#writerproblems (and #parentproblems): Brewing Trouble

Back in the early 90s, when Wallace purchased The Wrong Trousers for Gromit, Batman faced a Phantasm, and the last Star Wars film consisted of an ewok and a girl facing a sorceress from I, Claudius, my uncle purchased a book that would challenge the comedic lobe of my wee mind.

No, he didn’t get this book for me; he bought it for his parents, my grandparents, whom I’m pretty sure never cracked the cover. You can bet your boots my brothers and I did, though. I was fascinated by these bizarre animals and people with 1950s glasses and beehive hairdos. The puns were atrocious, the wordplay crazy. My favorite running series in all the collections, however, had little to do with language and aaaaaaall to do with the situation.

Yes, I now know this is based on an actual event.

How did Gary Larson come up with these combos? Every pairing seemed so outlandish, and yet I always laughed, even when I was small, because Little Me knew:

That’s a baaaad idea.

More Trouble Brewing

Even if you’re not a fan of forcefully brewing trouble, there’s no denying that we as writers thrive on trouble–aka, conflict. There’s got to be a struggle between person and nature, person and person, person and self. There’s a quest, an escape, a threat to overcome. Somewhere, whether in our world or in our imaginations, there must be something happening, ingredients to brew the trouble that make for a delicious story.

A recipe for disaster, if you will.

Recipes with ingredients only Gary Larson seems to come up with: poodles and falcons, sky divers and alligators, marching bands and migraine doctors. These are all common, everyday things in our world, but when mixed together the story–the conflict–is anything but ordinary.


Lord knows that as a parent of two Calvins and a Hobbes, my shelves are stacked with cookbooks of mayhem.

Probably THE best comic strip ever. Better even than Peanuts.
Yeah, I went there.

If you’ve never heard of Calvin and Hobbes, you MUST read them. Today.

Like now.

Calvin’s best friend is a tiger named Hobbes. To all the world, Hobbes is a stuffed animal, but to Calvin, he is the ultimate friend and ally in a boring world.

When Bo found his collections of Calvin and Hobbes comics, Blondie and the boys snatched them up and still haven’t let go. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see the kids so engaged with a character. Calvin deals with a lot of kid issues like bullies and school woes, but he also gets into some very grown-up topics like environmentalism and death.

On the other hand, Calvin is, well, something of a troublemaker.

This comic feels like some hilarious yet horrendous portent of days to come with Biff and Bash. (No, Blondie doesn’t get off the hook. Hobbes instigates just as often as he cautions.) Calvin can be rude, foolish, and downright diabolical, but I cannot stop loving him for one simple reason:

His imagination.

Calvin can take any thing, any place, any one, and create a universe of adventure.

He inspires Bash to be his own Stupendous Man, complete with sidekick (Bash’s wee Bumble, Captain Ice Cube).

He inspires Biff to find magic on the snowy slopes, even after losing two teeth in a sledding accident.

Calvin’s dad even inspires Bo’s parenting style.

We tell the same thing to our kids.

Yeah, I didn’t get to do much writing this summer, but I still consider the past few months well spent because I got to be a reader–no, that’s not the right word. A listener. I was blessed to listen and watch Biff, Bash, and Blondie work together to create hilarious adventures featuring Thomas the Tank Engine, Wall-E the trash bot, Optimus Prime, Lego Batman, the USS Enterprise, and more. Every plot point was preceded with a “How About ___?” and a “Yeah, and then ___!”. No villain’s ever truly villainous, and no hero’s ever truly perfect. Settings switch from Sodor to Cybertron to Gotham City and back again without characters ever missing a beat. I marvel at how their voices run through the story together, pulling each other along…and yes, sometimes one voice knocks another down, and I must end the story with a cliffhanger. They get so frustrated when their stories diverge with the same characters, and one wants the others to follow. I wish I had perfect motherly advice to give them, but considering my own experiences with collaborative writing went up in flames, all I can manage is a welp, kiddos, maybe you should just tell separate stories for a while.

And they do. Less excitedly, but they do.

Creative teamwork is a delicate thing, and I’m still very clumsy at helping it stay together. But after this summer I’m determined to keep trying because when together, my children imagined stories as magical as dandelion seeds flying through a northern wood.

When I am with my kiddos, there truly is treasure everywhere.

Do you have a favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic? Share it in the comments!

Did you miss my monthly newsletter? Read it here!

I’m also so very blessed to know amazing readers and writers in this blogging community. Ola shared some really helpful input on my YA fantasy novel, and Cath gave awesome thoughts on the opening lines of my newest publication, a western fantasy novella.


I’ve got an indie author interview on the way, as well as a fun exploration into theme music. We also need to do some serious pondering of the fairy tale, and how two storytellers of film and page came together to build a country’s history out of…fairy tales?

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

48 thoughts on “#writerproblems (and #parentproblems): Brewing Trouble

  1. I love the strip with umbrella which is opened in the rain and immediately turned upside down into a mobile paddling pool. I think parents have two jobs. One is to keep the creative imagination shining in their kids for as long as possible. The second job is for the parent to rediscover their own long list kids imagination. xxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post, Jean!

    My son, in particular, loves the Far Side. It’s a proud moment, as a parent, to introduce my “quirky” or non-quirky interests and see which they respond to. He also loves the Calvin and Hobbes books I’ve given him, though those are fewer in number. I didn’t discover C&H until, I think, I was a middle-teen, maybe 15-16. Not sure if maybe they existed before then, but I think I enjoyed FS before then. My only (small) quibble is that sometimes C&H is, oh, shall we say a little too macabre (I feel like) for me to be exposing them to. [They sometimes struggle with their emotions and behaviors in tending toward melancholy and depression, maybe more so than other kids, so I feel like I have to be a little extra-cautious, much as the “read anything and everything” anti-censorship part of me rails at this notion.] There was a particular C&H panel that my son latched onto about the snowman committing suicide that was a little too close to the skin for me, so there’s that.

    Parenting is truly a guessing game, a crucible, a test with no clear ‘right’ answers sometimes, isn’t it, Jean?

    On a better note, happy writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is, my friend, it truly is.
      I know what you mean about C&H, too. While I love that the kids love him, he’s also a very cruel character at times, such as to the girl Susie. So I take those moments as teaching moments to ask if that’s what a thumbs-up kid does with another kid, etc. It does seem to help for Bash. Biff’s used some of Calvin’s language with his kindergarten teachers, and that went…not always well. But we all keep growing and learning, don’t we? xxxxx


  3. A collection of The Far Side was my first introduction to Larson in the 1980s: what a genius, always subverting expectations as a good humorist should. One of my favourites was the kid vainly pushing the door to his School for Gifted Children which was plainly labelled PULL. Calvin and Hobbes on the other hand are deeply nostalgic for adults, recapturing an almost forgotten world view of their/our childhood.

    Two of our kids loved my collection of Asterix books, patiently collected for my delight when they were still toddlers. I like to think that even if the historical, cultural and linguistic jokes went over their heads that narrative impetus and quirky characterisations appealed to them as much as me.

    Anyway, another lovely post, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed! I had so much more writerly stuff I wanted to share here, but I got so caught up in sharing cartoons this trip back in time derailed my train of thought! And I love seeing the kids go through Far Side. Blondie asks for lots of explanations, but I try to encourage her to just go with the flow of these things ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • I once set a goal to read every Peanuts strip from the first to last. Unfortunately, I was only two editions in before the series went out of print and the cost went from $35 per to $200. I still hope to complete it one day. That said, Peanuts, in part, or in whole, should be required reading by all kinder.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It truly is! We’ve a bunch of the collections, plus a bunch of those old paperbacks. I do miss those. It’s a shame publishers can’t come together and just put those little paperbacks out again for a dollar or something. They were always cheap and passed the time!

        Liked by 1 person

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    • They really are! Granted, Calvin’s not what I would want for a role model, but seeing that imagination in a beloved character keeps them imagining their own stories, which I love. And Far Side’s inspired some, um, interesting discussions of very grown-up topics…

      Liked by 1 person

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