Category Archives: Some Writing Humor

An Embarrassing Moment at the Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention

I love listening to old-time radio programs from the 1930s and 1940s. I was super excited to experience the Scott Paulson “Nancy Drew’s Tiki Terror Radio Drama” on Thursday night at the Nancy Drew Sleuth Convention. In fact, I contacted Scott to see if he needed an additional reader (yes, I touted my degree emphasis in musical performance and my daily experience in front of an audience). He was won over and said I could have a role in the script.

I practiced my Judy Garland-esque voice, trying to eliminate my Okie accent. I wore my favorite sparkly sweater and 1940s up-do. And when he handed me the script, a few minutes before show-time, he said, “You work at a zoo, right? I have the perfect part for you.”

What could it be, I wondered excitedly?

My moment in the radio spotlight with Scott Paulson.

My moment in the radio spotlight with Scott Paulson.

“You get to be the monkey.”

Yep. The monkey.

I said, “Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best.” I took a deep breath and cringed as I opened the script. My worst fears were confirmed. I would be “eeking” my way through the entire show. Thirty-four times, I would step up to the microphone and screech out an obnoxious “EEK EEK!!!”

Goodbye Judy Garland.

I exited the room and went to the hotel stairwell to mentally prepare for my unexpected role. My pep talk to myself went something like this, “Might as well be a good monkey. I hear monkeys nearly every day. I can do this. Be the monkey.”

I practiced a few quiet shrieks and tried some voice inflection. Yes, I could definitely pull off a semi-authentic-sounding primate. Moments later, I was sitting in a chair near the stage, ready to make my debut on page 7. One cue, I stepped up to the microphone and smiled at the audience. They had no idea what was coming.

Performing as the radio "monkey."

Performing as the radio “monkey.”

George: This pillow is so soft and inviting!

Nancy: That’s more than a pillow, George. It’s a monkey.

George: Ahh!!!

Monkey: EEE! eeEE! eeEE!

The reaction was palpable and I knew I’d nailed it.  I saw a few people jump in surprise.  For the rest of the script, I “eeked” my little heart out. I had sad “eeks,” questioning “eeks,” and accusing “eeks” as the script dictated.

The questions received at the end of the show cracked me up. “Did you audition for that part?” “Have you done this show before?” “Do you have experience making monkey noises?” They were totally serious!

So, embarrassed might not be the right word, because once I embraced the part—it was fine. The initial disappointment at not having a glamourous role was probably my biggest hang-up, but I confess to feeling proud when both Scott Paulson and the Nancy Drew play producer, John Maclay, had nice things to say about my primate portrayal. After all, they are professionals.

My reputation among the Nancy Drew Sleuths changed that night. I was fairly unknown among these people before that moment. Now, it seems I’ll forever be remembered for being the monkey. Although I wore mostly dresses at the conference, I might as well have been in my zoo uniform from that point on. I made the oblivious choice of ordering a banana with my lunch the next day—and everyone noticed.

Be the monkey, Amy. “EEEK!”

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Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels

    Truthfully, romance isn’t my genre, aside from my reading the occasional regency novel to satisfy my Pride and Prejudice thirst.  But romance writers have much to offer when it comes to successful plot structure, characterization and book marketing.  It’s a thriving billion-dollar-a-year business, and 2010 alone saw the release of 8,240 new titles!  (http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics

    I still have much to learn about writing—so I just read Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell (c2010).  This is not an instruction book on the grammar rules of love.  Instead, it offers the reasons romance books have so much appeal and reader loyalty.  The overriding theme is that romances teach people about relationships.  By reading about the trials of other men and women who are seeking happy dating or married lives, we learn to navigate our own love lives.

    According to Wendell, ideal romance characters demonstrate traits of honor, courage, and respect.  The modern leading-lady may endure mistreatment in the beginning, (no conflict, no story) but she will never settle for an abusive relationship in the end.  “Romance specifically creates a sense of hope,” writes Wendell. 

    Wendell, a romance writer herself, sprinkles in quotes of wisdom from other writers and readers.  For example, “You can experience between the book covers what you might not quite be ready to try underneath your own covers.” 

    She also pokes fun at the genre: A male romance hero must acquire a mullet. He must also think obsessively about the color of his lover’s hair.  And frequently use the word “perfect.” 

   Everything I Know About Love I learned from Romance Novels was an amusing, insightful (and sometimes blush-inducing) book.  One of the final chapters brings home the main point: reaching the happily-ever-after takes work. 

 *For writers it is a reminder that people read for many reasons, but essentially to find hope. 

 *For readers, it’s a reminder that treating people with decency is the only way to live, both in fiction and in real life. 

 *For wayward dukes, vampires, and rogues, it’s a reminder that they must put away their past and become faithful to one woman if they want to achieve happiness.  And always, always be fascinated with her hairstyle! 

 

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How Do Zoo Animals Survive a Blizzard?

Like most of the Midwest, I’m cozied up to the fireplace and watching blizzard coverage on television.  I got to stay home from work today because I’m considered a “non-essential” employee.  Somehow, in these weather conditions, that title doesn’t bother me at all. 

 

Pity the poor zookeepers and ground crews who are working to shovel their way to the animal exhibits today.  You may be wondering just how the zoo animals survive such conditions.  Well, it so happens that I recently wrote an article on that subject for the ZooSounds Winter issue…

 Baby, It’s Cold Outside! 

Tundra Geese are well suited to cold climates. Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

 

 Oh, the weather outside is frightful.  What keeps the animals warm and delightful?

 

Well, far too many practical and creative ideas to simply put in one verse of a song.  Many of the zoo’s two-thousand animals do need some sort of modification to survive Oklahoma’s volatile weather.  But first, let’s address the number one winter-weather question that zoo employees hear: “When do you close down for the winter?”

We don’t!  (Except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day).  Of course, if you’re one of those loyal members who bundles up to visit your favorite animal on a chilly December morning, then you know our zoo secret—that you will encounter a surprising amount of  animal activity, an uninterrupted view, short restroom lines, and cheerful greetings from the staff, who are shocked to see other humans outside.   

 

ZooSounds Issue

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!             

            True, some zoos in the northern U.S. do close for the winter because of extreme conditions.  Oklahoma, however, has enough nice days to attract visitors and many of the animals can tolerate our “mild” climate and occasional snow.  Also, careful planning has gone into designing most exhibits with indoor/outdoor alternatives that suit both people and animals.

            “Most species have high and low temperature parameters that we use as a tool to determine whether an animal will go out on exhibit or stay inside,” said Laura Bottaro, Curator of Mammals.  “Keepers really keep an eye on the weather forecast, and in emergency situations, we have back-up generators on standby.” 

            Mammals are the most tolerant of cold weather.  It’s no surprise that snow leopards are the cat least bothered by low temperatures, although all the cat species have “hot rocks” in their exhibits. 

 

Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree

            In or out of a pear tree, birds are the most susceptible to freezing weather.  With so many tropical species in the collection, keepers must move some of them indoors for the whole season.  An entire building, called Overwintering, houses the birds.  It is off-exhibit to the public, but you can imagine what a noisy and raucous place it is right now!

            Fortunately, the bird quarters in the new Children’s Zoo are fully equipped to handle the winter.  The macaws, flamingos, and lorikeets have indoor barns attached to their exhibits. 

            “Oklahoma Trails also has a bird-holding area between the aviary and the nocturnal barn,” said Darcy Henthorn, Curator of Birds and Children’s Zoo.

 

Winter wonderland

            The reptile and amphibian keepers have an entirely different approach to the winter.  The nearly-ninety-year-old Herpetarium is built of granite stone, and each wall experiences cold, wet and dry periods. 

            “When we get new animals, ‘Which wall?’ is always the first question, not ‘Which aquarium?’” said Joe Branham.  “Some animals can spend their whole life on one side of the building, and others have to be switched during different months.”

            Varied temperatures and controlled light cycles are actually used to induce hibernation, which is important to many of the reptiles’ life cycle.   Some species will spend three months in a large walk-in refrigerator called the Hibernaculum.

            It’s a regular winter wonderland!

            “The public usually doesn’t know about how we create these micro-environments, but this is what herpers do,” said Branham.  

 

We’re snuggled up together           

            Speaking of hibernation, what about the bears?  When do they snuggle down for the winter?

According to keeper Jonathan Redding, the bears eat less in the winter months, and they grow thicker coats, but Oklahoma is too warm for them to need to hibernate.

            “They don’t hibernate, but they are hardwired to dig a den anyway—and that’s a natural behavior we encourage,” Redding said. 

            Each fall, the grizzly bears push aside dirt and rock until they have dug an underground cave large enough for both of them.  Although it is in the same place every year, in the center of the yard, the den is particularly visible this year. 

            “Underneath is about an 8-ft by 10-ft circular room,” said Redding.  “Eventually it will collapse.  In the spring, I’ll use excavator equipment to fill it back in so they can dig a new one next year.” 

 

            See why it’s so interesting to come to the zoo in the winter?  From bird barns to bear dens, interesting things are going on.  Bundle up and enjoy the front row view.  After all…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

 

Here is the PDF version of this story, as well as two other articles I wrote for this ZooSounds issue: Baby It’s Cold Outside; How Zoo Animals Survive; Butterfly Conservation; Zoo Masterplan 2011

 Baby, I’ts Cold Outside  

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Rock n’ Roll Reading

My birthday went something like this: 

Elvis is singing on a stage with over 1,000 preschoolers screaming and waving their arms.  Next, my friend Tammi Sauer does the robot dance while singing, “How jerky is your turkey…” with her high school backup dancers, and then a chicken dressed like Elvis struts onto the stage. 

Elvis was in the house! (Brian Lee Dunning)

Sound like a bad dream?  Nope, it’s all true!  And all part of a literacy event at the Oklahoma City Zoo called Read Across Oklahoma 2010: Reading Rocks! 

 The event, now in its tenth year, is a combined partnership to promote reading to disadvantaged preschoolers.  

 “It’s all in hopes that these three- and four-year-olds will develop an appreciation for learning,” said Lori Holliday of OETA Public Television.  “We combine a variety of teaching tools, such as free books from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, our television shows, and this culminating event where we bring stories to life.”  

 This year’s rockin’ theme was inspired from the book Chicken Dance, by Oklahoma author, Tammi Sauer.     

Elvis Poultry was a hoot, I mean squawk! (Actor, Jon Hague)

  “My book features a rock n’ roll star named Elvis Poultry,” said Sauer.  “And since the zoo just opened its new Children’s Zoo with a barnyard and chickens, it was a fun tie-in.”  

 The show in the Aquaticus stadium did, in fact, feature an Elvis impersonator and an actor playing the role of Elvis Poultry—who read the story and did a lot of squawking with the kids.     

 Students from Capitol Hill High School and Metro-Tech assisted the children on their field trip adventure through the zoo by hosting alphabet stations, tattoo stops, and a dance station where they learned the “real” chicken dance.  Prior to the big day, they also sewed over 1,000 miniature Elvis capes (complete with blingy rhinestones) for the children to wear.  

 Imagine how cute that was!  

A $25,000 grant from Target made it possible to provide lunch and many materials for the event.  Many Target employees volunteered for Read Across Oklahoma, doing everything from rolling hot dogs to parking buses.  They also delivered copies of Chicken Dance for every single child to take home and read before the event.  

Lori Holliday (OETA), Tammi Sauer (author with chicken hat) and myself.

 “Because the children were already familiar with story, they could answer Elvis Poultry’s questions during the show,” said Holliday.  “It’s so great that now they can read this book over and over again, continue to discover it and learn from it.” 

 To add my own quote to the mix, “I’m thrilled that the zoo has become a site where children can be inspired to love nature and reading at the same time.”    

 Preschoolers…chickens…Elvis…books… 

What better way for a writer to spend her birthday?  

 ————————————— 

Thanks to these other great sponsors: Capitol Hill High School’s Family Community and Career Leaders of America (FCCLA) and ROTC, Krueger Charitable Foundation, Metro Tech, OETA, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, OZS ZooFriends, Target and the Zoo.   

 
 

Committee members and Super Why!

Committee Members:  Kerri McLinn, Oklahoma Department of Libraries; DJ Watts Bowker, Capitol Hill High School; Sara Collins, Metro Tech; Donna Onley, Target; Heide Hartfield, Target; Candice Rennels, Oklahoma City Zoo.   

 

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A Few of My Favorite Things are Songs

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Mary Poppins.  Who wouldn’t want to eat spoonfuls of sugar, sing endlessly, and be “practically perfect in every way?” I sewed my own Mary Poppins costume for Halloween and could even repeat “Supercalifrag…etc, etc…” backwards. 

 And then Mom let me stay up late to watch Sound of Music.  Suddenly, singing scales and yodeling seemed awfully wonderful.  My friends and I belted out “Do-Re-Mi” at the top of our lungs.  We felt quite proud when we could hit the high Ti-Do notes. 

 I admit it–I was (and still am) a Julie Andrews groupie.  Many of her solos bring back special memories, even into adulthood.  The year I taught at a difficult inner-city school, I frequently listened to “I Have Confidence” on the way to work.  The words…

 I will be firm but kind
And all those children
Heaven bless them
They will look up to me
And mind me
…gave me some courage to face each terrible day.

One of my favorite happy songs was (and still is) “My Favorite Things.”  I always get tickled at the part “when the bee stings,” because a friend and I always poked each other at that part, and he accidently stuck his finger up my nose one time. 

Actually, my favorite things aren’t kitten whiskers (which make me sneeze) or copper kettles (that have to be scrubbed).  Instead, I find I have an ever-changing list of favorites.   

Here are my favorite things (this week):

Sitting by the fireplace and blogging during the Oklahoma blizzard

1.  Sitting by the fire during an Oklahoma blizzard

2.  Reading about Regency England romance in “The Season” by Sarah MacLean

3.  Talking to my 80-year-old Grandma about outhouses

4.  Knocking out two more agent query letters (fresh and full of promise)

5.  Watching Lucy argue with Ricky about an expensive hat

 And finally…

 6.  Listening to (not reading, but listening to) Julie Andrews read her own biography Home: A Memoir of My Early Years.

What are your favorite things this week?  Does a song have a special place in your heart?  I think music is such a powerful force in our lives, and you writers will agree that the words are just as important.  Words set to music have power, create memories and change lives.

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10 Writing Resolutions for 2010

1.  Become a Word Whisperer.  Logan Pearsall Smith said “What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.”

 2.  Stop misspelling recieve and enviornment

 3.  Figure out a way to convince the IRS that every trip to Wal-Mart is a deductible writing expense.  It’s research!  After all, what better place can you go to find some crazy characters to write into a story?

 4.  Remember the difference between affect and effect.  Stopping to look it up each time has an unfortunate affect effect on the flow of my, uh, whatever I was talking about.

 5.  Reread at least five of my favorite books from childhood…you know, the classics, like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Superfudge. 

 6.  Pursue agents with greater tenacity.  (Hmmm…maybe ten-a-city is the right formula!)

 7.  Adopt a method for organizing the rejection letters piling up in my office. I’m thinking that something like the Dewey Decimal System might be adequate.  

 8.  Find a market for a story about my oddball hobby: listening to 1930s comedy radio shows.  (No, I’m not a 90-year old woman, thank you very much.)

 9.  Be a student of humor.  Author Patricia Case recommends improving your “funny” by studying comedy-writing techniques.  Or to quote The Cat in the Hat, “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” 

 10.  Inspire others to work harder at their writing craft.  Then, when they are successful, they can encourage me to keep going.  (Hey, that’s YOU I’m talking about!)

 Happy New Year!  May we all achieve that multi-million-dollar book contract sometime in the next 12 months–that way, we’ll have no need to write a resolution list again next year. 

 Amy Dee Stephens

“Words carry time and culture.”

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The Reality Show Version of Writing a Book

 

Tonight, I was in the mood for some humor.  If you can pull yourself away from your favorite reality show–you might enjoy this metaphoric piece I wrote shortly after the publication of my zoo history book.   

Book: Oklahoma City Zoo; 1902-1959

“Ding dong the book is put to bed!” That’s the song I’m singing right now, since my manuscript, The Oklahoma City Zoo; 1902-1959, is resting peacefully at the publishing house in Chicago.  It began its life four long years ago, whining and nagging to be researched—throwing guilt trips in my path that if I didn’t do it, no one else would. It was up to me to drag fifty years of forgotten zoo history out of the attic and begin a trip down the Antiques Roadshow lane. 

 Five-hundred hours later the scraps of information began to take on a personality; a strong storyline full of animal whimsy, with an occasional outburst of history. Once it was written, however, the ungrateful brat demanded a break and sat on the shelf for a year, wallowing in rejection. I finally had to force it to overcome its Fear Factor. I had put way too much effort into raising it for it not to be a Survivor. So, I reintroduced it back into society, sending out letters on its behalf to three reputable publishers. All three pursued the manuscript to a degree, but at the end of The Amazing Race, I had to tell the biggest Contender, “You’re fired!” and Apprentice it over to a smaller press.

 This meant my precious brainchild had to undergo an Extreme Make-over. Another 500 hours of Overhaulin’ was required. At first, cutting unnecessary words was painful. It resisted going on the diet, complaining that it was unfair to be The Biggest Loser. After firming itself into tight, concise little captions, however, its inner beauty began to show. It decided it might be America’s Next Top Model yet. The facelift included a city-wide search for over 200 Candid Camera photos to fit the manuscript’s pretty little text. Being confined to only 128 pages, the photos kept Trading Spaces, and in some cases, were cut altogether.

 Next came agonizing weeks of deciding What Not to Wear on the book’s cover. It needed Bachelor appeal if it was going to attract bookstore customers. Even after the final deadline, the editor and I were still searching, a bit desperately then, for the right photo. I scoured the options one last time, when suddenly, I yelled out, “I Want That! one.” Somehow we had both missed the best choice—two children looking at a leopard.

 Finally, my labor of love has become comfortable with its new image. No more tweaking or rearranging, no Starting Over. I’ve instilled as much historical integrity into it as possible, and it is ready to face the readers of the world with confidence.

 I, too, have changed through this process. I’ve learned to sacrifice words, interpret nearly-obliterated newspaper text on a microfiche machine, and harass companies for photo licensing. I’ve freed up space in my head where fifty years of history had been rattling around.

 In “reality” though, the best thing about raising this non-fiction book was knowing that it would spark good memories and conversations. I keep imagining a grandma saying, “I remember when Judy the Elephant came to the zoo. Let me tell you about it.” From the beginning, I knew that this book would not make me a Joe Millionaire, but Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I’ll cash my small royalty check and take comfort in knowing that the next historian who gets a bug to write about the Oklahoma City Zoo’s past will actually have a resource to use. Just think how much less work they will have to do!

 Now that my manuscript is grown and gone, things are much more peaceful around This Old House. I’m living The Simple Life. I come home in the evenings and have time to piddle around with my new hobby—no, not watching reality television—writing. Writing glorious, creative, non-factual, no-photographs-needed fiction!

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