Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kitten kiss

Four boys, two girls, six healthy little ones, one very proud mother, lots of love.

They are: Niklas, Balthasar, Teodor, Isvan, Gwendolen and little Mirja, who was only 75 grams when she arrived in this world, but who has gained 10 grams a day and is doing fine.

Pims is nursing them and guarding them and purring all the time, and is rather amazing. What a good girl.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Yes, Mr. Scrooge, that's six!

Six kittens born on Christmas Eve, and no humbug about it. Can you imagine? Six! No wonder Pims was bulky!

It started just as my Pan's mother was about to put the finishing touches on their Christmas dinner.

- Oh, Pan said, - I think her water just broke.

And Pims just looked gravely at him and gave a single, serious meow. She wouldn't lie in the box we had prepared for her, but insisted on giving birth in a bed, like normal people. Okay, then.

And then they came in rapid (sort of) succession, six white, little mewling cats, all perfectly healthy, all suckling greedily, all very welcome. Pims licked them and took care of them and gave them milk, even though nobody had ever told her what to do. Clever, little cat!

The Christmas dinner was cold by then, and everyone was too tired to even open their presents, but still. What a wonderful Christmas gift!

If Anette, who sold Pims to us a year ago, and who has claim to half the kittens, agrees, we'll name them after characters in my story, which after all is a Christmas story. We don't know which are girls and which are boys yet, but there may be a Niklas, a Balthasar, an Isvan, a beautiful Clariselyn and a little Mirja and a fierce little Gwendolen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Here's our tree at Mum's, complete with presents. Have a wonderful holiday, my friends, whether in snow or starshine, chaos of relatives and kids or cozy solitude, north or west or just far away. Love you, each and every one.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa's little helper

Okay, so I can't chew on them, but I can lie very close to them and think about it.

Update: Okay, so I managed to eat some string while Tone wasn't looking, but then discovered that it needs to come out again. Yesterday, I passed 15 cm of straggly string. Ach, it hurt! But I'm all better now. Funny, they've hidden all the presents and all the string now. What, they don't trust me or something? Stupid mannies.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Too close in two ways

I thought I must write a post on the horrible, horrible fire on the Dragon Hill last night. A little after midnight, I heard the sirens, and then saw the flames, and immediately knew that nobody got out. The fire was just too wild. It roared against the sky and spewed out billowing fireballs and a thick column of ash and smoke.

And across the park, a mere skip and a jump away, I was lying in bed, watching it all, like a disaster movie on tv. But it wasn't a tv screen, it was my window, and it was real. Real people in there, still in there.

But then I thought: No, I can't. It's too horrible. I can't write only about that, not this close to the holidays.

So here are two Christmas darlings to soothe you: Pims and Sprucie.

Pims is ungainly and fed up and just ready for it to be over now. From time to time she cries and wails, and I wonder for a minute if it's started. But no, she just wants to be cuddled a little while those pesky little paws rummage around under her fur. Poor sweetheart. You really have no idea what's coming.

And our Christmas tree, Sprucie, a fragrant, pretty spruce with even branches and a nice, dark green colour. We picked her out last weekend. I knew she would start to shed her needles early, being a spruce she can't help it in the warmth of the living room. And since Peter and I will be in different parts of the country come Christmas, we needed her now, so we could have some Christmas cosiness together. We ought to have gotten a silver fir, because they stay fresh for weeks. But I let Sprucie come anyway, because Peter had already said out loud that she was good-looking. You don't lead a Christmas tree on like that and then dash her hopes. You just don't.

So now she's there in the corner, all decked out in red and gold, and click by tiny, whispered click, the needles are gathering on the presents and teddy bears I put underneath her. That's okay, Sprucie. We like you anyway and won't throw you out.

(Please don't tell her about January.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

The floating family

From my favourite spot in my favourite Oslo coffee shop, I can look across the street at a building that contains a nice little deli called Hotel Havana and several apartments. I usually sit down with my caramel latte at about five o'clock, and by then, three of the windows on the second floor are always lit.

I can't see the interior of the rooms, just the lighting, which is bright, but the good, glowing sort of bright, not the glaring kind that brings our all the shadows, lines and worries out on your face. And sometimes the little family that lives there floats by the windows like actors on a stage.

The family cast is:
1. Man, usually wearing checkered shirts,
2. Woman, often clad in house dresses and with her hair swept up in a soft, dishevelled bun,
3. Baby, mostly seen held aloft by either Man or Woman, as if they were teaching it to add to its perfection by taking flight.

They always look so serenely, softly, reassuringly happy. They smile and play and speak to one another of things that I'm sure are all blissful from the unconcerned, relaxed tilt of their heads.

Today they were dancing: Man holding Woman and Baby, Woman holding Baby and Man, all three of them twirling slowly together.

Now, I couldn't see their toes, of course. But I wouldn't be surprised if they touched the floorboards not at all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cold, cold, cold!

It's really freezing outside, minus six degrees. Not that I'm complaining! This is what December is supposed to be like: frost and snow, and Christmas presents hidden in the closet, and a roaring fire behind the three stars on our wood stove, and a sweet little cat that wants to snuggle close to me to steal my body heat.

Even Kristiansund is cold these days, which gives me hope that we might have a white Christmas, for the first time in four years, I think. And if winter is pretty here in Oslo, it is beautiful on the west coast, with snow softening up the darkness of the mountains and melting into the teal blue fjords.

I can tell you, now, about the mysterious thing I received in the mail: It was a great cd with Christmas music that Camilla had compiled, everything from Just like Christmas with Low (new favourite) to Here comes Santa Claus with Elvis. I love it and have already played it many, many times. Thanks, sweetie!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

At least there was no time vortex

This afternoon, Lin, Stian and I visited a local designers' holiday market across the river. I was looking around for some tiny, but pretty Christmas gifts (and bought some, too, for two of my readers here, in fact), when I found the most beautiful pieces of art.

They were small photographs printed on 15x15 cm canvas and treated with some colouring agent that lent a crackled texture as well as an aging or blurring effect to the images, making them look like weathered photos from the sixties.

I immediately loved them.

Moments later, the artist told me where she had taken them, and I realized they were mostly motives I had seen many, many times before. I had forgotten them the way we do things we daily sweep our eyes across while hurrying somewhere, but had nevertheless stored them somewhere in my memory layers: A deer statue near the city hall in Trondheim, a lead glass window on the Nidarosdom Cathedral, a high rise building on Youngstorget in Oslo.

And the motives I hadn't seen before were still familiar. There was a pink candy coloured ferry, a whiff of lye and brine and childhood journeys. There was a cool blue view of the Oslo fjord, a promise of summers at Kjørbo.

They cost too much to buy, of course, and I steeled myself to move on. But then I remembered that Pan's sister had given us money to buy art as a wedding present. I called Pan and he just said 'get them, get them.'.

So I did! Nine! Nine subconscious, blurry images of past, present and soon. They will hang three by three on the wall across from my Cuban loot, answering, if not shouting down the lewd Havana reds.

Just before I left, I glanced at the list the artist kept of the images she had sold that day. One of them was the one above, which I later found on her website. It's my spire. Unbeliveable. And unbelievable that I missed it. They were limited edition prints, she said, but she had a few more. Only problem is that it costs almost thrice as much outside the market.

Maybe the spire piece can't be mine since the thought of it has not yet sunk down into my memory layers. Maybe there would be a time paradox that would cause a time vortex and the end of the world if I saw the same sight on my living room wall as outside my window. Maybe I just wasn't supposed to get it today.

Maybe. But at least I know what I will get to reward myself if I ever sell my book.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A good day

* I've written 600 not-awful words. It's hard to move past points of despair in the story. It's as if Lin and Gwen's disappointment seep into me, even if I know what's going to happen next. But today I did it, by means of retrospect and turbulence.

* I got a wonderful something in the mail, and I'll tell you about it later, so as not to spoil the surprise for others, who haven't checked their mail boxes yet.

* Pims came to snuggle this morning, creeping under the cover and purring and placing her little chin in my arm.

* Lin is coming to eat Christmassy hot rice pudding afterwards, and we're going to watch a movie. Maybe Love Actually, or The Holiday, or A Nightmare before Christmas or a Christmas Carol or A Miracle on 34th Street? I'll let her decide.

* My Pan will be coming home soon, and I'll be standing under the misteltoe, hoping to be, well you know.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Oh, just having myself a merry little Christmas

It's here: the best time of the year. Tiny Tim and I think alike, but I won't settle for a mere day. I'll take all of December, please.

Christmas is supposed to fade a little as you grow up, to stale with the responsibilities and expenses that pile up as you move through life, until all the childhood holiday glee is gone, lost behind a stack of dishes or under a pile of wrapping paper.

But I don't always follow instructions. One year, when we were in our twenties, Lin and I discovered that we could make advent our own. We bought a cd with Christmas music, and that was it, I think. It evolved from there. Now, December is packed with newfound traditions, and I tell you, there is no shortage of glee:

We play lots of Christmas music, decorate the house with special advent stuff, watch Christmas movies, bake gingerbread houses and make candy, and have the best time in the world in the glow of candles and twinkly lights.

And we always make each other an advent calendar, with one little piece of candy or pretty thing for each of the 24 days till Christmas.

Five years ago, I decided to write Lin an advent story, just a brief chapter a day to be glued into a book with 24 pages. I filled it with pets and teddy bears and people we knew, and though I had no comprehensive plan when I started out, I somehow made the pieces come together in the end to make a real story.

It was called Line and the Snow Boy, and who knows where I would be today without it.

Grateful indeed

Thanksgiving came and went in a flurry of sprouts, birds, desserts and favourite people.

Every year, when I'm tired from the shopping and first day of cooking and still have another day of frantic trussing and peeling and mashing before me, I wonder if it really was such a good idea to marry an American.

But when the food is on the table and I have a glass of red in my hand, all that's forgotten. What a great tradition, not to mention great American.

This year, the turkey was not one of my best (but piffle, right?), but the mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, bacony sprouts and chestnut stuffing played their parts nicely, as did the pumpkin pie and maple syrup cheesecake.

Now we're just waiting for the Christmas repeat.

(And props to brother for the enthusiasm).

This year's best bonus: Mum, who peeled all the potatoes and really ought to just move in.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

We may yet, Mr. Frodo


I was beginning to get worried. Days trickled by, and I was busy preparing for Thanksgiving, and adjusting to my new dayjob, and battling an oncoming cold, and... not writing.

All year I've been re-writing, expanding, fixing, adding, polishing, but not really exploring new territory. Even when I veered off in a new direction, the old, familiar path was there to look back on.

But with the end of chapter 15, I was out of the woods. Chapter 16 forms the frozen outskirts of an open landscape, ready for me to fill it with thorny palisades and single arrows and rosy stables and buried secrets and surprising conclusions. I've been looking forward to this! I should be chomping at the bit!

But I just couldn't get anything done. There was work to go to, you see, and turkeys to brine and headaches to nurse, and all sorts of excuses. But yesterday, the first, shaky little paragraph appeared on my screen, all the more precious for being hasty, since I only had a short hour before I needed to be at the shop. 300 ramshackle, wonderful words.

What a relief! We may get there yet, Mr. Frodo. We may.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Only thing missing is me

In the chair, that is, not in the fireplace. I'm feeling a bit under the weather, but who cares when I can sip tea and stare at dancing flames with a book in my hands? Not me!

Note to self: Must not dangle tasseled bookmark in front of pregnant, playful cat, at least not while it is inside of book. Pims, you find out where I was.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Small signs of cosiness to come

It's less than five weeks till Christmas. And surreptitiously, I've started preparing. Do you want to see the signs?

1. I'm eating clemetines and drinking spiced, sweet tea. The clemetines really are at their best right now, I find, come late December they're often bruised and too sweet. But now they are tart and juicy, and the perfect 'I have to think about this for a moment' writing snack.

2. Christmas presents for Lin and Kjeld and Aurora and Mum are already taken care of. The others are planned, if not bought yet.

3. I spend quiet moments perusing pretty Christmas magazines in my new favourite chair between the fireplace and the kitchen window.

4. I'm listening to December Child, my favourite not-quite-full-on-Christmas music. It's muted and calm with lots of cello and contrabass.

5. I light lots and lots of little candles, and keep them burning all day and all night.

6. And our own little Mary cat? She's eating and eating and looking good. This morning she woke me by climbing into my bed and placing four icy little paws on my tummy. Which made me yelp, of course, but she just blinked at me, as if to say: Hey. I'm pregnant. It's the least you could do.

7. I've finished chapter 15. Now only two more to go before the holidays. Yay me!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Joy to the world

Today, I discovered that Pims' nipples are swollen. Which means that there really are kittens on the way, and that they should arrive on Christmas Eve.

We should name them Kevin and Carl Bertil and Sonja and Balthazar and Zuzu, and if there is a tiny one...well.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November views

My spire is sharpening in the early winter sky, black and crisp against the luminous lilac. The forecasts say that frost will descend next week, with softening snow on the way.

But for now, the spire is a razor. Just like it was last November, when I spent a whole week staring at it from the chair in the sitting room, where I was trying to persuade my body to relax, to uncoil, to stop hurting. It couldn't, of course, since something was seriously wrong in my belly, so wrong that I would soon spend a week in a hospital bed. But I didn't know that, and so I watched the spire, and waited.

Twelve months on, and I am well. This afternoon, while the shadow spire watched me, I wrote some passages in my story that are beautiful, at least to me. I'm working. It's working. It feels like a miracle. Yet it's not the miracle I hoped most desperately for.

Same view, different girl, different November.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Just because my sister did

These lists are a little silly, but it does show tiny glimpses of me. Can I see some of you?

- Wallet
- Lip balm
- Blister blaster for tired feet
- Tram tickets
- Green notebook for good ideas

- The Dragon Egg
- My pile of cookbooks
- The fireplace
- The plaid kitchen armchair
- Pims' little blue food bowl

- Nigella's Christmas
- Chai tea
- The Tudors
- 'Yankee Bayonet' by The Decemberists
- Candles

- Learn to love getting up early
- Write a beautiful story and publish it.. (Here's hoping!)
- Live in New York for a while
- Decorate the Christmas tree the night before Christmas, and then wake my kids and take them downstairs to have waffles in front of the gleaming lights and baubles while the morning is still pinkish grey outside.
- Run a little café with my sister. We'd have home baked cookies and cakes, and very nice tea and coffee, and pretty interior that changed with the seasons, and wonderful music picked out by Lin.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wouldn't it be cool.. be tall like this? Typical of my shadow, she always outdoes me.
Oh, and that's a hat, not an alien scull.

My visitor from Portland, Oregon

Look who came to stay! It's one of Laini's Ladies. She came in a big envelope with some of her beautiful friends, all ready to become Norwegians.

So I took the Cat Lady (and if this is what cat ladies look like, what are we dreading?) for a little stroll around my neighbourhood.

We hung with the ducks on the river (above), and visited my favourite little house on the Dragon Hill, where I would live if I could. For some reason, the image won't show, but the house is tiny, wooden and painted light blue, and it has wonderful cobbled steps and a horseshoe on the green door. The Cat Lady fit right in and agreed to move there as soon as we're impossibly rich.

And look, here she is in front of my Inspire!

Her inscription says: 'You can't own a cat. The best you can do is be partners.' How true.

Thank you, Laini! Now all you have to do is follow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The good girl

Pims was very patient with our election night vigil, sharing her seat with Lin's computer without much complaining. As a reward, we went for a walk along the river today.

She chased the ducks and pigeons, gleeful that she could make them fly away or scamper into the water. We even crossed the wooden bridge and tested her claws with some tree climbing, but then four crows decided they didn't want us there and yelled at us until we slunk back to our side of the river. They were quite persuasive.

We walked about for an hour, Pims in the lead with her tail held high. She didn't protest when we went back home, and now she is toasting her paws in front of the fire.

She is such a good girl, and has earned the kitten we will let her keep if she has one.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, you really did!

This is what I would like to do today.

And not just Obama, but the millions of Americans who voted for him, who dared to hope for something better and acted on it.

I no longer have to think of America as frightening, and of my friends who live there as besieged islands of reason and decency in a muddy sea of prejudice and religious fervour, where knowledge and science are silenced or exploited to support those prejudices and that fervour.

You're no longer a nation where education and books are frowned upon, where climate change can be edited out of reports and out of your leaders' lists of responsibilities with a pen stroke, and where truth is not based on facts, but something you 'feel in your gut'.

No longer.

I understand you today, America. For the first time in many years, I feel like I know you.

And that is worth one huge, intercontinental megahug.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

So pretty, I could cry, and did

I know, I know, wrong holiday!

But I just had to show you the gift my sister in law brought me from London: Nigella Christmas.

I think everybody knows by know that I adore Christmas. And it's no secret that I adore Nigella Lawson. I don't care that she moans on tv, her recipes are wonderful, and she writes with such wit and warmth that I often read her cookbooks just for comfort. So what could be more perfect than this book?

I would love it just for the concept, but in addition the layout is so pretty, and the photos so gorgeous, they bring tears to my eyes. As does the beautiful array of turkeys and pies and cookies and salads. Even the stuffing looks like it it being served in a fairy tale. And just look at these rocky road cakes!

Thank you, Christina, thank you, thank you.

Now, if any of you are planning on trick or treating on Grünerløkka today, I've not forgotten. I've got candy. I've got smiles. I've got an adorable cat to help me greet you. Welcome, kids (and grown ups unable to let go).

(Also, please don't be angry at me for swiping your photos and not doing them justice with my poor cell phone camera, Nigella, I only did it to show how great you are).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First and unexpected snow

This morning, the first snow of the year fell out of the murk and settled upon Oslo. It dusted my spire, alit on the naked branches of the birch trees, gathered in the lingering willow leaves and draped itself over the lawn of the park outside like a light blanket.

It won't last, I know, because the days are not cold enough yet. But the first snow is special.

In my world, the first snow is of vital importance, almost as important as snow on Christmas Eve, the significance of which is all but immeasurable. Here's a little passage from chapter five, The Heart of Winter, (and forgive the hasty translation):

"- Of all the creatures of Yulevale, the Winter Princes are the most enigmatic. They look like humans, but are not, because they are born of ice and their souls are wrought from it. Without them, there would be no Christmas, no matter how hard petlings and teddyfolk work to make it so, said Theodor.

- You see, the Winter Princes are guardians of rare treasures, beautiful snow globes which they carry in their arms when they emerge from the ice, and which they keep close to their heart always. These globes are magical, very magical, because they have the power to make it snow on Earth.

- But I thought snow came with low pressures and cold fronts, said Lin, who was not the daughter of Herold Rosenquist for nothing.

- That is true, said Theodor with a small chuckle. – But sometimes there is unexpected snow, snow which causes meteorologists to frown and mutter. And it happens like this: The Winter Prince chooses a place in your world, perhaps Paris, and holds it in his mind. At once, a tiny Paris appears in the globe, with the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Élysées and a miniature Seine. Then the Prince shakes the globe, so that snow flakes swirl around the small buildings inside. At that exact moment, it starts snowing in the real Paris, the city you know on Earth.

Thousands of Parisian children watch the snow flakes drift and dance down from the skies. Some look out of their windows, others run around in the streets, catching flakes on the tips of their tongues. All of them are filled with a wild happiness, for while grown ups fret over slippery roads and driveways that must be cleared, children feel only joy when there is unexcpected snow."

Now, this is not my imaginary world, and there are no Winter Princes. But I still say that the first snow is special, and that it grants one wish to those who feel only joy at the sight of it.

I've made mine. Don't forget to.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday list of joys

1. My little Pims is back! There weren't any babies in her belly, so she demanded in no uncertain terms to meet with tomcats again. And she has, and if things work out this time, there will be kittens on Christmas Eve. I'll just have to name them Baby Jesus, Santa, Popelku and..or maybe not.

2. I'm reading a great book! Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley. I haven't gotten very far yet, but far enough to know that he constructs everything to my taste, language, characters, stories and settings, all the while making me forget that it is a construct.

3. I baked some Christmas cookies yesterday, laden with cardamom and cinnamon, chewy in the middle and crisp around the edges. And I'm going to have some with my coffee afterwards.

4. I finished chapter 14, teddyfolk and all. I also started chapter 15, and it looks quite good. Pretty soon, pretty soon, I'll be in the clear, with only unchartered territory in front of me. I've been longing for this, for some wind on my face.

5. The evenings are getting very dark now, which may be depressing to some, but I like it. I like the way people are caught in the dark on their way home from work, how their faces are illuminated by shop windows, and their eyes filled with snuggles and sleep to come. From the street I can look up into the ceilings of strangers, and observe the glow of good lighting or the flimmer of tv-screens or the flicker of cosy candles, and it makes me feel safe and happy that they are safe and happy.

You are, aren't you?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How teddyfolk are born

I know you're scared right now, little one, and that it's dark and rainy and you're all alone. But just you wait a little. The Inners aren't that far away.

And a sunny kid like you? It's got to be Someria, where it's always summer. Fireflies light up the night and lawn mowers drone reassuringly along the hedges. You can live near Crystal Town and see the goldfish dance, or you can pick strawberries near Basket, if you like.

Just you wait.

One hundred days and one

On the hundrered day since Dad died, a storm came in from the ocean. It whipped the waves into 20-foot walls, hurled itself against the bare rocks of Klubba and tore at the small wood that shelters the cemetery from the sea.

The trees did not yield, of course, they have seen worse before. But some of the weather made it through their creaking guard. Wild gusts raced between the rows of stones, mussing up the heather, tugging at the lanterns. The deer hid between the pine trees, giving up all hopes of fresh roses to chew. The birds crept close to the tree trunks and let the wind speak for them.

All this I imagine, because though I know there was a storm, I was not there to feel it.

In Indonesia, the friends and family of lost ones are not done with their communal grieving after the funeral. They gather again after one week, after a hundred days and after one year.

I could not come to Kristiansund yesterday, but it still seems right to share.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Just a stinking softpaw

Chapter 14, chapter 14. Hmmm.

Chapter 14 is the crux of one of my worries.

The Winter Child has a life of its own now. It takes me places I didn't know of, dipping into ravines and climbing hillocks that looked like flat country when we started the journey. I'm writing it, yes, but the story is leading the way.

But who am I writing for? At first, this was definitely a children's story, measured by mood, scope and pace as well as the buiding of plot and characters. But with more depth, more sinister villains, more chilling scenes, more hillocks and ravines, I suspect it grew up a little, becoming a story for young adults.

And yet, there are my teddyfolk, teddy bears who have finished their time in our world, either by being destroyed or by being packed into a box in the loft and just forgotten. Almost half of the people in my world are teddyfolk. They don't need to eat or sleep (though they can), and therefore make the best caravan knaves. They often have problems doing fiddly work with their soft paws (and that's how they get their nickname, softpaws), but they are incredibly strong and enduring, not to mention brave and loyal.

In The Winter Child, we meet Theodor, the stern and secretive historian, Doctor Kott, whose three fingers on both hands give him more dexterity, and Big Ted and Small Ted, twin grizzly bears who have yet to find a suitable occupation, since porcelain painting and lace knitting is sort of hard with no digits.

And then there is chapter 14, where we meet Søplehue, who has not yet got a perfect name in English (and it would be great if you could suggest one). In Norwegian, Søplehue literally means garbage head or garbage brains, but it's also a name you might call someone who makes a mess of things, who is dirty or slow, who is unsavoury or unreliable.

Søplehue has a rusty beer bottle top in lieu of a left eye, one of his ears bears the marks of badger teeth, he smells of old puke and mould and there are flies in his stuffing. His arms and legs have been sewn on with fat, black stitches, and he swears like a stranded pirate.

I love him.

But is he too childish for my story? Will young adult readers take one look at him and think that this is a story they're too old for? After all, he is no ice elf, no vampire, no evil knight or lost prince. Just a stinking teddy. It worries me.

I know you're supposed to kill your darlings, but I can't bring myself to off Søplehue, not unless evil future publishers make me.

See, I'm loyal, too. And a little clumsy, come to think of it. If it weren't for the endless munching of food and treats and the guilty, drowsy mornings, I'd make a perfect softpaw.

(Drawing by Kris)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on maps and a tinkly chill

Laini asked me about my story maps, and I thought I would post the answer rather than hide it in a comment, in case someone finds it helpful.

My story maps, let's see. I make two kinds. One is a 'regular' map with all the settings. I draw lines with arrows to mark the movement of my protagonist (I stick to a fairly severe third person point of view, and don't take descriptions of the past and memories into account here). I also jot down the numbers of the chapters next to the spot they take place in. For instance, chapter eight takes place mostly in a little café called the Waffle Heart, so that location is marked by the number eight.

The other 'map' is a list of the chapters, where I write down the general area (Yulevale) and then the specific settings (the Waffle Heart), and the general mood (cosy and christmassy, with only small glimpses of danger ahead) and what sort of pace I've chosen (a breather, with plot details surfacing through other characters). Though I try to let the story flow naturally, this list helps me see when I've been sneaking around for too long and a measure of safety and comfort is required, or if a little adrenaline is overdue.

My current maps shows that we will spend about the same amount of time in the woods as we do in town. I suppose it makes for a darker, colder, more star strewn and tinkly Christmas, which is what I'm looking for. My story is, after all, about an abandoned child whose soul is made entirely of ice.

Pic by Line.

A promise to return

Lin and Gwen have left Yulevale and are skating up the frozen river that cuts a silver slash in the forest. There are crooked thickets with more than one surprise, and hidden valleys, and a palisade made of long, sharp thorns to come.

But I promise to return to the town in due time.

As a reader, you see, I'm always worried when a story veers off track. What if it doesn't come back? When I've invested both imagination and dreams into a setting, like a busy coastal town with steep cliffs and cold beaches and creaking ships and seagulls, then I've come to love it. You could destroy it, and that would be horrible in a good way. But I don't want it to be cast off randomly, like a toy some kid suddenly finds boring.

If I've spent time getting to know the underground tunnels of a cold, grim castle, where I've discovered secret doors and how to sneak out lemon cakes from the kitchen, I don't just want to leave for good, unless I've been properly rewarded for my hard work. It's disappointing (and see Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy)!

And consider 'The Two Towers'. In the film version, it is never really clear why the heroes choose to go where they go, they just do. But in the book, their path seems inevitable. Of course they must go to Edoras, of course they must go to Helm's Deep. I think this is one of the main reasons the book version makes sense where the film does not.

This is why I make maps of my stories. I trace the plots to stop them from shooting off in random directions, and hopefully I'll make the story swell and flow, back and forth, carrying settings, persons and mysteries to their final resting place, as if that were the only place they could possibly belong.

Which is to say that you've not yet seen the last of the Observatory, nor of the Falcon Cage, nor of the Witch's Well, nor of Nalle, the quiet, unassuming assistant. That I promise.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Whirr. Wheeze. Click, and then...

This beautiful old clock hangs in a cabin close to where my grandmother grew up, and it reminds me of her and the clock she had while she still lived on the farm.

It is an old wall piece that now hangs silently, high in one corner next to the gallery of children and grandchildren and great grandchildren smiling on confirmation days, graduation days, wedding days.

My grandmother had (and still has) a very crooked back from carrying water and hay, and she would reach very hard to wind the clock. Even as a child, the creaking of her once-strong joints next to the rattling of cogs and chains inside the wooden box saddened me. It made me wonder what the house would be like without her, and without the clock and its many voices.

The pendulum marked the passing of seconds with a hollow not-yet, not-yet. Every fifteen minutes, the clock whirred, wheezed, clicked and then gave a single, stern chime. Every hour it posed a question. Why are you still in bed? Why are you not yet asleep? Why do you accept that the seconds of your life are counted out and lost?

My only answer is that time, and clocks, and the inevitable ticking of seconds are important cogs in my story. Whirr. Wheeze. Click. Just hope the chime doesn't sound. Not yet, not yet.