Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wordlessly Watching She Waits by the Window and Wonders at the Empty Space Inside

(Except that I know the reason for the empty space inside -- I need a snack. Crosby, Stills, & Nash, btw, in case you didn't go to a liberal arts school in New England and hear the song "Helplessly Hoping" sung a million time a cappella. ^_^)

So, I am in a bit of a waiting period. I await the FedEx man (or the Wells Fargo wagon, if you happen to be a fan of the Music Man), who comes bearing Fire. It is time for my second revision.

*pauses to grasp stomach and command self not to cry*

I may never understand why Fire is such a hard book for me to face. The support of my editor, my publisher, my agent, and my readers who like it is enormously helpful, because it reminds me that even if the book sometimes makes me feel horrible, it isn't necessarily because it itself is horrible. !! Perhaps someday I'll be struck by some grand metaphorical explanation for my Fire despair -- "Ah, yes! The burnt carrot stew on page 125 is reminiscent of the time I watched a dirty sunset over L.A. while a team of doctors at my bedside informed me that my nose job had gone terribly wrong! The memory is too painful!! I cannot revise this book!!!"

(I was making that up. I have never had a nose job. I like my nose. I also like your nose. Please don't get cosmetic surgery.)

ANYWAY. Writing Graceling was an enormous challenge, and writing Bitterblue has its own headaches and heartaches (is this book about ANYTHING? Have I lost my ability to WRITE?), but neither of them seems to come close to Fire. Thank goodness.

ENOUGH of the angsty. Sorry. While I wait, I've been amusing myself with things far more interesting and delightful than this post. And now I'm going to share them with you, hopefully elevating this post. :o)

Exhibit One: Have you seen the animated ads created by Aardman for a British disability advocacy group yet? I believe I have fallen in love with the turtle. Check these wonderful creatures out at at www.creaturediscomforts.org. (Thanks to Lance!)

Exhibit Two: One of my favorite writer's blogs is that of my friend Tui Sutherland, which is here. Have you been reading Tui's Avatars series? You should, it's super (check out her site, she writes under other names and has other books, too!). And her blog is always fun. Here's an excerpt from a recent post, about her participation in an Erin Hunter online chat (she is one of the writers of the Erin Hunter Seekers series): "I think one of the funniest parts was when I said something like 'oh, that would be tres exciting' and someone went 'TUI SPEAKS FRENCH!' and then everyone was like 'oo, je le pas de deux croissants!' and 'ah, les poissons sacre bleu baguette!' (except it was actual French, not my made-up French, which as you can see consists almost entirely of words for food) and meanwhile I'm madly trying to type 'NO NO WAIT I don't speak French! That's all the French I know! I learned it from reading Eloise! The classiness is all a facade! I only wish I were Audrey Hepburn! Zut alors!'"

*hee hee hoo*

Exhibit Three: The (outlandish) folks at Publisher's Weekly have (misguidedly) named four fall children/teen books that (in a berserk fit of addlepatedness) they are calling "potential hits": "High Hopes for Early Favorites." [SPOILER WARNING: In the first paragraph about Graceling, there is what I consider to be a massive spoiler {I admit to being a bit psycho about spoilers}. If you want to avoid it, skip the section called "The hook." Go straight to "The backstory."]

Finally, Exhibit Four (please press play below): The reason I listen to Beethoven is because that's what you do if you are sophisticated.


Monday, August 25, 2008

I Heard There Was a Secret Chord that David Played, and It Pleased the Lord

What are your favorite sounds?

Here are some of mine: Orchestras tuning up. Rain on the roof of a parked car. Bagpipes. Walking through autumn leaves. Thunderstorms.

I'm home again; I got home just in time for tropical storm Fay. I spent Thursday through Saturday listening to some pretty dramatic sounds, torrential rain and scary bursts of wind, as Fay crawled her way across northeast Florida. On Friday morning, Cordelia called me. "We just moved our cars to higher ground," she said. (Cordelia lives about six blocks from me and only one block from the St John's River, which was flooding.) "Want to come over for waffles?"

I looked out the window. Rain poured from the sky and half a palm tree was floating down the street. I said, "I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"Well, at the very least," she said, "you need to come see the river. It's almost up to our street and it has waves like the ocean. And soon it'll be high tide!"

Here's the thing: a few years back, I wrote a leveled reader about storm safety for a grade school social studies program. "Do not, under any circumstances," I wrote, "go outside during a flood to watch the water rising. The majority of people who drown during floods are sightseers." I remember thinking to myself, God, people are stupid. They're dying of stupidity, not floodwater.

Well, now I get it. People are stupid. I'm stupid. Honestly, how could I not go to see the river?

Not owning galoshes, I concocted a pair of garbage bag boots, on the theory that it was one thing to risk being drowned and another altogether to offer myself up to the whims of flesh-eating bacteria. Then I armed myself with my sparkly purple iridescent umbrella and marched outside, making my way down the middle of the street, because instinct told me that it would be the clearest route for pedestrians. Trucks wound their way slowly around me. The rain pounded down and the water was high. Gusts of wind blew so strongly that I began to be fearful for my sparkly purple iridescent umbrella, which happens to be one of my favorite possessions. Deciding I'd rather get wet than risk breaking my favorite umbrella, I closed it, and soldiered on. A few minutes later I noticed -- and honestly, for the sake of my self-respect, I almost wish I hadn't noticed -- that while I was ploughing down the middle of the street, winding through traffic, water above my shins, the sidewalks to either side were high and dry.

Let me just make sure you have this picture straight: It is pouring rain. I am cradling a closed umbrella to my chest protectively, much as one might do with an injured child. I am wading heroically through water to my knees, trucks cautiously inching around me, despite perfectly serviceable sidewalks to either side. And I have garbage bags duct-taped to both of my legs. Any of you who've read Graceling and imagined that its author possesses the skills or attitudes of its protagonist should now be relieved of your misapprehensions.

When I got to the river, yes, wow, the river was not where it was supposed to be -- or rather, it was where it was supposed to be, but it was other places, too, and rearing like a demon dragon and spitting backwash onto Cordelia's street, and I decided that there was no way I was getting anywhere close enough to it for it to drown me. I waded down Cordelia's sidewalk (hers was not dry) and arrived at her door in a desolate state. Both of my garbage bag boots had sprung leaks. But Cordelia and Joe gave me towels and dressed me up all warm and made comforting pronouncements about how I was the last gal on earth who would ever catch the eye of a flesh-eating bacterium, and sat me down with the remote for the TiVo and made me waffles while I watched the Olympics and the water rose outside. The TiVo was lovely. The waffles were delicious. And by the time I left, I was much more prepared for the journey in than I'd been for the journey out, on account of this time I was wearing double garbage bag boots, with grocery bag socks, and I knew to keep to the sidewalks. See? We make mistakes so that we will learn.

I got home, curled up with a blanket and some tea, and didn't go out again until Saturday evening, by which time the storm had passed. Trees were down everywhere, and lots of trash was lying around, left behind by the river. Good on you, river, for throwing up all that plastic and styrofoam and crappy crap. If only I could believe you got rid of all the trash in your belly. How does so much trash get into our river?

Today it's still raining, on and off, but the birds are chirping again, and the saws are buzzing as people dig out from under fallen trees. It's been a big weekend for big sounds, and for curling up with books and writing and music.

Here are some lovely things I've been listening to besides stormy weather:
  • Brahms' Requiem, which my father gave to me, knowing how much I love Mozart's Requiem. Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra version, directed by James Levine, with Kathleen Battle and Håkan Hagegård.
  • The Into the Wild soundtrack, songs written and performed by Eddie Vedder -- acoustic strings and his wonderful voice. Super! (And check out the movie, too.)
  • All Things Bright and Beautiful, by James Herriot, read by Christopher Timothy (who played James Herriot on the old TV show All Creatures Great and Small). Do you know these books? Herriot was a farm veterinarian in Yorkshire in the 1930s and 40s and wrote the most wonderful stories about his experiences.... and Christopher Timothy does a marvelous job performing them. They're especially good for listening to on airplanes. No doubt my airplane neighbors are puzzled to find me weeping one minute, and shouting with laughter the next.
What are you listening to?

(Btw, my title is from the song "Hallelujah," written by Leonard Cohen and covered a gazillion times. I am partial to the Jeff Buckley version. Also, Kirkus gave Graceling a star, woot woot!)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Blessed Are the Meek, for They Shall Be Scratched Behind the Ears

There was always something a little off about our cat Maggie. It was hard to say whether she ran headlong into walls because there was a problem with her brains, or whether there was a problem with her brains because she kept running headlong into walls. She lost her balance like other cats never did; she neglected her own grooming; she missed the litter box most of the time; she was a little bit stinky. She was terrified of strangers and she was so skittish -- the smallest noise, and she'd bolt. And she'd sit purring contentedly while you petted her, and you'd think, Hey, Maggie's turned normal -- but then, when she'd been petted enough, she'd let you know by biting you. I don't mean a friendly little nip -- I mean she'd BITE you. Hard. Sometimes there was blood. I'm certain she wasn't trying to be mean or aggressive; it was just another example of Maggie not knowing the socially correct way to do things. I think everyone in my family learned to suppress the scream of pain from Maggie's "thank you, that's enough now" bite (because if you screamed, of course, you'd scare her out of her skin).

She was definitely the kid the other kids picked on in the playground. Sugar was downright horrible to her, and even Jane, whom I've held up previously as the epitome of feline perfection, was mean on occasion, hissing and swatting at Maggie in a half-hearted way when she saw Sugar doing it. And the neighbor cats acted like Maggie didn't exist. The thing is, Maggie was really big and really strong (witness the biting), and if she'd wanted to, she could have womped them all -- but she didn't know it, because she wasn't very self-aware (despite all the time my Dad, a theologian by trade, spent trying to improve her mind with syllogisms).

Maggie died recently. She was an old cat, so it wasn't unexpected. And she'd mellowed out in her old age, relaxed a little bit, which was nice to see.

A few years back I housesat for my parents while they were on a long vacation. It was me, Maggie, the vegetable garden, the fruit trees, the flower beds, the bird feeders, and the neighbor's chickens. I went away on my own vacation during that time for 6 days; a neighbor put out food for Maggie. When I got back, I watered all the flowers; I chased the chickens away from the bird feeders; I changed the hummingbird food; I brought a basket down to the garden and picked zucchini and cauliflower. All this time, Maggie kept running around me, getting in my way, making a nuisance of herself, crying -- and I tell you, that cat always had the saddest, most mournful meow you've ever heard. I couldn't figure out what to do. I gave her new food. Then new water. New other kinds of food. I let her in. I let her out. And she just kept following me around, crying, crying, as if she were grieving for all the pain in the world. What else does a cat need? I asked myself in bewilderment, sitting down absently to pet her and tell her about my vacation.

I petted her for a long while, until she bit me, hard. As I rubbed my newly injured hand on my pants, it struck me that she was no longer crying. And finally I understood. She'd been all alone for 6 days, she'd been abandoned, and one of the few people in the world whom she wasn't afraid of had returned, and even oddballs need love. Especially oddballs need love.

Maggie, these are the times when my hard little unbelieving heart sends up a prayer that maybe there might be a cat heaven. And you don't have to be scared, because I promise, the other cats will never be mean to you there. They will behold your fuzzy, precious, and peculiar soul, and they will see who you are, and they will love you. Just like we all did.


Monday, August 18, 2008

A Bucket, a Bucket, My Kingdom for a Bucket

(Recently overheard in my household, pronounced by a person who had lost the bucket)

If I could only bottle the way I feel when I'm driving to the airport at 4am, I would never be afraid of anything. The day before I travel tends to be a misery. I read The House at Pooh Corner and weep about how hard it is to grow up. I have never understood what the hell my problem is. I suppose the anticipation of travel stirs up some sort of resistance to change, the fundamental fear of death, except in my case, it isn't the fear of death by falling airplane; it's the fear of death by what if I forget to pack Q-tips? Or my chapstick? Or my cheese-avocado-egg sandwich?

Anyway, once in the car or the cab or the subway or whatever, I always feel so much better. On Saturday morning at 4am I was in the car driving to the airport listening to "Your Love" by the Outfield and Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings and cheerily contemplating my dreadful clutch and kind of wishing I didn't have to go through the misery every time but grateful, at least, that it tends to end once I'm moving.

I don't love airports but I do love airplanes. They bring you closer to the gods. Plus? You're flying. For me, that still hasn't gotten old. I'm as giddy about it as I was the first time, which was many, many flights ago.

I've retreated to an undisclosed location and am spending a few peaceful days with some people who love me and are proud of me whether or not I muck everything up. They make good meatballs here. There are crickets at night. There is also a rain barrel, a garden bursting with tomatoes, eggplants, and zucchini, and a cat with a red bell on her collar that does not seem to impact negatively her ability to catch birds. I have been sitting under a willow tree and reading marvelous books.

I wish you all peace.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some Memes Are Too Fun to Resist

The sun has gone down on the Olympics for me a tiny bit ever since Ian Thorpe retired; how I miss the battles between the Thorpedo and Pieter von den Hoogenband! And MUST they keep showing the President looking like a bored frat boy as he watches the events? Here I am, all gleefully proud of the American men's 4 x 100 freestyle relay team, and then I see that person. Go away. You have done nothing but break my heart for 8 years and you make me ashamed.

Ahem. That was not an auspicious beginning. So let me quickly distract you with a really fun movie meme, gakked from my friends Jess and Wanda. (*waves at Jess and Wanda*)

1. I picked 15 of my favorite movies.
2. I went to IMDb and found a quote from each movie.
3. I posted them here for everyone to guess.
4. NO GOOGLING/using IMDb search functions. I'm talking to you!
5. I'll strike out each quote when someone guesses correctly, and write in who guessed it and the movie.
6. If it turns out that I've been too tricky, I'll add additional quotes or clues, so please feel free to come back and try again!

Ready, set, GO!

EDIT: All the movies have now been correctly guessed, so I'm taking out the strikeouts so that everything can be read without giving people headaches.

1.
-When I talk to the police I get nervous.
-Yes. You know who doesn't?
-Who?
-Thieves.
Daniel guessed the ever-quotable Glengarry Glen Ross, from the play by David Mamet.

2.
-This is the captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then explode.
Gnomicutterance -- Serenity. I love Mal!

3.
-I wish to check the position of the Nile. My sister tells me it is in South America.
-No, she's quite wrong, for I believe it is in Belgium.
-You must be thinking of the Volga.
-The Volga?
-Of course, the Volga. Which, as you know, starts in...
-Vladivostock, and ends in...
-Wimbledon.
-Precisely. Where the coffee beans come from.
Sarah Rettger -- Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility. (Isn't that one of the funniest parts? ^_^)

4.
-Bear left.
-Right, frog.
Mrmorse -- The Muppet Movie

5.
-Richie, this illness, this closeness to death... it's had a profound affect on me. I feel like a different person, I really do.
-Dad, you were never dying.
-...But I'm gonna live.
Daniel -- The Royal Tenenbaums

6.
-Oh, George, you didn't jump into the river. How sensible of you!
Colorwheel got it -- Mary Poppins.

7.
-Friend, that's more words than you've spoke in the past two weeks.
-Hell, that's the most I've spoke in a year.
Mrmorse -- Brokeback Mountain

8.
-I have loved you since the moment I clapped eyes on you. What could be more reasonable than to marry you?
-We'd kill each other.
-Nonsense!
-Neither of us can keep our temper --
-I can, unless provoked.
-We're both stupidly stubborn, especially you. We'd only quarrel!
-I wouldn't!
-You can't even propose without quarreling!
E. M. Reads guessed Little Women (with Winona Ryder and Christian Bale), which is correct :o)

9.
-You don't live with me, you live among the remains of dead people. You sift through the detritus, you read the terrain, you search for signs of passing, for the scent of your prey, and then you hunt them down. That's the only thing you're committed to. The rest is the mess you leave as you pass through.
Daniel guessed Michael Mann's Heat, possibly my favorite action movie.

10.
-You must permit me to treat with skepticism anything you have to say about her.
-Nevertheless, I must tell you in this affair, we are both her creatures, as I believe her letters to me will prove. When you have read them, you may decide to circulate them.
Alice, good work! Technically, Gillian guessed it first, but in email. It's Dangerous Liaisons.

11.
-Where is my beige iridescent lipstick?!
Alison -- Dirty Dancing. Great to know I'm not the only person who literally knows every line in that movie! :o)

12.
-Come and have a bathe.
-I should like that.
-That's the best introduction I've ever heard. "How do you do. Come and have a bathe."
Alice -- A Room with a View. Alice, I expected that scene would be memorable to more people than me! ;)

13.
-Surrender.
-You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept.
Gillian guessed first in email! It's The Princess Bride.

14.
-If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack.
Daniel guessed Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line. I actually love his Days of Heaven and The New World even more, but their quotes are even more obscure...

15.
-Let X equal the quantity of all quantities of X. Let X equal the cold. It is cold in December. The months of cold equal November through February. There are four months of cold, and four of heat, leaving four months of indeterminate temperature. In February it snows. In March the lake is a lake of ice. In September the students come back and the bookstores are full. Let X equal the month of full bookstores. The number of books approaches infinity as the number of months of cold approaches four. I will never be as cold now as I will in the future. The future of cold is infinite. The future of heat is the future of cold. The bookstores are infinite and so are never full except in September...
Chelle -- Proof, based on the play by David Auburn -- oh, how I love that movie!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ring the bells that still can ring...

Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything --
That's how the light gets in.
- Leonard Cohen

It has been a lovely few days.

The photo shoot on Thursday was an absolute hoot, thanks to my photographer, Jensen Hande, who has a great personality and knows just how to coax out my inner warrior and my inner wimp. (Not that the wimp took much coaxing.) Hopefully I'll have some pics to share soon to show you what I mean!

On Friday I went to the sea. I don't do this too much in the summer, because it's too hot and crowded. But Friday was stormy and cool (a relative term here), and well, I just felt like it, so I went. It's a 20 mile drive, and parts of that drive are icky and never to be attempted during rush hour, but other parts are beautiful with tall bridges that shoot you off into the sky, and water water everywhere, and big boats. I LOVE big boats.

And when I got to the sea, there was a rainbow!

I had a wonderful walk and sang at the top of my lungs and when it rained I went inside and ate a sandwich and read some Rumer Godden. Then the sun set, and I drove home across sparkling water and the sparkling city. At home, I sat down with a cup of tea, and wrote and wrote until 6 am.

Saturday afternoon I woke up writing. I'm trying to write this new scene for Book 3 that's a conversation between two characters in the back garden, and I've been mulling over this scene from the beginning, which means that there are post-it notes and grocery receipts scattered all over the house on which are written Very Important Points Which I Must Not Forget. I spent some time assembling the notes, and was justifiably puzzled by some of them. One said, "The revelation MUST be chilling." Seems like good advice, but it'd be more useful if I had the slightest idea what the revelation was. There's a revelation? Sigh... Another note, with asterisks marking its importance, said, "coming unhinged, going balmy, going round the bend." ?? Another said in all caps, "HOW DO HENS SLEEP?" and another said, "How long b4 back on feet if stabbed in gut?" And a third: "cy is cracked b42c4G but not [illegible] 4Bb." ????

Sigh...

Anyway, I wrote many, many pages, about half of which I crossed out, but that's okay, that's what this book seems to be like -- I write the wrong thing about 5 times, and that brings me around to the right thing. I hope?

Sigh...

On Sunday I listened to NPR for ages, and then I puttered, and then I had a lovely dinner with Joe. And then I came home, watched some of the best swimming ever swum, and got back to writing. This novel is either about nothing or about too many things. This novel is quite possibly going to be the one that proves I cannot write a book. But! I push on! Nothing can stop me! If I go down, I will go down screaming!

It was also a weekend of wonderful birthday greetings from my family and friends, who rock my socks. This included some astonishing music from my sister Dac, whose code name, I've decided, is Apocalyptica. Here's an excerpt from her note accompanying the music: "Apocalyptica is a Finnish heavy metal band. They are three classically trained cellists and one drummer. They tend to play with their shirts off. Their first CD was entirely Metallica covers, and it was called Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. I'm going to see them in Hartford in September!"

Are you beginning to see why I had such a marvelous weekend?

I'll close this long and erratic post with some life instructions from Martha Graham, paraphrased by Ursula Nordstrom, and found by me in the intro to the book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares to other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

Have a good year, everyone!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Birthday Poll -- Please Vote!

It is so effing hot here that there are no words to describe it. The air conditioners are working their little hearts out, but to little avail.

Last week School Library Journal interviewed me, and on Wednesday I went to a costume shop and selected a beautiful medieval dress and a sword for my photo shoot! I even selected a snood. What's a snood? Well, it's not unlike a thneed. And a thneed, as you probably know, is a fine something that all people need.

It was super-fun, which surprised me, because I hate choosing clothes and am not really a girly-girl when it comes to things like trying on dresses, but as it turns out, deciding whether I'm a bar wench, a princess, a peasant, or a lady-in-waiting brought me much contentment. There was a snood emergency at one point, but a kind young lady on the staff helped me through it.

We're taking the pictures today.

And now! My 32nd birthday is coming up in a few days, and I have a birthday announcement! As of today, I will never, not ever, not everly never nor neverly everly ever, google myself or my books again. Because yes, stumbling across a good review is thrilling. But you know what else is thrilling? Heroin.

Finally, strap yourselves in, because it's time for a Grand Birthday Poll. Never think for a minute that your opinion doesn't matter. (Btw, if you're reading this post somewhere other than on my actual site and want to vote, just click on my birthday question below, or preferably, click here.)

If you can't see the poll at all, try here!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Delta: the Universal Symbol for 'Hi! How Can I Ruin Your Weekend?'

So, Lynyrd Skynyrd was at my gate at the airport on Friday morning. This did not make up for the fact that Delta was in an enormous snafu such that all flights were delayed and I couldn't make my connecting flight and there were no seats on any later flights that could possibly get me to South Bend in time for my cousin's wedding party on Saturday. Even if I flew through Cincinnati instead of Atlanta. Even if I tried my luck and flew standby. Even if I went home and came back later. No flights. Nada. Nichts. Niente.

I was somewhat astonished -- I've had long delays and reroutes before, I've been stuck in Chicago due to blizzards, I was stuck in LA once due to a volcano in New Zealand, but I was always able to go where I needed to go eventually. But not this time. So I left the airport, got back in my car, and drove home, because there was nothing else to do. I went to the bagel store and got the bagels I'd failed to get on Wednesday. I went to the grocery store and got some consolatory ice cream. While I was sitting in the parking lot I saw Cordelia walking down the street with a cup of coffee. Ah, yes, I thought, there is Cordelia with a cup of coffee. I am definitely not in South Bend.

I was too depressed to attract Cordelia's attention. Besides, it would've confused her mightily, since not half an hour earlier I'd been texting her from the airport about how Lynyrd Skynyrd was at my gate, and for all she knew, I was now in a metal tube winging its way across the sky, sharing my peanuts with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Instead, I texted her later in the day telling her I'd seen her from the airplane carrying coffee down So-And-So Avenue at so-and-so hour, wearing shorts and a green hoodie. I mean, why be merely confusing when you have an opportunity to seriously mess with someone's head?

Anyway. So, my weekend didn't turn out the way I was hoping... and Annie and Henry, if you're out there somewhere reading this, I am so sorry I missed it. I was really looking forward to it. I did make the most of my weekend. I kept the away message on my email and the hold on my mail and pretended I was away, which was kind of fun. It was like being nowhere, in a covert and clever fashion. And I got tons of good work done. But. Wish I could've been somewhere. There, to be precise. :o(

(Delta, I've said it before and I'll say it again: What your airline could use is a little CHANGE.)

(Also, Booklist gave Graceling a star!)