Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Girls & Dreams

When I was a girl I wanted to be a gymnast, a writer, and a veterinarian who traveled to the remote corners of the world in search of exotic beasts. There were plenty of other things in between, passing dreams, but these were THE DREAMS. I remember something from the Paul Zindel book The Pigman, in which the characters try to do two real things every day to bring them closer to their dreams, and they keep a record of these things. I don’t remember the book well except for that part but that really made an impression. I think I got the message very young that there are dreams and then there are DREAMS. There are flights of fancy and wishing to be a princess or a super hero, and then there are our real, soul-deep hopes for the unfurling of our lives. Our lives will unfurl come what may, even if we don’t do anything but watch television all day, but they will only unfurl in the direction of our dreams if we steer them that way.

I was a competetive gymnast blessed with a mother with infinite patience for carpools and bleachers. She braided my hair so tight my scalp felt like a prisoner. The living room was kept empty of everything but a gymnastics mat (I think this was more because we were a young military family of limited means than because of my gymnastics, after all, mom drove me to practice almost every day, but that empty living room was where I finally learned not to put my hand down at the last minute doing ariels.) I pursued that dream one backhandspring at a time, and I learned that dreams have to be built, assembled -- they aren’t delivered by dolly all ready to go. And girls -- and boys -- need back-up, parents who’ll sit in bleachers watching the same boring compulsory routines over and over, who’ll drive them to the gym or dojo, or the library, the museum, the bookstore, the observatory, the zoo, to whatever place feeds their dreams, and that’s how you give kids the tools to build themselves. To build their SELF.

My brother and sister and I were very lucky in our parents. And the thing that inspired this thinking was reading about another lucky, powerful girl and another awesome bleacher-sitting mom. If you haven’t visited her site before you’re in for a treat; she’s an amazing storyteller. Anyway, eleven-year-old Maya has qualified for the Junior Olympics in Taekwondo, and you can help send her there. Reading this post about her drive and motivation really brought me back to myself at that age, and how I did my homework in the splits to work on my flexibility, how I could just NOT walk past a patch of grass without a flip or two. I made a small contribution to the Maya fund and I’ll give some bracelets to my niece Izzy, who’s an incredible athlete and artist herself, and who I hope will grow big dreams of her own, and learn to follow them doggedly into a beautiful life.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Day of Great Geekery

Friday Jim and I had one of those days that kids think they’ll have all the time when they grow up and get to do whatever they want. You know, how we think we’ll live on ice cream and pizza and buy every coloring book we want and stay up all night watching TV? Well, in this case we went to two different movie theaters and saw two different comic-book-based movies, watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica in between, ate pancakes for breakfast, and pizza and beer for dinner. I joked that all we needed to make the day completely decadent was to smuggle a roll of cookie dough into the theater with us. We didn’t. The day was decadent enough as it was. If only the movies had been better.

X-Men 3. I know I’m a nerd for saying this but I was REALLY looking forward to this movie. I loved the first two. I wish Professor Xavier’s school was a real place. I would love to go there and interview the kids and write an article. Hell, I would love to BE one of the kids, though I would hope for a good and useful mutant power, not Rogue’s sad, isolating power, or a gross one like a big long toad tongue or something. As a writer I'm on the lookout for those things that make you want to live in the story, and cool schools really get me, like Hogwarts, or Professor Xavier's. But this movie, while still entertaining, was flat. BIG things happen to major characters and the director fumbles each one, making you care far less than you should. There's another thing to examine as a writer: how does a good director invest you solidly in characters' fates, while a mediocre director can use all the dynamite in the world and not coax out a single tear?

V for Vendetta. Saw this at the second-run movie theater Laurelhurst. I’ve mentioned before that Portland is a paradise of second-run movie theaters, most of which serve pizza and beer. Movies are $2 or $3 and you bring your pitcher and slice right inside with you. Awesome. The movie was a big ball of cheese, though. It has good, important themes and it draws uneasy parallels between how the Nazis managed to do what they did with the mute consent of the German people, and how our own government is wielding fear as a weapon against us, terrifying us into giving up our outrage as well as our rights. But the cheese prevailed.

Now, on the other hand: Battlestar Galactica. You might not even know it’s been remade by the Sci-Fi channel and recently wrapped up its second brilliant season, and if you don’t, if you haven’t seen it yet, I kind of envy you because you get to experience it from scratch. It’s that good. We’ve been Netflixing it and to our dismay, realized only half of the second season is available so far on DVD, and to our even greater dismay, that half ended on a royal cliffhanger! BUT... schwwwwwING!... Jim figured out i-tunes has it to download for $1.99 an episode so we actually ate dinner in front of the computer last night to watch it! (I heart technology.)

Honestly, television rocks these days. There are just so many good shows, and even a lot of the mediocre shows are better than the schlocky hundred-million-dollar blockbuster movies! The chance to develop characters and plots over time makes TV a very friendly medium for storytellers, and a treasure trove for novel readers who like that sort of thing, which we do, and which is why our Netflix queue is stuffed with shows like The 4400, MI-5, and The Shield. Now, if you haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica yet, do. It starts with a four-hour miniseries that is a much better investment of time than any summer blockbuster, and if you’re not a sci-fi fan, don’t let that deter you. This isn’t really a sci-fi show. It’s a smart, kick-ass drama about genocide, survival, terrorism, loyalty, ethics, democracy, and religious extremism, that just happens to take place on space ships.

P.S. After that day of leisure, I spent the whole weekend in a writing fever, working on an extended version of The Hatchling and I am delirious with the fun of it, amazed by the way ideas can materialize out of the air, the way a story can take over and assert its own identity, like a teenager. Wow. I love writing.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #9: First Love

Whatever became of Rosaline, Romeo’s first love? That’s right: Romeo’s first love. Do you remember her at all? When Romeo says in Act I “fairer than my love... the all-seeing sun ne’er saw her match since first the world begun,” he’s not talking about Juliet! He hasn’t even set eyes on her yet. No, in the opening of Romeo & Juliet, Romeo is in violently, sufferingly, sighingly in love with... Rosaline. Do you remember that bit? He crashes the Capulet ball not for Juliet but for Rosaline and there he sets eyes on Juliet and like mercury his affections shift, just as his kinsman Benvolio, knowing Romeo’s tempestuous nature, had guessed they would.

That’s not love. It’s adolesence. Romeo was a BOY. He fell into and out of love at the drop of a hat. This greatest and most celebrated love of Western literature wasn’t even love, but hormonal overexcitement. Does that make the suicides less tragic, or more? Perhaps less tragic for Romeo, who you could argue deserved it (my Shakespeare professor once called him a “homicidal maniac”), and more tragic for poor Juliet for whom this act of passion and defiance was likely the one moment of her tightly bound existence when she felt truly alive, and who could have had no real idea how fickle her young husband was.

And what of fair Rosaline? I’m guessing that she wore a mourning veil to the double funeral and blessed her lucky stars she never gave that crazy Montague kid the time of day.

Read more Sunday Scribblings.

Notebook, 1993

I've just been riffling through my old college writing notebooks again. Circa 1993. Full of funny, silly, pretentious writing:

"Why am I so plagued by this fear that I am becoming every moment less brilliant?"

I LOVE that my twenty-year-old self wrote that! I've GOT to start keeping this kind of aimless writing notebook again, so that in 14 more years I can laugh at the thoughts of my 34-year-old self, and on and on all my life. One thing the notebooks are full of is wishes. I opened right up to this and it could have been an answer to last week's Sunday Scribbling. In 1993 my wishes were:

- To be a writer of great genius.

- To be beautiful and wicked, with flashing teeth and wild hair.

- To set the genie free. Of course.

Ha ha ha! But then later in the same notebook I also wished I was a mermaid and a genius, that I owned a boat and owned an island: a mermaid-genius with a boat and an island. What does a mermaid need with a boat?

Okay, I'll stop. Oh wait, there's this: "Inside me everything is just how you left it, raw as a skinned knee and dark, dark as the meat of ripe cherries." Hm. Don't remember what that was about. Okay, now I'll really stop. And by the way, the Sunday Scribblings topic this week is "First Love" and anyone can participate -- just write a post on the theme of "first love" and leave a comment at the Sunday Scribblings site with your permalink.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On Nesting

I am an artist, a window-shopper, and a daydreamer.

I hoard home decorating magazines.

In stores I touch the beautiful things, lingeringly.

I fantasize about my dreamhouse.

I love to plan parties, to pore over cookbooks, light many candles, place a freshly iced cake on a new cake stand, slice peaches into a pitcher of frosty white wine.

I’m not rich, and I’m also not handy. My house is a fixer-upper, and I don’t love the fixing. I aspire to never hang dry wall again, and I spend much more time drawing than spackling.

I don’t like garage sales. I can’t sew and I pretend my garden is under an enchantment - the kind where an evil faerie put everyone to sleep and tools rust while the jasmine and ivy thrive.

My imperfect canary-yellow cottage won’t appear in any magazines but I’m surrounded by color and things I love. Fresh flowers, marionettes, bowls of tangerines, the occasional great piece of furniture, and all the art I’ve made while not fixing-upping.

I love to nest.

I love to decorate a table and am subject to sudden violent cravings for a new tablecloth.

If you’re ever in doubt of a gift for me, go for a French tablecloth, a vintage cake stand, or a book in which some decadent romance unfolds in beautiful prose.

I decorate with winter squash, bouquets of herbs in little vases, and dishes of cranberries or kumquats. I get peevish when people eat the kumquats and have learned that a bowl of key limes is less likely to become a husband’s snack.

I have a little ceramic pedestal just the right size for a pomegranate.

Dahlias are so perfect they make me dizzy.

Cooking for friends is fun, though I’m no gourmet chef and am afraid of many recipes.

I like pancakes for dinner. I think a lot of people would love to be invited to a pancake dinner party.

There are ways to make things seem more special than they really are, like serving ice cream in crystal dishes or draping sari fabric over a hand-me-down couch.

I have a hereditary addiction to Italian pottery. It’s not my fault, and there is no treatment.

If I was a ghost, I would live in an Anthropologie store and wear a different dress every night. I would invite my ghost friends over and serve them air in lovely teacups and I would sleep like a cat, curled on a stack of lambs wool sweaters.

I think people should make things. It’s easy to buy a giant canvas at the art store and paint a great big golden pear on it, or an orchid spike, or a tea cup.

I buy art from street fairs to put bread in artists’ bellies.

Color is spice and music and love - you can live without it, but why? When I see a house being painted brown or grey, my heart hurts.

Painting old furniture cherry red turns it into new furniture.

I would love to mosaic an entire city block.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #8: Wishes

In college my astronomy class took a trip to Catalina Island to view a lunar eclipse. We trucked up a mountain to the island’s highest spot to set up our telescopes and we found a cult of eclipse chasers there before us: people of means who will travel anywhere in the world to view celestial phenomena. Their telescopes were robotically equipped to rotate in synch with the Earth, and a loudspeaker was broadcasting Greenwhich Mean Time in both English and Japanese. These people were ready. Then the fog rolled in and obscured the entire eclipse, but that’s not the point. The point is simply that for everything in which humans take an interest there lies the potential for obsession. You hear about birdwatchers’ life lists, their fortune-consuming ambition to make a tic mark next to every species of bird on the planet. I can’t help but fantasize, what if it were so with wishing? What if there were rich, resourceful obsessives scouring the bazaars and troll bridges of the world for wishes? What if? It’s my favorite question, what if. So... what if?

1. Wishing Wells
There are only a handful of true wishing wells in the world and wish-hunters are terribly secretive about their locations. The sugar heiress Tess Millicent Headley is generally believed to be the world authority on the matter, and many a lesser hunter has taken to simply tailing her in hopes of being led to an active well. In recent years she has been forced to hire decoys and dress them in her signature jodpurs and Cleopatra wigs, to try to throw stalkers off her trail. She joked in a speech to the Royal Wishology Society that sometimes even she forgets which one is the real Tess.

2. Teeth
On the black market teeth are powerful currency for buying wishes. As one might suppose, different species of teeth purchase different potencies of wishes. A whole barrel full of rat incisors is worth a mere “scuppy,” for example (a dull hope in wish parlance), whereas a pair of viper fangs might fetch a “shing” strong enough to win love or revive the dead. There is not a species on the planet whose teeth have not found their way into Zorigo’s Rag & Bone Shop in Caracas. He fingers them all like rosary beads and pronounces their worth, then metes out his scuppies and shings. No one knows what he does with all those teeth, and no one ever asks. Incidentally, there is only one kind of wish more powerful than a shing. It’s called a “bruxis” (after the Latin for "gnashing") and its power lies in its great sacrifice, and those with the pain tolerance (and the pliers) to purchase it must learn a new kind of smile.

3. Lost Luggage
A century ago the notorious wish-hunter Chikamatsu Monzaemon uncovered the secret troll practice of hiding wishes in the lost luggage cellars of large railway stations. He began a spree of murdering luggage custodians and stealing their jobs, and thus gained access to the orphaned valises of eighteen European railway stations before he was finally caught. He had, however, at least two-dozen shings tied with fishing twine into his great grey beard, and he simply wished himself away to Australia as soon as the prison door swung shut.

(This is weird, isn't it? Oh well. It was fun. For more wishes, go to Sunday Scribblings!)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

awe & immensity

It's so easy to let things fall out of your life. To get busy and forget simple, joyful, basic things like standing on a beach on a sunny day with cold waves washing over your feet, like doing a handstand, like camping, like traveling a new road, map in hand (maybe), not knowing what vista or village may be around the next bend. And then when you by chance DO those things again after years of not, it kind of scorches you. Memory, rediscovery, this surge through your nerves, this adrenalin. And also, regret for the neglect you have allowed to happen. Until today, I didn't even really realize it had been -- I'm ashamed to say -- years... let's say five years... since I had stood in the surf. I've stood on cliffs and looked out at the sea, but I haven't had my toes in the ocean in far, far too long. And I could kick myself for letting that happen.

Today Jim and I took his mama, who's visiting from California, to the Oregon coast. It was a perfect 70 degree day, sunny, breezy, and magnificent, and we spent the morning shopping and eating in charming Cannon Beach, then drove south just to see what was there. We came upon a little overlook for Arcadia Beach, a state park with a trail down to a cliff-cupped beach with sea stacks tumbled offshore, and we walked down to the water. Such a simple thing to do. But that feeling, I'm sure you all know it, and hopefully you haven't let yourself forget it like I have, that feeling of awe and immensity and gratitude and grace that sweeps over you standing at the ocean... it hit us like a wave and we were giddy as children. It WAS like a shot of adrenalin. It made me want to run and turn cartwheels and try gymnastics I haven't attempted in years. It made me GIDDY. It made me feel twelve, and energized, and enraptured. And ashamed. Of the way I let the months slip by without celebrating the world, and the sea, and my toes and fingers, and ferns and rivers, and driftwood and stars.

We had to turn around and head back to Portland, but Jim and I resolved to go again in no less than two weeks and explore further south, where there are fishing towns and antique stores and kayaking in an estuary. I've said it recently but I'll say it again, I'm NOT going to keep letting life slide by unnoticed. Yes, we have a lot of work to do, drawings to draw and books to write, but we also have a lot of world to see, trees to climb -- I want to climb a tree and sit in it and look out. I want to swing on a rope out over water and let go. I want to sit on a dock and dangle my feet. I want to eat taffy and shrimp and look for otters and killer whales. And there's no good reason on earth that we haven't been doing that all along, except that we just forgot somehow. But now that my toes remember the ocean, I hope they won't let me forget again anytime soon!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


"Ascension: passing beyond oneself, rocketing out into the blue, grasping at flying ladders, mounting, soaring, lifting the world up by the scalp, rousing the angels from their ethereal lairs, drowning in stellar depths, clinging to the tails of comets."

I copied that out of Alexandra's journal one day over veggie burgers and diet soda at the pub. She hadn't written the attribution so for a moment of jealousy and awe, I thought she had written it. But no, she said, it was by Henry Miller. I love this quote, and I'm kind of feeling this way today: my book deal is finalized at last! For a number of months I've been practicing the underwhelming art of NOT getting excited as negotiations dragged on, and I've been biting my tongue and not writing about it (biting my fingers' tongues?), but now all is well, and the contracts are signed, and I feel like I COULD pick the world up by the scalp!

So at last, in brief, my book is called Blackbringer, and is the first in my "Dreamdark" fantasy series for young readers. It's being published by GP Putnam's Sons, a division of Penguin Books, and will be out PROBABLY next spring. I'll know that for sure by and by. Yippee!

(and the photo above was taken at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens on Mother's Day, where we took my parents for a picnic. Here's one of us:)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #7: "The books I would write..."

I would write books that people want to climb inside of and live in!

Books about mermaids and gypsies and India; about Venice, vampires, brimstone, magic carpets, wickedness, ladies hatched from eggshells, secrets, and journeys by camel that end with a kiss. I would write about tattoos and violins and a lover with an eyepatch, about a street with a cat standing sentry on every single porch, and about a nun who can freeze your blood just by looking at you. I would write about gambits and destinies and risk, about deep, aching, hungry love and about spite, and vengeance, and murder. I would write about the summer house of the ambassador from hell, and the state dinner when the angel got locked in the loo. I would write about the lengths a young girl would go to to save the world, and the frisson of touching one’s soulmate for the first time, and the wicked, wicked things humans do to the earth, and to each other, and the beautiful things, too. And of course, of course, I would write about magic. Always.

I can’t seem to keep magic out of my stories. I don’t try. I read all kinds of books, but when I write, magic seeps in around the edges, come what may, just as when I draw, my characters grow wings without even asking permission. I think that’s a good rule of thumb anyway: one should never ask permission to grow wings but just grow them, new ones every day: hawk wings and dragonfly wings and bat wings and bumblebee wings and flamingo wings and origami wings and doily wings and cobweb wings and invisible wings that tickle people when they hug you! Try them all out.

The Sunday Scribblings prompt was “what books WOULD you write,” not “what books WILL you write,” to make is sound like a daydream and not a pledge, like fun instead of work, but I do have a queue of books lined up in my head ready to be written, and I hope that now that I’ve written the first one I’ve begun to learn how to do it, and the others will find their way out too! In the early days of trying to write this book the thing that got in my way the most was being unable to decide between two ideas, and which I should devote my time to: my witch book or my faerie book? I loved them both. I went back and forth and never succeeded in getting past the first few chapters of either. And I might have gone on and on like that forever had not some fortuitous positive feedback set me on a course to developing what SARK calls “a habit of completion.” I wrote the faerie book, and the witch book is still swimming around in my mind, and it continues to grow and stretch even in its hibernation, even as it bumps into the other books waiting their turns.

So this exercise “the books I would write,” is very real to me. In Salman Rushdie’s Haroun & the Sea of Stories there’s a kind of spigot that when turned on flows stories, and I wish that were the case with my brain, but it’s not. More like, my stories are skittish litttle phantasms hiding out in my brain, and I need to coax them out with infinite patience and trickery. Does anyone else feel like this? Do you have a shy book-stowaway hiding in your brain? At the SCBWI conference a few weeks ago the Newberry award-winning writer Karen Cushman told how she'd come to finally write her first book at age 50. She was always telling her husband her ideas for stories until one day he told her he wouldn't listen to another idea, but that if she WROTE it down, he'd read it. And thus began the journey of writing her first book! Tough love! I'm curious. As I devised this topic for this week, I wondered, how many people out there want to write a book in their lives? How many plan to? You?

To read more Scribbles (& maybe participate), go here!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

5 things: 1 fun, 1 appalling, 1 lovely, and 2 I defy you to tease me about:

Thing 1 (FUN):
My long lost friend Kristy B found me by accident through a google search for something else and left a comment on my blog! That's us in the photo, on the first day of first grade in 1976 in Virginia Beach. I'm on the far left and she's next to me with the cute little Dorothy Hamill haircut. That's Catherine on the right, and my brother behind us. We lived three houses in a row on a cul-de-sac beside a lake. We all moved in the summer of 76, and away the summer of 80. Kristy's family moved to Saudi Arabia and I still have their Christmas card from that year, which features them with a camel! We haven't seen each other since we were nine years old, though our parents have sporadically kept in touch so I knew that she and Catherine both have two children, a boy and a girl each, and live on the East Coast. So it's GREAT to hear more about her -- she's been blogging for a few years and her blog is funny! She's got a whole special archive detailing things eaten by her dog, and I couldn't stop laughing. (hi Kristy!)

Thing 2 (APPALLING):
Jim was delighted recently when we were rewarded at the movie box office with 2 free iTunes coupons. But when he tried to redeem them later online, he discovered that in order to use them he would have to first register with the ARMY RECRUITING OFFICE!!! I've heard plenty of desperate, underhand recruiting stories lately (including recruiters knowingly signing up an autistic 17-year-old who needs help getting dressed, and excluding his condition from his paperwork!), but this is slick and horrible, and I am truly appalled. But not surprised.

Thing 3 (LOVELY):
My dad just emailed me a lovely bit of writing called Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann (1927), and in it were these words: "You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." And I love the thought, but then I can't help but wonder if we humans aren't trying to prove how powerful we are by interfering with that natural unfolding of the universe's plan. Aren't we mighty?

Things 4 & 5 (I defy you to mock me!)
First, I just read a Harlequin Romance without even realizing it! It tricked me with its respectable cover and trade size; it's from an imprint called "Luna" and I just thought it was fantasy, and it basically was, as it turned out. It wasn't juicy or bodice-rippy, and it was pretty good! It seems pretty clear to me the author, Rachel Lee, is in love with Aragorn from LOTR, and wanted to write a book about a character like him. There were many similarities, but it didn't bother me the way some LOTR derivatives do (Eragon, anyone? Oy, what a piece of c___!) because I love Aragorn too, and also because this is a great thing about being a writer -- being fully alert to what you love in a book or character and then being able to incorporate that into your own writing, in your own unique way. (If this idea intrigues you, stay tuned to Sunday Scribblings this week.)

Second, I am unashamed to admit I am going to see the cheesy gymnastics movie "Stick It" with Kelly tonight! We're both former gymnasts and secret enthusiasts of cheesy dance and sports movies, so we can't wait. The husbands will be slipping into another theater to see MI-3, but I think they should PAY for something else, then go in to see MI-3, and in that way not contribute to Mad Tom's Scientology Piggybank.

Monday, May 08, 2006

With sunshine comes responsibility...

Witness why I love winter. Because in the winter, there are no weeds. Someone once said, "Make no mistake, the weeds will win. Nature always bats last." Here it seems, in my "garden," nature is the ONLY batter. I haven't pulled a single weed this year, and it is a sad sight out there. We shouldn't have bought a house with so large a yard, especially one so long neglected -- we had to start from scratch with it, and we DID start, but... the ground here is a pit of prehistoric rocks. Truly. We're in the mighty Columbia River floodplain and digging even a flower bed is an arduous task. I want the fun parts of gardening, not the wrist-breaking work, and so, behold... weeds, with the occasional hardy tulip fighting its way to air. I like to pretend an evil faerie has put a spell over the land. It sounds more romantic that way.

I just can't be bothered with it. I'm clearly too busy blogging to try to garden - ha! Priorities! Busy with other things, too: Aside from writing, I've been working on a new Laini's Ladies line, this one is called "the Bohemian Collection" and will be available at the end of summer. And, one day after writing about getting my first illustration assignment ever, from Ladybug Magazine, I got a call from the art director and accepted another assignment. It will be my 10th or 11th, I think. You can see more of them here. Last fall I got a call from her and had to turn down work for the first time in my career, because I was trying to finish my book -- It was terrfiying. Ask any freelancer, even one who's been successfully working for years, and they'll tell you the terror of the work drying up just beyond the next horizon. At the SCBWI conference last week I talked to G Brian Karas about it, and though he's illustrated over 80 books (wow!), he still feels that fear. It's powerful. And to turn down the same art director twice in a row is unthinkable, so I accepted, and it's a fun assignment like they always are. So I'm in an art cocoon, and am glad to see the rain return and muffle the plaintive voices of rosebushes crying out, "Help us! We're choking!" (Ooh, that gave me a horrible twinge of guilt, writing that! I'm forever anthropomorphizing things, even furniture, and almost convincing myself it's sentient and suffering. We name our furniture, too. We have a table named Leonard Nimoy, just for the sheer joy of saying, "Your keys are on Leonard Nimoy," or "Can you please dust Leonard Nimoy?")

Anyway, while you're out coddling your garden and making lovely things grow, I will continue in my evil-faerie fantasy, and maybe even put some magic spells on the house to protect it from the encroaching weeds. Happy monday, all!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Tiny Story About Shoes

The topic for Sunday Scribblings this week is "My Shoes." And although I have many beloved pairs of shoes, including these, that I could write about, I've written a "tiny story" instead:

A Tiny Story About Shoes

If she didn’t learn to dance now she knew she never would. Years had a way of slipping by like strangers in a street and too many had passed already without dancing. She longed to move like they did in old movies, to possess all her nerves and sinews and draw herself together into a creature of breath and body and rhythm and heat. So she lit candles for the muses and put a Fred Astaire movie on TV, then she reached up to the high closet shelf where the shoes waited, still wrapped in the brittle tissue of another century. Her notorious grandmother had danced with tyrants and poets in these shoes, on the decks of ocean liners under impossible moons. These shoes knew something about rhythm and heat even if she did not. She sat down to fasten the fragile buckles and wait for Fred Astaire to start dancing again, and she fell asleep like that, curled up on the sofa in her wise shoes. She dreamed she could move like silk in the wind, like an odalisque’s hips, like willow branches, like jazz shimmying from a clarinet, and she woke in the morning exhilarated, her limbs alive with the memory of movement. She marveled at her aching feet. The tape had run to its end and the cats were crouched on high shelves out of reach. She fancied they watched her with new admiration, and they wouldn’t come down until she had tucked the shoes safely away in the closet and closed the door.

(the end)

PS - I’ve discovered two scrumptious new words: ‘eldritch’ and ‘smaragdine.’ Weirdly, I feel as if I found them on the ground and put them furtively in my pocket instead of asking around to see who dropped them. I’m afraid to use them! ‘Eldritch’ comes via Kelly Link’s story Magic for Beginners (she’s one of my current favorite writers; if you haven’t read her stories: wow. Do.). And ‘smaragdine’ was just lying waiting for me on the counter at Starbucks. Literally. They’re doing some promotion for the new spelling bee movie and have word cards at the registers. Weird!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Writers, go forth!

A few words on writers conferences: Writers, go to them. Go!

We're solitary animals who spend hours of every day alone with our minds, lost in "the swirl and swing of words*." Trying to find an agent or publisher is another solitary act: praying over manila envelopes as we drop them into the jaws of a post box. That's it, the life of a writer: wiggling our fingers all day and then, maybe, dropping our words in a box for some stranger to come along and carry to another stranger. What kind of a job is that? It's wonderful and horrible.

I went to my first SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) conference almost 5 years ago. The national conference is held in a plush hotel in Los Angeles each August and consists of four days, four amazing days that can change your life. I went with that expectation, of course. I would be discovered and come away with a contract to illustrate a book. I put my portfolio on display and waited to hear my name called at the awards ceremony, and I was a little crushed when it wasn't. Over the four days I listened to the discouraging words of the many editors and writers who told us the awful statistics of the slush pile, the great improbability of ever getting published... 2 manuscripts of out 20,000 is a slushpile-to-publication statistic I recently heard. But amidst all those discouraging reality checks was another kind of reality check: everywhere there were published writers. And I'm not talking about the guest speakers. Among the attendees, many many many were published! They proudly showed the galleys of their first picture book, or told their story of how they'd been referred to their agent by a writer in their critique group. Here was overwhelming proof of this great fact: people write books that get published. ALL THE TIME!

I didn't win any awards at that first conference or get any contracts, but I DID see a designer from Chronicle Books linger over my portfolio and take my card, and I DID get the great idea of sending artwork to Ladybug Magazine. I later found out the designer had recommended me for a picture book assignment that ultimately went to someone else, and I have subsequently done numerous illustrations for the art director of Ladybug, so I consider that a successful first conference.

The next time I attended, two years later, I was READY. My portfolio was going to kill, I was sure of it. Again, I waited to hear my name called at the awards ceremony, and again, it wasn't. This time I was much more crushed. But I didn't mope too much. Instead, I talked to people. I pretended to be a self-confident sparkling artist, and I talked to anyone I could get my hooks into, and that pestering led directly to meeting two women who have been hugely important to my creative life. One of them is now my agent, and the other is an editor who nurtured my writing at a tender stage and gave me great hope that has carried me along like a pair of wings.

The other thing that came out of that conference was the writing of my first novel. I attended a workshop on writing series for children taught by Dan Greenburg, and that is where a little sprout of an idea discovered what it needed to do to become a book, and now it is a book (that I will speak more about at a later date). I owe so much to writers conferences, I shudder to think where I would be if I had listened to the nagging voice of financial reason and not gone to them. I encourage all writers to seek out gatherings in their areas, or to pile up their pennies and take themselves away to a big fabulous conference like the LA SCBWI. I'm not sure what groups are out there to nurture other kinds of writing, "grown-up writing." but I did hear a radio piece on a convention for romance writers, and Jim and I sold our comic book The Drowned as a direct result of dogged persistence at the San Diego Comic-Con 3 years in a row. I also met the company that licenses Laini's Ladies at a convention where I put on my sparkling confident artist mask and sallied forth with a thumping heart.

Jim and I went up to Seattle this past weekend to attend the SCBWI Western Washington regional conference, and like every conference I've been to it was a magical day of inspiration, where possibility seeps into you and fills you up, and you find your fingers itching to write, and your mind thrumming with ideas, and where maybe, just maybe, you'll sit next to an editor at lunch and they'll like your idea and ask you to send your manscript (you hear stories like that all the time at conferences!) So writers, artists, go forth! Make your dream come true!

*James Michener: "I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotion."