Blogger of the week

Here’s a feature I haven’t done in a few years.  Follow and he’ll follow you back.  He’s a senior in my creative writing class right now, and though I know his older brother a little better from a few years ago, this guy’s got the writing gene too!


Blogging = Money

Got this email today:

Hi Rob,
I hope this finds you well. I am working with a company that is building a large-scale content network and we are identifying experts in a wide variety of topics; one of which happens to be humor.
I actually came to learn about you through your blog, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage, which I found to be very well curated on your passion for comedy and stand up advice, and your blog posts are humorous but also have good advice. 
Based on what seems to be your expertise on the subject of stand up advice, I think this short, compensated project would be a great fit for you so I’d love the opportunity to speak with you for a few minutes and explain it further. Is there a good time this week that I can give you a quick call? 
I told her to give me a call around 4:15 today (after writing club).  Compensated is the key word.  Large company compensation?  Could be a few hundred bucks, could be more.  I don’t know.  Whatever it is, it stemmed from years of blogging on one of my other blogs (  That blog also helped me sell about a thousand or so books.  It went viral from Reddit once.  Well, viral for me.  10K hits in two days 2 summer ago.  I barely write in it now, because I’ve run out of advice, and comedy isn’t my primary passion write now.
Anyway, I blogged for nothing all through my 20s, but it made me a better writer.  And think, you’re all better writers than you were a month ago because of the amount you’ve written lately.

What teachers really think?

I found this little article on Sparknotes about 25 questions to ask in language arts class.  Maybe I missed the point, but the questions are in a tone as if to imply the author (who is usually regarded as one of the greats) made a mistake and is stupid, wrong, etc.  When I read them, I hear the voice of an ignorant teen who didn’t read the book or “get it” enough…even after the teacher explained.  They sound snotty instead of inquisitive.  I’d be insulted if I was a student supposedly represented by this.  I skipped a few, but my answers are in bold with a reciprocating attitude and the way I would answer questions if I won the lottery and didn’t need this job anymore…


1. Why was Robert Frost always so surprised by death as a concept? Why did he keep forgetting this sometimes happens?  Gee, I don’t know, most poets were so happy.  I can’t think of any that approached dark subjects.

2. Did Geoffrey Chaucer know that there are women in this world who are not named Alyson? Yes.  Yes, he did.

3. What exactly does “wyrd” mean, and why do they keep casually throwing it around in Beowulf like it’s something I should know?  Yeah, so weird that something written centuries and centuries ago has all these weird words.  By the way, your style is on fleek today.

4. Edmund Pevensie ransomed off his entire family for Turkish delight, which is a foodstuff I’ve never actually tasted. Am I missing out?  Actually a good question.  No, it’s terrible.  C.S. Lewis must’ve liked it.  And it’s not like he could just put in a brand name candy.

6. Why do I get such a “DEMON CHILD” vibe from Hester Prynne’s daughter, Pearl?

She was a bastard child from a preacher when things were “slightly” more strict. Better question: Why are you trying to dress like a demon child when you have to shop at the West County Mall?

9. How do vampires actually have sex? The act, as I understand it, involves particulars that I cannot for the life of me make sense of. I know this isn’t your area of expertise, but I don’t know who else to ask.  Ask your goth cousin.

11. Okay, fine, so what was the name of Frankenstein’s monster?  I’m not telling you until you actually read it.

12. I feel like I have questions about Catch-22 but I don’t know what they are. I see what you did there.

13. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, why is it that the name of every single human woman begins with the letter H? I lost five points on my essay for mixing up Hermia and Helena and let me tell you, if Hippolyta had been a more prominent character, we would have been on the fast track to total catastrophe. Yet you’ve memorized Justin Bieber’s entire discography.  OVERWRITE FILE? YES …ARE YOU SURE?  YES

15. Given that the protagonist of Moby Dick ambiguously says, “Call me Ishmael” instead of something more definitive like “My name is Ishmael,” should we just assume that his real name is something really boring, like Stanley or Greg?  It shows voice and characterization.  You know, kinda how you used the word “like” 8 times when introducing yourself on the first day.

18. Why did Heart of Darkness have to be so upsetting?  It just got over a tough breakup…no wait, that was you.

19. Do you think Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley would’ve let me join their squad?  Nope.  

21. What the hell kind of name is Nick Bottom?  Well, seeing as how he gets turned into an ass, Shakespeare dumbed it down for you…apparently not enough though.

22. Why didn’t Curley’s wife get a name in Of Mice and Men? My best guess is because she had lady parts, but I don’t know for sure.  Setting.  The men didn’t seem to have a lot of respect for women back then and–really, I have to explain this?

23. How did nobody notice an actual human corpse dropping from the sky in Lord of the Flies?  They’re boys, it was a giant island, and you’re calling one of the classics a plot hole?

24. Can we all just agree that Daisy and Tom Buchanan were made for each other?

Ohhh!  Look at you pretending you read the book when in actuality you just watched the movie because you love Leo.

25. Is Boo Radley single? Asking for a friend.

Get out of my room.

Short story advice and other Durham updates

As you’re working on your short story, remember to start as close to the conflict as possible.  Within a half-page at the max.  Get rid of the excess dialogue.  Words in a short story need to be impeccable.  If it doesn’t relate to the story’s point, get rid of it.  Once we finish drafts, we’ll do lots of chopping.

5 games of pickleball against my ol’ buddy Paul today.  I lost the first 15-6, then won the next four: 15-6, 17-15, 15-0, and 15-12.  There was almost a fight at the pool nearby.  Old people.  Drunk old people mostly.  But it got heated pretty quickly, both women over the age of 60.  How great would that have been?  I know we’re not supposed to ever cheer for violence, especially with all that’s going on, but 2 old ladies?  C’mon, that would’ve been hilarious and you know it.  Someone would’ve been tossed in the pool.  I learned some things about the people in my community today.

I’m going to call my dad tonight about all this Vietnam letter stuff.  He wants me to write a book or at least an article/essay about it, but I have an idea that’s going to bump him from his comfort zone (as you’re seeing, I’m good at that).  He mentioned that he felt bad for not writing his brother.  Well, I’m going to ask him to finally write those letters.  How raw would that be?  It’s not going to be an easy phone call to make.  I messaged with my sister earlier today and she started crying about it too.  (I promise that’s not my main goal in life!)

We talked about doing more research on Willy though.  Maybe I could find someone who fought with him.  I could call my aunt and see if she was at the funeral.  I should call her anyway.  We talk maybe once a year.  Gees, my extended family gets along, but we barely talk. Maybe that’s why.  Mom was the glue that held us all together.

Pretty deep for your teacher’s blog, huh?  It’s all in the name of writing I guess.

I’m not ready to make that big change in my book.  In fact, my class even warned about having some grand last-minute change in my head and that I should probably ignore it, or get a second opinion.  So I’ll wait.



Those letters

My dad wants to see if I can do something with those Vietnam letters.  He sent me a letter of his own reflecting on them.  Then he concluded with a list of possible titles for whatever I make of them.  The titles were actually very good.  He’s a good writer, but he doesn’t use it for anything other than the occasional correspondence.  Years ago, I found some things he had written to my mother.

Is writing a gene?  Is it dependent on how much we read growing up?  Obviously it matters how often we exercise our writing muscles, but what makes one student sound like an author, while others don’t know how to write a basic sentence with a subject and a verb?  Is it because parents did or didn’t read to that child growing up?

I guess it’s possibly connected to the 7 types of intelligence.  Just like music, some can do it, some can’t.  I forgot what those 7 types are.  I’ll look’em up.  I think humor is one actually.  Math is another.  Some of us have our deficiencies, but how much do those matter?  I can’t dance, but that was less harmful than not being able to do math well enough to get through school.  I used to have a pretty good musical aptitude, but I never had much instruction other than 5-8th grade band (trumpet, 1st chair).  Oh yeah, recorder in 3rd grade.  I did that well, but who cares?  We didn’t have a piano at our house.  It would’ve never fit.  I sometimes wonder how well I could’ve played.  I used to play my trumpet songs on the piano because I just adjusted the notes.  Maybe when I’m older and retired.  60-something, I’m sure my fingers will be in “great” shape.

Well, if you survived that paragraph I guess it’s only fair to remind you that next week at this time I’ll be grading blogs. Grading isn’t the write word really.  Checking?  Making sure you’re writing twice a week, 250 words each.  It used to be a lot more.  I still feel like this class is struggling to get going, but that’s just because we’re first hour.

Greeting cards are almost $6 each on average.  That’s ridiculous, right?  To find “just the right words” for someone you care deeply for?  Write them yourself.  Or at least write something inside the card if they mean enough to you.  I’ve never read a pre-written card and thought, “Wow, it’s like they had me in mind.”  All it shows is that someone stood in that stupid aisle going through cards while mumbling, “‘scuse me,” every so often because a lady with a cart and a screaming kid came through too.  And $6?  Give me $6 instead of a card–ha!

Back to the letters.  Maybe I write back to them.  Maybe I have members of my family write back to them.  Maybe I have you all write back to them?  I don’t know yet.  I need to compost it a bit.

U2 is canceled and I’m okay with that

Why amd I okay with it? Because 2 friends who said they were going with me both bailed.  I was stuck with an extra $85 ticket. So instead of seeing U2 for $170, we’ll call it a no harm, so foul situation.  I wanted to see Beck though too.  Instead, I’ll stay home and watch Ohio State football against Army.  So I’m okay.  That, and I didn’t feel like venturing down there on Metrolink or leaving my car anywhere.  I understand the situation.

So get this.  I just wrote my 1-page synopsis for my book and realized I need to tweak something.  It’s not a HUGE change that’ll make me have to rewrite a bunch, but it certainly makes more sense.  In a novel, when you can eliminate minor characters, it’s important to do so.  Some of them can kill two birds with one stone.  In this case, three (though no one is killed, of course).

I’ll probably wait until I get feedback from that editor, and then double-check with him on his opinion of my change, and then carry it out.  It’s like rewriting history.  Think of a movie you’ve seen a hundred times.  Now imagine it with a different ending.  Weird, right?


Query Letter revision

(I left the final paragraph the same, but changed these, including the type no one pointed out!  (Where did that apostrophe come from?))

In a rural high school, Mark’s choices for a girlfriend are limited, but when one girl takes an extreme interest, another follows, leading to more than his inexperienced heart can handle.
In Stalking Mark, a 58,000-word stand-alone YA novel, Mark Lender is openly desired by the craziest girl in school to the point that the rest of his peers take notice. This includes attention, and eventually his first taste of romantic affection, from the school’s all-state flame-throwing softball pitcher who dwarfs Mark not just in height, but also sexual experience. Aside from still battling the antics of a girl who is obsessed with him, the guilt of Mark’s potential loss of innocence weighs even heavier as he worries what his deceased mother must think. The novel explores the multiple conflicts presented by the social pressures of high school, as well as the surprises that love brings to a newcomer in the dating game.
I got some positive feedback and suggestions from the online course I do.  I think/hope they were being honest.  There’s nothing worse than thinking your stuff is great because of false feedback (remember that).
Today was my wife’s birthday.  We didn’t do a lot.  I made dinner, bought her some cookie dough (she prefers that over cake), and stuck some candles in in.  I got her the new Iron & Wine CD, a book, and of course the trip to Vegas to see Brittney Spears in late October.  She’s handling this birthday a lot better than the last one (this one isn’t as “big”).
I get to golf tomorrow.  I hope I don’t suck off the tee.  Putting poorly is okay because at least you don’t lose your ball.  It’ll be a long 18 holes starting after school.
I avoided that lady at open mic last night.  She was prowling around, but I stayed hidden in the “pros only” part of the showroom.  Then I went on right before her and buried her.  I left before she was off stage.  The similarities to her, and the girl from high school who I based the above book on are pretty weird.  Neither of them were “right” completely.  A lil’ off.  I tried to be nice, but it turns out she’s annoying everyone there.  She spills personal details about herself, interrupts, and wines…and ignores personal space.  If it’s a student, I can handle it, but an adult while I’m “working” my other job, I’d rather just avoid.  OK, I sound mean here.  Sorry, just trust me, I’m not being mean.
I’ll just write about something else.
I’ve got a fun activity for Friday.  You’ll get a chance to show some mad skills skillz. It usually falls short with my sophomores, but you’ll enjoy it.  And as always, coffee for perfect attendance for the week!

One time…

My mom was pretty calm most of the time, but there are a few times I remember her getting all riled up.  I think all moms do occasionally.

One time when I was 7, they cut a beautiful giant tree down near the ballfields close to our house.  She sprinted across the field and chewed the guys out (as if they weren’t just hired and it was their personal choice?).

One time someone badmouthed my dad while he was coaching (he was a head basketball coach) and she shut him up pretty quickly when she sternly reminded him that Coach’s kids were right in front of him.

She took karate with me 18 months before she died.  Only for a couple months, but it was neat to see her do something I did.

When she was pregnant with my brother and I was 3, we played tackle football in the backyard.

She could pick up a wasp in the car by its wings and throw it out through the window.

I can only wonder what improvements she would’ve continued to make.  My parents got married in 1969 and Mom only worked years here and there because Dad was a teacher (man, we were poor).  She sold cosmetics and then did some secretary work before she got sick.  She was just starting to realize her potential as a person.  She was starting to learn.  She would’ve loved the internet and all the technology, but it would’ve taken her awhile to get the hang of it.  I see my friends’ mothers on Facebook with cheesy posts and incorrect articles, and pictures of grandkids.  I’m not jealous.  I’m years past jealousy.  I’m just curious.  What would she have thought of my wife?  One time for Christmas, I wrote Beth a few pages about what she and my mother would’ve done to spend a day together if she was still alive.  It was obviously emotional to write.

2 summers ago I wrote a 38,000 YA book based on the 2 years she was sick.  It wasn’t a good book, but I felt better even though I was just about crying on the keyboard every other day.  I think it helped me with whatever. Every so often I let myself just feel sad or mourn. I don’t know what it’s called really.


Stupid Sports

Well, my Buckeyes got rolled last night.  Now, do I really want to spend $500 driving up to Nebraska to see them next month with my nephew?  Sure, it would be a good time, but gees.  They just sucked last night.  And last week for the most part.  They’re good 1 out of every 8 quarters, kinda like my Pac-Man game back in the day.

I had a bunch of things to do today, and now I can’t remember them.  Pickleball match obviously.  I should write my synopsis.  My wife’s birthday is Wednesday, so I could prep a little more for that, although the big gift is taking her to Vegas next month.  I need to hit a bucket of balls because I might get to golf at Old Hickory Thursday afternoon.

Tomorrow’s lesson is kinda fun.  We gotta talk character and I’ve got some great tools for that that I found last year.

Wow, as I type this, my old buddy is talking trash on pickleball.  Scheduled to play at 11:00.  Wish me luck.

First Draft of a Query Letter

A query letter is what you send out to editors/agents to get your book noticed.  It’s like a cover letter for a job.  You also have to write a 1-page synopsis of your book which serves like a resume (I haven’t done that part yet).  They take weeks/months to perfect, so this is just a first draft.  I’m going to send it to for feedback (I think that’s the address).  So, if you were an agent, would you be sold on this?  : )

Dear Ms. Bookend,

Mark Lender thinks he’s ready for his first relationship, but the two girls in his small town high school who take interest are well beyond what he can handle.

In Stalking Mark, a 58,000-word stand-alone YA novel, I pursue the struggles of 17-year-old Mark Lender, who is openly desired by the craziest girl in school to the point that the rest of his peers take notice. This includes attention, and eventually his first taste of affection, from the school’s all-state flame-throwing softball pitcher who dwarf’s Mark not just in height, but also sexual experience. The guilt of Mark’s potential loss of innocence weighs on him even heavier while he worries what his deceased mother must think. The novel explores the multiple conflicts presented by the social pressures of high school, as well as the surprises that love brings to a newcomer in the dating game.

I have previously self-published three books, including one nonfiction titled Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage in 2012 which has sold over 2,200 copies via my career of 17 years in stand-up comedy. Along with occasional performances, I am currently in my seventh year of teaching high school language arts. Attached you will find a one-page synopsis.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.



Rob Durham