As a new week begins and a new month begins tomorrow, I admit, I have been under pressure. But now the monsters are temporarily under control, either beaten back, or caged.
As you can see here, I have tightened up the cover design for part two of my novel re-write AeroQuest. The work on that has picked up pace. And the pressure is off because I have already completed and published the novels most essential to my writing life to finish before I die. But there is still the pressure to produce more.
My health has reached a point where immediate worries of death have been pushed back enough that the pressure is off. At least for now. My heart is still pumping properly in spite of the 2017 heart-attack scare. I still can’t afford insulin for diabetes, but careful attention to diet is still reducing the times I have to take to my bed all day due to high blood sugar. I have taken positive steps to secure a position as a substitute teacher in the local district. After next Tuesday I may actually be back in classrooms again, doing what I was born to do. Yes, I mean babysitting middle-school monkey-house denizens. I love it, and I have missed it. You may have noticed (if you’ve looked at any of my novels) that all my books are about school kids. Old teachers never die. They just lose all their class.
Money worries have loosened their grip on my heartbeat as well. Texas legislators were turned more friendly to teachers and retired teachers by the Blue Wave election of 2018. I got a healthy cost-of-living increase paid to me in September. I got a refund of a tax penalty that I paid to the IRS and didn’t actually owe. I was able to buy the new prescription glasses that I have needed since last January and wasn’t able to afford until now. I can actually see again.
And, assuming I can actually teach again, money will be coming in as a substitute. And when I don’t feel well enough to teach, I don’t have to.
The thing is, I will still be preparing for future bad turns of fortune. Good times never last for long. And I am naturally a pessimist. But even though I will always be living under pressure, that is not a bad thing. The fire in the forge tempers the metal as it is hammered. And in that metaphor I find my strength.
Up until now I have been putting chapters of When the Captain Came Calling on this blog, in order, as I have been finishing the manuscript, and revising and editing at the same time. I used this method to show you all the work in progress, step-by-step, as I did the revision and editing.
30 chapters (that I mysteriously call cantos for illicit poetical reasons) posted on 30 Tuesdays for the last 30 weeks. That is less than half of the novel.
I took the 22,000-word first draft and turned it into a 57,000-word completed novel in that time. The illustration above is the final copy of the cover art for When the Captain Came Calling. It is a slightly altered version of the concept cover art I have been posting for 30 weeks. Val is wearing a skate-boarder’s t-shirt that up til now had a fairly accurate portrayal of what is probably a copyrighted cartoon character. So, I turned Rude Dog into a parody called Ride, Dog! and gave him two black eyes… or possibly sunglasses. I should know better than to draw other people’s cartoons too accurately, even though it was a real detail about 80’s skate-boarders that they often wore that same cropped t-shirt.
I have also shown you character art for some of the most important characters in the story. Pictured to the right are Mary Philips, the leader of the re-formed Norwall Pirates, a small-town adventure club and 4-H softball team. She’s a practical girl-next-door sort of leader, mentor, and friend who believes all the kids who have reached their middle teenage years need to stick together and help each other through the common problems of growing up, and dealing with moving from the fantasy worlds of who they want to become, into the practical worlds of who you really can become, if only somebody gives you a boost. And the Invisible Captain Noah Dettbarn, the victim of a South Seas Voodoo curse which he is trying to overcome by finding a virgin to throw into a volcano is pictured also. He’s not exactly the villain of the story, but he turns out to be a relative of the witch-doctor. And also, Valerie-squirrel is in that picture, clinging to Mary’s arm. At one point Valerie has to run through the trees to escape an ugly, evil, killer cat who wants to eat her while she is still the squirrel the witch-doctor turned her into.
And, for some reason, people in Norwall (not just kids) think that Mazie Haire is a witch. True, she is the current resident of the Gingerbread House that has always been associated with magic and witches. Also true, she has a telescope in that upstairs room and always seems to know things about other people in the community that she shouldn’t. by rights, actually know. But that doesn’t make her the villain of the story. It also doesn’t make her the hero.
These character sketches and short explanations were a kind of crafting of the puzzle pieces that helped me to put the entire big picture together piece by piece.
I am now moving into the final proof-reading and formatting that will lead to being able to publish this book on KDP with Amazon. You should look for that book to appear there in a couple of weeks. And I intend to make some noise about it here when it is done.
So, after having books available on Amazon since 2012, I finally figured out how to update my Amazon author’s page. Stupid me. I could’ve been using this to help me market books for seven years now.
Now, if you click on the link in the caption of the above picture, you can look at my updated author’s page with 9 of the 10 books I have already published. I couldn’t add Aeroquest because that miserable thing is now out of print, and Publish America is finally sued out of existence. But like Frankenstein, I have the means to resurrect that monster. I will now cut it up into at least three separate books and republish it on Amazon.
But that book #10 thing will have to wait. I will soon be publishing When the Captain Came Calling. I have just stupidly warned you now of an upcoming publishing event that you will probably hide from and fear because, comedy or not, there are some very sad parts in it that I have alluded to in my blog. I am a regular Tom Holland when it comes to letting cats out of bags.
I also have to figure out what to do about Magical Miss Morgan. Page Publishing sent me notice that I have to pay $50 to get them to continue offering print-on-demand copies of my book and e-book copies of my book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I don’t figure I have to pay them for continuing to do nothing but make profits from my book. My publishing contract says clearly that I only have to call them to get all my publishing rights back and put the thing on Amazon KDP. This is the course of action that I have stupidly chosen to do. I have called them seven times now, stating clearly on their answering machine that I want the rights back. They continue not to answer my calls or call me back. They also continue to offer that book without any kind of notice that I have not paid for that priviledge for the last six months.
Stupidity continues to pile up in every corner of the box I put my novel-writing in. But I continue to fight the battle. I made $1.06 as an author in July.
Kyle Clarke came storming into the Zeffer house before
either the sheriff’s deputy or Mrs. Philips could arrive. He was angry to the point of curse words over
what apparently had happened to Valerie.
He made Mrs. Zeffer and Ray repeat the story of how Ray found her three
times before he even started calming down.
He made it clear he wanted the story from Ray, not Valerie. Once he had learned she had been unconscious,
he didn’t even want to hear her version of events. He told her she would not be able to make
sense of things until she was well rested and recovered. He wanted Mrs. Philips, a registered nurse,
to examine her before any other investigation took place. Valerie could only imagine in horror what he
“Mrs. Philips! We
need you to examine little Valerie Clarke,” said Mrs. Zeffer as Mary’s mother
arrived at the Zeffer home. “She’s been
attacked by someone.”
Mrs. Philips was very pale, and also seemed shaken.
“What is the matter, Mrs. Philips?” Kyle asked. “You seem unwell.”
“My daughter Mary and her boyfriend Pidney Breslow are
missing. I’m afraid it has something to
do with what happened to Valerie.”
“Oh, no! We’ve phoned
the sheriff already and he’s sending Deputy Harper from Belle City to
investigate,” Kyle said in a concerned tone.
“Do you know what happened?” asked Mrs. Zeffer.
Ray was sitting on the bed in Bobby’s room next to Valerie
who was already wearing the clothes Kyle had brought her. Both of them looked at the adults standing
just outside the bedroom doorway.
Valerie’s fear for what might’ve happened to Mary and Pid was
overwhelming. She leaned against Ray’s
shoulder and began to cry softly.
“It was the strangest thing.
The three of them were all in our basement, reading some old book. Then, suddenly there was a purple fog in the
house. It smelled so sweet it made me
sick to my stomach. It apparently
knocked me out. When I came to, I found
my daughter Amy and her brother Jason were both sleeping on the floor. They had been knocked out too.”
“And the kids were taken from your house?” Kyle looked alarmed and upset.
“Yes, all we found were their clothes in the basement. I have never seen anything so strange. Whoever took them must have stripped them
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Mrs. Zeffer, taking hold of Lady
Philips’ shaking hands and guiding her to a chair in Bobby’s room. “Sit here.
Let me get you some tea.”
“Was there any indication who might have done this terrible
thing?” asked Kyle.
“I… I don’t know,” Mrs. Philips said as Mrs. Zeffer bustled
out of the room to make tea. “We found
the empty clothes… and then you called asking me to come here and examine
“You should’ve said something then,” Kyle said.
“I… I just felt numb.
I told Jason to look after Amy and came right here to see what I could
“All right… um, Mrs. Philips… I called you over here to
examine my daughter Valerie. I was
worried someone might have… well, she was found naked in the alley,
Lady Philips made a small strangling sound in her
throat. Valerie knew immediately what
she must have thought had happened to Mary.
“I’m okay, Daddy. I
know for a fact that nobody did anything like that to me.”
“Valerie, princess, you were unconscious. Somebody drugged you and stripped you
naked. We need to be certain what
happened.” Daddy Kyle was trying to be
comforting and soothing, but there was a cold, desperate edge to his voice that
actually scared Valerie. She looked at
Ray. Ray’s eyes were frightened too.
“Your dad is right, Val.
You need to be checked. Mrs.
Philips is an RN, a professional nurse.
She’ll be able to tell.”
“Okay, Ray,” said Valerie’s dad coolly, “You should go help
your mother in the kitchen. Deputy
Harper will be here soon.”
Ray reluctantly let go of Valerie and stood up. “You know, sir, that I would never hurt your
Kyle’s angry glare softened a bit. “I… I do know that, son. And believe me, I am grateful for the way you
rescued her and brought her somewhere safe.
I’m on edge right now. I don’t
know what was done or who did it. You
know what I mean?”
“Of course. If I were
in your shoes, I’d be afraid for my daughter too.”
Ray nodded resolutely.
Then he went out of the room.
“I will examine her in private, Mr. Clarke. I will be able to tell. I have treated rape victims before. I don’t have a kit with me, but I will know
if one needs to be used… Only…”
“What?” Kyle asked.
“After we know, I am going to need you and Deputy Harper to find Mary.” Valerie’s dad was grim-faced, but he nodded his agreement.
I know this title sounds like a total bummer of a post written by a sixty-plus-year-old loser in poor health and totally obsessed with his own imminent mortality. And I know why you might think that based on the general trends you have observed in my reflections-on-life sorts of posts, especially if you actually do more than only look at the pictures in this goofy blog. But it is not the ending of me that I am obsessed about. It is the ending of a novel.
I wrote the first draft of When the Captain Came Calling in 1996, twenty-three years ago. And I knew then that it was not finished. And I thought, perhaps, that it would never be finished. It was a hard thing to write. And I knew from the writing of the novel Snow Babies that I could not write this book without writing directly about the suicide. Something like that can’t just happen to a major character in a series of novels in between what happens in novel one and the start of novel two. It has been a twenty-three-year struggle with a plot-knot that was almost impossible to untangle.
You see, the most important character in the patchwork-quilt-book that is Snow Babies, is Valerie Clarke, a skateboarding thrasher of a girl from the 80’s based on a girl I taught in the 90’s and named after a classmate I had a hopeless crush on in the 60’s. And she could not have been the character I wrote about in that book without having survived the fact of the suicide in the previous book. But when I completed Snow Babies, the Captain still didn’t have the suicide in it. And believe me, writing about suicide is hard. It is something that has been a life-long hardship to explain and to deal with.
You see too, that suicide has been a thing I have had to deal with in real life. Ruben got himself killed in a car accident in a car-theft joy ride. Osvaldo took his own life with a gun after getting out of prison. J.J. got drunk and ran his pickup truck into a train. And they were kids I taught and learned about from talking to them about their lives. And two of them I loved like they were my own children because that’s how teachers do… And I have spent three whole days in emergency rooms and one terrible night in ERs with suicidal teens, two long conversations with kids over the telephone when I had to talk them out of hurting themselves, and I had no idea where they actually were. And I have talked to counselors at three different schools about suicidal things kids shared with me more times than I can count accurately. And some of those incidents I am listing are about family members. And my cousin’s son… Well, you can see how that kind of battle can make a suicide something hard to write about. Especially since all the scars it leaves makes you hyper-aware of how precious and fragile life really is.
But you see three, now that I have taken time out to cry a bit for having written that last horrible paragraph, that it is important, as a writer, to share your truth with the world in the best way you know how. And as the spirits of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Terry Pratchett nod knowingly from beyond, I can honestly say that the best way that I can deal with it is by writing comedy, making readers smile and laugh and feel good about enough good stuff to make up for the bad stuff that everybody faces… even suicide. And I have finally passed the test. I wrote the chapter about the suicide. I have written about Valerie’s recovery, and I am nearing the end of the book, my current Work In Progress, When the Captain Came Calling. A good story can heal the world, the way Oliver Twist did, or the way The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did. And while the jury has not yet convened on this book of mine, and I can’t begin to compare my book to those, I don’t hate it now the way I did for the last twenty-two years. It is going to get finished. And then the whole world can ignore it the way they have all my other books.
Valerie-squirrel, despite the almost endless supply of
squirrel energy provided by a fast-pumping squirrel heart, was panting and out
of breath as she stopped at the corner of Cecily Dettbarn’s porch roof. She needed to catch her breath, but she could
see Mazie Haire’s Gingerbread House on the other side of the Norwall water
tower, just across the street. Even
better, she hadn’t seen Skaggs the cat for at least two blocks.
The evil cat had nearly caught her as she ran along the
fence back at the Kellogg place. When he
had lunged at her, he missed, and he toppled into the concrete birdbath that
sat between the fence and Mrs. Kellogg’s big bay window on the west side of the
house. She hadn’t seen the cat since she
had left him behind there, sputtering cat-curses and spitting out old sparrow
Valerie-squirrel had gone back up into the trees to travel
the rest of the way north on Whitten Avenue, and then from maple to maple along
the north side of main street.
Now, looking carefully all around for signs of danger and
lurking cats, she climbed down the trellis on the side of the Dettbarn
house. She then sniffed the air and
scampered quickly across the street to tall grass under the water tower.
“Boof! Boof! Boof!” barked Barky Bill from the end of his
chain behind Martin’s Bar and Grill.
“What does boof mean, stupid dog?” Valerie-squirrel thought
in the direction of the stupid dog.
“Well, it means boof,
or possibly bark in dog
language. How is it you don’t know that
already? You are a dog, aren’t you?”
Valerie-squirrel was stunned. “I thought the cat told me dogs can’t
speak. You’re Barky Bill, aren’t you?”
“I answer to that, yeah.
But also, Stupid Dog, and Ijit Dog, and Damned Dog… and some other
strange words that end in dog.”
“Skaggs the cat told me you couldn’t speak.”
“Yeah. The cat’s
right. Dumb dogs can’t speak.”
“But you’re talking to me now. What do you mean dogs can’t speak?”
“You are a dog, ain’t ya?
Dogs can talk to other dogs. We
do it by waggin’ tails and sniffin’ butts and stuff. You know about that, right?”
“I’m not a dog. I am
a girl, actually. Valerie Clarke. But I’ve been turned into a squirrel by black
“Oh, yeah. You are a
squirrel! I can smell you from here. But not the eating kind of squirrel. I can smell that you are not a real
“Do you smell the cat?
Skaggs? He was chasing me, trying
to kill me.”
“No. I hate the dumb
cat. I will kill him some day. I don’t smell him now… no.”
“Good. Promise you
won’t eat me if I go over to the Gingerbread House?”
“The witch’s house?
You don’t want to go there.”
“Yes, I do. And I
don’t want you to attack me when I try to get there.”
“Oh, I would never eat you.
You smell like the prettiest little
squirrel-girl that ever lived in this town.
I will protect you. I will boof
at the cat if he comes near. And one day
I will kill him. But I could never eat
you. Barky Bill is a good boy, yes, he
Valerie-squirrel was a little worried that Barky Bill might
not be completely sane as dogs go. She
didn’t know if she dared run past too close to the chained and perpetually
angry dog. So, giving him the widest possible
berth she could manage, she slipped under the water tower and down the alley
behind main street into the back yard of the Gingerbread House.
Boof! Boof-boof-boof-boof!” was how
Barky Bill ended their brief conversation.