A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE FERRY TO NEWFOUNDLAND
For about a year, I have been sending stories to a company in Vancouver which buys material for use in ESL classes in Korea. They had sent me their list of levels of difficulty and word counts. I kept plugging away, but they had rejected all my stuff.
Dale and I were on our East Coast and Newfoundland leg of our summer-long cross-Canada odyssey. We were settling in to a bed and breakfast in Cape Breton, ready to embark on the Newfoundland ferry the next day when I got an email from my ESL guy.
Quick, he was desperate for a story based on the Aesop’s fable, The Milkmaid and her Pail. 400 words, and he thinks these are the hardest stories to write, hence his desperate last-minute scramble to fill his last slot. Characterization, plot, and setting all in 400 words, divided into chapters, and keep the language simple. Could I do it? He needed it within nine days, and here is the contract, please print and sign and return, and the story has to be submitted according to these specifications of font and line spacing and the like.
Well, what’s a writer to do? Dale and I went into a huddle: It’s a seven hour ferry. Nothing else to do. Go for it. I googled the fable to make sure I had the right story. The milkmaid has a pail of milk she is going to sell to buy a chicken to lay eggs to grow more chickens to sell. Then she kicks the bucket. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
I wrote back and said sure, I can do that, except I am about to get on the ferry to Newfoundland, and I am working on an iPad, so no fancy fonts or whatnots. Can’t print the contract either, but I have read it and agree to the contents.
I mulled over story ideas that evening. Nobody carries milk in an open pail any more, so some changes had to be made. The next day, we boarded the ferry and found ourselves a couple of lazy-boy style chairs. I wrote the story. I wasn’t quite happy with it, so I rewrote it, making it a counting story. A few hours later I thought, well, this isn’t going to change much now, so I sent it off. Fortunately, the ferry has WiFi.
The next day it was back, edited, and with boxes inserted describing what the illustrations would look like. Was I happy with the edits?
The editor had done wondrous things with the 400 words I had sent. The illustrations were interesting. I wrote back and said I love what you did with the story. I love the potential illustrations.
And that was that. When I got home, there was a cheque in my mailbox.
Now, a year later, as it seems publishing always takes a year, my author copy has arrived. Only the one, mind. There are none for sale in Canada. I do not launch this book, or go to bookstores flogging it. I just sit back, write more, and wait for another story to click with them. And so far, two more have clicked. I can’t wait to see them.
Vicki Cameron is the author of Clue Mysteries and More Clue Mysteries, with each of the 15 short stories based on the board game Clue. Her young adult novel, Shillings, appeared in 2007. Her stories appear in the Ladies' Killing Circle anthology series and Storyteller Magazine. Her young adult novel, That Kind of Money, was nominated for an Edgar and an Arthur Ellis. She now writes children's books for ESL in Korea.