Bestest Boy

Tao: In Confucianism, the way, or the path to be followed.

For anyone who knows me and has read the teaser for Boy in the Blue Hammock, it will be no surprise to you that my son was the inspiration for the character of Kasper. What might be a surprise is that failed service dog, Tao, is also grounded in real-life. For over a decade, a goofy, gold-coated Labrador was part of our family due to ‘incomplete training’ with the BC Guide Dogs.

And, yes, his name was Tao.

I don’t have to put up with this shit…
Okay, I guess I do…


Not the proper pronunciation — our boy was ‘Tay-Oh’. Fitting it should stray from the correct form; some of his behaviour wasn’t very Confucian (frankly, it would’ve sent the monks scurrying for their prayer beads). The first time we left him alone and untethered in the house, Tao went to town, eating everything he could get his paws on — most notably, an entire loaf of pane de casa bread — and very nearly killing himself by downing Xylitol-laden chewing gum and toothpaste (mercifully, his size saved him). Another time, despite the lesson learned about our absence, a leashed Tao managed to reach an unopened tub of chocolate protein powder. We came home to find a floor that looked more like a motorcross track and a dog unperturbed by the inappropriateness of doing brownface. And then there was the occasion he ate the moose-hide moccasins hand-made by my beautiful wife, leaving only the decorative centre-piece: a beaded, green and gold wattle tree that obviously wasn’t nearly as appetizing as the gamey shoe.

Tao was a prisoner of his appetite. Add to that he was allergic to everything, chewed his skin until it bled, drank water to choking point, couldn’t catch to save his life, and farted like a balloon with a slow leak.

And he was wonderful.

As per my gorgeous daughter’s tag, he was the ‘Bestest Boy’.



When I completed the manuscript of Boy in the Blue Hammock, Tao had just turned 11. By June of 2021, after a soul-destroying eighteen months of publisher rejection, Tao was 13 and, like my novel, in failing health. He couldn’t walk properly. He had issues breathing. He was hardly eating. On June 28, we decided to say goodbye to our Bestest Boy.

Aside from that heartbreaking decision, June 28 was already loaded with emotion and painful reflection. I was returning to my day job for the first time in 15 long, pandemic-stricken months and, though my resumption of duties carried the optimistic banners of financial recovery and family stability, it was also a stark reminder of my creative failure. Ignoring the fact I had no control over my story’s publishing prospects, I had vowed I would emerge from the Covid cocoon as a butterfly with a book deal. I hadn’t.

Sitting at my untouched work desk, largely alone due to section colleagues having moved on, a desk jockey cum moonlight novelist with no contract to show for the last five years of literary efforting, I was exactly the same as pre-furlough: a plain moth with an unwanted manuscript. And now, we were letting go of Tao, our precious companion, the inspiration along with my son for the work that was the best of my career and might never see the light of day.

My beautiful wife and my gorgeous daughter — the two humans Tao most loved, and was loved back just as much — took him to the vet around 10.30 in the morning. Around 11.00am, he peacefully passed away. At 2.20pm, while sitting at my desk, alone with my sadness, thinking about the words and actions I would need for the grief awaiting me at home, I received an email.

It was a publisher offer for Boy in the Blue Hammock.

I’m not sure how many times I had to read it to make sure it wasn’t another rejection. Maybe half a dozen? When I was finally convinced, I looked around at my ghost town office and, certain I was alone, I pushed my chair back, bent forward, laid my forehead on the desk, and held back the tears wanting to afford the moment its proper due.

“You did it, Tao,” I whispered. “You’ll live forever on the page.”

And, amazingly, he wasn’t done.

The next day, I received a second offer.


The way.

The path to be followed.

It wasn’t easy, to be sure, but it’s true what they say: the struggle makes the success more earned.

Makes the gift more appreciated.

Run forever, Tao

Boy in the Blue Hammock will be released in CAN/US Spring 2022. It is available for pre-order here.