Keeping Our Communities From Burning

This blog speaks about a violent event in my community where a kid was badly hurt.

A few years ago, I was a newspaper editor, working out at the local gym, when my phone went off.

Before COVID-19, the school system my daughter went to had a dress-up costume day.

This is what happened one time.

I’m sharing it again because:

  1. It’s important to remember.
  2. I was a reporter and editor then and it’s important to remember that despite everyone’s hate and rantings, reporters are people to and a part of your community.
  3. Love is important.
  4. Em (my daughter) is wise.
  5. Community is important too, and that’s a good thing to remember right now in these scary-weird times.
  6. We’ve got to remember we can bounce back and love each other and make something better. Sometimes story helps us remember that.

The Call


“You have to get to the high school quick,” Bobbi, my office manager at the Ellsworth Weekly said. “Something horrible’s happened.”

I’d been working out at the Y. The high school was down the road a bit and across a main route through our town.

Bobbi sounded worried. Bobbi never sounded worried.

I ran over in my gym clothes. It was about 40 degrees out, but the sky was clear and blue and beautiful.

The alarms were screaming off in the school and students, crying students, were streaming out of the building.

Teachers hollered at them, “Get into the parking lots. Keep moving. Keep moving.”

Some of the teachers were crying, too.

Everything inside of me fell. I hated being a newspaper person because I hated these kind of stories, the tragedy stories.

“He was on fire,” one guy who played soccer told me.

I didn’t ask him. I didn’t ask anyone anything because they were in pain. I just waited.

The boy crumpled. He pressed his hands to his face. “Jesus. He was on fire.”

I hugged him. Then his friends, mostly other jocks, came and hugged him, too.

It wasn’t the only group hug going on. The kids huddled together. Some paced. Others cried, squatted down, stood up. One girl was praying.

The fire trucks arrived, an ambulance, a TV news crew, more newspaper people, a Lifeflight helicopter.


We waited and stared at the high school’s blank, brick facade. We waited and waited and the TV news people started putting microphones in students’ faces. The school superintendent came out. He was crying. He looked at me and cried some more. He was a chubby, jokey guy with ruddy, Irish cheeks. He wore a maroon Ellsworth-lettermen jacket.

He shook his head at me. I didn’t ask him any questions. I could tell by his face that he didn’t know the answers.

I started turning blue from the cold. A TV camera guy gave me his jacket.


“I don’t want to be here,” he said.
I shook my head. “Me either.”

What Happened

That day, Donny, a boy I knew a bit, a boy who hung out with one of my best friend’s sons, had gone to school in costume for their Halloween celebration. He had made the costume himself with some help from his family. It was a sniper outfit with leaves and camouflage stuff. The boy sitting behind him during assembly allegedly kept flicking his lighter. People told him to cut it out.

The guy with the flame supposedly said something threatening like, “I’ll bet you’ll burn.”


The boy allegedly flicked the lighter up one more time and lit the edge of Donny’s costume on fire.

It was flammable.

Donny ran down the bleachers. Somehow people got him to drop and roll in the middle of the gym floor. Others screamed. Others thought it was a stunt. Others didn’t know what was going on. It’s the same gym where graduation happens. It’s the same gym where all the basketball games are played. It’s a place of community, a place people get together. A place of celebration and connection.

But not then.

The school nurse saved his life. So did the assistant principal. Everyone agrees about that. Donny was Lifeflighted to Boston. He missed months and months of school. He had terrible, terrible burns. When he finally came home, there were parades and balloons and articles. He rode in a limo. He could barely walk out of it and get to his house, but he did.

Donny is a hero for surviving.
So is the community.

And we’ll survive again and again, no matter what the universe throws at us. No matter what we throw at each other.

That’s because we’ll hug each other in parking lots, put out the fires burning in each other’s bodies, sob together, and work hard to make things right even (and especially when) we don’t know how.

We will argue over rainbow sidewalks in town and then make them on school property. We will protest and then make cookies for the people who support the opposite politicians that we do. We will go to local Facebook groups and create communities within community where we will bring food to people quarantining because of COVID, read library stories together, share jokes, share possibilities.

After that incident at the high school, a lot of kids had nightmares, a lot of kids’ lives were affected, especially Donny’s, especially the boy who set Donny’s costume on fire. But gradually, that gym has lost its horror feel, and pre COVID-19, we walked in there for events and games and every time something good happens, our community gets a little tighter, a little stronger.

The gym isn’t being used now because of COVID.

That’s okay. Because it will eventually be used again, reclaimed one more time by a community that evolves, hopes, and persists.

Three years after Donny was burned, my daughter, Em, was dressed up as a penguin for Halloween. Her middle school is having that same costume day, the celebration. So was the high school. If you bring in a can of food you get to wear a costume to school, which was cool.

She was bringing in extra cans in case any of her friends forget.

I asked her why.

And she said, “Because when people need help you give it to them. I like to be prepared.”

Right now, as we face divisiveness, elections and COVID-19, it’s a time when choosing to promote kindness, community, and simple steps like wearing a mask are easy ways to be prepared, to help the people who need it.

Much love to all of you.


CARRIE’S TEACHABLE CLASS!

I have a quick, pre-recorded Teachable class designed to make you a killer scene writer in just one day. It’s fun. It’s fast. And you get to become a better writer for just $25, which is an amazing deal.

HEY! I LIKE YOU! LET’S HANG OUT!

LET’S HANG OUT!

HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?

MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?

JUST CLICK ON THIS LINK AND FIND OUT HOW WE CAN.

And to hear our podcast latest episode for DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE, all about Making Sexy Mission Statements and Writing Platforms, click here.


HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON

My Patreon site I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD.

I also share some writing tips that are also going to be on Teachable as the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME and send people art.

It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.

And I’m starting up a brand new, adult paranormal set at a Maine campground. You can read the first chapter here.

What Was It Like To Get a MFA When You Are From Maine and Have Social Anxiety

If you guys don’t know, Vermont College of Fine Arts offers a master’s program specifically for writing for children and young adults. This is a very cool thing. They actually accepted me and I got a degree there. Eventually, I was even awarded a Distinguished Alum degree at a surprise event in D.C, which was ridiculously cool and a great line for my obituary.

But when I started? I didn’t think I would ever get that far. That’s because I get super shy and social anxious about public events. I present an extrovert, but I basically have stage fright about things like singing in public, or going to board meetings or parties. I still go, but I get anxious ahead of time.

I was so anxious about going to Vermont. I was a newspaper editor. That is not the same as writing books for kids and I would be surrounded by people who were devoted to the craft of writing and that seemed so scary.

What was going to Vermont like?

Um…. It was great. No plots were stolen. I did not go to jail or die. All in all? I’d say it was a success.

But when I first got there it was a more than a little scary. I was petrified. You know how when you go into the cafeteria and realize that you know absolutely nobody. No, seriously, and everyone else looks like they know everybody else and so you just stand there with your tray … wondering how you can go into the kitchen and eat with the cooks because they seem really nice … the cooks. 

And then you meet all the other people in your class and it feels like everyone is SOOOOOOOOO much cooler than you are and they all sort of have roles.

There was HE WHO WRITES YA SEX SCENES and SHE OF THE PEACEFUL POETRY and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN and PICTURE BOOK GURU and I AM FLUFFY and then of course, THE ONE CUTE GUY. This is a children’s writer’s program. There is usually one cute guy. There is also usually one ridiculously beautiful woman.

(Note: We were a rocking class because there were actually three cute boys out of our 18 writers. There was also three beautiful women. This made our class ultra-cool.)

Anyway, I felt like I didn’t fit in because everyone else was so cool,  and basically I almost had a complete nervous breakdown the first residency until Lisa Jahn Clough talked me down and said, “Carrie, writers never feel like they fit in. That’s why we’re writers.”

And I said, “But I’m from Maine. I’m not used to all these people talking everywhere about writing. Actually, I’m not used to people, which is part of why I wear a parka inside buildings at all times. You can hide in a parka and pretend to be a snowman or something.”

And she said, “I know. I’m from Maine too, but it’s good. Really. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but it’s good. And parkas are fine.”

And it turned out she was right. 

Everyone in my class at Vermont helped each other and HE WHO WRITES SEX SCENES eventually WROTE PEACEFUL POETRY, occasionally and MAGICAL URBAN FANTASY WOMAN wrote an occasional picture book, and everyone in my class just basically loved each other, creating a happy ending much better than any 1980s teen movie and we eventually all crunched up together and looked all emotional and dramatic but right together. And we connected and learned.

And I kind of miss it because as Molly Ringwald (1980s actress always wearing pink or black) said in the movie, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone“Us loners got to stick together.”

And you know? Writers wrote that line. And they also wrote that movie. Which is why we all need to support each other because sometimes… well… we writers stink.

Anyway, I really miss learning about craft instead of teaching about craft and becoming an exponentially better writer because of these other amazing writer/teachers.


And I really miss throwing cookies at people in the cafeteria and then looking all happy-faced.

Us loners got to stick together, baby, and that counts for writers and readers both, and writing programs give us writers a place to do it. So congratulations to all my friends who are starting programs, and to all my friends who aren’t. Because, basically, we all have our own paths and they are all cool. 

Well, almost all of us.

As C. JoyBell C. says,

“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” 

This week’s episode link. 

Last week’s episode link.

Last week’s interview with writer Jordan Scavone! 


Continue reading “What Was It Like To Get a MFA When You Are From Maine and Have Social Anxiety”

Cell phones, Yeti hair, and community

There are certain reasons why I don’t usually leave the house in super baggy pants, a gray fleece jacket, and super wild, frizzed-out hair.

The main reason I don’t?

Because every time I do, something bad happens, like public spectacle bad.

So near the end of one Ellsworth Middle School basketball game, I slinked in and sat down on the bleachers hoping nobody would see me in my Yeti-state.

I put my cellphone and car keys on the bleacher in front of me so they wouldn’t fall out of my slanty pockets.  

Oh, I thought. I am soooo smart.

My daughter Em came over in her cheering uniform, flew up the bleachers, plopped on my lap and hugged me. 

Ah, I thought. I love my kid.

She opened up her cheerleading-coach-approved healthy cheer snack and her foot shot out knocking something under the bleachers.

“What was that?” asked my friend who was sitting next to me.

“Popcorn?” Em suggested.

“Your cell phone,” said another nice guy nearby.

“Oh,” I said. “Oh . . . no!”

Em and I started looking for it. The nice man started looking. Another nice man started looking. Em and I walked down the bleachers. Everyone stared at us more than the stared at the seventh-grade ball players hustling back and forth on the court. Em and I search under the bleachers. People peek under the bleachers to see what we’re doing down there.

“Lost my cellphone,” I say in an apologetic way. “Not being creepy! Promise!”

“Oh no!” people said

Ah, I though. I am wearing super baggy pants, have Yeti-hair, a pimple on my forehead and everyone is staring.

(Yes. I had a pimple. A real pimple. It was above my left eyebrow. This was soooo wrong. It was obvious I had been evil and the karmic payback had been declared by the god of facial imperfections. Why? Why?? What hath I done to deserveth this?)

We couldn’t find the stupid cellphone. We eventually give up and returned to the Land Above the Bleachers. More people were definitely now watching us than the game. To be fair, the score was 46-5 in the third quarter.

Someone brilliant gave me their cellphone to call my cellphone. Everyone listened. Everyone stared. Or, well, at least it seemed that way. It was like we were moose waiting for a mating call after a really long, really boring winter. 

Please, I thought. Pleaasseeeeeeeeee.

And then. we heard it, the siren call of a nation.


 We finally spotted the ugly thing, pushed up against the front bleachers. Em crawled under again, bringing it to me. I made my way up the bleachers thinking, I hate my pimple. I hate my cellphone. I hate my baggy pants.

Then someone kind of clapped. The clapping became bigger.

Someone else says, “Thank God.”

Someone else says, “That’s a good kid you have there, helping you out.”

Em bowed.

And they were all right.  But the cool thing was that everyone was helping me out, or else, maybe using that as an excuse to check out the Yeti hair. I don’t know.

There is something beautiful when people help each other over big things and small even when you look like a Yeti. All those people helping us look for that cellphone chose altruism and kindness. They did the right thing, supporting us and problem solving as a community so that there was a positive outcome.

How cool is that?

I wish some of the people in power could do that too.


Dog Love for the Day

Sometimes our fears are more alive than our dreams, more real.


Don’t let your failure become your truth.


Be a manatee if you want. Wear a goofy hat. Write. Do. Make a difference in this world.


It may be Monday, but you’ve got this. Go make your dreams live.


xo

Sparty Dog


Big News!

I’m about to publish a super cool adult novel. Gasp! I know! Adult! That’s so …. grown-up?

Rosie Jones, small town reporter and single mom, is looking forward to her first quiet Maine winter with her young daughter, Lily. After a disastrous first marriage, she’s made a whole new life and new identities for her and her little girl. Rosie is more than ready for a winter of cookies, sledding, stories about planning board meetings, and trying not to fall in like with the local police sergeant, Seamus Kelley.

But after her car is tampered with and crashes into Sgt. Kelley’s cruiser during a blizzard, her quiet new world spirals out of control and back into the danger she thought she’d left behind. One of her new friends is murdered. She herself has been poisoned and she finds a list of anagrams on her dead friend’s floor. 

As the killer strikes again, it’s obvious that the women of Bar Harbor aren’t safe. Despite the blizzard and her struggle to keep her new identity a secret, Rosie sets out to make sure no more women die. With the help of the handsome but injured Sgt. Kelley and the town’s firefighters, it’s up to Rosie to stop the murderer before he strikes again.

You can preorder it here. Please, please, preorder it. 

DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE PODCAST

This week’s episode is here and it’s all about how to tell a good story (aloud or on paper).  And last week’s episode is here and it’s all about how to be happy, Big Foot, and statues that pee, so basically Shaun’s head. 

WHERE TO FIND US

The podcast link if you don’t see it above. Plus, it’s everywhere like Apple Music, iTunesStitcherSpotify, and more. Just google, “DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE” then like and subscribe.

LEARN WITH ME AT THE WRITING BARN!

The Write. Submit. Support. format is designed to embrace all aspects of the literary life. This six-month course will offer structure and support not only to our writing lives but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors. We will discuss passes that come in, submissions requests, feedback we aren’t sure about, where we are feeling directed to go in our writing lives, and more. Learn more here! 

“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”

“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”


IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, ORDER NOW!

My new book, IN THE WOODS, is out!

Gasp!

It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

Order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods

ART NEWS

Becoming

Buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site.