I have been using the book-reviewing service called Pubby to get readers to actually read and review my books. I have barely gotten any readers to pick up and read one of my books since I first started publishing my work in 2007. And I get it. Beginning authors, no matter how good they are going to be later, are not so very good on the first, second, or even third try. My family is reluctant to read anything I have written because I pester them too much about it. My children are all creative in their own way, and consumed more by their own projects than by anything I have done. And when my wife reads anything I have written, she becomes laser-focused on what is unusual about how I use grammar and how things are spelled.
“You can’t spell that word like that!” she insists.
“But honey, it’s a made-up word that I made up myself.”
“That makes it worse, because the word it makes me think of is a bad word in the Philippines, even though it is spelled nothing like your word for butterflies thinking of ear wax.”
“Okay, I guess I have to change it then.”
But Amazon doesn’t like your relatives writing book reviews anyway. And their rules knocked out a couple of reviews I got from other writers with whom I had a deal for exchanging reviews. So, this review service was supposed to help with the problem. You read books from Pubby’s list and write a review to get points that you can put toward getting your own books reviewed. That seems both reasonable and equitable to me.
So, I started with some of the best books I have written and began getting them reviewed. So far, Snow Babies has gained four five-star reviews. Sing Sad Songs and Recipes for Gingerbread Children have each added three five-star reviews.
And it began to concern me.
It seems that some of the truly terrible writing that I was reviewing were getting overly-generous amounts of five-star reviews, along with their twos and threes. And the closer I looked at some of the comments in the reviews of my books, which were somehow read in only one or two days, were merely restatements of what other reviewers had already written. It was entirely possible that I was getting reviews like I was because writers were slapping an empty five-star on there to justify earning their points to get their own books reviewed. They weren’t actually reading the stories themselves.
I am not going to complain about mere suspicions over a five-star review. But I was looking for proof that people read and like my books. And I expect to see some lower grades on my work. That’s part of how you know things are real. Not everyone likes every good book. The best books ever written have their detractors.
So, I went with my most recently published book, Laughing Blue. I chose the free-review-copy option and gave the reader every opportunity to dislike my book of boring old essays. And I got back a five-star review with some actual proof that the reader did read it and enjoyed it.
Now I feel better. But I would still like to see some three or four-star reviews, and I would definitely survive a one or a two. It would make me think the whole thing is a bit more honest than it has seemed at times.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be… according to Mickey.
The Leaping Shadowcat and The First Half-Century both came out of jump space together into the system of 1232 Ardonnis, the home system of the high-population world called Coventry. Immediately, the situation became the silent-operatic equivalent of Beethoven’s Knock of Doom in the Ninth Symphony. Daaat Daaat Daaat Dooooh! Three hundred of the Imperium’s newest space ships, ships of the line, tenders, and support ships were all arrayed against the two ships of Ham and Ferrari’s tiny rebel fleet.
Ham leaned on the pilot’s control panel and let his jaw drop as he gazed out the Shadowcat’s viewport at them.
“I see the Bregohelma!” he cried. “Admiral Tang is out there himself!”
“We are so dead!” moaned Duke Han Ferrari. The Duke twisted the right end of his handlebar moustache nervously. “I will surrender myself to them, and maybe they will spare you and the crew of the Shadowcat.”
“Give me some credit, Duke,” said Ham sullenly. “I may not be the famous space hunter, Ged Aero, but I can be a hero too. I will NOT desert my friends.”
“Hey, Ham-boy, old Jester!” The call came from the command deck of the fighting space frigate, The First Half Century. “Do you see what I see out there?”
“Yes, Goofy, I’m afraid I do.”
“Wow! Old Jester, I mean literally WOW! We can win glory in battle like this against impossible odds!”
“Goofy, we are going to die! Don’t get all hammy over it! We have to make them pay for it the best we know how.”
“Oh, you got it, Ham-ster! I am putting the Crown of all Stars on my head right now. I can use the powers of the Ancients to defeat this bozo!”
Ham slapped his right hand over his forehead in total frustration. There was a good reason that Mammy Aero had once banned little Ham and little Ged from playing with the demented little goofy child. That boy just wasn’t entirely right in the head.
“Belay that! You don’t need to melt your brain to die in this battle. You need to fight the way they taught you back at the Space Academy. We need to go down with honor.”
The video communicator snapped on and showed a smiling one-eyed Goofy with the three-orbed alien thing pulsing yellow, orange, and lime-green lights all over the bridge of the military ship. Goofy’s crew were resolutely manning battle stations in the background. Ham could also see the unearthly Tesserah thing pulsing and glowing with menace behind the Goof.
“What’s that Tesserah thing doing?” I asked the view screen, feeling I had to insert myself into the dire problem to find some sort of sensible solution.
“That, old Scientist-Jester, is an Ancient weapon now fully primed and ready to be used against the enemies!”
I have to tell you, I was more than a little alarmed as a scientist and scholar. This situation seemed sure to end only one way. We would be atomized by space-born weapons systems or torn atom from atom by Ancient alien energies. Even I didn’t see a way out.
“I order you to stop what you are doing right now!” said Duke Ferrari, trying to take command of the situation.
“No, your Duke-ness. I can do this! Watch!”
Goofy Dalgoda made a face like he was having a painful bowel movement, and then the space between the Tesserah and the Imperial Fleet was suddenly ablaze with alien energy, like a strange ochre lightning in the vacuum of space.
Fifteen Imperial ships disintegrated before our disbelieving eyes.
“Wow!” I said, being the first one able to speak. “Mr. Dalgoda? Are you actually able to direct that power?”
“Yessir, old Mr. Science Dude! I can drop that beam on the head of a pin.”
Ham was suddenly smiling again. He was a very handsome man when he smiled. “Let them have it, then, Goof! Give ‘em all you’ve got!”
The Goofy One did not have to be told twice. Blasts arced out into space on all sides of his ship. For three hundred and sixty degrees all around, the small capital ship laid waste to larger and more powerful space behemoths. The Wargod Class Dreadnaught called The Benjamin Franklin, ruptured like a dried gourd and spilled its disintegrating seed into surrounding space. The Nimitz Class Fleet Carrier, the Colonel Green, launched a thousand fighters as it rolled over in space and dissolved. One by one all of the fighters winked out of existence too. It was like watching silent fireworks. It was all I could do not to shout “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” There was a terrifying beauty in so much fire and death.
“Goof?” asked Ham anxiously, “Can you target the Bregohelma?”
“Oh, Ham-boy! We have to make the old red bird see all of this destruction first!”
A huge blue bolt of energy surged out of the Tesserah and painted a wide swath over the most populous of the cities below on the planet. Everyone was suddenly sick to their stomach as almost a billion innocent beings on the planet below were consumed by alien energy.
“Trav! What have you done?” cried Ham.
“I did just what the crown said I should. I used my mental connection with the Tesserah to start cleansing the planet below us.”
“Trav!” wept Ham. “They were on our side!”
As Ham pleaded, I suddenly saw Commander Dana Cole on the view screen. She had a laser weapon in her hand. “Forgive me, Ham!” cried Dana Cole as she cut off one of Trav’s arms with the laser. “He’s possessed by that alien thing! I have to stop him.”
Trav Dalgoda was still laughing as he used his remaining arm to gesture and make a smaller blue splash of energy launch toward the planet.
“Forgive me, Trav. I do love you,” said Dana as she sawed off his other arm. Trav was still smiling as he tried to gesture with a foot. She cut the leg off too. Then the other leg. Finally, with a destroyed look of regret on her face, she cut off Goofy’s head. The crown grew dark and the Tesserah grew silent.
All of us aboard the Shadowcat were still stunned. Trav had nearly saved us from catastrophe. Then he made everything a billion times worse.
“We can still win,” growled Ham resolutely. “I can crash the Shadowcat into the bridge of the Bregohelma and destroy Admiral Tang.”
Trav’s former command, the frigate, was battling the last remaining ship of the line, and apparently winning. We actually could rule the day if we made the ultimate sacrifice Ham was suggesting. All on the bridge of the little safari ship looked each other in the eye and nodded yes to it. Ham fixed the navigational controls on the target, dead center on the bridge of the Admiral’s Flagship. Full throttle we began to plunge toward her.
In my mind, the symphony had reached a crescendo, cymbals clashing, drums rumbling, and violins soaring. I was prepared to die in that instant, as we all were.
Sinbadh, the Lupin space cook, stuck his head in the doorway to the bridge.
It was the commander on the bridge of the Bregohelma who first spotted it as it came out of jump space.
“What the hell is that?” he complained in a nasally voice while looking out of a face that was not the face of a weasel, but that only obvious because DNA scans had proved he was human and he didn’t have a tail. He looked around the bridge for someone to give him an answer to his question. But almost everyone on bridge duty at that moment was an undead rot-warrior, a skeletal dead body reanimated with electronics and controlled by a computerized brain. And all of them, at that moment were still trying to compute how to get the answer out of “Hell” since that was where the commander had requested it from.
“That looks like a… dinosaur,” said Wormheart Toadsucker, who was only slightly less dead-looking and probably less intelligent than the rot warriors. “You know, like the ones on the planet Dionysus.”
“It can’t be one of those. It’s in space. It just appeared in far orbit around the planet.”
“You should have one of the smart ones scan it,” said Wormheart. “I need to go alert Admiral Tang.
“Okay, which of these mud-brains is a smart one?” The commander looked at every vacant-eyed face on the bridge and then started scanning himself. Amazing things began popping up on the scanner-screen report.
The red-armored admiral appeared on the bridge moments later with the boot-licker Wormheart groveling along behind him.
“So, what does it appear to be?” asked the admiral in his ultra-creepy modulated voice.
“Well, it’s a kind of starship like I have never seen before. The scanner computer can’t completely identify it. It seems to be some sort of alien artifact from the time of the Ancients.”
“Ah, that might explain the weird dinosaur shape. The Ancients were of so much higher a tech level than we are now that many of their relics seem totally inexplicable to us.”
“Yes, but this one has a primarily human crew. They are not even mostly Galtorrian/human fusions like you might expect. Just plain Earther types.”
“And it is coming towards us under power.”
“Are the shields up?”
“Um… they are now.” The commander quickly corrected his oversight.
“Find out what they want.”
As soon as the admiral commanded it, a visual appeared on the commo-screen. The Lizard Lady herself appeared in the middle of a bridge full of oddly-dressed human crewmen.
“Are you not an Imperial spy, Captain?” Admiral Tang asked, lowering his voice to basement levels of creepiness.
“I am. And I have stolen a flagship of the new fleet you will face if you try to invade the Outpost system of Tron Blastarr.”
“That is remarkable good work, um… what is your name?”
“I am an original Galtorrian, simply called Lizard Lady.”
“You will be remembered as a hero to the Imperium, Lizard Lady.”
“Ah, but the mission is not yet fully complete. We need to pull up to your ship and dock. This is Ancient technology, and we will need your brilliance to fully control it.”
“Very well… we should be able to…”
Suddenly another sleek spaceship of Ancient designed popped out of jump space directly beside the dinosaur-shaped ship. After a few moments in which no one had time to do another scan, the new, sleek ship disappeared once again.
“We are moving in to dock with you now, Admiral,” said the Lizard Lady as she gave orders quietly to her pilots and then swiftly left the bridge before Tang could ask her anything.
The dinosaur ship lurched forward and was approaching at an impossible docking speed.
“Shields on maximum! Back away from them fast,” ordered Tang, obviously sensing a trick. “Fire everything at that ship now!”
Lasers, plasma cannons, nuclear missiles, and Gauss cannons all fired at the incoming ship. It did not fire back. Instead it ignited and blew up in what would have been a spectacular fireball if it had blown up in an oxygen or hydrogen-rich atmosphere. The shock-wave nearly obliterated the Bregohelma as it was, but apparently it was too far distant for the resolution of the mission that the Lizard Lady had planned.
Dr. Hooey’s time ship, the Star Wars, materialized in the Bregohelma’s cargo bay.
The door of the phone-booth-like thing opened and the Lizard Lady stepped out to confirm her present location.
“Is it the proper cargo bay?” asked Dr. Hooey from inside the time ship.
“It is,” she answered. “Now that we are in the proper place, we only need to move to the proper time.
“Very well. The time according to which of the prophecies?”
“Yes, according to all of them.” She stepped back into the time ship. It made its normal grinding sound, and promptly disappeared into the near future.
No man is really fit to judge his own character. You can’t see it objectively from the inside. But one of the benefits of being a fiction author is that you don’t have to judge yourself. You can get away with judging everybody else around you. And they don’t even need to realize that that is what you are doing.
I am going to dissect three examples from my own fiction.
The first, as you have probably already guessed, is Valerie Clarke, the heroine of Snow Babies, When the Captain Came Calling, and Sing Sad Songs.
Valerie is named after the prettiest girl I went to school with, the one in my class that was in school with me from kindergarten to twelfth grade. The one who used to politely laugh at my jokes and smile at me a lot when I needed someone to look at me and not scowl. She is a very lovely lady now with grandchildren and a good life in Iowa. And besides the name and the beauty, that’s about as far as the real Valerie goes in the make-up of this crucial main character.
The spirit and the personal history of this character come from a very composed and determined young lady that I taught as both a seventh and an eighth-grader. I have referred to her before in this blog as Sasha. But that’s not her real name. And I am not going to ever give you her real name because she’s entitled to the secrets I may have revealed about her in creating this character, as well as entitled not to be burdened with the things in my stories about her that she never did in real life.
In the course of the novels I write, I dramatized the loss of her father, writing a scene in which she comes home to find him after he has committed suicide over the loss of his part of the family farm that he co-inherited with his older brother. Kyle Clarke’s suicide is the single most devastating scene I have ever written up until now. It stopped the novel in the middle. I had to write two other whole novels before I could pick it up and continue. But Sasha’s missing father in real life did not commit suicide. The love that develops between Valerie and Tommy in Snow Babies and the love she finds with Francois in Sing Sad Songs are also facts that do not belong in real life to Sasha.
But the part of Valerie Clarke that really is Sasha is her indomitable will, the way she simply cannot be stopped when she makes up her mind to accomplish something. And that smile that melts your defenses and forces you to accept everything she is about change in your life for the better, whether it is painful or not. The bravery that Valerie shows when she loses someone or something that is important to her is also Sasha. Overcoming disappointment and how one manages to do it is a real key to someone’s character. It helps you decide whether that character is right to be the heroine or is a better fit to be the villain of a story. And Sasha could never have been a villain.
And finally, there’s the thing about the character of Valerie Clarke that has attached itself to my own daughter, the Princess, whose real name I also never use in this blog. She was roughly the same age as the character of Valerie as I was actually putting the story of Snow Babies down in sentences, paragraphs, and Cantos. Some of the more private details about Valerie come from her, things I could never have learned about the first Valerie or Sasha because I never lived in the same house with them. And these more private details are probably the reason that my own daughter has not read a story with Valerie Clarke in it.
So, now I have revealed the basic anatomy of the character creation of one of three promised characters that I am proudest to have created in my fiction.
A lot of my artwork has to do with students and teachers, and of course, the schools they attend. I wonder where this obsession came from?
There’s a lot of science fiction elements in school. After all, we are preparing students for the future.
It is hard to tell just by looking whether this school is in the past or in the future. The secret is, this illustrates a science fiction novel I haven’t written yet. It is on another planet three thousand years in the future.
This picture of one of my last high school ESL classes is not realistic. Students are far more cartoonish than they are pictured here.
Of course, school is not about the teachers. It is about the students.
These two are Blueberry Bates and Mike Murphy.
They are fictional people.
But they are based on three different seventh grade couples I taught in Texas.
One set actually grew up and married each other.
You know how you can tell that this school is from science fiction? The student in the picture is actually a robot who looks human.
Meet Harker Dawes. He’s a ne’er-do-well businessman, a fool, a bungler, a clown, and his job is comedy relief as a support player in multiple novels of my Hometown Novels Series. I would contend that he is the kind of character I can’t write a good story without. And why does he have a name like Harker? Well, it’s Charles Dickens’ fault.
What do I mean by that? Well, if you’ve never read a novel by Charles Dickens… Why the heck not? I mean seriously… A Tale of Two Cities is one of the best novels ever written by anyone. The history, themes, and tightly woven plot threads of that novel… pale in comparison to some of the funny names Dickens uses to tell that tale. Jerry Cruncher, porter for Tellson’s Bank, is also a grave-robber in his spare nights. He is constantly losing his temper with Mrs. Cruncher for “flopping against him” (which is how he characterizes how she prays for him). He is an essential clown in that narrative. Prim and proper Miss Pross is Lucie Manette’s hand maiden who is so fiercely loyal she ends up taking out the vengeful villain of the tale, Madame Defarge, for threatening her precious Miss Lucie.
And that notation is just the beginning of the long list of silly names used for critical supporting characters in his books. There is a wealth of them in every book you pick up; Uncle Pumblechook, Herbert Pocket, Abel Magwitch, and Joe Gargery in Great Expectations… certainly not leaving out Philip Pirrip (Pip) the narrator and main character of the tale.
Wackford Squeers is the perfect name for the abusive headmaster of Dotheboy’s Hall in Nicholas Nickleby.
A Christmas Carol not only contains Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim Cratchit, but also Old Fezziwig, a former boss who loves to dance at the Christmas parties he throws.
David Copperfield has wonderful character names like Edward Murdstone the evil stepfather, Wilkins Micawber the ne’er-do-well surrogate father figure (based on Dickens’s real father), jovial Mr. Dick, and the slimy, villainous Uriah Heep.
The multi-syllabic names he uses are not only comical or sinister or both, but uniquely descriptive of the characters themselves, defining for us in nonsense syllables what those characters seem to be all about.
So, that is why his name is Harker Dawes. It stands in for, “Hark, there will be guffaws.” The perfect moniker for a very imperfect man.
In the same book as Harker, you can find heroic Agnes Brikkleputti the social worker who chases four orphan runaways from Chicago to Norwall, Iowa and risks death in a blizzard to bring the orphans their medications. She is the putty that holds those four bricks together.
So, you should not be surprised if you read something Mickey has written and you run across a silly name. It is evidence that he might be Dickens reincarnated.
I found this report in the Don’t Go Here Dino-News and decided, since I am more than a little bit lazy, I would quote it wholly to take the place of this part of the history you are now reading.
Fionna Arbuckle here, your favorite cub reporter with all the gossip that anybody who is remotely anybody listens to and commits to heart to be able to repeat word for word to everybody in the town square of beautiful Bedrock City, for Dino-News’s gossip pages.
The breaking news this reporter was turned on to by the stealthy revelations of moderately leaky New Star League Fleet security personnel, has to do with a certain handsome new Grand Admiral and his Second-in-Command, inexplicably named after a two-winged insect and a color known in the Classical Worlds as “noire,” who were seen together in the lifeboat after having escaped a kidnapping of their new fleet flagship and accidentally turning broadcast cameras on with a stray limb in such a state of intimate compromise that they are now needing to get married at the point of a shotgun…
And yes, I do actually need to take a breath after a run-on sentence delivered at a high rate of speed in order to deliver every bit of juicy information possible in the time available due to the short attention spans of our supposed cave-man audience-members… whooo…
And here comes the couple now. We shall see if we can get a word with them.
“Grand Admiral Cloudstalker, is it true that you and Commander Black Fly are seriously on the brink of tying a knot that you may or may not regret for the rest of your natural life?”
“Um… no. No, it is not true that members of the radical White Spider Cult are at this moment taking our captured flagship full of traitors straight to Admiral Tang.”
“Wait, there’s a White Spider Cult? A cult that lives by the credo set forth in the Prophecy of Shan?”
“What…? No…. I mean, yes, that cult…. But not the ones who actually follow the teachings of the interstellar White Spider Ged Aero. Rather, a splinter group following the so-called Bishop of the White Spider and her insane interpretation of the Prophecy of …? What was it again, honey?”
“I think it was the Prophecy of Xan. But it is possible that all of the versions of the Prophecy speak of the betrayal from the acolytes of the Grand One.”
“The Grand One? Does that refer to… me? The Grand Admiral?”
“Anyway… we will not be deterred from our intentions to repel invaders when they come to attack the worlds of the New Star League. And we will get the flagship back before the battle takes place, I promise you that.”
“Actually, the Admiral doesn’t promise that. He will not be able to retrieve that ship at all, in all likelihood.”
“Oh, you have just heard from cute little munchkin Commander ADaB from Djinnistan. He and Commander PiP in all probability will also be getting married in a shotgun wedding arrangement judging by the accidentally switched-on cameras in their escape pod.”
“We will not, Miss Arbuckle. I have seven wives already to think about. We will just be having a torrid love affair. And we are called Peris… definitely NOT munchkins!”
“Admiral? You never actually answered that question when it was put to you and Commander Black Fly. Can you tell us now?”
“Fionna, I wish you were better at hearing what is not being said and figuring out why. Yes, we will be getting married. You specifically are being invited. And if wedding ceremonies on Black Fly’s planet include ritual human sacrifice, that honor will be entirely yours.”
“Oh, why thank you for that, Admiral. I only hope it is not a bloody sort of ritual. I cannot stomach the sight of blood.”
“He was joking, my dear Fiona.”
“Thank goodness… erm, I mean thank you for sharing, Miss Fly. And um… was it the wedding part that was the joke?”
“No, we are definitely getting married. We talked about it on the way back to base.”
“You heard it here first, folks. There is going to be a Grand Admiral’s wedding between the planet Don’t Go Here’s most notable power couple. And you heard it from cub reporter Fiona Arbuckle, representing the Don’t Go Here Dino-News.”
One difficulty with doing the whole book-review-on-Pubby.com thing is that to get a book reviewed you have to give a book review or two.
This comes into conflict with my uncritical critic philosophy. You see, up until now I have done book reviews only at my pleasure, only reviewing books I know I am going to enjoy. I am used to giving five-star book reviews because the books I choose to read are really that good.
But now, on this book-review forum that I paid an expensive membership to join, I am definitely running into books written by authors who only think they are writing the Great American Novel. Some of them have a lot to learn about how to tell a good story, let alone the ones who don’t even know some of the basics about how to write in English.
I recently came across a book that had a number of four and five stars in each review. But I could only give it a two-star review. Bummer. Why is it up to me to bring the hammer down? Some of the reviewers who weren’t mostly incoherent in what they said about the book were obviously being overly kind because it was this person’s first novel. How do you deflate someone’s balloon without breaking their heart while they are holding tightly to the string?
And is it fair to give someone a balloon-inflating five-star review if they haven’t earned it?
As a writing teacher, you have to begin every review of an assignment with the positives you find in the work. The suggestions for improvement that come after may far outweigh the two good things you found in the piece to get them re-started.
I recently read a “novel” by an author who had only written about 8,000 words and was calling this the beginning of an epic series. There was practically no dialogue. The actions were brief and as simplistic as a fairy-tale adventure with demonic possession in another dimension where time-travel was common could possibly be. It makes me cringe about my own unpublished first attempts a whole lot less than before. So, I had to give a two-star review that began with the sentence, “You certainly are an enthusiastic young writer.”
I worry too about all of my own reviews so far being pure five-star reviews. Some of those reviews seem to reveal that the reader actually read the book and identified some of the strengths it has that I believe are there myself. But some of them could too easily be from reading what other reviewers have said, parroting it, and giving me a review based on their assumption that the other reviewers are right. I need to see some of that criticism and argument about what I have done that indicates a thoughtful reading of the book and really disliking it for a valid reason. I am not a perfect writer. Even the guy who wrote Shakespeare’s plays and poems had some flaws, prejudices, and foibles.
And since we are reviewing each other’s novels, how soon before someone gives me a one-star review out of a lust for vengeance? We are probably not all doing this in order to make each other better writers.
Ah, the book-reviewing life! Can you name even one reviewer you think is right more than they are wrong? I can’t. In fact, who besides me ever reads book reviews? I do not know that answer well enough to even guess.
But I paid the money. And someone is actually reading and reviewing honestly, even if it is only me. I mounted the old unicorn of book reading an writing tutorials sidesaddle. That way I’m not likely to get hit where it really, really hurts.
The thing about being an artist that I can’t seem to really explain, if I even am one, is “Why?” I mean why am I an artist? I am not a camera. You look at my imperfect drawings, and you can see it is a drawing. Even if I did photo-realistic drawings, I would still have to wonder “Why?” Why go to all that work if we have cameras for that?
And if we draw something that never was, but might have been… if only we were made like gods and could control everything around us completely… why is that worth doing? Just to see things through my eyes? I have weird eyes. They see skateboards with flaming Bart Simpsons on them saying, “Eat my shorts!” What is the value of that?
Perhaps this sort of “Seeing through someone else’s eyes” gives us a perspective that we could get no other way. I know I love art museums, art books, and art collections even more than I like looking at my own art. I love looking at the world as other people see it.
Maybe artwork, in one form or another is the closest we can come to truly sharing what’s inside us with other human beings, mind to mind, heart to heart, liver of blood-curdling revelation to liver of blood-curdling revelation… wait, you mean not everyone has a liver like that?
So, not everyone lives life the way I do, or knows what I know, or remembers the sweet, sad things I remember, or sees things the way I see them. Is that, then, the reason why for being an artist? Or cartoonist if you believe that I am not a real artist?
If I truly am an artist… and I am not convinced that I truly am, then I don’t answer the why questions. It is the job of the scientist to do that. I only ask the questions. And I do it by drawing the next inexplicable thing.
Being a child of the ’60s and also being fifty percent raised by the television set, it was my privilege to witness and learn from the master comedian of self-deprecating humor and ultimate humiliation. And there is no better preparation for becoming a Texas public school teacher than to learn how to be laughed at from Don Knotts.
I have spent a goodly number of hours during our recent COVID quarantine watching old DVDs of Don Knotts movies. The last four nights I viewed, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Love God. If you have never seen them, they come with the highest of Mickian recommendations, “They made me laugh so hard I cried.”
Of course, my favorite Don Knotts movie of all time is The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
Knotts always seems to play a character put upon by life in general, yet always believing that he has the inner something to make himself into a huge success. Every time he gets knocked down he quivers with frustration and throws a punch at his tormentors that invariably hits nothing unless he hits himself. In Mr. Limpet, we find a man so frustrated in his inability to help in the war effort that he throws himself into the sea, turning himself into a fish… a fish that helps defeat German U-boats. He makes himself into a hero, He even finds love among the fishes.
Knotts found the perfect comic partner in Tim Conway as they made The Apple Dumpling Gang and its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Slapstick antics and serious battles against the laws of physics somehow manage to win out over real bad guys with real guns and horses.
I guess the thing that makes Don Knotts such an important part of my television-sourced education is how much I identify with him. Life is a never-ending parade of humbling defeats and blush-inducing humiliations. I have spent most of my life being one with the little-guy within me, the put-upon fellow who has never quite overcome all the little hurts incurred by a desire to overcome the gravity holding me down.
And in a Don-Knotts world, based on a Don-Knotts movie script, things eventually turn out all right in the end. Mr. Chicken is proved right. Abner Peacock ends up marrying the beautiful girl who is the perfect one for him. The dentist who is mistaken for a gun-fighter still gets to be the hero in the end. So, there are worse things than living a Don Knotts sort of life.
Rest in peace, Don Knotts. For though you are no longer with us, you will always live on in my heart… and the hearts of many other Don Knotts wannabes.