Hidden Kingdom (Chapter 2-adding page 9)

To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/

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An Unexpected Gift 

thor-ragnarok-end-credits-avengers-infinity-war-870508

This post is a movie review for Thor : Ragnarok , though I don’t really plan on talking about the movie very much.   It was an excellent comic book movie in the same tongue-in-cheek comedy tradition as Guardians of the Galaxy.   It made me laugh and made me cheer.   It was the best of that kind of movie.  But it wasn’t the most important thing that happened that night.

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You see, I spent the weekend in the hospital thinking I had suffered a heart attack during the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought I was facing surgery at the very least.   I knew I might have had an appointment to play chess with the Grim Reaper.   It is a lot to worry about and drain all the fun out of life.

Well, one of the things that happened that day, Tuesday, my first full day out of the hospital and, hopefully, out of the woods over heart attacks, was that I received my new replacement bank card because my old one had a worn out, malfunctioning chip in it.  So, I took my three kids to the movie at the cheapest place we could find.  I tried to run my bank card for the payment, and it was summarily declined.  I had activated it previously during the day, and there was plenty of money in the account compared to the price, but it just wouldn’t take.  So I had to call Wells Fargo to find out whatever the new reason was for them to hate me.  It turned out that it had already been activated, but a glitch had caused it to decline the charge.  While I was talking to the girl from the Wells Fargo help desk, the lady who had gotten her and her husband’s tickets right before us put four tickets to the movie in my hand.

The middle-aged black couple had lingered by the ticket stand before going in to their movie just long enough to see a sad-looking old man with raggedy author’s beard and long Gandalf hair get turned down by the cheap-cinema ticket-taking teenager because the old coot’s one and only bank card was declined. They were moved to take matters into their own hands and paid for our tickets themselves.

That, you see, was the gift from my title.  Not so much that we got our movie tickets for free, but that the world still works that way.  There are still good people with empathetic and golden hearts willing to step in and do things to make the world a little bit better place.  The gift they gave me was the reassurance that, as bad and black as the world full of fascists that we have come to live in has become, it still has goodness and fellow feeling in it. People are still moved to pay things forward and make good on the promise to “love one another”.  I did not have a chance to thank them properly.  I was on the phone with Wells Fargo girl when it happened.  The only thing that couple got out of their good deed was thank-yous from my children and the knowledge that they had done something wonderful.  I plan to pay it forward as soon as I have the opportunity.  Not out of guilt or obligation, but because I need to be able to feel that feeling too at some point.

I do have one further gift to offer the world.

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After we got home from the movie, I opened an email that contained the cover proof for my novel, Magical Miss Morgan.  Soon I will have that in print also if I can keep Page Publishing from messing it up at the last moments before printing.  It is a novel about what a good teacher is and does.  It is the second best thing I have ever written.

Sometimes the gifts that you most desperately need come in unexpected fashion.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 16

Canto Sixteen – Uncle Dash

Mom loved to cook.  She could do wondrous things with a casserole.  In fact, her Tater Tot casserole was such a hit that it had spread to households all over the county and people from as far away as Illinois were writing her letters to get the secret recipe.  It wasn’t such a secret.  Browned and loose ground beef, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, Tater Tots from Ore-Ida, and real cheddar cheese went into her magical casserole.  But friends of friends and family were practically rabid about wanting to get their hands on the special secret recipe.  They didn’t realize until she told them that the recipe came from the label of a Campbell’s soup can to begin with.

So the house smelled wonderful because Uncle Dash and Valerie’s cousin Stacey were coming to dinner.

Stacy was college age now, and Valerie looked up to her.  She was smart and independent, and she knew how to dress up like a fashion model whenever there was an excuse to do it.  As Val and Stacy set the table, the two had a brief moment or two to catch up on cousin stuff.

“I hear the Pirates are re-forming,” Stacy said.  “And they tell me you are going to be one of them?”

“Well, yeah… so?”

“Don’t bring it up tonight.  Daddy will get mad.  I mean, more mad than he already is.”

“Uncle Dash is mad?”  Valerie was slightly taken by surprise.  Uncle Dash was the kind of guy who was always laughing, always joking.  Valerie had relied on his sense of humor and mature wisdom her whole life long.  She believed he was even wiser than Daddy Kyle.  He was a farmer.  He had the wisdom of the Earth.

“Your Uncle Dash is mad at me,” said Stacey.

“Why would he be mad at you?”

“I told him a secret today.  One I have to tell everybody sooner or later.”

“Really?  Tell me.”

Stacey was obviously biting her own lower lip for some reason.  Why would she do that?  It didn’t really make sense to Val.  There were tears in her cousin’s eyes. 

“I mean it, Stacey.  I love you.  You can tell me.”

“Well, I…”  Before Stacey could spill it, the adults came into the room.

“Really,” Uncle Dash said with a frown on his face, “We could sell that sixty acres southwest of town and the big pasture along the Iowa River.  That would give us enough money to at least bargain for more time… maybe another growing season.”

“But, Dash, that’s all your land.  This is my debt.  I can’t let you sacrifice from your share.  It should be some of my land.”  Kyle sat down at the head of the table with a defeated-seeming kerplunk.  Valerie knew her dad’s basic onomatopoeias, the sound-words of his soul, and kerplunk was definitely not a good one.

“But it is some of the less-valuable land I am offering to sell.  All of your land is better, and we should be trying to keep all of it.”

“Yeah, well… I still don’t want you to make sacrifices to pay my debts.” 

Uncle Dash took the seat next to Daddy Kyle where Valerie would’ve sat if they didn’t have company.

Mom came in carrying a big casserole dish full of steaming-hot tater-tot casserole.  She proudly set her work of art down in the middle of the dining room table.  “Stacey, will you help me get the peas and the mashed potatoes?” Mom said.  Then she dashed back out to the kitchen.

“You’re my brother, Kyle.  You have to let me help you.  And it is all family land.  We have to work together, even though we divided the farms when Dad died.  It is all one large farm, really.”

“Well, yeah, but…”

That conversation died too as Mom and Stacey brought the rest of the supper to the table, and Mom insisted that everybody sit down and eat.  Valerie said Grace and food was passed all around.  Everybody at the table had a farmer’s healthy appetite, and soon mouths were too full to talk.  Conversation was suspended for the more important thing… at least until all were stuffed and satisfied.

“It’s a shame that Patricia couldn’t come with you this evening, Dash,” Mom said.

“She was sorry to miss it, but she really wasn’t feeling well.  She needed to take some medicine and go to bed.  Which reminds me…  Stacey has some new she needs to share with everyone in the family.”

Stacey looked at her father with a distinctly angry expression.

“Well, you may as well tell them.”

Stacey’s glare at Uncle Dash made Valerie suddenly worried for her cousin.  What could be wrong?

“I’m… not going to college anymore.”

“Oh, Stacey!” Mom said.  “Why not?”

“Well, I’m…”

The pause was unbearable.

“I’m pregnant.”

Stunned silence followed.  Uncle Dash’s face was so sad it almost made Valerie burst into tears.  Stacey did cry, and that was almost worse.

“How, I mean… who?”  Daddy didn’t know what to say.  He was kinda tongue-tied, right up until the answer hit him square in the memory.  “Not the Toad!  Oh, Stacey!”

“His name is Brom, not Toad.  I don’t know why everyone needs to call him that.”  Stacey’s tears were replaced almost instantly with fury.

“It’s the way he drives.  He reminds everyone of Toad in the Disney movie Wind in the Willows.  You know how recklessly he roars about in that yellow Ford Mustang of his.”  Uncle Dash was very direct and soft-spoken.  It was an argument Valerie had overheard before.

“He also has a big mouth like a frog,” said Valerie timidly.

“Oh, Val…”  Stacey shot her a wounded look.  Whose side was she supposed to be on, anyway?

“Well, I have to say, it isn’t such a big surprise.  You have been in love with that boy for a while now, haven’t you, Stacey?” Daddy Kyle said.

“Yes, I love him with all of my heart.”

“Is he going to do the right thing by you?”  Mom asked.

“He’s willing to marry me… if Daddy doesn’t forbid it.”

“Dash, you can’t forbid it,” said Daddy Kyle.  “That’s no way to start off a life… for Stacey or Brom either one.”

“You would take their side, wouldn’t you,” Uncle Dash said harshly.  “You know, as my little brother, it wouldn’t kill you to take my side once in a while.”

Daddy stared straight at his plate.  His mouth was a tense and very straight line.  “Stacey would be good for Brom.  As Mrs. Brown, she’s bound to settle him down at least a little bit.  Like the way Julie settled me down.  You remember what a wild kid I was, right?”

“We haven’t decided how it’s going to be, yet,” Dash said calmly.  “There is a lot to be decided yet.”

“You really can’t decide for her, you know,” Daddy Kyle said.

Uncle Dash got angry at that.  “How would you feel if it were Valerie in this situation?  Maybe with somebody like that Murphy kid… or Richard Martin’s little rag boy?”

“It’s not the same.  Valerie is still too young to be a mother.”

“And Stacey isn’t?”

“Kyle, Dash, please!” said Mom, “don’t discuss this in front of the girls.  They can hear everything, and I don’t think it helps anybody to hear you two argue about this.”

It was quiet for a few moments, but a very tense quiet.

“Julie is right, Dash,” Daddy said.  “Why don’t you and I go for a drive in your pickup, and the girls can spend some time together here.”

“We have a lot to talk about, Kyle.  But it won’t do a lick of good if you don’t listen more than you talk.”

The two brothers glared at each other.  But they were family, and too much alike not to smash heads together like a couple of rams in springtime.  So they both went out and got in Uncle Dash’s Chevy pickup and drove on into town.

“Headed for Martin’s Bar and Grill,” said Stacey, blowing a stray hair out of her eyes to show disgust.

Valerie wordlessly snaked her thin young arms around her beloved cousin and gave her a distressed and tearful squeeze.

“It will all get worked out for the best,” said Mom in her most comforting voice.

“I hope so,” Stacey said.  Then after a long pause she repeated, “I hope so.”

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Human Beans

People are not really vegetables… even though I have seen IQ scores as a teacher that might say otherwise. But I often use the pun of calling them Human Beans.

Your basic human bean.

Western style beans

Of course, being a Texan means having a healthy appreciation for beans as a staple food. Cowboys used to live off of beans and beef jerky, and if Louis L’Amour is to be believed, they even made tea from mesquite beans. That makes your average cowboy made up of over 50 per cent beans. Of course the rest of him is mostly gas caused by the beans in his diet, whether it comes out as a fart or as a Texas tall tale… And yes, I admit it, I get a lot of my writing ideas from eating beans.

A Boston baked bean

We must also be aware that Texas has no corner on the beans market. We all know Boston baked beans by reputation. They, like the ever-hapless Cubs, had a habit of never winning the World Series. And now, in the last two decades, it has actually been difficult for the other teams to keep them from winning it all. But we shouldn’t mix up beans with baseball metaphors. Baseball is like life. Full of long and boring parts punctuated by intense moments of hitting, scoring, committing errors, and player versus player individual drama. And concession stand food! Beans, however, can taste good in chili draped over the ballpark hot dogs which cost more than a restaurant meal at most reasonable restaurants. And I promise you, you will never hit a home run over the fence by hitting it with a bean.

A Mexican style re-fried bean

And I wish to point out that this last human bean is not a racist cartoon. Beans are not part of the human race. They only have legs in cartoons and would come in last even when racing a snail. And all beans are created equal in the sight of God. Kidney beans, butter beans, navy beans, string beans… all beans are just beans, no matter what the color of their skin is, and no matter how they add flavor to a casserole. All beans are just in it to live life the best they can, and if that’s not enough… they can be planted as seeds to raise the next generation of human beans.

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The Headaches of Spring

A pink iris survivor of the mending of the wall.

Spring has sproinged on us, and springy-sproinged hard. We have had a wet March and a wet April so far. Pollen is heavy in the air to a record degree, and guilty of making my head ache blisteringly for the third day in a row.

I will also have to take a while recovering from my tax headache. I owed money again either because the overworked retirement system representatives didn’t figure the withholding tax correctly… again, or because Trump’s tax-cut bill required more money from pensioners and poor people… again. Either way, I have no emergency funds in the bank once again, one of the perils of bankruptcy and a source of headaches..

Another of the perils of bankruptcy is the lovely way the court treats me, sending me letters in the mail that suggest they are about to drop their bankruptcy order and allow creditors to swoop in and skeletonize my bank account like piranhas, just as they do to James Franciscus in that crappy man-eating-fish movie of the seventies. (Piranhas, not creditors, I mean, though the differences are small,) The skeletonization will strip meat off the bones of my financial health for about ten months at this point. And why are they suggesting such a personal Armageddon for Mickey? Because mortgage-payment-verification paperwork wasn’t confirmed for two days. Now there is another plan-adjustment hearing scheduled for the end of May. My lawyer says it is all routine. Don’t worry. But I still worry that I have tastier flesh on my bones than James Franciscus had on his in the seventies. (Never let it be said that Mickey doesn’t know how to flog a simile to death!)

Three Caballeros from Oz whom I rescued from Goodwill, repainted and restored.

So, I could potentially starve to death in the coming months, have my bank account skeletonized, and have my head explode from allergies. Somehow I must deserve all of that, right? And, meanwhile, Trump has survived the Mueller Report with the help of his criminal friends. He may even get re-elected to the Presidency, because there is no accounting for voter stupidity.

It is a springtime full of various headaches, and they have all got me down.

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Filed under angry rant, autobiography, battling depression, humor, illness, photo paffoonies

Begging Off Again…

I am having trouble drawing due to arthritis and other illnesses all mixed together like witches’ poison. So, today I apologize with old drawings and a promise to do better next Saturday.

Let me also show you Firefang, a D&D character who may soon make her way into a novel, The Forever Boy. She’s supposedly a dragon traveling in human form. I don’t know if we can believe her, but I don’t plan to make her mad anytime soon. The dragon in the picture is what she says she looks like au naturel. Let’s not try to argue with her about that. Fiery temper, don’t you know.

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…In Place of Earning Royalties

Some writers make tons of money for sharing their made-up fantasy worlds. Steven King, JK Rowlings, and James Patterson have made it to the limelight where few authors ever stand. Some of us get by on smaller rewards.

Me, I intend to give myself some grins by sending a copy of my book Snow Babies to a girl who was in my class in grade school, and I may have had a huge crush on her at some point in that past. And because of me being a lazy writer, this post consists mostly of the letter I am sending with the book.

Dear Valerie,

Remember me?  I have lived more of my life in Texas now than I did in Iowa, but my heart is still living in Iowa.  The part of me that turns into fiction books has always been an Iowan.  You are probably wondering why I am sending you a copy of this book.  Well, to be honest, I owe it to you.  You are the person out of everyone I have ever known that the main character is named after.  This is not a best seller and may never make much money.  But this copy represents the share of this book that I owe to you.

If you are worried that I am writing stories about you, don’t be.  The character of Valerie Clarke is based on a student that I taught for two school years.  She did remind me of you in some minor ways.  But the girl in this book is really based on the story of Sofia’s girlhood as I came to know about it.  I would like to tell you a little bit about her.

Sofie was, just like the character in the book, short a parent.  It was a struggle for her to be the cheerful, aggressively positive girl that she was.  She was in my largest class of seventh graders when she was 13, a rather rowdy group of mostly Hispanic kids.  She loved almost every story we read in class.  She enjoyed every group activity and task we did in class, often leading the group she was in, and even sometimes disciplining misbehavior that I hadn’t called the student out for, simply because she felt they should be appreciating my class more.

By the time she was an eighth grader, she had developed a large crush on me.  The year before I married my wife, she actually asked me to wait for her to grow up and marry her instead.  It wasn’t the kind of love that gets a teacher fired and put in prison.  Really, she was looking at me as the father-figure she needed in her life.  Telling you that fact reveals which character in the story actually most resembles me, if you decide you actually want to read this book.

The book is a comedy about a blizzard.  But like any good comedy, it will try to make you love characters enough that parts of it will make you cry as much it makes you laugh.  It is a book I submitted to the 2014 YA Novel contest called the Rosetti Award Competition from Chaunticleer Reviews.  It didn’t win, but it was a finalist. So there is some reason to believe it is not a bad book.

Of all the people I feel compelled to share this book with, your name is at the top of the list.  Partly because I borrowed your name to write it with.  But also, because of the fact that Valerie in the book, and in other books I have written about her, is often known as, “The most beautiful girl ever born in Norwall (Rowan), Iowa.” It was something the boys in the Rowan school said about you in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.  I don’t know if I am telling you something you didn’t already know or not, but it explains your connection to this story.  And why I felt the need to give you a copy of this book.

Read it if you want.  Share it, if you want.  Use it to put a voodoo curse on me if that’s what you want.  But I hope you enjoy it and understand that you do have some part in the fact that it now exists. 

With heartfelt gratitude,

Michael

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Milt Caniff

Here are some old thoughts that I still think about one of my all-time cartoonist heroes.

Catch a Falling Star

20160319_150610 My 1967 Captain Action Steve Canyon action figure.

I have always been a deeply devoted fan of the Sunday funnies.  And one of the reasons I read the comics religiously was the work of Milt Caniff.  His comic strips, Terry and the Pirates, Male Call, and Steve Canyon set a standard for the age of action comics and adventure strips.

I read his comics in the 1960’s and 1970’s and always it was Steve Canyon.  But this, of course, was not his first strip.  I would discover in my college years the wonders of Terry and the Pirates.  When Caniff started the strip before World War II, he set it in China, but actually knew nothing about China.  So he did research.  He learned about people who became oriental hereditary pirate families and organizations.  He learned to draw authentic Chinese settings.  His comedy relief characters, Connie and the…

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April 18, 2019 · 3:33 pm

Learning from Bad Writing

So, I just finished reading this book from my leftover pile of classroom reading books that represent my time as a public school reading teacher.

This is book six in the best-selling Charlie Bone series. I didn’t read the previous five books. I have a copy of book one somewhere, but this one is one I picked up for my reading fix last week.

Let me begin by saying, as an obvious Harry Potter imitation, it is a very inventive and enjoyable story.

I read the whole book even though I had difficulty with several things that I have come to recognize as glaring, reader-tripping problems.

Now, to be completely honest about my assessments, Jenny Nimmo, the author of the Charley Bone books, has an impressive resume. She has not only been an English teacher, but she worked for the BBC as well as an editor, director, and other creative endeavors. And her books, unlike mine, are best-seller enough to be picked up by Scholastic Books, a major publisher. She has undoubtedly made a lot more money with her books than I have with mine. And, I confess, I find the story entertaining.

But the story is guilty of writing sins that I am familiar with by having overcome them in my own writing.

Most noticeable is the lack of a sense of a focus character. It is done as a third-person omniscient narrative that goes in and out of different characters’ heads telling what they think and feel. It will go from Charlie Bone’s main-character-thoughts to his nemesis Dagbert Endless’s feelings to the thoughts of the dog that lives in the school and then veers into the bird that is actually Emma, one of Charlie’s female friends with special “gifts of magic” handed down from their common ancestor, the Red King. You end up, as a reader, trying to keep things separate in your awareness about too many characters with too many mental reveals to keep straight. And who all knows what about whom? In one scene a character seems to know already what another character said and did in a previous scene that the knowing character wasn’t present for and hasn’t been told about.

This focus problem is compounded by having too many characters with too little development in the current story. I get it that we are supposed to have met the characters in previous books in the series. But it has to have a more stand-alone quality about it to even work as a separate book. The writer has to keep in mind that readers won’t know everything about every character in previous books because they have either forgotten, or the author has only assumed they would know without being told.

And the scenes and chapters in this book are way too ranging and free-form. A scene that begins in the end of chapter two rambles across to the beginning of chapter three without really concluding and then morphs into another scene entirely when the narrative follows a single character from the conversation in one room into an encounter in the next room. There is a lack of chapter structure to rationalize why those words belong in that chapter rather than the next.

And numerous plot lines are just left hanging at the end of the book, seemingly forgotten rather than set up for the probable sequel. The book does not end with a sense that it is the final end of the saga.

So it is a book that both Hemingway and Dickens would’ve cringed to have written. Never-the-less, I did like this book. The old uncritical critic, you know. I would’ve neither finished reading it, nor written this essay about it if I didn’t find merit in the story. I learned things by reading it. Things to avoid, things to correct when I find them in my own stories, and things that make me go, “Hmmm… I’d like to try that myself.”

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