Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Best Song Ever Made By Anyone Ever

For serious.
How is Your Book Going?

Lately I've been going to the West Seattle Uptown Espresso early in the morning (stop in and see me! but don't talk to me! can't you see I'm writing?! what the hell is wrong with you?!) to write for a couple of hours before I start my day. The way it works is this: alarm goes off at 6, I regret ever attempting to get a book deal, I put on the nearest clothes I can find, I drive up to Uptown and get there by 6:10, I get greeted by the perky barista who pours me a huge cup of coffee, I stare at the screen, I write small terrible things for 40 minutes, I kick into gear a little, I start writing faster and faster, despite having no food in me I elect to get a refill of coffee, 7:30 comes around and I'm flying, then I go insane from the lack of sleep and abundance of coffee, then the writing actually gets good, then it's 8:10 and time to stop. I have yet to dare to read anything I've written during these periods.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Weather, in times of crisis, can be a stressful job. Apparently.
How is Your Book Going?
This is a question frequently asked by friends and associates who know I'm writing a book. And I don't know how to answer all the time because it's a reeeeeally big process and frankly "how it's going" varies dramatically from day to day and even hour to hour. But the folks asking are good folks and are being friendly and so I don't want to give a flip little cute answer but I also don't have time to answer in depth. So I'm going to attempt to give an update in this space once a day at some point. Also, I'm not quite ready to talk about what the darn book is even about at this point. Maybe later. But it seems like a blog is the perfect place to do something like this. True, I'm seemingly taking on this new writing project in the midst of my biggest writing project ever but um...yeah. So today's update:
It's going well. Lots still to do but its flowing and I suspect I'm going to far far far surpass the minimum word count set forth by my contract. This will give me much to work with and much work to do once the writing is done. Writing is fun, worrying about writing is not.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Oh My.

This is incredibly bloggy but there is some good stuff going on at Kitten War. And while some may enjoy the winningest, all will be more fascinated by the losingest. Thanks to Tina and her estimable blog for the tipoff.
Muppet Re-write

I gave my wife the first season of The Muppet Show on DVD for her birthday. This led to instant muppet obsession on the part of the kids, naturally. And though Charlie (age 4) does not often sing, I heard him softly singing this to himself the other day, "it's time to play the music, it's time to die of fright". And when you think about some of the things on that show, it makes some sense. Like this, this, and this.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Greatest Hit

Taking a week or so off (I know, I must be exhausted from barely posting all summer) but I found this from like the opening moments of this blog. It's so dated that my son is only two years old and you'll note how I have to be weird enough for both of us whereas by now he's doing that all on his own...

Bumpy's Trip to the Woods: A Critical Overview

Last night, I was playing with my two-year-old son Charlie and he was pretending to put his enormous yellow rabbit, Bumpy, to bed. I should mention that it was by no means a "bed" that we were putting Bumpy in. It was a blanket on the floor. But whatever. After tucking Bumpy in, Charlie decided to tell Bumpy a story, the first one he's ever made up. It goes like this:

"Bumpy and a bear went to the woods. They met another bear. They heard a noise. It wasn't the other bear. It went 'baa baa baa baa'. It was a sheep. The sheep said 'Hello Bumpy. Time to wake up.'"

I don't know where to begin in dissecting this travesty.

To begin with, let's talk characters (although to be honest, that word is perhaps overly flattering to the portraits Charlie created). Bumpy is a strong protagonist: large, yellow, friendly-looking, and huggable. But then we get to the bears. Early in the story, I enjoyed the inclusion of the first bear, the "companion" character as it provided some tension to our protagonist's, Bumpy's, story. While rabbits and bears are not natural enemies, they are not exactly friends either. So why are they in the woods together? What is their agenda? The bear's existence has dramatic potential but the promise is never fulfilled. When it's revealed to be nothing but a silent do-nothing figure, well, that insults the reader and that makes me furious at my son, the author.

But while the first bear at least has squandered potential, the second bear has no place at all. Is it meant to be a red herring, trying to lure the listener into thinking that there is a major ursine twist to come? Is it merely a stalling technique by an inexperienced author who can't bring himself to set down the pen and think a situation through? No one knows, especially not the author.

If you can call him an author.

Some elements of the storyare promising. "Animals going into the woods" is a solid premise. Keep in mind, both rabbits and bears are supposed to live in the woods. Are Bumpy and his nameless companion returning to their ancestral home? Rejecting their lives in the world of humans and beginning a potentially problematic reassimilation into the wild? Or are they simply visiting? Going back to all the same old rustic haunts and reminiscing in that patronizing way that big city folk do when they go back to their old middle-American high school towns? Will they come to realize that their rustic cousins are not so dumb after all? Could this, with heavy workshopping, be a zoological Doc Hollywood? If that's the case, perhaps the second bear has a role after all. Is there a prodigal bear narrative that merits exploration? There might be a story there.

But the operative word is might. Charlie doesn't pursue it. Is that because he's lazy? Or because he's two? The reader doesn't care, the reader wants to be captivated, and Charlie fails to deliver.

Whatever my son has tried to construct in terms of an arc falls apart when we arrive at this ridiculous sheep character. It's all so facile: the rabbit and the bear, forest creatures, enter the woods and discover the sheep a meadow animal. Forgetting for a moment Charlie's clumsy and obvious introduction of the animal (do we need four full "baa"s to realize it's a sheep?), this habitat switcheroo is just another hamfisted attempt to arrive at the already tired "fish out of water" scenario. Maybe that premise is fresh when you're two.

Speaking of things that aren't fresh, let's talk about the ending. "Hello Bumpy. Time to wake up." Some Charlie enthusiasts will claim that he's deconstructing the very idea of the bedtime story. Not only is Bumpy the story's hero, he is also the one being read the story and by telling him, through the sheep, to wake up, some would argue that Charlie is attacking bedtime story convention and even making a political statement against the tyranny of bedtime. A sort of updated "Being John Malkovich". "Being Bumpy". And while "Bumpy's Trip to the Woods" is sure to score points among fellow anti-sleep toddlers, it's pandering. It's like making Ashcroft jokes at an ACLU meeting. And it does nothing to mitigate the hackneyed "all a dream" conclusion. It's not novel, it's not shocking, and it's not even innovative. It's "Dorothy wakes up" for the sippy-cup generation and it's an insult to all the readers who have invested themselves in these characters' struggles.

Does Charlie have the potential to be a great story teller? To produce the next Hamlet or Ulysses or Goodnight Moon? Well, he's still young. But I'm done working with him until he starts taking this a little more seriously.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

At the coffee shop this morning

Sitting outside to get away from the oppressively loud Stevie Wonder music being played inside, huddled over the laptop, trying to write a book.
CHEERFUL BARISTA: Hey! Working hard or hardly working?
ME: Working hard.

Turns out a straight answer kills a good-natured cliche' joke every time. Good to know.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Why The Interweb Is Good

Without BoingBoing, we might never know about beautifully strange things like this.
The Wrong Turn Taken

When you start having dreams about where you're watching documentaries on television, that's not a good sign, right? That's a sign that maybe something has become sort of tedious. The dream documentary I watched last night was about Eddie Vedder's early career as a child actor. Then today, I heard a Pearl Jam song and thought, "what was that sitcom that Eddie Vedder was on when he was a kid?" And the answer is that he wasn't on any except in the tedious visions I saw at night. Thanks a lot, dull Sandman.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


So I said, 'Ma'am, may I speak with you first?' I took her to the galley. I said, 'This is probably going to help your flying career. When a man gets on the plane at 6 a.m., and he's 7-foot-5, and he's drunk, don't bring him tools!'"
A Thing I Wrote on McSweeney's

As part of the research for my book, I ended up listening to a lot of Charlie Daniels Band music this summer. Like, a LOT. And though I thought I understood his big hit song, some things didn't add up.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Plan for the Nomenclature of Swimming Frogs

Turns out we're going to get swimming frogs. I'm told they're easy to take care of and are just delighted to swim and live in a bowl and be friends with other frogs and fish. And so we told Charlie that we'll get four, one for each member of the family.

So in the car yesterday:
JILL: We could get four frogs. And then we'd each have one.
ME: I'll name mine "Dad".
JILL: I'll name mine "Mom".
KATE: I name mine "Kate"!
CHARLIE: I'm going to name my frog "Sword". Then I'll wake up in the morning and say "Hi, Sword"!

UPDATE: we picked the frogs up at the store today. Turns out they're called Dwarf Frogs. Because of course they are.
My Daughter Kate Sucks at "Guess the Animal"
(on a recent vacation in Montana, driving the whole way, lots of time in a car with two small kids, playing a question and answer game of "Guess the Animal")
CHARLIE: I'm thinking of an animal.
KATE: Pig!
ME: Is it alive today or extinct?
CHARLIE: Extinct.
ME: Is it from the Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, or after the Cretaceous?
CHARLIE: Cretaceous.
KATE: Pig!
CHARLIE: No Kate! It's not a piiiiiiig!
JILL: Is it a meat eater or a plant eater?
CHARLIE: Meat eater.
ME: So it's an extinct meat eater from the Cretaceous.
JILL: Hmm.
KATE: Hmmm. Pig?
ME: Is it an enormous prehistoric carnivorous pig, Charlie?

Friday, August 12, 2005

How to Impress One's Animal-Obsessed Son

Charlie cannot consume enough information on animals eating other animals. Just wants to know about it all the time. So I told him about this that I read about on Boing Boing. And now I'm The Coolest Dad Ever.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

In Other News...

Blogging died again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

An Incident at the Zoo

Looking at Nigerian dwarf goats with Charlie (age 4) and Kate (age 2 1/2 and a dwarf herself). Some poor kid who didn't know any better also looking at the goats.

KID: Mommy! Look at the baby goats!
CHARLIE: Hey! They're not babies! They're grown-up goats! They're just dwarf goats!
KID: Oh. I...uh...
CHARLIE: They're regular grown-up goats! Don't call them babies!
ME: That's right, son. And they can do anything that any other goat can do.
(KID wanders away, stunned, meanwhile Kate, who Charlie was trying to protect with the tirade, was already off to see the bunnies)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Conversation with Charlie, Age 4, Regarding Strategy

HIM: Dad, why does Bush always attack?
ME: Well he doesn't always attack.
HIM: When he gets mad he does. When he hates someone he attacks them and tries to hurt them and kill them.
ME: Oh. Well. Umm...
HIM: So why does Bush do that?
ME: Let's get back to the book we're reading about the, uh, dinosaurs here.