Thursday, May 29, 2008

Three From My Bookshelf and One From My Phone

Some recommendations!

If you'd like to read a stupendous contemporary YA book about power in general, and power plays between the sexes in particular, try E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Wow, this book got me thinking about my own relation to power. It's a cast of fascinating characters whose stage is the prestigious Alabaster Preparatory Academy, a made-up boarding school in northern Massachusetts. But: if, as you consider the book's feminist underpinnings, you also find yourself inappropriately falling for a boy who's technically a creep -- don't blame me!

If you love British literature through the ages, and also time travel and general silliness; and if, like me, you think Jasper Fforde has the coolest name ever; read his novel The Eyre Affair, which reminds us that "the barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think." I'm just over halfway through, and enjoying it thoroughly. The protagonist, named Thursday Next, is a detective of literary crime in a modern-day world that will surprise you over and over and have you hooting with laughter. And if you do love British literature through the ages, you'll find that you've already met some of the characters walking through the pages of Fforde's book...

If you want something long, GORGEOUS, and Scandinavian, go for Kristin Lavransdatter, by the Nobel Prize-winning Sigrid Undset. This book is in my top ten: 1124 pages of breathtaking, passionate, beautiful, epic wonderfulness. (As long as you have patience for a little Christian moralizing -- it takes place in Norway in the 1300s, and God is definitely on people's minds.) It was written in the 1920s and translated beautifully by Tiina Nunnally in 2000. NOTE: get the Nunnally translation, not the earlier translation by two stuffy guys. According to the reviews I've read, this is important!

If none of those suggestions are up your alley, then you're just gonna have to settle for this series of text messages between me and Cordelia (my sister, to the uninitiated). The only context you need is that we live together, I was away for a week, I'm in love with my computer, and Cordelia is in love with her gym.

Kristin to Cordelia:
BTW, m coming home tomorrow. Hope u remodeled apt to my specifications.

Cordelia to Kristin:
Repairman says lemon juice and time should remove maple syrup from your computer interior.

Again, Cordelia to Kristin:
Nice flat surface worked well as griddle.

Kristin to Cordelia:
Great! Repairman says damage to yr gym, which I firebombed today, irreparable.

Cordelia to Kristin:
Judge says he can cut your sentence down to 18 years hard time if I keep feeding him these delicious flapjacks.

Kristin to Cordelia:
Gym director says he'll b by l8r 2 shove remains of elliptical machine up your ass.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Up with Negativity

Have I made it clear how I feel about people who always look on the bright side of life?

My favorite song on the Rent soundtrack is called "Another Day." Basically it's an argument between two people. Roger is holed up in his apartment, bitter and sick, refusing to face the world, refusing to make anything of his life, because he's unhappy with his life and consumed with regret. Mimi is begging him to come out on the town, begging him to stop wasting his life and start living.

Here's basically what Mimi says: "The heart may freeze or it can burn. The pain will ease if I can learn that there is no future, there is no past. I live this moment as my last. There's only us, there's only this-- forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way-- no day but today."

And here's Roger's response: "Who do you think you are, barging in on me and my guitar? Little girl, hey, the door is that way. You better go, you know, the fire is out anyway.... Come back another day, another day!"

You know why I love this song? It allows for both sides of the argument, and gives each equal weight. Hope and despair, life and death; grasping the moment and letting the moment pass. Because sure, I agree with Mimi a lot of the time. That's often how I try to live my life-- in the moment, not letting life pass me by, not dwelling on the bad stuff, trying really hard to be brave. But we need Roger's side, too, don't we? We need to be allowed to feel how completely shitty life is sometimes and we need to be allowed to be cowards. We need to connect to our bad feelings just as much as we need to connect to the good ones. I don't even think Roger is necessarily letting his life pass him by. I think he is living in his today. It's just that today, his today sucks. Sometimes you live in the moment and the moment sucks. And all you can do is tell all the happy, chirpy, positive people to come back another day.

(And after all, he doesn't say, "Come back never." He says, "Come back another day." That's important, too. I'm not suggesting we should aim for permanent despair.)

Ahem. Thank you for attending to my adolescent moment.

(Yay David Cook!)

(What? Huh? American Idol? Don't be absurd. Last night I watched a documentary about weevils.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Defenestrate Your Things

Mind if I talk for a minute about things?

My car, for one. My clutch is dying; my clutch engages about half an inch off the floor; driving with my clutch is a little like ripping the skin off the bottom of my car's feet and then making my car walk across gravel. I'm holding off replacing the clutch as long as I can. This means I'm avoiding using it as much as possible, which means overusing the brakes, stalling a lot, and bucking down the street like a bronco. Unsurprisingly, my brakes have begun to deteriorate from the misuse. So now we have a situation wherein acceleration is a bit like the part at the beginning of a roller coaster ride where the cars keep jerking forward and bumping against each other and deceleration is not unlike an earthquake. My car is a thing in my life, and it's not doing too well.

Another thing in my life is all the new crap I bought to go along with my new computer. And this stuff doesn't have my car's excuse: this stuff is not a 1997 Ford Escort with 175,000 miles. This stuff is a shiny new scanner, a shiny new keyboard, things like that. I spend 12 hours this weekend setting up a scanner and figuring out how to work it. About 3 of those hours I was on the phone with Hewlett-Packard. Umm? It was a miserable experience. And at the end of it, when I finally got the damn thing working, I realized it isn't the scanner I wanted. This scanner blows. And, my new keyboard arrived in the mail with a nonfunctional colon key. And, my old computer is taking up space and taunting me. There are boxes everywhere. There are instruction manuals everywhere. AARGHHH! THINGS!

And you know what other thing hasn't been doing too well? My body. Switching from a PC to a Mac, being temporarily without my voice recognition software or my ergonomic keyboard, has been really hard on my arms and neck. Could I please return my body to the manufacturer and get a replacement model? Does Apple make human bodies? They seem to be the only company that makes things that work...

I think this is why I was posting about superpowers the other day. I need some magic, because I'm feeling so overwhelmed by physical things that do not work. I've been flying on airplanes and returning purchases to stores and overusing my sore arms and worrying about my car, and these are all the wrong things. The things I need right now are an armchair and a book, maybe some music, maybe some darkness, some quiet, some aloneness. I'm so uncentered, I'm disconnected from my soul; I've barely meditated at all in the past couple of weeks. I'm focused on all the wrong things, and I've kind of lost sight of the point. Do you ever feel that way? How do you deal? Should I just throw my things out the window?

in other news my revision is going pretty well shhhh don't tell anyone

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Superman Never Made Any Money Saving the World from Solomon Grundy*

If you could choose your superpower, what would it be?

I know my answer. I'd be able to teleport-- or, as Lady Elaine Fairchilde did in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, go the purple way-- or, as you learn to do in your later years at Hogwarts, disapparate. Oh, how I would love to be able to click my heels together three times and suddenly I'm across the world, visiting friends wherever they are. Wouldn't it be awesome to just visit for a few minutes instead of sending an email? Why do my people have to be so spread out? How did that happen? I don't mind flying-- I quite like it, in fact, and I would miss take-off, and being able to see the world from above-- but I could always teleport into an airplane for kicks, after all, and I DO dislike all the trappings of flying. Packing? Ugh. Setting the alarm for 5am? Blech. Taking motion sickness meds? Ick. Getting to the airport early and then sitting on the runway for 3 hours because US Airways only has one de-icer and it only drives in 1st gear and there's an ice storm and 10 planes are ahead of you in line? CURSES!

I guess that's the point of most superpowers: they release us from the constraints of corporal being. Of course it takes a long time to get from Florida to Rwanda, of course it's hard, because that's what makes places places and makes bodies bodies. That's life. And I know superheroes don't usually get to choose their superpowers, and they don't usually like the ones they're given. But! Couldn't I just have this one little superpower? I promise never, ever to take it for granted.

What superpower would you choose?

* Stolen from the Crash Test Dummies' "Superman's Song."

Monday, May 12, 2008


After living in a big old house in the northeastern Pennsylvania countryside for 32 years (also known as my whole life), my parents are moving to Audubon, New Jersey to be closer to family and civilization and to take on a more manageable property. This is a really good thing for them. Nonetheless, all this goodness didn't stop me from bursting into tears this past weekend when my Dad picked me up at the Philly airport and told me they'd finally gotten an offer on the old house.

We drove onward to the new house and I tried not to think about how homeless it feels sometimes when the place where you yourself live (Florida) doesn't feel like home, and the place you grew up in no longer exists in any practical form. We took the Walt Whitman bridge into New Jersey, which cheered me up, because I've always liked the views of Philly, and also because you have to love a bridge a whole bunch of idiots got all mad about because it was named after a gay man. Morons. (Scorn helps to temper homesickness.)

When we got to the new house there were bunnies in the yard eyeing the lettuce in the garden, which further cheered me up (because of Peter Rabbit, of course). Feeling soporific from my travels, I took a nap, waking up now and then to the clicking and whirring noise of my Dad mowing the lawn with the manual lawn mower (the kind that doesn't have a motor). Or to the smell of my Mom cooking sausages for the spaghetti. Or to classical music blaring on NPR, or to the sound of my Dad sneezing (generally guaranteed to wake the entire neighborhood). It was oddly peaceful. How nice that the yard is small enough now that Dad can use that kind of mower, and mow the whole lawn in a couple hours. How nice that Mom makes phenomenal spaghetti in this house, too, and NPR is screaming as usual.

We went into town-- and how cute the town is, and all the neighboring towns, too! And how convenient everything is-- no more driving 10 miles just to get to the grocery store. And most of all, how Italian (by which I mean, how familiar) everything is: Cipolli Cannoli, for example, and Luigi & Tony Tailors. And an Irish contingent, too-- also familiar and comforting. I even felt a little (granted, probably temporary) tolerance for the evidence of Notre Dame fanaticism. This place isn't so different from the PA homestead.

We bought a table at an antique store and lugged it down the street to the car. How nice to see my parents buying the things they want, instead of putting all the money away to pay to send us to school! My parents joked about their plans for the house and the little garden (about a tenth the size of the old garden, but still, it's a real, live garden). "We should put up parking meters outside the house," Dad said. "And require passersby to pay a toll to use the sidewalk," I said. And maybe a lighthouse in the yard, to make the place truly welcoming?

The new house is beautiful, perfect for their needs, and the area has character and charm. And family-- I saw so many wonderful aunts and uncles and friends this weekend, and saw them so easily, no long and winding drive from northeastern PA to get to them. The new house has a good aura, a good spirit, and honestly? It took about 4 hours for it to start to feel like home to me.

Today I'm back in Florida, finding that I kind of can't bear to think too hard about certain kinds of change.

But for now, I know that home still exists. Home is wherever I can hear Dad's sneeze and smell Mom cooking sausages.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How Foreign Rights Work. I Think.

So, the other day my sister Dac (who does not need a pseudonym, on account of she doesn't try to trick God the way Cordelia does) asked me something along the lines of, "What are foreign rights, anyway? What do these deals mean?" So I thought I'd explain it briefly, as well as a person can when she isn't entirely sure of the answer herself.

Bear with me, this has to do with money, and I don't know about you, but my brain always glazes over when I try to follow financial arguments...

When my awesome agent Faye Bender made the deal with Harcourt for Graceling (and then again for Fire), she negotiated that she and I would hold on to the foreign rights, rather than giving them to Harcourt. In other words, we would be the ones with the right to find foreign publishers for the books, rather than Harcourt finding foreign publishers for us. This was good for us, and here's why: Selling a book to a foreign publisher is much like selling it domestically, in that (at least in my case) the foreign publisher offers the seller an advance and then royalties. If Harcourt were the seller for my foreign rights, then the advances and royalties would be paid to Harcourt, and I wouldn't see any of that money until my advances from Harcourt for Graceling and Fire were earned out. And then I would only get a percentage of the monies Harcourt got from the foreign publishers. A big percentage, but still, smaller than the percentage I get selling them with Faye and the foreign scouts who are helping us.

(That being said, I would have been fine with it the other way, too, of course-- I am not what you would call financially ruthless-- AND, Harcourt is doing an awesome job getting everyone excited about the books, both here and abroad. Harcourt is a wonderful home.)

Anyway. So, what happens is that Faye sends the books to the scouts she works with all around the world, and the scouts get to work getting publishers in various countries interested in the books. If you're lucky (which I have been), the foreign publishers get excited about your books and there are auctions, negotiations, etc. for the books (in each country individually). Once all interested publishers in, say, France, have made their final offers, Faye calls me, and we decide which publisher to go with (based on reputation, their marketing plans for the books, the advance they're offering, etc.).

Really, it's very much like it was selling the books to Harcourt in the first place. Except for a few differences: *I have two agents helping me with each sale this time. *Rarely, if ever, will I be required to make edits on the books once they sell to the foreign presses (my main character's name translating literally as "butt" in German being an exception... we'll be giving Po a new name for the German edition). *I have less direct communication with the foreign publishers (but still some-- I'm getting to know my U.K. editor, which is awesome). *The publication dates in different countries vary and many of the foreign publishers will be putting the books out after the Harcourt edition is released. *And finally, Harcourt provides the publishers with the final book for the purposes of translation (rather than me).

Does that make sense? Did I forget to explain anything, or get anything wrong (nudge to those at Harcourt or Gollancz or elsewhere who might be reading! *waves to my phenomenal scout Lora Fountain in Paris*)?

The deals roll through slowly. Italy was the last one; perhaps Spain will be next? And then maybe other parts of Europe, and then parts of Asia, knock on wood!

(I wonder, if I get a Chinese deal, if they'll let me dedicate the books to the Dalai Lama?)

Anyhoo. The whole thing is quite a trip.

In other news, I'm posting this from my brand new shiny iMac, and my PC is in PC purgatory.

Thank you to everyone for being so sympathetic about my computer! On the scale of possible problems, this sort of thing isn't very high, but still, it has been an immensely stressful week.

Monday, May 5, 2008

In Which Karma Bites Me in the Ass. A-S-S. Ass.

So, a little over a week ago I blogged a lot of big words about how spelling bees don't scare me. Frankly, I was a little obnoxious about it. There was bragging. Even gloating. I issued a public challenge.

And then what happened that very same day? I tootled off to my volunteer work at the Jacksonville Public Library and learned that the library was looking for participants for the first annual Jacksonville Public Library Spelling Bee. And I thought to myself, Rats. Now not only do I have to compete in this spelling bee (on account of publicly announcing that spelling bees don't scare me, which I now realize was a lie), but I have to WIN this spelling bee (on account of the gloating). And I'm NOT going to win this spelling bee. There are a million words I don't know how to spell, like staphylococcus and Rumpelstiltskin, and karma is going to throw one of those words at me because I bragged. There was hubris, and now karma is arranging for my tragic fall.

What followed was a week of grim preparation to meet my doom. Frankly, the other competitors in my household weren't in much better shape:

Cordelia: Oh, I feel ill. Why did I agree to this? What if they ask me to spell epchelon?
Me: That's not a word.
Joe: If they ask me to spell taco cat, I'm going to say, 'Would you like me to spell that forwards or backwards?'
Cordelia: What if they ask me to spell farmiphrenoxmdqrstuvwxyz?
Joe: We need to practice our reactions for when we get knocked out. What if I jump in the air and act surprised and then throw my hat on the ground and stamp on it?

Anyway. This past Saturday, the sun finally dawned on the Jacksonville Public Library Spelling Bee. I knew what karma had in store for me: I was going to arrive at the bee only to discover that the competitors were me, Joe, Cordelia, and seven autistic savants. I was going to lose, and then eat humble pie for days.

But: I spelled nuisance. I spelled whippoorwill. I spelled numismatist, xanthic, and vituperative. I spelled lachrymose. I won the spelling bee! The prize was fifty bucks! I BIT KARMA'S ASS!

And then I came home and tried to turn on my computer and it wouldn't turn on. No power, no juice: kaput. (From the German: K-A-P-U-T.)

I spent my spelling bee winnings on a new power supply for my computer. It's coming sometime this week and I have to figure out how to install it and if it turns out that that's not what's wrong then I need to buy a new computer fast because have I mentioned that my job is writing? I need my computer. I NEED MY COMPUTER. WHY DID KARMA HAVE TO TAKE MY COMPUTER?! WHY COULDN'T I HAVE JUST DROPPED TOOTHPASTE ON MY SHIRT OR EATEN A BAD MUSSEL OR, I DON'T KNOW, HERE'S AN IDEA, LOST THE STUPID SPELLING BEE??!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Reader, I married him. (Eomer, that is.)

I just finished Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and am now prepared to issue a formal apology to the Graceling copyeditor for my comma and semi-colon use. While reading Bronte I suddenly realized that my punctuation teachers in life were the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Henry James, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, E.M. Forster, and Theodore Dreiser, to name a few. In other words, people from long ago whose writing styles (and bodies) are now dead.

No wonder, dear copyeditor, that you and I drove each other crazy last fall!

As I revise Fire, I'm trying to do better.

But! Keep your dastardly red pencil sharp, because I still love commas way more than other people do, and though my entire team of critics is wearing me down, I still have plenty of fight left. Like Aragorn, Gandalf, Arwen, and most of all, my husband Eomer, I am the protector of small, misplaced creatures. (Commas. Not hobbits.)

In other news, last week the Italian publisher De Agostini gave me an offer I couldn't refuse. Thank you to my mother's motherland. Viva Italia!

P.S. If you know from whence I stole the title of this post, \o/! We are reading companions. And perhaps you have trouble with your punctuation, too?