Category Archives: 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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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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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

Character Developments

If I am ever going to sound at all like an author talking about his craft, then I guess there is really no better place to start than with character development.

This is the first illustration in my work in progress, The Wizard in his Keep.

One of the most important factors in starting a new novel is how you put together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces that are the characters. I have had the characters in my head since about 1974. Daisy Brown and her two younger brothers, Johnny and little Mortie (short for Mortimer Snerdly Brown, named after his Great Grandpa Mortie and his Grand Uncle Snerdly) are the three characters that the story starts with on the night of the car accident.

Notice that the plot throws the three children above directly into a conflict right from the start. They were all in the back seat of the car. Their parents were in the front. Dad (who’s name is Brom, short for Bromley Mortimer Brown) has a bad reputation for reckless driving and being an alcoholic. He is driving. But he is sober. Mom (who’s name is Stacey Clarke Brown) is in the front passenger-side seat. Both of them are killed in the wreck. (Ironically the young man who hit them also dies, but he is the one guilty of drinking and driving on the night of the accident.) Some of those details come out in the first two chapters. Some of those details never actually come out in the course of the story. That’s the thing about characters, the author must have an idea of all the important details of their lives from early on in the creation process. But many of those details are not necessary to use in the story. You just need them so that you sound like you know them as you write about them.

Let me start by describing the development of my protagonist, Daisy Stacey Brown. She has been the protagonist of this tale since 1974. She was originally based on the younger of my two younger sisters. That is where the adventurous spirit comes from. And the slightly ditsy quality of her highly-imaginative inner monologue comes basically from my sister’s daughter who was born about 1993-ish (and the story, of course, happens in 1996, so it is based more on the present form of my niece shoe-horned into Daisy’s fifteen-year-old skinny body). Daisy is followed as the focus-character in a third-person-limited-point-of-view narrative. Here is a sample of that described in the story’s opening and filtered through Daisy’s unique brain;

The sound of the ambulance siren was raucous behind the car, like someone trying to play an AC/DC medley with a circus air-horn.  And a clown playing it who was drunk on too many pre-show hits from the gin bottle in the straw at the bottom of the lion cage.

It kinda made Daisy smile to think of that analogy.  She needed something like that to get her mind off what had happened that horrible night, a mere half an hour before.

I haven’t given any physical descriptions of Daisy in the first chapter of the story. Those things are slipped in later in nearly unnoticeable bits and drops. The fact that she has strawberry-red curly hair doesn’t get said until well after the reader sees it in the black-and-white illustration. Her skinniness, pale coloring, and awkwardness will be in descriptions that happen later in separate and isolated spots.

Far more important is the way her mind works, which I try to show rather than tell. She is one of those people who is both innocent without being ignorant, and imaginative without being merely random.

Other characters will be established too with an eye on what they are like at the beginning, and a mindfulness of what they will become as the plot changes them over time.

Johnny is a sad-sack introvert who blossoms as he overcomes problems associated with the initial tragedy. He grows as he proves to himself that he is neither a coward nor a fool.

Mortie is unflappable from beginning to end in the way small children often are. He possesses a powerful sense of wonder that overwhelms fear and sadness over his losses.

That is probably enough of an insight into how I am shaping these characters for now. If you look inside this process too closely, and compare it to my last post, I run the risk of letting you see how I may be using this story to process my own upcoming loss of a parent. The pandemic and my father’s Parkinson’s disease ironically is hitting this story with enough irony to iron out more than just the wrinkles. It may well iron me flat.

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Filed under characters, humor, illustrations, novel writing, Paffooney, work in progress, writing, writing teacher

Self-Reflection

Every writer, whether he or she writes fiction or non-fiction, is really writing about themselves. The product originates within the self. So, that self has to gaze into the mirror from time to time.

So, the question for today is, who, or possibly what, is Mickey?

I have been posting stuff every day for a few years now, and in that time, I have been much-visited on WordPress. Maybe not much-read, but then, you cannot actually tell if somebody read it or not. Most probably look only at the pictures. And, since I am also an artist of sorts, that can also be a good thing. Though, just like most artists, my nude studies are more popular than the pieces I value the most. But unless the looker makes a comment or leaves a “like”, you really have no idea if they read or understood any of the words I wrote. And you have no idea what they feel about the art. Maybe they just happened to click on one of ;my nudes while surfing for porn.

I rarely get below 50 views of something in my blog every day. The last three days were 86 views, 124 views yesterday, and 88 views already today. My blog has definitely picked up pace over the length of the coronavirus quarantine. But no definable reason seems obvious. Some of my posts are polished work, but Robin is right when he says today’s post is merely fishing with the process, which is true almost every day.

As a person I am quirky and filled with flaws, pearls of wisdom that result from clam-like dealing with flaws, strange metaphors that shine the pearls, and obsessions like the one I have with nudism that leaves me properly dressed for diving for pearls.

I have demonstrated throughout my life that I have an interest in and experience with nudism, though not the boldness to parade my naked self before the world outside of the writing that I do. I also spent most of my bachelorhood dating reading teachers and teachers’ aides, finally settling down and marrying another English teacher. I completed a thirty-one year career as an English teacher, which means I spent a lot of time teaching writing and reading to kids who were ages 12 to 18. Twenty-four of those years were spent in the middle school monkey house. And all of that led to being so mentally damaged after all that I wasn’t good for much beyond becoming a writer of YA novels or possibly subbing for other mentally-damaged teachers in middle schools around our house.

A real telling feature of what I have become is the fact that most of the characters I write about in my fiction are somehow a reflection of me. Milt Morgan, seen to the left, is illustrated here with a picture of me as a ten-year-old wearing a purple derby. Yes, I was that kind of geeky nerd.

And most of the plots are based around things that happened to me as a child, a youth, or a young teacher. Many of the events in the stories actually happened to me, though the telling and retelling of them are largely twisted around and reshaped. And I am aware of all the fairies, aliens, werewolves, and clowns that inhabit my stories. Though I would argue that they were real too in an imaginative and metaphorical way.

So, here now is a finished post of Mickey staring into the metaphorical mirror and trying in vain to define the real Michael, an impossible, but not unworthy task.

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What Makes the Story Worth Writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directions to Be Worried About

The question came up on Twitter. “What things aren’t safe to write about in a Young Adult novel?”

I have personally never questioned myself about that before. The writer asking for input was writing something science-fiction-y about a telepath using telepathy to torture someone. He was apparently worried that a younger audience would be traumatized by that.

Really? Anyone who can ask that has never spent much time talking to young readers.

I base my answer on over thirty years of trying to get kids to read things of literary quality. My very first year of teaching a male student stood up when the literature books were passed out and announced, “I don’t do literature!”

“Really, Ernie? You are going to lay that challenge before me?”

We slogged through The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that year, using and reusing 20 paperback copies of the novel purchased with my own money. Ernie maybe didn’t like it. But he did literature.

And I went on a thirty-four year quest to find out what literature kids really would do and what literature kids really needed to do.

Aquaman saves Aqualad from a shark of evilness.

Here’s a tiny bit of wisdom from Mickey’s small brain and comparatively large experience; Kids are not traumatized by literature in any form. Kids are traumatized by life. They need literature to cope with trauma.

Kids want to read about things that they fear. A book like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card has some graphic violence in it and a war against faceless aliens, but it does an excellent job of teaching how to empathize as well as fight against bullies, and it helps them grapple with the notion that the enemy is never clearly the thing that you thought it was to begin with.

Kids want to read the truth about subjects like love and sex. They are not looking for pornography in YA novels. They get that elsewhere and know a lot more about it than I do. They want to think about what is right and how you deal with things like teen pregnancy, abortion, matters of consent vs. rape and molestation. Judy Blume started being objectively honest with kids about topics like puberty and sex back in the 60’s with books like Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. and Iggie’s House.

If you are writing for young adults, middle grade and high school kids, even kids 5th Grade and below who are high-level readers, it is more important to worry about writing well and writing honestly than it is to worry about whether they can handle the topics and trauma that you wish to present. Write from the heart and write well.

I can honestly say I know these things I have said are true about young readers from having read to them, read with them, and even taught them to read. As an author, my opinion is worth diddly-squoot since I have hardly sold any books, and no kids I know have read them (except for two of my nieces, both of whom are pretty weird and nerdy just like me.)

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, education, empathy, good books, horror writing, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing, writing humor, writing teacher

Slade House (a book by David Mitchell)

As a writer of novels, like all passable to good writers of novels, I read novels. Not just any novels. Novels that are the kind of novels I aspire to write myself.

David Mitchell is one of those novelists who can write the way I want to write. His stories are detailed and yet, compelling enough to follow wherever the story leads you. Characters are vivid and seem to have an actual life beyond the pages of the novel. And there is a chance that you will meet them again in another David Mitchell novel, even if they died in the previous David Mitchell novel you read. He writes across swaths of time and gives the story a sense of history.

Slade House is basically a haunted house story, a horror story about a house that is itself a sort of ghost. It can only be entered by a single small iron door that only appears in an alleyway every nine years. And every time it does appear, in October of 1979, 1988, 1997, 2006… , at least one somebody will go in and never come out again.

The story is side-linked to the masterpiece Mitchell novel, The Bone Clocks. It is also a plot less convoluted and multifaceted than Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas, so much easier to follow

David Mitchell is an author I study to learn about writing and storytelling. I don’t copy him. I do take note of his bag of tricks, his writer’s toolbox, so to speak, and I pick up and play with those same tools and magician’s secrets. I would like to suggest that if you truly wish to be a writer of fiction, you must put David Mitchell’s books on your must-read-before-I-die list. If you can’t put Mitchell on that list, then here are a few others on my list; Michael Crichton, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Louis L’Amour, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, H.P. Lovecraft, Steven King, Mark Twain, and J. K. Rowling. It should be obvious that these names are all on my list for different reasons. And if you don’t read David Mitchell, there are artisan’s techniques there you can get nowhere else. But you are the reader. And if you have chosen to read this far through this essay, then you are at least fool enough to want to know the things I am telling you in this book review.

As a storyteller, David Mitchell is Rumpelstiltskin. He weaves straw into gold. And if you are canny and careful enough of a reader, you can gain some of that value from his work without giving up your firstborn.

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