According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, we're supposed to receive a lot of snow this year. Well. This certainly seems an auspicious start.
Snow! Before Halloween! In North Carolina!
(Please excuse the poor quality photographs. I popped outside this morning whilst still in my pink striped pajamas, so I didn't want to dawdle...)
And I had just hung my pretty autumn wreath!
I picked it up at the Asheville City Market (LOVE the City Market) last Saturday. My fab friend Sumner and her father run Spotted Dog Farm, and they grow all kinds of gorgeous flowers and berries. Sumner is selling these wreaths right now, along with oodles of cool crafts like knitted creatures in striped beanies and skull shirts, and messenger bags made from recycled grain bags and felted sweaters. Sumner is so talented! And she just opened an etsy shop here.
And because I've meant to post this picture for MONTHS, I suppose now is as good a time as any. Despite the red and gold leaves outside.
And the snow.
This was a bouquet I picked up at Sumner's stall this August. Isn't it lovely?
And in case you are wondering why I keep such beautiful flowers in my laundry room, ask Mr. Tumnus. Anywhere else in the house, and these would be DESTROYED.
Gotta start with the classics.
You can't go wrong with any Poe collection, but how about Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness illustrated by the enormously talented and fabulously pseudo-named Gris Grimly?
And as much as I like Poe, I LOVE Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I don't know how many times I've read it, but I'll never tire of it. If you've only seen the film adaptations, now is the perfect time to step into the real Tarry Town with Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones, and Katrina Van Tassel. (It won't take long. It's short.)
Does anyone do unsettling better than Edward Gorey? He's PERFECT for Halloween! My favorites are The Doubtful Guest (gotta love a mysterious penguin in a striped scarf) and The Willowdale Handcar.
For the kid in you (or, you know, your actual kid), try these: Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex. These poems are hilarious, and the illustrations are phenomenal -- everything from gorgeous glossy black & whites to Charlie Brown-esque comic strips. And did I mention how FUNNY they are? Check out some of the titles inside the latest:
"No One Comes to Skull Island Anymore"
"Dracula Jr. Wants a Big-Boy Coffin"
"Please Stop Staring at My Delicious Head"
"Edgar Allen Poe Hears Sweet Music Like the Dulcet Tones of Angels or Whatever"
(FYI, Adam Rex also has a pretty cool blog.)
Can't resist mentioning one of my favorite authors. Both The Graveyard Book and The Dangerous Alphabet were released this year and would make excellent Halloween reading. Gaiman is great at creepy, and it's interesting that it's his work for children that's always the scariest! It's also worth noting that The Dangerous Alphabet -- a very Clever with a capital "C" picture book -- is another work featuring the art of Gris Grimly, so it's double-y cool.
(FYI, Neil Gaiman also has a pretty cool blog.)
I think there's a law that says you can't talk about scary books without talking about Stephen King. So. He's unusual for me, in that I generally prefer his short stories (which are still long & more like novellas) than his novels, but I do have a soft spot for The Shining. I like to hand it to the Literary Snobs who come into my work, scoffing about the poor, tasteless schmucks who read Stephen King. Heh. It always shuts them up. There's a reason it's a classic.
And for another adult novel, try The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I don't know why I don't talk about it more often, because it really is phenomenal. It's not scary-scary, but it's appropriate to include because it has one of the most terrifying villains I've ever seen. I'm talking about a seriously scary dude. But . . . that's not surprising because this book has EVERYTHING! It's an adventure, romance, mystery, and thriller, and not only that, but the plot revolves around Wondrous Lost Books.
If you want to get your teen girl on -- me! me! me! -- how about Jinx by Meg Cabot (about witches) or Devilish by Maureen Johnson (about demons)? These are quick, fun reads that will keep you smiling the whole way through.
(FYI, Meg and Maureen also have a pretty cool blogs.)
For writers, now is a perfect time to browse something by Karen Elizabeth Gordon: Deluxe Transitive Vampire (grammar), The New Well-Tempered Sentence (punctuation), or The Disheveled Dictionary (vocabulary). If you've never run across her work before, you're in for a treat. Forget Strunk & White. Learn how to construct prose with her delicious cast of Gothic characters.
For example, study independent clauses with sentences like these from Deluxe Transitive Vampire:
--I fondled his lapel, and I caressed his socks.
--Her irony is getting rusty, and her audience is bored.
--The mannequin gave the baby vampire her phone number, but she knew he'd never call.
The Spider and the Fly by Tony DiTerlizzi (based on Mary Howitt's poem) is on my list of top five picture books of all time. This book is BEAUTIFUL. The illustrations glow and flicker like a silent film, and the creepy factor is through the roof. This one is always a big hit with elementary-aged children.
(FYI, Tony DiTerlizzi also has a pretty cool blog.)
And because no one does Halloween better than picture books, here are a few more. These are some gentler -- but sooo cool -- titles, for little ones who want to bask in the holiday spirit without getting too scared. In other words, these are the books that I would have liked when I was young! It took me a long time to be brave about such things.
Skeleton Hiccups by Margery Cuyler (author) and S.D. Schindler (illustrator)
Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes (author) and Yuyi Morales (illustrator)
Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara
Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems -- Not a Halloween book, but monsters are always appropriate this time of year. Plus, I can't talk about picture books without recommending one by Mo. Because he is the best. Period.
(FYI, Mo Willems also has a pretty cool blog.)
And because I'm on a graphic novel & comics kick right now, I've gotta mention The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman (author), and Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, & Cliff Rathburn (illustrators). Big thanks to my super-awesome friend Jim for recommending this! As you know, zombies are the new vampires, and this fits the interest perfectly. It's an ongoing comic about living in a world with zombies, and because it's open-ended, it allows us to inspect so many more aspects of life-after-catastrophe that horror films don't have time for. And like all good zombie stories, the people are often the scariest creatures of all. So, as Jim warned me, don't get too attached to any of the characters...
Now that I've shared mine, what are YOUR favorite creepy reads?
While my desktop computer is currently off the fritz, I thought I'd better blog quick quick quick. Because for the past two weeks, our desktop has decided not to turn on. Sometimes.
But OF COURSE it turns on for the repair guys. Every time.
So that explains the decline in bloggage around here lately -- I have been at the mercy of a single power button. A single e-vil power button. But let's not give it any more attention than it deserves. Because you know what?
IT'S NaNo TIME AGAIN!!!
Can you tell I'm happy? Because I am, in the most genuine way possible.
Were it not for NaNoWriMo, I would not be the proud author of the big fat beautiful manuscript that I am today. (The one that Laini Taylor gave the best-est, nicest post about EVER last week. My toes are still wiggling with joy. THANK YOU, LAINI! When I am Rich and Famous, I will buy you a castle. Or, at least, let you borrow mine.)
Anyway, I freaking love NaNo. I love it so much I'd marry it if I could, and we'd have gorgeous, toner-scented children.
Partial list of other things this week I've said that I'd marry if I could:
Last year was my first time participating in National Novel Writing Month. I'd been hearing about it for years, but I kept blowing it off. "Writing 50,000 words in thirty days? Puh-lease. You can't force creativity."
Well, you wanna know something?
You totally can. And usually you have to.
Because if it weren't for NaNoWriMo, I'd still be working on the same book I'd been working on for the previous three and a half years. Yeah. Years. And not only that, but I'd still be revising the same three chapters! My light bulb moment was when someone explained to me that NaNo isn't about creating a GOOD draft. Just a finished draft.
Me: "A finished draft? Well, heck. I could use one of those."
Because let's face it -- the first draft is the hardest. Practically impossible. That blank white page, that dead eye staring back at you. So why drag it out over months and months (or, in my case, years and years)? Get that sucker done in ONE month and move on!
So I signed up, I wrote my butt off, and I won.
(If you didn't already know, "winning" in NaNo terms means you FINISHED. It's not a contest. And believe me, finishing IS winning!)
Really. It was that simple. I worked -- hard -- and it got written.
You: "So was it a good book?"
Me: "Um . . . no."
It was pretty much the worst thing I'd ever written. The main character was cardboard, the plot was nonexistent, and the scenes were written in both the past and present tense. It also had a lot of these:
[SOMETHING IMPORTANT HAPPENS HERE.]
That's a direct quote, by the way. Not "Big explosion in the condom factory, fill in details later." But "something important."
But the amazing thing about NaNo was that it gave me a COMPLETE draft to work with. And sure it was this ugly, hole-filled snotty troll of a thing, but it had an ending! Which was more than any of my other books could brag about. And in between the cliches and the plot gaps, I saw . . . potential. Tiny, shimmering threads of hope.
And that's what I latched onto in my next draft. I took what what worked, figured out why it worked, and made it work better. That's revising in a nutshell.
(The key word there? Work. Which I did. Which I'm still doing.)
So this year I'm recruiting. Because I believe in this way of novel-writing. I know it's not the only way of doing it, but it helped me like nothing else had helped before. So for anyone out there sitting on a Great Idea (cough, Sara Z, cough), or for any writer stuck between projects, or any writer who is even remotely curious in the teeniest tiniest way -- here is my advice.
Sign up. And write.
And if you want to win? Well, I'm glad you asked. Because I've got you covered there too:
STEPHANIE'S NON-EXPERT BUT VERY HELPFUL GUIDE TO WINNING NANOWRIMO:
(1) Turn off your Inner Editor. You know, this is the voice that tells you, "That sentence sucks. This idea sucks. YOU suck. Time to get a second job, suck-a-holic. I hear Applebee's is hiring." Send your Inner Editor to Legoland for the month. Tell her not to worry, because she'll have plenty of work to do when she gets back. (You'll want her on your side during revisions, after all.)
(2) Write everyday. Even if it is crappy. Which it will be. When you get stuck, insert "Something Important Happens Here" brackets and move on to whatever strange idea that pops into your brain next. Important stuff (and logic) is for second drafts.
(3) Do NOT read what you have already written. This is the quickest way of becoming discouraged and getting caught in the revision game. NO REVISING! KEEP MOVING FORWARD!
(4) Make NaNo friends. You can find them on the forums. Send them encouraging emails and, chances are, they'll send you encouraging emails back. These emails are crucial to survival. Only your NaNo buddies will understand the full insane-ness of writing a novel in thirty days.
(5) Expect it to be terrible. Keep your expectations low, and you will be much, much happier! Remember, the good stuff comes later.
And remember: It's only one month of your life. How much did you write last month? Even if you don't win NaNo, it's almost guaranteed you'll write more this November than you did this October. And isn't that something to be proud of?
So if you're interested, come find me. I'm naturallysteph in NaNo land, and I'd love to be your writing buddy.
We can send each other messages like, "YOU ARE SO AWESOME!!! ONLY THIRTY THOUSAND MORE WORDS TO GO BEFORE WE POP THE CHAMPAGNE!!!!" And these too: "If anyone ever reads this novel, I will DIE. I will throw myself off a cliff and hope to be trampled by horned goats. Please assure me your novel blows as hard as mine."
OH . . . and one more thing. The word counters.
My god, the word counters! The graphs! The charting of progress, and comparing your progress to everyone else's! This is what NaNo is REALLY about.
You know, finishing before your friends.
Because -- fer serious, people -- if seeing someone else write 7k words in a single day doesn't tweak your competitive spirit, I don't know what will.
Happy Autumn, everyone!
Welcome to my favorite time of year -- the season of pumpkins on porches, red leaves with golden tips, and Tim Burton movie marathons.
I hope you are celebrating.
Two weekends ago was the 36th National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Every year, the best storytellers from across the country perform over a three day weekend in what can only be described as the Cutest Main Street Ev-ah. Over ten thousand people descend on this sleepy mountain town to gather under circus tents and eat homemade ice cream and listen to the storytellers spin their magic.
Jarrod and I are fortunate to live only an hour away. I've attended the last three years, and it's already hard to imagine autumn without it. This was the second time we went with our friends, Sara and Jeff, for the Ghost Stories portion of the event. After night falls, everyone spreads their blankets around a gazebo illuminated in orange light. Torches flicker, the air gets chilly, and the stories get spooky.
This year, Donna Washington was the crowd favorite with a tale about a bride, her dead fiance, and a promise to follow each other to the grave. Creepy-fantastic stuff.
So what's the only way to top such an event?
Last weekend we started with a meal at The Farmer's Daughter. No pictures (sorry), but this restaurant (also in nearby Tennessee) is all about classic Southern grub. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cornbread with sorghum molasses, fried green tomatoes, soup beans, coleslaw, and my favorite -- carrot souffle. Which tastes just like sweet potato casserole.
Which is the best reason to move to the South.
Now I couldn't eat like this everyday, but on a fine Sunday afternoon in autumn? Can you beat that? Plus, the best thing about The Farmer's Daughter is that they use local meats and veggies! Oh -- and they also cook with REAL BUTTER.
So what's the best way to work off a big Southern brunch? Why don't you ask the fake cow who won this year's blue ribbon?
Or these outhouses with actual half moons cut out of the wood?
This weekend we topped the Storytelling Festival with a CORN MAZE!
This sign was also by the ticket stand:
I missed out on this whole phenomenon growing up in Arizona, so as an adult, I'm making up for lost time. Though I must admit -- I couldn't stop thinking about how fantastic it would be to be a teenager on a date in a corn maze. Not during the day. But at night.
Lots of corners for nefarious activities.
Don't be surprised if someday you read one of my novels, and my characters start going at it in a corn maze. I'm just saying.
SO anyway, we hit the corn maze! Yay! And it was super-fun, until we realized the trick. All left turns. How lame is that? As Sara said, "It's like discovering Santa Claus isn't real."
Actually, it was still fun even after we realized the trick. Because it was still a giant pathway through corn.
Which is a fantastic use of vegetables, if you ask me.
So what's next weekend? We're thinking a scary film festival in which we each select one movie and stuff ourselves with cider and doughnuts. I'm bringing An American Werewolf in London, because that's one seriously underrated flick.
TOP FIVE REASONS WHY AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON ROCKS MY SOCKS:
(1) The song "Blue Moon" which is permanently linked to this movie in my brain.
(2) The legal disclaimer in the closing credits which reads, "Any resemblance to any persons living, dead, or undead is coincidental." Which is the same disclaimer at the end of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" two years later. Speaking of...
(3) Rick Baker did the makeup. Yeah. He's the "Thriller" guy. So it's that level of awesomeness. Plus, it was the first movie to ever win the Oscar for Best Makeup. (They created the category BECAUSE OF THIS MOVIE!)
(4) It's funny funny funny.
(5) The first ten minutes are creepy. In such a good way.
What are you doing to celebrate the season?
Brain . . . dead . . .
but it's done.
Revisions. Are. Done.
(Can I say that one more time?)
REVISIONS ARE DONE!!!
Well, you know, kind of done.
Today I mailed and hand-delivered copies to my super-fab feedback crew, and I have a week off. (Before I revise again.) Not that I won't be writing this week. I will definitely be writing. But I won't be writing THAT.
I can't think straight to be clever. Though I do have a good cannibal joke:
Why don't cannibals eat clowns?
Because they taste funny.
Will be back soon with regularly scheduled blog. With regularly scheduled life. With regularly scheduled sleep.
Sleep is awesome. It reminds me of this book:
Which is also awesome.
And I'd talk about it more -- give a detailed, pie chart presentation of said Awesomeness -- were I not so much like the guy in the background of this:
I am going to sleep now.
Woo hoo! Anyone else excited about Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist?
The release today definitely calls for a break from revisions. I'm a big, big fan of the novel. Rachel Cohn and David Levithan wrote such a funny, intelligent, sexy book, and I'm thrilled it's coming to the big screen. Kat Dennings looks to be a perfect snarky Norah, and Michael Cera? Hello? Made of awesome!
Rachel is one of my favorite YA authors. Her Gingerbread series rocks so hard that I die a little bit from jealousy every time I read it. It's SO smart. The characters actually grow and change in each one -- a surprisingly rare occurence in sequels -- and, of course, there is a Hot Boy. (I have previously expressed my Shrimp-love on my Top Ten Hottest Hotties of Literature list. Oh yeah. Hottest hotties.)
But back to the movie. Which, I hope, will be as fabulous as the book. Which, I should warn, is not for those easily offended by a certain word that rhymes with "muck."
Hint: It's not "truck." Or "duck."
I think in the picture at the top of this post, Norah is wearing the Salvatore jacket! So cool! Can you imagine how thrilling it must be for an author to see one of those weird little details she created actually EXIST in real life? If I were Rachel or David, I'd be as excited about Salvatore as anything else.
And how great is this? I just read on Rachel's blog that the two authors have cameos! They are "the couple sitting behind Michael Cera and Kat Dennings in the Veselka scene."
Look for them!
One of my deepest deepest desires is that someday, if the universe loves me, I'll visit the set of a movie based off one of MY novels . I geek out about film almost as much as I geek out about literature, so if this were to happen, there is a 87.9% chance I'd actually EXPLODE from happiness.
And I totally want to explode. You know, from happiness.
Not a bomb.
(Happiness > Bombs)
Have a great weekend everyone!