Friday, April 20, 2018

Teacher's Pet

by Paul D. Marks

It's hardest to impress those who know us best. What unexpected acknowledgment have you experienced from folks who knew you way back when? (Bonus points if it ties into a wedding, class reunion, or holiday gathering.)

Before I get to this week’s question, I’d like to share some terrific news:

Derringer Nominations are out. And I’m blown away by all the nominations and recognition for several of the stories in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and me. I want to thank the judges and the Short Mystery Fiction Society! I also want to congratulate all the finalists.

I’m thrilled that my story Windward has been nominated for a Derringer in the Best Novelette category.

I also especially want to congratulate the other nominees from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes: Matt Coyle for The #2 Pencil (Best Long Story category); Robert Randisi for Kill My Wife, Please (Best Novelette), Andrew McAleer for King’s Quarter (Best Novelette).  ---  And also from this anthology: Art Taylor’s A Necessary Ingredient is nominated for an Agatha. John Floyd’s Gun Work and my story Windward have both been chosen by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler for inclusion in The Best American Mysteries of 2018. – And I want to thank all of the authors who contributed stories to Coast to Coast.

I’m truly amazed and honored for such a great showing from a terrific book:

So, like I said, mind blowing. And I’m thrilled to be part of it on various levels. And it’s very gratifying to see all the hard work of both the writers and editors paying off. Take my breath away!

Click here to see all Derringers Finalists.


And now to this week’s question:

A friend once said to me you’re never a prophet in your own land, referencing the biblical quote. I think he was referring to certain members of my family who, no matter what I did or achieved, never seemed happy for me. Even when I had early writing successes, exciting and happy moments for me, they were not impressed and just wanted to focus the attention back on themselves instead of congratulating me. I think boiled down to its basic element my friend was saying familiarity breeds contempt.

One of the people I would have most wanted to impress, an uncle, died too F-ing soon—before I had much visible success. So F him for dying before I could shove it in his face. At least I’m not bitter. Nope, I have many fond memories of this guy.

Outside of certain family members, that uncle and some others (long story), I think most people in my early life thought reasonably well of me and expected me to make something of myself more than becoming a serial killer, though of course I guess I serially kill people in my writing. But there’s less blood that way and you don’t have to spend all that money on Rubbermaid containers, bleach and the always-necessary duct tape.

I did have one interesting experience, though it may not quite fit the parameters of the question, but close. So I’ll tell it as a little story:

She stood, towering over me, the paragon of wisdom, imparter of knowledge, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Morrison (name changed to protect the sanctity of student-teacher confidentiality). She knew everything there was to know, especially how to finger-paint and build with blocks. And she knew where the milk and cookies were, where the sleepy-time mats were and when it was nap time. One of the things that happened in that early-on class is I met the guy—we’ll call him Buster—who many years later became my writing partner in Hollywood for a time.

As my first teacher, Mrs. Morrison made a lasting impression. However, after accomplishing the consummate feat of graduating from kindergarten and moving upward (in grade) and outward (into the main building from the kindergarten corner), I didn't see her much anymore.

Many years later, after losing touch with both Buster and Mrs. Morrison, I ran into Buster again and we decided to become writing partners. Since Mrs. Morrison was the first major thing we had in common we even borrowed her last name for our pseudonyms when we needed them. Well, Buster and I eventually broke up for a variety of reasons and, man, it was like a nasty divorce. We had to have a lawyer divide the babies, but that’s another tawdry story. Anyway:

Flash forward: I'm taking a novel writing class at UCLA Extension (many years ago at this point). One of the women in the class asks me if I'd like to join her writers' group. Sounds interesting, I say, and check it out a few nights later. There are several women “of a certain age” in the room and me. One of them stands out. She has a vaguely familiar look about her. When I'm introduced to her as Emily Morrison I'm astonished to find myself sitting across the room from my kindergarten teacher—Mrs. Morrison. I stare and stare at her throughout the group's session. What must she think of my staring? Do I have eyes for her? Am I some kind of swain waiting for the right moment to make my move? When it's over I go up to her and ask if she taught kindergarten at XYZ Elementary School, where all the teachers are strong, the principal’s good-looking, and all the children are above average. Natch! When she says "yes," I know I'd better watch my "Ps" and "Qs," literally.  And I wait for milk and cookie time.

She didn't remember me, but she did remember my writing partner, Buster, whose family lived across the street from the school. So, of course, she asked me a lot about him, as well as myself. And at the next class I brought my kindergarten class pic and showed her me—that sort of jogged her memory and she sort of remembered. And she did admit to me that she wondered why I had been staring at her that first session. She did think I was interested. It was pretty funny really.

As I got to know her, I learned about all kinds of “backstage” machinations at the elementary school back in the day, things I never would have guessed and some of which are pretty sordid.

But the high point of my connecting again with Mrs. Morrison is when she made me a collage with photos of our kindergarten class and a note saying I was her favorite student of all time. So I guess I went from being unremembered to fave student ;-) . Now that’s somethin’!

Here’s a pic of me from my kindergarten class picture. And also of Mrs. “Morrison.” I’m sorry about the quality. My external hard drive crashed and I can’t access most of my photos so I had to cop this from something else and, unfortunately, it’s the best I can do right now.


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Gerald So said...

Hi, Paul.

I think it can go either way, A) the people who know us best know our work to well to be impressed, or B) the people who know us best are too easily impressed with us. Odds are they saw something special in us before most after all.

As a poet and short story writer, I'm wary of submitting to the same market too often. I don't want to overstay my welcome, but I also want to keep challenging myself and growing as a writer. That doesn't happen unless you submit widely.

It means a lot to me that many markets have published my work. It's proof I'm far from the only one who thinks I'm a good writer.

Congrats again on the Derringers. :)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you, Gerald. The Derringer nom means a lot me and I truly am thrilled.

I agree with all of your points re: people being impressed or not with our work. And also with the idea of wanting to try new markets (and genres) and grow as a writer. As you say, it’s proof that we’re not the only ones who think we’re decent writers.

Good stuff and thanks for the comments.

Art Taylor said...

Hey, Paul — Congratulations again on the great success that your story has earned, and the anthology overall! Such fun. :-)

And I remember you telling me that story about your teacher--such an interesting one and wondered as soon as I saw this week's prompt if you might be telling it here. Glad you did!

Look forward to toasting you on many counts at Bouchercon--hopefully with even more good news coming your way between now and then as well! :-)


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Congratulations on being nominated for a Derringer, Paul.

Unknown said...

A well told saga of childhood viewpoints turned upside down. Also I'm sorry your uncle died too soon to have his face rubbed in it. Would have been great if he had to congratulate you on the Derringer nomination - Anyway, I am super pleased!

GBPool said...

I was an Air Force Brat and didn't spend very many years in one place, so there are very few people that I got to know. But, I went to a boarding school in France my last two years of high school. Mostly American military kids. I ended up writing a spy novel about a few of those kids and I said that some of the guys went into the CIA because their background growing up all over the world lent itself to that type of a job. At our 30th Class Reunion in Las Vegas (It was sort of a central location for all of us former students)I mentioned this to a fellow classmate. He smiled and said my imagination was actually right on the mark. Several guys I went to school with did just that. But then again, the Air Force acted as the wings of the CIA and my dad was a pilot. Maybe I didn't just guess that after all. We did have a good long talk.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Art. And congratulations to you as well. Good luck at Malice! I hope we’re having a lot to toast at Bouchercon. And even if not, we can toast our blues away ;-) .

Paul D. Marks said...

Glad you enjoy the kindergarten teacher story. It was truly a surreal experience.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dieter!

Paul D. Marks said...

Great story, Gayle. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not to move around so much as a kid, but it sure gives you a lot of great stories.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the Derringer nomination. Friends and family have been very supportive of my writing, but some haven't read a single word I've penned! Go figure. Great kindergarten story.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Paul, I was just talking to Lyne about this very topic this evening before I read your blog. A friend of Lyne's son just graduated from a Coast Guard school, his parents were there, and instead of boasting of his success, his dad picked on him. I am very sensitive to seeing people hurt by actions such as this. I was very fortunate to have had supportive parents, but I've had my share of hurt along the way. Rather than let it deter me, though, it gave me more resolve to prove I can do whatever I set my mind to. I've also done my best to provide encouragement so others don't suffer. It's not a perfect world, but it could be better if we spread a little kindness.

Congratulations again on your writing success!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Maggie. And you’re lucky if your friends and family are supportive. Maybe one day those holdouts will read somethig of yours. I have people in my family that I never thought would read my stuff who did…and even liked it. – And glad you enjoyed the kindergarten story. It really was surreal.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Mark. And I’m sorry to hear about Lyne’s friend’s son’s dad picking on him at his graduation. I’m also very sensitive to things like that as I’ve had my own things to deal with along those lines. I’m also like you in that when someone says you can’t do it I resolve to prove them wrong. The problem is sometimes they don’t live long enough to see that I’ve proved them wrong ;-) . -- And I think it’s great aht you try to give encouragement.

You’re definitely right about it not being a perfect world, but as you say, it helps if we pay it forward.