Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fall Events in Europe and the US

This fall (starting next week! ACK!! Where is Bunter to pack for me!), I'm doing public events in Stockholm, Kristianstad, Madrid, and Paris. (I'll also be in Amsterdam, but I don't believe I'll have any public events there -- I'll come back and let you know if I do.)

I'll also be in Arlington, VA for NAIBA, in Austin for the Texas Book Festival, and at NCTE-ALAN in Vegas, yes, NCTE-ALAN is in VEGAS this year.

Dates and details:

Thursday, 6 September, 17.00
I'll be signing at SF-Bokhandeln.
Address: Västerlånggatan 48.

Saturday, 8 September, 11.00
I'll be a guest at the Bokfestival in Kristianstad and will be talking about fantasy-writing, answering questions from the audience, maybe doing a short reading from Bitterblue if there is time...

Tuesday, 11 September, 19.30
Along with my editor at Roca, Patricia Escalona, I'll be meeting readers at Casa del Libro Gran Vía.
Address: Gran Vía 29, 28013 Madrid

Friday, 14 September, 17.00-18.00
Book-signing at « Le Dernier Bar avant la Fin du Monde » with Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches.
19 avenue Victoria 75001 Paris
01 53 00 98 95
There's more info (en français) about the Paris event here, including a contest for readers to win tickets to another event with Deborah, me, booksellers, bloggers, and journalists -- see the link.

Saturday, September 29
NAIBA Fall Conference
I will accept a Book of the Year Award for Bitterblue at the awards banquet.
Hyatt Regency Crystal City
2799 Jefferson Davis Highway
Arlington, VA 22202

October 27-28
I'll be at the Texas Book Festival in the State Capitol building. Details to follow.

November 16-20
NCTE-ALAN Annual Conference
I'm on a fantasy panel with Todd Strasser (Kill You Last), Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys), and Amy Gordon (The Shadow Collector’s Apprentice) on Monday, November 19 at 8:40AM. I'll also be doing a signing in the Penguin booth at some point -- details to follow.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bic For Her Ballpoint Pens

You guys, Bic has designed some pens just for women (attractive barrel design made in pink and purple), and the reviews (and tags) are really funny. My favorite so far is the "most helpful critical review," which is by a lumberjack who tried to use one by accident and met with disaster.

Thanks, Jess :)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Setting Things Free

I've been playing chess on my phone during work hours. Initially, I started to do this because the writing I'm doing is kicking my heart around the room and I can only bear to work on it in small doses; a game of chess every 90 minutes or so stabilizes me and brings me back to base one, so that I can work on another small section of the book. But now I'm also playing chess because it's become fun. I've named my computer opponent HAL, of course, and set him to his easiest setting. By now I've practiced enough that I beat him pretty quickly every time, but I'm not content to increase his difficulty until I get to the point where I can understand every move he's making, and see the game unfolding a few more steps ahead of what I'm currently seeing.

It's weirdly like writing a book. Even when things are going okay, I feel like I'm trying to catch up, straining to understand, trying to contain something that's out of my control.

I've realized one of the reasons I love the Bourne narratives. It's because of that wonderful story we like to tell over and over in different ways: Man creates a machine (literal or metaphorical) in his image for the purpose of doing what man can do, but doing it better. Then man realizes the machine has gotten too powerful or has become a liability. Man decides to shut down the machine -- but man has created the machine too well. The machine is smarter and faster than man; like man, the machine wants more than anything to survive and was, in fact, made to survive; and though man created it, man can't destroy it. It's the most wonderful narrative paradox -- the HAL computer, the Cylons, the agents of Treadstone, Outcome and Larx -- we give things life, then expect that since we created them, we'll be able to control them. We're wrong.

And that's also like writing a book. Every time I set out to create a book, I convince myself that I know its parameters, challenges, capabilities, and heartaches. "I will be in charge," I tell myself. Then it gets a taste of what it means to be alive, grabs at life and roars into autonomy, and, when I try to cage it, kicks my ass forwards, backwards, and sideways.

Rather than trying to shut it down, I've decided to open myself to the heartache, be its facilitator, and see if I can't help us both get to a better place. But it's hard.

In the meantime, I'm keeping myself grounded by playing lots of chess with HAL.

Somehow, thinking of it that way is not comforting :).

Life is scary.

Carry on.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

More Randutiae (Extra-Random Edition)

  • I'm proud to report that Bitterblue is a New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Book of the Year, along with Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (for fiction), Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (for nonfiction), I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes and illustrated by Bryan Collier (for picture book), and Wonder by R. J. Palacio (for middle readers). I'll be at the NAIBA Awards Banquet on September 29, as will artist Ian Schoenherr, who did the beautiful maps and illustrations.
    • Laurie Halse Anderson is doing Write Five Minutes a Day this month -- with frequent (excellent) writing advice and prompts. Check it out.
    • The word "marionette" cannot appear on this blog without a plug for The Cashore Marionettes. Check the performance schedule and see if they're coming anywhere near you. And watch the excerpts; you won't believe them. (That's my dad's cousin Joe.)
      • A recent favorite Scrabble word: "borty." Bort is a low-quality diamond used for cutting and drilling or as an industrial abrasive. This makes "borty" the adjectival form. I imagine it being used thus: "Have you seen her engagement ring? Is it fabulous?" "Hell, no. It's totally borty."

        Tuesday, August 21, 2012

        Advice to New Writers: Green Triangles Should Be Both Triangular and Green

        Advice to new writers: don't worry too much about reader reactions that don't seem to be connected to what you were actually trying to do.

        What do I mean by that? Well, say you produce a yellow square and put it out in the world and the reactions are like, "Oh my goodness! As yellow squares go, this is a lovely yellow square! Look at that gorgeous shade of yellow! Look at those four even sides! What a success this yellow square is!"

        In the meantime, you're at work on your next project, and because it doesn't interest you to do the same thing over and over, this time you're creating a green triangle. You work really hard. When you can see that it has become a lovely green triangle, you put it out in the world.

        The reactions you start to receive are along the lines of, "Oh NO! This is the WORST YELLOW SQUARE EVER! This writer tried to produce another yellow square but the result was failure."

        People will confuse their expectations with your intentions and with the quality of your work. This will happen. So you need to keep hold of what your own expectations/goals were. And there will always be people who know how to judge a book for what it is, not what they were hoping it would be; comfort yourself with those responses. There will also be people who, despite expressing disappointment that you went in a different direction (which is a perfectly fair reaction!), will know better than to assume you missed your mark -- people who won't conflate their disappointment with your failure -- people who are conscious of what they themselves are bringing to a reading. These responses can be comforting, too.

        In the end -- and I mean this 100% -- what matters is what you think of your book. Don't get me wrong, this can change based on the intelligent commentary of others. Speaking personally, criticism by others has absolutely helped me to see my own books more clearly, in all their flaws. But don't forget that some of the people who express reactions to your books will actually be judging a green triangle as if it is a failed attempt at a yellow square. Those criticisms hurt, but they're not actually relevant to your process. It's safe to let them go.

        By the way, when I showed this post to a few friends, one of them asked me if it was spurred by a criticism she's seen about Bitterblue, namely, that it fails as a romance. It wasn't. I don't think I could get worked up enough about criticism of my own books to write a blog post about it (plus, I think it's kind of tacky when authors do that). No, what spurred this post was a dreadful review I read of a wonderful book by someone else, a review that was completely off the mark and seemed to reveal a lot more about the reviewer than it did about the book. But I suppose this blog post could have been about Bitterblue. I would have to agree that it fails as a romance. Here are some other things it fails as: Historical fiction. True crime. Poetry. Time travel. Cook book. Instruction manual for flying a helicopter. Seriously, it's like the worst helicopter instruction manual EVER.

        Confident that I've beaten my point into the ground, I'll stop now :)

        Sunday, August 19, 2012

        Jason Who? Give Me Aaron Cross

        This post contains spoilers for the Bourne movies, including the most recent.

        So. I don't know what they're lacing these Bourne movies with, but (with the exception of that godawful, boring, too-long car chase in the second movie) I never want these movies to end. It turns out that the drug is not in fact Matt Damon, because The Bourne Legacy (out now), which doesn't even have Matt Damon in it, has the same effect on me. Aaron Cross, you are the genetically-modified assassin OF MY HEART. But why, why? WHY do I love these movies? They are chock-full of ideological problems. (In TBL, we get to see some kickass operatives who are people of color and even one who's a woman, and then, three minutes later, they're all dead. Producers, you have a captive audience. Make your main star in one of these movies someone who is not a white man.) Also, the plots are absurd. (Aaron Cross is a genetically modified/enhanced black-ops assassin for the US government, but he's run out of his daily genetic-modification medication, and if he doesn't break free of the US government, escape being murdered by same, and, with the help of the Beautiful Scientist Lady, find a way to solve his medication problem, he will revert to the low-IQ, less-kickass person he was before. THAT IS THE ACTUAL PLOT). Nonetheless, I am thinking of canceling the rest of my life so that I can keep going back to see this movie.

        I will say that what the writers did with the romantic interest in this one is, IMO, world's above the situation with Marie Kreutz in the earlier movies, Jason's movies. Dr Marta Shearing, played by Rachel Weisz, is more than an accessory + plot device. In fact, she even saves Aaron's ass various times in ways that are human and believable. Whereas he, of course, saves hers in numerous ways that are superhuman and unbelievable. This interplay -- the regular person and the superhero taking care of each other -- becomes one of the foundations of what feels like a surprisingly almost-even friendship. This is SO much more interesting to me than the same old crap over and over. I have a glimmer of hope that if there are future movies, Dr Shearing might actually be allowed to live. Let's not get into what a sad state of affairs it is that that would be a victory... it would be particularly awesome if she were not only allowed to live, but allowed to continue being actively important to the proceedings.

        Getting back to the enchantment these movies have cast over me... I think the music is partly to blame.

        Have y'all seen the Vivaldi/Bourne mashup by The Piano Guys?

        Thursday, August 16, 2012

        August Randutiae (Some Rather Cranky)

        Every once in a while, I become overwhelmed by the crush of books I'm supposed to be reading (for research; as a favor for someone; because soon they'll be due back at the library; because everyone's telling me I should), and my soul revolts. I spend a week or so mulishly resisting reading anything at all. Then I skip over all the things I'm supposed to be reading and instead read whatever I damn well please. This is the reason I'm currently reading the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.


        My sister codename: Apocalyptica the Flimflammer recently instructed me to think about the derivation of the word "cantaloupe." I did and came up with "singing wolf," which delighted me, but I'm finding it hard to research the further derivation of the name. (I mean, in the 8 minutes I've devoted to it just now. ^_^) According to my OED, Cantaluppi was the Italian town where cantaloupes were once famously grown, but why was the town called Cantaluppi? "Lupo" is the Italian for wolf, but according to Google Translate, "luppo" is the Italian for "development," so are cantaloupes named for singing wolves or singing developments? Both seem as if they could be rather delightful. And the arrival of singing wolves would, in most places, be something of a development. Anyway, I like thinking about it.


        Komondor Westminster Dog Show crop
        Photo taken by Flickr user whartonds.
        Edit (cropped) by Pharaoh Hound.
        (Image:Komondor Westminster Dog
        Show.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://],
        via Wikimedia Commons
        I enjoyed the Olympics, but often wished I could've watched them with specific portions of the commentary muted. God, certain NBC announcers. The commentary for the equestrian events was much, much less insipid than a lot of the rest, thank goodness, but I would just like to mention that during the show jumping portion (where style is irrelevant to a rider's score) one of the announcers kept going on about what an appalling thing it is, while you're on a horse flying through the air over fences, if your tie should come loose from your jacket and start flapping around. Or when you've made the dreadful choice to wear your hair in a ponytail instead of a bun, and it flaps around. Flapping! The horror! I started to wish one of those fine athletes would ride onto the course dressed as a Komondor dog (see photo) with a balloon tied to his/her horse's tail, then barrel flappily around the course with no mistakes, no rails down, in the allotted time, for a perfect score. Of course, I am not very classy, and this particular sport is nothing if not classy. Emphasis on class; Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter Zara Phillips and Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah Al Saud were among the Olympic equestrian competitors. Ironically, I believe Komondors are also considered to be classy, in the correct circumstances. Surely everything has its correct place.



        Returning to cataloupes, I love the Tanglefoot song "Loup Garou" (French for "werewolf"). "Running through the shadows of the forest in the full moon / In the middle of the night / With his eyes full of fire and his teeth so blood-bright..." You can hear a sample if you click on the link, scroll down to "The Music in the Wood," and click on the little music button next to "Loup Garou." I dare you not to howl.

        Tuesday, August 14, 2012

        Admiral Ackbar knows a frappe when he sees one

        Outside J.P. Licks in Harvard Square

        Monday, August 13, 2012

        The Ingredients for a Beautiful Day in Gloucester

        Picturesque boats,

        gorgeous skies,

        fishermen in the rain,

        and humpback whales.

        Thursday, August 9, 2012

        An Evening at Home

        Every evening brings a different light show over the Charles River.

        Sometimes it also brings courageous goofballs onto the footbridge.

        Jump in, guys!


        Harvard's ivory towers look on with pretty disdain.

         On lucky nights, you can turn around, face the east, and see the moon rising over the Charles from the other side.... but tonight, that glowing orb is not the moon.

        It's a blimp. Presumably over Fenway Park.


        Monday, August 6, 2012

        Writing Tools (Bright and Dark)

        A few weeks ago, I showed you all the book map that I built for my office wall. This tool has proven itself to be invaluable. I consult it constantly as I'm working. It's a stupendous structural aid as I reorder the events of this book and refocus the plot. I WANT TO MARRY IT.

        However, as the sight of it recently made a writer friend depressed ("I could never do that," the friend said), I feel I should add that this is the first book I've ever been able to do it for. This book is short (for me) and relatively simple. Had I tried to stick a plot map on my wall for Bitterblue, it would've taken an enormous amount of time that would have been better spent writing, it would've been more confusing than helpful, plus, I wouldn't have had enough wall space.

        Each book is different and requires its own unique tools.


        That being said, I've finally come to accept that one particular unenjoyable aspect of writing is going to be present with every single book: the sense of urgency. The feeling that I need to keep going and can never stop, that I need to finish this book RIGHT NOW; the feeling that I'm behind schedule, that I'm not going to make my deadline. Granted, sometimes I feel that last way because it's true, but the thing is, I always feel like I'm going to miss my deadline, whether or not it's true and whether or not I even have a deadline. There's always at least an arbitrary deadline in my mind. This is perfectly reasonable – the more you write, the more you appreciate how disruptive big interruptions, like long trips or (even the shortest of) public events, can be – how hard it can be to get back into a project once you've succumbed to a distraction – and consequently, the more you feel a drive to finish your current project before the next such interruption. But you can start to forget that your deadline is in fact arbitrary, and worse, you can start to forget that in order to be the best book it can be, your book needs to be allowed to take however long it takes. The harder you work, the harder you need to play, and the more you need to rest.

        I don't know why it's taken me so long to realize that I always, at every moment, feel like I'm not writing fast enough. Now that I've noticed it, I'm sure I'll keep feeling it, but I think it might cause me less distress. It's just one of the ways writing feels; it's a voice, but a voice that lies; and it's just another tool in the toolbox. I'm sure it serves some purpose; it's the shadow, the darker side of the drive that allows a writer to embark successfully on enormous solo projects. We can't expect to benefit from the happier aspect of a personal quality – ambition, drive, motivation – and never be touched by its darker side.


        Speaking of which: I absolutely loved Oliver Burkeman's opinion piece in the New York Times on the positive power of negative thinking. Go negativity! (And thanks, CW.) It reminded me my favorite chapter in a beautiful book. The chapter is called "The Gifts of Depression" and the book is Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul. It's about giving yourself permission to feel how you feel; dealing with horrible, scary feelings by leaning into them instead of trying to push them away. If that sounds strange and wrong, trust that Moore explains it a lot better than I do; check it out if you're interested.


        Finally, and apropos of absolutely nothing, it occurred to me today in a rainstorm that it's possible there are people in the world who don't know the song "Love and Affection" by Joan Armatrading.  That would not be okay. As the teacher (in a story my dad told me) yells at her students,  "LEARN!" Also -- embracing randomness and thematic disintegration -- while looking for that clip, I stumbled upon this clip from the West Wing. If you know the show, it involves a performance of "The Little Drummer Boy" and Toby arranging for a military funeral with honor guard for a homeless veteran. Warning that it may make you weepy, especially if you know the back stories (and future stories) of the characters involved.

        Thursday, August 2, 2012

        Birthdays and THIS PHONE

        It's birthday season on the blog!

        Many, many of my peeps have birthdays in August and/or are Leos (including me), and every year I mean to create a new birthday poll, but then August comes along and I'm doing too many other things. I suppose that's okay, since we seem to have established rather firmly that the number of people who want socks for their birthday is surpassed only by the number of people who want the power to summon any kangaroo in a 25-mile radius simply by closing their eyes and thinking, "Kangaroo, your master calls." (That poll is still open, by the way. Feel free to vote.)

        Birthdays make me contemplative. I am turning the ripe young age of 36. But instead of coming up with something soppingly meaningful to say about our journeys around the sun, I'm going to express my appreciation for a device I own now, but didn't own a year ago: THIS PHONE.

        Dear people who invented the iPhone 4S: THANK YOU. I can't type for extended periods of time without pain, and even when I'm dictating to my computer, there is occasional necessary keyboard use that causes me pain. But when I dictate (e-mails! texts! notes! reminders! web searches! addresses!) to this phone (which has excellent recognition), any necessary typing is on a small touchscreen, which is SO much less painful for me than a keyboard. Since I got this phone, there has been less pain in my life.

        And that doesn't even touch on how much I love carrying a dictionary in my pocket at all times, having an alarm clock that doesn't sound like a truck backing up, being able to give emergency driving directions to a buddy when he calls me while completely lost in Alaska, being able to take better pictures than I'm qualified to be taking (and then share them, immediately), and the Scrabble game I'm currently playing with a friend in Minnesota. (This phone makes my faraway people feel closer!)

        I'm so grateful that this piece of technology exists. I'm equally grateful that I can afford to own and sustain it. Yes, it's just a Thing. But I am blessed to be carrying this thing into my new year.