The most important thing is done, I think: the cover!


Who are these people?  Once you read the book, you will know!  Also the answer is on the back cover, but you won’t even need that clue.

The text is about done— I have at least one more book I want to read, but it’s about time to order the proof copy. I’m hoping to make the book available by the end of November. Make your family buy you a copy!

I could probably use another couple of readers for this draft. E-mail me if  you’re interested and you are pretty sure you can read it and make comments within the next 3-4 weeks. (Sorry for the rush… some other stuff has needed dealing with.)

By the way, does anyone know what that big tree in the center is?  The fruits look like mangos, but the leaves are nothing like mango leaves. Perhaps an Indian tulip tree?


I had these drawing studies for my last gods picture and thought they might be an interesting process story.

The nice thing about these gods, Nečeron and Eši, is that they have things they can do. Nečeron is god of craft, so he can be building. Eši is god of art, so she can be doing art. But just that would be a little boring. From somewhere, but undoubtedly influenced by M.C. Escher, came the idea of each creating the structure that’s holding up the other.

Here are some doodles trying to make it work:


Nečeron’s bit is easy: he’s creating whatever Eši is standing on. (It starts as a table.) But what is she painting? Maybe some sort of framework holding up the platform he’s sitting on?  That’s the lower left drawing; it looked cumbersome.  Maybe a ladder (bottom right), but then he only has one hand free to work. Finally I tried a set of stairs, and that worked.

Here’s the second attempt at that:


I decided that the concept worked, but now ran into the next problem: I can’t really draw this scene out of my own brain. The figures here don’t look terrible, but the proportion and placement of the limbs was difficult, and the blobs representing the hands hide the fact that the concept requires four iterations of my personal drawing bugbear: hands holding objects.

(These are sketches, and would certainly have been improved if I kept working on them. But one thing I’ve learned is that poor proportions do not improve by rendering them really well. Better to get the sketch right.)

I tried looking for photos online, but getting these specific poses would be difficult.

Taking reference photos, however, is easy! I have an iPad! Here’s the pictures as they appear in Photoshop, with the sketch done right on top of them.


Who’s the model?  Oh, just some guy who’s available very cheaply.

If you compare this with the previous step, you can find an embarrassing number of errors in the original. E.g. Eši’s legs are way too small, the shoulder facing us is too low, and her neck is not drawn as if we’re looking up at her. Plus I think the final poses are far more dramatic.

I did the final outline over the purple sketch. Then the procedure is: select an area in the outline; fix the selection to make sure it includes everything I want, and fill it in on a separate color layer with a flat color.  Then go over each flat color area and use the airbrush to add shading. The bricks and stairs also get some texturing, added with filters. The jewelry is done on a separate layer with its own drop shadow— a cheap, quick way to add realistic shadows.

The gods aren’t wearing much.  That’s just how gods are, of course. On an operational level, there are two reasons for this (which we can assume are shared to some extent by Almean sculptors and painters).  The lofty level is that I like the human figure and hate to cover it up.  The less lofty reason is… clothes are frigging hard to draw. Figure drawing is hard enough, and clothing requires a whole new set of skills and rules of thumb, and looks terrible when you get it wrong. Plus, these are Caďinorian gods, so they should be wearing Caďinorian robes, which require, like, a black belt in drawing. They’re made of wrinkles. There’s a reason so many superheroes wear leotards: they’re basically drawn on top of the nude figure, with no folds.

The final picture:


Tonight, I like it; in a year, I’m sure it’ll dissatisfy me. Actually, when I look at it, I wonder if the angle of the iPad foreshortened the figures, making their feet proportionately too big. Oh well.



I’m at the point in my book where I need some sample sentences in Hindi. If you (or a friend or relative) know Hindi and can translate them for me, please contact me. There’s a couple dozen or so.

(I have versions of them already, but they’re either copied from textbooks or they’re my attempt at modifications. I’d rather have a native speaker produce original ones.)

Also, it’d be helpful to have a short (one-paragraph) text in Hindi I can use as a sample text. It should be in the public domain.

Alert reader Raphael reminded me that my website is now 20 years old.  That’s, like, older than several multibillion-dollar web businesses; I obviously wasn’t a very savvy operator.

To celebrate, I’ve created an explosion of content!

Hopefully that’s a little something for everybody.

If you’re under, oh, 40 or 50, Roz Chast’s graphic novel will seem like a story from an alternative dimension… like a love story looks when you’re nine.  But this will all happen to you, pal.

It’s about the last years of Chast’s parents, and having lost both of mine in the last three years, I recognized everything.


There’s kind of a secret fraternity of those who have taken care of elderly parents. You watch them tootling through their 80s, a little less vigorous, a little hard of hearing, but still happy and active. Then something happens.  They can do less and less.  They don’t take care of their home as well as they used to. They start getting weak and then positively fragile.  There are emergencies with falls and sudden hospital stays.

Step by step the old relationship reverses, till you are taking care of them. And making decisions nothing has prepared you for: are they insisting on driving when they can’t, do they need help in their home, do they need to move out, is anyone making sure they bathe, what if scammers call them on the phone…

Oh, scammers. One day my sister came to Dad’s house and he wasn’t there. This was extremely disconcerting as he used a walker and simply walking to the kitchen was a big thing for him. He had written a phone number on a piece of paper in the den; I Googled it and found it was a taxi company. We called the company and he had taken a taxi to Walgreens.

Well, he showed up back at the house soon enough, and my sister got the whole story. Someone had called and told him he’d won hundreds of thousands of dollars.  To get it, he just had to send a money card (available at Walgreens) to an address in Nevada, because reasons. They told him not to tell his kids— it should be a surprise!

Fortunately, the clerk at Walgreens was on the ball; he told my Dad it was a scam, and he came home. He was a little embarrassed, though not as much as when he dropped his cranberry juice and one of us had to clean it up.

Point is, you take care of them out of affection and need, yes, and death is horrible and tragic and pathetic, but they’re also exasperating, weird, and sometimes hilarious.

This is all in Chast. I don’t know what you might expect in a memoir about death— it’s occasionally sad or gruesome— but there’s plenty of humor and personal eccentricity. You get to know Chast’s parents, and learn exactly how they drive Roz bats.

When Chast’s cartoons started appearing in the New Yorker, I didn’t like them. They seemed weird and humorless. Eventually I came around. It might have been this cartoon that did it:



Chast has a very dry sense of humor, with an occasional dash of surrealism. Her characters are typically urban, quotidian and a little neurotic, sitting around small living rooms on couches with antimacassars on top… after reading her memoir, I can see her parents and their Brooklyn apartment in her cartoons.

In form, her book is a mixture of comics, text, and a few photos. She’s managed something that many have tried with far less success: moving easily between cartoons and text. The key may be that the text is handwritten, and never too long. Blocks of typesetting are jarring in a comic. At the same time, many comics artists try to keep everything in comics, and that doesn’t work, because six or twenty panels of the same thing are boring.

If you’re young, with no elderly relatives around, I have no idea what the book will be like for you. So check it out to learn what this alternative dimension is like, or come back in ten years…

We are not on fire any more.  Here, from the Tribune, is a picture of the fire:


See the building on the far left, past the tree, that looks like it’s a few feet from the burning building? That’s our building. I’m thankful that it didn’t go up as well, but it is damaged. The roof partially melted and has to be replaced. The basement got three feet of water, which means the boiler and hot water heater were damaged (and the stuff I had in the basement is probably ruined). The firefighters bust in all the doors. There’s no power or gas.

On the plus side, things are happening already. They sealed all the doors, removed the carpets, and drained the basement. I heard that the city is going to demolish the ruined building. It’s fenced off, but it’s what lawyers call an attractive nuisance: a dangerous thing that curious not-very-smart people would love to explore. And it’s right next door to a school. Plus it still has three-story brick walls that could collapse, which is another reason our building isn’t yet habitable, so the sooner it goes the better.

(Edit:) Along the street near our building there are little piles of ash and charcoal. There’s also little spots of ash on my jacket that didn’t come off int he wash…

Lots of little things going on: talking to our landlord and to our insurance company, making some trips to pick up essentials, cleaning out the fridge so life does not evolve there while we’re away. I managed to track down and receive an important package: the proof copy of my book. Trying to get used to sleeping hours more like those of normal people.

We’re staying with some very sweet friends of ours. Hopefully we’ll be pleasant enough guests that we can stay till we can move back to our place. We’re still a little stressed out, but basically OK.

So, last night my home almost burned down.

What did burn down was the apartment building next door. My wife smelled smoke, I went outside to check, and omigod there were flames coming out of the windows.

We had to get out quickly, with just the clothes we were wearing.  I went back in to get my wallet and this computer.  (Nerdy?  It has my life work on it.  Also my writing career.)

We hung around on the street a bit watching and trying to judge if our building was going to catch the fire. If you’re wondering what this is like, it’s helpless and terrifying.  The fire seemed to get even worse– it was down to the second of three floors.  The fire department was there, we couldn’t even get near our building.  It was raining, but a huge fire is only mildly daunted by that. They put up a huge crane and poured water on the burning building.  From another vantage point we could see more hoses; sometimes they sprayed our building to keep it wet.

There was nothing to do but get to a hotel for the night, and stay up all night wondering if we’d lose everything we owned.

I went over in the morning; they were still pouring water on the big apartment building, but ours was standing.  The police were only letting people in one at a time, with an escort, so I went in to grab a couple of bags of essentials.  What do you grab when you may not be able to get at your apartment-full of possessions for an indefinite period?  Clothes, the cel phone (couldn’t find it last night), meds, wife’s credit cards, the monitor and keyboard so I could actually use the computer, something to read.

We drove to what was supposed to be a cheaper hotel, only it wasn’t.  My wife called her boss and asked to stay in his office basement.  He said that was OK, so we drove back there, unloaded, and I took a rest.  Then my landlord called with the little he knew, one bit of which was that we should rush over to the building and get anything we needed before they sealed it up for an unknown time.  So we got another load of stuff.

And now we’re somewhere else.  We’re staying with friends in town.  If it continues for awhile, my sister in in the area, though far from my wife’s work (and the health club).

The burned building is a horrific sight— it looks like something that got bombed.  The walls are brick, and the only thing visible is the brick walls, and not even all of those.  It’s still tall, and they’re worried it can collapse, which is why we can’t go back yet.  Plus, checking to make sure people were out, the firemen busted down all the doors.  So we don’t know how long we’ll be out of our apartment; I hope it’s a matter of weeks rather than months.

The fire was on the news; apparently there were no deaths, but there’s a lot of lives messed up today.

So, that’s why I won’t be playing League of Legends for awhile.

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