Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Illustrated Guide to UK Touring, Days 4-6

Earlier in the month, I posted about my first three days of touring (see here). Now I shall continue the story with the next three days, also known as: IN WHICH EVERYTHING IS ABOUT IRELAND, EVER.

See, on day 4, I once again took another train to Newcastle, where I had a school visit. I'd never been to Newcastle, and I was struck by two things: first of all, that their city center was beautiful, and secondly, when Newcastle school children say vowels out loud, they all sound like 'a' to my American ears. It resulted in the following conversations:

TEEN: Would you sign this post card?
ME: Sure. What's your name?
TEEN: Ashleigh.
ME: Spell it, please.
ME: Uh, write it, please.

Sorry, Newcastlians. I got the hang of it by the end, but I was pretty lame at the beginning.

Anyway, from Newcastle I flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a librarian conference. By the time my Scholastic colleague, Hannah, and I, arrived at the Belfast airport, it was pitch black and sort of raining, but I had to be dragged off the tarmac in a state of shock. It's not that the Belfast Airport looks much different than other airports, it's just — when I was sixteen, there were two things I wanted more than anything. I wanted to be an author, as a career. I wanted to go to Belfast.

Standing there on that tarmac by the plane that had just brought me from Newcastle, I wished so much that I could tell 16-year-old Maggie that right before her 30th birthday, she'd be in Belfast because of her best-selling books. It would've meant a lot to her.

Maybe I did, and that's why I kept writing. Time travel is funny that way.

Anyway, so once I got over my shock and awe, we caught a cab from the airport. Our driver and I got to talking about life and Irish music and bagpipes, as you do, and then, this happened:

DRIVER: So I don't know if you ladies are in for the hunting, but it's lovely up here. I just got two pheasants today.
ME: Oh. Nice?
DRIVER: Yeah! I have them in the trunk now.
ME: the. . . trunk! Now? On . . . ice?
DRIVER: *ignores suggestion of ice*
ME: They're just laying there!?

Average Irishman's Trunk

Yes. They were just laying there. The driver then explained to me that if he prepared the pheasants now, they would be "gamey." So his solution was to take them home (in the trunk of the car. Where they'd been all day.) and "hang them in the garage or someplace where people don't go often" until they stopped being so "gamey."

ME: How long will that be?
DRIVER: I dunno. Two weeks?
ME: on . . . ice?
DRIVER: *ignores suggestion of ice*
HANNAH: What about maggots?
DRIVER: You obviously work around the maggots.

At this point I decided that everything the man said was untrue and that we were being driven around by a crazy person. I didn't mind too much, because I was in Belfast, and also because I suspected if push came to shove, I was wearing better kicking shoes than Hannah and therefore she would be the first he stuffed into the trunk with the pheasants if the conversation went that way.

So the next day dawned misty and bleak, which was pretty much what I expected. We hitched a ride in a car without a parking brake to the school where the library conference was taking place, and then I proceeded to open up the conference with a talk about The Scorpio Races. I'll confess that I felt a little nervous about this. Not the talking itself, but the fact that I was now talking about my novel about Irish water horses while in Ireland. Despite the fact that my childhood looked like this:

The Siblings Playing Music on Halloween
(halloween. I am dressed as a maid. I'm sure it was meant to be deeply ironic)

Maggie and Liz jamming together
(continued bad hair, me with harp)

Very early Ballynoola band gig
(me with my band)

Young Maggie as Bridesmaid and Musician
(I am both a wedding musician and a bridesmaid in this one)

. . . I still feel a little like a cuckoo when it comes to Irish music. Yes, we grew up playing and listening to Irish music, but it's not as if either Stiefvater or Hummel (my maiden name) are the most Irish of names out there. My family just loved the music and history and culture, and 29 years of describing why it was that I was not very Irish at all and yet played Irish music had made me defensive. Basically, I was waiting for the Northern Irish librarians to first shout PRETENDER! at me and then elaborate with a condemnation of how I had stomped in, all loud and American, and co-opted their mythology. But they didn't. They were brilliant. They told me my parents had raised me right and then they told me they'd read the book and loved it.


Then, no rest for the wicked, so we were off in a car to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland (the lower 26 counties that are not part of the UK) for a bookstore event there. It rained and then was sunny and then was rainy and then sunny again, and by the time we got to Dublin, it was gorgeous.

I'm afraid that I had another wide-eyed staring uselessly moment when I discovered that I was looking at the General Post Office in Dublin. One of my senior theses was on the 1916 Irish uprising, and that was where it all started. I'd looked at so many pictures of it in my life, but there. it. was.

I was dragged gently to my bookstore event, then, where I struck up a conversation with the bookstore lads (one of whom I'd met before. one of whom I hadn't). The following conversation happened:

BOOK GUY: . . . and, like a pheasant —
ME: WAIT! WAIT. Talk to me about pheasants. Let's say you shot one. Then what?
BOOK GUY: Well, it's rather gamey at first.
ME: So I've heard.
BOOK GUY: So what you want to do is hang it up in your garage —
BOOK GUY: *pleasantly bewildered*
ME: Just because you don't believe in the principle of decay does not make it go away!
BOOK GUY: I'm telling you, it is totally edible.

At this point, I have decided that either all men in Ireland are out to have a laugh on my behalf, or possibly, decomposition doesn't happen in Ireland. I have now fixed an image in my head of the average Irish garage.

Average Irishman's Garage

BOOK GUY: How do you make pheasants in the U.S.?
ME: We don't.

But apparently, we do. And apparently, we hang them up in our garages. (no, really.)

Anyway, after a delightful event in Dublin, we immediately got back on a plane that night to head back to London (I did say no rest for the wicked, didn't I?). The following morning we headed to the studio to do over a dozen radio interviews back to back.

No. rest. for. the. wicked.

It turned out that our friendly coordinator for all of these interviews was, in fact, Irish himself. We had the following conversation:

IRISH RADIO GUY: Where are you from in the States?
ME: Virginia.
IRG: No kidding! My father is a carpenter and he worked in Virginia for a few weeks. On a pub, actually, in Richmond, that was done with all Irish labor. About 10, 15 years ago.
ME: . . . Richmond? My band played for the opening of an Irish pub in Richmond. What was the name of it? Was it Siné?
IRG: I'll call my dad right now!
ME: *does radio interview*
IRG: THAT WAS THE PUB. He said there was a piper — OH THAT WAS YOU.

In which everything is about Ireland, ever.

I will post about other days on tour in a few days!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm Trying to Work. But This Keeps Happening.

I Just Started WinterNovel

Which is a project that I'm cheating on my other projects with. It's going well, as most things that have been bottled up for a long time do. I reckon I might as well share the first two words of WinterNovel here.

They are "Luke" and "Dillon."

That's all.

Hope you have a delightful Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An Illustrated Guide to UK Touring, Days 1-3

I realize I have been utterly impossible to reach online for the past few weeks, and this is because my UK tour conspired against me and the internet. Sometimes it was bad timing, sometimes it was lack of availability, sometimes the UK internet just didn't like my face. It's all water under the bridge, now, though, and I'm back home just in time to be 30. Yesterday I wasn't 30. But today I am.

As a present to myself, I re-alphabetized all my shelves. (Also, Lover took me to see Russell Brand last night, and I made cinnamon bread for myself, and I turned in my manuscript for MagicalNovel, and I bought three Madeleine L'Engle novels in hardcover because they would be prettier that way).

It is nice to be home.

This particular trip I brought my sister and mother along with, and they frolicked in London while I toured. Despite my rowdy and (to my way of thinking) exceedingly interesting travel stories at the dinner table, they still seemed surprised by what touring actually entailed, so I am going to try to describe the intricacies of touring in a short series of illustrated blog posts over the next week or so. That's the plan. Unless my shelves or cookie dough distract me before then. All right, without further ado.

The first step on my UK tour was getting there. This was a bit untidier than usual, as I had to fly to Long Island for an event first (where I procured a recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies — I am not vegan but you never know when you will need vegan chocolate chip cookies) and then set off the next morning across the Atlantic. The flight is seven hours, but the deadline for MagicalNovel loomed large, and so I made myself busy.

Working on Planes

People watch me when I work on planes. Generally, I can ignore this until they laugh at my jokes as I type them. Then I stare meanly at them or type something about the person in the next seat of the plane meeting an untimely death. You see here in this illustration that I am filled with the joy of creating. This is because MagicalNovel is a very difficult novel to write, because all of the characters are complicated people who hate me and want me to be unhappy as I try to write them well.

The next step in touring overseas is to get to your hotel and try to overcome jet lag as best you can. Every time I fly overseas, I think I might be getting better at dealing with jet lag, but I think you get better at dealing with jet lag the same way you get better at dealing with open chest wounds. Here's my program of relief:

Functional Touring

Very soon after arriving in the UK, we had our first public event. And by public event, I mean anything on my schedule that requires me putting on pants and leaving the hotel room. Ordinarily, I view the first of my public appearances with distaste and horror, preferring instead to stay in my bed, but this time, it was a lunch that Scholastic UK had arranged for me and Jonas & Plunkett. You remember those guys, the ones that did the cover of "Summer Girl"? Anyway, both Jonas and (Adrian) Plunkett were delightful. We had lunch at a posh place called The Ivy, which is supposed to be good for spotting stars. Everyone else looked for stars. I looked for another cup of tea, and also I looked at my roast beef right before I swallowed it. Functional Jet Lagged Maggie is Practical.

At one point in the meal, I noticed that there was an item on the dessert menu called "Knickerbocker Glory." There was no explanation, as if assuming that all diners would know what exactly a Knickerbocker Glory was. I didn't know. My mother and sister didn't know. I asked Jonas and Adrian if they knew, but it was hard to tell whether they did or not, as Jonas grew very excited at this point and ordered one.

When it arrived, it was larger than life. This drawing is true to scale*.

Jonas & Plunkett and the Knickerbocker Glory

*that is a lie**
**Adrian's head is not really that large in comparison to his body***
***but the ice cream really was that big****

I cannot tell you how much I think Jonas & Plunkett and the Knickerbocker Glory should be the first in a series of children's books.

There were no more fun and games to be had after the Jonas & Plunkett lunch. I had an interview in my hotel and then, it was time to head to Swindon for a day of school visits. Not only did this mean I had to put on pants, but I also had to take a several hour train ride from London. This did not displease me, however. Not only are the trains in the UK marvelous things, but this also provided another opportunity for me to attack MagicalNovel before my deadline.

Working on Trains

You see the thrill in my expression. I knocked out several thousand words before it was time for the school visit. UK school visits, like all school visits, can be somewhat daunting. Generally there are two brands of American school children: "loud" and "emo." That is mostly the same in the UK, except it breaks down more tidily into "cheeky" and "sullen."

British Schoolchildren

My job as an author is to make them forget their labels and laugh their heads off. I take this job very seriously. Because otherwise, what I end up with is a very long hour and a lot of pre-teens or teens who would rather be off drinking tea or listening to Jonas & Plunkett.

Perhaps I am projecting.

Unfortunately, while I was at Swindon, I contracted some sort of dreadful illness that woke me up in the night with lots of snot and . . . well, that's all. I really think lots of snot on its own counts as a dire condition, especially when you're expected to appear in public every day for the next ten days. The problem with me and cold medications is that I'm allergic to most preservatives and intolerant of the rest, and so I can take cold meds, but it makes my hair fall out. I was very sad to have to take cold meds for the Swindon Flu (that is what I am calling my ailment. Don't try to correct me). It did make me much more presentable in public (although there is video evidence on Youtube of me wiping my nose constantly through the Jonas & Plunkett songs at my London event later in the week) but I was sad about the hairs.

Also, it's always a tricky thing buying medications overseas. The packaging never quite seems the same as back home . . .

The Swindon Flu

That brings me to the end of days 1-3 of my tour. When I write it down that way, it doesn't seem to explain why I was never in my hotel room or relaxing. Possibly I will blame Swindon. I'm blaming them for everything else.*****

*****sorry, Swindon. Your teens were actually quite pleasant. Distinctly more on the cheeky side.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dissecting Pages for Mood

I'm madly getting ready for my Long Island event tomorrow and my UK tour right after that, but I got an e-mail last night that made me want to do a quick blog post. It was a really lovely e-mail and also had a really good question in it, which is this:

"Although I am going to desperately try to stop this from sounding like a tedious English essay in the hopes that you don't get so bored that you stop reading half way through, I just have to say that I find your use of metaphorical language and your character development beautiful. It seems to flow so naturally through the books and as someone who finds writing the most entertaining and frustrating hobby, I am not ashamed to say I am more than marginally jealous.

If, by some strange miracle Maggie (or anyone affiliated to her/you for that matter) could answer my question as to whether this is just something that comes naturally or had to be worked on?"

First of all, if I could please convince anyone affiliated with me to go through my e-mails, they'd get answered a lot faster. I have over 1,400 legitimate non-spam e-mails sitting in my inbox right now. If I had a trusty manservant or homicidal robot or trained penguin or something . . .

I digress.

I really like this question because metaphor and character development is something I work at, a lot, and also because, for me, it is in fact the most important thing for me to work at. Other writers might have different priorities, but for me, the chief goal of my novels is not plot or premise or pacing, but to evoke a certain feeling. I will sacrifice most anything in order to change someone's mood in a certain way. I can't do that without careful navigation of metaphor and character development.

Here's the thing: when you're toying with people's emotions, they can't notice that you're doing it, or the effect is ruined. You have to be a sneaky puppet master, working in between the lines, never telling the reader how they are supposed to feel but nonetheless getting them there in the end. It's really hard for me to describe how I think about this, but maybe if I take apart two pages of The Scorpio Races, I can show you. And maybe you can ask questions in the comments if you have any? I'll be traveling but I'm trying to catch up.

Okay, so here are the pages just as they are, from the middle of the book, shortly after Puck (Kate) and Sean meet. If you click on it, it'll open in a bigger window.

untaken apart

Okay, and here is the marked up version. Yellow lines are everything I put in for character development. Blue lines are setting — in this case, Thomas Gratton is part of the setting, establishing the mood and the backdrop for this Sean/ Puck interaction. The red lines are mood and pacing sections that are not . . . I don't want to say strictly necessary, because obviously I think they are or they wouldn't be in there. They aren't necessary for a factual retelling of these events, how's that? Because when it comes down to it, this is what happens in these pages: Sean gets into the truck with Puck, the dog goes in the back, and Sean and Puck sit in awkward silence. There's all that happens in the plot. (That's also what the un-underlined lines accomplish in this scene.) But does that do anything towards toying with reader emotions? No! I say, double NO!

Again, click to make it larger.

taken apart

For me, writing is reverse engineering. It's why I listen to music while I'm writing; because I have to have the mood for the scene and the book set firmly in my head before I begin. Then it becomes a problem-solving session of finding out what, exactly, I have to do to make that mood happen. It's like those writing exercises where you have to describe someone as tall without ever saying the word "tall." Found knowledge is always more valuable than given knowledge; the reader needs to draw their own conclusions.

So remember, it's not that the parking lot is lonely. It's that it's empty, and there's one seagull picking at an abandoned bag of cold French Fries next to an old Escort with a dent in the door and a dirty, crumpled battle of the bands poster.

Wow, that sounds like a destination.

I . . . should pack.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

UK & Ireland Tour!

Finally, finally, I have the dates for my public appearances in the UK and Ireland. Even though I'll be there for quite a stretch (5-16th), there's only three events open to the public. Everything else is conferences and school visits, etc. I'm sorry we couldn't fit more in, but trust me when I tell you that only one evening on my schedule is designated "free evening after 5 p.m."* I wish that I could've made it further north and also further afield in Ireland, but it's not me mapping the tours.** Next time?**

*I am doing my best to explain all of this so I will get fewer "WHY DO YOU HATE MANCHESTER?" "WHY DO YOU HATE GLASGOW?" "WHY DO AUTHORS NEVER COME TO _______" comments. 

**The publisher is sensibly aware that if the tour was left up to me, I'd end up with events in tiny towns in Yorkshire, Snowdonia, Stirling, and possibly Donegal. These are not, you may be surprised to know, look anything like dense population centers.

***There will be a next time. Next year. I'm sure.

So there are three. And the big thing I have to announce is that at the London event, Jonas & Plunkett will be performing. You remember Jonas & Plunkett:

Yes. Yes, indeed. I am Pleased.

Without further ado:

November 9: 6-8 p.m. Signing & Discussion, DUBLIN
Level 3 Unit 12-14 Dundrum Town Centre, Sandyford Road, Dundrum, Dublin 14
details here: http://www.dundrum.ie/events/a-new-chapter-for-easons/

November 12, 1:30-3:30 PM: Signing & Discussion, LONDON
Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London
details here: http://www.foyles.co.uk/Public/Events/Upcoming.aspx

November 12, 7:30 PM: Signing & Discussion, LIVERPOOL
Public talk and signing from 7.30pm at a special venue in central Liverpool. More details to follow soon!

As always, I'm happy to sign as many books as you bring as long as you buy at least one from the hosting store to help them cover the costs and trouble of having an author event. Thanks for that!

I'm really pleased that I'll be coming to the UK again — I love it, and I would happily spend months and months there. One day I will even come when it is warm.

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