Friday, July 31, 2009

We're Boring Married People

So the Little One is spending the night at the grandparents' and The Wife and I are going on a date. Only we don't have any good ideas for a date because we're lame. Here's what we came up with:

1. Dinner and a movie
2. Dinner and bowling
3. Dinner and putt-putt golfing

So we're having dinner for sure.

We'd rather not do a movie because that's what we always do and we watched one last night. (Little Miss Sunshine, btw, and it was good. Loved the grandpa.)

Bowling looks doubtful because it's Friday night and I'm pretty sure Friday night plus bowling equals a certain element of society whose midst I would like to avoid. (Not that I'm opposed to their lifestyle. If it weren't for beer swilling, overweight, chain smoking bowlers, conservatives would never get elected. Still, respecting their lifestyle and immersing myself in their secondhand smoke are two different things.)

Putt-putt's out because it's going to be too late, dark probably.

So because I'm a total loser, I actually googled "Date Ideas." I figured that the reason I couldn't think of a good idea was because I lack a certain level of creativity/romanticism. Turns out the Internet's ideas may actually be worse. I found a site called Coolest Dates. I clicked on "Inexpensive Dates" because I'm cheap and "Last Minute Dates" because it is. Here are my favorite suggestions: (And by favorite, I mean ones we will definitely not be doing. My commentary is in italics.)


  • Go to a sports memorabilia exposition or trade show. If I suggested this, The Wife might suggest divorce.
  • Make movies or take pictures together. Imagined conversation: Me: We could make movies together. The Wife: [Raised eyebrow. Withering glare.] Me: We could take pictures of each other. The Wife: [Exits stage left.]
  • Do genealogy together. Sounds exciting. Nothing like looking up information on deceased relatives to kindle the romantic flame.
  • Find a wild berry patch and enjoy picking and eating berries. Otherwise known as foraging. What did you guys do last night on your date? We foraged. Like primates. Wink, wink.
  • Spend an afternoon cleaning out your garage attic. This is the worst idea I've ever heard. Dates are meant to be enjoyable. I wouldn't wish this on men who wear denim jackets over purple Eeyore T-shirts.
  • Spend an evening looking through your date's photo albums and high school yearbooks. So you can see how dorky you both looked and tell yourselves it's a good thing you found each other because who else in their right mind could have ever loved such a total loser? Actually, that one's not that bad.
Submit your ideas, both good and bad. We won't be able to use them this time, but there will be other dates.

Unless I suggest the movie and picture thing. Then maybe not.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Take on Book Covers

First, business and gloating...

You will have surely noted that I now have forty followers. Thanks to Jason for making it a nice round number. (And for choosing Ponch as your image.) I've been a little lax in welcoming the new people, so without further, welcome to Amy, Katie, and MG Higgins. May your presence here lead to my eventual domination of the Webosphere.

Also, I co-won a contest and I'm getting a book! Bully for contests, books, and especially winning.

Now, there's been quite a bit of hubbub over the cover for Justine Larbalestier's novel Liar. Most of you have probably already heard about it, so I'll keep this part short. Liar's main character is a black girl. The cover of the book shows what is quite obviously a white girl. The decision was made by the publisher because they presumably have some data that show white girl covers sell better than black girl covers. (You can read Justine's much more detailed take on this here.) Naturally, lots of people are offended. They're probably right.

At Pub Rants, Agent Kristin Nelson shares a story in which an editor gives her a heads up regarding the cover of a client's book in a publishing catalog. The editor wanted the agent to know that the sucky cover wasn't going to be the real cover because no one likes sucky covers.

In fact, lots of writers and agents really kind of freak out about sucky covers. Now, since I don't want to be called a hypocrite in the event that I ever, you know, actually publish a book that has a sucky cover, let me say that I get it. I especially get it if it's a writer's first book. We writers read a lot of books. We spend a lot of time in bookstores looking at covers. We know what sucks. And we don't want our babies coming out of the womb and greeting the world looking like Eric Stoltz in Mask.

So I get that covers are somewhat of a big deal.

But, let's not overdo it. If your book blows, then I don't care how great your cover is, your sales are going to eventually taper off (if they were ever robust in the first place). And let's be real. Most of the covers these days are at least decent. Yeah, you see some stinkers on occasion, but most of them aren't awful. And not all of them are going to be bestsellers.

Conversely, if you write a real knock-out, you're going to sell books no matter how terrible the cover. Evidence:

*





Those covers suck. Real bad.** Moral of the story: Writers should worry about writing a really compelling book and stop worrying so much about other stuff. ***
______________________________________________________
*Yes, picky, I know that this isn't the original cover for Catcher, but it is the one most of us are familiar with and I'm guessing you probably did the same thing I did when I first picked it up. "This is what everyone's so jacked up about? Pssh, nice cover."

**I'm sure some of you are tempted to disagree and come at me with some jive about the merits of minimalism or how the lack of a flashy cover actually supports the themes of the book. Bah! These covers stink. Don't let what's inside change that fact.

***Unless the other stuff is a controversy that allows you to take the high road and make it seem like you're much more interested in the integrity of your work than in your sales, all while making the big bad, faceless, for-profit publishing industry the bad guy and maybe even assuaging some white guilt.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

7 Things I'm Embarrassed to Own

We all have them. They are the things we make sure to hide before the guests arrive. Why we keep them, even we cannot say, but there they are, in the back of the closet, on basement shelves, hidden behind the Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. So just in case any of you ever end up in my house I want you to know I have these things. I tell you for three reasons. First, I think it may be cathartic. Second, I don't like picking up things around the house, and this way I won't have to; if you see any of the following items, you'll simply nod and say, "Oh yeah, I remember he said he had that." Third, I don't have any other ideas for a blog entry.

Things I'm Embarrassed to Own

1.

It's not that I don't support the NYPD; I'm sure they're fine folks. The reason this hat is embarrassing is because it was at one time trendy, and I don't typically approve of trendy things. I never wore parachute pants as a kid, I still don't know the Macarena, and I never bothered to buy one of those cool hats Sam Jackson likes to wear. I got this hat at the same time anyone else who owns one got theirs--just after 9/11 when it was a very popular thing to wait in long lines at gas stations, fantasize about bombing the Arab world to smithereens (maybe that was just me?), and wear goofy looking hats. Then, like two weeks later, most of us came to our senses and so now this hat hangs on a hook beneath three others.

2.
I wish I could tell you that I have this book because when I was a child Mr. T was awesome and I was a very hip kid who couldn't get enough Mr. T from The A-Team and that sorry excuse for a cartoon he made. Nope. I'm pretty sure I picked this one up at a library sale when I was in my late teens. It's not completely worthless, however. Any book that contains the line, "If you wash up more often, you won't have to grab your crotch," can never be worthless.




3.
This, for the unititated, is a fajita maker. Like most embarrassing things, this at one time looked pretty sweet. Who wouldn't want something that could make fajitas? Fajitas are decicious. But then I used the fajita maker and discovered two things: It was hard to clean, and the only thing it could make was fajitas. By contrast, my stove, when combined with a pan, could make fajitas, was fairly easy to clean, and could also be used to make other meals. The fajita maker currently resides between an electric skillet and a wok on a shelf in the basement.


4. This is a board game called Can You Beat Ken? The Ken being Ken Jennings of Jeopardy and Mormon fame. I think I may have gotten the game as a gag gift, but it's still embarrassing because rather than throw it out or sell it at a garage sale, I have stored it with all my awesome games like Stratego, Trivial Pursuit, Balderdash, and electronic football. I don't remember how to play the game, but I am fairly certain that the answer to the question is "No, I cannot beat Ken."



5.

Another book. The truth is I could easily make a list of only books and it would far exceed seven. I use Who Moved My Cheese here as a representation of the many self-help books I own. I am one of the millions who own How to Win Friends and Influence People. (But I must say that I felt a little slimy reading it even the first time, when I was probably fifteen. Whenever I meet someone who smiles at me and calls me by my first name the first time we meet, I can't help but wonder if he's recalling the lessons in Carnegie's magnum opus.) Self-help books are just cheesy, this one especially so. (God, I hope someone appreciated that, cause I'm mighty proud of that pun.)


6.
I hate American Idol with an intensity that rivals my loathing of that impenetrable plastic within which toy manufacturers encase their products. So this Bo Bice CD was the perfect gag gift to get me. I've never listened to it. I've never even taken the cellophane off the thing. But I haven't pitched it either. Bo Bice is waiting for me to come around, and he's penetrating my soul with those steely eyes.




7.
I don't even know what to say about this. Someone gave it to me and by even putting it on this list, I'm probably offending that person. The best thing I can say about it is that I will probably love it someday.

Like, when I'm seventy.





Non included in this list: Tucks Medicated Pads. Don't ask.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Blog Bearing Gifts

My dad works for a General Motors supplier and since they're not really building cars for a while, he's had some slow days at work. So in the interest of helping the days go by faster for him, and for your viewing and reading pleasure, I give you the following.

11points.com is a blog written by Sam Greenspan. He's a "writer, producer, and performer living in Los Angeles" who "actually does make his living doing those things. It's not one of those L.A. things where he's a writer by night and, like, a Benihana chef during the day." 11 points is a blog of lists. To give you a flavor, I've linked to a few of my favorite lists below. You can check out the entire archive here. Enjoy. I spent a good four hours reading this blog a few nights ago.

11 Old School Nintendo Tricks Permanently Burned Into Our Brains
11 Ridiculous Signs That Always Make Me Laugh
11 Predictions That Back to the Future II Got Wrong
11 Photos Where Black People Were Awkwardly Photoshopped In Or Out


Got a half-hour to kill? Then how about watching the video below. In it, Dan Gilbert talks about a formula that can be used to always make the right decision. He then explains why people regularly make stupid ones. It's interesting stuff. It's from the website TED: Ideas Worth Spreading and if you've never checked it out, there is a ton of good stuff on there.

The Video: Dan Gilbert on Our Mistaken Expectations

A while back I included a bar graph about Michael Jackson's sudden "popularity." While I'd like to take credit for said graph, the truth is it came from this site:

http://graphjam.com/


Here are a couple of other graphs that I like: (Click to enlarge.)















And finally, in keeping with the graphing thing, here's a site that I found via 11points.com that has nothing but graphical representations of rap lyrics: http://www.jamphat.com/rap/

My favorite: (Click to enlarge.)

Pass along any of your favorite sites. Dad works long days.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Things Men Should Not Wear

1. Velcro Shoes--Slogan: When shoelaces are just too damn complicated.

2. Overalls--You may only wear overalls if one of two things is true--1. you're working on a car, 2. You're dressed up as Uncle Jessie.

3. Visors--Usually worn by golfers or overrated football coaches, visors were created for men who want to wear a hat, but don't want to muss their hair. Not manly.

4. Bow ties--Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C. Exhibit D.

5. Jean shorts--I shouldn't need to elaborate, but let me add that if you created your own jean shorts by slicing the legs off an old pair of jeans, then you should probably just go ahead and have the sex change. You should also get yourself a visor.

6. Black socks with tennis shoes, or, God forbid, sandals--What are people who do this thinking? Did they get home after a hard day at the office and just figure it was too much work to change their socks? Do they not own any white socks? Do they think this looks good? Would someone who wears black socks with tennis shoes or sandals please explain your thinking? I'd really like to know.

7. Camouflage--You are not in the army; the army won't accept people like you. You are not going into combat. (Unless you think the local Publix is a war zone.) You are not even attempting to blend in with your surroundings. In fact, you're drawing attention to yourself and you look like an idiot. An idiot who is trying to send the message that he's a man not to be trifled with, but who actually sends the message that he is a complete loser who was probably picked on in grade school and who goes home at night to work on his "manifesto."

8. Speedos--That area of the male anatomy, no matter how well developed, does not need that kind of attention drawn to it. Women don't want to see it, men don't want to see it, and children should not have to see it. Perv.

9. Mittens--Gloves, yes. Mittens, no. In fact, while I'm on it, what's the point of anyone wearing mittens? Does the person who wears mittens say, "You know, my hands are awfully cold and I'd really like to limit my ability to manipulate objects with them?"

10. Crocs--Spare me your impassioned defense. I don't care how comfortable they are. Sweat pants are comfortable, but you wouldn't be caught dead wearing them in public. These things were comfortable too. Crocs are the fugliest footwear ever known to man. Please stop wearing them. I'm talking to you, Mario Batali.

11. Tight Pants--See Speedos

12. Anything Disney--Granted, this is mostly a female thing, but I want to be sure everyone understands that if this attire is inappropriate for grown women, (and it is. My Lord, is it ever.) it is quadruply so for grown men.

13. Denim shirts or jackets--In this picture, note how the coolness that I'm pretty sure this guy possesses is obliterated by his shirt.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Read Poetry Today

And it was not Shel Silverstein, who once famously said, "I don't explain my head." I like that. If I'm ever famous and someone asks me anything at all about my head, I'm going to say the same thing.

No, I read real poems, the kind that have oddly placed line breaks and are hard to interpret. I'm sure you're wondering why I, who sees himself as a sort of everyman and who would much rather read a poem about farts than, say, one about the morning dew, would bother to read real poetry.

I would like to say that I did so to stretch myself or to make me feel more sophisticated. I would like to claim that I did so to experience the imagery and use of language that moves the soul. I wouldn't even mind admitting that I did so because I want to be able to impress people. (Although none of the people I run with would be all that impressed, frankly.)

But the reason I read poetry today is because I'm always jealous of those writers who start their novels with a line from a poem, or title their books with something from a poem, or, like Stephen King's Dark Tower series, use a poem as inspiration for a novel (or series of novels.) Jacqueline Woodson's Feathers comes to mind.

I think it'd be kind of cool to do that someday, so I read a bunch of poems and wrote down cool lines and phrases and whatnot. I ended up with about eight pages of stuff, my favorite of which is the following two lines from Anne Bradstreet's "The Author to Her Book."

Anne refers to her work as Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain, which is pretty much how I feel about everything I write. It's never perfect and it never will be. Usually, I think it sorta sucks.

And she nails the editing process with:

I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.


So...impressed?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Book Thief: A Review

Here's my review of The Book Thief.

Summary


Review:

1. It's long (550 pages), but I read it in two days. These two facts lead me to conclude that I must have liked it, even though I never in the course of reading said to myself, "I really love this story." I did, however, love other things.

2. The writing is exceptional. I'm not sure the superlatives exist to describe the writing. Even "exceptional" doesn't quite cut it. It's poetic. It's original. It's beautiful. It's also depressing because I will never, no matter how much I write, read, and study the craft, be able to write like this. The imagery is amazing, the command of the language total.

3. It's powerful.

4. If you're looking for fast moving with lots of plot twists and tricky situations for the main character, I'd go with something else.

5. Death as a narrator is kind of cool.

6. I almost cried on four occasions, and I hardly ever cry while reading.*

7. It's about, among other things, words. Words are awesome, which, while true, is also the major theme of the book. And we're not talking about words being awesome as in they're "really cool," (although they are), we're talking about words being awesome because they are capable of inducing awe and this induction of awe can lead people to do great and terrible things.

8. It is also about the dichotomous nature of human beings, equally capable of inspirational beauty and horrific brutality.

So, there you have it.


*The crying was not due to my jealousy of Markus Zusak's writing ability, although it certainly could have been.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Me (and The Wife, but that probably goes without saying)

Please note the use of parentheses in the title of this post. I believe this is a first, but I have asked the Murphblog archivist to double check.

Yesterday, The Wife and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. I realize that most of you probably don't care all that much, but the facts are these:

1. I use this blog as a sort of online diary, or scrapbook, if you like that better. When I am old, gray, and shriveled I may want to relive my younger years and I will be able to do that through the magic that is the Webosphere.

2. Some family and friends read this blog and they're more interested in stuff like the following than they are in my rather tedious quest to get published.

3. It's my blog. I'll write what I want.

So, the anniversary. I won't go into all the scandalous details, but one thing we did to celebrate was take a hike through a local park. This is in keeping with our pledge to get healthier and whatnot. What follows is a pictorial memoir. If you click on the pictures it'll be like you were actually there with me and The Wife on our hike. (Except there won't be any sound, so you'll miss out on some moderately clever banter, but you also won't have to deal with mosquitoes, so you can't complain that much.)

The hike started inauspiciously. That is a fork in the path, and as you can see I was utterly flummoxed. The Wife, instead of helping me decide which path to take, took a photo.


Fortunately, there was a map. The Wife was still no help, (maps confuse her) so I was forced to make an executive decision. I did so with little hesitation. It's fun to be the decider. Knowing nothing about hiking, or nature, or even map reading really, I used the same reasoning as one Robert Frost: I chose the path less traveled by and, I have to say, it did make all the difference.



But little did I know that the diverted road would be the least of our troubles. We had only just begun down the chosen route when we were confronted with this ominous sign.


I must admit to a mixture of emotions. I was curious about this "Swamp Thing" and reasoned that the arrow above the sign was not a warning, but an invitation. An invitation that said, "Come! See our excellent swamp thing!" But then I recalled that I was not at a zoo. I was in Nature. And Nature can be very scary. Things in Nature don't act like things in a zoo. The Swamp Thing could very well decide to attack me, just like those mostly docile buffalo occasionally do at Yellowstone. My curiosity gave way to unbridled fear and we quickly (but quietly) moved away. I later felt a touch of regret at not conquering my fears and investigating this alleged "Swamp Thing," in addition to slight shame at realizing that I am the type of person who will always choose the safer route if the dangerous one means risking my personal safety.

Did I mention that The Wife accompanied me on this hike? Here she is, looking entirely too unruffled about the whole "Swamp Thing" thing.


We continued onward, but the dangers were only beginning. Here, a small tree nearly felled our hero. It was only the fortuitous placement of another tree that stopped the first tree from smiting me.



But as cruel as the forest can be, it also offers many gifts. Like these mushrooms, which I was delighted to see.


Their presence and the memory of their gloriously bulbous heads fortified me for the next mile, a mile which saw us beset by hordes of ravenous mosquitoes. This is a picture of me after surviving their murderous rampage. I was not pleased.


And here is one taken in an open, mosquito-free field. Note the change in my countenance. I am also making a "V" with my arms to signify our "victory" over the rabid insects, but because my head is sticking up between my raised arms, it looks more like a "W." So I am making a "W" for "Winners!" or "Wahoo!" or "Where are you now, you little f^*%^$# bastards?"


And this is me hydrating with the new G2. Same great Gatorade taste, half the calories. Fending off mosquitoes is hard work, yo.



And finally, we reached the end of our trip. We celebrated. The following image is for adult eyes only.

The forest holds many dangerous things: mosquitoes, exposed tree roots, falling trees, Swamp Things, the list goes on and on. But it also holds beauty, like mushrooms and this little girl we saw as we were leaving.


Ah, Nature!

Note: No mosquitoes were harmed during the writing of this blog post. The same cannot be said for the hike itself.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Being First

I've learned a lot of lessons in the classroom over the years. One of the first was the importance of being first. Kids love to be first, even if it's first to go somewhere they don't really want to go. My third graders prove this continually and no amount of rational argument will dissuade them. There is a good reason why teachers make their students line up in a certain order. I have, on occasion, been reminded of this reason.

"Okay, line up!" I might say, usually when we're late and we've got to get out of the gym and back to class because I have a test to give or something.

The kids sprint to the door, elbowing their best friends out of the way. They then stand not in a line but a cluster, jostling their way in front of others because even if they can't be first it's still better to be sixth than seventh.

"If you can't handle it, you're going to have to get in number order!" I screech. (Because sometimes I like to screech. Makes me feel more like a "real" teacher. You know, those old ones with the ugly sweaters, tote bags, and permanent scowls.)

The kids continue to push and shove and whatnot.

"Okay, that's it! Everyone in order!" I bellow. (Because that what I do when I'm serious. I bellow.)

And then they all blame each other.

It's one thing for third graders to exhibit this type of immature behavior; it's quite another for grown men and women who claim to be writers. In my travels across the Webosphere I have happened upon a disturbing trend. The trend is this:

Readers of popular blogs commenting about being the first to comment.

Kids--I mean, fellow writers--this is unacceptable behavior.

Why This Behavior is Unacceptable:

1. No one cares but you.
2. While #1 is true of most comments left on blogs, we can all at least pretend that we care about something with some actual, you know, substance.
3. What, are you eight years old?
4. You don't win anything for being the first commenter. (At least, not usually. And if you do win something for being first then there is really no need to brag about it because all other commenters will have already recognized your winning ways.)
5. It's stupid.

Oh, and here's evidence of what I'm talking about: Evidence

Steve Fuller, you are the biggest loser.

_______________________________________

In other news, Monica has linked to a blogger who is donating a buck for every person who elects to follow her blog. Normally, I don't go in for such shameless bribery, but since it's a good cause I went ahead and followed. (I'm also kind of upset that I didn't think of it first.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Buy Jacqui's Book

Frequent reader, regular commenter, and all around groovy gal Jacqui Robbins has a book coming out today! You can read about it on her blog or you can skip all that and go straight to ordering the book here.

Reasons You Should Buy Jacqui's Book:

1. It's probably pretty good.
2. You can read it to your children.
3. Smart people own books and display them prominently in their houses. You want to fool people into thinking you're smart, don't you?
4. If you buy her book there's a good chance she will buy yours when it comes out.
5. What else are you really going to spend 13 bucks on?

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Revised Today

I realize the title implies that there are days on which I don't revise and, shame on me, but it's true. Unfortunately, there are many, and I don't really have anyone to blame but myself. (Which is really too bad. I hate having to admit responsibility for things like that.) The Little One still takes a two-hour nap, I stay up a good two hours after The Wife goes to bed, I've got lots of time. The problem is two-fold.

First fold: It's summer and during the summer I really like to waste my days. This isn't something I like admitting. For most of the school year I look forward to the summer and I think about all the freedom I'll have and all of the things I'll do. Then, when summer arrives, I realize most of those things cost money and it's kind of too hot out and there's a golf tournament on TV that might be sort of, kind of, maybe interesting, so I end up on the couch and before I know it, the day's over and I'm watching a COPS marathon at one in the morning and not only have I not done anything, I haven't written anything either. (Except maybe an exceptionally witty blog post.)

Second fold: I hate my story. There. Said it. Now, I haven't always hated my story, and I'm still holding out hope that someone else might not hate my story as much as me. In fact, I sometimes recall liking my story and I think that, just maybe, someone else will like it too. Here's what I tell myself: I say, "Self, if you read the greatest book ever written, say, Sophomore Undercover fifty times, you would probably hate it too. [Gasp!]" So I'm hoping that the dread that envelops me like a suffocating mist every time I even think about opening up the laptop is something all writers who've reread and reread and reread their stories experience. If not, I'm screwed.

But like I was saying, today I revised. Ass in the seat, as Linda Sue Park says. I still hated the story, but I did get some work done and now that I think every single word of the manuscript is pure, unadulterated crap, I'm really going by the revision letter to tell me what to fix because if I didn't I'd want to fix everything. Every. Single. Thing.

And soon, I'll be enlisting the help of some readers who have never read the book, so that should be helpful. Unless they hate it as much as me, of course.

But never fear, loyal readers, I will complete the task. Stubbornness has its place and its place is in my fingertips. (Hey, that ain't half bad.)
___________________________________________________
Weight Loss Update: 6 pounds (the Fourth of July weekend did not help)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ode to Michael Jackson

No one cared for a decade or more,
but now we're all so sad.
We all want to hear your music again
even that crappy song "Bad."

We're busting out our moonwalks,
we're grabbing our crotches today,
but for some strange reason no one is playing
your best song, "Say, Say, Say."

We know that you could be "Dangerous,"
especially to prepubescent boys
but let's just forget about that for now
and pretend it never happened.

Because when we think of you
we remember your sparkly glove.
We remember songs like "Beat It"
We remember your undying love (of prepubescent boys)

You made some cool videos
like "Smooth Criminal" and "Thriller"
but you never guest starred on Scooby-Doo
like Don Knotts and Phyllis Diller.

If I had managed your career
there'd be no rapping in "Jam"
and you wouldn't have gone out in public
with that midget who called his mom "Ma'am."

But hindsight is twenty-twenty
and your death reminds us all
that even though you fondled boys
we really liked "Off the Wall."

And that's what really matters.