Monday, March 31, 2008

Laini Loves Notebooks

I don't just love notebooks. I kind of rely on them. I mean, my writing brain is a high-maintainence little machine and it needs certain things, like Pilot extra-fine Precise V5 rolling ball pens (in all colors) and Clairefontaine hardcover notebooks (collaged, as above). Of course, primarily it needs my computer. That's where "the real writing" happens. Notebooks are for notes, right? Who could write a book in a notebook??? That's crazy talk. Right? Right?

It's a symptom of my affliction (stultifying perfectionism) that things must be Just So. I like writing on a computer because I can edit myself as I go, neaten things up, futz with sentence until they satisfy me. Writing by hand, well, it's messy. And, it's hard to make corrections, handwriting can get out of control, hands sweat, and substances might even get spilled on the pages. The horror! I'm actually being serious. These things bother me. I would like to be the kind of writer who only needs their brain, a writing implement, and a notebook -- I think of Neil Gaiman writing chapters on airplanes bound everywhere in the world -- but I have not so far been able to be that writer. I'm caught up in my mild insanity, my rigid, precise little world of Just So.

But I am going to rebel. I'm going to try something mad. Something radical. I am going to write a horribly untidy, perfectly imperfect first draft of the new book in a notebook! I've even got the notebook:

It's the purple one. It's not just any random notebook, not any thin-paged thing from the drugstore. I'm still me, still mildly insane. I had to find a fat, tidy notebook with nice thick smooth paper, and this one is it. I feel a mild terror at the prospect of trying this new thing, writing in a new way, but I'm really excited too, and also a little fretful that my brain won't let me do it.

We'll see. I still, of course, have my "notes" notebooks. Those are the Clairefontaines. Here are the two newest ones:
Filled with ideas, names, strange facts, etc. Most recent little research ramble: Nimravids, a long-extinct sabre-toothed mammal that is thought to have evolved parallel to Smilodon and the other sabre-toothed cats. It was not a cat, it walked plantigrade, which is a new term to me. We walk plantigrade; it means our whole foot, heel and all, touches the ground when we walk -- unlike cats and dogs, who walk on their toes.

And those crazy big saber fangs? Those evolved three separate times, so they must have been useful and functional, but as far as I've been able to determine, no one really knows how those critters used those big fang choppers. I mean, there's speculation they'd have to be able to open their mouths 120 degrees just to bite. How did they eat?? Look:

Speaking of critters, behold the beginning of my CLAW COLLECTION (my thumb thrown in for scale):

Top row, l to r: Grizzly bear, Polar bear, Mountain lion, Wolf
Second row, l to r: Harpy eagle, Bald eagle, Red-tailed hawk, Barn owl

Claws are cool, no? Can you believe that harpy eagle talon? It's actually bigger than the Grizzly claw! Want to play "What would you rather get attacked by?" No? Aw, you never want to play!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Reminding myself what I know

I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about writing and writing about writing, but not. . . you know. . . writing. I was working on my upcoming SCBWI presentation, wanting it be the sort of workshop that is really useful in concrete ways, and gives you some tools for working on your own books. I've attended a lot of conferences by now, and I can count on, er, I don't even need a whole hand, how many of those workshops were really, truly useful, apart from being interesting and inspiring, which is nice too. There is one workshop in particular that I still refer to my notes from, especially when I'm beginning a new book. It was taught by Dan Greenberg and I remember how after the conference was over I sat out on the terrace of the Century Plaza Hotel with a glass of chardonnay, in the Los Angeles evening sun, my notebook open, thinking hard about my work-in-progress (Blackbringer) in all new ways, my mind opening in unexpected directions, new ideas snapping into place. Those notes guided me toward taking my book to a whole new level, without which, I might never have completed it. Or maybe I would, but it would have been a very different book.

That is the kind of workshop I hope to teach, one where you're not just inspired in a general sense, as if often the case, but that gives you tools for getting to work, for breaking through your barriers and moving past what you've been able to accomplish so far. Here's the topic:

Laini Taylor will discuss generating ideas for a fantasy novel or series, plumbing the depths of nature and world folklore to enrich your ideas, building a world your readers will want to live in, creating characters they will want to be, and weaving it all together into an intricate and satisfying plot. And, she’ll give out buttons. And maybe candy.

(I know, bribery with candy is a cheap trick.) So, I've been mulling and writing and refining my talk, trying to make my thoughts on writing fantasy all concise and brilliant, and in the process, I've been reiterating for myself the things I really need to remember -- especially in between books, especially when the daunting prospect (however thrilling, it is daunting) of rolling forward with the new book looms ahead of me.

One thing I've reminded myself of is that the only way a story can begin to feel real to the writer is. . . to begin to write it. To just. . . begin. So simple, right? At the start of a new story, it of course feels thin and unreal. The characters haven't come alive yet, the world isn't convincing. For me, with a big, complex, thrilling story ahead waiting for me to come on in and do it justice, this is terrifying. There's a lack of confidence, each time, that it can be done. With Silksinger, I clearly recall the early attempts at bringing the culture of the dragonfly caravans to life. It was thin, dull stuff, utterly unconvincing. It was a bit demoralizing. I wondered how I could ever make this feel like a full, convincing, and compelling world, the way I wanted it to be -- I mean, I had such big glimmering ideas. Hobgoblins and dragonfly caravans soaring over the mountains! Ancient stone halls tucked into fissures in the high snowy peaks, bazaars where faeries and hobgoblins trade spice and silk, medicines and daggers, devils. . . how did I begin to make this culture, this world, feel real?

Well, the way is, of course, to write scenes, to write characters interacting, to write forward through the story, making things happen, discovering the story along the way. Discovering it and inventing it at the same time. You can do a lot of brainstorming and note taking and research up front (and I do), and that will give you a lot of details and color to pull out when the time comes, but there is really nothing else to do but to climb right inside your story and start writing it. You have to be in it, as scary as it is to get started. And that's where I am now. Well, to be clear, I am poised at the threshold, the cave mouth of my story; I haven't the time just exactly now to climb inside. But I will. (I swear.)

Now -- after months of writing and thinking and rewriting and thinking and more rewriting -- those Silksinger dragonfly caravans feel fully alive to me. But it took a lot to get there, and it has to start somewhere. Now, having reminded myself of this by writing it out in a presentation for others, I am feeling that nauseous combination of excitement and fear I always feel at the start of a new book. I know what I need to do -- I just had to remind myself a little. Thanks, self!

Writing about writing has come to my rescue often, as I rediscover what I know to be true, and force myself to face it. And, I am happy to say, some of my writing about writing is going to appear in the next edition of The New Writer's Handbook, a collection of essays about craft by working writers. I'm very excited! It'll be an excerpt from Not For Robots, and it will be in good company, along with pieces by Lois Lowry, Scott Westerfeld, and former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser! Cool! (Here's the previous edition of The New Writer's Handbook to check out, too.)

I'm off in a little bit to Barnes & Noble, to talk to the children's book person who has invited me to give a presentation to educators later this spring. Very exciting! I love talking to librarians, and I think teachers must be pretty cool too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"I'll be right back with your typhoid."

Ha ha. That's what the doctor at the traveler's clinic said to us yesterday. "I'll be right back with your typhoid." It made me imagine a menu of diseases. "I'll take the typhoid with a side of hepatitis, please. Thank you!"

My arms are sore right now from vaccinations. Ouchy. In preparation for Chiapas, we've had shots for hepatitis A, tetanus (along with diptheria and whooping cough), and typhoid. My body is cooking up antibodies like crazy. Just now, in the time it took me to type this, I made a dozen more antibodies! Okay, I really have no idea how fast I'm making antibodies, but aren't antibodies cool? Definitely one of Earth's greatest hits.

I don't know how much we really needed these, but hep A and typhoid are both waterborne diseases, and it doesn't hurt (except that it hurts) to get the shots. We also have prescriptions for malaria pills, plus superstrong insect repellant, and anti-Montezuma's revenge medication just in case. How exciting to be going somewhere we need vaccines. Really, though! I haven't gone somewhere that required vaccines for 12 years. (That was Vietnam. Awesome.) Also, my new passport came in the mail, so I'm all set. It was fun writing "pink" for hair color on my passport application! I was looking forward to seeing my passport actually say Hair color: pink, but it doesn't. And I guess I'm glad. If it did, it would probably have to say my weight too. Ha ha.

So, yesterday was fun. Our friends Tony and Gia were in town from Georgia -- friends who used to live here but moved back home to the South 5 long years ago -- and we met up with them for a Swedish breakfast. I tried aebleskiver, just to compare with my own. The restaurant's version was cakier, and they were really good with a combo of maple syrup and lemon curd. Yum! There was also, of course, the requisite lingonberry jam. After, we putzed around the Pearl District a little, then met up with some other Georgia friends of theirs at Henry's Brewery next door to Powell's. One of those friends is a drummer with the Cirque du Soleil show that is currently in town. How cool is that? Of course, I asked him a trezillion questions about working for Cirque, and was sad to learn the amazing Russian acrobats make a sad weeny little wage -- less that the price of an admission ticket per nite!!!! How much does that suck? Also, that it takes 72 big Mac trucks to haul that tent from place to place. 72!!! I could have asked him a lot more questions, but I think I was pesky enough.

After that, it was typhoid shots for us, then home for a nap before going over to our friend Chary's house for pizza and asparagus and cake and to watch Raiders of the Lost Arc on a big projector screen. You know what? That movie still rocks. Next week we'll watch Temple of Doom. The projector is going to be fun this summer, for outdoor movies projected on a sheet. Chary's brother Ben just found a deal on a real movie-theater popcorn machine, so we'll be all set.

Today I've been sitting at my desk in my writing room for the first time in a few weeks. Now that all the house-cleaning is done, I'm back to work. I've been working on my workshop presentation on Writing Fantasy for the SCBWI conference for next month, and thinking a lot about writing. I did not, today, actually work on either of my two new books, but I thought about them. Really plunging into starting a book can be so hard, but I am excited about it. Ready to jump feet-first. Maybe not dive. Not feeling quite as brave as all that. Plus, you know, my arms are sore from my shots, and it hurts to lift them, which I'd have to do to dive. So I have an excuse.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Yum. Brunch! We don't usually put much energy into breakfast foods at home; it's all about cereal in our house. But it is so much fun to make aebleskiver now and then, and to make the table look cute. I bought an antique aebleskiver pan a few months ago, and this was only the second time I've used it. I started early because I thought I might need some practice (you turn the little dumpling-like thingies in quarter turns, using a knitting needle). But it all went perfectly. Besides the aebleskiver, we had baked scrambled eggs and some sausage. I had never tried baking scrambled eggs before, but I just read about it in a magazine and thought I'd try it. Basically, you prepare just like scrambled eggs, with milk, salt, pepper, a little melted butter, but then instead of cooking it in a skillet, you put it in a casserole and bake in the over at 325, for about 30-35 minutes; I added parmesan to the top at about 25 minutes. They were good! And it keeps the stove top clear if you're doing other things, like flipping aebleskiver with a knitting needle.

Anyway, yum. Oh, and there was chocolate too. Look at this gigantic Italian egg from my mom! (What about Weight Watchers???)

Cute Easter basket:

And monkey butt powder. No, really. Monkey butt powder:

After brunch we went to the Portland Art Museum to see the exhibit "The Dancer." It's a collection of work by Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and an artist I had never heard of called Forain, who also did a lot of drawings of the Paris ballet in the late 1800s. This very famous sculpture was there:
It was a lovely day, followed -- as all lovely days are -- by a nap. Have you heard the Spanish proverb, "How lovely to do nothing and then rest afterwards!" Yeah.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jelly beans and Mexico

I lurve jelly beans. I made myself just a little bit sick on these "fruit punch" beans today after lunch. Aren't they pretty?

We're not doing anything really "Eastery" this year. I did dye four eggs, just one each for me, Jim, and my parents, and I bought jelly beans, and made up a cute Easter basket for my mom -- Easter baskets, as far as we're concerned in my family, are just Christmas stockings in the spring! I just love Easter baskets and Christmas stockings! We're not doing the usual big meal or anything either. We're just having my parents over for an abelskiver brunch and then we're going to the Portland Art Museum to see the Degas/Lautrec exhibit. Should be fun! Happy Easter to all of you; I hope the bunny is good to you.

And, guess what! I got the Mexico tickets! Yay! We're going to Chiapas for about a week and a half, and I'm so excited.

Chiapas is the southernmost state of Mexico, bordering on Guatemala. Here's how the Lonely Planet describes it:

"Chiapas is a green jewel tucked into Mexico's southernmost corner -- its hot emerald jungles sparkling with beautiful Maya ruins and waterfalls, its cool, mist-wrapped highlands the redoubt of the most traditional and unreconstructed of contemporary Maya peoples. Here, the Maya bequeathed us the stunning architecture of jungle-shrouded Palenque, Yaxchilan, Bonampak, and Tonina. . . At its heart sits the tranquil highland town of San Cristobal de las Casas, rich in colonial architecture and surrounded by almost medieval Maya villages, but buzzing with a 21st-century international culture scene too. . . Eastward lies the steamy Lacandon jungle, Mexico's largest rainforest, home to a huge animal and plant diversity and countless jungle rivers and lakes. . ."

The author of the guide declares his favorite trip in Mexico is "beautiful, mysterious Chiapas."

Has anyone been to Chiapas? Can you tell us anything?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On the bright side: sushi

Okay, there is no bright side, but today after a doctor's appointment Jim and I decided to get sushi, since we could. I'd missed it a little, as I'd missed wine a little, but neither had been very difficult to do without. Still, a glass of viognier did taste good the other night, though it made me sleepy.

Today was a follow-up appointment with my obstetrician, and she told us basically that none of the tests she has run have yielded any explanation for my miscarriage (again, I hate that term, but the medical term is even worse: "spontaneous abortion."). Here's something I want to say, and it's not in response to anything anyone has said to me, fortunately -- everyone has been wonderful -- but I know there is a pervasive feeling that if a miscarriage occurs, it must have happened "for a reason." In general, I do not subscribe to the life philosophy that things always happen for a reason. I see plenty of randomness out there. True, the most common cause of miscarriage is chromosomal abnormality in the baby, but that is not always the cause, and though we have not gotten those test results back yet, it is not believed to be the cause for us. Neither is there any sign of an infection. So, if you know someone who has had a miscarriage, do not suggest it was probably for the best, or that it was Mother Nature doing her job, or whatever. Even if this is the case, there is no need to say it, and if it isn't the case, it's just painful. Just say how sorry you are. That's enough.

A friend of mine actually had an acquaintance tell her "I told you so," because she told people she was pregnant before she was safely out of her first trimester, and then miscarried. I told you so! How awful. And safely out of her first trimester? Tell me that. I was out of my first trimester; I was not expecting my amniotic sac to rupture. Nothing in any of the pregnancy books warned to look for that, because it is not common. When I called the doctor's office they told me the fluid leakage must be urine. Even now, searching online, I find nothing in the sites about miscarriage that is at all similar to my own experience. It was a freak thing.

Now, my OB wants me to see a high-risk OB for an evaluation, just to be on the safe side, and it is a very strange thing, being high-risk anything. I've never had a health problem in my life. I still can't believe this has happened to me. The names of doctors she gave me are almost all men -- I definitely prefer women docs for everything, even for my teeth, but most especially for this, but she vouched for them. I jokingly asked who was the least attractive, because I will never forget my mortification in college when I went to the Naval Hospital for my annual exam and my doctor was a very handsome, very young man! Awful! Young handsome docs should choose another specialty -- Podiatry or something!!

Anyway, I just wanted to say: there isn't necessarily a reason. Sometimes awful things just happen, and you never get to know why. And as common as miscarriages are (at least 20% of pregnancies, possibly as high as 40% if there was a way to know how many occur before the woman knows she's pregnant), the sense of loss can be huge. Jim and I have this feeling we wish we could fast-forward to being pregnant again, especially now that the doctor has said she wants us to wait about 3 months, but then, life just flies by so fast anyway. I don't think we even need to fast forward. It is already late March! Holy crow. How did that happen? I'm sure the next 3 months will fly by all too quickly too. I look forward to summer, not just for that, but because we've decided not to go anywhere this year, not to any writer's conferences or conventions or anything. Just to stay home, with the exception of maybe doing some exploring in Oregon. The house, I'm happy to report, is very tidy. I've moved on from the major bedroom overhaul to the art studio. I'm going from room to room, pushing clutter ahead of me until there is nowhere left for it to go.

I even feel a little like gardening which I have failed in woefully for the past few years -- we were excited about our big yard when we bought this house, but early on, it utterly defeated us. But now I'm thinking back to the amazing dahlia bed we had our first year here, how I could cut a whole big boquet every day and not even seem to diminish the number of blooms in the garden! I think I might want to do that again this year, especially since we'll be home to enjoy it. If only I could snap my fingers and make it so. ha ha. Oh yes, and tidying up the house is not quite enough. I am back on Weight Watchers, which I have shirked terribly this past year, along with exercise, while in my Silksinger cocoon. It is funny how going to a meeting, making that resolution and going through with it, can effect a complete mental shift. The year I finished Blackbringer was also the year I lost about 25 pounds, and meeting the two goals together was hugely empowering. Hugely. Those two things had perched atop my New Year's Resolution list for years, taunting me, so much so that I stopped writing them down, not wanting to see them sitting up there like two unclimbable mountain peaks. Well ha! goals. I got you then, and I'll get you again.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nesting Accomplished -- phase one

It is so nice to nest. Deirdre said in the comments to my last post that when life is chaotic and stressful, having a clean house is something we actually have power over, and I think she's very right. To be able to set something in order, it does feel so good. Have you ever, after giving the house a more-thorough-than-usual cleaning, just wanted to sit in the midst of the new-claimed order and just relish it? Just look around, feeling peaceful, loving your home, looking at all the little trappings and things that you have gathered over the years to feather your nest? (Like that little jumping jack man that above that Jim and I bought a few years ago from an artist on the Charles Bridge in Prague. I love him. Jim and the jumping jack man.) Anyway, I am feeling that way right now, though truly it is only the living room and kitchen that can be said to be "in order." My writing room is currently cluttered with the detritus of decluttering the living room. There is work yet to be done!

We did go to Ikea on Saturday (I know, I know, you should never go to Ikea on a Saturday, but it kind of felt like going to an amusement park, and the crowds only added to that!), and we did have an "experience." We got lost a lot, lost all perception of north, south, east, and west, in the furniture labyrinth -- it's kind of like a game board track in there, like Candyland Bingo! We did run into a friendly face, in the Portland way of things -- it's one of the things I love about this city. It's small enough that you see people you know everywhere you go. (thank you again to Mel and Frida for your sweet special delivery the other day!) And, we did buy things. Gosh, it's cheap there. Astonishing!

We bought a glass-fronted red bookcase, which you see here. The red blends into our red walls, which seems to make the room look bigger, and the glass adds a little touch of sophistication and makes me feel a tiny bit grown up. We're going to get another one to replace my art-school era bookcase with. After adding in the bookcase, we removed a chair and a table from the room, shifted things around, and tidied up.

Here's the full view:
And the other side of the room:

We still need a new rug (desperately) and a new sofa slip cover. But all in all, this is a drastic improvement. Oh yeah, and we need to rescue that poor ficus tree from its slow death. I think we might need a grow light for the ceiling. Poor baby.
This console table is named "Leonard Nimoy." It is named Leonard Nimoy because we got tired of calling it "the Cost Plus table" and decided it needed a real name. Jim suggested Leonard, and I added Nimoy, and it actually stuck. It's fun being able to say, "I put the keys on Leonard Nimoy." On Leonard Nimoy, currently: a mask we bought in Venice on the trip when Jim proposed to me, in 2000. The festival poster is one I found in Spoleto, Italy, back in 1994 when I was a student-travel-book-writer. Isn't it happy?

Oh, so anyway, after the major nesting had been done, we realized we were very tired of the stuff on the mantle. So we took a little trip to ZGallerie yesterday and got a few new candlesticks and a vase. (I need to say here, feeling all greedy, that we never do this. We so rarely just go. . . buy stuff. Sometimes you just need something new for the mantle, right? But you see, my resolution to just clean rather than shop did not really work out!)
And, uh, we got an antelope skull too. Of course.
The marionette is Snoshti; Alexandra bought her for me in Prague and she is one of my very, very favorite things. The pictures are by the Bulgarian painter Peter Mitchev; not being able to afford original art, we talked a gallery owner in Veliko Turnovo into parting with the oversize art calendar he had hanging on his wall, and then we had every single month framed. I love Peter Mitchev; have never seen his originals, but his website is here.

(This is a close up of the cool devil girl on the mantle; she's by a local artist. We treated ourselves to her for Christmas.)

Various things, shifted around, including a vase from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, a jar from an indoor market in Saigon, and an old picture of Alexandra and me back in college:

Lastly, here is a new resident of our home, the blue guy, a friend for robot:
His name is "Guilty" and he was made by local artist and new friend Jenny Tiffany. Check out her etsy shop, and her Robot Candy site, which she runs with her partner, the equally creative and talented Jenn Hill (her etsy shop here -- where I just might have purchased some Easter presents!).

Next phase, nesting: bedroom. Got a new super-simple pine armoire from Ikea for much-needed extra closet space, assembled it last night, and today, I'm tackling the piles of clothes that seem to drape everywhere. Bag for Goodwill, bag for trash, pile for laundry, etc. Boy, what fun. Okay, not so much, but it will be so nice when it's done. Alright, off I go! Cheers!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nesting Impulse

I had the urge to clean today, and that doesn't really happen very often. I mean, we keep the house clean, but it isn't every day I have the urge to scrub the floor on my hands and knees like a scullery maid. But today I did feel like it. I'm also getting the urge to change things around, to get a new rug and sofa slipcover for the living room, or. . . or something. I don't know why. A belated nesting impulse perhaps. I think it might be time to finally visit Ikea, where I have -- gasp! the horror!! -- NEVER been! One opened about 5 minutes from us a year or two ago and we've yet to go and check it out. It's not really my style, but I'm curious about it. I hear it is an experience.

How to satisfy this impulse? I think cleaning, rather than shopping is probably the way to go for now. Cheaper! And we still want to slip away to Mexico some time this spring. I was just perusing tickets and they're so affordable. My passport renewal is underway; food and hotels down in Chiapas cost practically nothing. Time to go to the jungle, I think! Just for a short trip, though I admit I do have a persistant fantasy of a long trip like I mentioned before: renting a little pink house in a pastel-colored colonial city, or perhaps a cottage in a snug beach cove with sea turtles drifting in with the waves, writing a first draft of a new book long-hand, in a polka-dotted notebook, while sitting on the terrace. Sigh.

On another subject, today I found myself back at the hospital but for an unrelated reason -- I was there for a friend, for Alexandra, who had a terrible mammogram scare, followed by a not-great ultrasound experience, topped off this morning by an MRI. It was a solemn thing, going into the brand-new Cancer Center on such an errand, and since she didn't get her results right away, the day continued solemn, until the evening when, bless him, a radiologist finally responded to her many calls and told her the good news: NO CANCER. PHEW!!! Alexandra wrote more about it here. Thank God for good news! Seeing as how it was one week to the day since I had checked into that same hospital under different circumstances, I was very, very glad to get the good news! Yay, Alexandra! She was a little freaked out by the MRI machine but handled it very well, and we picked up Jim and celebrated with pancakes right after -- well, it wasn't really a celebration, because she didn't have her results yet. It was more of a worry-fest. But that is one worry averted, thank God.

I have to say, I was really excited about 2008 at first, but it seems to be off to a rather sucky start. I didn't mention it before, but my brother and his girlfriend also lost a pregnancy last month, and my parents' cat died last week, and our dog Leroy has cancer -- diagnosed almost exactly a year after we lost Shiloh to cancer. And then there was this awful week for Alexandra, filled with the dread of cancer, and several of her friends coping with personal tragedies. It's only March -- a lot of good things could still happen this year. With luck, I will be pregnant again by summertime. And then there's a new book to write, and a trip or two, and I did just get the nice news from my editor that Blackbringer has been selected as a Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year, as well as receiving a star on that list! I haven't seen it with my own eyeballs yet, but it is nice to hear some good news. I feel certain there will be more good news as the year progresses. Share any good news with me here -- I'm hungry for it!

Thank you again for all your words of support, and for the beautiful camellia bush and the herb garden, the flowers and lemonade, cheesecake and chocolate, and other sweet thoughtful things that have arrived at our door, in addition to all your comments and emails. {{{HUGS}}}

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

thank you, you are amazing

Thank you all for your comments here and for your emails. This is such a wonderful community of people, enlarging many times my community of friends and family, and I feel very surrounded by warmth and caring during this hard time. And for those who have shared their own stories, thank you. It's one thing knowing the statistics of miscarriage, which are so terribly high, and quite another thing to hear someone's story, and another entirely to experience it. Even the word, "miscarriage," has a new sound to me. I hate it. It is so wrong a term for the loss of a beloved life-to-be. It sounds like something a machine does when it ceases to function properly, like a gun or an engine gone awry. I looked up its etymology, because I just couldn't stand the sound of it, and apparently it has had this meaning since the 1500s. I expect we will not be rid of it any time soon.

When I have heard in the past that someone I knew of had a "miscarriage," I knew what it meant but didn't know what it meant. You can't know until you've gone through it, and of course, every woman's -- every couple's experience is so different. A loss at 8 weeks is not the same as a loss at 15, is not the same as a loss at 19, and so on, and even two women losing their babies at 14 weeks will not have the same experience. For me, at almost 15 weeks, it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me in a life blessedly devoid of bad experiences.

Like bad experiences have a way of doing, it has reshaped my perspective on some things. A few weeks ago, full of anticipation and excitement, Jim and I watched the documentary "The Business of Being Born," produced by Ricki Lake. It is focused on the relative absence of midwife care in America versus the rest of the developed world. It is a movie to watch, not just if you are pregnant, but if you are interested in the way our medical policies are shaped in this country. Suffice it to say, the movie is pro-midwife. Which is not to say it is anti-obstetrician. It's not at all. Its contention is merely that OBs are surgeons and as surgeons, their expertise lies in intervention into troubled pregnancies, not into waiting patiently through healthy, natural births. And though the absolute necessity for OBs is not questioned, I suppose after seeing the movie I felt a little smug in my choice to have a midwife instead of an OB, because I of course had every intention of having a healthy, natural birth. I also, I admit, started thinking of the word "pitosin" as kind of a nasty word, because the role it plays in the movie is not benign. It is a drug given to induce labor, and it seems it is given a little freely by health-care providers who don't feel like waiting out the hours of natural delivery.

Well, I still hope for a midwife-assisted birth in the future, and I still hope to avoid pitosin, but after spending several days in the hospital -- my first time ever, in my entire 36 years, as a patient in a hospital -- under the care of a very wonderful OB, with the very necessary intervention of pitosin, I see things differently. I bless obstetricians for what they do, and I bless chemists for synthesizing drugs like pitosin that can make the body do things it needs to do but does not want to do. I still hate the pharmaceutical industry, but I am so grateful for scientists and researchers with their truly awesome brains. And still, I hate pitosin and hope I never, ever experience it again. And though the nurses were amazing, truly amazing, some of the warmest, most wonderful women I have ever met, I hope I never again have to meet them like that, as I fervently hope I must never again be a patient in a maternity ward for any reason other than to give birth to a full-term, healthy baby, and especially, that I never again have to walk out that door empty, carrying only flowers.

That's the overwhelming feeling. Empty. I'm grateful for the many stories from your emails -- the overwhelming message is that after this, most likely, there will be healthy pregnancies; there will be babies, and that is what we are telling ourselves as we try to merge slowly back into our lives. We're okay, we'll be okay. Thank you so much, everyone, for your warm wishes and for your confidences. You are amazing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I'm very sorry to say

This weekend we lost the baby. We don't know why it happened; at almost fifteen weeks my water broke and there was nothing that could be done. There's a chance we'll get a reason out of all the tests, but a bigger chance we won't. We're very sad, but I'm physically well and we're hopeful for the future.

Love to you all, and blessings for health and happiness. xoxo

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

the guardian of the claws

Do you have an account with I do! Why do I have a skull account? Well, though I wish it was in order to buy that awesome owl-monkey skull right there (can you believe those eye sockets??), or perhaps a freaky vampire bat skull, it is not. Skulls are expensive. I was only buying claws. To be specific, grizzly bear, polar bear, mountain lion, wolf, bald eagle, harpy eagle, barn owl, and red-tailed hawk. They're replicas, actually, but super-realistic.

Why, though? I'm gathering props for some school visits! There's more to the plan than claws. See, I have a few events coming up this spring where I will be speaking to kids younger than my book's target audience. At one local school I'll be talking to 200-some K-3 little ones, and I've been cooking up some fun things to do with younger kids that still touch on themes in my book. I have some really fun ideas, and they involve butterfly and dragonfly specimens, a suitcase full of pink wigs, and a carved, velvet-lined box full of claws. I think they'll really like it! I think that if I was a six-year-old I would think it was pretty cool to be named "guardian of the claws" for the day, and to be in charge of a fabulous carved chest full of claws! Don't you? Another cool thing I was thinking of doing is having my laptop and camera with me, with a Photoshop document all ready to go so I can import some kids' photos and show them what they'd look like with Rathersting clan tattoos on their face, or with butterfly wings. Yes?

I had so much fun brainstorming ideas this morning before meeting with some parents and teachers -- I almost let skulls get the better of me. I mean, for a second I almost convinced myself I needed an owl monkey skull! If you're wondering what owl monkeys look like with flesh, here:
Cuties, no? They're the only nocturnal new world monkeys. They pair for life, and the papa monkey helps carry the baby sometimes -- I don't know if that's unusual in monkeys, but it's cute.

Anyway, Silksinger update: my poor editor Tim has not yet been able to start reading it! I envision him partially buried beneath a mountain of paper, trying to claw his way out. (Maybe he needs to borrow my new claw collection. Or, maybe I need to order him some claws of his own. I know what kind he would want: wolverine claws.) But anyway, this is good for me, because the longer the break from it right now, the more refreshed my brain will be to get to work on the next draft! I'm beginning to get excited about it again, after feeling so burnt and weary of it.** The other day Tim asked me to write a synposis of it for a French publisher who may be interested in buying rights for Blackbringer and Silksinger. (Fingers crossed, please please please, oh beautiful French publisher, please Frenchify my book!) Here's the synopsis:

Whisper Silksinger is not a warrior like Magpie Windwitch. She is a defenseless young scamperer, a weaver of flying carpets, and the last keeper of her clan’s ancient secret. When a plague of devils attacks her isolated island home she is forced to flee alone into the huge, terrifying world, with nothing but a battered tea kettle and the ember that smolders within it. That ember -- her secret and her burden -- is none other than the Azazel, one of the seven Djinn who wrought the world, and Whisper must make her way over the world’s highest mountains to restore him to his throne. Along the way she will join a dragonfly caravan of hobgoblin spice traders, and meet Hirik, a young faerie mercenary with a dangerous secret of his own.

All the while, Magpie, Talon, the crows, and their grudging companion, Batch Hangnail, are on her trail, hoping to find Whisper and the Azazel before the devils do. It’s a desperate quest, because if another Djinn should die, the Tapestry of Creation will fail, and the world with it.

“Silksinger” takes place not in Dreamdark but across Asia, from the jungles of Borneo and the mysterious islands of Halong Bay, all the way up to the highest peaks of the Himalayas. It’s a world of fortune-tellers and silk, witch doctors and spice, superstitious hobgoblins, scimitar-weilding mercenaries, and of course, devils.

Whisper and Hirik are intriguing new characters whose powerful, unexpected magic will play an important role in the battles to come, as new foes rise and the devil armies of the Dawn Days are unleashed once more on the world.

When I was working on that, I started to get really excited about the book again!

If all this claw and skull business has made you want to start a collection of your own, check out skulls unlimited, and this wonderful site, acorn naturalists, an educational resource for teaching science. And speaking of teaching science, check out this cool post by my sister about her recent trip to an elementary school in California to share her love of snakes with the kids. Look at the delight on the kids' faces as they handle the snakeys! My mom was telling me today how my niece, when she was small, caught a baby garter snake in the yard, no bigger than a worm, and used it as a living necklace for her Bratz doll!! ha ha!

**This great post by Sara Lewis Holmes is about how "forgetfulness" is very helpful to the revision process. I agree!

And here are a few claws. Grizzly bear:
And golden eagle:
And you know what's crazy? They're almost the same size. Golden eagles' talons are huge for their body size, and strong enough to crush a human skull. WOW.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Cirque du Soleil -- Corteo

Jim and I went to see Cirque du Soleil last night; it was our third time, and as always: amazing. This show is called Corteo, and like all their shows there is a loose "story" that gives structure to the acts. This one was charming. It was a clown imagining his own joyous and opulent funeral procession of all his circus friends and old lovers. The whole thing was presided over by drifting angels, and such dreamlike things would happen, like a Pierrot clown going slowly past on a tightrope -- upside-down or the old clown riding a bicycle through the air, or a bed floating past. At one point it rained feathers. . . and then, a little later, naturally it rained. . . plucked chickens!!.

And of course it's not all just gorgeous costumes and theatrics and music. It's really all about the acrobats. WOW. Thanks to youtube, I can show you some hightlights:

This one, was such a delight. Not acrobatics so much as one of the dreamy fantasy sequences. It was just one of the sweetest, funnest looking things I've ever seen. Don't you want one of these balloon harnesses?

And here's one that gives a whole new meaning to "swinging from the chandelier". So beautiful! And I'm sure the men in the audience didn't mind seeing gorgeous acrobat babes in negligees!

There was a bed-bouncing routine that was amazing too, but the youtube videos are all a little long and manic, and don't really convey how amazing it was. And the aerial "throwing" act. . . WOW. You can glimpse a little of it all in this awesome 34-second montage:

Looking at the cast list, almost all the names are Slavic. The first Cirque show we ever saw was Drallion, which featured many Chinese performers. I guess China and Russia have the world beat when it comes to acrobats. Imagine being a circus acrobat! What a strange and dizzying life that would be. If you get a chance to see the show, see it, even if it is dang expensive.