Writing a Canto

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“Canto” is what I idiotically call a chapter in my hometown novels.  Writing a chapter in a novel is a much more complex and difficult thing than you might  realize.  I just finished rewriting Canto 23 of the novel I am working on for the third time.  I will share that chapter here as an example of what I am blathering on about.

Canto Twenty-Three :  Scaling the Wall of the Werewolf House 

“So, you figured out how to get across the gap between the branch and the window?”  I asked Milt.

“Of course.  Look up there at the peak of the roof directly above the window.”

“What exactly am I looking at?” I asked.

“Don’t you see that knob thing on the top corner?”

Straining my eyes, I did see a tiny silver ball thing on the centerboard of the roof, right at the very peak of the corner.  It looked microscopic from the ground.

“Yeah.  So?”

“Well, that’s the answer,” said Brent, pulling a coil of rope out of his backpack.I swallowed hard.

“You mean…”

“Yeah.  I’m gonna throw the rope over the knob thing and then you can swing in through the window like Tarzan.”

I began to feel ill in the pit of my stomach.“I don’t know…”

“You aren’t gonna chicken out now?” asked Superchicken.  “This is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for a Norwall Pirate.”

“And I’m gonna be the only one swinging in?”

“Naw.  If you don’t die swinging in first, we’ll all do it.”  Brent grinned with the confidence of somebody who never experienced accidents the way the rest of us had at one time or another.

“Why do I have to do it first?” I complained.

“Because Andrew decided not to come.  We always make Andrew do the life and death stuff first.  But he’s still mad about the dilly-whacking party going bad, and nobody being willing to go to it.”  Milt was grinning that lop-sided grin of his, like a Cheshire cat, only more snarky.

“So if I die, you will tell my folks how it happened?”

“Of course,” said Brent.  “We’ll make sure they know the whole thing was entirely your idea.”

“And we’ll say you forced us to do it,” added Milt.

I looked up at the tree.  Branches for hand-holds were not too far apart.  I had climbed worse trees before that particular tree.  Then I looked at Milt.  He was nodding “Yes” and grinning.

I looked back at the tree and swallowed hard again.  Then I looked at Brent.  His grin was even more fake than Milt’s.

I looked over at Superchicken, probably the most sensible member of the Pirates.  He looked kinda grim and just shrugged at me.

I figured the time had come to decide.  I started to walk away from the base of  the tree.

“Whoa, there, buddy,” said Brent, grabbing me from behind and turning me around to face the tree again.  He gave me a push towards the tree.

Gingerly I tested each branch before I used it to pull myself upwards.  And then I got a foothold on the lowest branches.  As I climbed higher, Milt started up right behind me.

“Keep going, Todd,” Milt said.  “You can’t just stop climbing.  You stop climbing while I keep going, you end up sitting on my head.”

I looked down at him and frowned.  He grinned up at me.  When he was on the third branch up, Brent began climbing after us.  Superchicken brought up the rear guard.  If I didn’t keep going, Superchick might end up with three guys sitting on his head.

Then I got up high enough to be on the branch that was about even with what we believed was Torrie’s window.  Ooh, did that look narrow out towards the end!  But I bucked up the old courage and slid out towards the little end.

“Guys, this branch is bending down!”

“Be brave.  We’ll tell your parents you died heroically if you fall.”

“Um, yeah.”

So I ended up sitting on the narrow end of the branch, sagging down about two feet below the bottom of the window.  There was about four feet of empty space between where I sat and the window.

“Now what?” I complained.

“Now the rope!” said Brent.  He tossed it outwards and upwards, the coil carrying it up over the knob on the roof peak just as slick and as cool as Roy Rogers ever did during one of those singing cowboy shows.  The rope uncoiled back down until it dangled in front of me, just out of reach.

“So, how do I get a hold of that?” I complained again.

“Lean out and grab it,” Brent said, like that was nothing.  Like that was the easiest thing in the world.

“Yeah right.”  I leaned out as far as I could.  I could just barely touch it with the tips of my fingers.  I tried twiddling my fingers to get hold of it,  That just made it wiggle and dance out of reach.

“Lean out further,” Brent said.

“Easy for you to say.”

I leaned out an inch too far.  And suddenly I was airborne.  My feet were hanging over nothing.  My heart was trying to escape by coming up out of my throat and bursting across into the side of the house.  Or maybe that was my stomach.  My flailing hands snagged the rope.  I bashed into the side of the house with a loud thump, but I had saved myself from falling to my death like the Andrew stick figure in Milt’s diagram.

“Hang on!” said Milt and Brent together in hoarse voices.

“You hang on!” I said to Brent.  He was anchoring the rope with both hands and his legs were wrapped firmly around the branch.Just then, the window went open and the baby werewolf was looking out at me with a scared expression that was probably at least the equal to the one on my face.

“Wha-what are you doing there?” Torrie stammered.

“We came to visit you,” I said, breathlessly.

“Oh, wow!”  Torrie seemed to catch his breath.  Then he caught hold of the rope and helped Brent pull me up to the window sill.  He grabbed me by the seat of my Levis and hauled me into his attic bedroom.

Then, as I sat disheveled on the floor and looked at Torrie, his hairy face blossomed into a huge white-toothed smile.

“I can’t believe it!  I mean, I hoped you would come, but I never imagined…”

“Hey, werewolf!  Swing the rope back to us so we can come in too,” commanded Brent.  Torrie quickly moved to the window to comply, but never for a moment dropped that huge happy smile.

*****

So, there you have it.  A single filigreed puzzle piece in stand-alone form.  In the previous twenty-two cantos you would’ve learned that Torrie suffered from a genetic disorder called hypertrichosis, the werewolf-hair disease.  Because of that genetic anomaly, he was living his life in isolation and imprisonment due to his family’s shameful secrets.  Todd, the narrator-character, has vowed to befriend the secretive boy werewolf.  He is even willing to climb a tree to get to Torrie.  It kinda helps to know that stuff before you try to read and understand this canto.  But a canto has to have its own beginning, middle, and end.  There needs to be rising action, a climax, and a conclusion.  And yet, it has to link to the cantos both before and after.  And in a comic fantasy novel like this one, it helps if there are also funny bits.  You can see, then, why this canto was a struggle for me.  But I think now the hurdle is finally crossed.  So, on with the story!

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Filed under humor, novel, novel plans, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, Pirates

Never Seen Before

So, President Cheetoh-Head is threatening to use nukes to blow up the world in response to threats by Supreme Leader Fat-boy Jong Un.  Maybe I have even less time than I thought I did to get my work out there for others to see.  I am resigned to dying in total obscurity as a writer.  Which is entirely okay.  But I have some things to show you that have not already been seen.

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This is a picture that has been in my folder in the closet since 1978.  It is a part of a cartoon story that would later become Hidden Kingdom.

I haven’t been hiding things so much because I am ashamed of them, though you can see some amateurish flaws in my work, but more because I simply haven’t taken time to use these particular pictures.

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I bought this toy from the Wonder Woman movie, horse and doll, for under $20.

This toy purchase photo from a week ago was a buy I made to feel better after learning that I was going to have to declare bankruptcy.  I thought about using it in a blog before now, but never found the right time.

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This picture of Jade Beyer watching the outside world full of edible cats and sniffable stinks was taken while eating some ice cream.  She was in a funk about not being offered any, and there were people out there using her favorite park across the street.  She boofed at them until I scolded her for barking too much.

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I found a sheet of school pictures from the late eighties when I was a much younger man, looking a little bit like Harry Potter who hadn’t even been published yet.

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I cropped it to make a better self-portrait of the way I once looked in school, wearing a tie as a teacher, and gray suspenders because I was a fool.

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And then I enhanced it using a phone-camera app recommended to me by Vietnamese immigrant school girls.  It made me look even more like an older Harry Potter.

So, there you have it.  Secrets revealed.  Pictures never before seen in public.  And I am not now totally ashamed… just mostly.

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Filed under autobiography, feeling sorry for myself, goofy thoughts, Hidden Kingdom, humor, Paffooney

Stardusters… Canto 59

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Canto Fifty-Nine – In the Nesting Quarters of Tanith and Davalon

Davalon and Tanith had learned to cuddle and hold each other in the affectionate way that Earthers like Alden and Gracie Morrell always did.  They were doing it now in the nest Sizzahl had given them.  Dav could no more imagine being apart from Tanith than he could imagine going back to the old Telleron ways of killing and recycling the protein of tadpoles who proved to be unnecessary during the long space voyages.

“Are we going to survive this adventure, Dav?”

“Yes, I think we stand a very good chance now with the adults here to save us.  Especially Mrs. Castille.  She is a very formidable warrior.”

“How did our people survive without her?”

“That’s a very good question.  I think our people have been going down the wrong path for centuries.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever wondered about how our fundamental survival methods actually work?”

“No.  We were not programmed in the egg to think about things like that.”

“I think that’s a mistake too, Tanith.  We need more thinkers in our species.  With the protein recycling system we used to have, you and I might not have survived.  If we hadn’t undergone such a dramatic change on Earth, our whole mission might have gone extinct by now.”

“I don’t follow, Dav.”

“Think about it.  What kind of Telleron people survived most often in our society before we adopted Earther behavior?”

“Self-promoting evil ones like Commander Sleez… and, well… stupid ones like Corebait and Studpopper and Finkerblatt… the ones who were lucky enough to never be put in a position where their life was threatened.”

“Yeah, except Corebait disintegrated himself back on Earth, and Finkerblatt tried to flush a toilet into space instead of the molecular recycle grid and was pulled out into space by his…”

“Yeah, but Studpopper proves that the lucky stupid ones do sometimes stay alive.”

“Okay.  You’re right.  But it is also the steady and quietly competent ones like Farbick… and maybe Commander Biznap that not only survive, but get critical things done and help others to survive as well as themselves.”

“So, what are you saying, Dav?”

“I think we know what we have to do, and what kind of Telleron people we need to become.”

“We need to be lucky and stupid?”

Davalon smiled as he saw how brightly Tanith was smiling at him.

“We need to be people who think and solve problems.  We need to be competent like Farbick.  We need to take the lead like Biznap.”

“You think that thinking is our job or something?”

“Exactly.  Promise me you will help me learn how to think better and more clearly.  You are smart, Tanith.  If you and I help each other, we will both get smarter.”

“And maybe we can raise up tadpoles of our own.”

Davalon smiled at her.  She was lovely cradled in his arm and close up against his chest.

“Yes.  We can make a new world where Tellerons are better than they have ever been.”

“We can evolve into a better people?”

“Yes. And with a little of the lucky that used to be only for stupid Tellerons, maybe we can be a people who live to old age and rebuild a planet.”

“You are giving me good things to dream about,” Tanith said, closing her eyes and falling softly into the realm of good dreams.

*****

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Filed under aliens, humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, science fiction

For the Love of Sad Clowns

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This is my latest clown picture, inspired by my newest fascination with Puddles’ Pity Party on YouTube.  Like all my clown pictures, I am fairly sure that my number one son will tell me it’s a creepy clown.  He has never liked clowns.  When he was still small we took him to the pre-show at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus which at that time was Meet the Clowns.  We met the men… and women… and dwarves… in the face paint with the loud personalities and huge red smiles.   I was charmed, as always, but number one son spent most of the time behind my pantleg, peering around for sneak peaks at the clowns.  He was actually shivering most of the time.

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But me, I love clowns.   Always have.  Especially the sad clowns.  The hobo clowns.  Red Skelton playing Freddy the Freeloader, Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp, Marcel Marceau, the peerless mime, and Emmett Kelly Jr. as Weary Willie.  There is something deeply poetic and resonant about a clown who makes you laugh by his outward actions but manifests deep feelings and an underlying sadness on the inside.  It is a metaphor for the whole of life in the human world.

Puddles walked on to the stage of America’s Got Talent and engaged everyone first with his silent-clown mime routine, and then grabbed everyone right by the heart by singing a song about drinking and swinging on the chandelier with such emotion and operatic power that, by the end of the song everyone was standing, everyone loved him.  Singing clowns with a sad song help us keep our own little boats afloat on a vast and stormy ocean of life.  The song buoys us up and makes it bearable to tread water a little longer.  I am at a time and place in my life where I really need that.

I love clowns.  Especially sad clowns.  Particularly when they sing.

I dare you to watch these videos and not fall in love with Puddles.  That’s the point of sad clowns.  They make you laugh at the sad and serious things that tear people apart.  And by doing that, they put Scotch Tape on the tears and put you back together.

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Filed under battling depression, clowns, commentary, goofy thoughts, humor, Paffooney, sharing from YouTube, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Battling Pirates and Losing

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I have been boarded and scuttled by the pirates of Banko Merricka.  Yes the blood-thirsty buccaneers have won their lawsuit against me and forced me into a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  You see, they ambushed me.  When I was undergoing a debt reduction plan, the evil banker buccaneers of Banko Merricka not only refused to answer all calls from my lawyer, they quietly sold my debt to their ruthless debt collecting assassins, who waited until I had paid off all my other creditors, and then launched a lawsuit against me.  They normally get away with this kind of ambush because people in general don’t know how to respond.  I hired a lawyer and fought back.  I would’ve been able to pay a settlement if it had occurred when I wasn’t dealing with a big financial hit from the city over the derelict swimming pool.

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My Banko Merricka debt was boosted by a couple thousand dollars due to their court fees which I must also pay.   It is a very expensive process for the average American to become bankrupt and poor.  The kind of bankruptcy I will undergo bundles all my unpaid unsecured credit card debt into one huge pile and then, supervised by an account manager, I will pay it off in manageable chunks for the next five years.  It wipes out all my credit accounts except car payments and reduces my ability to secure loans to zero.  The pirates have won.

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But I am not despairing.  I haven’t been able to afford medicine and going to the doctor since I retired, so I will probably not live to pay it all off anyway.  And money is not the focus of my life.  The people who care about money more than life itself do not lead happier lives than I do.  If we lose our house and have to move to an apartment, we can do that.  If I have to get by on less each month, well, I’ve done that before.  Money worries will not be the cause of my heart attack or stroke.  And who knows, if I eat enough spinach, maybe there is super-power to fight back with in my future.  Pirates don’t win every battle.

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Filed under angry rant, battling depression, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, monsters, Paffooney, Pirates, satire, self pity

D & D Sidekicks

Why did Batman have Robin the Boy Wonder?  Not only that, but why Bucky and Captain America?  Green Arrow and Speedy?  Aquaman and Aqualad?  Superman and Krypto the Super Dog?  Fredric Wertham, the Seduction of the Innocents and the Comics Code guy, would have you believe that they were there to make young boys turn gay and violent.  But that was nonsense, wasn’t it?  Better change Krypto for photographer Jimmy Olsen just in case.

But if that was merely nonsense, why was it such a part of the formula?

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As a D & D dungeon master, I have my own theory about sidekicks and their function in story-telling.

Young sidekicks were an important part of the stories I told as a game master because the players in my games were mostly adolescent boys themselves.  It was the same as the primary readers of Batman comics in the 1950’s of Wertham’s Comics Code.  The young hero or adventurer character, most often in the form of a non-player character, was someone they could relate to because of age.  They had more in common with the sidekick than the lead hero.  It helped to draw them into the story and make it relevant.

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As a story-telling device, you often find the young apprentice character in novels written for younger audiences.  Think of David Eddings’ Belgariad, or Lloyd Alexander’s  Chronicles of Prydain, or Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  The characters of Garion the youngster in the Belgariad,  Taran the young protagonist of Prydain, and certainly Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island.  

So, with that realization, I incorporated youthful characters, both boys and girls, as apprentices and student-adventurers.

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Initially it proved to be a hard thing.   Wizards and sorcerers, according to D & D rules, can take an apprentice once they reach level three.  But first level characters as apprentices are vulnerable because damage done by third level monsters wipes out the meager hit point reserves of a beginner character.  After several traumatic deaths of beloved sidekicks, the player characters begin to take steps to protect them better in combat, or quickly learn where to find priests with resurrection spells who work really cheap.

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Of course, these characters are useful for more than just creating combat complications.  They are really useful for comic relief.  The missteps, mistakes, and total botch-jobs that these inexperienced younger characters create can make us laugh, make us sweat a little to correct it, and move the plot forward in interesting ways that I, as the game master, wouldn’t have otherwise planned.

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So, hopefully, Mr. Wertham’s ghost isn’t hovering over my D & D game thinking it is all a plot to create a generation of violent, gay youths.  Hopefully he can see that it is all a part of a well-established story-telling literary device that actually helps to educate and deepen the understanding of youths.  But it is swiftly becoming irrelevant what Wertham’s ghost thinks anyway.  I haven’t played D & D for a while now.  My sons and daughter now have their own groups of friends, playing under different dungeon masters with different dice.  But hopefully, the need for youthful sidekicks will remain.

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Filed under Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Another Danged Good Book I Read

Little Altars Everywhere 
by Rebecca Wells (Goodreads Author)

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Michael Beyer‘s review

Aug 04, 2017


Rebecca Wells is a writing chameleon, a shape-changer like blessed few other writers can manage. She creates the world of Thornton, Louisiana by story-telling through the eyes of eight different characters. Each voice is distinct and exquisitely crafted with a unique and individual personality. And yet, the plot is in no way fractured by the various viewpoints of the action. It is the story of all the love, violence, anger, resentment, ugliness, and beauty that takes a family of six from 1963 to 1991, from childhood to adulthood, from ignorance and pain, to grudging maturity and acceptance.
I can’t begin to recount the story without spoiling it for you. It is the story of Siddalee Walker and her family as they grow up on Pecan Grove cotton plantation. And it is a marvelous kaleidoscopic picture of the difficulties and complexities of living life and learning wisdom the way they used to do in Louisiana. Wells makes me laugh and makes me cry going back and forth between emotions in the space of a few pages. You know, the way brilliant authors usually do. I recommend you read this book. I loved it, and if you love reading too, you will not be disappointed.
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