Friday, November 30, 2012

In Which Maggie Gives America's Youth A Piece Of Her Mind

A reader recently asked me what she should do in college if she wanted to be a writer. This is what I have to say about it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Deceased Language of Speed

I've always enjoyed languages. I like 'em dead, really, because then they can't go round changing on you. Latin, my favorite in college, is beautifully, thoroughly, conclusively dead. No one is inventing any new Latin idioms any time soon. No one has to worry about "google" switching from a noun to a verb in the Latin lexicon. I'm telling you all this because I'm about to tell you about my first rally, and even though you might think this will be a post about cars, it will actually be a post about languages.

I guess I have to start with cars, though. Those of you who read the blog regularly will know that recently I bought a race car. How I arrived at purchasing a race car is a long, convoluted, and ultimately spoilery story that I cannot and will not share at the moment, but all you need to know is that I have been having a mid-life crisis since I hit age seven or eight. You never know, man. You never know when that scythe-guy is coming for you. BUY A RACE CAR NOW BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.

This is the part where everyone always asks "do you mean Nascar?" No, I do not mean Nascar, because Nascar involves roads, and I think driving a car on roads is cliché. Everybody drives their cars on roads. My race car is a hipster car. It drives on gravel paths, which were cool before anybody even thought of asphalt.

I feel like I've already said the word "car" a lot of times for a blog post I promised wasn't about cars. I'm going to skip ahead. I'm going to skip to the part where we're all driving to our first rally, a Canadian race called Rally of the Tall Pines (which was not the species of tree I became the best acquainted with while there, but I get ahead of myself). We were in two cars — Lover and my dad in one, as I'm such a bad influence that they'd decided to race as well, and me in my Evo, listening to loud music that you will not like.

After about ten hours of driving, we arrived at the Canadian border. I arrived first, and even though I turned down my music, Canada didn't seem happy to see me.

CANADA: What is your destination?  
ME: A rally race in Bancroft.  
CANADA: What's that?  
ME: A car race on gravel roads with lots of jumps and cliffs and stuff.  
CANADA: Why would you do something like that?
ME: Are you questioning my life choices?  
CANADA *coldly*: Explain your license plate.

Mitsubishi Evo

ME: It's a reference to my next novel. It's sort of spoilery. I can't tell you.
CANADA: We need to see you in the office.

And then they sent me to be questioned in the building where all of the other punks sat while Canada searched their cars for drugs and illegal fruits and vegetables. I had to pull out my rally notes and explain I was an author (Canada was very unimpressed). Generally I flapped my hands around a lot and was charming.

CANADA: We see that you are charming. That might work back where you are from — Virginia — if you are even from Virginia. For our part? we are going to do a background check.

They did a background check. They asked again about the license plate. By this point, Lover and Dad were feeling a little tetchy about my life choices, too.

LOVER: You could have just gotten a normal license plate.
ME: Normal is so cliché.

Ultimately, Canada let me in, although she looked displeased about it. It just goes to show you, though, that people believe in the packaging. If the cereal box says "heart healthy!" they totally think it's good for their cholesterol levels. If the car says "THIEF," clearly the driver is a stone-cold bandit.

So in I stole to Canada (get it? get it?) and didn't even speed that much. I don't think, anyway. Everything is in kilometers in Canada and I find it hard to speed in kilometers.

Once again I find that this blog post seems to be about cars, and I promised languages. I'm going to skip ahead again.

Once in Bancroft, there was evidence of the rally everywhere:

Who knew?

Including my car. It was still white and naked — it won't be sexily vinyled* up to look like the book cover until the 2013 races. But I liked it anyway.

The Fiesta at Rally of the Tall Pines 2012

*I feel this is the most innocent use of the phrase "sexily vinyled" ever.

I wore my green sunglasses, because they make me faster.


So. Rally. The hipster roads we run on are unpredictable and rutted and lacking in guard rails and signage and all of the other things that humans have come to expect. Which means the Rally of Tall Pines (really, it should be the Rally of Tall Birches, but I get ahead of myself again) has an attrition rate of fifty percent. Most years sixty cars start and thirty cars finish. There's always a list of the cars that didn't finish and why and it usually looks like:


Some of those are lies. But most are not.


In an attempt to make fewer cars and humans die, rallying has adopted stage notes. Each rally's Big Book of Misadventure/ Handbook for the Recently Deceased lovingly describes each turn, crest, jump, and distance. Like a bedtime story on fast forward, the co-driver reads these to the driver at precisely the correct time. With funny voices for the good parts. And this keeps all parties from being shocked by a suddenly tight turn with a cliff on the other side.

stage notes

Allow me to translate. That would be

RIGHT 5 minus over a small crest into a LEFT 4 plus over a small crest, 80 meters, crest, BRAKING OMG BRAKING, RIGHT 6 into CAAAAUUUUTTTIIIOOOOON big jump! into crest, RIGHT 4 plus, off camber, and crest, 100 meters, RIGHT 5 short into LEFT 5 over small crest, 100 meters go go go!

What a fine bedtime story that is! You can see, in addition to its compelling prose style, how it would prevent the car from flying over a blind crest and off a cliff. You can also see how a, when the co-driver and driver are working perfectly together, you can hurtle along blindly, much faster than a) someone without notes or b) someone with common sense.

And did you notice that it is a lot like a DEAD LANGUAGE? A language without jokes, but still, a language. I'll admit that when I cooked up my plan to race with Bill, I fully intended to co-drive as little as humanly possible. All I really cared about was hurtling through the woods behind the wheel. But . . . color me fascinated. Driving + dead language = puzzle. It also helps that co-driving is really hard. As in, the hardest thing I think I've attempted in the last ten years, and that includes trying to make tortillas (I always somehow end up making the kitchen smell like fish). I'm sort of a practice junkie. I don't like not being good at something. Basically what I'm telling you is that you're going to be hearing rumors of me doing a lot of co-driving in 2013. And hopefully improving.

I think I'm done with the language part of this blog post. I think now I'm going to consummate my tree references by telling you that on the first stage of the rally, Bill and I hit a tree. A small one. Five inches diameter? Seven? It was not a pine, though. It was a birch, and it left a birch-shaped print on the hood of the car. Possibly the most interesting part of hitting the tree was lifting our eyes to where another rally car was buried in the trees a few yards ahead of us. Clearly someone had had the same idea as us, only they'd approached it with more enthusiasm. It was a cautionary tale.

We backed out of the tree and then the ditch. We were vexed, but there was no swearing. I generally use swearing very sparingly while driving.

Example A:

CAR: *hits tree*  
BILL: Yes.

Example B:
CAR: *flies successfully over giant jump*  
MAGGIE: %^&* yeah!  
BILL: Yes.

And we continued racing. We didn't hit more trees. Instead, we passed forty cars. I'm not sure how to tell the next part, because it's not very plausible. It's this:


Really, this shouldn't have happened, as it was my first rally and Bill's first rally. And because we started off by hitting a tree. But we got better. You, gentle reader, might also be pleased to know that Lover and Dad did not roll over, crash, or otherwise destroy their car. I hear that they swore more than us, though. And I'm telling you now that Lover knows a lot of swear words. Some of the compound words he knows are linguistically incredible. I'd tell you, but there are children reading this blog, and they don't need to hear #$%^&nozzle in a sentence.

Anyway, the rally was brilliant. And I was looking forward to driving back over the border into the U.S. We used the Evo to recce the rally roads, and it looked delightfully disreputable, and I was certain that they'd be even more suspicious than Canada had been.
Evo after Recce

But this is what happened.

U.S.: Where are you coming from?
ME: Canada.
U.S.: Ha ha. Where in Canada?  
ME: Bancroft.
U.S.: What was in Bancroft?  
ME: A rally. I was —
 U.S.: Tall Pines! AWESOME! How'd you do?  
ME: First. I was —  
U.S.: You can go. Great license plate, by the way.

So off I went back home. Listening to music you will like.

2013's going to be awesome.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bookplates for CANADIANS!

Do you guys remember that time I posted about bookplates that I was giving away if you sent me an SASE and a picture of you holding your copy of The Raven Boys? And I said it was U.S. only because the postage issues?

Bookplate for Fountain BookstoreWell, Scholastic Canada has swept in and offered to help; I'm going to send them a Canadian chunk of bookplates and they will mail them out from Toronto. So if you're Canadian and want a signed limited edition bookplate, follow the directions in the video, but send all of your materials to:

Nikole Kritikos/ Bookplates
Scholastic Canada
604 King Street West
Toronto, ON M5V 1E1

A big thanks to Scholastic Canada for their help on this front and a note to everyone who's sent a letter so far: they'll probably get sent out in a big batch right after my first rally race at Thanksgiving. So they'll arrive in plenty of time for Christmas, but it'll still be a bit of a delay.

And here's the instructions for how to request a bookplate again:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bookplates for EVERYONE (well, everyone in the U.S.)

I feel bad for the readers who wanted to make it to events on my Raven Boys tour but couldn't, either because of time or distance. I recently discovered that I have leftover limited edition bookplates in my office, and I reckon now's a good time to give them away to readers.

This is what they look like (they feature the colored pencil art I did for the Raven Boys animated trailer).

Bookplate for Fountain Bookstore

Here's how to snag one, if you want one. This isn't a contest, just a giveaway, and I'll keep sending them out until I run out. Unfortunately, because of my difficulties with IRCs, this has to be U.S. addresses only.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Denver & the Mind Reader

This is a story about cars. Well, actually, I've told quite a few stories on this blog that are more properly about cars than this one, so I should be honest: this one is about mind-reading.

It happened while I was on tour for The Raven Boys, just last month. It was quite late in the tour, day 24 or 28 or something like that. It was far enough into the tour that when my Scholastic person Becky and I landed at the Denver airport, all I had had to eat that day had been a latte and a bag of cocoa-dusted hazelnuts. Part of this was because of lack of opportunity, and part of it was because, once I reach day 20 or 25 or 28 on a tour, I forget how to eat, sleep, or do things like a normal person. I become instead an imaginary creature that is found in hotel rooms and in the trunks of taxi cabs. This imaginary creature that is me late on tour is also fanciful and, like the ancient Romans, easily amused by spectacles of wonder, terror, and magic.

I believe the men at Hertz must have sensed this.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Becky and I staggered into the Hertz rental offices at the Denver airport, light-headed, as I said before, with our meal of coffee and nuts. I was in fact still clutching a bag of these cocoa-dusted hazelnuts. I should emphasize that they were delicious, even if they weren't a balanced diet. We were both feeling less than optimistic — our last rental car, a Nissan Altima, had murdered itself outside of Kalamazoo (this is a car story for a different time) just days before — and we were full of the bitter knowledge that our rental car would suck even if it did not self-immolate. As someone who adores driving and cars in general, this was like taking a chef to a Denny's. One knows one must eat. One knows one will not like it.

So all of this was going on in our brains as we made our way to the eventual head of the line. An older man was typing away on a computer. Seeing me clutching my bag of nutritionally bereft but culinarily delightful hazelnuts, he asked, "Chocolate covered coffee beans?"

"Nay," I replied. "Have some."

Ordinarily strangers would probably turn down brown food objects shaken from a mostly unmarked bag, but he did not. To the imaginary creature that was tour-Maggie at that point, this didn't seem very surprising. Of course he would be aware of the wonders I was offering him. It would have been more shocking for him to turn them down.

He began to process our reservation as he ate the two hazelnuts. He informed us conversationally that his name was Maurice, and that he was Peruvian, and that people often thought he was Italian. He also informed us that we were all set to pick up a mid-size car.

Warily, Becky asked him what kind of car that would be. Now, I hear people ask that question all the time at rental car places. They're told they are getting a fullsize or a midsize or a compact and they look confused and ask what sort of car it is. And then they are told it's a 300 or a 6 or a RAV-4 and it's clear that they don't know what this is, but they are comforted nonetheless because now it has a name. Something they can shout at it when it enthusiastically jumps a curb after getting the bit between its teeth or breaks down by the side of the highway after deciding it just can't go on like this anymore.

But when Becky asked this question, what she was really asking was, "Is it an Altima?"

Maurice said, "It's a Corolla."

Becky said, "Oh, that's fine."

But then Maurice the Peruvian turned and looked directly at me and said, "But you don't want a Corolla, do you?"

The truth was that I didn't want a Corolla, but I didn't see what that had to do with anything. I didn't want any rental car, actually. We were going to be doing quite a lot of driving in Colorado, and it had been twenty-odd days since I'd been home, and what I really wanted was my car.*

BlueLoki and Old Loki

*on the left is the car that I have now. It is a blue 1973 Camaro named Loki and I love it like an inferno.**

**on the right was the car that I sold to get the car on the left. It is a 1973 Camaro also named Loki that broke down all the time and so I sold it and wrote it into The Raven Boys, renaming it "The Pig," as a form of therapy.

So all of this was going through my mind. I told him that, no, I didn't want a Corolla, but I guessed that's what I was going to get, and I'd made my peace with that.

Maurice the Peruvian said, "You're a Scorpio."

I am a Scorpio, because I was born on November 18th, so this was not new knowledge for me. It was, however, shocking to hear it said out loud, as I had not met Maurice the Peruvian before and I furthermore had not yet given him my license with my birthday on it. Cautiously I confirmed that I was.

Maurice the Peruvian said, "I am too. We Scorpios always know other Scorpios."

Now, this statement was false. Because under that reasoning, I would've known that he was a Scorpio, and I had not even considered the concept.

Maurice the Peruvian said, "It's in the eyes. You know that about Scorpios, don't you? We can read minds."

Well, that part was true. I can read minds. I'm reading yours now.

Maurice the Peruvian said, "And I'm looking into your eyes and I can tell that you don't want a Toyota Corolla."

Becky said, "I could've told you that beforehand."

Maurice the Peruvian said, "I'm reading your mind because you are a Scorpio and I am a Scorpio and what I can tell is that you would rather be driving . . . a red Camaro."

Becky and I looked at each other, and then we looked at Maurice the Peruvian, and then we ate two more cocoa-covered hazelnuts. As far as delight goes, I was pretty delighted. I told you, imaginary Maggie is easily pleased with displays of wonder and magic, and this qualified.

"That's true," I admitted.

Maurice the Peruvian said, "I think we can make that happen."

Now, Maurice the Peruvian did not have my Camaro. That would have been wondrous and magical even for a fellow Scorpio (also possibly worrisome, as he would've had to fetch it from my garage in Virginia). But he did have a new, red Camaro, and he did make it happen. And it was ever so much better than a Toyota Corolla.

For all of the Camaro's charms, however, it is not the acceleration from 0-60 that I remember when I think back on Denver. It is Maurice the Peruvian/Scorpio's mind-reading powers, exercised just when I needed them the most.

Also, the cocoa-dusted hazelnuts.

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