Thursday, January 29, 2009

Love and Sympathy

My thoughts tonight are with the friends and family of librarians Kathy Krasniewicz and Kate McClelland, who were killed in a hit-and-run accident on their way to the airport after leaving ALA on Wednesday.  I never had the good fortune to meet Kate, but was lucky enough to have dinner with Kathy and a group of other librarians at ALA Anaheim last summer.  Kathy was a delight; I wish I'd gotten to know her better.  It's clear from the outpouring of grief in the blogosphere that these ladies were too good for words, and will be terribly missed.

Poor Old Wapping

So, I've been reading Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart mysteries (and loving them, especially The Shadow in the North.) However, this passage in The Ruby in the Smoke startled me:

Beyond the Tower of London, between St. Katharine’s Docks and Shadwell New Basin, lies the area known as Wapping: a district of docks and warehouses, of crumbling tenements and rat-haunted alleys, of narrow streets where the only doors are at second-floor level, surmounted by crude projecting beams and ropes and pulleys. The blind brick walls at pavement level and the brutal-looking apparatus above give the place the air of some hideous dungeon from a nightmare, while the light, filtered and dulled by the grime in the air, seems to come from a long way off – as if through a high window set with bars.

Oh, dearie me! I lived in Wapping for four months, and apparently I should be glad that the year was 2004 rather than Sally Lockhart's 1872! When I was there, it was the cutest place ever! I could, and did on almost a daily basis, walk to the Tower Bridge. I discovered a few favorite peaceful spots. And I made a point of exploring a new part of London every Wednesday -- packing up my notebook and some food and finding a pretty place to write. I rode double decker buses as often as possible (not only are they big and red and scary if you're sitting in the top front [all excellent qualities], but they're cheaper than the Tube). London, in general, and Wapping, in particular, was (were?), in fact, one (two?) of my favorite places of all the places I've ever lived. (Are six commas too many for one sentence? Was that even a sentence?) Of course, I was dead broke by the time I left (London is expensive), but I don't regret a minute of it.

Anyway. Philip Pullman: you have good brains. And Wapping: sorry to hear about your sordid past. You turned out pretty well, in my humble opinion.

(Speaking of such matters, Graceling has now been released in the U.K. I don't know what this means about immediate availability in libraries and bookstores, but at the very least, it should be showing up soon!)

So -- where have you lived? What was it like? And where do you dream of living?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Row, Row, Row Your Boat Gently Down the Stream

This Monday post comes to you a bit later than usual -- firstly, because it's ALA award day, and I wanted to be able to link to the 2009 Caldecott, Printz, Newbery, et al winners; and secondly, because I wanted a little time to reflect.

Warm congratulations to all those who won awards and honors. Here's the list. I'm particularly thrilled that Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road won the Printz Award, which recognizes excellence in literature written for young adults. Jellicoe Road is a marvelous, complicated, sad, hopeful book. Well chosen, Printz committee! And The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart is a Printz Honor book -- yay! And I'd be raving about the other Printz books, as well, no doubt, except that I just haven't read them yet. :o)

Also, a very special congratulations to Elizabeth C. Bunce, author of A Curse Dark as Gold, the winner of the ALA's new Morris Award, which honors a book for teens written by a first-time author. The other finalists for the award were James Lecesne's Absolute Brightness; Christina Meldrum's Madapple; Jenny Valentine's Me, the Missing, and the Dead; and my Graceling :o) -- which is why I particularly wanted to mention Bunce's achievement. Curse is rich and gentle, with gutsy characters and a gorgeously-realized setting that's easy to drop yourself into; it happens to be a Rumpelstiltskin retelling; and it was one of my favorite reads of the year. Congratulations, Elizabeth! You make me proud to have been a finalist!

Today I have the oddest feeling: I feel that my life is a beautiful dream. No, I didn't win anything, but somehow, not winning anything shows me my blessings, if that makes any sense at all. What a blast to have been nominated for an ALA award. And what a gift I've been given in my life: the time to think, feel, reflect, and write.

Have you seen the minute-long video of dolphins playing with bubble rings? I'm going to share it today, because today it matches my mood. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily; life is but a dream.

Congratulations, everyone! :o)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Even Better Than Aretha Franklin's Hat

I grew up in a house where a lot of classical music was played, and a lot of Sesame Street was watched. I bet I heard the traditional Shaker tune "Simple Gifts" before I could even talk, thanks to Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring;" I've kind of idolized violinist Itzhak Perlman ever since I saw him on my black-and-white TV; and, well, I've posted before about what I think of Yo-Yo Ma. So, aside from the actual fact of Barack Obama becoming President (and George Bush going away), can you guess what part of Tuesday's inauguration I liked best? That's right, even more than Aretha Franklin's hat, or Joe Biden's smile you could see from the moon, or even Obama saying stuff like, "We will restore science to its rightful place," and, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- AND NON-BELIEVERS!" (Okay, no, he didn't actually scream that last part, but my non-believing soul screamed out "THANK YOU" in response!)

Are you still with me? We're guessing what part of the inauguration I liked best. And, yes, you're right! Here we have it, "Air and Simple Gifts," arranged by John Williams, performed by Itzhak Perlman on violin, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Anthony McGill on clarinet, and Gabriela Montero on piano (wearing the cutest cut-off gloves ever):

By the way, let's give them props for getting beautiful sounds out of those instruments in frigid temperatures and with the wind whistling in their ears. Seriously. Those instruments shouldn't even have been out in that weather. And when is formalwear going to start to include winter hats? All those cold ears at the inauguration; it was hard to watch.

Did you watch? Did it make your ears cold? And did you have a favorite part?

Oh, and before I go: no, "non-believing soul" is NOT an oxymoron.


Monday, January 19, 2009

This American Life; Also, a Prayer

Do you listen to the NPR show This American Life? It's my favorite radio show ever. I turn down invitations if they cut into my weekend routine of drinking a cup of tea and listening to This American Life. It's hard to describe the show -- the people at the show themselves admit this -- but they do a pretty good job here. And some popular episodes are available for your listening pleasure here.

A few weekends ago, the episode was about numbers being used in places where numbers maybe shouldn't be used. For example, some folks tried to quantify what makes likable songs likable, and what makes unlikable songs unlikable, by taking a survey of what instruments, voices, and genres of songs people like and dislike most. Then, they combined all the most-liked sounds to create a song everyone should like, and all the least-liked sounds to create a song no one should like. The "good" song turned out to be rather bland and unlistenable. The BAD song, on the other hand, combined elements such as bagpipes, tubas, accordions, children's choirs, and an opera singer singing rap on the subject of the life of cowboys. It was HYSTERICALLY WONDERFUL.

That episode is here, if you're interested. :o)

This past weekend's episode was about tomorrow's inauguration, and about how Americans are feeling about all things Obama-related. Another good episode; made me feel a little better about Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the inauguration. You can listen to that episode here.

Before I go, a shout-out to the man who moves into the White House tomorrow. Barack Obama: You know what I think? I think you're extraordinary. You inspire people to work together; you give people hope; you shine. I believe in you. I'm on your side.

I hope the angels are, too.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us togefer today. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam wifin a dweam..."

Today I'm answering FAQs about marriage. (That dweam wifin a dweam.)

Spoiler status: ALL of these questions contain Graceling spoilers, which is why I'm separating this paragraph from the questions themselves with a delightful picture of my youngest fan, whose name is Callum. If you don't want to know what happens in Graceling, STOP READING!



(Okay, yes, I take spoilers more seriously than perhaps is necessary. ^_^)

1. Will Katsa and Po ever get married?
I never, ever discuss future plot things, except with my editor, my agent, and my official First Readers. This is partly because (1) until a first draft is written, I need to be free to have it to myself, without the interference of anyone else -- without the pressure of other people's questions, worries, opinions, or expectations. It needs to be my book and only my book, my business and only my business. That is the only way a book can grow. It's also partly because (2) before a book goes to typesetting, anything is subject to change.

So I'll never, ever answer a question like this. (Which I doubt will surprise anyone. ^_^)

However, I do have a counter-question. My question is: Why do you ask? Do they need to be married for their relationship to be genuine? I challenge you to think about this. Bounce it around. See where it lands.

2. I love the themes of choice, independence, and sacrifice in Graceling. It was refreshing to read about a heroine whose purpose wasn’t necessarily to “get married and settle down.” That said, I do still love a “happily ever after” ending. For the first time (ever) I felt like I got equal measure of independence and HEA (lo and behold, they are not mutually exclusive!). I love that! So my question is – was independence + HEA your goal from the beginning or did the characters just fall into place that way?
Awesome question. The simple answer is both: my characters fell into place that way from the very beginning. I knew Katsa was dedicated to her independence and I knew she was going to fall in love. It was, very simply, who Katsa was and where Katsa was headed when she came to me. (And it also made for a really fun conflict to write! ^_^)

I suppose I could say more, but I'm not sure where to go with it, and I don't want to bore everyone to tears. If you have follow-up questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll be be happy to think about them and maybe say more in future.

3. Some of your online reader reviews say that Graceling has an anti-marriage message. Do you have a response to that?
Well, normally I would say that I don't want to get into it, because I don't think my opinion, as the author, really matters. And I respect any reader's right to his or her own opinion! However, if I were to express a few thoughts of my own, they might sound a little something like this....

First, some facts: there are some existing, steady marriages quietly depicted in the book. There is also one, single, solitary character who feels that marriage is not the right choice personally for her. Remember, Katsa herself doesn't try to stop other people from marrying; she even hopes for happy marriages for other people. Them's the facts.

I didn't write Graceling with any particular messages in mind. But if it does have a message, I hope it's not anti-marriage, but rather, pro- "being true to yourself." I think that being true to yourself sometimes -- not always, but sometimes -- means thoughtfully, intelligently choosing to take a route that differs from the norm.

Here is something that Jon and Rumer Godden (writers for both children and adults) wrote in their book Two Under the Indian Sun: "We knew that marriage was not the only kind of love."

If Katsa and Po find a way to relate to each other that works for them and that involves self-respect, mutual respect, self-examination, mutual delight, mutual regard, and honest communication, how can their relationship be a bad thing?

I invite my readers to discuss this in the comments, but I feel that I've said enough -- maybe more than an author should. So I'll be reading, but not joining in.

Also, I'd like to thank Sarah, Deborah, Sam, and Becca for helping me, way back in October, to formulate my response to this question!

Monday, January 12, 2009

In Which I Use One of My Favorite Words. Thrice.

Writers are different. Some have a lot of looseness and need to apply discipline. Others have a lot of discipline and need to make allowances for looseness. I am definitely the latter.

I'm a worker. My danger is always that I will push too hard and not take enough breaks. I have to remind myself of things like patience; I get frustrated when it takes a long time or when it feels like I'm getting nowhere; I fight with my writing. I get angry; I hate it; I want to DEFENESTRATE it. I can't understand why it's so hard, or why I even bother; I can't understand why the words don't just come!

But that's the thing: you can have all the discipline in the world, but that won't make the words come. You can't just sit down knowing, "Today I'm going to begin Chapter 12," because maybe your eye will catch something problematic in Chapter 10, and six hours later you'll look up and take a breath and realize you haven't written a word of Chapter 12. Or maybe you'll find you're too fidgety to do any work at all. Or maybe you'll get some bad news, or even some good news, and any hope of concentration will, um, defenestrate itself. It's okay. You're not in control, silly! The work will get done. Let it decide the schedule. And make yourself take breaks sometimes, because it IS hard, and it IS going to take years, and it's not good for you or the book to continue at that pace.

FORGIVE YOURSELF. You are not in control. Let the book come how it comes. FORGIVE THE BOOK. It needs you to believe in it, even if it is slow and stumbling and doesn't seem very good at anything!

I expect to be writing Bitterblue for all of 2009. Forthwith, here are my resolutions for the new year:
  • Faith. This book is trying to come into the world, and it needs me to believe in it and in my ability to translate it. I resolve to try to hang on to my faith that this book is about something, and that I can write it the way it's asking to be written.
  • Patience. As my editor reminded me the other day, this is not a race. Bitterblue is writing slowly, but that's okay, because there's no other way it could be written! It is too complicated a book to be written fast. And therefore, there's no point in always focusing on finishing. Life is about the journey, not the destination. I resolve to try to live in the moment, write in the moment, and forgive this book for being so goddamned slow. ;o)
  • Perspective. I take things too seriously a lot of the time, in my writing and in my life. I resolve to try to remember that we are all tiny specks on a tiny planet in a great big universe, so WHO CARES? Go look at pelicans and laugh.
  • A palm tree :o). I'm moving back up north in late spring/early summer. I'm going to miss night-time palm trees with white lights wound all around their trunks! So, I resolve to try to find a small indoor palm tree for my home that I will decorate with lights, so that I have a little piece of Florida in my life, always.
  • Forgiveness. Did you notice that I resolved to try to do things, rather than to outright do them? One thing I don't like about New Year's resolutions is that sometimes they sound like punishments, criticisms of the things we don't like about ourselves, or goals at which we will either succeed (yay!) or fail (BOOO!). That's crap! Resolutions should be gentle and should be about creating peace. If I lose my faith or my patience or my perspective or, um, my palm tree (I could accidentally defenestrate it, for example), that's okay. I'll forgive myself. And eventually, when the time is right, I'll get it back again. With the possible exception of the palm tree. I might have to return to the nursery for a new one of those.
That is all, and I thank you for reading.

(Do you have any gentle, peace-creating resolutions to share?)

(And can you guess what is one of my favorite words? ^_^)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Favorite Poem of 2008

I use the Women Artists Datebook, and one of my quiet January pleasures is closing up last year's datebook and opening my new one. I transfer birthdays; I fill in travel plans; I take stock of the things I know about the year ahead. I also look over all the art and quotes and poems in the old datebook. I never love all the poems, but there's always one that knocks my socks off. Here's the poem I loved most in my datebook in 2008:

Soup and Bread
by Diane Swan

Christopher's girlfriend
has a green cockatiel
and he tells the family at dinner
that cuttlebone-- what the bird
sharpens its beak on--
comes from a squid.
I am startled. He knows more
than I have told him.

One lunchtime years ago
he called me an
and often I did talk
as if my children were tall glass vases
formed to contain my twigs of trivia,
long branches of perennial wisdom.
What I wanted, though I didn't know it then,
was that clean clothes, knowledge,
bread, everything good
would come to them through me.

Now they are walking ahead
toward the theater, two young men
in gray jackets, a girl in a moss-gold
scarf, and where their shoulders touch
in heavy winter coats I see faint links
of light, the small chains they make.
And I feel my silence, old hungers
at the place of change, and hear their voices
down the flickering years ahead
telling me things I didn't know.

Feel free to share a favorite poem in the comments :o)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cybils, Segueing to Australia, la la la

Graceling is a finalist for the Cybils, the children's and YA bloggers' literary awards, in the Fantasy/SF category ^_^. Check out all the categories and all the finalists here. I haven't read most of the other finalists (yet!!), but those I have read happen to be among my favorite reads of the year, and I recommend them highly -- see below. Links are to their Amazon descriptions. Oh, and I don't include The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins below, because I've only just started reading it, but I will say that at 25 pages in, I have already laughed, cried, AND screamed out in surprise. So, um, it's safe to say that I have high expectations of enjoying that one :o)

The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road reminds me of the disproportionate amount of Australian literature I've been reading lately, all of which is FABULOUS, so I'm going to go on and give you a few more recommendations of great books (none from 2008):
  • Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. A favorite of mine and also of Cordelia's. Marchetta also has a fantasy out called Finnikin of the Rock which I haven't read yet but which is guaranteed to be wonderful, just like everything else she writes. Really, you can't go wrong (Looking for Alibrandi is also great!) :o)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Just. Read it.
  • Black Juice by Margo Lanagan. Magical realism; short stories (and I never read short stories, but these ones hooked me. Margo Lanagan has an EXCELLENT BRAIN).
  • Sleeping Dogs by Sonya Hartnett. Gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.
I spent my junior year abroad in Sydney; it was one of the best decisions of my life. What a city; what a beautiful nation. Where else can you see a kangaroo from a hot air balloon, or walk into a forest that smells of eucalyptus (um, because it is eucalyptus), or witness an emu having an identity crisis? (It seemed to think it was a cow. It was grazing with the cows, and allowing itself to be herded with the cows.) La la la. I hope I'll get back to Australia someday :o)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

It's a New Year, and Fear Is a Friend Who's Misunderstood

And now, the New Year's Meme. (Thanks, Jess!)

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?
Good grief. SO MANY THINGS. I guess the biggest thing, encompassing most of the other things, is that I published my first book. But I also contributed to a political campaign, re-read almost all the Lord Peter Wimsey books, and bought a slow-cooker, all for the first time.

2. What are your New Year's resolutions for 2009?
I'm going to spend January mulling this over, and will post about it once I've worked it out. I love the New Year; I love taking stock of time and how one fits into it; I love realistic and heartfelt resolutions. So. More to come.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Several people. And any minute now, one more is going to drop!! :o)

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
I didn't leave the USA in 2008. However, while on an ill-fated trip to Key West, I gazed across the water in the direction of Cuba. :o)

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
An autumn with leaves that change color. (We don't have that in North Florida.)

7. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
November 4. Election day!

8. What was your biggest success?
Getting through my Fire revisions despite self-doubt. Also, pushing along with the writing of Bitterblue despite constant interruption and distraction.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I still can't teleport. Dammit! Where are all the radioactive spiders?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Knee-high green rain boots.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I'm stealing my friend Jess's answer here: the American voting public!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Um, the American voting public. I am sick and tired of states outlawing same-sex marriage, and this year one such amendment passed in my own state by a landslide. Florida, I'm ashamed of you. (Don't even get me started on California.)

14. Where did most of your money go?
Ha! Taxes. :o)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The buttercream cupcakes at Let Them Eat Cake! Also, Barack Obama. Also, tea.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008? (It's never actually a song from the year in question)
Okay, I better not get any crap from music sophisticates about this, but I would have to say "No Air" by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you a. happier or sadder? b. thinner or fatter? c. richer or poorer?
a. happier, healthier, coping better. b. fatter. c. richer, in many ways.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Staying in the present.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Worrying about the future. :o)

20. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Not that I noticed.

21. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I don't really hate anyone with a deep and sustaining hatred. Not even Dick Cheney. So, no. :o)

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I really loved Cranford on PBS.

23. What was the best book you read?
Good god, are you serious? Okay, I'll take a shot at it. I loved loved LOVED The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart and The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman and Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett. I'm stopping there -- finger in the dike.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Hmm. That's also impossible to answer. Brahms' Requiem? Or maybe a few songs by Ani DiFranco: "You Had Time" and "Gratitude" and "Angry Any More" and oh, others, too. Oh! And Patty Griffin! (a few songs)

25. What was your favorite film of this year?
Lars and the Real Girl. Also, I re-watched The Philadelphia Story -- wow, that's a good one.

26. What did you want and get?

27. What did you want and not get?
A vacation from drama!

28. What did you do on your birthday?
Went out to dinner with my darling future brother-in-law, secret code name: Joe. Convinced Joe to teach Feed by M.T. Anderson in his college-level literature class. Ordered some tuna that came out a little too raw. Ate it anyway. Got a hysterical phone call from my sisters, secret code names: Cordelia and Apocalyptica, who were in Montreal, and who sang Happy Birthday to me in some non-English language that may have been an attempt at French. Went back to Joe and Cordelia's place and ate cake, which Cordelia had baked for me even though she was going to be out of town. It was a lovely, peaceful day.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I suppose it would've been nice if my ceiling hadn't caved in...

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
Two words: writing pajamas.

31. What kept you sane?
Good books; meditation; having friends and family who didn't care if I burst into hysterical tears now and then; my agent and my editor.

32. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
Pelicans are guaranteed to make you laugh no matter how rotten you feel.

33. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Pain throws your heart to the ground.
Love turns the whole thing around.
Fear is a friend who's misunderstood
but I know the heart of life is good.

-John Mayer, "The Heart of Life"

Feel like picking your favorite question and answering it in the comments? Go for it! :o)