Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some Links

To two of my favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy and James Kennedy.

Cormac's link is a rare interview. It's with the Wall Street Journal back on November 20, but I just found it.

Kennedy's link is on his blog and it's an interview with a reader who hated his book, The Order of Odd-Fish. One might argue that doing the interview is itself a very Odd-Fishian thing to do, since one rarely convinces another to relinquish such strident views. However, I think James just might have persuaded the young lady to revise her initial opinions. And if that's the case, then you can hardly accuse him of dithering.

You might not have the perseverence to read the entire interview, but you should at least read the first question and answer where James explains Ian's mustache thus:

I used the mustache as a physical shorthand for Ian’s awkward transition to manhood. Ian wants to be grown-up, knowledgeable, and dependable. But he can’t quite carry it off yet, just like he can’t quite carry off the mustache.

I'm not sure I buy it, but it sounds good.

One more thing. Since you can't comment on James's blog, feel free to do so here. My suspicion is that he'll respond.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Murphy Book Awards

It being the end of the year, I'm handing out virtual awards. I'm calling them Murphys. You know, like Emmys or ESPYS, except without the annoying cachet. I've even created an actual award.
Pretty sweet, huh? If you're lucky enough to win one of these fine looking things, feel free to post it on your Web site. Markus Zusak, I'm talking to you. Like the Emmys, I'm going to include my nominees as well as the winners and carry on far too long. Only books I read this year are eligible. The complete list is in the sidebar.


Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Al Capone Does My Shirts
WINNER: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time


Shiloh Season
WINNER: The Tale of Despereaux (but the movie blew)


Characters and Viewpoint
Bird by Bird
WINNER: Plot and Structure


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Wastelands
WINNER: The Art of Racing in the Rain


When You Reach Me
The Hunger Games
WINNER: The Lost Conspiracy


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The Glass Castle
WINNER: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius


A Walk in the Woods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
WINNER: When You Are Engulfed in Flames


Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw
WINNER: Skinnybones


Sophomore Undercover
The Order of Odd-Fish
The Spectacular Now
WINNER: Spanking Shakespeare


When the Whistle Blows
Spanking Shakespeare
The Order of Odd-Fish
WINNER: Looking for Alaska


When You Reach Me
The Graveyard Book
The True Meaning of Smekday
WINNER: The Hunger Games


Marcelo in the Real World
The Spectacular Now
An Abundance of Katherines
The Lost Conspiracy
WINNER: The Book Thief


Marcelo in the Real World
The Lost Conspiracy
WINNER: The Book Thief


Next Week: Blog Awards. The points have been tabulated.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Somewhat New Look

So something went a little haywire with my blog for awhile and it gave me the chance to learn some HTML in my attempt to fix the problem. And a little knowledge is a dangerous thing for me. It's always bothered me that the Blogger margins for this particular template are huge. I've got a lot to say. (Usually, way too much. Verbosity is my curse. Like right now, for example, I don't really need this parenthetical at all.) And because I have a lot to say, my posts would stretch on and on down the page and I just knew that, like me, some people would scroll down and say, "The hell with it."

So now I've tricked you. I changed the margins. There were compensations. With the exception of the sidebar, I no longer have those spiffy round corners. (And don't think the lack of consistency doesn't bother me. I may yet have to remove the sidebar curves as well.) But what I do have is space, glorious space! So now my posts will stretch on and on horizontally and that image in the header is even more warped than it was before.

This is what happens when I have time off.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


MG Higgins tagged me in this post and Anita made the mistake of saying she wouldn't do it, so of course I'm totally tagging her. At 26 questions it's a little long, but here's the thing: the questions are all about me. And if there's one thing I like talking about, it's me.

1) What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
The last thing I wrote was an example paragraph for my students. It was about how people judge others on their hair and I wrote about a student I had who shaved his head. Everyone assumed it was because of lice. Turns out, he thought bald heads looked sweet. He's right.

I have lots of old stuff that I wrote. Mom saved everything.

2) Write poetry?
I doth. There's a reason Maya Angelou avoids poems about grandpa farts. I got that market cornered, sister.

3) Angsty poetry?
Not on purpose.

4) Favorite genre of writing?
Humorous Young Adult, such as Sophomore Undercover and the forthcoming Hourglass by Myra McEntire.*

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?
Probably the tax collector in a story that will never see the light of day. He was so annoying, I named him Gallagher.

6) Best plot you've ever created?
Actually, the plot in the story referenced above is probably the best, but everything else about the story sucks.

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
I have a Donald Sutherland-like mentor who is revealed to be working with the bad guys in one book.

8) How often do you get writer's block?
I don't think I do. I get lazy block, though.

9) Write fan fiction?
No. And I kind of think it's stupid. If you want to write, quit wasting your time with other people's characters. Make up your own.

10) Do you type or write by hand?
I plan by hand and I keep a journal the old-fashioned way, but novels and things I might submit are done on the laptop.

11) Do you save everything you write?
No, but I save quite a lot of it. I blame my mom for this.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Sure. But it usually sucks just as much as I remembered it sucking.

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
I wrote a paper on the Cuban Missile Crisis in college that is sheer tonnage of awesomeness.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?
I lot of my friends like the YA I'm getting ready to submit.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
I've written a romantic scene or two. Here's a not very good one:

“It’s beautiful,” said Elly, and from this vantage point it was. Alonzo thought that as far as final resting places went, there wasn’t a more peaceful one above ground. He felt Elly standing next to him and in the cool, moist air he saw her breaths condense. They were coming in short, fast puffs. Alonzo glanced at his torch and saw that it had only a few minutes of flame left. And then he felt her fingers dance along the palm of his free hand and he squeezed, interlocking his fingers with hers. Without looking at her, he led her to the edge of the serene underground lake. Finally, he turned to look at her and in her eyes saw a mixture of excitement and fear. He let go of her hand and for a second, he could see hurt in her eyes, but his own look reassured her and he knelt at the water’s edge and dipped his hand into the cool water. Withdrawing it, he stood again and held out his fingers to Elly’s mouth. He touched her lips delicately and felt the warmth of her tongue licking the water from his fingers. And then his fingers were in her mouth and she used her tongue to caress and savor them. He moved his fingers then, exploring the roof of her mouth and running them along the edges of her teeth while her tongue lay still. Then, once again, she rolled her tongue over his fingers and he closed his eyes in ecstacy. Alonzo lowered his hand and soon felt Elly’s fingers at his own lips and the act was repeated. Alonzo licked and sucked lightly, tasting the water but also the flavor of her skin. As he nibbled at her finger, the light of his torch went out and they were left in total darkness. But while they would have been terrified in normal circumstances they found that on this morning, together, they were without concern.

Alonzo and Elly embraced, pushing their bodies into each other and stood holding one another in silence.

“Alonzo,” said Elly. The name somehow sounded different to Alonzo’s ears. “Oh, Alonzo, what’ll we do?”

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?
My characters find themselves eating an awful lot.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Seriously, one. But there are others that are waiting to re-ensnare me when that one is out the door.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?
I wouldn't have accepted it if I had.

Not really. But that sounds better than saying no.

19) What are your five favorite words?
I don't know. I like lots of words. I especially like words that sound the way they ought to sound for what they mean. Words like sibilance, harsh, monotonous, glee, and crag. Conversely, there are some words that sound the opposite of how they should and at the top of that list is the word droll. I despise the word droll. You cannot convince me that droll should mean what it does. Droll sounds awful. I woke up feeling droll because it was Monday. That's what droll should mean.

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?
The main character in my YA is certainly based on me at moments in my life.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
From Fraggle Rock. Jim Henson's the master. I steal from masters.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?
I don't dream very often, and when I do I rarely remember them... I think.

23) Do you favor happy endings?
I thought I did, but most of the things I write don't end happily. But they do end with hope and I think that's more realistic.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Yes, and I defend my right to be. They are the rules of the road and can't just be set aside for convenience. Besides, you're going to have to deal with them anyway.

25) Does music help you write?
No. I sometimes use it to drown out other noises, but after the first song I don't even realize it's there. And I doubt it's affecting my subconscious.

26) Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.
"Bologna sandwiches are awesome."

I tag Anita and Anita only.

*Hourglass is not actually a humorous YA. But it is YA, and I bet there's at least some funny stuff in it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Early Jump

As most of you surely know, Myra signed a two book deal with Egmont USA, and her debut novel, HOURGLASS, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2011. This is awesome news for many reasons.

First, I like Myra. She's funny, opinionated, and enjoys my locker room poetry. She also tweeted me once, whatever that means.

Second, it gives me another book to pimp, and ever since Chris's book, The Fourth Stall, got kicked around like a ginger in Calabasas, I've been hankering for a book to promote. So mark the summer of 2011 on your calendar, folks, and get yourself to your local Amazon when Hourglass hits the virtual shelves. Because it's gonna be timeslippin' awesome.

Third, once Myra becomes a big shot, fancy pants writer with Ruthian clout she'll probably be able to get my collection of vulgar poems in the hands of an editor. And then the entire world will be able to enjoy the following and I will profit from it.

Bubble Bath

There are no bubbles in my bath.

My mom says we ran out.

"Well why didn't you buy some more!" I say.

"You no-good, shortsighted Kraut!"

Her lips turn down, she glares at me,

“Young man, I don’t care for your tone.”

I push real hard, grunt, and say,

“I guess I’ll just make my own.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Kickin' It, Revision Style

As noted previously, I'm revising my YA with the aim of querying in January. It's in pretty decent shape, but unlike my first foray into the publishing world I'm actually going to try to make this book good before sending it out to be ridiculed, derisively guffawed at, and urinated on by soul-devouring literary agents.

Kidding. Mostly.

Anyway, here's a revision method I've tried. I've included pictures for those who don't like words. As always, you can enlarge the pictures by clicking on them.

These are index cards on which I've written a word of two for each scene of the book. I wrote this part in black and then I put them in order. I like the index cards because they're more flexible than a list. I can move the index cards around and imagine how a scene might fit somewhere other than where I have it. For some reason, a list seems more permanent.

The next thing I did was make note of my main character's emotional arcs. He has two, although they are closely related. First, my main character, who's a seventeen-year-old guy, has low self-esteem, avoids conflict, and doesn't really go after what he wants. He knows this and wants to change. Using a red pen, I took each card, thought of the scene, and wrote down a few words indicating where on this arc he falls. In the beginning, he's a timid pussbag. As the story progresses, he dabbles in boldness, challenges his father, and actually makes a few moves on a girl. At the end, he's found at least a little of the self-confidence he's always wanted. Marking the cards in this way allowed me to see which scenes contributed to that arc and which didn't.

To keep this short, I did the same thing with the other emotional arc using a blue pen. That arc represents his changing views on what he wants to get out of his relationships with girls. Briefly, in the beginning, he wants to make whoopie, and in the end he also wants to make whoopie but with someone he loves. Or at least really really likes.

Here's a blurry close-up:
I then went back and noted things I needed to either add or double-check so that each scene contributes something. My next step will be to play the role of annoying literary critic. Basically, I ask myself a lot of questions like, "Why'd you start the story there, huh?" and "What's the significance of that scene?" and "How exactly does this scene move the story forward, you moron?" You know, fun stuff like that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I am not a patient person. Just a few minutes ago I misspelled a word verification on someone else's blog and swore at my computer. "Well how am I supposed to read that f&(!^#%@ thing!" That's what I said. And the other night I couldn't find the nail clippers and even though I have no nails because I bite them, I searched the house, grumbling all the while, searching for the clippers so I could snip a bit of toenail because there's something about the tensile strength of toenails that makes playing with them great fun.

I get mad when I lose the radio in a fifty yard tunnel. I put store-bought, room temperature beverages in the freezer so they'll get colder faster. Ever since Comcast forced us to get a cable box, I've had to deal with a half-second delay when I change channels and it really pisses me off. The dryer takes too long to dry my clothes. Sometimes the computer is slow and when I bring up the system processes there's something called "System Idle" that's eating up all the memory and I yell, "The system isn't idle! I'm using the damn system right now!"

And commercial breaks are too long.
The hot water heater doesn't work fast enough for my morning shower.
Sometimes I have to flush twice and waiting for the tank to refill takes an inordinate amount of time.
The FBI Anti-Piracy Warning is on the screen too long and I can't skip it.
My digital camera never takes the picture when I actually push the button, but about two seconds later and by then whatever I was taking a picture of has changed, and never for the better. You shouldn't have to anticipate to get a good photo.
And The Story of Edgar Sawtelle took too long to get rolling. Enough about the mow already.

So you can see how, for me, going through the submission process is a little like having my toenails yanked off without the benefit of nail clippers.

Patience is an interesting thing for a writer. Obviously, the waiting is something we must put up with. But I think there's something to be said for impatience. Writers, in many ways, must be walking sitting contradictions. We must be free-wheeling and creative enough to write the story, but more than a little anal to make it better. We must be able to work alone, but also, if we plan to get out there and market our published work (speaking hypothetically here), able to talk to strangers. We must be able to filter out distractions, but receptive enough to the world that we take notice of the things that become the raw materials of our stories. And we must be impatient enough to write with a sense of urgency. Otherwise, we risk never finishing anything.

So although I will soon be forced to deal with the slow turn of the publishing industry's wheel, I'm not aiming to be a more patient person. I'd like it all. And I would like it now, please.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Kissing of LeAnn

After reading Sedaris, I'm very much in the mood to write a personal narrative. So here goes...

When I was a junior in high school I did what all juniors with negligible self-esteem do: I dated a freshman. Her name was LeAnn and I was attracted to her for three very good reasons. First, it was rumored that she liked me, or at least liked me enough that she thought I might be a suitable person to accompany her to the junior/senior prom. Second, she was a freshman and so would be obligated to look up to me. And third, she looked really good in her volleyball uniform. Her butt was like a soap bubble, nice and round, but somehow delicate.

I knew that LeAnn had been out a few times with one of my basketball teammates, Steve. They were rumored to have partied together. By which I mean he picked her up in his beater of a car, drove her to a pit party, supplied her with adult beverages, and made out with her. This didn't really bother me. I would have done the same, were I not terrified of getting caught or making a fool of myself.

The potential for embarrassment played a prominent role in my lack of success with girls. I hadn't kissed a girl since eighth grade, which, not coincidentally was the last time I'd hoodwinked people into thinking I was cool. I had no clue how to go about it with LeAnn. Should I just close my eyes, lean in romantically, and hope for the best like they do in movies? Should I play the part of aggressive upperclassman, grab her, and force my tongue down her throat? Should I politely ask?

All of these options were replete with peril. What if she turned away? Or slapped me? Or said, "Um, no thanks?" My fragile ego wouldn't have been able to handle it. So for a long time I didn't make any kind of move at all, hoping that she would save me the trouble and initiate the process.

She didn't, of course. I was the junior, she was the freshman. I was the guy, she was the girl. It was my show. As we playfully wrestled on my bed, I'd think to myself, "Now! Go for it!" but then I'd roll away, grab the remote control, and turn on Degrassi High. Instead of the self-loathing you would expect, I usually felt relief. I'd exhale and think, "Whew. Close one."

After three months I knew I needed to kiss her. You can't go on pretending to be a couple in high school without at least making out. Her friends surely knew the situation. They'd have talked. It was the sort of thing I didn't want out in the general population.

"Didja hear Murphy hasn't even kissed her yet?"
"Why not?"
"You don't think..."

People might come to the wrong conclusion.

When you wait that long to do something, the something starts to seem impossible. That's why parents count to three when their kid's standing at the edge of the diving board. The kissing of LeAnn, already rife with potential pitfalls, became an albatross around my neck. When I pulled to a stop in her parents' driveway and we uttered our awkward goodbyes we did so because the words didn't matter. The kiss was what mattered. Was tonight the night? she must have wondered on many occasions.

The problem was Steve. Steve had kissed her. He'd probably kissed her good and hard, fueled up on teenage hormones and cheap beer. Every time I thought of laying one on her I pictured Steve and imagined how he did it. He probably slid his tongue right in her mouth, licked her teeth, twirled it around in there. Oh, she'd liked it, I was sure. Kissing LeAnn became not about pleasing her or even myself, but a competition with my teammate. Was I better than him? That's the only question I cared to have answered.

It's not a question you can ask. But as it turned out I didn't need to. Two days after finally mustering up the courage to plant a gentle, what I thought to be extremely sensitive, caring, romantic, and appropriately brief kiss, I heard via the extremely efficient system of high school gossip that I was, in fact, a terrible kisser. Much worse than Steve.

LeAnn and I kept seeing other for a little while, but the thrill was gone. With the kiss out of the way and her verdict so decisively and publicly rendered, there was little desire on my part to try again. We both knew how she felt. Any more kisses would have been interpreted one of two ways. Either I would still suck at it or I would be trying too hard to overcome my initial performance. Mostly, when we got together we watched bad TV in my bedroom. Afterward, I'd take her home. She'd scamper quickly from my Sunbird before things got uncomfortable. And I'd go back home and make out with my pillow. It never once complained.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Library Haul

First, thanks to the new followers: Rena, who is an absolute blogging machine; the cowgirls (about damn time we got some cowgirls in here), and the inimitable Bryan Bliss. Thanks, all. I look forward to your many witty comments.

Went to the library today and picked up six books. They are:

Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Andromeda Klein
Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The Treasure Map of Boys

And here are my opinions of the books before I even read them:

Al Capone Shines My Shoes is a sequel and as such will disappoint.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim will be funny because, like the cast of Seinfeld, Sedaris is unabashedly selfish and that always makes for laughs.

Andromeda Klein will positively drip with voice, but will be skimpy on plot and probably wander off a bit. But it'll be funny, so I'll read it in spite of its shortcomings.

Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo will be good, but won't come close to matching the Bartimaeus Trilogy so it will ultimately be a little dissatisfying.*

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas--I've never seen the movie, but I know drugs play a prominent role. I'm hoping for an entertaining voice and some major drug-induced hijinks. If it's not shaping up that way, I probably won't finish it.

The Treasure Map of Boys, or as it's printed on the book, the treasure map of boys, which irritates me. I'm teaching my third graders to capitalize titles, the least the publishing industry could do is stick to the rule. I liked the disreputable history of frankie landau banks so I figured I'd give this a shot even though it doesn't look like my cup of tea. Also realized after I got home that it is "a ruby oliver novel" and I haven't read any other ruby oliver novels so I might be out of the loop.

What are you reading?
*Is there a difference between dissatisfying and unsatisfying? I should probably know if there is.

Friday, December 4, 2009

See Me Interviewed

Since I already spilled enough virtual ink answering Heather Lane's questions, I won't bore you any further today. You can read the interview here. I'm answering questions! So feel free to ask about my collection of McDonald's Dream Team cups.

Thanks again, Heather. 'Twas fun.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Axed the Journal Format

Having heard back from all critiquers of my YA novel, I have gone ahead and cut the journal format from the book. To those who haven't read it, this means little to you, but I'll speak in generalities the rest of the way to make this more accessible.

The reason I made the change is twofold. First, and most importantly, I always had issues with it, and if there's anything I've learned it's that when I've got reservations about something in my story I'm usually right. A lot of times I refuse to listen to my gut for all sorts of bad reasons, (my ego being one) and stuff I know doesn't work stays in the story for far too long.

Which brings me to reason number two. A number of those who read the novel shared their concerns over the format. When I put this together with reason number one, it becomes pretty evident that there's a problem. My experience with critiques is that, with very few exceptions, the concerns readers have are the same ones I have but have been too stubborn (or scared or self-delusional or all sorts of other stupid emotions that get in the way) to remedy. I'd say 90 percent of the time a reader's concern affirms what I already deep down knew to be true.

So the journal format goes, and getting rid of it was much easier than I expected, both emotionally and physically (I probably deleted a total of a thousand words is all). And even though I had to take out a couple of pretty sweet lines, the book is stronger for it.

Now I've just gotta figure out a plot.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From the Vault

My mom saved a lot of stuff from my school years and when they moved she gave it all to me. The cardboard box in the basement contains old report cards, class schedules, certificates of achievement (I was a kick-ass speller), art projects (including a smoking Frenchman. Good luck getting away with that nowadays.), and some writing.

One piece of writing is a story I wrote some time in elementary school. I've typed it below and included a couple of clickable pictures. I also added editorial comments in red. Like the Crash Test Dummies song, the story is untitled. Unlike the Crash Test Dummies song, the story sucks. Without Freddy Adu:


One day a little boy said, "When I grow up I am going to be a policeman."
[Nice start here. You wasted no time in establishing the main character's goal.]

"You are?" said his dad.


"Well when I growed up I wanted to be a person that works at a gas station," his dad said.
[And with grammar like that, he was probably shooting a little high.]

"Dad, I want to make up my own mind," the boy said.
[Ah! Conflict. And we have some characterization here. The boy is not to be bullied by his uneducated, wannabe gas station attendant father. It's getting good now!]

"Okay then."
[So much for the conflict. How much more interesting it would have been if Dad had been involved in some criminal enterprise. Perhaps he could be stealing gasoline from the stations that refused to hire him. How delicious that would have been. The father could have actively worked to sabotage his own son's career, fearful that his thievery would eventually be discovered.]

Boy, I'm a grown up! I am a policeman! And here is my motorcycle!
[Might wanna work on the transition from child to adult here. And having the character struggle to reach his goal is usually recommended. Plus, where exactly is this motorcycle?*]

Oh, no. Here is a bad guy. Here is my motorcycle. And here I go!

I got the bad guy. I have the bad guy.
[Hmm. Interesting use of repetition. A chase scene might have been good. Or maybe the bad guy could, I don't know, actually do something bad, like take a gas station manager hostage. As for the illustration, is there a reason it's upside down?** Is that symbolism? A metaphor that I'm failing to understand? And what's with the criminal's arms? Is he some sort of man-bird hybrid? Because if he is, you probably should have mentioned it.]

The End
[And not a moment too soon.]

*There is no motorcycle because I couldn't draw motorcycles. Still can't.
**The pages are upside down because I screwed up and the teacher didn't have the heart to make me redo them. So she just stapled 'em in there. Truth: I kind of like it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

So I Got a Wii

Because that's what people my age do when they realize they're about 25 pounds heavier than they ought to be and they can't stick to something simple like, say, exercising and eating better. Here's how the thinking went on this Wii thing:

My in-laws have a Wii and we were over there playing it. They have the balance board and it weighs you and, in conjunction with the Wii Fit software, you can do all sorts of pseudo-exercises. It tells you how many calories you burn and all kinds of whatnot.

So I said something to The Wife like, "Hey, we should get one of these."

And The Wife gave me a look, but not the look, which was what she gave me when I suggested we go on a cruise over Christmas. So I knew there was a chance if I could make a reasoned argument.

"It could be our Christmas gift to each other."

This idea held some appeal for her, probably because I'm not that easy to buy for and because, in her heart of hearts, she wanted a Wii too.

So we got our Wii and the balance board Saturday and we spent the rest of the weekend trying it out. (And you wonder why I haven't been writing anything worth a damn.)

So, for those with Wiis, here are my favorite sports games in order:

1. Tennis
2. Bowling
3. Golf, which Little One is pretty good at. She birdied two holes in a row.
4. Baseball
5. Boxing (Killed my arms. They still hurt and it's Monday.)

And what I completely suck at is Yoga. There's this yoga thing called The Tree. It looks like this. I tried to do the tree. (That sounds wrong.) I failed miserably, much to the delight of The Wife. She laughed so hard she cried as I tried to get my foot in my crotch and then stand there without falling over. Let's just say I did not in any way resemble a tree. Unless you're talking about the kind of out-of-control, violently swaying tree one might see in a hurricane.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Here's the Truth

Anita, in a way only Anita can, lightly chided me for not blogging more often and I'd like to explain myself. So here's the truth: I got nothin'.

My creative juices have dried up. I've written nothing original in weeks. I sit down to blog and I have nothing to say. In fact, I tried to post earlier and then realized that the whole thing sounded familiar. So I checked my own archives and found a post that was almost identical to the one I was composing. ("Composing" makes this whole thing sound much more serious.)

I've done some revising on my YA, but even that's slow going. I've tried coming up with new stuff and I sit there and stare at the white screen of my laptop. I type some drivel and backspace over it, type some more garbage and erase that too. That story about the ducks is the best I've come up with in what feels like forever and I got nary a response to that which means it pretty well sucks.

So since I haven't written anything, I really have nothing to blog about. I can't exactly blog about my writing because there's hasn't been any. I could blog about the minutiae of my extremely interesting life, but how often can you go to that well before the water starts to get that metallic taste to it and you think it might have too high an iron content and so you buy bottled water even though you know it's a total rip-off and probably not that much healthier than the stuff coming out of the tap? You know?

Patience, young padawans. Genius is a fickle beast.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Story for the Kids

Five ducks lived on the pond. They were very pretty ducks and because they were pretty people liked to look at them. But looking at ducks gets boring because ducks don’t really do much, so to get the ducks to do something the people would feed the ducks. They fed them bread from their picnic sandwiches.

The five ducks were very good friends. They looked out for one another. They shared. One thing they shared was the bread. And because they shared the bread, each duck gained the same amount of weight because bread is full of carbohydrates. Especially white bread, and that is what the picnic people mostly fed them.

One day, after the picnic people had left and the ducks had all eaten their bread, something appeared in the sky above the pond. All the ducks craned their heads to see what it was. It came out of the sun with its wings flapping and landed clumsily in the middle of the pond. The ducks gasped, as much as ducks can gasp. They stared. They swam toward one another and huddled together.

“What is it?” asked one of the ducks.

“It is a bird of some sort,” answered another.

“Are you sure?” asked a third duck.

“It was flying, wasn’t it?” said the second duck.

“Bats fly. They’re not ducks,” added the fifth duck, who liked to be contrary.

And then the thing that had landed in the pond spoke. It said, “My name is Lester, and I am a duck.”

And the five ducks laughed and laughed because Lester looked nothing like them. He was brown and mottled and he had a lazy left eye. And look how skinny he was! Why, it was a wonder he could fly anywhere at all. The wind must have its way with him.“You’re no duck,” they told Lester.

The next day, when the picnic people came with their bread, the children pointed at Lester and said, “Look at that ugly duck.” Some of the women reminded their children of the ugly duckling story because they felt bad for Lester. But the children ignored their mothers as much as they ignored Lester. They fed their bread to the five fat, pretty ducks and Lester got none. The other ducks did not share with Lester.

And it went like this for many days. Lester was very hungry. He said to the other ducks, “When the picnic people come tomorrow with their bread, could you share some of it with me?” But the other ducks pretended not to hear him because they knew it was worse to be ignored than to be hated and the pretty ducks wanted Lester to leave.

The next day, when the picnic people came, there was only one duck left on the pond. It was Lester. The other ducks had all died of heart attacks because of their high cholesterol levels. The people were confused. “Where are the pretty ducks?” they said. But they soon realized that feeding an ugly duck was better than not feeding any ducks at all and so they fed their bread to Lester.

Lester was starving and he gorged himself on the bread. The picnic people loved it. They kept tossing in more bread and Lester kept eating it. When the people finally left, Lester had a stomachache. He Lester took a nap because that is what you feel like doing a couple of hours after ingesting a lot of carbohydrates.

When Lester woke up later that night he was no longer alone on the pond. There was another duck. “Hello,” the new duck said. “My name is Witherspoon.”

Lester laughed. Witherspoon! What a ridiculous name for a duck. And look at him! He looked nothing at all like Lester. He was white and sleek and when he swam he went in circles. “I have a balance problem,” Witherspoon explained.

The next day, when the picnic people came with their bread, they were excited to see the second duck. They thought that he was pretty and people like pretty things better than they like ugly things. They tried to feed him bread, but Lester would not allow it. As Witherspoon spun in circles, Lester darted for the crumbs and gobbled them all up. The people became angry with Lester.

“Get out of the way, you ugly duck!” they yelled.

“Let the pretty one eat some, lazy eye!” they shouted.

Witherspoon pleaded, “Please, let me have just one taste of bread. I’m very hungry.” But Lester’s heart was hard from the treatment of the five pretty ducks and sometimes when you have been treated badly it makes you want to treat others badly. So Lester did not share. He ate all the bread. And he fell asleep with a full stomach while Witherspoon stayed up all night, his stomach growling.


I Am Home Sick Today

But that will not stop me from entertaining you.

I really don't feel all that bad, but I've got no voice. And you need a voice to teach third grade. How else would I shout things like

"Pay attention! You must learn how to write the cursive S! Cursive writing is the future! Why do you think I spend valuable class time teaching it!"

or "Don't forget to take home your spelling words to study so you can ace Friday's test and then immediately forget those words and subsequently misspell them every single time in your writing!" (Cause I use words like 'subsequently' with my third graders. Their confused looks make me feel superior.)

or "Computers?! We're not wasting our time with those things! I'm trying to prepare you for the future here!"

So I stayed home because teaching's no fun unless you can raise your voice.

I actually have some voice. I can talk real deep, like Vin Diesel, but it comes off as me trying to sound tough and that just doesn't fly.

I ain't tough.

Plus, it would be weird to say stuff like, "Destiny, remember to use I-messages. Instead of yelling at Fred, say 'Fred, I feel sad when you call me names like turd fungus'" in a Vin-Diesel voice.

My normal voice is kaput. I've got a thin lining of mucus coating my throat that I spend all day horking up but it just keeps regenerating like the tentacles of a green hydra in the dark. It's gotten a little thicker today which makes it easier to hork, but then I get that disgusting boogery taste in my mouth for the few seconds before I spit it in the sink and rinse it down because The Wife is not happy when she sees horked up booger spit in her sink.

The good news is I slept a lot better last night than the night before when I literally go no sleep. I hadn't done that since college and back then it was intentional. You ever go through a day on zero sleep? It sucks. So I'd like to thank NyQuil for assisting last night.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Murphblog by the Numbers

This is my 200th post. My first ever post was on November 9 of last year. So that means I've now been blogging for over a year. Congratulations to me.

I have 93 books listed in the "Books I've Read in 2009" section of the blog. Technically, I've read more than that but I don't list every book I read aloud to my third graders. There's probably another 20 or so that I started reading and gave up on, which is why you do not see The Story of Edgar Sawtelle on the list. I'm excited to reach the 100 mark because I sort of set that as a goal for myself this year. When I get there, I'm planning a top ten list. I will try to be unbiased, but I'll probably fail.

I once again have 54 followers. Somebody dropped out a while back. No doubt they are regretting their hasty decision and are embarrassed to admit their mistake. I expect the person to soon be begging my forgiveness. In the meantime, let's all welcome Paul to the crew. Paul lives in Alaska and his blog has some amazing pictures on it. He's also got some good stuff about writing. And his name is Paul, so points for that.

Speaking of points, here's the leaderboard:


Points are tabulated using a formula not unlike baseball's OPS in its complexity. The worst way to acquire points is to make an obvious attempt at points acquisition, with the notable exception of agreeing with the blogger (that would be me in this case). I like when people agree with me. I also like when people disagree because that usually means more comments. And I like comments. That's one way to earn points. Unless you're commenting for the sole purpose of earning points, in which case you'll probably lose a few. Or a lot depending on my mood. Your best bet is to read everything I write, agree with most of it, comment often, but act like you don't really care all that much. Which is why Anita is in first.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When Dialogue Goes Bad

Every once in a while it's helpful to read something you hate. So many of the books I read remind me of how far I have to go in my own writing, but sometimes I'll grab one that rubs me wrong in so many ways that I think to myself, "At least I'm not doing that in my stories."

Without mentioning the title, I recently finished a very popular book that, in so many words, sucked. Now usually I would never finish such a book, but this one was so incredibly awful that I just kept reading, mesmerized by its suckiness. I even kept notes, which is something I never do while reading, because I wanted to see just why I hated the book so much. I came up with eleven reasons, some of which were sort of trivial and personal (overuse of italics); others which I consider unpardonable sins. I'd like to talk about one of the unpardonable sins: crummy dialogue.

Since dialogue is basically the soundtrack of a story, it's imperative that the author get it right at least most of the time. I found five major problems with the dialogue in the story.


1. Inconsistent voice---I'd love to use actual examples from the text, but I promised myself that I wouldn't out the book, so I've changed some of the words:

"I was just packing up for the day. Wendell's has been temporarily shut down after the inspection, so until it opens up again, and I hope it does soon, I'll be back washing cars for a living."

Later, same character: "I know you trying to put on your brave face--that face that even your mama might not see through. But I know what you got, and you got it bad."

2. Dialogue tags other than said--I can handle a few of them, but I literally just opened to a page in this book and saw the following, in order:

John groaned. Sally taunted. John asked. Sally explained. Sally toasted, John groaned (again), John protested
I could probably look past most of the above, but there were also places where the writer wrote something like:

"I know" was all he could muster.

3. Dialogue used solely as a means to dump information, often easily identified by being too long. People just don't talk in this many sentences, unless they're giving a speech, which is basically what this sort of dialogue amounts to.

"This place wasn't here when I was a kid," said John. "It was built in 1987. People born during the 70s and 80s are referred to as the "Me Generation" because they put themselves above duty. You've heard the phrases "Be Yourself," and "Believe in Yourself?" Those came out of this me first mindset. You know, we live in a time when high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood, when young people have more freedom and independence than ever, but also far more depression, anxiety, cynicism, and loneliness. People like you have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house. Your expectations are sky high just as the world is becoming more competitive. Disappointment is almost guaranteed. That's what I feel here--disappointment."

4. Dialogue that doesn't fit the character

If a college kid is going to demonstrate through dialogue that she knows all about the Peloponnesian War, then the reader better be presented with a reason why she knows this stuff.

If a twelve-year-old is going to offer pearls of wisdom like Donald Sutherland, then there better be a reason why he knows so much.

5. Dialogue that would never happen because two characters would have no reason to say these things to each other.

"Remember how Mom hated the Yankees?"
"Sure do."
"She ever tell you about the time she threw a banana peel at Moose Skowron?"
"Probably fifty times."
"Yep, she waited outside the players' entrance at old Tiger Stadium and when that ugly sumbitch got within range, she fired that nasty thing right at his flat-top."
"Missed though."
"Yep, missed. She always said, 'How in the hell do you miss something that big?'
"Sure did."*

* I actually kind of like this bit of dialogue, but it's totally unnecessary and not believable. It could be remedied by adding a third character who lacks knowledge of the incident, although if the anecdote is at all central to the story, it still comes off as a cheesy writer's trick.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This is Me Being Insecure

So this week sucked. It was parent-teacher conference week, which for me means I had to spend Monday night making sure I had everything ready for the conferences, Tuesday night actually doing the conferences, Wednesday night making sure I was ready for Thursday's conferences, and Thursday night going through another round of conferences. Because I team teach, I had 56 conferences, each lasting about 10 minutes.

So the blog and writing and reading and family and just about everything else didn't even make it onto the back burner. And I realized how pitifully insecure I am about my standing in the Webosphere. I just logged on and caught up on some of my favorite bloggers and the whole time I'm doing so I'm actually thinking, "Oh man, they're going to be so disappointed. I haven't been commenting and I haven't been blogging anything interesting in like, a month. I've probably lost 10 followers."

Seriously, I'm actually worried about this.

I think it says two things, both of which are embarrassing. First, I obviously have an inflated view of my own contributions to the Blogosphere. My guess is no one really noticed or cared that I wasn't commenting on their blogs. Second, I'm kind of a pathetic loser who is worried about letting down a lot of people I've never even met.

But then again, these same people I've never met have provided hours of entertainment and given me valuable feedback on my writing and have bothered to actually read the garbage I throw up on this blog.

So maybe it's not that pathetic.

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's a V-Log Explosion! Ka-Boom!

Been a while since I v-logged, so to make up for it I give you two. The first one is new. I made it tonight. The reason I'm sort of whispering is because The Wife was in the next room and I was self-conscious about the whole thing. It's about my office.

The second one is old. I made it back in March but didn't post it because I felt weird about it. It seems like I'm sarcastically ripping on Sophomore Undercover, which I had no intention of doing. Sophomore Undercover rules. Kirkus doesn't. That's what I'd like you to take away from the video. That, and beer is really good on unseasonably warm days.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Training Day

Attended a training on teaching kids with autism today (it was actually the third such training so far this year) and, like most trainings, they managed to spread an hour's worth of material over the entire eight-hour day. Educators are very good at doing this. And they don't even try to hide it.

For example, the first thing we did was introduce ourselves, a totally worthless exercise for the following reasons:

1. You know you're never going to remember everyone's name.
2. So you don't really listen, thereby guaranteeing number one.
3. The other reason you don't listen is because you're mostly thinking about how you're going to introduce yourself, which is ironic because no one is going to be listening to you either.

Then the presenters told us when our breaks and lunch would be, which is basically admitting that those things are going to be the highlights of everyone's day.

And they always have chocolate. The chocolate is bribery. It's a way of saying, "I know this is going to be really boring, but please don't fall asleep or walk out or give us a bad review on the feedback form because, hey, we did bring chocolate."

And women--it's always women--will make chocolate jokes. I've never been at a training where some woman did not make a chocolate joke. What is a chocolate joke? Well, first of all, it's not funny. It's especially not funny when you've heard it sixty times. Here's how it usually goes:

Presenter: The first thing you're going to want to do when you start the year is establish some norms for your team. Many teams agree that they're are going to meet weekly and that everyone will be on time and prepared. You might discuss how work will be delegated. Take a moment and brainstorm some norms for your teams.

Woman: I've got one. There will be chocolate at all meetings.

Told you. Not funny.

Here's something else that bothered me. Today's presenters used PowerPoint. Shocking, I know. And by "use," I mean they had a fifty page slide show that they read to us. I've never understood this. If you're going to take the time to type everything, why do you need to read it to me? I can read.

And of course the sound on the videos was barely above whisper volume and they didn't know how to fix it and I had to sit there suppressing the male urge to walk up there and tinker with the settings.

And, like always, we had to write things on chart paper and there was the whole, "My handwriting stinks" and "I'll write, but I don't want to share" nonsense, and that's stupid too, that someone even has to share. What's the point of writing something on huge chart paper and hanging the paper on the wall if you're just going to stand up and tell everyone what you wrote?

Actually, I know the answer to that. It's to waste time. Because eight hours lasts forever when you're not actually doing anything, and after a while it doesn't matter how much chocolate they have, because not only couldn't they work the sound but the lighting sucked, they ran out of brownies at lunch, and there were seven typos in their stupid PowerPoint presentation.

I'd tell you to avoid these presenters, but I have no idea what their names are.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

James Kennedy is Near

James Kennedy, world-class entertainer, all around groovy guy, and author of The Order of Odd-Fish (see all four Order of Odd-Fish Week posts here, here, here, and here) will be in Lansing tomorrow. Lansing, as some of you already know, is very close to where I live. And Mr. James Kennedy mentioned a long time ago that we should meet up while he was in town. This sounded like a splendid idea, but one I was pretty sure he'd forget about by the time November 5 rolled around.

And then two days ago I get an email from Mr. Kennedy and even though I am not a librarian he offers to get me in to his talk at the annual MLA conference. And based on past performances, I know it will be oodles of awesome.

Alas, I'm attending a training on teaching kids with autism tomorrow and will not be able to attend. Even more alas, James has to run following his presentation and I won't be able to give him my manuscript.

I mean, have him autograph my lucky sock.

Or tell him how much I'm looking forward to The Magnificent Moots.

Or ask him how he likes the whole fatherhood thing.

Or ask him just what sort of stuff he was inhaling back in the day.

Or quote lines from his book to him that relate to some situation we may find ourselves in. For example, say we were enjoying some adult beverages at The Nut House and the waitress kept screwing up our food order. I might say, "The Inconvenience must be working at peak performance, James." He would chuckle. Then after the waitress screwed everything up she would overcharge us and James would say, "Murphy, you didn't turn the silver crank, did you?" And we would both laugh uproariously.

So it's too bad none of that is going to happen. But this is not too bad: James assures me there will be shenanigans involving him wearing feathers and that he's planning to have it YouTubed. So make sure you check in on him at his new fancy home on the Web.

And buy his book if you haven't already. I mean, jeez, what are you waiting for exactly?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Help My Student Writers

My students are currently supposed to be revising their personal narratives. And some of them are. But a lot of them just rewrite the same story they wrote the first time around and, even though I've done lots of lessons on revising, I think some of them are overwhelmed and others are just forgetful.

So I typed up a handout to give them titled "Things to Revise" and I included the following. Now I'm asking for your help. Give me some other things writers do when they revise. Please remember that I teach third graders and we're not working on fiction yet. That said, feel free to share whatever. I can always not include it.

· Write new leads and choose the best one.

· Rewrite any areas that might be confusing.

· Add words that make sentences more clear.

· Name things—instead of “restaurant” say “Taco Joe’s.”

· Change tells to shows—instead of “I was mad,” write “I slammed my fist on the table.”

· Insert some dialogue.

· Make sure your dialogue is easy to follow. Who is talking?

· Make sure you don’t have parts that are nothing except dialogue. Insert small actions or facial expressions into your dialogue.

· Insert descriptions. Try some imagery. “The clouds looked like wisps of cotton, strewn across the sky.”

· Insert feelings or thoughts.

· Insert small actions.

· Word Choice—what word best describes it?

· Delete things that don’t belong in the story.

· Delete extra words that aren’t necessary.

· Rewrite your ending.

· Check paragraphing. What is most effective?

· Speed through unimportant parts.

· Slow way down during important parts—add lots of small details.

· Try a simile or metaphor to compare something—“He ate like a starving lion.”

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Some Quick Stuff

  • Thanks to everyone who read the YA. I'm waiting on a couple more people, but I already have a good idea of things I need to work on.
  • How come the holes in belts are never exactly where you want them?
  • I bought Skittles, Starbursts, and Kit Kats for Halloween. I've kept the bags in the backseat of my car because if I brought them in the house, the Kit Kats would already be gone. Kit Kats are good, for those keeping score at home. Conspicuously absent? Almond Joys. Although, after talking with The Wife, she reminded me of the commercial jingle "Almond Joy's got nuts. Mounds don't" which means that there is actually a candy bar that is worse than Almond Joy. It also means that you can eat a Mounds here, but you can't eat an Almond Joy. Not that you'd want to eat either one.
  • I dressed up for my classroom Halloween party. I was Caesar. I bought my costume at Wal-mart for seventeen bucks. None of my students knew who I was, but when I told them, they said, "Like Little Caesar's?" Yes, just like Little Caesar's.
  • Phillies in six. Utley wins MVP. (Yeah, I know that's not exactly a limb I'm on, since he already homered twice.)
  • My house is falling apart. Two bricks have fallen out of the inside wall of the fireplace. My hot tub is a cold tub. And we've got a leak in the three season's room. So starting today, there's a dollar charge for reading this blog. You can email your dollar to me at murphypaulmichael@gmail.com. Thanks.
  • On second thought, scratch that dollar thing. If I charged people, I'd feel obligated to provide something of worth on here and I just don't need that kind of pressure. So if you really want to email me, you can send along funny YouTube clips.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From the Classroom

After some kid farted, another one said, "It smells like someone's business."

I had a hard time keeping a straight face.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why I'm Not Doing NaNoWriMo

I will not be participating in National Novel Writing Month. There are a few reasons.


1. I don't want to start a new novel. I've got two novels in a sort-of-done stage right now and I've been lax on the whole agent search thing. So what I need to do is figure out a decent query for FARVE and hit UP NORTH with the revision stick. And I've got two other novels in progress that have some potential.

2. I probably wouldn't finish in thirty days and then I'd feel like a failure and I don't like feeling like a failure. To illustrate: I was at a bar a few years back and had engaged in some over-imbibing. It happened to be karaoke night. I'm not normally one for karaoke. In fact, what I usually do while someone karaokes is make snide remarks to my friends that are probably louder than I intend them to be. I especially deride the trios of women that sing together because 1. they're not brave enough to go it alone, 2. they act like they're really having fun but that's just a cover for their anxiety, 3. if they're attractive, guys will encourage them and applaud them even if (and there's really no if about it) they totally suck*, and 3. nothing sounds crappier than three twenty-something girls singing at the same time.

So I'd had a few and I got the great idea to show off my vocal range, which, you may remember, is not exactly expansive. I went alone (to do otherwise would have been grossly hypocritical by that time of the night), and I elected to sing Clarence Carter's Strokin'.

I thought I was hilarious.** I acted out the appropriate parts of the song and sang with gusto. I was working hard up there, brother. And when I finished, I expected rousing applause or at least some good-natured laughter. Instead, most people ignored me, a few grumbled, and one jerk yelled, "You suck!" My feelings were really hurt. Which is saying something considering the euphoric state I was in. So yeah, failure stinks.

3. I really can't stand typing or saying NaNoWriMo. Seriously, typing that right then made me throw up in my mouth just a little. Ick. It's like some stupid thing a little kid would make up, like "nana nana boo boo!" And where did nana nana boo boo come from, anyway? All kids, upon reaching a certain age, seem to know nana nana boo boo and I don't get where they learn it. Last week, my very own child uttered this ludicrous phrase and I scolded her for it.*** There will be no nana nana boo boo in my house. And there'll be no NaNoWriMo, either. (Shudders)

* I include myself in this group, but note that I am not faulting the guys. We are behaving as we are biologically programmed to do. It's the girls, knowing that they'll get this treatment, that I blame, because if they are in fact attractive they almost always already know it. It's not like they need drunk guys hooting at them. They do it to make their ugly friends feel bad. That's my theory anyway. And that's just not cool.

**This is sort of a chronic failing, altered state of mind or not.

***I said, "No! There will be no nana nana boo boo. Stop that right now! If I ever hear you say nana nana boo boo in this house, then I'm going to tell you again that there is no nana nana boo boo in this house. You hear me, young lady?"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Embarrassing Secret (But Aren't Most of Them?)

"What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets."
--Andre Malraux

So in an attempt be less miserable, I'm going to unload a rather embarrassing secret today. It's a secret that I only revealed to The Wife two days ago, and since I found the whole experience pretty liberating, I figured, why not tell a few people I've never met?

I don't get time travel.

There, I said it. I know I'm supposed to get time travel because I am 1. a guy, 2. a huge Back to the Future fan, and 3. thought Bill and Ted' Excellent Adventure was excellent. But really, I don't get it and I never have.

I bring this up because of the book I just finished, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. SPOILER: There's some time travel stuff in there. And I really couldn't wrap my head around much of it. This is nothing new. In spite of my adoration of Back to the Future (and the fact that I've seen those movies way too many times to accurately count), I have never gotten time travel.

I mean, I get the theory and I'm perfectly willing to go along with the eventual possibility of it happening. I just don't get the physics at all. Any time I read a book or watch a movie and there's any time traveling in it, my head just about explodes trying to figure it all out.

I think part of the problem is there needs to be some agreement on the rules. Can you or can you not run into yourself in your own past or future? Will that or will that not cause problems? If I go back in time as an old man and influence my younger self to act in a way that I did not when I was younger, doesn't that then change me (the old man)? If so changed, am I still presented with the opportunity to go back in time, or would my new life trajectory make that impossible? If it was impossible and I couldn't go back in time as an older man to alter my younger self's life, then---ah! Screw it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Don't Believe You

Blog business first: Thanks to Abby, Yaya, and Top Dragon for joining the party. Your followership has pushed the number to fifty and that is at once awesome and baffling. Not unlike Barry Gibb's voice.

So I was reading Nathan Bransford's blog today. I don't recall the topic, but in the comments, writers were saying stuff I've heard writers say lots of times. And I realized I didn't really believe some of them. In fact, there are a few things writers claim that I hardly ever believe. I don't think they're necessarily lying. I think a lot of them have convinced themselves that they're telling the truth. But I also think there are writers who, especially when commenting in a forum likely read by publishing types, think there are certain things they're supposed to say. So they say them. Suck-ups.

The worst of these is something along the lines of "I have to write." You don't. You have to sleep. You have to drink water. Less often, you have to eat. (Unless you're an Olson twin.) People say they have to write because it sounds good, like the writer is not only dedicated, but physically addicted. Because we all know how appealing addiction is, no?

Then there's the opposite: the tortured writer who comes to the computer kicking and screaming. Like exercise, this writer, who can often be found on bestseller lists, claims she really hates to do it, but, because she's such a pro, she makes herself and, although she's not exactly happy to have it done, she can at least go about the rest of her day. (Which is almost always equally awful.)

I'm also bothered by the whole "my characters go off and do shit on their own without my permission" stuff. I get that you're really into your story and that you dream about your characters. I get that you put your characters in situations and then realize those characters are going to act differently than originally planned. I even get that your characters unexpectedly change during the course of writing a novel. But you are the creator. You are the god of your story. And you decide what your characters will say, do, and feel. So please, quit acting like you've created such amazingly deep characters that they've actually turned into real people with the ability to make decisions on their own. Cause that just sounds like a bad Will Smith movie.

One more: "I don't care if I ever get published/I write only for myself." Look, part of why I write is to entertain myself. But the truth is, I can entertain myself without ever writing any of it down. And I don't slave over commas and word choice out of fear of disappointing myself. Ultimately, 90 percent of what I write is intended to be read by other people. Hopefully, lots of other people.

And now that you're all frothing and your fingertips are itching to disagree with me (just in case an agent stumbles onto my comments and remembers you as the one who agreed that you actually don't have to write), allow me to say some things that I, as a teacher, am not supposed to say:

  • Not all kids are cut out for college.
  • Yes, they can all learn, but they can't all learn what we want them to. And I'm not talking about speed. I'm talking about there are some kids who are never going to get certain things like I am never going to understand the internal combustion engine. (Are engines still internally combustible?)
  • I am not "in it for the kids." And I am not alone. Don't get me wrong, I like the kids. I'd much rather spend eight hours with them instead of adults, but they are not why I put up with the associated nonsense. That reason is simple: pay and benefits, just like most of you at your jobs.*

*Some proof that I'm not alone: Here in Michigan, funding is being cut and will be cut even further next year. When these cuts occur, most teachers will not take much of a salary hit because their unions (comprised of teachers) will fight that vigorously. What will happen instead? Cuts will be made to other programs, programs that help kids. Newer teachers, ones with the most energy and innovative ideas, will be laid off, which will in turn increase class sizes, which has been shown to negatively impact student performance. (And teachers who've been around forever will complain of having 35 kids in their rooms, not realizing the rich irony.**)I'm not proud of any of this, but the truth is, there are a whole lot of teachers who are not just doing it "for the kids."

I'm also not willing to be overly critical. I never took a vow. I never received a calling. This ain't the clergy; it's a job, and it's increasingly becoming a job that's coming dangerously close to surrogate parent for way too many of these kids. So I can understand teachers wanting paychecks in line with other professionals.

**I've never really understood irony.