Absent-Minded Ramblings

On the Writing Road Again

Not that I’m travelling, just can’t get the song out of my head.

I’m burning the candles to get through my second book (well, third, but second that will be published). This has been harder than any of the others, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I’m finally in the third act.

Finishing the second act felt great, but then the third act punched me in the face and I was on the ground in tears (manly tears!). But today I am all smiles. Yesterday, I sat down with my third act and outlined the living $#%& out of it. Chapter by chapter. No more mister nice guy. It was some serious tough love, but when the day was over, I stood standing over a fully-outlined third act that didn’t suck.

Today I took that outline for a test drive, writing the first of eight final chapters. Imagine my surprise when I completed the chapter exactly where I had hoped, and it was neither way too short nor a billion pages long. It was just fight. The Goldilocks of chapters. And now I feel the juices flowing. Departed on the next chapter, and it felt good, too. Real good. Like ‘dang! I’m a writer!’ good.

So consider this an official countdown. Seven chapters to go until the first rough draft is complete.

Then the rewrites begin…

T-Minus One Week To Halloween

Halloween is kind of a big thing for me.

As a storyteller, October is my busiest month, and I am booked solid for most of the month. Some of my bookings for October occur months in advance, and my calendar fills up very quickly. I imagine it is the same for many storytellers in the area. For whatever reason, people are more open to hearing stories in October.

I’m sort of saying this as a public service announcement. You see, I am getting more and more inquiries asking if I can come perform at people’s Halloween parties the closer we get to Halloween. I got another one today. On October 25.

I’ve sort of, kind of, been booked for Oct 31 since, like, August.

So if any of you out there are thinking about getting a storyteller on Halloween itself (which is a great idea and I whole-heartedly endorse it), don’t wait until the week before Halloween to book your entertainment. The only storytellers available by then will be twitchy, wart-covered drunks named Blurty Blurt-Blurt. And he’s really bad. Trust me.

My First Official Celebrity Blurb!

I’m writing a book.

Actually, I’ve written a book. A couple of books, in fact. But one’s being published. I’m very excited, it’s kind of a big deal for me. See, back in April, I sold my Middle Grade Horror novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, to Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House. I did a few flips on the bed in celebration and only hurt myself a little bit.

The book comes out this coming August–10 months from now. I have gone through the whole editing process, dealt with getting an illustrator, written an acknowledgment and a dedication, the whole nine yards. Not long ago, I received a box of Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs to those of us ‘in the industry’) and did a double-take when I saw a quote by a genuine, New York Times Best-Selling Author on the cover of my book, meaning a book that was written by me, saying my book was awesome.

The kind, kind, wonderful author who bothered to read my book and then tell my publisher it was great is Chris Grabenstein. You may recognize his name from his bestsellers Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library or The Island of Dr. Libris. Or from his best-selling middle grade collaborations with James Patterson such as I, Funny, Treasure Hunters, or House of Robots.

He’s da bomb in Middle Grade fiction. And he said, “Such deliciously creepy fun! I fell in love with Dr. Fell! So will urchins and whippersnappers everywhere.”

I haven’t figured out why the third sentence is only a period and not an exclamation point, but I’m trying not to sweat it.

What the Audience Doesn’t Know

Earlier today, I got all dolled up in period dress and preformed The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for an appreciative crowd at Warner Library. The event  was the Gunpowder Kids awards, where kids who have volunteered in the village throughout the year are celebrated. A good group, of all ages, and they ate it up.

My performance is a fully-memorized one-man show. It spans around 25 minutes, tells the whole story using Irving’s words, and generally leaves the audience satisfied. Right in the middle of the story, however, my mind went absolutely, 100% blank. I just plum lost everything. One second I was running full steam ahead, the next my head was as empty as leaky bucket. Which I would think would be very empty. Hence the metaphor.

Work with me, people.

So I broke into that special, split-personality thing performers do when their body is going through the motions while the mind is scrambling for something. I sort of half-repeated what I’d just said, slowing down both for effect and a desire to stretch out the time, while my mind backed-up and quickly ran through it again, trying to figure out what I’d missed. It didn’t work. I gave up backing up and scanned ahead, looking for a good place to jump back into the story. Meanwhile, my lips started babbling random words that felt like they belonged, trying desperately not to lose the audience.

After what seemed forever, but was probably only a few seconds, I dove back in with both feet and got back into the rhythm of the story. Yes, I had skipped some things–and of course once I started, I realized where I’d gone wrong and had to resist the urge to go back–but I managed to pull the train into the station, so to speak.

When I was done, everyone erupted with applause. They loved it. And not a one had any idea that I’d utterly blanked in the middle of the show. I even asked a couple of my friends if they’d noticed anything, but they didn’t. They thought I had been perfect.

This has happened before. Point of fact, I doubt I have ever done one of my one-man shows the same way twice. I used to wonder why the audience seemed oblivious to my obvious missteps. But I long ago realized the key to getting through these momentary mind-erasures–bluff. As long as I seem confident, nobody knows the difference. Bluff and bluster and just keep saying something. Anything.

What the audience doesn’t know can’t hurt you.

Defending the Title

Tonight, my wife and I are descending upon a yearly, Halloween-themed, local charity dinner. We are going because it is for a good cause and because we want to help out, but mostly because we won Best Costumed Couple last year and we have to defend our title.

Last year we had a make-up artist turn us into zombies. We didn’t even know there was a competition, to be honest. We just wanted to be zombies. We were good-looking zombies (or, rather, really nasty-looking ones), and I’m pretty sure we freaked out a couple of people who stopped at a street light next to us on our way there.

This year, of course, we know there’s a competition. So now we feel the pressure. We have to not only be better than everyone else, we have to be better than we were last year. While I have confidence in our get-up, you never know what someone else is going to bring to the table. This is Sleepy Hollow, after all. People do Halloween serious here.

I’m going to trust that we know what we’re doing. But if I happen to see anyone better tonight, I might spill something on them or fall against them and rip their costume apart. Accidentally, of course.

Hey. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

Let the Blogging Begin!

It has come to my attention that I do not have a blog on my website. That seems like a terrible mistake. Because anyone who is anyone blogs, right? And I’m pretty sure I’m anyone, so that means I’m supposed to blog.

What will I be blogging about? In the coming weeks, months, years, and decades, I will be talking mostly about Walleyed Pike, or simply The Walleye, as it is sometimes known. What makes them such amazing creatures? Why did the blue walleye go extinct? Or is it really extinct? Are there massive hordes of blue walleye hiding out in Quebec, biding their time… waiting…? Why do they hate us so much? How can you survive the coming walleye apocalypse? And of course, how to best please your walleye overlord.

I also might mention new works I have coming down the pike (but not down the walleyed pike), as well as other fun stuff from my life as both an author and a storyteller.

You have been warned.

The Complete and Utter Idiot’s Guide to Cooking a TV Dinner

Hello. Welcome to The Complete and Utter Idiot’s Guide to Cooking a TV Dinner. Hungry? Good! Let’s eat!
Today we’re going to make a Salisbury Steak TV Dinner, complete with mashed potatoes, corn, and brownie. So to start, open your fridge and take out your frozen TV Dinner.
What do you mean it’s not in there? It’s in there, keep looking.
Oh come on, it’s got to be…wait. I’m sorry. Try looking in your FREEZER. See it? Good. Bring it to the counter.
No, those are Vanilla Dove Bars. Go get the Salisbury Steak TV Dinner. It’s probably in a green and brown box. Yes! That’s it. Now bring it to the counter. Very good.
Now then, the first thing you should do is read the instructions. But if you could do that, you wouldn’t need The Complete and Utter Idiot’s Guide, would you?
OK. Open the package. Let me be specific. Open the cardboard box in which your package lies. There should be a pull-tab somewhere on the cardboard box. It’s there. Keep looking. No, don’t try to make your own. Just.. flip it over. See it? Yes! Pull that! Excellent! Good job! Now remove the plastic dish. Very good! You’re a real pro at this!
OK. There’s a couple more steps you need to do. This may get tricky. First just look at your dinner. Notice how the food is separated into four compartments? What do you mean, no? Four compartments! The meat, the potatoes, the corn and the brownie! What do you mean, they all look the same? They’re supposed to be four distinct… Hold on. Turn it over.
There ya go! Now do you see the four compartments? Good! OK. There should be a plastic covering over your dinner. Good. Your meat needs to breathe. Take a fork and…a fork. The spoon-like utensil that has four pointy ends. Right. Take the fork and poke some holes into the plastic covering directly over the meat. The plastic, poke holes in the plastic! No! Get that away from your eye! Jesus!!! Remember the dinner? The plastic beneath you? OK. Poke some holes in THE PLASTIC directly over the meat. You’ll have to hit the plastic a little harder than that to break the seal. OK, good! Good! A couple more! No!!! That’s the potatoes! Don’t poke over the potatoes, only poke over the meat. OK. Very good.
One last thing. You need to remove the plastic covering from over the brownie. But ONLY from the brownie. I said it would be difficult. Your best bet would be to use the fork you already have in your hands and carefully poke some holes at the edge of the brownie and even more carefully rip it off.
This would probably be easier to do with a knife, but there’s no way in Hell that I’m gonna arm you with a knife.
How are those holes coming around the brownie? Good! OK, you can use your fingers for this so just…well first pick the fork up off the floor! Cripes! If you’re not using it, place it in the sink, don’t drop it on the floor, you’ll attract ants! Ants! Little insects that…oh nevermind. Just put the fork in the sink. OK, now use your fingers to pry the plastic off of the brownie, a process made much easier thanks to the holes you’ve carefully poked in the plastic covering.
Great! OK, you can place that little slip of plastic in the trash. Good, very good. Now you’re ready to cook it!
Open your microwave, it’s the big button at the bottom that says “Open.”
No, that’s the fridge. Next to it. Right, there ya go. That’s the microwave. Open it.
Place the meal inside the microwave. Close the door.
You’re not going to be able to close the door until you remove your hand. There ya go. Close the door. OK, I’m gonna go out on a hopeful limb here, does your microwave have a button labeled “TV DINNER?” No? Damn.
OK, we do this the hard way. Press that button that says “Time Cook.” Good. Now, how long did the TV Dinner say to cook? No, of course your dinner shouldn’t be talking to you! I meant on the package! In the instructions!!! Oh for Pete’s…nevermind. We’ll cook it for five minutes, turn it and then cook another five. Screw that. We’ll cook it for ten, period. If you die from eating under-cooked Salisbury steak, so much the better. Program it to cook for 10 minutes. What? Where are you? Start over, start over. Hit the “Clear” button. No, that’s the window! There’s a button with the word “Clear” on it! Push it!!! OK, now push the “Time Cook” button again. Now push the “1” button, followed by the “0” button. And now push the “0” button again. And once more. Now push the button labeled “Start.”
Is it on? It’s on! Yes!!! OK, go sit down. When the microwave beeps, that mean’s your dinner is ready. Take it out of the microwave and eat it!
Take it out of the microwave, REMOVE THE PLASTIC and then eat it.
There ya go! You’ve cooked a TV Dinner! Moron.