Sunday, February 28, 2010

Expect the Worst!

The Guardian posted Part II of their writers' advice lists, and like the first part, there's some great stuff and some ridiculous stuff. Colm Toibin, for example, will allow you to watch Bergman film on Saturdays, but not to go to London, or anywhere else. Whu??? Will Self counsels that if you're writing a contemporary setting, "there need to be long passages where nothing happens save for TV watching." Ha ha! Joyce Carol Oates tells us to "expect the worst."

I'm especially fond of Philip Pullman's single curmudgeonly response: "My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work." Ouch!

(What is Philip Pullman working on these days, I wonder.)

I like Sarah Waters' #4:

"Writing fiction is not "self- expression" or "therapy". Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace."

Nice. Ah, writing advice. My advice to myself is to get back to it, right away. As soon as Clementine awakens from her morning nap, I'm on duty. Cheers! oop, there she is now ...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Assorted writing advice and laments

My mom just emailed me this link to a article by Laura Miller, "A Reader's Advice to Writers" on what she, as a reader, who say to writers. There are five pointers, and they're all very good, I think, including one that I find sadly true (#4). You can read her detailed reasons at the above link, but here's the gist:

1. Make your main character want something.

2. Make your main character do something.

3. The components of a novel that readers care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, atmosphere/setting.

4. Remember that nobody agrees on what a beautiful prose style is and most readers either can't recognize "good writing" or don't value it that much.

5. A sense of humor couldn't hurt.

A couple of things about this list. First, as a writer for young people, those first two on the list are majorly "duh". In fiction for young people, it's a given: the character wants; the character does. I imagine Laura Miller is thinking of *literary* novels, broody, introspective intellectual things. (She's in no way addressing children's literature; I don't know if she reads it.)

Jim and Clementine and I had a lovely dinner (of pizza, yum) the other night with Matt Holm and Jenni Holm (creators of, among other things, the Babymouse graphic novels for kids), Matt's wife Cyndi, Jenni's daughter Millie May, and picture book writer Eric Kimmel. (Super fun!)
Well, Eric Kimmel made an interesting comment about how dull sometimes speeches delivered by *grown-up writers* can be (when you're used to hearing kid-lit authors speak), because they haven't honed their speaking skills before groups of kids and teens! I thought that was a really good point. Same with writing, of course. Adult readers might give a book a few more pages to engage them than a kid will. Writers for young people cannot eff around, and they cannot let the story loll, because a fourth grader will think nothing of abandoning a book whenever and wherever it gets boring.

This was reinforced by Jim's recent listening to audiobooks while illustrating -- he went through two fabulous YA sci-fi novels: Feed and The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and then attempted an "adult" title and found the beginning so ponderous and slow by comparison. Of course not all adult books have this problem!!! But. Very very very few books for young readers suffer from this.

But back to Laura Miller's list. Yeah, #4. I know it's true. There are readers like me who really savor the actual prose, along with the story, but I think of the general reading population, it is not so. And I whole-heartedly agree: story is more important than style! But man, I love it when an author does both. Those are the books I keep, recommend, reread, etc. Knowing as I know that style isn't really that important to [most] readers, I occasionally try to detach myself from it in my writing, to ignore it and write more quickly, not taking such care to shape the language as I do (which takes extra time!!!!). But I can't do otherwise than I do. I can only try to work faster within the framework of my brain's natural function. Besides, the tinkering with language is one of my favorite parts of writing!

I really have changed as a reader though. Back in my college days I leaned much more heavily toward style than story ("literatyoor, my good man"). Now I'm on the side of story, but hoping for a little style in there -- like spice for the soup, you know? It's not necessary, but man does it make the soup taste better!

Anyway, I thought it was a good list. Laura Miller also links to this list, put together by the Guardian (which Stephanie also emailed me the other day), including Elmore Leonard's top ten, which I guess is famous writer's advice, but I'd never read it before, and also Roddy Doyle, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and many more. I like Neil Gaiman's #1: Write. It puts me in mind of Jane Yolen's advice: "Write the damn book," which I really ought to stencil on my wall. And I notice in passing perusal (haven't read these yet) this, by Jonathan Franzen: "It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction." Ha ha! (And what am I doing right now instead of writing my book???? Hm???)

Okay. So that's that. Duly chastened, Jonathan Franzen (who I've never read). Good bye!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Look Ma, we're on TV!!! (+ lots of rambling about writing)

Last month Jim and I drove down to Corvallis, Oregon (with Clementine and my mom) to film a segment for "Back Page," a book program that airs on Oregon Public Broadcasting. We'd never done TV before, or anything even remotely close, so we were nervous! I mean, I get blotchy even doing a phone interview (nervous-blotchy, does that happen to anyone else?) Well, the host Jody Seay was just a joy to talk to and the whole thing was so easy and went so fast. The half hour felt like about ten minutes at the most, and look, no blotches!

Without further ado, here we are:

Neato! Big thanks to Jody Seay and director Eric Gleske for the great experience!

Other exciting news: Lips Touch is a contender in the School Library Journal 2010 Battle of the Kids Books! Here's the fabulous Betsy Bird making the announcement:
Again, it's super-crazy-wow-awesome to see Lips Touch in the company of the year's most buzzed-about books, including Newbery winner When You Reach Me and the book that beat Lips to the CYBIL for YA Fantasy, Fire. And the judges! M.T. Anderson, holy smokes, and Shannon Hale and Meghan Whalen Turner and Nancy Farmer (!) and the final deciding vote: Katherine Patterson. Yipes!

And there's some "undead" round at the end too, where readers get to bring a previously eliminated title back to life -- and hey, those zombie sock puppets that make an appearance in Betsy's video? I happen to know she made those here in Portland at the Kidlit Bloggers' Conference two years ago, with mad genius Jaime Temairik. That last evening in the hotel lounge, everyone suddenly had zombie socks on their hands. I have one right here, in fact. It says hello. Actually it says: *Get in my mouth, I has the hungries.* But nevermind.

So come on, Lips Touch! I'm imagining this like a boxing match. Beat up those other books! You can do it!

Ahem, aherm hem. Sorry. I got carried away. (HERE is Betsy's post with the rules, full list of titles and judges, etc.)

So. About writing. Yesterday I finished a chapter that concludes a "chunk" of the current book. That's my technical term: chunk. When I'm writing a novel, I might have a glimmering sense of the overall story arc, but as far as the actual nitty-gritty unfolding of the story, usually there is a goal much nearer at hand that I can see clearly and am writing toward. To further mix writing metaphors, I've compared it to swimming from buoy to buoy. You strike out swimming for that next buoy, you can see it bobbing orangely (I love to invent words) over the tops of the waves, and when you finally reach it, you cling to it, kiss it, vow to never let it go, WHEW!!! But of course you have to let go. You have to swim to the next buoy and the next, all the way to the far shore. You must continually leave the comfort of the completed chapters behind you and strike out into the unknown. For me at least, every time is a huge effort. I love clinging to my buoy. Even more than that, I love polishing my buoy, making it all shiny and pretty.

(Who polishes buoys? That's madness! I know.)

So, I reached a buoy yesterday and I am hanging onto it for dear life with one hand, swigging champagne with the other (not really, come on. It's 9 am). I reached a story goal. Yay!!!!!!!!

Recently, in an email from Stephanie Perkins (whose wonderful-wonderful-wonderful book Anna and the French Kiss is up on Amazon!!! You can officially pre-order it now!!!! And how cool is this: in the "Customers Who Also Bought" history is one other book. Can you guess? Lips Touch!), she called the major events of the story its "beats". This, I think, was a term gleaned from her fabulous editor Julie Strauss-Gabel, aka John Green's editor, who knows what of she speaks. And I like it. Beats. It fits nicely with an unarticulated sense I have about my own storytelling process, which is a way of moving from one noteworthy event to the next, ratcheting up tension as I go (hopefully), building suspense, working toward the climax. I can now call these story moments "beats". So, besides having swum to a buoy, I have hit another beat. Which sounds kind of cooler and less perilous (though I have to admit I'm fond of making writing sound perilous, and have been known to make writing metaphors like bushwhacking through jungles (quicksand! vipers!) and writing with a knife strapped to your thigh).

I just read a book this weekend that is a great example of beats: Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm. It's a historical (and a Newbery Honor book). The story, told in a deceptively simple first-person voice, ticks along fast, beat by beat. So many things, large and small, happen to May Amelia -- funny things, tragic things. Life in the Finnish immigrant community of the Nasel River in Washington is filled with danger and excitement and sadness. I'd have to go back and look to see if it's a beat per chapter, or more, but in any case, there's never a dull moment. It's great storytelling.

(And Jim and Clementine and I are having dinner with Jenni Holm tonight! Her brother Matt Holm is a local friend of ours -- you may know Jenni and Matt as the creative team behind Babymouse which is a hilarious graphic novel series for younger kids. I'm really excited to meet Jenni!)

But back to my writing. So here I am, clinging to this buoy. What to do next? This big raging part of my perfectionist brain wants nothing so much as to print out the manuscript so far and painstakingly edit it.


I will, instead . . . KEEP WRITING!!!

No really. Shut up. Yes I will too. I will.

*I will try.*

Because the way my brain works is it wants to TIDY. It wants to rest upon a tidy pile of polished manuscript and gloat. It does not love danger. It does not delight in forging forth into the unknown. It loves its little feather duster and word-arranger. (Whoa. I'm having a weird word moment, in which "arrange" looks impossibly bizarre. No, wait, it's back to normal again. Huh. Did I just half-shift into a parallel dimension that's exactly the same as this one with the one single exception that the word "arrange" does not exist in that one? It's possible.) (No it's not.) (Is too.) (Whatever.)

So I think what I'm trying to say is that I'm going to keep going and not give into my brain's feebleness desire. I'll let you know how that goes. Of course, I'll have wasted much of the morning on this blog post, and then probably another chunk of it straightening up my writing room which good god really needs it. So I'll let you know at some later date. I actually have ideas (and fears. big shadowy fears) about the next chunk of the story and I'm excited. But scared! But excited too.

I will, however, put footnotes at the bottom of that last chapter that makes it clear, in case an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse should cause this manuscript to be abandoned before I can revise it fully, that it is still rough. In Bird by Bird Anne Lamott said something like how, while writing her "shi**y first drafts," she is plagued by the anxiety that she'll die in a freak accident and that when her loved ones are going over her things they'll discover the manuscript and think, with deep sadness, that she must actually have killed herself because she'd lost all talent she once possessed. I get that. There's terror to letting the imperfect exist unchecked.

Okay, one last thing about writing that I read yesterday that made me nod enthusiastically: Awesome epic fantasy writer Pat Rothfuss's advice for aspiring writers. It is something I whole-heartedly agree with, perhaps the first and most important thing.

Are you ready?










Yes!!! Before anything else, you must have the time to write. Every minute you work to pay rent or mortgage is a minute stolen from your dream of becoming a writer. If Jim and I had not vacated the Bay Area in a U-Haul truck full of books and dogs and action figures, we would probably still be waiting tables and bartending and cursing the skies for our plight.

Have you ever heard this quote?

"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you." - Carl Sandburg

Love that. Moving to Portland enabled us to buy a small cottage (a foreclosure in need of some lovin, I might add) for less than it cost us to rent the Last Affordable Apartment in the Bay Area, from which we were shortly to be evicted so they could double the rent. Lower rent/mortgage = more writing time! Simplest equation ever. Pat Rothfuss, who is always funny, talks more about his own history of cheap living.

So that's all for today's ramble-fest! Have a lovely week :-)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The one thing I've learned about photography that has made a difference

Remember how I took a photography class in the fall? Well, I didn't exactly master the art. If anything, I learned how very much there is to learn! But besides discovering the depth of my own ignorance, there IS one very important thing I learned that has made my pictures better, and that's how to use Aperture mode on my Nikon, instead of using the flash. This, in combination with the inexpensive purchase of a "plastic fantastic" 50 mm 1.8 lens, has made a big difference in my pictures.

How? Well, the flash risks washing your subject out and making it pale and insipid (to qualify: this is the on-camera flash, using the fully auto setting; flashes can be much more sophisticated and awesome). This has the effect of making even a well-composed photo look like a snapshot. How do you get the rich skin tones, the saturated colors of flowers, the interesting light? How do you not get the ugly hard shadow behind your subject? How do you manipulate depth of field, so your subject is in focus but the background is lovely and soft?

For example, a picture of my favorite subject with flash on fully auto, shot with the "kit lens" (came with camera), an 18-55 mm zoom:
Still a cute picture, but see how she's all washed out and has that hard shadow behind her, and the background is all in focus and boring?

And without flash, shot with the plastic fantastic at maximum aperture:
This would be a better comparison if the pose were identical, because the thing here is the top picture is a better expression on Clementine, but the bottom is a better photo. See the skin color, the softness, the richness? The key to good pictures, I guess, is to nail the technical aspects AND get the best expression/composition etc in one shot. Still working on that!!!

And here, a portrait of little serious Pie:

It's all about the combination of the Aperture mode and having a "fast" lens. This is NOT going to get highly technical, don't worry. I'm not capable of highly technical. Just a few things:

Instead of setting my camera on fully auto, I set it on Aperture mode, which means that I select the width that the lens opens to let in light, while the camera automatically adjusts everything else. So it's still partially auto and requires no quick brain calculations, of which I am not capable. These shots were taken indoors with window light. My "kit lens" wouldn't be able to handle that, but the plastic fantastic is a "fast" lens, and it can. What "fast" means in a lens actually isn't to do with the speed of the shutter, like it sounds. It means a lens that can open really wide and let light flood into your picture, so you don't need a flash. The 50 mm 1.8 for Nikon cost about $130, I think, and is sososososososo worth it. (A high-quality fast lens will be hundreds of dollars, but this is FINE for my purposes!)

So that's the main trick I've emerged with for getting better baby pictures of Clementine, and I do hope to continue to learn about photography. If I'd really been planning to blog about this today, I'd have set up a shoot to provide better examples, but this just came about as a result of looking at the difference in the above photos, and blessing my 50 mm lens. Mwah.

The other awesome thing about 1.8 aperture is that the bigger your aperture, the smaller your depth of field, so having the lens open to 1.8 is what gives you those soft-focus backgrounds that are so great in portraits and still-life pics. For example:
The awesome discs of light on the water behind Clementine at the pool. Would not happen on fully auto setting.

The blur of the background due to 1.8 aperture; the richness of the color, to using natural light.

To show you an imperfect example of flowers shot with and without flash, here are some from before my photo class, when I was struggling to understand my camera manual and figure out this aperture thing. Note the "aperture" photos are crap, out of focus, bad composition. But see how they're still more interesting than the fully auto photo, and the color is SO much better?

Dahlias taken on fully auto, with flash:

And messing around with "aperture" mode:

(The reason these are blurry is because they were taken with the kit lens, which wasn't fast enough for the available light; this was before I got my 50.)

This lovely picture with its gorgeous colors is all about Aperture mode and natural light:
(Thank you to Emily Whitman, author of the fabulous Radiant Darkness, for this adorable outfit of polka dots and stripes :-)

That's pretty much ALL that is in my photography bag of tricks. I'm completely unqualified to be giving photography advice, but sometimes I think novices can speak better to other novices, you know? Especially about something as confusingly mathematical as photography, which makes my brain swim.

Speaking of swimming (aha! the transition! Remember learning paragraph transitions in high school writing composition?), we took Clementine to the pool again yesterday, and oh, the adorable!!! SO. MUCH. FUN. I mentioned the awesome pool last time, but hadn't brought a camera. Here is jim taking Clementine on her new infant inner tube through the river:
That's the whirlpool in the middle; the river has a powerful current that sweeps you along--so fun. And there's a big curly slide that we didn't go on, but here's Clementine sitting in it, with her little yellow bathing suit :-)
And with mama and papa:

We went to brunch afterwards; I think that will be a tradition--such a nice day! Pool + pancakes :-)


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, Silksinger!!!

Yay yay yay YAY!

Silksinger won the CYBIL* award for Middle-Grade Fantasy novel of the year! Yay!!!!! I love this award -- last year I served on the nominating committee for sci-fi and fantasy, which involved reading a LOT of books -- and this year I was crazy-gratified to see that both Silksinger and Lips Touch made the short lists in their respective categories. I was really hoping that one of them would win, and I have to admit it was really Silksinger I was rooting for the most, because Lips Touch has gotten a lot of [wonderful wonderful] love, and Silksinger really hasn't. Until now!!! And I LOVE this book.

The recognition of bloggers means a lot to me because these are my book-loving kindred spirits, my far-flung tribe out in the world. They don't get paid to do it, but they perform this amazing service of reading and reviewing books, getting the word out, and blogs are where I get ALL my book news. If it wasn't for blogs, I'd be in the DARK. How strange and isolated it must have been to be a writer in the dark days before the internet! And a reader, well, I remember how reading was once a solitary pursuit, but it isn't anymore. It's a community, and that is awesome.
So three cheers for the CYBILS, and for the judges, and for Silksinger!!!

You can see the full list of winners HERE. I'm happy to see a number of familiar books: The picture book winner, Red Sings From the Treetops, jumped off the shelf at me a few months ago at A Children's Place and insisted on coming home (and was subsequently a Caldecott Honor), and the nonfiction picture book winner, about the invention of Day-Glo paint, was on Bridget's coffee table when we went over to her house for dessert last week (she raved about it). I'll be looking into the Young Adult and Middle Grade winners, which I haven't read.

A brilliant Valentine's Day surprise. Yay! And it goes along very well with our Val Day plans, which are: to walk (though it seems to be raining) down the street for brunch at a cute nearby cafe, stopping en route at A Children's Place to buy Clementine a book or two. *happy sigh* I love buying books. I also love a big stack of books coming home from the library (psst, hey you, yeah, there's this amazing place where all the books are free!!!). Jim came home from errands yesterday with a tower of library books -- he said it felt like Christmas!

Maybe this is a good place to mention that Clementine has clear favorite picture books -- it's Jim who ends up reading to her more, since he has her in the morning (while I'm writing) and their first activity together after breakfast is book time (though I always get in a couple of books later in the day). She can get through maybe eight books in perfect happiness before she starts to fuss a little, and I don't mean board books, but regular picture books. And when she starts to fuss, Jim has only to whip out the secret weapon, her favorite book of all, and she lights up like a little sun and gets all excited to see it. It. Is. Awesome. The book?

All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman, illus. by Marc Boutavant. Seriously. I keep meaning to video tape the change in her when she sees the cover of that book.

(Tone, if you're reading this, don't buy All Kinds of Families! There just might be a copy for Magnus sitting on my bench waiting for my lazy tush to find its way to the post office :-)

Have a happy book-filled Sunday, Valentiney or otherwise. Cheers!

*CYBIL = Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary award

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Needle-tooth, meet Nipple. Nipple, Needle-tooth.

Uck. I'm sick. My throat's all crunchy and I have no voice. I hopehopehope I do not pass it along to Clementine!!!!!! She woke up at 4 am and would start to nurse then cry and turn away, so I thought -- oh no! -- her throat was sore, but then she was fine, and just wanted to lay in bed between Jim and me and play and jibber-jabber. Which was pretty adorable, even at 4 am. Of course, I felt like heck with my croupy throat, but I made myself a delicious mug of hot water, brushed my teeth, and felt a little better. Jim read somewhere recently: "There is almost no situation that cannot immediately be improved by brushing one's teeth," and while I am sure there are actually a LOT of situations that are well beyond the power of toothbrushing to ameliorate, this was not one of them. It's the same with a really hot shower when you're sick, so that is how I started the morning. So at least I'm sick and clean.

As for the title of this post: Clementine has a tooth! 6 months on the nose and she had a wee little needle-sharp tooth peeking out, and there was no teething fuss to speak of, glory halleluja. And did I mention, needle-sharp? Delightful!

She's also pulling herself to a standing position (yipe!), and standing is just about her favorite thing. And yesterday, we finally took her to the swimming pool, which we've been meaning to do for months. It was so much fun and too adorable for words! The pool we went to (Mt. Scott) has the coolest kid area ever -- it's indoor and warm, almost body temp, and has a river with a powerful current that pulls you through it, and it has water features like fountains, and a vortex pools that runs in a circle, and this big loopy slide; so much fun! It's part of a community center, and I'm just so impressed with it. We went during baby time, so there weren't bigger kids making a lot of commotion, and I noticed that there were more dads there with their babies than moms. And, Jim pointed out, this being Portland, most of the other parents had tattoos. Clementine was very serious about the whole adventure, and after getting a taste of chlorine, decided to clamp her mouth shut and not risk getting any more, so she had this serious little pinch-mouthed look on her face as we swished her around the pool. And did I mention that Jim had bought her a little yellow-striped bathing suit? Ohmygosh.

Have I said how much I love dressing her? Baby clothes are a fine reason to have a baby, ha ha. Just kidding. But I do love them. And by the way, who might it have been that gave us the gorgeous owl-print baby kimono? (Heather???!!!) It fits her now, but I can't recall who gave it to us! Pictures later :-)

Apropos of nothing, while we were driving to the pool yesterday, that old song "Blinded by the Light" came on, and Jim commented how it always sounded to him like the singer was saying, "Wrapped up like a douche ..." and we listened intently and it does sound EXACTLY like that and we couldn't think of a single other thing he could be saying that sounded like "douche" but wasn't! And we didn't have the iphone on us to google it. Later, at home, I reminded Jim, and neither of us could remember what song it was, so Jim googled, "Classic rock song that sounds like he's saying douche" and sure enough, he found it, ha ha! Gotta love Google. And he's saying deuce. Oh. Funny.

Anyway, blah blah blah. Sleepy. G'night!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Where do the days go? And the months???

Hey, where do the days go??? Among other things, I've been busily prepping for a school visit tomorrow. Why is it middle-schoolers make me so nervous? I could talk to 4th graders day after day and never get anxious about it, and the younger grades are just so adorable and happy -- I want to write some books for the little ones, because school visits to them are so much fun! But start getting up to 5th... well, they're still pretty easy, but I don't know, 6th, 7th, and -- ulp -- 8th? They're too cool for me. They're actually way cooler than me. That must be the problem. So hopefully they will be interested tomorrow. It's almost midnight, and I'm as ready as I'm going to be! (I have a high school visit coming up, and that's even scarier!)

And hey, Clementine turns 6 months tomorrow! Where do the months go??? It's been a half a YEAR already?!?! Madness.

That's all. See ya later.

The school visit was fabulous! The best I've ever done -- the kids acted out scenes from Blackbringer, and there was cake and flowers, and I found out they'd made and sold truffles themselves to raise money for my visit -- that's never happened before! I'm in love with the school, which was a really little school in a beautiful, pastoral spot. I wonder now why I was nervous. Best. Kids. Ever. :-)

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Neil Gaiman's Favorite Books + other book stuff + Romance & Books & Marshmallows!!!

I think I mentioned recently I'd had a run of book bummers -- books I read that were only "meh" -- enough in a row that it kind of got me down and I needed a good, no: GREAT, book immediately. So I started casting around for recommendations, and one place I looked was this list I'd come across a while back, where Neil Gaiman gives his ten favorite books (plus, I threw in the preceding question, because that book really belongs on the list too):

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Probably Harlan Ellison's Shatterday (1980). It's a collection of Ellison's short stories, as powerful as any good Ellison collection, and I read it on a plane trip on very bad day in 1982, and Harlan's commentary in one of his introductions to stories -- on doing things, on being a writer and not just thinking you were a writer, on using the time you have -- did more to turn the almost-22-year-old me into the writer I would one day become than anything else. I got off the plane determined to be a writer.

What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
The Biography of Manuel by James Branch Cabell -- Eighteen volumes of beautiful, worldly, wise writing by a forgotten American master.
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe -- The best science fiction novel of the last century.
Lud in the Mist by Hope Mirrlees -- My favourite fairy tale/detective novel/history/fantasy.
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potock -- A labyrinth inside a maze; also a wonderful film.
Viriconium by M John Harrison -- I could pick any Harrison book, though. It could as easily be Light, his recent sci-fi novel, or Climbers, his astounding mainstream novel. He's a master of prose and ideas.
Codex Seraphinianus by Luigo Serafini -- A guide to an alien world, in an alien language. The strangest book I own.
A Humument by Tom Phillips -- In which an artist works into a Victorian novel to create something perfectly new.
Archer's Goon by Diana Wynne Jones -- The best writer of magical children's fiction of our generation. I don't know if this is the best of her novels, but it's my favourite.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers by R.A. Lafferty -- The funniest, oddest short stories in this or any other world.
The Complete Newgate Calenda -- One of those books, like Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, that's almost a window into the past. In this case, an immersive and astonishing look at criminals and their often short and tragic lives. My set is four volumes, bound in red leather, and it smells like a bygone age.

Hm. There's some pretty obscure stuff on there. Not sure if I'll find them all, or be into all of them, but I've gotten two from the library so far and am on page 37 of Lud-in-the-Mist and . . . wow. I'm inclined to trust Neil Gaiman's suggestions, based just on these 37 pages. The writing is GORGEOUS. Check out this passage, in which Nathaniel Chanticleer, mayor of the titular city, shakes off his unconscious solipsism (if only for a moment), and realizes his son is an actual person:

"Was it possible that Ranulph, too, was a real person, a person inside whose mind things happened? He had thought that he himself was the only real person in a field of human flowers . . ."

The only real person in a field of human flowers.

That is so awesome. I can see I need to get my own copy so I can underline in it and keep it. I also have Archer's Goon and Shatterday from the library. Those three I will definitely read; I'll see about the others as I go. I've got a stack of other library books, and recently purchased books, so I won't be reading these straight through, anyway.

I was also lucky enough to just read the new manuscript of a fellow Pacific Northwest fantasy writer, Dia Calhoun, and it was awesome. I read it practically in one sitting, and this was kind of funny: I had taken about half the manuscript off the bench in my writing room when I sat down on the sofa in the living room to nurse Clementine. Well, Clementine fell into one of her occasional marathon naps, there on my lap (a couple of hours at least). So there I was, with a couple of my favorite things: angelic napping Clementine as close as she could be, her little downy head to pet, adorable tiny hand clasping the strap of my top; and a really good book to read. Really really good. But . . . I'd only grabbed half the stack of pages and -- oh NO! -- I ran OUT! Ack! So I faced a dilemma: I could get up, risking waking up Clementine, to get the rest of the pages, which I would not then be able to continue reading because Clementine would be awake. Or, I could sit there, grab something nearer at hand to read, a magazine or something. Neither of these options suited, so I chose a third:

I sent a flurry of mental messages upstairs to where Jim was working in the art studio. "Come down," I willed him. "Come downstairs now."

And guess what. It WORKED!!! Not two minutes later, I heard his chair readjust, then footsteps. Yay! He claims not to have heard my mental messages, saying he just needed to brush his teeth after coffee, but whatever. I know I did it. I willed him downstairs to get me the rest of Dia's pages, which he did, and I kept reading for the duration of the nap. Thank you, Clementine and Jim, for facilitating my reading experience. I'll probably say more about Dia's book later, but I haven't asked her if I can, since the manuscript is new and all that. But you WILL get the opportunity to read this wonderful book some time. Jim and I have an expression, to "move at the speed of publishing" which is: slow. Really really slow. So I don't know when you'll get to read it, but it will happen because it is a gorgeous book.

Speaking of manuscripts, remember how once upon a time I gloated about reading a really awesome manuscript by a new writer friend? And soon enough that writer friend got both her dream agent and dream editor and the book is coming out this fall? Yes, I'm talking about Stephanie Perkins, who has spent the last month in Paris eating macarons and researching for another book (le sigh). Well, she is running a contest on her blog right now, and it involves romance and books and marshmallows.



Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Sketchbook pages

I started a new sketchbook/journal a few weeks ago, and so far it is just sketchbook and not journal, but that's okay. I've been painting and collaging in at midnight most nights it and having much fun:
(Remember the drawings, here?)

Right now I'm working on a piece called "Zebra's Cupcake" :-)

Oop. Clementine awakes . . .