March 2011

Birds! Birds! Birds!

Whew! Back from Florida—well, back yesterday, but I spent most of yesterday catching up on e-mail and wandering around the garden going “Yay! You’re alive!” and shoveling mulch.  (The mulch did not catch fire in our absence!)

Today it’s rainy and grey and I can’t do yardwork. Sigh. But there is plenty of Dragonbreath to get done!

The trip itself was awesome, got to hang out with great people, do Disney with the Steins, and talk birding with a very knowledgeable woman named Tina, who was about to set off in pursuit of the Fulvous Whistling Duck. She suggested that we visit the Merritt Island Wildlife Sanctuary, so a couple of us, driven by the ever-patient Kevin, set out in search of birds.

We got lost on the way—turns out that this wildlife sanctuary is right next to where they launch the space shuttle, and there were some closed roads—but we finally hit the correct areas, and then we wandered around with binoculars going “Ooh! Ooh! Heron! Egret! Gator! Red-winged Blackbird!” for several hours. They had every heron in the book, from the little green on up, tons of egrets and ibises, ospreys every ten feet—it was really amazing.

For lifers, I got the Roseate Spoonbill, Black-necked Stilt, Swallow-tailed Kite (a really amazing bird—I thought it would be smaller!) Glossy Ibis, and most impressively, Alison spotted a Sora in the reeds, which is a wee little marsh bird that picks its way along the edges of the water, and you pretty much need eyes like a bird of prey to be able to spot the little bugger.

Sadly we missed the Painted Buntings at the visitor center, but there were Rufous Hummingbirds, enough Red-Winged Blackbirds to drive you crazy, and Brown-Headed Cowbirds going gurgle-gurgle-click! over and over again.

Adding those to the Black-bellied Whistling Duck and the Redhead I had gotten the day before, it would have been a fantastic bird trip ANYWAY, but on the drive home, we saw both turkeys and Sandhill Cranes standing by the side of the road. (I’d seen something I thought was a sandhill crane on my last trip, but it was such a brief glimpse I wanted a better confirmation before I counted it.) This time, however, they were both just standing by a street light, going “Look at us! We’re cranes!”

And then, as we drove through the South Carolina lowcountry…two Very Large Birds went over the car. We were on a heavily wooded stretch that had just broken for a bridge over a stream, and I looked up through the windshield, and my first crazy thought was that it was a pair of the aforementioned Swallow-Tail Kites, because of the stark black and white undersides, but then I immediately dismissed this, because they were so bloody obviously cranes.  I mean, they were HUGE. And they were very white, with black legs, and their wingtips were black and the black extended partway down the wing, and there was a flash of red from the head.

Did I mention I was driving? I was. Kevin very graciously did not grab for the wheel, because I’m sure I started weaving wildly trying to get the last glimpse of the cranes before they passed overhead.

Hmm. The sandhill cranes we had seen were a sort of…French gray, I’d say. These were WHITE. Almost certainly still the Sandhill cranes, but I had Kevin pull up photos, and while there were some very white ones, they didn’t have the stark black wingtips. (Tips is really an understatement. There was quite a lot of black.)

Well. There’s really only one other option, being that this is North America. I dismissed it for a few minutes as Batshit Insane—aren’t those things endangered? And not just a little endangered, but, like, REALLY endangered? And did they live anywhere near here? Surely they had no business buzzing my car!

We switched drivers, since my mind was clearly NOT on the road, and I went through the photos, and then through Google, which informed me that yes, the South Carolina lowcountry has recently seen the re-establishment of very small populations of none other than the Whooping Crane. (Locals keep seeing them the same way I did, and saying things like “Holy crap, that bird’s bigger than my Buick!” ) And it’s not like a bird that size is easy to miss, and I suppose even an endangered species has to be SOMEWHERE at any given time. I just didn’t expect that somewhere to be over the top of my CAR.

…I tell you true, humans are sufficiently perverse that I was almost disgruntled by the whooping cranes. I mean, I’m delighted they’re there, that’s just stupidly awesome, it’s arguably one of the great success stories of bird conservation, but damnit, I should have to WORK for a bird that rare! We WORKED for that Sora, and they’re a species of least concern!

Also, I think there was a con thing and I had fun and there were nice people.  And a pair of Whooping Cranes flew over my bloody CAR. I may never get over this.

To Mend and Defend!

So Kevin picked up the boxed set of the kid’s show Reboot a few months back, and we finally sat down and have systematically gone through the main story arc. (We still have season 4, which neither of us have seen, so don’t spoiler it, I beg of you!)

Reboot is significant for being the first all-CGI kid’s cartoon, and I won’t lie—the early episodes are eye-searingly dreadful. You can actually track the budget of the show and the pace of the technology across the seasons, from really crude beginnings to some surprisingly advanced graphics by the end, based on things like the heroine getting two boobs instead of Generic Uniboob. (There’s a few scenes later on where you can practically hear an animator screaming “POLYS! LOOK AT ALL THE POLYS I GET NOW!” and then bursting into maniacal laughter in the background.)

And the humanoid heroes, against all odds, generally stay out of the uncanny valley. Being bright green probably helps. Most of the rest of the populace is made of stacked cubes with single eyes, but even they get astoundingly expressive by the end of the show.

The writing on the first few episodes is also laughably bad, generally falling into the obnoxious-young-boy-does-stupid-crap-and-learns-valuable-life-lesson genre, with some really heroically bad puns thrown in. And you have to deal with the fact that the heroine is named Dot Matrix and the villains are Megabyte and Hexadecimal. (On the bright side, the hero is named Bob. I approve of this.)

Kevin kept swearing up and down that it got better, so I soldiered on.

And you know what? He was absolutely right. Somewhere in there it goes from bad-kid’s-show to sprawling science-fiction epic, probably because the show got canceled in the US.  (You can also track this exact point too, where suddenly the bodycount triples and the villain gets to crack at least one bondage joke.)  The villain Megabyte gets some of the best dialog in the place and is really quite horribly villainous–I mean, he kills the civilians and enslaves the populace and you BELIEVE those stacks of cubes are being enslaved. Hexadecimal, a kind of demented harlequin, Loses Her Shit Big Time, and Bob embodies the true paladinly ideals of being well-meaning, brave, compassionate, and not all that bright. (Plus there’s a bad-ass operative named Mouse. Mouse is awesome. I would like to be Mouse when I grow up.)  The pop culture jokes fly thick and fast—they did an entire show based on “The Prisoner” and at one point Mulder and Scully from the X-files show up. As stacks of cubes with hairpieces.

Then they do this sudden slew to one side long about Season Three, and the show gets insanely grim and Bob vanishes and you spend the rest of the season following the little kid who suddenly turns into a hulking, sulking brute with a nice gun and no other redeeming qualities. He does not do a single intelligent thing at any point in the entire show. I spent a lot of time screaming at the TV for the heroine to take the dog and leave his ass to rot in the Web.

Right about the Epic Showdown with the villain, I turned to Kevin and said “That’s it! I am DONE with the bit where the hero finally gets to the bad guy and says “You’re not worth it!” and DOESN’T kill him. That needs to stop. Sooner or later, you HAVE to kill virtual Hitler!Seriously. By this point in the show, Megabyte has ruined this guy’s life, exiled his hero, devastated his homeland, left his sister a bleak PTSD-rattled general of a refugee force, keeps a three-cube version of Dr. Mengele around at all times, and has turned his lovable mentor into a head in a jar and proceeded to torture the head. I am sorry, but if you don’t kill him now, he deserves to win because you are a MORON.

“…It’s a hero thing,” said Kevin.

“Digger wouldn’t do it.”

“Digger’s not that kind of hero.”

“Granny Weatherwax wouldn’t do it.”

“…it’s a male hero thing?”

“Indiana Jones wouldn’t have done it.”

“It’s a young stupid male hero thing!”

I cannot necessarily argue this point. However, I would like that to end. (Also, Captain Carrot totally would do it, damnit.)

As always happens in this case, someone smarter and more ruthless (and in this case female) snuffed the villain, just as he was about the destroy the world, although he sorta did that anyway, so y’know. But the show totally redeemed itself with a hysterical musical recap of the entire third season which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the writers knew exactly what the flaws in their characters were, so I forgive them this.

But I am still sick of this trope, damnit. Good needs to stop dithering. Good is being awfully selfish if it says “I’m not going to kill you, even though you always totally escape and conquer us YET AGAIN and also torture heads in jars, because my personal growth is more important than the TWENTY MILLION CIVILIANS YOU SLAUGHTERED.” That is not Good. That is Self-Help Stupid. Just kill his ass already. If you tell us that it was justice, not vengeance, I, for one, will be too busy passing out food to hordes of refugees to argue with you.

And on that note, I’m goin’ to Disneyworld.

Black & White

So I’m about to go on a long trip, and as preparation, picked up Pokemon Black & White. Which naturally I began playing, because c’mon! Who waits for the road trip?

I’m about halfway through, and I am beginning to fear that they have run out of Cute.

There’s a lot of Cute in the first few Pokemon. Indeed, it is almost all cuteness. These are adorable little sprites that you catch and raise and love and make beat one another into unconsciousness.  This is the premise of Pokemon.*

By Black and White, we seem to have run very low on cute. There is a whole lot of freaky and weird and peculiar, but not a great deal of cute. There’s a couple cuddly little things, including a very cranky little bug wrapped in a leaf burka and an electric flying squirrel and a rather charming little mole, but there’s also a whole lot of puzzling things, like the very angry thing that looks like a cross between a snowflake and the head of Megatron and and the weirdass thing that’s basically a body-building brain with a clown nose carrying a girder.

I never liked the humanoid pokemon. That was too damn uncanny valley. Jinx gave me the creeps, and all those mime and clown ones are just horrifying. Anybody who wanders around with a small semi-sentient clown following them, giggling and attacking people on command, ought to be locked away and given baskets to weave where they can’t hurt anybody.  Fortunately there aren’t that many of those in Black & White either.

Occasionally there will be a cute thing with a very unsettling description. The little ghost carrying a mask was okay until I learned that the mask had been its face while alive and sometimes it looked at the mask and cried. Dear LORD. And the happy little candle with the waxy bangs was darling, up until I read that it is burning the life energy of its foes. (I mean, it’s still in my party! Ghost/Fire, who am I to pass that up? But still!)

I fear that in the next decade, when they release Pokemon Pink and Teal or Pokemon Plaid and Argyle or whatever, we will see a complete end to cute and it will all be really messed up little squiggles with eyeballs carrying girders.

*Various parties have pointed out that in Real Life, most of us would be appalled by Pokemon combat and would be crusading to end it. Also, the apparent lack of non-sentient food animals is disturbing.

The Wombat Has Left The Building

I had vague thoughts of doing some kind of useful wrap post here—maybe talk about how far I’ve come since Digger started, although honestly, I mostly find myself thinking of the difference in the view from my desk, between that tiny little rat-hole apartment in St. Paul, with my back wedged against a dying radiator and a view of the basement through a hole in the floor, to this spacious room half a continent away with the sun streaming through the window.

I am a little sad, but not as crushingly as I expected. Digger has been over in my head for awhile now, and all the various voices had quieted down awhile ago. They’d offer dialog if I poked them, but I was no longer taking dictation in the shower.  So it’s a good time to end.

Last night Kevin and I had cheap sushi and cheesecake and gin, and I didn’t wake up with any deep black gulf of despair in my head screaming “OH GOD, WHAT DO I DO WITH MY LIFE NOW?!” And then a truck pulled up with my mountain of mulch being delivered. And now I figure that probably the best way to celebrate the end of something like Digger is to move dirt around.

And in answer to all the readers who said “But–what happened to THIS character?!” the answer is that they went on and lived their lives as they saw fit, and if they have not since died, they are living there still.

The note says, “You won’t get it up the steps”.*

There comes a time in every artist’s life when she says “Enough of this craft shit! I WANT POWER TOOLS!”

…eh, maybe it’s just me.

The Stoffice corner workspace is awesome, it is sexy, it is fantastic—but it’s too small. Given my tendency to fill any available workspace, pretty much anything would probably be too small, but this was really rather cramped. And there was a gap where I could fit another cabinet.  And I thought about going to Michaels for another white-MDF organizer thing, but then Kevin would have spent five hours trying to insert Tab QQ into Slots F and U, and damnit, I wanted something else…something hardcore.

It is shiiiiny.

The little tags inform me that it will hold up to 2000 lbs. This will undoubtedly be useful if I ever decide to start that anvil collection. And it has lots of drawers and a useful work surface and a power strip on the side, and I am happy, even though it was expensive as hell, because I rather suspect that I will still be hauling this sucker around when all that MDF has crumbled into dust. (And are there any sweeter words in the English language than “business expense”?)

This is also another point in the “Clearly This Is A Long-Term Relationship” column, as there is no possible way I can move this myself, and Kevin about killed himself moving it.  Getting it up the steps very nearly killed us both, and we didn’t dare put the wheels on because if it got away from us on the stairs, it would have smooshed whoever was on the bottom, namely me, into a fine red paste.

This was not the coolest tool organizer, though. It was what I could afford and what I could justify and what I could fit. But there was this OTHER thing…

Built-in stereo. Built-in mini-fridge. iPod hook-up. Speakers. Power strip on each side. It was massive. It was taller than I am. Broad, shallow drawers. Dozens of ’em. It was beautiful. I may have dry-humped it a little. (It was also in the two-thousand-dollar range, so, uh, no. BUT I CAN DREAM!)

I even have the perfect spot for it, I am looking at that spot RIGHT NOW, but the wire rack that holds most of my originals is currently in there, so I have to wait until Kevin’s oldest goes to college or joins the Peace Corps or whatever and we get to turn it into a spare bedroom, and by then I will hopefully be able to justify the expense. Then I will move the rack into the spare room and that monster will be mine.

But until then, this one makes me very happy.

*Uber-geek points to anyone who catches that reference…

Foreign Language Books!

Whew! Lots of interest, lots of worthy causes out there! (From not knowing what to do with them, I am suddenly wishing I had more!) I tried to give one to all the librarians/teachers, and then assigned the rest at random by rolling d100’s…

So! Without further ado…

From Tea with the Squash God, Jude J, you get a Spanish copy!

From LiveJournal (where most of the activity still is!)












If you’re on the list, please e-mail me at ursulav (at) with your address and your online handle, so I can cross you off the list! (Also, a bunch of you offered to pay shipping—not necessary, happy to send them off, but if you really wanted to kick a few bucks to payursula (at) on Paypal, I won’t cry.)


I went out to do some coffee shop writing and came home to find a mailer full of books on the porch. When I slit it open, puzzled–I’m due some ARCs soon, for Ghostbreath, but not anything in hardcover–I laughed out loud.

I am now the proud owner of four or five copies each of the Spanish and Portuguese versions of Dragonbreath and Ninjabreath! It’s awesome to see it in those other editions–I feel like a real writer!

…mind you, I have no earthly USE for multiple copies, so I’m not sure what to do with them. Give them away at random, I guess. So, uh…leave a comment if you want a foreign language versions, and I’ll pick a couple people at random and send you a copy of Dani Bocafuego!

Nearly Ended

My buddy Mur Lafferty and I have a ritual. Every few months or so, one of us calls the other and says gloomily “I finished the book.”

The other one says “Oh, no, I’m so sorry,” and offers to bring cake, gin, or anything else that will soften the blow.

Kevin used to think this was weird. After a few years of living with me, and of seeing Mur do the exact same thing, he may still think it’s weird, but he has adapted to the point where when I announce “So I finished the book,” he takes off from work early so that he can pick up a German Chocolate Cake on the way home. (On one epic occasion, the store was out of German Chocolate Cake, so he baked me one, thus cementing his  position forever in the Boyfriend Hall of Fame.)

Thing is…when the book is done, it is DONE. All the things you thought you’d work in somewhere and didn’t? Not gonna happen now. The book is over. The characters may be going on about their lives, but they are no longer telling you about it. (If they are, then you A) need to write a sequel, or B) need to learn to let go. It is up to you which it is, although I’ll offer the caveat that far more people need to learn to let go than need to write sequels, particularly if your current book is already in excess of six hundred pages.) The book is over. It is as good as it is going to get. Editing can make it tighter, cleaner, crisper, clearer, but it will not carry the book to dizzying new heights.

Or, as my buddy Deb says upon finishing a novel, “Well, ruined another one.” Deb, aka Sabrina Jeffries, hits the bestseller list every time and gets advances with quite an astonishing number of zeros for her “ruined” books, but apparently this does not change the gloom upon finishing one.

I finished the script for Digger today.

I knew how it ended for quite a while, I even knew more-or-less what the final bits of dialogue would look like, I just hadn’t written them down. But now I actually need them, as I wrap the story in the next few pages, so I had to write them down.

The script for Digger is one endless Word doc of minimal punctuation and no dialog tags. (I know who’s talking, and that’s the important bit!) There are fifteen or twenty pages worth of dialog that didn’t actually get into the comic—snippets I wrote long ago and thought would go somewhere, and then it didn’t go like that, or I never got around to it. And today I hit “SAVE” and that’s the end of it–this is as good as it gets, this is the end, there ain’t no more.

And when you’ve been working on something for SO LONG, you are The Person That Works On This Thing, and then when you are no longer doing that, what are you? Finishing a long-term project always results in a kind of feeling of creative unemployment for me. I wander around going “But what do I do with my life now?” (Fortunately something generally fills that gap within hours…)

I don’t feel quite the crushing melancholy of finishing some other stuff—the end of Ninjabreath’s script had me curled on the sofa wondering if crab rangoon and the love of a good man was actually sufficient reason to continue living—but I did feel a definite pang. (The Dragonbreath books have gotten better, because they are both extensively edited and then there’s art and then there’s art edits, so that the “end” is now a kind of stuttering juddering thing, and as soon as I finish one I need to be starting the next, so I don’t get quite so smacked down. The end of the series may require a long vacation, but I don’t know yet.)

There are still a couple more comics to draw. I don’t know how it’s going to work—if I draw the final comic and suddenly burst into tears and drive weeping to the grocery at 5 miles an hour for cake and crab rangoon (thank god for the Chinese restaurant next to Food Lion!) or if I will simply upload it as I have done twice a week for years on end and then the next Monday, when the comic suddenly Does Not Need To Be Drawn…I don’t know.

Fortunately the week after I will (probably) finish Digger, I’m driving to Florida with Kevin for a thingy that will involve Disneyworld for a day or two and perhaps alligators, and that should help immensely.

You’ve finished your webcomic! What are you going to do now? I’M GOING TO DISNEYWORLD!

Could be worse.

ETA: YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN? I finished the blog post, checked my e-mail, and there’s the note saying that the script for Campbreath is pretty much approved, pending a few minor twitches, and now I have to start on the art. Either I live a charmed life or there is no longer such a thing as down-time in my world, take your pick.

Last call!

Pollinator Shrine Auction ends today!

My back still hurts. But one of my pea plants sprouted! Houston, we have germination!

Got a royalty statement. It appears that we have sold in the vicinity of 50,000 copies of Dragonbreath vol. 1! (And someday they may even get me the statement for Ninjabreath…) It was a good check, of the “Woohoo! I can live on this for awhile!” variety, even after I chop a third of it out for taxes.  I get to pay off the credit card (again!) and I may splurge wildly and get…a new wheelbarrow.

Hold me back, I’m a wild woman…

  • Archives

  • I write & illustrate books, garden, take photos, and blather about myriad things. I have very strong feelings about potatoes.

    Latest Release

    Now Available