Four books in two months has been challenging, and this isn't helping.

I'm working like hell to wrap up my first middle grade novel. It should be done in a day or two.

I'm excited about the idea of writing a book aimed at the students I teach. Although Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend and The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs crossed over into the YA market, this book is actually written with kids in mind.

It's a highly autobiographical novel entitled Cardboard Knight.

It's also a month late, which is not like me, but things got a little crazy at the end of 2018. Many books required attention all at once: 

My first book of nonfiction, Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling, hits the bookstores on June 12. I'm proofreading now and will be narrating the audio version this spring. 

It's available for preorder. If you want to help an author out.  

I also finished my next adult novel, currently titled How I Ended Up Here: A List, just a few weeks ago. It's in the hands of my editor, so I'll be revising soon.  

I'm also in the process of revising a novel entitled The Other Mother, which will come out in the US in 2019 or 2020 but will publishes in the UK in November of 2018. 

It's a long story that I'll share someday soon. 

In short, it's been a busy couple months. 

Also, this is definitely not helping in terms of getting the work done.  

The Weird Book Room: The last place I want my books to end up

I sometimes ponder the fate of my books. 

Will anyone read them a hundred years from now? 
Will libraries still have them on their shelves? 
Will they even exist? 

One of my friends recently suggested that my books are merely an attempt to negate my mortality and live forever. This is not true, of course.

Books aren't even close to a suitable replacement for my desire to live forever. 

Worse than ceasing to exist or never being read, what if my books end up in a place like this, alongside titles like these:

An important (and painful) lesson about the people closest to me and the things I write

One of my wife's friends told me yesterday that she reads this blog daily and feels like she has an oddly intimate relationship with me as a result.

Then she said that there have been times when she has told my wife that she loved something I wrote on my blog, only to discover that Elysha never read it.

Elysha acknowledged this to be true.  

Fear not, dear reader. Only a tiny part of me died at that moment. There's still plenty left of me for her to kill.

Later, while playing poker with friends and strangers, a guy sitting across the table (who I had just met) turned to my friend, pointed and me, and began whispering.

"What?" I asked, irritated. "What did I do?"

After a moment, he turned back to me, smiling, and said, "You're the Matthew Dicks? The writer? You wrote Something Missing? And the yellow book, too?"

"Yes," I said. "That's me."

It was a nice moment for me. It doesn't happen often. 

A moment later, a friend at the other end of the table chimed in:

"My kids actually read his books. I mean... I don't read them, but my kids do!"

Lesson of the day: 

The closer you are to me, the less likely you are to care about anything I have to say.

And I'm not going to lie. It hurts a little.

I may have to write mean things about my closest friends that they will never read.

I won’t be reading my novel to my children. For a damn good reason.

My son asked me to read my novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, to him.

"Too long," I told him. "No pictures. Let’s find something else."

It also has an awkward and explicit sex scene in it (which I didn't bother to mention), so I think he'll be reading that one on his own some day.


It’s easy to criticize what people do. It’s often what people don’t do that matters more, yet these inactions are often ignored. So leave me alone, you inactive, moronic toadstools.

I was recently sitting at my desk in my classroom, drinking a Diet Coke while correcting papers. A colleague walked in, and as we wrapped up our conversation, she commented on the soda that I was drinking. image

“You know, Diet Coke really isn’t good for you. You drink way too much. You should think about switching to something healthier.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve actually cut back on soda quite a bit since the beginning of the year.”

My tone was warm. My response was benign. But beneath my calm exterior, I was annoyed. Completely and thoroughly annoyed. Here’s why:

People find it exceedingly easy to criticize a person for action taken but rarely consider the reverse.

Yes, I drink Diet Coke. And yes, despite the Food and Drug Administration's approval of this product and its 33 year history of consumer consumption without any apparent links to leprosy or tuberculosis, carbonated beverages – and Diet Coke in particular – is poison in the minds of many people.

I understand that water is probably better for me than Diet Coke, but that doesn’t mean that Diet Coke is going to kill me. Just like the coffee and alcohol that most people consume on a daily basis  (and I do not) probably isn’t going to kill them, either.

Nevertheless, I’m also able to see that too much of almost anything can be bad. Recognizing the excessive quantity of soda that I was drinking in a given day, I chose to cut back. As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I have almost completely stopped drinking Diet Coke in my home. As a result, I’ve cut my soda consumption by more than half, and other than the nights when we are eating pizza or pasta for dinner, I rarely miss it.

But here’s the thing:

I happen to know for a fact that the woman who commented on my soda consumption does not exercise. She doesn’t jog or play a sport or belong to a gym. Other than the occasionally stress-filled work situation, she may never elevate her heart rate beyond a resting position.

Yet how often does someone criticize or even express concern for her lack of physical activity? Almost never is my guess because it’s almost impossible to comment on something that can’t be seen. Unless you followed this person for a week, peering into windows of her home at all hours of the day, you would never know that she lives a relatively sedentary lifestyle.

But my Diet Coke consumption? That’s obvious. The soda is in my hand. On my desk. Stuffed in my refrigerator. It’s easy to comment on my soda consumption because you see it. It’s a positive action.

So people comment on it and criticize it all the time.

But who is living a healthier lifestyle?

The person who exercises on a treadmill or elliptical machine for 45 minutes at least four times a week, does push ups and sit ups every day, practices yoga (poorly) and meditates every morning, and plays golf and basketball and runs in the non-winter months. And drinks Diet Coke…

… or the person who restricts herself to water and all natural juices but does not exercise in any way?

If you don’t think that my lifestyle is probably healthier (and you should), can we at least agree that it’s too close to call?

I’m often criticized for my eating and drinking habits. The lack of vegetables in my diet. My somewhat limited palate. My choice of soda over every other beverage.

But I also know that I’m being criticized by people who never exercise. Who watch 30 hours of television each week. Who haven’t read a book in ten years. Who can’t name the three branches of government. Who spend hours on hair and nails and makeup but not a single minute maintaining a healthy heart. Who can name every member of the Kardahian family but don’t know the name of even one of their state’s Senators or a single member of the Supreme Court.

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It’s so easy to criticize the overt, public actions of a person, because it’s what we can see. We can point and frown and criticize.

But it’s often the things that people don’t do – their inaction and underlying stupidity – that ultimately mean more but go unnoticed because they are not conveniently wrapped in a plastic bottle or red label.

30 lessons learned from six years of parenting

My daughter celebrated her sixth birthday on Sunday. When she turned two years-old, I posted a list of lessons learned from two years of parenting.

I updated that list when she turned four.

In truth, I raised a step-daughter for ten years as well, so I’ve been a parent a lot longer than just six years, but for the purposes of these posts, I have only listed lessons learned since having children of my own.

Here is the latest update to the list.

1. The parent who assumes the tougher position in regards to expectations and discipline is almost always correct.

2. Writing to your child on a daily basis helps you better appreciate the moments with your little one and prevents you from wondering how and why times flies by so quickly.

3. Training your child to fall sleep on her own and sleep through the night takes about two-four weeks if done with tenacity, an iron will, and an absolute adherence to the advice of experts. There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are few and far between. Parents must also possess the grudging acceptance that thunderstorms, nightmares, and illness will upset the apple cart from time to time.

4. You cannot take too many photographs of your children.

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5. Failure to follow through with warnings and consequences even once is the death knell of effective parenting. Everything begins with you sticking to your word every time. Nothing is more important when it comes to discipline. 

6. Libraries are the greatest child-friendly, zero-cost entertainment options on the planet.

7. The right iPhone app can transform an unfortunate dining experience into a delightful one. There is no reason to suffer in a restaurant. If your child is acting like a jerk, fork over the technology and enjoy the rest of the meal. Make him or her suffer later.  

8. Almost all of your child’s annoying behaviors have a short shelf life. They will invariably be replaced by a different annoying behavior, but don’t become consumed with the idea that any one behavior will last forever.

9. Reading to your child every night is one of the best things you can do. Failure to do so is inexcusable.

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10. Car seats suck. They may be the worst part of parenting.

11. Parents who are blessed with children who eat almost anything and claim that they are responsible for this behavior should be immediately ostracized by friends and family. Possibly forever.

12. Babysitters who take good care of your children and keep the house clean should be treasured like gold.

13. It’s important to remember that there was a time in human history, not that long ago, when foods like bananas, avocados, and fish were unavailable to vast areas of the world on a daily basis, yet children still grew up healthy and strong. Variety is lovely but not as important as we sometimes think. Don’t sweat it.  

14. Pick up your children as often as possible, particularly when they become too heavy to do so comfortably. The day will come when you can no longer pick them up, and you will regret all the times they asked and you said no.

15. Battles over a child’s choice of clothing are some of the dumbest. As long as your child is adhering to basic codes of decency, stay out of the wardrobe wars. 

16. Changing a diaper is not a big deal and is never something worthy of whines or complaints.

17. Experienced parents always know which toys are best.

18. If your child refuses to wear a hat, coat, or gloves, allow them to experience the cold. Natural consequences oftentimes teach the most valuable lessons.

19. Unsolicited advice from experienced parents should always be received with appreciation. It should not be viewed as a criticism or indictment of your own parenting skills and can be easily ignored if need be.

20. Consignment shops are some of the best places to find children’s clothing and toys unless you are a pretentious snob.

21. The majority of unhappy parents in the world possessed unrealistic or misguided expectations about motherhood or fatherhood before their child was ever born.

22. Don’t become emotionally involved in your child’s poor behavioral choices. He or she owns those choices. Establish expectations, deliver consequences, and offer guidance and love. That is all. You almost never have anything to do with a temper tantrum or your child’s bad decision.     

23. Parents seeking the most fashionable or trendy stroller, diaper bag, and similar accouterments are often saddled with the least practical option.

24. Little boys and little girls are entirely different animals. They have almost nothing in common, and it is a miracle that they might one day marry each other.

25. Parenting is not nearly as difficult as people want you to believe.

26. Telling parents that taking care of your child has been an easy and joyous experience will usually annoy them.

27. A seemingly great majority of the people in the world who are raising children are not happy unless they have attempted to demoralize you with their assurances that parenting will not be easy.

28. Experienced parents who are positive, optimistic, and encouraging to the parents of newborns are difficult to come by and should be treasured when found.

29. The ratio of happy times to difficult times in the first two years of your child’s life is about a billion to one.

30. Parents have a tragic tendency to forget the billion and accentuate the one.

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This author found a way to sell books with sticks and leaves and a little bit of twine.

Last weekend I took my children to Winding Trails in Farmington, Connecticut, to a Fairy House Tour. I had never heard of such a thing and had no idea what to expect.

I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. But it was brilliant.

Based upon author Tracy Kane’s Fairy Houses series, local organizations were invited to construct elaborate fairy houses from natural materials that were then placed throughout the woods for the children to find and examine. There must’ve been three or four dozen houses in all, each one more elaborate than the next.

The kids adored it.


At the end of the trail, the kids were given the opportunity to build their own fairy houses using materials provided by the camp.

The event culminated with a reading at the entrance to the trail and a book signing. A brilliant bit of marketing by the author, who sold many books.

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It led me to wonder what I might do to similarly market my books.

Invite people to recreate life-sized versions of their imaginary friends and bring them to a Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend cocktail party?

Create a Something Missing book club game wherein each guest is sent into a room and tasked with stealing an item that would go unnoticed?

Design an Unexpectedly, Milo online game wherein players watch video diaries in order to determine the biography of the person speaking?

None are nearly as good as a Fairy House tour, I’m afraid.

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My book club once featured skinny dipping. This book club has a big time college football player for a member. I think they win.

I’m not a big college football fan. I don’t have an allegiance to any college football team. But wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell may have turned me into a Georgia Bulldogs fan with his recent foray into, of all things, a book club.


It’s a great story. I can’t wait to show this video my students at the beginning of the school year. You must watch.

Go Bulldogs.

I hereby release myself of all parental guilt regarding the iPad. It was shortsighted, stupid, and purposelessly nostalgic.

I brought my son downstairs for breakfast. As we stepped into the kitchen, he saw the iPad on the counter and said, “iPad! Chair! iPad! Chair!”

This is the two year-old version way of saying, “Father, I would very much like to take a seat in my favorite chair and make use of that glorious device.”

A large part of me wanted to deny him the use of the iPad. Breakfast would be ready in five minutes. There are a thousand toys in our home that he loves.

More importantly, I was suffering from iPad guilt.

I should avoid sticking my son’s face into a screen as much as possible, including now.

Charlie continued to beg, and so I surrendered, handing him the iPad. “Thank you, Daddy!” he said, as if knowing that a polite remark of appreciation would improve his chances of getting the device again in the future.

I started to make breakfast, feeling the weight of parental failure on my shoulders. I had done the modern day equivalent of what my parents did to me: Stick the kid in front of the television so he would stop whining.

I was ruining my son’s life. Destroying his attention span. Stealing his boyhood creativity. Taking the easy road.

Breakfast complete, I returned to Charlie to extract the iPad from his tiny clutches. I looked down. I saw this:

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Charlie was sitting in his chair, scrolling through the hundreds of photographs of the family, calling out his sister’s name and touching his mother’s face and whispering, “Momma” whenever he saw it.

In that moment, I dispensed, once and for all, with iPad guilt.

For some incredibly stupid reason, I had decided long ago that smashing a toy fire truck into a toy bus while making growling sounds was an infinitely  more valuable use of my son’s time than using an iPad.

Why is that?

My son sat down in his chair with the tablet, and of all the choices he had (and there were a lot), he opted to peruse the photo album. Had he come downstairs and demanded an actual photo album from the shelf, with real photographs, I would’ve been pleased. Ecstatic, even.

But on a screen? Not as good, or at least I used to think so.

I left Charlie on the iPad, scrolling through photos, while I folded the laundry. About ten minutes later, he closed the photo album and opened an interactive book. A narrator reads the fairy tale aloud as Charlie touches the characters to make them speak and act.

I realized that had Charlie grabbed a physical book and flipped through the pages, I would’ve been pleased.

But reading an interactive book on an iPad? Not as good.

This point of view, however, is insane. Charlie can’t read yet. Charlie flips through books on his own all the time, calling out colors, letters, and the names of objects. The poor boy wanted to actually hear the story read aloud, but for some inane reason, I saw this as a failure on both his and my part.

No more. No longer will I be sucked into this nostalgic, idealized, moronic view of parenting. As I’ve written about before, Charlie knows all of the letters of the alphabet thanks to the iPad. Without my wife or I encouraging, directing, or participating in any way, he learned to identify every letter, upper and lowercase. and knows the sounds that many of these letters make.

In a million years, I couldn't have taught my two year-old son this skill, and I’m an elementary school teacher. But a cleverly designed app, that is both fun, interactive, and deceptively instructive, did the job.

How could I ever think of this was time wasted?

No longer will I view my children’s childhood through the lens of my own childhood, valuing the choices of my childhood over the rest.  My children are growing up in a world in which they will do the vast majority of their writing and reading on a screen. They are growing up in a world where technological ability and efficiency are no longer prized. They are required.

I should not be worried that my two year-old son can operate the iPad, finding photo albums, music, books, videos, and learning games without our help.

I should be thrilled.

Please don’t get me wrong. We don’t let him use the iPad often, and this release of guilt will not change that. We don’t allow him to use the iPad for long stretches. We limit his time, say no to his requests for often than not, and believe that his day should primarily be filled with physical activity and time spend looking and listening and communicating with his family.

But some time spent with technology when his father is making breakfast, folding the laundry, writing an important email, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, or driving long distances?

No guilt. Not any more.

For almost a day, I almost thought of myself as an honest-to-goodness author. Then they took all the books away.

On Wednesday afternoon, I walked into my local Stop & Shop to pick up a few things. I was feeling grumpy for a number of reasons (some legitimate) and plowing through the aisles like I wanted to hunt down and kill someone.

My local Stop & Shop has a large, wide, well stocked book aisle, placed gloriously in the center of the store.  Ever since 2009, when I published my first novel, I have walked down this aisle every time I entered the store, hoping to one day spot one of my books on the shelves.

As a result of my especially foul mood, I didn’t spend the usual minute or two staring at the books in this aisle. For the first time in a long time, I walked up the magazine side of the aisle, head down, mind on other things, ignoring the books entirely.

But then I stopped short. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted it. My book. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, on the shelf, flanked by two books that I had read and loved.

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I couldn’t believe it. I stared at it from across the aisle with my mouth hanging open.

Days later, I still can’t believe it.

My books can be found in bookstores throughout the country. I find my novels in independent bookstores and big box stores like Barnes & Noble all the time. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has been translated into more than 20 languages and can be found worldwide in more than three dozen countries. Readers send me photos of my books on the shelves in stores as far away as Australia, South Africa and Southeast Asia. They find my books in airports, museums and retailers like Target.

I am very fortunate. If you want a copy of any of my books, they are not too hard to find.

But until Wednesday, I had never seen my book in my local grocery store, and for some reason, this was a big deal to me.

As the author of three novels and a fourth on the way, I have yet to feel like I’ve arrived. Despite the success that I have enjoyed, I continue to feel like an outsider. A rookie. An interloper. I continue to worry that every book will be my last. I fear that readers and publishers will soon discover that I am a fraud. A trickster. Someone who has gotten lucky a few times but lacks the literary chops for a sustained career.

I can’t imagine not feeling like this. Perhaps it’s a good thing.

But seeing my book on the grocery store shelf was something special for me. It’s the place where I see books being sold most often. It’s the place where I stop most frequently to see who is on top. Which books are selling. Which authors are worthy of these prized spots.

To find my book on this shelf was a sliver of validation that I might actually make it as an author someday.

I went back the next day because my bank also happens to be inside the grocery store. After making my deposit, I headed over to the book aisle to enjoy another glimpse of my book in all its glory. Instead, I discovered that the once-glorious book aisle at the center of the store was gone. Just one day after finally finding my book on its shelves, all the books were gone. The shelves were gone. The entire aisle was in rubble.

I turned to an employee and asked, “What happened to all the books?”

“Oh,” she said. “They’re remodeling the whole store. I think they’ll be back in about a month. At the end of aisle 8, I think.”

The end of aisle 8. No longer in the epicenter of the store. No more wide aisle. No more expansive selection.

Just like that, my book and its shelf were gone.

So much for the validation.

The most baffling part about the North Korean government is their inability to lie well.

The North Korean government is obviously unlike any other governing body in the world, but what I cannot understand is why they are such bad liars. While there may be good reasons to enhance the reputation of their country and their dictator around the world, the propaganda that they promote is so  ridiculous and ultimately damaging to the nation’s image that they would be better off saying nothing.   

For example, while he was still alive, their official news agency claimed that former North Korean dictator, Kim Jong II, had invented the hamburger, composed six operas and written more than 1,500 books in three years while at university.

His birth was reportedly heralded by a swallow and caused winter to change to spring, a star to illuminate the sky and rainbows to spontaneously appear.

According to his official biography, he did not defecate, despite this book’s insistence that this could not be true. 


Best of all (at least to a golfer), he reportedly shot eleven holes-in-one the first time he played golf (a feat verified by his army of bodyguards).

Is the North Korean government so backward as to think that these claims would be received by anything but amused smirks by the rest of the world?

I honestly don’t get it.

She likes a little story

My daughter stayed with friends this weekend while my wife and I attended the Brattleboro Literary Festival.

When we told her that she would be sleeping over their house, she said, “Make sure they know that I like a little story before bed.”

It was one of those moments that I wish I could continue living over and over again for the rest of my life.