Category Archives: novel writing

Stalled and Swimming in Place

I was originally planning to have AeroQuest 4 published by now and AeroQuest 5 well underway as my regular novel-writing segment on Tuesdays. The manuscript for 4 is written and formatted, awaiting only a final edit. And half of 5 is already written. It is only the expanded first part of this manuscript that has yet to be written.

But since finishing the manuscript for 4, all I have managed to do is work on other projects. I have added nothing to it since February.

My Fairy stories have taken over my writing time.

The Education of PoppenSparkle has taken over the Tuesday slot in my supposedly structured blogging week. I am enjoying writing it, yet, it is only happening on Mondays every week. The last-minute nature of that writing style is producing a lot of adrenalin and obsession with deadlines, but it is also draining the creativity out of writing time every other day of the week. I haven’t failed to post something for my daily blog, but even the writing I do get done lacks the luster of older posts.

I need to get back to writing on my main work-in-progress, He Rose on a Golden Wing. That book continues to grow and get more complicated as it marinates in the creative juice of my overly juicy mind.

So, there it is, me writing about something I was not supposed to write about on this Memorial Day. I am not suffering from writer’s block, for I am writing every day. But I am suffering from doldrums with the sailboat of progress not having any wind in my sails. How do I get the wind back? I will find a way.

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Crossing Those Bridges

On my daily walk in the greenbelt park there are bridges to get back and forth across the creek. The park is both a place of recreation and a flood-control device that helps keep the city above water. I crossed bridges six times in my walk today (one small bridge twice, the Josey Lane street bridge, the Frankford Road bridge, and the two wooden-plank bridges that help you walk a loop through the park.) With my near-crippling arthritis, I could not navigate the park without those bridges.

And life is getting harder as I get older. My eyesight is becoming cloudy and blurred. My joints all ache. I have problems with bodily functions. I constantly talk about things like that last one in this blog that you really don’t want to know.

Yesterday this blog got fewer views than any single day since 2013. And that includes days when I didn’t publish even one post. Yesterday I published two, one I wrote about God believing science fiction is true, and the other about crying at movies that is a popular old post re-posted.

I do this blog because I am nominally supposed to be promoting my published books. I was set on this path by the marketing advisor for I-Universe Publishing. It was not intended as a way to have fun writing and using it as a way to prove to myself that I am somehow a successful writer.

The bridge I have to cross is believing in myself. I need to stop having doubts. Good days and bad days happen to all writers. Stephen King , getting run over by a passing car, had a worse bad day than I have ever experienced. And because I continue to struggle and write, getting words down on paper, and putting together publishable paragraphs, I am proving that I am a writer every day. No one can take that away from me. And I truly believe I am a good writer. I know a lot about how to write that even successful writers don’t really know. And even though some who read my books have hated them, and a majority of those who have read them don’t leave a review, I have good reasons to cross the bridge into the bright green park of believing in my own writing..

Writing every day is the exercise that keeps my mind alive just as walking in the park every day keeps my body and especially my heart alive.

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Notes From Outer Space

I try to follow up on the lives of the characters I have created and set in motion through the stars. But mail service from distant planets can be a problem. And a lot depends on whether you are travelling via faster-than-light photon drives or the lumbering sluggishness of generational travel.

Davalon and Tanith, the Tellerons pictured here, promised to keep in touch with me and update me about their adventures on the planet Galtorr Prime.

You may remember, if you are one of the three people who actually read the novel Stardusters and Space Lizards, that Dav and Tanith were on one of the colonized moons of Galtorr where they now basically owned the planetoid due to having material synthesizers with which to feed the starving survivors of the planet’s collapse into civil war and environmental disaster.

In their last letter, they were still unaware that power-mad politicians and man-made climate problems are doing to this planet the same things that nearly destroyed the planet Galtorr Prime when they arrived there back in 1991.

George Jetson in 1991, named by Captain Xiar after a favorite Earther cartoon character from the 1960’s.

Davalon tells me that young George Jetson is becoming a pilot. The more he crashes space ships and survives the disaster, the more he learns about what not to do. And his learning curve has definitely caused his more mechanically-minded siblings to get better faster at repairing crashed ships.

Sizzahl, the Galtorrian Lizard-girl, is now the premiere biologist on the planet, although she was still a child… a child genius, in 1991. She is working on genetically evolving the Galtorrian race by combining their DNA with Earth humans, trying to get the best of both races and praying to the Crocodile God that she doesn’t get the worst of both races in her new Fusion Galtorrians.

Sizzahl the Scientist still insists on working in the nude. Harmony Castille, the group’s human church-lady warrior leader protests this heathen behavior, but Sizzahl is immune to religious objections to her methods.

Sizzahl wants to argue with me about forcing Earth humans to evolve in a similar fashion. She points out that if we continue to treat the planet the way we are currently doing, we will need to breed in genetic abilities to resist heat and evolve lungs that have a capacity to filter out acids, carcinogens, and poisons, as well as extract oxygen directly from carbon dioxide. She has a better argument than she knows as this last letter was sent out at the speed of light in 1991 and only arrived yesterday. She is older and smarter by now. But we are also dumber and more poisoned as a species.

Brekka’s psychic link to the man-eating plant called Lester has proved to be a boon to the planet. The plant can eat scabby-zombies that are bad for the environment and create new buds which he/she gladly donates to the food supply. (New buds are not technically children because the only mind they have is Lester’s.)

Brekka enjoys a unique psychic link to Lester the man-eating plant because he/she tried to eat Brekka, but had to cough her up because Tellerons taste bad. Lester’s digestive juices seeped into Brekka’s brain, forging a telepathic link.
Pilot Farbick and young Davalon (picture from Mars orbit, 1990)

So, I sent them a reply letter. It will get there in 21 years at the speed of light. So, in 42 years I should get the information I need to write a sequel. I will only be 107 at that time.

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Wrestling with Themes… Part 6

Concluding this meandering ridiculous rant about how you distill the meaning of your books into themes is no small task. My limiting goal was to identify one main theme for each of my books. It has to be limited because every well-written book has multiple themes of varying complexity and scope.

And then when you tie everything together as I have done with my Hometown Novels, there are themes that cross the borders from one book into the next. This essay will sum up by telling about the books I have written beyond the borders of my Hometown books.

The Wizard in his Keep

This book is unique in dozens of ways. It is an orphan-journey through a virtual-reality video game that you can actually live inside because of the full-body interface suits that get you into the game. It is science fiction because of the virtual-reality technology, but the competition within the game is set in a fantasy kingdom running on magic and super powers. And the plot is a parallel of Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop.

This book is the conclusion to several character arcs that begin with the Hometown Novels’ very first book, Superchicken. One character’s life ends in death, but on his own terms. Another character finds the answers to his missing sister and the family she kept secret from him. And the orphans find a loving family that they never knew existed. So, one big theme is that; “You make your own happy endings by hard work, risk, and perseverance, not by magic or luck” But this is an overarching theme that covers more than one story in more than two or three other books.

The book also holds true to several other things that are true about my stories. It is a comedy with at least one character dying sometime before the story ends. It is surrealism, giving a rational grounding in realism to some rather fantastic things. And the characters who find success are empathetic types who realize that loving others is more important than loving ourselves.

A Field Guide to Fauns

An important facet of my novel-writing experience has come about through the general audience reception of my works. Specifically, nudists and naturists were attracted to my books through the nudist characters in my book Recipes for Gingerbread Children.

That is the reason this book, A Field Guide to Fauns even exists. I wrote it specifically for an audience of nudists, naturists, and people like me who have always been fascinated by nudism and were simply afraid to actually try it until we grew old, mature, and goofy enough not to care what other people think about me being a naked old man..

The book is about a boy named Devon who goes from a traumatic event that took him out of his divorced mother’s home and put him in his father’s house. But his father is remarried to a woman with twin daughters who are dedicated nudists, and live in a residence that is located in a South Texas nudist park. He has to recover from his trauma by becoming a nudist living a naked life himself. The theme is, “You can overcome childhood trauma if only you are open to being nakedly honest about yourself… especially being nakedly honest with yourself.”

Stardusters and Space Lizards

This story is one of the sequel messes written to go with Catch a Falling Star. It follows the alien characters and three of the human characters from that book out into the stars. It is basically an allegory for the climate-change crisis we face here on planet Earth. Besides the fact that this book offers the idea that inventive children can solve world-wide problems, and Texas politicians can be translated into lizard-people monsters who are actually to blame for everything, the theme of this book is really, “To solve ecological problems on a world-wide scale, we must first acknowledge that those problems are not caused by lack of understanding, but by the disregard for life that people have when they are motivated by personal gain, power, and reputation.”

Laughing Blue

This book is even harder to give a main theme to since it is a book of essays. Every entry, every single essay, has it’s own unique theme, ideally expressed in a topic sentence that states the theme.

But it is not impossible to find an over-arching theme. It is filled with short vignettes and stories about my childhood, my life as a teacher, my cartoons and bizarre sense of humor, my philosophical musings, and complaints about the things that have hurt me. It is largely autobiographical. And the main theme is basically, “When life gives you lemons, make a lemony joke of some sort because laughing is much better than crying and a better thing to do when you’re blue.”

I know, I know… purple paisley prose.

I am well aware that I have not put a theme to every single book I have written. But I think I have, in the course of 6 essays, done a fair job of puzzling together and proving my point that a novel, or even other kinds of books, need a coherent main theme, and the author should, hopefully, know what those themes are. So, the essay ends here. Mostly because I am old and cranky and tired of repeating myself endlessly.

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Wrestling with Themes… Part 5

Other books that are not Hometown Novels need to have themes too.

My novel-writing, book-publishing career began with a Sci-Fi Comedy published with a criminal book-publishing scam that has since gone out of business and was sued to oblivion by authors like me who it cheated.

My novel Aeroquest was a huge moronic mess made from the stories I created as a science-fiction-role-playing game’s game master. It was very loosely based on Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy and Douglas Adams’s five-book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (quintilogy?)

It had way too many characters in it (just like Dune.) It had super powers tied to religious practices (just like Dune.) And it had totally ridiculous science and technology in it (just like Hitchhiker’s Guide.)

After I got the publishing rights back from the criminals behind Publish America, I tried to make more sense of it by rewriting it as AeroQuest 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5.

AeroQuest 1 : Stars and Stones

In the first book, Ged Aero and his brother Hamfast Aero are looking to find a safe place for Ged to pursue his trade as a space-safari hunter who is developing a strange psionic power to change his appearance, and eventually his shape and species. Since Ham is a pilot and owns his own space ship, they decide to set out into unknown space to get away from the Thousand Worlds of the Imperium where what Ged is becoming is made illegal.

He then encounters the Prophecy of Zhan (also known in the frontier as the Prophecy of Xan, the Prophecy of Shan, the Prophecy of Cyan, and… well, too complicated to re-explain because all of them identify Ged as the next White Spider of Prophecy, and he is destined to reweave the web of star travel in unknown and forgotten space.)

So, what is the theme? “You can’t solve your problems by running away from yourself.” Yeah, that’s probably it… But, as I said, this novel was a truly big mess that the scammers took advantage of rather than helping.

AeroQuest 2 : Planet of the White Spider

In the second book, among other business zipping from star to star system, Ged has to take on the role of the prophesied White Spider, which it turns out is stepping into the role of being a teacher to a class filled with students who have psionic powers. They turn out to be a mix of space samurai, space cowboys, space nudists, space lizard-people, and Nebulons (an alien race of blue-skinned people nicknamed Space Smurfs.) At the same time, Ham takes up his role as a pilot and warrior in the growing rebellion against the corrupt Imperium.

This book too has a broad general theme; “We are stronger when we make ourselves a part of a diverse group than we are when we stand alone.”

AeroQuest 3 : Juggling Planets

This is the hardest book to create a unified theme for. Ham and his allies are jumping from planet to planet, fighting battles and recruiting new systems into the New Star League. At the same time, Ged is working with his new students to establish a new school and a new way of teaching that optimizes the students’ abilities to deal with cosmic forces and interstellar problems.

The best theme I can make a case for is; “Adding new friends and building their skills is how you best rebel against an old order that is failing more and more people.”

AeroQuest 4 : The Amazing Aero Brothers

This book is written, but not yet published. It is the story of how Ham and the rebels prepare for bigger battles yet to come, and face their first significant losses and reversals of fortune. Ged and his students battle their evil counterparts and only manage to defeat them by crossing moral lines that they never intended to cross.

The overall theme is; “It is harder to stay true to yourself than it is to win a battle.”

AeroQuest 5 : It Ain’t Over Yet!

Yep, it ain’t written yet. Started, but a long way from finished.

So, can I tell you what the major theme of this book is?

NO!

I am still wrestling with this theme. It has me in an illegal headlock.

But, as you probably guessed by now, I have more books to talk about in Part 6. So, beware!

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Wrestling with Themes – Part 4

The Central Timeline of my Hometown Novels picks up again in 1988-1990

My first good published novel, Catch a Falling Star, was published in 2013 by I-Universe, an imprint belonging to Penguin Books of Random House Publishing. This is one of those special imprints where the author is expected to hire the editors, proofreaders, and marketing experts out of their own pockets and, essentially, pay to publish. I had to have my manuscript read and approved. This was serious publishing, and my book did win a Publisher’s Choice Award and a Rising Star Award. But I had to pay for everything and the publisher insisted on pricing the book out of competitiveness. The book has earned me $16.00 so far that I am aware of in spite of about $3,000.00 invested in making it salable. So, the theme of this book should be, “Traditional publishers screw beginning authors out of money as gleefully as any publication scam does.” Of course, they would never do that to Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. But I am definitely not them. All the books I wrote and talked about in Parts 1, 2, & 3 (except for Superchicken) were completed after this book.

Catch a Falling Star

This is the cover idea I submitted for Catch a Falling Star, but it was, of course, rejected.

So, the main theme of this book is not about publishing and being cheated. It is about my small home town in Iowa being invaded by invisible aliens from outer space. But they are totally incompetent aliens who have in-bred almost all the intelligence out of their generational mother-ship, eat their own children to maintain their population, and have totally given up love, creativity, and empathy because of an over-reliance on their stolen technology. They are also descended from frog-like amphibians.

The aliens make a critical mistake in their sinister plan. They kidnap a young specimen to study for weakness, a member of the Norwall Pirates named Dorin Dobbs. And they accidentally lose one of their own tadpoles on Earth where he is adopted by a childless couple.

As each side learns about the other, the invasion is doomed and the alien children rebel against becoming dinner. The theme of this book is something like, “If only you get to know me, you cannot overcome me by force, especially not if you learn to love me.”

The Bicycle-Wheel Genius

The second novel of the 90’s is this one, which I call a prequel/equal/sequel because it begins prior to Catch a Falling Star, includes untold events during the previous book, as well as retold events from a different point of view, and subsequent events that occur after the alien invasion goes away leaving an invisible starship behind. It involves an inventor who lost his wife and son in a fire caused by his experiment, making him now suspicious of electronics and only willing to invent new ways to use bicycle parts. And this sad inventor/scientist has moved in next door to Tim Kellogg, leader of the Norwall Pirates. Tim has had his best friend and key partner in crime move away. And he needs a new best friend. So, you can probably guess what Tim has in mind.

You can probably see already that this book is going to have a Toy-Story-sort of theme, Everybody needs a good friend to make their way through life.” (And if you don’t have one, you can always make one. But not out of bicycle wheels. This is another example of a long-winded parenthetic aside.)

Magical Miss Morgan

This is my teacher-story. Of course, Miss Morgan is not really me. I am not a woman. She is based on a gifted teacher I knew and worked with named Enedina Mendiola who gave her whole life to teaching, was naturally gifted with the power to teach kids and make them love her, and who died shortly after she was forced to retire from teaching for health reasons. She was an incredible human being, and I miss her mightily. But Miss Morgan teaches my subject, Language Arts, rather than the Science that Mother Mendiola taught.

The story is about how a gifted teacher with her own way of doing things deals with the ups and downs of the classroom, difficult students, even more difficult parents, and nearly impossible administrators. She goes through a tough period where she proves that good teaching is a subversive act. The theme is simple, “A good teacher has her own set of golden rules, and to be successful, she must continue to apply them consistently. Even if she has to give up teaching to do it.”

Given enough time, there are two more titles in this series of 90’s stories that I hope to write. Kingdoms Under the Earth and Music in the Forest.

So, now I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is I have more things to teach you about my struggle with themes. The bad news is… that means there will be a Part 5 to this essay.

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Wrestling with Themes – Part 3

Judging Appropriateness

There are a number of factors that work against me as an author of mostly Young Adult fiction. That can impact acceptable themes in a big way. First of all, I have been inundated with criticisms about portraying nude people and kids who are talking about both nudity and sex.

I suppose this comes about for two main reasons.

Number one, I portray real people I knew during my career as a school teacher. They are portrayed in a way that if they personally read my stories, they will never recognize themselves. I am careful about naming characters, describing characters physically, and portraying real events as they actually happened. All of those things are fictionalized and made unrecognizable through imagination’s magnifying glass.

But the emotional plots, character thoughts, and basic motivations behind real events are accurate assessments of things I was told, things I witnessed, the highs and lows that people really go through, and the discussions I have had about what people, and especially kids, really think about.

Some of the people who read and comment on and even review my books are taken aback at what I am saying kids actually think about and want to act upon. They are comparing kids to an unrealistic, idealized picture of what they believe kids should be. And they don’t want to accept them as they really are.

I write books for the twelve-year-old me.

The Young Adult category of books is written not for children, as many of my critics would have it, but for YOUNG ADULTS. I foolishly believe, then, that I am talking to an audience of teens and preteens who desperately want to read stories about people just like them, confused about the adults they are swiftly turning into. And not all the issues and secrets and desires they are contending with daily are simple, cute, and funny.

I myself was dealing with being a sexual assault victim when I was twelve, not having at that point been taught where babies actually come from, or accurately being told what sex factually was. Misinformation I had in abundance. And everything was colored by a self-hatred that made me burn myself on the heating grate every time I had any sort of sexual urges that I didn’t understand and believed would send me directly to Hell.

Nudity and Naturism are Natural to me

So, as a bookish boy, I really wanted to have a book, or even multiple books that spoke to me about the things that I feared and fed my manic-depressive behaviors.

My life was literally saved by the Methodist minister who was also the father of my best friend when I was twelve. He was the one that presented the facts of life to me and the members of my class who were between the ages of eleven and thirteen. He explained the facts about what sex was, how it worked, and how it could be a good and loving thing. And most importantly, he answered my question about whether thinking about sex would send you to Hell. Midwestern Methodists in the 1960’s were progressive about teaching kids the truth about sex.

I feel now an obligation to treat the subject the same way when it comes up as a theme in some of my stories.

Sex is a serious subject even for young teens.

I got a scathing review on Sing Sad Songs because, while talking about sex, young characters actually admitted to experimenting with sex. The reader was so offended she felt the need to tell everyone who reads Amazon reviews that I was practically a child pornographer. KDP scrutinized this and kinda punished me, lowering the number of stars given by reviewers on two different books, even though punishment is not what their policy indicates is appropriate. This, in spite of the fact that there was no graphic sex scene or concrete descriptions of sex acts in the text. I edited the offensive part out by changing a few words. But it was a thing that shouldn’t have been a thing. Other YA novels, even classic YA novels, do more explicit things than I talked about in the unedited version of the story. It was a prude having an overreaction. And I would’ve loved to have a story with what I wrote in it back when I was a child burning the skin on the back of my legs and lower back over the thought that having sexual thoughts made me a monster.

I am aware that in a book-banning climate currently, my books could be banned.

I am aware that having a transgender character and numerous nudist characters, including a book, A Field Guide to Fauns, set in a nudist park, opens me up to having my own stories become controversial and the subject of book-burning conversations. But this is a thing all authors have to deal with in any case. Popular authors, classic authors, hard-working mid-level authors and other mostly-ignored authors like me all deal with the same thing.

What I write about is not evil and not unprecedented. Others write about the same things I do, some of them better than me, some of them not.

Obviously I need to return to the Hometown Novel timeline to complete the 1990’s in Part 4 if this essay. So, you have been warned.

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Wrestling With Themes – Part 2

In Part 1 I set out to uncover the major theme of each of the books in my Hometown Series, the stories set in the imaginary version of my home town and filled with mixed-and-matched versions of the people I have known in my life. Unfortunately, I have been allowed to write and self-publish novels for long enough that I can’t do the entirety of that task in one go. So, last time was the analysis of the novels set in the 1970’s.

The Central Time-Line Picks Up Again in 1983.

Valerie Clarke is the most important character in the novels of the 1980’s. She is the combination of a girl who I grew up with and was in the same class at school with until we both graduated from high school in 1975, and a girl who was a favorite student of mine in the early 1990’s and impacted my classroom and my life during both the 7th and the 8th grades.

When the Captain Came Calling

The first book of these four novels is When the Captain Came Calling. Admittedly, this is not the best book I have ever written, and is closer to the worst. But it is necessary back-story for the books that come after. The story begins with the reformation of the Norwall Pirates (the original Pirates all having graduated from high school and gone their own ways) under the leadership of a strong-willed girl named Mary Philips, aided by her boyfriend and next-door neighbor. Valerie is recruited to be the second girl in the club full of boys. And then an old Norwall resident, Captain Noah Dettbarn, returns to Norwall after years of being a South Pacific captain of a merchant ship. But he is cursed with being invisible by an enraged voodoo priest whose daughter he fell in love with.

The theme of the book is how, “A band of friends can help each other overcome loss and trauma, even the invisible members of the group.” But it was a particularly difficult story to write because of the death by suicide of Valerie’s father, and the subsequent suicide of my cousin’s son during the writing of the novel.

The second book of the 80’s series is the best book I have ever written. Snow Babies is the story of how a blizzard unexpectedly traps the entire town of Norwall under a blanket of snow, snow flurries, white-out winds, snow-drifts, and the threat of freezing to death. In this story, Valerie takes in a hobo who wears a coat of many colors made out of crazy-quilt patches. And he turns out to be a father figure for the fatherless girl, and a little bit of everything else the town needs him to be to survive the blizzard.

The actual theme of the story, one of many, is that, “In times of crisis, everyone needs to come together and find enough love for one another to make survival possible.” There are a large number of characters that come together to make this theme work; the Trailways bus driver, four runaway orphans on his bus, the deputy marshal who finds and rescues the stranded bus, the members of the Norwall Pirates, the bumbling owner/operator of the hardware store, the many members of the Murphy clan, the social worker who lost her job by pursuing the orphans, the school-bus driver, and many more.

Sing Sad Songs

If this book isn’t the second-best thing I have ever written, it is at least in the top five. It is also the book that makes me cry the hardest every time I reread it. It is an emotional roller-coaster ride.

The story is told by three narrators in equal parts. Vicar Martin is the owner of Martin Brothers’ Bar and Grill. His business is failing and his family (a sister, a brother, and a nephew) is dysfunctional. Billy Martin, 13, is his nephew. And Valerie Clarke is the friend of Billy who made him part of the Norwall Pirates.

The main character is Francois Martin, the soul survivor of his family’s car accident in France. His father’s will sends him to live with his cousins, the Martins of Norwall, whom he has never met. Once brought to Iowa, he puts on sad-clown face paint and begins singing karaoke in Martins’ Bar. That, of course, is a surprising and unlooked-for success. Of course, there is a serial killer being hunted by the FBI. This story doesn’t have a happy ending.

But the theme is simple, “Love is the solution to most of life’s problems, and when you lose the ones you love, it is time to grieve and sing sad songs.”

Fools and Their Toys

The follow-up to the book Sing Sad Songs is a story narrated by a ventriloquist’s puppet. The Teddy Bear Killer, murderer of young boys, has been caught. And yet, the wrong person is being held for trial in the case. And the only one who can reveal the truth is a talking zebra puppet who has gone missing.

This is the most complicated story I have written because the narrator is not only a ventriloquist’s puppet, but he is given voice by mumbling Murray Dawes. And Murray is in a place on the autism spectrum where he not only can’t talk without the puppet, but he can’t remember things in time order. And a further complication, he not only isn’t the real killer, he is a traumatized former victim who survived his encounter. And while the puppet is lost, he can only talk to his adopted brother, Terry Houston, who is deaf and communicates only in sign language.

The theme is, “Communicating with others is one of the most important things in life, but not everyone has equal gifts in this area.”

This book has been the least read and commented on of all my books. That is understandable. It is hard to read in more than one way. The story is not in time order. It is also about a sado-masochistic serial killer. It is the one book in this part of the series where Valerie does not appear.

He Rose on a Golden Wing

The intended last book in this part overlaps with the next part occurring in the 1990’s. I am writing it now. You can follow it chapter by chapter on Tuesdays. I reserve the right to explain its theme until I have actually gotten it down on paper.

You have probably realized by this point in the essay that there will be one more part to come (at the very least.)

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Wrestling with Themes – Part 1

As a reading teacher I often pounded on the theme, “If you read and truly understood a book, you should be able to make a relatively short statement of the broad general themes of the book in your own words.” This is not merely truth about proving to a skeptical teacher that you are not just holding a book for several class hours of sustained silent reading without absorbing anything, but is also a measure for the author of a book to see if he or she really had a purpose for writing the ding-dang thing.

So, I propose to do that very same sort of theme-searching test to prove that I actually know the reasons why I wrote such a time-consuming pile of purple paisley prose.

The Central Time-Line Starts in 1974

I decided to write the Hometown Stories back in college in 1977. At the time I didn’t truly understand the full scope and size of this project. But I knew I intended to write a series of interlocking stories about life in my hometown of Rowan, Iowa. I brainstormed a bunch of surrealistic fantasy stories that I could set in the fictional version of Rowan that I renamed Norwall. I peopled the stories with renamed and recombined real people from my family and my home town.

Superchicken

The first novel I wrote is Superchicken. Edward-Andrew, the main character, is an outsider. He is treated as such in a small town where everybody knows everybody, and are sometimes related to everybody. He encounters the newly-formed Norwall Pirates Liar’s Club. He is forced to perform an initiation task that is entirely embarrassing and inappropriate, involving wearing a dress and naked girls. But the theme is that you have to open yourself up completely to new experiences in order to make a place for yourself in a new community.

Recipes for Gingerbread Children

The second novel in the series is not the second one I wrote. Actually, I was writing two novels at once with many of the same characters in them. Recipes for Gingerbread Children is a companion story for The Baby Werewolf. They both happen at the same time, the Fall of 1974. Grandma Gretel Stein is an old German lady who has a magical way with the baking of gingerbread. She was also once a nudist in Germany after World War I. Because of that, she is befriended by the Cobble family who are also devoted to living life nude. The twin Cobble sisters lure their friends to Grandma Gretel’s “Gingerbread House.” There they learn of her bewitching ways of telling a good story.

The theme of this story is about telling stories. Gretel tells stories about good versus evil. And she knows something about that subject as she was married to a Jewish man and had a Jewish daughter in Germany during World War II.

The theme is that “No matter how badly life has harmed you and deprived you, you can eventually overcome it by taking control of it, telling your own story about it, and coming to terms with the truth of life as you have lived it.

The Baby Werewolf

The children who visit Grandma Gretel for stories and cookies in Recipes for Gingerbread Children, Todd Niland, Sherry and Shelly Cobble, and Torrie Brownfield, become the main characters in the monster story that is The Baby Werewolf. Torrie is a boy born with hypertrichosis, the”werewolf-hair disease,” that makes him look like a monster to the people of Norwall. And to make matters worse, somebody is using vicious animals to murder people. The theme of this story is the question about , “What makes somebody a monster? And if you are a monster, how do you keep from acting monstrously?

The Boy… Forever

When the Norwall Pirates go to High School in the Fall of 1975, Anita Jones’s cousin Icarus comes to live with her family after a failed suicide attempt. It turns out that Icky is immortal. He cannot be killed and cannot die, unless it is done by the ancient Chinese wizard who claims to be a dragon, and his daughter Fiona.

The theme in this book about immortals and their affect on the daily lives of the Norwall Pirates is that, “The promise of living forever, when it becomes a reality, is more of a nightmare than it is a dream come true.”

The one possible book from the 1970’s that I haven’t written yet is tentatively titled Under Blue Glass. It is about the Norwall Pirates facing graduation from high school… or failing to graduate. And the consequences of success or… failure.

So, Part 2 will take the Norwall Pirates and the Hometown novels into the 1980’s. That is both a promise and a threat.

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Filed under humor, novel writing, Paffooney, work in progress, writing

Fridays Should Be Funny?

This is a hard video to watch if you have experience with this topic, either your own personal struggles or the struggles of someone you care deeply about. But it speaks to me with electric power that both burns and galvanizes my personal resolve. It is, perhaps, the most beautifully and carefully done thing I have ever found on this particular subject matter.

I have myself battled suicidal thoughts in my lifetime. And even though I have won the battle in the past, I realize that the war is never over, and you fight it every day no matter how long you live.

But coping with suicidal ideation, and knowing how to find the help you need, and eventually being that help for others, is something worth knowing about. And it is critical to get it right when communicating that to others. Because some very good books and movies have touched this landmine of a topic and caused readers, especially teen readers, to actually go through with the act.

So, if I finish writing my book about depression and suicide, and then it causes the very thing I have been fighting, then I have lost the war. That must not happen.

Suicidal thoughts are one of the worst after-effects of surviving a traumatic event. And if you read the actual words in my posts instead of just looking at the pictures, you may remember that I was once a victim of a traumatic event. He not only sexually tortured me, he convinced me that I was going to die if I screamed for help. It led to a long period of traumatic amnesia, hating my naked, helpless self, and self-harm every time I had sexual urges. I was lucky. The Methodist Minister, father of my best friend at the time, taught me the real facts of life and saved me from myself. I was saved again when I reached out in a secret phone call to a friend and got him to admit to me that I was not worthless and beyond redemption… even though I never revealed to him what happened to me, or why he needed to tell me not to kill myself. And it probably even helped that the high school guidance counselor spent an awkward afternoon with me trying to understand how I could be so terrified of something I didn’t even remember and couldn’t tell him about.

My experiences from that traumatic event and tragic time in my life led me to become a school teacher before I tried to become a writer. It led me to want to help others, especially those like me who have been forced to spend time in the existential darkness.

And along the way I did help some kids overcome things that were similar to my own dark woes. But, then too, there were ones I tried to help that didn’t make it.

Ruben joined a gang in San Antonio and died in the crash of a stolen pickup truck.

J.J. got drunk and drove his truck in front of a train at a local railroad crossing.

And I wouldn’t have survived either of those things without help. Sometimes life is more fragile than we realize… or know how to cope with.

But I have also spent hours upon hours sitting with kids in emergency rooms for suicidal ideation on three different occasions. And I have visited kids in two different behavioral hospitals more times than I can keep track of. And the number of times I have actually helped someone dear to me survive a suicidal episode is a number I have no way of accurately counting up. They don’t always tell you what you have done for them after the fact. But, then again, sometimes they do.

And now my work in progress is a book about having the blues so bad… Well, the scene I wrote last night made me weep for twenty minutes. About the same amount of time I cried over this essay. If you read the whole thing, congratulations. You are very brave and a decent human being, and I am sorry for whatever bad feelings I may have caused with my words.

In case you need it, no matter for who…

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, Depression, novel writing