Location Data: Midland, Hillcrest, and Wolford high schools

Few public schools in Bark Bay’s region have fencing programs. The three schools with which the Bark Bay team competes most frequently are Midland, Hillcrest, and Wolford.

Midland is a large school (graduation classes of over 300) located in the center of the city. The school has had a fencing team nearly as long as the private school Academy, and for decades the two were fierce and even rivals. However, lack of student interest and budgetary constraints have taken a toll on the program, which has not placed a finalist at the state championships in over a decade. Midland’s coach, Pat Williams (a former epee champion at the Academy) now coaches as a volunteer after years of being paid, and makes no attempt to hide his bitterness and cynicism over the decline of his team and their sport.

Hillcrest is a suburban school just outside the city limits. The school had a volunteer fencing coach for several years before losing him to a private school in California last year. The remaining fencers who decided to stick with the sport now manage the team, and have approach Coach Pat at Midland (their arch rivals in all other sports) for coaching.

Wolford, like Bark Bay, is a rural school an hour from the city. Located reasonably close to the State university, Wolford students interested in fencing (the school has never had a fencing program) train with the State team.


Location Data: The Academy

Located just north of the city and ninety minutes from Bark Bay, the Academy is a world-renowned private secondary and prepatory school. Founded in 1769 as a seminary, the Academy has graduated two future Vice Presidents, a dozen United States senators, scores of successful professionals, even a few notable professional athletes and entertainers.

The campus consists of mostly brick ivy-covered buildings, which look as old as they really are on the outside yet are also host to modern technology on the inside. Large verdant fields, gently rolling hills, and enormous sentinel oak trees are all around.

In addition to traditional academic subjects, the Academy’s curriculum requires studies in music and athletics. And while fencing is just one of many sports at the Academy, it’s one of the most prominent. While fencing has largely vanished from most public (and even some private) secondary schools in the region, the Academy’s fencing program has remained vibrant and competitive (and very well-funded), with a long tradition of championships at state tournaments.

The Bark Bay fencing team has an uneasy relationship with the Academy team. Annie has a brother who attends the Academy, and she has befriended several fencers through her association with him. (That her family only sends sons to the Academy, with daughters going to public schools, has not been an issue for Annie — yet.) And while Academy fencers have welcomed the Bark Bay team, they are never seen as equals.

Location Data: The City

Located an hour’s drive north of Bark Bay, the state’s fifth-largest city serves as the financial, industrial, and cultural center for the entire region. Commonly referred to as the city by the region’s residents, the city has a population of just under one hundred thousand, with an extended metropolitan population of half a million.

The city was no larger than Bark Bay until the lumber boom passed in the early nineteenth century. Railroads soon came to the region, and when the primary commercial track was laid through the city and far from Bark Bay, the future of both was sealed — the city soon became the principal transportation and financial hub for the region, and Bark Bay began its steady population decline.

Industry (textile, paper) and finance soon replaced agriculture as the principal activities in the city. Its strong financial infrastructure eased the economic transitions of industries coming and leaving. In the early twentieth century, several cultural institutions were established — museums, theaters, athletic stadiums — with many of them surviving to the current day, if not nearly in the condition they once enjoyed. Immigration also began in earnest in the early 1900s, and within decades several ethnic neighborhood communities were established, and have also continued.

But the city isn’t immune to American urban problems. Violence and crime seem incurable; a persistent economic stagnation has decreased tax revenues, leading to a reduction in city services. The streets are often unclean, electric service sometimes unreliable. Schools, never a strength of the city, have declined notably.

Young people in Bark Bay regularly visit the city for shopping, entertainment, and activity. The city gives them a taste of what life could be like outside their little world. The city is busy, dirty, occassionally violent — but most importantly, it is not Bark Bay.  

The Minutes

[Didn’t occur to me what day it was until I was sitting in the hot tub at my town’s community center this morning. The tub’s lengthy list of rules, along with recommendations for maximum amount of time, will serve as this month’s inspiration.]

She was easy-going by nature, but could not help showing displeasure at the end of a long checkout line, or waiting for a colleague to return from lunch, or while on hold with tech support. If told delivery of her order would take months, she would sigh and move on; or her team would be days late on their deliverable, she would look for ways to help with their tasks; that her car wouldn’t be ready for another couple hours, she would question but not complain. Months, days, hours were easy for her to accept, but the immediate aggravation of the minutes was nothing she could accept gladly.

Location Data: The Cafeteria

Every Tuesday from 3 to 5 PM, the Bark Bay High School fencing team holds its practice in the school cafeteria.

The rectangular room is 60 feet long (north to south) and 75 feet wide (east to west). Its primary entrance is a pair of large metal doors on the southern end of the western wall; along the remaining length of the west wall are four deep alcoves which hold the cafeteria’s roll-up benches and tables. The northern wall is only three feet tall and is actually the front of a small stage where some student assemblies and plays are performed. Along the bottom of the eastern wall are foot-tall radiators encased in black metal, vents running along the top; glass windows run up from these heating units to the top of the wall. The southern wall has two large rectangular bays leading to the kitchen; during fencing practice, these bays are closed with metal sliding doors.

The cafeteria’s floor makes it ideal for the fencing team. Tiled mostly in black, the center of the floor features fifteen rectangular areas of white tile, used to arrange the benches and tables for lunch. Each of these white tiled areas are six tiles wide and twenty long (each tile exactly a foot square), with three black tiles separating each white rectangle. Each of these white areas is approximately half the length and a little more than the full width of a regulation fencing strip; two white areas linked together with their narrow ends facing the other (and separated by three feet, the approximate distance of the en-garde lines) provides the Bark Bay fencing team with up to three makeshift strips for each practice.

Yet there are aspects of the cafeteria that make it less than ideal for conducting a fencing practice. Lighting is generally poor; banks of fluorescent lights hang from the high ceiling and buzz constantly, as if in duress, with at least one bank flickering yet refusing to die. The floor’s surface is dusty, and often littered with spills and trash from the day’s lunch; the occasional cockroach or rat interrupts practice. Pungent odors from the day’s meal, along with an underlying scent of marinara sauce, penetrate the air.


for my parents








Cresting, crashing, foaming,
Crushing hard stone into sand,
Its energy dissipating, ebbing,
Until it is a gentle sweep
Reaching a pair of sunken footprints
But no further

The energy sinks slowly back to its source
Joining the last of its force to the next surge.
For you see, it never really dies —
The cycle of life rolls on.

Location Data: Bark Bay High School

The current building, the third high school in the town’s history, opened thirty years ago at the end of the last boom economic period in Bark Bay. A state-of-the-art facility when built, Bark Bay High School has fallen behind over the decades due to lack of capital improvements.

The building is located outside the downtown, bayside commercial district of town. A large hill overlooks the southern bank of the East River, and the school sits on top of that hill. School administrative offices are located at the front center of the building; two wings, each containing two stories, extend from the gymnasium at the very center. The cafeteria is located at the end of the southern wing.

At its opening, the school had graduating classes of close to 150. That number stayed consistent for over twenty years, but has noticeably declined over the last decade (118 students graduated last year) even as the town’s population has remained constant.

Location Data: Bark Bay

Having spent a good deal of productive time exploring my novel’s characters last month, I’m now turning attention to setting

With a current population of about ten thousand, Bark Bay is a relatively quiet town in the northern United States.

The town’s name has its origins in geography and history. The town is located between the mouths of two rivers, the East and Indian, that flow into the large George’s Lake and form a deep bay. The inhabitants of a Native American settlement were driven off in the eighteenth century by English settlers, who named their colony Georgetown. The geography of the area made the town an ideal port for a booming lumber industry, but also made it very easy to attack; this combination of wealth and vulnerability led to decades of fighting among European factions, and the town changed its national affiliation several times until the end of the American Revolutionary War. Now citizens of the United States, the residents of Georgetown decided to change the town’s name as a symbolic dismissal of their colonial heritage.

The town’s commercial fortunes played a pivotal role in the renaming. Now established as one of the premier lumber ports in the Americas, the large bay was routinely littered with the industry’s remains; although no one is certain who was responsible for renaming the town or when exactly it occured (a devastating fire in the early nineteenth century having destroyed most town records), there is little doubt that soon after the birth of its country, the town was reborn as Bark Bay.

The town’s wealth dwindled as more lucrative lumber areas were developed, and nearly collapsed by the turn of the twentieth century. Reinventing itself as a yachting port, the town prospered again until the Great Depression of the 1930s drained the wealth from scores of summer homes. Since that time, many industries have tried to establish themselves in Bark Bay, some even flourishing for a while, but none having any sustaining power.

Today, the remnants of the lumber and tourist industries, along with modestly successful retail and professional businesses (Bark Bay being the largest town in its county), sustain the local economy. 


The weatherman is wearing a telegenic smile that can’t even fool himself
As the Accu Weather TRIPLE Doppler Radar behind him shows the sweeping gray path of the approaching storm system.

The advisory began at 4 this afternoon and continues until 9 tonight.
“Just in time for me to get home!” the sportscaster jokes off screen.

But the good news is that the system will pass well before rush hour tomorrow.
The screen changes to the five day forecast;
vibrant yellow suns spread their pointy rays over pleasant numbers.

But I cannot see his face,
To judge the confidence of his forecast through the sincerity of his smile

Curious Injuries

I’ve always found it curious
How words can seem injurious
To people with a spurious
Claim to wealth and fame.

Such words have no command
Over those who understand
That riches are a gift unplanned
From fate’s uncaring game.

If I ever get so full of shit
That criticism give me a snit
I hope, good friend, my face you’ll hit —
And remind me who’s to blame.