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

True Confessions from Wonderland Book Review

Writer Lynn Murphy gives a completely different perspective on the classic Alice in Wonderland. Instead of Alice’s point of view, this story gives the point of view of all the other characters in Wonderland. Young reader Maddy falls into the story of Alice in Wonderland and then interviews all of the chief characters in turn. They all pretty much deny the Lewis Carroll version of the story.

As an Alice fan, I had mixed feelings about this one. I’m not entirely sure this is the version I prefer, if I have to choose only one. Even so, there were many things I enjoyed about this book, and many places that made me smile or laugh. This version of Wonderland has much of the “madness” taken out of it as well as the dangers while still holding on to some wonder and charm. I actually think it would be a preferable Wonderland to visit without worrying about having your head chopped off or more nonsense than you can handle.

I also appreciated that the writer was very familiar with the original, its classic illustrations and several of its more famous movie versions, making different references to these.

And though this is still a fantasy, there are also a few interesting true background facts thrown in such as how it is that hat makers were thought to be mad or in danger of becoming mad or how John Tenniel was inspired to draw the Mad Hatter.

Mad Hatter drawing by John Tenniel

All of the Wonderland characters that Maddy meets have long aristocratic names and have hidden talents and interests that are completely absent from the original version. The Mad Hatter’s name is Aldus Broderick Crookshanks McGillicutty-Smythe, and the White Rabbit enjoys oil painting. All of the characters are described in a unique way as to their appearance and manner of dress which doesn’t agree with either the Tenniel illustrations or Disney portrayals of the characters. They also express themselves in a way that seems appropriate to 1800s characters, although they are, apparently, aware of some modern trends and technology.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“And, of course, I never miss the Zumba class the Mock Turtle teaches on Thursdays.” — the White Rabbit

When Maddy questions this, he says, “How else do you think we all stay fit enough for quadrilles and caucus racing?”

“I had argued with my mother that morning and then stubbed four of my toes on the front door” — The Caterpillar.

“Poor Carl, he is portrayed as a surly, unpleasant and unattractive sort of servant, when in reality, for a fish footman, he is rather handsome and keeps his scales clean. He never smells fishy either, which I assure you is a fine thing when your servants are of the fish variety.” — the Duchess

“Should you be surprised, having spoken to so many others, that there was no singing at the table of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat?’ Oh, it’s a song we all know, of course, but no one was singing it on that particular day.” — The Dormouse.

I’m so glad “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat” is part of the Wonderland culture even in this version. The Dormouse interview might be my favorite part of this book.

Maddy tells the March Hare that kids today are not generally very interested in classic literature and, instead, enjoy Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants.

Finally, the Hare said, “What kind of writer names his character after unmentionables?”

I appreciate a lot of the nonsense in the original Alice as a kind of clever nonsense, but there is one scene in the original book which perplexes and bothers me, because it doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. That is the scene where a baby the Duchess is holding transforms into a pig. In this version of the story, what happens here is much more rational.

The croquet game in this book is still whimsical but without any abuse to animals, although I like to believe that the animals in Wonderland don’t mind participating in this silly version of the game. Also, all of the playing card characters get to keep their heads in Murphy’s version of the story.

At the conclusion, Maddy leaves it up to you which version you think is the true one.

In her afterword, Murphy explains that she is an art teacher at a K-12 school and that she was inspired to write the book after the school held an exhibition with an Alice the Wonderland theme. She discovered that many of the teachers and students did not like the book or Alice. Although she had always enjoyed the book, her mind began to imagine a different version of things.