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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Have a Writing New Year!

Before 2011 goes to sleep (forever), does it need to do anything else? Has there been anything left undone? Is there anything I need to do quickly, before 2012 begins? (Besides clean the bathrooms, one last time . . .)

It is the end of the winter solstice period, of the darkest nights of the year where we set our hearts, homes and lives ablaze with light to keep our spirits high. And we have one more celebration for the coming of light and the New Year.

2011 was our first full year living in Northern Westchester, and has most certainly been life on life's terms, yet we absolutely have no regrets and are thrilled with our choice in moving here.

We splurged on a Disney family vacation last February. We saw two big storms and experienced lengthy power outages. My kids turned 11, 9 and 6 and have pushed the boundaries beyond what they thought was possible in academics, swimming, football, music, reading. My husband revealed himself as a chef, I revealed myself as a competent driver. Writopia turned into an almost-sustainable business, with the addition of Larchmont this summer, and I have been working steadily since then.

I have written much, whilst I have had multiple frustrations with the publishing industry, leading me to wonder why I even bother. But I somehow always come back around to bothering: I write because it's worth doing. I believe in the power of words and that everybody has the right to write, to develop their voice and sense of self.

I have continued to blog in an effort to share my authenticity and not my "platform" - I do not want to be a persona - writing is thinking, and I have explored my thoughts here with you. I will continue to do so.


2012 will bring more resolve, more work, more writing. I will celebrate the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time and I'll get another book submission-ready. My kids will turn 12, 10 and 7.  I'll take the 12 year old with me to Mobile, Alabama in early March where I will speak and lead workshops on the craft of writing. My husband will renovate all of the bathrooms *and my website* and my godson James will be born.  (In the next three weeks!)

Tonight we have another family coming over to celebrate with us: dinner, games, and a children's candle ceremony. We will honor the lights in ourselves and each other, honor the past and the future, so that we can stay in the present.

(Okay, was that shmaltzy enough for you?)

Happy New Year! xoxox
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

This time of year is rich in layers of story and cultural myths no matter what we believe.

As both readers and writers, we are practiced at the willing suspension of disbelief. We have to have some kind of faith in order to write, to create inner and outer worlds. We also have to have faith in order to read fiction, don't we?

I believe in the power of redemption, Santa Claus and babies. I believe in giving gifts to the spirit in all of us, just as the Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus, and the Norse God Wotan dropped gifts from the sky.

I believe that we have the chance to be reborn again, and again, and again. That believing is keeping our eyes alive, and being open to the concept of seeing what we believe.

Because I don't only want to believe what I see - that is too limiting. What if I am cranky, as can sometimes be the case with all of us? Then I will only be able to see the glass as half empty.

Believing takes a certain amount of work, of risk.

My friend Amanda, a writer friend in Chicago, sent me one of my grandmother's Christmas poems yesterday. The remembering made me smile,  and I thought I would share with you here:

The Risk of Birth
by Madeleine L'Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn --
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn --
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.



That says it all, doesn't it? Love.

Right now I am smelling the turkey my husband is cooking for our Christmas Eve feast. I am looking forward to going to church tonight, and then afterward, giving the kids their Christmas pajamas, (the husband and I get some too) and getting ready for bed, only to stay up late to have cookies, hot chocolate and watch It's A Wonderful Life. (Yes, we leave some for Santa!)

Then it's time for visions of sugar plums to dance in our heads, and the willing suspension of disbelief.

Merry Christmas, to my friends who celebrate, and to my other friends, thank you so much for being in my life and helping me to broaden my world view.

In love,

Léna

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Solstice

I love this time of year unabashedly. I love all of the different religious symbols of light, I love how we are challenged at every turn by the commercialism of the season to break out of our own cynicism and be better. To love one another. To embrace our light and our dark. To breathe in love, and breathe out love, to give, yes, but also to be open to the power of receiving, of connecting.

I offer you three great posts by other writers who inspired me today:

The first is by my new buddy in Westchester, Dan Zevin, a master of the personal essay and author of several collections - whose latest, Dan in a Minivan is forthcoming in May. He wrote about How (He) Learned to Love Latkes. 

The second,  is by an author I don't how, a Reverend Emily C. Heath on Keeping the Christ in Christmas. "It's not the 'Holiday Tree' out in a public park that makes me think Christ has been forgotten. It's the ability we Christians have this time of year to confess our faith in one breath, and then be breathtaki­ngly small-mind­ed or just plain mean in the next."

The last is by my friend Keith Jennings, who has  a fantastic blog exploring the spirituality of creativity.  His latest post is about inspiration.

Oh! It's 7PM, time to go to my solstice gathering where we revel in the coming of the Light. And you all are lights in my life too!

xoxo

Monday, December 19, 2011

Madeleine L'Engle is a Doll!

A friend of my bro's found this pic on Flavorwire and I couldn't RESIST sharing it on Léna's Lit Life.

It's our Gran, Madeleine L'Engle, all "dolled" up and with a copy of the original cover of A Wrinkle in Time no less! I love the details - the bright colors and chunky jewelry, the highly arched eyebrows. She wore her hair cropped short since the late 1970's.

She would whoop with laughter if she saw this! Especially that the pants are pulled up way too high, but she would love that they have multi-toned stripes and the sweater - is that angora? She would hint wildly that she wanted "something cyclamen pink" for Christmas.

Speaking of which, my Gran was so much fun to go shopping for. She absolutely adored gifts, and always opened them with the eyes of a child. She collected unicorns, giraffes and angels.

I think that our big gift to her this year in keeping her memory alive is with the big celebration of the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time this February: there will be freshly minted books with the retro original cover, but with a colorful twist. I believe the book comes out again in January.

I miss you, Gran. You are still shining lights to all the dark corners for me and many others.

xoxox   Léna
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Practicing Principles Before Personalities in Publishing

I don't want to be the Grinch . . . but I'm mad at the publishing biz. I wish that I could take my ball and go home. Have a tantrum, scream "No fair!" and slam the door to my room.

What happened? You may ask, and the answer is a resounding: nothing. Okay, maybe I'm just hormonal, but still. What do I have to do to get someone to email me back? (I emailed the publisher a while ago simply asking for the contact info of the person who could help me BUY MY OWN BOOKS and . . . nothing. I want to sell them when I go to Alabama in March. Don't they want that too? Or do they make more money if there is a middle man? Still, the least they could do is answer my question. I'm okay if it's no, really!))

So . . . the way out of this funk for me is writing, and to remember to practice principles before personalities. Nowhere is this more apropos in the world of publishing where it's really not personal that the business doesn't care  about ME or my book, or YOU and your book. It cares about the bottom line, and so it should.

My principles, in case anyone was wondering, are: honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, brotherly love, self-discipline, perseverance, awareness, and service.

This is where I practice the art of being human, and if I slip into Grinchy-mode for an hour or two, I can forgive myself and move on. It's progress, not perfection.

And . . . I know that I'm a day late in announcements, but hopefully, the post-person will get these goodies to you by Friday, in time for Christmas if that is your celebration-of-choice. The winners are . . . Melissa B and Kelly Andrews! Shoot me your email guys or DM me on Twitter so that I can get your addresses, and you will get a care package!

xoxox

PS Thanks for reading - I feel better for the writing!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

InbeTWEEN Pages: Dead End in Norvelt

I was thrilled to be asked to lead a middle school book club at the Bedford Hills Free Library and even more thrilled when my own 6th grader, Cooper, agreed to join. We had our second meeting last night, where we discussed our first book pic, Dead End in Norvelt by my new author crush, Jack Gantos.

Thank you Francine, owner of the much beloved Voracious Reader in Larchmont for the recommendation! This book is an excellent example of storytelling, with rich characters who jump off the page. Gantos takes us on a fascinating ride that helps his readers  understand the importance of learning from our past. How does he do this? Through our protagonist, Jack (Jack Gantos himself) and our unlikely heroine, Miss Volker.

Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is "grounded for life" by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack's way once his mom loans him out to help a fiesty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launced on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air.

Dead End in Norvelt was not only a huge hit with me, but it was a home run for the tweens. They loved the interweaving of history through this book that's set in rural Pennsylvania in the summer of 1962. The writing was so textured, that I had to stop myself from underlining passages as I was reading a library book! (Jack Gantos, if you are reading this, I am buying my own copy for you to sign for me, because meeting you someday is now on my bucket list!)

We all wanted to know what was fact and what was fiction in this book. Did Jack Gantos the author really have an anxiety disorder that manifested itself through nosebleeds? And did he really have an old lady cauterize his nose on her kitchen table?

We also named ourselves so that we are a real entity in our community. Seventh grader and Writopian, Sammy, came up with InbeTWEEN Pages and that moniker was unanimously agreed upon by the 6th - 8th graders in our "club". We will be meeting the second Wednesday of every month, so if you are a tween or love a tween who also loves to read and live in Northern Westchester, our current read for January is A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Maas.

Hope to see YOU inbetween some pages!

PS  Today is the last day to enter the contest to win a signed copy of Edges - in book or audio form. Multiple chances to win! Enter here . . .
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Lights Up

I'm getting the hairy eyeball from "Monday" after a weekend of mayhem and joy in Western Massachusetts. (Baby shower for my friend Amanda who has named me godmother of her second child, James.)

All I want to do is lounge about and eat chocolate. Do you ever feel that way? And then I feel guilty when I'm not "productive" . . .

I don't want to discipline myself, yet I need to. Us creative folk crave structure deep down inside, even when we profess an affinity for loosey-goosey-ness. I need to be organized, to know what I'm doing.

And this is a wild time of year, isn't it? We're getting ready to embrace the darkness with all of the light we can muster.

My mind however, can't settle down and I know that I can't trust myself alone with the computer today. I have to be out in the world, collecting lights. Or in between the pages of someone else's words, or catching up with a friend.

There are other ways to light up my day than expecting myself to have a certain word count. Sometimes, you have to just let things marinate.

(Or maybe I'll just clean my daughter's room . . .)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Dad's Christmas Poem: White Christmas?


My dad, The Very Reverend Alan W. Jones, Dean Emeritus of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, sent me his latest poem yesterday, and I asked his permission to share it. I have been trying to get him to blog for a while now - he is a master storyteller and the author of eleven theological books - indeed, he has much to both teach and share with us! So I will leave you with this while I am on my way to Northhampton, Mass, where I have the honor of participating in a baby shower and being godmother to baby James who is due in January. There ain't nothin' like a baby at this time of year!*



White Christmas?

“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless.” Salmon Rushdie.

Irving Berlin remembered the sight of an Irish family’s Christmas tree when he was a child on the Lower East Side.  He later said it seemed to him to tower to heaven. In fact, it was a tiny, miserable little tree, but for the immigrant the holiday represented the magic and wonder of a New World.

Dreaming of a White Christmas?
Why not? Irving Berlin did, based, by the way,
on no experience.
So, here’s your chance to escape the mess of belief and disbelief.

Grab whatever story
you’ve been telling yourself  about yourself
and fling it into the season’s whirlwind!
What comes flying back may surprise you.
It may make you cry. It may make you ache with laughter.

Wandering into the story didn’t bother Irving.
Why should it you?
Besides, he had the knack of remembering
something that never happened.
It wasn’t a matter of belief
but an openness to be changed by stories.

Can’t we give this baby-in-the-manger stuff a chance to deconstruct whatever nonsense
we’ve been telling ourselves about the world?
Jesus, Izzy, Emma, Fred, and Sue? What in a name?
The baby’s the one that matters.


Don’t knock nostalgia.
Irving’s “White Christmas” did something to those who heard it in 1941.
The story of the mother and her baby
might do the same for us.

There are plenty of Pearl Harbors to go round (Who bombed the financial markets?
Who made the golden parachutes?
Yours and mine lost in the mail?)

One of our poets* said this sentimental song crooned
by Crosby, “caught us where we love peace.”
Not a bad place to get caught, a good way to start dumping the story that’s trapped us  
with the angst of clutching and fussing over what?  
You name it.

Bethlehem, like the Lower East Side,
offers us a new world.
Just like the ones we used to know! Hardly!
Izzy didn’t know squat – this Jewish kid from Russia.
His dismal story didn’t stop him from telling it anew -- discovering a New World.

So, start deconstructing!
See yourself in the mystery.
It’s your story too.
And given the mess we’re in,
isn’t it time to grow into a new one –
into the one where God slips in among us –
the divine New Deal?
Merry and bright!

Alan Jones, dean emeritus of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

*Don't forget, multiple chances to win a copy of my book or an audio of Edges!  



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

EDGES: The One Year Anniversary

My first novel came out exactly a year ago. A sweet book with two teen protagonists, it explores addiction and spirituality on the streets of New York City and the red canyons of the desert Southwest.

A year ago, paranormal romance was trending, so Edges didn't come out with the BANG! I had hoped for. Still, I was/am incredibly fortunate to have been published in this exciting technological era where all of the rules are changing. I am ecstatic that I finally gave myself permission, albeit slowly, to write, and that I have become the person I was meant to be: a writer and a teacher.

I believe that everybody has the right to write - if they want to. Everybody has a story to tell, and we don't all have to be Shakespeare.

The most important factors to becoming a writer are passion, practice, discipline and a little bit of luck. In terms of luck, is it "lucky" to be the eldest granddaughter of Madeleine L'Engle? Of course it is!  But it is also a double edged sword. It might make people listen for five seconds, but it also sets up unrealistic expectations. (And that's not the reason I was published.) I have to sink or swim on my own, I have to have my own authentic voice.

Many of you know that I have had to table my second book, a companion to Edges called The Land of the Lost and Found due to "lackluster" sales of Edges. (And people, anything short of a best seller is lackluster these days.) I am happy with the sales of Edges, happy that it is being read.

The strategy is for me to move onto another publishing house with something new and fresh, and then publish The Land of the Lost and Found,  timing it with the paperback release of Edges. Makes sense, right?

So I have India Flips, a tween novel. It is about flipping out, flipping for, as well as literally flipping. (In November, for Nanowrimo, I started from scratch, but took the basic premise from another novel-in-a-drawer and completely changed the characters - from ages to personalities.)

I will celebrate my anniversary by going to the gym, and by throwing myself into revisions. And I think it's a good excuse for another contest, don't you? Since it's the season of giving and all.

I have one book (signed of course!) and an audio to give away. And bookmarks! (Everyone who enters will get a bookmark.) You will have multiple chances to have your name in the lottery.

1) Leave a comment . . .
2) Follow this blog
3) "Like" the Edges page on Facebook
4) Follow me on Twitter (even though I am not the greatest tweeter)
5) Give this blog and/or Edges a shout out by re-posting on FB or re-tweeting. Hey, why not both!

I will announce the winner on Thursday, December 15th, so that it will get to you in time for Christmas.

Thank you for reading!

xoxo   your friend,    Léna

Monday, December 5, 2011

Oui, Oui Christmas Concert

Happy Monday everyone. Today's post is about how I found myself involved in a Christmas Concert with CHARIS, "the finest vocal group in Westchester" . . .

We say yes for many different reasons (besides not being able to say no.) My biggest reason for saying yes is to help my community (friends)  and to stretch myself as a person.

However, saying "yes" can be uncomfortable, and sometimes I wonder what I have gotten myself into.

"We are desperate for a narrator for our Christmas concert," Amy said to a group of  mutual friends a couple of weeks ago. This was the first time I had heard Amy talk about singing, let alone that she was part of a choral group. And I don't want anybody to be desperate. I mean, I know how to read aloud, don't I? Isn't that what a narrator does?

"Maybe I can do it," I offered, and immediately Amy jumped on my words. It snowballed, and I got way out of my comfort zone.

I had no idea that the choral group Amy is involved with, Charis, would be comprised of over thirty singers, tenors, sopranos, altos and baritones and artistically directed by Art Sjogren. I had no idea they would be so professional. I don't know what I expected - a rinky-dink choir? I didn't think, I just said, "yes I can." I've read in church many, many times. (Of course, I haven't done it in years, but isn't it nice that my impulse was to engage instead of to cower?)

I was to play the part of "narrator" during a choral piece called Annonciation by Frenchman Daniel-Lesur's.  There were no long monologues, I just had to know when to be able to come in on the music. Oh, just that. Challenge #1. Gulp. Now that I have never done before.

I managed to go to one rehearsal immediately following a workshop and was stunned by the singers. I had actually been thinking of auditioning until I heard them. You want me to sing Mack the Knife? I'm your gal. But these folks aren't amateurs. I didn't want to embarrass them.

Then there were the performances this weekend.

Saturday was a FULL day, and I squeezed this concert in between events. I didn't have time to think about it, let alone be nervous, but then, during one of the parts of my narration, I started struggling with a cough.

And then I coughed once during a soprano's solo and . . . don't worry, I made myself stop. Have you ever tried to stop a coughing fit? (You end up crying instead, which I guess is apropos for the Annunciation.)

But still, I did not feel great about my performance. Coughing is not cool. (I kept thinking that it had been hubris to say "yes".)

I ran out to make the Christmas Tree lighting in Bedford Hills, where my son Finn was singing in the chorus. (He was delicious.)

Sunday I didn't have to rush around or be anywhere else, so I could just focus on the concert. My mom drove down from Connecticut, and my 6 year old daughter Scarlett came too. I had time to be nervous, but also was able to arm myself with throat lozenges and water.

No coughing, my voice was loud, measured and clear. I rocked it. The singers were just phenomenal.

So. Moral of this story? Get out of your comfort zone. Just do it. And if you live near Westchester, do yourself a favor and come to one of Charis' concerts. (It's not just church-y stuff. :0)

And now I have to focus that moral on exercising more regularly. NaNoWriMo coupled with not having time to work out has wreaked havoc on my back. Just do it. Heh, heh, heh.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent Prayer for the newborn Snyder Twins

Yes, I love stories, and the story of Christmas and the other layered tales from even older religions fill me with glee and appreciation for life. I love this period of advent, of waiting, the visitation of Gabriel to Mary - her shock and awe of saying "yes" to life.

It is an opportunity to think about where our hearts could open more. To pray.

The day after Thanksgiving I learned that my closest friend's husband's brother from another mother - his wife - died after giving birth to twins. She  hemorrhaged after complications with a C-section. (This is not a picture of the actual Snyder twins.)

There are no words. Except: to send love, prayers and donations to the father, named Jay, and his beautiful twins Reverie and Jackson. To learn more about their story and to make a donation, please visit the website my friend created: The Snyder Twins: Help raise Jackson and Reverie Snyder.

The other thing that these stories - both tragic and miraculous - can teach us, is to appreciate our own lives more - to live it to the fullest and let our hearts open rather than constrict at the news of another tragedy, or another curve ball that life has thrown our way. To not take things personally - the universe doesn't hold grievances. It is a time to shine light on things during the darkest time of the year. Pagans and Christians alike light trees and candles, while my Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah, an eight day festival of lights.

Michal, the mother of the Snyder twins, was a Buddhist. I think many religions would subscribe to the belief that Michal's spirit is indeed inside both of her children, and with her husband Jay.

Advent is the period of anticipation for a baby, the baby in all of us who is new and hopeful, loves and needs love. The baby represents our innocence, vulnerability, and our future.

As long as we say yes to the things that will help us grow as human beings there is hope. We don't have to be Christian in order to appreciate the gravitas of Mary's choice, her decision to love.

This season represents all babies, all children. Especially Jackson and Reverie. Please help.