aqua fortis

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

About Online Personas: Do I Have One? Do I Need One? Does Anyone Care?

You'd think, for an introvert like myself, interacting online and blogging and whatnot would be easy, seeing as I can do such things from the comfort of my non-people-filled home.

But no. And here's why.

1. It turns out, for me, interacting is interacting, at some level. Yes, in-person interaction is much more exhausting and often high-stress and occasionally bitterly disappointing (that's where my introversion starts to veer into misogynistic, self-critical melancholy). But online interaction takes a certain amount of energy, too. So I'll kind of disappear for days at a time, just as—if you know me IRL—I sort of do in actuality. I need periods of hermitude so I can be a fun-filled bundle of nonstop cheer when you do see me. Or, at least, so I can recharge my energy reserves and be ready to act like a normal person when I see you. And online, I seem to also function in bursts, and then need downtime in between. The two types of interaction also synergize, in the sense that if I'm feeling overwhelmed by real-life stuff, I also tend to be too exhausted to be present online, either.

2. I don't know how much of my actual self I want to put out there. Again, as an introvert, I'm used to sharing only certain things with certain people. So I often get paralyzed into doing nothing when I start thinking about posting X or Y to Facebook or this blog. It's not that I'm secretive. I am sort of private, I guess. But mostly, I wonder things like: Who actually cares if I post this? What if I post something that makes someone weirdly confrontational? What if I post about myself and then regret it and feel stupid about it later? What if my blog post doesn't pass some imaginary "coolness test" that I've totally built up in my mind? And so on.

3. Persona management is something that concerns me now that I have actual published books and articles and stuff out there. And frankly, it feels like an overwhelming Sisyphean task. Should I be doing certain types of posts now that I'm "an author"? Is it bad if I don't do what author X or author Y are doing? (Obviously the answer is no, but the question still bothers me.) What if by doing X or Y I totally screw it up? What if by doing NOTHING I screw it up? And then there's the feeling that whatever bits and pieces of myself are already floating around out there have a life of their own already—a thought that makes me feel incrementally better simply because it's out of my hands.

Ultimately, though, I guess I do at some level crave interaction, or I wouldn't be writing things and posting things in the first place. But just as I feel a bit out of sync with the way "most normal people" (who are these people??) in the world function socially, I also feel a bit out of sync with how I'm supposed to be or expected to behave online. I guess that's because now there IS such a thing as "normal" behavior online, now that most* people are online and doing things. So the normative mores for online behavior now follow what those "normal people" do, and we're back to fundamentally the same situation in the online world as the physical one.

Of course, that is a vast generalization. And I want to live in a world—real or online—where there is room for variety in the socialization spectrum. It's not actually something we're taught very well (or at all), in our society: to tolerate different types of social behavior and patterns of interaction. I make a conscious, conscientious effort to respect the needs of the people in my life when it comes to them needing more or less interaction. But I need to respect my own needs, too. And I guess, right now, I'm not sure what my needs actually are as far as my online presence is concerned.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Drum Roll...Contest Winners!

I'm grateful to everyone who cruised by to leave a comment in honor of my cover reveal for my next book, The Truth Against the World--the favorite sayings you shared were all fabulous, and I've compiled them into a list below. FIRST, though: the moment you've all been waiting for. The drawing of winners, who will be selected via, a random number generator, and picked simply by counting down through the eligible comments (a method I stole--er, borrowed--from the smartypants Greg Pincus and his Pi/Pie contest).

I'll be picking not one, but three winners (heh. pick a winner. HAHAHA! sorry, apparently I am 12 years old).

So, here we go: the winner of a signed copy of Underneath, my newest book, is--

The winner of a signed copy of The Latte Rebellion, my first book, is--
RM1(SS) (ret), aka James

The winner of a Latte Rebellion coffee mug is--

Yay, everyone!! Congratulations! Winners please email me your mailing address and I will pop these in the mail this week. If you want the book signed to a particular person (i.e. yourself, a loved one, a sworn enemy), or not, please let me know.

Thank you all so much, too, for all of your support over these past few busy years--I've known nearly all of you commenters for quite a number of years, either in person and/or online, so you probably know far more about my ups and downs than you really WANT to. I'm thankful for your friendship and kindness--and your collective, collected wisdom:
  • "-- life exists -- and identity -- the powerful play goes on -- and you may contribute a verse" -- Walt Whitman
  • "dyfal donc a dyr y garreg" - "It's a steady tapping that breaks the stone."
  • "There are more things in heaven and earth, {Horatio,}
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." -- Hamlet (1.5.166-7)
  • "Gwlad heb iaith, gwlad heb genedl." - "A country without a language is a country without a nation."
  • "If you truly want your 'ship to come in,' don't wait on shore expecting it to steam in past the breakwater and onto the beach. Risk everything, jump in the water and swim out to meet it."
  • "There are two types of ships - submarines and targets."
  • "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."
    — Scott Adams
  • "If you love something, set it free.
    If it comes back to you, it's yours.
    If it doesn't, it never was."

Friday, October 04, 2013


Goooood morning, and welcome to the official cover reveal for The Truth Against the World, my next YA novel, due out in June of 2014! Whee! Raise your glass or coffee mug or whatever you happen to be imbibing at this hour, and take a gander at this:

(C) Flux Books, 2013. Don't steal it!

I honestly could not be more excited, considering I had no preconceived notions about the cover design this time around. ALL three of my covers have been awesome. I'm thrilled. I keep looking at that fake old-crinkly-paper look around the edges and ooh-ing and aah-ing. In fact, I've learned a lot about graphic design just from my own book covers.

Anyway, because I'm all excited and jumping up and down about it, I am holding a giveaway so I can share the love. The details:
  • The entry period is NOW, today, Friday, October 4th, through two weeks from now, Friday, October 18th.
  • The requirements: leave me a comment (A REAL ONE, PLEASE) on this post, letting me know one of your favorite slogans or sayings. (Why a saying? The title of my book comes from the slogan of Wales' Gorsedd of Bards, and there are some cool Welsh proverbs scattered throughout the book.) One entry per person, please. I reserve the right to deem any entries ineligible: e.g. if they are not real actual people, if they are duplicates, or if they are evil trolls. Like Google says: Don't be evil.
  • There will be Three Prizes, awarded by random drawing at the end of the contest period: one signed copy of The Latte Rebellion, one signed copy of Underneath, and one Latte Rebellion coffee mug.
  • OK: go!

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Tune in Tomorrow, Kids

...for the long-awaited (or, at least, awaited) unveiling of my next book's awesome cover! I love, love, love it, just like I've loved my other two covers, and I feel incredibly lucky about that.

Another teaser about my next book, The Truth Against the World: some of you might remember it as my "Welsh novel," because part of it's set in South Wales. You might also remember it as my World War II novel, although the wartime bits are mostly memories and such, and most of the story's in the present day.

This one is also going to have a heinously long list of thank-yous, because I consulted a ridiculously large number of people when I wrote the first draft, and it will also have a bibliography, because I'm nerdy and looked up books about WWII Britain. I BOUGHT books about WWII Britain. They are cool. No, really. Where else could I find recipes for Trench Cake, Wood-Pigeons, and Mock Oysters?

Those aren't in my book, though.

Check back tomorrow! There will also be a giveaway, so come with your commenting hat on!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Cover Reveal Countdown!

Okay, so this is an unforgivably short post, but I just wanted to alert you all that I will be doing the OFFICIAL COVER REVEAL for my next YA novel, The Truth Against the World, this Friday, October 4th, right here! Watch this space!

Some of you may remember The Truth Against the World in its earlier form, The Other Olwen, a ghostly mystery about a family secret. It was my MFA thesis (and therefore exists in a rather embarrassingly early draft bound in the Mills College library) and the first book I ever tried submitting to publishers and agents. It has undergone some serious changes (damn you, cell phones! damn you, inevitable passage of time!) but, I hope, is much better for it.

I will also be having Some Sort of Contest to celebrate the cover reveal. Details to be determined, but there will be prizes. Prizes, I say!

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I'm trying to fight one of those funks where I keep thinking to myself, "Geez, I'm not really that great at anything." Part of the rumination that keeps bothering me has to do with the role of difficulty of a task, or perceived subjective difficulty, and whether and how that relates to ability, aptitude, potential, success, etc. That is: if I feel like something is difficult, does that mean I'm not really that good at it--that I don't have a noteworthy ability or aptitude for it? Or does it mean that I am actually good at it because I'm trying to struggle through problems that others aren't willing or able to tackle? Or are the two completely independent, nothing to do with one another at all? [Something is difficult] AND/OR [I'm good at it or not good at it] but there is no causal relationship.

Mostly, though, instead of tackling the why and the self-analysis, I end up going through this list of things I like to do (or even things I don't like, just things I have to do or could do) and sort of checking them off, like, "Nope, I'm not all that great at that; oh, playing the ukulele? not so good at that; singing is fun but I'm really not that great at it; I could go back to working in a corporate environment but I'm not so great at stuff like meetings and getting to work on time and grown-up shit like that; I used to be pretty good at picking up languages but I don't think I am any more and hardly ever have time to practice;" and on and on.

So I decided to try to list a few things I am good at, to make myself feel a little better.

  • I'm really amazingly good at sitting on the couch with a purring cat on my lap. Making the cats happy is something I can do.
  • I can kick ass at cleaning out the refrigerator. In fact, I did that just yesterday. Now it's cleaner than it's been in many moons. (Of course, I don't know if this counts, since I was also at least partly responsible for failing to clean it for many moons...) 
  • I'm generally pretty good at things related to our household food management: grocery shopping, putting the shopping away, cooking or otherwise assembling the food into yummy form.
  • I am amazing at filing. You wouldn't really know this from the current state of *my* office, but while working as a temp, I once reorganized an entire file system for the City of Modesto Wastewater Treatment Facility--at least a half dozen large filing cabinets that had last been sorted sometime in the 1980s. In fact, that's how I met Joe Barretta, although he probably doesn't remember me. We had a long conversation about how he was taking his son to a Green Day concert.
  • I am good at consuming mass quantities. 
  • I am good at fading into the background (except in India, where I apparently stick out like a sore thumb--hence the many photo-ops people insisted on having with us).
  • I am good at being quiet. Too good, sometimes. In fact, sometimes that quietness extends to this blog, for which I apologize, because I do go through vast epochs of silence from time to time.
 I will try to be less silent. Bust out of the box! We'll see how well I do...and whether "busting out of the box" is one of the things I'm good at, or one of the other things...

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Observations on India So Far

A monkey-cow traffic jam. This was out on a country road,
to be fair, not in the city.
One thing I've learned so far while I've been in India that I didn't fully realize before: you will find everything on the road here. EVERYTHING. Cars. Trucks. Bicycles. Bicycle rickshaws. Autorickshaws. Tuktuks (a slightly larger autorickshaw with a meter, like a taxi). Actual taxis. Pedestrians. Cows. Goats. Dogs. Camels. Monkeys. (See photo.) Even, when we were driving back from Galta Ji (the monkey temple), a monitor lizard. (I'll post a photo of that later.) And somehow, all of these people and vehicles and animals weave in and out of traffic and pass through one another's space with mere inches to spare without anybody getting hit or freaking out.

Also, lane lines are mere suggestions, like in Mexico, and honking the horn is polite and expected road etiquette, not a sign of impending road rage. That one was hard to get used to. (I spent at least the first few days thinking OHMYGOD EVERYBODY IS HONKING AND ANGRY THIS IS VERY VERY BAD.) They are not angry. In fact, most trucks have "Honk Please" painted on the back.

Something I have learned about myself so far while in India: I really dislike haggling over prices, and being constantly pestered to buy stuff. Okay, so I knew that about myself, but I have had the near-daily opportunity to refresh that knowledge.

Over the past 6 days I have sweated more than I ever thought possible.

Delhi is an awe-inspiring city. Agra is kind of an unimpressive city (and our hotel had bugs in the bathroom, because basically it was a very buggy locale) but its monuments--the Taj Mahal, the Old Fort, Fatehpur Sikri--are incredible. Jaipur was a gem and may have been my favorite overall experience so far. Last night we arrived back in Delhi after our 3 days or so exploring the Golden Triangle, and today was a museum day. Tomorrow is our last full day in Delhi before flying to Khajuraho.

And now I need to conclude this digital postcard and write a few actual postcards...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Abort, Retry, Fail

This morning I was interviewed for the local Capital Public Radio NPR program Insight, with Beth Ruyak. Since they had me drive into the studio this time for an in-person talk, that meant I had ample time on the 90-minute drive back home to reflect upon the many ways in which I sounded like a complete dork.

Instead of (or in addition to) thinking about how awesome it was that they invited me back, or how much less nervous I sounded than the last time I was on the radio, or even how cool it was that I just had 15 minutes MORE of fame, thus totaling approximately an hour of radio time in total, I spent most of the drive dissecting what I could have done better. Because THAT'S JUST ME! A barrel of laughs!

So, problem #1: the sound of my voice. In the green room beforehand, chatting with the guest who was to appear before me; talking to the producer of the show, Ellen; even meeting Beth Ruyak before the show for a few minutes--I sounded PERFECTLY NORMAL. Professional, even. Then, the minute I was sitting in front of the mic and had to talk--my first words, I believe, were "Hi, Beth!"--suddenly a frog appeared in my throat out of nowhere, as if by magic, and I was talking around a mucus impediment. LOVELY.

I should note, however, that I sounded just fine (in my own head, anyway...) when I read a passage from the book. Having been complimented on my reading during the book launch last week, I felt relatively confident that that part, at least, I could manage. And I think I did. However:

Problem #2: As I mentioned above, I did sound less nervous this time--and I'm happy to say, I didn't have that problem I had before of suddenly blanking out on what the host asked me while in the middle of a long-winded answer, thus forcing me to babble on until I reached a conclusion of some sort. But I did experience a similar mind-blankening panic issue: several times, I would be in the middle of my long-winded answer and then forget what in tarnation *I* had been saying and what my point was supposed to be.

The way I see it, there are a few possible solutions to this problem, all of which I found myself using today, and which I have likened to 1980s-era computer lingo for your amusement:
  1. ABORT! ABORT! Finish my sentence and rely on the host to finesse the transition if I stopped making sense.
  2. RETRY! Keep on blathering in the hope that I will remember what my initial point was and be able to bring it around to a reasonably coherent conclusion.
  3. FAIL! Trail off mid-sentence and mid-thought and look pleadingly at the host, while mentally banging head against the desk.
Fortunately, I *do* get a retry, an actual one--the host seemed potentially interested in inviting me back when I have a new book (yay!), and also, I have a chance to redeem myself with another radio appearance tonight, this one for Write On Radio, a program at KFAI Minneapolis. Wish me luck...

Sunday, March 31, 2013

I Am Not Alone

I love it when I'm reading something and I have one of those "oh my god" moments, a moment where I recognize or identify with what I'm reading so strongly that I have to go back and read that sentence or paragraph again, and then again and maybe even yet again. I've been having a lot of those moments with my current read, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.

I've been meaning to read this one for a while--ever since I heard the author in a radio interview--but now that I've finally gotten to it, I keep wishing I'd read it sooner. So much of what she writes about resonates with me in an incredibly deep way. I read her stories of real-life introverted individuals and feel like perhaps the way I am isn't weird or unusual or abnormal or pathological, and I feel amazed that there are other people out there who are like me.

Today's real oh-my-god moment came in the form of an almost toss-off, brief mention, but it hit me really hard. The author was talking about a respected professor who would get constantly get invited to speaking engagements, and sometimes they'd ask him to have lunch with bigwigs afterward. But in some of those instances, he also had an afternoon lecture, and he really, really needed the down time during lunch. One of the locations where this would happen did not offer any opportunities for escape, and so "After each lecture he would race to the restroom and hide inside a stall." A few lines later was a parenthetical aside: "(Taking shelter in bathrooms is a surprisingly common phenomenon, as you probably know if you're an introvert.)"

As a matter of fact, NO, I did NOT know it was "surprisingly common"--I actually thought I was sort of a freak for doing that, even though it's something I've done since I was a kid. Starting when I was about 9 or 10, I used to hide in the bathroom at parties my dad brought me to. These were usually vast South Asian weddings in giant hotel halls, or crowded parties at the house of some distant relative or friend or community member. Only sometimes would I even know the person who was getting married or who was throwing the event. I usually only really knew my dad, my stepmom, and my stepsister, and sometimes my uncle's family, if they happened to be there (and that usually helped A LOT). There were usually at least a dozen people I kinda-sorta-knew or had met before or was supposed to know but didn't remember--assorted step-relatives, family friends, people from the mosque community.

I found these events excruciatingly long and tedious, and had no desire to try to talk to random people--some of whom spoke very little English and so would address me in the Urdu they wrongly assumed I knew. The events were loud, and full of brightly-colored clothing and sparkling jewelry (admittedly, quite lovely), and there always seemed to be little kids screaming and running rampant everywhere. Sometimes my stepsister would be bugging me. (Sorry, Mimi...)

I had almost always been encouraged from a very young age to take a book with me whenever I had to wait around somewhere or thought I might get bored--it was a guaranteed way to keep me quiet, docile, and reasonably content. And so at these parties I would often have a paperback book stashed in my purse, or if I didn't have a bag, in my dad's car. From time to time, when I got overwhelmed, I would rush off to the bathroom with my book and hang out in there reading until some time passed and I could face the hubbub again, but hopefully not so long that people wondered where I was and what the heck I was doing. This was a particularly fun activity in hotel or event-facility bathrooms because they were often huge and cushy, and sometimes they had a front room with a chair or bench to sit on. I tried not to hang out in the stall. People wonder what you're doing in there. And at times, I still go hide in the bathroom if I'm feeling overwhelmed, and if I don't have somewhere else to conveniently escape to.

So when I read that sentence in the book, it really brought home the point that the way I am is not wrong, and it's not really even that unusual--and perhaps I should be more charitable and compassionate with myself when I think back on those times, instead of assuming I was the abnormal one at the party, the only one who didn't really want to be there or who preferred less chaotic types of get-togethers.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Munch's The Scream

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
I absolutely love this. This is Norwegian artist Edvard Munch on his painting The Scream:

I was tired and ill--I stood looking out across the fjord--the sun was setting--the clouds were coloured red--like blood--I felt as though a scream went through nature--I thought I heard a scream--I painted this picture--painted the clouds like real blood. The colours were screaming.
(in The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes)

Amazing stuff. I also learned that the figure in The Scream bears a non-coincidental resemblance to an Incan mummy on display at the Parisian Expo of 1889.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Blogging Thoughts

I've been giving a lot of thought to the problem of what purpose I want this blog, this particular one right here, to serve. I haven't been posting a lot. That doesn't mean I'm not blogging, because I post twice a week to Finding Wonderland, rain or shine, and as the Cybils blog editor again this year, I put up between 3 and 5 posts per week there. And then there's my paid blogging/article writing gig at A Place for Mom, which has been upped from 2 posts a week to 3. At about 500 words apiece, it's no small potatoes. I blog a LOT.

Just…very little of it is what I'd call my personal thoughts. I tend to save those for short bursts on Twitter and Facebook. I am also constantly battling questions like Who really cares? What purpose does it serve? Are my thoughts really that interesting? Does anyone even "read" blogs anymore or do they just go surfing for specific topics? I mean, I haven't been doing much blog reading lately myself. I hate to admit that, especially as someone very much enmeshed in the children's literature blogging community. I've gained a lot of treasured friends and writing connections by reading their blogs. But my blog reading is no longer regulated by Google Reader; I read a handful of random posts in any given week, clicking through from e-mails or tweets or Facebook. I haven't been commenting. Everyone else has plenty to say; they don't need to hear my two cents.

So then what? That's the question I've been asking myself, over and over. What do I have to say, here, that hasn't been said a million times and far more eloquently? What do I have to offer that's unique, and that I haven't posted elsewhere? And do I have enough of it to offer on a thrice-weekly basis or whatever? Am I helping, or at least entertaining, anyone by doing it? Myself, at the very least? Do I have to have a special "thing" that my blog is known for? How can I create something sufficiently individual, or is BEING an individual and posting about it enough?

I've wondered over and over if I should say goodbye to this blog; if I should stop blogging, period. I haven't gotten to that point yet. But I'm definitely doing some thinking about the why of it all.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Put a Binder Clip On It

Sort of in honor of Put a Bird On It, lately I've been thinking that for many a household task, I can just Put a Binder Clip On It. Those damn things are useful. Here are a few purposes I've used binder clips for that they were not originally intended to serve:
  • Chip clip/bag clip. This one's obvious, but still. I have never, ever owned enough kitchen-specific bag clips, and they cost too much anyway. Whereas I have probably hundreds of binder clips of myriad sizes, clamoring to be used.
  • Cord holder. Actually, I haven't done this one, yet--but I keep meaning to. Take one of those gigantic binder clips and keep those pesky electronics cords together, untangled, and out of the way. (Just don't put the clip ON the cord....I mean slide the cords through the long triangular space.)
  • Outgoing mail holder. We have one of those mailboxes that's like a little box attached to the wall next to the front door. For incoming mail, you lift the lid on a hinge and put it inside. For outgoing mail, there's an unwieldy little two-pronged rack thingy. It looks a lot like this, but white. Because I'm paranoid that my outgoing mail will fall off the rack and go AWOL before the mail carrier gets to it, especially if it's breezy, I hold it on with a little binder clip.
  • DIY seat belt repair. Admittedly, this is REALLY not a normal use for a binder clip, and not one I would wish on anyone. But it had to be done. Here's the story: you may not have ever noticed it before, but there is a little plastic nub on your seat belt that stops the buckle from sliding down all the way to the floor when it's just hanging there unused. (At least, there is in my Civic.) At some point, the nub fell off my seat belt. All I had in the car that was of any remote use was a binder clip, so I MacGyvered that shit. It's now been like that for weeks.
So, yep. Put a binder clip on it. That's my advice. I'm sure there are many other uses I haven't even considered. Like maybe a key chain. In a pinch I've used a large paper clip as a key chain, so why not a binder clip?