It’s Alive! ALIVE! (My First Post For Middle Grade Minded)

mgmindedRemember when I said I had a new gig thing happening that I was all excited about? That I was all geeking out and exuberant to be writing occasional posts over at Middle Grade Minded, which—as an added bonues—might hopefully mean not boring you lovely readers so frequently with the insurance-seminar-dull details of what’s bugging me about my latest work in progress?

Surely, you remember it? Oh, here, to refresh your memory, the post about it is right here.

Anyway…SO! My number came up in the rotation o’ bloggers at Middle Grade Minded this week, meaning that it was finally time to share a thimbleful of my thoughts (it’s all I can spare) on writing for middle graders.  Traditionally, one’s first post for MGMinded is an examination of “Why I Write Middle Grade”.  And well, I’m not one to buck tradition.

Okay, except for that one custom of eating buffalo wings with ranch or blue cheese. Why would anyone ruin a perfectly good, perfectly spicy fried chicken wing with thick, creamy ick? Oh, also, the tradition of hanging heavy things overhead for “good luck”.  Someone with questionable skills with weapons of mass destruction hand tools should probably not be hanging concussion-inducing iron horseshoes overhead.

I assure you, that’s not going to result in good luck for anybody.

The cranial traumatizing effects of gravity when occurring in conjunction with poor workmanship aside, the good news is that I think Middle Grade Minded’s tradition of starting with a “Why I Write Middle Grade” post makes a ton of sense. I was delighted, then, to follow along. And that’s exactly what I did for my first MGMinded post, which just went live this morning. If you’re the bookish type or a writerly type, why not skip on over there and check it out?

Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.

Probably still complaining about ranch dressing while side-eyeing that hammer.

Have a great weekend! And, uh, don’t set the place on fire.


Help With My Fruit of Advancing Years

I have a problem.

Well, actually, I have many problems. I have a problem getting to bed at a decent hour like normal people. I have a problem with my current manuscript-in-progress, Project Hermey. I have a problem with ranch dressing. I have a problem with the sheer number of uneaten M&Ms in existence at any given moment in time. I have a problem with the McRib.

But none of these are important problems at the moment.

My bananas, on the other hand, are becoming damn near critical. Yes, my bananas. No, that’s not a euphemism. I’m talking about the fruit. The yellow ones that grow on trees and come in bunches?

Look, here are my bananas.


No, no, these aren’t the problematic bananas. I put the picture of those hideous things in the link before these shiny, new bananas. The others, though? Well, see, they’re old. Like, “dinosaurs make fun of them” old. The sight of them, well, maybe they aren’t for the weak stomached. You shouldn’t let children see them, probably.

Now, if you did look at the link of the Old Bananas, you know what I’m talking about. You could probably tell that they’re hella old because you’re not a toddler, and like most other non-toddlers, you undoubtedly recognized that bananas as brown as these are several decades beyond their prime. In fact, you likely recognized that the bananas in question are even older than your 2nd grade homeroom teacher, Mrs. Watley, whose first name had to have been an old-timey one like Agatha or Eleanor, but no one really knew because lunchroom gossip was that she would unhinge her jaw and consume whole any child who learned her first name, like a snake from ancient legend.

How you survived 2nd grade to recognize old, brown-spotted bananas is still something of a miracle.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I have a cluster of old, brown-tinted bananas. This is especially a problem because at the moment some nefarious government agency is going to use ultra-classified snooping technology to pinpoint the location of my extremely decrepit bananas. At which point we’ll surely get a visit from Men in Dark Suits who have no verifiable credentials because they don’t exist in any system, anywhere, at all. And these Ghost Agent People will confiscate my  geriatric bananas, thus robbing me of their $2 value and pretty much ruining all my hopes of retiring to Bali next year*.

Which brings me to my proposed solution….which, you know, is SO revolutionary it’ll Blow. Your. Freaking. Minds.


Better sit down.

Here it Comes…

Continue reading

Dear Amtrak, About Those Writing Residences

Dear Amtrak,

The hazy, self-loathing, liquor-soaked writers of the world straightened in their seat slightly, closed their twitter window, washed their faces, shaved whatever parts needed shaving, and—begrudgingly, I admit—put on a pair pants earlier this year when you announced the opportunity to let a small number of wordslingers take part in a free residency program on some of your more scenic train routes across America.

For a time afterward, you basked in the glow of marvelous PR as beleaguered writers, desperate for a chance to escape the shackles of everyday distraction, salivated over All The Work They Could Accomplish while steaming* across this great nation.  Such an opportunity could mean finally stamping a big chunk of accomplishment all over that stagnant novel-in-progress that always somehow seems to come in last place in the Great American Modern Priority Contest behind such key tasks as “feeding the kids”, “going to work”, “doing laundry”, “avoiding phone calls from the in-laws”, “binge watching old seasons of Big Brother on Netflix”, and even “staring at pictures of feet on tumblr”.

So, yeah, this whole idea for writers was a Pretty Big Deal.

Admittedly, not all of us applied for the chance to escape our daily commitments on a 5-day trip to San Francisco so we could finally hammer out the last few chapters of our “amphibians in space meets buddy heist” novel. You know, like Ocean’s Eleven but with multi-armed Frog People? It’s awesome, trust me. The point, though, is that even though I didn’t apply for your fancy program, I’m betting a significant number of writers did.  Like, probably enough that you couldn’t count them all. You probably started to count them but then Eddie from the mail room always interrupted you right around application number 62,564,987, to drop off that catalog from Office Depot and tell you about how he caught a striper bigger than a wheel barrow over the weekend, never mind that fact that you haven’t ever been fishing (since you’re a train company and all) and wouldn’t know a striper from a Clown Fish named Marlon.

No, no, that’s “striper”. Not “stripper”.  Very different things. One’s a kind of fish, I think. Maybe with a stripe?  The other is…well, you know what the other is.

At any rate, even though I didn’t apply, I was very interested to see who did earn the prestigious Writer In Residence opportunity, since we all know you got more applications than you could probably shove onboard the 8:25 from New York to Yuma.  And earlier this week, you finally announce the 24 lucky, lucky devils who won them.

I have to say, Amtrak, it’s a solid list. Well, I mean, it seems like a solid list. I don’t actually know any of the writers on it any better than I know your sweet, blue-haired grandmother.  But, still, these people all seem like bona fide writers who are capable of doing some real, quality work being writers while riding.

It’s just. Well, they seem a little too bona fide, if you ask me. Admittedly, I understand that you really, really needed to make sure the scribes you picked would be doing actual work on your magic free train rides, because the last thing you need is some poser type who just wanted a free trip to New Mexico and a 18-hour engagement in the bar car, if you know what I’m saying. 

Still, though, the bio’s from your list of winners make them all sound like pretty accomplished professionals.

Which brings me to my big question: would it have killed you to take a chance on just one struggling, working slob, the parent of one or three or n kids or maybe zero offspring but with one ungodly needy Chihuahua? Someone with a trunk full of practice novels and an even bigger load of personal baggage, but a deep, driving aspiration to succeed and a manuscript that’s smart and fresh and just this close but needs a little dedicated time and attention away from the unending demands for TPS reports, a fresh band aid, or more macaroni and cheese?

In summary, Amtrak, I guess what I’m saying is that, wow, you picked yourself a fine crop of writers to work while coasting across America. They seem polished and accomplished and successful. And I totally get why you picked them. But would it have killed you to pick one—just one—writer from your endless heap of applications whose bio was more like:

Brenda McCayhee is a Nebraska mother of two whose last published work appeared on her refrigerator in the form of a grocery list.  She spends her days struggling to remember what adulthood feels like while wrangling twin toddlers and trying to cling to whatever paper-thin shreds of her sanity remain intact amid a house full of laundry and Nick Jr. cartoons. Every free moment (when she’s not exhausted), she pours her heart and soul into capturing the stories of adventure and intrigue that fill her imagination. Usually with wine. She’ll be spending her Amtrak writing residency basking in the glow of having multiple consecutive hours to work on her upcoming novel without interruptions for apple juice or phone calls from her mother asking for the 3742nd time if she’s ready to give up this writing nonsense and focus on being a good wife.

Anyway, that’s what I was hoping for, Amtrak, just one of those on your list of 24.  Because I know plenty of writers with fewer shiny credentials but a pretty intense need for a handful of hours to work.

Maybe keep that in mind the next time around?


*Yeah, okay, trains don’t “steam” anywhere nowadays. Screw you, I still like it as a verb.

The Rise and Fall of Autumnal Equinox

Soooooo, I know I’m way past due sharing some errant thoughts and/or possibly insightful comedic ramblings with you all, but I’m still plowing along on Project Hermey, and hoping to finish up the first draft soon so I can call the thing Done!

Not that it’ll  be anywhere near really, actually, ready-to-show-someone-I’m-not-married-to done at that point. No, see, because first I’ll have to put it in a drawer for a few weeks and try to forget what it was supposed to be about. After that short cooling off period, I’ll put on my bunny slippers and read what I actually put on paper, which, it turns out, isn’t so often what you intended and/or recollection.

At it turns out, it seems that an author’s brain is not just capable of making up stories, aka, lies for entertainment purposes, but also it’s often equally, if not more, skilled at lying to the author in question.

So after a minimum of 45 minutes of uncontrolled sobbing, wailing, and generally bemoaning my cursed, miserable lack of skill, I’ll consume several slugs of bourbon-colored encouragement, and then set to work on revising Project Hermey into something less suck. With a little luck, that’s when it might become something maybe, possibly, hopefully worthy of an existence beyond lining a hamster cage twenty-four hours after Taco Tuesday.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m still at least ten thousand words from finishing the initial draft. Which, as you can see from this screen shot of the current State of The Project, means it’s going to be at least ten thousands words longer than the original goal. But, hey, whatever. A story’s got to be as long as that story needs to be, even if that means 10-15% longer than planned. That is, at least until I go back and Ginsu it up during the revision phase.

That said, the good news is that things are not all weeping and overwriting in my life at the moment. There’s also football and pumpkin beers. Yep, because yesterday at 10:29 PM (here in Cincinnati, at any rate) was the Autumnal Equinox.  That means that today is the first full day of autumn, and, as we all know, autumn is glorious time here on the surface of Old Earth, which makes me a happy camper, no matter how much work I have stacked up in the corner.

In celebration, then, that the place in the hemisphere where I live, at least, is tilting ever-so-slightly away from that scorching, blinding ball of nuclear fusion at the center of our solar system and ushering in a brief time of more moderate temperatures, candy-laden, spirit-based holidays, and a pumpkin-spiced version of anything you could possibly want to put into your body, I give you a previously posted Puddintopia picture. I made it with the mostly rudimentary graphics manipulation software I could find and skills that most Kindergarten kids would be ashamed to display on the fridge.

But I don’t even care that most people don’t recognize that it’s a supposed to be a football in the frame, not a loaf of bread.

Because, fall, dammit. And that, my friends, is reason enough.


Puddin’s Got A Brand New Gig

Sometimes I get the feeling deep down in the hard, crystally, freezer-burnt depths of my stinky soul that I’m not being as prolific a blogger as I’d like to be these days. Because the fact of the matter is…


WAIT! Come back!

Look, I know you’re about a millisecond away from closing this browser window with a woeful sigh and mumbling that I’m getting all petulant and whiny about “not having time to write posts” or whatever, and if you wanted to listen to moping you’d go back and review your first year philosophy notes from college. I get it. But, please. Give me a chance. This isn’t that. I swear on the sweet, dark chocolately souls of all the M&M’s I’ve consumed in the past year.

*moment of silence for M&M’s*

What I mean is that I feel like I could be posting more because I’m not always confortable rambling excessively about what’s on my mind. Sure, sometimes it’s not problem. My life amuses me plenty, and I fairly often do something ridiculous enough to warrant mentioning it.  Plus, cookies and/or brownies are always good topics of discussion.  But when I’m not acting like a fool or making delightful snacks and/or shoveling them down my munchietube*, I’m mostly thinking about books.

Specifically, that is, my books.  And writing them.  Or even writing in general, and everything that goes along with the daily trudge from Chapter One to The End. It’s a life-altering, swear-inducing, hair-curling, soul-crushing, joy-giving, confidence-affirming process that can swing your emotional pendulum from one side of the sanity arc to the the other in less than twenty minutes flat.

I just don’t want to bore you with all of it.

Because I spend so much time writing and/or contemplating it, it’s hard to shove my attention onto something else.  Many days, then, I don’t have anything else swirling about in the ghost town of my head compelling enough to be the subject of an entertaining blog post. For instance, I can’t even think of interesting things to write about beer anymore, and if that doesn’t tell you how serious I am bout this, nothing probably will.

So concocting a post topic can be like going to cupboard for the cookie jar and finding nothing but an endless supply of beef jerky. Sure, I love beef jerky. But if I gave you twenty pounds of it and nothing else, you’d want to shove it down my throat until I sneezed dry, salted beef flakes.

Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that I was recently selected as one of the new, regular blog contributors for Middle Grade Minded, a blog with a laser-like focus on Middle Grade stories and the variety of ways people like me tell them.

The hope is that with that particular writing-related itch scratched, I’ll have a little more headspace available to ramble about Oompa Loompas, the rise and fall of civilization, and possibly even why my shoes make me uncomfortable. You know, all the things that have traditionally filled the pages of Puddintopia since 2010.

And if that doesn’t get your follicles all a-tingle, well, I guess you should maybe be using a different dandruff shampoo.


*Seriously, “munchietube” might be the worst word I’ve ever made up. I can’t decide if reminds me more of one of those annoying kids shows with fully-costumed sing-a-long monsters, or one of those kinks that requires a full-color diagram and a strong constitution. Let’s agree to never use it again.

One Geek, Two Geek, That Was A Good Week(end)

As it turns out, I did not actually fall off the face of the Earth this past week. Or even into a vat of cookie dough large enough to house all of Wonka’s Oompa Loompas plus a goodly portion of his walnut-testing squirrels, despite the fact that I’ve done nothing but think of making cookies for the better part of a week.

Because, well, they’re cookies. Duh. How do you not think about them?

I did, however, fall face-first into a good chunk of writing for Project Hermey prior to the holiday weekend.  Hurray for progress! And then, well, it was the holiday weekend. Let’s be honest, nobody got anything doing over the holiday.

Of course, my traditional Labor Day probably differs a good bit from your average Joe’s boating-and-barbecuing bonanza. Because mine typically revolves around video games, shouting “Huzzah!” whenever possible, and a litany of other things that pretty effectively scream, “Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrd”!

Oh, did I forget to mention that Labor Day weekend is when I traditionally get the annual visit from my high school best friend? Because that’s what happens every year on the first Monday in September, and when it does, I gleefully revert to the awkward dork I desperately pretended not to be way back in 1990.

Um. Wow, that was a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time ago.  Can we pretend I didn’t say that? Or maybe add 10 years. Great. Perfect. Awesomesauce.

Truth be told, though, we don’t really get up to the same sort of hijinks nowadays as we did back then.  See, because:

  1. Nobody wants to go bowling that often
  2. I am kind of responsible of other living human beings, and ignoring them is largely frowned upon by the authorities, and
  3. I have my own house and can buy alcohol now, which makes sitting around my kitchen a much more entertaining prospect than it was when we were 18

We did, however, spend the weekend wandering castles, marveling at knights, knaves, ladies, and wenches while consuming smoked turkey legs at the Ohio Renaissance Festival,  and staying up much too late playing Magic: The Gathering with Actual Cards (some of which were older than my kids). Oh, and we ate grilled food. Because, hey, even when you are trying to keep things Nerd-fully Atypical, grilled bacon burgers are still delightfully mouth-watering.

To round out the weekend of fun and good times, we acquired a new pet at La Casa de Puddin. We are now the proud owners of a brand new betta fish, giving us a happy pair.  I mean, happy so long as they stay separated. Betta don’t get along with pretty much anything else. They’re like the TV sitcom Mother-In-Law of the home aquarium set.


But that’s okay, because even with them living separated lives, I can still now point to our happily swimming pet fishies, and say (with a seriously ridiculous amount of joy)…

One Fish, Two Fish
Red Fish…well, I think you get the gist.

All of which is to say, my holiday was awesome.

How was yours?


About Time For A Kick In The Pants

Man, have I been slacking.

Well, okay, so that’s not the kind of news you wake your significant other up for.  Truth is, the idea that I’ve been slacking about something is roughly akin to getting all hyper and jumping up-and-down while screaming because, *gasp* the tide is getting higher!

Get it, because the tide gets high everyday? Which is also the frequency with which I slack? See? Funny, right?

Fine, let’s try it this way: if I was a superhero, I’d be Slackerman.  Or maybe The Slack? That sounds a little cooler, right? At any rate, the point I’m getting at (poorly) is that me being me and following the natural order of things by continuing to slack off an a daily basis is rarely worth tweeting about in 140 characters, let alone writing a post.

But then, I’m not talking about normal, everyday slacking here, I’m talking about Writer Slacking.

And that’s something I don’t think I’ve ever done before.

I realized towards the end of last week that Project Hermey has been lingering on the old progress bar there to the right for entirely too long. Sure, it inches forward with a new % or two every few days, but then it’ll spend a few more right where it is. 

Even more astounding, I started Project Hermey way, way, back on May 12.  For those of you with math skills (or maybe a fancy Texas Instruments calculator), that means I’ve been trudging away at it for more than three months.

Three. Long. Months.  Admittedly, three months is perfectly reasonable for an adult novel.  In fact, Project Macaroni took just over two months to draft the first time around.  But, then, the first draft of Project Macaroni was in the neighborhood of 112,000 words.  Hermey should come I under half that, and yet, as of this moment, in (roughly) the same amount of time, I’ve written a third as much. 

The good news is, much of the Cro-Magnon feet dragging here has been deliberate.  Yes, I mean it. No, that’s not something I just made up to make myself feel better, like Archibald, my friend who the “doctors” insist is purely “imaginary”.  Yeah, well, they aren’t the ones who Archibald wakes up every night at 3:03 AM to talk about the little people under his skin and their incessant demands for Italian sausage and M&Ms, are they?

Uh, maybe forget I said that.

Anyway, the point here is that I’ve been taking my time on purpose.  Ever since my first novel, FAMINE, took 18 months to draft, I’ve been burning through new novels like a Smokey Mountain vacationer through apple butter. I’ve written several more MG novels in a little more than a month, and longer adult ones in just over two.  Not to toot my own whistle, I’ve been a hard charging, draft-making machine.

After all that high-speed writing, though, I figured why not try something new? Why give Project Hermey the full-court, NANOWRIMO-style press this summer? Why not take my time instead and enjoy a leisurely stroll through the plot.  Maybe think about it more up front and hopefully revise a little less on the backend?

“What a great plan!” I thought. In May. Back before the kids even got out of school for the year.

But now, here we are in late August, and I’m still at least 10k words away from finishing.  Probably more like 20 because, well, sometimes there’s more story than you think there’s going to be.  I novel is like baking a pie: it’s done when it’s done.  And as for that “hopefully revise a little less” business? Yeah, no. I’m very happy with the rough story in Project Hermey so far, but when complete, it’s going to be one of the roughest drafts I’ve ever finished.  Definitely in need of some TLC, a lot of trimming, reshaping, and molding.

All of that is fine; it doesn’t bother me one bit. Writing is, after all, rewriting.  Which is good, because this time around, there will be significant rewriting.

What I’m not so happy with is the three month-long process of drafting.  Every time I miss a few days, I feel like I have to start all over again to get the tone of it right.  And because some days have been less productive than others, the process feels like a century-old Model-T sputtering and puttering along, trailing a cloud of ugly, ashy, smoke.

Not exactly the feeling I’m going for with a light-hearted MG adventure.

So, no more.  Time to quit dawdling. No more slacking.  It’s time I  set myself a deadline, and since I’ve apparently only got two speeds: FULL THROTTLE and I’m-sorry-was-I-doing-something-here, it’s got to be a deadline that applies a little pressure.  Two weeks, then.  I’m going to type out, “The End” in this draft of Project Hermey by September 8th, even if it kills me.

And after that, I’m never taking this “slacker” approach to writing a draft again. Sure, the NANOWRIMO-esque 50k words in a month is aggressive and chaotic and could possibly lead to unnatural levels of caffeine consumption.  But then, anything worth doing is worth doing as quickly and sloppily as possible.

Because in the end, it’s all going into a messy first draft anyway, why waste weeks or months pretending that extra time means less revision?

Let’s face it, all it really means is extra slacking.

And if there’s one thing in my life I don’t need in excess around here, it’s extra slacking.

We’re all stocked up on that for years.



The Difference Between Golf And Baking

IMG_0578.JPGMaybe last night wasn’t Thursday, my traditional cookie baking night, but since the do-over fairy let me down yesterday, I kicked customary to the curb and made a batch of oatmeal chocolate chips anyway.

As it turns out, in respectable golf (which I admittedly have little experience with), you only get to take a mulligan in certain circumstances. But if you know just a tiny, tablespoon-full of baking, you can pretty much cookie anytime.

And, let’s face it, cookies are generally a more reliable fix for your day anyway. Even when it isn’t Thursday.


Late Night Storms And Wednesday Morning Mulligans

Wednesday got off to a rough start.  Because Zeus and Poseidon were apparently attempting to settle a bet via what I can only assume was a raucous bowling match in the heavens above my house last night, I found myself conspicuously not asleep at 2:30 this morning. As a result, I slept through my alarm and woke up 10 minutes late.  Admittedly, that isn’t quite something you blame on the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, but still, it prompted me to hurry my poor, barely-been-a-middle-schooler-for-week out of the house to the slightly-early-and-waiting Middle School bus with only one shoe tied and while attempting to squeeze his new Texas-sized Middle School binder into his Middle School backpack mid-stride and also end up not tripping over his own shoelaces in the driveway. I mean, let’s be honest, having to get on the earliest bus is bad enough, but going face-down on the pavement in an explosion of folders, papers, and school supplies for all the Middle Schools bus riders’ early morning entertainment is the pre-teen equivalent of getting hot pokers to the fingernails.

Luckily, Oldest Son avoided such ignominy.  Which is good, because nobody really wanted him to have to change schools.

If sling-shotting my poor, slightly unprepared 6th grader out the door this morning had been the end of my questionable morning, I could find a way to live with it. After all, kids are resilient and an Icee cures most early-morning problems. But then I proceeded to bust a button off my work pants, and race out the door myself while forgetting my lunch as well as the cottage cheese that was theoretically going to be part of my breakfast.

Thinking that maybe a few belts of iced coffee might brighten my day (or at least fortify me against further AM hijinks), I stopped to get coffee. That’s when I realized I’d made the classic Wednesday Morning Coffee Shop Blunder. The place was overrun with what I can only assume were high school freshman.  I’m pretty sure somebody’s English teacher forgot to finish up that lesson plan the night before because, I don’t know, The Big Brother finale was on, so he sent the kids out for an offsite study hall. Unfortunately for me, the site, of course, was my provider of live-affirming caffeinated beverages, and if you’ve ever seen 9th graders in a coffee shop, you know that each and every last one of them Must. Order. The. Frozen. Blendy. Drink.

Or, as I like to call them, The Icy Mochas Of Stagnant Time.

Seriously, it takes the poor barista roughly seven hours to make each one. In fact, if you close your eyes, I’m pretty sure you can feel them thinking if I’d wanted to make milkshakes, I’d have gotten a job at Baskin Robbins.

That said, for those of you not familiar with the consequences of 20+ teens ordering iced blended concoctions at one time, what happens is that your average coffee drinking patron—you know, those of us who have jobs that come with employers that would rather we weren’t participating in class at the coffee shop—becomes semi-permanently trapped in a void pocket of space-time where centuries stretch out before you eyes, unmoving, unchanging, and filled with nothing but cold, frozen, mocha-colored emptiness.

When I finally left the coffee shop, then, I took a moment to breathe, sip my iced Americano, and relax.

At which point, I did what any normal modern person would do, I whipped out my iPhone and proceeded to share my terrible, horrible, no good, very long morning with twitter and Facebook.

For the record, no I never did get to use that Mulligan. But at least the coffee turned out okay.