Going with strength

John Clark with an admission or two. Unlike sister Kate, I didn’t grow up to be a writer. True, I had a vivid and dangerous imagination, but wanted to be a baseball player and later just wanted to survive. Writing came in my 40s after Mom and Kate were really into it and having success. My first forays were as a newspaper columnist, then a contributor to a book on libraries in mental health settings and finally a YA fantasy novel. In hindsight, it could have been a better book, but it introduced me to a more structured imagination and was followed by four more in the same imaginary universe. All four slumber on my computer years later. They’ve been joined by an adult sci-fi novel and three more or less completed YA urban fantasies/romance/mysteries.

What happened to leave them in a not-yet-completed pile? If I could answer that question I would and do so gladly, but every time I ponder the question, it’s like nailing jello to the wall in a dark basement while wearing mittens. Mom’s death knocked the stuffing out of me, 9/11 had a smaller effect, but if there’s a blockbuster reason, it continues to elude me. Make no mistake, I’m not feeling sorry for myself, just trying to be honest.

Along the way, I discovered the seductive allure of writing short stories. Heck, on a good day, I can knock one out, let it simmer for a few days and polish it nicely. Contrast that to the time and effort involved in writing a book and it’s pretty clear why that kind of writing has a siren song.

I’m also pretty comfortable in my retired life after the first year and when I look at the effort and time my fellow MCW members devote to getting their work in front of readers, it makes me wonder if I want to change that much in my life. There’s also the ADHD aspect of sitting at the computer. I get distracted way too easily. Need another cup of coffee, gotta see if any new email has arrived, who has posted on Facebook, has the mailman come yet, should I pick more raspberries. Looked at logically, this isn’t a particularly sane behavior pattern, but it sits on my shoulder like a demonic monkey all too often.

Perhaps the biggest aspect of my writing life is that more and more, I enjoy reading and reviewing books. Reading is so satisfying and sharing a particularly good book with others makes the experience even more so. I’ve been reviewing for School Library Journal for a few years now, covering educational DVDs and audio books. It’s safe to say I’m their resident expert on addiction and mental health videos. You have no idea how good some of them are and how powerful the message recovering teens can convey when describing their odyssey to hell and back. I also review for Buried Under Books (https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/) as well as The CMLD Kids/Teens Review site. (https://cmldbookreviews.com/). Since I don’t finish boring or uninteresting books, I seldom post a negative review. Reviews are satisfying in several ways. First, they make an author feel like their work matters, they give potential readers a peek inside and they can direct readers, particularly teens, to books that may help them make sense of their lives.

Nothing in life is cast in stone. I might wake up tomorrow and be so inspired by a new story idea that I do nothing but write until Veteran’s Day, but for today, what you’ve read is my reality and was important to share. I’ll end with my latest book review below.

Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner, Candlewick (September 27, 2016). ISBN: 9780763682057.


Imagine a story where every character is one of the walking wounded, but because they are, nobody is able to understand and work through what they all share.

Dara lost an arm to a shark while swimming in Hawaii. It ended her hopes of being an Olympic swimmer and broke any positive connection to her father who was her coach. Then there’s the issue surrounding her late mother, not to mention her gender identity issue. She’s compensated by trying to train Otis to be her surrogate Olympian and it has helped him cope (barely) with his twin losses, the tragic death of his little brother and the sudden move, not long after, by his best friend Meg, who he confided in and loved a lot. He’s gone three years with no contact, but has never gone a day without wondering and imagining. Otis’ parents are stuck in the storm of grief generated when their younger son Mason died. They were best friends with Meg’s parents who lived next door, but something unspoken now lies between the former best friends.

When Meg’s parents separate, her dad takes a transfer back to the branch of his company near by and Meg breaks silence to let Otis know she is coming for a three week visit and needs to talk. What follows reminded me of a satellite in a descending orbit. Every time it passes over Truthtown, you learn a little more about everyone’s secret demons and tense up, expecting a fiery crash. Instead, Paula skillfully navigates the story to an incredibly satisfying landing that left me smiling and hopeful. All the characters are likable, but I couldn’t help but root for Dara, Meg and Otis, three teens in pain through no fault of their own. Granted there are F-bombs in the story, but they shouldn’t deter any library from adding this to their YA collection.

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4 Responses to Going with strength

  1. Julianne Spreng says:

    We need lots more short story authors!!!! Novels are wonderful. They fill out all sorts of branches in a story. A shoot here. A solid limb there. But…many of them can be pruned away from the trunk without damaging the tree.

    My father introduced me to short stories as young reader. He could sneak in one tale at lunch, another while riding the train home from work. Short stories are the essence of what we read.

    Maybe you enjoy writing reviews of longer works because a review is a kind of paring down. Getting to the core of the story. Keep writing them and getting them published!

  2. Skye says:

    John, I adore a collection of short stories and I can also identify with you the loss of my mother and 9/11; bring your stories out of seclusion! I meant to ask if you were the John Clark on Lelia’s blog, too.

  3. Sennebec says:

    Thank you Julianne and Skye!

  4. Sennebec says:

    Skye, that’s me on Leila’s blog.

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