Recently I discovered the site “Fifty Word Stories”  I am enjoying reading what writers can cram into 50 or fewer words.  Check it out; I’m sure you will be astonished by the creativity there.   The site is run by Tim, who spent a year writing these kinds of micro-stories before turning it into an online magazine.


Inspired by what I saw on the site, I tried writing my own 50 word story.  Here is the story and below it is the explanation because I’m sure a lot of people will not get the references.


Guess Who Built A Car

My mechanic isn’t your typical American woman.  She built her own car!  Before these eyes saw it, I was laughing.  It has a Cummings engine and a Bachman Turner overdrive.  She finished it in no time.  It’s a good vehicle for taking care of business or to let it ride.


Here is the explanation for those of you who aren’t fans of The Guess Who (and Bachman Turner Overdrive and Burton Cummings):  The parts underlined are the names of songs.  In red letters are band names.  After performing as The Guess Who, the band broke up, Randy Bachman and friends forming Bachman Turner Overdrive and Burton Cummings performing solo.  Cummings also sounds and looks like Cummins (, the name of an American engine manufacturer.  Overdrives are a type of gear often found on cars.

Guess Who Built A Car

My mechanic isn’t your typical American woman.  She built her own car!  Before these eyes saw it, I was laughing.  It has a Cummings engine and a Bachman Turner overdrive.  She finished it in no time.  It’s a good vehicle for taking care of business or to let it ride.

Two things I can say about Redirect is that the book’s blurbs are right and the concept of “personal story editing” is deceptively simple, but effective.

This isn’t a “self-help book” — the author isn’t a fan of those types of books and he explains why.  Still, the book’s topics are useful in the way that self-help books claim to be.  What makes it different is the author’s insistence that everything is tested.  In Redirect, Wilson explains why some well intentioned programs to curb teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and violence not only don’t work, but actually have the opposite effect.  He also goes into some parenting strategies and personal level challenges.

And now, a few of the burbs that I agree with:

“With a deft narrative touch, an engaging metaphor for bringing about psychological change (personal story editing), and a ferocious commitment to scientific evidence, Timothy Wilson has made a remarkable contribution to knowledge.”    Robert B. Cialdini (author of Influence)

“Whether you are a parent, educator, employer, or simply someone who cares about making the world a better place, you should read this book.”   Sonja Lyobomirsky (author of The How of Happiness)

“There are few academics that write with as much grace and wisdom as Timothy Wilson.  Redirect is a masterpiece. ”   Malcolm Gladwell
Title: Redirect
Sub-Title: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change
Author: Timothy D. Wilson
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Copyright: 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-05188-0


Professor Wilson’s Webpage:



I’ve been a fan of the work from Studio Ghibli ( ) for years.  The director mostly associated with Ghibli is Hayao Miyazaki.  But, other directors have made films there.  One of them is Isao Takahata, a friend of Miyazaki’s and also a founder of Studio Ghibli. Recently, I watched his 2013 film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya ( ).

The movie is an adaptation of an old Japanese folktale, so it is fine for all audiences.  The style of the animation is fluid with the feel of how the original animator first drew the characters and the scenes.  It is a joy to watch and I highly recommend it.

I found myself sketching after the film and one of the things I drew is the cartoon you see below.  In keeping with the spirit of the film, I’m leaving it as I first drew it.  Normally, I would clean it up, use the computer to caption it and maybe add some colour.

Half-Ply Toilet Paper is the employee's worst nightmare.

As for the inspiration for the “half-ply” joke, it comes in part from a story from Ryerson University.  A journalism student at the school discovered that Ryerson has a “two-tier” toilet paper system: most of the school gets one-ply while some get the plushier two-ply.  While school officials may be embarassed, they can take comfort in knowing their journalism program is effective.  ( )  Another part is from all these stories of cut-backs and austerity and weird work situations.

The basic idea of the Secret Miracle is that 54 writers were asked questions about how they wrote. The questions and answers were grouped into 7 chapters:
1. Reading and Influences
2. Getting Started
3. Structure and Plot
4. Character and Scene
5. Writing
6. Revision
7. The End

The follwing are some of the questions:
What do you look for in a novel?
Has being a novelist changed the way you read novels?  Has it changed the way that you appreciate or interact with art generally?
What was the trigger for your last novel?
Do you do any research before you begin writing? If so, do you find it helpful, or does it constrain your imagination?
How much do you know about the plot of a novel before you begin?
How polished do you try to make the prose in a first draft?
What is most distracting for you?  How do you deal with it?
Do you write in sequence?
How do you get to know your characters?
When/how do you show a draft to your trusted readers?
What makes for a successful conclusion to a novel?

While it is obvious that this book is meant to be read by writers, it is also interesting as a general look into the creative process.  The range of answers and the reasons behind them are fascinating.  The question and answer format makes it a book that can picked up and put down at the reader’s convenience.  (I like these kind of books when I am busy, but still need to satisfy my need to read.)

Title: The Secret Miracle
Sub-Title: The Novelist’s Handbook
Editor: Daniel Alarcon
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
Copyright: 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8714-7

This is the second book by Richard Wiseman that I have read.  (The first one was “The Luck Factor”, a book I also recommend.)  I usually don’t find a book’s blurbs very helpful, but this one has one by David Eagleman that, after reading the book, I can say is accurate: “Imagine taking thousands of papers from the vast world of psychology and distilling them down to the most important, unexpected, salient, and straightforward lessons for how to live our lives.  That’s Wiseman’s book.”

A typical section starts with the author exploring and debunking some common myths.  He follows this up with discussions about scientific research on the topic.  This is followed by a “59 seconds” summary or call-to-action. Instead of giving a sample, below is a link to Richard Wiseman’s YouTube channel.  Some of the topics in the “59 Seconds” segments relate to other books he has written, but even with those you will get a feel for this book and I why I enjoyed it.

Richard Wiseman on YouTube:

Title: 59 Seconds

Sub-Title: Think A Little, Change A Lot

Author: Richard Wiseman

Publisher: Random House

Copyright: 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-35811-0


I’ve always had an intuitive grasp of how hypertext works. Even as a young boy, I always enjoyed reading something new based on a note or reference in something else I had read. The encyclopedia was great for that kind of thing.

Last week, I was in the public library when my eye was caught by Stan Lee’s “How To Write Comics”. Although it wasn’t something I ultimately checked out (I already had eight books checked out before entering the library), I did leaf through it. There on page 39, I came across a sidebar that had a list of recommended reading written by Margaret Atwood. In her list, was the book, “Mortification”.

This week, when I had whittled my collection of library books down to six, I thought I could handle another book. I’m glad I took it out. I’m going to be giving a talk in a couple weeks, so it is nice to know that if it doesn’t go well, I’m in good company. For me, it definitely isn’t shadenfreude that makes the book interesting. Instead, it is the reminder that even successful authors have had their share of embarrassing moments.

There are 70 authors who answered Robin Robertson’s call for stories of their public shame. The chapters are relatively short, so it is a good book to pick up when you have a few moments here and there throughout your day.

To give you a feel for the stories, and to explain why I think the book can be looked at as “comforting”, I’ll give a shortened version of one of the three stories submitted by Ms. Atwood. Her first novel, “The Edible Woman” had just come out and her publisher arranged for her first book signing. It was held in one of Canada’s biggest and oldest department stores. So far, it sounds good, except they set the table in the Men’s Sock and Underwear Department. In her own words: “They [the men shopping for boxers] looked at me, then at the title of my novel. Subdued panic broke out. There was the sound of a muffled stampede as dozens of galoshes and toe rubbers shuffled rapidly in the other direction. I sold two copies”

Here is an author who would go on to be very successful but on that day must have felt quite awkward. The fact that she only sold two copies might also seem to be a little insignificant, but considering the circumstances, I think she did great.

Title: Mortification
Sub-Title: Writers’ Stories of their Public Shame
Editor: Robin Robertson
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Harper Collins)
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0-00-717137-4

The sub-title for “The Book of Lost Books” is “an incomplete history of all the great books you’ll never read” which is a pretty good description of the kind of book Stuart Kelly has created. Each chapter is a short story about how a book or books may have been lost and some facts about the authors and their loss. I found something interesting in each chapter.

For example, in the chapter about the ancient Greek playwright Menander, Kelly writes about the time Menander was late in producing a play for a festival. Pressed by the actors, musicians and set designers for a completion date, the playwright replied: “The play is done. All that remains is to write the dialogue.”

Then there is story of Ernest Hemingway’s early manuscripts. The year was 1922 and Hemingway’s wife was travelling with a case that contained all that he had written. Then the unthinkable happened: the case was stolen! Hemingway never recovered the case. He was around 23 years old at the time and it would be another 4 years before his first novel would be published. Perhaps that was the incident that led Hemingway to adopt the motto: “one must (above all) endure”.

So if you like books, and books about books, I would recommend “The Book of Lost Books”.

Title: The Book of Lost Books
Sub-Title: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You’ll Never Read
Author: Stuart Kelly
Publisher: Polygon
Copyright: 2010
ISBN: 978-184697-1235

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