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

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Camilla Dickinson by Madeleine L'Engle: the Movie!

I just got back from the West Coast where I saw the premiere of Camilla Dickinson, the film adaptation of my grandmother's first YA novel at the Seattle International Film Festival.

When we think of Madeleine L'Engle's body of work, CD may not jump out at you as the most cinematic.  However, my grandmother first wrote Camilla Dickinson for the stage and then decided to write it as a novel.

It is Madeleine's third published novel, and came out in 1951 just on the heels of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Camilla at the time was  deemed Holden's female counterpart, at a time when the world was more ready for a young and struggling MALE protagonist. Madeleine L'Engle wouldn't become well-known until 1962 when readers identified with her flawed protagonist Meg in A Wrinkle in Time.

I love my grandmother's earliest works - it's where I really feel her essence and her own struggle toward the light that mirrors my own.

So of course I had been looking forward to seeing Camilla in film since 1999 when my grandmother gave the script to one her many godchildren, the film-maker Cornelia Duryée Moore and told her to "have at it."

I wasn't disappointed.

Moore went through twenty seven revisions of the script before finding both the right tone and the funding to help her make this dream a reality. Armed with Larry Estes as a producer and a wonderful cast, Camilla has made her way onto the screen. It is a character driven book and remains a character driven movie. This is why the team had their choice of many brilliant actors to play these rich and complex roles, where all of the drama needs to be shown internally.

No, this is not a Hollywood, commercial film by any stretch of the imagination. It retains it's dark, coming-of-age themes, but has more of a sweetness at it's core. The character of Frank, dynamically  played by the very handsome British actor Gregg Sulkin, is not as dangerous as he appears in the book but we love him for it. Camilla herself is played gorgeously by Australian Adelaide Clemens as an icicle of a girl who is triangulated by her upper-class parents. She is an icicle who breaks out into her own personhood. Camilla's best friend and sister, Luisa Rowan is played flawlessly by Meisner specialist Colby Minifie. The emotions that these young actors are able to express through subtle changes in facial expressions was impressive.

And then of course, there was Cary Elwes and Samantha Mathis, expertly playing the roles of Camilla's detached father and emotionally fragile yet narcissistic mother.

It was a thrill to be there, and to watch Cornelia - who I have known since I was a struggling teen myself - present her labor of love to the world. We were able to have lunch with three of the actors before the premier on the boat that Corrie's dad built: Gregg, Colby, and another young actress named Rachel Grate who played the role of Pompilia. They are all so funny and down to earth - actors whose careers I will be watching closely. Actors who love to act, who challenge themselves to completely embody a role other than themselves.

I know what you are all asking yourselves: how can I get my hands on this? Well, the movie industry seems even crazier to me than the book industry - the way for you all to see this movie is for it to get bought by a bigger distributor. (Anybody know somebody who knows somebody?)

Friday, May 18, 2012

LiterHottie Award (Beautiful Blogger)

Yup, that's me. A Literary Hottie.*

That is, according to Anne Chaconas and Tracey Baptiste, both fabulous authors who have given me the honor of nominating me for the latest and greatest blogger award. Blogger Awards, for those of you who don't know,  are a way of extending and growing our on-line community. I have received several in the past, and the rules are always to nominate more people and spread the love. The rules for this award are to name 7 random facts about yourself and then to name 7 other bloggers.

*Full credit for LiterHottie goes to Reading Rambo, the coach for Suburbia Roller Derby's Backyard Bullies. You can read about my new love of Roller Derby here. (And have a chance to win a copy of my book, Edges.)

1. I am flying to Seattle today to attend the premier of Camilla Dickinson at the Seattle Film Festival. Camilla Dickinson is my grandmother's first YA novel, and now there's a lovely indie movie! (Of course, we're hoping for world domination. ;-)) How is this a random fact about me? Well, I have NEVER been to Seattle before! AND I am bringing only one of my kids - they are taking turns going on trips with me. I promised them that I would always take one of them with me wherever I get to go. AND I finally get to meet in person one of my favorite people and favorite new author - the fabulous Lish McBride who had me howling with laughter with her debut, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Her follow up, Necromancing the Stone is coming out this fall! Stay tuned . . .

2. I love peanut butter. And I mean, LOVE. I also love Dr. Who. (Now that's random!)

3. My extravagant self-care ritual is a spa pedicure once a month.

4. Even though I haven't had a drink or a drug in over 18 years, I am still the life of a party, unless . . .

5. I sometimes don't sleep very well. I've had insomnia ever since I can remember. It is much better now than it used to be, but I still have bouts. It is genetic. My grandmother, Madeleine suffered from it, as did her mother - also Madeleine. (And guess what - my legal name is Madeleine too, so the Madeleine's in my family have it.)

6. I had two aliases in my 20's - Venus de Velcro and Tallulah Trip. Both were High Priestesses of Cocktail Music and one was sexier than the other. Can you guess who?

7. I still have to pack for my trip. I am leaving in two hours, but I want to get this done - for Anne and Tracy. First thing's first!

My blogger shout outs:

1. Anne Chaconas 
Anne is a very funny writer that I met through Novel Publicity, which goes to show you (me) that not all social networking is a waste of time. She is very funny and has thoughtful, empathetic posts on the writer's life and how to navigate social media.

2. Tracey Baptiste  
Author of Angel's Grace and a short biography of my grandmother.  She writes inspiring tidbits on her blog like this:

"From Cynthia Ozick:
“One must avoid ambition in order to write. Otherwise something else is the goal: some kind of power beyond the power of language. And the power of language, it seems to me, is the only kind of power a writer is entitled to.”
It’s hard to avoid ambition, isn’t it? We all  aspire to be something more–and that’s a good thing. But to be something specific, best-selling author, for instance. Wanting to be that, desiring only that, well, that’ll eat you alive."

3. Deborah Batterman
This lovely lady is the author of the short story collection, Hair, Shoe, Nails AND she is also a Bedford/ Katonah resident. She is a beautiful writer. Reading her work always makes my hands itch to write myself!

4. Elizabeth Cassidy
Her posts are guaranteed to make me laugh. AND they are poignant - how does she do that? She is also a creative writing coach - maybe I'll ask her!

5. Jayne Martin
very funny new friend I have made on-line. Her posts are always compelling and helpful. Her book, Suitable for Giving, has been a real hit with readers!

6. Gae Polisner
Publishing House sister and author of The Pull of Gravity, soon to be out in paperback! She is the real deal - lovely, funny and authentic. She tells it like it is, the highs and the lows. AND she is a great hugger! I heart you, Gae!

7. Christa Desir is amazingly funny on her blog while exploring the toughest subjects in her novel writing. I can't wait to read Trainwreck which is forthcoming from Simon Pulse in the fall of 2013. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to get an ARC? Seriously folks, this is someone to watch for!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Roller Derby, Role Play + Giveaway!

There are so many ways we express our individuality in our yearning to find our voices. We can spend years cowering behind a facade of what society expects of us, creating personae that block us from our authentic selves.

But what if our personae can help us FIND our authentic selves? 

Yes, spoken like a true Drama Therapist and Writer, but tonight my muses are the women of  Roller Derby.*

Over the weekend, I went to my first Roller Derby game in Yonkers. I was invited by the twelve year old daughter of a close friend  - who of course is on the verge of finding many versions of herself in the different mirrors presented to her - it would be her "first" as well.

I imagined that Roller Derby would be the ultimate in female empowerment, and would be a much better mirror for girls than beauty pageants and Barbies.

I was just going to bring my daughter, but my whole family ended up coming - none of them could resist checking out the outrageous costumes and tough grrrl energy.

The Westchester Team, The Back Yard Bullies, were playing against New Jersey's Brick City Bruisers at The Police Athletic League in Yonkers. Each member of the team pays dues and supplies her own equipment. The League solicits donations for insurance, travel expenses and space rental.

The team members range in age from 21 to 51. They are all shapes and sizes, gay and straight,  choosing outrageous and hilarious avatars like Kickin' McNuggitz, CC PsyClone, Leggy Fleming, Ouching Tiger, Molly Throttle, Shiv Asana, Crash Sprawldisplatt, Lil Eve L (some of The Backyard Bullies' names.) They are bad-ass, and there is no one-size-fits all standard of beauty or worthiness. It's for everyone from misfit outsiders to popular cheerleaders and the rink is the great equalizer.

It was a blast. I had a hard time following the game until the last quarter, but no matter. The energy was amazing, the women sublime.

"I wish I was tough enough to do this. I'm a wannabe!" I said gleefully.

"Why couldn't you?" my friend said. "The toughness is just part of the persona."

Okay, maybe in another life, but she's right.

I have a tattoo of a tiger on my back. It's not that I think I am a tiger, but that I know I need that tiger energy in my repertoire.

So I can channel my inner Roller Derby Maven in other aspects of my life.

After all, that's what art is all about, isn't it? Whether we act, paint, write, we're giving voice to another part of ourselves.

Here's my question, and I would lurve to have a dialogue with you folks. Have you ever been to a roller derby or even better, been part of a roller derby team? (If you're on a team, can I pick your brain?)

And how about a little contest? Indulge my roller derby fantasy by coming up with a cool avatar for me - best name by next Monday wins a signed copy of Edges!

Have fun y'all.

* Roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams of five members roller skating in the same direction around a track. Game play consists of a series of short matchups ("jams") in which both teams designate a scoring player (the "jammer") who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to assist their own jammer while hindering the opposing jammer — in effect, playing both offense and defense simultaneously. Roller derby is played by more than 1,200 amateur leagues on every inhabited continent.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"I Hate Writing," and Other Lies

I'm a proselityzer, I admit it. And my Gospel is Creative Writing.
Last week I was invited by a Parents Association to bring Writopia Lab to fifteen classes of sixth graders and I'll be doing another fifteen this week. I had met with all of the English Language Arts teachers beforehand so they would know that I wanted to support what they were doing in the classroom: that I was friend, not foe.

Middle school is where you may both find and lose your voice. Where you often start developing and trying out different personae not only to be socially accepted, but to become individually defined.

Who doesn't remember that?

So, my mission was to get the kids to write their own short story, and to inspire them to start thinking of themselves as writers. To help them see that they can use writing as a tool for discovery, for thought and for fun.

I had forty minutes each class.

I started these classes using myself as an example of a "secret" writer who was too ashamed to admit it, who didn't think she had the right to write, to have a voice. I had loved writing, but until recently lacked the moxie to call myself a "writer". Then I asked the students what their experience with writing had been.

Here's a crazy statistic: over half of my students claimed to "hate" it. Yes, and this is at one of the better public schools in the state! Add to that some crazy statistics my dad quoted to me over the weekend from a book he was reading: After high school, 80% of students never read another novel.

When I asked the kids why, the a common answer (along with hand cramping and being intimidated by grammar) was that they had trouble thinking of things to write. 
"Do you like stories?" Most nodded their heads, but there were of course, a few kids who gave me the hairy eyeball. 

"I don't like to read."

"Well, there are other ways of ingesting stories. How about TV shows? Movies? Video games?"
We talked about story, and how TV shows, movies and books all have the elements of character, plot and setting. (The rest can be debated another day.)

I had them. "If you like TV, then you like story. If you like story, then I guarantee that you can tell one."

I gave each class a different first line and last line. Then it was up to each student to write the middle, and it could be as silly and/or weird as they wanted it to be, as long as the main character had an objective. ("Every character has to want something - even if it's a glass of water," - Kurt Vonnegut.) The teacher and I would go over to the students who were stuck and write a line in their story to "unstick" them, or ask them for more details if they had "finished" before the fifteen minutes of free writing was up.  I talked about story structure, asking questions of them to ask their characters.

Every student wrote. Some were brilliant: true diamonds in the rough. Invariably, the writing-"haters" all wanted to share, and were gleeful about it. Some thought they were just being silly, and were going for laughs, but I was able to point out that even stories about CIA agents in CandyLand can make a certain kind of sense. And more than a few said they would be willing to change their attitude toward themselves and writing.

I encouraged everybody to go home and type up their stories - to add, revise, continue, and I am certain some will. 
The teachers are amazing - they are all so dedicated and genuinely fond of their students, so open and creative in their own teaching practices, and I tip my hat to them. They have their hands full with large classrooms, a mandated curriculum, and testing to prove that indeed they have taught that curriculum. It was awesome of them to let me disturb their classrooms last week, and again this week where I will bring in another, completely different fun writing game that will focus on showing vs. telling.

Just don't tell me you hate writing!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

To Blog or not to Blog . . .

To blog, or not to blog. That is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer one's slings and arrows in private,
Or to take one's arms against a sea of troubles,
And by sharing, feel less alone . . .

Oh my blog, how I've missed you of late, my life filled with other parts of the writing life, teaching and meetings and emails - oh, so many emails!

Some say that blogs have peaked - (or is it piqued?)

Yet I want to thank you for being a place where I can organize my thoughts, and where I can have a meeting of the minds with others. But we need to have some boundaries, you and I. Internet traffic has become very congested and if I am overwhelmed, others must feel the same way.

So I will blog on Mondays. (Yes, I know that it is Tuesday dear blog, but yesterday I led five workshops! Okay, so I'll write Sunday night. Happy?)  Therefore you, dear readers, hopefully won't become overwhelmed with moi and run away. So yes, I will still be baring my soul in the same fun-loving way, and I'll try not to suffer my slings and arrows alone, but rather write about them to give them some perspective.

And I reserve the right to blog more if I want to!!!!