Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teachers Who've Influenced Me

The more time I spend writing the Golden Retriever Mysteries, which are set in a version of my home town, the more I find the teachers who made an impression on me dropping in.

Part of it is the setting, of course. Stewart’s Crossing is a small town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just up the Delaware River from Philadelphia. In my mind, it’s just north of the town where I grew up, Yardley, and has a lot in common with my one-time home. 

There are now two PHS campuses. I went to the "east" one.

Main Street, Ferry Street, Canal Street, and the single traffic light in the center of town, for starters. The Friends Meeting House, the mill pond, even the tiny gingerbread Victorian that housed the local library when I was a kid. My hero and his best friend, the local police detective, went to Pennsbury High, as I did.

The secondary setting for the books is Eastern College, my hero’s alma mater, where he returns to work after a divorce and a brief incarceration for computer hacking. Schools are great places for second chances. I teach at a community college myself, and many of my students have returned to study after family drama, illness, even incarceration.

When Steve comes home, one of his first jobs is as an adjunct professor in the English department at Eastern. I get to use a lot of my own experiences and I have fun with the names of his students – Barbara Seville; Dezhanne, Cynnamon and Felae; football players Juan Tanamera and Jose Canusi.

Maybe it’s all that focus on education that keeps reminding me of my own teachers. Mr. Norman Haider, my tenth-grade English teacher, who assigned us to read A Separate Peace by John Knowles the year the movie version came out. I fell head over heels for that book, and when Mr. Haider told us to “rewrite” the book from Finny’s point of view, I discovered that writing was a way for me to explore my own feelings and what matters most to me. I’ll forever be grateful to him for that, and I’ll always remember the white patent leather belt and matching shoes he wore!

Other teachers pop up as well. There’s a strong Quaker tradition in Pennsylvania, and many of my teachers were Quakers. 

My ninth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Ash, was a Friend, and some of her gentle nature comes out in my Quaker characters. 

My social studies teacher in eighth grade, Mrs. Shea, was equally kind and generous, and her name pops up as one of my hero’s teachers.

Other teachers pop up in different ways. When I speak at conferences or give readings, I’m often told that I have a great speaking voice. 

That’s thanks to Mr. Kelly, who coached our Forensics team in high school. I studied speech with him and participated in competitions in extemporaneous speaking and dramatic reading. Obviously that paid off! 

Finally, there’s a message I got on Facebook the other day from one of my former students, who wrote, “You truly are the best English professor at Broward.” I hope I’m keeping up the tradition my own teachers established.

And by the way, the sixth of my golden retriever mysteries, Dog Have Mercy, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. It’ll be on sale there, and at lots of other places where ebooks are sold, as of February 2.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

South Florida Wildlife

Living with dogs, I get an up close and personal view of all the wildlife in our area, because Brody and Griffin will chase anything that moves (yes, you, little girl on the tricycle).

Bright green iguanas and small lizards are always a part of our landscape. But the worst animals, from the point of view of the guy holding onto the leash, are squirrels. Periodically we’ll notice squirrels racing around together, chasing each other up and down trees, across streets and onto rooftops. Sometimes one will almost seem like he’s playing with the dogs, darting in front of them, hiding behind trees and so on.

Even with all that running around, I rarely see dead squirrels on the street, though I did see one a few weeks ago. Either they’re pretty quick, or somebody in the neighborhood likes road kill.

My least favorite have to be the land crabs. During their season, they’re everywhere, with big nasty claws. I’ve had to kick them out of our courtyard, pry them from behind the hurricane shutters, shoo them from the garage. When one of the dogs surprises a live one, it will rear up on its hind legs and wave those nasty pincers. More often, though, we see dead crab parts in the street and along the sidewalk. It’s an effort to rein Brody and Griffin in and keep them from snarfing up what they see as a seafood buffet.

Fortunately, a few years ago the City of Hollywood delivered new trash cans for us with heavy lids, so we haven’t seen raccoon or possums for a while. I vividly remember being woken in the wee hours of the morning by raccoon banging on our trash cans in the courtyard and Sam barking wildly.

More recently, there was a hive of bees in a neighbor’s water meter and a long-tailed mouse in our pool when it was drained. I am the designated wild animal control person in our household,and I doubt that will change in the future.