Saturday, June 25, 2011

Neil Gaiman at MPR's Wits

"Our worries, fears, and dreams make fantastic stories. Take them with you as you grow up."
-Neil Gaiman at Wits

Ten years ago I was working at K-Mart. I remember meeting this guy that was wearing a Star Wars shirt that I wanted. Despite that, we hit it off pretty quick and I remember smiling as I walked away from the encounter. It was his first week of working and we became fast friends. That guy became my boyfriend six months later and is now my husband. We haven't celebrated how we met before, but this year it was different. It has been ten years and we have been married for five of them. That is what I call a Blue Light Special.

To celebrate, we decided to drive to the Twin Cities to attend the MPR Wits event that featured Neil Gaiman, who is one of our favorite authors. We have had a hard time catching Neil Gaiman in person. I was fortunate enough to ask him a question on NPR about his book Anansi Boys while he was recording The Graveyard Book at the NPR studios in Minneapolis. The two times we were hoping to see him in person were thwarted by a scheduling conflict and the second time by the death of our beloved pet, Cherrie. We almost didn't go this time due to Joey's work schedule, but we managed to book the tickets.

I am so thrilled that we were able to attend. The whole event was more than I ever could have imagined or hoped to have witnessed. The atmosphere of downtown St. Paul where the Fitzgerald Theater helped set the tone that something special was about to happen. We have never been there before, and walking through the doors, we were surrounded by many conversations of different that I wanted to jump into (like someone talking about the Nook, which I adore mine). Outside were Neil Gaiman's infamous dogs, Cabal and Lola, and we spotted his younger daughter, Maddy (I recognized her from his tweet photos).

To entertain the audience, they used the projection screen to show off the tweets by the audience who used the hashtag #wits. I am a huge fan of Twitter and this was a great way to get people to interact with each other and kept people entertained. There was also an accordion player who started to bring the audience together, and once mixed with Twitter, we were able to hear delightful versions of "Freebird" and "Smoke on the Water".

The interview with Neil Gaiman reminded me of how much I love to listen to him talk about his
writing, and really, anything in general (Daleks!). There is something about the way he carries himself, uses his words wisely, and has me learning something about the way I approach writing. The quote at the top of the post really gave me a moment to pause, to really dig into my own experience. I had to pull myself back for a moment so I could listen to the rest of what he was saying. It wasn't a bad thing, but he really helped with the formation of my current work in progress where I decided to look at the story from a different angle to see how I can make it better. I did this after finding a quote of his that made perfect sense to me. I now always pause before writing with these words in mind: You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different. He reiterated this point during the interview (in more or less the same words).

Josh Ritter was the musical guest and we were treated with his songs, as well as his humor (and Neil's) during the games that were played with Mystery Science Theater 3000's Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy. We found out some interesting tidbits about historical figures such as Emily Dickinson and Ben Franklin, as well as the "real" stories behind familiar songs.

Phone guests Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage from "Mythbusters" brought a lot of laughter to the theater. I broke into tears of laughter when LotR's Gollum decided to come on the line during Adam's bit to sing us "I Will Survive". I am curious to hear what it sounds like over the amount of laughter since I could barely hear his voice over it at times (I am sure that will be fixed with the magic of radio).


We were graced with two readings by Neil Gaiman. His book American Gods came out ten years ago (odd, right around the time Joey and I met so it worked with our little celebration!) so he read Sam's "I Believe" speech from the book and his short story "When the Saucers Came"(I believe from his Fragile Things short story collection). He also sang us a song about Joan of Arc that he wrote called "The Problem with Saints".

The Wits event wasn't just an appearance by the guests, but it was recorded for Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). We caught some of the magic of a radio show, and really, I think they produced a terrific piece for their listeners (and viewers who watch the online event). There was a sense of magic in the air, the kind I find when I attend geek conventions, and it was a real treat to be a part of something like that. We may have missed a panel at a convention, or a reading at bookstore, but this was something entirely different and original. It was a piece of radio, a visual treat, and geek art.

If you have the time and interest, you can go to this link to watch all the things that I have spoken about. If you want to jump right into the show, you can go around 18 minutes in. The total video is about 3 hours long.

If you want to go with two of the highlights, MPR posted two videos on their YouTube Channel that include the Josh Ritter's video of "Galahad" (they aren't able to use it on air and it was after the taping) and Neil Gaiman performing "The Problem with Saints". I'm sure they will make you wish you were there or that you watched the whole event! You can still do so with the link in the paragraph above.

If you haven't (or have!) read Neil Gaiman, go out and purchase the 10 year Anniversary Edition of American Gods. It has additional scenes that weren't in there before. Be check out the other guests, as well.

My Other Neil Gaiman Related Blog Posts:

Additional Links:

Natasha

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fandom finds a new home at Pottermore

"I wanted ..more than [eBooks]. I wanted to pull it back to reading, the literary experience, the story experience."
-JK Rowling

The mystery of Pottermore was revealed this morning with a video from JK Rowling herself. The best article that I have read about the upcoming digital experience of the series comes from Wired UK.

I could go on about all the different features that we are to expect, but there are plenty of websites that have done that already that I will list below. I will just talk about some of the things that I am most excited to see.

The release of e-books and new content in the books A few years ago JK Rowling spoke about releasing a Harry Potter encyclopedia. Right now it looks like we will be getting more information on the website and not in paper form. However, it sounds like we will also be getting more stories! I am hoping someday something will be released in paper form, but this is a good way to get people to visit the website. The highlight of all of this is that she is writing it herself. That, to me, is very special. She isn't charging for the content and is doing this for the fans when she really doesn't need to do anything. Another reason why she is one of my favorite authors. She really does care her fans and it shows her love of her work.

I really do admire that JK Rowling has her hand on her books and how they are treated. She has already transformed the book industry (especially for children and teens) and she is now undertaking it to the step further. She is helping test the waters more for digital books and how we interact with them. I don't know if anyone else could really accomplish this since her content is perfect for something of this degree. I'm curious what this will do to help the e-book industry and if it will carry over to the smart phone market with an app.

Fandom The website will lead fans to not just feel closer to the stories and author, but with each other. There are other organizations like The Harry Potter Alliance that does the amazing work of helping people in need. Pottermore is the next step for fans to come together and to carry on the stories further. I've heard concerns over the loss of fandom after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Pottermore provides the community a new way to come together. I am a huge Star Wars fan and I have attended Star Wars Celebrations II-IV where I have met fans from all over. There is a special bond in fandom and I think Harry Potter could carry on like Star Wars in the generations to come. This website is a great step in the direction to accomplish this.

Today my husband and I are buying our tickets to go to the midnight showing of Part II with a group of friends. I am looking forward to sitting in the theater with fans and I am sure we will discuss this new chapter of fandom.

Related Links:

What do you find exciting about this announcement?

Natasha

Monday, June 13, 2011

The City Experience of Tokyo (and a few Japan travel tips)

As I mentioned in the Kyoto post of our trip, Tokyo is much more modern and urban. We didn't visit any shrines or temples as you can see from the list of things below.

This museum is one of the top reasons why we wanted to journey to Japan. We became fans of Studio Ghibli's starting with the movie The Cat Returns in 2005. We moved onto watching all of Miyazaki's work after that (he produced that particular film) and other works by the studio. The films opened up so much insight to my husband and myself about storytelling and it was one of the top
things that we wanted to do in our life.

To get to the museum, we took an early exit off t
he subway so we could take a walk through the park. There was just something about being surrounded by nature that is shown in the movies that helped us prepare for the experience.
We weren't able to take a pictures inside of the
museum and it is something you should really experience in person. They have several exhibit rooms featuring their latest short movie that they show in the Saturn Theater. There is a room about the different types of animation throughout the years and examples of them each. There is a room that displays the work of an animator and has original sketches from their movies all over the walls. There is something to see in almost every nook and cranny that just captures the imagination.

If you ever go to Tokyo or Japan, watch their movies and go to the museum. There is no way that they will disappoint you.

After we went to the museum and dropped off
our things at the hotel, we took the subway to the Disney theme parks located by Tokyo Bay. They have night "passports" that you can purchase after 6pm. We decided to go to the DisneySea theme park since it is exclusive only to Japan. It is like Epcot in a way, but instead of different countries, it has different ports of call such as the American Waterfront, the Mediterranean Harbor, or Mermaid Lagoon. When you go to each port, you feel like you are really there since you lose sight of the other parts of the park. One of my favorite parts of the park was seeing Ariel's Castle where you could underneath it to other The Little Mermaid theme rides.

3. Akihibara ("Electric Town")
My husband is very much into electronics and there is no other place in the world like this for people like him. There were stores among stores of different electronics, parts, accessories--- anything someone like Joey would want. We bought some cables for almost nothing and went into a robot store. If we had the money, who knows what we would have ended up coming home with.

This is the Sega theme park located at Obaiba, an artificial island that you reach by taking the Rainbow Bridge across the central Tokyo. They had interactive games such as killing zombies or a scary safari, a Sonic the Hedgehog movie, and having your fortune told by stones (which was freakishly accurate). We also took some yen for tokens and played various games.


5. Downtown Tokyo
After Joypolis, we went outside onto the dock to take in the view of the city. I don't really have a lot of words to describe what I saw and I don't think that any other city will ever compare to the view. When we came home to Chicago and saw the city from the airport, it seemed so tiny in comparison. It was the evening in Tokyo so the lights were added to the sight with the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower. As I said, nothing quite like it.

So, we ended up getting the city experience in Tokyo. I don't think I have seen so many people in my life just walking through Tokyo Station when it is busy. It was quite a sight for this girl who grew up in a town of fifteen people!

I do have a few tips if you decide to travel in Japan:

1) Bring plenty of cash with you, especially for Kyoto. Japan has microchips in their credit cards and have different ATMS. You can access international ATMS at post offices and 7-11s. However, if you have a Mastercard like we do, you can only use your cards at the post offices.

2) Hotels are extremely helpful. Don't know where a post office is? Our hotels were quite prepared to answer our questions (with maps!) and had boxes to help bring our things home when we couldn't fit what we bought in our luggage.

3) Look into the Japan Railpass for your traveling. We used it for our trips to Kyoto and back to Tokyo. It also works on the JR line subways in Tokyo and is much help. Just flash it to the attendant and you are on your way!

I can't think of much else to pass on right now except the places we went to were pretty amazing. I don't think when we travel that there isn't that much that we couldn't survive since we had to deal with the language barrier, one of the biggest cities in the world, and the lack of vegetarian options at times. More than ever, it was truly an adventure!

Related Japan posts:

Natasha

Thursday, June 9, 2011

On YA Saves

Almost a week ago, I went onto Twitter to find plenty of reactions to this article from the Wall Street Journal called "Darkness Too Visible". It talks about how there is too much "dark stuff" out there for teenagers to read. The article didn't have any of the teenage perspective and focuses on if these issues in YA novels are "harmful" or "helpful" to teens. The article even has a poll about it (and the results are interesting to see at 81% helpful vs 18 harmful out of 1500 takers).

"Darkness Too Visible" spurred a movement on Twitter by Maureen Johnson which ended up become the third highest trending topic within twenty minutes in the US. Johnson ended up writing an article in the Guardian and her counter argument on the behalf of authors is this:

"There isn't a YA writer alive who is out writing books to corrupt youth. No one writing about self-harm is teaching how to self-harm. No one writing about rape is providing instructions on how to rape or how to be raped. I know this seems a ridiculously obvious point, but this is the argument that comes up again and again.

If subjects like these are in YA books, it's to show that they are real, they have happened to others, and they can be survived."

I remember as a teenager of some of the things that I had to go through and how lonely it felt. I was sometimes searching for a way out or a way to see if anyone felt the way that I did. Those very feelings lead me to write this as my #YASaves tweet:

Sometimes I needed to escape, other times I needed an understanding friend. Books were always there. And remain so.

Books and writing helped save me. Without them, I don't know what I would have done and what I would have become without them. There is no way that they brought me issues that I couldn't handle. If anything, they helped me realize that other people's problems were bigger than my own and that someone else could be going through something. I learned to empathize more with the people around me.

Another article was published today in the Wall Street Journal by author Sherman Alexie called "Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood". He writes about the experience of being a writer who interacts with his readers and his own experience growing up as a reader. Through these observations, he uncovers who we are trying to protect from the YA literature and uncovering why he has decided to write what he does:

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

This conversation on books for children isn't something new. It comes up every year with the year's most banned books or an article in the newspaper of a parent trying to get a book banned from the school curriculum. We must learn we can only shelter our children from so much and that we must also give them the benefit of the doubt. Their voices are the ones that I see lost here, but as someone that grew up with young adult literature, I know that I would not be here without books and the issues that they explored. The authors don't spill their blood for nothing, but they help heal our wounds and strengthen our hearts. They are our voices when we can no longer speak. They aren't just weapons, but our angels.

Natasha

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Walking the Paths in Kyoto

We arrived in Tokyo and took the train to Kyoto where we would spend our first four days. We wanted to experience the "old" Japan before moving over to the more modern city of Tokyo.

We stayed in the Westin Miyako Kyoto in the Eastern Hills, which was an amazing location. The hotel had a bird watching trail that we took one morning where we found a shrine at the top. Along the trail, we walked by the biggest bees I had ever seen, various colorful flowers, and plaques telling us about the bushes and trees. It seemed that I always found something to help in research without looking, as well as give us such a simple taste of this culture that said so very much.


This blog post would be so very long if I wrote about the entirety of our trip so I decided to point out the top five things that we enjoyed in Kyoto and Tokyo. Enjoy!

1. The Philosopher's Path
The whole city smelled very fragrant like the blooming flowers as we walked our way north to The Philosopher's
Path from our hotel. Not too far along, we found a pasture of cats. Sleeping cats, playing cats, cleaning cats, and cuddling cats. We sat down to look at them and one came up to rest in Joey's lap for a bit. We are very much cat people, so for us, it was a fun.

On both side of the many stone bridges are various businesses and residential homes. It is like that throughout most of the city so sometimes you are walking and can find someplace to eat, art galleries, or just a little store for visitors with dolls, half price kimonos, and t-shirts (or cat art) out of "nowhere". Most of the path was just taking in the scenery, which was very peaceful. I am glad that we decided to come while it was all green for spring, but I think it would be nice to see cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, and even snow covered branches along this path.


At the end of the path, there is a long street full of various little shops that eventually leads up to the Silver Pavilion. Most of the street was full of junior high students in their matching uniforms. Students were visiting from outside of the city to visit the various temples. We were stopped three times throughout the trip to help different groups of students practice their English, which was a joy.

On the way back, we stopped by a wonderful little ice cream
stand to try a delicious three flavored cone (all I know is one was green tea). We stopped to sit by the water on one of the benches to eat and I wrote for a little bit before moving on our way.

2. Konchi-in Temple and The Crane and Turtle Garden
Our very first stop in Kyoto. It was much less crowded than we visited the Silver Pavilion later in the day since it was early morning and there weren't any students around. We were the only people that were in the garden at that time so we could go at our own space, the morning light dappling through the trees. It was quite peaceful and the perfect way to help us ease ourselves into our vacation.

It was very different staying in a country that wasn't predominantly Christian. We have never attended a Buddhist ceremony until we heard drums and chanting in this temple. Before entering temples, you must take off your shoes and carry them with you in a provided plastic bag. In the first of the buildings, we peeked inside to see a large golden statue of Buddha. On one of the tables, I spotted a bowl of oranges.













At the temple, we sat inside during the ceremony, taking in our surroundings of a monk chanting while another was beating a drum to the side. The smell of incense was strong, but wasn't overwhelming as it could have been. We just took in the moment before going over to another building where a middle aged woman gave us a tour the best she could in Japanese. She showed us a statue of Buddha, pointing out his serious face when you look directly on and his smile when you look to the side of his face. When we left, she pointed for us to climb up the mountain to check out the biggest bell in Japan. I am still wondering how they managed to either make or move the bell to that location.


We don't have any pictures inside of this temple (it isn't allowed) and it is really hard to describe. It is a temple full of 1001 Kannon golden wooden statues (one a bigger statue that sits in the middle), as well as other statues of various gods and goddesses.

The temple is used by Japanese samurai to have archery contests. They must hit the target from one end to the other, which is amazing. They have been holding the contest since the 16th century. Inside the temple, there are displays of the type of bows that they use and books that show the results of the contests throughout the years.


Kyoto was the capital of Japan until 1868 and so we decided to take a stroll through the Imperial grounds and see the palace itself. We didn't encounter much rain during the trip and this was one of the days that we encountered rain from time to time. We reached as far as the shrine when it began to pour out and we were stuck there waiting for an hour for it to stop. We found a bench where I wrote down details of our trip and notes of the sounds, the smells, the moment.

Kyoto was quite inspirational and peaceful and it was the overall emotion that I experienced while in the city. It was very beautiful and the people were always kind and helpful. There were many more temples and shrines I would have loved to explore, as well as more in the area. As I always say, it is a good reason to always return someplace in the future.

My next post will be about our four days in Tokyo, which was much more modern and urban than the part of Kyoto we visited.

Links and related posts:

Natasha

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Write Age

Today I was reminded of a blog post that I wrote about two years ago that talks about the blog post Why New Novelists Are Kinda Old, or, Hey, Publishing is Slow. I was reminded of it because of the tweets below from author Justine Larbalestier:

JustineLavaworm Athletes & writers age differently. They are old at 30; we are spring chickens. We're not even middle aged till our 60s.

Last night I was sitting on a deck with the sun setting with friends that I went to elementary, junior high, high school, and college. We all skipped our high school reunion the previous summer and were now brought together for our friend's wedding. The brief topic of turning 30 came up, and it was met with a bit of a groan. It was more a passing thought than a conversation. It was a realization.

I wrote that blog post two years ago and I was a different person. I had started the first draft of Kin a few months previous, Joey's grammy didn't have her stroke, we were still planning our trip to England for that December, we weren't vegetarians, and didn't own a house. There was something else that I won't mentioned that helped me find more confidence in my life, and in a way, write Kin's story stronger.

I finished writing my first novel at 23. For myself, I think that not age, but experience, has really added to expanding my world and my writing. I have grown by overcoming challenges and learning more about the human condition. There is a strength in that for writers and age is just a number. It isn't about the age, but maybe more about growth of the writers themselves. Then, of course, there is the industry when it comes to the actual publishing side.

I encourage young(er) people to not give up. There is room to grow and go for it. I am not published yet, but I know once I am, that it will be worth the wait. Your book and you will be stronger for it.

I am less than a year from 30 and sometimes I feel like I am staring up at it in disbelief. I think now it is more like going up the stairs of one of the temples of Japan and looking down at where I started. It is a disbelief that I did it. I have almost made it to the next milestone of my journey and I must keep moving forward to discover what I may find. All it will do is add to my resources of better writing. That is what the write age is all about.

Natasha

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mount Fuji: A Moment that Inspires

"Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white."
Mark Jenkins


I don't know when the first idea for us to travel to Japan arose. Over nine years, we have traveled all over the place and it is incredible to think that we are fortunate enough to do so as often as we do. Most have been for conventions and Disney, but we have added a few "must gos" to the list. Japan is one of those.

We are both huge fans of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki (who we saw in Comic Con in 2009). When we discovered that they had a museum dedicated to their studio and films, there was no doubt in our minds that we would have to travel to Tokyo to check it out. There are many things that we love about Japan like the video games that we grew up with (I walked down the aisle to The Legend of Zelda theme song) and their innovation for electronics.

And did I mention that my husband is a samurai?

Then about two years ago I wanted to write something different. I was reading a lot of fiction based off of faerie tales and folklore, and though I really enjoyed what I read, I knew that I wanted to do something different. I wanted something that would take me out of my comfort zone. I choose Japanese culture, pulling up various tales off the internet, waiting for something to pop out at me and finally something did. And I have been working on it ever since, finishing the second version of it this past April. The next few months are going to be dedicated to editing this novel and the experience of actually visiting Japan will hopefully breathe in new life into story.

One of the places that is central to my story, and is one of the icons of Japan, is Mount Fuji. We decided to stop at Shin-Fuji Station on our trip back from Kyoto to Tokyo. It took us a bit to find the mountain out of the moving train, mistaking a large cloud formation for it. Then I focused a bit when we stepped and there was the peak almost right next to it!

Stepping into the station, we found the mural of Japan's most well-known folk tale, The Bamboo Cutter's Daughter, about another girl from the moon and I stood there taking it in before I realized we should go outside to see the main event. Seeing Mount Fuji took a bit for my mind wrap the height of it and what my character will have to do to reach (and climb) the mountain. We walked down the road and up on a bridge to take pictures, and I took note of the other mountains in the area. On the train ride, I was taking note of the terrain and the view as we zoomed by since this was the inspiration of the land of my character.

We went to the main road and kept walking towards the mountain. It was a warm day, yet it wasn't clear out. Wisps of cloud would sometimes pass by the mountain's peak and it took a bit for my eyes sometimes to adjust in finding the lower outline of it. We went up a bridge where we took some pictures (though some businesses found it necessary to have tall signs to cover up the view). Coming from the flat prairie of the Red River Valley in North Dakota, there is something about a 3,700+ mountain that really has to cause you to pause and stare.

There were moments of clarity and realization throughout the trip that helped bring me closer to my character. I would sometimes just pause and say to my husband, "How am I going to get her to do that?" or "I am going to make Kin do this." This was one of those. We didn't have time to climb the mountain ourselves, and with all the walking we did on the trip, I knew that reaching the mountain would probably be a lot easier than the journey there (maybe).

It was almost difficult to turn my back on Mount Fuji. I took one last look at it and didn't search for it again. I wanted that crystal clear image in my mind so I can somehow convey it on the page later on.

Related blog posts:

Natasha

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