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Not Dead: The Book Tour Story

Posted by | Events | 11 Comments

So I got back from the book tour Saturday night, and I am apparently not dead.

It was a near thing a few times.

People on the book tour kept telling me I must love it. I have not yet found a graceful way to say “Well, no, this is a generally stressful experience for me and I am delighted that there are people who like my stuff and I want to make sure they have a great experience and I have to do this school visit show for kids and I want them to have a great experience and I want to not suck at it so I have worked very hard on getting a schtick down and doing it and I am proud of being able to do that well because it is not a thing I am normally good at but I would much rather stay home except that sounds like I’m not happy to meet the fans and I really am and if they are happy then I am happy to have made them happy but it’s all very complicated and weird and maybe I am complicated and weird, I don’t know any more, what day is it?”

This is difficult to state without running out of breath, so I usually just said something along the lines of “Well, I’m an introvert, so I’ll sleep for a week after this, but I’m glad everybody likes the books.”

(Seriously, though, thank you VERY much to the adult fans who came out for my various public bookstore events–it was very good to see people who like me who are over the age of eleven. I start to feel very weird and disassociated after too many school visits, and a Digger T-shirt or a pack of Red Vines or a jar of random honey in the right place makes me feel sort of like the real me again for a bit.)

Book tours are horrible for that sense of unreality to begin with. Book tours in California make you start to wonder if the rest of the world even exists at all, because clearly you are in a world where people pay twenty bucks for a club sandwich and that is not a world I normally inhabit and it may not actually intersect with my world, except when I am told to get on a plane and go to that other world.

I went to a hotel in Beverly Hills. I mean, the publisher had booked me a room. I wouldn’t have gone there normally. It was a little scary. I walked in grubby and clutching a stuffed moth that a fan gave me and somebody handed me a complimentary cocktail and nobody looked at my cheap shoes. There was no front desk, a woman came up to me at the bar with my reservation in a little leatherette folder. I had to put the stuffed moth down to sign it. They acted like it was totally normal to walk in wearing cheap hiking sandals and carrying a stuffed moth. Of course, all the best people carry stuffed moths.

Life is weird when people think you have money. I sated my spasms of lower-class guilt by photographing Moth-bob holding the cocktail. It is important to stay upbeat and positive. The alternative is uncontrollable hysteria. The bartender ignored this. All the best people photograph their stuffed moths with their free cocktails, clearly.

I have only hazy memories of the school visits. I get up in front of a hundred kids (ideally) and do my schtick. There are slides with Danny doing various amusing things. I talk about where ideas come from and ask them what their favorite monster is. Some kid on every tour always says “Slenderman.” It is important to stay upbeat and positive. I say “Ooh, creepy!” and go on to the next kid with their hand up.

We make up a story together. It’s almost always the same two or three stories. The secret is that kids are very creative but rarely original, and anyway, I can steer it pretty easily. It’s a cross between improv comedy and cold-reading. It looks more impressive than it is. I’m fine as long as one of the kids says their favorite monster is a zombie or a vampire, or Godzilla or a giant squid. (Other giant animals can substitute on the last one. Giant snake is often popular.) Then we make up a story about the monster. Kids are very eager to see zombies overrunning the school or giant kaiju stomping on it. If the librarian is a good sport, I make them the hero. They pull their sword or their harpoon or their garlic-shooting gun out from under the desk because monsters are hard on library books. There is an epic showdown, at which the librarian emerges victorious.

It is surprisingly easy to steer them toward this. Kids like a victorious librarian.

I try to stress that you have to practice and it’s okay to do a little chunk at a time and then take a break and then come back and do more. I am pretty sure that they are not listening to this bit, but they take it in good spirits because I am an adult and therefore cannot be expected to understand anything really important. The teachers tell me that it will stick in their heads somewhere, so I keep saying it.

Then I take questions. This is also like improv comedy. The truth, though, is that I would be a terrible stand-up, because the first heckler would destroy me. I am very fast and very clever as long as we are all friends and cheery and positive and I go to stammering pieces in the face of negativity and am left going weakly “Uh, let’s not do this guys…?” The teachers and librarians keep the peace. My publicist makes it clear that I am not a disciplinarian and they will have to do this. I find myself saying “Settle…” in the same tone I use on the beagle. It doesn’t work on him either.

I would like teachers and librarians to be riding herd on Twitter and tell people that they are not being their best selves and need to remember respectful listening. It is getting much too immediate for me. I can be ruthless and impassioned on a blog or a forum, but only if I get an hour to polish my post and rewrite it three times. Sometimes I just want to tell Twitter to settle.

Fortunately, there are still teachers and librarians in the schools. I answer the same questions, often four or five times in a session. I do not lose my temper after the third time someone asks how I got the idea for Danny. It’s fine. They weren’t listening. Honestly, I’m not listening to myself either at that point. I can answer that question in my sleep, sideways. If I talked in my sleep, I would be explaining about dragons not fitting in at school. Possibly I am, and my husband is sleeping through it.

The adults have more complex questions that require thinking. Sometimes the kids in the back–usually the higher grade levels–ask me a professional question about revising, and I try to answer it quick before the first graders in front get bored to pieces. If we have time and the technology is working, I draw for the last five minutes. The technology is almost never working. The publicist is very clear that I have an iPad and will only do schools that can hook it to a projector. The schools all claim they will do this. About one school in four can actually get this to work. They never have the right dongle, or they will totally do AirPlay except I’d need an educational account and oh yeah, the new school security won’t let me in.

I keep a backup on a USB stick that’s supposed to be Hello Kitty except that you pull her head out of her body to get to it. “Here,” I said, nearly every time, “let’s use the severed head of Hello Kitty.” They usually laugh. I assume they think I’m a serial killer in my day job. It is important to stay upbeat and positive.

I only nearly got trampled once, and it looked scarier than it probably was. I was a little freaked out. The teachers yelled. Not at me.

They send out a person to meet you at the hotel and drive you from place to place, and that’s good, because I would never get anywhere on time. This person is either someone from the bookshop or a paid “media escort.” Apparently that’s a thing you can be paid to do. Who knew? They pick you up at the hotel and drive you around and make sure the signings go well. Some of them will tell you about other authors, whether you have any idea who they’re talking about or not. (I usually don’t.) Most of them are very nice. They blur together after awhile. There was the weird woman who read me obituaries before the presentation and then said something vaguely racist and fell asleep while I was still trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t involve me no longer having a ride to the airport. That was probably the low point. I could also have done without the one who talked to herself in high pitched baby talk while driving, or the name-dropper who ran out of names before we hit one I recognized.

There are good ones. I will be forever grateful to the woman at the bookfair in Charlotte who took me home over the lunch break and let me take a nap on her couch between shows. Sometimes book stores give me gift certificates and I wander the aisles wondering what I can fit in my suitcase and looking at gardening books for a climate that is nothing even remotely like my own.

Sometimes the people who drive the cars want to talk. A dude tried to explain birds to me. I am pretty sure it was mansplaining but he might have been a douche to both genders, so I can’t swear to it. I laid in the back of the car, more horizontal than vertical, and grunted as he confused wrens and egrets. (I wish I was making that up.) The next one had a talkative hippie. If we drive up and down the road from Santa Cruz to the airport hotel in San Francisco, I can now show you every place he’s camped. And skinny-dipped. Incidentally, he plays drums.

He told me that he was sure I wouldn’t have the book tours any other way. I grunted.

This time a bookshop sent me a wonderful woman who grew salvias and kept bees and we spent all of the car rides talking about gardening. It was wonderful. And the escort at the end was a life-saver. My presentations went from a hundred kids to “Oh, yeah, this is a full school assembly, five hundred kids!” and I panicked and she said “What do you want to do?” and I said “I guess I have to go on,” even though I really wanted to throw a diva fit except that I don’t know how to do that, because I think it involves disappointing people and that is basically my Kryptonite so I went and I did it and it was kind of horrible because that many kids is a wriggling sheet of chaos and there is no way they can keep focused and I cannot hear the questions and the teachers cannot shut down all the distractions, but we got through, and afterwards the principal told me it was wonderful and I tried not to look too glassy eyed and I don’t remember what happened next, except the media escort told me she was writing the publicist and telling her that I was a trooper.

She was very nice. She could say “no” on my behalf and make it stick. I really need people like that. By the end of a book tour I am basically a large sack of ground ham wearing black tank-tops and a flattering jacket. I will agree to anything if you make it sound like this is something that all the authors do. I am focusing so intently on not dying on the spot that I have very little processing power for anything else. When we had downtime, she parked in the shade and I got to play Marvel Puzzle Quest on my iPad and that was really awesome because it’s only the computer throwing fireballs at you.

After the school visits and the bookshop things (the bookshops are better because you don’t have to do the schtick the same way and there’s not a set hour you have to fill and there are often adults in the audience and sometimes you even know who they are and sometimes they bring you stuffed moths or want to talk about ecology) you either get on a plane or into a car and then you go to the next hotel. The hotel has always lost the credit card authorization from the publisher, because the publicist talked to the day manager and the day manager wrote a note and the night manager doesn’t know where the note is. You give them your card and then call the publicist (who is on Eastern Time so it’s usually ten at night and you feel guilty) and the publicist groans and apologizes and then it all gets sorted out in the morning.

Because schools start early and you have to drive to them, you generally have to get up at 6:30 in the morning if you want to eat breakfast. I started actually doing the thing where I put the little hanger card on the doorknob saying that I do want room service to deliver breakfast. It feels horrifically extravagant but I get another half hour of sleep. I order a bagel and cream cheese and coffee and orange juice. They come during a fifteen minute window, usually around 7:10, and set the tray with its little covers down on the writing desk. I tell myself that they are an adult human who just wants to get this over with and get a decent tip and I sign the little check that the publisher is paying for and there is probably no way they can tell that I am thinking oh god oh god I am getting room service and I feel guilty and this is too much money even if it isn’t my money and I used to be on food stamps and maybe you should just take the food away and I will eat the squashed power bar in the bottom of my purse because at least I understand squashed power bars except that I’m pretty sure that is written in very small type in my eyes so I try to avoid prolonged eye contact in case they figure out I’m a lunatic.

There is plastic wrap over the orange juice. Frequently there is a cut orchid. I wish they wouldn’t cut an orchid for me. It is depressing that somebody hacked off part of an orchid that could take ages to bloom just to put it on my tray so that I can bolt my bagel and stare at the orchid at six in the morning. Six in the morning is a lousy time to try and appreciate an orchid. I can’t grow orchids. It is important to stay upbeat and positive, but that probably didn’t do the orchid any good.

(The waitress at the hotel breakfast buffet the last day saw that I only ate fruit and knocked off the buffet charge and only charged me for a fruit side. I got a little choked up, although I think I hid it well. I had been on the road for a week at that point and it seemed ridiculously, extravagantly kind.)

“You’re not an introvert!” said the media escort in LA accusingly, after the second day of schtick, when I had spoken to approximately three hundred children total. “You say you are, but you’re not!”

I am still vaguely resentful of this, even though it’s been a week. Should I have brought a note from my doctor, or my husband?

I thought about explaining that introverts do public speaking all the time and we can even be quite good at it, it’s just that we have to sleep for a week afterward. I wanted to explain that I really do hope people are glad to see me and I hope they come out because if they don’t, I’ll still be on the book tour being exhausted anyway, except nobody will be there to talk to about books and that’s the only reason this is worthwhile. It is definitely not the room service bagels. I thought about explaining the bit where I will sleep for a week.

Instead I grunted. As the owner of my favorite coffee shop pointed out, when I was relating this tale of minor woe, that was really the most introverted response. (Then I went to the drugstore, then I came home and slept for two hours. There are empty places in my chest that will not refill without hours spent asleep. Which is probably why I am awake and typing at three in the morning.)

But anyway, I appear not to have made too bad a hash of it and I am home and trying to get back into my reality from that reality and it doesn’t fit quite right yet, but it will probably be fine by the end of the week. It is important to stay upbeat and positive. Or something like that.

The Dryad’s Shoe

Posted by | Writing | One Comment

My short story in the Women Destroy Fantasy collection is available to read on-line!

The Dryad’s Shoe

If you enjoy it, please consider buying either the e-book or print volume from Fantasy Magazine of the whole issue–it is some super cool stuff.

And can I just say how awesome it is to have been involved in this project? I was so honored that Cat Rambo seized this one. I frequently lack the energy or the sanity to really get both hands into all the worthy causes that I should and being able to be part of WDF and the whole we-are-part-of-fantasy-no-matter-what-th

e-haters-say awesomness of it is just…whoa.

(It’s also T. Kingfisher’s first trad publishing credit, so, y’know. How cool izzat?)

Land Narwhal

Posted by | Art | 2 Comments

landnarwhal1

When the unicorns went into the sea, untold millennia ago* they shed their hooves and took on blubber to become narwhals, and for the most part, they were happy.

But ages passed and ice melted and the seas were no longer as hospitable as they had been. The narwhals heaved themselves up on the beaches and began the long, slow process of reclaiming the land. If you travel to the most remote islands in the long-lost sea, you can find the land-narwhals frolicking in the surf, gallumphing over the dunes, using their horns to heal (and occasionally skewer) passing seabirds. They are still more agile in water than on land, but given enough time, they may reverse the steps that led them to the sea.

And then we’ll have hippocorns, and I just hope everyone will be happy.

*Red bulls may have been involved. The fossil record is silent on this point.

(Someone told me I was a unicorn today, and I replied that I preferred to be called a land-narwhal, and…well…you know how it is.)

Poetry Found on Tumblr

Posted by | Uncategorized | One Comment

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error!–
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

—  Antonio Machado

Coming in November!

Posted by | Writing | One Comment

bridecoverfinal

Coming in November, an honest-to-god novel! This is another fairy-tale retelling, best known to long-time blog readers as “The One With The Hedgehog.”

(Seriously considered calling it that, but it’s a pretty weird dark story, so I decided against it. Also, if I put the hedgehog on the cover, people would probably get entirely the wrong idea about cute little stories with woodland critters…)

Fragment of a work in progress

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“Do you have a name?” asked Gerta.
“I do,” said the raven.
Gerta waited.
The raven fluffed its beard. “I am the Sound of Mouse Bones Crunching Under the Hooves of God.”
Gerta blinked a few times. “That’s…quite a name.”
“I made it myself,” said the raven, preening. “I stole the very shiniest words and hoarded them all up until they made something worth having. Sound and God were particularly well-guarded. Crunching I found in a squirrel nest, though.”
“May I call you Mousebones?” asked Gerta. “It’s…a lot to say all at once.”
It was hard for a creature with a beak to scowl, but the raven managed, mostly with the skin around its eyes. “I suppose,” it said. “If you must.”
“Mine’s Gerta,” said Gerta.
“There’s your problem right there,” said Mousebones. “Much too short and not enough in it. I don’t know how you expect to become anything more than you are, with a name like that.”

Out of the Hat

Posted by | Art | One Comment

rabbithat

I keep pulling rabbits out of this hat.

It was fine at first. People were grateful. Nothing wrong with that.

But I kept pulling them out. And now they’ve gone strange and there’s something wrong with their faces. I don’t like the way they look at me.

But what can I do? People still expect rabbits…

 

Prints available! I was feeling sort of Arthur Rackham and then it got a bit weird on me.

Struggling with the Snow Queen

Posted by | Writing | 7 Comments

I am not dead! I am busy, very wretchedly busy, but not yet dead.

Among the many irons I have jammed in the fire, I have lately been working on a retelling of the Snow Queen. I thought it was a novella, but we have made 11K without getting Gerta more than a few days down the road, so I may be wrong. We’ll find out, I suppose.

This is a hard story to work with, mostly because after about ten minutes, I want to drop-kick Kay into the sun. He’s about as sympathetic as dirt. Theoretically we should feel sorry for him because…uh…he’s a kid who had something bad happen to him that wasn’t his fault, I guess, except I kinda ditched the magic mirror bit as unworkably weird, so basically Kay is now a totally normal self-centered obnoxious angsty teenage boy, and I have no patience with him whatsoever and as far as I am concerned, the Snow Queen can have him and good riddance.

(In my own defense, Hans Christian Anderson did NOT give his much later retellers a lot to go on. Kay does nothing in the entire story except get kissed and be a jerk.)

God help me, Kay is basically a somewhat malicious McGuffin. You could change the whole story so that Gerta is trying to get back a rug that ties the room together and it would make just as much sense and also you probably wouldn’t want to punch the rug.

Obviously I am shipping the hell outta Gerta and the robber girl, but I am running into the problem where Kay is so profoundly worthless that I am starting to get impatient with Gerta for going after him in the first place. And while I am very sympathetic to “loyal and broken” as a character type, the whole story sort of hinges on them both being so damn young, and I am old and grumpy and sort of just want Gerta to stay home.

(Also, hoo boy, but this is a weird one. “Oh, yeah, your buddy the raven? Dropped dead off-screen, very sad.” “I’m outta paper, let me write this note on a fish. LIKE YOU DO.” I am having fun with some of it, like the plant dreams, but kind of worried that no one who isn’t familiar with the source material will find this story even remotely readable…)

My Favorite Teacher

Posted by | Art | 6 Comments

So Scholastic approached me awhile back to do an illustration for their “My Favorite Teacher” campaign, and this is what I came up with.

scholasticdragoncolor

 

Even though I am basically as busy as a human can possibly be without dying, I forewent sleep for this one. Partly because of Ms. Faunce, my high school freshman English teacher, who told me I could be a wordsmith, and partly because it was so cool that a big publisher wanted my art. (I mean, obviously Penguin and Random House have both wanted my art in the past, but they’ve always wanted it with my words attached. I love writing, but the illustrator in me was very flattered that somebody in New York thought I could do art that stood on its own in august company without having my words along to do the heavy lifting, if that makes any sense at all.) (Also, they paid quite well.)

Since it’s not out in the wild yet, they asked me to put this paragraph with it when I post it:

Created as part of Scholastic Reading Club’s year-long celebration of teachers. Teachers change the lives of their students every day. Sometimes a small moment has a huge impact on a child’s future. Other times it’s the year-long influence in a classroom that can change the course of a student’s entire life. Scholastic Reading Club is celebrating favorite teachers this year and will be interviewing students, parents, authors, illustrators, and celebrities about teachers who impacted their lives. If you’d like to share your own memories, you can email them to: judy.newman (at) scholastic.com

(E-mail altered so as to save the poor person on the other end from spambots)

Anyway, I thought that was pretty neat. And now, back to drawing ALL THE HAMSTERS FOREVER…

I wrote a thing at Bull Spec!

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…which is a local SF magazine. But this thing is on-line. They wanted an article for their column “The Hardest Part” about the tough part of any given project, so here’s T. Kingfisher talking about the hard part of assembling Toad Words.

The Hardest Part

If you have an itching to purchase Toad Words or did not know it was available and want to know what I’m talking about, all relevant links and info are here, on the new T. Kingfisher website, which TOTALLY DOES NOT WORK THAT WELL YET and many things may change and some of the links aren’t linking but I’m working on it very hard right at the moment and hope to have all the links connecting to stuff within a day or two. Hopefully.

But that particular page should work great. I hope.

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