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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Anticipation, LeakyCon 2011, and the MET

Metropolitan Museum of Art entrance NYCImage via Wikipedia
I am full of anticipation for many things on this gorgeous last day of May, but I am not lost in wanting or waiting. I am smelling the flowers and watching the sunlight dapple through trees. I am signing more and more kids up for writing intensives this summer for Writopia Westchester.

As ever, I am excited to meet new people and further develop my relationships!

And . . . drumroll . . . my sister and I are officially on the roster for Lit Day at Leakycon 2011 in Orlando, Florida on July 13th! (Primal whoops, screams and happy dances goin' on over here!) Check it out!!!!! I will be on panels, lead a writing workshop, AND sis and I will do a presentation about our grandmother's (Madeleine L'Engle's) contribution to literature.

Yeeee haaaaa!!!!!   AND we'll be gettin' our Harry Potter freak on!

Another less obvious anticipation: I am leaving in about ten minutes to train into the city to meet my former boss from Four Corners Community Mental Health Center in Moab, Utah. He will be waiting for me on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 3:45! He is retired now, and I haven't seen him in about fourteen years, but I think I might cry, I am so excited!

Oh gosh - gotta run - will write more tomorrow, for sure!
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Friday, May 27, 2011

When You've Written the Book that Wants to be Written . . .

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Madeleine L'Engle

I have been filled with envy whenever I look at Facebook or Twitter lately, at how well and boisterous all of my writer "friends" are doing. Great reviews! Lots of gigs! Selling out books!

And I am very happy for them, but it has been distracting me from my work in that my definition of "success" becomes less about the fact that I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing, and more about what others think and how everything appears on the outside.

I promised to blog about the vicissitudes of the writing life, so here goes. Yes, as I rewrite novel #2, I think I'm ready to talk about it's rejection last spring, even while I'm waiting for an answer on novel #3. (My agent LOVES it, and it was submitted three weeks ago to my editor at FSG.)

Editor Lady said that she didn't think novel #2 was a good "follow-up". Fortunately I was almost done with a first draft of #3 when I got the call, so although I cried in my coffee, I didn't stop writing.

Instead of sending it out to other publishing houses, I wanted to sit on it, to see if I agreed with her, and it turns out I do. I love the story, but I need to tell it differently. I've learned something about writing: stories and characters need marinating, need time to grow. I was in too much of a hurry to have another book out there so that I could make a living, otherwise how could I justify taking the time to write when I have three kids who want to eat and not go barefoot in the winter?

You can't hurry art. And you can't make everybody like it, either. I am intensely proud of Edges, even if it's not what would be called a "best-seller". (I would have made my Gran proud, by writing the book that wanted to be written.) In my very first review I was skewered by Kirkus, as "no L'Engle." Duh. But there it was - my worst fear realized, before anybody had even read the book.

Other writers told me that a bad review from Kirkus is a "badge of honor", but that didn't make it hurt any less. Still others told me not to read ANY reviews - that it's not my business how others read one's work, positive or negative. And there have been some LOVELY reviews. In fact, most of them have been AMAZING!

Silver lining? I am still writing and walking through my fears. This, more than anything, makes one a writer. The fact that I'm not going to quit because of a rejection or one bad review. It's making me stronger. I can hold and hug an actual book in my hands. Something I made.

And the rewrite of book #2 is going to be much better. I'm not giving up on the story, because it wants to be written. But I've thrown out at least two hundred pages. I had two POV's and now there's only one and it's in the first person present tense instead of third person past tense. You know. (I mention it every once in a while.)

So wish me luck, my brethren, as I wait on #3, a companion to Edges, and breathe new life into #2, tentatively titled In Your Face, where "reality" TV and reality don't exactly jive.

And I need to remember that I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing, being a writer, a mom, and a teacher.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Authors Want to Share . . .

A landscape of a park in Moab, Utah.Image via Wikipedia
. . . themselves and their work.

I was thrilled to be invited to my first book group as an "author" Saturday afternoon in my new home-town of Katonah. I made my "debut" last December, and have been to numerous bookstores across the NorthEast, but had yet to partake in a more intimate setting: it was a mother-daughter book group, and they have been meeting since the girls started third grade. Now the "daughters" are finishing eighth grade and they had just read my novel Edges.

It was a mere ten minutes away from my own home, yet a part of Katonah unknown to me. Minutes after I arrived, the rain started to pour, creating an atmosphere of coziness and warmth. Five mother/daughter pairs and I adjourned from snacking in the dining room to a lovely sitting room. They asked if I would read a passage from Edges and I happily obliged, introducing everyone to The Moonflower Motel in Moab, Utah. We then spent the next 90 minutes engaged in a lively discussion, with excellent questions, mostly centered around the writing and publishing process.

We authors LOVE being invited places to share ourselves and talk about our work. Most of us aren't best selling authors like James Patterson or Nora Roberts - although I bet even they make time for intimate gatherings.  (I know my grandmother, best-selling author Madeleine L'Engle always did!)

Writing is a solitary endeavor, yet we write not only for ourselves, but for others. We want our words to be read, and to spark dialogue, whether it's reader to reader, or reader to author. Everyone brings their own experience, background and even mood to what they read - it's endlessly fascinating.

Edges itself is a polarizing book - people tend to have extreme reactions to it. And I'm good with that. I respect myself as a writer -  I am true to myself and the stories I write.

Your engagement with an author enriches their lives as well. So I encourage you to reach out! If you have read a book recently that touched you in some way, write to the author. Don't be afraid you are "bothering" them. You will get an appreciative response, and maybe even a new pen pal.

And I will be writing more "fan" letters myself . . . I am especially looking forward to starting a mother/daughter book group myself in a couple of years, once my daughter starts third grade!
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Arnold, Narcissus and a New Novel

Oil on canvasImage via Wikipedia
We all are a little fascinated by narcissists, I think. We have had a celebrity culture since the beginning of time, what with the invention of gods and goddesses to explain away human shenanigans. But this culture has grown exponentially.

The origin of "narcissist" comes from the Greek word Narcissus: It is not only the name of a flower, but is also the name of a beautiful, yet sociopathic Greek demi-god who looked down upon those who loved him. He ended up getting his just desserts when another demi-god, Nemesis attracted him to a pool of water where he fell in-love with his own reflection and wasting away because he couldn't leave himself.

It is a wonderful story about how our survival depends upon community, and in particular  how respect for other human beings is paramount.

This is what I think is NOT happening when I see someone like Charlie Sheen or Kanye West on the news, or today when I heard about Arnold Schwartzenegger having had a child with a member of his household staff ten years ago, and he and Maria Shriver have been together twenty five years.

Now I don't know Arnold or Maria personally, nor have I followed their careers. But yes, my mind immediately jumps to narcissism, and it's slowly devastating effects on everyone in a narcissist's circle. Feelings of shame and worthlessness. Invisibility. Addiction.

I'm looking at the effects of the culture of narcissism in my next book, so it's no wonder that my thoughts keep drifting to Arnold and Maria. Perhaps I will come to a new understanding. My book  centers around a Reality TV show, and a girl who gets caught up in it because she both wants to please her friend (a boy), and to be finally seen by her self-obsessed mother. (Hilarity hopefully ensues.)

There have been many studies citing that our youth, already developmentally primed for self-absorption, are becoming more and more narcissistic. Jim Taylor, PhD writes in Psychology Today: It's one thing to see that there are an growing number of narcissists in America today. But the real concern is not the individual narcissists among us, but when our society embraces and, OMG!, accepts narcissism as the norm. And that time may have arrived. That's when we have to start asking the next question which is far scarier: What effect will this increasingly normalized culture of narcissism have on our society?

Writing is discovery and exploration, and while I don't think I can come up with a cure for narcissism, I can journey with my MC (Main Character) as she navigates those rough waters and comes through with more of a sense of herself in the context of community.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Week in Review

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...Image via Wikipedia
This title makes my life sound so important! Ha! But hey, I've got some horns to toot, not my own so I can be all BRAGGY.

Ten Girls Write Now high school students were invited to The White House last Wednesday - (yes, the one with the Obama's) to participate in the National Poetry Celebration because yes, they are the next generation of poet's! Huzzah! And TWO of them were also Writopia students! They had a wonderful afternoon poetry workshop, and an evening event featuring performances from Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Common, Steve Martin, Rita Dove, Alison Knowles, Aimee Mann and Jill Scott.


Speaking of Writopia, I am very excited to announce our partnership with The Voracious Reader in Larchmont! This wonderful kid/teen bookstore is expanding to include a tea shop (called The Proper Cup) and has a dedicated space in which we can have Writopia workshops! I am THRILLED!

And I'm almost scared to report this because the deets haven't been ironed out yet, but my sister Charlotte and I have been invited to participate in Lit Day at the Harry Potter conference in Orlando this July!

Oh, and it was my daughter's SIXTH birthday! The end of an era. We had a fairy garden party.

That's it - the Week in Review!!!!!!

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Armani Model & Me

Male ModelsImage by qthomasbower via Flickr
I looked around the club in downtown San Francisco and immediately started sizing it down. It was filled with the kind of beautiful crowd I had given up on ever being a part of. I craved the avant-garde, the strange, the theatrical. And this wasn't it.

But my friend knew the doorman, so the entrance was free, as were the drinks at the bar. I had come to dance to house music with my entrepreneurial she-goddess,  but of course she left me to go find whoever-it-was-she-wanted, and I was on my own, a stag in the woods.

Okay, it was here that I had stopped in my tracks the first time I heard Nirvana, dancing like an ostrich with elbows and knees akimbo, but that was six months ago, but I had gotten tired of hearing Smells Like Teen Spirit over and over again. Why did I even agree to come here?

I had wanted some acid jazz to groove to that night, maybe some intellectual conversation, not a pseudo rave. And now I was alone.

My blonde hair was in four ponytails, my eyeliner black, thick and vampy, my lips scarlet. I was wearing a vintage 1940's style mushroom print dress with high heeled black lace-up boots. Oh, I was a vision, and I danced despite myself.

So why did he swoop down on me? I saw him dancing, the most beautiful man I had ever seen. Six foot three, chiseled masculine features, tan smooth skin - he was perfection and I couldn't take my eyes off him. I admired him with intensity, as only a bored girl with nothing to lose can. He must be gay, I thought to myself. He's too beautiful to be straight.

And then he was dancing next to me, holding my gaze.

"You're beautiful. You are the most beautiful girl in the room," he said. I knew he was lying - there were Victoria Secret Models in the club, but I played along. He made me feel as if I were the only girl in the room, in the world. His eyes never left mine. We danced and danced and danced, never going to the bar for drinks, never losing contact with each other.

"What do you do?" I asked him at one point.

"I'm a model for Giorgio Armani," he said. I believed him. "What about you?"

"I'm an actress."

"Well, actress, you want to blow out of here? I'll give you a ride home . . ." his eyes left mine and followed another girl. No.

I grabbed his hand. "Yes!"

The air felt cold after the hot dampness of the club, and awkward, as if the spell had been broken, but I desperately wanted it to be cast again. We walked two blocks to his car: a silver Alfa Romeo. I sat in the passenger bucket seat and pinched myself as he let down the top and started the car.

"Where to?"

I lived in the Haight Ashbury District, in the basement apartment under my parents' house as I was pursuing careers in acting and massage therapy, working as a receptionist at a blood bank to pay some bills. I was 24.

But that night I felt like a princess, I had been chosen.

"Can I come in?"

Of course he could come in! Who was I to say no to him?

Opening the door, he was close behind me, nuzzling his face into my hair. We almost fell into the room and he collapsed on the couch.

"I have to tell you something. Promise you won't get mad?"

How could I get mad?

"I'm coming down off an acid trip. Thank you so much for letting me crash here!"

I was letting him crash? Wait, it turned out he was high? I was confused.

"You're not mad, are you?"

There was something so innocent about him. And both of us so much wanted to be liked . . .

He was impressed with the fact that my father was a priest, and kept talking earnestly about being saved, that dating a priest's daughter was a step in the right direction.

Could I save him?

We ended up dating for almost a year, but our relationship stayed on this loop where he was always making promises he couldn't live up to, and asking me not to be mad at him. And I could never be mad at him.

He was thirty years old, he lived with his mother in Marin County, was independently wealthy, and  a drug addict.

Once upon a time he had been a model for Giorgio Armani, but not when I met him.

He would forget dates with me because he was up all night at a rave and then he would feel so guilty that he would dazzle me with adventure: one day he showed up a day late for a date with me in a new car - he had impulsively traded in his Alfa Romeo for a Jeep and started growing a beard, because he wanted to play the role of a more responsible person. He had packed a picnic and took me on a hike in the Redwoods, telling me he wanted to change, I was helping him to change.

He was an addict. Repeat, repeat, repeat. One night I went out with his best friend and his ex-girlfriend (who was a Cindy Crawford look-a-like) to Trader Vic's. Why wasn't he still with his ex? I couldn't help thinking. She was a knockout and some kind of doctor to boot.

"We miss you, we never see you anymore," they said.

"I'm in-love," he retorted. I looked at him incredulously. Liar.

He was in-love with crystal meth. He was hanging out with high school tweakers who I never met.

My life died a little, because I was always holding my breath for him.

My grandmother convinced me to move back to New York to live with her and the "model" and I transitioned to a friendship, talking frequently. He felt better that he wasn't disappointing me. He was trying to stay sober and couldn't wait to see me when I came back to California for Christmas. He had changed, I would see, and maybe then he would move to New York?

But I wasn't holding my breath anymore. I had changed.

The last time he stood me up was on Christmas Eve  - dinner and Midnight Mass with my family. He wouldn't pick up the phone when I called. And then he called me crying the day after Christmas, saying he had been up for over 72 hours doing crank, his nose was bleeding and he was sorry, so sorry.

I called his mother and told her to check on him, I couldn't do it anymore.

And yes, I forgave him, he couldn't help himself. But I had to save myself.

I never saw him or talked to him again.

I think about him every so often with care and fondness, hoping that he was able to get sober.

I can dare hope, can't I?

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Monday, May 9, 2011

WSEG Story 3: Léna R, Eden G, Aron L

complex twinsImage by alasis via Flickr
        He jumped down from the tree and I screamed from my hiding spot behind the bushes. Not cool Leandra, not cool.
         "Sssshhhh!" Jeeze! You're going to ruin everything! Alex said crouching down beside me. Lights turned on in the houses across the street. My heart was beating like a wild stallion. "You don't scream when you're on a stake-out. Everybody knows that!"

          We turned toward the small yellow house, merely ten feet or so from where we were crouched in the damp dirt, remnants of this morning's rain still clinging to the humid air. Inside that yellow house was the secret to our struggles, the stolen gems that would finally, maybe, let us return to a normal life.
         "When are they going to be here?" I whispered, eyes wide.
         "Shut up!" Alex said, even more loudly and he pushed me on the shoulder. My hands slipped out of the green bushes and I felt the light of the street lamp sting my hand like acid. Crap/ They could already have a picture of it, already taken it in for testing. They would be here any minute . . .
          "Leandra?" Alex said in a low voice, waving his hand in front of my face. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
          "I'm fine Alex," I said. "Let's just hope they didn't see me."
          Just then, a black SUV pulled up to the yellow house's driveway. Three men, clad in white suits, exited the car and walked toward the door.
          Alex looked at me and nodded. I knew this was what we had been waiting for. One of the men, I think his name was Romulus, took out a small, metal cylinder and inserted it into the lock on the door. Alex immediately took several pictures of the lock and the cylinder. One of the men turned around. Had he seen us? Had he heard the camera? The man stared at the bushes for a moment, and then turned and followe romulus inside. The third man waited by the door.

          We had to have what was in that house.
          And yet, we couldn't be seen.
          We couldn't be captured. Already we were the infamous twins, Alex and Leandra who were "of interest" to The U.S. Government. How does this happen to two sixteen year-olds? Where are our parents, you may well ask. That my friend, is another story.
          We had to get inside.
          Four months ago, something had shattered my window in the middle of the night, waking me up. 
          Alex had wandered in from his bedroom. "What's going on?"

          Still groggy from sleep, I spat at him: "How am I supposed to know? I was asleep!"
          I remember that house. Cool marble floors, a swimming pool made of pink granite, sleek flat-screen TV's in every room - it was a 16 year-olds dream house. We lived in California and my biggest worry was what shoes to wear to next week's beach party. Little did I know that the entire foundation of my life was built on lies.
          My parents were black market dealers. It's funny now because I guess we are too.
        The window was broken, and moonlight glinted off of th glass - or was it something else? The light moved like it came from the headlights of a car.
         "Get up, Lee," Alex shouted, grabbing my hand.
         I remember thinking: why are you holding my hand? We're not 6!
         But Alex would do a lot more for me. He would save my life on multiple occasions.
         "Let's get Mom and Dad," I said, the muddiness of sleep finally starting to fall away, fear worming it's way into my heart.
         "No. We have to get the gems."
         "What? Alex, no one can get in the safe . . . not even us," I hissed at him.
          "I'm the only one who knows the password," he whispered.
          Then I saw the flames.

           Writhing and flickering, the flames had reduced our house to rubble in a matter of minutes. Alex and I barely escaped with our lives, and ever since that December night, we've been on the run.
         Now we ere so close to returning to a normal life, but I knew we had to act fast.
         "Ready?" asked Alex.
         "Ready," I said.
         Alex took a deep breath and sprinted out in front of the house. The man guarding the door spotted him and chased after him. I knew what I had to do - the cylinder was off, but I still had to pick the lock.

         We knew that the safe with the gems was in the house. We also knew that they were our life-line. For the past few months our human forms were slowly dying. That night we had escaped but our parents had not.
          The lock clicked, and I was inside.

       . . . TO BE CONTINUED
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WSEG Story 2: Eden G, Aron L, Léna R

Eye blue smallImage via Wikipedia
He jumped down from the tree and almost  crashed into the dark tinted window that loomed before him like a giant eye in the wall. It unnerved him to think that someone could be in there, watching from the depths of the massive, grey stone building. But that couldn't matter now.  Finally out from inside, he still needed to manoever  his way through the complex security systems and intricate architecture of this place he'd been trapped within his entire life.
        The sunlight felt raw and new on his paper-white skin, and the sky was an alien blue. He remembered the electricity he'd felt when he first touched the tree's thin leaves. But this journey was not over.

        He was about to slink around the building, when he spotted an eye.
        Eyes were robotic guards, that watched his every move. Eyes were extremely intelligent, but if he was swift and clever, he knew he could trick them. He seized a pointy stone - it was cold and rough and sent chills through his body. He then slowly approached the eye. He knew it was studying his every move, trying to figure out his objective.

        My objective is to get out of here, he thought to himself. But where was here? Here was prison he had quickly learned. The eye was still watching him, unblinking. Could it DO anything though? That was what he had to test out. Maybe he could mesmerize the eye by staying very still.
         They called him Martyn, and he was being trained in the warrior arts, but he wouldn't be anybody's secret weapon.

         A small blue flicker caught his eye. Without his sharp warrior senses, attuned to every flicker and spark, he would have never seen it - but there it was. The eye was sending it's signal.
         In his mind, a map of the place materialized, like a 3D maze. He'd always had the photographic memory, but he couldn't remember where he'd seen this: the fortress was even bigger than he'd thought. Scanning the edges, he saw a strange semi-circle of pale sand meeting a choppy, jagged swell of water that kept rushing up and down the shore. The sapphire-blue oasis mesmerized him. He needed to get there. That would be his only way out.
          He clutched the stone and pulled his arm back. Like a slingshot, the stone whipped out of his hand and cracked the silvery glass of the robot.
          There would be more swarming around him like flies to spoiled fruit. He ran to the left . . . and found himself plunged into a world of darkness.
         Quickly, he felt around himself. He was falling . . . falling . . . endlessly through this hole, when finally, a glimmer of light surprised him.
        It was a tiny, glowing butterfly, with translucent wings.

        Immediately, he knew where he was. there was only one place inside this fortress with butterflies like these, and that was The Underground. Martyn had been in the Underground only once before. It had been a mission intended to sharpen his hearing, but that mission had been a disaster. He hadn't been able to sense anything in the smothering darkness, and as punishment, had been starved for a week.
       Martyn checked the map in his head to see if it included the Underground. It did! There was a clear path towards the outer wall, the choppy water, and freedom. Unfortunately, he knew the journey wouldn't be easy. In the Underground, not only were their eyes and siren-like butterflies, bt also fangs. Fangs were large, genetically modified wolves. Fast and strong, they were even more deadly than the eyes.

       Yet it could be a way out. If he could get through the Underground, there would be another hole, tunneling to the other side of the planet.  The only way was forward, or else definite capture, and certain death.
       He thickened the shield around himself. It depleted his energy, making him move slower, but it just might give him enough protection from the eyes and the fangs.

       He began to walk.
       At first, there was only eerie silence. The air was cool and earthy around him. Vines trailed around his neck like hands.
       Oout of the blue a howling Fang seemed to materialize out of the darkness. That was the terrifying thing about this place - you never knew if you were being watched the entire time. For all he knew, this could be another test mission - but no, they would never let him entertain such thoughts of escape. He would be burned for sure.
       The fang was on him in an instant, but the shield deflected it. Reaching into his pocket, he stabbed the creature with a knife stolen from the weaponry - and continued to walk easily on. Fangs kept attacking him, but he could not be touched. This place was designed for intruders, not him, Martyn the Warrior. Martyn, the human equivalent of an atomic bomb. Martyn, a boy who could see . . . a light at the end of the tunnel. He could do anything. He ran toward the light . . . and was finally free.
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WSEG Story 1: Aron L, Léna R, Eden G

Alien2Image via Wikipedia
        John jumped down from the tree, landed on his spaceship, and flew toward the fortress.
       "The aliens are coming!" he yelled. Other space pilots leaped into their spaceships and flew off toward the moon where the aliens were coming from.
       They were crazy. John wanted to run AWAY from the aliens, not run TO them. He would be called a craven, a coward, but that was a risk he was willing to take. He would be safe at the fortress, wouldn't he? It was impregnable. His job had been to keep a look out for alien ships and he had done it. There was no shame in going home.
        "Hippy, dappy, doopy," a strange voice said behind him. It didn't sound like anyone he knew, so he turned around slowly . . .
        "Ow!" he screamed before he could help himself. Covering his eyes, he waited for the brilliant light that had just pierced them like fire to die away.
        "Relax," a familiar voice said, and the light disappeared. It was only Fie and some of the other guys. In his gloved hand, Fie held a neon-radiation flashlight.
        "Why . . . on earth . . . would you ever shine that in my eyes?" He yelled.
        "Shhhh," said another astronaut. "None of us are thinking too clearly right now. There was an awed darkness in his voice that was indecipherable.
         "Happy, sad, mama," said the strange voice.
         The group parted to reveal Sasha, her long, dark hair rimming a moon-pale face, holding a tiny creature which could only be . . . AN ALIEN.
          Sgt. Rose's voice was stern behind her. "When were you planning on telling us about this?"
          John's heart dropped into his shoes. Sasha was the youngest space woman ever to be allowed on this trip. This would surely have her deported, back to earth again.
          "We found him on Jupiter," said Sasha. "But we couldn't just leave him there. After all, he's only a youngling. Please Sgt. Rosewood. Have pity on him."
          Sgt. Rosewood stared at the alien, as if to determine which way of killing it would be the most enjoyable.
         "Sgt. Rosewood, please don't punish Sasha for the alien," begged Fie. "She was only trying to help because it's so young.
         "I'm sorry soldier, but you kno the rules: all aliens found inside the asteroid belt are to be eliminated," stated Rosewood.
         Fie looked at John and said: "John, please."

         John was still stunned that there were all of these officers in his spaceship when he had counted on being alone.
         "We were told that the aliens mean us harm," he said slowly, looking at Sasha. "But maybe they were wrong." Fie grinned at him while Rosewood scowled.
         "We were given orders. We have to follow orders!"
         "We can't kill a baby, sir," John said gently. "The baby mens us no harm. We wouldn't want the aliens to kill one of our babies, would we?"
         "Happy, happy," the creature said in Sasha's arms.
         "Well, what are we going to do with it then?" Fie asked.
         "The baby will be our hostage," Rosewood said. "Maybe we can negotiate with these beings."

         John stepped forward, his heart pounding. "Why does everything have to be war with you?" he asked, voice verging on yelling. "Why can't there ever be peace?"
          "That's moving," Rosewood said coolly.
           "Hippie," another sergeant said, arms crossed.
           "Starberg, I expected more of you," Rosewood said. "I expected you to be more mature than these . . . children."
           The words stung. John had been chosen for the mission because they trusted him. Now he needed to re-earn that trust.
           But another glance at Sasha's tearful face made wars break out in his chest.
           During this time, the alien-baby had fallen asleep. Sasha set it down on one of the nearby cots. John shoved his hands inside his pockets and then out again. The silence was palpable.
           Finally, Rosewood said, "We'll quarantine the alien. Now officers. See how the rest of our troops are doing."
          John couldn't just let this happen. he was lying on his cot when he had an idea. It was dangerous, but he knew it was the right thing to do, even if it did get him kicked out of the Space Fleet. John got up, grabbing a bag with some food and water, a laser rifle, and ran into the area where the baby alien was being held. Two of Rosewood's goons blocked the door.
          "I have orders from Rosewood to determine the condition of the alien youngling," John said. The guards parted to let him in. John snatched the baby and darted out of the room. He exited the spaceship with guards yelling at him, and sped away into the night, alien in hand.

To be continued . . .

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Writing Stories with Eighth Graders (WSEG)

I offered a free Writopia workshop entitled Writing Games at the Mt. Kisco Library this weekend. I had a BLAST! I wasn't expecting a huge turn-out on such a beautiful day, but I had my figurative bag of tricks with me. I was pleased when two eighth graders showed up: Eden G. from Armonk and Aron L. from Yorktown. A girl who writes all of the time, and a boy who only writes when he has to. For school. You know I liked that challenge!

Now, when I just have one or two kids and we're playing writing games, that means I get to play too. 

Yee-freakin'-ha! Yes, a Writopia teacher is a published author who is half camp counselor (fun and funny, warm and engaging) and half savvy editor/teacher (astute, insightful, serious, open, sensitive). In fact, we are always looking for more teachers! If you know of anybody who loves kids and is a published fiction author in Westchester, let me know!

But I digress. We wrote three stories together in 75 minutes. We all started with the same prompt: he jumped down from the tree and wrote for 5 minutes, establishing a main character and a conflict, then  passing it on to the next person in our "round table", every 5 minutes, pushing the story forward. I also made sure that we ENDED the stories we STARTED. I was in heaven, because all three turned out to be pretty science-fiction -y, which I love to read but don't write myself much. My job with them was to give "lessons" on story structure along the way, indeed inserting them myself when need be. FUN!

And here's the thing: we were so excited by our three stories in seventyfive minutes, that I promised to post them all on my blog! So NOW I must do that . . . in three separate blog posts . . . coming up! They will be entitled WSEG Story 1, 2, and 3.

Why aren't you working on your WIP, you may well ask. Well. One WIP is floating out there with my editor. I don't have a contract yet, so my fingers are crossed VERY tightly. (Will you cross yours too?) I have another WIP that I have to get back to. I will! I promise. But first this . . .
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dear Mom

Happy Mother's Day! I am so grateful to be a mother myself, so grateful for this gift of life.

I have attempted to honor my mother with a poem today (stretching my skills, I know!), and although my words seem hopelessly inadequate, I know that she knows I love her more-than-tongue-can-tell. (Can't wait to see you later, mom!)

Dear Mom,

Thank you for embracing this role
and walking through the unknown
The love
The pain
You were barely twenty
In-love, free, yet contained in
The structure of family,
Making your own family

More complicated than we can ever imagine.

Yet you always knew that
Children aren't a mere extension
Of parents' ego

As I am now reminded every day
With children of my own

Thank you for
Teaching me compassion
The power of love and forgiveness
Your own walk through the slings and arrows

My wish for you
My unconditional love,
Is unbridled passion
For life.

For more thoughts on motherhood, my new blogger friend, Keith Jennings, has written a beautiful post entitled: What Makes a Mother a Mother. He took the words right out of my mouth!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Artemis and the Post Partum Thirty

Deusa ArtemisImage via Wikipedia
Publishing a book was a little like having a fourth baby. It was both more painful and more beautiful than I expected, and demanded my complete attention. It rocked my world just the way my sons and daughter have, and now it has become it's own entity. Fly little book, fly!

I gained weight with each child and joined Weight Watchers when they were a few months old to lose the excess weight - thirty pounds. I became a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers in 2002, but now after the birth of Edges, I have thirty pounds to lose all over again.

I have become aware and accepted that my body doesn't feel right. I am uncomfortable. So instead of shrugging it off as I have for the past few months, I am finally taking action.

I have been ambivalent about going back because I know that losing weight is not just physical, but it is psychic and spiritual as well. It's going to force me to focus on taking care of and paying attention to myself. I have to work on my relationship with food and bring it to a healthy place. We're in couples therapy, food and I.

I didn't have that psychic energy before. It was all focused on the book and then the next book, and moving and renovating and my kids and Writopia - we all have those lists!

Do I have the psychic energy now? It's not about will-power. I need help! I believe that I need to find the willingness to turn over my relationship with food to a Higher Power. For strength and courage I am going to call upon the Greek goddess Artemis as my Goddess-du-jour. Her name comes from the Greek artemês, which means: uninjured, healthy, vigorous.

And that's what I want to be! 

PS I promise that I won't blog about this issue or my journey with it again unless it has some bearing on my Lit Life! If anybody is interested though, maybe I'll start another blog on a spiritual journey through weight loss. Let me know!
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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Putting Makeup On Dead People

Mortality seems to be on everyone's mind, with the "closure" afforded by the death of public enemy number one.

But it's never that simple. Books have always been a flashlight on a sometimes dark path for me, and after 9-11, I turned to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy to cope.

Is it a coincidence that I just read Putting Makeup on Dead People for review? Is it appropriate that I'm thinking both about Osama Bin Laden and this lovely coming-of-age book that deals with the questions of how to move on and  how-to-say-goodbye?

Three weeks from today, Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi will hit the shelves.

I "met" Jen Violi on-line through another on-line writer friend Lish McBride a year and a half ago. We were the debut YA author trifecta: with Lish first on the scene closely followed by me, and last but not least, Jen.

Her book comes three weeks from today on May 24th.

I have spent the last 18 months becoming more and more convinced that Jen and I are soul sisters. She studied acting in college, and has a Masters in Theology as well as an MFA in Creative Writing. She has devoted her life to marrying these three things together in her work with others. (Sound familiar?)

Therefore, it was very difficult to WAIT to read Jen's book, but I finally got my wish last week. When the package came from Disney Hyperion, I was knee-deep in my Girls Write Now Anthology-reading marathon. And even though my eyes were burning by the time I was finished reading the GWN submissions,  I couldn't help but crack open Putting Makeup on Dead People, when I should have turned off the light and gone to sleep.

SYNOPSIS (from Amazon)

In the spring of her senior year, Donna Parisi finds new life in an unexpected place:  a coffin.

Since her father’s death four years ago, Donna has gone through the motions of living:  her friendships are empty, she’s clueless about what to do after high school graduation, and her grief keeps her isolated, cut off even from the one parent she has left.  That is until she’s standing in front of the dead body of a classmate at Brighton Brothers’ Funeral Home.  At that moment, Donna realizes what might just give her life purpose is comforting others in death.  That maybe who she really wants to be is a mortician.

This discovery sets in motion a life Donna never imagined was possible.  She befriends a charismatic new student, Liz, notices a boy, Charlie, and realizes that maybe he's been noticing her, too, and finds herself trying things she hadn’t dreamed of trying before.  By taking risks, Donna comes into her own, diving into her mortuary studies with a passion and skill she didn’t know she had in her.  And she finally understands that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting someone you love.

Jen Violi’s heartfelt and funny debut novel is a story of transformation—how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be exceptional...at loving, applying lipstick to corpses, and finding life in the wake of death. 

Well played Violi. Well played. I went to sleep having made a new friend in Donna Parisi and woke up the next morning eager to continue reading, indeed, to finish the book. We are privy to Donna's personal transformation through grief: it is a journey, and not just a story. Violi draws a character whose emotions are palpable, real. Donna is unable to say goodbye to her own father, but finds solace, letting go and hope in helping others to say goodbye.

Violi and I share a similar spiritual point of view - that the world is full of beauty and mystery, and that the strongest transformational tool is taking actions and being of service to others.

I can't rejoice in Bin Laden's death because all I can think about is the thousands of people who died at 9-11, and the thousands of troops who have sacrificed themselves. Life and death are BOTH complicated.

So I will take a page from Violi's book today and be of service to the living, guiding my focus towards cautious optimism, and being the best person that I can be.

Thank you Jen: for your book AND for your friendship. When we meet face-to-face some day, I am going to hug you so hard! xoxoxox

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