Sunday, September 29, 2013

On Writing: Dealing with "I Don't Wanna"

Sometimes, while writing, instead of feeling like, "Gosh, this is really hard," I feel like, "Holy hell. This is AGONIZING." I expect this happens to most every writer. When it happens to me, I call it the I Don't Wannas, because, as it gets to be time for me to sit my butt in the chair and start working, every cell in my body is screaming, "I DON'T WANNA! I DON'T WANNA! I DON'T WANNA!"

This can happen at any point in a project, but for me, there are particular circumstances under which it always happens. When I'm coming to the end of the planning stage of a revision, for example, and transitioning into the actual doing-the-work stage, the I Don't Wannas arrive like clockwork. I think it's because in that moment, I'm holding in my cupped hands the entirety of a finished draft that's not working AND an unstarted draft composed only of magic ideas, and it feels like the magic is dribbling away through my fingers. When I'm trying to hold both past and future versions of a lengthy writing project in my mind, remembering the ways it doesn't work and all the ways I dream of it working, it can be too much for my little brains. And when I'm planning to do complicated work but haven't done it yet, it can feel like I'm losing the work at every moment. The entire endeavor begins to feel too hard… and I just don't wanna.

I'd like to share a few of the things that I've learned, from experience, help me through the I Don't Wannas. I hope that writing them down will help me remember them, and that one or two or seven of them might help you!
  • I remind myself that the only way to alleviate this feeling is progress: the only way out of this feeling is through. If I don't sit down and push myself to make real progress today, I will feel exactly this bad when I sit down again tomorrow, and in fact, I will probably feel worse, because of the time I wasted yesterday. This is merely how beginning feels. I need to work while I feel it, or else I'll never get past the beginning and I'll never stop feeling it.
  • I remind myself to focus on the trees, not the forest. When I sit down, I don't need to be thinking about every part of the previous draft and everything I hope to do in the next draft. I don't need to be thinking of all the ways all the parts touch on all the characters, plot points, and themes. I only need to be thinking about the two or three pages -- maybe even the two or three lines -- in front of my face.
  • I'm careful about how I schedule my writing time -- about when I work. I don't always have a choice about when I work (life being one of those things that resists control ^_^), but some days/weeks I can create more flexibility than others, and sometimes I find I'm in a stretch where I'm most productive if I roll out of bed and go to my writing table immediately. Other times, I find I'm in a stretch where I work best between midnight and 4 AM. My point is that I pay attention to when the notion of working is, for whatever reason, less painful, and I try to work then.
  • I'm careful not to overwork. This is really important. It's easier to sit down at my desk if I know I only have to be there for two or three or four hours. Overworking creates burnout. Plus, there exists a necessary part of the work that can only take place in the unconscious mind, thoughts that need to settle when you're not consciously working. When my time is up, I put my notebook and papers someplace where they won't catch my eye, and I spend the rest of the day doing other parts of my job and non-work-related things.
  • In a similar vein, I try to be careful not to confuse "I Don't Wanna" with "I Truly Can't." There are times when it's just not happening, no matter how hard I push. It's a special kind of exhaustion that isn't about "This work is too hard so I don't want to do it" and is about "I actually can't do this right now." In my experience, the only way out of this feeling is rest. Pushing through it only makes the burnout worse. How do you learn to tell the difference? Every writer has to figure this one out, and I'm still learning it… by trying things, making mistakes, and paying attention.
  • I notice how, when my writing's going badly, it infects other parts of my life, too – and find myself laughing about it. Sometimes, when my writing's going badly, I start to feel like I'm inept at everything, and broadly offensive to all the nice people in the world. Since I don't generally feel that way, I realize it's coming from my writing, and when you start to notice things like that about yourself, it can be both interesting and funny. It makes me realize how much writing is tied to my identity. It's evidence that the only thing for me to do is try again tomorrow at the writing. And it makes me want to give myself a hug.
  • I forgive myself. Writers: please, please be kind to yourselves. If you give yourself a pardon for time you may have wasted or writing that seems insufferable, you'll feel better, which is reason enough. But also, if you give the writing permission to be an awful mess, it will begin to feel comfortable with itself, and safe on the page. It will stand up tall, grow, get stronger, and begin to be what you're trying to make it. 
And that's my two cents on the I Don't Wannas.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Penguin's Teen Author Spotlight. Also, Nail Polish

As usual, I'm a little behind the curve about blogging things, but this week, to celebrate the release of the Bitterblue paperback, I've been the author on Penguin's Teen Author Spotlight. Check it out if you want to see a short interview. Then scroll down and read about the other featured authors!

Also, I painted my nails. I hope Piet Mondrian and Frank Lloyd Wright would like them. Y'all know I like to subject you to my nail polish, right?

 Thank you, R, for taking this picture!

 On my right hand, gold with a teal stripe and silver tips.

 On my left hand, silver with a teal stripe and gold tips. By the way, this is a lovely beer:
Trappístes Rochefort 6. Belgian, brewed within the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy.

As long as I'm identifying the beer in the picture, I may as well identify my nail polish painting materials, for the nail painters among you: The gold is Orly "Luxe," the silver is Orly "Shine," and the teal is Diamond "Don't Teal My Heart Away." I'll try to remember to do that in future; I don't think I've been consistent about it in the past. The Orly metallics are extremely malleable and orderly and easy to paint with. The Diamond colors I have are plasticky and gloppy and soft, definitely not my favorite texture, but their colors are irresistible.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Guest Post: Helen Lowe

Last year, I spoke with New Zealand-based fantasy author, Helen Lowe, about Bitterblue, an interview that has since been translated into both French and Chinese – probably because Helen asks good questions! Recently, Helen’s novel The Gathering Of The Lost, the second novel in her wall of night series, was shortlisted for the David Gemmell Legend Award for epic-heroic fantasy. Congratulations, Helen!

Authors can always get together and talk. But what if our characters talked to each other? Helen had the idea of writing a guest post for my blog that was a conversation between Bitterblue and her lead character, Malian of Night. The result, which you can read below, is a really nice introduction to Malian and her situation. Thank you for writing this conversation and letting me share it on my blog, Helen!


Bitterblue: Welcome, Malian, to Monsea. It’s wonderful to meet you. You know, in many ways, I feel our situations are similar: you've lost your mother and are estranged from your father, and we both feel a strong sense of duty to our people. Do you see those same similarities?

Malian: I think it’s very true that we share a similar sense of commitment and duty to our people, although as yet I am only the Heir to the House (nation) of Night, while you are already a ruling Queen. We have both also, when young, been forced to flee from our homes to save our lives, although you were able to return quite soon when your father died, whereas I remain in exile. In some ways that gives me more freedom to enjoy the kinds of adventures your friend Katsa has – but whether in exile, or on the Wall of Night where I am returning now, the duty to lead and protect my people, and save our world from its enemies, if I can, remains the same.

In terms of our family situations, I feel there are both similarities and differences. You knew your mother, who is now dead, killed by your father’s hand – and I feel for what I know must be your deep grief. I, however, never knew my mother, and grew up believing she was dead. I have since found out that she may in fact have fled from an exile similar to my own, to the ranks of my deadly enemies, the Darkswarm. My father allowed my mother to be exiled, and later exiled me as well, but although he is a stern, unbending man, who holds to the letter of our people’s laws, he is not a cruel or a corrupt one, as your father was. Despite our differences, I still love him.

Bitterblue: I knew that you fled the Wall of Night and have lived in hiding since then, but I thought it was because your life was in danger, as mine was when Katsa fled with me from Monsea to Lienid. I didn’t know that both you and your mother were exiles. So why were you exiled?

Malian: We were both exiled when we developed the old magic powers of our people. These are now forbidden because of what is called the Betrayal War, but was really a civil war between the nations of the Derai Alliance (of which Night is one of nine distinct Houses.) The final act of the civil war was when a magician unleashed a firestorm of magic, immolating friend and enemy alike, and breaking every law in the magic book. Since then its use has been outright forbidden or tightly controlled, which was fine while our enemies appeared quiescent, but presents more difficulties now they’re on the rise again, since they do use magic. Very strong magic in some cases.

I was exiled because of my magic, but the reason I fled Night ahead of that taking effect, was because my enemies were trying to kill me, using magic as well as conventional weapons. It’s even possible that my mother was the person who led the assassins – and they were never going to stop coming so long as they knew where to find me. That’s why I had to disappear and learn to use my power effectively: both to save myself, as well as to – I hope, one day – defeat the Darkswarm before they destroy the Derai. 

Bitterblue: You suspect your mother led those who tried to kill you?

Malian: Yes, and I know your father tried to hurt you, too – but I still think that was far worse, because I only suspect it was my mother. I don’t know for sure. And from what we know of your father, he took pleasure in cruelty for its own sake. Perhaps my mother has become like Leck, if she truly has joined the Darkswarm, but from what I have learned she was also very badly treated by Night, so has more cause for her enmity. [She pauses.] But it’s still very difficult to learn that your mother, even if you have never known her, is trying to kill you. I’m not sure I have your courage, either [saluting] to pursue difficult truths to their source. I prefer to focus on the outward action I need to take to save myself and my people: unmasking and thwarting Darkswarm agents seeking to disrupt the wider world, and pursuing my quest to find the three lost weapons of power that once belonged to our greatest hero.

Bitterblue: You remind me of Katsa. She has magic as well, which I don't, and she has an endless tolerance for adventure.

Malian: I must admit, I admire Katsa immensely and would love to spar with her! We Derai have a fighting style called the Derai-dan, which it would be fun to test against her skills and Graceling ability. While in exile I have also learned other – sneakier, shall we say – skills that would be useful on one of Katsa’s adventures. Yet although I know Katsa is a champion, and has a strong sense of duty, I don’t think it is quite the same as the responsibility of rulership that we discussed earlier, which you and I were both trained to pursue. [Smiles, just a little wickedly.] And like you, I don’t have a Po in my life either.

Bitterblue: Well, as my cousin, Po is in a unique position to make me crazy – but I know what you mean. [Ruefully] I’ve certainly found it difficult to balance being the Queen of Monsea with having friends and any kind of life outside of the work. Is it the same for you?

Malian: It’s true that a life of exile and danger, staying one step ahead of those who want you dead, makes any sort of personal life, let alone committed relationships, difficult! Like both you and Katsa though, I do have some very good friends, who are important to me. These include Kalan, who also has magic power and went into exile with me; the heralds of the Guild, Jehane Mor and Tarathan of Ar, who helped me escape the Wall of Night; and the hedge knight, Raven, who is very useful to have at your back in a tight spot. I won’t say there’s been no romance at all, but a great lady of Night may kiss, but she does not kiss and tell.

Bitterblue: And now my sources tell me that The Gathering Of The Lost, the second book in the series about your adventures, is a finalist for an award called Legend. How do accolades such as this affect your quest?

Malian: It’s certainly a very great honor to considered for an award that celebrates a hero as renowned as Druss, the Legend, and even more so were The Gathering Of The Lost to win. Yet I am sure no one understands better than you when I say that I am held to my current path by duty and honor, but also by the friendships I talked about just now. If I respect those bonds, then I must hold to my path regardless of whether the crown of Legend settles on my brow, or not. Although I must admit that the battleaxe awarded to the victor would potentially be very useful in the adventures I foresee ahead.

Bitterblue: I do understand about the bonds of duty, honor, and friendship – and even about the battleaxe. I'm so glad to meet you in person at last, Malian, and to find out more about you and your life.

Malian: Thank you, Bitterblue. [Bows.] I am honored to have been your guest, and greatly enjoyed our conversation.


To find out more about Malian of Night and her chronicler, Helen Lowe, you can visit Helen’s website or “…on Anything, Really” blog.

You can also read Helen’s finalist’s interview on the Gemmell Awards’ site, here.

If you wish to vote for the Legend Award, the site is here.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Afternoon Tea at Upstairs on the Square

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bitterblue for the Nook. Also, the paperback

Hi everyone. Just one more note about Bitterblue: if you're a Nook reader or read on an app that supports Nook books and have been considering buying the Bitterblue ebook, do it on Tuesday, September 17, when I understand Bitterblue will be the Nook Daily Find. I'm told it will cost only $2.99 that day. (Edited to add, Tuesday morning: There was some price confusion this morning, but it is, indeed, now available at that link for $2.99. My apologies for the earlier mixup.)

Also, I got my author copies of the paperback edition in the mail the other day, and I have to say, the Firebird imprint at Penguin did a really beautiful job with the paperback. Included as extra backmatter is a printed version of a long post I once wrote about the process of (hand)writing and revising Bitterblue -- that post, for those with long memories, that had pictures from my notebooks, etc. Of course the paperback also includes all of Ian Schoenherr's beauteous art.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

September Fall, September Spring

On a recent morning, I left my house early to meet a friend for breakfast, then had to go back inside for some arm warmers. The shadows are growing longer here in Massachusetts, the light grows more yellow, the mornings are chilly and crisp, and a few of the very earliest trees are starting to change color – fall in New England approaches. My favorite season!

That same morning, I had an email from writer Helen Lowe, who lives in New Zealand. Here's what she said: " does feel very nice to be getting into spring, although we tend to get bright days with cold winds (easterly, off the southern ocean) so lovely in a sheltered spot, but otherwise you do have to rug up when venturing the great outdoors."

Thanks for letting me share the start of spring in New Zealand on my blog, Helen. Readers, I'm pleased to inform you that you'll be hearing more from Helen here soon, as she's working on a guest post for my blog.

On my way home from breakfast, I acquired two lilies for my writing desk (from Nellie's Wild Flowers in Davis Square).

I also made a stop at the Harvard Book Store, because I saw this book in the window.

This is a beautiful (wordless) book, people. I heartily recommend you look into it. Here's the trailer.

That was my autumn morning!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bitterblue Paperback, September 17

By the way, the Bitterblue USA/Canada paperback will be released on September 17, which seems to be next Tuesday. Boy did that ever sneak up on me. In case anyone's been waiting for that, just wanted to pass on the word. It's open for preorders at various book buying sites – and don't forget to support your local indie!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Simply Trying to Hear It

This video by "recreational mathemusician" Vi Hart, called "Twelve Tones," is half an hour long, in addition to which, once you watch it, you'll want to watch it again. It's so worth it. I'm not sure how it'll be to watch if you have no music literacy whatsoever, but in case it's helpful, here's the Wikipedia page about the twelve-tone technique. (Personally, I think you can get a lot out of the video even if you don't understand everything that's going on – and it may make you want to go out and learn new things! It did for me.)

(Thanks, D!)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A note to anyone who's been trying (and failing) to watch those dance videos –

I just discovered that Fox has started posting the SYTYCD dance routines on YouTube and enabling embedding, so I went back and revised all the links in my earlier post. I also embedded a few of the dances so you can watch them right on my blog. So, if you wanted to see them but Fox's website has been making it impossible, try again!

Money Memories. (Also, Dancing.)

When I was a little girl, probably six or seven, my mother sent me to school every day with my lunch and a quarter to buy milk. At some point, I figured out that if instead of buying milk, I saved my milk money for two days, I could buy an ice cream, which cost 45¢, instead. It was a magnificent discovery. I can't remember what I did with the extra 5¢, but as I was an arithmetically-inclined and goal-oriented child with clear priorities, I'm guessing that every 9th day, I added that day's 25¢ to the 20¢ accumulated over the last eight days and used it to buy an ice cream. I wish I could remember where I kept the money. I have a vague memory of a little oval green plastic change purse that opened like a fish's mouth when you squeezed the edges.

Then one day, one of my sisters caught me eating an ice cream she knew I wasn't supposed to be eating, and ratted on me. She ratted on me! What a lack of foresight. I'm sure it felt good to rat on me, but not nearly as good as it would have felt if she'd started saving her milk money to buy herself ice cream.

I'm reading a book called Emotional Currency: A Woman's Guide to Building A Healthy Relationship with Money, by Kate Levinson, who is a psychotherapist. It's a book that acknowledges something hardly anyone acknowledges: Money is emotional. Our attitudes toward money are deeply tied to our childhood experiences of money, our most complicated relationships, and, most likely, a lot of ingrained habits and unquestioned assumptions we would do well to examine more closely. (So far, I see no reason why this book should be only for women.)


This season of So You Think You Can Dance is flatly (and out of the blue) one of the best seasons ever. I'm so glad someone had the idea for previous contestants to come back as All-Stars, helping, and dancing with, current contestants. When they come back, they're all grown up, they're even better dancers, and I'm guessing they're a lot less stressed out; in a lot of cases, I like them so much more. Even the ones I loved from the start (like Travis, Twitch, Catherine, and PASHA), I like more!

(ETA: Hurrah! Fox has apparently gotten the message and made its videos available on YouTube – and for embedding. I've changed the links below so you don't have to deal with their crappy website, and embedded my favorite dances.)

This season, someone came up with the wonderful idea of an episode in which All-Stars both choreograph for and dance with the contestants. We viewers have gotten used to the stunning choreography of previous contestants Travis Wall (contemporary) and Dmitry Chaplin (ballroom), for example, but what fun to get to watch them dance again, and their own choreography, with current contestants! (Here's what happens when Mark Kanemura choreographs for himself and others.) Travis was always my favorite contestant the year he competed; what a pleasure to see him dance his own work with current contestant Amy Yakima. (I can't find a working clip, but Travis and Amy will certainly perform this dance again during the season finale on Tuesday.) (ETA: Yay! Here it is, and I'm embedding it below.)

Dmitry, on the other hand – I couldn't take Dmitry seriously when he was a contestant (because he was always ripping his shirt off. ALWAYS). How things have changed; Dmitry's rumba, which he choreographed for and danced with current contestant Hayley Erbert, knocked my socks off. (ETA: And now I've embedded it right here.)

I could link to twenty great routines from this season, but since Travis is a favorite of mine, I'll limit myself to two recent routines choreographed by him, just for fun. First, All-Star Robert Roldan and contestant Tucker Knox, in Travis's second beautiful routine for two men on this show. (If you only watch one routine, watch this one.) (ETA: Embedded below.)

Second – I've been waiting all season for contestants Fik-Shun and Jasmine Harper to dance together, because she is MUCH taller than he is, and the show tends to try to avoid matching tall women with short men. Travis did such a beautiful job choreographing them together in this "underwater" dance. These two contestants have been among my favorites from the beginning, and I have to say, for the world's most adorable hip-hop dancer, I'm always amazed at the way Fik-Shun can inhabit serious roles. (ETA: The routine embedded here.)

Finally, since this post is already a mess of edits and weird formatting, it seems like a good moment to remind those readers who receive my posts as emails that if you can't see the videos I've embedded, just go to my Blog Actual.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cavalia's Odysseo

I went to see Cavalia's Odysseo, which is this beautiful show involving horses, trainers, acrobats, riders, aerialists, and musicians currently taking place under an enormous tent here in Boston (Somerville). One of the acts involves four aerialists doing a silks show up high on a spinning rig that's being spun by four white horses below. It made me so speechless that I confess I barely clapped for the next act, not because it wasn't amazing, but because I couldn't move. In case you're having trouble imagining what a show involving horses, trainers, acrobats, riders, aerialists, and musicians is like, here's a little video. :o) (You can watch the silks show for a few seconds around 1:59.)

My absolute favorite parts of the show, by the way, were those moments when all these unsaddled, unbridled horses would be running en masse across land or water in graceful formation and suddenly one of them would be like, "Meh, I'm not into this. I'm going to go stand over there and watch. Yep. You guys look great from here!" Or, on one occasion, "I don't feel like running with this group anymore. I like the looks of that group all the way over there. *run* *smash* *SQUEEZE*  Yes, this is much better!" The trainers, sometimes laughing, would just adapt the act to accommodate what the rogue horse wanted to do. Oh, and speaking of water: during the intermission, the staff distributed towels to the people sitting in the first row.

After the show, I got to visit the stables!

A lot of the horses were getting their manes braided after the show...

...or getting some love from the riders.

Horses are kind of amazing to look at. LOOK AT HIS FACE.

The rider who was scritching the horse in that picture above kindly explained in Spanish
to a nice Spanish-English speaker, who kindly explained in English to me, that the marks
on the horses are the signs of what farms they were born on and bought from.
They are marked at birth.

This horse really wanted to play.

This horse engaged me in a lengthy staring contest.
He won by a resounding margin.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Randutiae on the Fly

Just taking a few minutes to say a few things on this busy Sunday…
  • My dear friend Amanda MacGregor has a new website called Cite Something! where she's providing research and writing advice to high school and college students. Plus, she has a sense of humor. Go check it out, look around a bit if you're interested. Amanda and I were grad students together at Simmons College's Center for the Study of Children's Literature and I am deelighted by her new project!
  • In case you live in Cambridge and love cookies, you should know that the workers at Insomnia Cookies are currently on strike. They are fighting for a living wage, healthcare, enforced breaks, and the right to be in a union. I'm very grateful to the friend who told me this (thanks, B!), because otherwise I might have accidentally crossed the picket line for a cookie! Now I'm telling you, so you can avoid the same error. Support the strikers! Reject the cookies! 
  • The news about Jane Austen on England's 10-pound note worked its way through my convoluted brain and led me to the earnest wish that the funny bird from Edward Gorey's The Epiplectic Bicycle were on our 20-dollar bill instead of Andrew Jackson. If it were, I would love my money and I would probably spend more of it. It would be good for the economy. Plus, the bird is giving good advice to consumers.