Category Archives: autobiography

Mickey Under the Magnifying Glass

Self-reflection is a critical part of being a writer and an author. At least it is if you are a mostly-ignored and somewhat unsuccessful one. That’s really the full extent of my personal expertise on this subject.

But knowing your own personal strengths and weaknesses is the only way to continue to sharpen the blades you use to cut insightful, heartfelt stories out of your own life experiences.

For example, the thing I think is most important to know about myself is that I do have the ability to laugh at myself, even when the thing I am laughing at hurts quite a lot. A sense of humor is a life skill that people who experience depression, chronic pain, and personal trauma need in order to survive.

Robin Williams is the quintessential sad clown. He lived to the age of 61 before depression ended him. Think of how much younger he would’ve been in leaving us all behind if he hadn’t had his bright, silvery suit of comedy armor to get him through life. But that’s a downer. One of my biggest failures is that I will bluntly drop a big black bomb like that in the middle of a sensitive and heartfelt scene, or in the fourth paragraph of an essay that you found interesting enough to read.

I find I am often guilty of not knowing when to give up on something and cut my losses. But at the same time as I am contemplating ending this essay before I lose more readers than ever, I remember what makes the cardinal a personal symbol for me. Cardinals are a bright red songbird that never flies away when the winter comes. It will stupidly stay put even in snow and cold and a total lack of food, choosing to starve or freeze to death over leaving its home territory. I was like that as a teacher. After the first two miserable years, I decided to stay put in that little South Texas school district where I was underpaid and constantly abused by parents and students and even some other school personnel. I refused to leave without first proving to myself that I could do the job and be good at it. I stayed for twenty]-three years, becoming the head of the English Department, a leader of the Gifted and Talented Program, and a generally well-loved teacher of a generation of students. (I left before the grandson and granddaughter of two of the kids in my very first class were about to enter middle school.)

I guess, thinking about it critically, sometimes your weaknesses and your strengths are not only related, they are the same thing.

I have been accused of not being serious enough to be a teacher. And that has carried over to the writing of young adult fiction. Reviewers have told me that putting details about sex, violence, and dark humor in a story is not appropriate for young, middle-school-aged readers. One reviewer told me that I was practically a child pornographer, even though the book had no explicit sex scene and only talked about the subjects of love, sex, and intimacy.

But I am a believer in not shying away from subjects that kids want to know about. As a victim of a sexual assault in childhood, I found that fiction and nonfiction that discussed sexuality and morality were life-saving, and gave me the guidance I needed to recover from what my own monster encounter scarred me with. And I was able to eventually laugh at the things that had been tearing me apart. I think fiction like that, frank, honest, and clearly guiding the reader towards the right path is what is most needed in YA literature.

Again, I think my weakness for absurd and chaotic humor is both a weakness and a strength. We all need to laugh more and suffer less. And we don’t get there by avoiding our problems in life, but by fighting through them to the other side.

I am not fool enough to think I know all the answers. In fact, there are lots of things I know I don’t know anything at all about.

I don’t know what causes people to vote Republican. I don’t know if we can ever achieve a real, space-faring Buck Rodgers life. And I apparently don’t know the first thing about successfully marketing self-published books. But I know the problems are there. I see them in my magnifying glass. And I am working on them. I will get better.

Me back in the days when I actually knew what I was doing.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Mickey, monsters, writing teacher

Pen and Ink Storytelling

Today’s Art Day post is about using pen and ink to tell at least a part of a story. Narrative can indeed occur in black and white images.
After a lifetime of studying the works of other pen and ink masters, I can copy many styles and I make as much of it a part of my own style as possible.
I know I probably draw nude figures too often. I get unfollowed by prudes and pious people on Twitter practically every day.
And nudes can attract the wrong sorts of followers too. But they usually don’t follow very long when they begin to notice my drawings never contain what they are actually looking for.
I am not a racist. I do identify with rabbit people, but I recognize that wolves are people too. And you have to appreciate diversity as a strength of humanity. Otherwise rabbit people would be persecuted too.
Some of my art contains portraits of people I have known.
And sometimes it is the illustration of characters in one of my books that help me recognize who those characters really are based on. “Hello, Sofie.”
And sometimes the story the picture tells is funny.
And sometimes it is simply silly.
Sometimes it is a story we all know already.
And sometimes the story is entirely original and new.

But however you look at it, pen and ink is fun.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, characters, humor, illustrations, Paffooney, pen and ink

Follow Wherever It Leads You…

My path in life has never been straight, never arrived at the destinations I was originally shooting for.

Sometimes you wake up and find a new path spreading out before you.

My dreams were once to go to the Air Force Academy and learn to fly planes.

But bad arches in my feet, poor eyesight in my left eye, and nagging difficulties with allergies turned that dream on its head. I was physically ground-bound, and able to fly only in my dreams.

And then I went to Cow College, Iowa State University, to be an English Major. I was good at drawing. I had endless story-plots bursting out of my fevered comic-book lover’s brain. And I was determined to be a story-teller and comic book artist. But arthritis crept into my hands and slowed the drawing down, my confidence dried up. I realized I was a graduated English major with no chance at ever finding a job just reading books.

So, I went to the University of Iowa, the Hawkeyes, and got myself a remedial Master of the Art of Teaching degree and a teaching certificate. And this time the door actually opened… to a life of a pedagogue. I got to perform my act six times a day in front of a hostile audience for the next 31 out of 33 years, with two years off for bad principal behavior, and time spent being a sub for every kind of teacher that there was. I got to teach everything from autistic special education to P.E. teacher to Librarian to Orchestra teacher.

Some days I was the worst teacher that ever lived. But most days I was a pretty good teacher. And I never let a bad day pass without learning something from it. And I learned to use my drawing ability on chalk boards and bulletin boards and dry-erase boards and overhead projectors. And I learned to be a good story-teller, whether it was by reading aloud or re-telling stories that were mostly factual from history, and funny stories from my own experiences. I became a fascinating nearly-human bean that could keep the attention of even ADHD twelve-year-olds for as much as twenty minutes. A good trick, that.

And when the time came to give it up, I did not go gentle into that good night. I had a miserable last year in 2013-2014 because my health was so poor. I lost money from excessive absences since I had the flu three times that year and had a son spend a week in the hospital. I retired that May and thought my life was over.

And then the real nonsense started.

I published the original AeroQuest in 2007. Then in 2012 I added Catch a Falling Star, published with I-Universe/ Penguin Books.

Once I retired, I published Magical Miss Morgan with Page Publishing. Then, disgusted with traditional publishers whom I paid more money than I ever earned from, I began self-publishing with Amazon.

Snow Babies followed, with Stardusters and Space Lizards after that.

The Bicycle-Wheel Genius, Recipes for Gingerbread Chidren, The Baby Werewolf, Sing Sad Songs, and Fools and Their Toys followed that (in order).

Then I doubled down on writing more than one story at a time.

I began rewriting AeroQuest, publishing 1,2, and 3 as of this writing.

I wrote the prequel to Snow Babies, When the Captain Came Calling. I also wrote The Boy… Forever, the sequel to The Baby Werewolf.

Most recently I have published A Field Guide to Fauns, a novel where all the main characters are nudists. And I completed a book of essays from this blog, which I call Laughing Blue.

And then I began working even harder to get my books read and reviewed.

I have gotten more five-star reviews than any other level.

My current work-in-progress is The Wizard in His Keep. It currently stands at 30,000 words out of a probable 40,000.

How much more I can get done now until my life has ended remains to be seen. But I keep on trudging on the path into the future, not knowing where it will go next… and not really worrying about it.

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Go and Catch a Falling Star…

You may have looked at the name of my website here on WordPress and wondered, “Why in the heck has that fool Mickey called this thing he writes Catch a Falling Star?”

The answer is, he named it after the first good published novel he wrote at the insistence of the I-Universe Publishing’s marketing adviser. Very poor reason for doing anything, that.

But, the secondary reason is because of where that title came from. Look at the first stanza of this poem by John Donne.

So, now, you are justified in asking, “What nonsense is this? That doesn’t have any coherent meaning, does it?”

And you would be right. These are impossible things that I am being ordered to do by a very religious cleric in the Anglican Church who was originally a Catholic, but, in the time of Henry VIII Catholicism was made illegal, and he wrote this poem about not being able to find an honest woman in his drunken, wasted youth anyway. He is ordering me here to not only “catch a falling star” (and catching a meteorite with your bare hands has rather hot consequences), but also to have sex with a semi-poisonous plant, explain why we can’t go backwards in time, determine whether and why God might’ve given Satan goat feet, listen to probably-nonexistent humanoid creatures singing, find a way to avoid anybody ever looking at me with envy and then doing something to me because of it, and, most importantly, find a place where the wind blows in a way that fills your head with facts that actually makes you smarter.

Challenge accepted!

It is exactly what I wanted to write about. Impossible things actually being accomplished. Finding the meaning behind alien beings from outer space developing an intense love of I Love Lucy television broadcasts and Mickey Mouse Club music. Discovering why intensely shy people need to embrace social nudity. Defining who is actually a werewolf and who is not, uncovering who and what real monsters are. Singing songs so sad that it magically makes people fall in love with you. Talking to clowns in your dreams and getting real answers to the meaning of life, love, and laughter.

Catching falling stars is the stupid idea that this wacky, idiotic little blog is about. It is what I write about constantly. You have to kill me to get me to stop. So, there is your fair warning. Read on at your own peril.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, goofy thoughts, Paffooney, poetry, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism

Art Influenced by the Boob Tube

Yes, it is very possible that my imagination was galvanized in childhood by TV.

It seems to me that NBC had even more power over me than the other two networks. We could get CBS and ABC on our black-and-white TV. But the only NBC affiliate in Iowa was not able to be received in our little town. We had to go to Grandma’s house in Mason City where Grandma had a color TV.

Wow! Color!

Of course, it used to be referred to as the “Boob Tube” because psychologists and people who mattered kept saying that TV makes you stupid. Which, naturally, has a grain of truth to it because you don’t watch TV actively. You sit there and passively let the stories, commercials, and propaganda about sugary breakfast cereals flow in one ear, poison your brain, and then flow out the other ear leaving only water-logged thinking-muscles behind them.

The Saturday Matinees on CBS provided my youthful imagination with science fiction, fantasy, and heroes of all kinds.

I taught myself to draw cartoon characters based on the animated shows I watched on TV. I not only copied Mickey, for obvious reasons, but also Donald and Daffy Ducks, Space Ghost, Jonny Quest, Yogi Bear, and the Herculoids.

And Batman! With Adam West and Burt Ward and Cesar Romero as the Joker. Bam! Boff! Sock! Pow! Bright colors, goofy Riddler plots, and really bad jokes that were so bad they made you laugh.

And I loved monster movies. Not horror movies really. I never loved Freddy Krueger or Jason. But the Wolfman? Frankenstein’s Monster? Bela Lugosi’s Dracula? The Creature from the Black Lagoon? My inspirations!

And, of course, Disney on Sunday nights. The Wonderful World of Disney in living color.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV review

Opening Windows on the Past

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This particular Iowa trip has me thinking hard about mortality and the cold harsh wind that blows toward us from the future.  My cousin’s only son lost his battle with depression, and his family finally came to terms with the loss.  But the sadness is past.   The responsibilities of the living is what remains.

I was born while Eisenhower was President.  I was alive and aware when Kennedy was assassinated and when men first walked on the moon.  I was teaching in a classroom when the first teacher in space was killed on the exploding space shuttle.  And I was also in the classroom when the twin towers fell on 9-11.  It is an important part of the responsibilities I have for being alive to keep that past alive too.

 

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My mother’s knickknack shelf.

The reason we collect and care about little extraneous things like porcelain eggs, angels, fine blue china plates, and the California Raisins singing I Heard It Through the Grapevine is because those little, otherwise unimportant things connect us to memories of important times and places and people.   We keep old photographs around, many of them black and white, for the same reasons.

 

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The fiction I write is not contemporary.  It is mostly historical fiction.  It is set in a recent past where the Beatles and the Eagles provided the sound track to our lives.  It does not cross the border into the 21st Century.  The part of my writing that is not about the past is science fiction set in the far future, entirely in the universe of my imagination.  It is my duty to connect the past to the future.

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And I share that duty with everyone who is alive.  My great grandparents and grandparents are now gone from this world.  But their horse-and-buggy memories about life on the farm before electric lights and cars… with humorous outhouse stories thrown in for comic relief… are in me too.  I am steeped in the past in so many ways…  And I must not fail to pass that finely brewed essence on to my children and anyone young who will listen.  It is a grave responsibility.  And it is possible to reach the grave without having fulfilled that important purpose.

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In times of great sadness and loss we must think about how life goes on.  There has to be a will to carry on and deliver the past to the future.  Every story-teller carries that burden, whether in large or small packages.  And there is no guarantee that tomorrow will even arrive.  So here is my duty for the day.  One more window has been opened.

 

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, blog posting, family, healing, humor, insight, inspiration

Crazy Nut Images I Once Drew

Yes, I did not misspell the word “tiger.”

This picture was intended to depict the William Blake poem,

Here’s the start of the poem from Blake’s own self-published book.

So, who is the crazy nut? Blake? Or me?

Well, if you look at the piercing eyes of the Tyger in my drawing… obviously… me!

Consider the many humble self-portraits I have drawn over a lifetime.

Yep, definitely evidence in those self-portraits.

I admit to often seeing things that aren’t really there. And from strange viewpoints.

I have a tendency to see things through the lens of history.

And there are terrors in the past as well as the present.

But mostly, the crazy nuttiness is all a joke.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, goofy thoughts, humor, old art, Paffooney, Uncategorized

The Art-Day Art of Responsibility

We, each one, have a certain RESPONSIBILITY if we are born alive into human life.

The root of the word is RESPOND. And that means we have developed a complexity of mind and beo havior that allows us to RESPOND to situations and problems that you haven’t encountered before.

Because we can RESPOND, we must RESPOND. That is how we come to acquire RESPONSIBILITY.f

When I got out of Iowa State University, I had to RESPOND to the situation where I was educated and legally an adult, and I had to somehow support myself in life. I suppose I could have chosen to live in my parents’ basement and done nothing with my life but draw and paint and eventually get fat. That is a way to RESPOND to that situation. And I had a RESPONSIBILITY to RESPOND.

But, choosing between a job doing artwork for the print shop in Belmond, or going to Grad School at the University of Iowa to get a teaching certificate, I took note of the fact that I liked younger kids a lot and got along with them quite well. So, I decided to RESPOND with a bit of teachering.

It turns out that this was a much wiser course of action in that, by the time I got out of the University of Iowa with a Master’s Degree in Education, my parents had to move to Texas in order to fulfill my father’s RESPONSIBILITY to the Lords of Accountancy and continue to wrestle with the evils of business numbers for the good of all mankind.

I would not have been able to continue to live in my parents’ basement, and being homeless in Iowa in the winter is a rather cold and lonely situation.

I had a RESPONSIBILITY to choose a life path.

I was fortunate enough to choose a good one. One that fit nicely into where my talents lay, and what I was able to do well.

I became RESPONSIBLE for lives, well-being, and intellectual development of kids (young human beings, not goats.)

I turns out that, with practice, I was eventually quite good at teachering. I got through to a lot of kids (even some of whom really were goats underneath it all.)

I feel like, in the long run, I artfully handled my RESPONSIBILITY to life, the universe, and everything. But now that I am teachering no more, I am RESPONSIBLE for doing something further with my life. This blog post is part of the becoming an artist and a writer RESPONCE.

The younger me with a favorite student expressing his deep respect for me with the War on Ignorance going on all around us.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, humor, kids, Paffooney

Truthfully Again…

  1. Truthfully… I am glad I never tried to use this cover idea for Snow Babies. Naked kids do not give the right impression about the book. The snow babies themselves are spirits of the frozen dead. But this is not a horror story. And besides, the title refers to the kids in the story who aren’t ghosts as well, particularly Valerie Clarke, the female protagonist.
  2. Truthfully… I just got another five-star review on Snow Babies through Amazon. It now has ten, with one four-star review. While at least three of those five-star review are honest reviews by someone who read and loved the story, I believe most of them didn’t read the whole book, or only read a small portion of it, judging it five-star from reading the other reviews. Most of the reviewers come from Pubby where they must read a book and review it in four days or fewer to earn points they can put toward their own books getting reviewed. So, I understand why they don’t fully commit to the reading of the whole book. There is, however, evidence that some of them review my books without reading it at all.
  3. Truthfully…As a reviewer I try to read the whole book, even the long ones, before reviewing them. But some books submitted to the Pubby library are written by really awful or untalented authors. Still, I read as much as I can stand in the four days given, and I rate them as highly as I can justify it to myself. I have given only one two-star review, and no one-star reviews at all. But I have had to put a lot of three-stars on books that didn’t deserve it. Those authors have spent money on the service just as I did. They deserve something for their money. I see a lot of books, though, that I know are awful getting five or four stars.
  1. Truthfully,,, A while back I lost a dog here in Carrollton, my sister-in-law’s dog. And I only got it back because neighbors found it and made an effort to get it back to us. My butt was rescued from my wife’s fury by a good lady who found the dog hiding in her garage and posted it on the local news website, having remembered I had been asking around the neighborhood about it before she found it, but not remembering my name or address. Today my daughter and I rescued another fluffy little poodle-like dog who was obviously lost and wandering about the park near our house.
  2. Truthfully… Our effort didn’t amount to much since we couldn’t get the dog to come close enough to check for a collar with a phone number on it, like the last lost dog we rescued. But, as I went in to call animal control, my daughter watched it sniff around, preventing it from wandering too far or going into the street in front of cars. And as she watched it, the family of the little girl who owned and loved the dog were driving around looking for it, and they found it near our yard, called it by name, and it joyfully hopped in the car and directly into the arms of the relieved little girl. I do love a happy ending.
A painting by Maxfield Parrish
  1. Truthfully… I still think of myself as a nudist. In my head I have been one since childhood. But I am hardly ever nude. My chances of going back to a nudist facility and experiencing social nudity again are practically nil because my health is too poor and I don’t know anyone who would be willing to go with me and take care of me if I had a health crisis. And even working at my computer nude in my bedroom doesn’t happen anymore because psoriasis sores itch too much, and I end up bloody with developing scar tissue.
  2. Truthfully… My stories about nudism continue to do well. A Field Guide to Fauns now has three reader ratings on Amazon, two of five and one of four stars. One of those five stars has no accompanying review, but it still counts. Especially since that book isn’t even on Pubby’s book list.
  3. Truthfully…I still interact every week with friends who are Twitter nudists on Twitter where I often lose followers, especially fundamentalist Christian followers, once they realize I don’t treat nudists and naturists as sinners and perverts.
  4. Truthfully… My blog and my writing have benefitted from knowing real nudists, because they are usually far more accepting and empathetic than average Christians and Muslims.
  5. Truthfully… I like drawing and painting nude humans. There is something more basic and truthful about it than hiding the true form and structure of it underneath clothes.
  1. Truthfully… Everyone could benefit by telling the truth as they know it more often. It cleans out the constant cobwebbing of the mind by telling lies, both to other people, and to yourself. Even the lies you tell as a fiction writer.
  2. Truthfully… There are things on this listicle that I would not have been able to write about just fifteen years ago. The truth does set you free… Not in every single case… But enough to really matter.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, empathy, humor, lying, Paffooney

It’s Not Easy Being Green

It’s not easy being green…. the color of so many ordinary things…

Especially as you grow older.

Because green is the color of growth and youth and life. But those things seem beyond the grasp of your outstretched fingers on your spotty and wrinkled old hand.

I am definitely no longer green like Littlebit, the Oceanian ship’s boy from the seas of Talislanta and the pirate ship, Black Dragon.

And, yes, an Iowa boy living as far away from an ocean as you can get in the United States, in all directions, you are bound to dream of pirate ships and the high seas, especially when you’re twelve and your favorite book is Treasure Island.

But now that you are old, green is more often your color because you don’t feel well… again… every day….

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But there is still bright green in dreams.

You can still go there and be a child again in memories and your imagination.

It’s just that now the green is written down in sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and cantos.

And talking to your kids about movies, art and artists, stories and writers of stories…

Did you know the favorite color of all three of my children is green?

I have known it since they were small and I could sing to them songs by Kermit the Frog, like “Rainbow Connections” and “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

And with paint, you make green by combining the blue of sadness with the yellow of sunshine and happiness.

And it’s not easy being green…

But it’s beautiful…

And it’s what I want to be.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, coloring, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Paffooney, poetry