Tag Archives: writing humor

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

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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Kerpopple That Dinglebunny!

I have always loved using weird, wild, and goofy words to describe things when I am trying to be funny.  But recently I was saddened to learn that a word I have liked using in the past, “dingleberry”, is actually a poo-poo word.  I am very much on the Red Skelton side of the question of using bad words.   I mean, I don’t find direct use of obscene language and harsh Anglo-Saxon swear words to be very funny.  Shock humor and gross-out humor do not appeal to me the way more whimsical word-play does.

Betelgeuse is a funny word because it is the name of an actual red-giant Star in the Milky Way Galaxy, while at the same time sounding like juice made from beetles.  And, of course, there is the little matter of a hilarious Tim Burton movie about a gross-out ghost with an evil agenda.  The parts of a word can make or break the comic gravity of the word.  As much as I previously liked “dingleberry” as a goofy insult word, the “dingle” part is giving me pause.  I have discovered that a “dingle” is not only the v-cleft in a valley between two mountains, it is also derived from “dung”.   A “dingleberry” describes a dangling “berry” of poop like the ones sometimes found on the fur of my dog’s behind.  Yetch!  I can’t even use a label like that on a detestable buffoon like Donald Trump.  It bothers me that it suggests the color brown rather than the proper orange.  Trump requires a word that translates to something more like “flaming orange Kool-aid man”.

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So, I guess I need to focus on other weird, wild, and goofy words as I continue to try to be funny.  The dinglebunnies of my comic fantasies need to be “kerpoppled”… the act of “poppling”, to move in a tumbling, irregular manner, as in boiling water.  Do away with poo-poo humor, Mickey, old lad!  You need some new goofy words.

 

 

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Of Nightmares and Publishing

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Okay, I don’t mean to mislead you with the title.  My nightmares last night were not caused by publishing a book.  But there is a connection.  So be patient with me and let me explain.

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Last night I kept waking up to the smell of something burning… the smell of pine wood smouldering, the acrid smell of plastic on fire, the nose-offending smell of human hair on fire…  So I get up multiple times in the night, searching the house in my underwear, sniffing about to try to detect where in the walls or under the furniture the smell is coming from.  I scared my wife at least once in the kitchen… sometime around 2:00 a.m.  And the more awake I became the less I could smell the something that was burning.  It turns out that was because it was only in a nightmare that I smelled it.  The house was burning down around me in a dream, and the dream lingered after I awoke, even though I had forgotten about the dream entirely as I woke.   It was a classic anxiety dream.

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What, though, do I actually have going on that causes me this kind of nightmare?  I mean, besides Donald Trump being elected President of the United States, the impending end of life on Earth, and Bank of America suing me with hopes of wiping out my personal finances completely?

I am, foolishly, trying to publish another novel.

I promise to tell you a bit more about this novel in the near future.  But let me tell you first why publishing it is causing anxiety dreams.

Magical Miss Morgan is a novel about being a school teacher.  It is based on real experiences in my teaching life.  I used the time my teaching methods were opposed by a school board candidate.  I also used the time a principal told me that school shouldn’t teach kids to think because that didn’t turn them into good citizens.  I used real kids I once taught as characters.  I even used the time that fairies invaded my classroom.  Oh, but that last one might be slightly fictionalized.

So, even though the main character, Miss Francis Morgan, is not actually me, this novel is a distillation of my entire struggle to be a worthy teacher and accomplish something good as an educator.  My goal during my teaching career was to teach kids to think for themselves, to guide their own lifelong learning, and feel like they were valuable enough as individuals that somebody could actually care about them individually… even the hardest ones to like.  One would think there was nothing controversial at all in this goal.  But this novel tells how I fought that battle.  It is a story that I owe it to everyone I ever taught to tell.

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I have turned to Page Publishing to put this novel into print.  Not just digital, online copies, but into real print-on-pages books.  I have no talent or luck when it comes to marketing, but I am determined to make this book real even though this is a vanity press sort of publisher that makes their money by taking advantage of dewy-eyed writing fools like me.  Yes, I am buying the services of their editorial staff and design staff and there will be no money flowing my way any time soon.  This is the way publishing has been changing.  Publishers are still the farmers and writers have become the milk cows.  I just have to hope the milk won’t be sour.

So, I am having nightmares of burning the house down because I am following my dream of making a book.  But it is an important book… at least it is to me.

 

 

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Mapping the Road Ahead

I have been doing this insane post-every-day thing for a solid year and a half since the start of this month.  That isn’t a sane thing to do if you are committed, like I am, to not posting pictures of the food you eat and blathering on about nothing.

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Braum’s chili… mmm… food of the gods!

Hmm?  Oh, no… that picture is an accident.  I didn’t put that there.  It’s not even a good picture.  Look at all that garbage in the background.  How did this picture get here?

But planning a daily blog can be difficult.  You keep having to make a map of the road you are planning to travel before you get there to see the lay of the land.  It gets tricky.  Almost as tricky as following the oxymoronic joke I tried to use as a title for this post.

Things happen all the time that make for good posts.  Yesterday was the result of my trip to the DMV.  If government offices don’t want to be the butt of satire, they shouldn’t make writers sit and stew in the heat for three hours and then not give them what they were waiting for.  But they apparently do want to be the butt of satire… or there wouldn’t be so much butt-ness to be found there.

I am a former teacher, having taught for 31 years.  I could’ve done this point about the recent education news in Texas.  Larissa Martinez , the Valedictorian of McKinney Boyd High School, used her graduation speech to come out of the closet as an undocumented immigrant.  It is an important issue.  This is a girl who will be nothing but an asset to this country.  She fled Mexico to escape an abusive father.  Her mother brought her to this country where she enrolled in school and quickly adapted to a new language and a new culture to achieve a 4.95 GPA in a well-funded Texas high school.  Her family immediately applied for citizenship in 2010.  As she gave her speech, her application had still not been processed.  I could write a number of posts about the immigration laws in this country being the real criminals.  Well, except laws aren’t actually people.  Okay, maybe I am not the best person to take up this vital issue.  But other people are reporting about this.  You can read more at this link;  Click Here!

So, maybe, I should just write more posts about Donald Trump becoming the next president of the U.S.  There is great opportunity  for humor there.  I am looking forward to Lonesome George W. Bush levels of comedy gold.

What then will I write about for today?  I am torn between a post for the fantasy book I just read and the movie Zootopia we saw last weekend.  But, somehow I have already reached my word-length goal for today.

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The milkshakes we had at Steak n” Shake after watching the movie Zootopia.

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Pirate Novels

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My first novel-length piece of writing was attempted in college.  I finished it in four years.  It was a pirate tale about a young man, a pirate named Graff the Changeling.  You see him in this illustration I created in 1980 with his two young sons, Rene and Emery.  Because their mother was a fairy, the boys have pointed ears and horns.    It was an attempt at serious fantasy adventure fiction that was so awful, it became a comedy before it was through.  I called it The Graff Tales, and I still have it.  But I promise you, I will never, ever try to publish the horrible thing.  My sisters served as my beta readers for this story.  They both liked the oral stories I told, and they eagerly awaited something like they remembered from our shared childhood.  They both were a bit disappointed by my first prose attempt.  There was a knight called Sir Rosewall in the story.  He was a hapless knighted fool who lived in poverty and swore to reclaim his honor with great deeds, but as he goes to sea as a kidnapped sailor, all he manages to do is fall down a lot and bump his large head frequently.  In the first scene when he enters the story, long about chapter four, he exits a cottage and has to punt a piglet to get out without falling down.  This pig-punting thing was repeated more than once with this character.  My sisters joked that the “pig-in-the-doorway” motif would be my lasting contribution to literature.  Fortunately for me, it was not.  I am probably the only one who even remembers there was such a novel.

But my biggest failing with writing and storytelling was always that I could be too creative.  The story featured a flying pirate ship that was raised from the bottom of the ocean by fairy magic.  The crew were re-animated skeletons.  The gorilla who lived on the island where the ship’s survivors had been marooned would also join the crew.  His name was Hairy Arnold.  One villain was the pirate captain Horner, a man with a silver nose-piece because he had lost his real nose to a cannon shot.  Another was a red-bearded dandy named Captain Dangerous.  But the biggest villain of all was the Heretic, who turned out to be a demon in human guise.  It was all about escaping from pirates who wanted to kill you and hitting soldiers with fish in the fish market.  There were crocodile-headed men and little child-like fairies called Peris that lived in the city where Graff was trapped and transformed into a monster by the Heretic.

My plot was too convoluted and my characters too wildly diverse and unlikely.  The result was something far too bizarre to be serious fiction.  The only way it could actually be interpreted was as a piece of comedy.  There-in lay the solution to my identity problem as a writer.  I had to stop trying to be serious.  My imagination too often bent the rules of physics and reality.  So I had to stop trying for realism and believability.

 

In the end all the main characters die.  All except for young Rene who becomes a pirate hunter.  Of course, I follow Graff and Emery through to heaven because, well, it was a first person narrative and the narrator died.  So, I vowed to myself that I would never let this horrible piece of nonsense see the light of day.  I would never try to publish it, rewrite it, or even tell anyone about it.  And so to this very day I… oopsie.

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Mickey is Magical

I have decided that since I have a tendency to write science fiction and fantasy, with a special emphasis on the fantasy part, I should actually be able to do magic.  It doesn’t take a lot of self-examination to see that it is so.

Teacher Magic

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As a teacher I know several powerful magic spells.  I have the power to put teenagers into a deep and restful sleep.  All I have to do is start a lesson focus and heads drop to desks and snore-music fills the part of the room that my blah-blah doesn’t.  I also have a powerful ability to make teenagers hate things.  All I have to do is testify with my best honest-to-goodness face that something is good for them, and they will thoroughly hate it.  Protein at breakfast is good for you?  Gotta hate that.  Independent reading of books is good for you?  I have just made the entire school library radioactive by saying it.  Think what good a teacher could do if the principal would only let them say, “Illegal drugs are good for you!” or, “You should join a street gang, it would be good for you!” or even, “Racial prejudice is a good thing for our white society!”  (I know I would never actually feel good about saying those things, and I could never make the proper honest-to-goodness face, but that last thing was actually tried by a teacher I once worked with… he said it because he believed it… and even the white kids were instantly up in arms and got that teacher fired.  Come to think of it, that was the only lesson he ever taught that I actually approved of.)  An even more powerful teacher magic is to forbid things.  Anything forbidden by a teacher or a teacher’s rules is the only thing they want to do.  I was able to get kids to read more by forbidding them to read library books during lessons.  I found it strengthened the urge to occasionally catch them doing it and lecture them about how they will end up unable to flip burgers at McDonald’s because they will let interesting and complicated stuff get in the way of mindlessly doing repetitive tasks.

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Traffic Magic

I have an amazing magical power over stoplights.  I can unfailingly turn them bright red just by approaching them, no matter what color they were five and a half seconds before.  If I am in a hurry, I have the power to make that red light last for more than the three minutes that is supposed to be the maximum for the cycle.

I can also make old people (of course I mean other old people) drive slower in the fast lane by driving behind them.  I can make young guys in Bubba trucks zoom in front of me and nearly kill me simply by having a few inches of space between my front bumper and the rear end of the car I’m following.  I don’t know how they fit those big old Chevys and Ford Broncos and Dodge Rams in those little spaces which are less than half as long as their vehicles, and do it while using one hand to give me the finger out their window.  I suppose they have fold-able bones like a rat so they can squeeze through tight places.

Laughing Magic

20150105_161714 I suppose the magical power I am proudest of is my ability to magically make people laugh at me.  (Yes, they always say they are laughing with me, not at me… but we all know how humor really works.  We laugh because we are really happy that it didn’t happen to us!)  I am able to put on the clown nose and people automatically laugh almost as hard as they laugh at me without the clown nose.  I am able to say things in weird words that stimulate your brain to shout silently in your head, “That jest ain’t right!”, and you automatically think, “Funny!”  So, with all this magical power, I have concluded… I am a wizard!

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