Showing posts from 2013

the monk in the garden: notes on mental difference

I went to the Lan Su Chinese Gardens in Portland this afternoon, and was sitting under a pagoda feeling annoyed and disappointed that the tiny sanctuary intended to make you "feel as if you've traveled through time to another era in a faraway world" was instead crowded with so many people wielding cameras and smartphones that you couldn't take a single step without interrupting someone's shot, when I was approached by a young man in a hand-woven poncho and a Salish hat, with a leather medicine bag around his neck. He sat down beside me, took out a set of tingsha which he began to swing around, and started talking about Zen. It emerged that he was both a monk and a shaman and a traveler who had followed the river to Portland in search of a girl he had seen only in dreams. His life work was to restore balance to the universe; to achieve this, he often played his tingsha in the produce section of grocery stores.
He asked me if I was enjoying the garden. I grimaced sl…

a torn map, a candle stub: writing mental illness

WILD AWAKE is coming out in five days. I've been hiding from the internet, but Techie Boyfriend informs me that there are already more words written about WILD AWAKE (in reviews, comments, note-comparing, and general chitter-chatter) than the 75,000 in the novel itself. I know this is just what happens with books in the internet age, but the speed and intensity still feels like one of those elevator rides where the ground rushes toward you in a stomach-dropping whoosh while you're still saying not ready! not ready!
I realize I've been rather secretive about basic WILD AWAKE questions like "What is it about?"—less from actual secrecy than from the bewilderment that comes when you get so used to waiting for your novel to come out that when it finally does, it catches you off-guard.
Now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, I'd like to belatedly and somewhat redundantly tell you that WILD AWAKE is a story about a teen musician who has a summer of chaos, fi…


One week!

thought of the day

"Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”-Alan Watts

parents of writers: a memo

Dear Parents of Writers (POW),
The summer book season will soon be in full swing. As several of you have writer-children with novels coming out in the next few weeks, the members of the board would like to take this opportunity to remind you of certain guidelines for interacting with your offspring during this sensitive time. If you have any questions or concerns, a registered POW counselor is available by telephone 24/7 at 1-888-POW-HELP to assist you.
Avoid sending your writer-child e-mail alerts with subject headings like "VegasBabe22 panned your book on Amazon." Although VegasBabe's comments might strike you as a serious affront requiring urgent action, your writer-child may take a more pacifist stance on the matter. Because your writer-child may not, in fact, take each and every internet review as seriously as you do—and indeed, may be avoiding them completely—it is important to inquire about her policy on this matter before filling her inbox with well-meaning updat…

the secret lives of YA cover designers: an interview with Tom Forget

Tom Forget is an artist and cover designer who was recently declared to be one of the "most stylish New Yorkers" by TimeOut magazine. He also happens to be the man behind the cover for WILD AWAKE. He kindly agreed to share his thoughts on book design and the creative life. You can see more of his work at and

What do you aim for in a YA cover (as opposed to a cover for the adult market)?  
That's an interesting question. I think the briefest way to answer that is that there's a certain direct-ness of imagery that we use in YA that is not as strictly observed in adult books. We are less likely to use images that are cropped or obscured than what you might see on adult covers. I think that in terms of color we try to be more immediate as well. There's certainly room for subtlety in YA design, and I think many of the best YA jackets employ it, but we have to make sure that we don't outsmart ourselves (or by extension our reade…

book deals and the nomadic author: letter from shaw island

Dear you,
It is May, and WILD AWAKE is coming out in three weeks. Techie Boyfriend and I have repaired to a campsite in the woods, which is possibly the world's least convenient place from which to launch a novel, but illuminating in its own way.
As I write this, my body is here in this driftwood shack, with a kerosene lantern burning over my shoulder and Techie Boyfriend playing a broken accordion in the twilight, but I'm aware of this other Hilary, a Monopoly-piece extension of myself, moving around the game board of publishing with all of the tumultuous joys and stresses that entails (one roll lands the coveted "You have won $10 in a beauty pageant," and on the next roll it's "Postage fees for over-ambitious ARC mailing; pay $50 to Community Chest.")

I feel a strange tension between those two realities—the one in which I'm a forest creature living a three-mile bike ride from the nearest electrical outlet, and the one in which I'm a person wi…

thought of the day...

"Turtles rarely pass up a chance to lay in the sun on a partly submerged log. No two turtles ever lunched together with the idea of promoting anything. No turtle ever went around complaining that there is no profit in book publishing except from the subsidiary rights. Turtles do not work day and night to perfect explosive devices that wipe out Pacific islands and eventually render turtles sterile.Turtles never use the word "implementation" or the phrases "hard core" and "in the last analysis." No turtle ever rang another turtle back on the phone. In the last analysis, a turtle, although lacking knowledge, knows how to live. A turtle, by its admirable habits, gets to the hard core of life. That may be why its arteries are so soft."  -E.B. White, Turtle Blood Bank, 1953

Wishing you all a turtle-y day.

WILD AWAKE news with a side of snurkleberry jam

Why hello!

I haven't shared much book news here, but lots of happy little things have been happening and it was time to give them a mention:

In Germany news:

WILD WACH verkauft Fischer Verlag in einer sehr schönen Deal—which is exciting, because now my German translator, Jenny, e-mails me every few days with queries like "on p. 22, what exactly are they smoking?" and "cannot find German word for 'snurkleberries,' please advise."

Fischer Verlage is an independent literary publisher that was founded in Berlin in 1886 by this dapper gentleman:

Note that he is smoking something (but what?) and has a pocket full of snurkleberries.

In Audio news:

The clever and talented Shannon McManus, whom you may remember from the audiobook of LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR, will be narrating the audio version of WILD AWAKE. This is a picture I stole from her website:

That expression? Surprise and delight upon tasting a true snurkleberry for the first time.
In news concerning Ju…

snooping around in the forest: a writer's guide to mushroom hunting

Now that WILD AWAKE is coming out soonish, I have started to get interview questions like “What is your advice for aspiring writers?”
At first I was saying things like “carry a notebook, blah blah blah” but today I went for a walk in the woods on Bainbridge Island and I realized that my best advice for aspiring writers is to take up mushroom hunting. Mushroom hunting involves scandal and adventure and near-death experiences and brushes with the law, and most aspiring writers don’t get enough of that. In case of financial strain, mushroom hunting can also double as a day job, which can come in handy for aspiring writers too.
If you are willing to take me seriously on this matter, I will let you in on a few keen pieces of mushroom hunting advice.
When you start out mushroom hunting, you may get frustrated by advice you read in books. “Look under cottonwood trees,” says the mushroom guide, and you think, “WTF is a cottonwood tree?” “Search north-facing slopes,” says the guide, and you…

thank you card for 104 (and ARC winners!)

To everyone who entered the ARC giveaway contest: 
First, I wanted to send you each an ARC.
Then, I wanted to write you each an illustrated three AM note.
Then, because it would take me more than a hundred three AM's to do that, I made one big three AM note for all of you and here it is (YES, your name is on there if you entered the ARC contest!):

It really made my week to read all the comments, and consider taking bribes of Trappist underwear, and   all those gum-removing tips. Even if you did not win a physical ARC, if you peer closely at the secret symbols illustrations, it will almost be as good, because I have pretty much put all the important bits in there.

The three ARC winners are Alex Villasante, Ms. Snip, and Laurent. Please e-mail me your mailing address (internspills [at] gmail [dot] com) and whether or not you would like your ARC signed and personalized.


when you visit your publisher: an illustrated guide

As mentioned in Monday's ARC giveaway post, I just came back from a trip to NYC to meet with my editor, Molly O'Neill, and about a thousand other fine people at HarperCollins for the first time.
I had no idea what to expect from this visit. I fretted over it a little. If you are waiting on a publisher trip, perhaps you are fretting too. Fret no more! It turns out, visiting your publisher for the first time is more wonderful than you can possibly imagine. It is literally the stuff of fantasies. I am happy to report that all the glamorous things you were dreaming about are pretty much true.
In short:

1. You will meet your editor for the first time, and she will be valiant and wise.

2. You and your editor will go for lunch in a swanky restaurant, at which you will be so nervous and excited you can hardly eat your fancy salad.

3. Back at the publisher, you will be ushered to a big room that they have decorated with flowers (!) the same colors as your book (!!!)

4. ...and trays an…

ARC giveaway (but no #%@$ stickers!)

Dear friends,
Why hello! It's so good to see you again. Techie Boyfriend and I got back to the US about a week ago, whereupon I went to New York City for an unspeakably dreamy visit at HarperCollins, about which more in a future post. Now, we are crashing at Hippie Roommate's place (remember Hippie Roommate? She came into a rambling old house in the countryside which she is fixing up. I get to plant the flower garden!) while we figure out our next move.
I am in that exhilarating post-travel phase where I own precisely one hair elastic and one pair of socks, and had to borrow Hippie Roommate's underwear because I lost all of mine in the Lisbon airport and have been too busy writing Novel 2 to buy more.
I was planning to get exciting swag organized to give away with the ARCs—gift baskets! bags of fancy coffee to keep you 'wild awake' while reading! stickers! bookmarks! illuminated manuscripts hand-lettered by Trappist monks! But the stress of trying to put together …

"writing is a job like any other" and other angry ghosts

Lately I've been freaking out.

Writing is a job like any other.
         I write every day.
It's only professional.
I write from 4 AM to 7 AM.
Writing is a job.

I didn't write yesterday, or the day before that.

         Then I do the blogging and social media stuff at night.
It's only professional.
If you don't treat it like a job, you'll never succeed.
Writing is—
         It's only—

I don't have an industrial body. It doesn't shut down at night and start up again in the morning like it's "supposed" to, clean-faced and ready for another day's labor. Sometimes, it doesn't shut down for nights and nights, and I berate it and throw pills at it until it lurches to a diseased kind of slumber, only to emerge into a diseased kind of waking, howling with hurt and betrayal like a grizzly bear waking up in a cage.

"Stupid body," I tell it. "I need you to sleep you so I can wake up so I can go to my job. I haven't worked in two…

march, march, vegetable starch...

Why hello! I am poking my head out of the drafting hole with a casual update that has mysteriously taken me three hours to write. Some things:
In where-the-heck-are-you news...
Thanks to a tremendous stroke of good luck, Techie Boyfriend and I spent a month living here:

If you said, "My, that looks like a rustic stone bunker in the south of Portugal," you would be correct. It belongs to an artist/time traveler/healer lady who opens her doors to travelers, writers, and other lost souls. Someday, when I come into a rustic stone bunker of my own, I will need to find some busted-up writers to shelter, to pay it all forward. "Don't worry! Eat these flowers. You're no different from the bees..."

Now, we are in Lisbon, and most days I go to this place to scribble on Novel 2:

This café has such a hypnotic flow of people coming in and out, espresso cups rattling, waiters in green aprons ferrying spectacularly stale croissants to and fro...and best of all, everyone s…

the auto mechanic and the cello: when writing advice goes wrong

As INTERN, I wrote plenty of writing advice posts on this blog. As Hilary-the-bumbling-novelist, I've sometimes found myself at odds with the very kind of advice I used to give. Most writing advice is geared towards a certain kind of linear, straightforward book, and lately I've been realizing how few of my favorite novels fit that description, and how tragic a mistake it would be for aspiring authors to let the available writing advice dictate the kind of novels they write—to let the tail wag the dog, in other words.
If you were an alien surveying online writing advice, it would be easy to believe that all earthling novels consist of "scenes and sequels" or that each one needs a "main character" and an "impact character" or that scenes must alternate between positive and negative or that x must follow y. If you were an alien with the good fortune of being beamed into a library, you discover that in fact there are a plethora of fine novels in whi…