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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Vacation Re-Cap . . . and the winners!

Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams i...Image via Wikipedia
Hello! I've missed you! Absence makes the heart grow fonder . . .

I had a week full of non-stop action, adventure and sunny days with my family and my BFF and her family. I've proven to myself that I need to unplug more often. I need to frequently change directions, and look at things from new angles. Isn't that true of everything? Especially with writing?

My best vacations are with my BFF. She was the one I went to Moab with in 1996. (Pre husband and kids) And we all know what happened after that, don't we? I moved there!

(What happened while I was "gone"? Cynthia Leitich Smith featured me as a "new" author on Cynsations! Check it out - I answer two interview questions about character development and the beast of marketing . . .)

I have several ideal vacations, and this was one of them, although I didn't plan it myself. (My BFF surprised me by making the arrangements over a year in advance, because she knew that I wouldn't do it otherwise. As a writer without a steady income, I am always worrying about money!  My BFF was surprised herself when my husband and I agreed to her extravagant plan . . . but we were moving out of the city, and the kids would have a long time to look forward to it, which is always a great part of vacation - the anticipation! And nobody is getting any younger, yada, yada, yada . . .)

I didn't have time to think about myself as an "author" and all of the marketing trials and tribulations that come along with that. I was a mom, a friend, a wife and a writer: my imagination was doing triple time. I have the seed for a new book. I had a hard time reading other fiction, because all I wanted to do was read the book I haven't written! (So yes, I guess there is a slight danger of me moving to a cruise ship. It's going on my Bucket List!)

Our group was four adults and five children. We took a 4 night Disney cruise to the Bahamas, and then spent 3 ten hour days in the parks in Orlando: Magic Kingdom, Universal's Islands of Adventure, and Animal Kingdom. The kids were in heaven. Our girls are two months apart, and they had a blast meeting princesses, swimming and playing in Pixie Hollow. The boys are 9, 10, and 11 and they were happy to be free-range on the boat, two of them becoming pin nerds. (What a great marketing idea from Disney - pin collecting/ trading - and the staff HAVE to trade!)

We took the parks by storm and were able to do everything we wanted. We even saw a space missile launch whilst we stood in front of Cinderella's Castle! Harry Potter World was AMAZING, although it would have been better if they made all us visitors wear robes. (There was quite a crowd as you can imagine!) We stayed "off campus" and were grateful that the hotel pool was open until 10PM, as our feet needed the downtime! I would have liked just one more day to do "nothing", but I am thrilled with the whole experience!

Now, the trick is, to keep this vibe until the next vacation, right?

 And the vacation winners are . . . Victorija and Wonderwegian! Email your addresses to: lena.roy@gmail.com and I will snail mail the audio CD's to you tomorrow!

Happy last day of February! It's raining . . . do I smell spring?
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Friday, February 18, 2011

Vacation Contest!!!!!!

Vacation: a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday.

In honor of family time and the kid's winter vacation from school, I am going to take a break not only from my WIP, but from Facebook, blogging, and Twitter.

In my absence, I will be hosting another contest - this time I have two audio versions of EDGES to give away, featuring the fabulous Ryan Gesell and Cynthia Holloway and produced by Listening Library (Random House).

How to enter?

Follow this blog if you don't already, and in the comments section, tell me either what your ideal vacation is, or what you need a vacation from. (And while you're at it, couldn't hurt to "like" my EDGES page on Facebook too! Just because I'm taking a break, doesn't mean you need to!)) *

I need to live my life and fill myself up this week with family, friends and fun. What are we doing? I will keep that private until the contest is over, which is Monday morning, February 28th at 10AM. I will pick two winners lottery style, and then regale you all with a post about lessons learned on "vacation" from my internet/ laptop self. (I'll still be writing in my journal. I can't NOT write!)

Happy dreaming, living, and/or writing!

* If my question doesn't float your boat, just tell me what you are reading to enter the contest! I will be reading The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (I guest blogged on her blog last December) and The Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writers Are Naive

Moonlit Night -- a "naive photograph"Image by onkel_wart via Flickr
Well, maybe I should speak for myself, but I only mean it in the kindest way. Or do I?

We have to have a sense of naiveté to push us through writing, both a sense of wonder and human vulnerability and compassion. We have to be authentic, genuine, "without artifice". We are constantly taking leaps of faith.

Maybe that's why the publishing industry has me pulling my hair, because so much is artificial. There is so much to weed through. I don't want to just build an audience - I want to build a community. I want to interact with readers and writers, with other folks who want to transform and transcend through the power of creative expression, or by sharing a world with an author. It's an intimate relationship, between reader and author, isn't it? Whether we love a book or not, we co-create with the author. We bring ourselves to the table.

There are so many places I want to go to, and someday, I hope to have the means to have a live tour, with real hugs instead of virtual ones.

I took a leap of faith with Twitter today, by starting to engage in chats with other ya authors on yalitchat. It was fun, until people started joking about sex parties and drinking. I jumped in and said that my book was about recovery from all of that, and that pretty much stopped the conversation. Did I open mouth and insert foot? Feeling a little insecure, and yes, naive!

But I won't stop taking leaps and trying to learn!

I have signed up to do free Skype visits with teachers/ librarians/ book clubs this spring who have read Edges. You can find out more about it here! I am very excited to interact in this way with people.


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Monday, February 14, 2011

I Heart Books Giveaway!

I'm hosting a giveaway on EDGES' Facebook page. All you have to do, (if you haven't already) is click LIKE on the page (show me some LOVE!) and then post the comment: "I heart books" somewhere on my wall. Easy, peasy, right?

I wanted to write something full of pith, vim and vigor for you today, for Valentine's. Because while love isn't complicated, Valentine's Day can be rife with heartache and disappointment. But I have succumbed to the dark legions of illness and my head and chest are swimming with ugly germs, so I'll have to pass for now, and I'll get back to you tomorrow. There's always so much I want to write.

In the meantime, you can check out my VD post from last year: This Valentine's Day Was Going to Be Different.

AND if you write "I heart books" and then share the EDGES' page on your own wall, helping me to continue spreading the word, your name will be entered TWICE in the lottery, doubling your chances! Whoo, hoo! Some new fans would be a great Valentine's present for me. In fact, I am going to compliment as many people as I can today, in an effort to pay it forward . . .

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Writing Challenge: Switching Narrative Voice

BOISE, ID - MARCH 20:  A cheerleader for the P...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Now that I've handed in LAND OF THE LOST & FOUND to my agent, I can't sit around and twiddle my thumbs for his response, I need to have another WIP to sink my teeth into. Fortunately, I've got IN YOUR FACE, and I've got my work cut out for me: my writing challenge in the months ahead will be taking this old manuscript with a story I love, and breathing new life into it by changing narratives and tense. Sound simple? It's not!

The manuscript isn't that old - I started writing it after my agent had sold EDGES to FSG (and we all know that it was published two and a half years later!) I wrote another double narrative in the third person past tense. I LOVE double narratives, because I love how it shows different points of view! And I think that it's so important to remember that our perspective is not the only one, as I did in EDGES, showing the different faces of addiction in families.

But it wasn't working for IN YOUR FACE. Now, I don't want to give away too much, but it's based on a trip down to Panama City Beach in Florida to participate in a cheerleading convention, ON A REALITY TV SHOW. How could I have not written it in first person present all along?

I can hear my main character's voice better. She's more alive. It's so different! Such a great exercise! It is not merely changing the she to I, the was to is. Check out the one sentence I was able to work on this morning:

The ride to the airport rushed by in a blur. Memories of things said tugging at her mind, things that she would rather not think about.

Changes to:

The ride to the airport is a blur as memories tug at the corners of my mind.  Self analysis has never been my friend, so I try to focus on my environment, even though we have left Manhattan far behind. I wish that we had stopped in Harlem to buy a mango-on-a-stick or at least some honey-roasted peanuts, but how could I have done that with a camera in my face? 

It's so immediate, and works better for the situation. I am hearing her thoughts. And dialogue is so different too - there's no he said, she said.

The whole manuscript is going to either be cut, or changed, so why am I even working from it? It's like a blanky, I need it for security! I'm tricking myself into thinking I'm just revising, when I am really rewriting and reconstructing.

Maybe that's why I've been procrastinating so much! Today's excuse? My daughter is sick, so I've been cuddling her while she dozes. (I'm supposed to be at the library with Judy Blundell, but she understands.) Right now my daughter is watching The Lady and the Tramp with eyes glazed over, while I at least write something.
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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hair Today

Hair. Yes, I'm really going to write about hair. What does it have to do with a Lit Life? Well, we'll see, but I'm definitely thinking of lightening my hair a lot. As in platinum, a la Marilyn Monroe.

My hair is short now, you see, so the stakes aren't really that high. I went to a new hairdresser, a fabulously hip older guy who had 3 hair salons in San Francisco during the 60's and 70's, wrote a screenplay with Ang Lee and owns a boxing studio in Mt. Kisco, where he also does hair. How could I NOT go to him? And I will go back, because the fact that my hair is short is entirely my fault. I wanted to put myself in his hands. I didn't say anything about length. He has a mural painted of a jungle by his hair chair, and I was staring right into the eyes of a tiger. It seemed serendipitous that I would be looking at a tiger instead of in a mirror, as I have a tiger tattooed on my back.

He cut and I had to run, to take my daughter to ballet class. I called the husband to warn him that my hair was shorter than I wanted. He loves long hair. I got home and everyone said "oh no!" I grabbed my daughter, dropped her off at ballet and went out for coffee with another mom. Hours later, I got an email from the barista, saying that I had left my purse there. I was so off my game I hadn't even noticed!

In yoga class yesterday, my friend reminded me that it looked like one of the cuts I had in college. Yeah, I thought. And I had platinum hair . . . I joked with my family over dinner about it, and my husband said seriously, "You should do it!" My eleven year old son said, "oh no mom! That would be so embarrassing!"

I have been a hairdresser orphan for many years now, fecklessly wandering, looking for a place to hang my hat. In my youth I was spoiled by having hairdresser friends who would do my hair for free, from shaggy cuts to blues and pinks, graduating to sophisticated highlights in my mid 20's. Expensive hair, but I was hooked. I was hooked also on not having a decision on what to do - since I wasn't paying any money, I would allow them free reign and I was always grateful.

When I met my husband, I was 28 and had just moved to Moab. Before I left NYC I had thrown down a lot of money for the first time on my hair. It was long, straight, thick and lustrously highlighted with golds, blonds and reds.

We miss that hair. Age and the hormones from pregnancy changed the texture of my hair so that it is curly on the bottom and straight on top. Instead of losing my hair, it grows bulkier, so that my face gets completely lost in it, and it feels brittle.

The last time it was cut short was when I was on that Reality TV show almost seven years ago, the one where I was trained for four days to be a cheerleader. Don't tell me I haven't told you about that? (Well, I'm working on fictionalizing that experience right now . . .)  It was right before I got pregnant with my third child and part of the experience was a "make-over".

Now it's short again. Is this my chance to do something wild? I don't think I can ever go back to that sophisticated hair I had when I met the husband. I might not ever be twenty pounds thinner either. Shouldn't I just accept what I have and have fun with it?

I would do it myself, out of a box. I think I just might. Maybe I'll chicken out of platinum, but my hair will be "lit" somehow.

P.S. I took the advice of my real life Facebook friends and went to a salon, settling for Gold instead of Platinum. It was well worth it! I am well-lit, n'est-ce pas?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dear Student

Embraced by WordsImage by Robbert van der Steeg via Flickr
One of my cyber friends, Jodi H, a fabulous teacher in the state of Washington has prompted today's post. She writes:

So one of my students says to me the other day...

"Ms. H, don't you think we over analyze this stuff. I mean really, do you really think all of these authors sit around and THINK about this stuff? Do they really spend hours coming up with metaphors and symbolism and word choice? They just say stuff don't they? Doesn't it just flow out of their heads? Come one, do we really need to talk about WHY and author does something and why it is important?"

I responded with yes, yes they do and yes, yes we do.

Well author lady :) do you have a response for my lovely student?

Dear LS (Lovely Student),
I remember thinking exactly the same thing, frustrated by what I thought was over analysis of a book. In class we weren't just looking for symbolism - it seemed like cannibalism, starting with decapitation! I would feel sorry for the author's who had no idea, I imagined, that we were torturing their babies.

I also thought for many years that I wasn't a writer, because "stuff" didn't flow out of my head whenever I wrote. Sometimes it did and it still does, of course. But that is grace. It took a long time for me to understand what the saying: labor of love meant, and I think that ALL writers and artists feel that way about their craft - it is work, but they love it, we love it.

Picasso would paint a picture over and over again, in different colors and shadings, just to rule out everything that wasn't right. It is the same with writers, published or not, who keep at it. I always wrote, but I wasn't  real writer until I fell in-love with revision, until I trusted that I could be embraced by the right words.

I am at the beginning of my writing career, and I wish that I could show you drafts of my work. Edges went through 13 drafts. The first draft did come easily, I have to admit, but it took that long to really find the story. Now I'm no Picasso, but I kept thinking of him with each draft I did. The first one was too blue, the second one too red (and so on.)

I am working on a third draft of a manuscript now, changing the narrative from the third person to the first person. I couldn't hear my character's voice before, and now I can.  It changes everything.

Am I answering your questions? Because I also want to address why you are asking them at all. (And I'm glad that you're asking, even if it's out of annoyance.) I suspect that you are right on the cusp of discovering yourself through critical thinking. I suspect that you are frustrated because you don't realize how important developing your own perspective is. You matter.  You are learning  to discern what works for you and what doesn't in not only books, but in your life. That's worth exploring, isn't it?

Fiction works on so many different levels. 100 people are going to have 100 different reactions to the same book! We can't help but see the world through our own limited experience. The hope is that literature will raise our consciousness, but of course not every book does that for every person.
(I don't like a lot of books that everybody else loves and vice versa!)

I worked hard on my papers in high school because books and words  fascinated me, but I also needed good teachers to show me the way, to tell me what to look for.

But never what to think.

From reading, discussing and writing, I learned not only about story structure, but who I was, what I believed in, what I thought. If I disagreed with something, I learned to say so, and to present a pretty good argument. I saw the power of words and respected them. Words are a powerful tool, and they can be your tool too!

LS, "writers" aren't the only ones with a monopoly on words. You will be able to find your own, I promise.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Strings Attached

I am having an incredibly hard time writing this post. Words are not tumbling forth from my consciousness in an organized way. Perhaps that's because I am about to review a friend's book and I am intimidated; I want to do it justice. After all, I had the privilege of reading it before it's release date on March 1st. And I offered to read it with an actor's eye, to help the author choose scenes for a dramatic reading with other YA Greats at an event during Teen Author Week in mid-March. Why am I erasing everything I write?

There are no "strings attached" to my friendship with  Judy Blundell, (ba-dum-dum). And yet it's no secret that I adore her. However, I wouldn't write about her work if I didn't love it, so let me just dive in.

Meet Kit Corrigan, a seventeen year old who flees Providence,  Rhode Island for the neon lights of Broadway where she lands a job as a chorus dancer.

"Lust, liquor, and legs - that's where I came from. That's who I was."

The year is 1950. Kit is hungry, in ALL senses of the word, and she accepts a free place to live from her boyfriend's father with "no strings attached." And of course there are. Judy brings the reader along by slowly revealing Kit's past through flashbacks, layering the motivation and just why there are strings attached. Judy is as much a master at revealing character through dialogue as she is at creating a ladder of suspense, of mystery. She writes in a style that is achingly true to the time period.

I watched the movie in my mind as I was reading it. It's got everything actors would want: strong characters, nuanced conflict and snappy dialogue.

I couldn't help but think about my grandparents all though the book. When I was a young, I used to fantasize about the theater. I wanted to be an actress, yes, but I didn't want to be a modern actress, oh no. I wanted to be a 1940's starlet.

My grandparents met on Broadway, in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. (You can read about their love story and life in the '40's in Two-Part Invention, by Madeleine L'Engle.) At their house in Connecticut they had an entire hallway devoted to head shots of their actor friends from the 1940's. It was so incredibly glamorous! My young heart was filled with dreams of the stage and film, obsessing over everybody from Katharine Hepburn to Marilyn Monroe. (And yes, there was a photo of Kate!)

Is it any wonder that Judy had me at 1950? And that I would be seriously excited because I fell in-love with her writing after reading What I Did and How I Lied, set in the mid 1940's? Strings Attached is written in the first person, and I was able to put myself in Kit's shoes - I was able to live vicariously through her.

I just wish that I could pass for seventeen, so I could play Kit in the movie adaptation.

Well, I can still dream, can't I?

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Writing Demons and Daemons

Demon earthImage via Wikipedia
My writing demons and daemons are colliding this week, and the demons were winning.

But then this morning, Deborah Heiligman left this in my inbox: a video of Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talking in 2009 about a new way to think of creativity. I had watched the video several times when it first came out, feeling the tingle of recognition of a philosophy that had been passed to me from my grandmother.  Man, did I need this reminder before I started working this morning! (Thanks, Deb!) Here Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the need to detach from our creativity - she calls for viewing creativity from an Ancient Greek or Roman lens - looking at creativity as something outside of ourselves, something God-like that is-not-us. The Greeks called them daemons, and the Romans called them geniuses. And how freeing that is. Because whether a book succeeds or fails, it is not wholly OURS.

This picture is a wonderful representation of how I feel when my demons have me in their clutches. I'm standing in the fire and my back is breaking from carrying the world on my shoulders. I'm going to drop it! All will be lost! The incessant marketing I seem to be doing for Edges still feels like I'm not doing enough, and at the same time,  so much focus has been on me, leaving room for my demons to whisper in my ear: Nobody's heard of you, this is all a pipe-dream, who do you think you are anyway, why didn't you become an electrician like your friend Jude? Or a nurse like Deirdre? You should just give up, get a "real" job.

And then there's my daemons, or the tiger Solomon (tattooed on my back - an unconscious homage to Phillip Pullman and His Dark Materials?), or God, that mystical experience of something that is not me but moving through me once and a while when I write. It's why I sit down, day after day. It came on Monday, briefly, and then again on Wednesday morning, but not since then. There is something almost paranormal in all of the messiness of writing. I have known that with every fiber of my being since childhood. And it's our adult demons that block us from our daemons.

I love my daemons, but I need to appreciate what I can learn about myself from my fears. They may be out in full force when I focus on "marketing", but there are joys as well, as you know. If I put my attention on the warmth of the notion of "community" instead of the coldness of "network" and "market", seeking to widen my community through social media,  my demons won't suck me into the abyss.

I am getting the hang of Twitter, I am pulling back from Facebook, and because of you, my cyber-friends, I have scheduled a trip to Richmond Virginia to visit Fountain Books in March (thank you Kristi!) and Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania to visit Barnes and Noble in April (thank you Alison!).

Breathe in daemon, breathe out demon.

And, as Jim says to Luke in Edges, "Life is too serious to be taken seriously." Lighten up!

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Race To Nowhere

Day 25: Race To NowhereImage by Visions By Vicky via Flickr
High Schools all over Westchester are hosting viewings and discussions of Race to Nowhere, a film that documents the growing stress upon students in the United States.

Many of my friends, old and new, gathered last night in the auditorium of John Jay High School in Cross River to watch this film together. We knew what it was about, and thought it would be much like preaching to the choir. None of us want to see our kids saddled with five hours of homework a night, to see them resort to losing sleep, taking drugs to stay awake, and ultimately cheating, just to get an A that will propel them through the college application mill.

I had so many feelings watching this movie. Anger and sadness for kids who are under so much pressure; happiness that I myself am doing what I love; worry about the unintentional pressure I put on my own kids; and even sadness for my own childhood, where I was under such pressure to "perform" as well.

Wanting to have a personal antidote to this school madness, I felt pleasure and gratitude at being a part of Writopia, where there's value in individual expression, finding the story, and solving the very problems you've created. And indeed, a couple of my own students' parents have called me after they've seen Race to Nowhere, telling me they were glad their child is enrolled in Writopia, that their child is falling in-love with writing, with learning. That's what every teacher wants to hear.

Then again, I'm faced with the fact that Writopia looks fantastic on a resume, and that to motivate our young writers and build their confidence, we encourage them to enlist in the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. They might not win, but I believe that chances are they will, and THAT looks good on a college application. I also take pride in the 100% success rate I've had working with the students on their college essays. So does my warm and fuzzy teaching style, the "let's have FUN!" attitude, still end up as a gear in the mill?

While I can take solace in Writopia's non-profit mission and that my students can value achievements that serve their personal expression instead of the No Child Left Behind legislation, I feel badly for all the wonderful public school teachers out there, forced to shelve the values that prompted their careers, and to "teach to the test" in order to stay working. I feel badly for parents who only want their kids to have every opportunity, and badly for the kids who have a higher risk for depression and anxiety.

It has been discovered that homework does not have a direct correlation to achievement in elementary school, and only a modest correlation in middle and high schools. How many adults take home five hours of work with them after they leave work? And most students feel that homework is stupid busy work - who knows better than them that it's not helping them learn? Can you imagine how much of a toll that takes on their overall health? A statistic was cited last night: ten years ago one out of ten college freshman were taking psychotropic medication, and today that number has risen to one in four. A monstrous public health problem.

We live in a society where success is measured by how much money you make. I myself struggle with that paradigm. Now the income gap is widening, and kids think that they're losers if they don't fit the mold that maybe only 1% of people do. Why do we have a system in which every student is mercilessly geared toward a Harvard application? Not every student needs or wants a Harvard law degree or MBA, and shouldn't our future teachers, auto mechanics, carpenters, and writers be able to pursue what they love and have that process be valued? 

Even though I didn't require any convincing, Race to Nowhere was a real slap in the face, seeing what we as a Nation are doing to our future, turning our kids into mini stressed out versions of ourselves and robbing them of their childhood. The college application mill we've imposed upon our kids (virtually from birth now) doesn't allow much room for creativity, experimentation or failure.

The most valuable thing my grandmother ever told me was that if you are not free to fail, then you are not really free.

We need permission to fail, to learn from our mistakes, to grow, to be human. This race to nowhere is not helping our children grow up prepared for the beautiful and sometimes bitter twists and turns of life. More than ever, we live in a culture of entitlement and disappointment as our dreams for ourselves fit one narrow paradigm of achievement. We must come to enlarge that paradigm: to value curiosity and abstract thinking, to value all members of our community, no matter what gender, race, sexuality, learning style/ability, artistic temperament, or where they fit on the economic spectrum.

We need to focus on the process of becoming human, rather than being a "product" with X amount of money and material things. We need to understand that failure is part of that process, and that learning to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off is an important skill. Now who is preaching to the choir? ;-)

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