Category Archives: writing humor

Why Tuesday Was Icky for Mickey

This has been a terrible week. It takes a good deal of explanation to make clear what fundamentally went wrong. But the ignition of the raging fire of black-luck can be traced back to the explosion of the upstairs toilet that unexpectedly started a cascade of bad luck and rather icky events.

Yes, you heard me right, the toilet exploded, not with actual fire, but with an unexpected gusher of the household water supply that disrupted and defeated a simple toilet-repair procedure. And went on to mess up the rest of the week.

A vertical picture of my horizontal sunflower.

The problem was first apparent when the float broke off from the bar that is supposed to stop the water from flowing into the toilet when the tank is full. So, it began pumping water into the bathroom relentlessly through the overflowing tank. Three inches of water on the floor later, I noticed what was happening and cut off the water to the toilet at the shut-off valve. I then went to Lowe’s and bought a new refill stack (a really cheap plastic one because I am really cheap) and I planned on repairing that toilet the same way that I did twice before. Easy-peazy.

What I didn’t know before beginning the repair, (and would soon learn to my horror half-way through the job) was that the shut-off valve was secretly out to get me, and put into action its twenty-year-long plan for exacting rust-revenge right before it’s gruesome demise. I discovered as I removed the broken piece of plumbing that the broken piece of plumbing was the only thing actually holding back the gusher that became a geyser while I was trying to fix it. And of course, once I knew what the problem was (several gallons too late) I managed to jam the piece I was putting in with such gusto that not only could it not be put in place over the geyser, it was also jammed hard enough that it could not be removed.

The only thing I could do was to shut off the water to the whole house. So, I went out to the spot by the front door where I remembered the shut-off valve to be. But where I thought I remembered the valve being, there was only a new bit of PVC pipe where the city had made changes to the old sewer lines two years ago. So, I began to panic. I don’t pay the water bill. My wife does. And she works at the Dungeon in her middle school’s basement where she can’t call out or get calls in. And I didn’t know the number to call to get help from the city. So, I went back upstairs to find something jammable to stuff in the geysering hole while number-two-son continued to hunt for the shut-off valve. I tried electrical tape and duck tape (though I didn’t actually have a duck to tape with it) and even considered briefly using one of my daughter’s many soaked socks that littered the bathroom floor (or rather, floated above it). As I went downstairs defeated, contemplating calling 911 for a drowning victim’s rescue, my son came in shouting that he had found the shut-off valve. It was under the replanted hedge that my wife moved two years ago.

So, we got the geyser stifled, and the rest of this week we have been living a comfort-free lifestyle with the water shut off while I have been contemplating my Joe-like ability to make bad things happen around me.

I have had to adapt as I work out how to undo the plumbing damage already done without being able to afford a real plumber, and attempt to prevent further damage from happening. And our luck with things like midnight bathroom runs by auto to the nearest all-night-Walmart-store restrooms, my daughter getting ready for school with limited wet resources, and even the car accident I had today between paragraphs two and three of this essay (no kidding… I had to run and pick up my son and got clipped by the car behind me going around the Walmart corner) has been Joe-Btfsplk-esque.

I have had a bad, bad, icky-Mickey week. But I did publish a book. And I got a fairly-funny essay out of the whole thing, though, sadly, every detail is truthfully accurate.

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Doing the Necessary Work

Yes, I am a writer.

I write poems.

I write novels.

I write and draw comics and comic-book-style stories.

And that isn’t me in the first picture of this post. Although it is pretty close.

But today, I am once again merely sitting down to the keyboard to monkey around and tap out something in writing to get the old writing practice over with.

There is no over-arching plan to follow, no theme already in mind… just little old me sitting down and working at it to get ideas on paper.

And soon, unless the school district I applied to rejects my application for no foreseeable reason, I will be doing the work of a substitute teacher. Of course, that’s not me in the fuzzed up background of the picture. That is not even a real classroom. No classroom contains that many left-hand raisers. And if you could find one, no real classroom has that many hand raisers without having asked the question, “Who wants ice cream?” And a mere sub cannot possibly afford to ask that expensive question.

But that isn’t even the kind of work I meant when I lamely wrote that title. Lamely writing a title is work I have to force myself to do. And that is even harder when you write it first while having no earthly idea what you are even going to write about in the essay.

I always told writing classes (the ones who actually never raise either hand about anything) that the best way to do it is to leave writing the title til last so you will already know what you wrote about and what to call it. But forcing yourself to follow through on a title you just pulled out of the air is one way to force yourself to get the necessary work done.

Another thing you can do to force yourself to get the work done when you need to write something, is put the writing aside and read a book.  As Sagan suggests, books are magical things that let you channel the mind of another author, preferably one who is smarter and a better writer than you are.  I can write fake Twain and fake Dickens like nobody’s business because I soaked in Twain’s magical way of writing down what people said in the weird way the individual talker actually sounded during my college years, and I absorbed Dickens’ knack for creating weird but lovable characters with distinctive personalities and motivations when I was even younger than that.  But channeling is not the same as plagiarizing, so you can get away with it much easier than most other literary crimes you are fully capable of committing as an author.  You can easily steal style and ideas from whatever book you are reading, and that helps you do the necessary work.

Of course, when you are done procrastinating and wasting time by reading somebody else’s book, you can then turn to another helpful tactic to do the work that needs to be done.  You can pick a book to re-read.

That’s right.  When I recently re-read Rodman Philbrick’s The Last Book in the Universe, I was better able to see and admire the structure of that book, a hero’s quest-type story that narrates the episodic adventures of a ragtag group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world as they are on a quest for a lost book, one that is being written as the reader reads it.

This particular author is quite good at Quixotic Quest Stories, and understanding how he has put his story together is marvelously instructive.  He has written a blue-print for a kind of story you can easily apply to the structure of your own story.

I am doing something very similar now as I re-read my own story, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius and follow the eccentric characters on a very similar quest to find a story in pre-apocalyptic Iowa in the 80’s and 90’s.

So, what is the theme that I can wrap this warped wooden bowl of advice-fish up in so that you can take it home and feed it to your children (by which I mean your own writing)?  Well, my best advice is to never take advice from Mickey.  He is sarcastic and ironic and usually joking, so he rarely means whatever he says.  After all, he wrote one of the best essays of his life yesterday, and practically nobody has read it yet. But I am also saying you don’t have to go it alone.  There is a whole world of us out there, and even the dead ones count.  Use what you learn from others to help you get the necessary work done.  So, find that unused steam engine, fire it up, and start chugging away at the next surprise best seller, or at least the book that most pleases you yourself to write.

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About the Book… #11

Up until now I have been putting chapters of When the Captain Came Calling on this blog, in order, as I have been finishing the manuscript, and revising and editing at the same time. I used this method to show you all the work in progress, step-by-step, as I did the revision and editing.

30 chapters (that I mysteriously call cantos for illicit poetical reasons) posted on 30 Tuesdays for the last 30 weeks. That is less than half of the novel.

I took the 22,000-word first draft and turned it into a 57,000-word completed novel in that time. The illustration above is the final copy of the cover art for When the Captain Came Calling. It is a slightly altered version of the concept cover art I have been posting for 30 weeks. Val is wearing a skate-boarder’s t-shirt that up til now had a fairly accurate portrayal of what is probably a copyrighted cartoon character. So, I turned Rude Dog into a parody called Ride, Dog! and gave him two black eyes… or possibly sunglasses. I should know better than to draw other people’s cartoons too accurately, even though it was a real detail about 80’s skate-boarders that they often wore that same cropped t-shirt.

I have also shown you character art for some of the most important characters in the story. Pictured to the right are Mary Philips, the leader of the re-formed Norwall Pirates, a small-town adventure club and 4-H softball team. She’s a practical girl-next-door sort of leader, mentor, and friend who believes all the kids who have reached their middle teenage years need to stick together and help each other through the common problems of growing up, and dealing with moving from the fantasy worlds of who they want to become, into the practical worlds of who you really can become, if only somebody gives you a boost. And the Invisible Captain Noah Dettbarn, the victim of a South Seas Voodoo curse which he is trying to overcome by finding a virgin to throw into a volcano is pictured also. He’s not exactly the villain of the story, but he turns out to be a relative of the witch-doctor. And also, Valerie-squirrel is in that picture, clinging to Mary’s arm. At one point Valerie has to run through the trees to escape an ugly, evil, killer cat who wants to eat her while she is still the squirrel the witch-doctor turned her into.

And, for some reason, people in Norwall (not just kids) think that Mazie Haire is a witch. True, she is the current resident of the Gingerbread House that has always been associated with magic and witches. Also true, she has a telescope in that upstairs room and always seems to know things about other people in the community that she shouldn’t. by rights, actually know. But that doesn’t make her the villain of the story. It also doesn’t make her the hero.

These character sketches and short explanations were a kind of crafting of the puzzle pieces that helped me to put the entire big picture together piece by piece.

I am now moving into the final proof-reading and formatting that will lead to being able to publish this book on KDP with Amazon. You should look for that book to appear there in a couple of weeks. And I intend to make some noise about it here when it is done.

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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

Animal Town212

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.

Val in the Yard

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

Untitled

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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