Release date change!

It looks like Seraphina will be coming out July 10th, 2012, instead of the previously announced date in May.

I realize that means waiting two extra months for it – and I totally sympathize with how heartbroken you all must feel – but it’s actually good news. Captain Editorpants assures me that this means Random House is trying to optimize the release date so that my book can make a bigger splash. Yay!

But even better than that: it means the book will be coming out the day after my 40th birthday. As if it were a birthday present, yes. It just strikes me as auspicious.

I’m not superstitious as a rule, but I’ve had enough setbacks and weird luck on the road to being published that I am only ever hesitantly optimistic. Somehow, though, this has broken through my skeptical shell just a little bit. July is a fine month to be born, for books and people both.

Time to start planning that party, methinks!

Impudent updates

* Writing! Sometimes it’s wonderful, sometimes it’s like hitting yourself in the face with a bat!

* Hm. Interesting question. I’ve gotta go with “aluminum bat”, I think. The wooden ones split against my thick skull.

* And hey, good news everybody! No, the cover still isn’t done — or at least not the North American cover. But that’s okay, because the NINYSH cover art is ready! Seriously. Here it is:

Wow! How awesome is that?

Apparently in Ninys it’s traditional to put the author on the cover. Nice, hey? It looks just like me, and the descriptive sign card is totally spot-on. The blue fence is a nice touch; I like how it accentuates my teeth.

* Whaddaya mean Ninys isn’t in your atlas? Look, it’s not my fault your atlas is out of date.

* Hm. Maybe that can be my excuse for poor performance today. It wasn’t writer’s block — I was in the stocks.

Notes to a young writer

I was recently asked how one balances writing with the rest of one’s life. It’s a great question, and something I don’t always feel I do well. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there were a few things I wish I’d known and put into practice early on. Here, then, is my advice:

* Figure out what time of day you do your best work, and cordon it off with velvet ropes.

* Go for walks. Other exercise is good too, and important, but walks are special. Walking makes your brain go.

* Feed yourself. Not just food, although that’s important, but whatever you need to keep your mind and spirit full. Books, music, conversation, landscapes, friends, experiences. Laughter. Art. That’s the well you have to draw from. It’s deep, but it needs to be refilled occasionally.

* Get enough sleep.

* Get enough silence.

It all kind of boils down to “take care of yourself”, I guess. That seems obvious, but it’s always the first thing to go when the going gets stressful.

Obsession roster

Every time I start a new project, I suddenly have a laundry list of things I need to “research”. I put that in scare quotes because I suspect that it’s actually a subconscious strategy to derail myself. I can’t possibly write! I don’t know enough yet!

Here’s the current list of suspect preoccupations:

  • Bantu knots/cornrows (thanks to everyone who answered my burning questions!)
  • building styles and materials of Savoy/Hautes-Alpes (fortunately, I have a book with good pictures!)
  • lichens (yes, you read that right)
  • types of stone that might typically be found near layers of shale
  • time of year gorse would be in bloom
  • incunabula
  • 15th century riding boots (ok, those last two I tend to look up all the time anyway)

I mean, they’re all useful things to know, right? I’m not just goofing off,  here, am I?

Yeah, I kind of am. I hereby issue myself an official reminder: write first. Look up the precise species of marmot later.

Zen mind, writer’s mind

Y’know, I was ready for this to be Buddhism Week, Chez Rachel. I had that dog koan, and then the last few mornings I’ve begun meditating again (I do want to talk about that sometime – I highly recommend it for preventing panic in the face of giant to-do lists). But yesterday I also had a good writing day, which reminded me of that thing I always forget until I’m in the throes of a new project:

My writer’s mind is comprised of three parts. Like tripartite Gaul, yes.

Each part has its own personality, and they are old, old friends by this point. Well, maybe “friends” isn’t quite the right word, but I’ve known these characters a long time and they always show up when I’m first-drafting (they disappear later, when I’m editing, because that’s apparently a different process).

When I start writing, the inside of my head turns into a John Hughes movie. There are three characters – the Bully, the Stoner, and Little Miss Perfect – and they have apparently been assigned to do an English project together. The bulk of the work, as you might expect, falls to Little Miss Perfect. She has an excellent command of English, but alas she is a fierce perfectionist who has no imagination. Left to her own devices, she would sit there fiddling with the same three sentences until they were so devastatingly beautiful that… well, right. Sentences that beautiful do no one any good if she never completes the assignment. That’s what the Bully is for. She breathes down Little Miss Perfect’s neck, telling her she needs to keep writing, because if this assignment is late, the Bully will pound her into the ground.

Little Miss Perfect manages to keep writing and moving forward, in utter terror for her life, until she gets to the point where she can’t. Because she has no imagination, see. She gets stuck, and she starts to cry, and the Bully says mean, unhelpful things to her. Then, and only then, does the Stoner (who looks like young Judd Nelson) wake up and utter the craziest, most pyrotechnically brilliant idea anyone ever heard. Little Miss Perfect (who secretly has a crush on the Stoner) gets it down on paper and starts obsessively making it beautiful and perfect.

Then the Stoner laughs his ass off, eats Cheetos, and falls back asleep so that the cycle might begin again.

Every time I begin, this drama surprises me anew. I don’t know why I forget it so completely, but I suspect it has to do with all the parts being necessary, even the frustration. If I remembered right off the bat that the Stoner would eventually wake up, I would either sit around waiting for him to be funny (and getting nothing done in the meantime), or I’d start poking him with a stick.

I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. He can’t be coerced.

What this process requires, absurdly, is faith. I have to trust that some deep, barely accessible part of my mind is smarter than I am, that it’s working on the answers, and that it will come through for me. I can’t just sit around and wait for it,  though; I have to do my part and work. Even the Bully, mean though she is, is necessary. Nothing would get done without her. I have to trust that too, even while my frustration levels rise. The frustration is good and right. Judd Nelson should be waking up any minute now.

It all works best when I don’t fight it or try to manipulate it, when I let all the parts do what they need to do. Stuff gets written, the project moves forward, and I look down at what I just did and say, “Holy crap, where did THAT come from?”

Cantankerous updates

* I seem to have defeated the virus. Either I’m awesome, or it was very very wimpy. Let’s all just vote for the former, shall we? Maybe that will un-grump me a little bit.

* The next three weeks are going to be particularly busy here on the home front, so this is just a heads-up to say posting will be sporadic until after Canadian Thankgiving (called “Columbus Day” by our southern neighbours, and “October 10th” by the calendar).

* Still no cover. We were very close for a moment; there was a possible cover that I loved dearly, but it’s looking like that won’t be the one after all.

* It’s ok. These things happen. I’m not mad about it anymore.

* I’m cranky because I’m looking at the gigantic pile of scheduled activity for the next three weeks and thinking, “I have another book to write now. When, exactly, am I supposed to write it?”

* That’s right: I’ll get it done by shorting YOU. It’s sad, and true.

* Ah, don’t cry. I’ll pop in occasionally with cryptic, haiku-like posts. Little koans. It’ll be fun.

* Here’s one now: The novice Rachel sat at her keyboard, staring at a blank screen. Her wise little dog trotted up and said, “Rachel, why do you despair?”

“I’ve forgotten how to do this,” said Rachel.

“Are you sure you ever knew?” asked the little dog.

“Is that supposed to be funny, little dog?”

“No,” said the little dog. “But this is.” And the little dog made a ridiculous noise in its throat, like Scooby-do gargling.

Rachel laughed and it was, if not exactly well, at least a little better.

And then I was taken out by a microorganism

Well, a virus anyway. Do they count as microorganisms? I remember debating this question with my sister at the dinner table when we were kids – are viruses alive? – but I don’t remember what we concluded.

Given how old we were, we probably concluded my sister was a booger. That’s how most of our intellectual sparring wound up.

Anyway, I’ve got a cold. That doesn’t mean I haven’t found anything to challenge your little brain, however. Here’s an excruciatingly comprehensive round-up of the #YesGayYA topic that’s been blazing through the YA blogosphere (and you know it’s been BLAZING like a supernova if I mentioned it already, because I am always the last person to know anything) (and yes, I noticed they didn’t round up my paltry contribution, and that’s really ok). My Takei post got a lot of eyeballs, so I figure there are a few of you interested in the topic.

You know who else has a lot of eyeballs? The Harvester of Eyes, that’s who.

So you see, having a cold is bad, but it could have been much, much worse.


Seraphina Sequel plot outline is GO! I get to start writing!

It’s… it’s kind of shocking how excited I am about this. I suppose it’s a good thing that I like to write, eh?

Working title is Dracomachia. That could change, of course.

[Rachel bounces off, stage left…]

I touch on a touchy subject

In the almost-one-year since I joined Goodreads, the topic of authors reviewing books there has come up again and again. I haven’t been in on most of the conversations, and I’m not going to link to them (lest I draw the Eye of Sauron toward myself), but the upshot is usually something like this: authors should not post negative reviews on Goodreads because it will come back and bite them in the butt someday.

If you can’t say something nice, in other words, say NOTHING.

This morning I read a short blog post by one of my favourite YA authors, Melina Marchetta, wherein she explains why she only posts 5-star reviews on Goodreads (and never reviews other Australian authors). I get it – I don’t want to offend anyone either, particularly – but it also makes me sad. Marchetta’s books have such an unconventional, strong, fearless voice that it’s jarring to hear her express, well, fear.

It makes me wonder whether I ought to go through and excise all my sub-stellar reviews. Should I be more cautious? Am I too stupid to know when to be scared?

Phoebe North makes a good case for bad reviews in this guest post at YA Highway. It’s a well-reasoned post, and I tend to agree with her.

So I’m going to lay out my own reviewing policy right here: I am going to say what I think, plainly and honestly. If I don’t like a book, I will say so. I’m not a troll; I am a thinking, interested reader who values thoughtful, honest criticism. I will never make a comment about a book that I wouldn’t consider fair play on one of my books. I’m also a writer, and if  this comes back to bite my bum, well, that’s the portion of my anatomy best suited to being bitten, frankly. It could use a few bites.

And please, you reviewers, when it’s my turn to face the firing squad in turn, be honest. I expect it — no, I require it. There is no book so impeccably written and so universal in its appeal that everyone in the world is going to love it. Not the Bible. Not even The Giving Tree – I gave that 1 star, and I love Shel Silverstein with a love that is true.

(Of course, Uncle Shelby is also dead, and won’t be biting my behind anytime soon… OR WILL HE? Truly, if any author could rise inconveniently from the grave, he’s the one.)