Monday, December 13, 2010

Vacation Time

Hey everybody. I’m taking the rest of the year off. I’ll be back in 2011! So have a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, or Fabulous Festivus!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In the City on Sunday?

If so, stop by the fabulous Books of Wonder store (18 W. 18th St.) tomorrow at noon. I will be there, participating in the Great Teen Novels event! Check out the other authors who will be there as well!

I've Seen the Future: Glowing Trees

Scientists in Taiwan believe they may have discovered a way to turn ordinary trees into streetlamps. Injecting gold nanoparticles into their leaves could make entire trees glow red. And no electricity would be consumed!

Read more here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guest Post from Author Catherine Fisher!


One of the pleasures of writing fantasy is that you get to build worlds. To design universes. Tolkien called this sub-creation, and felt it was almost a mythical process, and I think I can see why. He took it to great lengths, and I don't have that stamina, but I do know the addictive pleasure that forming a world with its own history and fauna and cosmology can give. Or in the case of Incarceron, two worlds.

My first idea for the Prison- in fact the first idea for the whole book, was 'what if you had a prison you could hang on your watchchain?' A striking image, literally. But from inside, it would be vast, and dark, and metallic. An echoing, violent, futuristic place smelling of oil, where even the forests are of iron. Prisons have great imagery-
locks, keys, chains, dungeons. I wanted Incarceron to have both a medieval feel and a sense of modern faceless cells, of white space. It also had to have a history, of why and by whom it was made. Finally- and this was in pretty much from the start as well- I knew it was going to be alive.

Science fiction is full of immense buildings. Think of Gormenghast, or the Dark Tower, or Pandemonium itself. I wanted mine to have a personality- one that could be wistful, cruel, dangerous, curious. Its not a new idea and I don't claim to have invented anything, but I wanted
the Prison to be a real character. I was also thinking a bit of the medieval vision of Hell; a great mouth that swallows us all. And then there's the Frankenstein thing. You make something, you give it life. And it turns on you.

Outside had to be completely different, to keep both me and you, the reader, interested. So the Realm is everything the Prison isn't- light, beautiful, sunny, green, quaint, peaceful. Well, apparently. The fun with this side of the book was in building up all those seventeenth century details, and I loved describing those rooms and textures and manners. And then, slowly, subverting them. It made me realize that the past is in itself a fantasy world- we can only glimpse it in books and visit its carefully presented remains, but we can never go there. Not really. All we have is what the Realm is, a construct we have made ourselves. A fake. The Protocol is that no one actually says that, and
we all behave as if its true.

Incarceron isn't the first world I've made and I hope it won't be the last, but it will always be a special one. It was a bit claustrophobic at times, so the vision of Escape, of getting Outside, was a strong driving force. Perhaps the very greatest pleasure in making a world is getting to leave it whenever you like; being able to put the pen down,
or close the book and go downstairs and make a cup of tea.
And hope there are no small red eyes watching you.

Thanks so much, Catherine. It has been a true honor to host you on the blog! -Kirsten

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Awesome Holiday Gifts, Part II

Unfortunately, I can't figure out where to purchase them. UPDATE: Now I do, thanks to a Facebook friend!!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Interview With Author Catherine Fisher

I’ve been told that you don’t spend a great deal of time online. I must admit I’m both jealous and impressed. As an author, I seem to find myself with an ever-growing load of Internet-related work tasks. At times, it can be quite overwhelming. How do you feel about the growing role of the Internet in authors’ lives?
Until recently I only used the internet at the local library, and even now I have a computer I don't really use it much. I find the internet unsatisfactory- it's inefficient and information tends to be shallow. It also takes too much time! However I know what you mean about
its growing importance for authors, certainly in terms of connecting with readers. That's a compromise we have to make. I suppose I feel about the internet in rather the same way the builders of Incarceron felt about the prison- we made something to serve us, but it's gradually becoming our master.

I enjoyed every page of Incarceron and Sapphique, and I frequently recommend the series to others. But I still find it difficult to describe the entity at the center of the story. “A prison that’s alive” doesn’t do Incarceron justice. How do you describe it/him?
Thanks for recommending the books. Personal recommendations are always so enthusiastic- you just want to go out and get them. As for the Prison, it's definitely another character in the book. From the first I wanted it to be alive and a real personality. I call it an intelligence. I really enjoyed the idea of this perfectly designed system warping slowly out of control. Perhaps it's a fallen angel.

I want to ask what inspired these books, but I know that the answer to that sort of question is rarely short or simple. Is there a single moment of inspiration that you might be able to share?
I met someone who worked in a prison. It was just a brief conversation but the word PRISON just kept echoing in my mind. It linked it with an exhibition I'd seen a while before of Piranesi's engravings of imaginary prisons. As you say, all sorts of things go into a book, but maybe those were the real triggers.

I’ve heard people describe this series as “steampunk.” How do you feel about that label?
I've heard that too. I'm not sure I really know what the term means- a sort of old-fashioned futuristicness? There are so many terms and categories- sometimes they don't do books a great service. Like teen, and YA. Every label excludes someone. I prefer to think of the series as just books. Literature, hopefully.

Each chapter begins with a quote from another text. Do the Songs of Sapphique exist? Have you written King Endor’s Decree?
As you know, presenting information about the back story without boring everyone is one of the great headaches of a book like this. So the chapter quotes are my way of doing it. I really enjoy writing them- I usually do them last- and trying to get information in obliquely, or some sort of comment on the story. I like using different forms of writing, and I especially like writing the poems. I have to confess that neither the Songs of Sapphique nor King Endor's Decree nor any of the others exist fully. Just the bits in the books.

I would imagine there are quite a few estates in Britain where one might easily recreate a world from the past. Did any such places serve as models for the Wardenry?
Britain is full of places that might be the Wardenry. I don't think I used anywhere specific, but took aspects, like the moat, etc from various places. It's hard to say because these houses and estates are so familiar. I even went to school in a Jacobean house which was just our school then but has now been refurbished and opened to the public. That had a lake with woods round it, and that is certainly the lake at the Queen's Court. So, as usual, a patchwork of influences.

I was quite taken by the relationship between Claudia and her tutor, Jared. Were there real sparks between them—or was I imagining things? (That has been known to happen, unfortunately.)
I don't know the answer to this. The answer is different for every reader, including me. The hints are there- make of them what you will, is what I usually say. Personally, I think Jared has other things on his mind. I find it interesting that we always feel there is a 'real' answer
to the relationships between characters, or what happens after the book ends, and that the writer has that answer. I don't know about you, but I think if it isn't in the book, it's anybody's guess.

Many thanks for your questions, Kirsten, and congratulations on The Eternal Ones. I really enjoyed it very much.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Unicorn Wouldn't Last Ten Minutes in New York

You may have already seen this online. But I think it's a nice example of how one simple, cheap idea can make a million sullen New Yorkers laugh. (OK, "laugh" might be going too far. How about "consider laughing?" Still a remarkable accomplishment.)

Read more here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Review of Incarceron & Sapphique

I’m going to be honest with you. I have no idea how to describe this series. And from what I’ve read, other reviewers seem to have the same problem. Incarceron and Sapphique are unlike any books I have ever cracked open. But I do know how to describe their author. Catherine Fisher is a genius. I am absolutely in awe of her imagination and talent.

The series begins with Incarceron. You must read it first, or you will find yourself hopelessly lost. The world in which these stories take place is so strange that even the heroes and heroines aren’t quite sure what’s real and what isn’t.

The saga begins with a boy named Finn who is trapped in a prison that’s a world of its own. Incarceron, as its known, is immense. No one knows where its boundaries lie. There are fiery landscapes, copper forests with razor-sharp leaves, nightmarish cities, and bottomless chasms. But there are no guards keeping the inmates inside. There’s no need for them. Incarceron was designed to monitor its own prisoners. It’s more than just a prison. It’s alive. And in the centuries since its creation, only one man has ever escaped—the legendary hero whose name is Sapphique.

Finn dreams of following Sapphique to freedom, but in his heart, he holds little hope of ever seeing the stars. Then he discovers a crystal key that allows him to communicate with a girl who claims to live Outside. Claudia’s father is the warden of Incarceron, and she’s long been betrothed to the future king of her land. But while her life is one of great privilege, she’s as much a prisoner as Finn. And the beautiful world in which she lives—the one Finn calls Outside—can be as dangerous and terrifying as the darkest chambers of Incarceron.

Finn and Claudia know they each hold the key to the other’s freedom. Claudia can help Finn escape from the prison. Finn can release Claudia from an unwanted engagement. But their freedom may come at a terrible price—the destruction of their two worlds and the deaths of all the people they love.

That’s my sorry attempt at synopsis. Believe me when I tell you that it doesn’t do these books justice. Incarceron and Sapphique are as rich, weird, and remarkable as Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy. (Three books other books that can’t be synopsized.) All I can say is, READ THEM!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Awesome Holiday Gifts, Part I

Looking for a (relatively) cheap present for your favorite wannabe superhero? These webbed gloves are the perfect solution!

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Love, Love, Love This Site

I can't believe I didn't find this site earlier. John Kenn is a Danish television director. In his spare time, he draws pictures on monsters on Post-Its. There are literally hundreds of monsters on his website. And all of them are unbelievably awesome.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Ghost Boots of Central Park

(Above: No, that's not Central Park. Click here for more info.)

For the past six years, New Yorkers who have ventured into Central Park at night have often come across an unsettling vision: A pair of large cowboy boots waiting by a park bench, with no owner in sight. Is Central Park haunted by a boot-wearing ghost? A New York Times blogger investigated and discovered that the truth is much, much weirder.

(Thanks for the tip, Kartoffel!)

Monday, November 29, 2010

National Library's Secret Chamber

Sometimes an article is so awesome that I must quote it.

National Library [in the Indian city of Kolkata] has always been reputed to haunted. Now, here is a really eerie secret. A mysterious room has been discovered in the 250-year-old building a room that no one knew about and no one can enter because it seems to have no opening of kind, not even trapdoors.

The chamber has lain untouched for over two centuries. Wonder what secrets it holds. The archaeologists who discovered it have no clue either, their theories range from a torture chamber, or a sealed tomb for an unfortunate soul or the most favoured of all a treasure room. Some say they wouldn't be surprised if both skeletons and jewels tumble out of the secret room.

Read the rest here!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Can a Food Be So Gross That It's CRUEL to Serve It?

American readers should be familiar with the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments."

When I think of the Eighth Amendment, I usually imagine torture techniques like drawing and quartering or being burnt at the stake. But there are some folks who believe there's a certain food that's so disgusting that feeding it to imprisoned criminals constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It's not a toxic or rotten food. It's healthy and wholesome. Just unbelievably disgusting.

It's called Nutraloaf. According to this fascinating article, it's often served to prisoners who misuse food or bodily waste.

Want the recipe? (I'm talking to you, Remy.) Well here it is! Bon Appetit!

(I'm pretty sure my mother used to make this.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

You Could Be Famous, Too!

Meet Remy Mumby, ten-year-old star of the web series Food Oddities. The kid will eat anything. Dung beetles. Pickled pig lips. Scorpions. Anything. (Except pets. Gotta draw the line somewhere, I guess.)

But I have a little challenge for Remy. It's coming up in the very next post. (UPDATE: The post AFTER the next post.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm Never Taking a Shower Again

Scientists at MIT have developed a camera that can shoot pictures around corners. (Shown above.) According to Professor Ramesh Raskar, "It's like having x-ray vision without the x-rays. But we're going around the problem rather than going through it."

In honor of this great scientific development, I shall remain fully clothed for the rest of my life.

More here.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Even Kiki Strike needs heroes. Meet Mamika. She's 91 years old. She survived WWII (and saved 10 people from the Nazis), communism, and the 1980s.

Now she fights the forces of evil with her grandson, French photographer Sacha Goldberger.

Find out more about Mamika (and see more photos) here!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Someday I'll Write About . . .

Fredericka "Marm" Mandelbaum
. One of the most notorious criminals in 19th century New York was a portly Prussian woman. She worked out of a store at 79 Clinton St. in Manhattan (the building still exists today). Marm made a living fencing stolen goods. She also planned and financed some of the most impressive capers in New York history. But Marm was no "common" criminal. She threw swanky dinner parties for the city's finest citizens. And she was said to be a stickler for good manners.

But what interests me most about good old Marm is the school she started. The Grand Street School was Manhattan's elite academy for young criminals. There were classes in pocket-picking, safe-cracking, blackmail, and confidence games. Children under the age of ten were welcome to apply and those who graduated at the top of their class were hired by Marm herself. Hmmm. Sounds like a Dickens novel, doesn't it?

Here's Marm's obituary from the New York Times. She led an interesting life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Amp Up Your Test Scores

A while back, I came across an article that listed a few study habits that are guaranteed to help a student improve her grades. For instance . . .

Don't study in the same place all the time. Get up and move around. It will help you absorb more information.

Don't focus on a single subject each time you sit down to study. Try to switch between a few related subjects. (Like math and physics. Or vocabulary and literature.)

A few short study sessions scheduled over the course of a week will help you learn much more than a single super-long study session.

Zapping your brain with electric current will work wonders on your math skills.

(Oh right. I found that last fact here. Do I need to say don't try it at home?)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Check the Band for Inscriptions!

More here. (Why do all the pictures available of this ring have someone's eye in the background?)

Let the Debate Begin!

According to a recent study conducted in Britain, children without brothers or sisters tend to be happier children. In fact, the more siblings a kid has, the more miserable he/she is.

Does this sound right to you? There were plenty of times in my youth when I wished I was an only child. But I was still pretty darn happy. And these days, I couldn't be more thrilled that I have a brother and sister. But who knows? Maybe I would have been SUPER happy if I had been the only kid in the family.

So what do you think? Does having siblings make a kid HAPPIER or MISERABLE?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Guerilla Gardening

(Photos: Daniel Phillips)

Someday soon, you might just stumble upon one of the unusual vending machines shown above. But I wouldn't recommend chewing on the contents. Instead of gumballs, these machines dispense seed bombs. Pop in a quarter, and you'll receive a ball made of of clay, compost, and seeds. Toss it into any crack, crevice, or abandoned lot, and soon tiny plants will begin to sprout. Each seed bomb is guaranteed to make the world a little bit greener.

Interested? You can find vending machine sites here!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Claudia!

Remember: You're never too old to be dangerous!

My Interview with Author Ally Condie!

1. I’ve heard people argue that “dystopian fiction” is just a new, girl-friendly label for books that might have been called “science-fiction” in the past. Do you think this is true? Did you read much science-fiction in your youth?

I hadn’t heard that argument! That is an interesting point. I think it may have some merit—but do girls shy away from science fiction as a rule? I really liked sci-fi growing up, particularly Ray Bradbury. (This is probably obvious because there is a scene in Matched that is a tribute to Fahrenheit 451.) His Dandelion Wine is one of my favorite novels of all time.


2. If one were to browse the YA shelves at the local bookstore, one might reach the conclusion that the future of mankind is going to be pretty darn bleak. Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the days to come?

I’m optimistic. And here is why. I believe in kids. My kids, the kids I used to teach, the kids across the street. I think they are going to change the world in very good ways. I do worry about what we’ve done to the world and don’t think we have a free pass to just hand them our problems—but I believe that the teenagers and kids around today are capable of very, very wonderful things.


3. The love triangle at the center of Matched is both touching and believable. (And few are.) Here’s my question . . . What is it about dangerous boys (rebels, outcasts, “aberrations”) that makes them so incredibly attractive?

This is a great question. I actually don’t think of either of my boys as dangerous. They both play things fairly safe—unless Cassia is involved. I think of Cassia as dangerous, in a very quiet way. She takes risks herself and inspires others to do so too. But, to answer your question (sorry about that tangent!)—I think that boys who have an element of the unknown and the mysterious about them are attractive because of the sense of discovery one has when getting to know them.


4. The scenes with Grandfather made me cry like a baby. And I am NOT the kind of girl who gets teary-eyed over nothing. Were these scenes easy or painful to write?

Both. (And I’m sorry for making you cry.) They were easy to write because the feelings were real. They were painful to write because the feelings were real. I was and am lucky enough to have known my grandparents very well and they, particularly my paternal grandmother, have had a great impact on my life. I love them all very much. And I do not like to say goodbye.


5. Matched is set in a world in which young people’s “mates” are chosen by science. I imagine most people believe that such decisions should be left to the heart. Do you think our hearts are good at “matching” us for life?

If you think about it, we live in this very rare era in which love is seen as the key reason to marry. For most of history, that hasn’t been the case. It’s been about security, family, etc. Love in marriage is kind of a “newer” innovation. Personally, I think our hearts are good at matching us—and so are our minds. If we feel head over heels for someone but something in the back of our mind warns us about something or worries about something, we should give that equal attention. The best marriages always have both involved (mind and heart). I’m very much in love with my husband, but I also know that if we’re going to stay together for life—and beyond—it is going to take work to get there.


6. Matched sends the message that it’s sometimes necessary to break the rules. Have you ever broken the rules? (For the good of mankind, of course.)

Yes, I’ve broken the rules. But not usually in an overt kind of way. I think I feel like I break the rules sometimes not by doing things I “shouldn’t” do, but by feeling ways I “shouldn’t” feel. I think we all feel this way at different times, especially when we are trying to grow and it feels like there are rules holding us back.


7. I thought the language in Matched was incredibly beautiful. You seemed to choose your words with the care and precision of a poet. As it happens, a poem by Dylan Thomas plays an important role in the book. Do you write poetry? Read poetry? And why Dylan Thomas?

What a nice compliment, Kirsten. I don’t actually write much poetry because I am terrible at it. I do read poetry but I am by no means an expert. I tend to read poets I like—Frost, Thomas, Dickinson, Stevens, Norris, etc.—over and over. Probably because it takes me many readings to begin to feel that I am coming to know what the poet might be saying.

I chose the poem by Thomas for many reasons. He himself was a bit of a firebrand, the kind of person the Society in Matched would not have liked. And, of course, the language of the poem is beautiful and the subject fits perfectly with what is happening with Grandfather. But most of all I chose it because it is a poem that people respond to instantly—even people who don’t read poetry. The first line alone can change someone’s life. I know it did mine. The first time I read that poem I felt almost a shock of recognition. “This is how I feel too!” And Thomas is the one who put it into words in such a powerful way.

Thanks for the great interview questions, Kirsten! These were really thought-provoking and fun to answer.--Ally

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Visit a Secret Subway Stop!

The City Hall subway station has been closed for 65 years. And for 65 years, New Yorkers have broken every rule trying to get a glimpse of one of the city's lost treasures. Why? Because City Hall may be the most beautiful subway station in Manhattan, with arched ceilings, chandeliers, and fabulous skylights.

Until recently, one of the only ways to see the station (aside from infrequent tours) was to sneak onto a downtown #6 subway at the last stop on the line (Brooklyn Bridge). The #6 trains use the City Hall stop to turn back uptown, but passengers haven't been allowed to go along for the ride.

But now they've decided to stop kicking people off the trains! Just stay on the downtown #6 after the last official stop, and you can ride through City Hall station without getting in trouble. And no one wants to get in trouble. Right?

(Thanks Nathaniel and Paige!)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Post on Prom and Great Expectations


Hi Kirsten! And Kirsten’s readers! Thank you so much for letting me post on your blog.

One of my favorite parts about The Eternal Ones was how Haven had to adjust her view of Iain. How she had ideas about what she thought/hoped/remembered he would be like, but then she continually had to alter her those ideas to fit the actual person, the real situation. I loved that.

I think that having high expectations for a person or an event—and then having to react to the actual person or situation—is something that happens to us over and over again. I remember being a kid and finally getting to Disneyland after really wanting to go and assessing myself on all the rides, Am I having enough fun? Is this as amazing as I thought it would be?

And it seems like another one of those high-expectation events is Prom. I noticed this when I went to Prom myself and I noticed it again when I was teaching high school and chaperoning Prom.

Prom is supposed to be awesome and wonderful and amazing and even if we don’t personally care about our Prom, it seems like it’s still one of those hallmarks of teenage experience and so other people expect it to be amazing for us. So we do what we can to maximize the experience in our favor: try to find the perfect dress, hope for the perfect date, etc.

In Matched, the opening scene (the Match Banquet) is kind of like Prom taken to extremes (and without the dancing). Cassia, the main character, is wearing a beautiful dress and she’s nervous and excited because she’s been looking forward to this night for a very long time. And now she’s about to find out who her Match—the boy she’s chosen to marry—will be. She doesn’t know his name or anything about him, but after tonight that will all change.

So what happens after? How does Cassia have to adjust her view of what her Match would be to fit the actual person, the actual experience? That part, both in fiction (The Eternal Ones!) and in real life, is often the most challenging and exciting to explore.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Test Your Detective Skills

Can you spot a fake smile? Most people can't. There's a great test on the BBC website that will let you see if you've got what it takes. For the record, I scored 17 out of 20. Yeah, I'm bragging. See if you can beat me. Click here.

My Review of Matched

I’ve been looking forward to writing this review. Matched is a beautiful book—and I don’t say that lightly. I read Ally Condie’s new novel with a pencil in one hand. Eventually I had to stop marking all phrases and passages I wished I had written. The story was too thrilling to keep pausing to underline every third sentence.

Matched takes place in a land where everything and everyone is under the careful control of the Society. Officials dictate what food the citizens will consume, what clothing they’ll wear, what professions they’ll pursue, and when they’ll die. These decisions are made using state-of-the-art science and statistics. The people accept their lot because they’ve been told that order and stability are essential for their survival. Their forefathers weren’t always so careful, and a terrible disaster befell the whole human race.

When citizens turn seventeen, they must attend a Match Banquet. It’s at these ceremonies that every young man and woman learns the identity of the person that the Society has decided he or she should marry. Cassia Reyes has been eagerly awaiting the banquet her entire life, and she trusts that the Officials have chosen the right mate for her. This time, however, there’s been a kink in the system. Cassia has been assigned not one match, but two. The first is Xander, a boy she’s known and loved since she was a child. The other is Ky, an enigmatic young man who should never have been matched at all. Like most citizens, Cassia has always believed that the Society doesn’t make mistakes. Its methods are scientifically sound. Tried and true. Error-proof. So how could her match have gone so terribly wrong? For the first time in her seventeen years, Cassia begins to question everything.

The world of Matched is terrifyingly bland. But it’s believable because the characters who inhabit it are anything but bland. In fact, they’re just like us. Cassia has a little brother who’s both naughty and charming. Her mother and father may look like a perfect pair of citizens, but they don’t always toe the Society’s line. Cassia’s grandfather subtly encourages her to break the rules that need to be broken. They’re all ordinary people trapped in a plastic world. That’s what makes the story so frightening.

Two of the best, most believable characters are Cassia’s “matches,” Xander and Ky. If the Society had chosen poorly—if one of the boys had been a jerk—this would have been a less compelling story. Instead, the Society chose too well. Read the book and try to figure out which one you’d choose. As Cassia learns, the answer isn’t always so clear.

As you may have gathered from the previous paragraphs, I loved Matched. It’s the first book in ages to make me cry. (Don’t tell anyone.) And it’s one of the few that have left me green with envy. The language is lovely, the story is engrossing, and the questions it poses are profound. I was moved—and I’m not easily moved. I highly recommend this book.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Public Service Announcement

Wondering how to improve your SAT scores? One New York high school student recently uncovered a few helpful tricks. So what does this say about SAT scores? Hmmmm.

The Strangest Beach in the World

See the beautiful little beach in the photo above? It's nowhere near the shore. Gulpiyuri Beach is completely inland. Yet it has sand, waves, even seaweed.

How is this possible? Read more here.

The Greatest Job in the World

(Above: A New York City street in 1893.)

Robin Nagle has my dream job. She's an anthropologist who works with the New York City Department of Sanitation. What does that mean? It means she gets to study the relationship between people and their trash.

I've long been fascinated by sewers, garbage collection, plumbing, and all of the things that make modern life relatively sanitary. It wasn't long ago that the world was a filthy, disgusting place. And New York City may have been one of the nastiest cities on earth.

Here's Ms. Nagle describing the average New York City neighborhood in the late 19th century:

Imagine, on your own block, that you can’t cross the street, even at the corner, without paying a street kid with a broom to clear a path for you, because the streets were layered in this sludge of manure, rotting vegetables, ash, broken up furniture, debris of all kind. It was called “corporation pudding” after the city government. And it was deep -- in some cases knee-deep.

Wow. The rest of Ms. Nagle's interview with onearth can be found here!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Any Halloween stories you'd like to share?

Here's one. It's a bright, sunny day here in Brooklyn. I'm sitting on my couch in the living room, writing this post. I can hear someone upstairs. S/he's walking around in my bedroom. The only problem? I'm alone in the house. No. I'm not joking.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Was a Time Traveler Captured on Film?

A man in Belfast claims to have discovered something rather remarkable in some old movie footage from 1928. A woman appears to be speaking into a cell phone. (And no, there weren't any cell phones in 1928.)

Check out the footage below. It's clear that she's clutching something small and rectangular in her hand. And she seems to be speaking into it. (Watch the whole video for slow-mo and stills.)

Here's my question. OK, let's say she's a time traveler. Who's on the other end of the phone?

I think an obvious explanation has been ignored. She's an alien.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Be Careful! The Animals Are Up to Something

(Above: Coming to get you?)

An English florist discovered a deadly South American poison dart frog in a batch of tropical foliage.

Two monkeys have been made station masters at a train station in Japan. They don't look terribly competent if you ask me.

You say they're "pets?" Tell that to the neighbors, lady.

There's an animal that is able to clone itself. We must stop them before they take over the world!

Earlier this year, a stalker pheasant was terrorizing England, and an escaped hippo was roaming free in Montenegro.

Painting with maggots.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't Judge a Book by Its Label

Earlier this week, I discovered this photo posted on some of my favorite blogs. Apparently, there are many (male) bloggers out there who believe that a Barnes & Noble shelf labeled "teen paranormal romance" is a sure sign of the death of literature/the coming apocalypse/the idiocy of the book-buying public/their own superiority.

I commented on a number of the posts. Not only because The Eternal Ones is considered "teen paranormal romance," but because I've actually read many of the books on this shelf, and I know just how good some of them are. One of the bloggers took my comment to heart, did a little research, and decided we may not be idiots after all. (His blog is wonderful, by the way.)

There are a number of things that continue to bother me, however, and I'd like to get one of them off my chest. Most of the blogs that posted this photo are written by science fiction fans. (I, too, am a fan. That's why I regularly visit such blogs.) And many of the books on the "teen paranormal romance" shelf are essentially science fiction for young women (and enlightened young men). If these indignant bloggers bothered to read a few of the books they're mocking, they might be pleasantly surprised. But it takes less time to post a picture and point a finger than it does to offer an informed critique.

I'd also like to point out that it took the science fiction genre DECADES to receive the respect it deserves. It wasn't long ago that the mainstream literary world would have dismissed the entire sci-fi shelf (including the works of my beloved Philip K. Dick) as meritless trash.

Ah the Wonders of Science

Veruca Salt: Will Violet always be a blueberry?
Willy Wonka: No. Maybe. I dunno. But that's what you get from chewing gum all day, it's just disgusting.
Mike Teavee: If you hate gum so much, why do you make it?
Willy Wonka: Once again you really shouldn't mumble, 'cause it's kinda starting to bum me out.

I was in kindergarten the first time I saw Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (that's the original version). I recall being rather intrigued by two things in particular. Everlasting gobstoppers. And the "three course meal gum." Now, researchers may have made flavor-changing gum a reality. Let's just hope they've managed to get rid of the unfortunate side effects.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Know Where Batman Lives

Now you do, too. If I ever win the lottery, (come on, universe, throw me one!), I'm going to do something similar with the Irregulars' logo. (Perhaps a little something involving topiary.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Good to Know

Need to ask your dad, brother, uncle, or grandfather for something? (Karate lessons? Bail money? A kidney? A place to hide while you're on the run from the law/gangsters/CIA?) According to a study conducted by a major pharmaceutical manufacturer (I'm going to let that fact go without comment for now), men are more likely to grant the wishes of a female loved one at 6PM.

Gee, I wish all studies funded by major pharmaceutical manufacturers were this practical!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Zombie Barbies

One of the things I love about Brooklyn is that people here go ALL OUT on Halloween. Half the houses on my block are already decorated for the holiday, and the creativity on display is pretty astounding. (I should really take some pictures.)

I probably won't have the opportunity to decorate my own house this year, but I may have found my theme for next Halloween. I recently came across a guide to building a Zombie Barbie Garden. (What are you supposed to do with all those mangy old Barbies, anyway?) I love it!

Adventures in Texas

I just got back from my second favorite city in the world--Austin, Texas! I always love going to the book festival down there. Not only is it a chance to meet some wonderful authors, it's often my last chance to experience a little good weather before it gets dreadfully cold here in New York.

This year, there was a big bonus: The chance to participate in a panel that was held in one of the coolest settings ever. (See above.) The room was in the Texas State Capitol Building. I have no idea what kind of business usually takes place there, but I felt very, very powerful. Ha. And the panel itself was pretty amazing. That's me (trying to look tough) with authors Mary Mancusi (Gamer Girl, Bad Blood, Girls That Growl), Andrea Cremer (Nightshade) and Heather Brewer (The Chronicles of Vladamir Tod). And a big thanks to Soren for stopping by!

I'd also like to thank the lovely ladies from Amarillo who saved my butt later in the evening. (And Andrea's and Heather's.) We were stranded at an event. No taxis in sight. Then six heroines appeared in a minivan and offered us a ride to our hotel. If only I could think of a way to repay you . . . (And I WILL repay you. I never forget a good deed.)


Friday, October 15, 2010

My Interview with Author Andrea Cremer!


Calla is a remarkable character. She’s strong, brave, beautiful—and flawed. (A difficult combination to achieve.) And yet what do I love most about her? That hair! (I, too, have written a book with a white-haired heroine.) What do you suppose is so alluring about young women with white hair?

I’m entertained by this question because I had a strong resistance to writing a blonde heroine (with no good reason – my dad is blonde and I like him a lot!), but Calla was without a doubt platinum blonde with golden eyes. She looks like the flower that’s her namesake, elegant but strong. I also think that white blonde hair has a translucent quality that conveys mystery.


The love triangle in Nightshade is absolutely delicious. I finished the book months ago, and I’m STILL finding it hard to choose between Ren and Shay. I want them both! Which guy would YOU choose?

Thank you!! I love writing the steamy scenes. I think it has to do with the fact that I was born a hopeless romantic and I adore being swept away by passion. One of my favorite responses to Nightshade is that so many people are torn between Ren and Shay. With regard to part two of your question – I’m afraid I have to give you the same answer I give everyone: I’m Team Calla because it’s her choice not mine.


Having spent some quality time with you in the recent past, I know you write very quickly. (And I’m incredibly jealous.) You say you almost go into a trance. Describe your work area, sartorial choices, and level of personal hygiene during these trances.

My work area is wherever I happen to be. I have a writing desk, but honestly it’s covered with books and notes and not actually somewhere I could get writing done. My most frequent writing spot is on my couch in the company of my pug and border collie, but I have been known to write on my deck, in coffee shops, in airports, and on planes. Sartorial: depends on if I’ve had to see people during the day. If yes, then I’m wearing normal clothes. If no, I’m probably in a t-shirt and yoga pants. Personal hygiene: same as above, except that when I’m really in a story I have problems remembering to do things, i.e. I’ll get in the shower and then just get back out without having washed my hair or anything.


Young adult literature is filled with some fabulous libraries. The one in Nightshade is particularly awesome. I must admit, I feel a little tingly whenever I set foot in an old library. These days, when almost every answer is just a Google search away, why are we still so drawn to these places from the past?

Since you’re speaking to a historian I feel like it’s in my blood. I’ve spent a lot of time in archives. I held one of John Winthrop’s bibles in my hand (for anyone who wants to know, John Winthrop was a governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony). Libraries are repositories for the human past in a way that is akin to archaeological evidence. Books, manuscripts, maps are all tangible. They have scent and texture. The internet is fantastic for its volume and speed, but it lacks the ability to ground you in the material past.


I know you grew up in a part of the country where wolves roam the woods. Have you ever come face-to-face with one? Would you like to?

Sadly, I have not, though my father has several times. And I’ve seen their tracks. When I was growing up the wolf packs were small as conservation and reintroduction programs were just getting off the ground. Now there are several wolf packs roaming the Chequamegon National Forest near my hometown. And yes, I do hope to encounter wolves in the wild someday.


The world you created for Nightshade is incredibly complex. How long have you “lived” in this world? How long do you intend to stay there? (In other words, how many books will be in the series?)

I stepped into Nightshade’s world in November of 2008 and I plan to stay there until 2012 for now (that’s four books, three in the trilogy plus a prequel). After that????


I don’t think it’s a secret that Nightshade ends in a cliffhanger. How could you do that to me!?!?! WHY, WHY, WHY?

I seem nice and cheerful, but in truth I am quite evil.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Guest Post from Author Andrea Cremer


The Right Place and the Right Time

When I read The Eternal Ones I fell in love with the characters Kirsten created, but I was equally bewitched by the settings she created. I often talk about the wolf mythology of Nightshade deriving from my upbringing in Northern Wisconsin and a follow-up question I’ve encountered is: So why isn’t your book set in the woods of Wisconsin and Minnesota?

I believe place is as vital to a book’s life as much as any of its characters. I love my home territory, but it wouldn’t have worked for the world I built in Nightshade. First, I needed mountains. There are some lovely hills along the North Shore of Lake Superior. But they are hills, not mountains. They might want to be mountains, but real mountains laugh at them (sorry, Lutsen).

I needed the “Call of the Wild.” The forests I grew up near are most definitely wilderness, but American history has attached a specific mythology to the West. I wanted to build on that mythology. The West evokes a spirit of freedom, hardship, and discovery that doesn’t quite resonate with more easterly locations in the U.S.

Place becomes even more powerful in narratives if the book’s setting is in touch with its own history. Again, Kirsten did a marvelous job in carrying echoes of the past into the present in The Eternal Ones. Though Nightshade is set in present-day Colorado, I’ve tied the wildness of the West with the history of witchcraft and warfare of medieval Europe. The events affecting Calla and her pack connect to an unbroken line of conflicts stretching across centuries and an ocean.

Bringing together place and time adds depth to a world and further complicates the motivations and choices of its characters. I hope Nightshade’s readers will feel the push and pull of past and present, history and myth as they join Calla on her journey.

I Might Just Get an Eye Patch

(Above: Yes, I know that's not a pirate.)

The other day, I was reading about pirates (as I'm wont to do), and I came across an interesting "fact." Some pirate experts (can you imagine a better job?) claim that sailors may not have worn eye patches to look tough or to cover up injuries. Instead, the eye patch might have been a trade secret of sorts. If a sailor always kept one eye in the dark, that eye wouldn't need time to adjust when the sailor went below deck.

Interesting, right? (Perhaps you already knew?) Anyway, I was thinking that this might have a few practical applications for those of us who don't spend our days on the high seas. Perhaps you have some suggestions?

Monday, October 11, 2010


A bomb was just discovered in the Marble Cemetery! I'm not making this up. Check out the news report here!

Here's a little message for the person responsible. Soon, you will wake up in the middle of the night to find a pale, elfin girl with colorless hair staring down at you. Don't bother to beg for mercy.

(And I would just like to state for the record that I wrote the previous post long before I heard about this. What a bizarre coincidence!)

UPDATE: This report from the New York Times leads me to believe that the device was discovered at the OTHER Marble Cemetery. (Yes, there are two of them. They're about a block apart, and people tend to get them confused.)