Without Bones

Me and the Kid, Masked

My 4-year-old son has been asking me the same question lately. He thinks he’s pretty funny, which I have to admit, he often is.

What if we didn’t have any bones?!

Of course, we would be dead instantly without bones. Our organs and pipelines of blood and oxygen crushed by our old friend gravity, just a useless, jello-y sack of guts on the ground. But parenting requires pause and tact.

He probably wouldn’t like that answer.

“Well,” I said. “We’d probably walk like this–” and I proceeded to loosely strut around the room like a tranquilized gorilla. He quickly followed, imitating my movements and giggling.

A caution to new parents– being hilarious in front of your children poses a real risk.  If you do stunts they find amusing that they will ask you to repeat the stunt– forever. Their amusement doesn’t easily extinguish. If they like pretty much anything, in any way, they want more more and more, please! (I do worry if I have a particularly amusing heart attack, will I find my boy and girl standing over me shouting, “Again! Again, Daddy!”)

Since then he’s asked me a few hundred more times, “What if we didn’t have any bones?” and we’ve paraded around the room, boneless, over and over again.

Cover Design: the Junior Arsonist’s Club

In the process of designing book covers, great ideas are often cast aside for the right idea. It’s a shame a lot of wonderful designs never even see the digital light of day. Below are some of the other designs I explored for the Junior Arsonist’s Club.

Junior Arsonists Club Cover 1


I liked the first design– the back of a young girl staring into an off-page inferno. But it evokes a brooding commercial thriller, and unfortunately the tone is at odds with the book itself which is more of  literary comedy.

The second design, the silhouetted girl, is striking but it feels like we’re in the wrong world. The Victorian silhouette is probably working against us, too. I abandoned this idea when I started looking at old matchbook covers:

old matchbook covers

The final design– the old worn matchbook, fits just right. The cropped framing suggests a larger tableau we’re only seeing a glimpse of, and the matchbook within is playfully askew. The retro vibe connects well with the title, too. Overall it projects just the right kind of mischief. I’m happy with it; hopefully it will resonate with readers as well.

How a Novella is Born

This fun novella started as a completely different story called How the Bees Got TV, which was about, well, a hive of bees that became addicted to television and the ensuing media circus. As I was working on the rough draft, the main character’s daughter started taking over the narrative. I realized I had to abandon Bees and follow the daughter’s story, which ended up becoming The Junior Arsonist’s Club.

The entirety of the novella took over two years to write, though much of that was thoughtful hibernation. Zhanna eventually became a sort of antagonist and her mother, Marilyn became the main character. I still feel a pang of loving sympathy for her and everything I put her through. I hope you enjoy.

Here’s an excerpt from The Junior Arsonist’s Club:


Zhanna wanted to burn the couch.

I watched the TV. She watched the couch. It was like that every night.

She sat in one of the armchairs with her knees drawn up to her chest while the celebrities tangoed beside her (Dance Idol: All-Stars was on). Her eyes were fixed on the couch, right where I sat– but she stared straight through me. I might as well have been invisible. Anyone else would think it was just some blank adolescent stare, her mind dazed by the tsunami of hormones inside her head. Harmless enough. But I could see the wheels spinning in between those pigtails. I could see flashes in the murk of her dark brown eyes. The TV light flickered there, too, and it seemed like the couch might already be burning, the reflection of the fire twitching across her pupils. She was imagining the couch boiling in flame. She imagined the fire’s crackling static drowning out the TV, and the pulses of heat warming her face. She saw the cushions buckle and turn black and little charred specks go weightless. She wrinkled her nose, maybe smelling the acrid odor of stain-resistant microfibers melting into blobs of synthetic lava. I saw it all on her face. She wasn’t conscious of it, but her mouth widened in the beginnings of a junior arsonist’s smile. I wondered, did she think that staring at a little detail hard enough– a single stitch, or a crinkle in the piping– would turn that pinpoint bright orange with the heat of her intent and pop into spontaneous flame? It made me nervous, but I sat there anyway and pretended I was intensely interested in the final round of the competition.

The Junior Arsonist’s Club will be published soon. Subscribe to the newsletter if you’d like to get an email when it’s released.

Plastic Invaders

Green (fake grass) by jakerome on Flickr

So we have this artificial turf installed in our backyard. I was against it from the start, as a native barefoot Wisconsin boy I had my fair share of grass stains on my pant shins and butt pockets and hey I wanted the same stain opportunities for my kids. But then my wife said, “Think of it like an outdoor carpet” and for some reason that clicked and I went with it. You don’t have to water it and it doesn’t get muddy and blah blah. Hey less for me to worry about around the house, right?

We’ve had the “turf” (as they say in the artificial grass biz) in  for about a month and the kids love it and I have to admit it’s pretty nice extruded woven colored plastic. If you’re going to tromp around on something that’s pretending to be something else, you could do worse.

This morning I was sitting with my feet resting on it with my almost 2 year old daughter (we were blowing bubbles together) when I felt some intruders on my foot. I squirmed and jump and brushed the ped-invaders off as my daughter shouted BUG BUG BUG!

Ants. The original southern California resident. Probably like quintillions of them digging around in our backyard alone, so who am I to even try to squash any of them? This is their territory after all, since it’s you know, dirt on the earth. After initially trying to shoo them off my new “carpet” I gave up and just stared at the turf.

I was fascinated. I leaned down closer and closer until I found a cluster of them crawling around and up and down the little artificial stalks. I couldn’t help but wonder, if say, ants had consciousness and articulate thought, what they’d be thinking.

“What the hell is this? DID YOU THINK WE WOULDN’T NOTICE?! What have you done with our precious grass?! You damn dirty apes! Damn you all to hell!”

or maybe:

“We’re in some kind of alien zoo! NONE OF THIS IS REAL!”

Most likely they’re just looking for food and could give two shits about what they’re walking on. They probably have no memory of grass or anything else. We blew a few more bubbles and went inside. We left the ants to stalk the plastic, up and down and around, up and down and around.

The Reapers are the Angels

I’m working on a novel– let’s just say it’s under the “zombie” genre umbrella– and I’ve been doing my homework reading the “best” of the genre. I’ve gotten a bit into World War Z and just finished The Reapers are the Angels.

I enjoyed it. The main character, Temple, is barely a young woman, and an incredibly adept survivalist in the zombie apocalypse. She doesn’t pine for the time before the “meatskins” because she barely remembers any of it. She isn’t all psycho-mad at them either. She regards them as you might any other moderately dangerous animal in the wild– the returned dead are simply part of her everyday life. They don’t even take that large of a central role in the story, which is primarily about the survivors and her evolving relationships to them. So, not so much on obliterating zombies, but still an engaging and entertaining read.

It has some very lovely language that you’d normally find in more literary works, but is also very readable and fairly fast-paced. Alden Bell (a pen name from Joshua Gaylord) does owe a certain debt to Cormac McCarthy for the style of the language (the Southern bent in the character’s speech reinforces that connection). There were a few cliches I could have done without (do we really need another main character staring in a mirror, taking inventory of their features?). And a very strange– even for a zombie book– mad scientist moment in the story stretched the integrity of the world a bit thin. And, well, I kind of hated the ending for ruining everything completely, but… I appreciated the choice on an intellectual level. Apart from these foibles, it was a good read.