From “Pearl’s Comedy Coop” To “Freak Show Chickens”

Freak Show Chickens

This draft of a chapter comes a little later than the last one which I shared. Tension builds as The Bottle Cap Lady begins to take a greater part in the story.

“Yeah, I see you got them Freak Show Chickens!” yelled The Bottle Cap Lady from the street. “And you ain’t nothing but a Freak Show Old Man!”

She had been walking back and forth, up and down our little block, from her house on the corner to the dead end turnaround.

Like most days when she did this, she was wearing her waitress apron. It had a lace-trimmed pocket for her order pad and matched her lace-trimmed waitress hat. The hat was her favorite part of her uniform, and she wore it like a diamond-trimmed tiara.

Pearl loved The Bottle Cap Lady’s hat.

It might have looked like she had gotten her old job back, but she still had on her house dress underneath. She missed being a waitress. When she wore her apron and hat, she felt as if she was somebody. The Chicken Place has been a landmark restaurant in our neighborhood for many years. It still has a big statue of a white chicken on the roof which has withstood many hurricanes and nor’easters.

Some days, The Bottle Cap Lady would just keep walking back and forth on our street as if she was looking for something or someone. Occasionally she would step into someone’s yard and look behind their trees or in their shrubbery. It was as if she was playing “Hide And Seek” and looking for someone but never found them.

“What are you doing with them chickens? Teaching them tricks for the circus? You and your Freak Show Chickens! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

“They’re all white like little clowns. Give them some red noses to go with them silly hats and you’re in business. The Freak Show Chicken business!”

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” I said, adjusting my newspaper so The Bottle Cap Lady couldn’t see I was talking. “Just stay calm and quiet. She doesn’t know what she is saying.”

Pearl was particularly troubled. She was the only one who had ever worn a silly hat, and that had been the night of Pearl’s Comedy Coop. Now because of it, she felt she had put the whole flock in danger. She wanted to get out and run away from me, from the other chickens, and even away from Blanche.

“Look at that little one running and hopping around like she don’t got any good sense in her head, her Freak Show Chicken head!”

Pearl could feel the pecks again even though she and Blanche were separated from the others and Blanche had become too weak to peck her.

Peck. “Be.” Peck. “A.” Peck. “Normal.” Peck. “Chicken.”

Pearl heard and felt every bit of it all over again. Only this time instead of the others asking her, she asked herself. “Why can’t I just be a normal chicken?”

Pearl’s face looked troubled. She wanted to run away from herself too, but that is never possible.

“Pearl, there is nothing wrong with you being yourself, even if that means you are different. You are not a Freak Show Chicken, and you never will be.

“I love you, Pearl. We are going to have more shows and more hats and more anything else you want. Just don’t be afraid to be yourself.

“She is as wrong as wrong can be about you.”

Blanche nodded in silent agreement.

By then, The Bottle Cap Lady had move further down the street to another house.

“Why didn’t you go and peck her on the head and tell her to stop?” asked Pearl.

“People don’t do things the way chickens do them.”

“You could have at least told her to stop.”

“But she did stop, didn’t she?”

“Yes, but you didn’t say anything to her.”

“I didn’t have to. Her own conscience told her to stop. A conscience is a powerful thing. It’s when a person doesn’t have a conscience that you have to watch out.”

This big word was new to Blanche and Pearl, just like The Bottle Cap Lady’s behavior was new to them.

They wanted to believe me, especially Pearl. It was easy to believe me when I was right there with them, but they would still be cautious while I was away from home. That was probably a good thing.

When I got home from work the next day, there were a few pieces of corn left scattered around in the old run area. They were white shoepeg kernels, a kind I only rarely give my chickens.

“The Bottle Cap Lady was here again,” is all Pearl would say.

Gracie and the others said the same, but told me more. She only went to the smaller coop beside the driveway. She never went to the large one in the backyard where the others were. She was either too afraid to go any further into our backyard or was only interested in Blanche and Pearl. They looked like the big chicken on top of The Chicken Place.

These visits happened more than once over that season. Sometimes she just stood, leaning over to look more deeply into the wooded brambles, and you would not even know she was there. Other times she was mean and difficult to ignore. After each of those mean times, she would leave Blanche and Pearl a treat the next day.

I was unsure if she had been giving them corn because she felt sorry for her behavior or if she was trying to gain their confidence to take them away. So I asked Pearl to tell me more about what The Bottle Cap Lady did when she came into our yard.

“She is always very quiet when she visits us, and then she gives us something to eat. She goes away with her head down.”

Pearl took a few steps like The Bottle Cap Lady would take to show me how she moved. Then she paused and looked around nervously.

“There was one time that she said something to me.”

“What was it?”

Pearl tried to stand the way The Bottle Cap Lady stood. With a raspy old hen voice she carefully repeated the words exactly as she had heard them.

“Someone as pretty as you should never have to look at someone as ugly as me.”

Then she made a sound someone holding back tears might make.

“What do those words mean?” she asked. “What does that sound mean?”

“I think they mean she is sorry and she can’t help herself.”

Pearl thought all these things over very carefully.

One of the worst and scariest times for us was when The Bottle Cap Lady stood at the edge of our driveway and started yelling more loudly than ever before.

“I’m going to come and get that big fat lazy chicken you got there and take her in to The Chicken Place. They’re going to look at her and give me my job back as a reward. There has never been a bigger chicken and I bet there has never been a juicier chicken either.”

She laughed a deep throaty laugh, “Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

Then she did a little dance in a circle, flapping her arms like they were chicken wings.

“Why don’t you just be a normal old man with normal old smelly chickens?” she called out one last time. Then she tossed her empty beer bottle into my yard and staggered home.

“Blanche isn’t lazy. She is just not feeling well,” said Pearl. “Why can’t she see that?”

Then after a long pause, she added, “And why don’t you just be a normal old man?”

“That’s a fair question, Pearl,” I said. “Because a normal old man would call the police and have her arrested. And that’s not what I want. More importantly, that’s not what she needs.”

“What does she need?” asked Pearl.

“A miracle. Just a simple everyday miracle.”

Pearl had not yet imagined she would be the one to play a part in giving The Bottle Cap Lady that simple everyday miracle.

But she would.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

My Life With Gracie…Themes And Conflicts And Character Flaws (Oh, My!)

Sometimes The Only Light Is You

My “vacation time” away from posting new stories and illustrations was very helpful. In the evenings, I would sit with my chickens, read one of several how-to-write-a-novel books from the library, and then jot down ideas in a small notebook. (Some of those ideas from the notebook were used in the background of today’s main illustration.) Then in the mornings, I would type away.

One of the easiest suggestions I read was to be sure that there is a central message or theme to the novel. It should be short. It should be a summary of the entire novel. It should make potential readers wonder more about the novel. You can read it in the words for today’s illustration: “Sometimes the only light is you.”

But everything else was not so easy. With a post story, I most often write about cute little chickens doing cute little things to hold a reader’s interest for just a few short minutes. But a novel has a much longer reading time. Cute does not last long in a novel.

A novel usually needs a main character who has a conflict situation (what the external surface plot is about) and a character flaw (what the real internal story is about). There has to be one “What will happen next?” moment after another.

When writing posts, I almost always present my chickens as “living in the best situation ever and being just about the best chickens ever.” Hardly ever any conflicts. Hardly ever any flaws.

One of the most difficult thing about having chickens as main characters is making their lives and problems relevant to readers. (It has to be about more than finding worms.)

Hopefully all of these difficult things have been accomplished in this short excerpt.

Today is the new day my life will begin...

“Today is the day my new wonderful life will begin,” said Pearl, though there were no other chickens nearby to hear her.

It was the day Pearl had been anticipating. It was the day when her life would finally make sense and come together. It was the day when she would be a hen, accepted and loved by all the others at last. It was the day she was going to lay her first egg.

“I can just feel it,” she told me when I brought out their breakfast salad. “Do I look any different yet? I just know I’m going to look different.”

“You look much happier, Pearl. You truly do,” I said.

She felt as if she must surely glow with joy in the early morning sunlight. She had a few bites of chopped apple to fortify herself for her triumph.

“Finally I will fit in, and the others will love me,” she told me as she headed up to the nesting boxes. “I can hardly wait to start soaking up all of that love!”

The others continued eating their favorites from the breakfast salad. Laying eggs was something they did every day. They did not understand what the big fuss was about.

This was nothing new for Pearl. She had never been understood by the other chickens.

“You must fit in. You must not stand out from the flock,” they would tell her. “If you really feel like you need to be yourself, then you need to go somewhere and do it alone, with no one else looking.”

Pearl did not care whether she was understood or not. She only wanted to be loved.

None of the others except for Blanche ever wanted to be around her, not even when it was time to roost at night. She tried to be like the others with all she knew how to do, and then the next minute there would be another chicken calamity. Feathers would get ruffled. Pearl’s head would get pecked.

“Be.” Peck. “A.” Peck. “Normal.” Peck. “Chicken.” Peck.

“Why can’t you just be a normal chicken?” is what she would hear every day.

Pearl was an outcast.

Once she laid her first egg, she would be a hen just like the others. She would fit in, and her life would turn around for the better. It was what Pearl believed. It was what I hoped.

But not everything turns out the way we believe and hope.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

The novel I’m working on is based on two posts from last December titled “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. In the novel, Pearl will be “The Only Light” in The Bottle Cap Lady’s life.

By the way, the title of today’s post is a reference to “Lions And Tigers And Bears! Oh, My!” from the film “The Wizard of Oz” which was used as an example in several how-to books.

My Life With Gracie…Time For Vacation!

Time For Vacation!

In the last year, we have posted 150 times! And 100 of those have been story posts! (The others have been just general information and special posts like our “Family Photo Friday” and “Gracie’s Summer Reading List.”) That is a lot of posts!

The girls and I will be taking a short vacation for a week or two. It will be their first vacation ever, and they are all particularly excited. We may end up at the beach, but then again, we may just stay home and play in a backyard wading pool! You seriously will not believe how difficult it is to find inflatable beach toys small enough for chickens! Flip flops are easy. Pool toys, not so easy. Then there is the whole issue of swimsuits for the beach! (That backyard plastic pool is looking a lot easier!)

We will be back from time to time, particularly with “Gracie’s Summer Reading List” posts. Poolside reading while dipping our feet and toes in the water sounds like a perfect kind of vacation.

I will also be working on our next book which I hope will be ready by late fall. It’s an expanded version of “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” The time away on vacation will give me an opportunity to really work on the story and the illustrations.

You may remember how one of the key characters, The Bottle Cap Lady, has a yard full of Christmas decorations which she has collected over the years. We are talking about a lot of Christmas decorations, and that will be a lot of drawing! I really do enjoy drawing Pearl. She lets me use bright and outrageous colors and props and costumes. While she may often be silly, she truly has a heart of gold.

If you’ve started following “My Life With Gracie” after those posts were shared last December, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Pearl will still be the main character along with The Bottle Cap Lady, and you can be sure Pearl will still be her own unique self as she has always been.

Those two posts were two of the most read and most liked from all of last year. At the time, several people had told me, “John, you need to turn this into a book.” It wasn’t until Pearl died in the spring of this year, that things began to come together for this book. Because Pearl felt such great heartbreak, I knew that she would be the only one who would be able to reach The Bottle Cap Lady and help others who have had to deal with tragedy and loss.

Not to give to much of the plot away though, but here is a brief summary of this book which I’m hoping will be an inspiration to many people.

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”

Pearl loves being a chicken, and she loves being a comedian. Her natural curiosity leads her to explore her neighborhood. When she secretly visits The Bottle Cap Lady, she learns about Christmas in a most unusual and unforgettable way. Pearl discovers there is a Christmas gift that only she can give, but will she?

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!