Category Archives: writing teacher

How To Write A Mickian Essay

mickeynose

I know the last thing you would ever consider doing is to take up writing essays like these.  What kind of a moronic bingo-boingo clown wants to take everything he or she knows, put it in a high-speed blender and turn it all into idea milkshakes?

But I was a writing teacher for many years.  And now, being retired and having no students to yell at when my blood pressure gets high, the urge to teach it again is overwhelming.

So, here goes…

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Once you have picked the silly, pointless, or semi-obnoxious idea you want to shape the essay around, you have to write a lead.  A lead is the attention-grabbing device or booby-trap for readers that will draw them into your essay.  In a Mickian essay, whose purpose is to entertain, or possibly bore you in a mildly amusing manner, or cause you enough brain damage to make you want to send me money (this last possibility never seems to work, but I thought I’d throw it in there just in case), the lead is usually a  “surpriser”, something so amazingly dumb or off-the-wall crazy that you just have to read, at least a little bit, to find out if this writer is really that insane or what.  The rest of the intro paragraph that is not part of the lead may be used to draw things together to suggest the essay is not simply a chaotic mass of silly words in random order.  It can point the reader down the jungle path that he or she can take to come out of the other end of the essay alive.

Once started on this insane quest to build an essay that will strangle the senses and mix up the mind of the reader, you have to carry out the plan in three or four body paragraphs.  This is where you have to use those bricks of brainiac bull-puckie that you have saved up to be the concrete details in the framework of the main rooms of the little idea-house you are constructing.  If you were to number or label these main rooms, this one you are reading now would, for example, be Room #2, or B, or “the second body paragraph”.  And as you read this paragraph, you should be thinking in the voice of your favorite English teacher of all time.  The three main rooms in this example idea house are beginning, middle, and end.  You could also call them introduction, body, and conclusion.  These are the rooms of your idea house that the reader will live in during his or her brief stay (assuming they don’t run out of the house screaming after seeing the clutter in the entryway).

Teacher

The last thing you have to do is the concluding paragraph.  (Of course, you have to realize that we are not actually there yet in this essay.  This is Room C in the smelly chickenhouse of this essay, the third body paragraph.)  The escape hatch on the essay that may potentially explode into fireworks of thoughts, daydreams, or plans for something better to do with your life than a read an essay written by an insane former middle school English teacher at any moment, is a necessary part of the whole process.  This is where you have to remind them of what the essay is basically about, and leave them with the thought that you want to haunt them in their nightmares later.  The last thing that you say in the essay is the thing they are the most likely to remember.  So you need to save the best for last.

So, here, finally, is the exit door to this masterfully mixed-up Mickian Essay.  It is a simple, and straightforward structure.  The introduction containing the lead is followed by three or four body paragraphs that develop the idea and end in a conclusion that summarizes or simply restates the overall main idea.  And now you know why all of my former students either know how to construct an essay, or have several years left in therapy sessions with a psychiatrist.

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The Rules for Reviews

I just got the first review for the last book I’ve published. Cissy Moonskipper’s Travels, book #20, a science fiction novella, has actually been read and evaluated by somebody who wasn’t me. I am tickled blue to get a good review. I don’t see any reason mentioned why it was given four stars and not five. But four is a good review, and I am not totally convinced that I am the second coming of Saul Bellow… not totally convinced. Maybe I shouldn’t be arbitrarily lumped into the same star-category as Faulkner and Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mark Twain. But I have noticed that a lot of not-so-great reviews are heavily influenced in their judgements by whatever the first reviewer said, and the number of stars they bedazzled me with.

As an Indie author with self-published books, I realize the importance of having people read and respond to your books. Especially when you can’t get a beta-reader you know to look at a manuscript before publication. My sisters don’t read my novels even after I publish them (and give them a gift copy and ask them specifically to read them.) And my wife is a fellow English teacher, so she wants to dissolve the book conversations into arguments about spelling and usage and points where my ideas diverge from her fundamentalist religious beliefs. So, I rely on strangers, some of them apparently semi-literate but highly opinionated, to tell me how they received my books. My source of validation for what I spend so much time doing is dependent wholly upon Amazon, Goodreads, and Pubby reviews. (Pubby is an authors’ review exchange where I earn reviews from other authors in return for my own books being reviewed by them through giving them the best reviews I can muster on their sometimes brilliant but often awful works of literature.)

It is all a matter of opinions. I give them my onions. They give me theirs. And, no, that isn’t a spelling or word-choice error in spite of what my wife probably is going to tell you when she tracks you down for reading this article.

The thing about putting Onions in the stew of reviews, is the way they can easily overpower the entire flavor. You must have a recipe, rules for the use of Onions in the stew.

I honestly don’t expect every reviewer to follow the recipe I use. That’s why I offer these rules only as a guide to how I do a book review.

Rule #1

I always look to give the book the best possible rating I can justify giving it. Therefore, there will always be a reason or multiple reasons given for how I rate the book.

Rule #2

Spelling errors or other minor proofreading or editing errors don’t lower the rating unless they make critical parts or lines in the book incomprehensible. (A five-star book may have such errors noted in the review even if it is otherwise perfect.)

Rule #3

I will not reveal important plot points or cause any spoilers to appear in the review, though I will talk about character-creation, world-building, inconsistencies of plot or character development, or other factors the author got wrong which mess up reader comprehension or basic interest in the story.

Rule #4

Comments are limited to praise or constructive criticisms. I have no wish to ruin the author’s perception of himself or herself even if they are literally a bad writer. Books too foul to do that with, I simply do not review. (And, unfortunately some of those do exist.)

I wish every “honest” reviewer would use these same rules. But they don’t. One Pubby reviewer reviewed my book Recipes for Gingerbread Children, a book about an old German woman who survived the Holocaust and dealt with it by telling fairy stories to children in Iowa in the 1970’s, and said about it, “This book has some really great recipes.”

The bum earned points for a five-star review on a book he not only didn’t read, he didn’t even look at the description on the Amazon page he had to go to to leave a review. Amazon has since removed that review.

  • Here’s what a good fiction book has to do to get a five-star review from me;
  • The lead sentences and paragraphs need to grab my attention, and hold it by telling me who this story is about, what they want or are pursuing, and what they fear most will halt them or harm them.
  • The characters have to be well-developed. I must like them even if they are bad people in some ways, and it is up to the author to make me like them.
  • The story must be well-paced, moving me forward through it because I want to read it, not because I have to read it. Surprises that make sense help. But the story can’t become boring.
  • The ending must be satisfying in some way. It can leave me hanging, but there has to be an identifiable conclusion. The book needs to feel like it has reached an end.

The reality behind all this blathering about rules I will never get all reviewers to adhere to is that I, as a retired English teacher, am not only a teacher, I am a writing teacher. I will be one even after I die and become a ghost writer. So, deal with it.

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Those Awful Words I Choose to Use

I am a writer who learned to write by reading. Seriously. No, stop laughing at me. I mean it this time. I know I joke more often than not. But this is real. All the good and bad things about my life, all the pain I have endured, all the joy I have allowed to tickle me blue (I refuse to turn pink when tickled, I choose blue instead,) and all the wisdom I have gained by being battered by experience come from the same place, the library of the reading I have done and taken to heart.

Life began for me with Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat and the Cat in the Hat Comes Back taught me that you have to learn hard lessons from life. If you let the cat in the door, not only will your talking goldfish end up in a teapot, but he will be unhappy and two little things will mess up your house. Oh, and if you make the added mistake of letting the cat take a bath, you will turn the snow in the entire neighborhood Pepto Bismol pink. Horrors! But I not only learned the wisdom of not repeating mistakes I have made, but I never let any cats with red-and-white top-hats into our house throughout my entire childhood. Not even the ones who could talk.

The most important lesson I learned from multiple books I read as a child, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, and The White Stag, was that I could experience other people’s lives through reading a good book. I was ready for most of the bad people and bullies in my youth because I had been on that ship with Jim Hawkins. I could deal with loneliness and isolation because I had been on that island with Robinson Crusoe. I could evaluate the amount of trouble I was in and make a plan to get out of it because I had been Kidnapped in the book. And I had my own white stags to follow in the forests of my planned future… and fortunately, lost the trail to become a teacher.

Of course, when you read a book, the author gives you insights into the nature of the characters in the story. You see inside the people being told about, learning that they have their own inner story that you can clearly read and learn from and even become.

And the truth of the matter is that real people have their own inner story too. Something is going on inside almost everyone. (Maybe not carrot people. I have only ever met one. But vegetables, unlike humans are simple and not filled with conflict.)

You can read real people’s stories too. If you watch them carefully with empathy as your quiet superpower, you can read the elements of conflict within them. Though never as thoroughly as you could if you were reading them in a book. You can sense their embodiment of familiar archetypes.

Reading living people in the real world is something school teachers do. Students especially are emotionally naked almost every minute of almost every class. (Not literally naked. That would be gross… and possibly illegal.) But the stories pass before your eyes constantly. It would be impossible NOT to read them.

I have seen and studied in depth the writing of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Michael Crichton, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman. By reading I have learned how they write. And they Write Naked. That’s the book Diane Callahan talks about in the very excellent video I linked to the start of this post.

Sometimes I write literally naked. (I know you may think that’s gross, but I have my reasons. And, besides, I am literally a nudist.) But I write emotionally naked too, as the video suggests I should. That involves writing about certain horrible words that make up what I most need to write to be authentic. Let me list a few of those.

  • Death – Here is a thing that everyone needs to deal with in order to reach maturity and survive growing older without going completely insane. Somewhere in life you have to make peace with the Grim Reaper. And I have haggled with the old bone-head more than a few times.
  • Suicide – I have been in Emergency Rooms five times with severely depressed people. I was not the one contemplating suicide. I was there to help. I have lost a second cousin, three former students, a high school classmate, and a fellow teacher to suicide. I only survived my own bout with it because of a friend on the other end of a telephone line. And, thank God, so far I have saved more depressed people who confided in me than I have lost. I can give you no names here. But I have to write about it in fiction form.
  • Sexual Assault – In the long run I have forgiven him, now that he is dead. But he seriously screwed up my life. And I was only ten. It only happened once, but once is enough. And some of my best fiction is linked to this emotional nakedness. I have written more than one book about it.
  • Depression – This killer of dreams I still deal with. Diabetes makes it worse. Thankfully it is not the deadly thing it was for Sylvia Plath that Diane talks about in her video while discussing The Bell Jar.
  • Loneliness – The ache of being invisible when that’s the last thing you need to be.
  • Fear – H.P. Lovecraft and the Bible helped me with this one. Of the two, the Bible is far more scary. But you have to face fear not to be consumed by it.
  • Is that a good enough list to write naked from? Let’s add feelings of inadequacy. But still the list is not complete. It will never be enough and there is not enough time left in the universe to write it all.

So, I write with awful words about terrible things. And it is apparently a key to writing well. What some of us won’t do to touch your heart with nest sentence! Thank you for putting up with me.

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150 Days and Counting

The WordPress Notices have been telling me I am on a posting streak of everyday posts for 51 straight days now. It started with day 99. I guess that is a worthy thing to pursue and extend. I have more-or-less relentlessly been writing 500 words a day on something, somewhere for a very long time now. That workmanlike dedication to the slavery part of the writing life began back in the 1990’s before I got married. Back to the time when I switched from writing Walden-style journals to the present work-in-progress manuscript mill. I have written 26 novels, books of essays, and autobiographies since then, and I have actually published 20 of them.

One fascinating thing about my writing habit is how it has impacted and altered the course of my life. I used to keep all my secrets very closely guarded and very near. There was a time when I didn’t admit being a victim of sexual assault even to myself. I couldn’t bear to give or receive hugs, or touch people in ways that were closer than a handshake. I only kissed a girl on the lips once when I was nine (and got hit pretty soundly on the cheek for it) and again after the age of 35, after I was regularly writing every day. I still hesitate. Even with my wife and mother. I wet my pants once in school because I couldn’t stand to be alone in the boys’ bathroom where another boy might come in. That all gradually eased and became less of a thing because I wrote about it. Writing actually recovered my repressed memory when I was in college because I could write about it and keep the knowledge on paper where I could reread it. Writing helped me examine my life. Everything. And it took away the fear and self-loathing that filled my life like two thousand pounds of wet sand.

Writing gave me freedom. It allowed me to take my life back from the darkness and the shadows.

In truth, I became an excellent writing teacher because I wrote and shared some of my writing with students, just as I required them to share their writing with me and with their peers.

In Truth, the whole belatedly becoming a nudist thing is a part of how writing about life has really changed my life. I never used to wear shorts or go shirtless, even when swimming, because of the sexual insecurity caused by that childhood assault. I was imprisoned within my clothing by fear and self-loathing. All of that is probably also the cause of my fascination with drawing child nudes. And nude women as well.

Writing about things brings clarity and removes the iron bars of the invisible cages we all build around ourselves to protect ourselves from the things we fear most. So, my passion for today is plainly exhibited in consecutive post-day number 150. I do also intend to write more.

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Spinning Wheels of Thought

Picture borrowed from; https://www.townsends.us/products/colonial-spinning-wheel-sp378-p-874

I start today with nothing in my head to write about. I guess I can say that with regularity most days of the writing week. Sundays in particular are filled with no useful ideas of any kind. But I have a certain talent for spinning. As Rumpelstiltskin had a talent for spinning straw into gold, I take the simple threads of ideas leaking out of my ears and spin them into yarns that become whole stories-full of something to say. And it is not something out of mere nothing. There is magic in spinning wheels. They take something ordinary and incomplete, and turn it into substantial threads useful for further weaving.

Of course the spinning wheel is just a metaphor here for the craft of writing. And it is a craft, requiring definable skills that go well beyond merely knowing some words and how to spell them.

My own original illustration.

The first skill is, of course, idea generation. You have to come up with the central notion to concoct the potion. In this case today, that is, of course, the metaphor of using the writing process as a spinning wheel for turning straw into gold. But once that is wound onto the spindle, you begin to spin yarn only if you follow the correct procedure. Structuring the essay or story is the next critical skill.

Since this is a didactic essay about the writing process I opened it with a strong lead that defined the purpose of the essay and explained the central metaphor. Then I proceeded to break down the basic skills for writing an essay with orderly explanations of them, laced with distracting images to keep you from dying of boredom while reading this, a very real danger that may actually have killed a large number of the students in my writing classes over the years (although they still appeared to be alive on the outside).

My mother’s spinning wheel, used to make threads for use in porcelain doll-making, and as a prop for displaying dolls.

As I proceed through the essay, I am stopping constantly to revise and edit, makeing sure to correct errors and grammar, as well as spending fifteen minutes searching for the picture of my mother’s spinning wheel used directly above. Notice, too, I deliberately left the spelling-error typo of “making” to emphasize the idea that revising and proof-reading are two different things that often occur at the same time, though they are very different skills.

And as I reach the conclusion, it may be obvious that my spinning wheel of thought today spun out some pure gold. Or, more likely, it may have spun out useless and boring drehk. Or boring average stuff. But I used the spinning wheel correctly regardless of your opinion of the sparkle of my gold.

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Filed under humor, insight, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, Uncategorized, writing, writing teacher

Mickey Under the Magnifying Glass

Self-reflection is a critical part of being a writer and an author. At least it is if you are a mostly-ignored and somewhat unsuccessful one. That’s really the full extent of my personal expertise on this subject.

But knowing your own personal strengths and weaknesses is the only way to continue to sharpen the blades you use to cut insightful, heartfelt stories out of your own life experiences.

For example, the thing I think is most important to know about myself is that I do have the ability to laugh at myself, even when the thing I am laughing at hurts quite a lot. A sense of humor is a life skill that people who experience depression, chronic pain, and personal trauma need in order to survive.

Robin Williams is the quintessential sad clown. He lived to the age of 61 before depression ended him. Think of how much younger he would’ve been in leaving us all behind if he hadn’t had his bright, silvery suit of comedy armor to get him through life. But that’s a downer. One of my biggest failures is that I will bluntly drop a big black bomb like that in the middle of a sensitive and heartfelt scene, or in the fourth paragraph of an essay that you found interesting enough to read.

I find I am often guilty of not knowing when to give up on something and cut my losses. But at the same time as I am contemplating ending this essay before I lose more readers than ever, I remember what makes the cardinal a personal symbol for me. Cardinals are a bright red songbird that never flies away when the winter comes. It will stupidly stay put even in snow and cold and a total lack of food, choosing to starve or freeze to death over leaving its home territory. I was like that as a teacher. After the first two miserable years, I decided to stay put in that little South Texas school district where I was underpaid and constantly abused by parents and students and even some other school personnel. I refused to leave without first proving to myself that I could do the job and be good at it. I stayed for twenty]-three years, becoming the head of the English Department, a leader of the Gifted and Talented Program, and a generally well-loved teacher of a generation of students. (I left before the grandson and granddaughter of two of the kids in my very first class were about to enter middle school.)

I guess, thinking about it critically, sometimes your weaknesses and your strengths are not only related, they are the same thing.

I have been accused of not being serious enough to be a teacher. And that has carried over to the writing of young adult fiction. Reviewers have told me that putting details about sex, violence, and dark humor in a story is not appropriate for young, middle-school-aged readers. One reviewer told me that I was practically a child pornographer, even though the book had no explicit sex scene and only talked about the subjects of love, sex, and intimacy.

But I am a believer in not shying away from subjects that kids want to know about. As a victim of a sexual assault in childhood, I found that fiction and nonfiction that discussed sexuality and morality were life-saving, and gave me the guidance I needed to recover from what my own monster encounter scarred me with. And I was able to eventually laugh at the things that had been tearing me apart. I think fiction like that, frank, honest, and clearly guiding the reader towards the right path is what is most needed in YA literature.

Again, I think my weakness for absurd and chaotic humor is both a weakness and a strength. We all need to laugh more and suffer less. And we don’t get there by avoiding our problems in life, but by fighting through them to the other side.

I am not fool enough to think I know all the answers. In fact, there are lots of things I know I don’t know anything at all about.

I don’t know what causes people to vote Republican. I don’t know if we can ever achieve a real, space-faring Buck Rodgers life. And I apparently don’t know the first thing about successfully marketing self-published books. But I know the problems are there. I see them in my magnifying glass. And I am working on them. I will get better.

Me back in the days when I actually knew what I was doing.

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I Sweetpotato What I Sweetpotato

If you are as goofy and cartoon-obsessed as me, you may remember that Popeye the sailor was known for the catchphrase, “I yam what I yam”. And if you do remember that, it will not surprise you that, when told a yam is another name for sweet potato, Popeye was furious. “It cannot be!” he argued. “I would not say I sweet potato what I sweet potato! That’s ridicumess!”

Well he has a point.

But I would like to talk today about the things that I sweet potato, and why I sweet potato those things.

First of all, I yam a humorist.

I yam this thing not because I am funny. You may think I yam funny because I say really goofy things for no apparent reason, and then keep on talking long enough to convince you that I did have a point to make, but my brain leans so far to the left that I am hardly right about anything.

And I make bad puns a lot.

You see, I have to use humor constantly to deal with all the hard things in life, because being too serious in the face of the world’s basic uncaring cruelty only leads to depression and taking a beating from life. In fact, I can think of any number of situations in my past where I avoided a beating only because I made a joke that made the bully laugh.

So, being a humorist is a survival tactic. Humor keeps you alive.

You see someone like me has to face all the pain and heartache and cruelty the world has to offer by using humor. The real reason is that, when faced with a bad situation, if the humor gland can’t empty itself of all the jokes it produces, it will begin to swell. The humor gland is located either in the brain or maybe in the behind (I am not medically qualified to tell you which it really is), and it can only swell to a certain point, and then it will explode. This is very bad thing for you, if you survive it, and certainly unpleasant for anybody nearby.

But the joke, properly launched at the target, will make somebody laugh, even if it is only the humorist himself. And laughter is the best medicine. Unless it kills you. You have to be careful not to die laughing. The angels will be offended, and the demons will all laugh too.

But I yam not only a humorist. I yam also a teacher.

I began to realize that I might be a teacher when, in graduate school to get a remedial master’s degree to help with the fact that plain English majors all starve to death, I discovered I had a talent for explaining things in simple terms. And then, immediately afterwards, I discovered I had an even greater talent for being ignored while the people I was explaining to made the mistakes they wouldn’t have made if only they had listened to me, before they failed spectacularly, and then realized how the solution I had explained would’ve made them succeed instead. There is apparently no better way to learn an important lesson.

Teaching is, of course, a pretty cool job. You tend to have the summers off. And you get paid for summer because they split the amount of money you earn for the year (which considering what a babysitter makes on average per child and per hour is far too little for the hours you put in) into twelve monthly pittances.

Of course you are expected to have a university degree (although no teacher college in the world can teach you what you really need to know in order to face that many little monsters… err, darlings… every day) and preferably some grad school, and a certification to teach in your chosen subject, and an additional certification if you are going to teach more than one subject (and ESL and Speech and Journalism, all of which I was expected to teach, are separate certifications) and you have to take hours of additional training every single year, and you have to get re-certified every five years, and… Well, you have to be basically smarter and much better-educated than Bill Gates… But the school janitor will probably be making more money per month than you do.

Anyway, it’s a job you just gotta love. I yam a teacher.

And really, there are a whole lotta yams in my basket yet that I could tell you about. I yam a Red Skelton fan. I yam sometimes a nudist (when I don’t have to put on clothes to keep myself from scratching all my psoriasis-plagued skin off). I yam also an artist (of the type known as a cartoonist). I yam pig-headed sometimes, and I yam Grumpy sometimes (so I go from being Porky to one of the Seven Dwarfs.) I yam a lotta things. And my sweet-potato basket is large.

But I can’t talk about all of my yams today. Too many yams are bad for my diabetes.

But here’s one last yam. I yam a storyteller. And I have a free Kindle e-book promotion this weekend. The book is the first in my series of AeroQuest books. It is a science fiction story with a humorous bent. And I mean, it is seriously bent in some places.

So, click on the link and get yourself a copy. It’s funny. And I will save the other sweet potatoes for another day.

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Filed under humor, metaphor, novel writing, Paffooney, self portrait, writing teacher

The Ultimate Goal

My only mountain left to climb in this life (taking into account that my health problems prevent me from climbing literal mountains) is to write that one final masterpiece that defines me as a writer.

The book on the left is definitely not going to be the one. It takes something more than a mere comic science fiction novel. It has to be a serious masterpiece. Like how A Tale of Two Cities defines the writing career of Charles Dickens. Or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn defines Mark Twain. Or Ernest Hemingway is best displayed in the pages of The Sun Also Rises. Or William Faulkner is at the pinnacle of his writing power in The Sound and the Fury. Or Michael Crichton entered the Pantheon of the Writing Gods with Jurassic Park. Or Saul Bellow mastered it with Henderson the Rain King.

By the way, if you add Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native and Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) to the list of masterpiece novels, you now possess Mickey’s List of novels you absolutely have to read to have any hope of becoming a really great novelist yourself… or a list of the books you have to read to know “what in the ever-loving heck” Mickey is talking about when he talks about novel-writing.

I believe, and several nudists agree, that Recipes for Gingerbread Children is one of the best things that I have written. It is not something that attracts readers like moths to a candle-flame, though. It does have naked twin teenage girls in it who unapologetically practice nudism at home and with their willing friends whenever and wherever possible. That turns some readers off. But it is a novel about a story-teller telling fairy tales until she finally has to face the story of her own survival in the Nazi death camps in World War II. The story has power and a theme of how love conquers fear and terrible loss. But I don’t believe that book is the best that I can do.

My novel The Baby Werewolf is among the best writing I have done. I think it definitely shows what skills I have at organizing a fiction story told entirely in first person, creating believable characters in a B-Movie world, satirizing the horror genre, and at the same time dealing with my own personal demons surrounding being the survivor of a sexual assault by a sexual predator.

It shares plot and characters and even events with Recipes, and the two books should be read in tandem. That and other small drawbacks prevent it from really being my masterpiece.

Magical Miss Morgan contains all the fictionalized versions of my teacher stories based on my thirty-one years as a teacher, working with some teachers who were far better than I ever was, and some really incredible kids.

I think, as semi-autobiographical fiction goes, it is one of my best novels, but won’t end up being the best that I have written when all things are said and done.

I also think Sing Sad Songs and A Field Guide to Fauns are among my very best endeavors. But neither one of those is the best work I have done either.

I would have to say that at this moment, Snow Babies is the best novel I have already written. More actual human beings have read and fallen in love with this story than anything else I have written. Is it my masterpiece? I hope not. I hope that I still have one more in me that will be even better. Right now my work in progress is The Boy Who Rose on a Golden Wing. At 4,000 words, it feels like a good one. Will it be my very best? I don’t know. But as long as there is breath in me, I will keep on writing and hoping.

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Word Magic

From the time I could first remember, I was always surrounded by stories. I had significantly gifted story-tellers in my life. My Grandpa Aldrich (Mom’s Dad) could spin a yarn about Dolly O’Rourke and her husband, Shorty the Dwarf, that would leave everybody in stitches. (Metaphorical, not Literal)

And my Grandma Beyer (Dad’s Mom) taught me about family history. She told me the story of how my Great Uncle, her brother, died in a Navy training accident during World War II. He was in gun turret aboard a destroyer when something went wrong, killing three in the explosion.

Words have power. They can connect you to people who died before you were ever born. They have the power to make you laugh, or make you cry.

Are you reading my words now? After you have read them, they will be “read.” Take away the “a” and they will change color. They will be “red.” Did you see that trick coming? Especially since I telegraphed it with the colored picture that, if you are a normal reader, you read the “red” right before I connected it to “reading.”

Comedy, the writing of things that can be (can bee, can dee, candee, candy) funny, is a magical sort of word wrangling that is neither fattening nor a threat to diabetes if you consume it. How many word tricks are in the previous sentence? I count 8. But that wholly depends on which “previous sentence” I meant. I didn’t say, “the sentence previous to this one.” There were thirteen sentences previous to that one (including the one in the picture) and “previous” simply means “coming before.” Of course, if it doesn’t simply mean that, remember, lying is also a word trick.

Here’s a magic word I created myself. It was a made-up word. But do a Google picture search on that word and see if you can avoid artwork by Mickey. And you should always pay attention to the small print.

So, now you see how it is. Words have magic. Real magic. If you know how to use them. And it is not always a matter of morphological prestidigitation like this post is full of. It can be the ordinary magic of a good sentence, or a well-crafted paragraph. But it is a wizardry because it takes practice, and reading, and more practice, and arcane theories spoken in the backs of old book shops, and more practice. But anyone can do it. At least… anyone literate. Because the magic doesn’t exist without a reader. So, thank you for being gullible enough for me to enchant you today.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, wizards, word games, wordplay, writing, writing humor, writing teacher

Write Like You Mean It

I am guilty of writing satire and parody. Many of the things I have said in this blog are written as firmly tongue-in-cheek. But people will often take you seriously… literally… misinterpreting everything you say. They will, via comment, reach into your mouth, pull out that tongue, and wrap it three times around your neck in order to strangle you with it. (I dare you to take that one literally, all you non-humor appreciators.)

Obviously it helps, when talking about satire and parody, that you define the terms so that your reader has at least a little bit of a sense that the idiot writer actually knows what he or she is talking about and not merely flinging big words and obscure ideas around the room. (And, of course, when I refer to myself as an idiot writer, I am hoping that the reader gets the sense that I am being ironic about the fact that truly wise people are the ones who realize how little they know in comparison to what the universe has available for them to know.)

Parody is when you really love a piece of culture, literature, or art and you then imitate it in a humorous way. In my novel AeroQuest (which has now become 3 novels, and I am writing 4 & 5 too) I make fun of Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Flash Gordon, Buck Rodgers, and numerous other science-fiction and adventure-fiction things. The humor tends to come from exaggeration, ridiculous situations, extreme irony, and wry observations about our world embedded in the story. And they are written as a homage, not as an attempt to tear those things down.

Satire, on the other hand, is comedy created where you don’t like a thing and you write highly critical commentary about it disguised as the very thing you are criticizing. My narrator in AeroQuest, Googol Marou, is mostly satire. He is a know-it-all, pompous gasser who often holds forth about what people are really like, how their institutions really work, and how the primary purpose of life in the universe is to blow things up.

So, both kinds of writing, I am obviously saying, are in direct opposition to what my title suggests this post is about. Don’t immediately try to pull my tongue out of my cheek. I told you before that was not literal. It is a joke. The tongue-thing, not my title.

I am completely serious when I say that a writer must write about the things he or she already knows. It also needs to be about things you really care about.

My parody novels, then, obviously show how much I care about the novel tropes and movie-serial action/adventure stories that I am reverently imitating, mostly for laughs.

And I mean it also when my stories refute the ideas that blowing up high-population planets is a good thing, done for fun and sometimes profit. We are, after all, busily destroying this planet to make the living Koch Brother insanely richer.

There you have it, then. The mewling excuses for my egregious attempts at committing acts of both parody and satire. I actually mean what I say, even though you may have to use your brain a little bit in order to understand what I am saying.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, satire, writing, writing humor, writing teacher