Thursday, February 19, 2015

A reminder that stories matter


With Little O napping, a cup of tea at my side, and a deluge of sun at my window, I find myself with a few moments to sit here with words. Usually, I'd use the time to work on my novel or plug away at essays and articles I try to pitch for publication or for the rare freelance work or to find some work or any work or more work but there's an exhaustion that comes with spending every spare minute working toward something, instead of just being with the time we have.

These past few months, I've written a lot of blog posts and emails in my head. Some, I've even sat down and started, then deleted before pressing publish or send. There are a lot of days when I just don't feel confident in my words, even in a silly email to a friend. Most days, I don't want to share anything I write at all.

I've been journaling. On the computer. In secret. Paper journals have never quite worked for me. There's something about paper and pen that feels very permanent. Unforgivable. The typed word feels transient, fleeting and, therefore, comfortable. There are some ideas and thoughts that don't need to be etched in the stones of history.

Journaling has helped me remember and understand what I think and care about. It's helped me find a lot of joy in sitting down to think, which, for me, is a bit more active, since writing is how I think my everything.

Irony of all ironies, the secret journaling has helped me understand that sharing some of the work is important to me. I've spent my entire life engaged in the stories of others, entangled in a rich dialogue with writers I've never talked to or met, and I'd like some of my words to get tied up in the same imaginary dialogue someday.

Once I was asked for writing advice, or maybe I was asked in my head, that's definitely possible since I don't engage in much real conversation anymore, but I thought the best advice I could give was to always remember that stories matter and that the work is important.

For the past few months, in the imaginary lines of an online journal, in the actual words, and real thoughts, I've questioned validity.  I've thought about writers and writing and the way our world sees the profession. I've wondered if the work still matters if it isn't shared or seen. I've wondered when it is seen, if becomes more or less valid. Or if, all of it, is part of a disappearing act. I've questioned the importance, the mattering of writing at all.

I guess I discovered, in secret, what I already knew. It is important. It does matter. Seen or unseen. Secret or exposed. It's all part of a rich dialogue, some of it imagined, some of it real. So I'm here to remind myself, novice nobody writer that I am, that it is and it does.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Day

They closed schools, shut the subways down, the BQE became a ghost tunnel, and we prepared for the blustering, dumping, blizzard they said it would be.

Instead, the storm surged East and North and we had a slushy few inches. 

A let-down, in some ways. I expected a wonderland when I woke up. And, for me, I thought how much better a snow day would be if I didn't have to wake up and be ​present​. If I could read all day in my pajamas, watch a dumb movie on tv. 

At least, we thought, Little O could play in the snow, in a way he couldn't in his infancy last year. We bundled him in his space-suit, his hood an astronaut puff. We stepped out the door, caked snow on his mittens, touched it to his cheek, our voices knocking up a register, as always. ​Snow! Snow!  He sat in it, looked at it, had this way of looking back up at us, glum and unimpressed, wondering when we'd take him in from the cold. 

Our usually happy baby spent the rest of the day indoors crying, fussing, unhappily being plopped from one uninteresting activity to the next. The mat, his room, the bag of books, the basket of toys, the slinking dog pull-thing, the ride-on push-car with its piano keys. None of it inspiring, apparently. 

Yes, we stayed safe. Yes, all was not lost or destroyed. We are lucky. But I feel his restlessness. So much excitement over the white-stuff. Press conferences and news headlines. Empty supermarket shelves. The possibility that the world we know and everything around it could turn white and drift and slope, shake our footing, shape the ground, contour our lives, and we'd see something we'd never really seen before. 

I guess the gray and white days will slog along just the same until spring. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

First Drafts



Sometimes, when I face a first draft, the daunting, bridge-less white gaps of story, I feel overwhelmed. I think, this is the worst part of writing. This is the conjuring. Every word, every sentence, an angry miracle.

Other times, the empty spaces feel like possibilities and I marvel in them. I send strands of story as far as I can. I circle them into messy, tangled nests that I hope will one day become functional.

I often count words and days. I wonder when I'll reach an end. I make deadlines. I think if I can finish a draft before this but after that, I will be on track to get here so I can get there. Because if I don't get there I'll never be anywhere and who, in their right mind, would want that?

I add. I divide. I carry the one. I try to understand how long it will take to finish.

Finish.

Finish.

The old chant.

So much of my creative life, measured in the completion of words, rather than the actual practice of finding them.

Today, I thought, this is the best part of writing. The actual, well, writing. The wandering and wishing through a story I didn't know I knew. The waiting for words, however agonizing.

I think there's certainly something to be said for completing a work. For thumbing through the pages of a printed manuscript. For being able to say, I did it.

But, today, I feel even more satisfaction as I sit with all the words ahead of me and say, I'm doing it. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

This week we're celebrating Caroline Starr Rose's Blue Birds, which turned out to be my first completed book of the new year. Little O was feverish and cough-y and had fallen asleep on my chest. A rare moment for the boy who will no longer sit still. I reached for this gorgeous novel in verse and read it without ever needing a bookmark, turning pages to find out what would happen, stopping to re-read the most beautiful passages, until I reached the end.

This novel takes place in 1587 and follows the friendship of two spirited, young girls. Alis: the only English girl to arrive on the island of Roanoke. And Kimi: a member of the Roanoke tribe. 

Tensions rise between the English and the Roanoke, war is waged, and these girls find one another, call to one another, take unbelievable risks, and make room in their hearts to understand and love one another like sisters.  

The novel takes place in 1587 but it's a story for right now. Today. This minute. 

It's a story to stop and sit with, to use the rare moments of quiet amidst all the terrible noise. War wages across our world and within our hearts and we need more stories about finding empathy and compassion. We need more stories about two girls who find beauty in the mystery of one another, who look past their differences and find a shared language of friendship and love.

I loved this book. I also needed it. Since every day I listen to the noise and wish we could all find a new way of seeing. 

There are so many stunning passages in this book but I'll pull one of my favorites, a question Alis asks: 

What if a flight of birds
followed the wandering one,
joining him on a journey
entirely new?

These days, I ask a lot of what if's. This gorgeous novel answers many of them. It releases in March.

But read on to pre-order. The book is gift enough but Caroline has another beautiful gift for you too.

This post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of the book Blue Birds. Author Caroline Starr Rose is giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19Simply click through to order from AmazonBarnes and NobleBooks A MillionIndieBound, or Powell's, then email a copy of your receipt tocaroline@carolinestarrrose.com by Monday, January 19. PDFs will be sent out January 20.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Year In Reading - 2014


I had hoped to share my reading list this year. As I did last year, I had tracked it all on a google map, all the settings and cities and villages of each book, labelled all pretty. In mid-November, I clicked to add a new book and its location, slipped to a key, and somehow lost the map in its entirety. Despite a lot of whining, no recovery possible.

So, it is fitting, in a year in which my life turned upside down with the birth of my son, that I have no record of all the books that let me live inside them.

And I had hoped, when I began this post, that I would come to a deeper reflection of this loss.

If it isn't already clear, I have not.

So. I read a lot of books this year.

I lived, for a time, in many beautiful worlds.

There's no proof I did.

Next year, I will track them inside me, instead.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Wish This Christmas

I wish you love.

The lyrics from a Natalie Cole song. And a sentiment I've been thinking a lot about this Christmas Eve. 

This past week, my family lost someone very special, my beloved Uncle Sonny. The story of his character, his heart, and his incredible life could fight its way through page seams, take off on an endless, runaway scrawl, too fervent and restless for this small space.

So I'll say only this. His voice was always very quiet. You had to lean in to hear it. He had a way of speaking that made it sound like he was constantly reaching for his breath. But his words were always certain. And anyone who knew him, knew how easily and honestly he said I love you.  It's hard to explain. A rare thing for a man of his generation. He said these words multiple times at every encounter I have ever had with him, a repetition that was insistent but always tender and genuine, never strange. It was as if he had to make sure, without a doubt, I knew.

My Uncle Sonny was the patriarch of our family, many years older than my mother, and, so, in a way, grandfather to me. When I think of all he built in his 82 years here, I think of this constant affirmation, his foundation of love.

I wish it for everyone. I wish for love's insistence.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Check out these snack-able stories for purchase


Earlier this month I was able to participate in a unique project from the Head and the Hand Press at the Science Leadership Academy. A vending machine in the school features the work of students and authors in the form of chapbooks; short, 'snack-able' stories. I was so happy to share my chapbook, The Song Inside.

For those of you who can't make it to the school who are interested in purchasing chapbooks, they are now available in the online store of the Head and the Hand Press for $3 (including shipping.)

The chapbooks are packaged so beautifully and, as one astute parent noted at the vending machine's launch party, they would fit very nicely in a Christmas stocking. I hope you will check them out.

They are available here.

A description of each story, my story included, is below.

4TH FLOOR SCIENCE LEADERSHIP ACADEMY VENDING MACHINE CHAPBOOK COLLECTION

Browse through our 4th Floor Science Leadership Academy Vending Machine Chapbook Collection and choose any 1 chapbook for $3 (shipping included)! Just put the titles you want in the note section in checkout and we'll send you a confirmation that we received your selection.
About the Collection
The Head & The Hand Press is proud to offer the 4th Floor Science Leadership Academy Chapbook Collection in partnership with Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy, named after the school's literary magazine, The 4th Floor. In fall 2014, The Head & The Hand Press installed a chapbook vending machine in SLA's building which includes the works of four YA authors and two current SLA students – all available for purchase here!


  • “In Memory of Lester” by Jennifer Hubbard –When Nicole’s friend Carter asks if she’ll be attending a funeral for their friend Zaren’s dog, Lester, she doesn’t know what to expect. She asks Carter, “What do you do for a dog’s funeral?” Carter doesn’t have an answer either, but both know that they need to support their friend. Through the course of an elaborate ceremony, Nicole, Carter, Zaren and the other attendees find out that this funeral is more about the relationships and anxieties between friends and not so much about Lester.
  • “Believe!” by Tara Altebrando – After praying for someone to get her out of her Chemistry test, Kelly Branham received a blessing that some kids only dream of—her sister Melissa and Melissa’s new boyfriend,  Will, sign her out of school for a spontaneous trip to SeaWorld. But what should be a fun afternoon between sisters and sea life slowly spirals into revelations of infidelity, family strife and a young girl’s realization that the adults donot have it all figured out.
  • “a chain of paper dolls” by Autumn Konopka –We don’t publish much poetry at The Head & The Hand. But when you receive a poetry collection with titles like “The boy with the firecracker heart,” “The girl who cut out her own tongue,” and “She wore a necklace of human hair,” it’s hard to say no. In this collection by Autumn Konopka, the wordplay dizzies your senses and the characters oscillating between reality and fantasy stick in your mind.
  • “The Room Where Bo Was the Devil” by Eliza Martins - “Christ’s Home for Children” certainly sounds like the ideal place for the orphaned and abandoned. But as Lisa soon finds out, Sister Slade and the rest of the nuns are harboring a dark secret on the top floor of the home. Lisa loves a challenge and a mystery, so one night she sneaks up to the locked room to find out what exactly is going on. What she discovers there changes her forever.
  • “The Song Inside” by Melissa Sarno – Many say that youth is a time to try new things and explore one’s true self and talents. But for Clara, she already knows that search’s destination: she wants to be a pianist. And as her dedication and talent show, she is a pianist. So when a broken wrist temporarily takes away her ability to play, she spends a summer having to face those other tough questions of who she is and how she fits into this world around her.
  • “Mad” by Ruby Jane Anderson – In this compelling moral tale, student writer  Ruby Jane Anderson introduces us to Jane Jimenez, a hardline pharma executive who begins to doubt her product. Jimenez quickly worked her way up the corporate ladder at McMorris Pharmaceuticals onto a team working to promote what she believed to be an essential vaccine for mad cow disease. But as events unfold and intrigue spikes, she finds out she was involved in something much more sinister.
  • “Fade to Black” by Robert Marx – Student writer Robert Marx tells the story of Jimmy, a wayward slacker who’s down and out at a bar called “Bob and Barb’s.” Through dark, lyrical language and character development beyond his years, Marx writes of people who feel forgotten and the places where they go to forget. Aside from a man sending his severed finger to his wife in Paris in an effort to win her back, nothing of real importance happens. But, then again, that seems to be the point.
  • “Margot and Moises” by Lilliam Rivera – It’s safe to say that Margot doesn’t fully fit in with her new friends Camille and Serena. Margot constantly misses the inside jokes while she stocks shelves at the supermarket and they sit in Camille’s room talking about boys from their class, but at least her friends make life a bit more tolerable at the Somerset School where Margot has been enrolled. After a tortuous phone call between the three where Camille and Serena toy with Margot over a boy who may possibly be interested in her, a friend of Margot’s brother named Moises from her neighborhood sits down next to her. It’s just a simple afternoon chance encounter, but its impact makes Margot rethink who she is and where she comes from.