Léna's Lit.Life

Léna (me): Lit, as in literature, Lit, as in light, Lit, as in a little kooky: Life.

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lessons from Madeleine L'Engle: Writing as Wish Fulfillment

We have the compulsion to write for an abundance of reasons. We  write to understand our relationship to shadow, and we also write with a yearning toward the light - at least I do.

Perhaps my greatest teacher for this phenomenon was witnessing the way my grandmother Madeleine L'Engle lived, and what was manifested in her writing. My Gran was devout, yet she was also known to raise her fist at God. The tenet of love conquering all that is so ingrained in her writing is wish fulfillment - it is the writing herself that brought her to her faith. In Wrinkle, she was Meg, struggling with all of the Divine questions.

As an only, lonely child, she always wanted a large family, so she wrote about large families, and intertwined her characters throughout her books so she never had to say goodbye. (This is one of my favorite pictures of my Gran - when she was Madeleine Camp. 14 years old, and already writing up a storm!)

And she created a large family - not only in her fiction and her biological family, but in extending her generosity to her readers. They too, became like family.

And who doesn't want love to conquer all, for the "goodness" in the world and in ourselves to outweigh the "badness". We don't all have to believe in the same gods to be on the same page about that one.

I wish that she could have read Edges. I know she would have appreciated me writing about god du jour. I know she would have applauded that my ending wasn't neat and tidy, that it was true to life.

We write to express our hopes and dreams. We write to find our faith. We write to know ourselves.

At least I do. What about you?
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Can Writing Save Your Life?

Why do we write? Why are stories so important? As a student of C.S. Lewis says in the movie Shadowlands: we read to know we're not alone. So is it the same for writing?

I think so. That's why I believe that everyone has a story to tell. And that we write and tell stories to understand who we are, in both darkness and light.

Sometimes we tell the wrong stories about ourselves, and we need to shift our perspective and change them. We can get stuck on the story that we are unlovable and will always be alone, or we how about the story that we are a victim of circumstances and other people - know that one? Those stories don't serve us, and we need to find stories that do.

As a child, I wrote to explore and manage my darker feelings, and I am so grateful that I was encouraged to have that as an outlet. I don't know what I would have done without it. My journals were a receptacle for my negative emotions: depression, jealousy, self-hate, rage. Of course, I experienced the lighter side of life as well, but I didn't need to write about that. In college I wrote avant-garde labyrynthine short stories - explorations of psychological trauma. After college, in my "acting" days, I wrote my own pieces to perform.

Sobriety at the age of 25 brought me to a new kind of hopeful writing. Writing was the only way that I knew how to "pray", to ask for help. Writing was my own version of getting on my knees. (I grew up in the church and had to change my perspective about what humility really meant.)

At that time I was also in graduate school, earning my Masters Degree in Drama Therapy. For my thesis I wrote a performance art piece entitled: Pandora's Hot Box - Lost in a Spiritual Supermarket. (Yes, inspired by The Clash.) Writing was therapy then, and continues to be so.

Even though the publishing business can bring up all of my neuroses, it is the process of writing on a daily basis that keeps saving my life.

Writing Edges was partly a way for me to come back to an understanding and gratitude for my own sobriety. It would be a lie to say that it wasn't part of my personal journey - yet it is fiction. And so it is true.

And the fiction I'm writing now is letting me explore, through my main character, the feeling of being in someone else's shadow and finding yourself despite that.

What about you? Where are you in your writing? Does the process help keep you sane as well?

Warmly,

Léna   xoxo

Friday, October 21, 2011

Character Anyone?

I've been thinking all week about the dynamic difference between fiction that is character driven, vs fiction that is plot driven. To state it ever so simply: in the former, the character drives the plot and in the latter, the plot drives the character.

My writing gears toward the character-driven variety, and today I am stuck: I have reached the climax of a story, and there are so many different ways my main character could react to the situation she's found herself embroiled in. Only what is organic to her?

When I'm stuck like this, I know that I have to go deeper into character, I can't force the plot. I have to go back to asking questions about her motivations. What does she want most?

And then I also have to look at why I'm stuck in my writing. Where else am I stuck in my life? Is the story of my own life moving forward?

When my students say: I don't know what to write, we will brainstorm, and then I tell them to write through it, to try something, anything. To take the risk and see what happens. To experience being free. That there are no mistakes.

We usually tell others what we really need to hear ourselves, don't we?

So I will take my own advice and dive back in.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Make-Over

I'm doing what any self-respecting gal in relationship trouble will do and getting a make-over. Your relationship is in trouble? No, not my relationship with my significant other, but my relationship with my publisher. Our problem is not one about my writing, but about marketing. I need more of a platform, more readers, more followers! No biggie.

I'm giving my blog a make-over. What do you think? I'd love to attract more readers and invite more interaction, but only if it's organic and authentic, only if I truly connect with more people. So I'm asking you, dear ones, what would you like to see me blog about more regularly?

I blog a lot yes, but the topics are always varied. Should I commit to regular columns? I just had an inspirational chat with my friend Keith in Atlanta, Georgia, who has got me thinking about all of this stuff. Madeleine Mondays? Therapeutic Thursdays? Writer Wednesdays? Freaky Fridays? What Would Oprah Do Tuesdays?

I've changed the template on blogger cosmetically, but I am seriously thinking about amalgamating my very unsexy website, www.lenaroybooks.com with this blog on wordpress. I so wish that I could hire someone to do this for me! (This is why my current website is so unappealing - I am a DIY kind of gal. Oh yeah, and a financially strapped kind of gal.)

Feedback is wanted and encouraged!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Patricia Polacco Visits My Kids' Elementary School!

Talk about inspirational. Talk about riveting. Talk about someone who loves kids and is passionate about using art as service. Talk about beloved author and illustrator, Patricia Polacco.

We were honored to be able to have her come to our school yesterday, where my daughter attends first grade and my son attends fourth grade. She spent the morning in the library, where classes visited her, and then she had lunch with the teachers, and with parents like me who had helped with the funding to get her to stop in Bedford Hills during her tour of the Northeast. How many people get to say that they have had lunch with Patricia Polacco? (I have to say she was so gracious and such a good storyteller that she made me all misty-eyed about my grandmother!)

Her next stop was the auditorium where she sat in a rocking chair, and all of the fourth and fifth grade classes sat on the floor, chins on their hands.

Did you know that Ms. Polacco couldn't read until she was 14? That's right, she was learning disabled. And the bullying that she suffered from nearly crippled her emotionally.

But she persevered in life, and she didn't start her career as an author/illustrator until she was 41 - she has written all of her 80 books in the past 26 years! She based her hour long talk around two of her books, The Meteor, and The Keeping Quilt, and she managed to cover all the basics of how to be a good human being! Ms. Palacco does as all writer's do, and likes mixing up fact with fiction in her books. ("Just because it didn't happen, doesn't mean it isn't true.")

She brought tangible evidence too - this picture is of her holding up the actual Keeping Quilt, made by her great grandmother out of old clothes from Russia so that everybody could remember where they came from.

Ms. Palacco brought out a piece of the meteor that had landed in her grandmother's backyard that people wished upon. She held her audience in the palm of her hand as she told everyone that they would get a chance to wish on it too, as long as they didn't wish for three things: 1) money (by itself it shrivels your heart) 2) to change other people (kindness is the only thing that can change people, everybody knows that!) 3) things (gadgets and toys and gizmos only make you want more).

She was sensational. Another author to aspire to!




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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

So What if Publishing is a Harsh Mistress?

First of all I want to thank everyone who bought my book. There are almost 1300 of you, and I am eternally grateful. But alas, my publishing house doesn't like those numbers.

I've become friends with many of you, chronicling my journey through this literary life, and I wanted you to know: yesterday I found out that FSG is not picking up The Land of the Lost and Found, not because it's not good enough, but because they are not satisfied with the numbers of Edges, no matter how much they love it. "It doesn't make sense to publish a companion novel."

Their negative view of the numbers also puts Edges in danger of never making it to paperback which is a shame because then it would be more affordable and reach a wider audience. (I don't know about ebook or audio sales, but I certainly appreciate it if you bought it that way too!)

As an author, I am far from being alone - 90% of us don't sell out our first book and have a hard time publishing a second, third, fourth.

But I will not give up: I will have courage in the face of discouragement, I will practice steadfast detachment and keep on writing the stories that want ME to write them. I will listen to my intuition and approach my entire life with creative fervor. And I will pass this passion on to the future generation of writers.

Yes, publishing is a harsh mistress, but it is first and foremost a business, therefore, rejection is not about us, or about our books, but about people making wild guesses and backing authors with a built-in audience. (Like Snooki!) I know so many of you are beginning your own journey, querying agents and the like. Keep going! Persevere. The world needs your stories.

And I want YOU to know that you guys are amazing - I am so grateful for your support and your belief in me and my writing.

Here's the pitch: if you haven't bought Edges yet, please consider doing so. And read it. And if you are feeling extra supportive, please go to Goodreads and Amazon and Shelfari and give Edges a lovely rating and maybe even a review.

Authors need readers. I need you. Maybe together, we can get this book off the ground.

xoxoxox  Léna

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why I Heart Gae and YA

Last night I dreamed that I got 10k and a contract for a new book. While that part isn't a reality yet, I still woke up this morning glad to be a writer, and in particular, a Teen Writer.

Here I am with 6 other YA authors and the women who rule Dolphin Bookshop in Port Washington, NY. 

We had just done a 3.5 hour event called Falling Apart and Picking Up the Pieces which was the brain child of Gae Polisner (third from the left). Her debut novel, The Pull of Gravity came out in May and she has been tireless in promoting not only herself, but other authors as well. This is what we in the YA scene come to understand and appreciate very quickly; that we're all in the same boat and it's much more fun to paddle together than by ourselves.

Gae pulled together Christopher Grant (far left) with Teenie, Michael Northrup (back middle) with Trapped, Nova Ren Suma (third from right) with Imaginary Girls, Arlaina Tibensky (second from right) with And Then Things Fall Apart, and Matt Blackstone with A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie.

She had us all "prepare" by choosing 90 second excerpts from our books based on certain themes. Nine of them! We would read some, and then "mingle" with the audience. And what an audience we had!

All because of the muscle that Gae and the women at Dolphin had put into the event.

Gae started working on this event last July when she approached the women at Dolphin about a group reading and signing. These wonderful women started hatching a plan to get a couple of us into the local high schools to promote each other and the event, in order to ensure an audience. (You know that there's no guarantee of people showing up to these things, don't you?)

On Friday morning, before the reading in the early evening, Gae and I met at a Starbucks for breakfast before heading over to Schreiber HS to talk and teach. Hearts pounding with nerves and anticipation, we entered the halls of the high school and were led to the library where we were to meet with Honors students. How many could there be? I had been thinking forty, but then we were told one hundred, and it ended up being more like one hundred and fifty. Gae introduced us, and then we worked well together, talking about how we came to be writers, how we came to write our books, and reading short excerpts. The questions from the students were phenomenal. We had such a great time! Gae is an amazing public speaker, even though she swears up and down it doesn't come naturally. She's a wonderful person to share a stage with.

Then Gae and I were separated ("I'll miss you!") and went into different classrooms, where I talked mostly about different approaches to writing and where there were so many questions I didn't have time to give them my back-up writing exercise.

We were exhausted and happy, ready to move on to meeting up with our other friends at Dolphin Bookshop.

Thank you Gae for a wonderful day, for your vivacity and generosity. And tirelessness!

Can you see why I heart Gae and YA?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steadfast Detachment with Writing?

I am trying to practice what yogis call abhyasa vairagya in my writing life. (Abhyasa means practice, and vairagya means non-attachment in the Yoga Sutras.)
 
My mind has been flitting all over the place lately, distractable and irritable whenever I try to sit down and focus on my current WIP. At least I am sitting down, I tell myself. At least I am engaging in the practice. But I have monkey mind.

Is it that I am still waiting to hear about the book that's out on submission, The Land of The Lost and Found? Last I heard was that my editor loved it enough to pitch it to the sales team and several other colleagues at MacMillan and FSG. But in this crazy, fear-based market, there is no guarantee.

(My second book is actually my current WIP - it was rejected by FSG after they took half a year to think about it, and I put it in a drawer instead of sending it to other houses. I don't know whether that was the right decision or not, but now I am completely rewriting it into a different book.)

There is never any guarantee of anything. This is why I must keep practicing letting go of the results, while at the same time engaging in my discipline and finding beauty in my own process.

I love this pose - it makes me feel strong and balanced, and it shows intention to both reach for the sky and stay grounded.

And in the meantime, I am all jazzed up about my day tomorrow with Gae Polisner - I am driving to Port Washington, Long Island, where we will be speaking to students and leading workshops at Schreiber High School. Later, Gae has created an event at Dolphin Bookstore where we will meet up with five other authors - Matt Blackstone, Arlaina Tibensky, Christopher Grant, Michael Northrup and Nova Ren Suma. It won't be your mother's author appearance, that's for sure! So if you are in the nabe, come see us! We'll be there with our proverbial bells (and Gae's real one) from 5:30 until 9PM!!!

PS Wish me luck with the driving! (I'll have to practice more of the abhyasa . . .)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Anyone and Everyone Can Vote!

I just found out about the Young Adult Library Services Association's (YALSA) Reader's Choice Awards.

EDGES is eligible, and anyone can vote!

In this day and age, it takes a village to raise a book.

I am inspired to ask you all to take the time and put in a vote for Edges because when I tweeted about it,  my friend Keith Jennings in Georgia immediately clicked on the site and nominated my book. (Keith writes beautifully about the creative process and the need for community - he is certainly my soul brother on that front!)

The more nominations means a larger community of readers . . .

. . . and a larger community of readers means . . . awesomeness!

Here is the link

Realistic Fiction is the category

If you are not affiliated with a school or a library, just say that you are a fan of teen lit and name your local library as your go-to place.

Edges was published December 7, 2010 by FSG so it is eligible.

The ISBN is 0374350523

Courage! have a great rest of your day everyone!


Monday, October 10, 2011

Authors, Readers and Future Writers Come Together at Little Joe's

I can't go to sleep without writing about today's Literary event at Little Joe's in Katonah!

But truth is that right now I am not legitly "lit" - tonight is one of those brain dead night's after a jam-packed three day weekend of girl fiesta sleepovers, trips to the city, french-toast making and (groan) shopping for clothes with 9 and 11 year old boys (who don't care that their clothes don't fit them anymore).

Still. I am so excited that Jen Cook, Katonah's  beloved entrepreneur and owner of Noka Joe's has taken a leap of faith by filling the void left behind by Borders in Mt. Kisco (which, legend has it, ousted a wonderful independent bookstore ten years ago) by opening up an indie above her sweet shop - a delightfully cozy and welcoming children's specialty bookstore. We've come full-circle in Northern Westchester and karma might just be readjusting itself.

Doesn't that just scream "hope and beauty" to you, when the publishing industry is a hot mess with e-book sales and the combustion of Borders?

The indie bookstore is back, people.

Jen opened the doors of Little Joe's last Thursday and has been celebrating with events all week. Today it was my turn to help in the hooplah, and I played my role of Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughter, armed with a copy of A Wrinkle in Time and hung out upstairs, reading excerpts, reminiscing, answering Madeleine L'Engle related questions and yes, anything to do with reading and writing.

It was a blast - the audience (made up of old and new friends, my Writopia students) was very appreciative and interactive, which always makes EVERYTHING more fun and interesting. It's always a two-way street, isn't it? We don't live in isolation. A bookstore provides a community space where ideas can flourish and be shared, an author and a reader have a relationship in that they co-create the experience of the book together (nobody reads the same book in the same way), and make something bigger than the sum of their parts.

Am I babbling now?  Good night, my lovely friends!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Harmonic Convergence at Flights of Fantasy

It's wonderful when marketing, family and sociability are able to harmonically converge for author events and appearances. It happens when I double up with one or more authors and when I bring one (or more) of my children.

This weekend I went to Albany, for a reading and signing event at Flights of Fantasy Books and Games on Sunday afternoon with urban fantasy author from Boston, Margaret Ronald. (We had been slated to come in late August, but Hurricane Irene had thwarted our plans. )

Do you remember as a kid, how special it was going to a hotel, and having a parent (or two) all to yourself? I brought my 9 year old son, Finn (as in Huckleberry, not Finbar) and we were both giddy. We drove to Albany late Saturday afternoon and checked into the Holiday Inn on Wolf Road, and bounced on the beds.

Dinner was at The Red Lobster, since Finn's favorite food hails from the sea, and he was willing to wait over an hour to get a table. (We played Scrabble on my I-Phone, so it was still adventurous.) We brought leftovers and key lime pie back to the hotel, and Finn was incredulous when I said that he could have dessert in bed while we stayed up extra late watching cartoons. Yay!

I won't bore you with the rest of our particulars, but suffice it to say, we had a blast. We went to the bookstore at noon where we met up with the owner, Maria, and Margaret. Maria was a wonderful host and took us out for Thai food for lunch. She has a fascinating story herself as she comes from the corporate world . . . in the Phippipines! And now she is like a den mother to all of these fantasy, science fiction and gaming enthusiasts. Margaret is delightful too - she lives in Boston, and went to Williams College in Massachusetts. Her "day" job is as an assistant to a professor at Harvard, and her husband is an organist. I can't wait to read her books!

The bookstore is aaaah-mazing - it's a place you really could spend a full day in, there are so many nooks and crannies, as well as lots of gaming tables! Margaret read from one of her steam punk short stories, (so funny!) and I read two short passages from Edges, and then we answered questions about craft.

I am grateful that my friend Hope, another writer and fabulous blogger, was able to come with her family, and that I met some cool folks who otherwise would not have been exposed to my book. Thank you to Maria and Eleanor for reading Edges and for inviting me to your home-away-from-home and for believing in the power of reading!