Saturday, May 29, 2010

Life Really Is Full of Little Miracles

And sometimes some not so little ones...

Lisa Yee posted this link on FB and I fell so head over heels in love with it that I had to share it here. It's a you tube video of a baby who has just recieved a cochlear  implant and can, for the first time, hear his mother's voice. The look on his face as he discovers this new sense, this entire new realm of sound, is beyond beautiful.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Quantum Life or In Which I Confess How Crazy I Truly Am

So here’s one of the reasons I adore traveling, even though I pretty much am not a traveler: It makes it easier for me to imagine my quantum lives.

I have had this belief, this theory, if you will, since I was young enough to remember—long before I’d ever heard of quantum physics or string theory or alternate universes—and it goes something like this: Every time I make a decision, one of the things that comforts me is I have this sense of Other Robins living out a multitude of lives and taking the paths that I did not. So if I ended up marrying the boy next door and staying in my hometown to start my family, that’s okay because there are hundreds of Other Robins out there, living the lives I had considered. One is in Washington DC, as a practicing lawyer, another is an intrepid traveler who has circled the globe numerous times, living elegantly and sparingly out of a single suitcase for months on end, another lives as a partial recluse near Hollywood and designs movie sets, and another . . . well, you get the idea.

So I always have this sense that when I make a decision and choose a path, there are other me’s living the paths I considered, so I haven't really lost anything. I'm not as present in those lives, but they are happening out there somewhere on some level. (Okay, I DID warn you it was crazy.)

But I also thinks this spark of belief  helps me be a better writer because reality feels fluid to me; I don’t feel as if I’m making things up so much as recording a piece of alternate history that nobody has discovered yet.

And when I travel, I get to SEE these places, these neighborhoods and cities and different swarms of people and those parallel lives I’ve always sort of believed in seem much more tangible and real.

Bordering on insanity or a quantum thinker since the cradle? You decide. Just don’t tell me which one you pick. ☺

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Attempting Re-entry

Upon my return from my trip, the revision letter for Theo Four was waiting for me. And due to a number of circumstances, it is due back to my editor SOON. Which gives me approximately seventeen days for the revision.

One of the things I struggle with every. single. time. is how much information to backfill in for readers regarding The Adventure So Far. I definitely tend to err on the side of not enough information, which isn’t good, but I also loathe a great big recap of previous events in order to bring readers up to speed. It’s also deuced difficult to know how much to recap each person in the story and what their role is. It can also be exceptionally clunky.

It’s a little bit easier if each adventure stands on its own, which the Theodosia books almost do, but characters and plot threads do move from one book into the next, and those need some explaining. So this evening I will be combing my shelves, looking for examples of how other writers have done it skillfully and gracefully. If any of you have any suggestions of books that have done this particularly well, please do feel free to pass those titles along!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wrapping Up

Okay, I’ve been home two days and I should probably have posted this last entry on Saturday, at the latest, but I was exhausted. As I told the kids at all the events, my characters share some traits with me, not the least of which being—like Nathaniel Fludd—I am not an intrepid traveler. It totally wears me out. Add that to being an introvert, and I am pretty much a wet soggy dishrag by the end of the adventure.

That doesn’t mean that I want to stay home all the time. I actually always get a LOT out of my travel experiences and am always grateful for the opportunity. It just means I have to pace myself.

The last leg of the trip was a quiet one, the only moment fraught with peril was me trying to get out of the city of Boston in an unfamiliar rental car, on unfamiliar roads and with very little idea of where I was going. Thank gawd for GPS, is all I can say. That and Google Maps steered me in the right direction. Oh, and there was a slight moment of panic when I thought I was going to have to give the cabbie a $25 tip because he had NO CHANGE on him, PLUS he refused to take a credit card! What is up with that?? Luckily, if rather embarrassingly, he approached every single person at the car rental until he found someone with change for a $50 bill while I stood blushing furiously in the corner.

One of the absolute highlights of the day was Vermont itself. As I’ve mentioned (probably ad nauseum) I’ve never been to New England, and the drive from Boston to Vermont was one continual enchantment of trees and forests and more greenness than I have ever laid eyes on. It was stunning and I longed to turn off the highway and explore one or two of the quaint little towns along the way, but I just didn’t have that much wiggle room in my timing. (They also had the cleanest, prettiest rest stops along the highway that I’ve ever seen.)

The true highlight, however, was finally getting to see possibly the cutest bookstore in America, The Flying Pig. It is in a gorgeous, old building with high stairs and wooden floors and a veritable feast of books. I also got to meet the wonderful Elizabeth Bluemle, and we had an amazing visit. She is warm and charming and effusive and a wonder-hostess. The turnout was a bit on the thin side, but we still had a terrific time.

Then I went back to my hotel and collected myself for the final schlepp home the next day.

I cannot even begin to describe what an amazing experience this has been, to meet so many new readers and talk to so many booksellers and librarians and parents. Truly an abundance of riches! A whopping big thank you to Houghton Mifflin (and Jenn in particular!) for organizing this trip! Honestly? In spite of being a less-than-intrepid traveler, I would have been traveled to the ends of the earth for an experience this rich. Luckily, I didn’t have to. ☺

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wellesley Booksmith!

Okay, I have just enough time for one more update before I have to head to the airport and begin my trek home.

Houghton Mifflin was kind enough to NOT schedule me to within an inch of my life, so I had some time free on Thursday, which was lovely. I got to explore Boston with one of my favorite people in the entire world, Miss Katy Cooper. We started talking the minute we laid eyes on each other and didn't stop until she had to leave so I could get ready for the signing. We even talked while she gave me a tour of the Boston Public Library, which is actually part library, part museum. (And no librarians shushed us!) I also got to explore the Boston Commons (a teeny bit) and the Boston Public Gardens. And there were baby ducklings! Although, we did not have to make way for them.

Again, an absolutely lovely city. A city I could actually live in, I think. I am an absolute sucker for the oldness of the buildings and the elaborate, detailed architectural details And due to the gardens and the commons, there was a lot of green, for a city.

Then that afternoon a wonderful media escort picked me up to take me to Wellesley Booksmith. She was so thorough and competent that she even managed to color coordinate her outfit to mine.  And Wellesley itself was a DARLING town (it's only drawback being you simply cannot find anything to eat after 7:30 in the evening.) I am really beginning to suspect I must have been a New Englander in a former life, because boy, these adorable little towns sure feed some part of me.

The bookstore was wonderful and I got to meet Alison and Kim (who was originally from Santa Barbara!) and see Margaret again, whom I'd had lunch with on Wednesday. We had a lovely turnout, including some of my favorite online people (Hi Vivian! Hi Anna! Hi Liz!) a Theo blog reader (Hi Debby!) and a video trailer designer extrordinaire (Hi Marianne!) and another one of my Super Agent's Super Clients (Hi Susan!) [Anyone else feel like they're in an episode of Romper Room? No? I'm dating myself, aren't I?]

The talk went really well and I got to sign lots and lots of lovely books and meet all sorts of new readers. Pretty much book signing heaven, if you ask me, so THANK YOU Wellesley Booksmith!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Unexpected Challenges--and Rewards--of Being a Parent

I know it's the day after Mother's Day, but I adore this video by Sarah Darer Littman and her son Joshua  and I want everyone to see it.

What she says is so true; sometimes our kids come into this world and end up teaching us so very much about ourselves...


Friday, May 7, 2010

The Perils of Omniscient

So I’ve been wallowing in a reading-fest of late and having a grand old time of it. However, I have discovered, or perhaps re-discovered, something as I read, and that is: Omniscient is harder than hell to pull off, unless you’re British or Australian.

The thing is, I do like the omniscient POV, it hearkens back to the Once Upon a Time voice of childhood fairy tales, and I’m just enough of a writing/reading nerd that I don’t mind the author inserting themselves into the reading process. And yet…

And yet so often stories written in omniscient lose something in the process—some spark of life or suspension of disbelief. I can’t quite put my finger on it, which is why I’m blogging about it—trying to figure it out. The last three books with an omniscient voice that I’ve tried to read, I’ve ended up not finishing. There is just too much voice and not enough story or character.

I think what it boils down to is, while I like the chatty, observational tone of omniscient, it begins to wear on me when used for an entire book. Which is odd, I realized, because I do love those exact same elements in a first person voice. In fact, I think a first person voice can feel very flat without at least some of that.

But what omniscient does is remove the reader from the story, it separates me from the emotions, feelings, and experiences of the character by one degree, and that one degree can be crucial to the bonding and empathizing necessary for me to become absorbed by a story.

Omniscient, by its very nature—a present or invisible narrator telling us the story—is telling rather than showing. I don’t ever get to lose myself in that character because the narrator is keeping me at arm’s length.

Also, omniscient lends itself to overwriting.

Omniscient is also what a lot of beginning writers default to when they first start out because they don’t understand point of view, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

I think one of the techniques to getting around that distance problem is to telescope with omniscient—to not insert the narrator all the time, but only in judicious doses. Other times, let it feel more like third person.

Another technique is to just have a fabulous, fabulous omniscient voice that really ADDS to the story, that gives the reader something but not at the cost of some other vital element of story, such as creating an emotional connection.

Also, a dry wit never hurts. Or an archness of tone.

Some omniscient books that I think worked:

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Code Orange by Caroline Cooney
Sherry Thomas--she opens  with about two pages of omniscient, then moves into third person for the rest of the book.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Lemony Snicket books (although I could only read those in small doses due to the very elaborate voice.)

I'll add more as I think of them. What about you? Do you have any examples you can think of?

Monday, May 3, 2010

INCARCERON: The Silver Lining In My Little Cloud of (semi) Misery

I am sick. Bleargh. I haven't had a cold in nearly three years and I have forgotten how bloody miserable they are. One of the worst things about being sick? It gives one the tendency to whine. Pathetically. So I will make this post brief lest I be overtaken by the urge to indulge in whining.

One of the silver linings to being sick is that you can justify curling up in bed with a good book. I was lucky enough to find an amazing book and I'd like to share that with you guys.

I’ve talked here before about how much I adore books that crack wide open my ideas of what can be done in fiction, books that defy all the physics of conventional wisdom and craft rules, and do it spectacularly. My most recent find in this category was INCARCERON, by Catherine Fisher.

It took huge risks. Synthesizing a 17th century milieu with highly complex technology could have belly flopped big time, most likely would have in lesser hands. But in this case, it all worked. And as a writer, that spoke to me—of taking great risks, of how my first rule of writing—If it works, it works—is spot on.

The author’s timing was exquisite, her point of view shifts masterful. POV shifts are a huge vulnerability for me as a reader—it is very easy for me to feel jerked around and become easily annoyed when jumping back and switching between two protagonists like that, or become frustrated or to feel distanced or manipulated when there are too many POV shifts. But I felt none of that with this book. The pacing and the rhythm of it worked. I love how her characters were so multilayered and complex. You could never be certain if the bad guys were truly bad or simply had their own agendas we didn’t quite understand yet.

Do yourself a favor and read this book.

Other books that have rocked my writerly world with their risk taking were:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon—when it first came out years and years ago, I was so astonished by the combination of time travel with SUCH historical accuracy and a big more literary feel.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman– I’m sorry, but opening a middle grade novel with a serial killer—and making it work so well that it went on to win the Newberry—was a huge accomplishment, and an important reminder to writers to dare.

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling – reminded me that just because a subject has been tackled many times by other writers doesn’t mean someone can’t bring something new and fresh and wholly compelling to the same subject matter.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (SO not a kid’s book—be warned!) I loved the synthesis of the sacred and the profane, another book that spoke to all my loves as a reader and reminded the writer in me to take risks.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge– Such a bravely different yet wholly satisfying fantasy world, with such complex themes and elaborate world building for a middle grade book.

What books rocked your world as a writer? Made you see new possibilities, cracked your horizons wide open?

If for some reason you are interested in hearing me blather on even more today, I am being interviewed today by a very accomplished eleven year old over at Ellen Oh's blog. She was quite charming and I adored her questions.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Anne Lamott on Creativity

I don't usually post on the weekends but I came across this link on Twitter yesterday (via Jules Dominguez) and wanted to be sure everyone I knew saw it.

It's an interview with Anne Lamott where she talks about making room in our lives for creativity. Pretty much a must read.