Today’s musical marvel

King Crimson’s “Discipline” performed by a marimba trio:

I love this song so much, and hearing it on marimba is interesting because it really underscores the mechanical nature of the whole thing. This version is missing the jaw-dropping awesomeness of Bill Bruford drumming in 17/16 time, though, so go listen to the original when you have a chance. Bill Bruford is a machine. I may mean that literally.

I have long thought this would be a piece of particular interest to dragons because it is so dispassionate (and tell me Robert Fripp isn’t a dragon. Say that to my face). Everyone is playing in different time signatures, and those change over time for each player. It would require a tremendous amount of concentration to maintain your own rhythm and keep it in synch with everyone else. Years ago, when I played cello, my teacher taught me how to beat three against four and four against five. It was a fun exercise, but it required a prodigious amount of counting. I can’t even imagine keeping it up at this speed.

Petit linkage

  • Fellow writer and internet pal Elizabeth May gives us Five Things to Consider When Creating Realistic Characters.
  • Irish YA author Peadar Ó Guilín is this week’s featured author over at Random Buzzers. His Bone World Trilogy features a cannibal as the main character, which sounds most excellently bizarre to me. The second book is called The Deserter, and I am so desperate to make a pun with the word “dessert” that you see, I’m not even bothering to set up the joke properly, I’m just flinging it out there. Make it yourself. It’s a good one.
  • Here’s a Medieval career planner, which will come in handy once my husband builds a time machine (thanks to Sonia for the link, IIRC). It’s a list of occupations, in fact, but it’s an interesting list and there are lots of jobs that I think should make a comeback somehow. Like “eggler”. Once again, I wish to compose a joke but am not getting very far. A bodger, a fewtrer, and a pavyler walk into a bar…
  • What? Working? Uh. Yes. Yes, I was just about to. Really.

Back to work

My boy returns to school today after a long and eventful spring break. This means I’m back to work on the sequel, spurred on by the enthusiasm I picked up in New York. It’s contagious, apparently. Blogging will be light this week as a result.

The other reason blogging will be light is that I’m working on a massive post wherein I compare YES to a sandwich. I know that sounds like I should be able to do it in just a few lines – “YES is like a sandwich where Jon Anderson is the turkey and Chris Squire is the cheese. Rick Wakeman is pimiento spread.” – but you know me, I have to go and make it all complicated. Because that’s what I do.

Anyway, to tide you over, here’s some music I love: Mille Regretz, by Josquin des Prez. This was one of the first Renaissance pieces I ever encountered as a young person; I encountered it again as a young adult when my sister took a class on early music and reintroduced me to the piece. It was excellent timing, because I was just beginning comics and it inspired me to return to my first genre love, Medieval fantasy. In a very real way, a whole world was sparked by this piece. Enjoy!

What do you mean it’s not Monday?

I know, I know, I wasn’t going to post again until then, but something happened yesterday that I just want to jot down quickly before I forget.

I travelled in the morning, arrived in KY in the early afternoon, and took a nap. After my nap, I was the only one home for some reason, and the phone rang. Figuring it was for Dad or Marvis, I didn’t answer it, but I was close enough to the answering machine that I heard someone start to leave a message: “This is Mrs. Chamberlain. Rachel, your dad just told me your book is coming out soon, and I wanted to tell you…”

Mrs. Chamberlain. My sixth grade teacher. I lunged for the phone.

It turned out she had, indeed, run into Dad out at the arboretum, and he’d told her I was passing through to pick up my son on the way back from New York. “I found the listing for your book on Amazon,” she said, “and then I just really wanted to hear your voice.”

It was so nice to talk to her. She told me how much she always enjoyed my enthusiasm and imagination, and I told her (and almost made her cry, she said) that she was the very first teacher who noticed I was good at and enjoyed creative writing, and that she had encouraged me in that direction more than anyone else.

And then I realized that while I was in New York, I’d only told half a story.

Because someone (was it the photographer?) had asked me how I got started writing. And I told him that when I was eleven (6th grade) a boy in my class had boasted that he was writing a novel, and I’d thought to myself, Jonathan’s writing? How dare he! That’s MY thing! I competitively started writing a novel of my own, a straight-up LotR knock-off, longhand in spiral notebooks.

But here’s the part of the story I didn’t tell, because I hadn’t realized the truth of it: Mrs. Chamberlain was the reason writing was my thing, before I got all competitive with that boy. She had been so encouraging that year that I had taken it deeply to heart. I WAS a writer, down to my toes. She told me so, and I believed her. I gained an identity in sixth grade.

So there you go. Teachers really do shape lives. I feel so very fortunate that I got to thank her yesterday.

Travelling day

I’m on a plane today, darlings – and really, the rest of the week will be kind of a wash – but here’s something to tide you over until I’m back next week (maybe with more YES! How can I say no?).

A review of Seraphina at Operation Awesome. Thank you, Amparo!

This reminds me of something my sister used to say: “I don’t just use my powers for good. I use them for awesome.” Let us all strive to do the same.

Until Monday, friends!

Done for now

My second day was more relaxed than my first. I’m about to toddle off in search of dinner, but I just wanted to say two things:

1) I had a preconceived notion that a “marketing meeting” was going to be something dry and boring, but in fact it was great.  I was surrounded on all sides by people who love books and are full of ideas and enthusiasm. It was surprisingly like a locker room pep-talk before the big game, and I came out all fired up and ready to tackle people.

Of course, there seems to be no one to tackle in my immediate vicinity. The people of New York, being savvy sorts, have all scampered off. I suppose I shall have to wait and tackle my family when I get home. Rahrr!

2) It turns out my prog-rock entries are very, very popular. Who knew? America wants more Rachel geeking-out about YES! How can I refuse? You’re all in for it now. Rahrr, indeed!


The day was just packed

I was too exhausted to type yesterday evening. No, really. My fingers were all Stop bothering us, woman! We’re off for the night! And it’s never a good thing for one’s fingers to decide that the only way to get that message across is to make it literal. So rather than attempt to write with fingerless hand-stumps, or my nose, I went to bed early and here I am.

I still could have slept more, to be honest, but my typing fingers, at least, are sprightly once again.

So. Yesterday. The good folks at Random House decided they need a more formal photo of me for publicity. I went in at nine and a kindly make-up artist tidied up my face. It turns out I clean up OK – who new? The photo shoot itself was fun, although apparently I have to look skeptical before I can smile. The photographer and I fell into this little pattern, where he’d say something silly (“Look like an author!”) and I’d make a suspicious face – honestly, without meaning to – and then he’d say, “Not THAT kind of author!” and then I’d laugh at him. And somewhere in the laughing, I’d smile and he’d catch it.

Then my editor, two of his colleagues, and I had lunch with some lovely librarians at an Italian restaurant called (by astonishing coincidence) “Serafina”. That was great fun. Librarians are some of my very favourite people; I know a legion of them (yes, that’s the collective noun: a legion of librarians), and I’ve never yet met one who wasn’t super. There must be some self-selecting principle at work, there. I really enjoyed talking to everyone.

I met many, many people at Random House, all of them saying such nice things about the book. I was quite overwhelmed and deeply touched by it all.

We shot some video of me in the afternoon, while I still had my face on. Those clips are going to pop up on the internet at some point, and I shall let you know when they do. By that point I was getting very tired, so I don’t quite remember what I said. It’ll be a nice surprise for everyone, including me! I have the distinct impression it was sometimes goofy, but that would have been the case even if I weren’t tired. I should also warn you that I sang. That’s right. I sang. Nobody burst into tears, so I think I did all right, but for that lapse of dignity I’m going to have to blame the exhaustion.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’d probably have sung even more if I WASN’T tired. I am incorrigible.

Going to New York

One of my writer friends uses the phrase “going to New York” as a kind of shorthand to herself, to remind her that writing has to go all the way. It’s not enough to hypothesize about New York or view it from a polite distance. You’ve got to go there, to the place in yourself that intimidates you, that’s big and unruly and dirty and magical. The scariest, realest place you’ve got.

It’s a good metaphor, although I modify it for my own use. In my personal mythology, that city-to-end-all-cities tends to be Izmir, Turkey, where I’m always lost. Or sometimes Tokyo, where I’m illiterate AND lost. The principle is the same, in any case.

As the gods of irony would have it, however, I am at this moment in real New York for real. It’s my son’s spring break, so I dropped him off with his grandparents in Kentucky and came that one step further. I am here to meet the many wonderful people who have helped – and are continuing to help – bring Seraphina into the world.

Meeting people is intimidating for an introvert like myself, but it’s exciting too. I met my editor for the first time today, someone I’ve been working with for three years. After three years, you really feel like you know a person – and I think I do know him, but I know him as words and ideas, as this disembodied voice who helps me see my own work more clearly. Until you see that person standing in the world, that real human right in front of you, the picture isn’t complete, somehow. You haven’t actually been to New York, in the metaphorical sense, if that makes any sense at all.

I’m vaguely afraid it doesn’t. I’ll translate: meeting people is scary, but worth doing!

Seraphina is at a similar juncture, strange as it may sound. This book, which has lived so long as an idea in my head, or words on my screen, will soon embark on a journey of its own. Where is metaphorical “New York” for a book? Other people’s houses, other people’s heads. It’s going to walk out into the world, just like me, and meet people.

And that is as must be, of course. And obviously, I feel it on the book’s behalf, and the book doesn’t feel it at all. I feel fortunate and grateful, as the day approaches, that I haven’t had to do this alone and that Seraphina has had so many friends to set her on her path.

(I do need to apologize to the friends, cousins, and cousins of friends who I won’t have the opportunity to see on this trip. I am scheduled right up to the eyeballs. I should have made it a longer trip – next time I will know. When you go to New York, take your time!)

Why yes, I did fall off the face of the earth

But now I’m back, briefly. It’s been a complicated week: Vancouver teachers were on strike for three days, so my boy has been home with me. I’ve been working hard on a super secret project (which may not be super secret in fact, but I’m trying to err on the side of caution these days), and it’s been rough going due to aforementioned boy and the nature of the project. And my own nature, let’s be frank. If you ever need a visual image for “slow and steady”, my picture is probably as good as anything.

Spring break starts next week, which means MORE boy-at-home. We’re travelling for the second week of it, so you may find that posting is light in March and that’s just how it’s gonna be. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you; it means I have too much to do and too few brain cells with which to do it.

I leave you with what may very well be the best algorithmic Hungarian folk dancing you’ve ever seen (hat tip to my friend Josh).

Check out their other videos too. There’s nothing like mathematical folk dance! No, really. Nothing is like it.

A letter from John Steinbeck

He said he loves my book! Oh, no, wait, that was in my dream. Yes, I always dream about dead authors. Did I never tell you the one where Alan Ginsberg and I were running away from groupies? No? That was one of my favourite dreams ever, although Howl fangirls are scary.

Two different friends directed me toward the “Letters of Note” blog last week, because they thought I’d appreciate this real letter from John Steinbeck. And I do, I really do. It gave me a chuckle, although I hasten to add that my own experience with editors bears very little resemblance to Steinbeck’s. His depiction has, I think, become a bit of a stereotype: the artist creates, the editors all jump in and muck it up like too many cooks. I’ve found my editors, all the way through, to be thoughtful, book-loving individuals who care deeply about what they do.

This, however, really struck me:

Miguel Cervantes invented the modem novel and with his Don Quixote set a mark high and bright. In his prologue, he said best what writers feel—the gladness and the terror.

“Idling reader,” Cervantes wrote, “you may believe me when I tell you that I should have liked this book, which is the child of my brain, to be the fairest, the sprightliest and the cleverest that could be imagined, but I have not been able to contravene the law of nature which would have it that like begets like—”

Ah, I love Cervantes. Remind me to tell you sometime about this dream I had where he and I were discussing Proust – ye gods, that was hysterical! Especially since I hadn’t read any Proust and was faking it the whole time. Although for all I know, Cervantes was faking it too. He strikes me as the sort who could be wily that way.

But yes, hope and fear! Hope and fear! That’s what writers are full of (well, that and beans). Either extreme is untenable; the balance is devoutly to be sought, and yet I feel I spend way more time than is healthy bouncing back and forth between the poles.

This is why reading these letters from the masters is important, I think, and why blogging this stuff – where I say, “I am human and sometimes I am afraid” – is important, and why books are important. There’s a comfort in seeing the same struggle in 16th century Spain and 20th century America. We’re not alone, any of us.