Monday, May 28, 2007

new ladies, new mess

I've just finished a batch of new Laini's Ladies designs -- here are the handmade samples that will be sent to the factory for bead-matching and such.

All in a big messy jumble on my ribbon- and bead-strewn desk:

Saturday afternoon I had the cutting-out of the ladies to do, so I settled down on the couch with my scissors and watched a shark show on Discovery Channel (do not, I repeat, do NOT go swimming in Recife, Brazil) and then, The Man from Snowy River, which I had not seen in many years. There are certain kinds of corny movies I like in spite of myself: horse movies, dance movies, and sports movies. Anyway, sitting there cutting out ladies reminded me of how many I used to cut. Hundreds! Crazy! But no longer. Now nice tidy machines do it, except for these first few of each batch.

Thank you for your feedback on the cat design. Those of you who thought it was just too weird, the manufacturer agreed with you. Trouble with me is, I like weird things, so I'm not a good judge. It doesn't really seem so weird to me to have a cat head on a lady's body. What's the trouble? Ah, but I am outnumbered by you rational types. Thanks for the feedback! You will not be seeing that cat in a store near you. (But Jennifer Fox, I made one just for you!)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

200th post & FIRST PODCAST!

My first podcast! Here it is -- CLICK HERE -- my talk to the Washington Library Media Association last week, and Jim's too. It's about 40 minutes long altogether. I talk about how I overcame my writing issues and learned how to finish a novel, and how I found my way to what I wanted to write about -- magical powers and enchanted forests and valor and gypsy crows and hunting devils and things like that. Isn't technology cool?

The sound is a little warbly in places; and those loud crinkles are me turning pages -- sorry. Overall it sounds pretty good though.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I [heart] librarians.

Last night Jim and I drove up to Tacoma, Washington to hang out with school librarians. To be more precise, the Tacoma chapter of the Washington Library Media Association invited us to speak, eat dinner and sign advance copies of Blackbringer that Putnam had sent them. How cool is that? It was a wonderful event -- we had so much fun (and the food was great!). On the way there we stopped at Radio Shack and bought a digital voice recorder and we recorded our talks, and this weekend Jim is going to figure out how to post a podcast so anyone who wants to can hear me talk about struggling with perfectionism, my teenage yearnings to be a tormented "artiste," the Millenium Falcon, and more, and hear Jim talk about doing the art for the book, and also about the first time he ever used a microphone (hint: it was at K-Mart).

Can I just say: I love signing my book. Love it. And I love speaking to groups of librarians -- they totally laugh at my jokes! Oh -- and the librarian who had organized the dinner asked me in an email if I would be wearing polka dots (could I be getting a polka-dotted reputation?), and so I did. Remember these? They were a hit!

Now -- I have a question for you. What do you think of this Laini's Lady design?

Be absolutely honest. The cat head, the human hand, the look of the cat, everything: like? Don't like? Please, even if you don't usually leave comments, I'd love to know. Thank you!!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Look at these wacky poodles!

What in the world is that?
That is an alpaca!
Isn't it adorable? Here it is with a friend:

Jim and I went out to Hood River, Oregon today with Alexandra and Jim's mother, Sharon. Hood River is a cute town in the Columbia River Gorge that is best known for its orchards and its world-class windsurfing, but it also seems to have a decent alpaca presence. Who knew? I don't know if we would have thought to swing by this alpaca ranch/knitting shop if not for the newfound knitting fascination, but I am so glad we did. These animals are WONDERFUL! They were sheared recently, hence the poodliness. And how's this for a view from a knitting shop window?

And some yarn:

This is the Cascade Alpaca Ranch and the Foothills Yarn & Fiber shop, where you can pet and feed alpacas, pet the big Great Pyrennese guard dog or the guard-cats Knit and Purl; you can buy lots of yarn. And you can actually buy yarn from specific animals and know their names! How fun to wear a sweater made from "Zhivago wool" for example! This is Zhivago:

The owners of the ranch, Connie and Tom, are incredibly nice and generous with their time and showed us how spinning works and also their loom for weaving. I was very touched by this story: Connie told us about how their neighbors have a llama named Kool-Aid to guard their sheep, and how recently a very elderly sheep passed away, and after they buried it, Kool-Aid sat on its grave all day and wouldn't budge. Isn't that sad and sweet?

Here's Jim with some new friends:

And Sharon:

Hood River, by the way, is about an hour east of Portland, and the drive through the Columbia Gorge is spectacular. I'm looking forward to going back for you-pick cherry season, a hike on the slopes of Mount Hood, and to replenish my alpaca fleece supplies later in the summer!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Laini's Ladies Story

Here are two new Laini's Ladies -- I've only just designed them, so they will be debuting at trade shows this summer and will be in stores in fall. I love the way they turned out, and I love the quotes. I got both quotes off of blogs, too: the "cup of tea" quote is from Deirdre, and the "fairy tales" quote is from Amber. Thanks, ladies!

I've been meaning to write a little "story of Laini's Ladies" here so I could link to it from my website, so here it is:

For the origins of Laini's Ladies, I have to go back four or five years to my discovery of two things: paper arts/stamping/scrapbooking stores; and Somerset Studio magazine. I had been doing oil painting illustration, spending all day, day after day, at my easel, painting detailed things like this:

And I had started to incorporate collage into these (see on the wolf's quilt?), and started to branch out into little projects "just for fun" such as making weird little collage people as gift tags for all my family's holiday presents. They were so much fun! Here's on of those from that first batch:

They were collaged, laminated, and then riveted with little eyelets so their arms and legs swiveled. (This is a great project to do with kids, by the way. SO fun!) Well, another year went by of painting and selling my prints at the Portland Saturday Market on weekends, and then the next Christmas season rolled around. My crafty friend Maggie was having a Christmas card-making party, and I didn't want to haul my whole studio of supplies over to her house so I thought up a new version of a "lady" I could make as a holiday card. She would be laminated, have a tiny little waist I could tie a ribbon around, and have little dangling bead feet. So I did the design work in advance, went bead-shopping (I {heart} bead shopping!) and assembled them at Maggie's. I loved them! I made more!

Two weekends before Christmas I premiered my first six designs at the Saturday Market and. . . sold out by lunchtime!!! My brain was whirring. It might have been snowing that day but I didn't get cold. I made more $$ than I had ever made at the Saturday Market and I was thrilled. For the next couple of weeks I did very little besides cut out my litte dolls and wire up their little hooks and feet (I was a bit awkward with it at first, not having done much jewelry making or wirework of any kind, but I learned through much repetition. And then the season was over, the market was shut down, and I had two months ahead of me to just design and dream. And I spent it developing my first complete line of Laini's Ladies and yes, shopping for beads!

By May things were still going well and I had a sales record and accounts in five or six states including Florida and Hawaii, so I decided to take the leap of going to the New York Stationery Show. This wasn't an insane leap because I wasn't getting a booth there, but just planning to walk around the convention floor and see what was what. And what I saw was that there was nothing in the whole show even remotely like my Ladies. Which I took to be a good thing! Now, I'm not a real natural networker. I have to suck up my courage, calm my heartbeat, and go forth, sort of pretending to be a businesslike, confident artist. It's exhausting and can be really un-fun. Jim and I had to do that for several years at the San Diego Comicon in order to make the connections necessary to get our graphic novel published, and I had to do it at SCBWI conferences to meet editors and agents when I was working on Blackbringer. It's hard. But necessary. So I talked to as many people as would talk to me in New York that weekend, and I began to learn about licensing, and I was lucky enough to meet Tom Bottman!

By "lucky" I mean this quote by Thomas Jefferson: "I am a great believer in luck. I find that the harder I work, the more of it I have." !!!

Tom was intrigued by my little winged ladies and he contacted me the week after the show (Oh, I had made mini "me" ladies as business cards, complete with beads and ribbons, with my face, so people would remember me) and we went from there. It's been a few years now and it's a great partnership. I do the design and the Bottman company does all the rest. Some artists would want to go in a different direction and do everything themselves, start their own company, the way Anahata has (who I met at that first Stationery show, and who, I believe, is there now) -- but I knew the business stuff was NOT for me. So that's the story of how Laini's Ladies came to be: through playing around with new materials, making things for gifts, allowing myself to fall into a new fascination. That happens to me, it has since college:

One year when I was supposed to be studying for finals I got obsessed by making clay puppets. Another year, I saw a girl doing watercolors on the roof of my building in Berkeley and I had to go buy a set. That watercolor set, I am SURE, set the stage for me going to art school four or five years later. And when I first opened that paint box at the age of . . .20? I had no notion what to do. I was as clueless as if I'd just decided to take a radio apart and put it back together! But you learn, if you keep with something. When I taught illustration a few years ago I told the students that anyone could learn to draw if they really want to, but you can't just wish it idly, you have to really really want it, and then, you know, learn it.

Follow your creative whims, too. If you feel like doing collage, do it. If you should be painting, but you really want to make a puppet, make a puppet! Play! Have fun! That's rule one. Play. And later on, show people. That's kind of it, boiled down. Play, and then show people. Have at it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

These goats are made for knitting

The knitting continues apace. Above is my second scarf. I have learned to do ribbing, and to make stripes, and the whole thing casts a spell over me. I don't get tired. I just want to see my scarf grow. (Alexandra is having a similar experience right now.) It puts me in mind of when I took a woodcut class in art school -- it's the same kind of soothing repetitive motion that puts you into a kind of trance and makes time fall away. And, like with woodcut, it's good because it only uses a little sliver of your mind (when you're doing to basic kind of knitting I am doing, anyway) and leaves the rest of it free to watch movies! Woodcutting for me will be forever inextricably intertwined with The X Files, because Jim and I were newly living together when I took that class, and I had never watched X Files before, and he had tape after tape full of episodes, and so for a whole weekend when I was working on a big wood block, I watched dozens of episodes. And whoa did I have weird dreams that weekend!

I don't have a whole lot of time right now to slip into a knitting trance. I have a new Laini's Ladies line I'm working on, plus writing Silksinger, so it's only at the very end of the day when my head is tired of thinking, that I let myself knit. Last night caught the end of a documentary on Alexander Hamilton, reminding me again how little I know or remember of US history. Had the same feeling watching the John & Abigail Adams doc last year. It feels so wrong to have forgotten what these men did for us!

But enough of that. Back to knitting. Here is my first scarf, all rolled up:

That one was Manos del Uruguay wool, lovely stuff. And this is my current scarf:

It's mostly Debbie Bliss "Alpaca silk" -- which will have to be the subject of a new "Earth's Greatest Hits" -- I never knew alpacas went into chrysalis! Wow! [snort! just kidding!]. But whatever alpaca silk is, it's really soft. Then there's a skein of cashmere in there, the poppy red color, which I just had to have, and then saw the price tag and realized it was cashmere. Ulp. By the way, quiz: Where does cashmere come from? Do you know? It's one of those things I wasn't sure I knew. Sheep? Um, bunny rabbit (not really). Here's the cutie:
{wait for it}

(He's the one on top!) The Kashmir goat! Did you totally know that already? Am I the only one who was fuzzy on that? (no pun intended.)

Ooh! P.S. Publisher's Weekly review! Click here and scroll about halfway down. Yippee!!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Madagascar or Mustang?

Ah, fresh air! Sky! Halleluja! Been SO cooped up lately. And I like to be cooped up. I like it a lot. If I didn't, if Jim and I both didn't, we wouldn't love Oregon winters like we do. But it isn't winter anymore and I've been needing to see some trees and sky, so Alexandra and I went on our favorite hike today to Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge while poor poor Jim remained cooped up cranking on his comic book deadline.

I have MAJOR travel fever right now. The other day while Jim was making dinner I made him play "would you rather" with me with the Sierra Club magazine's listing of international trips. You can play too:

Which trip would you rather take?
(a) "High Arctic Sailing--polar bears, walrus, auks, and ice"
(b) "A Lao Adventure: From Ventiane to Luang Nam Tha"

(a) "To Machu Picchu and Beyond: Trekking in Peru"
(b) "Memorable Madagascar"

(a) "Mustang: the Kingdom of Lo Man Thang" (Nepal)
(b) "From Vienna to Prague: Walking the Czech Greenways"

(a) "In Search of Ahimsa: A Cultural and Wildlife Trek" (Bhutan & Assam)
(b) "The best of Belize: Rainforests, Ruins & Reefs"

{Help. I can't stop.}

(a) "Springtime in Western Turkey"
(b) "Adventuring in Patagonia"

(a) "Savoring the Amalfi Coast"
(b) "Cruising the Galapagos"

Oh, stop me, this is starting to hurt. Of course I want to go on all of those trips, and every other one they're doing. Let me look and see if there's a single trip I wouldn't want to go on. . . Nope. Of course not. I want to go on all of them. weep, weep. The whole world is out there. And I am in here. But I am feeling extremely determined to go on a really cool trip before this year is over. I vow. And not just to Philadelphia in October for Faerie Con (where I will have a booth). Somewhere AWESOME (no offense, Philadelphia, I'm curious to see you too).

And if I find a $10,000 bill forgotten in the pocket of an old pair of jeans, I want to go on this trip. Sadly, I think I gave all my old jeans to Goodwill. Drat. (Wouldn't it be weird if I had left a $10,000 bill in an old pair of jeans and if the person who had found it used to go on that trip? That would be bizarre. Speaking of bizarre, my brain is asking if it can go to sleep now. Good night!)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Earth's Greatest Hits -- Part 2: Pollination

I'm a fan of pollination. I know that's really going out on a limb; it's like confessing to being a fan of. . . rainfall. Hurray, rainfall! But how often to we think about pollination (gardeners and bee keepers aside)? Me, not very often, but it definitely falls into the category of "Earth's greatest hits." What is it? Basically, it's the transfer of pollen from the [male] stamen of a flower to the [female] pistil of another flower, allowing the flower to develop seeds. It sounds kind of simple, but it's an amazingly complex system -- mind-blowing, really. There are a lot of different kinds of pollinators: flying insects are the most common, but also wind, birds, mammals like bats, even snails. I'd like to send a shout out to the pollinators of a few of my favorite plants:

  • Cacao, dear to my heart, is actually pollinated by midges! (No, not midgets, though I wonder if that's where the Oompa Loompas came from!) -- tiny gnats, essentially. Hurray, little gnats!
  • And mangoes are primarily pollinated by the insect order diptera, that is: flies. Not the glamorous honey bee, but plain old flies.
  • For coffee, we have the honey bee to thank. Thanks!

Some other fun pollination factoids:

  • The fig tree -- a keystone species (well, actually there are over 1000 fig species) of the rainforest ecosystem, responsible for feeding many, many critter species all year around -- is pollinated entirely by tiny fig wasps -- and yes, for each species of fig, there is a specific species of wasp.
  • Butterfly-pollinated flowers tend to be brightly colored but not fragrant, since butterflies have poor senses of smell.
  • Moths, however, have excellent sense of smell, and pollinate very sweet-smelling, night-blooming flowers, generally pale in color to be visible by moonlight.
  • Get this: Moths are hover-feeders (like hummingbirds), and moth-pollinated flowers have deep tubes that correspond exactly to the length of the pollinator species' tongues! WOW!
  • Bat-pollinated flowers smell musty and kind of funky, and they have to be sturdy to withstand the bats' bristly licking tongues. Having observed bats licking certain, er, body parts, at the zoo, I would say this would have to be a sturdy flower.

  • Over 90 food crops in the US depend on honey bee pollination. Honey bee colonies are transported around to fulfill this function in, for example, the almond orchards of California. The value of this service performed for free by the bees is worth an estimated $18 billion in this country annually. I read another estimate last week (can't remember where) that the annual global value of pollination could come in at around $70 billion.
  • Honey bees are in crisis. An estimated 40-60% of the honey bees in the US died or were severely weakened in 2005. California lost half of its bees! The Varoa mite is blamed for this crisis, and though this isn't getting wide-scale media coverage, it is a very serious matter if you happen to like to eat plants or to eat animals that eat plants, which I guess most of us do. The losses in 2007 to bee colonies are being called "unprecedented." Weird that there's not more talk about this!

So: pollination. Yay! Yay bees and midges and wasps and moths and bats and everything else. Thank you for feeding us. Thank you for flowers.

P.S. I am no scientist. Feel free to correct me on anything above or to tell me more. Thanks!

*Update*--thanks Tinker, for the link. The honey bee crisis is being called Colony Collapse Disorder and is very serious, and more can be read about it here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Sweet Things -- like pretty cakes and. . . a starred review!!!!!

Yippee, a starred review in Kirkus!! Here it is:

*STAR* Taylor, Laini. Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer. (Putnam 978-0-399-24630-2)

Featuring both an uncommonly well-conceived setting and buckets of high-energy action, Taylor’s debut tale of a thumb-sized devil hunter who comes this close to meeting her match belongs at the top of everyone’s fantasy must-read list. Having discovered that ignorant humans are actually releasing brutish devils from the enchanted bottles into which they had been forced 25,000 years ago, young Magpie Windwitch has set herself to flitting about the planet with a bevy of ageless crows to recapture them. But devil number 24 turns out to be a different sort of proposition altogether—a shapeless mass of darkness and hatred that “uncreates” its victims and is out to unweave the warp and weft of the world itself. By the time devil and hunter have squared off in Dreamdark, a bespelled wood that hides the last great Faerie settlement, ’Pie has discovered that she has more abilities, and a role to play in larger events, than she had ever dreamed. Taylor carries her Faerie world well beyond its recognizably Victorian base, and crafts a memorably clever, intrepid insect-winged heroine to save it.

Yippeee! Don't you think that review, aside from being really positive, is really well-written? I think so. Hurray!

Jim and I got together with Kelly and John last night at the ravishing Pix Patisserie. Kelly was the first blogger I ever met in person, because she actually lived in my city, but then John went and got himself accepted to a school in Oakland, so they moved away! But they were up visiting and had time for some decadent confections.

Note to new or would-be artists: peruse Kelly's archives for the past year and a half or so, and you can witness something rare: someone becoming an artist from scratch and just bursting forth on the scene, overflowing with exuberance and spirit and talent and having the world sort of unfold itself for her. She's been art-making for only a small sliver of her life so far, but you'd never guess it to meet her. She's a born artist who I guess just kept it in for a long time. Now, not much more than a year after she first started making collages and picked up a paintbrush? She's got a book in the works with North Light Books! I can't wait to see it.

Ah, and the cakes, they were delicious. Something strange happened to me that occasionally happens in the presence of chocolate: I found myself drawn toward something un-chocolate. Weird. Who knows why these alien impulses come upon me. I had a lemony gingery raspberry-y cheesecake thingy, and it was blue by the way. Jim had an "Amelie" cake, and that was chocolate. And there was port, champagne, coffee, of course. Click on the link above and check out the decadence of Pix. It's fabulous. And there's a monkey hanging from the ceiling. What more could you want?

P.S. I just heard that 7 people died in a tornado in Kansas today. My heart goes out to the residents of Greenburg, whose town was demolished, and to the families of the victims.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kansas obliges me with a tornado!

So I'm sitting there in the cafe of the lovely Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, talking on my cell phone to Jim in between sessions of giving my talk to highschool students, when suddenly a really loud siren starts to go off. Jim says, "What's that? Is that an ambulance? Where are you?" Then a voice comes over the loudspeaker that tells us, "There is a weather emergency. Please proceed to the basement," and a security guard ambles by saying calmly, "Tornado warning. Everybody downstairs." And calmly, everybody in the enormous library strolls down the steps to the labyrinth of corridors that are the basement. Above, that is a picture of me with the lovely youth services librarian Gayle, waiting out the tornado.

Everyone was so placid about the whole thing that there was never a moment of being afraid. My first thought of course was, "I'm blogging about this." But poor Jim, when the descent to the basement cut off my cell signal, probably thought I'd been carried away like Dorothy. But no. I'm not sure if the tornado touched down at all; I didn't hear that it did any damage, and so I feel relatively safe in saying I was glad for the full Kansas experience! That said, I am not looking to begin a "forces of nature" collection on my travels. Regions of the US, do not feel obliged to treat me to earthquakes and hurricanes!

So, Kansas was fun! The librarians who arranged my trip, Gayle and Jean, were fabulous and made me feel right at home, and a local bookstore had managed to convince Penguin to ship them some books ahead of the rest of the world, and so I saw boxes of my book opened for the first time (eek!) and saw people buying them, and not just people, but teenagers! That was so cool. And the ones that didn't buy it for themselves were dibsing on the library copies. I really didn't expect kids to buy it; it was almost $20 with tax, and that's a lot, and I was prepared to have the stacks of my books fairly undiminished by the end of the day, but that didn't happen. YAY! It was really wonderful. But the book sales were really sort of incidental. It was my first chance to talk to teenagers, and I can't say I'm not at all afraid of them anymore -- they can be quite intimidating, I found, during the second talk of the day when we left the library to visit a local continuation school -- but they can be awfully cool, too. I talked to them about reading, about filling their minds with the world, and about forging their own unique squiggly line through life. And I talked about censorship and the illustrious history of book burning and book banning and even book mulching (brought to you by a Texan).

Check out this recent quote by a Texas mother of teenagers at a book-mulching rally: "Children should not learn about puberty until after they are married."


I peppered my talk with references to things like Chinese emperors burying scholars alive, and how the building of the Great Wall of China claimed an estimated 300 workers' lives per mile of wall (a million in all), and to the British trade in tattooed human heads from New Zealand in the early 1800s, and to the time I tried a sip of rice wine in which 9 species of dead snakes had been pickled, and about the War Department's "Monuments Men" who went around Europe after WWII ended, recovering stashes of art and manuscripts that had been looted by the Third Reich for a planned Fuhrer Museum. Just imagine that we were very close to living in a world in which the Mona Lisa would have hung in Hitler's museum instead of the Louvre. For me, it's little specific details like that that begin to make it possible to imagine alternate realities.

To my sessions at the library, the students who came were "volunteers," that is, readers who wanted to come, and the first moment I glimpsed them sitting in the auditorium when I walked in, they all had books open in their hands, whatever they happened to be reading that day -- I glimpsed New Moon among them -- and I loved seeing that. The continuation school we went to was different, and I'm really glad we went. They sat in the library and mostly didn't talk while I was talking, but there was a broad range of surly and challenging stares whenever I looked around, and many who had their chins on their chests and didn't look up at all, and when I asked for show of hands for various things, there was very little participation, but there were a few bright eyes out there, a few listeners, and though many of the kids showed zero interest in reading and even less than zero in winning a raffled copy of my book, the boy who did win it was really cool. He was a tall, maybe six-foot, really good looking African American kid, and he came right up to get me to sign it for him, and the first thing he said to me was, "That's a cool purse" !! It turned out he really likes to draw, and that his little sister loves to read, and I was really, really glad he won the copy of my book. On the way out of the school, I saw a teeny tiny fragile-but-tough-looking little girl holding just about the tiniest baby I've ever seen. Sigh.

At the end of the day I kept thinking how I should volunteer in some capacity at a school at home, do something on a regular basis that brings me in contact with kids and teens. Any recommendations of what? The library in Topeka is a really big, really nice library with lots of space and nooks and cool chairs and lots of computers and teenagers seem to hang out there -- not necessarily to read -- and I was very impressed by the programs the librarians put together to give them something to do, like manga drawing night, and game playing, and stuff like that, hoping that they'll pick up books along the way.

So, that was my first time traveling across country to do a book talk, a glimpse into a part of the country I've never seen, my first tornado warning, my first sight of whole boxes of my books (and by the way, Hastings Bookstore in Topeka is the only bookstore in the whole world that currently has my book!). It was a great experience. I look forward to more!