Don’t believe me? Just read.

 

2014-03-23 09_08_22-Amazon.com_ The Gym Show eBook_ Kelly Springer_ Kindle Store - Internet Explorer

People I meet or even folks I haven’t seen or talked to in a while often respond skeptically when I tell them I’ve written a novel.  Their response is usually along the lines of, “Oh, well, isn’t that nice,” especially if I tell them that my novel is self-published.  Before writing and publishing The Gym Show, that would most likely have been my reaction, too.  There’s some real–how shall I put it–ill-crafted prose out there in the world of self-publishing.  When you can purchase a self-published tome about dinosaur porn, is it any wonder self-published books get a bad rap?

But that isn’t the case here.  Just because a novel is self-published does not mean that it’s not of the same caliber as a novel that is published by a traditional publishing outfit located somewhere behind the impressive but elusive edifice of a Manhattan skyscraper (a method of publishing, by the way, that is fast becoming obsolete).

The bottom line is this:  If I didn’t think that The Gym Show was a compelling read, I wouldn’t expect anyone to purchase or download it.  But I do believe it’s a compelling read.  And so do the following readers, who posted their reviews of The Gym Show on Amazon and on Goodreads.  Don’t believe me?  Just read.

Reader Reviews of The Gym Show
(click on each image to enlarge the review)

 

Giovanna Mandel Laura Baer Laura Flowers Renaye Parsey Dr. Pritchett Andrea via Goodreads Charlotte via Goodreads William Nist via Goodreads

And if you have read The Gym Show and want to comment, please do!

How to Teach Your Child About American History With One Weird Trick

fences I can’t remember if I loved history before I had Mr. Chesko in eighth grade Pennsylvania history or if it was his unique brand of teaching that made me love history. It doesn’t matter, though. If I had walked into his classroom already loving history, I left it with an absolute passion for it.

I must admit that I was fairly intimidated by Mr. Chesko at first–well, maybe throughout my entire tenure at Linesville High School. You see, he didn’t put up with anybody’s tomfoolery, shenanigans, or monkeyshines, least of all mine. Which was good, because I was not always a very nice little girl at age 14. But I always knew where I stood with Mr. Chesko.

When he first began teaching at Linesville, I used to hear some of the kids call him “Chico”, which I guess was a play off his last name. Whereas I never called our band director anything but “Touch” (even, shamefully, to his face), I could not imagine calling Mr. Chesko anything but ‘Mr. Chesko’, and if he were sitting here beside me right now, I’d still call him ‘Mr. Chesko’. You see, he did not encourage familiarity. He was not the type of teacher you could walk up to and make ridiculous demands of–like Touch. Oh, no. You did not make demands of Mr. Chesko.

And as a veteran eighth grade teacher, I can tell you that this is exactly as it should be.

So what was so special about Mr. Chesko? For one, he didn’t sit behind his desk and assign a chapter in the book to read and the questions at the end to complete and hand in before the end of the period, even if he had a game to coach that night and a series of plays to put together beforehand. In fact, I never remember him sitting behind his desk–he was always moving, even if he was tired because he was up all night with a newborn baby.  Nor did he fling down with a sanctimonious fury that Rand McNally and expect us on the first try to point to Valley Forge, even if we should have known it was somewhere near Philadelphia. Neither did he force us to memorize speeches, dates, or obscure facts about the Revolutionary War and then chide us about our lack of knowledge when we didn’t get it right. Instead, he inspired us to learn about the substance of those speeches, the significance of those dates and timelines, and the interlacing of facts–the causes and effects of history–all by painting pictures with words, maps, and whatever other media he had on hand.  He taught us about the events that shaped our history–our history. He reinforced his stories by asking us questions that had us on the edges of our seats, begging him to call on us, with questions that began with, “How do you think …?” And “What do you suppose it was like …?” Or “I wonder how …”  He compelled us to become curious by default.

At once, learning our history was thrilling.  It was messy, it was gory, and it was fascinating.

Which brings me to the fences.

One of our assignments was to build a series of fences–fences that one would have encountered in pre-Colonial, Colonial, and post-Revolutionary Pennsylvania. Split-railed mortised, split-railed snake, log fences, stone fences–we were to build models of these fences, and we would be graded upon the historical accuracy of our creations.

I heard some kids grumbling about how fences had nothing to do with Pennsylvania history and that this was a dumb assignment. Those were the kids who didn’t have a recently retired father at home itching to build something, one who also had a penchant for cabinet making and a passion for history that surpassed even his daughter’s. But I knew that Mr. Chesko was wily enough to figure out within seconds of seeing me walk into his classroom with my arms full of fences whether or not my dad had a hand in the building, so I told my dad to chill (no, I really didn’t but it was something along those lines), and I made the fences myself. As a consolation prize, however, I let him help my friend Dede with her fences, much to Dede’s delight. My dad and Dede worked all night on her fences while I furiously flipped through encyclopedia pages to find just the right images to replicate in order to make my fences historically perfect. To do anything less would have demonstrated a deep disrespect for the unique nature of the assignment.

So what did all of this fence-making have to do with my passion for history and my reverence for Mr. Chesko? While making those fences (with my dad hovering over my shoulder giving me mortising tips), I thought about how folks during the Colonial period didn’t have power tools and had to split logs into rails with an ax. I wondered about how farmers in the Colonial period knew where their land ended and their neighbor’s began. I thought about how long it must have taken the Colonial surveyor to determine the farmer’s property lines without the benefit of modern maps. I thought about how, while the men in the community were splitting rails to divvy up their properties, their children were kept busy placing the split rails in the snake pattern formation. I wagered that, at the very least, the Colonial wives, with their aproned skirts waving in the wind, were stirring a big iron pot of something stew-like over a huge fire because their men would certainly be hungry after all that rail splitting. That got me wondering what kinds of vittles the Colonial folks ate–was it all rabbit and squirrel with the occasional deer thrown in? And how did they keep all that meat fresh without modern refrigeration? I thought, and I wondered.

And that, my dear friends, is how you teach American history by asking your students to build fences. Weird, huh?

Mr. Chesko, you taught and coached two generations of western Crawford County kids how to win and lose graciously, how to build character through sportsmanship and academics, you helped those two generations grow into productive and active members of the community, you coached a girls’ basketball team that brought home the first-ever state championship to the little town of Linesville, and best of all–for me–you taught me how to make those fences.

You are loved, you will be missed, but know that you are now, without a doubt, a dear and cherished part of Linesville’s history.

Child of God, I love you.

You are a child of God.  You are precious.  You are mine.

I read again today of the passing of another local teenager who committed suicide. The details of this heartbreaking news are immaterial; instead, what remains incumbent upon us as adults is trying to figure out why a young person on the very cusp of a long and seemingly abundant life would ever choose to end it and, more importantly, how to prevent this from ever happening again.

I can only imagine that parents of teenagers, upon hearing this kind of news, get that sick, I-want-to-throw-up feeling, wondering if their own child could ever conceive of doing something so horribly permanent, so heartbreakingly sad.

And, invariably, we all ask, “Why?”

could jump to all kinds of conclusions about how kids these days are spoiled, and when things don’t go their way, they resort to all kinds of dramatic means to get attention (because some of them do).  I could make asinine assumptions about how today’s kids have no structure at home, no boundaries, always get what they want but it’s never enough, or how drugs and alcohol wreak havoc with a child’s psyche, and that’s what probably caused this tragedy (because sometimes it does).  Or I could foolishly point a finger at these kids’ parents, wondering what kind of home life the children had that would compel them to do this.  Because, truthfully, all of these factors do have merit.  One or all of these instances could be valid reasons why these tragedies have occurred.

But are these instances the cause, or is there an underlying motif playing with our children’s minds? And does sanctimoniously pointing out the faults of other families do anyone any good?  Because whatever heartbreak was happening in these children’s lives has just been multiplied a hundred-fold in the suffering of their parents and families.

No, I believe it’s something more ominous altogether.

Sadly, even a child growing up in a loving, nurturing, and spiritual home can fall prey to suicide because, unfortunately, we live in a society that has devalued human life.  The horrifying images of Americans being beheaded by the insidious evil that is Isis are broadcast on the internet for our kids to witness.  Women and even underage girls can walk into a Planned Parenthood facility, have their babies viciously sucked out of their bodies, then walk out a couple of hours later after the staff has given them a collective high-five, praising them for their “brave” decision to end their babies’ lives.  The violent nature of many of our kids’ video games doesn’t help lend credence to the sanctity of life; instead, it actually glorifies death, making it appear fascinatingly cool to kill and be killed.

These are today’s hardships, the yoke upon this generation’s shoulders.

Instead, what if our society valued every human being—from conception and beyond.  To this end, we have some work to do.  We must look for signs of depression in our kids and take seriously their anxieties, their worries, and their fears.  We must dedicate ourselves to teaching every child that he or she is valuable beyond measure.  Children must know and understand that God has created them in His image and that however insignificant they may perceive their lives to be, their very existence is a priceless treasure—a gift.  We may not like everything they do, but no matter what, we love them.  When they make mistakes, and they will make mistakes—some of them even colossal mistakes—it’s okay to lay down the law.  To do anything less is unforgiving.

But most importantly, we must make sure that our children know that they are loved.

To our children, know this: You are a child of God.  You are precious.  You are mine.  And I love you with every breath I take, with every beat of my heart, and I will continue to love you long after I am gone from this world.

 

Sneak Peek at THE GYM SHOW

gymnast charm

I came up with this crazy idea to provide my blog followers a snippet from Chapter XIII of ‘The Gym Show’.  If you haven’t yet read The Gym Show’, give it a go!  According to the hundreds who have already read it, you won’t be disappointed! 

XIII

January 1970, Mercyville, Pennsylvania

The Fifth Dimension’s “The Age of Aquarius” blasted from the record player’s speakers until Peggy Huffington heard JoAnn Donaldson’s shriek for her to turn it off.  Not wanting listen to JoAnn’s bitching any longer than she had to, Peggy hastily lifted the needle off the album.

“God, stop!  That was awful!  Beth, you gotta’ turn when the other girls turn, and Debbie, that last part when you do the jazz square then plant your feet apart?  Your feet are supposed to be apart, not crossed.  Man.  That was bad.  Again.”

Forty girls were crammed onto the stage, some sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, some standing with arms folded in front of their leotard-clad bodies looking bored and wondering why Mrs. A. was forcing them to be there; only five of the forty were busy learning a dance that was supposed to be performed during the Gym Show between equipment changes.  While it was true that this first week back after Christmas was the first solid week of preparations for the Gym Show, things were not boding well for JoAnn Donaldson and her troupe of amateur dancers.

JoAnn had talked Mrs. A. into letting her take charge of the dancers in this year’s Gym Show.  She had been taking dance lessons from the venerable and demanding Miss Arita Lee Blair since she was seven, and thus considered herself far above anyone else in the dance milieu at Mercyville including Mrs. A.  Since a dance milieu didn’t exist at Mercyville, Carol was more than happy to let JoAnn (who displayed a rather poor showing during last year’s floor exercise portion of the Gym Show) take over the dance part.  Maybe then, Carol hoped, she wouldn’t throw a tantrum when Carol broke the news to her that, no, JoAnn would not be performing a floor exercise this year.  Carol didn’t care if JoAnn was a senior—JoAnn, with her awkward un-pointed toes and bent knees—her tumbling was simply awful.  She and her jazz hands could dance instead.

Once again, this year Carol was competing with the basketball coach Ken Montgomery for time in the gym.  As far as Ken was concerned, Carol’s little project ranked far, far below his quest for a Lake County championship in basketball (this could be the year) and so he had no problem telling Carol (and he didn’t give a shit who she slept with every night) that during his practices, she and her girls could be on the stage with the curtains closed, as long as they kept the music down.  As if anything would have drowned out Ken Montgomery’s particular brand of coaching vernacular, liberally laced with various four letter words designed to inspire his players to greatness.

Carol, for her part, would play her accompanying music as loud as she wished, and Ken Montgomery could stick it up his fat ass; in fact, she would tell him that very thing as soon as he was finished insulting Danny Teague’s parentage and questioning the more personal details of the poor boy’s anatomy.  If he could scream like a lunatic and swear like a longshoreman, then she would play that damn record player as loud as the dial would take it, and if he didn’t like it, here it is, mister, you can kiss my sweet little tushie.  That would shut him up for a little while at least.  Carol sighed.  “Count to ten, Carol,” she whispered to herself.  She reminded herself that she   must be careful to avoid using her position as the boss’ wife to leverage things in her favor—even she knew how devastatingly dangerous that could prove to be for both she and Jim—but every now and then, some folks needed reminding of their place in this school, and Ken was one of those people.

Pulling back the black velvet curtains and revealing herself to the entire basketball team, the coach, and the assistant coach resulted in a sudden halt to the verbal assault on poor, skinny Danny Teague (so pale and freckly, that one).

“Coach,” Carol began, “we can hear you swearing all the way up here on the stage, and I just wanted to remind you that the young ladies who are so hard at work preparing for this year’s Gym Show really have no need to know the exact length of Danny’s penis.”

Luckily for most of the team members, they happened to be, at that moment, situated out of Coach Montgomery’s range of sight, so Ken wasn’t able to see the thumbs and forefingers estimating, in centimeters no less, just how small they knew Danny’s little willy to be, and if Ken or Dan Baxter, the assistant coach, heard the teams’ bubbling snickers, they chose to ignore them.  Ken fumed at Carol.

“Mrs. Adamson, I’m surprised you can hear anything at all with all that goddamn hippie music playing.  Now why don’t you just go on back there, conduct your little practice, and let us finish ours.  We play Iroquois Lake this Friday, and I would like for us to at least look like we’ve shown up.”

“I, too, Coach Montgomery, want to do win this Friday.  My cheerleaders, who also have had no time in the gym, have been practicing out in the cold lobby every night after school, and they’ve worked very hard to support your boys.  I certainly do not want their hard work to have been in vain.  Now, I will excuse myself and return to our Gym Show preparations, but please know,” Carol glanced at the caged-in clock that hung on one wall of the gym, “that you have exactly eight more minutes left in which to practice in this gym.  In eight minutes all forty or so of my girls will descend upon this floor and begin erecting the equipment necessary for them to, once again, draw a standing room only crowd come Friday, May 8, 1970.  Oops,” she said, looking down at her petite silver watch, “looks like you have seven minutes now.”

Montgomery looked at Carol with pure hatred in his eyes, blew his whistle, and yelled at his players (who were painfully stifling themselves over Mrs. A. saying ‘erecting’) to the east end of the gym to begin running pro sprints.  Carol turned and flung the velvet curtain aside with a dramatic flourish and returned to her girls.

Oh, that man.  As if my girls, who don’t have a basketball team to play on, deserve to be treated as second-class citizens simply because they’re girls!  This is precisely why Vinnie Tagliaburro and his asinine idea of putting boys in the Gym Show is about as fair as the way his wife gets to traipse all around this school dressed like a hooker even on days when she isn’t substituting!

Much to Carol’s continued distress (and her beleaguered husband’s list of shit he had better take care of before his wife makes his life even more miserable), Vinnie Tagliaburro had been persistent in his quest for a male presence in this year’s Gym Show.  At the staff Christmas party, hosted every year by Carol and Jim, with their three children spying wide-eyed and curious at the outrageous nighttime behavior of the usually staid and conservative faculty, Vinnie had made his move.  Loosened up after several shots of Black Velvet, and feeling as if no woman present would be able to resist his charms, Vinnie had cornered Carol as she was digging through the garage freezer for more ice.

“Carol, come on, hun.  What could you possibly have against having some ah…the more, you know, talented and athletic boys doin’ a little something-something during the Gym Show?  What, are all they’re good for is moving mats and breaking down equipment, uh?  Building that throne a yours for the May Queen?  Come on.  We could even think of some things they could do together—like build pyramids or something.  Hey, my Dreama’s got some really cool ideas—‘member she was on some dance squad or something like ‘at back at Slippery Rock.  She’s got some good ideas for getting the boys involved, an’ ‘at.  Whaddya say, uh?  Come on, Cupcake, do me a favor—do all of us a favor–and just think about it, uh?”

What made it even worse, and what had nearly ruined Jim and Carol’s much looked forward to and well-deserved two week Christmas vacation, was that while Carol brought up the subject nearly every day, Jim brushed her off.  Whether he was buying time or whether he was just hoping that Carol would move on to another crusade or campaign, he didn’t really know.  He was more bothered by the whole stage incident, the board’s reaction to it, and his moral obligation to protect the students at Mercyville High School.  Vinnie and Dreama Tagliaburro were way down on his list of priorities.