Category Archives: writing

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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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

To Laugh… or Cry

I have claimed that I am a humorist and all my novels are comic novels, to some degree at least. But it is often pointed out to me that I write about things that make people cry. And I freely admit that I most certainly do.

But if you think about it carefully, analytically, or even emotionally, you have to admit, even a book like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has some weep-worthy moments in it. I have read the book more than once myself, and I never get past the scene where Huck looks down at the body of his young friend Buck Grangerford, killed in the Shepherdson/Grangerford feud about something nobody living even remembers, without shedding gushers and gushers of heart-busting tears.

And in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, as much as I laugh and guffaw at the antics of quiet Mr. Dick and his kite, or the much deserved downfall of villainous Uriah Heep, it is the drowning of Little Emily on the boat with David’s school friend and idol Steerforth that leaves me surrounded by puddles… nay, lakes… that I have wept.

And I think that I may justify the sad parts in so many of my weary works with the fact that I am merely providing the necessary counterpoints to my merry-making and mirth.

Francois is a character from Sing Sad Songs.

There has to be that necessary balance, that well-rounded-ness, to a story that makes it feel truly complete. And, of course, we know that even in a horror novel by Stephen King, you find humor used as a balance point to lighten the moments just before the monster delivers its liver-shaking, earth-tilting scare.

My novel, Snow Babies, is still free just for clicking on it at Amazon books https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B077PMQ4YF/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i7

Snow Babies, among my published books, is a good example. It is a story that celebrates how a small Iowa town comes together to survive a deadly December blizzard. And while it tells funny stories of kooky characters battling the elements, and both surviving the blizzard and ’84 Reagan/Mondale political debates, as well as putting up Christmas trees, it is still also about death and loss of loved ones, finding and losing love, and just what sort of self-sacrifice or other accidental happening truly makes someone a hero. Or a bus driver… this book has more than one bus driver in it.

So, I think, in the end, that I have made a cogent case for the notion that in order to be a humorist, you have to manipulate many emotions, not just mirth, but sadness also. As well as fear, bitter irony, and pain. And that may well also be the underlying reason that comedy is harder to write than tragedy.

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Notions About Novels

I am a novelist. In the same way that a pianist is a pianist because he plays music on the piano, I am a novelist because I have written 12 novels and published eleven of them. I am not a professional novelist. I have made $1.75 in royalty payments for August 2019. But not being a successful writer for money does not prevent me from being a novelist.

So, don’t be surprised when I say that I have strong opinions about what a novel is and what it should be.

Yes, I have already published more than just these.

First of all, a novelist must also be an avid reader. Not merely a reader of other novels by other novelists, but of anything and everything. Essays, plays, non-fiction books about a wide array of factual things, and pseudo-factual things, and conjecture, and conspiracy theories, and poetry, and science books, and Mark Twain, and Isaac Asimov, and Charles Dickens, and Ray Bradbury, and comic books, and graphic novels, and more, and more, and more… for as long as your brain shall work. A novelist should try to read everything, because to be a good novelist, you must know everything. Certainly you must know far more than what you actually write down into novel form.

A good novelist must be good at short fiction as well. Because a novel is more than just one story. It is made up of parts. I call them Cantos. Most writers call them Chapters.

But whatever you call them, or even if you don’t give them separate titles or sections in the novel, they are like short stories in themselves. They must have their own lead sentence, their own beginning, middle, and end. They must have their own end line, or punch line, or thesis statement. And they must have, by their end, a point to make about setting, plot, character, or theme.

A novel is layer cake of little stories, each layered upon other layers, and all baked together into the same over-arching cake.

And a novel, when it is published, is never really done. Sequels, prequels, and serialization are always possible and sometimes even necessary. Rewrites and new editions are also a thing. And even in the mind of the reader, the novel never really ceases to have an effect. I still carry around A Tale of Two Cities in my head everywhere I go, and through everything I do, even when I am writing my own novels. Sidney Carton is very much alive to me, even though he dies at the end of the novel.

So, there you have it. A bunch of burbling about novels from an unsuccessful novelist. For whatever it is worth, I am truly a novelist. And I do not apologize for being that sort of low-down, despicable sort of human being.

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