Throwback Summer continues: “The Inevitability of Advertising”

As I mentioned at the beginning of summer, I recently came upon several boxes of my old schoolwork, hidden away at my parents’ attic which I’m cleaning out in advance of its sale.

While it’s nostalgic to look back at these journals, projects, and tests – and a bit disheartening, knowing my childhood home is going to be sold – it has been enlightening for me, as well. I have been able to read so many things I’d forgotten about, that I can now look back on and realize how they played a role in me developing into…well, me.

Scan_20160718 (4)
Wow, what happened? Before the contacts, before the braces, before the male pattern baldness…I was a high school senior 3 1/2 months away from graduation. This photo was taken by Mrs. Jencks, my English teacher, in Feb. 1985. Considering how straight-laced I was, I have no idea why I look so stoned.

Since I have been spending my Fridays sharing some of the >ahem< “poetry” that I was writing in my journals back then, I thought I would share something that foreshadowed my other career: advertising.

I began working in radio right after my college freshman year, and I’ve been writing, voicing, and producing commercials ever since. It’s no wonder I do voiceover work for a living! (If you’d like to learn more about that aspect of my life these days, or would like to know how I might be able to help you with your advertising, please click HERE.)

I loved writing and acting before I had even entered high school, and in addition to poetry and short stories, I developed a fondness for advertising. I owe this to the genius of Stan Freberg, whose old radio shows and commercials I had grown up listening to, thanks to my dad.

Scan_20160718
(click to enlarge. But why would you??)

By the time I was in high school, I was writing and voicing (and sometimes pre-recording) the morning announcements and living the dream in drama club. Reading a steady diet of Mad Magazine, Cracked, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while watching British comedies like Monty Python and the under-appreciated The Goodies carved my sense of humor into what it is today.

Looking back on all this now, I completely understand why I made up fake advertisements for some of my journal entries, like this…

And since I made reference to “Loc-Tite” doorknobs, I figured I’d resurrect the product for what I think was a Creative Writing class project. I didn’t fool around, either – this thing was poster-sized:

Scan_20160718 (3)
(click to enlarge. Again, I have no idea why you would)

That’s right, kids – we didn’t have Photoshop, we didn’t have scanners, we didn’t have selfies. This selfie, in fact, was probably taken by one of my parents on my old 110 camera, which was then brought to a Fotomat and developed in time for me to cut it out and paste it, and — whoa, hold on. I think I just hit old age. Pass me the Geritol.

Scan_20160718 (2)
(click to enlarge. But you should really know better by now)

Anyway, even though I can tell I was trying too hard to be funny, I can completely appreciate where this style of humor came from. Like I said, too many issues of Cracked magazine and too many episodes of Fawlty Towers.

And a big, big influence from Stan Freberg, who I referenced earlier. He still influences my copy writing to this day.

Oh, and then there was this masterpiece journal entry from Feb. 1985, just a few days after that horrible photo of me was taken…

And yes, these were journal entries.

While some teens were pouring their hearts out in belabored free verse and others were writing about partying over the weekend, I was there making up fake advertisements, ridiculous rhyming poetry, and concocting word puzzles.

Somehow, I graduated as valedictorian. So the moral of the story is, if I can do it, anyone can!

(Stay tuned…more dubious-quality poetry coming up this Friday, when I feature “Ode to Lint!” And yes, I’m totally serious!)

========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Throwback Summer 2016: My very “first” children’s book

Last week, I told you about the discovery I made while cleaning out my parents’ attic: assorted school papers, projects, journals, etc. It really has been both fun and enlightening to look back on all this material and see how it all worked together to help develop my writing style, my sense of humour, and my very personality.

Today, I’m sharing what is probably the most astounding treasure in the entire trove: the very first children’s book I ever wrote!

(Feel free to click on any to enlarge)

Davy BF 1
(If the sun is behind a cloud behind that wall, where the heck did that shadow come from??)

Titled Davy’s Best Friend, it’s a story about a lonely boy whose shadow comes to life and takes him to the land (or rather, cloud) where shadows are created.

I particularly like the part where he goes up…

Davy BF 2
Omigosh, all the shadows have disappeared!! Oh, wait – no…it’s just poorly illustrated.

…and up!

Davy BF 3
That’s right – page 25, and we’re only halfway through the book! At 60 pages in length, it’s a bit…long)

While I don’t recall much about the specifics of the project – indeed, I had forgotten I had even written it in the first place – I do remember that it was a significant part of my high school senior year Creative Writing class, which would put this circa Spring 1985.

Professionally speaking, the text is bland and wordy, and although my teacher loved the originality, I view the story and imagery as an amalgam of Peter Pan, Where the Wild Things Are, and every lonely-boy-as-hero book ever imagined. Ironically, the illustrations, while admittedly amateurish (rendered well before my college art classes), are probably one of the strongest aspects of this thing -and it wasn’t an art class project!

But I got a 100 for it, so I can’t complain. Oh, by the way, Davy does return home at the end…

Davy BF 4
(What happened to the buildings’ shadows? Are they on holiday??)

Someone had asked me if I was concerned about sharing this online, in case someone might take the idea for their own. I said, if someone wants to try publishing a book based on this…good luck to them! Their manuscript would need so much work and revision I’m not sure anyone would be able to tell where the original idea came from.

Now, this all causes me to wonder what would have happened to my life, had I decided to study children’s writing in college instead of the ‘lucrative’ world of radio broadcasting. (“Lucrative” is a rather sarcastic word, I admit…by the time I had left full-time employment in radio in 2012, with a BS and 25+ years experience, I was making less than a first-year teacher at the local elementary school, in a town of 3000 people).

Would I have failed extraordinarily and ended up in radio, anyway? Would I be doing something else entirely? Or would I already have 400 books to my name, a school named after me like my friend David Harrison, and Jane Yolen scratching her head, wondering, “How does that guy DO it?”

Ah, well…who knows. At least I’m writing now, and getting published now. It may be amusing to look back on our younger days and wish we could have had just an ounce or two of the wisdom we have now, but all we can do is move forward starting with today.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a manuscript I need to work on…

========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Amazing new discovery: My childhood!

Well, ok – I admit, that headline is a bit misleading. As someone who spent 25 years in radio and now writes for children, one could make a case that I never really left my childhood.

Matt lunchbox
The only lunchbox I ever owned. Alas, it’s missing the special “silo”-themed Thermos! Ahhh, memories of lukewarm milk and room-temperature Beefaroni. It’s a miracle I lived through all the potential food poisoning.

However, as I mentioned this past Friday, I recently came upon a huge stash of papers and memorabilia from my school days, while cleaning out my parents’ house. Their attic has been a treasure trove of nostalgia, where I have discovered old school tests and projects, several of my old journals, and even my elementary school lunchbox!

The journals – portions of which I’ll be sharing throughout the summer – were only part of the story.

The folks saved darned near everything

If the strength of a mother and father’s pride in their only child can be measured in the number of school papers and knick knacks they save, my parents are superhuman. Among the additional artifacts unearthed:

  • Poems by Emily Dickenson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and others that I was required to memorize in high school.
  • A printout of my senior-year computer class project:  a program I designed using BASIC (any geeks remember that??) to keep track of a basketball team’s stats. I actually went back to school the Monday AFTER I graduated to try to fix a bug in the program. I wasn’t going to get any extra credit for it, but it was one of those things that kept annoying me and I had to fix. Never did. >sigh<typewriter 1
  • The first typewriter I ever owned! Yes, we all have to start somewhere.
  • Copies of the high school newspaper, of which I was a staff member and editor-in-chief my senior year. (see below!)
  • A big, pink, construction-paper heart envelope filled with 2 or 3 years’ worth of elementary school Valentine’s Day cards. You know those cheap, dozen-for-a-dollar cards they sell every year? Mom kept them all.
IMG_1259
My mug shows up twice on these front pages…score extra points if you can find me! (click to enlarge)

I still have wonderful memories of working on the student newspaper:  spending days after school typing stories on the old word-processors; cutting and pasting the stories, artwork, and photos together; and being embarrassed during journalism class when our teacher, Mrs. Jencks, told everyone her two younger daughters liked visiting us after school because they thought I looked like Remington Steele.

Not sure why Pierce Brosnan gets to keep his hair these days and I don’t…but I suppose that’s just more proof that life really is not fair.

IMG_1260  IMG_1263

When I first joined the newspaper staff, I started out entering news stories on our clunky Apple II computers. (MS DOS, anyone?)  I also created word puzzles, which I absolutely loved to do. During my senior year, I was not only editor, but also provided some of the cartoons. The school faced serious overcrowding issues; hence, the cover art on the left! (click to enlarge)

When you suddenly realize none of the kids you knew…are kids

A very sobering aspect of these discoveries is that I look at names and faces and need to come to grips with the fact that none of these children knew what was in store for them.

The kids whose names fill that Valentine heart, in particular – barely older than my 6-year-old son – give me pause to reflect on life, death, and fate. April, who went on to marry her childhood sweetheart. Karen, who became our senior class Salutatorian when I became Valedictorian. Chris, who committed suicide before he had a chance to graduate. Eric, who, a mere 2 months after high school graduation, died in a terrible car crash that should never have happened.

I think about Chris and Eric, and I so desperately wish I could somehow go back in time and wrap my arms around them, these little 7-year-old boys, and protect them the same way I would protect my own little dude.

Hold them. Shield them.

Warn them.

But they grew up, as we all do, and made choices they should not have made…and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.

typewriter 2So I’ll continue sifting through my memories, sharing them here, and hopefully creating new ones, as long as God or Fate allow me to do so. And as I watch my son tap excitedly on my old typewriter, making up stories in much the same way I did – albeit with a dry, 40-year-old ribbon – I pray that he, and all my children, and everyone’s children, may live to see their dreams come true.

========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

“A story’s a story, no matter how small”

HortonWith apologies to Dr. Seuss, his book Horton Hears a Who gave me an idea for today’s blog post. In the book, we are reminded that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” – but as I was thinking about some of the questions people ask me about my two careers, I realized that writing can also be summed up in this way.

Believe it or not, whether it’s a radio commercial script, a poem, or a picture book (or even a novel, for those of you with longer attention spans than Yours Truly), there are many similarities between them…

Let’s start at the beginning

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating: the first line is possibly the most important line you will write.

At his seminars and workshops, radio advertising guru Dan O’Day has stated for years that the first line of a commercial is the “commercial for the commercial.” In other words, the first sentence of a commercial needs to garner enough attention and interest to compel the listener to continue listening and not zone out or – worse – change the channel.

The first line of a poem or book acts in much the same way. It sets up a story, it pulls the reader in, it connects on an emotional level. And not only does the opening draw the reader into the story, it is often the deciding factor on whether or not a consumer purchases said book.

There’s a reason we tend to remember the first lines of books (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”) and poems (“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary”) even if we don’t recall exactly what comes next.

If the first line isn’t compelling, you won’t get anyone past it. And guess what?

The rest of it needs to be compelling, as well!

And then something happened…

The next step is to develop the story by connecting with the reader (or listener) on that emotional level I mentioned. I don’t mean “emotional” as in tear-jerking, chest-clutching, drop-to-your-knees kind of emotion (although it could be)…I simply mean the story and character need to touch the reader or listener in such a way as to stir empathy.

This can be done through imagery, dialogue, word choice, and even humor. If I’m going to write a commercial for a florist, I may choose to set a scene with a husband who wants to surprise his wife for her birthday. If I’m writing a poem about a child playing at a park, I may decide to not let him/her have any playmates, which – while sad – is completely relatable to both kids and adults.

Whatever I do, I want the reader to not feel disappointed he/she continued listening past the first line!

“So, what’s the problem?”

There needs to be some tension, whether it’s through a problem that has been presented or simply through the imagery being described. Maybe your main character has tried fixing that leak in the bathroom and now it’s flooding. Perhaps two lovers are feeling unsure of the next step in their relationship.

Or maybe the old tree in the backyard needs to be taken down, but its bark still bears the scars of think rope once used for swinging.

And did you notice that any one of these scenarios could be used for any genre of writing? The bathroom leaking could be a plumbing commercial, but it might also be ID-100227497 (tree)a short story. The story of the lovers sounds like a poem, but it could be a commercial for a dating service, a jewelry store, or even a condom manufacturer!

That old tree could be the main character in a commercial for tree-cutting services, a metaphorical poem about old age and memory, or a novel about a family coming to terms with its members’ mortality. A story’s a story, after all.

The only place problems get solved

…is in commercials.

This is where the genres split. While a poem, novel, or picture book can conclude in all sorts of satisfying ways, commercials need a solution; it’s why they exist, isn’t it? The whole point of a commercial is to show how problems can be solved.

Other stories can veer off into strange paths: a problem may get solved, only to present another problem; a problem may get solved in such as way as to leave the reader wondering if it really was solved; or it may not get solved at all!

But commercials that don’t solve problems are few and far between.

Don’t take my word for it…

Test out my theory the next time you hear a radio commercial (TV commercials I find too visual for this exercise). Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the first line or two compelling? Is it truly the “commercial for the commercial?” Do they draw me in and make me want to continue listening?
  • Is the premise/problem believable? Is the dialogue natural? Does this “feel” real?
  • Can I relate to the character, premise, or problem that has been presented? Do I feel empathetic to these folks’ plights?
  • If I can’t relate, it is reasonable to assume that there are people out there who can relate to it? (I may not smoke, but there are people who do; I may not own a pet snake, but there are people who do; I may not be a woman, but there are plenty out there.)
  • Is the conclusion satisfying? Was a problem solved – believably?
  • Is this compelling? If not, why?

And by the way…those are the same questions you can ask yourself, once you’ve finished writing your poem, picture book, short story, or novel!

A story’s a story, no matter how small.

========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: Visiting with Penny Parker Klostermann!

Before I say anything, I have to apologize to someone…

“I lost your comment, and I’m sorry!”

I was scanning through my blog’s “comments” filter and deleted a bunch of spam-type stuff…and just as I hit ‘DELETE’ I realized one of them was a real comment…Aaargh!

So whoever you are…please leave another one! It was a comment on my Tuesday post, when I listed some of the many things my kids and I have learned over the past few years of their existence. The comment made reference to raising 2-year-olds, and that’s all I saw before it vanished…again, I apologize!

Poetry_Friday logoFor today’s post, I’m very excited to share two poems as part of writer Penny Parker Klostermann’s blog series, “A Great Nephew & A Great Aunt.”

Granted, I am neither a great nephew nor a great aunt (nor am I even average), but Penny has been featuring a number of folks over the past several months who are related or connected in some way.

The premise is, one person – usually a child – provides a picture while the other person provides a poem to go along with it. When Penny asked if my kids and I would be interested in participating, I jumped at the opportunity! Both my 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter are little artists, and were quick to provide me with some creative material.

I hope you’ll take a look at Penny’s blog and see what my kids and I came up with! And if you’d like, Penny has all the past participants available for viewing, as well.

And if you STILL can’t get enough poetry, Catherine is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Reading to the Core, featuring an interview with Irene Latham and a couple of selections from Irene’s new book of children’s poetry, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica (Millbrook Press).

=========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Parenting: an educational experience like none other

As a writer for children, I am fortunate to be blessed with a non-stop whirlwind of inspiration every day thanks to my two youngest kids.

My two older girls are 23 and 20 and off doing their own thing these days, so taking care of my 6-year-old son and his 2-year-old sister allows me to not only revisit some of the joy, pain, and utter ridiculousness that I enjoyed with the older ones, but to be able to view their development – and mine! – with a fresh perspective.

It’s like watching the video of your wedding and discovering all sorts of things you never realized happened, because you were in the eye of the storm the whole time, and everything was swirling about you. Only when you get a chance to relive it are you able to truly appreciate the event.

That being said, I thought I’d share a few nuggets of wisdom my kids and I have learned over the past few years. Some of these have already spawned poems or picture book ideas; others most likely will, at some point!
.

What the kids have learned:

  • If you walk backward without watching where you are going long enough, tragedy is inevitable.
  • A penis is not an appropriate body part when singing the Hokey-Pokey.
  • The punishment for lying is always worse than the punishment for whatever it was you lied about.
  • The cat is not a bean bag, and does not appreciate being part of any game that involves tossing.
  • In addition to creating pretty pictures, magic markers can also be used to paint your nails. And your lips. And pretty much any exposed surface.
  • One must never like the same meal two days in a row. If I loved pizza yesterday, I must despise it today. If we have mac ‘n cheese tonight, I must throw it on the floor tomorrow.

What I have learned:

  • A little girl wearing a Queen Elsa dress with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shell on her back is a beautiful thing.
  • Unconsciousness can do wonders.  No matter how loud, rude, impolite, destructive, unruly, or otherwise improper your little hellion was during the day, as soon as he falls asleep…your sweet, angelic Gift from God returns.
  • I may not like loud, banshee-like screaming, but when it’s happy banshee-like screaming…it’s music to my ears.
  • Reading 8 books before bedtime is not as exhausting as reading the same book 8 times in a row. Or is the other way around? Dang, I can’t remember.
  • When your 2-year-old daughter runs through the house shouting, “I laugh in the face of danger!” followed by a psychotic laugh…be prepared for anything.
  • Two-year-olds have only two speeds: asleep and lightning.
  • When feeding a toddler who dumps half her food on the floor, the family dog is an invaluable resource.

Ah, parenting. I have to admit, being a stay-at-home dad has its advantages when it comes to writing! These two are a never-ending source of stress frustration insomnia joy and happiness!

And as I’ve told many folks, I probably wouldn’t be writing for kids right now if it wasn’t for these two young ones. I get to watch them grow, be inspired by them, and then write about it.

What a career!

=========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “January Shoreline”

(click to enlarge)

 

I’d also like to thank Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for sharing a poem of mine as part of her series of poetry-song matchups. She finds poems and songs that have some sort of connection and shares them both at her blog. Today’s post features one of my poems paired with one of my favourite songs from Crowded House, along with poems by Liz Steinglass and Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, and you can view it HERE.

Tara Smith at A Teaching Life is hosting poetry Friday today, and is also in a “winter storm frame of mind,” as much of the east coast is expecting a big Nor’easter this weekend. (Thankfully, here in NH, we are not expected to get any snow at all, although our neighbors along the seaboard – Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania – could get 1-2 feet!)

By the way, this past Tuesday night, I played my first game of indoor soccer since being sidelined 2 years ago with a torn ACL…I talk a little bit about the importance of patience in my previous post, if you’d care to check it out!

=========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!