Monday, August 28, 2006

Sunday Scribblings -- Monster

You certainly don't have to twist my arm to get me to write a monster story! I love horror, and when I read Meg's prompt for Sunday Scribblings this week, my thought was WHICH MONSTER to write about?? I settled on goblins, and if you are familiar with Christina Rossetti's marvelous poem "Goblin Market," you have the background for this weird little story about kissing. And yes, I AM aware that my last strange tale ALSO involved kissing and dire consequences. But don't read anything into that. I'm pro-kissing. This is not a cautionary tale. Except: beware of goblins and strange fruit!


There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a highschool campus and point. Her, her, NOT her... It’s no mystery. That pretty girl sitting on her boyfriend’s lap? NOT her. The girl WATCHING the pretty girl sitting on her boyfriend’s lap? Yeah. Goner.

The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their dreams become a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.

Like Kizzy.

* * *

[I've taken down the rest of the story; sorry. It's a secret!]

Sunday Scribblings #21 - Inner Life of Pets

Some pets fall in love with you at first sight and would live in your pocket if they could. Others are kind of like mail-order brides. They acknowledge that you’re better than the Humane Society cell they’ve been living in, but that doesn’t mean they want to cuddle. Leroy falls into the first category, Shiloh into the second.

I think, in the past eleven years, that Shiloh has grown to love me, but the current arrangement of sleeping dog bodies tells the tale: Leroy is right next to my feet. And Shiloh? If I lean back in my chair I can see her out the screen door sleeping in the furthest corner of the yard. She likes corners. Her favorite room is whichever one we’re not in. She has a genius for escape. We call her our “downstairs neighbor,” because she NEVER comes upstairs to our bedroom and studio, even though that’s where we usually are, with Leroy sitting as close as caninely possible.

When she was younger she had a very deliberate way of showing her disdain for human company: if you would go sit next to her on the floor to pet her, she would get up and move just far enough away so that you couldn’t reach her, and sit back down. She was lucky to be very beautiful because I always forgave her. I suppose this is how it is for beautiful people, too. They can ignore you and you’ll still pet them and feed them and pick up their... oh, nevermind.

She HAS gotten sweeter in her old age, and seeks out affection in a way she never did when she was young and sleek and spry. But I do sometimes wonder how much she LIKES us, and what kind of life she would rather have had. I think she’d have been miserable as a sled-dog -- she’s such a dainty little wuss -- but maybe if she’d been born to it she would have loved it, the long runs over wide-open frozen terrain? Maybe she would have turned into a thuggy, cool hooligan version of herself. What else? Socialite dog? Show dog? It’s too hard to imagine.

It’s easier to envision the terrible alternatives, the chained-in-the-yard life she could easily have lived, or the cell life, or even the stray life. It makes me shudder to think of all the dogs and cats out there longing for love and attention. And then there’s Shiloh, in her corner, who apparently could care less. Just now as I write this, she came and stood looking at me and I tried coaxing her over for about a minute before she finally turned and went to her corner instead. Now that’s love.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Poetry or Cigars?

Hmmm... which am in the mood for today? How about both? Nah, maybe today I'll stick with fairy tales and whiskey. Ha ha. This is a sign for a bookstore in Manzanita, Oregon, town of our future beach house (that is, if you and twelve million other people buy my book next year!) Alexandra and I went out there recently to prove that it IS possible to get a sunburn at the Oregon coast! We weren't all bathing-suity or anything, heavens forfend. This WAS the Oregon coast, after all. There were sweatshirts involved, and a little bit of huddling near the dunes, keeping below the wind, but there were also capri pants, and lying on my stomach to read, and then... there were bright red calves. Ouch! It's been a LONG time since I had a sunburn, and that last one, in Turkey six years ago, was incurred for the same reason as this one: the wind can fool you. It didn't feel hot!

I used to be a sun-worshipper. I spent many summers very, very tan. But some time in my mid-20s I started to finally believe the sun could be... bad. This was long before my husband had melanoma. That just sealed the deal. I will never ever be tan again. When I see tan people now I want to lecture them. Tans make you look old and they kill you! It's like listening to the dentist when she tells you to floss: she knows things you don't know, has seen things you don't want to see, especially in your own mouth, ever. Same with the dermatologist. Dermatologists pretty much believe tanning beds should be illegal. They're the cigarettes of the dermatology world. THEY CAUSE CANCER. Don't go to them! Jim's dermatologist also said that the sun is pretty much 100% responsible for aging the skin, and that he's seen plenty of old ladies whose skin on their tushies is smooth as baby skin, from never being exposed. Can white please be the new bronze?

This isn't at all what I planned to write about. All I meant to say was, I'm still here. I've been in revision-hibernation, but that is done now. My book is in copyediting! Halleluja! (I am curious to see what kind of changes will come back to me after this last "last" pass.) Also, I am having some technical difficulties. My desktop computer, the one with internet access (I keep my laptop carefully free of the distraction of the internet; it is a dedicated writing computer) is in the shop, so I'm sort of off my blogging game. But I miss everybody and I'm trying to keep up.

P.S. Stay out of the sun!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Slugged by an octopus, but not really

Mmm, corndogs. VEGGIE corndogs. (I [heart] Trader Joe's.) Aren't they cute? And that green dish? I got a set of four in an antique store at the coast last month. Lime green has taken me over in the past few years, so much so that I buy lime-green furniture now, and of course, clothes. And jewelry. We've thought of painting the bathroom lime green, and maybe we will.

News about my writing room: it's finished! Yay! Sort of. Awesome-carpenter-Dave has finished everything, down to the ultra-cool bookcase he made me with a Moroccan arch on the top, new screen doors, and the new threshold for the french doors that makes everything seem so new and lovely. (Thank you, Dave!) But now I have to paint those things, and then, NEST. I can't wait to nest! I got an antique Javanese porch pillar I want to put in there somewhere with some lanterns hanging from it, and I want to paint a big painting for the wall... but right now I'm busy with a) new Laini's Ladies, and b) the second round of revisions for Blackbringer. I was a little stunned when I got the manuscript back from my editor, expecting, well, a copyedit, I guess. But there were fairly substantial editorial comments and it was a LITTLE bit like getting hit over the head with an octopus. An octopus? Sure, you know: it didn't really HURT, but it kind of stank. But the shock wore off and I realized the comments were good and thoughtful and the result of the kind of close reading only editors do, and so I'm okay now. (I might occasionally stick my tongue out at the manuscript while I am working, but there's no one there to see.)

So I'd better get back to that. I'll leave you with one of my new garden Laini's Ladies, which won't be available until next year:

Monday, August 14, 2006

"I sit on my muse"

Get it? My muse is my tush. heh heh. That quote is ripped off from Candie Moonshower, who Alexandra also mentioned in her post about the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & lllustrators) conference she and Jim and I went to in Los Angeles last week. That conference means A LOT to me, as I really don't think I would/could have written my book without it, much less found a publisher. (I wrote more about that here.) The SCBWI has created something really marvelous, a kind of paved and illuminated path to publication. Maybe not everyone will make it to the end of that path, but it's not because the path isn't there. It's there - IT'S THERE - and that is a revelation in itself.

This was my fourth year attending, and each year I have left supercharged with inspiration and with the knowledge that PEOPLE WRITE BOOKS THAT GET PUBLISHED. ALL THE TIME. And there are always other little secrets I leave with, words of wisdom or mysteries demystified. This year I will remember as the "Write the damn book" year, because that was the undercurrent in what many of the speakers said. In fact, it was exactly what Jane Yolen said in the closing keynote speech. "Write the damn book," she said again and again, and since she has written over 280 of them, one might assume she knows something about it. Could it really be that simple?

It is, after all, about sitting down and writing, isn't it? Where does all the baggage and terror come from? How does a writer keep that sense of play and that joy, when the story is straining forward like a racehorse at the gates, just wanting to do what it was born to do? And that magical tingle of "what happens next?" Aren't those the most thrilling words in the world? "What happens next?" Questions like "Are you published?" and "Do you have an agent?" just pale in comparison! It's about the story! It's about making stuff up! It's about creating characters you wish you could BE for a while, then making them learn things and fall in love and save the world... or, you know... whatever.

It's about the writing.

Some of the speakers gave solid technical advice about story structure, and we scribbled madly along in our notebooks, and some gave funny, heartwarming, inspirational lectures that held us rapt, though we mightn't have jotted down a single thing. Some editors spoke about revisions, which I am going through right now on my first novel (which I will shortly be getting back to, just in case my editor reads my blog, and if you do, ahem, Jim and I made you cookies last night. Really!) There was a mock contract negotiation between an editor and an agent, which was a real education, and there were slideshows by illustrators and one fabulous short film by a young picture book writer/illustrator named Jarrett Krosoczka, about the rollercoaster ride of creating his first book.

Caroline Cooney, "the goddes of the YA novel" gave a terrific talk on crafting the novel, creating suspense, moving the story forward, making choices, and most importantly, writing writing writing, and FAST. Her "plotting" seminar later was a harrowing and exhilarating experience, as she stood before a packed room with eyes glinting wickedly and practically cracked a whip, throwing us prompts and forcing us to write a story then and there, following the twists and wiles of her own malicious mind (I say that very fondly. It was a GREAT workshop!). Her point? You can write a LOT in 45 minutes if you're actually writing, rather than worrying or examining your cuticles or petting the dog with your foot, or whatever.

She mentioned a technique called a "Dear Aunt Helen" letter, for getting your ideas on paper. It's kind of like the trick I already use, having a document open on my computer titled "working doc" rather than the daunting "Chapter 1" -- By writing: "Dear Aunt Helen, I'm writing this story, and it's about blah blah blah, and by the way blah blah blah..." you can sort of smuggle the story past your inner critic. Cool, huh? It's like psychological warfare... on yourself!

And there was so much more. Once again, I urge writers to go to conferences. I especially urge children's writers to go to this one. It's every August at the swank Century Plaza Hotel in L.A., just a few miles down the road from Santa Monica, as pictured above all lovely and sunsetty. There's a pool and a hot tub, and lots of palm trees on a patio where you can sip overpriced wine while looking up at the MGM tower next door and wondering what wheeling-dealing is going on THERE. There's a party Saturday night at which you can sidle up to editors and try to act like you know they're just people, too. And there are writers and artists from all over the country working on their own cool projects (hi Jolie & Sarah & Ryan & Kevin!), and don't forget the manuscript reviews and contests and grants for works in progress, and it just all around rocks, so go.

Here are some pictures of us:

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What else I might still be...

The Sunday Scribblings prompt this week is: WHO else might I still be? I chose to change it to: WHAT else might I still be?

I will be ashes some day. Not for me that strange chemical facsimile of self, reluctant to decompose. It’s not the decomposition that troubles me. Presumably I won’t be there to smell it -- it’s just the real estate of the grave. The living take up enough space in this world. Why cede land to the dead? No cemetery for me and no urn. Just turn me loose, somewhere wild.

But apart from ashes, what else might I still be? Might I be a ghost? I think I would like to be a ghost for a while, to observe the living. I would choose one to follow, like I did one morning in Venice when I woke at dawn and went out to watch the Venetians hurrying to work. They knew all the shortcuts and alleys, all the tiny bridges, and I followed one after another, getting hopelessly lost, getting drawn into the heart of a secret city where real people did plain things, even within those dreamlike palazzi.

As a ghost, I will pass through walls and perch on the tall backs of chairs. I will taste the food on people’s forks as they lift them to their lips. I will listen to their lullabyes and laments, and I will disrupt their televisions so they have to find other ways to spend the evening. With a Ouija board, maybe. I’ll spell them secrets, like who is in love with them, and who is not.

Or might I be a shade? Might I awaken in the antechamber to the afterlife to hear the jolly I-told-you-so’s of Christians as they’re whisked rapturously upward? Might I be left to loll in Purgatory, forever seeing up the skirts of the righteous as they’re hefted to heaven? Maybe. Or are atheists sent down like hooligans to the headmaster’s office? I’ll be surly as a schoolboy. I’ll repeat every sentence the devils utter til they’re gritting their teeth. I’ll say, “I know you are, but what am I?” I’ll hold up two fingers behind their heads like horns whenever a photo is being snapped. I’ll run when I’m supposed to walk, and tapdance when I’m supposed to slouch.

Or might I get a chance to audition for heaven, despite my disbelief? Wouldn’t that be nice, if all the heathen babies didn’t burn in eternal hellfire? Even if I made it through and paradise was wonderful and golden, I would want to sneak back to life and tell people: “You only have to be good!” I would spread the word like an agnostic gospel: Be good and help people. That’s all that matters! (And maybe not telling other people they’re going to Hell looks good on your heavenly resume?)

But what do I really think I will be next, many many years from now? A body whose brain will inevitably fall still, and after that ashes, and then, nothing. It might not be as exciting as ghostlife or tapdancing in hell, but it’s not sad. Life is a beautiful thing, a shimmer, like a thread of spidersilk catching the light. And I think once it’s gone it’s gone, so you should love it all you can and not get caught up in dreaming how important you’ll be in Heaven, and whether God will remember your name or have to be reminded by the angel with the clipboard.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sunday Scribblings -- very late!!

I posted last week's Sunday Scribblings prompt right before racing out of town for a week, so I'm really really late with it, but I'm determined not to miss any! The subject was "Who I might have been" and it could be interpreted many ways, but I'll stick with just telling what made me think of the prompt in the first place.

I caught part of a program on PBS about a young Danish aviatrix who flew a teeny tiny plane from Denmark to Kabul in 2002. It was quite an amazing story. She set off on this journey because of a documentary she'd seen on TV in which school children in Afghanistan right after the fall of the Taliban were talking about what they want to be when they grow up. Well, one young girl said she wanted to be a fighter pilot. Perhaps it was the great unlikelihood of that dream coming true that prompted the aviatrix to plot her journey -- I don't know. I suspect it was the journey itself that settled into her soul, and the little girl at the other end was just sort of punctuation to the adventure. At least I hope so. Because after an incredible series of flights in her really very small plane, against all odds and without the permission of the US military, she arrived in Kabul. She met the girl and took her flying. And, well, the girl didn't really seem all that keen on being a pilot after all. Wah-wah-wah.

It wasn't the most uplifting finale to a documentary, but it was so REAL. Imagine if when you were twelve some stranger in a faraway land overheard you say what you wanted to be when you grew up, and then staged a daring journey to come and help you fulfill your dream. Well, that's awesome, but... when I was twelve I wanted to be pathologist for a while, and I'm really glad no one flew around the world to teach me how to perform an autopsy!

What does this have to do with the Sunday Scribblings prompt? It was just the Afghan girl's life that got me thinking. She had a loving and supportive family, including a father who wanted her to succeed -- she had it better than a lot of girls in Afghanistan. She wasn't being sold to an eighty-year-old mullah to be his sixth wife. But she was still a young girl in Afghanistan and as such, her options were very limited! Even if someone miraculously flew a plane into her city just to help her fulfill her dreams, would she know what to do with that? Dream-following takes practice. You can't really spring it on someone and expect them to know just what to do, to show up on time for their dream-following appointments! Some people are born with the miraculous inner resources to grab onto their opportunities, but not everyone. Not MOST people.

How about me? I'd like to think I have those inner resources, but how can I know? I've been lucky to the point of blessed. I mean, I'm not from a rich family, but a loving family who always supported my dreams. I never had to listen to any uncles telling me I would shame the family by being seen in an airplane!! I distinctly remember the point in my life when I realized how foolish it was to believe everyone should be expected to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." I let go of my Ayn Rand-inspired teenage elitism and opened my mind a little.

When I was 17 I lived in Paris for three months and all my French friends were card-carrying members of the Communist party. Really. That was something out of the 1950's to an American teenager in the late '80s. Communism was a historical failure, right? Queuing for toilet paper and all that? But to my French friends it was the principle that people deserve a level playing field, that not all humans are born with the tenacity and strength and intelligence to fight their way out of poverty and just because someone's not a genius, do they deserve misery? Shouldn't society take care of its citizens? So simple!

I'm not saying I converted, but the arguments surely did wonders for my French -- there was a memorable weekend manning a crepe booth at "La Fete de l'Humanite," a kind of Communist carnival outside of Paris, when my language skills were put to task defending my country! (Something I wouldn't attempt in France now even in ENGLISH.)

I'll write a bit about the Children's Book Conference Jim and Alexandra and I have been at in a day or two. Cheers! Hope everyone is doing well!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

More Show & Tell

Here's a mock-up of the cover of my book!! I didn't think I'd be able to show Jim's awesome artwork for a while, but the art director just gave him the go-ahead to post it on his website, so I figure, it's fair game. Isn't it gorgeous? I think the lettering will probably change, but this is basically it. I LOVE it! (Jim isn't a very active blogger, but I know he'd love to get some comments about this cover, if you happen to find your way to his blog.)

I've been having kind of a hard time keeping up with blogs lately, what with work and summer stuff like family trips, and I'm looking forward to the Northwest rains to return and keep us housebound in a cloudy grey coccoon. I do love the Oregon rain! I love the smell of it, the sound of it on the roof and windows, and I love the green it brings. Not so green now. Bring on the rain, sky gods! I love the calm of winter, coffee in the kitchen, long days of writing wrapped in a warm sweater... sigh... Come on, rain!

PS - Apropos of nothing, my ridiculous shoe order was delivered today and har har har, the joke's on me. They're high alright. Hoo boy. One pair in particular is so absurd. ABSURD. It's the middle pair, if you care to know. Those of you who wondered how I walk in such shoes? Actually, they're quite steady -- that's not the problem. Walking in them is kind of like walking with overturned buckets strapped to your feet! You're not going to tip over or turn an ankle, but dang, your feet weigh about 20 pounds each! I'm not sure if I'm going to return them or keep them for dress-up (the Halloween kind, not the date night kind). But the other two pair are wearably absurd, I think. I'll take some photos of them in action!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Holiday Laini's Ladies

It might still seem a little early to be showing holiday designs, but I have been very restrained about it -- I did these designs back in January! As with publishing, so too with gift products: you work several seasons, if not years, ahead of time -- It takes some getting used to. I'm working on Valentine's and Mother's Day right now, in fact. I waited to post these designs until the manufacturer, Bottman, could show them at their summer gift shows, and that time is now. So here they are! They'll be available as ornaments, greeting cards, and gift tags:

And this pair is kind of its own little set, with the birdies and all:

These will be in stores in the fall, and can also be found here. Also, when I was at the coast this weekend I saw that my 2007 desk calendars are out in some stores. Yay!