Sunday, August 31, 2008

A little slice of rant. . .

Well, I know I said I felt a political rant coming on, but I think it is still ripening. I'll just say for now that the Democratic convention was wonderfully inspiring -- not just Obama, but so many of the speeches, including John Kerry's, which the networks didn't even broadcast, and Bill Clinton's-- and Hillary's, of course -- and Teddy Kennedy's, and many more. I was moved to see Obama's uncle, a WWII vet who was one of the soldiers who liberated Buchenwald; I loved seeing the two adorable Obama girls sitting beside their lovely, intelligent mother; the crowd was awesome, the viewership was astounding (more viewers than an American Idol finale -- Halleluja! There's hope for America!) HOPE. The message was hope. I will watch as much of the Republican convention as I can stand, and I'll bet you this: if the Democratic convention was about hope, the Republican convention will be about fear. And mockery. I wonder what they'll make fun of this year. Do you remember how in 2004 they wore cutesy "purple heart band-aids" to mock John Kerry's military service? That still blows my mind. The way they turned Kerry's service to his country into a joke -- and not just his, but that of every other American soldier ever wounded in combat. How did they get away with that?

Here's one gleeful conventioneer four years ago, sporting the cute accessory. Nice. If Democrats mocked the purple heart, Republicans would savage them. They still get riled up about Jane Fonda, for god's sake, and yet they think it's fine and dandy to mock a Vietnam vet's service as long as he's a Dem? And how about this: if it was Democrats who'd outed Valerie Plame, Republicans would have crucified them. Can you even imagine how that would have gone? And yet. . . where was the outrage? What would a Republican have to do to outrage the rank & file?

[Hey look! I found my rant!]

I just got my new Sierra Club Magazine** in the mail today, and there's an article in it called "Profiles in Courage" about the hundreds of dedicated career employees of agencies such as the EPA, NOAA, BLM, National Forest Service, Toxic Substance & Disease Registry and more, who were forced out of their jobs by the Bush Administration because they were, well, doing their jobs. You've heard stories about petroleum lobbyists hired by the Bush Administration to change the language in scientists' reports on climate change? Well, there's been so, so much of that going on, and so much more. So much. The cases listed in the article are just a fraction. Why don't people care more?

And why aren't people talking about the "suicide epidemic" among returning Iraq War vets? Did you know that the VA's head of mental health has revealed statistics that some THOUSAND vets are attempting suicide every MONTH? And did you know that John McCain voted against increasing health care funding for soldiers in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007? You can see a detailed listing of his votes on veterans' healthcare funding HERE. (Note: voted against funding counseling for veterans with mental disorders.)

Did you know that "Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America" give John McCain a "D" rating (and that does not stand for "dynamite") -- Obama gets a "B." Other organizations: "Vietnam Veterans of America" and "Disabled American Veterans" also give Obama their support by an overwhelming margin.

Any American who is considering voting for McCain because "he supports the troops" -- it is a lie, plain and simple. Few senators support them less than he does. This year he even voted against giving adequate rest time between 15-month deployments!

Back to the Republican convention: there has been speculation that Bush and Cheney will not speak at it -- and perhaps not even McCain -- because they are so busy defending Louisiana from hurricanes. Alexandra has asked me to remind you what President Bush and John McCain were doing on August 29, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans:
They were celebrating McCain's birthday. Of course. What else would the president be doing on a day like that? Reading "The Pet Goat"?

Here, just for fun, is Bush the next day, August 30, 2005, when it was abundantly clear to the nation and the world that the United States was in the midst of the worst natural disaster in its history, that a major American city was drowning:

And here, in this video, witness McCain's glibness about Bush's absurd appointment of Michael Brown -- the commisioner of the International Arabian Horse Association -- as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and how that all panned out for the residents of New Orleans:
Soooo funny, John! No Arabian horses, maybe, but 1,836 people died, not including the 705 missing. Hyuck hyuck.
[By the way, one of the whistle-blowers mentioned in the Sierra Club article was Christopher de Rosa, toxicology director for the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, who was removed from his position after filing a report on formaldehyde contamination in the FEMA trailers in which Katrina evacuees were housed.]

Let me just segue from there to a few of my favorite things about Sarah Palin.

1) She is not merely pro-life. She is opposed to abortion in any situation, including rape or incest. Which means that if it were up to her, women would be forced to carry their rapists' babies to term. Nice. You know, even Romanian courts recently decided to let a 11-year-old victim of incest/rape get an abortion.

2) Governor Palin instigated an illegal "wolf bounty" program, whereby hunters would be paid $150 per wolf slaughtered (much of the slaugher done from helicopters); they tried to get around the illegality of bounties by claiming the cash was to offset the cost of fuel for the copters! Oh, and hunters were paid for bringing in the wolves' left forelegs.

Who wouldn't want to kill these:

Those are just a few of my favorite things about her. And did I mention she's a global warming disbeliever? just what the world needs right now.

It's late. I have much more rant in me, but for some reason my computer is getting all slow, so I'll suspend rant for now. It's just so hard once you get started. One terrible abuse of power leads to another instance of gross negligence or corportate cronyism, leads to another, to another. One's head could explode.

If you didn't get a chance to watch Obama's speech, here it is. It's 45 minutes long, but it ought to be seen by all Americans. Really!

**[I highly recommend Sierra Club membership; the magazine is a great way to stay informed about current issues, plus your membership will go towards things like saving Sequoia National Monument from logging -- a recent victory.]]

Friday, August 29, 2008

smart people on fantasy

Some interesting reads on the subject of fantasy and genre fiction:

-- First, an interview in the LA Times with Michael Chabon, on the "ghetto-ization" of genre fiction. Yeah, what he said.

-- Second, a post at the Tor blog by Jo Walton, about how she hates fantasy though she loves fantasy. I'm on board with that too. Too many of the books I pick up, I wish were better. The comments to this post, by the way, have great book recommendations (a certain sweet husband even recommendation this faerie book you may have heard of. . .)

If you missed it yesterday, please scroll down to my interview with Laurel Snyder, who is having a glorious year with TWO books coming out into the world. Hurray for Laurel!

And tomorrow, I think my political dam is going to burst and I will have to write about the Democratic convention, the swell of hope in my breast, and oh yeah, about McCain's female-vote-grubbing choice of the pro-life, Creation-spouting, wolf-killing, polar-bear-hating, grizzly-pelt-sporting, kill-everything-for-oil governor of Alaska for veep. Not that they're going to get elected. I mean, come on, country. Do not plunge me into despair, please please.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Special Guest: Laurel Snyder

Today I am pleased to welcome author Laurel Snyder, whose book Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains came out two days ago. She also has a picture book coming out in a few months, so this is a really good year!!

I asked Laurel a few questions:

-- You have two books coming out in the next few months -- congratulations!! Can you tell us about them?

I know! I'm about to die of excitement!

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains is a kind of fairy-tale novel, about a snippity milkmaid named Lucy and a clumsy prince named Wynston who are best friends. When Wynston is forced to begin the process of Queening (looking for a bride) Lucy takes exception, and runs away, to look for her mom (she's one of those semi-orphans that fairy tales are full of). The book is a little bit about class (Lucy is too "common" to marry) and about honesty, but mostly it's a romp, full of silly little songs.

Inside the Slidy Diner is a picture book with the most sumptuous art (by Jaime Zollars) you've ever seen -- all collaged thrift-store ephemera (just your kinda thing!). It's about a lonely little girl named Edie, who lives in a very creepy diner, full of bugs and strange dishes like "lumps and dumplins." She lives there because once, long ago, she stole a lemon drop.

(I am very intrigued by both descriptions, and can't wait to see more of the Slidy Diner art! And the lemon drop thing -- love that!)

--What has your journey to publication been like? How did you start writing for children -- is that what you always wanted to do?

It is! Only I forgot for a little while and pretended to write just for grownups. I went off to grad school and learned to use big words to say simple things, and that was nice, but while I was there I started writing books for kids too. At last my mentor, Marvin Bell, convinced me to get serious about Scratchy Mountains and finish it, send it out.

My publication path has been crazy lucky. I basically had both of these books pulled from slush, but in the case of the novel they first rejected it, and then I sent a revision, and they asked me to revise on spec. And THEN I sold it.

And weirder-- in the case of the picture book, an editor lost it in her email, and then emailed me a year later when she stumbled on it cleaning out her inbox. I got this astounding email that basically just said, "I never really read this until now. Is it still available?"

Um. Yes!!!!!

-- You're a mom -- how have you made time for your writing? Do you have any advice for other moms of young children who want to write? Any secrets?

I *am* a mom! And it is wonderful and it is crazy and I never ever get to write any more. I'm very very lucky I didn't sell anything for so long, so I had a backlog of things to send out. That's been a surprisingly nice thing, because it keeps me feeling like I *am* working when really I'm covered in peanut butter and duplos and babies. Mose is two and a half, and Lewis is one, and I'm taking them on the road with me this fall, to some festivals and bookstores. That should be a laugh!

I guess the biggest piece of advice I have for other mom-writers is the same advice I give myself, which I have trouble taking. That you cannot judge the worth of the time you spend working in dollars. I tend NOT to make time for my writing because, in essence, it doesn't pay for itself. But for me, writing is something I really need to do. To feel productive, intelligent, adult. When I don't write I go a little crazy, because I feel like a schlub. This is NOT to say that being a mom is not a full time job. I have a friend who makes it into high art. But I'm not that mom. Loving my kids is the most important work I do, but writing is what makes me feel like me. So really -- we should all make time for it. At the very least, babysitters are (a little bit) cheaper than therapists. If only Blue Cross would cover them!

-- What's the process of writing a novel like for you? In the spirit of my "Not for Robots" site, is writing hard for you?

No. Is that awful? It's very easy to write. But I think that's because I have so little time for it now, it's become a luxury to sit down at the computer. I know that until I had kids it was hard to start. Hard to force myself to sit down.

(Oh no, Laurel! That makes you a robot, and I have this policy against robots. . . Ah, well, I'll make an exception this time!)

--Do you have any advice for other writers on how to finish their projects? Any words of inspiration?

This sounds awful, but IMHO the trick is to set the bar low and revise intensely. Once you have a draft, you'll come back to it, right? Because you've invested too much to quit. So the trick is to get a draft. That can happen with a low bar. It doesn't have to be great, it just has to be. And that can be accomplished by simply writing 100 words a day, or whatever you can do. 100 mediocre words a day will be a novel in two years. 1000 mediocre words a day will be a novel in a few months! You can take it from mediocre to good on the second pass, and from good to awesome of the third. Hopefully. For my next book, Any Which Wall, I had to trash over a hundred pages, just rip the second half clear off and start over!

-- You've got both a picture book and a novel coming out -- what's coming up next?

Oh! I was just talking about it! Any Which Wall is a kind of homage to Edward Eager, a book about four kids during summer vacation in Iowa. They find a magical wall in a cornfield and have all sorts of adventures, with pirates, and in Camelot, and the Wild West... LeUyen Pham is doing some really wonderful art for it!

-- What do you read? And, would you like to recommend any favorite middle-grade or YA novels that you think adults would enjoy?

My favorite books are all old books -- Lewis, Nesbit, Eager, Dahl, Susan Cooper, Ruth M Arthur, so I'm running to catch up now. I like Ellen Potter a ton, and my current favorite book of the year is The Girl Who Could Fly. It's amazing.

-- How long have you been blogging? Why do you do it?

I actually began blogging without a blogging template, using Dreamweaver. That was in 1999 I think. It was during a very bleak time, and I didn't understand how public the web was yet. So I wrote things I shouldn't have, specifically a chronicle of my exes. Thank god it's gone now. But I love it, blogging. It's so different from writing poems and stories. I blog without revising. I let go a bit. I dont worry about it, and for me that's a liberating thing, often a kind of pre-writing.

You can read Laurel's blog HERE, and visit her website HERE. Thank you, Laurel!

Go read these revising tips

Good morning! Check me out. I swore last night I would actually get up at 6 this morning and get back to my old ways and then, when the alarm went off. . . somehow I did. It's a miracle. And here I am, coffee in hand. I have noticed that if I get up at 6, I can get a whole day's worth of work done before lunch. It's amazing. So, here goes!

But first, if a) you're revising a novel, and/or b) you like James McAvoy, get you over to Stephanie's blog for some revising tips, starring. . . James McAvoy! (She's crafty, that one.) And, take note of this: Stephanie is revising her novel. She works full time, so what she does, is she comes home from work in the afternoon, takes a brief nap, then drags herself out of bed to work on her revisions until something like 4:30 in the morning! Her sweet husband pours caffeine down her throat and makes nice meals, and she has cut anything auxiliary out of her life right now. She's determined. (Leave her an encouraging comment. That would be nice.)

Inspiring, no? I remember hearing once how William Faulkner worked long hours, then could be seen with the light on in his window into the wee hours of the night, writing. Because, if you want to write, you write. Today, I am going to try to be one of those people who really writes. This week I've been getting in sort of the minimum each day, but this new 6 am plan is underway! Better stop blogging away my headstart. . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Adventure: Pickle

Before I get into all things pickle, the marvelous Jolie (of the Western Washington SCBWI) has finally started blogging (after much yapping and wheedling from the rest of us). Yay, Jolie! Today she has just posted a cute coffee-themed interview with moi. It is HERE. (Thanks Jolie!)
Okay, now: pickles!

My friend Chary (pronounced Carrie) and I made pickles last night! It was fun and easy -- but we won't know if they're any good for a few weeks. I'm not really kitchen-girl, but Chary does fancy-shmancy stuff all the time. She makes her own ketchup and mustard, for example, and all kinds of other stuff. Her pantry is a wonderful place of spices and seeds bought in bulk, and if you ever need a vanilla bean on short notice, or some rare salt mined in the kingdom of Faerie, or perhaps some pink food coloring, she's the go-to girl (okay, maybe not faerie salt, but she's got some weird salts). Here are our soon-to-be-pickles in the jar, along with garlic, dill, black pepper, red pepper, bay leaf, and grape leaves.
We sort of followed my grandmother's recipe, but my grandmother wrote it down very vaguely, for people who, you know, know how to make pickles. So we had to improvise a little.

(That reminds me of the mom in Better Off Dead. Remember her? "You like raisins.")

See that bottle in the picture? That's homemade limoncello. We had tiny thimble glasses of it, and it was yummy. Always reminds me of the Amalfi coast! My parents decided they want to make homemade limoncello this year for the holidays. I've thought about doing that in the past, but like I said, I'm not really kitchen-girl.

Despite not being kitchen-girl (and that doesn't mean I don't like to cook, I just am nothing out of the ordinary, and half the time don't think about meals enough in advance to do anything fancy) -- on Sunday I wanted to get a healthy start to the week, so I made a big pot of vegetable soup, and I chopped a boatload of veggies and put them in a tupperware for salads throughout the week -- now all we have to do is stick some lettuce in a bowl and top with this assortment of: celery, jicama, fennel, radish, carrot, tri-color peppers. Then there are sprouts, chickpeas, and corn in the fridge, and sliced turkey or whatever: instant giant lunch salad. Voila.

I've been being awfully lazy with my goals lately. There's this period after accomplishing a big goal (like writing Silksinger) where I naturally fall into a sort of "whew, that's finally done, I never have to work again" routine for a few days or weeks. But this goes much deeper than that -- during the trying months of Silksingering, I didn't go to the gym; during the difficult stuff I went through in the spring, I finished gaining back the weight that I had gleefully lost several years ago. Anyway, it was high time to get strict with myself. A long time ago, in the early days of my blog I went through a similar post-book laziness -- I wrote about it HERE, and I see it is what motivated Sunday Scribblings! (Well, Meg had her own motivation, but that is when we connected and said, "Let's do this.") And the Lips Touch stories, of course, all originated from the early days of Sunday Scribblings! So, you see, good can come of laziness -- or rather, good can come of the gathering oneself back together and getting back on track. There is solid comfort in making a plan; satisfaction in sticking to it, and joy in meeting short-term and then long-term goals.

So, here's to: (1) health, (2) getting a good start on the new book, and (3) being more on-the-ball with creative marketing this year, rather than hiding and watching through my fingers as my new books come out (which is kind of what I did with Blackbringer.)

Oh, and here is an eensy little portion of Chary's hat collection:

(Don't forget to welcome Jolie!!)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A mini slew of sci-fi: Richard K. Morgan, Nancy Farmer, Mary E. Pearson & M.T. Anderson

I've just been reading some sci-fi, and it has made me want to read more. There's really nothing like good sci-fi for sort of blowing the doors off your cozy, lazy little world view and making you think.

First off were a pair of YA titles recommended over at 7-Imp. I already mentioned The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. At the time I said how you'd never know it was sci-fi to look at it. Well, it is. It's a small story that opens like a bud. You go from knowing nothing beyond what the first-person narrator knows -- that she has awakened from a coma -- to bit by bit piecing together the mysteries around her accident and recovery. Why, you may wonder, do her parents seem to be hiding her? Why is her beloved grandmother treating her like a stranger? Read and find out; to say more would spoil that careful unfurling.

If you're familiar with The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, it might tell you something about The Adoration of Jenna Fox to know that 7-Imp drew comparisons between them. Well, I (shockingly) had never read Nancy Farmer, and this particular book, especially, is hard to miss, since you can barely see the cover through the collection of awards seals it has accrued! It's the story of a boy named Matt growing up in the country of Opium -- the strip of land between the US and what used to be Mexico. You see, a collective of powerful opium farmers brokered a deal with the US government: basically, let us exist, and a) we will not sell our drugs in your country, and b) we will prevent illegal immigrants from crossing your border. So the US has happily turned a blind eye to what is happening inside the land of Opium, and it is not pretty. This is a world of cloning gone awry, and brain implants that can turn humans into a zombie labor force, and it's the story of a boy claiming his own life, in spite of what he is, or what he isn't.

I was especially struck by the depiction late in the book of the devastated Colorado River. Last month we took my niece to see the IMAX movie about the dying Colorado, which is now a mere trickle by the time it reaches Mexico, having been diverted to fill Las Vegas's fountains, among other things.

Feed, by M.T. Anderson makes some creepy understated references to our sick environmental future, too, but in the offhand first-person voice of a teenage boy who has never known anything else. In the world of Feed, you can go to the Moon for spring break, but you can't go to a mountaintop or a beach on Earth. There's nothing left worth seeing. At one point the characters go to visit a "farm" -- and this is no farm with living animals, but miles and miles of cloned meat -- a landscape of meat, like in those awful "Beef -- it's what's for dinner" magazine advertisements that abound right now.

Feed is a creepy book, and like all these others, it points to an exaggerated but not that hard to believe human future. In this case, it's a future in which 80% of Americans have their brains hard-wired as babies with a "feed" so they are on-line all the time. They can talk to their friends the old-fashioned way, or they can chat them, effortlessly sending brain-to-brain text messages. Since they have instant access to any information they might need, school has taken on a whole new meaning -- there's no point learning facts any more. Schools are privately run and geared toward churning out better consumers. In Anderson's vision of this future, the system is absolutely corporate, and advertising drives all. It's a consumer world gone mad, and it's all in your head, all the time. So what happens when one unique young woman decides to f*** with the system? Er, probably nothing good.

[By the way, I don't know if Anderson has ever said so, but I read Violet as an homage to Clarisse in Fahrenheit 451 -- bright young girl born into the wrong times; a sort of symbol of what has been lost. And speaking of Fahrenheit 451, if you haven't reread it in the past decade, do. It was written in 1953, for God's sake, and it's scary-prescient. Get this quote from Bradbury about the message of the book: "I wasn't worried about censorship -- I was worried about people being turned into morons by TV." HA! Like that could ever happen. . .]

In any case, I found Feed deeply sad and affecting, and there were so many, many times when I felt the *snick* of ugly truth about our species and the direction we are headed.

Those are all YA titles above, but this one is for grown-ups. I've never read Richard K. Morgan before, but Jim is a fan of the Altered Carbon books, and when Thirteen (a stand-alone title) arrived in the mail, I idly picked it up and started reading. Well. The short opening chapter is like a hand that reaches out and grabs you by the collar. Just try not to continue reading! Not only is it smart, scary, gross, suspenseful, a little sexy, and filled with truth, it is also really really well written.

So, Richard Morgan is one of those writers who's, you know, smarter than you. (I don't mean you personally, but well, most people, including myself.) You know you're in the clutches of a superior intellect, and that superior intellect isn't going to hold your hand and tell you any backstory to ease you into things. You're just dropped into this world, and you have to fend for yourself. It's not that it's a difficult read. But it's not a quick beach-variety read either. You need your brain cells. It's also a fantastic story -- a 22nd-century noir bounty-hunter thriller, if you want to know! Imagine the US has been ripped apart by the Secession of "the Republic" (aka "Jesusland"), and the remaining bits of the country have formed new allegiances. One of the world's great powers is a corporation that controls settlement on Mars, and genetic modification has run rampant, creating new variants of human beings, including the titular "thirteens."

What happens when one highly dangerous "thirteen" returns unexpectedly from internment on Mars to go on a murder spree, and another thirteen, the main character, is hired to hunt him down? I'll tell you what happens: it gets really complex.

{Fans of The Master & Margarita will get a little thrill from the name of a floating city in the book: Bulgakov's Cat. Got to love a writer who references Bulgakov's cat! Makes me want a character with one protruding fang, too.}

I've just learned that Morgan has a fantasy novel coming out in January (it's already out in Britain), and I'm eager to read it. Apparently, these are not going to be Tolkien-variety elves!

I'm happy to get more sci-fi recommendations, if you've got any to give.

Oh, and HERE is an interesting little peek into the sleepaway camp of the literati, at which, if you are a lucky aspiring writer, you may be permitted to schlep pasta for a Great Writer. (Thanks, but no thanks. Give me SCBWI any day!)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Radiohead, Wizards, and writer friends

One of the best parts of being a writer has very little to do with the actual writing: it's meeting other writers! Yesterday, since Jim and I were going to be up in Washington for the Radiohead concert (which was Jim's anniversary present this year), we decided to make a day of it and have lunch with some of our favorite writers & illustrators: the Western Washington SCBWI gang. Here we all are in the atrium of the Grand Central Baking Company. Hi gang!

We first met these folks when we attended their amazing conference two years ago in Seattle, and have since seen them from conference to conference, in New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle. They are all such kindred spirits I wish they lived right here in Portland so we could get together all the time! Well, this was a good excuse, and it was just the beginning of an awesome day.

After lunch, Jim and I drove over to Renton to visit Nina Hess at the Wizards of the Coast office. Wizards of the Coast, if you don't know, is where Dungeons & Dragons comes from, among many other books and games and properties. Nina is an editor there, and she too is someone we've been lucky to meet through book conferences. Well, she gave us a tour of the office, and we are now convinced she has the funnest office job in the world. Today, for example, the company sponsored a cupcake-decorating competition among its employees. Winning cupcakes were to be professionally photographed and put together into a cupcake calendar. Seriously! (I need one of those!) They have also decorated My Pretty Ponies for fun, and in the designers' nook -- alongside their running game of Project Runway bingo -- they have a full Fashion Plates set from the 70s, and they play with it! The meeting spaces are all named things like "Bat Cave" and "Rivendell," and across the three floors of office space, there are life-size models of stormtroopers and goblins and creepy harlequin clowns and even a giant dragon in the entry way, its wings fanned out. And people are playing D&D at gleaming conference tables. There are books and toys everywhere, and art, art, as far as the eye can see. Art + dragons + creative people. Awesome!

(How cool is it that in the past few weeks we've gotten tours of both Laika and Wizards? It seems like we know a lot of creative people!)

And after that. . . Radiohead!
Now, I like Radiohead, I do. But Jim loves Radiohead, and Jim loves concerts. Don't judge me too harshly, but I'm not really a concert-lover. I, umm, I tend to get a little bored and want to whip out a book and a flashlight (no, Steph, I didn't!). So, getting Jim pit tickets for Radiohead was an act of wifely love. And it was really fun. I haven't been in a "mosh pit" for a long time, but it was certainly nothing like some pits I'd been in in my youth when I did go to concerts a little more regularly (no crazy metal or anything like that, but I did get trod upon by proto-emo's in the Depeche Mode mosh pit as a 14-year-old). This was a very civilized, grown-up concert. Radiohead went on at nine o'clock and ended before midnight. It wasn't insanely loud, my head wasn't ringing afterward, and there was no shoving! How much of an old lady am I that I am talking about volume and etiquette instead of the performance? I know. I am an old lady when it comes to concerts. But I really did enjoy the show -- I've told Jim in the past I don't understand music well enough to get quite what it is everybody raves about when they talk about Radiohead's creativity, etc, not that I didn't like them, I just don't understand music. I am a musical ignoramus. But I feel like I made more of a connection seeing them live. Being so close was cool. They sounded amazing, and they had really cool lights and an arty video backdrop, and their roadies were kept super busy with constant guitar changes and wheeling pianos and stuff out on stage. Thom Yorke wore tight tiny red pants and danced with abandon, and Jonny Greenwood had the greatest floppiest hair in his face, kind of like this (not taken last night):
I don't know how he could see! At one point he played his guitar with a violin bow, at another, he and the other guitarist (not his brother, the other one) drummed along with the drummer and kind of reminded me of taiko drummers, really getting their bodies into it, all synchronized.

So, it was a spectacle. And then came the attempted exodus from White River Amphitheater. Take my advice if you ever go to a show there: go out to your car and cuddle up and fall asleep for two hours. Because you're not getting out of the parking lot before then. Oh my god. This place is out in the country, and only a few sleepy country roads lead to it, so when a concert of 20,000 people lets out. . . there is nowhere for them to go but slowly single-file down the country road. We didn't get out of the parking lot until after 2 am, and Jim wanted to drive home to Portland instead of go to a hotel, so we did. I slept, as I am so good at doing in cars at any hour of the day or night, and Jim drove. But a half-hour shy of Portland he had to sleep, so we pulled over into a rest stop and snoozed for an hour and a half, and finally made it home at 6 am. Oy. That was a long, full day! Today, my energy level was sufficient to watch a movie for research for the new book, which felt deeply decadent!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Twilight Hilarity & Wizard Rock

I can't even imagine how cool it would be as a writer to see your work take on a huge new life beyond your actual words: movies, fan fiction, how about wizard rock? It's amazing. I got crazy-excited when one young reader (hi Lexi!) created a super-cool faerie character who could live in my fictional world. Even to spawn spoofs would be amazing. I got this one from Fuse #8 and couldn't resist reposting it. The first one is the actual Twilight trailer. Watch that first. The second one is such a cute spoof. I love it. I don't know how they kept straight faces!

The real one:

Now the spoof:

Isn't that awesome?

Also, I just read HERE about other cool fan creativity -- the world of Wizard Rock! I knew there were Harry Potter-themed rock bands, but I didn't know there were over 400 of them!!! Steph's husband Jarrod actually got taped and interviewed for MTV for his contribution to the genre. How cool is that?

It is definitely a dream of mine to one day write something that spawns fan fiction. Some day.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ahh, the muted roar of yokels. . .

Yes, neighborhood Fight Club is back. Just now I looked out the window and two big girls were bravely punching each other in the face and seeming as if they weren't so much enjoying it. I bet.

There are some 50 people in our neighbor's yard, gathered around a makeshift boxing ring. They're drinking and cheering each other on. The first time this happened, we were sort of amazed and appalled. Now, it doesn't seem like that big of a thing. They're not making that much noise, and above the whirring of two big box fans, it just sounds like kind of a muted yokel-roar with the occasional cheery whistle. All in good fun. [snort!]

The heat wave continues, though it isn't as bad today as the past several, and tonight it might even rain. (Please o please.) I have my laptop back with a pristine new keyboard. It is ready for a new book. I tried to download Scrivener, but it doesn't work with my operating system. [frown] Seems I shall be writing another book in Appleworks. That's fine.

Yesterday, with the full force of two fans pointed at me, I worked on the first few pages of my new book. I had already written this first few pages, by the way. Months ago, in a needed interlude from that other book. But. I am a notorious tinkerer with beginnings. Oh, how I labor beginnings! But today I moved forward to the next few pages. Into the scary unknown.

How exactly does one begin a book? It's so hard every time. I recall that the beginning of Silksinger was fraught. Terrifying. And I have been so excited about telling the story I am now setting out to tell, and I am excited, but when you stop daydreaming about something and begin it, well, for me, the terror kicks in. I've been building up this story in my head for months, and now I have to -- ulp! -- write it down?

How do you create a character?

How do you get to the meat of the story, hook a reader in, hopefully fascinate them?

How do you create a convincing world?

I don't know. You just write. You write a lot, and much of it will be bad, and some of it will be good. And you keep the good, and write a lot more. And so on. I wrote Not For Robots as a procrastination tool when I was still in the early stages of Silksinger, and it was very useful to remind myself of things that I know. Like: the story only happens once you start writing it. No matter how complete an outline or synopsis, you don't really know what's going to happen until you're in the story. There is a magic that happens in the act of writing, where it becomes a collaboration between You and Mystery. Story comes down from somewhere, ideas blossom from nowhere, you have help from an invisible, unknowable source. I'm not saying it's really a muse, but it feels like that. I think we get ourselves into a state where a new realm of our brain opens itself up and gets into the act. That's the real muse: an often untapped, mysterious region of our minds where creativity resides. Part of the challenge of writing for me is the seek that region. Some people find it more easily than others. Perfectionists like me have a hard time, because we're like entomologists: we're down on our hands and knees in the meadow of our story, peering at bugs through a magnifying glass. If we can get up and sort of. . . romp in the meadow, then something magical might happen.

That's what I think, anyway. I try to push myself toward that place, and often I fail. I've learned to keep trying, to insist on defeating my worst tendencies. If something doesn't come easily to you, don't take that as a sign that you're not meant to do it. I used to get so defeated by hearing writers gush about how "the characters took over, the story spilled out of me, etc" -- and sure there were times I thought that it is supposed to be like that, and if that wasn't happening to me, I wasn't really a writer. But sometimes now it does happen, because I show up and work for it.

Here's a quote from a dance memoir I just read for research:

"It is safe to live in one's own well-worn groove where one is comfortable with one's chosen limits, chosen measurements of success and failure. But today as I pirouetted straight through the limits, I knew I could do more and then more again. For one triumph leads to another, on to infinity. How far can I go? How far will I go?"
-- Winter Season, by Toni Bentley

Friday, August 15, 2008

I killed a keyboard

I've killed a second keyboard. I killed one with Blackbringer, and now again with Silksinger and Lips Touch. Well, actually, this one isn't dead, it's just shabby. The last one truly died and stopped spacing, etc. This one just looks like someone with claws has been typing on it. There's a weird satisfaction in offing a keyboard. It means I've been typing a lot. I used to get the same strange satisfaction from an empty tube of oil paint. It meant that I'd squoze out all that paint and done something with it! It's the same here -- I squoze out this keyboard's allotment of words, and I need a new one! Yay! (Especially 'yay' since it was under warranty -- that was never true of paint tubes, and oil paint is expensive!)

I hate being parted with my computer while it is in Mac surgery. Hate it. Even though I have this old computer I am on now. I actually killed this keyboard once too, but I didn't write it to death, I only spilled water on it. There's no glory in that!

So, I shall start my new book with a fresh keyboard. A new writing program too, I think. I'm going to try Scrivener. I keep hearing such good things about it, and I need all the help I can get. I've written the last three books on bare-bones Appleworks out of loathing for Word -- but I always have to translate the manuscripts into Word before sending them off to my editor. I hate Word. Can't understand why it is the program. Bleh.

Speaking of 'bleh,' we're having a heat wave. Yesterday it was 102 in Portland. Guh. Today will be the same, but worse -- because the night didn't cool off as much as usual so there wasn't a whole lot of fresh morning air to start with. Wish we could take off for the coast for a few days, but a certain husband has too many assignments. Pthwt. Blessings, at least, for our one air-conditioning unit -- it keeps the studio decent. It was a hand-me-down from a friend of ours who left Portland for Los Angeles to do movie CG stuff, and has since moved on to Croatia where he has fallen in love. Isn't that lovely? An appliance with a history. My writing room, however, does not have a hand-me-down air-conditioner, history or not. I hope it doesn't get too unbearable today. Sigh. Wish we were at the beach.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Another T-shirt design (and another book is underway!)

Look! Here's Jim's contribution to the kidlit T-shirt designs. I love this one -- it's so fun. You see? If aliens, vampires, and pink ninjas can read kidlit, so can you. See (and buy) shirts HERE. [remember: all proceeds go to the kidlitosphere conference.]

So, what are you all doing this week? I am nervously starting a new book. It's at the love/wonder/terror stage. It's all new and shiny and full of possibilities, and there's the tiny voice somewhere in my brain telling me I won't be able to pull it off. You know how that goes. Shut up, stupid tiny voice. What do you know? Nothing, that's what! I've done it before, and I'll do it again. And again. And again. And it's not just me that can do it. So can you. And you, and you. If you really, really want to. Believe me: you can. Not this story, though. This one's mine. Oh yeah, and if you've got a cool idea for a novel, write it now before somebody else does. That does happen, you know. Your muse might get tired of waiting for you. Right now she might being making a lunch date with another writer, getting ready to give them your idea. Seriously. Write that book. As Jane Yolen would say: "Write the damn book." That's all you have to do!

"What you have to do and the way to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that is another matter."
-Peter F. Drucker

I've been doing some research, spent part of the afternoon watching a documentary, the rest of the afternoon brainstorming plot ideas. I've been bursting to write this book for just over a year. It was last July that I was sitting poolside in Los Angeles with Alexandra (we were in the shade, being neither of us tan-monkeys). She was studying for her psychotherapist license, I was fleshing out this idea and wishing I could start writing it AT ONCE. Which I couldn't. Because there was this book called. . . ehh. I don't want to say. You all know the book. It's all I've blabbed and whined about for the past year! And you know what? I did it! I wrote that one! It's done. It wasn't always fun (though often it was), but I always knew if I kept writing it, it would get written, and it did. It really is that simple when all is said and done. A simple matter of many long days of work and frustration. Just keep writing and the book will get written.

Hey, who's watching the Olympics? Since childhood I've been an Olympics fan. It's the only time I ever watch sports, and I love them. How awesome is this kid:
This was the qualifying round, not the one that secured the US team's bronze medal last night -- that one isn't up on youtube yet. But wow! His name is Alexander Artemev and he was an alternate who didn't even have a chance to test out the equipment before he found out he got to compete -- and then he went up and did that. I've been up so late watching every night. I think I'll probably be at the gym in the evenings this week, because the treadmill is a very good place to watch the Olympics. Think I'll go now, before the women's team final starts. Ciao!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

new Cafe Press store -- celebrate kidlit!

Yesterday I was designing a logo for the Kidlitosphere Conference, and while I was at it, I made a few designs to promote the cause, close to my heart, of grown-ups reading kidlit.

[About that, remember my recent rant? Well, here's another, much shorter rant: I am generally very sheltered from the snotty attitudes of the "grown-up reading community" but lately I have been picking up little barbs and jibes here and there -- such as this little one, embedded in Jennifer Reese "D" review of Breaking Dawn for Entertainment Weekly: "This series has always been grounded in Bella's human voice, which is imbued with adolescent fragility and unwavering passion for Edward, which, however goopily described, has a kind of winsome purity rare in young-adult fiction." Eh what? Whaaaaaa???? Breaking Dawn aside (I'm not contesting her review, only this stupid phrase) -- winsome, pure narrative voices are rare in YA? Jennifer Reese, how much YA have you read? I truly feel that the most memorable, wonderful narrative voices come from YA, and plenty of those are winsome and pure -- anyone want to share some favorites? I wouldn't mind putting together a list of great voices -- for my own education as well, since there are so many books I haven't read yet. Favorites?]

Anyway, off the rant, back to the art -- I have created a new Cafe Press shop with the following products and more. All proceeds go to support the Kidlitosphere Conference. Come over and shop! Proudly declare that you read kidlit!

Also, here is the logo for the conference. There are a few items with this on it:
This is just a sampling of the shirt styles available. Go HERE to see the full selection.

Also, stay tuned for Jim's design, forthcoming probably by tomorrow -- it's a very fun illustration, a little less girly than these, so be sure to come back and see it!


Friday, August 08, 2008

Coraline movie!

Don't be jealous, but today Jim and I took my niece and her friend to tour Laika animation studio where the movie Coraline is being made! Our friend Rachel works there building trees and stuff for the movie sets, and she got us in and took us around. We had to sign nondisclosure agreements, so I can't tell you anything -- which is fun to say, as if we're in on some sneaky secrets -- but there's really nothing I could tell you anyway except that it is awesome, the puppets are gorgeous, the sets are spectacular, the amount of work that goes into making a feature-length stop-motion movie is astonishing. I can't wait to see the movie!!!

The whole time I was dying to take pictures, which of course was a big no-no (didn't even bring my camera), and then on the way out I felt like there should have been a gift-shop like at a museum so we could buy a "Making of Coraline" book or some action figures! But there was nothing -- we came away with empty hands and full brains. The work and creativity that goes into this sort of a movie!

It's directed by Henry Selick, the same guy who directed Nightmare Before Christmas -- when you saw that, did you watch the "making of" section of the DVD? If not, rent it again and watch that. It's very cool. Did you know there are 24 "frames" for 1 single second of film. Can you believe that? They aim for 90 seconds of movie per week. Ack! The patience those animators have to have.

Anyway, it was crazy-cool, and having seen the individual elements, the puppet parts, the sets, it is going to be that much cooler to see the movie, whenever it comes out. Here are some of the puppets (images pulled from various bloggers who saw them at Comicon):

Click on this one to enlarge, and you can see different face pieces showing different expressions. We saw pieces like this sitting around in various stages of painting.

Lastly, HERE is a link to some footage. Remember: 24 frames per second. Enjoy!

Oh, this is random and apropos of nothing, but the other day, Jim & I were planning to make vegetable soup, when I realized I'd forgotten to buy onions. Frig! Can't make vegetable soup without onion. So, not long thereafter, Jim took Leroy out for his walk, and block over from our house, a guy called out from his porch, "This might be a random question, but do you want an onion?" To which Jim said something like, "Why yes, in fact I do want an onion." And he came home carrying a just-picked onion by its long green top.

This really happened! Like, the Universe was listening, but it was only sort of paying attention, and of all the things it could have given us, it settled on an onion. Gee, thanks, Universe. But perhaps the Universe wasn't involved at all. Today, a different person on the dogwalk route offered Jim a crab apple, and we had not been having any conversations about needing a crab apple. So I guess it's just chance.

P.S. If you're not familiar with Coraline, check out the book. It rocks.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Nice little reading and writing interludes

The other morning, the day after I sent in my 3rd draft, I woke up in the morning and followed the usual morning routine: brought the book I was currently reading down to the kitchen, rinsed berries to put on top of cereal, etc. So, Jim and I ate breakfast, and at a certain point Jim left the table and got on with the day. But I stayed where I was and read. . . and read. . . and read. I made coffee, sat back down, kept reading. All morning. Until the book was finished. (It was The Sugar Queen, a delightful piece of romantic magical-realism from North Carolina, recommended by Stephanie.)

It was so lovely to just loll and read. Decadent. Lovely.

One evening a month or two ago, I was sitting on the sofa with my laptop, writing, when the power went out in our neighborhood -- and it didn't come back on. This hasn't happened before, and at first I was annoyed, but then. . . it turned out to be wonderful. I lit all the candles in the living room (including the gorgeous Anthropologie candelabra Alexandra is always trying to steal), which is something I almost never do (laziness?) and I discovered that the world is different by candlelight. Soft and wonderful. I almost felt like I stepped into a new room in my brain -- the next few hours of writing were so pleasant. It's funny to think now that I haven't had any more candle-lit evenings since then, just for fun. I don't know why not. Maybe I will plan to *begin* my new project that way, when it's time to get down to it: candles + new book to write. Nice! Like a ritual.

Have you had any lovely reading or writing interludes lately?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Look at my Magpie

First of all: look at the beautiful illustration of Magpie that my wonderful husband did for me. (It's still in progress, he says.) Isn't she lurvely? Pretty but intense, like the huntress she is. My Magpie. Funny how she feels so real to me. Aren't I lucky to be married to an illustrator who can do such things? (Look how different this is from the illustration he's working on today!) During the last week or so of revisions I had this (and my new Blackbringer paperback cover (also by Jim), which I'm not sure if I'm allowed to show yet) open on my desktop behind my manuscript doc, so I could look at it and get inspired. I want to have a big poster made of this for my writing room. Thanks, sweetie!

Second of all: this morning I hit 'send' on draft 3 of Silksinger. Yay! Yippeeeeee!!

And then, minutes later, I raced off to go to a Weight Watcher's meeting, because, you know, writing does not make you skinny! It was during the writing of Blackbringer that I first lost 25 pounds and met my "goal weight" and that was such a tremendous year for me, because I a) finished my first novel, and b) lost the weight I wanted to lose. Those two things had been at the top of my New Year's resolutions list so long I'd stopped writing my resolutions down, but that year (2005), somehow I did both. It was such an empowering stretch of time. Wonderful! But. . . times change. 2008 hasn't been a great year so far, with some big life things that have happened, and I've been so wrapped up in this book, and so anxious, I really haven't been focusing on my well-being too much.

But I want to. So, now I will try. Starting a new book is a much pleasanter place in life than wrapping one up. I am filled with all the possibilities of this new creation (which as of now exists only in my head and as notes in a notebook) -- it's still all star-dusty and golden. Of course, it's not like I'm *done* with Silksinger -- I will have a HUGE celebration when that day truly comes. This is not the end, just a landmark. I'm sure there will be another draft. . .


Saturday, August 02, 2008

moose in a sprinkler; quest to write a short, simple book

Some moose/sprinkler adorableness (keep watching for a little while -- there's a shy one that comes out later. [Smile.]

So, this weekend is the SCBWI national conference in LA, the one we always go to and love, the one that has made all the difference for me in learning to finish books and get published -- but we decided months ago not to go anywhere this summer (Comicon either) but stay home, meet deadlines, save $$, etc. But. . . wah! I wish we were there! It's such a good time.

Strangely, I woke up this morning thinking about the novel I abandoned four or five years ago when I decided to commit to Blackbringer instead. I had been going back and forth between them, never making significant progress on either, until I realized I had to give one up. (Interestingly, it was meeting a fabulous editor at the SCBWI conference who showed interest in my faerie characters that helped sway the choice to Dreamdark.)

I've always known I wanted to get back to the other one, which is YA, but in the meantime a lot of other ideas have jumped in line in front of it in the queue of books-waiting-to-be-written. But now. . . I wonder. I do love this story. . . And the best part is that it might stand the best chance of being. . . simple (God, I shouldn't say that. That's like asking for trouble, right, writers? To say a book will be simple? That's like tempting the muses to make mischief with you!) Okay, simple? I don't know. But with the drubbing that Silksinger has given me, I'm keen to write a shortish book with a contained p.o.v. I've been thinking of trying first-person, even. First-person has always scared me, but I really have fun with it in my short Sunday Scribblings fictions.

Speaking of short, "simple" books, I'm almost done with The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which I don't think I would have picked up based on the cover (though it is lovely), because it doesn't look mysterious, I guess. But. It is mysterious. Highly. I read a review of it at 7-Imp (and being highly impressionable, promptly ordered not only it, but another book they compared it to: Nancy Farmer's multi-award-winning House of the Scorpion). But anyway, at 7-Imp, they said that this book is, unexpectedly, science fiction. Who knew? It's about a 17-year-old girl who wakes up from a year-long coma and has to unveil the many secrets surrounding her accident, including: why does her family seem to be hiding her? I don't want to spoil any more than the book jacket does, which isn't much -- it's an interesting risk to take, to market a book so mysteriously that you basically risk alienating the audience that would buy it if they knew what it was about, just in order to get the non-sci-fi readers to pick it up. You know? I could easily have missed this one.

Anyway, I wonder if I have it in me to write a short, "simple" book. It sounds so delicious right now. And really, Lips Touch is simple, and it was a joy to write -- I think I need a little writing joy, looking forward. Revisions, after a while, can knock the joy out of any story.

Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Lemon layer cake, rock stars, dog adoration, etc.

Yesterday was my mom's birthday (Happy birthday mom! On your new computer, it is imperative you learn how to leave blog comments! You should start right now!), so I made a cake. I love making cakes, and would do it every few days, if not for the many reasons why that would be a bad idea. In this case I made a lemon layer cake with lemon curd and fresh raspberry filling and lemon buttercream frosting, and it was awesome, if I don't say so myself, so the recipe is below. Yum.

[Pizza aside]
We all went for pizza at one of Portland's *best* pizza places, and it was really, really good -- Italian style, very thin-crust and not smothered in ingredients, just a light bit of fresh mozzarella and paper thin prosciutto, that sort of thing. (In the recent Mix article on Portland's best pizzas, I was sorry not to see Dove Vivi listed, because although on paper it doesn't sound like it would be my favorite -- cornmeal crust -- it is so awesome and different -- if you're here in the Rose City, try it.)

[end pizza aside]

Then, Mom opened her pile of loot and we ate cake. She was very happy that her younger daughter took note of hint-dropping while they were in Anthropologie together recently!

Leroy was of course overjoyed to have company, though he was kept very busy, as usual, adoring Jim:
It was a lovely evening (even if Alexandra was trying to train my niece Isabella in meanness).

Speaking of Isabella, did you know my niece is a rockstar? Oh yeah. Last week was Rock n Roll Camp for Girls, and last Saturday we went to see the bands perform. It was awesome -- such a great experience for adolescent girls. They write their own songs, and the lyrics are always such a hoot.

We make some noise
We don't need boys
We eat pretzels all day long
Hanging out with friends
Hope it never ends. . .

Yeah! Who needs boys?

Was Heath Ledger a nationalist?
The mystery's enticing as a strawberry kiss
Smash patriarchy with a hammer
And ride through the day in a Sunny D blur. . .

What??? I don't quite get that one, but it's funny. I never thought about it before, but now I can't help wondering: was Heath Ledger a nationalist? (???) (Neither of those snippets were from Izzy's song, by the way.)

And here I am, at dinner after, with rock stars and friend:

And here is the cake recipe. I promise awesomeness. This is one of the best frostings I've ever had:

Lemon Layer Cake w/ Raspberries
2-1/2 c cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 c. butter, soft
1-1/2 c. gran. sugar
3 lg. whole eggs
2 lg. egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. whole milk

3/4 c. unsalt. butter, soft
3-1/2 c. confect. sugar
2 tbl. heavy cream (I used more like 4, for a fluffier frosting)
2 tsp. fr. lemon juice (I used more)
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp grated lemon zest

for filling
1 c. fresh raspberries (or more)
1 jar lemon curd

1. Oven 350; butter & flour 2 9-in. cake pans.
2. sift: flour, b.p., b.s., salt together, set aside.
3. Beat butter well, add in sugar, beat about 3 min.
4. Add eggs and yolks one at a time, beating between; add vanilla and zest; beat. On low, beat in lemon juice. (batter will look curdled at this point. Don't worry.)
5. Beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions; adding milk after 2 additions.
6. Bake in prepared pans for 20-25 min., until tooth pick comes out clean.

Frosting: Soften butter until creamy, beat in sugar, add cream, lemon juice, vanilla, lemon zest. Beat about 3 min. *note* I used more of each butter, cream, and lemon juice than the recipe called for, because the frosting seemed a little thick. I probably doubled the cream and lemon juice, but I would suggest following the recipe, and then adding more wet ingredients until you get a consistency you like. Oh, and I also added yellow food coloring just to get a soft lemon yellow hue.

Putting the cake together: I slathered the first layer with a whole jar of lemon curd, then plopped on a lot of raspberries. I overdid it, and all the filling wanted to squish out the sides:
So I had to do some creative scooping to get it under control, and then I ended up not frosting around the sides, but just on top. So, do what you will.

Seriously delicious. Wonderful summer birthday cake.