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.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Myth of Writer's Block, Teen Author Reading Night & Breathing

I have been thinking a lot about the myth of writer's block lately, particularly as I haven't been writing much myself in the past couple of months.

But I'm not worried.

I'm not blocked, just lazy.

Rather: other things have become more important.

But someday soon I will (write), again.

I am also breathing in the present and (as they say) being here now.

For now I am content as I create community out in Westchester under the cozy umbrella of Writopia Lab, where we embrace the rich inner worlds of kids and teens.

For the summer, I have the privilege of running writing workshops all day, during the time I usually write. (September will come soon enough.)

This week, I took eleven teens into the city, on Metro North, through the labyrinth of Grand Central Station and the subway system during rush hour, on the streets and down to Jefferson Market Library for Teen Author Reading Night.

It had started out with an email from David Levithan reminding me about the event that I received during one of my workshops, and then blurting out to the group: oh, we should do this - who wants to come? And then it snowballed into permission slips and fear that I just might be in over my head. Breathe.

(My deus ex machina came in the form of two parent volunteers!) 

Wednesday was hot and humid, and I was shiny in my Dr. Who tee shirt (in places I shouldn't be) (breathe) and the kids were so wacky and happy it was infectious.

Navigating the city just by myself can be harrowing enough, so with 13 other people it was truly an adventure (;-0), but we finally arrived.




David had saved us the two front rows of seats, which made everyone feel oh-so-special, but I was horrified to walk in on the middle of Sara Zarr's reading from her new novel, The Lucy Variations. (Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.That was all before she turned fourteen.) 

I am a HUGE Sara fan! But as I settled in, listening to her voice intone the melodies of her lyrical prose I relaxed and became 100% present for my fellow authors. (She mentioned my grandmother's book, House Like a Lotus in David's Q & A.)

I was riveted by Elizabeth Kiem, author of Daughter, dancer, Traitor, Spy: (A new breed of spy novel combines classic thrills (The Americans, John Le Carre, and Alan Furst), Bolshoi intrigue, and elements of the paranormal.) She herself was poised and funny, and the fact that she mentioned Benedict Cumberbatch in the Q and A (just let her fan gurl slip) endeared her to me even more.

We heard the lovely Alissa Grosso read from her new book Shallow Pond, (Annie is the oldest. The sickly one who gave up on her own life so she could raise her sisters after their parents died. Gracie is the wild child. She wants a man so bad, she’ll do anything it takes to get one. Barbara, the youngest, hates being constantly mistaken for her sisters. She wants nothing more than to finish senior year and get out of Shallow Pond—before she succumbs to her unwanted attraction to the new boy in town, Zach Faraday) Jennifer E. Smith read from This is What Happy Looks Like, (When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.) and Corey Haydu read from her debut, OCD Love Story. (When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again. But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic…and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed. Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control. But this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down…and she might end up breaking her own heart.)


Don't these sound amazing!?!? I want to run to my independent bookstore . . .

But wait! There's more! There's Shana Mlawsky's debut novel Hammer of Witches! Magic, the Spanish Inquisition and a 14 year old male narrator named Balthasar - who can resist that? And Emmy Laybourne, with her Monument 14 series. Now I don't know what rock I've been living under, but this lady is fantabulous. A post-apocalyptic tale about a group of kids living out the end of days at a Target in Monument, Colorado? I am sooooo there! And she was a superstar, no doubt about it.

Last but not least was Alex London, who read from his new thriller, Proxy: The adventure novel of the year! Inspired by The Whipping Boy and Feed, this adrenaline-fueled thriller will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games for its razor-sharp insights into the nature of human survival and its clever writing.

It was Alex who reminded me about the myth of writer's block. WRITING IS A JOB. And you have to give yourself permission to suck. You just have to be a workhorse. 


We talk about that ad nauseum, don't we? Sticking our butts to our chairs and churning out words.

Emmy had us in stitches when she said that her advice about writer's block was channeled through Tonya Harding (y'all recall her? Charming Olympic ice skater who had her competition knocked out, literally?) Evidently, Tonya had talked about "tree-ing" in one of her interviews, a technique in which one places all of one's negative emotions into a piece of wood.(Too bad she didn't really take her own advice!)

But it's all in the breath isn't it?

The teens were so excited to meet David, and a few of them had already read Monument 14 and were bending Emmy's ear quite a bit - she (Emmy)  even gave one of them a tote bag with the name of the store the kids live in in Monument 14!

Writers are so generous - with their time, with their words. David is a role model for impacting community, for bringing people together.

So kids, this has been a very long and late-night post I know, so if you are still reading this, my hat's off to you.

But here is the clincher, and hopefully I'm bringing this all together: we HAVE to rub elbows with others like us and become community. It makes no difference if you're just finding out about yourself and writing, or whether you are a writing veteran, we ALL matter. We All give each other sustenance and energy to keep going. We are not alone!

The Writopia teens and parents and I went to a diner for dinner before hopping back on the train (that makes it sound so easy, doesn't it?) bonding over running for and just missing the 9:24 train back to Katonah. 

No matter, there is always another train, a Starbucks around the corner, and EACH OTHER!


And when the butt is back in that chair for myself, I won't have writer's block, because I will give myself that permission to suck AND the knowledge that I have my community at my back, cheering me on.

Oooh! The wind beneath my wings. (Heh, heh, heh . . . sorry, I couldn't resist.) Breathe.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Joys of Love Study Guide!

Hey there!

I am super excited to share with you all the new Joys of Love study guide on the Madeleine L'Engle website. It went live today! It has a very special place in my heart as it was my sister's and my "secret" as children - our grandmother's unpublished book that was just for us.  It had everything a young reader could ask for - three different manuscripts with three different endings, theater, romance, and a hint of the adult world to come.

I love this particular study guide because although the book was written and is set in the 1940's, we are asked to reflect on today's world as well. Literature helps us to question the world that we live in and to see our place in it. I wish that more books had study guides, don't you?

So what are you waiting for? Get thee over to yonder Madeleine L'Engle website!