Back to School | Or Not.

Well, today is the day that my first official assignment is due for the Coursera class in which I am enrolled. But I’m not going to hand anything in.

Over the weekend, I finished the reading, did research on the author and illustrator, and formed the workings of the essay that I was to hand in today. The reason that I am not going to hand anything in is because I have decided to discontinue the class.

The premise is interesting, the videos were educational, and I enjoy the professor’s approach to the materials. But even though this is a free course, there is a cost that no one tells you. The cost for me is time with my family and that cost is too high.

My wife was encouraging when I enrolled in the course, and understanding when I discussed stopping. You see, quality time together is the way that she best feels love and she already encourages me through writing time everyday. To ask for more time apart so that I could take the online class while she is trying to take care of our newest daughter (2 weeks and some days old now) and corral our almost 2-year-old didn’t feel to me like I was being the best husband I could.

So I am dropping out of a free course. I’m hoping that when things settle down into a routine with our littlest one, maybe my wife and I could enroll in a class together. But for now, this is the best decision.

If any of you had accepted my call to do the class with me, I am sorry to bow out on you. I would love to hear from you how the class goes and what you are learning, so be sure to leave me a comment or write a post and I’ll re-blog it here.

And just so it isn’t wasted, I’m going to post my homework tomorrow (after the due date lest anyone decide to hand in my paper as their own).

I am the King of Hotdogs

Three stories about hotdogs and me. Sorry in advance for those of a squeamish disposition among you.

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In high school, my best friend John and I would get together and watch terrible movies. Terrible in the sense that they were poorly made, not terrible as in terribly immoral or anything like that. Our favorites were the end times movies that came out in the early 1970’s.

Anyway, whenever we got together, it was tradition to craft and eat a delicacy that we called “Six Foot Unders”. The ingredients are as follows: cheese filled hotdogs, American cheese, 2+ slices of thick-cut bacon, hot dog bun.

The trick was in the assembly. You had to properly wrap the hotdog in the American cheese so that the seam was facing the backside of the bun. The two slices of bacon went on either side of the cheese-wrapped dog. If you were feeling particularly decadent (and honestly, in for a penny, in for a pound), you could take a third piece of bacon and break it up into bits for a topping between the two slices that ran the length of the bun.

Also, we would eat two of them each. After forcing our stomachs to pay for our decisions, we would turn on the terrible movie and treat our eyes to similar fare.

Good times!

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In college, during my sophomore year, I lived in a house with three other guys just off campus. That meant that I had to cook for myself. Now, I wasn’t a terrible cook, but having ultimate freedom over the food that went into my body for the first time wasn’t as good a thing for my body as it could have been.

When living with other guys, there are always a certain amount of food-related dares. But the worst thing that I put in my mouth during that phase of my life was not something without precedent. In fact, it was a meal that was featured in the movie UHF with Weird Al.

There is a scene near the beginning of the movie where Weird Al loses his job and the only thing that will cheer him up is a “Twinkie Wiener Sandwich”. The ingredients are as follows: hot dog, Twinkie, aerosol cheese.

You have to slice the Twinkie open lengthwise, then nestle the hotdog into the cream. Top with the aerosol cheese and throw it down your gullet. Try not to regurgitate anything, results may vary.

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While trying to save money up for my future wife’s engagement ring, I worked part-time at a bookstore. Working part-time in a bookstore is a terrible way to save money for an engagement ring by the way. It is better to have a rich relative leave you an inheritance. But I digress.

The bookstore was right next to a gas station with a convenience store. In the convenience store, they use to run a special on hotdogs: 2 for 99 cents, which after Michigan’s tax is added in, comes to $1.05 for lunch.

I can’t tell you exactly how many hotdogs I ate, but I know that I have enough preservatives in my system still that when I die the morticians aren’t going to have much to do. Of course, eating all those hotdogs probably means that I’ll be seeing those morticians sooner than I would wish.

What I can tell you is that I saved up enough to buy the ring and that when I asked (after a brief hesitation while she asked if her dad was okay with my asking (he was)) she said yes.

I don’t eat many hotdogs anymore, thank goodness.

Now I eat brats. Much better.

Engendering Cooperation Through Mannequins

I read this interesting article the other day on NPR’s website and it reminded me of a story from my college days.

For those who believe that clicking links is something that other people do, the article says:

In a series of new experiments, researcher Dariusz Dolinski of the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland found that when the initial request was highly unusual, people were more likely to comply with the demand that followed it.

Back when I attended Western Michigan University, my roommate Adam and I decided to make a video for the heck of it. If I remember, the video was to be an ad for toilet paper. In it, a man is chased across campus horror-movie style by a mannequin who keeps saying things like “Softer than ever” in different people’s voices. We used stop motion animation to make the mannequin move. The video featured a car chase and O Fortuna. In the end, the man makes it to his house and hides in the closet only to discover the mannequin there waiting for him. Then a disjointed scene cut to the man and mannequin smiling and saying the happiest “Softer than ever! Quilted Northern Toilet Paper!” that you’ve ever heard.

I believe we were tired when we thought up the idea for the video. Cut us some slack. It was fun at the time. If Adam still has it somewhere, I’ll post it here so we can all be scared together.

The reason the NPR article reminded me of this was because as we were shooting the video, we asked random passersby to stand close to the camera and say “Softer than ever”, and you know what? Everyone complied. Not one person refused us.

Mannequins are super creepy.

Why? I’m pretty sure it was because of the mannequin. For some reason, the craziness of two guys with a video camera lugging a mannequin around just made people want to be a part of what was going on.

It wasn’t until I saw that article today that I realized our mistake. Adam and I asked the crazy question, but we never followed it up with a more reasonable request. I wonder now if we could have gotten money somehow.

Maybe it is time for another video. Anyone have a mannequin I can borrow?

A Call to Artists | Can You Draw a Squirrel?

I have written like 50 flash fictions stories that revolve around a squirrel and his invisible roommate. I’ve passed them out to friends and critics and have received positive feedback. But one thing nags at me.

I feel like the stories need some sparse illustrations. Just simple black and white pen drawings.

More like this.

Less like this.

I’ve heard that the stories don’t need illustrations, that they are strong enough to stand on their own merit. But I like the idea of random pictures.

If you have any skill with drawing, please contact me here. If you know someone who can draw, have them send me a drawing of a squirrel. That’s all I need.

Why would you do this? Because I have a product that is ready for pitching but for this one last detail. And unfortunately I can’t draw worth a toot.

I’ve written things about self-publishing before and thought this was an excellent post on the subject by my co-worker, Louis McBride. If you are a self-published author or are considering the self-publishing avenue, please read this.

The Baker Deep End Blog

During my time at the 2012 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) I experienced something I had not experienced before. While on the show floor I was approached by several self-published authors who wanted me to take a copy of their book. Since my name badge had “buyer” prominently displayed this made me a primary target. One distributor told me some of them approached his booth wanting to know if they could get their book distributed through them. He was not interested—it simply was not the time or place. Some authors were content just to give me their book, others wanted to provide a brief explanation and others offered (unsolicited) a complete history of their story. The last time I attended ICRS was in 2002 and this was virtually absent then. My manager and assistant manager who accompanied me this year, and who attended last year’s show, said they had not seen…

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100 Word Challenge | The line was drawn…

Tor Greyson was, is, and will be a time traveler. You could say it was his fate, but causality gets a bit confusing when you go mucking about with time.

The lights flashing, the experiment underway, the line was drawn, then crossed, and the explosion hurtled Tor from the beginning of the cosmos to the bitter end.

Some say he is the only one with true freedom of will. That would be comforting if he had any idea what he was doing.

But Tor is, was, and forever will be a scared three year old, unable to control the greatest power in the universe.

The Winner Is…

Before I forget (which I’ve been doing since last Friday) I’d like to announce that the winner of my last Flash Fiction contest is Jackie Slaughter.

Jackie won three books that are the first in their series. See her prize and winning one-sentence biography here.

I’ll be putting together another contest soon, as I have a number of good books that I’d like to give away.

Answer: How do we get non-writers to read?

I’m writing this post in response to the one that I re-blogged yesterday from Eric Wyatt. Eric noticed that the majority of the readers and commentators on his blog were other writers who were hoping to be published. He asked how we can attract the readers who we hope will (when we are published) buy our books.

These are a few of the things that I came up with that contribute to the writers-reading-writers phenomena.

Content dictates readership. If we are writers hoping to be published, there is a good chance that we are writing about being writers hoping to be published. We are probably writing things like tips for writers, the writer’s experience, how to be a better writer, how to revise manuscripts, and so on. Who cares most about these things? Writers.

We are trying to build our platform, but we are misguided in our approach. We are told (often by other blogging writers) that it is important to have a platform in order to get published. This is true. Nowadays, it is a key selling point to a publisher if we have thousands of followers on our blog. We are trying our hardest to show to publishers that we know what we are doing when it comes to writing, that we can put content out there and that we are experts in our field. But as a writing hoping to publish fiction, is it really going to do me a lot of good writing about writing when I am hoping to write books of imaginative fantasy?

We are hoping to attract hungry readers with cookbooks instead of a tasty meal.

It is the nature of the blogging beast. We are writing on a medium designed for writers. If the readers we want to attract were on WordPress, they are most likely writers as well. Writers read blogs. Readers read published books. There is a disconnect for most writers between the two.

So what do we do about that?

Maybe we should take a look at what our favorite authors are blogging about. What is it that their fans want from them? Maybe we should write more of that. I looked up a few popular authors, and of the ones who blog, they blog about their books, they blog snippets and samples to whet our appetites, they blog about how they came up with certain characters and about how inspires them.

Show, don’t tell. We are often told this advice about becoming a better writer, but the same can be true about the content of our blogs. If we want to attract people to our writing, we should be showing more of our writing.

I know, I know. If we publish it on our blogs, publishers won’t pay for it.

Good point. So lets show our writing abilities by other means, without giving away the whole thing. Can you publish a synopsis, a character profile, a setting, a sample chapter or scene? Ask any marketing person today and they will tell you that giving things away sells products. It may be counterintuitive, but it is true.

Perhaps you can show your writing talent without even mentioning your current work in progress. There are a number of good blogs that offer writing prompts for you to hone your skill and show your writing prowess. One of my favorites is Julia’s Place and the Weekly 100 Word Challenge, but there are others out there as well. Just look on Duotrope for opportunities and prompts for publication.

Review books. If you write within a specific genre, read and publish reviews of books in the same genre. If you want readers to find your things, they are going to be searching for reviews of these books. If you write a good review, they are going to click around your blog to find out what else you have reviewed/written. Maybe they’ll stumble across a sample of your writing and bookmark your blog.

Write with a buffer. I find that when I am writing last-minute, I tend to write less polished posts that are about whatever is on my mind at the time. Often, this means that I write about writing, which only other writers tend to care about. I am not intentional about what I want readers to see. It just goes straight from my head to the computer screen and then on to the world at large.

By writing ahead and giving myself some time to ask myself if my post is something that a reader (not just writers) would want to see. This is also helpful in giving myself a chance to be sick or lazy if I need a day or two away from the blog (or if I need a day or two to work solely on my novel).

Publish where the readers are. If you aren’t publishing your blog to your Facebook account or your twitter feed or your [insert whatever the next popular social media fad is here], then you are missing out on putting content in front of people who may be interested. Of course, this presupposes that you have content that they want to see.

Maybe you are already publishing to these places, but you are only being read by family and friends. If you want to use a gimmick to get readers to your blog, try a giveaway. Provide an incentive for your family and friends to share your posts with their family and friends. If your incentive is good enough (or if your writing is good enough), this could just start that perfect word-of-mouth campaign that we are all after.

Those are my thoughts.

I may even start using them to help the content of my blog become something that readers will want to read. We’ll have to see.

I’ve been thinking about this question a bit myself. I plan to share my thoughts on the subject tomorrow. Stay Tuned.

Stories I Read, Stories I Tell

As I was scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning–taking a quick break from a manuscript I’m critiquing–I thought about something that I’ve known for a while: We writers spend a lot of time hawking our books to other writers, or would-be writers.

This sort of thing happens in the realm of literary short fiction, a lot. Most of us who write short stories submit them to literary magazines, many of which have several hundred to several thousand readers. And who are those readers? Other writers, mostly. A few agents, looking for new talent. A scarce handful of faithful readers who don’t have daydreams of selling a novel or having a short story optioned by Paramount for a film starring Morgan Freeman.

On Twitter, writers follow other writers, and agents, and teachers of writing. We HOPE to connect with a community of readers, but in my experience, there are way…

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Back to School | It Begins…

Today is the first day of the online course that I spoke of earlier. To save you the click, I’ve enrolled in a free online course offered by the University of Michigan through Coursera entitled “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World“. After reading the course syllabus, I’m pretty excited to get started.

That said, this is also my first full week back at work after taking a week of paternity time to help out with my newest daughter. I’ve forgotten just how busy life can seem when you are getting less sleep. Fortunately, my wife is encouraging me to go back to sleep in the middle of the night when the newest one needs to eat. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the true difficulty of having two kids doesn’t come from the youngest one (who mostly just sleeps and eats and poops and wakes you up in the middle of the night), but from the oldest one (who is running all over pulling out the toys and things that you just put away probably because you just put things away and she sees that as an affront to her toddler feng shui).

Anyway, now that the time has come to do the online course, I’m wondering if I will be able to give it my all, when I am also trying to give my all to my wife, my family, my work, and my writing (including this blog). I’m a big guy, but I don’t know if I’ll be big enough to divide into that many directions.

This is just a worry I have. I’ve done difficult things before and have come out the stronger for it. I’m probably just quibbling here, but if you think of it, offer up a prayer on my behalf that I’ll be able to take care of my responsibilities and not lose my mind in the process of pursuing my creative outlets.