Over the course of the last few months, in between exclamations of joy at the release of The Broken Lands and exhalations of relief over finishing (at least until my editor weighs in) Greenglass House, I have occasionally had reason to shriek in delight at the progress of The Illustrated Kairos Mechanism. Twelve artists sent work in styles varying from digital to pen and ink to watercolor to cut paper to pencil.
I’m in the final stages of pulling it all together and should be able to announce its availability within the next couple of weeks, and I just can’t wait to share it. Earlier this fall I posted a video of Natalia Eldering’s painting of Tom Guyot; today I want to share one of the pieces I received this week: Tanner Hansen’s imagining of the stone hawk from Simon Coffrett’s garden. Enjoy!
Remember that time we were talking and you said you had always meant to read Moby-Dick, but really you had never had the time, and if only someone would arrange for you to be able to read it in three days, sort of without stopping except for chowder and sleep you would TOTALLY be in?
Seriously? We’ve had that conversation like five times. And guess what? It’s time! It’s happening this weekend!
This Friday, November 16 through Sunday, November 18, join me and about a hundred and fifty-nine other readers for New York City’s Moby-Dick Marathon! I’m part of the Saturday 11/17 crew of Pequods reading at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. My best estimate is that I’ll be reading around 11am, but Saturday’s reading starts at 10 and features way more exciting people than me. (Example: Sophie Blackall is reading right before I am!)
And, obviously, there will be chowder.
What are you doing tonight? Say, from 6-8 pm or so, before your fashionable Thursday night on the town or, for those of the younger persuasion, bedtime? May I suggest a couple hours of listening to seven (count ‘em, seven!) awesome fantasy authors reading from their books of awesome fantasy at one of the most awesome independent bookstores in the city?
I thought you’d like that. Conveniently enough, the magnificent Books of Wonder will be hosting Libba Bray, Rachel Cohn, Cinda Williams Chima, Dan Krokos, Gina D’Amico, Sarah Crossan, and myself for readings from (respectively) The Diviners, Beta, The Crimson Crown, False Memory, Scorch, Breathe, and The Broken Lands. And while I won’t be reading from The Kairos Mechanism tonight, you can pick up a copy of the paperback/ebook bundle if you swing by during the event (thank you, Books of Wonder!).
While I have your attention, do you know that Books of Wonder needs some help right now? If you’ve poked around on my website much, you probably know I feel really strongly about independent bookstores to begin with, and Books of Wonder is a special case. They’re running an Indiegogo campaign right now to raise the $100,000 they need to stay open. With 28 days to go they’re nearly 1/3 of the way there, which is great, but they still have a long way to go. Check out the store if you never have. If you’re in the NYC, why not check it out in person? Say, tonight? Then if you have cash to spare, help out here.
Hope to see you tonight!
Just thought I’d share.
This is the kind of procrastination that happens when I’m still trying to work after 11pm.
So a couple weeks back I got this giant box of gorgeousness from Hamburg, Germany.
One of the special things that was offered to Kickstarter backers of The Kairos Mechanism was a set of The Broken Lands, The Boneshaker, and The Kairos Mechanism signed by cover illustrator Andrea Offermann. In August I shipped these, plus some extras, out to Germany for Andrea to sign. And just look what came back to me (actually, these are the pictures Andrea sent me in August to taunt me with what was coming):
If you’re a Kickstarter backer who chose Andrea-signed books for your reward, one of these beauties is on its way to you, if it hasn’t already arrived. If you are now kicking yourself for not having done so, as of today you can officially become a backer of Bluecrowne, the second edition in the Arcana series, and get one mailed out to you this week. Here’s the link to purchase the pinned edition (which comes with the digital edition of your choice as well as a handwritten thank you card and a small but special gift related to the story); proceeds will go toward bringing Bluecrowne to you in the summer of 2013. You can also take a look at other ways to become a backer of Bluecrowne here.
Wednesday night I got to meet Lois Lowry and spend 45 minutes in conversation with her before her appearance in conversation with Anna Holmes and Lizzie Skurnick of Jezebel.com. I was the guest of Jen Doll at the Atlantic Wire (you can read her interview here), because the two of us are reading The Giver Quartet for her YA for Grownups column (first part here), and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had asked if we’d like to meet Ms. Lowry since she was going to be in NYC. (Tough decision, no?)
Well, last night, by the time I got to the café at the 92nd Street Y/Tribeca I was shaken and pretty sure I was going to burst out crying (I’ll explain this below), and desperately afraid that I was going to babble too much, but there were things I really wanted to talk about. I think Ms. Lowry and I have certain themes in common in our writing, especially the idea of memory (both human and social) and what it means to be a story-keeper. I also wanted to talk about ideas that many writers for young readers tend to share: the conviction that hope lies in children rather than in adults entrenched in their own worldviews; the belief that it’s necessary for children to question their elders; the idea that books are safe spaces (to paraphrase Ms. Lowry’s own words during that evening’s event) to practice overcoming things adults want badly to shield them from. I wanted to talk about all these things. I was in weird headspace, though.
This is going to be a bit of a longish and meandering post, and it’s going to involve a lot of me telling you about a lot of crying I did. Unlike many of those who’ll read this, I didn’t become a Lois Lowry fan until recently. I was a fan in the sense that I was and am still in awe of her contribution to literature for young readers, but that was it. But I have had something of a year of Lois Lowry, and it’s been a very emotional year.
Before I go any further, though–if you’re reading this and don’t consider yourself a kidlit person, please, read it anyway. This post is perhaps the best argument I can make for why children’s literature matters so very much—as much, if not more, than adult literature—and why adults should read it, too, and share it, and discuss it, even when it makes them uncomfortable.
Back up to the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast at this year’s Book Expo America; it’s a good place to begin. I had somehow managed to get myself up to be there on time, and I had (equally miraculously) managed not to knock my orange juice over onto either of my neighbors at our little table over near the wall. Walter Dean Myers gave the opening remarks; Chris Colfer was the master of ceremonies; John Green and Kadir Nelson each spoke, and all four were delightful, thought-provoking, wonderful to listen to. Then came Lois Lowry, who proceded to talk about her books, which I’d never read, and she made me cry.
Yes, you caught me: I had never read The Giver. I graduated high school in 1994, and although there are books from my childhood that I revisited often in the meantime, I didn’t begin reading new (or new-to-me) childrens’ books again until I began writing for children, which was sometime in 2005 or 2006. I completely missed The Giver and its companion books, which were released in the years 1993-2004. Then I sat in the audience and listened to Lois Lowry. I listened to her repeat the phrase young readers believe they can fix the world. I cried. I tried to hide it, because I am deeply afraid of embarrassing myself and for some reason I thought smudged mascara would be a bad thing. I don’t know why. I’m good at worrying about irrelevant things at odd times.
That breakfast followed oddly closely on the heels of a two-day school visit I did at Deer Hill School in Massachusetts. On the second day, the discussion somehow turned to how these fifth-grade kids felt about endings. I honestly do not know how we got there. But the topic came up, about five hands shot into the air, and the first kid I called on said something along the lines of, “Like at the end of The Giver.” Immediately five more hands went up and started waving. We spent the rest of my time in the classroom talking about the ending of a book I’d never read. And it was awesome.
Now, I sure wasn’t about to admit I hadn’t read it–I wasn’t quite brave enough to do that–so I asked questions like, why do you think she chose to do that? What did it accomplish that a more concrete ending might not have? What is it about the possibility of the unanswered question that makes you so uncomfortable? And, since the class seemed to be fairly evenly divided about whether Jonas and Gabe survived or not, why do you not simply feel that you can decide what you think happened afterward? It was a really lively discussion, and I was fascinated by how strongly these kids felt about it. I decided it was time to read the books, and it happened to coincide with Jen reaching out to McNally Jackson about some other kids’ book-related question, and she decided to read them, too, thinking then we’d discuss them and she’d write about it.
I read The Giver on the beach in North Carolina in August and Gathering Blue and Messenger this past Tuesday and Wednesday while laid up with bronchitis. I didn’t make notes on the beach; I couldn’t put the book down. The best I could do was manage not to get sunburned. But this week, because I was going to get to meet Ms. Lowry and I didn’t want to forget what I wanted to ask, I made notes like:
I watched the BEA speech again before I left for the 92nd Street Y Wednesday night and once again I cried. I was amped up emotionally. I’d just finished Messenger (the ending of which carries pain), and earlier that day, less than 24 hours after the note I’d made about casual familial violence in Gathering Blue, I’d seen a young mother hit her toddler on the girl’s face because she wouldn’t stop crying. This happened at my local diner (ref. my fifth note above). I think this was the first time that, as an adult, I’d ever witnessed another adult hit a child. On the heels of that event I watched the speech again, and this time I was struck even more forcibly by an earlier part in which Ms. Lowry explains that before writing The Giver she’d gotten a letter from her son, then serving in Iraq, in which he asked, why do people do such terrible things to each other?
I was also looking forward to the first Presidential debate, and I was in one of those mental states where you read something and everything, it seems, has relevance to you and your life right exactly at that moment. A good dystopia ought to have that effect–otherwise what’s the point?–and The Giver Quartet is exceptionally good dystopia. Immigration, the rights of women, the place of the arts and the government’s role in fostering them, and on, and on, and on…
The net effect of all of it is that I was in a state of high emotion on my way to the meeting. So much so that I was so afraid I would cry again while talking to Ms. Lowry and–remember I said I worry irrationally about things?–I wrote an apology letter in advance and took it with me.
So what was the conversation like? Much of it is covered by Jen’s interview, and although she recorded the whole thing since she was going to be writing it up, I didn’t take notes. I just listened, and talked sometimes. Maybe too much, or maybe that’s just me worrying unnecessarily.
We talked a bit about reading the quartet as an adult and in 2012–in particular I’d been fascinated by Messenger‘s Village as a group of its citizens traded away pieces of themselves and demanded the closing of the borders to fugitives. I’d been struck by the way that, in Gathering Blue, artists are of use only if what they create helps to perpetuate the narrative the ruling forces have created. As a somewhat-religious person who’s furious about the uses of religion in politics, I was fascinated by the presence of the “worship object” in Gathering Blue and delighted by Leader’s giving of the name Healer to Matty even though Matty himself had hoped to be called Messenger. “There have been other messengers, and there will be more to come,” Leader says. But only Matty was able to go beyond messages to actually undo some of the real damage scarring his world and dividing it and turning its people against each other. Reading the beginning of Son as a female outraged about what I see as threats to my access to health and reproductive care at the same time as I’m trying to become a mom–well, that’s a killer. Ms. Lowry added that often times readers had pointed out that one of the woven scenes of destruction Kira repairs in Gathering Blue sounds like a description of the World Trade Center falling, and that many readers assume that’s exactly what it is–but that book had been published in 2000.
In much the same way, I guess, so many of the disaster-future elements of the quartet seem troublingly and specifically relevant to the world I live in, even if the author herself hadn’t actively been setting out to push all of those buttons when she’d written them.
This is where, if you haven’t read the books, you’re wondering how on earth all of this is jammed in there for fifth graders to find and absorb and process. And the answer is, of course, it isn’t. It isn’t jammed in there, but it’s there to find, because the world and the characters are beautifully drawn, because they are complex, because a world is a complicated thing and a good book is a world. A young reader encountering this book will find much in it to provoke thought, but certainly not the same set of thought-provocations as a 35 year old writer angry about certain things and sad about others and afraid of a still different set of concerns. Nor will they find the same set of thought-provocations as a 35 year old writer with two nephews as well as an adopted child out there somewhere waiting to find his way home. (Also, I am not always angry, sad, and afraid.)
What we bring to the reading of a book is what enables us to find meaning in it. This is why so many adults read The Giver and find themselves up in arms. And this is why, to a fifth-grader, in many ways the ending is the most troubling part—what lies ahead of Jonas and Gabe, not what they escaped. Kids are so resilient, and for all the darkly good intentions and perfectly-constructed dysfunctionality of Jonas’s community, Jonas and Gabe escaped. Nothing that they experience beforehand is so frightening as the possibility that their escape was for naught. The importance of the book, for them, is that the boys overcome that which is not right in their world.
Lois Lowry said in her speech, then to Jen and I, and then again in the event that followed that over and over kids had written to her wanting to know what happened to Jonas, but even more than that, they wanted to know what happened to the baby he fled with. This raises an even more tantalizing possibility about what The Giver inspires a child to think about. Certainly kids who read the book aren’t projecting themselves onto the baby Gabriel; they’re far more likely to be identifying with Jonas, who is twelve at the time of most of the events of the story. Both boys are on the verge of death at the end of The Giver. Jonas has given up so much to try and save the baby. How wonderful would it be to think that it’s not only important to young readers that the young protagonist manages to overcome the things that stand in his way and survive in a troubling world, but that even as a child he is able to save someone even more helpless than himself?
I have often wondered whether the trouble adult readers often have with the world of The Giver–and with dark books that require sacrifices of children, in general–has less to do with the specific things that challengers cite as problematic and more to do with the fact that that books like these tend to be tales in which adults (at best) cannot protect children from the world they’ve helped to shape and/or (at worst) are actively antagonistic to the best interests of the children–although there’s almost always a good reason for it, from the adults’ point of view. They are worlds that require sacrifices of children like Jonas, Kira, Matty, and Claire, and adults—particularly parents—do not like to think about children being put at risk, to say nothing of children having to knowingly put themselves at risk or even to die in order to save someone else. That’s supposed to be what adults are for, and it’s that very protective wish for peace and comfort and trust that makes them leery of kids reading things that are potentially upsetting. But it’s also that same protective wish that causes a lot of the evil in the world, and in the worlds of these books. It would not be difficult, if you were of a particularly defensive turn of mind, to think that books like these send messages like, adults are not to be trusted, religion is not to be trusted, governments are not to be trusted.
I don’t personally think that’s what these books say, by the way. I think what they say is subtly different, and critically important: sometimes the entities you should be able to trust will make mistakes, at least. Sometimes you will have to trust yourself to survive.
And then, the most important bit:
And you can do it.
Greenglass House deadline: T-13 days. The good news: I’m really close to done. The bad news (earmuffs, Lynne Polvino): some of what I have left, I simply haven’t figured out yet.
Except that this isn’t exactly bad news. Not to me, anyway. For me, part of the joy of finishing a book is seeing all the pieces come together, in much the same way that it’s part of the joy of reading. Part of the reason I like writing by the proverbial seat of my pants is that when I start out with a certain percentage (say, 50%) of the pieces in hand, I like the way the rest of the pieces find me. Or re-find me, by twisty turny means. Last week this happened to me not once, but twice. Since one of those happenings also included a friend and a very cool piece of art, I’m going to tell you about that one.
Exhibit Number One, because it’s the coolest exhibit:
The caption is the text of the email that accompanied the image. But let me back up.
Ashley Quach is an artist, screenwriter, and Twitter-turned-In-Real-Life friend who was first introduced to me when my husband, Nathan, found her blog post entitled A Tender Ode to Bloodsport. We also became crowdfunding buddies in a sense; my Kickstarter campaign for The Kairos Mechanism concluded just as her Indiegogo campaign to finance the short film Appleseeds began. (The first screening of the rough cut happens this month, by the way, and if you’re planning to be in Berkeley, CA, on October 14th, you should definitely consider attending the party.)
But to return to how pieces come together, here’s Exhibit Number Two:
Now, if you’ve read The Boneshaker, you might remember a moment during the past of Dr. Jasper Bellinspire in which a woman hands him a small bone and tells him it’s the one that floated upriver. This is a piece of lore I came across somewhere: if you take a black cat, reduce it to bones, and set them in a moving river, one bone will float against the current. That one can be used to summon the Devil. So it’s something I already knew, something I had made use of. Maybe because of that, it lived in a different part of my head than the part that needed to find the remaining story pieces for Greenglass House. Until, that is, Ashley sent me her “doodle.”
Who knows why we compartmentalize the way we do? I can make a guess about myself in this case: Greenglass House isn’t about devil folklore the way The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands are–which is to say, it isn’t about devil folklore at all. But it is about folklore; specifically, the folklore of Nagspeake, which, fortunately, has an elasticity that allows me to manipulate it basically however I want. And I realized when I saw Ashley’s message sent picture I realized that Nagspeake needed this bit of lore. And not because it is devil lore or summoning lore, but because it is orphan lore, which my adopted protagonist Milo, who is deeply concerned about his heritage and identity, would be very interested in. Greenglass House isn’t a chosen one story. It is, in fact, an anti-chosen one story, if anything. Still, this piece, the story I wrote after receiving message sent is a critical part of Milo’s adventure.
Very little of this story will actually appear in Greenglass House–Milo encounters it in a book of Nagspeake folklore he’s reading, The Raconteur’s Common-Place Book. But because the grand plan is to release The Raconteur’s Common-Place Book as Volume 3 of The Arcana Project, I wrote the story. Here’s a bit of the first draft (a “doodle,” if you will), with thanks to Ashley Quach for giving me one of the missing pieces I was looking for.
It took her a few days to find a black cat, another few after that to find enough wood to boil water. When all that was left of the cat were its bones, she made her way to the river’s edge and set the bones on the water. The frothing river took all but one. That one spun gently as if it were caught in the mildest of eddies. Then it slid against the plunging flow, upriver and out of sight.
A moment later, the dark figure of a tall man appeared at the bend in the Skidwrack around which the single bone had disappeared. He strode upon the surface as if it were a road, with a long overcoat wrapped around him and a grey fedora keeping the rain from his head.
Nell watched with her heart in her throat as he approached until the strange figure stood before her with his coat whipping about his ankles and rain dripping from his hat. “I received your message,” he said in a voice like thunder rolling far, far away. She couldn’t see his face, but she sensed that, in the shadows under the brim of the hat, a pair of searching eyes was considering her curiously. “Put forth your question.”
She folded her shaking hands and cleared her throat, and she saw the dark man smile very slightly, as if there was something endearing about her fear. “I want you to stop the water rising.”
The man put his hands into the pockets of his coat. “That isn’t a question.”
“Please stop the water rising?”
“That is still not a question. It’s a request with a question mark at the end of it.”
“Well—can you stop the water rising?”
He smiled more. “You called me all this way to ask me a question I can answer with a single word?”
The girl realized her mistake and raised her hands quickly. “Wait. No. Let me think.” And as she thought about her question, she realized she had a problem. She had expected to be allowed to make a request, but what the dark man had offered was something different. She could perhaps ask, will you stop the water rising—but even if he answered yes, that didn’t mean he would stop it now, or at any time before her city would be wiped off the coast. She could not think of any way to ask him to solve the problem of the rising water.
At last she asked the only question she’d come up with. It didn’t accomplish what she’d wanted to accomplish from this meeting, but it was the best she could think of to do. “How can I stop the water rising?”
“Ah. Now that is a good question…
And by “the big kids,” I mean some very fancy authors I’m kind of in awe of. Come hang out, if you can!
Today I came home from seeing the first proofs of The Kairos Mechanism emerge warm out of the Espresso Book Machine to find a of The Broken Lands at my door–the first real-world, hardbound, this-is-what’s-gonna-be-on-the-bookshelves copy I’ve ever seen. It is beautiful. They both are.
Here’s another really beautiful thing. As many of you know that, in addition to the ebook and paperback editions of The Kairos Mechanism (which, of course, is the companion novella to both The Broken Lands and The Boneshaker), I’m putting together a reader-illustrated edition, with the help of thirteen amazing young artists. This is Natalia Eldering’s contribution to this very special edition. Enjoy!