Artists Make Hats

Do you know the art of Arizona-based painter Carolyn Schmitz, whose paintings include a series of animals wearing gorgeous natural hats? Go check her out. It’s hard to choose, but I might love the bear with the bluejay on its head best of all.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have caught on that I like wearing cool stuff on my head. In that spirit, I want to share the Etsy shop ElsewhenMillinery, whose proprietor, Wendy, recently made me a beautiful green hat.

I have an upcoming social event that requires a hat. (If there are good pictures, I promise to share them, because, weather depending, it’s going to be a photo-worthy event!) I decided to treat myself to exactly the hat I wanted, which meant finding a skilled artist who could make it for me. Look how it turned out.

I love it. Here’s a photo that shows the pretty shape and fine details…

 I chose a green linen fabric because I wanted a hat I can wear anytime that will always match my ring. The buttons are a nice touch.

To my surprise and delight, when it arrived, I discovered that the inside was lined with a thesaurus-themed fabric that contained entries for words like “memory,” “amusement,” and “inspire.” I spend half my life in the thesaurus, and these words are so appropriate for my intentions for this hat, and, just, LOVE.

Check out Wendy’s shop. She usually works in more neutral colors, so don’t worry if grass green isn’t your thing :). She also has hat patterns for sale, so if you’re interested in making your own hats, definitely take a look.

Of course, this reminds me of another incredible hat by another artist — the hat my mother knitted me, hiding my book titles inside — which you can see here. I’ll be wearing that hat soon too, on a grand snowy adventure, which I will blog about sometime in the coming days. Yes, I am cloaking the blog in mystery :o). But I promise, everything (at least, everything hat-related) will be revealed.

Happy hats, everyone!

These times make me inarticulate… so here’s a beautiful carousel.

These times make me inarticulate.

I’ve felt for a while that I want to blog more. I miss my blog! But regularly blogging about the current political / social / international / environmental / [insert crisis here] situation is a fast route to a mental health meltdown for me, in addition to which, I don’t see that I have anything useful to add. I’m working with these topics in my writing and in my daily life. This blog has always been my respite.

Yet I’m also somewhat uncomfortable with saying anything online that isn’t an acknowledgment of the state of our world today. It’s a dilemma.

I’ve decided to give myself permission to return to blogging and blog about relatively inconsequential things. Little things are important too, you know? Which is why today I’m going to share pictures from a recent day off :o).

I knew on Wednesday, when my book-in-progress seemed not just currently awful but certain to be permanently awful (in addition to never being completed, which would lead to my personal, social, professional, and financial ruin), that (1) I was not having logical thoughts and (2) I needed a day off. So yesterday, I went into Boston and saw RBG, the documentary on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which incidentally, I highly recommend — it made me feel hopeful and full of energy! — and then I went walking along the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Do you know about the Greenway carousel? It’s one of the odder carousels you’re likely to encounter, because every animal represented is an animal native to Massachusetts.

Here are some of my favorites.

Peregrine falcon!

Humpback whale.

Squirrel, bunny, some kind of butterfly.

Sea turtle and barn owl!

Most carousels do not have a grasshopper option :o). See the lobster behind it?

Skunk! Barn owl! And sorry I don’t know my butterflies.

 Finally, here’s the RBG trailer to close :o). Go see it if you can! It will fill you with admiration and hope.

Concerns Flagged

While digging through our storage room this morning in search of something else, I found some early manuscripts of Bitterblue. Then took a closer look, and had to laugh.

Here’s my own copy of the first draft I ever sent to my marvelous editor, printed out, with “concerns flagged.”

I guess I was pretty concerned.

Concerns? What concerns?

Here’s the Paperback Cover for Jane, Unlimited!

In some other universe somewhere, some other version of me blogs all the time. She blogs about the writing she’s doing every day, how hopeless it feels, where her motivation comes from, what’s hardest today, how she keeps her spirits up when the end feels so far away, what it’s like for those who support her emotionally and/or live with her :o). She blogs about the small adventures she’s having all the time, and what they mean to her. She blogs pictures of the crocuses poking through the endless snow. She blogs more about what it was like to write Jane, Unlimited, and how it feels that next fall is the tenth anniversary of Graceling. (Next fall is the tenth anniversary of Graceling, everyone! ^_^) She probably doesn’t blog much about current politics, because even Imaginary Kristin has her emotional limits…. But. She blogs a Whole Lot More.

I have some adventures coming up in 2018 that I will definitely be blogging about. 100%. But not today. Today, once again, I’m going to fling a single picture at you, then get back to the book I am trying so hard to get out of my head and onto paper. It (the book) contains all the things I’m not blogging about. Adventures and what they mean; hopelessness and how to keep pushing on; love and what matters; politics, and how to fight back against selfishness and cruelty. All with a fun plot, one hopes. ?? Sigh. *flops*

Anyway, the picture. It’s the new Jane, Unlimited cover, for the paperback version, which releases July 10! I think it’s possible to preorder behind this link (click on “Paperback”), though a lot of those vendors might not have the new cover on display yet. It’s very, very new. I hope you love it. I love my hardcover cover and I love this one too; they’re both unique, and they both feel right to me. (And it’s such a difficult book to encapsulate in a cover!) Thank you so much to the team at Penguin who put this together.

I’d Like This Light in My Living Room Please

There are so many things I’ve been wanting to blog, including the lovely news that Jane, Unlimited made the list of YALSA’s 2018 Best Fiction for Young Adults. But I’m trying to finish a book — getting so close to finishing a book — and that takes precedence. So. In lieu of real, in-depth, interesting blogging… here’s a photo of us today at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. Their current exhibition XYZT is around through most of April and is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in a museum. And this room containing this light is just so beautiful.

More when I can! Godspeed to all writers.

Two New Books and an Event

Do you all know about Mary’s Monster (by Lita Judge) and The Hazel Wood (by Melissa Albert), both set to release on Tuesday? If you’re in the Boston area, both authors have events this week. Lita Judge will be at Porter Square Books on Saturday (Feburary 3, 3pm) and I’m hosting Melissa Albert’s event at the Brookline Booksmith on Thursday! February 1, 7pm. Do come.

Here goes…

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein, by Lita Judge

“Pairing free verse with over three hundred pages of black-and-white watercolor illustrations, Mary’s Monster is a unique and stunning biography of Mary Shelley, the pregnant teenage runaway who became one of the greatest authors of all time.

“Legend is correct that Mary Shelley began penning Frankenstein in answer to a dare to write a ghost story. What most people don’t know, however, is that the seeds of her novel had been planted long before that night. By age nineteen, she had been disowned by her family, was living in scandal with a married man, and had lost her baby daughter just days after her birth. Mary poured her grief, pain, and passion into the powerful book still revered two hundred years later, and in Mary’s Monster, author/illustrator Lita Judge has poured her own passion into a gorgeous book that pays tribute to the life of this incredible author.”

I copied that blurb from the book description online, but in fact, I had the good fortune to see an early draft of this book. It is utterly, stunningly beautiful. It is sad, dark, scary, and glorious. I cannot wait to get my hands on a finished copy.

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert

“Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: ‘Stay away from the Hazel Wood.’

“Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.”

I’m rereading this book right now, in preparation for our Thursday event, and I keep reading lines out loud to Kevin because they delight me so much. This book is smart, thought-provoking, beautifully written, and also a great story. Please come help me celebrate Melissa Albert’s debut on Thursday at the Brookline Booksmith!

Finally, on another topic before I go — in case you don’t follow me on twitter, here’s an article I linked to the other day: “The Female Price of Male Pleasure,” by Lili Loofbourow at TheWeek.com.

Just sharing a few signs from today’s Women’s March in Cambridge, Massachusetts…

“If we’re going to vanquish Voldemort, we need more Hermiones”

“Trans inclusive feminism always!”

“The real shithole”

“The future is intersectional”

The glass ceiling won’t shatter itself; This is my resisting bitch face”

“Make America respectable again”

“It doesn’t need to be rape to ruin your life, and it doesn’t need to ruin your life to talk about it. #MeToo”

“My standard for good sex is higher than not rape. Call me high maintenance. #MeToo”

“Stop blaming Eve”

Here Are Some Reasons Why Women Do Not Bear the Responsibility for Avoiding Men’s Horrific Behavior

Okay. I’ve had it.

To the people who are writing articles in The Atlantic and The New York Times and other publications about how “Grace” simply had a bad date with Aziz Ansari, and she should get over it, and it’s her own fault for letting herself get pushed around…

Here are just a few reasons why a woman in that situation might not get up and leave.

  • Because she’s very young, and this is the first time she’s found herself in a situation where someone’s actual behavior diverges so dramatically from their shiny public persona, and that is confusing.
  • Because she is just a person, and he is a freaking millionaire TV celebrity, and he has all the power of celebrity and personality, and that is confusing.
  • Because everything is happening very fast, and it’s hard to stay on top of a situation when someone else is being a bully and has taken control, and that is confusing.
  • Because it is very, very easy, when you’re trying to be kind to someone you just met and want to be liked by that person, to get confused about how to behave, especially when they are being an asshole but pretending everything is normal.
  • Because assholes pretend that their assholish behavior is normal. They pretend, while they behave abominably, that they are being nice. And that clouds things for the person they’re doing this to. (All together now…) IT’S CONFUSING. In fact, it seems to me that the people writing these articles are stuck in the same cloud of confusion – literally defending Aziz Ansari for his terrible behavior while accusing Grace of not pushing back on his terrible behavior…..! Please. Please!!! Stop helping men like that normalize their behavior!!!

 ……*calms self*…..

  • Because maybe she hasn’t seen a lot of men who treat women with respect and concern, so, in the moment, she’s not clued in to just how unacceptable the scenario is.
  • Because maybe, very simply, it’s hard to believe what’s happening.
    • Because maybe she hasn’t been taught to defend herself; maybe she’s been taught to be the nice, kind girl, the one who pleases others, that so many women are taught to be. Shame on anyone for shaming her for the ways our society has failed her.
    • Because maybe she has a protective instinct telling her that as long as she stays kind of nice and kind of compliant, then she might be able to get out of this situation without getting raped.
    • Because maybe she has a protective instinct that knows that unless she keeps pretending to herself that she is sort of okay with this, then she is going to have to admit to herself that she is a victim. And there is no going back from how horrible that feels. Or – seriously, just use a little imagination! – how TERRIFYING it would feel to realize that not only is she a victim, but she is the victim of a famous, rich, powerful, universally beloved, famously liberal, even famously feminist person, and no one is going to believe her. 

    Those are just a few reasons. They weren’t hard for me to come up with. There are many others. Okay?

    Also, shame on anyone who thinks that a conversation about interactions between sexually pushy men and “submissive” women shouldn’t be part of the #MeToo conversation. Isn’t this whole thing about the troubling ways in which we’re all socialized, and the manifestations of this at every level?

    That’s all.

    On Writing Jane, Unlimited: Please Don’t Choose Your Own Adventure

    Before I start, a couple of important things:

    There’s a documentary airing on Monday on PBS called Unrest, about MECFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I hope you’ll watch it and pass the word on. Official blurb: “Jennifer Brea is working on her PhD at Harvard and about to marry the love of her life when she’s struck down by a mysterious fever that leaves her bedridden. When doctors tell her ‘it’s all in her head,’ she turns her camera on herself to document her devastating symptoms. Searching for answers, Jennifer discovers a hidden world of millions confined to their homes and bedrooms by ME, commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome. Together, Jen and her new husband, Omar, must find a way to build a life and fight for a cure.”

    MECFS is a devastating illness that has not received the attention it needs from the medical community, for all sorts of f***ed-up reasons. Many of the people with this disease can’t be their own activists – they are too sick. So please, watch the trailer, watch the movie (check your favorite streaming services if you don’t have access to PBS), and pass the word on. Maybe if we make enough noise, something will change in the medical community.

    Next, do you know the animal photography of Tim Flach? He’s got a beautiful portraiture style and I particularly love his presentation of endangered animals. Definitely worth a click today.

    In a similar vein, check out the winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest at London’s Natural History Museum.

    ******

    So. Writing Jane, Unlimited presented a lot of unique challenges. I’ve already written about Webs Versus Lines. Today I want to talk about an aspect of the book that changed over time: its choose-your-own-adventure structure.

    If you’ve read Jane, you know that at a certain point, the book splits off into five different stories. First comes a mystery story, followed by a spy story, followed by a horror story, followed by a sci-fi story, followed by a fantasy story, in that order.

    Well, in most of the early drafts of Jane, at the point where the book splits off into five different stories, it was up to the reader to decide which story to read next.Why? Because I envisioned the book as a choose your own adventure, an interactive kind of book in which the reader is offered choices and gets to decide what happens next. My expectation/hope was that the reader would read all five stories, but in whatever order appealed to them.

    (Choose your own adventures are also often written in the second person point of view, the conceit being that you, the reader, insert yourself into the story, pretending to be the main character. Accordingly, the first many drafts of Jane were indeed written in the second person point of view…which was incredibly challenging and complicated and created all sorts of problems. But I’m going to have to blog about that some other day, when I have more brain space!)

    From the get-go, the reader’s choice aspect created major challenges. Why? Well, let me explain a little bit about the writer’s job of Planting Clues.

    This is a book in which clues matter. There are a LOT of things going on, and a lot of things link to a lot of other things. For example, you might pick up a clue in the mystery story that doesn’t come to fruition until the horror story or the sci-fi story. You might leave the spy story not understanding a part of that story… until you get to an explanatory scene in the fantasy story. It’s my job as the writer to fill the book with hints and clues that will form a sort of web for the reader, a web that they’re gradually able to start filling in for themselves, with those “Aha!” moments, those “Ooo, I bet I know what’s going on!” moments, and those “Holy crap, I didn’t see that coming!” moments, that make reading a book so fun. If you’re having that experience while you’re reading a book, it’s because a careful writer has orchestrated that experience for you from behind the curtain.

    And you know what matters to the reader’s experience of Clue Absorption?

    Timing.

    For example, if the reader reads a clue about a mysterious man in a strawberry beanie on page 10, then doesn’t encounter another clue about the man in the strawberry beanie until page 310… We have busy lives. We put our books down to make dinner or bathe the child or visit our parents in New Jersey. So, there’s a good chance that by the time the reader gets to the man in the strawberry beanie on page 310, they’ll have forgotten about the man in the strawberry beanie on page 10. It’s been too long. The later clue will consequently ring no bells, strike no notes, conjure up no memories. The reader will not have that fun “Aha!” moment where they finally understand who that beanie-wearing fellow is. On the other hand, if the reader is getting clues about the beanie man every fifteen pages, the revelation won’t even be a revelation; it’ll be too obvious.

    In a choose your own adventure, as I’ve already explained, the reader gets to decide in what order they read the book. You know what the writer has absolutely no control over, if the reader gets to decide in what order they read the book?

    Timing.

    If you get to decide which of my five stories you read first, then I have no idea how long it’s been since you last got a clue about the man in the strawberry beanie. Or the woman in the patent leather shoes, or the non-binary person eating a banana split. If I don’t know in what order you’re reading my stories, I don’t know where to plant my clues and follow-up clues. I don’t know if at any point, you’re receiving too many clues or too few. And here’s the thing: if the reader is reading a book, and the clues are piled on top of each other too closely, then the reader feels like the author thinks they’re stupid. If the reader is reading a book, and the clues are too few and far between for the reader to understand or remember… then the reader feels stupid.

    The reader isn’t stupid! The reader is a genius, and a necessary organism in the symbiotic relationship between people and books that gives books meaning. If a book is ever making you feel stupid – or making you feel like the author thinks you’re stupid – the author probably screwed up. Alternately, it’s just not the book for you; no book works for everybody. The latter explanation is okay. The former one, when it happens, is a shame.

    So anyway… around the time I realized second person POV was not serving my story, I also realized that my job would stop being completely impossible if I took back control of the order in which people read the parts of my book. This also meant that I stopped getting early readers who came back to me with the terrible news that they’d read the horror story first, or, even worse, last. I’m so sorry. That must have been horror-ible.

    It also allowed me to nudge my themes in certain ways, and know how my reader was experiencing them. It allowed me to control the pacing of important revelations. It allowed me to guide the reader  from serious to absurd and back again; it allowed me to plant the moments of greatest emotional impact where I thought they fit best. It was such a relief to have control over these things again!

    My brilliant editor, by the way, knew from the beginning that I was going to be better off once I let go of the choose your own adventure conventions. It took me many drafts to understand it for myself. Kathy, thank you for your incredible patience.

    And so. This is why Jane, Unlimited is a book in which Jane gets to choose her own adventure…. but the reader does not. :o)

    Godspeed to all writers.

    We got 17 inches of snow yesterday. Here’s a local hair salon that has the right idea about window decor :o)

    In Which the Author Makes a Star

    I found a pattern for a 20-sided star online (called a Moravian star). 
    While I printed it out, Kevin went through my wrapping paper collection and chose a really lovely one made of an old German map of Europe.
    I cut out twenty of these….
    …to turn into twenty of these.
    At a certain point, it occurred to me that wrapping paper isn’t the strongest stuff in the world. I wanted this to be a star for us to use every year, a hearty star with a long life… so I decided I needed to make understar parts out of cardstock, then attach the wrapping paper parts to the cardstock parts. I began to cut out and create twenty of these.
    I also made the icosahedron (20-sided polyhedron) above out of cardstock, using the pattern below. (Here’s another link to this great pattern, by Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap!)
    Of course I didn’t think about the fact that I might want to blog this later, so my pictures are random and disorganized… sorry about that.
    Next, I glued the twenty points to the icosahedron. This was funny at times. It looked like a weird pointy undersea creature.
    I realized at some point that I needed to cover the edges of the icosahedron with the map paper, because otherwise the white of the cardstock was peeking through.
    Done! In the picture below, it looks huge, but that’s just the weird framing in relation to that chair. It’s maybe eight or ten inches in diameter.
    It was heavier than we were expecting. We stuck a 3M hook to the ceiling above the Christmas tree and did a test run to see if it could support the weight. :o)
    I left for the office and got a text message a few hours later that said, “The shoe fell :(“
    The placement of the hook and shoe had been a little bit of a project, so I was expecting another project with the proper ceiling hooks when I got home. Instead, when I walked through the door this evening, this is what I saw.
    I’m not sure if it’s clear how cool it looks! Kevin suspended it about an inch above the tree, on a transparent string. It looks impossible.
    And that was my star-making adventure :o). Happy December, everyone.