Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thrown to the Librarians!

Today was a mini publishing milestone – an invitation to sign books in the Flux booth at the Public Library Association’s National Conference in the end of March. What a thrill!

Having never been in the presence of more than two at once, I’m a little terrified of being in the midst of so many librarians. Will they ask questions I can’t answer? Will they know, just by the look of me, that I sometimes dog ear pages? What if I’m not erudite enough? What if *gasp* no one asks for a copy?

Good thing I have a couple of months to stress out about it.  Anyone else going to be attending or signing at the PLA in Portland?

Friday, January 22, 2010

From what is not there...

Shelley had an funny and interesting post last week about multitasking, which ended with a bit about making room for pausing, for dreaming, for "taking in" in your creative life. I was struck by this post because for the last few months I’ve done nothing but try to plow full steam ahead on Book Two. It’s no secret that it’s been tough. It’s a complex story and the first book, at 90,000 words, sets up a lot of things that need to be resolved. I love the book, but lately it’s felt like I’ve been running while exhaling only. I haven’t had the luxury of time to inhale. And sometimes I think that’s where the good stuff is. In the pauses.

I don’t pretend to understand the Tao Te Ching, but one chapter has always stood out as a fascinating example of how what’s “not there” is often what’s most  useful:

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside that holds what we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space that makes it livable.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

Today, some inhaling!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

R.I.P. Redux

Three and a half weeks to Book Two deadline, so no time to blog. Instead, I shall resurrect and old favorite!

Last night at dinner the kids asked for some funny stories from college. They didn’t eat much after I spun this yarn for them:

August, 1986 Eugene, Oregon
When we were sophomores, a group of girls and I decided to do a summer sublet of a sketchy little house west of campus from some older boys who wanted to keep it for the following year. It was a classic university rental complete with cracking linoleum floors, chipped sinks, and carpet that had been moist for so long that we’d often find mushrooms growing in dark corners.

One night, when we had nothing to do and no money with which to do it, we decided to poke around the house, see if the boys had left anything interesting stashed away—you know, boxes of gold bouillon, or at the least, embarrassing personal items or a six pack. I think it was just four of us, Julie, Tina, Peggy, and me, because MK was always on dates. (Side note to children: going on dates is overrated; you miss all the Good Stuff that happens. So don’t. Date.) The garage on the rental was around the back of the house, which was strange, and meant that we never parked in it or used it in any way. It was about 1:30 in the morning and we were bored and poking around in the mystery garage when we came across a jar, one of those big glass ones for restaurant-sized pepperoncini and mayonnaise. It was covered in dust but inordinately heavy, so we thought maybe we’d discovered someone’s change jar. Bingo! No strangers to scraping up change, we knew a restaurant-sized mayonnaise jar full of it could keep us in Pop Tarts and wine coolers for weeks!

We carried it into the kitchen and rubbed it down with a wet cloth. I think Peggy screamed first. As you may know, when a handful of girls are together late at night and one screams, all hell breaks lose. We all started screaming, each one getting louder than the one before it. It wasn’t until I looked through the smear of wet dust into the jar that I realized why Peggy was screaming: there was a baby in the jar. A baby packed into the jar, suspended in a clear greenish yellow fluid.

Once we all realized what it was, we started a fresh round of screaming, followed by the phrase/chant that most often follows screaming: ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod!

I’m not sure which one of us geniuses thought to take it to the hospital. It was about 2:00 in the morning by then and we probably thought that showing up at the police station with Bartles & Jaymes on our breath and a baby in a jar might not be the smartest move. What do you do when you can’t go to the police? Take the baby to the hospital, natch!

Peggy didn't want a big jar of unknown fluids seeping out on the velour seats of her '78 Buick Electra so we piled into Tina’s '66 Plymouth Valiant with its pleather seats. [May I digress here and mention that Tina could be guy-level gross in terms of, well, everything, but she was drop-dead gorgeous. You’ve probably seen her: she was chosen as the Black Velvet Girl and graced billboards and magazines worldwide 1988ish, PPB (post pickled baby).]

Tina drove the Valiant exactly as if she was taking an ailing living baby to the hospital, as if having a baby-in-a-jar emergency protected her from being pulled over for reckless driving. It was terrifying. As the person holding Pickled Baby, I expected some of the bile-colored juice to sploosh onto my lap with each corner she squealed around, but happily the thing was sealed tight as a drum.

We got to the hospital—the ER, no less!—and parked right outside the door, emergency style. We were greeted by a jaded clerk who had seen most everything; Sacred Heart was right at the edge of campus and hosted a wide variety of ex-hippie crazy homeless regulars like The Man Who Swallowed Barbie Heads.

I was holding a dish towel around the jar like a curtain on a freak show. When the woman asked who had the emergency I stepped forward, put the jar on the counter, and lowered the towel a bit. “We found this in our garage,” we all whispered. “It’s a rental,” I added. “The house, I mean.”

She put us in a private room to wait, thinking four girls with a pickled baby might be too much for ER patients awaiting triage to handle. I think we expected to have a Doctor show up, maybe do a little forensics à la Quincy, M.E., but instead we got what we were avoiding in the first place: the police.

They took our statement and the jar. Neither was ever seen again.

R.I.P. Pickled Baby. R.I.P.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Book Cover Symbolism

I’ve had a lot of questions lately about the image on the cover of Prophecy of Days. Was it something I made up? Something the cover artist drew? Something I found in clipart?

Nope, it’s part of a very old symbol found all over Asia, Eurpoe, and the British Isles. Can you find the bit from the cover in this old carving? (Photograph by Chris Chapman - check it out here.)

Yep, it’s the ears. This symbol is called the Three Hares and the oldest example (600 AD) was found in the Dunhuang Caves in China. From there it's traced all over Eurasia to England, following the Silk Road. This symbol figures prominently in book one, and becomes a key turning point in book two. Though it has a rich and interesting history, the Three Hares icon has not been accurately decoded.


Mwah ha ha…

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome, 2010! May you be a kind and gentle year.

I can happily say goodbye to 2009, a bumpy year at best, and welcome 2010 with open arms. It’s not every year you can say that a lifelong dream will be fulfilled!

The road to publication in 2010 has been long: The idea for my series was conceived in 2002, my agent sold it in 2008, and publication will be in May 2010. Almost here!!! But now comes the scary part—my ARC will go to reviewers and buyers and librarians, all people paid to judge whether my book is worthy of their pages or shelves. Not quite sure which side I’ll end up on. As much as I say I won’t listen to reviews, that the joy is in the writing and publishing, I have to be honest: it will suck.

Just chalk it up to one more thing the writer has little control over once the book is baked. The hardest thing about publishing has been this lack of control; once the manuscript is in the agent’s hands you pretty much give it up. You can help shape your book’s destiny by the choices you make, but the real power is in the agent’s hands. When the book sells, that power then transfers to the publishing house. Cover art, cover copy, catalog copy, ARC distribution, publicity—all those things that matter heavily in the success of your product you have little say in. So for a Type-A control freak like me, this part is scary. I have been trying to grasp the concept of this thing called “patience” but apparently I am a slow learner.

For now, I’ll focus on what I can control: making Book Two as good as it can be! For until I hand it off, the power still lies with me.

Happy happy new year to one and all. May it be a year filled with abundant good reads!