Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy December!

Oh my goodness. So so adorable. Look at this felt garland I found at Anna Maria Horner's blog. There's a step-by-step, easy enough for a sewing eejit like meeself.

And here, what some other crafty person made of it:
I may try this, but honestly, I have so much reading to do in this final month of the Cybils reading period, I don't know if I have time to be doing so much blanket stitch! I have been making little garlands of felt pom-poms and beads, those are simple, just stringing things with a needle and thread. But I don't know if I have time for any "real" craft this year. Wah. But I can't complain about the reading and the luscious piles of books :-)

So, it's December. That means NaNoWriMo is over! And guess what. I *finished* the "Bad-Ass Sci-Fi Novel"! But I use the term *finished* verrrrry loosely. I mean, there's a beginning, a middle, and an end, but whooo, is this baby rough. Like dry elbows rough. Not pretty. But. . . an accomplishment. 60,500 words of something. I kept a "secret journal" of my mental state during the process, what days were good, what were bad, and what I did to keep going, and I will edit that and post it here some time soonish.

I remembered, as I was nearing the end of this, that somewhere in the middle of the two and a half years it took me to finish Blackbringer that I did, in fact, force myself to write to an ending, any ending. I kind of forget that stage, because that version, and that ending, are so far from what the book ended up being. I've looked for that draft and can't find it, but here's what I remember: that it was vastly different from the book I ended up writing. Talon wasn't even in it!!! There was a boy character named Acorn instead, who I had to *un-create* later in favor of Talon (and once I did, the book took on a vitality that really propelled it forward); there was a long sequence where Magpie made a new skin for the Magruwen; there were irritating triplets named Trala, Lala, and Li traveling with Magpie and the crows. . . I mean, WTF? It was one of them whose hair Mags turned to worms, as Vesper didn't yet exist. But going through all that stuff that didn't work, was essential to finding the *real story.* It could be considered a "what doesn't work" draft, and every time something doesn't work, you're a little closer to finding what DOES. Like the great Thomas Edison quote: "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

This all goes into my preparations for the talk I'm doing next week in Seattle on strategies for finishing your novel. There are many ways to do it, and the important thing is to not think it's supposed to be easy. If you don't give up, but keep trying different things, you'll finish. That simple. (Simple, but not *easy*.)

Ooh! Movie news! Did you love the book Water for Elephants? I did. I loved it. Well, the movie has been announced, and the director is to be Francis Lawrence, who directed Constantine and I Am Legend, both of which I loved. So: yay! I can't wait to hear who's cast. If you haven't read this book, do. It's about a young man who, after unexpectedly losing his parents on the eve of graduating from veterinary school (during the Great Depression), hops a train in despair. It turns out to be a circus train, and he gets hired on and quickly gets caught up in the excitement and brutality of life in a 1920s train circus. (The really big circuses could only get around by train.) And yeah, he falls in love -- with both a married woman and an elephant. The book is narrated in flashback by the man in his 90s, from a nursing home, and it is poignant and beautiful and totally fun and sad and lovely and page-turny. Wheeee! (On the NaNo homepage, they suggest that this was a NaNo novel. Is it true, I wonder?)

I also can't wait for the Time Traveler's Wife movie, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, yeeah), and Coraline. Hmm. What else? I don't know. Oh! Jim and I went with our friend Chary last night to see Let the Right One In which is a FREEEEKY Swedish movie about a 12-year-old boy who befriends a 12-year-old girl. . . vampire. Oh MAN. Vampire love story? Kinda. But Twilight this is not. It is chilling, and it is totally unsentimental. Here's the trailer:

Okay. That's all. Happy December first!

Snow Angels -- A Winter's Tale

[story removed by author]

Friday, November 28, 2008

The new "best pie in the world" !!!

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I hope everyone had a wonderful day of feasting! We did. Oh boy, did we. Jim and I generally cook Thanksgiving dinner at our house -- my parents live in town, but since my mom is the Christmas guru, she doesn't mind letting us handle Thanksgiving. She basically can't wait for it to be over so she can put up Christmas decorations! I know the feeling -- Jim actually wants to go get a Christmas tree today but I don't think it will be today. Maybe Sunday. Here we are, in the kitchen:

Anyway, there was a time when cooking Thanksgiving freaked me out, but we've gotten really good at it! Everything came out amazing, from the perfect turkey to the best pie in the world. And of course, half the fun is decorating and setting the table, and this year we put our Chiapas textiles to good use! Above you can see the embroidered table runner (love it!) and here is a wall hanging, above some appetizers.
When we were in Mexico loading up on these weavings, an Israeli tourist we met asked us doubtfully, "But will you really use them? Will you really put them in your house?" Well, I guess so! I could picture her house, though, from the question. It must be a little less colorful than ours! Since we live in a wee cottage, we don't have a formal dining room and when we break out the "big table" we have to put it in the living room, like this:
It's cozy. We didn't have any other family come to town this year, so it was just Jim and me and my parents. This is my mom:
Well, of course, Leroy was there too. This is one of his favorite days of the year (and used to be Shiloh's too. We always miss her bossy expectant face in the doorway when there's a turkey in the oven.) Look at Leroy about to catch a bite of turkey in mid-air:
He's a very skilled turkey catcher!

My mom did, of course, help furnish the foodstuffs, including this spinach, persimmon, and candied pecan salad. YUM. And behind it is a raspberry and pomegranate gelatin made with prosecco instead of water, so it's frizzante like champagne. SO good.
And finally, it was time to eat!
You know how you cook all night and all day, and in about fifteen minutes your are FULL? Still, it's totally worth it. Oh yeah, and then hours later, as soon as you can move again, there's pie.
The one I'm holding is the Best Pie in the World. It's coconut cream, and the recipe comes from the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas, though Jim used his own pastry crust recipe. He's the piemaker in the family. I have no patience for pastry crust! Coconut cream was my choice, though. I love coconut, and while I love the idea of coconut cream pie, I couldn't remember when or even IF I'd ever actually had it. Hm. Perhaps it would have been best to leave it at that, because this pie was so awesomely good that I want to have it for every meal! And I think Jim may even be swayed temporarily from his defense of fruit pies as the Best Pies, to join the cult of cream pies.
He might even make another one next week, because he has a disc of pastry dough in the fridge ready to go, and because there is only a little bit left over (we didn't eat it all between the four of us! Dear friends came by for dessert).

Though this hasn't been the greatest year in a lot of ways, for my family, there is still much to be thankful for, and I am very, very thankful -- for health and love and for having enough. Not a ton, not a fortune, but enough for food and health insurance and a house, with a little left over to save and a little to contribute to people at home and abroad who have so much less to be grateful for. Happy holidays to everyone, and remember the food banks and homeless shelters this season. They are having a very hard time meeting needs. Hugs!

Monday, November 24, 2008

shopping and a movie and a book

I started Christmas shopping today. . . without leaving the house. I got a little lost in etsy. . . I didn't buy anything there except these funny thought-balloon barrettes (for myself) -- but mine say "Don't make me get my ninjas" and "La la la I can't hear you." Aren't they great?

If you're looking for furry monster boots with claws, or a furry panda bear hat with earflaps. . . (I have an animal hat with cat ears, and last night I freaked my mom's cat out with it. Unintentionally! He thought I was a really big bipedal red and pink cat coming to get him!)

Oh, oh my gosh. . .

Or maybe you have a biology enthusiast in the family. . . Maybe a biology/knitting enthusiast? I mean, who wouldn't want a knitted dissection frog? (Rats available too.)

Scrabble-tile pendants for the Twilight-obsessed? There are about a jillion to choose from, including the Cullen family crest, and "sparkle in sunlight" and stuff like that.

And look at this cute pillow girl! It's easy for me to see how Jim got carried away on etsy for our anniversary this summer and bought me too many things!

But yeah, I didn't buy any gifts on etsy -- YET -- though I most certainly will. I mean, why not just put $$ right into the pockets of artists, instead of shopping at chains? Or, ooh, check this out. When you purchase a t-shirt at Common Threadz (unrelated to etsy; I'm jumping around a little), a school uniform is donated to an orphaned or needy child in Africa. Awesome! And the shirts are really beautiful, with art like this. I, er, sorta sent Jim a link to one I like. tee hee, hint hint. (And, remember the days before sending email link hints?)

I also found a most unusual gift in Portugal today of all places, for Jim, something he will never ever ever guess. Such fun to find unique things around the world! I might never leave the house this holiday season. No, not true. I will go to craft fairs and the Saturday Market, at least. Buy art! Put bread in artists' bellies!

Oh, goodness, speaking of art, I have to evangelize for a second time on behalf of possibly my favorite movie of the year, which is now out on DVD -- The Fall.
It's soOoOoOoOoOoOo beautiful! Check out this list of the film's locations. Amazing! One movie, filmed in Prague, the Maldives, South Africa, Argentina, Rome, all over India, Namibia, Fiji, China, and more. You MUST see this movie. It is not only gorgeous to look at, but a wonderful and compelling story with the most natural and memorable performance by a child actor I've ever seen. SEE IT.

And while I'm in rave mode, I might as well add an effusive book recommendation. Oh, the joy of discovering, within the unpromising covers of a book that would never catch your eye. . . a truly captivating and original story. The part of my day not taken up with etsy and grocery shopping was stolen by The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner, and I am full of total love and adoration for it! Never mind the cover -- don't even look at it. This is not a prissy hairstyle book. It is a menacing and magical story set in Paris and London during the Reign of Terror. The characters are Yann, an orphaned gypsy boy who uses his unusual magical gifts reading minds and making an automaton speak in a third-rate theater; and Sidonie, a motherless and unloved aristocratic girl locked away in an opulent chateau filled with secret passageways. One frigid and fateful night, the magician Yann works for is summoned to perform at the chateau. A murder is committed, and lives interlace. A wonderful historical fantasy that plunges you deep in "the fictional dream" from start to finish. A chilling villain, a beautifully wrought vision of the excesses of the French aristocracy, and the nightmare they brought down on themselves.

Oh, and something I learned by nerdily googling "Dr. Guillotin" while on page 1 of the book -- the physician who dreamed up the "humane" execution device was himself against capital punishment! He didn't even invent the guillotine, but his outspokenness about execution got his name into a comical song, and that's probably why his name is linked to the blade. Isn't that wild? That poor bastard!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lazy reading day

I just got the Blackbringer paperback cover in the mail -- so exciting! It looks gorgeous, the same illustration as the hardcover but with different colors and an awesome new type design and "special effects" (making the type and figures shiny). So beautiful! (Ooh, and there's a quote from Holly Black on the front, which is vurry nice :-) I'm really excited about next year! First the paperback (in May), then Silksinger and Lips Touch in the fall. Yippeeee! What a year!

Oh, this is wayyyyy preliminary, but potentially much fun: I might be teaching a workshop on writing fairy tale retellings at a gorgeous lakeside retreat in New Hampshire in June (as part of an arts retreat with lots of other cool workshops). I'll have more info by and by. Here's the lake from up above:

Let's see. . . the writing goes well. I tried Jolie and Holly's 5,000 word challenge on Friday, and I wrote. . . 7,086 words!! WOWZA! Which brought me past the 50,000 word mark, but I have not "won" NaNo yet because the story is not complete yet. Much still to happen. This will be a busy week in "Bad-Ass Sci-Fi" land as I try to bring the events to their conclusion. Wish me luck!

Given the word glut of Friday, I figured I could mostly take Saturday off to loll and read (I did write for a few hours in the morning first!) I really need to crank some Cybils nominees through my brain, as you will see by this photo of unread books:
Caramba! How am I supposed to read all those??? Well, I wish I could, but that is obviously not possible, which is why there are seven panelists to divide up the work. Even so, I must read as many of them as I possibly can, so it was the couch for me most of yesterday, wrapped in the one blanket I have ever knitted (alpaca). There was an interruption in the afternoon to make vegetable soup with Jim -- something we do about once a week, and could probably compete in a husband-and-wife-mind-reading-soup-making competition, we're so good at it (new reality show!), and then there was a 10 pm trip to the very empty-on-a-Saturday-night gym. But otherwise, I read.

It reminded me of days back in college where, as an English major taking 3 or 4 lit classes simultaneously, I just had to read read read all the time. There was one memorable weekend when I was quite ill and alternately slept and read Gargantua and Pantagruel. All I remember of it is that I had a fever and the book gave me very strange dreams. There was apparently a healthy respect for fart humor in the 16th Century! Who knew? Well, anyway, reading all day yesterday was like college. . . but the books were more fun! Not that Wittgenstein's Nephew and The Sonnets of Petrarch aren't a hoot, y'all, but I'll take fairy tale retellings and zombies and kissing and fighting, please.

I read the very lovely and magical The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier, as well as a Rumpelstiltskin retelling called The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn, and there was another book that I'm not going to mention by name because I didn't care for it and gave up half way through. And then I started Ever by Gail Carson Levine, which I have not yet finished (but really like). I feel like I should have read more than three books (well, two and a half), but I'm not a speed reader. I want to slip into a little crack in between minutes and live there all cozy until I've read all these books, shifted them one by one to the "read" stack (which is in another room and is less impressive than the above photo!)

This Cybils process has been SO MUCH FUN! First, there's the joy of getting books in the mail, lovely lovely lovely books, all the time. And stacking them. And sorting them. And trying to choose what to read next. It's seriously like a box of chocolates (I wish you could say that without hearing the voice of Forrest Gump!), and I never know what I'll be in the mood for. Sometimes I pick five and then decide based on the first paragraph. Lately I've been trying to read all the fairy tale retellings together (blog post upcoming). The Fantasy/Sci-Fi category is great because we have fairy tales, vampires, post-apocalyptics, ghost stories, swords and sorcery, space ships, dragons, alternate history, distant planets, hidden kingdoms, time travel, gypsies, monks, evil corporations, zombie cheerleaders, kisses, murders, betrayals, curses, cloning, talking polar bears, lonely werewolves, evil tattoos, totalitarian regimes, slaves, samurais, beheadings, and more. Can you imagine? It makes me shake my head with sadness for people who have closed their minds to all the wonders of fantasy and science fiction.

I want to sit on the floor and pet all the pretty books like they're a basket of puppies. I am such a nerd for books.

Before the end I will have more to say about what I am learning, reading this slew of books, about how some books emerge from the pack, and how a book makes you love it, as opposed to merely liking it. It's a great learning experience, for sure.

Friday, November 21, 2008


We were at the movie theater last night (to see James Bond), and there was this line of teenagers snaking from one end of the theater to the other. They were sitting on the floor, still with three hours to go before. . . the first showing of Twilight! I wonder how they liked it. It was filmed just outside Portland, which is funny because it's not that gloomy here. It's not like we never see the sun. I mean, a sparkly-as-diamonds vampire would get noticed! But it is pretty country. In the trailer when they're up in the tree? I'm guessing that's the Columbia River in the background.

Anyway, happy Twilight weekend to you fans!

As for writing, today I think I'm going to attempt Holly and Jolie's 5000-word challenge! With post-its. Oh, it's kind of funny, after my post yesterday about "narration" vs "dramatization" and not feeling like I was really conveying why the "once upon a time" thing was helpful to me, I saw on Jolie's blog that Holly had said this draft was "about the macro, not the micro," and I think that says, in six words, what it took me many more to not quite say! *slaps forehead* Thanks, Holly!

Okay, and for something completely gratuitous and, er, disgusting. . . I'm pretty much one to say that if an artist calls something art, it's art. I mean, I'm not saying it's good art or bad art, but I have a broad definition of "art". THIS, however, does not have a place in my very broad definition of art. This is just plain disgusting. This "artist" from Chile served his friends meatballs cooked in his own body fat. AAAAAAGHHHHH! NOT ART. NOT ART!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Next strategy. . . or How to Conjure 3,800 Words

So, the other day I schemed to "re-inspire" myself on my NaNo book, which seemed to have hit a doldrums? I was going to brainstorm and come up with new ideas that would make the story exciting to me again? Yeah, well. That day, my word count was zero. Well, the "brainstorming" word count was probably 4000, but the actual writing, zero. And I didn't get all that re-inspired. So yesterday, I tried a different strategy, and yesterday it worked. Maybe it wouldn't work every day. Different writing days call for different strategies.

Yesterday, it was "Once upon a time."

That is, I stepped way back from the story, from any attempt at an intimate narrative style that is "inside the scene" with the characters, and instead of trying to "dramatize" the scene, I just "narrated" it. I actually started with "once upon a time" because those words set a certain tone. You know how fairy tales are not told intimately? Details are skimmed over, the tale is painted in very broad strokes? Like this: Snowdrop grew up and became more and more beautiful, so that when she was seven years old she was as beautiful as the day, and far surpassed the Queen. That sentence encompasses a lot of story, with no detail or emotion. We're on the outside, being told something by a storyteller. We're not in there with Snowdrop, experiencing her growing up and growing beautiful.

In the Dreamdark books, I strive to dramatize almost every scene of the story, rather than have an external narrative voice. The storytelling is coming from inside the scene rather than outside it. Does that makes sense? This kind of writing is challenging, especially in the early days of a project when people and places aren't "real" to me yet as the writer, as the people and places of "Bad-Ass Sci-Fi Novel" are not real yet. It's hard to really get inside a scene under those circumstances. It's like standing on the foundation of a house that hasn't been build yet, and trying to imagine you're in a house. At its worst, it can be like trying to walk up stairs that haven't been built yet. You know?

It's much easier to write a scene like it's a fairy tale and I'm the storyteller and I'm watching the events, not feeling compelled to capture emotional truth or great dialogue -- neither of those things are hallmarks of fairy tales, yeah? So that was my strategy yesterday, in an attempt to move forward several "seven-league boot strides" in the story. I backed way up and narrated events from a distance, trying to keep myself in the mind set of writing a fairy tale.

This is more or less a variation of an exercise in Not For Robots called "Bedtime Story" when you write as if you were telling a bedtime story to a beloved child. Things must keep happening, the story must keep unspooling; you don't stop and work on a sentence for an hour; you don't worry if your characters are talking to each other, you just tell what happens, and try to keep it interesting.

So that was what I tried to do yesterday, and I wrote just shy of 4000 words. There were plenty of places where I forgot and "zoomed in" and got in my characters' thoughts, and that's okay. When their thoughts stopped being interesting, I zoomed back out.

So there's a possible strategy for covering ground in a first draft. If you're stuck, try writing it like it's a fairy tale. Start with the words "Once upon a time." It doesn't matter if it is not a fairy tale ("Bad-Ass Sci-Fi Novel" certainly isn't), or if you are picking up writing in the middle of Chapter Seventeen. Just for the sake of getting events rolling, try it. It's a great way to make those seven-league boot strides over the wishy-washy middle of a first draft.

I don't know about you, but this idea of "narration" versus "dramatization" is a recent revelation to me. I mean, I was making the distinction in my writing before I could have explained the difference. It was a little comment in the margins of Lips Touch, from my editor Arthur Levine, that caused a lightbulb to go off. All he wrote there was something like, "Flesh this out; this moment is important enough to dramatize," and suddenly I got it! Lips Touch, by the way, has more of a combo narration/dramatization style than Dreamdark, which are more pure dramatization. I really enjoy both styles, and I am not at all sure what THIS book will be.

Does this make sense, this distinction? I want to come up with examples some time, and add a bit to Not For Robots to make it clearer.

Anyway, the point is: try everything and anything to keep your story moving forward. If one strategy isn't working, try something else. DO NOT GIVE UP.

A very quick book mention. Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes, is a ghost story set in a Breton chateau, spanning four centuries and told in five vignettes across the ages. Inspired by Edith Wharton's ghost story "Kerfol," it begins with the tragic events in 1613 that *spawned* the ghosts, and then peers into various incidents of haunting that follow, with varyingly tragic consequences. A cool idea, and the writing is beautiful. Lines like this: I saw at once with grave alarm that his lashes were a bleached shade of copper, like snow where the hawk has hunted. . . and he turned and smiled at her, and the smile hurt like a fall on the ice. . . Also, this is a very quick read. Two hours, maybe. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's so nice to discover we haven't killed everything . . . YET.

You may have heard the cool news today that scientists have found, alive and well on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, some critters believed extinct for eighty years: pygmy tarsiers! And how cool of a place name is "Mount Rorekatimbo"?

You can read more about it HERE (and check out the slide show of odd animals). I just love weird little bug-eyed nocturnal primates, and I love that there are still dense jungled places on the planet for critters to hide from us. I am glad we haven't killed quite everything we had thought we'd killed. Some got away from us!

In other good news, recently, the Malaysian conservation group LEAP is attempting to purchase 222 acres of jungle in Borneo to form a corridor between two orangutan habitats, in an effort to save some of the primates from the palm oil trade that is ravaging the island -- and many other tropical areas. (remember this video I posted a while back?) Well, they're not quite to 50% of the funds needed to buy this land, so if you can contribute anything, that's HERE. A little here, a little there. Tiny drops in the bucket of hoping we can save some species from extinction.

And since I'm so linky and worldy today, here's one more. My sister sent me THIS ONE to a series of eight maps that show the world distribution of various things: population, forest loss, schoolgoing for girls, rabies. . . An interesting new way of visualizing our world. Cool to see. And frightful. Map #4 shows the world distribution of "Girls Not At Primary School" and it makes me very glad to be a sponsor, through Children International, of a ten-year-old Bengali girl named Ayantika. India is the world leader in "girls not at school," and Children International is a great way to help girls, one by one, stay in school. Boys too, of course, though there are eight million fewer girls in school in India than boys!

What can you do with $22 a month that is better than keeping a child in school, with clothes to wear, nutritional supplements, and health check-ups?

Gosh. I'm sorry. It really seems like I'm trying to part you from your money lately. Give to this charity! No, this one! It's so overwhelming. I guess it's just SO overwhelming that it's soothing to be able to do something, however small, whether it's helping one child in India, or donating $20 to help save a tract of rainforest for orangutans, or buying some chickens for a family in Africa. And not to neglect local needs, like our own food banks and shelters. Yeah. Overwhelming.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Operation Re-Inspire" + a book review + a reverie of magical Prague

The completely expected has happened with the "Bad-Ass Sci-Fi Novel." It has become the most un-fun book ever attempted. At around 40,000 words, I am barely treading water. Just thinking about it makes me want to slump over in a narcoleptic coma. Dreams of "Newt" are dancing around my head, wearing sequins and shimmying. I am a fun book, it is telling me, crooking its finger. Just abandon that heap. Forget it. Here is where the magic is. Oy. So tempting.

NOT going to give in. Just twelve days of November left to struggle through this thing and get some sort of ending cobbled together. Plus, I know what happened a few months ago when I got all fickle and jumped from one w.i.p. to a new one. The new one got all hard and un-fun too! It's just a necessary part of the process -- there are stages of un-fun in the writing of a book. The only way to finish a book is to commit to it until the bitter end, in sickness and in health, in fun or un-fun, until death do you part. The only way.

And I have learned on other books that it is always possible to re-inspire oneself on a w.i.p. It might take hours of brainstorming and coming up with a fairly major change to your set-in-stone notions of the book, but it can rejunvenate you. It can make your book sparkle again. It's true! I went through it on Silksinger plenty of times, when new, sweet books were trying to lure me away from it (namely, Bad-Ass Sci-Fi novel! See? It's just the way things are!) and I could not and did not give in to them. I might have occasionally allowed myself to take notes on the other ideas, but that's IT. Then, I would turn to re-inspiring myself on Silksinger, and as lethargic as I may have gotten at times, as demoralized and filled with despair, I always managed to come up with a way to get excited again. So this morning, that is what I will be doing. Operation Re-Inspire! There will be a lot of "what if" and "suppose that" or "maybe if" etc etc as I try to come up with shiny new ways to make my ideas fun again, for the home stretch.

How are YOU doing on your creative projects?

I'm going to squeeze in a book recommendation here too:
The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski really sang to me, so full of. . . well, of wonders. Cool magic! Gypsies! Prague! I love me some Prague. In fact, four years ago, I was. . . (hey! this unexpectedly fits into my above post!) playing hooky from writing my first novel, Blackbringer and had let another temptress story lead me astray. It was a collaboration with Jim which would be heavy on art and was set in Prague. I had also just gotten my first royalty check for Laini's Ladies, so we thought, heck! Let's go to Prague and really figure out this book! So we did. We rented an amazing apartment just outside Old Town Square -- right behind Tyn Church --
-- for nine glorious days, and we just explored and plotted and dreamed and ate dumplings and drank tea and absinthe (well, we didn't really drink absinthe, but we brought some home to look pretty on the shelf). Oh, man. What a city! But that is a post for another day. Suffice it to say I have not yet written that Prague book (but I vow I will), but I did get back on track and finish Blackbringer. Yay, me!

Prague is a city of alchemy and golems and marionettes, of dungeons and towers and ancient manuscripts, of music and magic and tumbled tombstones. It is so beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful city I've ever seen. Certainly the most magical, and Marie Rutkoski captures that so well in this marvelous book, the premise of which grows out of a grim city legend about the famous "astonomical clock." The legend says that the prince who commisioned the clock plucked out the clockmaker's eyes when he was finished building it, so he would never be able to create anything to rival it. Eww! Well, in this story, young Petra is the daughter of the clockmaker, and her life is turned inside-out when her beloved father is brought home from Prague. . . without his eyes.

Doing what any good heroine of an adventure story would do, she sets out (along with her mechanical pet spider) to steal her father's eyes back from the prince, traveling to Prague and getting mixed up with gypsies and getting a job in the castle, while her own magical gifts are starting to manifest. The fascinating historical personages of Rudolf II and John Dee are added to the mix, and some of the most fun and imaginative magic I have read in a long time. Read it!

The Cabinet of Wonders is a nominee in the Middle-Grade Sci-fi/Fantasy category of the Cybils.

On a side note, anyone who's interested in finding out more about the occult side of Prague, with real-life characters like John Dee, the mad prince Rudolf, and Rabbi Loew who created the Golem to defend the Jewish Ghetto, then try to get ahold of a copy of Magic Prague by Professor Angelo Maria Ripellino (1973). It's not in print here; I got it at a little English bookshop in Prague.

(See the cat marionette in the right side of this pic? It's like my beloved "Snoshti" that Alexandra got me in Prague years ago, and who Jim and I carried with us through Bulgaria, Turkey, and Italy. . . and whose name (which means "last night" in Bulgarian) I later gave to a Blackbringer character! When Jim and I went to Prague a few years later, we were tempted to find Snoshti a husband marionette, but they're crazy expensive now, so Snoshti remains unwed. Maybe next time. . .)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A new favorite author. . .

I have a new favorite author, and I haven't even read his book yet! So I guess I can't say he's a "favorite author" -- yet -- though he is a favorite person this week, and happens to be an author, so you know, it's kind of true. More true to say: Patrick Rothfuss is my new hero, and it has nothing to do with his acclaimed first novel The Name of the Wind which has been parked on my nightstand awaiting reading (and will be read, as soon as the Cybils landslide o' books comes to an end). He's just a freaking awesome person. Check out what he's doing. On his blog he's having a fundraiser for Heifer International, the charity that provides livestock like goats and chickens to desperately poor families around the world.

And he's not just hosting the fundraiser. He's matching the donations. WOW! His goal was to raise -- and match -- $5000 by December 11, so giving a nice fat $10,000 donation to Heifer International. Well, it's only November 16 and with nearly a month to go, he's already raised over $10,000 in donations, not including the matching! Over $20,000! That's a lot of goats, folks, a lot of lives that will be changed in the poorest of villages in Africa, China, Latin American, and other places. On his blog, there's a funny dialogue where he relates his girlfriend's nervousness about the fast-rising donations to match; she asks him what he will do if $20,000 in donations pours in! He is not worried; he is excited. Oh, and did I mention that he is not only matching, but giving PRIZES? Signed books, posters, shwag.

To get in on the fun, go to HIS BLOG and read his latest posts; he's updating regularly and has links to his donor page at Heifer International. If you're not familiar with the organization, their slogan is: "Bringing an end to world hunger through unimaginable blessings." What they do is give animals to families and train them in how to care for them to provide a sustainable livelihood and a much-needed nutritional source to their diet. And maybe the coolest part is that it's a cycle of giving, with recipient families passing along some of their animals' offspring to neighbors so they too can share the blessing. So, if you contribute enough to buy some chickens for a family in Africa, that is only the beginning of your gift -- it will extend on through every future chick hatched and given to a new family. How cool is that?
I hope to be able to do something this awesome some day (host a fundraiser with matching, that is; I did contribute to this one), if future resources allow. If you do donate something, I'd love if you let me know (an anonymous comment is fine); I'd love to know that somebody who found out about it here was able to help out. I also think this is a cause worthy of supporting an author by buying his book so he can afford all that matching! By all accounts, The Name of the Wind is awesome. I can't wait to read it!

* * *

Out of the realm of the awe-inspiring, and into the mundane. I have to report an instance of advertising working on me, making me rise to my feet and say, "I want that right now." I generally take a weird pride in being advertising-proof (not true, I'm sure; I must be as unconsciously affected as anybody, but you know, outwardly I scoff), but at the movies the other night, I was like a zombie. The instant the pre-movie commercial for Sour Patch Kids ended, I stood up and said, "I'll be right back," and in less than a minute, I was back. . . with a bag of Sour Patch Kids. And I barely even regret it. We saw Role Models, by the way, and it was HI-LARIOUS. It's not a Judd Apatow movie that I know of, but it's of that school of really crude comedies that still manage to have such a sweetness and good heart to them. Contrast that with the trailer for some stupid double-bridezilla "comedy" upcoming with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. I am so offput by mean-spirited comedies, like best friends trying to sabotage each other's weddings? Ha ha. Ugh. But two foul-mouthed energy drink salesmen providing very bad examples to some needy kids? Somehow, a total feel-good. Even Superbad, which was one of the rudest movies I've ever seen, was still sweet. You know? Remember the awful teen T&A movies from the '80s, all about "getting laid," like Porky's? Superbad is like one of those movies but well-written, much more foul-mouthed, and. . . "feel good," with no women getting ruined, and no giant globular boobs bouncing around.

Still, Jim owes me some serious costume drama time. The last few movies (which I have enjoyed) have been boy movies (RocknRolla was awesome) but what is up with there not being any good girl movies out, anyway? I missed The Duchess *frown* and what else is there? Where are all the good fall movies? Where are the costumes, man? Where are the smooches? What gives?

Alrighty, I'd better get some writing done. Yesterday, thanks to Strangers Will Be Stabbed, my NaNo count was only 729 [dreadful] words of the "Bad-Ass Sci-Fi Novel."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Strangers Will Be Stabbed

[story removed by author]

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reluctant Rob Zombie fan? A confession

So I've been disregarding some of my husband's favorite music for years, sort of snorting over it and asking if the washing machine is broken or is that music? You know, the usual derision, the same kind of thing I used to say about my brother's music when we were teenagers. Jim (husband) has very diverse taste (everything but country and reggae) but the music I'm referring to is the heavy end of his spectrum, like Rage Against the Machine and Rob Zombie. I mean. . . Rob Zombie? Whatever! Am I right?

Welllll. . . it pains me to say this, but maybe I'm not right.

Let me back up. That is not a claim that I can make lightly. (snort!) To make a long story short, it's been a long time since I admitted to something rillyrilly shocking, something that makes people gasp and back away. No, it's not about being an atheist, it's that I'm not really into music. I know, CRAZY. . . and IMPOSSIBLE. But it is so. I hasten to add that I like music well enough, but it just sort of sifts through my head, mostly going unnoticed unless it is especially annoying. It's just the way my brain came out of the factory, I guess. As such, I almost never stick a CD in the thingy, and in the car I usually daydream and forget to turn on the radio. I didn't have an i-pod until I got Jim a snazzy new one for his birthday and came into possession of his hand-me-down nano -- for which he sweetly bought me a hot-pink arm band. He also made me a couple of long exercise mixes for the gym. He played it pretty safe, put lots of songs by bands with names like Vampire Weekend and Broken West and Ezra Furman and the Harpoons, just as long as they have a good beat for running on the treadmill.

And then. . . buried in there at song #19 of 89. . . Dragula by Rob Zombie, off the Hellbilly Deluxe album. Uh, thanks sweetie. Doesn't really sound like my thing. . . But you know what? I was WRONG! This song does wonders when you're lagging a little on the treadmill. You can feel the spurt of energy. And it's not just that. It's become a sort of unofficial theme song for my work-in-progress, the one that is named "Bad-Ass Sci-Fi Novel" on NaNo, to conceal its true top-secret name.

There's something about the endorphins of running that has been making the treadmill a great place for me to have a positive outlook on my novel. Seriously, and I am not one of those chirpy exercise enthusiasts you want to smother with a big slab of chocolate cake. I am a. . . reluctant runner. But less reluctant now. Because when I'm running and thinking about my book (I turn off the built-in treadmill TV and try to sort of meditate on my book) the ideas pump faster like my blood pumps faster, and everything begins to seem cool and full of possibility. And I'm convinced that's a combination of endorphins + music. In the case of this book, songs like the following, which will give you some idea that this is not a light-hearted, sweet-natured book (I swear, ordinarily I'm more of a Loreena McKennitt girl; this is a new development. Eek! What next?):
When I put on this song while I'm running, I can seriously conjure a kind of movie trailer of my novel in my head, and it is so bad-ass that I am convinced every teenager in the world would line up to see that movie. Or, you know, read that book. (That's my chirpy endorphin self, all positive spirit and cockiness.) And when I come home from the gym, I have to go and scribble down all the new ideas before I lose them.

So, er, sweetie, I'm -- *clears throat awkwardly* -- I, uh, I guess I have to admit your music doesn't totally suck. (except when it does.) Thanks for the mixes!

Now that that embarrassing admission is over, a quick book review! I received some merch from Simon & Schuster yesterday, including Wake by Lisa McMann, which fellow panelist Charlotte raved about recently. So I took it to bed around midnight. . . and I finished it at 1:30. It's a fast page-turny read, and it does not permit sleeping! The premise is this: when people fall asleep around Janie Hannagan, she gets sucked into their dreams. She is powerless to resist, and will black out wherever she is -- in the school library, in the nursing home where she works, while driving. . . and find herself a helpless observer to the dreams of others. Nightmares are most powerful; in her high school, sex dreams are perhaps most prevalent. She understandably spends a lot of time trying to avoid sleepers -- the class overnight trip does not go well. But is it possible she might be able to learn to control it? Learn to change dreams from the inside? The brutal nightmares of a certain intriguing boy provide her a good impetus to try.

This book kept my eyes peeled into the wee hours. It's spare, romantic, and creepy, with likeable, believable teen characters. I heard a horrible rumor that Lisa McMann wrote it in a week, which -- if true -- means she is a robot and not to be trusted. But I forgive her, because this book was really fun. ;-)

Wake is a Cybils nominee in the YA sci-fi/fantasy category. The sequel, Fade, comes out in February.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oh, just a little post about humanity and civilization

I read an awesome blog post yesterday and I am pointing you there with a big foam hand. Go read THIS. It's by Disco Mermaid Eve, who has been teaching writing in a Los Angeles juvenile jail. The way she describes the kids she's working with is very powerful. Go read it and come back ;-)




Back? Pretty awesome, huh? They are hungry. Their basic needs have never been met. It's so fundamental, so simple. Survivor: Lockup. It pretty much agrees with a basic philosophy that I have that civilization is just a thin veneer, that our animal natures are just a nail-scratch beneath the surface and under the right (or rather wrong) circumstances, our cultivated humanity can be overwhelmed by it. I don't mean to denigrate our cultivated humanity; I think it is an extraordinary thing -- how far we have come in a few millenia (particularly the last few centuries) to elevating ourselves, forming societies and judicial systems, etc. But I don't think those things are the human default setting. They represent our best possible selves, and they are only possible under certain conditions, basically: when human needs are met, we can thrive and live elevated lives.

And I'm not saying that you or I will become animals if we don't get enough food for a few weeks. I mean, we have already gotten a lifetime of programming; it would take more to make us start killing each other for food (I hope). But what about people who never had enough, over a number of generations, with insufficient food, medical care, and education? What does it take to overturn all the long years of human striving for civilization? I don't know the answer to that, but looking around the world to the awful things that happen, it's pretty clear that civilization needs to be carefully stewarded through each generation. Miss a generation along the way because of war, tyranny, famine. . . and you damage the cycle. You beget people who would stone a 13-year-old girl to death for being raped. Who would commit genocide, who would suicide bomb.

Horrible things happen all around the world. Headlines stun us on a daily basis. There are too many of them for us to write these things off as aberrations. The potential for extraordinary savagery lurks inside humanity, and if we don't guard the cycle of civilization that we have been building since the evolution of Homo sapiens from apes, it gets broken. Maybe across a whole war-torn country. Maybe in one family.

Obviously there's a huge difference between a conflict zone in Africa and a neighborhood in Los Angeles, but the essential thing is this: there are human beings in our society whose needs are not met and who, as a result, become people we consider threatening to the stability of our lives. They need to be locked up to keep the rest of us safe. Does it have to be that way? I mean, if they could have their needs met? I think we can all agree that if all young people in our country had stability, food, shelter, love, education, and opportunity, our jails would be much quieter places.

And that brings me a little bit to ideas that are always rolling around in my head that I haven't really found the way to express here in a concise way, like what it means to me to be a liberal. A huge part of what it means to me to be a liberal is this: Seeing every human being born into our society as worth helping (and around the world too, to the degree that we can help), and wanting to have strong systems in place for doing just that. That is the eeeeevil of liberalism that conservatives wring their hands about. This is the socialism that terrifies them: wanting to create a strong society by giving all those born into it a chance to thrive. I mean, does this not make sense? Even if you really don't care about the individual, like those kids in Eve's program (and I know a lot of people don't), then you should still -- for your own greedy self-preservation -- care about having a stable society full of educated, gainfully employed people. Noh?

And really, a lot of what we're talking about is helping children, helping create stable families, and what kind of a giant bastardface do you have to be to not want that?

There is a lot more to be said on the subject of being liberal, but that's my nutshell for this conversation. I had a troubling email exchange a few months back with a young conservative who, though religious, doesn't think people should be "forced" to help other people. That it should be up to you if you want to give charity, and that churches should be the institutions helping the needy, not the government. She also thinks people don't inherently "deserve" health care. I guess then they don't "deserve" public education either, and they don't "deserve" to have safe drinking water coming out of their taps, or roads that are paved, or meat that is inspected, or sewage that is treated, or police and fire departments that will come if you need them. All these things are government systems for the benefit of all (socialism! eek!), based on the belief that every member of our society deserves every chance at a safe --and happy* -- life. Why is health care so different? (Easy answer: because some fat cats figured out how to get fatter off of people getting sick and dying, and because we have been letting them. We have to stop letting them. Remember "we the people"? We are those people. Our leaders have to do what we tell them! So, let's tell them. I mean, we just did, didn't we? Woo hoo! Now, let's keep telling them. Our work is not done. Voting is not the end of our job as citizens.)

Okay, whew. I see that this could just keep going and going and going. . . but I'll stop now. Have a beautiful day!

*"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," -- what amazing words.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gloomy day craft noodlings

Gloomy gloomy rainy day, perfect Portland writing weather! It stays twilight-dark all day long and leaves sail past the window like parade confetti. I'm drinking my gallon of morning coffee with eggnog instead of milk in it, which Jim and I do from the moment eggnog first hits the grocery store in October to the last sad carton on the shelf in January. Yummy eggnog coffee.

I've been idly thinking of something crafty I can make this season. Last year I made nuthin, being in the last brain-dead throes of finishing draft 1 of Silksinger. In previous years, the holiday season would always come upon me with a little twinkling notion of something I wanted to make and I would go to the craft store for supplies and then get completely lost in a new obsession for a few blissful weeks. It's how Laini's Ladies first came to be, and the paper dolls that led me to create the Dreamdark characters, and there was mosaic one year, and then, these guys:

But this year. . . what? I dern't kner. If I knew how to sew, I would have more options, but I don't. Not a jot. And I've sort of sworn off knitting and crocheting because they were too much of a time-suck and like to tempt me away from writing. ("Laini, come and crochet and watch a Jane Austen movie. It's so much easier than writing. . .") But if you do sew, and you're looking for crafty projects, one of my favorite blogger's first book just came out! I'm going to buy it even though I don't sew, because it's so pretty:
Stitched In Time by Alicia Paulson, aka Posie Gets Cozy. There's another marvelous sounding book that's just come out, by Jane Brocket, called Cherry Cake & Ginger Beer and it is all recipes for the foods in classic children's books. Rice pudding and scones and stuff. Doesn't that sound wonderful? A great gift for a children's book lover!

Totally off the subject, you all know how I feel about Proposition 8, and if you care about it too, on one side or the other, here is Keith Olbermann's take on it. Passionate, articulate, intense. Love this guy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

NaNo Week 2 + some movies + some books

Oh dear, nothing to say. Mind blank. Monday morning, and a new week of writing yawns. Yawns? Did I mean to say dawns? No, "yawn" was the word that came to mind, in the sense of gaping open. The whole boredom/fatigue association was unintentional, but possibly true.

I wrote a lot of words this first week of NaNo (21,592), but I haven't read any of them. Sort of afraid to look. This is giving me some insight into another author's "process" that I had heard about (can't remember who it was), and thought was INSANE. This author apparently would write an entire first draft and then DELETE it and start over. Madness, right? I mean. . . who would. . . who could do that? But I can kind of see it now. If it was a draft like this, totally muzzy and random and flat as a Coke that's been sitting in the sun all day, there might be ideas to keep, but not a lot of actual language. There may be some language I underline as I read this draft, some sentences I want to rescue and carry over into the next draft, but probably not A LOT. This draft is for finding the story, not finding the language. Totally new to me. I'm a language girl, and man can I while away the hours (and weeks. and months.) tinkering with sentences.

So, I'm still on board with NaNo. There have been more "snicks" but none of the true deliciousness of a good writing day, when a scene has come to life, a character finds his/her voice, and I want to high five myself. But the snicks are exciting, the piece fitting into place, pulling the story tighter and making it more meaningful. One of the main things is that I am always getting better ideas as I write, "cooler" ways to have things happen, and then I have to go back and rewrite and rewrite A LOT, and this way, I am giving the cooler ideas a chance to manifest before I've spent a bunch of time tinkering. It makes sense. On Not For Robots I've written about the "exploratory draft", and this is certainly that -- a scribbly map full of cross-outs, with swampy fingerprints and dead bugs stuck to it, and maybe even a little blood. No tears yet. I'll let you know if it devolves to that point.

Here's the thing: I am believing more and more that it is possible to "change channels" in your head. To take a new approach to achieving an elusive goal, accomplish things you didn't think you could. I have said many times that I could never write a fast, messy first draft, and I made myself believe it. But. . . really? There are lots of things I'm sure I cannot do, but is this really one of them? Doubtful.

For fun, some movie trailers. Australia, for some epic goodness with sweaty Hugh Jackman and smoochies:
Danny Boyle's new film, Slumdog Millionaire, which I can't wait to see:
New kid movie, The Secret of Moonacre, starring the adorable girl from The Golden Compass:

And, oh, a few more Cybils reads:
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I have not felt this punched in the stomach and bruised by a book since I can remember, and I don't know what to do about it. The book is amazing, the writing, the emotional impact, the premise. But. . . it's a "feel bad" book, so I don't want to recommend it to anyone -- it would be like me punching them in the stomach. Oof. But. If you like it when books punch you in the stomach, then read this amazing book.

Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling. Adorable candy fun in a pink flowery cover, and a good antidote to the gut-punch of Knife. A little supernatural, but not much. This book is about Manhattan teens who are infinitely more real and funny and likeable than the Gossip Girl variety (the show; to be fair, I haven't read the books). There's just enough of a thrill of romance, but this is totally suitable for young teens. I would give it to my reluctant reader 13-year-old niece.

Same with Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy. Great for younger teens, reluctant readers. The super-fun premise is that [some] people have invisible fairies dedicated to one specific thing, like a "clothes shopping fairy" that finds you great deals that all fit superbly, etc. The protag, Charlie, has a "parking fairy" that always finds good parking spaces. The thing is, she's 14 and doesn't drive and she really wants a better fairy, which she will never get unless she can ditch her current one. But how?

And lastly, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, written and illustrated by Chris Riddell. WONDERFUL! This is for younger kids -- 2nd, 3rd grade? I'm not convinced it belongs in our category, but still loved it. Fully illustrated with the kind of whimsical art you want to look at again and again, there are diagrams and maps, postcards, lap dog mug shots, and more more more. A clever little girl who lives with a Norwegian bog creature while her parents travel the word collecting strange artifacts, Ottoline likes to snoop and solve mysteries. In this first volume, she's onto an unusual crime ring. . .