Friday, March 28, 2014

A Very Merry Unbirthday Contest

Hello everyone! I hope you have all had splendidly awesome weeks!

This week Normally Surreal turns one year old! You know what that means?

As a way to say thank you to all of my followers, commentators and people who ended up here by mistake, I have decided to run a little contest.

It is true that it is difficult to write well, but it can be just has hard to write terribly. That is why there are contests, such as the famed Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, to find people who can skillfully craft a terrible work of fiction.

For instance the 2011 winner of the Bulwer-Lytton won with this entry:

"Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories." — Sue Fondrie, Oshkosh, WI

Human/Velociraptor Not Included
The rules of this contest are simple, write one terrible opening line to a story and post it in the comments below or on the contest announcement pinned to the top of my Facebook page. Two weeks from now, I will pick a winner to receive a signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus!"

So show me your creative writing side, and don't worry if it's bad, that's the point!

Thanks again to everyone who has followed me through the bizarre journey that is my life for the past year! You guys are more fantastic than the thought of a thousand wombats playing "Carry on My Wayward Son" on harmonicas!

As always, feel free to follow my exploits on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Bit of January in March

Hello all who venture here! I hope everyone had an absolutely top shelf week!

It has been a fascinating bit of time on my end. It was a week full of adventure, intrigue and a woman who tried to hide a chihuahua in her bra.

I never thought I'd hear someone utter the phrase, "No ma'am, we know you've got a chihuahua in your bra because it's staring at me and it just barked."

What can I say? Some girls just have all the fun.

I am extremely excited, however, because the guest for this week's blog post is first-time author Gail Chumbley!

Now, for those who have read "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" the name Gail Chumbley might seem rather familiar. That is because Gail Chumbley was my 10th grade history teacher, and it was in her class that I unceremoniously passed out due to a Benadryl mishap. (I'm sorry Mrs. Chumbley, I didn't take Benadryl for four years after that.) If you want the full story, I'm afraid you will have to read my book.

Aside from being a respected and well-loved teacher and absolute history buff, Gail has also written a book due to be released next month titled "River of January." Gail was nice enough to take time out of her busy schedule and answer a few questions for inquiring minds on her new work (and she didn't give my questions a failing grade!).

And a spiffy cover, I might add.
1. What motivated you to start writing?  

The short answer would be, I didn't have a choice. The story of Helen and Chum, the protagonists in the work were fighting to burst out.

2. How would you describe River of January?  

The book is a work of creative non-fiction.  The characters are actual, lived their lives fully for nearly the entire stretch of the twentieth century.

3. This is your first published work of fiction, are you excited?   

Well, actually the book is non-fiction.  Creative non-fiction is such a new area of writing it is easy to assume fiction.

4. What was the inspiration behind the title of your book?  

My protagonists, though both Americans, met and fell in love in Rio de Janeiro.  The name is Portuguese for River of January.

5. What was your favorite part of the writing process?  
Great question.  Writing is such hard work that I'm not sure I've enjoyed myself until after the session is over.  I would think crafting words into something beautiful was gratifying.

6. You taught high school for decades (and were excellent at it, I might add), what was your favorite part about teaching? 

You, and the rest of the kids.

7. What advice would you give teachers just starting out in the profession?  

Become acquainted with students as more than desk dwellers. Maintain high learning standards, know your material, and be prepared to work hard.  Oh, and laugh a lot.

8. If you could play a game of checkers with any American president, which president would you choose?  

Lincoln, of course.  He would tell his famous stories and we'd have a good laugh.

9. When will your book be out and where can interested readers find a copy?  

The book should be available by April 1.  No joke.  The website, still under construction can be found at 

I'll forward speaking dates on my Facebook page.  Keep your eyes open.

Don't forget to follow Gail Chumbley on Twitter!

This week "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" received yet another 5-star review! Andy Peloquin writes, "It's an absolutely hilarious read, and worth every penny." See the full review here.

As always, feel free to follow my exploits on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?

Welcome one and all to yet another week spent in this circus we call life! I hope your weeks were all more like that of the ringmaster and less like that of the lion tamer!

Part of being an author is that I often have people send me their own books, manuscripts or ideas. I love it! I get to read a plethora works in so many different genres. However, there have been several that have been sent to me that I have had to send back and honestly say, "This could use a little more (or a dump truck load's worth) work."

I've now had a couple of different writers ask that I put together a list of overarching writing tips for those wanting to produce good material. So here you are, your very own list of how to be a better writer.

Excitement! Excitement! Excitement! Nothing.
1. The climax should not be the end of your book.

Yes, I realize that there is such a thing as a cliffhanger ending. However, if you read a book series that does cliffhanger endings you will notice that the end of the book has at least some sort of wind-down.

To have a book that is moving along and then suddenly jerks to a halt oftentimes leaves your readers feeling like a dog that decided to run off without realizing the length of its own leash.

2. Plese spell chalk,, and make sure your grammer is gooder! 

Was that sentence hard to read? You may laugh, but I cannot count the number of times I have received a "final manuscript," or even a book (oftentimes self-published), that I could barely make it through the first page due to all the errors.

I would also like to point out that just running the in-program spell-check is only good to a point. A fellow writer friend, Charissa Dufour, loves to talk about the danger of Commonly Confused Words (CCW's). Your spell-check program really cannot tell which witch is which, that's your responsibility.

You are not being sneaky stealing plot devices!
3. Do not steal major plot devices (or entire plots) from already published bestselling works.

Huh, you have an Australian wizard named "Barry Totter" who goes to a magical boarding school where he will inevitably face off against an evil, undead, wizard named "Voltebart."

No, I'm sure no one will ever try to compare your story to the most famous fictional wizard since Gandalf or Merlin. As long as your readers have literally been living in a shack in the middle of the woods somewhere for the last decade and a half, then I'm sure they will find your material new and exciting.

4. Dialogue should sound like actual people talking. 
It's the only explanation.

Have you ever watched one of those commercials where there are two women talking about dish-detergent like it is their life's greatest accomplishment that they found a brand that doesn't leave residue on their dishes? Do you wonder whether they had a frontal lobotomy or are just from a different planet as they gush about soap? I do.

Read your dialogue out loud to yourself. If it sounds like a scene from a 1980's action movie or a 1950's sitcom, rewrite it. If your characters sound stilted and stagey then no one will buy into your story, no matter how amazing your dish-detergent is.

5. Readers should be able to tell your characters apart.

No one was sad when they blew up.
In the same vein as making your dialogue sound like actual people, remember that no two people are exactly alike.  Readers need to believe that your characters could be real people with emotions, unique backgrounds and their own life experience.

If they all read like they could be part of the Borg, thinking alike, acting alike, all going for the same goal for the same reasons, then readers won't care when they die in a fiery explosion. Make your readers give a crap about your characters, don't make them all linguistic clones.

6. Do not marry yourself to your first draft.

Part of being a writer is having the humility to know that you're not going to get it right the first, second or maybe even the thirtieth time.  I do not care how brilliant you think a manuscript, chapter or line is at the time you write it. I have written tons of things that when I first penned them I thought, "I am going to be the next Tina Fey!" only to later read it and go, "Okay, so actually I'm more like Elmer Fudd."

Always be willing to edit, rewrite, get a second opinion or even scrap something.

7. Covers should not be designed using Clip-Art.

 I really have nothing against people who decide to self-publish books. However, if you are going to self-publish a book, remember that your cover should not look like a Powerpoint slide that I made when I was fourth grade.

I know I am not a talented designer or an artist, which is why I will never attempt to design a book cover for myself. I cannot count the number of covers that I have seen (that I will not post here because I'm not that mean) that look like a terrible Word-Art and Photoshop mash-up. If your cover is unprofessional and could be replicated by a four year old with access to Paint, no one is going to take your book seriously, so just stop.

I'm sure that there are tons of other things I could talk about, but that's all she wrote for now. There will probably be a part two at some juncture.

If you have any writing questions or your own writing tips, please feel free to post them in the comments below!
I just wanted to say a quick thank you to the Amazon reader of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" who posted this five-star review:

"Miss Hawn's book is one of the best works I've ever had the privilege of reading. It is truly a testament to one of the most interesting people I've met and what life looks like through her eyes. I've recommended this book to some English teachers I know as it is engaging and written in a way that makes it difficult to put down or to smother one's laughter."

As always, feel free to find me on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bad Kitty

Hello all! I hope you are all having a fabulous week!

My boss and coworkers left our entire department in the hands of myself and one other person this week. The good news is that we managed to not burn down the building. The bad news is we may have a new spot on the carpet that may never come out (we might just put a couch over it... in the middle of the hallway).

Because it's Spokane, not Spocan't!
During the chaos of this past week, however, I got the awesome opportunity to be on Spokast! Blake, Russell and I talked about dinosaurs, football, homelessness, PEZ Dispensers and of course "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus!" It was downright magical. If you want to hear it for yourself just click here.

Speaking of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus," the book received another five star review on Amazon this week, "I learned quickly not to read this book in a quiet area. I laughed so much, and as I held it in, I started shaking and tearing up. I ended up leaving the office, where I was waiting for my son's test to be over. I hope Allison Hawn writes another book!"

Thank you! I love reading reviews like these, they make my little writer's heart do cartwheels, which is impressive since the rest of me can't do a cartwheel to save my soul.

This week I would like to introduce my readers to my two roommates. They tend to be a bit reclusive, are very concerned with their appearance and poop in a box. That's right, I have cats. Meet Voodoo (the black one) and Santeria (the every color one).

For the most part we cohabitate pretty peacefully. Voodoo spends most of her time being immobile, oftentimes to the point where I have to check to make sure she is still breathing. Santeria vacillates between peacefully staring out of the windows to running from room to room for no apparent reason and meowing at blank walls.

Lately, however, I've noticed that my fuzzy little companions have picked up some less than savory habits.

I have tried talking to them about it, but as of yet, I have not noticed any change in their behavior. They seem to hear me, but do not care.

It is out of desperation that I have instead decided to publicize their offenses in the hopes that this will get their attention and maybe they will stop their negative behaviors:

Now that their crimes have been brought to light, maybe we will see a change in their behavior... Who am I kidding? They're cats, they do what they want.

As always, feel free to follow my exploits on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Hello ladies, gentlemen and any single-celled organisms that may be reading this! I hope everyone's weeks were more splendid than the thought of a bunny on a unicycle!

It took me an inordinate amount of time this week to figure out something to write about. Why? Mostly because every time I sat down to type my mind would be whisked away in a million different directions.

I have ADHD. No, I'm not one of those people who says, "I'm so easily distracted, I must have ADHD!"

I actually have ADHD.

Let me, quickly, dispel a couple of myths about ADHD for you.

1. ADHD is a made up diagnosis invented for people who can't control their children or own behaviors.

False. It is actually an issue with the physical matter of the brain. Without using all the giant words that I learned to get my degree in psychology, basically ADHD means that one part of a person's brain is not communicating effectively or more slowly than the rest. Our brains, being the wonderful machines that they are, try to compensate by speeding everything up, but all that really does is create more of an imbalance. This is why stimulants, like caffeine, help. The stimulants help along the part of the brain that is not firing quite right to even things out.

(Disclaimer: This is a very brief explanation so that my blog post didn't become laborious to read, so no one kill me. If you wanted to read a 90 page dissertation on ADHD I'm sure I could find you one.)

2. If you have ADHD, you should be medicated.

 False. That's a little bit like saying that because the fourth Blade movie was terrible, the previous three were awful too. This is untrue, the fourth movie was a travesty, sure, but the previous three have made many a nerd's life just a little happier.

You can't just arbitrarily group people together by diagnosis. I have several friends with ADHD that truly do need the medication that they take to focus. I am lucky to have a rather mild form of ADHD that I can mostly self-medicate with coffee and exercise. Some people need meds, others do not. It's that simple.

3. ADHD means that you're just super fidgety, right?

False. Due to our lovely little neurotransmitters not firing the way they are supposed to, it means that we can be fidgety (I have a tendency to take apart any pen that's in my hands), but mostly it means we have issues being able to focus on a single task. Imagine that you have your computer browser open, and have 1,000 tabs open at once. Your computer, at random, switches tabs about every 10 or so seconds. That is basically what your brain on ADHD feels like.

So, what does ADHD look like on the inside to a person with it? Follow along, oh wayward adventurers, down the trail of what my un-caffienated brain does when I try to write a blog post:

OK, I need to focus and write this post.
Post, post, post-y, post, post...
At what point does bread officially become toast?
I wonder if someone answered that on Google.
I bet someone did, everything's on Google.
Did I remember to lock my door?
Do gerbils dream?
Maybe I should write a blog post about gerbil dreams!
Wait, aren't gerbils the ones who eat their own young, or was that mice?
I wonder if my friend's pet snake is over it's cold.
I really should make some coffee.

Gets up to make coffee. Returns five minutes later with no coffee, but has washed the dishes in her sink.

Now, to write this blog post.
Why do I feel like I'm forgetting something?
Crud, I think I need to laundry again. Did I do laundry this week already?
Did I remember to lock my door?
Oh, and I have to remember to send that e-mail at work on Monday.
I wonder what the coffee special will be on Monday at that one espresso stand.
Right, I was going to make coffee!
I wonder if they will have that red-velvet latte this week? That was tasty!

Goes to make coffee. Successfully starts coffee maker, then picks up a random book from the bookshelf, reads three pages, sets it down, before wandering back to the computer. Sits down, stares at toes.

Why aren't toes just called mini-fingers?
I guess toes is easier to say.
Unlike the word "discombobulated," which really describes what it does to the human tongue.
Did I remember to lock my door?
I wonder how one says "toes" in German?
I'd love to learn how to speak German.
After all, a lot of English has Germanic roots. 
Maybe that's something I should add to my to-do list, after I... oh yeah, this blog post...

Twenty minutes later I will finally remember that I made coffee and go get some. With caffeine stimulating my brain, and another hour or two, I will have a blog post. It is unlikely that I will ever figure out when bread officially becomes toast. 

And that, folks, is what living with ADHD is like. Does that help explain parts of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" for anyone?

Don't forget to check out my randomness on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!