Tag Archives: high school

Career Experience: A Four Part Series

Part Four: On Assignment

My next journalistic endeavour came a year later. I was cutting class and bussing from Vernon to Vancouver to see ZZTop play the Pacific Coliseum, which I explained in advance to our creative writing teacher, Mr. Miller.

“Fine,” he said, “But you have to come back with a story.”

“No problem,” I said.

“A written story.”


“A review; a critique of the concert,” he added. In other words, penance for playing hooky and seeing the show he couldn’t get tickets to. Tough, but fair.

The bus ride was forgettable. The concert was not. Our seats (I was with a buddy) were high in a corner of the arena facing the side of the stage, a right-angle view of the show. The headliners were the hot act of the day. With the explosive success of their music videos featuring cool cars, slick costumes and leggy models, the place was packed. Another thousand or so fans were behind the stage, watching Billy, Dusty and Frank’s backs for the whole of the show. Not to mention the backs of Night Ranger – the opening act. The whole experience was superb. A Greyhound road trip to the city to see my heroes pelt us with their Tex Mex Southern Blues Rock, replete with glitzy stage presence and hugely popular tunes. I even came equipped with my ZZTop keyring, something I got for being Official Fan-Club-Member Number Five through their mail-order promotions.

I wrote my review of the show and presented it to Mr. Miller when we got back.

“This isn’t a critique, it’s a love letter!” he said, rolling the pages up as if to bop me on the nose. “Critique the show! It can’t all be praise!”

“Ah,” I may’ve said. I don’t remember. I was too worried about the actual task I’d just been assigned. I couldn’t find fault with my Texan stars. Everything they did was flawless. Didn’t Mr. Miller understand? I was Official Fan-Club-Member Number Five. Number Five! That wasn’t something to be taken lightly. They don’t just assign those numbers. (The more I think about it the more I suspect everyone on the mailing list was Official Fan-Club-Member Number Five.

Regardless, I got on with the task at hand, finding middle ground and tearing apart the opening act, satisfying Mr. Miller while maintaining my imagined protective-fence around my heroic musical trio. Yet to this day, on the odd occasion I hear Night Ranger on the radio, a part of me feels I owe them an apology, throwing them under the Greyhound like heavily hair-gelled sacrificial lambs to save my hide and get a passing grade. In fact, I may send each of them a letter – band members past and present – all seventeen of them, explaining my predicament. I’m sure they’d understand. For all I know they too – every one of them – are also ZZTop Official Fan-Club-Member Number Five.

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Career Experience: A Four-Part Series

Part One: CEP

The Career Experience Program. CEP. It had the ring of 1980s progressive rock, something Jeff Lynn would produce. What it was, was an opportunity to get three weeks “off” in Grade 10 and go to work for some supportive, unsuspecting employer in our small town.

I showed up for my first day promptly at eight a.m. in neatly pressed acrylic trousers (taupe), brown hush puppy knockoffs and long sleeve collared shirt in roughly matching ecru.

According to my written CEP profile test, I was best suited to crew a commercial fishing vessel. And while Vernon BC is surrounded by water (Okanagan, Kalamalka and Swan Lakes) the fact is, there wasn’t much demand for toxic clams, carp, sturgeon, or milfoil-eating shrimp. Still isn’t as far as I know. Although when the committee that introduced the weed-consuming crustaceans learned the aggressive little bastards destroyed every other living thing down there like Australia-decimating rabbits, there was a brief uptick in demand for a shrimping boat. But that came later. So I made the next logical career move one takes if unable to crew a trawler or seiner, which of course is to become a sports journalist. In fact the Vernon Daily News was one of perhaps, oh I don’t know, two employers in town to get cajoled and/or strong-armed into babysitting a young teen for the better part of a month.

I showed up for my first day promptly at eight a.m. in neatly pressed acrylic trousers (taupe), brown hush puppy knockoffs and long sleeve collared shirt in roughly matching ecru. It would be a few more years before we titans of industry sported suspenders and powerful yellow ties. My new boss was Mr. Freddie Shultz. For privacy I’ve changed Shultzy’s name. (It was actually Eddie Shultz.) I walked into the newspaper’s empty reception area and stood, waiting, awkwardly. Mind you, most things I did then I did awkwardly.

Mr. Shultz emerged from somewhere, nursing a stoneware cup of coffee, visibly surprised to see a scrawny, uncertain youth adorned in tan polyester and acne.

“Whoa, you’re up early! You must be Bill.”

I confirmed his suspicion. Awkwardly.

“Uh. Well. Right. I guess, let’s get started.”

Showing the greatest amount of respect, I thanked him for the opportunity.

“Hey, Mr. Shultz is my dad! Call me Freddie!”

Making me like Freddie immediately. The fact my only other boss prior to this was my dad added a neat circularity, and I hoped when I returned to work for dad I could call him Freddie too.

Freddie was the paper’s sports editor. He wrote most of the section’s articles, reporting on local games and piecing together AP stories along with major league results and standings. Occasionally there’d be a story of a local making a name for themselves in bigger arenas. Like most small Canadian towns it usually involved hockey.

He led me down a hall through a series of small offices and cubicles to the sports department – his desk. I admit I felt for the man as we stood there, him scratching his head, then his arm, then his head, looking like Lou Grant figuring out what to do with Mary, wondering if it was too early to crack the scotch drawer.

There was an audible bing as he invented something to keep me busy.

“Here,” he said. “You sit at my desk. Here’s a box of file photos – athletes and stuff. Sort through these. Get ’em organized.”

Then he vanished, a heavyset magician in a smoke-bomb cloud, leaving me to my first assignment as a sportswriter.

(To be continued …)


This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Rise and Fall of Derek Cowell by Valerie Sherrard

Ah, the high-school years. Especially the Junior grades when you are still finding your way around a new academic setting, while at the same time discovering your own way in life. When the opposite sex gets thrown into the mix, and it can be a very confusing time for a young thirteen-year-old lad like Derek Cowell. Valerie Sherrard’s latest Young Adult (YA) title takes a humorous look at an otherwise average self-described “see-through” teen as he becomes quite popular after unintentionally photo-bombing a group selfie of his sister and her friends. Here’s a sample of the humour you can expect in Derek Cowell:

For the most part I didn’t mind being overlooked. Now and then, usually when I did something moronic, it could even be a plus. Either way, I was used to it. After all, it’s been this way for as long as I can remember. (Or I should I say, it was that way until a freak occurrence changed everything. I’ll get to that in a minute.) At home, a big factor was the amount of attention that’s left to dribble down when a guy lives in a house full of girls.
I have three sisters. If that doesn’t horrify you then you don’t have three sisters.

How will Derek keep the interest of his female classmates piqued once fame at the high school level is achieved? His good friend Steve has an idea. That’s where the trouble really begins.

Light-Hearted Style

Derek Cowell is written in the light-hearted style of Ms. Sherrard’s well-received 2015 novel, Random Acts. I liked Random Acts as it had more going on in the story than Derek Cowell does. It’s difficult to rate a humorous teen read, especially since my teen years were 40-some years ago. I prefer Ms. Sherrard’s more serious YA reads, like Driftwood or Rain Shadow. However, DK does get serious near the end, which was most welcome. Themes of friendship, loyalty and understanding are all explored in DK, but in subtle ways, as befits a read that is primarily humorous. Written in the voice of a young teen boy, there are plenty of bracketed ‘asides’ which get tiresome after a while, but overall, a fun read with some good clean fun and lessons learned along the way.

The Rise and Fall of Derek Cowell by Valerie Sherrard
DCB, an imprint of Cormorant Books.

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2UV2kea Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Even Weirder Than Before by Susie Taylor

I have grown to dislike the overused term “coming of age” but that’s how many reviewers will describe Susie Taylor’s Even Weirder Than Before (2019, Breakwater Books), a chronicle of Daisy Radcliffe’s life journey from Grade 8 through the end of high school in the late 80s/early 90s. Fast-paced, it hits all the highs and lows of the teen years: boring classes, romances, school plays, house parties (and drinking too much), teen pregnancies and more. If you grew up in this era before smartphones and PCs, when telephones still had cords, you’ll be able to relate and you’ll love every page. Even though I went to high school a decade and a half earlier than Daisy and her friends, there was still much to identify within this bittersweet tale set in and around Toronto.

“This is the truest depiction of what it feels like to grow up that I’ve read in a very long time.”

Lisa Moore
As an example of contemporary fiction, it recalled to mind another excellent book from Breakwater Books, The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes.  (2017) While it is set in a different time period (the digital age), it too was a balanced mix of humour and commentary on the times.

Some favourite passages:

  • I stare at the back of Wanda’s head during last period. Her hair is shiny and thick like in shampoo commercials. sometimes she grabs it and piles it on top of her head; when she lets go, it tumbles down like a waterfall. Mine is always full of static and sticks flatly to my face. I try casually playing with my own hair like Wanda does, and a bunch of dandruff drifts down onto my desk.
  • “We’re going to have fun in high school,” says Wanda.
    “Are we?” I ask.
    “We’re going to blow everyone’s minds,” she says. I almost believe her.
  • It’s good to get out of the apartment. Mum gets burgers for us all at the drive-through, and we eat them in the parking lot of Mr. Burger Giant. There is a sign for Mr. Burger Giant on a tall pole. We watch it as we eat. It is a huge lit-up burger face wearing sunglasses and a top hat. It flickers a little, and then while we are watching, the left side burns out like it’s had a stroke.
  • My house is closer. We sneak in quietly, but Mum hears us anyway.
    “Daisy?” she calls down.
    “It’s just me,” I yell in my brightest I-have-not-been-drinking-or-smoking-or-sleeping-in-a-cemetery voice.

As I progressed through the book, I came to appreciate all the different characters Ms. Taylor has created, and it truly appears as if a teen is talking to you, disclosing all the personal stuff she cannot (or will not) share with her Mum or other adults. In high school, we kept to our close friends and we lived our lives together and shared experiences in a manner that we might never do with anyone ever again. An ideal summer read it will leave any reader of any age with a smile on their face, nostalgic for a more innocent time in our lives. I will add it to the 2020 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in the First Book (Fiction) category.

To learn more about her book, there’s an insightful interview with Susie Taylor at the All Lit Up website: https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2019/An-Interview-with-Author-Susie-Taylor

Naomi at Consumed by Ink said in her review of the book that “Susie Taylor has created a memorable character in Daisy Radcliffe.”

Even Weirder Than Before by Susie Taylor
Breakwater Books

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2S2S1mr  Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved