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Viewing Blog: Let the Games Begin!, Most Recent at Top
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The Official Blog of Author Greg R. Fishbone
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1. formspring.me

Ask me anything http://formspring.me/gfishbone

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2. What are you working on now?

I’m currently hard at work on the second book in the Galaxy Games trilogy and having a lot of fun with it.

Ask me anything

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3. Bid it up for Japan!

Now there’s a way to help earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan and at the same time also pick up a good book, have your own good book critiqued, or have a character in an upcoming good book named after you. Check out one or more of these book-themed online benefit auctions!

  • Authors for Japan: This British-based auction ended recently, raising £10,962.25 for British Red Cross.
  • Kidlit4Japan: This one’s mine! I didn’t have a chance to get into Authors for Japan because they organized and filled up their roster of items so quickly, so I started my own auction for the children’s and YA literature community to benefit UNICEF’s efforts to help children affected by the quake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. It’s planned to go for three weeks and the donors and bidders have all been very generous. My item is a chance to name a minor character in an upcoming Galaxy Games novel–it goes up for bid today!
  • Write Hope: Another auction that organized and started at the same time as mine, with lots of great items. I am offering a signed copy of The Penguins of Doom along with some sketches of the characters. Bid it up!
  • Genre for Japan: This one is also British-based, so the bidding is in pounds. It hasn’t started yet but promises to be awesome! If I can get an item into this auction, I will update my post to include the appropriate information.

It’s been great to see the generous members of the various book communities pull together to help the victims of the Sendai disaster. Thanks for bidding, and for helping to get the word out!


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4. Thoughts on a Japanese Earthquake

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan this week. For me, the horrible scenes of devastation coming from the Sendai area have brought back a queasy feeling that was one part of my Japan experience I’ve tried for years to forget.

During my first week in Tokyo, I was shaken from a sound sleep by a light vibration and the sound of rattling dishes that lasted for about ten seconds. “Was that an earthquake or a big truck?” my roommate asked. “That was an earthquake,” I replied. Then I yawned and immediately fell back asleep.

I wasn’t able to process the event until the next morning. The entire city had experienced an expression of the same force that, over time, bounces entire continents around–and I’d just been annoyed that it had woken me up! I’d never lived near a fault zone before, so I wasn’t used to thinking that the ground could be anything other than absolutely solid. The idea made me anxious. When you live in a place where you can’t rely on the ground beneath your feet, what else is left to hold onto?

The imminent threat of another earthquake stayed in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t ready for the earthquake that actually happened a few weeks later while I was in the shower. By then I’d memorized all the exits from my apartment building and the route to the community assembly area, but I hadn’t factored in the best earthquake survival advice that Douglas Adams ever wrote: “Always know where your towel is.” Thankfully, Earthquake Number Two was another ten-second trembler that didn’t quite knock me off my feet, so there was no need for me to run for cover with only a rectangle of terrycloth wrapped around my waist.

Earthquake Number Three was just barely perceptible to human senses, and I actually laughed it off. I figured it was nothing to worry about. I even felt pretty good about the thick skin I’d developed and my newfound ability to accept tiny tremblers as just another aspect of Tokyo life–until I learned that this third tiny earthquake was only tiny in Tokyo. At its epicenter near Kobe, it was one of the worst earthquakes in the history of Japan. The Great Hanshin Earthquake, as they called it, toppled buildings, destroyed wharves, and claimed over 6,000 lives.

From the distance I had been, the Great Hanshin Earthquake had felt no different from the annoying shaker that woke me up or the one that ruined my shower. To put that another way, I now realized that any little vibration might have been an underground hiccup, a fatal jolt of unimaginable horror, or anything in between.

People who live in earthquake-prone areas do so with the knowledge that a major quake could occur without warning at any time. Of course, the alternative might be to live in an earthquake-free place that’s prone to floods instead. Or hurricanes. Or tornadoes. Or wildfires, mudslides, Nor’easters, monsoons, tsunamis, heatwaves, droughts, volcanoes, plagues, or animal attacks. Or even if you did find a place on Earth where none of those things could happen, you might still get conked on the head by a falling meteor.

Basically, as individuals, we are small and humble in the face of natural forces–but as a collective, we have the power of heart and caring on our side. Every time there’s a major natural disaster, we see an outpouring of international support and aid to the survivors. We pull together like one big planetary team. There may be some con artists who try to take advantage of the situation, but the overwhelming majority of us care about other people, even people we don’t know, who live in parts of the world we’ve never visited, facing dangers that may be very different from those in our own home towns.

The earthquake relief efforts going on right now should shore up every skeptic’s faith in humanity and make us all proud to be residents of Planet Earth. Here are just a few ways t

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5. Local Author Inks Multiple-Book Deal

“I’m here with local author Greg R. Fishbone who is finally able to reveal the details of his exciting new book project. Tell us, Greg,  how many books did you sell and who is your new publisher?”

“Three books and Tu Books.”

“So that makes a total of five books? Very impressive.”

“No, only three books.”

“Three? But wait. What about the other two books?”

“There are only three books.”

“Okay, then I must have misheard. Let’s try this again. What’s the name of your publisher and how many of your books will they be publishing?

“Tu Books and three books.”

“Two books and three books?”

“Yes, Tu Books and three books.”

“So you’re saying two books plus three books somehow doesn’t equal five books?”

“No, still only three books.”

“We’re not getting anywhere talking about your three books, and you still haven’t told me the name of your publisher.”

“Tu Books.”

“Okay, sorry. We’re not getting anywhere talking about your two books–”

“I have three books.”

“Nnnngh! Let’s forget about the three books or five books or whatever for now. What’s the name of your publisher?”

“Tu Books.”

“Now it’s two books again? Ten seconds ago you said you sold three books!”

“I did. I sold three books to Tu Books. Tu is an Ainu word meaning ‘many.’”

“A you-knew word?”

“An Ainu word.”

“An I-knew word?”

“Yes, an Ainu word.”

“So what is the word you think I knew?”

“The word is Tu, and Tu means many.”

“Two books isn’t very many.”

“I know, that’s why I sold three books.”

“That does it. This interview is over! I quit!”

“Wait! You never even asked me the name of the player on third base!”

Book #1 of the Galaxy Games trilogy by Greg R. Fishbone is scheduled for a Fall 2011 release from the Tu Books imprint of Lee & Low Books. Tu Books focuses on multicultural science fiction and fantasy books for young readers.

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6. Local Author Makes a Spectacle of Himself

Local children’s book author Greg R. Fishbone today marked his return to The Spectacle group blog with a 60,000-word screed on the use of rutabagas in science fiction. “I’ve been thinking that there just aren’t enough books about rutabagas…” started the entry, which proceeded to describe every appearance of the root vegetables in science fiction books, movies, and video games. The exhaustive list was broken up by occasional tangents into the metaphysics of belly-button lint, Cretaceous-Era honeybees, and a bizarre conspiracy theory involving the depletion of toiletries from the U.S. Strategic Toiletry Reserves.

“The general readership has no idea why they let Greg R. Fishbone back into The Spectacle, especially after the 30,000-word anti-armadillo diatribe of 2009,” stated a longtime follower of The Spectacle which, when not being written by Mr. Fishbone, is known for insightful commentary into young adult and middle-grade speculative fiction by some of the top names in the genre. “Singleton writes for The Spectacle. Sensel writes for The Spectacle. Peevyhouse writes for The Spectacle. They don’t let just anyone in…or at least they didn’t until now.”

Sources indicate that Greg R. Fishbone is hard at work at another shared blog entry to end all shared blog entries. Cackling laughter has been heard from high atop the battlements of stately Fishbone Manor along with the ominous intonation of, “Squid! I’ve been thinking that there just aren’t enough books about squid…”

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7. Stuffed Penguin Population Plummets, Scientists Baffled

A startling report released today from the Stuffed Animal Preservation Society reveals an unexpected disappearance of penguins from the living room of local children’s author, Greg R. Fishbone. “The North American Stuffed Penguin once flocked all up and down these stairs,” Fishbone told a documentary film crew that’s been following this story. “It’s almost as if they’ve been moved aside to make room for something else…”

The penguins first arrived as gifts from fans and well-wishers around the release date of The Penguins of Doom in 2007. Over the years, the stuffed penguins adapted to an indoor environment bereft of their natural enemies, stuffed sea lions. They multiplied wildly, filling all available surfaces until this week when suddenly, they were gone, perhaps the victims of condo warming. “It has been a hot summer,” Fishbone admitted.

Scientists are at a loss to explain the sudden disappearance but warn that an open niche in the living room ecosystem will not remain empty for long. “Something new is coming,” said Fishbone. “Something bigger than a planet. Bigger than a star. Perhaps as big as a galaxy. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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8. Writing Blog Moves to News Format

After nine years of sporadic online journalling, local children’s author Greg R. Fishbone announced on Tuesday that his popular writing blog, Let the Games Begin, would be shifting to a faux-journalism format.

“It’s a format that projects objectivity and professionalism even when none exist,” Fishbone explained to a large roomful of eager reporters. “Otherwise ordinary remarks, filtered through an imaginary roomful of eager reporters, seem to take on more weight and importance. One might even imagine a round of enthusiastic applause where, otherwise, there’d just be the sound of a snoring cat.” This statement was immediately greeted by a round of enthusiastic applause and a subdued meow.

Blogging experts predict the format change will allow the site to stand out more among a crowded field of competitors, leading to an expected 57% increase in readership. “Especially effective in this context are the use of made-up statistics and the citation of anonymous experts,” remarked one anonymous expert.

The change goes into effect immediately, and may be made retroactive with the help of creative editing of past posts. So is the journalism format here to stay? “Anything is possible,” said Fishbone, in an exclusive interview from his helicopter-based headquarters. “I expect this format to continue into the distant future, or at least until I get bored with it and go on to something else.”

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9. Huzzah to Spain!

The World Cup is over and the winner is Spain!  As predicted by a psychic mollusk. Possibly because Spaniards have a higher prevalence of feline brain parasites.

Suddenly, soccer is more than just playing for hours to break a one-one tie, so it should be no wonder that these games were more widely watched in the United States than any previous World Cup.

Even John Cleese was inspired to weigh in with a comparison of Association Football to American Football. His arguments: 1) Strategy in Association Football is determined by players rather than by coaches and offensive coordinators; 2) Play in American Football is broken up more often for commercial breaks; 3) American Football is violent; 4) American footballs aren’t spherical and therefore shouldn’t be called “balls”; and 5) American Football isn’t actually played with your feet.  Valid points, perhaps, but let’s address them one by one.

1. If the strategy you’re referring to is which direction and how hard to kick a ball, there’s no need to get an offensive coordinator involved. There’s little more to soccer, except that when I played soccer in 7th grade there were also slide tackles. Somehow, it was legal to slide into an opposing player and make them eat turf, and our strategy was to make that happen as often as possible regardless of who scored how many goals. In American football, there are passing plays, running plays, onside kicks, two-point conversions, clock management, and a variety of offensive and defensive formations. Some of these calls are made from the sidelines but so what? Advantage: American Football.

2. Commercials are not entirely evil. They can be as entertaining as the game itself, which is why so many commercial campaigns kick off during, or are exclusive to the Superbowl. Besides, if a soccer game goes for so long without built-in breaks, how do the fans refresh their snacks or use the bathroom without missing some of the action? Then again, it is kind of refreshing to see a game clock that doesn’t stop just because somebody dropped the pass or stepped out of bounds. Advantage: Association Football.

3. Violent? Heck, yeah! At least when somebody gets hit and falls down in American Football, you know it’s not a flop. Advantage: American Football.

4. Association Football and American Football (along with rugby, Australian-rules football, and other games) derive from the same ancestral game that was played in medieval Europe. The ball in question was “made of leather, fabric, or wood, a pig bladder filled with hay, or even a wooden block.” If you’re going for an authentic and historic size and shape for your football, it seems like anything goes. Soccer’s opted for a ball that rolls easily when kicked. Football’s gone for a design that can be spiral-tossed for long yardage. Advantage: Neither.

5. American Football isn’t played with your feet. True enough. Advantage: Association Football.

Result: Let’s call it a draw.

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10. Cool Stuff from Japan: Wasabi

From Snacks.com

Found in my local gas station!

Let’s talk about these chips I found in my local gas station mini-mart. The Asian dragon makes me think of China. The font looks like it was lifted from a Chinese restaurant menu. But aren’t those Japanese katakana characters up there, wedged between the “Chips” and the dragon’s nose? Yes, they are, and they say: “Wasabi!” It’s the only place you’ll find the word on this bag unless you take a magnifying glass to the ingredients.

You’ll find wasabi in the green paste you get with sushi, on rice crackers and chips from Japan, and coating some dried green pea snacks, as a distinctive medium-hot horseradishy flavoring. But if you don’t read Japanese, the marketing  department at Frito-Lay figures you don’t really need to know what you’re eating. The product development people, on the other hand, have done a great job of teaming wasabi up with corn chips. If you see these in your local gas station mini-mart, grab a few bags!

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11. I May Be a Humorist

It may be a case of being too close to the source material, but I haven’t been thinking of Galaxy Games as a humor book. It’s been primarily science fiction and sports with lots of funny bits thrown in. I also didn’t think of Penguins of Doom as a humor book, but as a contemporary fantasy with humorous events told in a humorous voice. If it’s not acknowledged as a humor book, I told myself, I get to be funny only when I want rather than having an obligation to toss out punchlines on a regular basis.

Now, however, may be the time for me to reassess my writing in general as well as in the specific case, to take hold of the virtual podium, and to proclaim: “I’m Greg R. Fishbone and I write funny books for kids. And teens. And penguins.”

Feedback from my editor at Publisher-I’m-Still-Not-Daring-To-Name-In-Public: “Some members of the acquisitions committee didn’t get the book because they only read the first three chapters, which weren’t punchy, hooky, or funny enough.” Except she probably didn’t use the words “punchy” or “hooky” because that’s just me cribbing from my notes of our conversation. Now that I’ve had a week to think about it, I’m sure the committee was right on and I’m the one who didn’t get the book–because the middle and end parts are pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. Hence a violation of the Promise Principle of novel writing:

The Promise Principle:

The first chapter of a book (along with the title and jacket copy) should set up a reasonable expectation of style, genre, character, and plot. The rest of the book must fulfill the promises made, or otherwise leave the reader feeling satisfied rather than cheated.

If you fail to do this, the best you can hope for in reader reaction is the Positive Bait and Switch.

The Positive Bait and Switch:

“That wasn’t at all the book I thought it was going to be, but I liked it anyway.”

But just as often you’ll get a Bait and Switch Off.

The Bait and Switch Off:

“Someone told me the book would be funny, but I stopped reading after three chapters of not laughing.”

A humor book has to front-load some of the humor, which is difficult because the nature of humor is to require a setup and punchline, or better yet, multiple punchlines. Since I wasn’t thinking of Galaxy Games (still in search of a title, by the way) as a humor book, I was spending three or four chapters on mostly setup before dropping several loads of punchlines.

The challenge with a humor book is providing punchlines at the beginning that require little or no explicit setup and yet blend seamlessly into the funny stuff that happens later on. If I can do this successfully, the book will head back to the committee and there will be thunder. Ka-pow!

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12. Cool Stuff From Japan: Holographic Sports!

Interesting things happen at the intersection of sports and technology. First are incremental advances in equipment that help athletes reach their full potential. Ultrasonic bonding can eliminate the seams in a bathing suit, to let swimmers glide faster through the water. The upcoming World Cup will feature the roundest and most leak-proof soccer balls ever. And there’s always something new in sneakers to help athletes run faster or jump higher than before.

Other advances are meant to give fans a better viewing experience, like when first-goal lines are superimposed on a football field and move in real time with the TV cameras.

The Japan Football Association’s bid for the 2022 World Cup includes a genuine game-changer: holographic broadcasts. This technology doesn’t even exist yet, but should come online in the next ten years.

Imagine your team is playing for a world championship, but the game is taking place in Japan and you’re located in the United States. Luckily, it’s 2022 and your local stadium is equipped with holographic projectors! In Japan, up to 200 HD cameras film the action from every angle. Meanwhile, in your hometown, real-time, full-sized, holographic images of the players range all over the field. It’s almost like being there!

How much longer would it be until the home units came out, so we could watch the Celtics and Lakers battle it out on a holographic coffee table? What would it be like to play, or to watch, a game with even more advanced technology than that? I’m having fun working that out with Galaxy Games.

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13. The Penguins of Thunder

thunderstorm -lightning

I sold my first book during a thunderstorm, at night, at 70 miles per hour. My wife and I were driving from our home in Boston to Philadelphia, where her family lives. In the middle of Connecticut, my mobile phone rang. You can imagine any ultra-cool ring tone you want, but I’m embarrassed to say it was probably “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne. (Hey, it was 2005–don’t judge me!)

I don’t ever drive while taking on the phone. Ever. It’s a dangerous and stupid thing to do. But I also had never gotten a call with a publisher’s name in the caller ID. With my wife cheering me on, I took the call and steered the car toward the next exit off Interstate 84 and then into the first driveway I could find. So it may be more accurate to say that I sold my first book in a pizzeria parking lot, while streaks of lightning flashed across the night sky.

What my wife heard must have sounded something like this: “Sure… That’s great…” [Raising voice to be heard over the downpour.] “Yes, I’d love to have PENGUINS OF DOOM published by Blooming Tree.” [Dramatic crash of thunder!] “Merchandising rights? Well, that sounds good. Hey, what about little penguin dolls filled with jellybeans? They could be kinda like beanie babies but refillable! Yeah, okay, I’ll think of something else…”

After her, the next people to know were the staff and patrons of the pizzeria because, hey, I had to tell somebody. Then I called every family member and friend in my address book until my phone ran out of batteries.

I’m not planning any family trips for, let’s say, the end of this week…but it’s a good omen that thunderstorms are forecast for Thursday and Friday. Keep your fingers crossed!

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14. Cool Things About Japan: Space Kites!

Solar Sail

I’m also filing this one under “Real Space” because this kite is really out there.

Ordinary Earthbound kites use air currents and wind to stay aloft. There’s no air in space, but there is a kind of wind–solar wind, caused by a steady stream of charged particles shooting out of the Sun. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, has just launched a craft that uses the solar wind to accelerate. They call it a solar-sailed “space yacht” but it sure looks like a space kite to me.

The kite is 66 feet (diagonally) across and only the width of a human hair. In addition to being a sail, it also uses thin-film solar cells to generate the electricity needed for ion-gas propulsion. It’s a hybrid vehicle! This system is supposed to allow the kite to reach the edge of the Solar System in about 5 years, compared to traditional rocket-propelled craft like Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, which took about 25 years to make the same trip.

This first test kite is named Ikaros after the mythological boy who flew too close to the Sun and got burned up, presumably because solar sails constantly accelerate away from the Sun out of fear for their lives. Then again, if sailboats can tack into the wind, can the same be done to navigate solar sails inward from the outer edge of the Solar System back to Earth? Like, say, if a ship of squidlike aliens needed to find their way to Earth from the orbit of Saturn? Hmm…

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