Category Archives: novel

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 28

Canto Twenty-Eight – Squirrel Versus Skaggs

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 taste.”

“No!  You cannot eat me!”

“Let’s see now… are you not a squirrel and significantly smaller than me?”

“Yes… but…”

“And do I not have you pinned down helplessly under my claws?”

“Yes… but…”

“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 delicious.”

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 weak-willed…”

“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********************

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 27

Canto Twenty-Seven – Begging for Counter Spells

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 stairs.

“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.”

“Spell?”

“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.”

“Suggestion?”

“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, Barky Bill?”

“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.” Valerie-squirrel swallowed hard and looked back down the staircase.  This was going to be hard.

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When Readers Respond

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.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 26

Canto Twenty-Six – The Secrets of Stupid Dogs

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 feathers.

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 magic.”

“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 squirrel.”

“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 is.”

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-boof!” was how Barky Bill ended their brief conversation.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto

Canto Twenty-Five – Squirrel on the Lam

Valerie-squirrel found that even though she had rapidly ascended through the hollows of the brickwork, dodging obstacles, squeezing through narrows, and working her paws at a high rate of speed, she reached the top with energy to spare.  Her squirrel-body was almost infinitely flexible and full of muscle.  What skateboard miracles she could perform if her body were only like that as a human!

But she came out under the eaves of the Philips’ house and was soon racing across the roof.  She leaped into the branches of the tall maple that stood in front of Mary’s house.  The leaves were mostly yellow with fall color, but bright reds and scarlet colors tipped the five points of almost every leaf.  The view was amazing from the heights of the tree, especially because of her squirrel eyes that gave her very nearly a 360-degree view around her.  It was like three-dimensional vision warped into surround-see super-reality.  And yet, as amazing as the view was, her squirrel heart knew despair because the Pidney and Mary squirrels were nowhere to be seen.  Had cats eaten them already?  She shuddered to think it.  Was it up to her to save them?  Could they somehow save her?

There was no squirrel-plan that made sense at that moment.  Her instincts were screaming at her to run and climb and jump… and eat nuts.  But how could any of that be helpful?  Especially eating nuts?

She knew this predicament had to be the result of magic, probably evil magic.  How could she turn herself back into a human girl?  The only real magic she was aware of before this terrible curse was the magic revealed to her by the witch, Mazie Haire.  Somehow she had to go and find the Haire woman, and somehow she had to make the woman understand, through a stream of screamed-out squirrel curses, chreeks, and chit-it-its, that magically somehow the witch would interpret, what had happened to Valerie, and that she needed the old witch to change her back.  But how to get there?

“I see you up there!”  The cat’s voice startled her because, even though she could clearly see the cat on the ground far below, it sounded as loud as if she were face to face with the ugly old cat.  She calmed herself with the realization that the cat was somehow telepathic.

She looked intently at the cat, wiggled her blond tail, and thought intensely in its general direction.  “Can you read minds, damned old cat?” she heard herself say.

“I can hear you animal-talking,” said Skaggs from below.  “I can’t hear what you’re thinking.  But I don’t need to know that to know you must come down from that tree to get the help you need.”

She ran along a maple branch and launched herself through the air, landing in a branch of the elm tree next door in the Pixeley’s yard.  “I can travel from tree to tree!” she cried out with her mind.

“Not all the way to where you need to go.  There is too much space for you to cross to go north to the witch’s house.”

“How did you know I wanted to go there?”

“Where else would you go in your present situation?  You need that old witch’s magic to undo what Oojie did.  Am I right?”

“You are about as wrong as anything could be… because you are… you’re evil!  Evil is always wrong!”

“I am not evil.  But I will admit, to a squirrel a cat surely seems evil.”

“I will find a way.”  She leaped down onto the red tar-paper shingles of the Pixeley house.  There was no tree near enough going to the north, but there were bushes around the house.  And there was a line of pine trees in Tom Kellogg’s yard to the north.

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Chewing on Gingerbread Stories

I have started re-reading my werewolf stories again as I intend to promote the heck out of the two books pictured here in the rest of 2019.

Both books are intertwined even though they are both stand-alone novels with different genre ties and different themes. They share the same characters, many of the same scenes (though seen from different viewpoints in each novel), many of the same plot points, and the same werewolf. I like to think that reading both books together makes a better, more nuanced story as a two-book whole. But each book is also a whole in itself. And you can read them in either order.

I started by re-reading Recipes for Gingerbread Children. This book is basically a fairy-tale story-collection contrasted with a Holocaust survivor’s story. It is about how a storyteller manages to shape the world around her to help herself and others make sense out of a cruel world filled with evil and betrayal.

Dunderella and the Wolf Girl (a random werewolf illustration not connected to either book)

The Baby Werewolf is a Gothic horror tale where the real monster is hidden by deeply buried secrets, and lies have to be pierced to protect the innocent. I will re-read and promote this book second. I love both of these books with a paternal sort of overlooking-the-warts-and-birth-defects love.

So, I have a plan. A hopelessly pie-in-the-sky plan. But a plan. And hopefully at least some part of the plan will work.

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When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 24

Canto Twenty-Four – Squirrel Time

It was Skaggs the cat that started the action.   He stared at Valerie-squirrel with evil, mismatched eyes.  He licked his evil cat-lips.  Then he launched himself into the air, intending to come down on top of Valerie-squirrel’s head.

Pidney-squirrel was having none of that.  Faster than the eye could follow, he dashed over to defend Valerie-squirrel, latching on to Skaggs the cat’s left rear haunch with his sharp squirrel teeth.

“Yeeowehrrrrr-owwwerrrr!” screamed the cat as he tumbled over his wound into a very un-catlike pile of Pidney-squirrel-and-Skaggs-the-cat-awkwardness all wrapped up in a fight to the death.

“Chreee-chit-it-it-it!” cried Valerie, trying hard to say, “I’ll help you, Pidney-squirrel!” but not managing it very well.  She caught the tip of the cat’s tail in her mouth and bit hard with her own sharp squirrel teeth.

“Have a care, cat!” said Oojie.  “You can eat the boy-squirrel, but not the girl-squirrels.  I need them alive!”

The enraged cat was, paws and claws, splayed out in agony in four directions at once, spitting his fury and hatred at the squirrels who still had him impaled with buck teeth.

“You will die, beautiful one!” swore Skaggs in the mental language Valerie-squirrel had come to think of as cat language.  “I don’t care what the juju thing says.  He is only someone’s servant!  Not the witch-doctor himself.”

Mary-squirrel pulled at Pidney and made him let go of Skaggs’ hind leg.  She dragged him over to the furnace fixture and up a pipe that was wrapped with black tape where the squirrels could get a decent claw- hold.  Both Pidney and Mary squirrels shot up the pipe and out the open basement window above it.

Valerie-squirrel realized too late that she should’ve let go and followed them up the pipe.  The evil cat whipped his injured tail around and launched her toward the stairs.  Mary Philips’ father always kept a waste basket at the foot of the stairs, and Valerie-squirrel, head over tail, spiraled into it.

“Get outside and get the other squirrels!” Skaggs commanded the other cats.  “This one is all mine!”

The other cats disappeared up the cellar stairs and out of the house.

“You cannot kill the girl squirrel!” commanded Oojie with a shout.

“Spare me, little familiar… for that’s what you are, only the witch’s familiar, not the actual witch.  Magic flows through you, but it does not come from you.  You can’t control me.”    

Valerie-squirrel knew she was in deep and dire distress, so she felt around in the darkness for possible weapons.  But how does one wield a weapon with squirrel paws?  And then she realized that the waste basket was made of wicker.  She quickly bit into the soft woody fibers with her amazingly sharp incisors.

“I am going to report you to the master!” Oojie said to the cat.

“Go ahead.  I will have a nice squirrel lunch while you get him.  I have her trapped in this human trash thingy.”

The hole was big enough to squirm through.  And with luck, there was a mouse hole in the basement brickwork right near where she tumbled out on the dark floor.  She wriggled through the opening and into the hollow tunnel that was on the inside of the cinderblock wall.  She could see light somewhere far above.

“Where are you, beautiful one?  How can you be hiding under this paper and string and old apple cores?”

Valerie-squirrel heard the basket being batted away and new light flooded in the door of the mouse hole.

“Aha!  So that is where you have gone.”

The cat’s paw came reaching in through the hole, the only part of Skaggs that actually fit.  He nearly got a hold on Valerie-squirrel’s bushy blond tail.  She wasn’t used to having a tail the way a real squirrel would be.  She tucked it up underneath herself just in time.  Then she began to climb up through the brickwork.  It was a long, hard climb basically going straight up, but she could manage with four splayed squirrel legs.

“You haven’t escaped me yet!” cried the cat.  “I will have you still.” Her tiny heart beat even faster as she climbed.

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