Monthly Archives: September 2017

Symphony 5

“I began to tutor her after school. We were reading Julius Caesar at the time. She could read the words plainly, and she could work through the antique phrasing to get at the literal meaning. But it didn’t mean anything to her. She didn’t grasp the story behind the story, and when I would point some of it out to her, she just looked at me like I was speaking another language.

“Four weeks later, I gave an essay test on Julius Caesar. She took it carefully, wrote neatly, and filled her blue book. But when I read it, it contained nothing except bare facts and a few of the things I had told her. There was no evidence of her own thoughts.

“I gave her a C, and she accused me of seducing her.”

# # #

It was quiet in Campbell’s office. The voices of children playing in the yard outside filtered through the windows. Neil continued, “I don’t think she ever meant to make the accusation. I think she rehearsed saying it, playing with the idea, but she had never intended to carry out her fantasy. Once it slipped out, she was trapped. There was no turning back.

“She told her father that I had offer to give her an A if she came across. She wouldn’t file charges with the police, but she couldn’t keep him from taking it before the school board. It was a circus. Her father called me a perverted vulture preying on innocent young girls and I called his daughter a liar. It was like being on trial, but without the safeguards. The chairman of the school board did his best, but it got rowdy.

“Alice said I had been coming on to her all year. She said she finally gave in, and we had sex behind closed doors in the classroom, every Tuesday after school.”

Neil had to stop long enough to swallow back his bitterness.

“I never laid a hand on her, and I always left my door open. I told the board that. I said she was lying. She said the same about me. We both said it loud and ugly.

“It was the door that settled the matter. Alice claimed that it was always closed; I said it was always open. One of the board members went to get the janitor in charge of that wing. He told the school board that the door had been open every afternoon. He even remembered hearing Alice and me talking about Julius Caesar.”

Campbell shifted in his chair, and said, “So the board didn’t act?”

“Between her lie about the door and her refusal to talk to the police, it was pretty clear that she was making it up. The board tabled the matter. Hamilton circulated a petition to have me fired, and several hundred signed it. Then some members of the board came to me quietly and asked me to resign for the good of the community.”

“But you didn’t?” Campbell said.

“How could I? It would have been the same as admitting guilt. Besides, I was getting mad.

“The school board rejected Hamilton’s petition. The story ran in the newspaper the next day, with my picture on the front page. One of the board members said that their hands were tied by tenure. There was nothing they could do.” 

That was when his troubles really started. Every day for the next three weeks, there was a parent in the back of each of Neil’s classes, taking notes and watching every move he made.

“I could take all that,” Neil said, “but when April came and it was time to sign up for fall classes, parents started coming to Dr. Watkins quietly, one by one, asking that their children not be put in with me.

“Until then, I had been dealing with a vocal minority. Now I was forced to realize that for every parent who was convinced of my guilt, there were ten more who weren’t sure of my innocence. It was the last straw.” more tomorrow

409. Man Stuff

I wrote this last Thursday. The post, not the quotation.

          Marquart and Dael took a bench in a completed corner. “Tell me how you have things arranged,” he said.
          “None of the wardens will leave their houses until late in the morning. The first will arrive here about midday. We will have roast krytes ready by then . . .” Marquart waved away her recitation. He didn’t care about preparations for food and drink; he was satisfied that there would be plenty of both.
          “Who will sleep where? Who will arrive first, who will stay latest, who will want to get me alone to talk to, who will get drunk quickest, who is likely to pick a fight, and with whom?”
          “Oh, man stuff.”
                                          from Valley of the Menhir

Today, I was writing chapter eleven of my latest steampunk novel. So far my hero (I don’t do wimpy protagonists) has served aboard four dirigibles and has risen in rank from Sub Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander, brevet, in the British air service. These craft are the result of an unscrupulous Brit who, through theft, intimidation, and assassination has crippled the German airship effort and stolen all their ideas.

Earlier this morning (as I wrote) Lieutenant Commander David James and I settled thirty passengers into their berths on the Henry V, a dirigible of war acting as a passenger vessel carrying diplomats the the Grand Durbar in Delhi. If you don’t know what a durbar is, you’ll find out in coming months. David hated every minute of it.

Then we got a break of several hours as he got to go back to his real job as the lowest member of the group of senior officers, seeing to details as the dirigible, nicknamed Harry in reference to Shakespeare, leaves London for Paris. We have been following David’s career for eleven chapters now, and he has done a little bit of everything as he worked his way up. He will do even more in the future, and we will (metaphorically) stand at his shoulder and give him our moral support.

Man stuff.

The year is 1887, Victoria is on the throne, and our Britain is even stronger than the real one was since they just won the German War, largely through a squad of spies and assassins that remains Britain’s guilty secret. David is one of the few Brits who knows this.

Now its time for me to take David by the shoulders and march him down to the lounge to preside, as a stand-in for the massively scarred Commander VanHoek, over the first evening meal of the cruise. He hates the idea. Actually, so do I. In writing, as in life, sometimes if you want to go to a certain place, the path to get there passes through places you would rather avoid.

I’ve been researching Victorian aristocratic gossip in order to build a world like yet unlike our own. It’s not my cup of Earl Grey, but it is the job I’ve taken on, and I will do it well. Well enough, in fact, to move my readers through the event without arousing their distaste. That’s the writer’s equivalent of “never let them see you sweat”.

Still, I’ll be glad when the dinner is over so David and I can get back down to the engineroom where we can try to get another horsepower out of those damned, recalcitrant McFarland engines.

Man stuff.

Symphony 4

William Campbell was a short, spare man with graying hair. When he rose from behind his desk to shake hands, there was no welcome in his face. He said, “I’ve read your resume, but go ahead and tell me about yourself.”

“I am twenty-nine and unmarried,” Neil began. “I graduated from Oregon State in English Literature. I spent a year in New York working for a series of magazines as copy editor and writer. Then I came back home and got my Masters and a teaching credential . . .”

“Why did you quit and come back?”

“The work was unrewarding. I was working for magazines no one had ever heard of, basically doing drudge work. There was no chance of advancement, so I chalked it up to experience and went back to college. I got my credential in English Literature. Jim Watkins gave me my first job, and I’ve been teaching now for four years.”

“What levels did you teach?”

“He started me with freshmen, but for the last two years I have been teaching mostly seniors. Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Brontes — that sort of thing.”

“Are freshmen the youngest students you have taught?”


Campbell shook his head, and said, “Teaching high school students is no preparation for teaching sixth grade. The children in this school are very young. Can you bring your teaching down to their level? Because if you can’t, you have no business coming here.”

“I won’t know until I try.”

“Are you willing to attempt it?”

“I don’t have much choice.”

That put the preliminaries behind them.

# # #

Campbell leaned back in his chair and frowned. “No,” he said, “I don’t suppose you have a lot of choices. But I do, and I don’t like being put on the spot. I will only do so much, even for an old friend like Jim Watkins. You will have to convince me that you are no danger to my school or I will send you packing. That means not only today, but at any time during the coming year.”

Three years earlier, Neil would have walked out. Now maturity and need held him in his chair. He said, “What do you want to know?”

“Everything, from your perspective.”

“You know that I was accused of sexual misconduct and that there were no formal charges because the girl turned out to be lying. You probably don’t know how I got into the mess in the first place, or what came after.”

# # #

Alice Hamilton was fifteen. Somewhere in elementary school, someone had let her skip a grade, and now she was taking senior English during her junior year. That put her two years ahead. Her father was a prominent local surgeon and a member of the school board, and he was convinced that his daughter was a genius. She wasn’t.

Her parents demanded As. Alice tried hard enough to get them. Her papers were always neat, typed, and on time. The problem was, she was only fifteen, and it takes emotional maturity to react to Shakespeare. Her papers were childish, because she was a child. She would have been a happy and productive sophomore, but she had no business in a class for seniors.

Alice came to Neil after class one day and asked him to tutor her. She said that if she didn’t get As, she couldn’t get into Princeton. Princeton was her father’s fantasy, but she was the one who had to fulfill it.

# # #

“She asked me for help,” Neil said. “I knew that she had a reputation for manipulation, but a teacher is there to help.”

“And she was pretty,” Campbell said.


“And it was flattering to be needed by her.”

“I suppose.”

“My God, that’s the oldest trap of all. You should have gotten one of the female teachers to tutor her.”

“Yes. That’s obvious enough now. It wasn’t obvious then. I thought I could handle the situation.”

Campbell just grunted and said, “Go on.” more tomorrow

Blatant Commercialism

Greetings, new friends.

Recently, a number of new people have found their way to my website, and I am glad to see you. All my old friends have already heard this.

I began this website two years ago, shortly after finding out that my novel Cyan had been picked up by EDGE publishers of Canada. The original idea was to make myself and my writing known in order to find new readers for my novel. The website has grown well beyond that since.

Cyan came out in April as an ebook, and later became available in paperback as well. If you just found this website, you missed all the build up.

Cyan is a realistic, near-future science fiction novel about the exploration and colonization of a planet around a nearby star. With complications, of course.

If you click here, it will take you to the Amazon page where you can read reviews, see the blurb, and even use the Look Inside function to read a chapter or two. You can also click and buy.

If you do buy and like what you read, please take time to write a review. That way publishers will buy my next book. And then so can you.

End of commercial. Thanks for listening. SL

Symphony 3

May 1988

The heat of summer had already settled into the Central Valley of California by May. Coming down from Oregon, Neil McCrae felt it as soon as he dropped down out of the mountains, even though it was still early morning. By the time he reached Redding, sweat was collecting between his back and the car seat. The wind coming in through the window made the heat bearable, but the air was viscid.

Rolling southward, he passed the sentinel towers of Sutter Buttes. On his right, the coast range lay dry and golden; on his left and further away, the Sierras were lost in heat haze. All around him the valley was tabletop flat and impossibly green. Sacramento drew up, became a brief nightmare of traffic, noise, and ozone, then receded behind him. He changed freeways and the quality of the land changed as well. It was still green and alive, but the coast range had receded into the distance. The flatness seemed to go on forever, and now the valley was heavily peopled. The land along the highway was dotted with houses and farms, small towns and wineries. There was a used-up look to the land near the freeway. Neil could see hardscrabble apartment houses with dirt lawns and abandoned cars, a blown down drive-in theater, and a canal bridge made from an old railroad flatcar. Out beyond the highway fringe, the land was deeply green; dull and uninteresting to the long view, but vital and alive close up. Everywhere there were flowers. The oleanders which had been planted in a continuous hedgerow down the center of the divided highway were in full pink, red, and white bloom.

Neil McCrae drove southward through the hot, thick air, through a tunnel of flowers, into a new and hostile country, leaving behind him all he had known.

At Salida, he took an exit onto Kiernan Road. Now he was surrounded by orchards. Orderly, man made forests stretched away on both sides of the road, narrowing his view and hiding the flatness of the valley. The dust beneath the orchards was dappled heavily with sunlight and shade.

Three miles further east, Neil tuned into the parking lot of Kiernan School. He stood beside his car, letting the wind dry his back, then slipped on his sport coat and crossed the tarmac. The surface had been renewed recently; it stuck to his feet as he crossed and sent waves of heat all the way to his knees. He entered the blessed coolness of an air conditioned office

Two children were waiting for the secretary’s attention. Neil watched them as he waited his turn. They were both about ten. One was a dark girl who stood quietly, gripping the edge of the countertop with tense fingers. She spoke a few words too softly for Neil to hear, received a scrawled note, and slipped outside, walking wide around Neil as she went out the door. The other child was a boy with dirty blonde hair, skinny and pale, with heavy glasses too large for his face. He stood twisting his hands together and squirming in place until the secretary got time to talk to him.  He wanted to call his mother. The secretary asked his reasons, refused him, then had to argue with him sharply before he left. He slammed the door as he went out. There had been a rehearsed quality about the exchange, as if the boy had known that he would be refused.

When it was Neil’s turn, he said, “I’m Neil McCrae. I have an appointment with Mr. Campbell about a teaching position.”

# # #

William Campbell was a short, spare man with graying hair. When he rose from behind his desk to shake hands, there was no welcome in his face. more next week

408. Behind the Curtain

Most of the time, I assume that the people who read this are writers or would-be writers. I also know that most of you are bloggers, but I don’t get the idea that you are blog nerds.

Before I started this blog, I did a lot of research and started studying HTML and CSS. Then I discovered WordPress and found out that I could blog without learning them. I already spend more hours than I can afford just writing, so I was happy to let WordPress take care of what’s going on under the hood.

I get the very strong impression that most of you have made the same decision.

My Dashboard tells me that I have made 799 posts in the two years I have been blogging. If it weren’t for WordPress that would never have happened. Still I find myself frustrated when I can’t do everything I want, or when my results aren’t all I would like, so I am going to a WordPress convention in about a week to see what else I can learn.

Meanwhile, a week ago I screwed up. I had to drop in an extra post titled OOPS because post #406 was eaten by the machine. We always say that, but it’s always our fault. In this case, it reminded me that I do something I have not seen any other blog do — I run twin, independent blogs on one site. That’s where the screwup occurred and it reminded me that some of you might want to know how to run multiple blogs.

So it’s nerd time. Minimally.

It is typical for blogs to appear on a website’s home page. That’s the first thing that usually comes up and it works fine. If you want two separate blogs, you have to put them elsewhere. This requires you to do two things.

First, change your home page to a front page. Go to manage site pages and use page templates under page attributes. Afterward, whatever is on your front page remains unchanged, no matter what posts you write. If you go to the top of the page you are now reading and click on Welcome to my Worlds you will see my front page. It pops up whenever you come in via,  but if you get to me by another route, you may never have seen it. This page has only changed two or three times in the last year, when I felt a change was necessary.

Second, you need to set up a category and category page for each blog. Uncategorized already exists and is the default. If you look down on the right column of this page, you will find CATEGORIES and under that, A Writing Life, Into the Storm, Serial, and uncategorized.

Into the Storm is simply a relic from when I was learning, which I never bothered to remove. Ignore it.

A Writing Life is the name of the blog you are reading. It also appears in the menu across the top of the page. Serial is my other blog, also in the menu at the top. If you have never explored Serial, click there now and it will take you to today’s post on that blog, which happens to be Symphony 2.

Every time I write a post I have to choose a category — either A Writing Life or Serial — so the computer will know where to put it. If I don’t make a choice, the computer puts it into uncategorized. That is what happened to post #406. My dashboard said it had been published, but it didn’t show up where it belonged. The computer didn’t know where to put it, so it didn’t put it anywhere. Hence, the extra post called OOPS.

As I said, I am as little nerdy as possible on WordPress because computers will eat up your life if you let them. If you want to know more about all this, go where I went two years ago, You can use Further Reading on the upper left side of that page to backtrack to category and to creating category pages.

Most people don’t do any of this. Then the software places their posts into uncategorized and puts them on their homepage.

That’s all I remember from when I set things up two years ago. If you know more, or want to comment, make a reply.

Symphony 2

Here is the table of contents for Symphony in a Minor Key

The Ides of March
May 1988
August 1988
Day One
September 1988
Halloween 1988
Sex Ed

The Ides of March, a prolog which sets up the situation, occurs late in the previous school year in another state. In May, Neil applies for work at Keirnan school. During August he prepares for the coming school year.

Day One is very early September. Now it would be early August. Halloween announces itself, and Christmas occurs during the chapters Evaluation and Discipline.

Terror happens on Martin Luther King Day. That is not a political statement. That is the day in my real world that a school shooting happened in a nearby city. I had made an agreement with myself to match my fictional world with the real one, so this day took me places I would never have gone on my own.

Home happens at Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May) as the school year is winding down.

I wrote an honest story. Everything that happened, could have happened in my real world. Many of these things were close analogs to things that did happen.

I never faced false accusation, but I was aware every day that I might. That is what it means to be a male teacher in America today.

Symphony 1

The Ides of March

Where were you when the world ended?

For Neil McCrea, the world he had built for himself ended on a gray Friday afternoon in March, at eleven minutes after two, among familiar surroundings. 

Neil was teaching his sixth period class, literature for high school seniors — feeling end of the week weariness, counting the minutes until the end of the day, and passing back student papers he had spent far too many hours correcting. He stepped carelessly between the backpacks, purses, and spills of schoolbooks that littered the aisles between the rows of desks. With Shakespeare and Lincoln and Martin Luther King watching from posters on the wall while the day faded outside, he called his students’ names and handed back their essays.

Alice Hamilton sat at the back of the third row. She was blonde, spoiled, and at least half as pretty as she thought she was. Neil dropped a bluebook on her desk and moved on to the next student. Then he heard the hissing intake of her breath. 

She slammed the bluebook down and screamed, “How could you! How could you give me a C after all I did for you!”

Neil just stared, too astonished to respond.

A slow flush rose up Alice’s neck and spread across her face; then she leaped to her feet and fled the room. Neil watched her go, carrying his hopes and dreams with her.

Innocence is no shield, when the world ends.


So begins Symphony in a Minor Key, a novel written in real time, before the concept of real time was ever heard of.

Briefly, I started teaching when it became apparent that I could not make a living by writing. It was a day job at first, but it was a very satisfying day job that I eventually held for twenty-seven years, and from which I eventually retired.

About five years in, I decided to write a novel about teaching. I also decided to write of a fictional school year while a real school year was progressing. Rainy day in my world; rainy day in the book. Opening day on opening day, Christmas on Christmas, and so on. If you look at the table of contents (tomorrow’s post) you will see how that worked out.

Despite what Alice Hamilton implies, Neil is a good guy. Take my word for it. He’ll explain it all to you over the next several posts.

Today is August 12. I’ll be telling the tale as a serial, beginning September 12 to give myself time to get organized, and carrying on to something close to May 11. That is fairly close to a school year but, although I wrote this in real time, their Christmas and Halloween probably won’t fall exactly on our Christmas and Halloween.

Stick around. I think you’ll like it.

407. Where Life Is

This is a repost from very early in the history of this blog.  SL

I was in the shower getting ready for a day at school when my wife called to me. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. By the time I dried and dressed, the second plane had hit.

Twenty minutes later, driving to work, I listened to the radio as the towers fell.

All day long I taught science, keeping to the lesson plan. I didn’t want to teach, and no one wanted to listen, but it was necessary to keep a semblance of normalcy. Every break we teachers watched the television, but we didn’t take any news back to the classroom. Our students needed to be in their own homes, with their parents, before they began to deal with the details of America’s disaster.

At the end of the day, I drove home. I had upon me the need to write, but not of the tragedy. Others wrote that day of what had happened, and wrote well. I needed to write of love and joy and beauty – and of my wife who is all those things to me.

Poems come slowly to me; usually they take years to complete. This one rolled freely about in my head as I drove, and when I arrived at home, I only had to write it down.

                    There Am I

Where there is water, there am I.
In sweet, soft rain and in hard rain,
driving and howling,
or filling the air with luminescent mist.
Water is life, and there am I.

Where there is sun, there am I.
In the soft heat of morning or in the harsh afternoon,
or heavy with moisture, forcing its way through clouds,
or dry as a lizard’s back.
Where the Sun is, is life, and there am I.

Where Earth is, there am I.
Whether dark loam, freshly plowed
or webbed with fissures, hard as stone,
or sandy, or soft as moss.
Where Earth is, is life, and there am I.

Where life is, there am I.
rainforest or desert,
broad plains of grass, or brooding jungle,
Where life is, there am I.

Where She is, there is life,
and sun and rain and earth, and all good things.
Where She is, is life,
And there am I.

The “I” was supposed to be me, of course, speaking of my own love for wilderness, and “She” was, of course, my wife.

However, when it was done it felt more like a religious poem. Strike the last verse, let the “I” be God and it sounds like something written by someone with a great deal more faith than I have. Odd.