Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Revising Magic

I love revision. Really. I do.

This time around I'm revising in a bit of a deadline crunch, but it's still wonderful.

Here's the thing: Drafting a novel is fun, but scary. In order to make myself do it, I have to set a minimum daily word count--I can't eat lunch until I have a thousand words, and if I can keep going after lunch, so much the better. If I didn't set rules, I'd stop the minute it got difficult, which would be one minute after I stopped reading yesterday's words and began thinking up today's.

Revising, on the other hand, offers the fun of drafting with almost none of the terror. You know where the story's going, because you've been there, and now it's time to get in there and fix all the details you wanted to fix all along but didn't because you wanted to get the drafting OVER WITH FOR GOD'S SAKE. You can play with character and dialogue and descriptions and make jokes and giggle and generally have a great time.

So, a week and a half in (and a week and a half to go), I've augmented a character, clarified a relationship, begun to establish clearer motives, and actually made headway on the Logic of Magic. Now I'm ready to start at page one and mush my way through, tinkering. It'll be a hoot and a half, and I can hardly wait for tomorrow morning.

IN OTHER NEWS: Shhh. *whispers* My desktop computer's dying. Anybody have a recommendation for a new one? I'm not a gamer, but I hate sluggishness. Probably shouldn't be a Mac, since my laptop's a Dell. What do we all think about Windows 7? Is it true it sometimes swears at Microsoft Word, and loads photographs at random? I won't be doing serious research until I finish my revision, which may mean I finish it on the laptop. Good thing I have a back-up, or I'd be sweating bullets right now. As it is, I'm backing up every which way and several times over.

Which reminds me. Time to email myself today's revision. Losing a day's revising to the ether would make everything a lot less fun, wouldn't it?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

ALA, or a Look Back in Time

During the mad rush to revision (more on that later), I've been taking advantage of the rare ski conditions by heading out into the woods just before dusk. Today I stood out there on my skis, listened to the silence, and thought, "At this moment, no one in the world knows exactly where I am." A comforting thought in this age of cell phones and twitter.

Last weekend, I was in the opposite situation, especially on Saturday when I joined many thousands of librarians--and those who sell things to them (including publishers)--at the American Library Association's midwinter meeting in Boston. The midwinter ALA meeting normally is a business meeting with little attraction for authors (except the awards hoopla at the end), but this year the authors started what amounted to a fringe festival.

So it was that I mushed down last Friday, the 15th, to stay with my friend Larry and go to a dessert party at the Somerville apartment of Grace Lin, a fellow Inkie who was to become a Newbery Honor recipient three days later. (Woot!) That's the party at left. I got a photo of Grace but it didn't do her justice so I stole one of her author photos, taken by Alexandre Ferron.

The next day, I met my editor, Kathy Dawson, at ALA, which was at Boston's new convention center in South Boston, right down the MTA Orange Line from Cambridge. Kathy and I wandered around the publishers' booths a bit, I met some people at Penguin/Dial and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who had been just names to me before, and I began indulging in the greedy insanity that is ARC-collecting. (Visitors leave book conventions looking like looters.) (ARC stands for Advance Review Copy--a paperback version of the hardcover.) Fortunately, having experienced this phenomenon at the New England Booksellers trade show, I brought two cloth bags with me. Also fortunately, I stopped once they were full, and declined give-away bags that would have fed the frenzy. (I feel extremely virtuous about this, although other, convention visitors clearly thought I was a wimp.)

I met several fellow Inkies and friends for lunch (Legal Test Kitchens, highly recommended), among them Marissa Doyle and Nandini Bajpai. That's them (Marissa on the left), framing a poster of Inkie Leah Cypess's new book, MISTWOOD.

My other photos made everyone in them look like yetis, but Nandini had better success (as well as the sense to ask somebody else to take the group shots) so here's a link to hers. You'll see that she also took photos at the day's big author event, theKid-lit Tweet Up organized by Mitali Perkins and Deb Sloan. Several hundred kids' book authors, all of them with Twitter accounts, showed up to hobnob and connect names with faces. It was very, very entertaining and instructive. All hail Mitali and Deb.

I'm out of time and this post is getting too long. So I'll write about revision (argh!) tomorrow, when I'm not in the snowy woods pretending I don't exist.

P.S. I suppose I should mention that THE UNNAMEABLES made the ALA/YALSA's final Best Books for Young Adults list. I'm pumped, and they even gave my name a much-needed extra consonant.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And I was doing so well...

There's one New Year's resolution down the drain. I was determined to blog at least twice a week, and now it's been a week since the last entry.

Here's the problem: Fed Ex, which lost my original edited manuscript, last Wednesday delivered the copy my editor Kathy Dawson sent out post-haste once Penguin returned from its holiday break. So I've been immersed in that, getting ready to talk to Kathy today about some of the finer points. (As well as the grosser ones, I guess.)

I have magic problems. Not magical problems, which wish themselves away, but problems with the logic of the magic in SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS. I have, as usual, made everything way too complex. It's all better than it was, but there's considerable tweaking to be done.

And this is a first: Kathy and I couldn't get the conversation finished in an hour, so we reconvene tomorrow at 9. In the meantime, I have stuff to do for the Brooklin Youth Corps and the library auction, for which I'm doing publicity. Whine, whine, whine.

Attitude adjustment: I get to sit around messing with words all day! I spend entire days in a fantasy world, and people do not hit me on the back of the hand with a ruler when I do so! I am a lucky, lucky woman!

Wish the friggin' magic would solve itself, though.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

January Book Review

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@Barrie Summy

This is the twelfth edition of The Book Review Club -- I haven't been able to participate each month, mostly because of surgery, but I still think it's pretty cool. Be sure to click on the icon above to find more reviews.

Her Fearful Symmetry
By Audrey Niffenegger
Scribner, 2009

It’s hard to write about HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY without giving too much away. I’ll say only this: IF a vibrant, intelligent dead woman were to miss her life enough to haunt her own flat, she’d be bored to insanity. And then what?

I haven’t read Audrey Niffenegger’s blockbuster first book, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, but I’m now determined to do so. Although her second book has some problems, the situations and characters are compelling to the point of mania. I got it for Christmas and finished it two days later despite competing seasonal events.

Niffenegger is particularly skilled at characters who are a couple of bubbles off plumb, and you have to be careful about that stuff. Niffenegger is careful, creating a cast of characters who demand our interest and compassion at the same time as they flirt with our disquiet. With one major exception toward the end, the thoughts we share with these troubled folks make perfect sense.

A character in its own right is Highgate Cemetery, famed resting place for the likes of Karl Marx, Christina Rossetti, and George Eliot. On stage throughout the novel, the graveyard is a reminder that death comes to us all and it’s up to us to figure out how we’ll deal with it.

Noted book dealer Elspeth Noblin sets the stage by dying in a London hospital on page one. On the page two we see her younger lover, Robert, crawling into bed with her body—this man, we conclude, will not let go easily.

Elspeth has left her fortune and her expensive London flat—next door to Highgate Cemetery—to the twin daughters of her own identical twin, who is estranged and living in the U.S. The conditions of the bequest are that the twins must move to London and live in the flat for a year before selling it, and their parents are not allowed in. Robert, who lives downstairs, is instructed to remove Elspeth’s diaries from the flat, although he’s invited to read them.

At first, Robert can’t bear to read the diaries. (When he finally does, late in the book, revelations occur) As he moves through Elspeth’s flat, getting it ready for the younger twins, Robert keeps feeling wisps of touches, is convinced things have moved from where he left them. Could this be Elspeth, or is he going nuts? His friends know it’s the latter, and he’s pretty sure they’re right.

Enter Julia and Valentina, the younger twins. They are “mirror twins,” superficially identical but opposite: one is right-handed, the other left-handed; a mole that’s on the right in one is on the left in the other. Even Valentina’s internal organs are reversed from normal. Like their mother and her twin, they are oddly beautiful—tiny, pale, blonde, skinny, dressed alike in fetching but creative get-ups—and excessively close. Julia makes the decisions for the two of them, but fragile, asthmatic Valentina is the one everyone likes. Julia resents that a little, as Valentina resents Julia’s control.

Moving into the flat, they make friends both with Robert and with Martin, the brilliant upstairs neighbor who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Robert and Valentina are attracted to each other; Julia tries to help Martin win back his health and his wife. The point of view shifts from one to another, often giving us more than one perspective on a single event. Niffenegger pulls this off with gorgeous clarity, never once puzzling us into withdrawing from the story.

And then there’s someone else’s point of view, expressed so thoughtfully that you know just what it would be like to … but I’m not going to say what.

I had reservations about a couple of the book’s plot points, which didn’t seem to have enough character support. The major example is Valentina’s heroic effort to wrest herself from Julia’s loving control: She has ample motivation for drastic action, but not quite enough to justify the harebrained (and admittedly delicious) plan she ends up concocting. This could be viewed as a serious flaw in the book, but it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment one bit. I simply filed the problem away to consider at leisure when I wasn’t having such a good time.

On to THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. Without the ghost of a delay.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome, 2010

OK, I utterly and completely swear that this is the last picture I'll post of the lights on my maple tree. Until next December, anyway. But aren't they gorgeous? I under-exposed the shot to bring out their full magnificence. Not sure that blue tinge would be there under normal shooting conditions.

Anyway, it's now this weird year, 2010. Fun to type, but it won't be as much fun to write as 2009, which had a wonderful, swoopy quality.

We stayed quietly at home last night, relaxing after what seemed like one holiday event after another, although I suspect to someone else our High Times would feel a lot like boredom. We're both looking forward to getting back to serious work. Or at least I will be once my missing manuscript arrives (the one "overnighted" from NYC on December 21)--I suspect that may mean my editor sending me a new copy. I've been doing some useful background work while waiting for it, wrote a scene I know I'll need, resolved some philosophical issues ... but am seriously (really!) looking forward to the full glory of the revision ahead of me.

And it's supposed to snow like bejesus the next two days, which delights me because I may finally venture out on skis. I'm trying to persuade Rob that anything over a foot means we call someone to plow rather than snow-scooping it ourselves, but no headway so far.

Here, as an alternative to another maple tree lights photo, is a short film my friend Larry found on YouTube. Happy New Year!