Category Archives: writing

How is it Humor?

Mickey intends to pontificate again… This will not be funny.

I write novels that I think of as being basically humorous. But I have had readers ask of me after reading them, “What the hell makes you think these stories are funny?”

And besides the fact that they are invoking the name of the Norse goddess of the underworld, they do have a point.

My stories have unsavory things in them. I have stories where the plot is driven by the conflicts caused by physical and emotional child abuse, a pornographer who becomes a murderer when denied the opportunity to make kiddie porn, a father abandoning his wife and daughter through suicide, fools causing others to freeze to death in a blizzard, murderous robot hit-men, space pirates that kill a quarter of the population of a high-population planet, and lizard people from outer space that eat human flesh and each other. (Of course, one could argue the last few things are dark humor created by gross exaggeration and random bizarre details.)

A girl who always got an “A” in English class because the teacher couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t turn into a werewolf and eat him.

But not everything in a comedy is a laugh line. I would argue that a perfect example of a comic novel with dark things in it is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. That novel begins with a slave running away from a kind mistress because he is to be sold away from his family., and a boy who narrowly escapes death by the rages of his drunken father and runs away to protect not only himself, but the kind widow who took him in after the events of the previous novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

In the course of the novel Huck sees his young friend, Buck Grangerford, killed during a pointless family feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. He comes upon the body lying in a creek, and no laughter is generated by the scene.

Further, two snaky old con men, the King and the Duke, try to steal away everything from three girls, newly orphaned, by posing as two uncles come to take them back home to England. Huck is forced to aid them as his friend Jim is held hostage and threatened with a return to slavery. There is plenty to laugh at, but not until Huck manages to do the right thing and commit the King and the Duke to their well-earned tar and feathers.

The Telleron kid-aliens who do not get cooked and eaten in Catch a Falling Star and Stardusters and Space Lizards.

Comedies, I would argue, have to have conflict, and some of the best comedies have terrible things in them that the characters you learn to love and laugh with have to overcome. It is in overcoming hard things with love and laughter that a comedy is made different than a tragedy. The comedy does not depend on the laugh lines. In fact, some of the hardest-hitting tragedies have laughter scattered throughout.

I am not trying to educate you. I am merely offering excuses for why I call my stories humor when they often horrify and upset readers. (How dare he write about naked people!!!) But if you learned something, I won’t be terribly disappointed.

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

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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Filed under commentary, humor, insight, new projects, Paffooney, writing, 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

How to Make a Mickey

Milt Morgan is me as a boy

It is a fairly difficult thing to face a blank page every single day. I usually win in the battle to write something every day. But not always. Some days it is just too hard. Some days I am not well enough to make my stupid old brain spin up a spider-web of words. Some days the words are just Teufelsscheiße (poop coming out of the Devil in German).

But staring at a blank page today got me thinking about the process again, how the words come, where they come from, and why.

I just finished the most successful free-book promotion I have ever had. I gave away more books than ever before, and I gave some away every single day of the promotion. Some who downloaded the e-book even thanked me and told me they would read it. One even promised to read it right after he finished reading one of my other books.

Of course, you can see that this novel has nudist characters in it, and it is even set in a nudist park. So, naturally, the copies were mostly grabbed by members of the Twitter-nudist circle of friends and acquaintances I have on Twitter. But it is thrilling to know someone is actually going to read one, or even two of my books. I haven’t gotten enough of that feeling as an author. It is one of the main purposes of my writing, to have readers.

But this post is supposed to be about process, not publication. So, how did I come to write this thing? This nudist novel and this blog about writing it?

Well, like most real writers, I choose to write about what I know. And I am acquainted with naturism. I had a girlfriend once whose sister lived in a nudist apartment complex in Austin. I was inside that place a dozen times or so. I have also been to the nudist park north of Dallas. I have experience of nudists and at least some idea of what it is like to be one.

And the characters in the story are all based on real people. The main character is at least fifty percent me. The other fifty percent is a member of my family. The stepmom in the story is a combination of two former girlfriends. Her twin girls are partly based on my twin cousins (who have never been nudists) and on twin girls in my class in the 80’s (who lived naked at least once in a while, if not as much as the twins in the story).

But the critical themes in the story are not really about being a nudist. Naked is a metaphor for honesty, being able to hide nothing because you no longer wear the armor that you once used to hide from repressed memories of abuse. The main character, Devon, is battling depression and suicidal thoughts brought on by a life full of abuse. And he learns to overcome these life-threatening things by being honest with others, especially by being honest with himself. A little bit of naked honesty turns out to be the key that unlocks his prison cell.

As I put words and stories and blog posts together, I invariably find myself writing about certain things over and over and over again. They are the things I wrestle with daily. I write to keep my mind active, and to keep my heart and soul alive.

It isn’t too much to expect to look at a blank page every day, and to find there the words that I need to say. It is daunting, but doable. And it gets easier with practice.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, battling depression, blog posting, healing, humor, novel writing, nudes, Paffooney, writing

Why Wizards Write Writing That’s Wonky

To be a wizard is to be wise. Look at the word origin if you don’t believe me.

wizard (n.) early 15c., “philosopher, sage,” from Middle English wys “wise” (see wise (adj.)) + -ard . Compare Lithuanian žynystė “magic,” žynys “sorcerer,” žynė “witch,” all from žinoti “to know.” (Wisely plagiarized from http://www.etymonline.com/word/wizard)

Mickey, the old fool that he is, thinks of himself as a wizard

Mickey is a wizard. He writes down foolish things like that because he knows that the beginning of wisdom is to recognize that you are no more than a fool. You can laugh, but it’s true. Some wise guy that I am paraphrasing here said so. So, that makes it true

Don’t believe me? Want to debate me?

Have you taken the step yet of recognizing your own foolishness?

How can you be wise if you never take the first step down the path to wisdom?

And what defines a wizard, is that a wizard writes. He must write his wisdom down. Otherwise there are no fruits of his wisdom. I tend to write mostly strawberry wisdom. That kind of fruit is tart and sweet in season, but sours easily and spoils in hot weather and dry kitchens. Blueberry fruits are probably better. They become tarter and sweeter with dryness, kinda like good humor and subtle jokes. But enough of the fruit-metaphor nonsense. The best fruit of wisdom is the Bradbury fruit. I confess to having eaten often of Bradbury Pie. Dandelion Wine and The Illustrated Man leap to mind, but there are far more Bradbury Pies than that.

My latest published Beyer-berry Pie.

So, if Mickey is a wizard, and wise wizards write wisdom, then where do we get Beyer-berry Pie?

The strawberry-flavored pies are found in the My Books page of this blog, though the author’s page on Amazon is a more up-to-date list.

Here’s a link https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Beyer/e/B00DL1X14C/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Recently the fool of a wizard, Mickey, planned to set up a free-promotion weekend for A Field Guide to Fauns.

The foolishness begins tomorrow.

Of course, I probably can’t give away a single copy. Potential readers will see that there are naked people in this book about nudists and automatically think that Mickey is too weird and crazy to be a good writer. But good writers like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut can be bizarre in their writing too. (I wonder what Vonnegut-berry Pie would taste like? I must read Cat’s Cradle again, for the third time.) Probably at least blueberry-flavored, if not gooseberry.

But even failed wizards can write wizardly writing if they write with wit and, possibly, with real wisdom,

If I have any wisdom at all to share in this post about wisdom, it can be summed up like this;

  • Writing helps you with knowing, and knowing leads to wisdom.  So take some time to write about what you know.
  • Writing every day makes you more coherent and easier to understand.  Stringing pearls of wisdom into a necklace comes with practice.
  • Writing is worth doing.  Everyone should do it.  Even if you don’t think you can do it well.
  • You should read and understand other people’s wisdom too, as often as possible.  You are not the only person in the world who knows stuff.  And some of their stuff is better than your stuff.
  • The stuff you write can outlive you.  So make the ghost of you that you leave behind as pretty as you can.  Someone may love you for it.  And you can never be sure who that someone will be.

So, there you have it. The full measure of the wacky wizard’s wisdom written down by the wise-fool-wizard Mickey.

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Filed under humor, insight, irony, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, wisdom, writing

Stepping Out of My Skin

Who exactly am I?

I know who I wish to be.

And I have a pretty clear idea

Of who I have actually been.

Bur do I have a notion of who I am now?

Have I finally awakened after watching…

The bowling of little green men?

I live inside the heads of characters,

And walk around in their imaginary lives.

I pretend to be someone I don’t want to be.

And then I try to break out again.

But the problems I have

Are not quite my own,

Though once they were

In the long-ago way back when.

I look into mirrors that are shattered,

And see myself twisted and grim.

And I complain about just what I see there,

And the poetry just does not rhyme.

Who am I?

Where am I?

What am I?

How?

Mostly I think

I’m that thing from the circus.

You know the one.

That thing that rhymes with brown.

But mostly also I think,

I am something entirely else.

A writer.

Yes, that’s the one.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, commentary, foolishness, humor, Paffooney, poetry, writing, writing humor

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

Beautiful and Brilliant

I have looked deeply and longingly at my own writing time and again trying to determine what is good and what is poorly done and what is the best that I have written. How does one examine what is good? What are the standards that you must meet?

I had a writing teacher who was teaching a class in fiction writing and said to us, “You write fiction to create that special bittersweet something, that je ne sais quoi, that you need in order to come to terms with reality. Everything necessary to say something that satisfies a nameless desire.” I wish I remembered his name so I could credit him with having said that wise thing. Or, at any rate, I wish I could remember the name of the wise guy that he was quoting.

So, basically I am trying to capture in prose something that I have no idea what it is, but both you and I will know it if we see it. Easy-peasy, right?

Good fiction that I have read and liked makes me feel something. If it is truly literary quality, like the novels of Charles Dickens, Terry Pratchett, and Mark Twain, it will make me both laugh and cry. Funny things balanced by things that hurt to know and make you weep for characters that you have come to love. If it is a downer kind of novel, as some very good bits of science fiction and horror fiction are, it will make you laugh a little, cry a little, and think a lot; think with dread, or despair, or even impossible hope. Steven King, George Orwell, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury are good examples of this.

I am grappling with how you do that. I am not fool enough to think I am some sort of literary great. I am a school teacher writing stories for school children, stories I wanted to hear when I was a kid. Stories of good versus evil, good people coming together in the face of chaos. Heroes, villains, and clowns being heroic, villainous, or foolish. And themes that both warm and chill your little blue heart.

. So, what can I do besides keep on writing and keep on trying and keep on begging people, fools, and children to try reading my writing because they will like it, even if it is the least best thing I have written?

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Filed under humor, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing, writing humor

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

Cries of the Writing Addict

For the last five and a half years I have been averaging more than 500 words every day. A rough conservative estimate of that means 17,112,000 words. If words were cocaine, I’d be dead five times over by now.

But writing is not the same as cocaine. The addiction to it has very different effects. I divide my daily writing into at least two parts. The daily blog is itself, more often than not, 500-plus words. So, by itself it can satisfy my daily word-count. And I devote at least 500 words every day to my novel work in progress. So, that means I have produced well over 17 million words in reality. Probably closer to 34 million than to 17. That, of course, is far less than Stephen King wrote in the same period of time, but it is also far more than the average person writes.

And one thing that such an overdose of verbiage does to a writer, is to make him or her a better writer.

I have produced nine novels, between 35,000 and 50,000 words each, in the time since I retired from teaching and began writing and self-publishing in earnest. I have gotten only five-star reviews on the novels that have been read and reviewed. Granted, nobody who read and hated my books hated them passionately enough to leave a scathing review, so the 5-star average is just due to laziness on the part of the reading public. But it is marginally evidence that my storytelling is good.

Another effect I have experienced from my writing addiction is that it has made me increasingly metaphorically naked. My illustrations for this post reveal a little bit of that. It is not only that I like to write in the nude when I can, but that I have used my stories to grapple with everything that was once a deep, dark secret buried in the depths of me. Being sexually assaulted as a child was something that for many years I could never admit even to myself. Struggles with loneliness, depression, and self-hatred are also something I had kept buried until I needed them to tell stories with.

I finally worked up the courage to send a gift copy of Snow Babies to the girl I grew up with whose name I used for the main character, Valerie Clarke. Valerie loved the book and became an advocate for me with both the Belmond and Rowan libraries. I even admitted that the part about Valerie being the most beautiful girl ever born in Norwall, Iowa came from something the boys in our 5th and 6th grade classes at school all said about her. She told me she never knew we had said that back then. Ah, but that was probably an untruth too.

As addictions go, my addiction to fiction is probably a lot better thing to have than addictions to gambling, cocaine, wife-beating, or gummy bears. But it hasn’t made me any richer or healthier either. It has made me older, and possibly a little bit wiser.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, being alone, feeling sorry for myself, foolishness, writing, writing humor