Collecting Shoes

When I was a child, I set a goal to get taller than my mother. Looking back, I realize I should have aimed a bit higher. My mother is 4’10” and 1/2, and she always adds that extra half inch. She tells a story of a little boy that brought his mother to church for the very first time. He introduced the woman to his teachers, friend and excitedly dragged her up to my mother staying, “Mom, Mom, I want you to meet a real, live midget!”
So, when I was sixteen, I surpassed my goal, but I stopped growing at 5’1.” Life can tough when you’re short. When I was twelve years old, I was so excited because I was finally allowed to ride the swings at the carnival with my friends after watching them hit rides I couldn’t go on. Technically, I was a tiny bit too short for the swings too, but the guy asked how old I was, had mercy and waved me on. (Remember, people, every time you’re kind to a kid is something that they probably won’t forget.)
It’s hard to clean the tops of windows. You have to stand on the ledge at the grocery store to reach that thing that’s pushed back on the top shelf, and then spend several self-conscience seconds inching it closer because it’s just brushing your fingertips. Sometimes a really nice tall guy will chuckle and get it down for you. Sometimes you just have to channel a monkey. I’m also really good at hopping up on counters to fish down the baking soda.
But sometimes, being short is an asset. When I was in college, my brother and I took a ballroom dance class for our PE credit. The majority of the lessons were spent learning how to swing dance. The tallest guy in my class said once that he liked partnering with me because I was small and easy to lift. It was during these classes that the idea for “Swing” was born. What would it be like if the boy was the short one?
So I told my brother my idea for a new story: This boy who can’t find a dance partner because he’s so short, none of the girls want to dance with him. Of course, I couldn’t leave him there, so I brought in Lila. Lila strolled into the story with a fully-fleshed personality, a rather dramatic flair and an interesting habit of telling tall tales.
Every week in dance class, the story became a bit more outlined, but I already had a series going on. I was finishing up my basics, getting ready to study musical theater. So Trey and Lila remained a story that I didn’t write down, but never forgot. Until Nanowrimo came around. Nanowrimo is “national writing month” where an online community meets and everyone tries to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I usually put my serious on hold during November because several of my friends are writing novels, too, and it’s more fun to work on something new.
One of my best friends was staying with me, and we were talking about Nanowrimo books. I told her a few of my ideas, but on our half-hour ride, I described this Swing Dance book, realizing how many details I’d pulled together that were finally forming a coherent timeline.
“Write that one!” Val said. “Forget the others. You have to write that one!”
So I did. I came up with the opening line before Nanowrimo started, repeating it in my head. We got a late start because my sister’s wedding was the first week of November, and we’d promised that we would not be distracted noveling until all things wedding were over. However, we stayed in a very nice hotel, already knowing that the night she left for her honeymoon was the official kick off night. We cleaned up the reception, stumbled back to the hotel, changed out of the bridesmaid dresses, brewed coffee, which we tasted and decided wasn’t so bad – and fell asleep.
Despite the late start, “Swing” flowed onto the page. Trey’s good-guy life became increasingly more complex as he juggled taking care of his crippled and grumpy brother, Dave, and arranging secret dancing lessons for the reverend’s orphaned granddaughter. Lila danced around giving both of us answers, baffling me with her secret past. She almost had me convinced that she’d grown up in a circus, but something told me she was still lying. I found out about the same time that Trey did, and then the story lines all began weaving, colliding and building into an ending that took until nearly midnight on the 30th day to finish. Valerie had finished her novel and was out putting up Christmas lights with my foster brothers, and I was racing the clock to finish up the story.
So the story was complete and several friends read it. I may have published it back then, but I was still learning the ropes of creating my own novel. The biggest reason, however, that I let it sit on my hard drive for years, was that I didn’t a photograph for a cover design. I knew what I wanted to do: I’d made a mock up of the idea, wearing the red, polka-dotted dress I’d written into the book. Val stood in for Trey and we snagged a pair of boat shoes and guy jeans from the local resale shop. We tried balancing on a tire swing, which took several tries because it kept turning the wrong way. And my neighbor’s house with their truck was still in the background. But the idea was there, and that file also grew cold.
Until the final weeks of 2014, when I decided that I wasn’t going to make a perfect book: but I could make a good one. And “Swing” was the book that felt the closest to publishing ready. So I decided. No more procrastination. No more waiting until I had everything figured out. I didn’t have Internet at the house, so I continued going to the bookstore, where I pulled out the manuscript and went back through it. I added a bit, cut a bit, and then moved on to layout. All this time, I ran into the same question. Where was I going to find a short guy for the cover? If I did, could I find a pair of converse shoes? My grandmother had a good camera that would take a high enough quality photo, but could I get actors, camera and costumes all lined up in one place?
My goal was to publish in March. As the weeks went on and on, I became more desperate. Maybe I could just do a cover with shoes? But even that presented a problem. I had a pair of saddle shoes, but they were size three in kids. No matter what shoes I found to go across from those, they were going to be huge. Finally, in the store, I saw a pair of low-topped converse shoes. If I had a white background, there would be no scale, so I could get a smaller pair, right?
I got them. Took some mock photos with my phone camera, and they turned out pretty good. I put several on Facebook, asking for people’s favorite and it boiled down to two choices. I’d have to shoot it again, with a better camera, but this would work. I took it back to the bookshop crew to see what they thought. Same thing. It was good.
“But,” one of the men said, “That’s not the right kind of shoe for 1950. The Converses had high tops.”
Oh. I knew that, but I’d been hoping they had the low tops too, because I couldn’t find any high tops. But this man would know. He’d been a short kid, living in the 1940’s.
“Okay,” I said. “Can you show me what they looked like?”
So we Googled. Then we went to his house to see if he had anything in his closet that would work. He sent a black pair of shoes which had the right profile, though they weren’t quite period. Could we use wing tipped shoes? I’d fallen in love with the two-tone black and white shoes, but I had about two weeks until publishing and I had to consider all options.
I ended up with lots of options to consider.
The next time I walked into the bookstore, the owner pulled out a plastic bag with a pair of wing-tipped shoes she’d pulled from her husband’s closet. They sat beside me on the table, while I updated another friend that the cover wasn’t going to work.
“I really need a pair of converses with high tops, but they’re not selling them anywhere locally.”
Very calmly, he replied, “I have a pair in the car.”
He was taking them to a friend, but they made a detour to my house. Black and very nice. I took the duo home, put them with the first contribution and realized that I was quickly amassing a collection of local people’s shoes.
Another photo shoot with my small camera, then my grandmother’s nice camera using a white backdrop in her dining room while everyone watched a show. The all-black shoes didn’t show up very well. The loafers looked like a business man with his granddaughter instead of two spunky teens. I got some good pictures, but none of them evoked what I was looking for.
My sister and I drove to a larger resale shop in search of a pair of two-toned shoes. I walked in, scanned the man’s aisle and pointed, “Look!”
“Yeah, I see, don’t shout,” She said, glancing around at a few people who jolted, then chuckled.
I didn’t care. I was beyond giddy. The shoes still dwarfed mine and wouldn’t hang right for my original idea. But I played with angles and came up with a few shots that would work. Then I went back to my parent’s house where I’d originally finished the book. There was an entirely different set of foster brothers, but I eyed the older ones.
It was like a reversed Cinderella with me kneeling, trying to help him squeeze into shoes that looked giant to me but pinched his feet. I also forgot the red dress, so I had to improvise with a skater skirt. We tried a few different locations, but nothing really worked. So, with the sun sinking, the younger boys clambering for dinner and the neighbor girls watching trying to figure out what we were doing, we found the road and Mom snapped a few shots with my sister’s camera. My foster brother ran off to a school event and I played with effects on various photos.
With production looming, I sent the photo off with a general concept idea, trusting someone else to work magic while I worked with another person to get a website up and running. However, I published on March 31st, all the better for it because I had people in my town believing in me and lending their shoes.

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