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My Daughter Lied in her Memoir

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

“I’m sorry for your loss,” my oldest daughter’s English teacher said to me after I introduced myself to her during Literacy Night at the local junior high.  The teacher seemed earnest, and her statement caught me off guard.

“Thank you,” I said hesitantly, out of politeness, as I thought: what loss?

I glanced at my daughter and noticed that her face was reddening, and she looked around the hallway at other parents and students wandering around the classroom.

I felt that asking about my loss would lead to an uncomfortable moment, and I do whatever is possible to avoid uncomfortable moments, so I moved on to another topic.  My daughter’s grades were good, the teacher said, she was a wonderful writer, and she talked a little too much in class.  That sounded about right, but I was curious about the loss I had suffered.

As we exited the teacher’s classroom, I asked my daughter, “Do you know what your teacher was talking about when she said she was sorry for my loss?”

“Yes,” she said, and then kept walking quietly, ignoring a couple of her friends waving at her.

I paused, annoyed (but I nodded at other parents and pretended everything was okay).  I knew I shouldn’t have to ask a follow-up question, but I did anyway.

“Would you please tell me why your teacher said she was sorry for my loss?” I asked.

Instead of explaining, she reached into her folder/portfolio and handed me her memoir assignment from a couple weeks ago.

When I read her memoir (I leaned against a set of lockers so nobody could sneak up from behind me), I learned that my daughter had a younger brother named Steve who died from a horrible disease when he was six.  I had never heard of the disease (just as I had never heard of my son Steve), but my daughter had the details down.  If there’s one thing that the internet is good for, it’s finding out horrible details about horrible diseases, and my daughter seemed to have done her research.  She described the disease, the effects on Steve’s ravaged body, how much she missed Steve, all the memories that she shared with him during his final weeks, and how much she would miss him.  She even wrote about how she keeps Steve’s favorite teddy bear on her bed with her to remember him.  It was heartbreaking, and I might have shed a tear if I had thought it was true.

“Your teacher believed this?” I said.

My daughter was new to the school, so her teachers wouldn’t know any better.  I found out later that the English teacher had shown the memoir to other teachers, and that they had cried over it in the faculty lounge.  I was jealous.  Nobody has ever cried over my writing, except me, in frustration.

It was my fault that my daughter lied in her memoir.  A couple weeks earlier, I had read her first version where she had described overcoming her fears on a rollercoaster ride.  It was well-written and funny (and true), but I told her that a lot of other students probably wrote similar stories.  My daughter’s English teacher probably read dozens of amusement park stories every year.  According to an English teacher friend of mine, this is what happens when you tell teenagers to write about a memory; amusement parks, concerts, and video games are what teenagers remember.

During the drive home, I explained to my daughter that it was wrong to manipulate people’s emotions like that.  I didn’t mention James Frey and how Oprah Winfrey felt betrayed and then got revenge on her TV show because even normal non-Oprah-like people don’t like to be manipulated.  It was probably fun to do as a writer, but that English teacher will influence her grade for the rest of the year and may (or may not) write recommendations to certain high schools or colleges.  Plus, outright lying in a memoir is wrong.

Her English teacher gave her a very good score for her memoir (the highest grade possible), but I don’t know how much of that was a pity score.  A teacher can’t give a bad grade to a student who writes about a sibling who died from a horrible disease.  It’s probably taught in English teacher college (if a student writes about the death of a family member, that student gets an automatic bereavement A).

I don’t want my daughter to get a pity grade.  It teaches her a bad lesson.  So I told my daughter that she has to confess.  She can choose the method of confession.  She can talk to the teacher.  She can write a note to the teacher.  And she has to accept whatever consequence her teacher decides for her. If her teacher decides to give retaliatory bad grades the rest of the year, that’s my daughter’s fault, and she has to accept it.

“I’m proud of you,” I said, giving my daughter a quick hug when we returned home.  Despite not having suffered much personal loss in her life yet, my daughter had described the grief very convincingly.  I had to give her credit for that.  “Now don’t do it again.  And you have to tell your mom.”

That conversation went better than expected.  My wife is far more honest than I am (which isn’t saying much), and I had expected lots of lecturing about honesty and trust. Instead, when my wife read the memoir, she handed it back quickly to my daughter and said:

“Thank you for not killing me in your story.”


What do you think?  Should I worry about a daughter who lies in her own memoir?  Should junior high students write memoirs?  What should students write about if the only memories they have are amusement park rides?  If you had ever had to write a memoir for school, what would you have written about?

Words Not To Say In Front Of My Kids

I tell my kids they can think anything they want, but there are some things they'd better not say. (image via wikimedia)

I tell my kids they can think anything they want, but there are some things they’d better not say. (image via wikimedia)

I told my daughters this morning that they’d need to take a sack lunch to school tomorrow, and they laughed at me.  I wasn’t expecting them to laugh.

It took me a moment to realize why they thought sack lunch was funny.  When I was their age (around 35 years ago), sack lunch wasn’t funny.  I carried a sack lunch to school every day, and nobody laughed.  I think I even called it a sack lunch.  Everybody called it that.  But somewhere along the way, kids picked up on the word sack, and a new source of humor was created.

Now I can’t say sack in front of my daughters; I have to say “brown paper bag.”  If I had two sons, maybe it wouldn’t matter much.  But I don’t expect girls to laugh at the term sack lunch.

I’m not sure when kids started laughing at the word sack.  I don’t remember that being on my radar when I was a kid, but I was a late bloomer, so I might have missed it.  When my history teacher talked about how the Visigoths sacked Rome, I don’t recall a bunch of girls giggling.  Then again, girls giggled at everything back then, so maybe they did and I didn’t know it.

Sack isn’t the only word that can get a laugh.  When my oldest daughter read an abridged version of The Iliad for school (a very abridged version) it said that Agamemnon wanted some of Achilles’s booty.  My daughter thought that was funny.  I explained to her that back then booty meant treasure, and she assured me that she knew that but still thought it was funny.

I never use the word booty, so I don’t have to worry about saying that in front of my daughters.

My wife blames me for my daughters’ taste in humor, but I have nothing to do with it.  My humor is more sophisticated than that.  I have a blog full of sophisticated humor to prove this.  I blame the schools.  I only say that because schools are an easy scapegoat.  If I blame cable and the internet, my wife might cancel our cable and internet, so I blame the schools.  My wife can’t cancel the schools.

I also have to be careful when we go to fast food restaurants.  If I order a #2 meal, my daughters laugh.  #2 is funny.  If I order a meal that happens to be a #2, I now have to state the full title of the meal.  It doesn’t take much effort to say “The Cheeseburger Deluxe Meal,” but the cashiers look at me funny. The cashiers probably don’t have daughters who laugh at #2.

I don’t know how “#1” and “#2” came to mean what they did.  Merriam-Webster doesn’t list number two as a word (it lists number one but not as a bodily function), so I can’t research its etymology.  I’m sure Oxford doesn’t have it either, but I haven’t looked.

I’m dreading the planets units in my daughters’ science classes because of Uranus. Uranus has been funny as long as I can remember.  Still, I feel uncomfortable at the idea of saying “Uranus” around my kids, so instead, I’ll have to say something like “that planet that is located between Saturn and Neptune.”

I have a bad memory about the word Uranus.  A friend in middle school challenged our science teacher in front of the whole class by saying, “Tell us about Uranus.”  With a straight face, the teacher lectured us about planets, stars, and alignments, and then he gave us a quiz afterward, and all of us failed it.  We told our friend to never be funny in science class again.  He might have even gotten beat up after school, but he did some other stuff to deserve it.  He was kind of a jerk.  I tell my daughters to never be funny in class.  They can be funny at home or in the cafeteria but never in the classroom.  In the classroom, being funny can have consequences.

I don’t know if Uranus is still funny, but I know that 30 minute lectures about planets, stars, and alignments are never funny.

These aren’t the only words that I can’t say in front of my daughters.

I can’t say, “Do it.”  If my daughters need to complete a task, I have to use the antecedent for “it” in the sentence.  I have to say, “Do your homework” or “Do the dishes.”  I usually say “please” to be more polite.

I can’t say “business” or “duty” either.  Whenever a new Call of Duty comes out, my daughters laugh.  They also laugh at the boys who stand in line to buy Call of Duty.  They also laugh whenever news programs announce their business segments.

My daughters don’t laugh at profanity.  In fact, when my daughters hear profanity, they don’t bat an eye.  I guess they’re used to it.  It’s not my fault.  I don’t swear around them (often).  It’s the internet and cable.  And probably the schools.  Remember, always blame the schools.  And the teachers too.

40 years ago, profanity was funny because we rarely heard the words.  Cable and internet didn’t exist, and network television was relatively safe.  I’d listen to George Carlin albums just to hear him swear.  I didn’t understand a lot of the jokes, but his swearing was funny.  It was the only place I could hear consistent swearing.  But now swearing is everywhere.  There’s nothing shocking about it, or funny either.

I could probably get away with swearing a lot in front of my daughters, but I don’t.  I don’t want them swearing in front of me, so I don’t do that in front of them.  I want them to have something to look forward to when they become adults, and swearing is a lot more fun when you weren’t allowed to do it as a kid.

“Do it.”  Haha.


But enough about me!  What words don’t you say around your kids?  Am I too sensitive about what I say in front of my children?  Am I wrong to blame the schools for my daughters’ low brow humor?  And most important, am I wrong to blame the schools for everything?

Revealed!! The Shocking Secret Famous Authors Don’t Want You To Know!!

If you're doing this, you might never become a famous author. (image via wikimedia)

If you’re doing this, you might never become a famous author. (image via wikimedia)

Famous authors give the same advice to struggling authors over and over again.  Don’t use adverbs.  Skip boring parts.  Write every day, no matter what.  Read as much as you can, even if you aren’t writing.

For all my adult life, I’ve followed the advice of famous authors, but I’ve never become successful.  It’s been frustrating.  But last week, famous author James Ellroy (in an interview found here) may have unintentionally revealed the true secret of being a successful author:

“I don’t read many novels because I write them and I want them to be perfect. And I can’t tolerate imperfection when I read fiction, and how often do you see perfection?”



All my life I’ve been told that if you’re going to be a successful writer, then you have to never stop reading.  Maybe that advice has been wrong. Maybe the secret of being a successful author is that they DON’T read books.  I feel like I’ve been lied to. Maybe the famous authors lie to all of us amateur authors.  Maybe the famous authors don’t want the competition.  Maybe famous authors figured out for themselves that the key to being a great author is NOT reading other authors’ novels, and they think the rest of us should have to figure this out for ourselves.

It makes sense. If all of us struggling writers stopped reading most novels, then the famous authors would go broke.  Famous authors need us reading their novels, so of course they would tell us that we have to read in order to improve our writing.  It’s in their best interest to keep us reading.  It’s in their best interest to keep us down!

The more I think about it, the more I think it could be a conspiracy.    A few years ago, Stephen King wrote a glowingly positive review of a novel called The Passage, and I was pretty certain Stephen King hadn’t really read the book.  I know I shouldn’t accuse Stephen King of lying about books that he’s read (I don’t want to get sued), but I’m just saying it’s a possibility.

Maybe Stephen King lies about all of the books he’s read.  Maybe Stephen King has never (or hardly ever) read any of the books he’s claimed to have read.   I don’t see how he can read so many books when he’s so busy writing his own. Maybe no authors really read the books they claim to have read.   Maybe it’s their secret to success that they don’t want to share.

I’m grateful to James Ellroy for helping me to figure this out, but this also ticks me off.  I feel like I’ve wasted so much time reading novels when I should have been writing.  All of those imperfections from the novels I’ve read have been branded into my own writing style.  It might take decades to eradicate those bad habits, and I’m not sure that I have decades left.  That ticks me off too!

I’m glad I don’t have to read novels anymore.  I’m kind of tired of reading novels.  It’s football season, and I’ve fallen behind on my movies and television series, and I may never have time to catch up on all of them.  It’s tough to write books, blogs, and tweets while reading novels, watching football, and working a full time job while taking care of a family.  Something has to give.  Maybe I’ll stop reading novels for a while and still continue writing, and maybe I won’t feel like I’m missing anything.  After all, I notice imperfections in novels that I’m reading too, and I’d sure hate to have those imperfections continue to find their way into my own writing.

Now that I know that reading novels can be harmful to my writing, I’m going to ignore other advice that famous authors give.  I’m going to use a lot of adverbs, especially the word “very.”  I’m going to intentionally add boring parts.  I’m going to write only when I feel like it and I’m NOT going to write every day.  And I’m probably not going to read many novels anymore.

At least, if I ever become a famous author, that’s what I’ll say that I’m doing.


What do you think?  Is James Ellroy telling the truth when he says he doesn’t read novels?  What writing advice do you think is complete hogwash?  Would you stop reading novels if you truly believed it would improve your writing?  Are famous authors trying to keep us amateur writers down by giving us bad advice?

Is This The End Of Amazon?

Maybe... but probably not (image via Wikimedia)

Maybe… but probably not (image via Wikimedia)

It must suck trying to compete with Amazon.  You spend 24 hours every day perfecting a business model that allows you to provide a service to the public and make a little money at the same time.  Then, just when you start to turn a profit, Amazon comes along and destroys you.

Amazon isn’t just big.  It has a secret weapon, one that’s unavailable to most business owners.  Their weapon?  A bunch of investors who don’t seem to care if Amazon doesn’t make a profit.  You can’t compete with a monolithic business that doesn’t care if it loses money.

But what if… just what if… shareholders cared if Amazon made a profit?

Last week Amazon announced that it might lose money in the fourth quarter this year. This happened the same week that its shares dropped more than expected.  Investors aren’t always known for their patience.  I watch Shark Tank; I know how things work.  And if shareholders lose patience with Amazon NOT making money… (dramatic pause)… would that mean the end of Amazon?

I like Amazon, and I don’t want it go away.  Amazon Prime is a great deal if you use it enough, and it’s changed my buying habits.  The only reason I don’t do the Kindle Unlimited  is because my local library is pretty good, and I can usually grab a new book before the blood stains and boogers show up.  Either that, or the librarians do a good job cleaning up the books.  That’s a job I wouldn’t want, the library-book-decontaminator.

I’m not an Amazon investor (or a competitor), so I don’t mind Amazon’s unprofitable business practices.  If Amazon’s shareholders don’t mind the company’s lack of profits, then I don’t mind saving money off their speculation.  In fact, I have an obligation to take advantage of Amazon while the deals still last.  I wish I had more money to spend on saving money at Amazon.

At some point though, even Amazon’s shareholders are going to get worried over Amazon’s lack of profits.  When the investors pull out, what happens?  Will eager new investors take their place?  Will a bunch of other investors panic and pull out at the same time, causing a jaw-dropping crash that destroys the entire American financial sector?  Or will the reaction be somewhere in between?

Just because Amazon isn’t making a profit now doesn’t mean it never will.  Trends don’t always last forever.  After all, the last three letters in “trend” are E-N-D.  I’m pretty sure Amazon can turn a profit when Jeff Bezos decides to do it.  I mean, a bunch of real investors believe that, so it must be true.  For Jeff Bezos’s sake, it had better be true.  I wouldn’t want to be Jeff Bezos if Amazon tanks and a bunch of investors decide to sue (or do worse).  Or maybe it’s a great deal, to take investors’ money and blow it.  Arriana Huffington seems to be pretty good at that too.  If I could get people to call me a genius and give me their money, I’d do it.  But nobody’s ever called me a genius, and people usually try to take my money instead of giving me theirs.

I would like to invest in a growing company like Amazon, but I’m the kind of guy who can destroy a good thing.  If I invest in stocks, the market crashes.

If I steer my car into the fastest lane, the cars in front of me slow down.

When I push my shopping cart into the smallest checkout line, the old lady at the front argues about coupons and pulls out a check book.

When I buy a house with a nice view, a high-rise blocking the view is built a couple lots away.

That’s just how it goes.  It’s my X-Men mutant gift.  I’m surprised Amazon didn’t go belly up as soon as I published my first ebook.

Maybe it’s a mistake for me to write about business stuff like Amazon because I don’t know much about business, but I’ve seen the talking-heads on cable business networks, and they don’t seem to know any more than I do (but they’re more attractive and speak with much more authority than I do).  Now that I’ve asked if this is the end of Amazon, Amazon will start making huge profits, and I’ll look like a fool for even asking the question.  But at least the good deals will continue.


Enough about me!  What do you think?  Is Amazon getting too big for its britches?  Is Amazon going to flame out and leave its shareholders with nothing?  Or will Amazon start making mind-boggling profits to justify its shareholders’ faith?  Is Kindle Unlimited a good deal?  Should I vandalize the high-rise that ruined my view?  What bad investments have you made?  What’s your X-Men mutant power?

Bad Topics For Writers (or anybody else) To Talk About

When you see this look on the interviewer’s face, you might want to change the topic. (image via wikimedia)

If you see this look on the interviewer’s face, you might want to change the topic. (image via wikimedia)

When it comes to writing, the topic is everything.  I’d rather read a poorly-written piece about an interesting topic than a well-crafted selection about something boring.  I’m pretty sure most readers agree with me.  I don’t have any statistics to back me up on this, but if I repeat myself loudly enough (“Most readers agree with me!!”), my assertions will eventually become accepted as truth (except I have a quiet voice so nobody will hear me).

If an author delves into a bad topic, the author can phrase things carefully and revise heavily before publishing.  But when an author talks about a bad topic, he can get into trouble just like anybody else.

Last week, famous author John Grisham got into trouble for talking about child pornography in an interview. Child pornography is probably the worst topic ever to bring up.  I don’t know if John Grisham brought up the ch*ld p#rn#graphy himself or was asked about it, and I’m not going to read the interview to find out because that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m not going to try to figure out if John Grisham actually had a point about men “accidentally” stumbling onto ch*ld p#rn sites because it … it… it…

All I know is that ch*ld p#rn#graphy is a bad topic.  It’s so bad that I want to repeat that I’m not talking about ch*ld p#rn#graphy; I’m talking about bad topics.   I don’t want readers to accuse me of hypocrisy for stating that ch*ld p#rn#graphy is a bad topic but still writing about ch*ld p#rn#graphy.  I’m not.  I’m writing about bad topics.  If I become a famous writer and somebody asks me about ch*ld p#rn#graphy, I will say, “I’m not talking/writing about that.  It’s a bad topic.”

This is such a bad topic that I don’t even want to write the words.  So from now on, I’ll refer to ch*ld p#rn#graphy as THAT topic.

THAT topic is so bad that I don’t want people searching for THAT topic to accidentally find my blog.    THAT topic is so bad that even publicists who believe all publicity is good publicity will think that THAT topic is bad publicity.

THAT topic is so bad that even John Grisham would never write a thriller about it.  I’m pretty sure a novel about a guy who accidentally stumbles on a child porn site and then gets put in prison for it would never become a best-seller.  Maybe if the guy was getting framed, like he wasn’t really watching THAT kind of site, but still… I don’t know.  Maybe I’m wrong, but that seems like a bad idea for a book.  It’s such a bad idea that even I wouldn’t try to write it, and I’m a big believer in bad ideas.

When Orson Scott Card wrote about politics, a bunch of people who disagreed with his views vowed to never buy any more of his books.  When Stephen King wrote about gun control, a bunch of people who disagreed with him vowed to never buy any more of his books.  I don’t boycott authors I disagree with.  I figure I’m going to disagree with everybody about something sometime and I can’t boycott everybody.  Also, I  enjoy reading/hearing opinions I disagree with, as long as it’s not obnoxious or insulting.  I can disagree with an author or celebrity about most topics.

But THAT topic?  When an author chooses THAT topic to talk about in an interview, it at least makes me wonder.  I can’t boycott John Grisham, not because I completely oppose boycotting, but because I intentionally stopped reading his books about 15 years ago (maybe more).  After a few novels in the 1990s, his books all seemed the same to me.  That, to me, is a great reason to stop reading an author’s books.

There are a lot of bad topics to talk/write about to people you don’t know: abortion, race relations, religion.  The whole reason we have changes in the weather is so that we have something to talk about to strangers.  Weather is the universal conversation topic.  Football SHOULD be the universal conversation topic, but some people don’t like football, so the universal conversation topic has to be weather.

I’d like it if the universal conversation topic was books, but some people don’t like to read. Plus, some irresponsible authors bring up bad conversation topics like ch*ld p#rn#graphy.  Thanks, John Grisham; because of you, we have to talk about the weather.


What do you think?  Are there any topics worse for a celebrity to talk about than THAT topic?  Should John Grisham books be boycotted because of THAT topic?  What other topics are you willing to boycott an author over?    If weather changes didn’t exist, what would be the universal conversation topic?

Fun With The Reading Comprehension Algorithm!

(image via wikimedia)

He’s having fun, but since he’s an introverted writer, you can’t tell he’s having fun.  (image via wikimedia)

When I was in college (decades ago), one of my classes did an activity where we students wrote whatever we wanted, and then did a word count, syllable count, (and a bunch of other counts), and finally determined the sophistication level of our writing. At the time, I was proud because I was rated as the highest-level writer in my class.  Looking back, I laugh because I was probably just being a pretentious bastard whenever I wrote.

Now there’s a reading comprehension algorithm that grades presidential speeches by doing (kind of) the same thing.  It’s a bit controversial because President Obama’s speeches have been rated as only “slightly more sophisticated” than President George Bush’s.  President Obama is supposed to be a lot smarter and sophisticated than President Bush (at least a lot of Obama supporters made this claim), so it has to hurt that his speeches are comparable to Bush’s.

WARNING!! The following section is not meant to provoke a political discussion.  Any attempt to inject a serious political fight will be met with mockery. (image via wikimedia)

WARNING!! The following section is not meant to provoke a political discussion. Any attempt at a serious political fight will be met with sarcasm and mockery. (image via wikimedia)

It’s almost not fair to judge a president by his speeches because they use speech writers now.  However, presidents also write memoirs, sometimes even before becoming president.  A few years ago when Decision Points by former President George Bush came out, I read it just to see what his writing style was like.  At the time, critics were also suggesting that President Obama (before he became president) hadn’t really written Dreams from my Father.  I compared the two memoirs to see if either or both presidents wrote their own stuff.  See what you think.

First is a short excerpt from Decision Points by George Bush, from the first page of Chapter 1:

      “I have a habitual personality.  I smoked cigarettes for about nine years, starting in college.  I quit smoking by dipping snuff.  I quit that by chewing long-leaf tobacco.  Eventually I got down to cigars.”  

That’s not very sophisticated.   It probably wouldn’t be rated very high on a reading comprehension algorithm. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that President Bush is the true author of Decision Points.

Next is a short excerpt from Dreams from My Father, from the first page of Chapter 1:

     “I was living in New York at the time, on Ninety-fourth between Second and First, part of that unnamed, shifting border between East Harlem and the rest of Manhattan.  It was an uninviting block, treeless and barren, lined with soot-colored walk-ups that cast heavy shadows for most of the day.  The apartment was small, with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn’t work, so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around an empty beer bottle.”

That’s a nice paragraph.  I’m pretty sure President Obama’s excerpt would rate higher on the algorithm.  But… did President Obama really write the excerpt?

Despite my tendency to ignore most (but not all) criticisms of the president, this excerpt didn’t sound like the President Obama that I hear (or try to avoid hearing).  The language in the excerpt is more flowery than the expressions he uses when he speaks extemporaneously.  Maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama DID have a ghostwriter for his memoir, just as his critics have asserted.   Perhaps the anti-Obama conspiracy theorists were on to something!

Finally, I realized what the problem was.  The editors probably made a slight change to Obama’s original text that completely altered his voice.  Here is what the excerpt might have looked like before the editors changed it:

     “Uh, let me be clear.  I was living in New York at the time, on Ninety-fourth between Second and First, part of that unnamed… uuuuh… shifting border between East Harlem and the rest of Manhattan.  Let me be frank… it was an uninviting block, treeless and barren… uuuh… lined with soot-colored walk-ups that cast heavy shadows for most of the day.  The apartment was small… uuuh… with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn’t work… uuuh… so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where… let me be clear… a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around.. uh… an empty beer bottle.”

Okay, now that sounds like the President Obama I try to tune out every day. Sorry, conspiracy theorists, but I believe President Obama actually wrote his own memoir.

I’d like to see this reading comprehension algorithm used on real authors instead of presidential speech writers.  How does a best-seller compare to a novel that wins a Pulitzer Prize?  How does Moby Dick (ha ha!) compare to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? How does A Time To Kill compare to To Kill A Mockingbird?  How does a novel written by James Patterson compare to a novel written by one of James Patterson’s co-authors?  How do James Patterson’s co-authors compare with each other?

To me, that would be a lot more interesting and fun than comparing presidential memoirs.  And comparing presidential memoirs was a blast!


What do you think?  Does this reading comprehension algorithm really mean anything?  What novels or authors would you like to see compared?  Do you believe any politicians have written their own memoirs?   Do you think writing is fun?  If it’s fun, can other people tell that you’re having fun when you write?

Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story: A Review

Ernest Hemingway, possibly leaving a stain on his six-word story. (image via wikimedia)

Ernest Hemingway, possibly leaving a stain on his six-word story. (image via wikimedia)

It’s tough to write a review of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story that’s shorter than six words.  I think I’ve already failed, so I won’t even try.  It’s also hard to review a six-word story without SPOILERS, but I can make an honest attempt.

Supposedly, Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a six-word story on a napkin.  The story (along with background information) is here.   I would post the story, but I’m on a strict word count, and I like to review literature without any leaving spoilers.  I hate reading reviews that give everything away, so if you want to read Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story, go ahead.  But I don’t want to spoil it.

Even if the six-word story was written by Ernest Hemingway, it leaves plenty of unanswered questions, too many for my liking.  What happened to the baby?  What about the parents?  Did anybody buy the shoes?  How much did they sell for?  I know that Hemingway has to leave some facts out of the story, but the reader ends up knowing nothing about the main characters.

There wasn’t any dialogue, and I love stories with great dialogue.  Characterization was a little threadbare.  I was surprised at the lack of details.  There wasn’t even a title.  Maybe I was expecting too much.  Sometimes I get too critical of classic literature.

I guess my only legitimate complaint about the six-word story was that the Amazon Kindle edition cost me 99 cents.  I thought the Kindle edition of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story would include other Hemingway selections.  Who would sell a six-word short story for 99 cents?  Even worse, who would buy a six-word short story for 99 cents?

I should have known I was buying a six-word short story when I downloaded a free sample of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Story  on my Kindle, and all it said was “For.”  I guess I have nobody to blame but myself.

For 99 cents, I should have received more than a digital six-word story.  I should have gotten at least a napkin with Ernest Hemingway’s signature.  It wouldn’t have to have been a real signature either.  I would have been happy with a forged signature of Ernest Hemingway’s initials.  It could have been stamped for all I care.  I just wanted something to show for my 99 cents.


I have to give Ernest Hemingway credit.  It’s not easy to write a six-word story.  Here’s the best that I could do.

Wrote tweet.  Nobody laughed.  Got fired.

It’s not autobiographical, but it’s based on some fears that I have.  At least I didn’t charge 99 cents for it.


What do you think?  Have you ever written a six-word story?  Have you ever read a six-word story that DIDN’T leave you feeling dissatisfied?  Have you ever purchased a book (or six-word story) and felt ripped off?  Do you even believe the legend of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story?

The Word That Rhymes With Orange

He spent hours searching for a word that rhymes with orange... but to no avail.  (image via wikimedia)

He spent hours searching for a word that rhymes with orange… but to no avail. (image via wikimedia)

My youngest daughter thought of a word that rhymes with “orange.”  This is a big deal because I’ve always heard that nothing rhymes with “orange.”  During my daughter’s English class this week, when some student asked what could rhyme with orange, the teacher answered with nothing, and my daughter blurted out:

“Door hinge!”

I don’t know how she thought of it.  She’s not even sure.  Maybe she was staring at a door hinge, but I doubt a door hinge would catch her attention, unless it was a glittery, sparkly door hinge with lots of unicorns on/around it.  Maybe my daughter read or heard that “door hinge” rhymes with “orange,” but I’ve never heard that before, so maybe she thought of it herself.

When my daughter said “door hinge” out loud to the class, her English teacher (according to my daughter) took a moment to think and then said, “No, not quite.  But that’s a very good try.”

Good try?  I hope that I don’t sound like a whiner, but my daughter didn’t just give it a good try; she nailed it.  She solved the phonological puzzle that has baffled poets for generations.  I’m not going to email my daughter’s English teacher and demand an explanation (I don’t want to become that kind of parent), but how does “door hinge” NOT rhyme with “orange”?

Okay, “door hinge” is two words, but two words are allowed to rhyme with one word.  That has been established in poetry and song lyrics for generations.

Maybe the “H” sound in “hinge” messes up the perfect rhyme, but rhymes don’t have to be perfect to rhyme, especially when the rhymes involve more than one syllable.

To prove that “door hinge” rhymes with “orange,” all we need to do is compare my daughter’s rhyme with a rhyme that is already universally accepted.  As evidence, I provide a stanza from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost:


“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”


If “ages hence” rhymes with “difference,” then “door hinge” rhymes with “orange.”   We know “ages hence” rhymes with “difference” because this is from a Robert Frost poem that rhymes, and nobody argues with Robert Frost poetry.  At least if there’s arguing, it’s not about whether “ages hence” rhymes with “difference.”  It just does, and everybody accepts that.

If you go by the last syllable, “hence” matches “-rence.”  That’s all you need for a rhyme.  Using the same logic, “hinge” rhymes with “-ringe” (as pronounced in “orange).   If anything, “door hinge” rhymes with “orange” far better than “ages hence” rhymes with “difference” because of the “r” sound in “door.”

Extending this logic even further, my daughter rhymes better than Robert Frost, and her English teacher cannot see it.

I don’t blame the English teacher.  She’s been taught all her life that nothing rhymes with “orange.”  It’s part of her worldview that nothing rhymes with “orange.”  Once your worldview is set, nothing is going to change your mind, especially an 11 year-old girl.

I have to give my daughter’s English teacher some credit for not telling my daughter to “SHUT UP!!” for disagreeing with her.  When I was in junior high, I had an English teacher who told us to “SHUT UP!!” whenever we disagreed with him.  Sometimes we disagreed with him just to hear him say “SHUT UP!!”  It was funny.  We didn’t laugh in a disrespectful way.  We quietly looked down and chuckled so that he wouldn’t see us, except maybe for our shoulders shaking.  Nobody in junior high cared enough about literature (especially poetry) to disagree with a teacher about anything, but hearing him say “SHUT UP!!” was worth getting yelled at a little bit.  At least my daughter’s English teacher handled their disagreement with respect.

I am proud of my daughter.  She didn’t simply accept that there was no word that rhymes with orange.  She tried to think of one herself, despite the odds against her.  And, though biased I may be, I think she succeeded.


What do you think?  Does “door hinge” rhyme with “orange”?  Is it a near rhyme?  Is “door hinge/orange” a better rhyme than “ages hence/difference”?  Was it disrespectful to disagree with our English teacher just to hear him say “SHUT UP!!”?  Should teachers ever yell “SHUT UP!!” at their students?  What other words are difficult to rhyme?

Author Anonymous

Oddly enough, this anonymous person looks a lot like me.

Oddly enough, this anonymous person looks a lot like me.  (Image via Wikimedia)

Being a successful author is much better than being a famous athlete/actor/singer.  A famous author can go into a restaurant without being assaulted by photographers.  In fact, a successful author can go almost anywhere and not be recognized.  I once accidentally met a famous writer at a book signing and I didn’t even recognize him until I saw the stack of books next to his table.  I thought, “Oh, THAT’S what he looks like.”

Just so you know, I don’t consider myself a successful author. I’m merely a struggling writer trying to get noticed.  But even though I’m a struggling author (with a decent job that has nothing to do with writing), I have an imagination, so I can visualize what it’s like to be a successful author.  In the meantime, though, I have to remain anonymous.

Writers who have day jobs probably should stay anonymous until they become rich (or financially independent).  If I ever get to the point when I can write something really offensive without worrying about getting fired, that’s when I’ll think of myself as a successful author.  I don’t want to get fired from my job just because I write something offensive on my blog. My wife doesn’t mind my blog and my Twitter and my ebooks, and she doesn’t mind me writing a serial romantic comedy about an ex-girlfriend, but she would mind if my writing got me fired.  She’d be pissed.

I’ve already written a few things that could get me fired.  For example, my boss (at my job that has nothing to do with writing) claims he knew the actor James Franco when he was in college.  My boss is one of those young Ivy League guys who got hired right out of college, and he acts as if he and James Franco were best friends.  When a co-worker told my boss that James Franco sucks, my boss fired him.  My boss never admitted that he fired my co-worker because of his anti-Franco comment.  Instead, my boss suddenly found lots to criticize my co-worker about after he made his anti-Franco remarks.  We can’t prove my boss fired him because of James Franco, but everybody knows it’s true.

Since I’ve criticized James Franco and his books (Palo Alto and Actors Anonymous) on this blog, I could get fired if my boss found out that I write Dysfunctional Literacy.  I’m pretty good at my job, but I’m not perfect, and if my boss wanted to, he could find something to fire me for.  As far as I’m concerned when I’m at work, James Franco was the best Oscars host ever!!!!!  And Actors Anonymous was the best book ever!!!!

It’s not just my critical views of James Franco’s books that could get me fired.  I’ve also written some stupid jokes that could probably get me fired.  Lots of people seem to get fired for tweeting bad jokes or offensive comments, and I’ve published my share.  I’ve written some bad jokes on this blog, but I’ve never tweeted them.  All of my bad jokes are too long to tweet.  Some of them are tasteless and offensive, but at least I take my time to get the punch line.  Even if the punch line sucks, I’ve always taken my time.

I’ve written porn jokes, offensive jokes, and tasteless jokes.  I’ve even written a couple funny jokes (I called them funny jokes, but I could be wrong).  But I wrote most of them when hardly anybody read Dysfunctional Literacy.  Maybe if I tweeted them, I’d get fired from my own blog (which also worries me), so I won’t do that.  I’ll just leave them up as a reminder of what NOT to do when you start a blog.

Here’s another situation that concerns me.  A teacher using a pen name wrote a futuristic book about a school shooting, and now he’s being monitored by authorities and might lose his teaching job.  To me, this teacher did everything correctly.  He used a pseudonym and set the book in a futuristic setting so that none of his writing could be associated with his employer.  Thankfully, I’m not a teacher.  I thought about it when I was in college, but I don’t like talking to people, and teachers have to talk… to kids… and that’s worse than talking to people.  I probably would not be a good fit for teaching.  With my kind of writing, I probably would get myself fired.

According to an update in the article, there is more than just the teacher’s ebooks involved, but some of that is unclear.  I’m not sure if the article is unclear or if I’m a bad reader.  To me, using fiction to determine a person’s mental state is questionable, but I’m no expert.  Either way, I hope everything works out for this teacher, unless he’s really a jerk, and I hope he doesn’t hurt anybody, including himself .

I wouldn’t want anybody to evaluate my psychological state or emotional well-being just from my writing.  I like being able to write what I want without co-workers or friends (or government officials) giving me weird looks when they see me and think I can’t see them.   If friends and acquaintances knew that I had a blog, I never would have written porn jokes and I’d have changed several sections of “The Literary Girlfriend,” and if they find out about Dysfunctional Literacy, I might decide to delete a bunch of stuff.  I really don’t want to have to explain what I write, unless I’m getting paid for it.

But most importantly, I don’t want to get fired.


What do you think?  Should people get fired for what they write?  Should I (or my co-worker) get fired for saying something bad about James Franco?  Should a teacher get in trouble for writing ebooks under a pseudonym?  Have you ever written anything that could (or did) get you fired?  What are other advantages (and even disadvantages) to writing anonymously?

We Don’t Need A New Word For That

I'm not sure what "bombtimistic" means, but it has to be great! (image via Wikimedia)

Some days I’m “bombtimistic,” and some days I’m “bombgry,” but I’m never both at the same time. (image via Wikimedia)

A lot of new things suck. Most new movies suck. Most new television shows suck. Even though I love to read, most new books suck (that’s only because James Patterson has his name on 90% of the new stuff out there, and almost ALL of his books suck).   Maybe I’m getting too old and grouchy because yesterday I realized that most new words suck.

Originally, I was going to title this “New Words That Suck,” but by saying everything sucks, I would have put myself at risk of sounding negative. I don’t mean “sucks” in too negative a way. I just have high expectations for new things. If something already exists (like movies, television shows, and books) and you make a new one, the new one should be better than the old ones. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The same concept applies to new words. If Oxford and Merriam-Webster are going to legitimize new words by adding them to the dictionary, I have high expectations for those new words. A new word shouldn’t be a trivial combination of sounds.  My expectations of new words shouldn’t be higher than a dictionary’s. It’s not because I’m a literary prude. I can’t be a literary prude. I write porn jokes. I read comic books. I laugh at the title Moby Dick. I’m not the problem. The problem is that the new words suck.

I was okay with new words until I read this, an article about literary snobbery that is centered around the fake word “poptimist.” You don’t have to read the article. I just want you to have this reference in case you ever need proof that somebody tried to create the word “poptimism.” I was going to read the article until I saw the word “poptimism.”   The whole point of “poptimism” was that… aw, it doesn’t matter. I cringed when I read “poptimism.” But that was only the beginning.

Next, I saw a commercial for a product that doesn’t need advertising where a famous actress/writer uses the made-up word “hangry.” I think it’s a combination of “hungry” and “angry” because people get angry when they’re hungry (or vice-versa). I also think it’s trying too hard. I hope “hangry” never makes the dictionary. Bad behavior like inventing a fake word “hangry” shouldn’t be rewarded with attention from Oxford and Merriam-Webster. If I ever said the word “hangry,” I’d get punched out (and I would know that I deserved it). There are some things a man should never say. A man should never say “Shame on you!” and a man should never say words like “poptimism” or “hangry.”

Words like “poptimism” and “hangry” aren’t real words. They’re “clevwords.” They’re words whose inventors are trying too hard to be too clever. “Clevword” is a combination of “clever” and “word.” The problem with “clevword” is that I would probably have to explain what “clevword” means, and a good “clevword” shouldn’t need an explanation, except there’s no such thing as a good clevword. Every clevword sucks. No clevword should ever make the dictionary.

Now that I think about it, even some new words that aren’t clevwords really suck.

“Hashtag” sucks. Hashtags have a purpose, but the word itself sucks. I’ve used hashtags, and I’ve written the word “hashtag,” but I’ve never said the word “hashtag.” When I was asked what a hashtag was (I hang out with some people like that), I referred to a hashtag as “it” and “they/them.” That’s why I love pronouns. Pronouns help me to avoid the words I don’t like to say.

“Selfie” sucks, but a selfie also serves a purpose, and I’ve finally discovered my one good angle, so I don’t want the concept to go away; I just want the word replaced. Again, no man over the age of 30(?) should say “selfie.” I’ve said “selfie,” but at least I cringed during and after. From now on, I shall say “self-portrait!” in a deep, masculine voice.

“Tweep” sucks, and not because it’s a clevword. It shouldn’t even be considered a real word because you have to use Twitter to be or have a tweep. Brand names aren’t real words, so words directly related to brand names shouldn’t be either. Without Twitter,” there is no “tweep.” Without “peeps,” there is no “tweep.” If “Twitter” and “peeps” aren’t real words, then either should “tweep.” If Twitter ever disappears (and it might), then the word “tweep” wouldn’t even make sense anymore, so it can’t logically be a real word.

Not all new words suck. “Fracking” is a cool word. Even if you don’t like what it means, it’s a cool word. If I had said “frack” as a kid, my mom would have washed my mouth out with soap. Since I’m older now, I can say “frack” all day long, and I might, just because I can. Even if “fracking” doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means, it’s still fun to say.

“Photo bomb” is also a cool word (or phrase), but it has “bomb” in it, and that might be an unfair advantage over other words. Any word sounds cool when it has “bomb” in it. “Photo bomb” is NOT a clevword because it doesn’t blend the two words, but even a clevword sounds good when it has “bomb” in it. “Bombtimistic” is way better than “poptimistic, and “bombgry” is way better than “hangry.”

I’m so hungry I could eat a bomb. That’s “bombgry.”

I’m so optimistic that even a bomb can’t ruin my mood. That’s “bombtimistic.”

Most new words, especially clevwords, are unnecessary. We don’t need them. English has enough problems without people trying to create new words. I don’t mind saying, “I’m hungry and mad.” I won’t get punched out for saying “I’m hungry and mad.” I’d get punched out for saying “I’m hangry.” Maybe that should be the dictionary’s criteria for accepting new words. A clevword can become a real word only if a man can say it without getting punched out. But it might be tough to find men to willingly test it.


What do you think? What other new words suck? What new words are great? What is better than “bomb” in a word? Are there any clevwords that don’t suck?


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