Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Reading Spot

Thinking of my reading spot. The spot I sit in now. The burgundy pillow pushed up against the arm of the old tan couch. My shoulder bone shelved against one of four pillow points, curled like withered leaves in winter.

There's a spit-up stain beneath me and I remember how I stood hunched over a toothbrush and clump of baking soda, sprayed cleansers, sighed at the distorted rings of forever, as they blackened like mildew into the folds.

I read here. I write. I watch television and movies. Tyler stands at the edge of the kitchen counter, waiting for risotto to plump. Buttered onions seer my vision. I sink into the heat of our summers. I listen to the clang of the metal heater, the croak of the wobbly kitchen table as my son slams his plastic car against its limping wooden leg.

There are days I push forward, scoot my bottom to the crack of the cushions, close my eyes and wish for a few moments of quiet, before a sticky hand is at my thigh, a knee at my knee, my boy breathing through his stuffed-up nose with a book in his hands.

Because this is the reading spot. This is years of a butt-marked dip in the catalog couch, with its velcroed cushions and the lump and sag of never-forgetting. This is the spot where the laptop fidgets against my thighs, where the overhead light cuts at the sharp edge of books from the Brooklyn Public Library, the Strand, Book Court, and the rug of my old bedroom.

This is where, he knows, we read.

In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf. And a tiny finger goes from one white round circle to the other. From egg to moon. Two gaps amongst splotches of wet-paint color.

Together we sink deeper. We carve our places in the space we make for words.

You have a reading spot, too, I bet.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween Here and There

I love Halloween here in Brooklyn. It's more festive than anywhere I've lived. With all the brownstones and apartments and local shops so close together, the streets are lined with people and store clerks giving out candy. There are a lot of families in our neighborhood and people come out in spectacled groups, sequined and felted, wielding plastic swords and scepters, with wild head-pieces and spooks. The leaf colors are at their peaks and it's just before we lose the lushness of our tree-lined streets and things become more stark and cold.

This year, Little O was a duck, an outfit chosen because it's a word he says emphatically. He sends his arm out, like a saluting soldier, pointing at anything in books or in life that closely resembles the feathery creature (rubber duckys, baby chicks, yellow dots). Then he calls it out with gusto: duck

At first, the costume made him grumpy. He ripped off his duck-billed hat and the velcro-ed web feet. Then we went to a Halloween party at his daycare, which we call school (which he calls coooool), and everyone fussed over how cute he was, so he finally understood the costume was an attention-getter, and, therefore, a welcome addition to his life.

Later, while trick-or-treating, he learned that holding out his orange and black bag would award him more oohs and ahhs, so he proudly accepted candy, with no concept that his parents would be the eager recipients of the fruits of his labor later that night.

After a long afternoon wandering the streets we went to a child-friendly bar serving pumpkin beer for the adults (we do it right here in Brooklyn) and a mound of french-fries for Little O to share with one of his little buddies.

I kept remarking to my own Dad the kind of 'damage' I could have done had I grown up in this neighborhood on Halloween. I was the kid who came home with pillow case-sized bags of loot, wandering late into the evening with my friends. Halloween was a mission to traverse as much sidewalk and bang on as many doors to get as much candy as I possibly could. 

I remember this woman 'around the corner', as we always said, who gave out whole candy bars on Halloween. They were Ronald McDonald bars -- something I haven't really seen since (though a google search tells me they can be ordered and personalized to sell for fundraising efforts) and she had a giant wheel in front her home, like one you'd steer on an old ship. She wasn't like our immediate next-door neighbor, who gave out pennies if you dared to knock on her door, who once refused to give me any despite giving them to my friends, because, who knows, any one of her crotchety, old lady excuses would do.  

We knew which houses gave the best and the worst treats of the day. We knew which darkened porches to avoid and which streets were too dangerous to cross. We knew the land like we'd settled and mapped it ourselves. 

It made me smile to think, no matter where Little O ends up doing his growing, he'll, hopefully, have his own Halloween land to map out too.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Writing for the B&N Kids blog and an opportunity to review for Cleaver Magazine

Managing a freelance writing career this past year, I've been really happy to find some book gigs. I recently realized I never posted about them here.

I hope to cross post in the future but, since March, I've been writing about and celebrating children's books (mostly middle grade) on the Barnes & Noble Kids blog. It's been super fun to interview authors, celebrate new books with review-like posts, and create lists of books to recommend to young readers and their parents and teachers.

If you want to follow along, the link is here . The blog features picture books, chapter books, and middle grade. I most recently read and loved Corey Ann Haydu's beautiful book Rules for Stealing Stars.

I'm also editing YA and middle grade book reviews for Cleaver Magazine. There, we feature children's books from small and independent presses. I've been finding some incredible hidden gems out there. Follow along here.

For those of you who are interested in writing formal children's book reviews for Cleaver Magazine, I'd love to work with you. While we do tend to have more reviewers than books to review, I would still love to add you to our list of reviewers. If you're interested, let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In Process

In a time of a lot of uncertainty, waiting on all matters of things (both personal and professional) to right themselves, I'm feeling at peace inside my own stories. When the freelance work doesn't call, I find myself with pockets of time to lose myself in the real work (a shift in thinking from a time when I thought only the paying work was the real work) of trying to tell a story.

I have to work hard at this. Maybe I can kite-run off with a pretty sentence every now and then but, beyond that, I learn my limits every day. I have to fight to find a plot. I have characters that arc into broken rainbows, no pot of gold at their ends. I struggle to find rhythm. I forget the point I'm trying to make, if I ever had one to begin with.

But I'm learning, every day, to put my faith in the process and recognize that, for me, that process is going to be very messy and long. I used to think I was losing time. I used to think, without a book deal or an agent, I was lost in some writing blackhole, never to find my way out. But, a few weeks ago, I had a nice conversation with a writer who simply said in a voice so mild and zen I thought maybe I'd found God, "What's the rush? It'll happen someday."

What is the rush? I don't know.

So I sit somewhere between the possibility of someday and the reality of now.

The reality of now is, maybe, a little harsher than I'd like. But, in terms of writing, now is a process and 'someday' relies on it. I have wrestled with so many things inside stories, tried to bend characters and plots to my will, let them all go their very-wrong-ways and turned around again and again.

Maybe this is what I love about writing, the practice of it, the mess of it, being in a place where there are a million second chances, a million possibilities for a plot or a person or a relationship. Sara Zarr spoke in her This Creative Life podcast in an interview with John Corey Whaley about a tweet that made her recognize a possible reason she writes to begin with: it may be the only place she has any control at all.

I related to that.

This morning I decided to take two characters and make them one and I laughed, because I had to, because the only place it's possible for that to happen is while writing fiction, or maybe when a twin is absorbed in utero, I don't know (I'll leave that to the science fiction writers). Maybe it's a bad idea. Maybe it's a good one. It's a possibility, at least. And whether it's good or bad - I can live with the consequences. Either I move forward or I try again. While in process, there's always another way to go.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Givng Myself the Time to Reflect Here

On a run through Brooklyn Bridge Park, I stopped for a sunset

Even though there are still technical days left of summer, the start of September is always the start of my 'fall'. And fall is when I begin my new year. This September I'll begin a brand new novel that's been edging its way into my heart and mind. I'll confess, these days, there's hardly time to stop and let a a story find its way. But I'm trying to find moments to slow down.

I realize, the lack of time to reflect is what pushes me away from this space. I wake up to my son 'chirping' (as we call it) and there's barely a moment to wipe the sleep from my eyes. I'm immediately thrust into the day, as he squirms up to our bed, and I'm in game of 'catch', to keep little hands away from the lotion on the nightstand, the lamp, the hardcover of a book, or the iPad I've left to close to the edge.  

Before I know it we're dressing, and eating, and I'm swiping a cloth against the tray of the high chair, dipping to the floor 1,000 times and back up, filling straw-cups and snack containers, setting off to playgrounds and gardens and pop-up pools. On the two days a week that Little O goes to daycare, the day flies away from me, consumed with freelance work and correspondence. I'd clip the day's wings if I could.

Occasionally, I sorta-stop. For a run in the morning or a podcast on the walk to the grocery store. Three times for a yoga class squeezed between the hours of here or there. I savor the words of books (the latest, Thirteen Ways of Looking by the great Colum McCann. More on this, I hope, soon.) But rarely, a moment to reflect. To look. To take stock. 

I'm working on that. 

I'm working on coming here, to the blog, to understand where I am. To tell it as it is. To, maybe, snap a photograph, in order to see what I've actually seen. The days are full and rich. I am more content and at peace with my life than I've been in a long time. But, it's nice to step back and see things for what they are or, maybe, more importantly, for what I wish they could be.

I've wondered why I can't let this space go. Many times I made the decision to, simply, walk away. But then I'd think, hold on to the space. Not because of social media platforms or personal brands (neither of which I have.)  But because I miss the conversation. The record of an ordinary day. I miss being able to say, this here is a thought I once had, whether it be naive or insightful or too raw to be understood. And I miss someone saying, me too. This September, this year, I'd like to give myself permission to spend more time here. 

All I can say is, I'll try. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Words From a Novel in Progress, Inspired by the Bodega Cat

Yesterday, this beautiful creature stood ahead of the refrigerated meats and cheese at the local butcher, looked stoically at me as I stood bedraggled after a long day of work and I was reminded of a scene I wrote. One that was inspired by cats like this one, maybe not as impeccably groomed as this regal puff, but roaming Brooklyn bodegas and shops just the same. This is from my novel, THE TREE BOOK, my first attempt at middle grade. A book I've dreamed my way through the best I could. Now I'm dreaming for it.

Not much to set up except that my main character, Cora, is chasing her little sister, who chases a cat.

I slink on over, slow, to Miss Li’s, and stand at the swinging bell door. Adare crouches at the beer refrigerators, where the cat is pawing at the silver and steel. Adare giggles and the cat stretches its front legs out like it might leap away but instead it starts licking its gray fur down and Adare’s cheek falls to her shoulder, mesmerized.
            “No animals allowed!” Miss Li shouts, sticking her arm out, to her handwritten signs behind the register, something about IDs and cigarettes, and no animals, and a big red X slashing through American Express.
            “It’s not ours,” I say but Miss Li’s arm swings back again and one long, wrinkled finger looks like it’ll poke the sign straight into my eye.
            “Out.” She says and her lips sag to her chin, like always, except for the one time Adare reached over the counter and touched the gold bracelet on her bone-thin wrist. Real gentle, with just one soft finger, but I still thought Miss Li would slash her across the store quick. Of course, Adare’s smile, the way it has a habit of knowing people and calming them down, made Miss Li smile too. A gift from my son, she said.

             I look at her gold bracelet now. It’s made to look like a ribbon, looped in a perfect bow. She wears it so tight, so close, her skin bunches up, tries to take a breath from behind it, but never quite lets go.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Brooklyn Summer

It's been a long time since I've updated. Busy with the stuff of life. My professional freelance life has picked up a bit and O now adjusts to part time daycare, a balance that feels much better for us both.

The business of writing and publishing has set me back and I struggle with where I have landed, somewhere far-far-away, or so it feels, but I have a finished novel I love, a new idea ready to run where it runs, and I have my cautious optimism. Some days, it feels, what is there to say about this writing life? Except that it goes and goes and has its carousel-way with me. Maybe that's why I've been so quiet here.

I've been walking through this hot and rainy summer, the air hanging low and wet. I take Little O to various playgrounds. I hide in the shade, against the curl of the red slide. O's better now about getting up and down the stairs. He holds on, his toes hanging over each step and, one at a time, he lets one foot meet the next. He totters, like a penguin, down to where he came from and back.

I find myself in a Brooklyn summer as if for the first time, experiencing it with O. The kind of summer when children's laughter and wet braids slash through the spray of fire hydrants. Kids dangle from their parent's wrists and popsicles drip in rainbow lines to their elbows. O walks round and round our block with his push toy. He wrestles with the gates of the community garden, stomps in mud pits and sprinkler puddles, dipping watering cans and pails in the muck. We wait with braceleted wrists at the city Pop-up pool and he blows bubbles in the water. I consider, over online shopping carts, which swimmies might be best for a road trip lake vacation (puddle jumpers, anyone?).

Visiting my parents, I remember, as the little kids in the house next door send their bare tummies along their slip and slide, how summer was wet and restless and racing, with legs and arms pumping. I dunked my head in water, clutched at the grass in handstands, ran after the ice cream truck.

I am thrilled to discover that Brooklyn summers are similar. We may trade grass for concrete, but all the wet spray and breathless laughter and running toward the steel drum bell of the ice cream truck remain the same. I am reminded that summer, when done right, is barefoot and sticky and slick with sun cream, no matter where it takes place.