Enough to Break the Ice -or- 15 Answers to Icebreaker Questions

These are the short answers to the questions that I ask when I’m trying to get to know someone. For fuller answers, read the linked posts.

  1. What do you like to read? Fiction, mostly fantasy-based.
  2. If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose? Time-stopping.
  3. What’s your favorite movie? Why? The Royal Tenenbaums, because it has an excellent cast, is cleverly written, and beautifully shot.
  4. Which radio station do you listen to? 88.1 FM WYCE.
  5. What’s your favorite type of sandwich? Ice Cream Sandwich.
  6. Do you have any fun holiday traditions? Lego Christmas Ornaments.
  7. Which group did you fall into in high school? Snooty band geeks.
  8. What’s your standard drink order? Dr Pepper.
  9. What’s the last movie/book/thing that made you really think? Nation by Terry Pratchett.
  10. What’s your favorite breakfast cereal? Quaker Oatmeal Squares.
  11. What’s your ideal vacation? Either educational or relaxing… or both.
  12. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Night sloth.
  13. Do you have any million-dollar ideas? Spoonula.
  14. If a genie gave you one wish (and you can’t wish for more wishes), what would you wish for? Return to my childhood with all my current memories.
  15. What was your favorite subject in school? English.

Am I missing anything? Was there anything about me that you were hoping I’d answer?

How Much Does a Polar Bear Weigh? -or- 15 Icebreaker Questions

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These are the questions that I ask when I’m trying to get to know someone. Feel free to steal them.

  1. What do you like to read?
  2. If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
  3. What’s your favorite movie? Why?
  4. Which radio station do you listen to?
  5. What’s your favorite type of sandwich?
  6. Do you have any fun holiday traditions?
  7. Which group did you fall into in high school?
  8. What’s your standard drink order?
  9. What’s the last movie/book/thing that made you really think?
  10. What’s your favorite breakfast cereal?
  11. What’s your ideal vacation?
  12. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
  13. Do you have any million-dollar ideas?
  14. If a genie gave you one wish (and you can’t wish for more wishes), what would you wish for?
  15. What was your favorite subject in school?

In fact, if you felt like answering them below, that would be cool with me. It’d be nice to get to know some of you a bit better. Or if you are blogger, write a post and drop the link in the comments.

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.

Chalk_Outline_LIFE_May_18_1953

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!

8 Questions | Meet Author Lisa Williams Kline

YA Author, Lisa Williams Kline

Last week, I posted a link to my review for Lisa Williams Kline’s book, The Summer of the Wolves. After reading the book and writing up my review, I wrote the author and asked if she would be willing to do an interview with me.

Long-story-short, she was. Though Lisa’s books are meant for a different audience than thirty-year-old guys like me, I enjoyed her portrayal of family, and the research that she conducted to prepare for her writing really comes through. I hope you’ll enjoy the interview and I hope you’ll go out and buy her books (at your local Christian bookstore, of course) and enjoy them as well.

The interview:

1. YA Fiction writer, Melissa Kantor, once said, “Writing about teenagers (for me), means not just remembering but being willing to dwell in that place where life felt like walking a tightrope without a net.” How do you get into the mindset of modern teenage girls?

That is a great quote! When people have asked me about writing for young people, I have jokingly told them that I am emotionally stuck at age thirteen. That’s just a joke, of course (I hope) but I will admit to being overly self-conscious and sensitive to criticism, which can be part of the teen mindset. There is a heightened awareness as a teen about being excluded socially and I still feel that, even as an adult. I also have two daughters – grown now – and raising them helped me reenter that space. I also taught a creative writing workshop for teens for several years, and so I got to be around them for a couple of hours a week. Teens can be vulnerable and carry their pain outside themselves and I can feel it and so deeply empathize with them.

2. Your book, Summer of the Wolves, includes a lot of descriptive information about animals. How did you do your research?

I have tried to find an expert to interview or meet with for each of my books. For example, for Wild Horse Spring I spent a day with the herd manager for the wild horses on the Outer Banks. And for Winter’s Tide, I did several telephone interviews with two professors from UNC Wilmington who are experts on whale strandings. For my current book, I have visited a wildlife rehabilitator. And of course I do research online.

3. Describe your writing space.

Wow, no one has ever asked me that! It’s such a mess. I have turned one of the bedrooms of our house into an office and I have an L-shaped desk against the window and one wall. Bookcases line the other two walls. On top of the bookcases are pictures of my family. All along the floor are piles of notes from classes, manuscripts, and so on. I keep research materials from each novel stacked in plastic bins beside my desk. And then there are two severely neglected hanging plants that have managed to survive for many years. Oh, and our Dachshund/Chihuahua mix, Calvin Kline, perpetually snores on the floor behind me.

4. After listing your many academic achievements, you mention in the biography on your website (http://lisawilliamskline.com) that you learned to drive a forklift for a recent job. What is the story there?

I had an administrative job several years ago working for a company that sold cleaning powder for printing presses. The powder came in gigantic bins that had to be moved by forklift, so I had to learn to drive one. I was pretty tentative about it, but my boss said at least I didn’t poke a hole in the wall, which some of the previous employees had done.

5. Though your books are available at all the major book chains and Amazon, you ask readers to support the independent booksellers. First, as an employee at one of those Indie bookstores, thank you. Second, why is it important to you to support the Indies?

Most writers I know love independent bookstores. Every independent bookstore has its own personality. The employees give customers personal attention, and they go out of their way to work with authors. Right now an independent bookstore near me has put up a display of my books since I’m a local author. I was so touched!

6. Any advice for aspiring writers?

Never underestimate the benefit of practice. People would never dream of trying to play basketball or a musical instrument without practicing, but they often think that writing doesn’t require practice. But it’s just like anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. Also, be persistent. I have been in workshops and critique groups with so many people who were more talented than I am, but I was just more persistent. I kept at it after others gave up.

7. What book is on your nightstand?

Oh, gosh, I’m so flattered, this is the kind of question all those famous writers get asked and I am always intimidated by what they say. I have about twenty books on my nightstand! It drives my husband crazy because every week or so one of our cats walks on the stack and knocks them over. Okay, I just went and looked. State of Wonder and Run by Ann Patchett, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler, Traveling Mercies by Ann Lamott, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann. B. Ross, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, The Beginner’s Goodbye by Ann Tyler, Ask the Passengers by A. S. King, Georgie’s Moon by my friend Chris Woodworth and Madhattan Mystery by my friend John J. Bonk.

8. What do you want people to know aside from your writing?

Hmmm.  When I was young I made a silent movie with some of the other kids in the neighborhood that was called “A Railroad Tie” or “Marriage on the Tracks.” The movie was about a penniless young woman who couldn’t pay her rent and a mean landlord and a handsome hero who leaped on camera to say, “I’ll pay the rent!” and then married her. I didn’t write the screenplay – a very talented young man who lived down the street did that – but I did write the subtitles on cards. I held them up and instructed my dad, the photographer, only to shoot the cards and absolutely not to get me in the picture. Of course, like any doting dad, he did not follow my instructions, so we had these home movies of plump me, wearing my cat-eye glasses, holding the cards. I was mortified.

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

Thanks Lisa! I wish you many successful books ahead!

I am a father.

Josh, DeAnne w/ Internal Baby, and AdieThere is a question that I get asked from time to time, mostly from strangers or acquaintances with whom I have not spoken in a while. It is an innocent enough question, but it throws me for a loop every time it is asked. I have no idea how to answer it.

The question is this: “How many kids to you have?”

The answer is three. Or one. Or possibly two. It depends on how close we are, or how unprepared I am for the question, or how you view the moment when a life comes into being.

Here’s the thing. My wife and I lost our first daughter, Addison Paige, when my wife was 7 months pregnant with her. Doctors ran tests and couldn’t find any obvious reasons why she died. One day, my wife was feeling lots of movement, I was reading The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh to her tummy, and we were searching for the right crib and bedding set. The next day, she was gone.

It was a tough time. My work gave me the week off to take care of my family. But rather than giving her the six weeks time off to which she was entitled, my wife’s boss asked if she was going to come in two days later and whether she could pick up a shift a few days after that (she said no). My wife was also in college and this happened right at exam time.

Friends and family rallied around us. Money that was going to go for a crib went toward a headstone. Our pastor got to perform his first funeral (he’s a young guy). We grieved. We were cared for.

After some time had passed, we tried again. On October 1st, 2010, our second daughter, Adelaide November, was born, healthy and large as life itself.

The whole pregnancy, up to the moment when we heard her first cry in the delivery room, my wife and I now felt mixed emotions on being pregnant. It was an exciting deal, but there was no assurance that we would get to keep this baby. I guess that’s just something you deal with as a parent of a child who died.

Around the time Adie turned one, we were ready to try for another child. Honestly, I was ready before my wife was, but we both got there in the end. As of this post, my wife is very ready to have our third daughter, [NAME REDACTED], in July. We have her room all ready. Adie has no idea what is going on, but at least she won’t remember a time when she was the only child. We’re looking forward to bringing another little girl home.

So, the question. How many kids do you have?

I have three. But the answer isn’t as simple as that. People who see my family all together can count. They see one child running around. If they are smart, they see my pregnant wife and figure out that I am counting our baby-to-be-born. But the third, that requires a story. It is a personal story that makes people say things like “I’m sorry,” and “I didn’t know.”

It would be easier to say that we have one right now and one on the way. At least then the visible numbers would add up. But is it right?

I don’t know. That’s why the question is hard. It forces me to decide whether or not to share a personal story that may or may not make the asker feel uncomfortable.

Today is Father’s Day, a festive day necktie-giving and breakfast in bed, but I can’t help but wonder how many fathers are in the same boat as me, unsure of how to celebrate being a father when one of your children is gone. Time may cover the wound, but it never fully heals. You never stop thinking about what could have been, and how old she would be now.

So to those fathers, Happy Father’s Day. Someday you’ll see your kids again.

8 Questions | Meet Author M. I. McAllister

M. I. McAllister

A while back, I reviewed the first book in the Mistmantle Chronicles by M. I. McAllister, Urchin of the Riding Stars. I’ll save you the time of reading the review and tell you that it was an excellent book.

I wanted to thank the author for writing it, so I found her website and sent off an email of thanks and a link to my review.

I really didn’t expect to hear anything back, but the next day, I got a message in my inbox from Margi McAllister herself! We’ve written back and forth a couple of times since, so I asked if I could interview her on my blog. She kindly consented.

Here are the questions I asked:

– What does your writing space look like?

– What passes through your brain when you see one of your books on the shelf at a bookshop?

– What do you want people to know about your aside from your writing?

– How did you get into writing?

– Any advice for other writers?

– What would you do if you could no longer write books?

– If you could have an afternoon with a character from one of your books, who would you choose? Why?

– What book is on your nightstand at the moment?

Here are her responses:

My writing space at present is tucked away at the top of the house.  We have a converted attic, which is one long room divided up by the furniture.  At one end is my daughter’s room (she’s grown up and lives away from home, so she’s not often there,)  at the other end is my study, and in between is the Pink Sitting-Room where men are only allowed if they take off their shoes and promise not to talk about football.

The laptop sits on a rather elegant writing bureau which I bought for very little in an antique market, and there are masses of deep bookshelves, crammed solid.  It looks untidy, but I know which heap everything is in!  The clutter is more to do with the work I do for children’s clubs and school visits.  And when I look up from the desk I have a beautiful view of the moors.

You ask about what passes through my mind when I see one of my books in a shop.  There’s a little jump of my heart to see that they’ve got it, followed by – why haven’t they sold that yet?

What do I want people to know about me apart from my writing?  Not a lot, really, except my storytelling sessions!  Anything I do want to talk about is on the blog, which is From The House of Stories (you can find it through the website at www.margaretmcallister.co.uk .  Things I want to share – about faith, about the things I care about, about what’s going on nationally or locally, and anything I find funny – are all in there.  I’m passionate about justice, and about doing the best for children.  I’m blessed to have lived in and visited some blessed and beautiful places, and I like sharing them.  I love gardens, history, and wildlife.  Of course my family are more than vital to me, but I don’t want my children’s privacy invaded so I’m a bit cautious in what I say about them.

I’ve always written.  I was born that way, and I can’t help it.  That’s my defense, and I’m sticking with it.  At school I was always writing things, (usually when I was supposed to be something else) and I have a great record of failing to get published.  Then, when my youngest son started school, I took an evening class in writing short stories.  That led to me getting stories published in magazines, which gave me confidence to write my first book, A Friend for Rachel, later renamed The Secret Mice.

For other writers – read.  Read.  Read more.  If you like a book, what made it work for you?  If you didn’t, what was wrong with it?  Don’t just think about writing, do it.  And don’t wait for inspiration.  Just write.

What would I do if I could no longer write?  I often wonder about this!  I use to say I’d retrain in geriatric care – lots of people want to look after little children, but there’s nothing so attractive about looking after elderly, and they’re so important.  But since injuring my back, I don’t think I  could do all that heavy lifting.  I’d have to go back to one of the jobs I’ve done before – home tutoring, adult education, caring for a beautiful old building, working in a retreat house, or washing up in a coffee shop – I’m not too proud to get my hands dirty!

Which of my characters would I like to spend an afternoon with?  What a great question!  It’s not one I’ve ever considered before.  Kazy Clare from Hold My Hand and Run would be great company.  I admire Thomasin from High Crag Linn enormously, but she can be a bit prickly.  I’d love to spend an afternoon with Fingal, because he makes me laugh, or Urchin with all those adventures to talk about.   Or Sepia – she’s a calm, gentle person, but so tough inside.  But if I could only choose one, it would have to be Crispin.  The hero’s hero.  He has such experience and wisdom, such a strong centre, and a way of noticing more than he lets on.  And a perfect gentle-squirrel.  (Do you think we could meet in Fir’s turret, so he could be there, too?  He contains elements of people who were very dear to me.)

What am I reading just now?  Several things at once.  An Aspect of Fear, by Grace Sheppard, who was the wife of the Bishop of Liverpool.  She was agoraphobic, and wrote from her experiences of dealing with fear while filling a public role.

I love anything by Simon Parke, who writes with authority about quietness, meditation, and the need to embrace simplicity.  The book of his I have on the go just now is The Beautiful Life.  I heard him speak at Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival a few years ago.

My younger son introduced me to the works of Terry Pratchett, and I LOVE Discworld!  They are clever, moving, great page-turners, and actually have some depth.  Did I mention that they’re laugh out loud funny?  Just now I’m reading Lords and Ladies.  A unicorn just got lost on the way through a stone circle.  As Granny Weatherwax would say, oh deary, deary me.

I normally edit things so they follow more of a question/answer format, but I didn’t want to risk editing out the beautiful answers that Margi gave.

I sincerely hope that you’ll go out and buy as many of her books as you can carry. Thanks for reading!

I am a husband. Part II

A while back, I was inspired by a series of posts that Jessie Clemence had done on her blog and I interviewed my wife. That interview has proven to be one of my most popular posts over time, which makes sense, because my wife makes everything better.

Well, anyway, she and I were chatting about ideas for blog posts and she asked if I would consent to her interviewing me. I did. Here are her questions and my answers.

What are you looking forward to most about being a father of two?

I love being a parent and seeing you (my wife) as a parent. Our daughter is simply adorable and I can’t wait to see another little girl who is half me and half you (my wife again). Also, I’m looking forward to seeing how Adie is with her sister.

What other hobbies do you have besides writing?

I collect Lego sets, specifically the viking, adventure, and castle sets. Though I just saw some Lord of the Rings themed sets that make me want to eat my words about how I hate that Lego is going after franchises. I also collect Dr Pepper knock-offs (the regional drinks that try their best to be Dr Pepper without coming anywhere close). My favorite is probably Doctor by the Our Family brand, because it didn’t even bother to come up with a replacement for Pepper like Dr. Thunder, Dr. Nehi, and Dr. M did. Plus, I am a fan of the show Doctor Who, who also goes by simply, the Doctor.

What is something that you do that gives you personal satisfaction or makes you proud?

I am a sucker for praise, especially of any of my creative endeavors. I know that I should care less or not at all what other people think about stuff, but I also know that I’m a born people-pleaser, and it makes me happy to make other people happy. If I can create a thing that gives joy, it will give me joy. It is probably strange then that one of my novels is dystopian and doesn’t end happily. I guess I’m complicated.

If you could be any character from your novels or short stories, which would you be? Why?

I would love to be Tom, the invisible roommate of my Thom & Tom series. He’s such a goofball and doesn’t care what people think about him. He lives by his own rules and whether he intends to or not, brings a bit of joy to his roommate, Thom. Also, he’s invisible, so that’s pretty cool.

If you could make any book you’ve read reality, what would you choose?

I love the idea that M. I. McAllister’s Mistmantle series could be happening for real somewhere, that there could really be an island of chivalrous squirrels, playful otter, bustling hedgehogs, and hardworking moles living in harmony. Plus, many of my other favorite books have some pretty scary bits that I would hate to see in reality.

What is it that, in your opinion, makes you so incredibly awesome?

My wife. She’s the awesome one. You were probably just thinking of her. I don’t blame you. I like to think of her too.

If you could have a super power, which would you choose? Would you let people know about your power or use a secret identity?

I would like the ability to transform one kind of substance into another kind of substance, like iron into gold, or dirt into gasoline. I would be called “The Alchemist”. Unless I had some kind of invincibility that went along with my other powers, I would keep my identity secret. I have a feeling that I wouldn’t be safe otherwise. Plus, my family would always be in danger of being kidnapped for ransom and such. So yeah, a secret identity would be good. I’m not sure how I’d fight crime, but I bet I could give more to charity, and that’s like the same thing.

Do you have a guilty pleasure? What is it?

I very much enjoy the game Diablo II. I know that Diablo III just came out, and someday I’m sure we’ll get it, but at the moment, I don’t know when we’d play.

Do you think watching TV can help or hurt your writing and level of creativity?

I’m a bit torn on this question. I was a the quintessential couch potato growing up, and I consumed a lot of television. As a result, I learned a lot about how stories are put together and about characters that I enjoyed. I would come up with stories and drawings based on what I had seen on television. Today, I watch a couple of shows every few weeks, but I don’t have time for much more. If I were as addicted to television now as I was when I was growing up, I know that my writing would suffer, but more due to the time constraints than to being dumbed down by TV.

What is one things that never fails to make you laugh?

Juvenile bodily functions. Every time.

What is your favorite book of all time?

I have to pick just one? Probably The Hobbit, because of its unique point of view. Not many books can pull off a third person story told by a first person narrator with second person asides.

If you could only use 4 words to describe yourself, what would they be?

Married, Genial, Creative, Inquisitive

What is the best part of being my husband?

The best part is the fact that I don’t have to leave you at the end of the date anymore. When we were dating, I hated going home. Now your home is my home. As far as specifically be married to you though, I love that you are good at things like math and budgets, and that I know I can trust you will all areas of life.

Didn’t my wife ask a bunch of well-thought-out, wonderful questions? I’m starting to think that she should be the one with the blog.

Win Stuff | The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Box Set

Leave me a comment with your ideas for this blog. Now. Do it now.

You could be as happy as me if you win this set of books.

Here’s the deal. I’m giving away a box set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is the set that I bought right after the Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters. I bought it to replace the well-worn copies that my dad had laying around. Well, I still have those well-worn copies. Also, my wife brought a really nice hardcover set into the marriage. As much as it pains me to say this, I don’t need three copies of the same series. So I’m giving this box set away.

If you’ve never read the whole series, now’s your chance. If you are quick about it, you can just finish them in time for the arrival of The Hobbit (part one) in the theaters this December.

So how can you win?

Simple. Just tell me what you’d like to see from this blog of mine. Share with me any questions that you have, any ideas for posts, any themes or categories that I’m lacking. Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll pull the winner next Monday, April 30th, and announce the results here on my blog.

The Fine Print: I’m not made of money, so although I love international comments, I can’t ship internationally. Sorry about that.