Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dinner with Matt and Emma

The other day, my nephew came to visit us, all the way from China... and he brought his girlfriend, Emma! Emma was born and raised in China (though it should be said her English is excellent). Matt has been living overseas since he graduated college. They are both world travelers, at such a young age. Here's a photo of them back in China, hanging out with friends:

This was her very first visit to America, and to celebrate her arrival we took her to a bunch of American places to eat... You know, like Chipotle and In-N-Out Burger. Those sorts of fine dining experiences you can't find any place else.

To return the favor, Matt and Emma treated us to a taste of their culture... and since I have long ago lost the ability to pretend to like food that I think tastes bad. (Which is usually anything that's not meat, potatoes, or pizza-related items.) Therefore, I was quite worried about this upcoming meal.

I knew I was in trouble when they started wandering down the "International" aisle of the grocery store.

They started shopping for ingredients that have way too much flavor for my taste-buds. I'm lookin' at you, Soy Sauce.

And speaking of soy, I became very worried when they began grabbing stuff from the Tofu section. 

I hate Tofu. I hate it so much that I've never even tried it. Actually, that's not true. One time at Costco, Cheri gave me something that she claimed was a chicken nugget. I ate it and she asked me how it tasted. I said it tasted okay. Then she revealed that it wasn't meat, it was Tofu. So now all Tofu tastes like betrayal. 

Then, the cooking began... and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I liked the smells that were filling the house. 

(of course, anything is better than the odor that comes from the cage of our stinky bunny, Mr. Knightley.)

(Not on menu)

I asked if there were any secret ingredients involved and Matt gave me a karate chop. 

After I regained consciousness, we had a delicious meal. 

So, what do we have here? On the top left is Matt's Americanized version of Chinese fried chicken (A+). In the top center we have Pork (A+) and Green Peppers (didn't try it). In the top corner you can spot the Tofu and Tomatoes (didn't touch). And then, the final dish -- that red and yellow stuff -- is sweet scrambled eggs. That's right, sweet! I tried a bite, and it was too exotic for me, but everyone else seemed to love it. 

All in all, I was delightfully surprised by how much I love their cooking. Thanks, Emma and Matt!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Writing While at VidCon

Last Christmas, Cheri and I got the girls tickets to an Online Video Conference called VidCon.

We're here now. (Well, the girls and I are here -- Cheri is hanging out at home with the dogs.) It's the second day, and we are rather exhausted. My youngest daughter is definitely in her element. We're watching Jenna Marbles and Julien right now. My eldest has been having a good time too. She met the VlogBrothers and Josh Sunquist.

I have enjoyed it too... Although for much of it, I am about 30 years older than the target audience. So whenever the girls run off to meet a YouTube star, I've been trying to write.

I finally finished a full draft my picture book: Mean Squirrels. It's not that good.. But it is a finished draft, and that gives me a sense of closure, even if nothing else happens with it.

My daughters and I are thinkingbof making more video content, so be on the look out for more videos, Maybe next VidCon the girls with be the Next Big Thing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Trip to the World's Largest Bathtub

Cheri Rocks!

Today is my new picture book's BIRTHDAY! So, that means I'll be doing my best this month to market the little fella, so that lots of families can experience the joy of Micha Archer's beautiful illustrations (while they tolerate my humble prose).

See how happy I was when the book first arrived on my doorstep?

In addition to shameless self-promotion, I would also like to spend some of my time showing my gratitude to the many people who made this book come to life.

And the first person I'd like to begin this gratitude express is my wife, Cheri Bradford.

As fate would have it, it was HER birthday yesterday. She has given me a constant flow of encouragement not to mention courage, and she's been doing it for almost thirty years of my life. So, since she has given me so many positive words... I wanted to give her some words as well... words set in stone.

For a while now, Cheri has been honoring the New Year by choosing a word... or does the word choose her? The word becomes a theme for the next 365 days. So I've kept track of her words: 

  • Dream
  • Health
  • Journey
  • Reach
  • Light
And thanks to the magic of the internet I ordered them in rock form, so that Cheri can put them somewhere in her garden.

Well, gotta cut this blog short. We're going to the beach... the classic way to take a bath! 

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Magic of Letting Go

Most of my writing career has been a GRIND. I sit down and force drafts out of me. That's when I'm successful. On my off days, like most of this month, I tinker with things until they peter out and then they remain unfinished, unloved.

But sometimes, I give myself permission to let go of my expectations... I don't always listen to myself when I do this. But there are times, when I let go of the reins... And some great things happen.

Three days ago, I wrote a funny little poem based on an idea I had kicked around for years. It might be doggerel, but who knows, it could turn into something that my agent likes enough to send out as a picture book. Even if nothing happens to it, I finished it! (Unlike so many other projects this summer.)

I've also made good progress with the island-themed play I'm co-writing. We have a very rough draft of Act One, Still lots of work ahead, but we had a read-thru with the comedy troupe, and they seemed to enjoy it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Irons in the Fire

(I wrote this on June, 9th...)

 What have I been doing lately? Let me try to work backwards... yesterday (June 8th) was Thursday. I picked up Mom, and mother-in-law as well as brother-in-law at the Burbank airport. 

Then, sister and niece (all the way from Alaska) came over to the house. They went shopping for party food. Then, Cori fried up some halibut. It was delicious! Oh, and earlier in the morning, Mackenzie, Emily, Cheri, and I went to the Senior Breakfast at SCVi. The best part of the morning was the Clap Out, when the grads walk between two lines of kids. 

The student body, from the juniors all the way down to the 1st grade. It was very sweet. Oh, in the evening, we all went to Mountasia for ice cream and a Go-Cart Race. Ashley won be a mile. 

The day before (June 7th) was Wednesday. We worked at home, doing some final cleanings, including mopping the kitchen floor. Emily performed in her Drag Queen / King show. They had a small but appreciative turn out, and we sat at the very front row. It was a lot of fun. Emily lip synced to Sweet Transvestite from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

I think that about catches things up as far as the calendar goes. Right now, I am sitting in shaded parking space at the Higher Learning Church while Mackenzie is attending the graduation rehearsal. The is the second rehearsal. How much practice do they need? Tonight we'll be attending the ceremony and then we'll take the family out to California Pizza Kitchen. 

I've got a lot of irons in the fire... Lots of half baked, unfinished things... Hopefully I will get bored enough that I'll actually settle in and finish some of these projects. Lately my strategy has been to start something, and if it gies smoothly I don't stop until it's done... But if I hit some kind of a road block, usually because there is something problematic about the project, I stop and cast it aside until I'm ready to solve whatever problem there was... 

So, now I've got a lot of unfinished, half-baked projects... 

Glowdark -- fantasy middle grade

Kinderdragon -- the original submission failed... Rewrite?

Mean Squirrels... Whether I tinker with the chapter book version, or the picture book version, the moral dilemma of bullying in school keeps happening. How can I write about squirrels who are mean without turning it into a moral drama??? 

All Inclusive -- the new play I'm writing with Chris

Simple Machines -- picture book

How Not to Time Travel -- a middle grade / chapter book 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Cleaning, Puttering, & Tinkering

My eldest daughter will be graduating in less than a week. Relatives will be coming into town, so that means we must clean up our filth-hole of a house. On Saturday we concentrated on the inside, lots of dusting, sweeping, and window washing. On Sunday, we focused on the outdoors. Most of our yard is dead... Like zombie dead three times over. But we do have trees, bushes, and lots of potted flowers that are still alive. We went to Home Depot and got some more to add to the garden. Hopefully, the will outlive the summer heat.

I have done very little writing in the last two day. I did tinker with a new picture book idea, but I didn't get far. Today, the wasn't much house work on the agenda, but there was a lot of transportation tasks. I never imagined that when I became a father of two teenagers that *poof* I would magically turn into a cab driver... Who works for free, no less.

I did accomplish something worthwhile, creatively speaking. My agent and I went iver some edits gpfor my latest project. It should be ready to head out into the world this week. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Curse You, Frank Underwood!

Why do I watch House of Cards? It's nothing but terrible people doing terrible things to others. Kevin Spacey's President Frank Underwood is a modern day Richard the Third, and as with Shakespeare's historical villain, the Anti-Hero of House of Cards talks directly to us, the audience. We become co-conspirators.

For the first time in the series, Robyn Wright's equally megamaniacal Vice President speaks directly to the audience. She says something along the lines of, "It's not that I don't know you're there... It's that I don't trust your intentions." And that really made me question, Why do I watch this stuff? I think part of the answer is because I want to see the bad guys punished. I want to the anti-hero fall apart, in the tradition of Richard III and Macbeth. But is that the only reason for binge watching a show like this?

I once attended a homeschooling seminar in which the speaker bemoaned many of the stories within pop-culture that focused on anti-heroes. He called them "bent" stories. If I remember the definition correctly, a "bent" story is when the values of the characters are warped and twisted -- the virtues of the story are ot in line with the virtues of a benevolent civilzation. A bent story would have characters doing bad things, and good things result from those bad actions. Basically, vice is celebrated.

Now, I'm not prudish enough to suggest that people shouldn't be writing "bent" stories. In fact, something like House of Cards offers us a window into current and past administrations -- by telling a bent story, it offers criticism of the real world. Yet, there is something more worth noting. I think that many people cheer for these anti-heroes, and see themselves within them... Even if they would never do anything similar in action... in their thoughts, viewers can vicariously experience what it is like to plunder and pillage, and commit all kinds of atrocious acts.

The original Richard III has a five act structure. The king is vanquished by Act Five. The original House of Cards, a BBC production, seems to follow a more modern the act structure. And although I don't like giving spoilers, I will say that a certain tyrant meets his maker by the end of Act Three.

The American House of Cards is now Five Seasons in... And it might keep going for another five. I have this terrible feeling that Frank Underwood won't be getting his comeuppance, and that fans of this anti-hero will take his message of power by any means necessary to heart.

Pop culture rant over. Now back to work, writing children's stories to combat the bent stories.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Resolution Check-In: June Edition

We're quickly approaching the halfway mark of 2017. Let's see how I'm doing with my New Year's Resolution.

1) Take More Photos (at least two a week)
I took 36 snapshots over the last thirty days. Nothing spectacular, but I did get some family photos at several places:

  • Foster's Freeze
  • Hogwarts / Universal Studios
  • the Renaissance Faire
  • the local Duck Pond
  • and... the Pantages Theatre
ACHIEVEMENT: 41.5% Complete

2) Write / Sell a New Picture Book

I signed the contract this month! The book will hopefully be released mid-2018.

I have also written a new picture book... so far I'm enjoying the drafting process!


3) Generate Idea for Next Big Project (Complete 25% of it)

This one is still in a bit of limbo... I stalled on one project about two months ago, but I've started something new that might take off. I'll know by the end of June whether or not it'll lead anywhere. 

ACHIEVEMENT: 20% Complete. 

4) Work on a Creative Project with my Daughters. 

Kenzie and I still make mini-recordings. It might turn into a podcast someday. 

ACHIEVEMENT: Pending...(We're going to VidCon this month!)

5) Show my appreciation more often / strengthen relationships and communication

Ugh-- I still suck at this one! And now I don't have the excuse of school anymore, since I'm two weeks into summer vacation. 

ACHIEVEMENT: 7.5% Complete

6) Lose ten pounds. 

This month I've been weighing in between 161 and 165 pounds... so everything is still good in this department.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Switching to Summer Mode

Well, the days are starting to fly, so I better use this online journal to keep track -- otherwise, before I know it, it'll be fall and these vacation days will be a blur.

It's now been two weeks off... Let's take stock of what I've done...

Writing wise, I wrote a new picture book. (Today I revised it and sent if back to my agent. I'm quite positive about this one -- but don't I always feel that way if I send it to Abi? I guess so.)

I tinkered with Mean Squirrels and eventually set it aside. I wrote about 25 pages of the Flowers/Bradford stage play about an island resort.

I have also started a chapter book / middle grade time travel novel. I'm about 4000 words into, so still in the beginning stages.

Calendar Rundown:

May 17th: Last day of Creative Writing / Last Day of Spring Semester

May 18th and 19th: Grading papers / submitting grades.

May 20th: Renaissance Faire!

May 21st: Cheri came back from her conference... and then went to Washington state for a few days.

May 22nd - 24th: Served as uber-driver for the girls. Started to get sick.

May 25th - May 26th: Focused on dealing with my stupid cold. (Somehow managed to write a little.) Celebration / Memorial of a fellow homeschool parent.

May 27th: Worked on the book / Date with Cheri -- Duck Pond & Pei Wei Lunch / Watched Alien: Convenant

May 28th: Worked on the book / Watched Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

May 29th: Memorial Day / BBQ with friends / Watched Pirates of the Caribbean 5

May 30th: Revised picture book / chauffeured the children / started playing D&D with friends.

So far, as you can see, it's been an incredibly enjoyable summer. Way too much fun!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sick in the Summer

Well, crap, I have a cold.

My daughter's boyfriend had a cold, which meant that MY daughter would catch it, which ultimately meant that it would be passed along to me. Now I will probably infect the rest of the family, but I am trying to keep my distance away from everyone.

Not much has been happening around the Bradford house. Cheri came back from her Washington tripnon Tuesday night. Wednesday I soent the day being sick, but that didn't stop me from playing Uber-Driver. Mackenzie had her penultimate school meeting; she is almost a high school graduate!

My agent liked my latest picture book project. She gave me some good notes and I'll be revising it overe the weekend. My latest project is a middle grade / chapter book. I am aiming for about 20,000 words, so I am trying to write 1000 words a day so that I'll have a major project finished before we travel to Washington for July.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - May 24th, 2017

That's right, I am still doing Word Count Wednesday... At least for a while, perhaps throughout the summer. It's a good way to keep me accountable.

What Am I Working On?
I spent a long time this month tinkering with variations of MEAN SQUIRRELS. But ultimately I couldn't get into it. You would think it would be an easy piece of silliness, a squirrel version of the hit 2004 comedy by Tina Fey. But I discovered that when the squirrels became mean to others, they basically turned into bullies, and then the merriment (no matter how hard I tried to make it flourish) evaporated.

So I have abandoned that project -- at least until it develops into some other incarnation.

However, I do have some good news. When I was driving home from my final creative writing class, I stumbled upon a hilarious idea for a new picture book. I spent the first two days of summer writing it, and my agent has already given me some notes. So I am planning to revise and resubmit over the weekend.

Also, I began a new middle grade novel (or maybe it's a chapter book, I'm not sure) about time travel. So far, it's been fun to work on. We'll see if the amusement lasts. So far, in 2017, I've noticed that if the porject is fun and easy to work on, I will achieve success. If it gets tough and slow, it ultimately turns to crap and remains unfinished. If that trend contnues, then I might want to cut bait sooner rather than later. (I hope I used that fishing metaphor correctly.)

Word Count: 1800

Monday, May 22, 2017

Planting a Tree

Well, I wasn't as productive yesterday as I was the first three days of summer, but I did write a couple funny scenes this morning and afternoon. I also did some editing and sent off the current version of the manuscript to my writing partner.

Oh, and I dug a hole and planted a tree. That was exhausting. Last December we bought a live Christmas Tree and it's been sitting in a pot outside, goring for the last six months. Cheri and I decided it was time to put him in the yard... Hopefully we didn't wait too long.

Today has been relatively uneventful -- so far. My eldest has a cold. My youngest attended her geometry class (she continues to impress her college professor). Despite her illness, my eldest daughter is currently working on her history homework. These girls are incredible!

My wife is in Washington, visiting family, and celebrating the life of her aunt who passed away last month.

Now that I've hit a Waiting Point with the play, I am trying to decide what project to work on next. Something big or something small?

I'll let you know what I decided as soon as I figure it out myself!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Back to the Page, and Back to the Stage...

Today is Day Three of Summer Vacation. I still cannot believe it's summer. That school year went by in a snap. And yet, there were times during the autumn when all life seemed to be in Limbo -- when we didn't know what would happen with my wife (due to her Gall Bladder) or my daughter (due to OCD symptoms).

We're going to the Renaissance Fair today, but this morning I've been thinking about the recent past and I've been counting my blessings. There's too many -- and I'm bad at math -- so getting an accurate number is not easy. But there's a LOT of blessings in my life and I am grateful to the Universe.

Speaking of blessings, my writing productivity has returned in full force. As soon as I finished teaching my last class, I had a terrific idea for a new picture book. (The idea literally developed on the commute to work and then finished on the return trip home.) I wrote the manuscript on Day One of Summer. On day two, I finished grading papers and submitted the grades... and I also found time to start working on a new play I am developing with Christopher Flowers.

Hopefully by the end of June we'll finish this new comedy (from the people who brought you CHANGE THE STATION) and then with a little help from friends and financiers we'll launch the new show this fall.

You keep thinking happy thoughts for me; I'll keep thinking happy thoughts for you. Keep your fingers crossed that good things keep happening... (or at least non-tragic things, which in my book is good enough!)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Class Has Ended... But the Journey Continues...

Creative Writing students, thank you. The semester was personally and professionally joyful.

After teaching Lit and Composition classes for nearly 20 years, this was my first endeavor as a Creative Writing instructor -- and I never imagined I would have so much fun or be so inspired.

I no longer consider you students -- you are now fellow members of the Tribe.

I will never forget you guys. Not even you, Tumbleweb.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Beauty List

Last November, I wrote a blog post called "The Ugly List" in which I vented about ten crappy things that had recently happened to me and/or my family.

I started to follow up with a grateful "Beauty List" but put it on hold because I stopped listing things at number four... I wanted to get to Ten... I might update this yet again, but allow me to put it out there just so it doesn't get lost in the ether...

The Beauty List

I am sending out thanks and appreciation to the Universe (or whoever's in charge up there). I am grateful that a week has passed without ugly and unfortunate events. I know life will throw other curveballs at me and my loved ones -- but for now I am thankful that life has gotten back to some semblance of normality. How funny that getting back into a routine could feel so blissful.

In my last blog post, I listed Ten Ugly Things that were going on in my world. Allow me now to focus on the positive and reflect upon the Beautiful Things in my life.

#1) Cheri... My wife and my best friend. How wonderful is she?  If I started listing examples I would out-word War and Peace. So let me just say that Cheri makes me a better person. And, perhaps best of all, she gave me these two people:

#2) My daughters... I learn from them everyday, and every moment I strive to deserve their love.

#3) My mom... She just visited our home during the last two weeks (and she was here just when I needed her). My father passed away almost 18 years ago... thank god I still have my mom on the planet. She gives me unwavering support and encouragement.

#4) My whole famdamily... One of the best parts of 2016 happened in the middle of all that ugly stuff I had been blogging about. My four sisters, two of my brothers, and niece and nephew gathered together in Las Vegas to celebrate my Mom's 70th birthday. It was one of the best weekends of my life! We not only watched Beatles LOVE, We reconnected all together for the first since my father's ashes were spread.

Words of Wisdom from Children's Authors

I posted some of these last summer... I think it warrants a repost... especially considering tomorrow is the final day of my Creative Writing class.

"As writers, how do we change the world? One reader at a time." & "Your work is never good enough, no matter how much you've been published." & "Most of the time, writing is banging your head against the wall. That isn't writer's block. That's the process." - Neal Shusterman

"What makes something successful is a very personal thing." - Laurent Linn

"Live your life like you're writing your own book."  - John Parra

"You have to be careful who you share your work with and at what stage" -- Barney Saltzberg

"A successful PB is about invention and knowing what you love and turning it on its head." & "We need to ask a picture book: what if? then what? so what" -- Susan Rich

"A premise is a promise that your manuscript will deliver on." - Carole Boston Weatherford

"The better the character, the worse the trouble, the better the story." - Bruce Coville

"Gorgeous writing doesn't have to be lyrical but must serve the story. Satire and humor can be gorgeous."  -- Tina Wexler

"The envy monster is incredibly destructive to the creative process—and it's difficult to tame. But a high tide lifts all boats." -- Marie Lu

"I consider writing time sacred. I've had to learn to say no to things." -- Marie Lu

""Secrets will draw a reader through a book like nothing else." - Bruce again... 

"Don't be afraid to write crap." -- Marie Lu (but this is also what I tell my students when  they are working on their first draft!)
"Get out of your own way. This thing that walked out of your limitations. It's all yours but entirely not yours" - Jon Klassen
"Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done..." -Anni Albers

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Happy Mother's Day - 2017

Whether you are a human mama, 
a bird mama, 
or even a Snort mama, 
have a wonderful Mama's Day!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - May 10th, 2017

Well folks, this is the last required Word Count Wednesday, for my Creative Writing students, that is.

This mean, dear students, that after today, you need never post another blog entry. However, I am hoping you will continue to write (whether on your blogs, journals, or some other medium). Keep connecting with others. Keep sending your stories out into the world. Keep on with the collaboration and the encouragement. And keep in touch.

What Am I Working On?
My chapter book... which I might be condensing into a picture book. (That's right, I'm going back to my comfort zone.)

Word Count: 1500

How Do I Feel About the Process?

I had a great day on Sunday. I worked for about five hours straight -- no distractions. In a lot of ways, I spent more time figuring out what not to write, rather than getting a lot of words on the page. That's all part of the process.

Big News:

Since the contracts are signed (and I've even received my advance!) I suppose I can officially announce my latest news:

My agent sold my fifth picture book! It's called Papa Bear's Page Fright. More details soon!

Useful Link:

Ah, I almost forgot, we are talking about query letters today... so this is a useful link with lots of examples:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Resolution Check-In: May Edition

Woah -- April is gone and we are already four days into the month of May. My creative writing has stalled during these last few weeks -- but I am hoping to crank things up again so that I have a productive summer vacation.

Here's a quick update of my New Year's Resolutions:

1) Take More Photos (at least two pictures a week)

Much to my surprise, I managed to keep up with this goal. I took a total of 60 photos in April. Here are some of my favorites.

The first one is from our visit to the Embry Riddle campus in Daytona Beach, Florida. Here's the band performing in front of the Science Building. (Check out that cool observatory tower!)

I took a lot of snapshots -- most of them were either boring or just odd. But I rather like this image of an amazing collection of these little model planes in a glass case. 

* * * 

The next day... Mackenzie and I visited the campus of Creighton University (located in beautiful Omaha, Nebraska). I met a squirrel. 

While Mack experience dorm life, I wandered around the town and discovered a cool board game cafe called "Spiel-Bound."


* * * 

On holiday, I met the most terrifying Easter Bunny in Palm Springs... or maybe in actuality it was the least terrifying furry in Palm Springs. It's hard to say. But what is for certain, this is the blurriest selfie known to Man.

* * * 

 Here's my favorite photo of the month: Lizzie and Em. 

ACHIEVEMENT: 33% Complete

2) Write / Sell a New Picture Book

As mentioned last month, my agent sold a new picture book!  This month I received the contract in the mail. I signed it off, sent it back, so everything is going well in this category. 

I'll give you more details on this project as soon as I can. 


3) Generate Idea for Next Big Project (Complete 25% of it)

Because I paused on the novel and sifted to a chapter book (which I don't think counts as a big project) I haven't made progress this month. Hopefully that will change before June arrives. 

ACHIEVEMENT: 20% Complete. 

4) Work on a Creative Project with my Daughters. 

My lame excuse: we've been caught up in all things college. 


5) Show my appreciation more often / strengthen relationships and communication

I thought that this would be the easiest one of the bunch. Instead, this has turned into the project which I keep forgetting about -- and when I don't forget about it I just get lazy. I connected with a couple people this month... but not nearly enough to get me back on track to taking this goal a lot more seriously. 

ACHIEVEMENT: 7.5% Complete

6) Lose ten pounds. 

This one is still maintained -- thank goodness. Last January I was at 175 pounds... I went down as low as 158 pounds, and I have since leveled off at 164 pounds. (At least that's what I was this morning... I did eat about a half dozen Candy Cane Joe-Joe's... That's right! I still have boxes of Trader Joe's cookies, left over from Christmas. Jealous? 


Word Count Wednesday -- May 3rd, 2017

What Am I Working On?

Still making progress with the chapter book. Haven't written since Friday, but during those three days since my last update, I managed to finished two chapters. (Keep in mind, these are very short chapters.)

Word Count: 1300

How Do I Feel About the Process?
I am going to make this month awesome.

What Am I Reading?
Classic Spider Man comics.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Stuff My Students Write - Vol. #1

Sometimes I tell my students, if you don't know the answer to the quiz, then at least try to amuse me.

Here's what one student turned in instead of a short answer essay...

Being a SpongeBob Squarepants fan, I have to say I loved this. He's not getting any points for the quiz, but I'll cherish this forever. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Summer Approaches

It is April 30th... Tomorrow May begins, and in three weeks time I will be finished with spring semester, 2017. The year has flown by quickly, which is nice because there's nothing sweeter than summer vacation. But I also feel as though many creative opportunities has blown by as well. I still have not learned how to manage my time well, at least not during the school year. Maybe I'll never learn.

As I mentioned last week, things have been busy, in a very good way. My eldest daughter has chosen her college. My youngest daughter is kicking butt and taking names in her two college courses (math and history). My wife is continuing to build her career as a health coach. And I'm doing what I do best -- talking to students about literature and creative writing.  We've been working hard, I believe, and for the most part I think we've been having a good time.

My blogging projects (the daily themes) have temporarily fallen to the wayside, and it seems that whenever I work on my book the words come painfully slow. Yet, I am not beating myself up too much for the lack of productivity. In fact, I've been thinking about the Big Picture today.

When I was walking the dogs across the green belt near our home, the sublime beauty of the day, the profound pleasure of just being alive, suddenly overwhelmed me. If you already know me well then you probably know that this happens a lot for me. I have no shortage of "stop and smell the roses" moments. I've taught the book "Tuesdays with Morrie" too many times not to feel immensely grateful every single day.

But gratitude aside, I still find ways to grumble and feel self-pity, and it's almost always in regard to my writing career. I'm never satisfied.

But today, as I was walking the dogs I was thinking "I'm 45 years old. If I am lucky, half my life is over... And if my luck is average, then odds are I only have 30 good years left." Maybe I have a lot more, maybe I have a lot less. You might think that these thoughts are depressing, but they aren't...

Because this means I have 45 amazing years locked in the canister of time. There are many mistakes and regrets in those decades, but the vast majority of those years are filled with joy, love, and laughter. And I've told a few stories along the way, and a couple of them might outlive me.

That's a pretty darn good feeling. I hope it stays a while.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - April 26th, 2017

What Am I Working On?

I hit the pause button on both the play and the novel... Instead I am working on a chapter book about squirrels. This makes me look rather flaky... but I think the change happened because I always want my agent to have something out in the Publishing World, and currently it seems that the KinderDragon submissions have resulted in a series of very nice "no thank yous."

Word Count: 1500

How Do I Feel About the Process?

If I can finish this picture book (about 10,000 words), I will feel excellent. But if I don't finish it by the first week of summer vacation, I will be very annoyed with myself because that will mean that an entire semester flew by without me finishing a project.

What Am I Reading?

Some awesome new stories by my Creative Writing students.

Monday, April 24, 2017

My Daughter is an Anteater

Wish I had more time to blog about what's been going on... but here's the quick version.

My daughter has chosen her college: UC Irvine!!!

More later!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Word Count Wednesday -- April 19th, 2017

What Have I Been Working On?

I have had more free time lately, but I'm still not getting back to work on my novel or the play. I've gotten distracted by a children's book idea.

Here's the thing. It takes a LONG time to write a full-length play and an EVEN LONGER TIME to write a novel. But a picture book can be conceived and created in less than a week. So, it's very tempting to forgo the big uncertain projects and return to my comfort zone: the Picture Book.

So that's what I've been doing. Haven't finished anything new, but I've had several good ideas and just as many false starts.

Word Count: 1200

How Do I Feel About the Process?

Mixed feelings. I'm trying to write more stories from a child's perspective -- and it's proving more challenging than I'd imagined. I used to be good at this POV... Where's my inner child when I need him most???

What Am I Reading? 

Speaking of my inner child... I've been reading old Spider Man comics.

Also... I am about halfway through Stephen King's Eyes of the Dragon.

What Am I Watching?

I recently binge-watched two seasons of Better Call Saul. I have to say, I loved returning to the world of Breaking Bad -- and I never imagined I would have such sympathy for a low-life lawyer named Jimmy McGill.

The Reviews Are In!

Kind words about our new book from Kirkus Reviews:

"...Exuberant illustrations, emphasizing aqueous blues and greens..."

"...Instructive on several levels—and good, wet fun!"

It's funny -- months ago I was telling myself that I am going to be the kind of author that doesn't pay attention to what the critics say. But then, as soon as I heard that a review came out, I rushed to Google to find it. I couldn't help myself. Perhaps I'll try to be the kind of author who doesn't bother reading what they say about me on Goodreads... But who am I kidding?

I'm grateful that Kirkus likes the book! And I'm especially glad that the article rightfully praises Micha Archer's beautiful artwork.

Read the complete review...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Recalculating Route"

On Thursday I graded a whole mess of papers. It was the last batch until Finals Week. That means from now until May 12th I won't have any papers to grade, which means I can return my attention to creative projects.

But I didn't get any writing done yesterday (Friday). Part of that is because we spent much of the day packing for the weekend. Then in the late afternoon we drove out to Palm Desert. That's right, I'm at COACHELLA! (But we're not hear for a concert, we're visiting the Grandparents.) But the other reason I didn't jump back into writing is that I wanted to take a moment to reflect on where I am going as a writer.

Sometimes I feel like I am just throwing random stuff on the wall to see if it sticks. And sometimes I feel like my goals are very focused (such as the year I spent writing Duck Town).

Sometimes my goal as a writer is simply to make people laugh. Then, there are projects that are very personal -- and these are the ones I write without the expectation of the work ever making it to publication.

But sometimes I become overwhelmed with a thirst for success... I want so badly to impress publishers and editors that the my creativity dries up, and the only words that come tell stories that are trite and cliche -- I become too eager to please.

Whenever I go down this path, I eventually realize that it doesn't lead to anything of artistic value (or monetary value for that matter -- I'm not talented enough to be a sell-out).

When we were driving to the desert, we took a detour to avoid a patch of traffic. Whenever we do this, our GPS device starts to say, in her patient robotic voice, "Recalculating Route." How many times, as a writer, have I said this to myself?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - April 12, 2017

What Am I Working On?

Wish I had something more inspiring to say, or at least something I could brag about... But instead it's merely been a week of grading essays.

Word Count: ZERO

How Do I Feel About the Process?

I lost the novel's momentum. Hopefully once these papers are graded, I'll be able to return my energy to my creative projects.

What Am I Reading?

Lots and lots if essays... For English 1A and 1B. I finished all the Malcolm Gladwell essays and now I am moving on to the Poetry Essays.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Home Stretch

Not ashamed to say that I am counting the days until summer vacation. (36, for those of us keeping track.)

This has been a wonderful semester, one that I am not in a hurry to see end. I am blessed with very productive and insightful students. In fact, my English 1B students are some of the most diligent pupils in recent memory. Just about all of them are keeping up with the reading.

And it goes without saying that I am loving my Creative Writing class.  Hopefully I'll teach this course again in the not too distant future -- but that won't be happening this fall. Instead, I'll be teaching the world premiere of our Drama Studies course, so that will be fun too.

Anyway, despite loving this particular semester, I am looking forward to returning my focus to my creative projects. Summer is when I make my best stuff, and hopefully Summer 2017 won't let me down.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Resolution Check-In: April Edition

As you may know, if you read this blog, I am trying to keep tabs on my New Year's Resolution. My brain is a bit mushy right now because I've been grading essays all the live long day, but I'll do my best to be reflective.

1) Take More Photos (at least two pictures a week)

If I was part of the Selfie-Generation, taking pics would be second nature. But for me, I have to keep reminding myself about this one. It does help that I adopted my wife's iPhone 4. I just check, and it looks like I took a total of 69 snapshots in March.

It helps that we went to several cool places, including the touring production of Fun Home, the Universal Studios park -- complete with Hogwarts, Vasquez Rocks, and Disneyland. So, I am still keeping up with this resolution. I guess I should start posting more photos on the blog -- but as I mentioned before, the quality isn't great.

(By the way, I'm already off to a good start for April's quota. Mackenzie and I went out of state to visit colleges, and I took a bunch of photos.)

ACHIEVEMENT: 25% Complete

2) Write / Sell a New Picture Book

Holy cow! Big news on this front. I haven't signed a contract, so it's not official... but it looks like my agent sold Picture Book #5!!!!

When I can post specifics, I will certainly do so. But for now, let me say that this book sale was very unexpected. It's a book that I wrote a while ago (not the one that was most recently sent). The publisher had it for a long time, and after several months they decided to go for it. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson: Whoo-hoo!

Again, things can always fall apart... but for now we are going to consider this:


3) Generate idea for next big project (Complete 25% of it)

I have been adding to my middle grade novel off-and-on. In part because I let life (and essays) get in the way. In part, because I'm still trying to figure out who these characters are... and what the exact plot will be. It sounds kinda sloppy, right? But I am confident that I will eventually create a novel that I am proud of... whether or not publishers will want it is a completely different issue.

So, I believe I have added another ten pages... Which means I need 80 more to reach my goal. I am curious to see how things turn out next month, because I have slowed down this week. I am switching back into Picture Book writing mode, at least for a little while.

ACHIEVEMENT: 20% Complete.

4) Work on a creative project with my daughters (YouTube video and/or Podcast) 

Emily and I were chatting about this, and I discussed the motivation of Youtubers. What draws them to this medium? Is it something that we want to pursue? If so, why?

Part of me wants to try to have this type of social media presence, but it might simply be motivated out of a desire for fame/recognition -- a way to try to create attention to myself as an author. And the more I think about that, the more it seems that my energies might be better spent actually writing instead of trying to brand myself as the John Green of the Picture Book World. (Although now that I've written that phrase, that does sound pretty awesome.)

In related news, Emily has been improving her ukelele and songwriting skills, so I think some Youtube posts might be arriving on her channel. (After she makes a channel.) Maybe I'll shift my focus and just concentrate on helping her film whatever she wants to film.


5) Show my appreciation more often / strengthen relationships and communication. 

I am very lame at this aspect of my resolutions. And that's kind of a surprise to me. I had considered myself a naturally empathetic person who is anxious to reach out and connect with his fellow human. However, based upon this month's results, I am a selfish hermit.

I don't think I made any progress on my list of folks. Let's hope I get this percentage up next month.


6) Lose ten pounds. 

Yep. I'm still good with this one. But I did eat a sausage sandwich, complete with a large coke, so perhaps if I were to weigh myself I'd discover that I gained it all back. (I'm not stepping on that scale!)


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Word Count Wednesday - April 5th, 2017

What Am I Working On?

This week I have been plotting and world building, not to mention developing character bibles for my middle grade novel.

Word Count: 1020 words (all of it outlining, no prose)

How Do I Feel About the Process?

Good -- but I just received a fresh batch of essays to grade, so it will be about two weeks until I can return my concentration to creative writing.

What am I Reading?

Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

The Wisdom of Jim Carey

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book Sale!!!!! & a Book Giveaway Contest!!!

For a limited time only, grab top notch middle grade books at their lowest prices ever, including AWARD WINNING TITLES, like The Storytellers and Ennara and the Fallen Druid! Also, one lucky winner will receive a bundle of 5 of the titles listed below! Scroll down to enter. But hurry! The giveaway ends on April 10th!!!

THE ROCK OF IVANORE (Book I: The Celestine Chronicles)
by Laurisa White Reyes
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook)

The annual Great Quest is about to be announced in Quendel, a task that will determine the future of Marcus and the other boys from the village who are coming of age. The wizard Zyll commands them to find the Rock of Ivanore, but he doesn’t tell them what the Rock is exactly or where it can be found. Marcus must reach deep within himself to develop new powers of magic and find the strength to survive the wild lands and fierce enemies he encounters as he searches for the illusive Rock. If he succeeds, he will live a life of honor; if he fails, he will live a life of menial labor in shame. With more twists and turns than a labyrinth, and a story in which nothing is at it seems, this tale of deception and discovery keeps readers in suspense until the end.

THE LAST ENCHANTER (Book II: The Celestine Chronicles)
by Laurisa White Reyes
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook)

Months have passed since Marcus and Kelvin succeeded in their quest to find the Rock of Ivanore. Kelvin is living as royalty in Dokur, and Marcus is studying magic with Zyll. When Fredric is murdered and Kelvin becomes king, Zyll and Marcus head for Dokur in hopes of protecting Kelvin from meeting the same fate, though it quickly becomes apparent that none of them are safe, and Marcus has had disturbing visions of Zyll's death. With the help of his old friends Clovis and Bryn, joined by new friend Lael, a feisty girl in search of her mother, Marcus uncovers a powerful secret that will change the course of his life forever.

2016 Spark Award Winner
for Best Non-Traditional Middle Grade Book 
by Laurisa White Reyes
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook)

12-year-old Elena Barrios' father has AIDS, a new disease in 1992 with a 100% fatality rate. Rather than face certain ridicule and ostracism, Elena tells her friends anything but the truth, fabricating stories about him being a writer and researcher. But the reality is Elena resents her father’s illness and can’t face the fact that he is dying.

When she is befriended by an older black woman named Ang who tells stories about her own father and the history of prejudice against African Americans in the years before the civil rights movement, Elena is transported into these stories, allowing her to experience them first hand. With Ang's help, Elena discovers the value of every individual, but will that be enough to help her say good-bye to the person she values the most?

2013 Moonbeam Silver Medalist
for Best Preteen Book
by Angela Shelley
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook) / $5.00 (print)

Ennara has always been told she'd have legendary magic when she grew up, but she felt like the most normal girl in the world...
Until one night when she is attacked by a shadowy demon on her farmstead. Suddenly, Ennara is thrust into a world of magic, alchemy, and monsters, and she is charged with a quest to find an ancient sword that can end the shadowy curse--just as it ended the Fallen Druid centuries ago. To succeed, Ennara must confront pirates, servants of the Fallen Druid, and those who would use her magic for their own ends. In the end, she must learn to rely on the strengths of her friends and herself, and the deepest truths of life in the world of medieval Lan.

by Wade Bradford
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook) / $12.55 (print) 

Connor's summer is off to a rough start: the camp bus almost crashes, his cabin mates don't trust him, and the girls on the other side of the camp constantly outsmart him. But when he and his friends Tasha, Parker, and Kimberly investigate the mystery surrounding the "Ghost of Dead Billy," they begin a hilarious adventure that is worlds away from your typical campfire story.

by Terry Deighton
Sale Price:  .99 cent (ebook)/$5.99 (print)

Henry Johnson has a best friend, a crush, a life-long enemy, and no idea his life is a science project.
Then other people’s thoughts start popping into his head. He thinks he’s going crazy until he discovers he’s one of several kids with genetically modified abilities, including the school bully. To find out how they got tweaked, Henry faces betrayal, his parent’s abduction by a greedy scientist, and becoming frenemies with the bully. Can the Tweaks use their new abilities to avoid the greedy scientist on their trail?

Books 2, 3 and 4
by Dorine White

[Book 1: THE EMERALD RING is available HERE]

Sale Price: .99 cent (ebook) / $7.99 (print) 

Welcome to New Orleans, home of Mardi Gras, jazz music, and voodoo. 8th grader Melanie Belaforte is home for Spring break and itching for excitement. Late one night she discovers a hidden chamber and a secret journal in her deceased Aunt Florence’s bedroom. The diary contains the writings of a mad woman, along with vague clues to the whereabouts of a ruby necklace that once belonged to Cleopatra. The ruby bestows upon the wearer the power to hear other people’s thoughts- even the thoughts of the dead! And so the hunt begins. Melanie, her best friend Sybil, and a haunting specter unravel clues that take them from crumbling graveyards, to the busy streets of the French Quarter, and then into murky swamps, all to find the prize. But they need to watch out, because a murderous cult is matching them step for step, and they won’t give up, ever.

Sale Price: .99 cent (ebook) / $7.99 (print)

The world knows it as a cartoon with dancing teacups and broomsticks. To twelve year old Claire La Fleur, it is family history, and the power behind Belle’s mirror is real. Every ten years her family gathers to see if the mirror will awaken, and for the last two hundred years it has slept. This time, Claire’s touch awakens the magic within the diamond looking glass, a direct portal to the past and a way to communicate with Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt. The lure of power brings with it many perils, and a betrayal close to home thrusts Claire into a treacherous underworld. To protect the mirror, she travels into the Louvre museum in the dark of night, searches abandoned subway tunnels, and walks the catacombs of the dead.

Sale Price: .99 cent (ebook) / $7.99 (print) 

Travel with past heroes and a new adventurer to the historical romps of London and the scorching sands of Alexandria. Fourteen-year-old Akmir, raised from birth to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of Cleopatra’s magic gemstones, holds within his hands the secret location of the fifth and final mystic gem: the blue sapphire. His quest leads him to England, where four other gemstone searchers: Sara, Melanie, Kainu and Claire, are on the hunt. A pawn of the Roman Brotherhood, Akmir must choose his own path, whether to follow in his father’s brutal footsteps or stay true to his mother’s Egyptian heritage. Clues, puzzles, and danger rule the day. What will happen when the power of all five gemstones are brought together? This is a battle for life and death, and only one side can win.

by LeAnn Mathis

Franklin dreams of a life with equality, but thinks it will never happen. When he transfers to a new school and meets Maddie, he realizes he has access to more power than he thought. It's the 60s and time to make some changes.