Wednesday, December 22, 2010

For the Soggy

It's been torrential around here lately; and when not torrential, drippy. Wet, constantly. The dog is looking at me with betrayed eyes, wondering why ball-playing cannot commence, why the outside has suddenly turned hostile.

Someone from my Sangha has sent this poem to put the rain in perspective. It's by Mary Oliver.

Lingering in Happiness

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear--but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole's tunnel;

and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

Nice, huh? Now, if only I could get my dog to understand it...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Birthdays and Buddhists

Here I am, past midnight. No bells have tolled, no visitations from spirits; just Doug softly snoring in bed beside me. That's not entirely true (about the spirits, that is, the snoring part is absolutely accurate). I do feel ghosts of the past rising up around me, conjured up not only from the Facebook greetings sprouting up in my email box, but by the constant self-reflection that the occasion seems to inspire. Must birthdays always be a yearly reckoning of where one is, and where one has come from?

"Bore, bore bore," says my inner Katharine Hepburn.

Me at Benjamin's age.
In Buddhism, we're constantly reminded of how our days are quickly ticking off, one after another after another. We are not about to step off a cliff, we are already in the air, plummeting. We have been that way since the day we were born. This sentiment is not supposed to depress, but to inspire. What will we do with the time left on this earth? We are gently encouraged to not squander our actions, to "practice eagerly and diligently, as though extinguishing a fire upon our heads."

We Buddhists sure know how to have a good time.

I am looking forward to the coming year. Doing my animated work, getting my book out into the world, watching Benjamin discover his independence, but still being allowed to hold his hand while crossing the street. Finding the stillness within and the wonder of every day. And eating the Peking Duck that Doug has ordered from the restaurant we're going to tonight. Life is good.

Happy Birthday.

Some people have asked to see something of the book I'm writing. Here are the first pages—enjoy.

Emily. Wisconsin.
She drove the blue Volvo station wagon away from Vee’s house with a somber determination, like it was a lame horse she was leading out of the barn. She was going to drive both the car and herself over the nearest cliff, or, rather, it being Wisconsin, the nearest steep embankment. But sailing south along I-94, in the early morning before rush hour, she found she couldn’t let go of the Volvo and she couldn’t let go of the road, and the highway racing before her seemed to offer a faster route to oblivion than sailing off into some moderately inclined culvert. All might still be lost, in time. There were other opportunities up ahead to smash into and through some guardrail on her journey. Colorado, now there were some cliffs worth driving over.
But she needed speed, more speed, and the ballast in the car was too heavy to let her fly down the highway, no matter what the speedometer was registering. So she twisted her upper body like a contortionist and managed to snake her right arm around and under the baby car seat behind her in order to unshackle it from the upholstery, and with a desperate, sudden yank which would cause her a good deal of shoulder pain later that night, she managed to hoist the seat over the gear shift and partly into her lap. Moments later it was pushed clumsily (understandable at 95 miles an hour), out the passenger side window. It bounced twice along the highway like a skipping stone before skidding to rest on the side of the road. 
Three minutes later the second car seat, toddler-sized, followed. 
(The two abandoned car seats were accounted for later that day; the second one landed in the middle of a lane, causing the rush-hour traffic delay which Owen heard on the clock radio as he was trying to will himself awake; the other was discovered and identified by Vee in her car, just outside Racine. Neither was saved.)
And for a time after, Emily did feel lighter, her mind clear, even excited, and her breathing deepened for the first time in almost five weeks. This continued until just past Madison. Approaching the slowdown that was inbound Chicago traffic, she began noticing through her rear view mirror the imprints of the baby seats in the upholstery. Also, a small teething ring, a scattering of Cheerios, and a grimy diaper rag.
The back seat, the entire back seat, was gone by the time she hit Iowa.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Deep Fried Twinkies & Salted Caramel Gelato

And unlikely duo, those two desserts, but they sum up Las Vegas perfectly.

Sungyoon Choi & Me: who's the Gelato and who's the Twinkie?
On Monday, after a night in the sumptuous accommodations of the Venetian Hotel, Choi, her boyfriend Eric and I set off on the Grand Tour of Las Vegas. First stop: Old Las Vegas. The Fremont Street Experience, as the main drag is called, consists of four blocks where a few bandstands are set up at the crosswalks and a light show plays overhead on a giant ceiling suspended over the street. The ceiling captures even the iconic Vegas Vic and Vegas Vicky. I'm sorry to see them hemmed in, without the blue sky above them. 

Vegas Vic
Vegas Vicky
In my book I describe the Downtown Strip as "What the real Strip would look like after she’s gone home at the end of a long night, wiped off her makeup, thrown down her wig, and slipped out of support hose. And she’s sitting around in her underwear, scratching herself in front of the TV." In the Monday morning light, with all the neon dim, it's looking more run-down than ever. It's seedy and worn out and Choi is completely enchanted. Maybe her delight at Downtown Vegas is akin to my hankering for the old Times Square, with the crazies muttering on the corners and the porno shops and mounds of garbage and weird smells. It's more real, more authentic, though I'd have to say that a majority of tourists are not looking for authenticity when they arrive to either Sin City or the Big Apple. 

Choi does a happy dance when she gets to eat a deep-fried Twinkie at Mermaids Casino. Despite how revolting this might sound to some, and despite the fact that the deep-fry oil barely bubbles while the Twinkie is cooking, it's a big hit. Eric thinks it tastes like funnel cake wrapped around a Twinkie and then covered with chocolate sprinkles. I'm intrigued but can't quite bring myself to try it. My passion for deep fried foods has abated somewhat since my last cholesterol check. I do, however, play the quarter slots while waiting. I feed a dollar, and on the second spin three 7's line up. I make $10! Good omen? Let's hope so.

I drive them into the bleaker neighborhoods (we don't have to go far). It's funny, pointing out various landmarks from my book, as if the events really happened. "Here's where Walter meets Chrysto..." "I think Walter would live in that apartment building with Owen,  yes, exactly that one..." Choi won't be illustrating all these events, but you never know what will come into play, and since we're here I might as well give her the whole world.

Next stop is the now-defunct Liberace Museum. The parking lot is completely empty; there aren't many businesses left in the little abandoned strip mall. The museum itself is still there but not open to the public. We pay our respects. I should have brought flowers, or rhinestones.

We loop back to the Strip, stopping briefly at the Luxor before driving north back to the Venetian. It's not very crowded today—hard times, or a Monday? At the Venetian we hit the gondolas, taking a ride and imagining how the canals will look illustrated. We get lunch (Zine Noodles & Dim Sum—yum) and then it's back to the room to look at Choi's thumbnail sketches for the next graphic novel interlude. Even in sketchy form I can tell it's exactly right.

And then we're done. I work out at the hotel, do some writing, and treat myself to Mario Batali's restaurant in St. Mark's Square. End with some of his salted caramel gelato, which is now included in my deathbed meal, (right after that fried Greek cheese with the honey balsamic drizzle). It's a fittingly sweet and savory ending to a whirlwind trip.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Refuge of the Road

Sunday, 5 December: traveling to Sin City, not for two days of unbridled hedonism and debauchery, but to return to the Scene of the Crime. Las Vegas is the setting of most of my book, and the city's become, in the years I've been working on the manuscript, my inspiration and muse. Those who know me would find this city to be the least likely place I would want to visit, but despite the crowds, the smoke and the endless barrage of noise and lights, I've always found Las Vegas to be a fascinating blend of the magical and the profane. Almost every important cultural, geographic and spiritual icon is joyfully exploited. If Stephen Wynn could figure out how to turn the Prophet Mohammed into a twice-nightly stage show, complete with topless harem girls and Middle Eastern ululation set to a salsa beat, he'd do it.

I can last two days in Las Vegas; four, tops. I'm going there to meet Sungyoon Choi, the illustrator of the book, and give her a tour of the city. It'll be her first time there, and since so much of the graphic novel is set in Las Vegas, we agreed it would be helpful for her to take in the lay of the land. The gondolas of the Venetian; Old Vegas on Fremont Street; the now-defunct Liberace Museum (moment of silence, please): we're going to do it all.

I'm driving. It takes between five and six hours to get there, and I'm going to try and be gas-conscious and not speed too much. It takes me until I'm well out of Los Angeles County before the mantle of Responsible Dad falls away and I can assume the temporary title of Free Agent. I'm a pretty poor representative of such a moniker; so far my wild wild ways include being able to listen to an entire episode of "Car Talk" and most of "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" on NPR without feeling guilty about staying in the car. The free part is mostly the liberation of that sizable part of my brain which is usually tethered to All Things Family— school, housework, appointments, what to cook for dinner, Doug, Benjamin Benjamin Benjamin (and, yes, though reluctantly, Rowdy). To be able to have that part of my brain back, to concentrate full-force on the manuscript, the collaboration with Choi, the lyrics to the entire Hejira album (I put it on once NPR got static-y; it's genius, believe me)— this is freedom at its finest.

There's also a bit of melancholy, and not just from Joni Mitchell wailing on the speakers. I'm on a barren stretch of highway amid tumbleweeds and rocks rashed with red scrub, that empty space between Leaving From and Going To. The space where creativity can flourish but also melancholy.  I'm feeling much like the main character in my book might feel, traveling back to where it began; returning again to the genesis of tragedy. And I realize that I've invested so much in these characters that their travails have become real to me, and I think of Las Vegas as their home, and I'm going there to pay my respects.

Things brighten up on the approach to Baker, CA. I get gas and contemplate my usual stop at Bun Boy for lunch (the Bun Boy is right next to the world's tallest thermometer, and, well, 'nuff said about the phallic implications of that). 

Instead, I head over to the Mad Greek Diner, because I've just been to Greece, and two of my characters are Greek, so I figure there might be some inspiration there. Not so much.
Beware Greeks bearing crappy roadside food.
I have known Greek salads, I've been to Greece,
Greek salads are my friends, and you, sir, are no
Greek salad.

Even eating vegetarian the lunch manages to make me queasy. It could have been the greasy fries or the rancid pita. I have known Greek salads in Greece, and you, sir, are no Greek On the way to Vegas? Avoid the Mad Greek. It can turn even a Greek Salad into a Greek tragedy! Give me a Bun Boy every time!

Hmm. I might want to rethink that last sentence.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still Browsing...

Things are proceeding on the book front, though it's still in the "getting the book publisher-ready" stage. Got the first graphic novel section completed and delivered from Sungyoon Choi, and I think it looks marvelous. Heart-breaking, but marvelous. While we're waiting for rest of the artwork to be completed, Agent J would like to see if the manuscript could be trimmed down a bit and tightened. Sounds reasonable. I hope I'll have better success at trimming pages off my novel than I've had at trimming pounds off my frame this year (damn you, apple-bacon-cornbread stuffing!) Agent J will be looking over the manuscript this week and offer edit suggestions. This isn't unfamiliar territory; years of whittling novels into plays for Lifeline Theatre in Chicago (with half the company members looking over your shoulder, benevolently) should stand me in good stead.

And then there's the title... The book, Liberace Under Venetian Skies Untitled, has thus far Teflon'd itself against any new name applied to it. We're getting closer, though. The following is a few titles I've been monkeying with these days. Feel free to weigh in. Remember, the graphic is only there to give the context of it being a book. It's a shot I took at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Much of the book is set there, and in the neighborhood behind the neon of the city.

Okay, go:
Lots of meanings for "departures," all of them apt.
This one is Doug's favorite. 
Coincidentally, it's one he came up with, too.

This phrase gets used a lot in the book.
The main character returns, over and over, to a pivotal moment in his life, trying to replay it in different ways but unable to arrive at the truth.

Kinda grand, ain't it? God figure prominently in the book. 
Suggested by Christina Calvit, playwright extraordinaire.

This one was suggested by my friend Amy Hill,
who discovered it in the Wordle art of my manuscript.
Works however you say it.

Kind of active but whimsical, don't you think?

I like this one because it uses screenplay syntax, 
and screenplays figure into the novel. 
It also encapsulates the illusion of Las Vegas. 
I noodled with this one a bit. 

What about:

Or this?
Damn it, I'll get Liberace in there somehow!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Voiceover for Dummies

Sometimes, the absurdities in life can be just delightful.

A few weeks ago, I had a commercial voice-over audition, a rare event, as I mostly do animation. This audition was for a national clothing chain which may or may not have mannequins as their spokespeople. I was reading for an Asian grandfather mannequin, and the audition consisted of one word: "Cable-knits!" (hee hee, that cracks me up right there.) At the recording studio, they informed me that there was to be no accent. I guess the mannequin was born and raised in America. I don't question why an Asian guy has to read for an Asian mannequin that has no accent, because, really, why bite the (synthetic) hand that feeds you? So I go into the booth and give them about 12 different "Cable-knits!" ranging from the mildly surprised to the near-orgasmic. Some "Cable-knits!" gets a little chuckle sprinkled over the word, some get a warm frown-smile baked right in. Try saying "Cable-knits" 12 times. I'll wait. 

 Do you really know what you're saying anymore?

Ah, it was a good day at the office.

This week I get several calls from my agent, checking my availability and semi-putting me on hold for the spot. Excellent! My familiarity with sweater styles has paid off! Yes! Then, yesterday I got another call. The agent tells me, "The client just wants to make sure that it'll be okay to have no accent. They didn't hear any, but they just want to make sure."



Now, this is transportive in so many levels. Okay, so they didn't hear any accent in the audition, but... they want to be sure I don't have one? One that they didn't hear? Hmmm... Perhaps they're afraid it will suddenly spring out at them, a form of dialect Tourettes. Coiled inside every Asian-American is an inner Mr. Miyagi, just waiting to bust out...

And then, there's my agent (a friendly fellow) who is impelled (compelled?) to call just to make sure that I'm comfortable not speaking in an accent that I don't have. I love Los Angeles. I tell him that, while a little New Jersey sometimes slips out from time to time, I think I'll be okay speaking dialect-free.

Unfortunately, this giddy ride ends here. Later that afternoon, I get released for the spot. Apparently, they decided to go with another guy with less of an accent than the one I don't have. Or maybe the Asian mannequin didn't test well, and they couldn't use me to voice a mannequin who wasn't Asian. Who would believe that mannequin! It would be absurd!

Ah well. I guess my North American Mannequin dialect needs a little work. I'm off to the mall, then, where I can learn to speak as the locals do...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Adventures in Publishing Part 2

Where the hell have I been? Sorry, sorry to be so out of action. I've been doing stuff, honest! And not just catching up on "The Walking Dead"and reorganizing my son's school library (which, yes, I have undertaken, giving further credence to my uber-geek status— Step-stools! Langston Hughes Quotes! Magnetic Chalkboards! Bookmarks with Neil Gaiman on them! We must have them all!). We've reached a bit of a holding pattern on the book front.

Agent J has been sending out feelers to editors of publishing houses that may be interested in a new literary work that combines prose with passages of screenplay and graphic novel (that's my book, for those late to the party) and the general feeling is, more of the artwork needs to be done in order to give it the best shot at being understood and sold. I had a feeling that this would happen, though at first we were thinking that having a sample of the graphic novel sections would suffice.  I ran the news by the illustrator,  Sungyoon Choi, who also had a feeling that this might be the case. Choi, being the lovely being that she is, has agreed to finish up the graphic novel sections so that we can go forward with a fully-completed manuscript by mid-January. I am of course incredibly happy and excited to see the graphic novel scripts I have written realized. Choi and I are going to Las Vegas next month to do some research, and we'll be working closely together on bringing it all together... (I have also recently discovered that I've been calling Choi by her last name all of this time, instead of Sungyoon, her first name.  Heh heh... I can only say in my defense that she encourages people to use her last name, as it's much easier than pronouncing her first. )

So I have a little time. Of course, there's stuff to be done. I have just finished going through my manuscript again, giving it a final polish. And there's the matter of the title... sigh. Who knew that the name would be so hard to come up with? Agent J (and a few of my close readers) have felt that "Liberace Under Venetian Skies" was too... narrow in its scope, and didn't represent the tone of the book. Since then I've batted many many possibilities around, but none have stuck so far. Of those that readers have seen, "And then She was Gone" was quite popular, but Agent J felt it sounded too much like a Lifetime movie (possibly starring Ms Sela Ward) and that put me right off of it. Back to square one. I'm sure I'll have many more options to post in the days ahead.

Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?
The name of my favorite Lifetime movie, starring Miss Tori Spelling
In the meantime, let me leave you with a very fun website for those of you writers who want to look at your work in a different discipline. It's called wordle ( and it takes whatever text you paste into it, finds the most frequently-used non-common words, and makes it into art. COUNTLESS hours can be wasted changing fonts and layouts. Here's my book, set to wordle:

Hey, maybe there's a title in there somewhere. I'll have to look into that, just as soon as I watch zombies chow down on a few more folks from Georgia.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Fathers and Son Halloween

Demon Dog Rowdy

I think we've got Halloween down by now. Not a lot of stress this year. I go out shopping for decorations with Benjamin (who maintains an attraction-repulsion to Halloween stores but will venture in as long as there isn't anything electronic lunging out at him). Benj and I decorate the outside, and he gets all Creative Director on me, figuring out where the headless skeleton goes and how to drape the cobwebs and what if the giant wasp was eating the vulture! So proud.  We make the Jello brain mold and Benj spatters it with raspberry blood. We don't carve the pumpkins too soon (a few days before, tops) because any earlier in the hot Los Angeles sun and by Halloween they resemble all those Nazis in the climax of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Doug was able to avoid the pumpkin carnage this year because he already had one ready to go. Benj had decorated a pumpkin for school to look like a hero of his choosing--and he picked Doug. 

Which is 
the Pumpkin Head, 
and which is 
the school project? 
You decide.

I don't mind carving, actually. It's one of the things, like lugging home the Christmas tree or tending the herb garden, that I like doing rather than having done. There aren't many of those instances in our household; when anything breaks down that's harder than changing a light bulb, Benj is apt to say, "We better call the man." He know us too well. We're not exactly handy. 

Which made this Halloween all the more special. Ten minutes before going to a Halloween party given by one of Benj's friends, Doug and I decide to dress up. Mind you, this NEVER happens. We hate to do the whole costume bit. But the host requested it, so... 

In ten minutes, there's not a lot you can do. We're in the small vanity room off the bedroom, the one with the big mirror, the one that most women would die for but that we use mostly as a depository for all the spare toiletries, small electronics, and change. I have on a flannel shirt that I'm dusting with powder, black and brown smudges on my face, and a hat with a light attached. Presto: Chilean Miner. Doug is applying red makeup under his eyes, and using shadow to make his face paler and gaunter than it already is. His hair is slicked down, and he's wearing a fancy black shirt. Can you guess? It's Vampire Eric, from True Blood (alas, no one gets this at the party, because no one watches True Blood. Still, if only he had worn a track suit...)

Doug or Alexander Skarsgard? You decide. 

Benj is watching us, rapt, as we unscrew little pots of makeup and expertly apply them, via brush and sponge, to our faces. He observes how concentrated we are, watching ourselves transform in the mirror, dabbing and blending, dabbing and blending. He already has his costume on— a hybrid of a "Ben 10" store-bought Swampfire costume and a mouldering Scream Mask he found at the Halloween store— but he takes his mask off, touches his cheek and asks tentatively, "Could I have a cut right here?"

"Of COURSE you can have a cut there!" Does he know who he's talking to? We're THEATRE FOLK!

"Okay, Ben, look here, we use pencil first to figure out where... okay, here's some red for the wound... let's get some of this yellow, just a touch, and then overlay some purple... hold still while I blend it in... doesn't that look nice and bruised?... some more red, yes, sure you can have blood leaking... some powder to set it—how's that?

And there you have it. We may not be able to show you how to build a bird house, Benj, or how to shoot a layup, or tell you what the difference is between the National and the American League, but if you wanna look like a 75-year-old man or a burn victim, WE'RE THERE.

Happy Halloween, all my little ghosties out there in the dark.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Which Book Would You Pick Up?

All right, I've been working all day and this is what I've come up with. I'm looking for a revised title for my novel. Right now, it's called this:

(I've added a little graphic, just so you can imagine it on a shelf)

Remember, I'm looking for something evocative, modern but fanciful/whimsical. The book is very humorous in a snarky way (the narrator is a 17-year-old boy) but with a lot of heartbreak and grief, especially in the story of the parents. It's got graphic novel elements, plus screenplay. Love, sexual awakening, loss, fantastical happenings, most of it set in Las Vegas. A lotta book, I know.

Okay, you're at Borders/Barnes & Nobles, browsing. What might catch your eye, title-wise? Ready? Peruse!

Kinda like this one, cause the main character's a budding artist,
 plus there's this motif of movement & stillness... 

The archeology is a metaphoric one, looking through the ruins of your past for answers...

You know, he did fly in a Vegas show... 
There are lots of people flying to and away from others in this book.

One of my witty friends came up with this one:

it's funny because it's true

This is the simplest, and evokes the heart of the book. Too much like that Ben Affleck movie? 

All right, that's all I got for now. This would be a lot of fun, if it weren't my book...

Comment away!

Update: Sigh... Agent J was not in love with any of them. I have the feeling he's "Liberace-averse," meaning he thinks having Liberace in the title is a turn-off. Poor Mr. Showman. Thanks for all the comments, though, maybe I'll use them as evidence if one title gets a lot of love!

The Name Game

All right, now comes the hard part.

One of the hard parts.

Agent J would like me to consider changing the name of my novel, Liberace Under Venetian Skies. He feels it's too... florid? and not indicative of what the book's about, or it's tone. This comment has come up a times with a few reader-friends, so I know it may be a problem.

What do I need for a title?

Something evocative.


Ideally, something that has the tension between the sublime and the prosaic. You know, like Venice and the Las Vegas version of Venice. Or something that suggests movement vs. stillness.

How tarnished is the name of Liberace? Too campy/tragic/distasteful, or has it gone round the horn?

These are the questions of our times.

I'll put up some possibilities later.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


It started online. I found his profile, liked what I saw, sent him a note. He told me he wanted to see the whole thing. I obliged. Then, after a flurry of emails and one very probing phone call, he popped the question. Said he wanted to be exclusive. Oh, there were others, but I liked his passion and how his mind worked. His sweet words didn't hurt. Even though I've never met him, even though he lives in New York and I live in Los Angeles, I made the commitment. We're ready now to take the next step.

You do know this is about me getting a literary agent, don't you?

Literary agents function very much like acting agents, except that instead of sending you out for many different roles the lit agent is sending you (your work) out for one big sell. They are the conduit into the publishing world.  Many publishers won't even look at a manuscript if it doesn't come through an agent. I found Agent J through an old writing group friend who sent out an email a couple of years ago mentioning this agent, who was part of a new agency. J was part of my first round of submissions, and he responded really well to my book, the perhaps-to-be-retitled (more on that later)  Liberace Under Venetian Skies.

I took a couple of other interviews, but no one spoke as eloquently about the project as he. So I said yes. I know it seems odd to enter into a relationship with someone you've never met in person, but my writer friends assure me that it's not uncommon, especially if they're in the opposite coast.

So, my toe has tapped onto the Yellow Brick Road. Oh, I know, I haven't yet run into the trees chucking apples or the scary forest or the flying monkeys, but I'm on my way. Let's see where it goes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


30 Transformer All-Spark Cubes, made of devil's food cake with a whipped cream filling and a hard chocolate coating. Took 3 days, but it turned out pretty much how I wanted it to. I think I've found my baking niche: intentionally rough and ugly baking designs. Mud and stone-looking confections, I'm your man.

I wouldn't last half a day on "Top Chef: Just Desserts," but at least they taste pretty good, and you don't have to worry about cutting pieces— slap a block onto a plate and call it a day. This will probably be my last large format themed birthday cake; I think parties for the entire class may be coming to a close this year. We'll see... you may be seeing a giant Iron Man Chest Plate done in marzipan come next September 29th.

I have been practically sweating chocolate this past week, what with this and the fiasco of the school birthday treats (see previous post) but I will say this: having made, and made over, and made over again, chocolate cake, I feel like I have an intimate relationship with the medium. I can whip up a devil's food cake without fear, understand the zen of pouring melted chocolate. Nothing like a little forced experience...

Next challenge: getting that damned rolled cake right! There is a homemade Yodel with my name on it... or at least a Ring Ding. Yes... Ring Dings...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nine Years

How could shame blight such a wondrous day? I should be posting the delicious baked treats my son will eat for his birthday celebration at school, a photo of me holding a plate of homemade Yodels, those chocolate-covered mini cake rolls. But no, there will be no such photo springing up on Facebook, only this old one of my face covered by the Alien of failure...

Spent last night trying to make those little treats, and maybe it was the spongy, ragged cake layer that refused to roll without disintegrating, or maybe it was the melancholy marshmallow filling that didn't freeze well in its threadbare carpet of devil's food cake and spent the night weeping, but when I tried to dip this forlorn mass into the melted chocolate this morning the cake and the filling each decided they were unfit for such a union and had better part company, leaving me with shapeless mounds of hardening chocolate covering only a gooey memory of cake.

No photo. A media shutdown; there will be no evidence of this disaster.

I shuffled upstairs and told Doug I was throwing in my chocolate-smeared towel and would do what he advised all along: I was going to (shudder) bring to school (wince) Store Bought Cupcakes.
Oh, the ignomy.

Moving on to brighter things:

He's nine! My boy will have spent eight and a half years with us, his lucky lucky parents. It's hard to believe it's been this long, but I'm not bemoaning the rush of time. I don't mind the years passing (well, for him, anyway) because it just keeps getting better, he gets better, and funnier, and more thoughtful. Yes, homework is now officially a Nightmare, and I know adolescence is just around the bend, but right now he's just the coolest kid to be around.

A couple of my favorite things he's said this year:

He was watching this video from Green Day— Boulevard of Broken Dreams ("I walk these empty streets, on the boulevard of broken dreams... I walk alone, I walk alone") —

—and he turned to me and said "He's not walking alone, he's got all those other guys with him!"

Third grade really ramps up the homework, and it's been, as I said, a Nightmare, with math facts, spelling words, extra projects, graph charts, Kumon, chapter books and word problems relentlessly nipping at poor Benj, not to mention two hovering parents who want to make sure he's doing everything he supposed to be doing. Doug was in the car driving him to school and trying to make him study his spelling words for a test later that week. Benj refused, Doug gently/strongly suggested that maybe he could just look over the words  and spell them aloud, Benj refused, Doug suggested gently/implacably again that he should reconsider, Benj will have none of it, pouting, squirming, shouting, Doug continues, Benj has had it, yells out, "I wish you and Baba would get a divorce and then I would live with Baba and you can roam the Earth alone!"

(A pretty biblical allusion for someone living in an Atheist/Buddhist household, don't you think? Of course, I like this story because I come off pretty well. Poor Doug didn't know that I had quizzed Benj on his words not 15 minutes prior to them driving off. And now he's got to roam the Earth alone, like Cain...)

Benj gently remonstrating Doug for getting frustrated with his mother: "You shouldn't get mad at her. You know, she's all alone now and Pop used to do all these things for her and now she has no one." How empathetic is that?

On the flip side, he was listening to Doug's mom spinning out of control on the car's speakerphone and he asked her, very simply, "Hey Mimi, why don't you let God take care of it?" "What'd he say?" the minister's wife asked. He repeated it. "Huh. Well, I better go," she said, and hung up.

From the mouths of babes.

Happy Birthday my amazing boy. May your years ahead be sweet ones, and better-shaped than my yodels.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Warning! Contents of a Graphic Nature to Follow!

I've got something really exciting to share with y'all today: some graphic novel art, written by me and illustrated by the mongo talented artist Sungyoon Choi. 

The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and NocturnesThe novel I've written, Liberace Under Venetian Skies, is mostly in prose, but it also incorporates sections of graphic novel, handwritten marginalia and fragments of screenplay. I'm a big fan of graphic novels (my first love: The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman) and I find the juxtaposition of image and text to be an incredibly tensive and exciting experience. Unfortunately, my illustrative skills line up with those of paralytic chimpanzees. Enter Choi.

How I met up with Choi is a story of moxie and good luck. A couple of years back, I'd read a graphic novel that really moved me called American Widow, by Alissa Torres. It's a memoir of a woman who's husband died in the Twin Towers on 9/11 on his first day at work. It recounts how they met, how she found out about his death, and the horrible, protracted aftermath of her trying to find his remains, deal with her pregnancy and also get aid from government bureaucracies. It's pretty powerful, and it's all in graphic novel form. The illustrator, I noted, was Sungyoon Choi. I loved her work; it was simple and clean but quite evocative, using a very limited palette. I thought the style of her illustrations was exactly what I was looking for in my book. 

So I wrote her.

I found her website and emailed her, telling her how much I admired her work and explained my situation, that I was looking for an artist for a book I was working on and would she be interested in taking a look at it? I included an excerpt and sent it off, not expecting too much from this completely out-of-the-blue inquiry. Amazingly, she wrote me back. Even more amazingly, she was into the project! She liked the excerpt and was interested in working with me. 

We kept in touch while I finished up the draft and got it ready to send out to agents. I knew that having some artwork would help in defining the concept of the book, and Sungyoon generously agreed to illustrate four pages to use as a sample. I can't tell you what a particularly thrilling experience it was to open the email, click on the attachment and see the script I had written made manifest. I couldn't have been more pleased.

So take a look at this excerpt and let me know what you think.  It occurs at the end of the first part of the book. If you want to see it bigger, just click on the image:

Pretty cool, eh?