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Purchase a customized, handwritten letter from Santa!

Santa Claus Reading Letters  image by e-pyton from Fotolia.com


It’s time for the next little custom written goody to capture the imaginations of your children.

You’ve probably heard of a jolly old elf named Santa, right?

And, I’ll bet your children have heard of him, too.

Well, how amazing would it be if that patron of children and generousity sent a personalized, handwritten letter to your children?

Starting TODAY, you will be able to have exactly such a letter under your tree on Christmas Day.

This is a very special letter.

First, I am limiting the number of letters, and I will only be making 25 of them. Each of these letters will be hand written for *your* children. I’ll mention the gifts they will be getting from Santa, I will reply personally to any letter they wrote or requests they made of St. Nick this year. No two letters will be exactly alike.

After replying to your child(ren)’s personal requests or questions, your children will get an exciting story about Santa’s adventures at the North Pole.

The story is original each year, and your kids will hear about the wonder, magic and danger of life at the North Pole.  This year, Santa will share his harrowing tale of being captured by Ice Giants, and how he escaped their clutches in time to save Christmas.

Each letter will be written on festive holiday paper. They will be mailed two weeks prior to Christmas, so that you are certain to have them in plenty of time to nestle under the tree with the rest of Santa’s gifts.

These letters, at least four full, hand-written pages, will only cost $25.

So what are you waiting for?

Buy a Santa letter now!

When the Emperor Has No Clothes

In the last few months, I have found myself drawn, once again, to young adult novels.

In the years since I graduated with a degree in evaluating works of literature, I have found most adult novels that I have read to be pretentious piles of solid waste matter.

I suspect I am simply bad at judging a book by its cover. My track record is so bad that book covers have come to haunt my nightmares, mocking me with their misleading descriptions and cover art. In some of these dreams, flocks of books, flying with outstretched covers and rows of sharp little teeth have chased me, forcing me down blind alleys, determined to chew my face right off, or leave tiny cuts with their pages in awkward, sensitive areas.

When those little book monsters arrive, I finally understand why someone might want to expose them to a flame in the neighborhood of 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Aside from nightmares featuring monster tomes, the books that have moved me to tears, inflicted authentic emotional connections, inspired my imagination, and remained a part of my soul are those written for young adults.

No, I am not talking about Twilight.

Every time I think about the wonderful words written for young adults, I feel like someone’s going to call me a fraud, and decide that my years of study were clearly for nothing, and I should give back my diploma.

I feel like I’m the kid in the fable about the Emperor’s new wardrobe trying to point out that the King is walking about starkers, and everyone is appalled that I would use the word “starkers” (It’s British for naked).

Occasionally, I can read something “adult,” where I can appreciate that it is well-written, has layers of interesting subtext, and in the final analysis, simply not my taste.

Most of the time, however, taste never enters into it.

I suspect that many who graduate, with the weight of the mantel of academia draped upon their shoulders, feel like a novel without ponderous symbols and convoluted structures is beneath their notice. Clearly, if it doesn’t give you an aneurism to figure out the plot, it is not a serious piece of literature and should be denounced immediately as a frivolous waste of paper.

If, however, there is not only an aneurism, but, it is necessary to translate a nonexistent language, track multiple points of view, streams of consciousness, genealogies and timelines, then, and only then, is it a brilliant and masterful piece of fiction. Books that make you cry? Manipulative drivel, unless the crying is caused by the aneurism of trying to remember which personality of the hero’s multiple personality disorder is talking to the lady who speaks in code, while juggling a red polar bear, a clock and a highly meaningful sardine.

I think I’m going to avoid the sardines, thanks, and curl up with some of this delightful drivel. The prose is clear and filled with wonderfully evocative imagery, it’s got characters that remind me of real people, and it makes me happy I can read. Good enough for me.

If you’d like to get Flying Solo, (and just Flying Solo) on Sundays via e-mail,  you can Subscribe to Flying Solo

Chopped Chefs Have It Easy

Cleaver in Watermelon, http://www.stockfreeimages.com/

 
I spend an obscene amount of time watching cooking shows.  Well, I at least listen to them when I’m sitting around my house on a Sunday, pretending to be working on a column.

You’ll keep that little detail just between us, right?

There’s one show called Chopped. If you’ve never seen it, they start with four chefs. In each round, they get a box of required, random, mystery ingredients, and a time limit. The chefs must figure out how to create an edible appetizer, entrée and dessert using all of their mystery box ingredients.   The competitors have access to a pantry and fridge full of other items they can use to accomplish their task.

Or, as I call it, dinner time.

Every night, I open a box of mystery ingredients I call “my cupboard,” and have to come up with an edible dinner using a box of raspberry gelatin, a can of black beans, some *almost* stale bread, and a tomato.

The bad news? Someone forgot to provide me with a fully stocked pantry and fridge.

I *might* have some milk that hasn’t turned to cheese.  There’s a non-zero possibility of finding some lunch meat, or an egg or two, but, if it’s near the end of the month? Forget about it.

I hear you out there saying, “Ah, but, you have more than 30 minutes to create that entrée, without a time limit, certainly, you have the advantage.”

No time limit? I’m not so certain that’s true.

The clock starts ticking the minute I walk in the door.  If I don’t start making something within 15 minutes from walking into the door, I am going to sit down, and relax, and it’ll never happen.  The energy to get something accomplished, including dinner, oozes out of every fiber of muscle tissue the minute I sit down.  When that happens, I’m lucky if I grab a handful of potato chips and some yogurt from the fridge and call it good.

I suspect that this is no less the case in a household with children.

In fact, I suspect that the timer is a count-down to the complete meltdown of every youngster in the place. This is likely accompanied by loud and frequent reminders that the reactor is seconds away from a cataclysmic nuclear disaster. I suspect these piercing warning signals are a significant contributing factor in reducing one’s ability to turn random cans of ingredients into actual food.

Frankly, a household of children form a panel of much more challenging critics than the star-powered celebrity chefs.  If the kids don’t like what you’ve come up with, it’s not like you will simply be eliminated from the completion.  Nope. You’re stuck. You ‘ve got to face the chopping block again, and again, and again, hoping against hope that everyone will, somehow, end the evening with enough calories and nutrition to not keep you up all night with demands for food.

If I could get out of the competition just by disappointing the judges? Believe me,  I’d start playing to lose.

I’m not wasting your time, am I?

Every time I sit down to write a post, I wonder if I’m wasting your time.

The cynical part of me says, “Hey, I didn’t make anyone read anything. If they feel like they wasted their time, that’s not my fault.”

I don’t usually let that part out to play. That part doesn’t play well with others.

It took me years to even be willing to admit that it was ok if I people read my material just to be entertained, and that “entertainment” was itself a worthwhile product. A good story can be as good as a “How to” article.

It is ok, right?   You don’t mind being entertained, right? I’m amusing, right? Not as funny as the Bloggess, granted, but, you like me don’t you? Can I make you some coffee while you read? Maybe I can teach you how to do something later on in this post?

See?

I want my content to be of high quality. I don’t want to be one of those people that posts the web equivalent of junk food, that seems good at the time, but, there’s a certain amount of regret that follows. That feeling of wanting to die after eating 40 gallons of ice cream, covered with chocolate and whipped cream and cherries, and maybe some sprinkles for color.

So, if there’s to be pleasure, I want it to be the kind of high after running a marathon, one where the good feelings of accomplishment last long after the initial completion high and the shin splints have gone away.

Too needy?

I kept trying to figure out how to find a topic that would encompass all the things that fascinated me, and that I could somehow master (or know enough to fake), and then make a blog that fit that topic and write all sorts of helpful things in that area.

But, I could never pick one. As soon as I did, I didn’t want to do it. EVERY other topic I felt I could work on instantly became infinitely more interesting than the one I just picked, and I now hated the one I had picked. I knew I would get tired of talking about it, I was already bored with thinking about it. Everyone knows no one should ever choose an overall blog topic that bores him. Or her. Or me. And then I was back to square one.

I then would try and find examples of successful blogs that covered many topics. How did they unify their topic? Could I do that? Am I kidding myself? Could I create something as compelling?

Many articles offered the same advice about starting a blog “DO it!” It doesn’t matter what you write, no one is reading it anyway.” That’s encouraging.

Certainly, I knew no one was reading. But how do you reconcile the “just do it” with that same author’s advice later in the same article to “pick a topic, and always keep things related to your topic.”? Could I be the exception? Was I really stupid enough to take that risk and try? Did it matter whether I was that stupid? Maybe I should try anyway. Artists are compelled to create.

Wait. I am not really calling what I do art, am I?

And, truth to tell, creating is hard, and I’m not entirely sure that “compelled” is the correct description for any motivation I have.

Where was I?

Trying not to waste your time.

I’m not doing so good at that am I?

Do I have a passion?

I am going to admit something. I don’t know what my passion is. I’m not even sure I have one.

For years, I’ve been trying to figure it out, and I’ve stumbled on a few things which have gotten me closer, I can’t say I’m really there.

All the books, articles, web sites, bathroom stalls and tea leaves on the subject seem to say that it should be obvious what my passion is. I wish. I have, and have always had, multitudes of things which interest me, which have kept me occupied for hours, without noticing the passage of time, or caring that I’ve missed a meal and it’s 3 am. The bad news is, that none of my interests can carry me to that state consistently.

That is to say, one week, I’m completely absorbed in stamp collecting. The next week? It’s not particularly compelling, and I can’t force myself to even look at it.

Sometimes, the compulsion lasts longer. Weeks or even months. I think “Hooray! I finally found it!” Yeah. No.

I keep trying to find something more than an interest. I read more articles. I feel like a freak. How is it everyone knows what their passion is? How can all those competing chefs all say that cooking is their passion? I want to laugh at their confidence and I question their sincerity.

I honestly can’t bring myself to call anything my passion, because it sounds so pretentious. I don’t want to call anything “my passion,” until I know what really fills that roll in my life. And, frankly, I’m dubious that I’ll ever be able to use that label on anything.

I suspect, if I do have a passion, that it’s something fairly abstract. That what I enjoy most is making people laugh, or telling stories, or helping people discover something new.  Frankly, that seems anti-climactic, or even somewhat boring. I can’t see people being particularly passionate about something that vague. I mean, it’s not the same as having a passion for medicine, or saving lives, something that is obviously a great and noble contribution to humanity. Compared to that, what I have seems somewhat unambitious and frivolous.

Besides, even if it turns out that these are legitimate and useful things to offer to the world, and not frivolous, I could do all of those things in any number of settings. If my passion is one of those things, it seems obvious that I should pick a job that has a higher incidence of these sorts of things occurring. Why would I choose something so lonely as writing?

I don’t often enjoy writing. Most writers don’t. Like the quote from Parker? Welty? I don’t enjoy writing, but I enjoy having written. On a few rare occasions, there is some fun in sitting down and putting ideas into words, but most of the time, it is a struggle, and it’s hard. I can’t actually refer to that as a passion.

I write because I know how, and because I seem to be pretty good at it. People other than my mother have told me this. Many people other than my mother (who is just the one lady) have told me this.

So, I write. And I hope that something I write inspires you, or helps you in some way, or teaches you something, or puts a smile on your face. If something I write has helped you in someway, I would love to hear about it. It means the world to me. Who knows? It might even be my passion.

Things I am working on

I’ve been working on a number of things, and it seems that things are somewhat rolling in a positive direction.

First, a coworker of mine asked a syndicated columnist friend of hers for advice on my behalf. The columnist essentially said,  it took about five years for him to get going with a column. The person she asked is a well-known personality in Denver media, and this person has been well-known *before* attempting to get his column going.  He said I was going about it the right way, and given that I’m *not* a well-known name, the fact that it took him as long as it did means that I will probably be at this for awhile, and it’s not me.

What I will also say is that starting the alternate list (and, hey, if you’ve not yet signed up for “Flying Solo,” here’s the place to do that) has made me feel a whole  bunch better about the whole thing, because I’ve been getting really good feedback on that, and, according to the numbers, people are reading it at twice the rate of the industry average. I’ve already got more people on that list than on the newspaper list (and I’ve got every daily in Colorado on it, plus several 3-5 times a week papers), and I’ve got subscribers in five countries. Thank you all for reading, and tell your friends!

I’ve also been developing the story kit idea, and just a few days after I started it, I got an e-mail from Zazzle announcing a contest for developing a new, custom product for their site. This could be an opportunity to get this developed in a big way, so, I’m working on the video proposal for that.

Even if that doesn’t go forward, I’ve been looking into a few other options, and building something of a business plan, which may or may not include a Kickstarter campaign.

I’ve already sold one, which is a “find dino fossils” scenario, and they’re not yet available for sale online. I’ve also got a waiting list, and the person on that waiting list has told me that he has a relative who works on importing, who might be a contact if I needed to look for wholesale prices on the various props.

I’ve also  had some things developing on the cemetery preservation front, but, that’s still pretty vague, and might not really amount to much.

I didn’t get the editorial calendar built over my holiday, which is really hurting me as I’m trying to juggle all the demands of two websites, a column and all the projects, so, I’m hoping to get a better handle on that this weekend.

It’s feeling a bit like things are rolling in the right direction for once, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve hit on the right path, or, I’ve finally been at it long enough to finally see some results, or I dunno, I’m imagining things.  But, I admit, it is feeling like progress, which is a very huge deal to me.

I am going to go to bed, and see what tomorrow may bring.  Pleasant dreams.

Subscribe to Flying Solo

One of my super-secret projects that’s not really secret is that I’m writing a column for syndication.

While I’m working on getting traction with the people who might or might not pay me, I’m curious to see if there’s even an audience for this thing, and see if I can’t grow it myself, too. I’m not posting the columns here, but, I’m offering it for e-mail subscriptions. Call it an experiment.

So, if you’d like to see my Sunday column,
Subscribe to Flying Solo by E-mail

There are sample columns posted here.

I’m enjoying writing it, and hope that it’ll someday have an audience. Maybe that audience is you.

Creating Experiences, Magic and Adventure

For the last few years, I’ve had to be much more creative with my gift-giving, because funds have been exceptionally tight. This means, I’ve been focusing on experiences and spending time instead of money.

This year, in keeping with that spirit, I decided that for Christmas I was going to write my nephews a story, and not only make then the heroes of the piece, but, make it a whole adventure: a self-contained experience that, with any luck, they would remember, and would have a touch of magic for them.

I had no idea what to write.

Finally, one night, in the bathtub, I was realizing that the story needed pictures, and I remembered that I had a picture of my oldest nephew and a gray kitten that had wandered across our path when we were walking around in a cemetery in Iowa. And then I knew what to write.

I turned that photo into the beginning of a quest. The kitten would lead the boys to a castle in another world, where they would get a treasure map, and a mission from the King to reclaim the treasure, and break the curse put on this land by a witch. The boys would need to find it, and then disguise and protect it. As their reward, they could keep the treasure.

At work, I made the treasure map, complete with burned spots and aging. I got a small treasure box at Hobby Lobby, filled it with “gems” and sparkly plastic necklaces I had in my costume closet, took some pictures of these, and mailed them to my sister, who would arrange the hiding of the treasure.

I put the story into a book, and printed it from one of the print-on-demand sites, with extra pages in the back for the boys to draw and color the details of how the story ended.

The boys had a blast. They took their swords with them to hunt for the treasure, and they looked under every tree they saw. They took the bequest for “disguising” the treasure very seriously, and were certain that there was no way that evil witch would recognize the stolen treasure.

My sister recorded the whole adventure on video, and I admit, it was pretty cool to watch them get excited about the adventure as my sister read the story. Their imaginations went crazy, inventing a path and bridges on the map that weren’t there. They saw “naughty guys” hiding behind bushes and were amazed that they were reading a book with their pictures in it.

According to my sister, they’re still hiding the treasure all over the house, so that they can go find it again. They excitedly showed me their efforts of painting the box.

My sister and brother-in-law figure that I should create customized story kits, for families to have their own adventures, where the kids are the heroes, and the parents are involved in orchestrating the magic for their kids.

So, I’m going to give it a try. I’m working on the logistics, pricing and creating three story templates to see what happens. My brain has constructed a “dig for dinosaur bones” story, a pirate story, and a lost princess tiara story, and I’ll put each of them up for sale in two formats. One will be customized story only, with instructions for how to collect the other parts they need. The other will be a full kit, with the treasure/dinosaur bones/tiara all packaged together with the customized book. For this version, I’ll have the parents send a few specific pictures of their kids to mix in with the text.

What I’ve noticed is that I’ve been feeling particularly inspired by pursuing this idea, and I’ve really been generating a bunch of ideas around this concept, and how to make it go, and it’s feeling exciting to me in ways that some of my other projects of late haven’t felt. It has also started to solidify more of a direction for me in terms of what my goals are and what direction I want to take, which is feeling more “right” to me than almost all the other directions I’ve contemplated.

I don’t exactly know where this will lead, but, it seems worth trying. I will keep you posted.

I have no ideas, but I must post

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have ideas. That’s not the problem. However, all of them seem self-indulgent and only of interest to me.

As I try and get myself together for the end of the ear, I’m racing in so many directions, and I can’t focus on what to do with today’s post.

Then, of course, I get that annoying self-loathing which is reminding me that I’ve failed to post on the previous two Sundays, and I’m feeling uncertain whether I’m going to have something ready for the next Sunday, which is, of course, Christmas.

All of this is served alongside my to do list, which includes a bunch of stuff that I was hoping to accomplish before Christmas.

This, apparently, is translating to a ramble-y stream-of-conscious post.

I just finished watching American Horror Story’s season finale, and as messed up as this season was (content-wise), I learned that they’re essentially creating a season-long anthology show, and that’s inspired, and inspirational to me.

I’m supposed to go to work tomorrow, and I will need to deliver some Christmas presents tomorrow night, before I go to my mother’s  for the holiday itself, and I’m honestly feeling like the holiday is something of an annoying distraction, and I’m resenting it, and feeling a bit Scrooge-y. In point of fact, I’m not feeling that Christmas is anything but a day of deadlines, presents due, column due, blog post, due.  Then the day after Christmas, I start working on the stuff I wanted to have done *before* the holiday, but, is now late, so I’m playing catch-up instead. Family photo album “Christmas present,” which I’ve only just started.  Backlog of writing work I failed to get done during the past two weeks.  Oncoming deadlines of ornaments (Jan. 7), thank you notes to write (Jan. 3), newsletter (Jan. 1), blog posts (2 plus a Word of the Day) and columns to send out. Columns which no one is even reading.

And they say that the holidays are stressful. No solid waste matter, Sherlock.

Part of me is glad I’ve given myself so much to do in the last few weeks, because it helps to distract me from feeling depressed about the holiday. Much better to  have little sense of the season than to notice that everyone is spending their holiday with children and significant others.

That busy plan was working pretty good until I wrote the above paragraph. Thanks so much, brain, for that one.

Does this post serve any purpose except to make feel slightly better about myself for not missing yet another deadline?  I’m not even sure I’m not just going to delete this thing, and just live with the continual shame of missing deadlines. Is that better? I don’t know.

I’ve got at least another hour’s worth of work to accomplish tonight, and I’m cold, and long for a warm bath and bed. I’m this close to letting that seduce me away from doing anything meaningful tonight.

Expletive this. I’m posting, and then thawing in the tub for a bit.