Category Archives: writing humor

The W.I.P.

Deaf-mute Terry Houston, sock-puppet Zearlop Zebra, and fool Murray Dawes

I have begun work on novel #10 in my Hometown Series about the imaginary little Iowa town where I grew up. This novel is called Fools and Their Toys.  It is basically a novel about how human beans communicate, mind to mind, heart to heart, and mouth to ear.

Fool Harker Dawes, Murray’s uncle

Now, I should tell you, calling them “human beans” in the previous paragraph was not a spelling mistake. It was the kind of pun that fools like Mickey often employ. And I don’t consider the word “fool” to be an insult. After all, the fool in a Shakespeare play often says the thing that sounds the wisest in the play. And all the world is a stage, and all the people merely players. But I do acknowledge that fools can actually be stupid, too. Their whole purpose is to make you laugh.

Probably the most foolish thing about this novel about fools and foolishness is that the narrator is a zebra sock puppet that the ventriloquist protagonist uses to be able to talk and communicate. Murray Dawes has a condition that makes people think he is slow of mind because he is unable to create speech in his own mouth. He is actually quite brilliant. But that doesn’t come out until he finally has the puppet to do the talking for him. Zearlop, then, is the narrator who puts the entire book in his own words even though he has brains made of wadded newspaper and cotton stuffing.

I have long worried that this particular book would be hard to write. But just like the last three novels it is now flowing out of my word processor as if it is writing itself. I do hope I can hang on to life long enough to make it real.

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Braindrain With a Side-Order of Lethargy

Because of weather, depression, and dealing with a wounded automobile, I have been having trouble getting writing done lately.  I mean, me, the goof who writes every day and claims to never have writer’s block, is having trouble with being motivated enough the write things.

It is entirely possible that it is due to an improper diet.  I mean, I haven’t been eating well this week.  Having to squeeze the food budget to be able to pay all the bills this month is a part of the problem.  The effect intermittent rain and heat have on my appetite could also be at least partly to blame.  I stress eat, and am not always smart enough to depend on peanuts and peanut butter to get me through the problem.

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I realize I need to eat protein to aid my brain, and fruits and vegetables so that my diabetes will slow itself down in the process of eating my brain.  That process can make you a bit stupid.

I am also quite aware that eating food that has eyeballs and mouths and occasionally cat ears is also a bad idea for dietary propriety.  Especially if it can also talk to me.  Do non-cartoonists also have this problem?

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Eating right with Ramen noodles as seen in the movie Ponyo.

All right, I admit it.  My writing problems probably don’t stem from eating cartoon food.  Or eating food in a cartoon for that matter, a thing I haven’t tried in real life.  But the whole cartoon food allusion has gotten me halfway to 500 words today.  So it is worth something.  And the real solution to the problem has been to just sit down and clack away at the keyboard, even if the only thing it yields is foofy nonsense.  (And I know “foofy” isn’t even a real word, but WordPress counted it anyway.)  I managed to write today simply by doing it.

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How Mickey’s Brain Percolates

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I tend to do a lot of thinking about thinking.  I pay attention to what sources of input and images I use to bring the old brain to a boil.  It is entirely possible to turn into a malevolent moron in this age of Trumpalump Twitter Twit-Tweets if you pay too much attention to its anger-inducing misinformation and rage-ranting.  So I have to limit how much I think about calling Trump and the other elephant-heads names.  I enjoy it, true, but I really don’t want to become a malevolent moron.

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The anti-moron medicine comes in the form of remembering who I used to be and how problems were solved as an educator, mentor, and advocate for young people.  I remember how the times I used name-calling and anger in place of problem-solving tended to only make the problem worse.  If you deliberately brainstorm solutions to the problem instead, I have found that after you test several solutions and have them spectacularly fail, your persistance eventually yields a solution that works.

So when I think about how to proceed with the daily problems of life, especially the age-old question, “What the hell am I going to write about today?” I find that I tend to leap out of the box, think all around the outside landscape, and seize on something silly in a very round-about and experimental manner.

The things I choose to write about in book form are all based on my own real experiences.  But I have the unfortunate gift for having an overdose-level vivid imagination.  So my books are about fairies and ghosts and aliens as well as the kids I have taught, the people who raised me, and the people who have always surrounded me.  I write about ideas in some depth, but always from a sideways viewpoint that reflects my beliefs in non-violence, rationality, and love.

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My mind works like a match in a firecracker factory.  But I try not to use it for evil.  And now that I am done revealing the secret of how Mickey’s brain percolates, feel free to tell me how stupid it all is and call me whatever bad monkey-names you can think of for me.  I can take it.  And when I take it, I most likely will use it to make something surprisingly good.  Mickey-brain tea… now there’s a weird, wild, and wonderful metaphorical brew.

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Being Prosaic

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I admit it.  I am prosaic.  I think in sentences.  I speak in paragraphs.  I write in 5-paragraph essays.  I should stop with the repetition of forms and the parallel structures, because that could easily be seen as poetic and defeat my argument in this post.  I write prose.  Simple.  Direct.  Declarative.  But those last three are sentence fragments.  Does that fit the model of prose?  How about asking a question in the middle of a paragraph full of statements?  Is that all simple enough to be truly prosaic?

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Prose is focused on the everyday tasks of writing.  It seems like the world thinks that the mechanical delivery of information in words and sentences should be boring, should be functional, should be simple and easy to understand.

I don’t mean to be pulling your reader’s mind in two directions at once, however.  I need to stop confusing you with my onslaught of sentences full of contradictory and complex ideas.  I should be more clear, more direct, and more to the point.

So here is my thesis, finally clearly stated; The magic of writing prose, it turns out, makes you the opposite of prosaic.

20160705_214055Ah, irony again!  It ends up being anything but simple.  You can write in simple, adjective-and-adverb-free sentences as Hemingway did, and still manage to convey deeply complicated and thoughtful ideas.  One might even suggest that you can create poetic ideas in mere prose, dripping with layers of emotion, conflict, theme, and deeper implied meaning.  You can also write prose in the intensely descriptive and convoluted style of a Charles Dickens with many complex sentences and pages-long paragraphs of detail, using comic juxtapositions of things, artfully revealing character development, and idiosyncratic dialogue all for comedic effect.  Prose is a powerful and infinitely variable tool for creating meaning in words.  Even when it is in the form of Mickian purple paisley prose that employs extra-wiggly sentence structure, pretzel-twisted ideas, and hyperbolically big words.

Simply stated; I am a writer of prose.  I am too dumb about what makes something poetry to really write anything but prose.  But I do know how to make a word-pile like this one that might just accidentally make you think a little more deeply about your writing… that is, if you didn’t give up on reading this three paragraphs ago.  I find it useful to examine in writing how I go about writing and what I can do with it.  I try to push the boundaries in directions they haven’t been pushed before.  And hopefully, I learn something from every new essay I write.  What I learned here is that I am prosaic.  And that is not always a bad thing.

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Getting Back to the Writing in my Heart

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I successfully prepared for the possible death of my beloved laptop, and that foresight managed to save a lot of the art and written work that was stored there.  What is lost to me because I ran out of time to back everything up is not beyond my ability to retrieve it.  I not only backed up files on thumb drives in triplicate, I managed to send copies of my completed manuscripts to both of my sisters as well as my oldest son.  I have been almost paranoid about preserving my creations.

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And the reason for that is not because of the onset of mental illness, or obsessive compulsive disorder, although those are probably both factors, but because the most valuable possession I have acquired in my life is the story I have to tell.

The novel I am working on now is going to be the most powerful and complex that I have yet done.  I am confident that it will also be the best I have done.  I wrote what I believe are good novels before this one. I like to think that if people bother to actually read Catch a Falling Star, Snow Babies, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius, and The Baby Werewolf, they will think so too.  Editors have told me that my work is as good or better than some of the good books published by Random House and Penguin Books, and they know from having worked for those publishing houses.  And I waited to write this one because Sing Sad Songs is so good that I had to learn the skills necessary to write it before I tried to get the story down on paper.

Francois the singing boy is based on a real-life student whom I loved and taught and eventually lost tragically.  His talent changed the world for me, even if it didn’t last long enough to change the worlds of so many more people that he could’ve touched had he lived even a little longer.  And I am the only person who can possibly tell this important story.

I made myself cry for ten minutes by writing that last paragraph.  But don’t be sad for me.  Remember, I am a humorist.  I take the tragedies I have known and try to weave it into stuff that makes you laugh twice as much as it makes you cry.  You know, that stuff we loosely refer to as comedy.  And that’s what this story is about, laughing at everything in life except for those few things that make you have to cry.  Writing is about expressing feelings and describing how conflict is navigated in order to find the love or the love lost on the other side of conflict that is what the world is really about.

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I know this all sounds like hyperbole… bragging even.  I probably will never pull off the actual creation of the monster, certainly not without consequences, torches and pitchforks, and such…  But it is the reason for all the labor, the back-up plans and paranoia, and the notion that I just might’ve reached the level of skill necessary to bring it all to life.

And I am writing again.  Not even the death of a computer has been able to stop me.

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In Defense of Corny Jokes

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It will probably be clear that I am writing this post because I am currently reading 1941 daily strips from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner.

But I am definitely going to talk about corny jokes, not cheesy jokes, because I grew up in Iowa, not Wisconsin.

And, yes, that is example number one.

There is a certain way of telling a joke or tall tale that is unique to the farmyard.   And it does not contain chicken poop, but rather, corn.

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Of course, as you can see by this corn-colored definition of what corny means according to Collins Online Dictionary, the word is supposed to be an insult to corniness in jokery.  That doesn’t sit well with the people of Iowa, where the tall corn grows.  We are also obvious, sentimental, and not at all original.  And we are proud of it.  Corny360_2017-06-19-17-17-44-339

To tell a corny joke right, you have to set a simple scene, and make it clear what happened, and give the audience a simple cue for when to laugh.

For instance, there was the time that Cudgel Murphy had a cat problem with his car, the 1954 Austin Hereford that he has driven since dinosaurs walked the earth.  It seems there was this time in 1988 when he kept having engine trouble.  The engine would sputter and cough and die, and when Cudgel opened it, he would find a half-eaten dead pigeon or other random bird carcass gumming up the works.  He couldn’t for the life of him figure out how dead birds were getting into his car engine.  But his grandson Danny happened to see the neighbor’s big tabby tomcat carrying a pigeon he had killed under the front of Grampy’s car, apparently enjoying a fowl meal in the dark with a nice warm engine to lay the food on.  Sure enough, when they checked the engine later, there was the half-eaten dead bird laying across one end of the fan belt.

So Cudgel set up a vigil, assigning times for himself, Danny, and his younger grandson Mike to watch for signs of that damned cat taking another bird under the hood of the Austin. With only two day’s worth of watching under their belts, Mike came running into the Murphy kitchen with the news.

“Grampy!  I seen that damned cat taking a dead bird under your car!  He’s in there right now!”

So Cudgel rushed out, turned the engine on, and stomped on the gas.

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There were some worrisome thumps and bangs under the hood, and then the cat shot out from under the front of the car spewing howls and cat curses all the way up the nearest tree.

Cudgel laughed hard and finally caught his breath to say, “How about that, Mike?  I’ll bet James Bond doesn’t have a car that can shoot angry cats out the front!”

Now, before you chastise me for enjoying cruelty to cats, I hope you will remember that Cudgel Murphy is a fictional character, and I am merely illustrating the idea behind corny jokes.  And, besides, that cat really had it coming to him.

 

 

 

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Superchicken Lives!

I published another danged novel on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

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