story time: the king’s ankus

These are the Four that are never content, that have never been filled since the Dews began — Jacala’s mouth, and the glut of the Kite, and the hands of the Ape, and the Eyes of Man.

— Jungle Saying.                                      


Kaa, the big Rock Python, had changed his skin for perhaps the two-hundredth time since his birth; and Mowgli, who never forgot that he owed his life to Kaa for a night’s work at Cold Lairs, which you may perhaps remember, went to congratulate him. Skin-changing always makes a snake moody and depressed till the new skin begins to shine and look beautiful.

(click here to continue…)

The tale of The King’s Angkus is one of my all time favorite stories by one of my heroes, the great Rudyard Kipling, and clear inspiration behind many of my own short stories.


if you love writing, do it

“If you love writing, do it, no matter what anyone says. There are people who have told me that The Rival is boring, stupid, pointless, and a waste of time. (And they are entitled to their opinion. It’s a free country.) But I love The Rival, and my sister Rebecca loves it, and you enjoyed it, too. That’s what’s important. If you write, someday someone will say your writing is bad. Don’t let their opinion – which they are entitled to! – come between you and the writing you love.

Next most important to writing a good book is to have a good story. A good story has at least the following three things:

  1. Something important to the main character must be at risk. For example, in The Rival, Bex’s big sister Beatrix has been kidnapped. Imagine if the story was just about Bex and Beatrix going to get ice cream on a sunny day, and the worst thing that happened was Bex dropped her cone on the ground. That would not be too interesting. A good story has risk and danger to something extremely important to the main character.
  2. The main character must have an important decision to make. In The Rival, Bex must decide whether to risk her life and career – and those of her close friends – to save her sister. And, once Beatrix is saved, she must decide whether to try to find a way to stop Dr. Andronicus. Imagine if the biggest decision Bex had to make was whether to have chocolate or vanilla ice cream. That is not too important and therefore not too exciting. A good story contains decisions that are hard to make and have big consequences.
  3. The main character must be changed in a meaningful way by the end. In The Rival, Bex starts out as a student, her biggest concern planning how to win the next Apian Dance competition. But by the end, Bex is the commander of the very small army that stands between the good people of the world and the evil schemes of Dr. Andronicus. She has to learn how to lead and be brave. Imagine if in The Rival, the biggest change that happened to Bex was that she decided she likes chocolate ice cream best. That’s not very meaningful. A good story shows how something important happened inside the heart of the main character.

Best of luck with your writing, and keep up the good work.”

I like this letter I wrote to a fan. So I shared it.

The chicken says “if you love writing, do it”.

Chicken by Lily, from Utah.

cool stuff round up

I cried tears of joy when I saw this:

Resident Charlottesville McGuffey artist Arnaud Boudoiron is doing a truly beautiful job of illustrating the animals, and the acacia tree, for Law of the Jungle, the animated short of The Red Toad and the Buffalo. It is a rather tricky task to illustrate in stained glass, but “Arno” has a very natural grace with it and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Meanwhile, I have been enjoying a pleasant correspondence with someone who doesn’t have a lot of general notoriety, but at least to me is a celebrity: Kristin Laidre.

Her groundbreaking work with Narwhals first came to my attention in this truly amazing Smithsonian article from 2009, In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal. I thanked Kristin for providing great context and background for The Young Narwhal. Kristin writes:

Thanks, very nice! I’m doing field work in Greenland on narwhals right now so it’s fun to read the story. I like their names!”


I am also working on the last short story for my collection of animal fables. The others almost wrote themselves, but this one is not coming easy. The concept is crystal clear, but the story is shrouded. It will probably end up reading nothing like this, but here is a sample of where #7 is today.

There were two of them. The sky gleamed grey like a cannon over the heavy sulfur glare, and there were two of them.

The black one’s features were swallowed up by his midnight darkness. A hint of shoulders, a suggestion of flanks, a shadow of a tail, permitted the correct conclusion: cat.

When the black cat walked alone, his bright, right forepaw alone drew the eye. Its movement, devoid of context, was like a frog’s. An arc and a pause; an arc and a pause. It was fiery orange.

The orange one’s features were stenciled in sharp relief by the fine stripes that seemed to drip down from his spine like blood. His emerald green eyes did not blink.

When the orange cat walked alone, it startled the eye that he did not stumble. His left foreleg appeared to end at the ankle. But no; the paw was there, and sound. Just blacker than the pit.

But when their steps fell in together, as they did that night, the illusion was imperforate. One orange cat. One black shadow.

more like boogle

Google to Pull Plug on Indie eBook Selling

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to read this headline. Google, to my mind, was making it at least possible – if not likely – for independent bookstores to succeed where independent record stores and video stores had failed. They could compete with on a level playing field with their Google partnership. I know they were having mixed success… and I know Google is a business and needs to make a profit… but still. To just give it the axe after only a year or so seems a little extreme.

The American Booksellers Association says they’ll have their own e-book product by the time Google’s program is discontinued in January of next year. But my expectations are not high. The kind of infrastructure required to compete with Amazon is something even Barnes & Noble is having a hard time doing. How will ABA create it from scratch in less than a year?

Call Google at one of their locations if you want to express your disappointment, or give them a ring at their headquarters 1.650.253.0000. I plan on doing this next week.

More to come.