Angus and Ivy are in Nevada! My dear friends Lilly and Ellen are selling books and making friends in Reno.
We in the Pacific Northwest have been enjoying an early summer. It’s late May, and children are wearing shorts, pools are being uncovered, and June blooms are erupting in gardens. My nose tells me that mine is not the only husband who has begun grilling dinner nightly. This is fairly noteworthy because in the Seattle area it is understood that you cannot count on sunshine and warmth until Independence Day at the earliest.But the sun is out, the temperature is pleasant, so why wait to hang the hammock?
See the boy in the hammock?
See the book the boy is reading?
Oh, did I forget to mention that Cyborgia was published today?
That’s right: The third book in the Inventor-in-Training series is now available for your reading and lounging pleasure in paperback format. So stoke that barbecue, dip your toes in the pool, hang out in the hammock, and find out what Angus and Ivy have gotten up to lately.
That’s what I intend to do, as soon as that boy gets out of my seat.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King writes about the importance of having one ideal reader. It’s my favorite passage in a book full of hundreds of compelling passages about the craft, because I’m fortunate to have one such ideal reader.
His are the fourth set of ears to hear the rough draft of my work. I first time I read the draft aloud—to catch glaring errors my eyes don’t see, to listen to the cadence of the language, and to ensure that the dialogue rings true—three sets of ears hear it: my own and those of my cats, General and Olivia.
The cats’ critiques are useless, though.
Not my son’s. His fourth set of ears listens to my second draft. My son has no problem telling me straight that a chapter is boring, hilarious, or creepy. He is as honest and unflinching a critic as you’d be lucky to meet. If his eyes glaze over, my next few days are spent in rewrites. When he begs me for “Just one more chapter”, I know I’m on to something.
And when my book is finally ready for the eyes of my editor, the boy who owns those fourth set of ears gives me celebratory presents.
The fourth set of ears gave me this skull after I’d finished The Pirate’s Booty.
The fourth set of ears gave me this tiger after I’d finished The Crystal Lair.
The fourth set of ears has been listening to readings of the third book in the Inventor-in-Training series. A few rewrites are in order, but he’s been asking for “one more chapter of your creepy book”, so perhaps it’s nearly time to send it to the editor.
I’m hoping for another present soon.
Last night I met a sculptor who carves mastodon tusks. Yes, you read that right. Mastodon tusks.
This information made me positively giddy. I mean, mastodons have been extinct for, um, centuries? Where do you even find the tusk of a mastodon? It’s not like you can amble on down to your local artist supply store and buy one off the shelf. You couldn’t even special order one, I wouldn’t think.
I learned that they are buried deep beneath the surface of the soil in the outer reaches of the glorious state of Alaska.
So how do you get them out of the soil and back to your workshop?
You don’t just go out for a hike one afternoon, stumble across the bone of a long-extinct mega-mammal, and pop it into your backpack like an edible mushroom. I imagine you and twenty of your closest friends would drag it back to the trailhead, straining and sweating the entire way.
And then what? Do you strap it to the top of your SUV with a few bungee cords and drive down the highway like some mechanical rhino?
I was especially excited about the mastodon tusk because I’ve just spent several months buried deeply in Angus’s latest misadventure. And, you guessed it, this time Angus comes face-to-face with a living, breathing mastodon. Then there’s me last night, coming face-to-face with a mastodon tusk sculptor.
That’s what I call mastodon kismet.
Angus and Ivy have been plaguing me this week. I've been scribbling diligently for the past five days working on the second book in my Inventor-in-Training series. Angus has landed in a strange new world and I am so looking forward to sharing it with my readers. But the naughty twosome has not been playing nicely. I had planned how book two was going to progress. Organized, plotted, great stuff. I had worked out all the challenges they would face and how they would overcome them. But if you know Angus and Ivy at all, you know that they are willful children who do exactly as they please. They will not listen to the wisdom of their elders (me) and they are fouling everything up! If only they would behave like nice, well-mannered kids.
In a flash of frustration, a burning need to get away from the two of them, I peeked in to visit my good friend and illustrator Jennifer L. Hotes at her blog. In her recent post "Why I Read Books S-L-O-W-L-Y" she wrote:
Darroch captures the spirit of everyone’s favorite nephew in Angus Clark. He dares to dream, then duct tapes the parts together until something sizzles and pops. He’s the boy we love having over to our house to play with our children, but then need a long pull on the wine bottle after the door shuts behind him.
And that's just it. I do love having Angus come play but because he lives in my head I won't be able to "shut the door behind him" any time soon. If he was any other type of child he would never have wound up in his current predicament. Why do I think he's suddenly going to start doing what I tell him? Guess I'll just have to trust him to clean up the lovely mess he made today.
I've never been accused of being a neat-nik. I tidy things before having friends over and whenever my mother visits. I try to keep a handle on the level of clutter and dust so my son doesn't grow up in squalor. I'd rather do anything than clean. Life offers us a bounty of excuses to avoid housework and it would be a shame to waste them. But honestly, have you ever seen a mess like this one?
This is just one corner of my garage. So, my choices are:
1) Shriek at someone to clean it up. Shrieking is just not nice and I try to avoid it unless I'm having a really, really bad day.
2) Clean it up myself. On any given day I have a dirty pile of laundry, a sinkful of dishes, and people and animals waiting to be fed. We know I'm not going to take on the garage.
3) Use it in a story.
Aha! That's it! The light bulb of inspiration. This is Angus' laboratory in the garage! No need to ever clean it up. It's famous. And life just offered me one more excuse.