Friday, May 29, 2009

Student Poetry

Had a student write the following poem the other day (with some assistance for yours truly. But seriously, the ideas were hers, I just helped her hammer them into some kind of rhythm.)


By Julia B.

I like to ride my bike,
It's fun and joyful too.
You'll be frightened when you see it
It sounds like a kazoo.
The horn is made of baby cheeks,
The tires are make of snakes.
There's tornadoes for the handlebars,
dandelions for the brakes.
There's bats for the two headlights,
A huge frog for the seat.
The frame is made of monkey tails,
There's fish where you rest your feet.
Yes my bike is pretty crazy,
It's a wild and funny ride.
And when you see it coming,
you'll probably want to hide.

I had a problem with the dandelion line, but she insisted that she wanted the reader to stress the "li" syllable. I ended up kind of liking it that way.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

WIP Excerpt

(For my facebook friends: WIP= work-in-progress.)

I think that's the first time I've started a post with a parenthetical.

On my Post-It: Start more posts with parentheticals. Also, refer to them as "parentheticals" instead of "parenthetical phrases." Sounds hipper that way.

So I've run out of ideas for the blog. I've interviewed the only two authors I "know." I've written so much about my love of chocolate milk that I am now beginning to sour on the topic. (Go 'head and groan. See if I care.) It's like when I was in middle school. My mother packed my lunch and everyday it was the same. In my brown paper sack would be a salami sandwich in plastic wrap, a bundle of chips, and a cookie. Yes, I grew up in Mayberry.

Every day I would eat the cookie and chips, toss the sandwich in the trash, and bum thirty-five cents from John Phillips so I could buy a soft pretzel from the A la carte. Mom knew nothing of this and continued to pack the sandwiches because, as she said years later when I finally fessed up, "I thought you liked them."

I did, about three thousand salami sandwiches ago. For the record, I haven't had a salami sandwich since sixth grade. I'm pretty sure the same thing will never happen with chocolate milk, but it seems as if writing about the beverage has lost some of its initial appeal.

Where was I? (Rereading...) Oh, and I've nearly exhausted my collection of disgusting poems.

So I guess I'm down to posting parts of my WIP. I'm not a huge fan of doing this for the following reasons:

1. By posting a portion of your WIP you are essentially saying to the world, "This is the best I got." Because who would post something they think is crap? Then, when people read it, (if they're anything like me) they say, "Pssh. That wasn't too good. I can do better than that. That dude's never getting published." And even though I can't hear them say this, I fear the vibe might somehow make it through the wonder that is the Internet.

2. Stephen King says you shouldn't show your first draft to anyone until it's done. And I tend to think Steve knows what he's talking about.

3. It's kind of lame. The last refuge of the idealess blogger, if you will. (And I won't blame you if you won't.)

What I do not fear is someone "stealing" my idea or scene or whatever. I've always found this notion laughable. First, do we really think our ideas or so breathtakingly original that other writers are going to forsake their own WIPs to write our story? Second, do we really believe someone else could even write our story? I've read Because of Winn-Dixie probably six times and even though I know the book by heart, I could never recreate it. Third, ideas are cheap. It's execution that counts.
So here it is, without any context whatsoever:

Lauren staggered to her feet, and scampered around the room, but there was nowhere to go. The room was circular and made entirely of stone. A single tiny window allowed scant sunlight. There was a door, but it was between Lauren and the man. Escape was impossible, so Lauren balled up her fists and adopted a fighter’s stance.
“I’ll kick you,” she said, her eyes falling to the front of his maroon running shorts.
The man hadn’t been moving very fast, but now he stopped. “I just have to tie you up until Dr. Freemantle gets here. We can’t have you running off now, can we?”
“I won’t run off. I can’t! There’s nowhere to run. Please, don’t tie me up. I’ll just sit right here on the floor. I won’t move. Just don’t tie me up.”
“You promise not to cause trouble?”
“I promise.”
“Well then, you’re going to have to say the Promise Oath.”
“I’ll do it. I’ll say whatever you want me to. Just please don’t tie me up.”
“Okay, the Promise Oath. Repeat what I say: I promise.”
“I promise.”
“I promise.”
“Did I do it wrong?” Lauren asked.
“No, that’s how it goes, you have to say it twice.”
“For verification. You can blame it on a man named Harmonious Crabapple. Back before Load was incorporated, Harmonious took the Promise Oath, only back then you only had to say ‘I promise’ once. Harmonious promised to feed his neighbor’s cat while the neighbor went on holiday, only Harmonious didn’t like the cat on account of it was always killing the mice that lived in Harmonious’s field, so when he took the oath he gummed up his words a little bit and after his neighbor came home to find his cat dead, he confronted Harmonious, but nothing could be done because technically Harmonious hadn’t promised. The garbled words freed him from responsibility. Caused quite a stir. So now you have to say it twice. For verification.”
Lauren had many questions but considering the man still held the rope, she thought it best to simply say, “Oh.”
The man said, “We have to start over. Ready?”
“I promise.”
“I promise.”
“I promise.”
“I promise.”
“To do what I just promised.”
“To do what I just promised.”
“And if I don’t.”
“And if I don’t.”
“Then I’ll be labeled a Promise Breaker.”
“Then I’ll be labeled a Promise Breaker.”
“That’s it.”
“That’s it.”
“No, I mean, that’s all. That’s the oath.”
“Oh. What’s it mean to be labeled a Promise Breaker?”
“Just what it sounds like.”
“Is there a punishment or something?”
“Of course there is. Wouldn’t be much point in taking the oath if there wasn’t.”
“What’s the punishment for being a Promise Breaker?”
“Guilt, for one.”
“That’s right. You’ll have a guilty conscience.”
“That’s it?”
“You ever have a guilty conscience?” the man asked.
“Sure. Everybody does sometimes.”
“Not me.”
“Don’t you feel guilty for kidnapping me?”
“Well, you should. If you can’t feel bad about something like that, then you’re a horrible person.”
“It’s nothing personal. I’m just doing my job.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Ben Esch Interview

For those of you new to the blog, you should know that at one time I spend a considerable amount of time and intellectual energy (not to mention crazy amounts of wit) promoting a little, earth-shattering book titled Sophomore Undercover by Ben Esch. I did this for mostly selfish reasons, although I'm sure someone else managed to benefit. (Most likely the scores of people who bought the book after reading my review. And how did they benefit, you ask? Laughter, the greatest gift of all. Oh, wait...that's love. But laughter is right up there.)

It's been a while since we've talked Sophomore Undercover and frankly, I miss it. Sure, it's likely nostalgia for a simpler time (back when I had ten followers, for example) and it may have something to do with the increased difficulty of coming up with things to blog about. But really I think it's because Ben and his book fill the soul with such gooey goodness that when it and he are gone you suffer from debilitating withdrawal. Withdrawal is scary. Or so I've heard. So here it is, The Ben Esch Interview. Get your fix. Feed your soul.

What is one lesson you learned while writing your first book?

These things aren’t as hard to write as I thought they’d be. Okay, I know that’s kind of a douche thing to say, but stick with me here for a second: if you sit down and type for an hour a day, you’ll have a book in a few months. So, the book writing bit was a whole lot less difficult than I was expecting.

Now, taking the first draft and massaging it into something that doesn’t suck was actually pretty difficult. Okay, so that makes two things I learned:

Complete this sentence: I write because…

I’m not cut out for real work.

Rank these in order of importance to you as a reader: Plot, Characters, Voice

As a reader, I think that voice is the most important part about a novel. That’s why I love William Goldman so much. That guy has one of the most unique writing voices that I have ever read. So unique in fact, that nobody has really seemed to notice that I rip off his style. Or, maybe I should say homage. I’m pretty sure I can’t get sued if I say that my writing is an homage to William Goldman.

Then characters. Then plot. So long as the voice is solid and the characters are okay, I’m willing to forgive quite a bit if the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense. For example, I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak. The last bit of plot on that book made me want to punch a wall it pissed me off so much, but I liked the voice and characters so much that I still really loved the book. Plus, he got me feeling some strong emotions, so there’s that too. Really, hats off to Marcus Zusak.

You write humor. What is one thing that you have always and will always find hilarious?

A good kick to the nuts always works for me. Here’s the thing about that, though: you can only have so many. Like, I think if you go over one nut kick per hundred pages, you’re in some pretty serious trouble, because that goes from hilarious to infuriating super quick. I can’t really explain it.

Does rereading your own work over and over again make the funny parts less funny to you and if so, how do you handle that?

Yes, it does make it quite a bit less funny. It’s just one of the things that you have to accept when you write a humor book: you are going to stop laughing at the funny parts. But, so long as you thought it was funny once, chances are that somebody else is going to think it’s funny when they read it.

If you were to start writing your autobiography tomorrow, what would you title it?

Heart of a Lion, Eyes of a Panther: the Adventures of a Handsome Doctor in South America.

In a battle between Grape Kool-Aid and chocolate milk, which wins and why?

Always chocolate milk. Sorry Paul, I know how you feel about this, but I never really got onto the Kool-Aid bandwagon. I’m thinking it’s because my mom never bought it for me, and if you don’t develop a taste for overly sugary crap (no offense) when you’re in the prime years of appreciating overly sugary crap, it’s hard to develop a taste for it when you’re conscious of stuff like calories and cavities and the like.

Besides, chocolate milk is a delightful treat.

Finally, has the fire really been burning since the world’s been turning, or can we actually place blame on some individual, generation, or entire culture?

I’m gonna go ahead and put the blame on the “Greatest Generation.” Maybe it’s just me, but I really think those guys need to get taken down a peg or two.

Pick ‘Em:

90210 or Dawson’s Creek?

I’m going with 90210. I never really watched the Dawson’s Creek for some reason, which is kinda surprising, because I was all about wasting my time on crappy television during the mid nineties.

Team Edward or Team Jacob?

I’m going with Team Jacob. First of all, I wouldn’t have to turn into a vampire, which is pretty awesome. I mean, the whole immortality thing might be kinda nice, but vampires aren’t able to sleep or eat real food. Seeing as sleeping and eating are two of my favorite things, we’re bumping into a logical problem here.

Back to the Future or Indiana Jones?

Definitely Back to the Future. They actually filmed all the old west scenes for Back to the Future 3 in my hometown, so that movie’s always going to have a soft spot in my heart.

Plus, did you see Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Sweet mercy that was a turd.

Motley Crue or GNR? (in their respective heydays)

I never really listened to too much Motley Crue, so I’m gonna go with GNR if only because I like to sing like Axl Rose in my car.

Rappers: East Coast or West Coast?

West Coast. Definitely. I’m pretty happy that I got to live during the whole East Coast, West Coast beef. Those were an interesting few years.

Mario Kart or Simpsons Road Rage?

I only played Simpsons Road Rage once, and it was pretty awesome, but Mario Kart probably accounted for a good 2% of my existence during high school, so I’m gonna go with that.

Go for two or kick the extra point?

When I’m playing Madden, it’s always go for two.

Cha-Cha Slide or Macarena?

I still do the Macarena, so I’m gonna go with that. Though I really wish that somebody would teach me the Cha Cha Slide so I could diversify my moves a bit. (Editor's note: You're welcome, Ben.)

Best Jedi Perk: Mind-trick, telekinesis, or light saber?

I think the light saber, though it’s a tough decision. The mind-trick would be awesome, and it would be sweet to move stuff with thought bullets, but those light sabers are unbelievably badass.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Limits of God's Poo

Note: I realize that the title of this post is probably offensive. In fact, "God's Poo" are probably two words that should never be seen paling around. I can only assure you that all will be explained (if you have the patience to read everything that follows) and that I trust even the most devoutly religious among you will not take offense. Well, not much offense anyway.
A while back you might recall that the Wife and I purchased tickets to see Elton John and Billy Joel together in concert. I lurked online waiting for the exact second the tickets went on sale and snagged floor seats, twenty-two rows back. They were not cheap.

We spent the last two months looking forward to the date, which was last night. We left the house three and a half hours before the show was to start because we 1. wanted to stop and eat a nice dinner on the way and 2. despise those people who show up late for pretty much anything. My Garmin nuvi GPS device (henceforth dubbed "utter piece of rotten turd fungus") said the trip would take us ninety minutes.

The first forty-five minutes of our date went extremely well. No construction, (which is a miracle in Michigan and I mean this quite literally) no car accidents, no wait at the restaurant (Outback, if you must know), and we were back on the road still right on schedule.

And then everything went to hell.

It started with our first taste of construction which closed the ramp I intended to use. No biggie, I took the next exit. At this point there was one of those signs that said how many minutes to the next interstate. It said something like 18 so I figured I'd follow the utter piece of rotten turd fungus's advice and wind my way through Detroit suburbia instead. After all, the satellites had a better perspective, right? And it had to be better than dealing with construction.

Here's the thing about the utter piece of rotten turd fungus. It apparently does not factor in things like stop lights, traffic, speed limits, or pretty much any other variable having to do with travel time. Long story short, we spent thirty minutes wiggling our way through swanky neighborhoods and sitting at red lights. And when it was all said and done, we ended up back on the interstate that had been 18 minutes away.

But we were okay. The utter piece of rotten turd fungus said we'd get there with thirty minutes to spare. No troubles. Until we hit the largest traffic jam in recorded history. (I'm assuming someone records these things.) Every single car in the state of Michigan was on I-75. The Wife and I realized our error (or rather, the utter piece of rotten turd fungus's error) immediately. See, in Michigan, we have this thing called "going up north." Basically, everyone but me owns property in the northern part of the state and whenever there's a holiday that creates an extended weekend, these people all hop in their Ford F950s and celebrate by clogging the interstates.

We were ten miles from the venue and I could have walked faster than the Murphmobile was moving. The Wife and I watched, sick to our stomachs, as minute after minute rolled by. The estimated arrival time, which was at one time 6:56 slowly became 7:15, then 7:16, then 7:17, all the way to 8:00, a half-hour after the concert was to start. Warily (and irately) we inched along.

Anyway, we finally got to the parking lot a half-hour late only to find that it was unquestionably full. No spaces anywhere. (Well, I take that back. There were lots of spaces for "VIPs." The inventor of my utter piece of rotten turd fungus was likely one of them.) By this point I was done swearing. When God decides it's your turn to get pooped on there's really no point in doing anything other than closing your mouth. And maybe crying. I let The Wife out of the car because there was no point in both of us missing the concert, and I continued my search for the elusive parking space. I finally resorted to driving over a curb and parking on a grassy knoll.

I ran to the arena and found my way to the floor seating. Of course, the concert was well underway and I couldn't see a damn thing. The rows were labeled with chalk scrawled on the concrete floor and I caught a glimpse of a number and so proceeded to count up to 22. Alas, the rows ended at 20. Me=confused. I found an usher and she was about as much help as the utter piece of rotten turd fungus. "Go up two rows," she said. Or something. It was loud in there.

I looked for the Wife. I did not see her.

"You need to go up there!" usher lady screeched. I started walking, but apparently I wasn't moving fast enough. "No! Up there!" She pointed.

"Look," I said. "You keep saying that but I don't know where to go!" Finally, she walked me to my seat and I actually felt grateful that the lady had done the very thing she was paid to do.

So I get to my row and I see her! I see The Wife! I just need to squeeze past a few people and my harrowing adventure will finally be over. The first person is in a wheelchair, but I can get past her. I turn sideways and start to slide down the row when I step on something that feels entirely too soft to be somebody's foot. I look down and there's a flipping dog lying on the floor. The lady in the wheelchair is blind and I just stepped on her seeing-eye dog. There's another dude there who's job must be to watch over the dog, but he's like seven foot tall and his knees actually touch the seat in front of him. And now that I've stepped on the dog, (who I must say was very understanding about the whole thing. Given how the night had gone it's a wonder the thing didn't take a bite out of my ankle.) the dude is not moving. He's not even looking at me. There's no way I'm getting down that aisle. So I find a couple of empty seats two rows behind The Wife.

The way this story deserves to end is I get back to my car after the concert and find it has slipped down the embankment and has been mercilessly battered by furious drivers.

Or as I'm climbing over the chairs in front of me to finally get to The Wife, I trip and land in the lap of a Hell's Angel.

How it really ends is I did climb over those seats and I did sit next to The Wife and I did really enjoy the concert. It was awesome. What I saw of it anyway. And when I got back to the car, there it sat safe and sound.

And so the moral of the story is this: Even God eventually runs out of poo. (And Chevy Impalas have very good parking brakes.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


For those of you who just can't get enough James Kennedy, he did an interview with Betsy Bird (Fuse #8) of the School Library Journal. You can read it here.
Bittersweet moment coming on Saturday: My pool is being filled in.

Bitter: I like swimming. I also like dropping the words "my pool" into conversation.

Sweet: The idea of having a pool is far cooler than actually having one. I've spent much more time tending to its many needs than I have swimming in it. Also, we'll now have a backyard for Little One to run around in. Also also, no more money will be spent on the pool after Saturday.

So the other day Little One was picking at her rear-end and said something like "My underwear is stuck in my bum." I'm all about teaching her the proper terminology for such things so I said, "You've got a wedgie." She smiled and said, "I've got a wedgie?" Then she said it about six more times.

Fast forward. We're at a restaurant tonight when she starts squirming in her seat and announces, "I've got a wedgie!"

The Wife blames me. But really, it's nothing to be embarrassed about. We all get 'em. (Unless someone knows some secret that they haven't shared with me, and I'm not talking about going commando. I work in a school. There are some risks you just don't take.) In fact, I think it would be better if everyone just announced their wedgie and then picked it out instead of squirming around or trying to furtively remove it. We all know what's going on anyway.

I have a wedgie. See? Not so hard.

Ah, that's better.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Ethical Dilemmas of PETA

I'm thinking of joining PETA, but I need some things cleared up first.

I get that, as a future PETA member, I'll have to be righteously indignant about all manner of animal mistreatment. I may be inspired to protest McDonald's poor treatment of chickens (you know, the killing thing). I might be compelled to write a sonnet about the regrettable action taken against pigs by the Egyptians. I could well be recruited to dump a can of paint on some fur-wearing celebrity. (Randy Jackson, if I had my druthers and he wore mink). It would not be implausible to find me raising a ruckus over the disrespectful portrayal of chimps in television commercials.

I fully understand that I will be expected to protect not only the lives of animals, but also their reputations in the marketplace.

But I'm having some problems with some of the details. See, I have ants in my kitchen on occasion. This is something I am sure The Wife will be mortified to read, but the truth is we get them this time every year and it's not because we live in a pig sty. (Although we do have a two-year-old who tries her damndest.) My wife slaughters these creatures with severe prejudice. It's like a Tarantino movie. She uses solvents, the Dirt Devil, and her own cunning mind to dispose of these unsightly insects. PETA would not approve.

But what would they have us do? Are we to shepherd these fine creatures out the back door? Do PETA people just live and let live? If I visited the kitchen of a card-carrying PETA member, would I be beset by legions of insects scuttling down kitchen table legs, scurrying over countertops, and diving into the box of Cheerios? If I were to join PETA, what would be my obligation to these ants?

And, sad to admit it, but ants are not the only creatures living rent-free in my house. I am sure a few spiders also claim residence. PETA does not want to talk about spiders. No other animal poses such a sticky ethical dilemma to those of us dedicated to protect the lives (and reputations) of all God's living creatures. (And while I'm at it, there is no gray area here. Either you think ALL animals have been endowed by their creator with the unalienable right to live or you don't. You can't go saving the cute ones and forsaking the uglies.)

For in the spider we have a moral conundrum. Spiders ensnare and then devour other animals. So what is the proper course of action for a homeowner who finds himself with spiders? If I remove the spider, it will surely build an outdoor web and catch and kill flies. I'm not sure my conscience could stand that. Poor, crap-eating flies. If I leave the spider in the house, it will also kill flies and it would not be unreasonable to lay the blame squarely at my feet. If a President pardons a murderer who murders again, does he not bear some responsibility? I certainly can't kill the spider myself. That would seem to leave only one option: quarantine. But if I sequester the spider so he cannot kill other insects, the spider itself will eventually die from lack of sustenance.

Oh, PETA, how do I solve the dilemma of the spider?

And don't even get me started on rats in the attic.

I may have to rethink this PETA thing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

And This Was Fun?

We had an ice cream party at school today. My class won it for something or other way back in the dark days of winter and I kept putting it off by telling my students that we'd wait until it was warmer. So now, with only three weeks left in the school year, I figured it was about time I made good on my promise. Afterward, we had about fifteen minutes left in the day so we played 7-Up. While I watched the kids tiptoeing around the room, I recalled my own experience with this and other childhood games.

I'm sure it says something about my psyche that I lived in fear of most of these games. I was scrupulously honest as a child and buried my face so deep in my arms that I nearly suffocated myself. I didn't want anyone to think of me as a cheat. With my eight-year-old heart pounding away I imagined my thumb being crushed by one of my brutish classmates. I always kept my thumb slightly bent and buried it in my fist the instant it was touched. This fear was so paralyzing that I'm quite sure I was the only person who actually hoped I wouldn't get picked.

And was there anything more mortifying than Duck-Duck-Goose? Like some kind of cultish chant. "Duck, duck, duck, duck, duck"-- and with every "duck," a nice slap to the top of your head--"GOOSE!" I hated being the goose. Perhaps it was because I was slow.

But the king of horrific childhood games has got to be musical chairs. First, there was the terrifying music. In my day, the teachers always spun the vinyl on one of those boxy record players and it was never the kind of music you'd hear in the car on the way to school. No Men At Work, or Hall and Oates, or Dexy's Midnight Runners for musical chairs. At school you had to listen to creepy "children's music" by scary people like Raffi. So with this seriously spooky music playing you all pretended to walk around in a circle, but you weren't really walking. You were doing that shuffle-lean and pausing in front of each chair for just a second because at any moment the psychotic teacher was going to lift the needle and you were going to have to try to wedge your fanny onto a seat before they were all gone and you were left standing there like the loser you already suspected you were. And just in case you didn't realize that you were a loser, the teacher would walk over and slide a chair out of the circle, taunting you with the very object you failed to acquire. "Here," would be her silent message, "you can sit down now, loser."

Ah well, off to sit in a dunk tank. It's our annual end-of-the-year carnival tonight. Should be fun.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Order of Odd-Fish Week: CONTEST RESULTS

It is the moment many of you have been waiting for. Tonight, Murphblog crowns the lucky winner of the The Order of Odd-Fish Contest. After hours of rereading the entries, deliberating, passionately arguing, and yes, a fair amount of dithering, James and I finally agreed on a winner. He graciously offered to defend our decision, and so has written the following. It should be said that I wholeheartedly agree with everything that follows (even the bit about Lambada), in spite of what I felt were below-the-belt criticisms of my mother during the judging process. Such is the withering force of his personality and the undeniable wisdom of his infallible logic. And now, from the fingertips of Mr. James Kennedy straight to your eager eyes:

First of all: a very sincere—and startled—thanks for everyone’s hilarious contributions to the “Create Your Own Odd-Fish Specialty” contest!

I was bowled over not only by the number of entries, but the consistent excellence. It was very difficult to choose between them. But chose I did! My process of elimination follows.

Off the bat, we got three entries that were quite gross. Now, the book reviewer Lynne Farrell Stover, in VOYA, memorably trashed my novel The Order of Odd-Fish as a mixture of “ridiculousness and depravity” in which characters are “obsessed with bodily functions.” This is an interesting accusation from a woman who once alphabetized her own phlegm, but Lynne Farrell Stover is more or less correct: I am not overly averse to gross humor.

And the disgusting entries of Dame Ruby (studying children who eat their own “rhinoliths”—a euphemism new to me), Dame Tina (studying children created by their father’s earwax) and Anonymous Dawn (the study of what is delicately referred to as “toots”) certainly fall in the tradition of Odd-Fish’s comfort with digestions, innards, brains, and general ickiness. But unfortunately for them, I have turned over a new leaf.

Lynne Farrell Stover and I have been in frequent contact ever since I ribbed her in this blog post a couple weeks ago, and as often happens between a red-blooded man and a red-blooded woman, what was once disdain has blossomed into love, and long story short, we moved in together last week. She says she's going to civilize me! I hotly retort that I'm like the wind, I'm the last American cowboy, I'm a flaming maverick centaur in a zero-gravity bordello—but am I really?

How can I resist Lynne Farrell Stover? When she purses those lips, when she flounces about so enchantingly, when she gives me that come-hither look? Why, maybe she'll "civilize" me after all. Sorry, booger-jokes, earwax-jokes, and fart-jokes—you should've got me last year.

Another worthy entry came from Dame Anita, who proposed to walk the highways of America, studying discarded hubcaps. But surely Dame Anita must know that her proposed project was anticipated, and indeed rendered unnecessary, by the pioneering efforts of Sir Cornelius, over six hundred years ago—before hubcaps even existed? Before America was discovered—before a single hubcap was fabricated—Sir Cornelius had already deduced the location and dimensions of every discarded hubcap in America, using pure unaided reason. For Dame Anita to wander all over the country, empirically gathering data that Sir Cornelius had already divined, six hundred years before the fact, without leaving his armchair, seems to me pointless in the wrong way.

Dame Kelly proposed to study “outdated dance moves with a subspecialty in headbanging.” This is a brilliant idea, and indeed was a strong contender for first prize—if it wasn’t for a single fatal sentence that threw serious doubts of judgment onto Dame Kelly’s project, her aesthetics, and indeed, her alleged soul. See if you can find the flaw:

“I will rent old movies such as Saturday Night Fever, Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, and even the B movie Lambada.”

Lambada as a “B movie”? Unforgivable.

Sir Big Plain V proposed to specialize in food with alcohol in them. This seemed to me to be a promising topic: I was looking forward to recipes for proponol pies, for butanol beefsteaks, for formaldehyde frittatas, for isopropyl ice cream. No such luck: Sir Big rambled on endlessly about “Guinness ravioli, Guinness Jell-o, Guinness enchilada soup,” etc.

Memo to Sir Big: most of Sir Alec Guinness has already been drunk, long ago—by myself and some college friends, as it happens, in a youthful prank—rendering your project moot. (Interestingly, the distinguished thespian provided only a mild buzz.)

Sir Rylander promised to study “talking mustaches.” This is a project near and dear to my heart, as I published a short story about a disembodied beard in the Chicago Reader in 2008. Sir Rylander trots out several possible talking mustaches for study—those of his uncle Dieter, of John Waters, of Alex Trebek, and Tom Selleck—but that is precisely the problem.

What discussion of “talking mustaches” can presume to ignore—on a Michigan-based blog, no less—pitcher Rollie Fingers’ legendary trash-talking mustache, which caused such fury to Alan Trammell in a 1982 Tigers-Brewers game that Trammell refused to look at Rollie Fingers’ mustache again—and from that game onward, the livid Trammell kept his eyes shut whenever batting against Fingers? The notorious denouement, when Trammell lopped off Brewers catcher Ned Yost’s head with a blind, wild swing, we must pass over in silence; and accordingly I must pass over Sir Rylander’s entry as good in theory, but does not live up to its potential. (Tasty “Ned Yost heads”—a kind of fried pastry filled with marmalade and steak frites—can still be purchased on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, though many vendors have sadly forgotten the treat’s origins. “Get yer Yosts! Get yer pipin’-hot Yosts!” is a hawker’s cry that will always take me back to childhood memories of afternoon ballgames with my social worker.)

Dame Betty nearly walked away with the prize for her outstanding proposal of researching different kinds of nose-blowing techniques. Her quest to discover more about apocryphal nose-blowing methods tickled me, especially the legendary one which she claims “requires a third nostril to perform”—a line worthy of Douglas Adams. However, Dame Betty goes fatally awry when she claims that a “Ms. Snoseful” of “Sneezeville, South Dakota” blew her nose and found an image of the Holy Mother in her handkerchief.

Dame Betty: I have Google Maps. There is no “Sneezeville, South Dakota.”

There is, however, a “Sneedville, Tennessee” and a “Snellville, Georgia.” And you know what kind of “miracles” they have in those small towns, Dame Betty, you sneering cosmopolitan? How about the daily “miracles” of civic pride, hard work, and clean living? But you wouldn’t understand those, Dame Betty, would you, with your endless cocktail parties, your predatory sensuality, your devil-may-care hedonism—well guess what, Dame Betty—the devil does care, and he’s coming after you and your thoughtless blasphemy. In your whimsies you imagine the Holy Mother in a handkerchief? In my reality I stand before this sign, and say to you:

So much for Dame Betty. On to Lady Liana, whose entry was another near-winner. Her proposed specialty, of “improbable and illogical animals,” was the most purely Oddfishian of the bunch. (Possibly because the category already existed. Dame Delia in The Order of Odd-Fish studies Absurd Animals.) However, Lady Liana puts her own spin on the topic, by inventing a system of classification that can decide whether an animal may logically exist or not. Her goal is to prove, using her system, that most animals in fact don’t actually exist and that we don’t need to worry about them. This would be laudable were it not for this inconvenient fact: Lady Liana is herself a only very clever alpaca. For her project to succeed would, paradoxically, negate her own existence! I cannot allow this to happen. The world would be a poorer place without Lady Liana’s heartwarming alpaca antics. Permission to pursue this specialty is hereby denied—for Lady Liana’s own good.

Go! Run now, and graze in the pampas, my furry alpaca friend! I, as a responsible gaucho, will keep you safe from your alpaca logical paradoxes.

Blogger Tracy Edward Wymer proposed to uncover the truth about lightning bugs’ mating habits and displays of affection. Tracy, I trust you will not be offended if I am rather terse with you. I have struggled for years to overcome my addiction to insect pornography. Please, please, do not mock me.

Sir Jambuku proposed to study the words missing from the very proposal he was submitting. I appreciated the clever, self-referential aspect of this entry! Jokes about recursion are as funny as this joke.

Which leaves us with our winner: Dame Monica, who will formulate a thesis on the things that "should have been." Her entry is worth quoting in full:

"I, Monica, the Muse of afterthoughts, will formulate a thesis on the things that "should have been". I will research statements made by historical and nonhistorical persons about things that were expected to go differently, but didn't. I will then determine alternate timelines for every possible outcome, and depict those timelines in a mural that will cover one side of one of the pyramids of Giza. I will then use that mural to formulate an algorithm for world leaders to use, to make decisions. The algorithm will support decisions made about warmongering, disease control, and inventions of new technology. With this algorithm, decision makers will be able to examine ramifications of decisions made, before they are decided, instead of waiting until afterwards. This algorithm will eventually be mandated for use in all areas of society."

Monica must have known I have that very pyramid in my backyard! I found it, half-sunk in the weeds and mud, when Lynne Farrell Stover and I moved into this run-down shack we now call home. When Lynne Farrell Stover and I first left our respective families and atrociously eloped, setting up our infamous menage in the face of public scandal and furious denunciations in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, it had seemed like very heaven. Why, it was Lynne Farrell Stover and me against the world!

But time is cruel to passion. Now I spend more and more time staring at this inscrutable pyramid of what might-have-been in my backyard, while Lynne Farrell Stover, a Salem Light drooping from her too-red lips, leans out the back door, screeching at me as she woozily swings around her glass of rum-and-Vernors.

"Why d'yuh spend all day starin' at that damn pyramid, haw? Whuddabout me?" she slurs, stumbling down the steps toward me. I avert my eyes. What have I done with my life? I bury my head in the timelines and algorithms of Monica's prophetic pyramid. My tears stain its theoretically limitless possibilities, mathematically worked out to the millionth decimal . . . and yet now, I am that decimal, a forgotten dot lost in the jostling fates of countless others, my unique, beautiful destiny thrown away for a couple weeks of passion with Lynne Farrell Stover—and all because I wanted to be "civilized"!

Oh, Monica, if you had only shown me this pyramid earlier! Oh, merciless fate, to grind my nose into this obelisk of infinite possibilities, at the very moment my actual life narrows to the intolerable, eternal dot of Lynne Farrell Stover!

For teaching me a crucial truth about myself, and life—and for making me realize why I must leave Lynne Farrell Stover now, and return in penitent humility to my beautiful wife and darling child—I award Monica top honors in the Odd-Fish specialty contest. Thank you, Monica!


Monica, to claim your prize email Mr. James Kennedy at Send along your address and the first five pages of a manuscript you'd like critiqued. Congratulations!

(Note to James: Although we share a last name, Monica and I are in no way related. Just wanted to preempt any suspicions of impropriety.)

Thanks again to all who participated. Let's do it again some time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Writerly Advice

There are many places on the Webosphere that offer advice for writers on overcoming a myriad of writing-related problems. Writer's block got you down? Try talking to a monkey. Does your prose suck? Avoid using the word "thing." Do your essays lack organization? Well then be careful you don't put socks in your underwear drawer. Maybe you just can't think of any good ideas for your next story? Don't worry, some loser has thought of some for you and he's willing to let you steal them.

With all this great advice out there, I thought I might provide some of my own regarding a little discussed problem: cold fingers.

I just came in from outside. It was a nice enough night and I thought a change of scenery might do me some good. I sat at the junky Wal-mart patio set that we have on our equally junky "deck" and turned on the laptop (also junky). It was very quiet and the ideas were flowing like grape Kool-Aid, which is to say, copiously and without impediment, as grape Kool-Aid is wont to do. I was really cooking. Then one of the neighbor's dogs must have run across something rather disagreeable because she started going bonkers with the yipping and whatnot. Not to be outdone, another neighbor's dog decided to get his two cents in. It was quite a rhetorical battle. Against this melodic backdrop, some schmuck decided that 8:30 at night would be an excellent time to mow his lawn, and around this same time, the neighbors on the other side of the privacy fence got into a lengthy discussion that seemed to center around the idea that fishing is more enjoyable when one actually catches fish. (Not making this up.)

And on top of all that my fingers were getting cold.

So I came inside to blog because the only sound in my writing cave is the faint audio of The Biggest Loser drifting in from the living room. (By the way, does it bother anybody else how almost every single contestant on that show uses the word "pull" to describe their weight loss? It's never, "I dropped six pounds this week" or "I shed four pounds" or "I was pretty bummed that I only lost two pounds." It's always "I pulled a six this week." I don't even know what the hell that's supposed to mean.) And horror of all horrors, I could scarcely type, so paralyzed were my digits. I tried blowing on them. Didn't work. I tried making fists. No luck. Finally, I found a solution and I would like to share it with all those who also struggle with cold fingers.

No, not this.
Not this either.

This. (Note: not me.)

You're welcome.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


As longtime readers of Murphblog know, it is my stated aim to one day take over the Webosphere. I strive to achieve Oprah Winfrey-like influence. (Although I have to say that if I gain that kind of power I'll use it for something other than ruining perfectly good fast food promotional giveaways.) I was beginning to doubt the likelihood of this happening. Until this week.

Egads, people! Have you seen the skyrocketing number of followers? Just last Friday I was strutting around the Murphblog corporate office saying, "Twenty-five! Twenty-five, everybody!" I even let the staff leave an hour early. But holey fonts, Batman! Just 24 hours later this blog has 31 followers! Thirty-one! (Yeah, I know it's a prime number, but I'm just too excited to care right now.) The lesson I have learned? Well, there's two. First, blogging about your followers is a good way to attract more of them. Second, total Webospheric domination is still a possibility.

Contest entrants will be happy to know that Mr. James Kennedy, author of The Order of Odd-Fish, emailed me today and sent me his top five. I also have a top five. I will be using a points system based loosely on the algorithm the BCS uses to determine a national champion to pick a winner. James has already written a response to each and every entry and so I'll be coordinating with him before the winner is revealed, but it should be soon. I'm guessing Wednesday.

I spoke (by phone) with Agent Guy (and if someone can come up with a cleverer (ererer) monicker then please, by all means) this past Thursday. Spoke for about 45 minutes, mostly about the book. Long story short: I took out some stuff that I shouldn't have, and I still need to work on making the novel feel like one cohesive narrative. He's going to be sending me a detailed revision letter so for the next couple of months I'll be working on that. Wish me success. Or don't. Whatever. Be that way if you want.

As is customary (and because I actually, sincerely, for reals appreciate it), thank yous are in order to the new followers:

  • Jambuku, who's been an infrequent lurker in the past, but has decided to commit to the relationship.
  • My good friend from high school, Sarah and her husband, Matty. I am one hundred percent sure that Sarah is the only reader I have in Ukraine.
  • Myra, who appreciates potty humor and admits it (unlike Debra who suppresses her natural inclination to titter at anything with the word poop in it) and who is the best query writer I know. Girl sent out five queries and got three requests for fulls.
  • Jodi, a girl who I grew up playing pickle with (that sounds wrong) at our fathers' softball games and who probably still has a deadly jump shot.
  • Steve, who I don't know at all, but he's published books and has a new one coming out in July.
  • And Shirley Harazin, author of Blood Brothers, the book I am currently reading.
Thanks for coming aboard, all!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Unfocused Friday

As noted by Tracy in "The Mexican Express" comments, Murphblog now has twenty-five followers. I have no idea how this happened. I'd like to think it is the result of intense and creative efforts by the underutilized Murphblog marketing team. They tell me that this spike in Followership is the fruits of their tireless labor. There was the free chip clip with proof of Followership, the zero percent financing, a direct mailing campaign, that donkey hoof promotion, and of course, who could ever forget the deluge of spam? But I don't believe them. Marketing people are notorious liars.

Nope, I think the explanation is far simpler. Dumb luck.

Well, dumb luck or ingenius marketing, thanks to Followers Sarah, Angie, Tina, and Betty for giving me the very pleasing number of 25. (Betty's reading The Order of Odd-Fish. I sell books too, Anita. Just not as many.)

And now, today's totally useless content...

School Story:

Our second grade classrooms tour places around town in an attempt to teach the chiddlers about their community. I work in the county seat, so one building they visited was the courthouse. As Mrs. H's class entered a courtroom last week, one child blurted out, "Hey Grandma! Hey Uncle Ron!"

Let's just say Grandma and Uncle Ron do not work at the courthouse.


Like all bloggers, I have tracking software than enables me to see how people have arrived at Murphblog. One person today googled "Mike Murphy Mother What I Meant To Say Poem." I do not know the poem, but I imagine it's a rather sappy affair that only finds the light of day at this time every year. I wish I could have been there to see the look on the guy's face when, excited that he found what he was looking for and already imagining the tears it would bring to his grateful mother's eyes, he clicked on my blog and was confronted with runny poo.

Runny poo strikes again!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Blame Myra

Myra, you want runny poo? I'll give you runny poo.

(Dear The Wife and Debra, you may want to skip this one.)


By Paul Michael Murphy

Last night I ate three tacos.
They tasted really great.
But now I've got a problem,
and it doesn't want to wait.
The train has left the station,
it's barreled down the track.
It's pushing at the barrier.
It's looking for a crack.
Sweat crawls down my forehead,
my stomach really hurts.
I sprint into the bathroom
I've got the Hershey squirts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An Original Poem


By Paul Michael Murphy

When I get bored my fingers,
wander here and there.
Sometimes they scratch behind my ears,
sometimes they twirl my hair.
Today one went a'searching
in a place it often goes.
It passed my mouth and headed north,
it darted up my nose.
It was gone for quite a while,
but eventually withdrew.
And then I saw that it had found
some unappetizing goo.
I thought that I might wipe it
on the bottom of my chair,
but when I went to do so,
there was some already there.

Monday, May 4, 2009

So Here's the Deal(s)...

First, I'm sure most of you want to know whether or not your greatness has been recognized by James and I. The answer is, it has. But we don't have a winner. We do, however, have an excellent excuse.

James and his wife gave birth earlier today to a baby girl, Lucy Momo Kennedy. She weighed in at nine pounds, three ounces. James, being the conscientious judge that he is, immediately emailed me to request a postponement. Request was granted. If you'd like to wish him congratulations, his email address is


I have other news of interest.

First, I heard back from Agent Guy today and he has requested a second revision. Without getting too detailed, I swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. The good news: I now have one draft with too much and another with not enough. Between the two of them (and some more rewriting), I ought to be able to find a happy medium. One would think.

Also, I'm on facebook now. I don't know how one links to such a thing, but if you search me out (I'm using all three names, mostly because Chris likes it so much) I am confident you will find me. I've already found some of you.

Two pieces of entertainment commentary today:

1. If anyone knows how Danny Gans died will you please share? I did not know Danny Gans. I never saw Danny Gans perform. But if having your mug plastered all over town is a sign of importance (or totalitarian rule), than Danny Gans was one important (or possibly despotic) dude. What's the matter with the Vegas coroners anyway? Ever hear of something called "leaking information?"

2. Eddie Money, quite possibly the greatest living musician in the world, is branching out. Not content to mesmerize and inspire through his musical genius alone, Mr. Money has written an autobiographical musical. Money says, "It's different than (the Billy Joel-Twyla Tharp ballet) 'Movin' Out;' there are dancers and songs, but it does have a narrative arc, which I think is very important to the quality of it." If you're thinking, "That Eddie Money is one talented dude," then prepare to be shocked. He has also plans to release an album featuring country versions of his hits that he recorded last year in Nashville with John Ford Coley and a guest appearance by Vince Gill. Don't know about you, but when I hear "Two Tickets to Paradise" country-style, I just might die and proceed directly to heaven.

Almost done.

I won my second award, and just between me and my fellow bloggers, it's about flipping time. I mean, these things are being passed around like strung-out groupies in the back of Motley Crue's tour bus, and I've just now won my second? At least someone out there appreciates me. Thanks, Debra. I have to pass this award on to ten people, but this post is a little long already, so instead I'll go all-sixteenth birthday on y'all and post some pictures of my new whip. (That's what the kids call a "car" nowadays. Hip, huh?)