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, February 28, 2012

Alabama on My Mind

I'm almost there!

Day after tomorrow, my eldest son and I will making our way towards Mobile, Alabama where I have been invited to speak as a guest author and workshop leader.

One of the most exciting things about this lit life has been speaking, leading workshops, and being open to new friendships via social media.

 Just over two years ago, after being nagged by my agent, I started blogging. Carrie (Cox), president of the Mobile Writer's Guild was one of my very first followers, and she has watched my journey from pre-published to published author and has become a friend. She has been putting the wheels in motion for this trip ever since Edges came out. The Mobile Writer's Guild has kindly paid for my plane ticket, and their library is putting me up in a hotel. I will be speaking on Thursday night and leading workshops all day on Saturday.

This morning she posted a Q & A with me on the Mobile Writer's Guild website. She asks me:

What are the perks of leading workshops?
When reading for pleasure, what attracts you to a book?
Who are your biggest literary influences/heroes?
Are you picky about where you write?
What are the pros and cons to being Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughter?
What are some of the best ways to get reluctant writers to try their hand at storytelling?
How do you balance working, writing, and family responsibilities?

Great questions, huh? Hop on over to their site and read my answers. I'll just sit back and listen to some music while I wait.

Hi again!

I've never been this far South. The farthest I've gone is to Panama City Beach Florida, when I did that reality TV show called Into Character and went to a cheerleading camp. (Twilight Zone!)

My son and I will take a plane to Georgia, and then another one to Alabama. We land at 2PM, and Carrie will be waiting for us. I am going to hug her so hard! I also have a few friends I've "met" on-line who are coming to my professional workshop on Saturday afternoon including Anne Riley, another writer from Birmingham. I can't wait to finally meet them too!

Can you tell I'm crazy excited? Yes, this lit life is a rollercoaster ride baby, and this trip will be one of the highs.
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Friday, February 24, 2012

Goodreads or Badreads?


I have succumbed, I have knuckled, and yes - I have buckled. I quit Goodreads after a trial run because I came to think of Goodreads as Badreads. In fact, I was just being a big baby.

It was becoming yet another tool for me to measure myself by, and when I say that, I mean against. Because according to Goodreads, when I compare myself to many of my friends, nobody is reading my book. Poor Edges is sucking out against paranormal romance, fantasy and even after other contemporary fiction. And it's not that my friends have any better ratings, but what they do have are readers. Thousands of them, whereas I have 54. (Who is counting?)

And Edges got some outstanding reviews.

And a couple of "meh" ones.

But guess what???? I wrote a polarizing book! Yee freaking ha! How cool is it that people have opinions and get to express them? How cool is social media where we get to meet and interact with people we otherwise would never have a chance to meet?

And guess what again? I don't like every book I read either! Who does? So much depends on my mood and my state of mind - where I am in my life.

The important thing is, I want my book to be read. I believe in my book. No matter how you feel about alcoholism and recovery, spirituality and differing world views, I think it's important both think about and discuss all of these things.

And I've written and am writing other books where these subjects don't come into play.

I talk a lot about re-vision here, not only in writing, but in my personal life. So let's re-vision Goodreads right now. I can't shy away from potential readers.

Notice: I've been brave and put a Goodreads widget on this here blog. If you are so inclined, you can click to it and if you've read Edges, show it some love. If you haven't, I'd be most honored if you would add it to your  TBR pile.
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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vacation, Crosswicks, and Re-Vision

Vacation: a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday

I don't write when my kids are on vacation, and I am out of my routine.

Therefore, I am on vacation too: a vacation from my vocation.

I have to remind myself that writers need "a suspension of work" too: after all, we are with my mother up in Crosswicks, the family homestead in Northwestern Connecticut. This is where my grandmother set A Wrinkle in Time and the early Austin books. (And even she needed time to decompress and let things marinate.)

The winter has been strange with nary a snow flake - the trees are bare and the grass a yellowish-brown.  Climate change brought us a white Halloween and then sixty degrees in February.

We always have to keep what we think we know in check.

Crosswicks has undergone so many permutations since I was a child, running in the fields. There have been additions and renovations. In my mind's eye, I still see the weeping willow that was in the front yard during my childhood.

This picture, above, shows me that another tree has been in it's place for the past twenty years.

Vision is a funny thing. Can I really see what is in front of me, here and now without my whole life intervening?

This is why re-vision is so important, changing our perspective, our point of view. We have to deal with what's in front of us and accept it. The willow tree isn't there anymore, my childhood is gone but I have so much more than I ever dreamed.

And the author Patricia O'Brien finally makes it under a pen name at the age of seventy.

Who is Patricia O'Brien, aka, Kate Alcott? I was blown away by this article in the New York Times yesterday: this author has thirteen rejections of her sixth book, in large part because her previous books don't have a stellar track record. Her agent sends the same manuscript out under an alias, and voila - she gets a 6 figure deal in THREE days! Talk about a book being judged by it's cover!

The fear-based state of today's publishing industry had Patricia O'Brien re-visioning her career. She (and her agent) gave her book a chance to judged on it's own merit.

This post comes about because I have a very big revision of a manuscript looming large, one in which I am taking a "vacation" from, and will relish sinking my teeth into.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Humiliation or Humility?

There are such a myriad of ways to experience our lives, aren't there? This morning, I went to a class at the gym called: Boot Camp - a class I was clearly not ready for. (For someone whose workout entails an elliptical trainer and some yoga asanas, I should have known better.) There was a step and weights, and entirely too much jumping around. I felt sick to my stomach. Still, I persevered.

In that moment I had a choice: was I going to feel humiliated because my abilities didn't match my expectations, or was I going to be humbled and learn from my experience? 

The older I get, I become more in touch with my own humility, which is wonderfully freeing. (And there are always so many opportunities to be humbled!)

It is interesting, because both words come from the same root: humus - earth, but the words have vastly different meanings.

Humiliate: to cause (a person) a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity; mortify.
This is an isolating feeling. It makes us want to crawl into a hole to hide.
How could anybody have the power to do that to me save myself?  I am certainly not saying that I've never been or felt humiliated. Those of you who follow this blog know some of the things I've had to overcome, and I think part of growing up is making mistakes and (hopefully) learning from them.

Humble:  to be conscious of one's failings.
This state of being grounds us, and makes us part of the human race - no better or worse than anyone else.

Last spring I started Weight Watcher's, and wrote about it here, but once I started getting really busy with growing Writopia Lab, I found that I couldn't focus on it anymore. I wasn't able to get to meetings and I lost my mojo. When I was younger, I would use this as an excuse to beat myself up. But who am I to expect things to be easy? Focusing on losing weight is hard work and takes a lot of energy. I would love to be able to focus on it, but I can't right now. I am humbled, but I don't hate myself for it. I am not humiliated.

And I have felt lost in the world of publishing - saddened that "success" is so numbers and sales driven, and not based so much on literary merit. But I am certainly not the only writer who has felt or feels that way, so I am humbled. Humility brings me community, while a feeling of humiliation has only ever served to isolate me.

Finding the courage to call myself a "writer" and to seek out other writers has brought me a tremendous community, and the knowledge that I don't have to be perfect, or indeed, hide my imperfections in order to be loved is very freeing indeed.

We have to have a healthy amount of humility in order to be able to write - to get those words on paper. Because we will fail sometimes! That is a guarantee. But we keep trying, don't we?

And maybe I won't ever like a Boot Camp class, but who knows?

Where are you on the spectrum between humiliation and humility in your life?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loving Bloggers: Spread the Love

Love is glue, an ephemeral word that means more when it is used as a verb rather than a feeling. Love in action is what makes the world go around, and the world needs it, we need it to grow and to evolve into more enlightened human beings. We create, we write, paintactdancesing as a way of expressing and processing love.

Say what you want about social media - yes, it drives us crazy, yes we never feel like we're doing enough, but it has taught me something about community, and anything I learn about how communities work also teaches me about love.

Reciprocity. One of my gorgeous compadres on this writing journey is the fabulous Gae Polisner, who has passed this Versatile Blogger award on to me.  In 2010, Alison Roskos Treat invited me to play the reciprocity game but I was brand new at blogging and didn't know what to do, and then in 2011, I was invited to play by Demery Bader-Saye and made my very first attempt.

This will be my second attempt, and I will not be following the original rules to a tee, because of time constraints. So I will be following Gae's rules of bestowing the award onto six other author/bloggers, who in turn should do the same, and use the Versatile Blogger Award badge when you do so!

Now, are you ready for a love-fest?

1. Jen Violi: I love this woman and I have never had the opportunity to meet her on the physical plane (although we have been known to astral project.) She views writing and teaching as a ministry, much in the way that I do, but she is all groovy and West Coast. She is also very funny, writes love notes, and is the author of the YA novel, Putting Make-Up on Dead People which I loved and reviewed last May. Who could be more appropriate for Valentines' Day? She sends out a newsletter rather than blog regularly, so get on that list people! You won't be sorry.

2. Keith Jennings: my soul brother! Who I have also never met. He has a wonderful blog called Keitharsis: Creativity, Roots and the Portfolio Life. His posts are always very thought provoking and inspiring. Love him! I command you!

3: Katie Davis: you need to know about this wonderful author of some of my daughter's favorites, Kindergarten Rocks, Little Chicken's Big Day (and much much more!) and who does so much for the writing community in terms of reciprocity and networking. She is a beautiful dynamo who goes non-stop and is the best marketer I know. I have learned so much from her. Plus, whenever I see her I just want to squeeze her!

4: Emlyn Chand & Novel Publicity: This marvelous young woman in Michigan has redefined "karma" and reciprocity! I have watched her grow this past year into a marketing tycoon and it's been amazing. Her debut YA novel, Farsighted, is available as an ebook on Amazon!

5: Hope Perlman: Her blog, Unmapped Country is fantastic. She has written a remarkable series about Success that I think should be published! I love her writing, and I love hugging her too when I see her, which isn't often enough as she lives in Albany!

6: Lisa Ricard Claro: Writing in the Buff? How could you not read a blog like that? I "met" her when she "discovered" my blog. Isn't that just the coolest?

PS I just found out I was nominated for another Versatile blogger award, with different rules! Thank you Maryj! 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Celebrating A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
In February of 1962, fifty years ago this month,  a little book called A Wrinkle in Time was published under the radar by two up and coming publishers, John Farrar and Roger Straus.

The author, my grandmother Madeleine L'Engle, had fiercely believed in her book and suffered through 26 rejections, before luck had brought her to John Farrar. He agreed to publish it, but warned my Gran that it wouldn't sell very well.

Thankfully, he was wrong about the book, and very right to publish it.

Now A Wrinkle in Time is still one of the business' top sellers and the forward thinking team of Farrar Straus became Farrar, Straus, Giroux: the créme de la créme in the publishing industry.

Yesterday afternoon on February 11th, FSG put on a "celebration" at the distinguished Symphony Space, and live video-streamed the event to 85 book stores across the country. My family and I arrived to a packed house, and I was thrilled to see friends from our old neighborhood, as well as some of my Writopia Lab students in the audience. We had reserved seats in the second row with my brother Edward, right in front of my sister Charlotte and her family.

The event kicked off with a screening of the 90 Second Newbery Award video of A Wrinkle in Time, the brain-child of YA author James Kennedy, who hosted the first festival of kid-made videos last November. Betsy Bird, the fabulous children's librarian from the main branch of NYPL came out as the host for the afternoon and gave us some lovely words about her own connection to the book, and introduced us to the book trailer on the screen, followed by my sister Charlotte who spoke beautifully about the importance of community celebrations.

I was caught off guard by the amount of video and aural footage they had of my grandmother, hearing her voice fill Symphony Space, either from interviews or reading aloud from her book. Indeed, it made me feel as if she was in the room with us, and I remembered seeing her at Symphony Space LIVE, many times.

Betsy curated a panel of Newbery award winning authors Lois Lowry, Katherine Patterson, Rebecca Stead and R.L. Stine. It was an interesting panel because neither Lowry, Paterson or Stine had read Wrinkle as a child, so their perspective was much different from Rebecca's who is younger and was tremendously impacted by Wrinkle as both an author and a human being. (Just read When You Reach Me to find out why!)

Rebecca really shone on the stage, and even wore a 1960's dress with dark blue and green circles on it, reminiscent of the original cover. She completely rocked that panel!

You may think that would be enough for the event, but we were treated to more! The actress Jane Curtain did a stellar reading from WIT - the scene in which they tesser for the first time. Then we had another amazing performance from Greenwich Academy students, taking us through Meg's father saving them from IT but leaving Charles Wallace. And last but not least, the astute Leonard Marcus read us an excerpt from his forthcoming biography on M L'E entitled Listening to Madeleine, in which he compiled a book through a series of interviews. I already was excited to read it, but am even more now that I heard him read part of his interview with Sydney Offit - about what a remarkable speaker and performer my grandmother was.

Charlotte, Edward and I were whisked off to a table at the back of the theater where people could say hello while they were on line to get books signed by the authors from the panel, and we signed some posters and book plates as well. A lovely reception followed in the Thalia Café downstairs where it was fun to hob nob with lots of people from the publishing industry, and where my daughter Scarlett was the belle of the ball in her Wrinkle in Time tee shirt. (She was asked to be interviewed about Wrinkle by the publishers and immediately jumped up and down in glee, my little actress. Her favorite part of the evening? Why, the party and being interviewed of course!)

My favorite parts? Hearing my Gran's voice fill the room, seeing my sister on stage, my buddy Rebecca, Leonard Marcus, and the feeling that it really was a celebration.

If you were there, what were some of your favorite moments?

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Turning Points & a Giveaway!

Last December, I was asked by the lovely writer, Nova Ren Suma  to participate in her blog series called Turning Points and I unhesitatingly said yes. It was such a wonderful exercise for me, in that I really took my time writing it, thinking about my struggle to honor my and commit to my passion for writing. (And yes, I honor my grandmother, Madeleine L'Engle!)

All of these stories are fascinating.

Without any further ado, let me lead you over to Nova's blog: Distraction99, where you will not only find out about the author of the tremendous Beautiful Girls, but you will find inspiring posts from some very distinguished writers, and I am so honored to be included!

And there are LOTS of giveaways - Edges too!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I Am Not John Green

English: John Green speaking at the Loft Liter...
I have been guilty of one through ten on the list RIGHT at one point or another, resulting in me figuratively banging my head against the wall.

We artists are sensitive folk, aren't we? This is one of the many reasons I write: to exorcise these demons. I know that I am not alone, but I do applaud those of you who are above not doing anything on this list.

Comparisons are odious - William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing


My latest crime against myself is wishing that I were John Green. (I wish that my name would extract ecstatic sighs from people the way his does - oh ego, how dost thou mock me!)  I compare myself to him because we are both obsessed with the meaning of life, yet he unravels his thoughts in a way that is glib and sarcastic while I do . . . not. He is a master of dialogue, and shows me where I need to focus my practice. My dialogue is awkwardly sweet. I am "normal" funny, whereas he is "gifted" funny. He is a "nerdfighter" whereas my demons are . . . different.

But there's only one John Green.

I picked up a copy of his latest book yesterday, The Fault in Our Stars, and I felt as if John were in the room with me. Why aren't I as cool as he is? Because for all of his "nerdiness", I got to hang out with him at LeakyCon in Orlando last July when we were on some panels together, and let me tell you, he is HOT, people. He's the real deal. I wish that I could say that he's a big faker and be done with it. But I can't, because he really IS all that and a bag of chips. And he would be the first one to tell me NOT to compare myself to him. (DFTBA: Don't Forget to be Awesome!)

Comparisons are odious.

First of all, I am not a dude, I don't live in Indiana, and I don't have a brother named Hank. We'll just stop there.

So tell me, Léna. Who are you? I preach what I need to hear - that everybody's voice has value, that there is nothing original under the sun save for our uniqueness and authenticity.

I had best be leaving John Green to John Green, and revel in my own Léna-ness. Nobody wants me to be him. Y'all want me to be myself, don't you? As I want you to find your you-ness as well.

Now hopefully my blogging has served it's purpose: I can go back to being an adoring John Green fan, finish his latest literary tour de force (with his own Shakespearean nod to Julius Caesar) and kick the green-eyed monster to the curb.

I heart you John, I really do.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time Turns Fifty

Do you remember the first book you fell in-love with, the first title that inspired you to read, to ingest all other books and other worlds like there was no tomorrow?

I am sure that I am not alone when I tell you that A Wrinkle in Time was my book.

Thirty-six years ago, I was in second grade when Sister Madeleine Mary started reading it to my class. I remember sitting ramrod straight on the floor in my navy blue uniform dress and white knee socks, listening to Sister intone the words of Mrs. Whatsit and Meg. 

I wasn’t reading books that complex yet on my own, but I couldn’t wait until the next week when Sister would read us another chapter: I had to start reading it at home. It was then that my reading took off, and my life was never the same.

Did it make a difference that my grandmother was the author, Madeleine L’Engle? I don’t think that the author/grandmother connection would be my only motivation to surpass my teachers’ reading expectations. It was the wonderful story that compelled me, and kept compelling me to rediscover over and over again. I am sure that I felt the closest kinship to the book when I was eleven or twelve, but that didn’t stop me from falling in-love with the possibility of “story” when I was seven. I grew up with the characters - I understood Meg, marveled at CW, and crushed on Calvin. 

From the beginning, when Meg is scared in the attic on “a dark and stormy night” I slip into her skin, going downstairs for the comfort of hot chocolate and my mother and brother. I too am wary of Mrs. Whatsit at first, not trusting the world “out there” - the world that has not only taken my father, but uses his absence as a way to isolate my family. I too tingle with surprise when we meet Calvin in the woods and bring him home for dinner, and I am ready to believe the Mrs W’s when they call on us/them to save my/Meg’s father on the planet Camazotz. 

It was the first book I read where I - so closely identifying with Meg - got to be the hero, where I realized that parents are fallible, and that anger and stubbornness aren’t necessarily “faults” - that our anger and stubbornness can protect us and serve a purpose. And that love is most important when it’s not just a feeling, but an action, a verb.

For it's fortieth anniversary, I developed a workshop based on Wrinkle - first for a Drama Therapy conference, and then for the education department at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I still love to lead this workshop: using both drama and writing exercises - with a combination of collaborative and individual work, my hope is for participants to emerge empowered through working with the archetypes of Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin. (I will be leading this specific workshop at the Mobile Library in Mobile, Alabama on the morning of March 3rd, and the Chappaqua Library in Chappaqua, NY on the afternoon of March 20th.)

Now to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of a book that almost didn't get published (26 rejections!), Farrar, Straus, and Giroux has republished a gorgeous special edition of A Wrinkle in Time with a stunning retro jacket flap in FLAMES, and then, when we remove the cover, SURPRISE! We are treated to the original navy blue circles gracing the hardback. 

This Saturday, February 11th, if you are anywhere near New York City, come celebrate with us at Symphony Space at 4PM where my family and I will be in the audience applauding Rebecca Stead, Lowis Lowry, Katherine Patterson and others, who will be giving props to my all-time favorite book. 

What would Gran think? I KNOW that she is thrilled that we are keeping her memory alive and that all of us are making such a big fuss over the 50th birthday of her amazing opus. We will be feeling her beams of joy radiating through the universe, holding us. All of us who love Madeleine L’Engle, whether as a family member, a friend or a fan - we all share in her legacy of the power of her written words and the joy of reading them. We have all become more quintessentially “us” because of “her”. Wouldn’t you agree?

What is your book, the one that turned you into a life-long reader? (For my boys it’s been Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.)
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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Uninspired by the Groundhog, but Inspired by . . .

Imbolc, Brighid, St Brigit's Day, Groundhog's Day - whatever story you want to tell, February 2nd marks the day of mid-winter. It is a day to remind ourselves that spring is around the corner.

Although we really don't need much reminding this year, do we?

Okay. Now I am going somewhere with this post, but I have to stop mid-stream.

I am uninspired. That just has to be expected some of the time, but we write through it, even if it is not our "best" work. What is it - 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration?

I had all of these plans to write an inspired blog post linking Brighid and the groundhog, but I only have fifteen minutes to write, I have a little headache from driving into the city for a meeting and tomorrow will be too late. (Groundhog's Day will have come and gone . . .)

My kids are about to come home from school and then I go off to run a Writopia workshop AND I'm thinking about other things that really do inspire and sustain me:

1) 65% of my Writopia students who submitted were recognized in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards with either gold or silver keys. (The other 35% should have been recognized too, by my reckoning, but I have no control over these things.)

2) My next book pic for our In beTWEEN book club will be Vanished by Sheela Chari, and I have just heard from the author that she will come to our book group in March! So thrilled.

3) My last blog post (Sex and Drugs and Rock n' Roll) will be published in an Anthology by Roaring Brook Press.

4) We are going to open two more Writopia sites in Stamford and Tarrytown

5) Oh goodness, the list goes on, but the bus is almost here!

How are YOU????? What inspires you????? I want to know!
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