Friday, May 23, 2014

You’re in Luck!

Today is National Lucky Penny Day!

So, in honor of those peachy penny parties that are sure to be popping up all over the country, I thought it would be a great day to re-post my baby brother’s recipe for instant treasure…

Instant luck also guaranteed!

Instant Treasure (without losing an eye)


One 5 dollar bill
One bank teller person
One sense of adventure

Directions:  Make haste to a financial institution in your neighborhood. Hand over your 5 dollar bill to the bank teller person and say, “I would like 500 pennies.” Smile. You can add an “Arrrgh” if you wish. When the bank teller person hands over those rolls, you may feel the urge to swashbuckle. I suggest you save that for later. Sail home and check out what you've got — and blimey, you've got 500 chances to find some valuable stuff!

Voila — treasure!

The last time my son did this, he found two Lincoln wheat pennies (1941 & 1946) and a dime with low self-esteem (alas, he was worth so much more than the chumps he hung out with).

Now this recipe also comes with bonus features that are mighty handy if you’re a writer person. I call them Instant Stories. Sure, sure, the pennies might be worth more than face value, but the stories in your hot little hands are priceless — and they can run the gamut from historical to hysterical.

To access these features, preheat your brain to “simmer”. Then take another look at your loot.

For example, think about my son’s wheat-backs from 1941, the year the U.S. entered WWII, and 1946, the year after The War ended — Shiver me timbers, there are so many world events between the mintings of two bits of metal! 

And just where have those pennies been all this time? Were they ever worn in loafers? Could one have been held by JFK? Martin Luther King? How many gumballs did they purchase in their lifetimes? How many times were they “lucky” finds? Were they ever employed by the Tooth Fairy? Did a kid ever swallow one of them?

Okay, maybe you don’t want to think about that last one.

PROMPT: Your assignment, should you choose to accept it — go get yourself some treasure without the risk of scallywags or swordplay. Plunder the stories! Paint maps of faraway islands! And if you really want to engage in a sword fight or two, I’m certainly not going to stop you.

And by the way, if you’re doubting that you’ll find anything that's particularly valuable — note that one wild author and coin guy, Scott A. Travers, intentionally dropped rare pennies into circulation in 1997, 2002, and 2006. His last drop included a penny worth $1000 (yep, you saw that right — One. Thousand. Dollars.). Now THAT is one lucky penny — and of course, a great story, too!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Crunch Time

The past two weeks have been a series of wondrous adventures.

I've explored The Great Barrier Reef…

Time traveled to 1849…

Investigated yabby behavior…

Yet still found time to squeeze in an Everest summit attempt.

Of course, all of this excitement took place on the page, but dang—

It was fun...

and scary!

For those of you who may be wondering what it's really like to write for an education company, here's how the excitement typically begins:

Fabulous Editor Person: Hi, Barb! We need two poems about the Civil War, a talking dog cautionary tale, and a nonfiction bit about the life and times of a slug.

Me: Sounds great! When do you need them?

Super Fabulous Editor Person: Yesterday.

Me: What time yesterday?

Super Fantastically Fabulous Editor Person: 4 o’clock.

Me: No problem.

Okay, okay, that’s an exaggeration — the deadline part, not the “Super Fantastically Fabulous” part (everyone I've ever worked for has been exactly that). However, the time frames can be a bit hair-raising.

Of course, the upside about hairy scary due dates is that the associated panic, relief, and adrenaline rushes mean I never have to waste cash on sky diving or bungee jumping.

Anyway, I still have ten more projects to complete with several lifelines between now and June 6th.

That’s right, I said LIFElines, not deadlines — and not simply because that other term has the messy and morose “swimming with the fishes” part, but because lifeline is actually more accurate.

How so?

Well, those daunting dates leave NO ROOM FOR DOUBT, and as such, they always breathe life into the weak-pulsed, gasping for oxygen, harebrained ideas I come up with.

Face it, if you have an endless amount of time to finalize a piece of writing, you hem and haw, you twiddle your thumbs and wonder if you should have gone to law school, you think and rethink that this is absolutely, positively the dumbest idea ever, and then finally you go clean the tub.

With a “lifeline” all that crazy-making (and sadly, housecleaning) goes away.

So, if I'm working on a story that’s due tomorrow, and all I can come up with is something about a boy and his duck — well dadgummit, it’s going to be the best dang “boy and his duck” story that I can possibly muster.

And guess what?

It usually turns out much better than I ever expected.

It will for you, too.

And yes, I have actually sold a “boy and his duck” story. 

PROMPT: Ditch the dead and embrace the lifeline. Set a due date for your next project and make it real. Give a friend a check filled out to your LEAST favorite cause and have them send it in if you’re not done on time. Or 
worse — have someone hide the chocolate (gasp!) until you’re through.

You can do this! How do I know? Because you are Super Fantastically Fabulous!

Set a date. Get it done. Then invite me to the party.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dear Me

What if you wrote a letter to your younger self?
What would it say?
Authors E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally decided to write letters to their teenage selves. They posted them, and then invited other authors to do the same. So began the website Dear Teen Me. Check it out for inspiration.
Now add a different twist…
Abracadabra, you are 107!
What would your 107-year-old self write to the you of today?

PROMPT: Dear Me…

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Heads Up

Your head is fabulous.

It’s a great place to park your brains.

It’s quite useful for sporting that favorite hat…

Or sporting in your favorite sport, if that happens to be soccer. (But given the pesky brain factor mentioned above, I can’t really endorse this one.)

It’s also great for keeping your face in place.

And without it, your neck would have nothing to do.

But alas...

A head is actually a horrible, no good, totally rotten place for completing your great manuscript.

PROMPT: For goodness sake, get it out of your head and on the page!

Yeah, it’s WRITEnot think— on!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Today is a Great Day to…

“You can do anything you set your mind to.”
— Benjamin Franklin

Good old Ben “Jammin” Franklin.

Hmmm… What did he know?

Well, he knew how to read French, Spanish, Latin, and Italian — all self-taught, by the way. He invented a bunch of stuff like bifocals, a stove, and the first flexible urinary catheter. Then there was that whole electricity thing. He even had to invent a bunch of words like battery and conductor to describe what he was doing with that. Heck, I’m thinking that if he had lived just a few more years and set his mind to it, the man would have come up with Twitter as well.

But setting your mind to something isn't just for old dead guys who lived back in the dinosaur days. Plenty of people today set their minds to things and find a way to do them.

In the children’s writing world, R.L. Stine, the author of the Goosebumps series is one of those mind-setting dudes. 

Stine started writing stories and jokes when he was only 9 years old. And being a typical 9-year-old of his day, he could not type for beans!

Did that stop him?


Because R.L. had set his mind to becoming a published author.

However, he never really set his mind to that typing bit.

And that is why R.L. Stine has the gnarliest, BAD-A index finger on the planet.

Yes, the man has written 300 books…


PROMPT: You only need one mind — set it! And one finger — use it!
Look out stars, here we come!

By the way, if you wish to see the famous finger (it is worth it, trust me), check out Library of the Early Mind — a fantastic documentary about children’s literature that’s chock-full of interviews with many famous children’s authors.