Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cider and Leprechauns

If nothing else comes from doing this All Things Irish thing, I will now know how to spell Leprechaun. Are you a fan of information overload? I am. I figure the brain can handle it, so I'm barreling on. If you've just stumbled upon--or Stumbledupon--I Must Be Off!, you might be asking yourself the question "_______, why has Christopher suddenly decided to learn All Things Irish?" Good question, _______. Apart from the logical response "It's easier than, say, All Things Russian, right?" it's because I've sort of relocated there and I don't want to look stupid.

"So you'd rather come across as a know-it-all?"

"I'm fine with that."

"Fair enough."

"No, of course I'm not fine with that. I'm joking. I'll introduce gaps into my knowledge so that I appear likable and endearingly humble."

"How much do you know so far?"

"Oh, loads. I know the Irish potato isn't Irish, that Guinness is sort of Irish but you could debate this till you fall off your barstool, that Oscar Wilde was part of the Anglo-Irish upper class in Dublin (so also a hybrid of sorts), and the tune to "Oh Danny Boy" is Irish but the words are definitely not. Like I said: loads."

"That's it?"

"What part of loads don't you understand?"

"Do you know how old the country is?"

"Well . . ."

"Do you know who the first king was?"

"They had kings?"

"Do you know who became a Saoi in 1997?"

"Seamus Heaney."

"You just Googled that."

"Who are you? And get off my blog."

So, today I've decided to tackle the monumental topics of cider and Leprechauns. Did you know there's a Leprechaun museum in Dublin? I actually did know this (in marked contrast to the aforementioned Seamus Heaney fact). I haven't been to the Leprechaun museum yet, but I've walked by it a couple times. Over New Year's I'm going to give it a whirl, but for now I'll have to settle for a wee bit of Internet research.

The Leprechaun

I couldn't find the source of this picture. If it's yours, please tell me!
The status of my knowledge prior to research:

Leprechauns are short fairies popularized by a sugary breakfast cereal. I think most cultures have these little fellows. They usually live in the woods, have beards and jump around a lot in their green coats and uncomfortable-looking shoes, shouting "They're magically delicious!" (The magic is the sugar.) They also grant wishes if they're caught, and they keep a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. That's it. That's all I've got. Wait. I'm going to go out on a rainbow and say Leprechauns are indeed Irish.

The status of my knowledge subsequent to a thorough Googling:

In a word, overwhelming. To understand what a leprechaun is, one has to dig deep. One fact leads to another fact that opens up into another topic and another and another. I'm going to try to condense everything I've just read into a few sentences (a wildly stupid thing to do, I know).

One of the ancient peoples of this amazing island was the Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernaturally gifted folk decended from a fellow named Nemed who landed "in dark clouds" in the mountains of Connacht (western Ireland). They were later conquered by the Milesians (from the Iberian peninsula, so why don't the Irish look Spanish?) and driven underground. Literally. Underground. They--the aos sí--were (or became) ghostlike creatures who inhabited the numerous earthen mounds that still dot Ireland today. The 3-foot Leprechaun is first mentioned as a fairy among the magical Tuatha Dé Danann. And so is the Banshee, a female harbinger of death who lent my grandmother the idiom "to scream like a Banshee." Actually my grandmother thought she heard real Banshees--but that's another story.

Although the modern look of the Leprechaun puts him in a green coat, much older descriptions dress him in a red coat, red breeches buckled at the knee and gray or black stockings. His coat has seven rows of buttons with seven buttons in each row, and he's got a lot of gold on his coat. He makes shoes, loves to get into mischief, and will indeed grant you three wishes if you catch him. Maybe that's why he switched to a green coat: to blend in better with his sylvan surroundings.


The status of my knowledge prior to research:

My experiential knowledge of cider is "extensive". Dry cider, sweet cider, pear "cider", berry "cider", really bad 3-liter bottles of cider from Aldi, authentic Irish cider, authentic Scottish cider, and so on. Cider is starting to catch on around the world since more and more people are realizing their problem with gluten, so bars in the US are actually starting to offer something other than Angry Orchard. I'm aware of the French cidre and my mother's hot cider occasionally served at Christmas. I'm aware that US-Americans refer to the alcoholic drink as "hard" cider while the rest of the world just calls it cider. I know that Strongbow is drier and crisper--and cheaper--than Magner's, which is the same thing as Bulmer's. All this to say, I feel fairly confident going into the subject of cider.

The status of my knowledge subsequent to research:

Boy was I wrong. Did you know a pint of Bulmer's cider has 5 teaspoons of sugar in it? And that this is more sugar than in a pint of lager? No wonder you get drunk really fast on cider. Did you know that cider is produced on almost every continent? I'd be surprised if there were apple trees in the Antarctic, but with global warming who knows?

Although cider has probably been produced in Ireland for more than 2000 years, there is no written record of this until around the 12th century. So cider was nothing new when it came to Ireland. That's for sure.

The best thing about my research into cider is that I've learned a new word: to scrat, which means to grind down. I'm definitely going to use this beautiful new word, as in "Hey, come on. You're scratting my last nerve." or "Look at him how he's scratting on the dance floor." OK, maybe not that last one.

Have you tried cider lately? Even though it's not really an Irish creation, I connect it with Ireland and England. What comes to mind when you think of Ireland?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Coyotes and Alligators -- Two New Book Reviews

Hey, pretty I Must Be Off! readers!

I have a few stories coming out soon, and I've written these two reviews of two excellent books: one a short story collection by Sheldon Lee Compton, the other a novella by Colin Winnette. Click on the book covers below to access the reviews. Shares and comments and likes and hugs appreciated for the authors. These are both fine fictions.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

All Things Irish -- Oscar Wilde and Irish Potatoes

The potato is very high in potassium. Did you know that? You wouldn't think it, would you? But it's true. One of the many happy by-products of doing this All Things Irish series is all the other stuff I've been learning. Did you know the white potato is a tuber while the sweet potato is a root . . . and not even a potato? The list goes on and on and on, but with each new and exciting fact, I travel farther afield of my original intention: All Things Irish. This time I've chosen Oscar Wilde and Irish potatoes.

The Irish Potato

I'm going to start with the humble Irish potato and get to the arrogant fop later. The name "Irish potato" simply means a white potato as opposed to a sweet "potato" (I'll be putting air-quotation marks around this now for the rest of my life). So Irish potatoes have nothing to do with Ireland. Or do they?

Well, it seems that a white variety of the tuber was cultivated in Londonderry, New Hampshire in 1719 from stock brought over by Scotch-Irish (also Ulster Scots) immigrants. The patata had of course orginated in Peru or Bolivia, was taken to Europe by the Spaniards, made its way to Ireland, which was then under the oppression of England causing lots of Scotch-Irish people to emigrate--and some of these Scotch-Irish folks wound up in Londonderry, New Hampshire. The Irish potato should be called the global potato. Or the proverbial hot potato. As far as I know, only US-Americans refer to the white potato as Irish. When my Irish friends use the term "Irish" potato, they seem to be referring to a method of preparation or potatoes grown in Ireland rather than a specific variety. So bottom line: the Irish potato isn't Irish; but at least it is a potato, which is more than the sweet "potato" can say. 

Here's another fun fact: In a study done in 2012, Ireland wasn't even in the top 25 producers of potatoes in the world. China and India combined grow one-third of the world's supply of spuds. Ireland has moved on to bigger and better crops of a completely different nature to fuel its economy. But this is now. What about then, when for many Irish the potato was just about the only source of food?

The Irish Lumper is the spud at the center of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1850 (which some historians classify as genocide since Ireland, even during the worst years of the famine, was exporting enough grain crops to feed its own population). Historians agree that, like previous crop disasters, the famine could have been prevented. Ports should have been closed, and grain and other harvested crops should have been kept on the island to feed the Irish population. These commodities were exported while the peasants starved. It must be added, Ireland was not the only country hit by the blight. Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Prussia and France all suffered to some extent from the famine; but the Scottish Highlands and Ireland were hit the hardest.

More than a million of the poorest people in Ireland died and an estimate 2 million people from Ireland and the Scottish Highlands combined emigrated. The famine came to an end just a few years before the birth of one of Ireland's most celebrated--and arrogant--wordsmiths. But is he really Irish?

Oscar Wilde

I wish I'd known the following quip from Oscar Wilde when I was putting the final touches on my book Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. It sums up my approach to the story and the characters so well. I said something similar in an interview when asked if there wasn't something quite serious at the core of all the camp and slapstick. "Nothing's serious here except everything," I replied, but of course Oscar Wilde put it better:

"Life is much too important a thing to ever talk seriously about it." - Oscar Wilde

Wilde is perhaps best known for his quips (but of course also for his poetry and his only novel The Picture of Dorian Grey). There are books of Oscar Wilde quotes, web sites dedicated to them and someone quoting them right now trying to amuse someone with borrowed wit. And they are funny or humorously poignant or biting. Some, however, are simply mean: they out Wilde's cringeworthy snobbery--as in this one (sort of ) about travel:

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” - Oscar Wilde

Wilde once said "I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works." Even the most hardcore self-promotion junky these days would steer clear of statements like that. All of this being said, his poetry avoids this arrogant, flippant tone. It's dramatic and serious in contrast to the public figure Wilde cut.

I think what people overlook most about Wilde is that he seems--also in his life (not only in his art)--to have grown out of the quipping fop into a more serious, contemplative person in prison (he spent two years in prison on charges of "gross indecency"). At this point and according to him, his life-long endeavor of self-realization through pleasure became a quest for "the nobility of the soul" through pain and sorrow. 

I'm not sure I'd have liked Wilde if I'd been one of his contemporaries and had social interaction with him. I wonder if I'd have liked his poetry. I'm sure I would have avoided the person. I'm not sure there has ever been a writer more willing to talk about his own talent than Oscar Wilde. But all this is beside the point.So bottom line: there's a lot about Oscar Wilde I'm simply not sure about.

Was Oscar Wilde Irish? Born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde in Dublin, he does certainly sound Irish. But it turns out to be a bit more complex than that. Wilde's family were what was known then as Anglo-Irish, a social upper class of intellectuals and landowners in Ireland of mixed English, Welsh, and Irish heritage. The situation of the Anglo-Irish was to feel English in Ireland but Irish in England.

After attending Trinity College in his late teens, Wilde sailed off to Oxford to complete his education and his introduction into English society. His mother is reported to have encouraged him to lose his Irish accent (and he is reported to have said the first thing he lost at Oxford was his Irish accent). I would love to hear him speak. Isn't being Irish so much about sounding Irish?

What's your opinion of Oscar Wilde? Or Irish potatoes, for that matter?

In my mission to learn All Things Irish, I'm calling on you to help. What should I research? What's Irish to you?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

All Things Irish

Picture actually taken in Scotland, but hey.
Over the last few weeks I've become increasingly more worried that I don't know jack about my new home, so I've decided to become better acquainted with all things Irish. This is a bit of a change from my usual approach to travel and new places. Usually I just stumble right in and play dumb. Like a puppy. Who doesn't love a puppy?

But this time I want to be a bit smarter. I have quite a few Irish friends, you see. What if they tested me? What if I suddenly found myself in the midst of a quiz night at my local pub and the subject were "All Things Irish"? Would I be prepared? Is cider actually Irish? Is "Oh Danny Boy" Irish? What about Guinness and Oscar Wilde? Irish? What about the clover in that picture up there? Irish? What about James Joyce and "Irish" stew? Irish? All of them?

"Oh Danny Boy"

First, I have to say this is one of my favorite tunes or "airs" as I've learned in the last few hours. It might have actually started as a "purth," which means a harp tune. You're welcome! You're not three paragraphs into this post, and you've already learned so much. I know what you're thinking: big changes at I Must Be Off! We're going all educational.

Is the lyric to "Oh Danny Boy" Irish? No. A song with this lyric was written by Frederic(k) Edward Weatherly, an English lawyer and prolific songwriter, in 1910--and apparently the tune sucked. His sister-in-law in America, though, came to his rescue with an "ancient" Irish air called "The Londonderry Air" or "Air from County Derry" as it's called by Irish nationalists (Derry was renamed Londonderry when it was occupied by the British). The air and the lyric made magic. If you can keep yourself from weeping uncontrollably when you hear Sinead O'Connor sing this haunting a cappella version of "Oh Danny Boy" (below, not chosen for its obvious political message at the end!) or Londonderry Air played on the harp and flute, well, you have no soul. And I don't mean the James Brown kind of soul; I mean an actual soul.

Now, imagine that you're Irish and living in the early 17th century. Apparently there are blind harpists and blind fiddlers everywhere. You can't throw a sheep without hitting one. One of them, Blind Rory Dall O'Cahan pens "O'Cahan's Lament," a purth (see above), after his family's land is confiscated by the British. The air was brought into the 19th century by the, yes, blind harpist Dennis O'Hampsey.

Or if you want to believe a blind fiddler penned the air, you can have Blind Jimmy McCurry, the blind fiddler of Myroe. I don't know, I like the blind harpist version better. And it's a century older.

One last comment about the song: I grew up in a devout Baptist family/church in the South, so my first experience with this tune was in the song "He Looked Beyond my Fault and Saw My Need," sung live below at Carnegie Hall by Andraé Crouch.

For now, I'm satisfied with my depth of knowledge here. Onward. To Guinness . . .

Guinness Beer

Before I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, I drank my share of Guinness (and in my ignorance suffered the corresponding intestinal difficulties). I haven't had a Guinness in ten years. Sadly. I still remember the taste, though. I sometimes ask to sniff it when I'm in the company of those who can drink it. If Guinness came out with a gluten-free beer, I'd be very grateful. And fatter.

But is Guinness Irish? Simple answer: yes, of course it is. The brewery was founded by Arthur Guinness from Celbridge, County Kildare--definitely Irish and defnitely Protestant. Until the 1960s, you were forced to resign from the brewery if you married a Catholic. Ergo: very Irish, nicely embroiled in the history of Catholic vs. Protestant. Can't get any Irisher than that.

Long and complicated answer: no, of course it (and by "it" I mean the beer) is not Irish, or at least not in the beginning and not anymore. The type of beer, the stout or porter (not exactly the same thing), is apparently of British creation of the 18th century, so the type of beer Guinness makes is not of Irish origin.

In 1997, Guinness merged with the company Grand Metropolitan to form the company Diageo, headquartered in London (so not Ireland)--which is surprising considering the lower tax rate in Ireland. The beer is now brewed in nearly 60 countries, and only two of those countries have Ireland in their names. I've heard friends say there are unfortunate variations among breweries. It's similar to other products made all over the world. Take the humble Snickers. It tastes cloyingly sweet in the US, a little salty in Europe. Take, however, Jack Daniel's. Whatever you think of Jack, you have to accept that it's a Tennessee whiskey. Jack Daniel's was founded by a Tennessean, and every drop of it is made in Lynchburg, Tennessee. The company also defies the debatably correct definition of its product as a bourbon, which is very much like us Tennesseans. The only thing that speaks against Jack Daniel's being a Tennessee whiskey is the sad fact that since 1956 it has been owned by a Kentucky company. What is the world coming to?

Next time I'm going to do some research into Oscar Wilde for me and you. Are you Irish or just want to know more about Ireland? Would you like to suggest something I should research on my quest to learn All Things Irish? I'd love some suggestions.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

At Home in Dublin

Sunday morning when the sun finally came out over Dublin
Disclaimer: I cut the tip off my left Birdie finger while cooking breakfast on Sunday morning in Dublin, so it's all wrapped up now and creating a very "stiff" typing experience for me. Don't rag me on the typos.

Apart from dicing a digit with the onions, Dublin is great fun. Our TV now works, so we--and by "we" you know I mean Ian the Lion-Hearted Sailor--decide to watch black-and-white documentaries about WWI and WW2 ALL fricking weekend. Yes it's Remembrance Sunday in Britain, but we are in Ireland. Still. OK. I get it. And after nine or ten hours of black-and-white footage of mud, carnage, futile hatred and more futile hatred, I most certainly will never forget . . .

. . . the Hell of war. Really. There are no words apart from WHY DO WE DO THIS TO ONE ANOTHER? It's unimaginable that the people who actually fought these wars understood the reason they fought. So many people gave their lives for the geopolitical ambitions of a few evil men. And, yes, millions more lost their lives trying to stop them. And then the victors stamped their boots so hard on the losers' faces that the losers could do nothing but retaliate. The Germans (now) have a saying:
Imagine there's war and no one comes.

The deep structure of this quip is the idea that the masses might decide not to fight for their leaders' global hegemony, that the masses on both sides might just decide to live their lives in peace. Imagine that. It's easy if you try. Of course the Germans have a very good reason to be anti-war. As most Germans alive today had nothing to do with WW2 but nevertheless take the responsibility for it never happening again, they are big promoters of diplomatic solutions.

Actually--and correct me if I'm wrong--the Germans were prohibited from aggressive acts of war after WW2. Their army can be deployed only for peace-keeping missions and for self-defense. When they are critical of the US and other countries for playing world police, it's important to understand that they are simply warning against their own mistakes: aggression feeding aggression. If you insist on an eye for an eye, you'll all be blind. What good is that?

Trinity College: on our Sunday walk
So I cut my finger. I'm watching all this footage of bloodshed, and I cut my finger.

"Plasters," I say. I don't yell or moan or whinge. It doesn't really hurt. It's a new knife.

"We don't have any," Ian the Lion-Hearted Sailor says--totally unimpressed, eyes glued to WW2.

"I cut the tip of my finger off," I say.

"Why?" he asks.

"Why??" I say. I don't tell him the omelet I'm giving him may or may not have my flesh in it.

It's Sunday, and the pharmacy around the corner isn't open. Holding my left hand above my heart, I walk to the little market around the next corner. It's throbbing gently: the finger not the heart or the market, although the heart is pounding fairly relaxed as well. Long story short, I get the plasters (adhesive bandages for you Yanks) I need and we set off to explore our new environs. We're going shopping. For shoes. I've had the same shoes for the last three or four years, so I'm all about the new shoes.

So I buy trousers. I call them my Dublin trousers, the ones I'll leave here so I don't have to schlepp so much back and forth. I also buy a jumper (a sweater for you Yanks).

We buy no shoes. The shoes are too expensive. It's not as if we are walking barefoot through the streets of Dublin. Ian the Lion-Hearted Sailor is just worried that Dublin will get cold and that our shoes will be inadequate, too porous. I'm trying on my third pair of jeans. Who cares about shoes?

"Cider?" I say as we're leaving a shop.

"I know the place," Ian the Lion-Hearted Sailor says.

"Lead the way," I say.

"I will," he says.

"Well do it, " I say.

"I will," he says.

"Stop it," I say.

Nice people. Good beer (I'm told). And excellent cider.

And so we end up at a pub called The Brew Dock. It's not far from our flat actually, and they have gluten-free meals marked on their menu. I have the veggie burger with potato planks. I'm calling them planks because that's what they are. They're actually better than the burger, which is just OK but gluten-free so I'm happy. But much better than the burger and the potato planks is that the guy serving them says, "Just so you know, the potatoes were fried in a separate oil than the fish." (The fish is breaded.)

"Wow," I say. "Thank you." So these guys know the ropes with Celiac Disease. I'm a fan.

And even better than this, they have a cider on tap that is not Bulmers. Bulmers is fine, but sometimes I'd like to try something else. The cider they have on tap is dryer than Bulmers. Crisper. Lighter. Mac Ivor's.

The wonderful thing about The Brew Dock--at least on the day we grace their presence--is that I know ALL the songs on the CD they're playing. You might call these oldies, but I'd like to call them just very very good music. And of course I sing all the words to all of them. I love Ireland. When you sing along to the songs in the pub in Dublin, you can bet a few other people will sing along with you. Song is so important here. I feel at home. The bartender notices I'm singing, adds a harmony. Someone else starts humming. The whole place could explode with this common feeling, this shared love of song. I miss this. This doesn't happen in Germany.

What makes you feel at home?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. 


Monday, October 27, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour -- Take Two

Recently, a fellow editor and expat--the brilliant Michelle Elvy--asked me to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Yes, come to think of it, I've already done this, but it's a good opportunity to look at how I write now in contrast to last year when I wrote about it. A few things have changed, after all. 

My life is less stressful now. I'm getting back into writing and editing the stories that have been lounging around on my hard drive for months (OK, some for years).  

1) What are you working on?

I'm editing, cleaning up short stories. I have 10 submitted here and there. I'm also writing book reviews again. I hesitate to say this, because I always get 10 requests for reviews when I open my big dumb mouth. I'm swamped right now. Every minute I spend reading someone else's book is a minute I probably should be writing my own. I love other people's books, though. This is a quandary.  

2) How are you/your work unique? Or, how does your work differ from the work of others in the same area/genre? 

I'm not really sure what genre I write in. I think this question makes more sense for writers who write crime stories or romance or horror. I write literary fiction and sudden fiction with an occasional foray into humor, travel writing and book reviews. If there is anything unique about my writing, it's probably due to the fact that I don't read nearly as much as I should. If you think my writing sounds like Truman Capote, well that is pure coincidence, darling. If you're convinced that I'm just copying David Sedaris, well I didn't even know who he was until I started reading Jincy Willett. If you think I write like Bill Bryson, I'll take it, but I'll be standing in front of and trying to hide the 11 Bryson books on my shelves.

As sudden fiction writers go, many write slice-of-life moment-of-being type of stories. I write these too, but I tend toward magic realism, fabulism, absurdism, surrealism, other isms more than the realistic moment. This doesn't make my work unique though; there are lots of other writers doing this.    

3) Why do you write what you do?  

Every story is a new beginning, so the reason for writing it is also new. I've answered this question a few times before. I write what I do simply because I have characters and characters' situations that keep irritating me until I write them. It's as if they already exist. I have lots of unfinished stories that seem like real memories now. I know they'll be written when they don't disappear after a few months.

4) How does your writing process work? 

Mine is a simple process: I write something I think is great, come back to it a few days later and rip it apart (because it is in fact awful), then come back to it a few days later and add something that didn't occur to me in previous drafts--something very important that changes the story completely--then I submit it and get it rejected by a journal I really like. It's embarrassing, but I keep plugging away, adding crucial details I ignored in previous drafts. I let it sit for months because I think back to being burned by that wonderful editor who was kind enough not to accept the piece and make me look like a complete idiot in front of the whole world. I then take it out again and give the story a new title because I've just noticed that the title "Bob's Tree" is BORING. The new title gives me 22 new ideas to make the story equally less boring. I then change all the characters' names, the setting and the POV. I delete the word very, replace it with the word gravy. I then submit the story. The new title is "Helen's Gravy Tree" or something insane. It gets accepted. Nominated for awards, which it does not win. 

What I keep learning and unlearning in my process is that I never learn--and I'm aware that makes no sense. I keep submitting too soon. I think I'm finished when I've only just begun. I think many writers do this; at least as an editor I see a lot of submissions that should have simmered a bit longer before they were served. Does this sound familiar: In tears, you finish a piece of writing you think is a masterpiece only because you wrote the last paragraph and finished a bottle of wine at the same time. This is not the right moment to push the submit button to your favorite litzine; this is the time to go to bed and look at the story the next day. If you still love it, by all means send it out. Chances are, though, you'll find a typo in the first sentence.

Since all my writer friends have already done this blog tour, I think I'll be daring and make this a cul de sac. If, on the other hand, you are a writer and also a friend of mine, and you'd like to participate, please let me know. I'll insert you here in a heartbeat. 

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. 


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Online Travel Quizzes and Games -- My Top Five

Do these look familiar? Did you draw these in third grade?
Third grade was a frenetic time of geopolitical learning for me. I remember it as if it were, well, over four decades ago. Our class was in a portable container outside the main building of the school, and our teacher was Mrs. Florida. We wee ones were sitting in groups at tables and drawing flags and continents, labeling countries and capitals, and having deep discussions of geopolitical significance, such as:

"Wow, there's a country named Chad."

"Chad's stupid. I saw him eating a booger."

"Chad stinks."

"My brother's name is Chad. He eats boogers too."

Of course to this day I see the country Chad as a large maroon block in the middle of Africa populated by booger eaters.

Looking at Chad now on the map above my desk, I think it's grown narrower, less blocky than it was when I was eight. I wonder if it really changed or if it shrank only in my mind. Though I've lost a lot of other things, I have never lost my love for the shapes of places: Itay's a lone hooker boot, Tennessee's a cruise ship, India's a chicken on a pogo stick (yes, it is). I'd like to think kids today are still as excited about our globe as I was then. And now.

Here are some of my favorite travel quizzes and games on the internet you can use to test your knowledge.

1. Traveler IQ Challenge

This is my favorite one. My mouse sometimes hangs on me, which is the only reason I'm not the king of this game. Precision is key on this one. See how you do. If the embedded game below doesn't load, you can also go HERE to play it. 

Geosense is similar to Traveler IQ, but it feels slower to me. The advantage of Geosense, though, is that you can play with other people. In general, Geosense is more interactive but less snazzy.

2. National Geographic's GeoBee Quiz

Stress! This quiz will keep your mind sharp. You have to read quickly and answer quickly. If you haven't done this one before, choose "Apprentice" first just to get the hang of it. Also check out the celebrity questions. One of today's questions comes from Keith Urban, a fellow Nashvillian, whom I might have met one New Year's Eve many years ago had I stayed a little longer at a friend's party. Oh well.

3. GeoGuessr

Impossibly hard but fun. And it looks good. You're shown a Google Street map shot and expected to pinpoint it on the map. I'm usually 8000 km away but still get points. Sometimes the photo is just bushes along a highway. This game involves quite a bit of specialized knowledge about vegetation, architecture, infrastructure and languages. Does Finnland look a lot like Canada? Does Argentina share tons of similarities with Mexico? What's the difference between a highway in Arizona and one in Brazil?  

4. Triviaplaza

Not just geography or travel! Triviaplaza has lots of quizzes to test your general knowledge of everything from pop music to the grab bag of "miscellaneous". The strength of this quiz site is its variety and abundance. When you should be writing, you could waste hours here testing/increasing your knowledge of world capitals; rivers, island and straits oh my!, and even skyscrapers.

5. sporcle geography quizzes

I like these because of their variety and creativity. Can you name all the countries larger than Greenland? Or the countries with their initial letter repeated? You have to love these challenges.

Now, you're certainly wondering why I haven't included any "Flags of the World" quizzes or games; and due to the recent resurgence in the popularity of flags, I see your point. Flags are indeed fun. In fact, in my third-grade class, I remember having to sit there with booger-eating Chad and draw them all. Do third-graders still draw flags? Are we still having fun with flags?

I must be off,

PS! If you missed my interview with Beth Williams of Besudesu Abroad, HERE it is again. Comments appreciated!

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.