Gold Stars for Me?

Artists spend hours in a studio, closet, at a corner table, a space, creating art. Alone.

stars.jpg

I stare at a blank canvas. Quiet, entrancing music plays in the background. Thoughts of food, lunch, dinner, breakfast slip by without notice. Hubby comes in.

“Have you decided what we’ll have for:
A. breakfast
B. lunch
C. dinner
D. other”

A daily multiple choice for which I sometimes earn a gold star.

A gold star?

I remember those.

Sometimes pasted on our foreheads for doing excellent class work. Our papers sported their gold star. We were a matching set. That was really cool from Kindergarten to second grade.

stellamarisorphanage

Convent/orphanage/boarding school

For my sixth birthday, Grandmother sent a  birthday present to the orphanage where I lived with my sister. A nun delivered the package to me at play time. Students crowded to see what I had gotten. Some stared across the room from their play area.

Inside were four pieces each of Grandmother’s special fudge: peanut butter, and maple walnut fudge.

She usually made fudge for special occasions like Christmas. I had never gotten it for my birthday before. But then, I was not in an orphanage before. Another small box sat at the bottom of the package. It was filled with gold stars! Lots of them. Smiling wide, I showed my loot to my classmates.

Big mistake.

The nun highly recommended I share with my friends.

nun-ihm

Sister Saint Share

What friends?

She meant my Kindergarten classmates who happened to be in a similar predicament as I—enrolled in an orphanage. My sister and I were placed there after Mom unexpectedly died. Dad called it a convent. A place where nuns lived. We went to school, slept, ate and lived there without Dad for nine months. He complained about tuition for his two daughters. Why wouldn’t he just bring us home?

Staring at my cache of fudge, and feeling obliged—coerced—to share, I ate one piece. The remainder was devoured by my classmates like corn tossed to a murder of crows.

But, I had a little box of gold stars! More than anyone could ever earn in one hundred lifetimes in Kindergarten. The nun and my “friends” gawked, oohed and aahed.

The stars were mine. No need to share. I could have given each one a star, sticking it on their foreheads for their excellent job of speed-eating my birthday fudge within seconds of opening the gift.

NOT.

The stars were mine.

Off to lunch we went to our assigned seats at a long, well worn, wooden dining table. We each had a drawer in which were a plate, cup, and utensils. It was my drawer. No one ate there but me. So I thought. Scheduled eating for 100’s of girls didn’t occur to my little brain. Why would it? Didn’t the world revolve around me?

After the meal, a large basin of hot water and soap made its way down our long dining table. Each girl washed her dishes, and pushed the basin left to her neighbor. A dish towel followed. Once dried, every plate and utensil was returned to the drawer until the next meal.

Having completed my task, I slipped my stars in my drawer for safe keeping. I would retrieve them at dinner time and bring the box to bed with me. A plan whereby I could ponder how to make good use of my gold stars.

Dinner time arrived. Sitting at the table, I retrieved my dish, cup and utensils. The meal was the usual for Sunday evening. The cooks had Sunday’s off. No one worked on Sundays, except the nuns. Not trained to cook for large crowds of children, they turned to a simple solution of carbohydrates and calcium diet. That meant chips and milk. Desert–a popsicle.

butter pats

hard butter pats

One meal I can never forget included a pat of butter. We each had meat, potatoes, vegetable and a slice of bread. The butter arrived stacked in a plate. Obviously cut by the cook and stored in the fridge—or the freezer.

Taking one pat, I placed it on my bread. Spreading was impossible. No matter how hard I pressed, the pat stayed firm. I was determined to spread my pat of butter. The bread tore and twisted. No luck.

Frustrated, I reconstructed my bread, piece meal, placing the butter in the center. Folding the bread, I ate it. It was okay until I bit into the butter. Yuck!

Biting lard or butter is not a favorite of mine. Still isn’t.

I never forgot that pat of butter. I eat butter. I even keep it in the fridge. But I learned to slice it thin to spread as I please. But, I digress…

After dinner and dishes, I reached into the drawer for my gold stars.

They weren’t handy. Climbing off my chair, I peeked into the drawer’s inside. Nothing!

I was troubled. Sad. Angry. Hurt. Suspicious. Someone took my stars. It was my birthday and I had been robbed. Violated. It wasn’t fair. I went to bed, crying into my pillow. 

For a long time, I wondered who the thief was. I totally suspected the nuns. Whenever I got a gold star for my forehead, I thought, “Is this my gold star?” Had to be. The nun had lots of them to hand around…so it seemed.

Years later, I surmised a nun finding the box of stars in a student’s drawer, not knowing who’s it was, mine or the other assigned student’s, probably thought they were either stolen from a teacher’s desk or they were true contraband.

And then, I also think a haw-keyed classmate may have noticed my dumb plan, and stole them within seconds after I walked away.

Of all the colors, red, green, blue, silver or gold, I prefer the gold star.

As a teacher, awarding gold stars, I told my students, “This is a special star. Just for you. Cherish not the star but the super work you accomplished. If you never get a gold star again, remember this one. You don’t always have to get a gold star for work well done. Just always do the best you can. Be happy whether you get one gold star or a whole box full. But who needs a box full of stars? Look at the sky. Those are all the stars you need. And they are always there waiting for you to look up. No one can take that away.”

goldstar

The nuns helped me survive a terrible time in my life. The pain and unhappy feelings were from the separation of parent and child, and the silence of death.

I survived and dwell on the good things that came out of my stay at the convent/orphanage/boarding school.

The gold stars are still with me in memory and in my heart. A gift from Grandmother.

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So what about that Manuscript thing… ?

Oh. River Fork?

I had planned it as a coming of age, YA story. With a bit of fantasy aka paranormal.

Why did I write it?

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As a former teacher, I encouraged my high school students to write. I found several of my students had dealt with a major loss. They wrote about it, but no one talked about it.

Neither did I—Mother died in a fire. My sister and I witnessed the event. I was five, my sister, seven. Needless to say, we never forgot. We never talked about it. Nor did our father. Assumptions and rumors were spread.

During my teaching career, a story slowly evolved. Picture book? Children’s book? Family story book? My brain cranked out scenarios. At first it was a morass of imagery. How would I best present my idea? I wasn’t a writer. I wrote poetry. Still do and tuck it away in a briefcase. But writing a book?

I am an artist. So I began with cute pictures and poem-like stories.

The story grew. I dropped the cute — loss is not cute.

I needed a plan, feeling, a theme, a plot, etc… . What did I get myself into?

My head said, put it into words. I began writing, finishing the Manuscript the year I retired. Then I researched the writing craft, improved my writing skills and investigated publishing options. Needless to say, publishing  has surely changed since I first put pen to paper.

The story:

  • Timeline: 1956-57
  • Theme: the loss of a parent.
  • Setting: River Fork, NH. A farming and logging community. In the mountains near the Saco River.
  • Characters: Three neighboring friends: Tim, Charlie and Roach. Tim will be 13 in three days. The others are teens.
  • It is about coming of age, death, forgiveness, hope and faith. Oh, and there is a budding romance.
  • There is a bit of paranormal (no magical potions, witches, vampires, violence, etc…)

 

So, Has Anyone Reviewed It?

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The Manuscript has been line critiqued and gone through many revisions.

A year ago I found three beta readers.
Results:
I did not write to the YA audience. It is suitable for the Middle Grade audience. Disappointment for sure here.
Okay. I asked for an honest review.
I received three great reviews. Two people pointed out what didn’t work and what could be done to make the story more interesting. One Beta Reader recommended a few resources. With this expert advice and suggestions, I learned a lot. I am grateful.
So. I’m doing lots of editing, developing my characters and setting a bit more. And DUMPING stuff that was kind of iffy even as I first wrote it.
  • If it’s IFFY for the writer – It most certainly will be IFFY for the reader. DUMP IT. Ahhh. Yes. You’ll feel better. I did.

Once this latest revision is complete, I’ll need a couple of Beta Reader(s) again. Then on to an editor and publishing—self-publishing.

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For those who work with me in this endeavor, your name will be mentioned in the credits and you will receive a free digital copy of my novel once it is published.

The sequel—Roach’s story—sits in my laptop. Waiting.

Please like, comment and share this post.
Thanks.
J.M. Orise

I Had To Put It Into Words

What is River Fork?

A coming of age YA story.

Why did I write it?

As a former teacher, I encouraged my high school students to write. One  particular assignment required an autobiography titled: “Fact, Fiction or Fix-it Autobio.”  Over the years my students, because of the title, felt comfortable enough to share stories I would never have been privy to.

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comment to beta read

I empathized at how much some had suffered in their short life. In particular was the loss of a parent, sibling or  a friend.

My mother died in a fire — my sister and I witnessed the event. I was five, my sister was seven. Needless to say, we never forgot. It is indelibly etched in my memory. So much detail for such a young mind.

Being aware of my students’ stories, a story evolved in my head for two years. My brain cranked out scenarios. At first it was a morass of imagery. How would I best present my idea. Picture book? Children’s book? Family story book? I wasn’t a writer. I wrote poetry and still do and tuck it away in a briefcase. But writing a book?

Since I am an artist, I began with cute pictures and stories. Then the story grew. It didn’t need to be cute — loss is not cute. I needed honesty and a theme, a plot, etc… . What did I get myself into?

I had to put it into words. As I began the writing process, I adjusted the length and breadth of the story. Years later, I found time in my retirement to finish the MS.

These last four years were devoted to researching the writing craft, improve my writing skills and understanding the different publishing options. Needless to say, the times have surely changed the publishing process since I first put pen to paper.

The story:

  • Timeline: 1957
  • Theme: the loss of a parent.
  • Setting: fictitious town of River Fork, NH.
  • Characters: Three neighboring teens who live in  a farming community.
  • It is about coming of age, death, forgiveness, hope and faith, budding romance.
    • It contains a bit of paranormal (no magical potions, witches, vampires, violence, etc…)
      tbwavestandbyjo-2017-72dpir
Are you a beta reader?

The MS has been line critiqued and gone through several revisions

Presently, I need a critique from a few beta readers willing to give me an honest review. Comment if interested.

If you wish to work with me in this endeavor, your name will be mentioned in the credits and I will gift you a digital copy of my YA novel once it is published.

 

I’ve since begun a sequel—Roach’s story.

Please like, comment and share this post.
Thanks.