Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Blogging

A friend and I had a conversation recently about the concept of blogging -- or tweeting, if that's your thing, or being on Facebook -- about generally having a public internet presence. This is something I think about a lot -- what it means, why I blog, whether I should keep blogging.

These are surprisingly complicated questions, and I don't have the time/desire to touch on every consideration. But on the most basic level -- why do I blog?

A few reasons. My blog is a place for readers to go when they're looking for info about my books (which I'm not always the best at updating, but I try). It's a place for me to share cool stuff I've found on the interwebs -- because that's fun. It's a place to tell amusing stories, talk about writing, or rant about politics (because sometimes I can't help it). Sometimes it's a place for me to express deeper things -- feelings about life, and especially writing -- in the hopes that my words might resonate with other people, even be a comfort.

My blog also serves another purpose for me as an author: it's a line I draw. My blog is a carefully-maintained wall I put up, to remind myself of the difference between my private self and my public profile. It helps me define my privacy and protect my private soul, by giving me the opportunity to decide, over and over, what I will or won't talk about publicly. In a funny way that I'm having trouble articulating, presenting myself to the world through my blog helps me remember that it's really only my loved ones who know me. And I find that extremely comforting.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New (To Me) Music + Some Housekeeping

At the bottom of this post is some information about a way to buy certain foreign editions of Graceling and Fire if you're stateside.

Okay, I'm in a time crunch, but I'm giving myself 20 minutes to try to share some new music with you. First, for those of you who love Irish/Celtic music, I accidentally stumbled across the most beautiful, sad, LOVELY version of "The Curragh of Kildare." It's by The Boys of the Lough, on their album Lonesome Blues and Dancing Shoes. Sadly, it's not easy to find; I can't send you to it on iTunes, or even link to an illegal YouTube video. (You know, one of the ones where the uploader writes "NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED!!!!!" in the notes section. "But your honor, I didn't intend to break the law. It just kind of happened as a consequence of me illegally uploading the song!") I can tell you where I did find it, though. It was on the Thistle & Shamrock podcast, at the end of the "Dave Richardson" episode (currently the second one under "Radio Archives Still Available for Download"). If you go to that link, there should be instructions for how to download the podcast that includes the (short -- maybe about 10 or 11 minutes) episode (see all the panels on the right of the page). Or, here's a link to subscribe to the podcast. WOW, they make this unnecessarily clunky -- I'm sorry it's so complicated. If you're adept at using podcasts, the podcast you're looking for is Thistlepod, and the Dave Richardson episode will be available for limited time. "The Curragh of Kildare" is at the very end of the episode. It's tragically cut off, because someone inexplicably decided to devote a large portion of the episode to Garrison Keillor singing instead. I have to say, THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS THISTLEPOD IS DOING WRONG. But the song is still worth it.

Next (that took almost my entire 20 minutes!), Argentinian classical composer Astor Piazzolla composed a piece called "Libertango" that a number of artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, have performed various arrangements of, but I just accidentally stumbled across my favorite arrangement. Performed by Sverre Indris Joner on piano, Atle Sponberg on violin, and Steinar Haugerud on double-bass. Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, directed by Rolf Gupta. Here's Norwegian composer Sverre Indris Joner's arrangement, in which the strings are delightfully percussive:

Next, I also accidentally stumbled across the gorgeous piano compositions of Cuban classical composer Ernesto Lecuona. Here's just one example, the movement "Cordoba" from the Suite Andalucía. (If you don't recognize it, you might recognize the later movement, "Malagueña," which is usually the one that gets picked up when people choose to record only one.) Here's "Cordoba," performed by Anat Navarro:

Next -- housekeeping. I want to apologize to everyone who reads my blog in syndication, because I now realize that I used to have the blog set up such that jump breaks didn't translate in syndication -- which means that all of your blog readers were overwhelmed by 30+ photos of Roman ceilings a few weeks ago. I do try to keep my blog from being an obnoxious and unavoidable presence, so I'm sorry about that. I've changed my settings, so next time I use a jump break, it'll show in syndication. (If you're reading this and have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry about it.)

Finally, about buying foreign editions -- the Used Book department at the Harvard Book Store currently has quite a few foreign editions of my books for sale. If you're interested in buying Graceling in Catalan, Chinese (complex characters), Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Swedish, or Turkish; or Fire in Catalan, Chinese (complex characters), Danish, Dutch, French, German, Polish, Slovak, or Spanish; or an English-language UK edition of Fire (various kinds of editions, with covers identical or similar to the one shown at the top of this post), you can do so at the Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The Used Book department is downstairs. If you're not local but would like to buy any of these editions, feel free to e-mail the store at They do accept mail orders, and someone there would be able to tell you if the edition you want is available. Supplies are limited!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

TV Roundup -- It's All about Writing Character

The Dowager Countess: Wasn't there a masked ball in Paris when cholera broke out? Half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom.

The Earl: Thank you, Mama. That's cheered us up no end.

(From Downton Abbey)
Spoiler warning: Assume that all the following sections contain spoilers for whatever TV show the section is about.

Downton Abbey.
This is not the same show it was last season. Characters I knew then, I don't know anymore… Like Matthew, like Edith, like Branson (would someone please punch him for putting down Sybil's nursing work?); I'm even a little bit lost with Mary. And it's not that characters can't change. It's only that we need to understand what made them change. Otherwise they stop being characters and become tools for advancing/manipulating the plot.

I feel like it's a little bit more soap opera-y this season. Lavinia dies of a case of "Spanish flu with broken heart complications," for example. Seriously? She learns that Matthew still loves Mary, so she decides that the most convenient thing for everyone would be if she herself died, thus (after thoughtfully informing Matthew of her decision), she does? I feel that the writers did Lavinia a disservice here, because for me, it made her into a silly little nothing, and begged the question of why Matthew fell for her in the first place. (Which is another example of something I could have believed, had the writers given me some sort of character-based explanation for why it happened. Sure, I can imagine an explanation. But this season, I feel like the show is asking me to provide too many explanations of my own.) Anyway, Matthew needs someone who's as muleheaded as he is... but now the reason Matthew and Mary can't be together is because, according to Matthew, they're cursed, and everything they touch turns to ash? SRSLY? I hope Matthew doesn't spend too much more time marching around (yes, marching, now that he's pulled a Colin Craven -- which surprised me -- it seemed a little unimaginative for this show) being gloomy and defeatist. I used to think of him as the type to insist on being useful (like his mother). I hope that during his (unexplained) character transformation between seasons one and two, he didn't lose that quality. Where's the Matthew who makes some sense?

Speaking of inexplicable character transformations, can we talk about Edith? Except first, let me just say that actually, the other (more explicit) reason Matthew and Mary can't be together is that Mary is engaged to Richard. Richard interests me. He actually kind of seems right for Mary, because he's smart, hard, and manipulative, like she is. Whereas Matthew is right for Mary (or was, last season) because he's smart, strong, and ultimately good, like Mary – and because he sees Mary's situation, and knows and understands who Mary really is.

(This show has always been about Mary for me – or at least it was last season. I love her smarts; I love how much she's like her grandmother (for example, trying her hardest to get Sybil to drop Branson (and being honest with Branson about her intentions to do so), then making the best of it when she understands that Sybil won't. I feel that both Mary and Granny Violet, for all their snobbishness and manipulation, understand people and understand feelings and know when pushing will cause more damage than good); I appreciated how kind she was to Lavinia; and I have a lot of sympathy for her untenable position. When Mary is cruel, it's because she's trapped. I also think she's fairly honest with herself. I think she sheds a really interesting light on her father, who seems like such a kind, softhearted, noble man, until you consider how many of his decisions put his estate and his somewhat buffoonish notions of honor far ahead of the happiness of his eldest daughter. (Like deciding not to try to break the entail after very little consideration; like prioritizing Matthew's wedding over Mary's, because Matthew, though not his son, is his heir.) Do they like each other at all, Mary and the Earl? It's hard to tell. Again, Mary can be deliberately cruel, and I'm not condoning that, but she can also be extremely insightful, kind, and good. And the Earl can also be kind and good, and usually is, eventually (after the requisite bluster) -- but he can be cruel, too. Because his head is up his ass. (And yes, I felt all these things about him before he ever kissed the maid and told his wife she's stupid.))

Anyway. I suppose the big question now is how they're going to get rid of Richard. Ooo, I know! Why don't they have him randomly decide he wants to learn to fly an airplane, then offer his services dusting crops on a nearby farm, purely because he's decided he wants to be helpful! Then he could haphazardly fall in love with a married farm woman, get jilted, and come out of the experience with a complete personality transplant! Richard will be kind and helpful and utterly without self-interest! Sounds completely bizarre, doesn't it? Except that it's precisely what the show has done with Edith's character (substituting cars for airplanes and farmer man for farmer woman).

Listen, it's not that characters can't change. And it's not that I don't like the new Edith. (How interesting Mary now looks beside Edith. Edith used to make Mary seem kind in comparison! Now Mary's the only hard one in the bunch.) But where the hell did this new softhearted, virtuous, Toad-of-Toad-Hall sister come from?! What happened to sad, trapped, mean, conniving, incapable Edith between seasons one and two?

Moving down to the servants' quarters – I'm reserving my opinion on Branson for now. I loved him last season, but this season I could do without some of the things he's said to Sybil (putting down her work, telling her how she feels). On the other hand, it's a damn romantic story for one of the ladies of the house and the chauffeur to fall in love, I get why he's so pissed off about everything (including politically), and he has been very patient. I love Sybil, and hope Branson's worth it. I hope we'll get to see Sybil talking back.

You know who I love? DAISY. You know whose situation I'm tired of? Mr. Bates'. You know who should be appointed Queen of the World? Maggie Smith.

Once Upon a Time.
...I've lost interest. Yes, TV show, I see what you're trying to do with the mysterious, 5 o'clock-shadowed, typewriter-toting stranger who just rode into town on his motorcycle, but it's not working on me. First I didn't give a shit about the sheriff; then, in one episode, you made me love the sheriff by showing me his pain; then, in the same episode, you KILLED THE FREAKING SHERIFF. Which might even have been fine, had there been anyone else on the show I loved, instead of just a nice cast of people I liked. I can watch a show that's got a nice cast of people I like. Until the show gives me someone to COMPLETELY LOVE, and then the whole tenor of the show changes, and my expectations rise, and they never go down again.  My love for a character can gradually, over time, start shedding light on other parts of the show, so that I begin to love them too. But you killed my sheriff too soon, and then you left me with nothing to love. And now I realize that this is an empty relationship and I don't care.

I've even lost interest in Snow White and Prince Charming (Mary Margaret and David in Storyville), now that David is sneaking around behind his wife's back to see Mary Margaret. It's pretty normal behavior for a regular real-life dumbass, and even rather understandable, since we all know there's something fishy about the legitimacy of that marriage, plus, we've all watched enough TV to know that waking up with complete amnesia and excellent muscle tone after years in a coma is extremely disorienting and can affect behavior. BUT. David isn't a regular guy. He's Prince Charming. I expect Prince Charming to be unable to live without his true love, but I also expect him not to be a coward in his behavior toward his wife. PRINCE CHARMING IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DISAPPOINTING. THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT.

The second series, in my opinion, is even funnier than the first series. The first episode in the second series, "A Scandal in Belgravia," was hilarious, highly entertaining, and also deeply disappointing to me -- such an opportunity missed. Happily, someone else wrote an eloquent post about the problem, which allows me to link instead of trying to articulate it myself. Here's what Holger Syme has to say (thanks for the link, Marie!). The third episode in the second series, "The Reichenbach Fall," was so fabulous that I wrote an ecstatic post about it being fabulous....  this episode took me by surprise by making me care for Sherlock himself, much more than I ever had before. I had cared for Sherlock's satellites and found Watson, in particular, very dear; I'd been extremely amused by Sherlock, and understood why Watson loved him. But I don't think I'd quite loved him myself, until I was allowed to watch him struggle with fear, grief, love, and defeat here. Sherlock, I care now.

Also, I've come to LOVE the theme music and opening credits sequence of this show.  (Here's a youtube vid --  the music is criminally cut off at the end, but it's the best I can do.) (I miss London!) The music in particular, when it comes exploding in, feels just exactly right for the show.

Other shows on my queue that I haven't started yet, and have no idea when I'll ever find the time: Six Feet Under; The Wire; Madmen; Doctor Who; Dexter; Better off Ted; Alias; Deadwood; The Good Wife; Mildred Pierce; and the final season of Battlestar Galactica, which I still haven't seen all the way through.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"The only thing that limits us is our imagination"

Erik Johansson, photographer of the impossible, concludes his TedTalk with that statement. I love all the photographs he shows in his talk (embedded below), but the one at 4:42 is the one that MADE MY DAY.

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

I, for one (taking the question of imagination in a different direction) think lack of imagination breeds small-mindedness and cruelty, and imagination breeds compassion... I think our world is suffering from a crisis of lack of imagination, and in this country, at least, it shows itself in people's quickness to pronounce moral judgment on others -- which then has hurtful political consequences. I would say more about that except that I'm busy watching Downton Abbey.  Talk amongst yourselves. Go Sybil!  Whoo-hoo!


Also -- in other news -- easiest beef stew crockpot recipe ever:

1 can of Guinness
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, pressed (or less, if you don't love garlic as much as I do)
2 bay leaves
1 pound (+) of stew beef (not too lean, or it'll be tough)

Sizes and amounts can change, depending on your tastes. Throw it all in the crockpot and cook it for 2 or 3 hours on high, or 5 or 6 on low. Technically, you're supposed to brown the meat before you stew it, but I didn't bother with this recipe, and it was delicious anyway.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 14: Pan-Universal Be Who You Are Day

Click my Indonesian cover to enbiggen. Hello to my new Indonesian readers! *waves* ------->

So, three years ago, I decided to declare February 14 Interplanetary Be Who You Are Day. If you don't have the energy to click on that link, don't worry, I'll explain. But first, I would like to announce that in the spirit of inclusiveness, I am changing the name to Pan-Universal Be Who You Are Day. Now, not only extraterrestrial and extragalactic people but also alternate versions of ourselves can join our celebration! (Listen. You go ahead and start a holiday and see how hard it is to draw lines.)

So, there are a lot of things I don't like about Valentine's Day. For example, the working conditions of the people who grow our flowers. The muddy, murky issue of conflict diamonds. The child labor crisis in the chocolate industry. (I'm not actually trying to be depressing here! Just honest. The reality is depressing. I'm also not suggesting I'm any more innocent than anyone else. I love cut flowers, I love chocolate, and I have a diamond on my person at this very moment, and no, I am not always sure where it all comes/came from.)

Closer to home, I also don't like this about Valentine's Day: it tries to divide people up into two neat categories. (1) People who are madly in love and happy. (2) People who are single, sad, lonely, pathetic, and deserving of our pity.

Seriously? It's so reductive! There are a gazillion kinds of people; there are a gazillion kinds of relationships and ways to live; there isn't one good, happy way to be and one bad, sad way to be. Stop being so unimaginative, world!

Anyway. Hence: I've decided to rename February 14 Pan-Universal Be Who You Are Day. Here is an (incomplete!) list of people it is completely fine to be on this day (and every other day!):
  1. A person who is thinking about beginning a relationship but isn't sure.
  2. A person who is thinking about ending a relationship but isn't sure.
  3. A person who has decided to have a boyfriend and a shop on Etsy instead of a wife and a law degree, even though it will anger his mother.
  4. A person who has decided to have a cat and an emu instead of kids, even though it will baffle her father (and also the emu might bite him. Though the argument could be made that so might the kids).
  5. A person who is holding the hand of his lover who is about to have sex reassignment surgery.
  6. Children eating lollypops.
  7. A person who wants what she doesn't want and doesn't want what she wants and often can't figure out what she wants and often can't have what she wants and sometimes has what she doesn't want and frankly feels RATHER UNSETTLED MUCH OF THE TIME.
  8. A person who's in love with the Ryan Gosling Hey Girl Library tumblr.
  9. A person who's in love with the Rachel Maddow Hey Girl tumblr.
  10. A person with a broken heart who is sobbing.
  11. A person who feels that just because a relationship ended, that doesn't mean it failed.
  12. A person who would love to think about Valentine's Day and his one true love, if only he hadn't just gotten out of surgery and can't move.
  13. A person who loves Valentine's Day, wears pink, has heart socks, loves being in love, and has a big romantic day planned.
  14. A person who is helping her toddlers make their first valentines.
  15. A single parent who is trying to find the right partner. Also, a single parent who isn't trying to find a partner, because they don't want one. 
  16. A person who's in love with more than one person.
  17. A person who thinks he'll never find anyone who understands him.
  18. A person who is recovering from a painful event and is nowhere near being ready to think about sharing herself with someone else.
  19. A single person who loves being single.
  20. A person in a traditional relationship.
  21. A Cylon who fell in love and consequently messed up someone else's life by accident, because she didn't know she was a Cylon. Listen, these things happen.
  22. A doctor and war veteran whose deepest love is a brilliant socially-maladaptive consulting detective who shoots holes in the wall when he's bored.
  23. The third daughter in an early-20th-century aristocratic Yorkshire family who thinks she might be in love with the Irish revolutionary chauffeur, but it's confusing, because it would be an enormous blow to her family, and also, he can kinda be a jerk sometimes.
  24. An author who might be watching too much TV?
  25. An extraterrestrial named Blorkybeans (loose translation) who is enjoying her post-heartbreak intergalactic port city cruise more than she expected to, because it turns out she's good at making friends, even though her ex tried to convince her she wasn't. Anyway, he looked like a glorpyplotch. (That's like an extraterrestrial version of an octopus.)
  26. Me.
  27. You.
Did I miss anyone?

Here are some links about buying fair trade and about how to avoid conflict diamonds. Thanks to Marc for suggesting the word "Pan-Universal" ^_^. Have a great holiday, everyone! Spread the news about Pan-Universal Be Who You Are Day to anyone who might want to celebrate it!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Randutiae and a Cover

Guys, look what you can get at Crate & Barrel for only $400.



So, I recently realized that a problem in my house can be solved by getting a new bookcase. I'm very excited to have an excuse to get a new bookcase. It also gives me an opportunity to mention another local indie that I adore, and that you should check out if you live in the Cambridge area: The Door Store, at 940 Massachusetts Avenue, between Central and Harvard Squares. They're a small, family-run business, and can make certain types of wooden furniture to order. (They made my TV stand and the little table inside my front door to my specifications.) They also have a lot of beautiful handmade furniture lying around ready to be bought. The staff is made up of men and women who are carpenters and who know what they're talking about. Also, they won't charge you $400 for a mass-produced white rectangle.

Next, Tui has some lovely vids up on her blog. And I also like this (very funny) video about panic attacks (and also about cheese and Whole Foods ^_^), with Sara Benincasa, comedian, writer, and author of the memoir Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from my Bedroom. Animation by Scott Bateman (and thanks, B!):

Moving on -- wanna see my German cover for Bitterblue?

"Die Königliche" means "the queenly" or "the royal one," which matches the form of the first two German titles (Die Beschenkte -- the one who's been given a gift; Die Flammende -- the flaming one). Carlsen always gives me such beautiful covers! The braids are what I love most about this one. No wonder Bitterblue's head often hurts, with those heavy braids!

The German version will be published on August 18. I can also report that Roca's Spanish version will be published in May. So will some of the other translations -- I'll pass on the news once I've confirmed it. (The USA/Canada/UK/Australia/New Zealand pub date is May 1.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Check Out These Links

In Atlanta, a series of fatphobic billboard ads have been targeting kids. At her blog Dances with Fat: Health Comes in All Shapes and Sizes, Ragen Chastain is raising the money to put up "billboards and print media campaigns from a Health at Every Size® perspective to show kids of all sizes that they are valued and respected." Click on the link to read more about it, and consider donating something. Donations as low as $5 can be processed online.

ETA: Apparently donations as small as one dollar can be processed online -- just follow the appropriate link. My mistake, sorry. Hopefully you're all paying more attention than I am.

Also, thanks to Tamora Pierce for writing the post "Shame on You, Komen Foundation!" My thoughts exactly, but expressed better and with really interesting links. It comforts me that so many people are angry about this.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

On the Character/Writer Relationship

Earlier this week, an interview question got me thinking. It was a question about whether, just as I inhabit my characters' minds in order to write them, my characters return the favor and inhabit my mind.

The most straightforward answer is no. I don't think about my characters unless I'm writing, or thinking about writing. If I'm trying to make an important life decision, for example, my characters don't weigh in, nor do I ask myself "What would Katsa or Fire or Bitterblue or Po or Raffin do?" They don't insert commentary while I'm at the store or the movies or the art museum. If they're witty speakers, they (unfortunately) don't inspire me with witty things to say. Nor, except in rare occasions with one particular (pretty random) character, do I ever encounter people in my real life who look like my characters or remind me of them.

The truth, in fact, is that I tend to forget about my characters when I'm not writing them. I was having a conversation with my sisters once in which the subject of (*mild, non-specific spoiler ahead -- not for Bitterblue*) "book characters who fall off cliffs" came up. I said that I couldn't think of any book characters who fall off cliffs. They gave me a funny look, and assured me that if I thought really hard, I might be able to come up with one. It still took me a few minutes to remember that one of my own most important characters falls off a cliff.

I think maybe writers write from a place that isn't exactly self-conscious -- or least I do. So there isn't exactly a connection between my writing and my "real," conscious life. When I stop writing and return to my extra-book life, my characters disappear. Other people's characters wander freely through my mind; I'll consciously think about characters from the TV I'm watching or the books I'm reading. But in my life, my characters exist for the purpose of writing, and if I'm thinking about them, it's because I'm writing, or thinking about writing, or thinking about having written them.

That being said, there's more to the answer. Have you noticed that I've been posting the occasional full-fledged rant lately on my blog? I'm so mad at Bank of America that I can't help blogging about it. I hate the for-profit health insurance industry so much that I can't help making snarky comments. Just Monday, I mentioned my short fuse, and I can't count the number of times in recent months I've stopped myself from expressing vitriol on the blog, about every news headline I see. Why am I so angry?  I'm now 99% sure it's because in my daily writing life, I'm writing about an angry character.

All of the following is a slight oversimplification, but -- Fire is a character who’s frightened a lot. I realized partway through writing Fire that consequently, I was very close to my own fear (which is largely why writing that book was so uncomfortable. I was frightened all the time). I stopped feeling that particular brand of fear when the book was done. Bitterblue is trapped in a web of confusion, and I’m convinced that this is part of the reason I spent certain sections of the writing of that book wandering in my own, milder, personal confusion. That particular brand of confusion has now passed. These days, I'm close to my own anger, and probably will continue to be, until I make more progress in my current writing project. 

Is this because my characters inhabit my mind? I guess the answer is yes, more or less, somehow. I seem to have a tendency (unconsciously, undeliberately, and often uncomfortably) to filter my own life through the feelings of the characters I'm writing. I suppose it makes sense. I spend so much time in their minds that it's logical for the boundaries to blur. Also, I've been saying that I don't think about my characters unless I'm writing... but I bet most writers would agree that until a project is completely in the bag, we're almost always writing it, at every moment, even in the moments when we're not. Sometimes we're not writing in the moments when we are, too, but that's for a whole other post :o).

Anyway. I didn't make this anger connection until I was asked the interview question, so I'm quite grateful to the interviewer for helping me realize something was going on. Perspective on your own moods is always good!

In other news... this one goes out to my parents. Have y'all ever listened closely to the words of this song? That Gonzo is a poet.