Friday, July 30, 2010

Vote for Jim Jamo

With the elections coming up this Tuesday I've been researching the candidates. Yesterday, I created a tally table to record how many yard signs each candidate has within a three mile radius of my home. I figured I'd just vote for whomever had the most signs. That way, I help to ensure that people who spend the most money get the most votes. Hey, it's worked so far, right?


However, there is one man for whom yard signs cannot dissuade me. His name? Jim Jamo. He's running for circuit court judge. With all the letters to the editors floating around this time of year, I thought I'd write my own. So many of these letters take things way too seriously. I took a different tack. I sent this letter to the Lansing State Journal today. They probably won't publish it, so I offer it to you, free of charge:

I support Jim Jamo for Ingham County Circuit Court. I’ve known Jim since before he was born, when he visited me as a spectral fetus while I slept. Even then he impressed me with his overwhelming integrity. Jim has more integrity in his left nostril than you have in your entire family. When Jim Jamo blows his nose, he uses a Brawny paper towel because Kleenex is unable to contain his integrity.

Jim Jamo’s experience as a lawyer will make him an excellent judge. He once wrote a brief so eloquent that the judge who read it wept. In 1992 I witnessed Jim defend a client with nothing but a series of well-placed facial ticks and exasperated sighs. Defendants will be unable to lie in front of Jim Jamo. Thanks to his integrity-laced mucus, Jim can sniff out a liar at a distance of thirteen miles. Tough, all-seeing, phlegmatic--that’s the kind of judge we need. Vote for Jamo. (Or he’ll flick an integrity booger at you.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

I'm Getting Close! (And a Writing Tip)

Almost done with my latest book. I love this feeling.

I'm at 60,000 words and probably have ten thousand more to go. I have a writer's tip tonight:

We all get to the point where we're not super excited about writing the coming chapter. It might be one of those chapters that are necessary but not as exciting as the ones before or the ones that will come after. If I were a good writer, my advice would be to find a way to make that chapter interesting, but since I'm not, here's what I do instead:

  • I think about just skipping it and going to the next chapter.
  • Then I tell myself that I'm avoiding the issue and ultimately doing nothing but delaying the inevitable and besides, it's just easier to write it in order.
  • So I write the chapter, but here's the tip:
I write the thing as quickly and as crappily as I can. Well, I don't intentionally write it crappily, but I tell myself not to care if it is crappy. I tell myself the same thing I told myself during every finals week at Michigan State University: Doing well is not as important as getting it over with. And while that probably wasn't the most effective self-talk in college, it works just fine in writing, because if it is in fact crappy I can go back and make it better later. But usually, I find it's not 100 percent crappy; there's usually a few lines or at least ideas that get to hang around. It's like 95% crappy most of the time and since just about the whole first draft is 95% crappy, there's really no reason not to just spew the words out.

So that's my advice: Crappy writing is better than no writing.


Hey, I finally bought an ipod. I bought it because I always felt guilty about disappearing when I wrote. I would leave The Wife and The Wife likes hanging out with me even if I'm not really conversing or listening to her and am totally in my zoned out writing mode. But she likes to be in the same room regardless. I can't blame her. I like hanging out with me, too. Anyway, I bought the ipod because I'm sitting there in the same room as The Wife and she tends to watch really bad TV while I'm trying to write. Tonight she had Joy Behar's pathetic excuse for a talk show on. So I put the headphones on (my ear holes are too tiny for the ear buds that Apple provides--maybe that's why I never hear what The Wife says. Ha.) and I can write without being interrupted by Nancy Grace or Joy Behar or one of the Kardashians while still being in the same room as The Wife. That's problem solving, folks. So I've got the thing going right now and Dolly Parton's Here You Come Again is playing. Why do I have Dolly Parton on my ipod, you ask?

When what you should be asking is why you don't.

Also, I have a pimple on my nose. Because apparently, my nose didn't get the memo that I'm no longer 15. Due to the pimple and the blogger's unrelenting vanity, there will be no v-logs anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Day at the Beach

Yesterday we went to the beach. I'm not really a beach person. I hate the feel of sand between my toes. The water is usually too cold and full of things I'd rather not think about. I don't like people. And I try not to be seen without a shirt.

But I figured, how bad could it be? It was a Monday. We were going to a state park. State parks tend to attract a certain clientele, many of whom are overweight, ghostly white, and hairy. I'd fit right in.

No such luck. It was like a convention of skinny, well-tanned people. I've read there's an obesity epidemic in this country. Could have fooled me. Everywhere I looked, gorgeous people frolicked in the surf. A group of buff seventeen-year-old dudes engaged in some horseplay and Frisbee. Wispy blondes strolled along the sand, smiling and checking out the guys playing Frisbee. Old guys with ponytails and smooth chests made out with fit, leather-skinned ladies. It was a nightmare of beauty. All of which is to say I kept my shirt on, as you can see in the pics. This was not a crowd that would have appreciated my fine pelt of lustrous back hair.

Little one had fun, but only because she's too young to know any better. About thirty seconds after entering the water (you'll notice me helicoptering like the over-protective parent I am) a chunky five-year-old swam over and admired my daughter's Ariel toy. She asked to play with it. My daughter handed it over. Big mistake. Because later, this same ragamuffin came strutting over while Little One and her father constructed a badly misshapen sand castle. I had placed Ariel in the moat area and commented that she was swimming in her pool. The fatty corrected me. "That's not a pool. That's a river."

"No," I said, "rivers have sources. Rivers flow downhill. Rivers have a current. That, young lady, is a pool."

She chose to ignore me. Then she plodded over to where we were keeping our other beach toys and hijacked a plastic watering can. She came over and gave Ariel a shower. Little One cried. We took Ariel and went back into the lake, hoping to escape the roly-poly snot. We got away. Ten seconds later, I look back to see The Wife pointing at the watering can floating aimlessly in the lake and telling the little shit to go pick it up. The little shit did not. "It's not mine," she said. Obviously.

The Wife retrieved it. Later, when the whale came paddling toward us yet again, I steered Little One away, and since I was carrying a yellow plastic pail I decided to put it to good use. Nonchalantly, while walking away and not looking at her, I scooped up a bucketful of water and tossed it into the air where it just happened to fall on the head of an impertinent little thief who didn't know how to respect other people's space or privacy.

Yes, I felt kind of bad. Thirty-four-year-old men should not be throwing water on five-year-old girls, no matter how annoying they are. But then again, five-year-old girls should have parents who actually watch them and teach them to not be jerks.

John Grisham Proves It: Writing for Kids is Hard, Yo.

I'll admit it, I was excited to read John Grisham's first foray into children's literature, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. I've read about 20 of his books and generally enjoyed them. (Especially The Firm. That book rocks.) So because I am cheap, I waited until the other men in their mid-thirties returned the two copies the library computers claimed to have and I snagged one a couple of days ago.

I read it. It sucked.

At first, I had a hard time believing Grisham actually wrote it. Then I thought, Well, okay, he wrote it but it couldn't have possibly been his idea. His marketing team must have talked him into doing it so he could branch out and ensnare a new generation of readers to replace all the old trial lawyers who're dropping like flies due to long hours and stress and amicus briefs.

I still hope this is true.

Because it was like Grisham forgot how to write. He's never been Hemingway or Faulkner or other authors known for their comparison usefulness, but Grisham knows how to tell a story. He keeps the tension high. The earnest young lawyer is constantly in trouble as he fights an enemy with both limitless power and sinisterness. His books move at breakneck pace. He cares not for fancy language and wastes no ink with metaphor or allusion or other such literary crap. John Grisham tells good stories simply.

In Theodore Boone, the story is awful. There is no tension. Worse, there are tension teasers which never develop into anything. It's almost like J.G. was afraid to put his young lawyer in any real danger because he thought he might scare his readers. In fact, most of the problems I have with the book derive from what quickly becomes abundantly clear: John Grisham has no clue how to write for kids.

First, the voice is third person omniscient and not even moderately appealing. It's stodgy, like the story is being told by a fifty-five year old former Southern lawyer. Grisham wastes little time writing scenes. Instead, he just tells the reader whatever it is he needs to know.

Theodore Boone was a good kid who didn't care about girls and never got into trouble and really really liked the law.*

Stuff like that. Also, Grisham commits that most heinous of kidlit sins. He uses his book to preach. His sermon: "LAWYERS ARE NOT ONLY USEFUL TO SOCIETY, THEY'RE INDISPENSABLE AND REALLY GOOD PEOPLE, TOO." I suppose he's trying to head off all the lawyer jokes that his innocent readers will be exposed to about the time they hit high school.

Theodore Boone himself is too good to be true; he is a character without flaws. His parents, both lawyers, work hard, care about Theo, and volunteer at a soup kitchen (I'm not making that up) when they're not working diligently (and honestly) for their clients, even though they really don't make as much money as you kids hear about on the television. And Theo, because he's such a law freak, is constantly helping his poor classmates (and even an adult here and there) with their legal problems. He provides advice on divorce, foreclosure, and a DUI, to name a few, and he does it all gratis because charging would be unethical (Theo's not a "real lawyer," after all.)

Another problem (not that preaching and a lack of conflict isn't enough) is the seemingly random sidebars (see what I did there?). In order to establish Theo as a legal expert, Grisham has him give the aforementioned advice to his classmates. But none of this, including what could have been an interesting bit about his best friend (a girl) going through her parents' divorce, ever has anything to do with the main storyline. I kept waiting for these bird walks to come back and matter and they never did.

I could go on. But I think it's interesting to note that John Grisham,who could sell a few hundred thousand copies of his grocery list, wrote such a horrific novel for kids. Why? I posit the following:

1. He just didn't give a damn.

2. He doesn't understand that kids want a great story just as much as adults.

3. He adopted a paternal stance and instead of writing to entertain, he wrote to guide and to educate. There are a number of places in the book that read like a primer on America's legal system. Grisham has young Theo tell his classmates all about how the start of a trial will work so that his readers can understand such terms as "prosecution" and "witness stand" and "jury box." It was as if Grisham didn't realize kids watch TV and movies and probably already know all this shit.

4. It's not easy to write a thriller for kids because you can't just hack up bodies to create suspense and intrigue. Grisham, to his credit, realized this and had the murder in the book be a tidy strangling. There were other moments where you could almost sense that Grisham wanted to have a bad guy do something naughty but couldn't quite pull the trigger. I guess he was protecting his readers. (See #3)

5. He hasn't read much middle grade and young adult fiction.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough. The book stunk and I think you should read it to revel in its stinkiness.

Not an actual line from the book, but trust me, it's close enough.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tidying Up

A quick post because The Mom, The Wife, and The Jonathon have all pestered me about announcing a winner for the poetry contest. I mistakenly thought that since I was offering no prize that no one would care about winning. Guess I was wrong.

The winner is Tina Laurel Lee. Tina's poem was so completely baffling to me that I just figure it was probably awesome. My experience with poetry (and modern art and Kafka and string theory) is that if I don't understand it it's because I'm too obtuse to recognize its inherent genius. So Tina wins!

Also, I'm going to the beach today.

And a teaser: I read John Grisham's book for kids, Theordore Boone: Kid Lawyer. It gave me a blog idea. When I get back from the beach, I might write it. And you will agree with me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I'm So Pumped!

Been churning out the words on my work-in-progress. And I love it like whoa.

I'm at about 50 thou out of what'll probably be around 70. Then I'll add a bunch of useless shit that I think is hilarious to push it up to 80. Then I'll cut most of that out when I realize it's really not all that funny and end up right around 70 again. This one's totally getting pubbed. It actually has a plot. It's an absurd plot, but a plot nonetheless. (I like "nonetheless." Three words in one--can't beat that. (Or maybe you can. Are there any four words in a word words? Say that three times.))

And can I just say that my story has awesome characters? Okay. My story has awesome characters. I'd share, but you really have to read the thing to get it and I'm not letting you read it.


If I let you read it now, you'd be all, "Where's the ending?" And I'd be, "I said I wasn't done, but you were impatient. Let that be a lesson to you." And you'd be, "There should be an ending." And I'd walk away (virtually, of course. I don't actually meet my beta readers. I mean, could you imagine the awkwardness? We'd start a conversation and I'd trip all over my words and you would be, "You don't trip over words on your blog." Jerk.)

Oh. And I have repetitive bits. I love repetitive bits. "Running gags" you might call them. There's one about of one my characters who dated a girl with an "enchanting chin." See, this girl---never mind. Just trust me, it's killa funny.

So what are you up to?


I read Ray Veen's Talonshale this past week. It's seriously good. I don't even read that genre much and I thought it was seriously good. And I'm not just saying that because he reads my blog. If I didn't like it, I just would not say anything at all. (But behind his back, I'd email other people and be like, "Oh, my god. That sucked so bad. What a waste of my time. If he asks you to read it say you're going on vacation and they don't let you read there.") Seriously, it's awesome. If he lets you read it, you should.


Haven't heard jack squat from any agents in about six days. New round of queries goes out the virtual door tomorrow.


Congratulations to Spain. You are the best at the most boring sport on the planet. Even though it took you almost two hours of playing time to score a goal, I'm sure the three people in America who were watching were really excited when it finally happened. Muy bien futbol. (I don't know how to get those diagonal slant things above the letters. They're stupid anyway. Other languages...pssh.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How About a Poetry Contest?

I got this idea from Tracy, so blame him.

He posted a poem called "Kick a Little Stone" on his blog and then said, "The simplicity of this poem blows me away. Topics [in the book] range from kicking stones to going to the beach to swinging up, up into the sky."

So. Go to Tracy's blog. Read the poem. Get a feel for it.

Then come back here and write your own.

The Rules:

1. Keep it short. I'm not looking for Paradise Lost.
2. It must be about something children do.
3. You can be serious or funny. Please don't be oblique or metaphorical. I'm not up for that today.

Small print: No prize will be awarded, but a winner will be named.


Wagon Bumps

Daddy pulls the wagon

Over sidewalk cracks

He rolls it through rain puddles

The wheels leave skinny tracks

We hurry under dripping trees

My mouth is open wide

We take a hairpin turn so fast

The back wheels start to slide

I’m shaking in my wagon seat


And then my wagon’s in the air

It’s hit a tree root bump

Daddy stops and looks behind

There’s worry on his face

But I just smile my biggest smile

And say, “Pick up the pace!”

Monday, July 5, 2010


  • It's hot.
  • I sent a few queries out today even though I know nobody's working, and lo and behold I got a rejection just hours later from Joe Veltre. I appreciate those agents who send out rejections while the rest of the country takes the day off.
  • The Wife and I watched Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief last night and holy smoke did it suck. I can't think of a movie I enjoyed less. I turned it off with ten minutes to go because I just couldn't take it anymore and because it was almost eleven o'clock and I figured even the local news would be more interesting. I was right.
  • Conversely, we just got back from Toy Story 3 and it was awesome.
  • I read a book for grown-ups recently, Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes. It was found in his files and published posthumously. Now I know why. Here's a tip for all you successful writers out there: If you have unpublished novels just lying around, get rid of them. Because after you die your family members, caring more about money than your reputation, will publish them to your embarrassment (assuming you can still feel shame in the grave). My guess is most of the music in Michael Jackson's vault similarly blows. (But I'll probably still listen to it. I mean, c'mon, it's Michael Jackson.)
  • I'm struggling to find books this summer and my reading is suffering. The local library has a limited selection and my checking account has limited funds. Most of the stuff I'm excited to read (Fat Vampire) isn't out yet. So recommend some slightly older books for me, will you? I'm looking for titles that are maybe a couple of years old that fell through the cracks and I forgot about them. Young adult and middle grade preferred, go heavy on plot and if there's some humor all the better.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Elena Kagan for the Court

There's some question about whether Elena Kagan is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court because she's never been a judge. People complain that there isn't much a paper trail because she hasn't had to rule on cases and this makes both sides of the aisle nervous. There seems to be a lot that isn't known about her.

But if judging is what I think it is, then Kagan should be confirmed based on her answer in the following clip alone:

I wish you wouldn't, indeed.