Friday, May 14, 2010

In which Dr. Missy sucks up to her agent for no apparent reason

My new toy

Okay, so I'm a gadget freak. I did not sleep in front of a Best Buy in order to be one of the first to get an iPad, but I did check the inventories of the local stores until I found one that had the iPad in stock. Then we rushed off like a hurricane or blizzard or typhoon or some other weather condition and I got one.

So far, I think it's terrific. Playing Bejeweled on it is awesome. Also, the iPad did an admirable job standing in for my iMac and Powerbook when both came down with maladies. In fact, I took it with me to the....

Writer's retreat

Every year my agent has a retreat and this year was my first time. I was very nervous because I figured everyone knew everyone else from previous retreats and I would be like the new kid in school and have to stand in corner by myself. In fact, they couldn't have been nicer and more supportive. I read a couple of pages from my WIP and they were all good enough to laugh where I had hoped people would laugh. At least I didn't hear any crickets chirping.

Still, when I think about the kind of stuff I like to write, I feel overwhelmed by the stuff other people are doing, stories with all kinds of deep emotional conflict and multiple subplots. I'm writing about a boy who gains super powers and flies around and gets lost.

At the retreat, I listened to excerpts from about 25 other writers and I knew my turn was coming. I started thinking, "Dang, maybe I can sneak back to my room without anyone noticing. Or maybe I could shout, "Help, I have horrible diarrhea!" and make a run for it. I'm sure no one would have tried to stop me.

We showed up the day before the retreat officially began and I wore a t-shirt from the Steve Dahl radio show that proclaimed in large letters: "Reading is for Losers." Obviously, I don't share this view but I wanted to see what kind of reaction it would get. Unfortunately, the one person at the retreat who knew me by sight spotted me, and then, horror of horrors, my agent showed up. I'm sure she was thrilled with the shirt. The scary thing is that it got a lot of attention when we went shopping, but only from young women.

My agent's birthday

Nearly every year I write a short story about my agent's birthday. They always involve monsters, vampires, ogres, etc. and I always visualize my agent as being 12 years old. I have no explanation for any of this. It just is. This year's story is no exception, except that I decided to limit myself to 750 words like in a typical picture book, except I might be the world's worst picture book writer.

Thing is, picture books require such tight writing and I tend to be a little sloppy. I am reminded of the quote by the great Mark Twain, who said, "And madam, if I were your husband, I'd drink it!"

No wait, that was Winston Churchill. Mark Twain once wrote a friend and said, "I'm sorry this is so long. I didn't have time to make it shorter." Or words to that effect. I'm not a Bartlett's, you know.

So, without any further ado, here is my homage to my agent's birthday.

Erin slept with a grin on her face. She dreamed of her birthday and the fun she would have when she woke up.

The quiet of her room was broken by a scratching sound at the door. “Hello?” came a muffled voice from outside.

“Who’s there?” Erin asked groggily.

The door creaked open. A hairy foot appeared, followed by an equally hairy body two feet tall. The thing wore a small purple hat. Two dark eyes glittered from under the fur.

The thing gave Erin a small wave. “Hi. I’m Larry, your birthday monster.”

"My what?" Erin mumbled.

“Birthday monster. I’m here to terrify you on your birthday.” Larry raised his arms and let out a growl. It sounded more like a kitten mewing. "Are you scared yet?"

“There’s no such thing as a birthday monster,” Erin said. She nestled under the covers and closed her eyes.

A few minutes later, she felt someone wiggle her big toe.

“Excuse me. Hello?”

Erin opened one eye to see Larry standing next to her bed.

“Wake up. I have to frighten you now." Larry bared his small teeth and crossed his eyes.

Erin sighed and sat up in bed. “I don’t know if you’re real or not, but why do you have to frighten me?”

"You're my homework," Larry said. "I'm supposed to ruin your birthday. I'm going to…." He stopped to scratch his head. "I can't remember. But it's really scary stuff.”

Erin frowned. "Birthdays aren't scary. They're about cakes and presents and parties and silly hats and—”

“That’s it!” Larry cried. “I’m supposed to frighten the birthday cake, scream at the presents, eat the silly hats and then…no, that’s not it.”

He kicked the bedpost in frustration. “Ow!” he cried, hopping in circles on one hairy foot.

“Serves you right,” Erin said. “Scaring people on their birthday is dumb.”

The monster stopped hopping. “You really think so?”

“How would you like it if I showed up on your birthday and frightened you?”

Larry shook his head. “I wouldn’t like that. But if I don’t frighten you and ruin your birthday, I’ll get yelled at by my teacher. Steve is the best birthday monster ever. One year he ruined fifty birthdays in one day.”

“Sounds rotten to me,” Erin said.

The monster began to pace next to the bed, deep in thought. “Okay. Maybe I should frighten the birthday cake, eat the presents, and…oh boy, my teacher is going to be mad if I don't figure this out.”

Larry began to sniffle. A tear trickled down his cheek.

“Okay, don’t get all gooey about it,” Erin said. “I have an idea.”

Later that day, all of Erin’s friends came to her birthday party. They brought presents, they wore silly hats, and they ate birthday cake. But mostly, they looked at the hairy thing sitting next to Erin at the head of the table. It wore the silliest hat of all, and held a piece of birthday cake in each paw.

“That’s the ugliest doll I’ve ever seen,” said Ruth, Erin’s best friend. “How do you get it to eat cake like that?”

Erin watched as Larry finished another piece of cake, candle and all. His furry face was covered with crumbs and icing.

“I don’t know how it works,” she said, giving Larry a wink. “Maybe it has a computer in it.”

Ruth shrugged. “It’s ugly and it just ate a birthday hat. What do we do now?”

“We’re going to play a game,” Erin said. “We’re going to run outside and scream as loud as we can. And the loudest screamer gets a big prize.”

And that’s what they did.

They screamed so loud that people blocks away opened their doors to see what was going on. Dogs began to howl. Huge flocks of birds flew from the trees. Somebody called the police.

It was the loudest scream anyone had ever heard.

The next day, in a classroom far, far away, a large monster patted Larry on the head.

“Good work,” Steve said. “We could hear the screams all the way down here. You are the scariest monster in the school.”

“Aw, it was nothing,” Larry said. He burped and a birthday hat flew out of his mouth. “People are weird. Those things taste awful.”

Email of the day

Dear Dr. Missy,

I am a newbie children's author and I'm ready to buy a computer. The trouble is, I don't know which kind to buy. I've heard that PCs are cheap but they all have trouble with viruses and whatnot. Macs cost more but don't have the virus problem. However, a friend told me that Macs are prone to being haunted. What should I do?

Dazed and Bewildered

Dear D and B,

It should be obvious from what I wrote above that I am a Mac Person and proud of it. At least with a Mac I don't have to worry about my computer bursting into flames or being infected with a new virus every five minutes.

Unfortunately, the reports of "haunted" Macs are true. Apple has acknowledged the problem, which is due to certain logic boards mutating into irrational boards that somehow summon the spirits of creatures from another dimension that take up residence in Macs.

Hey, what can I say? It happens.

My agent was the victim of a Technohaunting, and it changed the programming on her computer so that every third word she wrote was replaced with "poop." As a result, I received emails that read:

Dear Melissa,

Poop was good poop to hear poop from you poop. About your poop: I sent poop to Ed poop at Random poop and he poop as soon poop he can. Poop.

Well, you get the idea. She had a Buddhist guy come in and do some kind of exorcism thingie and now "poop" only shows up every fiftieth word or so. That's not so bad and she doesn't have to worry about flames and poisonous fumes shooting out of her keyboard as is the case with certain other brands. I think you know what I mean.

Dr. Missy

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fun's over, time to do the blog

I'm back!

I haven't really gone anywhere but real life gets in the way of blogging. Well, I did go to Chicago and look for ghosts with children's author Adam Selzer, though we didn't find any. Then we went back to Chicago again to see if we could find the best cheeseburger in the city. Much more research remains before a winner can be crowned.

My youngest son got a taste of city life while we sat in a park late one evening. A man who had perhaps drank a little too much plopped next to him and introduced himself as Pete. Within five minutes they were involved in a lively argument about whether Inspector Gadget said "Go go gadget hat!" or "Go go gadget copter!" when he needed to fly. I'm not sure this vitally important issue was ever decided. I'm not sure how the subject even came up. I'm not sure I want to know.

I love using Chicago as the locale of my stories, so I try to learn as much about the city as I can whenever we head up north. Last time, I spent an hour walking from one end of the Navy Pier to the other with a video camera glued to my eye. I'd written a specific scene that takes place there and I wanted to make sure I had it right. One day we spent over an hour near Michigan Avenue looking for a suitable alley for another story. These activities, of course, thrill my family to no end. I hear a lot of "Can we go now?" and "All right, already!"

Civilians. They'll never understand the heart of the true artist.

Dead Mother Report

I just finished reading Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce. At first glance you might say to yourself, "Aha! This is just a crummy ripoff of Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid books! But there is a red banner running across the top of the front cover with Kinney quoted as saying "Big Nate is funny, big time."

Big Nate appears in over 200 U.S. newspapers. So there.

Big Nate is what I call a hybrid book, one with text and pictures mixed together, like the Wimpy Kid books or Ruth McNally's Barshaw's Ellie McDoodle series. I'm sure the publishing industry has come up with its own nifty term for these books but I haven't been paying attention if
they have.

Anyway, Big Nate is a quick and enjoyable read. I had the plot figured out early on but that didn't take away from my enjoyment of the characters and Nate's unending battle to stop being sent to detention. The artwork, while similar to Kinney's, is appealing, and the story is fun. This book should be very appealing to MG readers, especially boys.

What you want to know, of course, is whether or not there is a dead mother in this book. The answer is: I don't know. Nate has a somewhat stereotypical doofus dad and annoying older sister, but his mother is nowhere to be found. Is she dead? A zombie? A vampire? Did she run off with the milkman? Was she hit by a shrink ray and is trying to climb up a table leg in order to get the family's attention? The author gives us no clues.

Dead Mother Rating: Who the heck knows?

News of the weird:

From Illinois Homepage: An argument between a father and his adult son over the best way to change diapers sent one man to the hospital.

Gregory Bishop was fighting with his son about how he was changing his baby's diaper. Police say that the argument got physical and Bishop tried to get a knife to defend himself. In the process of doing that, he accidentally cut himself and had to be treated at a hospital in Springfield.

The son took off before police arrived to the scene. They say the baby was unharmed because its mother took the child from the bedroom when she heard the fight break out.

Email of the day:

Dear Dr. Missy,

Are all little boys weird or is it just mine? If I'm going to write books that will be appeal to them, I need to know what they are like.


Dear Concerned,

My little boys have grown up to be ginormous teenagers. One of them has a beard that makes him look fairly Amish. But here's a true story from when my youngest was a cute little bugger without any beard, Amish or otherwise:

We're at Bed, Bath & Beyond and I notice these rubber squishy balls near the checkout. They're about the size of a racquetball and are supposed to be used for relieving tension or as therapy to combat carpal tunnel. Since my youngest spawn is the fidgety type, I grabbed one for him to fidget with in the car. And since my wrist had been a little achy, I grabbed another one for me.

As it is with all things, my son insisted the balls be given names. He decided his would be Steve. I couldn't think of an appropriate name for a ball, so I snagged the first idea that flitted through my head and christened mine Hey Albert, which came from my failed attempt the night before to recall the name of the cartoon series, Hey Arnold.

Later that day, I walked into my bedroom to find my son sprawled on the bed on his stomach, staring at the two balls, which sat an inch part, unmoving.

"What's up?" I asked cleverly.

He gave me one of those "Duh!" looks. "Can't you see? Steve and Hey Albert are fighting."

Sure, why not? I left him there, a silent spectator to an epic battle between two enraged and motionless squishy balls. I never asked who won but I hope it was Hey Albert. There is such a thing as loyalty, after all.

So yeah, my son was fairly weird, but now he has actual prestigious universities vying for his attention despite the beard. So don't give up hope. I've got plenty more stories from where this one came from.


Dr. Missy