Saturday, February 24, 2007

My first book review!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just read the very first review of Blackbringer ever and I'm all fluttery and jittery and so, so, so thrilled! You can read it here -- and I hope you will!

I had the pleasure of meeting the reviewer, New York City librarian Betsy Bird, when we were in NY a few weeks ago. In a wonderful coincidence, some writer friends had gotten together with her for cupcakes (perfect detail, that) and she happened to mention to them that she was reading a fantasy book she was really enjoying and it was MY BOOK! They were really excited and brought Jim and me to a shindig Betsy was having that night, so I got to meet her in person. It's still so new for me, this notion that people out there have my book in their hands and are reading it. And, um, loving it. Wow! Wow wow wow!

Thank you, Betsy, for making my first book review such a marvelous, memorable one!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Nerds of New York

These assorted "nerd jewels" were made by Maggie who is very crafty and reads fast and has new fuzzy chicks that will grow up to be chickens that lay glittery eggs. Or regular eggs. But if anyone's chickens would lay glittery eggs it would be Maggie's.

I sent these nerd accoutrements off to the fabulous marketing gals of Penguin Young Readers Group in celebration of New York ComiCon this weekend, where they will be giving away free galleys of my book! So, if you are going to ComiCon, swing by the booth and get one. If you had not planned on it but are now thinking "hm," well, sorry. It's sold out. The nerds have risen up and conquered the Javitz Center. Yay, nerds!

By the way, lest ye think I cast aspersions, I am a nerd. Yes. I like vampires and zombies and super powers and Middle Earth and weird historical anecdotes like the one I stumbled upon yesterday about how the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe kept a clairvoyant pet dwarf named Jepp AND lost part of his nose in a duel and so wore various fake noses of silver and gold and copper for the rest of his life AND had a tame moose that died of drunkenness. Zowee! History is a funny funny thing. I wish I could download it into my brain like in the Matrix. How's that for a nerdy little wish? Nerdy nerdy me, tra la la.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I'm feeling book-drunk. In a good way AND a bad way.

First, the bad way. It has hit me rather hard that there are a whole lot of books out there. You probably already knew this. I knew this. But it still hit me. And not just any books, but books I want to read. Check out the sidebar of books on this site. That's months of reading right there, in a neat little column, and it's only a wee fraction of the reading possibilities. I've recently discovered lots of cool kid-lit blogs written by people who really keep up with publishing, who have so many good reviews of cool new books and I want to read everything, and I'm completely overwhelmed! So many books! This is good, yes, it's only good. I tell myself that. With a little rime of ice forming on my heart, I tell myself how good it is that there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of fabulous books out there to read. But my book feels so tiny all of a sudden! It's okay, it's okay. Breathe.

And then, there's the good kind of book-drunk, that comes from reading a really good book, like Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, or Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. I'm slowly making my way through the middle of Perdido Street Station, which is a dense, dark garden of a book, and I felt the need for a little lightness so I picked up Princess Academy and read a few chapters. . . and then I wolfed the whole thing down like a tray of cupcakes. It was scrumptious. When I'm really loving a book I tend to read the end so eagerly and so fast I gloss over the writing of the final chapters in my haste to find out what happens. And then, feeling sort to glutted, I go back and reread them, savoring them this time. It strikes me now this is "having your cupcake and eating it too," and it feels like that. Princess Academy was like that. I'm very pleased that Shannon Hale wrote an endorsement of my book, which will appear on the back cover!

While I was reading, Alexandra called, and as book-serendipity would have it, she was excited about a book she had just bought, which just happened to be the brand-new YA novel by none other than China Mieville, called Un Lun Dun. I thought this was a very cool coincidence. We will be swapping Princess Academy for Un Lun Dun very soon.

In the meantime, the bad kind of book-drunkenness perists a little. It's hard not to be intimidated by the ocean of books out there. I try to live in my own little bubble and not pay to much attention to the vast amount of things going on in the universe at all times for fear I'll get paralyzed and not get anything done. Like when super heroes develop super-hearing and go kind of crazy by all the voices in their head until they learn how to control it? Reading a good book is wonderful for obvious reasons, but then a little voice can creep into your head giving you all kinds of ideas and imperatives about the books you ought to be writing, and how they should have more of this or that in them. . . and it can spin out of control a little. Sometimes I make myself stop reading fiction for short stretches of time. It never lasts long; I can't stand it. But I might ease back into it with short fiction, something that won't threaten to pull me away from my own project too much. I don't know, it's all neurosis. I'd better get back to work now. Cheers!

Sunday, February 18, 2007


The Sunday Scribblings prompt this week is "crush." Ah, crushes. Such wonderful and horrible things. I have story ideas swirling in my head about crushes, but no time to write them. But I can remember crushes I have had.

In Italy, there was a boy named Gennaro. Gaeta was a small town and each evening everyone in it went strolling around, kissing each other's cheeks and eating gelato. And during the day (at least in summer), everyone walked up and down the beach in their bathing suits, similarly kissing cheeks and eating gelato. So when you had a crush in Gaeta, you looked out for him as you walked. I was twelve, and I had a pair of hot pink polka-dotted pants from Benneton that I loved. (And I still think they were awesome, and would probably wear them today.) I had a red bikini from the sprawling tuesday market, and I had a tan such as I will never have again in my life. Gennaro was probably sixteen. He was polite, disinterested. He fell in love with a French girl in a pink bikini that summer, and I would see them walking hand in hand, and splashing each other, and even -- oh, this was hard -- kissing.

In highschool there were various unfulfilled crushes. The big one, hm, I think of him now and I don't see the attraction! Even a few years out of highschool I ran into him -- we went to the same university -- and I wondered: WHY? Why? He had sleepy eyes and a flop of dark dark hair, and there was some indefinable cool about him, but smart-cool. This was Orange County, and I guess surfer-cool was the prevalent cool of the day. That wasn't him. He was bookish. My best friend Lori and I both fell madly in crush with him at Model United Nations conferences. He didn't go to our school and we practically adopted his school and his friends in our madness for him. How ludicrous! When that crush ended, it was like the moment in The Snow Queen when the shard of the enchanted mirror finally falls out of Kay's eye and his spell is broken. It was over, just like that.

There were other crushes, sure, but nothing great until much later, in art school, and that one was very very sweet! There was this guy with long ginger-colored sideburns and really broad shoulders. He parked next to me on the first day of school and then was in my first class, Illustration I, where the teacher assigned us to draw each other! And the next day, he was in my painting class too. He was funny and talented and I married him! In fact, he just walked past wearing plaid flannel pants, putting expensive moisturizer on his face. (Hi sweetie!)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Platypus Liebestod

(What is this? Just your friendly neighborhood giraffe skeleton, going for a stroll. It feeds on leafless trees with the ghost of its prehensile tongue. Would you rather have a prehensile tongue, or a prehensile tail? Just asking.)

On the subject of peculiar animals, I stumbled upon this charming little news story from 1957. A platypus liebestod? Who knew?

When Penelope, the duck-billed platypus, mysteriously escaped from her platypusary in New York's Bronx Zoo last summer, she became the first platypus in the U.S. outside captivity. The only other platypus in the U.S. remained in captivity, in the very platypusary where Penelope was wont to waddle. He was Cecil, 12, Penelope's intended. With Penelope gone (TIME, Aug. 19), not even the desperate search by a platyposse could trace her; regretfully she was given up for dead.
Cecil kept a stiff upper bill. Then he began to lose weight. Normally he tipped the scale at 3.4 or 3.8 Ibs., but he dropped to 2.3 Ibs., and his appetite for crayfish, worms, coddled eggs and frogs declined. Whether Cecil was lonely for Penelope nobody could tell, for most platypuses are somewhat phlegmatic anyway (exception: saucy Penelope, who perhaps left Cecil for that very reason). Last week Cecil died. Zoo officials performed an autopsy, concluded that old age had killed him. Sentimental newspapers (including the august New York Times) said that Cecil's heart was broken. If it were true he never let on, being the phlegmatic sort.

So, what's a "liebestod," you ask? Knowing not much about opera, and even less about Wagner, I don't totally know. But I gather that it is Isolde's swan song at the end of the tragic love opera, Tristan and Isolde. Imagine if Juliet were to sing over Romeo's dead body, and then slump over dead herself, to a great whomping crescendo. That's liebestod. I think. The platypus story is kind of sweetly tragic, kind of liebestoddy.

Incidentally, on the subject of zoo animals escaping, Jim and I were at the Fresno Zoo last week, which kind of feels like a backyard zoo, but really really good for a backyard zoo. The black panther was curled up in a cardboard box, just like a housecat. And there were kangaroos that could easily have jumped their dinky fence. Even the wee kangaroos could have made it. I mean, a big sneeze could have sent them over it. So why don't they go? Is it because they are in Fresno and there's not a whole lot to do here anyway!

Fact: a macaw can apply 300 lbs of biting pressure and there is not a nut or seed on the planet that can withstand it. Or a finger. So don't feed your pet macaw peanut butter off your fingertip.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Ah. . . home at last! We've been away for two weeks. That's a long time. Home. Exhausted from the long drive. Thirteen hours on the I-5. California is big. Oregon is big. The house is cold. I miss Shiloh terribly. She should be here. Absence can be like a presence. An eidolon. You go into a room where someone should be, and their absence occupies space. There was a message on the machine saying her ashes are ready to be picked up. That's so. . . strange. And awful.

It has been torture not having internet access. I've felt like I was on Mars! Tomorrow I will be doing some catching up. But right now I will be sleeping. Goodnight!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Luminaries, Censorship, New Friends

(this is my editor, Timothy Travaglini, with whom Jim & I spent much quality time these last few days, and who is starting to feel like an old friend already. And, by the way, who is awesome.)

Another SCBWI conference has come and gone. So much inspiration smooshed into so few hours! The keynote speakers this time were -- get this -- Katherine Paterson, Susan Cooper, Ann Brashares, Brian Selznick, and Robie H. Harris. Um? They've written a few books and won a few awards between them. WOW!

some quotes:
"We couldn't live without editors, but copyeditors. . . I'm not so sure." - Susan Cooper

"Writers are very private people. . . who run around naked in public." - Katherine Paterson

"With each new book we must dare failure, or worse: mediocrity." - Katherine Paterson

"Make it fun. I've heard it said that there's one book in a person's life that turns them into a reader, and it's probably not The Brothers Karamazov." - Ann Brashares

some comforting things to know:
- Faeries are becoming a huge trend in children's books, says the picture book buyer for Borders. Yippeee!
- Fantasy remains hot hot hot, says the ages 8-11-fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble. Yippeee!
- The marvelous Jane Yolen (whose birthday is today -- Happy birthday, Jane!) is also a revise-as-you-go, rather than a blaze-through-the-first-draft kind of writer, like me. I try to force myself to write straight through sh___y first drafts, as advised by Anne Lamott, but I just CAN'T. It's not in my nature. Not that I won't keep trying. But it's always strangely comforting to find out that very successful people share your hang-ups and methods. Along those same lines:
- Susan Cooper is not a fast writer. For her, 5 pages in a day is phenomenal output.

some un-comforting things to know (okay, only one thing):
- People are still out there, in this very country, trying to ban children's books for the most inane reasons! (On the bright side, librarians are still out there, fighting the good fight, day by day.) The writer Robie Harris was someone I am sorry to say I had never heard of. Her books, such as "It's Perfectly Normal," are honest, sensitive nonfiction books for children about serious subjects like death, sexual health, body development, etc. And she is one of the most embattled writers in the field. I didn't know how it worked, but apparently when a "concerned citizen" wants a book removed from a library shelf for indecency, they file a "challenge" and the librarian in charge has to defend her/his professional choice to keep the book in the library. Librarians have described the process to Robie and terrifying, like a kind of witch trial. And some of the reasons books are challenged? Because children shouldn't have to know about death, even treated in the most respectful possible way -- what child hasn't experienced the death of a pet or grandparent or someone? Really. And breastfeeding. Some people believe that is an inappropriate subject for children. Um? Like it's really a mystery to them, of all people? Anyway, I didn't know what to expect from her talk, and it was a scary and fascinating discussion of censorship. (She was very pleased to see that despite all that the Dixie Chicks have been through these last few years they're nominated for 3 Grammies!)

I say it again to you writers: Go to conferences. Meet your peers. Meet the mysterious wizards behind the curtains of publishing. Get your manuscripts critiqued. Show your portfolios. Hear luminaries talk about getting their starts, about how they too are fearful with each new book. Drink cocktails or coffee with people from around the world (including Mongolia!) who do what you do. Go forth!

And, as always happens at conferences, we spent time with friends we only see at events like these, like Jamie and the other fabulous "Washington girls" as Jim and I call them (Sarah & Jolie: you need to start blogs!), and we made new friends, like Sarah, whose first book is also fantasy, also published by Penguin, and also coming out in June. So she's my June-Fantasy-Penguin Sister! I also got to meet another blogger who also attended the conference!

A ragtag assortment of us walked over to the Donnel Central Children's Room of the New York Public Library, right across the street from MoMA, to see the original stuffed animals owned by the real Chrisopher Robin in the 1920s. There actually are real stuffed animals that inspired Pooh and Eeyore and all the rest, and they live in a case in this wonderful library! There also happen to be FIVE original N.C. Wyeth paintings just hanging on the wall there. Jim and I really couldn't believe they could be real and just be. . . hanging there. But they were. And they do. The other night I had the pleasure of meeting a librarian who works in this library, and who also happens to blog copiously about children's books here. Oh, and this is me, holding up a copy of my Cricket Magazine cover from last year, like a big dork. Can you just imagine my big fat grin when my book is out???

And, I forgot to mention last week, that when we went to the Natural History Museum, we had the wonderful good luck to run into one of the stars of The Best TV Show Ever Made. Ever. Yes, you know: The Wire. What else could I be talking about? Seth Gilliam, who plays Carver, was there with his little boy, and when we stopped googly-eyed before him and told him how much we love the show, and how much we love the growth of his character over the course of the four [brilliant] seasons, he was incredibly gracious, even though he was on one of those hands-free phones and we hadn't noticed. That was our New York celebrity sighting. Yay!

Here is Jim with his painting that he entered in the conference art auction (he got 7 bids, and we found out that the girl who won just graduated from the same art school Jim and I went to):

And here is a shot of NY to prove we actually did go outside (though not much the last few days):

Early flight tomorrow. Late. Good night!

Friday, February 09, 2007

More New York

This massive stack of paper sitting on my editor's office floor is all the various stages of Blackbringer! He asked me if I wanted it and I said NO! What would I do with such a stack? I already have one of my own, though it's not quite as tall. Jim and I went into the Penguin Young Readers offices yesterday and it was so fun. We ended up spending hours there, probably preventing various people from getting their work done! What a wonderful group of book-lovers they all are. I met my publisher for the first time, and she was a real person, which was weird -- in the movies publishers are always scary and nonplussed. But she was so cool! She took us to a decadent lunch, with my editor Tim and an editor from the Penguin adult nonfiction division too. Prosecco at lunch, ooh la la.

It was really kind of momentous going into the office, because on our one previous trip to New York Jim and I did portfolio drop-offs at that exact same reception desk, with nary a peak down the long corridor to where the real action is. Getting to go through that door felt special. It was a moment. Little by little, it begins to seem real that I have written a book that someone is publishing.

Yesterday evening Jim and I took the subway down to the Lower East Side, and that was a fun glimpse of the city. We had sushi for dinner, then popped into a "cafe literaire" called The Pink Pony for port and tarte tatin (okay, okay, and flourless chocolate cake). Then we met our friend Robyn at a little Bulgarian bar we would never have noticed from the street, to hear gypsy music as played by a Greek, a Turk, a Macedonian, and a Philadelphian! The music was whimsical and wild, and the Macedonian's fingers flew so fast on the clarinet you couldn't even see them.

And today I met another blogger! Left-handed Trees came in from out of state and we met in Chelsea (which wasn't as cute as it sounded like it would be) for lunch and coffee and lots of talk about writing. It was so great to meet you, Delia!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Butterflies & Bones & Barfi

Anyone will tell you that a day begun with Columbian pastries must end with Indian sweets. That, says our friend Arvid, is Queens! We've been staying the past few days with Arvid -- whose comic book series Rex Mundi has recently been optioned by Johnny Depp -- and his girlfriend Robyn -- who ran for city council in NY last year for the Green Party (and who can rock out on the fake guitar). Two wacky fun smart kids.

We went to the Museum of Natural History yesterday with Arvid and it is AWESOME, from the first glimpse of the dinosaurs and murals in the lobby, to the huge blue whale, to the tiniest tree shrew, and everything in between. It's a place that unhinges your jaw and makes you gulp with wonder at this magnificent planet that we are destroying as fast as we can. We didn't begin to see everything, but some highlights were the Butterfly Pavilion, with 500-600 fluttering gems whizzing by your head; the Hall of Biodiversity that juxtaposes species of everything against each other in a dazzling display of Wow! This planet is SO COOL! Then there were the minerals, which I never really thought were that interesting before but they ARE. And there's Ahnighito, found in Greenland: the biggest meteorite in any museum in the world. It's not that big, but it's 34 tons of solid iron, which is so heavy the support beams go down all the way into the bedrock of Manhattan. (Interesting to note, however, if it was made of gold, it would be twice as heavy. Did you know gold is twice as heavy as lead? I did not.

Other cool (and sad) facts about gold:

- Only 5 out of a billion atoms of rock in the earth's crust are gold.
- the total amount of gold ever mined in all of human history would fill only 60 tractor trailers. Can you believe that?

And here's something to blow your mind:
- The leading theory of the origin of the moon is that it was created by a glancing collision between the young Earth and an object the size of Mars. WOW! Something the side of Mars hit Earth!

Last time Jim and I came to NY we went to the Met, which was cool, but this was cooler and more memorable. I don't think we'll have time on this trip to see any more museums, but this was a perfect choice. After, we came back to Queens and had Indian food for dinner, and then went to a little Indian sweet shop for "barfi." I have no idea what food substance this was made of, but it was very interesting, in a good way.

And today we are shifting ourselves and our luggage over the Manhattan, going to the Penguin offices, and who knows what else. Have a fabulous day, all!

Eating in Queens

Okay, so it's not below 0. Apparently, our friend here was telling us the weather in Celsius! But it is very cold! We arrived yesterday afternoon and came to Queens, our first foray into one of the bourroughs -- it's very cool here. I read that Queens has the most ethnic diversity of any place on Earth, and after a few walks around, I believe it. It's a wonderful mixture of people and foods. Last night we had yummy Greek food for dinner:

And this morning, Columbian pastries and breads:

Today, we're headed to the Museum of Natural History, and perhaps we'll have salad for lunch! It's beautiful outside, clear, blue skies -- but cold! It's in the 20s, though, so it's tolerable. Funny the way everyone has their faces all wound up in scarves!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Dictionary dream!

Even in my dreams, I look up words in the dictionary. The other morning I woke with a very clear sense that I had just looked up the word mordain, and in the dream it meant: a spirit that comes to life to inhabit a suit of armor kept in the apogee of a cathedral (yes, I know that's not what apogee means, but in the dream it did) to protect the holy site. Hm. In the fog of waking, I was eager to check an actual dictionary and see if it might mordain might really mean that. I thought that would be very, very cool, if I somehow channeled the dictionary in my sleep. But no, alas, mordain is not a real word; I have not discovered a hidden super power. Not that it would be a very useful super power anyway. And as far as I know, churches don't keep suits of armor in their apses or anywhere else, waiting to be possessed by warrior spirits! Oh, and in the dream, the cathedral in question was on a spaceship. Pretty cool dream. The suit of armor was gloriously beautiful, too.

I've been absent from blogging due to travel. I have missed my internet access quite severely. I've been cursing the world for not being "wireless." Seems like it should be. Portland is, at least partially. Without internet, and not watching TV, we didn't hear a national weather report until this evening to learn that it's below 0 in New York, where we're headed tomorrow!!! What?!? Frick!

So we went out lickity split to buy some warmer coats, and I got this long hooded brown thing, but Jim was steadfastly refusing to buy anything not COOL. When I reminded him that the cold is actually one of the things that people die from, he replied: "As long as I know how to love I know I'll stay alive. I will survive." hahaha. Goof ball. He broke down and let his mother and me badger him into buying a coat. Right now I'm just curious what below 0 feels like. If I've ever experienced it, I don't remember! I'll let you know!

Thanks again for all the kind thoughts about Shiloh. I had thought to write about the experience of the home vet visit, but I don't think I will. I will say that Shiloh went very peacefully; I'm certain she was ready, but I miss her terribly and I'm still in the stage when it seems impossible I will never feel her incredibly soft ears again, or rub her belly. I hope you are all well. Miss you!