Tim the Porcupine was the first story in my trilogy of Dr. Cluck stories. Tim wakes up one morning to find that his quills are on backwards (reminiscent of Kafka's marvelous "Metamorphosis", which begins
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect).
Tim tries everything but is unable to set his quills right. His parents hear of the famous Dr. Cluck, and off they go to see the doctor.
Dr. Cluck is a medical rooster who is, on the one hand, very full of himself, and on the other hand, able to help solve his patients problems with sage advice. Dr. Cluck actually started out as a duck, Dr. Quack (Dr. William Quack III, actually). However, we found that a character with a similar name appeared in a Donald Duck cartoon way back when. Since, we did not want to incur the ire of a major cartoon company, Dr. Quack the duck became Dr. Cluck the rooster.
I can trace this story back to several incidents in my past. When I was at Camp Massad, at the age of nine or so, my bunk mates used to taunt me. One morning, when I awoke, they informed me that I had become "Chinese". At first I did not take the exhortations seriously, but finally decided to look in the mirror. They were right. My face around my eyes had become distorted, and I indeed looked quite oriental. As it turned out, I had contracted some kind of eye infection, which eventually went away.
Secondly, there are some people whose quills are indeed on backwards (I was thinking of a particular person in particular, I admit). Such people take care to ward off others who might otherwise want to be close to them. They put up a kind of "quill barrier" if you will. Perhaps everyone does this once in a while, but some persist with this kind of behavior.
The moral of this, and the other Dr. Cluck stories, of course, is that we can set many things right ourselves, given a little encouragement and direction. Of course, others may interpret the story differently, and this possibility makes me happy indeed. Roniet, my administrative assistant thinks that the message of the story is "that though certain obstacles may arise in life, you can still achieve what you truly desire and want to accomplish, if you set your mind to it ."
Tim was the first story in the trilogy, followed by Kenya and Gloomeris.
How I wrote Kenya the Can't Garoo meets Dr. Cluck
Kenya was the second in the Dr. Cluck series. Rotem, my marvelous current illustrator, asked for a story about a kangaroo. What problem, I pondered, could lead a kangaroo to seek the advice of the busy rooster- doctor? Then I came up with the idea of having a pouch so full of junk, that you were no longer able to hop around.
In the early drafts of the story, the kangaroo was a young fellow named Ken the Kangaroo. However, someone pointed out (quite correctly) that it is only the female marsupians who have pouches. Oops! I am a professor of microbiology and should have realized that from the start. So Ken the Kangaroo became Kenya the Can't Garoo.
Kenya's pouch has many items from my own past, and even the mouthwash which I invented many years ago. The rhyme of "please" and "cheese" is a recurrent one in my stories, and one of the personal jokes in the text.
When we left Canada following my sabbatical at the University of Toronto in 1990, we had a lot of belongings which we had accumulated that year to get rid of, and had a garage sale to remember. To this day, of course, I remain someone with lots of excess baggage. I know people with even more.
How I wrote Gloomeris the Serious Laughing Hyena meets Dr. Cluck
I know too many people who have little sense of humour. Sometimes everyone (myself included) take themselves too seriously. And sometimes that, in itself, is pretty hilarious. What could illustrate this better than a laughing hyena with no sense of humour. With the help of Dr. Cluck, Gloomeris learns to laugh at himself, and then laughing at everything else becomes a cinch.
Gloomeris is my favorite character in the series, thus far. His tale makes me wonder whether Dr. Cluck can have a good laugh at his own shenanigans.
I'd like to probe that further in a future story, if I can find another animal or two with problems worthy of the busy schedule of the famous rooster.
Dr. Cluck is somewhat of an enigma. I have known, in my career, several physicians with keen intuition on solving medical problems that their peers have misdiagnosed or overlooked. I was thinking of them when I created his character. On the internet (http://www.meltells.com/), Dr. Cluck takes an upside-down sip of gin and tonic between patients (no one is perfect), but my editors have turned it into ginger ale in the real books we plan to publish.
How I wrote Mel the Smell Dragon
Mel the Smell Dragon is one of those stories that just wrote itself. You sit yourself at a typewriter, the fingers fly, the story develops and you just have to capture it in words.
Croach Hill was originally a typo. It was meant to be "Crouch Hill" in honour of my great physics teacher and mentor Ken Crouch of Ottawa, Canada. The typo persisted, however, so the new name stuck. Alon Amit later told me that Croach Hill is actually a suburb in London, England.
Mel is one smelly dragon. I spent a great part of my professional career trying to cure people of their bad breath (sometimes called dragon breath, perhaps the original idea behind the story). Mel is a dragon who loves fiery breath, so can you imagine a better namesake? Ashkenazi Jews do not call children after them while they are alive (which I apparently still am), but giving a dragon your name while you're still alive should be okay. I do love ice cream (not garlic flavor, though, and, yes, I have tasted garlic flavored ice cream at the Stinking Rose restaurant in LA).
Originally, the story was credited to "George", but I wonder how many people would appreciate the irony (St. George the dragon slayer). Besides, it was I who wrote it.
I would like to develop Mel's character further in a future prequel/sequel. The idea of the other dragons going south is of course a play on Canadians, Jews and others who shun the cold winters and who migrate to Florida.
I like it when kids in my stories have personality. Mike has it.
One of the parts of the story I like in particular is:
"Hello", I said. "It's a pleasure to meet you". I was very polite (a good idea, I think, when you are meeting a dragon for the first time)."
Actually, I think the idea is borrowed from the following riddle.
What do you call a 300 kilogram gorilla?
Another segment which I enjoyed writing was the following: "And then, one bright Monday afternoon, just as I was on my way home from the ice cream palace, it happened. Mel the Dragon appeared right in the middle of Main Street. Everyone fled. Everyone that is, except me. I had wanted to meet him for quite some time. My parents had warned me to stay away from strangers. But Mel was not a stranger. Everyone in town knew who he was."
I got the idea from a previous story of my own (Witch Wizelda) but I think that the idea goes back as far as Lewis Carroll, if not further.