The Indubitable Dweeb
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April 1, 2011

How to Write an Award Winning, Bestselling Children’s Book

A lot of people stop by this site because they’re curious to learn what it takes to not only write a children’s book, but to write a successful one. Some authors appear at workshops where they charge hundreds of dollars to dispense such insider tips. Not me. Today, I’m giving the good stuff out for free. I only ask that you thank me in your acknowledgements and cut me in on any foreign rights. It’s a fair trade for this invaluable wisdom. Let’s get down to it.

First off, the old advice is often the best advice. Write what you know. Do you know a puppy that’s a bit poky? How about some teenagers who hunt each other for sport? Connecting with children is about connecting with the world around you. A few monkeys don’t hurt either. That’s right. Forget wizards, vampires and zombies. Monkeys are what distinguish great children’s books. Try to imagine The Secret Garden without Jose Fuzzbuttons, the wisecracking capuchin whose indelible catchphrase “Aye-yaye-yaye, Mami, hands off the yucca!” is still bandied about schoolyards today? I don’t think you can.

Of course, the magic that is artistic inspiration must find its way in there. So how do you grab hold of it? Christopher Paolini swears by peyote-fueled pilgrimages to the Atacama Desert. I’m more of a traditionalist. A pint of gin and a round of Russian Roulette with R.L Stine always gets my creative juices flowing. Have fun. Experiment. Handguns and hallucinogens need not be involved. Though I see no reason to rule them out. Find what works for you.

Now, you’ll inevitably face a little writer’s block. There are two words that cure this problem and cure it quick. Public Domain. Dust off some literary dud and add spice to it. Kids dig this stuff. For instance, you could take some Edith Wharton and inject it with flatulence. The Age of Innocence and Farts.  Done. Easy. Bestseller.

I give this last bit of advice with a caveat. Resist the temptation to write unauthorized sequels to beloved classics. I speak from experience. My manuscripts for You Heard What I Said Dog, Get Your Arse Outta Here! and God? Margaret Again…I’m Late have seen the bottom of more editors’ trash cans than I care to mention. Newbery bait? Sure. Immune to the unwritten rules of the biz? Hardly.

Okay, let’s jump forward. So now you’ve got your masterpiece, but how the heck are you going to sell the thing? Truth be told, you’re going to need an advanced degree first. As anyone will inform you, kid lit authors without PhDs or MFAs are rarely taken seriously. If you can’t work Derrida or Foucault into a pitch letter, then you certainly can’t survive a 30-minute writing workshop with Mrs. Sumner’s 5th period reading class. So invest 60-100K and 3-6 years of your life. Then let the bidding war begin.

In the off chance that your book isn’t going to sell for six figures, try blackmail. Sounds harsh, but the children’s book industry runs almost exclusively on hush money and broken kneecaps. I mean, Beverly Cleary doesn’t even own a car. So why is she always carrying a tire iron?

Money is now under the mattress and the editorial process begins. Don’t worry at all about this. Editors won’t even read your book. They’ll simply call in Quentin Blake for some illustrations and then run the whole thing through a binding machine they keep in the back of the office. Should be in the front display case at Barnes and Noble by the end of the week.

As for marketing and PR, you can expect the standard twelve-city tour, a Today Show spot, and probably an interview in the Paris Review. After that, it’s up to you. Publishers know that the best marketers are the authors themselves, especially bookish introverts with a penchant for self-deprecation. So go after it. Blog. Tweet. And don’t underestimate the power of guerilla marketing. Shel Silverstein once clearcut a hundred acres of redwoods just to make his advance back for The Giving Tree. What’s your gimmick?

I hate to say it, but you’re bound to get a bad review or two along the way. My advice is to take the high road, ignore the naysayers, and solider on. Your best revenge will be your golden trophies and your framed New York Times Bestseller lists. Still, if you’re dead set on getting back at a grouchy librarian or two, go with kidnapping. It’s a mainstay plot device in YA potboilers and is bound to lead to either hi-jinks or some meaningful rite-of-passage. Be sure to keep notes, because your follow-up book is already in the works! Like I said, write what you know.

There you have it. A step-by-step manual to penning an award-worthy, blockbuster children’s book. As you can see, it’s not very hard. And it’s really the only way to do it. Well…there is one other way, but it feels a bit like cheating. Are you John Lithgow?

March 10, 2011

The Missing Link

I was once an addict. Shocking, I know, but before you go calling Dr. Drew and booking a 20/20 interview, let me provide some clarification. My addiction was a common one for young’ns and agoraphobes and the pasty-skinned of this world . I was obsessed with video games. Many of my pre-teen and teenage years were spent slaughtering goblins and dunking over Larry Bird. Time, money and opportunities to chat up girls were wasted. And what do I have to show for it? An unhealthy knowledge of Kid Icarus and some undying regrets that involve never finishing Metal Gear. All things considered, not so bad. At least I’m not on a street corner, holding some cardboard, and talking about my “radio voice.”

Once an addict, always an addict, they say, but I’m going to dispute that. I set down the video game controller when I went to college, and aside from a few poor showings at Mortal Kombat and NHL Hockey, I didn’t pick it up again. It was an activity I associated with whelps. College meant I was sophisticated, and did sophisticated things. Like drink Gatorade cocktails and run through campus in nothing but my skivvies.

After college, video games occupied the same place in my mind as amusement parks. Sure, I knew they could be fun and they had gotten a lot bigger and better than they were when I was a kid, but I wasn’t about to spend my day riding The Great American Scream Machine and then writing fan fiction about it. I laid off the stuff completely for nearly 10 years.

Then my wife bought me a Wii for my birthday. I’m not sure why. It’s not like I was always comparing her to the masked love of my adolescence, Samus Aran. Perhaps I was talking in my sleep, mumbling, “look out above for Koopa…Paratroopa,” or “up up, down down, left right, left right…” In any case, she tracked a Wii down for me, in the days when they were kinda hard to get. And I was pleasantly surprised.

We had some friends over for a night Wii Sports, and it was just like a commercial. We were laughing and high-fiving as we plowed down bowling pins and beat the stuffing out of each other. The snacks were diverse and plentiful. Good times. And in the following weeks, I played a little bit on the weekends, perfecting my short game and my hook. It was fun, but I was definitely a recreational user.

Then I was reintroduced to Zelda. Just so you know, one of my greatest accomplishments was being the first kid in my 6th grade class to win the original Legend of Zelda. And I did it without the aid of hints and magazines. For a brief time, I was like some guru on a hill. Kids would come to me in the cafeteria with desperate queries and I would answer them in riddles.

“How do I defeat the Digdogger?”

“Well son. I ask you this. Do you have music in your heart?”

As games went, Zelda was bona fide – a top shelf, genuine issue classic. It’s hero, Link, was the sort of icon that Funyon-eaters and children in Kyoto tattooed on their necks. And years later, as I putted around the online Wii store, I realized I had missed out on almost all of Link’s other adventures during my hiatus from the gaming world. And my hands began to shake. I got cotton mouth. I downloaded The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. The addiction returned.

This was about two years ago, and I got hooked on the Majora’s Mask too. They are both undeniably cheesy fantasy adventures, where people talk about Triforces of Power and descending darkness and undying pixie love and whatnot. There are amphibious jug bands and rapping scarecrows and kleptomaniacal Amazon women. All manner of ridiculous stuff. But the brilliance of the games is that they never bore you. They are designed so that you can always make progress. There are always puzzles to solve, and livestock to goose, and townspeople’s houses to trash, and woodland creatures to kill. No matter how bad a gamer you are (and trust me, my skills are pedestrian after all those years off ), you will always find something to accomplish, and find yourself proudly saying things like, “I can’t believe I out-swam a beaver in a race for a bottle! My finest moment!”

I dedicated many early morning weekend hours to solving those two games, and had to be pulled away kicking and screaming on more than one occasion. But I beat them both. And I thought I’d beat the addiction too. I set the controller back down and resumed my normal life. It was a relapse, but a minor one.

And then, a few days ago, I found myself on EBay, trying desperately to beat a demon supercomputer in some mildewy Belarusian crime den (or so I imagined) at an auction, so that I might be able to purchase Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for less than $22 (which is like 75% off retail, if you must know). Yes, the monkey had his claws in once again and his banana-breathed whispers in my ear were working.

“You’d be stupid not to try and get it at a low, low price. Just keep bidding. Your wife will never make fun of you for playing a game called Twilight Princess. Certainly not. Certainly not. Ooo Ooo. Eee Eee.”

Guess what? It arrived yesterday. God help me.

September 20, 2010

The Satanic Verses of Christine O’Donnell

In yet another unprecedented scoop, The Indubitable Dweeb has obtained a copy of Christine O’Donnell’s high school diary. Fascinating reading, especially the passages that prove the senate nominee did indeed “dabble in witchcraft.” Rather than politicize this, we’d like to simply present the diary in its unedited form and let the voters decide:

February 7, 1988

The Winter Wonderland dance was completely rad. There was this guy named Kyle who was standing in the corner being a total bummer, and when I asked him why he wasn’t dancing, he told me that “Dungeon Masters do not partake in the rituals of human slaves.” Dungeon Master? My brain was going back and forth between: Creepy? Kinky? Creepy? Kinky?…Cute? Definitely cute. That’s what I thought as soon as he showed me this medallion he wears. It was the sweetest little upside-down star! I asked him if he was into Disney and he licked the star and said, “The Dark Lord animates my black heart.” Cute and mysterious!

February 14, 1988

Valentines Day and my first date with Kyle = Double my pleasure! We went to see Gwar, which was…interesting. Kyle told me to wear something that I didn’t mind getting blood on, and I was like, “Whoa George Michael, slow down! I’m not ready for that yet.” But now I understand what he meant. O well, I’ll have to throw out the leggings, but now I have an excuse to get a perm! Kyle said he’s going to make me a “Best of Gwar” mixtape. I wonder if they have any ballads. I realize they’re “heavy” and all that, but Danger Danger is also heavy and they had “I Still Think About You” and that song just melts me.

March 1, 1988

I finally got to meet Kyle’s friends. There’s Dozer, and he’s the only guy I’ve ever met who carries a mace. You know, like with the spiky ball and the wooden handle? Then there’s the guy in the black trench-coat who refers to himself “The Shroud.” I don’t have much in common with The Shroud, except we both love Starburst. He let me eat all his red ones! Finally, there’s his Ex. Zoe. Zoe’s a white witch, which means she practices white magic, but all she seems to practice is bad fashion. I know, low blow, but can the girl drape more fake silk on herself? I can’t believe the two of them used to make out in freshly dug graves together.

March 18, 1988

Movie night. Lost Boys! This was my choice. Kyle was begging for yet another Faces of Death marathon, but how many times can a girl watch a parachutist get eaten by an alligator? I thought he’d like Lost Boys cause it has vampires in it and they’re kind of satany. But I didn’t tell him I wanted to see it cause it also has Jason Patric in it! Our little secret, diary? Anyway, he said the movie “sucked donkey nads” and I asked him why and all he did was take a gas can and pour gas on the lawn of a local nunnery and set the grass on fire. I have to say, for a spontaneous flaming pentagram, it was a pretty good flaming pentagram.

March 23, 1988

We sacrificed a goat today. Where does one get a goat? I haven’t a clue. Hmmm. Get your goat. That’s a phrase, right? But where does it come from? Maybe Our Dark Lord Satan can provide the answ…Wait a sec, wait a sec. Now I’m talking like him! Be strong, Chrissy. Be strong. Just cause your boyfriend has pledged his soul to Lucifer and the princely minion Beezlebub (sp?), it doesn’t mean you have to. I mean, if you’re totally into it and all that, then that’s cool, but remember, you’re still the same old Chrissy. You love Model UN. You are definitely getting into BC in a couple years (Go Eagles!). And just because you strangled a goat and draped its entrails on a menorah in a ritual to forge a deeper relationship with the horned ruler of the underworld, it doesn’t mean you don’t still totally love going to the zoo. Especially in springtime. Baby capuchins!

April 4, 1988

It’s over. Kyle broke up with me. At first, it seemed like a silly reason, but the more I think about it, the more I understand. Ouija boards are not open to interpretation. If we didn’t heed the advice of the ouija, then what advice do we heed? O well, there’s always The Shroud.

July 14, 2010

Some Things That I Hate…

I’ve written before on this blog that I don’t have many pet peeves. It’s true. I really don’t. Perhaps I should qualify what I mean though. For there are some things that I hate with the passion of a lambada dancer. But that’s different than having peeves. Peeves are annoyances. Hate is at once emotional and, in my case, completely rational. It’s about seeing something that’s throwing the world off its axis and knowing you must condemn it for the travesty that it is. I will list some things that I hate here:

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg: Look at this smug son-of-a-farmer. He lands a plane in the Hudson River and they book him on Oprah and 60 Minutes. Next thing you know, they’ll be knighting Toonces the Driving Cat for swerving off a friggin cliff. That’s right. Sully ain’t no better than Toonces. I mean, from where I stand, any pilot who can’t land his plane on a runway is a fascist, socialist, French food-eating, soccer-loving kamikaze! You can, and you should, quote me on that. Want a hero? Try John Travolta. Not only was he the yin to Kirstie Alley’s yang in all those Look Who’s Talking movies, but he also never lands his planes on rivers. Case in point.

Sustainable Agriculture: Cucumbers are like albino rhinos. When I buy a one, I’d like to know that there ain’t any others like it. It’s the last of its line. So, I would hope that after my cucumber has been plucked from its cucumber bush, the entire plant is drenched in kerosene, and some overalls-clad hillbilly is tossing his corncob pipe down and banjo plucking the inferno into the night. An extreme view? Not if you’ve ever suffered the humiliation of showing up at The International Cucumber Festival in Suzdal only to find that some woman also has a kirby shaped like a duck.

Orphans: I’m not talking the Dickens variety or those Slumdog Millionaire tots, though I’m certainly not big fans of their pickpocketing, gameshow-winning ways. What I’m talking about are the ones who are always hanging out at the hotspots with Sandra Bullock and Madonna and Angelina Jolie. Clearly all they want to do is wink and shoot finger-guns at the paparazzi, then parlay the TMZ coverage into a book deal and a perfume line. I’ve had a hard enough time getting department stores to even sniff Dusky, A Fragrance by Aaron Starmer, now I got some 4-year-old Javanese celebutante to compete with for shelf space! It’s enough to make a man cancel his subscription to OK! Magazine.

Bushbabies: I don’t have many occasions in my life when I actually have to deal with bushbabies, but every once in a while I like to pop into the nocturnal primate room at the local zoo and check out an aye-aye or a slow loris or two. Without fail, I always end up coming across one of these bug-eyed nightmare merchants of a bushbaby and my day is shot. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I certainly can’t take in some jungle-themed animated film, for fear that it might feature a John Ratzenberger-voiced silver greater galago singing Randy Newman ditties.

Huns: Attila was alright, but the rest of these jokers? According to Wikipedia, “Huns practiced scarification, slashing the faces of their male infants with swords to discourage beard growth.” Jeeze, what a pathetic band of 5th-century metrosexuals. Remind me that next time I take my time-machine back to the pre-Magna Carta days I shouldn’t worry about bringing toenail clippers and Amstel Light. The Huns should be fully stocked. Sissies.

March 8, 2010

My Blog Debut: A Tenderness Score of 25

16,187,120. My blog is up and that’s its Alexa rank. I’m fairly proud of it. As far as I know, I’ve never been Sixteen-Million-One-Hundred-Eighty-Seven-Thousand-One-Hundred-Twentieth in anything. The best news? There’s room for improvement. Still, I don’t want to abandon this illustrious rank right away, cause the number has a storied history. It’s the registration number of Dailey Homer, a nearly two-year-old bull from the Dailey Angus Ranch in Thedford, Nebraska. Homer is a “very gentle bull” with a “tenderness score of 25.” I’m not sure how high the tenderness scale goes, but Homer seems to have made his mark as one of the good guys. I don’t doubt his heart has been broken more than once, and he’s better for it. If you happen to be in the market for a bull, check out his video and consider dipping into your savings account (unless, of course, you’re tucking away that $2,500 for this).

Manifestos. I like them in theory, and I’m tempted to lay out rules for this blog.

  1. I will never pollute the internet with another “best of” list!
  2. I will wring art out of the boggy cloth of mundanity, every single day of the week!
  3. I will use words like boggy and mundanity and I will post pictures of tiny monkeys clinging to people’s fingers and I will inspire the illiterate to read because they will want to know my thoughts on finger monkeys!

O yes, I could write one heck of a manifesto, but manifestos require discipline. Ask a bag of chips about my discipline.

Themes. Ralphie, the hero of The Christmas Story, wrote one about a Red Rider BB gun. I agree with his teacher. It certainly wasn’t A-plus material and his denial of the ocular safety issue was indefensible. Yet I can’t help but thank Ralphie for reminding me that blogging is best kept grade-school-short. For the majority of this blog, I will write themes. No manifestos needed. I will simply assign myself subjects, often recurring ones, and I will get in and I will get out and I will hopefully entertain folks a bit. The themes may sometimes be serious, but more often than not they’ll dip into the absurd. And while I plan on posting updates about my writing career, I won’t reveal too much about my day-to-day life. Let others trouble you with their tales of burnt toast and office switchblade fights. Let me whisper nonsense into your ear.

SEO. Finally, I do want my Alexa rank to climb a bit, and as any savvy blogger knows, search engine optimization is the key. For instance, you may have come here after googling Dailey Homer. While I regret to inform you that this isn’t a bulletin board for your morning dose of Homer Simpson quotes, and while I also regret to inform you that Daily isn’t spelled with E, I do welcome you to have a look around. Enjoy the mess, and please realize that I’m trying to recruit others like you who’ve stumbled upon this site in search of commentary on popular or timely subjects. Therefore, the last sentences of certain posts may appear completely incongruous. Trust me, they’re rocketing us to number 1.

Justin Bieber and some lolcats tie Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win to an elaborate, badly spelled global warming conspiracy theory.