Tag Archives: Fools and Their Toys

Novel Finishes

I am now approaching the end of a manuscript that completes a journey that began forty years ago. The novel is built from my own experiences as a survival of childhood sexual assault. But it is not about sex. It is about communicating when speaking to others. The main character is autistic and unable to speak aloud to others. Because he does not talk, people treat him as a moron, a possessor of vast levels of stupidity. But he is really quite bright.

The narrator of the story is a zebra sock puppet that the main character uses as a ventriloquist’s dummy. Either he is miraculously able to talk when using the zebra puppet, or the puppet is magically alive and independently intelligent.

To further build on the idea of how difficult it can be to communicate, the main character has an adopted little brother who can’t hear because of ear damage from child abuse. He can read lips and use sign language, but his communication abilities are limited to a best friend who knows sign language and can hear and speak normally too. He can write messages, but he doesn’t write or spell well. And when the serial killer moves in and kidnaps the boy’s best friend, the difficulties of communicating with others hits a critical level.

I have, as of this writing, written within a hundred words of 30,000. I have passed the climax, the parts that make me cry and the parts that make me cheer. It will be done before I reach 35,000. If finishing a novel is like giving birth to a child, then the baby is nine tenths delivered already. All that is left is the sweating, the recovering, and the clean-up. Oh, yes, and the baby novel’s first squall and cry.

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Talking for Dummies

The secret to this essay is that the title is a pun. And yes, I know you probably don’t find it very punny. But I wanted to talk about the difficulties of portraying the difficulties of communication in a talk-a-lot-sometimes-talk-too-much world.

Yes, my current work in progress, Fools and their Toys, is about a man who can hardly talk at all because of undiagnosed autism who suddenly, miraculously finds a voice through ventriloquism, and then finds himself needing to communicate to a boy who is deaf and only speaks sign language and another boy who is profoundly distracted with ADD and bipolar disorder. He needs to communicate desperately because he knows things that have been locked up in his head for years that may help the FBI stop a cereal killer. No, that is a pun again. Shame on me. The murderer commits multiple murders of young boys, not breakfast food

Danny O’Day… not mine, but very much like mine.

I chose to write this rather insane novel about how not to communicate with real people because I, myself, as a kid was given to all kinds of communication theatrics and tricks of entertainment. I was also a shy kid after the age of ten for very sinister reasons.

It is important to realize that you absolutely have to communicate with others in life. Even if something is preventing you, like my own bout of self-loathing brought on by a sexual assault committed against me by an older boy. I got a ventriloquist’s dummy for Christmas near the time of the terrible event. It was Danny O’Day from the Montgomery Ward’s Christmas catalog. I taught myself to do ventriloquism. And then I gave it up when I realized the puppet would say things I didn’t want anyone to hear.

Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, and Mortimer Snerd

Never the less, I continued to be fascinated life-long with ventriloquists and the little people they created.

Edgar Bergen was often in movies on TV during the Saturday afternoon matinee on Channel 3. I often saw his lips move. I was actually a better mouth-still ventriloquist than the old master.

Jerry Mahoney, Paul Winchell, and Knucklehead Smiff

Paul Winchell used to have a TV show in the 50’s which I saw on re-runs as a boy in the 60’s. He was also the voice of Tigger, Dick Dastardly, and Gargamel. (If you don’t recognize any of those cartoon characters, I mourn for your inadequately-filled childhood.)

Shari Lewis, Lambchop, and Charlie Horse

And, of course, I was fascinated and enthralled by Shari Lewis and Lambchop any time they were on TV, especially Sunday nights with Ed Sullivan.

Learning about ventriloquism never solved any problems for me. But it gave me a way to talk to myself that simulated having real friends. It helped me survive the dark years of being a teenager.

It is, of course, Jeff Dunham who fascinates me now.

Ventriloquism, humor, made-up characters, and the ability to talk with them is what I am chiefly concerned with now. My life and my current novel is taken up with talking, though not the normal talking of normal people. Talking with the voices that come from strange locked trunks inside you, the secrets you always meant to keep, but sooner or later have to be said out loud by someone. And maybe that someone is a dummy.

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The W.I.P.

Deaf-mute Terry Houston, sock-puppet Zearlop Zebra, and fool Murray Dawes

I have begun work on novel #10 in my Hometown Series about the imaginary little Iowa town where I grew up. This novel is called Fools and Their Toys.  It is basically a novel about how human beans communicate, mind to mind, heart to heart, and mouth to ear.

Fool Harker Dawes, Murray’s uncle

Now, I should tell you, calling them “human beans” in the previous paragraph was not a spelling mistake. It was the kind of pun that fools like Mickey often employ. And I don’t consider the word “fool” to be an insult. After all, the fool in a Shakespeare play often says the thing that sounds the wisest in the play. And all the world is a stage, and all the people merely players. But I do acknowledge that fools can actually be stupid, too. Their whole purpose is to make you laugh.

Probably the most foolish thing about this novel about fools and foolishness is that the narrator is a zebra sock puppet that the ventriloquist protagonist uses to be able to talk and communicate. Murray Dawes has a condition that makes people think he is slow of mind because he is unable to create speech in his own mouth. He is actually quite brilliant. But that doesn’t come out until he finally has the puppet to do the talking for him. Zearlop, then, is the narrator who puts the entire book in his own words even though he has brains made of wadded newspaper and cotton stuffing.

I have long worried that this particular book would be hard to write. But just like the last three novels it is now flowing out of my word processor as if it is writing itself. I do hope I can hang on to life long enough to make it real.

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Signs

Fools n Toys

Signs, by their very nature, are powerful.  They give you direction.  They tell you what to do… and what not to do.  They control you and control others.

Richard and Victor Martin were sitting at the table in front of the stage they had just finished constructing at the center of Martin’s Bar and Grille.  It had turned into something of a gift from heaven to have the young cousin from France living with them.  When he put the clown paint on his face and sang karaoke, people came from several counties away to hear it.  They also brought their money and their thirst with them.  The brothers had labored for two days to build the stage and make better use of the unexpected gift that came with taking in their uncle’s orphaned son.

“Have a beer, brother.  You have earned it,” said Richard to his older brother.

“Generous of you.  Especially since it is my bar and my beer to begin with.”

At that moment they both noticed the balding young man standing at the bar with his zebra hand puppet on his right arm.

“We’re not open for business yet,” Victor said.  “The bar is still closed.”

“You are going to have give the dummy here a Kewpie Cola,” said the zebra puppet.  “We can’t do anything but stand here and look at the sign until you give him one.  He does have enough money to pay for it.”

“What?  What are you talking about?” asked Victor.  He looked at the young man, Murray Dawes, standing and looking up at the antique Kewpie Cola sign that Victor had hung as a decoration over the bar.

“It says, Drink a Kewpie Cola Today!” the puppet said.  Victor did not see the young man’s mouth moving, but he had heard the boy had a gift for ventriloquism even though he was autistic and hardly ever spoke.  “Murray always does everything signs tell him to.  His mother told him signs tell us to do things for our own good.”

“So if he reads it on a sign he has to do it?” asked Richard.

“Yes,” said the zebra puppet.  “You wouldn’t believe how long we have to stand and wait in front of that stop sign on the west end of Main Street.  Every time we pass it he has to do what it says until he feels safe.”

Both men laughed.

Crooner “The fool’s mother constantly puts a sign on his bedroom door that says,  Clean your room!   So he has to do it every day before he can do anything else.  One day he decided he didn’t want to clean his room that day, and he made a sign himself.  It said, Don’t put any signs on this door!  He put it on his bedroom door.  But then he read what it said and had to take it down again.”

“That’s pretty funny,” said Richard.

“Yeah,” said Victor.  “Do you think you could do that ventriloquist thing on stage?  We’d pay you to do it for our customers.”

“You have to understand,” said the zebra puppet, “that Murray is very shy.  He won’t be very talkative on stage.  I would have to do all of the talking.”

“If you can do it and be that funny, I think it will work,” said Victor.

“You have a deal.  But every time we get on the stage, you will have to put a sign on the wall for Murray to read.”

“What would the sign have to say?  Break a leg or something?”

“Not unless you want him to fall down and hurt himself.  It should only say, Believe in yourself… and be funny!”

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