Category Archives: 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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Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Mickey, monsters, writing teacher

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

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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Filed under humor, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, writing teacher

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

Ugly Christmas Sweaters and the Criticizing of Them

In the Midwest

where I spent my childhood and early youth, there is a great tradition of making fun of the exceptionally eye-bonking ski sweaters and Norwegian-middle-layer clothing that dads and grandads are given as presents less often than only neckties.

Yes, they are functional in the land of 100-degree-below-zero wind-chill. And they also work as defenders of your male virginity when you are in college in Iowa. But we make fun of them not out of derision, but of love. These are gifts, after all, that are given on winter birthdays and Christmas because the giver loves you. And the creative criticism of them is given only as a sign of appreciation for what they are truly for.

And if you tried to click on the X’s on this sweater of mine, and it did not immediately close on your screen, that’s because this one has special meaning. I didn’t get this as a Christmas gift. I inherited it from my father who died in November 2020. And it will keep my heart warm now until it falls apart, or until the time comes to pass it on to my own eldest son.

What…

this essay is actually about is the nature of good criticism.

The fact that this one is a red Christmas tree decorated with lawn flamingos is not the actual point. One has to look past the flaws and try to judge the effectiveness of how it achieves… or fails to achieve… its intended purpose… apparently to keep rats and small birds out of your yard… or from within a hundred yards of the thing.

And…

if I were to be offended by the revelation of Santa’s sexy black thong, then the thing to do as a proper critic is not to use my power to condemn it, but not to take up the critique of it at all. I mean, if you are actually offended by the thing, you would not want to offer an opinion that some would take as a challenge.

“What? You are telling me that I can’t like Santa’s sexy black thong? I will not only like it, I will love it! And I will buy one for myself.”


Following…

the philosophy of the uncritical critic, I would only review this green nightmare sweater of a Christmas mutant demon-dog if I really liked it. Of course, since you are seeing a review of it here, it means I am actually quite charmed by the sweater itself, and amused by whatever seventy-plus-year-old grandmama that has the kitsch-defiant attitude that allows her to proudly wear it… even if it was given to her as a gift by a relative she probably doesn’t really like but, never tells them so.

Doing book reviews one after another (as I have been doing for Pubby in order to get reviews on my own books in return) I have done a lot of the uncritical critic bit. Some of the people I have been reviewing the books of should never have tried to write a book in the first place. But do I tell them that? Of course not. If I have taken the trouble to read the whole book, even though it may be horrible, I am not going to pour cold water on their flame. I have done reviews with innumerable editorial suggestions of what would make it a better story, or a better non-fiction book, or children’s book, or poetry book, or self-help book… I have read terrible books of all of these kinds. And I know the authors did not rewrite the books as I suggested. But in my many years as a writing teacher, I have learned well that you must always point out the fledgling writers’ strengths and ask them to build on those. And some will. Besides the points I earn to spend on reviews of Mickian books, that is reward enough.

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Filed under book reports, book review, commentary, writing, writing teacher

Idiot Mickey’s Writing Guide

The best writing advice Idiot Mickey can give is… don’t take writing advice from idiots!

Honestly, I am in no position to give out sage advice on having a writing career. Of course I was a writing teacher for more than three decades. I know how to help you pass the Texas State Writing Test, as long as you are taking the version of the test from more than six years ago. I am an author who has won a couple of awards and published seventeen novels and a book of essays and has an eighteenth novel almost ready to publish. But I have not yet earned more than a hundred dollars total over my entire writing career. Still, I can discuss the principles I use to help me mindlessly pursue my fictional career as an author.

1. Always keep writing.

There is no substitute for practice. Whether you are telling a story full of lies, writing bad poetry, or making an essay filled with mindless talkie-talkie, the more you do it, the better you get at it.

2. Write what excites the brat in your brain.

I always write with only one reader in mind, twelve-year-old me. That was two years after I was sexually assaulted, a year before the first man walked on the moon, and four years before my first kiss and the slapping I got for not going about it right.

I know there are other people who will eventually read it. But the messages in my writing are always the ones I needed to hear after I knew how terrible the world could be, but before I knew everything I needed to know to deal with it.

3. I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t write for money.

I am not a hobbyist. I do, in fact, need to write to live. But I write to satisfy spiritual needs and leave my words behind me like breadcrumbs for whatever Hansel and Gretel are following, hoping to learn from me and avoid the witches while eating at least the frosting from the gingerbread houses they encounter along the way.

I pay the mortgage and buy food with the pension I earned as a teacher, at least until the Republican overlords of Texas decide that retired teachers are basically parasites getting fat off the money that rightfully belongs to stock brokers and businessmen who earned it away from me by having super-rich daddies and mommies. I don’t write for money. I write for the frosting from witch-houses. Oh, and for book reviews.

4. I try all the tricks I learn from reading good books.

Dracula by Bram Stoker is an epistolary novel. That means the story is told through letters, notes, and journal entries. So, I wrote one. The Boy… Forever is a book about a kids’ gang battling an undead Chinese dragon in human form. I based the style of writing the novel on that idea stolen from Bram Stoker.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a picaresque novel. It follows the adventures of Huck Finn, the picaro, as he drifts from one adventure to the next. I wrote one of those too. In Superchicken, Edward-Andrew Campbell, more commonly known by his superhero nickname, is the picaro who goes from one episode where he has to prove his bravery to the next where he has to prove it all again.

I could give you more examples of that, but I need to move on to the next butterfly of being a writer and finish this goofy advice column.

5. And Finally… I constantly reread my own writing and fix it when I find any of those things that i know to be bad writing.

As a writing teacher I have seen all kinds of terrifically terrible mistakes. Run-on sentences. Sentence fragments. Weasel words. Paragraphs with no bones, and hence, no structure. Using archaic words like “hence.” Suddenly changing to tiny red letters for no apparent reason… As you can see, it takes a while to get rid of superfluous meta-foolferfollies.

Anyway that’s Idiot Mickey’s idiotic advice about a career as a writer. Don’t believe any of it… Unless you really want to.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, writing teacher

A Simple Matter of Character (Part 1)

No man is really fit to judge his own character. You can’t see it objectively from the inside. But one of the benefits of being a fiction author is that you don’t have to judge yourself. You can get away with judging everybody else around you. And they don’t even need to realize that that is what you are doing.

I am going to dissect three examples from my own fiction.

The first, as you have probably already guessed, is Valerie Clarke, the heroine of Snow Babies, When the Captain Came Calling, and Sing Sad Songs.

Valerie is named after the prettiest girl I went to school with, the one in my class that was in school with me from kindergarten to twelfth grade. The one who used to politely laugh at my jokes and smile at me a lot when I needed someone to look at me and not scowl. She is a very lovely lady now with grandchildren and a good life in Iowa. And besides the name and the beauty, that’s about as far as the real Valerie goes in the make-up of this crucial main character.

The spirit and the personal history of this character come from a very composed and determined young lady that I taught as both a seventh and an eighth-grader. I have referred to her before in this blog as Sasha. But that’s not her real name. And I am not going to ever give you her real name because she’s entitled to the secrets I may have revealed about her in creating this character, as well as entitled not to be burdened with the things in my stories about her that she never did in real life.

In the course of the novels I write, I dramatized the loss of her father, writing a scene in which she comes home to find him after he has committed suicide over the loss of his part of the family farm that he co-inherited with his older brother. Kyle Clarke’s suicide is the single most devastating scene I have ever written up until now. It stopped the novel in the middle. I had to write two other whole novels before I could pick it up and continue. But Sasha’s missing father in real life did not commit suicide. The love that develops between Valerie and Tommy in Snow Babies and the love she finds with Francois in Sing Sad Songs are also facts that do not belong in real life to Sasha.

But the part of Valerie Clarke that really is Sasha is her indomitable will, the way she simply cannot be stopped when she makes up her mind to accomplish something. And that smile that melts your defenses and forces you to accept everything she is about change in your life for the better, whether it is painful or not. The bravery that Valerie shows when she loses someone or something that is important to her is also Sasha. Overcoming disappointment and how one manages to do it is a real key to someone’s character. It helps you decide whether that character is right to be the heroine or is a better fit to be the villain of a story. And Sasha could never have been a villain.

And finally, there’s the thing about the character of Valerie Clarke that has attached itself to my own daughter, the Princess, whose real name I also never use in this blog. She was roughly the same age as the character of Valerie as I was actually putting the story of Snow Babies down in sentences, paragraphs, and Cantos. Some of the more private details about Valerie come from her, things I could never have learned about the first Valerie or Sasha because I never lived in the same house with them. And these more private details are probably the reason that my own daughter has not read a story with Valerie Clarke in it.

So, now I have revealed the basic anatomy of the character creation of one of three promised characters that I am proudest to have created in my fiction.

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Filed under autobiography, characters, daughters, humor, novel writing, Paffooney, writing teacher

The Uncritical Critic Rides Sidesaddle

One difficulty with doing the whole book-review-on-Pubby.com thing is that to get a book reviewed you have to give a book review or two.

This comes into conflict with my uncritical critic philosophy. You see, up until now I have done book reviews only at my pleasure, only reviewing books I know I am going to enjoy. I am used to giving five-star book reviews because the books I choose to read are really that good.

But now, on this book-review forum that I paid an expensive membership to join, I am definitely running into books written by authors who only think they are writing the Great American Novel. Some of them have a lot to learn about how to tell a good story, let alone the ones who don’t even know some of the basics about how to write in English.

I recently came across a book that had a number of four and five stars in each review. But I could only give it a two-star review. Bummer. Why is it up to me to bring the hammer down? Some of the reviewers who weren’t mostly incoherent in what they said about the book were obviously being overly kind because it was this person’s first novel. How do you deflate someone’s balloon without breaking their heart while they are holding tightly to the string?

And is it fair to give someone a balloon-inflating five-star review if they haven’t earned it?

As a writing teacher, you have to begin every review of an assignment with the positives you find in the work. The suggestions for improvement that come after may far outweigh the two good things you found in the piece to get them re-started.

I recently read a “novel” by an author who had only written about 8,000 words and was calling this the beginning of an epic series. There was practically no dialogue. The actions were brief and as simplistic as a fairy-tale adventure with demonic possession in another dimension where time-travel was common could possibly be. It makes me cringe about my own unpublished first attempts a whole lot less than before. So, I had to give a two-star review that began with the sentence, “You certainly are an enthusiastic young writer.”

I worry too about all of my own reviews so far being pure five-star reviews. Some of those reviews seem to reveal that the reader actually read the book and identified some of the strengths it has that I believe are there myself. But some of them could too easily be from reading what other reviewers have said, parroting it, and giving me a review based on their assumption that the other reviewers are right. I need to see some of that criticism and argument about what I have done that indicates a thoughtful reading of the book and really disliking it for a valid reason. I am not a perfect writer. Even the guy who wrote Shakespeare’s plays and poems had some flaws, prejudices, and foibles.

And since we are reviewing each other’s novels, how soon before someone gives me a one-star review out of a lust for vengeance? We are probably not all doing this in order to make each other better writers.

Ah, the book-reviewing life! Can you name even one reviewer you think is right more than they are wrong? I can’t. In fact, who besides me ever reads book reviews? I do not know that answer well enough to even guess.

But I paid the money. And someone is actually reading and reviewing honestly, even if it is only me. I mounted the old unicorn of book reading an writing tutorials sidesaddle. That way I’m not likely to get hit where it really, really hurts.

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Filed under art criticism, book review, humor, Paffooney, writing teacher

The Essayist

I have been working on compiling good essays from this blog into book form. It is becoming a sort of obsession. The problem is, I am likely running out of time. My health is getting worse in the middle of a pandemic that is killing thousands of people just like me. I have been having problems with passing out during the midmornings repeatedly for several days in a row. I fear I may be headed towards heart failure or a stroke. And if it comes down to an ambulance ride, I can’t afford it, and I will not economically survive it. And all the intensive care units around here in North Texas are swamped with COVID patients. It is important for me to finish and publish this book of essays. It is part of me as a writer that I simply must leave behind.

“Why are essays important?” you may ask. And here’s where I would normally insert a joke answer. I try hard not to take myself too seriously. It is the only way I can deal with what has been a very serious life. And at the point in my essay book where I will insert this essay, I will not need to review what those things are that are so serious. (Being a teacher and shaping young minds. Being a sexual assault survivor. Helping teenagers to live through suicidal depressions. I know, I know, I should’ve resisted the urge to list them.)

But I have spent a lifetime teaching kids to write four-and-five-paragraph essays. And I am also a serious reader of essays. I have read and thoroughly studied Loren Eiseley’s The Invisible Pyramid, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Collected Essays by H.L. Mencken, selected essays by James Thurber, Life as I Find It: A Treasury of Mark Twain, Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia, and parts of John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice. I also thoroughly loved and used as a teacher All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. So, I do not claim without reason that I do know something about how to write an essay. (Although you are welcome to disagree based on numerous bits of evidence in this goofy blog,)

At this point I am obligated to define for you what I believe an essay should be and what its potential uses are. An essay, simply put, is a pile of a fool’s best thinking put down on paper in prose rather than being distilled down into lines of poetry or embroidered and expanded with lies to make it into fiction. At its best it can open reader’s mental eyes and change societies, if not the entire world. At its worst it can incite violence, stir hatreds, and generally muck everything up. My essays land somewhere between, in the realm of mildly-amusing purple paisley prose that can really waste your time.

An essay, because it is based on truthful observations, can rip away the costumes and masks that authors put on to write fiction and make that educated fool of an author metaphorically naked in front of the reader. After blogging like this since 2013, I admit to having no real secrets left that I have not at least mentioned in my blog somewhere. I am less naked when being a sometime-nudist than I am in the sentences and paragraphs of these essays.

Now that I have thoroughly convinced you that you made a big mistake by reading this far through my essay compilation, I will reveal the fact that I have put this essay somewhere closer to the end of the book rather than near the beginning. Like all essayists, I am a fool (hopefully in the Shakespearean wise-fool sense), but I am not stupid. So I won’t laugh at you for falling for my tricks, but I can’t promise not to be at least a little bit amused. But time is short. So, on to the next essay!

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