Friday, February 26, 2010

Symphony Space Event Cancelled

Just a note that due to weather, my event at Symphony Space on Sunday, February 28 has been canceled. If and when we reschedule, I'll be sure to announce it here. My apologies to anyone who was -- like me -- looking forward to the event!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

For Thursday, a Favorite Poem

Here's some exceptional fiction I've read recently:
  • The Piper's Son, by Melina Marchetta. Realism, 328 pages. Told from the alternating perspectives of Tom Mackee and his aunt Georgie. (Tom was one of Frankie's friends in the book Saving Francesca, and if you haven't read Saving Francesca, well, I couldn't recommend it more highly; it's one of my all-time favorite books.) The Piper's Son comes out in Australia in March; I don't know when it's coming out elsewhere, but if I find out, I'll tell you. (Here's a little more info about the book, from Marchetta's site.) ETA 3/10/10: It's coming out in the USA in March of 2011. Yeesh! That's far away!
  • Lyra's Oxford, by Philip Pullman. Fantasy, 64 pages. A story about Lyra and Pan which takes place in Lyra's Oxford not too long after the events of the His Dark Materials trilogy; plus, other things. (If you haven't read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy... how can I put this? An Australian newspaper once asked me to choose five books that changed my life. The final book in Pullman's HDM trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, was one of my choices.)
  • Once Upon a Time in the North, by Philip Pullman. Fantasy, 112 pages. This one tells the story of how Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison met, many years before the events of the HDM trilogy; plus, other things that made me happily tearful.
I'll be in New York this weekend, so Monday's post might be delayed. For anyone interested, I have an event with Thalia Kids' Book Club at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side on Sunday afternoon -- go here for details and to buy tickets!

Below is a poem I've loved since the first time I read it in my daily planner years ago.


Dying Wish of Seventy-three Year Old for Her Far Distant Future

When I die
I want to have a black thumbnail
From where the hammer missed

And a web of scratches
From pruning the roses that day

-Phyllis Mayfield

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sit still said her father— / Quiet said her mom:

So she sat still and quiet
As an unexploded bomb.

That's a poem called "Sit Still," by JonArno Lawson, from his poetry collection Think Again.

Here's a conversation I had with my sister, secret codename: Apocalyptica the Flimflammer, early last week:

Me: I have my third trapeze lesson in a few days. I'm so nervous!

Apocalyptica: Oh? Why?

Me: I keep having these flashbacks to junior high, when we were picking teams for gym class, and the kids picked me last every time, week after week, for years on end.

Apocalyptica: I know what you mean. It's like pre-calc for me. You find a thing that's hard for you for some reason, and it colors your sense of your own capabilities for the rest of your life!

Me: Exactly. And the funny thing is, looking back now, I don't think the reason they always picked me last was because I actually was bad at sports. I think it was only because they hated me.

At this point, Apocalyptica and I began to laugh hysterically, because things can be so amusing from twenty years away. But at the time, they weren't amusing at all -- not the slightest bit.

I promise I won't write pseudo-inspirational mumbo jumbo every time I have a trapeze lesson, but there's a post I've been trying to write for some time, and it's something along the lines of this: I think being young is one of the hardest things we ever have to do. People who talk about the carefree lives of children, teenagers, and young adults boggle me. In addition to having very short memories, they aren't paying attention at all. Here's the thing I want to say: if you're young, and some things in life -- or many things -- or all things -- are horrible, please, please hang in there. Try to make decisions that are hopeful, because life DOES get better -- you just need to survive this stretch of time. I say this from my own experience, and I say it from watching the lives of loved ones who had childhoods and adolescences that made mine look like a picnic. We all survived -- and we're all glad we did, because I promise, it gets better. You gain power over your own life, and your vision clears. You'll get there -- as long as you don't give up.

If someone had told the 11- or 15- or 18- or 24-year-old me about the life I would be living when I was 33.... well, what I'm trying to say is, hang in there, because someday, you'll do something fabulous, and it'd sure be a shame to miss it.


The trick shown in the pictures below is called the set straddle whip, which you can read about and watch here, if you're interested. (Just to be clear, the video is not me, and the video location is not TSNY Beantown.)

Here I am, hanging onto the trapeze with my hands, resting my legs on my upper arms, and swinging upside down in a weird position (click to enbiggen).

At the command, "Hep!", I let go of the trapeze and swing my arms up.

Next, I extend myself into catching position while making a preposterous face.

When the catcher swings up into range, I whack him (rather hard) in the face.

And that's how to do a set straddle whip! Sort of. John, the catcher, was awfully nice about the part where I hit him. He told me afterwards, "It was good, because I was able to use my face to slow down your momentum and subsequently catch you!" I get the feeling that catchers, especially catchers catching novice flyers, take a lot of mid-air abuse.

I had a really hard time with this trick. We made both catches, but the first was the one above, and the second was one-handed. I'll work on it again next lesson.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Randutiae, Plus a FAQ: Do you have playlists for your books?

Before I get to the FAQ, I like my friend Sam's short Tuesday post about climate change, blame, and responsibility. I also like this xkcd (though this one is still my favorite). AND I like watching those ladies luge. Have you been watching the ladies luge? The speed they achieve defies belief! And how about those snowboarders? Plus, figure skating! Tune in tonight to watch Stéphane Lambiel spin. ♥

I like this short opinion piece about gender politics and the Olympics: After Atalanta on alterations to the men's and women's luge tracks following the death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili. (H/t, J.)

This is a Visa commercial and it makes me cry and I'm not ashamed of that. BTW, the person at Visa who decided to hire Morgan Freeman to narrate the ads? I hope you got a raise. (Watch the Derek Redmond one, too, and click on some of the others! Love the Kerri Strug one, too.)

You post about music a lot, so I know it's important to you. Do you listen to music while you write? Do you have a playlist for
Graceling or Fire that you could share with us?

When I write, I usually need silence and often wear earplugs. I hardly ever listen to music while I write, and this picture of my notebook last Friday -- when I was trying to write and listen at the same time -- should explain why. See the marks on the page that look suspiciously unlike words or cross-outs? See what happens? I am easily distracted, and music is Very Distracting. I start trying to figure out why a particular piece of music is making me feel the way it's making me feel, and suddenly I'm thinking about notes and their relation to each other instead of what I'm supposed to be doing -- writing. And one question leads to another, and before you know it, I'm boggling my brain with silly questions like, what's between a D and a D sharp? What's between an E and an F? Is there really no musical tone that fits between them, and if there is, when do we get to play them? Were scales discovered or invented? If invented, what's with all the half-steps -- why is an E sharp the same as an F -- who's idea was it to label the notes that way? Why aren't the notes arranged into a "septive," with only whole steps all the way through? Are there cultures where the music is based on septives? Would their music sound dreadful to me?

One minute, I'm trying to write a scene, and the next, I'm making a list of preposterous questions to ask my Aunt Marzipan the professional musician, so that she can save me from myself. Or else my nose is in the dictionary, and NOT because of my writing. "Tone: a musical sound of definite pitch, consisting of several relatively simple constituents called partial tones, the lowest of which is called the fundamental tone and the others harmonics or overtones." Fascinating!!! Or else, I'm checking my online library catalog and DISCOVERING THAT I CAN REQUEST MUSICAL SCORES. ZOMG. *flops* (*does not write*)

Actually, there is one piece of music I listened to a lot -- but only during breaks -- while I was writing and revising Fire. It's fiddle music, not surprisingly, and you can listen to the first 90 seconds of it at the website of Prince Edward Island fiddler Cynthia MacLeod. Scroll down to the album Crackerjack and click on Track 11, "Fingal's Cave - Cutting Ferns - Lochiel's Awa' To France - Sunday Morning Mojo - Bird's Nest." The track is a combination of those five reels, but the only one you'll hear in the clip is the first one, "Fingal's Cave." I listened to that track over and over while writing Fire; I would take a break from writing, lie on the floor, and listen to it, and it would restore me. When Fire plays the Dellian lament, I imagine it sounding like "Fingal's Cave," and when she's playing her reels with Krell, I imagine it sounding like the other four reels, which, like I said, you can't hear in this clip, but which are super-fast and super-fun.

I had no go-to music with Graceling. And I'm never actively looking for music to assist my writing. I discovered the MacLeod CD by accident after attending a ceilidh (pronounced KAY-lee) in PEI where MacLeod's performance basically stole the show; the "Fingal's Cave" track took me by surprise. I've had a similar experience recently with Bitterblue, in that I've stumbled across a piece of music that seems to connect with Bitterblue in my head for some reason. I've been listening to it obsessively -- which is why I was having a problem last Friday. It's called "Sacrifice" and is from the Buffy episode "The Gift." You can listen to it here.

Sorry I can't offer a playlist! But yours would be just as valid as mine -- make one up for yourself. My sister, secret codename: Apocalyptica the Flimflammer, tells me that the Björk song "Isobel" always makes her think of Fire... (lyrics: "in a forest pitch-dark / glowed the tiniest spark / it burst into flame / like me : like me")... and my editor says the same about Holly Cole's "The Briar and the Rose." I think it'd be fun to hear the playlist everyone else came up with!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy-Making Stuff and Things

Well, I generally keep news behind my News link, but sometimes it deserves noisier mention. When I learned yesterday that Fire won the 2009 Cybil for YA Fantasy and Science Fiction, I was surprised, proud, and downright teary! It surely does feel nice. (In case you don't know, the Cybils are the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards -- check them out.) Thanks a gazillion to the YA Fantasy/SF panel! And congratulations to all the other winners and finalists -- especially my fellow YA F/SF finalists: Candor, by Pam Bachorz; The Demon's Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan; The Dust of 100 Dogs, by A.S. King; Lips Touch, Three Times, by Laini Taylor; Sacred Scars, by Kathleen Duey; and Tiger Moon, by Antonia Michaelis.

More news, this time regarding European appearances: I have tentative plans to be in Bologna, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Paris, and Épinal, France at various points this spring for book events. If you're in any of those locales, stay tuned; I'll provide more info once my plans are finalized.

Also, if you're in the New York area, I'll be at Symphony Space on Sunday, February 28 at 1pm for the Thalia Kids' Book Club. Learn more and purchase tickets here.

Now, if anyone's looking for me, I'll be in the garden thanking my fairy godmother and asking her if there's any danger of apokolokyntosis.

(BTW, more good news: 100% of poll respondents love Spike. Amazing!)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 14: the Second Annual Interplanetary Be Who You Are Day. Plus, a Poll!

[Warning: There is a Buffy Season 7 spoiler at #23. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

So. There are so many things to dislike about Valentine's Day -- which is why last year, I renamed February 14 "Interplanetary Be Who You Are Day." The link will take you to a quick explanation, though I think you'll get the idea if you read on. It's mainly about how Valentine's Day likes to exclude people who don't deserve to be excluded.

Who are you, and what is your place in the world right now? I'm going to bet that whatever your answer, there's no shame in it, and Interplanetary Be Who You Are Day is the day to celebrate that fact. Last year, I made a list of identities in which there is NO SHAME, on February 14 or ever. Here are a few additions to the list:

1. A person who's never been in love, wants to be, but doesn't know if she ever will be.
2. A person who's fallen for the Wrong Person.
3. A widowed person who's falling in love again, and a widowed person who isn't.
4. Divorced parents who are having a difficult time figuring out the best way to care for their children as a separated team but who are trying their absolute hardest to do it right.
5. A marine biologist who prefers the company of sharks to the company of people.
6. A cardiothoracic surgeon who would rather be home with her spouse having a candlelit dinner than repairing this artery.
7. A woman who's only just realizing now that her husband of 12 years is an asshole.
8. A young person who's afraid that he or she is ugly.
9. A person who's about to tell someone that she is bi -- someone who might not like it.
10. A person whose soul is telling him that he is happiest and most fulfilled when single.
11. A girl who loves boys and was once a boy who loved girls.
12. A couple who are sad and confused and not sure they're going to find a way to make it work.
13. A couple that has made it work.
14. A couple that hasn't.
15. A person who's more into trios than couples.
16. A person who adores Valentine's Day and wears pink socks with hearts.
17. A person who's grieving.
18. A person whose heart is broken.
19. Some folk who're having a fabulous time planning their Pez-themed wedding.
20. Parents who hate the commercialism of Valentine's Day but are cheerily helping their kids make valentines.
21. A person who wants to make a big splash for Valentine's Day but doesn't have the money.
22. An alien named Zorkybot who's the perfect match for an earthling named Angela, except that he'll never meet her, due to NASA's budget problems.
23. A vampire with a brand new soul, an unrequited love, a world of guilt, and a terrible headache.
24. A novelist who's been watching way too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
25. You.
26. Me.

Whom did I miss?

In honor of Interplanetary Be Who You Are Day, me finishing Buffy, and LOVE, here is a poll. (If you can't see the poll, please go to my Blog Actual, here.)

(*ahem* I acknowledge that there may be some bias built into that poll...)

Please spread the news about Interplanetary Be Who You Are Day! And don't forget the impact of Valentine's Day on people all over the world. Here's a link to info about conflict-free diamonds. Here's one to help you find fair trade flowers. And here's one for fair trade chocolate.

Have a Great Interplanetary Be Who You Are Day, everyone! And don't forget to vote in the poll!

Monday, February 8, 2010

She Flies Through the Air with a Touch of Unease

So, at TSNY Beantown (the trapeze school), there are signs that say, "Forget fear. Worry about the addiction."

I had my second flying trapeze lesson last week. (If you missed my first, I talked all about it here.) Click on the photo below to see just how silly that silly face is:

(The white bar near my left foot is the trapeze I'd just sprung off of.)

Today I'm going to be explainy about the trapeze, what it's like, how it works. In addition to a staff member helping you on the platform and one on the floor who is both calling commands and managing your halter lines, there are two people taking part: the flyer, who is you; and the catcher, who is a professional, and who sits and swings in what is called the catch trap. Basically, in every class, you, the flyer, are learning a specific flying "trick." For the majority of the class, you're working on your trick by doing a lot of practice swings without the catcher. The goal is to get good enough at the trick that by the end of the class, you can do it with the catcher, who will try to "catch your trick." In each of my two classes so far, I've had four practice swings, followed by two complete (and fabulously fun) catches.

The trick I learned in the first class is called the knee hang. Rather than trying to explain it, I'm going to send you here and, if you're curious, suggest that you scroll to the bottom and watch the 45-second video, because a moving picture is worth a bazillion words. The catcher is on the left, the flyer on the right. The video is exactly what I learned to do in my first class, except that this flyer does an extra swing at the end with the catcher, plus, I was wearing a halter to prevent, you know, death.

The trick I learned last week is called the heels off, and there's a 15-second example of that if you scroll to the bottom of this page here.

(Just to be clear: those videos are not me, and those locations are not TSNY Beantown.)

I'm going to talk a little about what this feels like, and I'm going to explain it in the first person, because I don't assume that everyone's experience is just like mine. For one thing, I kind of love heights. I have utter respect for people who don't do heights, and I'm guessing this would be a very different experience for them! Also, I'm not an athlete. A highly athletic person -- especially a competitive diver, a gymnast, etc. -- would likely tell a different tale.

So. Here's a super-cool thing I've learned about the flying trapeze: at the moment when I'm doing the physically hard things, like swinging my legs or heels up onto the bar, I am at the apex of my swing -- the most weightless moment -- AND I have the momentum of the swing working in my favor. As a result, those motions are not actually physically hard! That doesn't mean that I'm not sore the next day, from using muscles I don't usually use and from stretching muscles that are seriously not used to that much stretching -- because as you swing through the bottom of the swing, your body weighs several times your static weight, and that creates quite the stretch! Also, it doesn't mean that it's not hard in other ways. The first time I climbed to the top of that platform and understood what I had to do, I was scared. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do the movements they were asking me to do; it was not reassuring that the rig shook, or that one after another, I watched the people ahead of me in line jump off the platform and swing away into a void; and, when it was finally my turn, it didn't help that the process starts with you leaning out over the edge of the platform to reach for the trapeze, the only thing keeping you from falling being the person behind you who's holding your belt. (And don't forget, I say this as a person who likes heights.)

Once I was finally swinging, it felt so much better -- jumping and swinging is FUN. And like I said before, the things I was afraid would be hard weren't, plus, the instructors have a very calm, commanding, and reassuring way of telling you what you need to be doing at all times. But there's still fear sometimes, even when you don't realize it. With my heels off trick in particular, on my first few swings, I wasn't getting off the trapeze fast enough at the end, until one of the instructors told me to be more aggressive. His comment got me going through my last swing in my head, trying to figure out why I wasn't being aggressive. At first I assumed that it was my lack of strength and athleticism -- and maybe those things were factors -- but then it occurred to me that maybe my bigger problem was fear. Watch the heels off video one more time and notice how the flyer only sees the catcher in the moment in which he's being caught. When you're doing the heels off, you're basically looking at your own knees as you swing through the air, and then suddenly you need to let go and burst off the trapeze in a straight line, into thin air -- which, under most circumstances, is an activity that would generally be followed by falling and death, ya know? Unless there just happens to be a guy who swings along and plucks you out of the sky? Or a person on the ground holding your halter line? Or a net beneath you? I think my fear was keeping me from trusting in the guy and the person and the net, and was causing me to be too cautious -- hang on to the bar a little too long, unfold myself a little too slowly.

Anyway. Realizing this was a revelation for me, because while I couldn't do much to change my strength or athleticism before my next swing, I could deal with the fear. I've talked about fear on this blog before, especially when it comes to writing. Fear likes to keep writers company while they write, trying to convince them that they're going to fail. Whatever. He can hang out with me if he wants, but I'm never going to let him stop me from writing. And once I knew I was dealing with fear in my heels off, I realized I just needed to do it and damn the torpedoes, just like I do with the writing. Fear can swing with me, but he can't stop me from flinging myself into thin air. Next time up on the trapeze, when I heard the command, I exploded off that bar as fast as I physically could -- and apparently it was good enough, because when it was time to try it for real with the catcher, we made both catches. Yay!

If you feel like a wimp or like a person with no courage, don't forget that sometimes, courage feels just exactly like being terrified. The photo above is proof, actually. That's me practicing exploding off the trapeze. In addition to looking very silly indeed, my face also looks scared, doesn't it? But do you see what I'm doing? You're not going to tell me that throwing myself off the trapeze into the air was a cowardly thing to do, are you? In determining whether you're courageous, what matters more, how you feel or what you do?

I have more to say about trapezing. About the trust factor -- especially trusting the catcher, who is calling the shots. About how it doesn't matter how well you do your trick, because nothing terrible is going to happen if you don't get your legs or your heels up, or if you miss your catch, or dismount awkwardly. The halter and the net and the people around you keep you safe and you learn your own limits. But maybe I'll save that blog post for after my next lesson.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don't Narrate, Don't Exaggerate, and for Heaven's Sake, Try Not to Apokolokyntate

Could there be a rule that actors, directors, and producers being interviewed for DVD special features are never, ever asked to explain to us what the movie we just saw was about; what the characters they played were like; or what the important themes and messages of the TV show were? Because the reason we're in the special features at all is that we just watched the damn thing, isn't it? And we're not stoopid; we can figure that stuff out for ourselves. Special features are for magical goodness, not boredom!

Could there also be a rule that on such special features, no one is allowed to say that "filming this war scene was just like real war, like, SRSLY"? Because, hi there. You airlifted your entire crew onto a glacier and shot for days and it was very cold and you all worked very hard and you had to repeat some of the shots as many as thirty times and it really was damnably cold and hard and makeup is hard to apply at that temperature and lighting is hard to control and you made a million dollars and I don't argue that it wasn't hard but DO I REALLY NEED TO EXPLAIN WHY I AM OFFENDED BY YOUR COMMENT.


la la la la la

So, want to hear the coolest thing ever (that also has the advantage of me not yelling at anyone)? Last weekend, I learned a new word: apokolokyntosis (uh POCK uh LOCK in TOE siss). It means pumpkinification, or, the act of turning into a pumpkin, and it became a word long before Cinderella's coach was ever in danger of apokolokyntosis. Have you ever heard such a fabulous word as APOKOLOKYNTOSIS? My friend M explained that it's the title of a satire by Seneca, and is a play on the word "apotheosis," the process by which dead Roman emperors became gods. Instead of writing The Apotheosis of the Divine Claudius, Seneca apparently wrote the satirical The Apokolokyntosis of the Divine Claudius. There's more info here, but anyway, isn't it the greatest word ever? Incidentally, some people use the Latin transliteration: apocolocyntosis. I prefer the Greek.

And that's enough ranting and raving for one day.

(Unless you want to go read Scott Westerfeld's great take on the Macmillan-Amazon kerfuffle. Which, to be fair, is neither ranting nor raving.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Jesus Christ almighty," he said. "Sometimes I see me dead in the rain."

If you know the Glass siblings, my subject heading might be familiar. It's a part of Franny and Zooey that cracks me up every time. Poor Zooey, sitting in the bath, trying to memorize the lines of a dreadful script while his mother pounds on the bathroom door.

I'm not going to try to say anything meaningful or eloquent about the death of J.D. Salinger. This is because he rocked my world -- at various times, his work was the rock of my world -- and nothing I say could ever be sufficient. I love Holden and Phoebe without apology; I love Zooey; I love Seymour and all the Glasses. This poster hangs in my office:

Thank you, Mr. Salinger, for everything.