Friday, March 23, 2012

March Madness, alien style

In honor of March Madness, I thought I'd share info about another popular contact sport--well, popular in other parts of the galaxy, anyway.  To learn about one of the greatest matches ever, read Froonga Planet.

Excerpts from The Encyclopedia of Everything Else: Lob-lock

Lob-lock is a popular interplanetary sport with ancient origins.  It is believed to have evolved from the practice of prehistoric male Scwozzworts, who asserted their dominance by throwing large rocks and beating the gruzbunkles out of their rivals with heavy sticks.

Early lob-lock courts have been discovered in the ancient province of Snoofoo on the Scwozzwort homeworld, and archaeological evidence suggests that part of the game involved throwing one's opponent off of a high tower (after knocking him senseless) while shouting vicious insults.

Some interplanetary scholars doubt the authenticity of these findings, but lob-lock has certainly become more civilized in these modern times, and  technology has been incorporated into every facet of the game.  

Lob-lock has been called "the culmination of intergalactic civilization" and has even been used to settle territorial disputes in some sectors, eliminating the need for messy wars.  

Lob-lock involves the use of the following items:

1.  The bzzt-ball--originally believed to have just been a large round rock, the modern bzzt-ball has a series of spiny energy barbs protruding all around; it is used to deliver an immobilizing charge to one's opponent; the ball is lobbed, and the opponent is locked.  It is capable of self-propulsion and re-calibration, as well as random targeting.

2.  The whomp-sting stick: this is a long  metal rod with a heavy weight at one end and a stinging energy barb at the other, which delivers an immobilizing charge similar in strength to that of the bzzt-ball..  

3.  Thruster belts--modern lob-lock is played in zero gravity, and players must wear these devices to maneuver around the court.

4.  The goal units consist of floating platforms that remain in a fixed position at opposite ends of the court.  Each goal has an insult pad; players who have succeeded in stunning their opponents must fly to the platform, place a tentacle (or claw, or pseudopod, or whatever) on the pad and shout the most creative insult possible.  Deluxe goals are equipped with translator boxes that interpret insults during interplanetary matches.

Interplanetary Lob-lock League Rules:
The game can be played one-on-one or in teams of two; certain variances to this rule may exist on some worlds (see Hoofonoggle Rules).

Lob-lock courts:  These may vary in size, and can be anything from a large public anti-gravity arena to a cargo hold on a space ship, provided there is sufficient room to maneuver.

The game begins with an insult.  Each side will insult the other, and the goal computer will score each one.  The player or team with the winning insult begins on offense.

The offensive player will hurl the bzzt-ball at his rival in an attempt to stun him.  If he is successful, he must then violently fling the rigid opponent against the wall, and then speed to the opposing goal, touch the pad, and shout an insult before the stunned opponent recovers.  The computer will automatically rate the quality of the insult and announce a point total.

If an offensive player throws the bzzt-ball and misses, the ball will then re-calibrate and target the thrower, who must either dodge or swat it away with the heavy end of the whomp-sting stick.  He may also use the energy barb to attempt to stun his opponent.  If an offensive player is stunned by a returning bzzt-ball, the opponent may then fling him against the wall and attempt to score insult points.

There is a brief intermission halfway through the game to allow for rest, during which time gravity is re-engaged so that body fluids and/or parts can be more easily cleared from the court.

The game normally ends at the expiration of regulation time (this can vary from planet to planet--some matches have been known to last for days).  The highest point total wins, except in cases where all players become completely incapacitated--this is resolved by awarding the victory to the team or player with the least number of life-threatening injuries.

Hoofonoggle Rules:

The standard rules have been ratified by all participating worlds within the Interplanetary Lob-Lock League with one exception:  Games played on the Hoofonoggle home world have two additional rules:
1. The winners get to eat the losers.
2.  Hoofonoggles cheat.

Illustration by Kevan J. Atteberry in Froonga Planet (2008 Henry Holt and Company)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Freewriting exercises to kill writer's block

Writer's block is the scourge of writing success.  Some professionals recommend "freewriting" when this happens--just start writing random stuff until an idea pops out.

Occasionally when I find myself blocked, I play a game with my kids.  I ask for a word or phrase, and then I have two minutes to crank out as much stuff as possible from that word or phrase. Here are some of my more noble efforts--not Newbery award winners by any means, but there's potential!

Word cue: The chimps danced 
The chimps danced along the tops of the trees.  All the bananas in the world could not have made them any happier than at this moment.  Oogoo had won the challenge, and Geenah would no longer be their leader.  Now everyone would have a chance at the juiciest termites, not just the elders.

Geenah slumped on the forest floor.  How could he have lost?  And what was this rock, paper, scissors thing, anyway?

Word cue: The trumpet section fell over (this is from my youngest son, who is a band geek like me)
The trumpet section fell over during the halftime show.  At least they had fallen over backwards instead of face-first, which would have smashed their horns and driven their mouthpieces through their teeth and into their brains.  

The audience applauded, believing this was scripted, because they did it with such precision.  But no sound came from their instruments as they lay on the grass, with spit leaking onto their faces from the upturned trumpets.

Next, a hole opened in the middle of the field beneath the tuba players, and quickly closed up, leaving only the fiberglass bells of their instruments in a neat row across the fifty-yard line, resembling the ventilation tubes you might see on old navy ships.

Now the crowd began to worry.  What if only the clarinets are left?

Word cue: amok
Amok, amok, amok, amokamokamokamokamok.
Playing Godzilla was a lot more fun than he’d ever dreamed.  The people who ran screaming to avoid the crushing feet of the giant hamster likely disagreed with him.  But what did they expect?  Dr. Noongalee’s Instant Growth formula didn’t say anything on the label about also growing brains and a sense of responsibility.  Little did Mr. Fuzzball suspect, however, just how difficult the next few days would be.  In fact, he would probably live to regret making a snack out of the poor doctor.

This is a great game to get the creative gears turning--remember, there's a time limit--two minutes--and once you've typed it, move on to the next one.  The two-minute limit gives you no time to be judgmental about your work--not to mention it helps you learn to type fast!  Later you can go over them and see if you have any great story ideas in there. 

It works for me, to one degree or another--doesn't always help with the story I'm currently working on, but gives me fodder for future stories and helps me learn to be creative on demand.   I keep all of these nuggets on file, no matter how stupid they may be.   I think the giant hamster story has some potential, and I've since sketched a few chapters from this intro.  

So, my fellow writers--what do YOU do when you're blocked? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Random Silliness: Why we don't have symmetrical faces

Here's my irresistibly handsome mug, my standard publicity photo.  

One of the things that makes us beautiful and unique is the asymmetry of our faces.  Don't believe it?  Go to and upload a headshot of yourself.  This is the only decent headshot I have, and because I'm not directly facing the camera, the program had a little trouble.  I recommend you use a straight-up headshot if possible, or it might look like this:
From the looks of the above picture, Mrs. Fields has not been feeding me enough.  Eww!
Then again, I kind of like this one:

Kinda makes me want to go to the beach and kick sand in Schwarzenegger's face.  Ahhnuld, you  vimpy little girly-man!

Go to and have some fun with it!  There's a link to donate to the Red Cross on there, also--but verify before you click!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Froonga Planet & St. Patrick's Day

Frazz and Grunfloz return to Earth in this wild sequel to Lunchbox and the Aliens. It's a few days until Christmas, and while his parents are away at a convention, Nate and his basset hound, Lunchbox, have to assist the aliens in stopping a hostile invasion. But first they have to survive the Mill Ferron Fruitcake Festival and Great-Aunt Nelly's entry in the bake-off...

What the reviewers have said:

"Nothing says 'Christmas' like an alien-infested fruitcake that sucks the flavor out of everything it touches..." --School Library Journal

" silly and fun to read as the first..." --Kirkus Reviews.

We only have a few autographed hardcovers left in stock--order today!

By the way, happy St. Patrick's Day!
(Who says I can't plug a Christmas book today?)

Speaking of St. Patrick's day and spring break, many readers have asked me if I'm planning another Lunchbox book.  The answer is, well, yes and no.  Yes, I'm halfway through a new story that involves Lunchbox, Nate, the aliens, and spring break.  No, I don't know when or if it will be published--I have to finish it first!  I will, however, be including little tidbits of information in this blog about the Scwozzwort universe from time to time, in a feature called Excerpts from the Encyclopedia of Everything Else.  Readers of Lunchbox and the Aliens will recognize that title as one of the many sources of information dumped into Lunchbox's brain during his first encounter with the aliens.

I'm also working on two new books.  One involves a middle school chess club, cows, and time travel; the other is about little creatures from another dimension who travel to our world in search of marshmallows.  I hope to finish at least one of them before the year is out!  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Autographed copies of my books!

Greetings, Lunchbox fans!
One of the biggest thrills of my life was the publication of my first book, matched only by the publication of my second book.  Since its original hardcover release in 2006, Lunchbox and the Aliens has been featured in the Scholastic Book Fairs/Book Clubs, popped up in a lot of school and public libraries, and made thousands and thousands of kids snort and giggle and shoot root beer from their noses (hint: use caution when drinking root beer while reading this book--I can't be held responsible for the mess!).

A brief synopsis for the uninitiated:

Lunchbox is an ordinary basset hound until he's abducted by a pair of crazy aliens and accidentally made intelligent.  With his new knowledge, he's sent back to Earth to build a machine to make alien food (known as froonga) from one of the planet's most abundant resources: garbage.

Things get complicated when Lunchbox involves Nate, his 11-year old owner.  Not only do they end up having to deal with a crooked politician, an evil garbage man, and weird alien technology, but the fate of the world may rest on whether or not Lunchbox can ever learn to catch a Frisbee!

To buy hardcover copies (autographed by yours truly) of Lunchbox and the Aliens and its sequel, Froonga Planet, follow this link.  We only have a few hardcovers left in stock, so don't wait!
You can also purchase regular, unsigned copies at and Barnes and Noble.  Froonga Planet is also available for Nook and Kindle!

Stay tuned for more silliness!