The Greatest English Teacher Ever

There was one time when I was the greatest English teacher ever…

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I am not the greatest English teacher ever.

I take forever and a day to grade and return student writing assignments. I’m too sensitive, and I take it personally when students aren’t interested in a lesson. I spread myself thin between teaching, coaching the swim team, and trying to keep up with my own reading and writing, not to mention finding time to spend with my wife or to clean the house. When I don’t get enough sleep, it’s easy for me to growl at students for minor infractions. My mind never fails to spin with innovative and engaging ideas, but the time to implement them seems to shrink more and more each year.

It was long past dark when I got home from practice one night this past January. A variety of events had teamed up to earn a “one of those days” label: a lackluster discussion in Period…

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Don’t Wig Out

“Hey, Kyr,” Drac called from the van as I headed back towards the house after loading up a pile of extension cords. “Can you grab the camera and the REM pod out of the attic?”

Great, I thought. The attic. But, not wanting them to think I was shirking my duties or that I was afraid, I called back, “I’m on it.”

I dashed up the stairs to the second floor and paused on the landing, looking down the hall towards the back bedroom. Thankfully, Steele was taking down equipment in that room. There was no way I was going back in there tonight. Even now, I was certain I could sense negative energy radiating from that end of the hallway. Either that, or it was just knowing that Steele was down there. I gave myself a shake and headed in the other direction towards the attic stairs.

Compared to what I had felt on the second floor, the energy coming from the attic seemed downright friendly. I flipped the light switch and heard a loud pop. “Damn it,” I muttered. “Of all times for a light bulb to blow.” I let out a huff and reached in my back pocket for my flashlight. I groaned when I realized it wasn’t there; it must still be in the graveyard, I thought.

Rolling my eyes, I stomped up the stairs, too tired to run all the way back out to the van and then all the way back up to the attic. I was sure there was enough moonlight coming through the window for me to tear down the equipment. I just hoped that nothing else would decide to show itself while I was up there alone.

The REM pod was easy enough to collect and set by the top of the stairs. Next, I found the camera in the corner by one of the far windows. I thought it was odd that it wasn’t plugged in at the outlet right next to it, but I just shrugged and followed the extension cord to the back part of the attic where all the boxes and other junk were stacked. The floor boards creaked as I carefully picked my way back through the darkness. I found the outlet and unplugged the camera. As I stood up, I felt something brush across my face and hair. Wonderful. A spider web. As I frantically wiped at my face to get rid of the sticky web, I stepped backwards and bumped into a stack of boxes. Something toppled from the top of the stack, hit me on the head, and landed right in my hands. As soon as I saw what it was, I screamed and threw it down, and then turned and made a beeline for the stairs, not wanting to be in the same room as that thing.

Just as I reached the top of the stairs, I ran headlong into someone. “Carter, what the hell is wrong with you?” Great, it would just have to be Steele, wouldn’t it? He grasped me by the shoulders, and I noticed that he was leaning backwards, obviously not wanting to be on the receiving end of my fist again.

I pulled away from him and leaned against the windowsill, still breathing heavily. I swept a straggling lock of hair out of my face and muttered, “Nothing. I’m fine, Steele.” That wasn’t exactly true. The energy in the room had suddenly changed, but I couldn’t tell if it was there was a spirit present, or if was just because Steele had shown up.

Steele brought a foot up to the top step and leaned forward, propping one elbow on his knee and resting his other arm on the top of the banister. His expression was unreadable as he replied, “You don’t sound fine.” He raised himself up and glanced around the attic before asking, “What happened? Did you see something?” He came the rest of the way up the steps and began walking around slowly.

“No, I didn’t,” I insisted, trying to figure out how I could get him to leave before he figured out what had frightened me and made a joke of it.

He stopped pacing and turned to look at me. I tried to hold his gaze, but his eyes seemed to bore into me, making my knees tremble and my stomach do somersaults. What was wrong with me? “Well, something made you scream like that,” he declared. “Again.” Obviously, he couldn’t resist taking a jab at me.

At last I just decided to tell him a half truth, hoping it would be enough. “It wasn’t anything paranormal, Steele. I stumbled against some boxes, and…something…fell down and scared the daylights out of me. That’s all.”

I could hear the suppressed laughter in his voice as he continued walking towards the back of the attic. “If you say so, Carter. So what was it? A rubber spider? A plastic snake? A scary mask?” He kept listing things that he obviously believed would scare a woman, but I didn’t respond. There was no way I would tell him what it was. Suddenly his foot hit something and sent it spinning across the floor. “What the…?”

Oh no, I thought. That sounded like…

Steele bent down to pick something up. When he stood up with a grin on his face that I could see even in the darkness all the way across the room, I felt my face flush as I fought the urge to run down the stairs and out of the house. “This is what scared the daylights out of you?” When I didn’t answer him, he burst out laughing and said incredulously, “It is, isn’t it? Really, Carter? You lost your head over a Styrofoam wig head?”

~Excerpt from The Newbie, by Leta Hawk

One of my readers commented that Kyrie Carter is quite the character, and I think she’s right.Out of all of Kyr’s personality traits, I think my favorite is her quirky assortment of fears and phobias. While she’s got some of the more mainstream phobias, such as fear of heights and fear of thunderstorms (both of which come into play in the second book, School Spirits), one of her more unusual fears is wigheadphobia, the fear of styrofoam wig-display heads.

Where did I come up with that one? Well…

When I was very young, I’m thinking not more than 5 or 6, I had a dream that at the time scared the daylights out of me, and that I recall very vividly to this day. In the dream, I was riding in a car with my dad–and not just any car; it was the Flintstones’ car–just taking a Sunday drive through the countryside. I was in the back seat, and my dad was driving. All around us, the scenery was beautiful–farmlands dotted with cows, the occasional house or country church, a clear blue sky. All at once, we drove beneath an overpass; when we came out the other side, the entire landscape had changed. It was now nighttime, with no moon or stars, yet I could see what lined the hills all around–you guessed it: styrofoam wig heads, as far as the eye could see. What made it even creepier was the fact that as we drove past, they all turned to watch us. Frightened, I leaned up to the front seat to tell my dad I wanted to go home…and he wasn’t there. The car was now driving itself, meaning I was all alone in this wig-head-overrun landscape. Thankfully, I woke up before anything more could happen.

Not surprisingly, I had a fear of wig heads for the rest of my childhood and into adulthood. I’m not really sure when I grew out of that fear, and honestly, if I’d ever find myself locked in a room full of them, I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t go into full panic mode as Kyr did in the Berkeley mansion attic.

So, let’s just hope that doesn’t happen….

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever been afraid of? Answer in the comments below, or create your own post and link to this one.

“The Newbie” on Kindle Countdown

My paranormal adventure/romance novel, “The Newbie” will be available August 15-16 for $.99. The promotion is set to begin at 8:00 AM Pacific Time on August 15 and will run through 8:00 AM Pacific Time on August 16. If you’re into ghosts, ghost hunting, and long-buried family secrets, check it out.

There’ll Be Sad Songs to Make You Cry

Okay, so I’m battling a summer cold right now, and between the coughing, stuffiness, and sinuses draining, I didn’t sleep much. That pretty much means I’m really out of sorts today and riding a crazy emotional roller coaster. A Facebook friend posted a parody of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Called “Do You Want to Drive My Tractor?” I love parodies, so of course, I had to watch it. It was cute, and it was pretty funny, so why did I suddenly start bawling my head off like an idiot?

Does anyone else cry like a baby when they hear certain songs? Post your response in the comments below.

Thoughts on Robin Williams and Depression

I’m sure I have nothing to say that a thousand others haven’t said, but I wanted to weigh in on the loss of this brilliant, iconic talent.

Hearing about the sudden death of anyone is always shocking, unsettling, and sad. Of course, when it’s a celebrity, everyone seems to want to jump to conclusions about the hows and the whys before all the details are known. And when the death is labeled a suicide, opinions run strong, and comments (some of which should never be voiced aloud) fly.

As with the news of any suicide, there’s a part of me that is angry, angry that someone didn’t see the signs in time to help, angry that Robin just gave up and took his life, leaving his family and friends to deal with his loss.

And there is sadness. Sadness in knowing that Robin got to the point where he felt this was his only option, sadness that for all the happiness and laughter he brought to so many, that he had so much heartache and pain inside. I’ve seen a quote floating around Facebook today, a quote that has been attributed to Robin Williams–“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”

Whether or not he was the one who said it, that quote speaks volumes, and it both saddens and angers me. I’ve been there. I can remember my first year of college, when I felt like a fish out of water. I felt so alone and so lost even though I was surrounded by people who cared, or said they did. I still remember something I wrote in my journal–“When I was in high school, I was often alone, but I never felt lonely. I knew who I was, and I was comfortable being with myself or with others. Now that I’m here, I’m almost never alone, but I’m always lonely and lost; I never feel a part of what’s going on around me.” I wonder if that’s how he felt too, at the end?

I know that his issues go much deeper than the loneliness and self-conscious fear of a teenager away from home for the first time. I know that he struggled valiantly for a long time against that demon Depression. I’ve been there too, but not to the extent that he was. Mine was short-lived bursts of hell, once after the birth of my first child, and once shortly before I was diagnosed with Lyme, when I had been sick for months but no one knew what it was. Believe me, those short stints of looking up from the pit of despair were more than enough for me, and they make me feel nothing but compassion for those who have to deal with it long-term, and even for those who take the “easy” way out.

I put the word “easy” in quotes because I don’t think the decision to end one’s life is an easy one to make, and certainly not one that is made in a split second with no doubts or regrets. I’m sure Robin had times during his long battle when he saw the light on the other side, times when he wasn’t at the bottom of that dark pit of despair, so what happened this time that made it so hard to bear? Maybe those times had been becoming less frequent and shorter in time when they did come. Maybe with each tumble back into the pit, he fell further and the darkness became darker, until he couldn’t even see the light of the surface anymore.

I have no answers why this happened. I have no solution for Depression. All I can do is encourage those who suffer from it, or those who know someone who suffers from it, to seek help in whatever form you need to.

Talk to someone, a counselor or a trusted friend. Sometimes feelings of being depressed or anxious are situational in nature, when you’re too close to the situation to resolve some problem or issue. In some cases, all you need may be someone to talk to on a regular basis about your feelings, your fears, or what’s overwhelming you.

See a doctor. I’m not one to throw medication at every little discomfort, but there are times when it is needed, sometimes short-term, sometimes for longer periods of time. A doctor should be able to tell you if what you’re feeling is the result of a chemical imbalance that needs to be treated, or even some kind of nutritional deficiency.

Turn to your faith. I am a Christian, so when things seem hopeless, I turn to the source of my eternal hope, Jesus Christ. Don’t be afraid to ask for prayer; sometimes just knowing that someone else is going to bat for you helps a lot. Also, don’t be afraid to speak to your pastor, your priest, your rabbi; they may be able to help, or to point you in the right direction.

For those of you who know someone who struggles with Depression, just try to be there. Don’t avoid your loved one because you can’t relate or don’t know what to say to make things better. You can’t make things better; you can’t make it go away. You can be a listening ear when they just need to unload. You can give that gentle push if you think they need to seek help. You may not be able to pull them out of that pit, but your presence and your caring may just give them a hand to cling to so that they don’t fall deeper into the pit while they’re waiting for someone who can get them out.

Rest in Peace, Robin. I pray that you have found the peace on the other side that you couldn’t find here. And I pray for comfort for your family and friends.

 

My thoughts on fanfiction

Ah, someone who shares the same opinion on fan fiction!

Suki59's Fanfiction

I have an English degree, and always thought I’d write, but for many years seemed to have nothing to say. When I did start writing, it was like a faucet I couldn’t turn off, and the initial result was fanfiction.

I’d never heard of it, but discovered fanfiction just prior to taking my first writing workshop in Los Angeles. At the time, I couldn’t imagine sharing my writing with anyone other than the handful of women in my writing workshop, but I noted that anyone could post their work on fanfiction.net and that all are welcome, regardless of ability. This was the encouragement I needed, and I soon found myself posting stories regularly.

I’ve taken many writing classes and workshops since then, but fanfiction gave me something no other class could—actual readers. They helped in innumerous ways with their comments and suggestions, giving me the confidence to continue exploring fictional…

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How Eoin Macken Landed a Starring Role in “The Newbie”

…Even if he doesn’t know it yet. 😀

But seriously. Every so often, one of my readers asks where I got the inspiration for my characters. Because The Newbie began as Ghost Hunters fan fiction, Drac, Gabe, and the other Petery Paranormal crew are loosely based on the members of TAPS. Other characters, such as JoEllyn and Aunt Julia, are reminiscent of my own friends or family.

For me, Spook Steele’s development as a character has been the most interesting, surprising, and fun.

Spook showed up for the first time about three-quarters of the way through the fan fiction version of The Newbie, and I intended him to have a once-and-done appearance. At that point in the story, Kyr’s crush on Grant Wilson (Gabe Petery in the published novel) was intensifying, and Spook’s only purpose–as far as Kyr was concerned–was to act as an antagonist, bullying Kyr and pushing her around a bit, so that Grant would have to step in and “rescue” her. Of course, I got a little stuck at the end of that chapter, since Grant was married and had no feelings towards Kyr except for a brotherly protectiveness, and Kyr wasn’t the homewrecker type who would ever make a move on a family man.

One of my friends who had been following my story commented that Spook sounded like a potential love interest for Kyr. While that hadn’t been in the cards, the suggestion made sense, plus that option added a plot twist as Kyr struggled with her crush on a married man as well as with her attraction to a man she really couldn’t stand. Kyr and Spook dance around each other for the rest of fan-fiction Newbie but never get together. Still, at the end of the story, Kyr hints that we haven’t seen the end of Spook Steele.

As I began rewriting fan-fiction Newbie to prepare for eventual publication, I decided that if Spook was going to be an eventual love interest, he should probably make an appearance right away, to allow him and Kyr more time to play off of one another. Spook shows up just as the investigation is about to begin, and he takes an immediate and uncalled-for dislike to Kyr, which sets her and everyone else on edge. Because Gabe sees Kyr almost as a little sister, he takes her under his wing, which of course Spook misinterprets, adding to his dislike of her.

So, how does Eoin Macken fit in, you may ask? Well, because Spook was originally meant to be temporary, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to his appearance or personality. I’ve always had a “thing” for longish dark hair, brown eyes, and facial hair on a man, so that was an easy go-to as far as appearance was concerned. I also knew that he’d had a rough past which had hardened him and given him a bit of an attitude.

This is where Fate stepped in and dropped a flesh-and-blood inspiration right in my lap (well, okay, not literally, although that could have been interesting). At the time I was writing fan-fiction Newbie, I had recently discovered the BBC series Merlin on Syfy. Besides ghosts, I also adore anything King Arthur. I was watching my way through Season 3 at this point, and I was up to Episode 4: Gwaine. Now, Sir Gawain has always been my favorite knight, so I was anxious to see what they would do with Gwaine’s character. Well, when this ruggedly-handsome, troublemaking type with long brown hair, brown eyes, and a killer smile introduced himself as Gwaine during a bar brawl, my jaw hit the floor. I was looking at Spook Steele! I could hardly wait till the show was over so I could Google the actor who played Gwaine. Within a half hour, I had found photos of Eoin Macken to forward to all my Newbie-following friends and told them this was Spook Steele.

As Spook took on a larger role in the story, I found I had an ulterior motive for watching Merlin–I had to study Gwaine/Eoin to learn some of his mannerisms and quirks so I could incorporate them into Spook’s character. I know, poor me, right? By the time I was rewriting Newbie, I could not look at photos of Eoin Macken without thinking Spook Steele, and every time I wrote a scene that included Spook, I saw Eoin’s face.

Dreamer that I am, I envision The Newbie being made into a movie someday, of course with Eoin Macken starring as Spook Steele.

What do you think, Mr. Macken? Are you up for it?