Riddles in the Dark (Pre-School Edition)

On the way home from Grandma & Grandpa’s house last night, my wife and I were playing a game with our girls.

“What is the letter that starts the word ‘kangaroo’?” I would ask.

“Hmm,” my oldest daughter would say. “K!”

“Nice job!” I would affirm.

And then things went sideways.

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Here I am with my little Riddler.

“My turn!” yelled my eldest. “I have a tricky one!”

“Okay,” I said hesitantly. “What is my clue?”

“It doesn’t have hair,” she said.

We were no longer guessing letters of the alphabet. Now, we were in the realm of infinite possibilities.

“Is it me?” I asked. I shave my head after all.

“Nope,” she said. “Want another clue?”

“I think I’m going to need one,” I said.

“It doesn’t have feet,” she said.

“Hmm,” I pondered.

“I told you it was a tricky one,” she said.

Tricky indeed. After every guess I made, she told me I was wrong. Eventually she gave me additional clues. Here are all of the clues together:

  • It has no hair.
  • It has no feet.
  • It has no legs.
  • It has powers, but it doesn’t use them because it doesn’t know how.
  • It has a ponytail inside.
  • It is all pink.
  • It is a carnivore.
  • It wears dresses.
  • It is an animal.
  • It lives in our town.
  • It doesn’t live in a house.
  • It is five chairs big.
  • It has a short life.
  • It walks on its hands, inside-out. (I have no idea what this means.)
  • It wears underwear.
  • It says, “I love you.”
  • It is nice.
  • It has a mouth.
  • It has a tail made of yarn.
  • It has a drawer, but the drawer is bare.

So, dear reader, I need your help. This is a tricky riddle indeed. Do any of you have any ideas of what it could be? Because I honestly don’t know.

And I suspect that my oldest daughter doesn’t either.

Icebreaker #11 | What’s your ideal vacation?

This is the eleventh installment of my Icebreaker series. Pack your bags.

What’s your ideal vacation?

This is actually a very timely post. My wife and I are trying to decide what we’re going to do for our 10 year anniversary. Will we travel? Should we wait and save up some money first? Do we want a relaxing seaside experience or a historically or geographically significant trip? Here are a few options that all sound pretty good.

Option 1 – Museum Central

My wife and I genuinely enjoy learning. I know what you are thinking. What nerds! Well, think whatever you want. We like learning.

To that end, we like going to museums and historical sites and places with little plaques full of writing. There are a number of places that could fit this description. We could go to the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, the Field Museum or the Museum of Science and Industry. There’s the whole city of Boston or Philadelphia or Washington D.C. But if I’m going to choose the ideal vacation, I’m probably going to be thinking further afield.

eagle-and-child2As a huge fantasy nerd, I would love to have a pint at the Eagle and Child where the Inklings met, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Roger Lancelyn Green and all the rest of them read their work aloud. And as it happens, I just made a friend who lives in Oxford where the Eagle and Child (and a bunch of other historical highlights) happen to be.

Option 2 – Relaxation and Geological Features

palm_treeWind and waves and sun and volcanoes (the friendly kind, not the kind that cover villages). Yes, I’m talking about Hawaii. I wouldn’t need a passport, just a bucket of cash and a suitcase full of sunscreen. Oh, and a good book (or maybe a good used bookstore full of good books). I think my wife and I would want to divide our time between soaking in some vitamin D and exploring the unique features that volcanic islands offer.

I’m sure that I’d be happy with either of these options. And even happier if someone else wanted to bankroll them for us. Any takers?

What is your ideal vacation like?

I may be prolific, but you don’t have to be.

This is a follow-up post to yesterday’s post on how to post everyday. Post. Sorry, I just wanted to get one more mention of post in there, but it didn’t quite fit. Yesterday, I gave a few tips on how to get content regularly onto a blog, but today I’m going to ask you to forget about what I said. Well, forget about it if it isn’t helpful for you.

9780849964800I attended a speaking & book signing event tonight with Sheridan Voysey, author of Resurrection Year (Thomas Nelson, 2013) and the forthcoming book, Resilient (Discovery House, 2015). After speaking through his experiences that were laid out in his books, Sheridan opened up the floor for questions.

As great of a writer as I think Sheridan is, he may even be better at asking and answering questions. It probably has something to do with his years as one of Australia’s top radio program hosts. One of the questions that he was asked related to his practice of journal writing. In order to capture his experiences over the span of life covered in Resurrection Year, Sheridan relied heavily upon his journals. The question asked was on how to keep writing in a journal when you hit a dry spell in your writing life.

529090_21140214Sheridan responded by saying that journals should serve the writer, not the other way around. He uses journals to capture the highs and the lows, the questions and the discoveries. If there isn’t anything to talk about relating to these things, don’t write in them.

He said that he may go for a few weeks between writing in his journal, but he is still a big advocate for keeping one.

I would like to draw some parallels between Sheridan’s journal advice and what could be a healthy approach to blogging. If your blog is your online journal, if its audience is made up of you and the people with whom you choose to share it, then by no means should you feel compelled to write everyday or even all that regularly. But if you are blogging in order to hone your writing or to gather an audience, then don’t treat it like a journal.

As with any project worth doing, you are going to have to ask yourself why you are doing it. I don’t think it is possible to write for no purpose (you’ll either write something worthwhile or learn something by writing), but I do think you should know your goals.

Why do you write? And how often? I’d love to hear your answers!

I am prolific.

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Twice this past week, I’ve heard the same question from writers I know:

“Josh, would you please stop plagiarizing my writing?”

Just kidding. That wasn’t the question. At least, it isn’t the one I’m going to talk about in today’s blog. The real question is this:

“Josh, how do you blog so much? I would run out of things to say.”

Let’s be honest, if you’ve been reading my blog consistently, you’ll know that most of it is drivel and I don’t have all that much to say. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I’m saying worthwhile things (at least some of time). How do I find something to talk about nearly everyday?

I cheat. That’s right, I cheat. And the best part about it is that I’m doing it using rules. I say this because I’ve set up my blog to run along a certain format. If you are a writer looking to post consistently to your blog, I’d suggest that you do the same thing.

Here are my rules:

Monday – “I am” post. What have I done this past week? What is a label that could apply to me? What story from my past could I start with the phrase “I am”?

Tuesday – Free day. I can talk about whatever comes to mind. A few of the recent categories of posts include flash fiction stories, book reviews, my job, a response to some interesting link that I find online, meta-blogging, word origins, and current events. My blog doesn’t follow a specific focus (like the experts will tell you it should (and they are probably right)), so I have the freedom to write as though in a journal and share things that I find interesting.

Wednesday – Multiple series post. Lately, I’ve been working through 15 Icebreaker Questions. Those questions are going to give me 16 weeks of posts where I know exactly what I’m going to write about. It’ll be 17 if I do a retrospective post at the end. Series of posts are nice because you’ll know what to expect from yourself.

Thursday – Another free day. See Tuesday’s rule.

Friday – Links post. Surf the web, find some places worth sharing, share them. Boom!

Saturday – Lego prompt post. When I have time to take a picture, I’ll set up a scene with my Lego figurines and take a picture. Now it is up to other writers to make something of the photo. This encourages interaction on my blog and hopefully saves someone the pain of having to come up with an idea for their own post.

Am I suggesting that you follow the rules that I’ve set up for myself? No. Make your own rules. If you want to focus your blog posts (which you probably should), then develop rules that relate to your focus. If this were a gardening blog, I’d probably want to follow something like this schedule: Monday – Plant feature, Tuesday – Gardening tip, Wednesday – Gardening book review, Thursday – How to use a specific plant in cooking, Friday – Garden pictures (inviting readers to send in pictures of their own gardens), and every now and again, I’d throw in a guest post from some gardening friend or expert.

If you think you’d run out of things to blog about, you probably won’t. I haven’t yet. Will it take more time than you want to give it? Probably, but that’s a different question, isn’t it. (Look, I just found the topic for another blog post for another day!)

Happy blogging fellow writers!

 

P.S. Happy Birthday to my big brother, Bob! I don’t know if you still read this drivel, Bob, but I hope you have a great day either way.

Friday 5 | Click-worthy Links

Wireless Computer Mouse with Wheel

Here are 5 more places online worth checking out:

  1. Take a gander at Tolkien’s original art for the dust jacket of The Hobbit. Man, that dude was talented.
  2. Just when you think that anarchy is starting to look appealing, the government goes and does something right.
  3. I don’t think this would ever happen today, but there was once a day where the news had nothing new to talk about (so they played music instead).
  4. Just when you think you know all of the reasons to love Mister Rogers, you find out that every sweater he wore on his show was knitted by his mother.
  5. Have you ever wondered what would happen if an Astronaut just went nuts in space?

Enjoy!

Sheridan Voysey is Coming to West Michigan!

sheridan_voysey_booksigningI probably should have let you know sooner, but you still have time to cancel your other plans. Next Monday (April 27th), Sheridan Voysey is coming to Grand Rapids. He’ll be doing a speaking and book signing event at Baker Book House at 7pm.

You are probably thinking that Sheridan’s name sounds familiar, but you can’t quite place it. Sheridan is the author of Resurrection Year (which I reviewed here) and has some books coming out soon from my publisher, Discovery House. He is the former host of one of the top radio shows in Australia, now residing and working from his new home in Oxford, England. He writes, he speaks, he’s awesome.

Check out his story (and his accent!):

I encourage you to come to Sheridan’s event next Monday. He’s come from half a world away just to be with us in West Michigan. His new book, Resilient, comes out in October.

Icebreaker #10 | What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?

This is the tenth installment of my Icebreaker series. Grab the milk.

What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?

When it comes to breakfast, eating cereal is a race against time. You only have so long for even the most delicious of breakfast delights to transform into nasty inedible mush.

For example, Cinnamon Life cereal is delicious, but you have maybe one minute before things get gross. For Cocoa Krispies, thirty seconds.

oatmeal_squaresBut then I found Quaker Oatmeal Squares.

Oh man.

Not only are they tasty, they don’t immediately turn into a paste-like sludge like most of the competition. The window of opportunity is closer to four or five minutes, and that is really important when you have small children who somehow time their neediest moments to sync up with when you pour milk on your cereal.

Quaker Oatmeal Squares come in a variety of flavors, but I prefer the brown sugar. And I’m not sure if it is a good thing or not, but my kids really like it too. So on the upside, it is considerably healthier than a lot of cereals whose first five ingredients are sugar. On the downside, I have to share it, and as a recovering selfish person, I struggle sometimes.

What is your favorite breakfast cereal?

Psychological Warfare

A little while ago, I happened upon a list of psychology tricks that a person can use in order to manipulate others. I immediately loved it. I think psychology is probably one of the closest things to a superpower that non-mutants can possess. Just take a look at this list.

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Now I really want to play rock paper scissors with someone. Of course if you read this post, you can easily thwart me by throwing paper (which covers rock, which still makes no sense to me since the worst thing a paper can do is give paper cuts and rocks really hurt). Or maybe I’d be anticipating that…

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This is really handy in a bookstore setting from a bookseller’s point of view. It can be a good way to get a book into a person’s hands. Psychology also states that once a person has held something, even for a brief time, they are more likely to buy it because holding something triggers something in our brains that gives us a sense of ownership over that thing. And then the challenge is to get the book or item back out of their hand and hold it for them at the checkout counter. You see, most people are reluctant to ask an employee to re-shelve an item and will buy it out of guilt over the amount of work they will cause if they do so.

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I’ve tried this with my wife. I also like to pester her incessantly instead of waiting silently for her to continue talking. I think both are effective.

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My bosses never appreciated this one, mainly because it is super awkward when I bring my chair around to their side of the desk to sit next to them. But I suppose this would work better in meetings that consist of more than two people. I guess if I ever find myself in this type of situation, I’ll try it, but I’ll just work hard at not making other people mad at me in the first place.

Do you have any favorite psychological tricks? How would you feel about people using these on you?

For the full list of tricks, visit here.

I am Josh, creator of worlds.

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In the last month or so, the members of my writer’s group have been challenging each other to write more short stories to submit for publication. The idea is that if we are writing and getting published, then we might have some credibility on the subject. And that is important since we want to do some speaking engagements at writers’ conferences about short stories.

I love short stories. I love all stories in general, but short ones are nice for me because I don’t always have the staying power that long ones require. That doesn’t mean that I don’t dream about long-form fiction. But dreaming isn’t writing any more than wishing to be skinny is exercising.

The problem I have with short stories is that I get the seed of an idea and then it keeps growing. When it grows big enough, by all rights it should become a novel. But I have three unfinished novels currently moldering under a pile of good intentions to finish them and no plans to do so. So keeping my vision for short stories small is important.

But…

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about fantasy stories. There’s a flash fiction contest coming up from Splickety Publishing Group that focuses on fantasy and sci-fi, and I intend to make an entry. As a result, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite fantasy stories: Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Discworld, Fablehaven, Harry Potter, etc.

Want to take a guess as to how many of these are representative of flash fiction? I’ll save you the trouble. None of them.

Fantasy stories are made to be long, because half the fun of having a fantasy story is in creating the world in which the story is set. And a good world need rules. If there is magic, how does it work? What are the fantastic creatures like? Are there gods or deities meddling in the affairs of men? How did the world come to be in the first place?

Once you make the playground for your characters to run around in, it is nice to take to your time with a long page count and let them run free. Restricting them to a 500 word count is hard.

And yet, that’s my plan. My seed of an idea is growing, but I think I can break it up in flash fiction tidbits. Essentially, I’m going to create a series of related stories set in the fantasy world I’m designing. Will it work? I don’t know. But that’s not going to stop me from trying.

Would you read a series of flash fiction posts set in the same fantasy world? Do you like world-building? What is your favorite fantasy series and why?