Wednesday, August 12, 2009

News bulletin! Liar controversy resolved!


As everyone in the children's publishing knows by now, a controversy erupted over the cover of
Justine Larbalestier’s novel, LIAR, published by Bloomsbury. The original cover, which featured a Caucasian girl with straight hair, did not match the author's description of the main character, an African-American girl with "nappy" hair. Larbalestier, which is a very hard name to spell, made it known that she was upset over the cover but was told the cover could not be changed.

This led to a storm of protest from people on the Interweb who like to protest things, although you can hardly blame them in this case. A similar outcry occurred in 1969 when a Hardy Boys book (The Secret Under the Sink) was released with a cover inexplicably showing Joe Hardy dressed as a Rastafarian and Aunt Gertrude firing a Glock 19 at the family dog.

In the case of LIAR, one proposal that caught fire amongst children's authors suggested that everyone who buys LIAR should return the jacket to Bloomsbury, along with a polite note stating, "You better send me a different cover or else, chumps."

In the end, Bloomsbury recently announced that the book with be re-jacketed in time for its release in October.The odd thing is, the new cover will feature the late Bill Cullen (see right), host of the original The Price Is Right and many other game shows. We could not discover why this decision was reached, although we did receive a whispered late night phone call from a woman who said, "Everybody liked Bill Cullen, okay? Who's going to complain about him?"

Email of the day

Dear Dr. Missy,

I was thinking of going to one of those SCBWI conventions. Have you ever gone to a convention? Is it worth the time and money? What the heck does SCBWI mean, anyway?

Bev (My real name)

Dear Bev,

I went to the last SCBWI convention in New York. Well, I tried to get there but it didn't work out. First I had trouble at the airport because I refuse to travel without my collection of antique tweezers and nail clippers. It was a bad scene and the security guys got jumpy and Maced me. Big deal. These days, all that does is make me sneeze a little. After I got away from them, I thought I'd found my flight but my eyes were a little watery and I didn't read the sign quite right. I ended up flying to York, Pennsylvania.

When I got off the plane a woman pointed at me and started yelling that I was the Sweet Potato Queen of literary fame. Okay, the Sweet Potato Queen is real tall and has big curly hair and I'm real tall and have big curly hair but I'm still not her. Despite my protests, no one would listen, so I was taken to the local high school to give a talk on sweet potatoes to the student body.

Thing is, I hate sweet potatoes. I can't stand to have them near me, so my speech was mostly a lot of yelling about how people who eat sweet potatoes should be thrown out of the country because only communists would eat the stupid things in the first place. That caused a fuss and they tossed me out of the high school. Unfortunately, they still had my suitcase, so I had to fight my way back in to get it because I was not leaving my collection of antique tweezers and nail clippers in York frigging Pennsylvania.

Luckily, I was able to hitch a ride with a trucker taking a load of urinal cakes to New Jersey. Unluckily, he insisted we sing C.W. McCall's "Convoy" all the way there. It's not a bad song, not really, but it's a long way to New Jersey and we must have sang the &*^%$#@! thing a thousand times. Hey, Rubber Duck, you got your ears on?

The trucker let me out somewhere in eastern New Jersey and I caught a cab the rest of the way. I stopped off for a look in the newly-opened Museum of Socks, then hung around the Ed Sullivan Theatre for a while to see if David Letterman might show up. By the time I got to the convention site, all the SCBWI people had left. I wandered the hotel aimlessly until I found a meeting for fans of the old TV show, "Emergency." I chatted with a professional Randolph Mantooth impersonator until he started grabbing at me, then I decided it was time to go home.

Next year I'll try and do things a little differently.

Dr. Missy

P.S. I don't know what SCBWI means. It's probably one of those secret things like the Masons have. It's better not to inquire about that kind of stuff because you don't want to wake up with a goat's head in your bed or whatever it is they do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

That was zen, this is tao

The new me

Yesterday I took my son to the Social Security Administration to get him a new card, seeing as how he lost the first one. As I expected, there was quite a crowd, so we took seats in the back row. A couple of minutes later, a disheveled man came in, looked over the available seats, and decided to sit next to me. They always do. After he settled himself, he took out a container of doughnut holes and began to carefully examine each one. Perhaps he was looking for defects or maybe he was counting them--it wasn't clear.

I tried my best to ignore the guy and his aroma, but I made the mistake of sneaking a peek at him. He caught my eye, smiled a gruesome smile, and said he knew a "a real pretty lady over to Gibson City" who looked just like me.

"He's trying to pick you up," my son whispered, trying not to laugh.

"I've never been to Gibson City," I said.

"Oh," the disheveled guy said. "Well, you sure look like her." He went back to inspecting his doughnut holes.

My son and I, with a long wait ahead of us, decided to use the time by coming with a nickname that would help my writing career, something that would grab the attention of an editor or the reading public. Here are some of the nicks we evaluated:

Missy "Tourist Hater" Neal
Missy "The Inkinator" Neal
Missy "The King of Pop" Neal
Missy "Get Down with Your Own Bad Self" Neal
Missy "Gonzo" Neal
Missy "Melissa" Neal
Melissa "Missy" Neal
Melissa "The Italian Stallion" Neal
Melissa "Read or Die" Neal
Melissa "Dr. J" Neal

Well, you get the idea. Coming up with a good nickname, especially one for use in literary circles, turned out to be quite difficult. In the end, we decided on... (drum roll)

Melissa "The Enforcer" Neal

I need to tell my agent of this new moniker, if she would only answer her phone. I think she will be quite happy, telling editors that she has a new manuscript from... The Enforcer. "Whoa," the editors will say. "A new one from The Enforcer! Break me off a piece of that because I am hungry for some great reading!"

After a long wait, we didn't get a new Social Security Card because my son forgot his school ID. So, we went over to Barnes & Noble, where I stood near the front door and pretended I was having a book signing. "Hey," I said to customers entering the store, "The Enforcer is here. Have pen, will sign."

Most of the customers shied away from me. One woman started to cry. A big, nasty looking guy glared at me and said, "Who do you think you are?" I replied, "The Enforcer." After that, the cops showed up and we had to leave.

Email of the day

Dear Dr. Missy,

I am a children's author but my children (Augie, Robert, Kristal, Gwen, and Petey) refuse to eat cauliflower no matter how I prepare it. They say it looks like brains! Do you know of a way I can get them to eat this most important vegetable?

Bev (My real name is Dotti)

Dear Bev and/or Dotti,

What the heck does this have to do with children's writing? Never mind. As it happens, here is my recipe for cauliflower:

Take one pound of lean ground beef
Three tablespoons butter
One pound sharp cheddar cheese
Six slices of English muffin bread
One pound of cauliflower
A nice bottle of merlot

Shape ground beef (ground sirloin is best) into three patties and cook over medium heat until the meat is slightly pink in the center.
Break cheese into pieces and melt over medium high heat in a double boiler
Toast English muffins in toaster (duh)
Place each ground beef patty on one slice of muffin and cover generously with melted cheddar. Cover with second slice of muffin.
Throw the caulflower out the back door and hope the danged squirrels will eat it because it does look like brains and it tastes horrible.
Return to kitchen and invite two friends over for burgers.
Wash down burgers with merlot.
Put butter back in fridge since you never got around to using it.
Optional: Serve chips next to burgers
Also optional: Put ketchup or mustard or mayonnaise on burgers

There. I hope that helps.

Dr. Missy

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nothing about cobras this time, I promise

The Squirrel Man

I was cleaning out my computer desktop yesterday and found a file called "Squirrel Man." I had no idea what it was so I opened it and started reading. I read a little of it and decided I must have downloaded it from the Interweb and kept it for some reason. Then I read a little further and saw a couple of personal references. Turns out I wrote the thing, probably one of those late night ideas that wouldn't let go of me until I wrote it down.

Since I don't have anything terrifically witty today. Here's the Squirrel Man.

I passed the old man every day on my way to work. He sat on the same park bench from daybreak to sundown, in rain and snow, heat and cold, he was always there.

He dressed in a gray wool overcoat that had seen better days and an ancient Cubs cap. His face was deeply lined, his hair thinning and gray. His eyes gave no sign of happiness or sorrow. They just stared ahead, looking at something in the far distance.

I called him the squirrel man because he was covered with squirrels. They perched on his shoulders, arms, and legs, even on his scuffed boots. Without seeming to move, a piece of corn or a nut would appear in his hand for a second before one of the faster squirrels grabbed it in both paws and hurriedly nibbled at it.

After a while, I ceased to notice him. He was another park fixture, more like a statue than a man. The seasons changed but he did not.

A few days before Christmas, I hurried through the park on my regular route to work. Fat snowflakes skidded past, borne by a gusty wind. When I reached the park bench, the squirrel man slowly turned his head and looked at me for the first time. I stopped and gave him an awkward wave. His eyes lowered, indicating the vacant seat on the bench. After a moment’s hesitation, I sat next to him, causing a mass exodus of squirrels.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be,” he said in a whispery voice. “They’ll be back, soon as they figure you’re okay.” An acorn appeared between the squirrel man’s thumb and forefinger. A squirrel approached, and after giving me a wary look, jumped on the man’s knee and grabbed his prize.

“See? They’re just a little shy, that’s all.” He paused and took a long breath. “You come through here ‘bout this time every day.”

I nodded. “It’s a shortcut to work.”

“You got a good job?”

“I think so. I enjoy what I do.” I paused, feeling my curiosity get the better of me. “Are you…are you retired?”

He nodded. “Long time.”

I flinched as a gust of wind hit us. The snow came faster. Drifts began to pile up against the trees.

“Aren’t you cold?” I asked. "It's terrible out here."

“I’m always cold. Ever since I was in Bastogne. That’s a Belgian town, you know. Everybody thinks it’s in France but it’s not.”

“You were there during World War II,” I guessed.

“Yep. I was a paratrooper. Got caught in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. Them Krauts came through the forest with everything they had. Shot the hell out of us.”

A nugget of corn appeared in the man’s hand. Two squirrels jumped in his lap and fought for it, chittering angrily.

“The whole world wants to fight,” the man said. “It don’t solve nothing.”

“You must have been brave to be at Bastogne,” I said.

“Nah. It don’t take bravery to jump out of a burning building, does it? We were there because we had a job to do. Besides, if we’d come out of our foxholes, the Krauts would’ve picked us off in a second.” He paused and closed his eyes. “It was real pretty in those woods. Sometimes at night, it got so quiet, all you could hear was the snow dropping from the branches.”

I groped for something positive to say. “I’m glad you weren’t hurt.”

He stared at the ground in silence while more squirrels advanced. He made sure they all got a piece of corn.

“Soon be Christmas,” he said. “You can hear the bell ringers all over the park. They got real pretty lights strung up on the buildings.”

I could no longer feel my toes and I was late for work but I couldn’t leave. “Do you have family?”
“Probably so. They don’t much want anything to do with me.”

“Why?” I asked and immediately wished I hadn't.

“I got shot up pretty good at Bastogne. I weren’t the same any more.”

“I’m sor—”

“I don’t want nobody to be sorry. I took my life as it came, and that’s all anybody can ask of me.”

I started to feel a little frantic. I wanted to get inside where it was warm but I couldn’t get up and leave the old man alone. “Do you have somewhere to go for Christmas?” I heard myself ask.

He nodded. “Got my post right here. The squirrels don’t know about Christmas. They get hungry no matter what day it is.”

“It’s too cold,” I said. “You can’t sit out here in this kind of weather.”

His head slowly swiveled toward me. “Bastogne was worse, lady. At least here I don’t have nobody shooting at me.”

“I’ve got to go.” I stood and shook snow off of my coat. “What if I brought you something warm later on? Maybe some coffee or some soup?”

“I’m okay just like I am.” He pointed at the lapel of my coat. “I like that pin. I used to keep bees, long time ago.”

I glanced down at the gold honeybee pinned to my lapel. “My sons gave this to me a couple of years ago. I’d almost forgotten it was there. Look, are you sure there isn’t something—”

“Get out of here before you’re late for work.” The old man turned away and gave his attention to the squirrels. As I walked away, they swarmed over him, waiting for something to eat.

That day, I couldn’t stop thinking about the squirrel man. I felt guilty sitting in my warm office. After taking a sip from my fourth cup of gourmet coffee, I made up my mind to do something for him.

The snow continued to fall. Schools let out early; street closures came over the radio. It looked to be one of the biggest snowfalls in years. Surely the squirrel man had gone for shelter somewhere. No one could last long in this weather.

I left work a little early and hurried to the park. It was nearly dark. A police car and an ambulance stood at the entrance, their lights flashing. A fender bender, I decided. Cars were skidding all over the icy streets.

The park bench was empty. All around it, shoeprints had churned the snow into mush. I felt eyes peering at me and looked up into the trees. Dozens of squirrels looked back.

A policeman approached, scribbling something in a notebook.

I pointed to the park bench. “There was an old man—”

“Crazy old coot.” The policeman snorted. “Sat there so long he froze to death.”

“No!” I blurted. “Not him.”

The policeman shrugged. “’Fraid so. Happens all the time.”

“What was his name?” I needed to know.

“No idea. Just another vagrant.” The officer peered at me and pulled a small package from his pocket. It was wrapped in a greasy menu from a Chinese place down the street. He glanced at the package and nodded. “Found this on the old guy. Are you the bee lady?”

I nodded. “He liked my pin.”

“Works for me. No crime committed here, so we don’t need this for evidence.” He tossed the package to me and walked away.

Give this to the bee lady,
the old man had written in a shaky hand. I fumbled to unwrap the paper and found a worn velvet box, and inside that, a medal with a striped ribbon. A silver star. I turned it over. For Gallantry in Action, it read.

I stared at the park bench, now empty, and tears began to burn my eyes. “I didn’t even know the man,” I said out loud. “I shouldn’t be this upset.” I started to walk away but after a few steps I stopped and looked into the trees. “Okay, I’ll be back,” I told the squirrels. “You won’t go hungry.”

I hugged my coat a little closer and turned into the teeth of the wind. I wondered how cold it got in Bastogne.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Odds and Ends

Dr. Missy's Almanac

1/31: Send a Fan Letter to Bob Keeshan Day in Gnaw Bone, IN
2/3: Remember that Bob Keeshan Is No Longer with Us Day in Gnaw Bone, IN

2/7: Feel Bad About the Bob Keeshan Thing Day in Gnaw Bone, IN
2/12: Set Fire to a Pumpkin Festival in St. Louis, MO
2/14: National Salad Fork Day in New York City

I Didn't Make this Up

Here is a picture from an ad I received yesterday, which has not been altered in any way. I find it disturbing. Perhaps the economy is worse than I thought. Also, I don't want to think about what that orange stuff in the bowl might be.

Arcola Strikes Again!

The National Toy Hall of Fame features such well-known playthings as Legos, Hot Wheels, Tinkertoys, Tonka Trucks, and the Hula Hoop. No surprise there. In 2002, the Raggedy Ann doll joined the inductees, followed in 2007 by Raggedy Andy. These dolls were created by Johnny Gruelle of Arcola, Illinois.

The 2008 inductees included the baby doll, the skateboard and a stick. Yes, a stick. A plain old stick from a sycamore tree, to be precise. This choice received a great deal of media attention but what I find interesting is that the owner of said stick is one Julian Harshbarger of that hotbed of toy design, Arcola, Illinois.

By the way, Mr. Potato Head and Crayola crayons failed to make the cut this year. Apparently they weren't invented in Arcola.

Barack Obama: Senator, President...Lawn Ranger

Here is a picture of Barack Obama brandishing a toilet plunger.

To be honest, Mr. Obama was not president when this picture was taken. He was campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 2003 when he happened to run into an interesting bunch called the Lawn Rangers. (Official motto: You're only young once... but you can always be immature.)

The Lawn Rangers are a group of men who describe themselves as a "precision lawn mower drill team." They count among their membership such famous authors as Dave Barry. Okay, Barry is the only famous author in the group but who's counting? Barry describes the Lawn Rangers thusly: "We are an extremely random group of middle-age guys who carry brooms and push specially decorated show lawn mowers, which we use to perform synchronized broom-and-lawn mower maneuvers that always get a big crowd reaction (usually: 'Huh?')."

So far, the Rangers have marched in over 200 parades, including those for the Holiday Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, the Fiesta Bowl, and the Broomcorn Festival to name but a few. During these parades, the Rangers often carry batons, or as most of us call them, toilet plungers, which is how Obama came to be photographed holding one.

When Obama won the presidency, the head Ranger, Pat Monahan, remembered that 2003 picture. Overcome with patriotic fever, he decided it would be a good idea for the Rangers to march in the inauguration parade.

For reasons no one understands, the parade organizers agreed. And so the Rangers, clad in red graduation gowns and cowboy hats, thrilled (confused) Washington with an exhibition of their lawn mower pushing skill. According to Barry, five Ranger women dressed as Abraham Lincoln (with beards) were also on hand, carrying a banner announcing the Rangers' world-famous status.

As you probably know, the Lawn Rangers are based in Arcola, Illinois. Must be something in the water.

See the Rangers in action in this ABC News clip:

Email of the Day

Dear Dr. Missy, My agent thinks we should hire a freelance editor. Problem is, an editor will cost anywhere from .015 cents a word to .03 cents a word, which can get pretty expensive. I figure a full manuscript would cost about $2,000. Is this a good idea?

Lost Linda (My real name is Bev but don't tell anyone)

Dear Lost,

My agent, Eddie "Carwash" LaRue paid a freelance editor to read one of my stories. He blew the money buying rude pictures of Angela Lansbury on eBay and skipped town.

The next editor was better but not much. He actually read my stuff but when he finished, he threw himself out of the nearest window, screaming "I can't live in a world where people who write like this exist!" or words to that effect.

Thing is, the fall wouldn't have killed him, as it was a first floor window, but he landed in the middle of Chinese throwing star competition and died of massive blood loss plus his head came off. Needless to say, he didn't do us much good.

I hope this helps.

Dr. Missy

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Dr. Missy's Almanac

1/16: Rearrange Your Dirt Day in Westmoreland, TN

1/21: Be Mean to Mr. Claude Templar for No Good Reason Day in Parkland, OR

1/25: Valentine's Day in Canadia

1/28: Order the Clam Special at Howard Johnson's and Refuse to Eat It Day in Houston, TX

1/30: Wear Your Shoes Backward Festival in Kansas City, MO

How to procrastinate

It's a whole new year! Woo hoo! Yay!

Everyone is busy making resolutions to make this the bestest and brightest year ever! In fact, people on the CW list are being forced (possibly at gunpoint, possibly by blackmail) to come up with their "one word" for 2009, that single clump of letters they will use to steel themselves for the challenges of the next twelvemonth period. These words include: hope, contract, dedication, confidence, pus, finish, and kretch.

As the purpose of this blog is to be as dysfunctional as possible, my word shall be... PROCRASTINATE! Ha ha!

Here are ten activities I will use to successfully procrastinate throughout 2009:

1. Tweezing the middle out of my unibrow
2. Singing the Madagascarian national anthem (it rocks!)
3. Playing my extensive collection of Cowsills records backward to find secret messages
4. Spying on my neighbor, Mr. Bushida, via one of the cameras I secretly installed in his home
4. Playing Wimpy Bells over and over at
5. Writing hysterical letters to Dotti Enderle claiming that her books have caused my soul to be taken over by Randolph Mantooth
6. Counting how many staples are left in the staple gun
7. Bandaging wounds caused by checking how many staples are left in the staple gun
8. Staring at interesting bits of metal discovered in the driveway
9. Seeing how many different words I can make out of "SCBWI"
10. Arranging my tubes of foot lotion in alphabetical order

What happened to this blog?

Okay, it's been a long time since I updated this blog. I could say that sinister forces were at work trying to corner the world's supply of Corn Nuts and only I could stop them. I could say I had been kidnapped by a cult dedicated to the overthrow of the Jonas Brothers, whoever they are.

Or I could say I've been busy managing my real estate empire, which consisted of a couple of apartment buildings my mother left me. After a month, I decided to rename the apartments Mom's Revenge because being a landlord is a crummy job. People called up constantly wanting things! My bathroom faucet doesn't work. I lost my keys. My apartment needs to be repainted. I think I saw a mouse last night. There's a vampire hiding under the kitchen sink. On and on and on, except when it was time to pay the rent, and then half of them became very quiet and were never home when I came around to collect. Then I had to toddle off to court in a vain attempt to get the non-payers to cough it up.

Eventually I found someone to buy the apartments. I didn't quite get the price I wanted but my life suddenly became less complicated and now I have enough money to buy a trebuchet capable of hurling a grand piano at least 500 yards. (Never mind why I need one--I just do.)

Email of the day

Dear Dr. Missy,

I'm writing a story and I want to include this line: "The sun shone bright." But then I got to thinking, maybe it should be "The sun shined bright." Or the "The sun shone brightly."
Now I'm horribly confused and don't know what to do. My writing has come to a standstill and I now spend most of my time wandering the back yard muttering to myself. I'm afraid the neighbors will think I'm crazy. Please help me finish my book!

Perplexed in Vegas

Dear Perplexed,

One thing is for sure. You will never get a book published if you continue to write like a hack. If you were an author with any real talent, you would have written this: "The sun blazed in the sky like some massive sun-like object, a roaring furnace of fantastic heat that, if you were to touch it, would hurt like the dickens and probably cause a blister. And while the sun shined brightly overhead, the mother died and her kid acted up and got all full of angst. A bunch of other people died too, horrible lingering deaths with a lot of pus and bile and stuff. In the end, though, hard lessons were learned, lessons that would carry them through the tough times when robots ruled the world and everyone was forced to eat asparagus."
That, my friend, is the stuff that wins Newbery Awards. Get with it!

Dr. Missy

Do you have a question for Dr. Missy? If so, write in care of this blog and it might get answered, depending on how busy I am with the new trebuchet and any legal problems that result.