February 27, 2007

Chasing Justice

Kerry & friend
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
My friend Kerry Max Cook's book, Chasing Justice: My Story of Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row for a Crime I Didn't Commit, hit the stores today. I'm listening to him on NPR's Diane Rehm Show right now. He's doing a great job, but then, his story is compelling, almost unbearably so. He's my friend; we hang out and take our kids to movies together, and yet when I look at him and watch him move through the world, I still can't grasp that he survived this experience and came through the other side.

Here's how HarperCollins describes his story:

Wrongfully convicted of killing a young woman in Texas, Cook was sentenced to death in 1978 and served two decades on death row, in a prison system so notoriously brutal and violent that in 1980 a federal court ruled that serving time in Texas's jails was "cruel and unusual punishment." As scores of men around him were executed, Cook relentlessly battled a legal system that wanted him dead; meanwhile he fought daily to survive amid unspeakable conditions and routine assaults. When an advocate and a crusading lawyer joined his struggle in the 1990s, a series of retrials was forced. At last, in November 1996, Texas's highest appeals court threw out Cook's conviction, citing overwhelming evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct.

And finally in the spring of 1999 long-overlooked DNA evidence was tested and it linked another man to the rape and murder for which Cook had been convicted. Today, Cook is a free man and the proud father of a young son.

Kerry Max Cook was convicted on the basis of some very dubious testimony by one witness (who described a person with an entirely different appearance) and a fellow prisoner who claimed that Kerry confessed the crime to him, despite the fact that Kerry was held in solitary confinement at the time. The evidence against Kerry consisted of a fingerprint on the victim's patio door. An "expert" for the prosecution testified that the fingerprint had been left during the time frame of the murder. Such a time-sensitive determination on a fingerprint is scientifically impossible; they might as well have consulted a psychic.

The Kerry Max Cook that I know seems so far away from that life. He's a warm father and playful husband with a quick sense of humor a wildly optimistic nature. He talks openly about his terrible story, but his eye is on the future.

In a few days, I'll be flying to Los Angeles to join Kerry for a big celebrity book party being thrown for him. I'll be there as his photographer, and as his friend. I hope his book does well, but more than that, I hope Kerry gets the life he deserves.

God knows, if anyone has paid in advance for happiness, it's Kerry Max Cook.

February 25, 2007

Boring but brief

Two quick operational notes:

1) Apple's iWeb application makes pretty websites, by golly, so I've been using it for my other nonbloggerly pages. The problem is that it's not easily customizable, and if you're not hosting your site on Apple's servers, things like blog comments don't work without third party (or possible divine) intervention.

Well, I found a way to do it, I think, using my old HaloScan comment account from my journal. So far it doesn't seem to function consistently, however, and it formats weirdly. I'm still trying to tweak it. Still, it appears to be working, kind of sort of maybe perhaps, so if there's anything that you ever wanted to comment on or abuse me for over at the book blog, now's your chance.

(Someone also told me that the "comments" link doesn't actually look like a link. Perhaps I am going to have to break up with iWeb soon.)

2) In the next week or so, the name and URL of this blog will be changing, in part for boring legal reasons and also to bring it into parallel with the book site. The content and feel won't change (not sure if that's good news or just... news), so not a huge deal. Once it changes, this URL should still take you here, so I won't just disappear. Just a little heads up.

February 23, 2007


Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
A few weeks ago, we took Schuyler to the Dallas Museum of Art. She had a good time looking at all the smartifying stuff, I'm happy to say, but honestly, it was when we ended up in the gift shop that we really started having fun. Schuyler, because she's seven, and me because, well, because I'm me.

They had puppets, and she fell in love. Which is how we ended up with a monster. Schuyler's new monster.

We call him Martin.

There's something I've wanted to try with Schuyler for a while, an idea I had during a box class parents' meeting a few months ago. Schuyler's condition hasn't affected her in some of the more serious ways that other kids suffer from, like seizures and serious dysphagia. (When I say "suffer", I'm not kidding; the polymicrogyria group I belong to is a regular source of truly sad stories.)

But when it comes to her speech, she's been hit hard. She is completely nonverbal, with almost no consonants at all. The thing is, however, that she's got all the vowels and she's got perfect inflection. She's trying, so hard that it will break your heart, and furthermore she hears the words and sounds that she's trying to make. If you hand her something, her "thank you" sounds so convincing that unless you're paying close attention, you don't realize that she actually said "Ain oo".

Ironically, it's those inflections and sincere attempts at speech that can sometimes stand in her way of moving forward on the Big Box of Words. Not at school, I don't think. In her class, all the cool kids talk like cyborgs, so she's excited to do the same.

(That's unless she's feeling like a punk, as she was yesterday, although that may very well be because her box class teacher has been out this week. Apparently harassing substitutes teachers is a genetic trait, because I was a dick to every sub I ever had. One more item on the list of crimes that the devil will be reading off when I die, although honestly, I'm sure it would be on like page thirty.)

When she's at home with Julie and me, however, Schuyler gets lazy with her device, for the simple reason that we can understand a lot of what she says. She's a smart kid; she knows this, even when we pretend otherwise. When she's with us, she doesn't like to use her device.

Thus my idea for the puppet. I just didn't expect it to work so well.

She won't always use the box for us. But it turns out that for Martin? She'll do anything. Last night we studied for a spelling test that she has today, but it wasn't until Martin started asking her how to spell the words on her list that she became enthusiastic about it.

Schuyler's a complicated person, and always has been. She knows that Martin's just a puppet, and that her father is the one manipulating him, just like she used to understand that when I said "Don't eat that!", the goal was to get her to, well, eat that.

Like her father, Schuyler's defining characteristic is that she does not like being told what to do. Monster or not, she negotiates her own terms with the world.

February 21, 2007

Grey Anatomy

Oh, good lord...
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I was making some minor but detailed changes to a photograph today, the one I'm using for my promotional headshots for the time being, and in doing so, I had to blow it up to actual pixel size. And that's when I saw it.

I'm going grey, by golly.

It's in its early stages, and I'll certainly take that over balding, only because I'm pretty sure my bald head would be all lumpy and fat-rolly. Not a bad look for a pro wrestler or a bouncer, but not really the vibe that I'm shooting for.

The thing that concerns me is that it's happening quickly, like in a matter of a few short months. It's like my body's getting ready for my next birthday. You know the one. Thirty-ten.

In case you're wondering, the answer is no, I haven't gotten my edited manuscript back from St. Martin's yet. I assume they had to order more red Sharpies.

February 16, 2007

Armchair Apocrypha

Speaking of music I like, NPR is featuring Andrew Bird on their website. Specifically, they're focusing on a song from his new album, Armchair Apocrypha.

Let's take a hypothetical scenario for a moment. Suppose a hypothetical but extremely cool reader sent me a hypothetical copy of the new album, due out in a month or so. What would my hypothetical opinion be?

I'd say it was awesome, with a move away from the acoustic sound of his most recent stuff but once again totally unique.

You know. Hypothetically.

(Edited to make it clear that I have (hypothetically) already been sent the cd. This wasn't an attempt to weasel free stuff out of anyone. Don't worry, you'll know when I'm mooching.)


The flu sucks.
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
Well, my weekend plans have changed slightly.

She seemed absolutely fine when she got on the bus, but about an hour later, we got the call. Schuyler is suffering from either the flu or demonic possession.

It sucks when any kid is sick, but with Schuyler, it's extra heartbreaking because she can't really tell us very much about how she feels. The Big Box of Words helps to some extent, but it requires a certain amount of concentration and clarity that might just be somewhat lacking at the moment when your stomach is threatening to go all Vesuvius on you. Sometimes there's not much of a high-tech alternative to yelling "Gotta puke!"

We were practicing just now.

"So if you feel like you're going to throw up, here's a trash can," I told her as she lay on the couch. "Be sure to move Jasper out of the way first." (I swear, he looked worried.)

She nodded her head.

"Okay, so you need to let me know if you feel like you're going to be sick. What are you going to say if you feel like you're going to throw up?"

She opened her mouth and howled at me. "Aaahh!"

That'll do.

Cover story

(Originally posted at SCHUYLER'S MONSTER.)

When Wired writer and first-time novelist James Bernard Frost didn't care for the cover art for his novel World Leader Pretend, he hired artist Dave Warnke to design a funky new cover sticker to replace the one on the trade paperback.

The publisher in question is St. Martin's Press, the same people putting out Schuyler’s Monster. Well, of course it is.

The truth is, however, that I'm not concerned. For one thing, I think a cover design for my book is going to be pretty straightforward and simple. The title is short and striking, if I may be so snotty, and if there's one thing I think we can all agree on, it's that I've taken a few photographs of Schuyler. Finding one that works for a book cover shouldn't be a difficult task.

For another thing, when I went and read the story, I got the impression that while St. Martin’s Press didn't give the author what he wanted, they did at least make a good faith effort to change the elements that he objected to. He even admits that the whole story has been blown out of proportion.

No, what fascinated me about the story isn't some fear that St. Martin's is going to put a picture of an alligator or a killer robot on my cover. I'm more interested in the fact that if not for the GalleyCat article, I don't know that I would have ever heard of Frost's book or made it to his blog. It looks like I'm not the only one noticing because of this story, either.

Not every successful publicity opportunity comes from a marketing plan. I wonder how St. Martin's will react to this.

February 14, 2007


Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
I know I've been quiet lately. I suspect that's not going to change any time soon.

Want to know what I listen to when I feel quiet? I found a short excerpt of one of my favorites.

Old & Lost Rivers, by Tobias Picker

I'm listening to it now. It's funny how the loudest noises in the head can be drowned out by something as quiet and ethereal as this.

I hope everyone's having a nice Valentine's Day.

February 12, 2007

The Twitchy Time

I drew a bee, upon Schuyler's instructions. I believe that it is a very fine bee, and I don't particularly feel like putting my own face in front of a camera any time soon, so here you go. My mad skillz on display.

It is the twitchy time for me right now, which everyone told me would happen in the interim between turning in my manuscript and getting it back for edits and rewrites. I've also been told to enjoy the feeling that my book is actually, you know, mine, because soon I'll be fighting to hold onto some tiny measure of control over everything from the final content to the cover art to how it's described in the catalogue. I'm not too worried, if only because 1) I've heard good things about St. Martin's Press and how they treat their authors, and 2) there's not much I can do about it now anyway. Everything will happen in its own time and its own way.

Which is to say that yes, I am a big box of worry.

I may have some trips coming up to distract me from my empty mailbox. It looks like I am probably going to be going to Los Angeles next month for a few days, not for anything book-related but to do some photography work (and general entourage duty) for a friend who's got a big event going on, complete with real live celebrities, by golly. I'm looking forward to it; I've never been to California before, and it'll be a nice change, from self-promoting author to friend-promoting paparazzi. I am going to spend the next three weeks engaged in a strict regimen of deyokelization.

I may also be going to Austin this weekend to hang with some old friends from my former life at the bookstore, too. Nothing fancy about that one, though. Just a wacky themed party ("junior high talent show!") and an opportunity to be either embarrassing or amusing.

Or both, really. I have some ideas.

So yeah. Twitchy. Twitch twitch twitch twitch.

February 4, 2007

As good as a paternity test, revisited

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob.
(At lunch, Dallas Museum of Art cafe)

Julie: (Splitting a pepperoni and mushroom pizza with Schuyler) Go on, try the mushroom, Schuyler. It's good.

Me: Bleagh.

Julie: Don't listen to your father. Mushrooms are tasty.

Me: Don't do it, Schuyler. They taste like feet!

(Schuyler eats the mushroom.)

Me: See? It tastes like feet, doesn't it?

Schuyler: Nooooo...

Julie: Ha!

(Schuyler laughs, then leans over in her chair and points to her ass.)