My Writing Journey: Writing for Your Audience

Teaching fourth grade this year in a virtual setting has been eye opening, and not just for for my job as a teacher, but my job as a writer. This last week we did an exploration of our writing by looking at various samples of writing I have received. Since the students aren’t “seeing” one another constantly, it made it pretty easy to share work anonymously.

We looked at good writing and better writing and some pitifully poor writing. Just like I’ve learned from doing critiques, we always find something positive in our feedback.

I would like to break down the differences and apply it to my career as a writer.

POOR WRITING (KIDS): When the kids write poorly, it is usually not from a lack of skill, but a lack of motivation. It’s more of a “be done with it” attitude. Don’t worry about the directions, just put something down so no one harps on me for not getting my work done. There is no pride in their work and their expected audience is them.

(ADULTS): I see the same in adults (myself included). Poor writing here is often a focus of who their audience is. “This is my story and I’ll write it how I want it.” They never look at anyone else as really reading the story. They are writing the story they want to read and who cares about the details because I already know them and no one else gets it. They may spend hours revising and rewriting, but if they don’t understand that their audience is anyone else but them, it will always be poor.

GOOD WRITING (KIDS): When a kid does well in writing, it isn’t usually because of skill, but from the fact that they can follow the directions. They understand the expectations and write to their audience, the teacher. Here are the guidelines and I can check off the boxes and get a passing grade.

(ADULTS): I believe that many of us who have chosen a writing career, whether successful or not, fall into the “Good Writer” category. We understand the expectations and rules and we write to them. We understand who our audience is, though we often focus on the main two: Agent and Editor. Here are the guidelines and I can check off the boxes so they should want this.

The problem is, we get stuck in the formula and our stories are merely good. And sometimes “Good Stories” get published. Often at conferences, classes, seminars and webinars, we are told to follow the formula, this is what the publishing world wants; but that isn’t entirely the truth.

BETTER WRITING (KIDS): When a kid writes something that I want to share with the other class as an example of writing, it is often the kid who has gone a step beyond. They aren’t just giving fact or rehashing what they have learned, but they put themselves in the writing, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. This requires skill, but more importantly, your connection to the topic you are writing about

An example of this was a recent writing my class did on Treasure Island. The directions were to write about Jim’s escape from the pirates. One student not only cited the story to support his response, but he conjectured what Jim must have felt by imposing how he would have felt if he’d been Jim. He didn’t just follow the formula, he wanted to share a bit of himself. He understood that not only was his teacher his audience, but possibly his classmates and anyone else who picked up the report.

(ADULTS): I think this is the kind of writing we aspire to do. These are the kinds of books that we see more often getting published. You may not agree that the are “good” but in most cases, these books have a connection with them. That is why you can have numerous books on the same topic, because each author brings a bit of themselves to the story and makes them unique.

I know that when I wrote Pedro’s Pan, I put bits of myself in it. My experiences prospecting as a kid and an adult. My fear of not being what everyone thought I was. My dad showing me the way through love and wisdom. In the end, that is what the publisher bought. And in the end, that is the connection the reader makes. They can see that and experience it themselves.

GREAT WRITING: Great writing is the White Whale. Great writers don’t set out to do great writing, it just happens. What makes great writing is not the writer, but the audience. It is like art, opinions of what is good varies and most people don’t understand great art until they experience it. Just like great art, great writing comes from exposing a part of yourself to the world that you can never get back.

So as you set out writing, think about your audience. Are you writing this for yourself? Are you writing this for an agent or editor? Or are you writing this to share with the world? Is it your story, their story or everyones?

Growing Up Alaska: Hot Springs and Frozen Hair

Growing up in the interior of Alaska, I marveled at the long nights and endless days. Being close to the Arctic Circle meant we may not see the sun for 2 1/2 weeks during the winter and it wouldn’t dip below the horizon for 3 days during the summer.

Summers could also bring temperatures of 90+ degrees (the warmest was over 100) and winters could bring weeks on end of minus 40 or colder (the coldest I experienced was -74 degrees). We learned to survive in these conditions by preparing and finding ways to keep ourselves occupied. Notice I didn’t say live since no one is really living when it is -74, just surviving.

I was lucky. Just up the road from my house was a hot springs with an Olympic size pool. When it got cold, the scalding 134 degree water from the springs flowed into the pool and you searched for just the right spot between the intake and the deep end which, during the coldest parts of the winter, could have ice forming on the surface.

Ice fog was a permanent fixture during the winter and provided great cover to play hide and seek games, or for some of the older kids, a bit of privacy to do what older kids did. The most adventurous of us, or possibly the most foolish, would climb from the water and throw ourselves into the snowbank lining the pool before screaming and jumping back into the water to the applause of tourists who frequented the pool.

But one of our favorite things to do was to dip our head underwater, then come to the surface and shape our hair quickly before it froze. Pulling the tips of our hair with wet warm fingers would help us get it to stand taller and pointer until you felt the cold reach your scalp and you would submerge again.

We often didn’t go swimming when the temperatures were well below zero, but most people didn’t have plumbing and relied on the hot springs to be a place to wash off, in the showers and not the pool. But after a few weeks of minus 40 and having teenagers cooped up and needing a bath, parents would thankfully relent and send us to the pool.

It was during one such outing at around minus 30 that the kids from the area gathered and played in the pool. We had all huddled in the shallow end where it was warmest and after a few minutes, a hair design contest began.

As you can imagine, we didn’t often get haircuts during the winter, so our longer hair instantly became rows of spikes or mohawks. This also resulted in laughs and pointing and eventually to a lot of splashing to ruin other people’s hairdos.

One teenage girl, who’s parents worked at the hotel, had hair nearly to her calves. Her parents didn’t allow her to cut her hair and often when we went swimming, it would fan out behind her and at times she needed help wrapping her hair up on her shoulders so she could get out of the pool. She also didn’t play the hairdo game because her parents told her it was vanity to do so.

But this time was different. The ice fog was thick and two of her friends convinced her that her parents couldn’t see through the extremely thick ice fog. They started by trying to make a large fan of her hair, but after multiple attempts, the discovered her hair was too heavy for that, so they changed tactics.

Next came spikes. That kind of worked, but as they grew taller, taller than the girls could reach, the spikes drooped and this tugged at her scalp causing her to let her hair fall back into the water.

This went on for some time until the two friends came up with a brilliant plan. They would take turns climbing out of the water and holding up her hair until if froze hard enough to stand. This also meant they would be tall enough to get the hair all the way up.

It still took them a couple of tries, but after about ten minutes, they’d created a massive mohawk sort of hairdo that stood nearly five feet tall. It bowed in the middle and waved when she moved, but if she crept along, it stayed upright.

This of course brought joy to everyone who laughed and cheered. By this time most people would’ve tried to splash her hair down, but we were so amazed that people helped her make sure the hairdo didn’t fall.

We didn’t play much longer and kids were preparing to make the dash to the changing rooms. The girls moved along slowly, trying to make their creation last as long as possible.

One of the older boys who’d climbed out too early turned back to the pool and cannon balled in. The girls turned to keep from getting splashed in the face and we all heard it — CRACK!

The sudden snap of her head caused the back section of her towering hair to snap off about halfway down. She dove underwater and no one knew for sure the damage until she came up and one of her friends was holding a large clump of about 2 feet of hair.

As you can imagine, this brought rounds of shrieks and screams and drew the attention of everyone around the pool who were all afraid someone had either slipped on the ice or had accidentally touched some piece of metal and instantly froze to it.

The girls did their best to hide the hair and after they came out of the changing room, they’d hoped that since the hair that had broken off was towards the back, they could hide it under layers of long hair.

This of course didn’t happen. When her mother went in to brush her hair, she discovered it. Needless to say, her parents were very upset with all of us for convincing their daughter to do something so foolish. We all got an earful and I am sure our parents did too.

The next week, it had warmed enough for us to go to school and the poor girl came in with her hat pulled low. Her parents had given her a bowl cut, but none of us made fun of her, not even in secret.

My Writing Journey: To Be or Not to Be…

Whenever I first took back up writing a few years ago, I struggled with coming up with ideas. I had plenty of them, but I worried whether they would be good enough, or I would spend countless hours writing out the story only to be frustrated that it didn’t seem to get anywhere.

So, to help me do better, I stuck with one format, picture books. I was fortunate to have one of my picture books published and decided that this was the kind of writer that I was; I am a children’s book writer who writes picture books.

Soon every idea I had I tried to cram it into the picture book format. I became more and more frustrated as I tried to fit all the blocks into the round hole. Some worked if I turned and pushed them hard enough, but others just wouldn’t fit.

I still dabbled in other formats, mostly middle grade, but I was a picture book writer.

That was a lie. I was a picture book author, but that was not my only method of writing. This came apparent to me when I came up with another idea for a book I was sure was going to sell. And I crammed the star into that round hole and…it didn’t fit. It was horrible.

So I tried another shape, but it didn’t fit either. The problem was that even though I was looking at different shapes, the hole that they needed to go into didn’t match. This story, as it was, wasn’t a picture book.

I would try to write early readers and middle grade books, but struggled because I was stuck in the mindset of a picture book writer. The language would be too young or too sparse. Visuals would be lacking and it just didn’t appeal to my critique partners.

For some people, they have only one dream or story, and that is okay for them. Their shapes ball has one shape and one block. For others, their’s may also be limited and that is by their choice. And for some, they just haven’t realized there are other shapes to play with and figure out.

It’s great to have a goal, but don’t let it limit your vision. Sometimes you have to spin the ball and find a new hole to put your shape in.

Fear and lack of knowledge are huge barriers to growth. Don’t let them stop you. You can always learn more and there are many people out there that want to support you and help you through those difficult times.

Remember that story I told you about that I wrote as a picture book that wasn’t a picture book? Well, it is out on submission after becoming a graphic novel, a middle grade novel and even an early reader. Funny thing, I found the picture book in it. It wasn’t the original story (concept yes) but after taking the time to allow it to be other things, I finally got it.

And from doing that I found homes for so many other story ideas that I’d put aside because the shapes wouldn’t fit together. It is okay to be an author of more than one format, but only if you give yourself permission to do it well.

And maybe you will even write a little Shakespeare….for kids of course!

Growing Up Alaska: Night Terrors

When I turned 16, I took a job for the summer on a survey crew that ended up on a remote site on Kodiak Island. Luckily for us, we weren’t going to have to spend the whole summer living out of tents as we had been originally told. Instead, we were going to be based out of a fish cannery that had been abandoned for at least fifty years.

Needless to say, many of the buildings had suffered greatly and collapsed, but we found one at the end of the beach that had once housed the offices and one of the bunkhouses. The second floor had collapsed in on itself and the back of the long building had crumbled, but miraculously the front was sound.

We spent the first day patching up holes in the wall to keep the rain and bugs out. We were all grateful for a dry place that would provide more protection from the many bears that we had already seen than our tents would have.

Exhausted from our first one day of work, we settled in. Sam, another kid from the crew, and I took the small bedroom with its two metal beds. We laid down foam over the squeaky springs and crawled into our sleeping bags.

In the other room, the main office space, our boss John and the other member of his crew slept on makeshift wooden beds. Since those two were still working, and not wanting to bother us, they closed the door to keep out the light.

I stared up into the darkness. We had one small window up high, but a storm had moved in and it provided little light. The wind picked up and I could hear it as it rattled loose pieces of tin siding that I vowed to find and nail down the next day.

I hadn’t even realized I’d fallen asleep when I heard a muffled cry. I opened my eyes and tried to orientate myself to the unfamiliar dark room. I sat there wide eyed and listened to my heart beat and the wind whistle.

After about a minute of not hearing the same noise, I rolled over to face the wall and immediately began falling back asleep.

The scream this time was not muffled, but an all out scream of terror. I flipped over as best as I could in my sleeping bag and fumbled for my flashlight. I knocked it over and heard it roll across the floor as I scrambled to pick it up.

The door swung open and John burst into the room loaded for bear, which was appropriate with all the bears around. He held his lantern high and illuminated my flashlight which I scooped up and turned on.

I sat up and shone my light on Sam who was sitting up in bed, his knees to his chest, whimpering.

John stepped closer and holstered his pistol. “It’s okay Sam,” he said calmly, “it was just a dream.”

Sam turned his wide eyes to John and I could see him visibly shaking. “No. It was here. It grabbed my head then disappeared under my bed!”

Something had definitely frightened Sam and I thought back to the stories I’d heard around the campfire from native elders about a creature that would get you. It was part boogie man, part Bigfoot and I wondered if Sam had heard those same stories.

There wasn’t any way something big could’ve gotten into the room and we inspected under the bed and around the room and found nothing.

It took nearly fifteen minutes to calm Sam down enough and I was yawning. John said he would leave the door open and assured Sam everything was okay, it had just been a bad dream.

As John was standing in the doorway, I heard something above me skittering and then there was a loud thump on the wall in the corner over Sam’s bed followed by Sam screaming again. John turned around and I grabbed my flashlight quickly.

“I’m awake! I’m awake!” Sam screamed. He stood in the middle of his bed and swatted at his head.

John ran over to him and yanked him off of the bed and back to the door. Sam screamed and kicked and once he was at the door, he ran into the other room.

I heard the skittering noise and then the sound of something moving just above my head. I ducked and shone the light up catching the movement of a shadow before it disappeared into the inky darkness.

“Did you see anything?” John asked, stepping back into the room.

I was off my bed now and knelt on the floor. I motioned with the flashlight above me and replied, “It’s above me somewhere.”

John set the lantern on the floor and went out to the main room to get another flashlight. Sam and the other survey member stood in the doorway and peered in while I continued to track the noise with my flashlight.

John came back in and he joined the search, but we still found nothing. The noise had stopped and after a few minutes of searching, John instructed me to lower my flashlight and we all sat in silence.

It seemed like an eternity and we were about to give up when we heard the skittering and bumping above Sam’s bed. Our flashlights swept up and again we caught shadows of something moving along the walls before simply disappearing.

I continued to search the corner while John swept his light around the room. “There it is,” he cried out, the beam of his light sweeping across something clinging to the wall in the opposite corner. It jumped off and I heard it pass by overhead.

I tracked it with my light and saw it smack into the wall next to the window before scrambling up the wall to the corner where a large hole had been before we’d patched it up that day.

It froze, panting heavily, its small furry body shaking as its leathery wings gripped the wall.

“It’s a bat,” John exclaimed with a laugh.

“There are bats in Alaska?” I heard Sam whisper.

“Obviously,” John said with a laugh. “It didn’t bite you did it? You’re not going to turn into a vampire on us?”

I couldn’t see Sam, but I heard him muttering under his breath as he walked away.

We spent another hour trying to figure out how to liberate the bat. The window didn’t open and we ended up accidentally trapping it with a blanket we were trying to use to guide it outside.

The little guy was no worse for wear, but Sam and I didn’t sleep well for a couple of more nights as every sound woke us up.

We discovered over the next couple of day that there was in fact a huge colony of bats that lived in the dilapidated building of the cannery. As the sun would go down, they were stream out of the buildings and begin feeding on all the insects.

It was kind of weird to hear them flitting about and swooping at the bugs that gathered around our heads, but we were eventually thankful since it was one of the only areas on the island that we weren’t eaten alive by bugs.

My Writing Journey: Writing what you know

In my opinion, the difference between good writing and great writing is personality, or what we sometimes refer to as voice. A good writer can inform you or entertain you, a great writer can make you feel a part of the story.

In order to involve your reader, you need to make them care. To make them care, you have to write in such a way that you connect with your character and can share that experience. In order to share that experience, you’ve had to have had that experience yourself.

I know what you’re thinking: Does that mean Tolkien really travelled to the Middle Earth? Don’t be ridiculous, one does not simply walk into Mordor.

Like Tolkien though, you need to immerse yourself into the world you are writing. If the underlying heart of your story is fear, then you should include your own fears. If it is about hope, then share your hopes. If your story is about losing your hat, add the emotions and thoughts you experienced during a time of your own loss.

That is what it means when you hear agents and editors say to write what you know. They aren’t expecting you to be an expert, they are expecting you to bring your passion and experiences, even when it comes to nonfiction.

I don’t think Candace Flemming has ever dived deep into the ocean to study Giant Squid, but she captures the experience beautifully in her book. I am sure that Jason Chin is not an expert of the Grand Canyon, but you can see his experiences come through on the page.

When I wrote Pedro’s Pan: A Gold Rush Story, I included tidbits from my own experiences growing up prospecting with my dad. I drew on the fears I had of what everyone else expected me to be and the fear of failing them.

It is a fear that I still have, a fear that I believe all authors have: the fear of being a fraud, of not being who we think everyone else sees us being. What if I don’t have another book, does that mean I’m really an author? Am I broken? Am I failure?

So as you write, think about what you can personally add to your story. How can you draw on your own experiences to show the deep desire or disappoint of that little girl who really wants a unicorn? How can you draw on your own life to express the pride of a snail who completed his great garden journey? Or the fear of someone who knocks on the door of the creepy house down the street without knowing what is on the other side?

In the end you will find that when you write well, you will leave little pieces of yourself in the stories and in the characters and when you do, that is what your reader will connect with.

Growing Up Alaska: How not to impress a girl

Growing up in rural Alaska, the chances to meet girls was slim, so when a new one showed up, the boys would undoubtably try to impress them. Looking back, I don’t recall it ever working.

The winter that I turned 14, one of my friends had some cousins come to visit. This was fortunate for two reasons: one, they had a daughter about my same age and two, it meant I had one less boy to contend with since they were cousins.

It also happened around that same time that the Forty-Mile Caribou heard was passing through not far from town. The herd had once been in the 100s of thousands, but due to overhunting and a surge in the wolf population, the herd had dwindled and had actually split into two groups, this one being around 800. The state had put a ban on hunting them, so few people really paid attention to them.

The herd was crossing over a pass near my house into the Yukon Valley and my friend’s cousin wanted to see them. She, my friend and I rode snow machines up the trail until we found them.

A few were in the lead and they came up slowly through the pass. The snow machines had sent them running, so we shut them down and found a rock out cropping to sit and dangle our legs.

Most of the caribou stayed far away from us, but just as we were about to leave, the main body of the herd crested the ridge and squeezed through the pass. The spread from side to side and the stopped paying an attention to us.

We talked quietly, amazed by the sight. My friend joked that we should ride the caribou back to my house and his cousin laughed and said that would be cool.

Yes, you’re right. What happened next was foolish.

The caribou were so close that we could have kicked some if we weren’t worried about causing them to stampede. In fact, on large cow had chosen that moment to look for some lichen or grass near the base of the rocks that we were sitting on.

My adolescent male brain kicked in and I swung my leg out hopped down onto the cow. I expected her to collapse under my weight or scoot away, but she did neither. Instead, she locked her legs and I straddled her, my feet barely touching the ground.

Now, I’m not sure who was more surprised, but our shock wore off at about the same time. I turned to wave triumphantly at my friend’s cousin and the caribou decided she didn’t want me on her back.

Surprisingly, with more speed and strength than I would have imagined, the caribou bolted ahead with me on her back! Two large strides and somehow I didn’t fall off.

And just as suddenly, she lowered her head and stopped. I cartwheeled over her head and landed hard on a pile of rocks barely covered with snow.

Pain and adrenaline coursed through my body at the same time. I knew I needed to get up and out of the way because I was sure the herd was spooked and I was going to be trampled.

I rolled onto my knees and watched as the caribou trotted off to rejoin the herd. My friend came running to ask if I was okay and I looked up to see my friend’s cousin standing on top of the rocks covering her mouth. She could’ve been amazed, but was more likely covering a laugh as I brushed off the snow and limped back up the slope to her.

I sat on my snow machine as the bulk of the herd finished going through the pass and descended into the valley below. The adrenaline stopped and the pain increased and I suddenly dreaded the seven mile ride home on some very bumpy trail.

That night I looked in the mirror and my lower back was one big bruise from where I’d landed on the rocks. My ego was also bruised and I never got a chance to talk to my friend’s cousin again to find out if I’d impressed her.

I hope you enjoyed this story and will come back next Friday for another tale of Growing Up Alaska.

My Writing Journey: Summary to Pitch

Over the last 6 years, I have taught first grade, which I love. However, this school year, due to the pandemic and adjustments made at my school, I moved over to fourth grade. I do not see this as a permanent move, but while embracing it, I learned that my writing game had to step up.

With that in mind, I decided to put into words things I might already know, but am really discovering as I progress along my writing journey and learning to teach writing to fourth graders.

As I approached this, I decided to look at my aha moments and this was one of the first: How to write a summary and how that can help refine my pitch.

For fourth graders, and it seems many writers, it is difficult to know how to write a summary. How much is too much? How much is too little?

As you might expect, I had summaries at both ends of the spectrum. One student wrote a summary that was nearly as long as the story while another one didn’t even give me a complete sentence.

So how do we write a summary? It can vary on the type and length of your story, but no matter what kind of story or how long, the summary should be a snapshot of what happens.

I learned this little trick to help me: SWBST or Someone Wants But So Then.

So lets see what this means:

Someone: Who or what is your character?

Wants: What do they want? This can be internal or external or even both.

But: What stands in the way? What physical or social or mental obstacles are there?

So: So what does your character do to overcome the obstacles? This is a great way to see if your character is their own champion. Make sure that the obstacle and solution match, i.e. physical obstacle/physical solution.

Then: How does your story end? Now that your character has overcome, what do they do or how do they use their newfound strength?

Does this sound too simple? Maybe it sounds complicated? Well, let’s try it and see how it works.

First we need to choose our work. For this exercise I am going to choose Star Wars: A New Hope (that is the original Star Wars film).

Someone: Luke Skywalker

Want: Wants to be a hero

But: He lives on the edge of the galaxy far away from the action

So: He joins forces with others to rescue the princess

Then: He discovers he can be not only a hero, but a Jedi, the ultimate hero of the galaxy.

Now to write it out:

Luke Skywalker longs to be a hero but is stuck at the edge of the galaxy as far away as he can be from the action. When he accidentally receives a message about a princess in distress, Luke joins up with other unlikely heroes and discovers he isn’t simply a hero, but a Jedi with the power to be the ultimate hero of the galaxy.

This summary gives you all the details without going into too much detail or giving away the ending. In two sentences, I summed up the whole movie. This could also work as a pitch and with a little added voice of character and story, it could turn into a great pitch.

So let’s try the same thing with a picture book. For this exercise, I have chosen I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. If you’re not familiar with it, I suggest you read it as it is one of my favorites.

Someone: Bear

Wants: He wants his hat

But: He has lost it

So: So he asks his animal friends for help

Then: Discovers one of them had it all along.

Now to write it out:

Bear wants his hat but can’t find it anywhere so he begins to ask his animal friends if they have seen it. No one has seen his hat and bear laments that his hat is lost forever when he suddenly realizes that one of the animals had been lying to him all along.

This summary has given you all the basic details of the story without giving it away. This would make for a good foundation for a pitch as well. I would need to add in voice to really pump it up to being a great pitch.

So as you go to look to writing a summary for your book or even a pitch, try to write it out using the SWBST method. You can also do this to help you plan out your book or take a character dive, but we will cover that in a later tip.

To help you hone this skill, I might suggest that you also practice on books that you have read. Try to summarize them using this method and it may help you unlock how you visualize your story. I know it has helped me to not see the backstory in my head but see the story as it is.

Thank you for reading and I hope you come back next Tuesday for a new tip from my journey.

Growing Up Alaska: Stories From My Life

As we go into a new year and thankfully leave 2020 behind, I decided to recommit myself to telling stories. I love to write, but in the last year I have seen many things take priority and my creative side take the hit. So, I am going to write one story a week from my life.

All the stories you are about to read really happened, though some names have been modified to protect the people I am writing about, namely myself so those people don’t hunt me down. LOL

I have decided to start my first story about a bear encounter while my family was out prospecting.

The Bear, The Bridge & Breakfast

When I was about 8, my family took a trip up the Dalton Highway through the interior of Alaska to look at some mining claims up near the Brooks Range. The Dalton Highway, also known as the “Haul Road” is the only link from Fairbanks to the oil fields of the North Slope.

The road has never been much more than a dirt road through he Alaskan wilderness, but in the early 80s, it was even less than that in places. There weren’t any campgrounds, so we found a gravel pullout next to a creek to stop for the night.

The next morning, mom ordered me and my older brothers to head to the creek to wash. This wasn’t something uncommon since we didn’t have running water at home anyways, but the side of the creek we had parked on had a steep embankment with large boulders to shore up the side for the bridge making it nearly impossible to climb down.

The other side of the creek had a nice slope to the creek, but you had to cross the long narrow bridge to get to that side. This wouldn’t seem to be an issue except for the fact that the semis that were carrying supplies to the Slope flew down the road and if they came to that bridge and you were in the middle of it, there would be no time to stop.

I followed my older brothers up to the bridge and struggled to clamber over the mid waist high guard rail. I will admit I was scared and didn’t really want to go, so when my brothers laughed and left me behind, I didn’t really care.

I marched back to the motorhome where my mother met me at the door. It took her only a moment to realize I hadn’t washed up and she ordered me across the bridge that instant. I tried to explain the problem and my fears, but my mother wasn’t having any of it and threatened no breakfast if I didn’t wash up.

Nearly in tears, I’m not sure more out of fear of missing breakfast or fear of getting smashed by a semi, I climbed back up to the road. I stared both ways and listened for an oncoming truck. I double checked the bend in the road and looked for signs of dust churned up by wheels. Heart pounding, though I was sure no truck was coming, I bellied up onto the guardrail and swung my leg over.

I was just about to step down onto the bridge when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Panic made me freeze as I was sure a truck was coming around the corner and I couldn’t hear it over the sound of the creek below, though logically I knew that couldn’t be because I could hear my brothers across the creek laughing and splashing each other with water.

Straddling the guardrail, I turned to look over my shoulder and spotted a black bear walk up onto the road not fifteen feet behind me. It was at that same time I heard my cousin yell for my dad.

Frozen with fear, I stood there, one foot tip toeing on the bridge while I sat astride the guardrail. I heard the pump action on my dad’s shotgun as he pulled it out of the truck and my mom scream as she came out to see what all the commotion was about.

My cousin and dad started yelling in hopes of scaring off the bear, but she clambered up onto the road more curious than anything. And that is when things went from bad to worse as her cub scrambled up next to her.

The yelling did cause her to turn away from my dad and cousin, only she started walking right towards me as she crossed the bridge. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream. But I was frozen and listening to my dad’s calm voice to tell me not to move, that everything was okay.

Mama bear walked down the middle of the bridge and passed so close that if I’d wanted to, I could’ve reached out and touched her. She didn’t pay me any mind as she ambled across the bridge which to me, seemed to take hours.

She was about a body length in front of me when her cub came up next to me. I was more focused on mama and wasn’t paying much attention to him until he stopped to sniff my boots.

I wanted to kick him away, but knew that if I did, that would only enrage mama and I wouldn’t stand a chance. So, I tensed up and held my breath and prayed he would go away.

Mama stopped and slowly turned her head and growled. I nearly blacked out with fear and was surprised that I didn’t scream, but the little bear scrambled to catch up to her.

Both bears continued across the bridge and as soon as they were ten feet away, I scrambled back over the rail. I wish I could say I did it gracefully or with pose, but in reality I threw myself over, scrapping up my inner thigh and landing hard on the gravel embankment that I promptly rolled down.

I ran back to my dad and watched as my brothers climbed up underneath the bridge to get away from the bears that had finished crossing over and turned towards them. We watched as the bears went to the edge of the water and drank before disappearing into the woods.

As soon as the bears were gone, my brothers ran back across the bridge yelling about the bears. Everyone talked at once for a few minutes before my mom once again told me to go wash before breakfast.

I refused and pointed out that the bears were still over there and I didn’t want to go. Mom just crossed her arms and said that the bears were gone and breakfast was almost ready.

My cousin offered to take me across the bridge so we climbed up the embankment and were about to the guardrail when the bears came out of the woods along the bank of the creek where my brothers had washed earlier.

We promptly marched back down to the motorhome as everyone came out to watch the bears again.

My mother was still set on me washing but I refused to go, so dad stepped in with a plan. He tied a rope to one of his three gallon buckets, slid down the steep slope to the boulders and tossed the bucket. He carried the bucket with water up so I could wash and with my mother satisfied, we sat down for breakfast.

And it was oatmeal. We did all that for my least favorite breakfast at the time.

As we packed up and left, we saw the two bears come out of the woods numerous times and as we crossed the bridge and drove up the road, I saw them come out and stare at us as if to say goodbye.

I’ll never forget that day. And while it was the closest encounter with a bear that I’ve ever had, it would not be my last.

I hope you have enjoyed this story and will be back next Friday to read another account of Growing Up Alaska.

Twas the Night Before Halloween

The following is a 100 word story for the Halloweensie story contest. Enjoy!

Twas the night before Halloween

In a haunted house

Doctor Frankenstein stirred

Along with his reanimated mouse

Donning his mask

To bake Halloween treats

Monstrous cupcakes

That were monstrously sweet

Topping them with frosting,

Skeleton sprinkles and more,

Piled so high

They dripped on the floor.

When out on the porch

There arose such a clatter

He crept to the door

To see what’s the matter.

In a line

Down to the street

Little goblins and ghosts

Waited for their treat.

As they each got a cupcake

And faded from sight

He called, “Happy Halloween!

And have a spooktacular night!”

A Visit to Dr. Frankenstein

The following is a 90 word story for the Halloweensie writing contest. Hope you enjoy!

Dr. Frankenstein crept into the room, stethoscope in hand. “Good afternoon Mr. Skeleton. How are we feeling today?”

Mr. Skeleton’s teeth chatter. “I’m bone tired doc and I’ve got the chills. And whatever I eat just seems to go right through me! I’ve been very careful and worn my mask, but I still got sick.”

Dr. Frankenstein placed his hand on Mr. Skeleton’s wrist. “No pulse, excellent. Open wide…nothing to see here.”

“Well, Mr. Skeleton, you have nothing to worry about. You can’t get sick, you’re a natural anti body!”