Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Possible year end/new year post

Ooh, yay! I wrote a chapter yesterday! Yippee yippee yay! It's short, but I dig it. Sooo nice to be back in the writing groove after all the holiday madness and travels. We're snowed in, which is awesome, but it looks like a wet snow that won't hang out for too long, unfortunately. Jim and I love to be snowed in -- apologies to those who need to go places. A snow-in is an occasion for a big pot of soup and a pie, yes? Only, we've had too much pie lately, so scratch that this time around, you know, with New Years and a new leaf just around the corner.

I love a new year. I love a new week, even -- Mondays feel like a time for beginnings, for making new commitments, you know? So, a new year is like the emperor of Mondays, the perfect time to spiff up one's life and routines, make new routines, break some bad habits, start fresh. It is possible to form new habits -- as proven by the fact that since painting the bedroom and getting new linens back in June, we have made the bed every day. Which, er, wasn't the case before. Nothing like new bed linens to entice one to make the bed every day! So: what is the life equivalent of new bed linens? How to spiff up your life? Your writing habits? *Shrugs.*

January and February have always been good creative times for me, at least as long as we've lived in Portland. We moved here January nine years ago, and shocked by the cold (which now feels natural), we stayed in and made art for the next several months. (And worked on the house, which was less fun, but just as rewarding.) And then when I sold my art at the Saturday Market for several years, the market would end for the season at Christmas and not reopen until March, leaving January and February as creative development months. I've always thought NaNoWriMo should be in January. I think November is a terrible month for it, though I did do it last year -- and I won!!! I have not to this day, however, read what I wrote last November!!! It was sci fi, and featured a ballerina. There were some very cool ideas involved, but I suspect the execution left much to be desired. Much much much.

The book I am working on now is one I began not long after that NaNo manuscript. In early January I went with two writer friends to a beautiful house in Manzanita, at the Oregon coast, and wrote for two days, getting a real start on this book. It was exciting! I was also in the early months of pregnancy and had my only bout of [mild] morning sickness there. Oh, and I slept under a skylight and woke up to condensation dripping on my face. Eek! For which reason we did not put a skylight over the crib in Clementine's little room.

What a ramble of a post! No matter. It's back to writing lickity split.

How much do I love that it snowed for New Year? LOVE it -- it's like a visual blank canvas for the coming year. New habits to form, new leaves to turn. Books to finish. And a whole new splendid year of baby firsts, speaking of which, Clementine rolled over yesterday for the first time!! Jim and I have realized that perhaps we're not doing her any favors in the development department by holding her all the time, ha ha, so we're getting a bit more serious about tummy time, and yay, she rolled over. It was adorable, and has not yet been repeated. Man, I love that little squidge :-)

Possibly I'll write a more coherent year end/new year post, but considering the blogging deficiency lately, possibly not. For now, I have characters to manipulate.

Happy day!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy holidays!!!

. . . from my mom's cat. Doesn't he look ferocious?

I hope everyone had a wonderful wonderful holiday. I certainly did, though MAN why can I not seem to find time to blog or answer emails anymore? Hmmm . . . I wonder . . . Could it have something to do with . . .
Perhaps. The little elf is almost 5 months old. Wow! How did that happen? And yes, time is not quite so luxuriously abundant as it once was, back in the "good old days" (aw, come on, they're much better now, in so many ways!) when I could loaf and lounge all day reading and writing. I keep meaning to blog and answer emails, but . . . then it's suddenly the end of the day. Plus we've been everywhere but home. Now we are back home, trying to find a rhythm for the New Year. A rhythm that includes WORK! I am sooooooooo eager to plunge back into my novel-in-progress. SOOOOO eager. And yet . . . I am writing a blog post instead. Hm. Well, what can I say. Things don't seem real anymore until I've posted them on my blog. Ha ha! So, birthday and Christmas pics!
Remember my clementine pie disaster? Well, my mom -- a more accomplished baker than I -- surprised me with a clementine chiffon pie in lieu of a birthday cake! It was delicious and adorable! The crust is crushed shortbread cookies, coconut, and butter!!! (Recipe.)

There were other sweet things too. Alexandra brought cupcakes:
And Chary brought a bowl of goodness that included homemade gingerbread caramels and chocolate-dipped macaroons. Yum!!!

Excellent loot was had by me.

Clementine got some prezzies too, including a wonderful alligator, which was later spotted hiding under the Christmas tree and ambushing passing elves.

Another year older, another great birthday. I [heart] my family and friends :-)

On the 23rd, Jim and Clementine and I met Alexandra at the zoo for Zoolights, a crowded stroll in the cold with lovely lovely lights and fog and the maybe just maybe the rumbling roar of a lion around the bend. Clementine was truly bundled, like Randy in A Christmas Story -- "I can't put my arms down!"

And then, at last, it was Christmas Eve, at my parents' beautiful house that is like a holiday wonderland. And this year, of course, a new elf joined the gang:
Awww. . . Clementine's Christmas dress is a from Grasshopper, a great store on Alberta where there owner sews limitted editions of simple little frocks out of great fabrics. Perfect for our non-foo-foo tastes. The hat I sewed lickity split on Christmas Eve out of two pieces of craft felt (whip-stitched) and some felt balls. I didn't know how it would come out, but I love it!!! We didn't get a really great Christmas portrait of her, so we'll likely be breaking the outfit out again today or tomorrow to try for some more shots.

As always, the food was amazing, the gifts were inspired and abundant, and the lounging was wonderfully cozy.

Happy holidays to everyone -- mwah!! Now, to work!!!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A year older

It's my birthday! I'm spending it partly in an airport -- heading home to Portland right now from a trip to California to see family and friends. (Hence the recent lull in blogging--iPhones are good for many things, but it's not the greatest set-up for blogging, one-finger typing!) Clementine is practicing pteradactyl screeches right now. Hope she doesn't do that on the plane, but I don't really care. It's a short flight.

Birthday cake awaits at home :-)

Have a wonderful day!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Writing Room

It's Christmas in my writing room too. Here is the pink tree, decorated with cocktail umbrellas and silver glitter letters that spell "Clementine". I'm thrilled to own a pink tree. Thrilled!
And if you're wondering what that little black-framed picture is on the wall, and perhaps that shiny disc hanging from the pillar, then let me show you!
tee hee hee. My favorite new decor :-)

How is your decorating going?

This is not a picture of eggs.

Look at this.
Whyever am I posting a picture of scrambled eggs, you ask. Because it is not scrambled eggs. It only looks like scrambled eggs. Like, exactly like. But it's not!. What it is is a baking disaster. Alas, this heap of rubbery awfulness was supposed to be . . . are you ready for this? . . . clementine chiffon. You know, like lemon chiffon only clementine? Chiffon: light, airy, lovely? Not rubbery and scrambled eggy! Wah! I did various things wrong during this first effort at baking a clementine pie, and unlike the "baking" of the "real" Clementine Pie, which I did perfectly -- iif I don't say so myself . . .
. . . this pie was an unmitigated disaster. After the photo, it was scraped into the trash. Sigh. We were having some friends over, but luckily I had also made s'mores bars and gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, so there was ample sweetness without the miserable pie.

(Wow, I'm super tired right now! But determined to put up a post!)

Our friend and doula Kristen was here last night, and she brought her friend Robert, who brought his friend, Christmas squirrel.
And Christmas squirrel in turn brought his friend, Farah Fawcett's head.
Of course, I never pass up the opportunity to get my photo with a dead animal.
Christmas squirrel was a lovely guest. He ate very little and entertained everyone, as a true Christmas squirrel should.

(Eyelids very heavy. Must. Sleep.)


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Must. Become. Nocturnal.

Nooo! Not a vampire! Not that kind of nocturnal. I must become a night-writer. Doesn't that sound funky and mysterious? NIGHT-WRITER. Writer of the Night. Ha ha ha. What am I babbling about? Oh, nothing. Just my early morning writing schedule is turning out to be a joke. Here was the plan: get up at 5, write until lunch while Jim takes care of Clementine, with a few breaks in there for nursing. Sounds fine, right? A person could get a lot of writing done! So what's the problem?

Waking up early is not the problem. It's easy. It's how I wrote Blackbringer, getting up in the dark and dragging myself downstairs to the kitchen (I did not yet have a writing room). In the winter when it was freezing I opened the oven to take the chill off the kitchen. I made coffee and wrote. I remember hearing author Donna Jo Napoli speak at SCBWI and she said she gets up at 4:30 to write before going to her full-time university job. It sounded painful to me, but you know, if you really want to write, you make the time. There was a morning last week when I meant to get up at 5 and didn't, and I was kicking myself all day, because, and here's the thing . . .

Clementine isn't sleeping so much during the day anymore.

She's getting to be a real little person. See:
(Ohmygod, so cute!!!)

Anyway, she no longer sleeps 16 hours a day. She still sleeps really well at night, praise be, but during the day, she requires, you know, constant entertainment. Which is awesome! She's so much fun. But I have a book to write, and writing it in the morning is not panning out so well. If I get up at 5, see, Clementine wakes up at 5:30, wanting what babies want. If I sleep in, of course, so does she. She knows. So basically I'm not getting those empty dark dawn hours like I hoped. They're all chopped up with feedings and such. The late night hours, however, are there, mocking me in my fatigue, saying, "Work NOW. It's so quiet. Clementine is so asleep. NOW is your time!"

But at night I just want to read and loll! I can have the best of intentions all day, but when nighttime comes ... so does laziness.

Must. Conquer. Laziness. Big pot of coffee at 10 pm, maybe? I think I'll be giving it a try tonight. Wish me luck!

Update: So, I was up last night -- decided to forego the coffee, since I was pretty awake, but was considering tea when . . . at around midnight, who should wake up? What? Usually, once she's in her bassinet she doesn't wake up until the wee hours, like, once to nurse. She must have heard about my new *schedule* and been having herself a laugh. So, I got in bed to nurse her and of course that was it for me for the night. Oh well!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Lord & Taylor holiday windows '09 + NPR Best Books List!

Arctic morning: 18 degrees. Yow! It's been really cold the past few days, and windy on top of it. I'm up at 5 this morning to get some writing done while Clementine snoozes. Up to write, not blog. Get to work, Laini!

Really quick. I've been saving these pics from New York to post -- the only big holiday window display we saw when we were there. You hear about the amazing holiday windows in NY, but I'm not sure where they are, or when they happen. We just happened to walk by these on our way to the library and they were gorgeous.

Do you love miniatures? I do. Seeing this made me want to fix up my old dollhouse. I mean, I plan to some time over the next few years, for Clementine to have when she's older. What I really want is the Coraline house -- I wonder what they did with those models?

Oh, hey. Awesome!!! NPR has listed Lips Touch as one of its five best Young Adult books of 2009. Yippeeeee! Thank you, Jonathan Hunt and NPR :-) The others include fellow NBA finalist Charles & Emma, and fellow Arthur A. Levine Books title Marcello in the Real World, and Francis Hardinge, who's an awesome writer, and that book When You Reach Me that everyone is talking about this year for the Newbery. Have to read that.


Sunday, December 06, 2009

I [heart] Shiny Brites!

I was slow in coming to love Shiny Brites. It's only been the past few years that I've started buying a few old ones here and there, sorted in little crinkly bags at craft fairs or antique malls. And I've learned that once you start you can't stop! I'm of the school of thought that there cannot be too many ornaments on a Christmas tree, and my "theme" is: no theme! My theme is: put it on the tree! Yesterday I went down to Sellwood (cute little antiques neighborhood of Portland) with Jim and Clementine and my parents and I added some more scratchy imperfectly perfect old Shiny Brites to the collection. As soon as I got them home I realized I'd been way too skimpy and saw a million more places around the house in need of Shiny Brites. So I might go back.

We'll see.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Decorating Season Begins!

I've been on a Christmas decorating binge this week, feeling the need for some NEW to add to the mix (I got a pink tree! A pink tree! Decorated, so far, with cocktail umbrellas, though I plan to add glitter letters too, as soon as I make them), as well as using the old stuff in different ways. You know, a good decorating binge just feeds my soul -- I guess I get it from my mom, who my dad declares is "at least 50% elf." I'll have pictures by and by, but today I thought I'd detour you to an absolutely amazing place you can get lost in like it's Narnia or something. It has majorly exacerbated my own decorating urges, along with all the December issues of Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion off my studio shelf. Glad I kept those (although they are swiss-cheesed from various collage projects)! So many fun, creative homes.

Anyway, the magical site is A Fanciful Twist -- Vanessa Valencia is an Arizona artist with a country and a town residence. The current post is the town home, and it's cool, but scroll down to the country one. Amayyyyzing! And in the sidebar there are icons for her Mad Hatter's Tea Parties -- I want to go to there.

Have fun!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

If I don't blog about it, did it really happen? Or: My National Book Awards post. FINALLY.

The National Book Awards, before any more time passes! I just may not have time to do justice to the experience, but hopefully photos can help fill in the gaps.

First off, I want to say that I was astonished to be a finalist, and I never expected to win. I mean, I was up against books with Important Subject Matter! Of course, I would not have objected to winning, and there's always that moment before they announce the winner that you feel anything might happen . . . Also, the morning of the awards, I got up really early and went downstairs to breakfast alone in the hotel cafe so I could watch Sherman Alexie's and Judy Blundell's acceptance speeches on my iphone and concoct one of my own, just in case. That was the only time I felt attached to winning, when I actually wrote down my acceptance speech. I didn't have time to practice it, though, so I can't lie -- there was the tiniest feeling of relief at not winning so I wouldn't have to go up there! Of course, though, if I had to choose winning or not, I'd choose winning. Don't get me wrong. However, I remain thrilled with my medal and silver sticker and am so grateful for the extra attention all this has gotten for Lips Touch. Thank you again to the judges for the recognition (and for the most beautiful, amazing blurb for my book EVER) and to the wonderful Scholastic team for everything, especially to Arthur, for, among other things, dyeing his goatee pink (!), and to Jim, of course, for making the book extra-awesome with his gorgeous artwork. (And there's a micro version of my speech!)

Things kicked off on Monday night with a reading at Books of Wonder, the marvelous children's bookstore. All of my co-finalists except David Small were there. That's Rita Williams Garcia (Jumped), Phillip Hoose (Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice), me, and Deborah Heiligman (Charles & Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith):

It's nice, in the Young Person's category of the NBAs, there are extra events so we get to know each other a little. I don't think the "grownup" finalists do this -- and that kind of exemplifies what it's like writing for young readers. There really is a community -- a community of the kinds of people I want to be friends with. It rocks.

Clementine was on hand for the signing, as usual.
She's getting to know the writing life well. She is in my lap right now, in fact, helping me blog. Right now:
That is, when she allows me the use of my fingers:
This is an early a.m. photo, by the way. Hence the high glamour. I got up at 5 today to write. You know what? The "marimba" alarm on my iphone is the most pleasant alarm ever. It's kind of like this: "Tra-la-la, how about getting up now, just if you feel like it, no pressure, but I bet you'll feel good about yourself if you do. And by the way, you're pretty." Nice way to start the day. Thanks, iphone!

Anyway, aside from the Books of Wonder reading, there was the Youth Press Conference held at the New York City Public Library--yes, the one with the lions. What a gorgeous building. Man. The Youth Press Conference is an event where students from a number of local schools come to hear the 5 finalists read, then ask questions (they've read the books) and get their books signed. Jim filmed my reading, and you can watch it at youtube, and if you're wondering about the jiggling of the camera, doesn't it look exactly like a baby bounce? That's because it IS. Jim was holding Clementine at the time! John Scieszka (aka the Ambassador of Children's Literature and author of The Stinky Cheese Man) was the MC; we'd met him last spring in Seattle but it was super-cool to meet him again under these circumstances. He said such nice things about our book! Here he is:
Here's the audience, taken from the podium:
Future finalists who read and sign at this event, take heed: these students have the coolest bunch of names EVER. I will eternally kick myself for not keeping a list of names the entire time I was signing, for use in future stories. Seriously, each name was cooler than the last. Well, hopefully I will get to do school visits in NYC some time and have another crack at the amazing names those kids have.

Tuesday was one big long day, with the Medal Ceremony and full Finalists' Reading (all 20) at the New School in the evening. Jim and my mom and Clementine and I broke up the day with some shopping in the stalls at Bryant Park. It was a gorgeous day, blue sky, the ice skating rink with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in view. Of course we cut it too close and had to hustle back to our hotel to get ready for the evening:
It was fun getting dressed up, which is something we don't do very often. Writer's wardrobe? In my own world, it looks much more like that pic above of Clementine helping me blog!

Here I am getting my medal:
(Not that you can tell from the photo, but when he put the medal around my neck--it's heavy--it slipped straight down my [maternally enhanced] cleavage. Oops!)

Now would be a good time to print the gorgeous gorgeous blurb from my plaque, written by the judges (primarily by Nancy Werlin), who I didn't meet until the next night:

With three fantastical, richly layered tales about the terrible and wonderful power of yearning, master storyteller Laini Taylor steals the reader's breath as deftly as the most skilled lover. Lips Touch pulses with vivid imagery yet remains economical in its world-building, its unpredictable plot-spinning, and its compassionate characterization. Taylor draws from multiple literary and historical sources to spin a wholly original and unforgettable reading enchantment that is nothing short of a tour de force.

Wow!!! ***LOVE***

Now, I had a medal to share around. With Jim:
Arthur Levine, fabulous publisher and editor, who made this all possible:
And Jane Putch, my agent, who brought pink champagne:
And here, a "clink" moment with Rita Williams Garcia:
So, from there, it was on to the anxious portion of the evening. The reading. The cool New School Auditorium:
Much more intimidating than the earlier reading, because obviously kids make the best audience (and after kids, librarians), plus here we were in the midst of the whole "literary" world with the grownup writers. What would they think of my kissing book?! I don't know what they thought, but some of them said some nice things afterward, and anyway, here's my reading, from "Goblin Fruit" (if you watch it at youtube, the art won't be cut off):
Thank you, Jim, for recording that and putting it up on youtube. Mwah!

The finalists were all seated in reading order in the first row, and I was 13th, which was excellent, since I hadn't had time to prepare a passage. (It's amazing how having a baby fills in all the nooks and crannies of the day, leaving very few little pockets for doing things like, say, writing acceptance speeches and practicing readings!) So I discreetly read over some passages in my head and made little Xs to edit out parts and make it shorter, all while sandwiched between the impressive personages of Daniyal Mueenuddin (fiction) and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon (poetry). What names, no?

That, plus a drink afterward with agent Jane and Sheila Marie, the most awesome publicist EVER . . .
. . . and then we were back to the hotel to see how my mom and Clementine were doing. (Thank you again, so much, mom, for being there! The event would have been very different with Clementine in tow. Possible, I suppose, as MC Josh Ferris had his baby along, the same age as Clementine.)

Wednesday's only scheduled event was the award ceremony in the evening, so we went down to Soho to visit the Scholastic offices and have lunch with Arthur, with a little shopping squeezed in around the edges. When we parted from Arthur, who was late to get to a business meeting (or so I thought), I heard him tell Jim he was nervous, and I thought: Arthur, nervous? I wonder what's up. Later, of course, I found out what was up! The "business meeting" was really a salon!
Oh my god. That was so, so awesome.

Another night of dressing up, this time really dressing up. Of course we were running late, which meant that the driver was waiting for us for a half hour and we didn't pause to take photos before leaving, expecting we'd do it at the event, but . . . we never really did. *Smacks forehead* So we don't have a good picture of ourselves all gussied up, dagnabbit. Here is the best one of my ensemble:
(Necklace, by the way, from Anthropologie, as was the fab glass bubbles one I wore the night before. The other two here are from a street artist in Soho):
And Jim, looking very handsome and suity :-)
Oh wait, here's a "paparazzi" picture:

Cipriani's on Wall Street was pretty spectacular:
And the tables were set with books. Now when I see other tables, I think, "They're missing something. Oh yeah, they're missing books!"

It was all fabulous and cocktaily (Cipriani's is famous for their Bellinis, which are deLISHous), and it was great to see all the Scholastic folk all dressed up. The art team:And publicity team:
. . . Seeing a few familiar faces, like the Readergirlz, Lorie Ann Grover and Dia Calhoun . . .
. . . and finally meeting the judges!
That's Coe Booth, Gene Luen Yang, and Nancy Werlin; not pictured are Carolyn Coman, and Kathi Appelt. There were all sooo lovely, and made me feel like such a WRITER. It was great. One of the best parts of the whole thing was talking to the judges. One of the other finalists told me later that as soon as she met them, she knew from the sad look in Nancy Werlin's eyes that she hadn't won. I didn't try to decipher anything; thinking back on it after, I can kind of see that. But at the time I wasn't trying to guess. Like I said, I never thought I'd win. I just wanted to enjoy everything and not have expectations. Still, I did steal away for a tiny moment to look over my speech in a bathroom stall. Just in case.

Speaking of speeches, I don't really have the energy to go into the speeches of the night. They weren't that memorable. Gore Vidal rambled, Dave Eggers wrung his hands adorably, and Flannery O'Connor was selected as the best of the National Book Award winners of all time, a choice I totally approve without having read any of the other finalists.

Phillip Hoose won in our category for his book Claudette Colman: Twice Toward History, and Claudette Colman was there with him to accept the award. Big huge kudos to them!
We didn't stay out late, and it was nice to get back to the hotel and cuddle Clementine. So, that was that.

I did a middle school visit right when we got home, and I told the students that the glamour moments for a writer are few and far between (though I'm guessing Neil Gaiman's life, for example, has a lot more opportunities for dressing up than mine does!), so it's a huge treat to get picked up at the airport in a stretch limo and to, you know, put on nylons and new shoes and go to a fancy place. Now, it's back down to Earth, to the business of figuring out a working schedule and progressing the novel-in-progress! Jim and I have a new strategy for getting work done, and it involves me getting up at 5 am. I hope it works! It WILL work. We'll make it work.

Whew. Long post. Thank you, National Book Foundation, for this magnificent opportunity to live a writer's dream. It was awesome!