I Promise You Won't Learn A Thing From This Blog

The official blog for author Ashley Chappell. Check back every week for a few laughs at my expense or, if you know the love-hate process that is writing, commiseration.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Watching Out For The 'Low Men...'

SpyI spent a little time yesterday exploring my blog stats in Blogger’s handy-dandy dashboard and learned something interesting: I’m either going to be famous or I’m going to end up on a terrorist watch list.

A little background: I noticed that my page views were going up faster than they had been so I decided to look and see what was driving people to my humble blog. One of the first things I saw was a number of odd web pages listed as ‘Referring Sites,’ including buygenericsfromindia dot com (purposely ensuring this doesn’t show up as a link some innocent bystander can click) and baby-back-packs dot com.

Strange, yes.

But not as strange as a few of the ‘Search Keywords’ that led people to my blog. They start off innocently enough with: “little mermaid kiss the girl vocal only.” Not surprising at all, considering my blog in January, "The Little Mermaid," and Other Evil Deeds of the Disney Empire. Then I see that the terms “flash fiction post-apocalytpic best” and “post apocalyptic noir” referred people to the post-apocalyptic short story I posted. Still making sense.

I start really feeling odd when I see that the following search term has been entered:”ashley chappell Huntsville.” In other words, I have been Googled. While I waver between feeling pleased that someone bothered to look me up, I also find myself feeling, well, dirty.
But the final search phrase on the list is the one that causes me concern: “special ops mission chloroform.” Now I realize that this one must have led the searching party to my blog entitled Dietary Tactics: From Electroshock to Chloroform, but when I think about the kind of person that is likely to enter that specific search in a search engine only two images come to mind. 1) A fellow writer doing research for a thriller/suspense novel; and 2) a raving psychopath (not that 1 and 2 are always mutually exclusive, mind you). In fact, it also gives me a frame of reference for one of the other odd ‘Referring Sites’ that were listed: quiethits dot com. You can’t tell me that’s not a cover-up for a contract assassin employment service.

So now that I see the kind of searches in which my blog appears I can’t stop picturing a scenario in which I am abducted in the middle of the night by paramilitary thugs. When they finally remove the black bag from my head it’s to bombard me with questions about the secret communications I’m transmitting for the terrorists. “We have the proof right here, lady. Your blog is all over their search history. Just give us your contacts and we’ll put these rusty nails and jumper cables away.”

Coming up next week... look for an excessive amount of American flags, LOLcats, apple pie recipes, and Angry Birds tips. That ought to balance out my search results, right? RIGHT? 
Smiley waving US flag

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ready Read Tuesday - The Short Stack

Ready Read Tuesday
Welcome back to Ready Read Tuesday! If you are new to my weekly book challenge, see this post for the background. In order to save time, let’s just consider this as good of a reason as any to spend some time reading with the burgeoning young geniuses in your life. To help navigate, I've added an index page for this and all future Ready Read Tuesday posts here. So what are you waiting for? Grab one of these great books and let me know what you've been reading with your kids! 

Now for this week’s book challenge – This week’s theme is “The Short Stack.”  Between our busy works schedules and the kids’ school and sports schedules, sometimes the idea of sitting down to an entire book is just daunting. That’s why this week I’m focusing on short story collections that make it easy to read to or with your child a little at a time. There is a little something for everyone in these selections and, because nothing compares to a child’s laughter, they can be counted on to show you the funny. Happy Reading!

1. The Sneetches & Other Stories  - Dr. Seuss

SneetchesWhere To Get It? B&N, Amazon
How It Inspires? Who among us can’t think of treasured a Dr. Seuss story right off the top of our heads? And with Hollywood giving kids a fresh appreciation for these timeless classics, it’s a great time to reintroduce all of us to some of our old favorites. Seuss was a master of weaving life lessons and tales of morality into incredibly entertaining stories, helping to build a foundation of open hearts and open minds for children.  “Too Many Daves” and “What Was I Scared Of?” are two of my favorites in this collection.

2. Ribticklers!: Funny Stories  - Chosen by Michael Rosen
Where To Get It? B&N, Amazon
How It Inspires? Some of my favorite childhood memories with my family, even those where I’m a bit hazy on the details, involve all of us in fits of laughter together. I may not remember what was so funny, but I remember the feeling – Complete and Utter Happiness. This book is intended for the middle school aged but, with stories by humorists such as James Thurber, the grown-ups are bound to get a kick out of these stories as well.

3. Guys Read: Funny BusinessEdited by Jon Scieszka

Guys ReadWhere To Get It? Amazon/Kindle, B&N
How It Inspires? For starters, everything I mentioned above about laughter creating such wonderful memories applies to this collection as well. But going a step further, this collection is part of the Guys Read series aimed at piquing the interest of young boys. Studies show that boys are harder to interest in reading, and Scieszka has done a wonderful job of putting together stories that contain all of the ick, gore, and comedic villains a boy could want in a book. It might be written for 9-11 year olds, but if you have boys from 9-91, this is your one-stop shop to get them reading.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My First Author Interview!

Today's post is a short but giddy one that delivers some of that shameless self-promotion I've promised. But at the same time, it also gives me a chance to promote another lovely blog and a lovely lady that shares my passion for writing. Ms. Vanessa Eccles of The Writer's Block hosts my first interview today on her blog.

Click here for my first interview :-)

Please go take a look at it! And while you're there, don't forget to read through her archives. Vanessa is one smart lady with a great sense of humor! :-)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ready Read Tuesday - "Undersaurus Rex!"

Ready Read Tuesday
Welcome back to Ready Read Tuesday! If you are new to my weekly book challenge, see this post for the background. In order to save time, let’s just consider this as good of a reason as any to spend some time reading with the burgeoning young geniuses in your life. To help navigate, I've added an index page for this and all future Ready Read Tuesday posts here. So what are you waiting for? Grab one of these great books and let me know what you've been reading with your kids! 

Now for this week’s book challenge – This week’s theme is “Undersaurus Rex!”  Since last week was targeted toward older children I’m going to give a selection for our newly developing bookworms this week. We have one book about underwear, one book about dinosaurs, and one book about both!

Book Jacket 1. The Adventures of Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey

Where to Get It? Amazon/Kindle, B&N/Nook
How Does it Inspire? I can’t think of a better way to sum up the reasons children (myself included) would love these books than this Amazon.com Review:
"Faster than a speeding waistband... more powerful than boxer shorts..." It's Captain Underpants! Young readers will devour this fancy new boxed set of the first five paperbacks in the side-splitting, potty-humored (literally) Captain Underpants series. These books are award-winning--but really, who cares about awards when you're reading about talking toilets and the perilous plot of Professor Poopypants?” These books are for children aged 7 and up, and if you have a child who is reluctant to read because books are ‘boring,’ just start reading a few passages and you’ll know they’re hooked when the giggles start J
Dinos Before Dark
2. Dinosaurs Before Dark - Mary Pope Osborne

Where to Get It? B&N/Nook, Amazon/Kindle
How Does It Inspire? This is the first installment in the Fabulous Magic Tree House series for readers between 6-8. I was a lover of all things dino when I was a child and you still won’t find a more suitable fuel for the fires of imagination than dinos for children today. If Jurassic Park were a children’s book first, the movie would have been just like this book!

Underwear Toting Dinos3. Dinosaurs Love Underpants - Claire Freedman

How Does It Inspire? This one is a picture for the youngest readers, though I got a kick out of the story, myself. The thing I like best about books like these is it takes a mundane everyday thing and gives it a completely new, even if completely silly, story. All of us adults know that a meteorite most likely killed the dinosaurs. We also take underwear for granted. But would we still take them for granted if we knew that it really was the Great Dinosaurs Underpants War that killed them? Set a child’s imagination flowing in this direction, then ask them to come up with their own unique story about what really killed the dinosaurs. I’d love to hear what they come up with!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Political Road Rage Crashes Economy

Chapman Mountain.

Road RageThere. I’ve said it. It may not mean a hill of beans to you, but if you’re in the Huntsville, AL area it’s the only curse you need during rush hour. Chapman Mountain rears its ugly head (ok, there’s actually a lovely view of the valley, but you get the sentiment) at the point where Hwy 72 meets I-565 leading into the city. Granted, this part of North Alabama is more foothill than mountain, but something about this particular one attracts wrecks like day old poo attracts flies. To make it even worse, some morbid city planner, in an apparent fit of colic rage, decided to spread his melancholy across the city by putting not one but TWO stoplights at the foot of the mountain.  Can you predict the outcome?

Gridlock. Slamming of the brakes. Honking of the horn. Flipping of the finger. Gnashing of the teeth. And, oh yes, much cursing.

At best, cars traveling up this mountain weaves a slow accordion path up the slope like an inchworm  – albeit a very angry inchworm full of road rage. When one of the frequent wrecks occur somewhere on one side of the slope or the other, traffic on both sides comes to an even angrier crawl while motorists limber up their rubbernecks (If you can’t tell, traversing this mountain twice daily is the bane of my work week). But now, on top of the commuting travesties already endured by drivers on Chapman Mountain, there is a new peril we must face.


Rubbernecking You heard me. As if all of the other hazards weren’t enough, the approaching Alabama Primary has attracted droves of would-be politicians standing in front of truck-mounted signs vying for the attention of passing motorists on high-traffic corridors. And, since those motorists not consumed with road rage are already busy texting or talking on the phone, eating, applying make-up, or shaving (yes, shaving), they have to work pretty darn hard to get that attention. In fact, this morning’s politician on Chapman Mountain was jumping up and down and waving madly. Annoying as it may be, his ruse worked! Car after car slowed down to stare at him, causing the inchworm lining up behind them to contract and slam brakes (cursing goes without saying). The car in front of me even rolled down his window to pass on a thumbs up, completely ignoring the fact that he shared responsibility for the progression of traffic and therefore the mental welfare of a large percentage of angry morning commuters. *Gnashing of teeth*

The additional angry commuters caused by the carelessness of that politician probably arrived to work this morning in a worse mood than they were to begin with and probably took it out on their coworkers all day. Therefore, that politician directly contributed to spreading despair and despondency across Huntsville’s business community.

Now do you see how politics is bad for our economy?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Ready Read Tuesday - "Other-Worldly Classics"

Ready Read TuesdayTime to kick off our inaugural edition of Ready Read Tuesday! If you missed the introductory post yesterday, see this post for the background. In order to save time, let’s just consider this as good of a reason as any to spend some time reading with the burgeoning young geniuses in your life. To help navigate, I've added an index page for this and all future Ready Read Tuesday posts here. So what are you waiting for? Grab one of these great books and let me know what you've been reading with your kids!

Now for this week’s book challenge – the theme to get us started is “Other-Worldly Classics.” In other words, this is a selection of books most of us so-called grown-ups should remember fondly that take the reader through adventures on new worlds.

The Wiz
1.           The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

  •     Where to get it? Gutenberg.org eBookB&N/NookAmazon/Kindle 
  •     How does it inspire? The book takes Dorothy and her new-found friends farther than the classic movie that we all know and love. Did you know that there was a dangerous river in Oz that the group had to cross, or that Dorothy actually met the king of the winged monkeys? I thought not. Throughout the story, children learn how  friendship, loyalty, and self-confidence can help them overcome any obstacle they face.
Wrinkle in Time 2.        A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

  •          Where to get it? Amazon/KindleB&N/Nook
  •          How does it inspire?  L'Engle, ever a brilliant story teller, gave us this masterpiece that celebrates and embraces the uniqueness of her characters. At first, the characters are shown as misfits with no understanding of what makes them special. Through their journey across both time and space to save their father, it is the extraordinary abilities of Charles Wallace and his sister Meg and the natural leadership of their school friend Calvin O'Keefe that protect the trio in their adventure.

3.         A Princess of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs

    John Carter, my hero!
  •         Where to get it? Gutenberg.org eBookB&N/NookAmazon/Kindle,  
  •         How does it inspire? This one is for the slightly older children and all of us who are young enough at heart to still appreciate a story about heroes, princesses, loyalty, and, well, martians. You won't find it on many reading lists for young adults, but it is a fabulous early example of 20th century pulp fiction and offers everything from swashbuckling to air-borne ship battles. It gives the reader  characters who exemplify principle, loyalty, justice, and honesty. What person, young or old, couldn't look up to a hero like that?

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Preview for Ready Read Tuesday

Reading to a child
See how reading makes a difference here

I've had the good fortune of meeting many writers in various stages of the careers since I began actively blogging. They come from all backgrounds; from poor to wealthy, from single-parent households to sprawling families, from all over the country and beyond. The one theme that seems to unite all of them is a simple one:

At some point in their childhood, someone took the simple step of putting a book in their hand.

Now for the parents reading this, you might be thinking that you don't want your children to grow up to be writers. You want them to eat regularly and have money for rent. Perfectly understandable. But don't neglect the many benefits realized from encouraging your children to read. 

Reading at an early age leads to enhanced language skills. That includes reading comprehension which is a HUGE factor in your child's ability to learn quickly and to foster good study habits. Reading, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, also provides a child with perspectives beyond their own experience to help them navigate those difficult early formative situations. Perhaps it's easy for little Alice or Johnny to ignore Mom's words of advice, but chances are they'll remember that Harry Potter didn't take the easy way out by lying to keep himself out of trouble. Reading gives a child other children whom they can admire and respect.

Those enhanced language skills in combination with the expanded perspective also feed directly to an enhanced ability to communicate. Communication is such an important developmental skill that is lost these days to text messaging, gaming, and the myriad of other distractions and the loss of it seems to be showing across the country. Increasing disciplinary issues, fighting, parents with children in therapy who've given up trying to talk with their child, and far worse issues seem to be normal topics of conversation among parents anymore. This is why I believe that instilling a strong ability to communicate in a child is such an important step to foster strong emotional and intellectual development. A child without the ability to communicate or even to make sense of their thoughts and feelings is more likely to act out on those feelings violently or behaviorally. 

It is for this reason that I am designating Tuesdays on my blog "Ready Read Tuesdays." Each and every Tuesday I will list three books that inspire, entertain, and educate young readers and I will challenge parents, aunts, uncles, big siblings, ANYONE with a child in their life, to get one of these books in the hands of a child. Whether you read it to them or with them, be available to talk about the story and the characters with the child and be prepared to be amazed as you see how quickly they assimilate the stories and lessons into their own lives. 
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Ready, Set, Go!
And for those of you who think you're too old to get anything out of a children's book - as a fully grown-up reader of Young Adult fiction, I can promise you're never too old to learn from a child.

The first Ready Read Tuesday begins tomorrow. No excuses! I'll even make it easy for you to find all three books for cheap or even for free. Get ready!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

You're in Trouble Now... She's Being Polite!

Don't Care
All Customer Service Employees need this book
Yes, I'm trying to stir the pot again.

I made the following statement on Facebook this week to see what reactions people would have: “There is a vast difference between being 'nice' and being 'polite.’” A few people, and I have to believe that they are among those rarities who are actually nice all of the time (yes, they do exist but I am unfortunately not one of them), argued that there is no difference between the two words. For most of the discussion, however, I found that people do tend to notice distinct differences between these two words and what they meant to them.

I bring this up for two reasons: 1) Being a word nerd, I’m fascinated by how two words meaning essentially the same thing conversationally (despite specific definitions) and used interchangeably so often can evolve to conjure such specific reactions, and 2) I realized that the ‘polite’ person that I was talking to on the phone was not a ‘nice’ person at all. In fact, I was pretty sure that she was giving me the finger while she was saying, “Bless your heart,” safely from her end of the phone line.

Old lady
You probably grew up across the street from this lady

For those not familiar with southern sarcasm, ‘Bless your heart’ can sometimes be a meaningful expression of sympathy, but more often than not it’s a southern lady’s socially acceptable way of saying “Why the hell do you think I care?”

Now I’m wondering about my own responses to people and feeling slightly guilty. You know what I mean... The phone rings at work and, blast that caller ID, it’s one of those people you'd rather give extraneous body parts than have to deal with. But, since you have a job to do for which you are being paid, on goes that plasticine smile with the glazed eyes as you say, “No, you’re no problem at all, really, how can I help you?” All the while your imagination is dreaming up scenarios in which it would be acceptable for you to scream “Go away already you horrible person!”

See? Polite, but not nice.

Now that I’ve given you the set up, what do you think? What do these two words mean to you?