For this week’s Nickel’s Worth, I am deferring to Canada

An image borrowed from Ross Murray's private collection of Andy Warhol's "Early Failures" collection.

An image borrowed from Ross Murray’s private collection of Andy Warhol’s “Early Failures” collection.

Welcome to a special edition [Please note bold print] of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, which is coming to you from Canada this week! Why Canada? And what makes this week’s NWOW so danged special? Because, in addition to today’s post having a decidedly international flair (There are French people in Canada, so it’s almost like we’re in France!), it also happens to be the first reblog of any post here. That should tell you several things, including: 1) How terrific I think my friend Ross Murray’s post is, 2) How important I think it is you read it, and 3) This morning’s double deadline has put me so far behind I think I see my butt in front of me.

Not necessarily in that order.

And come to think of it, that actually might be my editor in front of me…

Anyway, Ross and I have spoken in the past about the inevitability of — and ways of getting out of — a writing “slump.”

Or “slouch” as they say in Canada, because whenever possible a Canadian word must have an “ou” in it, such as “Humour,” “Harbour” and “Flour” to name a few. However, despite this language barrier, I have come to appreciate our exchanges and Ross’s insights into writing. This one in particular, about how tapping into your creativity can be like riding a wrecking ball with Miley Cyrus easy with the right approach, is a great example of wisdom, wit and me shirking my responsibilities this week.

I promise you’ll understand why once you read Ross’s piece HERE

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Apparently, one Fiddler on the Roof actually played a trombone

"Skippy" the rabid, blindfolded squirrel in his natural habitat. Pretty much.

“Skippy” the rabid, blindfolded squirrel in his natural habitat. Pretty much.

“RELEASE THE SQUIRREL!”

It’s been a week since those words were exclaimed in Braveheart fashion, sending Skippy, our newsroom’s resident rabid squirrel, on a journey to collect your odd and inexplicable photos. Why?

Because Skippy really needs to get out more.

But also because, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. And thanks to Kerbey at I Don’t Get It, I realized I have an obligation to use my investigative journalism superpowers to reveal the truth behind more than just The Box of old, unidentified and unclaimed photos in our newsroom. That’s why, like Spider-Man, I am swinging into action to help others, except without the sticky webbing or skin-tight body suit — because I also have a responsibility not to frighten people. Continue reading

Parents: Lung capacity is key when choosing an inflatable toy

(Because I am still off the grid and out of air from inflating water toys over the weekend, I am offering this re-post from the archives as a warning to parents as they kick off the summer inflatable-toy-buying season. In the meantime, Skippy the Rabid Blindfolded Squirrel and I hope to see all of you tomorrow for the next edition of The Box! Assuming, of course, that Skippy gets his blindfold off…)

Inflated whale We live less than 15 minutes from our favorite lake. The problem is, it also happens to be everyone else’s favorite lake, which means in order to get a spot within the vicinity of actual water, you have to be there when the gates open at noon and participate in something similar to the Oklahoma Land Rush. It’s not uncommon to see small children strapped to inflatable toys and tossed ahead of the crowd in order to claim prime territory.

As a parent, it’s not a gamble I’m willing to take with my child. Especially since, as a general rule, it only counts if your child is in an upright position once they skid to a stop.

The good news is that once the initial pandemonium is over, things generally settle into a state of peaceful co-existence as, one by one, parents begin passing out while blowing up inflatable toys. Sadly, the evolutionary process has not been able to keep up with the growing demand for larger and larger inflatable animals. Unless you are a pearl diver by trade, chances are your lung capacity is nowhere near what it needs to be in order to fully inflate your child’s favorite water toy. Continue reading

Gone in 60 Minutes (Or why I won’t be cast in a Fast & Furious movie)

image Welcome to Post Traumatic Sundays, which are posts written during my first marriage. None have appeared on this blog before, and only a couple were included in my book. So what’s the point, you ask? Simply to offer reflections from someone dealing with an unhappy marriage in the best way he knew how:

With humor.

Eight years later, I am happily re-married to someone who inspires me each day to laugh for the right reasons. It’s good to laugh with you now — for all the right reasons…

* * * * * * * *

They say it takes a car thief less than a minute to break into a vehicle, hot wire it, and be on their way. So, when I locked my keys in the car in the grocery store parking lot, I thought, “Hey, if Nick Cage or Vin Diesel can do it, so can I.”

True, I had no “Slim Jim,” or any other special car theft device to work with, at least not until I remembered the coat hanger that holds the bumper in place. With a little twisting and unraveling, the wire came off and I had my thieves’ tool. Continue reading

Writing is a lot like weightlifting, except without the abs

image Thanks for joining us for another edition of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, when I take the collective wisdom gathered from 15 years as a columnist and, much like an all-you-can-eat burrito bar, offer ingredients that will satisfy your writing hunger while still leaving you a little gassy. But don’t just take my word for it! Publisher’s Digest has heralded my weekly writing tips as “…A step-by-step guide to literary success, as long as you can walk backwards…” and what ®The Master of Horror Stephen King has called “…Writing milestones you’ll keep stubbing your toe on…”

But enough accolades!

It struck me this morning at the gym, while diligently pumping iron from a seated position at the smoothie bar, the number of similarities there are between reaching your fitness goals and writing goals, and how, in both cases, you will likely fail if you attempt too much too fast — especially if you’re trying to show off and accidentally flatulate while attempting a power lift. OK, now that the obligations required by my Gas-X sponsorship have been met, we can move on to how the same principles that make up a good fitness plan can be applied to achieving your writing goals. (Make sure to stop in next week, when Trojan will sponsor tips on expanding your readership.) Continue reading

Kevin Spacey pays it forward during a nacho bar interview

(I’m over at the office of Long Awkward Pause today, where we are kicking off Kevin Spacey Week. Don’t bother looking for a Hallmark card. But you might want to tune in May 28, when he’ll be a guest on our podcast. I know — we’re not sure how that happened either. Especially after my interview with him…)

image Though known for being tight-lipped about his private life, earlier this month it became no secret Kevin Spacey loves Mexican food. So it was no surprise when the two-time ®Oscar winner chose to meet for our interview at a quiet table in the back of Casa de Papitas, or “House of Chips,” a Hollywood-area nacho bar nicknamed “The Mexican Brown Derby” because of its celebrity clientele. I crossed the busy dining area past the nacho bar, which was nearly depleted after a visit from Brad and Angelina’s family, and saw Spacey at a small table in an alcove taking a selfie with a Mariachi band member.

“Let’s see how much s**t we can stir up with this Tweet, El Presidente,” said Spacey, who then motioned me over and stuck out his hand. “You must be from Long Awkward Pause.”

Admittedly star-struck, I only nodded.

“I figured as much, because this handshake is lasting way too long and is becoming awkward,” he said, then paused. “See what I just did there?” (Read more at LAP…)

At your request, an embarrassing photo of me in a cowboy hat

For those of you who witnessed me slide face-first down a pole during a windstorm a while back, it’s clear that I’m not above embarrassing myself for a laugh — which isn’t to say it’s always intentional. But in this case, this morning’s post about visiting (and once living in) the Lone Star state — and in particular, the thought of me in a cowboy hat — has generated requests for evidence of my cowboy-hat-wearing days. So, Because I like to consider myself a cooperative person often clouded by poor judgement, I am including a photo from several years ago when I was, indeed, wearing a cowboy hat while playing in the water with my son at a nearby lake. On the advice of my lawyer, I am issuing the following disclaimer:

WARNING: The following image is graphic in nature and may not be suitable for young children, other than my son, who remains traumatized by his father’s stork legs… Continue reading

Having a hot time in Texas — until I’m extinguished

image Later this summer I will be visiting Texas. More than likely, I’ll be wearing a cowboy hat, wandering in and out of shops, and carrying on with the kind of loopy, carefree attitude one expects from someone suffering a heat stroke. Six of the hottest cities in the U.S. are located in Texas, which is why, on an average day, an estimated 15,000 armadillos attempt suicide on Texas highways — in many cases, by strapping old Dixie Chicks CDs to their backs in order to increase their chances of being run over.

I actually lived in Texas for six years. I am familiar with its August atmosphere. Which is why I have been preparing myself by breathing directly from the end of a hair drier each night for the last six weeks. I can now last a solid 15 minutes on “high heat” which, during an average day, is longer than most Texans spend breathing air that isn’t being piped through some type of cooling system. In fact, the majority of hustle and bustle in downtown Dallas isn’t caused by a steady exchange of commerce interacting to sustain a thriving economic base. No. It’s actually made up of people frantically hurrying from one air conditioned building to another, trying to avoid prolonged exposure to the sidewalks, which could potentially melt the soles of their Justin ropers, and reduce their $800 ostrich skin boots to a pair of decorative shin guards. Continue reading

Create lasting memories with traumatic family portraits

image Welcome to Post Traumatic Sundays, which are posts written during my first marriage. None have appeared on this blog before, and only a couple were included in my book. What these posts aren’t about is venting or vindictiveness.

So what’s the point, you ask? Simply to offer reflections from someone dealing with an unhappy marriage in the best way he knew how:

With humor.

Eight years later, I am happily re-married to someone who inspires me each and every day to laugh for the right reasons. It’s good to laugh with you for the right reasons as well…

* * * * * * * *

Every year around this time, we have our family photo taken. This used to mean packing up the kids and going to a portrait studio, where we could always count on a trained professional to eventually hurl a stuffed animal at us and demand we leave — but not before making us look through our entire package of portrait options. We, of course, never actually purchased any of those packages because they all had the same sequence of photos:

My daughter sticking her tongue out.
My son picking his nose.
Me putting both kids in a Vulcan death grip.
My wife yelling into my ear.

All of this captured in front of a snowy backdrop and available in 8×10, 5×7 and wallet-sized prints. Continue reading

If you want to be a writer, you really need to talk to someone

(Note: Because this is indeed a re-post from last year, I have prepared myself for a good flogging. And not the kind E.L. James would give after dressing me up as a flying monkey from the Wizard of Oz. I have no one to blame but myself for this shortcoming, which I’d like to clarify has nothing to do with flying monkeys — and everything to do with one of those late-night fire calls that has left my brain like that of… well… a flying monkey. I hope you’ll forgive me, My Pretties. Pay no attention to that man snoring behind the curtain…)

image Yes, it’s true: Friday is finally here! And so is Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, both of which are awaited for with equal amounts of anticipation! Just like French toast and mustard; your favorite TV show and a power outage; or a great hair day and tornado warning. Why so much anticipation? Because this weekly feature on writing, culled from my 15 years as a columnist, has been referred to by Consumer Reports as “worth every penny, unless it’s Canadian.”

That’s right. Many of today’s most influential writers got their start right HERE. Or at least in this general vicinity, somewhere on the planet. The Master of Horror® Stephen King put it this way:

“Each week, he offers an oyster with a pearl inside. And each week I say to myself, ‘shuck it.'”

But enough accolades! Let’s get to this week’s NWOW, brought to you by yesterday’s coffee and today’s deadline. Continue reading