Friday, April 2, 2010

An Interview with Kealan Patrick Burke, an awesome author!

As many people out there know, Kealan Patrick Burke wrote the wonderful Bram Stoker Award winning Turtle Boy series, which so far includes: The Turtle Boy, The Hides, Vessels, and The Turtle Boy: Peregrine's Tale (which has its first three books coming soon in digital format from Lovecraft Press, and the fourth coming soon in hardcover from Cemetery Dance Publications). Mr. Burke also has written numerous short stories too (many of which were collected in Ravenous Ghosts and The Number 121 to Pennsylvania and Others). His other books and stories include Master of the Moors, Currency of Souls, You In, Looking Glass (a collaborative round robin style story with many other top names in the horror genre), Seldom Seen in August, The Quiet, Midlisters, and more.

BOOK 'EM BOB: Hello Mr. Burke, thank you for agreeing to letting us here at Book 'em Bob subject you with our questionable questions. As a fan of your writing, I am very excited to be able to ask you some of the things that I have been wanting to know about for awhile (and I hope other people want to know these things too). Let’s start off with an easy one: What will we see in the future from the Timmy Quinn/The Turtle Boy series?

KEALAN: I think all that's left for Timmy Quinn is the final novel Nemesis, which should wrap everything up. This one has taken the longest to write mostly because of developments in my personal life. Since the release of my last book, The Number 121 to Pennsylvania & Others, things hit a kind of downward slope for me, which caused me to relocate and stop writing. There were also several health issues, which thankfully have passed. But I'm back in the game now, and among the projects that need to be completed, and sooner rather than later, is the last chapter in Timmy's story. I think I've matured quite a bit since we first met him, and consequently, so will he by the time his story is done.

BMB: I'm glad to hear that Timmy's story will get all wrapped up... eventually. I know some of what of you’ve been going through in your personal life, and it isn't my place to know or try to find out more. So, I won't push that subject. What is your favorite pastime and why?

KEALAN: Photography. I like getting out armed with my camera and just snapping things that interest me, be they nature or people, or anything in between.

BMB: Wow. I would've never guessed. Any other hobbies?

KEALAN: Outside of that, I'm fairly addicted to survival horror games on the PS3 or XBOX 360. I'm also a fan of good TV, like Deadwood and Lost, etc. I enjoy hanging out with friends too, to counter somewhat the effects of the aforementioned solitary pursuits.

BMB: Friends are always nice to have around, especially after shooting zombies for hours in a dark room by yourself. Ha ha. Will we be seeing any future anthology or magazine appearances from you soon?

KEALAN: There are a few things due. "Cobwebs," which originally appeared in Pete Crowther's wonderful Postscripts magazine (#11, Summer 2007), will be reprinted in the next Shivers anthology.

BMB: So there WILL be a Shivers VI, I knew it! Cemetery Dance hasn’t announced it yet. Anything else on the horizon?

KEALAN: I have a short teleplay ("Snowmen") in Rich Chizmar's Smoke & Mirrors collection (also from Cemetery Dance), and a reprint of "The Man Who Breaks the Bad News" in James Roy Daley's Best New Zombie Tales: Volume 1.

BMB: I've seen the Tom Melnick cover art for Best New Zombie Tales, and it is pretty sweet looking (it looks like a fun anthology too). What else?

KEALAN: A segment in CD's round robin book The Crane House: A Halloween Story, and on the nonfiction front, I wrote the feature review for the Bentley Little special issue of Cemetery Dance magazine (issue #64, coming soon). My output has decreased considerably over the past few years, but that will change soon.

BMB: I am glad to hear that will be changing because I know that I’m looking forward to reading more writing from you. Please tell us how the anthology that you edited called Quietly Now came about.

KEALAN: It came about after a conversation I had with Tom Monteleone at Horrorfind one year. We were discussing Charlie Grant and I expressed my desire to do an anthology of stories and essays as a tribute to him, and using his signature style. Tom was thrilled by the idea, and it was a fortuitous time to mention it. Tom and his wife Elizabeth were in the process of resurrecting Borderlands Press. Tom basically said once it was up and running, they'd be glad to publish the book. And they did.

BMB: Awesome. That anthology is pretty hard to come by, but I know it is out there, and I know I want to read it. Here's a random question: If you could be any animal, besides human, what would you like to be and why?

KEALAN: A bird, big enough not to be prey. I'd fly the f**k away from all the drama whenever the mood took me.

BMB: Sadly beautiful. At least you're not pecking anyone's eyeballs out like Jeff Strand. I saw that you have a role in Greg Lamberson's Slime City II: Slime City Massacre. Please tell us what the filming was like? Did you enjoy the experience, and will we see more of Kealan Patrick Burke on the silver screen?

KEALAN: It was a blast, and it was also very educational. It was also a lot of hard work, and dirty work at that. Filming for weeks in the ruins of a train station gets under your skin (literally) and being covered in SFX goop a lot of the time didn't help much, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I met a lot of really talented people on that shoot, some of whom have remained good friends. Long days, long nights, an awe-inspiring location, and a wonderful bunch of people, is the best way to sum it all up for me.
As for more movie work, I won't say no, nor do I have any illusions of movie stardom. I did the movie for the experience, and I don't think beyond that. (NOTE: you can read more about KPB's Slime City Massacre expeience at his blog, here:

BMB: Uh oh, time for the word association speed round! I'll mention the word, you respond with the first thing that pops into your head. Ready, set...go!... "Robin"

KEALAN: Batman

BMB: "Dinosaur"

KEALAN: Raptor

BMB: "Utensil"


BMB: "Trollusk"

KEALAN: The f*ck?

BMB: (note to self: Very similar to what Jeff Strand said about Zipperump-a-zoos in our interview with him... maybe 70s Mercer Mayer monster references just don't work with modern genre authors, but the confusion is fun, *evil grin*) "Green"


BMB: (I saw that one coming) "Splat"

KEALAN: Mosquito

BMB: "Tortoise"


BMB: "Chocolate"

KEALAN: Snickers

BMB: "Burke"

KEALAN: A**hole

BMB: "Time"



BMB: (scribbles down notes on the psyche evaluation sheet with a check mark by "saner than Jeff Strand") I have heard mumblings on the Internet about a book of yours called KIN can you please tell us more about it?

KEALAN: Once upon a time, I contributed to a discussion about torture porn, and, more specifically, the kids-running-afoul-of-inbred-cannibals subgenre. I bemoaned the lack of story, and of character depth in both the heroes and villains, and was told to put up or shut up. So I wrote KIN. It's my longest novel to date. And that's all I'll say for now.

BMB: Ooh, nice. I can’t wait to read it and see who is releasing it… By the way, who is releasing it?

KEALAN: *says nothing*

BMB: Well, since you aren’t giving up the release information, I'm not going to push it... Nope. Not me... Come on, Mr. Burke, tell us... Please. Please. Please. Pretty please? Pllllleeeeeeease...with snickers and gummy bears on top?

KEALAN: *mouth firmly closed*

BMB: Crub. Well, thank you very much Mr. Burke for letting us take up your time like this. I feel very honored (even if you’d don’t know what a Trollusk is). In my opinion, everyone needs to at least read The Turtle Boy by Kealan Patrick Burke. It is a modern masterpiece. Thankfully, it will become more readily available very soon via Lovecraft Press. Also, in the meantime, if you’d like to get creeped-out, go watch “Peekers” a short film directed by Mark Steensland here It is based on Kealan Patrick Burke’s short story of the same name, and it is scripted by Rick Hautala. You will never hear the words “Play with me” the same again.

Along with all the above links, you can also see the following for more Kealan Patrick Burke goodness:
Taverns of the Dead edited by Kealan Patrick Burke
Shivers V (featuring "The Acquaintance") edited by Richard Chizmar
Shroud magazine #2 (featuring KPB's "Haven")
Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet (featuring "A Letter From Phoenix")
Concrete Gods (with Harry Shannon)
Night Visions 12 edited by KPB
Brimstone Turnpike edited by KPB
Tales from the Gorezone edited by KPB

Friday, March 19, 2010

An Interview with Neil W. Rabens: Author, Illustrator, Game Inventor, Musician, Parent, and More

Many of you read my previous blog here, and know that I am a fan of Neil W. Rabens' book The Secret of Henry and Sam. Since that time I have emailed with Mr. Rabens on a number of occasions and discovered bits and pieces of his life that are fascinating. So, I decided to interview him next for Book 'em Bob.

BookemBob: Hello Mr. Rabens and welcome to Book 'em Bob. I am your host Robert Brouhard and it is a great pleasure to have you here today. As you know, I had the delight of growing up with a book you wrote and illustrated called The Secret of Henry and Sam. Little did I know, I also grew up with a game you co-invented called Twister (“the game that ties you up in knots”). First, I just want to say thank you for these two wonderful childhood experiences. There isn’t much out there as far as biographical information goes… So, to introduce people to you, please tell us a little about your life. Where and when were you born and where did you grow up?

NeilWRabens: I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1929. I was the youngest of five, and I grew up during the depression years. My dad, Fred T. Rabens, kept his job but had his wages cut. He was a blacksmith for a milk company when they still had horses. He had natural mechanical abilities and became a mechanic when trucks replaced the horses. Incidentally, Dad had a patent in his name #2343578 (look it up)! It was a vending machine that would drop your item down when you put in a coin. Up until then you had to lift a lid and slide your beverage out. He was not a particularly good business man in spite of his creative mind. After the patent ran out, these machines were all over the place and he never benefited from it. He worked ten hour days sometime and would come home and work on his machine. When Dad passed away they told us that there were tools hanging in the shop that no one knew what they were for. When he came across a problem he used his blacksmith savvy to make a tool to fix this or that. I might add that he served in WW1 as a blacksmith when they still had the cavalry. All in all, I had a pretty happy childhood with a lot of friends and pets: dogs (one from the time I was one year until I buried him when I was about seventeen), cats, a black ram and even an alligator.

BMB: An alligator?

NEIL: Some guy sent it to his wife as a joke and she gave it to us. It didn't live too long or I might still have it. I had a baby woodchuck that I would carry around in my shirt. This of course made me very cool with my buddies. I had him all one summer but he ran away in the fall to hibernate. My mother had a high tolerance for animals. Her dad was a vet, or, as they called them then, a horse doctor.

BMB: Wow, Neil. Your dad sounds like he was a very interesting man, and I can see how some of those pets would make you popular with the curious kids. How did you start inventing games and who did you work with?

NEIL: In 1965 I got a job with Reynolds Guyer Agency of Design in St. Paul. They were going into games as a sideline and hired one Chuck Foley to head up that division. They hired me to work with him mainly as an artist. At the time they called me, I was working in New Richmond, Wisconsin as a cartoonist /designer doing art for children’s swimming pools and inflatable toys. Guyer had a few mat games that they intended to produce themselves but Foley suggested they contact established game companies on a royalty basis. I came up with the hand and foot concept and called it “Pretzel” which was later changed to “Twister.” Foley added some changes and it became what it is. He was the one who sold it to Milton Bradley for Guyer.

BMB: So, besides Twister, what are the names of some of the games you helped create, and are any still around today?

NEIL: Some of them can still be found on the Internet. Animal Twister, Grab a Loop, Bing-Bang-Boing (BMB NOTE: “The Bounce-a-Dilly Watchamagame with the Bingaroony Sound”... “The first open end action game ever created”... you gotta see this commercial), and Pie Puzzles. Others were: Battle Ball, No Go, One more Time, Stats (the safe dart board), Traffic Jam, and a few others. Plus a few toys (these were all done after we left Guyer). Foley made the first plastic handcuffs (they were light metal things up to that point). I can't remember who bought them but I think it was Cadaco.

BMB: I can’t honestly say that I have heard of any of them. Do you have any kind of ownership of Twister? Why or why not?

NEIL: No. The day Chuck and I applied for the patent we signed over the rights to Guyer. Foley had a verbal agreement with Reyn Guyer Jr. for a certain percentage, but when the money started to come in, it was not honored. Foley then resigned, got a backer, and I went with him. We started our own company which we called Research and Development (R & D). We worked together until the early 70's. The energy crisis of that time affected the toy industry somewhat, plus Foley's wife became ill with cancer. She passed away and he had nine children. We suddenly folded up and I was unemployed.

BMB: Oh, no. What did you do then?

NEIL: I went into sales, which was a huge mistake. I was completely out of my element, and there were a few rough years. Twister sold over 70 million games up to 2004 and I don't know how many since. If I could have had one half of one percent of the retail price it would have been nice. But nobody said life was fair. Foley became quite bitter and retained a lawyer and did get a little something. I got nothing, but I have a wonderful wife of fifty years and all my children are successful and life has been good. That's worth something.

BMB: Family can certainly make a person rich with its own rewards. How did book writing and illustrating enter the picture?

NEIL: The wife and I had a story hour in our church in a fairly rough part of Minneapolis. The children were not acquainted with the usual Bible stories, so I started making up contemporary stories that they could relate to. I would draw on a large pad while my wife told the story. I believe the first one was The Secret of Henry and Sam. Years later they ended up at Standard Publishing as books and were published. Two of the story hour kids, a brother and sister (9 and 11) ended up living with us as foster kids. They were the first of thirty-seven foster kids over the years.

BMB: Thirty-seven!

NEIL: Yes. We also had three of our own and adopted one of the foster children, a beautiful red headed baby girl. She was a year old when we got her and parental rights were taken from her parents when she was three… So we kept her. She is now in her early thirties. I should write a book about some of our experiences. The longest we had one child was three years and the shortest was three hours.

BMB: Sounds like it would be a great book. Entertaining and probably heart wrenching too. Besides the children’s swim pools and inflatable toys, did you do any illustration work prior to the books you wrote in the late 1970s?

NEIL: I had designed some paint by number sets for a small company while still in art school shortly after I got out of the service This would be in the middle fifties.

BMB: Have you written any books that never got published?

NEIL: Yes, I have a few stories but they’re not illustrated yet. I enjoy the writing almost as much as the illustration, but I'm a terrible procrastinator.

BMB: Yeah, I know what that is like. If a publisher asked you to write and illustrate a new children's book today, would you do it? Why or why not?

NEIL: Sure. As a matter of fact all the book rights have been given back to me by contract and could be published again. With the exception of The Secret of Henry and Sam, which I resold to Bogard Press at a flat rate. I needed the money at the time. I would have to re-illustrate them, I think. I've been out of the loop for a long time and really wouldn't
know how to go about getting re-published. The industry is a different kind of animal than it was in my day.

BMB: I really wouldn’t know how to go about it either, but I’d love to your work back on the shelves. Who are some of your favorite children's book authors and illustrators and why?

NEIL: Maurice Sendak, Mercer Mayer, Garth Williams, the late Dr. Seuss, and the late Bill Peet. I like the different styles and that each one is easily recognizable. I also really loved the work of cartoonist Walt Kelly the creator of Pogo Possum. He was in a class all by himself… Sort of the Mercer Mayer of the comic strip world

BMB: A man after my own heart. You just listed out some of my biggest favorites! What are you currently doing to fill your time?

NEIL: I work part time at a local county history center. Both my wife and I are volunteer grandparents at the elementary school. I assist the art teacher with kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades an hour a day. I play a six string banjo (a banjitar) mostly for my own amusement but occasionally publicly. Most kids nowadays idea of “cool” music is definitely not an 80 year old guy with a banjo.

BMB: I don’t know... I think they’d secretly like it and think it was pretty cool. What kind of music do you play with it?

NEIL: I like folk songs, old ballads and hymns. Incidentally, I had a song published some years ago. An old guy from Australia had a children's ministry and had one of my books and wanted to put it to music. It was called "Jesus Loves You" and was about children from other lands. He called Standard Publishing and they told him the rights belonged to me. He called me and I said go ahead. He was operating on a shoe string so I let him have it. He sent me a tape and I misplaced it somehow. He was originally from Scotland but also picked up the Australian accent. His singing was something to hear and he played some kind of odd instrument along with it that I couldn't identify. I also gave him a song I had made up for our story hour kids and he published that too.

BMB: Neil Rabens, songwriter, toy inventor, game designer, book writer, illustrator, parent, and more. You are a man of many talents. When we were emailing you mentioned a group called Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and they sounded pretty interesting. Please tell us about the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

NEIL: I was a member last year but dropped my membership. My purpose for joining was to network with local artists and writers but most of the meetings are not geographically feasible. I'm in good health but my night driving vision is bad. I think I will sign up again though because I enjoyed being part of it.

BMB: Okay. Did you pattern yourself after any other artists or illustrators?

NEIL: Not really.

BMB: That was to the point. Ha ha. I’ve got a possible doozy for you: If you could tell or teach the children of the world anything at all, what would that be and why?

NEIL: Just the old cliché, "follow the dream" and avoid procrastination.

BMB: Well, I wouldn’t call avoiding procrastination “cliché.” That is pretty darn good advice. Feel free to tell us anything else you’d like the world to hear about you, your philosophy, life, or anything else

NEIL: I am serious about being a Christian, but didn't become one until I was an adult. I grew up in a more or less agnostic atmosphere. I was a medic in the Korean War which had something to do with my change of thinking to some degree. I worked in an evacuation hospital (something like a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, MASH, outfit) I developed somewhat of a drinking problem (now, no longer a problem for many years… I just don't touch it). For some reason, I felt guilty for coming home before the war was over. When I got out, I went to art school for a short while, got married, and booze on both our parts ended that in a few short years. Then I got a job at the county hospital where I worked as an orderly and also made ambulance runs. I met my present wife there and this is the best thing that ever happened to me (fifty years and it looks like it might last)!

BMB: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers and Internet-land?

NEIL: I'll have to add a few words about my kids of whom I'm quite proud. My oldest son recently finished 25 years in the navy and now works out of Washington for the state department. He's over in Oman with his family. He makes frequent trips to Yemen where he is responsible for the security system. He has to keep all the electronic gear in order, cameras, gates, etc... at the embassy there. Oman is fairly safe, but in Yemen, he has to go to work in an armored car. My daughter works in a hospital as a cardiac registrar and her husband is the system analyst there also. My youngest boy does virtual reality training films at a nearby technical community college. My youngest girl, that we adopted, lives in an adult foster home near us. She has some learning disabilities but she's a real sweetheart.

BMB: Thank you very much for your time Mr. Rabens. I am very glad that I got to know more about you. You are a great person, a talented man, and I am sure you are a great father too. God bless you sir, and thank you again for letting me interview you for my blog.

Neil W. Rabens is the author and illustrator of many children’s books including: The Secret of Henry and Sam, Jesus Loves You, No One but God, One Happy Little Songbird, Bunker Bear, God Made All the Animals, and Scooter Bug and the Bookworm. He is also the co-inventor of many board games including Twister. His games and books often show up on eBay and also at Please find them and check them out.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Totally Un-"Dweller" Related Questions Asked of Horror Author Extraordinaire, Mr. Jeff Strand

To quote Monty Python, "And now, for something completely different..." Presenting an interview with an author... An author who... um... doesn't write children's books (young adult books, maybe). Hey, the blog is called Book 'Em Bob, and this guy writes books. I had the opportunity to interview him, I like his books, and I thought it would be fun. So, I did it. I DO ask him what his favorite children's book is (and his answer is a classic book that many of us love). His name is Jeff Strand, and he is best known for his Humorous Horror novels and short stories, but he has dabbled in other arenas of writing too. He tends to keep his tongue firmly in his cheek and other places... so I played with that a bit. So without further explanation:

Welcome to "Totally Un-Dweller Related Questions Asked of Horror Author Extraordinaire, Mr. Jeff Strand" on the Book 'Em Bob blog (*insert applause here*). I am your host, Robert Brouhard, and we are now welcoming to this webpage the author of such classics as Mandibles, Dweller, Kutter, Benjamin's Parasite, Pressure, How to Rescue a Dead Princess, Out of Whack, Elrod McBugle on the Loose, The Severed Nose, The Sinister Mr. Corpse, Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary), Single White Psychopath Seeks Same, Casket for Sale (Only Used Once), Suckers (with J. A. Konrath), The Haunted Forest Tour (with James A. Moore), and more: Mr. Jeff Strand (*insert standing ovation, women fainting, dogs howling, etc... here*).

BOOK 'EM BOB (BMB): Thank you Mr. Strand for offering up your precious and valuable time for a quick question and answer session with us today. We have 10 questions chosen at random that probably have nothing to do with most of your writing abilities... but who knows, they may have a deep psychological meaning for some person somewhere and might make them want to read more of what you have to say... or not.
Now, in random order, the questions:
Question 1: If you were a bird, what goals would you have for yourself (daily and lifetime)?

JEFF STRAND: On a daily basis, I'd probably try to find at least one squirrel and peck its eyes out. No particular reason, except that if you have a beak, it seems like kind of a waste not to use it to peck out the eyes of squirrels. My lifetime goal would be to not get overconfident and put myself in a situation where several squirrels could attack me at once, creating an ironic and tragic death.

BMB: (*Note to self: Oh boy... this interview may go downhill quick... um... moving on...*)
Question 2: What was your favorite moment of the last 24 hours and why?

JEFF: I had a really good burger at Five Guys, after at least two weeks of thinking about how much I'd enjoy a Five Guys burger. Mustard, onions, pickles, jalapenos, and Cajun-seasoned fries. Oooooooh yeah.

BMB: Nice. Excuse me a second while I wipe the drool of my lapel…
Question 3: If your nose ran away, how would you smell and why?

JEFF: I guess I would, uh, smell through the hole in my face where my nose used to be. Is that how it works? Are the smelling parts actually in your nose, or deeper inside? I guess I should know that, having written a book called The Severed Nose. Let me do some research...
(*four hours later*) Ah, okay. If my nose ran away, it would be more difficult to breathe but I could still smell. So I'd smell fine!

BMB: And you do smell quite nice today I might add... just the right combo of mustard, onions, and pickles...
Question 4: What is your favorite color and why?

JEFF: I guess orange; even though I don't own much in the way of orange clothing or have any orange-color motifs anywhere in my life or really ever think about it except in the very rare occasions when somebody asks me my favorite color. Maybe I just like pumpkins.

BMB: Hmm, illuminating...
Question 5: What is your mostest favoritest website on the whole interwebz and why?

JEFF: Wow. Tough one. I make daily visits to The Horror Mall, Dread Central, Rotten Tomatoes, LiveJournal, Twitter, and a few others, but despite the vast amount of lameness present on the site, I think it would cause me the most pain to lose Facebook. I ignore all of the games and the gifts and the other annoying crap, but I love it as a way to keep in touch with fans & friends.

BMB: Ah yes, Facebook, the addicting website of millions… (note to self: stop sending Farmville "neighbor requests" to Mr. Strand).
Question 6: What kind of name is "Strand" (*sheesh*)?

JEFF: It's an AWESOME name that strikes fear into the hearts of millions, and strikes love into the hearts of millions more. Learn that name well. Respect it.

BMB: Okie dokie…
Question 7: What is the funniest thing you have ever read or seen and why?

JEFF: The single funniest thing is the scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off where Ed Rooney (the principal) is on the phone thinking he's talking to Ferris posing as his girlfriend's father, and Ed is being really obnoxious about the whole "dead grandmother" thing, and his secretary (Edie McClurg) comes in and says, "Ferris Bueller is on line two!" and there's a huge musical sting and the camera zooms in on Ed Rooney's face as he realizes the enormity of his mistake.

BMB: Ferris Bueller's Day Off is definitely a favorite in our household too (well, just for the adults so far, but when the kids grow up... they will love it too)...
Question 8: Because the entire world demands to know: Which is it: Boxers, Briefs, Boxer-Briefs, Depends, Commando, Underoos, etc (I don't know if I want to ask why)?

JEFF: Boxers. If you'd asked why, I probably would've offered up some wacky joke about them, but since you didn't I will merely say "boxers."

BMB: We can live with that.
Question 9: Growing up, what was your favorite children's picture book, and why?

JEFF: The Monster at the End of This Book by Sesame Street's Grover, a masterpiece of hilarious comedy mixed with unbearable dread (*Book 'Em Bob's note: It is by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin*).

BMB: Ah, yes, a classic book that teaches children to not listen to elders or at least monsters like Lovable Furry Old Grover! Just kidding. I loved it as a child, and my son loves it too. I close the book after reading the first page because Grover told us to. That sends my son over the edge... and then I mess with him every page after that ("Grover glued the pages together... Now I can't turn the page." "DADDY!"). It never gets old to him. They even did a cash-in sequel Another Monster at the End of This Book which features that other red monster, Elmo (and Grover). There is also an interactive DVD version of the original book.
Okay, Random Word Association Bonus Speed Round:

*tick tick tick* GO:

BMB: "Inhabit?"...
JEFF: Monkey cage
BMB: "Cellar?"...
JEFF: Laymon
BMB: "Strand?"...
JEFF: Author of the upcoming novel Dweller
BMB: "Funky"...
JEFF: Cold Medina
BMB: "Zipperump-a-Zoo?"...
BMB: *cocks eyebrow* hmm, "Sputnik?"...
JEFF: Those d*mn commies!
BMB: "Godspeed?"...
JEFF: Fast
BMB: "Irreconcilable?"...
JEFF: Drew Barrymore
BMB: "Boo?"...
JEFF: 5th place finish on Survivor: Cook Islands
BMB: "Gremlin?"...
JEFF: Microwave


BMB: And time… Interesting, Mr. Strand… (*scribbles 25 pages of notes and recommendations for further psychological evaluation*). One last question before we bid adieu…
Question 10: As of March, 2010, what are we going to see next from you?

JEFF: This book called Dweller. It follows a guy named Toby and his best friend Owen for their entire lives, from youth to old age. But Owen is a MONSTER! One who lives in the woods! With claws and teeth! How can this be healthy? What happens if Owen starts, like, killing people? Won't that negatively impact their relationship? Find out the answer to these questions and five or six more in...Dweller!

BMB: Fascinating! Thank you, Mr. Strand. It has been an utmost pleasure having you here with us today. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, and goodbye.

PS: Incidentally, the cheap trade paperback edition of Dweller from Leisure Books, Jeff Strand's second "serious" novel, is available March 30, 2010 (on Amazon or possibly even at your local book retailer if they’re still open). Go get it, or get the nice and crunchy expensive Limited Edition or Lettered Edition hardcover from Dark Regions Press (

PPS: Remember, Jeff Strand’s books are not for kids. Do not read Dweller to them. It may mess them up for life... as with any Jeff Strand book. You have been warned.

PPPS: If you are an author and would enjoy being uniquely interviewed by Book 'Em Bob, feel free to contact me or leave a comment on this page.

PPPPS: Mr. Strand, you are forgiven for not knowing what a "Zipperump-a-Zoo" is... and for saying "WTF" (which means "Well That's Funny" kids) on my family friendly blog. Ha ha.

And with that, "Good night, sleep tight, and don't let the Zipperump-a-Zoos bite."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The e-Book Debate: Should Childrens' Books Enter Into It?

I love my "real" books (hardcovers especially), and I don't have an e-reader, but if an e-book is the only way to read my favorites, then I HAVE to download it and read it on my computer. I can get a lot of books in PDF, and Amazon even has a "Kindle for PC" application that you can use to read books on your computer. BUT, this is just for MY reading, not my kids.

Nostalgia may be one of the big reasons I love paper/real/bound books... but children’s books for my kids have to be paper until we get the larger 12" to 24" brightly colored screen for the pictures... and even then, I am not going to let them play with it. They make board books that way for a reason. Ha ha. No one wants their computer drooled on and thrown.

I think letting my kids have access to the bookshelf at an early age has helped them have a huge joy and love of reading. My 4-year-old constantly takes out a stack and "reads" through the books 1-by-1 all by himself... mostly picture gazing. Sometimes this leads to that stack being dropped at my feet with a plea of, "Please, read these to me Daddy!" Sure, there have been torn pages on rare books, but that is a small sacrifice (and a lot of those have now moved to a new home in Daddy's "don't-you-dare-touch-it" library, ha ha).

I also love that after I've read the bed time story; my 4-year-old will take the book from me and "read" it to me. Sometimes silently, and sometimes with many memorized sections (even after only one reading).

PDF files on a computer screen can show a children's picture book, but it isn't portable…. unless it is a laptop. Plus those 2 page spreads, and not to mention the fold-out pages, won't work very well (or look really tiny).

So, what are the benefits for a children’s e-book:
1) No more ripped pages.
2) Possibility for Interactive qualities (we've seen those CD-Rom books).
3) Portable for trips, sort of…depending on size.
4) Shelf space.
5) No more shelf-searching when your child asks for that one book that hasn't been read for 2 years.
6) Saved tress.
7) No lead based inks (ha ha).
8) Many out of print or rare books may become accessible again.
9) Possibly cheaper than new, $15.99 children's hardcover books.

But what about those negatives for a children’s e-book:
1) Drooled on e-device.
2) Tiny black and white screens (or tiny color screens). Yuck.
3) Bigger books just won't have that "cool" factor or "wow" impact.
4) Parents don't know for sure how long the book is until they've been reading out loud for over 20 minutes past bedtime (I hate when this happens, ha ha).
5) Broken e-device because the kids got a hold of it trying to read the latest Little Critter book without your permission and spilled their milk on it.
6) Insert anything else you can think of here.
7) Do you really want anyone under the age of 7 (or 15, or 18) using your $300.00 - $2,000.00+ (USD) e-device?
8) The pictures will make the book files a lot larger, so you won't be able to have "thousands" in your e-reader unless it has a big hard drive (or large amount of file storage space).
9) Accidental purchases of the complete collection of something-you-never-wanted because you let a child touch it for approximately 10 seconds (or the deletion of everything on your device).

So, do you think that e-children’s- books are in our future? I think it is possible.. but I don't know if I want them to happen. My main reason for not owning a Kindle is the price of the Kindle… My second reason is $10.00 a non-physical-book that holds no re-sale value is a bit of a hard thing to swallow. If I don't like a physical book, I can re-sell it or donate it somewhere. If I don't like an e-book, I can delete my $10.00 e-book, and that is it. It isn't like the company is going to give me a refund. The few e-books that I do have, I spent less than $5.00 each for (most under $2.00, and many were freebies).

In the meantime, I will continue to support my local thrift shops. I can't go wrong for $0.10, $0.69, $1.00, $2.00, or slightly more for kids' books, and I doubt an e-reader will ever have them for that cheap.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Learned something new today: Logan's Run with cover art by Mercer Mayer

You learn something new every day. Today I learned that Mercer Mayer did the dust jacket illustration (and title page art... same picture in black and white) for the first printing of Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (Dial Press, 1967). This is probably going to be another book on the "Oh-my-goodness, I'm-never-going-to-be-able-to-afford-that" list of Mercer Mayer related books. $45.00 - $400.00... OUCH.

I've actually wanted to read William F. Nolan's books and I've been seeking out a nice hardcover for this title. Now, I HAVE to find THIS version. Hopefully, I'll be able to find an ex-library one with the whole dust jacket for cheap.

...and, yes, this is not a children's novel. Ha ha.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Just for You: A 35 Year Anniversary, Plus: The Editing of Mercer Mayer part 1

Just for You” by Mercer Mayer was first published as a dust jacketed hardcover 35 years ago in 1975 by Golden Press/Western Publishing Company Inc for $3.50 (ISBN 0-307-12542-4, and dedicated to Gordon Bonar). I am going to be 35 this year too. So, in essence, Little Critter was born the same year that I was.

Many of you know the story of “Just for You”, but here is a quick refresher: The story is about a little creature (who has since come to be known as "Little Critter") of around 3 to 7 years old who looks a bit like a porcupine or hedgehog (originally). He is presumed to be a male (later books confirm this), and he has human-like qualities (anthropomorphic). The book is told from his point of view (which kids like). Little Critter tries to help out his mom and be extra good for a day. He does many things, and he says that he is doing them, "Just for you," because he loves his mom and he wants to do things right. He carries groceries, tries to keep the water in the tub, and more, but nothing turns out the way he meant for it to. Accidents and distractions happen… and Little Critter comes up with an excuse for every one of them (not the best thing to teach a child, but the cute-factor over rides this).

If you read this, or most of the other Little Critter books, to an observant child, they will quickly notice that there is a spider and grasshopper in almost every picture, and they won't let you turn the page until they've found them. This little built-in reward system also makes it a great picture book for self-reading (for non-readers and beginning readers too).

Here is something you might not know. The version of Just for You that you can buy in the store today is different then the original version! There are sections of story and at least 4 pages of art that have been cut out of it! Let me tell you the story of how I discovered this:

Collecting Mercer Mayer over the years has involved a lot of Thrift Store searching, Amazon shopping, and Used Book Store shopping, but it mostly involved eBay. But I am getting ahead of myself… It started with a list…

I started making a list and trying to remember the books I read as a child (by myself and with my parents). This list gradually became HUGE, but I noticed certain authors and illustrators appeared a lot on it. Jack Kent, Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel, Marc Simont, Stephen Cosgrove, Dick Gackenbach, and many more, but one name really brought memories flooding back: Mercer Mayer. I loved his drawings and I felt like I could stare at their details for hours. He was my starting point in my search to find the books that I had read as a child to share with my kids. He was my gateway drug…

I soon discovered that paying full price on Amazon (plus shipping) or at Borders or even the prices at the used book stores was a bit of burden. Then I noticed eBay had LOTS (bundles of books in one auction) of Mercer Mayer stuff… they also had a lot of Mercer Mayer stuff too. Do a search on eBay for "Mercer Mayer" and in an average week you will get 600+ hits (if you search within the auctions, you may get a 1000+ hits). Well, I ended up buying a lot of these "lots." I ended up with a few doubles, but the overall price was much cheaper. In one case: 55 books for $20.00 plus $10.00 shipping (less than a $1.00 a book, nice!). Yes, I spent more on most of the lots, but that one was a favorite.

Through this process of buying Lots on eBay, I got a few quirky doubles: alternate covers, very different looking versions, etc but I will cover those in the future (yes, I will). My biggest shock was when I finally got a hardcover, first printing of the first Little Critter book, "Just for You." I wasn't trying to get it. I wasn't trying to be a "must-have-first-printing" kind of person. It just so happened to be in an eBay lot that I had purchased.

Inside covers of three different versions of Just for You:

The first printing of "Just for You" (1975) had a BIG "Cool" factor when I noticed exactly what it was, and I, of course, looked through it. It has a dust jacket and must-see full-color Little Critter collage end sheets…BUT imagine my surprise when I saw other things that I had never seen before. Having this book memorized since I was tiny, I gasped. I almost felt… cheated. The first page of the story threw me off, and didn't seem right. A whole 2 page spread seemed brand new to me… and the ending! THE ENDING! It now seemed to have an extra punch to it that almost brought a tear to my eye.

So, I pulled out my ratty paperback of "Just for You" and compared. My observations were correct!

The first page of the book is brand new art. Plot wise, it isn’t as important, but it does give you a lead-in before the chaos ensues. It is a red herring. It gives the new reader a sense of, “Oh, how nice, the little guy is going to make breakfast for his family,” just like a bunch of other stories. But, as we know, this book is based a little more in reality. I like that a lot.

One of the "new" things that I discovered was, "I wanted to build a beautiful house just for you, but I hurt myself." As far as I can figure out, these are two pages of Mercer Mayer art and story that haven't been in any subsequent versions of this book!

The original ending is a one-two punch. You have to turn the page to figure out what Little Critter is going to do, and succeed at it.

It will make you smile and say “Aww” even more than the current version ever could. Something about the extra pause to turn the page just makes it hit home even more. The current version puts it all on one page which gives it a rushed feel. Yes, it is still the same story-wise, but the aesthetic and feel of it is changed. You get a sense of anticipation that is missing from the current version.

My first thought after all this was: WHY? I can only come up with theories:
1) Money? It costs more money to print more pages. Maybe artists/authors are paid on a per-page rate for reprints, and it saved the company a lot of money to do this?
2) Length? Maybe Golden Press' Pictureback's line can only be a certain amount of pages?
3) Editing? Maybe someone (wrongly, in my humble opinion) felt these pages distracted from the story or were useless or repetitive?
4) An article or study? Maybe an "attention span" article or other educational study came out that said if a book was over a certain amount of pages, a kid would dismiss it or be bored by it?
5) Censorship? You can't show Little Critter getting hurt! Kids will cry and it isn't fun! Ha ha.
6) "…things change." See the next paragraph.

I asked Mercer Mayer via email about this change in the book, and he responded, "With regards to the reprint changes, Little Critter asked me to tell you that things change." I was first kind of miffed by this response, but it has grown on me. Maybe Mercer Mayer wrote angry letters and tried to fight the system back in the 70's to not get his book changed… but he has now had 30+ years to get over it. Acceptance is hard, but necessary in the publishing world. “Things change,” is an attitude we could probably all strive to have. Star Wars Special Edition, “things change." Ha ha.

After discovering the differences, I put the information on Wikipedia, and put some pictures on Amazon…. But now I can only wonder what other books have changed over the years. Does the first edition of “The Cat in the Hat” have 12 extra pages in it (ha ha)? Are there other Mercer Mayer books that have been censored/edited (YES)? I wonder if Mercer Mayer was ever forced to cut pages of art and story from some of his other books before they were printed (probably). Yes, I understand that “things change," but I still want to know an artist’s/author’s full original intent. Now, I find myself wanting to get first printings of children’s books because of this. Too bad I don’t have the budget for it.

After "Just for You," Little Critter was a hit and the books have continued to be reprinted now for over 35 years. New books seem to come out at least once a year or more (lately it has been about 2 -4 a year). Now in his mid-60s, Mercer Mayer uses a computer for most of his art, and, from what I understand, he has sometimes used "ghost-illustrators" for some of his Little Critter works (according to illustrator John Nez who claims to have illustrated a few of Mercer Mayer's books). Don't even get me started on the confusing Erica Farber and J. R. Sansevere stuff. Some of his recent non-Little Critter related stuff is amazing and beautiful (like "Shibumi and the Kitemaker"), but I still find myself attracted to the 1970's stuff. I have read every Little Critter book to my children at least once, but to be honest, except for the first couple of Little Critter books, Mercer Mayer's other works are the ones that I re-read often to my kids (unless I am asked for a specific later Critter book).

It is the opinion of this Blogger that "Just for You" needs to be re-released in its original version. This book, to me, is a like a classic work of art… Like the Mona Lisa. What if, 200 years ago, no one messed with her smile, but someone erased her eyebrows. That would be something we wouldn’t notice, unless we saw the original (she never had eyebrows…as far as I know). Maybe a publisher will release an unexpurgated version as some kind of 35th anniversary limited edition or something. In the meantime, I wrote this blog just for you…

PS: If you are looking for this hardcover version, here is a link to it at (make sure the seller describes it as such too):
JUST FOR YOU by Mercer Mayer 1st Edition hardcover

PPS: While waiting for my once-in-a-while (daily? weekly? monthly? yearly?) article/novella-length blogs, go get your nearly daily kids-book-loving reading at “Vintage Children’s Books My Kid Loves” at She is a blogger that I read regularly with great pictures and to-the-point information.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Something is coming!

Something is coming!
Something is coming!
What can it be?
... a post? Maybe.
... a blog? Maybe.
... an article? Maybe.
... a short story? Maybe, in a roundabout way.
... a rambling mess that will make your head spin? Probably.
... all the above? Likely.
Who knows ! ?
BUT, "something" is coming!
So, now the only question is:
Soon, dear readers. Very soon, I will have something just for you, but I need to take some pictures first.
Hold on!
Did I see a hint?
Was that a hint?
I think there might have been a hint in there!
... Maybe.
Coming soon... something.