Today’s guest is Bette A. Stevens. She’s here to talk with us about her novel, PURE TRASH: The Story…
The year is 1955. If you grew up in the 1950s and the 1960s, you may be among those who recall those good old “Happy Days” of television fame. Even younger generations enjoy watching TV reruns to get a peek into what life was like back then. In this short story, Shawn and Willie Daniels are off on a Saturday adventure in search of trash to turn into treasure. It is going to be a great day. Shawn is sure of it. No school and no bullies to remind him that he’s not one of the crowd.
“This short story is filled with images and flavor only better provided by an ice cream cone…PURE TRASH gives the reader pause for thought, and I recommend it to the adult reader and the YA reader alike.” Kathryn Elizabeth Jones, author of fiction & non-fiction
PURE TRASH is a short story about bullies, both in the traditional and non-traditional sense. It may redefine your concept of bullying. Torment, persecution, intimidation…These are a few descriptors of what those who are considered “different” in some way may suffer. For Shawn and Willie, their “difference” is based upon the social status of the dysfunctional family, the alcoholism and the abject poverty in which they grew up. The boys are bullied by both children and adults who look down upon them. Yet, through it all, Shawn and Willie Daniels manage to make the most of life.
Tricia: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Bette: I am a retired teacher and the author of two children’s books in addition to my latest book for middle-grade, young adult and adult readers entitled PURE TRASH, The Story. I love nature, people and literature. My husband and I live on a 37-acre farmstead in Central Maine, where we enjoy gardening, walking and renovating our farmstead buildings and improving the land. We’ve cleared nearly two miles of trails through our woods where we cut our firewood, enjoy nature walks and go snowshoeing in the winter months.
I love to walk and enjoy nature’s bounty, whether at home or on the go. The Maine coast is one of my favorite places to relax. I’m a nature collector—everything from seashells to birds’ nests. When I was teaching, my classrooms were filled with these natural treasures that provided inspiration to my students and myself for reading, writing and research. It was hands-on fun and excitement. I enjoyed every moment that I was fortunate enough to spend learning with, from and about my students. One thing I learned from them is that many children don’t have an adult at home who is available to read to them or listen to them read or discuss literature. I advocate for children in my writing and promote and encourage childhood literacy and family communication on my website/blog and on my social media sites. That’s what’s so wonderful about being retired and having access to the web and all of its technology. I still get to be directly involved in the lives of kids of all ages and their families through my books and media sites.
Tricia: When did you begin writing?
Bette: I’ve been writing for years. First in the business world, later in the classroom, now in the virtual world. Published writing began with interviews and feature stories for a company newsletter. Next came a couple of human interest articles for a Maine magazine. All non-fiction.
In 1995, I took a creative writing class at University of Maine, Orono and I was hooked. I had so many stories that I wanted to tell. Some are my own; others are the stories of family, friends and acquaintances told to me over the years. My fiction is creative writing; but, it is often based on real things that have happened in the lives of real people.
While I was teaching, I wrote and illustrated my first children’s book, The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles, Too! It was published by a small local press in 1997. I self-published a second edition in 2012.
My second book was AMAZING MATILDA: A Monarch’s Tale. Matilda was only a story when I wrote it in 1996―there were no illustrations back then. I originally wrote this story for three reasons. First, to provide a writing example (teacher modeling) for my students. Next, to share an inspirational children’s story with my students and my own grandchildren, who were eight and ten at the time. The third purpose was to highlight a near-threatened species, the monarch butterfly, and its disappearing habitat. Monarch caterpillars will only feed on milkweed. In 2012, I self-published AMAZING MATILDA as a picture book after creating the pencil and watercolor illustrations to compliment the story.
Tricia: Can you tell us about your most recent release?
Bette: PURE TRASH, The Story is a short story (26 pages) written for the YA/adult audience. It also makes a great read for middle-graders. Available in paperback and kindle versions, PURE TRASH takes readers on a poor boy’s adventure in 1950s rural New England.
Tricia: How did you get the idea for the book?
Bette: While taking a creative writing course at the university, one assignment was to write a short story to read to the class. I wanted to tell a story that would take my audience on a new and exciting adventure. I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s in an average middle-class family. However, I had a friend who had not had that luxury. His story was one of many I had heard over the years that really hit home. And so, I took the facts as told to me and turned them into fiction. My audience loved the story and wanted to know more about Shawn and Willie, the story’s main characters. Since I save everything that I write, I believed that this could be a story of interest to contemporary readers of any age. Poverty and its aftermath is something many of us do not relate to because we haven’t experienced it.
And so, after publishing AMAZING MATILDA as a children’s picture book, I decided that rewriting, editing and publishing PURE TRASH would be my next project. I wanted to finish a short story first, so that middle-grade readers also would be able to take a peek what life was like back then and see what poverty and prejudice looked like in a past generation. PURE TRASH is a prequel to the novel for the adult and young adult audience that I’m working on right now.
Tricia: If you had to recommend one of your books to my readers, which book would you chose?
Bette: For the YA/adult readers, I would definitely recommend PURE TRASH. This short story will give them insight into the effects of poverty on children living in a small, rural community. Hopefully it will also give them food for thought about their own relationships with all of the children and adults who come into their lives.
For readers who have children, I would also recommend AMAZING MATILDA. Adults are always looking for ways to inspire the kids in their lives to meet challenges with patience and persistence and to follow their dreams. Matilda and her friends help them do just that.
Tricia: Of all of your characters in PURE TRASH, which one is your favorite?
Bette: It’s hard to choose just one. Shawn and Willie are both endearing characters. One is responsible and resourceful; the other is his polar opposite. Then there’s Mr. Stark, an adult who sets the bar high for all of us when it comes to treating everyone with dignity and respect.
Tricia: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
Bette: As with any writing, it’s the editing―revising and rewriting―that is always a challenge. Thankfully, I had four great editors to help me meet that challenge.
Tricia: What is your primary goal as an author?
Bette: My primary goal is to write books that will entertain and inform readers, while giving them food for thought about life and the human condition.
Tricia: What projects are you currently working on?
Bette: PURE TRASH, The Novel (The further adventures of Shawn Daniels, a coming of age story)
-MEET THE AUTHOR Interviews on my website/blog, where I interview authors and highlight their latest books
Tricia: What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
Bette: Save everything you write
-Join writers’ groups and book clubs in your local area and online/ be an active participant
-Read and Research (The web in an infinite resource for anything and everything you want to learn about)
-Write, write, write and keep writing and rewriting with the help of good editors
To Connect with Bette Stevens, please visit the following links:
Amazon Author Page
Facebook Author/Illustrator Bette A Stevens
Facebook Author Bette A Stevens Official Fanpage
Cherubs for Children Ministries
PURE TRASH, The Story:
Pure Trash is available in both paperback and kindle versions. You can find it at Amazon.com or your favorite online bookstore.
SATURDAY MORNING. I could see a patch of sunshiny, bright blue sky peeking out through the torn curtain as I yawned good morning to my little brother. Willie was six. I was nine. No school, I thought, as I smiled and plotted our course for the day. Sometimes I wished Saturdays would last forever.
“Good morning sleepyhead,” Mum said. She smiled at me as I stretched my way into the kitchen. “Get yourself dressed, Shawn. Run out and split some firewood and bring it on in. I’ll fix you some hotcakes.”
I slipped on my overalls, grabbed the ax from behind Mum’s rocking chair and headed straight for the outhouse. Sometimes I wished we had an indoor bathroom and hot and cold running water like most folks did. I had to go bad. Didn’t know if I’d make it. Whoopee, I managed to hit that darned two-holer just in time. I always liked to use the hole where Dad sat. It was warm from the morning sun shining through the crack in the door. I whistled as I thought about what a great day this was going to be. Willie and me were going to ride our bikes into town, and I was sure we’d find some empty bottles, maybe enough to buy some soda pop. Willie loved his Coca-Cola. The birds chattered back and forth in the maple branches that hung down over the old two-holer as I sat and thought. Sun streaked across my lap. Yes, it was going to be a great day.
I split the wood just the way Mum liked it done. Stacked it in the kitchen near the cook stove, grabbed the pails and headed out to the well to haul in water for the day. Mum had laundry to do and baths to get ready for us tonight. Yes, it was going to be a great day all right.
Chores were all done and Mum’s hotcakes were waiting for me by the time I finished up outside and sat down at the table. Willie finished his breakfast in a flash and ran off to watch TV with Dad.
“Gee, Mum, can we go now?” I asked, as I gulped down the last forkful of hotcakes smothered with maple syrup that Mum boiled down from this winter’s sap.
“Now, Shawn, you be careful. Willie hasn’t gone out on the roads much, so you let him ride ahead of you. Keep a good eye on him. You hear?”
“Sure, Mum,” I said as I headed for the living room to get Willie.
Dad sat in the big brown chair, feet propped up on the worn hassock. Beer bottle in hand, all he heard or saw was his TV. It was Saturday, and Dad loved his baseball. Though I knew he’d find time to take us boys to do some fishin’ later—after he got good and drunk he’d be able to hold his mouth just right. Dad always said that you had to ‘hold your mouth just right’ or the fish wouldn’t bite. He’d have enough beer in him by the time we got back so he’d be ready to catch his limit. The games should be over by then. We’d run down to the brook, walk out into the cool swirling water and catch some trout or brookies for supper. Yes, it would be a great day all right.
“Come on, Willie,” I said. “Let’s go!”
Willie nearly knocked me down as the two of us raced for the door. Mum reminded us to be careful. “Yes ’um,” I hollered back. We jumped on our bikes and pedaled hard up the driveway.
Mum said it was three miles to town. I kept my eyes on Willie as we pumped up the first hill. We coasted down the other side with the cool wind brushing our faces, ready to head up the next hill.
“Pull over, Willie,” I hollered when we got to the top of Andover.
Andover was the biggest hill we’d have to climb. We both stood up on our pedals as we started the climb. The turnout in the pines at the top of the hill was the perfect spot to find empty cans and bottles on either side of the ridge. I never did understand why anyone would just throw those bottles out like trash. But I was sure glad they did. Stark’s General Store paid cash, two cents each, and we thought we were rich every time the clerk handed us our reward in real money.
Pedaling up the half-mile hill was a lot of work, but it was worth it, and not for just the empties. Flying down the other side gave me the best feeling in the whole wide world. I guess that’s how that old chicken hawk feels when he soars above the pines at the edge of the field out back of the house.
Once we reached the peak, we plopped our bikes on the ground and threw ourselves onto the soft, damp bed of leaves at the edge of the woods. It was so peaceful. My mind wandered into the sky and I dreamed about the ride down the other side and the 10 cent Orange Crush I’d buy at Stark’s General Store.
“Hey, Willie,” I finally asked, “did ya bring the slingshot?”
“Sure did, Shawn. Whatcha wanna shoot today?”
Willie’s brown eyes looked as big as Mum’s pan fried donuts and his smile pretty nearly filled his round face as he jumped right up from his leafy bed and hovered over me like a bear.
I helped Willie make that slingshot out of rubber bands I’d sliced from one of the old inner tubes piled out by Dad’s rusty Ford Roadster. That Ford had headlights on top of the fenders and the “old jalopy,” as Mum called it, was just rottin’ away out back of the two-holer. We broke a crotched limb out of the choke cherry bush to use for the handle. I tied the rubber band and the handle together with string from one of the flowered chicken feed sacks that Mum used to make her house dresses. That string was real strong and I was good at tying knots. Willie was proud as a peacock when it came to showing off that slingshot.
“How about we find some old tin cans and pile them up like a tower?” I asked Willie. “Better yet, let’s both make towers and see whose gets knocked down first.”
“Yes, siree!” Willie hooted as he made a mad dash to grab as many of the rusty cans as his chubby arms could hug together at one time. (END OF EXCERPT)
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