Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Curious Quiet

It's been over a year since I sold my Picture Book #4... And in keeping with my personal tradition of Never Being Satisfied, I am eagerly hoping that #5 will be picked up sometime this year.

My latest manuscript is currently in the hands (or trash bins) of 13 editors. Actually, that's not true any more. Two editors politely turned down the project, leaving 11. Those remaining editors have been curiously quiet. Two weeks have gone by without a peep. This probably means that they just haven't gotten around to reading it, and my agent will hear from them in a month or so. But my optimistic side wonders if some of the editors are celebrating the manuscript, passing it around the office, showing it off to the marketing department, high fiving the publisher, and trying to calculate the precise number of zeroes that belong on my advance.

Then again, my pessimistic side assumes that they have all read the manuscript and they hate it so much they won't even bother with a rejection letter.

Which version will prove true? I'll let you know as soon as there is a break in the silence.

Monday, February 27, 2017

In a World...

Experiment #6 involves writing a story of a poem that incorporates this prompt:

The world is exactly the same except... (insert your own difference and run with it...)

Here are some examples:

The world is exactly the same except 4th place and lower in the Olympics results in death.

The world is exactly the same except everyone is blind.

The world is exactly the same except society expects you to marry your first cousin.

The world is exactly the same except Thomas the Tank engine is real and he's pissed off.

The world is exactly the same except the entire planet is a golf course.

The world is exactly the same except organized school is outlawed.

The world is exactly the same except no clocks or calendars (or recorded time).

The world is exactly the same except Iraq is the fifty first United State.

The world is exactly the same except every U.S. citizen must serve two years as a postal employee.

The world is exactly the same except fish can talk and they are as intelligent as human 4 year olds.

The world is exactly the same except women can grant one wish during each menstrual cycle.

The world is exactly the same except aliens have arrived and they are obsessed with soccer.

The world is exactly the same except the older you get the less you can hear/understand music.

The world is exactly the same except the Alt-Right are secretly liberal extremists with a secret agenda.

The world is exactly the same except Ireland disappeared.

The world is exactly the same except single-celled organism will obey you if asked politely.

The world is exactly the same except nobody ever touches the ground.

The world is exactly the same except colleges accept students depending on physical appearance.

The world is exactly the same except your ghost inhabits the object nearest your corpse.

The world is exactly the same except humans are irrationally afraid of flowers.

The world is exactly the same except deafness has been cured -- but not everyone wants to hear.
(society wants to phase out deaf culture)

The world is exactly the same except mosquito bites give you temporary amnesia.

The world is exactly the same except only homeless people can be hired for birthday party entertainment.

The world is exactly the same except you can only visit one place outside of your hometown -- once in your life on a two week free vacation.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Brady Kids and Superman

As a kid I was desperate for cartoons. I preferred the classics: Warner Bros. and Disney... and to a lesser degree the golden age of Hannah Barbara. But being an animation junkee meant that I would watch just about any cartoony piece of junk. I watched Strawberry Shortcake for cryin' out loud.

However, even I couldn't stomach the animated spin-off of the Brady Bunch known as "The Brady Kids." Keep in mind, I actually enjoyed watching re-runs of the original live-action show, the quintessential of white-bread, middle-class laugh-tracks and sappiness.  In fact, I was just telling my kids how sad I was when I first witnessed the episode in which Peter gets all dressed up because he thinks there's going to be a surprise party for him -- but it was really a revenge prank pulled by Greg and Marsha. Look how sad he is:

No, the "Brady Kids" never bothered exploring the ethical dilemmas of blended families. This cartoon was like several bad ideas mushed together.

First you have the poorly drawn versions of the human characters...

Yes. They sing and play instruments. And they seem to live in a tree house. But wait, there's more. 

Here's a stupid magical bird named Merlin. He makes Orko look like a well-developed character.

And then there's these random panda bears... Ping and Pong (offensive?)

It's all pretty awful and mostly boring. I don't recall sitting through an entire episode, but I do remember channel surfing as a child and happening upon an episode in which Superman arrive to help them paint a building. 

My memory is that Superman is holding Cindy Brady and then when the kids ask where Clark Kent is he decides to use his super-speed to fly away, some how appear in front of them as Clark Kent, and then fly back before Cindy hits the ground. 

Well, thanks to YouTube, I have rediscovered the episode, and it's even dumber than I remember. 

It's awful... but like a lot of not-so-great cartoons, it's awful in a wonderful way. Emily and I just watched this sequence five times in a row, and we couldn't stop laughing. Thank you, Brady Kids! Thank you, Superman! And thank you, freshly painted, river-clay statue of Clark Kent!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Daughterly Adventures

It's Photograph Friday!

As part of my New Year's resolution, I am doing my best to take more pictures. And so far, it seems most of my snap shots involve me tagging along with my daughters. Here's what we've been up to the past few weeks...

Mackenzie is the lighting designer for the Canyon Theatre Guild's production of "The Complete Works of Shakespeare - Abridged." This is a shot during one of the rehearsals...and this is what the stage looked like on Opening Night...

My girls have been martial artists since they were very little. That means that for nearly ten years I have lived with children's whose hands should be registered as deadly weapons. It can be very frightening at times. Here's Emily practicing her bow staff.

Mackenzie graduates high school this year -- but that almost seems inconsequential at this point since she has already taken a ton of college classes already. I know it sounds like I am Dad-Bragging, and perhaps I am a little, but the truth is this kid works her butt off. And she also puts up with bureaucracy. Every semester we have to go through a whole bunch of paper work just so she can register in college as a high school student. It seems like I always forget crossing some "T" or dotting an "i." 

Here's Mackenzie bravely facing a typical batch of red tape: 

(Perhaps this doesn't seem as thrilling as the karate stuff -- but it's adventurous nonetheless.)

After facing the perils of registration, it was time to feast... 

Last weekend, our Orange County friends came for a visit. In the past, I have usually been the one that the little kids want to play with. However, now I am old and out of fashion. The popular Bradford is none other than Emily. The kids love playing with her! 

In the above photo she's taking them on an expedition through the jungle... 

And here they are enjoying a homemade mud bath! 
Hey... this might be a good time to plug my new book! 
Many seasoned parents will warn you about how fast your children grow up. That's simultaneously true and false. When your children are little -- the size that needs to be fed, bathed, burped, and tucked into bed -- time moves by so slowly. Every day is exciting and exhausting at the same time. I call it the Fog of Early Parenthood. I remember being in that fog for what seemed like an endless eternity of diaper changes. 

Yet somehow, here we are now. Mackenzie is waiting to hear from a variety of Universities, and Emily is less than a year away from Driving Lessons. Yesterday doesn't seem so faraway. Yet, there's no train that will take us back there. We can only glimpse the past through window called a photograph. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Word-Count Wednesday -- Feb. 22nd, 2017

What Am I Working On?

I finished the first chapter of a middle-grade novel last week, but I haven't found the time to begin Chapter Two. I have been brainstorming about it, though. I think it has potential. The thing about me as a writer is if I can get past chapter five, I will definitely finish the book. However, there are certain projects that have lagged around chapter three or four, and I ultimately never finish them. Hopefully that won't happen with my current project.

I have also been brainstorming with my friend / writing partner Christopher Flowers. we are collaborating on a new play. So far, we've come up with a variety of ideas and we've whittled them down to two... One takes lace at a monestary. The other is set in the world's worst all-inclusive resort.

Word Count: 100 (just a few lines of dialogue... Rather sad, really)
How Do I Feel about the Process:

How Do I Feel about the Process?
As I mentioned last Wednesday, I am trying to balance work with art... And work keeps winning. I spent most of the weekend grading papers for English 1A and 1B.

Let's hope I get back to the novel this weekend. Gotta get back on that drive for Chapter Five!

What am I Reading? 

Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Picture Book Debut: Around the World in a Bathtub

Look who arrived over the weekend!

I'm holding the first author copy of my new children's book: Around the World in a Bathtub, illustrated by the amazing Micha Archer. 

I cannot bestow enough thanks upon my editor Alyssa Pusey and the good people of Charlesbridge -- but I'll try anyway. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am honored and ecstatic knowing that this little bathtime tale will be on the shelves in bookstores this June! 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

If I Fall Behind on My Blog Posts...

...that means I am catching up on my essays.

Tis he season to grade lots of lots of papers. No Duck Town drawings this week. Too many papers to grade.

But I do have a special announcement for tomorrow's blog post, so WATCH THIS SPACE as they say in England.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Letter from a Student-Director

Yesterday, I received this very kind email yesterday (the names have been removed for privacy sake):


I am a senior at Fargo North High School in Fargo, ND. I'm not sure if you've even heard of Fargo, but that's not the point of this email.

The point of this email is that I wanted to thank you. My high school director has a unique opportunity he provides students, which is to create a "Student-Directed Project". The student-directed project is completely student-led from the show pick, to the casting, costumes, marketing, the whole shebang really! My good friend and I actually chose your show, "Director's Nightmare", to present as our senior project. 

We open tomorrow for our one show run, and I write this because I've worked in many shows and I find that typically by the time opening night rolls around, the script feels dead. 
We've been rehearsing as a cast since just after Christmas, but I'm still really enjoying my cast have fun with it. Now, obviously part of my enjoyment is from seeing what my cast has decided to do with their characters, but they wouldn't be able to do what they're doing without your script.

Again, thank you so much for being a huge part of this experience for me (no matter how willingly you participated) and keep on doing the great work you've been doing.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Needless to say, I felt very honored. Break a leg, Fargo thespians! 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Kids Wanted to Play MineCraft

I said, “How would you guys like to play Advanced Minecraft?”
They shouted, “YES!!!”
Then I handed them shovels and sent them to the back yard. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Chapter One of a New Novel

            Joie Rowantree was almost killed by a hat. It wasn't even a fancy hat, certainly not worth dying for. It was a plastic bowler cap, shiny and black, purchased from the party section of the 99 Cent store. Yesterday, Little Joie had plucked the hat off the shelf and begged her mother for it. "Please," she begged. "It can be for my birthday." Joie wasn't turning six for another eight months, but she gave Mommy those big brown eyes and a moment later, Mrs. Rowantree gave in, as she often did.
            "At least it's not candy," she had said, then looked to her older daughter. "Do you want something, Madison?"
            Madison didn't. "I'm fine."
            "And I'm cool," Joie said, putting on a pair of sunglasses. "Can I get these too?"
            "Nice try," her mother had said.

                                                                        * * *

            That was yesterday. Now, Joie stood by the banks of the Kettle Black River. She was in a fighting stance. Or, at least she thought it was a fighting stance. She kept her legs apart to match the width of her shoulders. She brought her elbows in, and raised her fists to her cheek bones. Her knees stayed relaxed, ready to bounce, ready to strike. And her new hat sat upon her head. Even though Joie wore a rainbow shirt and a pink tutu, the black bowler hat made her feel tough. Like some kind of action hero. Or maybe a super-villain. She hadn't made up her mind yet.
             She faced her opponent: a fern. Tall, green and innocent looking -- and about to be destroyed by a five-year old martial artist.
            "HiiiiiiiiYA!" As she kicked, Joie nearly lost her balance, but that didn't stop her from vanquishing the fern. The plant crumpled in surrender.
            "Did you see me, Mads? Were you looking? Were you even looking?"
            Seemingly oblivious, her big sister scanned the shore for the perfect skipping stone.
            "You didn't even look!" Joie growled.
            Madison replied, "Your feet were right. Your hand placement was good. But you need to hunch over more; don't leave your stomach exposed. You want to make yourself as small as possible so you aren't an easy target."
            "Oh," said the little sister. "Thanks."
            Madison added, "And we use our skills for self-defense. Not to attack plant life."
            "But I want to practice as much as I can, so that when Mom finally lets me join your dojo I'll be as good as you."
            "You'll probably be better," Madison said as she wiggled her toes in the river sand, searching for that ideal skipping stone with her bare foot. When her big toe wiggled against something flat and hard, she knew it was at least a nine-skip rock.
            "Hey, Joie," she said. "Watch me break my record."
            Madison sent the stone bouncing across the water. Only seven skips. Not bad. But not a record breaker. She had seen her father skip a stone that bounced twelve times. He loved geology and could name every mineral within any given rock. Her father would pick up a stone, tell Madison to touch it, and describe how the little rock has been traveling for centuries, millennia, just to arrive at this particular spot in this particular river, so that he could pick it up, skip it across the water, sending the stone on yet another journey. He was usually good at saying that kind of stuff. But he wasn’t around as much anymore because of the new job. And the new girlfriend. Her name was Lisa. That was the same name as Madison’s mom! Her Dad apparently only fell in love with people named Lisa. That just seemed wrong.

            Madison stared at the ripples wishing she could have that seven-skipper stone back in the palm of her hand. She wanted another shot. She wanted to obliterate her father’s record. She blamed the Kettle Black for her failure. The river wasn't as smooth and relaxed as it normally was. The vicious winter blizzards and soggy spring days had made the river grow fat during these summer days. This was the safe end of the Kettle Black. Further down, things got rough. They couldn't play down there.  No swimming either. And they weren't supposed to be this close to the river at all unless there was a grown-up.
            "You girls okay?" Uncle Brian was fishing off the railroad bridge. He was the official adult, almost forty years old, but not nearly as mature as Madison. He broke rules all the time. He wasn't supposed to be drinking while babysitting, yet a six-pack of beer sat next to his fishing tackle.
            "We're good," she called back.
            "If I don't catch anything this time, we'll pack up and head home," he said, casting out. His fishing hook caught on the train trestle behind him. "Dang it!"
            Madison laughed to herself. Silly Uncle. She returned to rock hunting for a while, but there weren't very many winners. Mostly twos and threes, and a solitary four-skipper. Her personal best was nine, but that was last year and no one had been around to witness her greatness. On the trestle, Uncle Brian had finally untangled himself from fishing wire and seemed to be sipping the last of his beer. Madison wiped her feet in the grass, sat on a park bench, and pulled on her socks and shoes. In the distance, the whistle of the three o'clock train announced itself.
            "Time to go?" Joie asked.
            "One more," Joie said. She wanted the next fern to be her greatest adversary, so she put the hat on the plant. "There. Now you look like a bad guy."
            "Please stop hurting the ferns," Madison said the words firmly, like a command. "They didn't do anything to you."
            Even though Joie was only five years and four months old, she had already gotten tired of reminding her sister "You're not my mom" and "You're not the boss of me." So instead of saying those things she responded with a rather clumsy but effective roundhouse kick, which decimated to fern and sent her plastic bowler cap rolling down the bank to where it floated on the water like a little boat beginning a voyage.
            "My hat!"
            Joie, who never cared for rules, ran down to the edge of the bank and jumped. In the instant before she leapt part of her mind told her not to do this, but the part of her mind that relied more on vision than common sense, judged that the water wasn't deep. She could clearly see the bottom through the ripples of the stream. She thought: It couldn't be deeper than my knees, right? She had seen Uncle Brian jump in this river lots of times, and it only went up to his waist. And so she jumped while her sister's screams were drowned by the roar of the train crossing the bridge.
            As soon as Joie entered the water with a splash, she realized that she had made a serious miscalculation. The river was deeper than she had thought. The water had tricked her! She couldn't touch bottom. The current, which had seemed slow and easy going from the bank, was actually swift and powerful. She tried to swim back to shore, but the waters of the Kettle Black took her farther and farther away. Joie bobbed up and down. The water level was at her nose. She didn't panic, though. She didn't think she could drown. She was the star of her own movie, so she believed nothing truly bad could happen to her. Uncle Brian will rescue me, she thought, and she blew bubbles in the water to pass the time.

            Uncle Brian, however, was still on the wrong side of the passing train, clueless to the calamity. Madison knew that it was up to her to rescue her little sister. Her first impulse was to jump in after Joie-- she was the fastest swimmer in the third grade. But her rule-obsessed mind remembered the wisdom of her gym teacher: a distressed swimmer is a dangerous swimmer. They will grab onto you and sink the both of you. So she ran down the bank, leaping over bushes, dodging tree branches, and plowing through a battalion of ferns. Joie would have been proud, she thought, then realized she was already thinking of her sister in the past tense and that terrified her.
            She raced ahead, keeping an eye on the river, and her sister. It was like they were in a race. One sister was running through the woods; the other was bobbing up and down, carried by the river. Madison could hear the rapids just around the bend. She doubled her speed, pulling ahead. If she could get to the log first, the log that stretched over the Kettle Black like a decaying bridge, she might have a chance. She could scramble out to the center of the log which seemed to hover just a foot or two above the river's surface. Then Madison could hold onto a branch and reach out and grab Joie -- no, she might not reach -- but Mads could dangle her legs and her sister would be able to grab her feet and pull herself--
            She was running out of time. The hat floated past the log and seconds later it was swallowed up by the white water.
            "Joie!" she yelled, trying to stay calm as she ran full speed across the mossy log. "Get ready to grab onto me!"
            But she never got the chance. Madison slipped on a patch of loose, rotten bark and she fell face first against the log, giving herself a bloody lip. It was a small miracle that she didn't tumble into the river herself. She was trying to get back on her feet as she saw her little sister drift by in a blur, some twenty feet out of reach.
            "Mads!" the girl screamed, and then she was gone. Moments before entering the rapids, some unseen current pulled Joie under the water. A splash. Some ripples and then nothing. Only the roar of the white water.
            Part of Madison wanted to jump in after her. But another part of her told her that would be certain death, and she did not want to die. Part of Madison was screaming, screaming louder than she ever thought her voice could go. And another part of her, a strange part of her mind that always thought the wrong things at the wrong time, thought: "You are going to be in so much trouble."
            She was about to scramble back to the bank, hoping that somehow her sister was still alive, somehow able to survive the rapids, when something very strange happened.
            The hat floated to the surface of the river, near the bank. This part of the water was far away from the rapids, a nice relaxing pool that would be fun to swim in if it weren't against Mom's rules. The hat did more than float, though. It seemed to rise up out of the water as if it was worn by the Invisible Man. No, not an invisible man, but a man made out of water. There wasn't a face, but there was definitely a head and shoulders... And then Madison saw that this strange creature -- for that's what she realized she was looking at, a strange, alien, fantastical creature wearing a black bowler hat -- was pulling Madison's little sister onto the shore. She was alive. Thank God, she was alive.
            "Mads!" Joie cried, spitting water. She didn't seem to mind that some monster was carrying her in its translucent arms.
            Madison raced to her sister, who now stood on dry land, soaking wet and grinning as if death was an impossibility. The river creature made a gurgling sound and crept back toward the water. Now that she was closer, Mads could tell that this short, stubby figure might be made of liquid, but it wasn't water. It wasn't like the magical ocean waves that were in Joie's favorite movie, Moana. The creature was more like a thick slime. It was clear, shiny, and transparent, just like the water, but inside there were air bubbles, kind of like the ones inside Uncle Brian's jumbo-size bottle of hair gel.
            It leaned forward, as if it was about to whisper a secret to Joie.
            "Don't let it touch you!" shouted Madison. But Joie flashed her "You're not the boss of me smile" and reaches out to touch the blob. It almost looked like they were shaking hands, except the creature did not have hands or fingers, just a blobby, crystal-slime tentacle. "Joie, don't!"
            Joie stared at the faceless creature, as if lost in conversation. "Oh, I see," she said, her words dream-like. "Uh-huh. Oh, that’s sad. I’m so sorry. Uh-huh? Okay, I will tell her.”                 

           “Tell me what?” Madison demanded. “What’s happening?!” 
           “I’m not supposed to say yet. That’s for later.” Then Joie peer at the creature, intently listening, even though the only sound was the wind and the train whistle fading into the distance. “Okay.” She grabbed Madison by the arm and raised her hand outward. “Mads, he wants to give you something.”
            Before Madison could protest, before she knew what was happening, the creature’s blob-like arm stretched out, forming a grapefruit sized ball where a hand should be. Something dropped out of it. A skipping stone. The one Mads had found with her toes. It landed in the palm of her hand. It was dry. Not a hint of moisture. Not even slime.  
            Then, the river creature, which was no taller than Joie, slumped away. It seemed clumsy on land, but once it returned to the water, its movement was smooth, even graceful. Even though the thing had no eyes, it seemed to look back for a moment as if to ask a question. Maybe it was because Joie answered: “Oh, yes! You can keep it. It looks good on you."
           It nodded in thanks and then disappeared into the river, hat and all.

Word-Count Wednesday - Feb. 15th, 2017

Lots to talk about today. It's been a productive week.

What Am I Working On?

Let's see... I finished writing the publicity information for my new one-act play -- which means that it is now online and in print! Ta-da!

As you can tell by the mesmerizing graphic, the play is called "The Twilight Cone." It's about a young man experiencing his first day on the job at an unusual ice cream parlor. Turns out, every flavor triggers a unique "twilight zonish" chain of events.

In other news, I finished the revision of my picture book, so my agent sent it out into the world! It is currently on the desks of 12 different editors. Twelve chances. I'll keep you posted as the results trickle in.

And finally, I've had a creative breakthrough. I have decided on a new long term project. I was calling it Kettle Black for a while, but I'll probably come up with a new title further down the line. I finished the first chapter yesterday. So far, I love working with these characters. They remind me of my daughters when they were younger.

Word Count: 2500 words. (That makes up for last week's failure.)

How Do I Feel About the Process?

Very good. I think I'd like to get feedback about the first chapter. That's a little scary because sometimes feedback inspires and sometimes it discourages. But I'd love to get a few first impressions from readers.

What Am I Reading?

Narrative essays written by my English 1A students. Lots and lots of essays.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mistakes Were Made

I taught two classes on Monday and when I got home, Cheri and the girls left for Disneyland. (They had an okay time that evening, but there was a multi-car fire in the parking structure, so that absorbed a lot of their time; it took forever to get intobthe park.)

While their misadventure was going on, I planned to have a relaxing and productive evening all by my lonesome. I expected to grade eight essays and then return to my creative project, a brand new book that I'm very excited about.

I thought I was going to be good and responsible by choosing to get grown-up work out of the way. That was my mistake.

If you are feeling creative, you should work on your art! Inspiration combined with ambition is a rare and beautiful thing. Don't deny the muse when it calls to you!

Instead, I tried to grade those darn essays... And I got distracted... I had to walk the dogs,  had a meeting at the theater I nearly forgot about, and to top it all off I made really bad food choices: ten Candy Cane Jo-Jo cookies, four girl scout cookies (all hail the Samoans!) two salami bagel sandwiches, one large Beatles coffee-mug filled with Moose Tracks Ice Cream. (Although I did choose the reduced fat kind, so Bravo for me.)

By the end of the evening, I graded six essays instead of reaching my goal, and I didn't write a single sentence of my novel.

Fortunately, I did not make the same mistake today. Chapter One is finished!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Funnies - Feb. 12th, 2017

A little doodle I made for my aunt to celebrate Valentine's Day....
 or as many of my students call it: 

"Single's Awareness Day" 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Dragon's Lair

Like so many children of the 80s, I was obsessed with video games. The thing about this obsession -- some may aptly call it an addiction -- is that it wasn't just about playing for hours on one's Atari or (if you were a bit of a snob) Intellivision. This was the golden age of arcades. So, the best games cost 25 cents a pop. Places like Chuck-E-Cheese (before they turned into places where you played pseudo-gambling games to earn tickets) were havens for those of us willing to waste countless quarters just to feel the thrill of electronic mayhem, if only for a few fleeting moments.

Notice how the young folks in the above photo are lining up to play their favorite game? That's how hooked we were. No instant gratification for us 80s kids. We gathered around and waited our turn.

The game that I was the most in awe of was different from all the rest. It was called "Dragon's Lair." And everytime I went to the arcade, this game possessed the longest lines and the largest audience.

This game was different for two reasons. Reason #1 -- it was two quarters! 50 freakin cents. By 80s economics that meant that I was giving up two candy bars just to have a turn. Reason #2 -- it was animated, yes Gloriously Animated by Disney veteran turned rogue, Don Bluth. And since I passionate cartoons, Dragon's Lair was a case of love at first sight. Here's the "trailer" that would play as the machine waited to gobble up your money.

Unlike games such as Joust, Asteroids, and Ms. Pac-Man (my first foray into feminism), I never got very good at Dragon's Lair. It could never figure out the timing. However, I loved the hilarious ways poor Dirk the Daring died. 

If you were like me and endlessly failed to play the way all the way through, just so you could watch the entire animated film, you'll be happy to know that someone posted all of the scenes on YouTube. Hooray for the Internet! 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Photograph Friday #3: Top Out Climbing

I actually took these last week... They aren't very good. The camera on my phone isn't the greatest (which is why my wife gave me this iPhone 4 to begin with -- she wanted to get a new version with better resolution!). Also, I know nothing about composition... or simply how to take something in focus. But hey, this is part of my New Year's resolution... so here they are... for better or worse!

Unlike these photographs, my daughters are excellent. They are second degree black belts with brilliant minds... which means they could beat me in a debate and in the Octogon.

To try something new for the New Year, they joined a cool gym call Top Out Climbing. This is the easy boulder...

But things get much more vertically challenging than this.... I've tried this once... and although it was fun, being up this high -- even with a harness -- makes me a little bit nervous. 

Still, I think if I was going to join a gym it would be this place. I'm not interested in lifting weights or running on treadmills. I'd rather pretend to be climbing Mt. Everest or scaling Half Dome. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Word-Count Wednesday - Feb. 8th, 2017

What am I working on:

I've been trying to brainstorm my next BIG idea... and so far nothing much has come up. I have tinkered with the idea of having a STEM picture book about simple machines (and the silly mice who use them to steal cheese). Oh, and I also finished editing/reviewing a new one-act play.

Word Count: 115 (A week of failure) --- but I am planning to write more tonight. I'm just writing yb the seat of my pants now... seeing if something interesting happens. Here's what I have so far:

“Jess, wake up.” If it was the morning, Willa would have sung the words to her older sister while she pulled open the curtains to brightly awaken her to a new day. But this was the middle of the night, three a.m., and there wasn’t time for singing, only shaking.

“What, what, what?” Jessica grumbled, looking around the dark room of their farm house. Willa replied by pulling away her sister’s quilt and tossing her father’s jacket. It still smelled of cigarettes stayed within the denim. Their father, on the other hand, was long gone.

“There’s another one in the woods,” Willa said.

“Not a raccoon?”

“Definitely not a raccoon. Let’s go. I got flashlights.”

How Do I Feel About the Process:

I go back and forth between frustration and patience. Today I feel patient. The next story will manifest in time.

What am I Reading:

I am still listening to Charles Dickens' audio book version of Little Dorrit. It's a LONG book... and I listen to it on the commute home from work. I have a feeling I won't finish it until the end of the semester.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Wade's Poetic Terms

A couple weeks ago, I posted a useful link to a PDF document that covers a whole bunch of poetic devices... the things you might study in a literature course.

There's lots of useful stuff there... especially if you want to write an essay analyzing the prosody of Shelley and/or Byron. However, sometimes when I'm trying to express my love of poetry, the academic lexicon isn't enough.

For me, excellent poetry contains some of these elements:

Puzzle-Treasures: Lines of poetry / song lyrics which are difficult to decode but oh-so worth the effort. With insight and context Puzzle-Treasure poems are clever and delightful.

Phrase Bombs: Words / ideas that evoke surprise and command attention.

Vicariocity: The level of empathy created by the lines. Poetry with high vicariocity transcends the reader so that they feel they are within the world of the poem.

Philoseeds: Embeds themes/beliefs into the text in subtle yet persuasive ways.

Eargasms: We might have no idea what the poem means, but the sound of the word combinations provides pleasure to the listener.

What do you crave in poetry?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sailing Through the "So-What Factor"

"A character's actions are deeply important" -- James Wood

When an editor or an agent is reading a story or a novel they are looking for a reason to say "NO." They receive hundred, maybe thousands, of submissions. Why should they care about your character?

My character just found out she's pregnant.

So what?

My character might get kicked out of high school.

So what?

My character is unaware that she's a sleep walking serial killer.

So what?

My character is abducted by aliens who want to make him a court jester in another galaxy.

So what?

You can have the most interesting, imaginative plotline in the world, but you'll still have that pesky question to deal with... SO WHAT?!

We need to make the reader care about our protagonist. Good description, voice, style, dialogue can help with this... A relatable character can go a long way too. But most agents/editors/critics will tell you that your readers need to understand the dire consequences. If there are no consequences for your character, there's no dramatic tension... and then we don't have a good answer for that "So What Factor."

This is one of my biggest issues as a creative writer. I often fall in love with my characters. I enjoy spending time with them on the page so much that I forget that I'm supposed to be making them miserable. I need to keep raising the stakes. I need to keep presenting them with very tough choices. I need to keep emphasizing what happens if the protagonist fails. What's at risk? Why should we care?

So, since I'm still struggling with the so-what factor, allow me to direct you to a few experts who can better explain how to sail through these tricky waters:

Writing Beyond Good: The So-What Factor

Agent Query: Jen Rofe

Brutal Truth: The So-What Factor Matters. A Lot.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Resolution Check-In: February Edition

Since I bothered posting my New Year's Resolutions, I might as well provide updates as to my progress or lack thereof... So far, I have a few good things to report. Let's see how I'm doing:

1) Take more photos (photographs at least twice a week)

I suck as a photographer, but I decided to take more pictures mainly to help keep memories alive. Of course, shortly after making this resolution I learned that photographs can impede our memory.  Thanks a lot, Psychology! I don't care, I'm taking more pictures anyway. 

I'm not exactly taking a bunch of selfies. Just once in a while I take a snapshot of family outings, and I have managed to take a few photos each week, so I am doing fine so far. 

ACHIEVEMENT: 8.33% Complete

2) Write / sell a new picture book

I'm making some progress on this too... but nothing is for certain. I did write a picture book that I am quite proud of. More importantly, my agent says she loves it -- which is usually a good sign that the book might actually make editors happy. And even better news, it has been sent out to 12 editors. Keep your fingers crossed!


3) Generate idea for next big project (finish at least 25% of it)

Not too much progress with this one. I was kicking around the idea of adapting "Tomorrow's Wish" (one of my favorite plays) into a novel. Not sure yet. Still brainstorming. I did write a thousand words -- more free writing than an actual chapter. So that's something.


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

This one is going to be a little bit trickier to quantify... because if my daughters don't really want to collaborate... this might not happen. Or it might happen in a different way than I expect. Because the girls are going to VidCon I was thinking it would be fun to try doing something to create a YouTube channel with semi-regular content. However, I'm now wondering if that's just going to take something fun (watching their favorite YouTubers) and turn it into a chore. 

However, Mackenzie and I did make a podcast episode, reminiscing about our favorite childhood board games. 


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

In some ways, this is a resolution that simply means be a better person. Be kind to others. However, because I'm on a goal quantification kick, I want to do something a little bit special for others. I made a list of 200 people, all of whom I hope to do something special for... or at least offer support and positivity.

So far, I've checked ten people off my list, so I better get a move on!

ACHIEVEMENT: 5% Complete

6) Lose ten pounds. 

Aw yeah! I did this one in less than thirty days! I went from 173 to 160 pounds. It helps that my wife is a Health Coach! Now I just want to stay below 164 for the rest of the year -- maybe the rest of my life.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED (Time to eat some Ice Cream!)

I'll post another Resoultion update in March. (I realize no other reader probably cares about this... but believe or not, these blog posts really hold me accountable and help me stay on track!)

Duck Town - Feb. 5th, 2017

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Saturday Morning Cartoon - Rhapsody in Blue

I didn't want to fall in love with La La Land... but I couldn't help myself. It's a valentine to Los Angeles. And it's fuel for us dreamers. How can I resist such a flick?

For some reason, the whole time I was watching the movie, I kept thinking of the Gershwin sequence from Fantasia 2000 -- which is essentially a love letter to New York City. Both works tell us to keep reaching for the stars. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

"Today is Tomorrow" - The Lessons of Groundhog Day

Ever since I was a child, I was simultaneously terrified and smitten by the Twilight Zone. Some of those brilliantly twisted stories kept me tossing and turning all night. Throughout my tweens, I didn't not want to be alone in a room with a doll. Thanks, for the emotional scars, Talking Tina!

But Twilight Zone episodes aren't always scary. Many of them are dark; a few of them are comedic. All of them have a hook, some twist on reality. Many of the stories are built around a "What If" concept...

I'm telling you all this because the first time I saw Groundhog Day (way back in 1993) I felt it was a wonderful blend of Bill Murray and a brilliantly diabolic/comedic premise: What if you kept living the same day over and over?

I was a fan of the movie as soon as I saw the trailer. What a cool concept, I thought. I expected to be amused -- and I was. I still think this is Bill Murray at his sardonic best. But I also walked out of the theater with a sense of wonder. What would I do if I had all the time in the world? If there were no consequences? If I was forever stuck in the same place and time? These are fun questions to speculate upon every February 2nd.

But the movie, which I watched again today for the first time in about five years, means more to me now than ever before. As I watched it this time, so many life lessons really resonated with me. So without further ado, here's a handful of takeaways from Groundhog Day. 

#1) Excessive Pride Leads to a Downfall

When I first heard the word "hubris" I thought that it was that gross chickpeas mush you put on pita bread.

But that's hummus. Hubris is when we are more than a little too full of ourselves, and our arrogance gets us into trouble.

When we first meet Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, he is soaking in hubris. He's a weather man who thinks he knows which way the wind is blowing (or in this case the blizzard) but he gets it all wrong.

And he doesn't just exude professional arrogance. His interpersonal skills are lame as well. He's more misanthropic than Moliere's title character.

When he interacts with Rita, his new producer (played by Andie MacDowell), he can barely tolerate her Pollyanna outlook. She is looking forward to the ceremonies of Groundhog Day. He counters her positivity with the proclamation: "People are morons."

He may be right. There are a lot of morons among us. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't love them any less because of it. And so the Universe teaches Phil a lesson in humility.

#2) Sometimes We Never Know Why Things Happen

Much of life is trying to figure out the mysteries around us. If we live long enough, we may unlock many doors, make many discoveries, learn many secrets.

But sometimes we ask "How did this happen?" or even more often "Why is this happening to me?"

And the Universe just keeps her mouth shut and has that silly grin on her cosmic face as if to say, "I'll never tell."

Why does Phil Connors get stuck on Feb. 2nd? Why that town? why that day? Why do things keep resetting at 6am? Why does there seem to be no escape? Even death fails to provide an exit.

Some fantasy stories use some trope to explain the magic. A Gypsy curse. A witch casts a spell. A kid's science fair invention goes horribly wrong. Somebody makes a wish before blowing out the birthday candles.

What I love about Groundhog Day is that we never learn the nature of the supernatural mechanism. Many of the big moments in life, both tragic and miraculous, are ensconced in that same veil of mystery. We might have our own philosophical guesses as to why something incredible and/or catastrophic happens to us -- but sometimes, like poor Bill Murray, the rhymes and the reasons remain elusive.

#3) Food Isn't the Only Thing That Feeds Us

The first time Groundhog Day repeats itself, Phil is deeply confused. A victim of severe Deja Vu. The second time he experiences dread. He seeks help from a medical doctor and then an out-of-his-league psychologist, and finally he ends the evening getting drunk and spending the night in a jail cell. When he wakes up back in his bed and breakfast, repeating Feb. 2nd yet again, he realizes that he has entered a universe where there are no consequences. So what does he do?

He gives into his hedonistic pleasures. He eats, drinks, and smokes whatever he wants. He uses the power of endless repetition to learn intimate details in order to seduce some of the local ladies. He steals a sack of money from a pair of bumbling security guards. He has absolute freedom. He does whatever he wants. 

And it does not satisfy him. He learns that he needs more than idle pleasures to lead a meaningful life. He also comes to realize that he needs love... but he pursues love selfishly (and pathetically) at first. 

#4) Desperation Is Unattractive

During one of the film's funniest sequences, Murray's character tries to figure out what makes Rita tick, hoping to make her fall in love in a single day, though in his world he may be trying and failing for months or years. He learns about her favorite drink, her career goals, her pet peeves, and her life long dreams... 

But he's doing all of these things because he wants her... He thinks he loves her at this point, but really he's just desperate for her to love him. 

But, as he says, he doesn't even love himself. And soon, he enters a cycle of slaps to the face. 

That's when he enters the dark period of his existence (and a slew of failed suicide attempts commence.) 

#5) Become a Person You Love to Be With

This movie is a romance on multiple levels. Sure, it's a romantic comedy with an imaginative premise. By the end of this fantasy, Bill Murray wins the heart of Andie McDowell and the seemingly endless repetition ceases. The beautiful February 3rd arrives miraculously and CHANGE HAPPENS. 

But the other love story is with himself. In the beginning of the movie, Disgruntled weatherman Phil Connors is egocentric, yet he cannot stand himself.  But now he is stuck in an eternity of Groundhog Days, he's stuck in a small town in which -- even though he gets to know everyone -- no one will ever get to know him on an ongoing basis. He's stuck with himself. He's the only one who can grow or change... and finally, he takes the opportunity to enrich his soul... 

through music... through poetry... through heroic deeds... through genuine compassion and friendship. He falls in love with the person he is becoming, and that in turn gives him the capacity to deeply love all those around him. 

Whether it takes a day or a lifetime, I wish that blessing upon us all.  

Happy February 3rd!