Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Defending Scholastic: Part Two

Whenever some non-profit group decides to go after a greedy, capitalistic enterprise (you know, the kind that provide people with real jobs and salaries) I like to look a little deeper at their criticism. Now, I don't know the people at Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, but I believe they're trying to act in the best interests of children. (Of course, the mother who won't let her child ride his bike around the block because of the latest headline-grabbing missing toddler claims the same thing, but that's neither here nor there.) CCFC, in their press release, makes a fairly big deal out of the fact that 14% of items in Scholastic's brochures are not books. An additional 19% are books that are sold with "toys, gadgets, and jewelry."

Luckily, we don't have to take their word for it. The good folks at CCFC provide a link so we can analyze the data for ourselves (something the many newspapers who ran the story didn't bother to do). The link is here.

I selected a month at random (June 2008) to see just how horrible these non-book items and add-ons were. In the Arrow brochure, CCFC has listed 12 items that are "non-books." Of those twelve items, one is an autograph book, one is a diary, one is a "treasure box" that includes note pads, one is a book of MAD LIBS (and who in their right mind could possibly object to MAD LIBS?), and one is letter stencils. Now, I guess that technically these aren't "books," but they're not exactly glass shards and paint chips either. Really, I'd say five of the items are completely unrelated to words/language/writing/reading. So instead of 14% being "non-book" items, we're looking at closer to 6%, which means that 94% of Scholastic products in this brochure are related to reading/writing/letters/words/that sorta thing.

So the following quote from their press release is just, for a lack of a better word, stupid: “I have a hard time finding real literature among the toys and commercialized junk." Sister, you ain't looking very hard.

But what about those add-ons? Don't they send the message that books aren't good enough? That no kid would buy a book if it wasn't for the glitzy, plastic garbage that came with it?

Well, no. First, publishers already attempt to sell books (real ones, the kind CCFC wants Scholastic to sell more of)by using promotional tools that highlight things other than what is written in a book's pages. How many of us have purchased a book because it had a flashy cover? How many have bought a book only because it was written by a certain author? (I especially love when the author's name is twice the size of the title.) Why do publishers bother with blurbs from famous writers or other "celebrities?" Publishers will stop at nothing to sell a book because that's how they make money. I fail to see how Scholastic throwing in a pen is any worse than what publishers already do to entice potential readers to buy.

But let's look at the actual products, because once again, it isn't as bad as CCFC makes it seem. Here are some of the items added to books in the same issue of Arrow:

  • A CSI-type book that comes with stuff to conduct an investigation (makes sense)
  • beads with a book about making charm bracelets (be kinda hard without 'em),
  • truth or dare cards with a book about embarrassing stories (I'm guessing the cards have words on them that, you know, you'd have to read)
  • maps, journal pages, book light (oh, the horror!), stickers
  • test tubes, flasks, and a dropper with a Super Secret Formula Lab book.
I could go on, but what would be the point? Yes, there is some junk (bracelets with a Hannah Montana book pack), but most the stuff is completely harmless and some of it is actually educational. And besides, if a kid is buying a "Winning Season Pack" (Sports books) just so he can get the "basketball game pen," then I think we've got bigger issues to worry about here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Welcome, New Followers

The economy may be tanking, the government may be mortgaging my child's future, and the Vice President may be too busy to answer a simple question, but times they are a booming here at Murphblog.

Three new followers!

As is customary (well, ever since this happened), I'd like to officially welcome the fine people who have decided to follow the blog. Just so you know, I don't fault you for being a little late to the party. As my Uncle Quentin always says, "Better late than never." (Of course, he's also fond of "A day late and a dollar short." Uncle Q is big on idioms. Or, he would be, if, you know, he existed.)

So welcome, Gretchen and Bryan, Chuck, and Amber!

Here's a little primer to get you caught up:

  • There was, in the very recent past, a heated debate about chocolate milk. It ended in a tie, but I don't see any reason why recent followers should not be able to vote, especially since it appears the V.P. is not going to weigh in.
  • In my writing life, I'm currently working on revisions requested by an agent for my middle grade manuscript. The clock is ticking. I am to send him the revised work no later than April 19.
  • I have a fascination with parentheses that causes me to overuse them to the point of reader distraction. (Deal with it.)
  • You should purchase and read Sophomore Undercover by Ben Esch.
  • I love grape Kool-Aid and so should everyone else.
  • This is an award-winning blog.
  • I don't do book reviews unless the book was written by someone who follows this blog.
  • I believe in transparency, but have been known to lie in order to make a blog post more interesting. (The microwave was never malfunctioning or broken, folks.)
  • I think it's high time for another contest, so stay tuned.
That about covers it. If you want to know more, feel free to read the old posts. They're way down at the bottom on the right -----------> (Uncle Quentin: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.")

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Defending Scholastic: Part One

NOTE: Since I have a lot to say on this topic, I'm breaking it into parts.

Scholastic has been taking heat for some time now about their book fairs and brochures. It all started when a non-profit organization, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, put the company it its cross-hairs and managed to get a number of Web sites and newspapers to reprint their press release. Since I'm sure you don't want to read all of those links, let me quote the relevant criticisms:

CCFC director, Dr. Susan Linn: "...Scholastic is abusing that privilege by flooding classrooms across the country with ads for toys, trinkets, and electronic media with little or no educational value.”

Of the items advertised, 14% were not books...

An additional 19% of the items were books that were sold with additional toys, gadgets, or jewelry.

Now, everyone agrees on a couple of things. First, that Scholastic does, in fact, still sell books. In fact, by CCFC's own numbers, fully 86% of the items are real, live, cheaply-bound books. Second, that Scholastic sells these books at far lower prices than you can buy them elsewhere. (We'll avoid a discussion of just how they accomplish this for the time being) Third, that teachers receive points or credit that can be spent on Scholastic products for their classrooms.

So let's take a hypothetical. Say Bobby hates reading but he's a persistent little snot and is eventually able to talk his mom into forking over ten bucks. Bobby's teacher takes the class down to the book fair and Bobby buys a whole slew of gel pens with his ten dollars. Doesn't even open a book.

A few questions: Would Bobby have spent the tenner on a book if the other junk had not been available? Even if he did, would Bobby actually read the book? If Bobby had known in advance that there were only books at the book fair, would he have asked his mom for the money in the first place? Given that Bobby's ten bucks increases the total revenue of the book fair and that the more money the book fair makes the more books teachers can add to their classroom libraries, shouldn't we thank Bobby for his contribution?

Because take Penny, a girl who loves reading but comes from a really poor family, a family so poor she knew better than to even ask her mom for ten dollars. Penny went to the book fair too and she spent the whole time touching the glossy covers and flipping through the pages. She even started reading the first page of a book about a girl and her pet guinea pig. It was really good.

Mrs. Nelson, Penny's caring teacher, noticed Penny's interest and when it was time to come down and select books for her classroom (made possible in part by Bobby's gel pen purchase) she remembered how interested Penny was in that guinea pig book and so she added it to her pile. She took the stack of books back to her class where her students practically knocked each other over trying to get at them. (I can personally attest to this behavior.) But Mrs. Nelson kept one book hidden, and while the rest of the class was attacking the new books like Amy Winehouse's left nostril attacks lines of coke, Mrs. Nelson called Penny to her desk and handed her the guinea pig book.

You might say the look on Penny's face was priceless.

Or, you might say it was worth about ten dollars worth of gel pens.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Best Snack Ever

I've spent the night watching The Madness and now, despite CBS's best laid plans, both games are at the half. (And I'm happy to report that Memphis is getting trounced.) So I figured I'd tell you about the snack I just had.

I was sitting on the couch and, although I wasn't remotely hungry, decided I needed to eat something. Mother Hubbard must be in charge of buying our groceries, but I did manage to find one last bag of microwave popcorn. (And while I'm on it, who the Helvetica keeps bones in their cupboards?)

I tossed the popcorn in the microwave and pushed the button labeled POPCORN, but nothing happened. I pushed it again. Nothing. So I pushed it a couple more times. I was just about to give up on the whole thing when I remembered that I once owned a microwave without the POPCORN button and that it was, in fact, possible to pop corn by entering the time using the number keys. Of course, I didn't remember how long I was supposed to do that for, but I stood next to the microwave and listened for the popping to abate.

When it was done I opened the fridge. No pop. No Gatorade. No grape Kool-Aid. The only beverages in there were a two-month old two liter of Coke with three or four flatter-than-Natalie Portman swallows left in it, some white milk, and, miracle of all miracles, chocolate milk (the good kind). Needless to say, I poured myself a tall glass of the stuff and enjoyed what was perhaps the greatest snack ever conceived by man. And then, just when I thought the night couldn't get much better, I looked up and saw that Satan's team was heading to the half with a three point deficit.

Life is good.

(Not so much for Old Mother Hubbard's dog, though. I mean, have you read that thing recently? Here's just a snippet:
She went to the baker's
To buy him some bread;
When she came back
The dog was dead!
She went to the undertaker's
To buy him a coffin;
When she came back
The dog was laughing.
My reaction. Considering this was read to most of us as kids, it's a wonder we don't all have bones in our cupboards.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Title Would Spoil the Link

I would not be doing my job as a blogger if I didn't link to this: CLICK ME

Pure, 100 percent, grade A, unadulterated awesome.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Fair!

I just finished three hours worth of revisions and I should be going to bed but when I revise for three hours and thoughts of my story are running through my head, I can't sleep anyway. I tell you this only so that Anita does not give me a hard time.

Check the Followerwood Squares lately? Number 14, baby! Thanks to Debra for deciding to become one of the cool kids.

Update: It's now been one week and still no response from the veep. However, since he's spending his time telling awesome jokes like the ones below, I forgive him.

"[Obama] can't be here tonight because he's busy getting ready for Easter," Biden said. Speaking in a whisper, he added, "He thinks it's about him."

Turning to the suffering newspaper business, he disagreed with those who say they're obsolete. "I recently got a puppy, and you can't housebreak a puppy on the Internet," Biden said.


And this guy's not going to weigh in on The Great Chocolate Milk Debate? Yeah, right.

The Scholastic Book Fair (otherwise known as Christmas for Teachers) wrapped up at school today and I was allocated $170 to spend on books for the classroom. Of course, in reality, what happens is I buy books I want to read, take them home and read them, and then return them to the classroom library at my convenience. I justify this somewhat questionable practice by claiming I can then more effectively give "book talks" to my students. Do I actually do this? Erm...sometimes.

Of the twenty books I purchased, I brought home seven. The first few I'll be reading are the third Wimpy Kid book, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, Every Soul a Star, and How to Steal a Dog. I also went to the library last night and came home with three books, so I'm set in the reading department for a while. This makes me very happy. And you want me happy. Otherwise, I might just sic Joyce Carol Oates on y'all again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Madness!!!

In all honesty, March is not the best time for my writing. There's this little thing called March Madness that eats up a lot of my writing hours. You may have heard of it. I think even our President filled out a bracket. And, in case you somehow missed that story, I should also tell you that he appeared on Jay Leno and made fun of handicapped people. And then he went on 60 minutes. I think he also got his kids a dog and a fancy playset. These are important things.

But enough about him, let's get back to talking about me. After all, that's why we're here.

1. The VP has not responded to my email. The Wife is not surprised. She thought I was rather rude and therefore deserve no response. I argued that most of the emails he receives are probably from people who take things just a tad too seriously. I would think his staffers would appreciate reading something a little more lighthearted. I'm still holding out hope for a resolution.

2. Like I said, the writing is going...um...slowly. I've trimmed the fat from the manny by getting rid of characters, scenes, and lots and lots of words (went from 44,600 to 31,500). I know how things are going to go and some changes I need to make. Now, I've just got to write some new scenes and edit some of the old ones. The good news? I'll have all of spring break to work on it.

3. I'm experiencing an altogether new emotion that as far as I can tell (by using Google) is called "self-doubt." Here's the deal: I have a second manuscript. It's written for young adults and is meant to be humorous (meaning I think it's flipping hilarious, but I'm not quite so egotistical to believe that everyone in the world shares my sense of humor. For instance, there's this reader of Anita's that I'm pretty sure would hate the entire work.). The self-doubt comes into play because I'm pretty sure it lacks a plot and I've read that publishers tend to like those things.

Now, here's my defense, and if you've also written a funny book without a plot, feel free to use it as your defense too. I have read funny books with plots, funny books with poor or barely held together plots, and funny books without plots and as far as I can tell, I didn't really care one way or the other. If the book was funny, I kept reading. For instance, I would argue that the Wimpy Kid books are largely plotless. They are episodic. It appears the author just took a bunch of stuff from middle school, made all that stuff funny, and threw it into his books. Then he went back and tied some of it together, but still, no real plot.

I also recently finished When You Are Engulfed in Flames, which is a collection of essays. There are some common themes running through the book, but, it being a book of essays, no plot. Apparently, no one cared because it sold a whole lot of copies. I liked it because it was funny, even if there was no "problem to be solved."

I guess my argument is this: If the book is truly funny, most people could care less about the plot. Agree or not? (And please say you agree.) As always, you must support your opinion with supporting details and examples from the text.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I hate ties. Not the kind men wear in order to fool people into thinking they're respectable members of society, but those that result in no clear winner. Ties are for wimps like T-ball coaches, Ara Parseghian, and Bud Selig. There will be no ties allowed on this blog.

But right now, that's exactly what we have in the Great Chocolate Milk Debate. By my count we have six votes for real chocolate milk, six votes for crappy, make-it-yourself chocolate milk (no offense), and a few people who basically voted "present."

Now, I could just pull rank and say that my vote counts twice because it's my blog, but I respect the democratic process too much for that sort of knavery. I've grappled over how best to resolve this deadlock and I think I've found a solution. There is one man in this country who is uniquely qualified to cast the tie-breaking vote, and so today I emailed him and requested his assistance in this matter. Here is the letter I sent:

Dear Mr. Vice President,

Many people, myself and Sarah Palin included, have no idea what exactly a Vice President does all day. I imagine that much of your time is devoted to such important matters as admiring your office rug in between games of Mahjong, or perhaps rereading the Constitution in the hopes of finding some loophole that might grant you powers other than that whole "President of the Senate" thing. You probably roll your eyes every time you read about your tie-breaking role, knowing that with a 58-40 majority the chance of you ever getting to actually cast a vote is about as likely as GM turning a profit next quarter.

Yet it is this enumerated duty which has led me to seek your help. This week, on my blog, there has been much debate over chocolate milk. Some people feel that store-bought chocolate milk is just about the best thing cows have ever given us (second behind prime rib, probably). Others prefer to make their own chocolate milk by stirring Hershey's syrup, Ovaltine, or even melted chocolate shavings into a glass of white milk. Unfortunately, we are deadlocked with six votes on each side and with such a weighty issue remaining unresolved, I fear gridlock (a subject with which, being a former senator yourself, I'm sure you're familiar). Please, Mr. Vice President, we need you to exercise the power vested in you by the Constitution and cast this all-important tie-breaking vote. It's not like you have anything all that better to do, right?

Vice President Biden, how do you take your chocolate milk?

We at Murphblog eagerly await your response.


Paul Michael Murphy
Founder, CEO, and follower of Murphblog

"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Vice President, and that one word is "to be prepared." ---Dan Quayle

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Truth? The title of this post has absolutely nothing to do with its content. Like many Middle French words, it was running through my mind (much in the way I picture French soldiers (there's an oxymoron) running from the Germans. Or any other invading army really.) and since this post has no unifying theme I thought, What the Helvetica?

  • Let's get the writing-related stuff out of the way first. Here's a Web page with a whole lotta links to "Useful Web Tools for Writers." May you find something useful.
  • My wife and I had a discussion about chocolate milk last night. She announced that she was about to enjoy a glass. I said, "We still have chocolate milk?" She said that because she bought Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, we always had chocolate milk, provided we had white milk, which we always do because we have a two-year old. I said it wasn't nearly the same. She said she preferred it to store-bought chocolate milk because store-bought chocolate milk was "too thick." I was speechless, so I wrote the following in my journal:
The Wife (not her real name) thinks Hershey's Chocolate Syrup in white milk is somehow superior to actual, sent-from-heaven, store-bought chocolate milk, the kind they make from God's tears of happiness.
Poll: Which chocolate milk is better? (Hint: The Wife is so wrong on this one.)
  • I have parent-teacher conferences this week, otherwise known as conference-week-with parents-I-don't-need-to see-while-those-whose-kids-regularly-ruin-the-education-of their-classmates-stay-home-and-watch-Rock of Love.
  • As a teacher, I often feel like I get an early glimpse of the future of our fine country. Let me tell you, I'm not real confident. On Saturday night, I observed something that makes me believe things might actually be worse than I first thought. I went to my local Family Video to take back yet another late movie. Because I can't help myself, I walked around to see what was available. To my chagrin and to this country's great discredit, I saw three long rows of the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua. There were approximately sixty boxes and, here's where it really gets bad, all but seven had been checked out. It gets worse. The seven that remained were stacked behind three boxes, which means that although there were sixty boxes, it seems likely that there were over 100 copies of this movie at the store. Now, I live in a relatively small town and the movie was a one day rental, which means that on a Saturday night, 100 or so families thought that the best way they could spend some quality family time was to watch Beverly Hills Chihuahua (the italics are meant to emphasize my outrage, not the fact that it's a title). And we're worried about the education system?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pass It On

I'm just about to head to the post office to send Angela her copy of Sophomore Undercover. There are three reasons it's taken me so long to mail Angela her well-earned prize.


1. I hate going to the post office.
2. Due to a strong emotional bond with the novel, I'm having a hard time saying goodbye. Yes, I have another copy, but that one's still in the box. I'm not really sure I'll take it out of the box. After all, it is a first edition. It could become a collector's item, and as any thirty-three year old guy who owned his fair share of Star Wars and G.I. Joe action figures will tell you, I could be costing my future self some major moolah by unboxing it.

Aside: I still own many of those action figures and they look like they've actually fought in the battles portrayed on screens big and small. Bossk has only one arm (good luck bounty hunting with that handicap) and Clutch's joints have become so loose he can hardly stand. The good news? Snake Eyes, easily the coolest G.I. Joe, is still in good shape and so is Destro, although he's probably upset about Baroness's missing leg.

Embarrassing admission: When Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (and please, don't even get me started) came out, I sort of had my first mid-life crisis. I was a senior in college. I guess I was trying to atone for the sin of devaluing the old action figures, because I went to Target and bought $200 worth of the new ones (even this worthless hunk of plastic). I've kept them all in their boxes. They're in my basement. They haven't appreciated yet, but I'm willing to wait.

3. I had to decide what to write inside the book. Long-time readers of Murphblog and Ben Esch's blog may remember this discussion. In case you're one of those people who refuse to click on my links (I know you're out there and let me tell you, you're really missing some good stuff. Sometimes.) or you're just too lazy to read the comments in that post, here's a summary.

  • chris has the idea to make SU the most won prize on the Webosphere.
  • chris makes an analogy so obscure that Dennis Miller is confused.
  • I think it's awesome. The idea. Not the analogy. Although actually, the analogy was pretty good once it was explained.
  • I pledge to choose a winner who will pass the book on. I also say I'll write something in the book.
  • Ben tells everyone how fantastic I am.
So today, I finally sat down and wrote in the book. There's a picture up above and you can read the message by clicking on the image, but if you'd rather not, here's what it says:

The best things in life are free. (Well, except for Super Bowl tickets, but you know what I mean.) Let's keep it that way by spreading the joy you'll experience when reading this book.

The Rules:

1. Read the book. Feel the joy.
2. Sign and date over there. [arrow]
3. Give the book away. For free. Seriously. It'll make you feel good. Plus, no one person should possess an object of such obvious power for too long. I mean, did you see what happened to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings? Not a pretty sight.

Then I signed the book and dated it.

Here is my hope: I hope that the book brings happiness to so many people that one day, when the aliens attack, we will be able to go to our deaths (or possibly work camps on some distant planet) with smiles on our faces.

Someday, what's in this box is going to make me a very rich man.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Preemptive Apology and Status Update

Since that whole preemption thing worked out so well for President Bush, I figured I might as well give it a go.

The agent with whom I'm revising my manuscript sent me his notes today, so I will be blogging far less in the near future. Apologies. (Well, maybe "far less" is a tad much. More like, I won't be writing as much when I blog and I will probably fall short of my usual award-winning excellence. Also, fewer links to pictures of Kool-Aid. Some of you are no doubt rejoicing.)

You're wondering about the revision notes, aren't you?

In list form:

1. They are excellent--helpful, thorough, full of specifics and probing questions. It's obvious said agent spent a good deal of time thinking about my story, which is awesome.

2. I did not write the above on the chance that said agent might read this. I am honestly very impressed with said agent's notes. (Of course, he probably should read my blog. I mean, it did win an award.)

3. The revision requests are somewhat daunting, but most of them are things I already sort of had a problem with anyway. Why didn't I address them then? Because I'm green and didn't want to hack up my manny based on something I read on an Internet forum. Now that someone who's read a bazillion (well, maybe not quite) manuscripts confirmed my fears/suspicions/whatever-you-want-to-call-them, I'm much more willing to hack away.

4. Basically, things break down this way: I've been asked to submit my revised manny by April 19. At that point, said agent will read it and make a decision on representation. He was very kind in telling me that I don't have to submit the next Newbery winner (good thing, too); he wants to see if I can use his notes to improve the story. I imagine there are people who 1. don't want to do this and 2. try, but fail miserably (and who knows? maybe that's me!)

Whichever way things fall, I'm pretty geeked. At best, I'll get to work with an awesome agent. At worst, said agent has given me some really good advice on how to improve the manuscript.


I'm chopping first, with the expectation that I'll be beefing up some other areas later. Word count went from 44,600 to 35,700 tonight. I went through about half the manuscript. Surprising discovery: Cutting whole chapters is kinda fun.

And yes, the rumor is unfortunately true. I turned 33 Wednesday. Eck.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Read Someone Else, I'm Busy

I'm getting ready to "kick myself in the arse" and write something tonight, so I leave you with this:

James Kennedy "at" the ALA Awards.

It is easily one of the funniest things I've read in some time. I'm ordering the guy's book based on this blog post alone.

Thanks to Jacqui for the heads-up.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Rut is a good word. One of those words that means exactly what it should mean. I like that. I do not, however, like being in a rut. (I'm speaking figuratively here. Right now I'm sitting in a chair borrowed stolen from Michigan State University some twelve years ago, and while the chair is well worn, I wouldn't go so far as to call it rutted (actual word.))

The rut of which I speak is of the writing variety. Here's the deal. Some time ago I wrote a book called FARVE CASTLE LETS IT GO. Then I revised it again and again and again. Then I revised it some more. Then I had to sit around and wait for the good folks running the Delacorte Yearling Contest for a First Middle Grade Novel to reject it. Being the good little writer I am, I dutifully followed the advice of many a writer: I started my next book. Then I finished it. And revised, revised, revised.

So here's the rut: I've been revising so long that I'm having a hard time writing a first draft. I've started about seven different first drafts but can't seem to keep the motor running. And I know what's causing the stall. I'm revising too much as I write. I'm fretting over every word and worried about story structure and all sorts of nonsense that I know has to wait, but flat out refuses to because my brain is running a continuous loop of revise, revise, revise.


Writing teacher Lucy Calkins penned the phrase "passion hot, critic cold" to express this dichotomy. That is, when writing a first draft the throttle needs to be open and you need to bring the heat of passion to your writing. But when it's time to revise, you have to divorce yourself from your wonderful words and reread with the cold detachment of a surgeon.

The surgeon refuses to leave the room. Anybody with suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Oh, and since you asked, here's a quick run-down of the seven stories I've started. Maybe I should open it up to a vote. Couldn't hurt at this point.

1. Sequel to the YA. Might be a little presumptuous, but the characters are a blast. It's like hanging out with really fun people.

2. A story about a vain queen, an ugly princess, and a depressed alien. Also, a King who loves to watch bowling and eat Cheese Bombs. There's some saving-the-world from alien attack thing going on, too.

3. YA about a kid getting revenge against six kids he blames for his pathetic existence. Yes, it's been done, but I'm going for funny here. And just between you and me, one of the characters is named VanHalen Mendenhall. I may have to write the thing just because of that.

4. MG about a kid who finds a magic music box and uses it for nefarious purposes.

5. Humorous MG about a boy who believes he's destined for greatness because of his scar, a fortune cookie, and something he read on the Internet.

6. Another revenge story, this one MG. After getting embarrassed in front of the girl he likes, Harvey Wentworth hatches a complicated plot involving a rare Jawa action figure, a theft, and some insurance money, all so he can exact revenge and maybe pay off his mother's gambling debts.

7. Story about married celebrities who hand over their kids to be used on an island reality show with the understanding that they'll be dropped in the ocean at the show's conclusion.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Status Update and Time Killers

Finished my taxes today. On my dad's recommendation, I used TaxAct Online and found it comparable to TurboTax, but a whole lot cheaper. Federal (without itemized deductions) is free and the state cost me seven bucks. Not. Too. Shabby. I will take recommendations on how to spend the refund money. And since I used the word, how do you say "comparable?" I prefer to stress the first syllable. Sounds smarter that way.

We here at Murphblog are sad to admit we lost a follower today. As head of this operation, I'm pretty bummed about it. I'd like to take fully responsibility except it's not my fault. I can only make assumptions as to why this person stopped following, so I'll just assume it's because she's too busy to dedicate the time and mental energy required to fully appreciate Murphblog. Or maybe she's a huge Courtney Love fan. Either way, not a courageous follower.

Here's a mindless game to play: Ball The object is to click on the ball. It'll change colors if you do.

And here's something that somehow feels very wrong, but I still wasted about a half hour on it: Subservient Chicken. If you just spent a day following other people's orders, this is the perfect remedy. Let me know if you stump him. (I minimized the chicken window, but then felt bad because it was like the guy was waiting around for me. Don't laugh. See if you can just let him stand there.)

On a more serious note (alhough the chicken thing is pretty serious, too), My middle grade is no longer making the query rounds. It's with an agent who has requested a revision and I'll be working with this agent exclusively through the process. As for the YA, can't get the ending right. This is normal. Panic has not set in. Yet. I've got two weeks before it goes out to readers. Let me know if you'd like a look.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Lazy Man's Blog Post

Sometimes, I just don't have the energy. Finding YouTube links and reading Courtney Love's blog can really take it out of you. So today I'm going to cheat and just copy and paste a hunk of my current work-in-progress (WIP). This is probably inadvisable, unprofessional, and just plain stupid, but I don't actually care. I've worked on this thing for quite a while. It amuses me. It may never be published. Perhaps it will amuse others.

I looked long and hard (silly phrase, that) for a section of text that doesn't contain any naughty words (it's YA) because I know a lot of you let your kids read my blog. (And thank you for that. Inspiring the next generation of bloggers and amassing legions of young followers is one of this blog's goals. Also, everyone knows you can't take over the Webosphere without easily-led youngers willing to do the dirty work.) The following excerpt is the closest I came. ("Crap" and "ticked" are actually different words in the manuscript. No points for guessing which ones.)

Feeling guilty that Mom was forced to defend me, I rolled out of bed and staggered to the bathroom. Mom had helpfully removed my church clothes from my duffel bag, ironed them, and hung them on the brass hook on the back of the bathroom door. It’s amazing what that lady can accomplish before I even get out of bed. As I showered for church, I recalled my brief and fractured personal history with organized religion.

My parents, either because they wanted to give me a proper upbringing or because Grandma shamed them into it, took me to church when I was quite young. I don’t recall anything from the earliest years, my baptism included, but I do remember Sunday School. It was held in a small room across the hallway from the minister’s office. Our teacher was a man, probably in his forties, who went by “Mr. D” because he must have felt his last name was too difficult for his young acolytes to pronounce. Mr. D was not a gifted educator. I think his heart was in the right place, but he rarely deviated in his lessons and became quite flustered when asked to do so.

There were six of us, all under ten years of age, and on most Sundays we sat on colorful wooden chairs around a small table and waited patiently while Mr. D passed around paper pamphlets called “Hangin’ with the Lord.” Inside, we would read biblical stories that had been updated for the day's modern youth.

Instead of Cain and Abel, we read about Dylan and Tanner and how one day they went to church with their parents. During the offering, Dylan, having no money, placed his favorite toy in the collection plate, but Tanner gave only a ratty old stuffed animal that he never played with anymore. To make a familiar story short, God got really ticked at Tanner and told him to try again, but instead of taking this criticism like a man, he took his anger out on Dylan and beat the crap out of him. (I remember how this had commanded my attention as an eight year old. No one ever talked about child on child violence at school unless it was to warn us against it.) God was displeased with Tanner, so he kicked him out of his house and he became a homeless beggar.

After these lessons, Mr. D would then read the actual Bible version, which was full of confusing phrases like, “And Adam knew his wife again.” I asked him what that meant once and he acted like he didn’t hear me. He further stymied my other queries regarding this and other stories and so I was forced to take them to my father.

“I don’t get that whole Cain and Abel story,” I recall saying.


“Why was God happy about getting a lamb, but mad about getting vegetables?”

“I don’t remember,” Dad said. There was a football game on TV at the time.

“God seems sort of picky.”

“He is,” Dad said.

“You know how you always tell me to smile and say thank you when I get a present, even if I don’t like it?”


“Well, if God would've done that, then Cain probably wouldn’t have killed Abel.”

“You think it’s God’s fault.”


“I doubt it, He’s God.”

“And then later, it says that Cain was afraid of being killed, but the only people that were alive at that time were his parents. It says so right in the Bible.”

“There were other people,” Dad said, his eyes still on the TV.

“No, there weren't. There was Adam and Eve and they gave birth to Cain and Abel, so when Cain killed Abel there were only the three of them left on Earth. Why would he think someone would kill him?”

“Maybe he thought his parents would kill him,” Dad suggested.


Dad turned to me, his face serious. “They screwed up in the Garden of Eden, didn’t they? If it weren't for them, there wouldn’t have been any sin at all. I wouldn’t have trusted them either.”

“I guess.”

“You guess.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“It’s not supposed to, it’s the Bible. You’re just supposed to read it and do what it says.”

“That’s stupid,” I mumbled.

I soon realized that the more I questioned what they were teaching me at church, the less frequently we attended, so I started grilling my dad every Sunday afternoon. Since this usually took place while a game was on, Dad was in no mood for it. His answers were frequently short, dismissive, and often just plain absurd.



“Dad, how did Noah get two of every creature on the ark? And wouldn’t the foxes have eaten the sheep?”

“He was like Dr. Dolittle. He could speak to the animals and they listened to him. Plus, I think he tranquilized some of them.”


“So, God destroyed two whole cities because the people were doing bad things?”


“But there must have been some good people in those cities.”


“There must have been at least a few babies or really small children.”

“Doubt it.”

“Couldn’t God have found a way to kill only the bad people?”

“Sure He could have, but maybe He wanted to send a message.”

“What message?”

“Don’t do bad things, and if you see other people doing bad things, make them stop.”

“Did it work?”

“For a while.”

“God seems mean.”

“He certainly had a vengeful streak.”


“He mellows out in the New Testament.”


“This baptism stuff doesn’t make sense, Dad.”

“How so?”

“Well, say you’re one year old and you haven’t been baptized, but your neighbor is also one and he has been baptized. If a hurricane comes and kills both of you, then your neighbor will go to heaven but you'll go to…you-know-where.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Isn’t that what the Bible says?”

“I don’t remember.”

“It must. That’s why it’s such a big deal to get baptized.”

“Maybe. You’re baptized you know, so don’t worry about it.”

“But it’s not fair. I mean, what about little babies that die? They must all go to you-know-where.”

“I don’t think so.”

“They must. You-know-where is full of crying babies and bad people.”

“No, it’s not. Just bad people. God wouldn’t send babies there.”

“Yes, he would. It says so.”

“Eh, I disagree with that one.”

“You can’t disagree, it’s in the Bible.”

“Well, I think they got that one wrong.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Do You Know What Day It Is?

Yesterday was Square Root Day. My local news actually covered this. I'm not sure why because most of the time we don't hear anything about all the ridiculous daily observances. Take today, March 4, for example. To me, the observances for today are far more entertaining than square roots. (Of course, so is just about everything.)

For example, today is "Benjamin Harrison Day." President Harrison, in addition to sporting a fine-looking beard, was a man ahead of his time. During his Presidency, electricity was first installed in the White House. Harrison was terrified of being electrocuted and wouldn't touch a light switch, so he often slept with the lights on. Good thing his wife was a hottie.

Today is also "Courageous Follower Day." I'm not positive about what that means since it would seem more courageous to lead than to follow, but whatever. Maybe they're talking about the followers of this guy. I guess they were courageous. Or stupid. It's a matter of perspective really.

And it's also "International Scrapbooking Industry Day." A day on which thousands of stay-at-home moms attend "parties" at the homes of other stay-at-home-moms. They bring photos and drink wine coolers. They laugh. They gossip. They purchase overpriced stickers and stencils. They craft witty captions. All so they can make less serious scrapbookers feel guilty about the lame job they're doing chronicling their child's early years and/or that family vacation to Carlsbad Caverns.

Now for something serious: It's "National Grammar Day." There will be no jokes made here. Grammar is not a joking matter. If you would like to make a grammar joke, I suggest you visit a different blog. Also, I strongly advise you to avoid Courtney Love's blog, where you will find things like this:

"ive been nbot working the tightest program and been multi tasking and managing time horribly- so i was on the phone and i said i wanted pretty short bangs- not NO bangs and she cut them when i was on the phone with one of these whakcjob banks that heres some trust and some joint bogus account and some insane mortage in- these f***s for years and years and years=- in anycase anyone know exactly how many records Nirvana has sold all in worldwide since Nirvana started?"

Finally, it is "Learn What Your Name Means Day." I was pretty sure my name meant "Perspires Awesomeness," but I wanted confirmation. I went to this site and searched all three of my names. Paul comes from the Roman family name Paulus which means "small" or "humble." Michael's origin is Hebrew and means "Who is like God?" And Murphy means "sea warrior."

So pretty much like I thought.

That 'humble' thing is obviously meant to be sarcastic.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

Since the birth of Little One the wife and I have become reacquainted with the works of Dr. Seuss. Dude had some crazy talent. I mean, not everybody can make rhymes by fabricating words. Try it. It's not as easy as it looks. I'll give you a word: monkey.

Here are words that you may not use (you know, because they're real): hunky, punky, funky, junky, chunky, spunky, flunky, gunky, clunky, and crunky. (And yeah, I knew "crunky" without Googling. I'm that hip.)

So I guess you're stuck with wunky, yunky, shunky, blunky, zunky, lunky, dunky, sunky, bunky, runky, or frunky.

Okay, so maybe not that hard.

But seriously, Dr. Seuss had some awesome plots. I don't know about you, but the ending of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish gets me every time. We're talking man tears. And what about Hop on Pop? How the little punks finally get their comeuppance? Very satisfying.

Okay, so that was kind of snarky, which, by the way, will be the only time you will ever hear me use this word that seemed to come out of nowhere and is now used with the same frequency as my local Top 40 station played "Save Tonight" from 1997 to about 2001. In fact, the only reason I use it at all is so that I can vent about what a truly awful word it is. And do you know what makes it more awful? The people who use it the most are in the publishing industry! Really, stop. Now. Cease and desist. Find a new word. Hell, make one up. It worked for Dr. Seuss.