I am now confined to my bedroom for another couple of weeks. Me, alone with my imagination, having to put on a mask to go down to the kitchen to make soup or go to the restroom. And it is the second time. But this timek I am the one infected. Before it was number two son who brought it home from work and got us all locked up at home.
To be honest, I haven’t gotten a test yet to determine that it is truly Omicron. If I do, I have to have somebody help me get there as we do not yet have any home tests. That would put whoever volunteers at risk. Plus, an official diagnosis creates more days missed from work for my wife who already has to teach in a germ-filled middle school with a mask on all day.
So, since I am only assuming I have Covid Omicron, I get to take care of myself in isolation. And if it is not Omicron, for which I am triple vaccinated, I have to worry that the regular flu is probably more dangerous than Covid and could potentially kill me.
I tend to get sick from regular flu even when I am vaccinated.
But while I am holed up with headaches and sore throat, I am finishing a novel, The Necromancer’s Apprentice. I have one chapter and two illustrations yet to finish.
This will be the first novel I have written set entirely in Tellosia, the kingdom of Fairies, Sylphs, Pixies, and Elves that exists just beyond the edges of the small town of Norwall, Iowa. All of the Fairy people and fairy animals are shrunk down by modern disbelief in them to a size where a six-foot person would be only three inches tall.
I hope to have it published in the next week. I, of course, now have additional time to work on it.
So, I have a choice. I can sit and suffer and watch TV, or I can get busy and write and publish.
Twice before I have gone through a year posting something on this blog every single day of the year. And not just by scheduling the publication wisely to cover every day, but by writing something and publishing something every single day. At this point, I have now written something and posted it for 326 days in a row, and being past the holidays and funeral for my mother, I am probably going to make 365 again for the third time.
This is a man who also wrote something every single day. He was a former journalist who worked as an ambulance driver during World War I, for the Italian Army, where he was wounded and won a medal for his service to the Italian government.
He developed a writing style with no author commentary, sparse but crucial details, and a reliance on the reader’s intelligence to figure out the themes of his writing.
His best work is the Novel, The Sun Also Rises.
I hold that opinion because I have not only read it, but I have also read and compared it to For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, and several of his short stories. His writing is fiction, but highly autobiographical which makes his stories so realistic and accessible to all readers.
This is also a man who wrote every single day. He started out writing for newspapers, but starting with his first major success as a fiction storyteller, The Pickwick Papers, he began writing mostly comic stories for monthly magazines.
He is noted for long paragraphs of vivid and plentiful details, and especially relatable and memorable characters.
His best work is the novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
I make that judgement after reading it three times, and also reading Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and The Old Curiosity Shop. There are also autobiographical features in the Boz’s works but he was a wonderfully astute people-watcher, and that dominates his narratives far more than his own personal story does.
This writer is known particularly for his sense of humor. It should be mentioned, however, that his fiction is not only filled with humor, but was very keenly realistic. His use of author commentary probably makes him the opposite of Hemingway, but he still carries that journalistic quality of writing it exactly how he sees it… full of irony and irrationally-arrived-at truth.
I don’t know for a fact that he wrote every single day. But he probably did. He always said, “The writing of the literary greats is like fine wine, while my books are like water. WIne is good for those that can afford it, but everybody drinks water.” You can’t have writing that is as plentiful as water without writing fairly often.
His best book is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I am not the only one who thinks so. Hemingway wrote, “All American Literature began with one book, Huckleberry Finn.”
I have also read, Tom Sawyer, Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Roughing It, and The Autobiography of Mark Twain.
So, what’s the point of all this literary foo-foo? Hemingway would expect you to figure that out for yourself. But I’m addicted to topic sentences, even if I wait til the end to reveal it. If you want to be a writer, you need to read a lot of really good writing. And even more important, you need to write every day.
The year began with me recovering from a bout of flu caught while substituting at Bush Middle School. I had thought it would be the end of me. But, no. I managed to survive. It left me feeling that no mere virus could get the better of me.
Oh, foolish and overly simple me! I had no idea what was coming. I had decided to write a novel set in a residential nudist park in South Texas that I knew nudists from but had never actually visited.
I discovered that my financial situation was headed for disaster if I didn’t earn enough money from substitute teaching. I was trying to pay off my Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and I was committed to paying $2000 dollars worth of our ever-increasing property tax. I wouldn’t be able to earn the money in time to avoid late fees, which meant I needed to earn even more extra money.
I dug down deep and found myself able to substitute teach to the full extent my doctor and the Texas Teacher Retirement System would allow. I was really hitting my stride and enjoying teaching again. I met a couple of kids in classes I subbed for that connected so well, I used them as inspiration for a few things in the novel I was writing, A Field Guide to Fauns. The novel practically wrote itself.
I published it. But it was about naked people. So a majority of people who might be fooled into reading one of my books will never read this one.
I was looking forward, after teaching so much that I could pay off the tax only one month late, to making more money I might actually be able to put in savings for a few minutes. But March ended all hope of that.
The long Covid imprisonment began with one novel published and one more, my AeroQuest rewrite, being more than halfway along.
I found myself with way more time to write and do other stuff than I had anticipated. But, of course, little money to do anything but survive with.
I definitely understood Kurt Vonnegut better in very short order.
I had a chance to reread a LOT of my own writing.
I gave some of my own books a careful reread and proofreading, even updating the content on Amazon. I began collecting my best posts from my daily blog. I put it in book form, becoming not one, but two collections of autobiographical essays.
My quest to put all my teacher recollections, goofy humor and cartoons, and philosophical wacky-waxings into some kind of order, allowed me to get a real sense of the overview of my life as both a teacher and a writer.
But, not only did my number two son get a job with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department as a jailor, but he got Covid in July as well from his job.
Not only did my number one son find a serious relationship with an excellent young lady, but he was forced to stay away from us and limit contact to the point he almost became a stranger.
And not only did my father’s Parkinson’s Disease get worse, it killed him in midsummer during a surge in the pandemic that meant only my mother and two sisters could actually be at the funeral.
But, in spite of setbacks, I managed to stay Covid-free and read and write way more than is probably good for any human man.
I published or re-published six books during 2020. It is an accomplishment that reflects a fear of imminent death and loss of any further chance to make my writing real, not just foolish fantasies and dreams trapped in my stupid head.
So, what has 2020 done to me?
It has made me fearful of the future. It took away enough of my health that I will never be able to stand in front of a classroom ever again. And it took my father away.
But it has also galvanized me with the heat of the struggle to survive. It has made me more careful, and more appreciative of what life is, and especially more determined to have more of it.
When you spend most of your time writing and thinking with the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head and the hourglass of your life looking more and more like the sands of time are running out, you are tempted to take the curves too fast and make extremely stupid mistakes that make your brain crash into a brick wall of stupidity. You are stuck in a stupor of stupidity that must somehow un-stupid you with downtime and do-nothing brainless activity. I won’t try to explain what I did wrong, because, after all, I am still stupid at the moment and don’t really know what I did wrong.
I bought myself a doll yesterday. I spent some of my birthday money on it. My octogenarian mother sends me birthday money every year to remind me how many years beyond sixty I have aged, especially now that, after more than twenty years spent not celebrating birthdays as a nominal Jehovah’s Witness, I am now no longer associated with prohibitions from God due to the arbitrary rules of religion. It was a stupid act based on the fact that I have been avoiding wasting money on my doll-collecting hoarding disorder for a matter of months. It could be like an alcoholic taking a drink after months of being sober. But the doll is pretty in a magical sort of way and provides me with someone else to talk to when I am brooding about being stupid.
It may seem like, since I am writing this while still stupid, that I am saying that being stupid is, by definition, a bad thing. If I am saying that, it is only because I am currently stupid.
If you look at the smiles on the faces of the gentleman with the brown cap and Scraggles the mouser, you can easily see that being happy is a simple thing. And it is the province of simple people, not complicated and extremely smart people. I can testify from hard experience that being too smart is a barrier to being simply happy. So, I benefit emotionally from being stupid this Sunday.
As to being stupid today and what caused it, well, it may have something to do with the fact that I am currently editing The Baby Werewolf, the most complex and potentially controversial novel I have ever written. Horror stories often mine and expose the author’s own traumas and fundamental fears. And I am trying to publish it as the fourth novel I have published in 2018. Is that biting off more than I can chew with my old teeth? I don’t know the answer. I am currently pretty stupid.
My mother passed away at the end of September this year. My father succumbed to Parkinson’s on my birthday in November of 2020. Because my wife is a Jehovah’s Witness, we haven’t celebrated Christmas as a family since 1995. I am not going with my wife and daughter on the Hawaii Trip they are taking with my wife’s sisters and their kids over the current holiday break. So, I guess you could argue a little bit of depression would not be abnormal if it set in.
But that’s not where my head is at.
I will be spending the holiday at home with the Sorcerer Eli Tragedy and his apprentices Bob and Mickey.the wererat. I have a new laptop that I am trying to learn how to use even though Chromebook doesn’t use Windows 10 and it is like trying to make the computer dance even though I apparently have to learn Mandarin Chinese to do it. I am attempting to use both the new and the old computers to try and write this essay.
If you didn’t understand that last paragraph at all, well. that’s probably because you didn’t remember I am a novelist, and Eli Tragedy’s home is in the novel I am writing, The Necromancer’s Apprentice.
Writing takes me away from the current holiday situation. In fact, it takes me away from reality.
The main characters in my novel are three inches tall or shorter. All of them. And they live in a castle built inside a willow tree.
Yes, a fairy tale full of magic and the battle between good and evil, love and hatred.
And Eli Tragedy is a practical old elf who teaches magic by being as pragmatic as a sorcerer with no magical power of his own can possibly be. Sorta the way my own father taught me his practical-farmer’s-son work ethic. He taught me to paint the house, re-shingle the roof after a tornado, change the oil in the car, repair a broken toilet, and anything else that might come up. He was good with his hands and excellent at problem-solving.
And my mother was always the master of Christmas magic. She was the one who organized the decoration of the Christmas tree. And even more important, she was in charge of all the holiday meal-planning and cooking. That is certainly the most important magical ability you can have at this time of year.
I have to admit, I had to stop and cry a little bit twice during the writing of this essay. But it is not a sad essay. I have Thanksgiving and Christmas memories that span from 1960 (the first ones I can remember) to 1995. And you carry more than just holiday spirit and Christmas cheer along with you in memories through the years. In those memories, not just my mother and father are still alive. Granpa and Grandma Beyer would still be alive along with Great Grandpa Raymond celebrating at their house in Mason City with the bubble lights on the tree and the carved wooden Santa that Uncle Skip had made in the 1940s with a pockte knife.
At Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s farm, not only are both of my grandparents putting food on the table, with turkey and ham balls, sweet potatoes baked with marshmellows, multiple bowls of mashed potatoes, and crates of apples and oranges for all the families, but Uncle Larry is still alive and cracking jokes in the kitchen. Aunt Ruth (Grandma Aldrich’s sister) and Uncle Dell (her husband) are holding court in the living room on the couch, Uncle Dell managing to complain about everything, especially the many kids (all of whom were me and my cousins) and how he didn’t like kids (although he loved to tell us stories about life in DesMoines after we grew up a bit and were closer to being adults.) And Karen (whom we just lost to Covid) is there listening, probably more to Uncle Larry’s jokes than Uncle Dell’s complaints.
They are all gone now. But not really gone. They live in me. Just as, one day, I will live in the memories of those who knew and loved me. And I will not be alone this Christmas. Not really alone. Not as long as I can remember.
Yes, I admit it. I am a goofy old coot and an embarrassment to my children.
That’s my role in life now. Eye rolls abound when I am around.
There are several reasons why, which I intend to list here in detail in order to embarrass my children further. But it basically boils down to the fact that I am a writer, and though I write mostly fiction, another way of saying I lie a lot, a real writer tends to reveal more of the naked truth about himself than a child can stand.
Who wants to see their father naked? Especially when he is old… wrinkled, spotty, and mostly fish-belly white.
Speaking of nakedness, one of the things that my children are most embarrassed about is the fact that I know a lot about nudists and naturists, in fact, I know many real nudists, and I have been nude in at least one social situation with other naked nudists. And, even worse, I admit it in writing where my children and their friends can see it. Of course, none of them read this blog anymore for that reason.
I have written novels where there are nudist characters based on some of the real nudists I have known. The novels with nudist characters in them so far are, Recipes for Gingerbread Children, The Baby Werewolf, Superchicken, The Boy… Forever, and A Field Guide to Fauns. And these novels might not embarrass them so much if they read them to discover that the novels have something to say that really isn’t about their father being a crazy naked coot. But they won’t read them because I am embarrassing to them.
And there is the verified fact that I am something of a conspiracy theorist. I firmly believe that the actor/theater owner William Shakespeare only offered his name to the real writer of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward DeVere. There is actual evidence that is so, though it was a secret that DeVere took to his pauper’s grave after spending away his entire family estates and fortune. A pauper’s grave that no interested scholar can find the location of to this very day, although maybe he’s buried in the same place of honor as the actor/theater owner, as there are cryptic clues to that as well.
I also believe that Dwight Eisenhower met with alien civilizations in the 1950s and the Roswell Incident was a real crash of more than one spacecraft from other star systems. There exist real deathbed confessions that confirm those details, and the government has been covering up the facts for decades.
The conspiracy-theory skills I have as a crazy, embarrassing coot have resulted in books like Catch a Falling Star, Stardusters and Space Lizards, and the Bicycle-Wheel Genius.
And lastly, I was a school teacher in middle schools and high schools for thirty-one years, which means I can create kid-characters in fiction that are very realistic and have a good-but-comic quality that make readers generally like my stories.
So, my children are probably right to be seriously embarrassed by my very existence. Of course, I, like all old coots registered with the Crazy, Embarrassing Coots of America, the CECA, am totally immune to being embarrassed by the embarrassment of my children.
If I am trying hard to get stuff done before the end of life, I have made some headway in 2021, I have published Twenty-One books in my lifetime all published with three different legitimate publishers and one criminal publisher. Oh, and all currently available on Amazon. Of the soon-to-bees listed above, I have published Cissy Moonskipper’s Travels along with an unlisted novella, Horatio T. Dogg, Super Slueth. AeroQuest 4 : The Amazing Aero Brothers is finished and undergoing final edits. And I have added a working rough draft of The Necromancer’s Apprentice, a satire I hope won’t be sued by Disney Corporation.
I now own a third of the farm you see in the foreground of this picture. The farm on the far side of the road is Uncle Harry’s farm that was sold when Uncle Harry passed away long ago.
In a sense, I have already had my say in the books I have written. The themes are my fundamental thinking, the horrid insults flung at me in my internal monologue by my inner critic, the rough nuggets of supposed wisdom that I have not only cut my writer’s teeth on. but, in some cases, chewed on relentlessly for decades until it comes out again as sweet as honey. Or, sometimes, as sour as the bile and vomit created by extended illness. Whatever its quality, the writings I will leave behind me are my fair say in an attempt to help the world evolve.
There is still a considerable record of having had my say in middle school and high school English classes. That say, that attempt to influence the future, has already been written in the memories of students that sat through my classes. They endured a lot, put up with a lot of mistakes by me, but also, hopefully learned some real lessons.
Here’s the current gist of what I have to say;
We are in a time when the environment is out of control and getting worse. It will probably kill us all, including all other life on Earth. But we are creative enough and smart enough to invent our way out of that problem. If only the stupid people and the greedy-evil people will let us.
We are also in a time when there is a definite threat that our leaders are going to embrace the easy and profitable path of being a Fascist. We have to hope there is enough empathy and morality left amongst our people to avoid this and find a fairer way for all.
And that is not all I have left to say. But it will do for now.
Some characters need to have their story told for reasons that are buried deep in the author’s personal history and damaged psyche. For me, Torrie Brownfield, the Baby Werewolf, was that kind of character.
The book, The Baby Werewolf, is a different kind of horror story. The central question of the book is this, “Am I a monster? And do I know why or why not?” And Torrie has to answer that question because he was born with a rare genetic disorder called hypertrichosis. It is the “werewolf-hair disease” where hair growth happens in unusual places on the body and in Torrie’s case, everywhere but the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. He is a perfectly normal boy who really only looks like a monster. But how you look can have a profound impact on how people treat you.
And the character of the boy who looks like a werewolf and thinks he is a monster is based entirely on me. Unlike Valerie Clarke whose origins I can pinpoint, I have to honestly admit the way Torrie thinks and feels and acts are all based solely on me and me alone.
You see, when I was a boy of ten I went through a horrible traumatic experience that threw my whole life into darkness. And I kept it secret from everybody. In fact, for a few years, I kept it a secret even from myself.
It is not that I really didn’t remember I had been sexually assaulted by an older boy. The nightmares and remembered pain were a constant even when I couldn’t admit to myself what had happened. I defended myself from it all by burying the knowledge deep, and worrying about things that only sexual-assault victims worried about. I embarrassed myself twice in seventh grade by wetting my pants in class, all because I couldn’t go into the boys’ bathroom at school. Whenever I would have sexual urges of any kind, I would lie down or sit on the heating grate at home, burning scars into my lower back and the back of my lower legs. I fretted about how to fight monsters. And I knew from the movies that if a vampire bit you, you could become a vampire. And if a werewolf bit you, you could become a werewolf. So, if a sexual predator bites you, do you not become a…??
In all honesty I probably became a teacher at least in part to protect other kids from the same kind of thing that happened to me. And I had to write this book to tell the story of how not to be a monster.
The true monster in this monster-movie tale is actually Torrie’s uncle, the person who actually psychologically abuses him. And the villain proves himself to be a sexual deviant, trying to create kiddie porn in his photography studio.
I suppose I just spoiled the whole whodunnit part of the book. But the murder mystery was never the point of the novel. The message of this novel is that no child is ever a monster unless he actually chooses to become one.
And that is the kind of character Torrie Brownfield is. The autobiographical kind. The kind that brings the author’s worst fears about himself to light, and tries to answer the question with… “No, I am not a monster.”
I have spent a lot of time reading and reviewing other people’s books. And at the same time I have invested some of my free-reading time in re-reading my own novel, The Baby Werewolf. The thing about all of it together is that it represents the actual life-force of the author. We all do it. Authors put their own experience, their own heart, and their own precious world into their work. We do it at different levels of confidence, competence, and creativity. But we all do it. And because we do it, someone needs to read it.
contains the characters that the author has known, the author has loved, and especially the people the author has lost over the course of his or her life.
At least, the competent authors do that. They put real people into their work. You can tell, even in really awful, poorly written novels, that flashes of what the authors really observed, really hated, or really fell in love with about the people in their lives are there to be read and absorbed.
are also crucial to the story. Fiction or nonfiction, you will be taken to other homes, other cities, other worlds than the one you yourself inhabit.
What more can you truly say about your life than where you lived it, where you are from, and what background defines you as an author?
that which happens in a story, is probably the most important thing of all. Because reading gives you a share in someone else’s life, in someone else’s experience. A chance to walk about in someone else’s shoes.
You can comfortably learn what others have learned before you. You can share in their ups and downs and all-arounds to experience the same chills and thrills and sadness as they have lived, and loved, and laughed about.
So, in this essay, I contend that human life on the planet Earth is a very good thing. And you multiply its goodness a thousand-fold if only you will only pick up and read someone else’s book.