Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In the Bleak Midwinter or Christmas Guilt

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

This time of year, I always feel like my emotions have been sandpapered to an exquisite tenderness. Joy and sorrow reverberate off each other and memories boil up, stirred by the scent of pine or the weight of an ornament in my hand or the sound of bells. That’s how I know it’s time for the annual Christmas guilt.

When my sons were younger, it was all about working full time and not being available to choreograph the day-care holiday pageant or help them craft original holiday art to be featured in our family Christmas cards. Not that I can draw my way out of a paper bag (nor, apparently, come up with an appropriate metaphor). There was the one stellar year when my older son and I made wrapping paper by block-printing butcher paper with cookie cutters. Or was it carved potatoes? I disremember. Maybe I just made that up.

I do bake homemade cookies, rich with butter and sugar and nuts, but these days you never know whether to feel proud or guilty about that.

My Christmas cards have computer-generated address labels affixed (my calligraphy pen is out of ink, you see.) They do not include a Christmas letter. In rare cases there is a hand-written two-line update (We have two sons now and they’ve both already graduated from high school. Time flies.)

I’m not the designated Christmas shopper. At holiday parties (which I don’t host, by the way) I end up sequestered in groups of women who gripe about having to do all the shopping—for themselves, for the kids, and for their husbands’ relatives. I just keep quiet. Because, in fact, my husband is Father Christmas (but sexier). He really gets into Christmas, and he will do hours of research in order to find just the right present, and he prides himself on finding things that aren’t on your Christmas list, but that are just perfect. Gift cards are not allowed. He knows all the games and books my sons own, and he knows what the new releases are, and he gets online and sends away for obscure T shirts and classic sci-fi and horror movies and buys the All Clad cookwear I’ve been dreaming about.

And I let him. Knowing my presents for him will be lame, lame, lame.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Breaking News

Breaking News

I’ve just accepted an offer from Hyperion Books for Children for a new 3-book high fantasy series set in the Fells, a mountainous queendom in the Land Between the Waters. More to come on that.

Students at Smithfield Middle School near Dallas-Fort Worth created a book trailer for The Warrior Heir for a school project. You can view the video on YouTube at

Spanish language and Portuguese translation rights for The Warrior Heir have recently sold to Via Magna in Barcelona and Difusão Cultural do Livro Ltda in Sao Paulo, Brazil, respectively.

We have an official release date for The Dragon Heir. It will be published September 8, 2008.

I’ll be visiting Isaac Newton Middle School in Centennial, CO January 10, 2008. I’ll be appearing at Barnes & Noble, Littleton, CO Wednesday, January 9 at 7 p.m.

Friday, November 23, 2007

R.I.P. Whitey: Just One More Victim of Global Warming

My son Keith came home for Thanksgiving from [The] Ohio State University with some tragic news. It seems a murder took place on the South Oval on the afternoon of November 9 in broad daylight.

Whitey the Albino Squirrel, a beloved South Campus celebrity resident, was taken out by a Cooper’s hawk before the horrified eyes of several students and at least one campus tour group.
Thirty to forty students gathered around the victim and his killer. Some even documented the event with their camera phones, but no one intervened.

In the media frenzy that followed, reporters have pursued this story relentlessly, and graphic photos have been posted online.

Now emotions are running high. It’s been suggested that the students’ unwillingness to get involved is emblematic of life on the nation’s largest college campus. While some claim that Whitey’s passing was part of the natural order of things, others see a more sinister explanation. Some claim to have seen the Cooper’s hawk at the OSU-Michigan game sitting in the Michigan section.

Kent State University’s famous black squirrels have donned white armbands in solidarity with Whitey. A Facebook page has been opened in his memory, and more than two thousand students have joined.

I have a different take on this—one with serious international implications.

Whitey was clearly a victim of global warming. The murder took place in mid-November. Had there been a blanket of snow on the South Oval, Whitey would have been naturally camouflaged and so escaped the hawk’s eagle eye.

For a map of albino squirrels spotted around the world, follow this link.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Miss Direction

I have this theory that the writer gene is incompatible with a sense of direction. This is based on a totally unscientific study in which my writer friend Marsha and I went out to dinner in Saratoga Springs, NY, during which we each had a glass of wine and fabulous conversation. It was dark by the time we went back out to the car. Neither of us had any idea which way to turn out of the parking lot. I proposed we sleep in the car until either the sun rose or we got arrested for vagrancy by a nice policeman who would tell us how to get back to the bed and breakfast.

Now recently, I’ve been doing a lot of school and library visits in unfamiliar places. Mapquest is my friend, but it has its limitations. Like if you really mess up you’re on your own.

Then I rode with my friend Joann to book club. I was appointed navigator and arrived with my usual fistful of Mapquest printouts. But it turned out my services were totally unnecessary. Joann has a new Chrysler Pacifica, which sails the highways like a true oceangoing vessel. It has all kinds of Jetson features including a camera in the back so you can see when you’re backing up. But the best part was the GPS unit.

“Turn left in ¼ mile,” a cool, feminine voice said as we pulled out of the Giant Eagle parking lot. And “Keep to the right to enter freeway in ½ mile.” Whoa, I thought, peering around. How does she know where we are? But I believe in magic, since lots of things are magic to me, like the entire Best Buy catalog.

I decided to call her Patsy (Pacifica, Patsy, get it?) And all the way there, Patsy coached us through every turn. It was like riding with my dad, without the swearing. I liked how she gave us plenty of notice that we had to get over to exit.

Once, despite her best efforts and the Mapquests in my hand, we made a wrong turn. Patsy didn’t lose her cool, oh, no. Not like Some People. Calculating, Patsy said, and then, “Proceed 3 miles, then turn left.”

Patsy had never failed Joann, though a few times, out of desperation, she’d suggested an illegal U-turn. Home is permanently entered into Patsy’s system. And Patsy always talks her home. (Home is the place where, if you can find it, they have to take you in.)

I’ll go anywhere, if I know I can get back home. Gotta get me one of those.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Concealed Carry

I like to think of blogging as a kind of literary concealed carry.

Let me explain.

It’s argued by the gun lobby that concealed weapons protect us all. The street thug and carjacker might think twice knowing his prospective victim might whip out a .44. And because it’s concealed, they don’t know who’s armed.

These days, the world of commerce is a haven for thieves and grifters. Only a fool would attempt to navigate those mean streets without a weapon. Blogging empowers the powerless and—um—franchises the disenfranchised.

Let’s say you’re a health insurance company and you turn down an expensive claim from one of your customers—a claim you know full well is legitimate. Hey, you think. Business is business and I gotta think about my bonus. What’s Granny going to do? Threaten me with her cane? She’ll be dead before this gets through the appeals process.

The next thing you know, search engines are turning up hits on Granny’s Blogspot account of her experience. Links are proliferating. There’s even a new Yahoos Group—MegaMutual Ripoffs.

Granny shows off her incision on Good Morning America. Turns out she has a name—Carolyn—and she’s very telegenic. Other news outlets are calling for a quote. Some busybody Senator is convening a committee and your boss wants to meet with you on Friday afternoon.

Who knew Granny was packing?

Predators of the corporate world—consider yourself warned. Maybe you’re selling electronics gear that you know is defective. Maybe you’re marketing toys covered in lead paint. Maybe you’re an airline that routinely cancels flights and dumps passengers onto the tarmac. Maybe you’re a ripoff vanity publisher that feeds off people’s dreams. Whoever you are, whatever you do—consider this:

Do you feel lucky? Punk?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Night in the American Airlines Holiday Inn

The first time I flew on an airplane, I was in 7th grade, and we flew from Little Rock back home to Ohio. I was beside myself with excitement. I sat in the window seat next to a stockbroker from New Orleans who good-humoredly entertained an aggressively verbal 12-year-old. We were served a full meal on china, and I remember looking down on lighted swimming pools like aquamarines set into the dark landscape.

Since then the flying experience has, shall we say, deteriorated. I’ve learned to keep a weather eye when I fly to the east coast. The east coast air traffic grid is like a delicate sand sculpture that dissolves to mud whenever it rains.

Recently I flew to New York for a meeting. It was meant to be a quick trip—I took an obscenely early flight on Thursday morning, with a return flight 8 p.m. Friday night. It began raining mid afternoon on Friday, and umbrellas bloomed along Fifth Avenue like black mushrooms. I arrived at the airport two hours early. A few minutes before our scheduled departure time we were told our plane and crew were stranded elsewhere. For the next three hours we shuffled like refugees from gate to gate on Concourse C in response to announced gate changes. Finally, it seemed we might actually depart at 11 p.m. The plane was there, the crew was there—all except the captain, who didn’t show up. They couldn’t find a new captain. The dreaded announcement came over the speaker. Our flight was canceled, and we were instructed to approach the podium to reschedule.

The savvy among us leapt forward to be first in line. The mood grew ugly as the podium staff denied passenger requests for vouchers for a hotel room or even cab fare. We were told that because the cancellation was due to weather, we were on our own. No, we said. The delay occurred because of weather. The cancellation happened because the captain didn’t show. American Airlines was unmoved.

They said the soonest they could fly me out was 5 p.m. the next day. I vigorously objected. Finally, they booked me and three other women on a Delta flight to Atlanta that left the next morning at 6 a.m., with a connection to Cleveland.

I joined up with Sharon, a sales manager from the Cleveland area, and we made our way over to the Delta terminal together. The ticket counters were deserted, the walls lined with sleeping bodies, bundles and bags like the homeless on some desolate urban street. I went to the Delta office to see if I could score some of those plush airline blankets. “How many would you like?” the clerk said. “Oh!” I said, so beaten down I was expecting abuse. “You mean it? I can have more than one? I’ll have two, please.” The clerk handed over two blankets and said, “Would you like some crackers, too?”

“Crackers? I can have crackers?” Tears sprang to my eyes and I nodded mutely. It was the nicest thing that had happened to me since I left Manhattan.

Back in the gate area, Sharon and I rolled baggage carts into a corner and spread blankets over them. We joked about our slumber party hosted by American Airlines. I worried that we could be rolled away during the night by white slavers. Nevertheless, I curled up on my side, still in my skirt and jacket from my long-ago lunch, and sought sleep.

It was long in coming. Loud music blared over the overhead speakers. Cleaning staff relentlessly circled our small camp with floor polishers. Some intrepid passenger was snoring, and a child fussed nearby. I maybe slept an hour and a half.

At 4:30 a.m. the Delta ticket counter opened and we checked in. When we went back through security for the second time in two days, we were in for a rude surprise. As a last minute booking, we were flagged for “special” treatment and shuffled over into the “special” line. Our carry-on baggage was opened and searched and run through a special x-ray. We all spread our legs and raised our arms and submitted to pat-downs, thus completing the full contemporary airline experience.

By the way, this is the third time in three flights on American Airlines that my flight was canceled and rebooked for the next day. Two flights were to the east coast, and one was to Wyoming.

So what is the airlines’ responsibility to the stricken victims of flight delays and cancellations? True, the airlines don’t control the weather. But it doesn’t make sense to have a system so fragile that the slightest perturbation destroys it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

There was just a big debate on a writer’s email list I’m on about author visits. The question was, If I write for children and teens, do I have to do school, bookstore, and library visits?

Some authors love to meet the public, and others don’t. Either way, the potential for humiliation is great. I’ve heard a story about an author who came into a classroom and was asked if she was the substitute teacher. Clearly, the class had not been prepped for her visit!

The travel thing can be grueling and difficult to coordinate with other responsibilities. The hardest thing for me is when I'm being hosted by someone who is embarrassed about a small turnout. They keep apologizing and I'm like, Who can predict these things? I've spoken to groups that consist of the librarian and her sister and others where there are 150 kids (school visit or joint school-library program.)

I’ve had unexpected blessings. I once did a school and library program in this tiny town in southern Ohio. It was so small I had to stay across the river. The town was run by these six powerful sisters-one was a librarian at the county library, one was a librarian at the middle school, one was married to the high school principal, one was the English teacher, the sister in law was the library director. They were the literary and educational aristocracy in that town, and they were powerful. These women pre-sold scads of books, and the entire 6th grade had read my book when I arrived.

I did a writing workshop at a school in San Antonio, and those 6th graders could hardly stay in their seats, they were so excited about writing and sharing what they’d written. And I spoke at a library in Youngstown for Teen Reads Week to a huge crowd of students brought in for the occasion. The library staff made me feel like a celebrity. At a teen book club I spoke to a boy who was so excited about the new fantasy book he’d just read that he wanted to give me his copy so I could read it.

I did a bookstore visit in a nearby small town and a few of my friends showed up and a couple people I didn't even know who saw it in the paper. The store clerk seemed really pleased, so I asked how many people usually show for a booksigning, and she said, "None."

I was a reading nerd when I was a teenager, but I never got to meet an author. I didn’t know where all the authors lived, but I was sure it was nowhere near me. So I do like meeting kids who love books, and who want to write books of their own, because I see my 14-year-old self in every one of them.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Conversations Off the Grid

A week or so ago I left work late on a Friday night after a horrible day. Out in the parking deck, a woman was having trouble getting her car started. The security system kept shutting it down. She asked if she could borrow my cell phone. I dug madly through my purse and handed her my I-phone toy.
“What’s this?” she asked suspiciously.
“Um. It’s an I-phone.”
“Hmmph. You going to get that rebate?”

So she called a friend for advice, and after a brief conversation handed back my phone and tried again. No luck. I asked if she needed more help, but she told me she was going back into her office.

A few minutes later, I am out on the road when my phone rings again. I answer.
“So? What happened? Did it start?” the caller demands pugnaciously.
“Well, no,” I said. “Actually, I’m just the person who leant her the cell phone and…”
“Well, where is she?”
“She went back in her office.”
“What do you mean, she went back in her office?”
“That’s what she said she was going to do. I….”
“What’s with you women? You get all these degrees and you still don’t have any common sense. I told her to call back if it wouldn’t start. What don’t you understand about that? Why would she go back in her office?”
“Well, um, maybe you should try her in the office?” and I hung up.

So the next morning I discover my keys are missing. After searching everywhere in a panic, I wonder if I might have dropped them in the parking deck while digging madly for my cell phone. When I get back to school, I call the University Police Lost and Found.

“I believe I lost some keys on campus and wondered if they’d been turned in,” I said.
L&F Lady: “Was this recently?”
Me: “Well, I think it was Friday night. In Schrank Hall south parking deck.”
L&F Lady: “What’d they look like?”
Me: “Well, they were attached to a magic wand.”
L&F Lady: “What did the magic wand look like?” No doubt so she can distinguish it from all the other magic wands turned in at L&F
Me, embarrassed: “Well, it had little sparklies in it that slide around when you turn it.”
L&F Lady: “Mmmpf. What kind of keys were on it?”
Me, after long pause: “Well, there was a Honda key with a thick black base.”
L&F Lady: “Anything else?”
Me, floundering: “Well, some other keys.”
L&F Lady: Were there any…cards, maybe?”
Me: “There was a library card, I guess.”
L&F Lady: “Fine. We have ‘em.”
L&F Lady: “See, the little sparklies weren’t sliding at first so I wasn’t sure if this was the one.”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

RPG's and the Writing Life

Young Writer emails me: All my friends are into role-playing games. Would playing RPG’s help with my writing? What games and activities can I do to help with writer’s block?

At first this question made me feel like Old Writer because I’ve never played a RPG.

Unless you count what I did as a kid on a larger stage. My friends and I spent a lot of time out in the woods, slipping from tree to tree, sneaking up on invisible enemies and each other, hanging out in hideouts eating provisions from home, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, pretending to be spies and characters from TV shows and movies.

Indoors, we used Barbies as surrogates. They were never teenage fashion models (unless they were working undercover). They were defenders of the free world. I had a Ken whose felt hair was rubbing off, so he was the bad guy and had to wear the nerdy clothes. The Alan with the molded rubber hair was the good guy and wore the spiffy sports coat my mother had made. Barbie vamped about in a fur coat made from a muskrat collar.

We built prisons and fortresses out of encyclopedias, which could also serve as boats in a pinch. Barbie and Alan floated down jungle rivers in Funk and Wagnall’s boats, armed to the teeth and looking for trouble. Which usually came in the person of Ken.

Did this help me become a better writer? Well, maybe, though I have to say we focused totally on plot and gave short shrift to character development.

Back to your question. RPGs may provide a ready-made character and allow you to give him something to do. In some versions, you create a character and construct a skin and environments (See, I know a few things). You create character and create conflict and that is what story is all about.

But if you want to be a writer, sooner or later you’re going to have to sit down at the keyboard and write. Anything that gets in the way of that is nonproductive.

Here is a foolproof plan that will help you improve your writing:


I’ll address Writer’s Block in another piece.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Wyoming Dreams or Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

I’m back from a long hiatus from the blogosphere, the consequence of a looming book deadline and vacation. We spent a week in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I took my laptop along and did get some editing done during long car rides and other free moments. But Internet and phone access was chancy. Yellowstone especially was very low tech. My brand new I-phone toy wouldn’t even work in most parts of the park. Must be all that geothermal activity.

Actually, I was working the whole time. No, I didn’t take the laptop on the whitewater rafting trip. But writers are collectors of characters, images, and experiences that resurface in their work. And vacations by their definition provide access to substrate not found in the everyday.

Vacations are full of characters. The National Parks, like amusement parks and the county fair, have broad appeal that draws a cross-section of people. We often encounter the Foolhardy Family, who seem to believe that the natural world is a kind of Disneyland place where nothing bad can happen. We see them climbing over fences to get that great photo, posing Grandma and little Timmy with the bison, hanging over the hot spring, and dancing on the precipice.

There are the extreme sports people, who make a living guiding whitewater trips or soaring off mountain peaks in hang gliders with tourists strapped in tandem. In Alaska, our float trip guide confessed that the first priority of a seasonal guide is to find a girlfriend with a house, to avoid sleeping in a tent all summer. He passed along other guide strategies, like how to choose a 3-day shirt (the 3-day shirt comes in dark colors, so it doesn’t show the dirt.)

Vacations are often an intense sequence of experiences, to be stored up and savored over time. Grand Teton was a landscape of extremes: Mountains jagged enough to prick yourself on. Meadows sparkling with wildflowers, even in August, the scent of sagebrush after a rain (and we had plenty). Jackson Hole—where a converted house trailer on a speck of ground might cost $1.5 million, where fringed leather jackets and tooled Western boots and silver and turquoise jewelry were so in context I wanted to buy it all. A summer so short and sweet you want to dig in your heels and slow it down. I was continually ambushed by the beauty of the place. “Oh!” I kept saying. “Oh, my!”

Yellowstone was Tolkien-esque: fuming fissures, percolating mudholes and sulfur stinking springs surrounded by the grotesque skeletons of dead lodgepole pines. Mineralized water created chalky terraces and moonscape towers. Elk and bison picked their way across thin-crusted thermal meadows, oblivious to the posted signs-- “Dangerous Ground: Keep Off.” Hot springs dumped steaming water into the clear, cold Firehole River.

We stayed on the shores of lovely Yellowstone Lake with its underwater geysers and hot springs and volcanic beaches. We hiked Uncle Tom’s Trail into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, descending metal stairs clinging to the side of a cliff to view a waterfall aas pretty as any I’ve seen.

We listened politely to the ranger lecture on magma chambers and calderas, but I knew for a fact that under our feet was a dragon imprisoned in an underground chamber, whose angry tail caused the ground to shake, and whose breath leaked out all over the park.

OK, so how does this relate to writing? Probably the most common question I get as a writer is “Where do you get your ideas?” And I often respond with a quote from Tolkien: “One writes such a story out of the leafmold of the mind.” This leafmold is a rich, fertile mixture of all the people you’ve met, the places you’ve been, the experiences you’ve had, and your emotional history. That’s where stories grow.

But we all have experiences, and many of us have ideas for books, but we’re not all writers. What sets the writer apart? Another possible metaphor comes from my family’s tradition of quiltmaking. The materials for pieced quilts came often from chance—scraps from sewing projects, remnants from old clothes, mill ends from the local textile mill. The substrate was necessary, but not sufficient. Give two quiltmakers the same materials, and they will create totally unique masterpieces. Writers are the same. They see the story in the fragments given to them, and they create something new and better from them.

So I think would-be writers focus too much on the quest for ideas. You don’t have to find a new idea, a unique idea, a great idea. It’s not all about the ideas. It’s about what you do with them. It’s about craft. And I’ll talk about that in other postings.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Spectacle on the Airwaves

Maybe I write fantasy because I’m hopelessly ignorant of popular culture. I don’t watch much TV. It’s not because I have anything against TV. I love TV, or I used to. When I watched it. It’s been crowded out by the writing. And the family. And the full time job. And reading. And the volunteer stuff. And hygiene. And working out. And blogging, I guess. People ask if it’s important to be cutting edge on technology and entertainment to write for teens. And I say I hope not.

So I hate when I’m listening to the radio and all they do is talk about what was on TV the night before. Hello! I’m listening to the RADIO. And I haven’t seen the shows they’re talking about, so I feel left out and resentful. Nope. Didn’t see Lost. Didn’t see Survivor. Didn’t see American Idol. Didn’t see Fear Factor, where people do things like eat worms in front of a camera.

Even when I want to turn on the TV I never know what’s on. And I hate those on-air TV guides, where you have to stand there for ten minutes to find out there’s nothing on you want to watch.

I do watch the news while I’m cooking supper. And I know who else watches the news—it’s people with high cholesterol and reflux disease and overactive bladders, that’s who. At least, that’s who the commercials are directed at.

So I’m watching the news and a promo comes on for that evening’s lineup. The new show they’re pitching is called Fat March. They show video of corpulent people setting off on a 500-mile walk. I haven’t seen the show, but the purpose doesn’t seem to be to get people to exercise. This is spectacle, the arena entertainment of the airwaves. The promo concludes, “Watch Fat March tonight, right after Wife Swap.”

I’m apparently not the audience.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Last Great Harry Potter Extravaganza

I almost didn’t go. I mean, I bought my Harry Potter “line pass” at the Learned Owl Bookshop back in May when I had a signing there. Even then, I was #435. I paid nearly full price when I could’ve ordered it on Amazon at a deep discount and had it delivered directly to my home. Or I could’ve strolled into the bookshop one day next week and snagged my copy without fighting the crowds.
But there is something intoxicating about being part of a movement, of rubbing shoulders with throngs of people with one thing in common—the love of a book, and the characters in it. And this at a time when many people question whether ink and paper books have a future at all.
HP changed the rules and changed my life. The New York Times moved children’s books onto their own bestseller list after HP dominated it for months. Publishers learned that there could be big money in fantasy and writers of “adult” books showed a new interest in writing for children and teens.
As a fledgling writer of young adult fantasy, I’d been told that works for YAs couldn’t be longer than, say, 85,000 words. I was discouraged, because I couldn’t do my job within that space. I considered switching to writing mainstream fantasy for adults, with the hope that teens would cross over. But HP demonstrated that children and YAs will read longer works if the author is skillful enough to hold their interest.
HP is, in fact, a phenomenon, and I wanted to participate in history.
And so I ended up in downtown Hudson, Ohio on a Friday night, in a crowd of witches pushing strollers, wizard-cloaked students in round glasses, zigzag scars and Hogwarts school ties, grandparents dressed as house ghosts, professors and headmasters. Teenagers in punk-wizard garb clustered with Abercrombie-clad muggles who rolled their eyes. Hermione and Harry walked arm and arm across the green, sharing kisses every few steps. It was Hallowe’en in July, replete with Slytherins, giants, goblins, mudbloods, house elves, down to obscure Harry Potter walk-ons that only the obsessed would remember.
There was quidditch on the green, wandmaking at the Grey Colt, HP cupcakes at the bakeshop, Venus flytraps for sale at the florist’s, and a sorting hat in the Learned Owl itself. Vendors sold wands and glow-in-the-dark jewelry. I bought earrings for a dollar. We shouted out a countdown to the parade of lanterns and the light show that fizzled in a good-natured, small-town way. There was kind of a Times Square at New Year’s energy and cohesion, without the freezing weather, heavy drinking, and peeing on the pavement.
And finally came the lineup of people clutching bright orange line passes, spilling onto the main street despite the efforts of harried but good-natured police. More people than anyone expected, even with 1200 copies of the book pre-sold. Families argued over who got first dibs on a shared copy. I stood next to a fourth-grader who’d read all the HP books and was devouring the Lord of the Rings trilogy and was totally indignant that the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix cut out so many of her favorite parts.
I handed her bookmarks for The Warrior Heir and The Wizard Heir, and told her to let it go. A movie isn’t a book, after all.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rose Fever

Recently we went out to dinner with people I used to work with that I’d not seen in decades. It was a lot like going to your high school reunion. I was thinking maybe I should get my teeth whitened since that seemed more doable than losing 20 pounds. As it happened, I did neither, and we had a lovely dinner anyway.

They came to our home for dessert. The last time they’d visited, we lived in a small town on nearly an acre. That was during my mega-gardening days when I had the compost heap at the back of the yard and the two gardens—the kitchen garden up by the house and the cutting garden in the back, not to mention the fruit trees and grapevines.

I used to can green beans and tomatoes every year and I had a chest freezer in the basement. I made grapevine wreaths at Christmas. That was how they remembered me—organic gardening woman. I shamefacedly admitted that I was down to four tomato plants, a few black-spotted rose bushes and some ragged perennial beds.

Then on the weekend we visited Columbus and went to the Whetstone Park of Roses in Clintonville which is amazing—11,000 rose bushes and some other specialty gardens. I wandered up and down the holly mazes drunk on the perfume of roses, scuffling through rose petals, giddy with the colors, wanting to go home and order a dozen bare-root plants from a trendy grower.

And I got to thinking about how it is that we have these passions and then we give them up. I am not a fickle person. I’ve been married to the Resident Web Master (RWM) for decades, I’ve had the same haircutter for more than twenty years, which is as long as I’ve lived in my current house.

What happened to me, was, I began to write. And that, in addition to the family and the full time job crowded gardening into the borders of my life, along with handweaving and spinning and sewing and genealogy—all of which I also used to do. Given the technology available today, I’m twenty times more productive than I used to be. I’ve even figured out how to read and work out at the same time.

But it isn’t enough. There’s a saying—there will never be enough time for everything. But there is always enough time for the most important things. Well, maybe. It’s a matter of reconciling yourself to the notion that you can’t do everything.

I think I’m a better writer than a gardener. But no one should have to give up the roses.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Land of Enchantment--Vanity Plates

Vanity plates are a kind of working class poetry—articulated in seven letters or less. Maybe the car you’re driving isn’t enough of a statement. Perhaps you’re a Corvette driver trapped in a mini-van. Though sometimes vanity plates are repetitive, like the people who put VETTE on their Corvette or PTCRUSR on their—you get the idea.

Being a writer, I like vanity plates. Given the brevity imposed, it’s an opportunity for succinct wit, the distillation of substance to its essence, the delivery of a joke understood by a fraction of viewers. It’s a way of connecting with kindred spirits and excluding the boors. It requires the participation of the guy in the SUV riding your butt—and he probably won’t get it.

I’m ambivalent about people who put their jobs on their license plates. It’s okay if it’s because your work is your passion and not because you have no life outside of work. I often see tags like RNSUSIE or BONEDOC or TEACHR. I’ve never seen ACCNTNT or MRTICIAN or DTCHDGR or DGCTCHR. I’d like to see SAILOR or KNITNUT or JAZZMAN or DOGLVR or CELLIST (but would a cellist have a vanity plate?)

My first opportunity to put a message on my rear end was via a stock plate chosen for me by the anonymous folks in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and delivered by mail. I pulled out the blue and white plates and said, “No. I can’t put these plates on my car.” The inscription? ANL5454. Although I knew several people who fit that description, I knew it didn’t apply to me.

It turned out that the BMV had a list of forbidden letter combinations (ARS, FUC, HEL) but ANL was deemed acceptable. In fact, the BMV had sent out a memo specifically requiring local clerks to charge a fee for replacing ANL plates. My husband said it was FUTL, and it was kind of a HASL, but I was able to get it changed. For a FKN fee.

So recently my license was up for renewal, and the renewal notice included a link to a Website where I could check on the availability of “personalized” license plates. Hmmm, I thought. If I could choose, what message would I send about myself? My passion is writing—I write YA fantasy novels. So I got online and tried a variety of possibilities (seven letter or less).

The following were already taken. Apparently there are lots of wizards, writers, and book lovers in Ohio.
WRITER1 through WRITER4 (dibs on WRITER5!)
SCI FI through SCI FI2 (SCI FI 3 was available)
BOOKS (BOOKS1 and up were available)
GODDESS (oh, why not?)

The following were available:
WRDWMN (more mature)
WITCHRY (could be dangerous on the road)
BOOKMKR (and get stopped by the police)

Here I am with my final choice. I wanted something that would apply to all the writing I do. All writers, whether we write fantasy or not, are enchanters. We collaborate with readers to create the dream of fiction.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Newbery-Caldecott Banquet

ALA – Sunday, June 24, 2007

We went back to the exhibits again (there is no rest for the greedy). Cecil Castellucci was signing in the Candlewick Booth. I’d been meaning to pick up some of her books, so stood in line to have her sign Beige and Boyproof. When I introduced myself, she said, “Oh, yeah, you wrote that Warrior book.” I nodded, pleased that she’d heard of it, and she said, “It’s on my reading pile.” I brilliantly told her I had a reading pile, too. Then she pulled out an autograph book and asked for MY autograph! One of those unique ALA moments.

And I thought, that’d be cool to do at my book signings. Because readers are as important as writers when it comes to story.

I asked Laurie Halse Anderson to sign Speak, which I’d read but didn’t own. Her editor, Sharyn November, was sitting with her in the Penguin booth. I introduced myself because I knew she and my agent, Christopher Schelling, were friends.

Martha and I had lunch in a tapas restaurant on 7th Avenue, then back to the hotel to chill before the evening’s festivities and to sort out the takings.

VOYA had invited me to their awards reception at the Grand Hyatt from 4 to 6, because The Warrior Heir made their Perfect Tens 2006 list. So I put on the polka-dot dress and my black wrap and cabbed up there. I chatted with Nancy Werlin, (Rules of Survival) and Paul Acampora (Defining Dulcie) whose books made the same list. The party also honored the Top Shelf winners and several other lists.

Then back to the Hotel Monaco to meet Hyperion staff and on to the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder awards banquet. Saw Cindy Lord collect her Newbery Honor for Rules. Yay! Susan Patron delivered a very funny acceptance speech for her Newbery for The Higher Power of Lucky, referencing the whole scrotum controversy. She said a 6th grade class emailed her and said they’d found the word “scrotum” in the dictionary, so if they banned Patron’s book, they’d have to ban the dictionary, too. Sometimes the young ones are the wisest of all.

Hyperion Books for Children was well represented, because Hyperion illustrator Kadir Nelson received a Caldecott honor. I sat with Jonathan Yaged, Hyperion’s new U.S. publisher, author Roland Smith, Alessandra Balzer, Donna Bray, Angus Killick, Scottie Bowditch, and others from Hyperion’s editorial and marketing staff.

Met up with YAckers Martha Levine and Jody Feldman, all glitzed up for the party. Jon Yaged introduced us to Mo Willems.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

ALA - Saturday, June 23

Saturday June 23

We headed over to the Washington Convention Center in order to get first dibs on the loot…er…visit the exhibits. In the registration area I ran into the other members of the red and white vertically challenged writers’ club and had to take a photo. Here’s me, Mary Pearson and Nancy Werlin.

Nancy Werlin provided a two-minute orientation as we descended to the exhibit floor. For example, when snagging roomy carry bags from a vendor, do not make eye contact. Martha and I ran into Gail Giles and she tipped us that we could snag free galleys of Right Behind You at the Little, Brown booth. There were also wonderful pickings at the Harper-Collins booth. By then we were in total exhibits mode, so if we saw someone with something cool, we’d ask where they got it and hustle over there.

Had lunch at a French bistro with Debby and Jody, passed out postcards and bookmarks to librarians from Michigan. Debby went to meet with her editor and we went back to the convention center for my signing at the Hyperion Booth at 3 p.m. It was very cool, met multiple Hyperion staffers and librarians and book lovers from all over. Here I am in the booth with Donna Bray, Executive Editor at Hyperion Books for Children.

When the signing was over, zipped over to the Scholastic booth to get in line with a thousand Harry Potter fans (well, older than the typical HP fans) to snag the Harry Potter bags and bookmarks they were giving away.

Here’s my haul from the first day.

Monday, June 25, 2007

ALA - Friday June 22

Friday June 22nd

Whoa. This idea of “blogging from ALA” business is harder than it seems! First of all, I took an involuntary tour of greater Maryland on my way in from the airport on the Super Shuttle. Missed a lovely dinner with writing friends Martha Peaslee Levine, Jody Feldman, Debby Garfinkle, Mary Pearson, and a chance to meet the Newbery “honored” Cindy Lord.

I checked in at the lovely Monaco Hotel, dumped my stuff, and hoofed it down to the Renaissance Hotel in time to hear the last couple of speakers at the Printz Reunion, Walter Dean Myers and Ellen Wittlinger. Sadly, didn’t get to hear Laurie Halse Anderson and the others.

I rendezvoused with Martha, Jody and Debby, who were kind enough to stick by me while I wolfed down multiple canapés at the Booklist YALSA 50th Anniversary cocktail reception. Christina Getrost, the teen librarian at Stow-Munroe Falls Library stopped by just as my blood sugar began to normalize. Two glasses of wine and I was feeling restored enough to walk back to the hotel, though perhaps no longer blog-worthy.

The Monaco Hotel was once Washington D.C.'s General Post Office, built in 1839 by Robert Mills, the same architect to design the Washington Monument. It’s really cool—full of marble and pillars—kind of like a small-scale palace. Except people kept asking where our hotel was, and I kept having to say F and 7th . Which sounded like F-ing 7th. And they’d say, why, is it really far away?

Here’s my roomie Martha on the roll-away bed in her tiny alcove. Notice that she is between me and my computer so there could be no blogging that night.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Blogger in Training

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to be at ALA. So my friend, Kate, who is NOT going to ALA, asked, Are you going to be blogging from ALA? I said, Erm, Sure. And she said, With pictures? And I said, Erm, Sure.

I'd seen Nancy Werlin's cool blog from the National Book Awards
and had read blog posts from BEA.
I could do this.
I dutifully downloaded the little Blogging from ALA Annual logo. I even went to the Blogger FAQ page and read through the part about how to create links using html before I shamefacedly navigated away (it's still in my browser history, though).

I wasn't going to admit to Kate that although I had taken plenty of photos with our digital camera, I'd never actually downloaded any to my computer. I'd left that up to the Resident WebMaster (RWM). So I asked the RWM if he would show me how to download photos from the camera to my computer. This launched an hour-long software download and tutorial session so that I could download photos, brighten, darken, resize them, crop them, fix red-eye, and paint out any facial blemishes.
I was definitely born too soon. Now I'm wishing I could go back to high school.

I practiced on this iris photo
The one on the left is the original photo
The one on the right is cropped and resized

That's the thing about technology. I LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT. I would not have any books out if not for technology. But nothing is ever straightforward. I just want things to work. I don't want to download any printer drivers. I don't want to go to the Help menu, and I certainly don't want to access any online help desks where the person speaking via undersea cable in a heavy foreign accent claims his name is Chip.
So if you are an iris, and you appear in my blog, rest assured you will be resized, cropped, and any red-eye eliminated.
Otherwise, you're on your own.

Monday, June 11, 2007

What to Wear, What to Wear

OK, so after my whining posting of last week about not getting to go to BEA, I AM going to the American Library Association conference in Washington, DC. This is my first ALA conference and I’m doing a signing at the Hyperion Booth for Warrior Heir and Wizard Heir on Saturday. I’m also thrilled to be going to the Caldecott-Newbery Banquet (or is the Newbury-Caldecott Banquet.)

So here’s the problem: What to wear? I asked my contact at the publisher, and she said, “Black is good.”

Here’s the data:

I’m from the Midwest, and the conference is on the East coast, plus there will be all these NYC publishing types there. They all wear black, right?
The banquet is black tie.
My hotel is ~1/2 mile from the convention center and I’ll be walking back and forth.
I’m vertically challenged and my bodily contours are, shall we say, redistributing themselves.
My typical dressup fashion look is a cross between throwback flower child, gypsy’s night out and high bling
I don’t go to these kinds of events often, so I have to be aware of the cost-per-wear factor

Cocktail Dress Criteria
Flattering to short person with redistributed contours
Sexy, but not too sexy
Inexpensive, but looks very expensive
Comfortable (does not require constant strap and infrastructure monitoring and adjustment)
Emphasizes what I want to emphasize
Downplays what I want to downplay
Available in one of the three malls I frequent (requires no visits to formalwear stores)
Ironing? What’s that?
Totally in context with whatever my table-mates will be wearing

Shoe Criteria
Very comfortable for walking long distances on pavement
Look good on my feet
Very high heel
Inexpensive but look very expensive
Sexy. Just. Sexy

So after searching my three malls (one of them twice) and trying on scads (Midwest term) of dresses, the one dress that fit, looked good, emphasized, de-emphasized, etc. is…black and white polka-dot.

Does polka dot have anything to do with polka? Here’s what Wikipedia says

Polka dot is a pattern consisting of dots. Polka dot patterns are quite variable: they range from a series of dots that are equally spaced and sized to a random arrangement of multicoloured dots of different sizes. Polka dots are most commonly seen on children's clothing, toys, and furniture, but they appear in a wide array of contexts. The pattern rarely appears in formal contexts, however, and is generally confined to more playful attire such as bathing suits. Occasionally white on black regularly spaced polka dots appear on more formal clothing.
While polka dots are ancient, they first became common on clothing in the late nineteenth century in Britain. At the same time polka music was extremely popular and the name was also applied to the pattern, despite no real connection between them.

I’m doomed.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A BookExpo Wallflower

Am I the only one who feels like she's home cleaning the bird cage on prom night? I can't open my email box without stumbling over enewsletters and blog posts from those lucky folks reporting from BEA. They range from social butterflies trekking from pahty to pahty in the Big Apple to those working the convention floor, Blackberries in hand, slinging ARCS and catching them, spreading rumors, and rubbing shoulders with the great, including Alan Greenspan, Rosie O'Donnell, Alice Sebold, Stephen Colbert, and Ian McEwan.

So I read that Jeff Gomez, director of Internet marketing for Holtzbrinck Publishing said in his Thursday session that writers should be spending two to 10 hours per week online promoting themselves in electronic communities. And I'm thinking, I don't have two to 10 hours. It's too easy now to skip off into the virtual community when I supposed to be nailing a difficult revision. I'm still trying to shake that self-Googling disease. And now Jeff Gomez says I'm not doing it nearly enough! Sigh.

But I can do this--not every day, but maybe once a week. I've been speaking to people one by one via email--now perhaps I can talk to lots of people at once. We'll see.