Saturday, October 16, 2021

(not quite) On the Road Again

 Here is a sketchbook drawing of the Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia.*

The Handley is a beautiful, well thought-out building with a lot of little details that hit home for me and just the spooky kind of historicity that I love. There are spiral staircases galore—skinny cast iron ones, and wide wooden ones that twist up into the dome. There’s also a sort of low-ceilinged middle level that you can’t quite get to, but the old shelves and 1960s slatted halogen tube lights are so exactly like the ones from the old Wells library of my childhood that it sent shivers down my spine. 

Anyway, all this is just a preamble on the way to saying that next Saturday (October 23rd) I will be engaging in my first in-person event in 2 and a half years (the last one being a SCBWI event in Kansas City). This event, courtesy of the Winchester Book Gallery, will be held in the Handley library’s beautiful subterranean auditorium (complete with a secret hatch on the stage that leads to a ladder that goes down into a huge cistern). 

I’m a little bit nervous, though, truth to tell.

And it’s not just Covid. (Though it is that, too. If you’re thinking of coming please do read the guidelines).

When Ida died I was only a week away from heading out on a big tour to promote Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl. It wasn’t long after that the pandemic began. And I was grateful, in a way, for the long hiatus from traveling and speaking, because for a long time seeing new people in that context was …unthinkable. Sure there have been virtual events but with those I am still ensconced in the safety of my studio. 

But recently I’ve been thinking about it again—the books signings and conventions. I’ve been thinking about those days when I would sling my battered old duffle on my shoulder (the same, stalwart adventure bag I’ve used since high school!) and head out into the tumult of travel toward some new horizon. Sometimes, lately, I put on a jacket and throw that bag over my shoulder and look in the mirror and think “this is what I would wear if I were traveling.”

I’m not traveling yet.

The Handley Library is my own back yard, really, so it’s not “traveling.” But it’s a toe dipped back into the pool. And as much as I’m nervous, I’m also looking forward to it. 

Maybe I’ll see you there. 


*okay clearly I am developing a bit of a love-affair with asterisk'd footnotes… I started this library sketch directly across the street at an outdoor table at Tropical Island Cafe, which is run by a Jamaican family and serves the best jerk chicken and plantains. It’s got a real kick and will get you sweating.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Cover Up

 Today was a perfect Autumn day in Winchester, Virginia. The air was warm, the light was liquid gold, and the candy corn leaves were perfectly crunchy. So, when I dropped my girls off for their ballet class I did *not* go to my favorite used book haunt. Instead I parked near Ye Olde Towne (Winchester’s historic neighborhood gets the extra ‘e’s) and did a bit of reading and scribbling in the gorgeous Mount Hebron Cemetery.*

Right here is where I would post a picture to show you how the early evening light dappled the gravestones, except, of course, I forgot my phone. 

But I promise you it was very fine

Instead I am going to share with you a few mock covers that I’ve been working on for my Reynard book (which will be out sometime next year). Please understand, these are rough concept pieces. Should I even be sharing them?!? I don’t know.


These are only a few. 

Cover design is a strange process. My experience has been that every cover goes through a dozen or more permutations before landing …well, wherever it lands. Hopefully it lands in a perfect place. More often it lands in a place of compromise, because there are more voices involved in the production of the cover than in the meat of the book, and that makes sense because a cover is both part of the reading experience and a sort of lure or advertisement to get you to pick up the book and have the reading experience. 

Maybe every cover is a Siren Song luring readers to their doom. 

Or delight. 

Or both. 



*I also popped my head in real quick at the Sexi-Mexi Burrito Bar to say hello to my friend Crissy. I still smile, a little bashfully, when I see the design work I did for this excellent eatery

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Of Style and Substance

My Blue Plate Books purchase of the week, this week, was The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This is one of the first books I bought for myself after my college graduation when, with dreams of being a plucky reporter, I took on writing the local beat in the dying days of the smaller of my hometown's newspapers. 

That first hallowed copy, with it's garish hot pink an teal cover, is lost to time.

But I decided that a every real and serious author's personal library should sport this little book. And anyway, it was time for a reread. A brushing up. A clearing out of the cobwebs. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Weight of Memory

 It is with some trepidation that I post another personal comic from my grief journal. I see why C.S. Lewis first tried to publish A Grief Observed anonymously. So with that in mind I preface this post by saying *I’m okay.* This comic is most of a year or more old (though I did finish inking it recently).

One of the difficult and confusing things about the comics in that journal is that I *like* some of them AS COMICS. I think they work. It’s just hard to know if, and how, to show them. I do take some solace in imagining that, after a 2+ year hiatus from blogging, there are probably very few people reading this.

Monday, October 4, 2021

I must wrest the life-giving word from the dreaded spirit Astaroth

 It’s October. There’s no denying it. And I have a movie recommendation for you, dear reader. It’s a 1920 silent film called Der Golem wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came Into the World). 

Will you like it?


I'm pretty sure that I saw Edward Scissorhand’s when it came out in 1990—if not then I saw it pretty shortly after, and I confess that it left me kind of lukewarm. But the thing about it that I loved, the thing that burned itself into my visual upbringing, was the scene where Peg (the mother) is wandering through the inventor’s mansion on the hill, up the steps and into the ruined rafters where she finds Edward crouching in a shadowy corner.* That scene is pitch perfect and gorgeous and I will love it forever. 

The set of the inventor’s mansion, with it’s otherworldly curves and angles, is what really sells it. It’s almost entirely black and white, textured like paper mâché, and perfectly balanced between whimsy and menace. It’s dark fairytale perfection from a world where every row of gingerbread rooftops is also a set of pointed teeth.

And I think that set design and that scene owe almost everything to German expressionism and, I bet, Der Golem in particular. 

So if you liked that scene in Edward Scissorhands, then I bet you'll like Der Golem

The caveat, of course, is that it’s a silent film from 1920, so the editing is slower than we're used to and while the sets and costumes are perfect, the Golem himself looks more goofy than frightening. But, if you’re in the right mood, I think it’s a great (and spooky!) piece of art and history. 

OH! And the biggest shout out to my pal Zack Giallongo who introduced me to Der Golem. 

*the other thing that I love from Edward Scissorhands is, of course, Danny Elfman’s score, which plays on a loop in my heart from October through December. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Lessons from a Goat

How did it come to this?

In my experience this is the kind of question you ask yourself on a steamy August morning when you have your arms around a urine-soaked goat, when the smell is ripe, and you’re struggling to hoist it into a makeshift harness hanging from the rafters. 

I never intended to have goats in my life. They just sort of wandered in. 

Well, the truth is that we do have a nice, flat yard. And we had a pretty aggressive and thorny blackberry hedge growing along the back fence. So when some friends sold their old Virginia farm and moved into town we took on their goats. There were three white females and old Gruffy. 

We’re gonna come back to Gruffy. 

We put up a solar powered electric fence to keep them from wandering off. The fence never seemed to work, and I also never really understood how it worked. We also didn’t know that two of the three females were pregnant. I found that out when my daughter called me one Saturday as I was driving back from yoga, to say that something was …happening with one of the goats. That was an interesting Saturday. 

So then for awhile we had baby goats, and they were cute. I mean aggressively cute. It wasn’t natural. But they were also impossible to contain. They were no end of trouble. 

So we ended up giving all the goats, except for old Gruffy, to a family that was much more equipped to care for them (as we were loading them for transport, one of the baby goats gave me a parting gift of getting loose and head-butting the crap out of my van’s windshield). 

All that was a few years ago. Since then it’s just been Gruffy and his special lady friend. His special lady friend is a sheep, by the way. She's sweet and fluffy, and I find their relationship charming as hell. (I’m the last one to separate the sheep and the goats.) I still grumbled about having a goat in my yard, though. You know, from time to time...

Then, in the hottest part of this last summer, Gruffy got sick. 

He stopped eating. He lost clumps of hair. He got terribly, terribly thin. He stopped standing up. 

He was in pretty bad shape when I put him on a tarp and dragged him from the back of the field to the shade in the tree by the back door. I was pretty sure he had parasites, so I bought goat dewormer and fed it to him. It didn’t seem to help. I was pretty sure Gruffy was going to die. 

What do you do with a dead goat? I wondered.

We called a vet to come look at him. 

The vet arrived in a big, white truck. He was just what you’d hope for in a country vet—calm and friendly, but not chatty—clearly more interested in the animal than the people connected to it. He gave Gruffy a shot of *real* medicine (apparently it was amateur hour with my deworming pellets). And then he told us that Gruffy might recover, but he really was in pretty bad shape. And he told us what we’d have to do for the goat every day. 

And so I found myself, in the back half of August, working with Gruffy every day. It wasn’t just feeding and watering. He needed to be lifted up and held in a standing position. He needed his legs massaged to get the blood back into them. He needed to relearn how to walk. Even when laying down he needed to be flipped from one side to another throughout the day. In the mornings he was soaked in his own filth. He smelled just awful. 

I smelled just awful

I washed up as much as I could but Gruffy had a pungency that really stuck to you. You’d get little whiffs of it. 

I grumbled a lot. Sometimes to myself, but more often out loud. But I wasn’t working alone. We all worked together to help Gruffy. I was just the most complainy about it. 

Eventually we dragged him into a shed and I rigged a sort of harness from the rafters so that he could stand for longer stretches of time without having me right there to stop him from falling. We gathered branches of vitamin-rich leaves to feed him. 

And he got better. He started walking on his own. He stopped needing the harness. He fattened back up. 

We had a nice, sturdy fence installed to enclose the field. A proper farm fence. 

Gruffy is out there now, with his lady friend (her name is Stella). They are munching happily on Autumn grass. It’s all pretty damn idyllic. I even made them supporting characters in the book I’m working on (under different names—the last thing I need is a legal battle with farm animals). 

How did it come to this?

I don’t actually think there’s a better question. I think it’s just about whether or not you can laugh when you ask it.