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Amazing Year: Day 3

11 Mar

My good friends Mike, Bob, and I, among other special guest stars, loved to aimlessly drive around the not-so-mean streets of the northern Buffalo suburbs doing what we called “Rediscovering Western New York.” It actually amazed us how we were always able to find new residential pockets, or obscure places in an area we called home for most of our life.

I’ve been in Taiwan for nearly six years, and I can honestly say I have yet to truly discover it in the first place. But at least in my immediate surroundings of Linkou, New Taipei City, I thought it was an appropriate time to whip out the new camera and hop on one of Taiwan’s friendly-neighborhood bicycles and “rediscover” my borrowed home.

On the writing front, I came up with a new story about a ghost writer and started etching out its core ‘plot.’ I’m beginning to gravitate towards more simpler, cliched topics in the hopes of adding my own take on what has been done numerous times before. It’s exciting to get started with short fiction. I’ve learned my lesson from picture books, and hopefully it won’t take 10 years to get published. Regardless, if I enjoy writing every day then it’s worth it!


Amazing Year: Day 2

10 Mar

I’ve just turned 37, and after finally crawling into bed at 1:30 a.m. after finishing important school work, what was in store for the weekend?


Back to work. Yep. Well…. not exactly. Because today was SPORTS DAY! Specifically, my school’s first ever American-esque field day. It was awesome! It takes a village, and our teachers, staff, PTA, and students really brought their competitive and youthful spirits to the games. We all had a blast watching them compete in water balloon toss, basketball, soccer, and a variety of other oddball challenges.


After “work,” my wife Jaewon and I continued my annual birthday Taiwan tradition by feeding our faces at Friday’s (never stop a dude from enjoying his Sesame Jack Chicken Strips) followed by book buying at Eslite.


I’ve been stocking up scores of books as of late so I was doubtful I would find any to fit my fancy, but lo and behold one from my favorite author (#NeilGaiman) I’ve been wanting for some time made itself known and was quickly purchased. Now if I can only read the other 100 books waiting in line. 🙂


Speaking of reading, I concluded all of the issues intended for DC Comic’s Rebirth Deathstroke Volume 5, and boy were they awful! Christopher Priest is praised for his work on Black Panther, but his run on Deathstroke is a stroke of stupidity (in my opinion, I was raised to never disrespect a priest). I’m sure many like it, but I just can’t get into the myriad of characters, all of which we are not permitted to care for or even have an idea of their true desire in life. Having finished issue 29, I will bid farewell to my regular reading of Deathstroke.

Amazing Year: Day 1

9 Mar

Today was the 37th time I became one year older, and thanks to caring students and colleagues going into work as an old man proved to be worth every minute!

Multiple rooms of students broke out in song, many a cake were sliced for all to enjoy, thoughtful gifts were opened, and even teenagers typically spare on compliments wrote endearing messages.

At the end of the normal work day, I felt it had went well and I truly felt appreciated and thankful that I could share my birthday with so many that I cherish and respect. Then as I walked into the main office, one of our staff members alerted me that a parent had stop by and demanded a meeting. “Oh well, that’s the end of my birthday,” I thought as I prepared to encounter the possibly irate parent, and then… “Happy Birthday….” Like clowns out of a tiny car, teachers and staff poured out with a special cake. Thank you to everyone for a great day!


But then… another present unwrapped itself as I remained at school untill 9:00 p.m. with dozens of students as we viciously prepared for our upcoming World Scholar’s Cup tournament. Truly the most fun I’ve had as an educator is when I’m able to work with students in cocurricular clubs and see their passion for learning while they improve their skills.

While on paper it was a typical day in the life of a teaching / coaching Principal…. but for this 37-year-old it was AMAZING!


The Amazing Year Prelude

8 Mar

“There is no such thing as a ‘year.’ Only 365 individual days.”

I swore to always be a Toys’R’Us kid frolicking in Neverland, yet Father Time has been aggressively chipping away at my youthful spirit. Now on the verge of turning 37, I’m grateful for having a loving wife, family, and friends and for all intensive purposes a blessed life, yet a sludgy numbness has begun to encase me. Curiosity only glimmers once in a great while. I feel a void of zestful eagerness in my life.  I am proud of finally publishing one of my children’s stories, and I continue to write and revise for various mediums… but I just know that I can do better, so thankfully someone showed me how…

“In one year, you get 365 chances to improve. There is no excuse for not kicking butt each and every year!”

To chronicle the last year of her 30s, my friend Claire remarkably posted a photo for each day of her 39th year. I must say that it was truly astonishing to see how Claire embraced her husband Neal, family, friends, and truly lived each day to the fullest. It’s also important to know that she had an extremely positive and uplifting year both personally and professionally. Is this a coincidence? No way, Jose (or whoever you are). She was thankful, upbeat, grateful, persistent, and consistent. These are surely ingredients for success.  Thank you Claire for setting such an awesome example in living.

“For a dream to come to true, you must tackle a nightmare of a challenge EACH and EVERY day.”

Now I aim to the do same. I am a published author, yet I still don’t call myself a writer. Why? Because I haven’t made it a consistent routine. Until this happens, there will always be a void in my life. In addition, the more I push myself to live each day to the fullest and stay consistent with updating and sharing with the world (or Jose, you, and whoever else reads this), then I too will be able to treat myself to an AMAZING YEAR of becoming a happy writer and hopefully can inspire you as Claire inspired me!

“Years come and go quickly when you are in your thirties. Probably because we forget to treat each day as one lifetime.”

Ballet & Beatrix Potter: Framing Your Picture Book

3 Jan

“Is this story meant to be told as a picture book?” is a dreaded question that will ultimately be asked of both novice and experienced picture book writers. The picture book medium is challenging, especially for writers who do not illustrate, because there needs to be just enough action on each page with enough to entice a page turn. If the action in your story stands still there’s no incentive for a reader to want to see what comes next and the setting and actions become monotonously repetitive. On the other hand, if your protagonist is on an adventure through 101 exotic locales, then it will difficult for you to capture it all with 12 to 30 images.

The trick to fitting your story into the picture book format is framing. This technique is beneficial for both writers, artists, and writer/artists. It’s healthy to imagine every second of your story, but now think about what screenshots are essential to telling your story.

Thumbnail these ‘frames’ into a working storyboard. Now let the writer take over and fill in what the pictures don’t say. If you’re the writer, be happy with simply your words and allow the illustrator to re-envision the images. If you’re the writer and illustrator, you’ve just completed a first draft.

You may be thinking, “that’s easier said then done.” True. For inspiration, I recommend scouring Kathy Temean’s brilliantly helpful Illustrator Saturday posts on her Writing & Illustrating blog. Often the illustrator’s will share storyboards and allow you to see the process in creating the story from start to finish.

However, perhaps you are drawn back to the title of this post. “Hey dude, you mentioned ballet and Beatrix Potter. What happened?” This brings us to the meat (or tofu if you are prefer veggies) of the meal. Over the past few years I have relished watching my talented wife Jaewon embrace ballet. We’ve seen several live performances and documentaries and I’ve come to the conclusion that ballet is much like a picture book. The dancers while graceful, move in a frenzy on the stage, but they all remain in one ‘frame’ or scene, with each scene standing apart from the others yet exists in a narrative of sorts.

The ideal example is the 1971 film Tales of Beatrix Potter which takes the classic ballet based on Potter’s animal filled stories off of the stage and into the countryside. It is as if a picture book is brought to life on the screen. Carefully watch how the director, Reginald Mills, frames each scene. There are no transitions, simply abrupt changes from from scene to the scene. Typically the camera will stay still allowing the only movement to be performed by the costumed dancers. Each frame also effectively arranges the character in left to right direction to further promote narrative direction throughout the film. Writer’s do not need to be as concerned with angles as illustrators, yet it’s always more effective if the writer can visualize the full picture.

While you are eating breakfast, sketching a story, or laying in bed, put on this wonderful film and you will have been not only treated to a mimed interpretation of Potter’s world and beautiful ballet but you would have taken a class on framing!

Road to 500

17 Jun

As a child I knew from the moment I buckled into Darien Lake’s “Viper” that I was born to ride. I spent my childhood playing Disney’s Coaster DOS game, drawing over 300 coasters during recess, and leafing through issues of Inside Track magazine. Later in life the passion stuck as worked the rides as an employee of Martin’s Fantasy Island, and Cedar Point and diminished my college GPA by staying up all night designing theme parks in Roller Coaster Tycoon. When I was younger I dreamt of the day I would ride my 100th roller coaster, and while I picture traveling the world  to accomplish this feat, I never imagined it would come to this… my 500th coaster.

The time has come for “500 Rides of Summer.” I could have knocked off a few extra credits in Japan and Taiwan, but I was holding out for that special ride, one worthy of 500. While America offered a plethora of options to choose from, ultimately I chose a park that exudes ‘Americana,’ and represents what an amusement park should be. Consequently, Knoebel’s, in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, with probably the best long-standing reputation of operating a family-friendly park with appropriate pricing and dedication towards renewing, rescuing, and restoring classic rides and attractions, will be the site for my 500th coaster.


In 2004, I was fortunate enough to visit Knoebel’s , so I scooped up coaster credits on the late “Whirlwind” and “High Speed Thrill Coaster,” in addition to the currently operating “Phoenix” and “Twister,” which leaves me with four possible credits at Knoebel’s.


Black Diamond: indoor wooden/steel Philadelphia Toboggan Coaster creation

We’ll start with “Black Diamond” for #498, as it’s a nostalgic ride and one rescued from Dinosaur Beach, a defunct boardwalk in New Jersey.


Impulse: 2015 Zierer’s vertical lift looper

For #499, “Impulse” fits in well as it’s a cutting edge creation at the tip of innovation.


Flying Turns: a 2013 in-house built wooden bobsled

But for the epic #500, I could think of no better (Dollywood’s “Lightning Rod” was a close second) choice than the one-of-a-kind wooden bobsled coaster “Flying Turns.” It’s also significant because it took years of planning, frustration, and investment to finally produce this ‘iconic whirlwind of fun,’ which I rather arrogantly (please excuse the pride) associate with reading #500.


Kozmo’s Kurves: 2009 Miler family coaster

Then the new era begins as all life should with childhood innocence as I take a joyful romp on “Kozmo’s Kurves,” permitting the friendly staff allows this 6′ foot 1 dangly guy to ride.

Thank you to Knoebel’s for hosting my special moment, and I look forward sharing some snapshots and perhaps some video, if Mr. GoPro and I may ride together, of the #500 ride and our overall park visit.

For perspective’s sake, there are dozens of coasterers who have ridden far more than 500 coasters, and they should be celebrated. My 500th ride is not mean to serve as a bragging right but rather a testament to the passion our coastering community has for seeking out the next best thrill. Every single new ride should be commemorated and celebrated. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to #1,000, but I’m happy to know that I got here, and I’ll never stop riding!


Coastering in Hokkaido, Japan at Rusutsu Resort. #GoGoSneaker

Motivation Station

14 Jun


Everything we need to succeed is within; sometimes we rely a greater source to call forth these special powers and abilities. Consequently, say こんにいちは (konnichiwa) to my Motivation Station where a certain Mr. Miyagi sternly captains a squadron of fearless 達磨 (daruma). While Miyagi harks back to my childhood of looking up to the 空手 (karate) and盆栽(bonsai) 先生 (sensei), the daruma are a reminder of my cultural awakening in 日本 (Japan), and the variety of colors symbolize the innocence of my imagination. Each daruma represents a picture book I will be submitting to prospective agents and publishers. Once I begin the quest, as the tradition insists, I must color in one eye. Then when this leg of the journey is complete with an acceptance letter I may color in the second eye.

My motivational militia is the final sight my eyes spy before submitting to the night in hopes the  (baku) will munch away my nightmares. It’s also the second sight I gaze upon (one must always cherish his/her spouse first) before embarking on another day. Sure, to some these are merely five little toys, but to me they are a beautiful reminder of a dream deferred and a reality that awaits.

What is your Motivation Station?

Review: Athena the Brain {Goddess Girls Book 1}

19 Mar



Athena the Brain, a 2010 chapter book, attempts to transport the immortal characters of Greek mythology into the context of modern adolescent high school culture. While such a ‘mashup’ has become commonplace in literature, the premise is done with wit and caution. Though this book ultimately fails because it relies too heavily on its ingenious gimmicks. Think of it as The Flintstones with all of the household accessories in the forms of prehistoric creatures, but without the heart and soul of its characters. The issue stems with the choice of medium as the characters often behave like those in Young Adult (ages 8-12) but the story is crammed into the confines of a chapter book (ages 4-8). This renders it an accessible and enjoyable read for middle and high schoolers reading below grade level. With Athena the Brain, the first in the Goddess Girls series, there is room to grow but since each book is from the point of view of one of Mount Olympus Academy’s students, it’s doubtful that each character will enjoy the development they deserve.

Authors Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams show promise in their ‘ideas,’ they just need to choose the right format in which to flush out their characters. Hopefully they are able to pitch this as a series, as it would work well on a network such as the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon.

This book earns *** for its ‘special effects,’ but due to a lack of relating to the inner struggles of the eponymous Athena it’s difficult to bolt through the pages with care or excitement.

Let the Idea Parade Begin! PiBoIdMo 2015

1 Nov



WE DID IT! PiBoIdMo 2014

3 Dec

Dear Imaginators,

Another November, another 30+ picture book ideas! Congratulations to everyone who participated in any shape or form. This year for marked the third year in a row I was able to enjoy it with my 9th grade honors students. Special thanks to Tara Lazar, all of the motivating guest posters, and of course all of the participants. I would love to say “until next year,” but it’s time to focus on churning those ideas into immortal manuscripts. Happy writing everyone!

Creatively pumped,