Monday, April 28, 2008

Here's Hoping No Librarians Read This

My sister (let's give her an assumed name, Cordelia, so as not to blow her cover) is determined to go to heaven. To that effect, Cordelia only sins when she's under an umbrella (so God won't see). When she senses God is listening, she makes loud announcements about her plans to bake cookies for priests; and on Sunday mornings she hides under her covers so God won't be able to see that she's in bed instead of at Mass. (God can see through clouds and bedroom ceilings, you see, but not through umbrellas or blankets. You learn these things if you're brought up in a godly manner.)

The point is that if the Man Keeping Score doesn't know that Catherine, I mean Cordelia, has sinned, well then, she hasn't sinned.

Now, I don't believe in God, but I do believe in the authority of librarians. And I also got a big dose of the "sin" mentality growing up, and I have to say, it shows in my library behavior. I know how to break all the rules in the library and never get caught. I have an exemplary library record, I am going to library heaven, but do you have any idea how many sandwiches I ate and how many thermoses of tea I drank in the library yesterday?

Frankly, it's a stupid rule. No eating in the library? Nothing comforting and comfortable should be prohibited in a library (unless it makes loud noises). And besides, the idea behind the no-food rule is to keep the carpets and the furniture clean, and I gotta tell you, the dumb furniture would stay a whole lot cleaner if I didn't have to shove my sandwich into the crevices of this armchair to hide it every time a librarian looks at me.

(That being said, I don't blame that one librarian for getting a bit peeved the time he discovered me pouring Multi-Grain Cheerios and blueberries into an enormous vat of yogurt and stirring it up with a huge spoon. But I was off my game that day. I should've been using an umbrella.)

This random post is brought to you by the life philosophy of my friend Anastasia, aged 5: "I love life because I love sugar and I love everything on my hands!" (This philosophy is particularly applicable while eating a messy pizza bagel.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Things That Don't Scare Me

I'm afraid of so many silly things. I'm afraid of yellow curry. I'm afraid of my career. I'm afraid that that sharp twinge in my lower right quadrant is my appendix bursting. I was afraid of losing my revision when my house burned down, so I bought a fire-proof safe. Now I'm afraid of robbers, because when the robbers come, what's the first thing they're going to go for? That shiny new safe, of course. Duh.

I am tired of feeling like a scared little nobody. And so today's post is going to be a celebration of things that DON'T SCARE ME!

Things That Don't Scare Me
  • Thunder, heights, spiders, mice, earthworms, and the vast majority of bugs DO NOT SCARE ME.
  • Hard work does not scare me.
  • Flying in small zippy airplanes does not scare me.
  • Solitude does not scare me, and neither does silence.
  • Spelling bees? Spelling bees do not scare me. I competed in the National Spelling Bee twice, thank you very much. My dad competed in the National Spelling Bee. My aunt competed in the National Spelling Bee. My uncle WON the National Spelling Bee. If I can't spell it, I know someone who can. SO JUST BRING IT ON, YOU BASTARDS!!
  • Fat (in food, in people, in me, in reality, in concept) does not scare me.
  • The dentist does not scare me.
  • Gray hairs, growing out of my head, signaling my deterioration, heralding my doom, do not scare me.
  • Picking up a used surgical glove that I found behind the hospital and carrying it barehanded to the trash in order to protect the manatees in the river does not scare me. (I'm not saying I'm not dumb. Just not scared.) (I washed my hands after. Lots.)
  • Tears do not scare me.
  • I do not scare me.

What scares you? What doesn't scare you?

Monday, April 21, 2008

You Can Have Your Faith if I Can Have Mine

Today, I worked on my couch for most of the day and then decided to finish up my work at the beach.

I was tooling down Atlantic Boulevard when a lady in a Hummer with a Jesus bumper sticker cut me off. A few minutes later, when a guy in a souped-up pickup truck with a Jesus bumper sticker cut me off and threw his cigarette butt out the window, I found myself wondering. What would Jesus do?

For example, let's say Jesus lived in a city with no dirt roads and no hills and had $35,000 to spend on a car. Would Jesus buy a 4-ton menace that gets 12 miles per gallon? Would Jesus drive with a sense of entitlement? Would Jesus tailgate and honk at people who took too long at red lights? Would Jesus neglect to use his turn signals? Is Jesus an asshole?

By the time I got to the beach I'm sorry to say I had the mean reds.

But! The beach! The surf was high and there were pelicans, and I pulled my beach chair out and sat down with my revision and every fifteen minutes pulled on another layer for warmth. I worked for about an hour and realized that I wasn't going to be able to proceed until I took a good careful look at every instance in the novel of a certain character being mentioned. That got me worried, because I became convinced that there was an unsolvable problem with this character and the revision was doomed.

But by then, the sun was setting and it was time for my official Beach Sunset Walk with Music. I bundled up in hat and coat and gloves and headphones and took off my shoes and rolled up my jeans and walked along the beach singing along to Sinead O'Connor's album "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" at the top of my lungs. I had the beach practically to myself except for the surfers. My pants got completely soaked despite my precautions, and Sinead O'Connor passed the test of "inspiring music good to sing at the top of your lungs when the surf is high and the surfers can't hear you" with flying colors. The moon was rising over the water and the sun was setting in front of the water, turning the surf pink and orange. Big boats were sparkling on the horizon. Oh, it was so beautiful! And I decided that it was okay that I felt like my revision was doomed, because sometimes part of revising a book is feeling like the revision is doomed, and I bet I'll feel differently tomorrow.

I believe in loud waves and loud singing and wet jeans and solitary walks and believing its okay to feel doomed.

So there.

What do you believe in?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

You know all the crazy people? What if instead of classifying them as "crazy" or "mentally ill" we just admitted that none of us make a whole lot of sense? What if instead of trying to "normalize" people who have delusions or hallucinations, we went along with it?

I saw the movie Lars and the Real Girl last night (warning, spoilers ahead!). Lars is a young man who has a delusion that a life-sized doll named Bianca is a real person--his girlfriend. And his entire community (of Canadians; I've always suspected Canadians were innately superior) understands that he's decompensating for something. They understand that his relationship with Bianca is a thing that needs to play out, so that Lars can work through some deep and tough crap he's got buried inside him. The town rallies around Bianca. They take her on outings. They get her volunteering at the hospital. They elect her to the school board. They pretend Bianca is real and they let Lars be crazy.

Yeah, I know this isn't a realistic approach to mental illness in our society. Lars doesn't hurt himself or other people, and that's not the case with all mentally ill people. Lars has a loving brother and sister-in-law to keep an eye on him, and not all people do. Lars is functional in his life-- he eats, bathes, goes to work, is productive, and not all people are. BUT. It was such a relief for two hours to watch Lars' community simply let Lars be. I have always hated the concept of "normal." It gets into your head and you start beating yourself up for not living up to the standard. Wouldn't it be awesome if there were just a little more compassion in our society for strangeness? A little bit less expectation that we all turn out a certain way? A recognizition that we all have monsters inside? GO LARS!

Anyway, that's my simplistic blathering for today. I just added my current foreign publishers to my Contacts and Credits page-- check it out if you're curious. I'll update the list as new deals occur. :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Swans and Boys in Tights and Puffy Shirts

So, I went to a lovely performance of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake by the Russian National Ballet Theatre this weekend. (In case you don't know the story: the Evil Dude Rotbart has turned a bunch of Lovely Girls into swans. One night Prince Siegfried goes hunting with his buddies, sees the swans, falls for the Most Beautiful Swan, and professes his undying love. His promise of eternal love breaks Evil Dude Rotbart's spell and the Most Beautiful Swan and her friends are free to be girls again. But shortly thereafter in a moment of male forgetfulness Prince Siegfried swears his love to Random Girl [who, in his defense, does look an awful lot like the Most Beautiful Swan]. M.B. Swan's heart is broken and Evil Dude Rotbart's spell descends back upon her. Then the Prince realizes what he's done! He fights Evil Dude Rotbart! He wins, killing E.D. Rotbart and freeing M.B. Swan forever! They all live happily ever after!)

Anyway, the scene in which Prince Siegfried goes crossbow hunting with his buddies was really helpful, because now I have a visual of what it looks like when my own uncles, Salvie, Alfio, and Michael, go hunting with their bows. I knew all that stuff about boots and orange vests and flannel-lined jeans was a load of baloney. Next time they go I'll ask if I can join them, and I'll wow them with my professionalism by showing up in white tights and a ruffly shirt and pointing my bow randomly at the sky with excellent extension and a soulful expression on my face.

The performance was beautiful; the swans in particular took me into this pleasant otherwordly place. It made me think of the movie "Billy Elliot," and I remembered that at the end of that movie (don't worry, not really a spoiler), Billy is all grown up and dancing in a production of Swan Lake that has reversed the sex roles-- am I remembering it right? Isn't Billy playing the role of the Most Beautiful Swan?

And that got me thinking about how neat it would be to write a retelling of Swan Lake that reversed the genders roles. I adore retellings of traditional tales-- Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, Gregory Maguire, I'm about to start A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Dunce-- help me out, who else, do any of you have favorites? And, can any of you think of retellings where the gender roles are reversed or played with in some wonderful way?

Food for thought... maybe I can plan to rewrite Swan Lake with reversed gender roles in the year 2019.....

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of Why I Can't Just Read a Book Anymore

Last summer, when I was struggling quite desperately to complete Fire (a writing lesson learned the hard way: think hard about the lives of your main characters before committing yourself to living inside their heads for two years. If their lives are sad/scary/strange? You're in for a rough two years), I asked a couple friends for mystery recommendations, because I needed to read books that had no relation whatsoever to what I was writing. I desperately needed distraction. A friend recommended the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters-- and I got hooked, fast. What is more comforting than a Benedictine monk in the 1140s who keeps an herb garden, brews medicinal concoctions over a brazier, goes to Compline, Matins and Lauds every day, and solves murder mysteries? I'll tell you what: nothing. Nothing is more comforting!

Here's a passage from the one I'm currently reading (tiny bit of background: a married man has just been found murdered in the abbey infirmary; Hugh is the sheriff):

"And I," said Hugh ruefully, "must go break the news to his widow and daughter, and make report to the lord abbot, and a sorry errand that will be. Murder in his own enclave!" (from Dead Man's Ransom)

Hee hee ho ho! Come on, Hugh. Do you really think the lord abbot is going to be fazed by a murder in his enclave? This is, like, the twelfth murder in two years! (You'd be amazed at how often people are murdered in and around Benedictine abbeys. But don't try it when Brother Cadfael is around. Nothing gets past him.)

Anyway, so, the idea behind reading mysteries, as I said, was to distract me from my writing. But that never works for long, and so now, of course, the mysteries are working on my writer's brain and I've come up with an idea to write a mystery series with a YA protagonist in a magical realism world. Like Nancy Drew, except awesome, and magical realism. And NOT 450 PAGES LONG THESE F#%$ING FANTASIES ARE KILLING ME.


I don't actually know if I would like writing mysteries. They require a lot of detail-control, and detail-control stresses me out sometimes. We'll see. I have three other books I want to work on (I mean, besides my current revision of Fire and the writing of Book 3) before I get to this, so I guess I'll just wait until, umm, the year 2016 and see if I'm still interested in the mystery idea then....

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Control, Control, You Must Learn Control!"

Yeah, whatever, Yoda. If you can show me the use of trying to control anything in my life now that I'm getting a book published, I'll knit you a little hat with two ear holes to keep your fuzzy little head warm on cold nights in Dagobah.

You know that feeling of being out of control? Your life is spinning around you and battering you back and forth and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, you can do to stop what is happening? The only thing you can do is accept it, give in, let go?

Yeah. Well, I'm not very good at letting go. Lately, I've been reacting to the lack of control in my life by trying to control whatever I can. And I've just realized it's part of what's screwing up my revision of Fire.

A couple days ago my stupendous editor reminded me to stop looking at the revision so mathematically, and instead feel it emotionally. And yikes, she is so right: I've been approaching my revision mathematically, trying to build it like a brick house with every brick at the perfect straight angle to the others, no cracks, everything perfectly controlled. Instead of feeling it, and feeding it, and letting it breathe. And the reason I've been doing this is that everything in the life of a debut writer is out of control, so I'm trying to control whatever I can, even the words on the page. But I can't control my writing. It doesn't thrive that way. If I'm going to figure out this revision, I need to let it go. I need to release it into the universe.

I"m starting to feel like I'm writing about the Force, with all this talk of feeling and releasing things into the universe. Okay, so maybe I was being unfair to Yoda before... he's basically a little green buddha, after all, and buddhas are all about letting go. And he was talking to Luke at the time, anyway, who was basically a whiny brat. And there was that whole Anakin-loses-control incident that was maybe weighing on his mind...

Maybe I need to learn to control my impulse to control things.

Does this mean I need to learn to knit now? Rats.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

This Revision is a Monster

I just spent two weeks writing a new first chapter for Fire, the prequel to Graceling. It was an agonizing process, one of the hardest bits of writing I've ever done. Today I gave it to my sister (always my first reader) for feedback. Here's what she said after reading: "It's not bad."

Yeah. So, I bawled for about 15 minutes.

Now, two hours later, I'm feeling much better, because I see that she's right. It is "not bad." The whole concept of the new first chapter is "not bad." And that's not good enough; it's the first chapter, for crying out loud; it has to be good; it has to be more than good.

So what to do? I'm going to scrap it and go back to my old first chapter, which was good to begin with. And start the whole frakking revision over again. And try to wrap my head around what really needs to be done here.

You'd think I'd be more upset about all that wasted time. Oddly, I'm not; I'm just relieved it's over. Sometimes in life you have to do things, do them whole hog, in order to figure out that they're the wrong things to do. And that makes them the right things. Right?

Back to it.