Yesterday, in Part 1, I tried to convince you that, “You should never take too long a time writing a story” because I have written some twenty-plus-year-long novels that took me forever to write, and I am an unsuccessful writer. So, you should not do things the way I did. (Some might accuse me of trying to use a little too much irony, claiming I am a bit too obscure about what I am actually telling you that you should actually do… But, remember, I advised you not to take advice from Mickey. And you need irony in your diet anyway to avoid irony-poor tired blood.) Therefore I am going to advise you further that, “You should never make your characters too complex and interesting.”
After all, there are Mickian characters that are literally blue with red patches on their cheeks that absorb harmful gamma radiation and make those characters immune to radiation sickness from exposure in deep space. You don’t want to make readers so curious about a character that they waste time reading more and more closely to discover more about that character.
Junior Aero, the alien Nebulon boy in the AeroQuest stories is just one example. Not only is he a member of an alien race that are belittled as “Space Smurfs” and treated to racial bigotry based on skin color and not being able to speak English at first, but he is also gifted with mental “Psion powers” that allow him to telepathically read computer minds, even the sentient and intelligent ones.
And some of my characters are green with shark-like fins on their heads. They were born on Starships and orbiting artificial satellites like the one going around Barnard’s Star. They are like George Jetson here, named after his father, Xiar’s, favorite Earther cartoon show character from the 60’s. Not only is he a green-skinned amphibious humanoid life-form from a different star system, he learns a lot about himself in the adventure he has in the novel Stardusters and Space Lizards. He goes from being a narcissistic space-pilot wannabee into becoming a humble crash survivor and expedition leader who helps save an entire planet from ecological disaster. And he even gets a girlfriend out of the deal in Menolly his nestmate and fellow survivor.
Characters like that are far too interesting and developed to be good for your reputation as a serious producer of money-making fiction stories. And you certainly don’t want to waste time on developing the same characters in multiple books.
I used the character of Valerie Clarke in the book When the Captain Came Calling as an eleven-year-old protagonist who loses her father and has to rely on older kids and good friends to save herself from depression and the trash-pits of despair.
I used her again as a main character in Snow Babies where she befriends a mysterious stranger and also finds a runaway boy who makes her think seriously about life and young love, all in the middle of a deadly blizzard.
She’s also in the book Sing Sad Songs where she learns to negotiate love with a boy who also lost a parent, in fact, both parents and a twin sister, in a car crash that made him a lonely orphan. She not only has to face the loss of her own loved ones, but has to help somebody else to face the same thing, in fact, more than one other somebody.
She’s also a character in The Bicycle-Wheel Genius and Fools and Their Toys.
It is unthinkable to use a character that much and make her grow and change in so many different ways. She should be used only once in a simple and clear way. Like, maybe, Mark Twain’s use of Huckleberry Finn.
Huck, as a character was only used in the books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Tom Sawyer, Detective… and… never mind. Forget I even said anything about Huck Finn. In fact, maybe this whole post is so ironic it’s making my story-teller gears all rusty. Never-the-less, let me threaten you with a possible part three.
In my newest book When the Captain Came Calling, there is a fantasy character who is basically an invisible man. Captain Noah Dettbarn is the captain of a ship called the Reefer Mary Celeste. It is an ill-fated ship on a fatal voyage. It runs afoul of a mermaid with man-eating intentions, a witch-doctor with a hungry volcano-god to feed, and a beautiful young girl who bewitches the captain.
All of this happens in the log book of the mysterious invisible captain who has returned to the Iowa farm town where he was born and raised just as the local kids’ adventurer’s club, the Norwall Pirates, is being re-organized with a girl as their leader.
Today’s first Paffooney is an illustration that I intend to use in the book.
I draw things as illustrations to stories. Take, for example, the protagonist and hero of Catch a Falling Star.
Dorin Dobbs is boy from Iowa. That tells you some terrible things about him right there.
He was ten in 1990.
He hated girls.
He met some pretty green-skinned girls from outer space, amphibianoid frog-girls with fins on their heads. He danced with them to Mickey Mouse Club music while he was their prisoner on a sectet base on the planet Mars. They were dancing naked in the nutrient bath that all Telleron tadpoles use daily.
Brekka and Menolly are two of the Telleron frog girls with fins on their heads. They love Earth music in the 1990’s. They are background characters in Catch a Falling Star. They are main characters in the book Stardusters and Space Lizards, where they help Davalon and Tanith to conquer the dying planet of Galtorr Prime after the Telleron invasion of Earth failed in the previous book.
Galtorr Prime is undergoing drastic climate change and environmental collapse and ends up being saved by superior Telleron technology and the lizard-girl heroine, Sizzahl, who has a plan for fixing the atmosphere and saving fundamental eco-systems. Of course, this is all science fiction-y stuff based entirely on fantasy and imagination and has nothing to do with the real world we now live in.
Of course, not all characters I illustrate are people or aliens.
Millis, Tommy Bircher’s pet rabbit, is an ordinary albino bunny who eats a piece of alien technology that evolves him into a talking, walking-on-two-legs, near-human form.
He becomes the chef (who cooks only vegetable dishes) for Norwall, Iowa’s own mad scientist, Orben Wallace, in the book The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.
I think I have now given out far more spoilers for stories than I have any right to do. But the thing about character illustrations is that your get to know the characters at a glance. And to know them is to love them.
While visiting in Iowa, I ran into an old high school friend at a local eatery. I remember how in high school and junior high, I played basketball on the same team with him, I listened to his exaggerations about a probably non-existent sex life, and helped him on one or two occasions to get answers on Math homework (even then the teacher in me wouldn’t let me just give him the answers, I always made him work out the answers step by step).
Now he is a judgmental and basically crabby old coot. He is a Trump supporter, hater of immigrants who take American jobs, and an unpleasant arguer of politics. And the sorest point about his intractable coot-i-ness is the fact that, as a classmate, he is the same age as me and I am, therefore, just as intractably coot-y as he is.
So, how exactly do you talk to a mean old coot?
Well, you have to begin by realizing that it is not like the dialogue in a novel or TV show. This is a real person I was talking to. So, I had to proceed by accepting that he thinks I am an idiot and anything I say and think is wrong. Not merely wrong, but “That’s un-American and will lead to a communist takeover of our beloved country!” sort of wrong. I can then laugh off numerous Neo-Nazi assertions by him, make snarky comments about his praises for the criminal president, and generally get along with him like old friends almost always do. I play my part just as furiously as he plays his, and we both enjoy the heck out of it.
We are both of us crazy old coots, likely to say just about anything to get the other one’s goat. Getting goats is apparently vital to the conversations of real people. But we have more in common than we have as differences. We don’t keep score in our world-shaking debates, nor do we count how many goats we get. And that is how you talk to real people.
Old Missus Rubelmacher was most definitely a witch in Valerie’s estimation. Miss Rubelmacher had been teaching Science forever at Belle City. She taught it in both the Elementary and the Junior High. Valerie had the extreme bad luck to have her for the one and only fifth-grade class she taught. And single old maid teachers who taught Science were definitely witches when they made you learn the scientific names of ten butterflies and recite them by memory. Ten Lepidoptera! Who in their right minds was ever going to need to know that a Danaus Plexippus was a Monarch Butterfly? She ought to get an F on purpose just to let the old witch know how stupid that was. Homework on a holiday weekend on top of it all.
But Valerie always made A’s in Science. That wasn’t about to change.
Still, after hating the old witch all the way home on Milo’s bus, she rode on into town with Danny Murphy. Milo, the crotchety old bus driver, never seemed to mind carrying her on into town when he stopped at the end of her family’s lane… as long as she told him she was going with Danny. Milo probably thought she was Danny’s girlfriend, the way he always smirked when she told him about going into town. But that was no never-mind… She had no interest in Danny as a boy. Only as a friend. Only as the one person in the world that she could really tell secrets to because she had seen him naked and could embarrass him royally if he ever told anyone else.
“Why are you coming into town today, Val?” Danny asked. They were sharing a seat in the middle of the
bus, as they often did. Val waited until
they were both off the bus to answer.
They walked past the Post Office together.
“Well, I’m a Norwall Pirate, now. I have responsibilities. We are going to try to get Billy Martin into
the gang, right?”
“Yeah. Billy needs
some friends. He has a sorta tough
Church ladies were always tutting their tongues about the horrible,
sinful Martin family. Victor Martin, the
head of the family, owned the bar that was once the Uptown Café in the middle
of Norwall’s Main Street. Sinful things happened there. There was drinking beer, playing pool, a lot
of bad language, drinking beer, women who couldn’t be trusted around other
peoples’ husbands, and did drinking beer come up already? In the middle of it all was a long-haired,
mostly unwashed boy who was made of spindly sticks and always looked like a
lost puppy that someone had recently kicked.
Billy was the son of Richard Martin, the extra-lazy brother of
Victor. The sister of the two Martin
brothers, Kelly Martin, was the closest thing that Billy had to a mother in the
house, though Valerie was pretty sure that she was not the boy’s real mother.
“We need to do some research about Billy,” Val said like an
expert. “We need to find out more about
him. He doesn’t talk to you much, does
“I don’t think he talks much to anybody.”
“How do we ask him to be a Pirate, then?” Valerie asked.
“You go right up to him, introduce yourself politely, and
just ask,” said a grating voice from behind Valerie. The girl immediately turned to catch the
amused glint in the glittering eyes of the dreaded Mazie Haire.
“You were listening to our conversation?” Valerie asked as a
sort of justified accusation.
“Of course I was,” said the gray-haired, gimlet-eyed
hag. Truth be told, Valerie was deathly
afraid of the old Haire woman. She was
as scary as Dracula’s coffin on Halloween.
Of course, everyone had her pegged as a real witch… a thing that Mazie Haire took no trouble to deny.
“What business is it of yours?”
The old woman bored holes in both kids’ souls with her
eyes. She was a scary and formidable
“I am an old woman who doesn’t tell lies. I have a lot of knowing. I see things, and I don’t forget. This boy you are talking about does indeed
need your help. But it’s not for the
reasons you think. You need to forget
about these stupid little kids’ games you and these other little Pirates keep
playing. You need to actually see what
you are looking at.”
Valerie was completely at a loss for what to say. She just nodded at the old crone stupidly,
like she agreed to whatever was being asked of her.
Apparently that satisfied old witch Mazie Haire. She nodded.
Smiled a tight-lipped and thoroughly scary smile, and walked away.
“What was that about?” Valerie asked Danny.
“She’s mysterious,” Danny said. “It is hard to know what she is really up
to. They say she spends most of her
waking hours in the attic room of that gingerbread house of hers and looks out
the window at us all through her little telescope. She watches people. She creeps me out.”
“Do you suppose she’s right about just going up to Billy and introducing ourselves… and say what we want?”
“Well… she has a good point about the direct approach… but
she’s a witch, you know. Do you really
want to do what a witch wants?
Especially if she’s a wicked witch.
Do you want to do what a wicked witch wants?”
Valerie grinned at her awkward, silly-sounding friend. “What a
witch wants? You sound silly when
you say that.”
Describing the feeling of entering the Ghost House for the
first time would prove quite difficult for Valerie when she tried to do it later
on in Miss Bierstadt’s class for an English essay assignment. But at the moment she crawled through the
Tunnel of Doom, she would’ve described it as a feeling in her belly like eating
a bowl of iced earthworms and trying to find a place to throw up in a jungle
full of man-eating plants that smelled an awful lot like marigolds or
something. It was that kind of
combination of anticipation, bad smells, icky things to see and touch, and the sensory
deprivation of entering a candle-lit darkness from the bright September world
“Welcome, Miss Valerie Clarke,” said freshman football hero
and huge Polish hunk Pidney Breslow.
Valerie was deeply in love with the square-shouldered giant, and
sincerely hoped he would be the leader of this Pirate club.
“Hello,” she said, almost timidly.
“You are just in time for the first official meeting of the
reforming Norwall Pirates’ Club,” said Mary Philips brightly. Mary had extended the official invitation to
Valerie to come here, although Val didn’t really know why. Mary had said that she didn’t want to be the
only girl in the club, but why would a girl like Mary want to be in a boys’
club? She had a bad feeling that the
high school freshman girl also had her cap set for winning Pidney as a
boyfriend. But, plain-looking as Mary
was, Val was only mildly concerned.
A quick look around as Danny Murphy crawled in after her
revealed the other boys in attendance at the secret meeting. Ray Zeffer, another high school freshman was
there. He was kinda handsome in a way,
too, but he was always so sad-looking with those big puppy-dog brown eyes of
his. He had a neatly combed mess of jet
black hair too, which was also attractive.
Val could easily learn to like this club.
The other boy, a high school junior, was kinda creepy. His name was Conrad Doble. He was the only one at the meeting who had
been a member of the original Norwall Pirates.
He was tall and thin, with lank blond hair that hadn’t had a haircut in
too long. He had a distinct problem with
facial Acne. And he insisted on leering
at Valerie, like he wanted to take a bite or two and eat her up. For the first time Val understood why he had
the semi-Shakespearian nickname of King Leer.
“You know that re-forming the Pirates is a sucky idea,
right?” said Doble, leering at Mary Philips for the moment. “There’s no way to go back to those
things. Milt Morgan had all the ideas
and told us what to do. Brent Clarke was
the leader and made the ideas happen.
How are we gonna fight werewolves or undead Chinese wizards without them?”
“You know that those adventures were mostly lies and fairy
tales,” Mary said.
“Still, who will be the wizard? And who will be the leader?” Doble glared at Mary accusingly. “I actually saw the werewolf!”
The two older boys, Ray and Pidney looked at each other
“Re-forming the Pirates was my idea,” said Mary. “I think I should be the leader.”
“A girl as leader?” asked Doble. “We only used to let girls in for sex
“Be careful what you say to Mary, Goon,” said Pidney.
“Or what? You’ll beat
me up with your football muscles?”
“No,” said Ray. “The
two of us will beat the crap out of you.”
The fire flashing in Ray Zeffer’s eyes was even more intimidating than
Pidney’s football muscles, and Pidney’s football muscles were seriously huge.
“Yeah, well… I guess
there might be benefits to having girls in the Pirates,” grumbled Doble
“So, it’s settled.
The Norwall Pirates exist once more,” said Mary with a sparkly
smile. “I will be the leader and Pidney
will be second in command.”
“Who is the wizard?” growled Doble. “Milt is the hard one to replace.”
“I get that you always thought of Milt Morgan as Merlin and
Brent Clarke as his King Arthur,” said Mary, “but do we really need a wizard?”
“Yeah, I think we do,” insisted Doble.
“You know we don’t have to let you be a Pirate this time,”
“I’m the only real
Norwall Pirate here,” said Doble imperially.
“You have to have my permission to even do this.”
“It’s all right,” said Mary.
“What is it you think we need a wizard for?”
Conrad Doble stood up to his full height and lightly bonked
his head on a cellar rafter. After he
rubbed his somewhat flattened head of hair, he went over to a nearby cabinet,
and removed the right hand door which basically fell out when you touched
it. He reached in and brought out a
large peanut-butter jar filled with formaldehyde. Floating in it was the severed head of a huge
black cat, its dead eyes popped and staring.
He placed that on the crate in front of the old couch.
“Gack! What’s that?”
“The secret mystical symbol of the Pirate leader,” said
“Smart girl,” said Conrad Doble. “If you know that, then surely you know what
a wizard is for.”
“I’m guessing the keeper of secrets,” said Mary.
“The teller of stories!” Valerie blurted out.
“Yes!” said Doble.
“Both of those things. But
story-teller most of all. That’s what
Milt used to do. He told us stories and
made us believe in stuff.”
“So, who here is a story-teller?” asked Ray Zeffer.
“Tell us the story of your Uncle Noah,” Pidney said to Mary.
“He is NOT my uncle,” said Mary. “He’s just Dad’s friend. I used to call him uncle when I was little.”
“But that’s the idea, isn’t it?” asked Pidney. “That story you were telling me about your
dad’s friend on the freighter in the South Seas? You could tell us that.”
“Maybe. You have to
give me time to pull it all together. I
think we need to leave that position open for the moment, to give others here a
chance to tell a story of their
own.” Mary glared in Conrad’s direction for a change.
“Okay,” said Doble.
“It’s a deal.”
“Who will be in the club?” asked Pidney.
“I invited everyone here to be a Pirate,” said Mary. “I think all of us need to be here. The Norwall Pirates used to be a group of
friends that supported each other and helped each other through hard times. That’s what we all need again. Especially Ray.”
Ray Zeffer blushed and looked off into the darkness of the
far corner of the cellar. Valerie
wondered why. She decided she would find
“Why didn’t you invite Billy Martin?” asked Danny
Murphy. “He needs to be a Pirate too.”
“You are right,” said Mary with a smile. “But I didn’t know where to find him or how
to get the message to him. Inviting him
can be our first club project.”
“Club project? You
make it sound all girly!” complained Doble.
So it was decided. Valerie Clarke was now the second girl ever to be a Norwall Pirate. She smiled to herself, but when she caught Doble looking at her again, she changed the smile for a frown.