Dec 29, 2004

Wow . . . tsunamis.

I'd always imagined them to look like a curling wall of water, but the footage from Sri Lanka and India shows that they look more like ordinary beach waves on a massive scale. It's like a bucket slopping over miniature models of buildings, vehicles, and people. I can't imagine the devastation and anguish that the survivors have to face. I rarely comment on global news that reaches my corner of the world (because it's usually about fighting over my two least favorite topics: politics and religion) but this one left me a bit shocked. For some reason, tsunamis are one of my weird childhood fears. I was never worried about tornadoes, earthquakes, or sharks, but when I went to the beach, I'd sometimes think "If a tidal wave sped toward us right now, we'd never be able to outrun it."

I recently sent out my Abby Update newsletter, and I was going to paste it here. Now it seems too happy in the face of recent world events. Hence the preface. Also, after I reread the newsletter, I realized that it sounded way too friggin' happy. I'm more of a pessimist than an optimist. So I want to take a quick moment to say that I was in an unusually good mood when I wrote it! In fact, I've had such a great month so far, I'm expecting a ton of bad luck to come crashing down on me in January. Yeeks! I can almost see its shadow!

Okay. My biggest cause for celebration is that a literary agent has requested my manuscript. That may not sound like a big deal, but I was jumping for joy. Literally. Why? Well, here are the usual steps in the process of a first-time author getting a novel published:

  • You finish your novel, and revise/edit it obsessively over a period of years.
  • You send out lots of query letters to reputable agents and major publishing houses, hoping that one of them will be interested enough to ask for the first three chapters. (A good literary agent may be able to get your novel read by major publishing houses.)
  • No one answers your query letters. Years pass. You revise your query letters incessantly, trying to write the perfect query letter.
  • More years pass. Your new query letters don't work. You try networking with agents and editors.
  • Finally, your years of networking and query letter revising come together in perfect harmony. An agent requests the first three chapters of your novel!
  • Months pass. You worry that the agent has lost your submission.
  • But wait! The agent had a huge slushpile of submissions to wade through, and as it turns out, she "literally flew through" the first three chapters. And she looks forward to reading the rest of the book!!!

That's where I am right now. I've FedExed the novel to her, and I'll let you know what the outcome is.

This is by far the furthest I've ever been toward novel publication. I have some worries--she may not take me on as a client--but I still consider this to be a huge step. It's the first time my novel will be judged by an agent on its own merits, rather than on my query letters or poor salesmanship skills. I figure that no matter what happens, at least ONE agent in New York will know that I can write. I have high hopes that she'll remember my novel, because it's an unusual story.

In addition to that, my animation career is perking up. I'm slated to work on a few Nintendo games as a lead animator. As always, this industry is unsteady, and I can't say what I'll be doing six months from now, but I feel good and secure about the immediate future.

Larry and I celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. I've received a Dell pocket PC--a very nifty little computer that comes with a retractable keyboard and wireless internet access--and a 20GB mp3 player. This is perfect for my audio book listening habits. I go through seven or eight unabridged audio books per month. I also got some delicious Belgian chocolates, and a bunch of magazine subscriptions and gift certificates that I've wanted.


We saw Life Aquatic at a fabulous outdoor mall in L.A. Yes, fabulous is the word. It was the epitome of Beverly Hills / L.A. culture, although it was closer to Hollywood. Anyway, my friends give the movie a thumbs-up. If you liked The Royal Tennenbaums, you'll like this one. But I didn't particularly like The Royal Tennenbaums. 'Nuff said.

I thought A Series of Unfortunate Events was worth seeing, but I haven't read the Lemony Snicket books. The acting and the movie sets and costumes were completely awesome. The story adaptation may have been a little shaky.

Blade III was campy, good fun. I think it was better than Blade II, with more character and plot. And it has some funny scenes.

The Return of the King, Extended Edition was well worth the four hours of watching! I think it needed the scenes they'd cut.

Meet the Fockers was entertaining. It was pretty much as funny as advertised in the trailer, and a good way to spend a few hours, but don't go expecting a deep story!

Um . . . I'm not sure if I saw anything else recently. Hey, the trailer for the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory looks great! I'm angry at Tim Burton for remaking something that didn't need to be remade, but after that trailer, I'll see it. I'm less enthusiastic about the upcoming War of the Worlds movie.


So, I listened to Across the Nightingale Floor, by Lian Hearn. I've heard rave reviews about this one, but after reading it, I don't understand what they were raving about. The story and style both seemed very conventional. It was well-written, but . . . well, nothing to rave about, IMHO.

And I listened to David Brin's The Postman. My diagnosis on this one is that it has a kick-ass, original premise, and poor execution. I had this feeling throughout the entire story that it wasn't hitting its potential. The characters were too clueless within the context of the story. The suspense never really peaked in any place, although there were plenty of places where it could have. Worst of all, I kept predicting what the main character was going to do well before he realized what he was going to. This could have been a wild, unpredictable story, but it was pretty tame for the subject matter.

I've been reading a lot of short stories. I'm picking through genre magazines and anthologies, and my two critique groups are keeping me really busy. I probably read fifteen short stories per week. I listen to audio books because that's my way of sponging extra reading time. If you're wondering, I only listen to unabridged audio books. Abridgements are an affront to nature and all that is holy! Next up: Orson Scott Card's Lost Boys, Ursula K. Le Guin's first Earsea novel, and Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

And now it's time for me to sleep. I humbly beg your pardon if you've emailed me and I haven't responded. My backlog of emails-to-answer is nearing 100. I'm going to make an effort to reply to some of those over the holiday week. If you don't hear from me . . . .I'm a jerk. But I'll still like hearing from you, and eventually, I hope, I'll reply.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Dec 1, 2004

eulogy for Billy

I had a shock today when my mother called and told me that my dog died. He was a golden retriever named Billy, and he died from a ruptured spleen and other complications at the age of twelve. I knew this death was coming, because he was getting old, but I'd thought he'd live another year. I'd hoped to visit him one last time and let him know that I hadn't forgotten him. The last time he saw me was in August 2004, three months ago. I'm writing this now because Billy was a dog who deserves to be remembered. He was the finest example of a dog that I've ever known.

He was born from a family of golden retriever show-dogs. My family adopted him in the winter of 1992, when he was three months old. I was thirteen at the time, and nervous around dogs, having had a few unpleasant experiences with them. Billy was a surprise. I came home from a winter camp to find that we had a puppy in our house. But he was gentle and innocent, so I found it impossible to be afraid of him. My parents caged him in our basement at night, but he cried, and soon I let him sleep in my bedroom, on the condition that my sister and I take full responsibility for training him. Billy was extremely intelligent. House-training him took a few weeks, and he learned every conventional doggie trick in a few months. He slept at the foot of my bed until he grew bigger, and then he slept under my desk. Eventually he slept downstairs with a dog we bought to keep him company, a female tri-colored collie named Layli. Billy had a lot of funny personality quirks that I'd never imagined in a dog. For instance, he would try to smile by holding in his lips so his teeth showed, but his face was relaxed, not like a growl. He had superstitions about robotic toys and floating balloons; both were things to be avoided, probably because of the weird way they move. He also learned how to communicate with people by shuffle-dancing (when he wanted something), making noises in his throat (he made low whining sounds that were almost like questions or comments), and pointing by looking back and forth between the object and the human. He had a bin full of toys, and he assigned each toy to a specific person. If he wanted to greet me, then he would search though his toy bin and find the human-doll. If he wanted to greet my sister, he would find the duckie-doll. He had a toy for each family member, and different toys for friends. I thought it was cute that he always greeted people with a toy, no matter what. There were a few times when he rooted through his toy bin to the bottom and whined because he couldn't find the correct toy to greet someone with. Usually the toy had been left under a cushion or in another room.

While the dog-tricks are cute, Billy's best trait was his compassion. He was a companion to my grandmother, who lived in our house for a year, and who disliked dogs until she met Billy. He offered comfort to people in pain by resting his head in their lap, and by giving them extra attention and sympathetic looks. Although he was energetic during his puppyhood, and he grew to be 90 lbs, he knew when to be gentle. He never jumped on anyone aside from healthy family members who could handle it. He never knocked anyone over. He never bit or growled at people. At one time, my mother (a social worker) brought him to her patients as a therapy dog. And I can't neglect to mention that Billy was a wonderful friend to me; he was a being whom I absolutely trusted, and who trusted me unconditionally. I'm not sure I would have survived my teenage years without Billy. At the very least, he kept me from slipping into a pool of self-loathing. He kept me sane. The hardest part of leaving for college was leaving Billy behind. During my first or second semester away, I heard that Billy had run past the dog-gate and into my bedroom, leapt onto my bed, and wouldn't leave for a day. I wish I could have taken him with me to college. The first few times I returned home to visit, he cried more than I'd ever seen him do before. After a few years, he got more used to it--but I wish my long absences didn't hurt him. I noticed that he grew more lethargic and took to barking at night, both traits that he hadn't had until after I left.

I have a lot of happy memories of Billy. I'd like to share them all, but I could go on for pages. I'll mention a few highlights. Billy liked to play squeaky-under-the-rug. This would involve me (or anyone) hiding one of his squeaky toys underneath a small rug. I'd press the squeaky so he could hear it. Then Billy would pretend he was stalking it. He'd rear up and leap upon the rug like an attacking bear. I'd move the squeaky around so it wasn't where he'd expect. Eventually, he would throw the rug aside and grab the squeaky, then do a dance of triumph. He would prance around in a circle, snorting, tossing his head, and squeaking the squeaky. In later years, he'd do the triumph dance with the rug in his mouth instead; I guess he considered that a bigger trophy. He also liked to play fetch, and he would chase balls down flights of stairs and swim after them as well. He knew every variation of the terms "walk" and "food", and how to spell all of them, so our family was eventually reduced to using code phrases like "Let's do a W" (take Billy for a walk) or "Is it time?" (to feed Billy). If he understood what we were talking about, he would expect us to carry through with it immediately. If anyone said the word "walk," he would run and get his leash. If anyone said "dinner", he would look at the kitchen and make noises until he was fed. Of course, if we failed to carry through, he would look dejected and sigh a lot. Yes, he could actually guilt-trip humans into walking and feeding him. He had very expressive eyes and eyebrows.

I've missed Billy for eight years now--that's how long I've been gone from home--but he was always close in my heart. I will continue to miss him now that he's gone, and mourn him. This is the best I can do, and I know that it's less than he deserves. He's earned the respect and love of this particular human.

b. October 15, 1992 -- d. November 30, 2004
Rest in Peace. I will never forget you.