Monthly Archives: November 2014

in which I take photos

So I’ll just say right off the bat—I don’t really like getting my picture taken.

I used to be a big ham when I was a kid. I loved getting photographed and was always striking a pose when a camera came around. But at some point something changed and I got camera shy. Aggressively camera shy. I hate photos. The idea of taking a selfie gives me a panic attack. I try to move as far to the back of group shots as possible. For a long time, my picture on Twitter and this blog had half my face covered1 because I just don’t like looking at pictures of myself.

I’m really not a photo person.

So you will not be at all surprised to hear that when told I had to take a headshot/author photo that would go on the back flap of my book, I was, to put it generously, not excited.

I put it off for a long time. Griped about it on Twitter, then felt bad for griping about such a lucky problem to have. Went through all the photos on my computer hoping I would miraculously find some professional but not horrible looking photo of me. Prayed someone would randomly snap a candid of me that would work.

But, at last, with the deadline looming, I had to admit defeat. Fine, I said. I will take an author photo for the book. I will do it…but I will not enjoy it.

Being in possession of a rather fine camera, Marx agreed to take the photos for me so I didn’t have to stare into the lens of a stranger, which would make the whole thing exponentially more uncomfortable. Together, we began to scour the interwebs trying to find somewhere cool to take the photos, my hope being that a great background might distract from….well, me. All the standard Boston engagement photos locations were too conventional. A blank wall was too boring. We needed somewhere cool. Unique. Subtly steampunk. I know, it was a lot to ask. After a time, we started to think it was maybe impossible.

And then we found the Boston Metropolitan Waterworks Museum.

And everything changed.

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YOU GUYS. The Metropolitan Waterworks Museum is AMAZING. Like, my new favorite place in Boston2 . It’s the old pumping station near the reservoir that used to supply the city of Boston with its water. It’s no longer functioning, but is now a museum, dedicated to the preservation and display of these massive, beautiful, industrial engines which I don’t understand, but I love love love looking at because they are just so gorgeous. Also, the museum is free, and the management is incredibly kind, and basically let us run amok in the place. We even got to climb on top of the giant engines3.

Marx took many great pictures of the waterworks.

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Less great pictures of me.

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The half face strikes again!

After a few excruciating hours of me grimacing into the camera and Marx doing a valiant impression of not being annoyed by this fact, we deemed we had enough great pictures to work with.

They were all of the engines. But that’s beside the point.

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If you would like to visit the amazing Waterworks Museum, which I can’t recommend highly enough if you’re ever in Boston, please visit this website here4.

Oh, also, I should probably mention here, I now have a proper website, which features these beautiful photos. Visit here, if you’re interested.

  1. I tried to send that particular photo to my agent when she needed a picture of me for something sales related. She then showed it to one of her colleagues, who asked, “Why does she have her collar up like that? Is there something wrong with her face?” No, just my brain.
  2. Rivaled only by my first great love, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
  3. This is also where I learned—a mere week before we went to Switzerland, which is basically comprised of high places—that Marx is desperately afraid of heights.
  4. One more waterworks photo. For good measure. (All photo credit to Marx!) 10672183_858089884202569_6797749548370404008_n
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in which i visit an imagined place

My first night in Geneva, I was lying in a stranger’s bedroom, reading Mary Shelley on my phone, and hovering on the edges of a panic attack. Golden light from the streetlamps filtered in through the open window. Somewhere down the road, the tram bell rang.

Maybe I should explain.

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First of all, in spite of how it sounds, I was not having a one-night-stand with a handsome Swiss cheesemaker. I was in a stranger’s bedroom because Marx and I were doing Switzerland cheap, so we were staying with a woman who we found on a couch surfing website. She was an environmentalist, spoke little English, and offered us a variety of extravagant teas1.

I was reading History of a Six Weeks Tour by Mary Shelley on my phone because I have so far only been able to find it online, and this was our first real wifi in a while. The book is a compilation of letters written between Mary Shelley, her husband, and their friends while the pair was living abroad, including in Geneva, which is where she wrote Frankenstein.

Which is why we were in Geneva. Oh yes, the panic. My novel—the one that comes out next year, and is a reimagining of Frankenstein, if you’re new here—is set there.

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So here I was, in a stranger’s bedroom, trying to fall asleep reading, waiting for morning so I could walk through a place that had up until this moment only existed in my head.

Visiting Geneva felt like coming to an imagined place, like Narnia or Gondor, or visiting my own thoughts. Geneva was the first place I had ever written about that I hadn’t visited. Sure, I spent hours on Google maps, read books—of both the historical and the vacation-prep variety—along with every travel blog and photo essay and newspaper article about Geneva I could find.

But I hadn’t been there. And being there is something totally different.

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I’m a very setting-heavy writer. The word that most frequently gets tossed around to describe my writing is atmospheric, and I am one-hundred percent okay with that. I love travel. I love place. I’ve had whole novels spring out of places I’ve visited2. But atmosphere is more than just streets and geography and place names. It’s a feeling, and that’s why I love traveling—to feel a place.

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So what if I got out in Geneva and realized that I got had got that feeling wrong? As soon as I visited, there would be a right and wrong answer to what I had written. Maybe this was a terrible mistake, I thought. I almost woke Marx up right then and asked her if we could maybe just hang out at the airport for the next three days until our flight left. I’m a rational human being.

But I didn’t. The next morning, we woke up and set out to explore Geneva.

Mary Shelley did not like Geneva. When you read her letters, she goes on and on about how much she loves the countryside, and the Alps, and even the wildlife3, but when she writes about Geneva itself, she sounds sort of grumbly and unhappy. She thought the buildings were too high, too ugly. She hated that the guards at the city gates couldn’t be bribed into letting you into the city past ten pm. “There is nothing… in [Geneva],” she writes, “that can repay you for the trouble of walking over its rough stones.”

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On the afternoon of our first day in the city, I left Marx by a fountain on the edge of the old town and went wandering on my own, thinking about what Mary had written, and what I had written, and the things we had both imagined happening on these streets, and mostly how much I liked Geneva. I liked the rough cobblestones and the hills. I liked the silt-colored buildings that made the streets into hallways. I liked the fountains, and the window boxes, and the wind off the lake. I liked the sound of people speaking French. I liked the Alps in the distance, and the foothills, and the vineyards that climbed up them.

Screw you, Mary Shelley. I liked Geneva.

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So I walked the streets of Mary’s book, and my book–the one big thing we shared–and thought about what we didn’t share, and the filters though which we saw this city. There’s the space between us–both the time, and the distance, and places we’d come from. The experiences we’d had. Who we were and where we were and what we were doing there and why. All the things we’d done and the things we hadn’t and all the things that made this city different for the pair of us.

This city existed in both of our heads. It was both of our imagined places4.

 

  1. We declined.
  2. Including large parts of this novel, which came from my Christmas market trip with Magwitch two years ago.
  3. One of my favorite lines from the letters is, Did I tell you there are wolves among these mountains? Someday I plan to analyze the crap out of that line, and make it into some poetic metaphor that hipsters will Photoshop overtop of their filtered Instagram landscapes.
  4. Also we found this steampunk carousel and I loved it and it didn’t fit anywhere in the post, so I’m just going to stick it here instead. DSC_1127
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The Road Thus Far: Copyedits

I had grand blogging aspirations for the end of October. I was going to tell you all about Geneva, city of my heart, and about the Metropolitan Waterworks, my new favorite haunt in Boston, and maybe about how I helped pack five thousand books for the bookstore the other night.

But then copyedits happened. And that’s been my life instead.

What are copyedits, you ask1? Let me explain: After an author finishes with developmental edits2, your manuscript gets sent to someone who understands things authors often ignore, like grammar and sentence structure and where is the appropriate place to put a comma. Things that, it turns out, I know nothing about. Copyeditors also keep an eye out for things like inconsistencies in the stage business—two paragraphs ago you said this character had blue eyes and now they’re green, the wrench was on the table and now it’s in his hand—and some light fact checking—you realize this historical event actually took place two years after you said it did? Things like that. The copy editor also helps catch the annoying typos you didn’t notice before, thank goodness. Like when my computer decided when I typed Lord Byron, what I actually meant was Lord Bryan. Ah, Lord Bryan, my favorite of all the Romantic poets.

Then I as the author have to go through the manuscripts and address all the copy editor’s queries before sending it back to my editor.

I’ve learned a lot from copyedits3, such as the difference between further and farther, backwards and backward. Also there’s such a thing as a copulative verb4. And birthdays make calculating age somehow infinitely more complicated. And all right and alright are not the same.

Clearly, I know nothing.

Copyedits have put a weird dent in my confidence. When I turned in my developmental edits, I was feeling pretty solid, but I’m starting to get a little panicked about the fact that this book is about to become a book. Copyedits are the first step for me that has really carried this process beyond what I’ve done before I had a book deal. I keep thinking of the part in How I Met Your Mother where Barney is sick and Robin is taking care of him. Barney, in a fit of petulant Barney-ness, shouts at Robin, “I hate you!” At which point she goes to leave, having had enough, and he immediately whimpers, “Don’t leave me.”

gif 1gif 2In this scenario, I am petulant Barney, and my manuscript is long-suffering Robin.

I’ve been doing editorial work on this book pretty much constantly for a year and a half, and by now, I’ve read it so many times that I can’t see it as a whole anymore—it’s all fragments and pieces, draft upon draft overlaid on top of each other5, and I can’t make all those pieces fit together into a coherent story anymore. I can’t decide if that’s because it actually doesn’t make sense, or if it’s because anything will start to sound like nonsense after you read it a billion and a half times.

bowlSo part of me wants to throw this manuscript back at my publisher and shout, “Here just take it I never want to see it again!” but the other half of me wants to cling to it with my Gollum arms and never let it out into the world.

I hate you, don’t leave me. That pretty much sums up my experience with copyedits.

And now, I’m back to work. Gonna read this book again. One. More. Time.

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  1. My mom and I were laughing the other day about how this time last year, not a single one of us knew what copyedits were. Now, with me writing this book thing and my mom working at a children’s magazine, suddenly it’s a household word. The times, they are a changing.
  2. These include the sort of things you think of when you think of editing a book—adjusting plot points, rewriting scenes, things like that.
  3. Though knowing me, I will probably not incorporate any of that into my writing because grammar is hard, yo.
  4. Not as sexy as it sounds.
  5. I keep working myself up into a frenzy over things I changed months ago. Clearly I’m losing my mind. Send help.
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