Category Archives: writing

The Joys of Editing Yourself

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I am now in the final phase of publishing The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.  I am merely waiting for Amazon to object to whatever ridiculously minute formatting error I may still have going.  And I once again had to publish without benefit of a beta reader or an editor of any kind.  You learn things about yourself that you really don’t want to know.

What I have learned;

  • I can’t depend on my wife to be a beta reader and comment on my work.  She tried once and told me, “Your writing is like dog poop.  It is full of weird stuff, smells bad, and is impossible to get off your shoe once you step in it.”  To be honest, I ironed out that metaphor just a bit.  She was actually quibbling about my proofreading style and basically ignored all the content of the story.  That’s the way English teachers are about prose.
  • I can too easily fall into the habit of introducing characters on a fashion model runway.  The first time the character enters the narrative I tend to give a head to toe rundown of how they look, what they are wearing, and how they have done their hair.  I know better than that, but I still do it.
  • I… use… ellipsis… marks… toooo… much…!
  • My creative spellings tend to drive the spellchecker insane.  In this novel I had trouble over the spellings of blogwopping, interbwap, and dillywhacking.  To be fair two of those words are from the language of the Tellerons, a space-faring race of frog people who happen to ineptly invade the earth.  (Oh, and the other is a euphemism  used by young boys for something very private.  Don’t tell anybody about that one.)
  •  Time travel plots can be laboriously difficult to follow through mobius-strip-like  contortions of time, space, and history.
  • Sometimes my jokes are not funny.  Seriously… that can be a problem.
  • And my characters often act on weird impulses and do things for no rhyme or reason… or rhythm either for that matter… see what I mean about ellipsis marks?  Of course, one can always explain that that is exactly how people really are.  I myself never do that.  There is always a rhyme to be snatched from the ether in the very nick of time… randomly.
  • And at the end of the novel, when I am tying up the loose ends of the plot in a Gordian Knot, I have strings left over.  Maybe enough to knit a shirt with.  So I end up picking them up and starting another novel with them.
  • It is basically heck to be a divergent thinker.  You try to make a list of things, and by the time you get to number 9, you have forgotten what the list was about, and you even forgot to number things, so you have to go back to the first one and count.  Now what was I talking about?

Oh, yeah.  I edited the book all by myself.  And now it’s done.  Time to start a new novel and make all the same mistakes over again.

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What to Write When Your Head is Empty

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Sometimes when my health is poor and too many things are already on my mind, it is hard to think of a subject for the daily essay.  I don’t let that stop me.  Yes, indeed, I can write with a completely empty head.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not a stupid man.  But sometimes life’s demands can empty your mind of idea seeds, and the garden of your mind might be slow in providing new blossoms and palatable fruit.  But some people do a lot of writing with empty heads.  Some are toxic to read because there is no substance to what they say.  And some can spin out a tale or a logic trail that fascinates even though the idea furnaces are initially cold and not ready to cook.

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So maybe I have an idea to write about today already.

Maybe I can say something about how I get ideas out of my stupid little head.

But my head is completely empty today.

Oh, well… I already re-blogged something else anyway.

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The Writing Imperative

I am a writer because I write.

I write because I have to.

I have to because somebody has to control the words.

People are made of words.  Their identity, their inner self, their reason for existence… all made of words.  The very thoughts in their heads are… words.

If I want to control the words I am made of, then I must be the writer who writes his own story.

I don’t want anyone else to write the words that essentially become me.  Do you?

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Of course, authors create characters.  Even autobiographers create characters.  Carl Sandburg could no more make his words into Lincoln than a bird can make its tweets into a cat.   Sandburg can, however, help us to understand Lincoln as Carl Sandburg understands the words that are Lincoln.

Lincoln probably did not have the words for “bikini girls” in his head when he wrote those words in the second quote.  But somebody thought that the picture would help us understand the words.  By all accounts, Lincoln was not a particularly happy man leading a particularly happy life.  But he showed us the meaning of his words when he stood firm against the strong winds of harsh words and bad ideas in a terrible time.  And he was as happy about it as he made up his mind to be.

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I, too, have not lived a particularly happy life.  But I was always the “teacher with a sense of humor” in the classroom, and students loved me for it.  Funny people are often not happy people.  But they make themselves out of funny words because laughter heals pain, and jokes are effective medicine.  And so I choose to write comedy novels.  Novels that are funny even though they are about hard things like freezing to death, losing loved ones, being humiliated, being molested, and fear of death.  Magical purple words can bring light to any darkness.  I am the words I choose to write in my own story.  The words not only reveal me, they make me who I am.  And it is up to me to write those words.  Other people might wish to do it for me.  But they really can’t.  The words are for me alone to write.

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And so it is imperative that I write my words in the form of my novels, my essays, and this goofy blog post.  I am writing myself to life, even if no one ever reads my writing.

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Things I Know For Certain

I think a lot of thoroughly thoughtful thuggish thoughts that build and build and build up an idea, and then turn around and knock it all down.  Let me demonstrate by knocking down that title right off the bat.  Rene DesCartes in the early 1600’s said, “Cogito Ergo Sum”, and he thereby totally disrupted the world as we knew it.  Didn’t get that?  Let me translate.  He said, “Je pense, donc je suis.”  Still didn’t help?  Okay, here’s the English, “I think, therefore I am.”  In other words, the one thing that I know for sure is that I am thinking this particular thought at this particular time.  If I am thinking, and I know I am, I must be here and I must be real.  So there is one thing I know for certain.  But do I know anything else for certain?  Uh-oh.  How do I know anything?  I have to rely on my senses.  And my senses lie to me all the time.  I am partially color blind, so I don’t see the world the same way you do.  I don’t see things in black and white, like Great Grandma Hinckley did in her 90’s, but the colors look different to my eyes than they do to yours and I will never know what things look like to you.  Forget politicians and all other people who tell lies, my own eyes lie to me constantly.  So can I know anything for sure?  Of course not.  All I have are firm beliefs based on imperfect senses and best guesses at what is true.  So what I am actually talking about is a list of potential essay ideas that I am merely asserting as true based on my imperfect goofy thinking of thoughtful thuggish thoughts.

Idea #1 that I think is certainly possibly maybe true; My brain was taught and I was raised to adulthood by the movies I saw when I was young.  I want to talk about this at length in another post.  The video is by a guy who was a kid in the 80’s, and he has some really awesome movies to offer as a way to delineate his rise to adulthood.

My list includes the movies of my boyhood seen in the Belmond Theater and on our old black and white Motorola TV.  My list of movies that raised me includes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, and The Wizard of Oz.

Idea #2; Animals are people too.

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I mean, as a writer for young adults, I know for a fact that animals are relevant as characters.  They have a point of view, feelings, reactions, and complex lives that people rarely pay attention to.  I have to write about this some time in the future too.

Idea #3; The worst things that happen to us in our lives, are also the best things that happen.  Wow!  What a difficult essay topic.  But I not only think it, I can prove it… at least to myself.  But can I write about it?  Time will tell.

Idea #4; Silly thoughts and serious thoughts are two sides of the same coin.  And this will be particularly difficult to think about if thoughts are literally coins.  That would mean that my head is full of metal, and I know several people who would read that sentence and shout, “I knew it all along!”  Fortunately they are all too sensible to read this far in one of my blog posts.

So, at 600 words I still have lots more to say.  But people with metal in their heads often talk way too much, so my concluding sentence will be simply; “I promise to shut up for now.”

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Now What Do I Write About?

I finished the Baby Werewolf.

This writing project lasted for more than a year.  It ended up being 88 Cantos and 77,000 words.  I poured my soul into it.  It burned up more writing energy than anything I have ever done before.  Is it a good piece of writing?  Maybe.  Is it the best thing I ever wrote?  No.

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After the exhausting process ended, I have to regenerate.  Like Doctor Who, I need a new life, a new face, a new adventure.  If I don’t have something new to write, I might as well be dead.

So, here’s the plan.

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I will turn this, my first completed hometown novel into a published novel on Amazon.  That requires some serious editing and re-formatting.  I have to tone down some of the risque things in the nudist camp section, including some things I have learned about nudists by becoming one.  I intend to soften the language, because it is at times too salty to serve as soup in a young adult novel.  I don’t intend to challenge people’s blood pressure limits.  And you can’t always opt for realism and have kids talk the way they do in real life, totally uncensored.  I don’t know how long this will take.  But it will happen.

Then I will follow that with another story I’ve been itching to write since the 70’s.

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Sing Sad Songs was originally titled The Little Boy Crooner.  It is about a talented little orphan boy from France who is, by way of a fatal car accident and family relationships separated by too much time and distance, suddenly dropped into the middle of a dysfunctional and totally disillusioned family in Iowa.  He doesn’t know them.  He can’t talk to them.  But, oh! when he puts on the clown paint and sings!  Well, I am not ready to tell the story right here and right now.

Like it was with Recipes for Gingerbread Children and The Baby Werewolf, Sing Sad Songs will have a companion book.  That is the story of a goofy family who harbor a talented child of their own, an autistic young man who can only talk through a ventriloquist puppet, but turns out to be a hidden genius.

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It is a completely complicated and confusing mess of a writing plan.  But what does it matter?  I do it for me.  I write what I want to.  What I need to.  Nobody is reading my novels anyway.  Even beloved daughter has only read one of my published novels, about which she says, “Eh…”  So I am not writing to become a millionaire.  I am not committing acts of great literature.  I am writing simply because I have to.  Who knows, maybe one day in the far future, after Trump turns America into an impoverished irradiated wasteland, and aliens from Zeta Reticuli land to find out what humans have done to themselves, Zenu 231 will find a copy of one of my books in the rubble, read it with a dispassionate eye, and say, “Eh…”  It could happen.

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Writing Myself To Life

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I have been working on my novel The Baby Werewolf, and I am now in the final phase, working on the climax and crisis point.  And I surprised myself.  The killer monologues to the main characters who have now become his intended next victims.  I have played this out over and over in the twenty-two years I have been writing this book.  Last night, for the first time ever, the hero character laughs in this scene instead of the cringing fear that had always been there before.

How is such a thing possible?  What changed?  I have been writing and rewriting this story since 1996.  But it goes much deeper and darker than that.  This story went on my have-to-write list in 1966 when an older, stronger boy who lived near my home trapped me in a place out-of-sight of others and stripped me, gaining some horrible kind of pleasure by inflicting pain on my private parts.  Recovery from that has taken half a century.  The recovery itself probably explains why I struggled so long to pull this story together in a finished form.

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There are things about my writing life that are undeniable.  First of all, I have to write.  There is really no other choice for me.  My mind will never know rest or peace without being able to spin out the paragraphs and essays and stories that make it possible to know those things.  Nothing is real if I can’t write it out.  Secondly, I am a humorist.  If I can never be funny at all, can never write a joke, then I will descend into madness.  My sense of humor not only shields me and serves as my suit of armor, it heals me when I suffer psychic wounds.  This book is a horror story, but like many of the best horror stories, it relies on humor to drive every scene and knit the plot together.  And it was a breakthrough for me to have the hero character laugh instead of cringe in the critical scene.  It allows me to live again.  And love again.  And the real monster that caused this book to be, is now forgiven.  The world continues to turn.  The picture is now complete.  And soon, the novel will be too.

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Stupid Stuff I Think And Do

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Last night I spent a couple of hours avoiding washing the dishes that piled up in the sink for the weekend by submitting my rough draft novel Recipes for Gingerbread Children to the Inkitt free novel contest.   I am pretty sure that was a stupid thing to do.  I created the above cover to complete the submission.  I had previously decided by researching Inkitt that it was probably a bad idea to go for this kind of publishing scheme.  I cannot afford another vanity press price.  I can only manage free publishing opportunities.  I am probably better off publishing through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

The novel is not entirely a stand-alone.  It is the companion story to The Baby Werewolf whose climax I am working on last week and this week.  It wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t a pile of irresistible weird stuff left over from the creation of The Baby Werewolf and Superchicken.   It is full of fairy tales, “real” fairies created by fairy tales, Nazis, teenage nudist girls, and a sweet old German lady who managed to survive the holocaust.

The contest will only have four winners this month, and I did not submit it until four days before the end of the month.  Snowball’s chance in H-E-double-hockey-sticks, right? I cannot afford to pay them to publish it.  So if it doesn’t win, I tell them no.

I mistakenly believe I am a good writer and story-teller.  But that may be a totally delusional belief.  I am not any good at the publishing and promoting game.  I am forced to trust to luck, and am probably the unluckiest goober who ever lived.

And while I was tackling the crisis point of my horror novel last week, my Republican friends and family, rabid Trump supporters all, were on my case in social media about why I, as a former teacher, wasn’t completely on their side about making teachers with guns a line of defense against future school shootings.  I have to be careful what I say and support, because a single wrong word can blow up my friends on Facebook with an incendiary display of name-calling, Fox News facts (which are pretty far removed from true facts), accusations, recriminations, and crying about my stupidity.  And through it all, I am not totally convinced that the stupidity is all on my side of the word war.

So, we shall wait and see.  I did a stupid thing.  I said some stupid stuff. I have risked a lot on the current direction of the wind. And soon I will know if my stupidity has scuttled me, and I come crashing down in my sailboat to bottom of the sea… or if I am somehow right, and allowed, for now, to sail onward.

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