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.
Ten years ago, not long before the Queen’s Jubilee, I boarded a train at King’s Cross Station for Edinburgh.
It wasn’t Platform 9 3/4, but it might as well have been. My life changed the moment that train pulled out of the brick archways and into the rolling green countryside beyond London–it was just beginning to be autumn then, and the trees were full of crows. I remember thinking about bird magic, auguries, every story I’d ever heard about England and Scotland. I was a tiny thing, a maiden in all but the technical sense. I knew, as the old novels say, nothing of the world. My EuroRail photo looked absurdly, hilariously, preposterously like an illustration of Snow White. I had a bacon sandwich. My mother was with me, a psychopomp in knock-off Prada sunglasses, bearing me across the wall and into the life I didn’t yet know I was in for. It was the first time I wanted something with that desperate, pure fire–and made it happen, by myself, with will and work. After all, if you grow up loving fairy tales and King Arthur and saints who battle monsters, you want the British Isles the way some kids want boyfriends. Edited to add: is that a silly reason to want to go to a country? Yep. Is it a direct outgrowth of the complicated relationship of American culture to British culture? Yep. Was I 21 years old, pretty silly, fully of inchoate dreamy nonsense and trying to learn how to be a real person? Absolutely. In fact, a big part of that growing up was going to a place I'd dreamed about and figuring out what reality there was like.
I lived there for something over a year. I came back to America for stupid reasons–but that’s what you do in your twenties. Make stupid decisions while meaning so earnestly well.
My interviewer in Finland asked me: you’ve written about everywhere you’ve lived but Edinburgh. Where is Scotland in your books?
I laughed a little, pressed my lips together as I always do when I’m thinking, looked out the window of our car at the swans nesting in the golden Nordic estuaries. This is what I told her:
A poetry professor once told me that you can never name the thing you’re writing about. If the poem is about death, you can’t say the word death. Poems about memory shouldn’t go on about the thing itself. If you’re writing about grief, you can’t actually say grief, or sadness, or even tears. If you want to talk about love, love is the one word you can’t use.
Edinburgh is the thing I am a poem about and do not name.
Today, not long before the Queen’s Jubilee, I boarded a train at King’s Cross Station for Edinburgh. It was Platform 7. It’s just beginning to be summer now, and the fields are full of chartreuse flowers. The old churches spring up out of them like strange, huge blossoms. The train rushes over a stream so full of swans the current is pure white.
I think about bird magic again. Auguries.
I am no longer small. I know something of the world. Maybe not much of a something, but something. I have made things with my hands and heart. I look a bit pugnacious in my passport photo, like I still have something to prove. I had a bacon sandwich. My husband is with me and this time I am bearing him across the wall, to show him this object that sits at the bottom of my mind, a grey stone city with a castle and a mountain, a place that was once wholly full of fairy fruit and temptation and the rich mess of becoming bigger, becoming grown. That fairy fruit made everywhere else look dimmer for awhile. My goblin city, that swallowed me whole. I think it took falling in love with Maine to fix me–before then I always had the idea that of course I’d go back, that somehow, somehow, this was where I’d live when I could choose.
I’ve been near tears most of the morning, riding north through sheep and cattle and chapels and flowers. When you love a place, it’s hard to leave, and harder still to come back. You hope it will be proud of you, of all you became when you left to seek your fortune. You hope it will be as you remembered; you hope you are still as it knew you.
You hope it will forgive you long neglect, lines in your once-clear face, a hard blue edge of cynicism.
O goblin city, I hope you will forgive me for never writing a book about you.
So this is one of those things where I’ve been quiet because there’s a lot going on. I’ve put off announcing this part of it, but for obvious reasons I can’t do that much longer. So here goes.
Night Shade Books and I have parted ways. They will not be publishing the third book in the Dirge for Prester John series, and rights for The Habitation of the Blessed and The Folded World have reverted to me.
I continue to think that Night Shade puts out wonderful books and I hope for their success. I did not take this step lightly. But their recent troubles have made our business relationship difficult, and I could not in good conscience proceed with a third book given the circumstances. Obviously I’m being a bit vague–there’s no point in airing laundry in public. This was a very hard decision, believe me. It is not about ill will or some juicy internal drama I’m keeping on the DL. Nothing juicy about it. It was a business issue that we could not, finally, resolve. It was ultimately an act of self-preservation, and I’ll leave it at that.
What this means is that at the moment, The Habitation of the Blessed and The Folded World are for the most part unavailable. Some copies will float around for awhile yet, but most of the eversions are gone. I hope to fix this in the next week–I have relicensed the covers from the excellent Rebecca Guay and Night Shade has been very kind and accommodating with regards to physical copies and digital files. Very shortly you will be able to buy ebooks again from Amazon, BN, Apple, etc, and order physical copies directly from me.
As for the third and final book in the series, The Spindle of Necessity, I am committed to finding a way to make sure you get to see it. I owe you a finish. Oddly enough, Prester John is my longest series to date, and I want to bring it all to a close the way I planned to from the beginning. For those of you who have stuck with the story, don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging. Given the market realities, the most likely avenue for this is a Kickstarter campaign to fund a self-published version. Because the real costs of producing an ebook/limited print edition of a quality that matches the rest of the series are actually quite high, I will be using this opportunity to illustrate those costs, hiring the content editor, copy editor, and cover artist who worked on the previous books and paying them their market rates. This is a hefty undertaking, but one I believe will be valuable as part of the ongoing discussion surrounding epublishing.
I’ve been gathering details on that and doing research–as I leave for Finland tomorrow, it will not begin until I get back. If anyone has any Kickstarter advice or help they’d like to offer, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I ran Fairyland off of my own site quite apart from what is now becoming the “traditional” approach to self-publishing. I’m a bit at sea with the standard tools. The novel was not set to come out until February 2013, and I think we can stick to that timetable.
So that’s the situation. I’ll let you know as soon as the novels are available again. I’ll be heading once more into unknown waters and hoping it all comes out well in the end. I’m very sorry to have had to take this step, but I believe it was the right thing to do.
Today, the paperback edition of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland comes out. It’s also very nearly exactly Fairyland’s birthday: the big red book is one year old.
So today I thought I would talk about the Thing. The Thing that gets criticized most often about Fairyland, the Thing I am called on to defend on panels and at conventions but have not written about online until now.
It’s the idea that Fairyland is somehow “too smart for kids”, the words are too big, the folkloric references only comprehensible to adults. That I did not, in fact, write a book for children at all.
Are there big words in Fairyland? Yes, there are. Are there references and jokes about fairy tales, folklore, classic children’s literature, politics, science, 20th century history? Yes, there are. Is Fairyland a simple, breezy story to be gobbled down without thinking, that will never challenge a child who reads it or stretch him or her beyond their comfort zones?
No, it is not.
Middle grade children actually rarely come across a book that doesn’t require learning new words and concepts. That’s kind of the whole point of being a kid. Everything’s new. Everything requires explanations. Certainly no child understands every math joke in Alice Through the Looking Glass, nor every dig at British Parliament in Peter Pan–and I rather think many kids have had to ask what the word “orgy” means when Barrie uses it. Many of us never even noticed the Christian allegory that lies at the heart of the Narnia books. If you watch the old Muppet Show, they make jokes about postmodern performance art, beat poetry, theater management, economics, and every kind of adult pop culture. The complex words they use sometimes surprise even me. There is always a balance in literature for the young–you write to teach and entertain the kids, to delight their older selves, and to amuse their parents while they read aloud or watch along. The best books, to my mind, accomplish all of these at the same time.
The thing is, young readers and viewers are pretty amazingly good at stitching together a story they love, skipping over the parts they don’t get or making up their own explanations. They like to learn new things, especially when they involve giant herds of living bicycles and stompy red dragon-type things. Nearly every “big” word I used in Fairyland can be found somewhere in the seven books of Harry Potter. Yes, kids will need to look some of them up, or ask their parents what they mean. This is part of the joy of reading as a child. Kids shouldn’t be surrounded by stories that only reflect back to them what they already know–and neither should adults.
And part of the pleasure of books like Alice, Peter Pan, Narnia, The Hobbit, and The Phantom Tollbooth–a novel that earned Norman Juster a heap of grief for being too smart for kids and way over the heads of any young readers, by the way–is rereading them as one grows up. Children’s novels can be like intricate puzzles, showing us more and more of themselves with every year we grow. I remember in college realizing that the famous Carroll line: the rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today was a fairly complex Latin pun–the word for “now” is “iam” (J and I were interchangeable in the Oxford classical system–as Indiana Jones teaches us, in the Latin alphabet Jehovah begins with an I), but “iam” is only used in the past tense and future tense–in the present tense, “now” is “nunc.” Therefore, jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today.
No child could possibly understand this without explanation, unless they were a linguistic genius or a scion of the Oxbridge system. But the joke works on the level of nonsense humor, which children tend to dig all the way. They don’t have to get every level of it to giggle at the idea or never getting to have jam today, to identify with it because of the injustice of parents always promising treats tomorrow. And maybe they grow up and major in Classics and one day they laugh for fifteen minutes because holy cats, that’s so clever! And it’s hardly the only massively obscure line in Alice–a book beloved of children in ever generation since it was published. I could only hope to be half as good and smart as that book that requires an annotated edition for an adult to understand everything in it. It’s always a balancing act, trying to write a book that plays to kids but appeals to their older selves, too. Do I always pull it off? Probably not. But I strive.
I want kids to be able to grow up with Fairyland. To giggle at the nonsense now and see the layers later.
That said, A lot of the complaints I’ve had come from people who give Fairyland to a reader who is just too young. I’ve known five and six year olds who love Fairyland, who ask for A-Through-L birthday cakes or listen to the audiobook while they play with their toys. Those children are exceptional. The recommended age on the cover is 10-14–and I do believe by that age many kids can “get” all the macro-level awesomeness of September’s adventures. Certainly by 12 or 13. The micro-level will come with time. Sometimes a kid, even an advanced reader, isn’t quite ready for one book or another. Sometimes an eight year old isn’t quite up to a middle grade book. That’s ok. Fairyland will be there for them in a couple of years.
And in the meantime, I want to make a promise to parents. Fairyland has many adult fans, of course, but this is for parents and teachers who might be concerned about giving the book to a child. Fairyland is going to be around for awhile–we’ve sold three more books in the series after the sequel that will be out in October, The Girl who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. This is a long-haul promise, a promise for as long as I’m writing for a young audience.
I will never talk down to your kids. I will never with my text treat them as anything less than the imaginative, capable, eager, excited creatures that they are. I will never give them less than my best work, because I understand that when you give your child one of my books, you are trusting me with a little piece of their development as humans, having faith in me to caretake their hearts and inner worlds. That is a breathtaking responsibility, and I will never take it for granted. I will tell them stories that will stretch their minds and challenge them, that will make them ask you a lot of questions. I will try to communicate to them what I believe is real and true about life in this world, I will not make it a parade of sunshine and daffodils–and I will not make it a grimdark cautionary tale about the essential terribleness of everything. I understand that even if I’m wrong, I owe you and your kids my total sincerity and honesty, my most hard-won wisdom–even about the nature of fairies and wyverns and families and time. I will try to make them laugh. Sometimes I may make them cry. But I will never hold something I think is beautiful and important back from them because it might require a trip to the dictionary. I don’t think dictionaries are scary. I think they’re magical. And I think kids are magical, too. I owe them all the magic I’ve got, because I know how books become part of you no less than DNA, how they change your brain and affect who you will become, and that’s magic, too. I promise to take that seriously, and try with each novel to live up to the wonder and power of that. I promise to use all the tools I have to create the kind of books I longed to read when I was young.
I promise, now and forever, to write stories that are smart enough for your kids.
I am so excited that I can finally announce this!
We’ve sold two new novels to Tor!I will tell you about them!
One is a companion piece to Deathless, tentatively titled Matryoshka. This is not a sequel, but a side-by-side novel to complete what I’m calling the Leningrad Diptych. It is a retelling of Ivan and the Firebird set during the children’s evacuation of Leningrad. Some familiar faces will pop up, as in all Russian fairy tales, but it will be a story all its own. The gender-shifting trickster Grey Wolf, the Water of Life and Death, firebirds, valkyries, talking dolls and the return of Baba Yaga–Matryoshka is a dark mirror of the London evacuation and a journey into the heart of the war.
The other is my SF decopunk alt-history Hollywood pulp solar system space opera horror mystery! That’s right, The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew is all grown up. (It will probably not be called anything like Radiant Car when it comes out.) A sprawling epic about love, fame, film-making, and the search for identity and authenticity in a densely populated solar system full of planets as seen through the lens of classic pulp SF: waterworlds, ice planets, and jungle moons. Imagine The Artist with giant Venusian tentacle whales.
Decopunk goodness will be out in 2014, Matryoshka in 2015.
Eeeee! New babies! I can’t wait!
As some of you know, I’m the Guest of Honor for Acon 5 in Mariehamn, Finland. I am SUPER EXCITED ABOUT THIS.
Also, my husband Dmitri is coming with me! This is awesome, as he rarely gets to accompany me on Fairyland adventures.
After the con, we’re staying in Europe for about ten days to take advantage of, you know, being in Europe. We can stay in Finland, but we can also go elsewhere. We have not yet decided what “elsewhere” entails yet.
Would any of our Euro/UK friends like to see us? We are very nice, and do not take up much space. Let us know, it may shape our geographical plans.
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, and 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…
Eeeeeeeee. It’s so, so beautiful. What do you think?
It comes out October 2nd. You can pre-order it here.
It’s ok. You guys can tell me.
We all secretly went back in time, right?
That’s the only way I can get my head around Wisconsin’s repeal of their Equal Pay Act on the argument that “Money is more important to men”, piled on top of the birth control “debate” and Georgia passing legislation based on the idea that women are anatomically and ethically identical to pigs and cows. We fell through a time vortex and it’s 1959 and half of the twentieth century didn’t happen.
That is, of course, what Scott Walker and the rest of the charming gentlemen who are signing these grotesque reversions into law without mandate or recourse want. Hey, if we take away their birth control and don’t pay them for work, everything will go back to the way it was when pwecious Scotty was a kid and women will just stay at home and back cookies for everyone. Yay! No one will be gay anymore and America will drink its milk and be big and strong and we won’t have to worry about recycling and breast cancer (ew breasts!) and unwhite people and that rock n’ roll music the kids listen to. We can law it all away.
Yeah. And fuck you, too. And fuck you to everyone who told me to stop swearing about this on Twitter last night. WE SHOULD ALL BE SWEARING. We should all be laying down so much shit that fucking roses grow on Twitter. WE SHOULD CARE ABOUT THIS AT LEAST AS MUCH AS WE CARED ABOUT SOPA. Funny how I don’t see anyone shutting down portions of the Internet in protest, though. I mean, it’s only women. The headline on Reddit about this is: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signed a bill that prohibits workers from collecting damages in employment discrimination cases.” No outrage, no commentary, just a link. No mention of Walker’s contention that women don’t work as hard, aren’t “go go go” like men, and shouldn’t be paid as much. Women not even mentioned, despite being the clear and stated target of the legislation. Why get upset? Should be fine!
After all, there’s no war on women. The Republicans promise there isn’t. Just because the massive portion of their efforts are bent toward reducing the rights and freedoms of a single group within the American population doesn’t mean it’s a war. Not like the War on Drugs is a war. After all, drugs are bad and need to be controlled or else society will fall apart.
Just like the ladies. This is just Good, Small Government. Why, next week, they’ll be repealing the Equal Pay for Caterpillars Act.
The conservatives are at least partly right: birth control and equal pay (somewhat equal, anyway) were the great victories of first and second wave feminism. They are trying everything in their power to take those things away, in the hopes that it’ll activate a Time Turner that will erase the source of those changes as well as the changes themselves. They say we are pigs, they say we don’t need any silly pin money, they say these things and they should be embarrassed, they should be ashamed at what just came out of their mouths, but no one is shaming them. The news treats it like a simple partisan debate. Point for blue, point for red. But no matter what young folks might say, these men know we’re not in a post-sexist or post-racist culture, that they can rely on old, ugly misogyny and the reluctance to stand up for women’s rights that has tinted gender relations in this country for pretty much ever to lube their legislation up nice and slick. When women are outraged, you don’t have to listen, after all. Bitches be crazy.
I know Walker will almost certainly be recalled in November. Doesn’t really matter–he’s fiat’d this into law and there’s an inertia there. I’ve heard rumors that Walker is a top candidate for the GOP VP slot, so don’t get smug in the knowledge that he’s going away. I shouldn’t be surprised, you shouldn’t be surprised–but we should all be terrified. And angry.
I’ve seen a lot of people saying things like “only in the US” and “America is crazy” and “thank god I don’t live there” flitting around, both here and on my gendered online discourse post. (And I want to thank the BSFA for proving my point, that the sexist jackasses, they live everywhere.) And I want to say: knock it off. First of all, no matter how much we like to take credit for things, Americans did not invent sexism. I promise, it could not “only happen in the US.” Many countries, if not all of them, have huge gender problems and many of those are boiling over with regressive assholes in power. And since the UK, Canada, and Australia are all having trouble with conservatives in their government pissing in the punchbowl, I wouldn’t get too excited about your immunity to this kind of crap.
But more importantly–stop thinking you’re special and it can never happen in your country. That is how America got like this in the first place. By thinking we were special, specially liberated and enlightened and awesome and only those other lamer countries had problems. That arrogance allows us to continue to let everything circle the drain, because we’re the best and OBVIOUSLY we’re not really sexist and stuff, it’ll get fixed, don’t worry. Our system can’t have been redesigned to let a few people destroy our economy–we have the best economy! USA! Everything’s fine! GROWTH 4EVAH.
I hate that shit. I know you hate that shit. So stop telling me Americans are so weird and where you live this could never happen. It could. If you’re not vigilant, like we haven’t been, it will.
Doesn’t mean I know what vigilance looks like. I’ve been told not to call myself a feminist my whole life, well before the current skirmishes. I’ve seen vast swathes of young women grow up couching every sentence defending their right to exist in “I’m not a feminist, but…” Because feminists are bad and they hate men and they’re ugly. But I’ve also been told: well, obviously you’re not serious about marriage if you don’t take your husband’s name, if you must be pro-choice make sure you insist that you could never make that choice for yourself, don’t make the first move or boys will think you’re a slut (also you will be a slut), you can have a full time job but don’t think that means you get to slack off on cooking, cleaning, and childrearing, you lazy baby-hungry girl. Men work so hard. They shouldn’t have to worry about the home. After all, you’re just naturally better at cleaning–men just don’t see clutter like you do!
But everything’s fine in America now and all feminism should worry about are the poor ladies living in the Middle East so why are you complaining that you only get 80 cents to the male dollar? YOU GOT 80 CENTS, BITCH, AREN’T YOU HAPPY?
So yeah. I feel fucking miserable and helpless. The fact is that our system is only loosely democratic at this point. We vote nationally on a President and that’s it. We as citizens have no recourse when executive branches decide to get all War on Caterpillars on our asses, and it’s been made abundantly clear that not one fuck is given about organized protest at that level of government.
This is why Wikipedia shut down to protest SOPA. Because that’s all we have, really. Disrupt commerce and consumer culture. But I just can’t see that kind of concentrated action happening in defense of women, no matter how much what happens to us happens to the whole culture. Go ahead: take our birth control and our jobs and call us pigs, tell us to obey the Catholic Church’s most panicked and regressive ideas whether or not we are Catholic. Take our humanity and wipe Congress’s asses with it.
But don’t you dare take away smoothly torrenting Mad Men episodes. How else will we get new ideas for how the country should look?
It has been quite a pair of days on these here Internets.
The post on gendered discourse is very probably going to clock in as the most popular post I’ve ever written in ten years of LJ. For sure it’s the most comments I’ve netted in a 12 hour period. I’m stunned by the response and glad that, a few bad eggs aside, it’s been civil and interesting. For those of you who are new here, having clicked through to that post: Hello! I write novels. I don’t always write about feminism, but when I do, it’s a doozy.
And this afternoon, the Hugo Awards were announced.
I am up for three of them. THREE.
OH MY GOD WOOOOOOOOOO!
Specifically, for the SFSqueecast, Apex Magazine, and for Best Novella for Silently and Very Fast. You guys, I am so excited. I am so honored. I am so grateful to everyone who nominated me. I cannot believe it. I am so very proud of my friends who popped up all over the ballot. Congratulations to everyone, I am thrilled to be counted among your number.
Please, please, if you have the means, get a Supporting Membership so you can vote. It doesn’t matter who you vote for. But choose to have your voice heard.
Of course, the real question, since I never expect to win (and haven’t!) is what shall I wear? Because this is our Oscars. It is our Big Night. I see no reason not to treat it as a Giant Occasion and wear a goddamned ballgown. No matter what goes down in Chicago I intend to dress like a SPACE ROCKET PRINCESS.
Unfortunately my dressmaker friend has quit the business. But if any of you want the gig, please ping me! I might start a Pinterest board. I hear the cool kids do that these days.
Because authorial life does not stop for shiny, I must adjourn to work on Moar Books. But I am blown away. I am dead of amazing. I love everyone.
See you in Chicago.
I keep thinking about the Priest situation. You know, the one where a well known male writer took to the internets to blast the Clarke Award list, make some pointed critiques, call authors, including some of the most famous and popular names in the field, and jurors very rude names, and suggest they all be scrapped, sacked, and sit in a corner and think about what they’d done.
I can’t stop thinking about it, actually.
Everyone has had their say, including me. I am pro people voicing their opinions on literature, even unpopular ones, and I fully support Christopher Priest’s right to weep over the state of science fiction as he sees it. And while I don’t care for name-calling, this is the internet, and aside from porn, that’s pretty much what it’s for. People wouldn’t have amused themselves for the better part of a week over this if it weren’t so savage, wouldn’t make it the centerpiece of the SFF news cycle if it wasn’t a delicious piece of part gossip, part hit job, part serious business, and part playground taunt. That’s how you get pageviews, folks. Everyone loves an entertaining dick.
But it’s not the piece itself that has stuck in my mind like so many bar-room darts.
It’s that if a woman wrote it, she’d have been torn to pieces. No quarter, no mercy.
I touched on this in my previous post. But it’s more than lolz, he’s got balls of brass, I could never get away with those blognanigans. I couldn’t, of course, even if I wanted to. But neither could almost any other woman writer or blogger I can think of. Go after popular SF writers and a respected award? She’d have gotten death threats, rape threats, comments telling her everything from shut up and make [unnamed internet male] a sandwich to wishing she’d be raped to death because that would shut her right up.
I don’t actually have to imagine this scenario and speculate as to its outcome–it’s happened. It happens all the time. Sady Doyle got absolutely eviscerated, along with such whimsical threats of violence and forcible silencing, for merely stating that A Song of Ice and Fire had some serious race and gender issues. She didn’t say it was a bad book, she didn’t call George Martin a pissing puppy, she simply stridently, without compromise, and with humor laid out her opinion concerning a book. Requires Only That You Hate is regularly showered with hatred for her thoughts on science fiction and fantasy–she was called a rabid animal by Peter Watts, a luminary in our field, who received very little public condemnation for his statements. (A rabid animal! Because she thought a book was sexist! I thought humorless feminists were the ones who took things too seriously!) Hell, yesterday Laurie Penny, a well-known activist, blogger, and author, was improbably saved from ongoing traffic by Ryan Gosling and upon writing an essay on obsession with celebrity, lack of coverage of regular people doing good things, and objecting to being portrayed as a damsel in distress because she forgot which way traffic runs in the States, was treated to about a thousand different flavors of “shut up, you dumb fucking bitch” in the comments of one of the most prominent “liberal” blogs on the Internet.
You don’t even have to kick an entire award slate to the curb. I know female authors who have gotten such threats for daring to own a bred cat instead of a shelter animal, for not having their books available on the Kindle as quickly as some fans would like, for minor infractions. I’ve gotten them for, as far as I can tell, simply existing online. Most women who blog or are active in the cultural commentary game know that they have to watch what they say. Always. It’s a horrible balancing act, and one I rarely see men having to do.
Yes, I know it’s the net and comments are a festering pile of venom, but you do have to notice that the venom cranks up to eleven when a woman posts. You can tell me well, Requires is so mean! Sady doesn’t say things super nicely! And I will point to all the men who say not nice things, some of whom even call out properties for sexism, and are applauded for their badassery and edginess, for their disinclination to suffer fools, and the total lack of screeching hate speech in their comments.
Because, yeah. If you threaten a woman with rape because she didn’t like a comic book you like? That’s hate speech. That’s invoking an act of violence specifically related to her status as a female in order to shut her up. Men can be raped, too, of course and obviously, but the kind of person who leaves comments like that doesn’t see it that way. Rape is what you do to a woman who pisses you off. To hurt her especially. To remind her of her place.
And if you want to see the ugliest fandom has to offer, all you have to do is be a woman and say something negative about a popular SFF property. Bonus if it’s male-authored and male-directed. Shit on urban fantasy all you want. But Game of Thrones is holy.
The fact is, to be a woman online is to eventually be threatened with rape and death. On a long enough timeline, the chances of this not occurring drop to zero.
Chris Priest can say what he says not only because he is a giant in his field (Sady Doyle is barely less prominent in hers, and while I do think that harsh criticism goes down better when it’s not the authors in the field at hand who do it, both Sady and Requires are not SF authors of any stripe) but because he is a man. And we respond to it with some anger, but mostly reasoned philosophical or humorous posts, macros, examining what it means, the value of juried awards, defending the authors and jurors but mostly accepting what he said as either a sad gesture by an old man, a hilarious and miserable rant, or valuing that at least someone cares that much–even wishing someone would go equally ballistic about a different award. There is a marked lack of viciousness–and what he said was every bit as bad as some of the stuff that gets Requires Only That You Hate a fever pitch of loathing and seething fury just about every time she posts.
I’m not saying everyone should just put their Asshole Hats on and have at it–but some people have their Asshole Hats on already, and they take them off for men who have a beef. I keep trying to think of what a male blogger would have to say about science fiction to have someone say they hope he gets raped to death. I’m not coming up with anything.
Misogyny in the West is coming up and it’s a gross, miserable, chthonic thing swirling at our feet. It’s getting worse, not better. Sites that consider themselves evolved, liberal-leaning, and intellectual (hello Reddit! Hello Gawker!) have comments and whole sections full of such boiling hate for women that it knocks you back. I hear people say with a straight face that the younger generation isn’t sexist or racist anymore, and unpacking how woefully wrong that is would take another post entirely. And geek culture isn’t immune, not even close. Sometimes it’s worse, because it’s so convinced it doesn’t have the same work to do as the mainstream. And, I suspect, because a lot of guys were rejected by girls when they were young and see gender as the only thing all those girls had in common, and so as adults take it out on a whole gender by either outright hostility or by excluding what they see as the source of their troubles from their presence, their media, their art.
Well, I was rejected by a LOT of guys when I was young. Often cruelly, often publically. Every awful thing “girls” do, a guy has done to me. And now, as when I was in school, I find myself navigating a world where everyone listens when the menfolk talk. When women say something even slightly off the path of accepted indietechsfgamer wisdom, for offenses as monstrous as suggesting that it’s hard to be a woman programmer in the open source world and as unforgivable as crossing the street the wrong way, a large and vocal cross-section simply screams obscenities until she shuts up. When I was a kid, I was told to soften my voice, make it higher, make it sweeter, smile more, keep my hand down in class, and over and over not to be so opinionated–a word that is not even used to describe men, because when a man has an opinion, it’s taking a stand or telling it like it is or whatever brand of keeping it real you’d like to slot in there.
I’m frustrated. I’m tired of the disparity of voices, of who gets written off and who gets their blog posts discussed in The Guardian being dismally predictable. I’m tired of still having the “when men say it it’s awesome and when women say it it’s bitchy” conversation that was supposed to be sorted in 1985. Not because I have a whole bunch of horrible shit about awards that I’d like to say. I don’t. But I have to tell you that I don’t, so that you’ll think I’m a nice girl, so that I don’t come off as threatening, so that you’ll listen to what I say and not just write me off as an angry feminist…what? Bitch. Because feminist bitches are not to be listened to, don’t you know. They are not to be considered, not the way Priest was considered, even by people who disagreed, even by people who thought he went too far and too personal and too much.
And ultimately, it won’t matter. This post will still probably net me some ugly email and assumptions that I am in some fashion The Worst. Because there is no possible way to make myself as dulcet and charming and innocent and inoffensive as some people want women to be, most particularly women writers of children’s books, without killing some part of me, burning it out to replace it with a nice tea service and a demure smile.
That’s the line I walk, and most female authors and commentators walk. On one side of it is a silence which we can’t afford and on the other are the blowback and threats, which come quietly and secretly through email or boldly and baldly in comments.
I have no doubt professional life will be a bit dodgy for Priest in the near future. But no one will wish him death. No one will email him to tell him he should be raped. No one will call him a rabid animal (with the implication that such monsters are to be put down). That he will not suffer this is undeniably a good thing.
But it’s not an equal thing.
Last night, over a pot of coq au vin and a bottle of vodka, I sat at my table and sang songs with my husband, Laurie Penny, Peter Beagle, Peter’s agent Connor, and Connor’s partner Terri. Peter and I sang Mariah together, from Paint Your Wagon.
That is a thing that happened in real life and not in a dream.
My life is often strange and impossible. I am so grateful for it.