Tomi Ungerer and other wonderful oddities

As far back as my memory can stretch, back to the time of the dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and 5 cent ice cream cones at the Thrifty’s Drugstore (you know, the kind they would scoop with those weird vertical-sided cylinder scoops), my life as a tiny sentient being included the books of Tomi Ungerer.

Ungerer, as you doubtlessly already know (and if you don’t, well, all I can say is: may deep and everlasting shame be poured upon your head like warm chocolate fudge syrup, running down your beard, or lack thereof, in great cascading rivers until you either become engulfed in hungry ants, jump into the shower, or ameliorate the situation by running out and buying all the Tomi Ungerer books you can get your fudgey hands on), is a brilliant writer-artist of French birth, responsible for such classics as Moon Man, Crictor, The Hat (one of my perennial favorites), and Orlando the Brave Vulture.

Ungerer, being vastly imperfect like the rest of us, also wrote some erotic twaddle for adults. However, I won’t comment on that, other than to say that everyone has a streak of idiocy in them (yes, I consider erotica idiotic, so sue me).

But what, you might ask, seeing that your brain has been laboring all day with images and thoughts of ISIS, Putin and his recent nuclear remarks, Ferguson, Jonathan Gruber, and Albert Gore’s insistence that the weather is changing (yes, it is does change, you poor Ritalin-deficient man; it changes like the roses in my garden, the length of hair on my children’s heads, the entropic state of their bedroom, and the price of gasoline), what does Tomi Ungerer have to do with the anything of anything these days?

Ah, well, somewhat excellent question, but don’t you know that the best children’s stories offer a way of understanding the world? They make sense of things that don’t make sense anymore, particularly from our adult perspective. Take those murderous cretins that compose ISIS. The hat in The Hat would make short work of their diabolical plans, being a hat with a sense of justice and a great deal of autonomy. I imagine the hat would fly hither and thither (pardon me, Mr. Ungerer, for borrowing your words) until it plopped down on an wittering and nattering imam, sending him stumbling about until he realized the errors of his ways, shaved his head and became a devotee of Richard Simmons.

One can only dream. But that’s the power of (excellent) children’s stories. Sometimes dreams have much more truth in them than the prosaic tedium of our everyday lives.

No. I am not currently on any medication.

What about those other wonderful oddities? Well, one can wonder, but that isn’t odd. It’s quite normal, so carry on.

Love Song!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Yes, you read that correctly. I just wrote and recorded a genuine love song. For my wife (who patiently puts up with me, etc). The song is a bit on the messy side, but who cares? I don’t. I just enjoy the creative process. I tend to forget the bouquets of roses and the Hallmark cards and the trips to Tahiti, but I guess I can write a song every now and then.

So. Man up. What’s the last creative thing you did for your spouse? You don’t have to write her a book or build the Taj Mahal or conquer Persia, but, hey…the creative impulse is one of the few things that sets us apart from the raccoons and the moray eels. Even those little wiener dogs. They don’t have a creative bone in their wiener-like bodies.

Get going. Even if it only consists of toothpicks and superglue. It’s still creative.


The Middle Ages aren’t that long ago. If you look hard enough, you can still see them in the rear view mirror. What’s even worse is that we’ve driven in a circle and we’re right back in the middle of serfdom. The view in your rear view mirror is the same scene you’re seeing through your windshield. The only difference is that we aren’t peasants; we’re technopeasants.

I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of the elastic imagination, but modern technology has minced us fine, mixed us well, rolled us flat, and then stamped us out into cookie cutter serfs, bumbling about with our iPhones and wifi and recycled lives. Our words and thoughts are second-hand, bought and sold by the pop-culture ragmen who collect their pennies and then trot off to the castle to pay their dues. Diversity is mandatory and tolerance will be strictly enforced by the royal executioner. Joy and happiness have been traded in for fleeting pleasure.

The main difference between a peasant and a technopeasant is speed. The peasant couldn’t read. He didn’t have a microwave. And he probably had to go milk his own goat for his breakfast gruel. The technopeasant can read, but he reads microwavable disposable stories. He gets his milk out of carton and wouldn’t know what to do with a goat if it kicked him in the stomach.

The technoaristrocrats are a mix of business lords and government bishops, colluding and collaborating and grown fat on their schemes of style, regulatory indulgences, convenient spectacles.

The Offense (and Pain) of Joy

No, this is not a post about Fifty Shades of Grey. Far from it. And I mean extremely far from it. As far as the east is from the west, both in navigational and theological approaches.

I recently wrote a piece about joy for a friend’s blog. Misha Thompson runs a site dedicated to joy and all the different aspects of what that entails. Before you start thinking of bunnies and small unicorns frolicking on hills of candy, let me set you straight. Joy has nothing to do with happiness. They’re different beasts. One is as insubstantial as the average politician’s code of ethics. The other is ponderous and powerful and reaches through time to other places.

I wasn’t too happy (there’s that blasted word) about writing on joy, because I had a sinking feeling about where the essay would take me. Anyway, hop on over to Misha’s blog and give it a read. Joy and happiness both have a great deal of influence over how people write. And what people write. More on that some other day.

New Project: Ford F5

Ford F5My new project. Restoring this old Ford F5. It’s somewhere between a 1947 and a 1952. I’m not doing the actual restoration, but I’m overseeing the various people working on it: one to cut away the superstructure and lines on the back and build a metal frame for a flatbed, another to sandblast and paint, one to build the wooden flatbed, another to stencil, glass and rubber, reupholster, a few missing parts to be replaced (headlights, some chrome work), mechanic to check the engine (decent chance it’ll run; if not, it’ll become a static decorative piece at our farm). Should be fun…

Advice on Writing and Publishing

booksBeing an author can be a job just like any other job: raking leaves, coding software, flipping pancakes, working as a mercenary in the Golden Triangle, you name it. I say “can be” because many writers choose not to treat writing stories as a job, but consider it a hobby or something of a similar nature. That’s fine. Both approaches are equally valid. However, I’d like to address the writing-as-job approach.

A recent post by Michael Bunker, author of Amish science fiction and other works, makes the assertion that one shouldn’t ask other authors for advice. I tend to agree with him due to two reasons: first, most authors don’t know what the heck they’re talking about (as most authors don’t sell many books), and, second, the modern publishing industry is such an apparently chaotic and random world that anyone claiming to have a comprehensive theory of how to deal with it is essentially whistling in the wind (or a huckster).

Don’t get me wrong. Individual authors do sometimes achieve partial enlightenment, just like certain restaurants can successfully cook certain items on their menus. Author Jones might figure out a bit of wisdom in relation to pricing. Author Garcia might stumble on a clever way to secure reviews. Author Xianjing might discover the path to serial pacing. However, like I said before, nobody has the comprehensive theory. In fact, most advice is poorly thought out and written mainly to draw tangential attention to that particular author’s books.

Therefore, if you do want advice but are wisely reluctant to ask other authors who either can’t write their way out of a paper bag, or aren’t selling enough books to support their mocha habit, where do you find advice?

Here’s my advice (ironic, isn’t it, that I’m offering advice as an author after saying you should steer clear of advice from authors?): given the seemingly chaotic nature of publishing, seek advice from people who have absolutely nothing to do with publishing.

Go ask your plumber or your banker or your local swami what their advice is. It might not make any sense. It might make a lot of sense. It might make a great deal of sense simply from the perspective that people are people, entertainment is entertainment, and money is money. Ask your newspaper delivery boy (does such a thing even exist anymore?), your hair stylist, your stock broker, your local politicians.

You might be surprised at what you hear.

And if your swami says something inscrutable, such as, “the bullfrog of wisdom hops onto the lilypad of Marxism,” well, there just might be something in that. True, you’ll have to spend some time unpacking his utterance, and it might result in a brain aneurysm, but you might end up with the key to Jeff Bezos’ mind.

Jobs jobs jobs and Michael Bay’s Transformers

If you are in need of a job, may I suggest working on a farm? True, the work is back-breaking, exhausting and often involves hours of being bent over like a croquet hoop (if you’re picking strawberries). However, there’s work here in California. Plenty of it.

In other news, I recently made the mistake of watching Michael Bay‘s current Transformers. $6.50 for a late afternoon ticket. Kids were off camping with the grandparents, wife was down in LA visiting her grandmother, self was alone and in need of seeing robots blow stuff up. So, I went to see Transformers. This might be the understatement of the year, but they blew up a lot of stuff in that film.

That’s also the plot line: an exciting story in which robots blow stuff up. Or smash stuff.

The film seems to be doing very well, scooping in tons of money here in the States and overseas (see: Michael Bay laughing all the way to the bank). But there’s not much of a plot. So what does that mean? My storyteller’s mind stumbles and trips on this. I guess one answer is that Mark Wahlberg has a lot of diehard fans. I also guess that’s not the right answer. Maybe the answer is just that a lot of people like seeing robots blow stuff up. Or smash stuff.

By the way, Mark Wahlberg is an immense improvement on Shia LaBeouf (or however you write that kid’s name). Better actor. Generates more empathy. Plus, he doesn’t go around getting plastered and tossed out of nightclubs and generally behaving like a lobotomized chipmunk.

Which means a lot of people don’t really care about coherent stories, as long as there are robots smashing stuff, and there’s a cute girl who wears short shorts for most of the movie.

Hmm. This has implications for writing stories.

In other news, I ate my first Moon Pie. Ever. I only made it through two bites and then a great deal of my body said, “what the heck is this?” and “get this away from me now or I’ll file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services.”

So, no more Moon Pies. And no more stories with coherent plots.

Hielo y Fuego

Yo no comprendo mucho español, to be honest. Even though I grew up working in the fields with plenty of Spanish-speaking folks. I did learn, however, a great respect for the humble jalapeno. Anyway, I’ve started securing translations of some of my books recently in Spanish and Portuguese. Fire and Ice is the first to come out of the kitchen. Hielo y Fuego, translated by the cheerful and efficient Ines Galiano. It’s currently available on Kobo, iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In other news, I’m tackling a new project that has everything to do with writing books but nothing to do with me writing books. It’s secret for now, but revolves around the fact that I’m more of a reader than a writer. To be honest, I could care less if my books don’t sell another copy. While I love writing, writing is it’s own fulfillment. However, the thought of never being able to read another book…well, that’s a completely different kettle of chanting fish. Never having another book to read would be horrible. Thus, the secret project.

All shall become clear in about two months.

In other news, garden gnomes are making a stunning comeback in the state of California. They’re even voting. Early and often.

Hotels and Guilt Complexes

I’m not saying that hotels are constructed as guilt complexes. That would make for an interesting contractor resume. “Yes, I specialize in single family dwellings, light industrial, and guilt complexes.” What I mean to say (what I’m mean to say) is that I profoundly protest the fact that so many hotels these days try to strong-arm you with guilt every time you use a towel, turn on the sink, or hop on the shower (only hop into showers if they have non-skid mats; otherwise, you’re going to hop, slip and break your neck: a series of events celebrated in a failed Dr. Seuss book called Hop, Slip and Snap!).

Save the planet while you enjoy your hotel getaway.

No, actually, no. I’m not interested in saving the planet via reducing the amount of hot water I use in the shower or dutifully using my towel multiple times. I’m on a getaway. Get it? I’m getting away from the petty cares of everyday life. Which means I’m planning on not thinking about saving the planet while I’m getting away. Got that?

I’ll leave saving the planet to Superman and the spandex-clad bureaucrats of the EPA.

Four and twenty blackbirds…

JesseNestNope. No plans for blackbird pie. The feathers get stuck in your teeth and I’m no royal to demand such gourmet fare. However, blackbirds are a perennial perplexing pest of the most pestilent persistence on our farm. A pox on their house. Among other things, they are a plague on our strawberries, settling on them like a black cloud of winged demons and feasting like there’s no tomorrow. Well, there will be no tomorrow for this little nest of pre-blackbirds. That’s Jesse, my middle son, with his recently discovered nest of five blackbird eggs. He’s a brilliant Lego architect, connoisseur of frozen yogurt pushups, and all-around cheerful little soldier. He does not have a shred of mercy for blackbirds (as he is also a connoisseur of strawberries).