Monday, February 14, 2011

The Blog Post Otherwise Known as I Watched the Forgettin' Grammys

As a general rule, I hate awards shows. This is mostly due to acceptance speeches and gag-inducing pretension. But I watched the Grammys anyway, even though I know next to nothing about music. The Wife was there to explain things to me as the show went along and by the end of the night I learned some things and I have a few thoughts:

Bob Dylan was either singing poorly or unsuccessfully trying to hork up a loogie.

Cee Lo followed in the footsteps of legendary performers Johnny Cash and Elton John and performed with Muppets, which makes him the coolest person alive, even if CBS totally uncooled his song by calling it "The Song Otherwise Known as 'Forget You.'

The nominees for Best Rock Album were a bunch of old dudes and some band named Muse. Tom Petty and Pearl Jam were nominated. I guess it's nice to know that rock music hasn't gotten any better since my sophomore year of high school. I'm surprised Lenny Kravitz didn't make an appearance...oh, wait, he did?

Eminem somehow manages to enunciate really well and still leave me totally baffled. He's like the Micro Machines guy, except angrier.

Bieber somehow lost Best New Artist to Pam Munoz Ryan's middle grade novel Esperanza Rising. I'm as confused as you are.

Barbra Streisand...I don't get it.

There's an award called "Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals." Train won. I'm glad, because Train annoys me and so does that award.

Mick Jagger is seven years older than my dad. Somehow, I can't picture my dad prancing around on stage.

CBS did a nice job of limiting Seacrest.

But mostly what I learned is that the music I grew up listening to is better than the music kids listen to today. The Best Rock Album nominees prove it. Now, what the forget did I do with my Appetite for Destruction cassette?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chris Rylander, Author of The Fourth Stall

Chris Rylander has been called many things: the voice of the next generation, the Mario Puzo of children's literature, and, every once in a while, Chris or Christopher. In between unicorn hunts, he managed to write a book for kids. The Fourth Stall, summarized here, tells the story of...ah, just read the link...and comes out February 8.

I sat down with Chris on the veranda of his seaside manor in a beautiful fiefdom he's dubbed "North Dakota." After pointing and laughing at a few of his serfs, we got down to the interview.

Murphblog: I’ve seen the book described as “The Godfather for kids,” which begs the question, “Why didn’t I think of that?” What made you think of it and did you run into any problems that might explain why less courageous writers (like Nicholas Sparks) have been reluctant to bring the world of organized crime into children’s fiction?

Rylander: I don’t really have a concrete explanation as to where the idea came from. I guess I was just sitting there eating some frosting probably or something, and then I thought to myself how fun it might be to take organized crime and put a kid-friendly spin on it. There were some challenges, sure, like trying to walk the line between the right amount of violence and having the kids use severed horse heads as pillows and everything. But in the end, I always just asked myself this question: “Is there enough blood and gratuitous violence in this scene?” And if the answer was “no,” then I simply added more. And I think it turned out pretty well. One dead body per page is usually a pretty good rule for children’s books. No, but seriously it was a challenge to get that part just right - because I didn't want to soften it to the point where it was cheesy. But I also didn't want to glorify grade-school gang wars.

Murphblog: Your main characters, Vince and Mac, love the Chicago Cubs and save money to attend a World Series game. The back of the book states that you’re also a huge Cubs fan. Psychoanalyze the Cub fan. What kind of person puts himself through such misery and disappointment year after year?

Rylander: The sort of person who is the opposite of that one guy who always loves to point out how right he is all the time while simultaneously pretending he is only feigning pride but deep down we all know what a smug jerk he is despite the fact that basically everybody likes him anyway and you just can’t figure out why. Did that make sense? I hope not.

Me: Sticking with the Cubs, which of the following emotions best describes how you feel when you read the name Steve Bartman:

a. Hatred because he screwed the Cubs
b. Pity because of how abominably he was treated

c. Jealousy because he had such great seats
d. Other—please explain.

Rylander: – b. Pity because of how abominably he was treated. Bartman, if you’re out there reading this, contact me, I’ll send you a free copy of my book. Heck, I’ll even send you two if you can somehow get the Cubs back to the NLCS.

Me: In the book, Vince is fond of repeating the befuddling wisdom of his grandmother. One example is, “The only real way to eat a pinecone is with tortoise gravy and a sense of self-worth.” What’s the worst advice you could give to someone who’s trying to write a novel?

Rylander: I’d say to write out your novel by hand using a mixture of water and your own blood for ink. That way, when you send the manuscript to editors and agents to consider, you can also include a note that says, “There’s literally a little bit of me in every single page. Enjoy.” They’ll be delighted, and you’ll have a book deal in no time. That, and I also always like to remind people about the importance of wearing a bow tie when you write.

Me: Back to the Cubs. In the book, Vince and Mac try to stump each other with Cubs trivia. I have some Cubs trivia for you. No cheating.

Rylander: This is not fair.

a. Nevertheless. In what year did the Cubs play their first night game at Wrigley Field?

Rylander: I’m pretty sure it was in the late 1980’s… I’ll say 1987. The thing is, I black out most of the Cubs games I watch because they’re just too painful to remember. So I never remember the trivia and Cubs facts they talk about on air. Mac and Vince, however, are too young to have developed that protective crust of cynicism, so they soak it all up like sponges.

[Editor's Note: The first night game was on Aug. 9, 1988.]

b. Why did Keith Moreland wear eye black when it was cloudy?

Rylander: Keith who?

[Editor's note: This is an acceptable answer.]

c. The Cubs have gone over 45 years without being no-hit. Which Hall of Famer was the last to throw a no-hitter against them?

Rylander: I want to say it was probably Koufax or Gibson, but I think this is likely a trick question. You can’t fool me that easily. It was definitely Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh. Either him or former president Teddy Roosevelt… Teddy could do just about anything. In 08/08/88, he once stopped a tornado with nothing but a yo-yo and a smile.

[Editor's Note: Koufax. Well done, Chris!]

Me: The villain of your book is a teenage gangster named Staples. What other office supplies would make good gangster names?

Rylander: I don’t know, I went through them all, and I think Staples is the best. I toyed with both Eraserhead and Tapehead, but those were both already taken. Pen15 seemed too juvenile. And Notebook Pants just didn’t have the same ring to it. But Pencil-Cup McCoy was a close second, I can’t lie.

Me: The story contains a plot twist concerning Mac and Vince. When you write, do you plan everything out first or just go where the story takes you and make the necessary changes later?

Rylander: A little of both. I don’t plan out very much at first, but then as I get further along I plan more and more. Although, I really have to give my agent and editor a lot of credit. They both really helped me to shape the final plot and make it all work. And while I’m at, I should probably thank that glass of orange juice I drank that one time for giving me the energy I needed to finish the book.

Me: The end of the book implies a sequel. Are you working on that now? What other projects do you have going?

Rylander: Yes, actually, I just finished the final draft of sequel. That should come out about a year from now. As for other projects, it’s more like what don’t I have going… So that’s how I’ll answer. Here are the only genres that I currently don’t have a project started in:

Me: Well, Chris, between hunting unicorns, avoiding sharks, upstaging Nicholas Sparks, lording over the fiefdom of "North Dakota," and writing in every genre, it sounds like you're keeping busy. Thanks for making some time for us.

Rylander: Thanks so much for all of the great questions, Murphblog! It was a lot of fun.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fable: Robin and Bluebird

Robin and Bluebird

Robin and Bluebird spent the night sleeping in Farmer Johnson’s oak tree. The next morning, while it was still dark, Robin awoke, bright and chipper and full of as much vivacity as he always was.

“Tweet! Tweet!” he said to himself. “I’m up and at ‘em and ready to seize the day! And I sure am hungry!”

As quietly as he could, so as not to wake Bluebird, Robin lifted off his perch and flitted to the ground. He pecked at the soft earth and soon found a fat, juicy worm.

“You know what they say,” Robin said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” and he quickly gobbled up the worm.

He flew back into the tree with a full belly and an even more cheerful attitude.

“Tweet! Tweet!” he tweeted. “Wake up, Bluebird! It’s time to get up!”

Bluebird grunted and tried to ignore Robin.

“No, no,” Robin said. “It’s time to start your day. You’re a bird and you need to act like one. Birds wake up and tweet early in the morning.”

Bluebird mumbled, “Just let me sleep. I’m tired. I was out all night partying with Cockatiel.”

“Tweet! Tweet! You’d better get up. You know what they say: ‘The early bird gets the worm.’ If you don’t get up soon all the best ones will be gone!”

Bluebird cracked open an eye. “The sun’s not even out,” he grumbled.

“The earlier the better, that’s what I say,” said Robin, and he flew off to sit on a telephone wire.

Bluebird fell back to sleep, and without Robin there to pester him, didn’t wake up until almost noon. When he finally staggered off his bough, he dropped down onto Farmer Johnson’s property and soon dug up a small worm of his own. Contented, he flew back into the tree and sang a song.

The next morning, Robin was once again up before dawn.

“Tweet! Tweet!” he said to himself. “I’m up and at ‘em and ready to seize the day! And I sure am hungry!”

Robin flew down to the ground and had no trouble finding the fattest, juiciest, most succulent worm.

“Bluebird doesn’t know what he’s missing,” he said to himself.

But just before flying to his telephone wire he saw something out of the corner of his eye.

It was Farmer Johnson’s cat!

Robin tried to lift off the ground, but because he had spent his life waking up early to eat the largest worms, he was rather large himself and lacked the reflexes a leaner and more rested bird would have had.

Before he could get off the ground, the cat pounced on Robin and ate him.

By the time Bluebird finally got around to starting his day, the cat was back inside the house, asleep on Farmer Johnson’s couch, and Bluebird had no trouble finding a worm to his liking.

The moral of the story is: Getting up early is overrated.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Aesop, Revised

Sometimes I give assignments for no other purpose than my own amusement. Since we're studying fables, I can sort of justify this one, but mostly I just wanted a laugh and some blog material. I gave students some well known morals with their ends chopped off and asked them to finish them. The results:

Aesop: Don't count your chickens before they hatch.

Third Graders: Don't count your chickens before _____________.

eating them
cutting them
they lay eggs
slicing their heads off with an axe

Aesop: Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Third graders: Don't bite the hand that ______________.

helps you
smells bad
is bloody
is strong
is already hurt

Aesop: He who has many friends has none.

Third graders: He who has many friends has ________________.

no money
not very good ones
lots of company
lots of help

Aesop: He who groans loudest is often the least hurt.

Third graders: He who groans loudest is often ____________.

nobody's friend
a baby
the man in the house
the boss
in trouble
in jail
ignored by others

Aesop: If you want a task done well, then do it yourself.

Third graders: If you want a task done well, then _____________.

you've got to do it right
ask questions
you have to pay someone
work harder
try again
do what you're good at
read the directions

Aesop: You can't please everybody.

Third graders: You can't please _____________.

my dad
a grumpy man
a donkey
mother nature
yourself or anyone else

Aesop: Quality is more important than quantity.

Third graders: Quality is more important than ___________.

other stuff
chicken wings
Billy Ray Cyrus's hair

Aesop: Think twice before you act.

Third graders: Think twice before you _____________.

fight someone bigger than you
run in a busy road
do it (I don't think he meant this in the way I would probably mean it)

And some random ones:

A bird in the cage is worth two on a pogo stick.
Misery loves you and your family.
Misery loves her or his mommy.
A bird in the cage is worth two on a platter.
One good turn deserves a hug or pat on the back.