Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

EDGES: road to publication

So . . . more about the story behind EDGES, on this cold Sunday evening, the last day of January from my apartment in New York City! Why would a city girl like me, write about the desert in Utah? There is so much to tell, too much, in fact, for one measly blog.

Let me just take a short cut and say that I lived in Moab, Utah for the year I was twenty-eight and was hired to start up an Intensive Outpatient Program for teens with substance abuse problems at the local metal health center.

I also met my future husband there, at The Lazy Lizard Youth Hostel.

One day after my future husband and I had moved back to New York and I was working as a counselor at a high school downtown, I wrote the opening scene of EDGES. I then put the notebook in the back of a drawer somewhere and went about my life, thinking that there were enough storytellers in the family. I had one child, and then another, but still I couldn't get the image of Luke in the trailer - looking for a place to put his mother's painting - out of my mind.

Once both of my boys were in some kind of pre-school, I decided to dust off that notebook, despite the voices in my head loudly telling me that I needed to get a real job, that I was a dilettante and that I wasn't smart enough. I don't know if I could have done it, if it wasn't for my mom who would read twenty pages at a time and encourage me. I knew that she really believed that if I practiced, I would get better. So I wrote. I wrote my heart out. And I wasn't writing with an audience in mind either - I was getting the story down. And let me tell you, my first draft was awful. And so was the second. It was my third draft that I started to feel like I had something: I told the same story that FSG will publish, but with nine different points of view, three teenagers and six adults. It was a Tales of the City meets Dawson's Creek sort of thing, and I sent it out to an agent at Writer's House. I was summarily rejected, but was also sent a personal note and not a form letter, which gave me some hope. I decided not to send it out again, but to work on it some more, this time asking for feedback from a professional.

I had the chutzpah (along with a whole lot of fear) to call my grandmother's old editor at FSG, Sandra Jordan. (She now writes about art and artist's for young readers, and her latest picture book, MR. & MRS. PORTLY AND THEIR LITTLE DOG SNACK came out in the fall of 2009. My daughter and I love it!) She told me that it would be okay to send the manuscript to her, and a week later, called me to set up a lunch date! Thus began a series of lunches at the Metro Diner, and I knew that what I had been missing, was a mentor. I didn't need to mourn that my grandmother couldn't mentor me or point me in the right direction, I had Sandra! She asked amazing questions! She was taking me seriously! For the first time I felt like I might really be a writer, and not just playing at one. She gently advised for me to rewrite it from the teen POV.

I wrote another draft with only three points of view this time, and Sandra generously read it again. "I think you're ready to send it out," she said. "Editor's are all different and like different things. I'll put in a good word with X and Y, and we'll see what they say." Oh, I was too excited for words! I sent the manuscript out to two publishing houses, and three months later, I got the manuscripts back, along with very kind rejection letters. I ate a lot of candy, put the manuscript in a drawer for six months, and thought about becoming a nurse for the steady paycheck. (For real! And I'm a squeamish person!)

But the letters these editors sent along with my novel didn't say that I was "bad" - indeed, they said that I was rather good, but that I really had two novels wrapped up in one. At that point I didn't know the pacing of a Young Adult novel vs. an adult novel, as I mostly read the latter. Voraciously. (You know me, book addict, right?)

It wasn't until after my grandmother died that I picked up the manuscript again, and wrote another draft, this time just from Luke and Ava's points of view. My sister, Charlotte, had hired a new agent for our grandmother's estate, Edward Necarlsumer, and she talked up my book to him. He has youth on his side and is ardently in-love with the world of children's books and YA fiction. I didn't exactly put him on the spot and ask him to be my agent - awkward - but I did ask him for feedback. He read it and we met for lunch and realized that we are of two like minds. He said that he hadn't read anything quite like it, but spoke to me sternly when I said that I hadn't read much YA besides my grandmother, and told me to read Chris Cutcher's INEXCUSABLE, Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK, and Ellen Hopkin's CRANK. I am a good girl and do what I'm told and was blown away by these authors. After all, it would seem that I had an agent who believed in my book!

I went through another six months and two more drafts before he sent it to Margaret Ferguson at FSG late April 2008. Then in July I got the call that they wanted to buy it. Elation! Vindication! In October I signed the contract, (in the middle of writing novel #2) and then in April of 2009 we started working on the editing process, which deserves another blog, in and of itself.

Also, I'm getting tired! Have a good sleep everybody . . . It's 10:45PM, no matter what the time on the blog says!

Friday, January 29, 2010


Happy Friday, folks! I've had my very first blog request! A friend wants to know what EDGES is about . . . of course you do!

It is a story of love and grief, addiction and redemption, set in both NYC’s Upper West Side and in the red rock desert of Moab, Utah.

Seventeen-year-old Luke lives and works at the Moonflower Motel in Moab, having fled New York City where his father Frank drowns his sorrows after the death of Luke’s mother. Back in New York, eighteen-year-old Ava meets Frank at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. When these lost souls converge in Moab, what happens transforms them all.

A little light reading, huh? I've had a hard time coming up with a tag line for the book, because I haven't wanted to give anything away! But if I keep it all a mystery, then why would anyone want to read it?

I didn't set out to write a YA novel, but this is where I have found my voice. Originally, the story was just about Luke and his father Frank, told from each of their points of view. When Ava appeared out of the blue, I knew that I had to make room for her. It was one of those moments in the creative process that writers (well, I'll speak for myself!) live for, because she didn't come from my conscious mind. (Unconscious? Super conscious?) Okay, yeah. I'll cop to feeling a bit mystical about the whole process, but for all of the mysticism, it has been incredibly hard work. I have become a huge fan of the "shitty" first draft and an even bigger fan of the revision process. Editing is an art in itself!

That's all for now. I have to start thinking about cooking dinner for my family!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

If I'm tired, it's because I could not put down Carolyn Mackler's TANGLED!

Hi, my name is Léna, and I'm addicted to reading. Seriously. Some of you must know what I mean. The urge, the compulsion can strike at any moment, and if I don't get my reading fix in, I'm cranky, irritable and discontent. And reading on my computer doesn't count. Pah! (Take that Kindle!) I need to hold a book in my hands, smell the crispness of the paper, feel the smoothness of the pages. (Sigh. I may have to stop writing and open a book!)

The urge came over me last night when I finally got my overdue order from Amazon with copies of Carolyn Mackler's Tangled, and Deborah Heiligman's Charles and Emma, (the latter of which was a National Book Award Finalist, and both won a Printz Honor and the YALSA Excellence in Non-Fiction Award) Amazon is usually so fast, but this seemed to take weeks!

But whose book to read first? Both Carolyn and Deborah are new-ish friends, "set up" by other friends in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan- "Oh, you're a writer? Well, you have to meet so and so, she's a writer too!" (Oh, I am now part of the club and I am such a lucky gal!)

Who I met first becomes my barometer for choice. I pick up Carolyn's TANGLED. (We have a mutual friend who had been trying to get us together for years, so I had already become a fan of Crolyn's writing when we met. THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER ROUND THINGS had become a favorite in YA literature and I was a little nervous, meeting such a great author, but I needn't have been. Carolyn is so lovely and down to earth - we hit it off immediately, both of us reluctant to leave our lunch for other responsibilities.)

So I picked up Carolyn's TANGLED, and my book addiction kicked in. Uh -oh. I'm not going to be able to put this one down. There goes sleep. Carolyn has a knack for hooking you into her characters emotional lives right away. TANGLED tells the stories of Jena, Dakota, Skye and Owen, whose lives touch briefly when they meet on vacation. Over the next few months as each one tells his or her own story, Carolyn shows us how it's our own perception of ourselves that matters the most and that we have the power to change the way we think and respond to the world. The story masterfully starts with Jena, a character who I related to without question (and was the reason I couldn't put the book down). Jena introduces us to the other three protagonists as she gets hurt by Dakota, is diminished by Skye, and intrigued by Owen.

I love books with different points of view - they teach me to have perspective in my own life. I wasn't prepared to like Dakota or Skye, because I so closely identified with Jena - but I did. Carolyn uses the philosophy of the butterfly effect to beautifully illustrate how small a change needs to be to have a positive effect, without being didactic or preachy. Her use of humor and pathos didn't help me put down the book when my husband asked if I was coming to bed.

"I have to read!" I exclaimed in a frenzy. This book addict has been sated. For now.

Uh-oh. Now I'm feeling the compulsion again, but I have too much to . . . CHARLES & EMMA! I'm coming!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Girls Write Now

I have a chance to "blog" right now because my amazing mentee with Girls Write Now had to cancel our regular Monday 2PM meeting because of (ugh) mid-terms. (Math, yikes!) So what better opportunity than to write about this fabulous non-profit organization that pairs volunteer professional writers with high school age urban teens? Indeed, it is a large part of my lit life this year! My sister Charlotte is the responsible party for turning me onto them. GWN had called the foundation where she works asking for a donation, but although they are fabulous, GWN didn't fit within the parameters of the foundation. Charlotte is awesome at thinking outside the box and she thought, hmmmm, "this would be perfect for Léna!" She emailed me the link to their website and I went to one of their events, readings of mentors and mentees down at the New School. I was so moved not only by the writing, but by the passion and sense of community and generosity that I wanted to sign up right away!

But first I had to go through an extensive application process. Girls Write Now is no joke: they want to make sure their volunteers are committed, passionate and possess at least some modicum of writing savvy. I had to provide writing samples as well as a resume, professional recommendations, and an outline for a workshop. Then there was the interview and the finger printing to make sure that potential volunteers have no criminal record.

Fortunately, after months of being vetted, I became part of the Girls Write Now team. We have a workshop once a month, led by mentors, and once we got paired with our mentees, we meet once a week to write and to practice the revision process. (So painful, I know, but necessary!) Part of a mentor's job at GWN is to either lead a workshop, or help set up the reading series. Now I have quite a bit of experience with creating and leading workshops, but none whatsoever with reading events, (and as my own book is coming out next December, I wanted to get more comfortable with this!) so I became part of the Reading Committee.

This committee hasn't met yet, but when I opened my email yesterday, sure enough, there was not only a reminder about the February meeting, but a PDF file of fifty reading submissions! I have started reading through them, and am blown away by the quality and the emotional depth. We are going to have five readings down at the Center for Fiction (17 East 47th Street between fifth and Madison) all on Friday evenings from 6pm until 8pm, on February 26th, March 26th, April 23rd, May 21st and June 18th. (You are all personally invited, heh, heh) I'm so excited! Not only do we get to hear mentors and mentees read their work from a variety of genres, but we have a different special guest writer each night. Some mentees have chosen to read on their own, while other mentor/mentee pairs will read together, either separate pieces with a similar theme, or something co-written. My mentee and I had so much fun writing something together. We had several sessions of starting each other off with a prompt and then writing for five minutes and then trading notebooks back and forth. We both liked The How-To Guide for Inhabiting Two-Legged Animals the best, so we are looking forward to reading that together.

I will keep you (ahem) posted! Until next time . . .

Friday, January 22, 2010


Welcome to my first ever blog, Léna'sLitLife. I have taken immediate action and created this due to pressure from my agent, Edward Necarlsumer. We met yesterday for lunch at Patroon on 46th street to celebrate not only finishing the loose galleys and seeing a beautiful jacket sketch for EDGES, but for having an actual publication date! Yes folks, EDGES will be available for your reading pleasure on December 7th, 2010, just in time for the holidays!

My teeth bit down on a large piece of scrumptious grilled shrimp when Edward, looking dapper in his gray suit, looked at me intensely with his green eyes.
"Léna," he said. "I think that now is the time for you to get serious about blogging." Now, let me tell you, this isn't a new topic for us. He has mentioned it several times as a "good idea", and I have blithely laughed it off. But he was looking at me as if he wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
"But what will I write about?" I asked after swallowing the shrimp. "What could I possibly say on a regular basis that would be of interest?" He took a sip of his diet coke, making me fill the silence and answer my own question. "Okay, so I'll write about this process, writing, what I'm reading, my grandmother, Newbery Award winner Madeleine L'Engle, teaching, my life in books."
"And people will ask you questions, will give you topics to write about. You can interview other authors, attach links of articles you like . . ." Edward continued brainstorming.
"Okay then - what should I call it?"
"Léna'sLitLife," said Edward, without batting an eyelash. So Edward, I dedicate my very first post to you!