Are you a keeper of the Trouble Tree?



I typed this tale more than 20 years ago. A short, short story or a writing exercise, you decide? This is the first time I’m sharing it publicly. Hope you enjoy!

The Trouble Tree by me

“Jonathan Goodsby,” I shouted as the beast jumped up and choked at my throat. There would be no mercy today. “Can you see me for a moment?”

I could see clearly through the hazy window for the first time in days. I had procrastinated for nearly the seventh hour, and the minute was fast at hand. The time had come to let another one go.

I hated this part of my job, as times were unusually tight. A few years ago, I would summon the men, to bestow good tidings upon him and his family and to hand them a turkey ten-pounder. But now, when the factory’s intake wasn’t as plentiful as its expenses, I only summoned workers to caress them with words of wisdom, a petty severance and a colored piece of paper––the formidable pink slip.

It was cold, it was empty, and it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. It was one week before Christmas.

Waiting for Jonathan, I stared out my window, glancing upon a familiar reflection. The reflection of an empty face that had lost its color, lost the pigment of life somewhere between frivolity and responsibility.

Within minutes, Jonathan Goodsby stood quietly at my door.

“Come in, come in,” I said as kindly as I remembered. “And close the door behind you.”

His black, tarnished physique could only be attributed to his years of working with steel.

“It’s been a rough year …” I said, rambling thoughts of nothingness. I gazed into his cold steel eyes and filled him with words of wisdom, words of advice, before cutting into devastation.

“We’re gonna have to let you go …” I added.

Jonathan asked for nothing, just the simplicity of an outstretched hand. “Thank you,” he said and paused. “For your honesty.” That was all.

He gathered his knitted cap and woven scarf, and with a stutter of his hardened feet, he was gone.

That was easy! Easy for me to sit back in my promising chair. Because I could, at least for today.

Within minutes, snowflakes blanketed my vision as I raced through the parking lot. It hadn’t snowed in nearly thirty years, from when I was just a boy, and for the moment, I felt a shiver of joy.

I cranked my car a little after five. I was glad to have had my luxury serviced recently, for I today was the wiser.

Just in the far distance, I made out a man standing under the hood of a car. From my vantage point, I could tell he was struggling.

Surely he has called for help. Someone was surely coming to help.

As I neared the street, I glanced into the wretched face of a helpless man. A face so dry and cracked from the whipping winds of the elements. A face that looked into mine and appeared very familiar. It was the face of Jonathan Goodsby.

I let go of the sudden impulse to ignore and slowed to a slithering halt.

“Can I offer you a ride somewhere?” I said, as if I hadn’t done enough.

A simple nod was all that he replied. The door opened and in propped Jonathan.

“Where to?”

“Home,” he replied with a harsh sniffle, “to my family.”

Family? I had known this man for several years, and yet I had not known.

I could tell he had been out in the cold for some time and that he required heat. Heat for the hands he cradled around his waist, which was all so easily warmed with a push of a button.

“Nice car,” Jonathan said. The way he dressed, the tiered layer of shabby clothing, reflected his dilemma––he obviously survived the commute without heat.

From then on he was not much for words, only a nod or two, here and there. I can’t say that I blamed him. I had taken away his days.

“You can drop me on the corner.”

“No,” I replied, “it’s no inconvenience.” But who was I kidding; some tradeoff.

As we neared his home, a stingy little flat with colorful dangling lights, I envisioned what he would say, what I would say given his situation. No job. A small petty severance. No car.

“There she is,” said Jonathan, pointing.

This is a man on the edge, as we sat in silence. A lengthy and uneasy and uncomfortable silence. Complete edge.

“Please, come inside. Come inside so we can thank you.”

Thank me? What exactly for?

I was uneasy in accepting random kindness. Gratitude I did not require, but I owed him something. I owed it to him to stand before his family, for the caustic sting I handed them earlier, to funnel their fury.

What would I say?

As we entered through a weathered screen door, Jonathan immediately took hold of a branch on a stingy holiday tree. Motionless he stood, as he closed his eyes.

“Honey, that you?” A questioning voice called out.

Rattling dishes grieved from the kitchen as I thought of exiting. When suddenly, I felt the presence of a lifeless soul, staring through me. But as I turned, a child with a majestic face stood along side her mother.

I … I … I waited with my hands on my hips, eager to explain why the company, why I had done this to them just before Christmas.

“Daddy’s home!” the little girl shouted, with a glowing smile. She lunged across the room and leaped into her father’s bearhug arms.

Jonathan stood, a transformed man, twirling his little girl in a glorious merry-go-round. “Merry, Merry Christmas, little Boo.” He repeated it over and over. “Merry, Merry Christmas.”

This man, who once sat in utter gloom, who lost his job, whose car was stranded, who was completely on edge, now simply smiled. He smiled and laughed and sang out a merry song with his daughter that only they had known.

“Will you be joining us for dinner?” said Mrs. Goodsby.

Perhaps she hadn’t known.

“Please, join us. It is cold outside and dinner is warm. Jon shred everything. We’ll get by. It’s what we do.”

A hug and a kiss for his wife. A twirl for his daughter. Peace for me. The moment was cherished, where everything, every care that this man had, that this family had, was gone.

Jonathan welcomed me, his daughter welcomed me and his wife––a heavenly, compassionate woman who cooked the most succulent dinner I had ever had––she welcomed me. The entire Goodsby family took me into their home, not for an explanation, nor for ridicule of my cruelty, but rather for the moment at hand.

“May I ask you something?” I asked Jonathan before my exit. “You earlier … at the plant and in the car … things changed when you hit the door.”

“Kid stuff.” He couldn’t help but grin. “Every evening I come home, I grab our tree and leave trouble on its branches. Each morning on the way out, I pick them up. Our time is our time. And at Christmas, trouble can wait.”

I envied him as Jonathan was truly the richer. So I stood there, amidst the merriment and good tidings that flourished inside this simple home, and wished. They shared with me more of a present than I could have ever imagined. For it was they who are truly the keepers of Christmas. The keepers of the Trouble Tree.

Can you spot the Bayou Bogeyman?


The fall tour of Bayou Bogeyman was a spooky, wild ride filled with book festivals, zombie fests, bookstore signings, conferences, librarian gatherings, creepy dolls, tons of face paint, fearless kids, and lots and lots of candy. I mean LOTS!

We ventured to Houston, Baton Rouge, Mandeville, Metairie, Arabi, New Orleans (of course), and hope very soon to spread the creepy love to Mobile and the Florida panhandle – just in the nick of time for the holidays.

So what’s next for the Bayou Bogeyman?

With 13 spooky campfire tales, you can be sure to find us creeped out as our true alter-egos (spooky characters at heart) for an upcoming January, Friday the 13th in 2017. Where? Stay tuned.

If you’d like to have some creepy characters at your school, library, bookstore or literary conference, feel free to leave us a comment and we’ll get back with you – typically during the midnight hours, of course. That’s prime Bayou Bogeyman time.

From all of us Bayou Bogeymen, Happy Holidays!!!

OH … can you say, “Spooky Stocking Stuffers?”


Bogeyman sightings in Louisiana, Oct. 26 – 30


You won’t see any creepy clowns, but you can spot some Zombies this upcoming Halloween weekend at the following locations:

La Petite Tea Room in Metairie on Wednesday (Oct. 26) at 5 pm

Louisiana Book Festival on Saturday (Oct. 29) in Baton Rouge in several tents starting at noon – 5 pm

Barnes & Noble in Mandeville on Sunday (Oct. 30) from noon – 2pm

Come hug a Zombie: real or in costume? You decide.

I got a book contract – and nearly passed out!!!

600x Gary Fishing Signing 7.14.16

Look who got book contract number two.

Yup, that’s me using my daughter’s never-used, $10, fancy Disney World pen – $10, really? – on “Book Signing Day.” My daughter’s dragon logo-ish backdrop is as symbolic as her fuzzy pen. Because the story I’m signing the contract for in the picture is for kids, middle graders ages 8 to 12.

So why did I nearly pass out? Let’s go back to the beginning, well, 2009 at least. That’s when a fishing story that had been rolling around in my head for years came to fruition. In 2009, an advertising agency colleague had won an online writing contest where one had to submit a minimum of 10,000 words to participate.

Ta-dah, an idea was born!

The rebel in me decided I’d write a 10,000 word life-changing essay – and not one word longer – about a kid’s fishing trip with grampa loosely titled, “The Greatest Fishing Story Ever Told.” HINT: you can find the initial idea somewhere on this blog.

Then, my daughter was born a month later  :  )))

Fast forward three years later, that’s 2012, and lots of dad-daughter duties, I realized I had only written four chapters and about 1,000 words.

Inspired by my three-year-old’s curiosity of me “writing letters” on my computer for work, I quickly jumped back in the waters (pun intended) and finished my 10,000 word essay – only 600 words over, too.

Then, I quickly joined a regular writer’s group (SCBWI/Louisiana/Mississippi), attended SCBWI Conferences, submitted it to publishers and was even brave enough to contact #kidlit agents. Smallies and some biggies.

Two weeks after sending the first 10 pages to a notable publisher in NY, and the editor said “This is funny, entertaining and could sell. Please send me the rest.”

I quickly came down with a case of D.O.G. (a.k.a., delusions of grandeur).

Meanwhile, those agents were kind enough to give me some real and solid advice, feedback and words of encouragement, “This is great. But it’s not for me – keep at it.” The best part though was that most agent advice came within one week of them receiving submissions. Here’s a plug all at once, “Thank you, agents. Most of you know who you are.” Holiday cards never hurt either.

I was floating more than a mile high. THEN IT HAPPENED. I received feedback that I guess every writer dreads: the one that makes you question why you ever started writing the story in the first place.

The note read: “This is juvenile! This concept has been done plenty of times – and MUCH BETTER!! Throw away your first 2 chapters and start from there!!! But your voice is worth 5 stars.” Ironically enough, I had only submitted 2 chapters, too.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

That the agent (who shall not be named) penned “your voice is worth 5 stars” – that was enough inspiration for me to do just as he/she suggested.

In 2013, I finished a whole new draft with a whole new concept and whole new title (to be released at a later date). The editor liked the new angle and liked that her publisher wouldn’t have an issue with the short 10,000 word count (most Middle Grade stories are 20,000 and more). Check out Jennifer Laughran’s blog on childrens’ book word counts, Wordcount Dracula if you’re interested in writing for kids yourself.

Tick tock. Tick tock. 2014.

Another regional publisher requested the book and responded within a month of receiving the whole manuscript: “This rings true to fishing life in Louisiana. Here are some suggested revisions if you’d like to make them and resubmit. Thank you.”

Revisions done.

Tick tock. Tick tock. 2015.

Same regional publisher again requested some more revisions.

Revisions done.

Tick tock. Tick tock. 2016.

Same regional publisher again requested even more, tiny detailed revisions.

Revisions done.

And today, July 15, 2016, I’m very, super excited, stoked beyond words in the english language to say that I’ve signed on for my second book (FIRST BOOK under my own name) with Pelican Publishing Company.

But feel free to check out “The Bayou Bogeyman Presents: Hoodoo and Voodoo” with two shorties penned by me about spooky life in Louisiana – “The Doll in the Wall” and “Déjà’s View: a Zombie Tale.” Be warned: you may need to sleep with one eye open.

What about NY? Well, the editor finally passed earlier this year, apologizing that it took her so long to get back with me – in a two-page handwritten letter with lots of words of encouragement and thinking that it had been picked up elsewhere anyway  :  )

So back to the question: why did I nearly pass out? Last week, I was sort of down on writing, my career and general writer thoughts so I went out for a run at night in the cooler 90°,  and yes, also 100% humidity. Three miles later and I had to sit down – which gets us back on point – because I nearly passed out.

Sweating profusely, my cell phone practically dead, I noticed my email notifications were over 100. That alone could make someone pass out.

But my personal email is usually at 0, and oddly it had 1, so I guess I had missed it.

The subject line read: Contract for the Craziest Fishing Tale on Bayou Vivré

And that’s how I landed this book contract number two (pun intended, yet again) with Pelican Publishing. A crazy, Louisiana fishing tall-tale with a publisher named pelican, I guess some things are so meant to be.

So what did I learn in all of this?

In the words of a super sweet agent I met at one of those SCBWI Conferences:

“Be patient. Be patient. Then be even more patient.”

Thanks Jen Rofé. I hope she doesn’t freak that I linked you to her twitter so you could follow her. Sorry, Jen.