How to Hang a Hammock Seat from a High Branch

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Our son got a hammock seat from his grandparents and we wanted to hang it from the backyard maple, so he could swing and read and max/relax in the yard now that it’s warm.

It didn’t come with rope so my wife and I went to the almighty Tractor Supply. We bought polypropylene rope with a load weight of 420 lbs., so our son would have to do something really crazy to break it.

First off, cool trick: with this kind of synthetic rope, you can melt the frayed ends together with a lighter so it doesn’t unravel:

fray

 

melt

The tricky part was getting the rope tied to a branch thirty feet in the air. I learned how to tie a double bowline knot, which leaves a secure loop at one end of the rope.

knot

Then I had to get the knot over the branch and pull it back down. Even with a stick tied to the throwing end, this was hard to do. The stick wasn’t quite heavy enough to compensate for the weight of the slack rope, which kept slowing the stick and preventing me from getting it over the branch. I finally did, and then the stick just dangled there. The easy solution was to snap-ripple the end of the rope I still had. Each ripple let the stick fall a little farther down, until at last I had both ends on the ground with the rope looped over the branch.

I slipped the loose end into the earlier knot loop and pulled.

loop

The knot rode up and tightened itself on the branch. It was incredibly satisfying, as good knots often are.

tied

After that I tied another double bowline at the opposite end and clipped on the hammock seat. Our son spent hours in this thing. He had his iPod at one point, but for the most part he was content to hang there, watching the dog and daydreaming. He even went out this morning when it was cold enough to need a puffy vest. Total success.

success

The Plain Dealer on FELLOW MORTALS

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The Plain Dealer in Cleveland has this to say about FELLOW MORTALS:

Every character in this tightly knit debut novel has a choice to make in how to handle the aftermath of the tragedy. What each one does affects the rest, bringing home the truth that ‘you’re not alone, even when you are.’

Read the review (halfway down the page), and please buy the book!

The New York Times Book Review Loves FELLOW MORTALS

Terribly excited about this Times review of my first novel:

FELLOW MORTALS, while full of vivid interactions, is perhaps most moving in its subtle depiction of people alone, trying to find ordinary meaning amid disarray…. [It] will stay with me for its watchful portrait of people, imperfect in life as in art, trying to find goodness in one another and themselves.

Read the whole review, and please buy the book!

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Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Kate Southwood

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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 KATE SOUTHWOOD, author of the novel Falling to Earth.

Kate Southwood Falling to Earth1. Rename yourself.

KS: Elizabeth Jarvis. This is from the “what is your romance novel author name” game. Take your middle name and the street you grew up in. I grew up on a corner, so I could also be Elizabeth Sheridan.

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

KS: “You’re up.”

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

KS: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” [Youtube]

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

KS: A really dumb cut on my inner forearm. Basically dragged my arm across a rusty nail head and it never even bled, just unzipped the skin on my arm.

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

KS: Does the Muppet Band count?

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

KS: Frida Kahlo. Complete with mono-brow and bike handlebar coming out of my stomach. This was when I was an Art History student, and one of my friends dressed as The Sack of Rome.

7. Tell us something you built.

KS: Drawing a blank, although I do know how to use tools and must have built something… Does Ikea flat-pack assembly count?

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

KS: Tiger, please. I really want to pet a big cat before I die.

9. What do you like to grow?

KS: I have a balcony garden in Oslo, Norway where I grow what I can, which is mostly flowers and herbs. I want to grow potatoes.

Kate Southwood Falling to Earth10. Name a thing you love that nobody else you personally know also loves.

KS: Minimalism. I live with packrats, and even the cat has too much stuff.

11. How would you like those eggs?

KS: Scrambled, moist, and salty.

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

KS: Thanksgiving, and that I now live in Oslo. Norwegians don’t do it, don’t get it, don’t get that Thursday off, plus three members of my four-person family are vegetarians, so there’s no point.

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

KS: I’m Intergalactica, and I clean up space junk. Do I have to be lousy? My nemesis is NASA, who keep putting more junk out there, so maybe I’m just overworked.

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

KS: That I would never publish a novel.

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

KS: An office. View of trees, bookcases, big comfy chair with ottoman, and a door that stays shut unless you ask nicely.

16. What are you up to this weekend?

KS: Hopefully something to do with St. Patrick’s Day. Again, difficult to do in Oslo. [Editor's note: this Q&A was done a few weeks ago, obviously.]

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

KS: Most comfortable, probably blue. Most anxious, red. My mother had red carpet in her bedroom briefly in the 1970s, said it was emitting energy and keeping her up at night, and got rid of it. I’ve been mildly suspicious of the color red ever since.

18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

KS: Part-time secretary for a State Farm agent in Chicago when I was 17. He never really taught me to do anything. His dad was the other agent in the office and his dad’s secretary would show me stuff occasionally. I felt I had accomplished something if I got him to put his cigarette in the ashtray before he accidentally ashed on someone’s policy.

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

KS: Oreos. But not really.

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

KS: Well, obviously, it has to be intelligent life sitting there with a smug took-you-long-enough smile.

Kate Southwood received an M.A. in French Medieval Art from the University of Illinois, and an M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Massachusetts Program for Poets and Writers. Born and raised in Chicago, she now lives in Oslo, Norway with her husband and their two daughters. Falling to Earth, a Barnes & Noble Discover pick, is her first novel.

Kate Southwood Official Site
Kate Southwood Twitter

Previous Q&As may be found HERE.

Buy FALLING TO EARTH:

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

My Bookmagnet Interview

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I did an interview with the super-nice Jaime Boler at Bookmagnet.

Bookmagnet: Your writing has been compared to that of Stewart O’Nan and Richard Russo.  How do such comparisons make you feel?

Theodore Sr.

Theodore Sr.

Dennis: Honored, since I’m a big fan of both, and somewhat confused, as I don’t entirely see myself that way. I don’t mean that negatively or positively. I just don’t know who I’d compare myself to because I don’t really think that way. Take a parenting analogy: I try to raise a happy, well-adjusted son, but wouldn’t it be strange to compare my parenting style to that of more famous parents? “Mahoney’s fatherly lectures are reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt Sr.’s inspirational words to young Teddy…”

Read the full interview here.

Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Eric Devine

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 ERIC DEVINE, author of Tap Out.

Eric Devine Author1. Rename yourself.

ED: Liam McCallister. Protagonist of a novel that didn’t make it.

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

ED: “You’ll do.”

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

ED: “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”. You just need the windows rolled down and a trip to anywhere. [Youtube]

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

ED: ACL and LCL tear of my left knee during a football game. Almost severed the artery. Separately, I broke my back at L5.

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

ED: Jim Morrison, obviously — his darkness was astounding. Eddie Vedder, because he is die hard. Clapton, because…Clapton. And Dave Grohl. Dave can do anything.

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

ED: Train conductor, homemade, complete with giant cardboard train wrapped around me, held up by my suspenders.

7. Tell us something you built.

ED: A paver patio in my backyard. I’m not handy but can follow instructions, almost too well. The pitch on the blocks is a bit too severe.

Tap Out Eric Devine8. If you could safely have one non-domesticated animal as a lifelong companion, what would it be? (Fantasy creatures are allowed.)

ED: I love hedgehogs, not that I’ve owned one or would know how to take care of it, but they are adorable, with a capital A.

9. What do you like to grow?

ED: The grass. I detest mowing.

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

ED: Poetry, mostly William Stafford. No one even likes poetry.

11. How would you like those eggs?

ED: Scrambled with spinach and cheese, and about a half dozen. Bacon, too, if you have it.

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

ED: The lack of sleep and my inability to put toys together at Christmas.

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

ED: Self Deprecator. I am at odds with myself.

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

ED: I’m not good enough. At what is open to interpretation.

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

ED: A detached writing studio. My home has an open floor plan and no basement, so my office is semi-permeable.

Eric Devine16. What are you up to this weekend?

ED: Whatever my wife tells me we’re doing.

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

ED: I love black. As a teen my walls were painted this color. Orange and teal are unnerving, separate or together.

18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

ED: Figure model for an artist. Yup.

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

ED: My fashion sense.

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

ED: Something he can’t use to turn into a movie. Something more profound.

Eric Devine is the Young Adult fiction author of Tap Out and This Side of Normal. His next novel, Dare Me, will be released in the fall of 2013. He lives in Upstate, NY, where he teaches high school English and tries to be the best father and husband he can be.

Eric Devine Official Site
Eric Devine Twitter

Previous Q&As may be found HERE.

Buy TAP OUT:

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

Buy THIS SIDE OF NORMAL:

Amazon

Necessary Fiction Interview

Once I said, “OK, I’m going to die someday, and this love for my son is too enormous to control,” I just went with it and lightened up. I got a lot more serious about pursuing the life I wanted, and I had a lot more fun doing it. There’s more life in my life now, and what could affect writing more than that?

I did an interview at Necessary Fiction, in which I discuss CHARLOTTE’S WEB, nuclear-war anxiety dreams brought on by the birth of our son, and advice I would give to my younger self.

YOU MAY READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE

Life Beyond Writing Q&A: Robin Sloan

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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 ROBIN SLOAN, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Robin Sloan1. Rename yourself.

RS: John Eliot Sinclair

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

RS: “Work harder.”

3. Give us an A+ summer song.

RS: “Merey Mathay” by Kiran Ahluwalia [Youtube]

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

RS: Involved the feet; gruesome; footprints of blood.

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

RS: I like the idea of a collaboration between past and future selves, a la Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I’d like to assemble the Paul Simons of 1972, 1986, 1990, and 2011 and have them all sing in harmony.

6. What was your best Halloween costume?

RS: A member of the Borg. Unfortunately, nobody in my school knew who the Borg were.

7. Tell us something you built.

RS: In my first apartment, I built a bookshelf… out of… BOOKS. Think about it!

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

RS: I want an octopus. They are super smart.

9. What do you like to grow?

RS: Sourdough starter.

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore10. Name a thing you love that nobody else you personally know also loves.

RS: Cheez-Its

11. How would you like those eggs?

RS: Fried, with the yolk still runny

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

RS: It’s usually quite cold (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere).

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

RS: I am DOCTOR PANTS. I fight the shadowy international organization known only as 34/34.

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

RS: Mostly it tends to be the heightened awareness of my heart beating, paired with the knowledge that, although they are vanishingly rare, there do exist maladies that cause it to just suddenly… stop.

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

RS: Secret passageways and/or tunnels

16. What are you up to this weekend?

RS: Going up to Sonoma County

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

RS: I don’t really respond to colors that way.

18. What is the strangest job you ever had?

RS: My very first job was slightly strange in its simplicity, I guess. I worked at a greenhouse, where I was in charge of the dirt pile. When customers ordered potting soil, woodchips, peat moss, etc., I would carry it out to their car. That’s all I did. I moved dirt.

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

RS: …a smartphone? (Allow me to report: yes, you are!)

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

RS: Unimaginative, but: aliens, alien, always and forever aliens!

Robin Sloan grew up near Detroit and now splits his time between San Francisco and the internet. His first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2012.

Robin Sloan Official Site
Robin Sloan Twitter

Previous Q&As may be found HERE.

Buy MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE:

IndieBound
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

The Next Big Thing: Author to Author

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frankenstein-torch-1931It’s like an Olympic torch-pass without fire or athleticism! I love this idea, much as I enjoy a good torch. Many months ago, somebody came up with a bunch of questions for an author with an upcoming or new project. The author answered those questions on his or her blog, and then passed the questions to another author. The current participant always links to the blogs of both the previous and upcoming author, so everybody ends up connected in a big chain of mutual support. The original author was Kevin Bacon.

I recently got to know Nicola Griffith via Twitter. We share a love of the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels, and we also share a publisher with FSG. Nicola has a GREAT sounding novel called HILD coming out on 11.12.13. It has a gorgeous cover. I’m looking forward to scoring an advance copy as soon as they’re available.

Nicola just answered The Next Big Thing questions and kindly passed them along to me. You can check out her answers (and learn more about HILD) over here at her blog.

I’m passing to Nathan Kotecki, who wrote a terrific YA novel called THE SUBURBAN STRANGE. An even better sequel, PULL DOWN THE NIGHT, is coming this fall.

Hey, remember when Evil Superman blew out the Olympic torch? What a jerk.

Here are my answers about FELLOW MORTALS:

  • What is your working title of your book (or story)?

THE NOVEL I WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT: A NOVEL, by Dennis Mahoney

  • Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve explained this a lot more thoroughly in an essay I did for Barnes & Noble, but here’s the gist: I started with the main character, Henry Cooper, who’s based on a minor character from an earlier failed novel. I needed a hero who would drive the story and create his own drama, not someone who simply had things happening to him. I had a very good sense of Henry right away. He’s old-school, decent, big-hearted, active. A great guy. The kind of person you’d love to have as a regular mailman. Then I needed to put him through a grueling self-generated ordeal, and I kicked a lot of ideas around, waiting for something vivid and elemental. I eventually thought of a tragic neighborhood fire that Henry accidentally starts along his route. Once I had that, Henry did a lot of the rest.

  • What genre does your book fall under?

It’s literary, which basically just means it isn’t any other recognizable genre. The book is primarily about personal and interpersonal struggles, in marriages, friendships, and a tiny community, but the characters do stuff and there’s a lot of motion in the plot, so it isn’t a book of broody rumination.

  • Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Of course my wife and I play this game from time to time. She’s usually better at it than I am. I’d love to see a lot of great character actors take it on, rather than anyone super famous. I do think Gosling would make an interesting Sam Bailey, the sculptor whose wife dies in the fire, but I can see plenty of people playing Sam.

dean norris toilet

Dean Norris

Michael Shannon is beginning to corner the market on fascinatingly disturbed outsiders, and might be perfect as the spiraling neighbor Billy Kane. I have no idea who would play Henry’s wife Ava, who’s a major character and really just lives in the book for me at this point. The only actor I can see playing Henry is Dean Norris, who plays Hank on Breaking Bad. He’s got that amazing mix of goofball manliness, awkward but profound emotion, and real strength. He’s has some of the funniest and bleakest scenes in that series, which is saying something.

  • What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When an affable mailman accidentally starts a neighborhood fire, he risks his life and marriage trying to make amends with the victims, especially a sculptor named Sam whose wife died in the fire.

  • Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m published by FSG and repped by Jim Rutman at Sterling Lord Literistic.

  • How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Six months. I spent a lot more time revising and rewriting.

  • What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Shakespeare, The King James Bible. Those books by Homer What’s-His-Name… the old man who used to read at weddings.

I honestly have no idea. FELLOW MORTALS been compared to the works of Stewart O’Nan, whose books I love, and who was gracious enough to write a front-cover endorsement, but flattering as that comparison is, I don’t entirely understand it. I suppose we share a pursuit of telling detail, especially about characters and relationships, but you can say that about most literary authors. I’m going to have jump ship on this question.

  • Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See Answer #1.

  • What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Bones, who is essentially Wingnut come to life

Bones, who is essentially Wingnut come to life

I’ve been happy to find that different readers have different favorite characters. There’s a danger in writing a book with multiple points of view; it can be hard knowing whom to root for, and a reader might connect with some of the characters but feel cold toward others. So far the general reaction has been concern for the cast at large, with one or two characters really striking chords.

And I love that it’s different characters and chords for various readers. It’s like when somebody knows your aunt, and you can talk about your aunt, and then another person knows your spouse, so you talk about her. I was thrilled when a recent reviewer fell in love with Henry’s dog, Wingnut. I cared about Wingnut, too.

Now The Next Big Thing passes to Nathan Kotecki. Be sure to check Nathan’s site in the coming week for his own answers. Thanks again to Nicola for including me!

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