Saturday, September 30, 2006

Lone Gunman

I just finished reading Twelve Days of Terror, a book about the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks. I've always believed the theory that it was multiple sharks and that the Matawan Creek attack was by a bull shark. Well, now the author has convinced me that a single mean great white was responsible for all the 1916 attacks!

Apparently, while the waters off NJ are not exactly shark-infested, we get more than our fair share of sharks. I don't like the beach (it's hot and sandy), so I wasn't going in the water anyway, but that's kind of cool in a scary sort of way.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Last King of Scotland

Yesterday afternoon, I dragged Jon Babc0ck down to Houston Street to see the movie version of The Last King of Scotland. I paid for both of us since we're both still not paid by the same client. I'd finally lost my nerve watching my overdraft balance skyrocket and written myself a credit card check. Sad--I know--but I digress...

Some of you (Pernille) already know what this film is about. But many people won't know. It's a look at the murderous regime of Idi Amin though the eyes of his fictional personal physician, a young Scot who the audience can empathize with in spite of his lack of self-control and constant serious mistakes.

The film takes great liberties with the Giles Foden book. I suppose this was to make it fit into a film format, and also to make a complex plot into something understandable. I read half the book in Uganda and half in Namibia, and was surprised at how simplified the plot had become for the movie. But it's still a highly entertaining film, though much of this is due to the great acting of Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin.

One thing that made me laugh was how 1970s the film looked. The filmmakers really nailed it, the clothes and haircuts, a semi-disco aesthetic in party scenes, and free love with no thought of HIV. I can't imagine how they cleared out downtown Kampala to fill it only with 70s autos and shoot footage. What a traffic nightmare that must have been! I was kind of a Uganda geek, poking Babc0ck and whispering "That's the post office" or "That's the parliament." Like he cared.

After the movie, I had to buy coffee beans. Porto Rico didn't have anything Ugandan, so I bought Tanzanian beans instead. It seemed like the next best thing since it was a 1979 war with Tanzania that brought down Amin.

It seems stupid to have to point this out, but people who go to the movie need to remember that this took place in the 70s. Remember Nixon and Watergate, doing the Hustle, and the Iranian hostage crisis? America's Bicentennial? I barely remember lots of that. It seems like another lifetime. Obviously, Uganda has changed a lot since then, just like America and every other country. It always bugged me that all anyone knew of Uganda was Idi Amin. That's like all anyone talking about in relation to America being Watergate! Well, not exactly the same since Amin and his cronies killed 300,000 Ugandans and brought Uganda's economy to its knees, but you get the point.

In Uganda, I once read a review of the Giles Foden book in The Eye. The reviewer suggested you find a Ugandan over the age of 40, buy them a drink, and ask them about the 70s. You'd get some horrific and seemingly unbelievable tales of Amin's reign. But for those of you who don't have a favorite Ugandan over the age of 40, the book or movie will have to do.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Art for Sale

Jeff has posted the Daniel Johnston art that I mentioned on his online art gallery.

$1,800 seems like a lot but Daniel's art has gotten real popular since Jeff Feuerzeig's documentary came out.

Daniel drew this picture of Captain America and his duck army in my Avenue B condo in the late 90s. I colored it with Dr. Ph. Martin's watercolors. I think we drew it on regular photocopy paper.

If it sells, I don't get $1,800--only a small cut. But I could really use it as one of my clients who owes me a few big paychecks seems to have suddenly stopped paying. Unfortunately, the mortgage company, health insurance company, phone company and the like did not forget to automatically deduct their monthly fees from my checking account. I'm living on overdraft, which is getting kind of scary as it increases every few days. Anyway, the Daniel Johnston art will probably sell before my condo does, and certainly before my book becomes a bestseller. I hope someone buys it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It Only Sounds Dirty

"Dik-dik," chirped a tiny voice from the back seat of my car.

I raised my eyebrows at Kraiger. That was his seven-year-old daughter chirping about small antelopes.

"She really likes that animal now," Kraiger explained apologetically. "She saw it on the cover of your book."

"Um, how is she going to explain what she's talking about to her mother and her teacher?"

"It's just an animal, Marie."

It's not like she's said anything wrong. But soon her entire class will be doing this.

"Dik-dik," squeaked the seven-year-old again.

Calling All Studs

In the course of installing my bathroom vanity properly, I had the opportunitiy to fire up my "stud finder."

All it found was where I should drill. Maybe it's the batteries.

Ugandan Bottle Opener

In the US, when we go into a convenience store or a deli to buy a soft drink or juice, we receive it in a plastic bottle or a can.

In the Gulf, it's the same. But in the Gulf, the cans have pull tabs. Pop tops. We'd collect them and make necklaces out of them when I was a kid. True, they weren't very attractive necklaces.

Another thing we'd do when I was a kid was collect soda bottles. We'd return to the the supermarket to collect money, which I'm sure was used to buy candy and not to contribute to household expenses. Kids are slackers.

We no longer have so many glass soda bottles in the US, but returnable glass bottles are still used throughout large parts of the world. The system works. There is an initial deposit on the drinks in addition to the normal cost. Then you bring the bottle back later, turn it in and buy a new drink. You only pay the deposit once. We'd save up all the bottles in a crate in Uganda, and then take them all back at once and buy a new crate, or just get back the deposit if we'd collected extras from the never-ending stream of visitors.

But having bottles around means having to open them with a bottle-opener. In the US, most glass bottles are used for beer, not for soda. And I don't know much about beer, but I think lots of beer bottle caps are twist-off.

Still, my Ugandan bottle opener is a popular item in my household. People like to use it even when the lids twist off. Why? Because it's so clever, simple, and practical. People marvel at its simplicity.

The Ugandan bottle opener is simply a wooden mallet with a screw strategically placed on it. Hold the screw under the rim of the bottle cap and lift.

It's not like Ugandans don't have metal bottle openers. Uganda has as much "Made in China" stuff as the next country. But everyone I saw there preferred the Ugandan bottle opener. Because it's cool, simple, and kind of funny. And you can make one at home with a piece of wood and a screw.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More Fun With Condos

Yesterday, I installed a new bathroom vanity and sink. All by myself.

Okay, Kraiger helped me carry it into the house, and a stranger helped me put the vanity into the front seat of my car at Home Depot. But the installation I did alone.

I'd meant to get the classier $200 vanity with drawers and a separate top, but when I got to Home Depot and saw that there was a model-with-top for $69, taste and drawer-practicality took a backseat to price. Anyway, anything is better than the beat-up ancient unit that had been in the condo since well before I'd moved in.

I'd read a tip on a website that I should first put the faucet together with the sink, and make all the hardware work right. That took a while but was pretty clear and straightforward. It also made it easier to dismantle the existing set-up, because then I understood what to unhook to pull the sink out.

To my great surprise, everything went smoothly and there were no catastrophic surprises. This is unprecedented in my old Victorian--normally, things are jury-rigged. There are no square corners, the floor is slanted, and modern plumbing and electricity were added after the fact. And then, anything done in the 70s-90s was done cheaply. I once found a paint stirrer that had been used as a shim. Turbo found empty beer bottles under the floor when he moved the kitchen sink.

The new vanity is taller than the old one. So today I have to go to the hardware store and pick up longer supply lines. Then I have to put everything in place with some caulk and sheetrock screws. And teflon tape. The hardest part, I think, is in carrying the old unit out to the curb for tomorrow's trash pickup.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Language Lessons

Proxima! I called out to the minibus driver to let me off at the next corner.

Was I in Panama? Peru? Argentina? No, just Jersey City. The private minibus had come before the NJ Transit large bus. Kraiger always takes the little bus, though the clientele and drivers are mostly Spanish-speaking. He'd told me how to take it, and described its route. There is no website or fixed schedule. There are not even fixed stops. It stops when a passenger flags it down.

I walked from the bus dropoff to Hudson County Community College for my first Arabic lesson. The 20-student class included a man from Brazil, three women from Guyana, a woman from Honduras, and a man from Hoboken. Our teacher was an Egyptian professor.

Ana ismee Marie. Ana askan fi wilaiat New Jersey. Ana min Virginia. Ana amaal fi...

I got a little stuck on the last sentence. The other words mean: My name is Marie, I live in the state of NJ, I am from Virginia. The last thing we were to say was where we work. I stumbled a bit and managed to blurt out something that might have meant I work in my house, for a company in Kuwait (it seemed to be too much of a stretch to get into "And I color comic books and I write books about roaming the backroads of large sections of Africa").

Class was three hours. I walked back downtown, because I wanted to go by a Vietnamese supermarket on Newark Avenue. Sweet chili sauce is only a dollar a bottle there.

There were carryout noodle dishes by the cash register.

"What is that?"

"Rice noodles, sprouts, vegetables, and Vietnamese ham."

The Vietnamese ham looked like brown lunch meat, but at $3, the price was right. I walked home from Arabic class with my Vietnamese noodles. The minibus full of Spanish speakers passed me as I went back to my block of thick Jersey accents. I'd expect nothing less from one of America's most culturally diverse cities.

Maybe for my next grand tour, I'll just let the world come to me and will take the bus around JC. It sure would be cheaper than going around the world again.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Drawing with Daniel

Jeff reminded me of a drawing session I did with musician Daniel Johnston. I'm not sure what year it was. I think it was the late 90s. Daniel had been in New York to play some shows. I took him up to Marvel Comics--he loves comics--and he'd been inspired to draw. (Which is not unusual since he always loves to draw.)

"I'll come to your place and we'll draw all afternoon!"

True to his word, he did. I asked a few friends to drop by--a letterer (Jon Babc0ck), and an editor/artist (Mark Powers). We drew for a while, and then went around the corner to eat at Old Devil Moon.

I didn't notice but later the other guys said they'd thought Daniel had been going to stab me with a fork. He wouldn't, of course, he was just thinking with his fork suspended in mid-air. Sometimes he does that--not with the fork, I mean, but he just stops and stares off into space and thinks for a while.

We might have to sell the Captain America and his Duck Army art to help pay for my building's new roof. Damn this roof.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ro on JC Vibe

Roberta was just interviewed for Jersey City Vibe.

I wonder if they cover local writers. Or dik-dik factories.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sketchy Character

I went to the Newark train station to pick up my Amtrak tickets. I'd tried to get them at New York Penn Station yesterday, but the line had been too long.

That's what happened to me in 2001 too. I had a vague recollection of taking the PATH to Newark from 9th Street in order to avoid the enormous queue.

When you have nothing more than a claim code, you have to go to the ticket window. The machines only work if you are buying a ticket. In 2001, I had a journalist's discount. This time, I am working and my ticket is part of the job.

The job is for Amtrak. Sad but true--considering I've written three books, copy, and dozens of magazine and web articles--it's the first time I'll have been paid a living wage for a writing gig. Even sadder? Every penny of my compensation will go to the new roof my building does not need.

I waited in line at Newark for 40 seconds, then read my claim code out to the woman behind the counter.

"JAAA-vins?" She asked.

"Yes." It's pointless to correct someone's pronunciation (JAY-vins) when you'll never see them again.

"Where's your voucher?"

Er... wha..? Act like you have no idea what she's talking about. Easy to do, since I had no idea what she was talking about.

"Voucher? I don't have one. Do I need one?" I thought back... had there been an attachment to the email? I wasn't sure. I hadn't looked closely.

She eyeballed me suspiciously.

"You're going to Montreal on the 10th and coming back the next day?"

"Yes." Should I explain to her that I was on assignment, writing for her very own employer's website? No, explaining too much always makes trouble. My mind went back to Turbo at the Niagara Falls border post, where he cheerfully volunteered that he was visiting me "in New Jersey" right before I presented (swearing internally) a California driver's license.

She reviewed my itinerary in silence.

"Do I need a voucher?" I asked again.

She pushed a few buttons, then got up to collect a printout.

"I don't know if you need a voucher, but you're acting all clan-des-tine and stuff. You gotta talk to me."


When she returned, I babbled "I'm writing about the autumn leaves for the Amtrak website."

That made her happy. She smiled and handed over my tickets.

Life on the Edge

I am hording bagged spinach. I opened it and started eating it before people got E.Coli from bagged spinach. I feel like a criminal or a shoplifter, like somone from the FDA is going to show up on my doorstep and demand to see the contents of my refrigerator. I like spinach. I yam what I yam.

Getting Scanned

FedEx brought me eight pages of original art in from an inker. Huh, wonder why he didn't just email in files?

Didn't take me long to figure out why. It's not only a pain in the arse. It's expensive.

Comics are drawn at 11x17. Tabloid size. Consumer-end scanners have become more high-end over the years, but they're legal-sized. Way smaller. And you need print-quality scans for print. Fancy-pants scans produce nice results. Low-end scans mean your freelancers all yell at you later.

I trotted over to Staples a few days ago.

"Do you have an 11x17 scanner?"

"Sure do." He motioned to a high-end copier system. I looked at it, skeptical.

"Can you do 600 dpi grayscale or bitmap on that?"


I walked back later and picked up my scans. Walked home--about 3/4 mile--and opened the files.

They were all 3x5 inches, at 600 dpi.

Back to Staples, this time on my bicycle.

"Oh, I don't know why that happened. Well, no, I do. It's because our scanners only scan at 400 dpi."


"Can you scan it at 400 dpi at 100 percent? That way when I reduce it to comic book dimensions, it will be 600 dpi."

"Sure, come back tomorrow."

I stopped by Staples again on my way to meet two of our writers, Fabian and Stuart, for a plot lunch.

"Actually, we can only scan at 200 dpi. But we can change the size in the computer so that it is 400 dpi."

"You mean change the dimensions? But I need 100 percent."

Exasperated, I put my pages into my Marvel Comics art carrying bag (a bonus given to Marvel employees at Christmas one year, perfectly sized for comic book art) and went for lunch. Stopped at a few service bureaus in Manhattan.

"Yes, we can scan that for $11 a page."

Yowza. I'll go to Kinko's tomorrow.

It turned out that Kinko's had the same setup as Staple's. Or I could use the self-service scanner--which only could scan legal-size. Which was only slightly better than using my $20-on-sale UMAX scanner at home and stitching the images together in Photoshop.

I went to another service bureau. This time they wanted $24 a page. For $200, I could buy the low-end 11x17 scanner that all the comics guys have... and the only reason I never did that (besides not having $200) is that it doesn't work with OS X and takes hacking to make it work.

In the end, I sat at Kinko's by the Empire State Building for ages, scanning in halves for forty-five cents a minute while some guy checked me out and tried to talk to me. I brushed him off. When I finally finished and took my credit card out of the payment slot, the man asked a question.

"I looked at those pages," He said, pointing at the Wagner/Rubinstein art I was holding. "Aren't you scared of that art? I saw it has demons on it." Our big supervillan was dirty and evil-looking on them. Maybe he could be construed as a demon.

"What? You think I should be scared of these pages?" I was stumped. Was this man trying to pick me up by suggesting I was so fragile that a comic book page could frighten me? Did he think I was going to faint or something? Too weird. "Art doesn't scare me," I announced. I got out of there fast. What a freak.

Update: Just ordered the $200 Mustek scanner. Sure it will be a frustrating day of installing, but it should be worth it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Fun with Sharks

Aunt Peggy sent me an article from this morning's Washington Post.

Suddenly, I'm glad I quit scuba diving.

Here's a shark tale you might find hard to believe: Scientists in Indonesia have seen two types of shark that walk on their fins! (snipped) Two types of "walking shark" were seen by scientists. The animals propel themselves across the ocean bottom using their front fins. More...

First Look: Mauritania

My plan is to edit comics for a while, and then in 2007 to take an overland trip from London to Cape Town via West Africa. I'll post daily updates on, same as I did for

I have my Lonely Planet West Africa and a map in front of me. The UK to Spain part is no biggie. National Express or Megabus will take me down to Portsmouth, where I'll catch the ferry that goes to Bilbao, then I'll proceed south by bus/train to the ferry to Morocco.

Morocco is well-traveled and should go smoothly, unless one counts touts as an issue. I have no idea (yet) how to transit Western Sahara, so I'm skipping that for the moment.

That takes me to the desert country of Mauritania. I'd enter at the southwestern tip of Western Sahara, at Nouadhibou. This is a peninsula that is split down the center. Half is Western Sahara and half is Mauritania.

Nouadhibou sounds nice enough, with decent hotels and restaurants. From there, there are two interesting options for transport.

Option #1 is an iron ore train. It takes 12 hours to get to Choum, where Toyota pickups wait to take passengers to Atar. (What is Atar? I don't know yet. I'll get to that.) I read that the men on this train can be really fresh. That sounds creepy. I wonder--if I started far enough in advance--if I could score a first-class ticket. Though it's also possible that they would just respect me and ask how many children I have. There are some advantages to traveling at 40 instead of at age 25.

Option #2 is bush taxi (pickup or Land Rover) to the capital, Nouakchott. This is interesting because it can only be done at low tide! "Takes 15 to 20 hours depending on the tides."

Ah, I see. Option #1 it is. Atar is en route to Chinguetti, a top attraction in Mauritania. If I went by tidal route, I'd miss this ancient caravan city, one of the holiest cities in Islam.

I'm starting Arabic lessons on Saturday, and I can muddle through in French. I wonder if I can learn how to say "That is too much. I could buy my own camel for that" in Arabic.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Shark vs. Hippo

Fun fact of the day from my shark book: Bull sharks have been known to kill adult hippopotamuses in African rivers.

Bull sharks can easily swim from salt to fresh water and back, though it seems the bull shark pees 20x more in fresh water. And researchers in Nicaragua have seen this shark jump like a salmon. Yikes! I'll stick with hippo close encounters, thanks very much.

Monday, September 18, 2006

On Admiring An Ex

I don't know what became of my ex, Turbo. He's presumably happy in Oz with his new girlfriend. Turbo and I didn't really work due to our differences over rural versus urban living.

Turbo is a good guy all-around. He taught me some important lessons, including a biggie--it can be fun to share your life with another person. I never quit admiring him even after I did not want to live with him anymore. He's a school teacher in a rural community, and he built his own house on 30 acres of rainforest in northern New South Wales. He used to nurse baby kangaroos back to health and that sort of thing. He played Aussie-rules football twice a week and likes to cook and clean house. All that and he was also easy-on-the-eyes. I think he was an astronaut too. Okay, I'm exaggerating.

We did so many fun things together, and I often find myself telling Turbo stories. All my JC friends knew him too and they all laugh with me. I tell of the two of us buying Henry the Ford in California in early 2002, driving three months with our tent and our National Parks Pass, of our detour into Mexico, of his antics with street food and the Copper Canyon bar where men had to check their guns at the door. I tell of him and Yancey trying to outdo each other by eating the most fried bugs in China, or him looking right past me the first time he saw me in a dress (he assumed I was a stranger), and how he nearly killed us both by insisting we drive Henry to Niagara Falls in the middle of January. "Pump, pump!" I yelled as we skidded off the exit ramp. How he liked Budweiser. How he was obsessed with the "Mr. Softee" truck (I can no longer look at Mr. Softee without laughing). How we were robbed in New Zealand, how when the tent decided to leak, it only leaked on my side.

What's my point? I'm not sure. Turbo was cool. He had cojones and loved a challenge. He had no sarcasm or cynicism in his soul (okay, okay, that right there means we were doomed). He geniunely had my own best interests in mind for the entire two years we were together and for a year after that as well. He set the bar high. Does that mean I made a mistake letting Turbo go? No. We didn't work together. But it does mean that I respect him and value his decency.

Turbo was silly, but he was no coward. I hope he's happy.

Turbo at the Grand Canyon: "That's a challenge to an Australian!"

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Shark Week

When I was researching the New Jersey book in 2004, I stumbled over a bit of information about a series of shark attacks that occurred in the waters off NJ in 1916. Further reading showed that there were three separate incidents. In the final attacks, a shark swam 16 miles up Matawan Creek and attacked swimmers inland. Apparently these events were the basis for the movie Jaws.

The last thing anyone--including me--expected in Matawan was shark attacks. That's even weirder than the idea of a shark attack off the pier in JC (which has never happened, as far as I know). Also strange? A shark was killed off the pier in Bayonne! This week, I'm reading a book about the 1916 shark attacks and in it, it says that a policeman shot a shark in Bayonne. Besides being totally odd because a shark is not a bank robber, that's right next door!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Round My Apartment Without A Fridge

"Sure, sure," I said impatiently. I was certain I'd win the bet. "Whatever you want. If you win, you can have anything. Just name it."

"I want you to put your foot behind your head."

"What? I haven't done that since I was a kid. Well, sure, doesn't matter, because I won't lose."

I lost.

I'd been interviewed, then a few days later a total stranger had sent me a list of questions. And there it was in the third line. "I want to be a writer."

"She'll write back and after a few more inquiries will ask me how to get published. Like I have any idea!"

Person X--the other person involved in this bet--said this time it was different... he reckoned it was a one-off and I'd write back and that would be the end of it. This led to the bet.

There's a British guy who has made a career out of making stupid bets and writing funny travel stories about the results. In one, he hitched around Ireland with a small 'fridge on a wheeled cart. In another, he played the Moldovan soccer team at tennis. In another, he aspired to have another hit song. In Albania.

I wrote back to the email writer--and she didn't try again. I'd lost the bet.

Being forced to put my foot behind my head is not worthy of a book. It's barely worthy of a blog entry, and would in fact not be worth mentioning if I could still do it. Which I can't.

It was a little funny to try though.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Condo for Sale

My place--a Victorian condo one subway stop from Greenwich Village--is still for sale. So far, four people and one couple have looked at it. I had an offer, but it was a lot less than I needed to pay off my bills and still have enough to buy a new place. I counteroffered. Now I get to wait and see if they come up on their offer.

One woman looked at it who was perfect for my place. I don't yet know if she thought it was perfect for her. She was friendly, a little smart-ass, and really funny. A little younger than me. My place asked her to stay, but I don't know if she heard.

I like my condo a lot, but I can't afford it anymore. I seem to have too many jobs but being a writer, artist, and occasional editor doesn't amount to a lot in real money terms.

I've promised myself that if I sell and pay my bills and buy a new place... I'll keep aside a little to go solo through West Africa in 2007.

A Message from My Subconscious

I had an anxiety dream in which I was standing at a crosswalk around the corner from my Kuwaiti boss's Upper Westside NY apartment.

I left his place after working on The 99, the comic I edit for his company. I was carrying--rather carelessly--a flattened FedEx box of inked pages. I dropped these Ron Wagner pages through a sewer grate, and then realized I'd left a bunch of John McCrea pages sitting out in the sun nearby.

I dug around in the sewer and found the Ron Wagner pages, and as a bonus, collected up all the John McCrea pages and went on my way, a bit wiser and more cautious.

I think the message here is: Quit messing around with the blog, the Dik-Dik, and Donald Duck pages, and get back to the real paying work.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Streaky

Stuart posted more Streaky shots.

I don't have a pet. I used to borrow a nice pit bull mix, until Murphy moved to San Francisco. The pig in the cartoon of me was named Susie. Susie lived with my sister in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and used to enjoy peanut butter and jam sandwiches in the mornings. She would snort outside my sister's trailer door until she received her daily dose. Sadly, Susie is no longer with us, though I don't think it was due to spoiled peanut butter.

The Road to Dik-Dik

A lot of people have been asking me how I found an agent, and how I got published.

My story is far from encouraging, but I don't think it's unusual.

First, I don't have an agent. Second, being published by a small press doesn't pay much at all, so unless you are married to someone with a good job or have loads of down time at your day job, it's hard to make time to write. I wrote the bulk of Dik-Dik in the evenings while editing comic books by day in Kuwait.

I worked on my book proposal--Slow Boat to Everywhere, about going around the world by local transport for MariesWorldTour--in Australia in early 2002, at Turbo's house in Australia. I kept working on it during the next three months as we drove and camped our way across the US in Henry the Ford Taurus. Turbo took photos of the arches in Arches National Park for me since I spent the day writing in the Moab, Utah public library. (Not as bad as it sounds as I'd been to Arches twice before.)

I researched literary agents through Jeff Herman's book of agents, by reading acknowledgments in books similar to mine, and by asking friends for recommendations. I sent my proposal off to some agents I'd targeted.

Then I sat back and let the rejection letters roll in. Many were poorly photocopied form letters. A few notes were hand-scrawled in the margins of my cover letter. One agent liked my proposal. But she'd been reading a lot about graphic novels. I was a comic book person. "Wouldn't it make more sense to do the book as a graphic novel?"

"Not really," I said. I explained the costs of paying an artist. She suggested we get a student artist. I nixed that, but I sat down with my friend Joey Cavalieri, an editor at DC Comics. We came up with a scheme where friends of mine--professional working comic book artists--would each draw a different continent, so no one was taking too much of a financial hit. Still we'd need a high advance.

I knew it was nearly impossible, but no other agent was interested.

After about a year of publishers being excited about the project until they did the math, she gave up.

"Why don't you try it as a prose novel?"

"You mean like what I first sent you?"

It didn't speak to her as a prose novel. She only like the uniqueness of the graphic novel. We parted ways.

I tried some British publishers next, and met with positive feedback--but they all wanted a finished book in front of them, because I was a first-time novelist. All I had was a proposal and two sample chapters. And a huge website.

Then, in April of 2005, I saw a mention somewhere that Seal Press was looking for women's travel narratives. I sent it off, including an SASE as I fully expected rejection. Herr Marlboro was here with me at the time, and I was working at Scholastic during the day while he wrote his final undergraduate paper at my place (his previous degree was in auto mechanics, this one was in sustainable environment). The editor called two days later and asked if I'd consider making the book only about the Africa part of my trip. "Sure. Easier for me to research Africa than to research the entire world."

Herr Marlboro and I celebrated at the Cuban place that night. I practically hopped down the street, and he laughed at me. He'd seldom seen me so playful.

"I will go to Africa to write it! I will spend half the time in East Africa and half the time in the south."

"Well, maybe I can get another job in Uganda this summer. We will see, but I will not know for a while." He was always careful not to commit to anything. Me included.

He was nearly sent to Arua, but I was glad when he got sent back to Murchison Falls. If I'd gone to Arua, maybe I'd know Pernille, but in Murchison, I had the wonderful experience of living among African safari wildlife.

The rest of the story? It starts here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

JC on Wikipedia

How cool is this? It's an excerpt from the Jersey City Wikipedia entry.

Jersey City is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the country, with an almost equal mix of non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, Asians, and Latinos. Of all cities in the United States, it has one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations and proportions, one of the largest Asian proportions, and one of the largest proportions of various Latino and Hispanic ethnicities outside the southwest. It also has higher-than-average numbers of Jews, Italians, Cubans, Filipinos, Indians, and Irish than most cities in the nation.

I knew there was a reason I liked this place.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pernille in Uganda

For several months now, I've been looking in on Pernille's life in Uganda.

At first, I have to admit, I was jealous and suspicious. Who was this lovely, literate Danish development worker living the life that I wanted to be living? She's in Arua, while I'm sitting here chained to the *^%$ laptop. She is buying fresh vegetables in the market and doing something meaningful with her time. I am making sure that Donald Duck has an orange bill while wishing for more (positive) reviews for Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik.

She was in Adjumani last year when I was in Murchison Falls. My pals Andrea and Ivo were in Adjumani and they used to have to drive the long way around, through Murchison and across the Nile on the Paraa ferry, to avoid a semi-dangerous route. I think Pernille drove this route too while I was there, but I'm sure I would have stopped her if I'd ever seen her go by in her red truck. I do remember seeing an MS Uganda truck once in Kabalagala but we only exchanged waves (as I was riding in a truck from a similar German agency).

I'm still jealous, but I've been reading Pernille's blog long enough to trust her and enjoy her stories and her photos. As I write this, she's in the Hotel Equatoria in Kampala. I kept meaning to go and check out the rumored laundromat near there, but instead I just washed my clothes (and sometimes Herr Marlboro's when he was in town too) in the bathtub. I once managed to scratch the tub with H. M.'s Levi's. After that, I let him do his own laundry since he was better at it.

Bahrain for Breakfast

My friend The Professor is in town. I last saw him in March when I took Jazeera Airways from Kuwait to visit him in Bahrain, where he is a teacher and administrator at the New York Institute of Technology, Bahrain campus.

We are going to meet at a 24-hour restaurant that neither of us has been to for 15 years, Around the Clock cafe. For some reason that probably made sense in 1990, we have a running joke that goes "What time does that open?"

Last time I saw The Professor, he picked me up at the Bahrain Airport and then we were promptly rear-ended by three guys from Peshawar. I was in Peshawar once--in 1998, when posting something on the Internet was a very different (and simplistic) beast--but I couldn't tell these guys were from Peshawar. The Professor has a secret method for divining a person's origin simply by looking at them.

Oops, now I'm running late. Blogging can do that.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where Were You On...?

I'm playing only music today and keeping my radio off. Yes, I know it's the fifth anniversary of 9/11. (What do they call it in Europe, where dates are written in reverse? 11/9?) It's also the first anniversary of some pretty crappy catastrophic personal events, so not my favorite time of year.

It was bad enough the first time, and things seem to me to have progressively worsened in the world. No need to dwell on it. On either the global or the personal.

I was on Zanzibar on Sept. 11, 2001. When I went back and re-read my entry for that day, it seemed so raw. Some of what I wrote was naive, some of it was cynical, and some of it was wrong--later, I'd revise some opinions. And the photos were scanned in a crummy internet cafe. It shows.

I haven't updated the entry since the day I wrote it. Some things are best left alone.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Slipper Toast

Yancey's uncle sent him this photo. It's me giving the toast at Yancey's wedding. Well, it's my feet, anyway.

Friday Night in JC

I needed to be doing my freelance on Friday. But because there was an open house coming up in my condo, I dropped everything to paint, caulk, scrub, and clean. (Wasted effort, as it turned out, since only two people attended, though it is nice to have these things finished.)

There were a few minor projects that were literally beyond my reach. Even with my ladder, I could not reach my eleven-foot ceilings. A call to tall-guy Michael Kraiger was in order.

I worried a bit, because Kraiger had wiped out on his bicycle a few days ago. I'm sure he's got a broken rib (knowing a thing or two about cracked ribs and bodily damage myself) so he shouldn't have been reaching up to my ceiling fan. But he seemed to take it well and didn't look to be in pain. I was probably suffering more from my caulking experience than he was from his damaged rib.

Ceiling fan dusted, we headed over to La Conguita, a cheap and excellent Cuban restaurant near Grove Street, for some chicken, rice, beans, and plantains. I love La Conguita because this meal, which includes bread and a paper placemat that features a map of New Jersey, costs only $5.50. Though for the life of me, I cannot ever seem to get there in time for the Friday night special ropa vieja.

"Roberta said there was some kind of art happening tonight. You know anything about that?" I asked as Kraiger doused his rice in picante sauce.

"Yeah, there's lots of shows but what I really need to do is go home and draw trading cards."

I pondered my own rice before he passed over the picante.

"Me too. Not trading cards, I mean. Donald Duck. All the Donald Duck I didn't color today."

We agreed--no Friday night art for us.

I walked Kraiger down Newark Avenue to the corner where he could catch the private shuttle bus up to his home in the Heights. Then, "What's that?"

The Newark Avenue pharmacy didn't seem to be a pharmacy anymore. There was talking, someone speaking through a microphone, and a crowd was gathered.

The pharmacy was now a vintage clothing store. There were models in the window, all posing in vintage clothing period wear. The shop's owner, complete with a beehive and 50s dress, narrated the scene. Every passerby had stopped, including old men from the Puerto Rican-flagged bar on the corner, teenagers, young trendy rich kids, and grandmas. Even the counter guy from the falafel shop pulled up on his bike and didn't move until the show was over.

"I love JC," said Kraiger.

I agreed. Though when I look at the new people moving into my building and neighborhood, I do worry that JC's gone too far, and that we're losing our diversity as the rich push out the poor. But as I'm being given a gentle prod and shown the door myself, maybe that's just sour grapes.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Stuart's Blog

Thanks to Stuart Moore for calling my attention to Streaky the Super-Cat via his blog.

First Dik-Dik Review

The first review of Dik-Dik that I've seen is... sigh... on my mother's site. Which doesn't exactly make it objective. But the good news is that she made an interesting point, that my Africa journey was kind of a metaphor for going through the world solo. Had I known I had a theme, it might have made the book easier to write. Sometimes it helps to ask your mother.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Urban Owner's Fable

One of my neighbors told me a story that would have been the perfect tale to tell at my condo association roof meeting. Unfortunately, I was too stunned by the rash actions of my young, money-heavy building-mates to make a coherent case for why it's nuts to rip off a 3-year-old roof completely instead of making some inexpensive repairs to the flashing and sealing.

My neighbor--let's call her Ro--had bought a condo in a newly restored hundred-year-old brick building. She bought a top floor unit with roof rights. And she had noticed a funny smell in the basement when she'd go down to her storage area, but she didn't think much of it until the new owners on the ground floor started complaining about sewage backing up into their bathtubs.

Gross. I'd have been freaked out too.

There are six units in the building, and everyone got together to panic and discuss what to do. They called in a number of plumbers, all of whom offered doomsday scenarios.

"The sky is falling," said the plumbers. No, not the sky. More like the ground is regurgitating. But it was most definitely the biggest emergency known to person-kind, and if they didn't take action post-haste, it would quite likely develop into something even worse. Say, for example, crocodiles coming out of the sewer, or the house sinking into crap, or... more sewage backwashing and stinking for an extended time period.

"It's backpitch," they said. "Over time, things settle and the ground shifts. Now instead of gravity pulling the sewage down into the sewers, it's going backwards. No other solution but this--you must excavate out and replace the entire sewer line from the basement to the middle of 8th Street. Cost? A bazillion dollars."

The brand new owners--young people flush with the glow of being new owners--were devastated and panicked.

But a few of them, including Ro, cried foul.

Somehow, the calmer heads prevailed and got a scope done. That's where they send a camera down the pipes, along the backpitch. It's like when you have a gut ailment and the doctor sends a camera into your gut, only it's pipes under the house and street.

The culprit of this horrific problem that would cost thousands to fix?

A tennis ball. Lodged in the pipe.

They pulled out the tennis ball. The sewage went down the pipes. That was a year-and-a-half ago, and though there is a mild backpitch, there's not been another problem.

And the moral to this story is: Keep your head when it comes to investing thousands, and don't be a big panicky dumbhead.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Events of Note

Today I purchased a grout saw. Now I can replace some moldy grout around the bathtub.

A year ago today, I was chased by a hippo alongside the Nile in Uganda.

I wonder which of these two notable events I will commemorate on September 7, 2007.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Get Your Red Hot Dik-Diks!

Get 'em while they last!, to my astonishment, has only one copy of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik left. It says so right on their Dik-Dik order page.

Only 1 left in stock--order soon (more on the way).

That's almost as cool as when Roberta said it was her new favorite book.

Storage Costs

My possessions lived in Unit A13 at Liberty Storage next to Liberty State Park for two years.

I spent about $4,000 on storage during that time, as rates started at about $150 a month and went up to $175 over the two years.

Once I worked out what I'd spent, I went and bought a garage instead. At least--in theory--I'll get back what I've spent when I sell the garage. Plus, I might end up living in it soon. Which brings to mind certain horrifiying questions. Yikes.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Trademarks are Pesky Things

This blog post about the Uganda 7-11 made me laugh. It reminded me of the Kampala "IKEA," which, of course, is not an IKEA at all.

Speaking of Uganda, tomorrow is the one year anniversary of when my life there unexpectedly took a turn for the worse and then proceeded to deteriorate for the next week and a half to unspeakable depths, the details too unmentionable for innocent, fun-loving dik-diks. Ain't love grand?

Killed by a Coconut

In 2000, I was in a taxi in Ho Chi Minh City. The driver's radio was playing a Shel Silverstein song about people doing all kinds of daring things, having all kinds of plans, then being randomly killed in bizarre accidents in which coconuts fell on their heads.

Yeah, he was... killed by a coconut (and you could be)
Killed by a coconut (that's why you never should be)
Sittin' underneath a coconut tree
When the coconut come down.

The Crocodile Hunter had a coconut moment yesterday, and I am sad for Mrs. Crocodile Hunter and their kids. It seems so bizarre and random--stingrays generally hurt a lot when they sting, but don't usually kill people. It was just a chance thing of the barb hitting in a certain way at a certain spot, and seems so weird given that Steve Irwin was usually face-to-face with truly dangerous animals like saltwater crocs and poisonous snakes.

Writer Peter Moore's father is the plumber at the Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast. He had to go into a croc pit once to fix a leaky tap while Irwin distracted the crocs. When I lived in Oz, Turbo and I went to the Australia Zoo once, though I didn't meet Peter's dad (nor did he get us in free). We also visited the Big Pineapple on the same day, and our car windshield cracked, though not as a result of any pineapple or coconut interaction.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I Sense a Trend

Uh-oh... my mother is on an old-photo kick. I dread the day she digs out the... oh, never mind.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Not Enough Opera, Man

Premium seats sold out for the first night of the Too Much Coffee Man opera in Portland, Oregon. That's great news--maybe creator Shannon Wheeler's kids can eat more than mac & cheese next month.*

Selling out premium seats is big news, but the opera is such a novel idea that I bet all four performances sell out. I reckon the kiddies will have orange juice and broccoli too.

*Permission acquired from creator to make joke about Wheeler's kids eating habits, which probably do NOT involve orange artificial food products.

Spare the Rod and Spoil the Pie

This beaver is giving Chip and Dale their punishment for having swiped a doodleberry pie. Shame on Chip and Dale!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Some Things Are Hereditary

All right, Mom is just getting silly now.

Before and After

The wind is blowing like crazy today. It's a pity; I wanted to go ride my bike in the park. There's going to be a lot of disappointed people at the beach this holiday weekend.

I was hoping for a sunny day for another reason. One person who viewed my condo yesterday is coming back today, and bringing her father. The condo is much nicer bathed in sunlight, and it's bound to be gray and unpleasant if they view it in the middle of a storm.

Before, I was agonizing over having to sell my nice condo. But I've made my peace with it. I looked at the Before photos and compared them to After. The condo was not so nice Before. I can do it again, with another condo. I'm on my own this time; no Unstoppable Turbo. But it will all work out. Or maybe I'll just stay in Africa next time.


Other Before and After photos are here.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Dik-Dik Postcard Delay

Urgh... I must apologize. There has been a delay in the production of the Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik postcard. Namely, my artist , Jessica Wolk-Stanley, fled to Greece. But she'll be back as soon as she dodges the law, and then these tools of dik-dik propaganda will find their way to your mailboxes.

If you didn't sign up before, I'm offering to send anyone who wants one a Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik postcard, complete with DC Comics postage stamp. If you would like one, please e-mail me your address with the subject line "Postcard" and your name/address in the body of the e-mail. My email address is mjavins(at-symbol)yahoo(dot-com).

My First Book Interview kindly interviewed me about my book. I'm now a proud adventuress. There's an excerpt here. Go and have a look!