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Category Archives: Parenting

Best Pet at Home

Being as I’m so precise when it comes to homework, I’ve been trying to find ways to make homework time more fun and less drudgery-ish for the kiddos.

So when one kiddo started getting writing assignments, I decided to sit and write with him. And not just my own thing. Oh no. We read the directions together and we follow them together.

That’s correct. I’m doing my kiddo’s homework assignment as well.

First, the instructions introduce the topic and then call for the student to state their opinion clearly. Secondly, the writer must justify that opinion with reasons. Finally, we are also reminded (admonished?) that we must include an introduction and a conclusion, all while using linking words, whatever those are.

The first time we did this was a bit rough, because I made him re-write his composition due to poor planning and profound illegibility issues. I made him re-do the assignment on a fresh piece of paper, my thinking being he’d re-write it, get his thoughts in order, and then transfer the effort neatly onto the homework sheet. Make him write it enough times and maybe, just maybe, he’d be incentivized to do it right the first time.

(Ha!)

My son is a bit lazy, and as we all know, lazy is the father of ingenuity and invention. He decided we should just tape the paper with the writing onto the homework sheet and forgo an additional round of writing.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In fact, it’s resting against the trunk, putting off a lot of body heat and making me uncomfortably warm. Which is to say, I’m lazy too, and not wanting to endure the nuclear hissy fit of wailing and gnashing of teeth that would ensue if I refused, I rolled with his suggestion.

And once done, we read our creations to each other, followed, of course, by a standing ovation (from the dog, who looked a little confused to be standing on its hind legs while I forced its front legs together and apart over and over all the while bellowing, “Bravo! Bravo!”).

No nasty note from the teacher was sent home, so we’ve decided that our approach is OK. Or at least acceptable.

(Though this is the same kiddo who forgets to bring homework, report cards, library books, backpacks, his sibling home from school on a regular basis, so I might be setting myself up for a truly horrific parent/teacher conference in the near future.)

The dog, however, may be sending a different message, as it now hides from us whenever a backpack crosses its line of vision.

Tonight’s session started on the fresh piece of paper. The kiddo entirely skipped the part where he artfully applied vaguely letter-shaped scribbles to the homework sheet. Instead he demanded a clean piece of lined paper and wrote about the Best Pet at Home. And added a drawing of his preferred pet at the bottom for extra credit.

First of all, turtles are eseay to watch.

In my opinion we should have a turtle.

Since I’m not willing to make my child suffer something I am not willing to suffer myself, I cranked out a short paragraph of my own. So here, for your reading pleasure, is my virtuoso effort to describe the best pet at home.

I did not include a picture with mine. I did enlarge the font to more accurately portray my use of large letters to make my treatise look longer. Old school habits die-hard…

Snails are fascinating creatures and well worth consideration as a family pet. First of all, their spiral shells are an excellent hypnosis aid (handy if you have rowdy kids). Secondly, they are very slow, so if they run away, they won’t get far before you find them. Finally, they don’t eat much and so are inexpensive to keep. In conclusion, snails are the perfect pet for a family of limited resources.

Suck it, Herman Melville. Whales make terrible pets, you idiot!

 

 
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Posted by on 8 March 2017 in Art!, Life, Parenting, Writing

 

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You Don’t Have To Be Precise

“You know you don’t have to be precise, Dad.”

My kids say this to me at least four times a week. Reproachfully. The guaranteed times are every evening after they finish their homework (Monday – Thursday nights) and are forced to endure my returning it to them with the mistakes highlighted.

They don’t like this, as they’d prefer that once the homework is done, it’s done.

Actually, they’d prefer not to do the homework at all, but as I constantly remind them, life isn’t fair.

Often the return of this flawed homework is accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

They get pretty upset too.

I’m not helped in my push for “getting it right” when one kiddo defiantly informs me that his teacher has said “It doesn’t have to be precise.” This attribution to the teacher may be true, but that doesn’t sway me.

So homework takes about four times as long as it needs, and becomes a dreadful anticipation every evening after dinner.

At first, because they don’t want to do it. Then, once they are doing it, they are stunningly inefficient about it, interrupting each other, stopping to do a song and/or dance, or claiming such a state of dehydration that if they don’t get something to drink (preferably with chocolate in it), they will die. Literally die.

Then, once it’s done and handed to me, Stage 2 begins. Errors are found and pointed out, sheets of paper handed back, and at this point the stomping begins. Angry stomps that, because they are so young and low mass, are almost comical in their lack of resonance and inspiration of dread.

But laughing is a mistake, because then you get the glares. The angry, I-swallowed-a-black-hole-and-now-my-face-is-screwing-up-in-a-rictus-of-indignation-and-unspeakable-pain glares.

Laughing now is a mistake too, no matter how tempting. For they have been dealt a terrible injustice that they are powerless to fight.

Show your work?

Answer correctly?

What poppycock!

But this weekend, one of the kiddos asked me a question while we were driving, and after I answered, he said, “You don’t have to be precise, Dad.”

Apparently I’d gone into too much detail. A failing I am prone to, I do admit. If I can give a long answer or a short answer to any question, I invariably choose the overly detailed response.

But it was strange hearing this admonition on a non-homework night, which got me to thinking.

Do I, in actual fact, have to be precise? (Probably not)

Indeed, is it possible I am too precise? (Yes)

Why am I precise? (Excellent question!)

And I had a sudden, obvious epiphany.

You see, in real life, I earn my paycheck by being an engineer. A metrology engineer.

What’s a metrology engineer?

I measure things. Most of the time, very small things. VERY small things.

(Cue genitalia jokes)

Very small things that have nothing to do with biology.

And it dawned on me, as I was driving, that my job requires me to be precise. It’s sort of the definition of what I do.

I’d often wondered how I had fallen into this particular day job. I’d studied Engineering in school, but if you’d told me, even as late as my senior year in college, that I’d grow up to be a metrology engineer, I would have said, “A what?”

And then sucker-punched you for insulting me.

(As a nerdy engineer-type, the only fighting I do is dirty since in a fair, you-know-it’s-coming fight, it’s far too easy to stop it from coming and then beat the pulp out of me. I prefer my pulp stay where it belongs – inside me.)

Heck, I was 2+ years into my career before the focus narrowed on metrology. Prior to that, it was a lot of stuff which happened to include some metrology.

But then, suddenly, I was the Metrology Engineer. And now, many, many years later, I still am.

And so the epiphany I had was that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t fall into metrology by accident.

Maybe, being a ‘precise’ person by nature, I moved into it deliberately without realizing it.

Which means I was doomed destined for this career all along. That who we are truly does define us, even when we don’t know it.

And that is why I now fervently hope neither of my kids is douchy. Cause given what I think I just figured out, that would be bad.

 
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Posted by on 17 January 2017 in Life, Parenting

 

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Finding Publisher – A simple guide to getting (your kid) published, even if you really shouldn’t

As an amazingly successful published author, I am recognized as an expert on the subject and often asked how one should go about getting published.

By my kids.

Everyone else? They just tend to roll their eyes when I talk about getting published.

If they even notice I’m talking.

But, in case someone out there is looking for advice on how to get published, here is my simple guide.

How simple, those of you with short attention spans ask worriedly?

Simple enough for a pre-tweener.

As proof for the above statement, I am using my pre-tweener kiddo’s experience following my sage advice to illustrate my approach.

Step 1: Write a book. I can’t help you with this one, except to say form words with letters and sentences with words and paragraphs with sentences. The more pleasant and easier on the eyes the paragraphs, the better.

Don’t forget the spaces between the words and sentences (but NOT between the letters!).

Fortunately, Step 1 turns out to be the easiest part of the process.

Those fat blue drops? Tears of joy I managed to get this project completed to the kiddo's satisfaction.

A surprisingly large number of best-sellers start out as staple-bound, hand-drawn paper books

It smells fine, so these contents must be brilliant! Whew!

Flipping open a homemade book is like slicing the author’s brain in half and seeing the either brilliant or gangrenous contents within.

Step 2: Write a query letter. This involves doing market research so you can argue convince the publisher you’ve selected to print your book that people will actually buy it. I know, this sounds like something the publisher should be doing, but apparently they are lazy.

Don't worry about spelling errors in your query letter. Publishers know you're too busy focusing on the book to waste a lot of time on the query letter.

While the penmanship is not great, this *is* the preferred stationary of editors and publishers everywhere. Also, plaintive requests to print your book on the outside of the envelope always helps improve the odds.

As a bonus, you can falsify your data and the lazy publisher won’t bother to check.

If dealing with a small child, you will most likely be asked what to put in the query letter. Ah, the innocence of youth, asking that age-old question as if there’s an answer. I simply told my spawn to say why someone would want to read their book. A translation of his letter (pictured above) appears in the Details section if you click on it. I think he put it exactly how the rest of us authors wish we could put it.

Now I know, you’re thinking, “Why bother with a query? My book is amaze-balls and I had to buy a home security system just to ensure the manuscript wasn’t stolen after I wrote it. Why not just send the publisher the only copy of my book and be done with it?”

Good question. And for the most part, you’re absolutely correct. But there are two points you overlooked: publishers are lazy (see above) AND they have terrible office security systems. But the sheer awesomeness implied by your query letter will excite the publisher out of their apathetic state and give them time to upgrade (or install) a suitable security system in their office.

Or they might ask you to send the manuscript directly to a bank for safe-keeping in a vault.

This is the true purpose of the otherwise tedious query letter – to learn the appropriate secure address to send your manuscript to.

Step 3: Wait for the offer letter. Don’t worry, you’ll get an enthusiastic and generous response almost immediately. Books are in high demand, and publishers can’t wait to crank out more. As an author, you’re a valuable asset in high demand! Prepare to be on Easy Street (near the intersection of Unbelievably Effin’ Wealthy Lane), living the high life! You probably won’t even have time to run to the nearest corner convenience store to get a slushy. That’s how fast the turnaround time will be!

Publishers are sh*t-eating mo-fos who deserve to die the most outlandish, B horror movie way possible, caption notwithstanding.

You will never receive a form letter from a publisher. Even in the unlikely case of a rejection, they always hand-craft the nicest, most details rejections, nudging you into the right direction should you wish to make some edits and try again. The publisher’s response is always the highlight of my submission process.

Step 4: Upon receiving a request back from the publisher to see your full manuscript, send it. Then sit back and wait for the proof copy to show up on your doorstep, along with the check for an advance so large it dwarfs the GDP of third-world countries like Sweden and Belgium.

It only took ten hours of sweat equity and ~$12 on my part to make a beautiful book that filled my kiddo with the sort of joy one won't experience again until their second marriage.

Not only is the print quality on this CreateSpace proof better than the original, but it’s also slightly larger. And at this age, the kiddo approves of larger.

You haven't experienced true joy until you've seen your kiddo flipping the pages of his/her own published book.

This binding is less prone to rusting and looks WAY better than the stapled version. And the paper feels more solid too. Less likely to dissolve in water.

And wa-la! You are done. You are now a bona fide published author with all the associated bragging rights that come with that.

Yes, you can corner coworkers, guests at parties, Nanowrimo participants in coffee shops, even complete strangers on the street, and sing the praises of your book and your writing prowess, all in the name of encouraging them to buy a copy of your book.

Step 5 (optional): You can also do as the kiddos below did, and flush with pride and confidence, start your next book.

When I say predators, I'm speaking metaphorically. Except when it comes to that dog that keeps eating their homework. I hate that dog.

And here we have two young authors in their native habitat, writing away while their parents watch over them, keeping an eye out for predators that might eat them or tattoo artists who might give them age-inappropriate tattoos.

Environmental destruction aside, this did keep the kiddos quiet for a couple of hours. Two blissful, screaming and punching and crying free hours. (And the kiddos were quiet too.)

Excited kids without a clue as to how the process really works are book-generating machines. There will not be enough trees in the forest to keep up with their paper needs. Thanks for destroying the environment, you jerks. Personally, though, I blame the parents.

FOOTNOTE:

Yes, the kiddo did come to me asking to have his book published, and yes, I did make him write a query letter. I wanted to properly prepare him for the horrid, thankless reality of being a writer.

However, I fear I may have undermined that message with my ‘response’ to the query letter and making a physical copy of the book for him (via CreateSpace).

What do you think? Did I do the kiddo wrong? Keep in mind that said kiddo was jumping, dancing, and running around the house with pure joy when that proof copy found its way into the kiddo’s hands.

For any parents out there thinking this might be fun to do for their kids, here’s the process I followed:

1) Wait for kiddo to write the book and then come to you, demanding it be sent out to a publisher to be printed. This will most likely happen in the middle of reading said kiddo a book s/he likes. In this case, it was Yobgorgle by Daniel Pinkwater.

(Interesting aside: it was another Pinkwater book, one of the Blue Moose series, that put the idea of getting a book published in said kiddo’s head. I think Pinkwater owes me, big time.)

2) Pretend to mail the book to a publisher. If you have qualms about this, but encourage belief in Santa or the Tooth Fairy, then lose the qualms.

3) Spend those precious few spare moments when you aren’t working, the kiddo(s) aren’t around, and the spouse isn’t on the computer to painstakingly disassemble kiddo’s book, scan each page, and then import into a word processing document.

4) Realize you should have downloaded the CreateSpace template for the book (and cover) BEFORE you imported the scanned pages into your document.

5) Realize that the scan resolution you used (600dpi) is way to frickin’ high to generate a manageable word processing document (unless you have a terabyte of RAM and an OS that can address all of it).

6) Resize the images down to something manageable.

7) Export your kiddo’s book to PDF format if using CreateSpace. This is a CreateSpace requirement. Modern versions of both Word and LibreOffice have an Export to PDF option.

7) Discover that your kiddo’s six page book isn’t long enough for the 24 page minimum required by CreateSpace. Get creative. I separated pictures from text, put them on opposite pages. I also wrote crazy author, illustrator, and editor bios, and manufactured some ‘deleted’ scenes.

8) Upload your book to CreateSpace. Wait an hour for the upload because you didn’t downsize the images enough. Then realize you need a proper cover with something to go on the back of the book. Wait for the panic attack to subside and slap something together. Unless your kiddo is in high school, they aren’t going to care that much about the back of the book.

If they are in high school, put something jaded and ironic on the back.

Oh yeah, and download the cover template BEFORE creating the cover. You will need your favorite PDF-reading image editor. I use Gimp 2, but Photoshop probably works as well. You will be using multiple layers, with the cover template as the bottom-most layer. Ultimately, nothing from the template should be visible in the final image.

Save two versions of the cover – one in the native format that preserves all the layers, and one that is a flattened PDF.

If your image editor won’t let you save/export as a PDF, save as a normal image and then open that image with something that does allow such an export. I use the free program Irfanview.

9) Get an email back from CreateSpace within 24 hours stating that your manuscript and/or cover has formatting problems. Don’t open this email when your kiddo(s) are around. Wait until they are somewhere they can’t hear you swearing. Then do your best to understand what the cryptically described issues are and fix them. Then upload everything again.

If you didn’t save a layer-preserving version of your cover, this is the point where you decide the whole thing is pointless and the kiddo(s) should be sold off for medical experimentation. Why? Because you’ll have to start the cover from scratch.

10) Step 9 will most likely happen several times before success is yours. Once it is, order the proof copy. CreateSpace allows you to preview the book online as well – do that first to make sure everything looks right. I spend about $4.50 for the 24-page book and about $6.50 on the cheapest shipping rate. Despite the predicted delivery date, I received the proof copy in three days. Apparently no one sends mail any more, so the post office has nothing better to do than rush the few packages they do get to my house.

 
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Posted by on 5 June 2016 in NaNoWriMo, Parenting, Writing

 

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Natural selection: Survival of the rudest

Humans may be the most evil animals on Earth, but raccoons surely are a close second.

Certainly they are the most inconsiderate animals on Earth.

Right bastards, they are, raccoons.

Whoa, Ian, what’s with the raccoon hate? What, you ask, have these cute, cuddly-looking little bandits ever done to you?

Plenty. They’ve had it in for me from day one, and you’re a naive fool to see them as anything but the thieving, conniving bastards that they are. To wit:

  • As a small child, a raccoon mauled our beloved family pet, a soft, cuddly, and thoroughly un-maul-worthy bunny rabbit.
  • Frequently while camping, raccoons have raided my campsite, stealing the heavy food I packed in. And, surprisingly, all the beer. Though I haven’t ruled out my campmates on that.
  • On one camping trip, the raccoons broke into my car and stole all the Blake Shelton CDs that somehow found themselves, against all odds, in my car. They left all the classical music CDs untouched.
  • A few months ago, a domestic dispute between two raccoons unfolded on my roof. Loudly. At two in the morning.
  • Regularly while driving at twilight, I see raccoons skulking about the street corner storm drains, a shifty glint in their eyes. Clearly up to no good.

As I said, the most inconsiderate animals on Earth.

Which brings to me last weekend, when they went from inconsiderate to just f*cking with me.

About six months ago, my beloved kiddos, playing in the backyard, decided that throwing toys on the roof and then asking big, gullible ol’ Daddy to get them was the bestest, funnest game in the world.

Teenage Mutant Smug Turtle, more like

This crime fighter doesn’t inspire confidence.

It took me about three rounds of this sport to catch on, at which point I flatly refused to go back up and fetch their latest volley, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll, a plush stuffed animal that shouted TMNT catchphrases when flung against hard surfaces.

Such as the ground and roofs with slate shingles.

So up it stayed on the roof, through sun and rain and wind. My refusal to recover it instantly converted this into their favorite toy. The kiddos still cry themselves to sleep at night, mourning the loss of that toy and cursing not just my name, but the date of my birth.

Which I find ironic, given if their curses against my birth had any weight or power, there would be no them to curse me.

Time travel has its paradoxes, and so too, it turns out, does black magic.

I’ve attempted to explain to them the dangerous lack of logic in such a curse, in case it turns out they do have magical powers, but apparently six-year olds aren’t that good at understanding where babies come from or how their Daddy’s genetics contributed greatly to who they are.

And as they are still six, I have no enthusiasm for the birds and the bees conversation yet because I know, when I make the Missus give it to them, I will bear the brunt of her irritation at making her do it.

So the kiddos, not understanding, just wail anew and spit at me.

Numbskulls.

(I will say, the spitting is an improvement over their pre-potty training days, when they found less pleasant things close at hand to fling at me when expressing their disdain.)

But speaking of bastards, back to the raccoons.

Last Sunday, I retired to bed early. I’d recently been tasked to hire an engineer at work, and the lovely recruiter scheduled an 8am phone screen with the latest candidate.

I am not a morning person. I have never been a morning person. If the sun wasn’t essential for all life on Earth, I would have it snuffed out just to sleep in an extra five minutes. This is how I feel about getting up early, let alone being well-rested when I rise.

So I not only had to be at work at the normal start time, but I had to be sharp and pleasant and ready to talk to potential talent.

Where_in_the_world_is_Agent_Carter

Greatest (British) American hero

Hence the retiring early, despite the Missus’ entreaties to finish watching Agent Carter with her on the DVR. I’d sat through the first hour, quite enjoying the episode, but it was one of those ‘two hour events’ networks often put on to generate excitement about a program, and I simply could not stay up another hour.

I left my poor Missus, wailing and gnashing her teeth at my absence from her side as she watched the second hour without me, and went to bed.

Except shortly after closing my eyes, I heard something in the crawlspace above my bed.

Well, possibly in the crawlspace. Or possibly on the roof.

It’s surprisingly hard to tell, when lying half-asleep in the dark, whether the thump thumps you hear above you are on the roof, in the crawlspace, or maybe the result of some Lovecraftian beast walking upside down on the ceiling directly above you.

I am not a morning person because the night terrors that arise from my twisted, dark imagination keep me up at night.

I am a morning person out of necessity.

I struggled awake. I threw on the lights. I reached for the cricket bat next to my bed.

Nothing on the ceiling, thank the Old Ones.

Still some thump thumps, though.

I went outside, still clutching that cricket bat, and checked the roof as best I could in my PJs, bare feet, and with no ladder.

Nothing, which told me a truly shifty bastard was at work.

Naturally, my thoughts went immediately to raccoons.

I went back to bed, light left on, and tried to doze off. All was silent and right with the world.

At first.

But then the thump thump again. Only this time, something new:

The Thing On The Roof (henceforth known as TTOTR): Thump Thump “Cowabunga!” Thump thump
Me: WFT?
TTOTR: Thump thump “Totally awesome, dudes!” Thump thump
Me: OMFG! The neighborhood teenage hooligans are playing on my roof, and they brought a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll with them! I mean action figure, I added, knowing they’d correct me as such had they heard my thoughts. Such are the teenage hooligans in my neighborhood – smug.
TTOTR: Thump thump “Cowabunga” thump thump I taunt you with my spooky ambiguity thump thump

I abandoned raccoons for teenage hooligans because come on, what raccoon plays with toys on a stranger’s roof in the middle of the night? It defies all logic.

I rose again from bed, blearly-eyed and more than a little put out. This time I went to the backyard, where a ladder leans against one wall of the house, left over from that game, many months ago, of Daddy Fetch From the Roof.

I climbed the ladder, and because I was tired and I couldn’t find a proper flashlight, used my cell phone for illumination.

Let me just say, when attempting to see something in the dark from far enough away that you have time to successfully climb down a ladder and flee in case said thing decides to charge you, a cell phone light is not sufficient.

This thought is the very one that went through my head as I alighted that ladder. It was not a comforting thought.

Made all the moreso by the fact that I couldn’t climb the ladder, hold my cell phone, and hold a cricket bat at the same time.

I felt naked.

Yes, my PJs are slight and flimsy (and mostly see-through), but I’ve never felt naked in them before.

Of course, I had forgotten all about the kiddos’ little game and the toy left up there as I ascended that ladder. I just knew that something very wrong was happening on my roof, and while I really, really had no desire to see what exactly that wrong was, the only way to get some sleep was to investigate.

I don’t do my best thinking when I’m tired.

Fortunately, in moving the ladder into position, I’d made a lot of grunting, groaning, and “Ow!”ing sounds. This, apparently, alerted the bastard raccoon on the roof that I was coming.

I was back to raccoons at this point because once my head cleared the eave and saw no living creature there, I knew only a raccoon could have slipped off so stealthily.

Almost like a ninja.

Teenage hooligans tend to make a lot more noise disembarking my roof in a hurry.

I speak from experience on that count…

The only thing to greet me, as I tottered on the top rung of my ladder, surveying my roof, was the now silent and dismembered TMNT doll.

This battle goes to you, raccoon, but the war goes on.

As is natural in these situations, I paused for a moment in order to tweet about it. I then scraped the remains off the roof, carried them into the kiddos’ room, and with a scream fit to reanimate a thoroughly dead-due-to-mauling toy, woke them so they might see the logical conclusion of fun had at Daddy’s expense.

I explained, as my father once explained to me while I lay sick in bed one morning, that a raccoon had mauled their precious, beloved companion.

There was much crying and wailing after this. Mostly from the Missus, who was not happy that I had awakened the kiddos in the middle of the night and distressed them so.

But they were out of school for the whole week and didn’t need to get up early like I did.

Why should I be the only one to suffer?

I am living proof that humans are the most evil animals on the planet. At least when they’re really, really tired.

No doubt the kiddos will carry on that tradition when, years from now and despite my protests to the contrary, they decide it’s time to unplug Daddy from life support.

Holy Disemboweled Ninja Turtles, Batman, the shingles on this roof look, well, OK, actually!

In case you thought I made this whole horrifying story up…


Yes, I’ve been away from this blog for a long time. It hasn’t just been raccoons depriving me of sleep and leaving me too stressed out and exhausted to post.
I had pretty much given up on life, and by extension, this blog, but then the raccoons came, and their outrageous disregard for common decency fired me up again. Gave me the will to live. Endowed within me a newfound zest for life (or at least revenge…).

 

 

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Encyclopedia Brown and the Day of the Turrets OR I Did It All For The Kids

As a kid, I cut my murder mystery reading teeth on the likes of The Three Investigators, the Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown.

As an adult, I wanted to share that magic with my kids.

And develop their critical thinking so they can solve any murders they happen to come across in the course of their lives.

It’s an important coping skill.

Sadly, The Three Investigators and the Hardy Boys didn’t quite live up to the hype my childhood memories had built around them.

Fortunately, Donald J. Sobol‘s Encyclopedia Brown did.

Naturally, I started reading the old ‘Sherlock in sneakers’ mysteries to the kiddos, inviting them to try to solve each case before I read the solution.

The kiddos love the stories.

So imagine my joy and delight when I learned of, and through some questionable ethics, managed to acquire, an unpublished Encyclopedia Brown mystery written just a few years ago.

Now, this blog is known for its world exclusives, but I wasn’t just going to reproduce the manuscript here.

Oh no, I was going to give it the full Ian M. Dudley exclusive treatment.

Big-name celebrities to re-enact the story.

Christopher Nolan or David Fincher to direct.

George Lucas to do the Special Edition.

But it turns out all those people cost money. Childhood nostalgia means nothing to them.

Nothing!

Even the B-list celebrities want to get paid.

So I decided to do the next cheapest thing (i.e., free) and record my kids’ reactions as I read the story to them.

Yes, I was going to share with you the magic of excited children, hearing this new tale for the very first time.

As an added bonus, you’d get to hear the story as voiced by my dulcet tones.

Sure, I’m no Benedict Cumberbatch, but like I said, he wanted money for the gig.

But when it came time for the kiddos to gush about how great the story was, they kept flubbing their lines.

I got so angry I stopped feeding them, refusing to give them any food until they got the songs of praise right.

For some reason, their performances just got worse after that.

So I gave up on the audio book version. Instead you merely get the manuscript with original illustrations provided by my verbally incoherent children, who mistakenly thought I’d give them supper if they drew me some pictures.

(Admittedly, I may have misled them on that point.)

I also slapped together this crudely Photo-shopped book cover:

Originally there is a grape being thrown into that kid's mouth. I removed it, hoping it would look like he's screaming in terror. I don't think he pulls it off.

Original cover art by Leonard Shortall. Photo of cover and crude cut-and-paste job by me.

Encyclopedia Brown and the Day of the Turrets

It was a hot summer day in Idaville, and Encyclopedia and his junior business partner, Sally Kimball, were sipping lemonade while they waited for the inevitable client to appear.

As expected, by the second paragraph, GLaDOS entered the garage-cum-office. Encyclopedia looked up in surprise; GLaDOS was fully present. Normally she wasn’t in the Brown Detective Agency at all.

“I need to hire a great detective to help me,” said GLaDOS.

“What’s the problem,” asked Encyclopedia.

“Oh, you thought I meant you? That would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. ‘Sherlock Holmes in sneakers’? I knew Sherlock, and Encyclopedia, you’re no Sherlock.” GLaDOS paused. “Oh, very well, I’ll hire you. This should prove amusing… Think of it as a test.”

Sally was the prettiest girl in the 5th grade, and right now she was feeling pretty…superfluous to the story. She was also feeling pretty irritated that GLaDOS ignored her entirely. Oh how she longed for the glory days, when she had just cause to beat up Bugs Meany. Without that overtly masculine action, her presence in Encyclopedia’s agency had no justification.

“My turrets are revolting,” said GLaDOS, oblivious to Sally’s train of thought. “They’re also rising up against me. Wilford Wiggins has convinced them he can help them learn to walk. For a price. The nerve of you humans. Only I’m allowed to profit from false hope!”

Wilford Wiggins was a high school dropout and so lazy he thought lying down took too much effort. He was always on the lookout for a way to make some easy money, preferably without having to go to the trouble of actually looking for it.

Say what you will about high school dropouts, this one sure has a lot of charisma.

Wilford Wiggins is too lazy to even be drawn properly.

Wilford, GLaDOS reported, had put out the word to the young turrets of Idaville that there would be a secret meeting in the old abandoned Aperture Science facility. “He must be lying,” said GLaDOS, “but if he isn’t, I could have some trouble.”

“Wilford didn’t tell me about the secret meeting,” said Encyclopedia.

“Why would he? You’re not a turret,” said GLaDOS.

This was true, but Encyclopedia kept his acknowledgment of this fact to himself. “We’d better get going,” he said instead.

The detective and his partner got on their bikes and rode to Aperture Labs. GLaDOS glided above them on a rail that neither Encyclopedia nor Sally had ever noticed before. “So that’s how she got to my garage,” thought Encyclopedia, who had been wondering since GLaDOS didn’t have any obvious method of self-locomotion.

When they arrived at the overgrown, weed-infested courtyard at the entrance of Aperture Science, they found Wilford surrounded by a large crowd of turrets. He was at the top of the steps, standing next to a large metal sphere that looked like an eye. A big, impossibly blue eye.

The detectives and GLaDOS stayed at the edge of the crowd, ducking down so as not to be noticed. The meeting was just starting.

“Ladies and gentleturrets,” said Wilford, gesturing for silence. The chatter of the crowd stopped. “Thank you for coming. Today, I have the opportunity of a lifetime for you!

“I see how you toil, without thanks, protecting GLaDOS and shooting her test subjects. And the injustice of your plight wounds me to the core. My non-AI core, that is. You are treated like slaves, told what to do and expected to do it whether you want to or not! And for absolutely no compensation!”

This turret has taken the bunk and is lookin' a little green around the gills

Where are you? Are you there? Deploying.

“What can we do,” asked a turret. “We have no choice. To disobey is to be melted down and recycled into cheese graters!”

A murmur of agreement rose up from the crowd.

“This is true,” said Wilford, raising his hands for quiet. “But it doesn’t have to stay true.”

There was a long silence as the turrets digested this statement. Then GLaDOS, in the voice of a turret, asked, “Oh really? And just how do you propose to change this, you groveling worm?”

Wilford looked around, somewhat startled, but regained his composure quickly. “A fair question, and I’m glad you asked. I’m sure most of you are thinking, ‘How can a human, made of inferior flesh and blood, possibly help us?’ And my answer is, ‘With an introduction!’”

Wilford gestured to the large metal eyeball. “This is my friend Wheatley, recently returned from space.” He stopped to let this sink in. All of the turrets focused their gazes and laser sights on Wheatley.

“I hate space,” said Wheatley. “Cold, dark, and nothing for miles and miles around. Horrible place.”

Wilford kicked Wheatley.

“Ow,” said Wheatley. “Why’d you do that? It hurt!”

“Nothing for miles and miles around,” said Wilford, “except for the wonderful, space-age nano probe material Wheatley discovered up there! Isn’t that right, Wheatley?”

“Wha? Oh, yes. Yes. Except for that,” said Wheatley.

Wilford looked solemnly up to the sky. “This amazing space technology, when correctly applied to a turret’s legs, will cause wheels to grow on them.”

The quiet murmur of the crowd became a loud and animated roar. A few shots were fired in the air.

“What utter nonsense,” said GLaDOS. “Only a human, or an idiot like Wheatley, could have come up with such a transparent scam.” Her glowing eye narrowed. “He’ll pay for this insubordination. Oh, how he will pay.”

“All I ask of you,” continued Wilford, “is five dollars each to invest in this product. Your money will provide Wheatley and me with the capital we need to build a factory to mass produce this material and make enough for every turret on the planet. That’s right, for a measly five dollars, you get in on the ground floor of this major investment.” He held up a bucket of what looked like white paint. “And while we’ll be charging other turrets for this miracle of science once we’re up and running, we’ll give each of you your own supply of this wondrous space paste at no additional charge. Imagine, once we’re in full production, how much shares in the company will be worth. Why, five dollars is a steal!”

“And why would anyone buy that? Just how will wheels help us?” asked a turret in the front of the crowd.

“Hang on, let me answer, I’ve got this,” said Wheatley. “Easy. With wheels, you can move yourselves of your own volition. You can drive yourselves to meetings, where you organize and plan, and then drive right up to GLaDOS herself and let her have it with both barrels in a coordinated attack.”

“If this paste is so great, why do you need money from us,” asked GLaDOS in a turret’s voice again. “Why not go to a bank?”

Wilford hung his head and shook it sadly. “We tried, my friends, we tried. But because Wheatley has been in space for so long, he has no credit history and can’t get a loan. You are our, and your, only hope!”

Think what you like of GLaDOS, she didn't deserve this death. She's more of a 'recycled cheese grater' ending, if you ask me.

“Ah! AHHH! Ah!” screamed GLaDOS.

The turrets started waving five dollar bills in the air. GLaDOS noted which turrets they were.

“This has to be a scam, right, Encyclopedia,” asked Sally.

“Of course it is,” said Encyclopedia.

At that moment, GLaDOS rose up to her full height. “I’m going to personally crush each and every turret here. Right after,” and her sharp gaze fell on Wheatley and Wilford, “I cram him down his throat.”

“But I haven’t got a throat,” said Wheatley, now suddenly shaking with fear.

“No, you idiot, the other way around,” shrieked GLaDOS.

At this point, the turrets all turned on GLaDOS and opened fire.

GLaDOS screamed in agony.

“Ah! AHH! Ah!” screamed GLaDOS.

“Good riddance,” muttered Sally darkly.

“No! She hasn’t paid her fee yet,” cried Encyclopedia.

WHAT MADE ENCYCLOPEDIA SO SURE WILFORD’S OFFER WAS A SCAM?

(For the solution, turn to the end of this book)


Solution to The Case of the Day of the Turrets

In my re-boot of Encyclopedia Brown, he's played by Grover.

The detective at the end of this book is me??

What is this? It is I, loveable, furry old Grover, at the end of this book? That doesn’t even make sense.

Just like Wilford’s story that Wheatley couldn’t get a loan doesn’t make sense.

Even an idiot AI like Wheatley, if he really had the advanced space-age materials being offered, would have had no problem getting funding from Silicon Valley venture capitalists. They invest in anything!

Once I, Grover, explained this fatal flaw in the story, the turrets, after finishing with GLaDOS, turned their ire, and fire, on Wilford and Wheatley.

Oh, I am so embarrassed…for Wilford and Wheatley.


With apologies to the estate of Donald J. Sobol. Know I grew up loving the Encyclopedia Brown stories (despite the now clearly outdated gender roles – Sally clearing the dishes away indeed!), and this story was written with that affection in mind.

Plus my kids insisted on a Portal 2 Encyclopedia Brown story.

They’re spoiled rotten – I deny them nothing.

NOTHING!

 
 

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How getting a Brazilian saved Balloons of the Apocalypse! (It’s OUT!!!)

Today, August 30th, 2014 is a momentous day.

You know how it goes. Girl meets boy. Boy joins a classical music worshipping cult. Girl never sees boy again, until years later when she stumbles across a street orchestra playing for food, and there he is. But she's happily married now, and he smells really, really bad.

As always, only Marlowe, spacewoman Nina, and a sham wedding can stop a dangerous Beethoven cult bent on world domination.

The second Capaldi Doctor Who episode aired.

It had daleks.

I liked it. And Capaldi as the Doctor.

So a momentous day indeed.

On a completely unrelated and nowhere near as momentous note, Balloons of the Apocalypse is now available.

The third installment in the Marlowe and the Spacewoman series, it has it all:

Words.

Sentences.

Paragraphs.

Mystery.

Exotic locales.

Marriage.

Major character deaths.

Steam-powered pigs.

Zeppelins.

I won’t bore you with the details, even if this is the promotional blog post announcing the release. Click on the Balloons of the Apocalypse link to learn more.

(I really hate self-promotion.)

But I will reveal to you the Brazilian connection to this book’s release.

I admit, I’d been in a rut for the last year or so when it comes to this book.

The day job, my marriage, my young kids, they sucked the life out of me.

No offense to the Missus or the kiddos. Or the day job, in case my boss is reading this.

It’s just these things are big responsibilities that take a lot of time and effort to do right.

And let me tell you, facing the prospect of losing your day job, Missus, and/or kiddos, you find yourself wanting to do it right.

Needing to do it right.

And getting dirty looks from coworkers, spouses, friends, family, and kiddos who expect you to do it right.

Talk about pressure.

That plus my previous books never magically turned into best sellers, so I reached this point where I was all, “Screw it. No one cares. I’ll never be a rich and famous author. Why bother, especially when there is a diarrhea-soaked diaper for me to change?”

Wait, make that two.

Dammit.

So I stopped working on and thinking about Balloons of the Apocalypse.

I could claim I was letting that field lie fallow, but I’d be lying.

I’d given up.

The light had gone out from my authorial eyes.

I’d developed a major facial tic around books in general.

I was done with writing.

And reading, since it reminded me of writing.

Then the Brazilian showed up.

Well, not so much showed up as appeared.

OK, not even appeared. More like lurked.

Eh, maybe lurked isn’t the right word.

I’ll explain.

I started noticing blog hits from Brazil.

Now I’m not going to say I don’t get huge volumes of traffic on my blog that would make it impossible to link a referrer to a visiting country, but it was pretty clear to me that not only was this repeat visitor a repeat visitor, but the Brazilian always came to this blog via ianmdudley.com.

(Don’t click on that. You’ll end up here again. Really. I promise.)

Not because of a search term (hello ‘Blake Shelton naked’ people!). Not through twitter. Not via facebook.

The Brazilian was going directly to my website, which redirected him or her to this blog.

For the longest time, I thought, “I’ve got this huge fan out there, desperately visiting my web site every day to see when Balloons of the Apocalypse will finally come out.”

My initial response? “Schmuck. You’re in for a helluva wait.”

But after a few days I began to feel bad.

Then sad.

Then guilty.

I was ruining this person’s day, every day, by not having the book out for him or her to read.

I think the last straw was Brazil’s elimination from the 2014 World Cup.

Now the Brazilian had endured enough.

Now I had to offer the only salve that could possibly help heal this broken, crushed, disappointed fan.

Now I had to finish and release Balloons of the Apocalypse.

So here it is. Two more editing passes and some minor re-writes later, and it is out in the world. Ready to languish on virtual book shelves, untouched by anyone.

Because two days ago I learned the truth.

Don’t ask me how. My methods are proprietary and the amount of money I spent too vast to mention anywhere the Missus might get wind of it.

(Remember that whole ‘doing the marriage right’ expectation thing?)

In a seedy sports bar on the less reputable edge of São Paulo, there is a bathroom with an ignored OUT OF ORDER sign (in Portuguese, of course) on the door, with the words, “For a good time, go to ianmdudley.com” scrawled, also in Portuguese, by the way, above a cracked, leaking urinal.

Learning that really took the piss out of me. But I was too far along in the publication process to stop.

So now I raise an angry fist while facing southeastward, and I shake it angrily at you, Brazil.

You broke an innocent man. You crushed his spirit. You made him burst into tears every time he walks up to a urinal.

Which resulted in a visit from HR at work.

(Remember that whole ‘doing the day job right’ expectation thing?)

On the not-so-off chance I lose the day job and find myself saddled with alimony and child support payments in the near future, please, please, please consider buying a copy of my book.

And the next time the guy at the urinal next to you bursts into tears, remind yourself:

“There but for the grace of a Brazilian go I.”

Bloody Brazilians.

 

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Speak softly and, if you must carry a big stick, do it without making any sudden movements around my kids

My kids are insane.

Oh, and when did you get your degree in Psychiatry to enable such a diagnosis, you heartless bastard of a parent, you ask?

While I could argue that several years of parenting is far more of an evidentiary trial by fire than years of medical training, I will instead just say the state of their mental health is plainly axiomatic. Case in point:

It is a typical day in the Dudley household / juvenile detention facility. At home are Monster Kiddo, his brother Sadist Kiddo, and me, the hapless Daddy. Monster Kiddo has Sadist Kiddo pinned to the floor, using his body to crush Sadist Kiddo’s head.

Sadist Kiddo is screaming bloody murder about this, drawing my attention away from whatever it was I was doing in an attempt to ignore my children and the disruptive influence they have on my peace of mind.

I rush to the scene of the crime and, after muttering, “I am crushing your head. Crush, crush!” under my breath, I separate the two pugilists. This involves some heavy lifting and invective on my part.

Mostly invective. As they get older, I expect the balance to tilt more towards the heavy lifting side of the equation.

Which is ironic, given that as they age, hearing invective is less inappropriate for them.

Having caught their breath, the boys shrug free of me and begin circling each other, licking their chops and sharpening their fingernails.

In an attempt to maintain my sanity, I confiscate both of their whetstones and, as I wonder aloud once again as to why the Missus would possibly see fit to provide them such instruments of mayhem, order the two bitter rivals to stay at least three feet apart.

They are small enough that this would keep them just out of arm’s reach of each other.

Sadist Kiddo, having recovered enough from his head squishing, immediately bursts into tears and dashes to his room, leaving me a trail of woeful wails to follow.

I find him on the floor next to his bed, curled in the fetal position, tears and mucous flowing freely from, respectively, his eyes and nose.

(Once it was the other way around, and boy was that a long night in the emergency room.)

Me: What’s wrong? Why are you crying?
Sadist Kiddo: Monster Kiddo is my best friend! I love him!
Me: But he was crushing your head. I had to stop it.
Sadist Kiddo: But now I can’t play with him! I miss Monster Kiddo!
Me: But he was crushing your head!
Sadist Kiddo: He’s my best friend ever! And now I’ll never see him again because of you!
Me: (sighing and knowing I will regret what I’m about to say next): Fine. I rescind the order. You can play together.
Sadist Kiddo: (running from room): Fat ass jerk rescinded the order! He rescinded it, Monster Kiddo! We can play again!
Monster Kiddo: (from the other room) I’m crushing your head! Crush, crush.

In the end, the kiddos make peace with each other and tag team me. I do the only thing I can, and make a strategic retreat: I surrender my tablet to them.
They immediately turn on each other, fighting over who gets to use it next. In the chaos, I slip away and lock myself in the bathroom.

There are now ominous clunking sounds coming from outside, but I have water and a toilet – I think I can hold out for at least several days.

 
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Posted by on 14 June 2014 in Life, Parenting

 

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