Thursday, February 26, 2009

Belly status report

Whoa. My belly is suddenly round. Seriously: suddenly. When did this happen? 18 weeks and POOF! Belly! I mean, I can look down and see it, you know, protruding.

AND I think I felt movement in there for the first time, about an hour ago. It's so hard to describe what it felt like -- it was kind of like when your stomach growls, but, you know, not your stomach. And then there was a small swift flipping sensation, like a fish turning over. Little fishy.

I've been waiting and waiting for this. It's so exciting! It's just all been so . . . abstract . . . these past months, no matter how hard you try to really believe there's a baby growing in there, you look at your belly and . . . I don't know, the imagination fails. Like when you stand inside the Roman Coliseum or the seraglio of Topkapi Palace, and try to really imagine them back in the day, thronged with gladiators or concubines, and your brain just will not conjure it? But NOW, now that there's some belly roundness, and not just that, but this strange substantialness to it, and this little fish is flipping over, it begins to be real. I begin to be able to truly grasp the fact there is (ohmygosh!) something living inside of me.

Which brings me to the T-shirt my darling sister just sent me:
Cute, no?

Ultrasound in two weeks to find out if it's a girl parasite or a boy parasite! I have no prediction whatsoever, and neither does Jim. No preference either. SO curious, though!!!!!!!

It's a gloomy, rainy, windy day today with trash cans rolling down the street, and I am writing writing writing. That's what the rest of the weekend holds in store too (and indeed, the entire month of March): writing writing writing. With mint tea and naps and cooking intermingled, and Leroy following me from room to room without fail, in that darling dog way. Jim is upstairs reinstalling software, which will hopefully stem the flow of sudden, explosive cursing that has been increasing in frequency as Photoshop keeps quitting on him while he tries to finish the last of the Lips Touch illustrations. Fingers crossed!

And speaking of Lips Touch, we got an ARC! Eeeep! It's so fabulous! It wasn't a "Back to the Future box," just a single copy, but I hope I will get more; I really want to give one or two away here. AND I really want to show it, but I haven't been given the go-ahead yet, darn it. So I shall continue to be mysterious . . .

Back to writing now, with my body *listening* for fishy :-)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bold new marketing idea

In the midst of a dream the other night, my dream-self said something very, very clever. Don't ask me what it was, because I don't remember. For a moment, my conscious mind roused itself to say, "That's very, very clever. I shall remember that when I wake."

Dream-self knew better. "No you won't. You'll forget."

Conscious mind acknowledged the truth of this. "Yes, you're probably right. But no matter. I'm sure it isn't clever at all, but is just more dream nonsense."

Which I'm sure is true. But I still wish I had bothered to write it down so I could see what manner of nonsense had seemed so very, very clever that it got my conscious mind involved. Oh well. I don't remember dreams very often, but last night, strangely enough, Angelina Jolie made an appearance. We had a drink together and she was wearing those emeralds from the Oscars that are as big as fists. I played it cool, but of course seized the opportunity to give her my books. Wouldn't it be really strange, if wherever in the world she is, she woke up with my books stacked on her nightstand?

Hey! There's my new marketing ploy: I am going to distribute dream copies of my books to celebrities! All I need to do is learn a little basic astral projection.

smirk smirk -- Imagine that in a publisher's marketing plan! Targeted astral ARC deliveries to Oprah, Stephen King, Angelina Jolie, Peter Jackson, and a long list of other celebrities. tee hee.

Marketing. Sigh.

Any qualified astral travelers out there?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

MY 500th POST!!!!!!!

Wow. I've been blogging for just over three years and I've come up on 500 posts. Seems like a good time to sing the praises of blogging :-)

Well, before I started blogging, I didn't *get it* -- the first time I heard of it, I even thought it sounded *lame* -- like, people posting their diaries for the world to see? A little self-indulgent, don't you think?

But then I started reading a blog -- it was Christine Mason Miller's (aka "Swirly Girl") -- and from there I discovered a few others, and I began to realize what blogging IS. It's a way of finding your "tribe" -- and I began to find mine. Some of us are lucky to find our tribes in our daily lives, in our home towns. Some of us are not. I have moved many many times in my life, and I have had to start from scratch over and over, making new friends, so I learned how to do it early on. And I've always been lucky to meet fantastic friends wherever I've lived. But. That doesn't mean I always had "a tribe," not the way I do now -- a big, vital group of kindred spirits who explore and create and read and write and raise cool kids and knit and decorate houses and SHARE IT ALL. It's phenomenal.

Those who don't blog can't understand; they doubt these are real friendships, but *we* know better. What begins just in the comments section flows over into email and phone calls and to meeting in person, sometimes for lunch downtown, sometimes halfway around the world. And if you've met a blog friend in person you know this to be true: the first time you meet face to face, there's no awkwardness; you already know each other. It's easy. You hug and fall effortlessly into conversation; you already know so much about each other. You know what questions to ask.

This space here has been incredibly important to me over the past three years -- for building a tribe and for spurring my writing in new directions, for talking books and art, getting inspired by other people's travels and cooking and parenting and life adventures large and small. And then, this being an offshoot of life, you will also inevitably come upon the suffering of others, as life unfurls its tragedies and reveals all its textures and colors -- and there is much to be learned. I've long believed that readers of fiction are more empathetic people than non-readers, because in devouring stories, we learn that all lives are not like our own; we see the way paths can lead people in directions we ourselves could never have imagined. We learn how complex it all is, how magical and terrible, and how we can't use our own lives as a standard for judging all other lives. Reading blogs isn't reading fiction -- it's something more immediate, much more real, and it's fraught with things like jealousy over the *better* lives of others and their successes, and also empathy for their tragedies, and a context check for the things we need to remember to be grateful for: our health, the health of our loved ones, and what a matter of LUCK our happiness can be.

So, to my tribe: thank you for everything you've taught me, and thank you for participating in my life, for your support of my successes and your sympathy for my sorrows.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

school visits & school libraries

Hey, I'm one post shy of 500 posts! That's quite a landmark. I'll have to think of something awesome to blog about for my next post, but what? (The pressure!) Maybe this: I am expecting the Lips Touch ARC in the mail in the next day or so -- can't WAIT!! Imagine me skulking by the front door, on the lookout for delivery trucks! Ha ha. Actually, I haven't been home to skulk because the past two days I've been doing school visits with absolutely delightful kids. It was great to get a dose of kids as I'm not around them very much. I love the way the kindergartners ask the most literal questions, like, "How do you make the covers of your book hard like that?" and how they wave their hands around frantically to tell me the most serious things: "There really are devils, you know."

Urk? Not going to explore that statement in depth!

Got to be careful with that literal-mindedness too; they entirely believed that my brother looks like this:
I could see they were quite concerned for him, tee hee hee. The older kids, to whom my presentation is geared (3rd-5th grades) are more savvy, and call out, "Photoshop!!" Can't dupe them!

Oh, when the principal was introducing me to one group of 3rd - 5th graders, she asked them if anyone could tell her what an author was. The boy she called on answered something like this: "Someone who writes books and sends them to an editor, and if the editor doesn't like it, he throws it away." ha HA! Turns out his father is a writer! There was a girl in the same group whose mom has written 42 Harlequin romances. I told her her mom is a much faster writer than me!

In an older version of my presentation I used "elephant poo paper" (not toilet paper for elephants, but paper made from elephant poo) as a prop, and the last image in my slide show was of an elephant, um, pooping. So I learned that all questions thereafter would be about elephant poop! Well, I've since run out of that marvelous resource, so now the last picture in my slide show is of Boba Fett holding my book.
So you know what the questions were about? In one session anyway: all about Star Wars! "Did you meet Luke Skywalker too? How about Darth Vader? Han Solo?" (Answers: no; yes; no; stormtroopers and Princess Leia: yes; yes. Not the real ones, mind you. Comicon versions.)

Anyway, it was MUCH FUN. You know how I was recently talking about storytelling, and about wanting to work on that? Well, after doing my presentation a few times and getting into the groove, I began to feel more ease with the storytelling aspect of it, especially the part where I'm telling what my book is about. I mean, it lends itself well: it's a tale of the Devil Wars, narrowly won thousands of years ago by the faeries, and what the faeries did with the devils they captured, and how now a new creature (humans) is unwittingly releasing those ancient foes from their prisons. Eek! I got so I was having So Much Fun telling that story and seeing the totally attentive eyes shining back at me, wide with the suspense of it all. It's addictive, and really deepens my resolve to work on storytelling as an art form.

Besides the fun of being with the kids, there were two days in a row of getting up early and making myself presentable, then driving to "work" with the other folks -- it was a change to my stay-at-home routine. It makes me appreciate my stay-at-homeness, but it also makes me think that being a teacher would be a much more pleasant reason to drive to work in the morning than many alternatives. The teachers and principal were also extremely nice, and I met a librarian who was visiting from the school district office as part of an ongoing effort to bring all the school libraries up to a standard.

I learned that many of the Portland public schools do not have librarians, which made me greatly appreciate the school just over the border in Washington where my friend Jone has been the librarian for many years. There is, let me tell you, a great difference between the libraries in the two schools, as you can well imagine. The visiting librarian said that she thinks Washington has done a better a job of keeping librarians in schools than Oregon has.

I have said this before: some kids grow up with a great fondness for libraries, but despite my book-love, libraries were never a big part of my life. Living overseas much of my youth, we didn't have access to public libraries in English, and our school libraries were indifferent at best. But even at the not-great Department of Defense elementary school I attended in Gaeta, Italy, we had a full-time librarian. What is a library without a librarian? A haphazard collection? At the school I was at yesterday, brave parent volunteers have made the place a workable space, and it's a nice library -- I can't speak to the collection, because I am not a librarian, but can you imagine the work? That's no job for a volunteer.

Sigh. It's a sad state of affairs when librarians are considered a luxury.

Speaking of sad states of affairs, we are awaiting the arrival of a plumber. Nice way to spend a Saturday morning! But we've gone eight years in this house without having to call one, and that's something. Hopefully this won't prove a case similar to how we went eight (or ten) years with scarcely ever having to spend money on veterinary care and have been making up for it in spades in our dogs' old age!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Silksinger cover -- revealed!

He heeee! Look at this. Awesome, no?
Meet Hirik and Whisper! Soon you will have a chance to get to know them, and of course to see Magpie and Talon again too. And the crows. Perhaps even a certain unpleasant imp will make an appearance . . .

The Silksinger ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) is going to the printer tomorrow! Yay!!! Stay tuned here in the coming month or two. There just might be a giveaway. (Actual pub date is September.)

Beautiful art by the fabulous Jim Di Bartolo, of course!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Old manuscripts

Today, in an effort to clear out some clutter from the writing room, I tossed my body weight in drafts of Blackbringer, Silksinger, and Lips Touch into the recycling. Well, okay, I asked Jim to do the actual tossing, since I'm not supposed to lift heavy things, and he argued with me. He didn't think I should get rid of them. And it did feel kind of weird. But . . . really, what am I supposed to do? Keep a stack of paper the height of a four-year-old for every single book? Our 1924 cottage is seriously lacking in storage space. If all goes as planned, the number of books will mount over the years, and that's a lot of four-year-olds taking up space in the house! They had to go. (Old manuscript drafts, not actual four-year-olds. No four-year-olds were recycled.)

I kept some things, like early drafts of Silksinger, which are both fascinating and painful to look through, because they are VASTLY different from the final and they bring back all the agony of uncertainty. I was on a really different track when I started writing that book and it wasn't working out. It took FORTITUDE to keep going and find the right story. In fact, I think if that book had not been under contract as part of a two-book deal, I may not have written it. It was hard. (Imagine that said in a pitiful whine.) I'd have given up; I'm sure of it. But I didn't, and the book exists, and I love it. So: hurray!!!

Speaking of old drafts, while I was going through old floppies last week looking for the paintings I posted before, I came across a folder entitled "Witch Novel" and pulled this off onto my desktop. In the early days of writing Blackbringer I was working on two novels. The other one was the witch novel, and I'd leap back and forth between them when one or the other got rough. Eventually [lightbulb] I realized if I wanted to finish anything I had to choose between them -- a Sophie's choice -- and I chose the "Fairy Book." It was a fairly arbitrary choice, actually. I loved them both.

Anyway, I read about 20 pages of the witch novel yesterday, and as I read it, I recalled sitting at the kitchen table writing it . . . and rewriting it and rewriting it (those first twenty pages, anyway), as was my way. So what did I find, looking at it again?

I found that there was some nice writing in it -- some good sentences, some cool ideas. And I found that it didn't flow very well. It had a choppiness; rereading it, I could feel my seriousness, my fear, my groping for the story. I could feel how badly I wanted each line to be perfect. Ah, perfectionism, it can turn the act of writing into a misery. You want so badly for everything to be just so that you ache with every little snag, every hint of imperfection.

Sigh. It is something to learn to overcome. Reading that old manuscript was kind of like a time machine to the "time before" -- the time before I had learned to overcome my terrible paralyzing perfectionism. (Don't get me wrong, I still struggle with it each and every sentence.) But it was nice to be able to say to myself I have made progress. I have written three books. I figured some stuff out. And I still want to write the witch novel. I think it's an awesome premise with tons of potential for fun. I wonder when it will find its way to the front of the line of books waiting to be written.

There are so many. Now that I've proven I can write a book, my next huge challenge is to become increasingly efficient. And now more than ever this is crucial, because people tell me MY WHOLE LIFE IS GOING TO CHANGE and I don't doubt it for a second. It will be interesting. Very, very interesting.

Reading The Ark's Anniversary but Gerald Durrell now, written on the occasion of his zoo's 25th anniversary, and in it is a mention of his going down to his house in the south of France to write a book (books were his bread and butter for years, and what kept the zoo beasties in fruit & meat, and kept the creditors from the door). How swell, to pop down to one's house in the south of France to write a book. One imagines that with such tranquility and "away-from-it-all-ness" that the book would just pour out. One imagines. One imagines many things, many fantastical and false things. Surely it would still be a struggle, with the added difficulty of wanting to go wander in a vineyard or buy excellent cheese. But. A secluded writing house is still at the top of my fantasy list.

Just add a Mary Poppins to the fantasy now :-)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Extraterrestrial baby animals

Do you sometimes wake up in the morning and say to yourself, "I wonder what interesting animals were born in zoos all around the world today." Well, now you can find out! Just go to Zooborns, a favorite new blog of mine. Thanks to Em of Em's Bookshelf for the link! Look at this latest addition, an extraterrestrial-looking munchkin called a "sifaka." Huh. Never heard of it! (Um, yes, it's the smaller of the two "creatures.")
If you want to faint from cuteness, go over to the Zooborns site and look at the baby gorilla (those sweet soulful eyes!) and speaking of extraterrestrial: scroll down to the giant anteater and its baby. Whoa. There are some animals you just never think about and so it doesn't occur to you to say, "Wow, that lives on this planet?" But look at that giant anteater with its little piggyback baby and you can't help but think it.

Watch this 3-second (literally) "video" of a giant anteater. Make sure your volume is turned up.

Last week as part of my [now-broken] nonfiction-only reading vow (I have to make those from time to time in order to tear myself away from novels), I read Menagerie Manor by Gerald Durrell. I loved Gerald Durrell's books when I was 12-13ish, when I dreamed of traipsing around the world collecting animals for zoos. That is just what Durrell did for much of his career, and he has a number of books about his expeditions, several of which I have on hold at the library and need to go and gather. Menagerie Manor is a highly entertaining and readable selection of anecdotes on his life as a zookeeper/zoo owner. The zoo he founded in the late '50s is on the Channel Island of Jersey, and I think I would quite like to go there some day. Doesn't it look lovely?
It concentrates on rare and endangered species and especially on breeding them; Durrell's Trust also does wonderful conservation work around the world. What an interesting life, well-documented in very entertaining books; if you're an animal lover, do look into him.

[After reading an amazingly wonderful novel set mostly on the Channel Island of Guernsey recently, I now add the Channel Islands to my list of travel destinations (sigh. It is a very long list.)]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unexpected reverie, with pictures of Italy

Jim gave me these awesome sculptures for Valentine's Day. Love them! We actually didn't go out on Valentine's Day, but on Friday night instead. Dating from when I waitressed in "fine dining" (ish), it's hard to muster enthusiam for restaurants on Valentine's Day: the overpriced special menu, the crowd. Now we usually go out the night before or have brunch or something instead. Went to one of our favorite Portland restaurants, Acadia, for Cajun food. YUM. I had softshell crab (with jalapeno tartar sauce) and crawfish etouffee; Jim had [vegetarians avert your eyes] the triple-cut pork chop, which is a piece of meat like none other. Seriously. You've never experienced a pork chop like this -- brown-sugar brined with Andouille-sage dressing. My goodness, my gracious.

Funnily enough, it was at Acadia on our anniversary several years ago that we had "the conversation" about having a baby.

Anyway, Valentine's Eve was quite delicious, and Valentine's Day, at home, had its share of sweets to choose from:
Chocolates and cinnamon candy, pistachio toffee, brownies, and cupcakes. And Moonstruck chocolates. Oh my. The awesome Deruta cake plate is from my mother. I have a thing for cake plates, and this is my first Italian one. In my family, Italian ceramics are something of a passion. My mom can tell from across a room whether something is real Italian or faux made in China "Italianesque." We lived in Italy when I was a kid (age 9-13), and I seem to recall getting "dragged" to Deruta once, where I'm sure my brother and sister and I were bored out of our skulls. Not that I've ever known a kid to appreciate ceramics, but man, I'd take that trip now! Jim and I did go to another ceramics town, Vietri on the Amalfi Coast, to shop, and that was awesome.
The Amalfi Coast is where our fantasy villa would be located, if the dog were ever to dig up a stash of gold bars in the back yard. It would be set in a lemon grove on the cliff overlooking the sea, with a little winding trail down to a tiny pocket of a beach, with some kayaks pulled up past the tidal line and a little striped cabana for storing beach umbrellas and chairs. Maybe we'll even have our own peddle boat. Peddle boats were such a part of my childhood in Italy. We'd rent them whenever someone's parents gave them enough money (see, money went first to gelato, and if there was enough left over, to a peddle boat. It was a slow method of travel, but our beach was not enormous. It was not a pocket, to be sure. Here it is:

This was my entire world for months of every year. What glorious, perfect summers. We lived two blocks away from this beach, and we did not miss a single day. EVER. Even rare rain days, we'd go to the beach and eat gelato in the cafe and wait for the rain to stop so we could do gymnastics on the hard-packed sand. Or, if there was an actual storm (extremely rare) that kicked up some actual surf (you know, by southern Italy standards), we'd bodysurf for hours and pretend to be mermaids. You could kind of believe it, for a little while, on days like that.

Here you can see it from the air, and see what a narrow peninsula it was on:
The Navy ship in the bay behind was our reason for living there.

I miss that connection to the sea, knowing I would be in it every single day. I want to have summers like that again (with much more sunblock involved). Even if gold bars are never uncovered and there is no cliffside villa with a lemon grove, such a thing must be possible. An apartment rental for a month, maybe. To have that again, that lazy walk to the beach, swimming in warm ocean and diving off peddle boats.

How did I get to this? From Italian ceramics to Italian summers, it's not such a stretch, I guess. To have Italian summers again, that is high on my life list, not just for me but for Jim, who didn't have magical summers as a kid, and for junior-human-under-construction, who will.

Jim's and my first trip to Italy together was our first summer together, coming up on ten years ago. We went to the Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, and then Gaeta, the town of my childhood. In Gaeta one afternoon we went for a long, luxurious Italian lunch in a seafood place in the square of the medieval quarter:

We had fisherman's spaghetti with tiny clams and assorted fish, and we sat there on a shaded patio for hours, drank two light bottles of white wine. It's one of the most memorable meals of our entire relationship. Maybe THE most. Then we walked lazily over the hill to the beach pictured above, which was not quite "open for the season," it being only May. Still, we did find a peddle boat rental and peddled out along the line of Montagna Spaccata (Split Mountain), in our street clothes. Jim's first real experience with the Mediterranean. I think he liked it :-)

Hm. Unexpected nostalgia. Funny how things are framed differently in your mind when there's a life in the belly. My thought on storytelling from a few posts ago definitely had a lot to do with conscious thoughts of creating a childhood for a small person. This too. I feel incredibly blessed to have had such a childhood, and I want to pass along the blessing. It seems that it should be within our power. We just have to make it a reality.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Skull!

Thanks, everyone, for the kind wishes!! I'm so glad it's out in the open, and not that I'm 100% worry-free now, but I'm worrying less and less all the time. Well, rather, the nature of the worries shall shift to all new things. Like, you know: childbirth. Raising a person, hopefully a really good one. Little things like that!! But thank you all, and xoxo. (And I'm so glad to learn that two writer-friends, in faraway Norway and New Zealand, are also expecting :-)

Look at the red ceramic skull I found yesterday while buying Valentine's chocolates! It's by a local artist; there was a whole skully grouping and I had to have this one; it's sort of a Valentine's gift to "us." More traditional, from my sweetie:
This is kinda funny; I did this painting years ago based on a bit of folklore of how to tell if a mama is expecting a boy or a girl: offer her a lily and a rose; if she chooses the lily, it's a boy. The rose, a girl.
Jim forgot, though, and didn't make me choose! So now I'll have to wait until the next ultrasound. (Tone told me that in Norway cheese cravings are taken as a sure sign it's a boy. That contradicts the midwife's "girly heartbeat" prediction. So, who knows!)

Wow, this was unexpected. Digging through old floppies to find that painting, I sort of uncovered a whole buried chunk of my life: the part wherein I was a painter. Funny. All these paintings have long ago been purged from my hard drive to make space for other things, but here they are, on these discs, reminding me of years past. I spent a lot of time learning how to paint, and now I don't do it at all. I'm sure the caps of my oil paint tubes are all sealed on there like glue and entirely unopenable. I think I will paint again some day. Maybe not the same way, exactly, maybe in a simpler style. The way I was working before was a bit taxing. I think I'll show you some old paintings. It's been too long.

This is "Moon Balloon," a favorite:
It's a big one, and my parents own it so I get to visit it. Wow, it feels like ages ago. This one marked a breakthrough for me, when my skills took a huge leap, and it still thrills me to look at it and think, "I did that." At the time, I couldn't take my eyes off it. I was so amazed with myself. It's like that, learning a new skill or craft, if you're really committed to it. All of a sudden, you get better. And better. You amaze yourself. It's awesome. Here's a detail:

This next one was commissioned by Alexandra, who was a wonderful "patron of the arts" back when I was a struggling painter. She and also her parents (and their friends) commissioned a number of paintings at a time when I had quit my job to paint; I am eternally grateful to them and my parents for being so wonderful. Every artist should be so lucky to have friends and family like mine.
I love that quote. HERE is the ee cummings poem it comes from.

This one was a commission from a family who came to my booth at the Saturday Market; it was for their daughter's new bedroom as she transitioned from girlhood to teenhood.
When I finished it I had to mail it away to the East Coast and never saw it again. Sad. Detail:

A testament to how I'll put wings on anything and everything, even kangaroos:

One of about nine pieces I did for the Cricket Magazine Group, who was a great client. This one was for Ladybug:
Well. There are lots more, but I'll stop there for today. Funny how the memories come back. My time was spent so differently then. In the upstairs studio with Jim instead of the downstairs writing room by myself. Weeks I'd work on one piece, teeny weeny brushes, painstaking detail. Turpentine fumes. Gorgeous, gorgeous paint on a palette. And all the weekends at the Saturday Market, selling prints! And oh, the evenings with the mat cutter, assembling prints into colored mats and bagging them. That took so much time. Mind-numbing. I taught some painting classes back then too, specifically in how to use oils more "illustratively" -- it took me a lot of experimenting to develop a technique by which I could work on very detailed drawings. (I have a brief tutorial on my website.)

I wish there was just more time in life. More time in each day. I'd still love to illustrate a picture book some day -- that was my dream, why I went to art school, but I just never got there. I veered away. I think in the future I will find some time to dabble again with paint. For now, I need to focus on the book at hand, the writing.

And speaking of books: I got type-set pages for Lips Touch yesterday! SO EXCITING! It's gorgeously decorative throughout (thank you, Chris Stengel, designer extraordinaire) and I CAN'T WAIT TO SHOW YOU! But I must wait. So I will.

Happy Valentine's Day, and happy weekend. Cheers!

Oh, wait. One more thing: the Cybils winners have been announced. In my category, they are:

Middle grade sci-fi/fantasy: The Graveyard Book
Young adult sci-fi/fantasy: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Both fabulous books. Yay!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


So, I have a confession to make. I've been working on a secret project for about four months and it's really been tiring me out! Well, weirdly, it's the kind of project you can *work on* while you're doing other things, like writing, walking, etc, because it doesn't require that you really think too much about it, though it's kind of hard not to. Well, kind of. Sometimes I'll forget about it for hours at a time and then suddenly remember:







"Oh yeah, I'm pregnant."

"Oh. I'm growing a tiny human. Neat."

It's so cool.

Really, as projects go, this one has been pretty easy. (I hear tell the hard parts come later.) I don't really have to do anything but take care of myself -- my body's got it covered. Somehow the tiny fingers and toes and eyelashes just happen, right when they're supposed to. And that little hummingbird heartbeat is its own metronome. Yes, I get tired a lot, and I may think about cheese more than usual . . . but otherwise, the past four months have been like any normal four months. With more excitement and more anxiety, as you might imagine.

At first, there was quite a lot of anxiety, because of last year, and Jim and I were very subdued and tried to hold off on getting attached to anything. But, you know. Good luck with that!

So, if this announcement sounds kind of subdued, let me interrupt myself to say:



We are very excited, though there's this strangely superstitious part of me I didn't know existed that feels anxiety about announcing it, like I'm tempting fate. Of course, I don't BELIEVE in fate. I don't even believe in LUCK, not really, not beyond mere chance. I don't believe in things; you may know that about me. But to quote myself, which I hope is not obnoxious:

"...strange twinges of belief had a way of intruding into one’s cultured disbelief, like trick cards in a deck to be drawn at random..." -- Lips Touch

So. I'm at 16 weeks now, with a beginner's bump; I hear tell I'll start to feel *fluttering* in the coming weeks and I CANNOT WAIT for that. I can't even tell you. And in a month we'll find out if it's a boy or a girl. Funny about that, forever I thought I really wanted a girl, but when I was pregnant last year I found, to my surprise, I more and more hoped it was a boy. Now, I 100% don't care. I just want a baby, and that part is closer to being a reality every day! Our midwife did say the heartbeat was "girly" but there isn't exactly scientific foundation for that! She has been delivering babies for over 30 years though, and says that she has seen a pattern . . . So maybe!

Do you want to see something incredibly adorable? Lovely blogger Brittsoucy had twin girls just a few weeks ago. They're so lovely! They're even cuter than this:
And, holy cow, check out this; I'm almost sure this a real koala and not a toy:
Almost sure. It doesn't seem possible, really.

So. THAT is my secret project!! If you're just skimming this post and not reading it you may think from the images that I am building a marsupial, but all signs indicate it is in fact a human baby.

Marsupials are just for decor :-)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Story" is a beautiful word

So it's decided. Each afternoon we shall all meet in a cafe to complain about writing, yes? (Note: to earn your right to complain, you must, in fact, do your writing :-) We'll change the location daily. Today was Morocco -- sorry if you missed it. The coffee was very, very dark, the tea was fragrant, and afterwards we all went and bought carpets and caftans in the souk. Splendid! Lucky me, I selected my carpet because it was pretty, but it turned out to be a flying carpet, and everyone was jealous and spat cherry pits at me as I gained altitude and left them behind with the donkeys.

Sigh. Wouldn't it be nice, if we far-flung writerly peoples could gather for the purpose of complaining about how hard writing is? What could be better? I'll tell you what could be better. Doing so in a castle in Ireland as some other crafty writers have just cooked up amongst themselves. I know: brilliant and totally jealous-making, noh? I emailed Stephanie the link, and she read it and I think it lit her brain on fire because she started castle-shopping at once. Behold this link she found. Behold and drool.

This is a very, very good idea, this exotic writers' retreat.

Of course, my mind these days has fastened itself on Morocco, and I would so love to convene there for the very important purposes of writing and drinking coffee and tea and shopping and of course, not to be left out: complaining about writing.
And I'll add another thing to the list: storytelling.

Isn't "story" a beautiful word? I think it likely that some day I will get it tattooed somewhere on my body. I like the idea of it on my wrist, like a bracelet. I've been thinking a lot about stories the past few days, not writing them, or reading them, which is where my mind usually goes when I think of stories, but telling them. Out loud. How magical! I come from a post-storytelling culture; my great-grandfather, as I understand it, was a storyteller, but he died when I was a toddler, and his stories -- tall tales from a genuine cowboy -- weren't really handed down. It's a shame.

I want campfires and ululating gypsies, guitar strummings and throat clearing and the jangle of a tambourine being tossed aside. A camel lazily listening from beyond the circle of the firelight as someone says, "Once upon a time," or "Maybe there was and maybe there wasn't," or otherwise opens some gateway into the world of stories. I want to lean back on my elbows on my magic carpet -- which maybe is hovering softly a few inches off the ground, to keep off the sand fleas -- and listen. Better yet, I want to be able to tell stories.

Do you remember Out of Africa at all? The only thing I remember about it -- and this is fuzzy and possibly recollected wrongly -- is that Meryl Streep asks someone to give her the starting points of a story, and someone does (Robert Redford?) -- just simple elements, and she takes them and, virtually without pause, spins them into a magical tale that holds everyone rapt. To be able to do that!!! Even to be able to recite tales from memory would be marvelous. To make people lean forward slightly, you know?

I've been reading Tahir Shah's In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams, the follow-up to The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca which I read recently and loved, part of my Morocco binge. The Caliph's House is a classic expat-buying-a-house-in-a-foreign-land book, with the added bonus of jinn and exorcisms and all kinds of wonderful superstitions. In Arabian Nights is a paean to storytelling. (I recommend reading them both, in order.) I'm only halfway through it, but it is making me tingle to tell stories and not just write them. Not that I want to become a performer, just that . . . I want to have children and tell them stories, by firelight, with camels and carpets, with flocks of colored birds swooping overhead. Pointing up at the stars and telling stories about them, too.

In the book, Tahir Shah tells of a story so powerful that, once you hear it, you are obliged to repeat it every Thursday night for the rest of your life or risk bringing terrible bad fortune on yourself (also, it can only be told on Thursdays). He also tells how his father gave him a beautiful mosaic box for his fifth birthday, but told him that the box itself was nothing; it was what was inside that was the treasure -- and inside was a story. When his own daughter turned five, he had a box handmade for her, and handed down the same story for her to cherish and keep safe. Isn't that beautiful? He writes about the Berber tradition of searching for the story in your heart, and he writes about how television is wiping out story culture.

I have a line in Blackbringer that goes like this: "So much has gone beyond retrieval. Memories have gone slack. Young minstrels disdain to learn the old songs and the notes pass away with the last old ears to hear them. So much has been forgotten." I feel so sad right now, thinking about it.

I don't have my own tradition of stories to pass on, but right now I'm just in love with the whole idea of storytelling. I have a thing for folklore books -- I buy them like candy. Perhaps I need to start selecting some favorite stories and learning them, in preparation for someday telling them to wee ones? I know it's not like keeping a particular tradition alive or anything, but it could be a family tradition at least. And then, I may like to make up my own too, because, you know, I can! And they will be full of lutes and saddled alligators and girl archers and shapeshifting and little meanies who gallop about on cats. Bareback, of course.

Any thoughts on storytelling?

[note: sometimes I have the best of intentions when it comes to reading nonfiction but find it hard to finish, but these two Tahir Shah books read like novels; they're marvelous. I will definitely be reading more of his books.]

UPDATE: Shelli has found us some properties in Morocco to rent. Thanks, Shelli! See you there later today?

This one's in Essaouira at the sea:

And this one is in Marrakesh:

Monday, February 09, 2009

Does this sound like you?

To anyone who has ever given up writing something because it was too hard:

Don't be a wimp! That's no way to go through life! Get back to work!

Then, meet me for coffee and complaining. Writing is hard. You do it anyway.

That's all.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Coraline in 3-D!!

Although Jim is absolutely mired in deadlines and isn't supposed to do anything but draw for the next two to three months (fun, noh?), we snuck out late last night to see Coraline in 3-D! First, I've been dying to see it since. . . well, since loving the book PLUS loving Henry Selick's previous movies (Nightmare Before Christmas and James & the Giant Peach), and I've especially been anxious to see it since a friend took us on a tour of Laika Studios, right here in Portland, where the movie was made. (Here's that post.)

So at last we've seen it, and it is so beautiful and fun. Great story, GREAT art! I love that little blue-haired girl. I'm not a movie-merch buyer usually, but I'm pretty sure I'll buy a Coraline doll if they're cool, and they freaking should be, since the whole movie is made with dolls.

I reallllllly hope the movie does well this weekend. Doesn't it seem like a movie either lives or dies by its opening weekend these days? I know some films can transcend that fate and slowly build a fan-following, a la Slumdog Millionaire, but in this case, a big juicy box-office would be swell, because: we here in Portland would LOVE to see Laika Studios succeed. I want Portland to become a city of animators! HERE is a good article on the studio's background; one HERE on the current state of things, including rumors of a stop-motion zombie action/romance/comedy in the works! You may not know that Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, is the force behind Laika. He envisions a new campus in the Portland suburbs, supporting some 1000 jobs, making a movie a year, and that would really be GREAT for the city, and the whole movie-viewing world. Also: the kind of skill involved in making a movie like this does not just grow on trees. These are highly specialized skills. These people are artisans, and these movies -- made entirely by HAND -- have soul in the way that sometimes CG lacks. Not to bash CG; I love me some Pixar too. But I love the hand-made quality of stop-motion.

This is all by way of saying: Hey you! Go see Coraline! Bring all your friends!

It's available in 3D in some theaters, and is the first feature-length animated movie ever in 3D. It's not super-dramatic jump-out-at-you effects; there's mostly just this subtle depth and dimensionality to it that showcases the fact that, in fact, the movie IS 3-D -- filmed on real sets, with real puppets, etc. So you can see more what it was really like, making the movie.

Here's a weird little featurette of Neil Gaiman talking about "koumpounophobia" -- the fear of buttons:

Seriously, it's a real phobia, yo. See HERE.

On an unrelated note: IF YOU HAVE EVER DREAMED OF TURNING YOUR BLOG INTO A BOOK. . . Here's something for you. The book-making site Blurb has software that can "slurp" your blog and format it as a book and then print it! Pretty cool, huh? Not that I think this site needs to be immortalized on paper, but yours might. Plus, I just like the term "blog slurp."

Friday, February 06, 2009

New claws

I recently mentioned refreshing my claw collection. Well, here are the new additions, which include an entire eagle's foot -- replica, of course. No eagles dismembered in the making of this foot.
Why a claw collection? It's [ostensibly] for my school visit for elementary grades; part of the presentation is on the character names in Dreamdark, and why I chose them, what they mean, and what they say about the character they represent. Well, my warrior prince is named Talon, so there's a portion on claws, and while I can't really bring a whole magpie to school with me to display the main character's name, I can bring talons. And besides, claws are cool.

I think having a whole raptor foot, especially one of this size, conveys far better than just a single talon the damage these could do. If I hold it up to the side of my face it goes from my chin to my forehead -- an eagle this size could flay a face open. Eek! And not only are they sharp -- they're strong. The larger eagles can crush the skulls of large mammals like humans, wolves, sheep, sloths.

Speaking of sloths:
That looong top claw is a three-toed sloth claw. Wow, no? Here's a hand skeleton:
I guess they need some crazy claws to haul themselves around the way they do:

The claw beneath the sloth claw comes from (well, you know, not really, being replica) a giant anteater. Want to see something really extraterrestrial-looking? A giant anteater skull:
Not part of my collection. My only skull (so far) is a beaver skull that Jim gave me for Christmas, and it is way cool. I imagine that there will come a time, when we live in a bigger house, that we will possess more skulls. I'd like to have some cool museum display cases, like this one from Anthropologie:
Isn't that beautiful? It would go so well with our Ikea glass-fronted red bookcase.
(It's the "Linnarp," by the way; we have one but want more.) I would love to have a big library-ish space some day with high ceilings and room not only for books but strange collections. Skulls, feathers, claws, birds' nests, shells. Little bits of the faerie kingdom.

I also think it would be insanely cool to make marionettes with skulls for heads. Weird skulls, like owl monkeys and anteaters. And dress them fabulously? Can you imagine?

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

On finding your way "in" to the scene, and on being a good brain-owner

Sooo, yesterday I wrote a little about making progress through the middle of a novel, and how for me it is kind of like swimming from one buoy to the next -- meeting small goals and wanting to stay there clinging to that little bit of achievement instead of striking out toward the next goal. Almost all day yesterday, I was clinging to a buoy, trying to do anything but stare at the next chapter heading and the blank space beneath it.

I've said before, it's a rule for me to never stare at a blank page. If I find myself doing that, it's straight to the working doc (or sometimes I feel the need to write by hand in a notebook) to write about the scene at hand and brainstorm, or else to freewrite, which pretty much always gives me some way into the scene at hand. What I need when beginning something, be it a book, a chapter, or a scene, is a little something to hold onto (yeah, kind of like a buoy). How to explain this without examples? Hm. Hmmmm. . .

I need the scene to become just real enough in my mind that I have a way of framing it that lets me in. In the case of the teeny-tiny but important *breakthrough* I finally got at around 10:30 last night, it was just an insight into my character's state of mind, bridging the last chapter to the new one, that gave me a starting point. Ah! She'd have her feelings hurt because of [something], and she'd be feeling a little wounded and spiteful, and so she'd do [this.] And I found a first line, a first paragraph, etc. Nothing genius, and maybe it'll get revised out, but it's a place where I can wade in. Not all chapters are difficult to start, but this is the first one after finishing a "section" that I had in my mind as a whole. Now I'm starting on a new "section" and the feelings are a lot like starting a new book.

So I guess I just wanted to say that it took me hours of brainstorming to finally get a very basic insight that allowed me to wade mincingly into the new section.

And I also wanted to say that: writing advice is a funny thing. I know that what works for me won't work for a lot of people. Yesterday (when I should have been writing) I followed a chain of links that led me to this piece about fighting perfectionism. Of course, I hoped to find a trick I might use, but in fact, though she describes the affliction of perfectionism extremely well, and though I think her tips are great advice, I have learned that they aren't in fact the optimal way to get my own particular brain to do what I want it to do. Not that she's wrong! I'm sure she's right that it's better not to reread what you've written, and to shut off your inner critic. It must be better than the endless rereading that I do. But. Nevertheless. I have given myself permission to proceed with my own painstaking process, efficiency be damned.

I tried to write a different way recently. I wrote a NaNo manuscript with my inner critic shut away in a pickle jar, and without reading what I wrote as I went. I zipped through to the end like one long freewrite. And you know what? At the end of it, you couldn't have paid me to read what I had written. I still haven't read it! Working that way killed all interest I had in that story. Personally, I need to fall in love with a story sentence by sentence. I need to fit pieces of plot together with the care of a jeweler setting gems -- picture me, little jeweler's glass stuck in one eye, tiny tweezers in my hand, working very slowly. I need the joy of craft to keep me engaged. I need to reread what I've written and be thrilled with it and proud of myself and in love with my words, and then go on.

That's me. I'm just saying: take all writing advice with a grain of salt. You might need to ignore even the most logical and sound advice; your brain needs what it needs; learn your own mind, develop your own owner's manual to your brain, and proceed accordingly.

The end.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The troublesome "middle" of the story

(This photo has nothing to do with anything; I just like it; it's a centaur skeleton created on commission by Skulls Unlimited, a fun online shop I frequent for refreshing my claw collection. My newest acquisitions: sloth and anteater claws, and a whole eagle's foot. All replica, naturally. I do not amputate feet.)

So, I got a question the other day on Not for Robots, and I thought I'd answer it here. It actually coincides with where I'm at on my current w.i.p. so it's good timing. It's from jckandy and it's as follows:

I am writing a novel, but I am not sure what stage I'm at. I have an outline; I have written the begining. I have richly imagined and written a little of the end. But the middle is quite blank! I'm not sure if I should be brainstorming or what. Any advice??? Anyone?

Ah, the dreaded middle! Yes, yes. We all know: starting a book is rillyrilly easy. It takes a high degree of stubbornness to finish a book. So, how do you do it? There are different schools of thought here, different processes that work for different kinds of brains. There are the "flying into the mist" folk, who I think of as fearless, winged explorers, going forth into darkness with just a headlamp. They don't even have a map for god's sake. They crazy.

And amazing. Mist-flyers just start at point A and see where it takes them. As the story unspools beneath their pen nib or fingertips, they figure it out as they go. So there's that way. I can't say much more about it than: how frightening and how beautiful. I am not one of those people.

I am a planner. Jckandy, it sounds as if you've already outlined, so maybe you have a natural tendency in this direction. I don't make outlines per se. What I do is tell myself the story over and over until I can kind of get my fingers around it. (My brain fingers.) Until I have enough of a sense of "what's going to happen" and "what it's about" that I feel comfortable moving the narrative forward. I tell myself the story in the most straightforward way, and as I do that, I try to work out the plot, and the "coolest" way it might unfold. To take an example from Blackbringer, I know I want Magpie and Talon to meet, and I want to think of the "coolest" way two young faeries might cross paths. (Really: "coolest" is what I'm shooting for; it's my highly technical term for what I'm after :-) So I brainstorm ways that young faeries might cross paths. What if this? What if that? Suppose this. Imagine that. Until I get an idea that I like and get excited to write the next scene or section. And then I do.

I don't plan out the minutiae of a book beforehand. I just want to feel like I understand well enough where I'm headed. What's "well enough"? Well, it's just intuitive: I want to be excited about my ideas, and yet leave enough mystery that I can play with each section of the story as I come to it, but I need to have confidence that the idea is rich with possibility; I have some notions of things that will happen, but I know new ideas will come up as I go (I count on it) that will make it more than I could have planned at the outset.

So, setting out, I have a grasp of the story, and I'm excited about the ideas that will unfold, and I invariably have certain plot ideas that I think are "cool" that will come into play later. No outline.

And then as I'm writing, I'll brainstorm each chunk or section or installment of the book along the way, figuring out how it will unfold. I may shoot for reaching a certain point -- it's as far as I can see clearly from where I am. (You know the famous quote: "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." - E.L. Doctorow) So I figure out how to get to that point. It's like swimming to a buoy. Even if you're not a really strong swimmer, you know you can make it from buoy to buoy, so that's what you do. One buoy at a time. Or as Anne Lamott might say: "Bird by bird."

I have a strong sense of the story at the outset, with a lot of mist and mystery. A lot of room for discovery as I go.

Jckandy, you have to think a lot. Think and think and think. What now? What next? That's how you write the middle.

One thing I'm always conscious of is putting questions into the readers' mind. Every step of the way, the reader must be curious about something. That is what keeps them turning the pages. Does it happen to you sometimes, reading, that you're so bursting to find something out you can barely stop yourself from flipping ahead? Happens to me. (Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I peek! I can't help it!)

So what questions have you put into the reader's head that need answers, and when are you going to give those answers? And if you're going to give an answer, you must first plant another question, so they will keep reading. Cultivating the reader's curiosity is key. This is something that I've learned to be conscious of while writing (that I didn't think about consciously while writing my first book). I ask myself: What do I want the reader to wonder? What do I want them to fear? To hope for? Those three things. As writers we must have clarity about those questions, and we must magically transmit them with clarity into our readers' minds.

So, where I'm at in my w.i.p. is that I've reached a buoy and caught my breath. The tricky thing is that each time you reach a buoy, you kind of want to hang onto it for a while, enjoying the sensation of having reached a goal, savoring that accomplishment. You don't want to plunge back into the open sea again, strike out toward that next buoy that's just a bobbing red spot in the distance. You have to gather your courage and strength anew each time. So, this week I've been gathering (and of course, brainstorming. A lot happens before the next buoy, and I'm figuring out the "coolest" way for it to happen.)

I hope this helps, jckandy. As ever, when it comes to writing advice, there are no "secret dance steps" (as Kirby Larson wrote wonderfully in a recent email). There's just stubbornness and courage. Try different approaches until you find the one that fits. Who knows, maybe you're a mist-flyer and you just don't know it yet!

And now, I am off to read -- with great excitement -- a friend's first chapter. Happy writing, all!