What Are You Working On Right Now? #Mason’sQuestions

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

Mason asks his weekly question, “What are you working on now?” The complicated answer is … probably too many things. I have many Works in Progress, but I will try to share about only one. Aside from writing some new poetry and short stories for the blog and Reedsy and some articles for Vocal Media, I am working on a longer “Digory Mole” book.

The next picture book planned for the Creature Kingdom series features a little mouse named Hyacinth. Several readers of The Journey of Digory Mole suggested that my little mole needed more stories about himself, so I have taken that into consideration. I thought I could write a more expansive story as a juvenile/middle grade novel.

In this story, Digory goes back to visit his old friend, Houlihan Owl, joined by a new sidekick, Willy Lee Otter and meeting a lot of other animal friends, including a whole passel of beavers.

So far, my favorite chapter is titled, “Help From the Busy Beavers’ Guild.” An excerpt …

Cole and Elwyn Chipmunk were put in charge of building a campfire. Digory Mole agreed to go foraging for dinner, while Willy Lee Otter said he would go out in search of a birch tree for a canoe.

“How will you build it … without any tools?” asked Digory Mole.

Willy Lee looked down and about him. “Have you got a hatchet in your pack?” he asked Digory.

“I’m afraid I don’t,” said Digory, “though it seems like a handy thing to have now … if only I could pack it without it cutting a hole in my pack.”

Willy Lee pulled his whiskers. “Well, that is a problem. I am a bit of a boatsman, but I can’t build a boat with my bare paws. Where’s a handy beaver when you need one?”

“Right there,” said Digory Mole, pointing just over Willy Lee’s shoulder.

“Don’t tease me,” said Willy Lee. “We’ve left Oakley Beaver far behind.”

“Well,” said Digory Mole. “Oakley’s not the only beaver in these woods,” and then, calling to the unknown beaver, “Ho there!” He waved a paw.

The unknown beaver came trotting up to them. “You called?”

“Yes,” said Digory Mole. “We are in a bit of a predicament. We need a canoe, and our friend, the otter, is handy with making canoes, only … we haven’t any tools. So, seeing you are a beaver and that beavers have a certain reputation …”

The beaver puffed out his chest just a little. “I’d say we have a reputation. To be a beaver is to be a craftsman. That’s all there is to it. So, you need a builder, you say?”

“I could build it. I just need a little help doing it,” said Willy Lee Otter. “By the way, I know a lot of fine otters who are builders.”

“We don’t have a lot to pay you for your work,” said Digory Mole, “but, perhaps, you would accept a fish dinner with some forage?”

“Fish dinner?” The beaver rubbed his belly. “I would love to have a fish dinner with some forage. Fish and forage, what could be better? Living off the land like regular good chaps. Just let me gather a few of my cousins from the Busy Beavers’ Guild.”

“A few? … Cousins? … Beavers’ Guild? Uh … certainly.” Digory Mole chuckled nervously. The more help the better, he thought, but he was anxious about just how many beavers would be coming to dinner. “By the way,” said Digory. “I don’t think we’ve properly introduced ourselves. I am Digory Mole,” and, pointing out his friends, “this is Willy Lee Otter, and these are Cole and Elywn Chipmunk.”

“Barnaby Beaver,” said the beaver, thrusting out his paw.

Digory shook the offered paw, and Barnaby Beaver turned and left, presumably in search of his beaver cousins.

“Well,” said Willy Lee. “I was going to build, but I’d best get fishing before the cousins descend on us.” Willy Lee walked to the water’s edge.

Cole and Elwyn Chipmunk began gathering twigs for the fire, and Digory Mole began using his hat for a food bowl once more, gathering edible wildflowers, creamy yellow primrose and fragrant bergamot that made him think of having a cup of Earl Grey tea back at his burrow beneath the squirrels’ apartment.

Digory Mole looked behind him. The chipmunks had gathered wood and built a pleasant fire and were now looking much more chummy than they ever had, warming their feet by it and chatting happily. He then looked over to his left. Barnaby Beaver had set up a raised plank work station and had felled a birch tree. Another beaver with a tool belt about him had joined him there. Digory looked ahead of him next, towards the water, and, unlike their new beaver friend, Willy Lee Otter seemed utterly relaxed, lounging back on the stream bank with his fishing pole in the water and his hat tipped as if he would fall asleep.

Digory continued to forage and gather some dandelions and clover blossoms along with their leaves. “We will have a wonderful salad,” said Digory, “and it will smell as wonderful as it tastes and looks.”

He couldn’t resist looking back towards Barnaby Beaver. He had two more companions now. They had the beginnings of a canoe frame, just a single layer of wooden outline in the shape of a canoe. Two of the beavers were splitting tree roots for the lacings of the canoe. He looked nervously at Willy Lee Otter. The hat was off his head now. Was there fish in it?

Holding his hat full of forage, Digory hurried over to Cole and Elwyn. “Since your job is done,” he said, “perhaps, you could dig us a temporary burrow, just bare bones, enough for three leaf beds. At least … I think three … Where exactly do otters like to sleep?”

The chipmunks shrugged and laughed like he’d told a wonderful joke, and though he didn’t understand the joke, he laughed too. It was wonderful to hear them laugh rather than see them attack each other with canoe paddles.

Digory turned around and looked at Willy Lee Otter once more and then at the beavers at work. They were multiplying by the moment, and the group was now double with eight beavers busy at work on the canoe.

“Oh dear,” said Digory to the chipmunks who had begun to dig a burrow. “Do you think Willy Lee will catch enough fish for us and eight beavers? What if he catches nothing but boots?”

“Is it easy to catch boots?” asked Cole Chipmunk. He, apparently, knew as much about fishing as Digory Mole.

“It is for me,” said Digory.

“Does everyone do it?” asked Elwyn Chipmunk.

“No,” said Digory Mole. “I expect it’s a special talent I have.”

The two chipmunks exchanged glances and pulled at their whiskers as if pondering what sort of talent it was to catch boots and why anyone would want it.

Digory Mole returned to foraging. If the fish were lacking, perhaps it could be made up in salad. He plucked violets and fragrant honeysuckle and added them to the colorful collection in his hat.

The beavers were beginning to sing a kind of work song Digory Mole had never heard before, and their voices sounded more numerous than before. “From break of dawn to setting sun, a beaver’s work is never done,” sang the beavers. “If your bones are too weary and your fingers too thick, a beaver can do it, quick, quick, quick.”

“The beavers do seem to like to sing their own praises,” said Digory Mole. He turned and looked, and now there were 11 beavers. Several were working on a long thin sheet of birch bark, scraping off lichens and loose bark.

Digory Mole ran over to Cole and Elwyn, with his hat full of forage. “Here boys. Make a salad with these. If you add a little of Belle-Amie’s honey with some berry juice and some walnut oil, you’ll have a nice dressing, and, if you find any seeds or acorns, toast them over the fire and add them. As clumsy as I am, I must help Willy Lee with the fishing … or the frying of the fish.” Very abruptly, Digory Mole set his hat on the ground and went running towards the stream bank, groaning, “Ooohh, 11 beavers for dinner!”

© Susan Joy Clark 2021

How Important Are Animals To a Story? #MasonsQuestions

All animals in this collage are ones I have cared for:
(from top left to bottom right) Theo, Ollie, Fluff and Franco.

It seems I’ve gone a bit berserk with the blogging challenges, but I couldn’t resist this question by Mason, “How important are animals in a story?”

I’ve enjoyed stories and books where animals are the main stars such as James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small or Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. I like other stories where animals play a more supporting role, but I’ve enjoyed plenty of books where they have played no role at all.

It seems to be an interesting question for me, because I seem to be populating my fictional worlds with more and more animals. I think, with writing humor, animals can add a little humorous adventure to the situation.

I recently wrote a humorous short story, “Rube Would Approve,” for a Reedsy writing prompt, “Write about someone who goes to extreme lengths to return an overdue library book,” and which I republished here for the blog. In that one, a computer programmer named Steve thinks of the most outrageous method to return a library book without leaving his home office. He has quite a few pets, a few of which get involved in the action, such as Harpo the mouse, Zeppo the dachshund, Groucho the cat and Chico the Indian ringneck parakeet.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Pets and animals are also an important part of the home life and “family” for many people, so they help to complete the representation of the character and his life at home. In my mystery comedy, Action Men with Silly Putty, my main character, Jack Donegal, a toy inventor/small company owner and amateur sleuth has a beagle sidekick named George, and their neighbor, Ellen Danforth, has a cat named Van Gogh. I think, like Mason, I will share an excerpt from the book where the animals are involved.

I should explain first that the Action Men stories are narrated by Jack’s best friend and roommate, Andy Westin. In this scene below, something has tripped a crazy alarm system that Jack has rigged up that blasts music at a very high decibel level.


“As adrenaline pumped through me, I knew I should do something, but I felt like someone who was shell-shocked and was shaking like I had jammed my finger into an electrical socket. For the second time that morning, an obnoxious noise had disrupted my peace.

Somehow or other, Jack managed the delayed alertness to beat me down to the nerve center of our security system and shut off the sound. I walked down to where Jack was, my entire body feeling liquefied like Jell-O. I only hoped the Serbian thugs had the full coronary that I half-experienced. “Are they gone, you think?” I asked, sitting beside Jack who was cool as an Antarctic penguin.

‘It wasn’t Serbian thugs who triggered the alarm,’ said Jack. ‘It was only Van Gogh.’

I sat down. George, whimpering and whining, put his front paws on the edge of my chair. I gave him a boost and let him climb up and rest in my lap.

‘Only Van Gogh?’ I said, laughing with some needed comic relief. “As in the ghost of Van Gogh? And was this Van Gogh with or without his ear?’

‘Van Gogh is Ellen’s cat.’ Jack pointed for the first time at the front window, and I heard the yelping of a tortured cat.

Photo by Patrick Reichboth on Unsplash

You’d think I’d know the name of Ellen’s cat by now, only, when I first saw it, I decided his name was Tiger. With his orange, tabby stripes, he seemed like a Tiger to me. “I forgot that’s his name,” I said. “To me, he’s Tiger.”

“No wonder he doesn’t come when you call him,” said Jack.

“Does any cat come when you call him?” I said.

Of course, it made perfect sense. Ellen, the owner of the Salvador Deli, would go and name a cat Van Gogh.”

© Susan Joy Clark

My Creature Kingdom stories, one published and others in progress are populated by woodland animals of all sorts: moles, mice, otters, beavers, bunnies … But I’ll leave more on that for another post.

Thanks Mason for a great question.

A Little Poe for October

Photo from Freestocks on Unsplash

Since it is October, I thought I would read a spooky Poe story for my YouTube channel. I chose, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” one of the stories most commonly assigned for school reading. I thought, at first, I would choose a lesser known story of Poe’s, but looking through some lesser known options, I understood why didn’t achieve the same popularity.

I have always liked being dramatic — I was in drama competitions in high school — but this is, perhaps, the creepiest sort of role I have ever taken on. The narrator of the story is a fairly disturbed murderer.

I am getting ready to launch an English tutoring business, and one niche specialty I’d like to focus on is SAT prep. I hope to follow this video up with some teaching videos focused on the story, some other teaching content, and I would also like to add some more dramatic readings of stories and poetry.

I think anyone, student or not, can enjoy the dramatic readings. When the pandemic began, I noticed all sorts of celebrities reading for children on YouTube, but I don’t think children are the only ones who can appreciate a good story read aloud.

It’s not flawless. There are a couple of trip ups, which I didn’t edit out. I’m still fairly pleased with it.

What should I read next?

How Important Are Life Experiences to a Fiction Writer?

Photo by Tabitha Turner on Unsplash

Lately, my life seems like one endless whirlwind of activity: caretaking for a mom who suffers from back pain and gout, giving priority to healthy cooking, eating and all sorts of exercise and caring for all sorts of dogs, cats and sometimes other pets for my pet care business. Sadly, lately, fiction writing or even nonfiction (blog) writing has not been one of those activities. It has all taken a back burner, and for someone who identifies herself as a writer, this has been quite frustrating. A computer failure that took place shortly before the pandemic started (and is still not completely resolved) did not help matters. But, I began to contemplate some things that helped me see a silver lining in all of the craziness.

“Write what you know” is oft-quoted advice for writers. Some people might interpret this bit of advice, thinking they are limited to writing stories that are autobiographical or semi-autobiographical. I don’t think so. One of the characteristics of a fiction writer is being imaginative, being able to think theoretically and imagine “what if” situations. If we were limited to writing stories strictly based off our experiences, it would make certain entire genres impossible to write such as fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction and period fiction.

Photo by Cederic Vandenberghe on Unsplash

Still, “write what you know” is good advice, and it seems to make sense that the more you know, the better. This could include book knowledge and experiential knowledge. Of course, there will always be things that you haven’t experienced or don’t know and will need to research or gain knowledge of by talking to those who have experienced these things. I remember my mom was reading a book where the main character harvested a potato and, apparently, pulled it up easily from the ground. My mother could tell immediately that the writer was not drawing from experience. Gaining experiences and knowledge, whether firsthand or secondhand, is really valuable to a writer, and this, I suppose, is the silver lining you can see if you are a writer at heart and life experiences seem to be temporarily pulling you from your writing.

Recently, I had an opportunity to speak as an indie author at a Virtual Career Day for Riverdale Public Schools in New Jersey. I spoke to fifth through eighth graders through Google Meet who were interested in writing. I told the students that I was also writing when I was their age and that the one thing that seemed to trip up or cause me to abandon a story was my lack of experience and not knowing how to research what I didn’t know. I then gave them some ideas about researching.

I’ll share some details that I didn’t share with the students. I can remember, as a child, trying to write about summer camp, but I had never been to summer camp. I also tried writing a story about a horse and a dog that were friends and did stunts together. Even now, I have pretty limited experience with horses and wouldn’t feel comfortable writing something where horses were the primary subject. I think, at that time, I may have gone on a couple of horseback rides but was far from being very knowledgeable about horses. I tried writing about a runaway girl, but I had trouble writing about taking public transportation, something I had definitely never done independently. So, you can see, how having an adult perspective and adult experiences expands your ability to write intelligently about more things.

Photo by Caroline Sellers on Unsplash

I enjoy the quote below from one of my favorite writers, C.S. Lewis.

It’s an interesting quote to contemplate. I would, of course, list writing as a primary interest, but an interest in writing is not enough to, actually, write. Writing is a skill, an art and a tool of communication, but, subject wise, it is not highly specific. There is really nothing of which can not be written. This might explain why I seemed to have little in common, other than an interest in writing, with my college writers’ group.

At group meetings, you could read a section of your own writing or from a book that you enjoyed. I, at least on some occasions, brought Jane Austen novels. Another writer friend was enthralled with Ray Bradbury and frequently read from him. At least once, one of our members, who was not an arts but a science major, read from one of his science textbooks with a heavy fake German accent, and, for some reason, we all found it hilarious.

I liked writing comedic short stories. Our group’s magazine was titled, “The Book of Ashes,” and I knew that I would or could not publish one of my funny stories in a magazine titled, “The Book of Ashes.” For whatever reason, the group I joined had a high percentage of vegetarians. I was not a vegetarian, but I was up to joining them occasionally at their favorite pizza place for vegetarian pizza. (I remember one had water chestnuts, and it was probably the only pizza I’ve had topped with water chestnuts.) I went to a Baptist college, and the majority of students were Baptist. Although I have always gone to nondenominational churches, my beliefs align with Baptist. This group had an Episcopalian and a Quaker. You can see how our different backgrounds, personalities and interests would color our writing.

Photo by Ergin Akyurt on Unsplash

When I reflect on my comedy mystery book, Action Men with Silly Putty, I can see how many of my little interests were worked into it in some way: antiques, art history, food and cooking, coffee, foreign languages, pets and animals, dancing, trivia, diverse curiosities about different music genres and more. Some things were drawn from book knowledge and others from experiences. I wouldn’t say that nothing was ever a challenge, but I didn’t have the same difficulty I had as a child writing stories, because I’ve experienced more, know more and know how to go about learning what I don’t know.

Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

I know I am not the only writer who has had or has an unrelated day job. For 10 years, I was a journalist. Now, I’m in animal care. I have a writer friend, with several books under her belt, who is an art teacher. Another writer friend, who has published several books the traditional way, went into massage therapy. An artist friend of mine who is a poet as well as an excellent violinist with several CDs and books also sells MONAT beauty products.

I recently picked up a novel from Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” series off my shelf and read this interesting biography from the inside cover, “Born in Liverpool, and raised by the docks, Mr. Jacques, a man of many talents, has lived a life both varied and adventuresome. He has at different times been a sailor, truck driver, longshoreman, comedian, folk singer and radio host, and each of these pursuits has colored his rich tapestry of stories.”

Photo from Amazon.com

Interesting, right? So, even though our other pursuits may seem to distract from the act of writing, they can also provide a source of inspiration.

Recently, I’ve had some other thoughts on experiences that were less directly tied to writing. I was sitting recently with three other friends when we reflected on how long we have known each other and how quickly the time has flown. My friend, Adrienne, made the suggestion that, perhaps, time would seem to move slower if we gained some new and interesting experiences instead of the basic routine. She even suggested that she and I travel with our two Asian immigrant friends to the countries of their origin, South Korea and China (specifically Hong Kong.)

The discussion made me contemplate bucket list adventures. I had a tethered hot air balloon ride at Downtown Disney, now called Disney Springs. Adrienne has wanted for some time to go to a balloon festival in southern New Jersey, and a balloon that traveled somewhere rather than just rising and dropping down again, would be a new adventure to me. I tend to look at all things through the lens of a writer, and if experiences are good for me, perhaps I should seek out some adventures.

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

It seems to make sense that we can draw from our experiences, without necessarily writing autobiographical stories, and that the more experiences we have and the more varied they are, the more it would help us as fiction writers.

At the same time, I think it would be impossible to personally experience everything you might want to write about. You can use speculation, and you can also draw from a similar but different experience to put yourself in your characters’ shoes. Also, you can interview experts or even your friends or family on their experiences to help you fill in some gaps. I talked to my mother about her broken arm experience in order to write about a character’s broken arm in my first book, And the Violin Cried. I don’t think you want to go as far as to break your own arm just to know how it feels for your writing!

It also seems reasonable that having different life experiences and having varied activities might be more inspirational than staring at a computer screen. What if we never left our office or computer and saw sunlight and friends and did activities? Would we have inspiration?

What are your thoughts? What experiences have inspired you in any art form?

My Characters Pick the Strangest Times to Talk to Me

Creative Life

The narrator of my Jack Donegal Mysteries, Andy Westin, has been rather silent recently. There may be a few reasons for that. I’ve been helping to take care of my parents who have some health issues at present and have been a little distracted from writing in general. In between times, I’ve been focused on writing non-fiction content for my blog.

Agatha Christie said, “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

Source: AZQuotes.com

I’ve been doing lots of dishes, but Andy has not chosen to speak to me at most of these times.

The creative process can be strange.

Some years back, I read a book about Swedish culture and travel. The way the author described the Swedish personality stuck with me. This may not be verbatim, but it went something like this … “Swedish friendliness is like a ketchup bottle. At first, nothing comes out, but once it gets going, it never stops.” It seems to be true of some of the Swedish-Americans I know, perhaps including myself. (I am partly Swedish.)

Photo by Dennis Klein on Unsplash

The creative flow in writing can work like that ketchup bottle too. Sometimes life’s events help interrupt the flow. Sometimes, there are elements that can’t be written off the top of your head because they require some research. I’ve experienced these things, but I never call it “writer’s block.” I’m glad. That would be seeing it negatively.


The other day, I received an email that triggered my creative juices.

Photo by Alessandro Bianchi on Unsplash

Well, after I went to bed Monday night, Andy began talking to me again … and, once he started, he wouldn’t shut up. And … I got very poor sleep. Thanks a bunch, Andy! You’re a pal!

This is what spilled into my computer, via Andy’s dictation, and between Thanksgiving preparations, since then.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

“The problem with women is that they don’t come with an off button.

Ahem … let me rephrase that. I am not as evil as that made me sound. Jack Donegal and I, in the context of work at Out of the Box Toys, deal mostly with electronic devices, and when technical problems arise, we are usually adept at dealing with them. People problems are not as simple.

Jack and I were standing in the kitchen of the Salvador Deli, and the owner, our friend, Ellen Danforth, was on the verge of a complete meltdown. What I really wanted to find was the ‘Tears Off’ button. I know she doesn’t have one, but that did not prevent me from looking for one. Perhaps, if I gently touched her shoulder?

‘Now, Ellen, don’t … don’t cry,’ I said. If I were a British gentleman in a Golden Age mystery, I would hand her my hanky and say ‘There, there’ … whatever that means. I don’t carry a hanky. The only thing I had to offer her was a perfectly folded, completely sterile Kleenex. ‘There, there,’ I said as I handed it to her.

This didn’t seem to help matters much and definitely didn’t lead to the “off button” but to a big sobbing noise instead. I took Ellen in my arms and patted the space between her shoulder blades. This was all wrong. She should be in my buddy Jack’s arms, that is, in an ideal world where people actually acted on their feelings for each other. Jack is twice the dork that I am, and he was still staring at her as if she were a malfunctioning machine for which he’d lost the manual. Still, Ellen is my friend too, and I couldn’t just let her float away in an ocean of tears like Alice in Wonderland.

‘I can’t help it,’ she said. ‘Like an idiot, I ….’ Here, half of her words became unintelligible and replaced with crying noises. ‘Blub, blub, blub … ten dozen cookies … blub, blub, blub … place is packed … blub, blub … baker’s sick … blub, blub … burnt!'”

To be continued …

© 2018 Susan Joy Clark

Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash

Does that entice you a bit?

I had been toying with the idea of a Christmas short story with my characters, and it seems I did get my brain going on that.

As for characters talking to me in the middle of the night, a friend recently suggested lavender to me to aid sleep. I have since bought Johnson’s bedtime lotion with lavender scent. The product is for babies, and I am not one, but I hope it will help me sleep like one. It doesn’t say anything about quieting character voices on the label, so we will see.


(I’m an Amazon affiliate, so I may get a a little commission if you purchase through links.)

Fellow writers and fellow creatives, is this relatable? Do you get brainstorms in the middle of the night?

Also, several of my books are on sale for Thanksgiving and some time afterwards.  Action Men with Silly Putty (Kindle version) will be on sale for $2.99 from Thanksgiving Day until midnight on Cyber Monday. Action Men and the Great Zarelda (Kindle) will be on sale for $.99 from Thanksgiving Day until midnight on Friday. My children’s book, The Journey of Digory Mole, (hard copy) will be on sale for $9.13 from today until midnight on Cyber Monday.

Action Men with Silly Putty: A Jack Donegal Mystery (Jack Donegal Mysteries Book 1)

Action Men and the Great Zarelda (Jack Donegal Mysteries Book 2)

The Journey of Digory Mole (Creature Kingdom) (Volume 1)

Happy Thanksgiving to you!