Saturday Photo Prompt | 1902 St. Nick

jmspp_logoLook at the picture below and write a 100 story. It really is that simple.

If you care to share, either post a link to your story in the comments, or post the whole story.

I can’t wait to see what you write!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *Chicago_Santa_Claus_1902


Before you buy them an e-reader for Christmas…

Analogue entertainment … a teenage reader. Photograph: RelaXimages/Corbis

Analogue entertainment … a teenage reader. Photograph: RelaXimages/Corbis

Consider, for a moment, the mind-blowing fact that perhaps that special someone would prefer a physical book for Christmas.

No, seriously. I was surprised as well.

According to this article, 62% of 16-to-24 year-olds prefer physical books to e-readers. The reasoning?

The top-rated reasons for preferring physical to digital products were: “I like to hold the product” (51%), “I am not restricted to a particular device” (20%), “I can easily share it” (10%), “I like the packaging” (9%), and “I can sell it when used” (6%).

I’ve always been a fan of physical books, and not just because I work at a bookstore and my livelihood depends on it. There really is some tactile magic that makes holding a book feels warmer and nicer than holding a piece of electronic wizardry. I’m not surprised to see that it is the top reason why people prefer them to e-readers.

What does surprise me is the fact that battery life wasn’t even mentioned in percentages. In all my years of reading, I’ve never had the battery die on a physical book while I’m in the middle of a good scene.

But probably the biggest surprise was that the audience for this questionnaire is made up of people you would assume to be target market for electronic gadgets. And yet, physical books won the competition. Maybe that means that I’ll keep my job at the bookstore for a while longer.

How about you? Do you prefer physical or e-books?

Things for which I am ungrateful.


Here in the United States, we are celebrating Thanksgiving today. Last year, I did a rosy post about some things for which I am thankful. This year, I’m taking a different approach. This year, I’m going to talk about some of the things for which I am particularly ungrateful. If you want a happier/less complaining post, go read last year’s, because most of those things still apply.

I am ungrateful for snow and ice on the driveways and road. I’m fine with snow on my lawn. It covers up the leaves that I never got a chance to rake up. But on the roads and my driveway, it is unwelcome. Why can’t we install some kind of heating/drying element directly into roads and driveways that keeps this from happening? I’ve seen those videos about hydrophobic solutions that make it impossible to get clothes messy and wet. Why don’t we have that for roads?

I am ungrateful for sleepless nights. Though I love a good cup of coffee, I hate needing it to perform simple functions. There was a time when it was my children who were the main reason that my beauty sleep was interrupted, but now it is the dog’s fault. Perhaps he is aging and can’t go the whole night without a bathroom break, or perhaps he simply got in the habit of early morning wake up calls from when my wife or I would need to deal with screaming infants. Either way, it is too early and too cold outside to get out of bed. Learn to use the toilet, dog!

I am ungrateful for writer’s block. But since that isn’t a viable excuse for not writing, I am really ungrateful for my laziness and procrastination in writing my novels. Come on, me! Get with the program! You’ll never become a millionaire writer without getting your butt in the chair and typing out a masterpiece!

Lastly, I am ungrateful for ungratefulness. There are so many reasons to give thanks, why focus on the negatives?

Happy Thanksgiving, US citizens! Happy Random Thursday, everyone else!

Holiday Mix-Up

One of my sisters-in-law is an elementary teacher in North Carolina. Not only is she a great person because she is blood-related to my wife, but she also uses my Saturday Photo Prompts in her classroom as teaching tools. My favorite part of this fact is that occasionally she’ll send me the stories that her students write based on my prompts.

Such was the case recently when she sent the stories you will read below. Unfortunately, due to some kind of mix-up, the photo upon which these stories are based did not originate from my Saturday Photo Prompts as she thought it did. In any case, they are wonderful stories and I can’t just keep them to myself, so I’m going to share them now before another holiday passes and these are really out of date.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Once upon a time there was a contest but only on Halloween. Everyone started on their pumpkins. There was 147 people. After a kid cut one oft he pumpkins and then a ghost came out. But the kids or the father and mother did not see the ghost. The kids felt sad that their pumpkin was a mess. But they put it in the contest. But they put in the wrong one. They saw a ghost and got it and their pumpkins and ran. They went to their house. Then Halloween was over and they won gods. (Not sure what that last bit’s about)

– Jennifer

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 One day a ghost who got trapped in a pumpkin and the pumpkin grew legs and arms. And guess what, he was now a pumpkin man. So he followed a bird. He followed it into town and scared the people away. The town’s people grabbed the pitchfork and torches. They chased the pumpkin man. Mr. Jack ran for his life. So he won’t get stopped. Help! Help! cried Mr. Jack. Then they sliced off his head.

– Trenton

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 One night, it was Halloween and everybody saw a bunch of some scary pumpkins. But one looked really weird. It was a pumpkin that was haunted. And people always say if you touch it you will disappear. There was a boy named Max who was very interested in where the pumpkin would take you. So one night he decided to touch the pumpkin and…. nothing happened. So the next morning Max told everybody that the pumpkin was not haunted. And the pumpkin was never haunted again. Max was glad nobody else had believed in a haunted pumpkin anymore.

– Jeremiah

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 One day was there a pumpkin carving contest. There was a little girl who wanted to enter the pumpkin contest. Then she went to tell her friends all about it. They all went to the sign up sheet so they can enter the contest. Then they started to carve the pumpkin. Julie said I do not was to do anything normal like a smiley face on the pumpkin. I want to do something outrageous like put the word BOO or a witch on the pumpkin. Then somebody shouted let’s do a villain or a really scary face. It was the day of the contest and the judges got ready. They looked at each pumpkin and then the judges decided it was the scary pumpkin the little kids had made. They won!

– Jasmin

The essay that I want to write refuses to cooperate.

I shave my head so I can't pull out my hair, which I'd be doing right now if I had any.

I shave my head so I can’t pull out my hair, which I’d be doing now if I had any.

I’ve written two completely different drafts of an essay on celebrations and both of them stink. And that’s unfortunate, because writing time is valuable and I feel like I’m wasting it when I write something I don’t like. Somehow the essay in my head just isn’t making it through my fingers and onto the blank page.

Now, I’m starting to worry that my idea just isn’t strong enough. Maybe it isn’t clearly defined. Maybe my analogies need work or I need to see it from another angle. I don’t know, but it is driving me a bit nuts.

Here’s what I’m going to do. Even though the deadline is just hours away, I’m going to put it down for a while. I’m going to give myself some distance. Maybe I’ll ingest a bit of caffeine and see how that works.

What do you do when things aren’t working?

I am an extrovert among introverts.

I mentioned in a past post that though I am approaching the center of the introversion/extroversion continuum, I started out and still remain toward the extroverted side.This means that my history and thought patterns start from a place of extroversion, much in the same way that someone who is bilingual will still think in their original language.

That being the case, I often have a tough time understanding things like needing silence, being shy, or caving into a stronger personality. In most cases, I am the stronger personality and I don’t even realize when people are simply going along with my wishes. It isn’t that I intend to be rude or domineering. I can simply be unobservant to needs when they aren’t expressed verbally, and introverts won’t immediately tell you their needs if they don’t feel safe or they don’t trust you implicitly.

My wife and I don’t have so many of these struggles anymore, but early in our relationship, I learned a lot about my personality when she finally felt safe in telling me some of my foibles. And now, I see some of the traits of introversion in our eldest daughter.

Over the weekend, DeAnne and I had a family from church over to our house. Their youngest is just older than our eldest and it wasn’t long before peals of wild giggles rang through our small home. The adults let the girls play while we chatted over a meal and in the living room. But at the end of the evening, as we were saying goodbye, our eldest was nowhere to be seen. We found her in her bedroom on a makeshift bed (changing pad covered with blankets and pillows) because she and her friend were playing, and her friend told her to sleep there.

DeAnne and I have never been that successful in getting our eldest to get and stay in bed when it is bedtime.

Anyway, after our wonderful guests had gone home, DeAnne and I chatted about the games the girls were playing. It may have been because she was the younger of the two, but our eldest once again was happy to let someone else take the lead in the pretend playing, even if it meant that her bed was the one on the floor. This deferral mimics my wife’s personality much more than my own, so it seems like she might be more introverted than we first assumed.

I’ve learned (and I continue to learn) what it is like to be married to an introvert, but now I may need to learn what it means to be the parent of one. Or not. Who knows? She’s only three and maybe she was just pretending to be introverted.

If you have an introvert in your life, here’s an infographic comic by Schroeder Jones that I found helpful in relating to my wife (who particularly resonated with the hamster ball idea). Click the image to enlarge it.


In with Outlines

There are plenty of times when I wish I would have taken a few (or any) creative writing classes in college. Instead, I majored in Recreation and minored in Communication. Oh well. At least I learned how to juggle and can knowledgeably speak about the oligarchy that is mainstream media. Still, it would be nice to have some tools with which to craft my writing ideas into readable books.


Not this type of outline.

That said, I’m probably reinventing square wheels here, but I’ve developed a system for outlining my YA fantasy series that has proven helpful to me. Maybe it could help you too.

“But Josh,” you say. “I’m not a writer and I have no interest in becoming one.”

Fine. Don’t better yourself. That just means less competition in the slush pile. But seriously, even if you aren’t a writer, maybe the process will prove useful.

My 4 Step Outline Process:

  1. What is the problem that your character must overcome?
  2. What is the best way to solve the problem?
  3. What are the consequences of failing to solve the problem?
  4. What things will make solving the problem difficult?

Here’s an example from my book.

What is the problem that your character must overcome?
Daniel O’Ryan needs to find the Garden of Eden.

What is the best way to solve the problem?
Shamsiel, former Eden guardian, knows where to find it.

What are the consequences of failing to solve the problem?
Daniel won’t be able to get the fruit from the Tree of Life.

What things will make solving the problem difficult?
Shamsiel is reclusive and will only give the information needed if beaten in a duel.

“Okay,” you say. “That may be helpful in figuring out your plot lines, but how does it apply to real life?”

Here’s how to use this in real life.

What is the problem that you must overcome?
I need to wake up in time for work in the morning.

What is the best way to solve the problem?
Set an alarm clock.

What are the consequences of failing to solve the problem?
Getting to work late, losing my job, dying homeless and lonely.

What things will make solving the problem difficult?
Waking up is hard.

But that leaves out the important fifth step, doesn’t it? Indeed, it does.

The hidden fifth step is the novel solution that assures that the problem gets solved. In the case of waking up, perhaps the simple solution of setting an alarm clock needs to be made more effective by placing the alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.

The fifth step in the example from my novel is the part that I still need to write. But just being able to identify the problems that we face is helpful toward solving them. Problems tend to lose their power when we can name them and try to solve them individually. It is important to know the consequences of failure, but it is the fifth step (the novel solution) that should be the focus.

May your weekend be full of novel solutions to simple problems!

Just Saying No to the Altar Call

My friend and fellow weakling, Bob Evenhouse, sent me this email the Monday before last:

If you are feeling like stretching those writing muscles. This might be a great opportunity. Deadline is today, I think I am going to try.

Happy writing.


Attached below this was a plea for articles from Catapult Magazine, a bi-weekly online magazine based in Michigan that releases thematically linked issues. The magazine was a bit shy of articles for their “Just Say No” prompt. It’s a great little magazine that you should probably be reading if you aren’t already.

Anyway, I decided to give the prompt some thought and write what came to mind. The phrase “Just Say No” is often associated with refusing to participate in risky behavior (drugs, sex, etc.), so I tried to think about some good things that I’ve turned down in the past. What I came up with was the article linked below.

Left Behind: The Existential Crisis of the Summer Camp Altar Call


Be sure to read the other articles too. Here’s the one that Bob submitted. I’d love to hear your thoughts back here once you’re done.

I am indebted | Part Three


On Sunday, we went to the bank and paid off our last outstanding vehicle loan. We were able to do it earlier than expected because we finally sold our Saturn Vue, a vehicle that we probably just should have fixed when it broke instead of buying the Mazda 3 hatchback that we just paid off. Live and learn.

We had been trying to sell the Vue, off and on, ever since buying its replacement (the Mazda) a year ago, but until recently we never had any serious interest. And now I’m going to share why I think that was the case.

I don’t think we ever had the Vue overpriced. I ran all of my numbers through car sites like Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book and consistently listed it for less than what it was worth.

I don’t think the Vue was in too poor of shape to be fixed. For the price, anyone who was in the market for a dependable family vehicle could have purchased it and taken it to the mechanic for a thorough tune-up and still made out like a bandit.

I think the reason that it didn’t sell until recently is because God wanted to teach my wife and I something about priorities.

offering-plateMy wife and I have always given to the church when it worked out with our budget. Outsiders might even say that we were giving a good amount to the church. But the truth was that we were building up a Tithe Debt. The Bible encourages people to give regularly and happily. There are some people who say you should give ten percent, others who say differently, but the percentage is of secondary importance. Whatever amount you have decided to give, that is the amount that you should give. That’s the deal. And my wife and I weren’t living up to our end of the deal.

Ever since we got married, we kept track on our budget of the amount that we should be giving to the church. That number was based on ten percent of our gross earnings (before taxes are taken out). And for the life of our budget, we’ve seen that number grow and grow. We were giving consistently, but never to the degree that we had agreed we would. We simply gave what we thought we could afford after the other bills were paid.

But that changed when our pastor did a 12-step sermon series on reclaiming new territory in our lives. The series was set up like a 12-step program and followed Israel’s progress in conquering the promised land under Joshua’s leadership. Our pastor was talking as much about giving to the church as he was talking about getting out of unhealthy addictions to alcohol or whatever. My wife and I were convicted that we had been waiting on giving what we should until we felt that we could afford it. The truth was that we couldn’t afford to not give.

And so, for the last few months, we’ve cut a check to the church first, before any of the other bills get paid. We’ve tried to make smarter buying decisions. And we have a plan to pay off the Tithe Debt that we’ve accumulated. Part of that plan was to reallocate the funds that were paying for our vehicle loan. And now that loan is paid off.

Do I think that the timing between my household getting our financial hearts in order and being able to pay off one of our loans is a coincidence? Well, its possible. But I believe that God can work through coincidence as well as anything else, and the real point isn’t whether we sold our Vue when we did or not. The real point was that we were willing to put our money where it should have been all along.