Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Known & the Unknown ... Dance

A quick thought on writing. This is from a talk I gave a couple of years ago, but I've been thinking about it because of where I am in my current book, and I thought I'd share.

I guess it relates to the outline-or-not issue, the pantsers versus plotters, if you've heard that? Do you plot out your books in advance? Or fly by the seat of your pants? It's still a source of bewilderment to me that with the persnickety uptight JERK of a brain that I have, always craving safety and control, that I don't outline. It seems like I would outline. But I don't.
It's not that I'm against it. It sounds lovely in so many ways! To know what's going to happen and then just write it? Heaven.
But ... also not heaven. I'd like to make the same claim that I've heard other authors make (and have made myself, I'm sure) and which is not untrue, but also not the main reason. It's this: I don't outline because I like to be surprised. I like to discover the story as I go.
That's true ... but the fact is I'd probably cope with the lack of surprise and discovery if I could outline and be orderly and un-anxious.
The real reason I can't outline is very, very simple. It's this:

I don't know what's going to happen. 

I try to know. It doesn't work out. The story laughs in my face. I cannot underscore enough: this is a perpetual source of terror to me. I have a general sense of where I want to end up, and in between, it's all a huge terrifying blur. My orderly brain is always on my clueless brain's case: WHERE ARE WE GOING WITH THIS? HOW WILL IT FIT TOGETHER? I HOPE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING!

And I don't. I don't know what I'm doing. I only hope. I hope a lot. 

And I rewrite a lot. 

A lot.

Anyway, with that preamble, here's a more fanciful (and alluring?) way of saying the same thing. It's a metaphor conceived from the safe side of a deadline, in the HA I TOLD YOU I COULD DO IT phase, and is accordingly lacking in DEAR GOD WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE! Here it is:

For me, writing is a dance between the Known and the Unknown.
I imagine it as one of those Regency pattern dances, and the Known stand on one side of the ballroom, sedate, secure, sober, reliable, their pins are all pinned, buttons buttoned. These are the folks you’d trust with your children. You know they’d put them to bed on time, a healthy meal in their bellies, and tell them a story, and a good story too, if not great. They aren’t drags, the Known. They’re my team. I couldn’t do what I do without them.
And facing them across the dance floor: the Unknown. Of course it’s dark, they’re in silhouette, and I might be wrong, but their silhouettes seem to be changing. Is that … a tentacle? What the hell is going on over there? I do not want to dance with that. Oh wait. Ooh. Pretty lights. Fireflies. That one has a fox’s head. A ballerina in a cobweb tutu. Ladybug wings. They’re eating … ice cream cones? I would not have predicted ice cream cones. They don’t know the dance steps. The Unknown never do. But they have moooooves ...
You would not leave you children with the Unknown. They might give them ice cream, or they might give them razor blade apples. Whatever it is, it will be wholly unexpected, and it will twist your story like a kaleidoscope.
And stories need that. The occasional razor blade apple or serial killer monkey or tentacle or ... ice cream cone. YOUR KALEIDOSCOPE NEEDS TWISTING.
That's where the magic dust of Fascination comes from--from the Unknown. And in order for readers to be fascinated, I think first we must be. We must face death or failure by firefly or fox's head or come what may in order to achieve a state of fascination, or else our books are all buttoned buttons and healthy meals. And come on ... you know you want more out of life and fiction than that!
The Known and the Unknown dance.
And that, for me, is writing a book.

And now good night! 

**UPDATE: Regarding plotting. In my midnight writing last night I stopped short of saying something very important, and it's this: I PLOT. I believe in plotting! I don't think it robs the magic from writing. I think there are a million ways to find a balance between the Known and the Unknown and I mean noooo disrespect to plotters! Maybe your Knowns have talismans to make your Unknowns behave. And maybe your Unknowns are ungovernable fey things impervious to magic and cajoling. I think your brain wiring determines this, and you have to learn to work with it.
While outlines exceed what I could possibly know about a novel at the outset, I *do* need to know some things. I need to have buoys to swim toward, these story beats that I'm making my way toward. In my notes and brainstorming, I am sooo eloquent about these buoys/beats, I tend to call them Things, capital T. Like this:

I need a Thing! What's my Thing?? 

And until I have a Thing, I generally tread water in distress or cling to my buoy and gulp down salt water. 

A term I love for "pantsing" is "flying into the mist" (I think it's from Jane Yolen) and I love the sound of that, but have only found myself capable of genuine mist-flying with a short story or exercise. Not a novel. 

Doesn't it sound so beautiful, though?

All right. That's all for now. **END UPDATE

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Beautiful Book

Hello! Just a quick post to show off the most amazing book that my best friend brought us back from her trip to Paris! I already loved the French illustrator Rebecca Dautremer, but now? 


Seeing pictures won't convey the sense of STUN one gets when opening this book, of which every single page is an intricate die cut opening into the next. It is ... insane.

I never knew die cutting could be this precise, or that a book like this could feasibly be mass-produced. 

Look at the gate below: perfect tiny-fine iron gate rungs all die cut. WHAT?
It makes me wonder what the manufacturer of Laini's Ladies was doing, that nothing this delicate could be achieved!

This is what the back looks like, you get a better sense of the intricacy here. Wow, right?

**UPDATE: book available Amazon.de and Amazon.fr. (Spendy!)

Oh. Also, random painting project to show:

Having been meaning to do this since we moved in, and it turned out to be an hour of a project with Clementine's assistance. Fun!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writers with Kids

So yesterday evening Jim and I attended a book signing at Powell's City of Books (our local independent bookseller, incidentally the largest independent bookseller in the world, yay Powell's!), and the event wasn't entirely what I expected. 

We went to hear Charlie Huston, long one of Jim's favorite authors (and I really dig his books too!) who has a new book out: SKINNER. He read the prologue, it was totally gripping; Jim's deep into the book now and I'll have it next, but the unexpected part was next. He invited a group of Portland comic book creators to come up and do a panel on writing. 

A lot of comic book creators live in Portland. It's kind of a comic book town. If you didn't know. Interesting fact! There are three comic book publishers here (the large indie Dark Horse and the small indies Top Shelf and Oni Press). Anyway, among Charlie Huston's friends are some of the (if not the) top writers in the business, like Brian Michael Bendis, known to fanboys simply as "Bendis," who we often see riding his bike around town. 

So Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and the artist Michael Oeming got up and talked writing, moderated by Charlie Huston.

And for the first good chunk of it ... it revolved around kids.

Kids and getting the writing done. Kids and not getting the writing done. Not so much "kids as obstacle" but "kids as given," you know: kids as understood centers of life and the universe, around which all else revolves. Here's how it went. Charlie's first question for the panel (and himself, and oh! His daughter's name is Clementine!) was:


And then first he, followed by each in turn, gave an elaborate description of how their creative life is molded by the fact of being parents.

Listen up everybody. Kelly Sue wakes up at 3 a.m. THREE A.M., PEOPLE! Those are her best creative hours, before her [two] kids wake up and the day starts. To maintain this schedule, she goes to bed when her kids do, at 8 pm. 

And Brian Michael Bendis? He writes from his [four] kids' bedtimes until 6 a.m. UNTIL SIX A.M. Brian Michael Bendis has FOUR KIDS and HE WORKS ALL NIGHT LONG.

ALL. NIGHT. LONG. (Then makes breakfast for the kids, then crashes and sleeps. Also, get ready for envy: all four of his kids have been the kind of babies who will totally sleep in the Moses basket on his desk while he works -- all night long.)

This was how it went. So interesting. My own schedule currently is that I write from about 8 am to noon or one, at which time I might get Clementine down for her nap then work for a couple more hours, or Jim does the nap, and I work for a couple more hours. Then I'll have her in the afternoon or sometimes we'll have a babysitter and I work more. Then, after she goes to bed, we squeeze in some more work hours, generally not sleeping until midnight at the earliest.

(I know that Jim and I are VERY LUCKY we are able to arrange this schedule between us to get work done, but I want to stress that the only way both of us can get anything close to a full work day is by staying up late and NOT DOING ANYTHING ELSE. It has been years since we've just chilled in the evening or sat on a sofa or owned a remote control. It's like a distant dream. Even pre-Clementine it was rare, now it's never. )

But I have to say I'm thinking of trying Kelly Sue's method, above. Maybe not 3 am. But 5 am? I'm a morning person. When I work at night, it's not highly productive. So what if I went to bed earlier and got up earlier? Thinking back, pre-Clementine, when I finally got motivated to FINISH A NOVEL after years (35 of them) of not finishing novels, a key part of my shake-up was to get up at 5. I'd slog down the stairs, make coffee, and flop down at the kitchen table. I loooooved those dark quiet morning hours. Love love love. Blackbringer was the result. (Have you read it? My beloved first novel!)

I've tried uber-early-rising since Clementine came along, but she has had this mysterious sense of my consciousness and would wake up when I would, however quiet I was. But maybe it's worth another shot. Deep breath. Maybe TOMORROW MORNING. Maybe I'll even revisit the kitchen table.

(When the kitchen table was my writing place, I always tried to keep it beautiful and inviting: tidy, with a lovely tablecloth, fresh flowers, no clutter. A comfy cushion on a bench. And in the winter months, a blanket for the frosty morning hours.)

(all photos via Pinterest.)

How about you? Writing moms and dads? Does this strike a chord?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Memories of the Womb

So, apparently Clementine has memories of the womb. As became clear this morning when she said blithely, over breakfast, "Mama, one time when I was in the house inside your tummy, I was riding my bike down the stairs, and I saw a tartantula."

So, I guess I have tarantulas.

In case you were wondering.

(Photo apropos of nothing.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What if art ruled the world?

Hiya. Took this pic of street art in Montmartre, Paris, last fall. It's life size plus some. So cool. I always meant to post it and never finished with the France trip! So here's this anyway. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Portland Favorites, as shown to friends

Hi! Look at me, two blog posts in two days. WOW. Ha. But isn't that a cool picture, above? It's at Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. Last weekend, after Leaky Con was over, Jim and I took Barry Lyga and his fiancee Morgan for a little waterfalls tour, and this one was cool because you can actually walk right up to it, like this guy did, and kind of shower in it. (If you're crazy.)

But let me back up and put up Stephanie Perkins pictures!

Look: a Stephanie!

Stephanie and I have been friends for ... around five years? But she had never been to Portland! So we did a brief whirlwind of favorite things, including Powell's Books, of course (of which I have no pictures) and Cargo, which I've posted about before

Steph paying the parking meter with a wee Clementine shadow:

I'm still in pain over this sea green cabinet at Cargo, which is too large for our dining room. Dang. It. I'm willing the house to stretch overnight. 

And we had a lovely morning on Alberta St, which I've also posted about before (I need to resume those out-and-about-in-Portland posts!) Started with breakfast at Helser's (see my Dutch baby, below.)

Followed by strollery and shoppery. Green Bean Books, as shown yesterday (at least their vending machine), and Grasshopper, full of French toys and locally handmade kid's clothes:

Tumbleweed next door. Locally handmade clothes for grownups.

Passed by here. Don't you love? A pie bar. 

Pies, cocktails, and coffee. The three basic food groups. 

My favorite clothing store in Portland, Frock:

And then it was time to eat again. At the Grilled Cheese Bus, of course!

Embiggen this so you can read the description of "the Cheesus." We did not get this.

Can you IMAGINE? :-)

And then, you know, there's always ... Voodoo Donuts.

The evening crowd, waiting in line. Nuts, huh?

And lastly, no trip to Portland is complete without a visit to the Rose Garden. This after breakfast at Mother's Bistro with David Levithan, also in town for Leaky! 

Above: Steph in a cute frock from Frock. Below, Jim and David, being manly among the roses.

It was so lovely having Stephanie here, and all the other fabulous author friends (new and old) who were here for Leaky. I love writers. *smile*

So that's kind of a Portland highlights according to me tour, minus some photo-documentation. But definitely many favorites:


For SCENIC BEAUTY: the Old Columbia River Highway (engineering feat of 1913, unbelievable views, lots of waterfalls, cool old buildings); the Rose Garden, perched above downtown, stunning stunning stunning. 

If you're feeling active, go for a hike in the Gorge. Punchbowl Falls/Eagle Creek is a favorite.


Favorite Mexican/eclectic outdoor patio = Porque No (Hawthorne location)

Favorite pizza = Dove Vivi; runner-up = Firehouse

Favorite fun kids lunch: Grilled Cheese Bus

Favorite Vietnamese = Jade Bistro in Sellwood. Could eat their hum bao every single day. Also Vietnamese meatball sandwich.

Favorite Indian = Bollywood Theater, surprisingly displacing runner-up Bombay Cricket Club, though I'm sure Jim would disagree. They're completely different. I'm just more keen on the former at the moment. More fun, and also next door to:

Favorite ice cream = Salt & Straw

Favorite dessert = Pix Patisserie (get the Shazam, you won't be sorry)

Favorite breakfast = Mother's Bistro; runner-up = Waffle Window


Favorite bookstores = Powell's Books. Green Bean Books. Cosmic Monkey Comics (Jim took Steph there. It's really the best comic book store. Jim and Clementine have a weekly father-daughter date there for tea and comics :-) 

Favorite furniture store = Cargo. A wonderland in the Pearl District.

Favorite clothing = Frock, Alberta St.

Favorite art gallery = Guardino Gallery, Alberta St.

Of course there's a ton, ton more. And these are highly subjective personal favorites. As written by a tired person in that weird state half-awakeness that comes after one has fallen asleep getting one's child to bed and then made an attempt to resume functioning. And now I'm giving up the attempt. 

Good night!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

BECOME A WRITER! (for just $1 :-)

Hi there! Spotted this vending machine at Green Bean Books on Alberta St in Portland, and had to share. If you're still looking for that magic thing that will make you A WRITER, look no further! Here it is, just $1. Adorable. 

Incidentally, they also have a BABY VENDING MACHINE.
Yes. It vends babies. Very very small babies.

Hurry on over. Get some books and a baby to read them to! 

P.S. We brought the loveleh Stephanie Perkins here when she was in town last week for LeakyCon, which was splendid. I'll have pictures of Steph's adorableness and random fun-having very soon. Tomorrow maybe. But not much in the way of Leaky pics because I lamed out on lugging my camera. 

You should try to come next year though. It's in Orlando, so you can go to the Harry Potter theme park and everything! Highlights (for me) this year included reading my terrible teen writing along with Leigh Bardugo, Maggie Stiefvater, and Barry Lyga -- I am pretty sure, my friends, that I was the most pretentious teen writer of all time. I have sentences to prove it. (And am saving them for a rainy day.) Also, we did this thing called the Writer's House Cup, in which we writerfolk competed for, yeah, the Hogwarts House Cup, in a series of challenges designed by mad geniuses Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman to replicate the trials and tribulations of the writing life. 

This included wriggling through tubes and catching at flying money while blindfolded. Which I do pretty much every day. So. 

And wait. The only pictures I have from Leaky are from my other highlight. This:

These fabulous girls dressed up as Karou/Madrigal (combo) and marionette Zuzana! Made my freaking day. Check out that T-shirt! Isn't it awesome? I would totally buy that! 

* * *



They are always doing really cool things, and this is the latest and greatest. Check it out. If the trailer contest was too much for you to bite off, here's a fun and easy way to get yourself into a professionally produced video to celebrate the release of the paperback DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT (in the UK; it won't be out in the US for a while yet). 

Anyway, HERE ARE THE DETAILS. All participants will get their names listed in the back of DREAMS OF GODS & MONSTERS, plus you might end up in the video! And it's easy! Please do it. It'll be fun and wonderful :-) (And if you live in the UK there are also prizes.) 

Deadline July 31.



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