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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Teen Self, Aspirations, and Madeleine L'Engle

I'm supposed to be thinking about the Empire State Book Festival and the future of BOOKS - with a look to the past at the Gala where literary lions (including my grandmother) will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I'm supposed to be thinking about the very short acceptance speech I will give in Madeleine L'Engle's honor.

Instead, I'm wondering what I'm thinking here in this pic from 25 years ago, at the end of the summer I turned 18 before I started college uptown at Barnard. Is that a bow in my very short, but sprayed high hair? This certainly isn't punk Léna from high school, although I'm sure I am sporting combat boots on my feet. I am struck by the long fingers on my hands - the ancestral imprint from my great grandmother that my sister and I share. I am wearing a vintage dress with a sweater, so it must have been 4AM somewhere, after the club was closing down and the air conditioning was blasting, along with the house music, so those of us who worked there could get a little dancing in before going out to breakfast, or heading further downtown to dance at The Paradise Garage.

Where was there? The Palladium, summer of 1986. (Where I had my date with JBJ in December of '85) My summer job fresh out of high school was as a bathroom attendant at the Palladium. I started out downstairs, but worked my way up to the VIP room, (Mark Todd?) where I could shmooze and party with celebrities. Oh, so glamorous.

When you graduate from high school, the pervasive question on everybody's lips is: What do you want to be when you grow up?

My answer? A cool old grandma with lots of stories to tell.

Did I aspire to be anything else other than fully alive?

I was having a ball. I had broken up with a domineering boyfriend and was dating a cross section of gay men, and then men who were way-too-old-for-me. I didn't have any homework or the pressure of high school and my strange social life. I was making new, freaky friends. I was making some mad money in tips and had not had any adult supervision for almost a year (I lived by myself at the YWCA downtown for my senior year of high school.) AND the next four years of my life was set out for me. I was going to BARNARD. Dang!

Our minds flit from topic to topic, and my job as a writer is to make connections between the things I think about. Sometimes I hit it, and sometimes I don't. What is my psyche trying to tell me about my grandmother, my 18 year-old-self and my own career? I never aspired to be a writer like my Gran, although I always aspired to be a cool old lady with lots of stories to tell.  That summer I also aspired to be a singer/poet like Patti Smith, a performance artist like Karen Finley, an actress like Lauren Bacall, a torch singer like Julie London. Yet I am none of these things either.

But I am a cool older lady (A mom!) with lots of stories to tell. (My teen self would be proud of me!) And I am a writer. (My teen self wouldn't be THAT shocked.) All of these women, especially my grandmother, share a discipline and passion in pursuing their creative dreams. They have all danced close to the edge and found their own vibrancy.

The "speech" is still marinating as I connect more dots together through my mind. I will write something on Friday morning, before we drive to Albany. I will trust that the right words will find me . . . and of course there's a good chance that I won't be called upon to say anything at all. But it's always good to be prepared - then I can be free and relax!

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Twitterview You

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
Intrigued? I was. My respect for Twitter, tweeting and twitterers has just grown exponentially as I have been schooled today by the most excellent Emlyn Chand, twittanista extraordinaire and founder of Novel Publicity. She actually wants to HELP publicize other authors! So in the spirit of reciprocity, I am blogging about my experience and encouraging everyone to follow her on Twitter!

A twitterview is a live interview done via twitter. That's right, those of us who like to give lengthy answers are forced to condense our words to 140 characters. Easy? I should think not!

How did I get one? Well . . . I met Emely on Twitter of all places, just a couple of months ago. And I've watched her grow exponentially since then. I signed up for a twitterview and book review (forthcoming!) and managed to get squeezed in this afternoon at 4PM!

The Twitterview was done by the lovely Emily Rae (@Rachel_Emily) of Novel Publicity, one of the folks who are on board with Emlyn's mission. (The transcript of the twitterview should be available on their website soon.)

It was more challenging than I expected - I'm not gonna lie. Keeping my answers succinct had me stumped at times, but I kept thinking of my editor's mantra "less is more." (When is more, more . . . that's what I want to know!)

I was asked several deep questions that I scrambled to answer briefly! One of them was about Gran, but it took two tweets and I had to be gently reminded that I only had one tweet per question! (It's your fault Emily - your questions were so darned thoughtful!)

I am amazed that I have actually started to very slowly build a community through Twitter - it is not the exercise in extreme narcissism I thought it was. People are finding out about things, sharing information. And we have to think about what we are going to say before we say it. Each word has to matter.

And that in itself is a good thing, n'est-ce pas? We're figuring this all out together. My own growth is very slow, but that's the way I like it, because then it feels authentic, and I can make real connections. With YOU. So it's less about marketing and more about community.

Thank you for being a part of mine!

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Madeleine L'Engle, Empire State Hall of Fame, & Fifth Graders

What's on my mind?

My grandmother is to be inducted into the Empire State Hall of Fame next week on April 1st and I have been invited to accept the award on her behalf. She will be honored with the likes of Dorothy Parker, Ralph Ellison, Herman Melville and others. (We will also be celebrating the 50th year of A Wrinkle In Time on February 12th of 2012.) I need to write a short speech illuminating her already well-known contributions to the Empire State and to literature.

I only have 2-3 minutes and there's so much to say! 

But I'm also thinking about tomorrow: I will be representing Writopia and leading workshops all morning with 5th graders in Scarsdale, NY at the Young Writer's Workshop. All participants will create a short short story in 45 minutes. Impossible? Nay! Not with Writopia!

There's something about working with 10 year olds that is so inspiring and it also happens to be the age group that is first attuned to A Wrinkle in Time and GETS it.

Ten year olds have a freedom with their intellect and imagination that gets choked as we get older, and develop the inner critic. (At Writopia, we strive to help develop the inner editor!)  A Wrinkle in Time has inspired fifth graders to both read and to write, to enter the world of the impossible. Their imaginations break down those barriers! It's the same with Middle Grade Fiction. You can write about the impossible and have it be believable. Toads can be best friends, wolves can talk, Martians and Venutians can interface. (Wait, isn't that TRUE?) My grandmother had a firm grasp in Story as Truth, something that fifth graders inherently know.

And what about Meg? The groundbreaking (in 1962) FEMALE protagonist and math nerd who is our unlikely heroine. How many generations of fifth graders has Meg inspired to be whatever they want to be? 

Okay, this is short, but there will be more ruminations all week long as I PREPARE for Friday night, which also happens to be my 12th wedding anniversary! (Yes, I am leaving the kids with my mom, and bringing HIM!) The next day, I will put my own author hat on for the Festival and represent Edges to the best of my ability, but on Friday night, I am all about being the gushing granddaughter! (And doting wife . . .)

Now I go and teach . . . fifth graders!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mini Tour of Richmond, VA!

bookstoreImage by styro via Flickr
I am on the train back to Nueva York, after my wonderful whirlwind trip to Richmond, Virginia. Richmond is a hip little city, full of charm and old world grandeur, funky cafés and museums where I soaked myself on juice of the coffee bean, with a little help from my friend and host, Kristi Tuck Austin.

I couldn't have gotten a warmer greeting from this lovely young lady, who met me at the train late Monday afternoon with deep hugs and a bouquet of daffodils. After having traveled for nine hours, I longed to stretch my legs and we walked around the city.

But what about the TV show? You are asking yourselves and believe me,  I am still asking that question of myself!

So let me skip ahead . . . Kristi and I arrived at the CBS station by 8:25AM as the producer had asked, and we waited for almost an hour and a half to be the last guest on the show, which was from 9AM until 10AM. We watched the show in the waiting room and were pleased that they did a great promo for the spot, with a picture of Edges taking up the whole screen. By the time I was taken into the studio at 9:45, I was tired and not as pumped as I had been, but I had a lovely chat with the host, Cheryl Miller, before it was our turn to take the stage on the light taupe couches. I was thrilled that she had actually read the book and had enjoyed it.

I can't figure out how to embed the clip onto the blog, but it's posted on the Edges Facebook page.  I sound and look weird to myself, but I must be gentle with myself - it's my debut on so many levels! And there's always room for improvement.

Kristi took me to Books-A-Million to sign stock, and then after a soy latte at another coffee joint, we went back to her lovely home to see if CBS had downloaded the clip. Waiting, waiting . . . clock ticking . . . a watched pot never boils, right? So we went out to lunch (omelets, biscuits and grits) at a 60-year-old diner called Perly's, and then snuck into a matinee of Paul. Yes, we were in the mood for something puerile and silly, and were not disappointed!

We had another soy latte before heading over to Fountain Bookstore, where a few people were gathering for my workshop, Mining Your Life for Your Fiction, followed by a reading and discussion of Edges.

We had a blast - participants ranged from a retiree, to Technology buffs, to the lead singer for a heavy metal band! I'm looking forward to doing the workshop again sometime, a mix of exercises designed to look at life and fiction in a new way. (More information will be on Kristi's blog, as well as tons of pics!)

The trip was too short! I loved getting a taste of Richmond, and finally meeting Kristi who is now a life-long friend, spending time with her awesome husband Adam and sweet dog Sammy. Adam's mother and sister came all the way from South Boston to attend the event - and his sister is none other than Lucy Wiggins, an artist and another follower of this blog!

It was wonderful of Kelly Justice at Fountain Bookstore to host my two back-to-back events, and to make new friends. Kelly knows books, whether it's a literary or brain-candied experience you crave, Kelly's your go-to-woman! If you are ever in Richmond, please visit her and her store!

. . . Now I am back to wet snow and 29 degree weather, and I am WHIPPED! And filled with gratitude. New friends, new perspective, living life to the fullest!
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Monday, March 21, 2011

Managing Expectations

Amtrak NortheastImage by jimcintosh via Flickr
I am on the train to Richmond, Virginia. It was snowing this morning when I left Katonah, and the husband says that the ground is covered. It will be seventy degrees when I get off the train and post this. (No wi-fi, much to my chagrin!) But it leads me right into something I have to do every day of my life: Managing Expectations.

The last time I was on a train like this for any length of time was almost 15 years ago, after I had packed up my life and my apartment in NYC to move to Moab, Utah.

What was I thinking? I had no idea what I was doing, or how long I was really going for - just this firm belief that I was being led there. I had no cell phone, and no lap top. I had secured a job at Four Corners Community Health Center, and was going to bunk with a relative stranger, someone I had met at the youth hostel only months before. I was in over my head and out of my element on a variety of levels.

But I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't taken that risk. In my early 20's I was a gal of many dreams, but no action. Sure I was wild, but I was a leaf, blowin' in the wind. My pilgrimage to Moab made me a woman of action.

I trick myself into thinking I don't have expectations: then I am surprised when my "no" expectations aren't met.

Would publishing have made me so crazy if I didn't have expectations? But I am that woman of action, putting one foot in front of the other to make my dreams a reality, even though I am terrified of rejection, of putting myself out there and people being indifferent. I manage that fear by pushing forward.

Friday night at the Teen Author Festival where I walked through my fear  was beyond my wildest dreams, my expectations. Pure joy.

And then Sunday,  my expectations let me down, and my demons came out to whisper ugly things in my ear. But I'm just so happy to be here at all, and be a part of, pipe down! I whispered back to them. My 11 year old son came with me to the big, final event at Books of Wonder where there would be a mega-signing. There were so many superstars of Teen Lit there - over 45 authors!

I am embarrassed to report that I expected to sell a few books, when in reality I was there to sign stock. Why would anybody come see a debut author when the room was filled with best-selling novelists? Yes, for ten minutes, instead of feeling grateful just-to-be-invited-to-the-party, I allowed myself to feel disappointed. I needed to scan my expectations and say a quick prayer to be relieved of my ego: check it at the door, Miss Thang.

And then Peter Glassman, the owner of Books of Wonder said to me: Your  Gran is smiling right now, seeing you as a part of all of this.

And you know what? She is, I am. I have a seat at the table. I have proven to myself that I am a woman of action, I will not let my dreams die, just because I am not a best-selling author . . . yet.

So I bought four books by my compadres and got them signed: three for my boys, by male authors featuring male protagonists, and one from another debut author who was just as sheepish as I was.

We are not alone, none of us. We are all in different stages of the journey, pre-published, debut published and multiply published,  and I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

My expectations for Virginia? I know it will be fabulous, whatever happens. I will connect with a few readers, live, in person! I am excited to finally meet Kristi Tuck Austin, my host in Virginia who I met through this blog over a year ago and can't wait to hug it out with. I am appropriately anxious about going on TV tomorrow (Good Morning Virginia) but right now it's all wrapped up in what will I wear?

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

In Which I Tear Up on Panel and Have Dinner with Literary Luminaries

The Panel (Irish TV series)Image via Wikipedia
It would have helped if I had gotten a good night of sleep, but I lay awake on Thursday night perseverating on the NYC Teen Author Festival, and the panel I would be on called Under the Influence, with literary luminaries Libba Bray, Carolyn Mackler, Barry Lyga, Susane Colasanti, MaryRose Wood, Alexandra Bullen and Adrienne Maria Vrettos.

I knew that I was invited on the panel because of Gran. What would I say? I am not her, but to say she hasn't had a profound impact and influence on my life just isn't true. You who read my blog regularly, know that I explore this dance between paying homage to her, and having my own voice. People would be mighty disappointed to read my work and expect another Madeleine L'Engle.

How could I possibly be her?

Yet sleep evaded me, so I treated myself to a pedicure and electric green toes before hopping on the train to get to the main branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. I met fellow debutante author Arlaina Tibensky, whose book And then Things Fall Apart comes out this July. (She is also the curator for the fabulous Pen Parentis, for which I read in December. If you are a parent and a writer, please check them out!)

Arlaina was on the debut author panel, and she KILLED. Really, I can't wait to read her book! I wasn't nervous through her panel, or the next panel, until it was my turn. Then all of a sudden . . .

You all know that I heart Carolyn and Barry, and that I was dying to meet Libba. Just dying. I sat in between Carolyn and Susane Colasanti. Barry was moderating the panel as well as being "on" it. (Or "of" it?) I was cold, which didn't help my out-of-body feeling. Fortunately, I was #5 to talk about my "influences" after Susane, who talked about The Outsiders. (Hell, yes!) Libba before her, talked about Stephen Sondheim and John Irving (more head nodding.) And then me. I was going to add Shakespeare and Marion Zimmer Bradley to the mix, but instead I said: "I'm nervous to tell you who my influence is. It is is my grandmother . . ." and then I said her name and the audience gasped. I talked about how she has help shaped my world view and introduced me to the world of literature, and I choked up when talking about getting the chance to read to her during her years of decline.

I got through it! Afterward, they had to kick us out of the library, and we stood on the outside steps for ages, authors everywhere getting to know each other. Nine of us went out to dinner at a Mediterranean Brasserie called Pera: Adrienne, (who has written three books while juggling a full time job and two small children - can I just say, WOW!) - Carolyn Mackler, Libba Bray and I sat on one end of the table, David Levithan sat in the middle, while his assistant Zach, Barry Lyga, Arlaina and another debut author Margie Gelbwasser (Inconvenient) sat at the other end.

We had so much fun - I was loath for the evening to end! Libba and I have more in common than I had originally thought - I was floored by how similar our backgrounds and interests are. And I probably talked WAY too much! Nerves have a way of doing that to me . . . and I'm kicking myself for not having pictures!

Up next on the blog and in RL? The big Teen Author fiesta book signing at Books of Wonder tomorrow, starting at 1PM! I will be there as a fan gurl, and signing Edges from 1:45 to 2:30. It will be veritable mayhem! Join us!

And then: big train trip to Richmond, Virginia on Monday, appearance on Good Morning, Virginia (I know!) and then a workshop and book event at Fountain Books!
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Teen Author Library Crawl!!!

Library at the De La Salle College of Saint Be...Image via Wikipedia
The YA blogosphere is on fire this week! NYC's Teen Author Festival is going full throttle, especially this gorgeous day, St. Patrick's Day. Today was the Library Crawl, where over seventy authors took over libraries in all five boroughs! 
And, I must note, it also happens to be my youngest boy child's NINTH birthday! (No small feat, let me tell you!)
I made the 8:13AM train from Bedford Hills this morning with only fifteen seconds to spare. Whoosh! Jam packed, wisps of green from every direction. I ran to Seward Park Library on the Lower East side from Canal Street, not realizing HOW FAR AWAY East Broadway was. I had negative fantasies of missing the entire thing because of my poor sense of geography, but the "abundant sunshine" (TY weather channel) wouldn't let me freak out, so get there I did.
It was a thrill to meet other YA authors, Philana Marie Boles, Leanna Renee Hieber and Mark Shulman. We had teens from three different schools: University Neighborhood, Lower Manhattan Arts, and the Urban Assembly for Government and Law. My adrenaline was pumping from the run, so I offered to "go first". (When I'm nervous, I have a tendency to jump right in to get it out of the way.) However, I have mucho to learn from more seasoned authors! They were much better at introducing themselves and their work.
Leanna, in her own words, "is obsessed with all things ghost and Gothic." So if you like historical fiction with a paranormal edge, you are in for a treat! She read from her book The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, Philana riveted us with her words from Glitz which is "every music fan's on-the-road fantasy come true." Mark Shulman, an amazing storyteller, read from Scrawl, "about a tough kid in a tough place making tough choices."
It was wonderful not only to listen to my colleagues read, but to hear about their own processes and paths during the Q and A period. We had so much fun!
Philana and Leanna unfortunately had other commitments, but Mark and I had a lovely time walking back uptown, talking about parenting and writing, and anything else that struck our fancy. We stopped at an Italian café for coffee and paninis, and discovered a mutual love for Phillip Pullman!
I feel so lucky to be a part of this! And I'm looking forward to morrow at the main branch of the NYPL where there will be panels and authors galore! I will be on the last panel at 5PM called Under the Influence - and will update you all about that tomorrow night!

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Julius Caesar, Suffering, and Revision

Bust of Gaius Julius Caesar in the National Ar...Image via Wikipedia
My intention was to write a pithy post combining the Ides of March, Shakespeare and revision, in terms of the importance of making your characters suffer.

But how can I do that when Singin' In The Rain is playing in the background? And frankly, pithy isn't  what I do best. But it is March 15th, and Shakespeare did have the soothsayer warn Julius Caesar: "Beware the Ides of March" AND William was mad awesome at thwarting his characters from getting what they want. (Caesar does NOT beware, hurtling towards his tragic end.)

I am polishing my manuscript and I think I'm done. How could I possibly ratchet up the tension any MORE without being melodramatic? Thinking that I'm "done" most probably means that I am wrong, because we are NEVER done! (Okay, I take that back. Sometimes we are done. We have to be willing to let go in so many ways, and then when you "get published" your words take on a collaborative effort, not only with your editor, but more importantly with your readers.) So, I am looking at it again to make sure everybody is doing what they're supposed to be doing, and NOT getting what they want. But we have to make sure that we're clear on what they DO want on many different levels.

Think of yourself. What are your objectives, your motivations? What stops YOU from getting what you want? It's hard to know, isn't it?

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Open Fan Gurl Letter to Libba Bray

Cover of "Going Bovine"Cover of Going Bovine
Dear Libba,

I feel the need to introduce myself to you before I meet you at the Teen Author Fest next week. I am afraid I will be so in awe that I will either run and hide, or trip over my tongue and look like a blushing fool. This might happen anyway, but we will be on a panel together on Friday called Under the Influence, and I want to keep the possibility of humiliation to a minimum. (We did meet once last spring at a Books of Wonder event and you were incredibly gracious). I'm going to get all Fan Gurl on you now, publicly.

I read your blog and feel like we are kindred spirits. (It's a strange thing isn't it? People feel like they know you from their words. Writers today are more accessible than they have ever been. I feel like I am revealing myself whenever my writing gets put out there. People who read my blog and interact with me can say that they know me. Why not?)

I'm not from Texas, but it would seem that we have a lot in common, both of us being preacher's daughters.  (I grew up in a seminary in NYC). A wild youth, love of theater and an array of "jobs" before finding our true calling and service: writing in the voice of teens. And Rock Band.

And then I read Going Bovine. I am obsessed with the mystical and the impossible, so from the beginning I knew your book was right up my alley. But you pierced me to the core, Libba. You grapple with notions of reality in ways that I aspire to.

I would love to interview you for this blog. I think that my friends here would be very interested to know about the harnessing of your brilliant imagination into fiction. We could meet for some laughs and deep discussion over lattes and cookies. What do you say?
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Writing Wisdom from Fifth Graders

Free School Child Choosing Aqua Blue Colored P...Image by Pink Sherbet Photography via FlickrHappy Friday everyone. I've just come from a glorious session of working with fifth graders in a Writopia workshop. Monsters, bar-mitzvahs, and political intrigue in 15th century Wales. Their unself-consciousness is what I aspire to in writing. We adult writers need to tap into our inner ten-year-olds. Give us the support of time, space and encouragement, and we fly.
Here's what these 10-year-olds are saying:
"Writing is cool because I can control the world I'm creating - I can do whatever I want with my characters. When you're a kid you have a craving to control something bigger than you are and when I write, no-one can tell me what I can't do. Writing helps me make bigger choices."
"I've always wanted to go back in time and be part of a mystery. I create what I want to experience."
"You have so much stuff in your head and you just want to get it out - let your mind go loose - it doesn't matter what you do - it's your own creative world and you're the boss."
Don't they make writing sound COOL! Why isn't everybody doing it? Don't you just want to go and write now, after reading this? Go on, go. Turn off the internet, open up a word document, and open your mind . . .
 Have a great weekend!
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Writing Ain't for Sissies

snoopy - TypingImage by -l.i.l.l.i.a.n- via Flickr
Writing ain't for sissies, but sometimes I think of myself as one. On the surface, it may look like I chose a nice, calm career. What could be better than stringing words together and writing them down? Writers do that, don't they? It's easy for them, right?

Ha! We grapple with words, argue with them, fight them. We reach into the recesses of our soul and put it out there for everyone to opine on. I thought that writers could hide behind their words, but they can't. I can't. Thanks to this blog, I have discovered a new way of writing and discovering, where I can't be anything but myself.

I was surprised by how crazy publishing actually made me, but I think I'm coming out of it now, with renewed vim and vigor.  I know that I'm in it for the long haul, and that I'm not a sissy, even though . . . okay, I won't go all Elmer Gantry on you. (Litany of woes!)

I have so many things to look forward to with regards to getting out there and pimpin' for my book, meeting other writers and book lovers, being part of a world I have only dreamed about.

I had lunch with my agent on Monday to go over my WIP and I got a real shot in the arm because he was so enthusiastic about my manuscript and my growth as a writer. (The last time we had lunch, over a year ago, I started blogging! I wonder what life changing effect he'll have this time?)

I am sinking my teeth into another revision before he sends it out, but this revision is more of a polish, where I labor over word choices, and get the tension as tight as I possibly can. The manuscript isn't surgery: it is as much a stand-alone as it is a companion to Edges.

It takes soooo long to birth a novel where characters and setting intertwine and are multi-dimensional. I don't even count how many drafts I do anymore. And that is the part I can control. I can't control whether it gets published or what people think. A published book becomes a different entity, and as an author, you have to ultimately be able to let that go.

No, it definitely ain't for sissies!

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mining Your Life For Your Fiction

LIVE LIFEImage by lippert61 via Flickr
A writer must not forget to live life to the fullest, if we are to create characters with rich emotional lives. All of our fiction comes from our psyche and our spirit - even fantasy comes from some seed planted in our life somewhere.

EDGES was borne out of very real personal experiences. I was transformed myself by Moab, Utah. Addiction/ recovery is a theme close to my heart as both a therapist, friend and family member. I have put myself in others' shoes and looked at my own tendencies to teeter over into addictive territory. I have witnessed first hand the power of the 12 Steps and the fallibility of personalities involved in any tradition. If there is to be truth in story, then you must write about things that matter to you. It's not important to necessarily write about what you know, because you can always learn. But for a work to be compelling, you must deeply care about what your characters care about, in order to make your readers want to keep turning the pages.

I will be in Richmond, Virginia at Fountain Bookstore on Tuesday, March 22nd, doing not only a reading and a signing, but leading a workshop with the very same title as this post. Both teens and adults are welcome to explore character development with me from the core of your being. Writing exercises and discussion will be intertwined. I'm looking forward to seeing you there!
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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Service, Madeleine L'Engle and St. Francis

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)Image via Wikipedia
I am so thankful for you folks who have found me and this blog through looking for my grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle, and for sticking with me, for giving me the chance to both be my own person and yet not deny the profound influence she has had on my view of creativity and the world of the spirit.

One of you is a young college student from Iowa, a devout Mormon who wrote me the other day asking for my views on "service". She will be teaching a class in her LDS church next month and wants to get different perspectives.

I have a multitude of perspectives on service, from my Christian background, my years as as therapist, my profound appreciation and respect for the twelve steps. But for this morning I will try to focus on what Gran has taught me about service.

Question 1
What does the word "service" mean to you? In your opinion, what comes first-- Love or service ? 

Madeleine's writings and her personhood were/are quenchers for my thirsty soul, as I'm sure they were/are for you. She both embodied and wrote about Art as Service in many of her books, especially Walking on Water.

If the work comes to the artist and says, "Here I am, serve me," then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist's talent is not what it's about. Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the PARIS REVIEW, "Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake." p.16

How I cling to the line: the amount of artist's talent is not what it's about. !!!!

So being of service is an act of listening, whether it's to your Higher Power or another person. One of the greatest examples is in the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Being "of service" means that I am able to get out of my own way and serve a higher purpose by reaching out to and ultimately helping others. It enlarges my world view, and gets me out of my egocentric self. It is the path to being happy, joyous and free.

Both words, love and service, are often a mantra for me whenever I am dealing with a difficult situation. Service is love in action. It takes love from an amorphous feeling into a meaningful shape.

Question 2
What rewards or blessings have you received as a result of service you have done or that has been done for you? 

Where do I start? I have always wanted to help heal the world, however hubristic (not a word, should be) that may seem. My father is a priest, my mother a therapist, my grandmother - well, she has helped millions. I still flounder my way through being of service and through accepting help when I need it myself. I became a therapist in order to find meaning in my life. I had children and devoted myself in service to them, I took care of my grandmother. I started taking writing seriously again because of my Gran's philosophy of art as service.

Whenever I am locked into a narrow view of myself and my life, I know that being of service is the way out - it is the path to joining the human race again. So whenever I am of service, it is healing me. I go back to the prayer of St. Francis and the vocation of listening, to my "work" and the people around me. To really listen, see and understand another person? Those are priceless gifts!

I've gone on long enough and I'd love to hear from you all!

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pachelbel, my Grandmother, and Chaos

Pachelbel's Canon in D - Free Sheet Music for ...Image by Cantorion.org via Flickr
Let's start with the chaos.

My fifth grader was to play in an orchestra comprising 3 elementary schools, a large middle school, and an even larger high school. We arrived to chaos in the high school gym and made our way to the bleachers, while our son bravely asked for help tuning his violin and finding out where to go.

It was a long wait, getting 300 kids organized and into position with all of their string instruments, so I played tic-tac-toe with my kindergartner while my back misbehaved and whined because there was nothing to lean against. Chaos. It mirrored my feelings of discombobulation, returning from vacation and not fully being able to get back into the swing of things. I am always seeking serenity and balance, which is not always possible. If I could only feel grateful for chaos, then I wouldn't be so hard on myself.

Then, without any fanfare or warning, the kids started to play, and tears filled my eyes. It was Pachelbel's Canon, my grandmother's favorite. There's such unbearable beauty in those moments, when I am surprised by emotion.

And all of a sudden, my Gran was in the high school gym with me, standing behind me, hand on my shoulder. We were at Crosswicks, spaghetti sauce simmering, Pachelbel strings soaring, and dreaming about impossible things.

The concert was amazing.

Be grateful for the chaos, because there, you just might find the impossible.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Teen Author Fest is Coming!!!!!!

Wow. Sooooo many cool things are happening this month! (More to follow in days to come!)  I am  ecstatic to feel the mojo and be part of the 2011 NYC Teen Author Festival. Yes, I get to finally be part of it! Woot! And meet a ton of writers I admire!

I am posting the full schedule below, but where and when will yours truly be? (Come and geek out with me - come on - 79 authors in 7 days? How does David Levithan do everything he does?)

1. Thursday, March 17th. 10AM reading from EDGES at the Seward Park Branch of the NYPL (192 E Broadway, Manhattan)

2: Friday March 18th, Symposium. I will be on a panel from 5PM to 6PM  but I will be there for the whole Symposium from 2-6. Come hang out with me! (South Court, 42nd Street) I'm finally going to get to meet Libba Bray! (Review of Going Bovine coming soon!)

3: Sunday, March 20th. 1:45 - 2:30PM Books of Wonder. Signing books! With other writers! You don't want to miss this!Schedule

Monday, March 14 (Chatham Square Branch of the NYPL, 33 E Broadway., 6-8):
Finding Voice, Giving Voice: Speaking Up for Characters

Cathleen Bell
Jen Calonita
Cecil Castellucci
Brent Crawford
Elizabeth Eulberg
Brian James
Kekla Magoon
Melina Marchetta
Marie Rutkoski

Moderator: David Levithan

Tuesday, March 15 (B&N Union Square, 7-8:30):
YA Reader’s Theater

Holly Black
Judy Blundell
Gayle Forman
Eliot Schrefer (aka E. Archer)

Host: David Levithan

Wednesday. March 16 (South Court, 6-8):
YA Rocks, featuring Tiger Beat!

Tiger Beat:
Libba Bray
Daniel Ehrenhaft
Barnabas Miller
Natalie Standiford

With music-related readings from:
Philana Marie Boles
Libba Bray
Barnabas Miller
Jon Skovron
Jeri Smith-Ready
Rita Williams-Garcia

Host: Jack Martin / Chris Shoemaker

Thursday, March 17 (Five Borough Read, 10-12):


Seward Park Branch, 192 E Broadway, Manhattan, 10am
Alma Alexander
Philana Marie Boles
Leanna Renee Hieber
Lena Roy
Mark Shulman

96th Street Branch, 228 E 96th St, Manhattan, 10am
Violet Haberdasher
Kimberly Marcus
Micol Ostow
Eliot Schrefer
Natalie Standiford

Washington Irving H.S (in conjunction with Mulberry St Branch) - 40 Irving Place, 10am.
Eireann Corrigan
Jocelyn Davies
Anne Heltzel
Matt de la Pena
Patrick Ryan
Leila Sales

Muhlenburg Branch, NYPL, 209 W 23rd St
Alexandra Bullen
Helen Ellis
Sarah Mlynowski
Matthue Roth
Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Robin Wasserman

Central Branch, Brooklyn Public Library, Dweck Auditorim, 10 Grand Army Plaza

Cathleen Bell
Gayle Forman
Christopher Grant
Melissa Kantor
Jeri Smith-Ready
Melissa Walker

Bronx Library Center, 310 E Kingsbridge Road, Bronx

Margie Gelbwasser
Sarah Darer Littman
Arlaina Tibensky
Maryrose Wood

Library TK

Brent Crawford
Barry Lyga
Melina Marchetta
Neesha Meminger

Staten Island:
St George Branch, 5 Central Ave, Staten Island, 10am

Elizabeth Eulberg
David Levithan
Michael Northrup
Danette Vigliante

Friday March 18th, Symposium (South Court, 42nd Street, 2-6)

2:00 Introduction

2:10 – 3:00: Telling the Truths – Hard Topics, Illuminating Fiction

Eireann Corrigan
Donna Freitas
Sarah Darer Littman
Kimberly Marcus
Micol Ostow

Moderator: DL

3:00 – 3:50: Debut Author Showcase

Jocelyn Davies
Margie Gelbwasser
Christopher Grant
Anne Heltzel
Kimberly Marcus
Arlaina Tibensky

Moderator: Jack Martin / Chris Shoemaker

3:50 – 4:00: Break

4:00 - 5:00: I Think I Love You (But Maybe I Don’t?) – Writing About Teens in Love

E. Lockhart
Terra Elan McVoy
Sarah Mylnowski
Patrick Ryan

Moderator: David Levithan

5:00 – 6:00: Under the Influences: Discussing Influences on YA Fiction

Libba Bray
Alexandra Bullen
Susane Colasanti
Barry Lyga
Carolyn Mackler
Lena Roy
Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Maryrose Wood

Moderator: Barry Lyga

Saturday. March 19th, Symposium (South Court, 42nd Street, 1-5:30)

1:00 – Introduction

1:10 – 2:00: The Ties That Bind, Part One: The Struggle Against Darkness

Kim Harrington
Lisa McMann
Maggie Stiefvater
Robin Wasserman

Moderator: David Levithan

2:00 – 2:45: The Ties That Bind, Part Two: Family Bonds

Melissa Kantor
Melina Marchetta
Alyssa Sheinmel
Natalie Standiford
Danette Vigilante

Moderator: Jack Martin / Chris Shoemaker

2:45 – 3:30: The Ties That Bind, Part Three: Friends and Community

Matt de la Pena
Torrey Maldonado
Michael Northrop
Leila Sales

Moderator: Barry Lyga

3:30-3:40 – Break

3:40 – 4:20 – Tribute to Michael Cart

Host/Opening: Jack Martin

Speakers/Readers: David Levithan and Jacqueline Woodson

Acceptance: Michael Cart

4:20-5:30: LGBTYA: Past, Present, and Future

Nick Burd
Michael Cart
David Levithan
Martin Wilson
Jacqueline Woodson

Moderator: Jack Martin / Chris Shoemaker

Sunday afternoon:
Books of Wonder Signing (1-4)


Lizabeth Zindel (A Girl, A Ghost, and the Hollywood Hills, Penguin)
Maryrose Wood (The Hidden Gallery, Harper)
Suzanne Weyn (Empty, Scholastic)
Danette Vigilante (The Trouble with Half a Moon, Penguin)
Maggie Stiefvater (Linger, Scholastic)
Natalie Standiford (Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, Scholastic)
Mark Shulman (Scrawl, Roaring Brook)
Alyssa Sheinmel (The Beautiful Between, RH)
Kieran Scott (She’s So Dead to Us, S&S)
Leila Sales (Mostly Good Girls, S&S)
Patrick Ryan (Gemini Bites, Scholastic)

Marie Rutkoski (The Celestial Globe, FSG)
Lena Roy (Edges, FSG)
Michael Northrup (Trapped, Scholastic)
Sarah Mlynowski (Gimme a Call, RH)
Neesha Meminger (Jazz in Love, Ignite)
Terra Elan McVoy (After the Kiss, S&S)
Lisa McMann (Cryer’s Cross, S&S)
Kimberly Marcus (Exposed, RH)
Melina Marchetta (The Piper’s Son, Candlewick)
Torrey Maldonado (Secret Saturdays, Penguin)
Barry Lyga (Archvillain, Scholastic)

E. Lockhart (Real Live Boyfriends, RH)
Sarah Darer Littman (Life After, Scholastic)
David Levithan (Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, RH)
Melissa Kantor (The Darlings Are Forever, Hyperion)
Carla Jablonksi (Resistance, First Second)
Gwendolyn Heasley (Where I Belong, Harper)
Kim Harrington (Clarity, Scholastic)
Christopher Grant (Teenie, RH)
Margie Gelbwasser (Inconvenient, Flux)
Elizabeth Eulberg (Prom & Prejudice, Scholastic)
Helen Ellis (The Turning, Sourcebooks)

Daniel Ehrenhaft (Friend is Not a Verb, Harper)
Sarah Beth Durst (Enchanted Ivy, S&S)
Matt De La Pena (I Will Save You, RH)
Brent Crawford (Carter Finally Gets It, Hyperion)
Eireann Corrigan (Accomplice, Scholastic)
Susane Colasanti (Something Like Fate, Penguin)
Marina Budhos (Tell Us We’re Home, S&S)
Kate Brian (Book of Spells, S&S)
Philana Marie Boles (Glitz, Penguin)
Judy Blundell (Strings Attached, Scholastic)
Cathleen Bell (Little Blog on the Prairie, Bloomsbury)

Doesn't this all sound amazing????? Come with me! We'll giggle together . . .

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Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Dr. Seuss cartoonImage via Wikipedia
And thank you, Dr. Seuss.

Your spirit has taken over our world this week as we use your birthday as an excuse to celebrate reading in our homes and in our schools. I am particularly blessed to have a beginning reader in the house, who is discovering the joys of sounding out words. She read out loud Green Eggs and Ham on Monday, then Hop on Pop last night. With rhymes and deep silliness, you play the trickster and make us fall in-love with language, with the power of words.

The kids' school is getting the kids inspired by having them wear something wacky every day - Monday was green, yesterday was crazy socks, today kids will be wearing read and white, tomorrow pajamas and on Friday, crazy hats.

For two years in a row I participated in Read Across America by reading Dr. Seuss Books at a wonderful charter school in Harlem: I am unable to do that again this year, but I will be doing my own writing and teaching. My daughter will read more of your books!

Thank you for inspiring us to think outside of the box!

Here are some of my favorite Seussisms of yours . . .

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.
Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.

Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.

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