Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Austin Ceilings and Floors

As a writer, I'm a trained expert at anticipating what readers desire. This is how I know you've all been anxiously waiting for me to post pictures from the dome in the Texas Capitol building rotunda.


Also, the ceilings at the Driskill Hotel.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Notes from Austin

I'm highly suspicious of the JetBlue flight status page that tells me I'm going to be flying to Boston tomorrow evening.

In the meantime, some notes from Austin.

I was intrigued by this enormous and peculiar magnifying glass in the author reception area of the Texas Capitol building.

So I took an experimental picture of Jasper Fforde through it.

Perhaps I'll never, ever post a picture on my blog of an author you can actually see.

Okay, fine.

Here's me, author Cinda Williams Chima, children's editor for Kirkus Reviews Vicky Smith, and author Jasper Fforde. Our fantasy panel was packed with people and frankly one of the most fun panels I've ever been on.

Speaking of fun, you need to look at the Halloween costumes picture book artist Tad Hills makes for his kids.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

It's Hard to Leave Texas (At Least, in This Dimension)

I mean that in the physical sense. Last time I was trying to leave Texas, I sprained my ankle. This time I'm trying to leave Texas and this mega-storm has pretty much canceled every flight to the East Coast until at least Tuesday.

I'm actually rather cheerful about it. I'm fortunate in that my only plans were to go home, then be at home, writing, having my normal life. Of course I have sympathy for everyone for whom this creates serious problems – it totally sucks (and seriously, why are flights canceled today to places where landfall isn't expected until tomorrow?). But I feel like I've been given this little gift of time, in a sunny place, with other stranded friends on hand, on some sort of plane (not the flying kind) outside my regular life.

One small thing was worrying me – I didn't bring my calendar to Austin, and without my calendar in front of me, I can never remember my plans or my to-do list. But my dear darling friend B just went to my house, unearthed my calendar, and read me my entire week, so now I can relax and stop worrying I'm forgetting to do something. I must say I've never realized how my calendar might seem to other people. Just one example of several: "On Monday," she said to me, "you've written 'interdimensional hitchhiking'." Oh, right. I would hate to have to postpone that; thank goodness I can hitchhike interdimensionally from Austin just as easily as I can from Boston.

(It was a writing note/reminder ^_^)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dear Teen Me Panel update

A quick note to any readers who were hoping to see me or get books signed by me at the Dear Teen Me panel this evening: a conflict has come up and I'm no longer going to be able to join the panel. (The panel will go on; go see all the other great authors!) I will be signing books at my other events – a signing this morning and my panel this afternoon with Cinda Williams Chima and Jasper Fforde – click on my Appearance Schedule to the left for more details.

Pretty Drinks in Austin

David Levithan, Margo Rabb, Rebecca Stead, and me. Cucumber martini, Lobo Texas lager, pomegranate margarita, and straight vodka. I'll leave it to you to guess who drank what. (And just kidding about that vodka. That's a glass of water ^_^.) I wanted a picture of all the drinks, but David and Margo didn't want to be in the picture. This was their graceful solution.

We're all at the Texas Book Festival, by the way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An Important Reminder

For those mornings when you wake up and find yourself wondering, Hmm, what strange thing happened to me overnight? Weirdness and worry, you are welcome in my day: come on in.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door, laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

- Rumi

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Fall in Mt Auburn Cemetery

Many more behind this cut, but only click if you're okay with getting leafed out.  My favorite place to visit on a sunny day in October! Click on any pic to enbiggen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

These Are the People in Your Neighborhood, Part Deux

Action Katsa ---->

I wish that instead of being a random person who just went for a run along the Charles River, I were a videographer who just went for a walk along the Charles River with all my equipment. There was, of course, all the usual activity: backed-up rush-hour traffic; heavy foot and bike commuter traffic on the paths; bikers, runners, and walkers exercising; people walking their dogs; people doing tai chi; people sitting on benches, smoking pot; confused tourists; hordes of geese pretty much parking themselves wherever they wanted and biting anyone who lacked the wisdom to give them a wide berth. And, it was raining slightly, so: PRETTY UMBRELLAS. But also, ALSO, it's The Head of the Charles this weekend (that's this big-ass rowing competition), so there were hundreds of boats and thousands of rowers traveling up and down the river, practicing, while their coaches yelled at them from speedboats. There were brawny people putting up tents, vendors driving their trucks across the grass, Massachusetts park rangers looking on with confusion and concern, and it seemed to me that Samsonite (the luggage company) was building some sort of large inflatable interactive thing. Like, a bouncy house? A water slide? Who knows. The moment I really wished I had my camera was when the Harvard skiing team went whizzing past (dodging tourists and geese) on very long roller blades with ski poles.

Maybe I can get out and take some pictures of the rowing tomorrow.

More October Randutiae -- Including Something About Self-Exposure as a Writer

I like the funny political videos the folks at are creating. Rosie Perez sets Mitt straight on whether it's easier to get elected as a Latino; Sarah Silverman and Lizz Winstead agree with Mitt that people aren't people, corporations are people; and here's W. Kamau Bell, who hates science:

(Thanks, B.)


Sometimes, after doing a search for a particular song in my iTunes library, I take a look at the whole range of songs the search brought up and use that as my random morning playlist. For example, this morning, I'm listening to all the songs in my library that appeared when I searched for the word "heart." This includes "Sleight of Heart" by Aaron English (you should all be listening to the songs of Aaron English); "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young; "Empty Hearts" by Alison Krauss; "Learning to Fly" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; "Love Montage: I Saw Him Once/In My Life/A Heart Full of Love" from Les Mis; two different versions of "Broken Hearted Hoover Sucker Guy" from Once (which might be a bit much); "You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart" by Sinead O'Connor; "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" by Michael Nyman (from The Piano soundtrack); "Shape of My Heart" by Sting; "The Heart of Life" by John Mayer; "You and Your Heart" by Jack Johnson; and of course the entirety of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Lovely.


A friend said something smart and funny to me recently about jealousy, and it's worth sharing. She said you don't want to let the slathering dogs off the leash, but you do need to feed them now and then :). Interpret that how you will.


There's something I've been struggling to articulate for a while about being a writer and self-exposure. I keep fumbling with the words, but I'm going to try it here, because if you're the kind of writer who's anxious/nervous/scared of exposing yourself with your work, you might find this comforting. Of course, some writers don't have a problem with being exposed; their writing is, among other things, a process of self-exposure. But what I'm saying here is for those writers who don't want to expose themselves; those writers who are trying to do something else when they write.

A friend said an unexpected nice thing to me recently. She told me that when she read Bitterblue, she was looking for me in it, but she couldn't see me in there. Instead, she saw a kaleidoscope. Maybe little pieces of me would slide by now and then, but then they would be obscured by something else.

The reason she made this (possibly odd if taken out of context) remark is that she knows that one of the reasons book releases are hard for me is that I feel exposed. "You're not exposed," she said. "No one who doesn't know you is going to recognize you inside this book. They may think they know you, but that's only because they're conflating you with the book. They don't actually."

Is that comforting?

You're not exposing yourself with your work. Maybe people think you are -- but you need to remember that there is often a big difference between what is true and what people think. The next step, I suppose, is learning not to care what people think.

I have friends who are writers and other kinds of artists. I think it's relevant that when I miss them, I find I don't reach for their books. Maybe I'll reread their letters or emails, but mostly I just reach out to them. It's not their art I'm missing; it's them.

You are safe. Proceed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

JonArno Lawson's New Book of Poetry; Plus, Some Randutiae

JonArno Lawson doesn't see the world the way other people do, THANK GOODNESS. His most recent book release is Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box, surreal poems decorated with the paper cuts of artist Alec Dempster.

The Human Being

Bombard its brain with cosmic rays.
redden its eyes with Mars --
set its tiny heart ablaze
upon a heap of stars.

Burning Hot Banana

I bought a burning hot banana from a bin in Indiana
with a burning hot and sticky splitting freckly yellow skin --
splotchy-rotten overripe -- thick enough to clog a pipe --
when I think of it today I sweat and sicken from within.

Some of these poems actually had me howling. There's one called "A Coarse and Common Carrot" and another called "The Alleycat Alley-Allocator Acting like an Alligator." Others just left me wondering, thinking, smiling, like the series about solar bears, lunar foxes and moonwolves. This book is gorgeously published by The Porcupine's Quill in Ontario and would make a beautiful gift; I wish I could convey the paper quality, the design, how well the art works, etc. on the blog. I'm hard on books -- I turn down pages, break the spines, use them as placemats -- but I found this one too beautiful to abuse.

Thank you to JonArno for giving me permission to share a couple of his poems.


I've been listening to the Once soundtracks -- both for the movie and the Broadway show -- and thinking about that phenomenon wherein the song on an album that gets all the brouhaha and attention is hardly ever the song that stands out for me. Yes, "Falling Slowly" is a nice song. But I find "When Your Mind's Made Up" and especially "Gold" SO much more interesting. I mean, come on people! It reminds me of every time there's an Andrew Lloyd Webber retrospective and once again we have to listen to "The Music of the Night." Andrew Lloyd Webber is SO much more interesting than that!


Getting back to Once, I'm finding I prefer the original versions to the Broadway show versions (though I completely recommend the show), with the possible exception of "Leave," which Steve Kazee kills. Wow.


Massachusetts residents: TOMORROW (Wednesday, October 17) is the deadline to register to vote for the November 6 state election in which ELIZABETH WARREN IS RUNNING FOR SENATE. (Of course that is also the day of the presidential election which is of course also extremely important in Massachusetts, DESPITE THE STUPID ELECTORAL COLLEGE.)


My schedule for the Texas Book Festival includes:

Saturday, October 27th
10:30 – 11:00 AM: Signing in the Penguin / BookPeople booth.

12:45 – 1:45 PM: Fantasy Gets Real: a panel with Cinda Williams Chima and Jasper Fforde. Capitol Extension Room E2.036.

2:00 PM: Book signing.

8 – 8:45 PM: Dear Teen Me: Panel with Paolo Bacigalupi, Jenny Han, Maureen Johnson, Marie Lu, Maggie Stiefvater, and Siobhan Vivian. We'll be reading from short letters to our teen selves. I haven't written mine yet. Oh man. I just wish I could give teen me a hug. This event is part of Lit Crawl Austin, at Pine Street Station.

9 PM: Author signing.

I'll post more details as I receive them, but if you have questions, I recommend you check out the Texas Book Festival website.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Swan Neck Gourds

In the window at Nellie's Wildflowers in Davis Square (72 Holland Street). Awesome.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why Cats Are Superior Creatures: A Photoessay

 They gaze upon you with irreproachable dignity,
 unaware that they themselves look ridiculous.
 They make the rug look good.
 They gaze upon you with irreproachable dignity,
 unaware that it is silly to be under a chair.
 They guard the borders.
 They, um, get along.

 They keep your feet warm...
...and your hands.
 They gaze upon you with irreproachable dignity,
unaware that they closely resemble their toys.
 Hours later, they're still making the rug look good.

My thanks to Violet, Titus, Merry, Pippin, Julianne, and JD :o). Give us some dignity for the road, Violet?

This Never Happened When I Worked in Midtown Manhattan

Cantabrigians, how happy you make me on rainy days with your diverse display of beautiful, colorful umbrellas. I've lived in so many places where people think the only color for an umbrella is black.

It turns out it's hard to take pictures of people's colorful umbrellas (while also holding an umbrella and various other things yourself) without either freaking people out or dropping your phone into a puddle, so instead, I tried to take a picture of my own umbrella this morning... I think there was a mirror inside this establishment (see the square behind the black cabinet, which contains a tiny bright rectangle that is the reflection of me in the window? (THANK YOU JD FOR FIGURING THAT OUT)), so there's some kind of weird double reflection going on. To be honest, I couldn't figure out what was going on with the double reflection at the time. I couldn't see a mirror in there, and my puzzled peering seemed to be confusing the people inside, so finally I gave up. (But I get it now, thanks to JD. These parentheticals were added to this post later.  I'm sorry everything about this post is so confusing!)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Putting My Most Frequently-Asked Question to Bed

Warning: This post contains Fire spoilers.

Where do you get the inspirations for your novels?

There's are two fundamental problems with this question: (1) It contains incorrect assumptions about where a book comes from. The tiniest proportion of a book -- let's say 3% -- comes from inspiration. (2) It's also unanswerable. Where does that sliver of inspiration come from? I have no idea. Where do your ideas come from? Mine come from the same – unnameable – place as yours.

A few tiny, incomplete ideas come to me. A woman who secretly killed her own father. A green house and a big tree. Enemies who are trying to steal something from the realm, but the realm can't figure out what they're after. Okay, fine. Now it's time to sit down with a pen and paper and start working toward something I can use in a book. I start trying things; I start asking myself questions.

This morning I went digging through my files and was able to find some of the pages of my planning work before I ever started writing Fire. (Click them to make them bigger. Sorry about my handwriting!) What I wrote then may or may not make sense now in regards to the final book; a lot of my ideas were in flux at the time.

Notice the page number. This is page 25 of a string of questions I asked myself while planning this book. I was able to find 31 pages of this for Fire this morning.

Here's page 27, which contains a rough attempt at a map of the Dells (very different from the final), and also a lot of conversation about the tree in the back garden of the castle in King's City.

I think it was Neil Gaiman who said everyone has ideas, the difference with writers is that writers notice that they're having an idea. On page 27 above, here's a concrete example of that -- evidence of the moment I got the idea for the massive tree, and where that idea came from. It says, "with an oak like @ the Cummer with branches so massive they reach down to the ground and climb back up again." The Cummer Museum and Gardens, in Jacksonville, FL, where I was living when I wrote Fire, had (and presumably still has) the most gorgeous oak tree in its back garden. The museum was free on Tuesday afternoons. I would bring my work and sit in the back garden. I noticed the tree. I noticed that I was noticing the tree. I asked myself, Can I use this gorgeous tree in my novel? I wrote it down and worked it out.

It's the same process with characters. Inspiration: what about a character who's a good man, but hasn't harnessed his own strength yet, and makes a lot of not-so-great decisions, which is unfortunate, because he's the king? Okay… but it isn't until you're writing that character, it isn't until you've been writing that character for a long time, that you start to get a handle on who that character actually is. You figure out how they talk (or walk or eat or behave) by writing them talking (walking, eating, behaving), giving it some time, assessing whether the writing is working, deciding it isn't, then fixing it. You figure it out by doing the work, trying things, writing things, feeling that they're not working yet, trying again.

Ideas come from paying attention. If you want to write, but you're feeling "uninspired," try approaching today as if you are going to mine it for ideas. Bring a little notebook and write down every thought you have, everything you hear, everything you see, smell, and feel, that strikes you as intriguing. Do it the next day, too; get into that habit.  The more you do it, the more second nature it will become. Let yourself do silly things, like daydream! Once you have a few little ideas that seem to be sparking some kind of interest with you, sit yourself down in a chair with a pen and paper (or your computer, if that works for you) and see if there's somewhere to go with them. Ask yourself questions about them. Start plugging away at some work.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bicicletas and Biciclette

 bicycles parked on an Amsterdam street

One night in Copenhagen, I was waiting for the hotel elevator, when two Danish men about my age stepped out of their room. One of them belched loudly as he stepped into the corridor -- then saw me, and was embarrassed. They both started chuckling, and speaking to me, both at once, in Danish.

"I'm sorry," I said in English, "I don't speak --." Then I stopped, because I couldn't remember what country I was in or which language it was that I couldn't speak this time. This happens when you keep crossing borders; a few hours ago, I'd been in Sweden; the next day, I was going to be in Spain.

"Oh, you don't speak that language?" one of them said, speaking English now. "It was a Danish word for --" and he went on to explain to me how his friend hadn't actually belched, he'd been saying something very intelligent in Danish. :)

The next day, when I told my cab driver in Madrid the address of my hotel, he began speaking to me rapidly in Spanish, and I was able to gather there was some sort of problem. Definitely having to do with a bicycle, but that was all I could make out. "I do speak a little bit of terrible Italian," I said in terrible Italian, and at that point, matters improved greatly, because it turned out that my cab driver also spoke a little bit of terrible Italian. "It's the Vuelta a EspaƱa," he explained. "Like the Tour de France or the Giro d'Italia, but in Spain. The final stage is today and it passes directly in front of your hotel, so I don't know how close I'm going to be able to get you."

"That is not a problem," I said. "It is possible for me to move myself on this my foot." (I'm pretty sure that's what my Italian sounds like, on a good day.)

He was able to drop me off on a small street a short distance from my hotel. He pointed me toward it and, dutifully, I began to move myself on this my foot. Then, when I got there, all hell broke loose.

(If you can't see the vid, go to my Blog Actual.)

Can you believe that timing? Seriously? I'm sorry it's so shaky. There were crowds, I had my luggage, and it was all I could do to pull my phone out in time.

I've blogged before about jet lag, about how there's a lot more going on than sleep deprivation. I feel the same about language lag. By the time I got to Amsterdam, I was saying "hola" and "merci" and all sorts of random configurations (usually including spatterings of my terrible Italian, even though, please note, I never went to Italy on this trip) left and right; by the time I got "dankje wel" down (am I spelling that right? I have no idea), it was time to go home.

There are people who don't have a problem with jet lag... but the people I really envy are the polyglots. I have a hard time learning foreign languages; usually, when asked what Grace I'd like to have, I say a Grace that allows me to learn foreign languages easily and switch from one to the other with minimal confusion.

Thanks to all my publishers for accommodating my inability to speak your language :o).

To send you on your way, here are some people riding bicycles on a rainy Amsterdam day. (How do they hold an umbrella and ride a bicycle at the same time?!)

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Tale of Border-Crossing Mail

Over the weekend  I visited the NAIBA conference in Arlington, VA, to accept an award for Bitterblue along with Ian Schoenherr. Ian is the fellow responsible for the beautiful illustrations and decorations in Bitterblue: the chapter and part openings, the title page, the endpapers, the maps, the bridges, etc.

Ian and I had some trouble getting a nice picture together.

Matters improved when stupendous editor Kathy Dawson stepped in.

Thanks, Dawn, for the pic :o)

During my acceptance remarks, I told an anecdote about something that happened after Bitterblue was released, and I think I'll share it here. What happened is that Ian sent me my two favorite sketches from the process as a gift -- sketches of two fantastical bridges. And when they appeared on my doorstep, they had an effect on me that I doubt he anticipated... because here's the thing. There's a little bit of handwriting in Bitterblue. It's in the Appendix, in the "Who's Who" written by my crabby royal librarian, Death (rhymes with "teeth"), who has a cat named Lovejoy. There's an inkblot on the page, and beside it, Death has written, "Note: Lovejoy has knocked over the ink! INSUPPORTABLE CREATURE!"

That handwriting was drawn by Ian, and as you can see, it's very distinctive, recognizable handwriting. So -- what actually appeared on my doorstep when Ian sent me those sketches was a mystery package addressed to me in what I instantly recognized as the handwriting of my royal librarian. I stood on my doorstep holding this package and feeling like one of my own imaginary creations had reached across the barriers of story and sent me a piece of mail. As the author, I'm used to reaching into that world. I'm not used to the feeling of my characters reaching out of that world to me, or even being aware of me. It was a surreal and magical moment. I felt like Death was thanking me -- for creating him, and all of them. It was awesome.

Thank you, Ian, for that moment, and for everything else. And thank you so much, NAIBA, for this award, and for the opportunity to tell my story and sign some books with Ian.

"What message do you usually inscribe in these books?" Ian asked me.

"With Bitterblue," I said, "I tend to write, 'Trust yourself.'"

So that's what he wrote... in that same handwriting.