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.

Friday, October 29, 2010

My date with Jon Bon Jovi (!?!)

Bon Jovi circa 1986Image by smiteme via Flickr
I was going to save writing about my blind date with Jon Bon Jovi until next week when GLEE will be covering Livin' On a Prayer, but there is no time like the present. (And I can't stop thinking about how I always wanted to cover that song in my cabaret show.)  I haven't thought about this event in a long time, but nostalgia came flooding back after watching Glee's Rocky Horror episode.  I could fill a book with stories from RH - however, my 12 hours with Jon chose to come to the front and center of my memories instead.

Flash back 25 years . . .

It was the end of 1985. My pal Jodi needed to bring a "friend" on her date with the lead guitarist from a metal hair band in New Jersey, because he was also bringing a "friend" - the singer for the band. Would I step in?

Groan. Metal Hair bands were so not my thing, but it was Jodi - she was older and cooler, and she could have asked anybody else, but she asked me, and I was just a senior in high school. It was right before Christmas vacation and I was flying out the next night to see my parents in San Francisco. I lived at the YWCA in the village and they had a curfew, so she said that I could sleep over at her house in the East 20's.

Jodi was 23 - a wall street broker by day, and a hair-sprayed mohawk diva by night. We had met the year before at Danceteria, both of us attracted to this idea of a double life: the good girl/bad girl. I don't know why I didn't think metal was cool, but I didn't. You would think, from admiring Tim Curry's fabulous flamboyancy that it would be the organic progression, but I went more towards Goth and an obsession with Robert Smith and The Cure. (Shudder. Sorry Mr. Smith!) And I don't think I even asked the name of the band because I wouldn't have known anyway.

We went to a party in Chelsea to meet the guys. I wore a black vintage flapper dress that I had bought at Unique Boutique, my red hair sprayed into a flat-top, pale face, red lipstick. Jodi had sprayed her hair into a mohawk, and looked like a dominatrix. I was nervous walking into the party, I must admit. Everybody was so much older than me! There was no mistaking them - two tall skinny dudes in black leather pants and tremendously big hair. Jodi's date had black hair, and mine sported the dirty blonde shag that became famous in the '80's. Jon put me right at ease. He was warm person, and didn't feel the need to put on any act. We didn't stay at the party very long - they wanted to go to the hot new club - the Palladium (where I later worked after graduating from high school). I remember thinking to myself that their band must be pretty successful because they splurged on lots of champagne. Jodi and her date separated themselves from us and Jon and I talked the whole evening. We didn't even dance - just found a quiet corner. I don't think I'd ever talked to a boy that much before! He had just seen The Young Sherlock Holmes and loved it. Perhaps that is my strongest memory . . . just a really nice, down to earth guy.

We all went back to Jodi's in the middle of the night and I felt safe with Jon - we just cuddled - and I got on the plane to see my family in San Francisco. Of course, all that week I thought about Jon 24/7. Maybe we would go out again!

In January I ran into him at Danceteria, with another girl on his arm - but the look he gave me was so sweet and apologetic, I forgave him instantly. It wasn't meant to be - I was only a senior in high school, and I started dating the lead guitarist for a ska band, which was mush more my style of music, really. At some point that year - 1986 - I was watching MTV and a video came on - Livin' On a Prayer. Could that be? No! I reached for the phone and called Jodi - were those guys we went out with - were they Bon Jovi? She laughed and said yes. Now, I only have her word for it. What do you think?
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Monday, October 25, 2010

Edges Soundtrack

I've been obsessing over Anthony Kiedis and Paul Newman these days as I WAIT in this hallway for Edges to be unleashed on the world. What do these two have in common? Music. Why am I obsessing?

At this point Edges will sink or swim according to public opinion, and I know I have to let go. But I've been holding on for dear life, agonizing, agitated over how it's going to do out there in the big bad world. What else can I do while waiting for my book's debut?

1: I've come up with a plan to solicit author visits to schools and libraries (I'm already a teacher and a counselor - why not extend my passions to encompass a book so close to my heart?) by creating another page on my website.

2: A couple of weeks ago when I got all fancy and created a Facebook page for Edges the question begged asking: what on earth could I post related to Edges besides it's own little news blurbs? So I started out posting photographs and a musical playlist - setting a mood.

The first song I posted to the Edges FB page was Everlast's Put Your Lights On. This song never fails to make me think of Ava and her demons. Then came a whole slew: The Pixies, Coldplay, Sufjan Stevens, Pomplamoosse, Cake (go to FB for more!) . . . even my favorite actor Paul Newman, singing a song called Plastic Jesus in the movie Cool Hand Luke,  which never fails to make me weepy. Anthony Kiedis singing Knock Me Down with the Red Hot Chili Peppers sends spastic chills through me.

It is music that makes the WAITING fun, and I'm excited to let Luke and Ava guide me with their choices in music. Suggestions welcome!

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Keeping The Rose Between My Teeth

Tango SepiaImage by Pedro J Pacheco via Flickr
It's crazy, this writing life, but it has chosen me and we are tango partners, roses tightly clenched in our teeth.  I tried NOT to be a writer for a really long time, I did, but now I have accepted all of it's throes and woes. I'm not in it because I think I'm going to be the next Rowling or L'Engle. I am in it because it is who I am.

The tango is a beautiful dance, but sometimes all that clenching gives me a headache, what with all that financial instability, rejection, and public scrutiny. So why tango at all? I have grappled with the voices in my head telling me that writing is not "responsible", that I have an unrealistic view because of my successful grandmother, that I need to get a "real" job and support my family instead of flying by the seat of my pants. But what's "real"? I've never had a job that raked in the dough - I've worked in non-profit and in social services all of my life.

Four years ago, I took a six month hiatus from writing after sending my first manuscript out to three agents and having it be rejected. At the time I thought I needed to figure something else out, and FAST. I was spending a lot of time in hospital rooms with my grandmother fading and my mother's complications from a a minor surgery. I thought maybe my calling should be to go to nursing school. Here was a practical solution. Nurses were always needed, and I'd never be short of work. I figured: I have a great bed-side manner, I am kind and compassionate. I went to look at both Columbia and Pace University and was inspired by other prospective students who really would make GREAT nurses.

 However, that wouldn't be me. I'm squeamish.

And then I kept obsessing about Teach for America. I went to their website ten times a day, hoping I could figure out a way to do it. Reliable work would garner me the respect I craved, wouldn't it? But how could I be there for my three kids, teach during the day and go to school at night?

Go back to your manuscript
, a voice kept whispering. Don't give up.

Eventually, my tango partner would murmur in my ear . . . move to the suburbs . . . teach in Northern Westchester . . . take some calculated risks . . . so you can keep writing and being the parent you want to be . . .

So I did. I persevered. And I must continue to persevere, to kick-ball-change through this mad dance of creativity. And know that I probably won't make a living at it. And understand that it's not "practical". This is a calling, but it's also a choice. It's the fire in my soul. My kids may see me struggle, and I might get bitter once and a while when not taken seriously by others, but I will be a mother who values dreams, who listens to her tango partner, and keeps the rose in between her teeth.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

The Ghost(s) of Old Katonah

Halloween is coming! Want a great way to get in the mood? Write your own ghost story!

And we've done just that. It was a spooklily amazing evening in Katonah, for sure. Katonah is ripe for it's own ghost story (or several)! It is a pre-revolutionary town, and was originally where the reservoir is today. Back in the 1880's, with the rise of city life "down South" in NYC, people needed more palatable drinking water and Old Katonah was right in the spot where they needed to flood to make the reservoir. So people literally moved their houses. Yup, they dug'em up and wheeled them away. 130 years ago? So there could be ghosts in the "pool", or ghosts in some of the older houses that moved, hmmmmmm?

I had approached the Katonah Library back in September, wanting to offer a couple of free workshops in order to introduce myself (and Writopia) to the community. (Next month I will do a poetry workshop based around my grandmother's opus, A Wrinkle in Time. I created this workshop a few years ago for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. And I have to say I love it!)

Tonight was the night! There were four creative and excited sixth grade girls from John Jay Middle School, and a senior from Somers High School. Rich from Patch.com came to make the workshop "an event", with his camera and ever-ready pen and notebook.

Write a story in an hour, TOGETHER, with different ages and kids bouncing off the walls? Impossible, some may say. Nay, nay. We brainstormed, and each girl wrote their own part of the story. And we even had time to read it out loud. (Okay, I admit it. We ran 15 minutes late!)

I LOVE workshopping with kids and teens, love watching them fall-in-love with writing and seeing the spark of creativity flash in their eyes and . . . take off! They inspire me!
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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Finding Edges

What am I doing right now?  Looking at my Author's Statement again as I anxiously gear up for publication, reviews, and opinions. (People will have them.) So in the interest of transparency, I will share it again. (Unless you want to hear about the pancake breakfast fundraiser at my kids' school today . . . I didn't think so!)

EDGES was borne out of the year I spent in Moab, Utah. I had never heard of Moab before I went out west from New York City on vacation with a friend. We stayed at the Lazy Lizard Youth hostel where I met a cast of characters, including the man who would ultimately become my husband.

The surreal landscape of barren earth and red rocks called me to change my life, lobbied me to quickly, almost impulsively, quit my job as a Drama Therapist on the psychiatric floor of a hospital in the Bronx. It was meant to be: Moab’s Four Corners Community Mental Health Center needed someone to help start up an intensive out-patient program for teens.

My adventure to the desert shocked my family, friends, and most of all myself. Counseling teens in rural Utah? I was pushing the boundaries of my self-perception. To get on my feet, I stayed at the youth hostel where I had made some friends. Among the personalities at the hostel was a charismatic teen who had pitched a tent in the back and was ostensibly "living" there. Nobody knew his real story, and then one day after a long hike, I heard that this boy had moved on.

I’ve wondered about him ever since.

My work that year consumed me. I was naively shocked when a 14 year-old girl was sent to me for her habit of shooting crystal meth. She wound up in the hospital and an in-patient program. Most of the teens I worked with were court-ordered; it was all intervention and no prevention. I introduced them to a variety of tools, including behavioral therapy, the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and some outward-bound type hiking sessions. My faith in love and the universe was sorely tested treating these young men and women who were only seeking a way to transcend a hum-drum existence: drugs and alcohol replacing faith.

I was constantly asking myself questions. Aren’t we all seekers of some sort? Isn’t that what I was doing in Moab? Why is addiction so pervasive, and allowed to go unchecked? What road map can we offer kids who are lost, to help them find their way? Books have always been a kind of map for me, but I couldn’t find any fiction about the process of recovery. We all need some kind of guide, but our society trains us to use people, places and things in an addictive way, leaving us no room for faith in ourselves, let alone a Higher Power.

Years later, back in New York City, I had gone on to work as a high school counselor, was beginning to raise my own children and was helping take care of my aging grandmother, author Madeleine L’Engle. It was she who’d given me my first journal when I was a child, and though I always wrote, I’d never dared follow in her literary footsteps. She’d won the Newbery for A Wrinkle in Time and written over sixty books! My grandmother had always encouraged me spiritually and creatively, yet as her health declined she felt lost to me. It was only after she died that I felt her spirit again and found the persistence to finish a novel.

One morning seven years ago, the boy from the youth hostel figuratively tapped me on the shoulder and whispered the first scene of EDGES. I wrote furiously as if taking dictation. I called my protagonist Luke, and he was running away from his mother’s death and father’s alcoholism in New York City to a youth hostel in Moab, Utah.

I wrote the first draft in about three months, and then kept revising - for years. At first I was obsessed with the crystal meth problem. I read great books with graphic depictions of the descent into addiction, but nothing about the journey beyond that addiction. I was more interested in asking: what happens when you take away the substance? Or, if like Luke, you just run away? What does it take to remain authentic, to maintain a sense of who we are when our perceptions of the world are challenged?

I write to map the world, and EDGES came from my desire to portray transcendence amidst bleakness, my interest in flirting with the edges of mysticism and insanity, my curiosity in challenging where our personal edges are.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Status Update

Pictures from the EdgeImage by Ishmael Orendain via Flickr
It's been a while, I know. Four days in between posts! I've been cheating on my blog with my EDGES page on Facebook. (And thanks so much to those of you who have joined the fracas with me!) It's been fun -  posting music videos for my characters Luke and Ava and pics of movies filmed in Moab.

And I've been writing, writing, writing.

Ecstatic yesterday to print out my fifth draft of The Land of the Lost and Found, but then strangely sad when I attached it as a PDF and sent if off to my agent today. Strange, but true, because it is out of my hands now. There were a couple of things that I didn't want my characters to do, but there they were doing them, and once you've hit the fifth draft they become real. They speak for themselves. And I struggled with the ending. (I hope it's not too neat. I strive not to have too many loose ends, but nor do I want an ending to be a pretty package, tied up with a bow.)

My agent might not even get to reading it for a couple of months. And publishers are just so darn cagey these days anyway, so I have to let it go and move on to my next project. And write, write, write.

After I sent my manuscript, I had a conference call with marketing. Word on the street is that it's pretty much all on-line now, so I'm in pretty good shape. We'll do a book contest on Goodreads. They'll send ARC's out to a few select bloggers of their choosing and let them know that I'd be available for an interview or a guest blog. (They won't organize a blog tour per se) and that they have launched a website for teens called macteenbooks, where we will "interface". Not much new information, really.

I just want it to be December 7th already!

This I have to let go too. Take positive actions, let go of the results. Let go, or be dragged.

And write, write, write!
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Social Network

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 25:  In this photo ill...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
I wasn't planning on either seeing or writing about The Social Network, the new movie based on the book The Accidental Billionaires, but here I'm doing it anyway, because a projector broke in the theater showing the new Ben Affleck movie.

I wasn't planning on seeing The Social Network because I already spend enough time on Facebook, on my own social experiment. I am still getting comfortable with my on-line "self," which is limited to exactly that: myself. You won't see any pics of my family. And you also won't see me gossiping or saying anything mean. Yet I love the sense of feeling connected to a vast network of people, trading humorous quips, sharing personal and global news. It's FUN. Still, I am very aware that what you "say" on the internet is out there forever.

As it turned out, the movie is not about Facebook really. It is about the price of that overwhelming success, and how insecurity, revenge and ambition combust. It is Mark Zuckerberg as cautionary tale, shown through the character's inability to remedy his public cruelties against those closest to him. Michael Eisenberg's almost Aspergy-y portrayal of Zuckerberg is compelling right from the first scene, when his soon to be ex-girlfriend calls him "exhausting - it's like dating a stairmaster." He is grossly insecure and narcissistic, driven by revenge and obsessed with exclusivity. These frailties and obsessions drive him ironically toward creating Facebook, which succeeds because it is not exclusive.

We all make mistakes and misrepresent ourselves verbally. We all struggle with anger and how to express it appropriately. The Social Network seems to warn against impulsivity, and how acting on our hurt and rage in such a passive yet public way is corrosive to the soul. Aaron Sorkin's script was great, the actors were excellent, the editing masterful, David Fincher's direction suspenseful, and it was perfected by Trent Reznor's score. Yet my husband and I left the theater unsatisfied by the ending, as a sympathetic lawyer tells Zuckerberg he's not the jerk he tries so hard to be.  The story seems to let him off the hook. How disconcerting, when weekly tragic news reports remind us that what you broadcast on the public forum of the internet does have consequences.

Still, we can only focus on ourselves, yes? And leave the more critical Op Ed's to writers like Frank Rich who postulated in his piece in the NY Times today that Mark Zuckerberg is not the problem.  Yes he agrees, "You leave the movie with the sinking feeling that the democratic utopia breathlessly promised by Facebook and it's web brethren is already gone with the wind," but he goes on to tell us that Facebook politicians have taken over "and they are not your friends." They will say anything to win - Mark Zuckerberg's sowing the seeds of Facebook from his need for revenge (blogging nasty things about ex girlfriend and then creating a Hot Or Not rating system for female college students) are just a drop in the bucket in today's world of lies, false witness and half truths masquerading as reality.

Ugh. Not the greatest bedtime story.
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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Writers 4 Writers

Okay, I admit it. I am a lousy photographer. My hands always shake like crazy and everything looks grainy. I never do anybody justice. Maybe that's why I practice writing instead - I want to understand and see the world through words.

Yet today these awesome women, writer ninjas, gracefully acquiesced to me chronicling evidence of our lunch together on the Upper West Side of NYC. From left to right are Rebecca Stead, Daphne Grab, Deborah Heiligman, and Jeanne Betancourt.We have been meeting for lunch the first Thursday of the month for about a year now.  Not everybody can always make it (for instance, today we were missing Elizabeth Winthrop, Lucy Frank and Carolyn Mackler) but we appear at the restaurant in various constellations. I haven't been able to see these friends for the past two months, and was almost afraid that these lunches had been a figment of my imagination, and the relationships I had begun to forge dust in the wind.

But they were still there. You all know that I have been freaking out about the upcoming publication of Edges. You know that I have planted the seeds in so many ways and I am waiting for things to sprout. (Edges, Writopia in Northern Westchester, the FREAKING house stuff, my WIP . . . did I mention the freaking house?)

Yes, these women were still there. All of them, down to earth and real, with their own ups and downs. "You've got to put on your suit of armor," Deborah said to me. "You have to balance between between being excited, but also not caring so much because," she paused again, staring into my eyes. "You'll be writing other books."

Yes! We lingered for over two hours, and I can't tell you much else for BREACH of friendship contract! I am  only allowed to spill MY guts on here after all, not others.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hold Me Closer, Lish McBride

Lish McBride's Hold Me Closer, Necromancer has everything a teen could want in a book: fast-paced action, witty dialogue, conflict, sensuality, and a cast of characters that include necromancers, werewolves, witches, and harbingers (of death) living in present day Seattle. HMCN is classified as "supernatural" or "magical" fiction, and McBride uses this conceit to weave a remarkable coming of age story.

Our hero, Samhain Corvus LaCroix (Sam for short) is adrift. He has dropped out of college and is working as a fry cook at a fast food restaurant. What he doesn't know is that he is a necromancer, a magician capable of raising the dead. Sam's life gets increasingly more chaotic, funny and scary as he gets caught up in the supernatural world. (Wonderful metaphor for adolescence, huh?) We are rooting for him as he finds his strength and self-acceptance. Didn't it take us all time to accept our own uniqueness? Sam shows us how our quirks and differences can become an anchor. I laughed at the predicaments Sam and his friends found themselves in, although on a certain level, they were horrific. (As Sherman Alexie says on the blurb: "This a SCARY funny book OR a Funny scary book. It either case, it is a GREAT book. I LOVE it.") Sam and his friends have to accept a friend's death, after carrying around her severed talking head for most of the book. Heavy stuff, brilliantly executed.

It has been both a novelty and an enriching experience becoming on-line friends with Lish. It was a thrill to receive an advance copy of her book, in the mail over the weekend, before it's release date of next Tuesday, October 12th. First of all, she had me at Hold Me Closer. (C'mon, don't you feel the same way?) Second of all, I must admit that I am pre-disposed to like the book just because I like Lish so darn much. Her posts on Facebook always have me in stitches, her banter intelligent, crafty, meaningful and lighthearted. Those are difficult qualities to pull off in creative writing, and I was hoping to find the same qualities in HMCN.

I was not disappointed. She is the Rick Riordan for teens, and an even better wordsmith. (Indeed, my only disappointment is that my sons will have to wait a few years to read her work!)

Fans like me will look forward to HMCN's upcoming sequel and be clamoring for Hollywood to knock on Lish's door.
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Yes, there is a page for Edges on Facebook!!

Thank you to all who encouraged me verbally and spiritually to create a fan page for Edges. The cast of characters at The Moonflower Motel Youth Hostel eschew technology for adventure in the desert, but as it's author, I must not do that. In my last post I shed light on my confusion with publicity and marketing. A few of you reminded me that other writers become their own on-line marketers, and I guess I needed permission to do that. I don't want to turn people "off" with shameless self-promotion, but I DO want people to read my book! I also want to be "liked" and putting it out there makes me vulnerable. Welcome to the club. It's not a popularity contest, although it certainly brings some of those fears to the surface.

So - yesterday I rolled up my sleeves and went to work at 4PM, almost tearing my hair out in the process! My smarts are not extended to computer . . . what's the word . . . stuff. I made many mistakes, and even sent out an email inviting all of my "friends" to be "friends" with Léna Roy again. NOT Edges. Embarrassing. I couldn't figure out how to publish the page. But three hours and a very hungry family later, I conquered. I still have to figure out how to link the page to my blog and my official website, but I'm on my way.

And you know what, I feel empowered. In less than 24 hours, 88 people have clicked the "like" button for Edges. A far cry from world domination, but a very good start I'd say! :-)

Thank you for being part of my process!

PS Special thanks go to Wonderwegian, for writing DO IT, and to Kathleen McDade, for finding the FB link! (They don't call her Technomama for nothin'!)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole . . . Of Publishing

alice-down-the-rabbit-hole-with-frame-and-wordsImage by bluebirdsandteapots via Flickr
I feel like Alice. I've chased the rabbit, the dream of being a published author, and I have in turns grown too big and then too small. I have made the mistake of thinking that by virtue of being published, I am validated as a person. Personal validation is an inside job, one that I'm getting better at, but at times I'm found in need of remedial help.

So, re: publishing . . . Shall I burst into tears? Or can I access that most-zen aspect of Alice, when she says "Curioser and curioser," an observer as well as a participant, but with ego in check?

I have an agent, a publisher, and a team of friends and colleagues behind me. And yet I fear my little book will get lost in the shuffle as so many do, when we live in a world where Snooki gets not only a book deal but a rush to be in the stores by the New Year. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Barnes and Noble and Borders!)

People ask if there will be a book tour. No. That's just the state of publishing today. My friend Rebecca didn't get sent on a tour until after she won the Newbery award for When You Reach Me. My friend Dave, one of the smartest guys I know, has a lot of suggestions and tough questions about sales and marketing, and reaching independent bookstores. With publishers and their publicists so befuddled these days, its as though authors are interlopers at a tea party held by the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. And I really don't know how to get Edges onto the map of all of those wonderful independent stores across the country. How to be more proactive? I'll have to create my own tour. To NYC I can say: I'll be all over you, I'll bring it, and you won't be disappointed. I will also be in Washington DC the weekend of December 18th, Orlando, Florida in February for President's Week, and possibly in the Bay Area next Spring.

Maybe I'll find out more in the next couple of weeks about an online and an overall marketing plan. If I don't, or if it makes me feel more confused and I do float away on my puddle of tears, I'll just have to remember it is part of my journey and will take me to another opening, another door, and remain curioser and curioser.

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