March newsletter – Read My Latest Masterpiece; It’s Got Romance, Death, and Chester the Pig

March 3, 2021 – I wrote something! I wrote something! Hot damn, I finally wrote something! It’s been ages.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have written things in recent months. But they have mostly been things related to my publishing business to help authors create, market, and sell their books. While it may take a bit of creativity to produce those epistles of wisdom, it’s more of a collating of research I’ve done and putting what I’ve learned and experienced into a concise, easy-to-digest format. That’s a whole different thing (a word I am so overusing today on purpose) than writing a piece that comes all from your own head.

That latter sort of writing thing has been mostly absent from my routine since I took a hiatus from writing 3 Months in Dublin: An Unfinished First Draft when I purchased PathBinder Publishing last May. Well, except for my author and publisher newsletters, which I try to make at least a bit entertaining.

I don’t think it helped my creative juices when we took an extended break from our writers group due to the coronavirus pandemic. I always felt pressured to bring something I wrote each month. But we figured out we could do meetings via video chat, and at our February meeting, Louise Hillery came up with an activity that would make me both think and write. Louise is so good at bringing activities to class.

We brainstormed and came up with some incidents that could be in a story, increasing tension along the way. Then, we had to write something (of any form or genre) that included all, or at least most, of those prompts. Here is what we came up with to wrote about (please, no judging):

Replacing a flat tire in the cold and snow can be a big pain, as my protagonist found out.
  • I needed to go to the Post Office before they closed.
  • It started to snow.
  • My ex-boyfriend/girlfriend stumbled by, but they didn’t see me.
  • I got distracted and drove into the curb.
  • I had to stop suddenly for a pig crossing the road. I hit the pig and struck the curb, popping the tire.
  • As the pig slowly expired in the road, all the lug nuts rolled into the sewer. I still had to get to the Post Office, so I asked my drunk ex-boyfriend/girlfriend for a ride.

The night before our March 1 meeting, with my deadline staring me in the face, I told myself, “You really need to do that thing for Scribblers Writing Club.” I did. With absolutely no idea how I was going to work these prompts into a story that didn’t mirror the one my wife had written and read to me within 24 hours of getting the assignment, I started typing whatever came to mind. I figured I’d get around to prompts somehow.

I did.

Below is the type of masterpiece I can come up with when faced with a deadline and told to write about a dying pig.

Enjoy.

***

Johnny was a kook. He always had been. He was the kid in school who, when it was pointed out he had food stuck in his braces, would mess about it with his tongue for a minute, then try to remove it between his forefinger and thumb before finally jabbing at it with the tip of a felt pen, leaving dark blue or red pen marks on his lips, and the food item still lodged is his metal work.

As if his kookiness couldn’t get any worse, his kooky factor somehow actually zoomed up ten levels last week.

You have to understand that Johnny just got his driver’s license a month ago. He’d put off getting it until he was a senior because his mom used to drive him everywhere he needed to go. And that included his dates, of which he had had very few for obvious reasons.

Arnold Ziffel from Green Acres.

Well, the deadline for getting his photo into the mail for the local newspaper’s best pet photo contest was Monday. He had to have it postmarked at the post office by 5 p.m., or he and Chester would be ineligible for the $500 grand prize. Oh yeah, Chester is Johnny’s pet pig. He treated that thing like it was a human being, like that that Arnold Ziffel the pig on the old Green Acres TV show.

At school on Monday, Johnny told me he must have misplaced the entry form. He was rather distraught over the matter and didn’t even care about the food in his braces at lunch. He bolted from his desk as soon as the final school bell rang, threw on his winter coat that he had brought to the final period so he didn’t have to stop at his locker on his way out of the building, and scampered the eight blocks home as quickly as anyone could on a cold, gray January afternoon.

Johnny upended nearly the entire house looking for that entry form. When his father walked into the house at 4:45 p.m. as he always did from work, Johnny had given up all hope of finding it and was curled up in a fetal position on the living room couch.

“Hi, Junior,” said his dad, who was Johnny Senior. Johnny Jr. didn’t respond.

Johnny’s dad opened his briefcase and pulled out a postcard.

“Junior, I think this is yours; something about a photo contest,” he said. ”It’s addressed to John. I bet your mother thought it was mine and put it in my briefcase last Friday. Sorry about that, pal. I just saw it at the office today.”

Johnny quickly sat up, looked at the clock on the wall, grabbed the card from his father, and ran off to get Chester.

“Thanks, Dad!” he yelled as he took off toward the room at the back of the house where Chester slept. “I need to borrow the car.”

In all the madness of trying to find the postcard, Johnny had completely forgotten to take a photo of Chester. So, he had less than fifteen minutes to get the photo, fill out the form and get both to the post office before it was too late. Five hundred bucks! Plus, notoriety for his perfect pig. Johnny couldn’t miss this opportunity.

Chester wasn’t in a particularly playful mood when Johnny got to his straw bed. But he always livened up in the car.

“I’ll take Chester to the post office with me,” Johnny thought. “He’ll liven up, I’ll get a photo with the Polaroid and get it done just in time.”

Johnny gathered up all the necessities, jumped in his dad’s Toyota Corolla and sped off toward the post office just as snowflakes began to drop lightly on the windshield.

One last stop sign and he’d be there. But as he was about to resume traveling from his stop, a disheveled figure in a trench coat stumbled into the crosswalk in front of him. He jammed on the brakes. Hitting a pedestrian, even if he was drunk, would either put a screeching halt to his dream or land him in jail if he left the scene.

“Oh my God, that’s Brenda.” Johnny’s eyes opened wide. “What the hell?!”

Brenda was the only girl who would admit to actually having been out on a date with Johnny. A few others had been out with him, but they’d never say so. Brenda hobbled on by, not looking Johnny’s way once.

Johnny stopped the car and opened his door, getting out to see if Brenda needed any help. He tried calling to her, but a truck passed by muffling his voice. And when the truck was gone, so was Brenda.

“I’ll deal with that later,” Johnny thought as he got back into the car and shut the door.

He found a spot on the street that required parallel parking, a driving skill at which he wasn’t particularly good. Still reeling a bit from seeing Brenda in such shape, and being under the pet contest time crunch, Johnny ended up hitting the curb while backing up.

“Damn it!”

He pulled out and started the procedure over.

He started again. At the last moment, in his side view mirror, he saw a pink flash scurry behind the car. A moment later, he hit something and heard a terrible squeal. He jerked the steering wheel and accidentally hit the gas, sending the rear passenger tire into the curb once again, this time much harder. He heard a pop.

”Damn it!”

“What was that pink flash?” he wondered. Suddenly, he looked closer at the back seat.

“Where is Chester? Oh my God, I ran over Chester!”

Johnny got out of the car and ran to the back, where he saw a flat tire and Chetser’s big brown eyes staring at him nearly lifeless, snow falling on its pink body. Johnny cradled the pig’s head is his arms and started to weep. As the courthouse tower clock started to ring, signaling the five o’clock hour, the end of Johnny’s dreams for fame and fortune died as his precious pig took one last little snort and expired.

With that, the only thing left for Johnny to do was replace the flat tire with the spare from the trunk and get Chester’s corpse home for a proper burial.

He jacked up the car, Chester still sitting next to it on the curb, and started to remove the lug nuts on the tire. By this time, a small crowd had gathered. This included Brenda, who started to wail when she saw what had happened to Chester.

Johnny looked up and saw Brenda. His heart jumped in his chest.

“Brenda’s back,” he thought, “just when I need her the most.”

Always remember to hold onto your lug nuts.

He started to stand up to meet her, but as he did, his hand holding the lug nuts loosened, and they fell into the street, quickly rolling into a sewer grate, gone forever.

“Hey, Johnny,” Brenda said as tears and snowflakes made her mascara run. “Need a ride?”

Johnny nodded.

“And Chester, too?” he asked, giving Brenda and quick, awkward hug.

“Chester, too,” she answered.

“But you’re drunk,” Johnny said. “You shouldn’t drive.”

Brenda winked at him.

“I’m just pretending to be,” she said.

And now you know the story of how kooky Johnny and kooky Brenda became a real couple. To this day, they don’t eat bacon or pork chops.

The end

Publishing

Really quick overview of some of the major happenings with PathBinder Publishing:

*My wife’s fifth children’s book, the first she’s done through PathBinder, is up on Amazon with an official release date of March 1. Love, Hope: Children Express Their Emotions During the Coronavirus Pandemic is a “thought-provoking, children’s book about the emotions, thoughts and attitudes of young children during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the promotional words we are using. We’ve been able to get the book approved for sale in one local bookstore and have had a story published about it.

*Magic Everywhere Inc. put up a podcast featuring me talking about children’s books about a week ago. The company is owned in part by my buddy, Michael John Sullivan, who is also an author. Michael, in fact, served as one of my main sources of help when I was writing my first book. I met PathBinder Publishing founder, Heather Hummel Gallagher, though Michael, and she helped me negotiate my first contract as an author.

*The books by our two retired doctors are now available. Blessings and Sudden Intimacies: Musings of a Pediatric Intensivist by retired ICU physician Greg Stidham of Kingston, Ontario; and The Two Roads of Life: Navigating Yourself and Family to Health and Contentment by retired clinical psychologist Michael J. Simon. Make sure to check them out.

*Angela Childs, a retired art and music teacher, will have another children’s books with us soon. Her A Rat for Thanksgiving? came out a little before Thanksgiving last year. Next up is Chasing Rainbows: A Story of Faith.

Reading

I’m reading Little Cruelties by Irish author Liz Nugent. It’s about three brothers, all of whom definitely have issues. I have four brothers; three of them have issues. Guess which ones! Wait, that’s not true.

Ailment of the Month

Hey! I get to see the eye doctor again this month. Every six months lately as these cataracts get worse, especially in my right eye. Not sure how much that is giving me these headaches lately…

Miscellaneous

  • I’m still keeping up with the walking. A minimum of 8,000 steps every day, even if I have to go downstairs to the old treadmill for an 800-step jaunt in slippers before bedtime.
  • In February, I found $8.19 in lost money on the streets of Columbus, or on the floors of shops, or in vending machine coin returns. Two of those dollars were in the form of paper bills and were located on the floor in front of a coffee shop ordering and payment area. I didn’t recall seeing them when I walked into the door, so I figured they belonged to the guy who had been in line before me. They were. I didn’t keep those two bucks, but I did find them, so they count in my total. That’s the way I roll in the shire.
  • I bought a new turntable for the first time since about 1984 a week or so ago and have been reintroducing myself to my vinyl records. You know, 33, 45, that sort of thing.
  • I get my first coronavirus vaccine this Thursday. Indiana just dropped the age limit to my age bracket, so as soon as I was eligible, I signed up. My parents just got their second shots, so maybe we’ll all feel more comfortable getting together again soon.
  • I’m also going to audition for a movie Thursday. I’ve been an extra in couple films done locally and have done a few radio play-style performances in the past few years. The one I’m auditioning for is to be shot in Bloomington, Indiana. And we get paid. I’m in the right age range for the rugged but hopeful drifter; scrappy but struggling salesman, lonely dairy farmer, and clean-cut, even-keeled bartender. If I get a part, I’ll let you all know much more about it next time.

That’s it for this month. Have a good one!

Paul

Helpful Links

PathBinder Publishing website

PathBinder Publishing on Facebook

PathBinder Publishing on Instagram

Paul on Instagram

Paul/PathBinder Publishing on Twitter

Paul J. Hoffman author page on Facebook

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