The Education of Poppensparkle… Canto 5

Canto 5 – Across the Open Arcanum

The next morning Tod and Flute invited the girls to look at the map with them.

“We are here, just south of the Troll Bridge and about to enter into the beanfields of the Arcanum, west of the  Slow-One Fortress called Duffy’s Farm.”  Flute pointed to the spot in the center of the map.  “We have to cross the bridge, and cut across an expanse patrolled by heroes from Demarceaux’s Hero Tree, but controlled mostly by the Unseely Court, surfacing from Castle Stoor over here.  Gobbuluns like Wartoles and Cyclopes mostly, but a few other wicked creatures as well.”

Looking across the gravel road of the Slow Ones, they could see the old bridge of metal and wood and gravel.

“There are Trolls beneath?” asked Glittershine.

“Possibly, but more likely they are sleeping during the day and will not bother us in the sunshine far above their sleeping holes under the bridge,” said Tod.

“Perhaps we should go quickly now, as the sun is bright this morning,” suggested Poppy, not wanting to risk encountering Trolls.  She had hated serving them green slime in the kitchens of Mortimer’s Mudwallow, and here there was no powerful necromancer to stop them from eating a butterfly child they happened to catch out in the open.

As the roosters crossed the road, suddenly the smell of rotten, moldy flesh told the group of Fairies that Trolls were on the bridge.

“Tod!  Spur your rooster and make it run!” shouted Flute.

“I see the trolls.  They are lying dead in the road, slowly turning into stones in the sunlight.”  Tod pulled up to a stop beside one of the three Troll bodies.  Poppy could actually hear the Troll-flesh crackling as the sunshine cooked it and made it into rock.

Flute pulled his rooster up too, and he and Glitter dismounted to look at the bodies.

“These bodies show signs of sword cuts,” said Glittershine.

“Yes.  A Fairy sword.  Possibly the Fyrehandle, the great sword of Lord Lancelot himself,” said Flute.

“Who is Lord Lancelot?” asked Poppy.

“He’s a great Fairy war hero, a Storybook Fairy since the time of the Slow One’s King Arthur,” said Tod.

“The son of the immortal Lady of the Lake,” added Glittershine.

But before they could do anything more, one more Troll was lumbering towards them, smoking from Troll sunburn and moaning in an angry way.

“This one is yours, Poppensparkle,” said Flute.  “Use your polymorphing spells to turn the creature into stone.  Put it out of its misery.”

Poppy could call the spell instantly to mind.  But when she pointed her power finger at the Troll, her stomach began to churn, and she couldn’t make the spell kill the Troll.  Not after she had seen the Necromancer kill Fairies and laugh about it afterwards.  The White Stag had taken those memories away from her.  But the situation now brought it back.

“I… I can’t do it!”

“You have to, Poppy!  Before it reaches us!” shouted Tod.

She tried to control the swirling sickness in her guts as she wrestled with killing the poor thing.  And then the spell came out of her pointer finger in a cloud of orange smoke and enveloped the Troll.  And that was somehow not right… because the smoke was supposed to be smoky-colored, not orange.

“Oh, no…”  She fell to her knees and emptied the contents of her stomach on the gravel road.

The cloud dissipated, leaving behind a… small sylph boy?  He was naked and crying.  His brown skin still was dripping with the leavings of the magical orange smoke.

Flute approached the weeping child.  “Who are you?  Did the Troll eat you, or something?”

The child looked at him with frightened eyes.

“Am no Trollz food!   Am Schtinker!  Am baby Trollz!”

“Whoa!  Poppy?  Did you turn the Troll into this sylph boy?”  Flute gasped.

“I couldn’t turn him to stone.  That would be killing…”  Poppy had to stop there and throw up some more.

“It’s alright, Poppy.  This Schtinker is still a Troll on the inside, but the new form is far less dangerous,” said Tod.

“Danger-us?  Schtinker no know danger-us.  Am no killah!  Dat nite be doe killah!”

“What did he say?” asked Poppy.

“So, what do we do with him?  If we just leave him here he will go back to the Unseely Court and be evil.” Tod shook his head sadly as he said it.

“We could kill him here and save him the trouble,” said Flute.

“No!  He’s just a child!” said Poppy, horrified at the callousness.

“We can take him with us and teach him to be good,” offered Glittershine.

“That would be too much work,” said Flute.

“How do we decide?  Take a vote?” asked Tod.

“We let Poppy decide.  She created him, he’s her child, her responsibility,” said Flute, looking her in the eyes.

“Well, that’s it then.  We take him.  I will take care of him.”

Flute looked at her with eyes she thought showed great intelligence.  And then he smiled.

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Mickian Art…70’s Style

Most of my novel stories have lived in my head since the 1970’s. I began recording the ideas in a notebook that I called the libretto. I drew illustrations to solidify the characters and some of the plot elements in my mind. But the basic natures of the characters and the style of my artwork grew from these original artistical notations.

I got better at art over time. And the characters benefited from my teaching experience in that I was able to depict numerous characters with nuances and details gained from students and other people I hadn’t met yet when I drew these pictures. Dorin Dobbs, for instance, is based in large part on my eldest son, who wouldn’t be born for another 18 years when I drew these pictures (He’s the yellow-haired boy in both of the first two pictures.)

Francois, the singing sad clown from my book Sing Sad Songs, is based on a student from the 80’s who was actually Spanish speaking and of Mexican-American descent.

I drew this picture of him in 1976.

I taught the boy in 1983.

I wrote and published the book in 2018.

The inter-dimensional traveler, the Man-Cat, is an idea from a story I have not written yet, and probably never will.

Disney-Michael Stewart and his gang of Milk-Lovers is another story I haven’t written yet, and though more likely, is still probably a novel I will never get to.

Invisible Captain Dettbarn and Francois ended up in separate stories from this picture. The other three boys in the picture were babies or not yet born when their stories happen.

So, today was a chance to look at and re-evaluate the past. All of these drawings were done in the 1970’s. All I did was scan them with a good scanner and crop them a little to make them better compositions. And they allow me to keep track of where my mind has already been, that I might successfully chart the future of where it is going.

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Wisdom from an Exploding Head

Diabetes is currently trying to kill me with a severe headache. So, the most cogent piece of advice I have right now is this; Don’t let diabetes explode your head!

I can also say that doing something distracting, like writing something really stupid in a blog post, can take your mind off the pain and make it easier to survive an exploding head.

Pain in your head can make you surly and mean. See the photo of my headache above? Try not to be as ugly on the outside as you are on the inside if your head is exploding.

If your head is doomed to explode no matter what you do, quickly search your memory for every cute girl you were ever fond of and quickly remember each and every cutie’s face. Try to scroll past any blue fauns in your memory. No good comes from that if your head is about to explode. That’s a complicated metaphor and likely somewhat sexual in an inappropriate way.

And don’t worry about becoming a ghost after your head explodes. Ghosts are not real. And you won’t have any worries after your head explodes because an exploded head can’t do any thinking, and worrying… especially worrying too much… is a waste of time because it is a form of thinking an exploded brain can no longer do.

That’s all I have to say about wisdom today… After all, I have a really bad headache.

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The Way Mickey’s Mind Works

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If you’ve read any of the crap that Mickey wrote about before in this goofy blog, you probably already suspect that Mickey’s mind does not work like a normal mind.  The road map above is just one indicator of the weirdness of the wiring that propels Mickey on the yellow brick road to Oz and back.  He just isn’t a normal thinker.

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But having a few bats in the old belfry doesn’t prevent the man from having a plan.  If you read all of Mickey’s hometown novels, you will discover he hasn’t written them in time order.  Main characters in my 2016 novel weren’t even born yet in my 2017 books.  If you look at them in chronological order rather than the order written, you will see characters growing and changing over time.  A shy kid in one novel grows into a werewolf hunter in the next.  A girl who loses her father to suicide in a novel not yet completed, learns how to love again in another novel.

Multiple Mickian stories are totally infected with fairies.  The magic little buggers are harder to get rid of than mosquitoes and are far and away more dangerous.  And there are disturbing levels of science-fiction-ness radiating through all of the stories.  How dare he think like that?  In undulating spirals instead of straight lines!  He doesn’t even use complete sentences all the time. And they used to let that odd bird teach English to middle school kids.

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But there is a method to his utter madness.  He started with the simpler stories of growing up and learning about the terrors of kissing girls when you are only twelve.  And then he moved on into the darker realms of dealing with death and loss of love, the tragedy of finding true love and losing it again almost as soon as you recognize its reality.  Simple moves on to complex.  Order is restored with imagination, only to be broken down again and then restored yet again,.

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And, of course, we always listen to Mr. Gaiman.  He is a powerful wizard after all.  The Sandman and creator of good dreams.  So Mickey will completely ignore the fact that nobody reads his books no matter what he does or says.  And he will write another story.

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It is called Sing Sad Songs, and it is the most complex and difficult story that Mickey has ever written.  And it will be glorious.  It also rips Mickey’s heart out.  And I will put that ripped-out heart back in place and make Mickey keep writing it, no matter how many times I have to wash, rinse, and repeat. The continued work is called Fools and Their Toys.  It solves the murder mystery begun in Sing Sad Songs. This re-post of an updated statement of goals is the very spell that will made that magic happen.  So, weird little head-map in hand, here we go on the writer’s journey once again and further along the trail.

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Being Prosaic

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I admit it.  I am prosaic.  I think in sentences.  I speak in paragraphs.  I write in 5-paragraph essays.  I should stop with the repetition of forms and the parallel structures, because that could easily be seen as poetic and defeat my argument in this post.  I write prose.  Simple.  Direct.  Declarative.  But those last three are sentence fragments.  Does that fit the model of prose?  How about asking a question in the middle of a paragraph full of statements?  Is that all simple enough to be truly prosaic?

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Prose is focused on the everyday tasks of writing.  It seems like the world thinks that the mechanical delivery of information in words and sentences should be boring, should be functional, should be simple and easy to understand.

I don’t mean to be pulling your reader’s mind in two directions at once, however.  I need to stop confusing you with my onslaught of sentences full of contradictory and complex ideas.  I should be more clear, more direct, and more to the point.

So here is my thesis, finally clearly stated; The magic of writing prose, it turns out, makes you the opposite of prosaic.

20160705_214055Ah, irony again!  It ends up being anything but simple.  You can write in simple, adjective-and-adverb-free sentences as Hemingway did, and still manage to convey deeply complicated and thoughtful ideas.  One might even suggest that you can create poetic ideas in mere prose, dripping with layers of emotion, conflict, theme, and deeper implied meaning.  You can also write prose in the intensely descriptive and convoluted style of a Charles Dickens with many complex sentences and pages-long paragraphs of detail, using comic juxtapositions of things, artfully revealing character development, and idiosyncratic dialogue all for comedic effect.  Prose is a powerful and infinitely variable tool for creating meaning in words.  Even when it is in the form of Mickian purple paisley prose that employs extra-wiggly sentence structure, pretzel-twisted ideas, and hyperbolically big words.

Simply stated; I am a writer of prose.  I am too dumb about what makes something poetry to really write anything but prose.  But I do know how to make a word-pile like this one that might just accidentally make you think a little more deeply about your writing… that is, if you didn’t give up on reading this three paragraphs ago.  I find it useful to examine in writing how I go about writing and what I can do with it.  I try to push the boundaries in directions they haven’t been pushed before.  And hopefully, I learn something from every new essay I write.  What I learned here is that I am prosaic.  And that is not always a bad thing.

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Old Art, Odd Art, Openly Goofy Art

Kops from Klown Town

He who must not be named… apparently not indicted either.

Mandy’s sassy tongue.

Creepy toys playing with their favorite kid.
She claims to be a witch, but she really is just more observant than the rest of us.

Football games at Dion City Jr. High are highly competitive and somewhat violent.

Would you buy insurance from this man?

Why did you make this man a Texas Senator?

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Characters From Superchicken

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These are a few of the main characters of the old story which is now my newest novel.

Superchicken is Edward-Andrew Campbell.  He is basically a me-character.  His embarrassing nickname, from a Jay Ward cartoon that used to be on TV Saturday mornings, was actually my nickname in junior high and high school.  Many of the emotional changes he goes through and the embarrassments he endures to be a super hero were based on my own experiences.  But he definitely embraces the nickname as his superhero name in a way I can only wish that I did.

Brent

Brent Clarke is the outgoing athlete sort of kid who was definitely not me.  He becomes leader of the Norwall Pirates because he pitched for the softball team, and because anyone who met him naturally assumed he was the most important kid in the group.  Others look to him for leadership even when they don’t need it.  Making friends with Brent is one of the most difficult and important tasks the Superchicken must undertake.

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Milt Morgan is the wizard of the group.  He is obsessed with magic and imagination. And though Brent is nominally the leader of the group, all their evil plans and hair-brained schemes come from Milt’s imagination.  The picture of Milt is drawn from me as a boy, but in reality he is the other Mike from my childhood, the one with a rather tough life and a heart of… well… maybe not gold, but at least silver.  He is also the one who insists on making Edward-Andrew part of the gang.

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The Cobble Sisters, Sherry and Shelly, are a pair of identical twin girls.  They are both nudists at home on the farm place and at the nudist club in Clear Lake.  They are problematic for a shy boy just discovering girls, but Sherry definitely pursues a crush on the Superchicken and tricks him into a family camping trip at the nudist camp.

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Sherry at the Sunshine Club

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Anita Jones is the shy girl who has a crush on the Superchicken.  And he secretly has a crush on her.  But she is also the girl who becomes, completely by accident, the first girl that Edward-Andrew sees naked.  Love and hate, embarrassment and attraction, she is the one girl whose opinion seems to matter most.  I, of course, will never reveal the real life girl she is based on.  I could never live that down, even though we are both now more than sixty years old.

So those are a few of the main characters that make this novel work for me.  They are real people to me now that the novel is written, just as they were once real people when I was a boy and living the nightmare of being a mere boy in a world that needs heroes.

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Friday the 13th, 2022

I am not superstitious. At least, not as long as I don’t discover I was a Knight Templar long ago in a past life. Especially not a Templar in France on Friday 13th of October, 1307. It is not a good idea to poke old demons and wake them up when they have been sleeping for centuries. But I don’t believe in demons either.

The St. Louis Blues hockey team won their playoff series this week, ending the series with three straight wins in a best-of-seven series against the Minnesota Wild. So, bad luck didn’t affect my favorite NHL team in their quest for a second Stanley Cup. Of course, they didn’t play on Friday the 13th.

The future still looks bleak. Those of you who were depending on Elon Musk to solve the climate crisis by moving us all to Mars or something need to be aware that he is buying controlling interest in Twitter. And he is truly terrible at Twitter. He’s not thinking about saving the world on Friday the 13th, rather, he’s planning to put Trump back on Twitter We are probably doomed. Jeff Bezos probably can’t save us either. He is evil enough to have a self-publishing program on his Amazon world-wide mercantile monopoly that allows Mickey to publish his own books. And then Bezos does nothing else to help sell the product and keeps a majority of the money from all sales. This Friday brings to mind the fact that I have not sold a single book all month. Take that, Jeff Bezos! You can’t get any money from me this month. Of course, I can’t either. And the world is doomed on this Friday the 13th because Bezos can’t get money from Mickey this month, and so, refuses to save the world.

And so, there is a theory of bad luck on Friday the 13th that says once you make it through a Friday the 13th with no bad luck, then Friday the 13th will always be lucky for you ever-after. Of course, the omens are not favorable. And the Reaper has a chicken for some reason. So, things could go very, very bad later today. But I am not superstitious. And yet, I can’t stop thinking about 1307 and burning at the stake for some reason.

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Braindrain With a Side-Order of Lethargy

Because of weather, depression, and dealing with a wounded automobile, I have been having trouble getting writing done lately.  I mean, me, the goof who writes every day and claims to never have writer’s block, is having trouble with being motivated enough the write things.

It is entirely possible that it is due to an improper diet.  I mean, I haven’t been eating well this week.  Having to squeeze the food budget to be able to pay all the bills this month is a part of the problem.  The effect intermittent rain and heat have on my appetite could also be at least partly to blame.  I stress eat, and am not always smart enough to depend on peanuts and peanut butter to get me through the problem.

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I realize I need to eat protein to aid my brain, and fruits and vegetables so that my diabetes will slow itself down in the process of eating my brain.  That process can make you a bit stupid.

I am also quite aware that eating food that has eyeballs and mouths and occasionally cat ears is also a bad idea for dietary propriety.  Especially if it can also talk to me.  Do non-cartoonists also have this problem?

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Eating right with Ramen noodles as seen in the movie Ponyo.

All right, I admit it.  My writing problems probably don’t stem from eating cartoon food.  Or eating food in a cartoon for that matter, a thing I haven’t tried in real life.  But the whole cartoon food allusion has gotten me halfway to 500 words today.  So it is worth something.  And the real solution to the problem has been to just sit down and clack away at the keyboard, even if the only thing it yields is foofy nonsense.  (And I know “foofy” isn’t even a real word, but WordPress counted it anyway.)  I managed to write today simply by doing it.

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K.I.S.S.

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When learning to write, you have to learn the rules.  And then you start writing, and you learn that you have to break all the rules to do it well.  But what do I know?  You have to be pretty desperate to get your writing advice from a Mickey.  After all, it’s not like Mickey was a writing teacher for over thirty years… oh, wait a minute… yes, he was.

Okay, so I decided to write today about the K.I.S.S. rule of writing.  That’s right, Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Other writing teachers tell me it should be, Keep It Simple, Sweetie, because you can’t say “stupid” to a kid.  Okay, that’s mostly true.  But I use “stupid” when I use the rule myself.  I’m talking to Mickey after all.

So, I better stop “bird-walking” in the middle of this essay, because “bird-walking”, drifting off topic for no purpose, is the opposite of keeping it simple.

I try to write posts of no more than 500 words.  I write an introduction that says something stupid or inane that speaks to the theme I want to talk about.  Then I pile in a few sentences that talk more about the theme and do a good job of irritating the reader to the point that they can’t wait to get to the conclusion.  Finally I finish up with a really pithy and wonderful bit of wisdom to tie a knot in the bow of my essay.  I save that bit for the end as a sort of revenge for all the readers who don’t read all the way to the end, even on a short post like this one.  Of course, I could be wrong about how wonderful and pithy it is.  What does “pithy” even mean?  It can be like the soup in the bottom of the chili pot, thicker and spicier than what came before… or possibly overcooked with burned beans.

That was another bit of “bird-walking”, wasn’t it?  See, you have to break the rules to make it work better.

So, in order to keep it simple, I guess I need to end here for today.  Simple can be the same thing as short, but more often you are trying to achieve “simple and elegant” and pack a lot of meaning and resonance into a few lines.  And I, of course, am totally incapable of doing that with my purple paisley prose.  And there’s the knot in that bow.

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