Monday, December 31, 2007


Wishing you all a wonderful 2008 -- I always love the start of something new, a new year, a new book, a new journey, whatever. It's so exciting. ANYTHING could happen! This could be the year aliens land! Or not.

I've been a bad blogger lately, been back to work on polishing up Silksinger, twiddling my fingers and wondering if my editor read what I sent him. And now I'm rushing off to a party, but I wanted to quickly put up some very late holiday pics -- and pics of stuff I made as gifts but couldn't put up BEFORE Christmas without the recipients seeing them. Didn't make too much this year, been so busy, but I HAVE to make SOME gifts.

I made three scarves. One for my mom:
One for Alexandra:
And one for this little birdy, who was destined for the top of my mom's stocking (I did not make the bird, just the scarf):

Jim and I collaborated on a few paintings. We meant to do more but ran out of time. This one was for Alexandra:
This one for my sister, whose two favorite things are wine and serpents. Jim drew it. LOVE it. See what the happy snakey ate for dinner?

(Jim also made Emily this necklace -- the snake is carved out of horn, and those are snake vertebrae on the sides. She loved it! She left for a tiny island off the coast of Honduras at midnight on Christmas, incidentally, to study pink boa constrictors. No joke.)\And for Chary:

Lastly, I love stockings! I didn't get a pic of them all, but here's Jim's, with a robot and a zombie Captain America poking out the top (of course):
And mine, with a book worm and the Anthropologie knitting girl, see you can see her knitting basket in the bottom:
And my mom's, with her scarfy bird. So cute!

And lastly, before I dash away, here's Leroy, old fourteen-year-old doggy, looking supremely happy that he gets to go with us in the car, early Christmas morning. Sweet boy!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pink Frosting

When Jim asked what kind of birthday cake I wanted this year, the answer was easy: Chocolate with pink frosting! And sprinkles! And so, that is what he made:
It was cute and yummy and I had a piece for breakfast this morning too. One word of caution: when blowing out candles, beware flying sprinkles! ha ha!

So, yesterday was my birthday. Disregard which birthday a certain supposed friend claimed it to be in the comments of the last post. It's a grievous lie. What I will say about my age is that the second digit of it is twice the first digit. So, I'm either a) 24, b) 36, or c) 48. You decide. Also, I'm curious: does anybody in the world feel like their age? Does anybody in the world feel like a "grownup"? Does that happen? I've become fairly convinced that 99.9% of all grownups are faking it. Would you agree? Or do you think it is a larger percentage that really are solid grownups in mind, body, and spirit? In any case, not me. I am a kid, as evidenced by my birthday cake!

A good thing, by the way, about being a Christmas baby is that chances are good your family will all be around for your birthday! My sister is here from California, and my brother would have been here from Seattle but he missed his train. My parents live here, and my mom made two of my grandmother's favorite recipes: spaghetti with crab, and polenta with red pepper sauce -- yum!) Our dear friends Chary (pronounced Carrie) and her boyfriend Aaron and her brother Ben and his girlfriend Rachel all came over too, for dinner and pink cake and vino and limoncello. Alexandra already left town for the holidays, but she was here in spirit and in snow globe. In this picture of Ben and Rachel, you can see her in snowglobe by Ben's shoulder:
Every year, Alexandra tries to come up with some new way of turning photographs of herself into gifts for Jim and for her brother David. This year: snowglobes. Fantastic and scary!

{Speaking of scary, I Am Legend is absolutely fantastic!!!! All the stuff I complained about in Golden Compass as far as storytelling opportunities lost and not making you care, this is the opposite. It's a spare, quiet, pared-down kind of horror thriller movie that makes you lean forward in your seat, wanting to peer around corners, wanting to know more, and then, finally, it gives it to you. The exposition is worked in seamlessly so you never feel the storyteller at work. You care A LOT about the character and his beautiful, wonderful dog, the situation is super freaky but the director backs off from exploiting it in a noisy obnoxious way and makes it way freakier. Will Smith is AMAZING. I would love to see him nominated for an Oscar for this. Really, if you like scary movies at all, SEE IT. It's not super greusome, but it IS scary. I think we're going to see Juno today. More on that later.}

More birthday pics:
Here's the savage Leroy in his typical party pose:

Oh, and look, gift tags:
I found some funky old playing cards at a collage store and I turned them into gift tags. I always have a blast making gift tags; these were super easy -- there are also a few funky little ladies in there.

Oh yeah, and yesterday morning, Jim brought me 8 or 9 bouquets of flowers. Sweet Jim!
Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Hi there! I've been an absentee blogger lately -- got *some* manuscript sent off to my editor on Monday morning and immediately went into a shopping frenzy! I love shopping in Portland. There are so many great "destination streets" -- Hawthorne, NW 23rd, Alberta, and many many more, where there are independently owned shops everywhere offering totally unique stuff. We had to go to the mall for something and I thought I might fall into a narcoleptic stupor, it was so dull. Love the funky little shops!
Jim and I bought ourselves this Christmas present at an art gallery on Alberta. Isn't she cool? Might not be your taste, but we like slightly weird and creepy things! We were at Flutter again yesterday and I wanted to buy some mismatched animal horns, but I did not.

We're about to dash over to Alexandra's for an early Christmas involving opening gifts, eating gigantic pancakes at Cameo Cafe (seriously, they're about the size of a large pizza), and then we'll take her to the airport and probably go see I Am Legend with my family, because seriously, the holidays are not complete without monster movies! It was vampires for Thanksgiving, and it'll be zombie-vampires (not really sure what they are, actually) for Christmas!

Hope everyone is having a terrific holiday!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

December what???

Look, Persephone got a Santa hat. She's happy now, sitting under the calendar as the days tick past. I think, actually, that she might be having an affair with the crocheted elf in the kitchen. Ah, old elfie, finally found love. I've had him for like twenty years (more? I don't know. My grandmother made him ages ago), and as far as I know, he has never known love. But I could be wrong. For all I know, by night he is wooing the marionettes. Or the devil nutcracker. Your guess is as good as mine.

December thirteenth. I ask you: how did that happen? Last time I looked up it was still October. Yeesh. I have managed a few Decembrish deeds. Baked some gingerbread. Spice is pretty:
Got our Christmas tree:
Picked out the first one we looked at, and it was perfect. I'm not one of those people who has to look at twenty-five things before choosing one. I like to get in and get out. No agonizing. We even bought the second house we looked at!

As for the book, if you're wondering, it's in this weird place of sort-of finished. I'm combing through it now, making it editor-ready, filling in some scenes hither and thither. My editor has not yet read a word of this book, which of course makes me very anxious. In fact, he probably knows less about it than folks who read the interview at HipWriterMama. It's not because I don't want to tell him. I've resisted sending him part-way drafts because, for one thing, I'm sure is busy, and for another, I want him to read a finished draft with a mind wholly uncluttered by the detritus of earlier drafts. My mind is SO cluttered with could-have-beens and sacrificed chapters etc etc.

Happy December 13th!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Review, Interview, Apology

So, I feel a little bad about how harsh I was on Chris Weitz in my last post. Sorry, Chris Weitz. I guess I should clarify: I didn't hate the whole movie. I was willing to go along with it until about halfway through, then it lost my good will, but still -- there were good things about it. I still think it's a good exercise for examining storytelling choices, though.

Some stuff to check out:

Awesome review of Blackbringer
at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Interview at HipWriterMama

Thanks, Jen and Vivian!

Happy week, all!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What writers can learn from The Golden Compass

I have been looking forward to The Golden Compass film for several years now. I was not filled with terror that it would be awful. I was anticipating it like a kid anticipates Christmas morning, thinking they might not get everything they want, but pretty positive it will be awesome.

It was not awesome.

Now that my grief has subsided, I’m [almost] glad it was not awesome, because it creates a perfect case study of good storytelling vs. bad storytelling.

It shows how two people can take the exact same story elements and one of them (Pullman) can craft them into something compelling and heartbreaking and filled with suspense, and the other (Weitz) can rob them of all drama and meaning, make you not care at all, and worse, make you not even know what you’re supposed to be caring about.

This is a real opportunity for writers to examine some technical aspects of storytelling. Here’s your mission, should you choose to accept:
1.) Read The Golden Compass
2.) See The Golden Compass
3.) Take mental notes; examine what was done in each case, and how the filmmaker managed to go so horribly horribly astray.

As a writer, you are the god of your book. When someone reads it, they are consenting, for a short time, to let you reach inside their mind and tell them what to care about, what to wonder about, what to fear, what to hope for. You write the story, and in it you are planting suble sign-posts all along the way to guide readers through it, and to make them feel how you wish them to feel, make them wonder what you wish them to wonder, etc. Every step of the way, their feelings are putty in your hands. That’s the contract between writer and reader.

The writer tells the reader what to care about, and then they do their best to make them care. If it’s a good book, this is all so seamless and subtle you never once feel the writer’s hand in your mind, guiding you. If it’s poorly done, you feel yanked around and befuddled, and you don’t care at all what happens -- you might not even understand what it is you’re supposed to care about!

In my opinion, Chris Weitz, the writer/director, failed in this most fundamental way. He did not make it clear what to care about and what to hope for and fear. In the book -- do you remember? The central question was: What are the Gobblers doing to the kids? And each step toward the answer was a layer peeled back to revelation after devastating revelation. And when you finally found out what they were doing. . . It was a heart-breaking -- nay, a heart-shattering scene.

[Spoiler Alert (sort of, but not really)]
When Lyra found that little boy in the shed clutching a dried fish and finally understood what the Gobblers were doing. . . it still gives me chills to think about. In the movie, this moment had no power because you hadn’t been set up to wonder what the Gobblers were doing. It was just this ice adventure with some shadowy villains and vague nefarious things going on, but the reader/viewer’s emotional path through the story was not mapped out by the filmmaker.

This aspect of craft is not something I thought about until I was deep into writing my first novel. I had never really thought about how much of writing is crafting the reader's emotional journey through the pages, how much thought and work goes into making sure they're thinking and feeling just what you want them to, just when you need them to. You have to a) give the reader something clear to care about and hope for; b) conversely, give them a bad alternative to fear. And then there’s c) giving them something to wonder about so they keep turning the pages. What these things are will change over the course of a novel. In The Golden Compass (book), for example, after the revelations at Bolvanger, there are new things that have already been put into place for you to care/wonder about and fear.

When I’m writing, I am asking myself, “Now, in this scene, what do I want the reader to be thinking and wondering and feeling and fearing?” I don’t know how much other writers concsciously think of this -- I am curious about it, though. I would say that in early drafts, I am not thinking it so clearly. It can come fairly late in the writing that I really know myself what the central issues are, and then in revisions I’m trying to sharpen the story to a point, to direct the reader’s mind where I want it to go, hopefully, without them feeling me doing it.

It’s hard -- it’s basically like you’re carrying somebody along in the palm of your hand, trying to make them forget you’re there. I have a lot to learn about it, and many books ahead of me in which to figure out the craft of this. Chris Weitz has a long way to go too.

Man, I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. I just think this is such a brilliant opportunity for writers to see “what to do” vs. “what not to do” -- if I taught writing, I would incorporate this into my curriculum. There are many other examples of that sort of negligence throughout this movie. It kills me, because it was so unnecessary. They had the money for a fabulous cast (I loved Lyra) and gorgeous design; why not get a decent screenplay? That screenplay was AWFUL.

Never ever have I been so painfully conscious of being fed exposition through dialogue. Every exchange between characters felt like being bashed on the head by an exposition hammer. The characters were always saying things they had no way of knowing, just so the film could let the viewers know what they needed to know. AWFUL! I kept thinking, “Now, how did she know that?” when Lyra would make a massive intuitive leap. God, it makes me so MAD.

Oh yeah, and the “golden compass” itself -- it failed to become a crucial element to the plot. Yeah, Lyra used it a few times, but it could have been cut entirely out of the plot and it wouldn’t have mattered at all. The magic and mystery of it, and Lyra’s extraordinary ability to read it: lost. Utterly lost.

And, everything felt so rushed and smashed together. There was no space around the important moments. Just this barrelling forward, trying to get it done. In Fellowship of the Ring, remember the loss of Gandalf? That was so beautifully, perfectly crafted. It’s imprinted in my mind -- the aftermath of it when you’re left in the silent, shocked grief of the characters and you feel like you’re there, and you’re staggering and reeling too. I have a whole new level of appreciation for what Peter Jackson did after seeing The Golden Compass.

What Chris Weitz would have done with The Lord of the Rings, it makes me shudder to think! So, New Line Pictures, you had better get your act together and get Peter Jackson to do The Hobbit. Or I will smite you.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

another day

Is it wrong that I'm thinking with longing about my next book while trying to finish this one?

Just asking.

Ah, for a nice fresh book to write. Maybe an easier one!

The other day, I found myself wishing I was sick -- that kind of childhood-sick where you get to stay on the couch all day with a bunch of quilts and movies and someone brings you ginger ale and kisses you on the forehead. Doesn't that sound nice?

Okay, back to it. . .

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Yearning to shilly-shally

Remind me next time to work harder earlier in the year, so that I am not finishing a book during the holidays. All the baking and decorating and shilly-shallying I am not able to do right now is paining me. And it's not just the pain of cookies crying out for their right to exist, or the overwhelming sudden need to sew weird little creatures (which I am valiantly resisting), or the need for a Christmas tree, or to knit some gifts, and shop for others. It's also. . . the movies. I really want to go see Atonement, and I Am Legend. As for The Golden Compass, deadline-shmedline. We're seeing it on opening day. Can't wait.

But, mostly I am behaving. I did get a little decorating fun in when Alexandra and I made our annual pilgrimage to my parents' house to decorate my mom's toy cupboard. The toy cupboard is an antique pie safe that gets transformed once a year by a collection of toys and santas and sugar plum garlands and such, and my mom lets Alexandra and I, in the absence of local grandchildren, do the fixing. We're like kids. I'd show you a picture, but Alexandra is as unable as a cat to resist blinking from a camera flash, and she has vetoed the usage of half-lidded zombie-eyed pictures of herself. So I'll just show some toys instead.

This is the evil elf king. He's on top, guarding the sugar plums, of course.

And here, at home and looking like she needs a Santa hat, is Persephone, my knitted alter-ego, with the calendar. I've cut off the December page and posted it up next to my writing bench for an ever-present reminder of D-Day. It is funny, as the day approaches, how the definition of a satisfactory day's work is changing. Usually, a 3,000-word day is A-okay. Not so much now. 6,000-8,000, that's okay -- of course, I must stress, this is not all new writing, but some pilfering from earlier drafts too. Still: exhausting. Yesterday, Magpie did something that made me laugh out loud. That was fun.
Speaking of shilly-shallying, Alexandra has begun sending daily writer's inspirations via email, and the first one, from yesterday, is on that theme:

Alexandra's Daily Inspiration:
"A migrating bird is like an author writing their novel. Both must have faith in their ability to reach their destination. Of course sometimes a random bird eyeballs a Taco Bell down below and swoops down for a quick burrito- and maybe nachos- and decides to give up the flight, and thats okay, just like its okay for an author to eat burritos and nachos if thats what they really want instead of finishing their novel. Everything is okay. The bird is okay, the author is okay, and the world is okay."

p.s. thank you, dear Blue Poppy, for such a lovely review of your reading experience of Blackbringer. This means so much to me!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gas Masks, Songbirds, Tutus, and Skulls

I went to get my roots re-pinked yesterday down on Mississippi Avenue, one of my favorite Portland streets. After, doing a little quick recon of the shops nearby, I encountered my mannequin alter-ego, Pinky. I actually went into sensory overload in this store and asked if I could take pictures, prepared to plead if the owner said no, but she did NOT say no, so I love the store even more because it's not run by jerks! {Tinker, re: your email, I have gotten scolded for taking photos in stores before too, like I'm some industrial pirate out to steal their ideas!}

So, this store is Flutter, and it is a place where the mannequins have ibex horns and wear gas masks, where old tutus are displayed beside dishes of vertebrae, and iguanas guard the Christmas trees. There's an enormous palace of songbirds, and tons of old taffeta dresses, wooden hands, and ornaments and journals, and everywhere something strange and unexpected. See:

I'm in love. It's like a weird little shop of wonders where you expect there to be a portal to another dimension, or else a witch's coven meeting in the back, or at least to find an old book that teaches you the language of cats and leads you to an ancient talisman or something.

So, that's Flutter (for "found objects and clutter" -- exactly. Looking for a website just now I found an online customer review of the store: "Something like Miss Havisham's attic crossed with an aviary that ran into a Dia de los Muertos celebration.") Well, I couldn't find a website, but check out HERE for an overview of the fun shops on Mississippi.

Anyway, my roots are once again pink. For fun, here's a shot of the middle of the process: bleached but not yet dyed. I think this looks like sherbet:
And now, once again, I am shocking pink:
Love it. The salon is Belle Epoque. Love the ladies there, and the walls are fantastically chartreuse.

I had fun taking those pics in the shop, but the master of finding cool stores is Paris Parfait, who has the advantage of living in Paris. If you haven't seen her recent posts on the holiday store windows there, go HERE and HERE and HERE. Wow. Beautiful.

And, lastly, I want to say hi to Noa, an eleven-year-old reader who has sent me a couple of awesome emails. (Didn't I write a post a few months ago about how cool eleven-year-olds are?) Still true. I loved this part and had to share: "I was born in Israel and I have three gentlemen-barbarian brothers." LOVE that! Thanks, Noa! And hi to Lainey too. (Did I mention I love hearing from readers???)