Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Happy Friday, dear readers! (And Happy Saturday to my readers in Australia and NZ!)

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on yesterday’s post, whether it was on the blog or on Facebook. Writing it was very difficult for me. I grew up with Darbi, and condensing twelve years of love, laughter, and tears into a few hundred words isn’t easy, to say the least. She was a wonderful person in so many ways, and I wanted to pay her a moving, appropriate tribute, but I was nervous about selling her short or making it too much about me. So thank you so much for your support! It means the world to me. I am so lucky to be able to write this blog, and doubly lucky to have such incredible readers and friends.

Last week’s exercise was to write about your childhood lunches. Kudos to kungfusinger and Kim, who both posted evocative paragraphs on the subject. And if you did the exercise without posting the results, please tell us how it went! As promised, I’ll say a few brief things about my own memories of lunch.

I hated sandwiches as a kid. Nothing was less appealing to me than soggy bread with some watery filling, which posed quite a challenge for my mother. She discovered that I would eat the odd thing that came in a bun, buns being able to resist the power of sog more effectively. But for the most part, I challenged her creative talents.

My mother came up with a brilliant invention. Remember those little juice boxes, the ones that came with the useless tiny straw that would break more often than not when you used it to puncture the silver foil? She froze my juice box, thinking it would defrost during the morning, thereby keeping my lunch chilled and resulting in a cold drink at noon. It didn’t quite work out the way she planned. My lunch was cold, but the juice box never completely thawed. Instead it became a grape juice or fruit punch slushie.

My classmates were insane about those slushies. They would trade almost anything for them. There was a girl named Tanya in my class who used to draw incredible unicorn pictures (I think this was in Grade Five). Her drawings were so sought-after that kids would pay her two dollars for a picture, which was a lot of money for a ten year old back then. But even Tanya succumbed to the lure of the frozen juice box, and I still have her artwork. As a child, I always wondered why no one else figured out that all they had to do was put their juice box in the freezer the night before, but it suited me fine that they didn’t!

Another sought-after item in my lunch bag was moose jerky. My father is a hunter, and every year he’d bag at least one moose, and make steaks, sausages, and jerky out of the meat. My mother refused to touch the stuff, but I loved it. It was much more flavorful than beef. My classmates would trade anything for a piece of my father’s smoked and seasoned moose meat, and if their offer was good enough, I’d cave. After all, there was plenty more at home. My father would make roasting pans full of it. The first time I actually had to buy jerky in a store I was shocked at how expensive it was. My dad was churning out hundreds of dollars worth of it every year when I was a kid, and I had no idea.

The lunch I remember most was one that I never got to eat. It was filled with the very best of the leftover Chinese food from dinner the night before, especially my favorite item–dry garlic ribs. Unfortunately, someone stole that lunch from me, and I was heartbroken when I went to my shelf and found it gone.

Today’s exercise takes place on the bus. I’m hoping everyone has taken the bus at some point, whether it was public transit, a cross-country Greyhound, or the school bus. Buses are great places for people watching. I’ve seen the best and worst of human nature on a bus.

Tell me about the most memorable person or event you’ve witnessed on the bus. Or tell me about a bus trip you took that has some meaning to you–how old were you? Where were you going? How were you feeling at the time?

Have fun, and as Anne Lamott would say, “Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft”. This is just for fun and to get those creative juices flowing. Absolutely no pressure! Remember what I said about being a stickler for spelling and grammar mistakes? All those rules go out the window when it’s Fun Friday. Misspell with wild abandon! Dangle your participles! See if I care.

Have a great weekend, my friends. I will see you on Monday.

Thanks for reading!
1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Anonymous

    Once on a transit bus, some drunk threw his empty beer can towards me. I got up and walked over to where he was sitting and told him that he had to get off the bus. He didn’t leap out of his seat and exit, but rather kept mouthing off in that oh so lovable drunken way. I stayed there, staring at him. I repeated myself, “you need to get off this bus”. I don’t know what it was about the repetition, but he left without incident.
    The bus driver thanked me, and told me that she had been trying to get rid of him for the previous hour or so.

    My brother and I took a Greyhound to Vancouver back in summer of 2005. I was 18 and had never been anywhere outside of Manitoba, so I was nervous and excited at the same time. Seeing western Canada in a way I’d never seen before is something that I’ll always keep with me.


  2. kungfusinger

    My most memorable bus trip was my very first trip on public tansit. I grew up in a small town in northern Alberta, It was small enough that it did not have public transit, but that was OK because you could walk from one end of it to the other in an hour if you were dawdling or 45 minutes if you were really booking it.

    In fact, the town was so small that I once brought a boyfriend back there for a wedding. We parked in a large public parking lot near our hotel, and he wanted to drive to the wedding.

    “No,” I said, “we don’t need to drive, the church is just on the other end of downtown.” The boyfriend got a very puzzled look on his face as he looked around.

    “Where is downtown?” he asked.

    “We’re in it.” I replied. I was quite puzzled until I looked around. The largest building in Downtown Peace River is the fire hall, at three stories and a bell tower. For someone who has never lived in a city without a skyscraper, that can be hard to see the small grouping of businesses as downtown.

    The very first trip I took on public transit, I was Eighteen years old. I had left home to go to University and moved to the big Alberta city of Calgary. I was living with my grandmother, because it was cheaper than renting. A week before the first day of classes, I was organizing my school supplies, and trying to figure out how I would get to school.

    My grandmother took me to university that day. She walked with me to the bus stop, helped me pay for my ticket, rode with me to the transfer point, and on the second bus rode with me all the way to school. Then she got off and caught a bus back home.

    This is the type of experience many city kids have when they are eight years old or younger. There was so much culture shock that something so simple as getting on a bus made me nervous. I am ever grateful to my grandmother for her help.

  3. kungfusinger

    Holli, your topic was so evocative I have a second one to write.

    There is a man on my bus route with no feet. In fact he has no lower legs at all. Regarless of the weather, he is always wearing short pants which extend just past his knees. From the bottom of these pants, extend two metal rods with fake feet attached. The feet are usually encased in some trendy but cheap sneakers. Why pay for arch support if you have no arches?

    I have always wanted to talk to this man. To find out what happened to his legs, and if he finds it more difficult to walk with the metal legs he has. I have never had the courage.

    One day, I was sitting at the bus stop waiting for the bus when a young man sat down beside me. I noticed he had very pretty ear stretching plugs, so I asked about them. I asked what they were called (“Plugs” is correct), what they were made of, how hard it was to do the ear stretching, etc.

    After a long conversation about ear stretching, I asked him what he did. He told me he spends quite a lot of time volunteering at youth centres. He tries to keep them off the streets, and away from drugs.

    “It is very dangerous to try drugs,” he told me. “Especially if you don’t know the supplier. A lot of kids don’t know that. Some suppliers have started lacing the safe drugs with unsafe drugs.”

    “Safe drugs?” I ask.

    “Non-addictive drugs like marijuana. A few years ago, some dealers discovered that if you spray a meth solution onto the leaves of the pot as it is growing, it will form tiny crystals on the leaves, and when you smoke it you get a double whammy. Instant meth addiction. The easiest way to keep these kids safe is to warn them off drugs altogether. If they are going to smoke pot anyway, make sure they understand the importance of having a dealer they trust.”

    The concept of tampering with safe drugs like that struck me as pure evil. Corrupting innocent lives for the purpose of making more money. I said as much to the young man.

    We soon arrived at his stop, two stops before mine. We said our adieus. As he departed from the bus, I noticed he had no feet. I finally got my chance to talk to the man with no feet, and we talked about drugs and piercings instead. Maybe some questions are not meant to be answered.

  4. Chris

    Following the fabulously flexible foundations of Fun Friday, I’m not going to write about the most memorable person I’ve encountered on the bus. Instead, I’ll give a nod to the maxim that the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it. In that spirit, I’ll tell you about the guy who was on my bus this evening.

    He sat by himself on the bench at the back of the bus, oversized headphones around his neck blaring silence. He didn’t speak until a middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter got on and picked a nearby seat.

    “Andre the Giant,” he said, “was the biggest wrestler ever. Six foot eleven. Huge. He was huge.”

    The woman murmured something inaudible, sounding not at all interested.

    “And Big Show, he’s seven foot one. Big Show. He’s big. Seven foot one. Big Show.”

    “Wow,” said the woman, not sounding wowed.

    “But Hulk Hogan, he was six foot eight. Wow. He’s a big man. Big man. Hulk Hogan was bigger than most people. He was real big.”

    “Really?” said the woman, finally recognizing a name. “I don’t like Hulk Hogan. He’s seems kinda creepy.”

    The man was flabbergasted. “You don’t like Hulk Hogan? He was six foot eight. Six foot eight!”

    The woman shrugged.

    “The Undertaker, he was six foot ten. He could… he could… do whatever he wanted. Because he was six foot ten. Really big man. And this other guy was so big–“

    But we were never to know the identity of the final wrestler, as the man realized that he had missed his stop and yanked repeatedly on the cord.

    When the bus eventually pulled over, the man with the dinner plate headphones stood up, and he walked the aisle with all the dignity that his five-foot-nothing frame could muster.

  5. Mystic_Mom

    Bus people…Oh my! Okay here we go.

    I rode a bus when I was a country kid going to school, the big yellow bus with the obnoxious ‘big kids’ in the back, the creepy little weird kids in the front and the rest of us jammed in the middle. It smelled bad in the summer, was brutally cold in the winter and the bus driver, Mr. Bylemere, was the most short tempered, low tolerance, prejudiced person behind the wheel.

    If you were late, he left you behind. If you raised any kind of rucks you didn’t get picked up the next day. If you were suckered into doing something like, say, flipping off your cousin, and he caught you…you didn’t ride the bus for a month.

    So we moved, and the bus ride was longer, but the driver was nice. First day, hour long country ride, pick up kid after kid and then we get to the Hanson house. Their two smaller children get on the bus, the little girl with her thick glasses that make her eyes look huge, and her brother who barfed on the bus every day. She sits beside me, eyes like something out of a sci fi movie and offers me PICKED CHICKEN’S FEET first thing in the morning! Then her brother barfed…nice…

    I’ve been on buses to the US, down the length of Alberta and in between but that ride is the one I’ll always remember…

  6. Delia

    I rode the bus to and from school everyday from 1st Grade to 8th Grade. We always had assigned seats. On one particular day, when the bus driver told us that we could sit anywhere we wanted to, my other third grade buddy and I happily ran to the back of the bus to sit where “the big kids” usually did.
    The next thing I knew, an 8th grade boy was telling me to get out of his seat. When I told him that we were able to sit anywhere we wanted, he immediately pulled out a lighter and held it to my eye, burning off some of my eyelashes. While I cried and held my eye, the other kids went and told the bus driver what happened.
    I remember going home only to have my dad take me right back to school to deal with the issue. That was a bus ride I’ll never forget!

  7. Story Teller

    I’ve really enjoyed reading these stories! Thanks so much to everyone for contributing.

    @ Anonymous – Good for you for helping the bus driver. His hands are really tied in a situation like that, but knowing you, I am not surprised you had the courage to step in.

    @ Kungfusinger – I really liked your second story. It’s a beautiful narrative, and bus conversations can turn out to be some of the most interesting we will ever have. Glad you enjoyed the exercise so much!

    @ Chris – very funny and entertaining! I love the punchline at the end. Beautifully written.

    @ Mystic Mom – the details you included–the pickled chicken feet, the way the girl’s eyes looked in her glasses–really made your story stand out. You helped us visualize it exactly as you saw it back then. Bravo!

    @ Delia – Wow. That is a shocking, horrible thing that happened to you. I can only imagine how terrified you must have felt. Thank you so much for having the courage to share your story with us. I hope your eyelashes grew back thicker. 🙂

  8. Kath

    24 August 2010
    Semper Bus Fi

    My daughter called her school busses ‘cheese wagons’. They were comfort food yellow. The buses I went to school on were Marine Corps green. No comfort food comes in that color, or anything you should eat.

    Being an ‘ankle biter’, ‘rug rat’, ‘Marine Brat’, I rode to school on a Marine Corps bus driven by two unlucky enlisted, one to drive, one to keep the ‘brats’ in line. These two guys clearly ticked off a sergeant, and got stuck with us. Revenge is sweet, and they got it.

    At six years old, I managed to get thrown off the bus. Cussing. I was innocent. I swear and not in the word I was accused of throwing around. Here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The Marine in charge of patrolling the bus aisle was headed to my end of the bus. I tried to ‘shush’ the kids around me, but in mid ‘shhh’ the Marine arrived at my seat. I cut the shush short and got thrown off the bus. Not a good beginning to bus riding.

    That Marine did not smile. I suppose he was too shocked that the tiny blonde six-year-old had the mouth of a sailor. But ten years later the Marines on my school bus could barely keep from laughing. A blizzard shut down every civilian school in the area, but not on Quantico. Oh, no. The Marines pulled out a tractor and a trailer, affectionately called a cattle car for the wooden benches installed to transport troops. Those Marines had smiles bigger than the front windows of the tractor. I have no doubt if we’d been having a flood, they would have volunteered to get out an amphibious tractor and drag us to school.

    Kath Marsh

  9. Story Teller

    Great story, Kath! It’s a window into a life that most of us will never experience.


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