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

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are You a Re-visionary?

I am!

My teeth have ripped back into the pages, and I am trying on the skins of my characters again after a two month hiatus: I finally got my manuscript back from my critique partner (who also happens to double as my husband and father of my children).

He is very good at telling me what's not working. Ouch.

But thank you! It's ultimately what I want and need to hear. He confirmed for me something that I already knew - my voice was getting obscured by trying to write for a "market".

This novel, India Flips, was originally written a few years ago with the working title of In Your Face, about a 17 year old Goth girl named Godiva who gets roped into being on a Reality TV show. There too, I was focusing on trying to be more commercial, but my editor at FSG didn't like it. I chose not to send it to anybody else and put it in a drawer.

But the story still called to me, and my agent had been suggesting that I write a middle grade book. I thought: what if I kept the premise of In Your Face but changed the characters and made them younger, put more of a romance angle in it? And drums! Yes, we need drums and some good ol' rock n' roll rather than the Goth angle.

So I was off to the races, writing for a "market" because, as you all know, I am eager to be published again. Too eager, because if the characters are 13 turning 14, then they are WAY too precocious.

Writers: all of our drafts are invaluable - no words written are wasted, even though many end up on the cutting room floor. Re-visioning is what makes our characters come to life. We want our readers to be able to slip inside their skins.

So who will read our work if we so it this way, who will it be marketed too?

For me, for this novel, it is too early to worry about that. Way too early! Write the story that wants to be written . . . India is turning sixteen, not fourteen.

I need to focus on writing India's story and listen to her voice, re-visioning her rather than writing what I think people may or may not want to read.

How do you do it? Are you a re-visionary too?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, March 26, 2012

Delicious Miss Daisy

I was so excited when I got the email blast announcing that premier violinist Daisy Jopling would be performing with her band in my hometown at the Katonah Village Library. Daisy was my son Cooper's first violin teacher  at the Bloomingdale School of Music in New York City. (Yes, he was only in kindergarten, but Daisy's philosophy was to have children improvise and make up actual songs rather than technique, which would come later.) She had such passion and energy, I would find myself asking to sit in on her classes just to watch her.  (Eventually she was touring so much that she stopped teaching.)

So of course Cooper (now in sixth grade) and I weren't going to miss it. Last Thursday night we sat in the front row. Daisy, petite, beautiful and British came out in a hand-knit angora sweater vest and black pleather pants and began to play Vivaldi - but unlike any Vivaldi you've ever heard. This was rock n' roll, baby!  She was revelatory to watch: her face shone as every part of her body vibrated. The sharing of herself was so complete and intimate the entire audience was blown away.

I came away inspired to share myself more in a deeper way with people, to continue to find my own voice and not write what I think others will want to hear or read. (Marketing.)

We all couldn't get enough.

And we can get more of Daisy! She will be playing with her band in Peekskill at The Paramount Theater on Saturday May 19th. Let's get a posse together and sell that theater out!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Wrinkle in an Hour's Time: Censorship and Adaptation

Censorship and A Wrinkle in Time? What???? Yes, this classic by my grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle is on many top ten lists of most censored books in America.

Okay, now that I've got your attention, my experience is not as crazy as all that. I was recently asked to do what I thought would be my Wrinkle in an Hour's Time workshop the other day at a local library.

What it turned out to be was an intense learning experience.

Wrinkle has been criticized from both ends of the spiritual spectrum - from the intellectuals for being too overtly religious and then from the evangelical Christians for being downright pagan. (Those rascally Mrs W's!)

Yes, our society is a beautiful and rich tapestry of different cultures, but Christianity is still the dominant religion. It isn't surprising that we see some sensitivity around this subject.

The librarian had set it up with me months ago to correspond with the first day of spring. We are on the heels of the 50th anniversary of Wrinkle - and the librarian had put it in the calendar as a "celebration". No problem - just add cupcakes to the mix and voila! You have an instant party situation.

Okay, what does this have to do with censorship and adaptation? Well . . .  I sent the librarian - who I really like and respect as a deep thinker - the outline of my workshop including the passages that I use.

She wrote back saying that it was great, but could I please not quote anything religious. I frowned at the email. It confused me. I am not "religious". I personally would never dream of pushing a religious agenda.

Could she mean the passage that I base the whole workshop on? The one that posits that it is our creativity that fights darkness?

    “Who have our fighters been?” Calvin asked.
    “Oh, you must know them, dear,” Mrs Whatsit said.
Mrs. Who’s spectacles Shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”
    “Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”
     “Of course!” Mrs Whatsit said. “Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.”
     “Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”
    “And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “And Bach! And Pasteur, and Madame Curie, and Einstein!”
    Now Calvin’s voice rang out with confidence. “And Schweitzer, and Ghandi, and Buddha and Beethoven, and Rembrandt and St.Francis!”

Okay, so, there's Jesus and Buddha and Michelangelo. Is that religious?

Oh. There's that part where Mrs Who quotes the bible.

The librarian said that she would love to have a discussion about this, but that she didn't think the library was the proper forum.  I could have pushed, and I could have at least asked why, but I didn't. I wanted to act my way into flexible thinking.

I focused on loving the challenge of  adapting, of improvising. My original workshop closes with the above passage, and I like to give out a certificate to participants with that quote and their own name scrawled at the bottom. Of course it went over well for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where I originally created it. And down South in Alabama, where folks are predominantly Christian.

I see that passage of the book as the ultimate interfaith message, and I know my grandmother. She saw the act of creating something, be it in the arts or sciences as an act of faith. And not limited to Christians. So do I.

Yet I have to give props to the librarian for knowing her patrons, and for making me think outside of the confines of my own experience. Yes, me, the free thinker.

But I still have to cop to being uncomfortable with not including that passage. For me it encapsulates the message of the book: that we ALL matter, regardless of our race, creed or religion. My grandmother was a devout Christian, so of course her beliefs informed her work. I am not, but I can't escape my upbringing, and the fact that I value faith as I seek to understand many religions and many points of view. I read stories to learn alternate ways of thinking and being. To teach me.

The arc of the workshop became more focused on the characters as archetypes and how we use books to learn more about ourselves and the world. We still did some group brainstorming and individual writing exercises. And I asked the kids to start looking at books, at stories, at characters differently. How does the protagonist view the world? How do you view the world?

Yes, thanks to the librarian, I looked past my own point of view, stretching myself and learning something through adapting.

It's certainly something to keep thinking and talking about.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, March 19, 2012

Story vs. Marketing

"Write the story that wants to be written," is one of my favorite mantras. It was bequeathed to me and countless of other budding young authors by my Gran, the one and only Madeleine L'Engle, who not only wrote stories that wanted to be written, but ones that wanted to be read.

I say it not only to myself, but I preach that sermon to writers from the ages of eight to eighty. I believe in it. I believe that writing is about excavation and discovery, it's not *just* about getting published.

And yet . . . it is about being published and having our work be recognized. We aren't writing out of a vacuum - we are writing both to understand and maybe to be understood. We want our stories to be heard, which can be an uphill battle.

Why? (Besides the cacophony of us on the interwebs, clamoring for attention.) You have to have a niche, a genre. You have to know who you're talking to, you have to know your MARKET.


Whatever happened to just writing a story? It's hard enough to listen, to really listen to our characters without worrying whether or not they are "marketable".

When I started writing Edges, I was answering a call from my main character. I didn't know from "audience" - all I knew was that Luke (who also happened to be a teenager) was dying for me to tell his story.

I nearly drove myself mad (and everyone else) with the writing and thought the madness I felt would be over once I found an agent. No? A publisher, surely. No? Ah, I will feel sane when I am published then.

Sorry, but no.

My adventures into the psychotic world of marketing had just begun, which I have shared with you all along the way dear readers, and you know that I have come through it stronger and with a sense of humor. (Most of the time!) If you are pre-published or debuting, you will too, I promise!

We authors complain about marketing, because none of us have the magic formula, and we are delusional for a while thinking that there is one. If only . . . We all feel ridiculous, thinking that we are doing too much and then worrying that we are not doing enough and we just have to STOP.
And remember that it has to be about writing the story that wants to be written, about being authentic. About finding YOUR voice, so that we can hear it. Because nobody can tell a story the way YOU can.

I can't be successful trying to be someone that I'm not, so I may as well be the best Léna Roy that I can be. Will you be the best YOU?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, March 9, 2012

Point of View

The beast felt heavy and cold in my hands. I'd never held a hand gun, let alone an AK- 47. I was shown how to rest the butt on my shoulder and lean my cheek into it so that my eye could follow a supposed target.

Guns make me nervous. I have never really understood how they are supposed to make the world safer. They seem to give people a false sense of power. The old testament talks about "an eye for an eye", but Jesus didn't teach that. Neither did Martin Luther King Jr., or Ghandi, nor does the Dalai Lama.

Yes it's true: guns aren't violent, people are. But isn't it also true that guns make people more violent? Aren't we what we think?  When guns get into the hands of irresponsible, scared people, we have tragedy. Just look at what happened in Ohio last week.

But I'm not here to debate the the right to carry arms. As writers, as human beings, we must be open to the points of view of others. How are we going to create believable characters if we can't see beyond ourselves? How are we to love humanity if our point of view suffers from rigidity?

I want acceptance too - and I don't want to be dismissed by some of my more conservative and religious friends as a hippy-dippy liberal, right? I express my views, yet also value love and tolerance beyond all else.

My friend who owns the gun has got to be one of the most gentle and nurturing souls I have ever met. Her softness in showing me how to hold it made me feel safe in doing so, made me take the risk of seeing her point of view.

Our job as writers is to ask questions of our characters and to decipher their motivations, which, if we are really on our game, makes us learn more about ourselves.

All I know is that I don't have all of the answers, and that I am at my best when I am seeking to understand rather than to be understood. (Special nod to St. Francis there!)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Waiting on The Husband

My husband is notoriously slow and meticulous with everything. He thinks that if a job is worth doing, you put 200% into it, while I - yes, I have to admit, I am fast and half-assed. He has amazing attention to detail, while I'm much more impatient. This is partly why he is an excellent editor. Even though YA fiction might not be his "thing", he has a great understanding of story structure and character motivation and development. He also takes no prisoners, and isn't afraid of hurting my feelings.

This is why he is my second reader. (My first is my "mommy". Thanks Mom!)


He seems to think that "work" and "the kids" are more important than his critique of my manuscript. Can somebody set him straight?

He refuses to give it back to me until he's done and I am itching to revise. In fact, I am sitting here in a café staring at the blank page and I can't bear to start another project right now.

But this is just another reason to procrastinate and not take responsibility for my own process. After all, we writers constantly have to wait, so we constantly need to write too. Why shouldn't I start another project? Next time I sit down I will give myself a prompt and go . . .

Now I just have to think of one - I give my good ones away to my Writopia kids!

Anybody have a suggestion?


Monday, March 5, 2012

Writers Fight Darkness

Yes we do! This concept is something that crystallizes for me the more I practice the art myself and the more I meet other writers through the workshops I lead.

Although I am back in New York,  part of me is still in Mobile Alabama, and maybe it always will be. Those Mobilians touched my heart!

Those writers from all different walks of life who have a story to tell and have the right to write.

I spoke my truth about writing and life to the Mobile Writer's Guild last Thursday night and then on Saturday I led two workshops: the first being sponsored by the library and the Metro Mobile Reading Council. It was a 50th anniversary celebration of my grandmother's opus, A Wrinkle in Time  where I led a workshop for kids, tweens and teens and asked to think about not only Wrinkle, but every book they read and everything they write themselves in an introspective way.

Betsy Gillespie, president of the Reading Council writes: "Thank you for such a wonderful Young Authors' program today in Mobile! In just a few minutes you took the students from apprehensive to engaged! You captured the hearts of a very diverse group of young adults and had them all writing and participating! This was one of our best programs ever!!! Many thanks to you and to the Mobile Writers' Guild. All of us in the Metro Mobile Reading Council were delighted with the workshop!"

We did some group and individual writing and dramatic exercises, culminating in a poem or short piece about fighting darkness. Morgan Grable and Natasha Novikov, both 8th graders, agreed to let me publish the poems they wrote, here on this blog!

Uncover The Darkness

My encouraging words light the darkness, it strikes every corner every crevasse.
My fearless words rewrite the words of extraordinary power that were never spoken never written. 

As I speak with these words the darkness retreats.
As the light shines through the darkness it's time for me to find who I am.
It's time to uncover what's hidden behind all the anger.

It's time for our lights to shine and over power the darkness.

This young author is pretty incredible, don't you think? But wait - you haven't read Natasha's!


When I'm doing something scary, fear comes to me,
Fear goes straight to my head and tells me, "You can't do it,"
Although we think fear is bigger than ourselves, it really isn't.
Some people run away from fear, while others run toward it.
Why do the others run toward fear?
Because the only thing standing in the way is fear itself.

Amazing emerging authors, huh?

In the afternoon I led a three hour professional workshop called Mining Your Life for Your Fiction for adults (and one teen) where I asked participants to go deep into themselves and their subconscious in order to bring their own truths to light. We stayed late so that everybody had the chance to share and receive feedback. I was blown away by participants' willingness to uncover themselves, for writing really is about stripping down and revealing ourselves, isn't it? We fight our own darkness.

I made some new friends and solidified a few "internet" friendships into "real life" friendships.

I had to write this morning to ground myself back into my own life, here in New York. Now I can hit the ground running, but first, for this writer, it is best to hit the ground writing!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sweet Home Alabama

English: Aerial view of the port and city of M...
Good Morning! I am much more relaxed than yesterday, where I almost had two heart attacks, but traveling will do that to anybody. The first was when I thought that we weren't going to make it to the airport on time. The second was when I thought that we wouldn't make the connecting flight.

But made those flights we did. Where? To Mobile, Alabama. With who? My eldest son Cooper. Why? To speak to the Mobile Writer's Guild about Edges and my publication trials and tribulations.

Underlying that external anxiety was something more pervasive that has been gnawing at me for a while. It goes hand in hand with worrying that Madeleine L'Engle fans will be turned off when they find I am not her.

Would I be able to be myself in the South? Did I need to try to make people "like" me?  Did I need to pretend that I was something I wasn't? Would Carrie (Cox) be happy that she worked so hard to get me out there? Alabama is in the bible belt - it would be easy for me to play up my Christian background - a sure winner - but that wouldn't be my whole truth.

So dudes and dudettes, I told it like it is. Fo' sho'.

Told it like is, for me.

Because I had to give these peeps the respect of being myself. Here is a group of people, a GUILD no less, who are committed to writing and creating community. The best thing I have is my authenticity, and you know that I LOVE meeting people, I love being part of the human race.

Okay, so maybe I had a little diarrhea of the mouth. But it was so freeing! I got up in front of Southerners and talked about my belief in humanity, my own brand of spirituality, and my fascination with religion, the fact that it took me forever to say that I am indeed a "writer".

I sold a bunch of books, and got people really excited about the workshops I'll be doing all day on Saturday. How? Simply because I myself am really excited and passionate about leading workshops - I can guarantee a good time. For reals.

Today Cooper and I are going to Dauphin Island with our host Carrie and her son, and tonight we will meet with some more Mobile Writers for dinner on the Causeway.

Bring it!
Enhanced by Zemanta