Archive for Personal News

Summer 2015

Hey, folks! Sorry it’s been so long since my last update. I’ve been fairly busy over the last couple of months, working on Mental Floss, spending time on a beach, drawing, and writing, writing, writing. I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time doing dishes, which is really the only blemish on an otherwise pretty decent summer.

First off, let’s get the Mental Floss stuff out of the way. The Strange States series continues. I had a surprise hit with South Dakota’s Wall Drug entry. I also updated an old article, 10 Very Rare (And Very Expensive) Video Games, which turned into a virtual rewrite thanks to a bunch of movement in the video game collecting hobby over the last few years. I also had a new, rather extensive article on the History of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, published on July 4th (fitting). Finally, I scored a minor viral hit with “7 Overlooked 80s Toys Worth More Than You Think”.

As for that beach time I mentioned, my family (and most of my extended family) traveled to Tybee Island, Georgia to spend about a week in a condo right near the ocean. It was an amazing experience to see my kids playing in the surf for the first time and to explore Savannah and the island itself. We had a great time despite the 13-hour, one-way drive with a seven and a not-quite-two-year-old in the car (thank god for tablets!).

It was our first family vacation and, oh man, did we need it. I’ve never really been one to take two weeks off from work, ever. A day or two here and there was always my preferred method of relaxation, but I have to say, it made a huge difference to just spend time away from work, from our normal routine, and from the world we usually know. It’s amazing what a little shift in perspective will do for your psyche. I know that ever since we got back, I’ve been more relaxed, I’ve been more patient with my kids, and I’ve felt like, yes, there is time to get everything done, instead of scrambling and racing around with my head down. Now I’m really jealous of all those Germans getting six weeks vacation every year. No wonder we have such a stressed out society.

I have been spending quite a bit of time writing fiction this summer, too. My main project at the moment is a Goosebumps-esque novel for kids. It’s based on a story my daughter and I came up with, which makes it all the more fun. So far I’m about 80 single-spaced pages in and I’m having a blast. I’ve also completed a couple of short stories and have a couple more that are in progress whenever I need to take a break from the novel. Everything is in the first draft phase at the moment, but I’m hoping to take a little time soon to edit and send them off to a few small publishers. However, self-publishing with Kindle is always a viable option today, too.

It’s funny how completely different my outlook is on writing fiction this time out. 10 years ago when I thought I was going to be the next Stephen King, I was sending manuscripts out to the biggest publishers in the business, not wanting to “waste my time” with the small press. Now, thanks to working in the nonfiction field for so long, I understand that having an extensive portfolio of published work is so much more important in the long run. I’m also not so egotistical to think I’ll be writing novels for a living like I thought I once might. It’s ok if I do my day job and then write fiction on nights and weekends. That’s what most writers do, even accomplished ones. I don’t know if it’s just maturity or experience, but I understand now what my writing goals should be, and it makes the writing that much more fun and exciting. Still, I hope I can get a few more things published, because that would be pretty sweet.

Unfortunately, all this time sitting on beaches, writing about video games and action figures and zombies (and all those dishes I have to wash), have prevented me from working on my podcasts this year. I have a new episode of When You Hear This Sound written and ready to record, but, ugh, it takes so long to do, and I don’t really have a good studio setup, and the air conditioning that’s been on all summer because it’s so bloody hot will screw up the recording, and excuse after excuse after excuse. I’m hoping that I’ll soon be able to get back to it, because I really do enjoy it, but with so much else going on this summer, it just hasn’t been a priority (especially when compared to sitting on beaches and getting paid to write about video games and action figures). But here’s hoping I’ll be able to make time for it again this fall and winter. I have some great ideas ready to go, it’s just a matter of finding the time and a few assistants to help me make them a reality. If only I hadn’t used up all my vacation time and I could take a little “staycation” to get some things done.

As we head into fall, I hope the next time I give you an update I’ll have finished the first draft of the novel, maybe cranked out a few more Mental Floss articles, and perhaps gotten around to a podcast episode or two (once the air conditioning is turned off for the season in November because Missouri weather sucks). I also have a few more things going on that I didn’t mention here, but they’re still up in the air at the moment, so I’ll wait to report on them when things have solidified a little bit. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting me throughout my many creative endeavors.

So, Apparently I Write Fiction Now…Again

Back in the olden days of 2002, I thought I was going to be the next great American author. Admittedly, it was a very creative time in my life, and I was getting some decent feedback from writerly friends, a creative writing professor, and even a professional author. With my head sufficiently swollen, I submitted a few short stories to giants of the industry, like Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Weird Tales Magazine, and a handful of respected short story contests.

I was rotely rejected by every one.

I never even got any personalized feedback; just generic form letters that might as well have been stamped with a big, red “Nope!” at the top.

Confused, angry, and conceited, I did the smart thing when my short stories were rejected – I started writing novels. I would plan these epic, sweeping tomes of Lovecraftian horror, Reservoir Dog-like heists filled with clever characters rambling on about retro pop culture, pulp-inspired space operas staring cloned aliens on the planet Mars, and heart wrenching tales of star-crossed lovers. Notice I said I would plan these stories. Writing them was an entirely different matter. But even the act of outlining made me feel like I was doing something, that I was…(pause for dramatic effect) a writer!

Needless to say, none of those novels were ever finished. I may have gotten 10, 20, as many as 50 pages in to a story before getting bored, or stuck, or making the idiotic mistake of going back and editing what I’d already written (two steps forward, three steps back).

As I grew more and more frustrated by my lack of instant success, I found that I wasn’t writing anymore at all. I was still outlining, making character notes, and writing down ideas that I might someday get to, but actually writing had gone the way of the dodo. Sometime after, one of my favorite magazines/websites, Mental Floss, was hiring. I switched gears away from fiction into non-fiction, essentially kickstarting a second career that has served me well over the last seven years.

But while I was busy writing about Hello Kitty, miniature crime scenes, and racist candy, I still longed for the days of gumshoe detectives, monsters under the bed, and sword-wielding knights on great adventures.

Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook with similar authorial pursuits posted an open call for submissions for the debut anthology of a new micro-publisher, Bloodshot Books. The concept for the anthology – Not Your Average Monster – would feature horror stories that did not star such well-worn creatures as zombies, vampires, werewolves, or even kaiju (like Godzilla). As I read the requirements, I immediately thought about a story I’d written a while back that would easily fit the mold. It was a story I rather liked, but never bothered submitting it to any publishers. My confidence had been shot at that point, so I figured there was no use; it would just get rejected anyway. The story stayed on my hard drive for years, lingering, but never quite going away.

On a whim, I pulled the story out of my virtual desk drawer, dusted it off, and made a few changes. And, well, if you’ve read this far and haven’t figure it out, Good Ol’ Buddy, about a boy and his murdering mutant dog, will be included in the anthology when it’s released this September.

Look for more information when the time comes. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a few more fiction-related announcements in the future.

The One Where I’m Accused of Murder

I came into work on Tuesday to see a message in my email inbox. It was from the City Clerk, and the subject line read: Employee Blog.

The message read:


I sent this to [Our PR Manager], but thought I would share with you. Your answers are rather clever and pretty funny.

Happy Tuesday 🙂

Attached to this email was another email that read:

My name is [Name Redacted] and I work for the Town of Hillsborough, NC. I couldn’t locate the HR Director’s email address online so am sending this to you.

I help put together our employee newsletters. I was browsing online for examples of what other cities ask in their “Employee Spotlight” section and came across a blog by Rob Lammle, who states that he works with the City of O’Fallon (although I saw there are multiple City of O’Fallons).

I just wanted to make you aware of this post and in particular, the response to the question, “People would be surprised to know:”. The post is dated 2007 so it might be outdated but thought I would send it your way:

Now, if you follow that link, you’ll find one of my most popular SMX entries ever from way back in 2007. At that time the City sent out a monthly newsletter that included an Employee Spotlight section where employees would answer a set of canned questions so that people could get to know them a little better. I didn’t think I’d ever be asked to fill out one of these questionnaires, so I went ahead and answered the questions on my blog, with a mix of serious answers, as well as a few with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.

I answered the question the woman from Hillsborough mentions with the following:

People would be surprised to know:
1) That I work here.
2) That I have a couple of tattoos and will be getting more before it’s all said and done.
3) That I killed a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

I can’t be certain, but I have a feeling her need to contact the City was due to that last answer. Yes, she was, essentially, accusing me of murder by my own admission. Admittedly, that is something any employer should look into. However, her concern might be a little misplaced in this case.

The quote is a slight paraphrase of the lyrics from one of Johnny Cash’s best-known songs, Folsom Prison Blues, found on his incredible album, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Here’s a YouTube video of the song, with the line in question occurring pretty early on:

I’m not here to make fun of the person who dropped a dime on me to the coppers, but I have to admit the City Clerk and I had a pretty good laugh about this whole thing when I saw her in the hall today. Thankfully she knew where the line came from, so there was no cause for concern, nor was HR contacted about the potential murderer in their midst.

So, just to be clear, Concerned Employee of Hillsborough, I did not kill a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Actually, I’ve never even been to Nevada. Sorry for the confusion, and good luck with your employee spotlight questionnaire.

Also, you should check out some Johnny Cash music; he was pretty great.

2014: Year in Review

Also known as: The Year That Time Forgot
At least in my life.

Near the end of 2013, my wife and I welcomed a new baby into our little family, which pretty much occupied the rest of the remaining year. Naturally, the full-time job of caring for an infant carried over into 2014, which meant that most of this year was spent changing diapers, entertaining him, and trying to still make time for his neglected older sister. So now, as the year has wrapped, I really don’t feel like I did all that much worth noting.

I read a lot of Reddit posts. Took a lot of Instagram photos. I wrote some unspectacular posts for Mental Floss. I put out a handful of podcast episodes. I basically just tried to get through every day, all of which have mostly melted together to form one long haze of existence.

The one thing I did worth mentioning was write, produce, direct, and mix The Thing Read-Along Record Book. Which, don’t get me wrong, I’m damn proud of, but it’s not exactly enough to hang your hat on for an entire year. And even though it’s only been four months since it was released, it feels so long ago that I barely remember that it was, in fact, this year.

I’m disappointed with 2014. I wanted to do more. I tried, but it just didn’t happen. I reached out to some local ad agencies to see about freelance work – and never heard back from any of them. I worked on some long-gestating personal projects – but I didn’t make any real progress, let alone finish any of them. I had plans for my new podcast, The Space Monkey X Audio Workshop – but wound up doing very little with it. I pitched some ideas for a local ad agency – and they decided to go in another direction. I wanted to work on a new record book – but got crippled by fear of the sophomore slump.

Naturally, good things happened, too. Every day my wife and I laughed at our kids. Every day we laughed with each other. Every day we found something to be happy about, even if it was something as mundane as a silly cat video on YouTube. I don’t want to discount these things, because they’re what make life worth living. But when you measure so much of who you are by the things you do, by the things you create, by the mark you leave on this world, a year when you have very little to point to and say, “I did that”, feels like a year wasted.

So it is with heavy heart that I say goodbye, 2014. Not because I wish you could stick around forever, but because you seem to have sucked for everybody – and I worry your influence is only going to carry over into the new year. This year we saw damaging breaches of online privacy. We saw video gamers who justified their misogyny by waving a false flag of journalistic integrity. We saw racial conflict bubble to the surface, with no real relief in sight. We heard almost daily how our civil rights are being violated by our own government, but we only raised a ruckus after a Seth Rogen comedy was pulled from movie theaters. We bought guns in record numbers because we’re terrified of our neighbors. We’re excited about lower gas prices right now without worrying about what’s going to happen once the Saudis have driven out the competition. We were essentially told there is nothing we can do anymore to prevent the devastating effects of climate change, and yet some of us still don’t believe it’s ever going to happen. We read documents detailing torture that has been done in our names, and some of us feel it was all justified. 2014 was toxic. What is there to miss?

All that being said, I am hopeful for 2015. I have a short list of things I want to accomplish. They’re realistic goals too, I think. But there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to boldly step into the new year with my head held high. I may not be able to change the world, but I can at least make my little corner as bright as possible. And the only way to do that is to keep moving forward.

Just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming.

Good luck to you in 2015.
Good luck to us all.

The Thing Read-Along Record Book

Yes, it’s here, folks!  My super-secret audio project has finally been released.  As you can see by the title of this post, it is an original read-along record book of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Long story short, I love those old record books that were popular in the 1970s and 80s, but they were always made primarily for kid’s movies, TV shows, and comic books.  But that means a lot of great films that came out during that time period never got the full record book treatment.

So, along with some of my geeky friends, I decided to correct this oversight, and am now working on read-along record books for the films that never got them in the first place.  My first choice was John Carpenter’s classic 1982 cult hit, The Thing.

This is also an opportunity to announce my new podcast, The Space Monkey X Audio Workshop, hosted over at  You can read more about The Thing record book and the new podcast over there.

Here’s a direct link to The Thing podcast episode.  Don’t forget to download the PDF record book, too!

Or if you’d prefer to the get the audio and the record book in once place, just hit Play on the YouTube video below.