Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sophomore Undercover: The Review

**Fair warning--this one's going to be long. But really, what else do you have to do? And don't say work. It'll still be there in ten minutes.

Done. Just finished, actually. So while the story is fresh in my mind, I figured I better get going on my review. First, a few disclaimers.

1. I haven't written a book review since sixth grade and back then they were called book reports.

2. I spent a fair amount of time and creative energy promoting this book in its pre-published state. It was kinda like the Super Bowl pregame, but on a blog. And about a book instead of a football game. And only a few people read it, whereas everyone watches the Super Bowl. Although a lot of people (mostly women and advertising professors) watch the SB for the commercials so they don' t have any interest in the pregame. So really, my original analogy was pretty accurate in that both the SB pregame and my promotion of Sophomore Undercover were somewhat overdone and both promised excitement which was based more on wishful thinking than anything else. So what I'm trying to say is, don't expect me to be objective here.

3. I wanted to do the book justice and write a professional sounding review so I went to the Kirkus Web site because I figured I'd read their review of the book and just steal some fancy words so I'd sound smart, but it turns out that you need a subscription for that sort of thing and with the economy where it is and the skyrocketing cost of Kool-Aid, I just couldn't justify the expense. I have a saying: If research proves too difficult, just wing it and hope no one notices. So I wrote the following review the way I wanted. GUIDELINES ARE FOR THE UNCREATIVE, anyway.

Sidebar at Judge Ito's: I googled "kirkus sophomore undercover" and found this link to Paula Yoo's site. On the search results page it said this:

Nov. 25, 2008...called "Sophomore Undercover" coming out in February 2009...Kirkus praised the book as "a brilliant and mesmerizing debut from a...
As you can imagine, I was pretty excited. Giddy, even. Then I clicked the link and read that the above quote was attributed to Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why (which I loved, btw). Nice photo, Ben.

4. I have read a few reviews and it seems most of them are structured similarly. The first part is a summary of the book. That is followed by the reviewer's opinions. I'm not sure why every reviewer feels the need to write their own summary of the book because you can find one of those online and they're usually written by people who get paid to do such things. I think it's a little arrogant to think you can write a better one. So I'm not going to bother. Not because of the arrogance thing, just because I'm lazy and suck as summarizing.

But for those of you who somehow don't know what the book is about, here's the summary, stolen directly from Amazon:

For fifteen-year-old, adopted Vietnamese orphan Dixie Nguyen, high school is one long string of hard-to-swallow humiliations. He shares a locker with a nudist linebacker, his teachers are incompetent, and he's stuck doing fluff pieces for the school newspaper. But Dixie's luck takes a turn when he stumbles across one of the jocks using drugs in the locker room; not only does he finally have something newsworthy to write, but the chance to strike a blow against his tormentors at the school as well.

However, when his editor insists he drop the story and cover homecoming events instead, Dixie sets off on his own unconventional--and often misguided--investigation. He soon discovers that the scandal extends beyond the football team to something far bigger and more sinister than he ever thought possible. Once he follows the guidelines of his hero, Mel Nichols (journalism professor at Fresno State University and author of the textbook Elementary Journalism) this high school reporter just might save the world. That is, of course, if Dixie can stay out of juvenile hall, the hospital, and new age therapy long enough to piece it all together.

And here's my review. Note to Disney-Hyperion, Ben Esch, Steven Malk, and any publisher who buys the paperback rights: I hereby grant permission to use any and all of the following in future promotional efforts. Specifically, I'm thinking a blurb at the bottom of the cover. Yeah, I know you've got Adam Rex and all, but I've got twelve blog followers. And that doesn't even count my wife, parents, brother, and sister-in-law.

The Review:

Let's start with this: Sophomore Undercover is funny. I think that's the most important thing. If you want serious, watch CNN or read a newspaper, if you can still find one. At times like these we all need a good chuckle and if you can't laugh at penis jokes, sarcasm, and comparisons to the GDP of Paraguay, then you should get your funny bone examined. I counted three occasions where I laughed so hard I involuntarily farted. Perhaps the white chicken chili was a factor, but still.

Lesser writers would have relied on such perfectly executed humor to keep the reader interested, but Mr. Esch went ahead and threw in a plot too. The plot, like everything else in the book, is head shakingly over-the-top, but full of twists and turns. There's a piece of writing advice that says a character's problems should continue to worsen right up until the very end. Mission accomplished. Poor Dixie runs into more trouble than Louis Braille in a house of mirrors.

And then there's the eclectic mix of wacky characters: Huggy Bear, the over-affectionate counselor; Ms. Trasker, the menopausal head of the school newspaper; Dixie's cop father; and a small cadre of jock tormentors, one of which has man boobs.

Sophomore Undercover
is an orgy of hilarity. One only hopes that Esch held back a few jokes for his next book. I know I'll be reading.


Okay, so that pretty much sucked. But at least I got the first name of the main character right. Points for me. Read the book; it's funnier in person.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Hodge Podge

I'll keep this short and sweet since The Wife thought the v-log went a little long. (She should have seen how much I cut!)

1. I don't know why the good people at Blogger felt the need to tinker with the "Followers" box, but I don't like what they've done. If anyone knows how I can revert to the old Followers thingy, I'd appreciate a link or some code. If not, then I will accept commiseration.

2. As noted in the comments section of the previous post, I received my Amazon copy of Sophomore Undercover (or SU as Ben is calling it) in the mail yesterday. The guy on the horse was a little winded and apologized for running behind schedule. Due to the economy, Amazon had to institute some cost-cutting measures including something they called "equine reassignment." The horse rider/delivery guy was pretty sure they killed some horses, but because PETA would throw a stink management decided to give it a fancier name. The delivery guys are pretty steamed about the whole thing because it means extra work for them and their horses, plus, as we all know, the infrastructure in this country sucks so his ride really takes a beating. Guy's going through horseshoes like Oprah goes through diets.

Anyway, I've contacted Angela so that I can send along her prize. You should read her blog because the terms of the contest were such (after I amended them after the fact) that she must now offer the book as a prize. So Anita, here's your chance to get the book for free.

3. Just in case you are one of the few readers of this blog who does not spend all his/her Webosphere time rereading my old posts, here's another place you can go to fritter the hours away in your never-ending quest to neglect the more important things in your life:


Thanks to Nate for sending it along.

Have a creative day!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It Has Arrived

The wait is over. Today, when I arrived home from work and pulled open the door to my mailbox, I was greeted by a manila envelope which I knew could only hold one thing. (Well okay, technically it could have held lots of different stuff, but I knew it didn't.)

I would love to tell you all about the experience of opening the package and reading the back of the book and flipping through the crisp, new smelling pages. In fact, there's only one other thing I'd rather do more. And that is to show you. So, even though the quality of my video is not what I would call professional grade (hey, I won the camera in a drawing), enjoy...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How Do You Read?

No, I don't have the book. Amazon failed me. You cannot imagine the disappointment I felt when I pulled into the driveway and did not see a package wedged between the front doors.

So you will have to wait for that particular v-log. Tomorrow, hopefully.

I saw this video clip at a training I attended for my paying job and it got me thinking about the future of books. I'm not going to be the one billionth person to blog about the Sony Reader and/or Kindle, but I've read enough to know that they're shaping up to be real "threats" to conventional books. From what I hear from my high school teaching cohorts, there may be a need for a "How to read a book" manual.

All of which made me think about reading in general and how people do it differently. I'm a one-book-at-a-time plodder, for the most part. Occasionally, I'll have a bathroom book (something like this) and another, longer book which I read in bed or on the couch, but usually it's just the one novel. I keep a stack near the bed and just work through them and every once in a while I'll insert something that was finally returned to the library or a book I bought on impulse and can't wait to read.

I read fairly slowly. I've always been a slowish reader, but I think once I started writing seriously, I became even more deliberate. Knowing how much thought a writer puts into every single word, I figure the least I can do is read them all. Plus, I don't read solely for enjoyment anymore. With every book, I try to learn something, to pick up little things a writer does that work, and that slows me down even more.

How do you read?

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Can V-log

So tonight I went out and got all of the needed materials for tomorrow's vlog, which I think I'm going to refer to as a v-log (VEE-log) just to be different. And also because I don't like saying "vlog." Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. By the way, here's what you need: video camera (had it), Memory Stick or something similar (bought it--$20 at Target), and some video editing software (I'm using Movie Maker cuz it's free and I don't know what I'm doing, as you will soon see.)

I even figured out how to upload and then embed the thing. It ain't much, but it's a start.

The next time you see me I'll be holding a brand spanking new copy of this:

Until then, rabid devotees...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's On the Way

I've been sitting here thinking of some way to artfully describe my feelings, but have come to the conclusion that it's simply not possible. I thought about comparing my sense of anticipation to a current of electricity coursing through my body, but that seemed a tad cliche. (What, no automatic accent mark? What gives, Blogger?) I considered writing about how I've been unable to sleep at night, but that's technically untrue. I thought about comparing the coming event to the birth of my only child, but that felt a little this (and The Wife wouldn't have liked it).

The thing is, some things truly are indescribable, even for unpubbed writers and award winning bloggers. (I really wanted to use the word 'ineffable' up there where I wrote 'indescribable', but I didn't because 1. even though I'm pretty sure the two words are synonymous, sometimes words have shades of meaning and I didn't want to use it incorrectly and look stupid and 2. If I'm right about the two words being interchangeable in the above context, I would have come across as something of a show-off, and I like my arrogance to be a little more tongue-in-cheek.)

What is this ineffable thing of which I speak (like how I did that?)? I give you people's exhibit 1:

The following items have been shipped to you by
Qty Item Price Shipped Subtotal

--------------------------------------------------------------------- items (Sold by, LLC):

1 Sophomore Undercover $10.87 1 $10.87

Shipped via USPS
And here's people's exhibit number 2:

God, I can scarcely type.

Tuesdy is te dy I finaly get my copy of Ben's bok. As all rabid devotees know, it's a day we here at Murphblog have had marked on our calendars since the beginning of--well, since about December of last year.

I'm very excited, and as previously stated, I plan on making the arrival of Sophomore Undercover and my subsequent reading of it the subject of my first vlog. (On my Post-It: Figure out how to do a vlog.)

However, there is a problem which may delay this much-anticipated (by me) event.


I still have 200 pages to go in Bartimaeus and there's no way I finish by Tuesday with work going all Joey Chestnut on my time.

Options: abandon Bart and read Sophomore (you know you've hit it big when people refer to your book using only one word from the title) or place Sophomore in the TBR pile where it will surely mimic some of my more irrespessible students by being all, "Mr. Murphy! Mr. Murphy! What about me? Pay attention to me!" (And then when it doesn't get the attention it wants, it'll leave the TBR pile and cause mayhem in my room.)

What's ironic* is that if it weren't for Ben recommending Bartimaeus, I would have chosen something shorter and would therefore be able to start his book immediately. That irony-- something else, isn't she?

And I have questions too. Questions Ben could have already addressed were he not waxing rhapsodic about Nicolas Cage.


1. Where is the launch party and where's my invite?

2. Will there be hors d'oeuvres at the launch party and if so, what will they be? (I recommend these things, these things, and of course, cheese sticks.)

3. If someone (say, someone not invited to the launch party) was inclined to throw their own party in their basement/bar (which might or might not have a poster of Cheryl Tiegs on the wall), what would Ben recommend for 1. food 2. games and 3. music?

4. How does one go about getting their copy of Sophomore Undercover autographed if they are not invited to the launch party? Will the author be performing at a Barnes & Noble near me?

I think that covers it for now. Question for the rabid devotees: What will you do to celebrate the release of Ben's book?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Getting Paid to Read

I'm relatively sure nobody checks the "Recently Read Books" section of this blog, so you will not have noticed that I just finished two classics: The BFG and Shiloh Season. One of the perks of my job is that I get paid to read aloud, and I love reading aloud. (In fact, I'm pretty sure my first vlog is going to be me reading from Sophomore Undercover, which, by the way, goes on sale in just four short days!) I probably read twenty-five books a year to my third graders. We have a twenty minute period each morning set aside for two things: snacks and books. They eat. I read to them. We don't discuss theme. We don't analyze. I don't even check to make sure they're listening. It's a just a chance for them to relax and realize that books can be fun. It's easily my favorite part of the day.

I do this for six reasons:

1. I want to.
2. Students need to enjoy books before they'll want to read them on their own.
3. It's a way to build a common knowledge base.
4. I use the novels to illustrate writing techniques. (During writing, if we're studying leads, I'll pull down Because of Winn-Dixie and, since students are familiar with the text, it's easier to look at technique and to name exactly what the author has done.)
5. There are lots of awesome books they might otherwise never read.
6. When I was in elementary school, my librarian read aloud James and the Giant Peach and it was the highlight of my elementary career. (It is also just about the only thing I remember from those formative years. In school, that is. I mean, I remember lots about the 1984 World Series and can quote lines from Star Wars or The Natural all the livelong day.)

So far this year I've read some Judy Blume (three of the Fudge books), Roald Dahl (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits, The BFG), The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie (And I'm reading Edward Tulane right now. Tiger Rising to come.), all three Shiloh books, Skinnybones (which I think is hilarious, but a lot of it goes right over my students' heads), There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, and Charlotte's Web.

I've got Frindle and Tiger Rising waiting on the shelf, but I'm always looking for suggestions.
What are some of your favorites? Any books you remember from your third/fourth grade years? Any books you think all kids should definitely experience?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Heard in Mr. Murphy's Classroom

We're studying animals and today's lesson was on life cycles.

STUDENT: "It's pupa, not poopa. That would be spelled p.o.o.p.a."

True that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rejection Dejection...And My First List!

So I'm a little bummed out today because I have three more rejections sitting in my inbox than I did yesterday. While part of me wants to whine about the process in the hopes that a few people will feel sorry for me, another part of me knows that 1. rejection is part of the deal 2. there are some reading this who've been rejected more times than Barack Obama has said "uh" and 3. nobody really likes a whiner.

So instead of that, I'm going to recycle something I posted on a blog before I had three names. (Apologies to family members who've already read this.)

This is a list of ten overrated foods and drinks. This is not to be considered a “top ten” because I’m sure I missed a number of overrated items. Also, this is not a “foods and drinks that suck” list. These are foods and drinks that are held in high esteem by many people, but which in reality suck for some reason. As always, feel free to add your own, but remember the guidelines here. No fair putting “mushrooms” for instance. Everyone knows mushrooms are awful and if you like them, you’re the one that’s abnormal.

TEN OVERRATED FOODS and DRINKS (in no particular order)

** Marshmallows–not a food. More like a Styrofoam-chalk hybrid. And before you get all “but what about s’mores?!” on me, s’mores suck too and it’s not the fault of the graham cracker or the chocolate.

** Lobster–too much work, not enough meat. I don’t like my food to challenge me.

** Raisins–this one’s borderline because I don’t actually know any adults that sit around and eat these things. However, when I was a kid I do remember eating raisins and even then I wondered why. It is my firm belief that if there were no children in this world, raisins would cease to exist. (And so would this song. And this song. And whatever the hell this is.)

** Caviar–Never had it. Don’t need to. Gross.

** Fried chicken–Similar to lobster in that it tastes good, but it’s a pain in the you-know-what to eat. You have to gnaw at it like a caveman and then the skin always comes off in one piece, and then when you get down to the bone you either have the choice of sucking off every last morsel of meat and in the process dealing with parts that aren’t really meat but also aren’t bone, or you can just say the hell with it and risk having someone (usually older and male) say, “There’s still some meat on there.” I'll take the chicken fingers.

** Cupcakes–Maybe this is because I’m a teacher and some kid brings me one almost every day for their birthday, but cupcakes are the poor man’s dessert. Cake is good. Cups are useful. Put them together and you get a cruddy treat.

** Heineken beer–I believe most people who can drink this so-called adult beverage do so only because it makes them feel sophisticated and superior to those of us who drink beers that actually taste good (okay, decent). These same people buy fancy cheeses and claim to know things about wine.

** Water–I know I’m supposed to drink this, but I almost always find myself drinking something with flavor instead. It’s not so much that water is bad (it can’t really be described as anything other than neutral), it’s that so many other beverages taste better. Grape Kool-Aid, for example.

** Corn on the cob–I’m sure someone out there is, at this very moment, getting their hackles up (I've always wanted to write that), but in corn on the cob we have a food that isn’t very good to start with (corn) that we put on this big cylindrical thing (the cob) that makes it harder to eat. If you actually want to eat it while the corn is still hot, you need these things. Then, even if you succeed at getting the corn off the cob and into your mouth you are left with little bits of kernel stuck in your teeth that your tongue will diddle the rest of the day. You will also still be hungry, because there just isn’t that much corn on the cob.

** Watermelon–Don’t get me wrong, I like watermelon, but it’s still overrated. A lot of people adore watermelon and that’s taking it too far. First, if we’re talking about the fruit in its natural state, there is the seed problem (See fried chicken, lobster, and corn on the cob). Second, watermelon almost tastes really good. It’s like when you make grape Kool-Aid but only put in half the needed sugar. The thing is, watermelon mostly tastes like water and you already know how I feel about that stuff.

So there it is. A couple of things. First, I'm not very cosmopolitan, so there are lots of foods that I have never eaten and probably never will that did not have the chance to make the above list. Feel free to add them in the comments (and expose yourself as an elitist snob).

Second, I do realize that the above could still be considered whining, which I sort of implied I wasn't going to do. My defense is simple. The top ten overrated foods isn't whining, it's more like complaining. Or grumbling. Very different things. In my experience, people don't mind complaining, as long as it's done somewhat humorously. (So you'll have to be the judge of that. And don't let the fact that corn on the cob is on the list affect your overall enjoyment of the post. That's not fair.)

Third. Yes, "elitist snob" is redundant, but I feel strongly about it and when I feel strongly about something, redundancy is an excellent weapon.

Off to gather some more rejections!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

One of Those Posts Where Murph Talks About Three Different Things

Let's get the important stuff out of the way first--I have two new followers. Ben, who has always been a rabid devotee, has gone ahead and made it official. (And I envy the California weather on obvious display in his Hollywood Square.) And Sarah J. Clark, who I do not know, has also signed on. Welcome, Sarah J. Clark. I hope you will be entertained enough to refrain from clicking the "Stop following" option above the Squares.

Frequent Murphblog contributor, Anita, has an opportunity that would cause me to drool all over my Chewbacca T-shirt. In truth, I'm a little nervous even typing about it. She will be interviewing the inimitable (and yeah, I googled it to double-check the meaning) John Green. But that's not all! You, yes you, have the chance to ask John a question. Well, you can't actually ask John a question, but you can ask Anita to ask John a question and she might ask it. And considering I've asked John a question before, but didn't get an answer because he's probably too busy to answer questions posed over email by mere mortals, I'd say this is an opportunity that cannot be passed up.

In other news, Tracy tipped me off to Linda Sue Park's Web site and it is full of spendidness. However, there was one thing I read that I had a hard time with.

A critique group or partner should help you answer this question: Is a piece ready to submit? Here is my rule of thumb: A piece is ready to submit when it's one of the BEST things I've ever read.

I don't know about that. Sure, ideally, you would want your own story or that of a critique partner to meet this high standard. But if you read a lot (and Linda Sue states elsewhere on her site that you should, a LOT) then the likelihood of this happening, especially for your first novel, is nearly nil. I know as I sit here that I will never be able to write as beautifully as Gary D. Schmidt or plot as intricately as Jo Rowling. I am often in awe when reading great books because I know how hard it is to write an average one. And I suspect that if Linda Sue Park had followed her own advice when she finished her first novel, she would never have submitted it. I haven't read it. No doubt it's good. But only an extremely arrogant or hopelessly ignorant person could honestly believe her debut novel was better than the more than 1,000 books she claimed to have read in the years prior to writing her first novel, and I doubt Linda is either of those things.

Books are subjective. What rocks your world leaves mine barely spinning. We would have all missed out on some great stories if first time writers sat on manuscripts they thought might not measure up to the greatest books they'd read. So I say, "Go forth, and submit!"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Fourth Stall

It's time to get the word out on behalf of one of the rabid devotees. Follower "chris" has written a book for kids called The Fourth Stall. He's a very modest fellow who has never once come on the blog to push his book on the readership, and while that's very respectful of him, it's no way to sell books. So we need to sell some for him.

Here's what it's about:

Christian “Mac” Barrett is a fifth grade “Godfather,” who runs a business operation out of the fourth stall of the boy’s bathroom and has the answer to everyone’s problems — be it help with a bully, test answers, candy, or even dates with girls. But his business is threatened when Staples, a bookie and high school dropout, sets up shop in Mac’s school. Now Mac has to deal not only with the day-to-day problems of running his business, but also a legendary villain and his group of high school lackeys who seem intent on taking down his operation for good.

To assuage my guilt at lifting the entire text:

Now just from that short summary, we can tell the book is chock full of awesome. A list:

  1. Has there ever been a "Mac" in the history of books, cinema, or video games that you haven't rooted for?
  2. Dude's a fifth grade Godfather.
  3. There are scenes (probably a fair amount of them) that take place in a bathroom stall. The potential for hilarity is mind-boggling.
  4. The villain's name is Staples.
  5. Staples has "lackeys." Not stooges or minions or toadies, but lackeys.

So here's what you need to do: First, go to this link and pre-order the book. Then, use the power of the Webosphere to convince others to do likewise. Do not let the fact that you haven't read the book stand in your way. Books are subjective, so you're allowed to pretend to like something that doesn't technically exist yet because you can always ridicule other peoples' tastes if they disagree with you at some future date. Plus, there are ways to remain anonymous on the Internet if you're really worried about jeopardizing your reputation (which probably isn't as good as you think it is). But really, all of that is moot because Chris wrote it and he's funny, it has all of those awesome elements in it, and I'm endorsing it. Bottom line: Reading The Fourth Stall is like walking on clouds while drinking grape Kool-Aid. It's that good. (Note to the author: Feel free to use that line on the second printing.)

Oh, and could someone with some technical knowhow get up a Wikipedia page already? Jeesh.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

That Which Pays the Bills

When I'm not busy putting things in parentheses, revising a query letter that has now garnered two rejections (that's right-another one today, baby!), working on a novel, playing with The Little One, romancing The Wife (she'll get a kick out of that), helping women free their foreign cars from the snow, or reading books (Millicent Min is just not doing it for me), I can often be found teaching. In a real classroom. They actually let me do this.

This week, my students have been typing the realistic fiction stories they've been working on for the past month. I walk them down to the computer lab and they sit there and laboriously peck out letter after letter. Here are things my third graders suck at (just in case you ever wanted to write a scene in which underprivileged third graders type something):

1. Indenting paragraphs. Although, in fairness, most of them have no clue why you would bother with such a thing as paragraphs in the first place. And a few of them refuse to acknowledge their existence, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, such as actual books with actual paragraphs.

2. Using the SHIFT key.

STUDENT: Mr. Murphy, how do I do the exciting mark?
MR. MURPHY: (trying hard not to sigh in exasperation, as he as explained this tricky maneuver more than a few times already) Well, Timmy, hold down the SHIFT key and press the number one. Like this.

3. The spacebar--apparently, in the mind of a typical third grader, the spacebar is meant to be pushed anywhere from two to five times between words and not at all after periods.Annoying.

4. Quotation marks--Most of my students do actually use quotation marks in their writing. (Lots of them--nearly all girls--have, in fact, written hardly anything but dialogue.) Their trouble is in 1. Figuring out that the SHIFT key must be utilized and 2. Failing to put a space after their periods so that their quotation marks curl in the right direction.

Actual conversation from today:

BOY: I keep getting the 99s and I want the 66s.
MR. MURPHY: ??????
BOY: I need the 66s.
MR. MURPHY: What are you talking about?
BOY: Every time I do the talking marks I get 99s. I need the 66s.
MR. MURPHY: (trying very hard to not just walk away) Show me.
MR. MURPHY: (Finally realizing what the hell the kid was talking about) Oh! You need a space after that period, like this.
BOY (smiles) Thanks, Mr. Murphy
MR. MURPHY: (Thinks: This must be what they mean when they say teaching is rewarding.)

On the other hand, my students are very good at wasting time changing their fonts and screwing up the margins. So they got that going for them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Somewhat Grudgingly

Early readers of Murphblog may remember I was once in a cranky mood. (Okay, it's happened twice.) Some time ago, back when I had two readers instead of nine, I posted this rather strong opinion on bloggers who don't write, but, I guess in the interest of blogging about something, just throw up a Youtube video and call it good. My opinion of this has not changed, but sometimes, in order to please the masses (you), one has to release oneself from the bonds of one's own high-minded standards.

Because, dude, if you haven't seen Stephen Colbert and Steve Martin read Danielle Steel, you need to. (And chances are you have already seen it because I'm about two years behind on all things Youtube and even further behind on all things Comedy Central.) The clip's a little longish, but it's Steve Martin, so quit yer complainin'.

(You can skip along to about 3:40 to see the Danielle Steel stuff.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Mixed Bag

Here at Murphblog, we (and by "we," I mean "I") pride ourselves (myself) on being transparent. How can readers expect to connect with a writer who holds something of himself back? (That's rhetorical.) And yet, I am going to be intentionally vague about my agent stalking process because while transparency is important, so is not sabotaging any prospect of ever getting pubbed.

So with that in mind (vagueness, if you've forgotten), I report that I received my first official rejection today. Loyal readers know that I have been working and reworking my query letter for some time now and it was getting to the point where I wanted to do this every time I opened the file. I feared that if I didn't send it somewhere soon, I might do something really stupid. (I could watch that all day.) I had legitimate fears that I might never send the thing and on my deathbed I'd still be scribbling out "filthy" and replacing it with "nasty" or "wicked" or "unhittable." (Yes, I've actually done these things.) My epitaph would read: Here lies a writer. (If he'd had the balls to send his query. Maybe.) So what I'm saying is I sent my first query just to send my first query. Probably not the best reason in the history of the world.

Rejected the next day. At least it didn't suffer.

And then there's good news! I received in the mail today my contributor's copies of the latest issue of PKA's Advocate. You will recall that these fine folks published my poem "House Warming" in their December/January issue and in this, the February/March issue, they published two of my poems. They should put me on staff. (Of course, then they'd have to pay me.)

So today was a mixed bag. With the way things were going last week (sick child, trip to the ER, dead furnace, sore shoulders, and being made to feel like Jim J. Bullock), I think I'll take it.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

David Yoo on Ben Esch

Sophomore Undercover author and Murphblog friend Ben Esch has caught the eye of David Yoo. David is the author of the very funny Girls for Breakfast and Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before (haven't read, but I'm sure it's equally hilarious).

David writes about Ben's pioneering video game and his vlogs. From David Yoo's blog:

The other thing that impresses me about this (and all his other v-logs, for that matter) is that this young 20something has a legitimately full beard. I'm still waiting in my 30s for my dormant pituitary gland to explode like it should have 15 years ago so I can finally grow one. My latest attempt to grow a beard over the holidays produced yet again an impressively long but sadly isolated single hair that protrudes from the middle of my left cheek. I've grown it out several times and it always looks more weird than cool, as you can imagine.

I know the only reason Ben hasn't mentioned this himself is because he's a very modest guy, so I'm doing his cheerleading for him. I urge all eight of my followers (gee, that's creepy when you put it without quotes) to head over to David's blog and leave a comment in support of Ben and his book. And yes, I already have. Did you really doubt?

Just 16 days (depending on whether or not you count today and/or Feb. 24-- it's gets confusing) until the release of Sophomore Undercover!

(And by the way, wasn't there something a while back about free advanced copies?)

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I seek your advice, rabid devotees.

From what I can gather, most of you have some experience in the querying agents game. I have none, so I need your help. I'm good with the actual query (well, maybe not good, but I think it's at least found its way out of the Sucks Pit) and I have a firm grasp of the fundamentals. I know what things not to do. Here's what I'd like to know: How did y'all go about it?

The problem: I have agents that I want to represent me. I have no idea if my query/story/writing is going to appeal to those agents or, for that matter, any agent. Before I query those at the top of my list, I'd like to receive some feedback from those not at the top of my list. BUT, let's say one of the agents from the middle of my list requests the full, then what? Surely, I'd send the full, but now I'd be thinking, Well if agent X likes it enough to ask for a full, might not agent Y (the really cool agent who reps awesome writers and their awesome books)?

(I have no idea if any of this is making sense.)

So what I really want to know is what strategy did everyone use when you started querying agents? Please don't spare details you think are unimportant.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Meet My Cat

Since my brother decided to make the Kool-Aid sweepstakes far too easy, and since I really like grape Kool-Aid, I've decided that it's time to let the cat out of the bag. [Insert groan here.]

<---This is Gizmo. Well, it was Gizmo, about twenty pounds of fur ago. Nowadays she looks more like this.

We bought Gizmo from an animal shelter a few years back. She was hanging out in her cage with her siblings. When we stopped and The Wife did that aww thing women do when they see cute, furry creatures, Gizmo pushed her way to the front and practically begged us to take her home. She was all mew, mew, mew, you know how they do.

Since I wanted a kitten with personality and not some moody lump of fur (an apt description of yours truly, now that I think about it), I advocated strongly for her purchase. So we bought the cat and named her Gizmo. We were without child at the time and treated the naming of the feline as though it were a trial run. We made lists. I don't remember all the names (but Marty McFly was regrettably not one of them), but I know it came down to Wicket and Gizmo.

We chose Gizmo and then soon after learned that this chick also had a cat named Gizmo and you know how when you pick out a sweet name and then you find out someone else stole your sweet name (even if they did choose the name first) you get a little upset? Yeah, like that.

So now conversations go like this (if conversations like this actually took place):

Me: Her name is Gizmo.
Other People: Oh, like--
Me: Yeah, but we didn't know that at the time...
Other People: (thinking) Yeah, right. Name stealer.

So obviously Bridget is my least favorite Playboy Playmate. (I like Kendra. Girl's got spunk.)

Ironically*, the cat quit talking about five minutes after we got her home, and since then she's meowed like four times (tail stepped on). Basically, she spends her days sleeping on the couch and her nights pawing at things that wake us up.

*I don't really know if that's ironic or not. I really don't understand what's ironic and what's just coincidence or sort of amusing or just plain weird, but using the word makes me feel a little bit smart and so I use it. I'm comforted by the fact that others seem equally confounded.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I'm Here For You

I do a lot of talking about myself here on Murphblog. There are many reasons for this, the only one worth sharing being that it's my blog and I like to write about what I know and love. I also like to write about awesome things. But enough about me. This post is about you. See, there comes a time when even award winning bloggers need to give back to their rabid devotees. So today I bring you the following:

  • Links to blogs written by my "followers" (I've picked some favorite posts)
  • A "get your book published" contest here in Michigan that you probably won't want to enter.
  • A poem about grandpa farts
  • A picture from my Photobucket account
  • A chance to win 10 packs of grape Kool-Aid (sugar not included)
I have eight official followers, so here are awesome things they've posted on their blogs:

Carrie--you can't go wrong with John Lovitz, lightning struck horses, and gambling on piranhas
Tracy--As a fellow teacher, I couldn't agree more with his reasons, especially the long breaks
Lily Cate--I like this one based on the title alone
Kelly--One of those "things about me" lists, but noteworthy because of its honesty. Kelly tells us 'My husband and I had a pretend puppy when we were first married, because we couldn’t have a real one yet in our apartment.' I admire people who are willing to embarrass themselves for the sake of their blogs.
Big Plain V--Ben nails Twilight in this post and I like to read things I agree with. Plus, there's a pie chart.
Linda--because it's about one of my favorite authors and his book and also because I disagree with her and I like to read things I disagree with (like how I did that there?)
Monica--this is good because it means Monica spends a lot more time reading my blog than she does updating her own. The world needs more readers.
Murph--this should come as a surprise to exactly no one.


MEMSPA, which is not an organization of really smart people, but is instead comprised of Michigan school principals (and yes, I know exactly how that sounds) is sponsoring a contest for "aspiring children's authors." You can read the details here if you're interested, but there are two drawbacks I can see. One, you have to drop 40 bucks to send in your manny and two, the prize is you get your book published, but it says nothing about being awarded a publishing contract and those are two very different things. (The different things being one involves payment and the other may not.) But if you're desperate (like me) to see your name in print, I don't imagine they'll get a ton of submissions, so you might have a shot.

And now for what you've all been waiting for...


My grandpa says he forted,

But we all know what he means.

It happens almost every time

Grandma bakes her beans.

After he admits it,

Grandma rolls her eyes.

“Better out than in,” he says,

And then my grandma sighs.

I always feel like laughing,

But I try to hold it in.

And that’s when Grandpa smiles at me,

And then he forts again.

"When the Wine is Gone"

And finally, for your chance to win the Kool-Aid, guess the name of my cat. Hint: the name is also a 1980s movie character. Contest only open to rabid devotees, although I will look the other way if you become a "follower" just so you can win (and really, why wouldn't you? I mean, you can win $1.00 worth of grape Kool-Aid!)

You: Why did you make this contest so hard? I mean, there were thousands of awesome movie characters in the 1980s and lots of them would make a great name for a cat (like Chunk from The Goonies, for example. Wow, funny link there, Murph.)

Me: Because I already bought the Kool-Aid. And I really like grape Kool-Aid.

Good luck. And, you're welcome.

Monday, February 2, 2009

In Defence of the Apostrophe

I am not happy, and my mood has nothing to do with my ill daughter (double ear infection, by the way), my sore shoulders, my query letter, the number of penalty flags in the Super Bowl, or the fact that I ate the last cookie. It has to do with the man on the left and this article right here:

It's a catastrophe for the apostrophe in Britain

Seems some Birmingham officials have been quietly removing apostrophes for some time now (like, before Buddy Holly's plane crash. Or should I say, before Buddy Hollys plane crash?). This would be okay if they were deleting them from signs like this, but they're not. They're removing grammatically correct apostrophes! You may be tempted to think this is a cost saving measure. After all, the world economy is about as stable as Amy Winehouse on a Saturday night, so it might be prudent to save a few pounds in any way possible. Not so. As explained by Councilor Martin Mullaney (aka "The Devil"):

"Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed," he said. "More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it."
Here's a crazy thought: If you think you need an "A-level (high school diploma) in English" (whatever the heck that means) to understand the intricacies of apostrophe usage, maybe you shouldn't be a flipping "councilor" in the first place.

Here's the problem: Let's say your child comes home from school tomorrow complaining about his math homework. Perhaps he is having trouble understanding how you go about adding fractions (and who wouldn't, right?). As a parent you would have a choice to make. You could help your child understand how to add fractions. Or, if you didn't know how yourself, you could find resources that would aid in your child's understanding of fraction addition. Or you could pull a Martin Mullaney and just decide the hell with adding fractions. It's too bloody confusing anyway, old chap. Let's do away with the lot of them.

Now most defenders of the apostrophe would vent a little on their blogs and that would be that. I am not most bloggers. In case you haven't heard, I'm an award winning blogger. And so I call on all my rabid devotees to stand up for truth, justice, and the apostrophe.

How? By using the power of the Webosphere. You see, Mr. Mullaney has a blog and he would love to hear from you. You can even read his "rationale" for murdering innocent apostrophes on there. (And okay, I may have left a few things out, but not much.) Feel free to write him. I did. Oh, and here's his email address: Don't let one man, even if he might be Satan, rid the world (or at least Birmingham) of this useful punctuation mark. Long live the apostrophe in all its forms!

Blogger's note: In the event that Mr. Mullaney gets really mad at me and/or threatens a lawsuit, I hereby retract everything I wrote above.