Thursday, October 30, 2008

"A trip the library has made a new girl of me...

... for suddenly I can see the magic of BOOKS."

(from the musical She Loves Me)

My childhood library in northeast Pennsylvania has a copy of my book, thanks to my mother. So do/will a couple of other libraries important to us, thanks to Mom and Aunt Rose. This makes me oh-so-fuzzy-and-happy.

Then, last week, a friend in Massachusetts reported that she'd checked her own library catalog on a whim to see if they had Graceling yet. They did. Next, an email came from another friend with this subject line: F CAS. She had just cataloged my book. Heeee!

It took a little time for the light to shine through the mud, but eventually I had a stroke of not-being-as-stupid-as-I-usually-am and realized that if it was showing up at other libraries, my own library might have it. I checked -- several copies, and most of them were out. yAt! But even better, the copy at my local branch was NOT out!

This is the point in the story where I hightailed it outside and ran down the street like I was being chased by a rottweiler, except with an aspect of much greater joy. When I got to the library, there it was, on display in the Teen section. I picked it up and rocked it like a baby. It was wrapped in a cellophane wrapping, "Jacksonville Public Library" was stamped on the top edge, and a sticker on the spine said "Fic CASHORE, K."

I'm starting to sniffle, just typing this. I can't describe how I feel. This is so much more than my book being in a bookstore.

My book being in a library is like me being in heaven.

(Check out the ALA's other library posters here)


Monday, October 27, 2008

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Nuclear Submarines, and My Chair in the Window

If you drive stick, then you know that a long, steep incline to a bridge, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with a clutch you really should have replaced 500 miles ago, is not the best place for your shifter to decide it will no longer shift into any gear. However, if this ever happens to you, KEEP YOUR HEAD. Remember that if you turn the car off, you can shift it into gear. And drive all the way to your book signing in, like, first or second gear. :)

Actually, my shifter started working again after about 100 yards. I'm used to this problem. It's one of my car's particular charms.

Others in my neighborhood were faring better with their vehicles this weekend. The Blue Angels, in particular, were in town. There's a naval air station here, so we get the occasional helicopter or fighter plane zooming across the sky, but the Blue Angels, of course, are something else altogether: They are artists. With the most expensive art supplies ever. (Ha! And people say our government doesn't put money into the arts! [Meh. Okay. Not funny.])

Seriously, though, the Blue Angels were zipping around all weekend, performing aerial feats to astonish and amaze, and making me wish all machines of war could be beautiful and inspiring instead of, well, the other things they are.

We also have a submarine base here. Boats thrill me, and watching submarines go out to sea thrills me, until I remember that: (1) women aren't allowed to be submariners (submarines "don't have the appropriate facilities for women," cough); (2) a submarine is a claustrophobic, dark, and dangerous place to live; and (3) submarines carry nuclear warheads. That, in fact, (4) a submarine's purpose is (5) to hide our nukes so that they cannot be found and (6) to exist as a threat to other countries who know that somewhere, hidden in the deep, we have nukes that we can launch at them anytime we like.


Luckily, I usually see a cruise ship out there in the water, too, and a few innocent freighters. They help. I love big, innocent boats.

We also have trains here -- lots and lots of trains. I hear them blowing their horns at night. I love the sound, especially when it's raining and it sounds like music.

In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart says that the three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. I can relate. I've always had the travel bug, and I've managed to get myself to a lot of places. Nonetheless, lately I'm more interested in watching the planes, trains, and boats than in being on them. I think it's because my book is out there everywhere (or at least that's how it feels sometimes). Little pieces of my soul are traveling out there, for anyone to pick up, and love, or be indifferent to, or tear apart. I feel the mileage. So I turn my phone and my Internet off when I can, and take comfort in my own apartment, my chair in the window, my neighborhood. And I take walks, and watch the Blue Angels. :o)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Race, Poems, and Knitted Cuppycakes

How happy am I that Mitali Perkins has blogged about the question of whether authors should describe a character's race? And that Roger Sutton and The Longstockings are joining in? This is an issue I think about a lot, generally coming to no useful conclusions, so it's nice to see what other people think. Check it out -- join in -- ponder.

I've been taking a few days off, more or less. Recovering from Fire revisions and preparing myself to dive back into Book 3 -- waiting for it to call to me. Writing is partly about discipline, sure, but it's also about waiting, not forcing anything. Being patient; letting it come at its own pace.

I said this, or something like it, to my father once. Later that day, he came back to me and handed me this poem.

The Steps
By Paul Valéry
Translated by Donald Petersen

Your steps, children of my still hours,
Solemnly and slowly placed
Towards the bed of my wakefulness,
Proceed now, cool and chaste.

Person most pure, saintly shade,
How calm your measured tread, how sweet.
Gods! All the gifts which I divine
Come to me on those bare feet.

If, with your pursed lips, you would
Prepare the food of your affections
To feed the habitant who dwells
So hungrily in my reflections,

Then do not hasten this kind act,
Sweetness of being or being dead;
For I have lived to welcome you,
My heart being nothing but your tread.

I think that the "children of my still hours" are words. I wait for them to come to me, if they like, on their bare feet -- I live to welcome them. :o)

Do you have a favorite poem? Will you share it with me?

Also, my friend Rebecca has sent me a cupcake.

Do you have a favorite baked (or knitted) treat?

knitted cupcake photo used with the
kind permission of Brenda at Loom Lore

Monday, October 20, 2008

Some Frequently Asked Questions (And a Local Book Signing)

First, a thank you to every single person who's emailed me. I read every email and I love every email. I wish I could respond to every email!

This post will be my first attempt to answer a few of the questions I've received.

FAQ disclaimer: I enjoy receiving questions about subtext, so I'm not saying don't send me questions about subtext. But just know this: I won't answer them. :o) The book serves as its own explanation; you come up with your own interpretations. Make sense?

Spoiler status: The following FAQs are, by most standards, spoiler-free for people who have not yet read Graceling. However, if you are psychotic about spoilers (like me) and haven't read Graceling, only read questions 1, 2, and 6.

1. I've always thought of fantasies as world-building books where the authors create the characters after building the world. But that doesn't feel like the case in Graceling, because the characters seem so real. Which came first: the characters or the kingdoms?
Well, thank you, and you're right -- the characters came first in Graceling, completely and absolutely. I knew Katsa, Po, and Raffin fairly well before I ever began to build a world around them. Of course, they came with their special powers and their situations intact, so they brought pieces of the world with them from the beginning; but without a doubt, characters were the genesis of the book. If you're curious about how Graceling grew, I talk about it a bit in this interview. And if people have more specific questions, please feel free to email or comment -- I'll add them to my list.

2. How do you pronounce Lienid?
Really and truly, I don't mind how people pronounce the names of characters and places in my books. In fact, my own pronunciation of Katsa has changed because everyone else seems to pronounce it differently from the way I do. So please, say the words however you want to say them.

That being said, if you want to say them the way I say them -- I pronounce Lienid LEE-uh-nid or LEE-nid, like the Leonids, the meteors that occur every year (in real life, in our sky) around November. That's where I got the idea for the name, actually. It struck me as the perfect kingdom to name after falling stars, even if the association was only in my head (because in the seven kingdoms, of course, there are no yearly meteor showers called Leonids...).

While I'm on the subject, I pronounce Katsa to rhyme with POT-suh (or, at least, I used to, until I heard everyone else pronouncing it to rhyme with PAT-suh); Randa to rhyme with HAND-uh, Raffin to rhyme with LAUGH-in, Oll to rhyme with doll. And I speak with an American accent. But that doesn't mean you have to!

3. The villain in Graceling is really creepy and disgusting. Was it hard for you to write him?
Actually, quite the opposite. I tend to enjoy writing creepy, bad stuff. I suppose Freud or Jung or somebody would say that society represses our natural human tendencies toward deviance, and creating a deviant character could be a kind of release. Or something? Whatever the reason, I would much rather write about a creep being creepy than about someone bland being bland. Or landscapes. I don't much like describing landscapes. :o)

4. Can you tell us more about the villain? His backstory; parentage; anything about his eye?
I can and do in future books.

5. Are Raffin and Bann lovers?
This is, hands down, my most frequently asked question. It's also a perfect example of a question I won't answer. :o)

6. Kristin! How is your car running? (A question frequently asked by my Dad.)
Dad! My car is running GREAT. The right rear bumper is hanging slightly loose but I'm holding it on with Obama stickers. I get 35 mpg, my odometer reads 174,880 miles, and I'm thinking of commemorating 175,000 with a new clutch. I love my car and here is the plan: I am going to live to be 101 years old, and I will drive this car for the rest of my life.

Silliness aside, I'll tackle more questions soon.

Also, for any of you in north Florida: This coming Thursday (Oct 23), at 7pm, I'll be reading from Graceling and signing books at The Bookmark in Atlantic Beach, one block from the sea. The Bookmark is in the Beaches Town Center, 299 Atlantic Blvd, Atlantic Beach 32233. Phone: (904) 241-9026.

Have a nice week, everyone!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Revising: Two Steps Up, One Step Back

There's a certain aspect to revising that I love. It takes place on the micro-level, not the macro-level; it's more about words and sentences, less about chapters or books. It happens when there's something tiny I want to express, some little thing I want to insert into the bigger picture: For example, let's say that while revising, I decide that I need to plant a small hint to the reader that Mr. Glockenspiel is actually none other than Ms. Bratwurst in disguise. But the problem is, there's no obvious graceful place or method for planting such a hint. So I struggle and agonize and finick and rearrange and contrive, and finally find a way to plant my hint that maybe works. I plant the damn thing. I move on to to the next problem, perhaps the need to insert some backstory about the time Mr. Lederhosen crashed his airplane into the white cliffs of Dover. I get completely wound up in the question of whether Mr. Lederhosen was intoxicated at the time, or had perhaps been drugged by his arch-nemesis, Ms. Knackwurst. I forget all about the true-identity-of-Mr.-Glockenspiel hint.

But then, the next day rolls around, and I'm doing a quick review of the changes I made the day before. I get to the place where I planted the true-identity hint. And even though yesterday I thought I'd found the solution, today I see that I did it all wrong: It's obvious that I should have planted the hint 5 lines down from where I actually planted it. I move the hint to the appropriate place. I read it over. I decide it works. I move on to the next problem in the revision: Should I change Ms. Knackwurst's name to Ms. Wiener-Schnitzel so that readers do not confuse her with Ms. Bratwurst? Knackwurst... Bratwurst... Liverwurst... the creation of art surely can be an agony... and I'm getting hungry...

Then the next day rolls around, and as I'm looking for the place where I left off yesterday (a question about whether it is perhaps too convenient for me to have dressed Mr. Lederhosen in lederhosen), my eye happens to catch the true-identity hint again. I see that it is definitely in the right place now, and I congratulate myself. But -- wait. Something about it feels clumsy; I don't like the phrasing as much as I did before; I reword it slightly, trying about 9 different variations; I settle on the one that sounds best; I decide that now it finally works. I move on.

A few days later, while thumbing through the manuscript, the true-identity hint accidentally catches my eye again. I realize that it still doesn't feel quite right. I adjust a word or two. I move on. But I probably don't have to tell you that a few days later, when it catches my eye again, I see immediately that it's still wrong. I adjust it yet again.

BUT. Here's the thing: One day, the true-identity hint accidentally catches my eye, and I read it, and THIS TIME IT WORKS PERFECTLY. And the next time I read it, a few days later, IT STILL WORKS PERFECTLY. Because through the process of all that fine-tuning and putting it away and bringing it out again and working it and reworking it, finally, I got it to the right place. And now, every time I look at it, it works. IT WORKS!

This is what revising is for me. Writing; deciding it works; putting it away; taking it out again; realizing it doesn't actually work; rewriting; deciding it works; putting it away; taking it out again; realizing it doesn't actually work; rewriting... you get the idea. And it can get a little mind-boggling when you're revising a 400-page book, and there's one of these half-finished revisions on every page. But every time I rewrite one of them, I get closer. And the day does come when it all works, and I can see that it works. And that feeling, when something, be it large or small, works, and I know that it works? It is the best feeling I ever have as a writer. It is the reason for everything.

I finished my revision of Fire today. It's got problems: ones I see and ones I still can't see. But for now, to the best of my humble abilities, when I look at it, it works.


Coming soon, by popular demand: I tackle a few FAQs.

(Also, if you happen to be a native German-speaker, forgive me. I like the words that English has borrowed from you. They're fun to say. Especially Wiener schnitzel. And schadenfreude. And doppelganger. And streuselkuchen. And schnauzer.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm Still on My Rocker -- Are You?

I want to write a post about why I love Finland; I want to write a post about the other day, when I was trying on boots at the store, and my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, told me I looked like a prostitute; I want to write a post answering some of the really super questions I've been getting from Graceling readers in my email. And I will write all of those posts, eventually. But for now, I'm in a time crunch with Fire revisions and other life stuff, and the only post I seem to have time to write is one about the posts I wish I were writing instead.

Some good news: I have a Danish publisher for Graceling, Tellerup. Yay, Denmark! Who wants to bet that "Po" means something vulgar in Danish?

I still see little blue herons almost every day. Sometimes they're hanging out with little white herons. Yesterday, they were hanging out with a BIG blue heron. The herons are keeping me from going off my rocker.

So, what's on your mind these days? And what keeps you on your rocker? :o)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Obligatory Election Post

(With apologies up front to my readers who are not American or are too young to vote. I must write this post -- but I promise, I'll only do it once.)

So. I am not, nor have I ever been, politically eloquent. If I relied on my own powers of persuasion to explain to you why I think it's imperative that you vote for Barack Obama this November, my argument would be something along the lines of, "Please, please, PLEASE vote for Obama so that we can work toward expanding civil liberties rather than restricting them, so that the earth can be better-protected, and most importantly, so that we'll have a leader who believes in looking outside himself and outside of US."

The problem is, those are only a few drops in the bucket, and vague drops at that. What I'd like to do in this post is present you with the arguments of a few very cool people who say it way better than me. I promise you, none of the arguments are terribly long, and you can pick and choose which ones to give your time to. I've even divided it into numbered sections and/or written small previews, so you can skip around and see what looks interesting to you. Plus, at the end, there's a reward! :o) Okay, here goes.


Have you checked out the blog YA for Obama, at which various YA writers express their reasons for supporting Obama?

In this post, Sara Zarr (author of Story of a Girl and Sweethearts) introduces herself as a theologically conservative Christian from Utah who hates politics and is a total cynic. And yet, she's been politically inspired by Barack Obama -- and frankly, her explanation here is inspiring. I recommend this one highly.

In this post, Scott Westerfeld (author of Peeps, the Midnighters series, and the Uglies series, among other things) presents some hard facts demonstrating that Democrats have a better track record when it comes to running the US economy than Republicans do.

In the same post (just scroll down), Cecily von Ziegesar (creator of the Gossip Girl series) addresses the question of whether Barack Obama is a Nate, a Dan, a Chuck, a Serena, or a Blair. Umm. This is not the sort of argument that would necessarily sway me, particularly since I don't remember who any of those people are, but I'm trying to present something for everyone here, so there you have it. :o)

In this post, Lauren McLaughlin (author of Cycler) explains -- very, very well, in my opinion -- why "the reasonable and moderate position on the subject of abortion is, in fact, the Pro-Choice position." If you are considering voting for McCain solely because of his stand on the abortion issue, I beg you to read this post. And to remember that matters of education, health care, immigration, war, and environmentalism are also about valuing human life. (Please don't make it a one- [or two-, if you want to throw gay marriage in there] issue election!)

There's more at YA for Obama; this is just a sampling. If you like what you've read, explore it some more!


Next, I'd like to excerpt a few lines written by a friend of mine, secret code name: Agent Kumquat, currently doing humanitarian work in India. To help you decide if you want to take the time to read it, Agent Kumquat writes about the importance of the USA's position internationally, and the danger of electing a person with Sarah Palin's lack of international (and general) experience to such a high office:

"The past 8+ years I’ve spent living and working overseas have given me a different perspective on the US, and a different appreciation of how our political leadership sets the tone for how U.S. citizens are perceived overseas, on a individual as well as “national” level. The actions of the Bush Administration over the last 8 years have made the work of humanitarian organizations like my own more challenging, and, frankly, more dangerous. In our inter-dependent world, the opinion of other countries DOES matter. Our leaders’ ability to intelligently dialogue with leaders of other nations DOES matter. Their skill and ability in analyzing and demonstrating an openness to weigh the concerns and interests of other nations DO matter. It is NOT acceptable for someone who needs a crash course in contemporary international politics and US foreign policy to be sitting in the office of the 2nd highest elected official in our country.... I certainly hope that 8 years of a president who was “one of the guys”, someone people in the US perhaps could relate to as a normal, down to earth kind of guy, have been enough to disabuse us of the notion that our elected leaders should be drawn from the ranks of the "ordinary". Don’t we want leaders who are EXTRAORDINARY, who are smarter than us, more experienced than us, able to keep track of information and formulate and express their ideas and vision for our country in ways we never could?... John McCain may have these characteristics and experience; Sarah Palin most certainly does not. However sympathetic a person she may be, however much people feel they can relate to her, however much she comes across as a breath of fresh air from outside of the “establishment”… she is simply not equipped for the job.... Whatever you may feel about John McCain, the presidential ticket is a two-fer.... In voting for John McCain, you will get Sarah Palin, and the not far-fetched prospect that she could at some point be called upon to serve as the leader of our country.... As I think about how our country can rebuild its image in the eyes of the world, revive its economy and sense of hope about our place in the world, my fervent prayer is that all those who vote in November reflect on what voting for John McCain truly means – namely, Sarah Palin as Vice President."


Speaking of Vice-Presidents stepping up to become Presidents: Are you aware that John McCain is 72 years old (which would make him the oldest person ever inaugurated as President) and has been diagnosed with invasive melanoma in the past? I wish this were The West Wing and President Bartlet, but it's not -- it's reality, and unfortunately, we need to consider these things. See more about McCain's health (including a short video) here. (with thanks to Lora!)


Have you seen this visual? (With thanks to writer Sandra McDonald!)

5. FUN

Finally! If you're still with me, you deserve a reward. So -- did you see Saturday Night Live's version of the VP debate? Seriously, one of the best satires I've ever seen them do...


(Btw, you can get the bumper sticker above -- "I love my country..." -- at the Syracuse Cultural Worker's Tools for Change.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

I believe in little things, like you and me...

... and just how big little things can be. (as Prairie Dawn used to sing on Sesame Street)

I would like to stop waking up every morning feeling that (1) I have too much to do; and (2) everything matters so much.

We'll all be dead in a hundred years, so why does it matter if I use "shabby" or "ramshackle" or "tumbledown" to modify "house?" The sun will explode in 5 billion years, so why does it matter if the local or the global economy collapses? Why does it matter who becomes President of the United States in 2009? Why does it matter if a family schism breaks my heart? Why does it matter if someone I love dies?

Sometimes when I meditate, I imagine I'm this tiny, free-floating celestial body. First I float above the earth and orbit it, looking down at all the different landmasses and oceans as they pass. Then I become my own planet, orbiting the sun. Then I break free of that and become my own star, spinning through the Milky Way. Then I break free of that and watch all the galaxies swirling from far, far away.

It helps me get perspective. It reminds me that I'm just one tiny piece of an ENORMOUS, INTERCONNECTED universe. It makes me realize how little my worries are, how little I am, how little even the earth is.

And somehow, in some way that contradicts itself and makes no sense, this helps -- because it also reminds me that it's the little things that are important. Postcards from my Dad with silly messages. Tomatoes from the garden on a sunny day. Emily Dickinson poems. You. Me. Elections. Oceans. The whole earth. The earth is as little as a postcard from my Dad. My Dad is as important as the earth. Everything is little. Everything is precious. And everything is connected. That's why things matter.

And all that "too much" that I wake up feeling like I have to do -- that's all little stuff, too. And then I find myself ready to do it, because certainly I can handle something little, right? Something little and important that connects me to everything else. We are all called to do little and important things that connect us to everything else.

Take some pressure off of yourself. Think about the vastness of space and time. Everything you do is little. And every little thing you do is a precious part of the universe.

Yours asking forgiveness for philosophical incoherence,

catalog. If you'd like it as a poster, postcard, t-shirt, etc., go here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"We can bequest our children but two things:

The first is roots, the other wings."

Don't know who said that, but I've liked it since the first time I read it.

My conversation with School Library Journal's Rick Margolis is online. Thank you, Rick! You're awesome.

Speaking of things Italian and Catholic -- as I did with Rick, in case that segue seems anemic -- I am having a blast reading The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas. Antonia is a 15-year-old Catholic schoolgirl of Italian descent in Rhode Island, obsessed simultaneously with being proclaimed the first living saint and achieving her first kiss. The half of me that isn't Irish is Italian, and like Antonia's mother, my mother is a gourmet -- these characters are so familiar to me, and so, so lovable! Freitas does a wonderful job portraying a young girl who is fixated on the idea of romance but terrified by the reality of it. I wonder if Freitas has been spying on my own high school memories? And apparently it is a universal Catholic schoolgirl experience to wear your skirt too short and break the school socks rules. I got sent to detention numerous times in high school because of uniform code violations. Except at my high school, detention was called JUG. Short for Justice Under God.

Also, there are multiple occasions in this book in which something along these lines happens: Character A asks Character B how many cans of tomatoes (the yellow cans) he needs to make sauce, and not only do I know exactly which cans he means, but I know the answer -- 2! And at one point I was reminded of the time someone outside my family asked me if I'd ever eaten pizzelles before. I said no, because they'd pronounced it to rhyme with gazelles, and so I had no idea they were talking about bit-ZELL-uhs, the dough of which I used to make myself sick eating, because believe me, bit-ZELL-uh dough is even better than chocolate chip cookie dough.

Plus? Good job, Ms. Freitas, sticking an imaginary PROGRESSIVE pope into the world of your story. And thank you for showing me the humor in a lot of things that have generally only provided me with rage in the past.

I think I'll dedicate this post to my parents. I joked with Rick at SLJ about my mother's initial reaction to my decision to get a master's degree in children's literature at Simmons College. She did imply that it might not be the most practical degree under the sun. But here's the thing: She never tried to talk me out of it. This is one of the best things about my parents: They never, ever, ever confused the pursuit of a good salary with the pursuit of happiness. They never, ever asked me to rank money above my dreams. They taught me not to be scared of not being wealthy. They taught me a kind of fearlessness that has really helped me to discover what happiness is.

Mom and Dad, just so you know, you did good. I am happy. And just in case it's slipped your notice, I am living my dreams. You put me here. You gave me a precious gift: You showed me that before I'd ever earned a cent, I was already rich.