Léna's Lit.Life

Léna (me): Lit, as in literature, Lit, as in light, Lit, as in a little kooky: Life.

"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, February 28, 2010

EDGES: Advanced Reader Edition!



There it is! My baby! The cover of the bound galley, otherwise known as the Advance Readers Edition! Isn't she beautiful?

I am posting the picture I took of it with my computer - see my hands holding it lovingly? - after being cautioned by my husband to see if it's a-o-k with FSG - but I think it's okay, I mean, you're all my friends, right? This is nothing official . . . If anybody from FSG is reading this and thinks it's a no-no, mea culpa and I will delete this post!

Beth has promised to send me a copy that I can post on Facebook and somehow put permanently on this website. (I know, I know, this needs to turn into something more bonafide and professional.)

The front says (which looks bleary in the picture I took): Luke and Ava never dreamed that family could be so complicated or the world so full of mystery. Are you intrigued?

It was thrilling to get a Facebook message from a neighbor who wrote that there was a package for me in the basement! I had just come home from teaching at Writopia, and having a hot chocolate date with my eldest son. My son, upon hearing me shriek, offered to go straight down to the basement to retrieve said package from where our deliveries go. He ran down, then ran back up again, and we were breathless together. He handed me the package and I ripped open the top, and in it were two copies of a book that I had written - looking like a real book!

I brought a copy of EDGES to Writopia this morning to show it off - and I ended up parting with it when my fellow writing teacher and friend Courtney Sheinmel asked if she could read it!

"I'll take good care of it, I promise," she said. Why did I hesitate? I wrote the book to be read, didn't I? And what an honor to have Courtney Sheinmel be my first reader! "I'll bring it Tuesday . . ." I'll only have to wait a couple of days for a response!

Tomorrow, Monday: ARC show and tell with Lila Castle and Monday also means Megday, writing with my mentee!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

WRITOPIA

"Julia Child cut off one of her fingers while she was cooking," one of my Writopia students exclaimed gleefully during class today. We were having a conversation about the blogger Julie Powell, and her success eventuating with the movie Julie and Julia.

"Okay, put a cut off finger in each of your stories!" I said, wanting to get them back on track, back into the world of imagination. There are five fifth grade girls in this class, two writing realistic fiction, another two writing fantasy, and the last working with both satire and mystery.

"Really?" They say gleefully.

"Yeah - have fun with it - you can always cut it out later."

These kids are amazing. Last night three of them made their debut at a WRITOPIA reading at the Barnes and Noble on 66th Street. They spoke well, made eye contact, and were confident. They blew me away. And the thirteen other kids in different classes had the same level of passion.

It was luck and a snowstorm that brought me to this event - I had a previous commitment with Girls Write Now (see other posts!) and was at first very disappointed when I found out that it had been canceled. Yet it quickly dawned on me that I would be able to hear my student Writopians, and i adjusted my feelings.

I've been trying to wait to post about Writopia until I could find the time to interview my exceptional boss, Rebecca Wallace-Segall, but it has so seeped it's way into the fabric of my being, that I find myself mentioning it all of the time!

Rebecca founded Writopia in April of 2007, and I will shamelessly lift her bio from the writopialab website to brag about her. "Previously, Rebecca established the creative writing program at the Abraham Joshua Heschel Middle School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a consultant. While she was there, the program outperformed every other school in the city (including every elite public and private institution) in Scholastic's prestigious Art & Writing Awards competition. She was awarded recognition from The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards as an "outstanding educator" in 2006, 2007, and 2008. (Writopia won Scholastic's official endorsement in 2007.) Rebecca was also nominated by students and selected to be entered into the 11th Edition of Who's Who Among American Teachers."

I am incredibly honored to be a part of of Rebecca's team and am thrilled to help execute her vision of creating thriving communities of young writers. As with Girls Write NOw, I wish that I had something like this when I was growing up!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The ARC's are coming, the ARC's are coming!

It's happening folks. I can't wait to share the news so I'm blogging while I'm making spaghetti with pancetta, asparagus and shredded carrots. (Hopefully, nothing is burning!)

I spent a good part of the afternoon on the phone with the assistant editor on EDGES, (the amazing Beth Potter) going over what's known as "the second pass" loose galleys, pouring over every typo and questionable punctuation mark in the text. (After going through the "first pass" galleys, we had met in a coffee hop downtown and spent four hours going over the final revised manuscript to make sure that we were on the same page!)

Beth said casually today, at the end of squinting at misplaced quotation marks, that she had sent me a couple of bound galleys.

"What?" I cried. "Does that look like a real book?"

"Well, sort of," she said. "It looks like a paperback . . ."

"Is that the same as an ARC?" (Advanced Reader Copy.)

"Yeah, that's it."

"Wow, thanks! I can't wait!" We hung up the phone and I realized the import of our conversation, quickly updated my status on Facebook, and ran out into the snow to pick my daughter up from school . . . whoopeeee!!!!

But now I'm scared, because this means that people will actually read it, and have opinions . . . some good and some bad I suppose . . . and it's February 25th folks, but we still won't be able to get our hands on a hard copy until December 7th . . . hey wait, that's nine and a half months, a pregnancy . . . and lord knows I've had many of those and come out all right!

It's awe-inspiring, how much hard work that goes into publishing - so much so, that it truly becomes a team effort. You would think that I would know a lot about this side of the business because of my grandmother, but I didn't know anything - after all, she was already established as "Madeleine L'Engle, the author," when I was growing up, was always writing and publishing a book a year.(Sometimes two!) She made it look so easy . . . I'm glad to say now that I know that it's not easy, that it takes drive, effort, passion and discipline - qualities I am striving towards if I am able to have a quarter of the endurance that she had and still has, after her death. Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CHAPTERS (preview, part deux)

Oh, so many literary events! I am one lucky Chiquita banana. This week I have opportunities to attend THREE reading parties for young writers, though I can only go to two. Obviously, I can’t talk enough about Girls Write Now and what an enriching experience it has been for me. (A couple of days ago I wrote about my excitement for its upcoming reading series, CHAPTERS at the Center for Fiction on East 47th Street. You can come too, folks: this Friday night, from 6-8PM!)

Tomorrow morning, I will have the pleasure of going to my son’s fourth grade publishing party. I love publishing parties: the kids are all so proud of themselves, they dress up, we all bring food and we celebrate their efforts. A few will also read their work out loud, and I hope he will be one of them! He worked incredibly hard, writing two drafts by hand, and slaving away at the computer, taking hours to type it himself so that he could further revise and edit. He loves story, and appreciates how difficult it is to craft a good one.

But I am torn between two lovers, the two wonderful writing programs I am involved with, Girls Write Now and Writopia. They are both having readings on Friday at the same time! I teach fiction writing to kids at Writopia, and two of my students are going to be struttin’ their stuff at the Barnes and Noble on 82nd Street. (How I wish that I could clone myself.) It is an amazing privilege to workshop with these kids every week, to see their blood, sweat and tears and to challenge them to the next level. At Writopia, every six months, students get the chance to read at a professional venue, an invaluable experience.

I tell my students that reading your work aloud in a public forum is an important part of the process: it helps train you to connect with your readership, it helps you in the process of taking yourself seriously, it is another way of putting your words and yourself out there. Because as writers, that’s what we are doing: baring our souls.

What’s more . . . I’m also reading on Friday night, in a genre I’m not completely comfortable with! I’m starting to get nervous now, putting myself out there . . . what if people don’t like it? (What if people do?) What if nobody “gets” it? (What if they do?)

My own experience reading in public forums is limited to reading from a book I worked on for my grandmother that was published posthumously in May 2008, called The Joys of Love, but I wasn’t reading my own words.

Oh well, it’s a good thing I have beaucoup experience as a performer and in reading out loud to my three children – and I will have Meg by my side!

Monday, February 22, 2010

CHAPTERS (preview)

It's time for me to make the first of many Lit.Life announcements: Girls Write Now's reading series, CHAPTERS, starts this Friday night at the Center for Fiction, 17 East 47th Street. Meg and I, and some other fabulous mentee/mentor pairs will be reading our four minute pieces. Our guest speaker/writer is Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of the new novel Wench. I am so excited! Come and join us from 6PM until 8PM for a truly inspiring evening! (It was going to last years event that triggered me to volunteer with Girls Write Now - maybe it will for you too!)

Today is Monday and Mondays are centered around writing. I know, every day is supposed to be like that, but Mondays are particularly sacred. If I focus myself, it sets the tone for the whole week. AND I meet with Meg, my mentee from Girls Write Now.

I usually write from the comfort of my bedroom, laptop perched on my tummy, but with the constant lure of the internet, and my new found social networking skills, I am getting less and less work done. It used to be that Starbucks was my downfall - I am the introverts extrovert - I love chatting with people and am distracted by my neighbors. So I can't seem to win - cyber-social networking AND real human interaction keep me from being in the flow with my novel.

But today I went to a Starbucks a little farther downtown than usual, and I must say I had some success. My only friendly banter was with the barista. I wrote 1500 words before I needed to stretch my legs and move on. Then I went back to the Starbucks in my neighborhood to meet with Meg and it was GAME OVER. In the hour before she came, I couldn't resist talking to the people next to me, chair dancing, and connecting to the internet to check out what was going on in that world, over there. Oh well.

Meg and I practiced reading our piece out loud. We wrote it together during a game of "hot notebook" - I gave her a prompt, and then we passed the notebook back and forth every five minutes. Meg tends to turn everything she writes into fantasy, and while I love fantasy, my artistic sensibilities lean toward realistic fiction. So we came up with a really fun, quirky piece - we tried to cross genres but then completely went fantastical, and had so much fun in the process! We had to edit A LOT to get it down to a mere four minutes, and we took turns reading two or three sentences, finding a great rhythm together.

But Meg - we didn't talk about what we are going to wear! Should we go Goth?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Percy Jackson and the sweetness of boys

I just came back from seeing the Percy Jackson movie with 6 boys and my BFF. (Two were mine, one was hers.) You know what I'm talkin' about, the film adaptation of the first book, The Lightening Thief, Rick Riordan's highly popular series where a lonely boy who has difficulties both at home and in school is transformed when he learns that he is the son of Poseidon and needs to help stop a war between the Gods. Realistic fiction, right? The book's premise is that our weaknesses (loneliness, impulsiveness) can turn into our strengths (unwavering loyalty, warrior reflexes)

Hmmm, where have I seen that theme before, perhaps in A Wrinkle In Time?

It is one of the great literary tropes, used time and again to tell a compelling story. This series is wonderful for kids when they're constantly learning all about the boundaries within themselves and their mortal, fallible parents.

My BFF had planned this extravaganza - after the movie we were taking 6 of the boys back over to her apartment for Camp Half Blood where they would make shields, become demi-Gods and go on a treasure hunt, to be followed by the consuming of blue food and other games, movies. And if there's time, maybe a little bit of sleep.

I read all five books out loud with my guys, so it was with great anticipation that we entered the movie theater an hour early, claiming almost an entire row of seats. What would be the same, what would be different? I usually don't like to see movies if I've really enjoyed the book, but movies are a completely different medium, a different experience. I like the Harry Potter books better than the movies, but I have to say, I like The Lord of the Rings as movies better than the books. (I can't wait to see Return of the King with the boys, but we are still in the middle of reading it out loud together. No cheating!)

I was a little disappointed that the characters were teenagers instead of tweens - it added a different tension to the movie than was in the first book which grows organically in the series, and lessened the sweetness of Percy being thrust into heroic action. In the first book he is more vulnerable as a twelve year old, and not a studly teenager, as he was portrayed in the movie. But it didn't stop BFF's son from joyfully exclaiming: "It's the best movie I've ever seen!" I adore his enthusiasm, his ability to jump in and place himself within the story, enough to make the movie be "the best."

A few of the others were more lukewarm in their reaction. They were disappointed that so much had been left out of the book. When I asked them if they thought that the themes were still there, (which they were) one of them looked at me savagely and said, "there is no point."

"No point?" I asked incredulously. "Don't they get from point A to point B? Isn't there a goal?"

My young friend acquiesced, and then they argued in their nine-year-old intellectual one-upmanship about what the goals actually were.

"The goal is to save his mother!"

"No, the goal is to get Zeus' lightening bolt, and prove he didn't steal it," said another.

"The goal is to meet his father!"

Such wonderful, different points of view! "Don't you think those are all right, guys?" I asked.
"Our hero, Percy, needs to do all of these things. Now, if you were going to Camp Half-Blood," I say, following BFF's directive to get them in the mood for her creative exploration into Greek mythology, "what God would be your parent?"

"Apollo!" two chime in.

"Poseidon!"

"Zeus!"

Not one boy claimed Athena, Persephone or Aphrodite - I guess that nine-year-old boys still see their mothers as immortal! Or, they see us as who we are and love us even though we're not.

Sweet! For now . . .

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lessons from Madeleine L'Engle: Artistic Temperament

I'm trying to keep my writing machine well oiled while the kids are on winter break and hop from board games, to my WIP, to making lunch, to Facebook, and now to the blog, while the kids are getting some screen time (so I can get my screen time - you dig?)

I managed to write a scene yesterday whilst watching The Lion King, and surprisingly it holds up this afternoon. (But there's something about Shrek that makes me not hear the voices of my characters . . . mysterious process, this.)

I've gotten a few very supportive emails from Madeleine L'Engle fans - thank you so much and I hope that I don't disappoint you! The footsteps she has left behind are giant, and I had avoided the call of writing seriously for fear of negative comparisons. Yet thankfully here I am, forging ahead and finding my own voice.

Gran once beautifully said: Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling.

How I have bemoaned having an artistic temperament! I found myself constantly careening between the dark and bright angels, the darker seemingly winning the battle when I was younger, my grandmother being the lighthouse for my boat tossing about in the storm. This is why I find myself drawn to writing for young adults, as a young adult. I remember so vividly the careening emotions, the confusions . . . and the humor of adolescence.

A few years ago, scientists discovered that that the human brain is still developing until the age of 25. I wish I had known that - my intellectual understanding might have helped me somewhat with my inner turmoil. But how lucky was I to have someone in my life who didn't pathologize teenagers, and who knew me well enough to see a kindred spirit, one with both the burden and the gift of a sensitive temperament. Gran always said that she was a late bloomer in the maturity department. I can make that same claim without hesitation!

So in writing, my inner adolescent finds hope, and I find my bright angel leading me to my Higher Self. Dark Angel, I know that you are there, but let me soothe your chaos by finding the story, okay?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Tooth Fairy and other 'What if's'

Yesterday I took my kids to see hunky Dwayne Johnson as The Tooth Fairy - wait! Don't navigate yourself away from this page!

I can see you cringing. She's not really going to write about The Tooth Fairy movie, is she? I think I'll go visit another blog, thank you very much.

Actually, I am, because I made a commitment that I would "blog" every other day, and I haven't "blogged" since Monday, and the kids are out of school on winter break, so this is what I have to write about. I will try to be interesting.

(Although that wasn't part of the promise, I don't have that much chutzpah, besides, what's interesting to me might only be interesting to another couple of people, so I'm writing this for YOU, you couple of people!)

Let's couch this then in terms of STORY. We are all story-tellers, right? In this I'll show-you-mine if you-show-me-yours world, we all know something about spin, and perspective, and variances on that ubiquitous word, TRUTH.



Let me start again - I took my kids to see said movie - and my expectations were so low, that I was pleasantly surprised. Besides the fact that Dwayne Johnson is easy on the eyes and that Stephen Merchant (from Ricky Gervais' EXTRAS) is hilarious as the fairy case worker, it played with my favorite philosophical question: how do we choose to perceive the world?

Is there room for dreaming, imagination, growth? Dwayne Johnson's character Derek is a nice guy, but quite literal minded. He thinks that dreams are bad, that believing in anything other than the literal world is unfair. He is summoned to fairy land for tooth fairy duty kicking and screaming. His crime is being a crusher of dreams. Derek's vision of himself and the world is so narrow, we are subjected to many scenes of slapstickery (I know, not a real word), but we know what is coming. As his girlfriend (played by Ashley Judd) confronts him before his predictable change of heart, she tearfully accuses him of not being able to ask the question "what if."

I loved that. That's what we do as story-tellers, we ask the question, "what if," we revere the world of imagination. We all know and love people who are afraid of the "what if's," and I don't blame them. The "what if's" are scary, because there are no guarantees, and they can be negative as well as positive. What if I can't do it? What if I can? What if the moon was really made out of green cheese? What if I change my perspective from the glass being half empty, to the glass being half full? What if I could actually find my own voice?

I have struggled all of my life with issues of faith, what to believe and what not to believe. My grandmother, the writer, taught me that the impossible sometimes is actually possible. My father, Alan W. Jones, the Episcopalian priest, generously encouraged me to find my own belief system.

The "what if's". What if Santa Claus is real? What if I really matter? What if you really matter? Belief in the fantastical is FUN. Belief in love and the resilience of the human spirit is REAL.

"What if we get married?" Derek asks his girlfriend at the end of the movie. What if indeed!

Monday, February 15, 2010

This Valentine's Day Was Going to Be Different . . .


My fabulous Girls Write Now mentee Meg and I met early this morning for a post Valentine's Day writing extravaganza at Starbucks. I was groggy (despite my grande skim misto) and neither of us had thought about what we were going to write for the Girls Write Now anthology. What should we write this morning?

Looking for a writing prompt, I peered over at another table where I saw the words emblazoned across the paper - "the stars came out for fashion week, whaddaya think, Meg?" Her expression remained neutral. "Okay, how about this then: This Valentine's Day was going to be different . . ." She started writing.

What about me? I could turn fashion week into a science fiction fiasco, which would be fun, or I could write about Valentines Day . . .

This Valentine's Day was going to be different. I had gotten into the rut of making dippy Valentine's cards with my children and buying them some token candy, but I didn't want to do that again this year. My husband knows to buy me flowers the day before V-Day, saving me a ton of anxiety, because I've often felt bitter about the whole thing. It seems to be a have, or a have-not holiday, a popularity contest when you're in school, (who gets the most cards, candygrams, flowers, etcetera) pressure for togetherness.

Freshman year Valentine's Day I was trapped in boarding school with an unrealistic crush on a senior. There was a whole Valentine's assembly where roses were given out. (Other people have written more extensively and better about this ritual, so I won't do that here.) Would I get a rose from my crush? No, I would be crushed.

The there was the time in my early '20's when I started dating a guy in the beginning of February. We liked each other, but we made the mistake of getting together on Valentine's Day. I think it was our third date, and he was courtly enough to bring a rose, but there was way too much pressure to be romantic and talk too prematurely about where things were going. We laughed, but of course we didn't stand a chance. Oh, V-Day, I was foiled again!

And now that I've been with my husband for almost 14 years, married almost 11, there's still all of this pressure to be romantic on a certain day. A set up, for sure.

But Valentine's Day has so much potential, so much richness in symbolism and potential for ritual. I miss it - when I was a practicing Drama Therapist, I would often commemorate every event with ritual. And now that I have kids it would seem that it would be even more important to do that, so when did I stop bringing this kind of reverence to the table?

I talked to my husband about wanting to get my mojo back in this sense and he was fully supportive but suggested that the important thing was to be able to create a sacred space without making too big a deal out of it, so that it would be fun for everybody. (He knows me so well! I can be so - all or nothing, and I need to often find my way to the middle) I thought about what my Wiccan friends do on solstices, I thought about how simple gifts make my kids smile, so I went out late Saturday night to Duane Reade to see what slim pickins there were in the way of gifts. I bought the requisite chocolate and stuffed animal (frogs - perfect, since the kids have four African water frogs)

Sunday morning we had a full house with one of the boys friends sleeping over, and then a playdate coming over for Scarlett. In between those guests, I quickly gathered husband and kids, (not worrying about doing everything perfectly) some candles and other choice items from my interfaith altar, and had each family member choose a direction: North, West, South and East. Cooper started by lighting the candle of the North and asked for the element of earth to be part of our family. Finn (who takes great stock in being a Pisces) lit the Western candle and asked for the element of water, fluidity and creativity, Scarlett took care of the South, fire with fire, and Rob rounded out our circle with Air, the East. Clarity of mind, intention, which was love, and to say one thing we loved about each family member, and then to say one thing we love about ourselves.

It was so quick, but so intimate and meaningful, my heart soared. We don't need a V-Day to remind us that we love each other, but it was awesome nonetheless.

So yes, it was different this year. I took my boys downtown to a benefit concert for Haiti with the Metropolis Orchestra at the very romantic Le Poisson Rouge, and my husband got to spend some quality time with our daughter. And Rob and I stayed up late watching BIG LOVE on HBO, happy to be with each other, and where we are right now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Plagiarism vs. Inspiration

Last week when my friend and fellow fiction instructor Dan Kitrosser and I passed each other in the halls of Writopia, we commended each other for beginning our journey as "bloggers". When I expressed ambivalence, as in . . . if I'm gonna write every day, what the hey do I blog about? . . . he suggested that I write about plagiarism vs. inspiration, a topic frequently brought up by our workshoppers. Hmmmm, I thought. Yes, intriguing . . . then my friend Steve from Harlem Links Charter School (See Snow Day post) challenged me to share my thoughts on this issue by sending me a provocative article from the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/world/europe/12germany.html?hp

Did you just read it? No? Well, I'll synopsize (I'm making up words here!) It's pretty fascinating - a 17 year old girl named Helene Hegemann in Germany wrote a book about Berlin's drug scene that is a bestseller despite the fact that it has been grossly plagiarized by a lesser-known author. Not just sentences, but whole pages have been lifted from this other author's work.

What is interesting to me is the author's defense of her work, that it is merely the modern way, like in music when artists "sample" work by other musicians."It's not plagiarism, it's mixing," she says. But can authors "sample" from other authors without giving them credit? Isn't that called "stealing"? Musicians certainly give each other credit, so her defense doesn't quite work for me. It is interesting that she isn't horrified, which, I think, is what most writers would be.

What if I memorized a whole paragraph from something and my unconscious retrieved it ten years later?

People on FanStory use writing prompts and famous plots to have fun with writing, but they aren't trying to sell off work as their own.

The kids I work with often bring up concerns of originality, but I tell them that I am more concerned that they find their own creative expression. Harry Potter-esque plots abound amongst the tween set. Imitation is a form of flattery, and it is also a form of learning, and taking risks with finding your own voice.

When I was a teenager, everything I wrote had a tinge of existentialism to it, having been struck by Sartre and Camus. Then there was my magical realism phase after reading everything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Isn't this the way that we learn? That we internalize universal themes and the way to plot and character arcs? That's how I have certainly learned; from reading widely and voraciously.

This topic is HUGE, Dan and Steve. I've barely touched upon it, or done it justice in the short time that I have to blog today.

I have written about 20,000 words about taking care of my grandmother, and her descent into "old-age." Could it turn into a book? No - it's already been written, and by her, my grandmother, Maadeleine L'Engle. It's called The Summer of the Great Grandmother and it's a beautiful book!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Heart Revision

The school lunches are made, coffee is set up for the morning, and my husband is lying on the bed next to me crunching on an apple and playing Civilization on his laptop. I can't concentrate (on Jonathan Ames' extremely fun and captivating novel, The Extra Man - yup, taking a break from kid-lit) with all of this crunching going on, so I open my own laptop, and rival his crunching with the heavy tap of my fingers on the keyboard.

Confession: I never learned how to type. I am a lame-o two fingered typer/writer. I know, I know. I could learn - but that's the confession; I haven't gotten to it yet.

I finally logged in about a thousand words today on the Work in Progress (WIP) after days of staring at a blank page and being lured by other things (yes blog, I mean you!) and obligations to family, friends, and actual PAID work.

Being in the middle is hard. I am slowly inching my way up to 2/3rds of the WIP, so I've been in the middle for quite a while. I had coffee with my friend Daphne Grab the other week and I took the risk and told her what WIP was about, and she was so supportive and encouraging, she breathed new life into me. "It's okay," she said simply. "You can write about that." I am reminded that it is voice and craft that matter the most.

What do I do? I went back to the beginning and started filling in the details, working on the characters, constantly reminding myself that the story is there, no matter how fantastical or outrageously dramatic it sounds in my head, I need to make it ring true.

My closest friends have shared with me stories from their lives that you wouldn't believe if you read it. (And I've shared with them - EDGES now is completely fictional, but my first draft had some autobiographical aspects. "But that really happened to me!" I told my husband, the fierce editor he is. "That doesn't make it believable," he said.) Yet the facts speak for themselves. But in fiction, the facts don't just speak for themselves - you need complexity of character and motivation for actions even when - especially when - those actions are unconscious.

I think I know where I'm going now, the story is beginning to take shape. And I can't say what it's about yet; I don't want to jinx it. Teaser: this goofball here has chosen another difficult topic. Ha!

So . . . I really wasn't having fun with it for a while, but the story is begging for me to tell it. I'm trying to listen, really I am.

And sometimes I have to stop listening. I just have to stare into space for a while, go for a walk, take a yoga class, talk to friends, play/read/have fun with my kids and husband, so my heart and my ears can open again and my lame-o typing fingers can help the characters say what they need to say and do what they need to do. If I do that, then the two thirds will become a completed first draft sooner than later, I'll be having fun again, in the flow of the world being created.

Please. Because then comes my favorite part of the process.

Revision: It's like working on a puzzle - you have all of these pieces, but where do they fit together? Which are the wrong pieces? Where do you find the right pieces? I love revising, it's the best, I think I'm going to be a bigamist and marry it.

Now I'm really goofing off, but it's late, and I know you'll forgive me! Head hurts, eyes burning, must sleep! (And the time is totally wrong on this post - all of my clocks say that it's ten to midnight!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lit.Life on a Snow Day in NYC

Snow Day in NYC . . . Really? Okay, it's a great excuse to stay in my pajamas and finish reading Positively by fellow Writopia instructor Courtney Sheinmel. (Meg also shot me an email, asking if I would post something because she needed something to read as there was no school. Ha, ha!)

I was supposed to head up to Harlem Links Charter School this morning to see my friend Steve and to talk to some of his fifth grade class about A Wrinkle in Time. I haven't seen Steve since last year - he is very busy helping to run this wonderful school of which he is a founding member. It's funny because the same thing happened last year - the city had called a snow day on my scheduled visit!

In Steve's email to me yesterday, he invited me to participate in Read Across America on March 2nd, an event I went to last year where author's come and both read to and are interviewed by the kids. (It's a good thing I have a great reading voice as I am not quite published!) He also called it an "amazing coincidence" because, as he has been reading my blogs, he knows what has been going on in my lit.life.

He writes:

"By the way, if it’s any further enticement, I forgot to mention that Elizabeth Winthrop is signed up to come to Read Across America this year. I saw the synchronicity on your blog! Turns out she is a friend not only of one of our board members, but also a childhood friend of a former board member who is still involved in the school (and those two people don’t know each other!)."

Wild, huh? I get very excited about things like this!

Now onto Positively . . . I should have kept a box of tissues by my side, because my eyes were wet the whole time. Sheinmel opens the book with the death of thirteen year old Emmy's mother, death from HIV/AIDS. What is different about this book is that not only does Emmy have to deal with all of the feelings that come up from her mother's death, but the fact that she is HIV positive herself. Sheinmel expertly navigates Emmy's inner world and gives us a rich portrait of anger and grief as well as the struggle to keep a positive attitude in the face of loss and uncertainty. It is only when Emmy goes to a camp where she meets other girls with the same trauma, that her heart begins to melt.

Sheinmel does an amazing job of educating while she tells the story - not an easy task. HIV/AIDS is still a public health issue, and it seems to have fallen by the wayside. I remember growing up in the '80's and early '90's when it was constantly in the news and education about the disease was paramount. In the late '90's I remember teaching a health class and having it be part of the curriculum. Can anybody tell me whether HIV/AIDS is still getting the attention it deserves? Thank goodness there are better medicines so that people can live with the disease for longer, but people are still dying; it's still an epidemic. I want to thank Courtney from the bottom of my heart for shedding light on this subject. Read it! Have your kids read it! And if you want to donate, Courtney is heavily involved with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

To sum up and tie these two seemingly disparate things together, I am hoping that Courtney will be able to join Elizabeth and me with Steve at Harlem Links on March 2nd!


Monday, February 8, 2010

Shakin' It with the Can Man

I'm chair dancing in Starbucks. My amazing mentee from Girls Write Now is sitting across from me laughing as we discuss the afternoon's writing exercise. We decide to focus on character. I feel so blessed to have Meg as a mentee. We meet once a week to challenge ourselves in our writing and I am inspired by her willingness to jump into the process. She constantly reminds me why I love writing. Meg is an extremely motivated and bright high school senior, and we always take a few minutes to talk about where she is in the college application process . . . now it's the WAITING.

Meg starts writing a character study for a piece we co-wrote together for the Girls Write Now reading series called, THE HOW-TO GUIDE FOR INHABITING TWO-LEGGED ANIMALS. (In fact, we are reading our piece together on Friday night, February 26th at the Center for Fiction on East 47th Street. 6PM) I encourage her to continue developing this quirky piece she started during a lightening round of "hot notebook". (I started her with a prompt, she wrote for five minutes and then passed the notebook to me, I wrote, passed it to her, back and forth, etcetera, etcetera . . .)

Me, I want to do a character study of this man I see here all the time, The Man with the Can . . . Today he is sitting near us in full view, his large canary yellow can of Dominoes Sugar on the table in front of him. The can is as much a part of him as anything else. What is in there? He wears thick old glasses that remind me of characters in fantasy books - Harry Potter wore thick glasses, so did Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time, and dar'st we forget about Mrs. Who's glasses that help Meg to see her father and walk through walls? His dark skin makes him look younger than his actual age, which is old because I see wisps of gray peeking out of his blue hat. Under his green parka and argyle scarf, he wears a brown suit with snazzy black spat shoes and white socks.

My foot can't stop tapping to the groovilicious music coming through the Starbucks speakers.

"Hey Mister?" I want to ask. "Whatch'ya got in there?" But I don't. He is tapping his feet to the music too. We smile at each other in rhythmic solidarity. (The older woman across from him is shakin' it too. Meg's shakin' it, we're all gettin' down.)

He also has a green bottle with brown liquid in it. He is not a Starbucks patron, but a Starbucks regular. I have never seen him buy a cup of coffee, while I on the other hand, should own stock in Starbucks. He is self sufficient.

My man looks out the window, tapping his Dominoe's Sugar canister. Is he going to open it? He picks up his green bottle and unscrews the yellow cap - as yellow as the sugar jar. He takes a sip. I imagine it will transform him, that he will grow into a giant or shrink to the size of my thumb like Alice in Wonderland, but he keeps looking out the window. There is something incredibly dignified in his snappy duds and thoughtful expression as he people watches. I watch what he is watching, who he is watching as he sips and taps.

God is in his soul or is God in the can? Is God outside or inside? Will he tell me?

"Whatchyou got in there Mister?"

"Whatchyou got in there girlie?" Yeah.

He looks at me and leans over his can, placing his hands on the top and turning it. slowly opening . . . I am holding my breath . . . what could possibly be in there? Slowly, slowly it is opening . . . and . . . he pulls out a spoon and starts eating. Lunch. Lunch is in his canister. And watching him is a pleasure, enjoying his lunch, sitting by the window in Starbucks on a cold and sunny day, surrounding himself with his fellow man.

I am glad that it is something as simple as lunch, filling him up and nurturing him, as observing and identifying with someone from a different generation, race and culture has been nurturing for me. Sometimes, people just dazzle me.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I'll keep this short and brief as it is almost midnight, and I wasn't planning to write anything tonight, but I find myself strangely drawn to this blogging thing. I think that I'm actually starting to like this. For real.

I'm drawn in, seduced, knowing that I'm not alone, that there are 8 million other women doing this. 8 Million! (That is if we are to believe the Barnard magazine which I read cover to cover yesterday.)

I think it's starting to feel good because I am doing everything I can to put myself out there, while I'm waiting for EDGES to come out December 7th, while I'm waiting to hear about my second novel, (working title) GOD IN YOUR FACE that FSG has had for six months, while I'm stuck in the middle of my third (companion book to EDGES).

It feels good NOT to over-work and over-think something, to not edit and revise ad nauseum, to POST as it were and know that a few people might read, might relate, or not . . . there's the freedom aspect, and then there's the fear. The fear of showing myself, imperfect writer, warts and all.

It feels good to know that if I fail, it won't be because I didn't blog. :-) It won't be because I didn't use Facebook. (heh, heh)

I have to put myself out there, and I keep hearing my grandmother's voice telling me, if you aren't free to fail, then you are not really free. Thanks Gran.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fear of Photography

You may notice that I have a new profile picture. (Look right!) I hate to admit it, but the one that I had been using was pretty old. When my husband said it didn't look like me, and then my own MOTHER said it didn't look like me, I rolled my eyes, but I knew that I had to take action.

"It has no personality," hubby said of my other photo.
"That's YOU?" my mother exclaimed dramatically.
Sigh. I think that I was 15 pounds thinner in the other photo, and at least three years younger.

I don't like getting my picture taken. It brings up both my insecurities and my vanities, NOT a great combo if you ask me. I remember reading about a tribe in Africa who were traumatized when Westerners came with their cameras. They felt that their "souls" were being captured. I always related to that. I never seem to be natural or relax. Hubby says the best photos of me are when I'm singing, or being tickled. "That's when your natural goofiness comes out," says he.

Wait, I'm goofy? Pause. Yes I am.

The very same day I was taken to task for my photo, I ran into my friend, S. Jhoanna Robledo on Broadway and she asked whether I needed a new photograph for my book jacket. Is this a conspiracy? I ask myself. She let me know that she does portrait photography (as well as being a fabulous mom and journalist, currently covering real estate for New York magazine).

It's all falling together . . . Jho came over yesterday afternoon after telling me to wear solid colors. Now, if I'm not comfortable around Jho, then I couldn't possibly be comfortable around anyone else. So I let her see my insecurity and my vanity, and it's strangely intimate, and it's okay. She gets me to talk about things that make me happy, and gets my family in on the act to make me laugh. She is genuine and kind, having fun with me and loving the craft.

I am a happy customer. One step further on the path to publication!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Writers for Writers

Oh, I just came back from an amazing lunch at PICNIC in my hometown, NYC with six amazing women writers! How did I get to be so lucky? (And please forgive my blatant name dropping, but I AM so excited, and this is the lit.life, huh?) Well, let me tell you a story . . .

Last year a parent in my sons' school kept telling me about her childhood friend Rebecca, and that we would really like each other. "Her book is coming out in July, and the main character carries around a copy of A Wrinkle in Time." Nice! Then my sister told me about a book she was doing a blurb for where the protagonist . . . you got it, carries a copy of Wrinkle . . . well, I put two and two together. (I'm not just another pretty face you know . . . ;-))

In late August, I finally read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, and was entirely captivated. So I went to her website and sent her a fan letter and a bumbling would-you-like-to-have-coffee-with-me sort of thing. She did! She suggested we meet for breakfast at PICNIC on the Upper West Side and completely hit it off. She has long brown hair and the warmest eyes ever - she is so down to earth! We talked about growing up in NYC in the late 1970's (when her book takes place) and how different it is raising our kids today. I asked her if she would be interested in forming a children's writer's group - not a critique group or a workshop, but more of a support kind of thing. She was on board! We decided to meet once a month, and to invite a few other kid lit authors. She knew a few writers who might be interested, and I was hoping that Carolyn Mackler (who I was having lunch with the next week) would be interested too. Rebecca was the one who came up with the moniker Writers for Writers in the heading of an e-mail confirming our next meeting. It felt like an actual entity, a real thing. (Again, I keep pinching myself because I'm actually feeling like a writer, rather than just playing at being one. Although my grandmother always said that if you write, you are a writer . . . too bad that I didn't completely internalize that one!)

The next month Rebecca brought Daphne Grab, YA author of a beautiful book, Alive and Well in Prague, New York. (Check it out - I loved it!) And the after that, Rebecca brought Deborah Heiligman! (See last post) Wow!

Today, Rebecca couldn't be with us because she is in Chicago as part of a book tour for Newbery Award winning WYRM. But she still brought people! I was the first to arrive and just getting settled when in walks Elizabeth Winthrop, writer of over 55 children's books! I am in awe . . . then she tells me that not only did my grandmother blurb one of her books, but that we have the same agent, Edward Necarlsumer! (More jaw dropping . . . can't wait to tell him!) Then Daphne comes in, followed by Deborah, and Lucy Frank, another YA author with a new book out called The Home School Liberation League, and Carolyn rounded out the group.

FIVE outstanding author's and me! How did that happen? Deborah told us about receiving the phone call about her Printz Honor, (Will make a great blog post, Deborah!) we talked about awards, writing, not writing, websites, blogging, not blogging . . . and all of the above!

(Full confession now - I am ALWAYS scared to POST, but a very wise woman once told me, if you over-think, you'll never do anything. And then I imagine that nobody is reading or cares and this is a good spiritual exercise for me. So here it goes, I'm pressing the button!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Charles and Emma vs. the death of Non-Fiction

My lit.life has been occupied in the past few days with reading Deborah Heiligman's Charles and Emma, an extremely beautiful book about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, tested both against and with the faith of the wife he adored. It was not only a belief in God that lay at the crux of their personal differences, but religion and belief was much less nuanced, depending on the individual, than it can be today. Indeed, Creationism was the reigning unchallenged theory in the Victorian era. Heiligman clearly loves both Charles and Emma, as she leads us through their marriage, and how their love and independent thinking helps to shape Darwin's theory of Evolution. She portrays them both as heroes and I have fallen in-love with them through making parallels in my own marriage, and how spiritual differences challenge us to grow and develop a common language.

This is not a book that demands a frenzied reader, rather, it demands the reader pace herself and savor the words, the relationships, the time period. I have been thoroughly enchanted!

Charles and Emma won the YALSA award for excellence in non-fiction, and it is that term, "non-fiction" that I have been pondering as I read my friend's book.

I have also been reading my emails and the news and evidently, e-books are taking over, and "non-fiction is dead". How can non-fiction be dead? I read that there has been a small movement growing in some schools to eschew their books for electronic devices, resulting in some to prophesy that people will turn more and more to the internet for their research, and then people have been extrapolating research to mean non-fiction. Huh?

Yes, I'm confused and bewildered. How can you replace somebody else's meticulous research; how can somebody have an "anybody can do it" attitude? Children's book author's have been catching that kind of grief forever, but I fail to see how non-fiction requires any less craft than fiction. (Guess what - fiction writers have to do research too!) And why do we have to define it with a negative anyway? I am a fiction writer, but I love autobiographies. My boys love "how-to" books and history books (as well as fantasy/science fiction.) My husband reads the dictionary, but that is another issue!

And then there's the Macmillan stare down with Amazon! Yay Macmillan! (Macmillan is the big umbrella corporation for Deborah's publisher, Henry Holt, and my publisher, FSG.) Amazon has stopped selling any Macmillan book since Sunday night. It's a money thing . . . (check out the Author's Guild take on it: http://tiny.cc/Oxglk) I'm not against e-books at all, but I am FOR authors being able to make a living! (I've been thinking about some of the POSITIVE sides of an e-book take-over - there could never be banned books anymore! Books would be accessible to everyone!)

Call me old-fashioned, but nothing holds a candle to a book, and to SUM UP (as I have digressed) my hands have been happy to hold a book, my aesthetic sense has been pleased by looking at the font and feeling the actual pages, my brain has been stimulated by the philosophical questions and by Heiligman's references to Jane Austen, (FUN, huh?) and my heart has been soothed reading Charles and Emma where Heiligman's craft is evident: meticulous research matched with seamless storytelling makes for an award winning book!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fantasy afternoon at the Plaza Hotel


I love, love, love Eloise! After quite a literary weekend with Girls Write Now and teaching two classes at Writopia, what better way to relax (literarily AND literally) than to go to the Plaza Hotel with my four year old daughter, and our two BFF's for hot chocolate? The little girls were sure to wear their pouffiest, flounciest skirts and could not refrain from showing them off to each other as we waited for the bus. . . while we were on the bus . . . when we got off the bus . . .

When a pedi-cab offers us a ride, the girls shriek with delight and my BFF and I look to each other and grin, "Why not?" (But not before BFF haggles him down to $10. That's my girl.) The four of us climb into the back on this frigid last day of January, and the driver offers us a blanket to place over our knees. The magic is starting as our cheeks get rosier and rosier and the driver pedals his bicycle down 59th street and over to Fifth Avenue.

The girls cannot contain themselves from running full force up the stairs, heedless to my STOP's! Another conversation is needed about ooh! gasp! MANNERS. They are too excited, so I remind them to dance, and not run. We walk by the Palm Court, Eloise's favorite place for tea, but it is being renovated. We walk around the hotel with the girls spinning, stopping every so often to say "Fancy!" and "Delightful!"

Neither of us grown ups have been to the Plaza since it has been renovated - indeed, with three kids apiece we have stopped dreaming of such opulence. The hotel isn't crowded, and the staff smile benignly at our girls, and direct us to the "Eloise shop", and I think, uh-oh, merchandise is the work of the devil, but I instead I refrain from saying "we're only looking" and allow myself to be swept up by their glory. We go downstairs into the most glamorous mall I have ever seen. Dummy models dressed up in exquisite wedding regalia beckon to us. (The girls decide that they will definitely be getting married at the Plaza!)

Where's the Eloise shop? OMG, it's in front of us, all delicious pink confection. There are pink lampshades on the ceiling! There is a dress-up room, a tea party room, and a large room with overstuffed pink beanbags playing an Eloise movie. AND we have it all to ourselves! This is the best kept secret in Manhattan! The girls are in heaven. Wait - I'm in heaven! And the best thing of all is that the girls ask for nothing. (It is BFF and I who can't resist buying them a little souvenir to surprise them with later - a pink Do Not Disturb sign with a picture of Eloise.)

We are finally able to tear ourselves away from the Divine Pinkness and make our way up to the Rose Club, an invitingly glam and yet comfortable place with gorgeously upholstered couches and chairs. We feel transported in time as the girls dance to Frank Sinatra amid sips of hot chocolate and bites of cookies, telling us that they want to come back when they're teenagers . . . when they have money. Huh? They'll have money when they're teenagers? This I can't wait to see . . .