Tuesday, July 31, 2012

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION

I need to begin this by saying that I am not a beach person. I realize this may seem confusing, as the past few blog posts have been from locations such as Anaheim, San Diego, and Myrtle Beach. Places that have beaches, and if not beaches, sand, and if not sand, then sun.

I don’t really do sun either.

I’m more like . . . lichen. Wherever you can find lichen, that is where I would like to be.

vacation lichen

There is no lichen in Myrtle Beach.

But my in-laws were there, as well as Lover and Thing 1 and Thing 2. Whether I was a beach person or not was irrelevant. Because this, my readers, was Family Beach Vacation. And the important part of this was not the beach, but the other two words. Family. Vacation. (If you rearrange the letters in those two words, you can also get CAVITY OF ANIMAL and TACO INFAMY VIAL. Coincidence? I think not).

I would be there, beach or not. So this is what I did.

1. My first act upon arrival at Myrtle Beach was to climb into the ocean with Things 1 & 2 and NephewMan. This was delightful, but upon returning to the beach house, I noticed that my thumb was beginning to feel funny. Warm. Nay. Hot. Nay! IT WAS BURNING! I slapped an ice cube on it. MORE BURNING. With my one useful hand, I clumsily typed NEMATOCYST into the search engine and discovered that when you have been stung by a jellyfish, freshwater makes the sting angry. Even if it is an ice cube. What is required, reader, when you have been stung on the thumb in the ocean, is vinegar, for that calms the nematocysts on your skin and makes them stop abusing you.

Which is how I came to spend an hour of the first day with my hand submerged in a bowl of vinegar.

vacation nematocysts

Later I used the remaining vinegar as a buttermilk substitute in some cornbread. But that is a different story for a different blog.

2. My second notable act at the beach house was to become fixated on sand sculptures. I had never really set my mind to one before, and in my head, I thought I could possibly resolve my not-a-beach-person-mentality by constructing a sand sculpture the size of an SUV. I know, it’s classic over-compensatory behavior, but that wasn’t obvious until after the fact. Anyway, I spent a few hours googling how to make sand castles the size of SUVs, and then Thing 1, Thing 2 and I journeyed out to the beach together. While they dug up marine life and put it in pails, I constructed a sea horse about forty times smaller than an SUV. The building itself was uneventful, unless you could the three 13-year-old boys who approached me to compliment both my pile of sand and my Ray-bans. Sure, it was warm and I was going to have sand in my arm pits forever, but I was pleased with my results.

My Sand Horse

And then I got into the beach house (are you sensing a trend here?) and I began to itch. Not just a little. A lot. And everywhere that my bikini had not been. Everywhere that sand had been. I tried showering and lotioning and complaining, but nothing seemed to help.

And then the bumps appeared.

They covered my entire body, like angry goosebumps or vehement orange peel. My. entire. body. I’m not sure I can describe the sex appeal here.
vacation itch


Or the itching.

3. Which brings us to the end of the week. At this point, I was cranky and itchy and fearful of anything that looked like sand or sun or beach or fun. I lurked indoors while Things 1 & 2 played with my in-laws outside. This, I felt, was safe. Surely.

Now, the beach house (you should by now be uneasy when you hear it mentioned) was not terrible. A little small, a little tired, but it was right on the ocean and it only swayed a little bit when the wind blew. The kitchen was separated from the living room by two strangely formal columns. The chief purpose of these columns seemed to be tripping my father-in-law, who kept catching one side or another of his sandal on the square base of them before flying from one room to the other. Partway through the vacation I had moved chairs to block easy access to the columns but now, at the end of the vacation, we had to move all of the furniture back to where it belonged.

Which was when I mashed my toe into one of the columns.

Now, you know how when you stub your toe, you gasp and swear and shout that it is broken, it’s broken, and you’ll never walk again! But it’s really just the shock and dismay of the moment that makes you say those things. You really just jam your toe and ten minutes later, you’re fine. Because, really, when you break your toe for real, you’ll know it. It’ll swell up to twice its usual size and then it will turn purple-gray like a zombie, and then it will stop moving.

vacation toe

I can’t wear shoes until the middle of August. So now I am home and slowly the steroids are making the bumps and the itching go away, but my toe is still giant, and I think I just broke my manuscript. This is the face I am making at it.

Photo on 7-31-12 at 5.47 PM

I cling to the hope of being able to put shoes on in just a few weeks. That is just before when I leave for rally driving school, which is MY idea of a family vacation. Surely, surely it will go better.

Although, when you rearrange the letters of RALLY DRIVING SCHOOL, you get:  SCHOLARLY OLD VIRGIN. So. There’s that.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stars & Guitars for The Raven Boys

I have been sitting on two great starred reviews for The Raven Boys for a little while now, and now that a third one has come in, I can't stand it any longer and must share. The full reviews will be available when the book comes out (or for subscribers to the journals), but here are some quotes:

 "Simultaneously complex and simple, compulsively readable, marvelously wrought. The only flaw is that this is Book 1; it may be months yet before Book 2 comes out." - Kirkus

 ". . . the book is marvelous, for not only is it filled with marvels, it is also a marvel of imagination and, more prosaically, structure. Rich, too, in characterization, this fantasy/mystery rises to the level of serious literature, leaving readers hungering for more." - Booklist

 "It’s a tour de force of characterization, and while there is no lack of event or mystery, it is the way Stiefvater’s people live in the reader’s imagination that makes this such a memorable read." - Publishers Weekly

Also, Scholastic has nearly finalized my September-October tour schedule for The Raven Boys, so I should be able to share that in a week and some change. For the past few years, I've attacked a guitar with Sharpie markers to give away on tour, and this year is no exception. The musical victim just arrived in the mail, and I've got a new box of Sharpies just waiting to be loosed. I'll be giving it away at the launch party.

If I know myself, I'll probably Sharpie on a couple editions of The Raven Boys, too, to give away to blog folks who can't come out to the events. We'll see. Writing deadlines might eat my brains in the interim, but WE SHALL SEE. Past Sharpie guitars, prepare to meet your new friend . . .


Sharpie Guitars All

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three Things: Ironman, Batman, and the Beach

I have been quiet on my blog because of these three things.

1. I was at San Diego Comic-Con. These were there.


San Diego Comic-Con, Ironman

So was this.

 San Diego Comic-Con - Batmobile

2. Speaking of that, I saw the Batman movie. I was . . . underwhelmed. I've thought about it a lot over the past 24 hours, trying to decide why I was underwhelmed when so many of my peers thought it was brilliant, and I think it's because the ending was quite nifty. I thought the entire thing was an hour and a half too long and very self-consciously dark/ manipulative (let's add tension to this scene by adding some civilians. I know, how about a BUSLOAD OF ORPHANS!). I couldn't get past that, but Lover could, because the ending was so very much what we both wanted. So. Don't let me stop you from seeing it, but know that I miss the days of 100 minute films.

3. I went to the beach with my in-laws. I made this:

 My Sand Horse

 (the horse, not the bikini or the sunglasses).

 My Sand Horse

I'll be back next week and blogging lengthily about SOMETHING, I'm sure.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Five Things about THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt

secret historyThis is going to be a difficult book for me to talk about. I finished it days ago but I find myself a little verklempt, I’ll admit. It’s been a long time since a book has stuck with me so completely as this one, and I say that having had a quite remarkable year for memorable reading.

So, the summary is straightforward and completely unhelpful: a Californian boy arrives at a private New England college where he falls in with a bunch of snooty but delightful Classics majors who happen to have accidentally killed someone during a Bacchian rite they just happened to be conducting in their spare time. That is a totally truthful depiction of some of the events in the book, but it is not what the book is ABOUT. I will do my best to convince you to pick it up in other ways.

Without further ado, here are five things about THE SECRET HISTORY.

1. This is not a new book. All of your friends have already read it. You probably already have a copy of it, actually, that you picked up at some point in the last decade, and now it molders in a box in your master bedroom closet, the one that you never unpacked last time you moved. Right next to your college alarm clock and two boxes of 9-volt batteries and that shirt you can’t throw out because it was a gift. The reason why I’m pointing out that it’s not a new book is because, since reading it, I’ve been told by several people that it is their Favorite Book Ever. It is one thing for you to read a book six months before and maintain it as a Favorite Book. It is something more remarkable when a book can elicit a passionate response from readers twenty years after its publication.

 2. This book is full of terrible people. Pretty much the lot of the people that our narrator Richard meets are awful in some way. Self-centered or elitist or potheads or sociopathic or just people with really loud voices in quiet places. Even Richard is not exactly a great guy. But the magic of this novel is that, somehow, you find these terrible people deeply sympathetic. I need to go back and reread it to understand this strange enchantment. How do I find them so charming? Why do I want them to like Richard? GIVE ME YOUR SECRETS, BOOK.

3. This is not a whodunit. You are told pretty much the Bad Thing That Happens in the prologue, and you can see it coming like a comet for much of the book. The effect of this, however, is to create a lovely, unbearable tension and anticipation. And when the moment comes — in a line that involves ferns — it is so deliciously awful. I actually exhaled gloriously and put the book down for a moment because I was so delighted by the actual pay off.

4. It’s long. It’s over 200,000 words long, I think, and 600 pages in my edition. It took me five days to read it. And it’s not just long, it’s dense. One of the blurbs on the inside of the jacket said that it read like a 19th century novel, and I don’t think that’s at all unearned. It takes its time developing atmosphere and character quirks and some of the days in the novel take dozens of pages to unfold. It is not a novel to speed through. It’s a novel to get stuck in. I put it down when I got too tired, when I felt like I was starting to skim.

5. WHAT ELSE CAN I SAY? I adore the characters so much. I adore the hint —the breath — of the supernatural. I adore the slow, building tension and the sense that I, as a reader, was being skillfully manipulated. Yes, that. That last one. I think that is what I love the most about this novel. I get the idea that Donna Tartt was completely in control of this novel. Everything is measured and deliberate and just perfectly done, and I trust her entirely. Fifty pages in, I knew that she was going to tell me a story I was going to enjoy, even if I had no idea what it was going to be.

Man, I just am going to flail about some more. Go read it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Making of the Book Trailer for THE RAVEN BOYS

I honestly thought that a making of the Raven Boys animated trailer would be a straightforward blog post, but it turns out that you cannot make a straightforward blog post about a non-straightforward-process. Or, you can, but you have to remove all the non-linear and disastrous bits, but that makes it inherently untruthful.

I like being truthful, so this is going to be messy. And long.

I knew right off when I started the Raven Boys trailer that I wanted it to be a stretch for me — well out of my comfort zone — or I just didn't think there was any reason to do it at all. If I'm going to be committing 60 or 100 hours of my life to a creative project, it had better leave a mark in the very fibers of my creative being or at the very least result in me having a statue of myself erected in a village somewhere.

I need to tell you right now that there was probably a better way to do all this. I understand people learn how to do this the right way and it is an efficient and beautiful process. My animation schooling involves paper cuts and glue fumes, and I am not sure I recommend trying this at home.

So, that said, I have always loved traditional, 2D animation, and I used to make my living as a colored pencil artist, so I wondered if there'd be a way to combine the two. The only problem with this plan was that colored pencil is a slow medium. Even I, who had become fairly speedy, took an hour or three to finish small pieces. When you're animating, every second of on-screen action eats anywhere between six and twenty-four frames. In colored pencil that is . . . a lot of hours. 

Which meant that my first hopeful step was to see if I could digitally reproduce the look of my colored pencil work. I could work way faster on my Wacom tablet. But my digital Gansey just did not look like my colored pencil Gansey.

 

Colored pencil it was. Oh, and I wanted to try voice-over. I've always been intrigued by the pleasures and pain of syncing animation to voice, and I figured, if I'm going to experiment, I'm going to EXPERIMENT.

 So the next step was to mock up my trailer. Well, kind of. I sort of worked on finished images and mocked up at the same time. I told you. It's not really . . . linear. Anyway, this was an early mock up, with some finished art, some not, music from Zoe Keating and from Blood and Chocolate's soundtrack acting as placeholders. Yes, I am in fact doing all of the voices in this one, and I understand that it is hilarious.

 

As you can see, it wasn't working. The entire structure of it was just a giant mess and it was on its way to being about ten minutes long, which would take the rest of my life to animate. I restructured. (Still hilarious)

 

I was doing most of this in iMovie, iStopMotion, Photoshop, and on my kitchen table. I was doing my sketches with my Wacom tablet (that was the source of the digital Gansey), tweaking the movement when I could (altering the frames just slightly) in Photoshop, and then sequencing the frames in iStopMotion, before exporting the tiny movie sequences to be pasted together in iMovie.

YES. I'm aware there are easier ways, Stiefvater. But I could never do my algebra in the correct order, either.

By this point, I had a lot of frames laying around the house, and everything sort of smelled like pencil dust and orange solvent (click to make anything bigger).

RB Ronan Declan RB Adam RB arms RB Ronan parts RB spirits RB Blue expression RB Blue Mouths RB Blue Face and Mouth RB Gansey face RB Camaro RB Gansey threat RB mouths
RB Henrietta
RB kiss 

All of those mouths and arms and stuff are because I would paste those onto the frames digitally in Photoshop and then animate them later, to keep from having to redraw the entire frame. At some point I started plugging this into a better mock-up. With music from Transformers, because I'm classy that way.

 

At this point, I began inflicting this thing on my family and friends for peer review. Did this bit make sense? Was it interesting? Would music help? Should I change the font? Should I change this voice?

And I also failed a lot. I animated the title sequences with little gritty bits around the edges; it wasn't obvious enough and I ditched them. I made the colored moving bits in the kissing sequence more colorful; it looked like the scene took place under a disco ball. I had to redo the fight sequence four times until my editor stopped laughing when he saw it.

I spent loads of time on things that you can't really see. The gun, for instance, at the end — it's multiple frames with slight motion, because when I used the same frame more than once in a row, it instantly looked out of place with the constant movement of the rest of the trailer. Blue's face is a late addition in the bit where Adam is staring up through the forest leaves with Wonder. Before, it just sort of looked . . . unbalanced. I redid the landscape pan twice because it just looked goofy. Partway through the process I just went insane and went back in and animated about half a dozen blinks. In the end, the thing that nearly broke me was spelling Jessica's name wrong in the credits at the end — I had to pull out those frames and re-export the video after Photoshopping a brand new end credits. I was about ready for the nice men in their clean white coats to come take me away at that point.

Which left only the music and the voices. I hit the studio and after that had to tweak once more ("making of" post for that HERE). Anyway, in the end, I ended up with:
  



The next one, Maggie says confidently, will be better.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Fiendish Hellbird of the House of Stiefvater

Regular readers will know that Lover, Thing 1, Thing 2, and my car Loki just moved. We are now in the new House of Stiefvater, which is located just miles away from where I was born thirty years and several dozen hometowns ago. It's all very thrilling. Pretty much everything about New House of Stiefvater is delightful. For starters, this is the first house this particular Stiefvater has ever actually owned, I went a little power mad. Ten years of rentals meant that I had grown wary of planting flowers or vegetables, lest I miss them when I left. It meant that I contemplated every wall hanging for weeks, trying to decide if it was worth the hole I would have to spackle and paint over.

But now, this house was OURS. And I went a little power-mad.

I planted things. I planted a million roses.

New Pink Roses

I planted peppers and tomatoes.

Peppers in JulyGreen Tomatoes in July

I planted daisies.

Daisy, Close up

I planted a billion-zillion herbs.

Herbs in the Garden

I dug about 40,000 holes in the yard and put things in them. And then I started banging nails into walls.

Beginning of the Photo Wall

Lots of nails.

The Office Wall

Lover even put up a sign at the end of our driveway, announcing to the world that this was a House of Strangeness. Basically, it's all pretty idyllic in the new House of Stiefvater. Except for one thing. The Fiendish Hellbird of the House of Stiefvater.

Hellbird

Some of you may be looking at this and saying, why, that is not a Hellbird. That is a male Eastern Towhee. You would be wrong. Every morning, as soon as the sun raises one eyebrow over the horizon, the Fiendish Hellbird of the House of Stiefvater begins his assault.

towhee attack

It's hard to tell the purpose of this battle. Lover and I initially thought that the Fiendish Hellbird might be attacking his own reflection, but after a few hours/ days/ weeks of observation, it's become apparent that the Fiendish Hellbird doesn't look before he throws himself at the glass. I've decided instead that it may be based on some sort of point system where the Hellbird achieves a point for every new body part he manages to smash against a glass surface. If this is the case, the Hellbird wins. He so wins. He has no body parts left unsmashed.

 I feel as if this futile fervor should cause his mate concern, but she merely sits on the fountain and cleans herself as the Fiendish Hellbird dashes his brains silly. Moreover, he disregards all of my attempts to scare him from the backyard. Unconcerned by my presence, he continues flinging himself with joyful abandon. And after the Hellbird has finished his morning routine, he attaches himself to a branch and then drops to the ground on his head with no apparent concern for his own safety.

 I have decided that Fiendish Hellbird is a frat boy reincarnated.

 The question is what to do about him? It seems callous to acknowledge that our deepest concern is being woken by the sound of the Hellbird's skull on our windows, but as the Hellbird seems to have no interest in his own self-preservation, I'm not sure what's left to save but our sleep.

 Lover hit the Internet, looking for wisdom (I can hear you laughing from here), and got a few suggestions. They included placing stickers on our windows, replacing our windows with stained glass, placing spikes on our window sills, and taping paper over our windows.

These are not suggestions. They are formalized insanity! Unbelievably, the Internet had failed us. And the Hellbird has failed to destroy himself through repeated head injury, although that bird is certainlyn ot going to Harvard any time soon. So we persist under the tyranny of the Fiendish Hellbird, a blemish on the otherwise halcyon House of Stiefvater.

I suppose that into every life, a little rain must fall.

Rain, plus feathers.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Spattering of Events!

I'll be back with a real blog post later this week, probably about either ALA or the Fiendish Hellbird of House of Stiefvater, but for the moment, here are some recently finalized events, if you want to come and see me. The newest events are always posted here, if you're curious.

And there will be a LOT more events coming up in September and October which is when I'll be on tour for The Raven Boys. As always, if you're longing for a signed copy but can't make it out to an event, Fountain Bookstore always has them — and if you pre-order Raven Boys from them, you get a doodle and a limited edition bookplate in it as well. ooooh! aaaah! fancy.  

July 15, Comic-Con 2012
San Diego Convention Center
(Tessa Gratton will be here too!)
https://www.facebook.com/events/391460237576709/

July 19, Longwood University Literacy Institute
Farmville, VA
https://www.facebook.com/events/385713594810760/

August 25, Event with Tessa Gratton & Brenna Yovanoff
Lawrence, KS
https://www.facebook.com/events/497328386950345/

September 22/23, National Book Festival (day to be announced)
Washington, DC
http://www.loc.gov/bookfest/information/

September 27, An Evening with Maggie Stiefvater
Traverse City, Michigan
https://www.facebook.com/events/160116380787647/
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