Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Goodness! Lips Touch comes out Thursday! It's book give-away time!

Jim asked me this evening if I wasn't going to do a Lips Touch blog post and giveaway, and it occurred to me: Goodness, September is almost over! Which means October first is Thursday, which means Lips Touch is almost here!!! Yippeeee! My third book! (Fourth, counting The Drowned).

So of course, a giveaway is in order. Two copies of Lips Touch are up for grabs, signed by both me and Jim. How do you win them?

Tell me about your first kiss.

How fun! There are three first kisses in Lips Touch. One is sweet, one is hasty, and another is . . . well, it just might be deadly. What was yours like? Mine was gross.

Mildly gross, I guess, not super-gross. It was just so unexpectedly . . . moist. Ick! I was twelve, living in Italy, and I'd had a crush on one of my older brother's Italian friends. His name was Oliviero, he was half-Swiss, an orphan being raised by his grandmother, he was a drummer in a rock band, and he had a rat tail in the back of his hair -- so chic :-) I think he was fifteen. The kiss happened on an overturned boat on the beach, I was completely caught off guard by the grossness of it and I literally slipped away out of his arms and escaped! Seriously. I squirmed out of it like an eel. Ha ha! That was the end of that budding romance, and I was so put off that I didn't attempt kissing again for two more years!

So. That's my sorry first kiss story. The ones in Lips Touch, I assure you, are much better. What's your story? Feel free to make one up. I'll choose the winners for entertainment value, not truthfulness. Email it to me with the subject line: FIRST KISS. The deadline will be Sunday night, and I'll announce the winners on Monday, and the kiss stories will be reprinted in my blog. Specify if you want your name left off. Remember to put your address in the email so I can mail you the book if you win.

To recap, here's how to enter:
-- Email me the story of your first kiss (or make up a first-kiss story).
--title the email FIRST KISS
--tell me if you want your name left off if you win
--remember to include your mailing address
--you have until Sunday night!

If you don't want to write about kissing, but you'd still like a signed book, Powell's is selling autographed copies HERE. If you're local, Jim and I are signing at Powell's on Hawthorne on Monday, Oct 5 at 7:30. I'll also be at Wordstock on Saturday, Oct 10 at 3, where I'm sharing the stage with Sarah Rees Brennan, author of The Demon's Lexicon, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tomorrow I'll write more about the book and how it came to be written, and I'll also reveal [cue dramatic music] A SECOND STARRED REVIEW. Yoooo hoooooo! Two starred reviews! Yippeeeee!

Now, write your kiss stories. I can't wait to read them!

The Incredible Sleeping Baby + Essential Baby Gear for the Early Weeks

Parents-to-be, while you're pouring over the menu of "extras" you can order to customize your new baby (cuteness, sweetness, unscented poop, etc), I definitely recommend going for the "Super Sleeper" app. I know it's expensive, but it's sooo worth it! For the last two nights, Clementine has slept for six-hour stretches!! I've woken her for a final change and feed at midnight, and then she's slept until six! It's downright civilized of her. Okay, so maybe we didn't pay extra for this. Maybe we just got rillyrilly lucky, but man, is it awesome.

The wonderful photographer, Carrie O'Callaghan, who shot pictures of us a couple of weeks ago, has just posted some on her blog. Here's one:
Aw, so sweet! Honestly, I don't know how she got this one, because in my recollection, Clementine was really fussy by the end of the shoot, when we were trying to get pics of her by herself! This smiling moment might have been a millisecond in the midst of fuss, but Carrie captured it! Tomorrow we'll see the rest of the pictures and try not to spend $1000 ordering prints!

As per the second part of the title of this post, I thought I'd take a second to say what of all the tons of baby stuff one supposedly "needs" we find we have actually used a lot. I know when we were registering for the baby shower, and shopping on our own, we were a little overwhelmed. Of course, the Babies R Us registry would have you believe you can't live without 62 pieces of large plastic equipment of various sorts, but we didn't believe that to be true, and in fact, it is not true.

One thing we are managing quite nicely without? A stroller! Clementine is small. We "wear" her. We somehow acquired (second-hand and by gift), about every style of baby-carrier known to modern man: the sling, the Ergo, the Moby, the Snuggli, and yes, the Baby Bjorn. I have to admit that in the first few weeks we had a bit of yuppie snobbishness and kept trying those first three, because they somehow seemed *cooler* than the plain old Bjorn which I had purchased at Target. But then a friend came to mom group wearing her baby in a Bjorn and lo and behold, it's just way better for small floppy babies! So that's what we've been using, though I expect when she's a bit bigger we'll transition to the Ergo.

The Swing
This is our only piece of plastic "gear." We have a small battery-powered travel swing made by Boppy, and it's fabulous. If we put her in it when she's asleep or drowsy, it will conk her out, and the rocking motion helps keep her sleepy longer. The other day we were having my parents over for dinner and I had to cook. I put Clementine in her swing in the kitchen and baked a cake (apple-upside-down) and made a salad (wild rice and salmon) and she slept for two hours.

The Swaddle
We swaddle Clementine at bedtime and the nice warm cocoon keeps her from startling herself awake with little newborn arm spasms. You can do a blanket swaddle, of course, but we like the Kiddopotamus swaddlers: they're an easy wrap with a few pieces of velcro, they come in different weights of fabric for different seasons, and they don't constrict the hips and legs, so the baby's legs can still "frog" like they're supposed to for hip joint development. Clementine will outgrow hers soon, which will be sad.

The Boppy
Just a U-shaped pillow for nursing support. Very comfy. We also use it as a little nest, with a small pillow in the middle and a blanket across it, propped against the sofa back, we can set Clementine there to snooze in the evening if we're right there. Soon she'll be too active and squiggly for it, at which point it will be a good support for semi-sitting position.

Obviously diapers are an essential, along with a place to change them. Now that Clementine is big enough we're using G-diapers (which don't yet come in newborn size): they're cloth outers with flushable inserts: environmentally friendly! We're investigating all-cloth, though, because these will be pricey over the long-term. I heard about a new system called Bambino Mio. Anyone know it?

That's about it! As for clothes, onesies are of course the way to go. T-shirts and dresses on a newborn just ride up like mad. Right now we're in fleece foot-pajamas. Socks are a pain, so foot coverage = good.

Lest it seem like we try to keep Clementine in a state of constant slumber, we do not! She does wake up, and she is a gurgling, cooing delight for long stretches of time before eventually falling back to sleep.

Okay, that's all. Cheers! Have a lovely day!

Monday, September 28, 2009

End Petlessness

So, remember that stray cat I took to the Humane Society earlier in the week? Er, it turns out he wasn't a stray after all. Oops.

While I was out Friday getting my roots done, a guy came to the door and asked Jim if he'd seen a black and white cat. Jim told him yes: we'd taken him to the Humane Society. To which he responded, angrily, "That was you?" and then accused Jim of "stealing his cat."

Well. It's probably a good thing I wasn't home because I would have loved to tell him that his cat was in worse shape than the ferals that have been out on the street for years! The cat was so skinny, and it wasn't just that: it was filthy and matted! What kind of cat owner lets their cat get like that??? Arg. Anyway, I wasn't home, good thing, so we didn't make an enemy in the neighborhood. Jim was a little more mellow than I would have been and didn't make accusations of neglect. He just said we've found feral cats dying in our driveway (true) and had to take them to Dove Lewis (our awesome animal ER), and that this cat didn't look like it could survive the winter outside; that we were trying to help it. The guy cooled off and that was that.

We didn't see the cat all weekend, but now he's back out on my writing room porch looking cleaner but still scraggly-skinny, which I suppose could just be the way he is. I guess he's old. His name is Einstein, and I'm very glad he has a home, and I'm not feeling at all contrite about having taken him to the Humane Society. If you saw this cat, you'd never have believed he had an owner!!! It was a sobering trip to the Humane Society, too. They have a dry-erase board at intake telling how many cats/dogs/other they took in the previous day, and how many they adopted out. In one day alone they'd gotten 22 cats! Holy smokes! And adopted out 18, which is pretty good, but still leaves a balance of 4 kitties. And then there's the dogs :-(

They have a great ad campaign, "End Petlessness" -- isn't that cute?

Do you have pets?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sit on this bear

What do you think this is, aside from a bear?
If you guessed that it is a bean bag, you guessed right! Isn't it great?
I want it :-)

(It can be purchased here.)

Just randomly came across that at the Small Magazine blog, which I just discovered. They feature all kinds of awesome art, toys, clothes, etc, for children. And for adults who are really children. Ahem. You know, like adults who want to sit on bears. Check out the cool finger puppet project.
I want to make some!

I'm bookmarking this site. So much inspiration!

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Painting & Photography Update

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how I've been hankering to a) do some really simple, colorful paintings (I hadn't painted for a long while!), and b) learn how to use my camera, take it off automatic and take much better pictures. By saying so here, perhaps I was more likely to follow through -- you know, putting one's intentions out into the Universe? Last week I did a first simple painting and I signed up for a photography class.

This week I've done a couple more silly little paintings:

Fun. (Did you know that about robots? I bet not.)

As for photography, I bought a new lens, and I'm really excited about it and can't wait to get out and do some experimenting! It's a 50mm 1.8 -- numbers which until very recently would have meant nothing to me. One of my dearest friends has been getting into photography, and she was telling me a while back that I really need to get a *fixed* lens, that is: a non-zoom. She said, "You zoom with your feet." Ha ha! Wait. What? You actually have to move closer to the object you're photographing? How lame. But seriously, I couldn't imagine how a fixed lens could beat a zoom. I just have no sense of the technical aspects of photography. But I've been gradually learning teeny tiny bits of information here and there and beginning to grasp (in a teeny tiny way) some of the basics.

I promise this won't get technical because I don't know enough to get technical, but here's this basic thing: depth of field. You know how some photos have a sharp foreground object/figure and then the background is softly out of focus, beautifully blurry? Well, using my zoom lens and having my camera set on fully automatic, I never in two-and-a-half years took a picture that looked like that. If I photographed a flower, everything behind the flower would still be in focus -- distracting and super-duper-amateurish. I didn't know how to manipulate depth of field. No clue.

Okay, I still don't, but I'm beginning to know how to try. I've learned (at last) that it's aperture that determines depth of field. Basically, it's how much your lens opens to let in light (well, it's actually how much it opens in relation to how long it is, but I'm not going to attempt a real explanation.) My old lens could only open to a maximum of 3.5-5.6mm, whereas my new lens can open to 1.8 (that's a lot!), and at that setting I can get that really shallow depth of field that makes the background all buttery and soft. Cool! The lens just arrived yesterday, so I've only snapped a few quick pictures and I'm not saying they're great, but I love the way the leaves on the trees get all like coins of light:

Isn't that neat? (You'll be happy to know that Jim did not devour the baby!) The above would be a more dramatic demonstration if I had pics at a smaller aperture for comparison, but I don't. It's this week's assignment in my photo class, though, so I'm sure I will! Oh, the other great thing about the 1.8 fstop is that it lets in a lot of light so it's good for shooting indoors or in low light without a flash! The particular lens I bought is fondly known as the "plastic fantastic" because they're really *cheap* (relatively) at just over $100, whereas the good one from the same company is more like $500.

Anyway, I'm just really excited by the prospect of new knowledge and cool pictures. This is making me want to go on little neighborhood safaris and maybe out to the apple orchards in Hood River. See and do new things, see with new eyes. AND take better blog photos! Next time I make cupcakes or something crafty or want to set up an artful still life, I'll be able to get a much more interesting/pretty shot. Ooh. Maybe I need to make pretty cupcakes this week to use as subject matter for my assignment . . . Or heck, I could buy some cupcakes! They'd be prettier than what I could make. Or . . . donuts! Hm. Donuts are photogenic. . . Must photograph something delicious :-) Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Starred Review in Publisher's Weekly!!!

Eek! Lips Touch has gotten a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and it is an awesome starred review. It makes me purr.

Lips Touch: Three Times Laini Taylor, illus. by Jim Di Bartolo. Scholastic/Levine, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-545-05585-7
Taylor offers a powerful trio of tales, each founded upon the consequences of a kiss. She explores the potentially awkward conceit in three dramatically different fantasies, each featuring a young female protagonist out of place in the world she inhabits: contemporary Kizzy, who so yearns to be a normal, popular teenager that she forgets the rules of her Old Country upbringing and is seduced by a goblin in disguise; Anamique, living in British colonial India, silenced forever due to a spell cast upon her at birth; and Esmé, who at 14 discovers she is host to another—nonhuman—being. The stories build in complexity and intensity, culminating in the breathtaking “Hatchling,” which opens with a spectacularly gripping prologue (“Esmé swayed on her feet. These weren't her memories. This wasn't her eye”). Each is, in vividly distinctive fashion, a mesmerizing love story that comes to a satisfying but never predictable conclusion. Di Bartolo's illustrations provide tantalizing visual preludes to each tale, which are revealed as the stories unfold. Even nonfantasy lovers will find themselves absorbed by Taylor's masterful, elegant work.

"Masterful, elegant work." Yippeeee!

On another note, you know that poor skinny cat I mentioned the other day? Well, yesterday I took him to the Humane Society. He had Humane Society tags, so I was able to find out that the phone numbers of his owners has been disconnected :-( He really needs some looking after, so I just thought it was best to bring him back there -- they'll fix him up and feed him, and put him back up for adoption. They said he looks pretty old; I can't tell. I felt so terribly treacherous putting him in a box, though! He meowed these tiny, pitiful meows the whole way in the car, poor little guy. Our Humane Society in Oregon is awesome -- there's even a new, state-of-the-art teaching hospital on-site so staff and veterinary students can provide medical care that shelter animals are rarely fortunate enough to get. Anyway, I've got the kitty's processing number so I can call in and check on him and see if he gets adopted. Fingers crossed he finds a great new home!

And speaking of cats, does your warrior cat need some armor, by chance? If so, see this artist. How awesome is this cat armor???

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Silksinger winners!

Hi! Thanks again for playing my games! The trivia question was: What is the term used for faerie babies and small children?

Now, there was a particular answer I was after, but I kind of goofed. I guess I should have said: What are faerie children called, because the very first line of the book is: "The wolf licked the babe's face and pronounced her sweet." Babe. That is not what I was after, but I decided to accept it because, yeah, I guess it's right too. But most of the entries got what I was after, and here now to tell you what that is, our spokesmodel Clementine Pie, posing as a faerie baby (note: in case you're unsure, NO, those are not her real ears!):













That's it. The answer is: SPROUT! But I also accepted "babe."

And the winners of the two signed copies of Silksinger are:

Sarah in Indiana


Sara in Finland

Yay, HURRAY!!!

Remember, I haven't received my *Back to the Future box* yet (as I've said before, there's a scene in Back to the Future where George McFly gets a box of his new book from his publisher, and that always stuck in my head. I've since discovered that the only people who seem to remember that scene are the people who dreamed of becoming writers themselves. Do you remember it?) but I'll send these out once I do. Thanks again!

Oh. And one more thing. If you read Silksinger and like it, I'd be much obliged if you'd take a moment to post a quick review to Amazon. Of course you don't have to, but if you have a few minutes to do it, it would be awesome. Thank you!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Quick contest update

The Silksinger giveaway contest (see last post) will be open through the end of the weekend, at which time Clementine will give you the answer to the trivia question and announce the winners. See you then!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Happy Book Birthday, Silksinger!

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Silksinger, happy birthday to you, and many moooooore!"


It's official. Silksinger is born :-) Here, have a cupcake!

So, what's Silksinger about?

Whisper Silksinger is no warrior--she’s a weaver of flying carpets. But when devils attack her isolated island home, she must flee alone with nothing but a copper tea kettle and the ember that smolders inside it. That ember--her secret and her burden--is none other than the Azazel, one of the seven Djinn who made the world, and it falls to Whisper to keep him safe.

Pursued by devils, she joins a dragonfly caravan and meets Hirik, a mysterious faerie mercenary with an ancient sword and a dangerous secret of his own.

All the while, Magpie Windwitch, the Djinn King’s Champion, is on their trail, intent on finding Whisper before the devils do. It’s a desperate quest, because if the Azazel should die, the Tapestry of Creation will fail, and all life with it.

Discover an exotic world of secrets and spice, fortune-tellers, hobgoblins, mercenaries, and devils. Whisper and Hirik are intriguing new charactrs whose unexpected magic will play an important role in the battles to come, as new foes rise and the devil armies of the Dawn Days are unleashed once more.

Ooh. Chills.

Let me see, what can I tell you about the creation of Silksinger? Hm. Well, for one thing, it is not easier to write a second novel than it is a first! Also, when you think you know what your new book is going to be about . . . you think you've got it all mapped out? Well. Books can be like children. You know, you want them to grow up to be doctors, but they have their own ideas. Also, interweaving multiple plotlines all while trying to carry on a multi-book story arc? It often felt like I was trying to braid hair with more strands than I had fingers to hold them. Like my head could not contain it all.

Hey, remember that old tootsie pop commercial?
tee hee. So, how many attempts does it take to get the proper beginning of a novel? I don't know! Not three. More like this:
Don't ask how many completely different first chapters and first 50-60 pages I wrote. A lot/. It was fairly late in the game that I came up with the first chapter I posted yesterday. The important question is:

(How funny! I was interrupted and just came back to the post and looking at the above text, I have no idea what I was going to say the important question was! I guess it wasn't that important! The interruption? There's this extremely skinny black and white cat with big green eyes and matted fur that has appeared around the neighborhood recently. Unlike the many ferals, it's wearing a collar. Well, it just came to the door. I mean, it nudged the screen door so I could hear a creak and thought someone was on the porch. Poor kitty, he wants to come in. He's so skinny! He must have been abandoned. It's heartbreaking. I brought him out some wet dog food and he chowed down and let me pet him. I need to figure out a way to help this cat. Hm. Anyone local want to rehab a sweet skinny cat that will be really pretty once he's bathed and fattened up? I want to, but Leroy's not so into cats. Anyway. That's what made me forget my important question.)

So, forget the important question. Today all you should be worrying about is reading Silksinger while eating cupcakes. Okay, and mangoes.

And now, for the winners of the Blackbringer giveaway!

It was really hard to decide, so many of you had such awesome reasons why the book should go to you, and it was very entertaining and heartwarming. In the end, though, had to choose. Here are the three winners:

"Jem M" who likened reading my blog to eating a cupcake, and also used the word "eldritch" which happens to be one of my all-time favorite words.

"Jeva L" who wrote her reasons as an acrostic poem that spells out "Magpie Windwitch," and whose villainous father wouldn't let her buy Blackbringer -- and I quote "cue the VIOLINS. TEARS. HANDKERCHIEFS." Just my kind of teen melodrama!

"Shelley" who finished her first novel with the help of Not For Robots, and who teaches writing in California and will bring the book in for her students.

Congratulations! I'll be sending your books out very soon. I'm sorry I can't send one to everybody who wrote in. Thank you so much for participating! You still have a chance to win something, however, because today is Silksinger giveaway day! For this giveaway I'm offering two hardcover copies of the book, but you'll have to wait for them because I do not in fact have them yet. I expect to receive my box of books from the publisher any day.

How do you win Silksinger?
This time, instead of telling my why you want it, I'm going to ask you to answer a Dreamdark trivia question that should be easy if you've read Blackbringer. Are you ready? You're going to email me the answer with the subject line SILKSINGER, PLEASE, in all caps. Remember to include your mailing address!

The question is:

What is the term used for faerie babies and small children?

The contest will be open through the end of the day on Friday, at which time I will put all the correct entries in a hat and choose two at random. You will win a signed copy of Silksinger and a pack of Rathersting tattoos.

Have a fabulous day!

Order Blackbringer in hardcover.
Order Blackbringer in paperback.
Order Silksinger in hardcover.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Countdown to Silksinger -- 1 more day!

One more day till Silksinger! I guess I kind of counted wrong yesterday when I said three days. I was including Thursday when I shouldn't have. Ehh. Anyway. Counting is not my forte. Writing, I hope, is my forte.

Thank you for all the wonderful contest entries yesterday! I'm going to have such a hard time deciding. I have to say I love the one from Jessica in New Zealand who promises to drop the book off at Peter Jackson's house when she's finished with it :-) I'll keep the Blackbringer contest open for the rest of today, and tomorrow I will switch to a Silksinger contest.

Today, I thought I'd tempt you with the first chapter of Silksinger:


Whisper Silksinger knew two kinds of death. There was the peaceful kind, quiet as eyelids fluttering shut, and there was the kind with teeth, sudden as a spurt of blood, a devil pounce, a scream. She had seen both. Of her whole clan only three faeries remained, and now death had come for them too.

And it had come with teeth.

“Whisperchild, fly faster!” her grandmother cried, perched behind her on the flying carpet. Whisper clutched the carpet’s edge tight in both hands and looked over her shoulder. The devils were closing in, a rampaging, winged swarm of them too great to count.

She faced forward again, her black eyes wild with panic. The magical glyph for speed was already burning bright in her mind; she didn’t know how to make the carpet fly any faster!

Beside them on a carpet of his own, Whisper’s grandfather was conjuring fistfuls of bluefire and hurling them at the horde, striking the devils again and again. They lit up like torches in the night sky. Some kept flying, fully ablaze. Others plunged like meteors into the bay below and hit the water with a hiss. But there were still more devils, and more. They were so close now that when Whisper glanced back again she could see the moonlight shining on their slaver.

“Faster, Whisper!” her grandmother cried again.

“I can’t go any faster!”

They were scamperers all three, as Silksingers had always been. Their wings were small as cherry blossoms and couldn’t lift them in flight, so their only hope of escape was the flying carpets. But these were works of beauty, not of battle, and they weren’t spelled for speed.

The devils gained.

Whisper’s grandfather drew up close beside her. “Whisperchild,” he said urgently. “Take this.” He thrust a battered copper tea kettle at her. Besides the carpets, it was the only thing they’d taken when they fled the devils. Whisper clutched it close and stared at her grandfather.

“But, Opa--”

“Keep it safe,” he said. “I love you, child. Blessings fly with you.”

His words struck a sudden terror in her. “What are you going to do?” she cried.

But he didn’t answer. He reached out and clasped his wife’s hand and said, “Plum my love, be brave.”

“Blessings, my husband,” she said, clasping his hand hard. “And you.”

Whisper gasped, “Nay!” as her grandfather whipped his carpet around to face the oncoming devils. In an instant the swarm was on him, wings and teeth, tails and talons, slashing, shrieking. As her carpet scudded away through the skies, Whisper’s concentration failed. “Opa!” she cried. The glyph for speed fell from her mind and the carpet began to slow as she looked back in horror.

“Whisper, fly!” Plum commanded.

But Whisper couldn’t take her eyes off the clot of devils. No two were alike -- scaled and slime-slicked, horned, spined, beaked, and barbed. She could see no trace of her grandfather through their rotten feathers and hides. As she stared, stricken, she saw shapes peel themselves away from the frenzy and wheel in the air on jagged wings. And she saw. . . a sparkle inside the swarm.

“Look away!” Plum cried.

And then the night sky bloomed daylight.

A blast of white radiated outward, and too late Whisper squeezed her eyes shut. Strobing light blinded her; a quaking silence filled her head. Light and dark clashed and she didn’t know if her eyes were open or closed, if it was day or night. An instant after the flash, a wave of heat rolled past; it prickled Whisper’s skin and stole her breath. As she reeled in shock, her grandmother visioned the glyph for speed and got the carpet racing through the sky again, over the dark waters of the Bay of Drowned Dragons, away from the heat.

Away from the ash.

“Dragonfire,” choked Whisper. A sob was building in her chest. She knew what her grandfather had done. He had visioned the twelfth glyph for fire and it had consumed him. It was a dragon’s glyph, a magic too powerful by far for a faerie, as her grandfather had known it would be. He had incinerated himself and taken all those devils with him so that his wife and granddaughter might escape, and keep safe their precious burden. Whisper clutched the tea kettle tight to her belly. The sob escaped her throat.

“Hush, child, and look back,” Plum said. “Did it take them all?”

Whisper turned to look but she was still half-blind. She couldn’t see what lay behind her, but she heard it. A scream shrilled forth and was quickly answered by another. She remembered the shapes that had peeled themselves away from the swarm just before the blast. They had survived. Squinting, she could just see them coming. “There are two!” she said.

“Speed. Quickly!” Plum snapped.

Whisper summoned the glyph. She faced ahead and felt the wind quicken against her face. Her vision was clearing and she saw they had nearly reached the mainland. The bay’s hundreds of islands lay behind them now in all their strange and scattered shapes. One of those islands was their home and this was the farthest Whisper had ever been from it. How had the devils found them? For four thousand years her clan had lived in secrecy, believed dead by the world, and now they were flushed from their island like songbirds from a thicket, to be devoured in flight!

Whisper concentrated. She knew that if she let the glyph slip the devils would be on them in a flash. She would die, and the unthinkable would happen: they would take the kettle!

Behind her, her grandmother conjured bluefire and threw it, but her aim was poor and the devils dodged the blasts, drawing ever nearer. They came so close that Whisper could smell them, putrid as fish festering on a rock. And then Plum hit one -- it went up in a blaze but kept coming, its wingbeats fanning its own flames until it was a ball of scalding blue light, somehow still flying. It reached out with its talons, hooked the fringe of the carpet, and yanked.

The carpet lurched, and the other devil caught up. It descended on the faeries, squalling, and battered at them with its stinking wings. Claws grazed Whisper’s cheek -- it was groping for the tea kettle! She curled around it as if her own slender body could keep it safe, but it was no use.

Pain knifed into her bare shoulders -- talons, sinking in, clamping down. The devil had her. She screamed and held the kettle tight as the beast dragged her off the carpet.

This was it. This was death.

Her grandmother grabbed her around the waist. For a sickening second she hung suspended between them, the talons ripping at her shoulders, Plum tugging her back. Their eyes met. Whisper knew her own were wild, but Plum’s were cool as agate stones. Keeping one arm around Whisper’s waist she reached up and grabbed the devil’s foot with the other and wrenched it away. Flesh tore and pain lashed through Whisper’s body like lightning bolts. The devil released her and she dropped back onto the flying carpet, but Plum didn’t release the devil. Still hanging onto it, she looked into Whisper’s eyes and said, “The clan’s duty is yours now, Whisperchild. Blessings go with you.”

And she pushed her off the flying carpet.

Whisper fell. Above her, hot white light flared and night once more turned to day. She hit the ground hard. She hadn’t even realized they’d reached the mainland. She lay gasping for breath while overhead, dragonfire blistered the sky.

Blindness and silence pressed in on her, and it was many long moments before her vision cleared enough that she could see. She was on a beach, the water only a few yards off. The sky was empty and silent, and ashes were sifting down like black snow and settling on the sand. The ashes were devils, and they were carpet, and they were her grandmother.

Tears glistened in Whisper’s lashes but didn’t fall, and ashes caught there and clumped. She was too stunned even to grieve. The tea kettle had rolled onto its side in the sand and she stared at it, unblinking.

Inside it burned an ember. It didn’t look like much, a small seed of fire, but devils would kill for it, her grandparents had died for it, and the world depended on it. And now it fell to her to keep it safe.

What would she do? She couldn’t go home -- the devils had found them there. Where could she go? She knew nothing of the world beyond her island. She couldn’t fly, and she was no warrior -- she had no weapon, and she wasn’t even brave. Ever since the day many years ago when she’d seen a sea serpent’s jaws close over her parents, she had lived with a chill at the nape of her neck, wanting always to glance over her shoulder.

Shakily, Whisper drew herself up to her knees and gathered the kettle back into her arms, feeling the low pulse of warmth from within.

“Please,” she whispered to the ember. “Please wake.” But it had not stirred once in all the millenia that the Silksingers had guarded it. Nor did it now.

Whisper knelt on the beach, pale and trembling, shoulders torn and bleeding. She hugged the warm kettle close but it did no good. She was alone now, and she was as cold as a pit of ash after a fire has burned out.

Order Blackbringer in hardcover.
Order Blackbringer in paperback.
Order Silksinger in hardcover.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Countdown to Silksinger -- 3 more days!

Good morning!
As I mentioned yesterday, my second novel, Dreamdark: Silksinger, comes out this Thursday! Hurray! In honor of Dreamdark I will be giving away some books over the next few days, starting today with Blackbringer. But that will come at the end of the post. First I want to tell you a little bit about it, how it came to be written, and why you should read it if you haven't yet :-)
I'd like to introduce you to my first novel, Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer.

It is the faeries' doom to forget what ought never be forgotten. Their wars have faded to legend. Their foes are naught but nursery tales. After thousands of years of peace, the name Blackbringer inspires no fear. But it should. The Blackbringer is no nursery tale. He's the dark come to life. And he's back.

So, Laini, why faeries, anyway?
That's a good question. It just sort of happened. Really, I was inspired to write the book by some artwork I did on a whim five or six years ago: fully articulated, oil-painted faerie paperdolls by the names of (left to right) Poppy, Magpie, and Whisper:
I spent several winter months on these, completely obsessed. They had multiple outfits; they had animal sidekicks and tea sets and gardens. As I drew and painted, I thought up stories for my characters: Magpie was raised by a gang of wandering thespian crows; she was the granddaughter of the West Wind; she had a tuft of hair that stuck straight up as a consequence of being licked on the head by a fox when she was a baby. Poppy could speak to plants and trees; Whisper could whisper open passageways in solid rock and escape through them (this talent did not make it into Silksinger, by the way, but was in some early drafts). I started jotting this stuff down.

That summer I went to the national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, and these dolls were in my art portfolio. An editor contacted me after the conference and asked if I'd considered writing a story to go with them. I had, I said. I had six chapters -- did she want to see them? She did. I sent them. She asked for more. I had to -- ulp! -- write more! It is to that editor, Abigail Samoun, that I credit the completion of my first novel. Up until that point I'd let my perfectionism get the better of me as a writer and I hadn't been able to finish things! But Abigail's interest really got me working, and kept me working, for which I will be eternally grateful. To those of you trying to finish first novels, if there isn't an editor waiting to read more, try to arrange so that someone is waiting for more: a writing group or a trusted friend. Set deadlines for yourself and be strict with yourself. The very first thing a novel has to be is: FINISHED. After that, you can begin the work of making it GOOD.

How long did it take you to write?
It took me more than two years, on and off, to finish Blackbringer. When I began it I didn't really know what it was. I imagined, in keeping with the sweet characters above, a lighter story for younger girls. But as it developed (and with some crucial workshops at SCBWI along the way) it became something else: the kind of books I love: a dark and sophisticated fantasy adventure story, with both humor and pathos, fun and danger.

What's Blackbringer about?
It's the story of a young faerie, Magpie Windwitch, who leads quite an unusual life. Unlike other faeries, who live sheltered in deep forests, blissfully ignorant of the state of the wider world, Magpie travels around with a gang of theatrical crows, performing at the farflung faerieholds, learning the old magic before it's lost forever, and recapturing devils that have been let loose from their ancient prisons.

You see, thousands of years ago the faeries won the Devil Wars, and the devils of the age were all sealed in silver bottles and cast adrift in the sea. The magic of the seals would prevent any creature alive from releasing the prisoners, but time passed, and a new species came to be -- humans -- and the magic of the seals did not apply to them. Now unwitting humans are letting the devils out, and Magpie is the only faerie who's even noticed!

One day she comes across the trail of a devil far worse than any she has yet encountered, one that threatens the very fabric of the world. To catch him, she has to track down the lost Djinn King who first dreamed the world into being. The search will bring her back to Dreamdark, the mystical forest of her birth, and into dark places she never dreamed she'd go. She'll make friends -- and lose friends -- discover gifts she never knew she possessed, and unearth ancient secrets in her quest to stop the Blackbringer, the worst enemy her folk have ever known.

Who should read Blackbringer?
Children ages eight to one hundred and eight; Peter Jackson; Oprah; Neil Gaiman; Stephen King; Malia and Sasha Obama; YOU.

Why should you read it?
Because it makes me really, really happy when people read my book. Really really happy, like goofy-happy. Seriously. And also because you should read it now in preparation for Silksinger, which is totally awesome, if I don't say so myself :-)

And yes, you can win a copy! Look here:
Three chances! Three signed copies, complete with a set of Rathersting tattoos to make you look like a warrior.

How do you win?
Just email me and let me know why you'd like to receive the book, and I will choose three people. Remember to include your mailing address, and put this in the subject line: BLACKBRINGER, PLEASE in all caps.

Or you can buy it:
Order Blackbringer in hardcover.
Order Blackbringer in paperback.

Easy peasy. Okey dokey. And that's it for today's Countdown to Silksinger. Have a great day!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunny weekend of books and cupcakes and robots and more!

Wow, we had a very full weekend, which was marvelous, because it was beautifully sunny and possibly our last truly summery weekend of the year. We got outside a bit and did some touristy things, since a lovely friend was here from New York, a friend who became a friend on our recent trip to New York and also happens to be the Scholastic publicist in charge of bringing Lips Touch to the attention of the world.

[Hi Sheila Marie!]
Sheila Marie took care of us when we went out to Book Expo, and she's just fabulous, so we were thrilled to learn she was coming to Portland for PNBA -- that is, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference. Mouthful, that is. So, this weekend was my first regional publishing trade show, and it happened to be held just minutes from our house, which was convenient, since Jim and I were scheduled to sign Lips Touch on Friday, and Silksinger on Saturday. (by the way, Silksinger comes out this Thursday!!!!!)

The regional trade shows are basically the place where the publishers' regional reps (for example, Scholastic has 7 reps that cover the entire country; I don't know if that's standard or if other publishers have more or less) show new books to independent booksellers. (There are in-house people who sells directly to the chains). So regional shows are a great way to meet the fabulous indie booksellers in your part of the country. And of course, the fabulous reps! I mean, the rep's enthusiasm for a particular book is hugely important -- they're representing a lot of titles, after all; an author hopes a rep likes their book and talks it up :-)

These were Clementine's first book signings, and we had a *plan* for her to snooze through them and just look peaceful and adorable in her sling all the while. Plans, ha! She snoozed, all right, up to the very second we were sitting down at the signing table! Like a little baby dinosaur hatching from an egg, she came awake with all her cute little growls and cries, and we had to shuck her from her peanut shell and jiggle her about, and Jim ended up holding her in one arm the whole time, while I signed and then held open books for him to sign. It was pretty cute :-) And afterward we went to dinner with Sheila Marie, who by the way was at PNBA not for the show itself so much as because Scholastic had an author/illustrator who was a guest of honor: the wonderful Mark Teague, whose picture books I've long loved. Do you know these books?
Written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague, there are a slew of them, and Mark has many more books besides, and his latest is his first novel, The Doom Machine. Oh, and the Scholastic store in Soho has a giant replica of one of Mark's dinosaurs:
How awesome is that?

So we went to dinner with Sheila Marie and Mark and the Scholastic rep, Chris, who was also lovely. (What is it about book people that they're all so great?)
See how Clementine is asleep in that picture?


That is not representative of the evening. Whoa. Let's say that this dinner was our first unsuccessful outing with the baby dinosaur :-( She was asleep in her peanut shell, but unlike all other meals out we've had so far, this did not last. She woke up . . . unhappy. The dining room where we were was up a long flight of stairs, and I got my exercise taking her in and out, and exercising my child-bouncing muscles! I even had to sit, for lack of a better place, indian-style on the lawn of the house next-door to the restaurant and nurse her there. (It was a gorgeous evening, so that was kind of fun!) When it was Jim's turn to take her out so I could choke down some food, he said later she screamed so much on the street he thought people would think he was stealing her. Ha ha! Anyway, whew. She did fall asleep, and we managed to have some time where we both got to sit at the table and enjoy the company.

The rest of the weekend was really nice and full. After our Silksinger signing we took Sheila Marie over to the west side of town for a picnic in the Rose Garden -- one of Portland's most famous spots. They're the test gardens for the International Rose Society, and they look down over the city. Fantastic spot, amazing flowers.
Again: perfect weather, and I was so happy for a last chance to dress Clementine in her summery clothes before it cools off:
And of course the picnic involved cupcakes. Can't have a picnic without cupcakes!

We also plundered around the Pearl District, including Powell's, where we happened to run into Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi -- they were in town on a Spiderwick tour, but were just shopping, incognito :-) Jim and Clementine and I did go to see them speak the next morning at our neighborhood children's bookstore, A Children's Place, and they were fabulous.
Tony draws like a maniac, and not only did he do big drawings to give away to kids who could answer Spiderwick trivia, but he draws a character in every single book he signs, and so fast! Amazing. In our book he drew Thimbletack :-)

And yes, Clementine did snooze peacefully through the whole event, as she did through dinner and even post-dinner gelato.
It was really a splendid weekend of sunshine and books and signings and coffee and robots . . .
. . . (Thank you Heather--different Heather than the skull sweater!--for the knitted robot; that makes three plush robots which constitutes a formal "collection") . . . and cupcakes and gelato and pizza and strolling and buying art supplies and on and on, and now we're back to normal: overcast skies and the need to WORK. Whew. So now I need to stop blogging away my work window of Clementine sleeping and get some "writing" done. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Drawing while breastfeeding :-)

Well, about those simple paintings I was talking about doing; I did one last night!
I knew, basically, that I wanted to attempt a really simple style -- a kind of "naive" childlike style of drawing with no worrying about perspective or realism. Just color and fun. The way I used to work was rewarding after the fact, but I'd spend days working on a drawing with reference photos and overlays, trying to get everything just right. It wasn't fun. Then I'd spend weeks oil painting it. That was kind of fun, but it took too long trying to achieve a degree of realism.

So yesterday I sat down to do some sketches, hoping to find some "naive" style that I would like -- but I couldn't really make my brain do it! It's harder than it looks! I wasn't getting anything I liked. Then Clementine woke up and wanted to be fed, so I had her in my lap, and I continued drawing, only this time I had a boppy and a baby on my lap, so I had the paper way out to the side of me on the sofa and I could barely see it. Still, I sketched, and . . . I liked those drawings! Something about the process encouraged looseness that is not my usual style! It was fun! So last night, after Clementine was put down to bed (though she woke up repeatedly and Jim and I took turns coaxing her back to sleep), I painted this. Here's a detail:
It's not a work of staggering genius or anything, but it was just what I wanted to do: a simple, colorful painting, quickly executed.

And since I spend a lot of time nursing, that's a lot of drawing time :-) I got to thinking about whether writing in that way might loosen me up the way it did with drawing. Maybe. I have some picture book ideas I might play with while nursing: notebook on the sofa beside me, messy writing. When you want to try a new style, it can help to change your set-up. If you write on a computer, try hand-writing, maybe with a purple pen. You know?

Oh, and I still had to fight my natural tendencies with the painting. When I got to my studio desk with the drawing and faced the decisions of turning it into a painting, I began in my usual old way, which was to painstakingly transfer the drawing onto a prepared canvas. Ugh. As soon as I started doing that, it wasn't fun anymore. So I stopped, and redrew the drawing on the canvas instead, knowing it wouldn't come out exactly the same, but encouraging any new wonkiness, because that's what I want, after all. And it was way more fun that way! So, as the painting expresses, I'm pretty HAPPY :-) It was nice to be putting color on a canvas again!

Oh yeah. One more thing . . .




Awww . . .

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Photography & Paintings -- creative urges

Earlier this year I'd made it a goal to learn how to use my camera -- to be able to take it off the fully auto settings and get more interesting, sophisticated pictures. So far, I haven't followed up on that. Well. I did order a DVD instructional manual for my camera, but what I found, watching it twice, was that I need to understand the basic principles of photography first, before I can understand how to manipulate them on my camera. You know: aperture, shutter speed, white balance, etc. I got a little confused :-(

Last week I was emailing with a woman who was in our birthing class; she's had her baby too, and she sent a link to the local photographer they'd hired to take newborn pictures of him. Well, I don't come from a family that has ever had studio portraits done. Ever. It didn't even occur to me to do this, even though our birthing class teacher had given us all vouchers for the photographer, for a very nice discount. I guess I thought I could take pictures that were "good enough." Well. As soon as I saw the photographer's blog, I realized the drastic difference between professional portraits and my snapshots. My oh my. I immediately contacted the photographer to hire her to take some pictures before Clementine gets much bigger, but beyond that, it made me want more than ever to follow through on my goal of becoming a better photographer!

So I signed up for a night class for this semester. Yay! My dad is going to take it with me, and I'm really excited! It's a basics of digital photography class, for SLR, covering all those things I need to learn: f-stop and depth of field, shutter speed, ISO, etc. Perfect. I'm sure I will be posting *assignments* here over the next few months.

I'm also feeling a real urgency to do a little painting. It's been so long! I used to paint daily, but I can't recall the last time I uncapped a tube of oil paint. Cheap craft paint, yes, and that's not nothing. Anyway, my old "style" and techniques were way too painstaking for my current life style . . .

. . . and it's been long enough now since I've worked that way that I think it's feasible I could begin anew, with an all-new style, something much simpler and more suited to the minutes in the day I have available. First step: get a work station set up in the [newly decluttered] studio, with some small canvasses prepped, some ink, some acrylics and collage materials.

Really. I'm going to do it. Like, one-hour paintings instead of one-month paintings like I used to do. I'll show you :-)

(And by the way, I'm writing with a sleeping baby in my lap again, just like in the photo from the last post. It's becoming a thing. Not ergonomic, but very cute!)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

It's been a month already??!!??

Four weeks ago right now, I was in the hospital in labor. Wow. Four weeks!!! That's crazy. It feels like four days. I really should be keeping a journal so I'll remember these days better. It's so weird how they just melt away. Maybe I should start another blog, one that's all Clementine all the time, so that I don't turn this one into a baby blog! Just what I have time for: another blog! ha ha.

Not surprisingly, Clementine sleeps much better when she's being held, which has led to some interesting writing conditions:
I actually managed to get a bit done that day! She was really conked out. I couldn't reach the keyboard very well, but I mostly managed. I've tried some one-handed typing too. Really hard to get any flow going that way!

Here we're doing some "tummy time":
Her neck is getting so strong!

And today, the rain came. Lovely lovely autumn, I welcome you. As we were going over to a friend's house for a scone breakfast, Clementine got a chance to wear her pink skull sweater! It fits perfectly, and is so adorable. Thank you, Heather! Here we are in our pink sweaters:
There's a hat that goes with it:
tee hee hee!

Let's see, what have we been doing around here? Perfecting the "bounce walk." I swear, the bounce walk is in all of us, just waiting to be unleashed. We've also been dancing to 80s music. Watched the movie "Adventureland" the other day, and while the movie itself didn't wow us, the soundtrack was awesome and led to a long e-music and i-tunes listening session as Jim and I recalled the bands of our 80s and downloaded songs. That was fun! Oh, and we just finished watching Season 4 of Project Runway. We [heart] Project Runway, and you know what I liked about Season 4? How nice everybody was! I guess it's generally good for ratings on reality shows when the contestants are super-bitchy and snarky, but I hate that. What I love about Project Runway is the creativity and the beauty of the craft, not the snark, so it was great to have a mostly pleasant group of talented people being nice to each other, while still maintaining a healthy spirit of competition. Great show. And I just read a good book: The Last Summer (Of You & Me) by Ann Brashares -- it's her first adult novel (she wrote the Traveling Pants books) and I really liked it, and was somewhat startled to see what bad reviews it's gotten on Goodreads. People are so critical! Another book I read recently, a Tor fantasy paperback called Firebird was savaged on Goodreads, but I really liked it--and I don't think I'm un-critical. Conversely, I've read a lot of mediocre YA novels lately that other readers seem to ADORE, and I just think are terribly "meh." So it goes. So that's what we've been doing around here. A lot of baby-holding and baby-bouncing and dancing, some TV-watching and reading while nursing, some baby-wearing, a bit of writing (and drawing, in Jim's case), a lot of gazing adoringly at Clementine and each other. (Jim is so cute while dancing to Pearl Jam with a tiny baby :-)


Friday, September 04, 2009

Most innovative review of Blackbringer yet!

I lovvvvvvve this:
Talking potatoes, whoever you are, you rock :-)

[update] Oh wait! I found the home base of the talking potatoes! And I have discovered their secret identity. They just happen to be honorary Rathersting warriors :-)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Book trailer for Lips Touch! Sneak peek art! And: writing is happening!

Look what Scholastic made!
Cool! Please feel free to circulate and repost :-)

Also, at last, a sneak peek at Jim's finished art for the book! We're only allowed to show a tiny portion and it's really hard to choose which pages, but here are a few. From the first story, "Goblin Fruit," which is an homage to Christina Rossetti's truly bizarre and delectable 1859 poem, "Goblin Market". The title page:
Hm. What are those girls looking at? Maybe this ...

From "Spicy Little Curses Such As These," which is set in India in 1918:


And lastly, from "Hatchling," which is the third and longest tale. Wish I could show more!
So there you have it, the sneak peek. I can't wait for the real book to be out there for you to see and hold. It's so pretty! And then, of course, I'm eager for people to read it too!

As for writing, yes, it is happening! Yesterday while Clementine slept in her swing, I wrote a chapter. An entire chapter of over 2000 words. Yay! The day before was about a thousand, and it was kind of like pulling teeth, but then yesterday it unexpectedly got fun. I love it when that happens. Being the uptight perfectionist I am, it's not all that often that I can just *story-tell* for the pure fun of seeing what unfolds. I'm too self-critical for that. But I'm on an ongoing life quest to achieve that state of pure storytelling pleasure (the editing can come later!), and sometimes it happens. I have this fantasy that by my tenth or fifteenth book I'll somehow have gained Jedi mastery over my brain and I'll be able to . . . just write. You know, without all the crazy, the obsessing, the worrying whether it's perfect. My brain and I are still ironing out our relationship, ha ha.

Not sure how today is going to go, writing-wise. Today Clementine does not appear to be the least bit sleepy :-)