Monday, December 29, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things (In No Particular Order)

  • Over-the-knee socks.
  • This comment from Cordelia after she saw the stuffed chicken Mom was roasting for Christmas: "Yeah, I hope that when I die, someone sticks an onion up my ass."
  • Three-year-old cousins-once-removed who want to sit in your lap.
  • Soft, silky cats who let you rub their ginger-brown tummies.
  • This sign, spotted at a coffee shop in New Jersey: "Fat snowmen last longer."
  • My luggage tags, which say "I'm going around in circles" and "I'm a mess on the inside."
  • The fact that my fellow writers and email buddies Donna Freitas and Marie Rutkoski are Publisher's Weekly's "Fall Flying Starts" along with me.
  • Naps on airplanes.
  • Time with family AND quiet time alone after time with family.
  • Something I have been too shy to say before: Graceling is a Fantasy/SF bestseller in Australia. :o)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Sigh...

SIGH.....

So, my car just returned from the shop. "It's a '97 Ford Escort with 175,000 miles on it," my mechanic kept saying. "It needs a new transmission. Your clutch is slipping. You need new rear brakes. You have a leak in the [insert car part I can't remember]. Is this a northern car? Because it's all rusted out underneath. And did I mention that it's a '97 Ford Escort with 175,000 miles on it?"

Yes. Yes, you did. So? SO?? WHAT'S YOUR POINT??!?! WHERE'S THE LOVE? I LOVE MY CAR!!!!!

Here's the prognosis: Either I accept that my car is dying and allow it to die a natural death; or, I spend $3500 over the next year or so to rehabilitate the car. I am, of course, choosing the first option, because I am not insane. But I do so with a heavy heart.

As Robert Frost once (sort of) wrote:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing silver with dark gray interior can stay.

Sigh....

:o)

This will probably be my only post this week, on account of travel and general merry-making. I hope the year closes peacefully for everyone. For those of you in the southern hemisphere, enjoy the long days. And for those of you in the northern hemisphere, be of good cheer, because the light is coming back!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Teachers Make a Difference

I've received some questions recently about Simmons College's Center for the Study of Children's Literature in Boston, which is where I got my M.A. degree.

In a case of excellent timing, just last week on her blog, Cynsations, Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed one of my favorite teachers ever, Cathie Mercier. Cathie is one of the professors who made my experience at Simmons so extraordinary. And the interview is all about the different children's literature programs Simmons offers -- which means that now I don't have to write about it myself! I can just send you all to Cathie's interview! BWA-HA-HA! Laziness for the win!

Seriously, though, if you have any specific questions for me about the Simmons experience, please feel free to leave me a question today in the comments, and I will respond. A number of my readers are Simmons graduates, actually, so they should feel free to chime in as well!

Finally, here's a three-minute video in honor of teachers. Yes, it might be familiar -- I posted it here less than two months ago. But you know what? This one's worth a second viewing. Why? Because teachers make a goddamned difference. :o)


Monday, December 15, 2008

Get Your Race Face On

I have a deal with Kinneret Zmora in Israel to publish Graceling in Hebrew. yAt!

Also, my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, is reading Part One of Draft One of Bitterblue and asserts that it is a book, not a pile of crap. Whew.

Speaking of Cordelia, here is a tidbit about her: Cordelia has physical strength, endurance, and the ability to run long distances rather fast. Currently, Cordelia is training for a 15K in March. The training involves a number of things, including Cordelia dragging unathletic little me to early-morning races. Many race events, in case you don't know, have long and short options. For example, a 10K (6.2 mi) and a 5K (3.1 mi) will take place simultaneously, and when you register to compete in the event, you choose one race or the other. Anyway, so, lately Cordelia and I have been getting up at the butt crack of dawn and going to these events. She runs the longer portion and I walk the shorter portion. Our most recent race was on this past Saturday morning.

I have always wondered why, when Cordelia and I share big gobs of DNA, she is athletic and I am not. In fact, I have lots of highly athletic relatives, including a pro golfer, a Navy Seal, a superb amateur triathlete, and an uncle who once won the National Spelling Bee.

Oh. Rats. Maybe I'm starting to see the problem.

Anyway, despite our differences in innate athletic ability, it's clear that Cordelia and I both get into similar mindsets once it's time to compete. For example, here are some things that Cordelia might do during her race:
  • Pick off as many fellow competitors as she can.
  • Use her stopwatch to monitor her pace.
  • Grab a cup of water from the water people and dump it over her head.
  • Reach deep into herself for the grit and determination she needs to succeed.
And here are some things I might do during my race:
  • Identify as many species of birds in the surrounding trees as I can.
  • Use my cell phone to call my mother (the only person I know who's guaranteed to be awake at such an ungodly hour).
  • Accept a cup of water politely from the water people and chat with them for a few minutes about the variety of bird life in northern Florida.
  • Reach deep into my pocket for a sandwich.
My goal on Saturday was to finish walking my 5K before Cordelia finished running her 10K, so that I could be there to scream and whoop and cheer her to the finish line. I reached my goal, just barely. A few minutes after I came walking in, Cordelia came running in, having covered twice the distance, and I screamed my head off so enthusiastically that the people next to me also started screaming. It was great. One of my favorite things to do in the whole world is cheer people across finish lines.

Cordelia came in second in her age group!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

And for Thursday, Three (Random) Super Things

Thing number one: The ALA is introducing a new award this year, the William C. Morris Award, which honors a book for young adults written by a first-time author. Graceling is a finalist! Go here to see all the lovely books. Thank you, Morris committee! I'm so happy and grateful.

Thing number two: My friend Rebecca guest-posted at The Rotund the other day. It's a super post about the intersection between fatness, HAES, and disability, and you can read it here. For those unfamiliar with the term HAES, it means Health at Every Size, and is a movement -- a peace movement, as Linda Bacon says -- that has to do with honoring your body, listening to its wants and needs, dropping the focus on dieting and weight loss, and accepting that everyone has a unique healthy size. If HAES interests you, btw, in addition to visiting Linda Bacon's site you might want to check out her book, which I hear is wonderful. And for even more about HAES, check out Body Positive's HAES site. (Thanks to B for your help with all those links!)

Thing number three: I just bought a slow cooker, and people, my slow cooker is revolutionizing my life. Last week I cooked a chicken with sauerkraut, apples, and onions. This week I cooked teriyaki ginger tofu. Who knows what I'll cook next week? I love my slow cooker. Off to search for good recipes.... :o)

Confidential to my ladies of the snood: smooches to you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

For Monday, a Quote

"When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... To be alive is to be vulnerable."

- Madeleine L'Engle

In other news, since everyone was so kind a couple of weeks ago when I was tearing my hair out over the writing of Bitterblue, I should let you know that I've worked my way into an easier stretch. If I'm going to share the bad parts with you, might as well share the good parts, too, right? Also, my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, has Part I in hand and will be giving me feedback sometime soon. Traditionally, it is Cordelia's job to read what I'm writing and make a pronouncement about whether it is (1) a pile of crap, or (2) a book. The wonderful thing about Cordelia as my first reader is that she is extremely honest and critical, but she's also respectful, gentle, and supportive. Every writer needs a Cordelia!

Do you have a favorite quote to share? Or, if you're a writer, will you tell me about your first reader(s)?

:o)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

FAQs, the Universe, and Beyond

The gorgeous image on the right is a composite Hubble/IRTF image of storms on Jupiter. I got it here and you can read more about it here. Lest you be impressed with the ease with which I fling around high-tech telescope-y terms (like telescope-y), be assured that I have no idea what I'm talking about. But I like the pretty pictures.

A piece of news: Graceling is one of School Library Journal's Best Books of 2008. yAt!

And now, a few more FAQs.

Spoiler Status: The following FAQs are spoiler-free.

1. When you start a book, what is it like? Is the book just sitting in your head, mostly formed? Where does it come from?
What a great question. For me, when I start a book, I've got parts of it formed in my head -- pivotal, dramatic tension between characters that hasn't necessarily formed itself into clear scenes with dialog and action yet, but that will form itself as I continue to mull it over. I guess what I have at the beginning is the feeling of my characters, and the feeling of their relationships with each other.

What I don't have is the plot, and that's where the serious, plodding, trial-and-error, tedious work comes in. I have to figure out the story that fills in the spaces around all of these feelings. I have to make up a story that will explain the feelings, support the feelings, make the feelings believable. And make logical and structural sense; and pull the reader in; and NOT be boring.

I guess every writer is different. For me, characters tend to come kind of naturally, but plotting takes tons of work!

2. How did you learn about fighting, weapons, and everything else?
Ha ha! In a lot of cases, by reading, both fiction (Tamora Pierce, Hilari Bell, Vivian Vande Velde, for example) and nonfiction (books about horses, martial arts, the history of warfare; encyclopedia articles about swords or the history of medicine). In other cases, by asking oddly specific questions of the right people. For example, I'm lucky to have a general surgeon and wound specialist in my life who wouldn't even blink if I were to say to him, "Uncle Walter, if I were shot in the gut at close range with a steel-tipped arrow and then ran up four flights of stairs, would I be likely to faint? And how long before I'd be able to climb down the tree outside my window into my lover's embrace again?"

Anything I get wrong is my own fault, of course, not the fault of my sources of information. I take a lot of creative liberties with reality sometimes...

3. I have a lot of trouble coming up with fantasy names. How did you come up with your names?
Heh. I sympathize. Fantasy names are really tricky, and frankly, often kind of silly -- I mean, let's face it, basically we're making up a bunch of silly words. And for me, they always seem to end with the letter "N." (Giddon, Raffin, Murgon, Drowden, Thigpen, Birn, Silvern, Ashen -- and wait 'til you read Fire! Hee hee) Why do I do this? It's SILLY! Why not just name everyone nice, simple names, like David and Julia? Sigh, I don't know.

For some reason -- maybe because I think of Lienid as a place full of color -- Lienid names always have some sort of color base, or at least a visual reference. (Ashen, Bitterblue, Silvern, Skye, Faun, Patch; Po's real name is Greening.) For monikers in the rest of my kingdoms, however, I basically try to come up with names that have the right sound when they hit my ear. Sometimes I'll read the credits of movies carefully, looking for real-life last names that would make good fantasy first names. Sometimes I catch myself reading exit signs on the highway. For the book I'm writing now, I had three men working together named Ambler, Runnemede, and Darby -- until it occurred to me that anyone living in the Philadelphia suburbs might find themselves thinking, Ah, yes, and no doubt Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Upper Darby will come along at any moment... :o)

4. Are your characters based off of anyone you know personally?
No, never. Or at least, not intentionally! I don't recall ever having an actual person in mind while building one of my characters. Of course, the stuff of my imagination includes characteristics of people I know (including myself), characters from books I've read, character from movies I've seen, so nothing is ever completely original. But I certainly can't point to a real-life person Katsa reminds me of, for example.

5. When did you start writing? Did you want to become a writer when you were younger? I can never think of a subject to write about! Were you that way, too?
Oh my goodness, yes. I was COMPLETELY that way! I always wanted to write, but I was always too out-of-my-mind busy doing other things, plus, I didn't have any plots in my head. What changed that was the act of making myself sit down to write every day. Sure, I was a bit dry of ideas in the beginning, but the more you poke around and write little, meaningless, no-pressure, practice things, the more ideas start to bubble up. It's a thing that responds -- grows and becomes fertile -- when you give it attention. (Or at least, that was my experience. No doubt other writers have different experiences to relate -- which they should feel free to do in the comments!) Oh, and I started doing serious critical writing when I was about 25, and serious creative writing around the age of 27. I'm 32 now.

I think that sometimes people think that writers are inspired by story ideas, and if you haven't been inspired, then there's no hope for you as a writer. Whatever. Sometimes coming up with a story takes plain-old work. So don't despair if you don't know (YET) what to write about! Just keep at it. Never surrender!

6. Are galaxies uniformly distributed in the universe?
(Okay. I confess that maybe not all of my FAQs are always things I'm frequently asked. But, come on, outer space! Way cooler than my dumb book! ^_^)

No, galaxies are not uniformly distributed in the universe. Galaxies "collect into vast clusters and sheets and walls... interspersed with large voids in which very few galaxies seem to exist." Or so I learned the other day from the Atlas of the Universe (thanks, MTP, for leading me to it). Check out that website to get a sense of how small we are. And then go here to see some Hubble photos of the wonder that is our home...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bringing in December with a Few More FAQs

Spoiler status: The following Frequently Asked Questions are generally spoiler-free. I do give away something about the way Gracelings look in question 3, so if you're positively psycho about spoilers, skip #3.

1. Can I chat/IM with you online?
*smile* That is a very sweet question. Truth is, I don't chat online with anyone, not even my best friends. I seem to have an allergy to the entire concept. I don't do Facebook or MySpace or any of those things, either. I like to keep my life simple.

2. You keep talking about how hard it is to write Book 3 / Bitterblue. Can you tell us why it's so hard?
*smile again* I guess I didn't realize what I was getting into. Which is just part of the human condition, right? You make a seemingly innocent decision; you don't realize what you're getting into; but now you're into it, and there's no turning back. You've just got to figure out the best way through. Didn't somebody once say, "The best way out is always through?" Yes -- I just googled it -- Robert Frost.

One of the many tricky things about Bitterblue is that there is a LOT of stuff going on. Possibly too much stuff; so much stuff that it's hard to figure out how to structure it. I would describe the current structure as, um, rather numinous. I know it's possible to write a good book in which a million things are going on at once; I know it's possible to weave things together so that the reader isn't left asking, WTF is going on in this book? What is this book even ABOUT? I've seen it done in other books. But that doesn't mean I know how to do it. So, there's some on-the-job training going on here. A lot of rewriting; a LOT of writing 10 pages and throwing out 5. I'm also trying to read a lot of complicated books, to see how other, better writers do it. Most of all, I'm trying to keep perspective: The fate of the world does not exactly depend on this book, now, does it? I'm trying to remember to laugh at myself and, in emergencies, eat cannoli. :o)

3. In Graceling, what made you give the Gracelings two-colored eyes? Are the colors significant?
Good question! Truth is, I don't remember why I decided to do this. I guess it just came to me and felt right; it looked right in my mind. I chose the particular colors I chose simply because I liked them. As far as Katsa goes, well, blue and green are my favorite colors; and Po, he's just a glow-y guy (his rings and earrings were part of his character from the very beginning), so it seemed right to give him eyes of glow-y colors.

4. Have you read Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley?
Gee, what gave you that impression? :o) I LOVE Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley; they have definitely inspired me. When my editor emailed me to tell me that Tamora Pierce was blurbing Graceling, I burst into tears. I ran to tell my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, who was luckily talking on the phone at the time to my sister, secret code name: Apocalyptica, so we were able to have an impromptu family celebration.

5. Can you recommend some good YA fantasy?
I can indeed, and I invite my readers to add their own recommendations in the comments.

I've never read anything by Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley I didn't like. With Pierce, the Alanna quartet is a great place to start; with McKinley, The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and Deerskin are among my personal favorites. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials cannot be beat. Cynthia Voigt has an inter-related quartet of books called the Novels of the Kingdom that aren't technically fantasy (nothing impossible happens), but they have a medieval fantasy feel. They are: Jackaroo; On Fortune's Wheel; The Wings of a Falcon; and Elske.

Digressing slightly from fantasy, Margaret Mahy writes beautiful YA magical realism; The Tricksters is one of my favorite books (not to mention the book that inspired the title for my blog). And for plain old women-having-romantic-adventures-in-beautiful-locales stories (not YA, usually not fantasy, nonetheless fantastic), do you know the novels of Mary Stewart? They're a little dated and sometimes hard to find (check your library), but Nine Coaches Waiting will always be in my top ten. In addition to her adventure tales she wrote a wonderful series that's a King Arthur retelling from Merlin's point of view (starting with The Crystal Cave). Good stuff.

6. I always wonder about how to make time in my own life to write. What was your day job when you were writing Graceling?
When I wrote Graceling I was working as a freelance educational writer. There was a great discussion on the question of "the writer's day job" on The Longstockings several months ago; if you're curious, check it out here. And if you're specifically curious about my work as an educational writer, scroll down to my own comment in The Longstockings discussion, because I wrote a tome about it there, describing the work in detail... :o)

7. What is your favorite musical performance inspired by Bizet's Carmen and performed by a grapefruit?
Ah, yes. That timeless question that all of us must ask ourselves eventually.

Could I just say, before I get to my answer, that a couple of weeks ago I went to see a violinist named Augustin Hadelich, and his performance of Sarasate's "Carmen-Fantasy op. 25," inspired by Bizet's Carmen, had me jumping out of my seat? If this young man happens to come to your town, do try to go see him, even if you have to pawn your winter boots to afford the tickets. (Btw, you might know the Sarasate piece even if you think you don't. Listen to Itzhak Perlman play it here...)

Anyway. Augustin Handelich is not a grapefruit. And so, without further ado, here is my favorite musical performance inspired by Bizet's Carmen and performed by a grapefruit:



There are loads more questions I'd like to answer, so more FAQs on Thursday. :o)