Posts by Josh Hammond

Josh Hammond writes things. He has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University.

How to Eat an Airplane, by Peter Pearson

howtoeatanairplaneHow to Eat an Airplane is the best etiquette book I’ve read in a while. It begins, “If you want to eat an airplane, there are a few things you should know.” Rather than advising against eating the airplane, however, author Peter Pearson details the steps one must take in arranging a dinner party, where the reader and his or her guests will eat the airplane. If eating an airplane is to be done, it should be done properly.

This picture book is rife with wordplay (“Be sure that you have knives, spoons, and forklifts,”) a feature that delighted my children. There are also groan-worthy puns and jokes for the Dad joke demographic. The fun-loving illustrations (by Mircea Catusana) are a perfect match for the text. And even though the book might be described as absurd, it’s actually based on a true story (see the author’s note.) The back matter gives interesting facts about airplanes, giving the picture book a very complete feel. It’s a book that my kids keep coming back to.

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Signed copy. I’m kind of a big deal.

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Writing Review – April 2016

After graduating in January, I spent the remainder of my paternity leave (a couple weeks in January) working on a revision of my middle grade novel. Then I went back to work, and the writing slowed down quite a bit. A well-timed weekend writing retreat at the beginning of April was just the kick in the pants I needed. We set writing goals, and now it’s time to report on my progress.

Writing (like a boss.)

Writing (like a boss.)

Days Writing: 18

Okay, that’s 18 out of 30, good for 60% of the month. Not bad, but I think I can do better.

Words Written: 17,372

Hey, not bad. That’s about a third of a middle grade novel.

Words Per Session: 965

I’ll take it.  I didn’t really have any marathon sessions this month. I was pretty consistently around this number each day.

Blog Posts: 3 (counting this one)

This is much higher than my usual output.

The Secret to My Success: Coffee

Seriously, it’s the only thing that got me out of bed at 5:00 AM to write. Without coffee, I’d be nowhere. Thanks, coffee.

Project: Draft 3 of my Middle Grade Novel

It’s probably more like draft 3.5. Anyway, my first two drafts were written as an epistolary, and now I’m trying my hand at taking it out of that form. I’ve added a couple new storylines, so it’s spiraling out of control a little bit, clocking in at 39,206 words as I get into Act III. I’m going to have to do a lot of cutting in my next round of revisions. My last draft was 50,706 words, which I think is a good number for this novel. I’m going to eclipse that in a big way, so I’ll have to break out the hacksaw in the next round.

Goals for May: Finish this Draft!

I want to actually finish this draft and do another major revision in May. My next pass will be mostly cutting, I believe (and hope,) so it probably won’t take as long as drafting round has taken. Then, by June, I hope to be at the point of line editing.

I want it to be in tip-top shape by summer so that I can begin the soul-crushing process of querying agents. Stay tuned.

Where I Write

The Front Row Blogs

Hello, and welcome to Day 2 of the Front Row’s Blogging Series. The topic: Where I Write. Hopefully you enjoyed Sarah’s post yesterday.

I’m excited about this series because I love to see writer spaces, and even though I know my Front Row people very well, I haven’t seen all of their writing spaces. Basically, I have two spaces that I use more or less regularly, and one that I aspire to use someday.

The Library

The quiet section of the library is a good place to write.

The quiet section of the library is a good place to write.

When I was in my MFA program at Hamline, I typically did most of my writing at the library. My writing packets would get hammered out on the weekends, and I rarely did any work on weekdays. It was the only way I could escape my children. I love them very much, but it’s hard to write when they’re around. I did bring my eldest daughter with me a few times. We would hit the Starbucks across the street and carry our warm drinks over to the Quiet Section of the library. My daughter was pretty good about reading silently, only interrupting me a few times to whisper-read the funny parts of her book. I can usually concentrate on writing once I’m there, though I do get interrupted sometimes by whispered greetings from current or former students (the peril of living in the town in which I teach.)

I love the library. I love librarians. I especially love children’s librarians. My kids do all of the reading programs and earn patches to sew on to their library bags. They ask the librarians for help when they’re looking for something in particular. And the librarians are always patient and gracious. Support your local library, people (I did, recently, by voting for a funding referendum. Also, I pay library fines a lot, because, reasons.)

I haven’t done writing in this way in quite some time (maybe since I graduated.) Mostly it’s because my wife had to get her book edits done, so I watched the girls on the weekends so she could write. Now that she’s done, I can maybe go back to writing for three-hour stretches on the weekend.

These days, most of my writing happens here.

These days, most of my writing happens here.

The Desktop Computer in the Formal Living Room

Not to brag or anything, but our new house has a formal living room that is different than the family room where the TV is. The formal living room has a fireplace, bookshelves, a piano, and my desk. We bought a sofa and two chairs and we try to keep our children from destroying them in the way that children destroy things because they hate having nice things (“Oh, this couch is great for doing sick jumps on.”)

Theoretically, the formal living room has the perfect aesthetic for writing. The room lacks doors, however, so it’s not always easy to writing there when the kids are in the house. So my solution has been this: I get up at 5:00 AM and write while the kids are asleep. There are things I like about being at the desktop computer – a real keyboard, for example. Also, I have my copy of Scrivener on there. I don’t use it a ton, but it is helpful for organizing my story notes (I do my drafting with Google Docs.)

It’s not a bad place to write, but it needs better lighting and a better chair. I don’t want to straight-up put a desk chair in the living room, though. I’m far too classy for that. I’ve been doing the majority of my writing from this spot for the last few months. I will usually get in about ninety minutes of writing before work, and the word count varies but usually falls between 600 and 1,200 words.

The Holy Grail will be to knock out 5,000 words during the work week and then add a couple thousand more during the weekend. I’m not there yet, but I’m hoping to get into that kind of routine.

I never write here. But I could.

I never write here. But I could.

The Aspirational Bedroom Desk

I thought that maybe I could do some writing upstairs in my bedroom when the kids are at home. We don’t have an office. So we bought a desk, chair, and a lamp. I have my Periodic Table of Figures of Speech!

Don’t let the picture fool you. The chair has a broken caster, so sitting in it doesn’t really work all that well. I have never written at that desk. For one, I’d have to use my Chromebook, which is fine, but doesn’t give me access to Scrivener (and if I am at home, why not just go downstairs to the better computer?) Secondly, I just don’t really want to work in my bedroom. I don’t know why. I’ll let you know if I ever use the desk. I like it, though. Maybe if I ever get famous I can say I wrote my great American novel at the desk and then sell it for a million bajillion dollars.

Well, that’s it for me. Make sure you check back in this week as we hear from other members of The Front Row.

Here’s the schedule:

On Being Pushed

Photo courtesy of Zack Wilson

Photo courtesy of Zack Wilson

So, it looks like all of March went by without me posting to this blog. Classic me.

I have been writing, though. I’m still working on an overhaul of a middle grade novel. And while I know what I must do, actually sitting down to work on it can be daunting. Also, real life is constantly getting in the way – from work (Parent Teacher Conferences, Report Cards) to family (kids, man, always needing stuff,) to having to finally clean the house because it has become a source of stress.

With all of this other stuff going on, I wasn’t finding as much time for writing as I would have liked. Which is why our writing retreat to Sarah’s Boss Cabin couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I was reunited with my Hamline MFAC graduating class for a weekend of writing, something I desperately needed. We workshopped each other and we went all in, reading 50-100 pages and providing about an hour’s worth of feedback. There’s something incredibly energizing about working with people who speak your language (and it doesn’t hurt that everyone is super awesome and fun to boot.)

After providing feedback, Jennifer made us set a short-term goal for the writing weekend, and a long term goal for finishing our projects. Zack set up a spreadsheet so that we could track our word counts. We’ve been encouraging each other online. So far it’s worked for me. I’ve been getting up at five in the morning to get some words down before work.

It’s about a nine hour drive to the cabin for me, so I found an app that would read the google docs from my phone through my car stereo system. While it wasn’t perfect (it pronounced the word “pieces” as if we were in Italy – and my friends seemed to use that word a lot in their manuscripts,) it was a decent way to get the reading done. I was struck by how well-crafted each story was. My only quarrel with them was the fact that they weren’t  yet finished. I wanted to know what happens next. I do believe that many of these manuscripts will eventually be published and out in the world, like Sarah’s book, Assassin’s Heart, which I of course forgot to bring so that it could be signed (I also forgot my fitbit and my freaking computer, which I stressed about until it turned out not to be a big deal at all – thanks Jen!)

The writing retreat was an absolute success, and I was reminded of how important community is for writers. Writing is hard, because you actually have to write. And a lot of times you will write stuff that goes nowhere. There’s no guarantee that anybody will publish what you write. But you do it anyway. Because you have to. Because you get itchy if you go too long without writing. It’s nice to have cheerleaders. Maybe essential.

It is also essential that I crush my friends with my word count. Let’s go get it.

Forever Unclean

Fingal office chair from IKEA.

Fingal office chair from IKEA.

I was reading in bed last night when I heard a strange splattering noise coming from my daughter’s bedroom. I ran in to find my middle daughter sitting in her sister’s IKEA desk chair with her pants around her ankles.

She was not awake.

Her body must have sensed the chair and thought, “good enough.” Some bad things were done to that chair.

“Honey, honey, this isn’t the bathroom.” Still not awake.

A brief cease fire, and I took the opportunity to whisk her into the bathroom. Just as I got in, and before I set her down, she made the tell-tale vomit sound. I turned her around and aimed her at the toilet (the seat was still down) and she fired from the other end. I’d say about 95% of it hit the target. After another round of vomiting, she was ready to fire out the other end again. A quick wipe of the seat (I was holding her with one arm the whole time) and I turned her around just in time.

Poor kid must have caught a stomach bug. There was no cleaning her up with toilet paper, so I started the shower. At some point she woke up and asked, “Why am I in the bathroom?”

“You got sick, honey. Time to take a shower.”

“Okay.”

While I got the middle child clean (and the other two girls slumbered on, thankfully,) Bromleigh took on the horrifying task of cleaning up the desk chair. She did what she could, man, but the seat of that desk chair is porous. The chair would be forever unclean. Pressing down on the seat always brought forth a new wave of horror. Always. So I took it out to the trash.

I can already imagine those smug childless people (the ones who chose to be that way and like to point it out a lot – #notallchildlesspeople) enjoying a certain amount of schadenfreude (“This is why I don’t have children,” or “Ooh, children are gross,) but I wasn’t the least bit put out by any of the events. Instead, I was consumed by love for my poor sick child; Bromleigh and I wanted to do everything we could to make it better for the kid. It’s a strange thing – perhaps you love them the most when they’re the most vulnerable.

As for the chair, it wasn’t by the trash can when I went out this morning. Someone must have thought, “Cool, free chair.”

Bromleigh said, “Maybe we should have put a sign on it.”

Yeah. Maybe we should have.