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My Daughter Just Got Her Driver’s License, And Now She Has My Car!

(image via wikimedia)

My daughter earned her driver’s license a few days ago, and now she’s out by herself with my car.  She will pick up a friend on her way to a mall or a movie or something, but I won’t be in the car with her.  In my mind, that’s the same as being by herself.

I probably shouldn’t have used the word Got in the title.  I should probably say “My daughter earned her driver’s license” or “My daughter received her driver’s license,”  but I don’t care because my daughter has my car.

It’s tough for me to concentrate on writing while she’s out by herself with the car, even if she has my permission.  I know I’ll have to learn to relax when she’s driving by herself.  It will be difficult, but I have to do it.  I’ve paced around the house, folded some laundry, and prayed a little.  Every parent goes through this.

Just so you know, it’s my daughter that I’m worried about, not the car.

For more about teaching your kids how to drive, WATCH HERE!!

What do you think?  How did you emotionally react to your kids driving off on their own?  What important driving advice do you have for inexperienced drivers?

5 Tips to Reading A Wide Variety of Great Books

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Choosing the right book to read can be frustrating, especially when you have a bunch of choices and not much time.  Most avid readers have dozens/hundreds of books piling up, and it’s even more difficult if you have other commitments like family and a time-consuming job.  Plus, the book publishers are glutting the market with books that aren’t very good.  With so much going on and so many books out there, how can a reader decide which books to choose?

After decades of reading, I have come up with several tips to reading only the books that I will enjoy the most.

Tip #1- Sample many, finish few.

I’m a big believer in NOT finishing books.  I used to complete every novel I started just for the sense of accomplishment, but then I started to accomplish real things in life (I hope that doesn’t sound like an insult to people who finish books no matter what because I mean that as a reflection of me and not other people).  Reading shouldn’t be a chore (unless you’re in school), and I’m getting old, and if I don’t want to finish a book (or wear matching socks), then I don’t have to.

I’m proud of the number of books I haven’t finished.  I used to lie to people and say I’d read the books that I had actually stopped reading, but conversations are more interesting if I’m honest and say “I started that book but couldn’t finish it.”  Plus, it’s not good to lie.

Tip #2- No more than three books per series.

I don’t read any series that goes over three books, or if I begin reading such a series, I stop after three books.  Seriously, how many stories truly deserve more than three books?  Not many do.  If The Lord of the Rings could be told in three books, then so should just about any other story.  Even The Bible is only two books; if God only needs two books, then who do we think we are to write more books in a series than God?

Tip #3- No books more than 500 pages long.

How many stories are truly worth the effort it takes to read (much less write) 500 pages?  A few might be worth it, but not many.  Usually a novel longer than 500 pages means that the editors didn’t do their jobs (or in the case of 19th century Russian authors, the translators didn’t do theirs either).

Yeah, The Bible is over 500 pages long, but that’s God for you. If any author is allowed to get long-winded, it’s God.  I pretty much allow God to write what He wants without complaining about it.

Tip #4- No more than 3 books per author.

There are a lot of great authors out there, and I’d like to read as many of them as possible.  Most authors who write lots of books follow a formula.  If you’ve read two or three of their novels, you’ve read them all.  When I think like that, I don’t yearn for the latest Stephen King horror/fantasy or the newest James Patterson schlock that somebody else probably wrote.

I don’t have anything against schlock.  I love schlock.  I write schlock.  I just want a variety of schlock in my life.

Tip #5-No books with bad dialogue.

This is probably the only subjective rule of the bunch because reasonable people can disagree about the quality of dialogue.  You can’t really disagree about whether or not a book is 500 pages or not or whether or not a series has more than three books in it.  I guess you COULD argue about it, but reasonable people would look at you funny.

Even though it’s subjective, dialogue is important to me.  If the characters don’t sound authentic, then I can’t put myself in the story.

Some of the dialogue in The Bible is kind of corny, but I’d never admit that to God.  As far as I’m concerned, God writes great dialogue, but humans mess up the translation.

*****

I like my tips for reading, but I also know they wouldn’t work for everybody.  Some people have a certain number of books they want to finish within a certain time.  Some readers want to consume every book by their favorite authors.  Some refuse to read any books written by certain authors.  Some readers might not even have any tips at all for reading books.

But enough about me!  What tips do you have for reading a wide variety of books?

I Stopped Talking To Myself, and Here’s How I Did It!

This would seem normal, except he’s by himself. (image via wikimedia)

I’ve always talked to myself when I write.  I read my words out loud.  I mutter profanity when I make mistakes.  I tell myself how to edit and revise as I go.  I’m probably not the only writer who does this.

Unfortunately, I also talk to myself when I’m not writing.  I catch myself murmuring conversations when I’m at work or in my car or at the grocery store.

A co-worker once told me it’s okay if you talk to yourself as long as you don’t answer yourself back.

That’s my problem; I answer myself back and then I answer my answer back again too.

The good news is that I have taught myself to stop this bad habit, and it was easier than I thought it would be, except for a couple exceptions.

In the video link below, I explain how I learned to stop talking to myself.  If you talk to yourself (or know someone who does), I hope you find it helpful.

I Stopped Talking To Myself!  Here’s What Happened Next!

Literary Glance: Backlash by Brad Thor

Backlash by Brad Thor! How can it NOT be an instant bestseller?

Brad Thor is probably the best name ever for a male military thriller author.  Brad… Thor… Two first names, both one syllable, and a last name that’s the same as the Norse god of thunder.  If I could exchange names with anybody, I’d take Brad Thor’s name.

With a name like Brad Thor, you can write whatever you want, as long it’s filled with masculinity.  And Brad Thor usually delivers what his name suggests.  When you read a Brad Thor novel, you know what you’re going to get: lots of action, bad dialogue, and the occasional awkwardly worded sentence.

Backlash by Brad Thoris pitched as the 19th book in the Scot Harvath series.  19th book?  No character deserves 19 books, especially a guy named Scot Harvath.  I mean, it has to be tough to come up with a fictional name cooler than Brad Thor.  I think it’s an author’s responsibility to come up with a name cooler than his/her own, and Scot Harvath doesn’t cut it for an author named Brad Thor.

I know it’s tough to come up with a name cooler than Brad Thor, but Clive Cussler created Dirk Pitt, so it’s possible.  The name Scot Harvath sounds like Brad Thor just gave up.  If Scot Harvath were the author, I might buy 19 books with a character named Brad Thor, but not the other way around.

The quality of a Brad Thor book is important to a few people, I guess, and Backlash is okay so far. The writing is fast-paced with an awkward sentence popping up occasionally.  Here’s a typical example of Thor’s writing from Backlash.

Chapter 2

Police Chief Tom Tullis had seen plenty of dead bodies over his career.

But this was a record for him at a single crime scene.

During the height of the summer, the popular resort town of Gilford could swell to as many as twenty thousand inhabitants.  Off-season, like now, the number of full-time residents was only seventy-three hundred.  Either way, four corpses were four too many.

Pulling out his cell phone, the tall, crew-cut-sporting cop texted his wife.  They were supposed to meet for lunch.  That was impossible now.  He told her not to expect him for dinner either.  It was going to be a late night.

This is what you get in Backlash.  A bunch of simple sentences that could have been combined in more creative ways.  A few awkward phrases that could have rewritten or deleted, and I have a few questions..

If Tom Tullis was police chief of a resort town, why has he seen so many dead bodies?

Do readers need to know Tom Tullis was “crew-cut-sporting cop”?  Texting the wife that he’ll miss lunch and dinner seems calm for a resort town cop.  Maybe I’m wrong, but a resort town cop might not be so casual about his text.

A more believable reaction would be something like this: “Holy crap!  We have four dead bodies in my resort town!  I moved here to get away from that crap! What the hell is going on?”

The rest of the chapter is just as matter-of-fact.  Tullis handles this quadruple murder very methodically, even though it’s unheard of in his resort town.  Maybe this Tom Tullis is a super cop, and I just haven’t read enough of the Scot Harvath books.  There are 19 of them after all.

And why am I using numerals for 19 but Brad Thor spells out seventy-three hundred?  It’s okay to write 7300.  I’d rather read 7300 than seventy-three hundred.

I mean, I’d rather see the numeral 7300 than the words seventy-three hundred.  I don’t want to read seventy-three hundred of anything, not even seventy-three hundred Brad Thor books.

Brad Thor is still a really cool name though.

How to Deal with a Political Junkie

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Being around political junkies can be tough because they can get crazy about politics at any moment.  You probably know what I’m talking about.   During an election, every conversation can turn into a one-sided, long-winded lecture.  If you dare disagree with a political junkie, the lecture can turn into an endless argument.

Even when the election is over, the junkie follows every news item and has an instant knee-jerk opinion.  It never ends, especially with social media stirring things up.

Political junkies can be in a constant state of agitation, and it’s difficult for a non-junkie like me to keep an even frame of mind.  When I tell political junkies that not everything is about politics, they tell me that I’m the problem because I don’t get involved enough.

I then tell the junkie that his/her behavior makes problems worse because of the endless arguments that make people furious, and people can’t solve problems when they’re angry.  And then the friendship (or the pleasant work relationship) ends.

Political junkies usually aren’t interested in dialogue.  They talk fast and interrupt immediately.  Watch out when they say “We need to have an honest conservation…” because the political junkie’s definition of conversation probably isn’t the same as yours (unless you’re a political junkie).

I’m a non-confrontational guy, but I need to keep an even disposition when I’m with political junkies, especially at work.  If you’re in the same position as I, here are some strategies you can use to help deal with a political junkie:

1.  Avoid news in conversation.

Political Junkies love to have news channels on their televisions or phones.  The constant updates and commentary gets their agitation up and makes them irritable and argumentative.  Try to change the topic of conversation, if possible.  Sports and reality shows are your best bets.

If you live with a political junkie, change the channel to a sports station (if they’re not arguing about politics on it) whenever you get the chance or an animal channel, preferably one with puppies and kittens.

2.  Call every politician a dick.

Political junkies will idolize politicians from their own party and then vilify opposing politicians, even when all the politicians engage in the exact same behavior.  I just call every politician a dick.  It’s liberating.  You don’t have to defend anybody’s behavior or stupid comments.

Plus, you don’t have to waste any energy thinking of clever responses.  In today’s society, the word dick can apply to everyone.  If the word dick offends you, you can find another term.  Jerk is acceptable.

 3. Wear headphones.

If the political junkie sees you wearing headphones, he/she will know that you will have to turn off the volume and remove your headphones before the conversation can begin.  Plus, you can pretend that you don’t see or hear the political junkie.  Since getting your attention will now take time and effort, the junkie will reduce the number of times she wants to start conversations with you.

You can even make the die-hard junkie wait by pretending that whatever you’re listening to is really important.  Just raise your finger and nod your head while you make the junkie wait… and wait… and wait.

*****

What do you think?  When I wrote this, I originally wanted to title this “5 Tips for Living with a Political Junkie,” but right now I can only think of these three.  What nonviolent, non-confrontational tips do you have for dealing with political junkies?

I wasn’t a political junkie when I wrote the blog post below, but I was when the incident happened.

THE BEST POLITICAL INSULT EVER!!

She looked like a sweet old lady, but if you pissed her off, she’d rip you a new one. (image via wikimedia)

Experts may disagree about which U.S. political insult is the best ever, but everybody agrees that it hasn’t happened in the current election cycle.  In fact, the rhetoric in the 2016 presidential campaign has been really lame.  Hillary Clinton has called Republicans her enemies.  Donald Trump has pretty much insulted everybody, and everybody else has insulted him back.  Even so, nobody yet has had a good zinger that historians will remember.

To be fair, it’s been a few presidential campaigns since anybody’s had a really good political insult.

(Read more here)

 

4th of July Story Strikes Again!

It looks peaceful, but they probably said horrible things about each other. (image via wikimedia)

The 4th of July is a bit different from other United States holidays. Hardly any stores close, and most daily routines don’t change that much.  Even so, it’s one of my favorite holidays, partially because of a childhood memory.

I’m over 50 years old now, and I don’t vividly remember many specific holiday moments.  Between all of the Christmases and Thanksgivings and Easters that I’ve experienced, a lot of childhood holidays have blended in.  One 4th of July memory stands out, however, and I’m going to retell the story now.

4th OF JULY STORY

Relax! This picture was created in 1902. It was okay for kids to fire off guns back then. (image via Wikipedia)

I was 10 when the United States turned 200 years old.  It was a big deal back then, but at the time, the meaning of the 4th of July was lost on me.  As an adult, I understand July 4th  is the annual celebration of the signing and approval of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress.

I understand how important the following sentence from The Declaration of Independence is:

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That one sentence had a bunch of concepts that were unique way back in 1776.

The Declaration of Independence is also known for John Hancock’s really big signature.  As an adult, I appreciate how momentous the signing of that document was and how it began the process of liberating the colonies and forming one of the greatest nations in the world. I also appreciate John Hancock’s really big signature.  Several jokes have been made about how a guy named John Hancock had a really big signature.

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand all this, including the John Hancock jokes.  Back when I was 10, the 4th of July was about shooting off fireworks.  And 1976 was a great year to shoot off fireworks.

(Read more here! )

A Blog Full of Schlock

(image via wikimedia)

Most of my writing is schlock.  I admit it.  That isn’t an insult to me or my writing.  A lot of mainstream writing that I see today is schlock too.

Most recent novels are really light and have major flaws that could have been fixed with more time and effort.  Major periodicals and click-bait websites have misspellings in their headlines and content that is poorly written.  Most television shows and movies have bad dialogue and plot devices that don’t make any sense, but hardly anybody cares.

Schlock is a mediocre product that can get churned out in high quantities.  Readers and viewers might not think of it as the word schlock, but they won’t care if you call it that.

James Patterson can write a bunch of schlock (or hire a bunch of writers to write it for him) because everybody knows he writes schlock.  They might not call it schlock, but they know Patterson doesn’t write the highest quality of fiction out there.  Nobody has ever gotten angry at me for criticizing James Patterson.  Even his fans know he deserves it.

Fans of the show  Game of Thrones, however, were furious with the writers after the final season because they, viewers, had high expectations.   Game of Thrones wasn’t considered schlock, but the writers treated the final few seasons disrespectfully.  You can treat schlock with a little disrespect, but not Game of Thrones.  Once readers or viewers have high expectations for you, though, you’d better deliver.

The thing is, I like schlock.   Life is easier if you like schlock because there’s always something to read or watch.  When your expectations are too high, then you can’t enjoy much.  But schlock, you can enjoy it, even if you know it’s not technically good.  I might criticize schlock, I might not finish reading it, but I’m glad it’s out there.  I’d rather have a glut of schlock than no schlock at all.

Even though I treat my writing with respect, and I put effort into it, I know most of it is schlock.    I’m glad people like schlock.  If people didn’t read schlock, then who else would read my writing?

Even though I’ve written a lot of schlock on my blog over the last few years, nobody has written as much schlock as James Patterson.  Speaking of James Patterson…

MY DAUGHTER PUNCHED OUT JAMES PATTERSON!!

(image via wikimedia)

My daughter didn’t really punch out James Patterson.  She punched out a life-sized cardboard figure of James Patterson.  The James Patterson had been placed near the entrance of B&M Booksellers next to a table with several of Patterson’s new books (I don’t remember which books they were because he has so many of them at any given moment).

Even if my daughter doesn’t like James Patterson, it wasn’t her life-sized cardboard figure to punch out.  It was the book store’s.  And that’s what caused the problem (Read more here).

The Best Self-Help Book Ever! How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The cover says it’s “the only book you need to lead you to success.” That’s good enough for me!

If you’re going to read a self-help book like How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie , it’s better to read it when you don’t actually need self-help.  When you read a self-help book from a position of strength, you’re less likely to be tricked into following bad advice that might be in the book.  And if you actually need self-help, let somebody else try the advice first.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, the big self-help book was called I’m Okay-You’re Okay.  That title rubbed me the wrong way because it implied that everybody was okay, and even then I knew a lot of people who weren’t okay.  I wasn’t even sure I was okay.  If I wasn’t okay, then I knew a bunch of people around me were really messed up, and telling everybody that they’re okay doesn’t do anybody any good (except the self-help author who gets rich giving out bad advice).

When I review a book, I usually start with the title, and How To Win Friends And Influence People is a little misleading.  If I’m going to read a book about how to win something, it won’t be for friends.  To me, friends are something that you either have or don’t have; you can’t win them.  If I’m going to win something, I’d like to know how to win the lottery or maybe learn how to win at blackjack or how to win in court.  Maybe I’m being too literal, but How To Win Friends And Influence People is a very literal book.  There’s not a lot of figurative language in HTWFAIP.

Even though HTWFAIP was written in 1936, it might still have some relevant advice.  The chapter that most interested me was “An Easy Way to Become a Great Conversationalist.”  If there’s one thing I’m bad at, it’s talking to people I don’t know.  To be fair, I’m bad at a lot of things, but making small talk is one my worst.  I was looking forward to great insightful advice, and all I got was “Be a good listener.”  That kind of ticked me off.  I’m already a good listener.

I need advice to get me to the stage where people will talk to me enough so that I can demonstrate my great listening skills.  After “Hi, how are you?” I’m accustomed to long awkward silences, especially if I’m talking to somebody else who is a great listener.  Two great listeners put together alone in a room can make a bad conversation.  When I was younger, I could have used a chapter about how to get the other person to start talking so that I can be a good listener. Instead, I had to figure it out for myself.

Back when HTWFAIP was first published, “be a good listener” was probably new advice.  Maybe very few people thought that being a good listener was important back then.  I don’t know.  I wasn’t around.  But maybe HTWFAIP seems irrelevant because the advice that was brand-new in 1936 has become so commonplace.  Again, I don’t know.  I haven’t read any pre-1936 self-help books.  Maybe pre-1936 self-help books suggested that you talk loudly and shout over people to get them to do what you want.  I’ve never read a self-help book that says shout people down, but it has to be in a lot of self-help books because I see people do it all the time.

One problem with HTWFAIP is that a lot of the references are old.  There are a lot of traveling salesman stories and lots of references to companies that no longer exist.  When I was a kid, traveling salesman stories usually ended up involving a farmer’s daughter.  If a story was really good, it involved more than one daughter and maybe some of her friends.  None of the traveling salesman anecdotes in HTWFAIP have any farmer’s daughters (or any kind of daughter) in them.  Having at least one would have made the anecdotes more realistic to me.

I’m also concerned that most of the companies and businesses that are mentioned in HTWFAIP don’t exist anymore.  I’m not sure what that means.  Did they stop following the advice given in the book and then fail because of that?  Or did they follow the advice in the book and still fail?  Maybe the stories and testimonials given in the book were all lies.  We know people lie in their books now.  I’m pretty sure people lied in their books back then too.  Maybe all of Carnegie’s anecdotes were fake too.  I have no proof, but it makes me wonder.

Is HTWFAIP the best self-help book ever?   Probably.  Most of its advice is commonplace now.  It reminds me of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in that everybody knows the white picket fence trick, but they read the book anyway.  HTWFAIP was the first of its kind (at least that’s what one of the many book covers says), and people still read (and argue about) it today.   And at least it didn’t destroy a generation like I’m Okay, You’re Okay.

*****

What do you think?  Is HTWFAIP the best self-help book ever?  What self-help books have you read?  Is “be a good listener” practical advice in the new millennium?  Have you read I’m Okay, You’re Okay, and is it as bad as it sounds?  If you’re reluctant to talk about self-help books, it’s okay.  Having an opinion about a self-help book is not an admission that you really need help.

*****

And here’s the video version with a slightly different perspective.

I Sold My Comic Book Collection, and Here’s Why

If you’re going to invest in comic books, you might start with this one.

When I announced to my friends a few years ago that I was going to sell my comic book collection, they warned me not to.

“That collection is worth money,” they said.

My friends were right.  I’d started collecting when I was in elementary school in the early 1970s, and I didn’t stop until the glut of the early 1990s.  If you’ve ever collected comic books, you probably know about the 90s glut that I’m talking about.  If you haven’t collected comics, the details would bore you.  At any rate, I had some relatively valuable comic books.

“Yeah,” I said.  “That’s why I’m selling them.  If they weren’t worth any money, I wouldn’t bother.”

One friend said, “Maybe your kids would want them.”

When I asked my daughter if she wanted my comics, she said, “NO!”  She likes superhero movies and will wear the occasional Marvel t-shirt, but she has no interest in my comics.

My friends also said, “You’ve had them since you were a kid.  How could you get rid of them?”

“Yes, I’ve had them since I was a kid,” I said.  “But I’m not a kid anymore.  And I can’t read all of them again.”

Plus, I’m using the money to get rid of some bad debt.  I’m not whining about money, but I have some annoying debt to take care of.  Some of it was from a bad decision I made years ago, and part of it is from circumstances that were out of my control.  Either way, I have to deal with it.

The way I look at it, I’m using my childhood to get rid of debt and pay bills.  I’ve heard of people who write letters to their younger selves, and I personally think that’s kind of impractical because if my past self read a letter from my present self, it could really mess up the time-continuum.  But if I did write a letter to my childhood self (and I’m not saying I would), I’d say:

“Thanks for saving all these comics.  Thanks for helping to pay off some bad debt.”

Or I’d say, “Thanks for saving all these comics, but you’re not getting laid for a long time.”

Despite what people might think, unintended abstinence caused by comic book reading isn’t so bad.  I’ve never had to worry about surprise pregnancies or STDs or crazy girlfriends sending older brothers after me.  When I got to college, I learned to hide the comic books, so potential girlfriends wouldn’t learn about the collection until it was too late, and by then I’d matured enough to not do anything too stupid with women.

Anyway, having a huge old comic collection was like having a stack of money in my closet while I have debt accumulating interest.  Why would I keep money in my closet?

Nobody would say, “Don’t sell your money!  It’s worth a lot of money!”

I know some people see comic books as an investment, but that works only for a small percentage of comics.  People who buy comics as an investment only can get frustrated really quickly.  A bunch of comic book investors learned that the hard way during the 1990s.

Years ago, I saw the Pawn Stars guy on television buy a bunch of worthless X-Men from the 1990s and then brag about how comics were a great investment.  I laughed.  It completely ruined Pawn Stars for me.  If the Pawn Stores expert didn’t know 1990s X-Men were worthless, what else didn’t he know?  Amateur.

It’s easier to sell a collection now than it ever has been.  25 years ago, there was no internet or ebay, so you had to go to a dealer who’d rip you off, and I understand the rip-off.  Comic stores have to pay employees and overhead.  That’s the good thing about selling online.  I don’t have to pay much for fees, and I’m my only employee.

I’m not saying everybody my age should sell their childhood collections too.  If everybody sold their collections, nobody would be buying, and we need buyers.  If you have comics and you still like reading them, keep them.  If you have family that you can pass them down to, keep them.  I’m just saying in my situation, selling them is the way to go, and some people don’t understand that.

I look back fondly on my comic collecting days, even though I was really socially awkward at the time.  I’m not sure if I was socially awkward because I read comic books or if I read comic books because I was socially awkward.  I’m still socially awkward (but not as much), and I still have a soft spot for comic books, but  I also like having a little more space in my house and a little less debt on my credit score.  Thank you comic books!

*****

Here’s the video version of this blog post, with several examples of great comic books that I might or might NOT part with.

Three Books That Made Me Feel Stupid

Even though I’m a pretty good reader, I have run across a bunch of books that made me feel stupid.  I don’t mind admitting that.  I’m usually open about my faults or gaps in my knowledge.

In the video below, I talk about three books that made me feel less than intelligent, and each book on this list made me feel stupid in a different way.  One book didn’t make any sense to me.  One made me wonder what the big deal about it was.  And another triggered an emotional reaction that made me question my intelligence.

I’m considered a pretty good reader, so I can’t be the only person who feels this way about these books.  Or maybe I am.  Either way, I don’t like feeling stupid after reading a book, no matter what kind of stupidity it is.

What do you think?  What books, if any, have made you feel stupid?