Monday, May 31, 2010

BEA 2010

My trip report for Book Expo America 2010:

I talked to a LOT of people.

Yep, that just about sums it up. :)

Book Expo America (known as BEA) is a convention for booksellers. Publishers have booths, and booksellers, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, bloggers, agents, and others wander between them and talk about books. In a word, it is AWESOME.

This year's convention lasted either two days or two months, I'm not sure which. I walked into the Javits Center in NYC at 7am, and when I came out in the evening, it was suddenly 90+ degrees. It felt exactly as if I'd entered the convention center in May and emerged in August. (Not impossible. You do lose track of time in there.)

In actuality, my BEA Adventure lasted almost a week. Monday night was a party at Books of Wonder. Tuesday night was the Association of Booksellers for Children "not-a-dinner" event. Wednesday was... actually, Wednesday felt like three days. It started with the Children's Authors Breakfast, it continued with exploring the exhibit floor, and it ended with 3 different parties around
Manhattan. Thursday included a meeting with my agent, more prowling through the exhibit hall and talking to people, and then the long schlep home with three bags stuffed with books.

I also brought home a quote from Richard Peck's speech at the Wednesday breakfast: "The only way to write is by the light of the bridges burning behind you."

From the context of the speech, he didn't mean burning bridges in the sense of alienating people. (That's never a good idea, IMHO.) He meant it in the sense of making career choices. If you want to be a writer, you have to choose NOT to be a lot of other things. You have to burn the bridge that could lead you to a life as a... I don't know.... insert other career goal here.

On one hand, I think that statement is less true about being a writer than being, say, a neurosurgeon or an astronaut. You can have a day job and be a writer. You can also have one career and then become a writer as a second career, or vice versa.

But on the other hand... Everyone has twenty-four hours a day, and every time you choose how to spend those hours, you are also choosing how NOT to spend them.

For me, the writer bridge is the only one that I ever wanted to cross. And I'm happy for the light of the other burning bridges -- it keeps me from tripping over my feet as I walk across. But I'm curious what you guys think of that quote. Do you think it's true?

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday. (Well, technically yesterday, since it's after midnight... but I digress...)

I love birthdays. And not just because I can wear a "birthday princess" crown (which I totally put on this morning and then pretended to forget that I was still wearing it for the rest of the day -- "oh, silly me, is this still on?").

And not just because I can eat Carvel ice cream cake. (No birthday is complete without Carvel ice cream cake -- this is actually a tra
dition to the point of being a superstition with me. I am half convinced that I will not age if I don't eat the cake, which come to think of it may not be such a terrible thing... hmm...)

I love birthdays because it means lots of hugs and kisses and phone calls from the people that I love.

And I won't deny it: birthdays also mean presents. To be clear, it's not that I care about getting stuff. I don't. What I like is the thought behind a clever present. "It's the thought that counts" is not a cliche. Well, yes, it's a total cliche, but it's TRUE.

Awesome Gift #1

It started with a box.

Husband said, "Don't look in the box in the closet."

I didn't.

But I did open the closet door just to see what kind of box I wasn't looking in. (This was totally legit because looking "at" a box is not the same as looking "in" the box, right?) Well, I was looking at a BIG box. Way
too big to hold a book. Way too big to be wrapped. He'd cleverly covered it with a bed sheet.

Predictably, this became all I could think about for the last two days, leading to many reenactments of the classic DUNE moment:

"What's in the box?"


I failed to guess what was in the box. Unicorn? No. Dragon? No. Griffin? No. Gryphon-spelled-fancy? No. But as it turns out, I wa
s pretty close. It was a magical present.

This morning (my birthday morning), out came the box. Here's what it held:

And here, after a few hours of assembly that included (oddly enough) a sledgehammer, this is what it transformed into:

My very own wishing well! How perfect is that?
For one thing... INTO THE WILD! For another... my husband knows how much I love to make wishes. During our vacation in Disney World, I made a point of visiting the wishing well next to Cinderella's castle just so I could make a few wishes at the well.

Anyway, we placed this wishing well next to our very own Wild (a completely overgrown hill), and I'm planning to plant lots of flowers all around it. Also, I'm planning to make lots of wishes. Already started, in fact.

First wish in the well: 100 unicorns.

Second wish in the well: enough food for 100 unicorns.

Third wish... can't tell you that or it might not come true. (I'm okay with jinxing the unicorn wish. I have no idea where I'd put a herd that size. Things are already crowded enough around here with all the gryphons.)

Awesome Gift #2

Okay, this next gift wasn't a birthday present. It was a thank-you present, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway because it was awesome (and the timing was close enough to pass for a birthday present)...

Last March, I did a virtual school visit to Randall Middle School in Lithia, Florida. It turned out to be one of my all-time favorite visits. When the video conference kicked in, I saw the best sight: 65+ kids all wearing golden crowns and waving magic wands at me.

All the kids had fantastic questions, and the hour flew by so fast that I think I made them late for their next class. I closed out the video conference thinking, "Wow, really cool."

I'd now like to amend that to say, "WOW, REALLY CO
OL!" Randall Middle School students (led by their fabulous media specialist Darlene Meginnis) deserve all caps. This week, a giant box arrived for me. In it was a T-shirt from their book club, three of my very own magic wands (which I promptly used to turn my husband into a frog -- don't worry; he got better), and a wonderful collage that included the cover art from Into the Wild, a picture of their library, and a poem written by one of the students. On the frame's matte, all the students had added notes in gold ink. I absolutely treasure it.

How awesome is that? So awesome. Thank you to Dar
lene and the students at RMS! You guys rock!

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Nebula Awards Weekend 2010

I'm writing this in the airport en route home from Nebula Awards Weekend, held this year in Cocoa Beach, Florida. My novel ICE was nominated for SFWA's Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

You want to know the best part of being nominated for an award from SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America)?

Free unicorn.

Once you arrive at the event, you are spirited away to a secret room, which you must access by aligning a series of steampunk-esque locks. You are then asked a series of questions, ranging from "What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?" to "Would you like jam tomorrow or jam yesterday?" If you answer correctly, you may proceed. If you fail, you are dropped into the Pit of Eternal Stench (or the Great Pit of Carkoon on Tatooine, depending on your preference, which you stated during the registration process, along with your beef, fish, or veggie choice for the banquet). If you succeed, you are presented with your unicorn.

As I write this, mine is attempting to bust his way out of my carry-on luggage. I'm hoping my unicorn will fit under the seat in front of me. If he doesn't... well, I don't relish the idea of explaining to the flight attendant why the overhead bin is full of unicorn poop.

Okay, okay, there was no secret room or unicorn-as-swag. But there was a space shuttle launch, which is as awesome as a unicorn. (In fact, I think that should be NASA's new motto: "Space, as awesome as unicorns.") The awards weekend (aka the Nebs) was planned to coincide with the third-to-last sp
ace shuttle launch, the final flight of the shuttle Atlantis. Launches are visible from Cocoa Beach.

I nearly missed the launch due to the tremendous traffic -- everyone else in the state of Florida was also attempting to drive to the coas
t to see the launch. But I arrived at the hotel ten minutes before launch, dropped my suitcase at the front desk, and booked it out to the beach.

Lots of people were already there. All of them were standing (as if that would bring you closer to the shuttle than sitting) and looking north. Kind of looked like everyone was waiting for an alien invasion.

At precisely 2:20, I saw a fat firecracker rise above the palm trees and hotels to the north. I was pretty sure it wasn't the shuttle because I thought that the water tanks in the distance were the launch pads. (Not so much.) Also, I'd expected applause or a collective "oooh" from the watchers. (Everyone was busy taking photos.) But I figured out reasonably quickly that fireworks aren't that fat. This was a long fat orange flame followed by billowing white smoke.

The Launch

It looked like the orange fire was giving birth to a huge cloud snake. After a while, the snake ended, but you could still see the shuttle as a white dot. Eventually, it vanished, and the snake slowly coiled in on itself and drifted away.

Really magical.

Cloud Snake

Before the launch, I'd noticed a group of people near me were wearing SFWA Nebula Awards Weekend name tags. I was too shy to say hello at first, but I reminded myself that I'd earned my unicorn (so to speak) and introduced myself. I spent the remainder of the weekend in pretty much constant conversation.

Really, the best part of the Nebs is talking to all the people. The science fiction and fantasy community is filled with some of the nicest, friendliest, smartest, funniest, and most interesting people that I've ever met. *waves at everyone*

Each evening had a great event. On Friday night, there was the mass book signing, followed by the ceremony to honor the nominees. For the book signing, I was seated between Allen Steele and Peter J. Heck. (Does anyone have the photo of me at the signing with Allen in which he is wearing glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs, courtesy of Lucienne Diver?)

For the ceremony, the nominees were called on stage by Russell Davis (current SFWA president) and given a special pin and certificate by Neal Barrett, Jr. (this year's author emeritus).

Later that night, I discovered that if you press the pin and spin around, it will open a portal to another dimension.

Totally kidding. The portal goes to Schenectady.

The Pin

On Saturday night, there was the Awards Banquet. Honestly, I wasn't the slightest bit nervous until I walked into that banquet hall. Once I was inside, I promptly started imagining that either (A) I'd win and forge
t to thank my husband, who is the heart and soul of everything I do, and then have to spend the next several decades trying to win something again so that I could have a do-over, or (B) my dress would inexplicably fall off.

Which reminds me... the DRESS. As is now a tradition, here is the requisite slightly-tilted self-portrait of me in a purdy dress:

The Dress

I even wore makeup for the occasion (which is shocking considering that I can count on one hand the number of times that I've worn m

Also wore my polar bear necklace.

Best dressed for the night goes to Mary Robinette Kowal who wore an Oscar red-carpet-worthy gown, James Marrow who wore Godzilla slippers, and Bud Sparhawk who wore all his Nebula pins as buttons on his tux.

The event itself was extremely cool. Lots of wonderful speeches. Catherynne Valente, who won the Andre Norton Award, gave a particularly lovely speech about how this book was like a fairy tale, saving her at a time when she needed saving, but how she never expected a glass slipper at the
end of it. Connie Willis gave a very funny and sweet introduction to Joe Haldeman, the Grand Master. David Levine showed fantastic photos of his two weeks inside a Mars simulation. And Allen Steele kept everything moving as toastmaster.

The Banquet

But my favorite moment (other than when Tom Doyle announced the nominees for the Andre Norton Award -- totally felt like the Oscars!!!) was when Eugie Foster won for novelette. She and her husband Matthew were sitting next to me for the banquet, and the absolute stunned joy on her fac
e when her name was called... and the look of love and pride on her husband's face... I totally got tears in my eyes. The two of them were radiating joy.

Eugie and Matthew Foster

My favorite line of the night was after the banquet, after Paolo Bacigalupi had won the Nebula for Best Novel, he said, "I'm embarrassed to be this happy." Like Eugie, he was radiating happiness. He was even still smiling the next morning, despite total lack of sleep.

My favorite non-awards-related time of the convention was drinking pina coladas at the outside bar with Laura Anne Gilman with a view of the ocean in front of us and a very stubborn yellow butterfly behind us.

And my favorite totally unrelated to SFWA or the Nebulas moments were my two morning walks down this beach:

The Beach

Lastly, my favorite take-away from the event... I came away from the weekend feeling inspired to write, write, write! So thank you, SFWA. You're all awesome. And the unicorn is great too.

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Boston Authors Club Award Ceremony

So I'm driving down the Mass Pike, heading back from Boston, and my cell phone rings.


ME: I'm so sorry that I didn't get to see you! Really short trip.

BROTHER: Where are you?

ME: Driving on the Mass Pike.

BROTHER: Where on the Mass Pike?

ME: Near the Framingham rest stop. Where are you?

BROTHER: On the Mass Pike. Are you in between some 18-wheelers?

ME: Um, yes. Closest one is called Iron Mountain.

BROTHER: I'm five cars behind you.

So we both turn off at the rest stop and have a mini family reunion right there in the parking lot. It was so lucky as to be nearly freaky.

Also by crazy coincidence, earlier that day, while walking around Newbery Street, I heard someone call my name, turned, and saw my cousin, whom I hadn't seen in years.

Either Massachusetts is suddenly a LOT smaller than it used to be, or I was having a very lucky day.

I'm voting the latter because the reason I was in Massachusetts at all that day was to receive this:

ICE was named a 2010 Finalist for the Boston Authors Club Award for Young Readers!!! And now I have this lovely certificate to prove it!

The ceremony was held in the Boston Public Library, which was cool because BPL is one of my favorite libraries. When I lived in Somerville, I used to fill up giant bags of books and nearly break my back hauling them home on the T. Somehow it never occurred to me while I was in the library that I'd have to lug the books home...

It was a really lovely ceremony. The members of the judging committee took turns introducing each book and explaining why they had chosen it, and then several of us talked about why/how we'd written our books. The honored books covered quite a wide range (see list below or click here) -- nonfiction, poetry, and a short story collection, in addition to novels spanning various genres -- and it was fascinating to hear how the different books came to be. I love hearing about other writers' processes.

In case you're curious, here is approximately what I said:

Thank you so much! This really, really means a lot to me.

ICE is a novel that's very close to my heart. I wrote it as a love letter to my husband. It's about true love. Not the fairy-tale love-at-first-sight kind of love where the girl dances with the prince and he doesn't bother to find out anything about her other than her shoe size... but it's about real love, the kind of love where you face the world united as a team, where you'd go beyond the ends of the earth for your love.

One of the reasons that I write fantasy is that it allows you to explore themes like true love in an extreme sort of way. You can explore what sort of person, what sort of relationship would lead a person to literally go east of the sun and west of the moon, beyond the known world.

Another reason that I write fantasy is pure wish fulfillment. I want to ride a talking polar bear! Through writing, I can experience things that aren't actually possible. Growing up, I was the kid who always wanted something magical to happen. I was always searching for dragon's eggs in the backyard or waiting for the portrait in the hall to speak. Every year for much, much too long, I would put on my wish list for Santa: magic wand. (Though I have to say, I still think this was more practical than my brother, who at age six, would put Ferrari on the theory that he could just save it until he was sixteen.)

The third reason that I write fantasy is because I believe that fantasy literature is a very important kind of literature. It directly fulfills what I see as one of the primary purposes of books, which is: escape. To take you someplace else, someplace you will never go, could never go. To let you live inside the skin of someone who is utterly unlike you.

I think that being a writer is the closest you can get in this world to being a wizard. You... we... try to cast spells. You try to create this kind of telepathy where you put your dream into the head of someone you have never met and will never meet: you try to create a shared dream. You shape the reader's imagination. You take them on a journey.

ICE took me on a journey to the Arctic. I've never actually been to the Arctic. I'm a lousy traveler. I always overpack. I don't like to be too hot or too cold. I hate bugs. But I've always thought of the Arctic as a magical, dangerous, beautiful place, and by writing this book, I got to go there.

I did a TON of research for this book. I read nature guides, explorer memoirs, polar bear books, everything I could get my hands on. I think I can safely say that I am the only person I know who owns a North Slope Barrow dialect Inupiaq to English dictionary. At one point, I could tell you what kind of lichen were on the rocks that Cassie would walk past as she trekked across the Arctic. I could tell you where the sun would be on a particular day at a particular time at a particular latitude. It varies that far north, you know. In the middle of summer, at the top of the world, the sun just circles above the horizon all day and all night.

I learned details like if you cry in the Arctic, your eyelashes will freeze and break off, and I got to explore what that would do to a person's character, learning to hold that emotion in. And things like if you walk across the ice of the Arctic, you're walking over frozen sea, not land, and any minute, the ice could shift and drop you into water that could kill you in fifteen minutes -- how that would affect a person.

One of my favorite things about being a writer is that it is the ultimate in armchair traveling. I got to travel vicariously with Cassie.

I'd like to thank you for traveling with me. Thank you for liking ICE. And thank you for this wonderful honor!

And after we all spoke, we ate sandwiches. :) All in all, it was a lovely, lucky day.

If you're a member of the Boston Authors Club and you're reading this, thank you so much for giving me such a nice memory along with such a wonderful honor! And if you're my father and you're reading this (hi, Dad!), thank you so much for coming! It really meant a lot to have you there. Lastly, if you're one of the other authors who was honored on Thursday, congratulations!!!



First Prize:
Jacqueline Davies for LOST

Pat Lowery Collins for HIDDEN VOICES
Sarah Beth Durst for ICE
Francisco X. Stork for MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD

Highly Recommended Titles:
Pam Bachorz for CANDOR
Liza Ketchum for NEWSGIRL
Glenna Lang & Marjory Wunsch for GENIUS OF COMMON SENSE


Julia Ward Howe Prize:
Nancy Rappaport for IN HER WAKE

Jay Mathews for WORK HARD; BE NICE

Highly Recommended Titles:
Janice Y. K. Lee for THE PIANO TEACHER
Matthew Pearl for THE LAST DICKENS
Francine Prose for ANNE FRANK

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