Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Coolest Video Ever

Wow. Wow wow. Awesome! Makes me want to do stop motion!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Berry Face + Writing in the Spirit of Discovery

A lovely weekend. More berries were picked, and more importantly, more berries were eaten:
hee hee hee. I was carrying Clementine on my back, and I couldn't see her face, just her little hand reaching forward to take the berries I was passing back to her, and at the end, this is what we found. You can imagine the back of my shirt looked much the same! Luckily I was wearing burgundy, ha ha.

It was also another amazing weekend in secret news, soon to be shared, and I got some writing in too, of course. My tiny writing cafe is ultra dead on Sundays. Yesterday I was here for four or five hours and maybe four or five people came in in all that time. The barrista sat in an armchair reading The Road!

But speaking of writing, a few posts back I think I mentioned an intention to write about "writing scenes in the spirit of discovery" and I haven't done that yet, but I think I'll take a [brief] stab at it. (Isn't that an odd and kind of awesome expression, to "take a stab" at something? Where does that come from? Is it, like, the vampire-slayer equivalent of "the old college try"?)

Writing scenes in the spirit of discovery.

Early in my blogging days, I recall that I came across a post on writing where the [now forgotten by me] writer said, "You write to find the story." And I don't know if I really knew that at the time, at least not on a conscious level. I thought you wrote to tell the story. And you do, of course, but you are also finding it. As I say in Not For Robots, it's not like picking up somebody's grocery list off the sidewalk. It's an entirely new creation of your brain, and for most of us, we're not downloading it directly from the ether, or whatever. It's a process of discovery.

Early in my own process of learning to write a novel, I came to a point (in Blackbringer, the first scene in Never Nigh when the crows are performing) where I was trying to make characters interact and bring a new place to life, and it was really really hard . . . and I gradually realized that it was really really hard because I didn't know the characters OR the place yet, and so I couldn't expect some perfect scene to just roll of my fingertips that did everything I wanted it to do. I had to get in there and kind of mess around. Like, I don't know, you know how photographers and documentary makers say that if you stick around a place long enough with your camera the subjects will start acting natural and kind of forget you're there? That's sort of what happened once I just stared playing around in Never Nigh, telling myself it didn't matter if these scenes ended up in the book or not. And many didn't! But I did start getting to know my characters, and that led to the actual scene. Ta da!

This has happened many times since then, and you'd think I'd just learn to be free and always write in "the spirit of discovery" like it's my default setting, but I don't know if you can change your default. It's like changing your height or something. You could do it, but it would involve chopping off your legs! I can't change my writing brain. I am a perfectionist, I want each scene in my books to be its own multi-faceted, highly polished jewel. And at the end of the day, I'm glad my brain works the way it does, because I really really like my writing! But I have to constantly remind myself to have a spirit of discovery. I have to force myself, every time.

And sometimes it's not intentional. I might think I am writing The Scene, you know? But after the fact, I realize it's not right, and I have to be willing to set it aside and keep trying. That's part of the process of discovery: realizing when you're not there yet. The story veers in a direction that, while cool, minimizes the overall narrative momentum, or any one of a million other reasons why it's not the right scene at the right time. Where I'm at right now in my current novel, I've laid aside a succession of chapters, each of which I thought was "the one" until a day or so after I finished it. But each time I set one aside, I understand the story better. The jewel becomes more complex and sparkly, if you will.

Not every scene you write, not even every really beautiful, cool scene, needs to be in the book. They might be stage hands instead of actors, you know, and do their important work behind the scenes. In fact, the important work performed by some scenes is in the very revelation of their wrongness! Sometimes you won't find the perfect way to move forward until you've found a few wrong ways and learned their lessons. This gives you depth. It's nothing to be down about. I think it was Thomas Edison who said, "I have not failed. I have only found 10,000 ways that won't work."

We just hope it's not 10,000!

So there's that. I don't know if it helps anyone to know this, but almost every single scene in my current novel is a not-first-effort. As much as I have bemoaned perfectionism, I truly believe there is a huge benefit to having this kind of brain. It may not be joyous in the moment, but it gives us the focus and will to keep working toward the best possible resolution to our stories, and the very best configuarions of language to convey it as directly as possible to our readers' brains.

I'm not going to edit this post because I need to get back to work instead. And THAT is a difficult thing for a perfectionist brain to do!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A trio of YA debuts

Thank you so much for all the good wishes! I am so excited! It's weird working on a book for so long *in secret* -- and then it finally feels REAL. Well, real as a book. A future book. How cool. I want to be a book when I grow up! Last night I googled Daughter of Smoke and Bone for the first time and it was weird. The title is still shiny and new to me, it's different from the title I've been using *in secret* all this time, so it will take some getting used to. I really love it though, and I was really happy to get so much positive feedback on it. Thank you!

But enough about my book. How about . . . the books of others? Some news and some bragging.

First brag: I am one of the few lucky humans on the planet to have read Stephanie Perkins' brand new manuscript, Lola and the Boy Next Door.
You may remember me bragging once upon a time when I'd read her first manuscript, Anna and the French Kiss, before it was either agented or published. Now it is BOTH! Well, Steph just got her advance reading copies in the mail, so it exists in that form, and it is eminently pre-order-able (out in December!). Ahem. It is one to own AND to give to your favorite girls/young women. It is SO good, and so is Lola (which I was just the first person to rate on Goodreads!). This is the highest praise I can think of: there are (3) conditions in the universe under which I would agree to be a teenager again. They are:

1) That it be of short duration, and I am guaranteed to hop right back to my regularly scheduled life.

2) Millions of dollars in compensation. Millions.

3) That it be like living a Stephanie Perkins novel. Because . . . yum. I would be a teenager again for that. Seriously, they are dreamy and romantic but also smart and quirky and real. You will love them. Love love love. I'm so excited for the world getting to discover Stephanie's books SOON! (December, but if you are lucky or crafty, you might snag an ARC before then!) I will do a proper review once I get an ARC or copy and read the final version -- I can 't WAIT!!!!!!!!!

Second book news: Happy book birthday to the lovely and wonderful Holly Cupala, whose debut, Tell Me A Secret, came out this week. Congratulations, Holly!!! I met Holly for the first time over three years ago in New York at the winter SCBWI conference, and she is one of the people I've met through SCBWI (the other is Lee Wind), where Jim and I have had discussions as to whether they could really be that nice. Or is it just an act? Ha ha. In the case of both Lee and Holly: it's for real. That nice. Truly. And while I've only read the first few pages of Holly's book so far (more once I've read it), it is beautiful right from the start. Here's a quickie synopsis:

It's tough living in the shadow of a dead girl. . . .

In the five years since her bad-girl sister Xanda's death, Miranda Mathison has wondered about the secret her sister took to the grave, and what really happened the night she died. Now, just as Miranda is on the cusp of her dreams—a best friend to unlock her sister's world, a ticket to art school, and a boyfriend to fly her away from it all—Miranda has a secret all her own.

When two lines on a pregnancy test confirm her worst fears, Miranda is stripped of her former life. She must make a choice with tremendous consequences and finally face her sister's demons and her own.

In this powerful debut novel, stunning new talent Holly Cupala illuminates the dark struggle of a girl who must let go of her past to find a way into her own future.


Third and last book news o' the day: I just read Kiersten White's debut YA novel Paranormalcy (coming out in August, and also pre-order-able, hint), and it is a thorough delight! I don't know Kiersten personally, and I hear mixed accounts of her. On the one hand, she seems really funny and sweet and all good things. However, this eyewitness account presents a compelling counterpoint. Hm. I honestly don't know. Ha ha. It is clear from her hilarious blog that she is lovely and funny, and her book speaks for itself: fast-paced, handling a tense story line with a light, deft (and I have to say it, adorable) tone. I hope Kiersten doesn't mind the word "adorable." I don't mean it in ANY diminutive way. But Evie, her narrator-protagonist, is simply adorable. And she kicks ass. Often with a pink taser. See? Adorable.

Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.

But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

So much for normal.


Monday, June 21, 2010



Here it is, my news, my new book, at last! A few weeks ago when I was mysteriously happy (aw, I'm always happy), it was because my current novel was at auction and I was overflowing with glee. But I couldn't say anything, so I hinted and twiddled my fingers, and then the auction was won by the amazing Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, but I still couldn't say anything, because the official announcement had to wait until we could come up with a title.

It is now tentatively titled Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and here is the announcement as it appears in Publisher's Weekly this morning:

LBBYR Lands NBA Finalist
Little Brown Books for Young Readers senior editor Alvina Ling won world rights (excluding U.K. and Commonwealth) at auction to Laini Taylor's tentatively titled new YA novel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Ling beat four other houses for the work, which was put on the block by Jane Putch at Eyebait Licensing & Management. Daughter, which is scheduled for fall 2011, is about a pair of star-crossed lovers kept apart by the fact that one's an angel and the other's a demon; also woven into the tale is the story of the devil's adopted daughter, a blue-haired art student in Prague. LBBYR is promising a significant marketing push for the title, which it believes will have crossover appeal to adults. Taylor's NBA finalist, 2009's Lips Touch, was published by Scholastic.

And there you have it! It has been a "devilishly" difficult book to summarize, as well as title, and the above description may have become a tad misleading in abridgment from the full announcement, but that's okay. There is indeed a strong "Romeo & Juliet with angels and devils" element to the story, but . . . what exactly do I mean by "angels and devils"? The way the supernatural elements in Lips Touch were not "textbook", neither is this, and my angels and devils are not your usual angels and devils.

For fun, here's a little background on this project:

After I finished Silksinger and it became clear that the publisher (Penguin) was not hungering for another Dreamdark book at that moment in history*, I set about writing a sci-fi book that was burning in my brain. I spent a few months on it, and . . . it was not going well. I just couldn't get a feel for it. I wasn't having FUN. Not at all. To the point, many of you will know what of I speak, that cranking up the computer in the morning (yes, I have a hand-crank computer. No, not really.) was filled with a fair amount of dread and reluctance. There's a brilliant quote:

"There are some books which refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written -- it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself."
- Mark Twain

For myself, I find this to be so so true, and the sci-fi book, I am convinced, had not found its right form. So I was mired in the un-fun of it, the un-progress of it, and looking back in my blog to those days, I see the record of how Daughter of Smoke and Bone got itself to exist. One day:

"sitting down with a big cup of coffee and a really fun idea that has got my fingers twitching to start writing something unexpected. Just for fun, just for today. (Maybe. Then again. . .) There are wishes in it, and strings of teeth, and a scar from a bullet wound, and blue hair in pigtails, and mean widows who would probably taste like wild boar sausage if you were to eat them. Which of course you wouldn't. Gross."

(And all of that IS in this book, except the widows who taste like wild boar sausage. So far, anyway!)

And then the next entry was THIS ONE. Ah, I remember that day so well, and I'm so glad I have the blog post to commemorate it. I felt lighter than air. I still have the exact text of that first day of writing. The book has veered and grown and grown and grown, but in that first day's work there is still the spirit of it, and all the fun and promise.

The next blog entry, incidentally:

"The writing of the weird new thing progresses newly and weirdly. Still fabulous fun. Strange things are happening involving marionettes, chinese swords, rosary beads, and a beautiful boy who is half-Maasai. In Venice."

Ha ha. None of those things are still in the book! Well, maybe the Chinese swords . . . sort of.

So, did I go back to that poor, tortuous sci-fi book, or abandon it right then and there? Well . . . actually, I followed my own rule of not being seduced by "the slutty new idea" and I kept slogging at the sci-fi book! I behaved. Well, I am here to tell you that behaving is not always for the best! I finished a draft of that sci-fi, and I never even read it. I tacked that "the end" on with the sound of a door slamming, and I have NEVER read that manuscript! It was misery to write, and I'm sure it would be misery to read! Did I learn a lesson? I don't know. But getting back to the blue-haired girl book was like . . . getting out of jail? Maybe a little. The timing was perfect: I had a beach weekend writing retreat set up with a couple of friends (this was early in my pregnancy with Clementine), and on the first day of the retreat I wrote the first chapter of "Daughter." (That is now Chapter 13, by the way), and I haven't looked back. I have only taken long, long pauses. Ha ha. I found pregnancy delightful and distracting, and then there were those newborn months. They may also, er, ahem, have been another book written in the interim. (What? What are you looking at? )

So that's the history of this book so far, and I'm am SO THRILLED about where it stands now, in the amazing, creative hands of the team at Little, Brown, who have knocked my socks off from the first moment of the auction. This is my writer's life fairy tale, with the caveat that in the fairy tale, the writing part is easier! And this book is STILL deeply, deeply fun, but of course it is work too. I have many notebook pages of roads not taken with this idea, which at every moment is sending off shoots in tantalizing directions, so that I have to be a ruthless gardener and prune and snip and cull. (Me and my mixed writing metaphors!)

There's something I talked about in my plotting talk at SCBWI WW recently, and it really should be its own blog post, so perhaps I'll expand upon it in my next post, but it's: the willingness to write scenes in the spirit of discovery, even knowing they might not make it into the book. I have so many discarded scenes, but they all contribute a richness to the plot and characterization, even if it only sneaks in in hints and hues on account of me having made the world of the story real to myself in discarded chapters. More on that later!

So, to sum up: WHOOOOOP! Hurray! Thank you thank you THANK YOU, Little, Brown, and Alvina Ling (my new editor!), as well as my FABULOUS agent, Jane Putch, for some of the most exciting weeks of my professional life! I look to the future with such excitement as the life of this new book unrolls ahead of me.
That said, back to writing!

*re: more Dreamdark books: some day I will finish the series! I am deeply committed to Magpie and crew and feel sick about leaving them in limbo. I will see their story through. It is just not in the cards for the next few years.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Did you know strawberries could be RED in the middle?

Ha ha. Every year it surprises me, when strawberry season rolls around and we get good, ripe Northwest strawberries instead of those giant, alien, white-inside things that come on trucks from god-knows-where. Strawberries can be RED all the way through! And soooooo sweet. Yesterday we went picking on Sauvie Island, which is an island of farms in the Columbia River. In past years we've blinked and missed strawberry season, but not this year. Yum. Clementine enjoyed herself.

Like dingbats, Jim and I forgot to bring a baby carrier, so we took turns holding her on our hip while we picked, which was actually pretty easy. She was a totally jabberwocky the whole time, calling across the fields to people, and speaking her own language in such deep earnestness, it was like she was trying to convince us of something. And isn't her hat THE BEST? It just came in the mail from the lovely Lori in Amsterdam, and comes from the Dutch department store Hema, to which I have never been, but love nevertheless. Lori sends the most insanely cute stuff for Clementine -- so much cuter than the cost-equivalent in the US! It's like inexpensive baby clothes in the US are required to have little sayings on them like "daddy's little angel" or "cutie pie" or whatever, which is fine, but really: totally inescapable. Not so the Dutch stuff, plus, the fabric. It's awesome. Can't wait to someday get in there MYSELF to shop!

What else? Nothing else. Oh wait, yes. One weird thing. I am developing a permanent furrow of wrinkled skin on the inside of my left forearm, from holding Clementine (exactly as in photo above). Her weight pulls the skin into a long series of puckers, and they don't ever go away now. Ah, age. My skin doesn't have the elasticity to unwrinkle itself anymore, sigh, and carrying those 20ish adorable Clementine pounds are taking their toll. At least I'm not having wrist cysts and weird shoulder nerve damage, like Jim is. Now, I'm not necessarily recommending having children young -- there are many, many good reasons to wait, like getting one's writing and art careers going -- but age has its disadvantages too. Like a wrinkled forearm! A small price to pay :-)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flying brain-men and impending doom

You know how, the more you blog, the more you have to blog about, and the less you blog, the harder it is? Well. I feel all floundery. What to blog about? I miss it! I miss the connection with so many people. I miss feeling like this space is an extension of my life in some way. It has been, lately, more like the room in the house that you never go in, the one with the closed door. Oh, don't look in there ..." And not even in a fascinating Bluebeardy way, full of dead wives or anything -- just in a boring way. That room is boring.

Huh. Bluebeard. That reminded me of something. When we first moved into our house, 9 years ago, the girls across the street (kids at the time, now grown up) were putting on a play in their yard, and it was Bluebeard. They had even made "dead wives" on butcher paper, life size, and rigged a closet to hang them in, for the heroine to discover. It was gruesome and awesome.

But anyway. My blog-closet hides no gruesome secrets. Just a lack of TIME. Time time time. There is time on a daily basis for a) Jim and Clementine, and b) writing. Right now, this time falls into "writing." Jim is home with Clementine, and I am at the cafe down the street that is my new writing space. Each morning after breakfast I attire myself in something a small presentability-step above pajamas, and I walk down a gravel road, about four blocks, with an umbrella (because god, Oregon, really. Haven't you heard it's JUNE?), to this very small, very quiet cafe.
And here I sit writing away. By lunchtime my clothes smell like roast coffee, which isn't a great smell, a few hours later. I kept thinking I reeked of cigarettes and couldn't understand why. I mean, obviously no one was smoking in the cafe. I have always had a poor sense of smell. A poor ability to identify smells, anyway. They seem obvious once someone else names them, but until then I'm like, Um, onion? garlic? I don't know. Tastes too. Whatever station in the brain is responsible for that function, my little brain-men aren't manning it well. Or maybe they put the sleepiest guys on that job, I don't know.

What? Don't you have brain-men? They are very very small. Just because you can't see them, doesn't mean they aren't there.

There is a heavy concentration of brain-men (and women) around the writing station, though, and they all have their opinions, very very strong opinions, and here's what I think happens. One of them takes the helm and we write an awesome chapter. Then I take a nap, and when I get back to work, there's a different brain-man on duty, and he has all new ideas for that chapter. I am powerless. We end up rewriting. This goes on for a while until I knock my head against the wall and they go flying around like crash-test dummies ...

Um. Sometimes when I'm blogging I really worry you are going to think I am insane. Don't worry. All is well.

So here I am, at my cafe. I have something on the horizon with which I have very little experience. That something is ... a DEADLINE. *gasps in horror* It's a scary word! It even has "dead" in it! Doesn't it just sound sort of "impending doomy"? I sort of had deadlines for the Dreamdark books, and there was one winter, truly, when I did very very little besides write Silksinger. I remember it well.But never before have I had a real firm deadline AND a baby. It is an interesting combination, and explains my poor blog showing of late. Honestly.

Life at its simplest. My wardrobe consists of what is on top. On top of the glider chair, that is, which doesn't get glided in much on account of being my new open-air closet. I still live in nursing tanks, and put a t-shirt over it to leave the house. So glamorous. Mostly I wear black yoga-ish pants, because my jeans are all long and require platform shoes of some sort, and I am less and less that person, though my wardrobe hasn't really caught up to whatever person I am now. Today I wanted to wear jeans though, so I am wearing my black platform boots, and the four gravel blocks to the cafe felt like quite a trudge.
When writing, I wear a silver wishbone pendant Jim gave me for our anniversary. It's kind of a totem. Ponytails are ubiquitous. Showers are not ubiquitous. I mean, that's like 20 minutes of writing! heh heh. Fortunately, I am not a stinky person. Not that I've gone more than a day without a shower. Nooooooo. Heh. Because that would be gross... Ahem.

So you see, my life of glamour. Jim and I did get out for a date the other night, though, and it was marvelous. Funnily enough, we went to see a kid's movie! But honestly, when you live in the rabbit hole and then poke your head out to see what's playing at the movies ... what a bunch of crap right now! So we saw How To Train Your Dragon and holy, it was AWESOME!!!! Have you seen it? Doesn't matter if you have kids or not. It's just great. I even wore a dress out (from the actual closet, and WITHOUT a nursing tank, and then we went out to dinner and had a decadent three-course meal, with house-made pasta, and wine pairings. Wine pairings! And no squiggling wiggler on my lap. Of course, we missed her, and got out the iphone midway through dinner to look at pictures of her . . .
(tee hee.)

But now, time is flashing past, and my brain-men are cranking up the writing station, so I'd better go see what they're up to before they decide on any new ways the last chapter might unfold. (No! Bad brain-men! Onward, only forward!)


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Goblin Shark Madness!

Check out this totally crazy creature! The video is in Japanese, but just watch this shark's monstrous MOUTH. Oy!Nature, you give me nightmares. Sweet, sweet nightmares.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Paris Christmas in June

I have the best best friend ever. She just got back from a trip to France, and she showered us with such an abundance of gifts it felt like Christmas. My oh my oh my oh my. I'm so lucky! Behold:
Those incredible stuffed animals are from Moulin Roty (UK version website), where I am now dying to go shopping myself! These little guys are called "Les Jolis Pas Beaux" which means "the pretty uglies" though there is nothing ugly about them -- they are pure cuteness.
Notebooks, stickers, candy. I have always been crazy about cute little notebooks, and these are awesome. One of them is Mouk, by French illustrator Marc Boutavant, who is a favorite of mine!
Beautiful soap that could easily be mistaken for candy!
A summery outfit for Clementine.
Too-awesome Moroccan slippers that might have been made just for me! And in front of them, the vintage children's blocks, those are a gift from the wonderful Tara of Paris Parfait, who has made me drool over French shopping for several years now, with her gorgeous photos of shop displays. She also sent this antique cake plate that is as pretty as candy:
Wow, totally unexpected! Thank you, Tara! And thank you my dear dear Alexandra. I can't wait to go on a trip and bring back a trove of wonders for you. Or better yet, let's rent a house in Morocco, and shop the souks together :-)

Friday, June 04, 2010

little painting

Look at the little painting Jim did for me for Mother's Day. I love it so much!

And that is my incredibly wordy blog post for this evening. I am so tired. Won't be getting any late-night writing done tonight, sigh. At least I had a good morning writing at my cafe. I realized yesterday that the last chapter I had written was taking things in the wrong direction, so I rewrote it with a cool new idea and it fell into place so much better. You know how sometimes you suddenly realize something about your w.i.p. and then feel like a dolt for not having recognized it sooner? It just seems so obvious? It was one of those moments. A true "duh" moment. Oh well, better late than never.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Have fun AND be awesome!

Hey Portlanders, whatcha doin Saturday? Want to have fun and be awesome at the same time? You can! No, you totally can. Come to the Rockstar Stella leukemia benefit concert! Actually, there are two events on Saturday, a kid-friendly daytime hoojiggy (no, not a real word, but good, don't you think? It would be a good name for a not-very-tame exotic pet, like a monkey or marsupial; you could call it "Hooj" for short) with music and food and belly dancing and a "jammin' jump rope exhibition," and later, an evening music event. There will be food, dance exhibitions, a silent auction, arts & crafts, and a Red Cross bus for blood donation. And all the proceeds go to support the medical treatment of beautiful 8-year-old Stella, who is battling AML leukemia with a rare FLT3 gene mutation. You can read more about her cancer, and about the benefit, HERE.

Stella's mom, Dana, is responsible for the awesome pinkness of my hair. Stella's step-father, Peter, was one of our first friends when we moved to Portland nine years ago. They are a fun, creative, warm family living through a nightmare. Stella's attitude is amazing. One shudders to imagine such places as pediatric oncology units, but the couple of times we've been to visit, it was a whirlwind of kids racing the corridors on big wheels, with art everywhere and total wild kid energy. There were also the stricken faces of parents coping with unimaginable bad news.

The idea. The idea. My mind can't turn down that alley. I can't conceive of what Dana and Peter are going through. They remain totally upbeat and positive that Stella is going to have the best possible outcome, because anything else is unthinkable. They've organized this totally amazing fundraising event, and I hope you can come, or if you're not local, you can still DONATE HERE.

Jim is donating a Batman painting to the silent auction. If you like it, come buy it!

I'm donating a little parcel of signed books and maybe a Laini's Lady or two.

Hope to see you there! Wishing glowing good health to all the children in your life! xoxo