Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First news story: memoir 13

A quick swig to start the day
The parade that February morning in 1978 was a blur of costumes and a marching band. My eyes misted to hear the pretty flutes and piccolos. From where I stood on the sidewalk children scrambled to catch candy thrown to them from antique cars. I wore jeans, a sweatshirt, and sneakers, thankful that reporters didn't need to look like models.
     All weekend I worked on the article for the Gardena Valley News. First on a clipboard in longhand then typed and retyped from my wobbly card table in the kitchen. Several pages long, I presented my proud achievement to the city editor on Monday morning.
     I stood by his desk as he read without comment, crossing out line after line with a heavy dark pencil. He X-ed out whole passages with arrows through the center pointing down to the next and only usable sentences. The result: a tiny blurb of a story.
     "Not bad for a beginner," John said. "Go to Charlie for another assignment." He nodded toward the editor-in-chief, partially hidden behind a larger desk of clutter.
     Embarrassed by my over-writing and no longer confident, I introduced myself.  
     "So you're our new stringer? Congratulations." Charlie Ferrell was friendly and upbeat with a great sense of humor that immediately put me at ease.
     The term "stringer" goes back to the olden days when freelancers were paid by how much they wrote, that is, how many inches of type filled a column of the newspaper. Reporters used string to measure their articles then they were paid according to the length of their strings.
     Over the next weeks Charlie and I became friends as I turned in more stories. I learned that he loved roller coasters and when we drove to assignments together he listened to Gregorian chants. Charlie understood my dream. So did John.
     The more I wrote, even though editing squished my stories down to a few lines, the more exhilarated I felt. One day I burst into the newsroom and announced I wanted to be a full-time reporter.
     "How much are you willing to sacrifice?" John asked.
     "Oh just about anything. I'll even quit school."
     He shook his head and wagged a yellow finger at me. "You do that, young lady, and you're bound to lose more than you bargained for. It's a tough world out there."
     Boy, was he right.

From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reporter girl: memoir 12

The wooden staircase was narrow with peeling paint. As I climbed to the second floor of the Gardena Valley News, the clacking of typewriters grew louder. Nervous, I slowed down, my hand on a railing sticky with grime. Dressed in a peasant blouse and knee-length skirt, a tie-dye bag over my shoulder, I gulped a few breaths.
     I was twenty-seven now, a California girl fresh off the beach. I mean literally. That morning I'd jogged in the shallow waves between the Hermosa and Manhattan Beach piers, a mile each way, then had gone swimming in the cool salt water. My hair was long and sun-bleached.   
always a beach girl
     The newsroom was hazy from smoke with the stink of a cigar in the mix. In 1978 it seemed that everyone smoked. Desks crowded the area cluttered with papers and file folders, upright typewriters, black telephones ringing. Two reporters in rumpled shirts and day-old beards looked like they'd been up all night. The city editor, John, according to his name-plate, was in his 50s. He squinted at me through the smoke of his cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.
     "What is it?" he shouted over the noise.
     Still nervous, I walked over to his desk. A Teletype machine on a nearby table chugged like an engine, so loud, I yelled, "I want to be a reporter!"
     John's fingers were stained with nicotine, his hands shaky. "So what's your experience?"
     "None, really. Well, I like people."
     He looked at me in disbelief while I jabbered about my journalism class and blabiddyblabla how all my life I'd wanted to write stories.
     I was still blathering when he turned to his typewriter. Without looking at me he said, "There's a parade Saturday, downtown Gardena. Bring me a story. If it's printable, you'll get ten bucks and a byline."
     Ten dollars? And my name would be in the paper? I would nail this!

From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Too fat: memoir 11

age 12: future "fattie"
Manhattan Beach was near LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), a pleasant fifteen-minute drive along the ocean. Hoping to become a travel writer, I applied to be a stewardess with TWA. The panel of interviewers asked questions in French and, boy was I tempted to jazz things up by singing Chevaliers de la Table Ronde, but I kept that joke to myself. Pleased with my polite answers, they asked me to step on the scale there in the room -- ooof -- then motioned for me to turn around so they could view my derriere.
     "You look like a cow." Well, those weren't their words, but it sure felt like it. They did say, "We'd love to hire you. You're tall enough, 5'6", but come back when you lose twenty pounds." I hurried to the parking lot, ashamed to weigh 135.
     It was the mid-70s. Thin was in. Trying to look like Twiggy for a job seemed hopeless -- and stupid -- but creating stories, hmm, the public wouldn't know if the girl pecking away at a typewriter was beautiful or just a dog in a party hat. I decided once and for all to become a real writer.
     At Cal State University, Dominguez Hills, I took a journalism class and helped edit the school's literary journal, which published some of my poems and short stories. I was so thrilled to see my name in print I went nuts. The instructor said, "Kristi, if you're serious about words, get onto a daily newspaper. Be a reporter."
     I asked a million questions, mainly "how?" I was scared to death.
     "Try Gardena Valley News," he said. "It's just a few miles from here. Go talk to the editor."
      So I did. And thus began a whirlwind adventure in journalism.

From: BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Les Chalets Français: memoir 10

Les Chalets Français postcard
The beauty of desert, ocean, and blue skies from childhood are mirrored in my stories. When seventeen and eighteen, I spent the two happiest summers of my life at a girls' French camp in Deer Isle, Maine.
     Its isolation -- the nearest town was Stonington, seven miles away -- and its balsam forests, and offshore island inspired the setting for the Cabin Creek Mystery series.
     Lost Island is based on Elsa's Isle [PHOTO, above], which was close enough to the camp's waterfront for us to get there by swimming, but we usually canoed or sailed because the Atlantic tides were so frigid. The old cabin where we took sleeping bags for overnights gave me the idea for Fort Grizzly Paw. And Claire's poodle, Yum-Yum, is modeled after Murphy, the camp's wildly popular French poodle.
     In The Clue at the Bottom of the Lake the young detectives investigate a mysterious trespasser they see on the island. They meet at the dock with their backpacks and three dogs, Yum-Yum leading the expedition by perching in the bow of the canoe.
     As for learning French, at first I couldn't understand more than bonjour, but soon I was singing along with the counselors at campfires. My favorite, Chevaliers de la Table Ronde, turned out to be a rowdy tribute to the virtues of wine, a delight to belt out in polite company. I'm still hoping to work that into a story!

From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

cats who like books

My grandnephew, Emmett, wondered if cats like to read so he went outside to conduct a survey and learned that THEY DO!!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Trouble in school: memoir 9

sassy in high school
As a junior in high school, my grades suffered from absences -- I ditched a lot to stay home and read -- but most likely from arrogance. Why did English teachers assign boring pop-quizzes? I titled one, "Paragraph-ology," a made-up word to show my defiance then sat in the back row, slumped and angry. For three pages I blathered in flowery penmanship with arrows, dashes, and smiley faces.
     The teacher wasn't amused. She responded in red ink with an F at the top of the page: "You need to get yourself some study habits. All you needed to know to pass this test were the main sub-headings in your chapter. Didn't you look at them?"
     The next composition I kept short and sweet, just half a page with lots of exclamation points. In it, I imagined one of my ancestors, a Danish Viking, as he staggered into a tavern drunk and shouting. I trailed off, not knowing how to end the thing.
     More red ink. "Incomplete. Work reflects lack of preparation." Well, at least my grade improved: D- for this one.
     Then more trouble. The principal called some of us girls into his office and made us kneel on the floor. The year was 1968. Our hems hung half-an-inch above the linoleum, so he sent us home. Outraged by this injustice, because other girls got away with minis, we led a revolt. We returned to school in midis that fell to our shins. A photo in our yearbook shows our line-up from the knees down.
     Long skirts and funky shoes. The rebels had spoken!

Photo [above]: I'm in the center, wearing turquoise, my favorite color.  From BLUE SKIES: ONE AUTHOR'S JOURNEY, to be published this Fall.