Friday, April 22, 2016

Keeping Crooked Things

Neglect a closet for a while, and an unfortunate sort of natural order begins to take effect. It starts with an atmosphere of acceptant convenience for a few worthy knickknacks. Before you know it, the shelves are straining under the weight of things you're "only putting here for a minute, really" - and bad things happen to innocent inanimates as a result.

Take, as no particular example beyond the hypothetical, an umbrella you bought on clearance forever ago that you've used maybe twice by generous estimates.

Though the working bits somehow survived closetgeddon*, the spine and handle came out of it somewhat marred. I had little reason to feel sentimental about it, beyond it being one of those things that "I've just had forever." Still, I felt a tad emotional over the idea of throwing it out, of ditching a perfectly functional tool for the offense of looking atypical.

At the time, I couldn't imagine why that might be. Now a few months have passed, and I think I may be onto myself. That, or I'm taking symbolism to super trite levels.**

Crooked Umbrella is a little bit bent.
A little bit broken.
A little bit spent.

Crooked Umbrella doesn’t open quite right.
Gets stuck here and there.
Wants to close herself tight.

She spent a long time in a corner, unused.
Her handle mismatched.
Askew and confused.

Her bones sometimes tremble, her cloth is threadbare.
She looks rather wrong.
But try not to stare.

For when she is open, she functions just fine.
She’ll fend off the storm.
She’ll still keep you dry.

She’s harder to hold. Broken things often are.
A test of your strength.
She’ll lean from your arms.

Most would have thrown the umbrella away.
She’s been through the rain.
She’s seen better days.

But somebody packs her away every night.
Carries her through the street.
Holds her upright.

Umbrella she is.
Just misunderstood.
So Crooked’s okay.
Broken’s still good.

*Really, it was just a few books falling into the wicker basket where the umbrella was stored. So dramatic.
**It's that one.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

10 Reasons to Write About Talking Animals (Backed by Serious Film History)

"What if man were required to educate his children without the help of talking animals?" - Robert Brault

As an author who once tried to turn her piratey, talking animal bonanza into something more human-shaped, I can almost answer that question. 

In my case, the attempt to turn Marshall and McKinley into proper people was spawned by an industry that cautioned "No Talking Animals!" on nearly every submission avenue for children's publishing. The early draft of the story was already written, in all its anthropomorphic glory, and it would be more than fair to say my heart wasn't wholly in the work of altering my first novel into something so far from its original aim. 

I don't think anyone would have argued that the result was anything but disastrous. I couldn't connect with the characters as humans, let alone translate their plight into one worthy of a human teenager's interest. I've since written works of that very sort, but still find myself unable to cram this particular story into that particular box. 

It could be that most of us write from a place of absorbed culture. My childhood (and admittedly, thanks to a death grasp on the epicness of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my teenagerhood) was a sea of anthropomorphic faces. With Paddingtons and Poohs in my literature; Glow Worms, Care Bears, and Popples in the toy box; and Duck Tales, Donald, and Darkwing on the television... it's really a wonder I can have a human conversation without dumping a critter-like affectation into my voice. 

Lately, I've found a spot of mindfulness in idle sketching and often discover one or more of these influential characters at the end of my pencil. Or... you know... crayon. Whatever. I don't need to be proud. 

I do, however, want to make more of an attempt in 2016 to peek my head from behind the door. Today, I'm doing that with doodles, because I'm almost certain that thing about eyes being the window to the soul was originally regarding sketch pads.

10. The Pirate Cat (The Last Unicorn, 1982)

I admit. I feel obligated to begin the list with a character from The Last Unicorn. You know the movie you watched and re-watched and watched again until your parents begged you to find an interest in just about anything else? But you still watched it anyway, because it never failed to wrap you up in whatever emotion or transported world you needed, whenever you needed it? This was my Toy Story. It was my Frozen. It's still the thing I queue up on Netflix when it's three in the morning and I can't sleep. It's the perfect mix of magic and consequence. At no point does the script talk down to you, skewing a little darker in plot setting and in artistic style than most children's films, which made it the perfect vehicle for lessons of a deeper variety. It's very: Unicorn against Society; Unicorn against Nature; Unicorn against Self. With a healthy side of: Unicorn against Horrifying Red Bull.

The pirate cat has a very short stint on screen, but it's full of sound advice and the woeful gravitas of a weathered sailor. He even gives us a line that would almost certainly be true of every cat who ever lived, should they be granted the ability to talk:

"No cat out of its first fur ever gave anyone a straight answer."

I feel like.. if Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson
had a baby that was a cat, it would be THIS cat.
I don't know why that is.
Also, you know Jim Butcher was all up in this
character's head for Aeronaut's Windlass.

9. Dodger (Oliver & Company, 1988)

"Why should I worry? Why should I CA-A-A-ARE?" 

If you can walk past any reminder of this film without singing that line in your head, I'm not sure you and I can be friends. Billy Joel is to the street-savvy cool of 80s culture as short-legged mixed breeds are to a joyful world -- and this movie poured both of those things into a single character.

That move alone was boss enough for a mic drop, but Disney then went above and beyond by hiring Bette Middler to voice a poodle. 


Just go watch it again. You deserve to spend the rest of the afternoon singing, and this is the perfect excuse.

You would so adopt this dog.

8. Unico (Unico, 1981)

Proof that not all influences are happy and that some lessons are downright miserable, Unico aimed for the same fantastical blend of darkness and magic that turned The Last Unicorn into an instant fairy tale classic.

For any kid (or general human, for that matter) who might be disturbed by minor issues like abandonment and watching those you love devolve into lifeless gingerbread furniture for a homicidal psychopath... it kinda missed the "magic" mark and landed somewhere in evil acid land next to a cadre of kittens acting out the Manson killings. 

If you haven't had the pleasure of viewing it for yourself, you might think that dramatic. But give a read to what Gizmodo said about the glorious care given to Unico by beneficent-looking caretaker/assassin West Wind, who repeatedly "saves" Unico from execution by abandoning her in horrifying places the way a drunk parent "saves" a preschooler from germs by locking them in the cellar with the bubonic rats:

"The Wind disappears... and Unico just starts screaming. Understandable. This is five minutes into the movie. But don't worry, soon enough, Unico meets Melvin the Magnificat, who immediately starts punching the unicorn in the face."

The fun goes on from there. 

So why is this on the list? Suffice it to say, the film made such a mark that I spent the rest of my childhood blocking it out and much of early adulthood believing it was actually just a nightmare I once had BECAUSE NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND PUTS THIS SHIT IN CARTOON FORM. That alone makes it notable enough to merit a mention.

Besides, that is still one ridiculously adorable Kitten... Unicorn... Goat thing.

The cuteness is a lie.
Like the cake in Portal,
or a human kidney in Christmas wrapping.

7. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, 1975)

The not-so-humble humble champion of Kipling's short story, Rikki-Tikki was the most engaging version of David versus Goliath and the definite precursor for Redwall's celebration of honorable home defense. Black and white, hero against villain, we unambiguously supported that mongoose through snake infanticide and beyond because the violence seemed somehow practical, if not downright virtuous. As a parent, I look back on this product of older times with harsher realities and I can't help but find the idea of a pocket-sized protector with Rikki's tenacity rather comforting. 

What that says about me, I'm not entirely sure.

Turning children into bite-riddled squirrel tamers since 1975.

6. Basil of Baker Street (The Great Mouse Detective, 1986)

Basil had kids hooked on Sherlock long before Benedict Cumberbatch ever had a chance at setting the standard for the role. With an exuberance for puzzle solving that wouldn't be rivaled until Bill Nye the Science Guy appeared on screen many years later, The Great Mouse Detective translated the superhuman, deductive genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original character into something zany enough to cross the literary divide. Basil had an obsessive dedication to the mystery that made miniature gumshoes of us all. 

The mouse you'd definitely want on your side,
if you were also a mouse.

5. Peg (Lady and the Tramp, 1955)

No disrespect to Lady OR Tramp. But, for me, this film was less about nosing meatballs* and more about the stray queen and cell block lounge singer, Peg (as voiced by timeless treasure, Peggy Lee), crooning the theme song from behind Pound Puppy bars. Like Dodger, she embodied the carefree coolness of someone cast aside by society who has chosen to defiantly revel in it by way of song. 

Singing about serial hookups has never been cooler.

4. Bagheera (The Jungle Book, 1967)

Don't give me that look. You loved Baggy's tough love and helicopter parenting as much as I did. In the whole of the story, he's the only one who consistently had Mowgli's best interests at heart. Even better, in the book, he's basically the Indian Mufasa:

"Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody dared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as [the trickster jackal], as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree..."

While Baloo acted as a safety blanket, Bagheera was the bona fide safety net who kept their shenanigans from killing them. Not to mention that he put himself on the line as sole protector in guiding Mowgli to a world more suited to his needs. This while an entire pack of wolves said, "Nah, man. Shere Khan's after him. We're not down for anything with the potential of random tiger." 

He was the nanny we all wanted, even if we couldn't reasonably be disappointed when the babysitter invariably showed up without a tail.

Baggy's so stunned by the comparison to Mufasa
that he lost his whiskers, poor guy.

3. The Unicorn / Amalthea (The Last Unicorn, 1982)

Yes, The Last Unicorn deserves two spots on this list. Yes, I My-Little-Ponified the proportions on this sketch after hitting the bottom of the page.

Even so. 

Peter S. Beagle groupie for life, ya'll.

The Last Unicorn: Home of America's best music.

2. Robin Hood (Disney's Robin Hood, 1973)

Robin Hood probably had more influence over the Secoran world state than any film on this list. The wit. The weaponry. The weird regard for clothing... but also, not. Roger Miller as a chicken. 

The Sons of Masguard may be a bit lacking in that last one, but it shares a landscape devoid of human culture, where scale is altered, and all of sentient history belongs to animals designed to eat each other who, for whatever reason, have decided not to eat each other. 

It's jolly good irreverence with super catchy music. Find me a kid who doesn't love Robin Hood and I'll show you a parent who believes in the power of the funectomy. 

The only woodland creature who looks better on a
Wanted poster than McKinley ever could.

1. Mrs. Brisby (The Secret of NIMH, 1982)

Say what you want, but the timid gal had timid grit. 

She was a mom, remember. And a tiny little field mouse mom, at that. But time and again in this film you watch her tackle every obstacle head-on -- often with eyes wide and every limb trembling as though it might fall off. Mrs. Brisby was a champion, not so much for the cause of overcoming fear as that of experiencing fear in its fullest and choosing to take heroic action anyway. 

As far as I'm concerned, she's the bravest of the lot, and earned her position at the top of today's humble list.

Who says you can't cry AND kick ass?

Regarding the Sons of Masguard as it stands today, when the question is asked -- Why did you decide to write them as animals? -- I usually bypass the long form, cultural immersion essay and respond with the more abbreviated story of the absent illustration that started it all; a colored pencil doodle drawn for its own sake, not unlike those pictured above. But the grander truth of why I enjoy writing about talking animals and why talking animals will probably always be a thing, is that they give us a safe way to create a nobler world without having to justify its superhuman decency. Love it or hate it, anthropomorphism is a brilliant medium for eliminating gender biases and cultural walls. Attempt the same with human characters and you may find yourself fielding complaints of activism when all you really want is to show a group of kids a world where superfluous differences are truly superfluous. Where heroic capability isn't determined by socioeconomic status, or even by species. Where the humblest creatures can solve the biggest mysteries and Billy Joel can coax all the dogs in New York into the most objectively awesome flash mob in entertainment history. 

I'm not saying you CAN'T do that with humans. I'm saying a pack of people crawling through the streets on all fours isn't such a welcome visual. 

What do you think? Do you share a particular affection for any of the characters listed here? If not, which talking animals tickle your nostalgia?

*Which sounds impressively dirty, in retrospect.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Today Instead

I don't want to be a person today.
Can I be a bird instead?
I'll perch beneath your eave and sing.
          Even if it rains, I'll sing.

I don't want to wear a face today.
Can I wear the snow instead?
I'll spider on your windowpane,
I'll dance you to your rest.
And you can warm me still, my dear.
          Warm me with your breath.

We don't need the words today.
I'll bake into the dust.
And hold the earth against your feet.
          And that will be enough.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ode to a Squeaky Canal Pump

(Alt. title: The Very Certainly Pathetic Revenge of a Passive-Aggressive, Rhyming Insomniac)

Oh ye, canal, what lies below,
And pump, what lies therein;
Must you howl as though repaying
Me for some grand sin?

Did my dogs e'er leave a mark too crude?
Did my poultry tribe offend?
Did I wrong you in another life?
Will your wailing never end?

My window sits above, you know,
This ruckus echoes there.
It keeps me up! It truly sucks!
I'm pulling out my hair!

Nanny said be patient,
And mother said be kind.
But goodly thoughts are hard to keep
When going from one's mind.

I don't believe I ask too much
To spend my nights in peace.
I understand your work is tough,
But, canal pump, let me be!

For scream tomorrow in that ditch
- I'll teach you how to fly.
You've heard it said that life's a bi$@#,
But, canal pump, so am I!

*Update: The squeaky pump has been fixed! Blessed sleep! Thank you, kindly canal runner!*

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Coming Home

"Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar."
                                ~ J. R. R. Tolkein

Schmaltzy? Maybe a bit. But if schmaltzy bothers you, you might want to take this opportunity to avert your eyes, close the tab, and forget you ever clicked on that link mysteriously favorited by Taye Diggs.*

This is a travel post. Ergo, according to the rules of the internet, it's riddled with schmaltz.

Consider yourself warned.

So we went out. We saw the world. And now we've returned home to familiar fences, a welcoming driveway, and a passel of wet and wiggling noses.

I'm not sure what to say about it all. It's a strange feeling, coming back to find the walls aren't nearly as close as they once seemed. For someone who's made it her business in life to avoid the world at large, being forced to face it day in and out, to acknowledge its splendor without turning away, to shake hands with woodworkers and make eye contact with sailors... it challenges your perspective.

Badass gunner, binding sails on The Hawaiian Chieftain.
To me, the world has always seemed a cruel place; a labyrinth of missteps, harsh stares, and sharp edges. I don't take chances because losing seems the most likely outcome. I don't go out on a limb because the ground is twenty feet below and I don't take in nearly enough calcium to survive the fall unscathed. But travel is powerful enough to show even me that boldness has a kinder side, too.

A side with banana slugs, redwood giants, and replica ships. A side that introduces you to badass gunners and warmhearted veterans working to give purpose to soldiers and underprivileged kids. A side that leaves you wandering the Nye Beach book district, where a retired astrologer reads your fortune and a sweet German shopkeeper insists that you "Take the Ishiguro" in exchange for your autographed work.

A side that makes you smile and feel a part of something that matters.

People need to go out on a limb for reasons great and small. To feel the sun. To stretch and lean and see things from every angle. To find the rare fruits and spy the silkiest threads.

Just as walking new paths leaves sand in your shoes, braving new adventures leaves sunlight in your soul. Will it last? Probably not.

But, as with bathing, there's a reason we repeat the process every so often, now isn't there?

“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.” ~ Warsan Shire

*Totally never happened.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Immersion Therapy: (HWY) 101

Anyone who is a little bit broken can tell you that phobias have a way of bolstering themselves. Something scary crops up in your day and rather than confronting whatever it is, you kick up your feet like a frightened cottontail and bolt for the nearest briar patch. Once there, your jerkface brain REWARDS you with a big ole dose of feel-better fuzzies for having run away. Trigger. Run. Reward. Trigger. Run. Reward. Over and over until you’ve programmed yourself to feel that flight is always the better option, even when every rational ounce of you knows that it isn’t.

Take travel, for instance. Most wouldn’t consider travel as something to fear, but I’ve hippity-hopped from it nonetheless. Every year we plan a vacation – and every year I find a lame, totally invented, perfectly valid reason why we shouldn’t take it. 

 “Gosh, winter’s a terrible time for travel, isn’t it? Can’t we wait until summer?”

“But look at all these baby chicks I just brought home! You don’t want to leave them here alone, do you? Of course you don’t – because they would die and you’re not a heartless monster.”

“Vacationing in the heat of the summer, are you mad?”

My husband is either sweet enough or fond enough of chickens that these (not to belabor the point) perfectly valid reasons sway him more often than not, and our idea of venturing into the world at large is tabled for another year.


Only… every rational ounce of me knows that it isn’t.

It’s gone on long enough that the excuses are no longer necessary. We still go through the motions, but we both know that the AvPD itinerary of NEVER GOING ANYWHERE EVER is going to win out in the end. And the longer this continues, the harder it is to fight. 

Year by year, my world shrinks. From a town… to a house… to a handful of rooms in which I feel safe. This poses a problem. You know, beyond the miserable isolation part. I couldn’t stop writing if I tried and, as you’ve probably heard it said, you can’t write about a world you’ve never experienced. 

Long story short…

I’m writing this from a hotel room on the coast. 

It’s been a hard few days on the road (Highway 101, to be specific) but my darling husband and his ever-faithful GSD are here too, having both given more than their fair share of emotional support through panic attacks, motion sickness, and at least one attempt (not intentional) to get us so thoroughly lost that we couldn’t continue. We’ve argued and I’ve hyperventilated. We’ve been sunburned, waylaid, and invaded by ants after an unlucky roadside bathroom break. 

We’ve also found sea glass and played cat and mouse with the waves. 

The world is full of experiences, it turns out. Some of them change you for the better, make you stronger. Some of them send you crabwalking away from an anthill mid-stream, swatting at your extremities like they’re on fire WHICH OF COURSE THEY ARE BECAUSE THEY’RE BEING BITTEN BY A BILLION ANTS. 

But you know what? 

It gave me something to write about, didn’t it? 

And I’m hoping that this will widen the boundaries of my briar patch. A little more hopeful than I was yesterday, in fact. Probably more an indication of delirium than of mental and emotional growth, huh?

Maybe it’s all this salty sea air.

Fortune Reads: Time heals all wounds. Keep your chin up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An Interview With Jerome Jacinto

In the last few months, the promotional and cover art for The Sons of Masguard has been getting a fair amount of notice. Ooohs and ahhs are becoming more and more frequent at signings and afterschool events -- enough so that it's bordering on the bizarre to realize I've yet to properly introduce you to the wizard behind the curtain.

While anyone who has followed the series from the beginning knows that I've been working with my own illustrations for quite some time (and I can't thank you enough for having been so marvelously supportive), it doesn't shame me at all to say that my artistic abilities weren't up to the task of bringing this series to life with the richness of texture and detail that was in my head. I adore these characters and -- regardless of whether or not it might be indicative of a very unlhealthy mental condition -- I wanted more for them than my untrained pen could give.

So I went hunting.

Did you know the internet is full of insanely talented artists? Seriously. FULL of them. And in that digital sea of skill, I found this:

Tea Time and Ale
It was the browsing equivalent of being stopped in your tracks by a mountain of manna from heaven. The artist's name was Jerome Jacinto (known to followers of Deviant Art as Chichapie) and his stunning online gallery had me at upright armored animals

One year later, this master artist has provided the series with some incredible visual appeal, as you can see:

The Rook of Corin (The Sons of Masguard - Book Three)
The Mosque Hill Fortune (The Sons of Masguard - Book One)

So it is an honor and a privilege to have him HERE for an interview. Enjoy, and be sure to check him out on Deviant Art, Twitter, and in the phenomenal game design of Pocketwatch Games' upcoming LEADtoFIRE.

Could you tell us a little bit about you?
Hi, my name is Jerome Jacinto. I'm from the Philippines. Art is my hobby as much as it is my profession. I'm also a parkour practitioner, martial artist, and someone who enjoys videogames.

When did you first realize that art was something you wanted to pursue?
It was around mid high school. I realized that I have what it takes to push it forward to greater heights.

How did you find your style?
Well, to be honest, I went through many different styles in my artistic pursuit. I think it's proper to say that I did not 'find' it like it was an instantaneous moment of realization, but more of a very slow and thorough process of years of experimentation, observation and research.

The styles I decided to go through before was more or less the product of the times. At one point, my art looked incredibly inspired by mainstream anime because it was popular at the time. A year later, I decided to go mainstream western comics, such as marvel/DC because I knew a career in mainstream comics pays well. I came to the point that I wanted a visual style that isn't majorly copied, but more of a product of extensive experimentation as mentioned above, and insiration. That's how I got to where I am now.

What are your preferred mediums?
In no particular order: Watercolor, Gouache, Inks, and Digital.

Is there a particular piece of artwork that you’re most proud of?
Well, these :)

The Goblin Photobomb

Beyond the Western Deep


Contest Entry

What is it like within the artist community? Are your fellow painters supportive, competitive?
I guess that really depends on what part of the community you're in. Where I used to frequent, they are both supportive and competitive to promote challenging yourselves and others. We prefer constructive criticisms above all, but praises can't hurt in small doses, we sometimes need moments of respite after all :) One principle that I follow nowadays that I'm sure other committed artists can understand, is "Don't be the best, be better".

Places like Deviant Art, where your gallery can be found, house an extraordinary level of talent. They also seem to turn the illustrative process into a fairly social experience. Does the constant exposure to feedback help or hinder your process?
It goes both ways actually. Initially, I enjoyed the back pats I receive from viewers, which I do still at present. Most of the time, those are what I recieve. But I realized I needed professional and constructive criticism to move forward faster, and to gain a better understanding at what I'm pursuing.

That's why whenever I receive a good, long and thorough critique of anything I do, I treasure them the most.

Has this changed the way you do things?
It has, in a double edged sword kind of way. Because of it, I'm reliant on others' feedback. But what if there's no one around to give you feedback? That's when I realized I needed to have the quality of being aware of the state of my own work.

Do you think the proliferation of artistic software has made painting more accessible?
Yeah definitely. While it definitely does not compare to the physical feedback you get from actual traditional painting, it does offer convenience when it comes to equipment.

What obstacles have you had to overcome in order to get to where you are?
Lack of time, physical and mental exhaustion. Distractions of course.

Who was your biggest influence when you began?
Too many to count. But I guess the one artist that got me started on this road was the late Frank Frazetta.

Who most impresses you in the field today?
Paul Bonner, Juan Jose Guarnido.

What is it about your job that most excites you/gets you out of bed in the morning?
To put my ideas into a visual treat. :)

A Scone Moment
Any current or upcoming projects that you can share with us?
I'm currently doing majority if the art assets for Pocket Watch Games' upcoming title "LEADtoFIRE" and some card art for League of Geek's "Armello".

If you could work on any project in your field, what would it be?
I haven't put much thought on that really, since I just flow along the tides and take what I can. I do like to get involved in some work involving Magic The Gathering.

And lastly, because this is a required question of all my guests… ninjas or pirates?
Can it be a hybrid of both? I revere the inhuman traversal mechanics of ninjas and adore the thrill seeking life of pirates. :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Book That Changed My Life

*Written by Vivienne Mathews and Originally posted on Support Jarrett by visiting his Blog or following him on Twitter.*

Today, my favorite song is “93 Million Miles” by Jason Mraz.

Not only is it sentimental, optimistic, and of the perfect pedaling rhythm for any cycling playlist, it also makes general cosmic distances (like the 93 million miles between the earth and the sun) easier to remember.

Strangely, that’s not something you can say of many pop songs.

I say “today” because yesterday my favorite song was “Elephants” by Rachael Yamagata. Ask me tomorrow and the answer is as likely to be a wordless tune from some obscure television show as it is to be anything written by Puccini or Dr. Dre. Media is a marvelous thing that way. Be it music or art or literature, it grows and changes as often as we do. Something you heard ten years ago may tomorrow become the most meaningful thing in the world for no reason at all and you’ll never have to make excuses for it. That’s why I can – with the honesty of Abe himself – point to Watership Down, Tale of the Firebird, and any number of Trixie Beldens, Nancy Drews, or stints through the Hundred Acre Wood as being THE story. The one that meant the world. The one that changed everything.

Heart of Darkness is no exception to my casual use of terms like “most-loved” and “life-changing.” A school assignment, I can confidently say I never would have sought out Joseph Conrad’s adventure through the African Congo on my own. But it was so rich in subtext that I didn’t complain about it nearly as much as teenage me was capable of complaining. Quite the opposite. Heart of Darkness gave me something unique because it was the first time I truly enjoyed the study of a book. Every sentence became an adventure to uncover what was lying underneath. And that sense of adventure was of course mirrored by Mr. Marlow’s trip into the unknown.

You could say that this doesn’t really measure up to the idea of “life-changing,” and you’d be right. But Heart of Darkness led me to Lord Jim. Which led me to Moby Dick. Which led me to Master and Commander. Which led me to the realization that maybe I had a thing for boats, hard-headed captains, and flights of fancy. Before I explain how I now write about all of these things (albeit in anthropomorphic form) in The Sons of Masguard – which is nothing if not proof that every book you will ever read has the power to be influential – you should know that Googling “psychiatric help for nautical obsessions” is less than helpful and inexplicably leads to an article about Captain Crunch.
My point certainly isn’t that everyone is as fickle as I am (honestly, I’m already on my way to changing that first song to “Weird Beard” by the Mad Caddies) or that there is anything wrong with Captain Crunch. But we are complex creatures who can never say for certain just where we’re going to end up. This unpredictable life is full of life-changing books, songs, poems, and paintings, if only we’re willing to let them find their meaning in their own place and time. Who knows? That reading assignment you’re groaning about today may one day be the reason you get to eat something more than the breakfast cereal at the wrong end of some poor schmuck’s midnight research.

That’s right, universe.

You fed me a flawless classic with widespread appeal and were given a snarky series about otter pirates in return.

You’re welcome.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Dangerous Life of the Honey Bee

 I am so, so excited to announce the release of my latest picture book, The Dangerous Life of the Honey Bee. A labor of love if ever there was one, I hope that young entomologists and apiarists will find the images as entertaining as my cat found the cursor throughout the illustration stage. (A quarter for every time she swatted the screen would cover years of printing costs.)

According to the blurb, this book describes a handful of the threats the average honey bee must face as she struggles to support her hive. I can't verify whether this is true. Rushing to complete it before NaNoWriMo came knocking may have left me a little fuzzy on the details. Even so, I'm weirdly glad to have my name attached to it.

It's currently free-to-read via Kindle Unlimited and -- from Monday, December 15th through Friday, December 19th -- will also available as a completely free download to you, your children, your children's children, and that one squirrel who stole your Kindle while you were chasing your children's children across the park.

If the holiday season has you feeling particularly generous, I hope you'll consider leaving a review. Allowing your toddler to chain paste a series of smiley-face emotes into the review window would be equally awesome.

Finally, because the "look inside" option seems to be a bit behind at the moment, it seems as though posting a sampling of the book for budding beekeepers might be the thing to do. Even despite the fact that alliteration almost always annoys.


Find your copy here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Most Important Book ~ An International Authors Day Post

If I were asked to describe the father I barely knew, the words that followed (take them as you will) would include references to Ansel Adams, Roger Miller, and Bill Murray. I'd smile as I recalled backyard picnics and homemade ice cream, guitar music and cigarette smoke. He loved animals, collected cameras, and was always ready with a good-mannered joke or a helping hand.

Of course, you'd have to take such rose-colored memories with a grain of salt.

I was ten he died of lung cancer. As everyone who has lost someone is bound to understand, processing grief can be a difficult thing for a child. Even now, it's little more than an uncomfortable series of foggy images without context. More than enough to make me recognize the fallibility of memory.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Reader Alert: This Blog Has a Paucity of Speedos

It never would have occurred to me to warn people of this had I not taken a look at the search keywords responsible for bringing people to this site in the last week.

A rational author might concern themselves more with the fact that as many people stopped by to gaze upon the glorious Virginia Hey as were interested in the next release of the Sons of Masguard, but (being decidedly UN-rational, which is too a word) I was too distracted by the thought that someone came here looking for a person* in skin tight speedos and walked away disappointed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

This Shifty Parrot is the Shiftiest Toy Ever Made (And Will Probably Kill Me in My Sleep... Shiftily)

This past week, my wonderful in-laws invited us to participate in a yard sale. Because we've been antsy to begin work on the unfinished addition to our home (which is currently cluttered with fifteen years' worth of what can only be described as "broken crap"), the husband and I may have shared a celebratory dance before dragging the sea of boxes into the driveway for sorting. (Bonus: this confounded our free-roaming flock of chickens to no end.)

If you've never done this sort of thing, it's a lot like attending a reunion for all of the semi-acquaintances you've made over the years. Sure, you have vague memories of names and places and maybe having bumped into some of these lovely folk at one point or another, but you know as well as they do that a reintroduction is going to be in order. Most of the boxes were so disappointingly typical that we might as well have nabbed them from any curbside dumping location: chipped plates, old hairdryers, a random mass of bobby pins and hair ties, etc.

And then... there was THIS:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

#MyWritingProcess -- Blog Tour!

My thanks to the incredible Steven Whibley (author of The Dean Curse Chronicles and all-around awesome guy) for not only bringing this little shindig to my attention, but allowing me to join in on the Q & A festivities. Be sure to check out the many talented authors involved by searching for the #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour on every one of your local library's public computers. Seriously. All of them.

1)     What am I working on?
More than I should be. With the third installment of The Sons of Masguard (thankfully, finally) nearing completion, I'm afraid I'm doing a lot of hopscotching between projects. Ogg and Zogg, the follow-up to Jax and Mack, is on my plate. Along with the kickoff title in The Adventures of Careful Steps, and a nonfiction picture book series about the fantastic life of bees. I'm pretty sure 2014 is going to be the year my rusty and questionable artistic abilities get as much of a workout as my typing skills.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Sons of Masguard: The Movie

Sorry, no, the movie isn't currently in the works.* That's what makes this the most self-indulgent post on the internet.

A few friends and I were discussing casting choices for our titles, should we ever be so lucky as to land a movie deal. (Which is similar to daydreaming about what we'd do with those mega-million lottery winnings, but way more fun.) Delusional or not, I thought I'd list them online for all the world to see. ("See" is, in this case, pronounced "laugh at.") Because, as McKinley would say, "That's the accommodating sort of repugnant ruffian I am."

Captain Marshall
Voiced by the one and only Benedict Cumberbatch. Because, of course.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Story of NaNo In the Weirdest Words ~ A NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

Words, words, everywhere, yet none that seem to fit.
Words, words, worthless ware… NaNo’s hard. I quit.

Struggling with the English language? Finding it difficult to suss the perfect words from the inept, not just in your novel, but in your explanations of NaNoWriMo? You’re not alone. Here we are, more than three weeks into this crazy adventure to which we have (once again and with masochistic glee) subjected ourselves, and if you’re anything like me, you can’t help but consider how insufficient our vocabularies can be. How clumsy and inadequate our phrasing in describing this yearly ritual to anyone in the normal world, where staring at a blinking cursor with your hands in your hair is seen for the demented exercise it certainly is. How are we to explain why our socks don’t match, why we haven’t showered in four days, or why our families are giving us such a wide berth that friends are left questioning whether “WriMo” might be a euphemism for someone with a heavy meth problem?

We can say it’s a test of will. We can call it weary madness and ambition and SO MUCH COFFEE. But that doesn’t cover it by half, does it? And what of the secret to winning? If you were asked to condense the key to this month-long affair into a single word, could you do it?
Luckily, removing language barriers is one of the unspoken perks of being a veteran. (Not really, but take the journey with me anyway. It’ll be fun.)