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.
When Valerie awoke, she was no longer on the ground. Someone was carrying her and she had
someone’s jacket wrapped tightly around her bare body. Someone was gently, tenderly lowering her
into a bed loaded with comforter and quilts.
“Be careful of her head, Ray,” said an older woman. Valerie vaguely became aware that a young man
or boy was holding her, and lowering her onto soft bedding. “How did you ever find her in such a condition?” The woman was Patricia Zeffer, Ray’s
Mom. Valerie looked groggily up into the
face of her rescuer. It was Ray.
“I found her in the alley behind Martin’s Bar and Grill,”
Ray said with deep concern in his voice.
“She was just lying there, completely nude and unconscious. Did you call someone?”
“I am going to in a minute.
I will call the hospital in Belle City for advice. Then I’ll call the poor dear’s parents. I just needed to get a look at what’s wrong
“She’s awake,” said Ray, smiling down at her as he pulled a
quilt over her.
“Oh, my poor, sweet girl,” said Mrs. Zeffer, “whatever
happened to you?”
“I… I’m not entirely sure.”
Valerie’s voice was shaky and soft, almost too quiet to hear.
“Did you see if she was bleeding anywhere?” Mrs. Zeffer
“She had some bloody scratches on her shoulder and back,
maybe from an animal.”
“Are you in pain, dear?”
“No… I mean, only
where the cat clawed me. It stings.”
“Why were you in the alley naked? Did something terrible happen?” It was obvious from the look on her motherly
face that Mrs. Zeffer wasn’t too sure she should be asking this question.
“I… I don’t know. I
was with Mary Philips and Pidney Breslow.
I’m afraid they may be hurt worse than I am.”
“They didn’t hurt
you, did they?” asked Ray.
“Of course not.
“Do you know who?”
“Mom, you better call the sheriff too. They will need to find Pid and Mary and make
sure they’re all right.”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
Mrs. Zeffer hustled out of the bedroom headed for the phone downstairs.
“Ray, um… you found me naked?”
“I’m sorry,” said Ray.
“I could see you needed help. I
put my jacket on you. I… um… didn’t look
“Ah… it’s okay. You
saved me. You and Barky Bill.”
“The Martins’ dog? He
fought off your attacker?”
“Well, yes… kinda. I
think he killed my attacker.”
“He did? I didn’t see
anybody lying there in the alley.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have.
It was a cat. I think the dog ate
“You were attacked by a cat?
Come on, you have to tell me the whole story.”
Valerie did. She
filled Ray in on everything he probably didn’t already know.
“Wow, that’s really messed up,” said Ray. “The witchdoctor wants you as a virgin to
sacrifice to the volcano, but the cat wanted to eat you?”
“That’s how I understood it.”
“I’m glad the cat didn’t eat you.”
“You… ah… Ray… can I ask you something?”
“Yes, Val. I can’t
promise I know the answer, but you may always ask.”
“Thanks… uh, Ray… you saw me naked in the alley?”
Ray blushed and looked away from Valerie’s face. “Yes, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be sorry… but… um… am I the first girl
you ever saw naked?”
“I know you never had any sisters…”
“No, I didn’t, but…”
“I mean, it’s okay if I’m your first.”
“You aren’t. Mary
didn’t tell you about me, huh?”
“Well, yes, but… I mean, no… well… what was she supposed to
“About why I need friends now? Why she thought I needed to be a Norwall
“About why you are so sad all the time?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, you see… um, I have a girlfriend already.”
“You do? And you’ve
seen her naked?”
“Um, yeah. You see,
“She is? Who is she?”
“Carla Sears from Belle City. She’s the prettiest girl in my class.”
“And she’s gonna have a baby?”
“So, you’re gonna get married, then?”
“No. Her parents
won’t allow it. They blame me for the
whole mess… and I suppose they’re right.”
“She’s going to have the baby all by herself?”
“Well, that’s one of the things they are talking about… I
mean…” Ray’s eyes were filled with
“You mean they might…?”
All Ray seemed to be able to do was nod.
“Oh.” Valerie’s eyes
began to gush tears too. “I’m so… sorry…
She reached up and put her arms around Ray’s neck. When she did, the quilt and the jacket fell
away, revealing her naked self to him.
She was past mere embarrassment, but she held on. He cried against her neck.
As he struggled for control of his emotions, she knew they
had to talk about something else.
Anything else. The walls around
them were painted a warm, sunny yellow.
“This room is very pretty.
Is it your room?”
“No,” he said simply.
“It was my brother Bobby’s room.”
“The one that died before I was born.” Ray had enough control to pick up the fallen
jacket and put it back around the naked girl.
“I never knew him.”
“That’s sad too.”
“Yeah. And hard. I was the replacement child for Mom and Dad.”
“They knew if they had another child, especially a boy, that
he could be a hemophiliac too, just like Bobby.
But they took the chance anyway.
They were heartbroken by his death, and well…”
“So, they had you.”
“They did. And now
“You would be a great dad, Ray… if they… um…
“Yeah… but they won’t.”
Valerie squeezed him tightly. She was beginning to see things in a way she never had before. Ray was worthy of love.
Valerie-squirrel hustled out towards the alley once
more. How do you find your focus and
take back your own mind? Could it
possibly have something to do with not listening to nonsense from the mouth of
a witch? But things that were affecting
her now were things that came in clouds of purple gas from the mouth of the
Tiki idol called Oojie Magoober. Maybe
she had to not listen to him… or it… or whatever the hell it was. She scampered back towards the end of the alley
where she had first crossed paths with the little wooden man.
The alley was unnaturally quiet. She looked all around for Skaggs the cat, or
the dog Barky Bill. Not only could she
not see them with her little squirrel eyes, she couldn’t smell them with her
little squirrel nose. Well, that wasn’t
entirely true. She could smell the
poo-poo smells from the area where she knew the dog had to be because it was
chained up. But Barky Bill was not
boofing out cat warnings, or prowling around.
He was apparently in his little lean-to doghouse by the back door of
Martin’s Bar and Grill.
There were no other squirrels chittering. Valerie-squirrel was also deeply concerned
about what may have happened to Mary-squirrel and Pidney-squirrel. Did Oojie and the cats catch them? Maybe eat them? She shuddered to think such a thought.
So, she crept forward ever more wary and ever more
alert. Her little pointed ears were
perked straight up and listening intently.
She continually looked behind her for stalking cats.
It was eerie how quiet the alley was. Not only were the squirrels quiet, but no
birds were singing. No insects were
buzzing. It was as if Mother Nature was
holding her breath… worried about… something evil about to take place.
Valerie-squirrel timidly put her little nose to the spot in
the alley where the wooden Tiki idol had first appeared. Anyway, she was pretty sure it was the right
spot. But the smells were mostly
unfamiliar. She had not been a squirrel
long enough to really know what the smells all stood for.
Skaggs was on top of her before she could even look up from
sniffing the dirt. Cruel cat claws
pricked deeply into squirrel muscles and her squirrel heart practically
exploded with instant terror.
“Well, well, pretty little one. I wonder how beautifully you are going to
“No! You cannot eat
“Let’s see now… are you not a squirrel and significantly
smaller than me?”
“And do I not have you pinned down helplessly under my
“BOOF! Boof! Boof! Boof! Yipe!”
Barky Bill came rocketing out from hiding, leaping for the
terrible, awful, wicked cat. With full
force he reached the end of his chain and practically tore his own head off
straining against the chain-enforced back flip that came next.
“Ah, very clever, stupid dog. You thought if I couldn’t see you hiding
under that old piece of carpet I would never know you were there. But you forgot, that you are chained there,
and you never go anywhere else. And I
never forget where the maximum chain reach is.”
“You can’t eat her, cat!”
“You surprise me, stupid dog. I didn’t know you could animal-talk.”
“I can’t. I’m just a
stupid dog. But you can’t eat her. She’s not really a squirrel. You can tell by the smell. She’s really a human girl. You must leave her alone!”
“Ah, but the point is, she thinks she’s a squirrel. If she thinks she’s a squirrel, then I think
I can eat her. I also think she will be
Valerie-squirrel was suddenly aware of the real meaning
behind the cat’s words. “She thinks
she’s a squirrel…,” the cat said. But
what had Mazie said? Something about her
focus… Yes. Someone had definitely used magic to convince
her that she was a squirrel. But she
wasn’t a squirrel. Barky Bill knew she
was a real girl because of her smell.
And if she still smelled like a human…
Suddenly Valerie Clarke was lying there in the dirt in the
middle of the alley by the Main Street water tower, as naked as the day that
she was born. She was a human girl… all
girl… and definitely too large to be eaten by a cat.
Shocked, Skaggs leaped splay-footed into the air. He was totally taken by surprise by his
prey’s sudden change of form. He came
down awkwardly and nearly didn’t land on his feet.
“You… you can’t do that!
Only witches have the power to see through spells!”
Valerie, now herself again, was feeling very woozy and
uncoordinated. She tried to get up from
the ground and failed, only managing to sit up in the alley dirt.
“The laws of magic cannot be broken by such as you… such a
“BOOF! Boof! Boof!”
Barky Bill lunged out to the fullest possible stretch of the chain, and
then the chain snapped. The dog had the
ugly white cat with the mismatched eyes neck-first in his jaws. The jaws tightened and you could hear Skaggs’
neck-bones snap. The cat went limp.
“I told you I would kill and eat this cat.”
“Yes, you did. Thank
you, Barky Bill. But how are you talking
with a cat in your mouth?”
“Oh, dogs can’t talk, miss. You know that.” “Yes, I suppose you are right.” Valerie was drained in every fiber of her bare body. She smiled weakly at the dog, and then everything went black.
*********************************Remember, this is promotion week for Recipes for Gingerbread Children********************
Valerie-squirrel scurried through the cat door in the back
of Mazie Haire’s Gingerbread House. Once
inside the house, she searched all around the downstairs for Miss Haire. Not finding her anywhere around the kitchen
cauldron and fireplace, or the sitting room and reading area, or even the
bathroom, the little blond squirrel finally found the witch upstairs, watching
something through the telescope.
“So, you still aren’t practicing your natural skills of
seeing and knowing, I see,” Miss Haire said to the squirrel at the top of the
“Chit Chitter Chit-it-it!” said Valerie-squirrel angrily,
even though she meant to say, “I need help, I’ve been changed into a squirrel!”
“You don’t have to talk like that, you know. Just say it in regular people words.”
“Chit-chitter… do I use regular people words?”
“Just like that, girl.
You have to use the acuity of your own intelligent mind to see through
the fog the spell put on your brain.”
“Well, that’s what a witch calls it, of course. But it is more like a bit of chemistry in
gaseous form, I believe. Did you not
come in contact with a cloud of purple smoke at one point or another?”
“Yes. The Tiki idol
filled Mary’s basement with purple smoke right before Mary, Pidney, and I all
turned into squirrels.”
“Yes, and somehow you were given some sort of powerful
suggestion right before that, I believe.”
“Ideas were placed in your head prior to inhaling the gas, I
believe. Someone talking, or chanting,
or telling a story perhaps.”
“There was… some chanting… yes.”
“So, that was the trick of it.”
“Can you…? Can you
cure me? Or reverse the spell? I don’t want to be a squirrel, Miss Haire.”
“You are not a squirrel, child. You are a rather stupid and completely naked
girl. I can’t cure stupid, but you can.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will continue to think you are a squirrel until you
take control of your own mind and convince yourself that you are not.”
Valerie-squirrel looked down at her own paws and
golden-blond fur. How exactly was that
done? Everything she saw, heard, and
smelled told her that she was really a squirrel. A human girl in her mind, but definitely a
squirrel in all her body parts.
“So, what do I do?”
“Obviously, me telling you that you are not a squirrel is
not enough. So, you are going to have to
go back out there and find for yourself the proof you need to turn yourself
back into a beautiful young lady, and not a silly, naked squirrel.
“Go back… out there?
Where the cat is? And that dog,
“Yes. Go back out
there and find the focus, find the part of your brain that reminds you that are
not what somebody else says you are. Go
out and find the part of Valerie Clarke that is not a squirrel.”
swallowed hard and looked back down the staircase. This was going to be hard.
I recently got my very first unsolicited review on a book I had written when Mr. Ted Bun, one of the leaders of the nudist writer group on Twitter gave me a five star review on Recipes for Gingerbread Children.
I was grateful and reviewed one of his books on Twitter in return.
But it was totally unsolicited. I didn’t even know any of my book promotions had penetrated such an odd corner of the internet. The story does have nudists in it, but that is not what the book is really about. Mr. Bun acknowledged that much in his review, and still liked it and called it well-written.
My first Amazon book promotion, offering the Kindle version of Snow Babies for free, produced the same kind of fruit. I started by sending a paperback copy to the girl I grew up with that I named the main character after. Valerie read the book to her grandchildren and then sent me this message;
Valerie– Hi Michael! I wanted to let you know that I finished reading your book a couple of days ago, and that I thought it was really good! You used so many colorful descriptions of the characters, that I felt like I could really picture the whole scene! I also enjoyed how you used several people’s names and surrounding towns from our past that brought back good memories. It kept my interest and made me excited to keep reading to see how things turned out! I appreciated how you ended it, too! Thanks again, so much for sharing it with me. I plan to share it with a friend of mine to read and then return to me! Do the Rowan and Belmond libraries have copies of your books? I would be happy to talk to the Belmond library about it, if you haven’t already! I will spread the word, and keep writing! Val
Me– I donated a couple of books to Rowan and one to Belmond. But I have written a lot more since
They don’t have Snow Babies. I am so glad you liked the book. It is one of the best things I have ever written.
Valerie– You can be proud of your hard work! Next time I’m in the library, I will take Snow Babies with me and show them. I know they like to support local authors! 🙂
Me– Thank you for the help. I really appreciate it.
Then I find this tweet on Twitter from a fellow author who responded to my book promotion week.
She read Snow Babies and loved it and shared this review with me before she posted it on Amazon.
Headline: This book has a potential to become a classic
The story takes you to Norwall, a secluded midwestern town
where people are expecting a snow blizzard to arrive in couple of hours. Among
strangers coming to the town during the blizzard are four very special boys, a
hobo, a bus driver, a drunken old lady, a stupid salesman, a couple of
newly-weds and a lady following the four boys. Each of them, as well as the
local people, has their own interesting story and their stories start to intertwine
while the town gets buried in snow.
Some from the locals and the newcomers start to see white
naked kids in the snow. In the course of events, they learn that those white
kids are so called “snow babies”. According to what people say, those who see
snow babies, are supposed to die during the blizzard.
The author has a talent for depicting situations in an
impressive manner, so they can be humorous and touching at the same time. His mature narrative style enables you to learn
deeply but in a light way about individual characters and understand their
motives. Interesting are the hobo´s droppings of philosophical reflections and
life wisdoms from Walt Whitman’s book. Simultaneously, in connection with snow
babies, the author keeps you in suspense until the end. The story is not
predictable, and the ending left me smiling and absorbed in thought.
I honestly fell in love with this book from the first page. It is like a fresh breeze compared to a number of today’s books written in similar patterns.
I am amazed that people are beginning to read my books and like them… even love them. I wasn’t expecting that to happen until after I was dead. It is a good feeling that took me by surprise.