Saturday, May 29, 2010

Life Really Is Full of Little Miracles

And sometimes some not so little ones...

Lisa Yee posted this link on FB and I fell so head over heels in love with it that I had to share it here. It's a you tube video of a baby who has just recieved a cochlear  implant and can, for the first time, hear his mother's voice. The look on his face as he discovers this new sense, this entire new realm of sound, is beyond beautiful.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Quantum Life or In Which I Confess How Crazy I Truly Am

So here’s one of the reasons I adore traveling, even though I pretty much am not a traveler: It makes it easier for me to imagine my quantum lives.

I have had this belief, this theory, if you will, since I was young enough to remember—long before I’d ever heard of quantum physics or string theory or alternate universes—and it goes something like this: Every time I make a decision, one of the things that comforts me is I have this sense of Other Robins living out a multitude of lives and taking the paths that I did not. So if I ended up marrying the boy next door and staying in my hometown to start my family, that’s okay because there are hundreds of Other Robins out there, living the lives I had considered. One is in Washington DC, as a practicing lawyer, another is an intrepid traveler who has circled the globe numerous times, living elegantly and sparingly out of a single suitcase for months on end, another lives as a partial recluse near Hollywood and designs movie sets, and another . . . well, you get the idea.

So I always have this sense that when I make a decision and choose a path, there are other me’s living the paths I considered, so I haven't really lost anything. I'm not as present in those lives, but they are happening out there somewhere on some level. (Okay, I DID warn you it was crazy.)

But I also thinks this spark of belief  helps me be a better writer because reality feels fluid to me; I don’t feel as if I’m making things up so much as recording a piece of alternate history that nobody has discovered yet.

And when I travel, I get to SEE these places, these neighborhoods and cities and different swarms of people and those parallel lives I’ve always sort of believed in seem much more tangible and real.

Bordering on insanity or a quantum thinker since the cradle? You decide. Just don’t tell me which one you pick. ☺

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Attempting Re-entry

Upon my return from my trip, the revision letter for Theo Four was waiting for me. And due to a number of circumstances, it is due back to my editor SOON. Which gives me approximately seventeen days for the revision.

One of the things I struggle with every. single. time. is how much information to backfill in for readers regarding The Adventure So Far. I definitely tend to err on the side of not enough information, which isn’t good, but I also loathe a great big recap of previous events in order to bring readers up to speed. It’s also deuced difficult to know how much to recap each person in the story and what their role is. It can also be exceptionally clunky.

It’s a little bit easier if each adventure stands on its own, which the Theodosia books almost do, but characters and plot threads do move from one book into the next, and those need some explaining. So this evening I will be combing my shelves, looking for examples of how other writers have done it skillfully and gracefully. If any of you have any suggestions of books that have done this particularly well, please do feel free to pass those titles along!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wrapping Up

Okay, I’ve been home two days and I should probably have posted this last entry on Saturday, at the latest, but I was exhausted. As I told the kids at all the events, my characters share some traits with me, not the least of which being—like Nathaniel Fludd—I am not an intrepid traveler. It totally wears me out. Add that to being an introvert, and I am pretty much a wet soggy dishrag by the end of the adventure.

That doesn’t mean that I want to stay home all the time. I actually always get a LOT out of my travel experiences and am always grateful for the opportunity. It just means I have to pace myself.

The last leg of the trip was a quiet one, the only moment fraught with peril was me trying to get out of the city of Boston in an unfamiliar rental car, on unfamiliar roads and with very little idea of where I was going. Thank gawd for GPS, is all I can say. That and Google Maps steered me in the right direction. Oh, and there was a slight moment of panic when I thought I was going to have to give the cabbie a $25 tip because he had NO CHANGE on him, PLUS he refused to take a credit card! What is up with that?? Luckily, if rather embarrassingly, he approached every single person at the car rental until he found someone with change for a $50 bill while I stood blushing furiously in the corner.

One of the absolute highlights of the day was Vermont itself. As I’ve mentioned (probably ad nauseum) I’ve never been to New England, and the drive from Boston to Vermont was one continual enchantment of trees and forests and more greenness than I have ever laid eyes on. It was stunning and I longed to turn off the highway and explore one or two of the quaint little towns along the way, but I just didn’t have that much wiggle room in my timing. (They also had the cleanest, prettiest rest stops along the highway that I’ve ever seen.)

The true highlight, however, was finally getting to see possibly the cutest bookstore in America, The Flying Pig. It is in a gorgeous, old building with high stairs and wooden floors and a veritable feast of books. I also got to meet the wonderful Elizabeth Bluemle, and we had an amazing visit. She is warm and charming and effusive and a wonder-hostess. The turnout was a bit on the thin side, but we still had a terrific time.

Then I went back to my hotel and collected myself for the final schlepp home the next day.

I cannot even begin to describe what an amazing experience this has been, to meet so many new readers and talk to so many booksellers and librarians and parents. Truly an abundance of riches! A whopping big thank you to Houghton Mifflin (and Jenn in particular!) for organizing this trip! Honestly? In spite of being a less-than-intrepid traveler, I would have been traveled to the ends of the earth for an experience this rich. Luckily, I didn’t have to. ☺

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wellesley Booksmith!

Okay, I have just enough time for one more update before I have to head to the airport and begin my trek home.

Houghton Mifflin was kind enough to NOT schedule me to within an inch of my life, so I had some time free on Thursday, which was lovely. I got to explore Boston with one of my favorite people in the entire world, Miss Katy Cooper. We started talking the minute we laid eyes on each other and didn't stop until she had to leave so I could get ready for the signing. We even talked while she gave me a tour of the Boston Public Library, which is actually part library, part museum. (And no librarians shushed us!) I also got to explore the Boston Commons (a teeny bit) and the Boston Public Gardens. And there were baby ducklings! Although, we did not have to make way for them.

Again, an absolutely lovely city. A city I could actually live in, I think. I am an absolute sucker for the oldness of the buildings and the elaborate, detailed architectural details And due to the gardens and the commons, there was a lot of green, for a city.

Then that afternoon a wonderful media escort picked me up to take me to Wellesley Booksmith. She was so thorough and competent that she even managed to color coordinate her outfit to mine.  And Wellesley itself was a DARLING town (it's only drawback being you simply cannot find anything to eat after 7:30 in the evening.) I am really beginning to suspect I must have been a New Englander in a former life, because boy, these adorable little towns sure feed some part of me.

The bookstore was wonderful and I got to meet Alison and Kim (who was originally from Santa Barbara!) and see Margaret again, whom I'd had lunch with on Wednesday. We had a lovely turnout, including some of my favorite online people (Hi Vivian! Hi Anna! Hi Liz!) a Theo blog reader (Hi Debby!) and a video trailer designer extrordinaire (Hi Marianne!) and another one of my Super Agent's Super Clients (Hi Susan!) [Anyone else feel like they're in an episode of Romper Room? No? I'm dating myself, aren't I?]

The talk went really well and I got to sign lots and lots of lovely books and meet all sorts of new readers. Pretty much book signing heaven, if you ask me, so THANK YOU Wellesley Booksmith!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Curious George!

Wednesday was an awesome day! My publicist Jenn arranged a wonderful lunch with a bunch of great people, but I can't download the pictures from my camera, so I'm going to save that post for a later time.

I will talk about the very fun signing we did at Curious George Books in Cambridge, though. First of all, it was right across the street from Harvard, which felt very momentous.  It was a charming bookstore and I am only glad it isn't located anywhere near where I was raising my kids or I would have spent all of their college education funds in there.

It was a cold misty drizzly day and that did not do wonders for the turnout, but it was a cozy, intimate crowd and we had a great time. Plus, what we lacked in numbers we made up for in quality: mega rock star, Newberry Honor Winner Grace Lin popped by to say hi, which was awesome of her. She had to leave before we had a chance to chat, but it was SO wonderful to see her, however briefly. Also Super Agent Ammi Joan Paquette stopped by with her charming daughter. And of course, Illustrator Extrodinaire Kelly Murphy. (But I pretty much already gushed all about that, so I'll stop now before I become tiresome.) Much fun was had by all!

Meeting! Kelly! Murphy!

Meeting the amazing and talented illustrator, Kelly Murphy has GOT to be one of the absolute highlights of an already incredible trip. In a nutshell? I adore her.

She has amazing energy and is sweet and funny and I seriously want to do an entire book tour with her. (So everyone go out and buy tons of Beastologist books so we can have a Kelly and Robin Beastolgist Book Tour. We promise to come to a city near YOU!)

One of the things that was so fascinating was how very many thing we had in common. Weird things. Almost eerie things.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here before, but when they were talking about illustrators for the books, my editor directed me to Kelly’s (old) website. Her home page was a map. With a compass. And under Favorite Books, she’d listed ATLASES!! How perfect a fit was that?

But the amazing coincidental similarities don’t end there. At one point in time I had seven brothers, Kelly has five! And one sister! I also have one sister.

I get goosebumps whenever I go into a museum or library, and Kelly gets goosebumps whenever she looks at a statue.

We both do very similar type collages when we’re brainstorming our projects.

We both ADORE the research stage.

The list goes on and on. Pretty astounding, really.

It was so fascinating to see Kelly’s presentation and hear how she approached illustrating the books and the decisions and choices she made in order to evoke certain things about Nathaniel in very spare, clean lines.

She was also incredibly generous and showed kids lots of her rough sketches so they could see just how raw early work was, even with a professional illustrator. The kids especially loved watching her draw “on the spot” and seeing Nate come to life before her eyes.

Really, I am the luckiest of authors to be partnering with her on these books. Thank you, Kelly!


When the kids were little (I mean really little)* whenever they liked something a huge heaping lot, they would say they liked it so much they wanted to marry it.

Well, I like the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston so much, I want to marry it. Seriously. L’Occitane toiletries? A nail kit AND a sewing kit? Padded hangers with little knobby things on the shoulders so spaghetti straps don’t slip off the hanger? And two minutes ago, as I sat here checking my email, the maid knocked and brought me bottled water and ice, just because. And the people are so genuinely friendly that it is easy to imagine that you are staying with your favorite aunt and cousins who haven’t seen you in years.

Yeah. Color me hooked.

Seriously, if one has to be away from home, this is the place to be.

And it is no accident. I was talking with the sommelier who wandered over to chat while I was having dinner and he told an interesting story. When he was interviewing for his current job, he’d had three interviews before the subject of wine even came up! They were looking for a very specific personality fit and genuine desire to be friendly with people. I thought that was awesome, not the least because it plays into my personal theory that we all have talents and gifts that will shine under certain circumstances. Nice to know that the hotel has that same philosophy.

Boston itself is a very cool city, LOTS of old buildings and about as much history as any place in the United States. It's almost as good as being in a museum--I can sense the oldness of some of these buildings around me and I love it.

I'm running a teensy bit behind on blogging about my trip, but the entries will be trickling in, probably a couple a day until I catch up.

*Okay, now I can't remember if it was MY kids or when my brothers and I were kids. But we're not going to call this a memory haze, rather a travel-induced memory haze. I've spent the last three days talking about my childhood in my presentation so it is much fresher in my mind than normal and I am absolutely sure that is what is creating this momentary futz.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Honest-to-god, my entire home town would fit inside Union Station in Washington D.C. The six enormous statues towering over everything give it the feel of an old renaissance cathedral. Very awe inspiring. Until I got to the taxi line, which was seventy-five people long. The inspiration quickly evaporated. They should plan it so the taxi line weaves back inside so we could study the statuary while we waited. THAT would be truly cool.

The hotel I stayed in was so enormous that it had a very evolved, tri-fold map for guests to use in navigating. It wasn’t much help. I almost had to call a taxi to get from the hotel lobby to my room, but I think the check-in attendant recognized that I was a wee bit travel worn and took pity on me and placed me in a room just off the elevators. Thank god, or I would STILL be wandering the halls of the Marriott, wondering how on earth to find my way back to civilization.

You all are going to get sick of me saying this, but D.C. was also a MUCH prettier city than I had imagined. Lots of elegant old buildings and brownstones, lovely architectural details, tree lined streets, etc. Very, very nice.

POLITICS and PROSE was an aMaZinG bookstore! Oh Em Gee!! It’s the kind of place you kind of wish you’d get locked up in overnight, kinda/sorta by accident, just so you could have your way with all those lovely, tantalizing books. The school kids who came to hear me talk were sharp and savvy and had all sorts of terrific questions. They kept me on my toes, they did, and were hugely fun to get to know.

And the wonderful Dee and her equally wonderful daughter Miss Maggie drove all the way from Virginia, just so we could meet! I was THRILLED to look up into the audience and see their smiling, familiar faces. (I've only actually ever met Dee, but Maggie was the spitting image, so she felt familiar, too.) Thank you, thank you for making the trek! It was LOVELY to see you again!

My travel observation of the day: I had to go through one of those dreaded x-ray machines at Reagan National Airport. Oy. I thought they were supposed to give us more assurance that people weren’t carrying anything, but both the woman in front of me and myself ended up having to be patted down. The examination was more thorough than my last annual physical.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Baltimore! And Washington, D.C.!

Dear Diary Blog,

Baltimore was a much lovelier city than I had anticipated from watching all those episodes of THE WIRE. (And don't you just bet Baltimorians hate that? That 90% of the country's views of them were formed from watching a police TV drama?)

There were charming brick buildings and lovely brownstones with marble steps. And everything was much greener than I had imagined, with gorgeous dark pink rhododendron bushes. I also saw my first peony in the wild, on an actual bush instead of in a vase or bouquet. I adore those feathery, pale pink petals.

Ellen the Librarian was an incredible hostess and both schools were full of amazing students and dedicated teachers. It was aWeSoMe to get to connect with all those new readers!

Also? Ellen has the most adorable six year old daughter. If I were given to snatching children (which I am not) I would be sorely tempted to snatch up Miss Lilly and keep her for my own. She was a charmer. Six going on thirty two and with a knock-dead fashion sense. Loved her a lot. Her older brother, Dan, was an avid Theo fan and it was great fun to talk about the books with him. (He even hand sold a couple at the book signing!)

Then I got on the train for D.C.

So introverts, there is good news: The Acela from Baltimore to DC has a QUIET car. Awesome. It is as quiet as a library. There is even a sign that declares it the Quiet Care and forbids any but the most hushed voices and absolutely NO cell phones.

The bad news? I stumbled into it by accident, bumping into seats, juggling too much luggage, saying "excuse me" and accidentally dropping my jacket and causing one poor man to trip (thus necessitating a fervent apology) and generally being a Boarding The Quiet Car DON'T.  In my defense, I've only ridden on a train twice, and the ones in California don't have quiet cars.

The ride from Baltimore to DC was lovely (and quiet!) and the whole time I kept remembering some books of my mother's childhood (Hi Dixie!) called The Little Maid books. I think there was a little maid of Vermont, and basically all of the thirteen colonies, and I was just so aware that I was riding through the exact same countryside that the Little Maid had inhabited.

Seriously, there are few things that influence us as much as our childhood reading material.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dashing Madly Out The Door!

Wow, I had SO hoped to get back in here this week to blog, but the week exploded on me frankly. And now I'm out the door to the East Coast for school visit and book signing FUN!

I am taking my camera and hoping to get some pictures to post here. And I SHOULD be able to write a blog entry on the flippin' plane, at least.

I will leave you with the news that NATHANIEL FLUDD, BEASTOLOGIST, The Basilisk's Lair has shipped early and is in stores now. And the reviews have begun to come in!

Jun 2010. 160 p. hardcover, $15.00. (9780547238678).

Picking up immediately where Flight of the Phoenix (2009) finished, Nathaniel Fludd, Aunt Phil, and the gremlin Greasel pursue an escaped Basilisk, the highly dangerous king of the Serpents. Despite his previous success in the field, Nathaniel is an uncertain beastologist, although wise Aunt Phil finds ways to incorporate Nathaniel’s preexisting skills, such as his artistic abilities, as he hones his new ones. Familiarity with Nathaniel’s previous adventure is helpful though not necessary, and fans can look forward to a return to Batting-at-the-Flies as the trio investigates the disappearance of Nathaniel’s parents in theforthcoming volume.
  Kara Dean

Kirkus review:
THE BASILISK’S LAIR: Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, Book 2 / HOUGHTON

When his Aunt Phil flies to the western Sudan to recapture an escaped basilisk, she takes Nathaniel Fludd along, reassuring him that he is only to “watch and learn.” Instead, he and his gremlin friend, Greasle, play important roles. This satisfying middle-grade adventure features a hesitant, unskilled hero, a miniature sidekick straight from Where the Wild Things Are and an exotic setting in colonial British West Africa in 1928. The basilisk is appropriately scary, and straightforward storytelling leads to an exciting climax. Readers won’t get and don’t need the entire back story from Flight of the Phoenix (2009), the first in the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series, but those who have read it will surely enjoy the return of the supposed orphan and his formidable aunt. Murphy has provided a full-page pen-and-ink illustration as well as several smaller sketches for almost every chapter, and Nathaniel contributes drawings, too. Sharp-eyed readers will realize that the chapter numbers are counted in animal bones. This story is complete in itself, but the ending promises more adventure to come. (Guide to People, Places, and Things) (Adventure. 7-10)


Monday, May 10, 2010

The Unexpected Challenges--and Rewards--of Being a Parent

I know it's the day after Mother's Day, but I adore this video by Sarah Darer Littman and her son Joshua  and I want everyone to see it.

What she says is so true; sometimes our kids come into this world and end up teaching us so very much about ourselves...


Friday, May 07, 2010

The Perils of Omniscient

So I’ve been wallowing in a reading-fest of late and having a grand old time of it. However, I have discovered, or perhaps re-discovered, something as I read, and that is: Omniscient is harder than hell to pull off, unless you’re British or Australian.

The thing is, I do like the omniscient POV, it hearkens back to the Once Upon a Time voice of childhood fairy tales, and I’m just enough of a writing/reading nerd that I don’t mind the author inserting themselves into the reading process. And yet…

And yet so often stories written in omniscient lose something in the process—some spark of life or suspension of disbelief. I can’t quite put my finger on it, which is why I’m blogging about it—trying to figure it out. The last three books with an omniscient voice that I’ve tried to read, I’ve ended up not finishing. There is just too much voice and not enough story or character.

I think what it boils down to is, while I like the chatty, observational tone of omniscient, it begins to wear on me when used for an entire book. Which is odd, I realized, because I do love those exact same elements in a first person voice. In fact, I think a first person voice can feel very flat without at least some of that.

But what omniscient does is remove the reader from the story, it separates me from the emotions, feelings, and experiences of the character by one degree, and that one degree can be crucial to the bonding and empathizing necessary for me to become absorbed by a story.

Omniscient, by its very nature—a present or invisible narrator telling us the story—is telling rather than showing. I don’t ever get to lose myself in that character because the narrator is keeping me at arm’s length.

Also, omniscient lends itself to overwriting.

Omniscient is also what a lot of beginning writers default to when they first start out because they don’t understand point of view, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.

I think one of the techniques to getting around that distance problem is to telescope with omniscient—to not insert the narrator all the time, but only in judicious doses. Other times, let it feel more like third person.

Another technique is to just have a fabulous, fabulous omniscient voice that really ADDS to the story, that gives the reader something but not at the cost of some other vital element of story, such as creating an emotional connection.

Also, a dry wit never hurts. Or an archness of tone.

Some omniscient books that I think worked:

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Code Orange by Caroline Cooney
Sherry Thomas--she opens  with about two pages of omniscient, then moves into third person for the rest of the book.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Lemony Snicket books (although I could only read those in small doses due to the very elaborate voice.)

I'll add more as I think of them. What about you? Do you have any examples you can think of?

Monday, May 03, 2010

INCARCERON: The Silver Lining In My Little Cloud of (semi) Misery

I am sick. Bleargh. I haven't had a cold in nearly three years and I have forgotten how bloody miserable they are. One of the worst things about being sick? It gives one the tendency to whine. Pathetically. So I will make this post brief lest I be overtaken by the urge to indulge in whining.

One of the silver linings to being sick is that you can justify curling up in bed with a good book. I was lucky enough to find an amazing book and I'd like to share that with you guys.

I’ve talked here before about how much I adore books that crack wide open my ideas of what can be done in fiction, books that defy all the physics of conventional wisdom and craft rules, and do it spectacularly. My most recent find in this category was INCARCERON, by Catherine Fisher.

It took huge risks. Synthesizing a 17th century milieu with highly complex technology could have belly flopped big time, most likely would have in lesser hands. But in this case, it all worked. And as a writer, that spoke to me—of taking great risks, of how my first rule of writing—If it works, it works—is spot on.

The author’s timing was exquisite, her point of view shifts masterful. POV shifts are a huge vulnerability for me as a reader—it is very easy for me to feel jerked around and become easily annoyed when jumping back and switching between two protagonists like that, or become frustrated or to feel distanced or manipulated when there are too many POV shifts. But I felt none of that with this book. The pacing and the rhythm of it worked. I love how her characters were so multilayered and complex. You could never be certain if the bad guys were truly bad or simply had their own agendas we didn’t quite understand yet.

Do yourself a favor and read this book.

Other books that have rocked my writerly world with their risk taking were:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon—when it first came out years and years ago, I was so astonished by the combination of time travel with SUCH historical accuracy and a big more literary feel.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman– I’m sorry, but opening a middle grade novel with a serial killer—and making it work so well that it went on to win the Newberry—was a huge accomplishment, and an important reminder to writers to dare.

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling – reminded me that just because a subject has been tackled many times by other writers doesn’t mean someone can’t bring something new and fresh and wholly compelling to the same subject matter.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (SO not a kid’s book—be warned!) I loved the synthesis of the sacred and the profane, another book that spoke to all my loves as a reader and reminded the writer in me to take risks.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge– Such a bravely different yet wholly satisfying fantasy world, with such complex themes and elaborate world building for a middle grade book.

What books rocked your world as a writer? Made you see new possibilities, cracked your horizons wide open?

If for some reason you are interested in hearing me blather on even more today, I am being interviewed today by a very accomplished eleven year old over at Ellen Oh's blog. She was quite charming and I adored her questions.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Anne Lamott on Creativity

I don't usually post on the weekends but I came across this link on Twitter yesterday (via Jules Dominguez) and wanted to be sure everyone I knew saw it.

It's an interview with Anne Lamott where she talks about making room in our lives for creativity. Pretty much a must read.