Book News

Prince Not-So Charming On Sale Today!

The first two books in my Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series, Once Upon a Prank and Her Royal Slyness, go on sale today!

They’re fun!

They’re funny!

They’re filled with funly funnishness!

(I’m really proud of ’em.)

Fun! (Buy it here.)
Also fun! (Buy it here.)

Oh, and they’re cheap!

So please consider picking up some copies. If you do, I’ll buy you a fudgsicle.

Three Things...

Three Things I’ve Learned from The Magic Kingdom

Mickey

I went to Disney World! Woo!

And I’m home now! Double woo!

Yep. Disney will do that to you. A person can absorb only so much whimsy before he feels compelled to run screaming for the airport.

I’m kidding, of course. I didn’t run screaming for the airport. I was too tired to either run or scream; I crawled and groaned.

I also had fun. Lots of fun, really.

And I return to the blogging world bearing three pieces of wisdom! Take from these nuggets what you will:

Beware The Enchanted Tiki Room

Everyone knows that the way-too-catchy song “It’s a Small World” will adhere to your brain like a barnacle to a ship’s hull. Armed with this knowledge, each Disney vacationer is able to make an educated decision: If you want a song stuck in your head, go on the ride. If you don’t, then don’t.

The unassuming Enchanted Tiki Room, on the other hand, catches you off guard. Most people who sit down to watch this robotic bird show do so because it’s one of the few attractions where the lines don’t stretch back to Newark. Crowds aren’t expecting a way-too-catchy song, but, oh, baby, do they get one. They get one that even out-catchies “It’s a Small World.”

Don’t get me wrong, the Tiki Room is a fun little attraction. But if you don’t find yourself humming “it’s the tiki-tiki-tiki-tiki-tiki room” over and over again while showering, eating, driving, sleeping, and going potty for the next several weeks, then you, my friend, have dodged one lethal bullet.

Brawk! Polly wants to haunt your dreams. Brawk!
Brawk! Polly wants to haunt your dreams. Brawk!

There is No Such Thing as a Non-Awkward Conversation with a Disney Princess

The best meal I ate at Disney was in Cinderella’s Castle. Unfortunately, they serve up your meal with a side order of social awkwardness. During the lunch, I was interrupted by four – count ’em, four – different Disney princesses.

“Don’t worry,” our server told us at one point, “all four princesses will visit every table.”

“That’s why I’m worried,” I told Ellen.

I’ve discovered that talking to a stranger wearing a princess gown is weirder than talking to a stranger wearing a giant duck head. I’m not sure why this is, but if I was to guess, I think it’s because a duck head provides you with some psychological distance. When I don’t see a person’s face, it’s easier for me to play the game and act like I am in the presence of a cartoon celebrity. When I met the princesses (all four of them), however, I just saw 20-year-old girls playing pretend. It made me cringe a little.

Alex, on the other hand, was a fan.
Alex, on the other hand, loved every minute of it.

The Hall of Presidents May Prompt Emotional Outbursts

I have always loved the Hall of Presidents. Always. I saw it when I was 7, 11, and 17 and it got me every time. Seeing Robot Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address dazzled me. Seeing all the the Robot Presidents introduced at the show’s finale dazzled me even more.

I saw it again last week, and the show is still dazzling. In fact, I would argue that The Hall of Presidents is now better than it’s ever been.

Disney has made a few changes in recent years, and the attraction’s narrative arc is now pitch perfect. Lincoln gives his address and then, after the Presidential roll call, another Robot President faces the crowd and delivers a short, inspiring speech. I won’t say who this other Robot President is, but I will say that he is a fine representation of Lincoln’s dream of equality for all Americans.

I will also say that this particular Robot President tends to prompt certain people in this very partisan political climate to sigh with rigor and mutter with displeasure.

If you think you might be one of those folks who might be compelled to sigh and mutter at the sight of a Robot President, then, well, you gotta learn to cool it a little. Or, if I may put it another way, I didn’t hoof it all the way to Florida and spend all this money to listen to your mutterings. I did it to get whimsified. And the way I fill my whimsy tank is by oohing and aahing my Robots-In-Chief.

So, Mr. Disruptive Person, why don’t you run off to see something else out of my earshot, OK? Have you considered the Enchanted Tiki Room? It’s awesome. And look! The lines for it are really short! Go! Hurry!

On Writing

Uh Oh, It’s Magic

Ta-daa! Thank you! Tip your waitress!

When I’m not promoting the historical dynamo that is Sarah Josepha Hale (My children’s book comes out on September 1, by the way!) or working on a story ideas about the disgusting habits of Fluff Monkeys, I get paid to edit an alumni magazine. It’s a wonderful job where I get to interview a number of fascinating people who have great stories to tell.

I also interview teenagers, and, well, that’s sometimes a different story. It’s not that the kids aren’t smart or have nothing interesting to tell me – they are and they do. The problem is that some of them don’t yet know how to answer questions about themselves. Even the most casual interview environments make them uncomfortable.

This discomfort often manifests itself in one of two distinctly teenage ways:

1. The teen (a girl, usually) goes on a caffeinated ramble, filling the briefest of silences with lots and lots of words. Any words will do, really.

2. The teen (a boy, obviously) grunts to say “yes.” Or maybe the grunt was a “no.” Maybe it’s a “maybe?” Or maybe it wasn’t a grunt at all; maybe Mr. Teen just has gas.

All teens I speak with aren’t this way, of course, many really do shine in an interview. But I’ve encountered the above types often enough to wish that I had some kind of crystal ball to get inside their heads and pull out what I need.

Fortunately, I have one!

I first decided to get a Magic 8 Ball after watching an episode of Friends and noticing that Chandler had one on his office desk. I’m not a huge fan of either Friends or Chandler, but I loved the idea of having an 8 Ball of my own. I had one when I was a kid, but in my tweens I purged it with my other toys. I was under the impression that a toy-less room would make me more of an adult; instead it just made me a sullen teen with an un-fun room.

My plan was to keep the 8 Ball on my desk at work and, whenever one of my colleagues suggested an idea for a magazine story, I would consult it by asking, “Is that idea stupid, or what?”

Fun fact: the thingamabob that predicts the future is a 20-sided die with 10 positive responses, five negative responses, and five vague “ask me later, I’m sleepy”-style responses. So if you think an idea is stupid, the odds are pretty good that the 8 Ball will agree with you.

My antics with the 8 Ball were good for a few laughs. Soon thereafter it became part of the landscape, just another thing on my desk.

Little did I know that my 8 Ball would soon be important tool of the trade. This epiphany came less than a week after I brought it to work.

I had to interview a senior who conveyed all the signs of the Type One teen I mentioned above. She was blathering before she could even finish wrestling her book bag through my office door. She told me that she was having a crazy day and she was tired because there’s a test coming up and she’s nervous about it and she would very much like to check her email if it was okay with me and it would only take a second and she’s so sorry that she’s late and keeping me waiting this way and blah and the blah blah blah and blah.

While this little train wreck was playing itself out, she sat herself down in the chair next to my desk and started to play with the 8 Ball, shaking it with vigor and peering into the viewfinder.

I interrupted her. “What did you ask it?”

This stopped her monologue cold. “Ask what?”

“The ball.”

“Oh” she looked at the ball in her hands as if for the first time. “Nothing. I was just…” And then she trailed off. I could tell her answer was honest. She grabbed the ball just to do something with her hands.

“Nothing?” I sputtered. “I hope you realize that you are holding in your hands a powerful piece of black magic. You don’t hold a Magic 8 Ball and ask it nothing. It is not done. You gotta ask it something or it will get annoyed.” (And yes, I really said this. My tone suggested I was joking and not crazy. It’s the same tone I use on my six-year-old son when I want him to get into a giggle fit.)

With only a little more cajoling, I got her to ask the 8 Ball a question.

“You have to say it out loud,” I explained. “It needs to hear you.”

“Oh,” she said. She paused and asked, “Did I get into Brown?”

The ball replied with a “Most Likely,” and this report actually relieved her. We talked about Brown and about what made the university so important her. Then we talked about that test and what she was up to these days and yada yada yada. The formal setting of the office was not as intimidating as it was a few minutes before. We were just having a friendly chat. A friendly chat where I was taking notes.

When she began to slip back into her old conversational habits, I reintroduced the 8 Ball, which forced her to focus her mind on a specific, single idea. Then the 8 Ball forced her to sit still and wait for an answer to the question she asked.

I interviewed that young woman several years ago. At the time I had about 10 years of professional interviewing experience under my belt. In other words, I knew how extract information from people. But I had never, ever, seen anything like this before.

It was, well, magical.

On this blog I like to write about a lot of different things. But I always make an effort to keep all of my posts thematically linked under the common umbrella of “Creative Thinking.”

Creative thinking can come in many forms. Sometimes getting your mind to work in a new and innovative way takes a great deal of conscious effort. Other times a great idea comes by way of a happy accident. My Magic 8 Ball was one such happy accident.

Could it have been my happiest accident? I’m not sure. But according to one inside source, “All Signs Point to ‘Yes.’”