Thursday, October 13, 2011

For Kids That Are Perhaps a Little Bigger...Airel

Shameless plug alert: I am the co-author of this new YA breakout series, Airel. And by the way, book 2, Michael, is currently under construction.

I have to brag, though, about Airel, because it's getting great reviews and feedback. Noteworthy examples? Hoe about this: Cody, 14 year old male devourer of books, told me personally that the fight scenes were great. I'm telling you, there's a little something for everyone in here. You don't know what you're missing until you know what you were missing.

My co-author, Aaron Patterson--yes--the Aaron Patterson, and I meet regularly to discuss the fates of our characters in the next few Airel Saga books. There will be at least two more, depending upon, well, as my friend Bri Clark likes to say, "yall."

And you know what, while I'm being shameless here, don't forget to check out the first of the Airel Saga Diary Books: The Marsburg Diary, which tells the story that's in-between the lines. If you wonder what happened with old William Marsburg in the late 1800's, you're gonna have to get cozy with his youngest boy, Harvey...who was born when William was over 100 years old. Impossible? Hardly. This is fiction, anything can happen--which is right in line with how all Jammy Adventurists think. Happy trails, "yall."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Children, Arrows, and Launching

The Bible says that a man’s children are like arrows. That’s Psalm 127.4. And I agree with it. What I never really took the time to do, until now, is understand the meaning. And whether you’re one of those kooks who believe the Bible is divinely inspired (like I do), or an atheist (I don’t believe in atheism personally), the point is still quite apt. In other words, no matter how one looks at the Bible, it’s still useful for study and instruction. So I make no apologies.

Let’s look at this from the following perspective: if children are like arrows, what’s an arrow like? I mean, we live in a totally automatic, instant world. Everything is made on an assembly line and mostly by Chinese robots. But there was a time when the phrase “hand-crafted” was total nonsense because nothing that was crafted was not crafted by hands. Let’s look back to that time to understand better what it takes to make—to craft—an arrow.

First, a good bit of source material on this: Boy’s Life magazine. If you’re gonna make arrows that are worth a damn, the stock from which they come matters a great deal. Typically here in America arrows were made from ash. Shafts have to be light and straight and strong, and ash fits the bill nicely.

Once we’ve found the best branches to use for our arrows, we have to allow them to dry thoroughly. Boy’s Life recommends bundling them in groups of five and letting them sit for a few days. Then the bark can be stripped off.

Now we have to cut notches. The notch in the tail of the arrow shaft is very important because it will be the working surface of the arrow; the part where it is launched by the bowstring. Great care must be taken not to split the wood of the arrow shaft. At the opposite end, the shaft must be notched for cordage—which will allow the arrowhead to be secured to the arrow shaft.

The arrowhead is mounted to the arrow shaft by placing it in the notch along with boiling pitch (tree sap), and then wrapping it with about ten inches of cordage. Traditionally, this is sinew: tendons from deer. It has to be prepped for use by pounding it against rocks to divide the fibers, and then chewing it—the enzymes in saliva help to dissolve the collagen, which makes it hold like glue.

Fletching, or the feathers on the tail of the arrow, must match—they must come from the same side of the wing. The top feather must be aligned with the notch at the tail of the arrow shaft. Feathers are glued to the shaft and then wound with more cordage to secure them.

All this is to say that making an arrow is a bit fussy. It might take more than a day. It might mean that you have to step away from Facebook and football for a while. And it might be more efficient to make more than one, while you’re at it.

So what makes an arrow so special? Besides all this work, I mean? Consider: an arrow is a tool in the hands of a warrior or hunter. An arrow can go swiftly where he cannot. An arrow can kill game for provision or kill enemies for security. An arrow can fly and you cannot. An arrow can outpace a running man or a galloping horse. An arrow can be an incendiary device—the arrowhead can be wrapped in rags and dipped in fuel, set alight, and launched into an enemy position, flushing them out from hiding. It’s a highly adaptable and useful weapon. Most importantly, though, arrows work best in groups. A warrior doesn’t go into battle with a single arrow, after all; he carries a quiver full of them.

Perhaps most bittersweetly, however, an arrow is unique as a weapon system in that it is one of the few weapons designed to be launched and never recovered. Once the warrior or hunter deploys it, sends it along on its course, it goes out and does not come back. Coming back isn’t part of the mission or part of the commander’s intent, as we used to say in the Marines. Depending upon the wisdom and experience and skill of the warrior-hunter, an arrow flies straight and true and strikes the target at which the archer has aimed.

The arrow is part of a delicate and elegant system, one that asserts man’s God-given dominion. It is a valuable expression of the brilliance of mankind. Mostly, though, it’s capital T-true when speaking about fathers and sons. A father spends a great deal of time and effort carefully crafting his sons, preparing them for the day, eventually and inevitably, when the time will be right for him to launch them—proudly, skillfully, confidently—knowing they will strike what they are aimed at, go where he cannot, and provide, secure, influence, invade. We fathers raise up our boys so that one day we can let them go. It is the way of things. God grant us the strength to do it well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Children and Politics

An epiphany came to me not long ago that I can “give a prize” to my three-year old for going poop on the potty. (Sorry. This is the third blog post in a row that involves excrement. However, I have the perfect segue.) Coincidentally, I have just as high an opinion on poop as I have on what passes for political leadership in this country.  

So let’s get to it, shall we? Five reasons why politicians are exactly the same as children:

  1. Politicians have imaginary friends: the constituency.
  2. Politicians enjoy “prizes” for certain behaviors. These are actually called bribes.
  3. Politicians—when caught in a lie—use contorted reasoning to produce several new ones designed to cover the one that’s been discovered, or at least provide enough of a distraction while they run out the back door.
  4. Politicians will only share the toys after they’ve successfully hoarded all the useful/awesome ones.
  5. Politicians talk as if they know everything already, but everyone knows they’re really just plain ignorant and need to learn their lessons.

I thought of some of these as I committed yet again to dirty trade: I was going to pay money—I knew it would cost me—for nothing more than poop.

That makes me think: there’s at least one reason kids are different from politicians: the kids are worth every single expenditure. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Poop is Hilarious

It’s funny, poop. But why? It’s one of those things that’s only funny in the abstract. For instance, it’s funny to say the word poop (including its derivatives), but when it’s experienced live and in person, it’s quite nasty. Decidedly unfunny. Categorically serious.

I don’t know why, either. You’d think we would learn from experience that poop is not a thing to be trifled with. Witness the heady fumes of any memorable encounter with it, especially post-beef-stew-and-hot-sauce-with-extra-garlic dinner, and you wonder why we think it’s funny. One would think that the mind would declare a moratorium on the poop jokes, actually. That goes for the phrase, “the morning after” as well, which, when one has indulged (and I use this word in its most vague and flippant sense) in Taco Bell at any time the day previous, is positively abhorrent in every way.

But potty training pierces the veil. There’s nothing, nothing at all quite like standing a child in the bathtub fully clothed, fully loaded, sans diaper. People, there is nothing that can prepare you for this. Parenthood is one hundred percent OJT. Things you swore you’d never do, you do. Because some things you just can’t call home about. Not unless you want to temporarily lose the hearing in one ear (your phone ear) from the high volume cackling laughter of your mother. If you love her, you won’t. She may not recover from her fit of mirth for days. And all she’ll be able to enunciate will be a hissing, wheezing, “Prayed for this day to come, aaaaahhhhh-hahahahahahahaha.”

Yes. Poop is hilarious, isn’t it? It’s always fun until someone gets hurt. Or until daddy or mommy needs a half hour to bleach the bathroom again, starting with that tub. So go play, child. Laugh at your farts and how stinky they are. Learn how to play that mysterious game they call “Blue Darts.” And occasionally crap your pants accidentally, just a little bit, because it’s unavoidable and part of life. Especially because of Taco Bell. And laugh your head off about all of it. Because one day, like me, you will have little people in your house making puddles on the carpets and dropping stink bombs in inconvenient and antisocial locations. And I shall hiss with laughter. Because then, poop will be funny. Funny for me, precisely because it’s so very unfunny for you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Little Something About Creating Art

It's true. And that's why we're "experiencing delays" on the next book...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Potty Training and Confidence

We grown-ups tend sometimes to look at confidence as a liability; like it’s something someone does to us. Either that or we look at it like something we should apologize for if we have too much of it. But potty training changes all that. And lots more.

Potty training, for instance, is not a scam. It’s the real deal. Daddy is not bullshitting you when he tells you you’ll regret taking a crap in those pants. He’s not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, he’s trying to pull the underwear off your tiny hiney in time to avoid something unfortunate happening, and since when did your wee little cheeks become like Velcro, boy? Only when it’s urgent that the underpants are removed as quickly as possible do they protest—personificationatively—as if they suddenly acquired political aspirations and picket signs, shouting as they cling to your waist, “Hell no! We won’t go!” Which means you can’t go, at least with perfect freedom. So go ahead then. Take a dump all over the picket line. It’s strangely satisfying, and in more ways than one.

Beating the porcelain menace is a big job. To pervert an old Ford slogan, it’s “job one.” And two as well, in this case, at least from time to time. It’s not just a big deal to little kids. And especially boys, who seem to have an especial and near-dangerous conflictedness about the potty. They fear/loathe it. They tend to look at their equipment as a toy, for instance, rather than from a purely utilitarian point of view. And when they make “big potty” or “big stinky poo” their interest in what’s been done strays a little too close for comfort to wide-eyed interest. “No,” I sigh, “that’s not a toy.” A little too much confidence.

Other miscellaneous quotes? Here’s a few:

“No. No! No! NONONONONONO! Don’t touch that! Not until you wash your hands—ohhh-kay, that is nasty.”

“Sweetheart, that’s—no. You don’t play with that.”

“Are you sure you don’t have to go? You’re sure. Positive.”

There’s such a thing as false confidence, too; you do know that, right. Yes. Yes, you do. There’s nothing like going through an entire fire drill, just as an illustration, and completing it satisfactorily and dismissing the “student body” to “class” only to discover mere moments later that the “fire department” showed up anyway and decided to hose down the living room carpet on a lark. Hilarious. Oh, my side. No please. Stop. You’re killing me, really.

It’s important for little kids to become big kids, and the potty is the swirling rite of passage in so many ways. One doesn’t want to have to go through life Depending. At least not until one’s own subsequent children have grown up enough to provide a little reciprocation in the sanitation department if needed, anyway. But gaining profound understanding is just as important for the grownup facilitators (perpetrators) of this crazy idea of sitting on a chair with a freaking hole in it. How weird is that? It’s so much easier to just crap your pants. Trouble is it weighs heavy on the social agenda from time to time. We all know that, and I could tell the crap out of even more potty jokes if I wanted to. What I’m driving at here is that potty training can be instructive for the one doing the training too.

While it’s humorous sometimes, and heartwarming too, to see how my youngest handles his emancipation from the diaper, I nevertheless find ways to apply his experiences to my own life. What impossible change am I staring down in my own life, in other words? There are things about which I complain to God endlessly. Things about which I assert to Him, “it’s impossible,” in so many ways. Things in which I need a little more confidence. Not too much. Just enough. I still take a dump in my pants from time to time, figuratively, but messes can be cleaned and baths can be taken and clothes washed and the day started over with fresh kit. To a point. I reckon it’s all about gaining enough ground to be able to stand on your own. Clean, dry, and proud. Confident about one’s confidence.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What Happened to the Next Jammy Adventure Book?

I have a confession to make. I haven’t sold many Jammy Adventure books. I think there are reasons why, and I think I may have a pretty good handle on some of those; at least the ones that matter most from a business perspective.

I can’t really go down this road without evoking a little Catch-22 or Murphy’s Law. In other words, irony. Irony is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, and if it’s comedy, it’s usually the dark variety.

Look, I know the books ain’t cheap, okay. But they’re not cheap for good reasons. One of the main ones is that I need to at least break even on my books, at least if I want to stay in business. Going to print in full color is not an inexpensive proposition, even if it’s only partial full color because the books are meant to be finished by the readers. So there’s that. Overhead is a harsh mistress.

But there’s also promotion, which I mostly haven’t done because I’ve been busy with other things. Like excuses. People won’t buy a product they don’t know exists. Like, duh. But it’s true that time flies faster when you’re really busy. So anyway, there’s the second thing that conspires against me.

The third thing that presses me away from my objective of book sales is that I haven’t distributed them to all the places you might find normal print books. Distribution works fine for large print runs because there’s enough margin built in to give a 65% discount to the distributor. But when you’re printing them 250 at a time there is no such luxury as margin. And hand selling them at trade shows has been a major bust.

Anyway, these things, my dear Jammy Adventurists, are why the concept has pretty much stalled out for now. But I have a plan. It’s a long term kind of plan, and it involves technology and smartness and more stories. We’re gonna move away from print books for a while. The Great Jammy Adventure of the Flying Cowboy is still available in print from Amazon right now, but when this first edition sells out, it’s not going to be reprinted. So if you’re looking for a collector’s item, look no further.

That’s not to say the Flying Cowboy won’t be back in a different guise. He will be back. But he’ll be joined by new characters in new adventures, and in a totally different format. You’ll still be able to color the books, but it’ll be better. Far better. Trust me on this, Jammy Adventurists. And look for some announcements about it in the months to come. Until then, tune in occasionally for my random thoughts on family life and how wild boys are.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Boys Grow Fast

I recently spent about a week away from my family. It’s true that clich├ęs and maxims and anecdotes come about because they represent truths of various profundity, and it’s no different for the old saw “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

My wife and two boys travelled with my extended family to Oregon about a week ago, and I and my brother-in-law stayed back in Idaho to work and bring home bacon, planning to drive together to meet up with everyone over the following weekend. Let me tell you—it was a shock.

It’s not that I’ve never been apart from my family; I have. It’s just that the interval was a little longer than ever before, to the point where I found myself struggling with unique sleeping habits. It’s just bizarre sleeping on one side of a bed when the other side’s empty, and one hears the oddest sounds when a house is unusually quiet.

A man’s sons are like an edifying balm to him; arrows in a warrior’s quiver. I missed hearing them snore softly. I missed being awakened in the middle of the night to quell nightmares, to quench thirsts, to check on them even when they’re not necessarily in need of my attention. There’s something satisfying about watching one’s own children sleeping. All the heavens open up in the middle of the night and the positive possibilities of the future yawn wide, beckoning whatever wild dreams a father can bring to bear for the best of his strapping boys.

I discovered the benefits of Facebook anew just the other day. I had tagged my wife in a post about how I was on my way to meet her. Up popped an old batch of photos; my wife and my boys about two years ago in Hawaii. In the photos my oldest son, now eight, reminded me of my youngest son, now three—and my youngest son reminded me of my oldest son when he was just a little guy and pretty much brand new to the world. Memories and reveries crashed on me as I sat alone at my kitchen table, and I found myself thanking God that I would see my family again soon.

The irony here is that I often complain, inwardly or outwardly, that I have little time to “get things done” with the boys crashing around the house or my wife singing her way through her morning routine. Family might be something you eventually “get used to.” But you never appreciate it enough. Not until the house is too quiet, anyway. Besides, family isn’t something to endure. It’s something to relish. Even on the worst days.

This is just to encourage you if you’ve forgotten what really matters, if even for a moment. I know I did, but I hold fast now. My reunion with my wife and my boys was beyond sweet. It was a taste of heaven, really.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Birthday Loot

I know it’s been a while since I posted to the Jammy Blog,  but things have been nutso around my house and it’s been difficult. Plus there was the alien abduction to deal with, as well as the rampaging Text-Based-T-Rex, so…you know how that is.

This is our new Web address for the foreseeable future. I had to get all my blogs in line with each other, and Google doesn't like it if you start a blog with a different email address than you find yourself switching to, years later. Since I cannot yet predict the future, I had to change things up a bit. As for all the other necessary updates, I’ll fill you Jammy Adventurists in on some Jammy Adventure updates next week, how’s that. Look for one post a week, usually on Tuesdays from here on out.

Anyway, enough housekeeping. My oldest recently celebrated his eighth birthday. I have to say: the eighth is a watershed. It’s the kind of birthday that marks a decisive end to so much, and heralds the beginning of so much to come. I mean, soon he’ll be taking vacations without me. He’ll be driving a car. He’ll be avoiding me because he’s smitten with a girl or something. Actually some of that’s already happened.

But holy cow, what an amazing amount of birthday loot this year. We started celebrating a day early because of a family reunion. One of the events on the schedule was a day at Roaring Springs water park, and we made it okay for him to have a little Birthday Boy privilege the day prior to turning, in fact, eight years old. But now, two days after the day after that, he’s still opening presents. The wrapping came off days ago, but the Toys have been waiting patiently in the Boxes until the Boy was ready for them. It’s interesting, that’s all.

I guess you know your boy has moved squarely beyond the things of young childhood when he can appreciate getting a telescope for his birthday. And that’s just a commentary on how we grow and develop as people. It’s been an amazing participatory experience, watching my Noah grow from seven pounds and seven ounces into the strapping and strong boy who now crashes through the house. It’s great; and I intend to try to savor the moments.

That’s the real birthday loot. Birthdays are about celebrating the life of someone, after all, and I think we accomplished that. We’re still, actually. Being a dad is shocking. Sure, youth is “wasted” on the young. But there’s nothing quite like going down a water slide with your own son, screaming like maniacs all the way down, through the turns, in the tunnels, under the waterfalls, then tumbling over and over in the splash pool at the end, springing up with a warrior yell and declaring to the world that, hell no, it wasn’t scary at all and let’s do it again. That’s the real birthday loot that I treasure.