On a cold morning on the last day of September, we flew into Spitsbergen, the western-most island of the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. We were having rare sunny weather, so the pilot changed course a bit to give those of us on the right side of the plane a beautiful Svalbardian view.
We landed in the town of Longyearbyen, which is one of the few permanently populated places in Svalbard.
The moon you can see, big in that sky, was a permanent fixture for the first week of our journey. It never set, it just circled the sky, always low and big against the horizon. Then, with the new moon, it set — and never came back again.
Our time in Longyearbyen was brief, but I did manage to pop over to the library :o).
The next morning, with our suitcases in hand and a stomach full of nerves, we went to the pier to board our new home, the Antigua.
Personally, I thought she looked pretty small for 40+ people. And for two weeks on the Arctic Ocean. And for not puking the entire time. What was I thinking? I kept repeating to myself. How am I going to do this? Why did I think this was a good idea? Is it a bad sign that I already feel queasy? I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine! I’m going to die! I open myself to this adventure, goddammit!
(At least I’m not kitesurfing on a freezing cold day in the Arctic Ocean, like that bozo!)
It was a rough few hours on the ship. I was anxious; I felt seasick. I kept crashing into things and spilling things. It was SO COLD, especially after the sun set, but once we were moving, I needed to stay out on deck in order to keep from puking. Then I puked anyway. It was not fun. I was scared. What if this was how I was going to feel for the next two weeks?
I stumbled and bumbled down to my cabin, put my head on my rocking pillow, and took a long nap. When I woke up, around 10pm, I didn’t know it at the time, but I woke to a new state of being. I never got sick on the trip again.
That night, feeling world’s better, I went to the kitchen and begged some food. A kind person warmed some up for me and I carried it out on deck, where I ate under the stars, surrounded by the noise of moving water. A bit later, I saw the northern lights for the first time in my life. I went on to see them so many times, on so many nights, that I lost count. I saw them from the deck of the Antigua, this beautiful ship that I grew to adore, and loved to call my home.
I’ve decided to post pictures from my trip, divided into themes. I haven’t chosen all my themes yet or gotten particularly organized. But over the next few weeks, come here to learn about a number of things, including
I’ve just gotten home and am going through my mail. It’s a day for unpacking, organizing, trying to remember and reinstate my routines, and figuring out which way is up. I like days like this. They’re cozy and slow, and I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself. Especially since I handed in a draft right before I left, I have the added pleasure of deciding what I’m writing next. This thing that I probably should work on, or that thing that’s knocking on my door, begging to be worked on? And, now that Arctic Trip Prep is no longer my biggest extracurricular activity, I finally get to dive into some other projects that have been on hold. You know your life has opened up a little when you’re actually looking forward to tasks like choosing new health insurance now that you’re married, and figuring out whether you need to keep paying for long-term disability insurance. Sigh.
This morning, I find myself spending some time with my favorite piece of mail — the Spanish version of Jane, Unlimited, published for Mexico, Central and South America by V&R Editoras.
This edition contains some lovely design details! The designers, artists, and editors did some very clever and nice things with the umbrella metaphor — closed umbrellas, open umbrellas, depending on what part of the book you’re in. Here’s the title page:
The table of contents:
The beginning of the first, “closed” part:
Here’s the attractive design on the first page of each section:
Every single page of the book has an umbrella at the bottom! Be still my beating heart. And a key-like shape between parts:
Now we reach the end of the first section and enter the part of the book where the “umbrella opens” into all the different simultaneously-occurring stories:
More design as Jane decides:
The subsequent sections of the book are marked with an open umbrella:
And here are the parts of the umbrella at the end:
I am delighted. Thank you to my Spanish-edition team, which includes Marcela Luza, Marianela Acuña, Melisa Corbetto, Erika Wrede, Julián Balangero, Luis Tinoco, translator Graciela S. Romero, and many others whose names aren’t listed inside the edition. I am so happy!
Arctic stuff soon :o). And actually, these pictures look a little foggy to me — I may need to clean some salty, foggy, misty layers of grime from my iPhone. So much to do. Taking my time.
Just wanted to report that I’m back in Oslo, after 2+ spectacular weeks of sailing around the western and northwestern coast of Spitsbergen, Svalbard, in the tall ship Antigua, with a group of wonderful artists, guides, and crew. I have many, many pictures to post and stories to tell, but I’m not home yet, and it’ll be a few days until I get organized. Here are a couple just to start things off :o). I can’t wait to share more!
Kim Mirus, one of my sailing companions and an extraordinary weaver, took this photo. That’s Antigua in the background.
And I took this panorama with my iPhone… it makes the ship look very bendy :o). Click to embiggen.
No problem, right? I’ll pack this weekend and have a few days next week for the last-minute scramble as I suddenly remember a whole slew of things I need to do before I fly to Svalbard. While I’m aboard the ship, I won’t be able to blog, but I’ll be storing up pictures and stories to share for when I get back. And that’s the news from here. Oh, also, this blog post is dedicated to the Cleveland Browns. :o)
Oh look! It’s Kevin’s sister, Heather! And something interesting in the background…
What’s that guy doing?
Dude, weird basket.
Did you know that when a hot air balloon is being inflated, you can walk inside it?
In fact, it’s like a stained-glass cathedral in there. (Without the patriarchy! ^_^)
Reader, I married him.
Happy married-for-ten-minutes-so-far people.
Of course, that’s not all, right?
But it was still awfully foggy…
and hot air balloons aren’t safe in fog…
unless they’re on a tether!
We did a tethered ride, safely attached to the ground.
Afterwards, our fabulous pilot, Chris Ritland, toasted us with the balloonist’s blessing…
I cut the amazing orange cake Heather had made…
And as is traditional, the married couple fed wedding cake to their hot air balloon pilot.
Of course, one thing was missing from our day. So, about two weeks later, we went back to Quechee…
On an unfoggy, perfect-weather, untethered-ride day.
And we flew.
Trees look amazing from this distance, and at this speed.
That dot in the river is the reflection of our balloon!
When I told my friend Judy Blundell about our hot air balloon elopement, she said, “Marriage is an untethered ride.”
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Click on any picture above to embiggen. I especially recommend the panamoric shot from our flight.
Thanks to our wonderful photographer, Em Pogozelski at Pogo Photo (and her dad! ^_^), for all the elopement location pictures. We recommend her enthusiastically!
Thanks also to our hot air balloon pilot, Chris Ritland of Quechee Balloon Rides (and Tom and Diane!), who was so accommodating and made everything perfect for us. We can’t recommend him highly enough. Tom took the pictures of us in the balloon on our untethered-ride day. Kevin and I took the pictures from the ride itself.
Thanks also to Karenna Maraj, our local indie jeweler who made my jade engagement ring and our wedding rings. We adore our rings and recommend her wholeheartedly too.
Thanks to you, too, for taking our adventure into your hearts, dear readers. Be well!
Look what just arrived in the mail. My UK/Australia/NZ tenth anniversary edition, from Gollancz, is ready to release on September 20! I knew about the new colors and classic look, but I didn’t know about the hint of map in the background, or that was it was going to be a hardcover. I’m so pleased. Happy birthday, Katsa!
Today, inspired by a loved-one who did it first, I’m sending a thank you note to Josh Shapiro, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, to thank him and his team for the 1000+ page report listing 300 predator priests in Pennsylvania and detailing decades of illegal coverups and lies. This report changed my life; it was a step toward justice, validating the reality of so many people, not just in Pennsylvania. I’m sharing this thank you idea with you all, because it didn’t even occur to me to write a thank you note until someone else showed me hers. Maybe you’re like me. If so, you too could send a grateful red monster to the Attorney General of PA.
Here’s the mailing address:
Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General Strawberry Square Harrisburg, PA 17120
First, I just want to extend a thank you for all the support I’ve received, on Twitter and in real life, for my recent blog post, Brother Cansrel, Father Leck. It wasn’t the easiest or breeziest blog post I’ve ever published, that’s for sure. ♥ ♥ ♥
Second — look what I’ve got in my hot little hands! The tenth anniversary edition of Graceling, with its pretty new green cover, is set for release on September 25!
Coming up soon on the blog, I’ll be blogging pics from what is probably the biggest adventure of my life (no risk I’m overselling that, right?)… until then, be well, dear readers.
First disclaimer: I was not sexually assaulted by a priest. That is not the story I’m about to tell.
Second: If you were raised Catholic and your experience was not like mine, I am relieved for you and glad. I respect your different story. I only ask that you respect my story, realize that I am not an isolated example, and believe me.
I grew up in Pennsylvania. My kindergarten, my grade school, my high school, and the high school to which most of my friends matriculated are all represented on that list of predator priests. The bishop who confirmed me, James Timlin of the Diocese of Scranton, a man I was taught to admire, turns out to have had a talent for protecting child rapists while destroying the lives of the children whose safety was entrusted to him. I have a photo of myself with Bishop Timlin from grade school. I look excited standing beside him, like I’m getting my picture taken with a celebrity. It turns out that the allowance money I was putting into the collection plate every Sunday was funding the protection of rapists.
Was I surprised when this list was released last week? Hell, no. I spent my entire adolescence trying to get the adults in my life to see that some of the religious leaders around me were bad people, and that the Catholic institution—misogynistic, homophobic, sexually repressed, and tyrannical in its power structure—supported their abuse. My peers did too. We were never believed. We are largely still not believed. The men on this list are just a few bad apples, you know? A few bad men in one great big, wonderful Catholic Church. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Even if “the baby” is one of the world’s most powerful institutions with one of the world’s most horrific human rights records, and also one of the world’s most renowned upholders of misogyny and homophobia.
Do I sound angry? To be angry is bad. I know this because priests told me so, repeatedly.
My fantasy novels have a recurring theme: a kind of evil, embodied in powerful men, that allows them to magically manipulate innocent people into believing lies. The innocent people, stuck in their mental fog of lies, are then convinced to perform acts of self-damage and damage to others. The mental fog makes it impossible for the victims to see the truth of who the bad people actually are and what is actually going on.
For years, people have asked me what inspired my villains. For years, I’ve hemmed and hawed, afraid of causing offense. With the release of this Pennsylvania report, I’m less afraid. Finally, I’m ready to admit that my villains and their evil were inspired by my own experience of a Catholic upbringing and education.
Because I know that the readers of this post may otherwise jump to this conclusion, let me be clear that I was never sexually assaulted by a priest. But it should also be abundantly clear by now that many people were, and I’d like to point out that the setup that allows for that kind of physical and sexual abuse inevitably allows for many other kinds of emotional and psychological abuse too. We’re not talking about a few bad apples; we’re talking about a bad system. I know. I lived it. Until I grew up, I was not allowed to leave it. And I was screaming from inside it for people to see, for people to protect me and my peers, for anyone to believe that we were being damaged. No one would listen.
Can you understand how King Leck and Cansrel grew from this? And where Bitterblue’s need for healing comes from? Let me try to explain it better. Please be patient with me; it’s hard. I’m trying to protect the privacy of a lot of people; I’m trying not to offend loved ones any more than I have to; I’m so angry, and have been so angry for so many decades, that it’s hard to maintain coherence.
I grew up in a culture in which my peers and I were taught to respect people, and to be kind, compassionate, generous, selfless, sacrificing, forgiving Catholic kids. Unfortunately, it was also a culture in which we were regularly humiliated, taught that our natural impulses were sinful, taught that we were essentially bad, taught to obey unthinkingly, taught not to question anything we were told, taught that if we misbehaved we would be punished severely, taught to debase ourselves, taught that anger is wrong, and taught to “turn the other cheek” if someone was hurting us. In this culture, everyone was humiliated, but girls disproportionately so, because in this culture, girls were, and still are, believed to be inferior. The power structure was inhabited entirely by men, men who supposedly had a direct line to God, men whom I was told to admire and believe.
My peers and I could see the problems inherent in the institution. We saw the problems manifesting all the time. Why were only some of us supposed to respect other people? Why weren’t the priests held to that standard too? Why was it okay for me to be humiliated on a regular basis because I was a girl? Why was this system of abuse allowed to continue?
But when we brought vivid stories of humiliation and disrespect to adults, we were never taken seriously. Our complaints were treated as marks of our adolescent immaturity. We were told to stop confusing these minor experiences with actual injustice. We were told that we were not in fact seeing what we thought we were seeing. We told to look for the good in the priests who were hurting us. We were told that our anger was wrong. We were also told to do what we were told.
And then maybe one of my peers would try to kill herself, not for the first time. I mean, I’m not talking about small stakes here. I’m talking about teenagers who were really struggling, kids in real danger, kids who’d learned that their only culturally acceptable means of expression was self-destruction. Do what you’re told: erase yourself. Yet in the minds of the adults, the connection between a culture that was systematically dehumanizing us and us trying to kill ourselves was never made. Why? Why couldn’t they see? Why wouldn’t they help us? Because the adults had been lied to too, and they chose to trust the powerful leaders, instead of the vulnerable ones who were crying. Oh, my lord. And we were crying so hard. And there were consequences. Not everyone made it out okay.
The adults we brought our stories to were well-intentioned, and generally committed to justice in the world. I understand that. It wasn’t that they didn’t care about us or our welfare; it was that no matter how we explained it, they just couldn’t see that there was evil there. Gaslighting, humiliation, and psychological manipulation are often sneaky and subtle, especially when they are coming from a control center that has, in fact, been a force for good in the life of any given person; especially when that control center is all the person has ever known, and is woven into the fabric of every part of that person’s viewpoint. But I could see. And I could see them not seeing. I could see them accidentally and well-intentioned-ly failing to protect us from terrible things. Not just failing to protect us; making things worse. The experience left me with an incredulous helplessness that at times in my life has led to a kind of despair.
It also, eventually, led to artistic expression. I created Leck, I created Cansrel, and then I created girls who killed them dead. With each book, I explored those girls more fully. With each book, I let myself get closer to the grief, the anger, the feelings of betrayal, the losses, the relationships that may never improve, and the wounds that may never fully heal.
I want to add an aside here, as a writer and a reader. A writer’s inspiration for a book exists separately from the reader’s experience. If a book is done well, it reaches beyond the original inspiration and becomes something more universal. So you don’t have to bring my explanations into your understanding of my books if they’re not relevant to you. The sort of tyranny / psychological manipulation / neglect I experienced exists, and has existed, in countless forms across our world, against all types of people, on massive scales, and on scales as small as a relationship between two people.
However, if your experience was like mine in any way, through any means and on any scale—and I know that many of yours were—then I hope you will welcome my books as a (hopefully healing) gift from me, given with all my heart. I see you, and I believe you. I hope you feel better.
Also, if you identify as Catholic and your experience was not like mine, I am relieved for you and glad. I respect your different story. But please, please start believing us. Consider reading this compassionate opinion piece in the New York Times by Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a Catholic and a historian of Catholicism, who argues that the time has come for dramatic change.
I would also guard, very strongly, against any messages you may be receiving that things are different now. That the Catholic Church is being held accountable; that these abuses happened in the past; that the Catholic Church is moving past this tragedy. Read “Vatican’s new sex education guidelines sell women short,” by Celia Wexler at the Huffington Post. Nothing has changed in the underlying structure that caused these abuses to arise in the first place. The Catholic Church is still misogynistic, homophobic, sex-repressing, and tyrannical. It is still an organization which mandates that all the real power sits with men. How much is it possible for an organization like that to change? How far can it move toward justice? Personally, I believe that until married men and women are allowed to be priests; until the church starts teaching parishioners about self-care rather than self-abasement; until questioning is not just allowed, but encouraged; and until church leaders are educated enough about sex and sexuality to be able to have mature and responsible thoughts and conversations about it, nothing will ever get much better.
It breaks my heart to say this, but I’m pretty sure I know how this will go. Too many of the people who couldn’t see it then won’t see it now. The power will remain with the corrupt.
The day after the Pennsylvania report was released, I was standing in the kitchen, glaring into the middle distance. Kevin walked in, gave me a hug, and said, “How are you feeling?”
I said, “I’m so angry.”
He hugged me harder and said, “It’s okay to be angry.”
Oh my god. What if I’d ever heard those words once, from anyone whose job it was to protect me, when I was young? What if anyone had ever said any words that indicated that they believed me? That they held my feelings gently in their hands and trusted and cherished them, because they trusted and cherished me? And then helped me, instead of leaving me alone with it?
I’m in a different, much better place now. I’ve had the help of a lot of people to get myself here, people who have their own stories, and who believe mine. If I have any religion these days, it’s the religion of striving to see clearly. Others and myself; the systems I live in and support; the points of view, mine and others’, that we should constantly continue to question and test. Like Katsa or Jane, lies make me furious. Like Fire or Bitterblue, I’m determined to do everything I can in order to see what’s in front of my face, and try not to hurt anyone with it.
I’ve got some scars, some wounds, and some permanent losses. But I’m not trapped in a fog anymore.
And now I hope you’ll excuse me, because I’m very busy, trying to write another book about some girls who are reaching for the light.
It’s birthday week on the blog :o). This week I turn 42 (!!), and in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m still writing my books out by hand. Today I inaugurated Notebook 28!
There’s a blog post I want to write, about what happens when your life choices — or maybe it would be more fair to say, things in life you didn’t choose — get in the way of your writing. About five years ago, I made a decision: I decided to prioritize my own mental health, and my own personal healing from something that happened LONG ago, in a way I never had before. I’m not going to get into my long-ago story here. I write fiction and I write musings; I do not write memoir, and feel no calling to it. What matters for the sake of this blog post is that the moment I decided to prioritize my own mental health and healing… my capacity to focus on writing decreased by about 50%.
Maybe another way to put this is that writing became twice as hard. Writing is always horrendously hard, so twice as hard was really something.
That lasted for about three and a half years. For a person whose identity is largely tied up in book creation, it was a scary time. I kept plugging along, wondering if it would always be like this. As hard as it was, I knew it was a privilege to be able to be writing so slowly and still call it my job… And you know what, dear readers? I have you to thank for that privilege, because during that time, I was largely living on the money I’d made previously on my books. My readers made it possible and safe for me to take a few years in my life to wade into some horrors and start to find my way out again.
It is criminal and disgusting that everyone in this nation doesn’t have access to mental health care. Or even to the knowledge that mental health care exists and you might be the person who needs it.
Anyway. My mental health care will be a lifelong project. I don’t want to suggest that three and a half years passed and then I was “cured” :o). But three and a half years passed, I took some very courageous steps, I found myself in a less scary place, and you know what happened next?
My writing came back.
Here’s a sign I put up on my desk lamp in my office about a year ago.
Of course, I’d never actually gone anywhere. I was always here writing. But it was SO HARD. You might think to yourself, well, it probably didn’t help that you decided to write a book that splits off into five different simultaneously-occurring genre stories during that time, but that’s not what I mean by hard. A book is always structurally hard and intellectually challenging. I mean that it was emotionally hard, hard to motivate to sit and immerse myself in someone else’s story, when my own tedious, too-familiar, unchosen story was in the forefront of my mind all the time, making me feel terrible.
This is not my favorite kind of blog post to write, and I probably won’t write one like this again for a very, very long time. But I wanted to write it, because for the past five years, I’ve been thinking a lot about creative people who, for whatever reason (and there can be so many), feel blocked from their creative process. And I’ve been wanting to convey one simple message: It can come back.