the last five minutes he hadn’t cussed me out in Spanish or stolen something from the classroom.

Santa lost his smile and he stuttered. I suspect they didn’t cover dealing with Elvis in Santa school. Elvis put his hands on his hips and shook a tiny finger in Santa’s direction. “You no come my street. I no like you!”

He stomped off the staging area, grabbed a handful of candy canes from the Elf, and kicked over the remaining fake reindeer. Joan liberated most of the candy canes, but Santa didn’t want them back, and we hurriedly rushed the rest of the class through the experience.

I quit asking children what they wanted for Christmas or what Santa would bring them. There were whole neighborhoods in my city that Santa didn’t go down and it seemed cruel to taunt them with dreams that wouldn’t come true.

I focused on the role of family and friends during the holidays and the beauty of the lights. I taught my kids the story of Chanukah and Elvis acted out the lead of Judas Maccabee with relish. We learned about Kwanzaa and the meaning behind each candle. We pretended to light the candles for Diwali and float them down the river. We talked about the angels singing to the shepherds. And once in a while, we colored pictures of Santa and his skin tone varied, depending on what color crayons were left after Dalton chewed his favorite ones.

Every year, as a family, we picked out one student not in my class and bought the one toy they wanted for Christmas. One year it was the worst kid in the school. Franklin had been teasing my class merciless at lunch, on the bus, and in the schoolyard. Nothing made him cease his evil actions.

“That’s the kid we should buy for this year,” my ten-year-old son said after I ranted about his behavior at dinner- again. Taken back by his suggestion, I resisted. I’d rather put snakes in Franklin’s bed than buy him the toy of his dreams.

“He’s just acting out because he needs attention,” my kid continued, giving me the same advice I’d given him about his own bully.

I stopped Franklin in the hall the next day.

“I dina do nuttin!” He protested.

“What do you want for Christmas, Franklin?”

He stared at me. “We don’t have no money for Christmas,” he replied, like I was the stupid one. “Not like Santa’s comin or nuttin.”

“If you could have any toy, what would it be?”

A bit of the belligerent look in his eyes faded as he described the remote control car he wanted. It wasn’t the huge, brand name car my own son and his friends had requested, but a small car that ran on double AA’s. I nodded and walked away.

The last day of school before Christmas break, it snowed and Franklin skipped school. I watched the snow piling on the cars and in the street. It was going to be slick driving until the sand trucks started, and there were streets in the city that hadn’t been plowed since the last major snow.

Joan stayed behind to clean up the glitter, Kool-aid, bits of chewed wrapping paper, and smears of frosting as while I drove to Franklin’s house. No one was home. The snow was falling thicker and it was sticking. The car in front of me did a donut just missing the streetlight.  The sidewalks were empty. Even the drug dealers on the corners were inside drinking hot cocoa. The state workers who left early for their warm homes in the suburbs had already left the city leaving me alone on the city streets in the middle of a snowstorm.  There were few riders on the rare city buses I saw. The slick slush grew deeper.  Night was coming, and I had my own kid, at home, wanting to tell me about his day. I drove all over the city, praying for a miracle.

The present next to me took up the entire passenger seat. Wrapped in our best paper with a huge bow, was the nicest remote control car that Radio Shack sold; with a year of batteries attached. But it looked like Franklin wasn’t getting a present this year either. “That’ll teach you to skip school,” I muttered, ready to give up.

A snowplow, the first I’d seen, threw a mountain of slushy brown snow on my car. My wipers couldn’t clear it. I pulled over, got out the brush, and pushed the muck off my window.

“Mz. M? Need help?” Franklin offered. Snow covered his shoulders and he looked cold in his thin, three sizes too small, winter coat with a broken zipper.  I should have bought him a coat too.

“How come you cut school today?” I asked, always a teacher first.

He shrugged and brushed the snow off my hood with his coat sleeve. “Gonna get in trouble ‘n suspended if I went, so I’s started vacation early.”

I opened the passenger door, took out the present, and thrust it at him. “Merry Christmas!”

He glared at me, not reaching for it. I shoved the package towards him again. “For you.”

He crossed his arms. “I ain’t takin’ it. I ain’t no charity case.”

“Fine,” I said shortly and not in the best holiday spirits. “I’ve been looking for you for two hours, and I’m tired.” I set the package on a snowbank and shut the passenger door. “See you in January.”

“Wait,” he called as I opened the driver’s side door.

He picked up the package and nodded his appreciation. I accepted it silently. He kicked at the snow, silent. A few of the remaining working streetlights came on, and the wind kicked up, blowing snow around him like snow angels dancing. A shy smile he didn’t want me to see showed briefly and vanished.

“Wanna ride home?” I offered. My kid would wait. He wouldn’t want me to leave this kid to walk home carrying a big package. He’d be a target with it- if he even made it home safe.

I pulled up in front of Franklin’s dark house. Snow covered the taped windows and gang tags. No outdoor Christmas lights glittered in the darkness bringing light to the dark street. The lack of working streetlights added to the gloom.

“Thanks for the ride. You shouldn’t be in this neighborhood at night,” Franklin said. “Lemme run this in and watch you leave.”

“Santa doesn’t visit poor kids,” I tell people, meaning only people visit poor kids. Maybe I do say it to shock them. Mostly I say it because it’s true, and people seem to forget it. We are the lights of the season, not the bright bulbs on the outside of the house.

 

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Paying Dues

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You occasionally see photos of authors at book signings with empty chairs and stacks of books no one is buying and before you publish, you’re a bit arrogant, and think, “That won’t be me. My book will sell itself.” Not true.

Part of garnering attention for it means sitting in an arts and crafts consignment shop on a cold rainy Saturday and waiting for nonexistent customers or going to a book signing at a bus stop that’s quit running. It means selling books to all your friends and family and inviting them to signings so the room is full. It requires marketing, more marketing, and yet more marketing, having faith that one day a small miracle will happen and your book will stand out.

As I explore the wonderful world of not selling books, I’m learning what didn’t work this time failed for a different reason than what didn’t work last time. It’s like collecting rejection slips and writing synopsis before you find a publisher- you’re paying dues.

Am I done trying things or thinking outside the box? Not at all. What I am doing now is looking for places where people gather and asking if I can share that space. I’ve banded together with other writers so there are lots of ideas. I’ve done some things that work but I’m open to suggestions. What works for you- on a shoe string budget?

Just Go Ahead and Alter Those My Little Ponies…

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The 2.5 year old and I bought a lot of MLP (My Little Ponies) at the Goodwill a month or two ago and she expressed no interest in them… until yesterday… AFTER I painted three black and started transforming them into Day of the Dead Ponies for the Fur Reality convention.

She looked and looked for her other little ponies and played non-stop with her remaining two. Really played- giving them separate voices, feeding them, combing their hair, sleeping with them, telling stories with them. Today I gave in and took her to the BIG Toy Store to get a new pony. We usually go to the small local store that has interesting toys, but this trip required the store with the backwards R because it has a huge selection. Noni was thrilled with our adventure. She found something that interested in nearly every aisle, flopping down on the floor to look at a box or read a book. It made toy shopping lengthy and I insisted that she stay focused and pick only one toy, and she continued to chose the box of three Tiny ponies wearing dresses.

In the backseat, all the way home, she talked to the ponies in the box and introduced them to her Big Pony. “This is your big sister. Momma’s at home.” And then, she said to me, “My ponies are very sad, NiNi.”

“Why?”

“Because they don’t have a daddy. Let’s go get a daddy pony.”

We didn’t, of course. I put out a call to an online garage sale group for MLP lots. We’ll see what happens…

And those in the process of being altered? Tip #1 Braid their hair BEFORE you start. Tip #2 Allow plenty of time for each layer of paint to dry before beginning the next layer. Good thing the convention is 9 days away!!! It may take me all of them to finish them! Tip #3 If you want the toddler to play with something, take it away and turn it into something else.

Viva! Fur Reality!

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We are in the dealer room of the Fur Reality! Con in two weeks. The convention theme of Viva! is loosely based on Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday/remembrance of loved ones and ancestors that have gone ahead of us. As I’m planning our booth and the tie-in freebies, I’m going with solid black, red, and orange cloths for the table and shelving drapes. We used those colors before and they did an excellent job of highlighting our colorful book covers. I’ve ordered a portable metal stand for our backdrop to hang our banners from and I’m planning on using Day of the Dead skeletons across the front of the table.

I found reprintable Day of the Dead cat masks on Pinterest (Go Pinterest!) and think they make the perfect inexpensive tie-in handout. You color, cut, glue, and attach a ribbon and you have a very cute cat skeleton mask. I toyed with having the materials at the table so that you could make the mask right there, but I think it’ll take up too much table real estate so it’ll be something we hand out to passer-byers. I’m hoping it will drive traffic to our booth. With coloring gaining acceptance, I printed out two cute sugar skulls and added a link to my books at the top that I will have printed front and back so you get two coloring pages for the price of one.

One of the other authors is making dragon eggs to offer to people who buy three books. “Buy three books and get a dragon’s egg free.” It should make people smile!

I found the cutest altered My Little Pony and am seriously considering taking one of Noni’s many ponies and painting it black. I’m curious about my painting skills and am not sure that I can do the detail work of one I saw, but I’m going to try it! The worst that can happen is that Noni gets a new Pony from the Thrift Store this week! I’d love to do her large unicorn too, but I know she’d miss that!

I’m also putting together the workshop on “From Fan Fic to Published” in case there’s room on the schedule for it. (If not, I’ll have it done for other cons in the next year.)

Am I missing anything?

Fur Reality! October 9-11 in Cincinnati at the Crowne Plaza Blue Ash. If you’re in the area, stop in and keep me company (and maybe buy a book- any book! Doesn’t have to be one of mine – though I’d be very grateful!)

Paper Clutter

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We have house guests coming next weekend to attend my next book signing and they are staying in my work space/guest room/media room/grandchildren’s play space/bedroom. It’s a large room, but since I’ve been preoccupied with the edits of my newest book, there isn’t a clean flat surface in the room.

Plus, I started tackling the paper chaos and realized that in this world of digital writing, I am still a paper person. I have notes, notebooks, story charts, character studies, plot plottings, workshopped drafts of current (and old) works, and writing lesson plans stuck in a heap on the floor by the bed. On top of that stack, I have paper copies of my screenplays, my books in various editing drafts, and the shorts I’m working on. I can’t bring myself to toss them so I got magazine holders and labeled them, but either my categories are too narrow or I’m going to need a dozen more. It’s not that I don’t have digital backups of everything- because I do- but I like the hard copies… even if it adds to workplace clutter.

All my giant Post-it worksheets are down (and in the process of being stashed in a stand up wrapping paper box with the name of the project on the outside) as I’m finishing up older projects and not ready to begin a new one so the walls look bare.

Tomorrow I’m starting the first draft of a workshop I’m presenting so I need to quit procrastinating and clean up the space! I know the answer to storage issues isn’t more storage solutions, but I can’t bring myself to toss the paper copies. It’s like they’re tangible proof of my hard work. Any other writers have this problem?

The Authentic Voice

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Once in a while I read a book so powerful emotionally that it hurts to keep reading and I have to shut the book, return to the real world, and breath. That is a book whose author has an authentic voice- who writes from a real place and transfers it into printed words on a page. The hurt is transformed and given to a created character giving life and depth to a made up being. While it no longer resembles the pain the writer felt, it remains authentic. This is what we mean when we tell people to write what they know. Too often writers think that means they need to know the nuts and bolts about how something works, but you can learn that through research (do your research!), but what it really means is- infuse your imagined beings with real world emotions, hurts, pains, ugly backstories that motivate them and drive them through the conflict. That’s the authentic voice. Write on! Use the pain!

On Not Selling Any Books At Comic Expo

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Last weekend I shared a booth with three other writers from my publishing company, Wordbranch at Comic Expo in Cincinnati. Friday- they sold books, I sold none. Saturday- they sold books, I sold none. Sunday- they sold a lot of books- I sold one and I gave away a couple. I mean, I sold their books but my own didn’t sell.

But I’m counting the experience as a success- not a failure. Straight across from me was a young Illustrator from New Jersey who has friends who might be interested in working on a kickstarter graphic novel campaign with me. Next to him was an amazing artist who had done three cons in a row before this one and who left yesterday for #5. While the excitement of doing a con is long gone, he was full of positive advice and encouragement. Right next to me was another Illustrator who complimented me on my bouncy smile (I worked very hard to be upbeat and happy). Cattycorner to my booth was the GREAT Neal Adams and I watched him sign and talk to his fans. It was a masters degree in marketing.

Several cosplayers came back so I could take their pictures and I talked to a fan club who want me to do 4 sessions of my newest workshop “From Fan Fic to Published” for them. I met a young writer and have followed up with her, doing a tiny bit of coaching and encouraging this week.

None of this is tangible- a check you can hold in your hands and feel affirmed that it was good exposure for you. But it makes me happy. I would have been thrilled to sell books… absolutely thrilled! But if I’m not going to sell books, then I might as well meet a ton of great human beings… and that I did! Oh, and if you want to buy a book, check out jerjonji on Amazon! There are four available!

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