Wrestling with Themes – Part 1

As a reading teacher I often pounded on the theme, “If you read and truly understood a book, you should be able to make a relatively short statement of the broad general themes of the book in your own words.” This is not merely truth about proving to a skeptical teacher that you are not just holding a book for several class hours of sustained silent reading without absorbing anything, but is also a measure for the author of a book to see if he or she really had a purpose for writing the ding-dang thing.

So, I propose to do that very same sort of theme-searching test to prove that I actually know the reasons why I wrote such a time-consuming pile of purple paisley prose.

The Central Time-Line Starts in 1974

I decided to write the Hometown Stories back in college in 1977. At the time I didn’t truly understand the full scope and size of this project. But I knew I intended to write a series of interlocking stories about life in my hometown of Rowan, Iowa. I brainstormed a bunch of surrealistic fantasy stories that I could set in the fictional version of Rowan that I renamed Norwall. I peopled the stories with renamed and recombined real people from my family and my home town.


The first novel I wrote is Superchicken. Edward-Andrew, the main character, is an outsider. He is treated as such in a small town where everybody knows everybody, and are sometimes related to everybody. He encounters the newly-formed Norwall Pirates Liar’s Club. He is forced to perform an initiation task that is entirely embarrassing and inappropriate, involving wearing a dress and naked girls. But the theme is that you have to open yourself up completely to new experiences in order to make a place for yourself in a new community.

Recipes for Gingerbread Children

The second novel in the series is not the second one I wrote. Actually, I was writing two novels at once with many of the same characters in them. Recipes for Gingerbread Children is a companion story for The Baby Werewolf. They both happen at the same time, the Fall of 1974. Grandma Gretel Stein is an old German lady who has a magical way with the baking of gingerbread. She was also once a nudist in Germany after World War I. Because of that, she is befriended by the Cobble family who are also devoted to living life nude. The twin Cobble sisters lure their friends to Grandma Gretel’s “Gingerbread House.” There they learn of her bewitching ways of telling a good story.

The theme of this story is about telling stories. Gretel tells stories about good versus evil. And she knows something about that subject as she was married to a Jewish man and had a Jewish daughter in Germany during World War II.

The theme is that “No matter how badly life has harmed you and deprived you, you can eventually overcome it by taking control of it, telling your own story about it, and coming to terms with the truth of life as you have lived it.

The Baby Werewolf

The children who visit Grandma Gretel for stories and cookies in Recipes for Gingerbread Children, Todd Niland, Sherry and Shelly Cobble, and Torrie Brownfield, become the main characters in the monster story that is The Baby Werewolf. Torrie is a boy born with hypertrichosis, the”werewolf-hair disease,” that makes him look like a monster to the people of Norwall. And to make matters worse, somebody is using vicious animals to murder people. The theme of this story is the question about , “What makes somebody a monster? And if you are a monster, how do you keep from acting monstrously?

The Boy… Forever

When the Norwall Pirates go to High School in the Fall of 1975, Anita Jones’s cousin Icarus comes to live with her family after a failed suicide attempt. It turns out that Icky is immortal. He cannot be killed and cannot die, unless it is done by the ancient Chinese wizard who claims to be a dragon, and his daughter Fiona.

The theme in this book about immortals and their affect on the daily lives of the Norwall Pirates is that, “The promise of living forever, when it becomes a reality, is more of a nightmare than it is a dream come true.”

The one possible book from the 1970’s that I haven’t written yet is tentatively titled Under Blue Glass. It is about the Norwall Pirates facing graduation from high school… or failing to graduate. And the consequences of success or… failure.

So, Part 2 will take the Norwall Pirates and the Hometown novels into the 1980’s. That is both a promise and a threat.

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Filed under humor, novel writing, Paffooney, work in progress, writing

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