Queen Elizabeth had died and a young princess was being crowned Queen Anne. She was certainly not a princess that actually exists in real life. Long, lovely black hair that she wore down for the occasion, swept over her shoulder and flowing down the front of her white dress, obscuring all the medals and sash. She had thin silver crown.
I was a flutist playing in the orchestra for the coronation. Anne started crying in the middle of her coronation speech. A crowd of ministers with pelican heads rushed to console her and guide her away from the crowds. We had to stop playing and wait for her to return. But she didn't.
Ages went by. We finally started playing just to entertain everyone, anything we could think of. Then no one could think of another song and we all got up and started dancing with our instruments and each other on the floor of Westminster Cathedral until the flute section all turned into crows and flew up to roost on the buttresses. Anne was hiding up there, too. Her black hair flowed under her gown to become big black wings.
And then: alarm clock.
A dream from last night ever-so-slightly too long for Twitter:
Queen Elizabeth had died and a young princess was being crowned Queen Anne. She was certainly not a princess that actually exists in real life. Long, lovely black hair that she wore down for the occasion, swept over her shoulder and flowing down the front of her white dress, obscuring all the medals and sash. She had thin silver crown. I was a flutist playing in the orchestra for the coronation.
Anne started crying in the middle of her coronation speech. A crowd of ministers with pelican heads rushed to console her and guide her away from the crowds. We had to stop playing and wait for her to return. But she didn’t.
Ages went by. We finally started playing just to entertain everyone, anything we could think of. Then no one could think of another song and we all got up and started dancing with our instruments and each other on the floor of Westminster Cathedral until the flute section all turned into crows and flew up to roost on the buttresses. Anne was hiding up there, too. Her black hair flowed under her gown to become big black wings.
And then: alarm clock.
So remember how like, a million years ago, I post a list of 25 things I wanted to do before death if I believed in making lists like that, which I don’t? And then I updated it because I’d done a bunch of the stuff on it? (That list is seriously gutted now and I am so proud of myself, honestly. Most of the stuff that’s left I don’t even know if I really want anymore.)
Probably not, as it was a million years ago and dinosaurs roamed the Internet, posting angrysaurus comments and learning to open doors.
Well, one of the things I listed on the update was to go Somewhere Else and write a book. I’ve thought about this so often–whenever I’m in a new city for more than a few days. Writing books is the great activity of my life. Some people look at place and imagine the club scene–I imagine what it would be like to write a book there. For me, the process of writing is such an otherspace–out of my own everyday and into the unknown and odd and untethered to such things as like, a normal workday clock or regular meals.
I’ve wanted it for ages. To see how another place would affect the book, would affect me. It’s not even as expensive as you might think, if you are a bargain hunter like me, and if you write as quickly as I do. I had a taste of it in Budapest with Theodora Goss last year and it was amazing. I’ll never not be in love with Budapest. But it wasn’t enough time, in the end.
SO THE POINT IS OMG I’M DOING IT IN LIKE TWO WEEKS.
I’m headed to Melbourne, Australia (not Florida as my weather app keeps insisting I must mean) for six weeks from April 14th-May 29th. I’ll be working on Radiance, my new adult book (yay! So excited to write for adults again!) with Tor, based on the short The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew. It’s my hope and my design to write it entirely in that time, but we’ll see if I am actually boss enough to pull that off. Either way, a massive portion of it will be done in Melbourne.
Why Melbourne? Well, it’s pretty amazingly badass there. I fell in love at Worldcon ’10 and I’ve been back since and it’s just an amazing city–not to mention one obsessed with Art Deco, which happens to be the aesthetic of Radiance, with a skyline that looks like a made for TV SF movie about some glistening offworld colony. Also they make the best coffee ever and public art everywhere and ocean and penguins and when I’m there it will be autumn. Two autumns in one year! I know Aussie autumn is not New England autumn but I can’t help being excited about a double dose of my favorite season. I also have friends there so it’s not just completely new and strange and would take six weeks to figure out how to do my laundry.
Through the magic of Airbnb I have an apartment lined up in St Kilda (with laundry). I’ll be keeping as much of an organized schedule as I can in order to make the book go, but I’m definitely not a complete shut-in and I’ll be around if people feel like grabbing a drink sometime. I’ll blog as much as I can. I know how insanely lucky I am to be able to do this, believe me. It seems impossible, even now. I am so grateful that a combination of good fortunes allowed this to happen for me.
I’m crazy excited, though overwhelmed by the idea of packing for six weeks. I’ll be leaving from NYC the day after my rescheduled reading/conversation with Lev Grossman at Community Bookstore. This does definitely mean I won’t be at Wiscon or the Nebulas (which is a bummer, but the stars aligned and I couldn’t pass up the chance to cross a thing off the list of things) and I may or may not be at BEA depending on Factors.
Mostly, though, I’m just squeeing all over my insides. Wish me monsters!
So those events I had at the end of the Fairyland 2 tour that were cancelled by Hurricane Sandy? Rescheduled!
I’ll be reading at Water Street Books in Exeter, New Hampshire at 6pm on April 5th.
And the CRAZY AWESOME “In Conversation” with me and Lev Grossman has been rescheduled for April 11th, 7pm, at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn.
Hope to see folks there!
So it is -3 outside, as glittering and hard and unforgiving a morning as we have yet had this winter and the car is in the shop so I am putting off walking through the crystal shards of the cold to get to my office and THUS I will procrastinate by telling you about my new favorite thing of forever.
After the fashion of Feminist Ryan Gosling (which I love, though my heart will always belong to Literary Agent Ryan Gosling), Academic Coach Taylor is a meme complex using images of Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights and encouraging/motivational/tough love messages concerning the life of a graduate student and/or academic. Some of them are funny, some of them are full of awesome critspeak that makes me giggle, and some of it is OBVIOUSLY SPEAKING DIRECTLY TO ME AND MY WORNOUT BATTERED WRITERHEART.
truepenny once said, and I have quoted her SO MUCH, that it’s amazing how she chose a career that was exactly like being in grad school all the time, only it was always finals. This is a True Fact About Book Life. I dropped out of graduate school like a DANGEROUS LEATHER WEARING PUNK SLACKERBOSS, which makes me at least a non-practicing academic if I am being generous with myself. But also my mother was in her doctoral program for my entire adolescence and teen years so my brother and I were looked after by the denizens of our grad student housing complex who needed the babysitting money, from the entymologist who had pink hair and did not help my lifelong fear of insects IN ANY WAY by keeping larvae and grasshoppers for barbecuing in her freezer to the feminist theorist whose aged mother taught me to make pot stickers while she told me all about the position of women in 17th century China to the mathematician couple who gave me a new puzzle every time I came over.
My heart is an ivory tower. My mind is a student housing building where every apartment is something mad and new and beautiful.
And thus I see the truth of how very much like being a constant student being a full time writer is. You are always cramming. You never know enough. Every book I ever write is a dissertation I never wrote. Long time readers will know I occasionally suffer paroxysms of guilt over never finishing my own advanced degrees, though I’m getting zen with that now, in large part because I do the work–I even teach–I just get to put Wyveraries and sentient cities in it, too.
TONS of Academic Coach Taylor is SUPER RELEVANT to writers of fiction and I’m not going to lie, I cried a little reading through them. (I’m sure that’s wholly unrelated to the fact that the night before I drank about seven cups of coffee because I thought I made decaf but I did not make decaf. So I stayed up the entire night watching Tiny Fey era Saturday Night Live and occasionally take a break to chase my dogs around singing the Andy Griffith theme in a terrifying minor key. I was wrecked.)
Now, I love Friday Night Lights. I never thought I could love a realist football show, but I can and I do. There are so many amazing things about it, from the naturalistic acting to the cinematography to holy cats the music to the writing which even in its faltering (hello murderplot) faltered interestingly, took risks, and had Lessons for the Long Form Fictioneer. And of course, of course, the only healthy marriage I’ve ever seen on television, which is not based on an assumption of the essential antipathy of men and women, which does not present a wasteland nightmare of heterosexuality strewn with skulls and bile and vicious, intractable tank warfare presented as comedy. And the choice made at the end of the show, a difficult, complicated choice, is simply not one I believe has ever been made on American television. (I won’t spoil it.) And like it or not, the choices we see theatricalized are ones we are more likely to make in life, because we have models for how its done.
Coach Taylor and Tami Taylor are beloved of the internet. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are both trying to break out of the bone-deep goodness of those roles and the utter discomfort caused by seeing Tami on American Horror Story and Eric in his new Sundance film is a fascinating meta-play. But the Taylors are Mom and Dad for a goodly portion of my funny little over-media’d generation, (certainly not everyone, FNL is a show that clung to Not-Being-Cancelled by its fingernails every year of its five year run, but when Mitt tries to steal their slogan, you know even he gets that whatever “family values” means to anyone who doesn’t define them as hating women, gays, the disabled, and non-whites, are summed up in these characters) and I frankly think they are better at it than any Brady or Cleaver.
THUS. I look at Academic Coach Taylor and I wonder if the reason I myself and academics and liberals and feminists and all those filthy, dirty words that mean the Kind of People Who Don’t Like Football And Real Men love Eric and Tami is because they demonstrate two things few of us had.
Because look, my dad was nothing like Coach Taylor. Even dads who think they are Coach Taylor, and I know at least one, aren’t. And actually Coach Taylor isn’t–the very take no shit but love the size of the planet aspect of him is not one he trains on his daughter much. He doesn’t push her or demand excellence the way he does with his players. Even in the world of the show, Eric and Tami are tasked with being Everyone’s Parents, and that makes them ever so slightly less Their Own Kids’ Parents. But the fact is a whole lot of kids my age had very absentee mothers and fathers, or mothers and fathers, as in my case, truly messed up by divorce and the hypocrisy of their own parents and the constant flux of contradicting expectations flooding them. We were the latchkey kids everyone was so goddamned worried about back in the 70s and 80s. By the way–when I go to schools and talk about my books now? The word latchkey kid means absolutely nothing to students or teachers. Everyone is a latchkey kid now.
And the other thing is that we who are not football players and athletes rarely got the kind of motivation applied to high-performing jocks. They get the awe-inspiring pep talks and the tough love but hard-won pride and camaraderie and cheerleaders and very, very clear markers of success–the State Championship Ring has importance second only to the One Ring in the FNL mythos. The intellegentsia has no mechanism for that. Sure, all those slogans and butt-patting and go team go is often very hollow and jingoistic and empty and meant to cover up massive overspending on athletic programs in the real world. But if it didn’t inspire people to perform, they wouldn’t make any more sports movies.
So most of us, even if we had present parents, never had anyone pump us up for the work of the mind. And we wish we had. Because we’re human and we want to be pumped up. Because academics, far from being the anemic, gormless Morlocks of the library, are really fucking passionate about what they do.
But even when you’re passionate, even when what you do with your life is exactly what you always wanted and you have so many more stories to tell and so much inside you you want to let out, even then, sometimes you need someone to drag you up out of your funk and make you do windsprints and be proud of you when you fail to fail.
So I love Academic Coach Taylor even though he is a meme because he is a meme, in the classical sense. He’s the Dad we didn’t have and the Coach we wish existed for people like us. And he wants us to succeed, even when its halftime and it looks impossible.
Clear eyes, full hearts. Can’t lose.
I’ve been putting off this post for awhile, because it’s a bit of a bummer and because it’s the end of an era, but also because making it involves admitting that I cannot do All the Thing All the Time.
The Omikuji Project will be coming to an end in April.
It’s been five years since I decided to start writing short stories every month and sending them all over the world. It’s been an amazing, incredibly rewarding project. I’ve met people (and through meet-ups, people have met people) that I would not have met otherwise, I’ve been able to experiment and stretch my craft, I’ve had the tactile, primate pleasure of making something physical every month. (And often burning off my fingerprints with sealing wax.)
But it’s also been five years of writing a new, original story every single month. A story not published elsewhere, and of a not insignificant length. A story a month alongside the novels, poems, and other short fiction piled up on my plate. It’s a lot, a tremendous amount of work, both in the composition and the tactile, primate task that covers my dining room table once a month: the folding, sealing, stuffing, licking, and stamping of two hundred copies.
It’s gotten to be too much. Members will notice that the stories have been getting out late. I’m proud of the stories, still, but between touring and writing novels and trying to keep all my projects plus my head above water, a new story every month plus the labor of preparing them when I’m often not even in the country, is getting harder and harder.
I feel tremendously guilty about this, but I have to look out for my energy level in order to keep producing fiction for the foreseeable future. Burnout is a real thing and I don’t want to meet it in a dark alley. So I think this is a step I have to take. It may make room for more experiments down the line; it may just give me a rest, but either way, I think it’s time to draw the curtain with as much grace as possible.
Five years is an AMAZING run for a crowdfunded art project. The community created by the subscribers to Omikuji is warm and deep and invested, and I am so grateful to all of you for coming on this journey with me. So many of you are astonishingly talented artists in your own right, I’m honored by every person who opened that cream colored envelope every month and gave some of their time and energy to my stories. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
To preemptively answer some questions:
Most of our year-long subscriptions run out in April, as that was the date of the first story back in 2008. If yours runs out at another time, please contact me at my first name at gmail (NOT on Facebook, please) so we can work out a refund or a trade in kind. Monthly subscribers will simply have their subscription cancelled in April, no work is required on your part.
I will be doing another anthology of stories to accompany This Is My Letter to the World: Cycle One. I have not decided whether to put all the stories together into one or simply make a Cycle Two, nor have I decided whether to do it through Lulu again or seek out a small press to handle the collection. Once my February 1st novel deadline is under the belt, I’ll be able to sit down and make those choices. But there will be a print anthology purchasable by anyone.
Until April, I will continue making back-issues available. The site will be updated with pricing information on that score very shortly.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask in the comments or on whatever social media site you prefer.
Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who has been a part of this project, however briefly or long. It has been an extraordinary experience, and I hope it has been for you as well. Most projects of any quality come to an end point, and though we have reached it, there are more and new and exciting things to come. Life is long and unpredictable; so is fiction.
Thank you for helping me to make a whole lot of it in a very unique way. You made possible, made real, every one of those stories. And that’s straight-up magic.
YOU KNOW YOU WERE WAITING FOR IT.
Ok, not really, no one waits with baited breath for these, but I can barely remember what I’ve published in any given year, so here is a reminder for 2012, should you be inclined to nominate works for awards. Hugo nominations are open, Nebulas will be opening soon, and you can actually nominate for the World Fantasy Awards exactly as you would the Hugos, though many don’t seem to know that.
If you’re not the nominating type, please enjoy things I have made!
Turns out I can totally remember what I published in 2012 though! After the avalanche of books in 2011, 2012 was a fairly slim year. Here’s the fiction I committed:
Poems (Eligible for the Rhysling Award):
What the Dragon Said: A Love Story (Tor.com)
Mouse Koan (Tor.com)
Aquaman and the Duality of Self/Other, America, 1985 (Tor.com)
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Feiwel and Friends)
The Girl Who Fell Beneath is eligible for the Hugo Novel category (YA novels rarely make it, but there’s no YA category yet. One can always hope.) and the Andre Norton Award, and it’s also eligible for the Nebula Novel category.
I’m pretty proud of my output this year. It’s less than usual, but I think I did good work. That’s all I can ask of myself. (Repeat until true.)
So like a
boss genius, I locked myself out of my office last night.
I left the key on my desk and locked the door behind me and I couldn’t find my spare anywhere and the landlord K (who lives two doors down) wasn’t home to open it and All My Book was on the office computer and I stood outside like a Victorian waif pawing at the window.
I called the landlord, left a message, ate dinner. We went back to see if we could get a window open–we could not. In frustration, Dmitri tried the door again, which had DEFINITELY been locked before dinner–and it was open! Hooray! Christmas is saved!
We figured K had come and opened it for us and just hadn’t bothered to call back or anything. Got my daily work done and didn’t think anymore of it.
K called this morning to arrange meeting me to open the office. I explained that it was open a few hours later and we thought she’d done it–she had, clearly, not.
Whereupon K laughed and said “Oh, well, that’s the building, though. It has a history of things like that. Radios turning on and off, that sort of thing. All benign, but I’m sure it won’t be the first time something strange happens there! Have a good day!”
Oh my god, I love this island. And New England. And Maine. My office has a friendly ghost that lets me in when I lock myself out. Of course it does. Caspar the Friendly Locksmith.
Best haunting ever.
Well, hello there, Internet.
I am sure it has not gone unnoticed that I have fallen into a black hole of radio silence the likes of which I have not indulged in since, well, before I started blogging in the first place.
YOU GUYS. THIS JUST IN, HOT OFF THE PRESSES: DEPRESSION IS NOT AWESOME.
I’ll try to thumbnail this as best I can: I’ve been depressive all my life. And for the last eight years I have run as far as I can as fast as I can as hard as I can, using myself up on every level in order to make it as a writer, in order to get out of the morass I’d made of my life in my early twenties, in order to get to Maine and get to self-sufficient and in general get to where I am now. I have had to face up to the fact that energy, my energy, is actually finite.
In short: you know how you guys keep asking me how I write so many books and blog and write articles and go on tour for months and make circuses and cook and knit and raise a billion animals? And I always answer “Badly,” and everyone laughs? The answer is badly, it has always been badly, and I only held it all together by sheer force of will, desire to do what I do forever, a fair amount of good Puritan shame at not Accomplishing Everything At The Same Time All the Time and must be Perfect Provider and Perfect Housewife Both At Once, and the energy that comes from being young and driven and compulsive in one’s work habits.
After all, if you can work so hard you lose sight of everything else in the world and pitch yourself face-first into an exhaustive breakdown, anything less than that is slacking, right? Well. Quite so. 2012 was meant to be a year of mostly rest and then touring like a mad Wheeler for the autumn and winter. Instead I was sick for the first four months of the year, which put every single other thing on my schedule back four months and left me no time to recover from the craziness of 2011. And then I spent the summer in Europe (poor me, I know, but it was mostly working) and had a bare breath of being home before a tour that ran six weeks and god knows how many cities and just took everything out of me.
Tours are magic, tours are a gift from the publishing gods these days, tours give so much beauty and love. Some truly, truly amazing things have happened to me in the last few months. Holy shit you guys, I was in Time Magazine. Twice. But touring takes a level of social energy that borders on a superpower. And it takes time to recharge. And I haven’t had a moment to recharge in two years.
And I am writing the third Fairyland novel. When a novel is going well, I am Chipper and Glee and Want to Talk to Everyone. When it isn’t, I can’t bear any kind of communication that isn’t between me and the book. I think this book and I are finally starting to get along, and my chest is starting to feel less heavy about anything involving typing.
I have neglected this blog and the Internet and the world most heinously. I am going to try to be better, without hurting myself. That’s probably a good mantra for the year. But I knew my depression was a horse of a different color this time because I stopped blogging. I’ve blogged for twelve years, no matter how dire anything was. I stopped playing video games. I stopped knitting. I stopped all the things that brought me pleasure because experiencing pleasure caused me so much anxiety I couldn’t even face it.
This is personal stuff, I know. I’m talking about it because I know so many people suffer from depression and it’s not talked about and especially not talked about if you are an Type A Over-Accomplisher Semi-Semi-Public Figure. So I’m saying: I’ve been in a dark place. Exhaustion and sickness and hitting the energy wall and Overly Dramatic Life Things I won’t get into. I’ve sought medication for depression for the first time; it didn’t go so well and I’m debating whether to pursue that course further. At least I’m home for awhile. Catching up on everything I’ve let slide. And making fiction again.
But I’m trying to come out. It’s not a popping out of the ground with YMCA arms thing. It’s a process. And step one is coming out of online hiding.
So hi. It’s been awhile.
Hi guys–I’m at an airport on my way to Houston. I have eaten a fried chicken sandwich for the first time in a year and I’m not really sorry!
Big correction–the Book Cellar Event in Chicago is on Saturday, October 13th at 7pm, not Friday, October 12th, as previously reported. Some confusion on the office side. So sorry if this is confusing! I hope to see a bunch of you in the Windy City.
You never know what’s coming next in Fell Beneath, and the most roundabout and whimsical turns always come back around to the main story and its payoff…As masterful as the first novel.
OMG Happy Book Birthday The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There!
Fairyland is a grown up series, officially. It has a pretty purple baby sibling and I’m just hoping, with fingers and thumbs crossed, that it touches you all the same way.
It’s still nearly impossible for me to believe that the dashed-off motif in Palimpsest has become this enormous thing, a five book series, illustrated and gorgeous and a few people even love it. And now it has the sequel–the one I intended to write as soon as I put the last sentence on Circumnavigated. The one about September’s shadow.
This would never have happened without those who were so supportive, who gave their energy to the book, who told me not to give up. That means my editor and team at Feiwel and Friends, but it also means everyone who read Fairyland when it was online and thought it was important. Thank you so much. I’ve never known anything like the life of this series. The internet, every once in awhile, can be magic.
This is only the beginning of the journey. Fairyland is a series, and we will all get to go back quite soon in the third book. But for today, it’s beginning again, and I wish you all shadows and dodos and Revels as we set off for fairy shores once more.
Which is a nice way of saying ZOMG FAIRYLAND IS OUT HOLY CATS.
Thank you to everyone–simply, everyone who has been there, who supported the project, who donated, who read along, who pre-ordered, who bought the first book and told me how it made them feel, who talked about it online. Thank you to my tribe. To parents and librarians and teachers. And to my publishers who have been a dream of support and love. There are not enough thanks in the world.
And here’s everything you need to know about The Girl Who Fell Beneath!
September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.
Fans of Valente’s bestselling, first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem. . . .
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local independent bookseller, and basically anywhere you care to look for books. You should be able to get it on the ground at all the big booksellers, too. It’s available on the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, and most other electronic formats.
AND GET THIS. The audiobook? Is read by none other than s00j! S.J. Tucker lent her astonishing acting talents to the story–and I cannot think of anyone better to read to you in the night than she. You want to hear this, I promise.
If you want your copy signed, mail it to me with the cost of return postage and I will sign it for you. Email me for my address if you don’t already know it. Or find me on the tour at any one of the readings and conventions I’ll be doing in 2012. There are a lot.
I know there are some of you who just can’t afford it, but genuinely want to read it. If you really, really honestly can’t afford it, I have a few spare copies and I’ll consider trades. Good old bartering system.
How You Can Help (if, you know, you’re inclined to do things like helping out authors. And if you like the book.)
Buy the book. Obviously, this is the best way to support the book–and ensure that there will be many more in the series. Buying a copy during the first week and even doing so today is a huge slice of awesome–it’s the most important week in a book’s life. It’s when the strange math of the NYT list can inexplicably blow your way, as it did with the first book. If you want to do me a solid, buy it this week. I really appreciate it.
Come to my readings in the next month. Come the show, be part of the tribe. I’m in Denver this week, and the first reading, and therefore launch party, is at The Boulder Bookstore tonight at 6:30 pm. Please come if you’re in the area! All my other tour dates are here.
Review it. On your blog, or elsewhere if you work for a review site or a magazine. I can send a PDF if you haven’t gotten the book from other sources. Physical ARCs are also available. I’d like to hold review copies for people who review for venues, however.
Put up a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Totally easy and a nice way to say what you thought even if you don’t review professionally. Don’t be shy!
Ask your local booksellers to carry it, if they don’t already. This is important, as it is still the place where a whole lot of people buy books, and the brick and mortar ordering system determines a lot of a book’s success.
Check it out from your local library. If they don’t have it, request it. This can result in both you reading the book for free, and increased library orders, which are awesome. Also, libraries: we need them, yo.
Link to the book in your journals/Twitter/Facebook/websites–Spread the word! And if you know kids who might like it–tell them. Please do get the word out, if you can. All books need help to get in front of readers’ eyeballs. If you want me to cross-link to any of your work in exchange, let me know.
If you link to Fairyland in your journals, blogs, Twitter, or Facebooks any time in the next week, leave a comment with the link in THIS POST and I will enter you in a drawing to win a Fairyland prize package! You can use OpenID if you don’t have an LJ account.
The prize box contains:
A complete set of all my novels and standalone novellas
A box of local Maine chocolates
A bottle of Maine blueberry mead
My reading copy of Fairyland 2 at the end of the tour–with all my notes, bookmarks, and a few fun things from the journey tucked in.
My heart is very full today. I hope I can hug as many of you as I can on the tour. Magic happens, for reals, and I thank you all for helping to make this spell do its work.
A couple of corrections:
The Schuler Books event is at the LANSING store, not Grand Rapids. Please come to the Lansing store! I really hope to see the Detroit gang there as it’s been FOREVER since I’ve been able to get out to Michigan.
I’ll be at the Southern Festival of Books all weekend, but my panel is on SUNDAY October 14th, “Saving the World When Grown-Ups Can’t”.
I have free days in Cincinnati and Philadelphia (I have one in Chicago, too, but I’m pretty booked up socially for that one). I’m hoping some of my Cleveland friends will be up for making the drive, and that my Philly friends have some free time! (Cincinnati on the 16th, Philadelphia on the 24th.)
I’m flying out on Monday morning. This is not the longest tour I’ve ever done (Palimpsest clocked in at about 4 months total, and I don’t see anything beating that because oh god I’d die) but it’s the most packed and professional. I’ve toured on my own dime, couchsurfed, sold books out of the back of a truck. This time I get to stay in hotels like a grown-up and that is awesome. But having toured so much in my brief eight years as a professional author, I’m starting to get a handle on the things that become precious when you’re on the road. I WILL NOW TELL YOU ABOUT THEM. (In case you guys go on tour, or business trips, or whatever. If you have other advice, leave it in the comments!)
Fresh, Homecooked Food
Honestly, you eat like crap on tour. You’re in all these strange cities where you don’t know anyplace to eat well. Your schedule is so crazy you just grab whatever you can find and put it in your face. Then you end up having to sweat out your lunch in an auditorium in front of a couple of hundred kids. On the very rare occasions when you can get food that is cooked at home and not at a restaurant, or something leafy and dark green (not the anemic green of fast food salads), or anything that feels wholesome and not like another layer of extruded protein product from the labs of Pluto, your body just weeps from gratitude.
On tour, you are on all the time. You put on your best extrovert pants and smile and laugh and try to make connections. It’s great. And it’s exhausting. If you don’t find a way to be alone (and awake, sleeping doesn’t count) at least a little every day, you’ll break yourself. Or at least I will break myself. Like willpower, social shininess is a finite resource and it needs recharging. It’s part of taking care of yourself–which I am, as nine years of this blog can attest, not very good at.
As much as you need alone time, it’s always the most amazing feeling when people you’re close to, real, solid friends, show up to see you and take you for beer after. It’s like a warm bath–these are people you know how to interact with, they’re easy to be around, and they’ll understand when you can barely remember your hotel’s name. They’re a connection to your personal life, rather than your professional identity. OMG, friends are the best.
Like the Kim Stanley Robinson quote which is my new mantra says, patterns are important. Shipboard life is still life. You need some kind of patterns to carry you through. Doing yoga every morning, trying the local beer in every city, collecting some piece of kitsch from every state. Getting some original writing done, even if it’s a paragraph a day. My Clevar Plan for this tour is to figure out a knitting project that I can complete within the timeframe of the tour, yoga in my hotel in the mornings, and to write whenever I’m on a plane. Planes are boring, anyway. But you have to build in stable patterns from day one, so you can have a solid psychic base for everything else. I suppose there are personality types that don’t need this, but I am not one of them.
I’m a little nervous. This is a giant tour. I hope the second Fairyland book is as successful as the first was. When the first came out, thousands of people had already read it. This is a brand new thing. It is scary. And this tour is huge-normous. A solid month away from my husband and animals and home. (But at the end I get a new Maine Coon kitten! Complete tour; receive kitten.)
Touring is amazing. Magical things happen–straight up. I cried a lot on my last tour, just because all this love and emotional resolution stuff kept happening (helps when your tour dates are in cities you grew up in). When you see a gymnasium full of kids holding your book it’s better than any coffee you’ve ever had. But all that amazing, and all that travel can overload you, and I’m trying to find ways to recharge on the road. It’s a process. I hope to unlock that particular achievement.
I’ll try to blog while I’m gone–the issues with the wordpress posting are FINALLY fixed–I know I’ve been off the grid like whoa. I’m slowly making my way back on.
Wish me luck.
I’ve been going over and over the events that occurred at Readercon in my head since I returned from Budapest. (In short, author glvalentine was repeatedly sexually harassed by former Worldcon Chair Rene Walling, she reported it, and instead of enforcing their stated zero tolerance policy which had been in place without question for four years and necessitated a lifetime ban from the con, the Board, almost certainly bowing to Walling’s SMOF status, told him he could come back after two years. Even after it became clear that this was a pattern and Walling had harassed others.)
This disturbs me on the plain level of someone whom I consider a friend being harassed at a convention and the Board cavalierly ignoring their own policy (whatever the wisdom of zero tolerance policies, that was the policy in place) because Walling, who used his own “need” to apologize to Valentine as an excuse to follow, grab, and further stalk her, apologized while being a friend of the Board. This is, honestly, exactly why harassment continues–everyone thinks the rules don’t apply to them, that they are special, that their friendships and power in their communities will allow them to do whatever they want.
In this case, it looks like all of that is right on the money.
But it further disturbs me because this is an incident of an author, an invited guest to a convention, being harassed by, no matter the super-awesomeness of his fanhood, a fan. If that cannot be taken seriously, how can any author feel safe at a convention? Because let’s be honest, authors who harass women are already welcome at many conventions, not policed in any way, and those who once harassed and no longer do because they are dead often have their “exploits” extolled with affection and nostalgia at con parties. Big men act with impunity, are even praised for it. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus ’twill be.
So, from whom is an author safe? The answer seems to be no one.
I love fandom. Fan activity and fans are wonderful and valuable. But we all know that fans can go sour and get extremely dangerous in their attachment to authors and books. It doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen. We all try to guard ourselves and our personal lives against the possibility of a lone fan cornering us. And now we are being told that as long as the fan has done enough cool things for fandom, the rules will not apply to him. If you are a good enough fan, you can grab authors you like and violate their physical safety and it’s A-ok. Just say you’re sorry and it’s cool.
Did you get the banhammer when you did it? Well, I guess you should have been a better fan. A more important fan. Or maybe you were just mentally ill and no one liked you so the policy was drafted specifically to ban you forever because you were Harassing While Being a Nobody and it was never intended to be used on anyone else.
And hell, one of the other people Walling harassed was also a SMOF. And no one even investigated or followed up on that incident. So it’s just a naked hierarchy of power. It’d be nice to know what level of BNF one has to attain to earn the rights and privileges Walling enjoys. His Tor.com column will continue. EDIT: I have been corrected. He is no longer writing for Tor.com and his last column was taken down over the weekend. I am very glad of this. He is part of the Kansas 2016 Worldcon bid committee. He is involved in the New Zealand 2020 bid. He is, like most harassers, entirely undiminished by this. It’s not really just the Readercon Board. The community as a whole is not holding him responsible.
I’m not sure there is a high enough prestige level to have complaints taken as seriously as Walling’s apology has been.
Here’s the thing. I’ve had issues at conventions. Some people have noted that I tend to travel with a pack at events. I have good friends around me most of the time. Some of this is social and some of this is protective. I feel safe in a pack. I look young, I present as very feminine, and I started publishing at 25, when the likelihood of not being taken seriously or respected was very high.
And both of the most serious things that have happened to me at conventions have happened at Readercon.
Please do not ask me to discuss these events. I will not. I did not report them at the time and see no purpose in dragging them up now. It is not the fault of anyone at Readercon or involved with it that this happened or that I did not report it. Both men were in positions of power over me, (people in positions of power do tend to do this kind of thing–it’s almost like they know they won’t be punished like a mere plebe), both would almost certainly say it was a misunderstanding–because that’s pretty much what people do when confronted. I decided long ago not to have the conversation that attends reporting incidents. I am not as brave as Genevieve Valentine. And since both situations occurred before the famous zero tolerance policy was even in place, I think I can be fairly sure that I made the right decision in keeping them to myself.
I have also had, somewhat infamously, my share of problems with the Readercon Board, most particularly one member who felt a proper response to disagreeing with me on the Internet was sending private, threatening emails and behaving in an insulting and aggressive fashion toward commenters to this journal. (I also did not post publicly about the emails, which I now regret. I was not brave enough.) I have been nervous about attending the convention ever since my own Internet dust-up with that Board member, because his social and physical behavior I find intimidating and I am well aware that to say he dislikes me is an understatement. I was told by the Chairs of the convention that his involvement would be phased out due to his unacceptable behavior–but that has clearly not happened at all as he is still instrumental on the Board and Committee, and thus, in this decision. That is not why I’ve not been able to go for the last two years–I was GOH at another convention in 2011 and traveling to Budapest this year–but avoiding him has become a priority when I do attend. For the last three years I have been, quite simply, afraid.
And what do you know? It IS Your Father’s Readercon, after all.
Which brings me to the point of this post, which is that I cannot in conscience continue to attend Readercon.
If the Readercon Board (which is different than the Committee, and I have nothing but respect and sympathy for the terrible position the Committee is in at this point) cannot bring themselves to care about the safety of its author guests, then I, as an author guest, cannot entrust my safety to Readercon. Everyone’s safety should be of utmost importance, of course. Valentine is not more important than a fan who is harassed. But in the status Olympics in which the Board is trying to medal, it has become clear that the only thing that protects me even a little as a female author, the fact that I am well-known and active in the community and if fucked with can make a lot of noise, is irrelevant if a harasser is sufficiently popular in the Big Boys Club. And of course, it never did protect me very well. Genevieve is also well known and active online. She can, and has, made a big noise. What has occurred was highly predictable. If they do not care about her, they will not care about anyone. If neither authors nor SMOFs can be ensured of their safety and that their violations will be taken seriously, how can any lover of books who just wants to go listen to some panels and get a first edition signed feel safe? And this is borne out by the large number of people crossing Readercon off of their calendars for the forseeable future.
Which means that the Board was fully willing to sacrifice significant portions of attendance, revenue, reputation, and possibly the con itself as it has been known, to protect a single man with a long track record of harassment.
How can I support this convention while this decision stands? I love Readercon–I used to drive 12 hours to attend. Now it is my local con. Despite my fear and nervousness, it is a place I want to be. But cons are working spaces for authors, as squirrel_monkey has pointed out, and I cannot expose myself to a workplace environment where harassment is tolerated if everyone likes the harasser a whole lot and he says sorry when caught.
This is pure nepotism and it is ugly as hell. He’s one of our own, don’t inconvenience him. Nevermind that the whole welcoming geek community thing we’re all so proud of should mean that everyone at a con is one of our own.
But what this should tell us is that the geek community–or at least Readercon–is just like everywhere else. The rules do not apply to the higher-ups.
If the policy is reconsidered and Walling banned, I, too will reconsider. But only reconsider–this is an issue of the culture of Readercon, the memes at work within it, and though I thought that culture had come a long way, it clearly has not, at least with regards to the Board. I cannot speak for anyone else, I only speak as an author and a member of the community. I have, however, certainly never run a Worldcon, so feel free to disregard my concerns completely.
The Board stated the following:
In the three years between Readercons 23 and 26 we will actively look for evidence of real and permanent positive change in his [Walling's] behavior. It was made very clear to him that if we receive any substantiated reports of continued inappropriate behavior at any venue – during or after the suspension period – his suspension will become permanent.
And to that I say:
In the three years between Readercons 23 and 26 I will actively look for evidence of real and permanent positive change in the Board’s behavior, policies, and the environment created by both. I hope I have made it very clear to them that if I receive any substantiated reports of continued inappropriate behavior at this venue – during or after my hiatus – my hiatus will become permanent.
Scenes from a rainy Sunday:
I talked to my mother-in-law (Tatyana) on Skype today. My father-in-law (Vadim) is visiting and since they were robbed the last time they both came up, she elected to stay at home with the Jack Russell Terrierist.
I had not mentioned my weight loss to them, and so when I came on Skype, Tatyana was quite shocked to see what I look like now. (In a good way!) She asked what I had done to lose the weight (P.S. I have a ways to go yet, process is far from over, but I’ve come a long way and she hasn’t seen me in a year, so it’s pretty dramatic) and I told her the various bits and pieces of changes in my life, the app I use, etc. Finally came to the dairy thing.
Me: So it turns out I’m allergic to dairy, which I didn’t know until last year, but I guess I have been for a long time, which is why I felt sick a lot. So I don’t eat dairy anymore. That actually helps a lot.
She nodded. All cool. About fifteen minutes later, I hear the rest of the exchange from justbeast, which went on in Russian after I signed off.
Tatyana: What is Cat doing with her diet? She is only eating berries now? That is not healthy.
Vadim: (Awesomely deadpan) No, you heard it wrong. She is now eating only bear.
Most badass diet, and father-in-law, ever.
A continuing log of my time in Hungary, addressed to my husband in Maine.
11:30 am: Yesterday was a low-energy day. It was hot and sticky, and after sleeping in we strolled down to Market Hall for lunch. I had a goose leg! That I didn’t have to roast myself! I was quite pleased that it tasted exactly like the goose I make, which means I am Doing It Right. It came with fresh caraway bread that had this light salt crust on it. Dora got sour cherry strudel which she loves. We walked about for awhile, picking up supplies for the apartment (tea kettle, coffee cups, pots, a palacinta pan–that’s Hungarian blini–and a sharp kitchen knife). Do you know they have a version of korjiki here? They put all kinds of sweet things on them. We should try it.
Once home, I read some of David Foster Wallace’s essay collection–I like his essays better than his fiction. I wish he’d done an update of the television essay, because after 1990 (when it was written) all the things he said became a million times more true, ie, reality TV, online streaming, ironic advertising. It was so hot in that slow, thick summer way that I fell asleep. Hungary is apparently a magical country where I can nap! I have done it two days in a row, and you know I can never nap, it takes me so long to get to sleep and I’m so cranky when I wake up. But not here–I fall asleep in a moment with no medication and wake up totally happy and refreshed. Two hours of nap! And then I got to sleep at 11:30 that night, too, which is usually impossible for me! I feel like a Terrible Midnight Princess who can only sleep in one place in all the world.
For dinner, we walked behind our apartment building, down a little street crowded with cafes and trees and the most gorgeous architecture. I said it looked like Brooklyn, a little, and Dora said: yes, if the Turks had invaded New York. And it was strangely Turkish in style, Turkish Art Deco Alhambra neo-Cathedralesque. All these relief arches and faces carved into the sides of building, white on peach and sage and cornflower. Faces we couldn’t understand, though they must be there for a reason. Like being inside a portal fantasy without an As You Know, Bob guide. There were two faces on shields mounted on the wall on one side of a square: one hooded and mustached and obviously Turkish, the other we couldn’t tell if it was male or female, but his/her mouth was gagged. Above them was a marble sun with stark, straight beams. Down the cobblestone street was a church with such red turrets and greened copper trim. The bricks of another side of the square were deliberately, decoratively pockmarked, which had come, beautifully, to match the natural fading and pocking of the concrete and brick above it.
We ate cold raspberry soup, which was astonishingly complex and delicious. I had my first (not last) goulash, and is there any better soup in the world? I think not. I have not been using enough paprika when I make it at home! It was the evening of two soups. Dora had a duck and pear salad. We talked about missing Readercon and yet, and yet, cold raspberry soup! In Budapest!
Afterward we went to see that church with the striking turrets–there was a service going, and we watched it for awhile. In the midst of the old altar was a big plasma flat screen where the Hungarian and Latin lyrics to the hymns flashed through the verses.
Along the street was a little shop where we paused to admire the dresses–we’d talked earlier about how each of us have colors we are immediately drawn to, dark jewel tones for me and lighter, more subtle shades of the same colors for Dora. Well, we both instantly pulled dresses off of the rack that proved the thesis. A deep garnet and gold for me and a spring green for her. She looked so beautiful! Like the green fairy. We both ended up getting two floaty summer dresses (the garnet one and another, dark gold and slate, and two different shades of green) and both felt like May queens in them.
We walked through the gardens of the National Museum. We made tentative talk about doing this every year, going to Budapest, writing together in Dora’s grandmother’s apartment where the pantry is full of jam and pickles put up thirty years ago.
We closed out the evening at the cafe below us. A rainstorm spun up and drenched the street outside. I fell asleep reading Engine Summer. I’m almost done–and it’s coloring my days here a little. It’s all about a beautiful, familiar-yet-unfamiliar world where everything has fallen apart, yet people have put it back together again several times and made something new and dreamlike and difficult and uncertain. Draw your own conclusions.
This morning dawned cool and grey and windy. I am all metallic to match it–black and silver and blue, with my hair pulled back severely. Outside the apartment is a tree Dora calls a Japanese Lantern. It is full of huge papery seed pods. The berries inside are green now, but long after we leave, they will turn red.
justbeast asked me to keep a little daily log of my activities here in Budapest, where I am ensconced with Theodora Goss in her grandmother’s apartment in the city center, writing and seeing and writing some more. I thought I’d post them here, since this is a diary of sorts. Mind the POV, these were directed toward my husband at home–but blogs are all about peeking into private correspondence are they not?
5:20 am: I’ve only seen glimpses of the city so far–it is quieter than I expected. Part new metal and glass, part gorgeous centuries-old buildings, part Communist era faded storefronts and flat 70s architecture. It is hot and we are in our 1940s-era apartment with minimal tech–so windows open (no screens), bathtub with a pilot light, laundry in the tub, stove lit with a match. The nights, at least, are cool. We are at a restaurant called The Architects’ Gallery which was a meeting place for the revolutionaries of ’56. Now it’s the national architects’ guildhouse with an open courtyard that is still a cafe, covered in hanging ivy and neo classical busts and statues. I had the most amazing paprikash, so red, like flowers. After Finland, everything seems so very inexpensive here–13 euros for two huge meals and dessert. (Actually everything is in forints, but I only know euros conversion so far). After that I fell asleep, exhausted. Woke at 4 am. The light is out now, the moon very high up and fading to white.
11:30 am: The morning yesterday was cloudy and cool, full of a sudden rainstorm outside the stone walls and double windows of our place on Baross Utca. Later on, the sky went bold blue and cloudless. I never did get back to sleep after 4 am, so I ate an entire salami (a little one!) because it was so amazing and delicious, and read about 2/3 of Engine Summer, which is beautiful, and you should read it. Amnesiac Moon (and Anathem basically all other dreamlike monasterial post-apocalypses) owes a lot to it. Went down to the cafe as soon as it opened and came back up to get Dora and head out into the city. It was hot as anything by 11 and we went to Market Hall, which is like a giant Hungarian version of the West Side Market in Cleveland, with everything you could ever want to eat and a lot of kitschy stuff with “Budapest!” or “Hungary!” printed on it–but also a lot of beautiful shawls and jackets and teacups.
Afterward, we strolled over to the Danube–which is so wide, the color of cream-in-coffee, but much slower and more stately than the Thames. We walked over on the beautiful 19th century Liberty Bridge (Dora said: “There’s a lot of things dedicated to liberty here, but you can never tell which liberty: liberty from the Hapsburgs, liberty from capitalist dogma, liberty from the Nazis, liberty from the Soviets…”). and back over Elizabeth Bridge, which is very modern, as it was rebuilt after WWII. On the other side (the Buda side, Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, that were united. We’re on the Pest side.) is a famous hot springs and this strange little building you would have loved. We guessed that it was a monastery at some point–it did not seem open in any fashion. It’s built into the side of the cliffs, little castle-like buildings that follow the path of the road getting smaller and smaller, like fairy houses, but with ape-like gargoyles and trefoils. Buttresses were actually carved into the cliffside, not connecting anything, just etched into the hill.
The architecture is from every era–but there is a lot of art nouveau, which you know I love. One apartment building had a stylized elephant in relief on it.
On our way back we walked down Váci utca, the main shopping street. I found an antique map shop and will be heading back there for you–they had an old map of Transylvania and Bulgaria! It was a strange combination of antique stores, MAC makeup counters, high end jewelry and folk art stalls (though Dora assures me that if it says handmade it’s most assuredly not). We also saw a 1918 etching of Budapest through autumn leaves. If Dora doesn’t get it when we return, I may have to, it was haunting and lovely and a little sad, in that melancholy way some etchings have. We found towels (the apartment needs to be supplied to some extent and we’re doing our best–yesterday brought us cutlery, towels, pillows, and salt and pepper shakers) with our names on them! They only had a few names but two of them were Dora and Kati (Catherine is Katalin in Hungarian) and we were delighted. Hers is pink, mine is white. We went to Gerbeaud for tea (smoked salmon and brown bread with raspberry elderflower lemonade for me, caramel chocolate cake and coffee with ice cream for Dora) which is a pastry and tea shop established in 1858. A man played the violin so fast and gorgeously in the courtyard outside.
By then I was feeling sick–lack of sleep, the heat, and my belly disliking the tap water in the apartment. We headed home and I immediately embarked on an epic nap. When I woke up, I had some pogácsa, a savory pastry, and salami (which was not as good as the one from the previous day, but then, I got it at Tesco’s, so serves me right) and Dora and I had one of those long, meandering, wonderful conversations about life and love and mistakes and fate and writing and mothers and displacement and romanticism that goes until two am. I finally got a real night’s sleep, woke up at 11 this morning to Dora already at the American cafe below the apartment (California Coffee Company, which is air conditioned and has wifi) and the air a little cooler than yesterday. Had some sour cherry juice and headed down with computer in hand.
I am wearing an orange dress today. Sour cherries are called meggyes in Hungarian. Igen is yes, nem is no, koszonom is thank you (pronounced kur-sur-nurm) jó napot is good morning. Jó napot. I love you.
I’ve been off the grid. There are a lot of reasons for that: work and deadlines, depression, travel, workshops, my increasingly complicated relationship with the Internet. I’m having some kind of weird tech/art identity crisis right now that all the travel and deadlines are deepening and widening. I see little holes of light and Figuring Things Out.
I thought that the best way to explain why I’ve been so behind the veil lately would be to quote a passage from 2312, which is Kim Stanley Robinson’s phenomenal (not perfect, but daring and strange, which is sometimes better) new book. It is a passage that seemed So Important to me, a message to my poor scattered brain and a thing to hold on to as I tightrope it out of a dark place. All bolding is mine, FOR EMPHASIS YO.
Habits begin to form at the very first repetition. After that there is a tropism toward repetition, for the patterns involved are defenses, bulwarks against time and despair.
Wahram was very aware of this, having lived the process many times; so he paid attention to what he did when he traveled, on the lookout for those first repetitions that would create the pattern of that particular moment in his life. So often the first time one did things they were contingent, accidental, and not necessarily good things on which to base a set of habits. There was some searching to be done, in other words, some testing of different possibilities. that was the interregnum, in fact, the naked moment before the next exfoliation of habits, the time when on wandered doing things randomly. The time without skin, the raw data, the being-in-the-world.
They came a bit too often for his taste. Most of the terraria offering passenger transport around the solar system were extremely fast, but even so, trips often took weeks. This was simply too much time to be banging around aimlessly; doing that one could easily slide into a funk or some other kind of mental hibernation. In the settlements around Saturn this sort of thing had sometimes been developed into entire sciences and art forms. But any such hebephrenia was dangerous for Wahram, as he had found out long before by painful experience. Too often in his past, meaninglessness had gnawed at the edges of things. He needed order, and a project; he needed habits. In the nakedness of the moments of exfoliation, the intensity of experience had in it a touch of terror–terror that no new meaning would blossom to replace the old ones now lost.
Of course there was no such things as a true repetition of anything; ever since the pre-Socratics that had been clear, Herclitus and his un-twice-steppable river and so on. So habits were not truly iterative but pseudoiterative. The pattern of the day might be the same, in other words, but the individual events fulfilling the pattern were always a little bit different. Thus there was both pattern and surprise, and this was Wahram’s desired state: to live in a pseudoiterative. But then also to live in a good pseudoiterative, an interesting one, the pattern constructed as a little work of art. No matter the brevity of the trip, the dullness of the terrarium or the people in it, it was important to invent a pattern and a project and pursue it with all his will and imagination. It came to this: shipboard life was still life. All days had to be seized.
Kim Stanley Robinson
I wish I could surround that last line with neon glowing arrows and underline it a thousand times. It is something I have never managed to believe for long as a working adult and something I desperately needed to hear.
I gave a talk to a hall full of librarians organized by the School Library Journal last night (what do you call a group of librarians? A kindness?). Many of them asked me to post it afterwards–here it is. I try not to disobey librarians. They have great power.
One of the things you don’t think much about when you’re a baby author
just hoping the hand if god will descend out of new York and lift you
up into the promised land of publication ate interviews. You’re going
to have to do a lot of interviews. Professional ones for blogs and
magazines, sure, but also from readers, at signings and conventions.
No one will grill you like a 12 year old who wants ti know how
currency wirks in fairyland. And often, you’ll get asked the same
questions over and over, which I actually find exciting–what will be
The Question for any given book? One always emerges, the thing
everyone wants to know. So I thought tonight I’d tell you about
something I get asked a lot.
The most popular character in the Fairyland series, stalwart
protagonist aside, isn’t a person. It isnt the charismatic villain or
the trickster with the twinkle in his eye. He’s a big red fellow named
A-Through-L whose mother was a Wyvern and whose father was a library.
This makes him, to my knowledge, fairly unique in the annals of
literature. He is a Wyverary. When I began talking about the sequel to
the Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
online, the question I was asked most often by children and adults
alike was: will Ell be in it?
And yes, he is loved because he is gigantic and bright red and funny
and loyal and bashes into things quite a lot, he is popular because he
is a Wyvern, which is a fancy way of saying Dragon, and few enough of
us have hearts so hard we cannot love a dragon whose great passions in
life are books and very fresh radishes, but the thing that makes Ell
who he is, that makes him a character so loved that young girls bring
hand-knit and crocheted Wyveraries to my signings, is that he is part
It’s universal and it’s instant–invoking a library makes people
happy, excited, curious. Because libraries are magical places. They
always have been, public or private. Books come from human minds and
when you gather that many of them in one space, the space becomes, if
you’ll forgive the word, holy. Books create their own space and
physics, their own psychic presence. For those of us who did not grow
up with wealth, libraries were the place you could go to stuff
yourself with stories and knowledge and pursue like a bloodhound every
Through most of my childhood, my mother was a student, getting her
master’s in 19th century drama and then her doctorate in political
science. That should probably tell you a lot about me as a person.
This meant a lot of time spent in university and city libraries,
wandering the stacks while my mother did “research,” a word which had
a glittering, talismanic quality to me when I was very young. It
sounded very grown up, and very interesting, something secret and
cabalistic, that smart and beautiful people like my mother and her
My school friends did not think “research” was as fascinating a game
to play at recess as I did.
But in those libraries where my mother worked, I read just about
everything–and that is part of why libraries are still magical, why
Borges wrote about an infinite one and McKinley gave Beauty an
impossibly complete one and why I’m still making them in my own books.
Because there is an alchemy to libraries. Because you go in looking
for a book about the Bermuda Triangle and end up losing a whole day to
medieval heraldry. You find Hamlet which you have to read for school,
but what in a cosmic sense you went to the library that day to find
was a little book called Seaward which would become an intimate part
of the architecture of your brain. You can never tell. A library is an
infinite tangle of possible paths to the person you’ll be in a year,
two, three, thanks to the books you stumble over by utter, delightful
chance. And though there is also magic and wonder in our digital
world, that is a spell that cannot be wholly cast online.
We are, with all of our very shiny tools, still primates. We still
crave physical experience–and more than that, a physical experience
of story, of narrative, that thing which has grown up from a thing
done around the fire in exchange for meat and wine to a thing done on
a vast stage, with paper and ink and pixels and files, a thing done
around a table at a conference in a city of high towers. We still want
to use our hands and our bodies to do things. We still want to wander
and pick up and hold and flip through and wedge a thumb in. Libraries
are a great bastion of physical experience–a literal city of books,
with laws and codes and maps and roads through high paginated towers.
This is also a magical thing. Any city is. Any forest in which you
might get lost and meet a fairy or a monster or a companion.
And so A-Through-L, my eternally helpful and hopeful Wyverary, is a
literal version of what so many of us feel–that we were born out of
libraries. For latchkey kids like me, they were parents and friends.
They were where we found out who we were, by peering into book after
book like a mirror. They were safe places we could run to when the
horrors of school got to be too much, when we didn’t have anywhere
else to go, and they were places where a love of books would never be
mocked, only encouraged. That was where I learned all those fancy ways
of saying things, and the librarians who taught me were my Gandalfs,
my Dumbledores, my Athenas with clear eyes and, I suspected, pet owls
hiding behind the circulation desk. Without them, I only know small
and usual ways if saying things. We who were raised by libraries were
trained up by librarians, the wizards who seemed to know so much, and
steered us toward books we didn’t even know would change our lives.
A library is a place where “research” really is talismanic,
cabalistic, wonderful, mysterious, beautiful. Where it is a game we
can all play together. I’ve traveled to libraries all over the country
in the last year, reading to kids about all the places where I see and
catch magic, and every time I read in Ell’s big, booming voice under
the roof of a library, it seems so very right. Let me tell you why.
It’s kind of a secret, between the two hundred of us, so lean in.
We are all half beast and half library. We are half big, awkward,
occasionally fire breathing thing who want to be loved so terribly
much, who want to be useful and good, and half all the books that ever
stuck with us, changed the construction of our brains and the
architecture of our hearts. We are half creatures afraid of bumping
into the world the wrong way and roasting something accidentally and
half a jumble of instincts toward wonder and kindness borne to our
innermost selves on rafts of so many books and stories. We are all
And that is why everyone asks me, with worry in their eyes, begging me
to say yes, if Ell will be in the next book. To make sure, to be
reassured, that this great and dear creature who stands in for
everyone who ever loved a library and wanted to make it proud, never
has to leave Fairyland. That he, and they, will always be in the
And I tell them every time, with a twinkle in my eye: of course he will.