This is going to be a long post with lots of photos, in many of which I am smiling like an absolute maniac. I need to learn to smile a little more elegantly, perhaps cultivate a bit of “cool.” But whatever -- I have had a lot to smile about! Before I launch into my many photos and exclamation points about Comic-Con and SCBWI, I can FINALLY share my exciting news! I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of months, bursting to blog about it, gnashing my teeth and wringing my hands, and now I finally can tell you:
[And no, I am not pregnant, which several different people have guessed was my news.]
I sold a book to Arthur Levine!!!
I sold a book to Arthur Levine!!!
It’s unrelated to my Dreamdark series, which remains happily esconced at Putnam, with Silksinger on the way. This other book is called Goblin Fruit, and it’s for teens, and it’s creepy and supernatural and sexy and romantic, and it’s going to be fully illustrated by Jim! How AWESOME is that? Not illustrated like a graphic novel, but more like a lush old fairy tale book from the turn of the century with lots of beautiful black and white drawings and fancy borders and stuff like that. And this weekend we got to hang out with the awesome Arthur Levine and the also-awesome Rachel Griffiths, who came up in publishing as Arthur’s editorial assistant and whose eyeballs were the first ones at Scholastic to read my manuscript -- thank you for liking it, Rachel!!!
I’ll get into all that later down in this long, long post. For a moment, just let me do the Snoopy Dance about Goblin Fruit. Wheeee!!! Jim and I have wanted to collaborate on illustrated fiction for a long time. Years. But no one was really doing illustrated novels, not the way we imagined them. And then along came a little book called The Invention of Hugo Cabret. (Actually, it’s enormous.) And then another (coming soon) called The Arrival. Gorgeous books that take risks with new formats to make really exciting ART -- and both are published by Scholastic, so it really seems like our book has found the perfect home! I can’t WAIT to see how it comes together.
(Arthur A. Levine Books is an imprint of Scholastic, and it’s most famous for publishing the Harry Potter books.)
But now, on to Comic-Con!
So fun! Imagine over 100,000 people in one place worshipping comic books and fantasy novels and Japanese toys, sci-fi movies and TV shows, art, T-shirts, art, toys, art, video games, art. Artists, writers, movie stars, nerds. The humanity! See:
Jim making friends with robots:
Me with the magnificent Iorek Byrnison (God, I can’t WAIT for that movie!):
Jim getting throttled by Darth Vader:
The cutest little Princess Leia ever -- and that’s saying a lot because I was Princess Leia when I was her age too:
Honesty in marketing:
And some Buffy folks were just strolling around. Here’s Tara (Amber Benson), with the guy who killed her and was later flayed alive by a very angry Willow:
The weird thing is, Tara always seemed tall compared to Buffy and Willow, but Amber Benson is a small girl. I guess Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alison Hannigan must be TINY LITTLE ELVEN girls!
And here’s the werewolf from Underworld with the crazy deep voice. He really talks like that:
So we walked around, spent too much money on things like wall decals and jewelry and art books from European publishers, and we bought a page of original art from our very talented friend Jason Shawn Alexander:
We met him at our very first Comic-Con, I think six years ago, and his career has really blossomed since then. One of the best things about Comic-Con and SCBWI both is seeing other writers and artists this one time a year and getting caught up on all their new success. It’s wonderful to see talented people succeeding in creative careers!
On Friday, I got to be on a panel -- my first Comic-Con panel -- and I want to show you the line of people who showed up just to see
And here is HALF the assembled crowd. Neat, huh?
(I’m such a nerd to show you that.) And HERE is the panel:
The topic was VILLAINS and we got to talk about why villains are so great and why they’re so important -- if you haven’t really thought about it before, in a fantasy or adventure story, it’s really the villain’s desire that drives the plot, so it’s got to be good. A good bad desire. I love writing villains; it comes with [relative] ease, it’s FUN. As I said on the panel, there’s this line in Wim Wenders’ movie Wings of Desire in which two angels are lamenting all the things they don’t get to do because they’re angels, and one of them says, with deep yearning, “Just once, to enthuse for evil!” I LOVE that line, and I feel like that’s what we do when we write villains. We enthuse for evil.
I read aloud this passage describing a secondary villain in Blackbringer. This is the grossest thing I had ever written and it was such fun:
“Its mottled brown skin had the texture of dried gut stretched over a skull, and so crude were its features it seemed to have been sculpted in the dark, and with one obvious omission: it had no mouth. Or rather, its mouth was a mass of scar tissue with no opening. It was pulled so tight it was clear there were teeth beneath, many teeth, and that they were well sharp enough to eat through its own puckered flesh and make an opening there, as it had clearly done many times in the past. Abominably, the creature’s mouth was a wound that healed shut when it went too long between feedings.”
Eeek! Okay -- that’s really the stand-out gross part of the book, so don’t let it discourage you from reading it if you’re anti-gross!
The panel itself was fun, and meeting the other writers was awesome. Holly Black! She happens to be hidden behind that walking boy in the photo above, so here’s a picture of us from the next day:
She’s so cool, and her books are awesome, dark, edgy urban fantasy -- it was a big geek-out moment for me to meet her! Also, I love her eyeliner. But the BEST part is that her first words to me were, “I just read your book.” Eh what? Really? Sweet! And she liked it!
Also on the panel and couldn’t-be-nicer, Jon Lewis, half of the duo that writes the Grey Griffins books (the other half is Derek Benz who was up there too -- they’ve been best friends since they were little kids and look: they grew up to write books together and travel around to schools talking about writing. What a great inspiration they are to kids!)
After the panel, Jim and I had dinner with our agent Jane, who’d come down from LA, and my editor Tim and the other Penguin Young Readers folks who’d come out from New York. Here are Tim, Lisa, Donna, and Erin. Lisa and Erin are both powerful marketing forces at Penguin, as well as nice and silly and just nerdy enough to really enjoy Comic-Con. After dinner, Tim taught us all how to tie a bow tie, which is his signature wardrobe item.
Dessert looked like an alien had landed:
Saturday was my signing in the Penguin booth. I think we were all a little uncertain going in whether I would sell many books. I had visions of sitting at my little table with the pen gripped in my fist and a desperate, pleading smile plastered across my face while Stormtroopers and elf maidens sashayed by, heedless. But that’s not what happened! As you saw at the beginning of this post, even Boba Fett loves my book! Ha ha ha! The signing went GREAT. We sold LOTS of books and I felt like a star. Look at this photo of excited girls buying my book:
And as you see here, Tim seems to have matched his bow tie to my hair for the occasion:
Tim and I got away from the mob for a while afterward to talk about the progress of Silksinger, and you know, I’m still new enough to this whole thing that I think it’s very neat to be sitting in a beer garden with my editor talking about my next book. My next book!!! What beautiful words. Most of the time this writing life is very different -- a lot of sitting in my writing room moving forward with the story and emerging every once in a while for coffee or a sandwich. That’s why the past few weeks have been so wonderful -- being surrounded by readers and writers and editors, talking shop, before I slide back into my cocoon of story. I love and value this time of year GREATLY.
I have to admit, though, how eager I am now that it’s over, to slide back into that cocoon. I know a lot of writers write every day of the year no matter what -- I am not so virtuous. I may do that for weeks and even a few months at a time, but not all year round. For me, I find a break of a few weeks, then going back and reading my current project “fresh” can be just the thing to get me re-energized and back to work with enthusiasm. So that begins the moment this insanely long blog post is up!
Funny thing about blogs -- writing about things seems to make them more real. If a tree falls in the forest and no one blogs about it, did it really happen? ha ha. I have to relate a funny story from the eve of SCBWI when we eager writers were having our first drinks in the swanky hotel lounge. Jay Asher, aka Disco Mermaid, told how in the bathroom after dinner he had. . . [bodily function alert here] peed in the urinal next to John Green (I’m sure John Green doesn’t mind me passing along the rumor that he pees) -- and that the thought that went through Jay’s mind was, “Man, I’m peeing next to John Green. I am so blogging about this!” HA HA! What blogger cannot relate to that?
But before I get on to SCBWI there are three idyllic days in the Valley. Three Days in the Valley. Isn’t that a movie? The “Valley” is that vast suburban sprawl outside LA where “valley girls” were spawned, and it’s where Alexandra’s wonderful parents live, and where I spent three days lolling poolside (in the thick shade of a terrace AND an umbrella, I should add -- I don’t tan. No. Three days by an LA pool and I’m as Oregonian-looking as ever. I used to tan, but those days are over for me. Tan = bad. Tan = wrinkles and possibly surgery and possibly even death.)
So, in my continuing pallor, I read books! I read the second Temeraire book, and I read Girl At Sea by Maureen Johnson, whose blog is great (and her books too, or course!) I also bought a huge polka-dotted notebook and wrote extravagant, detailed notes for a story idea that I will get to some time in the future (that I’m really really really really excited about!!) Alexandra is studying for her licensing exams to become a psychotherapist, so this summer is study study study for her, and this pool terrace is such a great study spot. Pool, two hot tubs, lots of chairs, shade, the sound of a waterfall. Beautiful! And it felt like real vacation to me. We also went for long walks each morning and got the best frozen yogurt I’ve ever had. And sushi. And we did purifying face masks and had a photo shoot:
Yes, we’re both 35. No, we don’t feel obliged to act like it.
Alexandra also had a little swim. . . in her clothes and shoes. . . because Jim dared her to on the phone. I didn’t realize she was so susceptible to dares. What can I dare her to do next. . . ?
And we went on safari to find my book in bookstores, and to buy a cake pan my mother had told us about -- a mythical, wonderful cake pan that, if rumors were true, would make a cake that looked like. . . are you ready for this? A single giant cupcake!!! And the rumors were true! We found it!
We also had dinner with some family friends of Alexandra’s in some little cool neighborhoody part of LA -- I can’t remember what it was called. At the next table was the guy who sang “Solid as a Rock” -- Ashford & Simpson? When someone said that, I thought they said “Ashley Simpson” -- or is spelled Ashlee or something? Anyway, the dude from Ashford & Simpson looks nothing like Ashlee Simpson.
That evening, eight-year-old Olivia entertained me with her eyebrows and her dramatic reactions to my book:
Okay, phew. SCBWI
This was, I think, my fifth time going to this conference, and I’ve written about past ones in more detail, and I’ve said that it’s meant everything to me as a writer, and to my career. I met my agent Jane there, and heard my editor Tim speak and thought, “Hm, he might like my book!” and even before that, I attended workshops that really got my book on track. Every year it’s been inspiration and solid advice, and networking. This year it was all of that too, but I admit, the emphasis was a little more on the FUN, and hanging out with writers and having a glass of wine, of getting to know new people, and catching up with people I’ve met before or know from blogs, and talking and gossiping about writing and publishing and books books books! That’s not to say I didn’t love the workshops and talks done by writers and artists like John Green, Kadir Nelson, Peter Brown, Kirby Larson, Tamora Pierce, and more -- that was great too!
Jim and I also got to meet. . . in the lobby of our hotel. . . none other than John Edwards! The next president of the United States! Well, if it was up to us, he would be. We [heart] him. And there he was, right in front of us! We shook hands with him! Later, we got to have some drinks with his campaign staffers and they told me that when he came back into the hotel he said, “There’s that girl with the pink hair.” HA HA! I knew this pink hair was a good idea!!
The best best best part for me was meeting Rachel Griffiths and Arthur Levine, and talking with great excitement about Goblin Fruit -- and with Elizabeth Parisi also, who is the Executive Art Director at Scholastic. Here are Jim and me with Arthur and Elizabeth. We seem to be a study in green (also, see what I mean about my maniacally and exuberantly uncool smile? No "cool" person ever looked this absurdly happy!):
And with Rachel:
As I mentioned before, Rachel was the first one to read my manuscript at Scholastic, and she has been a cheerleader for it -- handing it off to Arthur when he just stepped off the plane home from Bologna. She told me she was fanning herself while reading it (as I said, it’s sexy, but it’s “clean sexy,” that is, it’s steamy without being in any way explicit. It’s about desire and kissing and souls and love and it has goblins in it and demons and shapeshifters and shadows reeled out on kite strings!) Rachel was still at the Levine imprint when Goblin Fruit came to her, but she has since been promoted to full editor at Scholastic Press. Go, Rachel! She tells me, though, that she still sits in the same place and she’ll still be a part of the editorial process for Goblin Fruit.
Can I just say here what awesome people work in children’s publishing? The whole Putnam gang is wonderful, and I had such fun with them in San Diego, and the Scholastic bunch too. Fun-loving, book-loving smart funny people. What a blessing.
And more and more pictures:
And I got to meet bloggers in person! Here is Amber:
And Rilla in her Saturday night costume:
And the fabulous Disco Mermaids!
They are the life of the party and I’d seen them in past years always livening things up like they do, with their costumes and boogie. I’m very excited to say I finagled an ARC of Jay Asher’s forthcoming book Thirteen Reasons Why from him and it’s next on my to-read list. I’m so excited about it! He, like me, is another SCBWI success story -- this conference has been an integral part of his own road to publication, and he was far more generous than me in passing on the goood karma -- he actually held a contest and paid the winner’s not-inconsiderable conference fees! (Hi Stephanie!) I didn’t even think of doing that. Way to go, mermaids!
And here are the incomparable “Washington girls” as Jim and I call them, the regional advisors for the Western Washington chapter of the SCBWI:
Left to right, not including me, that’s: Jim, Sara, Jaime, Jolie, and Kirby Larson. Sara and Jolie are the RAs, Jaime the Illustrator’s Coordinator, and Kirby is the Newbery-Honor-winning author of Hattie Big Sky which I JUST finished reading last night, after a fevered 24-hour reading period. It’s a MARVELOUS book about a 16-year-old girl homesteading in Montana alone in 1918. It’s so full of heart, narrative quirkiness, period detail that makes you feel what it was like to live then. And Kirby was a fabulous speaker, not to mention quite a cloak-and-dagger spy late Saturday night when interesting things were afoot in the hotel. . . enough said!
Aside from writing and illustrating together, Sara and Jaime are also. . . water ballerinas! This too, is late Saturday night, in clear defiance of the posted pool usage times:
They were EXTREMELY graceful, let me just say.
Oh yes, and here is me in a fancy mustache made of chocolate. Mere moments later, I ate my own mustache.
The conference always ends too soon. It started on friday morning, and friday was so long and packed with workshops and speakers and meet-n-greet and even a Mongolian throat singer, that it seemed each day would stretch on forever like that, but then. . . suddenly, it was monday afternoon and the authors were all gathered round signing their books and we were eating cupcakes and saying goodbye to each other.
One last thing. We drove from the general Beverly Hills-ish area of the hotel over to Koreatown to visit our friend Jason in his art studio. In the week since we’d last seen him at Comic-Con he’d shaved off his mohawk! We looked at his amazing paintings, and then went down the hall to see some amazing scuptures by the too-cute-to-be-real Ver Mar, who as you see in the photo below, has mastered the art of not smiling like a big eager dork in pictures.
She always looks perfect and cool, and I dig her eyeliner as much as Holly Black’s. Do I need to start experimenting with eyeliner? No no. Just kidding. What a mess I would make. But aside from the cuteness, Ver really is an amazing sculptor. I hope some day to own a piece. Meanwhile, the page of comic art we bought from Jason will be prominently hung when we get home.
If we get home.
This isn’t the end of our journey. Still on the road. But my goodness, it is such a fine thing to have my computer back! It has been a kind of misery trying to putz about on various PCs in the past few weeks. Alien computers! I love my Mac! LOVE it. MWAH!
This brings to a close the longest post I have ever posted. I hope you enjoyed it!