Sunday, December 20, 2009

Meeting Neil Himself

Mel and I went to see Neil Gaiman in Cleveland October 4th. If you have never picked up a Gaiman book, DO IT NOW. It doesn't matter which one. If he wrote it, it's good.

So, here's me with Neil Gaiman signing my Graveyard Book (that's the Newberry Winner for last year for those of you who haven't read Gaiman):

ICU, Laura. Looking all smug while Neil signs your book. You bitch.

He was pretty damned amazing in person. I was actually in line for the loo when he walked in the back door of the massive Cleveland library and seriously, as he walked by, the entire line of women swooned. He's not conventionally handsome, but he has Presence.

He's sort of exactly how you'd imagine him to be. Very, VERY smart and darkly witty, enthusiastic about macabre and mythology and very personally invested in his writing. Seems like the kind of guy who'd be up for anything but also needs to be a hermit a lot of days. Kind of a mix of Edgar Allan Poe and Indiana Jones. He read from a children's book he wrote about a boy called Odd, then took some questions, then read from the Graveyard Book. Then he stuck around and got everyone's book signed (over 1000 people. He joked about icing his hand with frozen peas.) When he signed my book and [info]mlwl 's, he drew a little tombstone with our name on it with a moon hanging overhead. This is why we love Neil Gaiman.

He says he's not very good at poetry, but from the way he talked about it, I don't believe him. I'm hoping he'll publish some soon. I'm also hoping he'll write some lyrics for Tori Amos soon. The two of them inspire each other and I totally ship that. (You know, in an alternate universe where Amanda Palmer didn't exist so he needed to date yet another fantastic girl musician.)

One thing that he said that I really took to heart... he was asked something along the lines of "How do you write what you do?" and he answered, "I put one word after another." To me that was extremely profound. I think a lot of times I need to quit worrying and just put one word after another and let the story fly. All too often I forget that in the first draft, an author is merely a vessel. The second draft she has to be an author but that first time through, you just have to let it go and get it on the page.

Well, while I wasn't looking I've started a collection of signed books. Neil Gaiman, Lev Grossman, John Green, Stephenie Meyer...ugh, if I could just get Jo Rowling's siggy...

Learning From the Masters

(Cross-posted from

LeakyCon was made of awesome.

For those of you who don't know, I work for a little Harry Potter website called The Leaky Cauldron. It's not really a 'little' site at all, actually. More like huge. And we're pretty much the definitive source for all things Harry. Specifically, I am an editor for Scribbulus, which is a site for essays and opinion pieces about the Harry Potter books. The website hosted its first ever convention a few weekends ago in Boston, and it was a raging success.

Not only was it great on a personal level because I got to see friends I hadn't seen in a while (or meet them face to face, finally, like my editor Nina), but I got to rub elbows with the likes of John and Hank Green, Lev Grossman, and Cheryl Klein.

Professionalism aside, there's nothing quite like hopping up and down on a dance floor with Hank Green and the entire Leaky staff, shouting "Don't Stop Believin'" at the top of our lungs, but I digress...

I went to a ton of lectures and presentations about writing. Lev Grossman's wit and intelligence basically left me a puddle of fangirl goo, and hearing about his process of writing The Magicians was wonderful. I think that a person's process can tell you a lot about their personality and how they think. By that measure, you could say that writing is exploration and thinking for me, and I felt Mr. Grossman was much the same. He likes pushing the envelope and challenging the world and the characters he creates, though, and I think my approach is a little opposite that. My characters begin challenged, and it's my job to help dig them out of the mess they've gotten themselves into (and perhaps in the process, they learn how to handle their world better).

I basically accosted Lev in the hotel lobby later that day. He signed a copy of his book, Codex, for me and we had a nice conversation about wizard rock before I felt myself go into fangirl mode and I made excuses and left before I embarrassed myself by squeeing all over him.

One of the most interesting and helpful keynotes I attended was a discussion between John Green and Cheryl Klein. (For the record, I am very envious of Cheryl Klein. Very.) They talked mainly about the process of editing and revision, and what it's like on both sides of the fence. It is very reassuring to hear an award-winning author say that his books started out nothing like they were published and that he still looks at his work and wishes he could change things. Sometimes I feel like I'll never be satisfied with True North, even though the changes Nina and I have made make it smooth like butter. I think we always just want to do better, as writers, we're always pushing ourselves. And I think that because artists create, that is what they do, we can't let things sit still. We want to keep creating, keep changing, keep it fresh.

Anyways... another thing they talked about was how essential it is for a writer to relinquish control to their editor, and to trust that editor deeply. I admit that I was worried about how I would handle the editing process, but I found that it was actually very easy for me. Not only did I trust Nina (she knew and loved my novel, plus she knew ME, which is very important. She knew what I was trying to say even when I didn't say it correctly.), but I honestly came to a point with my book where I knew that I was no longer the best thing for it. Another opinion was needed; a fresh eye was required. So I let Nina take the reins and it felt GOOD to watch my baby grow and fly.

Cheryl mentioned that there are a few authors who refuse to work with editors now, and so their work is basically published untouched. Stephenie Meyer is notoriously difficult, and I guess Anne Rice has now refused to let an editor touch her work.

Let me just pause to say that Anne Rice is by far the most influential author in my life. I started reading her stuff when I was only twelve, and her Vampire Chronicles and Cry to Heaven have shaped my writing in ways I probably couldn't even begin to explain. But here's my opinion: There are two people for whom a book is written. The writer and the reader. When I write, I'm exploring my beliefs and questioning the world around me. What comes out is a byproduct of that exploration. The second step is the reader, and the editor is essential in connecting the writer to the reader. I can lose myself in the process of writing. I can go off on tangents, lose a grasp of a character arc, leave a plot hole, etc. It's these mistakes that can lose a reader, and I think the editor is vital in making sure that doesn't happen. I think choosing not to edit shows a blatant disregard for that important second person in this process, I think you risk losing your message in your own pile of BS, and I think it's more than a touch egocentric.

There. I've said it.

Now that that's off my chest, I talked to Nina after this keynote and asked how I was to work with. Apparently, I wasn't too difficult. Ha. There were things I fought her on, things I believed in but had to be explained differently, things that she just didn't plain agree with, but she said overall I was more than willing to work through it. At one point, she suggested cutting a whole chapter. She was actually worried about telling me this for a few days and when she finally did I just shrugged and said, "Okay."

This is good. Editing needs to be a process of giving up the ego and letting your work achieve its full potential, which sometimes means it has to get there in spite of you. So, not to toot my own horn, but if I'm easy to work with now, I think it bodes well for me as a professional author.

Alright, I've rambled far too much and I didn't even get to the self-publishing stuff I wanted to talk about so... Soon I'll discuss self-publishing. What I think of the concept, if I would ever do it, and what it would mean if I did.

Oh, and being that it's summer, Kate and I are going to get A Writer's Notebook, our podcast, up and running. Be looking for that, too.

Until next time!