I attended a unique earthling ceremony this weekend. The main participants dressed up in extraordinary hats and flowing black gowns, men and women alike. Restless spectators filled the pavilion to listen to a series of speeches, impatient for their chance to make noise. At last, while each individual participant was called for a victory lap (Gampel5.11.3) around the arena floor, their family groups howled from the stadium. Howl after howl went up in a stream for an hour, no family quite able to one-up the preceding howl, until the paraders returned to their seats, and then the families rose and howled once more, together, in pride and celebration and tribal love.
We long to prove how much we love our kids, to voice how proud we are of their work and studies over the last four years. We need to stand together among strangers with equal love and pride, for this common moment, this intersection where a ceremony can mark a completion, a transition. We want to witness the step through the portal, and feel the proof. We can never go back in time, not any of us. We only go forward.
To all of you graduates unpacking the boxes and laundry baskets you hauled home from your dorms yesterday, I wish you well. Congratulations. Remember, as you sort your laundry alone, far from your former suitemates and confidantes, your families love you. We believe in you. We will be there for you always, even when you no longer need us. Especially then.
Another, complete world exist in my computer now, right there in the file behind this one. I don’t know how to describe it or explain it to people, not the book itself nor my process of working on it. When friends ask if the draft needs big changes or if I’m working line by line, I feel the novel world suck me out of the now toward rainy plains and a silent window and the blue glow of night glass. Depths, colors, and currents swirl there. People are leaving my story—gone. Others are coming forward, uncertain. Hints my subconscious once dropped into the novel now reveal themselves in a pattern. Others don’t. Eliminating one scene means motivation for an action 50 pages later no longer makes sense. Fixing the pace in one place means dropping out a plot thread that guts character development. One perceptive observation from my editor in the margin of page 60 ricochets through my choices all around the first half of the novel and unmoors them all. If you’re looking for me, that’s where I’ll be.
Let me pass along a few favorite photos from my very happy weekend in Houston when I attended Teen Book Con, April 20th. Thanks again to Blue Willow Bookshop for throwing the stupendous event, and to MacKids for sending me down. To see hundreds of teens excited about reading and writing was completely inspiring, and I’ve been writing in a blue streak ever since.
I’ve been asked quite a bit if I plan to write a story for “Birthmarked 3.5” or another novel for Birthmarked 4. The truth is, I’ve given the possibility considerable thought. My editor at Square Fish, Lauren Burniac, invited me to create new content for the extra bonus material that goes in the back matter of the paperback, due out in September, 2013, and kicking around the idea of another story definitely came up.
The problem is, I like where the trilogy ends with Promised, and I fear that tacking on an extra story would dilute it. I agonized over the ending for months, actually, and I was aware that I was taking a significant risk including certain events. I’ve paid for my choice, too, if the mix of strong reactions is anything to go by, but I’m still convinced it was the right ending, and I’m continually grateful that I’ve had the support of the MacKids team behind me. They’re not afraid of the unconventional.
Creating a whole new novel for Birthmarked 4 would involve turning my mind back to old, beloved characters and spinning them forward into new problems. It could be a rich experience, but I’m not ready to do it. I’m no longer the same writer I was a year ago when I finished the Birthmarked trilogy, and I don’t yet have the perspective to see Gaia and her world with fresh eyes. Put simply, I’m both too far away from them already, and too close still.
Our world has changed in the last year, too. We’ve had Newtown and the Boston Marathon bombs since then, and they’ve changed my sense of urgency about safety, childhood, and imagination. I feel a need to write different stories now, and they are pulling me deep into new paths. I want to go forward, exploring where I am now, the way I did when I first wrote Birthmarked.
So, for now, Gaia’s story ends where it ends.
This weekend, I’ll be at the Teen Book Con in Houston, Texas. If you’re there and you’d like to meet me, please come say hello. I especially want to encourage you if you’re normally shy. It should be a great, inspiring day!
When my heart’s aching for Boston, and every connection to the outside world reminds me of the confusion, heroism, and pain there, I find it hard to concentrate on writing a children’s book. Then I realize it’s more important than ever to carry on and do what I’m supposed to do. I don’t write fiction by ignoring the latest shocking proof of evil in our world, and I don’t do it out of angry righteousness. I keep working simply because it is a gift to be able to work, and this time I have been spared, and I can only hope I’m contributing to the forward motion of humanity, not its downfall.
My prayers go out to the families of Boston.
I’m back from other lands, in this case, Italy. It was a well-needed break from a stretch of driven writing, and a chance to ponder views out new windows. The green, rolling hillsides of springtime Tuscany gave me a sense of wonder. Trying always to translate Italian felt like a puzzle that never stopped, until my brain was fried by the end of each day. I relished the intense flavors of cheese, chickpea soup, and a cone of coconut and chocolate gelato. Relaxing one afternoon, I had the easy pleasure of watching school kids on a field trip sit on the steps for a group photo. I was spellbound by a nun and fellow cantor whom I heard practicing the Victimae Paschali Laudes in the hilltop church of Santa Marguerite in Cortona. We climbed the 200+ steps to visit the stunted, miraculous trees on the Guinigi tower of Lucca, the town of my ancestors.
It felt not only that I was far away, physically, but far into another time, too; not past or future, but alternate. It was tempting, everywhere, to store up impressions and perspectives to include in my writing, but even more, it was sweet to live in the moment.
My arrival back home means a return to familiarity and routine, but everything feels new again, pure and angled, if that makes sense. On the down side, my neglected social media include several stinging responses to my novels. That’s reality, too. My re-entry into my life from far away reminds me I should actively choose my actions, and not fall into patterns just because they’re convenient. After all, I’m not the same girl who left a week ago.
The third book in the Birthmarked trilogy, Promised, is being released today, April 1st, in Germany as Der Weg der gefallen Sterne (The Path of the Fallen Star).
Naturally, I’m thrilled about this. Oliver Plaschka has doubtless done a fantastic job with the translation, though regrettably I can’t tell for myself since I know only the most paltry German. (“Wo ist der bus für Igles?”) I find it very cool that Oliver is the same translator for Chbosky’s Das also ist mein Leben (The Perks of Being A Wallflower), which I’ve admired for ages. Oliver is also the author of the newly released Das Licht hinter den Wolken: Lied des Zwei-Ringe-Lands, which I would love to read if it becomes available in English. Thank you again, Oliver!
I’m reasonably certain that this is the description of Der Weg der gefallenen Sterne from Heyne, my German publisher:
Der große Höhepunkt von Caragh O’Briens dystopischer Jugendbuchsaga
Die junge Gaia Stone ist Hebamme. Doch in einer zerstörten Welt kann auch sie den verlorenen Kindern nicht mehr helfen, und so trifft Gaia eine schwere Entscheidung. Gemeinsam mit einer Gruppe junger Siedler verlässt sie das Ödland, um zur Stadt hinter der Mauer zurückzukehren und um Hilfe zu bitten. Werden sie die gefährliche Reise überstehen? Und wird sich Gaias Hoffnung auf eine bessere Zukunft endlich erfüllen?
Gerade hat Gaia in der Siedlung Sylum eine neue Heimat gefunden, da steht sie schon wieder vor großen Veränderungen. Denn die Menschen von Sylum leiden an einer sonderbaren Krankheit: Sie können den Ort nur um wenige Meilen verlassen, bevor sie lebensgefährliche Schwächeanfälle erleiden. Ein Hinweis in den Aufzeichnungen ihrer Großmutter zeigt Gaia jedoch, wie sie dieser großen Gefahr entfliehen können. Und so begibt sie sich mit einer Gruppe Siedler auf die gefährliche Reise zurück zu dem Ort, dem sie einst entflohen ist – der Enklave, der Stadt hinter der Mauer. Weder die junge Gaia noch ihre Gefährten wissen, was sie dort erwartet …
For a video on where it all began: Glückliche dunklen Lesen! (Happy dark reading!)
Oh, my gosh. Do you remember how much of life used to be devoted to combating silliness? I can still hear the multitude of grownups minding us to sit still, quit that giggling, mind yer manners, or cut that out, and in every case I nearly keeled over from laughing inside. School, church, the dinner table, grocery store aisles, and the back of the car were all prime for silliness and the squelching of it.
Then I had kids of my own, and silliness abounded again. I was not good at stifling it, needless to say. Even now, I just have to look at a kid and I want to start laughing. That’s why I knew I’d never be any good as an elementary school teacher. Whenever I went in as a volunteer parent or substitute aide, I just wanted to laugh with everybody or give them hugs, which was so not allowed for boundary reasons. I was better off teaching in the high school, where I expect I seemed sort of batty and quaint with my little toys all around the upper edges of the room. I loved that I could laugh really hard several times a day.
Now I don’t have any little kids around, except when I visit my long-distance nieces and nephews, who are experts in silliness. This is sort of a problem, but not really, because for some of us, silliness can transcend age. My older kids like to read joke books aloud and play games like foosball, Settlers of Catan, and Rummikub with the family. If we’re feeling like lazy, lie-down bums, we push the coffee table aside and play the games on the floor. Once we start laughing, it’s easy to roll, and then that’s funny, too. Lately, my kids have been randomly echoing a Doppler shift humming noise I happened to make during a game of Solarquest, and each time it cracks us up again.
They say people in offices are more creative when they laugh more. I think laughing helps me write better, too. It loosens up ideas and quirky connections so that my mind feels more playful. Then it works the other way, too, because when my writing’s going well, it brings me joy.