Announcing, A Ticket to the Pennant

My new book cover! This will be released April 12, 2016.

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Below is a link to a book trailer I had done for my new upcoming picture book with Sasquatch Books, Little Bigfoot imprint along with illustrator John Skewes (of Larry Gets Lost series). This trailer is more for the nostalgic baseball crowd, and I’m happy with how it turned out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQECmQNMU9k

My cousin’s daughter sang the classic soundtrack and a local animator, Devin Ensz of Exploding Tuba Animation, did the animation for me. Thanks all for some fine work. Feel free to pass it on.

I’m proud of this book. It’s been a labor of love.

Brad’s Pen

My nephew built a pen. I have to share because his process was amazing, and yet another example of creative, persistent problem-solving. The short version is he took a brass rod that my late father-in-law used in his garage for various tamping and pounding tasks over the years. Brad bored it out, ordered some things online to help create a bolt-action model he liked. After a lot of steps and hard work there sat a pen.

He made a frickin’ pen.

Yes, I’m impressed. There were mistakes along the way so he had to change course many times, but I loved his persistence. If you want the longer more technical version see below. I’ll let him tell the story, because… well, I don’t understand most of it.

I might add here that Brad the nephew is a former third grader of mine. That’s another story… Sometimes a teacher’s job is to step aside and let the student shine, so I’ll do that now. Again, mostly because this is way beyond my capabilities. My “pen” would likely be a piece of charcoal from the fire pit scrawled onto an uneven rocky wall.

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His final product is on the left. The one he modeled it after is on the right.

THE PROCESS

by Brad

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Here is the main body of the pen, its two brass end caps and the aluminum clip. The body required seven operations to make. In order they are cutting to length with a hack saw, drilling the U (part of the A-Z series of American standard drill sizes) through hole in the 1/2” bar stock, tapping the writing end with a 7/16-UNC14 tap, drilling the reverse end to 25/64” to slightly widen it, tapping the wider hole with a 7/16-UNF 20 tap, pre drilling the slot with a 1/8” drill, and finally cutting the slot with a 1/8” tungsten carbide end mill. After that it’s all sanding and polishing to whatever finish you are going for. (I went with a polished finish using brasso as the final buffing compound)

Notes: UNC and UNF stand for unified national coarse or fine respectively. The threads are similar in diameter but have different threads per inch making them incompatible. I did this so that you can’t assemble the pen backwards. The tip only fits on the front.
The slot had to be pre drilled because even though the end mill is center cutting and could drill strait into the brass, it doesn’t like to. End mills work better when cutting on their sides not their front.

The rear cap is pretty simple and only took four steps. Cut to length as before, reducing the diameter of the threaded section with a carbide bit, tapping the threads with a 7/16-UNF 20 die to match the body, and cutting away the bad threads with the carbide bit.

Notes: Taps and dies both work by incrementally cutting threads. This means they are tapered so that every time you go around, they cut the threads a little bit deeper. When trying to put outside threads on a rod with a wider head on one end like the end cap (and the pen tip for that matter) the die can only cut so far before it runs into the larger diameter. At this point, the threads near the back of the die are well cut but those right at the front are barely started. These shallow threads cannot mate with the deeply cut threads at the rim of the body of the pen. If you try to screw on the back cap as is, the threads will bind up when the cap is a quarter inch or so away from being fully on. To fix this problem, you have to cut away the bad threads on the cap or drill out some of the threads on the body. I chose to remove those on the cap because it makes for a nicer looking setup. The washer then made up for the reduced diameter so the clip still fit.

The clip is also a simple part and one that has more to do with style and personal taste than anything else. You could make this part with a wide range of hand or powered tools but I chose to use my end mill again because it removes material wonderfully fast. To make this part, I drilled the hole for the end cap, drew out the spoon shape I wanted in pen and sculpted out the shape with the end mill. Then it was off to the usual battery of files and sanding to get the finish right.

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Note: To make sure that the outer edge of the ring lined up with the body of the pen and end cap, I waited until the three pieces were assembled to file the clip flush.
After I got the finish the way I wanted, I put my personal mark on the clip by brushing a circle on the front with the tip of the end mill.

The tip of the pen is the most complicated piece of the entire pen. This is because the geometry is so complex for its size. The entire thing took nine steps. First, cut to length, then turn one end to a diameter so it can be tapped, then pre cut the new surface to remove the area where bad threads will for as before, flip the part around and cut the angled front to 18.5 degrees (with respect to the parts turning axis) with the same carbide bit as before, refine the surface and ensure flatness with a file, mark the center of the front with a drill bit and drill the small diameter for the tip of the ink cartridge, flip around and drill the larger diameter to allow for the thicker part of the ink cartridge and the spring, finally, tap the threads . All in all this took me three separate attempts and almost a week’s worth of work.

The bold isn’t in this picture but I think you have one with it too. This was also a pretty simple piece. All I had to do was grind the stem to the right diameter, grind a ruff ball shape, and refine the ball with a file. Simple and quick.

The inner rod is the final piece and I haven’t made it yet. I had to buy a shank of M2 high speed tool steel because it was the only material in the right diameter. Consequently, it is harder than hell and nicer steel than my drill bits. I have to wait for two tungsten carbide twist drills come in the mail to finish that part.

That covers all the pieces of the pen!

THE TOOLS

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This picture shows my digital calipers. These are essential for any metalwork that requires precise geometry. Metal is a lot less forgiving than wood so a normal ruler is usually not good enough. Most any caliper will be good enough for this project but nicer is always better. This isn’t a top of the line tool but it’s a good one.

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This is my set of taps and dies for cutting threads. It’s a relatively cheap ($80) set of Taiwanese tools but so is the way of buying taps. Get a cheap set to start off with and replace the ones that break with good USA tools.

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Here are the three attempts I made at the pen tip. Note that this does not show a progression of steps. The first piece was drilled off center, turned poorly and tapped with the wrong threads. The second was also poorly drilled and used flawed methodology to cut the angle. The third I got just right and it ended up exactly as I would have hoped.

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This is a set of tungsten carbide bits for turning parts. (Turning is when you spin the part and use a tool to reduce its diameter. This is opposed to facing in which you turn a part and use a tool to reduce its length.) These bits are fancier than most, maybe even gimmicky, but I thought I would give them a try having only ever used standard carbide bits. They seem to work fine and the rotating /replaceable cutting surfaces are a plus.

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This is me with the old drill press. Drill presses are pretty crude for this kind of work. To do this project properly you would need a lathe, mill and vertical turntable to cut the slot and shape the parts. However, for the poor home gamer that’s just trying to get by, a drill press can hack its way through the process. Here’s why drill presses are not precision machining tools:

Drill presses are great if you use them for what they are designed for- drilling vertical holes. They are not so good at cutting with end mills or turning parts like a lathe because of how they are set up. First, drill presses generally use chucks. These are three (sometimes four) jawed contraptions that grip the tool and or the part. Chucks are versatile and quick to use but lack precision in centering. Good cutting tools are usually held with a collet. A collet is a tool with a hole cut through it the exact size of the shaft of the bit. When the collet is put in the collet chuck, it tightens down on the bit and holds it very tight and very strait. Yes lathes use chucks too but not the dinky drill kind. Think four inches in diameter and two inches thick. Much more carful machining and centering with those.

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Second, drill presses are not designed to take axial loads. They are great in the up and down axis but are terrible in the side to side. This can cause chatter when cutting laterally as the whole quill rattles around.

For all this, I still use my drill press for everything. The point is to get to know the tool, its limitations and your own. Don’t expect a $200 misused drill press to crank out parts like a $150,000 Haas CNC. Take pride in the apprentice marks and irregularities!

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Above is the bench grinder. This little ripper can tear off material like no other tool in the shop. It sucks at most things because of its limited uses but when a job suits its style, it can cut hours off an operation. Avoid ever using aluminum on it. That sticky mettle will clog up your grinding wheels.

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These are my two tungsten carbide end mills. I use them for cutting just about everything. Carbide is so hard that it is pretty hard to mess it up. It will chip if you impact it too hard but other than that you can cut everything from plastic to steel without dulling the bits much. I got a couple of nice USA end mills off the old amazon and they have never done me wrong. Even without a mill (the tool they are meant for).

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Me again.

Brad’s journey building a pen. The final product is below.

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Announcing “Gather Here” – NW History for Kids

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A few months ago I attended a regional meeting of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). A panel of local librarians sat up front and talked about their passions – mainly books. What they loved, what they pined for and what they thought was missing. What was missing–and I’ve heard this from many librarians and teachers the past few years–is more local history for kids. Part of why I self-published The Pig War was because of the surprising vacuum of regional history for elementary age kids. Local stores and libraries opened their doors to the idea. (That, plus the fact that I didn’t really know how plot worked and that “war” was intriguing history and I thought it might work as a framework) That SCBWI panel got me to thinking once again. But what large publishing house would publish regional history?

I posted that question on the SCBWI website soon after the meeting and a small press owner, Valerie Stein, wrote back. She happened to be a former teacher/librarian interested in putting out more local history for kids with the small press, Homeostasis. Gather Here is the result of our conversations. Please check it out:

https://gather-here-history.squarespace.com

The ideas and mission are all there on the site, but in short it’s a hub for NW regional history. A place to gather teachers and librarians to find out what they need; gather writers who might be interested in writing content; and gather money in order to pay the writers and creators.

It’s a work in progress and we have a lot of room to grow. If you have any ideas on grants or museums with funding to help, please let us know through the contact section of the website.

Thanks. And please spread the word.

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Sonoma Stompers & John Cage

There was a recent spot on the radio about independent baseball league owners that allowed some baseball writers to run the local team. One of the writers-turned-management was working on a book entitled,

“The Only Rule is That it Has to Work.”

It struck me as a fine phrase for the arts in general. Everyone says you need to find those elusive cliche’-breaker ideas. Then once you dig those ideas up, you have to make up rules that make it make sense in and of itself.

When I googled the phrase to see if I could find the copy of the book, the below Brainpickings post on

10 Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life by John Cage and Sister Corita Kent

came up. (Maria Popova creates amazing, inspiring posts and I support her whenever I think to). I used to read John Cage’s writing after undergrad. I loved his complex ideas, which he skillfully put so simply, about learning and the mysteries of life. Here are the rules, but Popova’s entire post is worth a read:

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Work

Some fun things are happening in regard to my upcoming picture book. PR has been fun to think about–all the ways I can help promote it out into the world. I found a local barista acquaintance who does great animation so we’re drumming up a book trailer. He has some great ideas. Plus, at a recent family funeral (many of those lately, unfortunately) I heard my cousin’s daughter sing and knew I needed to recruit her for the soundtrack. It’s feels good to have action after a long wait.

I’m shuffling my feet a little deciding whether to query more on my completed novel (“completed,” always a loaded word), or to work on my new effort. It likely has to do with the structureless summer. But we had a great family road trip and I’ve been having a lot of fun with my kids, so I consider that a more worthy goal at the moment. Plus, I’m shifting some world-building ideas around in my subconscious while I do these activities, which I’ve learned is another important part of the process.

On the note of process I recently read a great essay by Joshua Mohr on the Powells website. I haven’t read any of his novels yet, but I will remedy that shortly. In my favorite section, he nails this thought on drafts and revision. The entire essay is worth a read in regard to any creative pursuit.

It’s never perfect, of course, but this is the way we must think about it, with an impassioned, dedicated, maybe delusional eye, seeing merit in the work way before there’s any on the page. We have to be our own advocate, not just writing when we feel inspired, when the muse drunk-dials us and spills the good stuff. No, we need to put our butts in the chair consistently. No one is responsible for helping us find the time to write. No one will ever value our art like we do. It’s our art; it’s our onus. Brew more coffee. Kiss the kids. Get back to work.

And be ready to be a bit confused by the revision process.

And be okay with that confusion.

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http://www.powells.com/blog/original-essays/your-imagination-your-fingerprint-by-joshua-mohr/?utm_source=powellsbooks.news&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pbnews_20150722&utm_content=YourImaginationYourFingerprint#sthash.4TlK9UfE.dpuf

Repeating

I’ve decided a life dedicated to a creative pursuit is like a repeating decimal. I don’t know how to make it look like a proper equation, so I’ll improvise. Plus, I’m on vacation with my most excellent family so this post should be brief to reflect and respect that:

First Step:         Inspiration (I)

Second Step:     Excitement (E)

Third Step:        Work (W)

Fourth Step:     Heartbreak (H) (from “bump-in-road” to “soul-crushing”)

                             Repeat

Or to write it like a decimal:              ART.IEWHIEWHIEWH…  

(I know the repeat line goes above the final two digits, but I can’t replicate it on the keyboard, which kind of demonstrates my point. Will likely revisit this concept in order to perfect it, which demonstrates further still.)

Chuck Jones – Worthwhile Endeavors

While entertaining my mother-in-law for the day, we visited the new Chuck Jones exhibit at the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle. I have been a fan since I started to pay attention to who directed Looney Tune cartoons.  Though I haven’t read much about him I’ve always been drawn to his work, and this quote says a lot:

“All worthwhile endeavors are 90% effort and 10% love and only the love should show.”

– Chuck Jones

I’ve already changed the subheading of this blog as the quote fits me better than Hemingway ever did. At the museum there are many displays and videos showing how revered he is within the Pixar community, including John Lasseter, their executive director. If there is any storytelling team that seems more hard-working and dedicated to the craft than the Pixar team, I don’t know who they are (granted, I know next to nothing). Pixar is another topic I’d like to spend time with during this creative time I’ve been blessed with. I also need to visit more Chuck Jones.

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Here’s a clip from a favorite cartoon that a good friend and I had almost memorized. In the old days we would make waffles and watch endless Looney Tunes. Enjoy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLdKU4JCYqg