30 July, 2009

Rockin' in the USA

Again, at Montpelier Historical Museum. Taken by Steven, natch.

New project.

Ten pages.
And now, out into the sunshine.

29 July, 2009

Hey, I got appreciated

by Girlie Jones, way back on the 16th, as part of her (and now many others) Female Appreciation Month! I'm in lots of good company over there. Go and look.

28 July, 2009


And suddenly the traffic slips back into place, and people stop talking funny, and one can anticipate proper coffee again. The last meal on the plane was memorably American: apple and strawberry pancakes served with turkey sausage (aka pale severed finger), bacon and 'breakfast syrup' and an unidentifiable pastry thing with pink stuff inside.

I'm only snarking to make myself feel better about being back in my own boring life instead of floating around visiting other people's. Rats, now I have to sit down and pay that huge tax bill, and start prioritising beyond who to email next and where to stop for lunch on the way across Indiana.

Weather looks exactly the same as the sunnier days in the northeast of the US, but is 10 degrees C colder.

Consolations: seeing both my babies sons again, one now 21!, the other one another inch or so taller, I'm sure! They've both gone off to their respective schools now, and Steven and I are online (the luxury of 2 laptops!) and entertaining the thought of a second-breakfast (with proper coffee) up the road, seeing as our first one was technically at about 4.30 a.m.

And here is a picture Steven took of me being intimidated by someone's ancestors at the museum in Montpelier, VT.

interviews she done conducted

Raych, my very favouritest online stalker and reviewer, has put up the interview she hauled out of me, first instalment just before I left and second instalment in the last hotel I stayed in in the US. It's almost as much fun as her initial review.

26 July, 2009

Yay, a Brit read the book!

Stephanie Merritt at the Observer provides a necessary corrective to all the knee-jerking over there. '[T]o condemn it as merely wilful taboo-breaking,' she says, 'is to miss the humanity in what is one of the strangest and most moving works of children's literature I have read in years [...] Look beyond the shocking scenes and this is a novel that explores the most profound human emotions with a clear gaze; it made me weep like a child at the end.'

Weeping is a much better reaction than shrieking.

25 July, 2009

Last full day in the US

And it'll be spent inthe car, a place that has palled, rather, in the last day or so, because we just have to cover so much distance now that we can't do much more than look out the window and wish we could stop and look more closely at stuff.

This morning we are at Cambridge, Ohio, in one of those hotel-villages where you could be anywhere and it's difficult to find things that you would call real food. Off to Lafayette, Indiana, today, where we'll spend a more leisurely morning tomorrow before buzzing up to Chicago to take our 7pm flight out.

The fun is nearly over. Sigh.

23 July, 2009

Morrisville Holiday Inn

The last talk went well. Gail here thinks it was a bit sparsely attended, but 12 attendees including my own cheersquad is pretty good for me. They were all responsive and a lot of them had good questions afterwards, so I was happy.

Yesterday we barrelled down past New York to New Jersey for lunch with friends (hi Jane, hi George!). Manhattan tantalised us on the horizon, when we weren't chewing the dashboard with terror at the labyrinth they've constructed to get you over the Hudson. Thanks to the lady in the GPS, we made it intact.

Now we're about to head out to look at Wyeth country, once we get past the Philadelphia morning rush hour.

21 July, 2009

These last few days...

...have been fascinating in all sorts of ways, almost too full to begin to describe. There were 3 days charging across country from Chicago through green forests and clouds of jetlag. There were 2 days in Montpelier, which were equal parts being feted and being a tourist - highly enjoyable. More driving, and dinner with Greer Gilman in Cambridge, and an evening walk around Harvard with Greer as our guide, and since then a couple of days with Greer's friend and colleague Faye Ringel, who is also a wonderful guide to New England, and today took us to Kitchen Little and Mystic Seaport and tonight is hosting a talk by Paul Di Filippo at Otis Library, where I'm sitting now typing this.

That's the bare bones of it; fleshing it out is the birch beer, the toasted-almond and coconut ice-cream, the witches' houses, the day lilies, the drooping foliage over the headstones old and new, the elegant old boats, the fresh cherries, the sea shanties, the children tumbling all over the Seaport, the mouthwatering bookshops and the long, long, mild evenings.

Having a wonderful time.

20 July, 2009

More clutching of pearls in Britain

The Daily Express contributes not-a-lot to the debate about books and children. You can hear me being 'bullish' over there - I would call it cranky, myself.

They're all rabbiting on about publishers' responsibility and writers' responsibility - what about rearing some children with some sense of responsibility for themselves? What about, if you've got a sensitive child, staying in touch with what they're reading so that you can put your oar in when you're worried about their reaction?

Also, what about filmmakers' responsibility? What about advertisers' responsibility? What about television programmers' and newspaper publishers' responsibility? What about other unsettling things that are thrust into children's lives without their consent every day? Beside all these things, my book is discreet, forces itself on no one, and is very carefully constructed to produce a particular effect, to tell a story that says particular things about the rearing of children, the harm that can come to them, and the way we choose to defend them.

The 'clutching of pearls' reference is from this blog post.

Talk/reading in Groton, Conn., Tuesday evening

Anyone nearby should come to Groton Public Library, tomorrow evening (July 21) from 7 to 8:30 p.m. I'll read from Tender Morsels, Black Juice and Red Spikes and just generally talk about stuff, so if you have any questions you'd like to ask, or books you'd like to buy or get signed, or you'd just like to hear Steven's and my cute accents, please come along!

18 July, 2009


Phew, now we can stop for a day, and hop out of the car and walk around, and look at things slowly instead of having them blur by. Yesterday we drove through the Adirondacks, and really, it was just one long green tunnel. It was not like experiencing the Adirondacks. It was not like holidaying in the Adirondacks. It was like having a very quick, crazy dream about the Adirondacks, complete with outlandish gift shop.

The reading last night went very well, as did the Q&A this morning; I didn't cry at either. :) They were both well attended, by both current MFA students and alumni—oh, and faculty. After the reading there was a reception, and Bear Pond Books now have a small pile of signed books if you missed both events and need copies.

Tomorrow morning I'll be signing at Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, which we drove past on the way here yesterday after we got off the Essex–Charlotte ferry. Just after that we were hailed on, then just teemed on for a while, as we crept along the I189/I89 to Montpelier. This morning it was foggy and cool, but I think it will steam up later.

So, still having a wonderful time. Haven't read email yet, though—anything might be waiting over there. Will let you know.

16 July, 2009

Vermont reading

Tonight. Vermont College of Fine Arts. 7 p.m, VCFA Chapel (must dig out some appropriate robes). There will be other writers besides me, I believe. I'll be on for 30 mins. And will sign anything that moves. C u there.

On the road

It's 5.49 a.m. in Auburn, New York. Today we drive the last leg to Vermont, through the Adirondack Park; the last 2 days' racing across the countryside has all been in order to take our time in the wilder bit.

What a country they've got here. It has Amish people in it, and deer, and cornfields, and fields of … all sorts of other stuff. And the trees are ridiculously thickly leaved and an almost lurid green. And the houses are impossibly quaint or impossibly haunted-looking. And the weather is storybook summery. And the food options are … interesting, and usually huge.

Sorry not to have blogged more, but we've been on a mission here, and it's not left much time to blog unless I do it from the passenger seat of the rental car, and, hm, we don't want upthrow on the keyboard, I don't think. Yesterday particularly was all winding (side to side and up and down) country road, and I wouldn't have had a chance. Plus, if I put head to pillow I'm unconscious in an instant with the jetlag – hey, sometimes that happens even as we drive – and my screentime has been all emails, and by the time I've finished those Steven will be climbing the walls, as we've brought only the one laptop, and technically it's his. So, excuses, excuses.

Basically, we've been having the best time. There is nothing like being feted as a way to start off a trip, although it does make it difficult – you know, the rental car is small and it takes a bit of work after every night's sleep or day's stop to stuff my bloated head back into it. And now, if I should happen to forget all the champagne and flattery (Greer Gilman said on the phone I should call it 'just praise' – okay, Greer, just praise it is :) ), I have a Printz plaque in my wheelaboard that I can take out and pat, at any time, to remind myself. Alice Sebold has a strange, starting-off-squeamish article about literary prizes and editing Best Ofs in the Atlantic's Fiction Special at the moment (bought at Auburn Wal-Mart – my first ever Wal-Mart and what a Wal-Mart it was, my my), and I gotta say, Alice, that is not my experience of prize nights. The Printz ceremony was so nice – twice the size of the one back in 2006, so it's really grown in reputation and interest, this prize; and not as grand and terrifying as the Newbery Caldecott Banquet the night before, i.e. we didn't have to eat our dinners on stage (now THAT would make a person self-conscious). Such a crowd – 2 standing ovations for each of us, and cheers and hooting that really made this honoree feel like a rock star.

Plus, at ALA, I signed, I think, more books in 2 hours than I have in my whole life before. 'You looked for a minute as if you forgot how to spell your name,' said one bookbuyer, late in the second hour, and I had to admit that I was beginning to have some doubts.

Gab-gab-gab, I went, and so much smiling! I'm really going to have to get my face in trim for smiling if this ever happens again. My face ached, I tell you, and if anyone pointed a camera at me (a lot of teachers/librarians have an 'author wall' in their school library) the corners of my mouth would go all wobbly.

Too much fun. Too many friends, old and new – there was no way of enjoying them all properly. Too much new city – I didn't really begin to see it, apart from our lovely river view from the hotel room (the cars on the bridge nearby made a wonderful noise, that sounded so much like a blues choir, it took us a couple of days to work out that it wasn't actually piped ambient music).

Better stop now. Vermont awaits, and there is breakfast to eat before we set out (Wegmans raspberries, yoghurt and bananas – and no eating implements; this will be interesting).

More soon I hope.

PS The UK bear-hug of a welcome for Tender Morsels continues – I banged out some remarks-in-response for the Sunday Express yesterday, so expect them to join in soon.

15 July, 2009

Margo in Chicago

Actually, I'm not in Chicago any more, but halfway across Ohio on the way to Vermont.

It's warm here; the perfect temperature. I've thawed out from the Sydney winter, although I haven't got properly sunburnt yet.

The Chicago weekend was an absolute whirl of head-swelling encounters and events. There seemed to be more meals than usually occur in 3 days—although, now, surprisingly, we're hungry again, after our day's driving. In fact, I'm going to have to put off this update until after we go in to Andy's Chinese Dragon and have dinner, and before we pass out from jetlag and extended partying.

In the meantime, greetings to all those straggling home after ALA—I only saw a tiny corner of it, but it looked like a great convention.

09 July, 2009

The Scotsman, from end June

says TM is:
a beautifully written, deeply wise fairy tale. [...I]n the genuine tradition of fairy tales it's also shocking, often brutal. [plot summary] It's a rewardingly complex and emotional story told in highly imaginative prose. The worlds Lanagan creates are so rich and multi-layered it's easy to get lost in the book's 500 pages, never wanting to leave.

The Daily Mail goes off

'With a title that sounds more like a paedophile website than serious literature,' Tender Morsels aims to steal your children's innocence and make you, particularly if you are a parent, actually uncomfortable, says Danuta Kean. Ew, I hope you can stand it. Because nothing else about the real world will force you to answer awkward questions from your children.

This is an absolute, puss-mouthed, Mary-Whitehouse-channelled smear of an article. I don't know where to begin to argue with it, it's so bent-headed.

She says the adult cover is misleading because you have to look twice at the cover to notice that the birds are crows and the bear has teeth and claws. 'How many of us on a fast run through a bookshop to buy nieces and daughters a present have time to notice such details?'

To which I say, covers are not designed to keep irresponsible aunties and uncles and parents from embarrassing themselves. Open the book (to the first page—I can tell I'm going to get sick of saying this) and use just a tiny-weeny bit of your own judgement. Put the book back if you don't think it's suitable, and everyone will be happy.

How to counter the rest of this? Can't. Haven't got time. Must pack for Chicago.

books she done read

Here is a wonderful, lively, sensible, funny review of TM which gives you a good rundown on the actual reading experience—and gives the book 8 caterpillars (out of 10)!

08 July, 2009

Dear UK, the US looks at you askance

Who knew that the Brits were so prudish? Or, conversely, that Americans are so insensitive?
says Menachem Kaiser in the New Yorker online. Tender Morsels
came out on this side of the Atlantic back in October to solid reviews, and not much else. But it just got published in England, and blimey [links to Observer].
It's all hearsay again, though—sigh. Tender Morsels reworks a fairy tale, Kaiser says, but adds 'some lurid violent and sexual episodes, including a gang rape and a witch-dwarf tryst'. Open the book and point me to the lurid scenes, people; I challenge you to find luridity there! Well, okay, the gang-sodomy is a bit colourful, but lurid? Nah. Besides, nobody's reading as far as the cloth-men 'withdrawing from Hogback's bottom', which is about as close as the camera comes to any actual penetration (or reverse penetration). Yes, I know that bear/man waves his penis around after mating with the heavenly bear, but—

Look, the actual rape part of the gang rape is indicated by an asterisk, okay? And the witch–dwarf tryst is the nicest sex in the book; that's why I put it there, because the early chapters are so dire, readers have to know that there's going to be some lightness to look forward to. Here is part of this lurid sex scene (which all takes place after the sex act itself, all right? It's all aftermath:
It was warm, perfect for nudding down, the air like warm satin sliding all over me. The last blue of evening, close around us, shielded us from eyes, and yet some stars winked there and were festive also and who could mind their watching? And moths flew soft and silver. The stars silvered them, I guessed, and the last light from the sky, and the slight light from Shakestick’s lamps as he hurried the last of the haystackers, other end of the field. Anyway, they were low like a mist, the moths, like a dancing mist, large and small like snow wafting on a breeze, as if the very air were so alive that it had burst into these creatures, taken wing and fluttered in all these different directions.

Everything made sense, this girl and me wrapping each other, and what had gone before. I could see, as I’d not seen heretofore, why the whole world was paired up man to woman like it was, buck to doe, bull to cow, cock to hen: for both their releases, to keep them present on the earth, instead of away suffering inside their own bodies and heads. Moth to moth, too, eh? Moth to moth, look at them, floating and flirting, giving off their moth-signals, curling their feather antlers at each other’s nearness.

‘Gawd, Annie,’ I whispered. ‘What are you made of? Caves and volcanoes!’

‘I am!’ she said, ‘I am!’, and she laughed, a careful laugh so as not to be heard outside this hay, yet full of delight and delights.
See? Redeeming social value, all over the place.

It's all very entertaining, in a maddening kind of way. People seem very determined not to look at the object in question, and bring their intelligence to bear (no pun intended) on it.

07 July, 2009

Tender Morsels di Margo Lanagan: lo stupro di gruppo in un libro per bambini

Over in Italy, crimeblog has an entry about the Observer article about l’ ultimo romanzo per bambini della scrittrice australiana Margo Lanagan. Again, bambini? I don't think so.

Now I know useful phrases with which to describe Dolci morsi, should I ever tour Italy: una scena di sesso tra un nano e una strega, uno stupro di gruppo e la descrizione di un aborto. Everyone's repeating Vanessa's little grab-bag from the Observer; there are actually due aborti ( I know, they happen in quick succession, and it's easy to get confused) and nobody seems to be worried about the sodomia di gruppo at the end. This must be because it's not mentioned in the publicity material; it's a little treat for people who actually read the book right through.

Meanwhile, Cheryl is relieved:
I had been beginning to lose my faith in the Forces of Nannyism, but I’m pleased to report that someone has at last started yelling “Moral Panic!” over Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels. [...] Now we can all complain about how silly this is (except for those of us also prone to attacks of moral panic).

05 July, 2009

The Observer wags the finger

Vanessa Thorpe glooms-and-dooms about 'the end of children's literature'. She calls TM 'a lurid reworking of Grimm's Snow White and Rose Red fairytale'—I always thought there was more than one Grimm, snrt—and goes on:
Publication of Tender Morsels in this country is leading to renewed calls for a clearer system to let parents know about the nature of the books that their children are reading. Anne Fine, a former children's laureate [and of whom I am a big fan—ML], said: "If you look at online reviews, nearly all the parents think it is quite unsuitable. Many of the children loved the book but among the girls, a lot of them found it frightening or even repulsive."
In which case, according to pretty much all those online reviews, they tend to use their common sense and stop reading, exactly as they should for their own comfort.

I really don't know how much more clearly I could have telegraphed to (a) young readers or (b) parents who had the nous to actually open a book, that there was potentially offensive content in this novel. As Vanessa Thorpe starts off by saying, the word 'slut' is in the first sentence of chapter 1, and the first scene is clearly a sex scene. In addition, David Fickling Books is printing a warning up front. If a reader ploughs through all that and still expects a Disney fairytale, they must be extremely dim.

It amuses me how journos try and wring every ounce of outrage out of a topic. This was never published as a 'children's' book.

Anne Fine goes on:
I have to wonder generally whether a children's publisher does not sometimes have a responsibility to stop and say that although a shocking new book will make money, and even be popular, it does not have what the Americans call 'redeeming social importance'.
I think she should read the actual book (not just the online reviews), and right to the end. I reckon TM is just chock-full of redeeming social importance. It has redeeming social importance coming out its ears—particularly for frightened and repulsed girls.

David Fickling Himself leaps to my baby's defence, and Philip Pullman and Michael Rosen (of both of whom I'm also a huge fan) also weigh in. Go and have a look, and tell me what you think.

04 July, 2009

UK buzz

Meg Rosoff's glowing opinion of Tender Morsels gets top billing in the Telegraph's summer reading list.

Amanda Craig reviews children's fiction about fairies for The Times—well, kinda. And somehow TM gets caught up in the mess.

Armadillo Magazine says:
Lanagan's novel is often brutal, frightening, and bewildering, a challenging narrative, and as such possibly best suited for older teenage readers. It grips the reader from the outset, and as it is read, layer upon layer of psychological and intertextual meaning can be unpicked and analyzed. It is certainly an immensely powerful contribution to both fairy-tale and fantasy genres.
And here's the UK YA cover, from David Fickling Books.

Wisdom from the mouth of a babe

Kathleen was at my workshop at the Brisbane Writers' Festival last year—was it only last year?—and I apparently said pin-uppable things. I must dig out my own notes.

Meet me in Chicago next Saturday?

02 July, 2009

So much to do,

and only a week and a half until we fly out to Chicago, aak!

I've been busy. I've had a lot of reading to do - Vogel entries, applications and acquittals for today-and-tomorrow's bureaucratting, Charlotte Roche's Wetlands, which I borrowed from Jan (which started off funny and ended up sad—the rewounding scene and the eating of blackheads were the wince-able bits for me).

Plus, Nancy from Knopf sent me a box o' books to prime me up for the ALA weekend. I'm reading Christina Meldrum's Madapple and Candace Fleming's Lincolns scrapbook, and Tim Tharp's The Spectacular Now and Brent Runyon's Surface Tension await—must get the hardbacks read before the trip, and only take paperbacks on the plane.

Also Catherine Rey's Stepping Out, also borrowed from Jan, who is currently tramping around the desert, lucky thing, with a bunch of writers, sleeping under the stars and writing like demons during those clear, bright days. I think of them every morning when I put on my walking boots (the only warm, waterproof footwear I own at the moment) with a pang of jealousy and determination to get back there one day.

Plus, I've been writing a tender document for a government tech. writing contract. Less said about that the better—don't want to jinx it.

Also, I've done the July BASes—early, because we'll be away when they're due—and our finances have taken the concomitant kick to the guts. Thought we had a nice little cushion there, but no, it's all off to the Tax Office, all of it and possibly a little bit more, depending on how parsimonious we are during our trip.

This weekend, I will do the 2008–09 tax, and finish tender-writing. Then next week, if I can see past the excitement of the trip away, I may even write something. Or research, in the State Library. That would be very calming.