Thursday, November 29, 2007

Random filler post about T-shirts

So, in the last few years, Jim and I (and especially Jim) have gotten hooked on T-shirts. (This one here is a Paul Frank shirt called "Cup of Fun" -- it is one of my favorites.) I never used to wear T-shirts. Remember when they were all big and baggy, before baby Ts and girl Ts? Anyway, now there are way too many awesome T-shirts in the world. It's hard not to buy too many.

If the words "Threadless Dot Com" don't mean anything to you, go HERE now and become a T-shirt junkie too! (They make great gifts too.)

Ah, gifts. I am not ahead of the game with Christmas shopping this year like I usually am. I am so very not ahead of the game. I love Christmas shopping. And I love making some new random thing every year, whether strange little clay dolls or collaged star ornaments or whatever. Laini's Ladies came out of a holiday ornament-making binge. Usually, when I've gotten on an obsessive holiday craft kick, there's been something else I was supposed to be doing, so there was this guilty "playing hooky" feeling to it -- furtive crafting! This year, though I have a weird strong urge to pretend I know how to sew and go to the fabric store and buy lots of yummy fabric, I can't. (heh heh. Even when I wrote that just now, I didn't believe myself. It's like I'm trying to convince myself. Must. Make. Something. If I just write "the end" does that mean I'm finished with my book and can go play? Actually, the last few days have been AWESOME writing days and have felt like play, even though, I admit, I did some positively awful things to some very nice faeries. I am the evil god of my book. And also, the nice god, depending on the day. Let's see, it's 7 am, will I be an evil god today or a nice god? I don't know yet!)

But back to T-shirts. Not all of our good shirts are Threadless. We've gotten a lot of them at Comic Con over the years.

Some Threadless shirts:
This one's called "An elephant never forgets. . . to kill." ha ha!
For a poet:
For marshmallow-lovers:
And the perfect gift for doomed lovers on your list:
And one of Jim's favorites:

Monday, November 26, 2007

It is all very well to be able to write books, but can you waggle your ears?*

This is me, finishing Silksinger. (not yet -- over the next few weeks, I hope.) See how relaxed I look? I know, I'm one cool cucumber. AND I wear a corset to write, like a real lady. Okay, so: not really. But I am a writing fury right now. FINISHING.
What a glorious word.
I want my birthday present to myself this year (I'm almost a Christmas baby) to be: a finished manuscript! Last year I had a wonderful languid holiday month of making cookies and decorating and giftwrapping. I love all that, but this year, sadly, I won't be able to do so much. It's all about Silksinger. You know how there are times when you realize how much you are capable of, and you rise to the occasion and overwhelm yourself with your own inner strength? I'm hoping this is one of those times!

Speaking of real cool cucumbers, check out Agatha Christie at work.
Doesn't she make it look easy?

(Quote in title by J.M. Barrie)

P.S. My editor called today to let me know we have an offer for the Vietnamese rights to Blackbringer. How cool is that???

And check it out: Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, just reviewed Blackbringer. Thanks, Liz!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving, with vampires and shotguns

A belated happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it! And a special Thanksgiving wish to our neighbors down the street who provided such entertainment yesterday in the form of no less than eight police cars all lined up, and who knows how many cops loading their shotguns behind their open car doors and marching down the street, pointedly not looking from side to side to see all the neighbor faces pressed against their windows. I have no idea what was going on down there; I don't even know what those neighbors look like. But it seems they were up to no good yesterday. Thanks, villainous neighbors! That was exciting.

We had a small dinner at our house, just me and Jim, my mom, Alexandra, and my brother and his girlfriend Charisma, who came down from Seattle. Jim and I have made a number of Thanksgiving dinners together now (this is the beginning of our 10th year together) and this was by far the most stress-free. The thing about Thanksgiving food is, it's easy to make. You just have to time everything right. And since there were only 6 of us this year, we just did the basics: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce. And of course, pie.
Yum. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the basting team of Jim and my mom:
And one hopeful pup:
The bird was divine. Good job, basters! And, the basters doubled as the gravy-makers, and the gravy, which I think is the most stressful part of the whole preparation, was the. best. ever. Easy, and PERFECT!

After the pies, which were made by the pie-maker Jim (pumpkin and apple) with me as apple-peeler, we did what everyone does on Thanksgiving and we watched a vampire movie! Oh, and not just vampires. Vampires vs. werewolves. (Underworld). Very festive. While we were doing that, Alexandra slunk upstairs to hijack my blog. I know she's going to be vastly upset that I am already posting again and pushing her post down, but. . . what can I say? Sorry, Al.

Here are a couple of tips for reluctant holiday hostesses:

1. Have a special recipe box just for holiday recipes you make every year.

Then, as the holiday approaches, you just take it down and there's everything you need, all together. Plus, as magazines always have new recipes every year and you try new ones, you add them, make notes to yourself, whatever. And Christmas cookie recipes -- keep them all together. Makes things so easy.

2. Cheap flowers. Small vases.

This one came to me by chance this year. Being in the middle of finishing a book, I did not put a whole lot of advance thinking into this meal. (Which is where my recipe box came in very handy.) I forgot to buy flowers until the night before, and then all that was really left to me was Safeway, where a basic bouquet was $24!! So instead I bought three $4 boquets of little filler things: the green mums, the small caranations, and whatever thos cute little pink pod things are, and I arranged them in little creamer pitchers. They filled 5 small containers, and looked totally cute all lined up down the table. You can keep a giant boquet on the table anyway, but some small ones, you can.

So, that's my "Martha" moment today!

And here's a thought, for everyday, not just holidays:
Use cloth napkins every day.
We just started doing this, after I read (wish I could find it to quote) the stats on how many trees would be saved annually if more people would start using recycled paper napkins and toilet paper. It was staggering. And it occurred to me I could do better than that (on the napkins, not the TP!) -- Cloth. We have a zillion and one pretty cloth napkins we never use. It's kind of like how some people will never use nice soaps but just keep them forever on the counter to look pretty? Well, I long ago got over that and I use those nice soaps. But my napkins have just been sitting there all pretty and tucked away, and so now we're using them instead of paper. And it's nice. Still need paper towels for some things, sure, but this has way reduced our paper consumption. And to the argument that you'll just use more water to wash them: not really. You have a few napkins to throw into the load of laundry you're going anyway. And to be honest, most meals aren't messy and you barely use your napking and don't necessarily need to wash it after dabbing a crumb from your lip. (Unless the thought of touching something that has touched your own lip really grosses you out, which would be weird.)

So, there's that. To save trees, and be elegant. I guess if you have kids, this may not be so viable, but I don't. Except this one, who definitely requires paper napkins for eye-goo maintainance:
Have a great weekend, all! If you feel like ruminating on your "misspent youth" go on over to Sunday Scribblings and contribute.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

This Post Is Being HiJacked by Alexandra

This is Laini and Jim slaving away before the big Thanksgiving feast, which I have to tell you was scrumptiously horrible. Look how nutty Laini looks in her white furry hat and why is Jim using my Mongolian hunting sword for this little turkey? (In case you are wondering where they are, I have scotch taped a turkey drumstick to each of their beaks and thrown in their favorite movie, Xanadu, into the DVD player to keep them occupied while I snuck upstairs to post this here post.)

Let me step back a moment and introduce myself! My name is Alexandra Dragontidy Thimblepinky. You can read Laini's all about what Laini really truly thinks about me by clicking right here but don't believe everything you read there (she wrote it to me on my birthday!), especially the part about being "the kind of person who, after having my head bitten off by a rampaging dinosaur, would continue to call out (that is, my severed head would call out "Run children, run!" in a superhuman effort to save as many lives as I possibly could before my head was lost down the dinosaur's digestive trac." Well, that part is true but thats only because in real life I have done many, many, many noble things. I think the thing I am most proud of is my invention of feet. How many people can say that?

Well, I have to run but I wish you and yours a very wonderful Thanksgiving!!!! We all just finished up a totally tasty beyond tasty dinner here over at the Taylor igloo. These two are the best, aren't they? I'm going to go back down and remove those turkey drumsticks this very moment!

p.s. I noticed from Laini's last post's comment box that you too can't believe that Laini could forget about my half birthday two days ago. What kind of best friend is she? Ever since she dyed her hair bright pink she has gone borderline insane. Tonight she was talking seriously about painting her tonsils turquoise. Anyway, I'm still quite devastated about my half birthday, crumpled into a weeping ball. But you can help by mailing me a gift certficate to Powells Books but do it soon, before you forget! Really there has never ever been a better time to purchase me a little present. Lets go do that right now!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Clawing through

I am writing the climax to Silksinger. Deep breath. It's a big, juicy, thrumming, scary, heart-wrenching, revelatory scene, maybe the "biggest" I've ever written, and tackling it is. . . scary. I have all these ideas, and I have this vision of how awesome it can be, and it's kind of terrifying. I had this thought yesterday as I made my way slowly through it, that I felt like I was gouging my way through. And that's kind of appropriate since the whole thing takes place in caves that were long ago gouged out of the mountain by dragon claws. I think I need to borrow some dragon claws to get this done! (Those above are komodo dragon claws, by the way.)

I wrote in Not For Robots about how the "exploratory draft" is like bushwhacking through a jungle. That metaphor is feeling more true to me now than ever. The first time through a big scene like this, it feels like big, slashing, ugly, hacking cuts through dense matter, and I long to be done with this stage and on to the next. But without this stage, there is never a next. It must be done.

So, mixed metaphors and all that, but they have something in common -- gouging, bushwhacking -- it's the task of penetrating some dense, unyeilding substance. Rock. Jungle. A scene. It's work. For us perfectionists, this can be so unpleasant. So hard. To subdue the persnickity old maiden aunts that dwell in our minds wanting everything to be laid out just so, for our scenes to be born full-grown, like Athena from the head of Zeus! Well, bonk those persnickity old biddies on the noggin! Ehh. I shouldn't even be writing this right now. I should be writing, you know, that. What am I doing here, I ask you? Quivering in fear? Covering my eyes and saying, "If I can't see you, you can't see me?" Kind of. But now I will get back to my gouging and my machete.

The dragon says:
Interestingly, it occurs to me this is not the first time I have used komodo dragon threats on myself. That's kind of weird!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nature is coming to kill you.

That's right. Nature is coming to kill you. In the past two days, we have twice been assaulted by the so-called "Forces of Nature." Up until now, I always thought that expression referred to tornadoes and earthquakes. Now I know better. It means, Nature's Army. If you live in an exotic land, Nature might send a jackal or an asp to do its dirty work (or a giraffe, or, if Nature is feeling really silly, maybe a vampire butterfly). If you live in Portland, Oregon, the soldiers of Nature look something like this:
And look, there is even a Ninja division:

So, here's what happened. First, Thursday night, raccoons tried to infiltrate the house to kill us. That is the only reason I can think of. Or, they were just tap-dancing on the roof. Maybe they parachuted from helicopters and landed on the roof and then started tap-dancing. I don't know. All I know is they were really, really loud and, ultimately unsuccessful in their murderous mission. Ha ha!

And then this morning, while I was home alone, (queue Twilight Zone music) I heard something. . . in the ceiling. A LOUD something. In the ceiling between the first and second stories. Or, in the heating ducts. I guess it had to be in the heating ducts because. . . it came OUT one of the vents, into the living room. A Ninja squirrel. It climbed the drapes, it climbed a tall potted plant. It was looking for where we stash our jewels, I think, or our microchips of government secrets, all of which I courageously kept safe by swallowing them. The Ninja eventually ran out the front door. Sayonara, killer.

We beat Nature's Army. For now. I'm afraid that this was only an advance force. What's next? Wouldn't it be cool if coyotes came all the way from the hills? Or foxes? How creepy would it be if we looked out the windows at night and the house was completely surrounded by like six hundred foxes? I wish that would happen. I really do.

Oh, there was one other incident that happened that Jim wants me to tell you about. Another Nature sneak attack. Yesterday, when he was coming inside, a droplet of water dripped off the edge of the patio and flung itself right down the back of Jim's collar. Like a little kamikaze! Right down his neck. The aim that was involved. The rigorous training these troops go through! It leaves me in awe.

So, about squirrels. Some are cute:
Others are. . . less so.

And what's cuter than this?
How about when it's dead and wrapped around a kid's head, like so:
I just adore a child in fur, don't you?
Actually, I think anyone who wants to wear fur should have to capture, kill, dress, and sew it themselves. Yes? And, if you wear fur, no complaining if a tiger or six hundred foxes come for you.

Lock your doors. Seal your ductwork. They're here. And they're crafty.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ethiag the Ghost-Girl

[story removed by author]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Women of the Raj

This made me laugh at lunch today. From the chapter "Courtship and Marriage" from Women of the Raj: "Courting in India sometimes had features unknown [in England]. One young couple who were living in a wild part of India were accompanied everywhere by a Gurkha bodyguard; when they begged him to leave them alone for a few minutes, he simply grinned and sat down firmly with his knitting." ha ha! Imagine having a Gurkha bodyguard, who knits!

This book is fabulous, if you have any interest in the British Raj (the period of English rule in India). I'm not always such a good nonfiction reader, I sheepishly admit. I can have the best of intentions, but often nonfiction just doesn't sustain my interest. There are exceptions, and this is one. It's fascinating. Tales of cobras falling through the thatch roof, and pianos being trampled by wild elephants, and dance hall girls marrying maharajas, and one stout old memsahib during the Mutiny who killed two attackers with a boar spear before being taken down herself! I'm really not sure why I am so fascinated with the Raj, but I am, and that's it, my feeble excuse for a post today. Cheers!

Monday, November 12, 2007

I made a 10-year-old boy swoon.

Yes, I did. I made a ten-year-old boy swoon! It made my whole day. I had just arrived at the stage where I would be reading at Wordstock, when I saw a boy fall down on a bean bag chair in that dramatic way boys have, limbs every which way, and he sort of lay there looking paralyzed and I thought he was just being a boy. . . but a few minutes later I found out he fell down because of me!!!! He picked himself up and told me my book is the best book ever. Made my day. Here he is:
(Hi, Owen! Thanks!) (Oh, and I photoshopped my roots in that picture. Is that wrong?)

The reading went well. I was, of course, nervous. I decided to read not from Blackbringer but a chapter each from Silksinger and Goblin Fruit. Attendance was pretty good; sales afterward were pretty good. Alexandra (erstwhile blogger) threatened all sorts of shenanigans, like how she was going to ask me if I would estimate Magpie is more the size of a KFC chicken drumstick or a Thanksgiving turkey drumstick, but in the end, she asked nothing. Nothing! Alexandra, passing up the chance to ask a silly question, and this right after declaring she'd missed her calling by not becoming an interviewer! I think her true callling is as a blog commenter (come on, let's see what you got!)

Thank you SO MUCH to Kim and Natalie and Jennifer and Camille for coming! And of course, my parents and Penny and my photographer/bodyguard/illustrator/spouse Jim (just kidding about the bodyguard part -- sort of!) And to unknown folks who came, and serendipitious encounters, Matthew and the poet-men and Karla. And Owen. Thanks, all. The day was a good illustration of one of the things we love about Portland: crossing paths. We had just arrived when we ran into a guy I used to work with at one of my first jobs in Portland seven years ago. He worked in the bakery and I in the restaurant of a well-known Portland dessert place, but he left to go and be in a Tom Cruise movie with his twin (seriously -- they were the pre-cogs in the pool in Minority Report), and later they both went to get MFAs in poetry in Austin, TX. Cool, no? Well, he was reading with another Oregon poet yesterday and they were both amazing: Matthew Dickman and Mike McGriff. So that was one Portland serendipity.

The other turned into a serendipity later in the day. Owen, my new favorite ten-year-old, happened to be the son of the director of the festival; I met both his parents, who are both awesome. Imagine: a dad who directs a literary festival and a mom who owns a chocolate shop. Books and chocolate: this kid's got it made! Anyway, after we got home that evening, Jim was flipping through a magazine that had been delivered to the house: It's called "Mix" and it's "Portland's Magazine of Food & Drink" and Jim paused on a photo and said, "Funny, that looks like. . ." and it was. It was Owen's mom, Sarah, who owns Alma Chocolate on NE 28th, in an article on how to throw a fuss-free awesome friday night dinner party with margaritas and braised beef tacos. Ha ha! The cool thing is that this sort of thing happens all the time in Portland. Not exactly this, like meeting someone at a book festival and then later that same day seeing them smiling in a glossy food magazine, but just paths crossing. Or happening upon a poetry reading by an old co-worker. Portland: small town feel with the accoutrements of city.

I also got to chat with Michael Hoeye, a local author who also publishes with Putnam! I had heard him speak at SCBWI three or four years ago and he was a truly fabulous speaker. He had bright orange hair at the time, but no longer. Maybe he was a subconscious influence on my own hair choice? Maybe. Here's an interview in which he tells how his first book came to be written (very interesting story!)

Here's me with Owen again. He's reading some manga on the big book statue while I am having my picture taken.

And one last slightly weird story: I was on the phone at the festival, while walking, trying to find Alexandra who had vanished (as it turned out, she had left kind of like Cinderella without saying goodbye) when some guy said he liked my hair and I, distractedly, said thank you and was turning away with phone to ear when he put out his hand and said his name, and I, distractedly, shook it. I was barely paying attention, I admit, but then he asked, bluntly, "Are you single?" and right then Jim walked up which was nice and I just said no, thankyou and went on my way, but the reason I am telling this story is not because I may or may not have been hit on but because it was so weirdly blunt, and this is what it reminded me of:

Some time in the past weeks or months Jim and I rewatched some of the first-ever episodes of Angel on DVD (the vampire show, not Dark Angel), and there was an episode about a demon creature that [gross alert!] had to have a new human host body every day and the bodies fell apart so fast he kept having to transfer to new ones, and the way he did this was by picking up lonely hearts in the bars of LA (of course, all these "lonely hearts" were way too hot to be as desperate as they were supposed to be, this being TV). The demon-inside-the-hot-human would use the same pickup lines every time, and then at the end, being thwarted by the forces of good from his transition to a new body, and stuck in a falling-apart body, he was going up to women with his face half falling off, saying his pick-up lines, desperately trying to find a new host. It was grotesque-funny (anyone remember that episode?) Anyway, this guy's face was not falling off (yet), but do you think it is just possible he was a demon in desperate need of a new human host? Maybe? I'm going to say he was. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. The day the desperate demon asked me if I was single. ha ha. Maybe I should have alerted security?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Wordstock 07 -- reminder

Hi folks! Remember, Portlanders, Wordstock is this weekend, so come down to the Convention Center and celebrate books! My reading is Sunday at 2 pm on the Children's Stage; hope to see you there!

And, this is fun, I got into the local paper for the first time ever. Yay, I'm famous - ha ha. It's in the friday A&E supplement to The Oregonian with a picture and everything, and while I am completely thrilled to be in there, I am baffled by one thing, these words: "Taylor is a writer and artist who sold her work at Saturday Market and wrote whatever popped into her head. . ." Ehm, er. . . whatever popped into my head? That line is kind of funny because it is so NOT how I write. It makes me seem like a happy-go-lucky, jot-down-whatever kind of writer, and there are times when I wish I was but, um, I'm not. So, I wonder how that got in there. A part of me wants to think, whimsically, that the layout person needed an extra line to balance out the page so they added it from thin air. Anyway, looking forward to Wordstock. I love being in huge halls filled with books and booky people!

The article also says, very rightly, how Jim and I love the grey Northwest weather and how happy we are when it rains. Very true, and after a stretch of autumn sunshine and unseasonal warmth, we got a nice velvety gray day yesterday. It felt like evening all day long. Why do I like that? I don't know, but I do. And it rained, and I did not even set one toe out of the house all day. Why do I love that? I don't know either, but I do. Gloom, gloom, beautiful gloom.

Oh! And check out this:

Blackbringer made it onto the cover of the most recent ALAN Review! This is the publication of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, an independent branch of the National Council of Teachers of English. How cool to have my book right there! And my editor must be happy -- two of his books are on it. He also edited Monster Blood Tattoo. Thanks, Kirby Larson, for sending this to me!

Whatever you're doing this weekend, I hope you have a marvelous time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Laini's Ladies

Ahhhh. . . I've sent another batch of samples off the manufacturer. Those were some crammed-full days of writing in the morning and afternoon, designing in the evening, and some days all of one and none of the other, or vice versa. These ladies will be in stores in the spring.

And now, with wholly undivided attention, back to writing!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Random video pick + the art of Robert Nelson

This video is SO weird. I found the link on Maureen Johnson's blog. If you haven't been over there, she's hilarious. Always makes me laugh. She's the author of a five YA novels, with more on the way, and I've only read one of her books (so far) but really enjoyed it. Her books don't fall into the categories of my usual reads, which tend to be fantasy or historical or Gothic or something beyond the mainstream contemporary novel. But that doesn't mean I don't also enjoy mainstream contemporary. I do! As for the above video, I know nothing at all about it but that Jim said he thinks those guys are from Kids in the Hall. Huh. Love the total commitment to absurdity here!

Something for locals: Go check out the show this month at the Beppu Wiarda Gallery in the Pearl District. Not usually much of an art gallery goer myself, as the stuff in art galleries is usually a bit too "arty" for me and not "illustrative" enough. I like "pictures" -- art that tells stories. And man, do these paintings tell stories! The artist is Robert Nelson, and he's an 82-year-old retired professor from the Art Institute of Chicago. He and his wife had planned to retire to Italy or Spain (accounts vary) until a trip to Oregon sealed their destiny -- they ended up buying 65 acres at the Oregon Coast, where they live with lots of animals, including big, rare breeds of draft horses, which often appear in his work. Unfortunately, I can't find any good representations of his work online, only little low-res things like this:
But you can get a better idea of his work by watching this segment on Oregon Art Beat, a show on PBS which is how Jim and I stumbled upon his work. It's not long.

His art is filled with weird characters taken from mythology and stories, like the Tin Woodsman and Alexander the Great, doing very odd things. There is lots of mixed media involved and seeing the originals is really worth it, to get a close look at the collage and assemblage. One piece, that the video shows him working on, is about Ulysses wading home from the bakery, with angels hovering worriedly above him issuing silly warnings -- of course I can't remember what they were saying, just that it made me laugh out loud, and that I loved that he puts dialogue in his pictures, and long rambly captions telling truly weird tales! LOVE these pictures. The prices are reasonable, as far as prices for art go, and I'd have rather spent the furnace money on a painting! Ah well. If you get a chance, local folks, go see this show. The gallery is only a few blocks from Powell's. Go for a book & art field trip! Oh, and there's a very nice new bar right around the corner called Teardrop that was serving delicious warm spiced Madeira wine. Yummy! And have you ever eaten almonds with chopsticks? Well, there you may try your hand at it.

HERE is the Portland Tribune article on Bob Nelson (nicely titled "If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What kind of art will I make when I’m 80?” Robert A. Nelson’s show at Beppu Wiarda Gallery this month has the answer: whatever you flaming well want."), and HERE is the gallery link where you can see more fuzzy little thumbnails of his paintings.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Writing to the end

So, more times than I can count during the writing of Silksinger (still underway), I have said to myself, "Self, I am just going to knuckle down and write to the end. A free, wild burst of a draft, all the way through to the end. Then after that I'll, you know, write a better draft and then a better one, etcetera. Okay, ready. . . go!"

And then I'll write a few pages of this free, wild burst of a draft, my fingers a-flying over the keyboard, and it might even be a little thrilling at first. . . but after a few pages my shoulders will start to droop, my lips will start to sort of curl downward, I'll start to flag. The draft will begin to feel like this heavy, burdensome, awful thing I'm forcing myself through. It's terrible. Unusable. Why go on? And I'll stop and rewrite those few pages into something prettier and tighter and then I'll move on. Every time. I just reached the 4,000ish word mark on another such vow to "write to the end" and I'm halting here. I. Can't. Do. It. I can't work that way. Why must I pound my little fists up against this brick wall of my nature? Why not just accept my mind for what it is and work with it?

Here's what it is. Freewriting has emerged to be an absolutely essential part of my writing process, but I can't sustain it. For me, freewriting is the first of a two-step process. 1) Write a freewrite of the scene once or twice or thrice (or more), mull it over, figure out what really happens, and then, 2) Actually write the scene. Freewriting is the essential first half of writing to me. But I can only happily go scene by scene like that, not a whole draft. I need to reel the wild thing back in and tidy it up before I can go on. Again and again I try to defy myself and become a "mist-flyer" (someone once said that leaping into the unknown book and writing forward like that is like "flying into the mist" and I love the idea; I just can't do it!). Ah, it's funny how predictable the cycle is, how strong that desire can be to "write to the end" and how I'll get all gung ho about it and tell myself heartily that I can do it! And then after a few pages, the will is gone.

You know what it's like? It's like when you're hiking on a really hot day and the whole time you know that at the end of the hike a cool river is waiting for you and you imagine how wonderful it's going to feel to jump in! But by the time you descend into the river canyon, it's not so hot anymore. And you put your feet in and the water is so cold that all of a sudden you lose the desire to fling your whole body into it! THAT is what it's like. My book is like a cold river at the end of a hot hike. Agh! That makes no sense, I know.

"Process" -- does it even exist? This is a question posed on Gwenda's blog recently. She cited Rosemary Wells as saying something like, "All [good/real/some value judgement] writers know there's no such thing as process." And Gwenda agreed and I thought "Urk?" and at first I was certain I disagreed wholeheartedly. Now, I don't know. What is process? I would love to explore the idea right now at length but it would only be an avoidance technique. Silksinger awaits me! Tally ho!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Silly Things. . .

Another new lady! LOVE her. I'm almost finished with this new batch -- whew!! My eyeballs literally started to hurt yesterday from staring at the computer screen! Speaking of eyeballs and hurting, our canine son Leroy has to go to the dog opthamologiist today for possible melanoma on his eyeball. Cross your fingers for us that it's just a cyst. If it's cancer he'd have to have the eye removed and that would be very sad for our old boy (14), though he's a tank and could totally take it! Still, yeesh. Fingers crossed.

[update: WHEW! It is not eyeball cancer. Whewwweeeee! Just a cyst. Did I say whew? It's been exactly a year since Shiloh was finishing radiation for her nasal cancer (we lost her in January), and I was really really really hoping there would be no more doggy cancer. WHEW!]

On a cheerier note, more Jane Austen quotes:

"The person, be it a gentleman or lady, who had not the pleasure of a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."

"A woman especially, should she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."

"You are too sensible a girl to fall in love merely because you are warned against it."

"I do not want people to be agreeable. It saves me the trouble of liking them."

"Where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?"

"But there are certainly not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty girls to deserve them."

Happy weekend!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Markus Zusak comes to town

A word of advice to authors who are going to speak at high schools: if you possibly can, bring the wooden spoon your mother used to spank you; teenagers love that! Okay, don't do that -- that would be copying Markus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief. He spoke yesterday at Madison High School, only a few minutes from my house, and I'd never have heard about it but, lucky for me, Alexandra works part time there so I met her and went to school. High school! Man. Those kids look young! I am really glad I got to hear Markus speak because he really knows how to hold teenagers' attention!

For one thing, he didn't talk about his books much at all. He told stories -- stories about himself. He started with one about getting robbed, catching a guy trying to climb in his window in the middle of the night. He talked about the weirdness of dealing with the police after the robbery, and then at the end of the story he admitted he'd told two lies and he said what they were, and related storytelling to writing, showing -- with examples -- the three most important rule of writing for him:

1) steal stories from your own life.
2) use details; it's the little details that will make the story ring true.
3) do the unexpected; set up reader expectations and then have the opposite happen.

He illustrated these with numerous stories about youthful crime and punishment and revenge in his own family, which included brandishing the very wooden spoon that left the worst marks on bare legs -- oyy! -- and I am sure there wasn't anyone in that library who wasn't paying attention! It was really great. Next time I speak to teenagers, I am going to remember all of this and try to keep things concrete, immediate, personal, relatable. Sure, it would help if I had an Australian accent too! Accents make everything sound more interesting!

After, during the Q & A, the students did ask a lot of questions about writing -- they were an extremely good, responsive group of teens (esp compared to other students Markus told about having talked to; he masterfully set up the first question, tricking someone into asking him What was the worst question you were ever asked? and that really got the Q & A rolling) -- and I really related to a lot that he said about writing. One thing was that he never doubted he would be a writer. Through all the years of rejection letters, he never swayed in what he wanted to do. He said that there were students in his creative writing classes at University who were "better" than him, but he doubts any of them are still writing. Jim and I had that same experience at art school -- we sometimes google some of the amazingly talented kids who were there with us and we can't find any clue that they are still working, while we are. That motivation, that vocation is everything. Way more important that talent.

And this, I was happy/relieved to hear: Markus said he reread and rewrote the first 90 pages of The Book Thief somewhere between 150 and 200 times. And, that when he was about 250 pages into the book (which he had initially conceived as a small, 100-page book), he realized it wasn't working and he made a major change to the personality of the narrator, who happens to be Death (as in, the Grim Reaper), and then rewrote it. This is something I really appreciate hearing, especially now, having done so much major reconceiving and rewriting all along the way with Silksinger. Sometimes, a book is lying ahead of you like a more or less straight road. It might present itself the first time in its proper form. But it might take many tries to get to that; I feel like when I read a mediocre book, maybe the author did not do everything in their power to find that true and best form; maybe they stopped halfway. I want to read books that the author gave everything to. I confess, I have not yet read The Book Thief (I have been saving it as a treat for when I am done with Silksinger) but I can tell that Markus Zusak gave everything he had to this book.

If you're not familiar with it, it's a story about Nazi Germany, told by Death. It was inspired by stories his parents used to tell about growing up in Nazi Germany and Austria. His mother, as a six-year-old, seeing Jews marched through the village on their way to Dachau. His father, ditching the Hitler Youth meetings he was supposed to attend. The idea of all that is good and and all that is terrible in humans living side by side. In most of the places it has been published, it is marketed as an "adult" book, but in the US, as a young adult novel. This is partly because Markus's other books are teen books, but I suspect it's also a little because the main character is a child, and there's some belief among publishers that adults won't read about child characters -- is this true? In any case, it's out in paperback. I can't personally recommend it yet (though I can tell I will), but Alexandra says it is one of her two favorite books -- the other one, of course, being mine!

Here are Alexandra and I with the author:

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Orange food, a skunk in the house

Hope everyone had a great Halloween! We stayed home and had my parents and Alexandra over for dinner. My parents live on a private road in the forest so they get no trick-or-treaters, though we don't do much better. Our neighborhood kids all abscond to the nicer streets, so it's not very Halloweeny 'round here. However, early in the day, a skunk did get into the house! Oh no!
What an adorable Camille-skunk! Unfortunately, I didn't have any candy to give her, what with the low trick-or-treater expectation. In the almost seven years we've lived here, the number of trick-or-treaters has gone down steadily, from maybe five or six doorbell rings to last night only TWO. We are inevitably left with a giant bowl of candy, because even though I say I'm not going to buy any (or at most, one bag), when I get to the candy aisle. . . some demon possesses me. After the incident of the skunk, I went to the store for candy, and though I only bought two bags, Alexandra brought two more -- and then we had a grand total of THREE kids come to the door!

Alexandra was not, ahem, looking quite herself last night. . .
ha ha! Trust Alexandra to bring some wackiness. (Apparently, after she gave my dad eyebrows for his birthday last week, he stuck them on his bathroom mirror at face-height so that now when he is shaving it looks like he has enormous shaggy eyebrows.)

It was an inadvertantly orange-themed dinner last night, with each thing having either pumpkin or apricots in it. Also, everything we made was out of the current issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine: penne pasta w/ creamy pumpkin sauce garnished with fried rosemary; apricot and shallot-stuffed pork loin; apricot and goat cheese radicchio salad; and pumpkin layer cake. Yum!

There's just something about a frosted cake on a cake stand; I love it. My mom brought caramel apples and three kinds of cookies, so we did okay in the sweets department, I'd say. And to think, just the night before, Jim and I were scavenging the cupboards for old chocolate for want of dessert! What a difference a day can make! Oy. Now, what to do with it all? Eat it for breakfast?

OOH! Exciting news for fans of Joss Whedon. Thanks to Gwenda for the link. Yippeee!

OOOOHH! And more important news: it's "cupcake roundup time" over at Cupcake Bakeshop. Look HERE and drool!