Wednesday, July 25, 2007

If your dog is fat. . .

I saw a sign in the supermarket yesterday that said: "If your dog is fat. . . you need more exercise." I love that! It's so true! Poor fat doggies, never getting walks! The kind of dog owner a person is says a lot about them. It's not just walks, of course. Some people treat dogs like they're kind of an accessory to their home or their life, something to complete a particular picture they have in their mind: married, two children, beautiful home, nice lawn, two cats, one dog. Assemble all the pieces. Or maybe they gave in to their kids' begging, but don't really have time in their life for a dog, and they don't feel a particular affection for it so it gets to spend a large portion of its life by itself, hungry for love. And dogs are so hungry for love! They're pack animals and I think to have a dog that has to live in the yard by itself is a kind of torture -- for a dog not to get to be with its "pack" -- it's cruelty. Don't get dogs if you can't make them part of your family! Get something inanimate, like an alarm system, or get your kid a really big stuffed animal. Or a cat. Cats don't have the same needs dogs have -- some are really affectionate, it's true, but cats aren't pack animals, and they fare better on paltry amounts of love than dogs do.

The other night when Jim and I got back to his mom's house from spending the evening at his sister's we poured a couple of glasses of wine and sat on the floor with Leroy and read our books for an hour or two, to try to make up for having to leave Leroy home alone all day. He's such a good dog and all he wants out of life is to be around us. He loves long car trips, and I think it's because he gets to have us both in one small space for hours at a time, with the added excitement of strange smells blowing in the window. At home, he's only truly happy when we're both in the same room. If not, he wanders restlessly between us, constantly checking that we're both still there. Shiloh, my husky, wasn't like that. We called her our "downstairs neighbor" because she liked her own space. Ah, dogs. Such wonderful creatures. I hate to think of the sad, love-starved dogs all over the place that get in spastic quivers of excitement on the rare occasions their owners deign to touch them!

Why am I writing about that? I don't know! I'm still in the Flat City; driving tonight down through the Huge Smoggy City and on to San Diego. Looking forward to a glimpse of some California ocean! Really looking forward to the madness of Storm Troopers and nerds and movie stars that is Comic-Con. Been thinking about villains and what I want to say on the panel. Should be fun.

Also fun: my hair!!! I've never had so much fun with my hair. I went with my niece to one of those cheapy mall stores that sells colorful plastic glittery jewelry and barettes that little girls can afford to buy, and I bought some barettes in bright colors. And oh -- my hair, it is no longer pink. I don't think I had a chance to mention that. I went back to the salon. My hair is now. . .


I WISH I could post a photo on this alien computer! See, the pink was a little soft, especially in the back and around my temples, so I went back to the salon the morning of Harry Potter Madness and had it touched up. Or rather, punched up. It came out bright bright magenta and I love it so much more. I weep to see the color sweeping down the drain when I wash it. I wish it would just grow this color with no maintainance. It's so awesome! And the conservative folks in Flat City don't seem bothered by it, though some teenagers hanging out in a gas station in Northern California did murmur that it was "disgusting" -- ha ha! I don't get offended by the opinions of teenagers who spend their Saturday nights hanging out at the gas station. I went into a Borders here to sign the copies of my book they had on hand and the manager told me, musingly, that I didn't look "punk" -- I look like a "children's book character" which is pretty much what I'm going for! (I was wearing a kelly green headband at the time with pink and blue polka dots.) So, it's FUN. Photos to follow!


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

No spoilers, I promise!

I am on a strange computer, one of those "PC" contraptions, and I am in a hot, flat city visiting Jim's family, including the newest member, Abigail, aged one week and three days. She's so wee! It boggles the mind that she will grow up into a person. Oh, I know she's already a person, but you know what I mean!

So. Harry Potter. Finished it last night. I won't give anything away. I'll just say -- I'm all for it! I read on Cheryl Klein's blog (too hard to link on this alien computer) -- she's the "Potterologist" editor at Arthur A. Levine Books -- that some people are unhappy with several things about the book, most notably the "title elements" and the final chapter. I wasn't unhappy with them at all! Thought both were so well done. The book was a really different read than the previous six, since it broke the formula. And as for who died and who lived -- well, I thought that was well-chosen too. I'm sad to be finished. Sad the series is finished. I can't imagine what J.K. Rowling must be feeling. I read that she sobbed as she wrote some of the final scenes, and I can well imagine.

What a journey this series has been -- for the whole reading world, really. Snobs excluded, of course. Alexandra and I and my niece and young cousin went to a couple of bookstores on Friday night -- we started out at B&N after seeing Order of the Phoenix next door (it was good!)and it was a madhouse there, lots of costumes, total fun. We wanted to see what was up at Powell's so we drove across the river and found. . . total MADNESS. Streets blocked off. Hundreds and hundreds of people. News vans. Wizard hats. People camped out like it was the Rose Parade or something. WOW! We went back to B&N to get our books. It was too crazy downtown! Didn't get home until close to 2. Sheesh. Read most of the book driving to California the next day. And now it's done. Over.

Guess I'd better get back to writing my own book.

Remember, southern Californians -- friday at Comic-Con: 4:30 -- the "villains" panel! You can find more info on the "news" section of my website. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Oh Snape, are you evil, or just misunderstood?

In a little more than 24 hours I will be at Powell's Books in a sea of freaky-excited kids (and their even freakier & more excited parents) waiting to get my hands on a big fat wonderful chunk of book. I can't wait! I reread Half-Blood Prince a couple of weeks ago and I have my theories, but I can't wait for J.K. Rowling to wash them all away in a slew of unpredictable twists and turns. I'm sure she will. I can't even decide if I hope Snape is good or bad! On the one hand, it seems like she's set him up in this horrible role (horrible for him, I mean, great for the reader) where he might really be a good and loyal character who has to seem bad. I kind of think that Dumbledore told him to kill him. In book 6 Dumbledore made Harry promise he would do as he said, no matter what it was. So did he make Snape promise the same thing? Did he make Snape kill him, for some very important reason? Maybe. And what could be worse than to be believed evil when you're not, to have to let others believe you ARE what you're actually fighting AGAINST? To let yourself be tainted by that association, possibly forever?

I read an amazing novel a year or so ago called A Thread of Grace, and it concerned the end of WWII in Northern Italy, how Italian peasants hid Jews from the Nazis. And there was one character who was an Italian who spied for the Resistance by seeming to be a Nazi crony. The most haunting of many haunting things I took away from that book was this: at the end of the war, many resistance fighters were executed as collaborators in the frenzy of "justice" after the occupation ended. I'm sure it must have happened in France too. How awful is that? I can't get it out of my head. They were summarily executed. They'd been seen with the Nazis being all cozy and smoking cigars or whatever, so they were assumed to be collaborators and were hanged or shot without trials, without giving anyone a chance to vouch for them. Awful. So if Snape is in that position, I really really feel for him. What a terrible sacrifice to have to make!

Or, maybe he's just a vile and wicked villain. I don't know! In a few days I'll know! Man. An era comes to an end.

I have not yet been to a midnight Potter release party and I wouldn't miss this one for anything. I will be taking my 11-year-old niece and 9-year-old cousin first to see Order of the Phoenix and then to Powell's for the late-night party. And, as Miss Erin pointed out, I have kind of a "Tonks" thing going on now. I should go in costume! Anyone got a spare wizard robe? Magic wand?

Here's a very interesting Washington Post article on Arthur Levine, the U.S. editor of the Potter books. Check it out. Good stuff.

Enjoy your Potter, fellow junkies! I'll meet you back here in a few days to discuss Snape!

P.S. After I kept seeing "the first annual Kidlitosphere Conference" mentioned on blogs here and there, I couldn't help myself. Late late last night when my reasoning faculties were weak and my airline-website-navigating fingers were strong, I got tickets to Chicago for Jim and myself. This "conference" sounds so fun. I'm always envious when I read about "kidlit drinks night" that those cool New Yorkers are always having -- and this will be a kind of bigger and better version of that. It's a bonanza of kidlit bloggers like "Fuse #8" + writers like Barry Lyga and Ysabeau Wilce. And it's in Chicago, where I have never been. Yippeeee! And as if all that isn't cool enough, it turns out the Field Museum just opened a Darwin exhibition that is "the most complete collection of Charles Darwin's manuscripts, artifacts, memorabilia, and other rare personal belonging" -- it even traces the voyage of the Beagle. So cool. I LOVE natural history museums, and the Field Museum has the biggest T-Rex skeleton in the world. Her name is Sue and she's awful pretty!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Limp Arms, New Website

Whew. I've been working on designing a new website all day, and it's been complicated by the fact that my arms are mysteriously, outrageously SORE. The kind of sore where I'm having kind of a hard time doing basic things I take for granted, like lifting them with just the right pressure and speed to not smack myself in the face if I need to rub my eye or something. Or you know, to actually make it all the way to my face. My arms are not properly calibrated right now. I did go to the gym yesterday, and I did lift weights, which I don't do very often. But the thing is, I didn't work out my triceps (or, as I like to call them, my triceratops) at all, and yet, that's what kills. And see, I did THREE MINUTES on this one new cardio machine with an arm workout element to it, and the really really sad thing is, I think those three minutes have to be responsible. Three. Minutes. I want to clarify that I had just run 3 miles on the treadmill. It's not like I only do three minutes of cardio. But as for the triceratops, I just don't know. This I know: OUCH. Wow.

But in spite of my pitiful arms, I DID manage to redesign my website! Check it out HERE. It's not all done yet, but I'm liking what I've got so far. I especially had fun with the "About" part -- I included a 20 question true or false quiz about myself. I just made the silly "art girl" above for the art page, still in progress.

I'd love to know what you think of it all!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Girls Rock!

Check out my rockstar niece Izzy at her first-ever rock concert last Saturday at Portland's Baghdad Theater. She's ELEVEN. Look:

The concert was the showcase for the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, an amazing girl-power extravaganza. Girls come from all over to learn how to rock, and it's not just music -- they really focus on self-esteem and POWER -- they even have a screenprinting workshop! The girls write their own songs, some really intense, some silly. Here are some samples:

"Let me make my own decisions / It's my life my body / I am who I want to be / You can't control me / So let me be free"

and I love this one:

"Dear Dwayne I hired a hitman
Dressed as a clown
I met him at that carnival
You dumped me at downtown
Don't be afraid it's not as scary as it sounds
He might not even kill you
Just kick you when you're down."

There were 19 bands and I thought it might be an awful trial getting through the evening but it was SO FUN. Such high energy! Izzy's band, The Deadly Imperfection, performed their song "Spatula City" -- which had nothing to do with spatulas but was an ode to these awesome women: Debbie Harry, Stevie Nix, Susan B. Anthony, The Donnas, Erin Gruwell who "not only changed the music business or history, but have Inspired women to reach out and grab what they want and not let go." How great is it that Susan B. Anthony is wedged in there? So funny! You can watch their performance HERE.

And here's the tired rockstar at dinner afterwards with her papa:

The night of the concert was also my surprise unveiling of my hair to my family. Heh heh heh. My mom reeled around a bit saying, "Oh my God," but you know, I obviously get it from somewhere. Look at this picture of the two of us wine tasting last year:

And look. My pink product has polka dots! (Say that five times fast!) This is Italian shampoo and conditioner specifically for pink hair. Che bella! I am enjoying it so far, I really am. I don't know how long I'll keep it this way. Who knows! One thing I do know is that it looks great with a kelly green T-shirt, and pretty awesome with enormous sky blue earrings. It's like a cartoon!

Exciting Writey Stuff
On an unrelated note, I got a call today from the lovely Jolie, of "Jolie & Sara" aka "the Washington girls" -- that's what Jim and I call them (and that includes Jaime too!). They're the directors of the Washington chapter of the SCBWI and they put on an absolutely fabulous conference near Seattle every April. I mean FABULOUS. And they invited me to give a workshop at the 2008 conference! Yippee! I'm so so excited! And manuscript evaluations too. I will be in humbling company -- there's a pretty big WOW factor to the faculty -- but I'd better not say anything because I'm not sure how official it is. I will say: children's writers, pencil in Seattle for April! In the meantime, I am so excited for the LA conference coming up in a couple weeks! Here's the deal: anyone who might be going: drinks Thursday evening at the Century Plaza's lounge; perhaps we shall spill out poolside!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I said I was gonna. . .

. . . and I did.

Here am I going in. Don't I look brave?

So far, as you see, my hair bears only minor evidence of tampering: the remnants of two-month-old highlights. No biggy. I've never been thrilled with my hair color. To tell you the truth, I've never been all that thrilled with hair color. Brown. Dishwater. Orangish. Grey. Meh. Not my faves. There's a universe of colors out there, but they do not happen to manifest as hair. Aqua. Cherry popsicle. Grenadine. Goldenrod. Violet. The pearly luminescent crimson of the red-velvet-cake bath gel Alexandra gave me, the one that makes me want to eat my own shoulders in the shower. That would be a fabulous hair color!

Still, through my teens and twenties, it never occurred to me to do anything about my drab hair-colored hair beyond getting a variety of unthrilling weaves and streaks. I don't know why it didn't occur to me. For the same reason it didn't occur to me to take art classes in high school and college? Well, for the past few months, this idea has been growing on me.

I'll date its origins earlier, a few years back when I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Loved Kate Winslet in it; loved her hair. But I didn't seriously consider doing it. I mean, I'm no Clementine. And then, I don't know. Ideas have a way of self-seeding, like wildflowers. You think it's just blowing by on the wind, and the next thing you know it's growing in your garden. It's there. The idea for art school came over me like that. I was working my first post-college "real job" as an editor for Lonely Planet. I'd been messing around with drawing and painting for a few years when I met the first art school grad I had ever met in my life. Surely that was when that seed -- or let's call it a spore -- planted itself. Art school started out as a wild idea and grew in the dark until one day I found myself calling art schools for their catalogs. Just like that.

Well, the hair thing happened like that too. One day I guess I realized: a) I love color. b) My hair bores me. Ipso facto, I should color my hair.

First, it had to be bleached. That was kind of like acid on the back of my scalp. Like that one time when I was battling aliens that shot acid out of their udders and one of them got me and melted off the back of my head. That's what this felt like -- like that one time. Here's what it looked like:

You only get to see the super close-up because mein Gott did it look awful with my skin. Phleh.

Next came the color. And what color!

Finally, here it is dry:

I love it! And the weird part is, it doesn't even seem weird to me. It was like I was instantly used to it. Except for the part about my acid-melted scalp. Hoo. Bleach is gnarly stuff. Fancy putting it on your head.

Thank you Dayna at Belle Epoque for the luscious pinkness!

This has been a Sunday Scribbling about HAIR. For more, go here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Villains. Humans. Voodoo. Comic-Con.

I love villains. That is, I love fictional villains. I love dreaming them up. The real guys, though -- human villains -- not so much. My human suck-o-meter shot up sky high yesterday when I read of a singularly monstrous little bit of human suck, something I don't think I could even have dreamed up for one of my villains.

This is a slender loris, a nocturnal primate found only in Southern India and Sri Lanka. It's about the size of a chipmunk, with long, pencil-thin arms and big brown eyes. Cute. Unthreatening. And just the right size to be used as a living voodoo doll. Yeah, you heard that right. A living voodoo doll. Seriously, I have a limber imagination for villainy, but if I'd thought that idea up on my own I'd have felt icky in my skin. This is the sort of thing that informs my idea of my faerie characters' opinion of humanity. I wanted to show the world -- and us -- from the perspective of, well, the critters. The faeries serve as a kind of bad-ass embodiment of the spirit of nature, and they are not all that thrilled with us doing things like sticking needles in slender lorises. That's not what Blackbringer or Silksinger are about -- humans are pretty much in the background (for now) -- but it's very much in my mind as I builld my vision of the Dreamdark world and its villains.

Where DO ideas for villains come from? For me there are three main sources of inspiration:

1) Folklore. The collected weird imaginings of the whole world for all of history. Yeah.
2) Nature. Oooooh, the bizarre, the squishy, the predatory, the parasitic, the nasty beasties of the world!
3) Humans. The sucky ones. And there are plenty.

This is the topic of the panel I'm going to be on Friday July 27 at San Diego Comic-Con. I'm extremely excited about it -- it's a huge panel and I don't know if I'll get to say very much, but it will be very cool to be up there with, among others, Holly Black. Awesome!

4:30-5:30 Demons, Devils, and Evil Dictators—Come on, villains are the best. Devising new and unique demons and devils is one of the best parts of a fantasy writer's job. Learn about some of the participants' favorite villains and what inspires their own evil imaginings. Watch authors Jon Lewis and Derek Benz (Grey Griffins series), Holly Black (Spiderwick, Ironside), DJ MacHale ( Pendragon: Pilgrims of Rayne), James Owen (Here, There Be Dragons), Frank Beddor ( Looking Glass Wars), Laini Taylor (Fairies of Dreamdark), Rebecca Moesta ( Crystal Doors #2: Ocean Realm), Nancy Holder (The Rose Bride), and William Boniface (The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy) rub their hands and cackle gleefully. Room 1AB

There will be a signing after. If you're going to be at Comic-Con, please come say hello.

And the week after that, there is the FABULOUS SCBWI! I love this conference dearly, and have written about it here and here. If you want to write for children, or if you do write for children and want to meet others who do, and learn how to get better, and how to get published, you should go. It's that simple. Here's the info. Go.

Monday, July 09, 2007

My book takes a walk in Amsterdam. . .

Blackbringer has been sighted strolling around in Amsterdam. . . and hanging out in a knitter's basket in Massachusetts. See here:

Those awestruck faces belong to my dear darling Lori, aka Little Swing Fairy, aka Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, and her other husband, that is, her nonfictional husband, the dashing Dutchman, Maarten. Once upon a time, Lori was American. Once upon a time, she grew up in a town where none of the buildings were older than the 1960s. There, she drove up and down the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible beetle, singing very loudly to Erasure songs with her best friend, me. THEN, she had the affrontery to get all cultural and fall in love with the Nederlander and move away to a place with tulips and snow and funny coffeeshops, where she now owns a cool house with a garden, near a canal and a petting zoo. And she speaks Dutch all sing-songy and has a United Nations of funky friends. Oh yeah, and she reads a lot! And has a cat named Freddy. And is the proud owner of several of my handwritten first works of fiction, including the esteemed Flesh Gods in Paradise!

And she persuaded the American Bookstore to order a certain book, so she didn't have to get it off Amazon UK but could buy it in a store, and even flourish the receipt. MY BOOK WAS PURCHASED IN AMSTERDAM. How cool is that? And it got to take a stroll and see the sights. I'm sure Magpie and Talon enjoyed the opportunity to spy on some humans. And perhaps, as Lori was reading the last few pages while stirring dinner at the stove, they even stole some "manny food," as they are wont to do.

Thanks, Lori! And thanks also to Rhonda the Stitchingnut who showed the faeries a knitting good time in Massachusetts. If you haven't read the book, psst, it has knitting in it!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Zombie Bait


I thought I would do better. Not like I'm a survivalist or anything, but you know, I like my zombie movies so I thought I'd know how to comport myself if the dread day came. I guess not. Perhaps I should sign up for, um, gun classes. And stock up on canned food and bottled water. Board up the windows. Dig a bomb shelter.

You can test yourself here. Have fun!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Surrounded by pyromaniac patriots!

In spite of my morning ruminations on the slow collapse of democracy in America, we had a nice Fourth! I did go and buy a wading pool, and I love it, and while I was at it I bought a bunch of squirt guns and some bubbles (I almost got a slip 'n slide -- I loved those when I was a kid!). My parents and my niece Izzy (she is trying in vain to change her name to "Bella" but we're having none of it) and Penny, a family friend, came over for food and fireworks. Unlike in California, in Oregon it seems that any and every explosive thing is perfectly legal, and I must say, it's the one holiday of the year that our neighborhood really comes alive. Halloween? Nah -- smart kids skedaddle to finer, better-lit streets. Christmas? Ehh. A few straggling strings of lights go up hither and thither. Easter? Not so much on the bunny's route, I guess. But this neighborhood is either extremely patriotic or folks around here really really like to play with fire. Up and down the streets in all directions bottle rockets and smoke bombs and big, fancy professional-looking fireworks are shot up into the sky, blooms of red and blue sparks, a constant din and clatter of snaps and low house-shaking bass booms, and shrill whistles punctuated with dozens of pops in a long boisterous string and . . . you get the idea. Smoke drifting in the air, the acrid scent of explosives. Wheeee! Behold:

We've always cursed it all, shaken our fists while the trembling dogs tried to climb under our legs, but this year it was kind of fun. And of course, there was the squirt gun war waged between Jim and Izzy:

And, the berry tart:

And corn and burgers and white wine. A lovely day, all in all. Not to get lecturey and grumbly like I was yesterday, but it's been too long since I've studied US history, and I keep meaning to read some newer books than whatever George-Washington-chopping-down-the-cherry-tree stuff I learned 25 years ago. When I think about men like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton who came together in Virginia in 1787 to frame a Constitution that would last into "remote futurity," men who thought up our system from scratch, men like John Adams who could have snatched up the glory of writing the Declaration of Independence but deferred it to Jefferson, a rival who he believed was a better writer than he; Adams who begged virtually door to door in Europe for diplomatic recognition of the United States, and for the money we needed to win the Revolutionary War (and without whose door-knocking we would not have won it), and who went to great lengths (and great personal cost to his political career and his legacy) to keep us out of the French and British War when he was president. . . and much later, men like JFK who likewise went to extraordinary lengths to keep us out of war. . . (click link for Time article)

When I think of great men like these, it's almost like their stories are fiction cooked up by imaginative authors. In light of today's leadership, it's hard to believe they were real. I really really want to believe that great men are not extinct. It seems like a fairy tale to hope that our next president could be a great man of the caliber of these other great men, but it could happen, couldn't it? There can still be great men and women who will make this country and this world better, right? That's my Fifth of July hope. (That, and for a good writing day today. Come on, fingers. Tally ho!)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Got Democracy?

Happy Fourth of July! Like so many holidays, the Fourth has become associated with its trappings more than its meaning. It's the holiday of barbeque and fire crackers. How black a July Fourth Eve we had yesterday when the president commuted the sentence of the one member of his administration so far convicted for the avalanche of crimes they have committed. And before the appeals process was even over. Democracy? I don't think so.

As Keith Olbermann said last night:

"It is nearly July 4th, Mr. Bush, the commemoration of the moment we Americans decided that rather than live under a King who made up the laws, or erased them, or ignored them—or commuted the sentences of those rightly convicted under them—we would force our independence, and regain our sacred freedoms.

We of this time—and our leaders in Congress, of both parties—must now live up to those standards which echo through our history: Pressure, negotiate, impeach—get you, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Cheney, two men who are now perilous to our Democracy, away from its helm.

For you, Mr. Bush, and for Mr. Cheney, there is a lesser task. You need merely achieve a very low threshold indeed. Display just that iota of patriotism which Richard Nixon showed, on August 9th, 1974.


What a tremendous slap in the nation's face this pardon is. What timing! It's as if to say, "Enjoy your fireworks, America. Look up in the sky and say 'Ooooh!' while I go on playing king."

Do you realize that Paris Hilton served a harsher sentence for whatever it was she did (and who cares?) than Scooter Libby did for intentionally leaking the identity of a CIA agent for political purposes? Though that isn't even what he was sentenced for, right? Just for lying about it? I mean, it was a joke to begin with that he (and others) couldn't be tried for TREASON, just PERJURY -- and even that little wrist slap has now been overturned?

Olbermann points out that at the Constitutional Convention James Madison advised impeaching any president who pardoned or sheltered those who had commited crimes advised by that president. I bet Bush couldn't tell you a thing about James Madison. Maybe he knows he was the fourth president, but I bet not. Well, Madison is the man who dreamt up the three branches of government. He is the man who wrote the Bill of Rights, those first 10 amendments to the Constitution that this administration finds to be of such negligible importance (well, except for the second one, of course).

Aiii. Folks. This is not a happy Fourth of July. I plan to barbeque like everybody else, and I've got a hankering to go out and buy a wading pool because it is HOT today. And yes, we'll have sparklers and fire crackers and beer and pie. But it's bitter. This isn't the country we want it to be. It's not the country it's supposed to be.

You can watch or read Olbermann's full commentary here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

More about "the ugly"

I'm always glad to see from comments that other writers like reading my thoughts about writing -- because I like writing about writing! Thanks -- and Disco Mermaids, I'm really looking forward to meeting you, too!

I thought I'd write a little more about the world I am immersed in right now: as I unkindly dubbed it in my last post, "the ugly stage." I should also say, that all bound up in the pain of writing something so immensely imperfect, there is this kind of thrill -- like, I don't know, doing something you never thought you would do, something "positively wild" (said in a prim proper voice). I am extremely proud to be getting to the end of a first draft, and as much as I might wish it were prettier, I kind of love that I managed to keep my insane perfectionism in a box long enough to do this great mess of a thing. I mean, WOW! There's a sign-off for some TV show or other, you know, the producer's little signature at the end, in which a piping child's voice says proudly, "I made this!" Well, that's how I feel.

I keep notebooks for each book I write or plan to write -- I'm on volume 2 for Silksinger -- and amid story notes and research, there are little messages in there to myself, like these:

"Ooh! This is really good!"

"Write the damn book." - Jane Yolen

"Write to learn what the story is about. WRITE TO FIND THE STORY." - Verity (a blogger I've since lost track of)

and recently, this:
"The goal is to have a great slovenly heap of manuscript to print out and go at with highlighters and a red pen."

Ah, a great slovenly heap! How beautiful! A heap! When I wrote that I was trying to get myself to leave off the premature "persnicking" and plunge into the terrors of a wild ugly draft. I was craving that slovenly heap of manuscript. Like, I wanted to trade the dainty little china tea set of my persnickity biddy side for a flask of some dangerous potion that would make my throat burn and, I don't know, my, er, hair turn pink! I've written about my perfectionism before, how it has kept me from finishing things for so long, how I am always having to outwit it with new unintimidating names for various drafts, and by sheer ruthless whip-cracking, and I can't honestly say I feel my nature changing or anything. I'm still the same freak of a perfectionist. It's still really really hard to make myself write messily forward. Sometimes I find it impossible. I guess the only thing that has changed is that now, in the battle of me vs me, I usually win in the end. (You know what I mean. I think.) I know I can beat my persnickity perfectionist. I can wear her out. I will write the book. This ugly draft is a kind of triumph only some people can really understand.

There are those people out there who just sit down and . . . write books. They don't even have to trick themselves. They would not understand me at all. [Honk if you understand me!] I am still haunted by reading the outrageous fib story of how William Styron wrote Sophie's Choice as if it were funneled into his brain complete, how he didn't outline, it just came out, on the first try, in all its greatness, and was published just like that. I'm not calling him a liar. Er, I'm not. Really. I just can't believe it! But if it's true, so be it. It will never ever ever happen to me. It's not even on my list of wild wishes. My wild wish, as a writer, is to be able to get to through the first ugly draft of a given book faster and with less hair-pulling.

You have to work with the brain you have. Like, it's an unruly pet, say. We adore our dog Leroy. He's the sweetest dog that ever lived. Just don't bring another dog into the room or he turns into a savage**. No amount of training ever managed to change that. So we just work with it. So too with our complicated brains. Don't try to treat your brain like it's somebody else's well-behaved dog. Know it. Love it for its own quirks and even its savagery. Because let's face it, other people's well-behaved dogs are some kind of freakish robots, aren't they?

So, my glorious heap will soon be ready to attack with highlighters and red pens. And I can't wait. It will be a mess. My mess. My glorious, glorious mess. When you're staring at your screen, paralyzed by the ungodly imperfection of whatever is sure to come out if you dare to start typing, think of that. Think of yourself as a wild bohemian sprawled on a moth-eaten velvet divan surrounded by the glorious mess of pages that your own unique brain managed to produce. And all you have to do next is make it better! AND: nobody has to see it but you.

When I heard Jane Yolen speak in January she talked about how some writers blaze intrepidly through the first draft, and others kind of waltz back and forth, tidying up after themselves as they go, revising along the way. She admitted to being the latter type, and I felt that silly kind of vindication that comes of finding out a successful writer kind of has your same process. And, that really is my way, to revise as I go. And I have been doing that for months on this book, but I've changed my mind so many times about so many things that I really had to just stop the revising and do this terrifying first draft thing. And you know what? It makes me want to do this on the next book. Maybe this is a better way for me. I don't know. We'll see!

And to answer your question, Gerry, why do people do word counts? Well, I didn't when I was writing my first book, but now it's kind of a daily check-in. Like, if you're a runner and you kind of want to know how far you're running. Because sometimes I might feel like I've been writing all day and really, all I was doing was rearranging stuff I already wrote. For me, at this stage, if I'm conscious of word count I know to keep myself moving forward with the story. I give myself a goal for the day and try to meet it. That's all. Just another tactic in the war of me vs me!

Now, yesterday Jone threw a lovely book party for me at her home and invited her friends and book club, many of whom are teachers and school librarians, and I had a delightful time talking about the writing process with them, and about my book.

Thank you, Jone! So glad to have met you through blogging. And, your dachsunds are so cute!

**Behold the savage Leroy: