Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Friday, July 29, 2011

I Have Something to Say about Amy Winehouse

Every author, like it or not, needs to develop a platform, an audience. I am no different, and have begun a long-term relationship with social media. For the past year and a half I have been grappling with how much of myself I should/want to reveal: I dance around the issue of addiction that is at the heart of Edges.  The death of Amy Winehouse has me thinking again about why my soul continued nagging at me to keep at it, to tell a part of Luke's story, of Ava's story.

I don't know anything about Amy Winehouse other than that she was prodigiously talented both at her music and at being a train wreck. She was 27, she never got help. Did she want it?

It won't be new to anybody that I've had a wild past, and have friends and family members die from their addiction - my uncle died from cirrhosis of the liver.

So, it's not going to be a far stretch to tell you that I have even more of a personal connection to alcoholism and recovery.

I was 25 years old and in the MA program for Drama Therapy at NYU when I realized that I wasn't going to be able to help anybody unless I took a hard look at myself. I looked good on paper, but I was spiritually bankrupt inside. I didn't want to/ didn't know how/ couldn't grow up. And I had a habit of picking friends and boyfriends who had bigger problems than I did, so I could always point to them as examples of how well I was doing. Ha!

I call myself an alcoholic because I need to remind myself of what happens when I drink, although I have been clean and sober for almost eighteen years. Recognizing my demon has enabled me to become more than I ever thought possible: a wife, a mom, a writer, a teacher, a friend.

I've always had a complicated but deeply personal relationship with God, with sobriety, and even with the concept of "help"- and I know I'm not alone in that.

In Edges, Ava finds herself in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She is surprised by the turns her life takes and also by the fact that it does not immediately make her life better. I portrayed the beginnings of sobriety as realistically as I could. Recovery and the way people talk about it can be very polarizing.  A. A. both helps millions of people, and of course it doesn't help just as many.  The statistics for getting and staying sober are very grim, but that doesn't mean twelve-step programs don't "work". That doesn't make it less valuable to the people who are able to regain control over their lives.

Amy Winehouse died of substance addiction, but her parents are saying that it wasn't the addiction but the withdrawl that killed her.

Please. That is so irresponsible.  (Even if it was withdrawl, it is still because of addiction.)

Still others are saying she had it coming - she had to pay for her outrageous behavior. FAIL. Really people?

It is hard to seek help, especially when there are people who are out there who are so much worse than we are. (Just look at Charlie Sheen, or Amy for that matter.) Especially when our own denial would seem to be saving our lives because it is too hard to look at our shameful behavior. And especially when alcoholism and addiction are still stigmatized.

Writing had been one of my ways out, of healing, of discovering and exploring who I am and what it means to be human.

In this instance, I started writing this post not sure about whether I would publish it or not. Then hours later, I ran into Leah Epstein at The Voracious Reader. She is a YA/MG writer and curator of The Drinking Diaries. We "know" each other from Twitter, but had never met in person. Leah bought a copy of Edges and then an hour later emailed me interview questions for The Drinking Diaries, all related to drinking.

If you are reading this, then I have published this post, and I am free to say I haven't had a drink or a drug since I was twenty-five years old, and that now my favorite drinks are coffee and/or seltzer with lime.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Keeps Me Going

Do we need to talk about Borders closing? Ever since I graduated from writer to "author" (with the sale of Edges to FSG. I was always a writer, even if I didn't recognize it. You are a writer if you write. Period) and the economy crashed in 2008, the publishing industry has been a crazy mass of confusion. Or maybe it always has been, but nobody can predict what will sell anymore. My sweet contemporary came out seven months ago when paranormal romance was all the rage, and it still is, as far as I can tell. I am still waiting to hear if FSG wants to take a chance on my next contemporary YA, The Land of the Lost and Found - but the news about Borders has me spooked. (Not that the big chains have shown any interest in keeping Edges stocked, except for my lovely, local Borders in Mt. Kisco.)

Almost 11000 staff out of work - e-books, Amazon sales on the rise. Will independent bookstores be able to come to the rescue?

I am so grateful that I have other things to focus on to keep my obsession with the publishing industry at bay. I have my family. I have tons of work in Westchester this summer with our burgeoning Writopia program in two locations. I had LeakyCon - swimming with Libba Bray, paneling with John Green and his genuine charm, gallivanting around Harry Potter World with David Levithan and Daniel Lang, and a smashing workshop.

In fact, I received a lovely email from a LeakyCon participant that will keep me going whenever I get freaked out about the publishing industry. Ian, thank you for your email! This post is dedicated to you, and TY also for letting me share it on my blog:
My name is Ian Herring, I am 15 years old from Texas. I attended Leakycon 2011. I really enjoyed your class on fiction writing. I had been forming an idea in my head for a long time (I'm a want-to-be writer), and your tips made it complete. I am happily into the 5th chapter and I am having a blast! I just want to thank you so much for making my dreams of writing a reality! I truly cannot express enough how thankful I am! 

A happy writer,
Ian Herring
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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bloggy Game - Tag, You're It!

I've been tagged in my first blogging game. (Can you believe after 18 months of blogging that it's my first?) Blogger Demery Bader-Saye in Austin Texas has both challenged and enticed me to play, and to tag 8 other bloggers.
So . . . here I go - lightening fast answers on a Saturday night!

What do you think of when you the hear the word tag?
Um . . . social networking? Really. "Tag, you're it!" has become more of a community thing for me as an adult than when I was a kid. I was terrible at running and catching others as a wee one, and I always seemed to be "it" - which wasn't much fun. ( And TAG heuer - isn't that a watch?)

Do you think you're hot?
I don't just think it, I know it. We're in the middle of a heat wave in the Northeast and I am drenched.

Upload a picture or wallpaper that you're using at the moment.

See above.

When was the last time you ate chicken?
tonight at a stellar neighborhood barbecue, but of course I was shwetty.

The song(s) you listened to recently.
My son is playing Give it Away Now by the Red Hot Chili Peppers on his electric guitar RIGHT NOW. (I am in his room, listening to him practice and blogging. After I put my daughter to bed, he, his brother and I will continue our MONK marathon. Our love for Tony Shaloub carries on.) He also accompanied his sister singing The White Stripes We Are Gonna Be Friends on the guitar at the barbecue earlier.

What were you thinking as you were doing this?
How much I love prompts, and also how full my life is, and how lucky I am that there are so many things that I WANT to do, even if I get overwhelmed at times.

Do you have nicknames? What are they?

Léna is my nickname. My legal name is Madeleine

Tag 8 blogger friends... (okay, I have to tag 9, because I have a hard time with rules.)

1: Carrie Cox
2: Sarah Darer Littman
3: Arlaina Tibensky
4: Kristi Tuck Austin
5: Cherie
6: Anne Riley
7:Jen Violi
8: Gae Polisner
9: Amanda Cleary-Eastep

Who's listed as No. 1?
Carrie Cox was one of the first people to start commenting on my blog 18 months ago, and I am incredibly grateful for her friendship and support. She lives in Mobile, Alabama and is president of the Mobile Author's Guild. She has three children and LOVES to read and write YA. (She has also spearheaded the movement to get me out to Mobile next March. I can't wait to hug you in person Carrie!)

Say something about No. 5
I met Cherie on Twitter! We have been having a good time getting to know each other - twitterifically! She is also a writer and a mom. (Hmmm . . . I sense a theme here!)

How did you get to know No. 3?
I met Arlaina through a mutual friend - Arlaina is the creative director of Pen Parentis, a non-profit supporting parents-cum-authors, hosting monthly salons. Arlaina is a wicked cool and funny mamacita, whose first novel comes out THIS Tuesday 7/26, and is called And Then Things Fall Apart.

How about No. 4.

Kristi rocks. Like Carrie, I also met her through her comments on my blog, and started hopping over to hers which she shares with three other awesome writer/ artists. Then she asked me to come to Richmond, Virginia when Edges came out, and I said yes! I took the train and stayed with Kristi and her awesome hubby Adam - we drank loads of lattes, she held my hand at the ABC affiliate where I appeared on the morning show, we saw a silly movie before hitting Fountain Bookstore where I did a workshop, reading and signing. Kristi is now a life-long friend! (I miss you darling!)

Leave a message for No. 6.

Anne, I am so glad to have "met" you! Thank you so much for introducing yourself to me and getting this friendship ball rolling. I am so excited to sit down for a long talk when I come to Alabama next March!

Leave a lovey dovey message for No. 2.

Sarah, what can I say? You complete me . . . my go-go-girl. I can't wait to get my hands on Wanna Go Private, which comes out in two weeks on August 2nd!

Do No. 7 and No. 8 have any similarities?

Jen and Gae have both debuted on the YA scene in May, and they are funny, pithy generous souls and their waters run deep.  Please check out their fantastic fiction: Putting Make-Up on Dead People by Jen Violi (reviewed on this blog!) and The Pull of Gravity, by Gae Polisner. 

And I have to give honorable mention to Amanda, a wonderful writer in the Chicago area who has just started running writing workshops for teens!

Now my kids are giving me the stink eye, because MONK has just started and I need to pay attention!

Tag to you, bloggy friends!!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mojo Lesson from Sexy Sax Man

Is it hot enough for you? My brain is fried, but I'm having a great time getting my sillies out with Writopia kids. Yes, of course they are working hard to finish and polish their original pieces, but that doesn't preclude FUN. We have two plot-driven stories going where anyone can take a break from their own work and add a paragraph to the craziness.

And today these 9th grade boys introduced me to the Sexy Sax Man, Sergio Flores, who has cameos in our action-packed comic sci-fi stories.

Sexy Sax Man, you have given me an Aha! moment. I have been lamenting my own writing mojo these days because I've been so busy teaching (and yes, gallivanting with Potter-heads in Florida) but you've shown me that you take your mojo wherever you are, as indeed my grandmother did.  (My grandmother trained herself to write anywhere - even at the airport!) While it is undeniably true that I need more training and more practice, (I-just-need-a-five-hour-block-of-time where I can get back into my story!) my mojo hasn't left me, it's just been channeled somewhere of equal value: Teaching!

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Leaky Con & Harry Potter Rock!

The Wizarding World of Harry PotterImage via Wikipedia
I'm sitting in a screening room, waiting watch the Wizard Rockumentary. There are so many sub-cultures involved with Harry Potter that I didn't know existed - including the John Green phenomenon. (He really IS all that, folks.)

The past couple of days are a blur. Wednesday was the official Lit Day, and the reason that I am here at all. Everything was pushed an hour later because of big computer registration snafus, so we all shmoozed with each other in the Admiralty suite at The Royal Pacific. (Stephanie Perkins is the coolest vintage dresser, and so sweet.) My first panel was star studded  - I sat between John Green and Stephanie Perkins, then there was Cheryl Klein and Libba Bray. O.M.G. But I actually was able to speak intelligently rather than stammer, so it was all good. AND I don't know where I got this chutzpa, but I leaned over to John and told him I'd love it if he would read my book. Oh no she didn't. Yes, I freakin' did, and he was lovely. (David Levithan couriered over a copy t him yesterday.)

I was shocked when people kept filing into my writing workshop, Mining Your Life for Your Fiction. There were over 80 people, and we didn't have enough paper and pens! I paced the floor for the first half as I was giving out writing exercises and asking questions for people to think about as they wrote, then I was able to sit for the second half as we talked about writing process and truth in fiction. It has been so gratifying to have people come up to me the past couple of days and tell me how much they enjoyed it. Wow!

We had a break for lunch before Char and I were to give our Madeleine L'Engle presentation, and unfortunately, the snafus had compounded due to pushing everything back an hour: when we got to our conference room, the staff had made a mistake and were pulling it apart and telling people that there wasn't any programming. Fortunately, some people were still waiting outside and we were able to "present", but it was a little heart-breaking. But it's not a refection on Madeleine L'Engle, right? People still love her, right? RIGHT!

LeakyCon had given everyone these "yearbooks", so I sat at my own table for an hour in the afternoon signing yearbooks and giving out bookmarks.

Finally, there was a reception from 6PM - 7PM, and then we got to go back to our hotel room to rest briefly before going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. (LeakyCon had rented it out until 1AM!) We met up with Julie Straus-Gabel, David Levithan and his awesome friend Daniel Lang to go meet up with everybody else including John Green and Maureen Johnson, but we ended up owning the park with David and Daniel, heading straight for the best ride ever: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. (Magda and I went on 3X!) Even though it was just LeakyCon participants, it was still super-packed, so we had to make CHOICES. (Get your butterbeer frozen, folks!) We had so much fun with David and Daniel - they are both so authentic and down-to-earth: the real deal.

We all took the boat back to The Portofino @1AM and stayed in bed until 10AM, then we met David and Daniel poolside until the shade completely disappeared and it got too hot to exist outside.

Later, we had to say goodbye to David and Daniel who were flying back to the city, and met up with a bunch of the Lit Day crew to go see a 6PM viewing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 3D at an IMAX theatre. Un-believable. (John Green has to run because he is constantly mobbed.) It was such an amazing experiece to see the movie with HP's loyalist fans - there was some serious whooping, laughing, and sobbing going on. These people have grown up with the books and movies and now they're over - it's a bittersweet ending of childhood.

And yes, the movie rocked!

This blog post is getting too long - so TTFN!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Waking Up for Lit Day: LeakyCon2011

Nerves. Jitters.

I'm jumping out of my skin, really.

I am at the Portofino Hotel at Universal Studio with my sister Charlotte and my niece Magda. In one hour we are meeting other author folks and going over to the LeakyCon headquarters at the Royal Pacific Hotel.

We are in Harry Potter world, folks.

I haven't been thinking too much about this, because I've been so busy, but now . . . evidently over 750 people will be at Lit Day, 3000 for the entire Leaky Con.

We flew in on Jet Blue and then met Julie Strauss-Gabel (my neighbor, yes, but also superstar editor - she publishes John Green, Gayle Foreman, and Stephanie Perkins, to name a few) for pizza and were pleased to see some of the other author's and publishers file in.

I started freaking out that maybe more than five people would show up for my writer's workshop. Maureen Johnson said that I would have anywhere between twenty and two hundresd: I was thinking five. I must needs adapt!

Libba Bray challenged me to change into my bathing suit to meet her at the pool, and I am so glad that I did! Because I sure wasn't going to do myself any good pacing around the hotel room!

Now I must shower and dress and drink more coffee: get ready for the panel I will be on at 9AM, the workshop I will lead at 11AM, and the presentation on Madeleine L'Engle I will co-lead with my sister, (follow her on twitter @charlottejv) at noon.

More pics, more news coming soon. Scout's honor!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wrinkles in Time with 38 Young Actors

A Wrinkle in TimeImage via Wikipedia
I love my life! I get to do so many fun things with so many people. This morning my cup was bubbling over with excitement and nervousness as I made my way to The Little Village Playhouse in Pleasantville to adapt my workshop methods and teach a "Master Class" on A Wrinkle in Time.

LVP runs a theater camp, and I jumped at the opportunity to develop my Wrinkle workshop even further.

There were 38 kids! The most I have ever workshopped with is a class of 24. They were all incredible. Half of the class had read the book already, so we were able to look at character and motivation deeply, hooking the other half of the class. I changed and added some things on the spot: as a teacher you have to be flexible and adaptable! This workshop explores individuality and community through the lens of Wrinkle, of which there is no shortage of material.

We rounded out group acting exercises with individual writing exercises, read from the text, brainstormed together, ending with the kids writing poems. They were eager to share them, and they were all WONDERFUL writers as well as actors. I'd love to publish some of them on the new Madeleine L'Engle website. She would have been thrilled to see these kids' interpretations.

I'm looking forward to more good times at LVP!

Next up: tomorrow, my sister Charlotte and my 10 year old niece meet up at LaGuardia Airport to fly to Orlando, Florida for LeakyCon 2011! Stay tuned . . .
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

'Twas a B'Noodles Teen Author Event

Cooper and I went into the city last night for July's Teen Author Reading at the Jefferson Branch of the New York Public Library downtown. I wore my GoGo's concert tee in honor of Sarah Darer Littman, who was one of the readers, giving us a teaser of her new book, Wanna Go Private. She wore hers too, and we reminisced over our great evening at Irving Plaza. (Cooper insisted on taking this picture.)

I had been looking forward to this event for a couple of months, as I know several of the authors, a couple of whom are newbies to the scene. And there were NINE of them!

We got there in time to hob nob with a couple of Cooper's fave authors: Barry Lyga and Michael Northrop.

We sat right in the front to show our love and support.

First up was the beautiful Gae Polisner, whose wonderful book The Pull of Gravity made it's way onto the scene a couple of months ago in May. Gae is an extroverted and generous soul who has some of the funniest status updates on Facebook and de-stresses by having a rigorous swim practice. (Hmmm. Are we on the Dating Game?) Next was Alissa Grosso, reading from her debut novel, Popular. She was awesome too!

Next up with her fabulosity was Sarah, and she sent chills down everybody's spine reading a beautifully nuanced scene from Wanna Go Private. She read the scene where the young teen goes to meet the internet predator for the first time, and ends up getting in a car with him.

Tara McCarthy Altebrando wowed us reading from her starred review Dreamland Social Club, and a very pregnant Melissa Walker whet our appetites for her upcoming Small Town Sinners. Nova Ren Suma read from her wildly popular Imaginary Girls.

Now for the three amazing men who interestingly enough, were all clustered together. First up was debut author Matt Blackstone, whose book, Scary Scene in a Scary Movie came out Tuesday. I can't wait to read it - the title of this post, B'noodles, is coined by a character in his book. Meaning: Uniquely awesome, and that's what this book is. It is about a young teen with OCD who needs to learn how to play it cool. Matt read beautifully and had us all cracking up.

Blake Nelson read from his book Recovery Road, and he also had us in stitches, reading the dialogue from two teen girls in drug rehab. I have been wanting to read this book for some time - as you know the theme is close to my heart!

And last but not least was the handsome and eloquent Christopher Grant reading from his debut novel, Teenie. Chris also knew how to tickle our funny bones!

It was a wonderful evening and I was so happy to share it with my son and some friends. We had so much to talk about when we went to dinner and on the train home.

Thank you so much, you wonderful authors, for writing these books and sharing yourselves with us!

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who Controls Your Narrative?

"Story Road"Image by umjanedoan via Flickr
Whose story, or voice, do you believe more than your own?

Writers, Actors, Lawyers, Priests, Psychologists,  (and more!) all have an innate curiosity in human nature, and an appreciation of a narrative arc, of story.  Telling stories has always provided meaning and hope in a sometimes bleak world, in a world where more often than not, things are not going to stay contained in a perfectly presented package.

Life is messy and confusing.

My middle grade students love creating universes in which they have the ultimate control. Do writer's then, need to always control the narrative?

Many family members of famous writers have been hurt by a version of their own reality jumping out on them in a page of fiction or memoir. I am almost hyper-sensitive to this, having Madeleine L'Engle as my grandmother. And I know that even though I ask my kids' and my friends' permission before writing anything about them, I am bound at some point to get somebody else's story wrong.

We must tread lightly, we writers of fiction, of memoir, of truth in story. A writer's truth isn't the only reality, and perhaps that is why I am so interested in both reading and writing things that come from multiple perspectives.

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley blew my mind as a young teen, and made me look at "story" in a totally new way. I began to grasp the concept that who is telling the story is just as important as the story itself. King Arthur and Morgan LeFay aren't the only one's who see the world through completely different lenses.

So. Instead of thinking in terms of who controls the narrative, I invite all of us to find our own voices, our own personal narratives, by embracing an almost Darwinian adaptability.

And no, I don't mean being uber-competitive, or giving up because you'll never be John Green.

I mean the opposite: in order for our species to survive, we must persevere in the face of distraction and rejection.

I can't write today because . . . it's too noisy, I don't have time - between the kids, teaching and the soul-sucking vortex of social networking . . . and I bet you have your own obstacles, but I challenge you to adapt your distractions into your writing, to use the pain of rejection to fuel your narrative in a positive way by not breaking your spirit, to use your imagination to look at the story of your life and the lives of others in new ways. (This will develop compassion and forgiveness, I promise!)

Teaching also reminds me that honing our writing skills deepens our connection to humanity. In a workshop last week, we were "distracted" by a Music Together class. What did we do? We used the distraction, we played a writing game which incorporated the music class. So, rather than be annoyed, we were liberated by this expansive attitude. We adapted to our environment.

Words from my Higher Self: Don't tighten your grip on your narrative. Wear it like a loose garment, let it breathe.  Trust that your voice is unique, even if your story isn't. And don't forget to let others share their own voices in your story with you.

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