Welcome to whatever is on my mind!

Some people use the term "nonsense" but I prefer to use the phrase "uncommonly sensed" because it's more reflective of creative types.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Best Gifts for Book Lovers

Tomorrow is the first day of Chanukah and we're only 10 days away from Christmas. Some of you may be in a panic about what to give the book lover in your life, so I've composed a list of gift ideas. Here we go:

A few general sites to look for gifts for book lovers are these:

Out of Print Clothing
This site has a lot more than clothing, although their t-shirts of vintage book covers are really cool (I own several). They also carry a wide range of book accessories and book themes objects, such as coasters, tote bags, and jewelry. My favorite pair of socks came from this site!

The Literary Gift Company
The name says it all - this is all literary themed merchandise. There are coffee cups, posters, calendars and games. You can even find books made into other things.

Not On The High Street
This site also has posters, calendars, jewelry, framed book pages, bookends, bookmarks, and other literary themed merchandise. Something unique they carry is a flower made out of book pages.

Paddywax Candles
This candle company has a line of Library candles that are named after famous authors and contain ingredients from their lives or works of literature. IN fact, I'm burning Charles Dickens as I write this (it has a holiday scent a la "A Christmas Carol.").

Uncommon Goods has a list of literary gifts on their site. I particularly like the love letter napkins.

Now for a few other specific items that I think are cool. Many of these come from Etsy, which is a great place to shop for unique gifts, and if you browse there long enough you're bound to find something for your favorite book lover (or for yourself).

Amazon has a candle that smells like a new book.

How about some Oscar Wilde Cufflinks?

There are two site that have some nice literary scarves. They can be found here and here. Each site has a slightly different style and selection.

Another site on Etsy offers custom bookplates. These come in a variety of styles, including a raven.

How about some wearable literature that includes hats and jewelry as well as scarves.

Do you know a crafty book lover who would enjoy folding books into art? This site offers patterns.

Or how about some Dickens themed shot glasses for drinking up your Christmas cheer?

Or maybe a literary themed game would be fun?

I absolutely love these (and own a pair!) poetry themed tights! If you're book lover is also a poet, there is an option for custom tights.

This Etsy shop has vintage postcards with original poetry typed on them. This was done by the artist who illustrated my Kingdom Wars series of books, so I'm particularly partial to the work.

You can also find throw pillows of scrabble letters and spell out the word(s) of your choice. I'd like ot have these all over my house so I could change the words and feel as if I live inside of a book!

So these have been a few ideas - there are more out there. If nothing here suits your needs, I recommend searching Etsy for favorite authors or specific items. Good luck and happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Movies I Can Watch Over and Over

I read a lot of books, but I also love movies because movies are a form of visual story telling. Unlike books, a movie is typically done telling the story in just about 2 hours, so it makes it easier to revisit these stories over and over again. Some are worth the second and third look, and others are not. Here’s my list of movies I like to watch over and over:

Stranger Than Fiction
If you love books or you’re a writer and you haven’t seen this movie, you need to find a copy as soon as possible. Take a day off form work and scout your local used DVD store or order a copy online. The movie is about a a man who discovers that he’s a character in a book and he eventually meets the writer who then discovers that her character has come to life and is a real person.

Shawshank Redemption
This movie was based on a short story by Stephen King and is one of my favorites. A successful banker named Andy Dufresne is wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife, and the movie is about his time in prison as the warden attempts to redeem him (as well as the other prisoners). Andy eventually finds redemption, but probably not in the way the warden had hoped.

Bull Durham
This is a funny and quirky movie about baseball that also includes a love story. I’ve been a longtime baseball fan and the jokes in this movie still stand as some of the funniest in the industry.

The Princess Bride
This may be the most quotable movie in the history of film. Written by the same gentleman who also wrote the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, The Princess Bride is full of action, imagination, and quirky lovable characters.

Anything by Hayao Miyazaki
Miyazaki films are a magical experience. Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle are three of my favorites, but I can watch any of these animated films repeatedly. They’re all well written and imaginative.

All the Harry Potter movies
Do I even need to explain this one? I’ve read all the books twice - why wouldn’t I see the movies more than once?

Note: this post originally appeared as a guest post on My Life Loves and Passion blog. However, since I've been busy writing books instead of blog posts and some of you may have missed my guest spot, I'm re-posting it here for your reading pleasure.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's Election Day

Today is election day in the United States. If you live here and haven't voted yet, take the time and do it. Too many of us spend time complaining that the government is broken, but the truth is that broken things don't get fixed if no one does anything.  So go do something about it by voting.

If you don't know where to vote or who and what is on your ballot, try going to this website for information: https://2014.votinginfoproject.org/

That site will tell you your voting location and what your choices are, but it doesn't give you background information on the candidates. If you want to make an informed decision, try this website: http://ballotpedia.org

Just do it. And have a great day!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Critics vs Readers: Which Type of Review Is Better?

There’s one primary difference between a review written by the average reader and one written by a professional book reviewer: one is an opinion (often a subjective one), and the other uses external predefined standards to measure the work.

Both types of reviews are valid.
Both types of reviews are useful to readers.

Different Criteria

Professional reviewers use standards, similar to the way a teacher grades a test. They’re looking at things such as plot structure and use of literary devices. Readers tend to rate books based on their experience while reading. For example, if the book was a mystery readers might base their ratings on the cleverness of the puzzle to be solved. A romance book may be valued for the intensity of the love scenes, and plot flaws may be ignored if they contribute to making those love scenes happen.

These different sets of criteria are why the two groups often disagree in their ratings of the same book. In fact, I’ve seen a  number of cases where a professional reviewer praised the use of a literary device and the general audience criticized the piece of work for the same technique (finding repetition boring and annoying, for example). I like to think of professional reviewers as examining the architecture of the book, while typical readers tend to rate a book based on how the story made them feel.

As far as books are concerned, there’s the integrity of the piece as a work of art, and then there’s the appeal of the book to the audience. The paradox is that critical acclaim and mass appeal often don’t go together in publishing. The horror film genre is a classic example of this dichotomy between critics and audience. Film critics tend to give low ratings to most of the movies in this genre. If you’ve ever watched one of these films, you understand why: the plots tend to be poorly constructed and unbelievable. Horror fans, however, know this about the films, but they’re going to see them for the rush they feel during the experience. Horror fans frequently ignore critics altogether.

So, Who Should Readers Listen To?

The first step in overcoming this discrepancy between critical and reader reviews is to acknowledge that it exists. There may be times that you agree with the critics, other times that your opinion agrees with the pubic, and there will also be those few times when the critics and public both agree.

Next, treat information from both types of reviewers in the same way. They're both reviewers, they just have different sets of criteria. Therefore, I often advise people to find one or two of their favorite books and see if a reviewer has read them. If the reviewer hasn't read them, then it’s fairly safe to assume that the person has different taste in literature and this isn’t a reviewer who would have valuable input for you. However, if the reviewer has read the book, check to see if their opinion agrees with yours. If it does, then chances are you will agree on new books, as well. If the opinion differs, then look for other reviewers and see what those people have to say about the book. Eventually you will find someone else who has taste similar enough to yours that you can trust their judgement. You may also find a few who have such different taste from yours that when they like a book you know you'll hate it.

In the end, the average person is looking for a book to enjoy. Both professional and reader reviews can help you to find one. In fact, the best books often have the critics and audience in agreement on how good they are. But when critics and other reviewers disagree, find the people who have similar taste to yours on other titles and trust their judgements.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Dream - The Actor's Gang

I've seen A Midsummer Night's Dream numerous times, but last night's performance gave this play new life for me. It felt as if I were watching it for the first time. I quickly forgot that I already knew what was going to happen as I was swept up in the story telling. That's a powerful experience for the viewer and everything we hope for when we attend a live performance. Too often Shakespeare is treated with an academic and sterile approach. This was not the case last night. The staging was simple, effective and artfully done. The actors were engaging. The venue was perfect. I could not have asked for a better night of theater. Rather than go on about how great it was, I encourage anyone in Nashville to attend the final performance this evening at 8:00 at OZ Nashville.

Members of this extremely talented cast (including director Tim Robbins) were gracious enough to pose for photos with my gargoyle. You know how that warms my heart!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Adventure In The Sky

Yesterday on Twitter I told the story of my recent journey through the air. Here's the link to Twitter so you can see the story tweet by tweet, but I've also copied it below along with the pictures. After all, what's an adventure in the sky if you don't have proof that it happened?

I went on a journey to visit a fairy castle in the sky.

I sailed around an anvil ice berg.

Surfed a cloud tsunami.

I had to cross a floating sea of popcorn.

A polar cloud bear went swimming by me.
And when she saw me she waved hello.

A little later I crossed the Great Cloud Canyon. 

Then I climbed the Cotton Candy Mountain range.

 At the top of the cloud mountain range the abominable snowman gave me a hug.

 I Skated over a heavenly ice rink.

And I finally met a magnificent cloud dragon.
We became friends.

And that was my journey through the air.
I hope you liked the pictures.
The End.

Note: all of these images are unfiltered pictures I took last week on my way home from Boston.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

If Gargoyles Ruled The World

The purpose of gargoyles is to protect buildings and individuals from evil. Gargoyles are the sacred guardians who keep us from harm. This is a good thing because places and people protected by them have little to fear.  So if they bring about safety and peace of mind, why don’t we have more of them? And what would happen if they ruled the world?

Here’s What I Think Would Happen:

They would consume all the evil from everywhere it exists. They’d gobble it up and all the bad things would go away. The earth would become a kind of paradise where nothing goes wrong. There would be no more suffering. This new status of the world would take away all the pain of life, because there would be no source of pain. There would be no more crying, also. No more aging or death or being separated from loved ones. There would be nothing to fear because all the predators would become friends with their prey. Wars would be over. Love would flourish. Hostilities would end. The bad things in life would vanish.

And Than What?

If all the evil were gone, there would be no more need to reduce suffering because nothing would cause suffering. There would be no more need to alleviate pain because injury would be impossible. There would be no reason to stand up for the weak, because no one would be weak. Everyone would be healthy, so illness would vanish, and as a result there would be no more need for mercy or self sacrifice.

Without suffering there would also be no need of compassion. We would no longer need protection, so there would be no more need for heroes or gargoyles. We would see that when evil dies, so does mercy. Because things like mercy, love, kindness, compassion, heroes, and gargoyles are the things that save us and make us stronger, but without evil we have no need of them. And without need of them, these things might also vanish, leaving us without an opportunity to glimpse into the very best part of the human soul.

So perhaps the best of all possible worlds is one in which we all have free will and where bad things sometimes happen so that we can see the beauty of self sacrifice and understand the value of kindness. A world where we sometimes need protecting is a scary world, but it’s also a wonderful world because it opens our eyes to all the beauty of good and the potential for mercy within all of us.

Life is a continuous cycle of ups and downs with good and evil in constant battle. Sometimes we feel like we’re flying, and at others we feel like we’re falling. It’s a lot like a merry-go-round or a Ferris Wheel. No one gets on these carnival rides expecting to go anywhere. We get on them for the experience of the thrill.

The up is nothing without the down and the need for grace, mercy, and protection from harm are nothing without the potential for evil. So a world in which we need gargoyles to protect us really is the best of all possible worlds, and maybe gargoyles should never rule the world so that we always have need of them.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Collector - A Short Story

The Collector

by Amy Neftzger

     I collect souls. I don’t do it because I’m evil. I do it for investment purposes, because souls are the only things that never cease to exist. Currency may be devalued, material goods will decay, and all biological life forms will die. But souls ... souls are forever, and forever is a very valuable length of time for a thing to last.
     I should clarify that I don’t simply collect any soul. I have good reasons for choosing the ones that I do. I collect some because they’re beautiful and I like pretty things. On the other hand, I also collect some of the ugly ones because I find their hideous twists and turns fascinating. I could stare at them for hours wondering how they got into their current forms.
     Of course, some pieces in my collection are in better shape than others, but each one is a little different. I see something valuable and unique in every one I’ve acquired. For example, I’m fond of pure souls because of the light they give off in the dark. I like to keep these in those old blue mason jars (with a lid, of course) and line the hallways of my house with them. It gives the place an elegant feel and makes it easier to find the bathroom at night. Other souls amuse me with their wit or serve as part of a sound barrier between myself and the neighbor’s. The barrier is something that I designed myself. I created it using a custom-built aquarium the size of the eastern wall in terms of height and width. It’s about 6 inches in depth and filled with very dense souls. If the souls are dense and you have enough of them, six inches is all you need to keep out the noise of other people’s lives.
     As I said, all my souls are special to me because each one is unique. However, I had never before seen one quite like the soul of the artist. When I first spotted it, I knew this soul was different in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger upon. It was extremely beautiful, but it also appeared a bit more delicate and fragile than most I’d seen before. There was also an elegant complexity about the soul that fascinated me. I knew I wouldn’t understand the thing right away, but I also knew I had to have it, so I immediately set forth an effort to own it.
     Mind you, not all souls can be captured in the same manner. I like this about them. It’s always a challenge to figure out how to collect one because nobody simply gives up a soul without a struggle. It’s as if people instinctively know how valuable a soul is, and yet some will part with it for the right opportunity or for their perfect object of adoration. So I took some time to study the artist and figure out how to separate the artist from his soul, but I eventually did it. I usually do. In fact, it was easier than I thought it would be, but I credited the smoothness of the transaction to my own skill as a collector. Forgive me if I won’t give away any trade secrets, but collecting souls is a huge responsibility, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to simply hand over information on how to acquire them.
     Nevertheless, I managed to obtain the artist’s soul after some planning, and once I had it, I needed to find the right place to keep it. It was a bit more of a challenge in this case, and finding the right location for safekeeping was important in protecting my investment. I could see that this soul would not be useful as a nightlight. It wasn’t a utilitarian soul. So, as much as I tried, I couldn’t find a practical use for it. It also wasn’t suitable for eating, which I have done with some of the fattier and tender ones. I don’t eat them often because they are, as I have repeatedly said, an investment. But I’ll occasionally ingest one as a special treat.
     After observing the artist’s soul carefully for several days, I decided that it was meant to be an object of adoration, much like the artist’s work. So I placed the soul inside an ornamental glass container on my mantle and made sure it was in a prominent place of view. It looked nice there and went well with the decor. At this point, I thought the issue was settled and proceeded to go about expanding my collection. I was even considering gathering a few more artists’ souls when this one began to make a little noise.
     I might also mention here that once a soul has been separated from the original owner, it usually becomes docile and doesn’t give me much trouble. There’s something about getting disowned that breaks the spirit and makes souls more cooperative. But not the artist. This soul was very different.
     “I have not eaten in several days,” the soul said quietly. I ignored it at first because none of my other souls required eating. However, the more I ignored the soul the louder it became. Soon the cries of hunger were loud enough to be heard on the street, so I had to act.
     “What would you like?” I inquired, since I had no idea what a soul without a physical body would eat.
     “Information,” he replied.
     I gave it a newspaper, propping the printed material up against the back of the chimney so that the soul could see the print clearly, and the soul cooed while it read. But soon that wasn’t good enough. So I began purchasing books, taking the soul on trips to the library, and then I finally bought an eReader to instantly download books and magazines. Each of these solutions worked for a period of time, but the soul was always asking for more.
     It didn’t just want information. This was only the beginning. Artistic souls have huge appetites and they ingest everything within reach. They are especially hungry for meaning and beauty. I had no idea how to supply meaning, so I set about the task of providing the soul with exquisite things.
     “The color of the drapes is wrong,” the soul said, and I installed new drapes.
     “The print on that fabric is painful. It hurts me. The shapes lack harmony,” the soul said. I had the sofa upholstered in new fabric that the artist’s soul had selected and approved. Then I reupholstered the chair and ottoman and every other fabric-covered piece of furniture in the room, as well as all the pillows and cushions.
     “The furniture is placed so that the converging lines intersect in a way that makes me sick to my stomach,” the artist’s soul complained. I spent hours moving furniture, removing pieces that were deemed unacceptable, buying new pieces, and adding decorative elements. This went on for weeks until the artist’s soul was satisfied. Then, just when I thought I could rest, it spoke again.
     “I need a bath,” it whispered.
At this request, I created a water globe in which to keep the soul, but I decided to stay one step ahead. I added sparkling particles to the water so that whenever the water stirred it also shimmered with light. It was like a snow globe, but instead of snow there were sparkles. I thought this might provide stimulation for the artist’s soul. It did. But it didn’t last. Only a day later the soul was whispering the request again.
     “I need a bath,” the soul whispered.
     “You’re swimming in water,” I replied flatly. This is when I learned that artistic souls like to bathe in emotion. I began inviting young lovers I knew over for afternoon coffee. Then I would leave the room for brief periods on the pretense of getting snacks or other things for my guests. This allowed the artist’s soul to bask in the tender moments that took place between the lovers during these times. Soon this was not enough, either.
     “I need more,” the artist’s soul whimpered from inside its sparkling water cage on top of my mantle. So I took it to the movies. We saw love stories as well as horror and action films. The artist enjoyed bathing in all types of emotions. Each new experience fulfilled a need. But it never lasted.
Needless to say, with all the renovations, the artist’s soul had been draining my finances. Taking it to the movies and on various outings had put me in a bad position with my employer, and I lost my job. At this point, I had lost my savings as well as my income and was wondering if this investment was worth keeping.  All the while the artist’s soul continued to make demands upon me.
     “I need color ... I need drama ... I need sun ... I need rain ... I need life ... ,” the soul cried out daily. Hourly. This didn’t just take up my time and money. Those things I had already given and would have continued to give. These additional demands took more from me than I gave, and I felt life draining out of me. Soon, I lost interest in the other souls I owned. I failed to see their beauty because the artist’s soul was consuming me. The moment I could no longer feed it, the artist’s soul had begun feeding upon me. It was keeping me awake at night, and I was miserable all the time. After only a few months of owning the soul, I decided to find the artist and give the soul back.
     I spent a long time searching for the artist. I went to all the places that local artists frequent, but the artist wasn’t in any of them. No one I talked with had seen this artist since the day he had relinquished his soul to me. The search was agonizing and frustrating, and I became more miserable with each week I spent looking for him.
     During the time I spent searching I was exhausted. I was on my feet all day looking for the artist, desperately running from one location to another. At night the cries from the artist’s soul kept me awake. I’ve never known misery like this at any other time in my life. I even thought about taking my own life. I was desperate.
     In the end, I never did find the artist again. I didn’t know it at the time, but I later learned that the reason I couldn't find him was because he had left and gone into some mundane business in another city. Something to do with finance or accounting. He was doing quite well and had earned far more money than he would have ever had as an artist. He was happy, I suppose.
     At this point you may be wondering how I finally solved my problem. I was at my wit’s end, and so I resorted to what I knew best: I sold my own soul to another collector. In fact, I sold my entire collection and now have enough money to live out the rest of my life. I’ll worry about what happens afterward when the time comes. I can’t worry about those things right now. For the moment I have peace, and the price was worth it.
     To be honest, I thought I would miss having a soul more, but once my own soul was gone I stopped hearing the never ending cries from the artist’s soul. I also couldn’t see beauty or feel things anymore, but that was the cost I gladly paid. Life became much easier. Of course, my desire to collect souls was gone and I no longer appreciated art, but I also no longer experienced pain.
     It was when I noticed this lack of pain that I finally understood why the artist had willingly given up his soul. It wasn’t my cunning that had allowed me to acquire it, as I had thought. The artist had handed it to me. He was willing to walk away from his life’s work because he wasn’t strong enough, but neither was I. After all, an artist’s soul is very demanding, and you don’t know how exhausting a soul can be until you have a sensitive one of your own.

© 2013 Amy Neftzger. You may link to this page to share this story but please do not copy the text anywhere else without my permission. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Poetry for Parents, Volume 2

A second installment of verse for those of us with children between the ages of 13 and finally moved out. This is dedicated to all the parents who don't have self-washing dishes.

The Dish Elves

So many dirty dishes
Piled high in the sink
But not a teen could be found
Who was able to think

Is there something that we should
Do with these things?
Why are these still here?
What do these things mean?

These dishes are nasty!
Why aren’t they clean?
Where are the dish elves?
Where can those elves be?

Now who’ll wash the dishes?
What will we do?
Why are they still dirty?
Please give us a clue!

Here’s an idea:
Let’s search for those elves
Otherwise we must do
All these dishes ourselves

Let’s look on the TV
For an hour or two
Or perhaps a few more
Since there’s nothing to do

Now on the computer
We’ll check email to see
If there’s a message from “dish elves”
Telling where they would be

Cell phones are useful
We can text all our friends
To see if someone has
A dish elf to lend

The day is now over
Dirty dishes remain
We searched for the dish elves
But our search was in vain.

We’ve learned that these dishes
Won’t wash themselves
We must wash our own dishes
Without dirty dish elves

Memo: The Dish Elves have left the building. Please take care of your own messes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Poetry For Parents - Volume 1

Last year the book Go The F**k to Sleep was released and was well received by parents everywhere who've experienced difficulty getting a child to go to bed. Honestly, I'm not sure if you can be called a parent if you haven't had this struggle with a child. We've all been there.

However, it's been over a decade since I've had to deal with this issue. In fact, the best solution for a toddler who won't sleep is to become a teenager, because it's nearly impossible to wake kids up after the age of 13. So here's my poetic response from the opposite end of the spectrum.

Wake The F**k Up

You’re a slumbering teen
In a dreamland so fine
But you’ve now been asleep
For a very long time

You went to bed early
And you’re still not awake
After twelve or more hours ...
How much sleep can one take?

The sun is now shining
In the sky, overhead
So it’s time to get moving
And get the hell out of bed

It’s past time for school
And your ride didn’t wait
There’s learning to have
And knowledge to take

Now you’ve missed the bus
Five times in five days
Because you can’t arise
And get out of your haze

You said you’d wake up
And get yourself fed
So it’s time to get moving
And get the hell out of bed

You’re missing the world
It’s passing you by
I know you could do things
If you would just try

I’ve made enough noise
To wake up the hood
But I said I was sorry
And the cop understood

We both checked your pulse
To confirm you’re not dead
So please wake the f**k up
And get the hell out of bed

Stop hitting the snooze
And quit sleeping in
Just open your eyes
Don’t roll over again
So it’s time to wake up
I wont say it again
Please get your ass moving
And get the f**k out of bed

Perhaps if I read this to my kids from a picture book it might embarrass them enough to wake up on time regularly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Measure of All Things

Economists will say that something is worth as much as another person is willing to pay for it. They’re economists, so of course they’re talking about money. But why do we always look at money to determine the bottom line on decisions? Why don’t we consider other costs or gains? I think money is the measure of all things because money is easy to count. It comes with numbers pasted right on the face of it. There are different denominations, and we can make change with it. You can’t do that as easily with things like your health, well-being, relationships, quality of life, or soul. But what if you could? What if whenever you made a purchase or decision a cosmic cashier could ring you up and before you walk out the door with that freshly made choice the clerk would say:
“That will cost you half your liver. You’ll be placed on an installment plan with a balloon payment due upon your untimely death.”
“That will cost you two marriages and the relationship with your oldest child. Taxes will be added and annually compounded in order to add emotional injury to your loved ones.”
“That will cost you 1/5th of your soul. Would you like me to supersize your material gain for only 10% more of your soul?”
The truth is that we pay these prices, but we’re so busy looking at the things we can easily measure that we don’t notice. Sometimes when a person tells me that their budget can’t afford a vacation or a work of art I respond with, “My soul can’t afford for me not to have it.” Because the truth is that we can always afford what’s most important to us, and when I’m gone I want the people around me to remember the joy we experienced together and be comforted by positive memories in their pain. Money has no power to do this.

Rest assured, I’m not advising going into debt in order to justify spending on a whim. I’m simply asking people to re-prioritize and think about the yardsticks we’re all using to make sure that it’s the right one. Money shouldn’t be the measure of all things. It’s simply a vehicle to achieve other more important things. For some reason we’ve devalued the wrong currency.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Art Reflects the Understanding of Life

This video is going around Facebook right now. I can understand why the video is popular - it’s an incredible sculpture. Take a minute and watch the film if you haven’t already.

What I love about this is that art often reflects life, but this work of art goes one step further and reflects our understanding of life. This piece reminds me that sometimes things don’t look beautiful or meaningful because I’m not looking at them from the right perspective.

I’ve learned that there’s always more than one way to view anything - a problem, event, situation, relationship, etc. So if you don’t like what you see when you view something in your life, then you should get up and walk around to view it from another perspective. Nothing is completely positive or negative. There’s an old proverb that says something like “blessings don’t come without curses.” I’ve found the opposite to be true, as well. Some of the greatest blessings come from learning to deal with a situation that appears to be a curse. However, if I don’t consider other perspectives to a situation I may never see this.

Once I find the perspective that gives me the most insight (note that this may not be the most comfortable viewpoint), I stop to appreciate the beauty of having the event in my life. And when I see how it all fits together, I can also see that the positives outweigh the negatives in the larger picture.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Why Gargoyles Love NYC

 Last week Newton had the time of his life in NYC while we were in town for Book Expo America 2014. Newton fell in love with the city and thought it was a great travel destination for gargoyles on the go. Here’s his list of the top 10 ten things gargoyles love about NYC.

1. Gothic Churches are everywhere.
2. Nice selection of assorted tall buildings for perching.
3. Other gargoyles to visit (The Chrysler building has a friendly group).
4. When there are 300 people waiting in line at the neighborhood’s trendiest restaurant, gargoyles get to cut at the front of the line and walk right in (true story - Newton got us to the head of the line!).
5. Live theater. Gargoyles love the arts and get in free with a human!
6. No one thinks it’s strange to see a woman walking down the street carrying a gargoyle.
7. New York Pizza.
8. Going to Serendipity3 and getting chocolate sauce in your wings from the full body contact hot fudge sundae eating frenzy.
9. Meeting the original Winnie the Pooh and Friends.
10. The people of NYC are smart enough to know that the average gargoyle is a few hundred years old, but they card them in bars anyway, just to make them feel good.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Girl and Her Gargoyle on Broadway

As many of you already know, Newton and I are in New York for Book Expo America where we will be signing books later today.However, last night we went to see All The Way, a well written and beautifully acted play about LBJ as he attempts to both pass the Civil Right Act of 1964 and seek re-election. I won't give away the story line because I'd rather encourage all of you to go see the play for yourselves if you happen to be in New York. It's a great story about a significant time in American history. Yes, the play is three hours long, but it is so well done that you won't even notice the time go by. It is that good.

Afterwards Newton and I met Bryan Cranston and he was gracious enough to pause for a photo with us. In fact, he was gracious with everyone who wanted to speak with him no matter how bizarre the request (and taking a picture with a gargoyle was probably not the strangest thing he's been asked to do).  Bryan had done two shows that day and still took time to speak with everyone who wanted to meet him. I respected Bryan Cranston for his talent as an actor before I saw the Broadway show. Now I respect him for his character, as well.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

If Godzilla Came to Dinner

I saw Godzilla in IMAX this weekend. After I left the theater I thought: What if Godzilla came to dinner at my house? How cool would that be? IN order to make my guest feel more at home, here's a list of things I would do for him:

1. I would make a nice garlic and butter sauce for him to pour over Mothra’s head before eating him.

2. I’d also let him text at the table because it’s rude and dangerous to argue with Godzilla (Are his arms long enough to use a smartphone and see what he’s typing? If not, I’d help him because that’s what friends with long arms are for).

3. I’d laugh at his jokes, even if I don’t understand lizard language.

4. I’d let him breathe fire on the grill to light it so that he can impress everyone else at the party. (“Oh, that’s my friend Godzilla. He doesn’t need matches.”)

5. I wouldn’t make him floss, even if giant bug parts are stuck in his teeth.

6. I’d compliment him on his scales and remark that he looks like he practically just hatched.

7. I’d serve him saltwater as well as fresh, since he lives in the ocean and might prefer the salt water but want to experiment with drinking the fresh stuff.

8. He could drink as much whiskey as he wants before dinner and challenge any of the other guests to fire breathing contests (if that’s what giant lizards do for fun).

9. Most of all, I’d let him eat any obnoxious dinner guests. That would give us something to talk about while Godzilla is digesting the windbag who was monopolizing the conversation. I’d also give him a nice red wine to wash the jerk down, also.

The one thing I wouldn't do is fix him up with a giant female lizard. Those blind date things never work out, regardless of species, and I wouldn't want Godzilla to feel awkward while he was killing his dinner.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

"Where do you get your ideas from?" has to be one of the most common questions I’m asked. I also suspect that many other writers and artists get asked this question or something similar.

First of all, it may be useful to consider that those of us who are creative individuals are not linear thinkers. The truth is, that we have a swimming pool of ideas and there are a lot of things floating around in our brains. Research has shown that creative types tend to make connections that the general population doesn’t see because the average person files information into rigid categories.

My guess (and I can’t say for sure, because I’m not the person who asks this question) is that some people believe there’s a formula for creativity. However, when things become formulaic they tend to be more predictable and therefore less creative. So showing a diagram that explains X leads to Y leads to Z means that the idea was logical in origin and not creative. I think this is why creative individuals have a difficult time answering the question. If there's a formula or rule for creativity, it's that you need to break formulas and rules in order to come up with something that's not predictable.

Sure, there are times when I can say that I read a book or saw a painting that started an idea germinating in my mind. But then that seed grows and there are so many other things fertilizing that idea and some of the fertilizer is decades old. It makes it difficult to specifically state the source.

So if you want to know where my ideas come from, here’s a list of what’s swimming in the pool of my mind from which I draw:

Literature (I read a lot and always have)
People (both personal interactions as well as generic people watching )
Art (paintings, photography, dance, music, etc.)

There are many mothers of invention. In fact, my brain is like the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter books. I’m not usually short on ideas - just on time to develop them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Four Seasons of Nashville

Those of you looking for information about the TV show - stop reading now. Anyone else interested in the basics of Nashville weather may continue onward.

When I first moved to Nashville people told me that Nashville had four seasons, but that Spring and Fall were much longer than other areas of the country. After living here for more than two decades I’d like to clear up a few things.

First of all, Nashville does have four seasons, but they’re not the traditional ones that I remember from my childhood in Chicago. I’ve redefined these for people who are planning to visit (or move to) the area. It’s important to prepare your wardrobe and expectations accordingly. The four seasons of Nashville are as follows:

Season 1
Tourist season. This is the longest and also the time of year that locals avoid certain areas of town. It’s roughly equivalent to what some people refer to as “Summer” and may also be referred to as “hotter than @#$%@!.”

Season 2
Autumn is the season when the trees drop their leaves, despite the temperature still being “pretty @#$^# hot!”

Season 3
Nashville has a season I like to refer to as “colder with occasional glimpses of winter.” Being raised in the North, it’s difficult to take this attempt at winter seriously, but I do my best to keep a straight face when people refer to it in that manner.

Season 4
Allergy season. This is when the trees bud and flowers bloom, and people who didn’t have allergies before coming to Nashville develop them.

A final bit of advice:
Remember that if you’re in Nashville when the weather forecast includes snow or flooding, it’s a local ritual to run out to the store and buy up all the milk, toilet paper, bread, and alcohol. The people of Nashville take this ritual very seriously. If you don’t follow the protocol it’s akin to breaking a mirror or something along those lines. I don’t know what bad things happen if you don’t follow the custom, but it must be pretty serious if the whole town engages in these behaviors. So why take a risk?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Annual Performance Review

This morning on our daily walk my dog informed me that she had completed my annual performance review. I thought I’d share the results so that other dog owners might know what to expect when it’s time for their annual review.

First of all, I was told that the number of slices of bacon making it all the way to the floor had declined from previous years. This was deemed as both “unacceptable” and “needing improvement.”

Secondly, she cited the numerous times I have asked her to go to the bathroom outside when it was raining. I was told that if I needed to urinate in the rain that I should do it myself instead of relying upon others to do my job for me.

Thirdly (and she added “while we’re already on the subject”), the fact that I close the door while urinating makes it appear as if I have a secret process that I’m unwilling to share with others. I was asked to do my business out in the open instead of acting like I had a trade secret.

She also mentioned that while my stomach rubbing technique is “sufficient in ability” on those rare occasions that I actually do my job it is also “lacking in the required level of frequency.” It was explained to me that doing one's job well is still not doing your job if you're not doing it often enough.

Finally, she advised me to stop picking up her poop when we go out on walks because she spent a lot of time choosing the right spot and she “put it there for a reason.” I was accused of undoing her entire days work by cleaning up after her.

I'm currently on a performance improvement plan. Whether you choose to change your behavior or not, I thought the rest of you dog owners might want to know the sorts of things you’ll be rated upon.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Peeps, Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Many of you are aware of the Easter uprising that occurred yesterday at my house. If you have the stomach for it, you may review the graphic images that accompany this post.

My family and I would like to express our sympathy to the family members and friends of the peeps that were brutally murdered and/or toasted during yesterday’s Easter celebration. We are deeply mourned at the chicks’ militant brutality, and while we don’t condone the chick’s behavior we can understand the circumstances that caused it. We are working with representatives on both sides of the issue to resolve the situation.

After the events shown here, we discovered that the bunnies had been taunting and terrorizing the chicks even before they were purchased and brought into the household. Therefore, the problem predates my household’s involvement with both groups. Back when they were both side by side in the store bunnies insisted that they were superior to the chicks because A) they were the “newer and therefore hipper and trendier form of the Peep” and that B) The bunnies more closely resemble the spirit of Easter because they look like the Easter Bunny himself.

Unbeknownst to household management, the bunnies had been lighting bags of jelly beans on fire outside of the chicks’ cartons and leaving chocolate graffiti with phrases such as, “Your momma was an egg.”

Our official position on the matter is that neither bunnies nor chicks are preferable Easter treats. Both are delicious and household management will make sure to consume them in equal portions in the future. There is no excuse for taunting others with chocolate or for tying anyone up with licorice and publicly toasting them on a stack of pretzel sticks. Furthermore, this sort of unruly behavior will not be tolerated in the pantry or elsewhere in the house. Bunnies or chicks who engage in these types of hostile actions will have their heads bitten off and fed to the dog.

Lastly, while we did consume the murdered bunnies and even dipped the charred bodies in chocolate fondue before eating them, this in no way should be viewed as an endorsement of the chicks’ actions.  Our sympathy goes out to the manufacturer of Peeps who is certainly in mourning over these events. Since corporations are people, too, we can only assume that the company is shedding tears of colored sugar over this event as they count their profits from the holiday.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Girl and Her Gargoyle - At Wicked

Last night I took Newton to see Wicked. I couldn’t take any photographs during the show, but the picture above is the curtain before the show opened. Newton kept trying to talk to the giant dragon over the stage, but she wouldn't have anything to do with him.

The show was awesome. I won’t spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t seen it , but I read the book when it came out several years ago and the musical follows the plot nicely. The stage sets and costumes were incredible, and the cast was outstanding. If you haven’t seen this musical you should make it a point to go.

We did have a few tense moments, though. Apparently Newton thought that Wicked was an all-you-can-eat buffet (most of you who follow my blog know that gargoyles protect from evil). He was ready to fly up to the stage and start chowing down, but he never detected any true evil and was hungry during the whole show. Stone stomachs are very loud when they rumble, FYI.

Almost as soon as he saw Elphaba, Newton fell in love with her because he could relate to being different and not looking like everyone else. Next time I’m buying Newton a ticket to sit in his own seat because every time Elphaba started to sing he got excited and started flapping his wings in my face.

Other than the frequent gargoyle-induced drafts, the play was a great experience.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The family Business - Part 2

Continuing my effort from yesterday, I've searched the Internet and come up with another strategy to enhance business meetings and applied it to the family dinner.

Strategy Two: Create a list of the top five reasons why people shouldn’t miss the meeting.

Applying this to dinner, I’ve come up with the list below. Note how I'm still attempting to make dinner time fun and exciting (per yesterday's strategy), especially for kids.  Here’s my top five list:

1. You need to eat and I, the almighty household dictator, control access to all the food. (Fridge is now padlocked, FYI.)
2. Your parents are going to be there - live and uncensored! You won't want to miss what they say next! Engage in exciting conversation with old people!

3. The food is free (… if you show upon time. Rates increase five minutes after the official start time).

4. You’ve run out of legitimate excuses to miss time with the family. Save your creativity for more important things.
5. Parents are experts at causing emotional distress that will last a lifetime. Kids, surrender now — while you still have a little sanity.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Family Business

I attended a conference this past weekend and one of the guest speakers was a communications expert who gave people some coaching on how to have effective personal discussions on difficult topics. I recognized a number of the techniques as corporate communication skills used in diffusing potentially flammable situations.

So this got me thinking …

What if we applied more business management techniques to family life? Surely, if the communication skills transfer from business to personal situations, then other techniques should transfer, also. So, with this in mind, I’ve decided to give it a chance and attempt applying the same strategies used to make business meetings less boring to spice up the family dinner. There were several suggestions I found on the internet. Here’s he first one:

Strategy One: Set the tone before the meeting by making the agenda interesting, fun, and grabbing.

First of all, I never thought about having an agenda for dinner, but it seems like a brilliant idea to keep things on task. So here’s what I came up with:

1. Sit down at table. There will be one less chair than number of family members. When the music stops, sit down. Person without chair is “out” but will be allowed to watch the others eat.

2. Serve finger foods. This means that family members must pay for food with their fingers. How hungry are you?

3. Eat salad. Use a fork if you still have enough fingers to do so.

4. Main course. Smear your meat, vegetables, and potatoes into an imitation of a master work of art before eating. You may not eat until someone else at the table recognizes the work of art and names the original artist.

5. Molotov cocktails for dessert. Siblings may not bomb one another’s rooms unless the destruction is mutually agreed upon in advance.

I think I’ve made the agenda both fun AND interesting!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

On Negative Reviews

Very few people are familiar with the name of Rufus Griswold. On the other hand, there are also very few people who don’t know the name Edgar Allan Poe. The irony is that much of what the average person “knows” about Poe was written by Griswold and these fictions, which appear to have been intended to harm Poe’s reputation and destroy his literary legacy, only served to increase Poe’s popularity. The dark descriptions Griswold wrote about Poe being an individual of poor character actually drew more interest in Poe’s work. This strategy of slander backfired and today most people know Poe’s name and literary work while Griswold is all but forgotten.

Certainly, there are a lot of mysteries surrounding Poe and his death, but the biography Griswold wrote adds another layer of darkness that further obscures the truth.  In fact, we can’t even be certain that Poe would disapprove of the false accusations, given how much it has brought attention to his own work. However, it brings to mind some of the reviews that I’ve seen authors giving other authors on retail and book related sites. It’s not uncommon for some authors to give low ratings or write unfavorable reviews for books that may compete with their own books for readers or market share.

Like most literature enthusiasts, I enjoy some books more than others. However, if I read a book that I don’t like, I simply don’t review it. Just because a book doesn't appeal to me doesn't mean that it was a bad book. In fact, more often than not, the reason I don’t enjoy a book is because it’s not relevant to me at the point in my life in which I read it. That doesn’t mean that the book would never be relevant or didn’t have the potential to take on meaning for me at a different point in my life. A reader’s experience is subjective and may be completely irrelevant to the quality of a book. Therefore, it’s important to explain why a book appealed to you in a positive review and carefully choose your words if you decide to write a negative review. But even well written negative reviews can reflect poorly on the reviewer.

Negative reviews often tell you more about the reviewer than the book being reviewed. Dislike for something that is strong enough for a reviewer to take the time to record it publicly tells you what’s important to the reviewer or where the reviewer struggles. Negative reviews are also frequently emotionally charged, thereby giving hints to the reviewer’s real issues. These are often unrelated to the book and more likely related to the subject matter or something about the author that reminds the reviewer of someone else. In the case of Griswold and Poe, Griswold’s real issue appears to be one of jealousy.

This brings about another important issue of authors writing negative reviews of another author’s work. Remember that your criticism isn’t simply evaluating the author’s writing: it is actually far more critical of the publisher’s and editor’s work. It’s the editors who determine if a book is well written enough to be published and who are also responsible for catching many of the issues that you may be criticizing. I’ve spoken with more than one editor who has said that they refuse to work with authors who write scathing reviews of other authors’ works because they feel that these individuals tend to have difficult personalities. So before writing a negative review, think twice about how it may reflect upon you. You could hurt your own chances of eventually getting published because, as one editor put it: “No one wants to work with a know it all, and people who constantly criticize others give the impression that they think they know everything. I don’t have time to deal with someone like that.”

Today when I read strongly negative reviews I’m often reminded of Poe and think, “something that evokes so much hatred must be worth reading.” Hatred isn’t a neutral reaction. In fact, some people argue that hatred is not the opposite of love and that indifference would be the true contrasting reaction. More often than not, truly bad books are simply ignored by the reading public because they aren’t recommended. It stands to reason that if someone takes the time to write a negative review in order to deter others from reading the book, that it was done for a reason.

Hatred is counterproductive on so many levels, and allowing your disdain for someone else’s writing could cause you to lose readers. Most people feel that individuals who need to push others down in order to lift themselves up probably don’t need to be elevated at all because they’re not demonstrating that they have anything worthwhile to say. After all, the main purpose of writing is to say something that’s worth reading. So instead of writing negative reviews, try expressing appreciation for the work of others that you do enjoy. This can help you to gain a larger audience because potential readers will better understand your work by the literary company you keep.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: The Elements of Eloquence


I read a lot, but it’s rare that I come across a book that I just can not put down. The Elements of Eloquence: How To Turn The Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth  was one of those books. I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours, deftly ignoring deadlines, emails, and people screaming in my face in order to accomplish this. It was worth it.

As a writer, I’m interested in the technical information in the book - how some of the best authors in history utilized these building blocks called the figures of rhetoric in their craft. The author doesn’t explain every figure in existence — just some of the ones more commonly used. What’s great about this book is how the author provides specific examples from classic literature, and those frequently come from the works of the Bard, himself. What better example could we have?

Aside from the fascinating content, what makes this book unique is the engaging manner in which it’s written. Forsyth makes learning about the figures of speech fun and entertaining. He cracks jokes and doesn’t take himself or the language too seriously. Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“When healthy people fall in love, they buy a bunch of flowers or an engagement ring and go Do Something About It. When poets fall in love, they make a list of their loved one’s body parts and attach similes to them.”

“Polyptoton remains incorrigibly unsexy.”

“Lawyers are like Cole Porter and Alfred Lord Tennyson with a blender.”

“I would no more write without art because I didn’t need to, than I would wander outdoors naked just because it was warm enough.”

If you’re a word nerd, purveyor of prose, or literature lover, such as myself, then you should check out this book. Note: I just used several of the elements of rhetoric in that last sentence, but I won’t tell you which ones or how many. You’ll have to read the book for yourself to figure it out!

If you know a writer or English teacher, this book would make a great gift. If you fit into one of these categories or you're just a word junkie like me, then buy it for yourself.