Monday, August 31, 2009

Some cool stuff including quite belated Book Expo audio & video

Two cool book-person things today, and then some belated Book Expo audio and video!

First cool thing: Thank you, Patrick Rothfuss! Thank you, that is, for recommending Blackbringer on his blog today! If you don't know Patrick Rothfuss, he is the author of the incredibly awesome fantasy tome The Name of the Wind (sequel due out some time in the nearish future; can't wait!) that I kept raving about last year. I loved that book, and I hereby declare that even if you're not a "big fantasy reader" (so many people aren't; I don't get why they're not, but so it is), you'll still love this book. It's just so freaking good. So man am I thrilled to get Pat's endorsement. I'll admit Jim and I couldn't help taking a few peeks at the oh-so-mysterious Amazon rankings** and noticing a very drastic spike today for all of my books!!! Ah, the power of Pat. THANK YOU!!!

(Also, his blog is really funny; you should definitely read it!)

Second cool thing: this morning Jim and Clementine and I had breakfast with Cheryl Klein -- editor at Arthur A. Levine Books -- and her boyfriend James. They're in Oregon on vacation, and joined us for aebleskiver at this little Swedish place on Clinton St. (Yum!) We talked about books and movies and plays and other good stuff, while Clementine slept like a little kangaroo joey in my *pouch*. Just like she is now (only earlier it was the peanut shell sling, and right now it's the moby. We're getting the hang of "baby-wearing" -- she's my cutest accessory EVER. We've been out to lunch and dinner too, and even to a movie -- District 9, and she slept through the whole thing up until the very last five minutes, which I had to miss. Still: it went well! And the movie is AWESOME!)

**My fellow Putnam author Royce Buckingham summed up perfectly the silliness of author's watching their Amazon rankings: he said it's like befuddled cats batting at birds on a TV screen. So true! What does it all mean? Apparently, next to nothing. But still, it's about all we have to look at, so we do :-)

Belated Book Expo stuff!!!
This is reaching back a few months, but you might recall that Lips Touch was one of six YA titles for fall selected to be presented on the first-ever YA Editor's Buzz Panel. This was super-exciting, and even better was the fact that Scholastic brought Jim and me to New York to attend! Well, I thought I'd have links from the panels to post right away, but I could never find them! Today, at last, Jim happened upon them:

1. The first is audio of the YA Editor's Buzz Panel, with my fabulous editor Arthur Levine talking about Lips Touch. The whole panel is on here, but Arthur talks first -- after the great and super-flattering intro by David Levithan (I mentioned before how he compared the experience of meeting Marcus Zusak to the experience of reading my book; how great is that?), so if you wanted you could listen to just the first 10 minutes or so. But the other books are really interesting too, so you could listen to the whole thing. Or not.

Here's Jim and me with Arthur in the Scholastic booth, sharing the Lips Touch love [heart heart flower flower; we love him!]

And with Arthur and David:
David Levithan is Editorial Director at Scholastic, and is also an author. His new book Love Is the Higher Law just came out; you may know, among other titles, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which he co-authored which Rachel Cohn, and which was a movie last year starring Michael Cera. He's also one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. David Levithan, that is, not Michael Cera, though I genuinely hope that Michael Cera is nice too. It would suck if he wasn't, you know, since his "persona" is so nice? I would hate to find out that he's an a**hat!

2. And here, video of the YA Author's Buzz Panel, where I talk about Lips Touch and Jim flashes some glimpses of the artwork. And yeah, all the other authors are there too :-)

Okay. That's all. Cheers!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to work!

I'm very lucky that going "back to work" for me just means rearranging my writing room a little. And my schedule, of course. Gone -- for now -- are the days of noodling for hours and hours with a manuscript. There are snatched hours to be had, though. An hour here, an hour there, not a moment to waste. I am "back to work" in a small way and feeling good!

I've heard from various sources that having this new [adorable, endlessly fascinating] demand on one's time can have the effect of making one more efficient. I am determined to make that true of myself. I've never been an efficient writer. I'm a futzer, forever messing about with sentences, lingering too long in scenes and perfecting them rather than moving along and getting more scenes written. It's a problem. So I'm really hoping that schedule desperation makes me grow as a writer, conquer some of my issues. It's not a matter for *hope* of course. I mean, it's all up to me. It's a matter of making it happen. The attitude to have is that I can, and will.

(The Little Engine That Could. Ooh, I need to add that to Clementine's growing library. And man is her library growing! I have a lot of picture books that I've been collecting for years, but I didn't have any board books or cloth books, and it's great having bookish friends, writers and publishers, because we've been absolutely flooded with book love. Thank you to everyone who's contributed to Clementine's library! I read to her a little, and I eagerly anticipate the time that she will engage with the page, look at the pictures, and get familiar with the words. Not that I'm in a rush. I'm already really wistful about how fast she's growing. So true, what "they" say, about how crazy-fast it goes! She's already outgrown her tiniest onesies, which is so bittersweet. So soon, she won't even be a newborn anymore.)

Anyway, here's the interim writing room set-up, with my two *helpers*:

And yesterday at bath time ...
Now, let's see if I can work on that efficiency issue ...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Desitin Memories

While putting Desitin on a tiny tush recently, I was reminded of a childhood experience that I had with diaper rash cream many years ago. It's an example of brotherly wiliness, and why I grew up into the cunning, untrusting adult I am today :-)

My brother Alex is a year older than me, and our sister Emily is five years younger than me. This memory comes from Emily's Desitin days, when Alex and I were probably 6 and 7, something like that, and with a baby in the house, there was diaper rash cream on hand. What you need to know about Desitin, if you don't already, is that it comes in a tube and has consistency not unlike toothpaste.


One evening while my innocent young 6-year-old self was getting ready for bed, Alex helpfully proffers my toothbrush to me, already loaded with a nice sloosh of toothpaste, all ready to go. Of course I should have realized at once that something was amiss. I mean, this is Alex:
Would you accept a toothbrush from that devil's hand? But I was an innocent. I put the toothbrush in my mouth. And you guessed it: it was not toothpaste, that sloosh so helpfully squeezed on. It was Desitin. And I assure you: it's not minty fresh.

Well. I was obviously not going to fall for that one again. No sirree bob. The next night I carefully prepared my own toothbrush. Ha ha! Can't fool me, wily brother! So . . . what do you think happened?

Um. Yeah. I still got a mouthful of diaper rash cream! How??? I'll tell you how. Some time during the day, that evil 7-year-old, knowing full well I wouldn't accept a toothbrush from his hands ever again, had snuck into the bathroom, excavated the top of the toothpaste tube, squeezed in some Desitin, and put the lid back on!


So that's my Desitin memory. And lest you think my brother grew up to be a criminal mastermind, he's living a respectful life in the suburbs of Seattle, raising a teenager and working at one of those mysterious computery jobs. Hm. Come to think of it, I couldn't begin to tell you what he actually does -- isn't that what CIA cover-story jobs are usually like? Some obscure computery or bankery type thing that no one really understands? Maybe Alex is really a spy or an assassin or a professional trickster or something. Maybe?

Anyway. Clementine is sleeping right beside me, swaddled and peaceful and perfectly adorable. Our first two weeks with her have been wonderful. Napping with a newborn is a sweet pleasure one has to experience to understand. Correction: sleeping with one's own newborn. I've never really been into other people's babies. I mean, I can recognize the cuteness and sweetness, but I've never been especially drawn to babies, never known how to hold them, never thought I'd know what to do with one. I was taking it on faith that what everyone says is true: when it's your own baby, it's entirely different. Hormones and crazy love kick in at once and turn you kind of into a different person, at least in that way. It's true. Turns out, it all comes naturally. Thank you, hormone cocktail! The holding and nuzzling and comforting, turns out I DO know what to do! Oh, and changing diapers isn't even gross. Spit up isn't gross. There's nothing at all gross about one's own baby. Other babies? Sure. Grossness galore. But not one's own baby. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Clementine is the cutest, sweetest baby ever created :-)

And if you or anyone you know has a newborn or is expecting one, make sure you/they know about The Happiest Baby on the Block. It's by a Los Angeles pediatrician and it's a baby-soothing manifesto that WORKS. It's a marvel, and those first few days, when Clementine cried, we'd have been lost without it, not knowing what to do. There's a book, but I recommend the DVD; it's easier to figure out what to do. Check it out. It's awesome.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lips Touch! Now a real book!

Here it is! A real book! Within a space of little more than a week, Jim's and my three eagerly awaited *collaborations* have arrived at our home. One by stork delivery, two by UPS :-) This is a good month!

It's so exciting to see the genuine Lips Touch because the ARC doesn't really prepare you for the beauty of the actual book. Jim's illustrations are gorgeous, and the designer, Chris Stengel, did a phenomenal job making this book look like a GIFT. We were thrilled when Scholastic green-lit the two-color printing, so the art would have more nuance and hue. And it's not just the art. The details! Look at the frontispiece:
Juicy redness. And here:
Isn't it lovely? The page numbers are in red, and the chapter titles, and each chapter begins with a beautiful elaborate capital letter in lurvely red. I want so badly to post art photos RIGHT NOW, but I'm still waiting for the okay. Hopefully that will come soon, and I'll put up some art later this morning. Can't imagine why it wouldn't be okay to show it now, at long last, but we'll see.

Anyway, yayayayayay! Lips Touch is an actual book, and a gorgeous one! Funny to think back to those early Sunday Scribblings when I was just beginning to write some short stories for fun, with no expectation that they'd ever see the printed page, and now here they are! Remember, release date is October 1, and it's available for pre-order HERE (Amazon) and HERE (Powell's), or you can ask your local independent or your library to order it. You know, if you don't mind :-)

Book events:
I'll be doing a book talk/signing at Powell's Books (the Hawthorne location) on Monday, October 5 (7:30 pm) and I'll be reading/speaking at the Wordstock Festival, here in Portland, on Saturday October 10 (3 pm) -- both events will feature Silksinger too. I love my children equally :-) (Well, okay, I love Clementine more.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Oops, where's the camera?

Drat it -- I was going to put up very exciting pictures today -- I got my first copy of Lips Touch in the mail!!!! Yippeee!!! It looks GORGEOUS. The art, the two colors, everything. WE'RE SO EXCITED!!!! I took pictures and everything, but then I left my camera at my parents' house last night. DOH! So that post will have to wait. Instead of showing you Lips Touch, I'll show you this another book, one I can't wait to read.

First of all, how awesome is this cover?
I love it, and love the title, and love the description. I'm pulling this straight from Rachael King's blog, and I hope she doesn't mind:

“There were two rumours surrounding my great-great-grandfather Henry Summers: one, that his cabinet of curiosities drove him mad; and two, that he murdered his first wife.”

Rosemary Summers is an amateur taxidermist and a passionate collector of tattoos. To her, both activities honour the deceased and keep their memory alive. After the death of her beloved grandfather, and while struggling to finish her thesis on gothic Victorian novels, she returns alone to Magpie Hall to claim her inheritance: Grandpa’s own taxidermy collection, started more than 100 years ago by their ancestor Henry Summers. As she sorts through Henry’s legacy, the ghosts of her family’s past begin to make their presence known.

How awesome does that sound? Rachael says: "If you like old country houses, tattooed ladies, taxidermy, cabinets of curiosities, gothic Victorian novels and (possible) ghosts, then I hope this one's for you." Oh yeah, it's so for me. Magpie Hall is being released in New Zealand in November. This is the NZ edition, with the US edition as yet TBA. I want this one though. With this cover. I hope I can buy a signed copy from Rachael.

While you wait, you can read her first novel, The Sound of Butterflies (available now in paperback), which combines several of my favorite fictional elements: mystery, romance, and turn-of-the-century naturalists' collecting expeditions to the Amazon. Seriously, I'm endlessly fascinated by naturalist stories. Here's the description:

Sophie Edgar barely recognizes her husband, Thomas, an amateur naturalist, when he returns from the Amazon, where he had hoped to find his long-dreamed-of mythical butterfly, Papilio sophia. The optimistic young Edwardian gentleman is gone, replaced by a weak, nearly mute shadow of the man she married. Unable to break through his heartbreaking silence, Sophie must glean what she can from his diaries and boxes of exquisite butterflies in order to discover what happened to Thomas in the lush and perilous jungles of Brazil. In the process, she learns as much about herself and her marriage as she does about the secrets harbored by a haunted soul.

A magnificent debut, written in rich and sensuous prose, Rachael King's The Sound of Butterflies is an unforgettable journey from the demure gentility of turn-of-the-twentieth-century England into the heart of darkness.

Lips Touch unveiling coming soon!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

First outing

Aside from the doctor's office and post office, yesterday we took Clementine on her first real "outing." We went to breakfast at the Tin Shed on Alberta St. and she was tucked into her "peanut shell" and slept the entire time.

The above photo is taken outside of the shop Frock, which -- though tiny -- has great clothes and jewelry and T-shirts for women, men, and children. And the owner has a daughter named Clementine! (Have you read Sarah Dessen's newest book, Along for the Ride? The clothing boutique in the book is called Clementine's, in honor of Dessen's baby daughter, Sasha Clementine. Perhaps this name is on the rise?)

There was a new baby in that book, and I have no idea if it was modeled after Dessen's own experience with her daughter, but the baby was colicky and cried cried cried. It was a little harrowing, reading it while pregnant. A little "eek!" Well, I know colic doesn't kick in until 2 weeks or later, so I can't say YET that we've escaped that ("eek!") but I can say that so far all the dire sleep warnings are proving unfounded. Clementine is waking once in the night (at which time I find that after a few hours of sleep I *miss* her already and I'm more than ready to get up and hold her!) and sleeping like a dream the rest of the time. We're well rested and very happy! Yay! May it continue this way :-)

Oh, I just read a good book on Amber's recommendation: The Mercy of Thin Air. It's a literary-supernaturally-tragicky romance, and I enjoyed it SO MUCH. It came up in the context of talking about The Time Traveler's Wife (I've been hearing nothing but bad about the movie so far; anyone like it?) and there is a similar beauty, romance, and poignancy. The main character, Razi, is a vivacious young woman in 1920s New Orleans . . . or rather, she is the ghost of a vivacious young woman who drowned in 1920s New Orleans while at the height of a great love affair that would certainly have lasted a lifetime. Rather than passing "beyond," she has lingered "between" for more than 70 years. Finding it too painful to be near her love, Andrew, she has followed his life at a distance, through news clippings, and is satisfied he's had the life she believed he would. Until his obituary is printed and she discovers she's been following the wrong Andrew O'Connell all these years. What really happened to the man she loved? While she seeks him out -- is he still alive? -- she also finds herself drawn to a young married couple whose own past is haunted with a tragedy not unlike her own. The narrative is a split-in-time story about the loves of both couples. I highly recommend it! (I can attest that it's good to read at 3 am with a baby in your lap :-)

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Series fantasy at its best" !!!!!!!!!

Check out the School Library Journal review of Silksinger:

TAYLOR, Laini. Silksinger. Bk. 2. illus. by Jim Di Bartolo. 464p. (Dreamdark Series). Putnam. Sept. 2009. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24631-9. LC number unavailable.

Gr 5-9–In this second volume in the series, the adventures of Magpie and the other fairies of Dreamdark forest continue as they quest to find the remaining five djinn that created the world. Two legendary clans with special magical gifts, the Mothmage and the Silksingers, both long-thought extinct, reemerge as Magpie and her followers search for the djinn Azazel in Nazneen. Evil is brewing there, and many surprises await the fairy heroes as they try to protect the world’s tapestry from unraveling. Silksinger defies genre barriers. It certainly feels like fantasy, but it has elements of adventure and horror as well. With excellent world-building and deft pacing, this story is difficult to put down. The characters are well developed, and their close relationships and rapid-fire dialogue enhance the story. Make no mistake, these are not girly Disney-esque creatures. Taylor’s fairies are tough and can take care of themselves. Occasional sword violence is offset by a rigid respect for all life in this fairy culture. While Taylor does a good job of weaving details from the first book into the second, Silksinger will be best enjoyed if it is read in sequence. This is series fantasy at its best: readers who loved Blackbringer (Putnam, 2007) will certainly gobble up this installment.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

So nice! :-)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wednesday's bounty

Wednesday was our first full day home from the hospital, and it was such a fun day of mail and special delivery bounty, I just have to share. Not only did we have our specialest delivery home with us at last . . .
. . . but we got lots of packages!

(Doesn't that kind of look like a studio portrait? I'm proud of it. I was experimenting with the camera a little. Oh, and I finally ordered a DVD manual to my camera so I can learn how to stray from the fully-auto setting and get some better pics! It hasn't arrived yet.)

First, my mom brought over FOOD. Lots of food. She'd been cooking for days, and my mom can cook. This week we've been eating crab quiche (with fist-size chunks of Alaskan king crab), roasted turkey breast, lemon risotto (delish!) and this awesome salad of orange slices, shaved fennel, and pecorino Romano in pomegranate dressing. Banana cake, garden tomatoes, soup, lasagna, and more. It's awesome. I told mom she's establishing a precedent and now she has to do this forever :-)

And the lovely folks at Scholastic sent a box of goodies:
Lots of fun little books and things. Thank you Sheila Marie!

From Penguin, a well-timed treat:
The first hard-cover copy of Silksinger. Yay!!! It looks so gorgeous. Like the paperback, the type and central image are spot-laminated (shiny), and the page design looks great. As soon as it was in my hands I wanted to sit down and read it. And I can tell you, after going through the many revision passes, one gets so sick of one's own book that it's wonderful to have that feeling again! (Oh, and the Silksinger audio is just going into the recording studio now at Brilliance. Exciting! Can't wait to hear it!)

Here's the beautiful frontis illustration by Jim:

That's the title character, Whisper Silksinger, on her flying carpet. You'll notice her wings are small. Like Talon Rathersting, she's a scamperer, unable to fly, except by means of the extraordinary carpets woven by her clan.

Another book arrival:
The new Children's Writers & Illustrator's Market, from Writer's Digest, edited by SCBWI friend Alice Pope. There's an article in it called "Under One Roof; A Writer & Illustrator: Married" about Jim and me and our collaboration. There's another story by Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine Books, a great piece on revising, and she cites Not for Robots, which is cool. (Oh, and Cheryl has a post up right now about the AALB Fall list; check it out.)

And okay, lastly, and with supreme awesomeness, a gift bag turned up on the front steps, and it was from Matt Holm (illustrator of the Baby Mouse graphic novels for young readers) and his lovely wife Cyndi. And in it?
Oh. My. God. A tiny pink handmade wig!!!!!!! Can you believe??? Look at it! It's sewn onto a little baby cap, and it is just so awesome. We have not yet had a photo shoot, but one is upcoming :-) A mommy-daughter pink-hair photo. It'll be a bit big for Clementine's little sweet head right now, but we'll try it anyway and take more photos as she grows into it. Awesome! For added awesomeness, there was champagne in the bag. Thanks Matt & Cyndi! You guys rock.

(Not to brag, but we also have a one-of-a-kind hand-painted Baby Mouse onesie that Matt made at our baby shower. Which she will certainly be wearing for the photo shoot!)

So, Wednesday was a pretty great day. Being home with our baby and getting presents :-)

Love to all.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Introducing . . .

Clementine Pie Di Bartolo
born August 9, 2009 at 8:02 a.m.
7 lbs, 10 oz, 20-3/4 inches long
in all ways perfect

Thank you for all the lovely comments to the last post. Jim put up that photo on a brief trip home from the hospital while Clementine and I were still there. We're all home now and getting settled in, getting to know each other, constantly amazed by this perfect little creature we created. Everyone has told us we wouldn't be able to even remember what life was like "before" and it's so true. Some time on Sunday Jim and I realized that we hadn't even had her for 12 hours yet and we were amazed. It seemed like days already. Another week or so, and we truly won't remember the "before." It's surreal, and yet very real. All the things you try to imagine while you're pregnant -- what it's going to be like -- and you just can't fathom it until the time comes and your little creature is in your arms.

We're so happy.

I wrote last week, when Clementine was a week overdue, that we were going in for a non-stress test on Saturday. Well, we did, and we "passed" -- or at least we thought we did, but our midwife told us that my amniotic fluid was low enough to be a little worried about. The OB recommended inducing (do they always?), but we really didn't want to. So the plan was to go home and drink A LOT of water and come back in the morning for another test. The hope was that I'd go into labor before the next test! Our wonderful doula, Kristen, who was also our birthing class teacher and is a co-owner of Zenana Spa (a wonderful spa in southeast Portland specializing in services for pregnant women), suggested I go in and have a prenatal massage which would stimulate the "trigger points" for labor. A massage sounded nice, labor or not, so I went.

The spa is such a tranquil, lovely place, with gorgeous copper lanterns and soothing music and the tinkling of fountains. The massage tables are set up with contoured body pillows to perfectly accommodate pregnant bodies in side-lying position, and it was very relaxing. I'd written on my preliminary paperwork under "what you're looking to get out of the massage" (or however it was phrased): I want to go into labor immediately, ha ha.

But guess what.

Ten minutes into the massage, something happened to my abdomen. Of course it took me a few seconds to recognize it for what it was: a contraction that was totally different from the "practice contractions" I'd been having for months. Seriously. A contraction! It was little, it was the first one, but it WAS a contraction. I didn't say anything, but just sort of waited to see if it would happen again.

And it did.

And when I sat up to switch to my other side . . . my water broke. Really. Right there on the massage table. I can't describe the giddiness and disbelief, after waiting "with baited breath" all week for some sign that things were beginning. And here it was: happening. So, I guess you could say I believe in acupressure now! Kiera the massage therapist got teary-eyed and said she couldn't take credit. This had never happened to her before, but it was just all so sweet and such a lovely place to have this happen, in this spa with gorgeous art photos of mamas and babies on the walls. Jim was down the street at a cafe and I called him to say, "You're not going to believe this, but my water just broke."

He scrambled back and we went home. I thought at this point that we'd have a while yet to wait before going to the hospital. I mean, since my water had broken, the "clock was ticking" but I still thought it would be some hours before my contractions picked up, but things progressed really quickly, and we weren't home for long before we decided it was time. We arrived at the hospital some time between 6 and 7 pm, and my contractions were already around 5 minutes apart and very powerful. I thought at this point -- hoped -- that I might be one of those lucky women who have short labors.

Err. Not so much.

See, things did not exactly go as we had hoped. I just didn't dilate. I mean, I was at 4-1/2 cm when we got to the hospital, and there I stayed, even hours later when the contractions were practically on top of each other. Oh yeah, and I spiked a fever. The baby wasn't descending, and I wasn't dilating. I wanted a nap in the worst way, and some time in the middle of the night, when my midwife recommended pitocin and an epidural, I didn't say no. Yeah, yeah, all my visions of natural childbirth out the window, but what can you do? Something was wrong.

And what was wrong, it turned out, was that little baby girl was stargazing, and not just that, her head was cocked to the side just slightly, preventing her from moving down against the cervix. (In one of the stories in Lips Touch there's a reference to a stargazer birth and its consequences, interestingly enough.)

So, the night was tolerable due the epidural (I so get it now about epidurals), and I slept some while the contractions continued, the pitocin trying to do its work. And in the morning . . . I was still 4-1/2 cm, my fever was up, the baby's heartbeat was getting a little erratic, and it was time for a C-section.

Yeah. That.

The thing is, beforehand I was so invested in the idea of this goddessy natural birth like I've seen in birthing videos, I thought I'd be really devastated if things didn't go like that for us, and I was at first, you know, going into the O.R., but after, and now, I really don't feel any regret. It went how it went, and Clementine is healthy and beautiful, and I'm lucky to have no pain from the surgery (not that I'm leaping around, mind you, I just don't have any pain), and so it goes. It's humbling, discovering your powerlessness, and through the experience I couldn't help but sometimes think of what it would feel like if I didn't know, every step of the way, that the interventions I'd sort of scorned in my mind were there, available, if I needed them. I mean, what would it be like going through a non-progressing labor without an O.R. and an awesome surgeon just down the hall? What would it be like to know that there was no way out but through, and that -- ulp -- you and your baby might not make it? So, thank god for surgeons. And this was cool: the only "boy" in the whole O.R. was Jim. The surgeon and anesthetist were both women, as well as all the nurses, and it was a room full of powerful women.

When the took Clementine out they showed her to me immediately and then Jim was able to be right there with her, touching her, while they cleaned her off and did whatever they do, and then he carried her to me and her cheek was against mine while they . . . did whatever it was they were doing on the other side of that blue curtain where my body was (weird). And then we were back in our room, and I had a perfect baby on my chest and she was doing just what she was supposed to, lifting up her head just a little, searching instinctively for nipple. Wow. Can't explain the feelings of these first few minutes and hours. It's impossible.

Such happiness. Off to the first doctor's appointment now. xoxo. Thank you for being here. We love you :-)

Monday, August 10, 2009

She's Here!

Name and other details coming soon!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Still nope

Dagnabbit. We have to go into the hospital tomorrow for a non-stress test. Unless of course labor begins tonight. Arg, the waiting! Come out, child. Come out!

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Nope. Still no baby. I just read that at full-term a baby grows a half a pound a week. Ulp. So here I am, steadily inflating with baby. May try acupuncture in a few days. I've never had acupuncture. I'm kind of curious. Or, maybe I'll just go into labor today :-)

Look, the movie trailer for Lovely Bones:
Looks good, I think; better than the Time Traveler's Wife trailer, which is about as Hollywood as it could possibly be. The movie might still be good though. Hard to say. I am looking forward to Audrey Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry:

The book is a supernatural story about twins who inherit an apartment near a London cemetery and become embroiled in the lives of the building’s other residents and the ghost of their aunt, who left them the flat.

Cool. I didn't read Alice Sebold's follow-up to The Lovely Bones. It sounded icky. Something about a daughter killing her mother. Anyone read it? Speaking of icky follow-ups, this from Charlotte this morning about the sequel to Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go: "If Knife provided the cut, this follow-up provides the fester" -- Starred review, Booklist

Ooh, don't you love a book that festers? Ha ha. Reading "Knife" was kind of like being mugged in an alley and left there in a pool of your own blood. So painful. So I can't quite imagine how The Ask and the Answer could be worse. I mean, not worse in the sense of bad -- note the starred review -- just even more painful. I'd thought I'd certainly read the sequel, and I probably still will, but I'm not sure. I'll probably give it a shot. But really, Knife made me feel truly awful, so I don't know.

Oh, the Lovely Bones, above. If you didn't know, it's directed by Peter Jackson, one of my favorite directors. I'm also excited to see District 9, which he produced, and which comes out a week from tomorrow. So, well, maybe I won't be seeing it! But it looks good! (Embedding is disabled, for some reason, but follow the link to watch the trailer.)

P.S. Good advice OVER HERE from Stephanie on: making time to write. It's interspersed with cute teen movie crushes, too, for added excitement :-)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Biding time; writing time

*whistles, twiddles thumbs*

What to do while waiting for labor to begin? How about writing? Yep, I'm back to work on the new novel. Yay! I love coming back to a project after an absence, reading it from scratch and [hopefully] loving it. This goes counter to the usual advice, but I've found that, for me, setting a novel aside for a space of time can be just what I need to surge forward and get a new chunk of story out. I'm not saying it's what you should do, I'm just saying, sometimes . . . well, sometimes a little distance and clarity can help you find the next puzzle piece that will take the story in the right direction.

I wrote Blackbringer over the course of 2-1/2 years, with many "breaks" from it of a month or several. Again, I'm not saying this is the best way to write a book, but it did get written ultimately, and I remember with fondness the times I'd sit down with the manuscript I had left gathering dust a month earlier, and get reacquainted with it. Inevitably, I'd revise as I reread, make notes, see things I hadn't been able to see before, make small (and large) changes. Then I'd figure out the next steps.

I didn't take as many long breaks from Silksinger on account of it being awaited by my editor. Once I got started on it, I sat down with it most days and banged my head against it. I had a really hard time finding my way into that book. The problem was: I had too many ideas. I couldn't settle on which ones worked best. I wrote the first 50-60 pages of that book many many times, each time changing my mind about some crucial plot or character element and having to start from scratch. For a long time, Whisper began the story as a drudge-worker in a weaving house in Nazneen, living in a dormitory with other girls. Hirik was the weaving house owner's son. Hirik was not nice. Gasp! I'll say no more, since the book isn't OUT yet, and only a few readers will know what I'm talking about. In any case, the characters are very different in the final version. It took me quite a few false starts to find them.

The point is: when I start a book or story, I always think I know a lot about it, but I'm always wrong. It's only as I go that I discover how much I don't know. A book grows up around you as you write, and it shifts and bucks and disagrees with you. It's like an unruly horse that sees shoots of delectable grass off the path you've chosen for it, and it strays. Ah yes, if you are an excellent rider you might succeed in keeping it always on the path, but should you? What if the horse's instincts are right, its sense of smell keener than yours? By ignoring it, what might you be missing?

How do you know who's right, when the story disagrees with you?

A good friend of mine is currently writing a story that has a will of its own, and she asked me: how do you know when to let the story goes its own way, and when to stick to your plan? There's no simple answer to that question, because the truth is: sometimes the original plan will be for the best, and sometimes the serendipitous new direction will make the story blossom for the better. And sometimes, sorry to say, the answer is: none of the above; keep trying! I think my process is to give the horse some freedom and see what happens, and be willing to backtrack if it leads me astray.

You just don't know, at any given moment, what's ultimately going to be best for the story.

Jim and I had this painting instructor in art school who gave us the most ludicrous piece of bad advice ever. For some background, Jim and I were both Illustration majors, and this painting class was a Fine Art class. There's a huge distinction and divide between Illustration and Fine Art. Fine Art is what you see in galleries (you know, when you laugh at the price of a solid red canvas?), Illustration is what you have in magazines and books. Well, that simplistic, but do you know what I mean? Fine artists thinks illustrators are sell-outs, and illustrators think . . . well, I can't speak for all illustrators, but I think a lot of things about fine art. Where we went to art school, the illustrators were learning technical skills, like how to draw and paint, whereas the fine artists were "expressing themselves". This painting class was all about "expressing yourself" and was NOT teaching us the technical skills we wanted to learn. The teacher at one point told us -- this is the terrible advice -- that we should be able to stop painting at any moment in the process and have the painting be considered "finished."


That's like saying that any time your fingers stop typing, your novel could be considered "finished." With illustration, as with writing, it doesn't work like that. It's about craft. In fine art, I suppose, it's more about feeling and mood, whatever, but in illustration, as in writing, the process is not the thing. The finished product is the thing. However you arrive at it, that will be invisible to the reader/viewer. However many scenes you wrote and deleted, however many wrong turns you took before you figured it out, no one will ever know. So just keep trying and trying. Any *mistakes* will be rendered invisible by the end, any wrong turns will vanish as if they never happened, so long as you keep trying, and eventually discover the *right way*.

Of course, there isn't a *right way,* is there? Do you ever stop to think how a story could at any moment go in one of a hundred directions? A thousand? Any finished manuscript is one of a thousand *right ways,* and the best we can hope for is that it is a good way. I often catch myself thinking that if I were to write a particular scene on a different day, the novel might turn out completely different. If I'd been writing my current novel two weeks ago instead of painting the bedroom, what might I have thought up that would be different with what I'll come up with today? No way to know. It strums at the imagination.

There is no single perfect manifestation for a novel. There are decisions that feel right at a given moment, and there are dozens of chances to change your mind. So, coming back to a manuscript with fresh eyes, it's a second chance to see things I didn't see before. Sometimes that's what I need. Also, the hope is that I love what I wrote before and can revel in self-satisfaction for a short time before getting back to the business of putting new words on the page. Sigh. The hard part. You know the old quote, "I don't love writing, I love having written." Totally.

So, yeah. No baby yet. A long time ago I guessed that Professor's birthday would be August 4th, and here we are, still no signs of imminent baby arrival. The big SCBWI national conference is this weekend, and I hope the baby is born before or during, or else we'll be sitting home waiting for her and wishing we were in Los Angeles with all our awesome children's book friends. Heck, I could have my feet in the pool while eating cake with writers! Wah. Oh well. Next year :-)


Saturday, August 01, 2009


Even though the upstairs isn't "finished," I thought I'd post pictures, since it's as finished as it's going to be in the near future. I mean, all the icky work stuff is done. What remains is fun nesting/decorating, like putting up some art and having a dear, crafty friend help us with some simple sewing which, though simple, is still beyond spastic me, who cannot use a sewing machine. Anyway, without further ado, the upstairs:

The bedroom:
The stairs come straight up to a landing . . .

. . . which is what we use as our bedroom:

When the house was built in 1924, this space was the extent of the upstairs. In the '50s, someone added on the very large adjacent room, which we use as our art studio.

The arch doorway in the above photo leads to the new "nursery nook." It's not a room exactly, but more of a nook. That is, it lacks a window, and the ceiling slants precipitously, but it's space. Before we hired our friend/ contractor Tyler to carve out this space, it was a weird no-man's-land hidden behind a big Ikea armoire. This doorway is what the armoire hid:

Insulation hung from the unfinished walls and heating ducts went straight across the unfinished floor. See:
Yikes! It was weird and hidden and a little scary, and I've said in the past I've imagined an alien living there and taking secret notes on the human occupants as part of his research for a potential occupation of Earth. You can even see his chair.

The nursery:
Anyway, it's much cuter now. Tyler took out the weird double doors and put in an open archway:
Since the room is windowless and small, we didn't want a door that closes. It would seem too much like a closet. Instead, it's open and colorful, with simple white semi-transparent drapes. I made a mini version of my bird garlands for the arch:
Within, this is more or less the space:
That built-in bench hides heating ducts. It's decorated with the most awesome decals from Alexandra:
Here's another (they show up better on the white):
Love them!!!

This little cabinet we found on sale at Cost Plus, and the colors are perfect:
It's full of swaddling blankets. How weird that soon I will be attempting a swaddle on a real baby!!!

So, that right there was our main project of the past month, and it started out as the only project. Everything else (refinishing the floors, painting the living room and bathroom, new door, soffit, new base boards, and more) just cropped up as we went along. Tyler did an awesome job, and if you're in the Portland area and in need of a contractor, we recommend him highly! We have another friend who's a carpenter who's done a lot of work for us too -- Dave Fox -- the kitchen and writing room remodels, plus deck awnings and stair railings, and his work is fantastic as well. And how we know both Dave and Tyler is that we all started out as vendors at the Portland Saturday Market on the same day years ago -- Jim and me, Tyler and his wife Jennifer, and Dave and his wife, also Jennifer (that's two distinct Jennifers, of course). Jim and I were selling prints of our artwork; it was our very first foray into vending, and I recall it being a bit scary, and we probably didn't sell a whole lot that first day. I stuck it out, though, and it turned into my job for several years. Weekends spent under a canopy at the Burnside Bridge, surrounding by other crafty folks. I dreamed up Laini's Ladies down there and debuted them there, which changed my career as an artist in profound ways. Anyway. That's off the point a little. If you're looking for quality carpentry and building work, email me for info. Tyler Fuqua has a website HERE; I can forward inquiries to Dave.

So, that's a peek at the upstairs. It's a little spare still, un-art-ified, but it's very neat and peaceful and bright. I love having white bedding. The blue paint is Embellish Blue from Behr, and I love it. It's so tranquil, a little beachy.

And yes, today IS Professor's due date, but nothing is happening as of yet. Jim and I went out on a "due date date" and had our favorite pizza and saw [500] Days of Summer -- terrific movie!
So original, which is a real feat for a romantic movie. Joseph Gordon Levitt is terrific, and Zooey Deschanel wears the cutest clothes. And of course, the script is really different. It tells you right up front: it's not a love story, not really. It's more a story of the way people and relationships act as catalysts in our lives, in completely unpredictable ways. See it!

Throughout the movie, I think Professor was trying to get out through my skin, like a little bird trying to bust out of an egg. It was madness -- my belly must have stretched 6 inches this way, then 6 that way, on and on. There were little BIG repetitive motions, like she was banging on the door. She's getting strong! Time to come out! My belly is officially Really Big now. Funny how I got the "huge" comments before I was huge, and now that I am, no one says a word. They must be afraid I'll squash them.

Oh, I made my first-ever ice cream cake yesterday, for my mom's birthday. It was really good, and nice and cold :-) AND: easy!
I looked at recipes online for making a basic ice cream cake, and then I sort of improvised:

Lemon-blueberry Ice Cream Cake

1 box lemon cake mix (prepare using box directions, 2 circular cake pans)
Vanilla ice cream
Jar lemon curd
Jar blueberry jam
whipping cream, powdered sugar, vanilla

That's all the ingredients (of course, you'll need eggs and oil for the cake mix). Bake the cakes and cool them; I sliced one in half longwise, you know, to make a total of 3 cake layers. The online recipes all called for using a rectangular baking pan and then slicing the "brick" of ice cream to make the layers that way, but I couldn't find my rectangular cake pan. So for the ice cream, I had to melt and re-freeze it in circular cake pans. This was a good thing, though, because it allowed me to add a jar of lemon curd to the vanilla ice cream and make it lemonier.

So: melt ice cream, blend in jar of lemon curd. Line 2 round cake pans with saran wrap (for easy removal later) and pour in melted ice cream/lemon curd mixture. Refreeze; freeze cake layers too. When all is frozen, assemble as so:

Full cake layer + spread blueberry jam + ice cream layer + half cake layer + spread blueberry jam + ice cream layer + half cake layer. Then refreeze it again.

For frosting, whip whipping cream with powdered sugar and vanilla to taste, until thickened. Frost the whole dang thing, sprinkle blueberries on top, and refreeze again. Voila.

See? Easy. You could adapt this to any ice cream or cake or fruit flavors, and add in all sorts of other layers in between: caramel, crushed candy bars, whatever. Great for a summer party. Enjoy!