Sunday, March 28, 2010

Location: Amsterdam, Where Fire Is Called "Vlam"

My character Fire's name seems to have created a challenge for almost all of my translations so far -- for a bunch of reasons, but most often because the direct translation of the word "fire" tends to be masculine.

The Italian word for "fire" is the masculine "fuoco." The Italians kept Fire's name as Fire -- but flipping through a copy, I noticed that Archer is named Arciere, the Italian word for "archer." I like it!

In French, the word "fire" would be pronounced like "fear," more or less, which isn't a very nice name, and the French word for "fire" is "feu," which isn't a nice name, either, and is masculine.... so the French renamed Fire, and the book itself, Rouge. Makes sense... but a few things are lost. Primarily, the explicit connection between the character Fire and all the references to actual fire -- flames -- in the book.

I just got my Dutch version of Fire. I don't have a cover to show you yet, but the title is Verraad in de Dalen, which means something along the lines of "Betrayal in the Dells" (which I'm certain sounds less silly in Dutch than it does in English). In the Dutch version, we have my favorite translation of Fire's name yet: "Vlam." Flame! And Archer's name, if I'm reading the book right, is Schutter.

I haven't had a chance to look through the Spanish version yet, but it's called Fuego (the Spanish word for "fire"). I don't know what Fire's name is -- presumably not Fuego, since that's a masculine word.

And that's the news from here. Here being Amsterdam, incidentally, where I'm up to my eyeballs with interviews, but hope to have some time to explore. Today, flying in, I saw gigantic windmills rising out of the North Sea. Later on, I saw windmills on land. It reminded me of the debates in the US whenever a wind farm is being proposed. People want the wind farms to be built offshore, where no one can see them, because "windmills are ugly."

I have never understood this attitude. Windmills are beautiful. They're enormous, graceful creatures, and they harness the wind, which is a beautiful thing to do. I wonder, have these people ever *seen* a windmill? Get with the program, people!!!!


Friday, March 26, 2010

Thoughts on Writing While in Bologna

Is it in Dicey's Song that a teacher accuses a character (Dicey) of plagiarizing an essay, when really, Dicey was only influenced by something she'd been reading at the time? Or is it Julie in Up a Road Slowly, or some other book I read when I was young?

Anyway. Regardless. What I'm reading at any given time definitely has an influence on my writing. Long books especially, because I immerse myself in them for weeks of writing time. I read Sigrid Undset's enormous and gorgeous Kristin Lavransdatter while I was writing Fire, and caught myself calling Fire "Kristin" at one point in my writing -- which would have been super embarrassing had anyone found it, because, um, my name is Kristin. No doubt the reader would have assumed that I was identifying too closely with my characters, whereas, actually, I was so immersed in Kristin Lavransdatter's life that I was pulling her into my writing. This is probably the main reason I'll put down a badly-written book, or a book written in a style I don't care for, rather than finishing it, especially if it's a long book. Otherwise, it can start to infect my own prose in ways that make me uncomfortable.

For this big, long trip I'm on, I decided to allow myself a single book... and since I'm gone for almost a month, I knew it needed to be an enormous book... so I'm rereading, and quite enjoying, The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. And I find that I have to watch myself, because while the writing style suits this book, it wouldn't suit mine and I want to be careful not to carry it into my own work. For example: "At a whisper from the Merlin he bent the knee before the Lady of the Lake." Bent "the" knee? In my work, if someone's kneeling, I want them to be bending "a" knee. Or a bit of dialog: "Has anyone yet sent word to Uther?" My characters would say, "Has anyone told Uther yet?" or "Has Uther been told?" Different constructions for different books.

And the funny thing is, when I'm in a country for a long time where English isn't the native language, I also need to watch that I'm not influenced by my own (horrid) attempts to speak the native language (in this case, Italian), not to mention the English spoken by the non-native English speakers all around me. For example, if I'm walking down the street and a man rounds the corner on his Vespa and knocks my gelato out of my cono, I might yell in Italian, "Mio dio! Pazzo uomo! Sono triste! Sei brutto in quello che fai!" (My God! Crazy man! I am sad! You are ugly in what you do!", more or less) [note: if I actually managed to get all that out correctly, it would be a miracle] [also: I don't usually yell at strangers] And a passerby, recognizing my dreadful American accent, might sympathetically yell in English, "Yes, you idiota, you are the ass of the horse! Look this sad signora who cries!" And everyone would understand everyone; but the problem is that if you're saying and hearing these things all day (not to mention plain-old beautiful Italian, spoken by native Italian speakers), then, when you sit down to write, you might find yourself hearing your own words in a beautiful Italian lilt that doesn't work with English prose, and possibly also constructing your sentences oddly.

It's all pretty fun and interesting to think about.

The sword-fighting today was a blast; I should have pictures at some point. I've added some events in Madrid and Barcelona to my Appearance Schedule -- check it out. There will be no public events in Amsterdam or Antwerp. I'll add more info as I receive it.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


The night before I left for Bologna, an orange cat (of whom I'm very fond) randomly, with no urging from humans, walked a protection circle around me.

I realize this year what a good visit to Bologna I had last year because I keep stumbling across my favorite old haunts and realizing, "Goodness me, I have favorite old haunts!" Some things feel so familiar that I can't believe I've been here only once before. Maybe I lived here in an earlier life.

I've run into so many people I know, and that has been a delight, and I've had planned meetings with so many people I know, and that's also been a delight. BOOK PEOPLE ARE THE WORLD'S BEST PEOPLE, THE WORLD OVER.

Tonight, dinner was at a Sicilian restaurant. Need I say it was delicious? Cannoli are different here at the source! No mascarpone. I sneaked my cannolo into my bag because I was too stuffed with fishies to eat it but unwilling to surrender it to the kitchen.

Today I had an event at noon at the booth of my Italian publisher, De Agostini. I arrived uncertain what was expected of me, but not even slightly worried, because, well, it was the Italians. Sure enough, my first responsibility was to open a bottle of champagne. My next responsibility was to drink said champagne. Not a bad event.

To my readers in Madrid! On 5 April, I'll be signing books and talking to fans at GENERACIÓN X (C/. Puebla, 15 – Madrid) at 19.00.

And that's the news.

(PS - the two carry-ons? Success!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

La la la la *flails*

The Spanish cover of Fire, published by Roca (click to enbiggen) ----->

I always feel just a little bit sad right before a big work trip. I think it's because of Bitterblue, or whatever my WIP is at the time. I just want to write her, and it's hard to imagine being able to write her during so much excitement. During my domestic tour last fall, I managed to cliff-hanger myself right before I left, by which I mean that I was able to time it so that I left just as I was getting to a big, exciting, fun-to-write scene. That made it a lot easier to get writing done while on tour, despite all the distraction -- and to get back into writing full-time once I got home. But I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do that this time. I seem to be bogged down in a muddy section. We'll see what happens.

I also get nervous before a trip like this, and so I do a little meditation and imagine myself floating above the earth, and then out into outer space, outside the solar system, outside the entire galaxy, so that I can really feel how teeny-tiny the earth is. That makes me think of two things. First, that Earth is my planet, my home, and wherever I am on Earth, I belong there. Second, that in this enormous vast universe of space and time, it really isn't anything at all for me to hop from my little section of Earth to some other little section of Earth for a few weeks. I'm barely going anywhere (or anywhen)!

That might be the dumbest (and corniest) thing you've ever heard, but, well, I find it comforting.

I have a goal: I'm going to fit all my stuff into two carry-ons.

(*snork* I'll get back to you on how that works. I AM VERY DETERMINED.)

I leave on Sunday and return in mid-April. It's going to be fabulous trip; I can feel it in my bones. I hope to blog while I'm gone, but can't say when or how often I'll be able to. Be well, everyone! Do something nice for yourself. Do something you've been meaning to do but haven't gotten around to, or haven't been willing to let yourself do. Give yourself permission.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

She Has Dreams, You Know

Hello! Your floopy author here, jumping in on a Tuesday eve with stuff and things.

Check it out -- the cover of Fire, Catalan edition, published by Grup62! Click to see it bigger. I secretly love it, even though it, um, has problematic associations in English :) ----------------->

So, as everyone knows, the best time to decide to write extra things is when you already have way too much to do. This is why I've written a guest post for the lovely Justine Larbalestier. It's one I promised some time ago, about trapezing, writing, and trust, and you can read it on Justine's blog here, complete with silly pictures.

Finally, over at Sarah Miller's blog, Sarah is trying not to let the pigeon procrastinate. (If you're a fan of Mo Willems's Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, this video will be especially delightful, but it's damn cute even if you've never encountered the belligerent pigeon.) It's only a minute and 15 seconds long, and it will make you smile!

It's appropriate to post about Sarah and trapezing on the same day, incidentally, because the trapezing is all her fault.


Monday, March 15, 2010

In Which the Author Gives Herself Over to the Floopy

There are times when I wish I had a butler. If I had a butler, I wouldn't have to figure out how to pack for a month-long trip to Bologna, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Florida in suitcases small enough not to make me crazy on all those airplanes and trains, and, in fact, if I had a butler, he could come to the Boston airport the day I'm flying from Lisbon to Paris to Boston to Washington DC to Florida to take my professional Europe suitcase from me and hand me a freshly-packed suitcase for visiting babies in Florida.

I would like a butler named Grover. He could wear a cape and a helmet and be blue and fuzzy and cute and occasionally double as a waiter in a rather peculiar restaurant. Could we arrange for that, please?

I leave in a week and I'm going out of my mind and would like to warn y'all that things might be a little floopy on the blog for the foreseeable future. I plan to be blogging, but the blogging is apt to be a bit... indicative of insanity? Because I'm trying to do a million things this week while also keeping to my regular writing schedule, and that means there's going to be some flailing.


I'll update my Appearance Schedule as I get new info, and as time allows. For now, I can report that on Friday, March 26, at 4:30 pm, at the Voltone del Podestà in Piazza Maggiore in Bologna's city center, there will be a sword fight on my behalf. I mean, not in my defense or anything. No one will actually be trying to kill anyone. It will all be for show and my Italian publisher assures me that the swords will be harmless. :D? I can only say that if it's anything like any of the other events De Agostini has organized for me, it'll be FUN. More info here.

And now, let's all take a deep breath and get some perspective.


(I'm caramelizing some onions, so that deep breath
smelled really good.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

There's Nothing We Can't Face (Except for Bunnies)

Thursday randutiae!

First, the cover of Fire, French adult edition (published by Orbit France). -------->

Second, a new addition to the Gallery of My Favorite Objects. Here's a bunny I faced the other day:

And here's his antelope (?) and canine (?) friends. I faced them, too.

These fingers puppets were made by Donna Marbet, and I got them at the Cambridge Artists Cooperative in Harvard Square. The nails were painted by me. :o)

Moving on: for you poor, patient souls who are not Buffy fans and put up with me anyway, my title today is a line from a song in the Buffy musical episode. You can listen to it here. And here's my favorite song in the episode, just 'cuz, well, yeah, okay, I'm trying to convert you.

Next up, behind this link is an article by Paul Campos and Marilyn Wann about fat politics -- specifically about how, in their words, "it's simply wrong to judge people based on what they weigh." Read it, do! Hat-tip goes to Rebecca Rabinowitz, who blogs about children's literature, queer theory, fat politics, and other cups of tea at There's a Botticelli Angel Inside, Snapping Beans.

Penultimately, here's a happy thing: it's getting warmer, and my orchids are looking like they're thinking about flowering again. yAt!

Finally: buon viaggio to two very special travelers who depart tomorrow for a place they haven't been in a looooong time. Mom and Dad, have fun in Italy. Mom, if anyone teases you for having a Sicilian accent, kick them in the culo.

And that's today's randutiae.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday Ruminating

A friend recently told me that she can't bear the flying trapeze pictures on my blog, and was even starting to wonder if she was going to have to stop reading my blog because I kept springing trapeze stuff on her. You know, here I've been, completely oblivious in my love of jumping off things, not even realizing that I could be causing problems for my readers who are afraid of heights. I really am sorry! From now on, any trapezey posts will start with a warning of trapezey things ahead.

This post is NOT about the trapeze.... this post is about... I'm not sure, exactly. There's a lot going on these days, and I've been feeling ruminative. (Not to be confused with feeling ruminant.)

There were a lot of cows where I grew up. My favorite thing was walking past them while they stared at me intelligently, unmoving, with grass hanging out of their mouths. Every once in a while, one would move, and you would feel as if you'd been let in on some rare secret cow undertaking. Once I saw one running, nay, BOUNDING, across a field, and I almost fainted. I consulted my sisters afterward. We all agreed that that particular cow had to have been two guys in a cow suit.


There's always a lot going on, and I'm always feeling ruminative, but there's been a special extra level of rumination lately, partly because of a confluence of family and friends, partly because I'm about to embark on a huge trip, partly because of the trapezey stuff, and largely because....... well, here I am, still working hard, every day, at Bitterblue. She's not finished, but every day, she's closer to finished than she was yesterday.

Bitterblue, unfinished, has already taken me longer to write than any other book I've ever written. Today, just out of curiosity, I decided to figure out exactly how long she's taken so far. I went to my writing closet and collected her.

Bitterblue in progress, in her various forms:

On October 13, 2007 in Notebook 10, I wrote the last line of Fire. (Click to see it bigger!)

I remember that day. The next day, I got in my car and drove 800 miles all by myself. (Not randomly. I had a particular destination.) I'm positive that the only reason I was able to drive 800 miles in one day is because I was experiencing temporary superhumanity on account of the adrenaline high from just having finished THE DREAD BOOK.

Turn to the next page in Notebook 10, and it's October 22, 2007. (What was I doing from October 13 to October 22? Revising and transcribing the ending of Fire.) On October 22, I wrote a list called "What I Know For Sure" (meaning, what I knew for sure about Bitterblue at that point). It's not a very long list. And then, on October 24, 2007, I wrote the first lines of Bitterblue. The book grew, very slowly; I wrote steadily; and before too long, on November 21 and 22, I wrote page after page of planny stuff. I remember November 22. I'd gotten far enough along in my opening pages to start to see the holes in my plot that needed some filling before I could continue, so I got a sandwich at Publix, filled my thermos with tea, bundled up, and went to the beach (in Northern Florida, not, like, Maine!), where I sat until I figured some things out. It was WINDY and I was the only one there. I and the pelicans. It was one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had. :o)

On December 8, 2007, I seem to have started the book all over again, because I see the first lines of Bitterblue again, and they're a lot closer to how they read now. And from then on -- with breaks for Fire revisions and book travel -- I wrote steadily through three more notebooks, and I'm still writing, now in Notebook 14. Before Bitterblue, the longest it ever took me to write a first draft was a year and a half. My keen deductive powers lead me to conclude that I've now been writing Bitterblue for just over two and a third years, and I'm still going. Why is it taking so long? Well, is there some reason it shouldn't? Some reason that actually has anything to do with how books are written, anyway? Every book is different. Bitterblue is longer, more complicated, and more ambitious than anything I've ever done. A book takes a long time.

I like hard work.

Life is good.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Which Fantasy Is Hard on the Brains. (A.K.A. This Post is Too Long?)

So, I've decided I want to play the triangle in a production of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird. Somewhere on this big, round earth, there must be a symphony orchestra facing the tragic circumstance of having to cancel its upcoming performance of the Firebird for lack of a triangle player, mustn't there? I've looked at the score and I know I can do it! I'll go anywhere! (By the way, that video is of Stravinsky himself conducting in 1965, at the age of 82. Check out the cane. Can you guess how jealous I am of that triangle player?)

Here's a beautiful video of a rocket breaking the sound barrier amidst a layer of ice crystals. Hap-tip, JD, and, for the curious among you, more info can be found here.

JD, incidentally, happens to be one of the smarty-pants experts who answers my endless questions as I research various parts of my novels. JD used to be a physicist, and for Bitterblue, he helped me with light waves. Why? Because one of my characters -- let's call this person "X" -- sees not with his/her eyes, but with an innate ability to sense the presence and nature of physical matter around him/her. I found myself wondering, can X tell what color things are? Because color is made of light waves, and light waves are teeny -- too teeny for X to sense? In addition to which -- as JD explained -- the process by which things appear to us to be certain colors can be enormously complicated, depending on the thing. JD taught me all about color and light and how it works -- and, segueing to philosophy, which he also knows about -- helped me realize that really, the question I needed to ask myself was less, Can X see color?, and more, "What is a thing?" Is a wooden chair a particular arrangement of wood and nails? Or is a wooden chair a CHAIR? Does X perceive a wooden chair to be wood arranged in the shape of a chair, and know, from its recognizable material and shape, that it is a chair? Or does a chair emit a certain "chair-ness" that is immediately recognizable to X as chair-ness? Whereas, a table made of the exact same wood would emit a sort of "table-ness"? Does it matter more what it's made of or how it's used? Or, is what it is the only thing that matters? What is a thing?

This is an example of the crazy stuff I can find myself needing to decide as I write a book, especially a fantasy. Here are a few more unique to fantasy:

What time is it? In our world, as you know, time is divided into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. But the divisions are a little bit arbitrary, right? Not so much with day and year length -- those depend on the rotation of the planet and the time it takes to revolve around the sun and all that -- and, okay, months are kind of, sort of, defined by the shenanigans of the moon -- but why is a week 7 days? Why is a day 24 hours -- why is an hour as long as it is? And why are there 60 minutes in an hour, rather than 100 shorter units, for example, that add up to the same amount of time? Etc., etc.

Have you ever noticed that fantasy writers are often a little non-specific about times and dates in their novels? Or else, they've made up a system entirely different from ours, that can sometimes be hard to follow? I guess I shouldn't speak for other writers, but in my case, the non-specificity is because I'm conscious, all the time, of my story not actually taking place on our planet. What is the likelihood of the existence of another planet that rotates at exactly the same rate as ours, circles its star in exactly the same amount of time, AND has come up with exactly the same time system as ours -- 60-second minutes, 60-minute hours, 24-hour days? It strikes me as kind of unlikely. However, as it turns out, in one section of Bitterblue, the time system matters. It matters to the minute. And it matters in a way that would be hopelessly confusing to the reader (and to me, and to Lance, my trusty Mathematics and Time Expert), were I to try to make up a whole new system of time. So I've taken the plunge and just gone ahead and established that on the planet of my books, there are 60 minutes to the hour and 24 hours to the day, and noon and three o'clock and half past five -- and so on -- all mean the same things that they mean here on Earth. I've taken the plunge, but I still worry about how unlikely it is!

How Many Letters are in the Alphabet? Similarly, for reasons I won't reveal here, it matters in Bitterblue how many letters there are in the alphabet of this world. And, as with the time thing, it matters in a way that would be hopelessly confusing to the reader if I made up a whole new alphabet that doesn't have 26 letters. So I've had to take this plunge, too, and establish that Bitterblue and her friends write in a language of 26 letters -- even though the likelihood of this, on another planet, where they are not actually speaking English and, for goodness sake, maybe don't even HAVE letters in the sense that we do, is slim. (I cannot WAIT to see what my translators, especially in languages that don't have 26 letters, do with this. I think I'm going to be presenting some, if not all, of them with a challenge!)

Where Did This Language Come From, Anyway? Guess what? One of the characters in Bitterblue is a lexicographer. He's writing a dictionary. But, if you've read Graceling, you may have inferred that the language spoken in the seven kingdoms has pretty much developed in isolation, without the influence of other languages -- or, at least, without any influence in the historical memory of the people. Know what that means? It means that Bitterblue's language almost certainly has fewer words than English, which has had many parents and influences. In other words, I'm writing Bitterblue's story using more words than Bitterblue and her people would ever have available to them.... and it means I have to be careful about what I say about the dictionary that Character Y is writing! Why? Well, maybe this example will help to explain what I mean: in English, the words "brotherly" and the words "fraternal" mean -- or at least, sometimes mean -- the same thing: "of, relating to, or involving brothers" (the first Merriam-Webster definition of "fraternal"). The word "fraternal" comes from the Latin word for brother, frater. The word "brother," on the other hand, seems to have its roots in "the Germanic, from the Indo-European," according to my Shorter OED. We have multiple words for "brotherly" because of the multiple influences that helped the English language to grow. But chances are, Bitterblue and her people have only one word for "brotherly." Now, I can use both "fraternal" and "brotherly" as I write my book. With some exceptions, all of English is available to me, and I'm not going to make myself crazy on that account. But it would probably be best for my lexicographer, specifically, while talking about lexicography, not to announce a whole string of synonyms for the word "brotherly," because chances are, it wouldn't be realistic to assume that the seven kingdoms would have all those synonyms.

Am I making even the slightest sense? Actually, I'm not, because as Lance, who also happens to be a true Linguistics Expert, pointed out to me the other day, even a language developed in isolation will have some synonyms. But, I want to avoid a scene in which my lexicographer -- who is talkative and likes to talk about words -- dramatically lists a string of synonyms he's working on for his dictionary, synonyms that in our language of English were derived from different languages. Because in my opinion, that would be a sloppy translation on my part. Which is ridiculous, perhaps -- especially since throughout the novel, I mention words that he's defining that have a whole range of derivations -- and probably even have him define some of his words using other words that have unmatching derivations -- and the novel is no doubt full of other sloppy things I've failed to catch -- but well, YOU JUST TRY TO WRITE ABOUT A LEXICOGRAPHER IN AN IMAGINARY WORLD WHERE THE LANGUAGE GREW IN ISOLATION, USING ENGLISH AS YOUR WRITING LANGUAGE, AND SEE HOW IT GOES FOR YOU.


As Lance wrote yesterday, "I'm not convinced I'm making any more sense than you feared you weren't." (You were, BTW, Lance, and thanks for your help. ^_^)

I'll just say that if there are any errors in anything I've blogged today, they are errors in my understanding and expression, not errors in JD's or Lance's knowledge or explanations.

One more thing: I understand that Tolkien is the person to read, and to read about, if you want to watch a master fantasy writer make up working languages, then translate them into English. I'm woefully ignorant when it comes to any of this, having only ever read The Hobbit and LOTR once and having read very little about Tolkien -- but perhaps that's where you (and I) should go if you (and I) want to read thoughts on the matter that actually make sense!

If this stuff interests you, you might also like my recent article in the Horn Book Magazine, which is about some of the challenges I faced while writing Graceling. Those challenges were less abstruse, but just as ridiculous and frustrating.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What does an author do with an unexpected weekend at home?

Well -- once she's dealt with the surprise and disappointment -- she hoards it, like a squirrel hoarding acorns for winter. In three weeks, you see, I fly to Italy and start my European tour, and I'm going to be gone for almost a month. I don't have a lot of weekends at home in my near future. And weekends at home are the absolute best for writing, because on the weekend, distracting businessy things stop, and it's easier for me to focus.

As I write this, the weekend is still happening, so I'm going to stop writing this now and get back to hoarding. I leave you with part of a lengthy text message exchange I had this weekend with my sister, secret codename: Cordelia, who is highly fond of a particular song from The Sound of Music:
Me: At trapeze class there's loud music. Yesterday, Sound of Music medley. Have had Climb Every Mountain in head ever since, except in yr voice instead of reverend mother's.

Cordelia: I hope you have it in your head every day of your life for as long as you live.
There now, I bet I've got it into your head, too, dear reader. Just not in Cordelia's voice, unless you're one of the few people who have had the, um, pleasure of that experience. :)