New Dogs, New Tricks


So, as I was saying, Albert Lee died.

Looking back at those last couple months, it’s difficult to understand how we slogged through each day.  Any of you who has ever had to deal with the decline of a member of your family (two-legged or four-) knows what I mean.  You just push ahead, every day watching the ailing one, hoping that you’re clear-headed enough to make good decisions on their behalf, thinking about their needs while not being completely oblivious to your own.  I’ve been lucky in that regard up until now — not having to ponder these matters too often and not (so far) with humans  — but I suppose the day will come (unless I pull a fast one and go first).

But enough of such grim thoughts: Albert died.  We did the best we could for him and I think we did okay.  After he died, we had him cremated and they gave us a nice little wooden box filled with ashes that, as Graham Chapman once said, we can pretend are his.  The box sits on the mantle with his collar and his favorite food bowl surrounded by an honor guard of metal bunny statues that I bought at a knick-knackery in Ardmore.  If one of the cats wants to try to pee on him, he’s going to have to work really hard to do it.

One of the questions you hear a lot after your animal dies is “Are you going to get another one?”  The world, I’ve discovered, is divided between people like my father, who cannot conceive of ever having a relationship like the one he had with a deceased animal (his dog, Heidi) and so, therefore, will not consider the prospect, and people like Helen and me.

Yes, of course we’ll get another dog.  We like dogs.  We like having them around.  While we both are people who like structure and organization, we’re also people with fewer ties to Planet Earth than some.  We both work at home; our family ties are relatively modest; and we’re not the sort that has large, varied groups of friends.  Neither of us is a hermit, but on the Introvert-Extrovert scale, we’re both definitely somewhere closer to the “I” end of the scale.  Having creatures around — pets, companion animals, whatever you want to call them — grounds us both and gives us something to think about other than our self-absorbed selves.  When a cat thinks it’s time for something to eat, he will sit on your keyboard.  When a dog thinks it’s time to go out for walkies, the sound of their toenails clicking as they circle the room is the only sound you can hear.  The animals we live with ground us, which is a fine thing because, otherwise, I think we might just both float away like the balloons I always swore I would hang onto at the county fair and never, ever did.  How many balloons have I watched turn into tiny dots on the horizon?  Answer: Lots.

So, yes, we got another dog.  Two, in fact: Joey and Lia.  Helen found Joey on a adoption web-site and contacted the owner of the rescue, a nice woman named Pat.  After reading through our applications and checking our references, Pat invited us to her farm in central PA to meet Joey, who was one of the 20-something animals she was caring for, mostly boarder collies and shelties.  Joey and Lia are brother and sister, both sheltie-keeshond mixes, and had been brought to Pat when their previous owner couldn’t care for them anymore.  We don’t know many details about their lives before Pat took them in, except that they spent a lot of time in crates, which they now loathe and will not enter.  Lia had been adopted a little while before we found Joey and, even on the first day we met her, Pat was having misgivings about the decision to separate them.

Joey was very sweet when we first met him and, for want of a better word, soft-spoken, with a gentle spirit that occasionally boarders on timidity.  He was flinch, like he was accustomed to being if not physically abused, then verbally intimidated.  We liked him right away and decided to bring him home and see how he fit in.

The first couple weeks did not go well.  While two of our cats — Kirby and Tumble — were more-or-less fine with having a dog in the house again, Puffy (the King of Everything) was incensed and needed to let everyone everywhere know of his displeasure as frequently as possible. Clearly, this made Joey feel anxious.  He did not eat as much as he might have and, for want of a better word, he sulked.  All the time.

We took Joey to our vet, the redoubtable Dr. Peters, who pronounced him healthy except for a mild case of colitis, caused, he said, by anxiety.  Dr. Peters also was kind enough to tell Joey, in a low murmur (his signature move), that Joey was “the winner of the dog lottery,” which is a nice thing to hear, except for when your new four-legged companion seems miserable all the time.

We called Pat, who quickly made her diagnosis: “He misses his sister.”  I confess I had my doubts. Why hadn’t Joey seemed sulky to Pat after Lia had been adopted?  Helen’s (reasonable) response: “That would be difficult to pick up when you’re surrounded by 20 dogs.”  Fine.  This seemed like a sensible reply.  But what, if anything, could be done? Joey was with us; his sister was with her new family.  Should we send him back to Pat where he seemed at least moderately happier, surrounded by a pack?

Helen and Pat conferred.  They plotted.  They planned.  I remember distinctly one afternoon sitting in my office with Joey sitting on the couch and we heard the two ladies talking on the phone in a far room.  We looked at each other and Joey cocked his head at me in a distinctive doggy “WTF is going on?” way.  I shrugged (my go-to move).  It’s best not to ask when such Powers are unfolding.

So, Pat talked to Lia’s owner.  Lia, it turned out, was not quite the kind of dog they had been hoping for.  She was not a lap dog.  She did not lick faces.  She was pouty.  Would they bring her back?  Of course they would, especially if they could get a non-pouty, licky, lap-sitty dog in exchange.  (They did, by the way, and everyone seems happy).

I’d like to report that there was an astonishing puppy-tastic reunion scene when Joey and Lia were reunited, but I would be lying.  They aren’t human and who knows what passes between them in smell and taste, which is a dog’s primary way of experiencing the world. If their expressions betrayed anything close to a human emotion, I would say it was approximately exasperation.  It was the look of a sibling who had given another sibling a ride to the mall to “pick up just one thing” and then disappeared for hours.  There was some licking a bit of tail-wagging and then everything resumed its normal course in their lives.

Right now, at this moment, they are out back in the yard, desperately convinced that every squirrel who lives in our neighborhood should, y’know, come on down and say, “Hi!”  We won’t hurt you, the dogs say with their swinging tails, but their anxious expressions betray their intentions.  They are together almost every moment of the day, except for a couple hours in the evenings when Lia likes to crash out on the couch with Helen, while Joey prefers to sleep under her desk in her office.

Here they are now, trying to look prim and proper:


BTW, Lia is shorn, but will eventually become as fluffy as Joey.

Yes, after six years of having my dog, I am now the second, the Other Guy, the one who is Along For Walks.  It’s actually kind of nice to not be the object of such intense affection.  They’re Helen’s dogs and she must learn to be comfortable being the center of the universe.  I’m cool with that.


Eh.  This and that.  I’m waiting for the nice folks at Pocket to send approval for an outline and a contract so I can get to work on my next novel.  I’m confident it will happen, though I’d hoped it would have happened, y’know, sooner.  On the plus side, the delay has given me time to finish reading “The Fall,” which I may just do a short post on later this month.  Overall, I think it’s a tremendously ambitious work, with some stand-out moments.  As opposed to some posts I’ve read here and there, I love the political bent of the Trek universe these days.  Also, I love the fact that some of my fellow Trek authors took some big swings in this series and connected solidly.  Frankly, I’ve never like Deanna Troi as much as I’ve liked her when James Swallow writes her and Una McCormack’s Garak is a joy.

Also, I’ve had a chat with an agent about Kirby, which I hope will lead to another chat and then another.  If nothing else, our conversation made me sit down and do a formal analysis of the plot and made me see places where (he said grudgingly) there are plot problems.  I see a rewrite in the future; the question is how extensive it needs to be, but I think I’ll let the answer to that question unfold from the outcome of my chats.

Last, I’m seriously considering going to Philcon next month.  Anyone else?  I’ve never been to this venerable show, despite having lived in this part of the state for over 25 years.  Opinions?

And that’s that for now.  Can I be more faithful and report back a bit more frequently?  Let’s face it — probably not.  But I’ll try.



Shore Leave 2014 – Schedule and brief musings


Apparently, this is where all the cool kids are heading this weekend.  I’m be there, too, which, hopefully, won’t bring down the overall “cool” quotient too much.

Shore Leave is a fan-run science fiction convention held in Hunt Valley, MD for the past 36 years.  The organizers have been kind enough to invite me to come plug my wares and hang out with a bunch of other authors, actors and friends.  I’ve been to Shore Leave a few times in the past decade and had some amazing experiences there.  Not all good, mind you, but all amazing.  This will be my first trip back to the venerable Hunt Valley Inn for several years and I’m curious to see how it has (or hasn’t) changed.  Or I have.  You know that proverb about how you can never dip your toe in the same river twice?  Yeah, this is like that for me.

In any case, I decided I wanted to dive in this year, so here’s where I’ll be if you feel like stopping by to say, “Hello.”

Friday, August 1

10 – midnight: Meet the Pros.  Book signing.

Midnight – whenever: Hanging out, probably in the hotel bar

Saturday, August 2

11 AM – noon: “60 Years of Godzilla.”  Some friends and I talk about how we love a giant lizard.  I’m not proud of this, but I own it.

2 PM – 3 PM: I moderate a panel about the differences between writing licensed fiction and novelizations.  Good folks on this panel, so expect it to be lively and fun.

3 PM – 4 PM: “The Villain’s Journey.”  A discussion about the differences (if any) between the Campbellian heroic arc and the villain’s arc.  Are they the same?  Or just in opposition?  This one could get very meta, but I’m looking forward to it.

4 PM – 5 PM: “Deus Ex Machina.”  Another panel I’m moderating.  This one was my idea: a discussion about how post-human characters have been and now are currently being portrayed in fiction, film, comics and other media.  Another possible title was “Loving the Machine,” so that might give you some idea where this might go.

Then I take a break and rest.  Probably will go to the Masquerade because, c’mon… Masquerade.

Then, 11 PM – whenever I lose all my chips, I’m going to play in the Robbie Greenberger Memorial Poker Tournament.

Sunday, August 3

Noon – 1 PM: “Tracking All the Moving Parts.”  I think David Mack suggested this one.  A discussion about how does one keep track of all the pieces in a large, complex novel.  Answer: I don’t.  I’m bad at it.  I’m hoping to learn something from these people.

3 PM – 4 PM: “Tie-ins versus Original Fiction.” As in, “the writing and selling of.”  Another one I’m moderating.  I hope to learn from my peers since I’m still struggling with this issue.

Somewhere in there, I plan to also eat, sleep and talk with people.  Not sure exactly how, but I’ll figure it out.

See you all on the other side.


Dog gone – Part 1


My dog, Albert Lee, died this past Monday, June 30, 2014, which is not to say that he passed away in his sleep or was run over by a car.  We took him to the vet and we euthanized him because he was old and, we think, in pain, though in my experience that’s difficult to say for sure with dogs.  We don’t know exactly how old Albert was, though the shelter workers estimated he was between seven and nine years old when we got him.  He lived with us for just a bit more than six years, so you do the math.  He was a medium-sized mutt — around 30 pounds — so if he lived to be fifteen, as I suspect was the case, that’s a pretty good lifespan.

Albert had a stroke about three weeks ago during a walk on a hot summer day.  I thought he was going to die that day, but Albert was mighty and seemed to come back to himself over the next few days.  Then, last weekend he stopped eating and refused to take any medication.  By Monday morning, he was very weak and disoriented.  I cannot say, in my heart of hearts, that he was ready to die; the only thing I know for sure is that I couldn’t stand to see him living that way. Dogs are our creatures: we made them and they are strong, sometimes stronger than they should be.  Our hearts give out before theirs do.

We got Albert (or Albert Lee, to use his full name) from the Main Line Animal Rescue (, which is a wonderful place and please ignore the trolls who post negative feedback on Google and Yelp.  He was one of a group of dogs seized from a hoarder and he displayed many of the tendencies we’ve since learned are peculiar to animals who’ve been in that situation.  Fundamentally, he was healthy and well cared-for, but he was poorly socialized and required special handling.  In brief, psychologically, he was a bit of a mess.  Please don’t get the idea that we’re especially wonderful and kind people: if we had known what we were getting into, I’m not so sure we would have brought Albert into our home.   Our first impression of him held for a few weeks: he was cute; he had floppy ears and a plumy tail.  He barked and wagged his tail and chased a ball when you threw it.  Little did we know that this was all a ruse, a subtle disguise Albert perpetuated in order to be adopted.

He was supposed to be Helen’s dog.  She was working from home and wanted a companion while I was at the office, another pair of feet to pad around the house.  Our (then) two cats, Kirby and Puffy, were usually outside during good weather, so they didn’t count.  She found him on the MLAR web site and arranged the visit.  I was along for the ride and was content to offer my opinion about him.

The first week Albert lived with us, he seemed fairly normal.  He ate, slept, went on walks, and pooped in the backyard.  He had one accident in the living room on the first night, but never again.  The only thing about him that seemed odd was that he hated sleeping downstairs in the living room and would bark incessantly until we would come get him.  Perhaps this was a mistake — relenting to his demands for company — but I never regretted it.  In any case, he was friendly with both of us.  We found a new rhythm and settled into it.

And then Helen went away on a business trip.  I forget where she went or for how long.  It couldn’t have been more than a three or four days, but something happened during that time. I suspect I arranged to work at home part of the time to make sure Albert was okay and some alchemy occurred.  He went from being the dog and became my dog.  Albert made this very clear a short time after Helen returned when she tried to remove him from the bed when I was still asleep.  He growled at her.  He said, very clearly, “No, I’m staying here until he’s ready to bring me downstairs.  You just go over there until we’re ready.”

Helen never completely forgave me for this affixing.   I say in my defense that I never did anything to demand Albert’s devotion except, perhaps, stay in one place for a period of time.

A couple of weeks later, Albert nipped Eva — Helen’s sister — on the ear so hard that we thought we had to take her to the emergency room.  To give you a sense of the big-heartedness of Eva, not only did she not demand that we send Albert back to the kennel (though I think it was close), she eventually forgave him.  A little while later, Albert bit my son, Andrew, on the toes.  Andrew, too, is a forgiving soul.  He admits that his feet are very appetizing-looking.  A few weeks later, Albert chased Kai, the son of my friends Fred and Lori, across the living room because Kai had the temerity to, I don’t know… walk across the living room?  Lori, beloved by every dog she’s ever met, started calling Albert “Cujo, Jr.”

Somewhere during this period, Albert began to bark at other dogs.  And I’m not talking about, “Oh, hey, there’s another dog.  Hey!  How you doing?” kind of barking.  I’m talking about Hey!  Asshole!  Yeah, you!  Don’t look at me!  Yeah, I mean you!  Jerkface! I’m going to bit your face off!  It got so bad that we had to switch to attaching his leash to a collar because he would pull so hard that he would choke himself if we attached it to his collar.  We got into the habit of walking him at times when other people wouldn’t be out.  Albert Lee did not play well with others.

Clearly, there was something wrong with this dog, so we did what any 21st Century, Middle-class American would do: we took him to see a puppy psychologist, a doggie headshrinker.  Dr. Karen Overall was her name and we recommend her highly should you ever need to get a better sense of what’s wrong with your crazy dog.  Naturally, within twenty minutes of meeting Dr. Overall, the woman devoted to helping troubled canines, Albert tried to bite her. He had issues.

I won’t say that Dr. Overall wasn’t slightly upset about our dog’s behavior, but she dealt with it gracefully and then very carefully explained (while Albert lurked around the room) the probable causes for his bad behavior.  In brief, Albert was anxious.  He was worried that someone or something was going to come between him and his meal ticket/comforter — me.  Why hadn’t he acted that way the first couple weeks we had him in the house?  Why the good boy deception?  Simply, because Albert hadn’t realized he was going to stay.  He was the house guest who uses coasters and asks if he should take his shoes off before leaving the foyer and stepping on your nice rugs.  Once he decided he was staying for keeps, the real Albert Lee came out and the real one was kind of an adorable mess.  He needed to be soothed, Dr. Overall said, and reassured.  He needed to know he was safe and in a structured environment.

So, we gave him Prozac.  Puppy Prozac, to be sure, but, still, Prozac.  It helped.  He mellowed out.  He got better at having other people around.  My son’s toes went unsavaged.

This is not to say he wasn’t a jerk.

Sigmund Freud once wrote something that approximately meant that the purpose of psychotherapy is to transform hysterical misery into common unhappiness.  With medication and some other interventions, Albert got better.  He ceased to be a menace, but that didn’t mean his personality fundamentally changed.  He remained — and I say this with love — a curmudgeon..  He didn’t like many people.  I believe he trusted me and Helen and considered Andrew non–threatening.  He liked our friend Tristan, largely because Tristan knows dogs and understands that if you walk in the front door with food in your hand, you will always be welcome (which is good advice for anyone, truth be told).  Albert formed odd attachments here and there.  He was extremely — some would even say mystically — fond of Tristan’s wife, Amy, who only had to sit down and Albert would be asleep at her feet.  He liked my father, who Albert met exactly twice and, really, I’m not sure I like my father as much as Albert did.

He was a peculiar creature.  Albert was not the most doglike dog you would have ever met, but he was, as Helen said so often, good and true.

I hadn’t expected this post to last so long.  I have more to say about him, but I’m going to close now and come back soon to describe the rest of his life with us and, finally, his death and what’s come since.

Here’s a picture.  Doesn’t he look sweet?  Today’s lesson, kids: appearances can be deceiving.

2014-01-25 12.25.23



Hello, I must be going


Well, that was a bit of a hiatus, wasn’t it?  

I will not bore you with the details.  Suffice to say that life got a little busy.  Some of it was fun; some wasn’t.  Some of it involves events unfolding for other people who probably would just as soon I didn’t blab about their private affairs.  Was there some death in there?  Of course there was.  There’s always death and it always brings me up short.  Death takes it out of you, even when you’re not the one doing the dying.

And, yes, there’s plain, garden-variety inertia. The introspection this process requires is sharp and intrusive, though I’m pretty sure it’s good for me — like allergy shots.  Jabby, jabby, ow, but I breathe better.   You stop doing it, though, even for a little while, and it’s hard to get started again. Enough — I’m back and will attempt to be faithful.  Or more faithful, in any case.  (Is that even possible?  Isn’t faithful an absolute state: 1 or 0?  Positive or negative?  Are there shades of faithfulness?  Discuss.)


Light Fantastic will be available in one week.  I received my comp copies last week — Yay! — and it’s a nice, solid chunk of a book.  I am pleased.  I’ve had reports about the book being spotted in the wild, pre-official release date, which feels wonderfully naughty, even if it is just book store stockers not paying attention to the calendar.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted for a while is that any writing time I had was devoted to developing an outline plot for a new Trek book.  Unfortunately, it just wasn’t happening.  I think the story has all the required moving parts, but I just couldn’t get excited about it.  Plot-master pal Josh Macy and I took the story out for a spin this weekend and he suggested a couple ideas that may tune it up (to burden an already overtaxed metaphor).   The problem, kids, was the villain.  I do not know him well enough.

One of the conveniences of writing licensed fiction is that, with the protagonist, you usually have a good sense of who they are and what motivates them. The antagonist is where the heavy lifting has to be done.  The writer is required to create an antagonist with enough verve to intrigue the reader AND make the (well-known, well-understood) hero appear to have agency.

Treat your villains with respect, kids. Make sure you know what they like.  Prepare a light snack, even if they’re unrepentantly evil.  Having talked this over with Josh, I realize that one of the problems I was having with my Trek outline is that the villain was kind of flabby and uncertain.  This problem often plagues me because I have a weakness for villains who don’t consider themselves villainous.  If I let myself get lazy, my antagonists are only mildly antagonizing — nuisances, really — which leads to inertia.   Anyway, I may have a better handle on it now.  I’ll keep you posted.

As an aside, I want to mention something Josh brought up when we were discussing the plot.  Namely, that Star Trek in particular is filled with antagonists (and outright villains) who sincerely believe that what they want is for the best, even if not for the good of all.  That phrase from Wraith of Khan — “The needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few.” and all of it’s corollaries — is the mainspring that drives so many Trek stories. Okay — it drives lots of stories — but since it was a central conceit in so much of Roddenbery’s work, it comes through very strongly in Trek.  Interestingly, Khan, generally considered among the best of the Trek villains, was one of the few who had no self-delusions about whether what he wanted would benefit anyone other than Khan and his Elite Few.  The rest of humanity — or, from his perspective, the effete cattle represented by Kirk & company — really didn’t matter.  He had no illusions about presenting them with any gifts (other than Order).

Even the Borg, the great inhuman boogie man of  the Trek universe (Yes?  Generally agreed?), when they said, “Resistance is futile,” it always felt to me like there was there was also a sotto voce, “We’re doing this for your own good.” right underneath.  Am I right?  I’m immersed in David Mack’s Destiny trilogy right now — about as Borgified as a book can get — so I’m sure I’ll have an answer soon.  If you haven’t read it yet, do so. Good stuff.


I’ve started working on a new Kirby story.  I’m not very far in yet.  I don’t know where it’s going.  I feel like I’m precariously perched at the crown of a very tall tree and looking across the treetops toward a misty vale.  What’s there?  I have no idea.  Unexpectedly, Kirby is very much older in this story and it seems he’s seen a lot of the world.   Too much, perhaps.  He has a friend with him — a young lady named Chloe who can fly — float, really — when she relaxes and lets the ground slide away from beneath her.  I quite like Chloe, though I’m a little worried for her.  Of the pair, Kirby is the less impetuous, and isn’t that a frightening thought?


Saw some movies.  In no particular order:

Godzilla – Liked it a lot.  Would have liked it more if not for some weak performances by the homo sapiens.  It’s always their fault, isn’t it?  The effects were amazing.  I love big, dumb Godzilla movies — I own all of them — but I like the idea of a serious (though not grim) monster-fest.  More please.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – I don’t think it’s great cinema, but it was the most fun I had at the movies this summer.  I’ve loved the X-Men since I spotted a copy of issue 41 in a barber shop reading rack in 1968, but, let’s face it, there’ve been a lot of dumb mutant stories over the past 40+ years.  This was not one of them.  I’m not the first person to say this, but it was the most authentically super-heroy super-hero movie made to date.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 – My son and I have a very special place in our hearts for the first one, so we were really looking forward to the sequel.  Early reports were that it was going to meet our expectations; for Andy, I think it did.  For me, not so much.  My major complaints are that 1.) It lacked some of the unexpected choices of the first one.  The sequel felt much more paint-by-numbers, film-school 3-act structure constructed.  Also, remember what I said earlier about well-rounded antagonists?  This villain – not so much.  I appreciated that in one of the better scenes he actually admitted (more or less), “Okay, yeah, I’m an ass.” and had no other motivation other than he liked telling people what to do.  That almost redeemed it  Almost.  Also, the ending didn’t feel earned.  A lot to like, but a lot that disappointed, too.

I’d like to catch Edge of Tomorrow before it disappears from theaters and am very much looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy (which was a favorite comic of mine as a young man, so I’ve got that going for me).  Also, Helen and I subscribed to HBO and Showtime recently, so, uh, yeah — wow.  All kinds of stuff there.  On the down side, we’re almost out of episodes of Columbo on Netflix.  *Sniff*

Enough for now.  Before I go, here’s a clip of Groucho Marx singing the title of this column, which has been going through my head a lot lately for reasons I’ll explain next time around:

Who wants to watch cartoons?


That last entry was a bit of a downer, wasn’t it?  At least, that’s what Helen said.  And she’s right.  It was a little “Wah, wah, poor me,” but it’s also what I was thinking about at the time, so I say it’s legit.  But, enough of that: time for something fun.

Cartoons — or, to be more accurate, animated programs — I love them.  When I was a kid, cartoons were something you watched for several glorious hours on Saturday morning and, if you were lucky, maybe for an hour or so on weekday afternoons.  Back then, one of the pivotal events of a kid’s life (well, my life, anyway) was the Fall Preview issue of TV Guide listing, among other things, the new cartoon series that would be previewing on the next Saturday morning.  Most of them were, by any measure you care to make, terrible: derivative, badly-animated, and usually an excuse to sell toys or breakfast cereal or both, but I loved them.  I won’t attempt to list them all, but I can easily remember very specific moments of my kidhood that revolved around shows like Huckleberry Hound, Scooby Doo, Wacky RacesStar Trek: The Animated Series, and Spider-Man (the original, kids, not the “Amazing Friends” era or the 1990s version.  I’m old, dammit).

To my taste, even better than the Saturday morning slate were the odd Japanese imports (we didn’t know what “anime” meant) like Speed Racer, Marine Boy, Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy.  Though badly dubbed and often incomprehensible due to editing, I was more drawn to these characters, probably because they were more action-filled, darker and denser: much more like the Marvel Comics I loved.  But there weren’t many of them and their availability was limited, so I had to make due with lesser fare (I’m looking at you, most of Hanna Barbara’s output).

This would not be a problem for Jeff if he were a boy today (not counting boy-at-heart, but you already knew that) for there is a plethora of fine, animated shows on the airwaves (or cable waves, if you will).  Indeed, there are entire networks devoted to animated shows: Cartoon Network, several flavors of Disney, Nickelodeon, and probably one or two others that I don’t know.

As the parent of a kid who grew up in the late 1990s and 2000s, I have been exposed to a lot of animation over the past two decades.  Some of it I liked.  Honestly, I probably would have watched a bunch of them even without the excuse of having a kid.  But now that the boy is grown up (sort of) and I can watch what I like when I want, I wanted to present a small sampling of animated shows I’m currently really enjoying.

A couple preliminary observations:

– Most of these are peculiarly personal works, despite some of them being shown on humungous corporate networks.  I find the fact that this is even possible very encouraging.

– Most of them are shown in 15 minute installments.  Not sure if that’s a commercial consideration or an artistic one.  In any case (having been raised on Looney Toons), I find that the shorter runtime (11 minutes when you remove commercials) suits the subject matter very well.  The single 30 minute exception has a much different rhythm — more like a sitcom than an adventure story, which is what the others are all.  Something worth discussing there, methinks.

– These are not in any particular order, though I note with interest that most of them begin with the letter “B”.  Thoughts?

Adventure Time

Adventure Time

I doubt if there’s anything I can add to the reams of material that have been already written about Adventure Time other than my profound gratitude that I am alive while this is being produced. Week in and week out, the tale of Jake the Dog and Finn the Human may be the most deeply moving, funny, and just plain weird thing on television.  Add to the mix the amazing comics produced by Boom Studios and you have yourself a pretty heady cultural powerhouse.  And if you didn’t weep a manly tear upon watching “Simon & Marcy,” then you, sir, have no soul.

Steven Universe

Steven Universe

Besides having the most compulsively singable theme song, Steven Universe is the story of Steven and his three… uh… Mother surrogates?  Sisters?  Fellow superheroes?  I’ll tell you the truth, kids: I had an idea for a story sort of like Steven’s about a decade ago and I went down a very dark, dreary path.  This, in a much better universe, in the hands of much better writers than I am, is the story I would have liked to tell.  Steven is a kid.  He has superpowers (sort of).  He has adventures (sort of).  But, mostly, he just hangs out in his little beach town (named, appropriately, Beach City) and his life unfolds.  Created by Rebecca Sugar, formerly an “Adventure Time” writer and artist, this is currently my favorite new thing.  It doesn’t always score a bull’s eye, but, man, when it does, it’s amazing.  Check out “Giant Woman” and “Lion 2: The Movie.”

Bravest Warriors

Bravest Warriors

Unlike the previous entries, Bravest Warriors isn’t shown on TV. I don’t think Bravest Warriors could be shown on TV.  It’s too cool for “Cartoon Network” and too innocent for “Adult Swim.” It’s a web-only series on a channel called “Cartoon Hangover,” which has some connection with Pendleton Ward, the creator of the aforementioned Adventure Time.  BW is the story of four teenagers who are the sons and daughters of a team of adventurers who all mysteriously disappeared when they were kids.  Now, they have adventures together, mostly saving small squishy things from being eaten.  Where Adventure Time mines fantasy-adventure troupes, Bravest Warriors goes for the sci-fi/monster end of the scale.  It’s wonderfully off-kilter, sweet, and not afraid to occasionally go for the obtuse joke.  Also, Catbug:



Teen Titans Go!

Teen Titans Go

I loved the Teen Titans comics of the 1980s and 1990s.  I loved the Teen Titans animated show of the 2000s.  I also loved the two seasons (or was it three?) of Young Justice that ended last year.  Does that mean I can’t also love Teen Titans Go!?  Considering some of the online commentary I’ve seen, it would seem that some people think the answer is yes.  But, whatever… They’re just not getting it.  The characters in Teen Titans Go! are the same characters in the comics and the animated show.  This is just what those guys are doing between the adventures, which, apparently, is eating pizza, watching TV, playing video games and getting on each other’s nerves.  This is life, kids, for the spandex set.  It’s also funny as hell.  I can’t believe they get some of this on what is ostensibly a children’s network.  The episode where they plug Cyborg into the Tower and he takes over… Brrrr… Chilling.  Hilarious, but chilling.

Bob’s Burgers

Bob's Burgers

Once again, I know I’m not blazing any trails when I say that Bob’s Burgers is probably the best sitcom on TV, animated or otherwise.  For those, like me, who recall (and still hold a place in their heart for) the glory days of “The Simpsons,” you may recognize a bit of what you are watching unfold before you in Bob’s.  The subtly of the writing, the well-rounded characters, and, especially, the willingness to balance the raggedly human with the bizarre — these are all things we recognize as what once made Springfield so special.  Most of BB is available on Netflix and, if there’s any justice in the world, it will be heavily rotated in syndication soon, but, please, watch this on a week-by-week basis.  You’ll be watching an American masterpiece unfold. Also, fart jokes.   Louise is one of the most — if not the most — inspired creations on TV today.  And she has pink bunny ears.

Honorable mention: Bee and Puppycat

Bee and Puppycat

I bring up Bee and Puppycat for two reasons: 

1.) I think the first two episodes are amazing.

2.) I helped to fund the Kickstarter and I really, really want to be able to say when this thing hits, “I knew about this back in the day.”  And now you do, too.

That’s all for now.  Does this make up for gloom of the last post?

If not, next time: My favorite fluffy kittens!  OR “Ponies I have loved.”  (Actually, there’s only been one pony I’ve even really liked… and he got sold recently).






All About Kirby – part 3


The good news is that the process of finding a literary agent is pretty well understood.  One emails a query to the agency, being careful to follow the rules laid out in the submissions policy, which usually includes an introduction, a plot synopsis, and some number of pages (I’ve seen everything from the first five to the first fifty).  One attempts to be businesslike, respectful, and charming.  Then, one waits for a response.

In general, when they come, the replies happen very quickly and the agents are very polite.  I have no complaints about any of the responses I’ve received, except, of course, that none of them has been positive.  So far, I’ve contacted twenty-two agents, received replies from about two-thirds, and requests to see additional material from four.  As already stated, all of them have passed.

I have no idea where my results stand on the continuum of expected behavior.  Two questions plague me:

1.) Am I doing the submission process wrong?

2.) Is the book wrong?

I’m pretty sure the answer to question #1 is “No.”  There are lots of guides online that explain what agents do and do not wish to see and I am nothing if not good at following directions.  I’m pretty sure my query letters are fine.  The replies I’ve received have indicated I’m not hitting any sour notes or misrepresenting myself.

Which leads to the in-every-way-more-disturbing second question.   Please note I did not say “Is the book not good?”  I’m pretty sure it’s technically sound as well and has some literary value, which is not to say I don’t think it is inviolate.  I would welcome the eye of a good editor, but you can only get one of those if you have an agent.  And the loop continues to whip around…

Having discussed this with a couple friends who’ve read Kirby, I’ve decided that the main issue is that the book is its in-betweenness.  It’s not either completely a young adult story or an adult story.  It’s neither a straight-up fantasy nor a horror novel.  While it’s about being young, it may not be a story for young people (or perhaps only a certain spectrum of young people… or young people trapped in old bodies).   I really don’t know and, frustratingly, have no way to figure it out.

Of course, it is possible that the work is fundamentally flawed.  I accept that as an option, but no one has made a strong case for that yet, so I’m going to just let that idea hang off to the side (Yeah, right — sure.).

Way back when, a long time ago, I thought the hard part was going to be writing the book.  I never expected this part, finding someone to help me sell it, would be so frustrating.

One of the odder aspects about this whole situation is that I’ve been an editor, even a submissions editor, and I know something about what it’s like to slog through the slush pile.  There are scores, probably hundreds, of letters out there somewhere in someone’s files with my signature on them saying, one way or another, “Sorry, but this doesn’t fit our needs.”  I get that.  I really do.  Intellectual property is product.  In most instances, it has to fit into a specific kind of box or the audience won’t know what to make of it.  Therefore, producers — publishers, in this case — want to deal with something they recognize.  A book about a kitten and a cat and a dog and a fox and some hornets and a bear and some bees and this strange woman who lives in a cottage… It’s an odd fit.

Do I persevere?  Well, yes, of course I do.  For now, at least. One of my friends has made a compelling argument for going on to the next book and not worrying so much about this one.   The next book, she says, might be less awkward and be more appealing to a publisher.  Sell it. Get it out there and then you can say, “Oh, hey, I have this other book…”  It’s an appealing idea.  It might even work.

The other option, naturally, is to change the book.  Give it a less awkward shape.  It may be possible, but, honestly, I’m not sure I would even know where to begin. Kirby has settled into whatever it is and I would require some compelling evidence to alter it very much.

In his most recent book, “That Is All,” John Hodgman presents a fascinating story (I have to assume it’s semi-biographical) about a literary agent at a conference meeting prospective clients.  He makes it sound horrible.  The agent is exhausted by the drudgery and listening to every writer explain why their book is both a unique literary vision while also being the answer to every publisher’s dream.  Every book is the first part of a seven-book cycle backed up by a dense mythology and unexpected twists. Everyone sounds the same and, horrifyingly, everyone sounds like me.

I don’t know what else to say about this at this juncture.  This post was not particularly funny or revelatory.  I acknowledge I’m being a little bit whiny and self-indulgent, but this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Any thoughts or commentary would be welcome.

And now, because you’ve been so patient, a picture of a cat filled with bees:

Thanks, Tris!

Why do cats purr?

All about Kirby – Part 2


I was in Washington DC for a couple days for a conference (but, yes, I got to see the cherry blossoms).  In between other things, I worked on a post in which I attempted to explain why it took three years to write Kirby — or, to be precise, Kirby and the Queen Bee. Reading it through just now, I decided to chuck the whole thing as it sounded like I was making excuses.  I have a better idea:  It took as long as it took because it took as long as it took.

The big difference between Kirby and everything else I’d written up until that point was it wasn’t pre-sold: Someone wasn’t waiting at the bottom of a chute looking at their watch and tapping their toe (not that any editor I’ve ever worked for has had to — or would — do that, but you get the image).  I had the luxury of taking my time.  I also didn’t have to stop at a certain point and say, “Done!” even if the work wasn’t totally and completely done because I knew someone else — someone with strong critical abilities and a red pen — was going to look at what I’d written and tell me what needed fixing.  No, with Kirby, I was on my own.

Mostly on my own.  I enlisted readers, notably two very good and dear people who somehow remained my friends throughout the process (hi, Helen; hi, Tris) despite some rough (and I mean rough) drafts.  The conversations were fun, though, and, if nothing else, I learned a little bit more about how to take criticism and notes, including how to sometimes ignore both.

By the end of 2010, I’d finally arrived at a point where I felt like I had done as much as I could… and still needed some help.  I decided to contact my friend (and former editor), Marco Palmieri, who had left Pocket Books and started an editorial consulting company called Otherworld Editorial (, whom I strongly urge you to contact if you need assistance with either line or developmental editorial.  Marco was kind enough to take on the project and, a few months later, sat me down and talked me through his feedback.

Overall, the message was positive.  As every editor will, Marco found problems, but (as he always does) was able to offer useful suggestions about how to address them.  I remember feeling (as my English chum Michael would say) very chuffed.  After addressing the issues Marco pointed out, I felt like it was time to show Kirby to a publisher.

Without getting into all the details (because they’re not important at this juncture and involve friends doing me favors), I was fortunate enough to be able to send my book to the YA editor of a Very Suitable Publishing Company.  I was, I thought, set.  It felt like a lock.  It felt Destined To Happen.

Alas, I was wrong.  The editor didn’t very much like Kirby.  That is not to say, the editor out-and-out rejected the book.  In fact, the editor offered some suggestions on how to improve the story and asked me to resubmit.  I reworked the manuscript over the next couple months and sent it back in.  The editor responded in a timely manner, complimenting the improvement in the manuscript, but said, ultimately, that the story did not click in a fashion compelling enough to accept for publication.

So… I felt like I was dead in the water.  That was a bad day.  A very, very shitty, crappy, awful day.  I sulked. I’m very good at sulking.  I come by it honestly.

Fortunately, I have good friends and experienced advisors.  I have some people in my corner.  “Time,” they all said, “to find an agent.”


What’s this?  It’s a smiling fox!  Why?  Because I felt like I needed at least one break in the tedium.  This is a photo of Sophie, Duchess of the Western Vale, one of the characters in KatQB. She’s a Very Sensible Fox.

More soon…