Fifty Pound Bird – A Christmas Story

Every year since I can remember, my father has written a Christmas Story.  My mom edits it for him and and before word processors came along, he would type it out several times on whatever typewriter he had.  Then he copies it out and sends that instead of a card to family and friends.  I look forward to it immensely.

For the past while, I’ve been doing the same thing, albeit on the internet.  Here is my story for 2012, and yes,  it’s a true story.  Well, most of it, anyway.

Merry Christmas.

Fifty Pound Bird

By Joel Varty

In 1986 I was ten years old.  I remember it as being a very hard year.  I also remember it as one of the very best years, mostly because of the turkeys.
Why was it a hard year?  Mostly because of the rabies.  You see, I grew up on a dairy farm, and along with cows come lots of milk, and some of it gets spilt, one way or another.  Once that happens, a cat will magically appear to lap it up, and then later on several more cats will appear, getting braver and braver.  I have seen a cat balance with its back legs locked onto the top of a five-gallon pail and reach all the way to the bottom, lapping up that little bit of milk in the bottom.  I figure with so many cats around it was only a matter of time before one of them came along with rabies.

Spirit Gum!

Two days until opening night for A Christmas Carol.
I’m playing Dickens and I wear a beard that’s so glorious, only the most excellent of adhesives will keep it attached to me.

Here it is in the official beard test used for a promo shot…

That, my friends, is what Spirit Gum is for.  May the force be with me.

Reading "For the Fallen" this Sunday for Remembrance service

I think we struggle with the imagery in this poem. I have heard the middle stanzas read many times, chanted, but rarely the full piece.

War was a different kind of beast 100 years ago.

For the Fallen

by Robert Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Descendant is hours away…

Here’s what the proofs look like.  Kindle editions are quietly churning away in the Amazon servers.

I hope to have the print edition available soon, too.

On researching Charles Dickens for the VOS Production of A Christmas Carol


One of the things that we love to do as readers is imagine how an author has written him or herself into a particular story.  Sometimes things are written from the first person perspective, so we may imaging that the “I” of the story is looking from the same eyes as the author.  This may or may not be true, but it certainly is interesting to imagine the world of a novel unveiling itself as the story is revealed, piece by piece.  I think that’s why we love movies based on books so much; they give us that feeling that this is how things looked from the eyes of the author.  Of course, it’s often not the author who makes the movie, it’s a completely different set of people following the vision of a director, not an author.

And this is how it is with the musical VOS is currently in production with, A Christmas Carol.  Dickens, as you may know, published this as a novella just before Christmas in 1843.  It was a hit, and it’s widely looked upon as the tome of how modern Christmas is celebrated in western society.  At least, that’s how I see it. 

Reading it again, and literally seeing the story unfold around me night after night, I wonder whether our world is so different from 19th century London, England.  It’s certainly something to ponder, especially when we think of Christmas, which is a time, of all times, when stopping and thinking is a good thing to do.

The thing is, Dickens believed in the power of philanthropy, and he exploited this belief to full extent in his Christmas story, and his other serialized works.  He also tends to combine his notions of good will for our fellow men with the idea that we grow ever older, and with the passing of time, our past choices accrue like pennies in the till, and they may weigh us down.

As an actor portraying Dickens in his own story, it’s kind of a bewildering thought, especially with ghosts, time, fog and snowy air swirling around the stage.


Also, I wonder if I like Dickens better with a goatee, or clean-shaven.  Heady stuff, indeed.


more later – joel

I need an agent.

I’ve had my second novel, Descendent, finished for a while now, and I am wondering whether I should self publish on Amazon again, or find an agent.

I self published my first novel, How the World Ends, on the Kindle, to see what would happen.  It sold several hundred copies with positive reviews, without any real effort on my part.  I think it’s worth spending the energy this time around to do it right in terms of marketing and finding the right publisher, but I need help in that regard.

Here’s the pitch for Descendent:

Six-year-old Laurel has been six years old for two-thousand years.  He doesn’t age, but a group of assassins have been trying to kill him for centuries.  Vincent Carpenter is a former Special Forces operative. The two meet at Manchester airport as Vincent is attempting to prevent a terrorist attack.  The target is the boy.  Vincent, we discover, has been his protector since the days of ancient Rome.  As they attempt to outrun their pursuers, Vincent begins to remember his previous lives, and Laurel “takes” him there with his every touch.

Descendant is part thriller and part historical novel. It’s a story that moves swiftly through many different settings, and at 75,000 words, it’s a quick and exciting read.  I think it’s a very marketable book.

Contact me (joelvarty at gmail dot com) if you think you know an agent that might be interested, and I will send a portion of the manuscript through.

Turtles at Bottle Lake

This is a true story.
Written by Joel Varty on behalf of Gemma & Harry.
It was eight o’clock in the morning at Bottle Lake, nestled deep in the Kawartha Highlands provincial park. The mist was still rising from the warm water, stirred from its glassy surface by the sharp coolness of the air.
A hawk circled the beach, riding the currents of the wind. It spotted movement down on the sand, but there wasn’t much to see. It was puzzled, so the large predator bird of the northern skies banked and twisted up and down the shoreline, not wanting to give itself away, but also not giving up on a chance at a nice breakfast.
In the shallow water, some clams moved slowly through the sand, pushing themselves along with a fleshy foot. Their siphons were stuck out from their shells like two trailing antennae, capturing water and filtering it for food and oxygen.
This wasn’t what the hawk had seen though; it was focused on something different.
Harry was the first awake in his tent, as usual. He was seven. His sister Gemma was ten, and she, almost like a wily teenager, liked to sleep in as late as possible. Even when camping. Here is a picture of them from the day before, when they had boiled water for hot chocolate on the fire, and cooked dinner on the silent Trangia stove, which burned a tiny amount of alcohol for fuel.
On this cool and almost frosty morning they were bundled up in their sleeping bags when their Mum and Dad went out in the canoe to take supplies back to their truck. They wouldn’t be back for at least an hour.
The kids were free!
What would they do with the time?
First, Gemma noticed a dragonfly on the toilet paper. Then she got some water from the spring in the wash basin and coaxed Harry into washing his face with actual soap. This was not an easy task, as Harry seemed to actually like being dirty. Gemma attributed this to his being a boy and moved on.
The first thing she noticed when she walked onto the beach was some strange markings made in the sand. They looked like lines drawn with a stick, and there were little dots running down either side of the line.
They led down to the water.
Harry followed the line of tracks from the water back up the sand to a hole not far from the grass.
They looked inside.
Two little heads were poking their way out of the sand.
They were turtle heads!
The smallest turtle heads you’ve ever seen, for they had just hatched. Their eggs had been laid months ago, and they had finally cracked their way out, one by one, and in this case, two by two.
It was a long way to the water, but the turtles seemed to know what they were doing, so Gemma and Harry just watched as the babies made their way down the beach.
Overhead the hawk decided the little disturbances in the sand were too dangerous to follow, now that these colorful children had come out. He spun away on the wind in search of new prey.
The children watched like nervous parents while their little charges made their first steps into their new, wet world.
Each turtle took its own little route down to the water, some slow, some hurried and bustling. Each one never hesitated, though, when it stepped into that vast new liquid body that would be their new home.
When Mum and Dad came back, the two kids couldn’t wait to tell them the news. The grownups had missed everything!
Twenty turtles had hatched and swum while they were gone. The kids had taken care of all of them.
Gemma and Harry showed the hole where the turtles had come from.
“Look!” Harry cried. “There’s two more!”
“Where?” said Dad. “I don’t see anything.”
Gemma carefully pointed out the tail and the head of the newly hatched babies.
“This one seems a little grumpy,” Harry said. “He keeps stopping and tucking his head into his shell.”
“Maybe he’s shy,” said Gemma.
When the last shy, grumpy turtle finally made it near the water, he seemed to turn his head, as if to say goodbye.
Mum and Dad and Gemma and Harry stayed until they knew it was time to leave.
The sun was starting to set – they had left it maybe even a little too late, but it was hard to say goodbye to this enchanting lake where they knew some friends were swimming.
The kids told their parents that they would like to come back next year.
Mum and Dad agreed.