Monthly Archives: December 2011

See You in 2012

Shirt found at Goodwill store

Dear Reader:

Outside the Box has been a fun and productive and creative place to be in 2011. I may have strayed from the original path a bit . . . but isn’t that what being Outside the Box (like coloring outside the lines) is all about?

Meat and Butter from Local Butcher Shop

This year I’ve joined a buying co-op, found a few new local places for meat and other Maine-produced goods, bought jeans and shirts at consignment shops and Goodwill stores, traveled to D.C., continued to knit, wrote some poems, read some great books . . .

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to more adventures in 2012, trying to support all things “local” while continuing to be aware of national and global trends.

If you’ve been reading my Christmas story, Unlikely Objects, the final installment can be found in the Fiction Corner. As always, thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in 2012 . . . Outside the Box.

Shelley 2011

Christmas With Kings


Dear Reader:

I woke up this morning to see snow falling outside, just a few light shards of sleety stuff at first but gradually expanding to big, fluffy flakes gently blurring the landscape and coating the dead leaves and still-greenish grass on my front yard. I plodded downstairs and turned on the coffeepot, wrapped a soft blanket around my shoulders, plugged in the Christmas tree lights, and curled into my favorite corner of the couch to read Stephen King’s new book–11/22/63–a time-travel tome, satisfyingly long and hefty. Reading King’s latest book has become a Christmas tradition for me. (When you are a Really Famous Author, your books get released just in time for the shopping season.)

My mother, God-bless-her, buys the latest Stephen King for me every year there is one, sometimes even stands in line at the bookstore in downtown Bangor to get me an autographed copy. When Joe Hill, King’s son, published his first book, she gifted me with HEART-SHAPED BOX. Another year, she bought Tabitha King’s BOOK OF REUBEN because I absolutely adored her novel of high-school hoops and adolescent angst, ONE-ON-ONE.

For my part, I used to buy Hubby the latest book in King’s DARK TOWER series for Christmas, and last year I found a published collection of “superhero” stories, WHO CAN SAVE US NOW?, to give to The Teen . . . edited by one Owen King (he also has a story in the collection), Stephen and Tabitha’s youngest son.

I guess in our house, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a King-family book under the tree.

I love Stephen King’s later novels. The earlier works were a bit gory and gross for me (but I read them anyway because once you start reading one of King’s stories, you really cannot put them down). My first was SALEM’S LOT. I borrowed it from my friend, Kara, down the road when I was about thirteen or fourteen. Because I suspected my parents might, for the first time, begin to limit my reading choices if they found out their young, impressionable, Christian-schoolgirl daughter was about to read a horror novel with lots of “swears” in it, I decided the most prudent course of action was to read it at night, in bed, under the covers with a flashlight.

I also had hanging on my wall a black and white poster of Scott Baio in his JOANIE LOVES CHACHI days. He’s not smiling, and he’s wearing a sexy leather jacket, be still my heart. (Kara also had a subscription to Teen Beat, and she liked Ralph Macchio so giving me the Scott Baio centerfold poster was fine with her). Needless to say, I loved Scott Baio, but by the time I was halfway through SALEM’S LOT, I had to take that poster off my wall because he looked like a vampire looming over my bed.

That book scared the bejeezus out of me! Last year I decided to read it again, to see if it really was that freaky or if I’d become hardened over the past thirty years. Guess what? It scared the bejeezus out of me again!

The newer King novels, though with their share of gross and gore and thrills and chills, are more meaty. None have outdone THE STAND, of course, but this new one promises to catapult the reader back to the “earlier, gentler” America of the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. Were things really so great back then, I wonder? I suspect King might put a different twist on it than, say, JOANIE LOVES CHACHI or HAPPY DAYS.

While I’m reading about time travel and JFK and Brill Scream (pun intended), you can catch page 7 of my humble Christmas story under the Fiction Corner tab.

Five Golden Pages . . .

Snowy Country Road

Dear Reader:

I have posted page five of “Unlikely Objects” under the Fiction Corner tab, and we are more than halfway through the story. I’m not sure I like my main character all that much. I pity him. I want him to grow up and stop feeling sorry for himself. I love his wife, Sarah. She is stubborn, but kind, creative . . . and she refuses to let Jonathan ruin her Christmas spirit. Jonathan is a bit more sensitive, a bit more dark, gloomy and depressed.

These characters are composites, bits and pieces of people I knew, including myself. Probably more like two sides of myself warring it out on paper.

Who are you more like? Jonathan or Sarah? How would you feel if you truly could not afford to buy a present for the person you loved the most? Would you be cranky or would you make the best of things? Or cranky AND make the best of things?

If you want, drop me a note about it . . . Outside the Box.


On the Fourth Day of (My) Christmas (Story)

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Dear Reader: The Christmas tree is decorated with red bows and white turtle-doves and red and white striped candy-canes and all the special ornaments we’ve collected over the almost twenty years of our marriage. I even started wrapping some presents. … Continue reading

Bite-Sized Holiday Fiction

Coffee and Cookies

Dear Reader:

No one really needs Christmas cookies. Likewise, no one really needs holiday-themed fiction. According to one John Lane, a guest host on Bill & Dave’s Cocktail Hour (one of my fave writerly blogs), holiday-themed fiction tends to be disappointing. He’s probably right. Like the cookies, holiday stories are a little sugary, a little too sweet, and ultimately, they aren’t all that satisfying compared to, say, a good medium-rare steak. But they are fun, sparkly, something to make the season special. Or at least, different.

It’s fun to make cookies, especially around holiday time. It’s fun to write holiday stories, too. You can channel all that pent-up nostalgia into a sweet, powdery confection of a narrative. O’Henry did it. Dickens did it. Like chocolate no-bake cookies or iced sugar cookies or those wonderful little peanut butter jobbies with the chocolate candy drops pushed into the middle, Christmas tales can be delicious holiday treats you might not have the stomach for any other time of the year.

If you accept these stories for what they are . . . dessert or tea-time snack . . . if you don’t expect them to replace some heftier fare, perhaps you won’t be all that disappointed by a couple bites of a Christmas fable now and again.

So, Dear Readers, I give you a holiday story, presented in small, bite-sized servings like rum balls, to sweeten your holiday season. (Look for a new page every day.)

I wrote this one at least fifteen years ago, never made a copy, gave it to a friend who lost it for a few years, discovered it in one of her old VOGUE magazines last summer (a miracle!), and stuck it into my filing cabinet. It is the story of a recently married couple, fresh out of college, struggling with bills and part-time jobs and differing expectations and trying to catch a bit of that ol’ Christmas cheer.

You can read UNLIKELY OBJECTS by clicking on the title or by looking under my newly renovated Fiction Corner.


Name Changer

A Rose By Any Other Name . . . Amaryllis?

Dear Reader:

My name is a teeter-totter. Hyphenated. Maiden Name-Married Name. Teeter-totter.

Just prior to getting married, my husband and I drove up to the town office and asked for a marriage license. We began to fill in the paperwork, and I realized I would have to make a decision regarding my name.

I’d just finished college, earned my degree in education, and was about to start applying for teaching positions. My advisers, my supervising teachers, my college profs all knew me by my “maiden” name. Wouldn’t things become complicated if I started requesting letters of recommendation with a new last name? Would they remember who I was? Would I be giving up my new and fragile adult identity?

I decided to hyphenate.

I began applying for jobs. No offers. Instead I took a job in a different field. Eventually, as the years went by, I began leaving off the maiden name and the hyphen and I “became” Shelley Burbank. Medical records. Employment records. Who knows what else records. All have plain old Shelley Burbank on them.

My driver’s license, however, still has the fancy-dancy hyphenated name, and a few years back I worried that this might cause me problems. I checked into legally changing my name to Shelley (no hyphen) Burbank. This meant a trip to the county courthouse, paperwork, and a fee. And contacting any business, organization, or entity with which I had done business in the last fifteen years and announcing my intention to change my name.

Did I mention the fee?

I gave it about two seconds’ worth of thought and muttered, “Uh, no thanks” before tossing the paperwork in the trash.

So, here I am, of a certain age, well out of college, using a name that is, well, not really mine. Legally, I do not share my husbands nor my daughter’s last name. And I have this silly hyphen. Does any of this mean anything?

Probably not. I just look at my driver’s license and ponder the fact that I am no longer the person I was twenty years ago. I’m older. Maybe a bit wiser (debatable). I’m not a teacher. My degree may have helped me get a few jobs over the years, but I’ve never needed those recommendations I was once so worried about that I decided to hyphenate my name.

If I had it to do all over again I would have made a firmer choice: maiden name or married name. No hyphen. No straddling of the fence. One or the other.

I suppose one of these days I’ll go back to the courthouse and pick up those papers and make things official.