June 28, 2014

Writing For Success

Writing For Success
By John R. Greenwood

My copy of Chris Millis's latest book, "God & California"
I attended a writing seminar at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs today. The first half of the day focused on good storytelling and set-up; the second half of the day on the many challenges of publishing and multiple ways to get your book idea to print. There were authors, a publicist, a literary agent, an illustrator/web designer and publishers present, all of them at the ready to give advice and direction to the nearly fifty people in attendance.

I was interested, hesitant, excited, and a little nervous. I wasn't 100% sure why I was going but I was 100% sure that I was going. Things have gone that way for me over the last several years. I've learned not to question the questions, but to ride them out to the end of the wave. I have yet to be disappointed.

The Daily Double Room at the Holiday Inn was full of chatter and smiling faces when I walked in. People were spread out, in many cases with an empty seat between them. Even the most social writer tends to shy a bit. I was no exception. I am always quick to introduce myself but I sometimes trip over the smallest of questions as if being graded on the response. Even tipping the scale at the high end of my fifties I find myself fearful of being evaluated by every passing set of eyes. I may always carry that shy boy syndrome. It seems to creep up on me no matter how prepared for it I am.

I had my red and white name tag on over my heart and my $9.99 TJ Maxx backpack hanging by my side. It was stocked to the nines with my writing essentials; notebook, pens, camera, IPad, business cards, emergency Slim Jim's, 3 hour mints, and muted cell phone. I am prone to choose an aisle seat at these things. I require ample leg room in the event of a Charlie Horse outbreak. I've gotten braver over the years though, I will now levitate to the front of the room versus the furthest point from the overhead screen.

After all the presenters were introduced we were treated to two hours of author, screenwriter, producer, cartoonist Chris Millis sharing his expertise on the art of storytelling. His knowledge of the craft shown bright and his ability to share it in layman's terminology laid a solid framework for amateurs like myself. You can sense the passion Chris has for his profession. It's easy to tell he's never over-saturated with anything attached to writing or creating. His Robin Williams-like mind seems to be full throttle at all times. You get the feeling when you're around him that he's just getting started. He attributed much of his early success to Neil Landau one of his Goddard College creative writing professors. Chris said Neil was brilliant at structure. Chris emphasized that structure is one of the most important aspects of putting together a successful book, screenplay, or movie. 

The goal of this post was not to reiterate every detail of the days curriculum it's goal was to show that there are always more things to learn, more connections to make, and more views to view. Today's crowd was a cross section of young and old, male and female. All in attendance were spending a gorgeous Saturday in June in a hotel conference room for one reason, and that reason is they possess a passion for writing. Yes, the myth of the glamourous life of a writer hold up in an oceanfront loft, while churning out million dollar best sellers was pretty much squashed but the seminar was about reality. The world of publishing is changing so rapidly even the literary agent in attendance was hard-pressed to share any definitive forecast about the future of his profession. The one common conversation was that to succeed you must remain open-minded and you must keep learning ways to stay in touch with your audience. Technology is changing our world and if we plan to write for success we must not only be good at storytelling we must also be good at listening. 

June 27, 2014

Man Outstanding In His Field

Man Outstanding In His Field
By John R. Greenwood

 There is a man I know who's outstanding in his field. He grows everything from stories to animals. His gardens flourish with inspiration and creativity. Minds planted on his farm of support grow tall, with bright blossoms that lean to the sun. This man I know spreads seeds of kindness along his path, never lingering long enough to see the fruit mature, yet knowing the crop will yield a bountiful harvest for years and generations long behind. This man who stands tall in the distance speaking to us about dreams and dreamers, farms and farmers has planted in our hearts a common theme of caring.

His words embrace our thoughts, then scatters them in fertile places where one day a sprout of joy pokes up through the soil. That sprout grows and grows and is pollinated by another, until the field itself overflows the edges and spreads to fields beyond. We have grown to depend on this man for nourishment but now he needs ours in return. It is the farmer who grows encouragement who now needs to be watered by those he's grown. To you my friend in the field, we gather together and send you sunshine and welcome rain. We need you here beside us plowing through the rocks and cloudy days. We wish you good health and we patiently wait for your speedy return to the field you've so loving planted.

"Where seeds of a creative life were sown"

Get Well Soon

June 23, 2014

"Our Elm Tree" A Poem By Betsy Foster -1961

Our Elm Tree
By Betsy Foster (age 16)
July 10, 1961 Schuylerville, NY 

“There is a lovely elm tree standing in our yard.
Its branches wave a welcome that no one can disregard.
It keeps the sun from blinding grandma when she reads
and gladly shields the pleasant lawn for which the baby pleads. 

So many birds have had their nests among the leaves so green,
that keep their tiny little homes as private as a dream.

So many dawns have wakened it and dried its dewy head;
so many sunsets said ‘Good Night’ and put the birds to bed.

How many pleasant memories the elm trees must possess, 
and each small leaf and secret holds, to keep and not confess.

It must be very dear to all for it to live so long.
I think it is God’s symbol here of beauty, clean and strong.

Its strong brown roots grasp Mother Earth as if to prove to all
what riches lie in God’s good soil to make it grow so tall.

Its glorious crown of verdure green stands symbol to us here
that any farmer’s greatest dream is really very near.”


The poem above was found in Jack Lewis's book "The Hudson River." It was written by Betsy Foster in 1961. I was able to verify that Jack mistakenly used the last name Forster in his book instead of Foster. Jack stayed with the family during the summer of 1961 while painting scenes along the Hudson River. He painted one of the Foster family farm and one of Betsy's mother Margaret holding her sister Mary Anne. When I spoke to Betsy in June 2014 she confided in me that at the time her mother Margaret did help young Betsy complete this poem. 

I must add that when I returned to the Foster family farm on June 22, 2014 birds filled the trees surrounding the home still today. The lawn was lush and Ireland green. The old elm may be gone but its legacy remains tall and intact. 

The first day I met the Foster's I had left my camera at home so I was unable to compare Jack's painting to the present day look of the home. I returned a few days later and was fortunate to find Tom Foster in the yard greasing his tractor. I asked if I could take some pictures of the house. Tom's generous response was, "Sure, help yourself." Before I left I spotted a bicycle resting beneath a tree next to the driveway. It looked so peaceful sitting there in the shade that I took the liberty of snapping it's portrait. I thought I would write my own poem to mirror Betsy's from 1961. Here's my view from a few feet away, separated by 53 years. 

Resting Quietly
By John R. Greenwood

Resting quietly beneath the canopy of a summer afternoon
spokes nestled in cool grass seem content to lie still 
the ride here feels soft and calm
no movement a pleasant pause in time

While the world runs rampant 
out of control 
out of line
I will simply park here for awhile
resting quietly
at peace


June 21, 2014

My Hudson River Odyssey Continues

My Hudson River Odyssey Continues
By John R. Greenwood

"The Hudson River" By Jack Lewis -1964
My journey retracing the people and places in Jack Lewis’s book, “The Hudson River” continued this evening when I got home from work and called Betsy Andersson. Betsy is Tom Foster’s sister. Tom and his wife Carole are the owner’s of The Yarn Shop at Foster Sheep Farm. That is where I first discovered that the Foster family farmhouse was one of the homes Jack painted back on July 10, 1961. It's also where this story received a jolt of electricity and new found energy. The feeling I got when I found people who not only met him but were the subject of some of his work was something money can’t buy. This type of buzz can’t be recreated with whiskey or drugs, it can only come from an unexpected connection with genuine people with generous hearts. Hearts that find joy in simple pleasures like reminiscing about an all but forgotten watercolor artist that befriended their entire family over fifty years ago. 

Tom and Carole had given me Betsy’s phone number knowing she too would remember Jack and his 1961 visit. They were confident she would enjoy sharing any recollections she might have. I was taking a bit of a risk. These days it's hard to trust anyone. I know if I get a call from a stranger asking questions I might be apt to just hang up. Tom and Carole seemed assured Betsy would share my enthusiasm about Jack’s story or they never would have handed me her phone number. I mustered up the courage to make the call. I gathered a pad, pen, and the book. I open it up to the painting of Betsy’s mother Margaret holding Betsy’s younger sister Mary Anne. I dialed with a twinge of anxiousness. On the third ring a soft friendly voice answered, “Hello, The Andersson’s.” 

It only required a brief explanation of who I was and why I was calling for me to understand why Jack Lewis was so taken by this family some 50+ years ago. Betsy instantly put me at ease asking questions about her and her family. I think her and her brother both sensed my genuine interest in Jack and my excitement in finding a real live connection to his work.
Betsy cleared up a couple of my questions about the misspelling of the name Foster in Jack’s book. Jack had used the name Forster in multiple places. It did throw me off the trail a bit. She was quite sure that the possibility that it was a Boston accent mistake was slim. She kind of chuckled because she said her mother was quite a stickler for clear diction. She said although her mother had lived in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire at one time, she was actually born in England. When I explained my theory of Jack possibly trying to protect their privacy by changing their name slightly she had had a counterpoint for that too. She said in a copy of the book she had in front of her, Jack wrote a note. The salutation was directed to Betsy Forster. She said his writing was a bit scratchy but there was clearly an extra letter. She was quite confident that he simply made a mistake. She even pointed out that in one paragraph Jack referred to her brother Timmy as Jimmy. Tom also mentioned that he thought it was just a mistake. As an amateur sleuth and blogger I try to be careful with my facts but I find errors in my pieces quite often. I have a distinct advantage with Google and the internet just a click away. Jack did not have that luxury. He had to rely on jotted notes and memory. We seem to forget what a huge asset it is to have access to a world full of information at our fingertips. 

I had another question for Betsy. In the book there is a beautiful little poem. Under the poem it indicates that it was written by Betsy. It’s a wonderful piece that will share in a future post. When I asked Betsy about it she said she had to tell me something. She admitted she wrote the first few lines but her mother Margaret wrote the rest. I asked her if she continued writing poetry and if she happened to have any she might share. I could see her smile over the phone when she said she might have some stashed away. I told her I wasn’t sure where I was going with Jack’s story but I would still love to see what she might have.

I also asked both Tom and Betsy if they knew of any photographs that may have been taken of Jack and the Foster family during his stay? Neither were sure but both said they would ask their siblings and would share them if there were any. 

One of my last and most exciting requests was finding out if any family members had any of Jack’s original paintings. Betsy and Tom both assured me that their sister Ellen was the keeper of the original painting of the farm. She wasn’t certain if there were others. 

Spending time on the phone with such a gracious lady was a pleasant way to end a long work week. 

The summer is just beginning, I can’t wait to see what Ellen Foster has to say. 

Now where did I put that phone number?  

June 18, 2014

I Hit The Nice People Jackpot (Part Two)

I Hit The Nice People Jackpot (Part Two)
By John R. Greenwood

Jack Lewis
Probably his late teens or early twenties
From Jack's book "A Brush With Fate"

Continued from my previous post 
Click Here: (Part One) 

Carole Foster picked up her cell phone and called her husband Tom. A few minutes later a white pickup passed by the window and in came the man who would have more information about Jack Lewis than I could ever have imagined. After I shook his hand and briefly explained my visit, Tom's face lit up like mine did when Carole informed me I was indeed in the right place. He remembered Jack well and said he stayed with Tom's family for quite a long time. He said one day Jack loaded up Tom's brothers and sisters in his station wagon and took them all to visit Fort Ticonderoga. He smiled from ear to ear as he told the story. I smiled from ear to ear hearing it. 

I was a little confused by the fact that Jack used the name Forster in the book and not Foster. My wife provided one explanation and I later thought of another. When I got home and shared my afternoon adventure with my wife, she instantly asked if the family was originally from Massachusetts? She works at a local college and many of the students and parents she speaks with are from the Boston area. She said that with a Boston accent Foster could be interpreted as Forster. I said Foster using my best Kennedy imitation and I'll be a son-of-gun. Later that night as I typed out a thank you letter to the Fosters I began to wonder if Jack used a name variation on purpose to give the Fosters some privacy? Later that night I stumbled upon the obituary of Tom's mother which indicated that before moving to the present farm the families lived in the area of Watertown Massachusetts. Both theories make sense. The fact that I found the Fosters made it a mute point. It only added some intrigue to the story--like a good mystery should. 

The Fosters and I exchanged bits and pieces of our individual backgrounds and I instantly felt as though we'd known each other for years. It was like stretching your legs out next to a warm stove and listening to comforting tales from a more peaceful place in time. Tom slowly thumbed through Jack's book and tried to help me identify the exact location of some of Jack's other panoramas. His information had me itching to check them out. 

By the time I left we had each others contact information and the Fosters were even so kind as to provide contact numbers to Tom's sisters who they felt could provide even more information about Jack. I was like a little kid who'd been given free tickets to the county fair. 

As I left, Tom walked out to the driveway with me. He commented on my Honda motorcycle. Two minutes later we discovered we'd both owned Suzuki's back in the early 1970's, both of which were purchased at Mueller's Cycle Shop on Church St. in Saratoga Springs. Another ten minutes of fond reminiscing was to follow. 

Yes, I forgot my camera today and it upset me, but what Tom and Carole gave me today could never be captured in a photograph anyway. I left the gravel driveway grinning like a father holding his first born child. I was re-energized with these new found remnants of Jack Lewis and excited to continue my own journey up and down the Hudson River. 

June 17, 2014

I Hit The Nice People Jackpot (Part One)

I Hit The Nice People Jackpot (Part One) 
By John R. Greenwood

Mrs. Forster and Daughter, Schuylerville
Thank you Jack Lewis for assembling a fifty year old book that continues to provide me with so much joy and in this case also hand delivered two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. It all happened as a result of my research into Jack’s painting odyssey down the length of the Hudson River in the early 1960’s. 

This afternoon I experienced nothing short of a lottery jackpot win. I began my work day at 4am so I jumped the wall at 2pm and headed home to grab a late lunch. My plan was to get on my motorcycle and head over to a couple of places Jack Lewis had painted in his book The Hudson River. I picked the closest possible destination which happens to be nearby Schuylerville. The focus of today's journey was the painting of a farm just north of the village. 

Large Elm, Forster Farm, near Schuylerville

The name on the painting said it was the Forster Farm. I Googled the name “Forster in Schuylerville” and, “The Yarn Shop At Foster Sheep Farm” is the first thing that popped up. The location was similar but the name was different. Was it possible that the fifty year old book had an error? What were the odds? I slid the book in my backpack and strapped it to my bike and headed east toward the river. It’s only about 10 or 12 miles from my house to the address of the Foster Sheep Farm so I was there in no time. The feeling I got when I pulled in the gravel driveway was somewhat spooky. I felt like I’d been there before. It was classic farmhouse-quaint, and it did look just like the painting. I wasn’t overly optimistic but I never hesitated a second. I parked my bike, pulled out the book and headed toward the yarn shop door. Whoops! I almost forgot my camera. I patted my side where I carry my little Sony on my belt. It wasn’t there? What the heck!  I forgot that I had changed into my jeans when I got home and I never grabbed the camera. I don’t go to the corner without it and here I was on a beautiful sunny afternoon in the country, along the Hudson, on a old farm, camera naked and feeling like somebody just ran over my chest. Oh well, the show must go on. I petted the head of the black and white dog with the brown belly sitting out front and went to the door. It was a screen door and a voice with an Aunt Bea gentleness said, “Come on in.”  In retrospect I found this extra heartwarming in itself, because I’m a six foot, 250lb. man who just got off a rumbling motorcycle and I’m walking into a yarn shop and the proprietor never flinched a muscle. She welcomed me in like a lifelong neighbor. This had good karma plastered all over it. 

I stood there a minute trying to assemble my speech. I wasn’t quite sure how to begin so I dug right in, “Is this the Forster Farm?”, I asked. 

“No,” she said, “It’s Foster, not Forster” 

My heart sank. 

There was another women sitting there knitting. She emanated kindness with her smile alone. I felt like she might have some angel like powers. I smiled back. Something good was about to happen. 

I was in this far, I might as well explain the reason for my visit. 

I introduced myself and then proceeded to explain that I had this old book full of watercolor paintings from the 1960’s that were done from various places along the entire length of the Hudson. I told her I was trying to retrace the route to see if I could find where some of the scenes were done. I handed her the book and opened it to a women and her daughter. I meant to open it to the painting of the farm with the big old elm tree out front. 

She looked at the picture and without winking an eyelash said, “That’s my mother-in-law!” 

I almost dropped dead in the middle of a yarn shop. 

I said, “You’re kidding right?”

“No, that’s her. And that’s my husband’s sister.” 

She turned the page to the painting of the house.
“Yes, that’s this house. Where we're standing used to be the side porch and that elm used to tower over the house right outside the screen door where you just came in. The tree got Dutch Elm Disease and had to be cut down.”
I felt like Jack Lewis was standing next to me grinning from ear to ear. 

I knew at that very minute that this journey was just beginning and that it was real. I knew that this was something I was meant to pursue and that it would take an army to keep me from documenting this story in some way. The best part was--the best was yet to come. Carole Foster my newest best friend in the world was about to turn my day into a lottery win for the ages. 

She said, “Let me call my husband Tom. He met Jack and I think his sister has the original painting of the house. It hung here in the house for years and when my husband's mother passed away I think his sister kept that painting.” 

All I kept muttering was, “I can’t believe I forgot my camera!”

To be continued...         Part Two: Click Here

June 15, 2014

Fathers Day

Father's Day 
By John R. Greenwood

I tried to put words to this wonderful photograph of my son and grandson. I soon realized it only took one word. 

June 12, 2014

Discussing The Future

Discussing The Future
By John R. Greenwood

We sat relaxed in the green grass of optimism, discussing the future of our children, as it has been done for centuries. 

What lies ahead we ask? 

I see smiles and laughter, friends, no foes. I look ahead, way beyond and see those friends gathered in fields of dreams, sharing ideas and stories for the next wave of family. The future is all we have, the past just a memory. Look up, not down. Stare down naysayers and sloths who threaten peace and joy. Wave them off like a telemarketer’s sales pitch. Grasp your vision early and run for all your worth. Jump chasms and quicksand-arms who reach out to pull you down. Shrug off clouds of negativity and let warm July showers wash away uncertainty. Live life like you're in charge, don’t sit at the curb waiting for the paycheck that will never arrive. Be safe in your steps but step briskly. Linger too long and the snakes of doubt may curl around your ankles and pull you to the ground. Chin up, standing arrow-straight, move forward into the future and with every rounded corner reach out with tolerance and love for those who line your path.

I see the future as bright as day. 

There is no other way, you see. 

June 07, 2014

Fresh Talk

Fresh Talk
By John R. Greenwood

I was out of town for a work related reason recently. The hotel I stayed in was three feet off Exit #37 of the NYS Thruway in Liverpool, NY. I’d been there once before for a business conference. This visit was similar in nature; a two day truck driving championship so my time was pretty well filled with activities. Although I wasn’t actually competing I was there in support of our company’s driver and as a volunteer helping with the event. On day one I had a couple of early morning hours to kill so I thought I would take a look around the area. Google Maps identified that Onondaga Lake was almost within walking distance. The search indicated a large county park lined with walking trails galore was in my future. I grabbed my camera and headed for the door. 

Onondaga Lake was not hard to find. It was a cool week day so the parking lot was scantly dressed and covered in goose autographs. It was however a beautiful park with long stretches of paved paths running along the shore of a wide low slung lake. 

I hadn’t been there more than a few minutes when I saw a NY Giants hat approaching with tufts of white cotton peeking from underneath. Ah, one of my peeps. I picked up my head and with a warm NY welcome said, “Good morning. Do you live here?” The ‘Giants Hat’ raised up and a smile followed. “Yes, you from out of town?” It was that easy. Two sentences in and the next thing you know we’re talking about my birthplace Saratoga, the racetrack, and the Triple Crown attempt whose outcome you will probably know before this post hits the internet. That’s how simple it is to make a connection 150 miles away. One person, one sentence. Once a common ritual played out so easily, connecting is slipping away into the past. The art of verbal communication is an endangered species. Our world is destined to dissolve into head bent texting and low level grunts of one word sentences. I think both of us knew we’s better keep it short and sweet or the next thing you know we’d end up standing there for hours discussing everything from California Chrome to Eli Manning. We backed away slowly, smiling, and savoring the brief but informative exchange--the common language of place. 

It was nice. 

It was fresh talk. 

It was the way it should be.   

I turned and walked away, my eyes scanning for another connection. 

Or not....

"This isn't Madness, this is Syracuse" - Class 2008

June 05, 2014

Moreau Lake Tribute To Paul.

Moreau Lake Tribute To Paul
By John R. Greenwood

Paul is my brother-in-law. He passed away Sunday June 1, 2014. Moreau Lake was one of Paul’s favorite go-to spots when he needed to catch a fish or clear his mind. It is also my number one place to go when I need to refuel. It’s close by, beautiful, and in the early morning it has a special feel to it--one of placidity. When I awoke on the day of Paul’s wake I was drawn to walk around the lake in his honor and memory. I grabbed my keys, wrote my wife, Paul's sister, a note and headed up the road a few miles to the park. Below is a piece I wrote from the viewpoint of Moreau Lake paying tribute to Paul for his years of faithful friendship and numerous visits to it’s waters. I felt it would fit well with what Paul was all about; the quiet unassuming support of family, friends, and coworkers. One common theme has been repeated over and over in his memory: “Good Friend”. I felt it made sense for a lake to pay homage to a man who did not take the beauty of a lake or a friend for granted. He appreciated every hug, every joke, every memory shared among his peers regardless of whether they hadn't seen each other for years or not. If you were a true friend he didn’t keep score. 

Here is,
Moreau Lake Tribute To Paul:

Dear Paul,

I’d tell you that we’d miss you but that won’t be necessary, for the waters below know very well you will be here with us as we greet each sunrise and savor each rising moon. As our peaceful waters gently caress the sandy shore we know you are near. 

You will always be as close as all of God’s children, the wind and the rain. Each honk of a lone goose will let us know you are near. The heavy croak of a bullfrog from deep within the tall grass will comfort our hearts and let us know that you are at peace with the past. 

We vow to keep our shore’s leaf filled branches waving in bright optimism for those left behind, so that they might continue on with their life, without regrets. Each song of a songbird whose chorus spreads across the rippled water will carry your memory. 

Whether the fish chooses to surrender to the fisherman, or put up a fight, the feeling will include you. It will be joyful and right. 

So dear Paul, from the heartbeat of Moreau Lake, to your generous and loving spirit, we plan for your presence and look forward to your stay. 

So many you’ve touched with your kindness and friendship we can only say, “We’re proud to call you our son too.” 


The Shores of Moreau 

I swear to you, as I penned the last word of this tribute to Paul, a flock of geese could be heard approaching from the mountain behind me. As if on cue they performed a calculated ‘Fly Over’. There were at least one hundred geese honking in perfect rhythm. The breeze was gentle. The sun shone like a beacon. As I tilted my head to the sky and as the formation V’d high across the lake, I noticed one lone goose well off to the right of the others, flying with all his might. Every other goose was in a ruler straight ‘V’. As my heart filled and my eyes flooded, as the ‘V’ minus one approached the far side of the lake, I saw that lone goose enter into the formation with an accuracy that made me smile from shore to shore and my heart pound with the knowledge that beyond a shadow of a doubt that, that was indeed Paul joining the others. He was well on his way to more beautiful lakes and vistas beyond such description that we have yet to see. 

Peace to you Paul,