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Category: Personal

In Which I Encounter Wildlife

Tuesdays are trash days at work. (That also used to be my day off; I didn’t have to help take out trash and recycling for ages. It was awesome. Oh well.) Yesterday we all forgot to do trash, until I was the last one in the office. At 5:25 a co-worker called, having remembered, so I sighed a heavy and long-suffering sigh and said, “Oh, I’ll do it.”

I gathered all the recycling and lugged it outside to the big gray bin. I gathered all the trash and lugged it out to the trash can. Then I picked up the little green pail of organic waste, took it to the big green waste recycling bin, lifted the lid…

And saw a filthy, shit-covered, terrified, twenty-pound raccoon staring up at me. I shouted profanity and jumped back about a few feet, letting the lid fall closed. Then I pondered my options. Leave it as a surprise for the trash guys in the morning? Open the lid again and risk getting a face full of leaping terror with needle teeth streaked with panic feces? (Keep in mind: I had to pick up my kid by 6 o’clock in order to avoid a $10-per-minute late charge at the preschool, a 15-minute drive away, so I had a ticking clock situation.)

Eventually I just gently tipped over the bin, flipped open the lid with a broom handle from a safe distance… and waited. The raccoon didn’t come out, its nightmare of confinement now made even more scary by the arrival of a roaring giant. So I banged on the can a bit to encourage it, and that just made it crawl deeper inside. I stood around for a while and tried to make myself unobtrusive and eventually the raccoon scurried out, caught sight of me, freaked out, and ran into the neighbor’s walled yard.

Who knows how long it had been trapped in there — less than a week, surely, but otherwise…

While I was picking up the green bin (and finally throwing out our old eggshells and coffee grounds), a large female deer wandered up from the woods and stood about four feet away from me, as if expecting to be hand-fed. We see deer a lot here in the hills, but they tend to be a lot more skittish than that. I said, “S’up, deer?” And the deer walked off, also into the neighbor’s walled yard. I was like, “Is there a Disney princess in there or something?”

In fact, the whole experience of my workplace has the flavor of a Disney movie, as directed by David Lynch. I know that, sounds extreme. But I haven’t mentioned the insane pregnant squirrel who lives in our plum tree. One of my co-workers has been feeding the squirrels peanuts, which has made them fat, complacent, and confident. But the pregnant squirrel has gone mad, and is so aggressive she chases people up the stairs, stands on the thresholds of doors chittering wildly, and will occasionally rear up on her hind legs and gaze at us through the sliding glass doors for minutes at a time like an obsessed stalker. The other day she came at me frantically, so I tried to shoo her with a broom, and she started climbing up the broom. I ended up having to shove her right off the edge of the deck, where she promptly ran up a tree and started screaming at me.

Next time, I’m getting help to take out the trash.

Gettin’ My Stroll On

Busy weekend. I had lunch with Nick Mamatas on Saturday, then interviewed him for a future issue of A Certain Magazine. It was my first time interviewing an author (though I’ve sat in on a few interviews), and I think it went all right. Nick doesn’t hesitate to voice strong opinions (I know! You’re shocked!), which helps.

Heather took our son to the circus that morning, so when they got back in the afternoon, I gave her a reprieve from parenting, and the boy and I went for a long walk, stopping for ice cream cones and then trekking to Totland in North Berkeley, where he played with appropriate frenzy. (I realized later that, with the trip to lunch and back, and to Totland and back, I walked seven miles on Saturday. I like walking.)

We went to the Solano Stroll on Sunday. (It’s a fairly epic street fair.) The kid rode lots of rides, and rode his first pony, and we all ate the sort of food that one generally enjoys in the moment and only later comes to regret — garlic fries, Italian sausage, greasy pizza slices, etc. Heather’s Aikido school was there, so she and the kid did a fair amount of flipping around and somersaulting on the mat while I finished reading Hunter S. Thompson’s The Curse of Lono. (I might have to give his Samoan war club a cameo in my next novel.) A pleasant afternoon all ’round.

Didn’t write a ton (obviously, being busy), but I managed to finish chapter four of Grim Tides. This book has my favorite villain ever.

And speaking of: only three days left for the Grim Tides Kickstarter. Prizes, people! You can get prizes!

The Ice Man

Being a big slacker continues to satisfy. I haven’t done much with my evenings but play Alice: Madness Returns, watch the new Avengers cartoon on Netflix, and read the new Charles Stross novel Rule 34 lately. (All recommended.) I am beginning to get a distant itchy urge to write, but so far it hasn’t grown overwhelming. I think I needed this time to recharge.

I got some popsicle molds and have become a popsicle fiend. Besides juice pops for the kid, I’ve also made White Russian popsicles for my wife and myself. (Recipe: make a weak White Russian. Freeze it. EAT.) And I made some mocha coffee popsicles last night; yum. Soon I will experiment with margarita popsicles, cherry cream popsicles, and so on. This is preventing me from eating all the ice cream in the world, which is what I usually want to do in the summer, so it’s good. River likes to help me make the popsicles, though he hates waiting for them to freeze. Today we will go to Berkeley Bowl and consider their vast and mighty juice section. I predict pear nectar ice pops in my son’s future…

White Russian On A Stick

So, life is pretty good. While I’ve started researching the next book, that “research” so far consists mostly of reading a bunch of novels written in and set in the historical time and place where my book will take place. Not exactly hardcore historical work at this point — I’m just trying to soak up flavor and feel for now.

Otherwise, apart from writing a book review (Daniel Polansky’s Low Town, a good and bleak noir/fantasy hybrid), I didn’t do a lick of work all weekend. Mostly I played Alice: Madness Returns, which is a ridiculously pretty game. Play gets a bit repetitive sometimes, but it’s worth it for the scenery, and I love how the NPCs all refuse to provide any of the useful exposition you’d expect from such characters. Mostly they just go off on appropriately Wonderland-ish tangents and rambles.

After months of spending my weekends working as much as possible, I was finally able to do a family outing! I went with my wife and kid and sister-in-law and nephew to a pool on the other side of the Caldecott tunnel. (It’s been cool in Berkeley, but was hot over the hill, so we did the drive.) Lots of fun splashing and a bit of lounging and reading. It’s always good when the adults outnumber the children. Nephew did a sleepover, and both kids were pretty good, for the most part, though when they got up at 6 a.m. on Sunday I wasn’t thrilled. Still, that was a good day, too — did a little shopping with the family in the morning, then took the kid to a playground all afternoon so Heather could get some work done. All very pleasant.

Also: I am experimenting with making alcoholic popsicles.

Boom boom boom

Hope y’all had a happy fourth of July (those who celebrate, anyway). We had a lazy day here at the PrattShaw house, with a stroll to get ice cream cones in the afternoon, then my sister-in-law and nephew came over to eat large quantities of grilled meats at dinnertime. The boys had a fairly epic watergun fight. I had to run an errand after dinner, so I biked downtown and back in the cool evening air. Biking: still fun.

Our kid freaked out a bit around 9 p.m., from the noise of all the fireworks — he was terrified, didn’t know what was going on, etc. We soothed him and explained about fireworks and told him it was just people celebrating, and he seemed to get it. Took him a while to fall asleep, though. The plus side of him being up until 10 p.m.: he slept until 7:30 a.m. today!

My wife and I watched some Doctor Who, finishing last year’s season (good stuff), and otherwise frolicked. A lovely night, overall.

Dance with Dragons is good. I’m a bit over halfway through. The urge to blow off writing today and just finish reading it is mighty, but I must be strong.

I wrote about 1500 words on City of the Fallen Sky yesterday, bringing my vacation total to 13,500. I’m still about 7500 words behind schedule, though. (I realize perhaps I have not explained this schedule I keep mentioning. To meet my deadline, and to have ten days or so to revise the book before turning it in, I calculated that I needed to average 1500 words a day in June and July. I did quite well through most of June for the first 20 days of the month. Then a combination of deadline week at work and having a houseguest knocked my productivity way down. Now, I don’t mind — I loved having my friend D here! — but it does mean I have to make up those missed days. Hence this day-job vacation week, so I can focus on fiction. Bare minimum, I should be back on schedule by the end of this week. But I would dearly love to actually get ahead of schedule.)

Bicycles Excepted

Yesterday, awesomeness was also achieved. Things began a bit inauspiciously: the child woke my wife at around 5 a.m., so rather than the two of them gallivanting off for the morning while I wrote (as planned), my wife went back to bed for a while to catch up on her sleep. What with one thing and another, it was well after 1 p.m. before I had time and quiet for writing, and mid-afternoon is not my best period in which to get work done: mostly, that time of day, I want to nap.

But I managed to get about 2500 words written, in between some housecleaning, a quick trip to the grocery store, and other distractions.

My wife took her shiny new bike out for a ride, with a rented trailer attached to pull the boy along, and they had a fabulous time. Around 5 she biked over to the rental place to return the trailer… but the boy had fallen asleep in it. The prospect of dragging her bike and a cranky, sleep-interrupted child to the bus stop and riding said bus home did not appeal, so she called me for a rescue. I drove over and transferred the boy to the car seat (he didn’t even wake up). My wife kindly took over driving back so I could ride the bike home, as I’d been cooped up inside working for most of the afternoon, and as a result missed a really beautiful summer day.

I haven’t ridden a bicycle in years. So fun! It’s a good bike, too. The journey was only about four miles, so it didn’t take long. I wished for a longer trip. Berkeley is very bicycle-friendly. All the annoying chicanes and circles and weird signs restricting traffic that are so annoying in a car are wonderful on a bicycle. It’s lovely to sail past a big red DO NOT ENTER sign, with its smaller “Emergency Vehicles and Bicycles Excepted” sign underneath.

I mean, I could do without some of the hills, and it’ll be a while before I’m comfortable biking on some of the main streets, but overall, this is a good city to start bicycling in again. (Don’t worry, this won’t become a bike blog. It’s my wife’s bike, and it’s mostly for her new in-town commute, so I won’t be riding it much anyway.) If only I could bike to work… but there’s not a gear low enough to get me to the top of a hill that steep, and riding down would be essentially like falling off a cliff and rapidly reaching terminal velocity. The brakes would be reduced to ash by friction after day one.

Oh, and then in the evening I did some more writing, and managed about 5,300 words total. So now instead of being 16,000 words behind schedule, I’m only 11,000 words behind! A few more good days and I’ll be in an excellent position.

And I finished The Heroes (pretty good, but Best Served Cold is still my favorite), and am now well into A Dance with Dragons. (It is good.) Also watched some Doctor Who with my wife, the one where a character gets his entire existence retroactively erased. Ouch. What a way to go. I made a joke about balefire, which my wife did not understand. I am too geeky even for my own true love. Oh well.

Why I Am Badass

Today I:

    Helped out with some emergency digital publishing problems at the day job by phone

    Did a load of laundry

    Washed dishes

    Read and sent corrections for the page proofs of Briarpatch (order early and often!)

    Wrote 1400 words of book reviews

And here’s why this is impressive: I did all this while solo parenting a three-year-old. Read page proofs between bouts of Lego building and pretending to be a witch. Did laundry while he ate peanut-butter-and-jelly. Wrote book reviews while he read picture books and played with building blocks at the library. Talked on the phone while helping him go potty (er, sorry, co-workers). And I even played with the kid at the playground and had a picnic lunch with him, too, so he didn’t end up feeling too ignored.

Fortunately, he fell asleep, so now I get to sit in the yard and read for an hour or so.

A lot of days, I fail. Today, I win.

A Human Is a Weaponized Ape

My vacation starts today! No day job work until Friday, July 8. (I know, going in to work for one day before a weekend is weird, but that’s the magazine life for you — some deadlines could only be put off for so long.)

Now, I don’t know what you people do on your vacations, probably kite surfing and boar hunting and snow diving and such, but here’s what I’m going to do:

    Check the page proofs for Briarpatch — like, today.

    Write two book reviews — also, like, today.

    Do final edits for my Wizards of the Coast novel.

    Write as many words as humanly possible on my book City of the Fallen Sky, which needs another 40,000 words or so written in the next three weeks.

Yeah, so on vacation: I work. But writing and editing is noticeably easier when you don’t spend 9 hours at a day job before said writing and editing, so it should be an improvement on most of my days. I’ll also try to pop in here frequently to let y’all know how things are going.

It won’t be all bad, though. I can’t work all the time. Some other things I’ll do, if all goes according to plan:

    Finish reading The Heroes

    Read Dance with Dragons

    Play hide-and-seek with my kid

    Hang out with my wife

    Cook delicious meat over a charcoal fire

    Drink margaritas

    Go swimming

    Sit in my yard reading and drinking beer

So there might be some vacation in there after all. But, mostly, writing.

The Onrushing D

My dear friend Dawson (AKA “D,” “D-Lite,” “Commander D”, “Vitamin D,” “The D-Fenestrator,” “Freelance Spiritual Adviser and Minister of War,” etc.) is visiting soon, for the first time in, what, 18 months? He’s arriving late Thursday (if the travel gods are kind) and staying with us for a week. It will be a week of awesome. For complex and boring issues related to the magazine production schedule at my day job, I can’t take any vacation days while he’s here, but I’m juggling my schedule around to maximize free time, aligning my usual days off into a glorious four-day run of freedom. I’m sure for portions of it I’ll even be sober.

D is our kid’s godfather (don’t worry, our kid also has a sciencefather), and the boy is very excited to see his “Uncle D” again. We’ve already promised River that D will read him Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance and act out all the dance moves. (We haven’t told D this yet, but he’ll roll with it. He’s good like that.)

Dawson is the world’s greatest houseguest. (Well, I guess maybe there are houseguests who fill your cupboards with golden coins and delicious ham, leaving you fabulously wealthy and sated by pork during their visit? But other than such hypothetical houseguests, yeah, D is the best.) The house is actually *cleaner* when he leaves. He decreases entropy by his very existence. (Except the fun kinds of entropy.) It’s like: who needs a vacation, when D is visiting? His mere presence is a vacation.

Friends like that are a treasure to be treasured by any and all who treasure treasure.

(Anyway, if you don’t hear from me much in the next week, that’s why. I’ll be busy discussing the finer points of Stephen King trivia, watching D and my wife do Aikido in the yard, listening to my kid giggle uncontrollably, and stealing D’s french fries. Is there anything better than a friend who never finishes his fries?)

One Stitch for Every Year He’s Been Alive

Last week was drama-tastic. On Monday River had a mid-playground head-on collision with another kid at preschool. He got a pretty bad gash, possibly from the frame of his glasses cutting into his flesh. I had to pick him up and take him to the hospital so his head wound could be treated. The pediatrician initially thought she could glue the cut over his eye closed, but, nope, they deemed it too deep, so we were sent to the Emergency Room. He got three stitches. Poor kid. He was a trouper, though. The doctor and nurse were prepared for a problem child. I tried to tell them, “No, he’ll be fine, he had his first surgery at four months old and many since, he’s not scared of doctors or medical procedures.” But the doctor said, “He’s going to kick and writhe like crazy when I inject the local anesthetic,” and they swaddled him in a sheet and had the nurse and I hold him down. All unnecessary, of course, as he was hardly bothered a bit. He actually fell asleep while the doctor was stitching up the wound. Tough little guy!

Then on Tuesday night he got an upset stomach and puked a lot, so I stayed home with him on Wednesday to make sure he was better. Not fun, but it was even less fun for him than it was for me. Fortunately by the weekend he was our usual happy guy again, and he got the stitches out on Friday. He’ll have a small scar. I told him to tell everyone he got it saving a puppy from bikers.


I’m a bit over 10,000 words into my Pathfinder Tales novel City of the Fallen Sky, most of that written over the weekend, and it’s going well. Writing from a detailed outline is odd, and contrary to my usual make-it-up-as-I-go approach, but it’s working out. I had a couple of false starts on this book, but I’ve settled into a voice that seems to work. And now it’s a tenth of the way done! (Maybe even a ninth.) I’m a lot less panicked now. Indeed, I’m a fairly cheerful guy in most respects. (This probably means something awful will happen soon.)


The weekend wasn’t all spent writing. David Moles came over for dinner one night, and Heather made an awesome pasta dish with leeks and eggs and bacon, yum. We drank beer and wine and chatted about life and books and other good things. I’m seldom social these days — both busy and reclusive, but it was nice to have a friend over.

During dinner a guy knocked on the door to tell me he was going to be renting the upstairs apartment and using it as a halfway house for a rotating cast of homeless men, and wanted to make sure I’d be okay with that, and that if I had any problems, I’d talk to him, and not bother the landlord. (This worried me, as it seems like the kind of thing you say when you’re anticipating problems, and don’t want word of said problems getting back to the landlord.) I responded with a resounding, “Uhhhh….” I talked to the landlord later, and he said the guy hadn’t even put in an application yet, and had made no mention during their conversation about using the place in such a way, and that he wasn’t interested in renting the place out for such a purpose.

I felt kind of bad for my reaction — I don’t want to be all “not in my backyard,” and finding housing for the homeless is a noble thing, but I do have a very trusting three-year-old who spends a lot of time running around literally in my backyard, and the prospect of a shifting group of strangers coming in and out of the place upstairs — with which we share that yard — would have given me a lot of stress and worry and anxiety. (A homeless guy, or a homeless family, no problem — but the halfway house aspect, with new people coming in and out, was troubling.)

I’m selfishly glad it’s not something I’ll have to deal with, but I’m also reminded how lucky I am to be able to worry about stuff like that instead of, say, having a place to sleep at night.