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A Night Heron in Central Park

First off, 中秋節快樂! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! I can’t believe I only discovered my (new) favorite Chinese bakery in LA Chinatown in what might be my last year here.

In mid-September, I went to New York City to present at the Annual Meeting on Phonology. Shortly before my trip, I realized it would be my first time on the East Coast since I graduated from Swarthmore, which seemed unbelievable. It was my first time in New York City (not counting layovers) since the fall of 2008. I stayed on the Upper West Side with a family friend, her son, and their two cats. It was a weekend filled with meetings and reunions with linguists and friends from Swarthmore, the intersection of which is not insignificant.

But first, on Friday morning, I met my agent in person for the first time! I figured I should take advantage of being in the capital of the publishing industry. I got to visit Writers House and see where all my e-mails, manuscripts, and envelopes go.

After meeting my agent, I had lunch with my friend Eugenia, who had also studied linguistics (and folk danced!) at Swarthmore. We had taken a translation workshop together, and she’s now a professional freelance translator. We correspond by snail mail and had discovered we’d be in New York City the same weekend (neither of us lives on the East Coast), and luckily our schedules aligned.

I finally made my way to NYU, where my conference was being held. There I found my friend Chris, another Swarthmore linguist (and shape note singer, surprise, surprise), now at Yale, whom I hadn’t seen since I’d graduated. Chris and I had taken Field Methods together. We were both glad to see each other again.

The conference was great. I ran into many graduate students from other schools whom I’d met when we were prospective students together, or when I’d hosted them when they’d visited UCLA, or at past conferences. It’s always nice to see friendly faces and have a chance to catch up in person. I also saw (and sometimes even spoke to!) Famous Linguists (often East Coast ones) I hadn’t met before. There were interesting talks and posters.

On Saturday evening, after the conference reception, I discovered completely serendipitously that my friend Leland, yet another Swarthmore linguist, now at UMass Amherst, was also in New York City. The conference was crawling with his colleagues, but I had had no expectation that he would be attending (and indeed he was in New York for entirely unrelated reasons). We made plans to meet up on Sunday.

I gave my talk on Sunday morning, I think to my largest conference audience ever, and after catching up with another fellow grad student over slices of pizza in Washington Square Park, I headed to the Strand to meet Leland.

I had never been to the Strand before, and I was duly impressed. Leland and I wandered very slowly through the SFF section, half catching up, half discussing books. Then we nipped up to Children’s for a bit before returning downstairs to pick up the books we wanted to buy. I got Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, which I am currently reading and enjoying (lots of worldbuilding to sink my teeth into).

After leaving the Strand, we almost slipped into the Organ Meditation at Grace Church, then changed our minds and just went to get ice cream.

On Monday morning, before I had to head to the airport, I took a walk in Central Park. I chose trails somewhat at random in the Ramble and eventually hit the lake, where I witnessed this charming tableau:

Ducks and turtles living in harmony!

I’d been focused entirely on the reptiles and waterfowl on the submerged rock, but suddenly something in the tree on shore beside me caught my eye. For a moment, I thought a duck was perched in the tree; this struck me as unusual, and I wanted to take a picture. But then I realized it was not a duck but something far more interesting!

The bird’s shape reminded me of a night heron, but its plumage was totally different from that of the black-crowned night herons I’d seen in Minnesota. I didn’t figure it out until I got back to Los Angeles, but I think this is a black-crowned night heron–just a female one! Anyway, I stared at the poor bird for a long time and kept trying, mostly in vain, to take a decent picture of her. I think she was watching me too.

Octavia Butler at the Huntington

At the beginning of August, I went to the WriteGirl workshop at the Huntington. WriteGirl is an organization that runs creative writing workshops for teenage girls in Los Angeles (that’s really just a fraction of what they do–you should check them out!), and I’ve been a volunteer with them for almost a year now, though I’ve only been able to serve as a mentor at a few of their monthly workshops.

The summer workshop at the Huntington featured a private tour of the current exhibit on Octavia Butler, the celebrated black science fiction author. The promised tour was part of the reason I really wanted to make this workshop. A WriteGirl staff member gave me a ride, and we arrived bright and early to help set up. Upon our arrival, I realized that the Huntington is closed to the public on Tuesdays, meaning that we had special access to the library and gardens and that the only other people there were staff and researchers using the library.

I wound up with two mentees for the day, both rising high school seniors, and our group was the first to visit the exhibit Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories. We were welcomed by the exhibit’s curator, Natalie Russell, who told us how she’d spent a little over three years sifting through and cataloging all of Butler’s papers when they came to the Huntington after her untimely death. She’d selected about a hundred items for the exhibit.

The only novel of Octavia Butler’s I’ve read is Parable of the Sower, on the recommendation of my friend Leland. I bought it at graduation from the Swarthmore bookstore and read it shortly after. One of the many fascinating items on display was Butler’s typewritten outline for Parable of the Sower, with additional handwritten notes and highlighting in pastel colors. Some of the notes that caught my eye were: “ADD more racism”; “Add more Hispanics. …More Hispanic surnames on people…who seem ordinary blacks, or ordinary whites.”; “More casual, horrible death”; “GOD IS HER OPPONENT, AND/OR HER PARTNER” (Parable of the Sower is in part about the protagonist’s elaboration of a religion founded on the notion that God is change).

There was another item in the exhibit that featured Butler’s brief reflection on how science fiction treats religion. She said there was a prevailing attitude among science fiction writers of “Oh, we all know this is BS,” but she pointed out that no human society lives without religion (I think she acknowledged that some had tried, but she stood by this statement). This made me think about Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and its companion, A Closed and Common Orbit, two science fiction novels I recently read. I enjoyed them (I loved Angry Planet), but I remember being struck by how despite all the exploration of different sentient species and cultures in the galaxy, there was almost no mention of religion. Shouldn’t many of these cultures have religions?

Another item was what I think was a self-interview with Butler, perhaps a stock of answers to questions she might get in interviews. The first question was something like, “Who are you?” and about halfway through her answer there was: “I am also comfortably asocial–a hermit in the middle of Los Angeles.”

Yet another item was her answer to “Why do I write about mixed-race couples?” She said it was for the same reason she wrote about egalitarian societies (in terms of gender, I believe).

One of the drafts on display was of the short story “Speech Sounds,” which won the Hugo Award. I was curious about the title, since it sounded very linguisticky/phonetics-y. It’s about an outbreak of a mysterious illness (hmm, sound familiar?) that strikes Los Angeles, depriving people of the ability to use language. The page of the draft that was exhibited was from a scene on a bus, and the curator’s notes said that Butler would have been familiar with buses because she didn’t drive! It reminded me of the bus stories at BUSted!.

The exhibit also had the manuscript of a short story called “Flash-Silver Star” that Butler wrote at age 11 in cursive on lined paper. It was about horses. It reminded me so much of how I wrote my stories around that age!

Among the most striking parts of the exhibit were the motivational notes that Butler wrote to herself, long before she came successful. There were different variations on these, but they included affirmations about her writing life: “I am a Bestselling Writer. I write Bestselling Books And Excellent Short Stories. Both Books and Short Stories Win prizes and awards. Everyday in Every way I am researching and writing My Awardwinning Best selling Books and Short Stories” as well as what she intended to do with her earnings as an author: buy her own home in a good neighborhood, obtain the best healthcare for herself and her mother, fund the educations and aspirations of young black people. It was inspiring. I have to admit I’m skeptical about this kind of motivational technique even though I’ve heard it touted before. I’m sure it can’t hurt, and it can probably actually help.

After we’d seen the exhibit, which you can probably tell I loved, my group had lunch and did some brainstorming of speculative fiction story ideas. The workshop wrapped up with some of the girls reading pieces they’d written that day. Afterwards, I got to catch up briefly with two mentees I’d worked with at previous WriteGirl workshops, which was lovely.

The staff member I’d gotten a ride with was running a focus group for some of the girls after the workshop, so that meant I had almost two hours to wander the gardens by myself. On a day the Huntington was closed to the public. I cannot overstate how excited I was by this prospect.

I made my way to the Chinese garden, which I’ve visited multiple times. On those occasions, the garden was always teeming with people, but this time it was beautifully empty. For most of the hour and a half I spent there, I felt like I had the whole garden entirely to myself. It was very hot that day, around 95°F, so I sat in the 愛蓮榭, my eponymous pavilion, writing in my journal and listening to the koi splash around the lotuses.

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愛蓮榭, amid the lotuses

When the sun was somewhat lower in the sky, I left the pavilion and wandered along the blissfully empty paths. It was glorious having the Chinese garden all to myself. So, thank you to WriteGirl for an amazing day at the Huntington.

Georgian Food and the Turkish Sparkers

Last weekend I was in Chicago because I was giving a talk at the Chicago Linguistic Society’s conference (I had an awfully good time the last time I went to CLS two years ago). Shortly before I left, my advisor sent me a magazine article about a Georgian restaurant (the only Georgian restaurant?) in Chicago. The conference ended on Saturday, but I didn’t fly out until the following evening, so on Sunday I decided to seek out this restaurant.

Chicago Diplomat Café is a deep, high-ceilinged restaurant with leather-backed armchairs and black tablecloths and an aquarium with goldfish. When I arrived shortly before noon, there was only one other party, a couple, dining. I was seated at a little table not far from them. I can’t remember if I’ve ever eaten alone in a sit-down restaurant before, but it wasn’t too awkward. With my suitcase in tow, I fancied I looked like a worldly traveler.

The magazine article had mentioned all sorts of scrumptious dishes, and my one regret in coming alone was that I doubted I’d be able to try more than one dish (no supra for me). There were three kinds of khachapuri, but if I ordered one I didn’t think I’d be able to eat anything else. I decided I wanted the khinkali, Georgian soup dumplings. But when I asked the waiter if I could have them, he said no. I was a bit flummoxed and said something about them not having khinkali today. The waiter didn’t exactly confirm this, but I switched my order to the mtsvadi. I also ordered a Georgian lemonade, pear flavor (the other option was tarragon). If the waiter approved of my Georgian pronunciation, he gave no sign of it.

Georgian lemonade

The Georgian lemonade turned out to be a bottled soda that didn’t taste at all like lemonade. It was a little too sweet for my taste; it gave me the impression of carbonated apple juice (the kind of apple juice preschoolers drink). The mtsvadi was tasty, though it wasn’t quite what I’d expected from the menu. The seasoned chunks of chicken had been cooked on a skewer, and the Georgian fried potatoes were…basically French fries (though quite good ones). The red sauce on the side was sour (in a good way). The menu had called mtsvadi the dish of kings. According to the magazine article, the chicken was marinated in pomegranate juice, and the sauce was tkemali, a sour plum sauce.

Mtsvadi

While I was eating, a larger party with a reservation came in. One young woman was explaining the dishes to her friends, and I later heard her tell the waiter she’d been a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia. She and the waiter discussed the fact that Georgian lemonade is in fact flavored soda, not lemonade (wish I’d heard that sooner). The group discussed ordering khinkali, and I thought to myself that they would be disappointed as I’d been. But then when the Peace Corps volunteer asked for two orders of the dumplings, the waiter accepted the order! There was some brief exchange I didn’t catch (perhaps khinkali take a while to prepare?), but the Peace Corps volunteer said one of her friends had his heart set on khinkali, and it seemed clear they were being allowed to order them. I was miffed. Someday I will eat khinkali!

In other news from roughly the same part of the world…the Turkish edition of Sparkers appears to be coming out tomorrow, June 1st! The Turkish title is Kıvılcımlar, which Google Translate tells me means “sparks,” and it was translated by Canan Vaner. The publisher is Kırmızı Kedi (Red Cat!), and their page for the book is here (it seems to be on lots of Turkish bookselling sites, but I can’t really read any of them, so I’ll just link to the publisher). If you or anyone you know reads Turkish, consider buying the first foreign edition of Sparkers!

Science and Books and Madrigals, oh my!

I packed a lot into Earth Day weekend. Saturday morning was the March for Science. I bussed downtown with three other friends from the department. It was much less nuts getting to this protest than it was getting to the Women’s March. We actually made it into Pershing Square this time, where a button hawker greeted us with, “I’ve got you covered, nerds!” I did not buy a button. We hung out in the park reading signs as the morning speeches wrapped up. I spotted one that read: “I should be doing research right now #gradschool.” Too true.

I was glad to see this member of the clergy

We marched from Pershing Square to City Hall, just like in January. People chanted, “Science, not silence!” and when a little boy started chanting the slogan on his sign, “Science is better than Donald Trump!”, people joined in. When we reached City Hall, we stood around for a while watching the rest of the march arrive. One of our syntax professors found us, which seemed miraculous given the crowds. I later learned a bunch of other linguists from our department had been there, though we never saw them.

From the march, I headed to USC for my third LA Times Festival of Books. I wandered through the booths for a bit. I glimpsed Yumi Sakugawa at the Skylight Books booth and witnessed the eerie sight of red-clad, white-bonneted handmaids walking in pairs about campus. There had been a WriteGirl workshop at the festival earlier in the day (I finally started volunteering with them!), but I couldn’t make it because of the March for Science. I stopped by the stage where the girls were reading in the afternoon, though, and listened to some of their pieces. Then I made my way to the Big 5’s children’s book booths, and at the Penguin Young Readers booth I noticed that Julie Berry was signing. I had read The Passion of Dolssa recently and also enjoyed All the Truth That’s in Me, so when she had a free moment, I went up to talk to her. I told her I was a fellow Viking Children’s Books author, and then we chatted about grad school and Provençal.

After meeting Julie Berry, I met up with Isabelle at the Small World Books booth by the Poetry Stage, where she was about to get some poetry collections signed by Hélène Cardona. After that, we explored the festival a little more before heading to the first of the two panels I’d picked out for the afternoon. This one was a YA panel entitled Faith, Hope, and Charity: Strong Girls in Crisis, which struck me as a little dramatic, but okay. The panelists were Julie Berry, Sonya Sones (who…turns out to be someone I think I’ve contra danced with in Los Angeles–no wonder she looked so familiar!), and the person I’d been most eager to see, because I loved Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree: Frances Hardinge. The moderator was Jonathan Hunt of SLJ’s Heavy Medal blog fame. The authors talked about the inspiration for their latest novels, mixing genres, and whether/why their protagonists are girls. Julie Berry said that since she has four sons she gets asked why she doesn’t write about boys, and she said, “I’m a girl! It’s like what you are doesn’t matter once you’ve reproduced!” Which elicited much laughter, but there’s something dismal underlying that if you think about it.

Next we went to the other panel I’d picked out: the hapa panel! I’d been excited for it because Kip Fulbeck–author of Part Asian, 100% Hapa and creator of the Hapa Project–was on it (the other two panelists were USC professors). He was indeed the highlight of the panel for me. I enjoyed his self-deprecating manner and his sort of “you do you” attitude. He’s not interested in policing hapa identity, and he told one young hapa woman in the audience that one doesn’t have to spend every minute of one’s life fighting. Taking care of oneself is important too.

On Sunday, I participated in Jouyssance’s fourth annual early music singalong. Jouyssance is a local early music ensemble whose concerts I’ve occasionally attended. I know one of the singers because she used to sing in our Georgian chorus. Anyway, I printed the scores to the nine songs on the singalong program a week in advance and made myself a Youtube playlist to sing along to. I can sightread vocal music to an extent, but I had a feeling I would be in over my head if I didn’t prepare a bit. My favorites were Orlando Gibbons’ “The Silver Swan,” Claudin de Sermisy’s “Tant que vivray,” Thomas Morley’s “April is in my mistress’s face,” and Heinrich Isaac’s “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen.” There was also Josquin des Prez’s “El Grillo,” which I find annoying.

I arrived in the sanctuary of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church on Sunday afternoon, clutching my scores. A few singers from Jouyssance were there, but most of the participants weren’t in the ensemble. Everybody seemed to be a relatively experienced choral singer, though. The Jouyssance director complimented us on our reading of the first song and said she hoped we were all singing in choirs. The pace was relatively swift, and there wasn’t any hand holding, but everybody could handle it, and it was fun. Plus we weren’t exactly striving for perfection or speedy tempi.

My row of the alto section included our former Georgian chorister, a woman I know from shape note singing, and a French woman whom we told about shape note singing and who later told me she’d just started alto recorder. She showed me some of her music: “Pastime with good company”! “Belle, qui tiens ma vie”!

We didn’t do the Gibbons or the de Sermisy, to my chagrin. No French and too much Italian! I learned that Orlando di Lasso’s “Matona, mia cara” is not only quite vulgar but is also largely ungrammatical. After working on six of the nine songs for an hour and a half, we took a break for some treats and then sang everything in an informal “concert,” which Isabelle came to. (This concert was so informal that we occasionally started songs over again after a rocky start.) It was a lot of fun, and I hope I get to do it again next year!

2016 in Review

A lot of people have been saying that 2016 was awful, and yes, there was plenty of awful. Particularly a certain week in November. But there was a lot of wonderful too. Forthwith, my recap of my 2016.

In January, I got glasses! I also worked on Wildings copyedits and hosted a singing party.

In February, I revealed the cover for Wildings, trawled Hmong and Lao dictionaries for loanwords, and coordinated grad student Q & As with the computational linguistics job candidates.

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Celebrating Chandeleur

In March, my mother visited me for spring break, and we visited Mt. Wilson and went wildflower hunting. Then I took Trip #1 to the Bay Area to present a poster on Maragoli hiatus resolution at ACAL.

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Happy linguist amidst the echium at UCLA

In April, I went to AWP in Los Angeles, where I met Anne Ursu. I also went to the LA Times Festival of Books with Isabelle and to YALLWEST. It was a bookish month.

In May, Isabelle and I went to the magic show our conceptual artist had produced, and I spent a day shape note singing, fiddling, and stalking hurdy-gurdy players at the Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest. At the end of the month, I went home for my brother’s graduation from Count Olaf College, and I managed to catch my Morris dancer friends, in town for the Midwest Morris Ale, performing in a brewery!

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I also managed to catch my mother’s garden at the height of peony season!

In June, I took Trip #2 to the Bay Area, where I got to see my friends Miyuki, Andrew, Leland, and Katherine. I went to the Bay Area Book Festival and wandered around some of San Francisco with Leland. Back in Los Angeles, I attended the UCLA Linguistics Department’s 50th anniversary celebration and returned to the Mixed Remixed Festival, this time as a panelist.

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Datvebis Gundi performs before the anniversary banquet (that’s illustrious phonetician Ian Maddieson lurking in the background)

July: Did I do anything in July? In theory, I was being studious.

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There was a fire somewhere that made for interesting skies one day

In August, I went to a Georgian yodeling workshop and saw the Dunhuang cave temples exhibit at the Getty. Isabelle and I coached a tour guide in speaking our invented Martian English in our second collaboration with the conceptual artist. Martian English was featured at the Seattle Art Fair and even found its way into the New York Times, so I think we’ve made it. I returned to Minnesota, visited my friend Alex at Seed Savers in Decorah, IA, and went camping in the Boundary Waters.

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Adorable White Park calves, from a proud and ancient line of British cattle

In September, after enjoying the Minnesota State Fair, I returned to California for Trip #3 to the Bay Area. I saw the San Francisco Opera premiere Dream of the Red Chamber, visited Angel Island, Muir Woods, and Yosemite, and had all sorts of adventures, one of which involved Amtrak. I also acquired a copy of the Northern Harmony.

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In October, I went on Mike the Poet’s tour of downtown Los Angeles, which started at the LA Central Library and ended at the Last Bookstore. I started studying Manchu and presented a poster on Efik reduplication at AMP at USC.

On November 1st, Wildings came out! I had a launch party at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul and spoke to students at my high school. Then I had a launch party at Children’s Book World in Los Angeles (which just turned 30!). In between those two parties was a devastating election. Fight on. At the end of the month, I hosted my first Friendsgiving.

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Autumn in Minnesota

In December, I had my radio debut on Minnesota Public Radio, ran an artificial language learning study, and acquired a hammered dulcimer from my friend Chase.

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Minnehaha Falls at the end of December

Happy New Year and onward!

Interview at Cracking the Cover

I did an interview for Cracking the Cover recently. You can read the post or, if you want more, the full Q & A. There’s a fair bit of linguistics and music.

Speaking of, I talked about linguistics and music in my radio interview on MPR last week too! As far as I can tell, the segment isn’t available to listen to online after all, so sorry to those of you who missed it and had hoped to listen to it later! The whole thing is kind of a blur. I think I might’ve tried to debunk the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis on live radio.

 

Wildings Launch Party at Children’s Book World

Last Saturday was the California launch for Wildings at Children’s Book World in Los Angeles! I was lucky enough to be joined by professors and fellow students from my department, friends from my church, my friend Andrew (who came down from Berkeley and served as official photographer again), and even some people I didn’t know (miracle of miracles!). I got to break out Isabelle’s famous stamp for the linguists. 🙂 Here are a few photos, all by Andrew unless otherwise specified:

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With Sharon, the owner of Children’s Book World

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Reading

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With Andrew (photo by Spencer)

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UCLA linguists and Georgian choristers all! ❤

Wildings Launch Party at Red Balloon

Preface: Look, I can’t post this blithe write-up of my launch party pretending like yesterday didn’t happen. And it would also be pointless to hide my politics. The outcome of the presidential election has left me stunned, deeply disappointed, and more than a little afraid of what the future holds. I am a woman of color, but I enjoy all kinds of privilege, and I’m more afraid for others than I am for myself. At the same time, I have faith that no matter who is president we can keep working to spread justice and end oppression. We can continue to welcome the immigrant and the refugee in our communities. It may be harder, but we cannot, and will not, give up. We are not powerless. And I’m resolved to do my part. And for those of you who are hurting, who are terrified, my heart goes out to you. I’m here for you, and I’ll stand with you.

So.

This past weekend I traveled back to Minnesota to celebrate the release of Wildings at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul! It was a lovely launch party. I feel so lucky to have gotten to share this occasion with so many people who are important to me. Members of my extended family, from both my parents’ sides, came, as well as a number of my high school friends and/or their families. My cello teacher, with whom I studied for nine years, came and admired the hand positions of the cellist on the cover of Wildings. My best childhood friend, whom I’ve known since I was born and with whom I wrote my first stories, was able to be there because she’s now in grad school at the University of Minnesota. One of my Lutheran Volunteer Corps housemates came with her husband.

My mother invited a neighbor girl who lives at the end of our block and whom I’d never met before. She read Sparkers in advance of the release party and sat in the front row at the bookstore. She asked several questions during the Q & A and then came up to the table where I was signing books several more times to ask further questions. One of them was who my favorite teacher was. Will anyone who’s read Sparkers be surprised to hear it was my middle school orchestra teacher? The last time, she gave me a card in which she told me she was an aspiring author. ❤

And now for some photos!

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Here I am! (photo by my mother)

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Reading from Chapter 1 (photo by my aunt)

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Signing books (photo by Madeline)

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The cake! (photo by Stef)

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Me and my youngest cousin (photo by my aunt)

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Me and Grandma Yee (photo by my mother)

WILDINGS in the Wild!

Happy November! It’s Wildings’ publication day! This book was two years and seven months in the making (which is amazingly short, compared to Sparkers), and now it’s finally out in the world!

Wildings Final Cover

I now give you…

5 Reasons to Read Wildings

  1. Caleb Levi: Did you like Marah’s younger brother in Sparkers? If so, you’re in luck because he’s back in a much more prominent role!
  2. Marah and Azariah: What happened to them? Did Marah become a concert violinist? Or a linguist? Or something else…? You’ll find out.
  3. Musical magic: Yes, there is spell casting with instruments and singing.
  4. Poking around in dusty archives: You know, if you enjoy that sort of thing. I may have been inspired by the Central Registry in José Saramago’s All the Names
  5. Rhubarb

If you’re in the Twin Cities or the Los Angeles area, I’d love to see you at one of my release parties for Wildings!

Happy reading!

Wildings Galore!

Wildingslatest trade review is from VOYA! You can read it here. The book will be out in the world in less than two weeks! And yesterday, a whole bunch of books arrived in the mail. I could build a book castle!

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Also, here’s an article about a new independent children’s bookstore opening in the Twin Cities! It of course mentions the lovely Red Balloon Bookshop and Wild Rumpus, two of my favorite places. I’ll be at Red Balloon in just over two weeks for Wildings‘ Minnesota launch.