About Writers

I Am The Walrus (1)


The time has come, the Walrus (2) said,

To talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

Of cabbages — and kings.

The big reason I write is, I have a story in me, but only a very loose idea of what it might consist of. I have to tell it to myself, to find out. It wants to go ever-so-many ways. Which path do I take? The answer is: just about all of them, sooner or later.

And, I love to play with words. I get to talk about all kinds of things in Sly, and make sense, that’s the wonderful thing. Make sense in the context of the world I’ve created. When you’re dealing with a talking cat, there are no rules. You’re already down the rabbit hole, why not dig a little deeper? I run wild because I can. And the most fun for me is to run off the rails stylistically. It just fits, seems to me.

My story is silly-putty. I slap on a layer of silly and smoosh it in until it adheres. If it doesn’t grab in one place, I migrate it to somewhere else. I don’t compose. I collage a story together.

Things that have no reasonable relation to the story, I slip into footnotes.

That reminds me and by the way (3) work pretty damn well under any circumstance.

Anything I can connect, even in the flimsiest way, to – as Michael Hagen puts it – to that damn cat, in it goes. I pound square pegs into round holes, as I do in every area of my life.

(Carl’s reasons three and, especially, four: I am never more myself than when I write.)

Back to Lewis Carroll:

I talk of shoes in my thing. (Sly’s boots, diamonds hidden in a pirate’s boot heel.)

Ships. (My pirate adventure.) Sealing wax. (Also the pirates.)

Cabbages? Not that, but I do a whole lot around cheese, ewe’s milk cheese, to be precise.

Kings? Most definitely. I have my King of Haute-Navarre. I have Queen Elizabeth. I have touched upon science, and art. I have written verse. (Sly is an enthusiastic versifier.) I have given his, therefore our, opinions on many things.

He is me and I am he. (So much for Carl’s reason two: to save my sanity. I’ll take a pass on that one.)

I write in a literary vein, I try to make art. Pretty spooky, when your hero is a big-mouth cat.

Do I write for recognition? I hope for it, certainly. Do I write for money? I don’t expect money that would make a difference in my life. Do I write to connect with others? I worked on Sly for twenty years without showing it to anyone. It was only when I joined Book Country that I began to share it.

Oh, I showed it to my sister, and to a boyfriend. Barb’s reaction to anything I send her is invariably, great! She’s not much of a reader, and I guess I intimidate her. I know I intimidate her.

Vic belittled it, and me, but not because he didn’t like it. According to him, far from done, working at my usual glacial pace, no payoff in sight, I was wasting my time. He told me many times, until you make money off it, it doesn’t count for shit, I don’t want to hear about it. Discouraged (deeply, for several reasons), I dropped it for years at a time. I finally pulled my life together and got free of him. I now have a husband who couldn’t be more supportive.

My goal with Sly is to be as silly as I can figure out how to be, on my terms. An editor says I need to be more flexible, my difficult choices insult potential readers, who may not be as beguiled by them as I am. You all know how I’ve taken that advice to heart. (4)

Writing is hard, but the hardest part is deciding where to compromise. Being confident enough to stand your ground is a satisfaction in itself.


(1) (Goo goo g’joob) John Lennon wrote that lyric, he explained, to goof on the people who were trying to analyze his songs. I just read a few days ago that Dylan would cut and paste phrases from newspaper articles and string them together in ways that delighted him, he actually wrote some songs that way. I string nonsense together in ways that delight me. Then I call it a plot. As much plot as you’re going to get out of me.

(2) Lennon, Lewis Carroll, I take my inspiration where I find it.

(3) Uh, by the way, the pdf of the full Come To The Manger is now available in our communal email.

(4) George Michael said “I don’t need the approval of people who don’t approve of me.” I feel the same way.

writing technique

Nonsense and Stuff


Our guest post today is from Jack Penny, an illustrator and writer of nonsense, who gives us an insight into a genre which, despite a long tradition, remains out of the mainstream.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe. 

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”’

 The first two verses here of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) are a wonderful example of nonsense verse. Literary nonsense is not literally nonsense, but a genre of writing that makes sense and meaning of language and reasoning that seem otherwise rather unreasonable.

Though literary nonsense has been around for a marvelously long time, it is still rather unknown and far too often confused. I regularly have to explain in interviews what nonsense exactly is, and I do so through comparing it to the fantasy genre. Fantasy is a genre that creates a world in its entirety. There may be no gravity perhaps, or maybe people eat milk and drink cheese, but whatever world is created is bound by an established set of rules. What separates nonsense from the more popular genre of fantasy is that there is no bounding set of rules. There is a surprisingly deep, and playfully intellectual nature to nonsense that lifts it above gibberish.

hairbrush - cropped
I once read an article that tried to explain a good approach to practicing writing nonsense verse.

First, write a normal poem, rhyming or not, about anything. For instance, ‘to drink ones cheese and eat ones milk’.

Then move some words around based not on meaning but entirely on the sounds and rhythm to make the verse as fluid as possible. ‘To one’s cheese drink, and one’s eat milk’.

Finally, select about a third of the words on each line and change them entirely to a made-up word that rhymes/sounds alike. For instance, milk may become brilk (I did this by combining the words brill and milk), or cheese may become seech (done by reversing sounds). And so we are left with, ‘to one’s seech drink, and one’s eat brilk’.

The opening verse of a poem I wrote perhaps three years ago runs:

‘Set err upon the clarinet.

Befell, t’was a languid strange stoop.

There sat a coy end when,

ambled empty fate.’

 Perhaps from this it is hard to tell that the original text was about an ex-girlfriend of mine and went something like this:

Met her on the Internet

Tell friends it was a language exchange group

She had a boyfriend then

Cancelled many dates

Nonsense is a writing genre bound by nothing, and so can in fact also be used in rationale and reasoning as deftly as anywhere else. I recently published a book called From the Riddle Me Collection Volume One: A Stone’s Throw, that contains 200 original riddles that, rather than relying on the metaphorical or allegorical, rely in a nonsensical way on etymological and idiomatic aspects of the English language.

‘If I am slow I may be a poke, or if I’m not I may be sure. If I am bold I may be brass, favoured by fortune, or made to venture. What is up may not be up but in fact belted and so quiet, while what is down may be brought, at least by a peg or two.’

So to end this feature a small riddle for you:

I have no mouth but there a spoke

Put in me, on such words I choke,

See fortune’s me, luck’s where it lands,

I come in two and four me bands,

But where a two and one more nuisance spurred;

A third.

The answer is available, along with 200 other riddles, beautiful illustrations and other extras in the first book of the series, from my shop here: www.jackbrutuspenny.com/shop

Author: Jack Brutus Penny  www.jackbrutuspenny.com

You can find From The Riddle Me Collection Volume one: A Stone’s Throw at Amazon.com and Amazon.uk