Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Good News? It's Saturday

Bleh. Apologies in advance, this isn't going to be uplifting, enlightening, or all that entertaining. (How's that for a hook?)

First off, the Little One is supposed to be napping right now. Instead she's doing this. (The coughing, not the smoking or hanging out in a creepy apartment with a lady who evidently thinks hacking up a lung is hilarious.)

Second, my shoulders are sore. This is not the result of some weird writing injury, but the inevitable consequence of me trying to push something that is not really designed to be pushed. I was shoveling the driveway (for about the thirtieth time this godforsaken winter) yesterday when a neighbor sought assistance. It seems her car, if you could call it that, was stuck at the end of her driveway. Nobility and chivalry being two of my most irrepressible character traits, I of course ran (okay, briskly walked) over to help. The damsel in distress seemed to think that my maleness somehow equated with physical strength and that I would be able to simply shove her car out of its slushy, snowy vice.

Have I mentioned that I teach third graders and supposedly write books for kids? The heaviest thing I lift on a regular basis is a basket of my laundry (and by "regular," I mean, like, once every month. Maybe.) But I gave it the old college try. My manhood was at stake. I succeeded in getting sprayed with slushy mud while the girl gunned the engine, but was unable to budge the car a single inch. I left feeling a lot like this guy must feel every day.

I was further emasculated (figuratively) when the fair maiden came knocking on my front door this morning. She held a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (they had M&Ms in them, too) and proceeded to effusively thank me for "helping." I made the mistake of asking how everything turned out and she said another guy, "a big guy", as she put it, stopped by and pushed her out. Nice. The cookies were good though; they were even still warm. Moral of the story: Revealing yourself as a weakling may result in delicious cookies.

Third. At noon, I went to get the mail: two bills and another rejection from the fine folks at Highlights for Children. I have an unspoken agreement with the editors of Highlights. Every couple of months I send them some poetry. In return, they send me a rejection letter with the "Not suitable to our present needs" box checked. I put these rejections into a manila folder labeled "Character Builders." It's a densely populated file. Much more so than the folder labeled "Confidence Builders."

But don't feel too sorry for me, rabid devotees. I am, and will forever be, an award-winning blogger. Can't take that away from me. (or the cookies. I put them really high where the wife can't reach.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Which I Thank, Complain, and Award, All in One Brilliant Post

First, the thank yous. I'd like to publicly thank both Big Plain V and Jill for evisera--I mean, critiquing--my query letter. Actually, that's a joke. They were both very kind and helpful, which is quite the little dance if you've never tried it. Today I saved "query_farve_12" to my hard drive and that in no way represents how many changes I've made to the thing. (And it still sucks!)

As a reward to my many readers, I am thinking about posting the query when it's finally done. (So check back in 2013.) And okay, I do have an ulterior motive. I've read that agents actually read blogs (not this one, though, so don't worry). So the way I figure it, once my amazing query is done (thanks to BPV and Jill) I ought to put it out there for the whole world (especially agents who want to rep it) to see. Might someone read it and steal my idea? Possibly. But it took me a year to write the thing, and it's taking another for the query, so I have a huge head start. Might an agent be upset that I posted it for other agents to see? Probably. But competition is good, no? Besides, I have an offer to all agents reading this: As soon as you contact me and say you want to read the full, I'll take the query off the blog. Now that's fair, isn't it?

Second, the complaint. The Little One is ill, so I went to the local apothecary to seek medication. Big mistake. I was unaware that there are appoximately 56 different kinds of Tylenol for Children. There's Tylenol for Fevers and Tylenol for Sore Throats and Tylenol for Hangnails. Then there are gels and liquids and tablets and of course there's grape and cherry and avocado. Needless to say, I bought the wrong kind. Thanks, Tylenol.

Third, I suppose it's time to choose a winner of the "Say What" Contest. I've been dreading this moment for the following reasons: 1. Some loyal Murphblog readers are not going to win and I feel bad about it. 2. My favorite entry contains a bad word and while I don't censor comments (well, okay, I censored one of the entries, but it was really bad) I do censor myself. You will note that I have not once written a naughty word on this blog. I intend to keep it that way. So while I could technically award the entry having to do with flat pennies, I'm not going to. 3. Some people actually tried hard to write really good entries, but they wrote too many words. The limit was 250 and I'm sticking to it. Take comfort in knowing I feel bad about this.

So, the winner. I'm going to avoid explaining why I chose this entry because if there's anything I've learned from watching sports it's that referees get in more trouble when they try to justify their calls.

The winner of the First Annual "Say What" Contest is...Angela.

Well done, Angela. You'll have your prize, Sophomore Undercover, sometime in early March, I would guess. There is only one stipulation: after reading (and loving) it, you must offer it up as a prize for a contest on your own blog. More on this to come.

Random Thought of the Day:

The phrase "Obama's stimulus package" makes me giggle every time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Got Bushed (Sort of)

Because I'm about to hunker down and hammer out a query letter, I'll be brief. (Well, as brief as I can be.)

Today I got whacked upside the head by a shoe. This was a first. I have, in the past, had a water bottle gunned at me and I've been called a few colorful names (f***er being one), but this was the first time I had ever been treated like a wartime President in front of the Iraqi press. Unfortunately, my reflexes weren't quite as good as our former President. It hit me right above the ear.

Now to be fair, the shoe bomber did not actually intend to launch footwear at her teacher. It was before recess, she was goofing off and kicking at the air or dancing like this or something (I don't know, my back was turned and I was bent over unplugging the A/V cart) when the shoe (one of these deals) took flight.

If you have never experienced unexpected head trauma, it goes something like this: There's a sliver of a moment where you think, "I've been hit in the head" and then you think, "I guess I'm okay" and then, right as you're wondering "What hit me?" you look down and see the projectile. Then, if you're me, you think: "That kid is going to miss every recess for the rest of the school year, because if she so much as sneezes during a lesson, I'm sending her to the office," all while trying to appear like everything is cool and that it's not at all embarrassing to be attacked by a flying shoe (Which I totally would have thought was hilarious if the shoe had been on the other foot).

So that was my day. How was yours?

Monday, January 26, 2009


I don't know about you (really, I don't), but I liked the old Jeopardy! better. Back when it had easy to understand categories like "Sports" and "Movies" and "Food." Somewhere along the line, Jeopardy's writers must have decided that coming up with "Before and After" clues ("What is Paul Michael Murphy Brown?") was no longer the challenge it used to be, because they started getting a little too clever with their categories. So much so that Alex now has to waste precious seconds explaining that "Taken For Granite" is a category in which every response will be the name of a rock. I'm confused before the first question--er, answer--is even asked--er, stated.

However, even with those simple categories of yesteryear, there was still one that always threw me for a loop---"Potpourri." To my twelve year old self, potpourri was the smelly, leafy stuff Mom had in the bathroom which mingled fragrantly with Dad's digestive leavings to create a rather unpleasant aroma. Why would they have a category about that? And why did the questions (answers) seemingly have nothing in common?

Imagine my surprise when I found out that potpourri is synonymous with "Grab Bag" and "Hodgepodge." Those wacky Jeopardy! writers...

All of which is a very convoluted way of introducing this post about a little bit of everything. (And couldn't Jeopardy! have just called it that?)

Business first--The first annual "Say What" Contest is officially over and I must say it was a spectacular success. (Not that you would expect anything less from an award-winning blogger.) Not only did I get a fair number of entries, it drove massive traffic to the blog (traffic which has since disappeared). I even received some decent entries. I will pick a winner later this week, and Ben has given me permission to autograph the prize in his stead.*

Second--You will note over there ------> that I am almost ready to send out my first baby. The middle grade is just about ready to go. I'll be working on the query letter over the next couple of weeks, so wish me luck. You might also wish me a person who is really good at writing query letters. Jill has previously offered her services and, if you're out there Jill, let me know if the offer still stands. Anyone else who wants a looksie (did I just write that?), let me know.

Third--The ALA Awards. My performance was mixed. I did horribly with the Caldecott, but I don't feel too bad about it because I was basically regurgitating what I had read at Verla's. In other words, not my fault. I haven't read The Graveyard Book, which won the Newbery, so I can't say if I think it deserved it or not. I was right about Savvy and The Underneath, though. And Waiting For Normal did win a different award. My best showing was probably the Printz. Although some book no one has ever heard of won, Octavian Nothing was honored, as was Nation and Frankie-Landau Banks.

Question for my rabid devotees: If you were going to create an award for children's writing, what would you call it and what would it reward?

*Possibly a fabrication.

Your Twilight Quote of the Day:

"Why are you doing this to me?"

--Edward, Breaking Dawn, p.102

Sunday, January 25, 2009

ALA Award Predictions

As most wannabe authors can tell you, the ALA is handing out their awards tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, I will be working, and teaching isn't exactly a job that lends itself to hanging out on the Webosphere all day. (Unless you've been doing it for thirty years. Then you're pretty much untouchable.) For those of you lucky enough to have one of those jobs, (or no job at all) you can watch the action (and I use that term lightly. After all, we are talking about librarians.) here or you can read live updates here.

While most writers prefer to wait until after the ALA announces their winners to complain about the picks and mock the judges, I am going to put myself on the line by attempting to pick the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott (even though I rarely read picture books), and Printz. Also, since this is my blog, I will tell you who ought to win.

Now obviously I have not read every single book, but neither have the judges. Admittedly, I have not even read all of the "contenders." I will not let this stop me. I haven't seen any of the Academy Award nominees either, but that Slumdog Millionaire looks like a winner to me. (See how easy that was?) I will however put an asterisk next to those books I have not read. Transparency and all that.

And predictions and picks for the 2009 Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards:

Newbery Award

ALA's Winner: The Underneath

My Winner: The Underneath

Honor Books: The Hunger Games* and Waiting For Normal

(And no, I can't believe I haven't read The Hunger Games either, because it sounds right up my alley.)

Other books I think are deserving: Savvy and Shooting the Moon


ALA's Winner: We Are the Ship* (It just sounds like a winner, ya know?)

My Winner: ?

Honor Books: In a Blue Room* and Wave*

Hey, I told you I don't read picture books.


ALA's Winner: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Vol. II (Wow, what a mouthful. Would someone kindly suggest to Mr. Anderson that, while he is brilliant, it might do to shorten his titles. Ya know, to something like Feed or Thirsty. Something like that.)

My Winner: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Honor Books: Nation* and Trouble

Other deserving books: The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Graceling*

There. I've now exposed myself to your scathing rebuttals and mocking commentary when the actual awards are announced tomorrow and I'm proven to be a nimcompoop. Oh, and since we're here, let's just get this out of the way right now:

2010 Printz Pick: Sophomore Undercover (Duh.)

Twilight Quote of the Day:

"I was selfish, I was hurtful. I tortured the ones I loved."

--Bella, Eclipse, p. 517

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On Twilight Quotes, "Following," and Billy Joel

First, apologies to those of you expecting to read a Twilight quote in the last post and finding it missing. It appears even award-winning bloggers make mistakes. Last night, after my highly-informative post about blogging lessons, I neglected to include the quote so many of you have come to expect. As you can see, this problem has been rectified. So, thank God for that. In addition to God, let me thank those many readers who surely noted the omission, but refrained from pointing out my error. (Although had you pointed it out I would have denied your comment and then corrected the problem so as to appear infallible.)

As you can see, I've been a busy bee. Over there on the right----------------------------->
you will now see a place for tiny pictures of my most rabid devotees. (Presently numbering one, but what a fine looking fellow he is.) In spite of my fears, you can now "follow" Murphblog. If we could somehow get at least three more people over there, the management would really appreciate it. An internal memo from the research department states:

"Studies show that permitting readers to "follow" blogs has the effect of increasing readership and commenting levels. Blogs with many followers appear to attract new followers. It is the assumption of the researchers that this is due to humans' desire to be a part of successful ventures. However, the inverse is also true and bloggers should remember that a lack of followers sends the message that such a blog "sucks" and will result in levels of avoidance not otherwise seen in blogs with no "following" option at all. Proceed with caution."

Obviously, I'm following their advice. (Well, except for that little request about keeping internal memos internal. As previously stated, I believe in transparency.) Why else would I pay them the big bucks? Moral of the story: If I can get more squares, I'll keep the squares. If not, so long "following" option. (On my Post-It: See if I can find Jim J. Bullock and invite him to follow.)

Lastly, this morning I bought tickets to see Elton John and Billy Joel at the Palace of Auburn Hills in May. Floor seats, row twenty-two. Me and The Wife. Awesome.

Twilight Quote of the Day:

"What I meant to say was, don't do what you're doing."

--Billy Black, Twilight, p. 353

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lessons in Blogging

Looking for the Contest? Click here.

Wow. You cannot imagine the pressure I feel. As an award-winning blogger, I now carry a tremendous burden. Not only do legions of new readers expect brilliance, I expect it of myself. There's really only one thing that can calm my nerves at this point. This song.

Ah, much better.

Today, as you have probably inferred from the title of this post, I discuss what I have learned about blogging. If you check the archives you will see that I am what the citizens of the Webosphere call a "newbie." This is not a cute name for a child's play toy, but rather a term meaning "idiot." As such, I have had to learn the hard way.


1. People are more likely to read your blog if you read and comment on theirs.

This is based on a very simple fact of human nature: People think they're awesome. It works like this: Blogger A thinks he's awesome. So does Blogger B. Both are extremely impressed with their own blogs, but no one else really cares. Blogger A, knowing that Blogger B thinks what he blogged about is awesome, figures that if he comments on Blogger B's blog then Blogger B will 1. appreciate it and possibly reciprocate and 2. realize what fine taste Blogger A must have and so at least check out Blogger A's blog. This is called "networking."

If the above example was confusing to you (and if it was that is entirely your fault, not mine. I'm an award-winning blogger, after all), allow me to make a comparison. Blogging is like golfing. No one gives a crap about "how you're hittin' 'em" and they really don't care how you managed to save bogey on the eleventh by turning your five iron backward and chipping out from under an evergreen, but they might ask you about your round and pretend to listen to your answers with the expectation that you will ask them about their round so they can tell you a bunch of stuff you really don't care about.

2. A contest is a good way to increase traffic to your blog.

I was pretty sure this was true even before I started my contest, but it has now been confirmed. First, the numbers: By my math, which, admittedly, is not my strongest suit despite the heroic efforts of the teachers at Cass City High School (shout-out), I was averaging around 13 page views (or visits or hits, I don't know what to call them) per day. On the day I announced the contest, Murphblog raked in 71 visitors. Now I know some of you reading this are probably thinking, 71 visitors? Pssh. I get that in an hour. Yeah? Good for you. Keep it to yourself. And anyway, it's not the number that counts, it's the increase. Percentagely, I shot the freakin' moon.

Now, why does a contest have such an effect? First, I used the fine marketing skills I received at Cass City Hi--er--I mean, from watching The Apprentice, and I knew that I had to get the word out. As a regular reader of Verla's board, I know that the contest area is often neglected and if I announced my contest there, it would at least get a few looks. Plus, it would stay there for the next month because apparently there aren't that many contests. Posting on Verla's probably drove most of the 71 people to the blog. Why did they come? Simple answer: People think they're awesome. A contest provides the chance for them to prove their awesomeness to others. (On my Post-it: Think of more contest ideas. Possible prize--packets of grape Kool-Aid)

3. There are "gadgets" that allow readers to follow your blog.

I sort of knew of such things, but I've never used them. I keep track of the blogs I like by either adding them to my blogroll or, more often, just sort of re-stumbling onto them. I'm sure there are some I've forgotten. Thanks to Big Plain V, I am now aware that at least one person would like to be able to "follow" my blog. I've seen these things on other blogs. They look a little like Hollywood Squares. The reason I haven't added them to Murphblog is, you guessed it, pretty simple. Because I think I'm awesome (and this should not strike you as arrogant if you've been paying attention), I would love to have a Hollywood Squares thingy with, like, 100 squares. The problem is, I have a deep suspicion (okay, so it's not that deep) that if I added that gadget, I'd have, like, two followers. And one of them would be this guy. And then I would have to confront the possibility that I am not awesome. And that would suck.

So that's what I've learned about blogging. If you'd like to share your wisdom, please do so in the comments. (That's another thing I've learned. Asking readers questions is more likely to elicit comments. Anybody care to guess why? I'll give you a hint: The explanation is simple.)

Twilight Quote of the Day:

"Is there no hope, then?"

--Carlisle Cullen, Breaking Dawn, p. 723

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Murphblog's First Award

*Note: If you're looking for the "Say What" Contest, you can scroll down or click here. Submissions accepted through Sunday.

The accolades keep pouring in. First, there was my awesome contest win. Now, I have been awarded the Kreativ (notice how kreativly that's spelled?) Blogger Award. I'm sure there are more prestigious blogging awards (actually, I'm not sure of this at all), but I have never won any of them, so they can't be all that important. (On my Post-It: Create blog award. Spell it funny. Send to lots of bloggers. Increase readership!)

How does one go about winning a Kreativ Blogger Award? Well, it's a lot like winning the Newbery. A panel of adult geeks sits around a big conference table and discusses different blogs. They narrow the field and pick the one that's least deserving and least likely to be read by anyone with a sense of humor. It usually helps if you have blogged about your dog dying. The judges love that.

Unlike other awards, the Kreativ Blogger Award expects something of its recipient. No rambling, I'd-like-to-thank-a-bunch-of people-you've-never-heard-of-and-then-get-cut-off-by-the-orchestra-while-
vapid-celebrities-wear-phony-smiles-on-their-faces nonsense, but rather a simple list. I am supposed to tell you seven things I love. Then I'm supposed to tag seven other people and give them the award. As frequent readers of Murphblog well know, I don't know seven other bloggers. (On my Post-It: Create blog award. Spell it funny. Send to lots of bloggers. Increase readership!)

So here goes.

Murphblog's Kreativ Blogging Award Acceptance List (Seven Things I Love, in no particular order):

  • Grape Kool-Aid (even if it does make my poo green)
  • You know when you eat a Chips A'hoy cookie and you get that filmy clump of mushy cookie stuck up there against your gums? That stuff.
  • Parentheses (duh.)
  • Impressionists
  • Sometimes I wake up before my alarm goes off and I think, "Drat (not really, I wouldn't even think such a stupid word), I'm going to have to get up pretty soon." But then I look at the huge red numbers of the clock on the nightstand and it says 4:15. That feeling. (Even better, waking up at 6:15 and remembering it's Saturday.)
  • The Helmet Shuffle (oh wait, that goes on the other list. The "Things I Hate So Passionately I Cann Hrdly Typ" list.
  • Getting awards I've never heard of
You're probably thinking something along these lines: What a jerk, he didn't mention his family at all. (You're really probably thinking that if you're my wife.) Simple explanation: People are not things, and so I excluded them from the list. No offense meant. Obviously, I like my wife better than grape Kool-Aid. (And to those of you thinking, "But you named a feeling. A feeling isn't a thing," I would kindly ask you to keep that sort of thing to yourself. I'm an award winning blogger, I know what I'm doing.)

Twilight Quote of the Day

"You sure can pick them, Bella. This movie really sucks."

--Jacob Black, New Moon, p. 211

Thanks to Kelly Polark for presenting me with the award.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The First Annual "Say What" Contest

I'm so excited I can scarcely type. Today, right here on your favorite unpublished writer blog, you have the high honor of participating in the first annual "Say What" contest.

Here's how it works: Using the picture above, write a snippet of dialogue. (And for those people who actually read legal documents and the fine print on your credit card agreements, you may add character thoughts and small actions and whatever else floats your boat.) Leave your entry in the comments.


1. Keep your entry under 250 words.
2. Make me laugh, cry, or think. (Hint: Laugh is your best bet.)
3. Don't ask any stupid clarifying questions. (Intelligent questions are fine.)
4. Include the word "insalubrious." Okay, not really.
(But if you could that would be cool.)


He doesn't know I'm doing this (well, he doesn't know right now, like, when I'm typing, but he will know as soon as he reads this), but you will win a first edition copy of the book Sophomore Undercover by Ben Esch. Yes, this is a real book. Okay, it's not real yet, but it will be on February 24, 2009.

Full Disclosure: Ben is my closest writer-blog friend and by "friend" I mean that I read his blog and he reads mine. And by "closest" I mean not really all that close. See, Ben is sending me an ARC of his book (for free!) and because I think it's stupid of wannabe writers to accept free books and not buy the book (because someday, I sure am going to hope people buy my books), I purchased a copy off Amazon. So now I'll have two copies and since I don't need two copies, I'm going to "pay it forward," which is a really annoying phrase, but whatever. Ben gave me a free book, I'm giving you a free book. Kumbaya, anyone?


Some time in the future. I promise. What's that, you want more specifics? Come on, you're a writer; you're used to waiting. Besides, I just said the book doesn't even come out until the end of February, so what's your yank?


I'll give you through the weekend.


1. Barack Obama told me to.
2. It's an overt attempt at attracting more readers to the blog. (I believe in transparency too, Mr. President.)

Have fun, legions of future readers!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Won a Contest. Take That!!!

Sometimes (okay, rarely) I have something really interesting to share. Sometimes I get a rejection in the mail and I blog about that. Sometimes I decide to blog about how I sent some of my work off to get rejected. And sometimes I really don't have much to say at all, but I update Murphblog because I feel an obligation to its three readers.

But sometimes (okay, so it's only happened once) I have a success to report. Loyal readers will recall that I came oh-so-close to winning two contests. The judges of those contests were awed by my overwhelming talent to such an extent that they felt awarding me the top prize would have discouraged future contest entrants, so they presented me with runner up recognitions.

But Angela Cerrito found a way around that problem. As you can read on her blog, she designed a contest whereby applicants were presented with a photo and asked to speculate on the person in that photo. Angela then chose the best entry (mine), but, in a stroke of contest administrating brilliance, pretended to hold a blind drawing to determine a winner. My name was "pulled out of a hat," which is to say, "intentionally drawn so as to reward the best entry." I thank Ms. Cerrito for her exceptional taste and for her shrewd manipulation of the contest. Very smart, Angela. I see many successful contests in your future.*

So I won. What did I win? Actually, I have a choice. I could send Angela the first ten pages of my middle grade manuscript, except that Firebrand already has them and I only made one copy. I could send her the query for the same manuscript, but I already know it sucks so I'm not sure I'd gain much from a critique that confirmed its suckiness. I could send her my picture book and get that critiqued. This would be appealing if I had a picture book. Or I could take her up on her final offer, which is for her to tell everyone she knows about this blog.**

I think I'll do that.

* It is possible that I have misunderstood the judging process. In general, judging processes are confusing. I mean, I still can't figure out how Shawn Johnson didn't get a ten for "adorableness."

**While not technically offered in the contest guidelines, it would be nice for Angela to do, don't you think?

Friday, January 16, 2009

My Incredibly Productive Cold Day

I was greeted with a most welcome sound at 5:30 this morning. It was my cell phone. And since the alarm on my cell is set to go off at 7:00, I knew that the electronic version of the MSU Fight Song could only mean one of two things: Someone had died or no school.

Fortunately, it was no school. Thanks to a splendid combination of subzero temperatures and just the right amount of wind, the wind chill factor reached the magic number of 25 below. Can I just say that whoever invented the wind chill factor should immediately be presented with the Nobel Prize for Awesomeness.

Granted with what is essentially a free day, I was able to accomplish a number of astounding feats this morning. First, I went to the library and picked up four books. They are: Paper Towns by John Green (I had a hold on it), Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner (which I am rereading because it is similar in many ways to my current YA manuscript. More to come in a future post), Whales on Stilts by the inimitable (and about a billion other complimentary adjectives) M.T. Anderson, and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, also by M.T. Anderson, who I will this time call brilliant.

Then I went to Lowe's because I have a bad habit of not performing regular maintenance on rather critical components of my house. In this case, I needed a new filter for the furnace because the box says I should replace it every three months and it's been, like, three years. Because my knowledge of anything house-related is similar to this guy's knowledge of popular sayings, I thought there would be a standard size. Or maybe I thought I would know what size to buy when I saw it. Whatever the reason, I bought the wrong size. So now I need to go back out into the too-cold-for-school-air to take it back and get the right one.

I rounded out my travels by going to that bastion of overpriced junk foods, 7-11. Nothing very interesting here other than I bought chocolate milk, which is currently running neck and neck with Kool-Aid (grape, please) as my number one rated beverage. (Beer fell a few notches after I consumed too much of it over the holidays and then looked at the scale. Sorry, beer. You've been a good companion, but I think we should give each other some space for a few weeks.)

And now I'm back here blogging and pretty soon I'll watch CNN. If they ever get over that plane landing in the Hudson story (which, admittedly, is pretty cool and probably has made-for-TV screenwriters salivating) and get back to reporting on Somali pirates, I will be one happy blogger. Who knew pirates would make the comeback they have?

I mean, pirates. Almost as awesome as the wind chill factor.

Your Twilight Quote of the Day:

"How can someone so tiny be so annoying?"

---Edward Cullen, Eclipse, p. 268

Thursday, January 15, 2009

That Fine Line

As you have surely noted, I've been reading the works of John Green lately. I like Green for three reasons: he's funny, he's smart, and he has an amazing grasp of the language. I don't like Green for the same three reasons. His writing makes mine look a little like this. I am told that if I just keep plugging away--studying the craft, learning from great books, and writing, writing, writing--that my own work will improve. There are many stories (most often cited by writers who've racked up hundreds of rejections) about famous authors who struggled for years before they hit it big. And for the most part, I do hold with the idea that hard work=success. But there is a little thing called talent and if you think for a second that I will ever approach Green's brilliance, then you are also probably a person who believed your mom when she told you that the best way to deal with a bully is to ignore him.

And then I read this:

Man solves Rubik's Cube after 26 years

and I thought man, that's dedication.

Until I read this:

Graham Parker of Portchester, England, said he first bought his Rubik's Cube in 1983 and has since spent more than 27,400 hours struggling with the colored cube puzzle, The Daily Telegraph reported.

"I cannot tell you what a relief it was to finally solve it. It has driven me mad over the years -- it felt like it had taken over my life," Parker said. "I have missed important events to stay in and solve it and I would lay awake at night thinking about it.

and then I thought man, that's pathetic.

And I realized there's a fine line between the two.

So the point is this: If, after 26 years, I'm still trying to write as well as John Green and I haven't published anything, feel free to tell me, "Old man, maybe this just isn't your bag."

Dedication is one thing. Obsession is quite another.

Twilight Quote of the Day:

"I do a good job of blocking painful, unnecessary things from my memory."

--Bella Swan, Twilight, p. 6

Monday, January 12, 2009

On 'The Odds'

Agent Bransford defended the publishing process today and in doing so sent a very blunt message to wannabe authors. In his words:

"It is hard coming up with a good idea, it's hard writing a novel, it's hard to find an agent, it's hard to find a publisher, it's hard for the publisher to convince booksellers to take on the book in the numbers they want, it's hard for the bookseller to sell the book, it's hard for a book to become a bestseller.

It's one big obstacle course in which you have to beat out other books every step of the way. To use a sports metaphor, it's March Madness with a 1,000,000 book field. Make it to the next round and there are 500,000. Make it to the next round and there are 250,000. And you have to win every game."

In other words, you ain't got much of a shot buddy.

Many of the comments reiterated the view that getting a book published (much less penning a bestseller) was about as likely as a Jim J. Bullock comeback. Unpubbed writers could easily read through the comments and conclude they are wasting their time slaving over word choice, comma placement, and whether or not to include that awesome fart joke. Luckily for all of my future readers, I view things differently.

What Agent Bransford fails to mention is that of those 1,000,000 people, I would guess fully half couldn't write a coherent interoffice memo. Everyone who has read more than a handful of books has thought, "You know, how hard can it be to write one?" and so they do.

Also, of those 1,000,000 people, a good 10% are probably like that infomercial guy, Billy Mays. They're very excited about their product, but their product sucks. So that's the first thing: the competition isn't quite as stiff as it would appear, unless you're the guy who can't write the office email. Or Billy Mays (What do you bet he's the type that writes in ALL CAPS, ALL THE TIME?)

Another reason I write, in spite of the supposed odds against my ever getting pubbed, is that I've read a lot of pretty cruddy books. (No, I'm not naming names or linking to an image of Dianetics (haven't read it) because I don't want to offend a publisher who is just sitting in New York waiting for my manuscript.) Now, I don't intentionally try to find bad books, which means that I'm probably missing out on some real stinkers. So, no offense, but if your crappy book (couldn't help it) got published, then why shouldn't mine?

I also look at it this way: Readers need publishers. Publishers need writers. This year, a lot of writers will publish their debut novels. Someone has to write these things, so why not me?

The odds might be long, but there's one surefire way to guarantee you won't get your novel pubbed: Stop writing it. (Really, stop. Right now. The rest of us would appreciate the diminished competition.)

Blogger's Note: There's also that little thing called enjoyment. Most of the time I like writing. Why else would I have a blog that no one reads?

Twilight Quote of the Day (You'll notice a change here. Fact is, there's way too much comedic gold to be mined in the quotes of Twilight characters for this blogger to pass up.)

"I hope you enjoy disappointment."

--Edward Cullen, Twilight, Chapter 3, p. 65

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Advice and Rejection

Got some good advice from my two year old this morning. We were out of food (not literally) and so I was preparing to head to the store. It's wicked snowy here and the roads aren't in great shape, so my wife said, "Be careful. Watch out for idiots." Our toddler, as she is wont to do, promptly repeated the advice and then she added some of her own.

"Watch out for idiots, Dad...and snakes."

Sage advice indeed.

UPDATE: Racked up yet another rejection today, this one for a single poem sent to Humpty Dumpty Magazine. The bad news: They didn't want it. The good: At least they checked the "Recently published or are holding a similar piece" box. That one is always preferable to the "You're a moron and we'd appreciate you not sending anything else ever again" box.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Edumacate Me: Free Verse

I am going to do something I don't particularly care to do. I am going to admit ignorance. While I am, truth be told, shockingly uninformed about a great number of things--The French Revolution, how to fix anything that breaks in or out of my house, Impressionism, Darfur--I usually attempt to conceal my stupidity by pretending to know what I am talking about ("The genocide in Darfur is, of course, an outrage, but you can't expect the U.S. to involve itself in every single conflict in the world. We can't always be the planet's peacekeepers blahblahblah").

Other alternatives:
  1. Walk away and find something to eat.
  2. Change the topic. "Yeah, that Impressionist art is crazy. Aren't the cheese sticks here awesome?"
  3. Not hang out with people who would talk about those things in the first place. (preferred)

But this has bothered me long enough and while I could research the topic of free verse poetry on the Webosphere or read books or take a college course in poetry, I would much rather get my information from people who read my blog, because you know what they say: Anonymous Internet users are almost always the best source of unbiased information.

And so I ask, what is up with free verse? Because dude, I don't get it and I never have (this could be because I've never tried). I did a cursory check on that paragon of reliability, Wikipedia, and it said this:

Free verse is a term describing various styles of poetry that are written without using strict meter or rhyme, but still recognizable as poetry by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers will perceive to be part of a coherent whole.

Translation: It doesn't have to rhyme. It doesn't have to flow. It mostly has to look like a poem.

If I have this right, you can take pretty much any sentence, throw in some colorful description, alliteration, metaphor-whatever you like, break the lines in funny places, and you have written a free verse poem.

Like this:

Prose: This morning I sat waiting on the curb for the bus that would take me to school.

Free Verse Poem:

This morning I
waiting on the cu
for the yellow box that
would swallow me
and spit me back out

at school

Like how I broke up "curb" there? Think about it, you'll get it. And how I left a line before "to school?" Yeah. That was to build suspense, ya'll.

Now I know I'm missing something here, because what I wrote is pure, unadulterated runny turd. So please, someone explain what the deal is with free verse. What do I need to know? How can I tell "good" free verse from something I could write in two minutes? And why should I be impressed when I see it?

Edumacate me. I'm asking for it.

Literary Wisdom of the Day:

"Look, if it were up to me I would open the world's borders to everyone so they could go anywhere. The only problem is that the United States is the only good country in the world."

--Howard Stern in Private Parts

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Big 100

Barring some sort of Webosphere meltdown, Murphblog will, in the very near future, receive its 100th hit. Of course, this assumes that ClustrMaps has their crap together and is actually giving me an accurate count. (I prefer to think it is severely underreporting.) A quick glance at the map shows that I get most of my traffic from two states, Michigan and New York. This is easily explained. The Michigan visitors are my mom, my wife, and possibly my sister-in-law. The New York visitors are agents and editors of the most prestigious agencies and pub houses who would love to offer me represention and a ridiculous pub contract that I could never earn out if I would just hurry up and submit my masterpiece already. To these folks, I would like to simply say, "Patience." Greatness cannot be rushed. (And I've still got an awesome fart joke I need to work into the manuscript.)

I don't know about you, but the phrase "I don't know about you" kind of annoys me. So let's go with this one: If you're like me (and really, why wouldn't you be?), you believe that round numbers should be celebrated, even if they are rather anemic. This would be a good time to offer my many readers a chance to offer suggestions on just how I should celebrate when the momentous feat occurs (My guess: 7:07 am tomorrow). And I would love to do that, but I'd only get, like, one suggestion and that would be pretty lame. (Plus, I might feel obligated to go through with that one idea and it might be really stupid).

So instead of that I'm going to brainstorm some ways to increase traffic to the blog. If you are a person who would like to suggest some strategies in addition to the ones below, have at it. Although, let's face it, if you really know what you're talking about then you should already have a successful blog, in which case the best thing you can do is not offer some lame idea, but just link to Murphblog on your already successful site. And if you don't have a successful blog, then why bother commenting at all? I already know how to run an unpopular blog, I don't need your help.

Aside---You may be turned off by my constant moaning about the lack of hits this blog receives, but I'm wagering your pity will outweigh your annoyance and you will send all your friends emails that say, "You have to check out this whiner's blog." Why would your friends want to read such a thing? Don't know. But lots of people read this, so I figure it's worth a shot.

Now, let's get to it...


1. Contests with triple sweet prizes. Something like this: I'll post one of those super-duper close up photographs of an everday object and you have to guess what it is. Whoever gets it right wins one of Travolta's jets. To-do: see if JT is willing to donate a jet.

2. Naked pictures of celebrities.

3. Pretend I am someone else. As writing blogs go, the most popular ones tend to be those of people on the "inside." Sometimes, these people remain anonymous. I could pretend to be an agent's assistant. From the looks of things, I would mostly have to complain about the stupid things people put in query letters and then offer my advice on how to write a good one (Not that I can, but I know what you're supposed to do).

4. Publish a novel that teenage girls adore.

5. Become an annoyance on multiple message boards by shamelessly promoting my blog. People will check it out just to see who the jerk is and then they'll become hooked. Kind of like how Simon Cowell got popular.

6. Get lots of different Google accounts and set up multiple Blogger identities. Then use these identities to comment on my blog. Browsers will see the staggering number of comments and decide it must be something they're missing out on. Hooked again.

Well, that's all I got. I think they're all pretty good ideas except for number 4. In my experience, chicks don't dig the fart joke.

Literary Wisdom of the Day:

"You can be the Babe Ruth of wrestling and still have something to prove."

--Hulk Hogan, in his book Hollywood Hulk Hogan

Monday, January 5, 2009

Nothing to Say

For someone who professes to be a writer, I should probably have something to, ya know, write. But I really don't. Work started again today after the long Christmas break and after spending seven hours back in the classroom and two hours revising (again) my YA manuscript my brain is sapped of all original thought. And you can forget about wit.

So how about an update, a poem, and a question for my many readers (two).

AN UPDATE: Received another rejection (or three) in the mail today from Carus Publishing (think Spider, Cricket, and other creepy crawlies) for three poems I sent on papyrus. (They have a reputation for being a tad s...l...o...w.) One of them, "published" for the first time below, was probably inappropriate for their publication and is probably inappropriate for any children's magazine in the current marketplace. So, since the odds of publication are low to nil, I thought I'd throw it on here where at least two people not in my family tree would read it.


My Hairy Dad

My dad’s not really bald

Although his head is bare

If you know where to look

You’ll find lots of hair

His armpits have a lot

His arms and legs do too

His chest is like a jungle

And his back hair is quite new

No my dad’s not really bald

In fact he’s very hairy

And there’s no doubt when he swims

He can look a little scary

**Poet's note: I eschew end punctuation because it confuses the heck out of me in poetry.

A QUESTION: What is the one grammatical error that absolutely drives you bonkers when you see it? My answer is pluralizing a possessive, such as the following real world example: "Woodies Car Parts." Ugh.

Friday, January 2, 2009


J.D. Salinger, he of Catcher in the Rye and living in seclusion fame, turned 90 years old yesterday. I would wish you a happy birthday, J.D., but I somehow have the feeling that you're not hanging out on the Webosphere. And if you are, you're probably not reading my blog. (Although how cool would that be, huh?)

CONTEST ALERT: If you can get J.D. Salinger to comment on my blog, I will send you a $20 gift card to How will I know if it's really J.D. Salinger? Well, he'll probably have to send me an early draft of Catcher. With edits. I promise not to put it on ebay.

I found out about his birthday by reading this article: Still Paging Mr. Salinger. Most of it was full of big words and boring ideas, but what caught my interest was the publication year of Catcher in the Rye (no link to the book, the article says it still sells 250,000 copies per year, so J.D. doesn't need my help). It was pubbed in 1951 and after some wizz-bang mathematical computation, courtesy of Cass City High School (shout out!), I determined that Mr. Salinger was 32 when it was unleashed on an unsuspecting, but immediately grateful nation.

I am 32.

Now that's perspective. J.D. Salinger penned his magnum opus when he was my age (well, younger actually). By the time he was as old as I, he was well on his way to becoming an American icon. He had written a novel that allowed him to basically sit on his duff for the rest of his life (which, incidentally, is my numero uno goalo).

Want to know what I've written? A few poems about farting; two unpubbed novels that, let's just say, aren't exactly Catcher in the Rye; and some admittedly hilarious blog posts (my most widely read work, by far).

This depressed me until I remembered, he's ninety. What do you want to bet he'd trade me places? After all, he doesn't exactly seem to be enjoying the fame his novel brought him.

Literary Wisdom of the Day

"Everything started as a dream. You gotta have insight, know what you want. You gotta have a plan. Like I tell anybody, if you fail to plan, you're planning to fail. I've been planning ever since I was a youngster. You've got to start from somewhere. There's nothing wrong or demeaning in flipping burgers. It's more proud than selling drugs."

--Mr. T, in his book Mr. T: The Man With the Gold: An Autobiography

Something Pretty Terrific

Guess what comes up if you google, "GUIDELINES ARE FOR THE UNCREATIVE?"

Try it.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year--Murphblog Style

My Spartans just lost and I've got ten minutes before the Rose Bowl starts, so instead of eating (again) I thought I would take the time to do a New Year's post. I know all of my loyal readers (still two) expect it.

This is where I am now supposed to wish everyone a cheerful Happy New Year!!!!!! and/or share with all those across the Webosphere my New Year's resolutions. Well I'm not going to do it. To do so would be completely UNCREATIVE and I am so not about that right now (see blog title).

Instead, while the New Year still has that fresh, just-out-of-the-box smell that we all enjoy so much, I am going to give you something original. No, it's not a hilarious YouTube video. And no, it's not advice on how the write the next breakout novel. This guy already took all of my good ideas and claimed them as his own.

What I am going to do is share what I would like to call...

Murph's Non-Resolutions for the New Year. These are things that I pledge not to do in 2009. And because giving you a list of ten such things would be totally UNCREATIVE, I am going to do seven. Not because it's a lucky number or anything, just because I couldn't think of more than seven. (Even though I'm definitely going to not do a lot more than seven things)

Without further ado, Murph's Non-Resolutions for 2009

1. I will not send a query to any agent in which I use all CAPS.
2. I will not use the word "insalubrious" in any of my forthcoming manuscripts even though it may just be the most liquid fantastic word ever conceived.
3. I will not be heard uttering the words, "So, I just picked up the new Jonas Brothers CD."
4. I will not refer to myself in the third person. That sort of action should be reserved only for awesome people like Rickey Henderson.
5. I will not watch Twilight.
6. I will not read anything written by James Joyce. I'm pretty sure that guy's grocery lists would leave me perplexedly befuddled (like that? Well it's mine, so hands off.)
7. I will not think Sophomore Undercover is anything other than the funniest novel ever written. (Ben is sending me an ARC and since it's my first one ever I plan to earn that mother. I have my blurb already prepared and I hereby grant permission for Ben to use it on his Web site and the second printing of his book once I unleash it on the world. You are all witnesses.)

Literary Wisdom of the Day

"One of the few things I found out during that September and October was that only a few people understand the meaning of the word friend, and those people are special. An awful lot more have no idea of what the word entails."

--Bob Knight in his book Knight: My Story