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.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I'm A Writopian and I Know It . . .

Sometimes I believe that I love running workshops more than I love writing itself. I love watching young authors - like these two - catch the writing bug, finding out who they are in the process. They are constantly surprising and inspiring me. They challenge me to keep up my practice of my own writing. (Yes, I have to practice what I preach - thus the constant plugging away at manuscripts.)

Today I start running half-day creative writing camps that run weekly throughthe summer. Hooray! Last Thursday we wrapped up the Writopia "school" year with a reading at the Mt. Kisco Library with our biggest turnout, (and an appearance by the mayor!) and in our last festive "last" workshops, our writers set themselves to work on some parodies. (These kids are obsessed with these parodies of pop songs on YouTube. Who am I kidding - kids? I love parodies too! So why not write our own?)

Of course, they were brilliant, and I have to share a couple. Permission has been granted by two of my Saturday writers.

I have seen 12 year old Beatrix almost every Saturday for the past year and a half. Her energy is boundless, and because of that, the two of us are constantly inventing new writing games and twists on old ones. She mostly writes fantasy and dystopian (with a hint of sarcasm here and there), but lately has tried her hand at poetry and has revealed a truly wonderful philosophical nature. 

She looks at me, dead serious. "Has anyone done I'm Sexy and I Know It?"

"Nope," I said. "It's all yours." We had Writopia versions of songs by Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, New Direction, Nicky Minaj, as well as the theme songs from Barney and Elmo's World.

Annabel has been in our Saturday group since September, the beginning of sixth grade. Her prose is languid and fluid. She was very excited at the prospect of playing with the lyrics of Call Me, Maybe.

So here is, first: I'm A Writopian and I Know It, by the one and only Beatrix Roberts, followed by: Write Something, Maybe, by Annabel Kelly.


When I write a book, I get this feeling like my character's good, yeah
I read to the beat, ideas running through my head for a new story
This is how I roll, gotta have a pen and pencil to jot down notes
I’m addicted to writing and you know I know it
And I stare at the computer screen and see it glowing
Ah, I like to write stories
Ah, I like to write stories
Ah, I like to write stories
Yeah, I’m creative
When I walk into class, yeah
This is what I see
Everybody’s writing their own story
I got passion for writing and I ain’t afraid to show it
Show it
Show it
I'm a writopian and I know it
Read about it
Read about it
Write a book, yeah
Write a book
I'm a writopian and I know it
Yeah, when I’m at the mall
I’m at the bookstore reading new releases
And when I’m at the beach
I’m lying in the shade typing new sentences
This is how I roll, typing out words
In all my spare time
We headed class
Baby don’t be nervous
I got plenty ideas to share with y’all



your hands are typing
computer screens,
full of fun words
story wall
is so awesome!

whats your next story about?

hey i like to write
and my stories are crazy!
but Léna loves them
so write something maybe?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Opening Lines of . . . India Flips

Happy Monday everyone! I thought I'd try and be bold this morning, and post the first page of India Flips, the novel I just sent off to my agent. (Fingers crossed!) I walked through the fear on Friday when I pushed the SEND button, and also when it (this) was featured on Gae Polisner's Friday Feedback blog.

There are so many ways to flip: back flip, front flip, flip the bird,(yes, being flippant) flip out (as in freak out), flip out (as in fall for - romantically speaking or as in "that is the coolest thing - ever!), flip a house (renovate and re-sell for profit), flip a coin (chance, fate?) - and much more I am sure. (Who can forget the hair flip?)

Whatever way you flip it, the act of "flipping" - whether it's literal or emotional - brings energy, dynamism and change to the person doing it.

AND you would never know from this "beginning", that these characters are going to end up on a Reality TV show.

'Nuff said:

"How many birds have been sacrificed to this death trap?” I mutter to myself. I am staring out of the sliding glass door to a large deck of a house for rent, for sale, for living and dying in the exurbs of New York City. I am staring out this false sense of security, this symbol of change, of possible carnage. Some birds don’t sense boundaries and end up getting hurt: some birds like me.
As if on cue, a tiny hummingbird flies toward me and I long to pull the door open, but for once my hands are paralyzed. Am I hoping that it will mistake the glass for open space? Could I be that cruel? As the bird gets closer - its ruby neck, exposed and vulnerable - my hands start to twitch into action and reach for the windowed door. My fingers tug, pulling the force up my arms and I give up. Unwilling to take my eyes off the hummingbird, I put my hands on the window, hoping that my physical presence will be enough of a boundary.
The hummingbird’s natural habitat is lush with trees, grass and even a pond. Why would it want to come inside? Go away birdie, I will silently. Stick with what you know, where it’s safe. Where you are safe.
Am I ready for this disaster? I mean, it’s the cycle of life, right? Its all happened before, and it will inevitably happen again.
Except that this time it doesn’t. The tiny beak makes an ell turn just in time and the air in my throat hisses with relief. It must have been loud because Janie calls out from the living room where she is trying to ‘visualize her own furniture’ - maybe she’s even imagining us all sitting on her couch. I can’t tear myself away from the window, where the hummingbird has come back and is staring at me, flapping it’s wings ferociously. What are you looking for, buddy?
“Indy? You okay?”
“Um, yeah,” I manage to say as she walks through the room.“This dining room is pretty sweet.”
“Come look at the bedrooms!” And she disappears.
I don’t want Derek to move to this house or any other in Westchester. I want him to stay living across the street from me in our little corner of Manhattan. 
My hands move over my plaid skirt tapping out a rhythm, my purple Doc Martens stomp as I drum to Radiohead’s Creep. I may not be able to stand still, but at least I stay in one place.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Novel Nerves and Friday Feedback

I just hit the SEND button with an attachment of my new novel, India Flips to my agent, Edward Necarsulmer. Here's what will happen: he will clear off all other things from his desk, eager to start reading right away because I am oh so fabulous.


Okay, yes, he adores me, but there will be no clearing of the desk. What will happen is that India Flips will get into his MASSIVE reading queue. And the EARLIEST he will get back to me is late July.

But I obsessively read it through, editing and copyediting it no less than five times this week. Now it is 46,000 words instead of just shy of 45,000.

I am scared, but I must let go of it, and it's a good thing that I have a very busy summer of teaching writing camp, and then reading as many books as I can possibly get my hands on.

If you are interested in reading the opening page of India Flips, I have bravely posted it over on Gae Polisner's blog today. (You know my friend Gae - of Pull of Gravity fame?)  She is working in concert with Kate Messner's big summer project, Teacher's Write.

She has a new weekly feature called Friday Feedback, in which she, or a guest author, posts an excerpt of something he, she, (I?) are working on, and then invites peeps not only to give feedback, but to post their own excerpts for feedback from her (and the guest author.)

Isn't that the coolest? So what are you waiting for?

If you need another push, here is the link to Friday Feedback - I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, June 8, 2012

India Flips - a new novel!

I did it, and let me share this small moment with you. I just finished the final revision for India Flips, my new teen/tween novel. Final revision before sending it to my agent that is. (I'm not going to convert it to a PDF and send it to him today. I still need to do another round of copyediting.)

And one thing is for sure: I LOVE revising. It is just magic, when you start putting all of the puzzle pieces together. It feels amazing. Yet I have no idea whether it's "good" or not, whether he will like it or not - whether anybody will like it. I'm too close - but chances are that somebody somewhere will like it. And I have to let go of the results, and move onto the next project.

After all, that's the risk that we take when we embrace the vocation of writer, don't we? And we wouldn't have it any other way, would we. We are finding out who we are and creating meaning for ourselves and hopefully others, aren't we?

I'm counting this as my fourth novel. My first novel, and as yet only published novel, Edges, went through several permutations to become the book that it is today. I did thirteen revisions, and wrote three completely different novels yet using the same structure - with the same ideas of searching and redemption.

While I was waiting for Edges to be published, I wrote In Your Face, a novel about a goth blogger named Godiva who looks at her own narcissistic tendencies when she is on a reality show. She is also an alcoholic. In Your Face was rejected by my editor at FSG and I suffered from that rejection. She did not want to tackle alcoholism again, and who could blame her? I put In Your Face back in the drawer - I didn't want to send it out to other publishing houses, I wanted to keep practice writing and get better.

Fortunately I was well on my way into writing The Land of the Lost and Found, a companion to Edges. I was in the middle of a revision when Edges came out in December of 2010. Edges did not take the world by storm as I had feverishly hoped, but it was my book and it was out there.

The Land of the Lost and Found was loved by my editor, but ultimately the sales people at FSG did not want to take a risk on a book that would be a companion to something that wasn't a bestseller.

Sigh. New game plan. Other houses are interested, but not in a companion book unless Edges comes out in paperback. (Which, fingers crossed, it will.)

"Does she have anything new?"

So I keep working. Out comes In Your Face and I hate it. My editor was right. But I love some of the stuff in there. I change all of the characters, make them a wee but younger, and place them on the same  reality show. I can't give this one up, you see. I was in a reality show called Into Character about making your movie dreams come true. I too was dragged along by a friend and experienced a surreal transformation. I had to try again to fictionalize that experience.

So last November during NaNoWriMo, I started from scratch and wrote 40k of what would be India Flips. I have been slowly revising it and adding to it ever since. It got up to 55k. This past winter, my husband read it and gave me some hard notes. This spring I started and stopped with revisions, as I got so busy teaching. For the past three weeks I've put my nose to the grindstone. I finished revising the last third and then converted from Scrivener to WORD and started editing. And at 11:37, I wrote my last words, 44,995:

I may not be outspoken, but I am down to earth. I may not be a graceful extension of Lila, but I am Reggie’s daughter. I may not be able to dance, but I can flip.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Award Gala vs. 6th Grade Orchestra

Tonight I had planned to go to my first ever Awards Ceremony. The Girls Write Now's 2011 Opening Lines Anthology won an Independent Publishers Book Award Gold Medal in the Independent Voice category!!  I was co-editor on this project last tear and have been over the moon for the recognition it brings to Girls Write Now.

But I am in a quandary. I bent over backwards trying to mold my workshop schedule into submission so that I could attend, but then I didn't check my family schedule.

This morning, my twelve year old said to me: "So mom, you're coming to my orchestra performance, right?"

"What?" I spluttered. "But I have this thing in the city tonight . . ."

He's only been in rehearsals twice a week all year. No big deal, right?

I had envisioned schmoozing, making new contacts, and getting a nice big juicy picture of me and my co-editor, Kirthana Ramisetti holding up the award. It would be a proud moment.

"I really wish that you come come, but . . . It's okay mom."

No, no, it's not okay. I need to prioritize: what is more important? This has been on the calendar since the beginning of the school year and has been something that my son has been working towards. If I don't come, it could be something that he could remember forever. I don't want to be the mom who doesn't show up for her family.

The publishing world is crazy making  and I firmly believe in the importance of celebrating each and every success because they can be so few and far between.

But at what cost? If I don't go to the award gala, that doesn't negate all of the work I did for Girls Write Now. It doesn't take my name off the book as co-editor.

If I go to my son's orchestra performance tonight I will be demonstrating what I think of success: showing up for the moments in the lives of my loved ones. Although awards are great, that's not what success is. Success is being able to look at yourself in the mirror. Success is looking into the eyes of others and not flinching. Success is being true to yourself and your values. My value is to show up for my family. I'm not always perfect at it, but this is something I can control and where I am able to prioritize.

So thank you Girls Write Now and Meghan for understanding that I have to bow out of tonight. I couldn't be more proud of all of the work we did together, but I am needed and wanted more at the less glamorous middle school orchestra performance.

Am I a mother who is a writer, or a writer who is a mother?
Does anyone else struggle with prioritizing?