Friday, October 30, 2009

Ah, old pets . . .

I tweeted yesterday (yes, I tweet now. Occasionally.) that "Old pets are expensive." I don't think I need to have added that they are worth it, as they are family. But just in case that wasn't understood: they are totally, totally worth it.
This seemingly disembodied head is dear 16-year-old Leroy in his cone, to prevent him from chewing at the growth on his chest. You might not know this, but these cones are really noisy in the middle of the night when the dog starts bumbling around, bumping into the bassinet (eeeeek! He's going to wake the baby!!!!!!) God, not a restful night! Jim is off right now buying some soft neck-pillow-type collar that will be more comfortable for him and much less likely to wake up Clementine.
He is also wearing a T-shirt to keep the lump from oozing on stuff. Poor old boy. We've already had this growth removed twice, and you know what surgery costs. We don't really want to do that again, because Leroy is 16, but when we got home from my dad's birthday dinner last week it had burst and was bleeding everywhere and Jim had to take him to Dove Lewis, the emergency hospital, and pay $75 for it to stop bleeding on its own while he was waiting, and then be told there was nothing they could do anyway but remove it, for double the cost of going to our regular vet. Sigh. Still trying to avoid surgery.

The lump, however, is not the thing we worry about. Leroy's having trouble with his hind legs. He's had arthritis for years. Check out this dog's pharmacy:
Crazy! He's been on regular Adequan Canine injections, which have worked wonders (if you have an arthritic dog, seriously: look into it), but now it seems like he might have a herniated disc in his back and he's just really losing strength, and kind of walking hunched up like a raccoon. There have been some bad days. He was actually scheduled for acupuncture this morning, but he's doing better so we canceled it. Jim and I have not even ever had acupuncture! Of course, nor have we had radiation (thank god), but Leroy has, a couple of years ago when he had melanoma on the roof of his mouth that -- by sheer luck -- the vet caught early while removing an abscessed tooth! (Usually that is not caught early enough to treat.)

All this stuff really adds up. Special food, multiple medications, vet visits. And looming over all of it is the terrible knowledge that one of these days . . . the time will come where we have a decision to make. It's not now, and maybe it won't be very soon. It's been three years since we lost our Shiloh, my beautiful Siberian husky. In her final weeks (when she deteriorated fast after initially responding well to radiation for nasal cancer), I remember that everyone would say, "You'll know when it's time," and I wasn't sure if that was true. How would we know? But you know what? We really really did know.

Leroy is a very tough old boy. He's still eating happily and can walk well enough (with the exception of a scary day or two last week) for two short daily walks. He's still happy, and hopefully will stay so for a while yet :-)

An another, totally unrelated, topic: Patrick Rothfuss has a great post up today on how even writers hate their job sometimes. Check out that unbelievable email from a reader . . . (thanks, Stephanie, for the link!) Oh, and while you're over at Pat's blog, scroll down a few posts. He's got an awesome fundraiser going right now: it's like a raffle; you purchase chances to win your name (or name of your choice) going into his next book! The proceeds go to Heifer International, who he raised over $100,000 for last year! This fundraiser is somewhat scaled back from last year's, which practically got to being a full-time job for him and his girlfriend. Since they have a brand-new baby, I'm glad they didn't attempt such a massive undertaking this year. It's pretty awesome they're doing it at all.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Discipline of Fun -- part II

I've been working on this Discipline of Fun thing -- that is, pursuing fun in writing, with the fun itself being as much an end as the actual finished manuscript. Well, look at it this way: if it is fun, there's more likely to be a finished manuscript, right? So the question is, how do you going about making it fun, all or at least most of the time?

That is the quest.

Amber Lough made a great suggestion:

"Jacqui Robbins gave me a great idea yesterday---have a secret notebook in which I should write a super secret novel that NO ONE will EVER read. It's fantastic to write in it because there is absolutely no pressure and my internal editor is bored."

I love this idea. For drama you can keep your secret notebook locked in some carved chest under the bed and only pull it out late at night when everyone else is sleeping. Write only by candlelight. Slip into a different mindset, a different world. How fun would that be?!

The trouble for me, though, is keeping the mental state over a period of time. I can be un-precious with a story in the early stages, but once I get into it and start to love it, then I can't help but think, "Ooh, this is my next-next novel. Ooh, I want it to be perfect." And then the fun starts to dribble down the drain, to be replaced by the dreaded perfectionism.

Which is where I'm at now: balanced precariously on the edge of fun. (Help me!) The last few days in a little spare time I dabbled with a short story I've been wanting to write, and it's been REALLY FUN. I'm writing in first person (my books are all in third), in a contemporary voice, and the subject matter is a combination of whimsy and the surreal and humor and DOOM. It's a premise that tickles me pink, with a title I adore, and on top of all that, I'm falling in love with my character. That beautiful thing is happening where the story unfurls itself effortlessly and things happen, like, out of nowhere. Like it's all really happening in a parallel dimension and someone is transmitting it to your brain? Like that.


But because of all that wonderfulness, because I'm falling in love with it, I'm starting to get precious with it. And not only that:

This *short story* is petitioning me to become a NOVEL.

A NOVEL! Ridiculous! You're a short story, darn you! BE A SHORT STORY!!!

All right, all right. FINE! I may as well admit it. This is not a short story. It needs to be a novel. Like I really need another one of those right now. *sigh* But what can I do? There's just too much potential for development in this idea, this premise, this plot, these characters, for it not to be a novel. Which means I can't write it right now. While it was a short story, I could justify spending a few days on it right now, for fun and warm-up, etc. Now that it is clearly a novel, I can't. I'm already writing one of those! So do I have to just put this away, then? In the midst of all this fun?

Can somebody please freeze time? Please? There are too many books I want to write, and I am too slow.

This post didn't turn out to be so much about the Discipline of Fun, did it? Oh well. I'm tired and I need to go to bed.

Good night!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Black tie???!!!??? + . . . the competition . . .

It has just sunk in that the National Book Award dinner/award ceremony is a BLACK-TIE AFFAIR. Affair. I don't know what else to call it. Event isn't fancy enough :-) Don't know if I've ever attended an affair. But: black tie! That means I have to buy a fancy dress! And Jim has to wear a tux! Thank goodness he already has one, from his days in the British Secret Intelligence Service -- ha ha. Okay, not really.

I was reading Sara Zarr's account of the 2007 NBAs and there are all the tuxedos in the photos and I thought, "Oh."

Some shopping is in order!

I'm so excited!!! I'm also a little anxious about logistics. I mean: Clementine. Obviously we're taking her to New York with us, but those are some long days, and she's a wee little creature who sometimes gets fussy if we do too much in a day. And of course there's the matter of the black tie affair!!! What to do? I'm trying to persuade my parents that they need a short holiday in NYC that just happens to coincide exactly with ours.

[Parents of mine, if you are reading this, what do you think? How can you say no to this face . . .]

Meanwhile, I've been reading a couple of the other finalists, and of course they're really really good. If you haven't seen the list, here it is:

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman; Beginning with Darwin's notorious chart listing reasons to wed and not to wed, Heiligman has created a unique, flowing, and meticulously researched picture of the controversial scientist and the effect of his marriage on his life and work.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip M. Hoose; Nine months before Rosa Parks’ history-making protest on a city bus, Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old Montgomery, Alabama, high-school student, was arrested and jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. Hoose draws from numerous personal interviews with Colvin in this exceptional title that is part historical account, part memoir.

Stitches, by David Small; . . . David Small's harrowing account of growing up under the watchless eyes of parents who gave him cancer (his radiologist father subjected him to unscrupulous x-rays for minor ailments) and let it develop untreated for years . . .

Jumped, by Rita Williams-Garcia; Leticia, a gossipy high-school student, knows that “Girl fights are ugly. Girl fights are personal.” She says this after overhearing that Dominique, the tough-as-nails basketball player, is planning to beat up pink-clad fashion-plate Trina at 2:45. Will Leticia do anything to intervene?

and of course . . .

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor. Three tales of supernatural love, each pivoting on a kiss that is no mere kiss, but an action with profound consequences for the kissers' souls.

Who will be the winner . . . ?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why keep a writing notebook?

Why keep a writing notebook?

Because when you leaf through it you find things you have absolutely no memory of writing. Like this:

Once upon a time, in a little cottage at the edge of a village, lived a girl with long braids the color of gingersnaps. Her eyes were brown and her freckles were like a sift of cinnamon sugar on toast, and she had a secret no one knew, not even her best friend, who was a cat named Murder.

The secret was hidden in a hollow tree trunk and she visited it on Sundays after church, the only time she could be sure Murder wouldn't follow her. (Murder hated church.)

That's all. That's all! But I want to know: what is in that hollow tree trunk??? No idea. Dang it.

On the next page of the notebook, this:

My new neighbor plays the harpsichord in a fairy band. No, not real fairies. This isn't that kind of story. I mean the kind of band that plays at fruity solstice festivals in the woods where everyone is barefoot and even the babies have dreadlocks. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Ahem.

But there is something wrong with a harpsichord-playing neighbor in a building with cardboard walls (practically).

I'd keep reading that. But I can't. Because that's all there is. Again, I have no memory of writing it.

In college I used to keep notebooks that I called "Attic Notebooks" although they had nothing to do with attics. They were notebooks that I would fill with *writing* -- writing of any stripe. Little passages like those above, rambles, poems, whatever. The only rule was that there was no looking back. Once a word was written you do not even glance back at it -- just keep on moving forward, until the notebook is filled. Then you're not allowed to read it for a month, by which time you're guaranteed to have forgotten everything in it. So, reading it is like finding a notebook in an attic, but all the ideas, all the sentences are your own. It was always so much fun reading those notebooks!

The above, I suppose, are a sort of unintentional attic notebook, brought on out of sheer absent-mindedness. Anyway, I'm a fan of writing notebooks. I have lots of them. You?

I'm still working on "the discipline of fun," by the way. Right now, I'm working on it in the form of a short story. I'm also trying to become more of a night-writer. It's a matter of survival, really. I've always been a morning writer, but I have found my mornings to be less than productive lately. I spend my mornings trying to resist nibbling Clementine :-) So. I have to change my ways. Hello, coffee! It is quarter to ten now, and I'm going to work on this short story. Here I go . . .

[added later] Question: Do people still get perms? I was casting about for a 7th grade hair disaster for the character in my short story, so I naturally thought of my own middle school hair disaster, which was a perm. But that was a couple of decades ago and I can't even remember the last time I even heard perms mentioned! Remember when they were super common? ha ha!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Painting with light -- cool photography effect

Photography class homework from last week:

This technique is so much fun! We were supposed to play with shutter speed to show motion, and these do that, though not in the way I think the teacher expected. I was looking around online for inspiration and I discovered "light painting," wherein, in the dark, you use flashlights and other light sources to "paint" on the darkness. That first swirl photo up top is an example of that, as is the word WRITE two posts ago.

But what ended up interesting me more came from a side note in a how-to video. The photographer said that if you wanted a person to show up in the photo too, to shine the light on them while the're in frame -- kind of paint them with the beam of the flashlight. So that's what the rest of these are: long exposures (13-20 seconds) in full darkness, with the subjects "painted" with the beam of a flashlight.

Have your subject freeze while you're "painting" them to minimize blur (though you may want some blur). For the double- or triple-exposure effect, paint one pose, then turn out the light while your subject moves to the next pose, then paint again. Obviously, you need a tripod for this, or at least to set your camera on a ledge or something.

This would be the perfect technique for faking ghost pictures, which I fully plan to do. If you have fun subjects like kids or friends in costume you could do some awesome stuff. I'm sure I'll try more! Meanwhile, this week the assignment is: reflections. Hm . . .

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

I read a really lovely book yesterday -- Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry. I bought this at a book signing here in Portland last winter (Parry is a Portland author), and for some reason I just hadn't read it yet. It got tucked somewhere -- it's a slim, unassuming little book, easily tucked. Slim and unassuming though it may be, it is also beautiful and deeply affecting, and served to remind me about the soldiers still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the effect of their absence here at home. Shame on me for having *tucked* that away like I did this book.

"Brother" lives on a ranch in sparsely populated Eastern Oregon. As the youngest of five boys, he is the only one still at home when his National Gaurdsman father is deployed to Iraq, along with many of the able-bodied adults of their small community. In only 161 pages, in Brother's thoroughly believable 12-year-old voice, Parry conveys the loss to the community that this deployment represents. Beyond the question of what a 12-year-old does without his father for 14 straight months looms the larger question: how do ranches get along in the hands of children and grandparents?

I really fell in love with this young boy -- he's the kind of boy you want your daughter to marry when they grow up! Sweet and good, and not in a boring, annoying way. I love to discover a good character who is not boring or annoying. Also, as a non-religious person, I like to find books in which deep faith is related in a non-righteous, non-in-your-face way. I didn't really ponder the title much -- Heart of a Shepherd -- probably because of my total ignorance of ranch life. If I knew more, it might have occurred to me sooner that ranchers are not shepherds, and I might have wondered what the title meant. As it was, I only thought about it once it came up in the story. When Brother is told by the Ecuadorian hired hand that he has the "heart of a shepherd," it's a statement about his true nature and even his destiny: perhaps he isn't a rancher like his father. Perhaps he is something else. What that is comes clear over the course of this book, as Brother struggles to keep a big cattle ranch going while also attending 6th grade, facing set-backs and tragedy with dignity and a quirky, homey 12-year-old voice.

To really bring things home, when I finished the book, I was sitting on the sofa nursing and couldn't get up, so I sat there a minute pondering it, and then I leafed through what was in reach -- first the new November issue of Martha Stewart Everyday Food (I'm so going to make that orzo bake, and yum: pie crust made out of crushed sugar cones!), and then yesterday's Oregonian newspaper. There on the front page was the news that Oregon's largest deployment of National Guard soldiers since WWII has just gone to Iraq. 2,600 men and women who never signed up for active duty have to leave their families, jobs, perhaps even ranches, to go fight a war . . . well, this isn't a place for statements about the right or wrong of the war. Parry doesn't engage in that in her book -- for all I know, these families in Eastern Oregon (likely conservative Republicans) endorse the war. Still, it's good to remember who's there, fighting, and who's suffering their absence, fearful every day that they might not return.

Heart of a Shepherd depicts that wait with dignity and a fair amount of heart-squeezing. It can be read in a sitting, but it really expands to fill up that small space with the big landscape of Eastern Oregon and the beautifully rendered lives of its inhabitants.

Squint, and I can see a Newbery seal on the cover of this book. The big, open sky of the cover image even seems designed to receive it :-)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Still Snoopy dancing (with interruptions)

I don't think I sounded as madly exuberantly happy in my post yesterday as I actually was, and that's because Clementine has a little cold which was making her uncomfortable and I just didn't have any leisurely stretch of time to craft a well-thought-out blog post suitable to the occasion. This is our first experience with a "sick" child -- it's really just a cold, no fever or anything, so I put "sick" in quotes because I cringe to imagine her or any baby being actually sick. We felt so helpless and miserable just over her tiny snuffly nose, it must be so truly truly awful when a baby/child is sick-sick. *shudders*

Anyway, since she was feeling not-so-great, she just wanted to be held all day, which to be honest isn't all that different from a normal day in the life of Clementine Pie :-) She's doing better today -- though still periodically snuffly and is now sleeping in her swing.

So, I can now resume Snoopy dancing!!! Thank you

[ha ha. Insert four-hour *interruption* here. So much for resuming Snoopy dance! I suppose that's life with a two-month-old. (And yes, I am typing this one-handed; Clementine is now asleep on my chest.)]

So. Yesterday and the mind-blowing news! My mind is scattered all over the place -- it's kind of like a butterfly zoo in there, with thoughts and ideas fluttering around and alighting for just a few seconds on this or that flower, then flittering away again. Mostly I keep thinking how this means that a lot more people will read my book, and that is amazing. Isn't that the thing we hope for? The words "National Book Award finalist" keep hitting me with a big WOW! Past years I've read the lists of finalists and blog posts about the awards ceremony and it was as remote to me as the Academy Awards. And now . . . we get to go to New York next month and be in that company and . . .

. . . maybe . . .

. . . just maybe . . .

. . . win the National Book Award.


(I still can't wrap my mind around that.)

A while ago, during that four-hour *interruption* (which was not really an interruption, but was LIFE, complete with beautiful baby in arms), I read Clementine one of my very favorite books, Max Makes a Million, by Maira Kalman. Do you know this book? This is the book that made me fall back in love with children's books as an adult (back in the '90s). It's a wonderful picture book about a dog named Max who is a poet, and who dreams of selling his book and going to live in Paris. Max says,

fat families and
skinny families
around the world
will be reading my poems.
And laughing, and crying.
I feel it in my bones.

I want to say, before anything,
that dreams
are very important."

A perfect book selection for today! I love the scene where Max gets "the call" from his agent.

"Someone was going to print my book.
Someone was going to sell my book.
Someone was going to buy my book."

It is a wonderful thing that we can write stories and that publishers make them available to the world, and that people read them. Thank you, publishers! Thank you, Scholastic Press and Arthur A. Levine Books, specifically Arthur Levine, for going ahead with this book, though short story collections aren't big business, and YA books aren't illustrated, and it wasn't necessarily the easiest sell.

This whole thing is also such a validation of the idea of "the discipline of fun" that I wrote about the other day -- about writing for fun. Lips Touch was written for fun. Unlike my usual process, I didn't do any outlining or planning, but just set out from writing prompts to see what would happen, and what happened was: goblins and demons and kissing, India and cemetery picnics and heartbreak, eye patches and snow and shadows reeled out on kite strings. And a lot of other stuff, all of it fun. When I sit down to write, I make an effort to turn to the mental channel I was on when I wrote this book, because I remember it as being a genuine pleasure. I was writing for myself -- myself at 16, myself now -- telling the kinds of stories that I love -- tales that are juicy and strange, both creepy and romantic, rich with weird details.

Stories that are like fairy tales sneaking out after curfew, dressed all in black.


I still don't know what to say. My laptop is cooking my lap (I've successfully set Clementine down in her boppy without waking her -- I'm typing with two hands now!), and my thoughts continue to flutter around like butterflies. As I started to say earlier before the *interruption*, thank you so much for all your happy wishes, comments, emails, and for reading Lips Touch and this blog.

Here's a smile from my smiley girl:

And an imperative, written in light (literally):

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I don't even know what to say.

How does one put the Snoopy dance into words? Pure shining, spastic joy :-)

Yesterday morning we were getting ready (running late) to take Clementine to her two-month appointment at the pediatrician when the phone rang. Now, we're great non-phone-answerers. We tend to glance at the number and if we don't recognize it, we usually don't answer. But this had a NYC area code, and what's more, the caller was identified as "NATIONAL BOOK--" (the rest got cut off). So . . . yeah, this was a call we answered!


The National Book Award was not on my radar at all. I'd forgotten it even happened this time of year. Not in my wildest hopes . . . seriously. It never once crossed my mind to hope for this! My hopes for this book were much more modest. I can't say I've never imagined getting one of these kind of phone calls, but it was not in my thoughts yesterday morning in the scramble to get out the door to the doctor's office!

I will write more, but Clementine is not having a good morning. I think she's catching my cold :-(

Thanks for all the wonderful good wishes!

*Smiley spastic happy dance*


Monday, October 12, 2009

The Discipline of Fun -- part I

Do you love to write?

Sometimes I love to write. Other times I love it after, when it is done. Still other times there is no love to be found, not hiding under any rock, not even afterwards.

Lately I've been thinking about fun and love in creativity, and trying to come up with a discipline that will make it always fun. Or at least: mostly. I don't know if that's possible, but it's worth a shot. The thing is, I generally set out to do something beyond what I can easily achieve, whether it's art or writing. The perfectionist in me is making certain demands from the outset, and that makes the process less fun that it might be if I were creating purely for fun.

For example, I wrote a silly story the other day just for Clementine. So long as my brain was on the right channel ("for Clementine, not for the hope of publication and wowing the world"), it was a breezy, light-hearted thing to do. Fun. But once I started thinking, "Hey, this is pretty good. Maybe this could be something," my brain switched over to compulsive self-editing perfectionist channel and it became less fun. I wish it truly were channels, because then presumably I could wrest the remote control away from whoever the heck is wielding it now, and I could turn on the fun channel for all first drafts.

Still, even if there is no remote control for my brain, there must be a mental discipline that would amount to the same thing. I'm working on that now: the discipline of fun. How to stay in that place of fun, creatively, more of the time. How to make it, ideally, the new normal. You know, just because you get really used to something, doesn't mean you can't alter it entirely and then get really used to the new something. Like painting a room. It's WOW! at first, and then it fades to normal. So, I'm setting out to develop a disciplined practice of FUN. Care to join me?
(No contortionism or skimpy outfits required!)

Here's one tip to get us started:
At one of the first SCBWI conferences I attended, the writer Michael Hoeye recommended you "write to a specific person, not to a cosmic crowd," for example: write to a child you know. There's a writing exercise I do sometimes called "Bedtime Story" where I write "Once upon a time . . ." first and then try to write in the spirit of telling a bedtime story out loud, to someone specific, be it my childhood self, or now Clementine. It's not a situation that encourages perfectionism. It's a way of turning that mental channel. Sometimes it works. I recall that Michael Hoeye told how he'd written his first Hermux Tantamoq novel for his wife while she was away on a long business trip, and I think he said he emailed her chapters. That's kind of a version of bedtime story. Make your audience specific, make them someone who loves you, and maybe you can make the writing process be purely about the joy of a story unspooling.

I hope so!

Here's a quote from the writing book Page After Page by Heather Sellers, which I have from the library right now:

To create a writing life, you will need to fall in love--deeply, seductively, passionately--with your writing life. It will become not a habit or a job, but a lover. If you keep it as a second-string lover, it might always be cranky with you. But if you make your writing life so lovely you can't take your eyes off it, you will space out during meetings, and dream about it as you go through the day, just like when you're in love.

I do want to fall in love with my writing life.

Where am I in my writing life? Well, I'm working on a YA novel that's written in the same style/tone as Lips Touch, but it's one big juicy tale rather than stories. With this book I have experienced memorable highs of fun. Last fall I recorded my first day with it:

"I had the most beautiful, brilliant, joyous writing day yesterday! Every word was sheer fun. The air crackled with ideas so that my hair got static and stood on end. A shimmering window opened in the air and butterflies flew in. A polite goblin brought me a key on a golden pillow. I don't know what it opens yet, but I'm sure it's something awesome."

I'm sure you've been there on the first day with a new idea. Like a relationship, a book will not always maintain that same level of infatuation, but hopefully like a relationship it can sustain deep affection and attraction and commitment. Love.

I also finished a first draft of something else the other day, something shorter and sillier and for younger readers. I typed the last 500 words or so one-handed with Clementine asleep in my other arm. It was slow-going, but I did it, and halleluja it was also fun because I was determined that it would be. That was my first priority: have fun. I'm working on that attitude with the novel, which is much more involved and less light-hearted, and more of a challenge for my new discipline. I'm going to do my best, though. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, there were dragon sightings at Portland's Japanese Garden yesterday afternoon. No. It's true.
See? Isn't she terrifying?

Friday, October 09, 2009

ICE by Sarah Beth Durst

I haven't done a book recommendation in a while, but I am motivated to do so this morning, having just closed Sarah Beth Durst's new novel Ice!

I love the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." I have two picture book versions (PJ Lynch and Mercer Mayer), and two novel adaptations of it (East by Edith Pattou and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George), all of which I love. When I heard last year that Sarah Beth Durst's next novel would be an adaptation of this tale, I admit there was a teeny tiny instant in which I thought, another one, and wondered why, and how it might distinguish itself from the others. Then I read the description of it . . .

When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.
Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back -- if Cassie will agree to be his bride.

That is the beginning of Cassie's own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her -- until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

. . . and I was sold and ready to read it. Of course, I had to wait for it to come out! Which it did a few days ago. And I read it at once. And it is awesome.

If you know the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" you know it's kind of "Beauty and the Beast" with a polar bear as beast and an epic journey that the heroine must go on to rescue him after her own broken promise condemns him to marry the troll princess beyond the ends of the earth. Both the previous adaptations I'd read hew pretty closely to the tale and do so beautifully. Durst does something else altogether. She bring the story into the modern world of an Arctic research station and makes the heroine a scientist-in-training. The bear is no mere enchanted prince, a la Beast, but something much more interesting -- I'm not sure if this is purely Durst's own imaginative invention or if it's inspired by Inupiak folklore, but either way it was a surprise and added a whole new dimension to the story, not to mention a deep poignancy. I won't spoil what the twist is, I'll just say the characters aren't victims of troll caprice, locked in a curse, but are busy doing mystical work that has a vital place in the cycle of life, and it's cool.

Her take on trolls, too, is very different from the traditional tale, and has a great pay-off. I'm not spoiling anything to say that the heroine in this version does not save her lover by doing laundry, as in the original tale.

Sarah Beth Durst has folded an amazing amount of research on the frozen Northern world into this tale, to the point that I emailed to ask her (jokingly), if she had been raised on an Arctic research station. The level of detail into the environment, the mixture of science and fantasy, is absolutely to my taste.

Yeah, and the romance, of course. Like the rest of the tale, it's not standard-issue. Years ago I saw the Disney "Beauty and the Beast" in the theaters, and what I mostly remember about it is that a very young child burst into tears at the end when the lovable beast turned into a dumb handsome prince. What happened to Beast??? Durst doesn't do the usual thing, and the identity of the Polar Bear King is nuanced and unusual, and it works.

I met Sarah close to three years ago at the SCBWI conference in New York when we were both awaiting the publication -- on the same day -- of our first novels, which were both middle-grade and both from Penguin. Now, our third books debuted on almost the same day, are both YA, and not from Penguin. It's kind of parallel evolution :-) We are evolving in the same way, on opposite coasts. Ha ha!

Do read this book. Order it HERE or HERE.

Portland's fabulous literary festival is this weekend, and I will be appearing at 3 pm Saturday on the Target Children's Stage along with author Sarah Rees Brennan who's coming all the way from Ireland. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Twilight readers, heads up:

If you're a Twilight buff and think you're up to some trivia questions, here's another chance to win a copy of Lips Touch! Sponsored by the good folks at Scholastic, it's a contest over at The questions are specifically about the wolf pack. If, like my niece, you are "team Jacob," you probably have a good shot at winning.

Sample question: What specific fur color does Quil Ateara have in wolf form?

I don't know! Do you know? If you do, go HERE and enter. Contest is open until October 16, 12 pm PST. Have fun :-)

Meanwhile, here is some photography homework:

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Thank you for coming last night!

Well, that was awesome! Thank you so much to everyone who came to Powell's last night. I had a blast. That was the first bookstore event Jim and I have done. You see, since I worked in an independent bookstore all through college and sometimes introduced the author events, I know how often it happens that even for wonderful authors . . . no one shows up. Or maybe two people. So I was afraid to do bookstore events, though by now I felt confident that locally I could generate an audience, even if it was all friends and family.

But it wasn't all friends and family! In fact, it wasn't family at all, since my parents decided to go visit my brother this weekend instead. Hmph! (Just kidding!) No: there were strangers there who had come to hear me speak! That's so great. And there were KIDS! Really great kids, one who was wearing pointy ears, several who had wings, one who demonstrated Irish dancing for me upon request, and one who has an indisputable faerie name: Kestrel!

And, we got presents! Thank you for the presents! And for the G-diaper coupons!

In short, it was chouette. Thank you to Suzanne Young and Kim Kasch for emailing some photos, since I forgot to take pictures!

And here's Jim, looking as tough as he can with a pink baby blanket and pink purse:

Clementine is waking up now. Gotta go. Cheers!

Monday, October 05, 2009

First Kisses -- the Lips Touch winners!

Congratulations to the winners of the "Lips Touch - First Kiss contest"! Thank you for playing :-) It was really fun reading everyone's entries, both the true stories and the made-up ones. It's good to know I'm not the only person who had a totally gross first kiss. I read a lot of gross-out stories! Yeah, kissing is something wonderful that can go so very, very wrong!

But for the first winner, I want to present a kiss from the other end of the spectrum, from a blogger whose love story is an inspiration to me. Winner #1 is Phyllis Smith, who blogs as Granny Smith:

Kiss Winner #1

The first time I was kissed, other than by my close relatives, I was outraged. Phillip had no right to seize my face with a hand on each cheek and press his mouth to mine. I was almost four years old. He was a few months younger. As far as I was concerned, kissing rights belonged to one’s daddy or mama, not to a playmate chosen by Mama. Phillip lived on the high side of the street and I lived on the lower side. One or the other of us had to be escorted across the street so that Phyllis and Phillip (and weren’t those names cute together?) could play while their mothers visited.

Yes, I was truly outraged by that unsolicited kiss. I burst into tears while Mrs. Lathrop told my mother how they had always encouraged Phillip not to inhibit is feelings but to express them freely. She frowned at me. Apparently she felt that I was expressing my feelings much too freely.

With this early conditioning against kisses, I managed to avoid most of them for the next fourteen years or so. That’s when I had my first real kiss, the kind that can resonate for a lifetime.

It was a late afternoon of a spring day, the air balmy and fragrant. I felt pretty in a floaty green dress with white polka dots instead of my usual sweater and skirt for a day of classes. I knew that he - he of the blue eyes and wavy brown hair - would probably be sitting on the curb in front of the art building in which he thought that I would be working on an assigned project.
We had held hands. We had compared philosophies. We had hiked together, gotten poison oak together, sung together. But we had yet to kiss. And I wanted desperately to be kissed by Otto.

As I crossed the quad and skirted the chapel, I entered a cloud of fragrance from a planting of small trees with tiny flowers with the texture and scent of gardenias. I broke off a twig and stuck it in my pocket. The sun was setting and the first star appeared, and, quickly, before the appearance of other stars destroyed the magic, I wished on the first star that tonight he would kiss me.

I don’t remember exactly how we reached the hill overlooking lake Lagunita, on which waters of which myriads of stars were now afloat. I think I may have positioned myself so that it would be very easy for him to kiss me. And he did so.

It was the first of seventy years worth of kisses from the only one I ever loved. He couldn’t return the last kiss, which I gave to him in the hospital as he lay dying. I miss his kisses, but I have a treasure trove of ones to remember. Especially that first one.

* * *

Seventy years. How amazing. I found Granny Smith's blog via Sunday Scribblings, and it became the first link I would look for every week, to see what new fascinating saga of her life I might discover: coffee-farming in Paraguay, perhaps, or Phyllis's experiences manning a crisis hotline in Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love. Whatever it was, it was sure to be fascinating. Phyllis and Otto have led an extraordinary life of love and adventure, and Phyllis writes so beautifully about all of it. When I clicked over to her blog this past spring and read the news that Otto had passed away, it was terribly upsetting, as if I had known him personally. This long, beautiful marriage is an inspiration and an education in love.

The second winner is by Melanie Leavey. It's fiction, and I just think it's really well-written and appealing, and it pulled me very quickly into the characters' world and made me want to read more about them. So, yay for good fiction!

Kiss Winner #2

Gavin and I had an agreement. We made it when we were ten, forged in high ritual in the arms of our favourite tree, sealed with blood and spit. Quite appropriate now, looking back.

I knew he was gay since ever we met. It was like knowing who you could lend your favourite book to, knowing they wouldn't fold over the page corners. You just know. I probably didn't realize what it all meant, back when we were six and forced together through a Single Parent Meet 'n Greet in the basement of the Lutheran church. I just knew he wasn't like everyone else. Which, in this Jesus-lovin' shit-hole of a town, is anything but a good thing.

Anyway, the minute Rhonda shoved me in the room with three snot-nosed toddlers and tottered off on her cheap stilettos to wallow in the spiked punch, I figured it'd be one of those best-of-a-bad-thing situations and headed for the bookshelf. That's when I saw Gavin. He was perched on the edge of a miniature stool, folding paper flowers out of a Spiderman napkin. We've been best friends ever since.

We made the deal as part of our Survival Strategy. Designed to hide his gayness and my general freakitude from the predatory masses, it was the perfect cover. Everyone expected us to become a couple anyway, we just went along with it. It saved suspicion and intrigue -- nothing folk around here liked more than a witch-hunt -- and it served us well all through junior high. No-one wondered about Gavin's preference for books and art over football and moose hunting, they figured it was just him going along with his freak-nerd girlfriend who lived with one paint-splashed foot in a dreamworld and the other one more misguided impulse from a stint in Juvie. I mean, what did they expect, me being Rhonda's kid and all? Some days I wondered who was playing more of a part, him or me.

Like I said, it was good for a long time. No-one bothered us and life went on, as it does, one day blending into the next. The trouble started at Lacy Flanigan's thirteenth birthday party. It was one of those 'invite the whole class' deals, otherwise, we wouldn't have made it onto the list. Suddenly we were standing in a lavender-scented closet with Lacy's webcam pointing right at us. "Two Minutes in the Closet" with a Big Brother twist.

"We have to do it, it'll blow the cover if we don't," he said, glasses glinting in the half-light. He had way more invested in this charade of ours than I did. He'd be all but tarred and feathered and run out of town if anyone ever found out the truth.

I shrugged, not wanting to show how much the idea of kissing him weirded me out. Not that he was repulsive, quite the contrary. It was sweet scandal that he'd chosen me for his girlfriend and not one of the fleet of chesty cheerleaders from the high school that were forever sniffing around like so many randy bitches in heat. He might have been younger than them, but worth slumming for apparently. Anyway, it was weird because I knew that he wasn't the tiniest bit interested in me in that way, and it made me feel small and grubby. I hate feeling like a charity case.

"Okay then. I guess we'd better just get it on. Pucker up, cowboy!"

"Why do you have to be so crass? This is really important, Clo, really," He's got a knack for high drama. I like to point out that he's a slave to stereotype.

"Just shut up and kiss me, idiot,"

It was like one of those slow motion after-school-special kissing scenes. All that was missing was the cheesy music and fade to misty waterscapes and soaring birds. He leaned into me with his eyes squeezed shut. I know this because it was all very scientific for me at that point. I remember wondering if I should close my eyes or not, which way I should tilt my head, whether our noses would get in the way. I don't really remember how I got there, but suddenly our lips were touching. I wondered if I was expected to use my tongue.

He always smelled of sandalwood. His mother, a lapsed Bohemian, still burned incense by the wagonload, mostly to cover up the smell of their ancient cat who forgot how to get to the litterbox. The added whiff of peppermint and cinnamon from his perpetual chewing gum cocktail made me think of all the cold nights we spent huddled under a Navajo blanket after Rhonda locked me out.

His lips were cool and soft. He had a peach-fuzz of a mustache that didn't warrant a razor. A strange, but not unpleasant, tingle started somewhere at the base of my spine and flooded a rush of warmth to my face. Shocked at the intensity of the feeling, I pulled back. He stayed where he was for a moment, eyes closed and lips slightly apart. I saw that he was beautiful.

The sound of applause and cheering jolted him out of it. He pushed up his glasses and flashed me his mega-watt grin. Throwing an arm around my shoulder he squeezed me and said,

"Not so bad, huh?"

Laughing, he burst from the closet to shoulder slaps and high-fives. I followed, my face still on fire, to the delight of my giggling, shrieking classmates. For a time, I could be one of them.

It was three days before the memory of cinnamon faded from my lips and a week until I realized I'd fallen in love with him. Well, as much as a thirteen year old can love her gay best friend -- which, as it turns out, was a powerful lot.

* * *

The third winner. Now, I know I said there would only be two winners, but I've decided there must be three, because I just have to let the gross kisses represent too, and because this one made me laugh. It comes to us from "Flemmily" (which is funny, because we call my sister Emily that, though I always spell it the grosser way: Phlegmily :-)

Kiss Winner #3

I have a really awesome first kiss story.

Especially if by "awesome" you understand that I mean messy, awkward, and really embarrassing.

Let me take you back a few was 2001, and I was about to start my senior year in high school. (Yeah, I was a prude.That'll come up again.)

I was attending the National Student Council Conference in Charlotte North Carolina. I'm from Montana, so this whole week for me is a fog of 'y'all'.

There were many bus trips involved--mostly short ones, but a few long ones as well. I believe we were on our way to the Panthers stadium, and we were playing "I've never" to pass the time.

The "we" involved was a host of student-council-loving high schoolers from across the country.

"I've never" basically involved holding up your hand in the air. Whenever someone listed off something that you'd done, you lowered one of your fingers. The first person to have a fist in the air was considered the loser, and then had to do a dare as ordered by the person listing off the activities.

At first, this was a terrific game for a prude to play. Most of the activities were either related to drinking, kissing, or sexual activities. I was safe.

So, the leader says something like "I've never made out in a hot tub," or "I've never gone to third base." With groans or embarrassed sighs, people lower a finger on their hand and continue on.

I never had to lower a single finger.

Suddenly, one of the guys caught on that a few of us were never coming close to losing, and the theme of questions changed drastically.

"I've never taken an AP class."

First finger down.

"I've never gotten a perfect score on a test."

Second finger down.

"I've never done an extra credit project"

Third finger down. I now had only my thumb and pinky in the air.

"I've never written a paper over 10 pages."

And the pinky stands alone. I hoped and prayed that I wouldn't be the first one out.

"I've never read a book longer than 800 pages."

Darn you, Anna Karenina. Darn you. With a fearful groan, I lowered my pinky.

I had only a fist in the air. I was the first one. I was officially the biggest nerd on the bus.

With an odd little smile, the Californian who had been the architect of my demise said. "Switch your shirt with the guy sitting next to you."

The guy next to me whipped his off immediately.

I was wearing a see through bra underneath my tee-shirt.

"No way." said I. I was a prude, after all.

"Okay....well, then kiss the guy sitting next to you."

Now, the guy sitting next to me was pretty cute. Hot even. He was a Texan. He was muscular, currently shirtless....

...and wearing lipstick.

Hot pink glossy lipstick.

See, he'd done a LOT of things, and lost a few rounds of "I've never" before I had.

One of the dares had involved a hasty coating of Maybelline. About six boys on the bus were currently sporting this look. Rather proudly.

"Kiss him?" I confirmed.

"Yep." Said the Californian. "And don't wipe your face for 10 minutes."

So, I did. I turned to my right, leaned forward, and got a slippery, messy kiss slopped right on my mouth. And on parts of my cheeks. It was kind of a smeary kiss, overlapping my mouth on one side and traveling over to the other side.

When it was over, we both had lipstick all over our faces. I'm pretty sure that my face was so red that you couldn't see it though.

So, in retrospect, I kinda get why guys don't love it when you're wearing lipstick, but I have an awesome first kiss story.

Yes. I was in North Carolina, and I kissed a sexy Texan wearing lipstick.

* * *

Thank you all so much for participating! I had so much fun reading about kissing. I hope you'll all give Lips Touch a read and help me spread the word about it. If you live here in Portland, remember Jim and I are signing tonight at Powell's on Hawthorne at 7:30, and also at the Wordstock Festival this Saturday at the Convention Center at 3 pm, where I'll be sharing the stage with Sarah Rees Brennan, author of The Demon's Lexicon, which is a very cool book.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Happy birthday, Lips Touch! *Another Starred Review!* Plus: Keep the kisses coming!

Happy birthday, Lips Touch! It seems like I've had a lot of happy birthdays lately: two new books and a new baby! We also celebrated Leroy's 15-3/4 birthday recently with a nice little meat cake :-) Still, I must soak these occasions up, because I won't be having another book birthday for a while. Got to finish some works in progress first.

And . . . Yippeeeee! Another starred review!!!! This one is from Booklist. Thank you, Booklist!

*Lips Touch: Three Times*
Taylor, Laini (Author) , Di Bartolo, Jim (Illustrator)
Oct 2009. 272 p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, hardcover, $16.99. (9780545055857).
Look beyond the title and cover art: Taylor’s three novellas form a triptych of beautiful fantasy writing reminiscent of Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman. Kisses are the unifying theme, with each story offering a different sort of locking lips, from giddy seduction to harsh power play. In “Goblin Fruit,” misfit Kizzy meets a fascinating new student, an unbelievably gorgeous young man who ignores the popular girls to seek her out. Taylor tantalizingly foreshadows the ambiguous ending, teasing and enticing the reader much as Jack Husk entices Kizzy. “Spicy Little Curses Such as These” is set in India and offers intriguing and culturally respectful glimpses of both Indian religion and British colonialism. “Hatchling” reveals a fully- realized world of sometimes malevolent immortals who steal and raise human babies as their pets. Present-day teen sensibilities blend with artful allusions to mythology and magic, pulling the reader into rich fantasy realms. The cover’s close-up of a lovely woman’s red lips, with red-orange flames licking at the super-imposed title, lacks the powerful, delicately structured, and subtle poetry of Taylor’s stories. But Di Bartolo, Taylor’s husband, provides skillfully detailed pen-and-ink illustrations that are a fine match for the lyrical, romantic text.

— Debbie Carton

I was also thrilled that Lips Touch was reviewed last Sunday in The Oregonian, our Oregon newspaper (I can't wait to read the other book mentioned, Flash Burnout, by Portland author LK Madigan). Thank you to April Henry for that review. And then there was the first posted Amazon review which really made my day. The reviewer, who blogs at, said, "Intelligent language seems to be failing me. I don't want to write a review so much as I want to jump up and down and squeal like a crazed fangirl. Lips Touch is chocolate in book form. It's dark, it's rich, it's delicious, and it's precisely to my taste." Isn't that awesome? Thank you, Kelly Lasiter!

So, Lips Touch! (Don't forget to enter the "First Kiss" contest from yesterday's post. The prize: a signed copy of the book.) And if you happen to be writing out your first kiss story for the purposes of the contest, you might want to pop over to Sunday Scribblings where the prompt this week, in honor of Lips Touch, is "First Kiss."

Sunday Scribblings is a writing prompt site that I co-founded shortly after I began blogging in 2006. I'd finished writing Blackbringer after two long years, and I'd sold it to Putnam (yay!), and while it was being edited, I wanted to write something different, just for fun. Sunday Scribblings was born as a place to do that, and I did, and I posted the stories on my blog. Several of those early stories, I realized, had an unplanned theme: kissing, and its consequences. They were interwoven with myth and fairy tale; they were creepy and sexy. They were, Jim thought: a book! And here is that book. I am so proud of it and I hope it makes its way in the world. Like a parent in a fairy tale, I feel like I'm sending it off to make its fortune with nothing but a loaf of bread and a rind of cheese in its pocket (okay, and maybe some chocolate). Maybe it will meet a witch at a crossroads and share its supper with her and be granted a wish.

Meanwhile, I've been taking some pictures. At my photography class this week we went "on walkabout" -- it's a night class down at the waterfront, so I used a tripod which I hadn't done in many years, and these are some of the pictures I got:

That's that scene in focus; here it is out of focus, which I know is a worthless picture, but I like this way it looks!
That was really fun. I'm learning a little, but mostly I'm getting a sense of HOW MUCH there is to learn! I don't have a technical brain, and photography is such a marriage of the artistic and the technical. I'll get better, anyway.

Cheers! Send me your kiss stories (see last post for details :-)