Saturday, September 29, 2007

Plans for alien winter writing pajamas

Feeling I needed a change of writing scenery this afternoon, I gathered up my laptop and went to. . . the living room. Drastic! It's about 15 steps to the living room sofa from my writing room door. Er, ten maybe. Ten small steps? I don't know if it helped. Today has been a pretty decent writing day anyway, all rainy and dark outside, yum. All I've been doing for weeks is writing, and it's amazing how life just compresses itself and goes sliding by. It's like life hunches and creeps low in passing so I won't notice and feel bad that it's going by without me. Humph! Thanks, life! Here I sit wiggling my fingers over the keyboard. . . Well, you know, this is where I want to be. I just happened to notice that it's fall already, and that took me by surprise. Yesterday it hailed giant white hail in such enormous quantities someone might have thought some god or other was trying to kill them, but I did not think that, because I have been very good lately and done nothing to anger the gods. Nothing! And if they get upset by cupcake consumption (which I can't imagine), that came later, so cannot have been the reason.

So: all this sitting in one place while life and seasons slide by. It is, as far as I can tell, is part of being a writer. A big part. The sitting and doing the work is indisputably a very big part of the whole being a writer thing. I am sure it is possible to find balance, I just really really want to finish this book soon so I am shunning balance and letting life slip by, in favor of this other life that involves faeries and devils and dragonfly caravans and so far is only here in my little head and my little computer and has yet been read by no one except partially by my husband.

I actually did dip out of the house for a little while yesterday. Very daring of me -- I risked being brained by those hailstones some angry god flung down here to punish one of my neighbors (could NOT have been my fault this time!) My college roommate was in town and I hadn't seen her for a while. I picked her up at her hotel and took her to meet Alexandra at Saint Cupcake, where we. . . ate cupcakes. You see, I will leave the house for cupcakes! And pomegranate margaritas, but that was later. In the evening, I ate more cupcakes, and wrote more words, but that big bite out of the middle of the day was a problem for my work routine, because I am not a multi-tasker. I need my mind to be clean of all other thoughts, uncluttered by the angst of friday evening traffic or whatever. And if I have to leave the house, well, there's the whole leaving-the-house-wardrobe to consider, and the necessity of using an appliance or two on my pink hair and putting on some mascara and some tall shoes. All that stuff that is required to go out in public! It throws off my stride. That is why I am not leaving the house much right now.

Oh, and TV -- not going to be a distraction this season. Watched a few premieres last week, and I say, "Phleh." Unimpressive. Except for The Office, which was brilliant as ever. I didn't really feel like I had to watch any shows again. I mean, I'm sure I will. I do get a little fried by the end of the day and besides, I'm finishing some knitting projects -- at last -- that I started last spring. See, I don't watch TV in the summer, and I only knit while watching TV, so summer is not productive knitting time. But now that it's getting cold out, I want my alpaca blanket and my alpaca silk & cashmere stripey scarf. Both are almost done. Don't know what I'll make after that. What I want to make is a full set of alpaca foot pajamas to wear in my very cold writing room this winter. I will make it so only my face emerges, like it's one of those extreme wet suits for very cold water, only instead of rubber it is all alpaca. Won't that be cute? I'll look like a fuzzy alien hard at work. Ooh! Yes, that's it. I'll knit little alien deely boppers on top of the head, with felted pom poms on the ends! Just picture me looking like that as I write this winter! Only, not really, because I am only a rudimentary knitter and couldn't actually make that if I tried.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

when people are grosser than my villains

I know, I know. One look at this little guy and you think: Yum. I want to drown that tiny songbird in armagnac, roast it, and eat it in one bite. Right? Well, if not, you must not be French. Okay, okay, not all French people eat ortolan, and plenty of people around the world do horribly gross things to all kinds of critters. I am not targeting the French.

It's just, it's weird when I see a casual news reference to something that educated, wealthy people do for fun that is the kind of thing a gross devil or imp character might do in one of my books. Really! If you haven't heard the news, France is having to crack down on illegal hunting of the protected songbird, the ortolan, because people are eating too many of them, in the method described above. But it gets weirder. Tradition for eating ortolan dictates the diner shroud his head with a napkin and eat the bird with his face hidden. Shroud the head. And, apparently, they taste kind of like hazelnuts. Dare I ask why not just eat hazelnuts? Or is it too fun to eat a species to extinction? Where can I get a good snow leopard steak? Anyone know?
Ah, sorry. Sometimes I just can't believe it. Us. We're such a creepy species. Seriously, there's a villain in Silksinger that might do this, and in the context of a book in which devils do gross and terrible things, it would still seem really gross!

In other random bits of learning, I just discovered a very cool place name: Kekexili. Isn't that awesome? I love exotic place names. This happens to be one of the wildest regions on Earth -- a remote part of the Tibetan Plateau that is the third-least populated place in the world, after Antarctica and Greenland.

And this: tarantulas can live up to 30 years!!!

P.S. The plea still stands, to post an Amazon review for Blackbringer. Thank you!

Monday, September 24, 2007

. . . and then it was TV season. . .

(this penguin video has nothing to do with my post; I just like it.)

So, TV season. Heh heh. Not that I'm going to be spending evenings in front of the TV now. Can't do it. But it has not escaped my notice that TV shows are suddenly starting. It's that golden time of year for TV watchers when a smorgasbord of potential shows is laid out ahead, the suck-factor as of yet undetermined. In the coming weeks, shows will drop like flies. Some might even get one week before getting yanked, as if ever a show could win its audience in one episode! Others will stick around. Being an acknowledged nerd, and seeing how a plethora of nerd-friendly shows are gearing up, there will be some VCR action in this household. Just can't watch em when they're on. Gotta write, but around 10 pm, I expect we shall transfer our tushes from the writing room bench/studio chair, respectively, to the sofa. Knitting in lap (me, not Jim.)

Tonight: Heroes.
update: Heroes was a big predictable snore.
Tomorrow: Reapers. Maybe. Yeah?
Wednesday: Bionic Woman. Oh yeah. NOT American's Next Top Model. Never again, I pledge.
Thursday: The Office, Thirty Rock. (Love.)

So that's a lot of shows. I think I'm even forgetting some. And -- oh yeah -- the World War II doc on PBS. We taped it last night but didn't watch it yet. I thought it would make a nice replacement for America's Next Top Model this season -- ha ha. Those two shows in the same paragraph -- snort!!! I admit to having watched ol' drag queen Tyra Banks in the past, but last season it swerved decisively from "guilty pleasure" to "guilty way-displeasure" and I'm through with it. Too bad -- I hear there's an autistic model on it this season. Now that's great television.

But like I said: 10 pm at the earliest. It's all writing and meals these days. I've barely left the house! I'd been wanting to go to the pear harvest festival out at Hood River this past weekend, you know, stock up on pears and alpaca yarn, actually do something that I can post on my blog as proof of having left the house. But when Saturday rolled around I was way into finishing this section of the book. Couldn't go. And I'm so glad I didn't. It was a rare writing day of grace. Finished the section around 11 pm -- yay! And wanted to take a bow for my devil muse and my stinky-breathed dog. Thank you, thank you. But, lest ye think my life is all work and no play, we did leave the house this weekend, to go not only to the grocery store, but to Office Depot for ink. Awesome! And at the grocery store they were selling apples that taste like grapes which is so so wrong, and of course I had to try them, even at about a dollar apiece. (They do taste like grapes! Weird!) We had friends over for dinner last night. Made stuffed butternut squash and an apple-upside-down cake. That was fun. I'm going to prepare all food upside down from now on with a layer of butter and brown sugar on the bottom of the pan.

Oh, I have a question. Is it totally bad to solicit Amazon reviews for one's book? I mean, is it a shameless, undignified thing to do? Somebody please let me know if it is and I'll delete this paragraph. In the meantime, if you've read [and liked] my book, I would love it if you wrote an Amazon review. Thank you to Christina who left a comment to my last post saying Blackbringer was the first book she ever left an Amazon review for. Thank you!

(And more penguin hijinx.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Yay for SCBWI!

I've written plenty in praise of The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, and here's another "yay" story. (Click HERE for the original version.) Amber Matthews, who is a blog friend who I got to meet in person in San Diego and Los Angeles this summer, just won runner-up in the SCBWI work-in-progress grant, and got the congratulatory email from a Very Prominent Editor! How often does a writer get an email from a Very Prominent Editor telling them s/he likes their work in progress? Not very, I'm guessing! Yay, Amber! May this be magical writing adrenaline for you to finish the book!

And p.s. She has a one-year-old, which explains her blog name "Naptime Writer," and let's all cross our fingers that Amber does not get deployed to Iraq -- for many reasons, including, so she can finish her book faster!

It was the wonderful feedback and encouragement of an editor I met through SCBWI that inspired me to keep working on Blackbringer. And I know Jay Asher won a grant from them, and at the various conferences I've heard other stories of books that won grants and went on to publishing success! It's a phenomenal and RARE opportunity to get your manuscript into the hands of editors!

Northwesterns (and beyond), be informed: Arthur Levine will be speaking in Seattle next April at the regional WW SCBWI conference, along with an amazing roster of others, including Chris Crutcher, Mo Willems, the Newbery triple threat of Susan Patron, Kirby Larson & Cynthia Lord, five editors, four agents, an art director, the fabulous Betsy Bird, and moi. (And others too!) Don't miss it!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Look: podcasts of me reading from Blackbringer:

Prelude, Chapters 1 & 2

Chapter 4

Thanks, sweetie, for being my tech monkey as well as my art monkey!

And, a new review of Blackbringer (or at least, I only just found it while, ahem, googling myself -- not that I do that often!) at The Green Man Review. Again I say, these book reviewers can write. This one's so well written! (And awesome!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thanks, Shannon & Robin

This is so cool -- Shannon Hale, whose books I love has a short interview posted on her blog right now. . . an interview with me. Jacksmoke! How cool is that?

I confess I have greedily read all the comments to the post, and it was lovely to be talked about (hee hee)! I was amused (ahem) by one "Dante" who felt it necessary to not only criticize my hair, but to inform Shannon that in fact to be "sassy" is a bad thing, and. . . that all we Americans are eejits and shmoes for calling The Golden Compass "The Golden Compass" rather than its British title, "Northern Lights." Gee, Dante, aren't you a ray of commenting sunshine! Thanks for the feedback! Ha ha.

But enough of Dante. Thank you Shannon! Did I say how much I love Shannon's books? I recently reread and reloved The Goose Girl, which I mentioned a few posts back, and I'm really hungry to read her first adult novel, Austenland, which came out this year. One of my not-so-guilty pleasures is Jane Austen fan fiction -- there are many out there who would have me (and my fellows) feel guilty about it, as if we're somehow subverting the Legacy of Jane, but I don't see it that way. Austenland isn't really fan fiction, like say "Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife", because it's contemporary and not about the actual characters, but it still treads on hallowed ground for the Defenders of the Legacy. Sounds so fun! I also loved and posted about Shannon's [Newbery Honor-winning] Princess Academy some time in the past year.

And thank you Robin Brande for reading my book while flying across the country and even in the cab at the risk of car sickness! Robin is the author of the new book Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature that I read last week -- it's a really terrific contemporary teen novel (young teen and mid-grade okay too) about a hot topic: the teaching of evolution and "intelligent design" in public schools. I thought she handled the issue brilliantly, created the perfect character and point of view that made it a great, fun read besides being "topical", and has provided something really valuable and relatable to the debate. Yay, Robin! She's also the organizer of the kid-lit blogger conference coming up in Chicago in a few weeks -- I can't wait to meet everyone!

While I'm talking about books, I need to mention this one too: The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Holy cow. This book is so, so, so beautiful. This is a wordless graphic novel that, well, words can just not do justice to. You gotta see it. It's an art book, telling a story entirely in pictures. From beginning to end, this book captures the overwhelming strangeness of new experience for an immigrant entering a new land, the shock of the unknown all around him, the arcane and beautiful and inscrutable ways of a foreign place. Tan takes the art to the level of the surreal, in order to give a universal understanding of the utter alien-ness of new experience. And it is SO COOL. You just want to pore over the art, examine every gorgeous detail as the story unfolds. Check this OUT.

Monday, September 17, 2007

How cool are 11-year-olds?

How cool are 11-year-olds? They're pretty cool! I just got a photocopied letter sent to me by the folks at Cricket Magazine, which they forwarded because the very cool eleven-year-old who wrote it cited my Cricket cover as one of her two favorites ever (thanks!!) It was very thoughtful of them to take the time to send it on to me, and what I especially loved about the letter was nothing to do with my cover. It was this:

"When I grow up, I want to be a singer, actress, a writer, a fashion-designer, an animal conservationist & an earth conservationist. I mostly want to be a singer, actress & writer. If you know of any modeling agents, give me a shout-out."

I love that. I remember that. Well, I had no modeling delusions, coming from a family of average height (and width), and I never could sing, but just that huge zest for the future and all its possibilities, as if the future is a whole bunch of balloons you're holding, as many as you can get your hands on, and no one can tell you what you can and can't BE.

Check out why I [heart] the internet so much:

"I believed, at twelve, that I could be a scientist. I read a book a day. I believed I could be a writer, an actress, a professor of English in Rome, an acrobat in a purple spangled outfit. Days opened for me like the pulling apart of curtains at a play you’ve been dying to see.

My life was like a wild, beating thing, exotic, capable of unfolding and enlarging itself, pulling itself higher and higher up like a kite loved by the wind . . . There in front of me, my own for the taking. And then, suddenly, lost.

—Elizabeth Berg, The Pull of the Moon

(I have had bits and pieces of that passage floating in my head since I read The Pull of the Moon years ago, but the book has escaped since then and I never got around to looking it up so I could quote the passage, and now -- just now -- I put "Elizabeth Berg," "acrobat," and "purple" into Google and that came up all over the place. Awesome!!! How did people function ten years ago?)

Anyway: yeah. That's what it was like for me. And I think it was twelve when the magic started to slowly evaporate, when I started to release, one by one, the balloons of possibility. There must be so many balloons up in the sky. How do we keep that from happening? Obviously every kid can't be a model, but how do we keep them going, dreaming, striving, past twelve, to sixteen, to eighteen, to college? How do we make sure their dreams stay safe? Is that as hopeless as trying to make a kid believe in Santa forever? No, no. It can't be. Because dreams are real.

Another cool kid: I just got an email (Umm, how much do I love getting emails from kids who've read my book? Thiiiiiiiiisssssssssss much!) Not sure her age, but she read 29 --TWENTY NINE -- books this summer and Blackbringer was her favorite. Swoon, swoon! Oh, and she wrote about my character Talon for a school assignment, which gives Talon a life beyond the book in a way that is like the time a certain lovely Miriam (and another voracious reader) dressed up as Magpie for Purim! This kind of thing makes fireworks in my head. Thank you, kids, for reading! Thank you, lady at the post office today who asked me when oh when will the sequel be out? (not soon enough). Thank you!

Oh, and then there's this: I've gotten some emails from "kids" that seem a little fishily like grownups pretending to be kids. But I could be wrong. It was just a little weird. I wonder if other writers have had this happen. I would suspect my peculiar best friend of inventing child personnae just for fun, getting whole new email accounts to cover her tracks, but it didn't really read like her um, unique voice. And speaking of Alexandra, she met a very wonderful 8-months-in-the-works goal today. Congratulations!! And, oh yeah, are you ever going to start blogging again?

P.S. Favorite headline of the day: "Nebraska State Senator Sues God."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Come See Everything

Jim just came into the writing room a little bit ago to replay the frustrating conversation he had just had with the water company over why our bill is so high considering we don't water our yard, don't run the dishwasher, and barely bathe -- just kidding. We totally bathe. But the other stuff not so much, so why $80ish a month? I don't get it. It's like the price of bottled water coming through our taps! Anyway, he was sitting there telling me about how inane they are at the water company and I was listening (I swear) but I got a little fixated on his T-shirt, with the above image which he drew for a band three or four (or five?) years ago. I dig it. And staring at it, I started to really dig it. "Come and see everything." They're lyrics from a song by the awesome Portland band, Floater. They go like this:

"And as the sum of all fears
Becomes the drum in our ears
And someone unlikely says
Come and see everything
Come out and see the whole world. . ."

Awesome. The whole world.
So, of course, my mind goes immediately to the latest issue of the claw to my soul that is National Geographic Traveler magazine, delivered yesterday. (Nat'l Geo Traveler, Nat'l Geo Adventurer, and Sierra Club magazines are the triple claws to my soul.) The October issue is the so-painful 2nd annual "Tours of a Lifetime" 50 of the World's Best Trips! issue. Sigh Like: 18 days aboard a three-masted sailboat in the Seychelles with stops for snorkeling to see the rare Aldabra tortoise etc etc (only $11,580!) or -- a total steal at $1,340 for 22 days, my weird obsession with Borneo could be explored, [former] headhunters included (and seriously, if a backpack full of large-denomination bills were to fall out of the sky into my lap right now, I would take any willing friends and family off to Borneo to watch bats and eat weird spiny fruits with [former] headhunters! I am so serious.) And how about this: 42 days of conservation work in Madagascar for only $4000! Or, OH GOD -- a journey through Iran to learn about weaving. They call that one a "Magic Carpet Ride" just to kill me. Claw. to. my. soul.

Come and see everything? Yes please. Or. . . I'll stay here and finish my book. Did I say "sigh" yet? Sigh.

(And yes, sweetie, I was still listening about the water company!)

[update -- after reading this post, Jim said that for my sanity he was going to cancel my subscription to National Geographic Traveler and get me National Geographic Homebody instead. Ha ha!]

So, boo hoo for poor me. Wah wah. Whatever. My mind is in the faerie Himalayas and that's something, right. (not the same!!!) Speaking of song lyrics (was I?), here's this quirky song by the quirky Grandaddy, and it's about an office group winning a day in the countryside as a prize for selling the most stuff and how that day affects them. Love it! Especially the refrain about the sprinklers that come on at 3 am. Check it out:

The tale I'm gonna tell
Is about the group who couldn't say
Together they discovered with each other the perfections of an outdoor day

They had won some kinda prize
For selling way more stuff than the other guys
They were the shrewdest unit-movers
So their bosses got 'em tours of the countryside

Holly saw a certain bird
But she couldn't work up any words
She kinda lost her shoes and lost her mind
And smashed her phone upon a fallen pine

Darryl couldn't talk at all
He wondered how the trees had grown to be so tall
He calculated all the height and width and density
For insurance purposes

And at the desktop there's crying sounds
For all the projects due
And no one else is around
And the sprinklers that come on at 3am
Sound like crowds of people asking
"Are you happy what you're doing?"

And at the desktop there's crying sounds
For all the projects due
And no one else is around
And the sprinklers that come on at 3am
Sound like crowds of people asking
"Are you happy what you're doing?"

Becky wondered why
She'd never noticed dragonflies
Her drag and click had never yielded
Anything as perfect as a dragonfly

And then the supervisor stood
Right in the creek and it felt really good
And that's about the time he finally realised the importance of this day
And that's about the time he realised
That he was with the group who couldn't say
Hey hey
And they felt so good it hurt forget the words
They were the group who couldn't say

Monday, September 10, 2007

YA Books for Adults

Raise your hand if this sounds like you:

You've read -- you've loved -- all the Harry Potter books. You mourn their passing. They opened up a whole world for you. But you. . . ahem. . . have for some reason not sought out any other “kids books” to read.

Is it true? Have you not? Why not? There’s a world of them, and here are some of my favorite “kids books” that are great reads for grownups too. This is only the tip of an iceberg -- there are so many other books I could put on this list. These are just stand-out faves that I have read more than once or will certainly read again. Beware, once you get yourself over to the YA section a teetering Rapunzel’s tower of books will tumble over and cascade into your life. I hope you’re ready!


His Dark Materials
by Philip Pullman
My favorite. Love, love, love. In the first book, The Golden Compass, Lyra is growing up under the not-so-watchful eyes of the scholars of a great Oxford college, in a just-off-kilter parallel reality to our own in which much is familiar, and much more is not. This book gets the highest praise I can come up with: I wish I'd thought of it myself! In it, humans have "daemons" which I can best describe as their souls made physical as animals, which are their constant companions and cannot be separated from them. Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, journey with "gyptians" to the Arctic north to try to recover kids kidnapped by "the gobblers." There are witches, a creepy church doing dubious things, and an armored polar bear. Just read it, you.

The Goose Girl
by Shannon Hale
A beautifully written fairy tale retelling that goes far beyond the fairy tale. I love Shannon Hale's lyrical language and her world that feels both real and magical. This tale is romantic, earthy, funny, and a story of coming into one's own strength.

by Neil Gaiman
Creepy cool. A door (that is only sometimes there) leads a young girl into a bizarro-world version of her own life. Haunting, strange, and smooth.

Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen
by Garth Nix
In a kingdom destroyed by necromancers, one person weilds the power to send the dead back to death where they belong: a young woman, who has inherited this duty from her father. Here's another concept that I would love to have come up with myself. I love these books and Garth Nix's dark, original fantasy world.

by Edith Pattou
Another fairy tale retelling that is so much more. This takes the cool old tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," a kind of journey-version of Beauty and the Beast, and really brings to life the Nordic world that it comes from. Trolls, polar bears, love, enchantment, courage, and beautiful writing.

A Certain Slant of Light
by Laura Whitcomb
This isn't fantasy the way the others are fantasy. It's contemporary and set in a very real American high school and household, except for one major thing: the main character is a ghost. But it's not like that. This is such a unique, compelling tale. In Whitcomb's world, ghosts have to attach themselves to human hosts; they are unseen hangers-on, and the young woman ghost is attached to a high school teacher. She's at the front of the class with him as usual when, to her great shock, she catches one of the students looking at her. Seeing her -- the first time she's been seen in over a hundred years. Why this seemingly ordinary young man can see her, and what happens next, makes for a great read that has stuck with me.

Dragon's Keep
by Janet Lee Carey
This book has the feel of being Carey's own offshoot to the Arthurian legend, but doesn't go into all that sword & stone stuff. Princess Rosalind is raised to believe she will be the one to fulfill a 600-year-old prophecy of Merlin's to restore her family to honor. She also has a secret: one of her fingers is not human, but dragon. She keeps it hidden always under a glove, but it is that finger, curiously, that will save her life from a dragon and suck her into the prophecy in ways she could never have guessed. Beautiful writing and a tight, fast, totally satisfying story.

Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer
by um, me
What sort of fool wouldn't put their own book here, I ask you? My first novel tells the story of Magpie Windwitch, a young faerie who's a devil hunter. The setting is our world, a world in which humans have been unwittingly releasing devils from their age-old prisons and unleashing, perhaps, a new devil age. The strength of faeries seems a thing of the past; the magic of the world is threadbare, and it seems a hopeless case. But Magpie won't give up without a fight, and the trail of the latest escaped devil leads her back to the mystical forest of Dreamdark, a place of legends and Djinn, cunning imps and tattooed warriors, and to revelations about her own role in the world.


Anahita’s Woven Riddle
by Meghan Nuttal Sayres
A nomadic girl living in early 20th-century Persia, promised in marriage to a khan she doesn't love, makes a bargain with her parents: that whoever solves the riddle she weaves into her wedding carpet will become her husband. Besides the khan there are three suitors and the book is romantic and fun as a love story, but it also paints a picture of the lives of the nomads and their herds and traditions, with a lot of information about weaving and carpets and dyes that I found fascinating. I love me a Persian carpet.

Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind
by Suzanne Fischer Staples
This is perhaps a little bit more realistic a portrait of the life and choices of a nomadic Muslim girl who would like to marry for love (or not at all) but is not in command of her own fate. The world of camel-trading nomads in Pakistan is beautifully rendered, and the character Shabanu is a strong-willed girl in a place where that doesn't go over so well.

I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith
Written in 1948 and set in England in the 1930s, this is the story of two young women swept away to live in a castle by their possibly mad writer-father. Castle living is not quite as romantic as one might think! The story takes a turn to romance when two American brothers inherit the estate on which the castle sits; it's not your typical love story, though. I came away thinking it was a lesson in how you can't control who you fall in love with, and chances are you won't fall in love with who you "should" and neither will they, etc etc. You have to read it to see what I'm talking about. Great quirky voice, too.

A Northern Light
by Jennifer Donnelly
Set in the Adirondacks of 1906 and imagining the real murder that was the basis of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. The narrator, a girl working in a resort hotel for the summer to try to earn college tuition, witnesses the events surrounding the crime. This Printz-award (or honor) book is much more than a murder mystery, though. It's a window into a slice of American life, class, poverty, racism, dreams, and more. A memorable narrator, great writing.

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Great premise, great characters, great writing. Maud is an orphan in early 20th-century New England, and she is certainly not the most "adoptable" child in the place, having justifiable anger (and heartbreak) issues that I will not spoil here. However, her life takes a turn for the better when she is adopted by three elderly sisters and whisked away to a new life. It's a strange new life, though, and Maud will soon enough find out just why the sisters have adopted her and what her role is to be in their peculiar family.

Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Larson
A Newbery honor book this year, this is the story (based on the true story of the author's grandmother) of a sixteen-year-old girl homesteading alone in Montana during World War I. Wow, I would not want to do that. Montana winters, prairie life, anti-German sentiment, the nature of friendship, hope, spunk, a great narrative voice. A fast, sweet, gripping read.

[You may note that these are pretty much all fantasy or historical fiction. That's pretty much what I go for, but there are also many awesome contemporary mainstream YA books. If you haven't taken a good look at the YA section in the bookstore in the past, say, ten years or so: DO. Have fun!]

[Alexandra has asked me to add that her favorite YA novel ever is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I have no doubt will make it onto my list too, but that I haven't read it yet.]

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Flail harder.

Me: Head, meet brick wall. Brick wall, head.

Head: Oh, thanks, but we've met before. Many times.

Brick Wall: Old friends, head and I.

Yep. Here's the thing. You'd think if a person rammed their head into a brick wall over and over, it would be the head that would break -- with deep melonish resonance -- and the wall would stay standing. However, I think it can be proven that in the case of writers, the head can bring down the wall. At least, so it has been for me in the past, so I think it is today, and I hope it continues so in the future. If I just keeping hurling myself at my novel, I will get through it, head intact.

This is all a way of saying, if you're flailing with your writing and you don't think it's possible you'll ever break through your block: flail harder. Flail wilder. Sing while you flail.

My blogging has been taking a backseat to my flailing this week, and the flailing shows signs of paying off. I was having a heck of a time getting through a particular chunk of scenes, but I think I have. I tried a new strategy: index cards. Earth-shaking, I know. I've contemplated trying them before. I've oohed and aahed over the cards pinned to other writers' walls, laying their novel out before their complacent eyes, scene by scene. Pretty, I thought. Perhaps the reason I had not tried it was because I suspected, knowing myself a little, that what I really wanted was to go buy index cards, because let's face it, buying even the most ordinary of office supplies is fun.

And it was kind of fun. They come in colors, and I got some of those, but I got the white ones too, and then I had to come up with a plan of how I was going to use them, and I thought I'd better start at the beginning and I did, and made a card for each scene that I have already written, which was easy, and I got to watch them stack up nicely, and then came the hard part: the new stuff. The stuck stuff. But I did it. I plotted out a new plan for the stuck stuff, just for the pleasure of printing new scenes up at the tops of new index cards, and the ideas fell into place, and I started to get excited.

And here I am now, with a stack of index cards and a tingle of excitement, the kind you get setting out on a journey when a new place is still just words on a map and you know it's all ahead of you.

It's not about the index cards. I know that. It's just another way of hurling myself at the brick wall. Another way of pretending that flailing is really dancing, and that I'm in control.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Oh. My. Gosh.

So there are these two guys who raised this lion, and then they released it into the wild (or semi-wild). A year later, they were reunited:

This is the most wonderful video I've ever seen. Can you stand it? Can you believe it? I found it on my friend Kristy's blog, and then I just had to learn once and for all how to post a video on blogger. This is my first time. At first, it seemed really tricky, and then I realized it is actually as easy as posting a photo; I had just assumed it would be hard and hence I made it hard.

I could watch this again and again. I want to cuddle a lion!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Not for ROBOTS!

What's not for robots? My new site is not for robots! It's for writers.

It's not a blog exactly. I'm not planning on updating it (just perhaps refining it over time); it's really just a place to post a series of essays on writing that I've been working on. Now they're up, and you can read them if -- that's right -- if you're not a robot. (To me, people who write with ease are robots.)

The awesome robot art is by none other than my husband-slash-art monkey, Jim. He has an ease and fluency with drawing robots that is a little suspicious. I mean, I begin to wonder if he might not be a robot himself. Hm. Given my no-robot policy, this would be a problem, so I think I won't investigate the matter further. Don't ask, don't tell -- that's my new robot policy. 'Kay?

If you have any curiosity to peer inside the mind of this screwball writer and learn all the crafty tricks I have to use on myself to keep myself writing, then go HERE. Let me know what you think. . . unless it's mean, in which case, go away!