Sunday, June 29, 2008

Eek Day

This is next week on my lovely Anahata calendar. See the green "eek!"? That signifies the day that my editor absolutely must have draft 2 of Silksinger in hand. So: "EEEEEEEEEK!"

I will be a bit busy for the next week, probably. It is sort of ridiculous I am blogging now. But I just finished a big section of the book and my brain needed to breathe a little. So I thought I would list some of the things I'm looking forward to doing after Eek Day is past:

1) Go for some hikes. Places like here and here. Perhaps see a giant salamander. (I'd also like to find a place in Oregon, if such a place there is, where I can see a huge swarm of bats leave a cave or barn at dusk. Anyone know of any?)

2) Go to u-pick blueberries on Sauvie Island. Pick many blueberries And possibly some peaches.

3) Give my writing room porch a makeover. It has the potential for extreme cuteness, but the potential has not yet been met. This will require: some landscaping and planting; painting of patio table and chairs sky blue; some pretty pots with flowers; some cute flourishes, like maybe some sheer, floaty curtains and a hanging fuschia.

4) See movies.

Those are the topmost in my mind, but I am sure there will be more. Soon!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

School Canceled Due to Ninja Outbreak

Okay, so it wasn't an outbreak, it was just one ninja, but school was canceled. Okay, wait, no it wasn't. I'm such a liar. It was only "locked down" for a short time, until it could be determined the ninja in the woods was not, in fact, a real ninja. This happened in New Jersey, where they have ninjas (ninji?) coming out their ears. When you look out your window in New Jersey, you might see a streak of black in the woods, but then again, you might not. But if you don't, it doesn't mean they're not there. Because, you know, they're ninjas. (See here.)

I just happened to recall that my younger cousin was a ninja once for Halloween many years ago, and my brother told him he looked like a black smurf.


P.S. Note: Should you take it into your soft heart to feed your elderly dog a diet of roast chicken, expect to become familiar with the smell of roast chicken farts. They smell exactly like roast chicken, but with a powerful, lingering component of. . . fart. It all makes perfect sense, really. Just, beware. And, why is it, I wonder, that dogs have a way of positioning themselves like they're aiming at you?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lentil in calabash, or: my brain as a still life

Oh my head, she hurts. Have any of you other writers ever suddenly come to a realization that you're not actually smart enough to do what you're trying to do? Do important thoughts and bits of story keep falling right out of your head like it is a just a big. . . um, a big thing filled with holes? (See? I just started a sentence that I wasn't smart enough to finish!) Well. I feel like that. A lot. I saw something recently at Sara Lewis Holmes's blog: "Our writing should be smarter than we are." I'd never thought of it quite like that before, but I think it is the striving for that that makes my brain feel like a little lentil rattling around inside a calabash. Maybe a calabash like one of these:

I feel like, creatively, I am always trying to do something beyond my skill. With illustration, for example, I labor over drawings for days, reworking them and reworking them, until they were as good as I could possibly make them, and hopefully better than I thought I could make them. Then I would proceed to painting. It's rewarding after the fact, but it isn't joyous, like the spontaneous bursts of creation that sometimes catch one unaware and are just FUN. Well, writing Silksinger has largely felt like that. Filled with striving and pushing, making it better and better, hopefully better than the outer limit of my capacity even. But. Not always fun.

Here's a quote I love:

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
--Thomas Mann

Yes! Me, me, me. You? Anyone? Oh, I mean, there are times of joy, but often it is been a case of "I don't love writing. I love having written." The joy comes after, when the lentil is allowed finally to come to an exhausted halt in the bottom of the calabash and just. . . lie there. You know, like the wee, pathetic lentil that it is.

I'm having great eager yearnings toward a little fun writing, after this draft is done. There's been a "fun" idea drifting idly in my brain for a while, and yesterday, while I was in the shower, something happened that fellow writers will know about: it collided with another idea. And in about five minutes, those two ideas fell in love, got married, and had a whole brood of idea babies, which they presented to me proudly and said, with big beaming grins on their little idea faces: "Here we are, all ready. Now, write us!"

And I want to. So much. This sweet little notion promises fun that my lentil can handle. But. Honestly. I know myself. I could take Jack and Jill and turn it into an epic with interweaving storylines, and then decide I need to learn ancient Greek in order to do it justice, and that it needs to be told alternately from the perspective of the hill and the pail. In five volumes. You know. I just can't help it. Blame it on the lentil. It strives.

Here's a link, by the way, to a good post at one of my daily reads, Justine Larbalestier. This one is on how good and bad writing days affect our mood and mental state. Oh no, not at all, she says in a small voice.

For instance, for the last couple of days, I reworked a section of the book. Intensely, with great concentration and some pulling of pink hair. And then, I was forced to admit that it had been better before. And to undo it. But I had wrought such changes I couldn't just go back to the old version. I had to unweave the new stuff from the text, like, um, getting gum out of hair. I do that a lot. I meddle with my books. Sometimes for good, sometimes for evil. Pointless, pointless evil. And it plunged me into such a black, black mood last night. I'm better now though. I woke up this morning and cleared away the last of the evil. For now.

I am aching for sunshine and summer, not just the little splash of it on the floor of my writing room, but real sunshine and summer. Hikes. I greatly need hikes, and to freeze my feet in snowmelt waterfall pools, and see a snake slip across a path, and smell trees. Soon, self. Soon.

Monday, June 23, 2008

etsy fun

A few weeks back I mentioned that Jim went a bit Etsy-mad while anniversary shopping. Well, the results have arrived! Look at this gorgeous sculpture that came all the way from Germany. The face is polyclay, but the way it's incorporated into the driftwood makes it seem carved; and then there's the seashell. Isn't her face so lovely? Some day this needs to be a centerpiece in a faerie-theme curio cabinet, with her face somehow peeking out of ferns. There will be strange seedpods and some brittle dragonfly wings, a bird's nest with tiny eggs inside, bits of horn, a small strange animal skull with antlers, a toadstone, that sort of thing. I just love her. She's staring straight at me as I write.

The others are more whimsical, less beautiful. Here's Rocketbird:
And Pikul:
Thank you, sweetie!

By the way, Blackbringer celebrated its first anniversary on Saturday! A year, it's been out. Funny. Time, she is so slippery. It seems longer, and yet it seems like yesterday. Darling book, happy first year. May you live long in the world. Jim is rereading it right now, which is sweet. He hasn't read Silksinger yet (well, he read the first 60 pages or so months and months ago, but they've changed). I've been holding off letting anyone read it (besides Alexandra, but she forgets stuff right after she reads it, so it's okay) until it's "in shape." And it's coming along. This revision has been, and continues to be, much more massive a job than Blackbringer or Lips Touch. I've rewritten practically every scene, sort of taken the book apart and put it back together, cut a lot of scenes, written a lot of new ones. WHEW.

By the way, I'm thrilled by a few speaking invitations I've received. One is to the University of Washington Writing for Children program, and the other is the Western Washington SCBWI professional series. At the latter, the subject of my talk (in December) will be: "tactics for finishing a novel." Sometimes it feels to me that finishing a novel is not so unlike crawling through the mud on your belly with a knife in your teeth -- you know, like in military training montages you see in movies. It's been a heck of an ordeal for me, learning how to make myself do it, and I'm excited to share my own strategies. I may also talk about strategies for revisions, but that might be too much for one hour. We'll see. Anyway, I'm very excited. A couple of trips up to Seattle in the coming year!

And now. . . back to revisions!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ah, Romance. . .

What do these two couples have in common? They both fight demons together? No, wait, that's not it. Umm. . . well, just. . . the romance! -- and the fact that they are two ongoing stories in my pop-culture life just at the moment.

Jim and I continue our ongoing Buffy extravaganza. We're midway through Season 4. Watched Hush last night. BEST. EPISODE. EVER. As a writer and a consumer of writing, I love certain kinds of situations -- certain "meetings" and certain ways that secrets are revealed. Well, in Hush there's just a great sort of double-secret-reveal, involving demons and weaponry and a big juicy crush. There's a first kiss in it, too. And it's so delish. **youtube clip below

And then, readingwise, I'm feeding another one of my not-really-guilty pleasures, which is Jane Austen spin-off fiction. In this case, it's An Assembly Such As This which tells Pride & Prejudice from Darcy's point of view. FUN! (And, there are three volumes. I swiped them all from my dad, who shares this not-really-guilty pleasure with me; I think he might have a crush on Jennifer Ehle, and who can blame him? And, by the way, though I love the Joe Wright P & P too, it's totally Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle I'm picturing as I read this. Without that mini series, would this slew of Austen fan fiction even exist?)

But the point is just: ROMANCE. Sure, there was a time when I wouldn't have admitted how much I love it, but that was back when I wasn't reading fantasy either, but just Balzac and DeMaupassant, etc etc. (Or, as I like to call them, Honore and Guy.) Nothing against those guys, great literature, etc etc, but give me Joss Whedon and faux Jane Austen any day. Longing and smoochies and demon fighting! It makes me yearn to be writing the YA book that's been simmering in my brain for a goodly year. But alas, I think once I'm done with revisions, I really need to get on to Dreamdark 3, and not the YA at all. And I love Dreamdark, don't get me wrong, it is my beloved child, but there are no smoochies in Dreamdark. There is the devil fighting, and a wee bit of yearning, perhaps, but no smoochies. Just good, clean family fun with devil wars and scimitars.

And on the subject of romance, did anybody who's reading the Emily books with me get a bit frustrated by Emily's Quest? I found it unsatisfying. I kept wanting to shake everybody by the lapels. I remembered what happened from when I read it years (23 years?) ago, but I didn't remember quite how maddening! It's a fine line for me -- I have a love/hate thing for romance storylines of love denied. Yes, yearning, frustration, all that is a big, important piece. But some books carry it too far, and once a certain line is crossed, the romance is broken and one starts to rather root against it. One of the Eva Ibbotsen books I read this spring did that (A Song for Summer); I really like it until a certain point, after which I drastically disliked it. Instead of reading it, read A Company of Swans a second time. It's way better.

Anyway, Emily lost her charm a little for me in the third book. It was too bleak, and there was the always wanting to shake them that distracted me. I was just as affected by The Seller of Dreams as I recall, though. It hurts, doesn't it?

Here's some clips from Hush, if you're curious. (Warning: creepy!)

Monday, June 16, 2008

I dedicate this book to. . . myself

Be honest. Would you think that was weird? I mean, weird in a bad way, if I were to dedicate Silksinger to myself? I'm sort of feeling like, at the end of all this, I'll deserve it. Writing Blackbringer was hard, but this is hard in a whole different way, to a whole different magnitude. (I hate to tell that to people who think the first book is the hardest and after that you somehow magically know how to do it. Not so much.) But seriously, what would you think if you opened a book and saw this inscription:

I dedicate this book to. . .
with pride, relief, and love.
I'm so glad you're finally done.

Okay, maybe not that last line! And -- it's not done, not yet. I am anticipating being able to say that one day, though most days I can scarcely believe it to be true.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Fall

Saw a wonderful movie today -- it's not getting a whole lot of press, unfortunately, or wide release, but if it's playing anywhere near you, I highly recommend it -- I was a little afraid it might be arty-farty and abstract, given how beautiful it is, but the good news is, not only is it gorgeous to look at, but the story is good! It's about a young girl in the hospital in 1920s Los Angeles (she has a broken arm, sustained picking fruit) who befriends another patient -- a stuntman in early Hollywood "flickers" who was injured in a stunt involving a horse. The stuntman is played by Lee Pace, of my favortie new show of last year, Pushing Daisies. (He was also in the wonderful Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). And he's great, but it is the young Rumanian lead, acting in her first movie, who is truly amazing. The director, Tarsem Singh, said that he was waiting to start making the movie until he found the right girl -- and when he found Catinca Untaru, he knew it was time to begin. It often seems as if Lee Pace is improvising dialogue with her, it feels so natural and unscripted -- and indeed, I saw in an interview just now on Youtube that they were.

So, I forgot to mention the most important part of the movie -- that in the hospital, Roy tells Alexandria an epic tale of 5 warriors, and a large part of the movie is this elaborate warrior/fairy tale filmed all around the world. I mean, the locations!!! There are scenes on the Charles Bridge in Prague, and in the blue city, Jodphur, and in front of immense red desert dunes I assume are in Africa, and in piazzas in Rome, and islands in the Andaman sea, and a ton of other places I couldn't name. It's so beautiful, and so are the costumes and fantasy visuals. I mean, look at this trailer:

You have never seen such a coat as is worn by Charles Darwin in the movie:

Some more stills:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Teeth & Skeletons -- an old chapter, unearthed

I was just searching through a very early draft of Silksinger, hunting down a description I recall writing, and I reread this old chapter and was delighted with it. At one point, this was the "prelude." Well, the book has changed entirely between then and now; this chapter was cut long ago, but I love it, so I thought I'd put it here. As I say, nothing of this remains. Actually, the name "Slomby" does, but he is an entirely different character now.

I've said in talks I've done how "second-string villains" are great fun, because they can be gross and nasty and imaginative. Well, this is a perfect example of one. I had so much fun writing this, and was sorry to have to let it go:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Teeth and skeletons were Slomby’s bread and butter. He dealt in other things too: horn and talons and fur, feathers and blood and spit. Even plain old rags sorted according to degree of filth: very filthy, or extremely. He was a rag and bone merchant, so he had to stock rags, but following up the bone end of the business was what put the spring in his step.

Or rather, in his slither.

There was a greedy market for bones in Nazneen. No matter that from the air it looked like a faerie city, clean as mountains, pearly as teeth -- underneath it was another city, a dark and festering one where tails left slither trails in the mud and faeries never dared flutter their dainty wings.

“Teef and skellies!” Slomby cried, pushing his cart through the murk and the dark. He wasn’t selling just now -- he did that out of his shop. He was gleaning. In Nazneen’s undertunnels there were always creatures ready to part with a well-gnawed haunch or a nice bit of jawbone, and Slomby made it his business to buy those grisly treasures and haul them back to his shop, where he polished them up proper and sold them to someone else.

Down here, magic wasn’t the airy stuff of faeries. Faeries’ power was gifted to them by the Djinn, and they had no need to sully their fingers with skulls and such. They had only to think their magic -- draw pretty pictures in their pretty heads -- but for others it didn’t come so easy. Others needed fangs and feathers and hair with scalp still clinging to it to work their spells, and maybe just maybe guts once in a while. Slomby didn’t judge. Who was he to judge?

Hadn’t he spent the first half of his life hanging off a sea serpent by his sucker mouth and thriving on its blood? He’d been born a parasite, a snag parasite on a bigger snag, and he was unashamed of it. After all, he hadn’t dreamed his ownself up. Something else had done that job for him and he wasn’t sorry -- though if it had been up to him he guessed he’d have asked for fingers instead of hooks and perhaps a less particular appetite. It was a job of work for him just to fill his belly.

He wasn’t unique in that. In the upper city faeries may have been in charge, but down here in the slurk and the slough, strange hungers were what ruled. Knowing parasites like he did, Slomby knew there was at least one made special for every kind of creature in the Djinns’ grand world, a unique and dastardly parasite for everything that lived, like they’d been doled out at the Creation: here ye go, a tummy for you, some teeth, a brain (maybe), and. . . a parasite all yer own. There was even a mite that lived only in the left ear of one kind of moth!

And it wasn’t just parasites. In Slomby’s experience the same went for predators. For every living thing that went about its business, yawning and griping and scratching its rump, there was some other creature out prowling with slick teeth and a rumbling belly, hungering just for it. About the best you could hope for in life was to not meet the creature whose hunger was for you. It was a big place. Odds were good.

But no one could live forever.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tee hee. A little gross, no? I do love me some gross, I got to say!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thoughts on the hamster wheel

I snipped this out of Publisher's Lunch the other day. Thought it might be of interest.

Top Authors on Annual Deadline Pressures
Publishers (and fans) increasingly expect and hope that top fiction authors will issue a new book on regular basis, but the Boston Globe says writers are complaining about the pressure. Patricia Cornwell says : "The Scarpetta [manuscript] that's due out Oct. 7 is due in a few weeks, because they have to reserve the storefront real estate and pay for it. If I don't get the book turned in on time, they'll be freaking out. If I miss my deadline, I miss the entire year. Sometimes there's an overwhelming feeling of panic. It's like a rock 'n' roll concert, and what if I don't show up?"

Thriller writer Brad Meltzer has turned down requests to have a book a year: "There's pressure to treat authors like Coca-Cola. Every time you get a bunch of writers together, this is all they complain about. The trend is, 'How many books can you put out?' From building your reputation to get on the best-seller list, it's gone to trying to get to the tippy-top of the list. It's not worth it to me."

And Dennis Lehane said he tried to write faster once: "I did it ["Prayers for Rain" in 1999], but the week it was published I realized what would have made it a really good book. The anger of that realization haunted me. I said I would never go back on that hamster wheel. It's what led me to write 'Mystic River.'"

David Baldacci does not object: "If you don't write a book a year, it might not be devastating, but it helps to keep your face out there."

(HERE is the full original article.)

Not being a "top fiction author," I'm not saying I can relate to the pressure these guys are feeling, but to some degree I admit to feeling the anxiety too. Last year at Comicon the fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore (super nice guy), gave me the advice that, basically, you got to keep the books coming, and fast, or you'll lose your space on the shelf. It scared me a little, because I'm not speedy and at that point I was beginning to suspect I might not finish Silksinger in time for an '08 release, and now here I am just a few weeks shy of my first book's first anniversary, and no more bookies are forthcoming from me until next year. As predicted, I have lost my space on the shelf -- most shelves, anyway. Most chain stores aren't carrying Blackbringer anymore. So, that's how it goes. Just got to buckle down and keep working and know that next year will be much more rewarding, and try to finish a book in time for a '10 release ('10!! Holy!!), and avoid another "dry year."

So, it's not just pressure from publishers that creates the anxiety. It's pressure from bookstore shelves -- or rather, absence from them!

But, as I say, next year will be better! It won't just be Silksinger and Lips Touch, but the paperback of Blackbringer too. Yesterday I got to speak with Sharyn November, who is publishing the paperback through her awesome fantasy imprint, Firebird. She's made a decision, which I fully endorse, to drop the "Faeries of" from the series title, and Putnam thought it was a fine idea too. Henceforth, it shall be "Dreamdark" instead of "Faeries of Dreamdark." It was my original series title, but somewhere along the way somebody affixed those extra words. Whenever I tell people the full title, I inwardly groan at how long it is. So, yay! I'm most anxious to see what they do for a new cover, too -- I love LOVE the hardcover cover, and it's hard imagining anything else.

Okay, now, back to work!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Inspiration Wednesday

Can't in good conscience take the time to write an articulate and interesting blog post today. (Or really, any day in the near future.) But I want to pass on two wonderful things, both gleaned from kindred spirit blue poppy.

One is a piece from Ira Glass of This American Life, about getting better at creative endeavor through practice. The other is J.K. Rowling's Harvard speech, which has been flying around the internet, but if you haven't seen it, give it a read or listen. I like her even more than I already did.

For J.K. Rowling, click HERE -- full text and/or video available.

And here's Ira:

And now, back to my regularly scheduled work day. (By the way, the Pacific Northwest is experiencing one of its coldest springs on record, and I sit here in a fleece poncho. It's in the 50s!! Ack! Of course, one of the things I love about the Northwest is that most of the year the weather doesn't tempt you out to play -- and that is some temptation I don't need right now as I feverishly revise. But still, it is June 11! )

Not to leave you without a few fun random animal pictures:
(baby slender loris)
(hedgehog babies -- so cute!!)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Friendly Neighborhood Fight Club

Really and truly, I am not kidding you, our neighbors set up a boxing ring in their backyard and all day long, shirtless guys have been drinking beer and bashing each other in the face. It's delightful. What kind of neighborhood do we live in, you ask, that something like this might happen? It's not the neighborhood's fault! It's the homeowner's fault -- he's a [very nice] National Guardsman who bought the house right when he got back from Iraq, then promptly decided to move to California to marry his pregnant girlfriend. I wholly support that decision, dude, just: sell the house first! Don't rent it to a pit-bull-neglecting, something-sordid-always-happening-in-the-hot-tub, stare-into-space-and-smoke-on-the-porch-all-day, fight-club-having random guy. PLEASE!

I don't know exactly what this guy does for a living (the renter), but it's some kind of skilled labor thing like underwater welding where he travels a lot for long jobs, and when he's gone, for months at a time, a loserly rotation of friends dogsits for the pitbulls. This is typical weird (though not obnoxious or noisy) behavior of the house-sitters: sit on the back porch for hours, smoke, stare at nothing. Not a book in sight. Who does that? You know, I read a book recently in which this one character was a brilliant theoretical physicist, and her job was just to sit and think of other dimensions and stuff. So, maybe they're not at all losers. Maybe they're physicists. But I don't think so.

Anyway, primary renter guy is back for the summer, and his first act, apparently, is fight club. Jim said to me last night after taking Leroy out into the yard: "I think they built a boxing ring in the backyard." It hardly seemed plausible, though it did indeed look like nothing but a boxing ring. I thought it was probably too much to hope they were staking out a vegetable garden! And this morning, the usual posse of friends assembled and started to grow. And grow. And grow. And then the boxing gloves came out. And the hitting. And the cheering, and the dinging of bells. Goth chicks with mohawks and neck braces on the porch cheering. Beer.
Jim immediately started scrolling through real-estate websites, as if it would be possible for us to move now, today.

Just out of curiosity I called the police (non-emergency line) to ask if backyard boxing is legal, and it turns out it IS. Goody! It might have been my imagination, but I think the lady on the phone took a little pleasure in assuring me there was nothing to be done. "Parties are not illegal," she said coolly. I formed a picture of her in my mind, based on the fact that boxing is, to her, "a party."

Anyway, it's getting dark now, and they've been at it all day, and now they're starting in on fireworks. I love them. I love them so much. And that boxing ring, it looks built to last. I'm guessing this might be a regular summer thing. Yay! (Okay, okay, it wasn't really that bad. They didn't really make that much noise, and they didn't have loud music, and as far as I know, no one died and was buried in the corner. As far as I know. It just takes a little getting used to, I guess.)

Anyway, boxing and all, I still managed to have a good revising day. I did bad things to good characters, as a writer often must. (And I enjoyed it a little. Is that wrong?)

By the way, and this is much more important than boxing: today makes SEVEN YEARS OF WEDDED BLISS to THIS wonderful man. Seven years ago today we got married in Berkeley, and every year, though I seem to like people in general less and less all the time, I like -- and love -- Jim more and more, even when it doesn't seem possible I could like and love him more than I already do! We get along better than any couple I have ever met or heard of, we almost always feel like doing the same thing, whether it is staying in or going out, eating veggie corndogs for lunch, seeing a movie, watching nothing buy Buffy for months in a row; and we always like and dislike (and sort-of-like) the same people, and we can [almost] communicate telepathically when we are watching a stupid play and want to mock the actors without making them feel bad. (That happened last night. I say "almost telepathically" because it in fact required discreet hand pressure. But I feel quite certain we were transmitting whole disdainful sentences to each other by means of subtle thumb pressure! Oh, and we have a short tune we hum that means "thank you," instead of saying "thank you," and a hand signal that means "beam me out of here now," and we have a code word, just in case either one of us ever suspects the other of being an imposter, but I can't remember what the code word is!! Hmmm. That could be a problem. . .

It's me, I swear. Sweetie . . .?

(Oh wait, I just asked Jim, and he doesn't remember the code word either. Oh my god. Do you think that means we are both imposters?? And if we are does that mean that maybe the real "us's" (I don't think there is a plural form of "us") are living together elsewhere, perhaps in a villa? With servants? And no backyard boxing?)

Check out the awesome sculpted Goth circus chick Jim got me for an anniversary gifty:

In fact, he went a little nutty on Etsy and bought a small slew of awesome sculptures, but they have not all arrived yet. And I, in return, gifted him with Radiohead tickets for later this summer. Radiohead is Jim's favorite band and he has never seen them live, and this is an act of love for me, because I am not really a joyful concert goer. I know, I know you don't understand, something's wrong with me, etc etc, but I just get bored at concerts, even really good ones, and ten minutes in I'm just wishing desperately for a book and a flashlight!! But, this once, I can do it. I'm interested. Everyone says they're great live, that they're geniuses beyond my comprehension, and that Thom Yorke has a spastic stage presence, which should be entertaining.

Aside from the mock-worthy play last night, we had dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Bombay Cricket Club. Love it!
My favorite thing there, which I must invariably order, the chicken tikka masala:
And here's Jim, about to confront his favorite drink, the infamous "snake shake."

On the way home, we were beside a HumVee limo for blocks, and I think it must have been a middle-school graduation celebration, because young girls were hanging out its windows for three blocks yelling that they loved my hair. That made me feel good!


P.S. Oh, when I told Alexandra I'd gotten Radiohead tickets for Jim, she said, "That doesn't sound so fun. We should go to Barry Manilow. He's coming." And she was serious, bless her heart. Barry Manilow.

Friday, June 06, 2008

More Revision-think

This business of writing books is still pretty new to me as I revise my third one. I am still learning how, and I'm beginning to be able to sort of put into words the things I'm striving for. Sort of. In my last post on revising, I said a lot of the process of revisions for me is "sharpening the story like a pencil." And that is true. That is one way of looking at what I am doing. Today I had another thought, and a new metaphor.

It's that I want the story to be like a strand of diamonds.

What I mean by that is that I want the book, which is an adventure book for middle-grade through adult readers, to move from one sharp and glittering moment to the next. I don't want it to be meandering and muzzy, stretched out and fuzzy. I want it to pass quickly from one distinct moment to the next, each scene a diamond, strung up against another diamond, and so on. I want to carve those scenes into their own individual perfect little entities, each leading into the next like diamonds on a strand. Does that make sense?

In practice, in revisions, it means a lot of cutting and carving. The chunk of the book I'm working on revising now is three chapters which, taken as a whole, represent a sort of mid-way climax to the book. (Is there a technical term for that?) It's not the climax, but it's about halfway, and it's a series of linked events in which suddenly, everything changes for the main characters in a dramatic way. Taken together, those three chapters are nearly 9000 words long. Too long! The sharp point of them is dulled to a kind of meandering muzziness, not just because of the length, but because of course when you first write something (and often, the second and third time too), you don't know how to "cut" them -- as diamonds are cut, that is, to bring out their brilliance.

It's only since I finished the book that I really know the place of these scenes in it, so that now I am able to polish them up to do just what they need to do, in as sharp and compact and shining a way possible. Carve away that muzzy feeling, sharpen it all. The "diamond" idea helps me visualize the flow of the book -- the way I want it to feel: in each scene a new dramatic thing coming fast on the heels of the last, each thing having its own cool "nuggetness" and solidity and shimmer. Cool thing after cool thing. Each "moment," each scene in succession, brainstormed thoroughly to make sure I've come up with the best possible way to have it happen, the "coolest" way it might unfold. And, the "coolest" way to tie them all together, because after all they are not loose diamonds sitting on black velvet for individual inspection. They are a strand.

So, there are some of my current revision thoughts. It is helping me to think of the book as a series of important & interesting moments -- and to work to cut out anything that is muddying up the purity and flow of those moments, bogging them down. Sometimes as I'm writing -- as my plots tend to be fairly complex -- I'll find that I have to have X and Y happen in order to pave the way for Z, which is what I really need to have happen. But, horrors! X and Y are kind of boring! But I need them, or Z won't happen! What to do? Figure out a way around X and Y. Get rid of em! Streamline. Sharpen. It's not always easy to come up with the way to streamline, but usually there is a way.

Remember: "I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." (Thomas Edison)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Some writerly blurbies

Some passages on writing from a few novels featuring girl-writer protagonists:

From Emily Climbs:

"I begin to think the child has an easy way of making a living."

An easy way! Emily overhearing this as she went through the hall, smiled and sighed. What did Aunt Ruth -- what did anyone know of the disappointments and failures of climbers on Alpine Paths? What did she know of the despairs and agonies of one who sees but cannot reach. What did she know of the bitterness of one who conceives a wonderful tale and writes it down only to find a flat and flavorless manuscript as a reward for all her toil? What did she know of barred doors and impregnable editorial sanctums? Of brutal rejection slips and the awfulness of faint praise? Of hopes deferred and hours of sickening doubt and self-distrust?

From Atonement:

(on the budding novelists' discovery of the superiority of fiction over playwriting)

The simplest way to have impressed Leon would have been to write him a story and put it in his hands herself, and watch as he read it. The title lettering, the illustrated cover, the pages bound -- in that word alone she felt the attraction of the neat, limited and controllable form she had left behind when she decided to write a play. A story was direct and simple, allowing nothing to come between herself and her reader -- no intermediaries with their private ambitions or incompetence, no pressures of time, no limits on resources. In a story you only had to wish, you only had to write it down and you could have the world; in a play you had to make do with what was available: no horses, no village streets, no seaside. No curtain. It seemed so obvious now that it was too late: a story was a form of telepathy. By means of inking symbols onto a page, she was able to send thoughts and feelings from her mind to her reader's. It was a magical process, so commonplace that no one stopped to wonder at it. . . You saw the word castle and it was there, seen from some distance, with woods in high summer spread before it, the air bluish and soft with smoke rising from the blacksmith's forge, and a cobbled road twisting away into the green shade. . .

Ah, yes to both. Yes, yes. And now I dive into revisions, not to surface for days. I am beginning to feel a little editorial breathing at the back of my neck. Again, my dearest super power wish rises up within me: the power to freeze time. How I wish!!!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Writing about the scene

Okay, here's something I do when I'm writing, and I wonder if anyone else does it? I mean, I'm sure they must, but I don't know as I've ever heard anyone admit it.

So some of you, when you have a scene to write, you probably just. . . write it. Yeah? You? Sounds so easy and so obvious. But that doesn't always work out for me. I'll stare at the screen, think a little, decide to google something terribly important, get sidetracked, wallow in time-wasting, then discover it is lunch time -- rather than just write the scene. I just caught myself doing it -- spent about half an hour wikipedia'ing "frost" and "snow" (interesting stuff! ever heard of watermelon snow??) -- and it occured to me to blog about it, i.e. waste even more time.

What I could be doing instead of wasting time, is:

I could write about the scene. Do you ever do that?

It's less scary than actually writing the scene. In my "notes" doc which is always open next to my "manuscript" doc, I start telling myself what I want to have happen in the scene, what things I want to reveal, what the overall tone ought to be, and I try to brainstorm details, and I try to figure out what the characters are thinking and how they're feeling, and what it might lead them to do and say. In short, I try to feel my way inside the scene, try to sort of build it up around me into something that begins to feel real, and I do this in brainstorming mode, saying "maybe this" and "I suppose that" etc.

The consequence of writing about the scene is usually that I discover it, make it real and figure out how to write it. I do wish it were easier though, the whole writerly ordeal. Reading the "Emily" books again, I find myself jealous of her -- jealous of both the fictional character Emily, and the author L.M. Montgomery, who I'm guessing modeled her character after herself in some such essentials. Emily must write. She can't not. She awakens in the night with a story idea, grabs her Jimmy book and starts writing, and keeps writing, enraptured. It's so lovely. I want it to be like that! And there are moments when it is, but not that often. When I was writing Sunday Scribblings stories I would find myself in that fabulous place, because there was no pressure, but writing Silksinger it has only ever come in flashes.

How about you? Do you find that sheer joy, that ease?

It sure sounds nice to me. Sigh. After I write a few more books, perhaps my brain will learn to relax? I hope.

By the way, I am changing so much in this draft of Silksinger, it will be a whole new book when I am through with it! Tomorrow I will backtrack from the middle, where I am now, to write an entirely new Chapter Two. I couldn't quite face the challenge of writing an entirely new Chapter Two at the time I realized it had to be done; I let myself skip over it for a little while. But now I must face it. When I think how much time I spent on the old Chapter Two, I really could cry -- I mean, you'd think I would cry, but in fact I'm not feeling overly sentimental about it. Enough time has passed that, instead of mourning it, I can get excited about what will replace it.

P.S. I did another school visit today and it was fun as always, 4th graders again. 4th graders are delightful. And, I experienced my first attempted theft from the box of claws! The barn owl talon went missing! It was discovered by a teacher in a boy's pocket. I didn't even see who the boy was, but I keep trying to imagine the drama from his perspective, what it might have been like, the split decision to take it, the shame of getting caught with it. I told my mom about it and she reminded me of a story about my niece who, in 1st grade, inexplicably told her teacher that her sister had died. (She is an only child and always has been.) Then, to her utter mortification, her teacher decided to walk out with her after school to offer his condolences to her mother! I can just imagine her trying to persuade him that really, he didn't need to do that -- to no avail. And the horror of it all! I'm trying to think of what some of my own mortifications might have been. I do love, in the Emily books (and the Anne books too), the way L.M. Montgomery makes these dramas of childhood so vivid and huge, the little shames and triumphs.

Okey dokey, off to the night-gym. Tell me, please, if you write about what you're going to write. Tell me, too, if you think this sounds absolutely dreadful, like it would kill all soul and spontaneity in the scene. Curious about your thoughts!