Another story to tell

Susan Manzke

My friend Elizabeth called me a storyteller the other day. Funny, I never thought of myself as a storyteller.

I know storytellers. My dad was one. Family would sit around a campfire while Dad told stories, true stories. I’m a writer. I compose alone, but in the end, when I speak to groups, I am a storyteller like Dad.

I’ve been asked how long it takes me to write a book. The book/story I’m going to tell about today I began writing in 1988. It’s called "Barley Soup and Slug Spit." When I started to put this story on paper, I had a houseful of children. Some were teenagers, and their crazy antics inspired my story.

My tale about Greg, Cory and Grandpa is fiction. I made it up. The only glimpses of truth come in the form of Grandpa’s stories. As in my novel, "Chicken Charlie’s Year," I used my father’s stories to help imagine the book. In my first book, Charlie’s a kid living with his family during the Great Depression. In "Barley Soup and Slug Spit," Charlie’s the grandfather, living with his daughter’s family. This character tells some of Dad’s stories.

I tried to write this book fast, so I could show it to my dad. He had cancer and died in 1991. Before he passed on, Dad was able to read my first draft. He had a problem with the grandpa character named after him. “I’m not forgetful,” Dad said.

I tried to explain to him that Charlie was not really him. I didn’t give Charlie cancer. He did have a medical problem that caused him to lose his short-term memory, very unlike my dad. The memory loss was inspired from my friend Joyce’s father. Charlie was created from bits and pieces of many people. That’s what writers do.

Dad liked the story, but then he got sicker and died. I was heartbroken and put the book away. It reminded me too much of him, and that made me sad.

Years later, I began using Dad’s stories again — this time I felt happy remembering them. Writing "Chicken Charlie’s Year" turned out to be a lot more about Dad and his family, yet it was still fiction. Dad never got to see that book, but I think he’d be honored with the way I used the things he told me.

After many years, I finally brought out "Barley Soup and Slug Spit" again and tinkered with it. When I was ready, I shared it with a few writer friends and family. Now, in 2016, I finished all the rewrites and published it.

My main character, Greg, has problems with a bully. Grandpa has issues with his health. Life is changing for both characters. Cory is a tease, Doug is the bully and Aunt Arlene is the school superintendent. It is written at an easy reading level, so anyone can read it. Still I have to add a WARNING. A four-letter word is used 10 times in this story. It begins with sh- and ends with -t. Take note before opening the pages, especially if you are extra sensitive.

"Barley Soup and Slug Spit" opens with this paragraph: “Not many people get dead rats delivered to their front door by UPS. But Greg Harper was no ordinary eighth-grader, and on September 15, 1988, the big brown truck stopped with a package for him.”

My dad isn’t around anymore, but I think he’d still be happy the way I used his stories. No one in my family ever had a dead rat delivered. That came from my warped imagination.

I have copies to sell, and some will be at Sissy’s in Seymour. One copy will be at the Muehl Public Library to check out soon. All my books are on and Kindle. Any reviews would be appreciated.

Funny, writing today was a little painful. After reading the book, our son, Russell, said, “I really liked it. It was hard for me to read it at times because it reminded me of Grandpa too much, and I got kind of sad, but then again it reminded me of Grandpa, so that was great, too.” I totally understand Russ.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;