HERO won the Newbery thirty years ago. Thirty. How scary is that.
Anyway some silly person thought it might be amusing to interview me on the subject. Fortunately they sent me a list of questions which enabled me to choose questions I could, you know, answer. The Tor list a few weeks ago was way too full of pop-culture questions I couldn’t answer; this one was full of state-of-the-YA-book-world questions and I HAVE NO CLUE. I read what I read when I read it, because I saw it on the library shelf, because another unsteady crag of books at the cottage overbalanced and cannoned across the room and I had an ‘oooh, shiny’ reaction, because someone recommended it/sent me a copy, because the Kindle ebook was too cheap to ignore. At the moment I’m reading a Barbara Hambly I seem to have missed (cannoning crag), catching up on the Dana Stabenows that have come out since I wandered away from murder mysteries about a decade ago (you have to pass through the mystery section at the library to get to the F&SF section), OUTPOST which is a post-apocalyptic thriller by new writer Adam Baker (I DON’T READ POST-APOCALYPTIC THRILLERS but I picked it up off the library shelf and liked the first few pages—especially that a male thriller writer should start his first novel writing sympathetically about a fat woman) and QUIET by Susan Cain, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking** (cheap Kindle, but I was going to read it anyway)***. I’ve just finished SCULPTOR by Scott McCloud (amazing graphic novel, an early copy arrived unsolicited in the post, THANK YOU First Second Books) and have started THE HOMEOPATHIC TREATMENT OF DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, BIPOLAR DISORDER AND OTHER MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS by two homeopaths I’ve been reading for years, and am about halfway through HOMEOPATHY FOR TODAY’S WORLD by another homeopath I’ve been reading for years. Not a YA in sight. Not this week. Ask me next week. I’m trying to remember the last YA I read—Jacqueline Wilson’s MY SISTER JODIE, possibly, but she’s not even YA: she’s kids. She’s real stuff, real life for kids, and I love her for it. †
Anyway. Don’t ask me about any state of any book world, because I won’t know. But here’s an interview with me on the subject of winning a Newbery and, you know, writing stories and stuff.
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* Alcestis’ funeral went off very well, I think. The speakers knew what they were doing, and Alcestis had an interesting life and so no struggling for material was necessary. There were even some good laughs. There were photos of her all over the walls which I couldn’t bear to look at—Admetus has promised me a private showing some time—and the day was clear and lovely and not too cold, and the track down to the tree she’d chosen to be buried under was not too muddy. She’d said she’d chosen it for the view, and it has a good view: but I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that everything about the funeral was to her plans and instructions; I could hear her saying that she’d chosen that tree and this view.
There was a Land Rover to take anyone who didn’t want to struggle with the footing—and the hill—and that included Peter. The car followed us down to the gravesite, but preceded us going back up again, which meant I went frelling HARING up the blasted hill so Peter didn’t have to sit around in the empty café wondering if I’d fallen into a ravine or something. I should have just gone in the car too.
** I ranked 18 out of 20 again on the standard introvert test: the only questions I have to answer ‘no’ to are, do my friends find me self-effacing and laid back? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA and, would I rather die than do public speaking? No. It’s not that big a deal. Which I’ve told you before always makes me feel like someone else is living in my body with me. This personality should not be able to do public speaking but it/we can.
*** It’s even better than I’d hoped. The problem with the current fashion in popular science is that certain of the tropes MAKE ME NUTS, like the way everyone the author interviews has to have their clothing and their twinkling eyes described. Cut to the chase. I usually object to the author writing him/herself into the story constantly too but in this case it works a treat because Cain is writing as an introvert in an extrovert-preferring world. I was reading an article in TIME recently^ about the internet-fueled explosion of grass-roots sharing, bartering, selling. One of the fastest growers in this market is car pooling and the author remarks blandly and cluelessly that of course commuting in company is preferable because driving by yourself is SO BORING. There speaks the unthinking extrovert. Driving is bad enough without having to make frelling conversation.
^ Mind you the magazine could be anything up to years old. Speaking of unsteady crags of reading material.
† Um . . . actually I do remember the last YA I read. It’s by a VERY FAMOUS WRITER and I HATED IT. IT WAS BLISTERINGLY FRELLING TERRIBLE AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHY IT WAS EVEN PUBLISHED AND I WILL NEVER READ ANOTHER BOOK BY THIS INCOMPETENT CREEP OF AN AUTHOR EVER AGAIN.
†† And there’s also this, which several more people have sent me links to since Open Road first pointed it out:
And it’s lovely, and I know I’m being a black hole of negativity but . . . she read it when she was eight? I know precocious preteens read it all over the map and that’s great, the sooner and oftener girls growing up get told that girls do things too^ the better, but EIGHT? She was precocious even as precocious goes. And this fills me with dread and trembling for a whole fresh onslaught of angry eight year olds and their teachers, parents and librarians telling me that HERO is too hard for children. Well yes, it is. It’s not for children. I got entire classrooms of kids writing me letters of protest when HERO’s Newbery was new: the Newbery does say children’s literature. I hope maybe that people reading the TIME article will go, oh, wow, well, she grew up to be a writer, so she was probably a precocious reader, and the headline does say YA novels . . . Listen, everyone, it’s really depressing getting bashed for something you wrote for any reason^^, but it’s extra depressing when you think, guys, if you’d only waited a few years. . . .
^ I’ve said this a gazillion times on the blog, but when I was a Young Writer Starting Out I assumed my generation of writers would have totally solved the Active Protagonist Gender Bias. This hasn’t happened. There are still a lot of frelling wet girls out there, including in books written recently. So we still need heroines that do their own dragon-whacking. Aerin has plenty of company . . . but not enough company. Okay, you following generations of writers. Get with the programme.^
^ Although I’m preaching to the converted on this blog. Fans of Elsie Dinsmore or Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa are not subscribers.
^^ Except sheer jerkitude. ‘I didn’t finish your stupid book because I wanted to read endless mushy romance when they stand around staring into each other’s eyes for chapters and chapters and the dragon was REALLY BORING!’ +
+ You’d be surprised. Except for the ‘mushy’ this is nearly word for word.
††† The bio is about forty years out of date. I will ask them to let me bring it up to 2015.^ And I don’t put commas before ‘too’. That’s a copyeditor following house style.
^ YAAAAY. They did. Thank you!
Halloween night 2014 in a relatively small backwoods town in Hampshire, usually stuffed to the whatsit with ordinary boring people including a high percentage of relentlessly law-abiding retired Tories who pride themselves on being tucked up in bed by 10 pm, last night morphed into a David Lynch film.*
I got home at about 5:30 a.m. And I still had to feed the hellmob and myself—I am STAAAARVING after both SP shifts and the Sams**—hurtle the former, bath me and then calm down enough to sleep.*** I’m not going to tell you when I got to bed but it was well past dawn. Well past. And twilight came with remarkable speed today. Like I swear hours early.
And I needed to go sit in the monks’ chapel tonight worse than I needed to finish this week’s KES. As if I have had any brain to finish KES with.
Apologies. If my brain returns from its peregrinations by tomorrow, I’ll have a go. Otherwise it may have to wait till next Saturday.
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* It could have been worse. It could have been David Cronenburg. In which case I would be halfway to Mumbai by now.^
^ Okay, a quarter of the way, since we’d’ve had to swing by Scotland to pick Peter up first where he is enjoying a few days of family life in a well run household where meals are on the table at normal meal times and not every surface is encrusted with dog hair. And we wouldn’t be staying in Mumbai long. None of us+ would cope with the climate. Christchurch sounds like a nice temperate city. Does anyone know if they’ve got their temporary bell tower up and running yet? I’ve just tried to google it and can’t find anything past that they were going to try.
+ Except maybe Pav.# I’m not sure bullies take notice of little things like ambient temperature and crushing humidity. Although Pav does not like the kind of rain that hammers her to the ground and then holds her there. And, like all dogs everywhere, she thinks her human could do something about this if said human took more notice of the intense suffering of her loyal canine companions who are obliged to go with her when she wants to saunter through rain that hammers you to the ground and holds you there.##
# B_twin sent me this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjZP21vIfgs I do not, myself, permit pillow-worrying, but the rest looks pretty familiar. What this video leaves out however is the middle-aged hellhound trying out his moves in parallel. Pav is FINALLY OFF HEAT and re-permitted into the hurly burly of family life, which is to say causing the hurly burly of family life, and Chaos, who has always been a little manic~, has dusted off his adolescent end-to-end swapping and except for the fact that he’s bigger and in full ecstatic frenzy bumps into the furniture more~~, can provide Pav a little added stimulation that she does not need.~~~
~ One might wonder about his bloodlines. A bullie great-great-great grandparent, the family scandal no one spoke of? It’s been bred out of Darkness but still maintains a rogue presence in Chaos.
~~ Especially the lashing tail. I swear his tail is about six feet long. Knowledgeable whippet people tend to look at the hellhounds and say, oh, whip—no, they can’t be whippets, their tails are too long. Are deerhound tails disproportionately long? I have no idea. I wonder how long Sid’s tail is? I’m sure it’ll be a plot point some time.
~~~ One of the peculiarities of my hellmob is that the hellhounds bark from excitement=, when they hear me coming downstairs in the morning, when they’re pretty sure I’m about to take them for a hurtle, when a Known Friend comes through the door.== Or when the three of them are having a gambol which sends next door’s nasty little terrier into paroxysms of murderous frenzy===. Pav, on the other hand, only barks for proper, responsible-dog cause. Burglars. Delivery persons%. Neighbours wanting me to look after their cats. Except of course occasionally when she doesn’t and so I assume I’m imagining that knock on the door and turn over and go back to sleep and come downstairs later to a postcard through the mail slot that says ‘we have tried 1,000,000 times to find you home%% so we could read your gas/electric/water meter and we’re TIRED of this and so we’re going to charge you £bazillion/month till you RING US and fix a date that you WILL BE HOME to LET US IN.’
=including, in Darkness’ case, disapproval, when Pav is getting into something he thinks she shouldn’t. If I’m up to my elbows in dishwater, say, a common occurrence at the moment because the dishwasher is on the fritz again snaaaaaaaarl @, and I hear Darkness bark I shout without moving, Pav! Stop that! There’s usually some wild scuffling, possibly an astonished yip from Chaos, and then silence falls, possibly just about long enough for me to finish the dishes.
@ And Peter is THE WORST DISHWASHER-BY-HAND ON THE PLANET. I used to not approve of dishwashers. How long ago was that? Well, I still don’t have one at the cottage. It’s the Aga or a dishwasher and there’s no contest. Besides, I’m a good dishwasher-by-hand. I’d just rather be kidnapped by bandits or doing my tax return.
== I find this particularly amusing when it’s someone like Atlas or Niall, both of whom barely know what a dog is, let alone how to respond to canine enthusiasm.
=== I met the thing today when I was between hurtles and dogless, and so stooped to say hello, because I am a hopeless wet and when I’m not busy trying to control confrontational outcomes will say hello to any dog that isn’t actively biting me. You could see him looking at me, however, and thinking, you don’t fool me, you revolting hypocrite, you are responsible for the ruination of the neighbourhood.
% Books. Yarn. Dog food. Rose bushes.&
& I didn’t say ROSE BUSHES.
%% Do you always keep your curtains closed? You aren’t really still asleep at mmph o’clock in the afternoon are you?&
& No, only after epic Street Pastors duties.
## You could teach us to use the indoor loo.
** I find all that doing good flapdoodle very draining to a personality that basically wants to say WHY DON’T YOU GO READ A GOOD BOOK AND CHEER/SOBER UP. I’D BE HAPPY TO RECOMMEND SOME TITLES.
*** Total exhaustion makes me disintegrate, it doesn’t make me sleep.
I almost wrote ‘slash’ and remembered that this could be misinterpreted in Today’s Internet . . . I just now had a last crash, then, through last night’s reddit AMA, answering most of the latecomers and adding a few twirly bits to earlier conversations. If anyone’s interested. The Nice Man sent me some figures today and said that it was a good AMA and I’m glad he thought so because it seemed pretty good to me but then most of the posters wanted to tell me how great my books are and that does kind of sway a writer’s attitude. . . . Thanks again to everyone who posted, I enjoyed it too. But I’m also glad to be back to my footnotes.* The reddit formatting didn’t ALLOW footnotes. It’s about the only complaint I have.
I did say once or twice, questions I wasn’t answering during the AMA because my brain was melting under the strain, feel free to post them to the forum here–or for that matter Twitter or Facebook although I’m even less reliable** on both of those virtual-social real-timewasters than I am here. But if anyone reading this has a BURNING question, whether or not they’ve asked it 1,000,000 times before in a wide variety of media, you can try asking it again saying ‘the reddit AMA reminded me that I’ve always wondered blah blah blah’ or thereabouts and I’ll try to pay attention. Of course it’s always possible that I keep blowing you off because I don’t want to–or can’t–answer your question, but you might finally get that much out of me.*** Maybe. I’m really world class in the disorganised and absent-minded**** stakes.
Anyway. So long. And THANKS for all the fish. . . .
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** I realise this is slightly mind-boggling. My unreliability pretty much starts in the negative numbers and approaches absolute zero with breathtaking speed.
*** I don’t know! You don’t want to know! Mercury is in retrograde! Please go away!
**** And whimsical. Or you could say cranky, but that would be unkind after I’ve just spent ALL THAT TIME answering questions.
Anyone in England who doesn’t stay up late, or anyone in America who has other plans for the evening, or anyone in [insert other part of the world] who can’t make the official AMA live time for whatever reason good and significant to you, you can post questions NOW.
Niall has convinced me I really need to go bell ringing tonight, but as the AMA intro says I’ll be back later to answer questions. Having a look at the ones already up . . . I may have blog material for the next several years . . . .
THANKS, ALL YOU ASKERS.
PS: And for those of you unaccustomed to internet society wailing brokenly about the need to create a reddit account to post a question–and I am totally with you on this: I only joined up because I’d agreed to the gig–the Nice Man says:
There is a link towards the upper-right corner of the page that says “login or register.” All they need to do is pick a username and password, and fill in the text thing to prove they’re not a robot. No personal information is needed; even an email address is optional.
Italics mine. Hey, I did the register thing. You can too.
I’m doing one of reddit fantasy’s Ask Me Anything, AMA, sessions this Thursday, the day after tomorrow [as I write during what is to me still Tuesday night]. The poor suck—the nice man who originally invited me and is attempting to shepherd me through the technical aspects of this gig** says that if you go here: http://www.reddit.com/r/fantasy
. . . while you’re waiting you can poke around*** and when the AMA session goes ‘live’ at approximately noon (American) Central Time on Thursday the link will go up on that page. The game plan seems to be that I (or rather the Nice Man, which means I have to have written it in advance for him to deal with) post(s) a brief introductory doodah at noon as part of the going-live process, and people post questions then if they feel like it. Perhaps I drift in during reddit’s idea of afternoon (my idea of evening) and answer any of these there are and maybe I don’t, but I do show up for live-ish keyboard interaction around 6 pm Central time which I think is midnight mine, and respond—I do not say answer—any and all questions then. I admit midnight is not particularly late by my standards [hey it’s past 4 am where I’m sitting] but it is late to be articulate to/with a bunch of strangers.† If I were living in the same part of the galaxy as the reddit fantasy admin the AMAs usually go live at about 8 pm—as some of you, who’ve been to talk to other authors, already know—but it’s going to be early with me. If the conversation suddenly heats up at 2 am I’ll stay on, but the alternative, if people are absent-mindedly expecting it to have begun at 8 pm reddit time and show up after I’ve left to give the hellmob its final hurtle††, is to post questions anyway and I’ll come back on the far side of sleep and caffeine and answer them then.
One or two guidelines: I can’t tell you when PEG II or III will be out because I don’t know. I said pretty much all I have to say on that burdensome topic in the ebook-announcement post: I’m working on the rest of the PEGASUS story, sure, and believe me I’d finish it yesterday if I could. But I can’t. I am finding the writing experience lately like cleaning the Houses of Parliament with a toothbrush or watering the Sahara with a teacup. I’d rather prune Souvenir de la Malmaison††† without full body armour and a face mask than face the PEG II file. I’m getting calluses and tendonitis from clutching my forehead/chair/nearest hellcritter. So you can ask when PEG II and III will be out, but don’t expect a useful answer.
And, speaking of useful answers, there’s still no sequel to SUNSHINE. And there are at last count approximately three hundred and twelve Third Damar Novels, but I haven’t written any of them.‡
Some authors are more perverse than others. You might want to embroider that on a sampler. But do come round on Thursday at whatever o’clock and ask me about roses or dogs or bell ringing or life as an American expat in England or knitting (badly) or singing (worse) or even about suddenly and involuntarily converting to Christianity two years ago and coming all over social-welfare volunteering like a bad case of measles.‡‡ I’m still cranky though.
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* . . . answers not guaranteed. But then you blog readers know that already.
*** It’s frelling HUGE. I keep getting lost.
† So, you know, please come hang out so it’s not all strangers.
†† And wave at passing patrol cars
††† Which in my tiny garden is presently about twenty feet by twenty feet and putting on a rather amazing autumn show for a rose known for not repeating in this climate. She is also implicated in the disappearance of several annoying small children and neighbourhood cats which insist on crapping in Third House’s flowerbeds, but we don’t know anything about that, except to say that a rose responds well to generous feeding and I’m delighted she has settled in so happily.
‡ Please try to remember that I can only write what I am given to write. The Damar stories are there—like PEG II and III are there—like the frelling sequel to SUNSHINE is there—but I can’t write them because they haven’t come to me in writable form. It’s like one of those scenes out of Dickens—or Frances Hodgson Burnett—when the main character is standing on the wrong side of a window watching other people having a good time. You can see what everybody is wearing and eating, you can see the champagne sparkling in the glasses, you can see who’s flirting with whom, you can maybe even hear a faint echo of the live music. But you can’t go in because you weren’t invited. And besides there doesn’t seem to be a door.
‡‡ Which also makes a change occasionally from staring at the frelling blank page . The eleventh commandment: Do what you can.