Category Archives: writing

Reading Other Writers

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Nobody who wants to be a writer gets by with just writing and never reading anything by anybody else.  It is too easy to devolve into some kind of human mushroom that way, thinking only thoughts a mushroom could think, all fungus-like and having no chlorophyll of their own.  You never learn to decode other people and other people’s thinking if you don’t read other people’s thoughts crystallized in writing.

And not every other writer is Robert Frost.  Or even Jack Frost who thinks he’s  Gene Kelly.  There has to be some interpretation, some digging for understanding.  What did that writer mean when she said political correctness was like a tongue disease?  And what does it mean when a commenting troll calls me a nekkid poofter?  Is that how he spells “exceptional genius”?  I think it is.  Trolls are not smart.

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I know people have to make an effort to understand me.  When I write, I am writing under the delusion that I can produce literary quality off the top of my head.  In fact, I can barely produce hair off the top of my head, and it is gray when I do it.   See what I did there?  It is the kind of joke a surrealist makes, pretending the idiomatic expression you use is to be taken literally when it doesn’t literally make sense.  That kind of nonsense is what my readers have to put up with, and probably also the reason why most of them just look at the pictures.  If you have to think too hard when you read, your brain could over-heat and your hair could catch fire.  I like that kind of purple paisley prose that folds back in on itself and makes you think in curlicues.  But most people don’t.  Most people don’t have fire-proof hair like I do.

20180103_082404 Of course, there is the opposite problem too.  Some writers are not hard to understand at all.  They only use simple sentences.  They only use ideas that lots of other people have used before.  You don’t have to think about what they write.  You only need to react.  They are the reasons that words like “trite”, “hackneyed”, “boring”, and “cliche” exist in English.  But simple, boring writing isn’t written by stupid people.  Hemingway is like that.  Pared down to the basics.  No frills.  Yet able to yield complex thoughts, insights, and relationships.

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Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a word to make the point.  For instance, why, in the picture, is Fluttershy trying to drink out of the toilet in the dollhouse bathroom?  For that matter, why does a doll house even need a bathroom?  Applejack doesn’t even fit in that yellow bathtub.  I know.  I tried to stuff her in there for this picture.  And, as you read this, doesn’t this paragraph tell you a lot about me that you probably didn’t even want to know?

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When I am reading the writing of others, I am looking for a cornucopia of things.  I want to not only understand their ideas, I want to detect the limping footprints across the murder scene of their paragraphs and come to know the deeper things about them as well.  I spent years decoding and trying to understand the writing of preliterate kids in my middle school English classes in order to be able to teach them to write better.   And I learned that no writer is a bad writer as long as they are using readable words.  I also learned that very few writers are James Joyce or Marcel Proust.  Thank God for that!  And given enough time I can read anything by anybody and learn something from it. I read a lot.  And it may not always make me a better writer to read it, but it always has value.  It is always worth doing.

 

 

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Writing Every Day

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Teachers of serious writing will often tell you… or more correctly, give you the Word of God, “You want to be a good writer?  You have to write every single day.”  And having been a teacher of writing at the high school and middle school level, I am committed to passing that on to you also as the inviolable Word of God.  You see, I have long been, well, not a serious writer exactly, more of a dedicated writer with warped notions of reality and a tendency towards goofiness.  You can see by the view of my WordPress insights page that I have steadily, in five years’ time, been noticed and looked at by increasing amounts of thoroughly duped WordPress viewers.

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10,373 visitors have viewed something on my blog 17,383 times in 2017.  And I know that most are looking at the pictures and moving on.  That’s how I get away with writing some of the stupid stuff I post on my blog.  But there’s a secret to that too.  I drew or painted a lot of the pictures I use on this blog myself.  You would think that sooner or later some expert psychologist would trace violence in the streets back to my pictures as the ultimate cause, but that hasn’t happened yet.  I am sure that is mostly because not even the psychologists can muck their way through my paragraphs of purple paisley prose.  You see, I most often use my writing on this blog to commit atrocities of humor and wit.  I only rarely dabble in things intended to be uplifting, spiritual, politically challenging, or sentimental.  I complain on my blog a lot.  It is also a place for expressing my inherent grumpiness and old-man dyspeptic irritations with life.  But viewers tend to take my humor seriously and only laugh at the stuff I am most embarrassed about.

I was supposed to be doing this blog as way to promote my book, Catch a Falling Star, for I-Universe Publishing.  They set it up for me.  But, as they don’t pay me anything for the work I put into it, and it doesn’t really impact sales anyway, I use it now as writing practice.  I have as a personal goal to write 500 words a day.  The blog counts.  So it means that some days, the 500 words I write in my blog are the only words I get written that day.  Though, now that I am retired, 500 words of blog writing plus 500 words of novel writing can get me well past writing 1000 words in a day.  It doesn’t take long at that rate to build up an awful lot of words.   I shudder to think what would happen if the word dam were to suddenly give way, releasing a word-flood of monumental proportions.   Half of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex would drown in Mickian words if that were to happen.

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So, do I think that you should write every day?  Do I think it makes you a better writer?  Do I actually follow my own advice?  Yes!  To all three.  And as I have passed the 500 word mark yet again, I can stop now.

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World Building

Part of being both an RPG gamer and a science fiction writer is the need to put together entire worlds and cultures that don’t exist anywhere in the universe outside of my own imagination.  It is a big and complicated process.  I used to create entire illustrated information pages to capture the world in simple form for future use.

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If you can read the small print, you will find that much of the detail about Planet Dionysus and it’s associated planets is very complex.  The planet was a home base for the Evil Dr. Nathir, a geneticist who experimented on people and animals to give them chloroplasts and other plant-like organs to remove the need to eat food and add the ability to regrow themselves from cuttings  and regrow any missing parts.  His evil plant people with a taste for violence and mindless destruction permeated the entire jungle society.

Many of the people are of Arabic Earth descent and have deep ties to the use of psionic mind skills.  Shtaraqatl, seen above as a young adult and as a boy, is a good example of that.

Dionysus was also one of the planets involved in the invasion of a negative alternate dimension.  The portal opened to invade the other dimension was a two-way doorway that yielded more invaders from the other side than the evil Nathirites sent to take over and exploit the Scion Dimension.

Another important pair of planets were the worlds of Mantua, in the Classical Worlds, and Jargoon, home of the Perfect Knights.

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You can see that I not only established the worlds and their cultures, but I had to lay out the entire planetary solar system, including moons, gas giants, orbiting out stations, and anything else going around the system’s sun (or suns).

One of the results of the work I did planning out all these game worlds in the 1980’s is the ease with which I enabled myself to write science fiction stories later in life.  I had notebooks full of entire planets, their people, their governments, and a cornucopia of worked-out details to use as settings.  I hope to live long enough to make use of them all.

 

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Finding My Voice

As Big MacIntosh welcomes more little ponies into my insanely large doll collection, I have been reading my published novel Snow Babies.  The novel is written in third person viewpoint with a single focus character for each scene.  But because the story is about a whole community surviving a blizzard with multiple story lines criss-crossing and converging only to diverge and dance away from each other again, the focus character varies from scene to scene.

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Big MacIntosh finds himself to be the leader of a new group of My Little Ponies.

In Canto Two, Valerie Clarke, the central main character of the story, is the focus character.  Any and all thoughts suggested by the narrative occur only in Valerie’s pretty little head.  Canto Three is focused through the mind of Trailways bus driver Ed Grosland.  Canto Four focuses on Sheriff’s Deputy Cliff Baily.  And so, on it goes through a multitude of different heads, some heroic, some wise, some idiotic, and some mildly insane.  Because it is a comedy about orphans freezing to death, some of the focus characters are even thinking at the reader through frozen brains.

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The ponies decide to visit Minnie Mouse’s recycled Barbie Dreamhouse where Olaf the Snowman is the acting butler.

That kind of fractured character focus threatens to turn me schizophrenic.  I enjoy thinking like varied characters and changing it up, but the more I write, the more the characters become like me, and the more I become them.  How exactly do you manage a humorous narrative voice when you are constantly becoming someone else and morphing the way you talk to fit different people?  Especially when some of your characters are stupid people with limited vocabularies and limited understanding?

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The ponies are invited to live upstairs with the evil rabbit, Pokemon, and Minions.

I did an entire novel, Superchicken, in third person viewpoint with one focus character, Edward-Andrew Campbell, the Superchicken himself.  That is considerably less schizophrenic than the other book.  But it is still telling a story in my voice with my penchant for big words, metaphors, and exaggerations.

The novel I am working on in rough draft manuscript form right now, The Baby Werewolf, is done entirely in first person point of view.  That is even more of an exercise of losing yourself inside the head of a character who is not you.  One of the first person narrators is a girl, and one is a werewolf.  So, I have really had to stretch my writing ability to make myself into someone else multiple times.

I assure you, I am working hard to find a proper voice with which to share my personal wit and wisdom with the world.  But if the men in white coats come to lock me away in a loony bin somewhere, it won’t be because I am playing a lot with My Little Ponies.

 

 

 

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The Creature I Have Become

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I identify as a humorist, writer, cartoonist, and certified fool (Yes, I have a certificate from the Children’s Writer Institute that proves I once foolishly believed I could learn how to make money as a writer).  But my current novel project is a horror novel, The Baby Werewolf, which I twice before tried to turn into a completed rough draft novel. This time I mean to follow through to the bitter end.

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Torrie Brownfield, hypertrichosis sufferer and possible werewolf.

In order to reign in the goofiness enough to deal with the issues in this novel I have been doing a lot of horror reading. I have also undertaken the reading of a very good author examination of the life of Edgar Allen Poe.

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Poe’s life was highly instructive.  You may not have realized this, but most of the giants of American Literature prior to and contemporary with Poe did not make most of their money as writers.  Emerson was a clergyman.  Nathaniel Hawthorne worked as a customs clerk. Poe, the first to try to make a living solely on work as a writer, editor, critic, and poet, was subjected to the horrors of poverty, illness, and want.  His wife was chronically tubercular and ill.  He never made the money he was obviously worth as a creator of popular horror fiction, poetry, critical essays about other authors, and as an editor for profitable magazines of the day.  Other people made loads of money from his work.  Poe, not so much.

It is instructive to a writer like me who can’t seem to land any sort of income from my own creations.  There is no demand because there is no recognition of my work.  I have come close, having my work praised by editors and fellow authors, and being a finalist in novel writing contests twice.  The goal is good writing.  I will probably never see a return on my investment in my lifetime.  My children may not acquire anything by it unless one of them really devotes a lot of effort to it.  Like Poe with his drinking problem, chronic depression, and ill wife, I face physical limitations and poor health, grinding financial issues, and family factors that make it near impossible to put marketing effort into my literary career.

And this novel is a hard journey for me.  I was sexually assaulted by an older boy when I was ten.  A lot of the fears outlined and elucidated in this particular story leap right out of that iron cage in my psyche where they have been contained for fifty years.  Fear of nakedness.  Fear of sex.  Fear of being attacked.  Fear of the secret motivations in others.  Fear of the dark.  And, most of all, fear of what fear can make me become.  Fear of being a monster.

But I have not become any of the dark and terrible things that fear can make me into.  Instead I became a school teacher, mentor to many.  I became a family man, father of three children.  I became a nudist, hopefully not a dark and terrible thing in itself.  I became Mickey.

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Recurring Villains, Part Two

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Calderus, Vampire Queen of UnderSharn

In Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game, there is always a special villain that has to stay alive to the very end of the campaign.  His or her demise may be the ultimate goal of the entire game and, when achieved, may actually bring an end to that adventuring group as they all retire with super-high-level characters and powers to wipe out cities with a snap of the fingers.  This is the ultimate villain, the big bad, the controller who has operated behind the scenes until the very last dungeon door, the very last encounter.

Deep in the bowels of the City of Towers, Sharn, is the lair of Calderus.  She controls the doings of the undead in the entire city, in fact, in the entire southern half of the continent of Khorvaire.  The players have never yet defeated her directly. She is the one who turned the Dark Lantern agent, Lucan Stellos, into a vampire, forcing the adventurers to track him down, capture him, and return him to his Dark Lantern masters.  She is also the one who leaked false information to the Royal Eyes of Aundair, the rival spy agency of the Dark Lanterns, to make Turkoman the wizard believe the player characters are evil double agents, causing him to begin tracking their every movement and learning their every plan.  Of course, my players don’t know about that yet, so please don’t tell them.

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Big bad villains are very useful to the story-teller known as the Dungeon Master.  They allow the DM to start events moving that make no logical sense until the players begin to figure out that there is someone manipulating events behind the scenes and they must find that BBV out and track them to their castle or lair.

But adventures are not satisfying when the players attempt to cut straight to final scene and murder the big bad to bring about victory.  That kind of meta-gaming strategy has to have severe consequences.  Often that means that the villain must be at such an astronomically high level of ability that the player characters will all be turned into hop-toads after the first round of combat.  Interesting adventure, that.  The group of enchanted hop-toads have to avoid becoming part of the sauce in Calderus’ hop-toad soup, avoid the all the animated cutlery in the vampire’s kitchen, and escape to find Turkoman and get turned back into humans, halflings, minotaurs, and elves so that they can fight again another day and learn from their mistake.

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Of course, it doesn’t hurt a bit that the wizard was watching by magical means when the players stumbled upon the big bad villain.  He helped in their rescue because he realized that somebody had told him something untrue about the adventurers, and they really were useful to him and his spy schemes after all.

So, the big bad villain is an important kind of recurring villain to be met and pursued and met again, always driving the game forward to bigger and bigger doings and greater and greater rewards.

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Silly Sunday Stuff

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I made a choice, long about 1980 or so.  And I have not regretted that choice.  I became a teacher instead of the writer/artist I thought I wanted to be.  And the more I look back on it now, if I had gone the writer route back then, I could’ve eventually become an author like Terry Brooks who wrote the Shannara books.  I might’ve even been as good as R.A. Salvatore whose fantasy adventure stories have reached the best seller list.  Back then, in the 1980’s I could’ve eventually broke into the business and been successful.  Even as late as when Frank McCourt broke onto the literary scene with his memoir, Angela’s Ashes in 1996, I might’ve been able to transition from teacher to writer the way he did.  But I chose to keep going with a teaching career that enthralled me.

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Publishing and the literary scene is changing now.  And it is no longer possible for someone like me to break into the big time.  I am an author who has come aboard a sinking ship.

But I have stories to tell.  They have lived inside me for more than thirty years.  And I am scrambling now to get them told before my crappy old body completely betrays me and makes the chance go away.  I will get them told… even if no one ever listens.

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And there are some advantages to doing it the way I have done it.  It is, and always has been, about the people in my life.  My wife, my children, my students, my co-workers, my cousins by the dozens, my little town in Iowa…  they are the people in my stories.  My stories are true to life, even if they have werewolves and fairies and living gingerbread men and nudists in them.  I live in a cartoon world of metaphor and surrealism, after all.  I would not have had the depth of character-understanding in my stories without my experiences as a teacher.  And I really don’t have to worry about the whole marketing thing any more.  I am not on that treadmill.  I do not have to be aware of what the market is looking for.  If my writing ever turns a profit, I won’t live long enough to see it anyway.  And that has never been what it is all about.

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I can do anything I please with my stories.  They belong to me.  I do not owe the world anything.  What I give you now in this blog and in my books, is given for love, not profit.  I can even write a pointless blog post about Sunday blather and illustrate it with Tintin drawings by Herge. And you can’t stop me.  And, hopefully… you don’t even want to.

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Filed under autobiography, feeling sorry for myself, humor, NOVEL WRITING, publishing, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing, writing humor