One cool thing about being a writer is you occassionally get to donate books. You get a small number of free books from your publisher, and I keep a few, give a few to family, and donate the rest away.
Recently I was able to get donations of 42 autographed books from several Utah-based writers, and working with a few families from the area, we created "The Reading Tree." Utah has a Festival of Trees every year, where hundreds of decorated trees are donated and auctioned to benefit the Primary Children's Hospital. Our tree was so cool, with a reading lamp as the star, a reading chair, rug, cuddly toys, and a bookcase full of these wonderful, signed books. I don't know who ended up buying it, but I hope it was a library or hospital or somewhere the books can be read.
After hurricane Katrina, I emailed my publisher, asking if I could buy 50 books with my author's discount and have them sent directly to Texas where thousands of people were living in a sports stadium. Bloomsbury emailed back, offering to do 500! And I just heard--you know how the goose girl paperback had that printing error and they recalled all the copies? Well, Bloomsbury was able to donate 20,000 goose girl paperbacks First Book, who is getting these books to children who lost everything in the hurricane. What a tremendous thing to come out of a mis-printing.
December 2, 2005
I can't believe I forgot to put this in before. Holly Black read an early copy of Razo's book (I revealed the new title in the newsletter, but I promised I wouldn't do here for two weeks). She agreed to give me a blurb--my first blurb from another writer! She gave me three choices:
"Shannon Hale will steal your last water bottle."
"Shannon Hale is the r0x0rz."
"Shannon Hale writes deft, lyrical, wonderful fantasy."
I turned in the final draft of Razo's book today! It's such a great feeling. Now it'll go to copy editing, which means a copy editor will look over it for consistency, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Then I'll get the copy edited manuscript back and agree or disagree with all the editor's suggested changes. We'll do that again once it goes to typesetting, so I'll read through the book at least two more times before it's printed, but the hard part is over. On to the next project! And to celebrate...we're having Chinese food. Actually, we just ate. Max is down for the night, my sister and brother are downstairs watching an episode of Justice League. I'd be watching it (it is the best show on television), but I just saw this episode the other day. Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl rock. And I have a secret crush on Batman. Don't tell.
November 28, 2005
We sent off the first volume of The Squeeter Pig this weekend. If you signed up and didn't receive yours, you either entered your email address wrong (several few bounced back) or your ISP is blocking me. Almost all the "delayed delivery" messages I got were for email addresses ending in aol.com. I've had emails with some questions about the newsletter that I'll answer here:
"Can you include a way for people to unsubscribe?"
Ack! First volume and already people want out? The person who asked, I believe, was being helpful and suggesting additions that other newsletters have. Of course, she was assuming that we're sophisticated enough to set up such a system. Pretty much, if you want to unsubscribe, you just email me with the request, and then I hunt through the file with all the email addresses in it and delete yours. Pretty low tech. I'm happy to do it, but don't worry, as promised we'll only send out The Squeeter Pig twice a year and won't use your email address for anything else. Oh, and I might sell it to a Viagra vender, but that's all...okay, I'm kidding.
"Where are the fan essays you asked for?"
Excellent question. The problem was my lack of foresight. We decided not to include fan essays in this volume because we only realized after the fact that it was a difficult thing to include in a newsletter. 300 words is a lot of text for a newsletter but not quite enough for an essay, and the newsletter was getting long as it was. The book reviews by young readers worked much better, and we'll keep taking book review submissions for future newsletters. Thanks to those who submitted the essays. You're very cool!
November 24, 2005
Happy turkey and stuffing to all my compatriots today, and to those of you in countries that haven't set aside this day as a day of gluttony, go about your business. Dean and I are using the holiday to get the newsletter together, so those of you who subscribed, volume 1 of The Squeeter Pig should be in your email inboxes by tomorrow.
My editor got back to me about the most recent draft of Razo's book. She only had one note on a scene near the end, but I want to take the opportunity to do another complete draft. It'll be a fast one, but am I glad I am. I've gone through the first 20 pages and already have found so many things that really would've bugged me if I hadn't changed. But it'll be off to copy editing in about two weeks. Huzzah! And then I'll pull focus back to Novel X and Graphic Novel X and wallowing in more rejections for ostensibly jane.
What am I grateful for? My Dean, my Max, my family all around, my bed, a house with heating, a working sewage system, stories, trees, and you guys. Happy holiday.
November 23, 2005
Yup, it's starting all over again. Some of you have seen my roll of rejection lettes (I laminated together the rejections I received from publishers before getting my first acceptance). Besides my short stories and an earlier book, the goose girl alone got nine rejections. And I hadn't had any since! ...until yesterday.
ostensibly jane is an adult book I've been working on for the past 5 years. For lack of a better name, I suppose it's chick lit--which means, it's fun, about a thirty-something single woman, is funny (I hope) and involves some romance. I like it, darn it, even if no one else does. I finished it this summer and have begun looking for a publisher. My editor at Bloomsbury just does children's, so I can't sell it to her, and I'm in uncharted water, or whatever the phrase is. And yesterday I got the news that Dial just passed on my Jane.
I shall not give up! I will press on, friends, until that summit bows to my superior will! And then, if no one still wants it, I'll post it here for free download. Stories are meant to be shared, after all.
November 21, 2005
I had a strange and wonderful experience recently - I listened to the goose girl audio book, recently released from Full Cast Audio. I honestly didn't know what to expect, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to listen to the whole thing. I just thought it would be too difficult to hear my words pushed through the filter of a bunch of actors who aren't the characters and couldn't possibly do it right. But I was curious how the intro music would sound, so I stuck in the first CD. Then I was curious what everyone's voice would sound like, so I listened to a little more. Before I knew it, I was circling the block so I could keep hearing the story.
It was one of the most fantastic experiences in my writing life. It was as though someone had given me the gift of being able to read my own book for the first time. I went through 30 drafts of that book, so by the end I was so sick of it I wanted to hurl it across the room. I never thought I'd be able to see it as a reader instead of as the writer.
There were certainly times when I wanted to yell, "That's not how he would say that!" There were a few times I laughed out loud because a character's casting was so off of what I had imagined. But those moments were amazingly rare. Mostly it was an unobstructed joy where I got to forget I was the writer and just experience the story. I fell in love with Geric. Completely. I was outrageously fond of the minor characters Gilsa, Ideca, Tatto, Odaccar, and the stablemaster. Ani was lovely. The narrator was so warm, so talented. It was a real joy. And a relief, frankly. I can't wait for enna burning.
November 16, 2005
I've had readers apologizing to me lately for reading my book "all in one sitting" or "in just six hours, though I don't mean it as an insult!" Truly, I would consider that a huge compliment, never an insult. I suspect this is because of my statement in the author interview in the US Goose Girl paperback when I said, "One reader, intending to be complimentary, told me she read The Goose Girl in an hour and a half. That book consumed two years of my life, I agonized over every word, and she burned through its 383 pages in 90 minutes. Ouch!" I regret those words in that interview now. Too easily misunderstood. I guess it just felt like, you know, when you hand make someone a Christmas present and it takes you hours and hours and you lay awake anticipating their reaction, and then when they open it, they glance at it once and say, "Cute, thanks," and put it aside. Just the time put into it compared with the time spent enjoying it was off with that particular speed reader, I thought. But really, it's so not a big deal, I shouldn't have said it.
May I just give an unsolicited plug for Discovery Girls? They did a review of princess academy, so my publisher sent me a copy, and I flipped through it, and then found myself reading the entire thing. I was really impressed. This is a US magazine targeted at girls ages 7-13. It's down to earth, no celebs, no ridiculous fashion. The photos are only of REAL girls, and I think they do a very good job of not holding up impossible images of beauty. Also, some very honest and helpful articles without being "edgy." Compare to the likes of Tiger Beat and take a sigh of relief.
November 14, 2005
I'm way behind on my emails and stuff. I only get about 2 hours a day on the computer lately, and I'm afraid if I don't use it for writing I'll have to answer to myself later, and I can be really tough. Something my husband is working on right now...getting a program for this blog that has a commenting feature, so people can respond to my blog. Holly Black does this on her site instead of email and it seems to work well. I imagine I wouldn't need to reply to every comment, and then readers could interact with other readers via the comments, and no one feels lonely. I hope it works out.
The graphic novel my husband and I are writing (let's call it Novel X, shall we?) is coming along. I did another pass on the first chapter of the script today. He'll do another pass, then I'll format it and do another pass and send it to my editor in a proposal. Here's the part that I'm excited about--Nathan Hale (no relation), an artist I've met a couple of times and admire, has agreed to illustrate a couple of sample pages to send in the proposal. How this works is, a writer like me doesn't get to choose her illustrator, not for a picture book or graphic novel. But having a couple of pages illustrated will: A. help the editor visualize the style and storytelling better and possibly increase the odds of selling the project; and, B. increase the chances that the editor might go with the artist we liked. Just hours after I emailed Nathan the sample pages, he emailed me back a gorgeous character sketch of the main gal. I'm SO tempted to post it here, 'cause it rocks, but I'm also so secretive about unwritten and unsold projects, and besides, I'd need his permission first. But if Novel X becomes a go, I promise to keep ya'll in-the-loop-ed.
November 12, 2005
A friend of mine designed "Nugget" the bird for PETA2, and I've become addicted to dressing Nugget in her Halloween garb.
Name a new species! I guess scientists discovered a new species in the Great Salt Lake and if you're under 15, you can enter a contest to name it permanently. How cool is that?
Funny. I'm a fan of Caroline B. Cooney's Goddess of Yesterday, so I was interested to see she had a new book out, Code Orange. I rarely read reviews, but the two reviews on Amazon caught my eye. Compare the first sentences from each review:
"Most readers will have high expectations from the creator of The Face on the Milk Carton and the Out of Time series, but they might be a little disappointed in this offering." - School Library Journal
"*Starred Review* In top, utterly terrifying form, Cooney leads a gregarious New York City teenager to a century-old sample of smallpox scabs." - Booklist
Ah, the wonder of opinion.
November 9, 2005
I get asked to do stuff, now that I'm an author, like speak places. School visits, presentations to writer groups, book festivals, book groups, book store events, that sort of thing. Most of the time, I love doing this kind of stuff. My favorites are meeting with kids (4-6 grade is especially cool). Of the adult groups, hopeful writers are my favorite. I like giving hope, because I feel like I have bunches of it. I mean, I'm here, aren't I? My hopeless dream of 18 years came true, so why not for you, too?
I end up doing about four events a month, usually about one a week. (I generally don't put stuff on my events page unless it's open to the public.) But I have to turn down invitations regularly. Wait, that sounds like I'm claiming to be inundated with pleas for my presence, and that's not true. I'm very blessed to have more invitations than I can accept. That certainly was never true of me in high school, I can tell you that. And even if I didn't turn stuff down, I'd end up doing 6 events a month instead of 4, I'd guess. I'm not that popular. (And frankly, quite often when people ask me to do an event, it's more that they want an Author there than me specifically, and I just happen to be the closest one around.) Still, I would say yes to everyone who asked, because I hate turning people down and I enjoy getting out and talking to people, getting to say thank you to librarians and booksellers (without whom authors like me wouldn't exist), hopefully giving hope to writers, and getting kids excited about books. But...for my little Max.
Example: On Friday, I'm speaking at the English Department Reading Series at BYU. I've known about it for probably 6 months and I still don't have a babysitter for Max. Yikes! I don't know, I guess some people have babysitters on demand. Here's my family's situation: mom (in Mongolia currently), mother-in-law (works full-time), older sister (has 4 kids, co-opts, works part-time, actually keeps house relatively clean), younger sister (works full-time), brother (is such a boy)...and that's about it. Can you believe the nerve of these people not waiting at my beck and call? Ish! Both my sisters watch Max about once a month, but I can't expect that every week, and my mother-in-law and her housemate recently had Max for 9 days while I was in the UK. So, you see my problem. And weekday events like the one this Friday are during school hours and negate employing a neighbor girl.
So far, these are my last remaining options:
Leave Max with my sister, who is going out of town after a couple of hours. She'll put Max down for a nap and call a 10-year-old neighbor girl, whom I've never met, to be there when he wakes up.
Leave Max with the poor husband (whom I've never met) of a friend (whom I've met in person 3 times) who'll be at the speech, who will then go home, put him down for a nap, and play with him till I get done with the signing and lunching part of the afternoon.
Leave Max with my agent, who has a 6-month-old baby who must be in motion in order to nap.
Huh. I'll figure it out. At least I have options, even if I'm worried I'm putting everyone out so that I can traipse down to Provo and play Semi-Famous Author.
I guess the root of the problem is -- I don't like leaving Max anywhere. I like him.
November 4, 2005
Check out this pumpkin a friend did of a certain book cover: pumpkin picture. She says the photo doesn't do it justice, that the squash was 47 inches around. So cool.
Been working on a new project, a graphic novel I'm co-writing with my husband Dean. I'm in love with the idea, but it hasn't sold yet. We'll polish up the first two chapters and the plot summary and send it to Bloomsbury to see if they'd like it. My editor was enthused by the idea. Here's hoping she likes the finished product as well.
It's raining right now. I can hear the patter on the skylight, the kind of sound that makes me want to curl up in a down comforter and drink peppermint tea, even though I'm not the slightest bit cold. Max is still asleep. He often sleeps in on rainy mornings, I've noticed. What a wise, wise child. Alas, no park visit this morning, as previously planned. Perhaps we'll snuggle together in a comforter, eat popcorn, and read about hippos and moose. That's sounding divine.
November 1, 2005
I've always been rather fond of the New England Booksellers Association, and at last I know why - they've selected princess academy as a top ten book for fall! Wow. These things just make me float around all day.
I read a review of PA that thought the last quarter of the book when something dramatic happens (I won't say what here, of course) was a mistake. I disagree. Okay, I know it's not manners to argue in your blog with reviewers, so I'll just go so far as to say that I disagree. But I guess that's obvious, since I wrote it that way on purpose. Maybe that's what I'm trying to get at - some reviewers criticize something in your book as a "mistake" but it wasn't a mistake, it was on purpose. They may think the choice was a bad one and didn't please their internal reader, and that's a legitimate reader reaction, but I guess I want it understood that writers like me spend oodles of thought and time and care on every word, and while my choices may not jive with certain readers, they were still choices. Am I making sense? No, I'm being one of those defensive writers, and I don't mean to be. The NEBA chose PA as a top ten, so I'm actually still floating.
October 27, 2005
I finished the latest draft of Razo's book! Callooh! Callay! I'm 90% sure I've decided on the new title and will announce it in the soon to be released newsletter, The Squeeter Pig. Just because I'm not totally sure yet, and because it seems more exciting to do it that way. I sent it to my editor, she'll take another look, and I'll probably do one more draft before sending it to copy editing. And then, you guys will get to see it. I can't wait!
Take a gander: amazon's concordance for goose girl. Kind of interesting, it maps out the most frequently used words. Some are obvious, like the characters' names, princess, goose, and such. Interesting: 270 occurrences of the word "hand" and 112 of "word."
October 23, 2005
I just realized something. There are over 100,000 of my books in print in the US. Not all of those have been sold (less than half, I'd guess). Still, that's a lot, and doesn't include the UK books. And the library books have had multiple readers. Here's an eerie thought - one hundred thousand people may know my name. Isn't that bizarre?...Nope, I can't quite believe that. I'm going to pretend it never happened.
A lovely day. Ever since I've been back from the UK, I just can't get enough of my Max. Before I left, I didn't think I could love him any more than I do, and yet somehow I do. I just kiss him and squeeze him and I can sit for hours just watching his face as he stacks blocks or reads himself a board book, making "s" and "t" noises as he points to the letters. The weather has been on the warm side of autumn and we've been spending as much time outside as possible. Today we were exploring the different kinds of leaves that had fallen in the park, and he was fascinated, clutching one brown leaf as he climbed on the play set until it crumbled to bits.
October 18, 2005
Still tinkering with book 4, untitled and anxious about it. It’s good, it’s just not perfect, and right now my vision is failing me to know how to bump it up another level. I keep thinking I’m in good shape with it then see that it could be better. But how? But how?
Max runs around in open spaces like empty parking lots, flapping his arms and screeching. He, at least, is perfect.
A US Girl Makes Unexpected Discoveries in the UK:
In the US the last letter of the alphabet is "zee" and in the UK it's "zed." In some areas, the letter "H" is pronounced "hay-ch."
Every single sink I encountered had separate faucets for hot and cold, so either you wash your hands in scalding water or freezing water.
It is apparently not difficult to get old or notable buildings "listed" so the towns I saw were full of gorgeous architecture from many periods in excellent condition.
I've always appreciated a good whopper--you know, those chocolate covered malt balls. Well, I got some of a UK brand, and guess what? THEIR chocolate doesn't taste like wax! So, if the technology for making real, tasty chocolate coating for malt balls exists, why do we US whopper lovers have to suffer?
Despite the stereotype, UK food is very tasty.
Trains are a splendid way to travel.
In the UK, "brilliant" doesn't mean "smart, genius, bright," but more like "cool, that's great, well done," and "cheers" can mean "thank you."
Just discovered: goose girl in french. I pasted the book description text into one of those free online translators and here's the bizarre result:
"Heiress of the holds court Kildenrie, the princess anidori-kiladra grows without never to see his mother. His mysterious aunt takes care of her and learns for him to speak with the birds and, notably, to the swans of the palace But there is no room, to the course, for the wonderful stories! And when the astonishing préceptrice is constrained to leave, the young forlorn princess has to fold to the orders of his mean mother. Powerless, divested, confronted to the treason of his, she fails in an immense forest, exposed to all the dangers. Will she succeed in recover the honors that return for him?"
And I find myself desperate to find out -- Will she recover the honors that return for him?!
October 15, 2005
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. It is so good to be home after a long trip. Can I even describe my elation at holding Max again? After 9 days away, the separation was physically painful. It wasn't so bad when we were touring around the UK, filled with the wonder of that beautiful country and having a "brilliant" time gossping with the natives. But when we left for home, the 20 hours it took to reach Max were unbearable. Sweetest little guy. He looked so much older!
And the first thing I did after putting him down for sleep that night? Plucked my eyebrows. No, friends, I will never travel without tweezers again. Who knew your eyebrow hair could grow so fast? Yikes.
I'm feeling good right now because as I was working on Razo's book, I suddenly got some more ideas for a future Bayern book I've been thinking about, and as the idea becomes more whole inside of me, I get charmed by it and ansty to make it happen, but I have RAzo's book to finish and two other books that I'm equally excited about, including the graphic novel. Ah, for more time! I hear Max waking from his nap, so more UK details will have to wait.
October 10, 2005
Hidee-ho, neighbors! I'm in the fabulous UK and am trying to figure out where the shift key is on this foreign keyboard...ah-ha! This is the first hotel where we've had internet access so I wasn't able to report before now. All is splendid in the land of tea and scones. Still haven't seen a scone, actually, but plenty of pots of tea. I had some peppermint.
I'll do a more detailed sum up of the trip later, I imagine. Let me think of some highlights...exploring the moors in Ilkley, Yorkshire (once seeing a moor, you see why a Wuthering Heights could be written there but never an Austen); Visiting a medieval castle and Georgian townhouse in York; sitting on a train with my husband and fine tuning the outline for the graphic novel we'll co-write next; meeting a darling group of 8-year-old girls all dressed as princesses at a festival in Ilkley; making a class of 12-year-old school girls in Manchester laugh; wow, just all the people. I love meeting people. That's what's so much cooler about visiting a country this way rather than as a tourist - I have so many opportunities to meet and talk with folks from this country. Such fun.
*hee-hee* I'm in the hotel lobby in Manchester using the free computer they have here and someone just came up and asked me if I was reservations. Uh, nope. I feel so rustic, so cowgirl with my American accent up next to the suave and gritty and posh and lucsious accents of the UK. Whoops, just had someone ask me where the 'lifts' are. I guess I'd better learn if I plan on sitting here long!
It's Dean's birthday today, dear boy. And for his birthday, he decided he'd rather stay in the hotel alone rather than come out to dinner with us and a dozen booksellers and librarians. Husbands are such oddballs. And yet I love him so much. And ache and ache for my little Max, who is with his grandma and aunt and well-loved and kissed every few minutes and not lonely at all and happy and content and just fine...but how I miss the little guy...
September 30, 2005
That's what my toddler says whenever he finds something he's been looking for. "Where's Superman?" I ask. Max puts his hands, palms up, his sign for, "Where is it?" Then he looks around. When he spies Superman lying on the carpet behind the couch, he says, "Boo!"
That's how I feel this week with the new book (still untitled, blast it). It keeps saying "boo!" at me, or me at it, or something. I keep thinking, well, I'm in pretty good shape, then it jumps out and says boo. The last draft, I cut 12,000 words and added new scenes and thought I'd done a bang-up job, then I had my husband read it. As we were driving home from a funeral yesterday, we were talking about the book. As we mulled it over, I suddenly had that terrific but terrible realization that hits before each major rewrite - it's not done yet. I saw again how it could be and that it's not there. And I'm just not going to have time to dive into it until I get back from the UK trip. It feels like it's going to be another hefty draft, and yet the stuff I'll be changing is the kind of stuff that most readers wouldn't even notice on a first read. But I owe it to Razo to get it right. Bless him.
Speaking of the UK, I have my appearances outlined on my events page. I hope to see some of you at the festivals and such!
The funeral was for my husband's grandmother, whom I also claim as my grandma. She is a delight, a rock of a woman. It was a new experience for me this past month to be around someone who knows she is dying, but is completely lucid and wants to go. She was very spiritual, a fervent believer, and her best friend of 60 years, her husband, had passed away four years ago. She couldn't wait to rejoin him and her daughter. It was a peaceful time, the grief only what we felt for missing her presence, the joy we felt for having known her at all. But it was a soft experience, even lovely at times. Onward and upward, Grandma!
September 26, 2005
Back from Baltimore and had a great time. I'd just arrived at their fabulous, open air book fair, and I was looking at the schedule for the children's tent.
Me: "Karen Hesse is on at 3:30! I really want to hear her."
My friend: "She's right behind you."
I turn and sure enough, there's a lovely women with tight curls and a "Karen Hesse" nametag attached to her purse. She showed us to the author hospitality suite, and we'd really intended to just check in then go out and eat and look around the festival, but we found ourselves in a wood-paneled, low lit room with a side table covered in free food, a coffee table begging us to relieve it of the burden of all those free cookies and Hershey's kisses, and couches teeming with cool writers. So we stayed. For like four hours. Karen Hesse was absolutely lovely, just glowing with positive energy, someone you want to hug right after meeting her. I was caught up in a conversation with Katie Davis, the gorgeous picture book author/illustrator, when I noticed someone new had just come in and sat down on the couch to my right.
Me: (politely friendly) "Hello."
My friend: "That's Holly Black."
Me: (thinking she said "Molly" and not knowing who Molly was) "Hi Molly..." (realizing as I catch sight of her name tag) "I mean Holly..." (starting to panic) "I mean Holly...HOLLY BLACK! Oh my gosh! I mean, I love your writing, I love you, you're so...you're cool and..." (for the sake of pride, I won't relay word-for-word my embarrassing gushing)
Holly: (pulls out the goose girl) "Will you sign this for me? I really enjoyed it."
Me: *having trouble breathing*
Holly was very cool, and we met up with Tom Barron, Charles de Lint, and Charles Vess and had a great time on the panel, only Holly kept putting her coffee cup in my space on the table, when I had clearly drawn a line between us and asked her to keep her things on that side. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request and said so, and then Charles and Charles started piling everything on MY part of the table, the cursed coffee cup, all the water bottles, knickknacks, shoes that had lost their pair...and all while the NYT best-selling author T.A. Barron was trying to make a comment. I would never be that disruptive. I am always the model of decorum...
After the panel, we had a lovely signing that included meeting Sarah from Baltimore and other gorgeous readers. I found a girl wandering around the tent with the goose girl in one hand and a violin strapped to her back and I ever-so-gently coaxed her into seranading us. (I would never be PUSHY by any means. Seriously. I'm all tact. Honest. Ask anyone. Except someone who's actually met me.) I expected a scratchy "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," but she burst out with this vibrato-pianissamo-forte-Italiano Bach number that blew us away. Dinner afterward was delightful, despite the restaurant's best efforts to make it otherwise. Seriously, Phillips Seafood was 1 part eating establishment and 9 parts oblivious British farce.
K, that was a long blog. It's because I'm between drafts today. But here I go to start the next one of city of rivers, or trouble in river city, or big trouble in little tira, or spy me a river...we can think of more parody titles than actual ones. Still noodling...
September 22, 2005
This Saturday I'll be at the Baltimore Book Festival, presenting on a fantasy panel from 4-6 pm with Charles de Lint, Charles Vess, T.A. Barron, and Holly Black, followed by a book signing. Let me just pause a moment and reread those names...yes, very exciting. I've met artist Charles Vess before and emailed Charles de Lint. We're all going out to dinner after (that was said in a happy, sing-songy voice). I've never been to Baltimore. The cool thing about the traveling I'm beginning to do as an author will be when Max is older and I can take him with me. But he'll probably end up one of those kids with a writer mom who'll be like, "Aw Mom, another book festival? Can't I just stay in the hotel and play video games? I've already met that Newbery winning author like five times and she smells like raisins."
September 19, 2005
I'm a peach! It's peach season in northern Utah, where you can find some of the best peaches in the world, and I was buying some from a roadside stand when I discovered that one type of the fruit is called a Hale peach. Can't think of a fruit I'd rather be.
Recently I posted about this website's stats, listing the current most-viewed pages. For a couple of weeks thereafter, those pages persisted being the most viewed. Of course, this was because of the links to those pages I put in my blog. People were reading my blog entry and clicking on the links to see what everyone else was looking at. It occurs to me that this is "bestseller" mentality. A book makes it on the best seller list, then airport and chain bookstores put the book on the best seller rack up front, and it continues to sell due to its visibility. Not really sure where I want to go with that thought...um, nowhere, I guess...but hey, I'm still a peach!
September 16, 2005
Starred review in School Library Journal! Bless their hearts. Doing a jig all day.
Still trimming the new book. Scanning for every superfluous word, spending an hour on a single page. I don't trust myself when nothing in the current draft looks delete-able, and I don't trust myself when everything looks delete-able. Those are both blind, desperate moments. Sometimes the deleting feels so good, like cutting your hair after it's been driving you crazy. Sometimes I mourn the sentences that I'll never get to use again. Here's a random smattering of recently deleted sentences.
An ache passed through him, a homesickness as though he missed her, though she was so near.
Serving boys rushed between kitchen and tables delivering chunks of pork sizzling on skewers and napkins cradling steaming bread.
Razo squandered several hours playing stones with Conrad and fanning himself until his wrists nagged.
He was waiting for the curve of the table or the long, thin shutter shadows to reveal secrets like the mysterious ink strokes of letters, teach him what to do. But books and night were closed to him.
Just then the grounds between palace and barracks struck him as ridiculously huge, seemingly stretching longer even as he ran, the whole world intent on holding him back. He pushed his body against it and ran faster.
September 12, 2005
Back from the Park City Literary Festival and discovered that Michael Blake (Dances with Wolves) is lovely and smart and fun, as were all the writers I met. I left spending about $120 on books. Typical. It was strange coming home, took me a few hours to take off my tiara and adjust. I feel like I spent the weekend being an Author and now I'm back to being a Writer. It's very different, odd that they're considered the same at all. Here's how it is for me: Author
I'm called "Shannon Hale" and introduced as "the award-winning author of the goose girl"
I sleep in a hotel bed
I eat for free, dinner in restaurants where the meal lasts for 2-3 hours and always includes appetizer and dessert
I wear a name tag
People act like I'm someone special, even if they don't know who I am
People drive for an hour to meet me and have me sign their books, which can't possibly be worth it
I hang out with other writers who are more famous and accomplished and interesting than I am, and I get to act like I belong
I get the incredible high of an audience laughing at or clapping for something I say
I give every ounce of energy I have to every person I meet, trying to make this experience worth their time, and never sure if I succeed
I sleep on the hotel bed and after eight hours still don't quite feel rested
I'm called "Mum"
I get up when Max does
I make him oatmeal and applesauce
I comfort him when a frustration tantrum makes him cry because he wants to tell me something and doesn't have the words for it
I clean the kitchen slowly, piece by piece, whenever Max gives me an opening
I read picture books to an audience of one, and if I do it right, he claps at the end
My audience laughs when I put things on my head or eat his tummy
My audience gets every scrap of energy I have and I know it's enough, it's worth it
When he naps, I grab 1-2 hours of mind-tangling, wrist-aching, brow-tensing rewriting time, and I remember that this work is what it's all about
He wakes, and we play until Papa comes home, then we play some more
At night, I'm not too tired to read a book
September 7, 2005
Sometimes my husband and I like to give Max (age 20 months) a little dinner theater experience when he's in his high chair. Tonight Dean put "Oleg the Pig" on his head and sang the ingenous improvised show stopper, "I've got a stuffed pig on my head." I provided back up. At the riotous finale, Max insisted we perform it again, watching anew with rapt pleasure. The fourth rendition, just to mix it up, Dean chanted, "I've got a stuffed pig on my shoulder." "No," said Max, shaking his head. And that was that, with the change to shoulder the song lost it's magic. We felt like we'd just experienced the bombed Hollywood sequel.
I'll be doing the Park City Literary Festival this weekend. If you're in the area, many of the programs are free, including my presentation on Saturday, September 10, 10 am at the Treasure Mountain Inn, and a panel I'm on that same day at noon in the Egyptian Theater.
Still trimming...Cut so far this draft: 4500 words, Goal: 9000
September 2, 2005
It's amazing how much you can cut when you set your mind to it. Before sending the most recent draft of city of rivers to my editor, I had been pretty dilligent about trimming the unnecessary. So when I got the newest editorial letter and she suggested I cut 30 pages from the first 130, I flinched. What could I cut and still have the essentials? But when you look at every sentence and ask if it's essential, it's amazing all the fat that you find hiding around the lean paragraphs. Of course, only about 25% of my cuts are easy one, overlooked sentences and phrases that are repetitive or uninteresting. The remaining 75% really challenge me. I want a tight story, but, yikes! How can I cut 20% of the first half of the book and still keep the story intact? I will find a way. I must.
August 31, 2005
My friends at frogbody set up a way for me to track the visitors to this site. I must say, it's very addicting. Almost every day I go and peek at the info. I can't see who comes to the site, obviously, just general info. So far, here's what I know about you guys:
the site had 4400 visits in August
an average of 140 unique visitors come to the site every day and looked at an average of 6 pages each
in August, 4500 visitors viewed 18,000 pages
about 280 people add squeetus to their favorites each month
48 of you linked to this site from dreadcrumbs, my husband's blog
There isn't an hour, day or night, when someone doesn't come to the site (thanks, no doubt, to our friends in Australia and New Zealand. Howdy, friends!)
Tuesdays get the highest traffic and Sundays the lowest
1.2% of you stay on the site for over an hour
91% of you use Microsoft Windows and 7.2% are Mac users
Internet Explorer wins with 82%, the next highest browser is Firefox at 9%
google held the overwhelming majority for search engines used, followed distantly by yahoo and MSN
most common search phrase - "shannon hale"; most random search phrase - "sharon hale"
August 28, 2005
I received another editorial letter [see Working with an editor] for city of rivers. *exhaling through lips like a horse* I'm always excited to get the letter, eager to return to that landscape and those characters, anxious to make it better. Then I read the letter, and the sickening sensation in my stomach makes eating difficult for the next 24 hours.
I've been through this enough now not to panic, though the temptation is there. I estimate I've received 14 editorial letters in the past 3 years, not to mention the critiques I get from husband and friends. My editor is brilliant, and her points are extremely helpful and very insightful. However, there's always that fear that I'm not going to be able to accomplish what I need to, followed by the writer blues. In part, I think it's because I'm looking only at the negative parts of the book, which makes the entire book seem like garbage. I understand how some people can write an entire first draft of a book only to abandon it when first receiving feedback.
This isn't even going to be a major rewrite. Besides smoothing out a few rough spots here and there, my mandate is mostly just to trim. But the problem with cutting is, when you delete stuff, you break stuff. I spend two hours sometimes on one page, trying to find how to get the information out and keep the flow smooth while using half the number of words. It's tricky. Much easier just to blab, let your book go on as long as you want. But I don't want to be that kind of a writer. I admire the firm, tight books most.
I find it interesting that whenever talking about fixing a book, we use metaphorical language: tighten it, get underneath it and fluff it up, smooth it out, polish these bits. They're all hands-on working terms that have little to do with actually putting letters onto a page. This process of writing a novel is so difficult to understand, even for the writer and editor, that we have to talk around it. That frightens me a little. I'd rather the writing process wasn't mysterious or magical, because then I can't comprehend it and can't depend on it and can't be sure that this time I'll be able to do it...!!! "Don't panic," said the Hitchhiker's Guide. Wisest words ever spoken.
August 26, 2005
Some fun and curious news for me - princess academy will be published in Turkish and the goose girl in Korean. I never thought I'd write those words. So strange and magical to imagine books I wrote being translated and read in places like Turkey, Korea, Italy, France, Germany... My best friend is holding her breath for Hebrew (her second language) and I'd love Spanish (my second language).
I get many questions from fans about movie news, so I thought I'd let you all know...there is none. Nope. Nothin'. I've met two fans who personally wrote letters to Warner Bros. requesting they make a goose girl movie, and I had an email from a fan who suggested I start a petition online that fans can sign, demanding a studio makes a movie of goose. Go, go you proactive girls! In my wild and fanciful way, I sent a copy of the goose girl to Scarlett Johanssen (who'd be an excellent Ani) and one to Drew Barrymore (who produces movies like Ever After). Odds are they won't receive the book let alone read it or want to make it into a movie, but you never know, do you? Besides, it was a joy to send it to Drew. I thought of it as a thank you gift for Charlie's Angels. When I mailed the package at the post office:
Postal worker: looked at package. "Is this THE Drew Barrymore?"
Postal worker: picked up next package, which was for one of the winners of the princess academy contest. "Is this THE Julie R.?"
I love postal workers with a sense of humor.
August 22, 2005
I spent my writing time today working on the main character for my next book (book six, based on a fairy tale, still untitled). I'm writing it first person, my first book with this POV, and I want to nail her voice before starting. I often have just notions about the characters when I start a book and let them develop throughout the various drafts, but this time I really need to know her inside-out before I start. I'd been wrestling with different ideas of her for a while, not feeling satisfied. My husband suggested that the easiest thing to do with a first person narrator is to make her think like I do. That's tempting, it certainly would be a smoother write, but I realize that I wouldn't be the best character in this story. No, this is a tricky story to pull off, I think, and I need just the right personality to pull the reader through it. I'm beginning to get a sense of her. It is hard work, wrestling with a character. And though I have to fight as hard as I can, I hope she wins.
August 19, 2005
Responding to my news that I'm on the prowl for a possible new name for city of rivers, my friend Laura emailed me the following (and for those of you unfamiliar with her references, Rivercity is the name of the town in the garrish musical The Music Man featuring the finale song "Seventy-six Trombones in the Big Parade"):
"I thought of a new name for City of Rivers. What do you think of Rivercity?
It could start out with something about the "Trouble in Rivercity," and then it could conclude with a big production number something like this:
Seventy six longbows led the first assault,
With a hundred and ten swordsmen close at hand.
They were followed by men in rows
Wearing chainmail for clothes.
The dream of any warring band.
Seventy six broadswords caught the morning sun,
With a hundred and ten chain mace right behind.
There were over a thousand foils
Adding up their spoils.
There were swords of every shape and kind.
There were wagon-mounted catapults and horse platoons,
Thundering, thundering, all along the way,
Halberds, javelins, and long spontoons,
Each spontoon ready to clear the way.
And so forth . . ."
Thanks, Laura. I think this baby is Broadway bound.
FYI: These deleted scenes pages are long, and I can't imagine many people will want to slog through it all. I myself got bored reading when I prepared it for the site. All I'm saying is, die hard fans, don't feel obligated to read every word. I hestiated putting up all that stuff, but I thought, some readers might like that extra peek behind the scenes and some writers might be curious to see what kinds of stuff didn't make the cut.
August 16, 2005
I'm so happy! Doot-doot, doing a happy dance. I got a call from my editor. She's read the latest version of city of rivers and loved it and feels like with one more pass, with an eye for tightening, and we'll be ready for copy editing. That's one year early, since it'll be out September or October of 2006. I was feeling like it was pretty close, and I'm so relieved that she thought so, too. Also, I pitched an idea to her for a graphic novel, and she liked it! My other projects take precedence, but over the next few months, my husband and I will be working on a story outline and sample chapters for our proposal, and if she likes it, we'll be co-writing a graphic novel. I love that form of storytelling, so I'm elated to try it out.
On a related note, I may have to change the title of city of rivers. They want to change it in the UK, and I have to decide if I want different titles in both countries. Apparently Bloomsbury UK is getting confused because there are a series of books by Mary Hoffman called Stravaganza: City of Masks and City of Flowers and such, and they think it's too similar. I'm pretty attached to my title right now. If I can come up with one I like better, then I'll certainly change it. So far, no brilliant new title has popped into my head. If I have a few ideas, I'll post them here and ask for your input.
August 15, 2005
So, I've been buying a lot of books lately. Many more than I check out from the library. This is unusual for me, I'm such a cheapskate. I've been pondering why my behavior has changed recently:
I've started to get free books (as I exchange books with other writers and get stuff from my publisher or at conferences), and I'm growing used to having books on hand. I'm getting spoiled, I guess, and want them around me, piles I can pull from the moment I finish one, and not have to wait until my holds come in at the library. Besides, my library fines probably equal the cost of at least four paperbacks a year, so I'm not losing that much money.
Many of the books I buy I can write off my taxes!
I like to be a library and have books on hand so when my sister or the neighbor girls say, I need a new book, I can give them five.
I have empathy. I want to support those other writers. It's all too personal now.
Yesterday my husband took a nap at 3pm and afterwords felt "pretty poopy." I thought about this and decided it was an apt simile. Taking an afternoon nap is like being pushed through someone's instestines. It's dark and can feel cozy, but also dizzying, gross, and weird. I'll bet you're so glad I shared that thought.
August 11, 2005
K, I wasn't going to tell you this, but I succumbed to the allure of the self tanning lotion yet again. I know! I'm impossible. I hadn't used it since the last time, but there it was, and I'd showered and Max was still asleep so I suckered for it. The results? I look like I mud-wrestled and lost. To the mud. Yep, I'll be wearing long pants for awhile.
Call for submissions! Our newsletter, The Squeeter Pig, needs some academicky stuff to look respectable, rather, pip-pip and all that. We're looking for:
Answer one of the questions in the Goose Girl Reader's Guide (found in the back of the US paperback or download it here), 300 words or less. Sharp, well written, and interesting is what we're looking for.
Have a book you're passionate about? Tell us about it! 150 words or less. Give a very brief plot outline (no spoilers, please) and explain what you loved about it, what the author did that was impressive, who might like it. No negative reviews and do books other than Shannon's.
Submission deadline for reviews and essays: October 1, 2005. Include your first name and last initial, your age, and where you're from. You must be 18 years or younger to submit. Sorry, adults, but apparently you're just not as interesting as kids. However, if you send me something funny (and in any bizarre way, appropriate), I'll probably stick it in.
Email submissions IN THE BODY of the email (no attachments) with subject line "Essay" or "Book Review" to firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 9, 2005
Holy frijoles, Orson Scott Card read goose girl and pulled the world out from under my feet again. (Thanks to Jo who sent the link!) My mind spins, I see little birdies... Could that timing be any better? And thank you to all those sweet readers who sent me cheer up emails after reading about the nasty PW review. You're such good people! How lucky your friends are to have you.
I'll admit that I've reread the negative review four times so far. But that's it! No more! I'm moving on, baby. OSC and kind fans save the day again!
August 8, 2005
Well, I got my first really negative review, Publisher's Weekly on princess academy. I've had other reviews with a negative phrase in them, a caveat, but for the most part, they've been really lovely. But no, PW's was ugly all around, couldn't even find one nice thing to say. I'm not going to quote it here, I don't really want that much intimacy with the words. It's hard.
My first response is, "They're right. It's a terrible book, I'm a fraud, I'm not fooling anybody." Then I get a little miffed, "What do they know? They don't know anything!" Then I try to find a balanced response. The truth is that many people have responded positively and passionately about this book. Kirkus gave their review a star! They've never given me a star before. And other reviewers and readers, who I know don't just say things to be nice, have glowed about it. So, one reviewer didn't like it. That's her right. It may not be her cup of tea. Not everyone is going to like it (darn them!). I feel confident that I did justice by the story, and every story won't work for everyone. And besides, what if this reviewer was having a bad day? What if she had 10 books she had to read that week and had a cold and couldn't go out with her friends until she'd read my book and hated it for that? Or maybe not. But I don't know, so I just can't lean my self esteem against what strangers say about my books.
So, I know this. So, I still have a hard time. I'll get over it. Just watch me...
August 5, 2005
A local bookstore's book group did princess academy so I stopped by last night and chatted with the gorgeous girls and boys there. I wore a tiara, one that I borrowed from a friend who had been Miss Summit County a few years back (how cool is that? a real pagent crown!). No one commented on it, not even when I wore it to the video store on the way home. It is as I suspected - I look so natural in a tiara no one thinks twice about it. I have my own tiara, of course, but I'm not fond of it. I need a new one. I bought it in college and wore it to a formal dance, along with a ribbon banner across my chest that said, in sparkly gold letters, "Queen of the Ball." The hilarious part? Several girls got upset when they saw me, said, "No one voted her queen of the ball!" Waah, waah, make your own banner.
August 3, 2005 Okay, it's time for me to admit to myself that I don't live in a bubble and people actually do read this blog, because just hours after posting yesterday's comments, the aforementioned writer of the one star review emailed me! What a magnificently tiny world. She was darling and said that she meant to give princess academy four stars (which my husband grumbles is still not enough) but the program messed up and then didn't allow her to change it. She's a 15-year-old aspiring writer and said, "Maybe, when I get published, someone will accidentally rate my book one star (then I can know how it feels!)." That's the sign of the writer, putting herself into someone else's place, wondering how it feels.
Another fan responded to yesterday's post, a lovely 14-year-old, and took me rightly to task: "I read your log and was amused by your creative genius to come up with the story about the 13-year-old who was so devastated that Princess Academy wasn't (in their opinion alone) as good as Goose Girl. But you mustn't underestimate us young people." She's so right! And I want to clarify that I didn't mean anything negative by my guess at the reviewer's age, I was just (as we poor writer sops are wont to do) creating a character profile to try to understand a person's actions.
Today I went to a studio to record the afterword for the goose girl audio book. I'll announce it here when it's released in September. I thought it went okay, then as I was leaving I heard the technician play back some of the audio. Ick. I swear, my voice is quite lovely (sexy, even, if you will) when I hear it resonating inside my own skull. But how whiny and flat and nasal I sound outside! How does anyone stand to listen to me? I know, everyone feels that way about their own voice. Makes me relieved that I didn't do the audio book narration. I couldn't have born to hear a word.
August 2, 2005 For the month of August, readerville.com's young adult discussion group will be doing goose girl and enna burning. You can register for free to just use the forum and join the discussion.
There's something of an amusing drama going on with the customer reviews of princess academy on amazon.com. (Yes, I do read them. Yes, I think most authors do.) There are four reviews, three of them quite nice, giving the book five stars. The fourth? Gave the book one star. One. Out of five. Now that's okay, everyone's entitled, no reason anyone has to love my book, but what's odd is that the review itself is pretty positive. It says that the reviewer didn't like princess as much as goose, but still liked princess pretty well. So why one star? Who knows?
It would seem I wasn't the only one who noticed the review and furrowed my brow over it. On Amazon, other customers can rate the review. While the other reviews have something like "3 of 3 people found the following review helpful," the one-starrer currently boasts "6 of 24 people."
I can't help wondering about these people. The reviewer has only ever done one review on amazon, that of princess. I imagine her a 13-year-old girl who was very much in love with goose and was miffed that princess wasn't more like it. I imagine her not really being aware how the 1-5 star ratings work. Then I imagine another fan, much like the reviewer but this one devoted to princess. Defender goes in and hits "No, I do not find this review helpful." Reviewer goes in and hits "yes." Defender returns, hits "No" a couple of times. Reviewer returns, gets "yes" up to 6. But the defender holds out, coming back every day for three weeks, hitting "no" again and again, wishing she could give a few choice words to the reviewer in person. Sweet little girls.
Apparently I'm not the only one who's been observing this and wondering. I recently received this spunky email from an adult fan:
"An open letter to the person who posted a one-star review for Princess Academy on Amazon.com:
What in the cronk are you thinking? One-starred reviews are reserved for books that a) don't use complete sentences, b) guarantee 50 pound weight loss in three days, or c) are written about your political rival. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you selected one star by accident, thinking that one star is the best, as in 'We're number one, can't be number two! We're going to beat the stuffing out of you!' I will give you exactly eight hours to change your review to an appropriate rating (that would be five stars). Thank you for your time and prompt attention to this matter."
Besides making me laugh, this has made me think a bit about what books do to people. Books make people mad and defensive and passionate and angry. I don't think any of this is really about me or my books, it's about the readers. I've often said that 50% of a book is the text, the words that I've written, while the other 50% is the reader. Reading is intimate, different for every person every time we read. And when someone deals unfairly with a book we love, it becomes personal. We feel as though the naysayers aren't just attacking a book, an inanimate object, they're berating US, our experience.
July 31, 2005 Just opened my email to two stunning surprises. Let me give a little background on the first. When goose girl sold, I tried to get blurbs from two writers I admired and had some connection to. I had been corresponding with Robin McKinley for a couple of years and so asked her (you can read how that turned out in Asking an author for help). The other was Orson Scott Card.
I wrote him a letter, praising the books of his that I'd read (I've read 4, and it's unusual for me to read multiple books by any writer), lamely detailing our distant connections (I worked with his niece, we both had ties to Utah and South America), and asking him if he'd be willing to look at my book and consider giving a blurb. I included a stamped, self addressed postcard with a place where he could check "no, thanks" or "Yes, here's my address." I never heard back. A few months later, he visited my town. I bought a book and stood in line for an hour and a half to meet him and ask him in person if he'd be willing to take a look. He told me to email him instead. I did. I never heard back. Know that I don't say this to complain. This is a bestselling author who gets asked for favors from unpublished and newbie authors constantly. It's very possible my requests never even made it into his hands, and besides, if he answered all his fan mail and requests for blurbs and such, I'm sure he'd never be able to write or spend time with family. Sure, I was disappointed (even more so the following year when I saw a book by a first author with two blurbs on the backfrom Robin McKinley and Orson Scott Card. What are the odds?) but I also understood.
So. Imagine me now. I just published my third book (still never had a blurb from another author, by the way), and I get an email link to this review of princess academy by Orson Scott Card. This isn't just a nice review. This took my breath away. He says, "And it takes nothing away from J.K. Rowling’s series to tell you: I just read a book that is, quite frankly, better than any of the Harry Potter books...I was moved to tears and to laughter, and caught up in the grace and beauty..." He goes on. Wow. It's unbelievable. I'm still reeling. To get praise like this from someone you admire...just, wow.
Speaking of praise. My husband started keeping a blog about three weeks ago. I dote upon his writing. He is fabulous. He's got a squinty humor, dark, absurdist, and yet so honest or it couldn't be funny or interesting. See the July 30 entry of dreadcrumbs. I think this says much more about him than it does about me. He's this kind of a husband, this kind of a man, generous, genuine in his affection. And seriously, I'm not that lovely. I wonder, is this always true? Does praise say more about the praiser than the praisee?
All I know for sure is, I'm one lucky dame.
Due to a family tragedy, this past week and a half has had some major down moments, grief, heartbreaking pain, sobbing and wondering when I'll ever be okay. I needed a lift. God (life, the universe, the spirit of the world, whatever way you believe) gave me a break in the form of a very dear aunt who said the things about forgiveness and letting go that I needed to hear; the healing presence of my son, whose focus on running around and laughing and exploring reminds me that life pulls forward, breathless with wonder for what will happen next; a lovely evening with my siblings to remind me that I'm not alone; the tender adoration of a husband that I don't deserve but am keeping anyway (so hands off, ladies!); and the unexpected good words from a hero-writer. I'm sure "Uncle Orson" had no idea what it would mean to me to read his review. Can we ever guess how much we'll mean to other people? How much heart lightening and soul lifting we can do with the simplest words? With just a moment of attention? Makes me want to be a better person.
July 26, 2005 Had a lovely time in New York. Every time I'm in that city I feel that I could live there. I love negotiating the subway and buying 50 cent ice cream on the street, goggling all the architecture, glimpsing so many lives. That city feels good to me. Maybe one day when Max is school age (toddlers and no car cities don't mesh well) we might end up there. I think it'd be a great experience for a kid to live in a big city for a time.
I took the red eye on Thursday night then crashed at my friend's apartment for four hours of fitful sleep. I got up at 10 am but somehow didn't actually arrive at Bloomsbury (my publisher) until 11:30. I got to meet the new folks. When goose girl sold, there were only three people working at Bloomsbury USA Children'smy editor, an assistant editor, and a marketing/publicity person. Now there's like 15 people. It's always fun to visit, get free books as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse of publishing. I went into one of the editor's offices to say hi, and she was staring at a manuscript on her desk, mournfully. She was having to reject it today and felt very saddened to do so. When we're on the rejecting end of the process, it's hard not to see editors as mean, spiteful, self-centered monsters, but the ones I know are kind and compassionate, yearn to find just the right story and toss and turn about each decision.
I went to lunch with my editor and four other Bloomsbury ladies at a restaurant run by an Iron Chef! I'm such a small town girl, that seemed very cool to me. I got a tuna stake. And if I understood the sales lady correctly, goose girl paperback has already sold 25,000 copies. That seems high, so I may be wrong about that. But anyway, just the thought is cool. I believe the hardcover sold about that many. When I stop to think about it, that it's my book, that thousands of people own a copy or have read it from the library, it's almost overwhelming. My brain freezes, "does not compute! does not compute!" I still feel like the tiny, insecure MFA grad wincing everytime I go get the mail as I recognize my handwriting on an SASE coming back with another rejection.
I spent the next two days with my best friend and her boyfriend on Long Island. He has a lovely little house there and lives very close to the beach. Ah, the ocean. As soon as I saw it, I felt a sensation like my heart yawning. It was also a difficult weekend, partly because the neighbors spent all day Saturday slaughtering a 100-year-old tree with a chainsaw, cutting up the living tree bit by bit, like a murderer disposing of a body. It was repulsive. My friend wrote a poem about it. Sometimes writing is the only way to deal positively with horrible things I can't control. I'd rather be writing books than therapeutic poems and letters, but lately those have been necessary. A tragedy in my family (that I can't write about here) has been grieving my heart so heavily lately, and all I can do is write letters that perhaps they won't read. My comfort is my husband and son and the fact that I don't have to mourn alone.
Watched two movies on the flight back. Have opinions about script writing in Hollywood that I'll save for another time.
July 21, 2005 Just got an email from my publisher - they're translating enna burning into German (but for some reason, they didn't buy goose girl, which I find a tad weird), and as Bayern is the actual name of a place in Germany, they suggested a name change. And the new name of Bayern in the German books will be...Barbun! That's fine with me. A few drafts into goose girl, I found out that Bayern was a real place (I'd put together "Bay" and "ern" when I named it), and I thought about changing it, but I thought, who cares? I like the name, I'm attached to it now, and it's no big deal. Still, I'm glad they changed it for the German language edition. It would be funky to read a book where a kingdom was named Wisconsin.
I'm leaving for New York tonight, a quick last minute trip to see a friend, but I'll stop in at Books of Wonder and Bank Street bookstore on Friday to sign stock. It is so incredibly hard for me to leave Max! It's only for a weekend and he'll be with his papa, but he's starting to say, "Mum. Mum." whenever he wants me, and it breaks my heart to think of him asking for me and my not being around.
July 18, 2005 Finished draft 5 of city of rivers. And another draft done, and another draft done, another one bites the dust! (Yes, no one ever said I wasn't a marvel at songwriting.) I'm revving up now to do a speedy draft. It'll probably just take me a week. I like to do light drafts in between the heavy ones, when the state of the book allows me to. It gives me a chance to read the book more quickly, helps give a sense of pacing, allows me to do minor tweaks that I can't see when I'm nose-deep in the major ones. Then I'll email the draft to my editor and she'll take a month or two to read it and get comments back to me, giving me time to return to my side project. The secret book. So scary!
The secret book isn't under contract, isn't young adult, isn't fantasy even, and who knows if it'll sell? It's kind of exciting, actually, as I look forward to rolling around in the trenches of looking for a publisher, awaiting that miraculous phone call that says "YES!" or despairing at the many letters that say, "No." But I'm excited about the story itself, and for me right now, that's all that matters.
July 16, 2005 Yep, just had to try the self tanner lotion again. I look like an orange and white zebra. All in the name of beauty...
But on a good note, I have a cool henna tattoo on my hand from the Harry Potter party last night. I'd never been to one before, and the King's English (my local bookstore) had all the festivities outside, which was simply gorgeous on a summer night. Happy harry pottering all, and may God bless us, every one.
July 12, 2005 I'm a redhead (by genetics and by choice) and, to put it kindly, pallid. So, you bet I'm tempted by the self tanning lotion. Too, too tempted. I bought a $7 set from Costco the other day, gleefully applying it after my shower, waiting with breath held the obligatory "few hours" for the color to appear. And appear it did. Also, the spots where appear it didn't. Oh my. I had orange streaking happily beside the streaks of white where I'd missed. So of course, I reapplied, oh so carefully, the next time. It was, if possible, a little bit worse. I let a couple of days go by, let the color start to fade, and then prepared myself for round 3. I was like a scientist working on a nuclear warhead, just enough here, careful around the knees and knuckles, sure that this time all was right with the world. A few hours later I looked like I had rolled around in orange mud. I don't look so bad in a dark room, but in direct sunlight...bizarre? Sickly? Just plain dirty? My husband shakes his head while I examine my muddy ankles, because he knows I'm already planning, "Next time I'll just..." Incorrigable? Sure. But I prefer infinitely hopeful.
July 7, 2005 Actually, a wonderful day for me. Max and I were visiting my best friend, who's in town from New York, when my husband called with a bolt of good news - Kirkus gave princess academy a star! Yes, I did a happiness dance. How could I not? Kirkus is a major review publication, and it's an honor to be reviewed in these publications at all, but then to get a star (the way they mark standout titles) is pure elation. goose girl received one starred review, and I remember when I got the email with the news, I was at work. I tap danced my way over to the fellas in the cubicles next to me to share the great news, "A review of my book got a star!" said I. One guy got a saddened look and said, "Oh. So, how many stars were possible?"
After our visit, I had a very productive writing day during Max's nap. I reworked an entire chapter of city of rivers, adding a new scene (and about 1000 words) while cutting some fat. When Max was up, we engaged in a prestigious event involving putting oven mitts on our hands, playing the Austin Powers soundtrack up high, and running around the living room, screaming. It's a game of skill and intellect, obviously. Only the strong survive.
Yes, an incredible day, by my standards. And yet lurking behind everything was the knowledge of what occured in London this morning. We all have shell shock in this country by now, and I hate, hate, hate that other people have to experience the horror. In a way, I am feeling a kinship with the British people today, with the Spanish, with the Iraqi, with everyone who's gone through something like this, too. I don't think there are any easy answers in this mess, no innocent countries or governments, and plenty of heartbreak. I attended a cub scout pack meeting tonight because a neighbor boy was receiving his Arrow of Light award, and it was the first time I stood for a flag ceremony in years and recited the pledge (I guess the last opportunity I had must have been at an NBA game some 7 years ago, I can't remember for sure). I got choked up. Symbols are so powerful. There's so much good in this country and so much we could better. I sure wish we could do it without bombs.
July 1, 2005
I finally finished that monstrosity of the latest draft of city of rivers. It took me a month to get through, and I'm left feeling dazed, as though something large and very fast rushed past me, spinning me in a circle, and I'm not quite sure what it was but know that it will be back. HA! And you said I couldn't come up with the most cumbersome metaphor ever. Wrong again, suckah!
I kept track of some numbers:
The large chunks (sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and one entire chapter) added up to 10,000
This draft is 3500 words longer than the previous draft
That means 20% of the book is different than it was one month ago
That number is astounding to me, because it is essentially the same book, same characters, mostly the same scenes. I once estimated that not one sentence of goose girl remained the same from first draft to last, and I think it's true. I know I haven't made all the changes in city of rivers that I need to yet, but I can't fix everything at once. Eventually, after I feel like the book is more solid, I'll go through and do just a trimming draft. It's very satisfying, trimming at least one line from every page. Looking at the book just for what I can cut, I find all kinds of repitition, lazy sentences, and cumbersome descriptions that don't need to be there. I look forward to it, but I'm not there yet. I'm still in the phase where if I open up the book to any page, I want to change every paragraph I read.
June 26, 2005
Saw princess academy at a bookstore this weekend. That's always a big moment for me, when I just walk in, extremely casual, glance around, and la-dee-dah, "Oh, look, there's my new book on the shelf," I think, as if it's a daily occurrence. Then I do a secret jig. I'm already getting fanmail about it, which blows me away. Seriously, I can't communicate effectively how hard writing that book was. Who knows why? Only my poor husband probably knows how torturous it was for me, so to have it done and out and liked (and even loved!) is more than a thrill. It's a miracle.
So, I did that Arts Festival thingie, and it was going okay, considering that due to a schedule change no one knew I was even going to be there, when a thirteen-year-old fan named Emily came with her sisters, and finally it climbed from okay to great. Kids are just so much cooler than adults. I'm writing an adult book right now, just because I'm in love with the story not because I want to change audiences. Ages 10-16 were my favorite reading years, and I get lots of emails from adults who feel the same way I do. Don't be ashamed of what you read, fellow YA lit lovers. Some of the finest storytellers in the world write YA. I try to read from all genres, and I love most, but I really believe that the great YA books are the most finely tuned, well crafted stories out there.
I'm 2 chapters away from the end of another draft of city of rivers, then my husband will read it and give me feedback, I'll rewrite it a couple more times, then send it back to my editor, who will read it, give me feedback, and send it back for more rewrites...and so the cycle will continue for many more months. I'm still at the stage where I can open up to any page and want to make changes to nearly every sentence. It takes me many drafts before I get past that and can read it all the way through for pacing, then I focus on trimming...man, is this interesting to anyone? If you think my web log is boring, just try reading one of my first drafts.
June 22, 2005
I'll be at the Utah Arts Festival on Friday, June 24, 2 pm at the Big Mouth Theater. If any of you were planning on attending my Saturday time slot, I've been moved to Friday due to a scheduling conflict.
June 18, 2005
Had a heavenly morning. I was still asleep when Max woke up, so Dean got him and brought him in. We spent 15 minutes on the bed, the three of us still in our pajamas, cuddling and tickling, counting fingers and toes, wrestling with the pillows. Max, though stellar with the sign language, still isn't talking, but he's started to say, "Mum. Mum." Dean thinks it means Mama, and I'm starting to be swayed. It's so dear, I could swallow him whole. That's odd, isn't it?when we talk about how cute children are, we say things like, "I could eat you up. I just want to take a bite out of you." Really, threatening to eat children live should be quite alarming.
And still scratching my way through the current draft. Going very slowly and somewhat unsurely. This is my toll to pay, because the first draft was just too easy. Hoping with breath held and fingers crossed that the next draft will ease up on me a bit. Just a bit, that's all I ask.
My parents are in town, visiting from Mongolia. Yes, Mongolia. They were in New Zealand as volunteer medical missionaries for our church, then there was a need in Mongolia, so they're off for 2 years. It's wonderful to have family around. Dean and I would move to a new state in a heartbeat (and most likely will some day anyway), but taking Max away from grandparents and cousins is so hard.
I saw today that amazon.com is already shipping copies of princess academy, which means some bookstores most likely have it as well. My official book release party will be three weeks from today. So it's already happening! Such a thrill, each new book. I'm eager and anxious to hear what people think. Also, it's strange. princess academy is just not much in my thoughts anymore, because my brain is taken up by what I'm writing now. I hope I can remember stuff about it when people ask me questions. YikesI sense a plethora of new embarrasing author moments ready to pounce.
June 12, 2005
The only way I'm getting through this draft of city of rivers is by constantly giving myself permission to write a bad draft. It's ironic, because the draft is in pretty good shape, but I feel like I'm standing on a pinnacle and glimpsing in the distance how much better the book could be, and feel unable to get it there. I can, though, I can do it, I can do it. It just takes time. It takes mistakes and many drafts. I hope.
I'm reading Shadow of the Wind right now and enjoying it tremendously. Gorgeous writing, and kudos to the translator. For the past 3 years, I've been keeping track of the books I read, adding each new title to a document on my computer so I have a record. Glancing over the past few months, these reads (or rereads) have been my favorites: Walk Two Moons, Charlotte’s Rose, Speak, Jane Austen Book Club, Wishing Moon, The Perilous Gard, Persuasion, and Chasing Vermeer. I've been reading more mysteries than usual for me because city of rivers is essentially a murder mystery. My favorites have been Silver Pigs and Crocodile and the Sandbank. I listened to Three to Get Deadly, by Janet Evanovich, in the car, and am now listening to Carl Hiassen's Skinny Dip, which are both great for characters. Balancing the clues so you give the reader enough to be able to figure it out on her own but not make it obvious is tricky business. I dislike the books where the writer witholds crucial information until the end. That's not a mystery, that's lazy writing, in my opinion.
It's been so rainy this spring, the city is very green. It won't last. In summer, the heat and drought turn the mountains and hills around Salt Lake City brown, but for now the green is lovely. It's been great getting outside with Max. We have a lovely park just a few blocks away that Max adores. He's 18 months now. Still soley communicating with signs and grunts. Our clever boy. How wise he is to keep his thoughts to himself, eh? I should learn from him. Too often, I go home from a party or outing, remember things I said, and wonder, Why couldn't I keep my mouth shut?
June 2, 2005
Here's an email I just sent to my husband after 2 hours of working on the rewrite of city of rivers: "Who am I fooling? I can't write a book. Seriously, I'm so lame at this. I don't know what to say. Everything I write is canned. I'm trying to fix stuff and making it worse. How did I ever do it before? How do you live with me? Maybe I could go to art school. At least you can SEE a painting. This is ridiculous. This email is the best thing I've written today."
Yep. And I wonder, it is heartening to hopeful writers to see that on my 4th book I still feel this way? Or is it discouraging that, for pity's sake, I STILL feel this way?! I'll tell you one thing that sure helpsa tirelessly supportive partner. In his response, after much encouragement, he wrote, "It was a *fantastic* email, by the way. If what you wrote in the book is even half as good, you don't have anything to worry about."
Hee-hee. I bagged a good one. But seriously, how am I ever going to make this book better? By doing lots of drafts, I keep telling myself. This isn't the final draft. I have time for many, many more. Just get through this one. The next time through, it will be clearer.
June 1, 2005 - princess academy contest results!
Whew! You guys gave me a run for my money. I had a really hard time deciding this one. I mean, how do you choose which good deed is the best one? So I did it in kind of a weird way. I read all the entries twice, then I put them aside and didn't think about it for an hour, and when I thought about them again, two stuck out for me. So...
Julie R. of Erie, PA, age 15
Allison S. of Launceston, Tasmania, age 14
These two fine ladies will receive signed advance copies of princess academy just as soon as I can drag myself and toddler to the post office. You deserve much more.
I would also like to acknowledge here the wonderful entries from Lizzy M., Maria C., Heather W., Chelsey G., Kaitlyn C., Angie R. (I bet your mother loves you so much, Angie), Rebekah H., Ari H., and Candace C. You guys blew me away! I wish I had enough books (and money for postage, frankly) to award all the entries. I'm going to keep holding these contests, and in the meantime, please do keep mattering to those around you.
Here are the winning entries.
"Lately, my mother's self-esteem has been taking a nose dive. She's been feeling as though she is dumb, ugly, unsuccessful, and all of those other hurtful words. In truth, she is anything but those things. After a particularly difficult day, Mom's frown seemed permanently etched onto her face.
"I finally came up with a sufficient idea to improve her feelings. I called all of my siblings and friends, asking them for comments on my mother. They provided an abundance of quotations about Mom, praising her kindness, wit, fabulous skills as a Spanish teacher, and (of course) the ability to bake the most delicious chocolate chip cookies in the state, among other loving compliments. I collected these quotations and wrote each one on construction paper, taking great care to cut interesting shapes. I pasted them all in a journal and adorned the pages with multicolored stickers, pictures, and drawings. I stayed awake well into the night, refusing to rest until I finished my Mom's gift. I felt it was my duty to make my Mom feel better about herself. I just hoped the book would do the trick.
"The following day, I presented her with her book and relished the smile on her face when she read the first quotation, supplied by me: "If I grow up to be even half the woman Mom is, I will be a great success." She was more than pleased with the rest of the book and reads it nearly every day to give herself a self-esteem boost. I've promised to add to the book whenever necessary. Overall, I feel elated that I've strengthened our bond during a time when mother-daughter relationships can be most strained." Julie R.
"I wanted to choose a friend I didn’t really know. Her name is L--, she’s a year younger than me, she’s anti-social, so she has only a few close friends, and she loves books, etc. I found out what she liked and did from friends or subtly from her. I gave her get well notes, congratulation cards if she got A’s, or just cards to see how she was doing. I gave her lists on books she might like, and burned her some CD’s as well. I would also include chocolate and lollies in some letters.
"But I decided not to sign my name, because I thought it would be good to do something nice, but not get any recognition in return. It was also funny to watch Laura work out who was doing it.
At first I signed it “from a friend” now my name is “Secret Servant.”
"I will continue being Laura’s S.S till the end of term, where I will choose someone new. Thank you for setting up this competition. I’ve gotten to know a friend better, and I feel really good about it." Allison S.
May 23, 2005
Today, when I put Max down for his nap, instead of rushing to my computer to use this precious time to write, I cleaned the bathrooms. I've never been in this situation before. Freedom! Six weeks ago I sent the current draft of city of rivers
to my editor. While I waited to hear back from her (she's read it and soon will be sending me an editorial letter with suggestions for the next rewrite), I finished the first draft of my super-secret project. It's an adult book that I started 5 years ago and only now completed! And while I wait for feedback on that book from some editor friends and for the other book from my editor, suddenly I am bookless. I of course could start a new book (I have so many ideas it's almost irritating), but any moment I may get city of rivers back, and there's so much turmoil for me in writing a first draft that I'm...hesitant. In a good way. So...Freedom! And...freedom?
It feels so good to have that adult book done. I feel asea with it. I can't sell it to my current editor, obviously, as she only does children and teen books. So, in a way, I feel like I'm starting over. And it's so different than anything else I've published that I have no idea what anybody will think. I know, I always say that, but I feel it even more with this project. My husband is the only one who has read it so far, and it's too girly for him. It's contemporary, which was terrific fun for me to write. I'm just so relieved to have it done. And I'm super anxious to find an acceptable draft out of it and get it out there. But, I must submit to the gods of rewrites first. Patience is not an easy thing for me, and yet is an absolute necessity for a writer. My agent says much of what she receives is clearly a first draft. Sit on your hands, fellow writers! Yes, jump and hoot and do a jig when you finish your first draft! Then when you reach for the manila envelope, sit on your hands! You have 20 drafts to go. Or so.
Max loves to eat dirt. Seriously. I was SO germ phobic when he was born and barely left the house for a month, and now I have a toddler who eats handfuls of dirt. I have to admit, he chooses the dark, black, soft kind that does look fairly yummy. We were in the backyard today while I weeded and picked rocks out of the plants, and he sat down square in the dirt (never on the grass, mind you), picked up a handful, waited until I was looking, and shoved it in. I don't use manure to fertilize anymore, and I bet you can guess why.
May 10, 2005
Weird goose girl paperback error alert!
I found out today that the just released paperback of goose girl has a printing error on page 167. No words are actually omitted. You really have to see it to understand, but "Chapter 11" and the inital cap (a capital "T") which should be at the beginning of a new chapter on page 168 mistakenly show up midsentence on page 167. You should be able to read past it, but Bloomsbury is reprinting the entire print run (50,000 copies, so it's nothing to spit at), and those of you who have already purchased a copy can trade it in for a proper edition next week at your local bookseller. I'm keeping mine, though. Who knows, it may be a collector's item someday.
The printing error is a little discouraging for all of us. I don't really know how it will affect sales and general opinion of the book. Hopefully, people will be understanding. Over the past month, I signed perhaps 300 paperbacks in four different states. Dang, but what can you do? Printing errors do happen. Here are a couple of my favorite ones:
Anne McCaffrey had a book called "Get of the Unicorn," meaning, the "get" or offspring of the unicorn, but the printer must not have understood and changed the title to "Get Off the Unicorn." After reading the book, I'm sure confused readers must have been wondering, "Now, who was on the unicorn again? And why did they have to get off?" The book wasn't recalled and that remains its title to this day.
Last year, on the copyright page of a Terry Brooks book, it read "Copyright Robert Jordan." Ha! I believe all those books were recalled.
So, I guess I'm now part of a grand tradition of printing error victims. I'm not as upset as I might be about it, maybe because I had a good day otherwise. I finished the first draft of a short novel that began as a short story 5 years ago, and I heard from my editor that she loved city of rivers. Such a relief! I felt pretty good about it, but you never know. goose girl was rejected 9 times by other editors before finding a home at Bloomsbury and I'd felt pretty good about that, too. You just never know if people are going to share your good taste.
Speaking of errors, there's a typo in the book that we didn't get corrected yet. It's my fault, not the printer's. I mistakenly referred to Ishta (the nasty guard) as Ingras (the camp master) in one instance. Teach me to have two characters with the same first initial. I can't remember the page right now, but it's in "Crown Princess," the first section, and diligent readers are always catching it.
May 8, 2005
Happy Mother's Day! Maybe my mom, way down in New Zealand, will see this. Happy Mom's Day, Mom! She may not know yet (hopefully she got the package today) but I added a dedication on the paperback version of goose girl to her and my dad. My mom has read that book probably a dozen times, and it's her favorite of my three, so I had to recognize her in that particular book. And the person who is in the dedication of princess academy doesn't know yet. Can't wait to show her.
I'm back from the book tour. It was wonderful to go to such cool places (Seattle, San Diego, Pasadena, San Francisco) and meet so many cool people. It's a little sad, actually, because I get to go to these great 3-hour dinners with book sellers and librarians, and then at the end I have to go home. Part of the fun of this industry, I guess, is going to conferences and seeing again all the people you met on tour. I feel like I've been on a cruise, having 3 meals a day, appetizers and desserts for dinner, feeling totally pampered. Often we had to leave the hotel by 7 am to catch a plane and not get back to our hotel until 10:30 - 11:30 pm, so it was tiring, too, and very hard to be away from Max. But ultimately, excellent. Let me think of some highlights:
Eating crab in Seattle with a view of the city by sunset
Chatting with a fan who drove all the way from Olympia to meet me!
Trying to decifer the menu in Chicago (I'm way too backwater for some of these nice places...uh, what's ragout again?)
Ordering steak in Pasadena and then realizing the three people around me are all vegetarians (whoops)
Soaking in that soul-healing yumminess of a dozen different bookstores (they're all so different and all so great. I love bookstores!)
Crossing the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco
But really, it was all about the people. I loved everyone I met. How cool is that?
My sister asked me if it's cool and weird to sign books, to have people want me to sign my name on things. It is, when I think about it, but I was curious to figure out why it isn't weirder, and I realized it's because I'm not really thinking about it that way, about how it's people wanting something from me. I don't know if I'm making sense, but when I sign a book for someone, I feel like it's about them, like I'm writing a thank you cardthanks for reading! Thanks for buying a book. Thanks for being a kind and interesting person. This past week, at the end of every dinner, I got to give books to all the book sellers and librarians there, and it was so wonderful to inscribe personal messages and mini thank you notes to them. I just feel so grateful to be here (there, everywhere), to get to keep writing books, so lucky to have readers, to have my 4th grade dream of becoming a writer come true. K, I know I'm sounding sappy now, so I should really stop, particularly as today's entry is sounding too much like "what I did on my vacation."
April 30, 2005
Cool news! goose girl is out in paperback. This version includes a reader's guide and an author interview (that would be with me). I like the guide because it's pretty flexible and can be used with book groups as well as school teachers reading the book in class. I've had lots of adults tell me they've done goose girl in their book group (so cool!), and I think the paperback will be a groovy resource.
I spent two lovely days in Chicago this week, doing school visits, buying the best carmel popcorn in the world, and meeting several independent booksellers in that area. Independents are such a huge reason (and sometimes the only reason) new writers like me can even have a shot in the book market. It works like thisthe children's book buyer for a small bookstore reads an advance copy of a book and decides to order 5 copies for her store. A customer comes in. "I need a good read for my 12-year-old granddaughter." "Try this one!" The granddaughter reads the book, likes it, recommends it to a friend, and from there, word of mouth makes the book a success. But without that personal recommendation (first the bookseller's, then the reader's), it's nearly impossible for an unknown writer to establish herself.
I'll be gone all next week, starting in Seattle, flying to San Diego, driving to Pasadena, flying to San Francisco, then home. It is unbelievably hard for me to leave my toddler for such a long sprawl, but I do enjoy the touring part. I've heard veteran writers complain about doing book tours, but I'm a newbie and it's a huge honor for me. I think there's an assumption that as soon as you're published, you can do signings at bookstores and people will show up. But you can't, and they don't. All writers (except those few and freaky geniuses who somehow write bestsellers their first time out of the gate) have stories about their first signing or two, how they'd never noticed before how painful the silence of a bookstore can be. Piercing, painful silence. How customers rush past, emphatically avoiding eye contact as though a writer by nature has some hideous deformity and they don't want to offend by staring. Ah, the glamor... So anyway, it feels very cool to get to go out on a book tour for my third book. I'll only be doing one public signing (piercing, painful silence...) next week in Seattle, but I'll get to meet some real, live booksellers and say, "Hey! Thanks for handselling. Thanks for making me possible."
So. For years I've had an idea for a book that I decided to finally write into a short story almost 5 years ago, between drafts of goose girl. I've worked on it during breaks with other books over the years and finished it as a novella, which didn't really work, so then I decided to write it into a real novel. These past few months, I keep thinking about it and getting ideas for it and getting excited, and I decided that as soon as I completed a draft of city of rivers that was ready to send to my editor, I'd return to the story-novella-novel and really complete it this time. At last, that day came this week! My editor now has city of rivers for a time and I'm free to work on something else. So I spent the last two writing days going over the fairly intact first 50 pages, and I was feeling great about it and having all kinds of vain imaginings about it selling at auction and become a bestseller and other daydreams that I really should be too shamefaced to admit...and then I hit that white space, that place in the text where I had to start writing from scratch. And I sat at my computer for 20 minutes, fingers on keys, dull-brained and scared wordless.
K, why does this still happen to me? Not the dull-brained part, that's normal, but the fearless hope that maybe this time the book will somehow tumble out of me intact? Every time it's hard, I know that, and yet I still let my mind makebelieve. I guess it's like labor. I'd like to have another baby someday, and I think, maybe this time instead of a 17 hour labor and 3 hours of pushing I'll be in and out in 20 minutes! Maybe our minds trick us like this because we never would get pregnant again or thrust ourselves into writing another first draft (and be excited about it, even!) if we really knew what we were getting into.
And here I am, writing this log instead of foraging [sic] forward with the new book. Shame on me. Grab a canteen, Shannon dear, we're in for the long haul.
April 14, 2005
Great news, UK readers! I'll be in your neck of the woods this fall doing some literary festivals. I'll be sure to post more details in my news/events section when I know. I spent a summer in England seven years ago and just did not get my fill, so I'm thrilled to be invited back. I have a two week respite from traveling and am anxious to get through this new draft of city of rivers. I have so many stories scrambling for my attention right now, it's a little hard to only get 2-3 hours a day to write, though I'm so grateful to even have that much. So I'd better get back to it.
April 2, 2005
Decided not to do an April Fools joke this year as it didn't really fly last time, then forgot about it, then freaked out when I turned on my computer to write and it said I had no hard drive, and still totally didn't get it when my husband came home unexpectedly for lunch and discovered that the hard drive in fact was missing. He had to pull the hard drive out of the closet and say "April Fools." I was pretty thick-headed. The dork.
My husband finished reading my second draft of city of rivers and confirmed what I suspectedthis is the most complete early draft of any book I've written. It still has scads of weak spots, but there's a cohesive story. Who knows why this one came out so smoothly. I won't expect the same miracle of my next first draft, but appreciate it now. This doesn't mean that the final version will necessarily be better than any others, as I'm aware. Still, nice.
I've added new stuff to the site, some princess academy stuff there, including the first chapter, and my On Writing section continues to grow as I attempt to answer the more common writing and publishing questions I get. I think I'll have to let what's there serve for now, though, as it's sapping some of my book writing time. I've been working on a couple of side projects during city of rivers breaks that I'll be able to reveal in a bit, maybe by this summer.
I'm off to Austin, Texas next week. I look forward to it, and I'm frightened. Excited to be around book people and in the conference atmosphere, sad to be leaving my boys for three nights, apprehensive about my presentation to hundreds of librarians, particularly as the conference booklet falsely claimed that I would be talking about "how to use fairy tales and wonder tales in your library programs." And frankly, I don't even know what a library program is. I'll let you know if, in disgust, 300 librarians stampede the podium. Or rather, if you don't hear from me again, you'll know why...
March 28, 2005
I've done a second draft of city of rivers, this one a short one, just taking me two weeks. It's wonderful after spending 4 and a half months writing one draft to zip through it again in two weeks. The initial draft writing is such a sprawling process. I introduce someone and then don't get back to them again for another month, and really it's only 50 pages later. After this last read, I'm feeling very good about where I am with it. The tension, mystery, and stakes all need to be raised, but the characters and relationships are there.
My husband is reading it. Imagine: we're reading in bed at night, me a Terry Pratchett book, he my loose leaf manuscript. I hear the scritch scratch of his red pen writing in the margin. How can I resist casually leaning over, straining to catch a glimpse of his comments? If he had a rolled up newspaper in hand when I do that, he'd swat me on the nose. It's hard to be patient. I'm dying to know what he thinks, but the old codger refuses to give me comments until he's read the whole thing. Ah, poop.
princess academy release date approaches rapidly. I've had some very lovely early comments from those who've read an ARC (advance reading copy). I wince a bit because we've gone through two drafts and two proofing passes since those were printed, but it's mostly the same. I just can't believe it turned out to be 300 pages. It's mostly the font's fault. It's about 10,000 words shorter than enna burning and yet in print ended up having about the same number of pages. I hope the length won't turn off younger readers.
K, I just have to share the oddest company icon ever invented. Seriously, this is a paint company, I know, but it shows a thick, red liquid pouring over the otherwise perfect blue globe with the text "Cover the earth." Besides the fact that it looks like blood, it really smacks of Exxon Valdez, doesn't it? Seriously, am I the only one that finds this brow-scrunching odd?
March 22, 2005
It seems about every year or two some new controversial book gets a lot of press regarding the Mormon church (or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). I pay attention because I'm a member of that church. I think this is good for a couple of reasons. Good, because this attention opens dialog. Good, because when I read these books and see how slanted or, frankly, false the information often is, it reminds me to question everything I read. I'm much more likely now to question a news report or "non-fiction" book that exposes ugly things about another country, political party, or religion. I remember reading an article in a respected, national magazine about 10 years ago about the Mormon church. The article got numerous basic facts wrong (e.g. stating the church's inception date about 70 years late). But beyond lousy fact checking, it was clearly biased, looking for the sensational and in the process, grossly misrepresenting church members. I remember thinking, if I didn't know better, I would just assume the article was correct. It was the first time I really understood that I couldn't trust something just because it was in print. It was a good lesson, and now whatever I read, I hold back my judgement a little, do some research on my own before buying into whatever the author wants me to believe.
It's a little hard for me, too, obviously. I dislike being misrepresented. I don't like the thought that many people will read those books and articles, believe them outright, and judge me in advance. It bothers me that books that look for the ugly and sensational become best sellers and books that describe the other side of any religion, the peace and good things, have the small print runs in regional areas only. I hesitate to even bring up religion, understanding that it is a topic than often (sadly) divides people and hurts feelings. I by no means want to get into an argument about religionI firmly believe that religion is one thing that cannot be debated. I guess I just hope that whoever reads this might take a second look, might be slower to judge me and others like me based on an author's claims, written with the purpose to create controversy and sell books. Because I don't think any book or voice or view should ever be squashed, I have to believe in reader responsibility.
I've always liked this quote: "Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it." Buddha
March 17, 2005
I've been holding off to update my log until I could say thisI finished the first draft of the new book! Ah, no one cares but me, but man, it feels so good. The first draft is always the hardest for me, and there is little to compare to the rush I feel on finishing one. Right now, it's 72,000 words. I hope to keep it down, but my books always grow in the rewrites. I'll keep rewriting over the next year and it has a ways to go, but, man...it feels good.
I recently read an interview with Clive Barker in Locus where he said, "Traditionally, chidren's book writers don't like children, but I don't feel that way." Wha...?! What a bizarre thing to say. There may be a couple of notable examples fifty years ago, but I don't know a single writer of children, middle grade, or young adult books who don't love, admire, and empathize with their audience. I don't know who you hang out with, Clive.
3 March 2005 Round Things
A poem by Max Stonebreaker Hale, age 14 months
Translated by Shannon Hale
I love round things.
Round things are cheerios.
Round things are balloons.
Round things are balls, suns, and moons.
Round things are the big “O”s in the Snuggle Puppy book
When Mama squeezes me and says, “OOOO!”
Mama squeezing me is also a round thing.
26 February 2005 I got a package from the editorial assistant at Bloomsbury last weekend, "Ah, the hurry up and wait world of publishing!" she wrote. It had been weeks since I had looked over the copy edited manuscript of princess academy, weeks of silence while I worked on the new book, then I get the typeset proof overnighted to my door with a plea to look over it that weekend. This is very common in publishing. A publishing house is constantly at work to move each book on their list through all the various phases before it goes to print and often has very tight timelines in which to turn around each phase. It doesn't bother me a bit, but the night before I had been reading a murder mystery and had just gotten to the "reveal," but was too tired to see straight and had to put the book down. Now I couldn't get back to it again for days! Very distressing. Since, I've had time to finish the bookshe didn't do it.
I've been sick for two weeks. It's this nasty, eternal virus that one in ten people seem to have. I'm just so grateful that Max didn't get it--he had a cold, but got over it in three days. Like most mothers, I'd much rather be sick than have him sick. But my house is a mess and all I can do is lie on the floor, talk to Max as he putters around, and read him books whenever he brings me one and plops down on my lap. I hate being sick. It feels so unproductive. Fortunately Max has still been napping and I've been able to reach my daily writing goals. 200 pages on the first draft now. I'll finish it in the next 2-3 weeks, then wiht another year of rewriting I may have a new book! Seriously, as I think about it, though, this is a sign of the writing mania. I feel dead, I'm so tired, and when Max sleeps instead of napping myself, I write. I don't mention that so you'll think I'm nobleyou should think I'm crazy. Because I am.
20 February 2005 I stumbled across someone's blog in which she described how much she didn't like my book, enna burning. I should be cold and distant by now, callused, self-assured, right? But I'm still a vulnerable little girl sometimes. 100 people may tell me it's their favorite book of all time and then one person says, "The first half was so slow I wanted to burn it," and I shrink into myself, and I second guess every word I write of the new book the next day. I don't like to admit how silly I still am, and I know I'll be over it by tomorrow, but not admitting it feels somehow like lying, and I figure there might be someone reading this who will take courage to hear how much I fret too.
Will I someday be invulnerable? Will I be so self-confident of my own writing that they can fling mud at me and I'll still smile? Or will I still hunker down against mean criticism from strangers? For all I know, the blogger could be a lunatic. It's funny, too, because I believe so passionately in the individual reader experience. My sister met a kid at a book signing who said he had read goose girl and hated it, and I found that completely delightful. Of course some people should be bored out of their wits! I can't stand watching most of the top rated TV programs. These different perspectives, moods, loves and hates, make us distinct and, frankly, bearable to be around. I know this, and yet for reasons that I can't explain to myself, in my head or in my weblog, sometimes those voices still sting me.
17 February 2005 Many people have told me recently that they haven't been able to find enna burning at bookstores. This is so frustrating! It seems everyone is still carrying goose girl but have stopped reordering the other. If this happens to you, please let the bookstore know you're looking for it so they'll order it in. Often bookstores are playing a guessing gameif it's not a bestseller, they don't know there's demand. I sure appreciate it when fans speak up. It's the way authors like me, leagues away from a bestseller list, can survive.
It's odd, though, where it sells. At the King's English here in Salt Lake City, enna burning has way outsold goose girl. I keep casual track of which book fans like the best--many say they can't choose (I certainly can't), but those who have a favorite split the vote pretty nearly 50/50. It reminds me how wonderfully subjective reading is. Who can possibly anticipate what a reader will love? It's such an intensely intimate experience. All I can do is write for myself and then watch and see if what I create interests anyone else.
8 February 2005 princess academy release date has been moved up a bit to try and edge into bookstores before the happy chaos of Harry Potter. It will ship in June, the official date in early July. I'll be adding princess stuff to the site periodically, as well as to other areas. The mincemeat: on writing section continues to grow. I write pieces for it as they occur to me and eventually would like it to offer more writer resources and information on publishing in general, things that I wish I had known a few years ago. I also just added a rewriting the goose girl page.
city of rivers first draft continues to chug along. I have 40,000 words now. Bloomsbury plans to release this in fall of 2006, so we're not kidding around here on the timeline. That could change if I or they don't feel like it's ready, but that's the current plan, Stan. Here's the first draft first line of the first prologue: "Ingridan was not a city that could forget." I hope I didn't give away too much...
5 February 2005 We took Max to the park today, it was sunny and lovely, and let him totter around. He loved climbing up and down a small hill. It must feel so good to him to get that muscle control and have more to say about where he goes and what he does. He's 13 months now and strong and active, and doesn't speak except in sign language. I was so happy to see so many fathers in the park with their children--more there than mothers, actually. This just wouldn't have been true twenty years ago. My husband and I were asking each other, How does such a change happen? Gradually, I guess is the answer. I think it's mostly due to the feminist movement over the past four decades. Some people cringe to hear the word feminism. It doesn't mean man-hating in the least. I think that by allowing women to pursue dreams and stretch our minds and bodies, feminism also breaks down the silly stereotypes about men.
I don't think of myself as an extremist. I'm a stay-at-home mom, and honestly, I think I do a much better job of it than my husband would (we used to job share, so we experimented with this). He just can't multi-task! But he is such a good papa. I'm so glad we live now in an age and society that doesn't label diaper changing or washing a dish as "women's work" and allows fathers to dig in and parent in their own way. Max is such a lucky kid.
27 January 2005 I was speaking at a book group this week and was asked if I hung out with other writers. I explained that, woefully, writers are a sorry, solitary lot. We kind of have to be. Too much socializing takes away from writing time, and so our friendships often taper off because we can't spare the time to keep them up. That's a very strange reality for me, being at heart a very social girl. Of course, I keep my old, dear friends very close...even if we only see each other once a month.
When I tried to explain to the lady why it was hard to hang out with writer friends, she said, "And I guess you would all be afraid that the others would steal your ideas." I found this idea very curious, I think many people have the impression that the hardest part of writing a book is coming up with ideas. That's just not the case in my experience. For myself and most writers I know, we have many more ideas than we know what to do with. I have, right now, four books wrestling for my attention. I don't want anyone else's ideas, and even if I told another writer an idea for a book, they could write it, too, and both books would be so completely different as to not be in competition at all. Now, if we could steal one another's writing time, that would be a grave temptation.
19 January 2005 Bonjorno. Just heard that princess academy sold Italian rights. Very cool, and very surprising. I just barely reviewed the first proofing pass of the book, and already it's in someone's hands in Italy? goose girl will be in French, enna burning in German, and now princess academy in Italian. It seems to take a couple of years to get translated and published, but I think the French goose should be out by May. How strange and fun to have your words in another language.
I spoke with Bruce Coville yesterday from Full Cast Audio (besides running his own business he's the author of some 90 books. Unbelievable. And he's the model for one of the gods in Tammy Pierce's universe. Ha.) He told me that "We've cast our Ani and Enna," and I got a little thrill. He produces in Syracuse, New York, and uses the university drama department there to find a lot of their talent. I'll also be doing an afterword on the audio book. What shall I say? Perhaps something like, "Hi, I'm Shannon. I wrote that book you just listened to. And, um, there it is. Hope you enjoyed it. Have a great summer! Er." Either that or I'll think of something hand-griping, jaw-dropping, soul-inspiring, shockingly fascinating to say. One of the two. Guess you'll just have to wait and find out.
And after a year of sleeping the night snuggled by my side, Max just moved into his own crib at night. It was very emotional for me and my husband, and we were so frightened, but he did great! Such a relief. I really felt like the timing was right for the transition and all parties are better off. Still, I loved having a family bed for his first year. Every mother and every child is different and I so respect different parenting styles, but I think I can recommend whole-heartedly co-sleeping with your infant at least for the first 3-6 months. (Taking the proper precautions, of course, of making certain no heavy blanket or pillow is close by or no one drunk or on medication sleeps in the bed.) He is speed walking now, nearing a trot. When he walks, he keeps his hands up for balance and resembles a little T-rex. Being utterly objective, I guess I'd have to say that he's the best little kid in the world.
17 January 2005 Just back from a week's vacation. Disney cruise! A Christmas present from my parents for the whole family. Wow. It was a huge thing for them to do and so awesome. My first cruise. Ate some great food, watched Max first dip his toes in the ocean and sample handfuls of sand, scuba dove and saw a stingray, barracuda, and huge yellow starfish, and just loved being with the family. I also spent some time reading over the copy edited princess academy. It's lovely to get to the point where I only want to change a word every other page. Feels pretty solid at last. Cover looks great, too. It's interesting to me how different the covers are in US and UK. US cover UK cover People often ask why I chose the cover art I did. The answer: I didn't. The publisher designs the book cover. Some writers are consulted (Bloomsbury US runs ideas by me, UK does not), but I don't get to design it myself. I don't know any authors who do. I guess the publishers figure we're writers not professional artists or layout editors. And they're right, I suppose. But that doesn't mean I still don't brim with opinions...
3 January 2005 Happy New Year! Let's see, resolutions...I've had to reset my daily writing goals to work with Max's naptime and evening writing time. I'm trying now for 3 pages a day, 15/week, about 4500 words. It's going well so far, and I have high hopes of completing the first draft of city of rivers by the end of March. My deadline is a draft to my editor by September 1, but of course I'd like to do a few drafts before sending it off.
It's a mixed blessing to sell books unwritten. I like the security of it, of knowing that they'll have a home. When writing the goose girl, I tried so hard not to think about the After, and just focus on the story. It's a terrible feeling to pour years and hopes into a work that may end up being terrible, or may be great but denied the opportunity of ever reaching print. As well, I wrote enna burning unsold and didn't know if it would find a home. So in that sense, phew! It is a relief.
But at the same time, I don't thrive on deadlines. I'm pretty good about setting my own goals, so having extra external deadlines gives me the stress flu. I like the leisure of getting every word where I want it and not to have to battle against other dates. I didn't take a break between finishing princess academy and starting city of rivers because I wanted that head start, that leisure time. Ah, and there's the doughty call of the waking toddler...