Monday, December 29, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things (In No Particular Order)

  • Over-the-knee socks.
  • This comment from Cordelia after she saw the stuffed chicken Mom was roasting for Christmas: "Yeah, I hope that when I die, someone sticks an onion up my ass."
  • Three-year-old cousins-once-removed who want to sit in your lap.
  • Soft, silky cats who let you rub their ginger-brown tummies.
  • This sign, spotted at a coffee shop in New Jersey: "Fat snowmen last longer."
  • My luggage tags, which say "I'm going around in circles" and "I'm a mess on the inside."
  • The fact that my fellow writers and email buddies Donna Freitas and Marie Rutkoski are Publisher's Weekly's "Fall Flying Starts" along with me.
  • Naps on airplanes.
  • Time with family AND quiet time alone after time with family.
  • Something I have been too shy to say before: Graceling is a Fantasy/SF bestseller in Australia. :o)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Sigh...

SIGH.....

So, my car just returned from the shop. "It's a '97 Ford Escort with 175,000 miles on it," my mechanic kept saying. "It needs a new transmission. Your clutch is slipping. You need new rear brakes. You have a leak in the [insert car part I can't remember]. Is this a northern car? Because it's all rusted out underneath. And did I mention that it's a '97 Ford Escort with 175,000 miles on it?"

Yes. Yes, you did. So? SO?? WHAT'S YOUR POINT??!?! WHERE'S THE LOVE? I LOVE MY CAR!!!!!

Here's the prognosis: Either I accept that my car is dying and allow it to die a natural death; or, I spend $3500 over the next year or so to rehabilitate the car. I am, of course, choosing the first option, because I am not insane. But I do so with a heavy heart.

As Robert Frost once (sort of) wrote:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing silver with dark gray interior can stay.

Sigh....

:o)

This will probably be my only post this week, on account of travel and general merry-making. I hope the year closes peacefully for everyone. For those of you in the southern hemisphere, enjoy the long days. And for those of you in the northern hemisphere, be of good cheer, because the light is coming back!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Teachers Make a Difference

I've received some questions recently about Simmons College's Center for the Study of Children's Literature in Boston, which is where I got my M.A. degree.

In a case of excellent timing, just last week on her blog, Cynsations, Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed one of my favorite teachers ever, Cathie Mercier. Cathie is one of the professors who made my experience at Simmons so extraordinary. And the interview is all about the different children's literature programs Simmons offers -- which means that now I don't have to write about it myself! I can just send you all to Cathie's interview! BWA-HA-HA! Laziness for the win!

Seriously, though, if you have any specific questions for me about the Simmons experience, please feel free to leave me a question today in the comments, and I will respond. A number of my readers are Simmons graduates, actually, so they should feel free to chime in as well!

Finally, here's a three-minute video in honor of teachers. Yes, it might be familiar -- I posted it here less than two months ago. But you know what? This one's worth a second viewing. Why? Because teachers make a goddamned difference. :o)


Monday, December 15, 2008

Get Your Race Face On

I have a deal with Kinneret Zmora in Israel to publish Graceling in Hebrew. yAt!

Also, my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, is reading Part One of Draft One of Bitterblue and asserts that it is a book, not a pile of crap. Whew.

Speaking of Cordelia, here is a tidbit about her: Cordelia has physical strength, endurance, and the ability to run long distances rather fast. Currently, Cordelia is training for a 15K in March. The training involves a number of things, including Cordelia dragging unathletic little me to early-morning races. Many race events, in case you don't know, have long and short options. For example, a 10K (6.2 mi) and a 5K (3.1 mi) will take place simultaneously, and when you register to compete in the event, you choose one race or the other. Anyway, so, lately Cordelia and I have been getting up at the butt crack of dawn and going to these events. She runs the longer portion and I walk the shorter portion. Our most recent race was on this past Saturday morning.

I have always wondered why, when Cordelia and I share big gobs of DNA, she is athletic and I am not. In fact, I have lots of highly athletic relatives, including a pro golfer, a Navy Seal, a superb amateur triathlete, and an uncle who once won the National Spelling Bee.

Oh. Rats. Maybe I'm starting to see the problem.

Anyway, despite our differences in innate athletic ability, it's clear that Cordelia and I both get into similar mindsets once it's time to compete. For example, here are some things that Cordelia might do during her race:
  • Pick off as many fellow competitors as she can.
  • Use her stopwatch to monitor her pace.
  • Grab a cup of water from the water people and dump it over her head.
  • Reach deep into herself for the grit and determination she needs to succeed.
And here are some things I might do during my race:
  • Identify as many species of birds in the surrounding trees as I can.
  • Use my cell phone to call my mother (the only person I know who's guaranteed to be awake at such an ungodly hour).
  • Accept a cup of water politely from the water people and chat with them for a few minutes about the variety of bird life in northern Florida.
  • Reach deep into my pocket for a sandwich.
My goal on Saturday was to finish walking my 5K before Cordelia finished running her 10K, so that I could be there to scream and whoop and cheer her to the finish line. I reached my goal, just barely. A few minutes after I came walking in, Cordelia came running in, having covered twice the distance, and I screamed my head off so enthusiastically that the people next to me also started screaming. It was great. One of my favorite things to do in the whole world is cheer people across finish lines.

Cordelia came in second in her age group!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

And for Thursday, Three (Random) Super Things

Thing number one: The ALA is introducing a new award this year, the William C. Morris Award, which honors a book for young adults written by a first-time author. Graceling is a finalist! Go here to see all the lovely books. Thank you, Morris committee! I'm so happy and grateful.

Thing number two: My friend Rebecca guest-posted at The Rotund the other day. It's a super post about the intersection between fatness, HAES, and disability, and you can read it here. For those unfamiliar with the term HAES, it means Health at Every Size, and is a movement -- a peace movement, as Linda Bacon says -- that has to do with honoring your body, listening to its wants and needs, dropping the focus on dieting and weight loss, and accepting that everyone has a unique healthy size. If HAES interests you, btw, in addition to visiting Linda Bacon's site you might want to check out her book, which I hear is wonderful. And for even more about HAES, check out Body Positive's HAES site. (Thanks to B for your help with all those links!)

Thing number three: I just bought a slow cooker, and people, my slow cooker is revolutionizing my life. Last week I cooked a chicken with sauerkraut, apples, and onions. This week I cooked teriyaki ginger tofu. Who knows what I'll cook next week? I love my slow cooker. Off to search for good recipes.... :o)

Confidential to my ladies of the snood: smooches to you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

For Monday, a Quote

"When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability... To be alive is to be vulnerable."

- Madeleine L'Engle

In other news, since everyone was so kind a couple of weeks ago when I was tearing my hair out over the writing of Bitterblue, I should let you know that I've worked my way into an easier stretch. If I'm going to share the bad parts with you, might as well share the good parts, too, right? Also, my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, has Part I in hand and will be giving me feedback sometime soon. Traditionally, it is Cordelia's job to read what I'm writing and make a pronouncement about whether it is (1) a pile of crap, or (2) a book. The wonderful thing about Cordelia as my first reader is that she is extremely honest and critical, but she's also respectful, gentle, and supportive. Every writer needs a Cordelia!

Do you have a favorite quote to share? Or, if you're a writer, will you tell me about your first reader(s)?

:o)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

FAQs, the Universe, and Beyond

The gorgeous image on the right is a composite Hubble/IRTF image of storms on Jupiter. I got it here and you can read more about it here. Lest you be impressed with the ease with which I fling around high-tech telescope-y terms (like telescope-y), be assured that I have no idea what I'm talking about. But I like the pretty pictures.

A piece of news: Graceling is one of School Library Journal's Best Books of 2008. yAt!

And now, a few more FAQs.

Spoiler Status: The following FAQs are spoiler-free.

1. When you start a book, what is it like? Is the book just sitting in your head, mostly formed? Where does it come from?
What a great question. For me, when I start a book, I've got parts of it formed in my head -- pivotal, dramatic tension between characters that hasn't necessarily formed itself into clear scenes with dialog and action yet, but that will form itself as I continue to mull it over. I guess what I have at the beginning is the feeling of my characters, and the feeling of their relationships with each other.

What I don't have is the plot, and that's where the serious, plodding, trial-and-error, tedious work comes in. I have to figure out the story that fills in the spaces around all of these feelings. I have to make up a story that will explain the feelings, support the feelings, make the feelings believable. And make logical and structural sense; and pull the reader in; and NOT be boring.

I guess every writer is different. For me, characters tend to come kind of naturally, but plotting takes tons of work!

2. How did you learn about fighting, weapons, and everything else?
Ha ha! In a lot of cases, by reading, both fiction (Tamora Pierce, Hilari Bell, Vivian Vande Velde, for example) and nonfiction (books about horses, martial arts, the history of warfare; encyclopedia articles about swords or the history of medicine). In other cases, by asking oddly specific questions of the right people. For example, I'm lucky to have a general surgeon and wound specialist in my life who wouldn't even blink if I were to say to him, "Uncle Walter, if I were shot in the gut at close range with a steel-tipped arrow and then ran up four flights of stairs, would I be likely to faint? And how long before I'd be able to climb down the tree outside my window into my lover's embrace again?"

Anything I get wrong is my own fault, of course, not the fault of my sources of information. I take a lot of creative liberties with reality sometimes...

3. I have a lot of trouble coming up with fantasy names. How did you come up with your names?
Heh. I sympathize. Fantasy names are really tricky, and frankly, often kind of silly -- I mean, let's face it, basically we're making up a bunch of silly words. And for me, they always seem to end with the letter "N." (Giddon, Raffin, Murgon, Drowden, Thigpen, Birn, Silvern, Ashen -- and wait 'til you read Fire! Hee hee) Why do I do this? It's SILLY! Why not just name everyone nice, simple names, like David and Julia? Sigh, I don't know.

For some reason -- maybe because I think of Lienid as a place full of color -- Lienid names always have some sort of color base, or at least a visual reference. (Ashen, Bitterblue, Silvern, Skye, Faun, Patch; Po's real name is Greening.) For monikers in the rest of my kingdoms, however, I basically try to come up with names that have the right sound when they hit my ear. Sometimes I'll read the credits of movies carefully, looking for real-life last names that would make good fantasy first names. Sometimes I catch myself reading exit signs on the highway. For the book I'm writing now, I had three men working together named Ambler, Runnemede, and Darby -- until it occurred to me that anyone living in the Philadelphia suburbs might find themselves thinking, Ah, yes, and no doubt Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Upper Darby will come along at any moment... :o)

4. Are your characters based off of anyone you know personally?
No, never. Or at least, not intentionally! I don't recall ever having an actual person in mind while building one of my characters. Of course, the stuff of my imagination includes characteristics of people I know (including myself), characters from books I've read, character from movies I've seen, so nothing is ever completely original. But I certainly can't point to a real-life person Katsa reminds me of, for example.

5. When did you start writing? Did you want to become a writer when you were younger? I can never think of a subject to write about! Were you that way, too?
Oh my goodness, yes. I was COMPLETELY that way! I always wanted to write, but I was always too out-of-my-mind busy doing other things, plus, I didn't have any plots in my head. What changed that was the act of making myself sit down to write every day. Sure, I was a bit dry of ideas in the beginning, but the more you poke around and write little, meaningless, no-pressure, practice things, the more ideas start to bubble up. It's a thing that responds -- grows and becomes fertile -- when you give it attention. (Or at least, that was my experience. No doubt other writers have different experiences to relate -- which they should feel free to do in the comments!) Oh, and I started doing serious critical writing when I was about 25, and serious creative writing around the age of 27. I'm 32 now.

I think that sometimes people think that writers are inspired by story ideas, and if you haven't been inspired, then there's no hope for you as a writer. Whatever. Sometimes coming up with a story takes plain-old work. So don't despair if you don't know (YET) what to write about! Just keep at it. Never surrender!

6. Are galaxies uniformly distributed in the universe?
(Okay. I confess that maybe not all of my FAQs are always things I'm frequently asked. But, come on, outer space! Way cooler than my dumb book! ^_^)

No, galaxies are not uniformly distributed in the universe. Galaxies "collect into vast clusters and sheets and walls... interspersed with large voids in which very few galaxies seem to exist." Or so I learned the other day from the Atlas of the Universe (thanks, MTP, for leading me to it). Check out that website to get a sense of how small we are. And then go here to see some Hubble photos of the wonder that is our home...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bringing in December with a Few More FAQs

Spoiler status: The following Frequently Asked Questions are generally spoiler-free. I do give away something about the way Gracelings look in question 3, so if you're positively psycho about spoilers, skip #3.

1. Can I chat/IM with you online?
*smile* That is a very sweet question. Truth is, I don't chat online with anyone, not even my best friends. I seem to have an allergy to the entire concept. I don't do Facebook or MySpace or any of those things, either. I like to keep my life simple.

2. You keep talking about how hard it is to write Book 3 / Bitterblue. Can you tell us why it's so hard?
*smile again* I guess I didn't realize what I was getting into. Which is just part of the human condition, right? You make a seemingly innocent decision; you don't realize what you're getting into; but now you're into it, and there's no turning back. You've just got to figure out the best way through. Didn't somebody once say, "The best way out is always through?" Yes -- I just googled it -- Robert Frost.

One of the many tricky things about Bitterblue is that there is a LOT of stuff going on. Possibly too much stuff; so much stuff that it's hard to figure out how to structure it. I would describe the current structure as, um, rather numinous. I know it's possible to write a good book in which a million things are going on at once; I know it's possible to weave things together so that the reader isn't left asking, WTF is going on in this book? What is this book even ABOUT? I've seen it done in other books. But that doesn't mean I know how to do it. So, there's some on-the-job training going on here. A lot of rewriting; a LOT of writing 10 pages and throwing out 5. I'm also trying to read a lot of complicated books, to see how other, better writers do it. Most of all, I'm trying to keep perspective: The fate of the world does not exactly depend on this book, now, does it? I'm trying to remember to laugh at myself and, in emergencies, eat cannoli. :o)

3. In Graceling, what made you give the Gracelings two-colored eyes? Are the colors significant?
Good question! Truth is, I don't remember why I decided to do this. I guess it just came to me and felt right; it looked right in my mind. I chose the particular colors I chose simply because I liked them. As far as Katsa goes, well, blue and green are my favorite colors; and Po, he's just a glow-y guy (his rings and earrings were part of his character from the very beginning), so it seemed right to give him eyes of glow-y colors.

4. Have you read Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley?
Gee, what gave you that impression? :o) I LOVE Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley; they have definitely inspired me. When my editor emailed me to tell me that Tamora Pierce was blurbing Graceling, I burst into tears. I ran to tell my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, who was luckily talking on the phone at the time to my sister, secret code name: Apocalyptica, so we were able to have an impromptu family celebration.

5. Can you recommend some good YA fantasy?
I can indeed, and I invite my readers to add their own recommendations in the comments.

I've never read anything by Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley I didn't like. With Pierce, the Alanna quartet is a great place to start; with McKinley, The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and Deerskin are among my personal favorites. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials cannot be beat. Cynthia Voigt has an inter-related quartet of books called the Novels of the Kingdom that aren't technically fantasy (nothing impossible happens), but they have a medieval fantasy feel. They are: Jackaroo; On Fortune's Wheel; The Wings of a Falcon; and Elske.

Digressing slightly from fantasy, Margaret Mahy writes beautiful YA magical realism; The Tricksters is one of my favorite books (not to mention the book that inspired the title for my blog). And for plain old women-having-romantic-adventures-in-beautiful-locales stories (not YA, usually not fantasy, nonetheless fantastic), do you know the novels of Mary Stewart? They're a little dated and sometimes hard to find (check your library), but Nine Coaches Waiting will always be in my top ten. In addition to her adventure tales she wrote a wonderful series that's a King Arthur retelling from Merlin's point of view (starting with The Crystal Cave). Good stuff.

6. I always wonder about how to make time in my own life to write. What was your day job when you were writing Graceling?
When I wrote Graceling I was working as a freelance educational writer. There was a great discussion on the question of "the writer's day job" on The Longstockings several months ago; if you're curious, check it out here. And if you're specifically curious about my work as an educational writer, scroll down to my own comment in The Longstockings discussion, because I wrote a tome about it there, describing the work in detail... :o)

7. What is your favorite musical performance inspired by Bizet's Carmen and performed by a grapefruit?
Ah, yes. That timeless question that all of us must ask ourselves eventually.

Could I just say, before I get to my answer, that a couple of weeks ago I went to see a violinist named Augustin Hadelich, and his performance of Sarasate's "Carmen-Fantasy op. 25," inspired by Bizet's Carmen, had me jumping out of my seat? If this young man happens to come to your town, do try to go see him, even if you have to pawn your winter boots to afford the tickets. (Btw, you might know the Sarasate piece even if you think you don't. Listen to Itzhak Perlman play it here...)

Anyway. Augustin Handelich is not a grapefruit. And so, without further ado, here is my favorite musical performance inspired by Bizet's Carmen and performed by a grapefruit:



There are loads more questions I'd like to answer, so more FAQs on Thursday. :o)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's the Holiday Season. Whoop-De-F***ing-Do.

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA. On Thanksgiving I like to reminisce about the Thanksgiving some 10 years ago when my vegetarian sister, secret code name: Cordelia, came to Thanksgiving dinner dressed up as a turkey. (In protest.) (As I recall, her gobbler kept getting in the way of her dinner.)

I do not love Thanksgiving. Really, I don't love the holiday season in general (in case my title didn't get that across). Something about it always makes me sad. What about you? Do you celebrate any holidays? Do you like this time of year?

Let's see. It's not all doom and gloom around here... Grup 62 has picked up the Catalan rights for Graceling. Also, Graceling is newly in bookstores in Australia and New Zealand and -- yay -- I've started to get mail from readers who live in the Land Down Under. I spent one of the best years of my life in Australia (studying at Sydney Uni). Australia rocks my socks (which at the moment are purple-blue-pink-yellow-orange striped toe socks). I hope to find time to post soon about why I love Australia. :o)

Coming on Monday: A few more FAQs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Letter to My Readers on the Topic: How the Writing Is Going Lately

Dear Faithful Readers,

How are you?

I am fine.


Did you know that I write my books longhand?


Did you know that sometimes when people say they are fine, what they mean is that they feel like they're being beaten with a baseball bat?


Fondly yours,
Grumpy McGrumpypants

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Who are you? Are we enemies? Why am I on this wall? Where is Buttercup?"

(...said Westley to Inigo Montoya at a critical moment in The Princess Bride...)

Today's post is all about you. I would love to know who's out there on the other side of this screen, and that's why today, I'm extending a special invitation to any and all of my readers to comment -- especially if you've never commented before! Who are you? No pressure, of course, but really, I'd love to know. You don't need to tell me your real name, or whether you've read my book, or any of that garbage, unless you care to. Just tell me whatever you want -- maybe who you are, where you are, and, if you feel like it, an extra tidbit about you. Perhaps you, too, have a favorite favorite you'd like to share. Perhaps you have a question about cupcakes to pose to the world, or a suggestion for dinner. Hm. I'm hungry.

I'll go first. I'm Kristin. I'm a writer. I live in North Florida. I love brass quintets. And Johnny Depp notwithstanding, my favorite pirate is the Dread Pirate Roberts.

:o)

EDIT at 6:20pm EST: A friendly reminder to anyone reading this post on LiveJournal that I will not see your comments unless you leave them on my actual blogspot blog. :o)

Monday, November 17, 2008

"I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming, saying something about a queen"

Three quick pieces of news: (1) I have a Chinese language publisher for Graceling and Fire in Taiwan, Gaea Books. yAt! (2) Graceling is #2 on the Winter 2009 Indie Next Kid's List. Please support independent bookstores! (3) Graceling is one of Booklist's 2008 Top Ten First Novels for Youth, along with my friend Sarah Prineas's The Magic Thief. Double and triple yAt!

My title is the opening line of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush," which, if you're curious, you can listen to here.

The other day I woke up raring to go, full of writing ambition. Then I made the mistake of turning on Neil Young's Decade while I was eating my breakfast.

An hour and a half later, I was still lying on my bed, holding my dirty spoon, listening to Decade. I'd forgotten that Neil Young requires -- demands -- patient attention. And I'd forgotten how squeaky and strange he is and how much I love him.

It's okay, though, because I expect that once I did pull myself away and get to work, I was in a better writing place from listening to all that Neil. Of course, a couple hours in, I decided to take a break and listen to one more song while I was toasting my bagel for my second breakfast (I eat like a hobbit). And I did listen to one more song. "Sugar Mountain," "Ohio," "Old Man," "I Believe in You," "A Man Needs a Maid," "The Needle and the Damage Done": Each one of those is one more song. Right? ^_^ (Click on the songs to go to youtube and hear them...)

Is there music in your life that commands you to listen?

I'll leave you with a little Neil wisdom, from the song "Love Is a Rose," which you can listen to here:

Love is a rose, but you better not pick it
It only grows when it's on the vine
A handful of thorns and you'll know you've missed it
You lose your love when you say the word "mine"

:o)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Well, we're not getting a girl," said Marilla: A Poll

The other night, feeling overwhelmed by life, I crawled into bed early with Anne of Green Gables and a beer. And let me tell you, what I had there was a winning combination.

I own the best edition of Anne ever. It's the 1997 Oxford University Press Annotated Anne of Green Gables and every page has sidebars crammed with definitions (What is a gimlet?); explanations of Anne's references (Who had the first alabaster brow?); photos (What would Matthew's horse and buggy have looked like?); etc., etc. Best of all, none of it is obtrusive. If you don't feel like learning extra stuff and you just want to read the book (which was the case the other night when I curled up with the beer), you can do that. Or, you can take as much time as you want, reading every single annotation. It is a divinely beautiful reading experience.

In fact, it is so divinely beautiful that it has inspired an Anne-related poll. Please vote!

(Btw, if you're reading this post somewhere other than on my actual site and want to vote, just click on my question below, or preferably, click here.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

The NYT Book Review is kind to Graceling. I ♥ Finland. A shout-out to a baby. More things. Plus, the longest post title ever!


News: The New York Times book review of Graceling is here (major spoiler alert!). Thank you, NYTBR, for a lovely piece. I am overwhelmed.

More news: Graceling has managed to finagle a place among Publishers Weekly's Best Books of the Year and Amazon.com's Best Books of 2008. Again, thanks!

So. My sisters (secret code names: Cordelia and Apocalyptica) and I occasionally play a game called Sufficient Number of Questions. SNoQ is something like 20 Questions, in which Person A thinks of a physical entity and Person B guesses what the entity is by asking no more than 20 yes/no questions. Here's the difference: With SNoQ, there are no limits to what the entity can be. It can be an abstract concept, a nonentity. It can be a made-up invention. It can be an existing thing that you might not in ordinary circumstances consider to be an existing thing.

Here are some actual examples I have been challenged to guess:
[1] The spaces between the medicine in an I.V. drip.
[2] What if Cordelia's neighbor Marcus were one of the Backstreet Boys?
[3, and the hardest one I ever had to guess (yeah, I killed that Backstreet Boys one)] Life before the intercom.

You understand why it might take more than 20 questions. This game can go on for hours and is the sort of game you invent when the only tool available to you is a lot of empty time. Which is what we had when my sister Apocalyptica spent several weeks hospitalized in the beautiful town of Turku, Finland. She was studying abroad; she got very sick; Cordelia and I came (me first, then Cordelia -- we tag-teamed) to help her by torturing her with abstract mental challenges.

Did you know that Finnish words are all accented on the first syllable? HEL-sinki. Also, all vowels are pronounced: Banaani (banana) is more or less pronounced BAH-nah-ah-nee. And Finnish words are beautiful, and utterly recognizable; once you've spent some time reading Finnish names, you know them when you see them. Tarja Halonen (she's the President). Tomi Putaansuu, Sampsa Astala, and Leena Peisa (all members of the heavy metal band Lordi). Ever read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials? Remember the witch Serafina Pekkala? Finnish.

Here are some other things I learned while I was in Finland: Finns tend to be very sweet, welcoming, and sometimes shy; Finnish saunas are awesome; Fazer chocolate is divine; those yummy rice cakes are stupendous; Turku and Tampere are both beautiful historic towns; Finland has a TV soap opera that is so intriguing that by the time I left, I'd developed favorite characters even though I didn't know their names and couldn't understand a word they were saying (unless they said "banana" or "thank you"); and, Finns are utterly delighted whenever you make the slightest attempt to speak their language. (They thank you profusely, then switch into flawless English so that actual communication can commence.)

Here is the best thing of all about Finland: They have stupendous hospitals, stupendous doctors, and stupendous nurses. In the unfortunate event that your little sister is ever to come down with a scary illness while in Turku, Finland: Take heart. At least you can know that she's in the best possible hands. If anyone can cure her, Finland can! Finland's got the moves! Finland's got the plans! Finland's got the strange berry soup and the doctors who wear pajama-like outfits beneath their big brains!

(Please note that a punctured lung due to a misplaced subclavian I.V. can happen in any country. Finland, where I love, I also forgive.)

Ahem. Anyway. Months ago, I promised that if I ever got a Finnish deal, I would blog about why I love Finland. Why do I? Duh. I spent 10 days beside a hospital bed in Finland once, and they were ten of the most worrying, horrible, wonderful, and important days of my life. Finland, it was surreal. Kiitos for taking care of my sister. I saw what you did and I will always love you. 'Nuff said.

****
Okay, longest post ever, but there's one more thing: a very special shout-out to a tiny person named Hugh. Baby Hugh, whose name begins auspiciously with hug: Welcome to the world!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hope

I cannot seem to wipe the smile off my face.

It has been such a stressful few months. It has been a stressful eight years. And the stress is bound to continue, of course, no matter how wonderful our president-elect is. This is the world.

But for today, at least, in honor of a magnificent victory, I give you a post restricted to low-key, no-stress, comforting things.

This post is The Bird Report.

A wonderful thing has just happened here in north Florida: The pelicans who winter on the St. John's River have returned. I saw three pelicans yesterday! Florida is a paradise for bird lovers and pelicans are the birds I love most; no matter what posture Sir Pelican chooses to adopt, he looks like a marvelous genetic mistake -- so wonderfully pointy and lumpy and unbalanced. Welcome back, Sir Pelican!

The winter cormorants and gulls are also back, and the herons are still hanging around; there's one old grizzly HUGE blue heron who hangs out on the pilings at night, croaking stories about the migration of '87 to the other birds. And there are five little herons -- four blue and one white -- who also hang out together, but tend to fly away around sunset. The other day, I learned the most wonderful thing about those five little herons. I used to think they were two kinds: blue and white. But the other day, when they flew away, I was able to see them from below. They are three kinds! One is completely white. Three are completely blue. And one is completely blue on top but completely white underneath!

Is it nuts that that should fill me with glee?

(In other non-stressful news, if you're looking for some light reading this weekend, I recommend Sunday's New York Times Book Review. The "Children's Books" section, in particular. Why, you ask? Oh, no reason. ^_^ [Just watch out for the spoilers!])


Monday, November 3, 2008

Distraction

I am determined not to yammer about the election in today's post.

But I am also extremely nervous about... um... the thing I'm not going to yammer about.

Therefore, the order of the day is: DISTRACTION.

First, my recent interview with the Shelf Elf. The Elf Herself asks some great questions. If you could live inside the world of any book, which one would you choose? Please distract me by telling me in a comment!

Next, a must-see. If you only watch one of the videos in this post, make it this one. Posted in honor of all teachers (especially, you, Mom). (And ganked from Melissa Marr, who had it first!)



And now, ladies and gents: I give you Beethoven.



Finally, an awesome, um, prairie dog moment.
(You can tell things are getting desperate around here...)



Yep. So, doesn't that prairie dog make you feel like going out and voting for BARACK OBAMA? Especially if you live in, oh, say, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or New Hampshire??! THAT'S SURE HOW IT MAKES ME FEEL!!

Sigh... hang in there, people. It's almost over.

:o)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"A trip the library has made a new girl of me...

... for suddenly I can see the magic of BOOKS."

(from the musical She Loves Me)

My childhood library in northeast Pennsylvania has a copy of my book, thanks to my mother. So do/will a couple of other libraries important to us, thanks to Mom and Aunt Rose. This makes me oh-so-fuzzy-and-happy.

Then, last week, a friend in Massachusetts reported that she'd checked her own library catalog on a whim to see if they had Graceling yet. They did. Next, an email came from another friend with this subject line: F CAS. She had just cataloged my book. Heeee!

It took a little time for the light to shine through the mud, but eventually I had a stroke of not-being-as-stupid-as-I-usually-am and realized that if it was showing up at other libraries, my own library might have it. I checked -- several copies, and most of them were out. yAt! But even better, the copy at my local branch was NOT out!

This is the point in the story where I hightailed it outside and ran down the street like I was being chased by a rottweiler, except with an aspect of much greater joy. When I got to the library, there it was, on display in the Teen section. I picked it up and rocked it like a baby. It was wrapped in a cellophane wrapping, "Jacksonville Public Library" was stamped on the top edge, and a sticker on the spine said "Fic CASHORE, K."

I'm starting to sniffle, just typing this. I can't describe how I feel. This is so much more than my book being in a bookstore.

My book being in a library is like me being in heaven.

(Check out the ALA's other library posters here)

Also? YEAH PHILLIES! \O/

Monday, October 27, 2008

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Nuclear Submarines, and My Chair in the Window

If you drive stick, then you know that a long, steep incline to a bridge, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with a clutch you really should have replaced 500 miles ago, is not the best place for your shifter to decide it will no longer shift into any gear. However, if this ever happens to you, KEEP YOUR HEAD. Remember that if you turn the car off, you can shift it into gear. And drive all the way to your book signing in, like, first or second gear. :)

Actually, my shifter started working again after about 100 yards. I'm used to this problem. It's one of my car's particular charms.

Others in my neighborhood were faring better with their vehicles this weekend. The Blue Angels, in particular, were in town. There's a naval air station here, so we get the occasional helicopter or fighter plane zooming across the sky, but the Blue Angels, of course, are something else altogether: They are artists. With the most expensive art supplies ever. (Ha! And people say our government doesn't put money into the arts! [Meh. Okay. Not funny.])

Seriously, though, the Blue Angels were zipping around all weekend, performing aerial feats to astonish and amaze, and making me wish all machines of war could be beautiful and inspiring instead of, well, the other things they are.

We also have a submarine base here. Boats thrill me, and watching submarines go out to sea thrills me, until I remember that: (1) women aren't allowed to be submariners (submarines "don't have the appropriate facilities for women," cough); (2) a submarine is a claustrophobic, dark, and dangerous place to live; and (3) submarines carry nuclear warheads. That, in fact, (4) a submarine's purpose is (5) to hide our nukes so that they cannot be found and (6) to exist as a threat to other countries who know that somewhere, hidden in the deep, we have nukes that we can launch at them anytime we like.

Sigh...

Luckily, I usually see a cruise ship out there in the water, too, and a few innocent freighters. They help. I love big, innocent boats.

We also have trains here -- lots and lots of trains. I hear them blowing their horns at night. I love the sound, especially when it's raining and it sounds like music.

In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart says that the three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. I can relate. I've always had the travel bug, and I've managed to get myself to a lot of places. Nonetheless, lately I'm more interested in watching the planes, trains, and boats than in being on them. I think it's because my book is out there everywhere (or at least that's how it feels sometimes). Little pieces of my soul are traveling out there, for anyone to pick up, and love, or be indifferent to, or tear apart. I feel the mileage. So I turn my phone and my Internet off when I can, and take comfort in my own apartment, my chair in the window, my neighborhood. And I take walks, and watch the Blue Angels. :o)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Race, Poems, and Knitted Cuppycakes

How happy am I that Mitali Perkins has blogged about the question of whether authors should describe a character's race? And that Roger Sutton and The Longstockings are joining in? This is an issue I think about a lot, generally coming to no useful conclusions, so it's nice to see what other people think. Check it out -- join in -- ponder.

I've been taking a few days off, more or less. Recovering from Fire revisions and preparing myself to dive back into Book 3 -- waiting for it to call to me. Writing is partly about discipline, sure, but it's also about waiting, not forcing anything. Being patient; letting it come at its own pace.

I said this, or something like it, to my father once. Later that day, he came back to me and handed me this poem.

The Steps
By Paul Valéry
Translated by Donald Petersen

Your steps, children of my still hours,
Solemnly and slowly placed
Towards the bed of my wakefulness,
Proceed now, cool and chaste.

Person most pure, saintly shade,
How calm your measured tread, how sweet.
Gods! All the gifts which I divine
Come to me on those bare feet.

If, with your pursed lips, you would
Prepare the food of your affections
To feed the habitant who dwells
So hungrily in my reflections,

Then do not hasten this kind act,
Sweetness of being or being dead;
For I have lived to welcome you,
My heart being nothing but your tread.

******
I think that the "children of my still hours" are words. I wait for them to come to me, if they like, on their bare feet -- I live to welcome them. :o)

Do you have a favorite poem? Will you share it with me?

Also, my friend Rebecca has sent me a cupcake.

Do you have a favorite baked (or knitted) treat?

knitted cupcake photo used with the
kind permission of Brenda at Loom Lore

Monday, October 20, 2008

Some Frequently Asked Questions (And a Local Book Signing)

First, a thank you to every single person who's emailed me. I read every email and I love every email. I wish I could respond to every email!

This post will be my first attempt to answer a few of the questions I've received.

FAQ disclaimer: I enjoy receiving questions about subtext, so I'm not saying don't send me questions about subtext. But just know this: I won't answer them. :o) The book serves as its own explanation; you come up with your own interpretations. Make sense?

Spoiler status: The following FAQs are, by most standards, spoiler-free for people who have not yet read Graceling. However, if you are psychotic about spoilers (like me) and haven't read Graceling, only read questions 1, 2, and 6.

1. I've always thought of fantasies as world-building books where the authors create the characters after building the world. But that doesn't feel like the case in Graceling, because the characters seem so real. Which came first: the characters or the kingdoms?
Well, thank you, and you're right -- the characters came first in Graceling, completely and absolutely. I knew Katsa, Po, and Raffin fairly well before I ever began to build a world around them. Of course, they came with their special powers and their situations intact, so they brought pieces of the world with them from the beginning; but without a doubt, characters were the genesis of the book. If you're curious about how Graceling grew, I talk about it a bit in this interview. And if people have more specific questions, please feel free to email or comment -- I'll add them to my list.

2. How do you pronounce Lienid?
Really and truly, I don't mind how people pronounce the names of characters and places in my books. In fact, my own pronunciation of Katsa has changed because everyone else seems to pronounce it differently from the way I do. So please, say the words however you want to say them.

That being said, if you want to say them the way I say them -- I pronounce Lienid LEE-uh-nid or LEE-nid, like the Leonids, the meteors that occur every year (in real life, in our sky) around November. That's where I got the idea for the name, actually. It struck me as the perfect kingdom to name after falling stars, even if the association was only in my head (because in the seven kingdoms, of course, there are no yearly meteor showers called Leonids...).

While I'm on the subject, I pronounce Katsa to rhyme with POT-suh (or, at least, I used to, until I heard everyone else pronouncing it to rhyme with PAT-suh); Randa to rhyme with HAND-uh, Raffin to rhyme with LAUGH-in, Oll to rhyme with doll. And I speak with an American accent. But that doesn't mean you have to!

3. The villain in Graceling is really creepy and disgusting. Was it hard for you to write him?
Actually, quite the opposite. I tend to enjoy writing creepy, bad stuff. I suppose Freud or Jung or somebody would say that society represses our natural human tendencies toward deviance, and creating a deviant character could be a kind of release. Or something? Whatever the reason, I would much rather write about a creep being creepy than about someone bland being bland. Or landscapes. I don't much like describing landscapes. :o)

4. Can you tell us more about the villain? His backstory; parentage; anything about his eye?
I can and do in future books.

5. Are Raffin and Bann lovers?
This is, hands down, my most frequently asked question. It's also a perfect example of a question I won't answer. :o)

6. Kristin! How is your car running? (A question frequently asked by my Dad.)
Dad! My car is running GREAT. The right rear bumper is hanging slightly loose but I'm holding it on with Obama stickers. I get 35 mpg, my odometer reads 174,880 miles, and I'm thinking of commemorating 175,000 with a new clutch. I love my car and here is the plan: I am going to live to be 101 years old, and I will drive this car for the rest of my life.

*****
Silliness aside, I'll tackle more questions soon.

Also, for any of you in north Florida: This coming Thursday (Oct 23), at 7pm, I'll be reading from Graceling and signing books at The Bookmark in Atlantic Beach, one block from the sea. The Bookmark is in the Beaches Town Center, 299 Atlantic Blvd, Atlantic Beach 32233. Phone: (904) 241-9026.

Have a nice week, everyone!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Revising: Two Steps Up, One Step Back

There's a certain aspect to revising that I love. It takes place on the micro-level, not the macro-level; it's more about words and sentences, less about chapters or books. It happens when there's something tiny I want to express, some little thing I want to insert into the bigger picture: For example, let's say that while revising, I decide that I need to plant a small hint to the reader that Mr. Glockenspiel is actually none other than Ms. Bratwurst in disguise. But the problem is, there's no obvious graceful place or method for planting such a hint. So I struggle and agonize and finick and rearrange and contrive, and finally find a way to plant my hint that maybe works. I plant the damn thing. I move on to to the next problem, perhaps the need to insert some backstory about the time Mr. Lederhosen crashed his airplane into the white cliffs of Dover. I get completely wound up in the question of whether Mr. Lederhosen was intoxicated at the time, or had perhaps been drugged by his arch-nemesis, Ms. Knackwurst. I forget all about the true-identity-of-Mr.-Glockenspiel hint.

But then, the next day rolls around, and I'm doing a quick review of the changes I made the day before. I get to the place where I planted the true-identity hint. And even though yesterday I thought I'd found the solution, today I see that I did it all wrong: It's obvious that I should have planted the hint 5 lines down from where I actually planted it. I move the hint to the appropriate place. I read it over. I decide it works. I move on to the next problem in the revision: Should I change Ms. Knackwurst's name to Ms. Wiener-Schnitzel so that readers do not confuse her with Ms. Bratwurst? Knackwurst... Bratwurst... Liverwurst... the creation of art surely can be an agony... and I'm getting hungry...

Then the next day rolls around, and as I'm looking for the place where I left off yesterday (a question about whether it is perhaps too convenient for me to have dressed Mr. Lederhosen in lederhosen), my eye happens to catch the true-identity hint again. I see that it is definitely in the right place now, and I congratulate myself. But -- wait. Something about it feels clumsy; I don't like the phrasing as much as I did before; I reword it slightly, trying about 9 different variations; I settle on the one that sounds best; I decide that now it finally works. I move on.

A few days later, while thumbing through the manuscript, the true-identity hint accidentally catches my eye again. I realize that it still doesn't feel quite right. I adjust a word or two. I move on. But I probably don't have to tell you that a few days later, when it catches my eye again, I see immediately that it's still wrong. I adjust it yet again.

BUT. Here's the thing: One day, the true-identity hint accidentally catches my eye, and I read it, and THIS TIME IT WORKS PERFECTLY. And the next time I read it, a few days later, IT STILL WORKS PERFECTLY. Because through the process of all that fine-tuning and putting it away and bringing it out again and working it and reworking it, finally, I got it to the right place. And now, every time I look at it, it works. IT WORKS!

This is what revising is for me. Writing; deciding it works; putting it away; taking it out again; realizing it doesn't actually work; rewriting; deciding it works; putting it away; taking it out again; realizing it doesn't actually work; rewriting... you get the idea. And it can get a little mind-boggling when you're revising a 400-page book, and there's one of these half-finished revisions on every page. But every time I rewrite one of them, I get closer. And the day does come when it all works, and I can see that it works. And that feeling, when something, be it large or small, works, and I know that it works? It is the best feeling I ever have as a writer. It is the reason for everything.

I finished my revision of Fire today. It's got problems: ones I see and ones I still can't see. But for now, to the best of my humble abilities, when I look at it, it works.

(*whew*)

Coming soon, by popular demand: I tackle a few FAQs.

(Also, if you happen to be a native German-speaker, forgive me. I like the words that English has borrowed from you. They're fun to say. Especially Wiener schnitzel. And schadenfreude. And doppelganger. And streuselkuchen. And schnauzer.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm Still on My Rocker -- Are You?

I want to write a post about why I love Finland; I want to write a post about the other day, when I was trying on boots at the store, and my sister, secret code name: Cordelia, told me I looked like a prostitute; I want to write a post answering some of the really super questions I've been getting from Graceling readers in my email. And I will write all of those posts, eventually. But for now, I'm in a time crunch with Fire revisions and other life stuff, and the only post I seem to have time to write is one about the posts I wish I were writing instead.

Some good news: I have a Danish publisher for Graceling, Tellerup. Yay, Denmark! Who wants to bet that "Po" means something vulgar in Danish?

I still see little blue herons almost every day. Sometimes they're hanging out with little white herons. Yesterday, they were hanging out with a BIG blue heron. The herons are keeping me from going off my rocker.

So, what's on your mind these days? And what keeps you on your rocker? :o)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Obligatory Election Post

(With apologies up front to my readers who are not American or are too young to vote. I must write this post -- but I promise, I'll only do it once.)

So. I am not, nor have I ever been, politically eloquent. If I relied on my own powers of persuasion to explain to you why I think it's imperative that you vote for Barack Obama this November, my argument would be something along the lines of, "Please, please, PLEASE vote for Obama so that we can work toward expanding civil liberties rather than restricting them, so that the earth can be better-protected, and most importantly, so that we'll have a leader who believes in looking outside himself and outside of US."


The problem is, those are only a few drops in the bucket, and vague drops at that. What I'd like to do in this post is present you with the arguments of a few very cool people who say it way better than me. I promise you, none of the arguments are terribly long, and you can pick and choose which ones to give your time to. I've even divided it into numbered sections and/or written small previews, so you can skip around and see what looks interesting to you. Plus, at the end, there's a reward! :o) Okay, here goes.


1. YA FOR OBAMA -- VARIOUS VIEWS FROM ELOQUENT FOLK

Have you checked out the blog YA for Obama, at which various YA writers express their reasons for supporting Obama?

In this post, Sara Zarr (author of Story of a Girl and Sweethearts) introduces herself as a theologically conservative Christian from Utah who hates politics and is a total cynic. And yet, she's been politically inspired by Barack Obama -- and frankly, her explanation here is inspiring. I recommend this one highly.

In this post, Scott Westerfeld (author of Peeps, the Midnighters series, and the Uglies series, among other things) presents some hard facts demonstrating that Democrats have a better track record when it comes to running the US economy than Republicans do.

In the same post (just scroll down), Cecily von Ziegesar (creator of the Gossip Girl series) addresses the question of whether Barack Obama is a Nate, a Dan, a Chuck, a Serena, or a Blair. Umm. This is not the sort of argument that would necessarily sway me, particularly since I don't remember who any of those people are, but I'm trying to present something for everyone here, so there you have it. :o)

In this post, Lauren McLaughlin (author of Cycler) explains -- very, very well, in my opinion -- why "the reasonable and moderate position on the subject of abortion is, in fact, the Pro-Choice position." If you are considering voting for McCain solely because of his stand on the abortion issue, I beg you to read this post. And to remember that matters of education, health care, immigration, war, and environmentalism are also about valuing human life. (Please don't make it a one- [or two-, if you want to throw gay marriage in there] issue election!)

There's more at YA for Obama; this is just a sampling. If you like what you've read, explore it some more!


2. THE MATTER OF SARAH PALIN

Next, I'd like to excerpt a few lines written by a friend of mine, secret code name: Agent Kumquat, currently doing humanitarian work in India. To help you decide if you want to take the time to read it, Agent Kumquat writes about the importance of the USA's position internationally, and the danger of electing a person with Sarah Palin's lack of international (and general) experience to such a high office:

"The past 8+ years I’ve spent living and working overseas have given me a different perspective on the US, and a different appreciation of how our political leadership sets the tone for how U.S. citizens are perceived overseas, on a individual as well as “national” level. The actions of the Bush Administration over the last 8 years have made the work of humanitarian organizations like my own more challenging, and, frankly, more dangerous. In our inter-dependent world, the opinion of other countries DOES matter. Our leaders’ ability to intelligently dialogue with leaders of other nations DOES matter. Their skill and ability in analyzing and demonstrating an openness to weigh the concerns and interests of other nations DO matter. It is NOT acceptable for someone who needs a crash course in contemporary international politics and US foreign policy to be sitting in the office of the 2nd highest elected official in our country.... I certainly hope that 8 years of a president who was “one of the guys”, someone people in the US perhaps could relate to as a normal, down to earth kind of guy, have been enough to disabuse us of the notion that our elected leaders should be drawn from the ranks of the "ordinary". Don’t we want leaders who are EXTRAORDINARY, who are smarter than us, more experienced than us, able to keep track of information and formulate and express their ideas and vision for our country in ways we never could?... John McCain may have these characteristics and experience; Sarah Palin most certainly does not. However sympathetic a person she may be, however much people feel they can relate to her, however much she comes across as a breath of fresh air from outside of the “establishment”… she is simply not equipped for the job.... Whatever you may feel about John McCain, the presidential ticket is a two-fer.... In voting for John McCain, you will get Sarah Palin, and the not far-fetched prospect that she could at some point be called upon to serve as the leader of our country.... As I think about how our country can rebuild its image in the eyes of the world, revive its economy and sense of hope about our place in the world, my fervent prayer is that all those who vote in November reflect on what voting for John McCain truly means – namely, Sarah Palin as Vice President."


3. THE MATTER OF JOHN McCAIN'S AGE AND FAILING HEALTH

Speaking of Vice-Presidents stepping up to become Presidents: Are you aware that John McCain is 72 years old (which would make him the oldest person ever inaugurated as President) and has been diagnosed with invasive melanoma in the past? I wish this were The West Wing and President Bartlet, but it's not -- it's reality, and unfortunately, we need to consider these things. See more about McCain's health (including a short video) here. (with thanks to Lora!)


4. ATTITUDES ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT

Have you seen this visual? (With thanks to writer Sandra McDonald!)



5. FUN

Finally! If you're still with me, you deserve a reward. So -- did you see Saturday Night Live's version of the VP debate? Seriously, one of the best satires I've ever seen them do...



PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE VOTE FOR BARACK OBAMA!

(Btw, you can get the bumper sticker above -- "I love my country..." -- at the Syracuse Cultural Worker's Tools for Change.)