More Innermost Secrets

I escaped from the zoo at the age of six.

Truth be told, I think the zoo keepers left my cage open on purpose. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure it was really a zoo.

sweet-cornI lost 10 lbs. in one week once on the “Corn Diet”.

In college, my friend Dan and I would always joke about the “Corn Diet”, a diet consisting entirely of varying forms of corn. Corn on the cob, frozen corn, creamed corn, corn pops cereal. The theory was that you could lose a lot of weight on this diet because corn seems to pass through human bodies without changing form. So your stomach would be full, but your body would have to burn the fat on reserve because the corn would only be acting as a filler. We never tried the diet though, because we thought that the last part of the corn’s journey through us would be painful if it only consisted of corn.

Sometimes, at night, I dress up in a large skunk costume and run around my back yard.

Mainly, I do this just to freak out my dog, who once got sprayed in the face by a skunk in my back yard. Secondarily, I do it because it is fun and good exercise.

I learned the hard way that you cannot make more money simply by cutting it in half.

Quarters are really hard to cut in half anyway, and nothing ever costs 12.5 cents. Oh, yeah, and stores complain when you hand them a dollar bill that has been cut in half.

I also learned this about neighbors.

The best you could hope for is that your old neighbors, whom you cut in half, would move on and be replaced by whole neighbors. More likely, you will go to jail where you will not like your new neighbors at all.

Two Depressing Flash Stories Told by Children

My sister-in-law is an elementary teacher. This is only one of the awesome things about her. Another awesome thing is that she sometimes uses my flash fiction photo prompts as writing exercises for her students. And every now and again, she sends me the results. Here are two such stories, along with the pictures that inspired them.

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Story 1

One day in a small village there was a man. Sometimes people stole in that town so it came to war. The only person who survived was the old man. So he decided to travel to somewhere new until he found a place called Oklahoma and it was beautiful. And he found a new home, too. He got a wife. He had two kids. They had so much fun until the old man’s wife died. The kids grew up and left the house. It was sad. The old man got older and older.

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Story 2

One day I went to school. I looked in my locker. My stuff was gone! I was robbed! I ran down the hallway. “I see him” I said. Then he was gone! I lost my book bag, my books, and my popcorn maker. They were GONE!! The principal saw running and then he suspended me. I was lucky they didn’t find out. Then my mom was robbed. We were doomed. I found him and I called 911. They got him but they didn’t give me my stuff. Then they got away and forgot my stuff.

Thanks for writing, kids!

I am surprised by Jot attendees.

My writer’s group hosted Jot II the other night. We had a great turnout and a lot of fun. The speakers all did a great job. The venue was gorgeous. The attendees were attentive and kind. It was a great night.

jot_panelMy responsibilities for the evening included conducting an author interview with an old college friend, jumping up between presentations to make basic announcement regarding time and bathroom locations, and spouting my mouth off on a panel discussion of writer’s groups. And since I love the sound of my own voice, I loved every minute in front of the microphone. This was no surprise to me.

What was a surprise was the speaking I did after the presentations finished. I had three great conversations afterward with three very different individuals, and flash fiction came up in every one. Now, the reasons that surprised me is because no one spoke on the topic of flash fiction in this round of Jot.

The first conversation was with an attendee who was a long way from home. She was a journalist from Iran who recently moved to Grand Rapids and was curious about the type of people who attend writer’s conferences. She was guessing that our audience would be primarily of a college-age, so she was surprised to see the wide demographic range of Jot attendees. After talking about the conference in general, she asked me about my writing. I told her that I blogged and wrote flash fiction. She told me that blogging was illegal in her country and that she was unfamiliar with flash fiction. I did my best to explain that it pertained more to the length of a work than the genre of the work. Then she stumped me by asking for the name of a famous flash fiction author.

My second conversation was with our youngest attendee. I noticed early in the evening that a girl had come with her mom to Jot. I approached them afterward to thank them for coming out and to find out a little more about them. The mom explained to me that it was her nine-year-old daughter who was the writer and that she was just there to learn as much about the craft as she could. I then asked the girl what she wrote. It turns out that she, like me, is interested in science fiction and fantasy and that she recently wrote a short story.

“It’s not very long,” she said. “It’s only nine and a half pages.”

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “That’s three times longer than most of the fiction things that I write.”

I took the opportunity to share a bit about flash fiction before referring them to my blog where they could find this list of places that publish (and pay) for short-form fiction. I thanked them for attending, and secretly hoped that I could be as good a parent as that mom was.

My final conversation of the evening was with a retired gentleman. He was attending Jot for the same basic reasons as the girl, though their situations could not have been more different. He had just started writing, had finished a short story for children, and didn’t know where to go from there. I told him that I had some experience with short stories and suggested some resources to help him hone his craft.

“I know that short stories are all for kids,” he said. “So I wasn’t sure if I should be doing that or something else.”

“Oh,” said I. “Short stories aren’t just for kids. In fact, almost none of the short stories I read are aimed at children.”

We then went on to talk about some of the features of flash fiction, like the twist. After a few minutes of this, I thanked him for attending and wished him well.

I realized after my three conversations that I am pretty passionate about flash fiction. Now, readers of my blog may not be surprised by this, what with my flash fiction prompts, stories, and the like, but I was. I feel a bit like a man who has found a treasure in a field, but instead of keeping it secret so I can sell my stuff and buy the field for myself, I’m out there telling everyone I know about this amazing treasure that is flash fiction.

Oh well, I guess it’s okay to encourage others to write, even if they might be better than I am. But if you do turn out to be better than I am, if you get a big publishing deal and become famous because I turned you on to flash fiction, be warned. I will be approaching you for help in the industry.

Thanks again to everyone who came out to Jot! If you missed it, you can watch it in its entirety here.

Squirrel Farmers

No, I’m not talking about raising squirrels for meat. I’m talking about the fact that the squirrels in my yard are growing corn in my flowerbed.

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Not exactly knee-high by the 4th of July

When my wife first gave me my squirrel feeder, she joked that I was trying to get the squirrels to depend on the food I gave them instead of nature’s bounty, and that as soon as I stopped feeding them, they would die. But it turns out that the squirrels are more self-sufficient than either of us realized. They took the corn that I was feeding them and planted it, growing more for the rough days ahead so they would be taken care of in spite of me.

Teeny tiny corn cob

Teeny tiny corn cob

My Last Push for Jot II

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This is the last time I’m going to blog about Jot II until it happens tomorrow night. I swear.

If you somehow missed it, my writer’s group is hosting our second Jot Mini-Conference tomorrow night at Baker Book House. The event starts at 7pm and is completely free to attend.

Here are a few reasons why you might want to attend:

  • You have a passing interest in writing, but can’t afford to attend a “real” writer’s conference.
  • You are interested in fiction, non-fiction, comic books, or bookstores.
  • Someone is threatening you to go.
  • You would like to feel like one of the cool people who have plans on Friday night.
  • You actually are one of the cool people because your plans have been to come to Jot all along.

If you came out to the last one about half a year ago, you already know that it was a good time and a good chance to meet other writers. If you didn’t come then, come now. That’s all I’m going to say.

Also, follow this link for a coupon for the coffee shop in Baker Book House, good for that day only.

Lego: Owning vs. Renting

lego_manYes, Lego sets are now available for rent.

I happened across this new service called, “Pleygo” the other day. They bill themselves as a Netflix-like rental service for Lego sets. You subscribe to their service, select which set you want to play with and they’ll ship it to you. When you are finished with that set, you simply put the set back in the enclosed free-shipping box and send it back. In fact, if you lose one or two of the smaller pieces, no big deal. They’ve got more.

My first thought when I saw that this service existed was excitement. I love Lego! And this seems, initially, like a great way to play with a lot of Lego sets for a limited amount of money such as I have. But then I got to thinking about it and my second thoughts are rather skeptical. The cheapest subscription level is $15 per month and gives the member access to any of the smaller sets that are listed on the site. These sets typically retail for between $10 and $30. The deluxe membership that give complete access to the all sets is $39 per month. And if your goal is to build a lot of Lego sets, dismantle them, and move on, maybe Pleygo is a great thing for you. But that isn’t how I play with Lego.

As a kid, my Lego play consisted of dumping all my bricks and pieces onto the floor, annoying stirring the mix until I found the piece I wanted, and assembling something that no Lego set designer have ever concocted. As I grew older, I began to appreciate the original design for each set, and more often than not, I would build it and leave it assembled. In fact, one of my previous 3-Day Novel projects was inspired by my collections of assembled Lego sets. But through it all, I never considered actually owning Lego things to be a disadvantage. I view Lego sets to be more akin to heirlooms and something to rent.

And so, to put my money where my mouth is, I went out and bought a new Lego set. It is the only one of its series that I own, but I’m pretty excited to put it together. I bought the Monster Fighters set, The Crazy Scientist and his Monster, which has a Frankenstein meets Steampunk theme. It’s pretty cool. And though I bought it at a discounted rate, my money still went to support the fine efforts of the people at Lego. If you are considering the new-fangled rental program, maybe consider the fact that if you save your money for a month or two, you will be able to play with any given set indefinitely (or until your dog or toddler eats all the pieces).

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100 Word Challenge | But where did the noise come from…

Light filtered strangely through the mosaic ceiling. Lightning threw the faces into sharp relief as thunder gave voice to the demons depicted.

Jess stared, transfixed as she listened to the audio tour.

“The Baptistry of Florence has seen the baptisms of many notable figures. In fact, the poet Dante, famous for his Divine Comedy…”

The player abruptly died in unison with the structure’s artificial lights.

Rain turned to hail. Thunder laughed as the mosaic crumbled, revealing a blood red sky.

No lightning, realized Jess numbly as winged figures swept in with the hail but…  Where did the noise come from?

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I am married to a parenting genius.

My beautiful wife with our youngest happily munching on some pool toy.

My beautiful wife with our youngest happily munching on some pool toy.

My wife is an awesome parent. She’s also better looking than I am. But back to the parenting thing.

A while back, our eldest entered into a real whiny and unhelpful phase. When she would refuse to do something, at first, we tried commands. Then we tried reasoning, but have you ever tried to reason with a two-year-old? And then my wife came up with “Two Options”. It’s worked like a charm.

“Two Options” goes like this: When our daughter is acting in a way that is not preferred, she is presented with two options (see where the name comes from?).

The first option goes something like, “You can keep screaming at the dinner table, but then you’ll go straight to bed after dinner without a story.” The second option is much better, “Or, you can stop screaming, eat your dinner, play afterward, and get a story tonight.”

To which, my daughter responds, “But I want to play and I want a story.”

“Then you should stop screaming and eat your dinner,” we’ll say.

“Okay,” she says. The choice is hers. We just try to help her choose the right option.

It should be said that my wife is better at coming up with the two options than I am. Mine always end up like, “You can apologize to your sister for knocking her over or you can take the trash out for a month.” And this is just unfeasible, because she is far too small to move our giant trash bin.

Another reason that my wife is a genius-level parent is her invention of the game, “Everything’s a Secret”. Here’s how you play: Whisper everything. The person who speaks above a whisper loses.

It’s a great game for us because the “screaming at the dinner table” scenario spelled out earlier happens on a semi-regular basis. Now we just have to start playing “Everything’s a Secret” and the volume drops back down to acceptable levels.

Do you have any great parenting tricks and tips that you’d like to share?