Weird Little Crooked Bookcase

Now that the galleys of Fellow Mortals have arrived and I’m holding real-live copies of a novel I wrote, I wanted to thank my editor, Emily Bell, who believed in me and my book and made this possible. A number of months ago, I came across a private-commission bookcase I thought was great (you can see the original here). It’s crooked and looks like a drawer sinking into the floor or tabletop, with the illusion that the bottom books are also sinking into the surface. I thought a small version of such would make a terrific, personal thank-you gift.

I had some pieces of old maple from my wife’s aunts, who’d been using the wood as storage shelves but didn’t need it anymore. Cutting angles is always tricky for me since I don’t plan ahead but rather wing it. This typically leads to stupid mistakes and wasted wood, but I get the job done eventually.

I began by measuring a standard hardcover book to determine the proper depth and width of the bookcase, and then I cut the bottom and top to size and started on the sides. I went with a 15-degree cut, a more conservative angle than what was used in the private commission, because I worried the case would tip if the angles were too severe. After some trial and error on the height of the bookcase’s sides, I liked what I had and used wood-glue and nails to put it together.

Next I cut a border around the base. This was slightly higher than the bottom piece of wood, and it adds to the illusion of the sinking books since you can no longer see the base directly; it just looks like a square hole surrounded by trim. I added a plywood back, and that’s where I made the most mistakes cutting because it was such an unusual shape, and I wasn’t paying attention when I measured, and it was a classic case of Dennis at Work. But then I got it right and proceeded to the final step: trick books.

I didn’t want to destroy actual books, because I like books, and my editor and her publishing house would view it as sacrilege, and using real books was needless anyway. I cut some scrap wood into the wedge shapes I needed and glued a pair of old dust jackets around them. Then I nailed the wedges together and secured them to the base of the bookcase.

In the final photo, the bottom two books are false and the others are real. My editor can use whatever books she likes and the whole thing is small enough to fit on a table or desk. I’m mailing it to her today.

Crooked Bookcase

Replacing a Rotten Section of Deck

A few weeks ago we tore down our dilapidating mudroom and were left with a mud-room shaped section of rotten flooring in the deck. Plus that section of the deck was an inch higher than the rest, so in order to fix the flooring, the underlying joists had to be replaced in the proper position. After the usual advice from my expert friend Kurt, who’s always happy to appear as my Free Handyman I Take Advantage Of and Try to Help in Return Even Though I Still Generally Feel Guilty for Calling the Guy So Often for Assistance, I decided to attempt the repair solo.

After buying the pressure-treated two-by-eights for the joists and one-by-sixes for the floorboards and driving the lumber home in a rented Home Depot truck that smelled of urine, I stacked it all in the yard and tore up the bad existing boards. Underneath I found a sizable groundhog hole, now abandoned, which was probably the home of the groundhog that’s harried my pumpkin patch in previous years. I also found a couple of peanut butter jars, too new to predate the deck, that were likely dragged there by the groundhog so he could make sandwiches when he wasn’t eating pumpkin.

Also found were a number of cruddy old balls of various colors and sizes, broken glass, rusty bottle caps, and a small drinking glass. You can picture the previous owners having a wild drunken catch as they were building that section of the deck many years ago. Or maybe it was all the fun-loving groundhog.

The next step was cutting and laying the four-side border of the new section of deck. It had to be perfectly level with the surrounding good part of the deck, so the original plan was to build a nice level structure elsewhere in the yard, carry it over, and nail it into place. That way I wouldn’t have to level things up on the fly, but long two-by-sixes are so heavy, especially when you’ve nailed a bunch of them together, that I’d have needed a few additional people to help me move and attach the structure and so I decided to wing it and attach the boards one at a time, keeping everything in line with a level and crossed fingers.

Which worked eerily well. Next I cut the individual joists and nailed them in using a borrowed construction-size nail gun (I have an air compressor of my own but only guns for little trim nails) and proceeded to the floorboards.

I had to replace a few random boards around the deck due to cracks or warps, and I needed to remove some additional boards and reposition them so they were better staggered, for stability and appearance, when I added the new boards. I cut them each to size and nailed them down. There was only one that ended up being a quarter-inch too wide for its allotted place, so I took it downstairs and shaved an edge on my table saw. Sometimes the boards were so tightly fit that I needed to jump on them to cram them into place, but by and large it was all surprisingly easy. I finished it up and here it is:

 

The next step is to add a piece of trim to cover that spot beneath the door where the now-lower section of deck has left some of the wall exposed. Then I need to lightly sand the entire deck and paint it. I also need to install a storm door and figure out an awning solution, but after that it’s done.

P.S. I continue to see the occasional carpenter ants, left homeless after the mudroom’s destruction, scurrying about in the hope that some part of the deck isn’t solid new pressure-treated lumber. I taunt them.

Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Matthew Dicks

Twenty questions for authors, none about writing. Some questions are not in the form of a question. (Previous Q&As may be found HERE.)

This week we have MATTHEW DICKS, author of the novel Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, released today, as well as Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo. (See below for purchase links.)

1. Rename yourself.

MD: First name Steel. Same last name. I’ve been trying to get people to use this name for years. I’ve also used David Lincoln Stock and Gunner (no last name) as aliases at times when I was younger and meeting girls in faraway places.

2. Satan hoofs up and says two words to you. What are they?

MD: Dead again?

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

MD: Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams. [Youtube]

4. What is the worst injury you’ve ever sustained?

MD: A tie. Death following a bee sting and death following a car accident. Thankfully, neither time stuck.

5. Form a supergroup using any four musicians, living or dead, that would be thoroughly awesome to experience, for better or worse.

MD: I would just bring The Beatles back together and strand all their wives and girlfriends on a desert island until they cut a few more albums.

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

MD: A baseball player. We were jumped by a group of kids and the aluminum bat came in very handy.

7. Tell us something you built.

MD: My desk. I was not able to purchase the floor model at Ikea so I had built it myself. My friend claims that I merely assembled it, but I used tools, therefore, I built.

8. If you could safely have one non-domesticated animal as a lifelong companion, what would it be? (Fantasy creatures are allowed.)

MD: I’ll stretch the rules a bit and say a Decepticon from The Transformers. One of the flying ones. I’d like to be able to get into New York City quickly, and although there are a number of fantasy creatures that fly, they’re all too slow and would not fare well in the cold and rain.

9. What do you like to grow?

MD: A third arm. Still working on it.

10. Name a thing you love that nobody else you personally know also loves.

MD: Tackle football.

11. How would you like those eggs?

MD: Over-medium if I have toast. Scrambled if not.

12. What’s the worst thing about your favorite holiday?

MD: The Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions are on television every year.

13. You’ve just been turned into a lousy superhero. Who are you, and who is your nemesis?

MD: Minimalist Man. I seek to eliminate unnecessary clutter from the world. My wife is my nemesis.

14. Name a thought that has profoundly scared you in the night.

MD: Death. Short and simple. I will die someday. Nothing scarier than that.

15. You’re stinking rich. What’s the first thing you add to your home?

MD: A bulldozer.

16. What are you up to this weekend?

MD: Reading. Writing. Golf. Meeting with my book club. Playing with the kids.

17. Which color makes you feel the most comfortable? The most anxious?

MD: Black makes me feel the most comfortable. White makes me the most anxious. I’m a messy eater.

18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

MD: I was once paid $50 to strip down to a thong (provided by the host) for a bachelorette party being held in the crew room of a McDonald’s restaurant. Then I was paid to do the same thing again three months later (same thong).

19. I mean honestly: aren’t you better off living without ___?

MD: Name brand labels plastered all over your clothing.

20. James Cameron discovers something new at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. What do you hope it is?

MD: One of those automatic food machines from The Jetsons.

Matthew Dicks is a writer and award–winning elementary school teacher. His articles have been published in the Hartford Courant, and he has been a featured author at the Books on the Nightstand retreat. He is a Moth storyteller and two-time StorySLAM champion. He is the author of the novel Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend and two previous novels, Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo. Dicks lives in Newington, Connecticut, with his wife, Elysha, and their daughter Clara and son Charlie.

Previous Q&As may be found HERE.

Matthew Dicks’ Official Site

Buy his books:

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Unexpectedly, Milo

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Something Missing

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Cheap, Efficient Air Purifier

I’ve been cleaning up the basement workshop with its dust and mold and residue of lightly crumbling wall and the place is musty, enough that on humid days the odor begins pervading the upstairs rooms.

My parents gave us a dehumidifer they didn’t need and that works great. There’s a noticeable difference in air quality after it’s been running for a day.

But the basement’s still dusty, especially when I’m cutting wood or moving things around. I’m not down there enough to justify a pro-grade air filtration system like you see in serious workshops, but I definitely needed something. Shop-Vac makes an attractive portable purifier, but it’s basically a tube-shaped fan with a filter in the middle and it costs $130.

I found a cheaper solution on a message board a while back (can’t remember where, I’m sorry to say) and this morning I went for it. You take a $20 box fan — something without a motor on the back — and rest a $10 fine-particle furnace filter behind it. Make sure you place the filter in the correct direction; the airflow should enter through the open cottony side, not the side with the wire-mesh or cardboard support. Wha-la, instant air purifier.

The stronger the fan, the better it works, but even with my basic box fan, it’s pulling plenty of air, and because of the suction, you don’t even have to tape the filter to the fan. It just sticks. This is why you can’t have a motor on the back, by the way; it would not only prevent a flush fit, it could potentially heat against the filter and become a fire hazard, especially if you’re using a high-velocity fan.

This isn’t meant to replace a regular Shop-Vac hooked directly to a table saw, however. That kind of dust needs to be captured directly, but it ought to work to catch the motes and spores and freshen things up. Even if you have to buy a new fan, the whole deal is $30, and you can replace the filter as often as needed.

How to Make a Dog Throw Up

BonesIn a split-second this morning, our dog Bones smelled our son’s antihistamine on the dining room table and thought, “Hm, grapey treat.” He managed to lift the tiny plastic cup off the table without a spill. I strolled out and there he was, having knocked the medicine over and begun to lick the strange, sugary liquid off the carpet. After some frantic no-no-no! style hullabaloo he backed away, looking throughly embarrassed, and our son started crying because he thought Bones was poisoned. My wife calmed him (our son) down and I called the emergency vet.

Bones had consumed maybe a third of the 1-tablespoon dose. This is children’s medicine that is sometimes given to dogs his size for allergy-control, but we had to play it safe. The vet recommended hydrogen peroxide, which surprised me. It’s apparently a common recommendation, one I didn’t know because we’ve never had a dog before. We were instructed to pour three tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide into his mouth and walk him briskly on a leash. After getting most of the hydrogen peroxide into his stomach, we jogged around the yard. He looked, well… like someone who’d just been force-fed a big mouthful of hydrogen peroxide. And in less than sixty seconds, the treatment worked its magic.

He vomited. And vomited. And vomited and vomited. A threw up the first half of breakfast, then the second half of breakfast, then a little more, and a little more, and a little more, and then he decided to poop, and then he threw up a little more. Ten minutes later, he was 100% emptied out and trotting around in very high spirits, though still with an expression like, “What was that all about?”

We’re waiting an hour before we give him a replacement breakfast.

Moral of the story: small cups of medicine are not to be left for even the briefest amount of time, and hydrogen peroxide is one heck of an emetic.

Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Shane Jones

Twenty questions for authors, none about writing. Some questions are not in the form of a question. (Previous Q&As may be found HERE.)

This week we have SHANE JONES, author of Daniel Fights a Hurricane, released this week, and Light Boxes. (See below for purchase links, along with a Daniel Fights a Hurricane book trailer.)

1. Rename yourself.

SJ: Jocular Ford.

2. Satan hoofs up and says two words to you. What are they?

SJ: Not sure.

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

SJ: The only thing I think of when I read this question is that song that goes “summer summer summer time, summer time…” which is Will Smith maybe?  [Youtube]

4. What is the worst injury you’ve ever sustained?

SJ: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve never had stitches or broken any bones. When I was a teenager I remember crashing my mountain bike into a tree. I can still see the moment where the right handlebar hit the tree, and I can still feel the fear when I flew over the handlebars and landed on my back. Wind-knocked out of me, I remember lying on the dirt path trying to breathe in the middle of the woods.

5. Form a supergroup using any four musicians, living or dead, that would be thoroughly awesome to experience, for better or worse.

SJ: Oh, wow. I’d like four identical versions of David Byrne at different ages on the same stage. Like David Byrne age 15, age 35, age 45, and age 60. I’d like to see them looking at each other and interacting with each other. This may or may not be a music video already.

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

SJ: Robo-Cop when I was a little kid. My father and mother spent weeks on it. The legs and arms were these plastic pipes spray painted silver and like molded around my arms and legs. The mask was really expensive. The gun was from my laser tag set.

7. Tell us something you built.

SJ: Tree fort when I was maybe twelve years old. It’s a sentimental and sappy story I’ll probably tell kids when I’m nuts and super old, but the entire neighborhood kind of came together to build this really elaborate tree fort in my backyard. There were different levels and balconies and something called a “Yo board” which was a board that bounced up and down and was painted with the word Yo in dull orange. Eventually it got so out of control that a neighbor, a man who looked like a giant bird and who loved to use a leaf-blower while shirtless, complained and we had to tear it down. Building it was really fun, but breaking it apart was amazing.

Daniel Fights a Hurricane8. If you could safely have one non-domesticated animal as a lifelong companion, what would it be? (Fantasy creatures are allowed.)

SJ: I first thought sloth. But they are a bit creepy. Can you imagine waking up and a sloth is slowly crawling across you? I don’t know. Probably just a huge fucking pig that fills an entire bedroom.

9. What do you like to grow?

SJ: Crack cocaine motherfucker!

10. Name a thing you love that nobody else you personally know also loves.

SJ: That’s a really good question. I’m thinking hard about it. I guess I love my personal mind/dream/space where I go and think up ideas. Who else would love that? It’s egotistical and selfish and doesn’t make any money. But I love it. I love sitting and thinking and going deeper and deeper into my mind, digging around for ideas. I don’t know anyone who loves that.

11. How would you like those eggs?

SJ: I usually say scrambled. But scrambled can get boring. Maybe over-easy. A nice pair of over-easy eggs. That sounds really nice.

12. What’s the worst thing about your favorite holiday?

SJ: I actually really like The Fourth of July. I don’t know why exactly. There’s something so disgustingly patriotic and beautifully ridiculous about that holiday. The drunkenness, our sad country celebrating for the sake of celebrating, the fireworks, the lotioned skin of people, the grilling of cheap meat. It’s somehow the best holiday and worst holiday simultaneously.

13. You’ve just been turned into a lousy superhero. Who are you, and who is your nemesis?

SJ: I don’t know.

14. Name a thought that has profoundly scared you in the night.

SJ: I’m alive.

15. You’re stinking rich. What’s the first thing you add to your home?

SJ: Gold coin filled room Scrooge McDuck style.

Light Boxes

16. What are you up to this weekend?

SJ: My sister is going to her high school prom. So I’m going to visit my parents and see her and take pictures and stuff and just be a supportive brother.

17. Which color makes you feel the most comfortable? The most anxious?

SJ: Blue makes me feel comfortable. Red would be the most anxious. That answer seems pretty boring.

18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

SJ: I worked as a lifeguard at a really shitty motel when I was 19. This was a place just filled with alcoholics, deadbeat fathers, drug addicts, people killing themselves in their $40 a night rooms, etc. It was amazing. I remember one guy, out of his mind, at the pool wearing black shorts. He had long black hair and wore sunglasses. All over his body he had written in black ink about how he was a pilot. Like, he had written types of planes, engine details, ways to fly from one airport to the next, etc. That was strange. I let him swim. He went down the slide and it was like someone had just pushed down a sack of potatoes.

19. I mean honestly: aren’t you better off living without ___?

SJ: The bag of chips I just ate.

20. James Cameron discovers something new at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. What do you hope it is?

SJ: I don’t know. I guess just something really weird and new? A new breed of horse maybe?

Shane Jones lives in upstate New York. His first novel, Light Boxes, was originally published by Publishing Genius Press in a print run of 500 copies in 2009. The novel was reviewed widely, the film option purchased by Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Adaptation), and the book was reprinted by Penguin Group in 2010. Light Boxes has been translated in eight languages and was named an NPR best book of the year. In August of 2012 Penguin released a new novel, Daniel Fights a Hurricane. Shane is also the author of the novella The Failure Six.

Previous Q&As may be found HERE.

Web site: Daniel Fights a Hurricane Facebook Page

Buy his books:

Daniel Fights a Hurricane

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Light Boxes

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon