4 Ways to Make Time

RelojDespertadorThere aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things that you want to do.

  1. Hire a Substitute – Teacher aren’t the only ones who can get subs, you know. Just find someone who looks more or less like you and pay them to do your job for the day. Even better, see if they are willing to do your job for less than you make. That way, you can take off all the time you want and STILL make money! Just don’t let management find out that you are overpaid and/or not working, since they might just cut out the middleman (you).
  2. Stop Doing Housework – You know what takes less time than vacuuming, doing the dishes, and cleaning the toilet? NOT vacuuming, doing the dishes, and cleaning the toilet. Sure, you’ll live in squalor and there’s always the chance of creditors taking your house away, but every reward has its risks.
  3. Sleep Less – Let’s face it. People waste a third of their lives on sleep. Invest heavily in caffeine, friend, because sleep is one of the hardest addictions to break. Of course, there’s a good chance that after three days without so much as a nap, you’ll be criminally insane. Just channel that insanity into a productive form so you can do the things you want to do, only better.
  4. Abandon Family & Friends – It’s time to go into Hermit Mode. People love spending time with you because you are funny, smart, and attractive, but you need to know when to say no. Sure, you will probably lose friends and anger those who love you most, but that’s okay, right? I mean, you have your all-important time to do whatever it is you wanted to do. That makes it okay, right?

So there you have it. All the time in the world. Do all four things and you’ll be amazed at all the time you were wasting! You won’t even have to try smarter approaches like re-prioritizing!

As always, thanks for spending your precious time reading my blog.

Baker’s Summer Reading Program is a Mystery

We had spring in Michigan for a few days before the snow came back. Birds were singing, the sun was out, I didn’t need to bundle up to get the mail. But then the snow came back. And so I am thinking about warm thoughts.

One of my favorite job-related tasks is creating the bookstore’s summer reading program. When I first came to Baker, the bookstore used a packaged ready-to-go summer reading program made available by our marketing group. After a year or two of that, the marketing group discontinued the program, but we saw value in summer reading programs, so we started doing them ourselves.

That first year, we chose to do a detective theme. We designed our own guide books, bought our own prizes, came up with our own activities. And it was a blast. The following year, I was asked to head up the group that put on the program. The year after that, I was the group. I didn’t mind doing all the set-up work though. For some reason, I absolutely love doing the summer reading program stuff.

2011_summer_reading_program_advance_adAs I got more years under my belt, I started ramping the program up, getting support from publishers, and doing more in-depth events. A couple of years ago, we did a program with a Berenstain Bears theme called “Character Counts,” complete with Brother & Sister Bear costumes, a visit from Mike Berenstain, and a giveaway of one of Mike’s original drawings. It was incredible.

This year, we’ve come full-circle. Our theme is “Mystery” and features the Mysterious Benedict Society series from Trenton Lee Stewart. I’m working with his publisher and publicist to create special pieces for the program. We’re trying to get him to do a Skype event for the store. And we’re doing some crossover promotion with the Tommy & Brook Book Club (from local pop radio station Star 105.7). I think it has potential to be one of the best programs yet. But what should we call it?

Here’s a few names that I’m throwing around: The Mysterious Reading Society, Sleuth: A Summer Reading Program,  and The Case of the Missing Summer Reading Program. What do you like? Do you have any suggestions of your own?

We’ll be having an illustrator integrate the name into the cover of the program guide in the style of the illustrations from the Mysterious Benedict Society books, so we’ll need to decide soon.

And while I’m asking for input, what about some games/activities that have a mystery/detective theme? Any ideas?

What I Am Learning from George R. R. Martin

I know I’ve mentioned George R. R. Martin before, so I won’t go into much detail.

I’m currently in the middle of A Feast of Crows, fourth in the series A Song of Ice and Fire. Each book in the series averages at least 1000 pages, so how is it that a person of very short attention span (I write flash fiction for goodness sake) can stay interested in such a long series?

Here’s how: The world that Martin creates is enormous. There are more characters than you can shake a sword at. But the best part, the part that I am learning, is Martin’s use of perspective. By offering a fresh point-of-view with each chapter, we readers are shown depth that could not be provided by a single first-person account. Even the omniscient third-person perspective would grow tiresome for a story of this width and depth as we would tire of the narrator before the story was finished.

And as the series has progressed, I see how Martin is stretching his writing muscles by offering chapters from lesser-known characters to show new aspects of the tale that he has established thus far.

*DISCLAIMER*
Now, before you hear me going on about A Song of Ice and Fire and decide to rush out and buy up the series yourself, you should know that this series would hardly be welcome in Sunday School. There is violence, sex, language, and sorcery. Pretty much all of the things that would preclude this series from getting the Dove seal of approval. And if you think you can avoid some of that by watching the HBO series A Game of Thrones, don’t kid yourself. I’ve heard that HBO has done a nice job of adapting the story to film and much of the original material has been left in.

So, for anyone who is still interested in the story, and perhaps getting a glimpse of some of the characters (without reading the books, of course), here’s another option.

Thank you Annie Cardi for sharing that video with us.

100 Word Challenge | Only Fifteen More & Despite the Pounding in My Head

The following story combines the prompts from my own challenge and that of Julia’s Place. Hope you enjoy!

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She had been gone a year, but it felt like more. Time moves slower behind bars.

Ironically, it was bars that landed me here in the first place. On the night of Isabel’s disappearance, I was too drunk to drive. Too drunk to remember driving anyway.

I woke up to blood and bile. The dent in my forehead matching the one in my front bumper. But the sound was the worst part. Despite the pounding in my head, she was louder.

“This is the last straw!” she screamed, and then she vanished.

Only fifteen more years until I can start looking. To find her and apologize.

I am from outer space.

I love my wife, but sometimes the age gap between us causes issues. We are two and a half years apart.

In a recent weekend word game*, I mentioned the show “Fraggle Rock” and was rewarded with a look of confusion from my wife. If you are confused too, “Fraggle Rock” was  a television show in the 1980’s created by Jim Henson, father of the Muppets. It focused on the adventures of the Fraggles, a subterranean race of fun-loving creatures, their diminutive neighbors, the Doozers, and their giant foes, the Gorgs. If that makes no sense, here’s a clip from the show featuring “Traveling Matt”, where a Fraggle explores the silly creatures from outer space, humans.

Anyway, I remember this show well, but my wife hadn’t a clue about Fraggles. And here’s why: I grew up on the television.

I learned my days of the week by the shows that were on that night. I kid you not. My mom made me a chart showing the days of the week with pictures that she had cut out of the TV Guide showing actors from each day’s show. Monday was Cosby day. Wednesday was Alf day. Thursday was Dukes of Hazzard day. You get the idea.

I learned the passage of time from the length of various television shows.

“Mom, how long until we get there?” I would ask.

“Two Dukes [of Hazzard] and a Scooby,” she would say.

And my reward/punishment system was television related. If I was naughty, I was grounded, not to my room where I could play with toys, but from the television. True story.

And I wasn’t just interested in the shows that were new each night. I watched a lot of reruns on TNT, Nick at Nite, and so on. I was well-versed in shows from the 50’s (I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show), 60’s (Wild, Wild West was my favorite), and 70’s (Happy Days, Monty Python). I wasn’t just a couch potato, I was a media hog.

So it always surprises me when I run into a show contemporary with my upbringing that my wife has never heard of. Didn’t everyone watch as much television as me? Apparently not. DeAnne’s family wasn’t big on TV. They were book readers, and outdoors players, and made-up-games folk.

And you know what? Although our media consumption varied greatly, we both ended up fairly normal. Sure, I probably should have learned better exercise habits so I could be as skinny as my wife, but oh well.

She loves me anyway, even if she does look at me like I am from outer space when I mention shows like “Fraggle Rock”. Remember, to the Fraggles, all humans are from outer space.

How do you think television has affected you? Do you still consume as much television as you did growing up?

*The Weekend Word Game goes like this. One of us challenges the other to say the first word that comes to mind when we say a given word or phrase. The resulting word is that person’s magic weekend word. When the magic weekend word is said, the other person is obligated to do some action to the person who said the word. Example – My wife asked me the first thing to come to mind when she said “Razzle Dazzle”. I said, “Fraggle Rock.” She asked what “Fraggle Rock” meant, so I requested that it mean two kisses and a compliment. So whenever I said “Fraggle Rock” this past weekend, my wife would give me two kisses and a compliment. Are we a disgusting couple? Sure. Deal with it.

Flash Fiction Challenge | Only Fifteen More

flash_fiction_challenge_250x250Here’s the thing: I’ve been busy writing flash fiction that I have no intention of publishing on my blog. That’s why I’ve been a bit lax on posting new challenges. Sorry about that.

The truth is that I love writing flash, and that blogging has had a lot to do with it. I’m so glad that I started this blog. It’s helped me learn more about the art and the challenge of writing short. And in honor of the fact that I am quite close to a blogging milestone, the prompt for this flash fiction challenge is “only fifteen more.”

It doesn’t matter if you claim to be a writer or not, if you are curious about flash fiction, please take a few minutes and write up a 100 word story. It’ll be good for your brain.

The rules are simple. Write a piece of flash fiction that includes the phrase “money can’t buy”. Aim for 100 words or less. Post your entry, or a link to your entry if you have your own blog, in the comments below. There’s no end date on this challenge.

If you do have your own blog, be sure to link back to this post so your readers can read the other submissions as well. Feel free to use the image above as a link if you know how to do that.

That’s it. Have fun. I can’t wait to see your submissions!

On the Origin of Worry

One of the things that I love about reading is coming across a familiar word that is used in an unfamiliar way. When I hear the word “worry”, I usually think of anxiety, but every so often I read it as an active verb, as in, “The dog worried the rabbit.”

In the case of the dog worrying the rabbit, I am sure that the rabbit was anxious, but that isn’t what the writer was saying. When a dog worries a rabbit, the rabbit dies. The history of the word that we associate with anxiety is rooted in the Old English word “wyrgen” which means to strangle.

Isn’t it interesting that we adapted the word for strangulation to mean how we feel when things aren’t going well?

Knowing the origin, it’s kind of creepy that Mr. Worry is blue.

Are you worried about things in your life? Does it feel like you are being strangled by circumstances, by relationships, by work, or even by your hobbies (like writing)? Maybe it is time to look at these things and start prying their fingers off your throat. Learn some balance and breathe easier.

After all, either meaning of worry will likely lead to an early death.

When Branding Goes Too Far

My wife saw it first. Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul brand dog food.

I erupted in laughter.

“Really?” I asked.

“Really,” she said.

I think it is time that we, as a culture, started looking at the power of branding and whether the brand lives up to its own legend.

Now, I don’t have anything against the dogs who eat the Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul dog food. They eat things that come out of their own bodies and don’t know any better. Nor do I have anything against their owners, per se. I’m sure that the food is as healthy for dogs as anything else available on the market. But there’s a good chance that it is also more expensive than it needs to be because it’s manufacturers are paying for the license that allows them to use the Chicken Soul for the Dog Lover’s Soul name.

Is it necessary for dogs to have brand name dog food, especially when the brand is more popular for books than for food? Is this the power of branding in action?

I realize that I should probably be happy that a book-related empire is doing so well. It speaks to the vast wealth potential that lies in wait for simple writers like me. After all, as writers we are told that establishing our brand is an important part of our platform and overall publishing success. Should I be so eager to naysay the success of such a book-related brand?

Probably not, but it is hard not to think that after some initial success, a brand can cross over into the dark side of greed through licensing some ridiculously unrelated products.

“But Josh,” says John Everyman. “Dog lover is part of the title of that book. It is obviously related.”

Perhaps, John Everyman. Perhaps. But this is only one of many licensed products that exist, and that list is growing everyday. I only hope that one day, I have my own incredibly wealthy brand so that I can prove myself better than this. Or maybe that is just my own greed and jealousy speaking.

What are some of your favorite ridiculously unrelated examples of branding gone wrong?

Great post by my buddy, Bob Evenhouse!

PART-TIME NOVEL

Every writer has come to the point where things become muddy, sticky, and possibly monotonous. Is it writer’s block? Sure. Is it becoming bored with your own story? Maybe. Is it the dullness of life or a perpetual northern winter or a life event that arrives like a stray lightning bolt and saps you of any motivation to get to the page? Of course.

As a writer I admit I have been there. All of us have. But what can you do to get out of that funk? How can you rise above yourself and this particular situation with your friend or family member that just won’t leave you?

I believe the answer lies in what can be called a Muse. It’s the age old question. What can the artist (in this case writer) do to keep, well, doing? It’s not a sudden burst of energy that finishes a great…

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Book Review | A Cast of Stones

9781441261021A Cast of Stones, first in The Staff & The Sword series by new author, Patrick W. Carr, is a lot like I was in high school. After a bad first impression, Carr’s first novel needed a little time to explain itself before it won me over. But it did win me over in the end.

A Cast of Stones is set in the fantastic Illustra, a land ruled by the crown, the church, and the conclave of readers. With easily-spotted ties to our own world, Illustra is a land in crisis. The king nears the end of his days without leaving an heir. The conclave charged with approving the future king is shrinking rapidly due to unknown assassinations. And the church has been infiltrated by the very powers it seeks to thwart.

Enter Errol Stone, an orphan addicted to ale who may just be the kingdom’s only hope. To be honest, it took me a full third of the book before I found Errol to be worth rooting for. Then again, Luke Skywalker isn’t likeable in Star Wars until at least Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back.

Being his first novel, Carr should be alotted a certain amount of grace. He crafts some great passages, but there are a few places where I was pulled out of the narrative by details that probably should have been caught by an editor. The plot follows the traditional hero’s journey, but twists in elements unique to Illustra.

For those willing to push past the first third of the book, A Cast of Stones will capture your interest and leave you waiting for the next installment with bated breath.