Category Archives: surrealism

My Bookish Journey (Part V)

Creating myself as an author meant making some conscious choices at the beginning. I made some very clear ones. First of all, I intended to write as much about my real life as I possibly could. Accepting, of course, the fact that my real life was infested with imaginary people and events. There was the faun that slept in my bed with me every night in the form of a large, black pillow my sister made for me as a 4-H project. There were the three-inch-tall fairies that had a complete underground empire that surfaced at the roots of the old willow tree by the Rowan school building and community center. There was the gryphon that circled the skies looking constantly to swoop down and eat me at any opportunity. So, it wasn’t as much about realism as it was surrealism. It was necessary to protect my traumatized psyche from the damage I sustained as a ten-year-old.

Of course, I had literary heroes and inspirations to go by. I read some key books as a college student that deeply influenced how I wanted to write.

Winesburg, Ohio is the first major influence that affected the stories I began writing in my college years. Sherwood Anderson was writing about his own hometown in this short-story cycle, basing Winesburg on his home town of Clyde, Ohio in the very early 1900s.

Arguably he wrote stories about real people from his renamed home town. Thus, I renamed Rowan, my home town, Norwall, mixing up the letters from Rowan and adding two letter “L’s.” His stories were all themed about the loneliness and longings of a small Midwestern town. I would make mine about breaking out of the cages loneliness builds with the people who surround you.

I also determined that like Mark Twain, I would give my characters a sense of realism by basing them on real people from Rowan, Belmond (where I went to high school), and Cotulla, Texas (where I would teach for 23 years.) And I would change some basically minor physical details to hide their true identities behind names I found in the Ames, Iowa phone book from 1978. But I always tried to give them their authentic voices, though that often meant translating Texican and Hispanish into Iowegian.

And like Twain vowed to write stories only about the 19th Century, I decided to only set my stories in the last half of the 20th Century.

Of course, imagination is not easily limited, so I had to also accept that some of my stories of the science-fiction persuasion would be set in the 56th Century in the Orion Spur of the Sagittarius Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

And even before I discovered the genius of David Mitchell through his spectacular novel, Cloud Atlas, I had begun to explore how stories could be expanded and connected and revisited through shared characters, shared histories, and shared places, all of which develop, grow, or deteriorate over time. All things are connected, after all. Anita Jones from that first picture, and Brent Clarke in the last picture were both in the first novel, Superchicken, set in 1974, and Anita appears as an adult in Sing Sad Songs set in 1985, while Brent appears in the last novel in my timeline, The Wizard in his Keep, set in 1999.

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To Laugh… or Cry

I have claimed that I am a humorist and all my novels are comic novels, to some degree at least. But it is often pointed out to me that I write about things that make people cry. And I freely admit that I most certainly do.

But if you think about it carefully, analytically, or even emotionally, you have to admit, even a book like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has some weep-worthy moments in it. I have read the book more than once myself, and I never get past the scene where Huck looks down at the body of his young friend Buck Grangerford, killed in the Shepherdson/Grangerford feud about something nobody living even remembers, without shedding gushers and gushers of heart-busting tears.

And in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, as much as I laugh and guffaw at the antics of quiet Mr. Dick and his kite, or the much deserved downfall of villainous Uriah Heep, it is the drowning of Little Emily on the boat with David’s school friend and idol Steerforth that leaves me surrounded by puddles… nay, lakes… that I have wept.

And I think that I may justify the sad parts in so many of my weary works with the fact that I am merely providing the necessary counterpoints to my merry-making and mirth.

Francois is a character from Sing Sad Songs.

There has to be that necessary balance, that well-rounded-ness, to a story that makes it feel truly complete. And, of course, we know that even in a horror novel by Stephen King, you find humor used as a balance point to lighten the moments just before the monster delivers its liver-shaking, earth-tilting scare.

My novel, Snow Babies, is still free just for clicking on it at Amazon books https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B077PMQ4YF/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i7

Snow Babies, among my published books, is a good example. It is a story that celebrates how a small Iowa town comes together to survive a deadly December blizzard. And while it tells funny stories of kooky characters battling the elements, and both surviving the blizzard and ’84 Reagan/Mondale political debates, as well as putting up Christmas trees, it is still also about death and loss of loved ones, finding and losing love, and just what sort of self-sacrifice or other accidental happening truly makes someone a hero. Or a bus driver… this book has more than one bus driver in it.

So, I think, in the end, that I have made a cogent case for the notion that in order to be a humorist, you have to manipulate many emotions, not just mirth, but sadness also. As well as fear, bitter irony, and pain. And that may well also be the underlying reason that comedy is harder to write than tragedy.

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Time and Destiny

He sat down to write something for the day. He rolled a fresh sheet of typing paper into the typewriter. Then he sat back to look at it. It was a totally horrifying stretch of cold, blank nothingness. There was nothing there. It left him feeling completely and hopelessly alone.

How do you connect with that person who is going to pick up and read the final copy of this thing once it is finished? His brain hurt thinking about it.

He knew that he needed to get started. And he wanted to start with something colorful.

So, he typed a word; RED.

“Well, that’s a start, at least…” he said, talking foolishly to the inanimate typewriter. “But what do I really mean by saying RED?”

Well, of course, red means emotional things, anger, love, shed blood, tomato sauce on Chicago-style pizza…

…But how do you make an actual idea out of that? It needs to be stretched some and pulled a lot. Bent out of shape, maybe even smashed by a hammer.

The typewriter became concerned and alarmed at the mention of the hammer.

But the writer was only thinking about the hammer. And the typewriter didn’t read minds. Heck, it wasn’t even electric yet. It was a typewriter that the writer’s grandmother bought in the 1940s. And writer loved it because it reminded him of her. And it reminded him of her letting him type his very first story on it when he was six years old. He wrote a story about a skeleton chasing a dog. And when the skeleton caught up to the dog, the dog ate him. Because he was bones. It was a short story. Very short. Less than a page. Because grandma only had one page of typing paper left on her desk.

And the story wasn’t red. So, why was he even thinking about it now?

Well, it was read. By his grandmother. And she laughed.

And he hadn’t thought about it until right now. But it was the moment he knew he wanted to be a writer some day.

And, so… Right now… This very moment… He realized… The real story is ready to begin,

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Silly Names

Meet Harker Dawes. He’s a ne’er-do-well businessman, a fool, a bungler, a clown, and his job is comedy relief as a support player in multiple novels of my Hometown Novels Series. I would contend that he is the kind of character I can’t write a good story without. And why does he have a name like Harker? Well, it’s Charles Dickens’ fault.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you’ve never read a novel by Charles Dickens… Why the heck not? I mean seriously… A Tale of Two Cities is one of the best novels ever written by anyone. The history, themes, and tightly woven plot threads of that novel… pale in comparison to some of the funny names Dickens uses to tell that tale. Jerry Cruncher, porter for Tellson’s Bank, is also a grave-robber in his spare nights. He is constantly losing his temper with Mrs. Cruncher for “flopping against him” (which is how he characterizes how she prays for him). He is an essential clown in that narrative. Prim and proper Miss Pross is Lucie Manette’s hand maiden who is so fiercely loyal she ends up taking out the vengeful villain of the tale, Madame Defarge, for threatening her precious Miss Lucie.

And that notation is just the beginning of the long list of silly names used for critical supporting characters in his books. There is a wealth of them in every book you pick up; Uncle Pumblechook, Herbert Pocket, Abel Magwitch, and Joe Gargery in Great Expectations… certainly not leaving out Philip Pirrip (Pip) the narrator and main character of the tale.

Wackford Squeers is the perfect name for the abusive headmaster of Dotheboy’s Hall in Nicholas Nickleby.

A Christmas Carol not only contains Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim Cratchit, but also Old Fezziwig, a former boss who loves to dance at the Christmas parties he throws.

David Copperfield has wonderful character names like Edward Murdstone the evil stepfather, Wilkins Micawber the ne’er-do-well surrogate father figure (based on Dickens’s real father), jovial Mr. Dick, and the slimy, villainous Uriah Heep.

The multi-syllabic names he uses are not only comical or sinister or both, but uniquely descriptive of the characters themselves, defining for us in nonsense syllables what those characters seem to be all about.

So, that is why his name is Harker Dawes. It stands in for, “Hark, there will be guffaws.” The perfect moniker for a very imperfect man.

In the same book as Harker, you can find heroic Agnes Brikkleputti the social worker who chases four orphan runaways from Chicago to Norwall, Iowa and risks death in a blizzard to bring the orphans their medications. She is the putty that holds those four bricks together.

So, you should not be surprised if you read something Mickey has written and you run across a silly name. It is evidence that he might be Dickens reincarnated.

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Today in Rabbit-People News

Okay, big miscalculation here. My old eyes can’t read the rabbit-talk in this cartoon. So, let me do something about it.

Nope. I can read it now. But that’s the problem. Not only is it not funny, but it’s also sorta racist. But wolves do eat rabbits. Still…

News in the RabbitTown Gazette includes the fact that my son is nearing recovery from COVID 19, and nobody in the house has caught it from him. He gets tested on Saturday so he can return to work if the test is negative.

Of course, the nation-wide news is not so great. This is 2020 after all, even in RabbitTown. The price of carrots is still within reach. But rabbit people are continuing to get sick from the pandemic which will be with us well into 2021.

And the weasel in the really bad weasel-wig that somehow got elected Prexydon’t is still favoring wolf-people, even when they kill an unarmed rabbit. And he blames the rabbits for being mad about how the wolves seemed to get away with murder. He twists the facts to suggest that exercising your right to peaceful protest is the cause of the chaos.

Yes, I am basically a rabbit too.

According to the featured editorial in the RabbitTown Gazette, you should be able to say, “Rabbit lives matter!” without having wolves answer back, “You mean ALL lives matter!”

After all, if you can’t admit out loud that “Rabbit lives matter,” then you really mean the opposite when you are saying, “ALL lives matter.”

Rabbits, whether they are black, white, brown, or red, have unique rabbit qualities, and they all have a basic worth. And I don’t mean as food for wolves.

The paper seems to have only bad news about the economy when you look at it from a rabbit perspective. Sure, the wolves are doing great right now on Wall Street, but that doesn’t help those of us who are not invested in the stalk market. We regular rabbits, and especially poor rabbits, are struggling to keep carrots on the table.

So, it is time for all good rabbits to do whatever a rabbit can. And that’s the way it was today in Rabbit News.

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Filed under angry rant, artwork, cartoons, commentary, humor, Paffooney, rabbit people, racial profiling, satire, surrealism

Mickey Plays with Pictures and Paint

Once I was finally able to scan pictures again, I did some scanning of old pictures that only got the camera treatment before on my blog.

But why stop a drawing at just the pen and ink, when there is potential for so much more?

So, I took the Microsoft generic paint program and my generic photo editor to not only this pen and ink of the Jungle Princess, but a few other pictures as well.

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This is what she looks like after being attacked with color by my arthritic old hands. (There was a day when I could have handled intricate details more cleverly, but that was many, many days ago.

Anyway, I have added new dimensions to Leopard Girrrl with color.

Now I need to add more complications to the basic story of the picture.

”’

Here is an older pen and ink.

This is Dorin Dobbs, one of the dueling plotlines’ protagonists from the novel Catch a Falling Star.

But, of course, Dorin is a more complex character than this old black and white.

So, color needs to be added.

,,,

I had this one actually already painted in…

But in order to use it in this project, I needed to enlarge it to make it fit into the other picture.

Making this unlikely pair work together in a story is one of the challenges of doing surrealist stories. They have to be grounded in realism, but also bring jarringly different things together. Like the Jungle Princess going on an adventure with Norwall’s Lying King.

But, putting these two together is still not enough. Let’s try some other things.

The Jungle Princess together with Tomboy Dilsey Murphy is an unusual pairing.

Or what about the blue faun from Laughing Blue?

Or even Annette Funicello?

Ridiculous, I know. But don’t they look like satin sofa paintings?

And how surreal is that?

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The Words Unwinding

Venus Flytrap, my Monster High doll decorated with carniverous flowers, is the perfect pandemic mascot, as she guards the Vapo-Rub.

Stuck in the house all day with no outside activities to distract me, and limited socialization with the other denizens imprisoned in the house with me is more-or-less the perfect thing for a fiction writer with cancer of the imagination glands.

I have plenty of people to talk to, since , in this situation, imaginary people count too. And there is no end to the things I can talk about since ideas keep welling up in my head, even if many of them are totally silly ideas, and the rest are probably evil.

It helps to have a talking dog. Though my kids would argue that Jade isn’t really talking, that I am, instead, merely interpreting things I think she should be saying as if it were real speech. She does talk an awful lot about different kinds of meat and the moral imperatives of allowing your dog to eat people food. But I think it is only proper to commit to writing those things she says when we’re alone together, because, after all… a possible talking dog?

Everybody has a purple dragonette on the doll shelf that loves to play with dolls, don’t they?

But imagination is one of those things that sets people… I mean, human people, apart from all other life forms that we know. Imagination makes the man. What would we have made of ourselves and our world if we didn’t have it? Would we have invented the wheel? Fire? Term life insurance? I think not.

Peter Pan offers Alice a ride in his Skull-and-Bones Lowrider as ninjas attack Main Street Toonerville.

I may, in fact, be going a little stir crazy in the old hovel while trying like heck to avoid death by Coronavirus. I am easily as frayed around the edges as any hopeless hobo, with even my beard-trimming growing wildly erratic. Soon I may have to tell the imaginary people who surround me and question everything about me that it is not a beard any more. Rather, it is either a crocheted hippie neck-warmer rather than a beard, or maybe it has become a furred, frilly collar on my shirt like Shakespeare probably wore for the premiere of King Lear.

No, I am not going stir-crazy, or even a little bit insane. I am just letting the words unwind as they fill me up and demand to be unreeled in order to prevent an explosion in the brain.

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What Makes the Story Worth Writing?

On the face of it, a lot of what I am writing stories about is nonsense. Snow Babies is about a town coming together to survive a blizzard populated by naked children made of ice who select people to freeze to death and possibly become snow babies themselves in the afterlife. Fools and their Toys is a story told by a ventriloquist’s dummy in the form of a zebra sock puppet. Clowns from the world of dreams (specifically H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands) come to a small Iowa town to teach children how to share their dreams and face death and grieving in the novel Sing Sad Songs. You get the idea. I am a surrealist story-teller who uses the melting-clocks method of presenting my ideas about love and life and laughter.

And I have this weird thing about nakedness too. I mean, some of my characters are practicing, unabashed nudists. While others, though not comfortable with social nudity, find themselves facing significant life events naked and completely vulnerable. Of course, some of this stems from myself being the victim of a sexual assault at the age of ten. Themes about overcoming fears about sex and being taken advantage of are prominent in my fiction. Much in the same way that Roald Dahl often wrote about defying the authority of those in charge who mishandle their authority. or Charles Dickens often wrote about the soul-crushing nature of child poverty and the effects it has on the development of people and their character. These writers, like me, share obsessions based on their own childhood experiences. And they do it for the same reasons I do it.

But the kind of story a piece of fiction is, isn’t itself what makes the story valuable to both reader and writer. It isn’t the weirdness or the colorful insanity of a piece of surrealist literature that is the worthwhile point of it all. It isn’t even the teachable moments bound up in every theme or literary device that gives the story its meaning. No, it is the act of creating the story that takes the very real events in life and weaves them into a vehicle of understanding, peace of mind, and epiphany about everything that makes it valuable to the life of the writer. And, depending on how it is received by the reader, it can offer the very same things to many of them.

From my mind to your mind… my words to your heart… therein lies the real value of a story.

I am saying stories have value beyond merely boring children to sleep at night.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism, writing, writing humor, writing teacher

Art Day Novel Illustrations

One of the main things I have been focusing on in my art work is the art of illustration. For example, this is a character illustration for the book The Boy… Forever.

This illustration is also from the book The Boy… Forever. It is a pen-and-ink illustration of a moment in the story when Anita Jones and Sherry Cobble are being held prisoner through mind control by the evil vampire/dragon, Tian Long.

The boy is Tanis, a living mummy from ancient Egypt, kept alive by a horrible process the villain is intending to use on at least one of the imprisoned girls.

This illustration is part of the exposition from my comedy science fiction novel, AeroQuest 3 ; Juggling Planets. It explains about the residents of the planet Djinnistan being genetically engineered humans with bizarre characteristics.

The evil Dr. Havir Bludlust has created these humanoid mutants to aid the human star empire known as the Imperium to make excessive profits from the people they supposedly govern, but actually enslave.

A heroine from AeroQuest 3
One of the dragons from The Boy… Forever.
A late-for-class illustration from The Boy… Forever
Another novel I am working on at present with many illustrations is A Field Guide to Fauns.
The rest of these illustrations will be from A Field Guide to Fauns.

The novel takes place in a nudist park where the main characters are mostly year-around residents, it is also the reason why they appear nude in a majority of the illustrations. It is not a book of pornography, however, just as being in a nudist park is about living a sensual, nature-filled life, and not about people having sex. I will not categorize this as a young-adult novel, though it will be tame enough for kids to read.

Devon, the main character, loves to draw. Hence, the illustrations are drawn by him.

This is Devon Martinez’s self-portrait. He tends to draw people as mythological creatures like fauns, satyrs, and nymphs.

He tells the story in first-person narrative. He doesn’t start out as a nudist. But he is thrust into the middle of it because he is forced by a tragedy to move in with his father, stepmother, and twin stepsisters.

They are full-time residents of a nudist park. To live there, he has to get comfortable being naked.

Part of what the story does is define what Devon thinks a faun is and how they should be treated. Hence, the central metaphor introduced in the title.
Devon at his job as a handy-man’s assistant.
A faun and his stepsister as a nymph.
Jose, an example of a satyr.
Devon wearing a suit. It is not a 100% nude novel.

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Sunday with Salvador

Today I am waxing on about the wonderful, mad, mad, mad genius of surrealist art, Salvador Dali. He was born in 1904 and died in 1989. And that’s really about all that I want to tell you about the physical parameters of his boundlessly creative life. He was alive in this world until I was already thirty-three. So, I got to see him on television and watch video biographies of him and his incredible artwork. Ones that included interviews. And if I get into his public persona, that will eat up the rest of his essay. Instead, I need to talk about his art, and how it modifies and magnifies what I am meant to be.

The Persistence of Memory

His most famous painting is the one that most clearly burned the image of melting clocks into our collective memory. He claimed, and others pretend to see it too, that it is a reaction to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. But when I look at it with the melting mask of Dali himself in the center, I see the artist’s perception of time in the spaces within which creativity moves. Time melts and has no meaning when you are painting and writing from an endless roiling flow of new ideas and notions. Time becomes as irrelevant in that context as the ants on the pocket-watch or the dead tree from which one deflated clock-skin hangs, There is no past or future, only the creative now.

And in that creative now, the artist sees himself. But if you look too closely, the self vanishes into the picture, the currently considered, fascinating work of art.

You see the boy with the hoop and wearing a sailor suit? That symbol, he always claimed, was his lost brother, the one who died before he was born. The one whose death made his parents decide to have another child. Without that brother, Salvador would probably never have been existing at all.

And do you see the disappearing bust of Voltaire? Or when you look closely at the slave market in the background, is it simply no longer there? Things that disappear… things that become other things… tricks of perception, the fooling of the viewer’s eye… These are what the artist actually wants you to see. Not the well-portrayed physical reality, but the ghost of the shadow of an idea that’s hard to define.

And then there is the idea of war. Two world wars that took place in the prime-time of his painterly life.

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans

Life does crazy things to the sensitive, suffering artist, and it shows in his work if not in his public personality.

Metamorphosis of Narcissus 1937 Salvador Dali 1904-1989 Purchased 1979 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02343

And consider the artist’s notion of birth and life and death. Narcissus suffers for the sin of love of himself. He becomes petrified with age, a narcissus flower growing from his head, now an egg, the symbol of birth and rebirth.

Detail from “the Madonna of Port Lligat”

And here is an exploded portrait of his beloved wife Gala.

All the elements float eternally in the air.

And you can see inside each thing.

Inside the home is the wife and mother.

Inside the mother is the child.

Inside the child is the loaf of bread that keeps him alive.

Does the bread, then, stand in for God himself?

Dali and his work is not simple. It is deeply, incongruously complex. But that is surrealism. That is how it works. Without getting into other complex symbols and such Dali-esque puzzles like burning giraffes, eggs, and Venus De Milo with bureau drawers in her torso, that is how Salvador spends his Sunday with me. An artist beyond time and space, long dead, but still speaking to me. And teaching me beautiful, untold things and stories of things.

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