Monday, August 30, 2010

The Heart Of A Place

The more time I spend in New York City (I have been living here since 2004) the more I realize what an intimate place it is. I don't know if others view it that way. The sheer amount of people, the absurd pace of life, the lingering anonymity might lead us to believe that New York is a place of loud, rude, superficial encounters. It isn't.

Our local bodega is a very nondescript, somewhat dingy place, but it is our place. The owner is always there to talk about the daily news. He knows everything that is happening in the world as it unfolds, sitting in front of his portable television behind the counter. And on sunny days he sits outside in a metal folding chair waiting for customers, smiling and enjoying time spent outside his small, windowless world. He has talked me through some very serious deliberations about what pint of ice cream I should buy and his door is open when all the other doors in our neighborhood are closed.

But for the past week, the place has been sealed shut, the result of what I can only assume was a fire, although I can't find any record of it anywhere. The past few days we have noticed that hand-written notes have been popping up to say, simply, We miss you.

To know the heart of a place is not easy. It is often discovered slowly, after many years. People come to New York for many reasons. And, despite the amount of people here, it can be a lonely, often desperate, city. But it is not a city of strangers.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I have had this strange feeling in the past few weeks of being left behind. I watch lives unfold and realize that I’m the little girl who has been sent to bed, wondering what all the adults are doing just outside my bedroom.
I suppose it is okay to feel a little unfinished while everyone else forges ahead. But I wonder if patience will ever find me. If I’ll ever be able to close my eyes and be content. Sometimes it’s difficult to ignore everything that’s happening just outside the door.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Nerds

Overheard in my kitchen while cooking dinner.

"See," Tyler points to the television where Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is playing in the background with the Dark Lord threatening our dear Harry. "This is where Harry Potter is really ratcheted up a notch."

"What do you mean? His life has always been in danger. Even in the first book."

"Yeah but this is the first time he has somebody Avada Kedavra-ing in his face."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let’s Start At the Very Beginning. A Very Good Place to Start*

You heard from me last, confused and concerned about a last minute addition to a manuscript that has been patiently waiting for its missing piece. I’m happy to say that I discovered it, after thinking about it before I slept, obsessing over it all day yesterday, churning it around in my mind through a particularly grueling spin class, and babbling about it to Tyler over dinner. Never mind all the subconscious thought during the 3 months the manuscript slept, curled up in a little drawer.

I expect to make a lot of mistakes in my ‘first’ novel. And yesterday, I knew that the direction I was taking was a mistake. I was concerned that what I was doing didn’t fit and flow. It didn’t.

Like I said, I had a scene that didn’t fit anywhere but it was key to a secondary storyline. I mistakenly thought that scene was in the middle of the story arc and I tried, and failed, to make it work that way. As soon as I realized that the scene was actually at the very end of the story arc it became that literary lightbulb moment that left me writing late last night and even on the subway this morning.

I can only smile. Shake my head. Realizing that all of my mistakes come from forgetting the most basic rule of storytelling. Beginning. Middle. End…

*Maria Von Trapp, you’ve saved me once again…

Photo Credit

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Full Swing

Federer can you teach me to follow through?

I opened the desk drawer to revive an ‘old’ manuscript in order to tackle a storyline that had been gnawing at me. There was one scene in the book that felt misplaced. It has always felt important, but it didn’t connect to other scenes in the book. What does it have to do with anything? I had a reader ask. When I wanted to scream, It has everything to do with everything! Everything! I knew I had a big problem. The idea of losing it has not sat well with me. I’ve literally put it in a cut document five times. And each time, I shook my head, bit my lip. No. I can’t lose it. It’s too important. I have to make the reader see that. So keeping it means I must tackle it. I must face it head on.

I’m not sure why I keep referring to tennis swings in my blog posts (perhaps a desire to get back into playing tennis, which I haven’t done in many years) but I know the problem with this smaller plot. It’s a swing without the follow-through. If it must be (which it must) it needs to have a reason for being. Which means that many more scenes need to connect to it. Many more words need to be written.

This decision to take it on has scared me. If I take one scene that doesn’t seem to fit and flesh it out, will it have the opposite effect? Will it just make more scenes that don’t fit?

Am I thinking too hard? Has anyone had this problem? I have a lot of small plot lines that flow nicely. Many of them, I have added in the editing phase. But I worry that this particular last minute addition, a retro-fit, won’t…well…fit. How do you guys usually take on something like this? I’m all kinds of confused.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Your Last Five Books

I think it’s time to reflect on the last five books again, where I randomly try and figure out what the last five books I read have in common. This time around, I got a little stumped. These books cover a lot of themes but the only shared characteristic I could come up with is the idea of opening your eyes to a ‘new world’.

My Last Five Books
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Room by Emma Donoghue
Brooklyn Was Mine edited by Valerie Steiker & Chris Knutsen
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

In Delirium, a young girl challenges the world she knows; the conventions, the ideals and the values she has grown up with. All of her preconceived notions are turned on their heads and she yearns for a world where she can be free to love.

Room is also a story about being confined in a world with certain rules and expectations and then being released into a new world for the first time.

Brooklyn Was Mine is a series of essays about Brooklyn. Each writer’s experience in the borough is told through a different gaze. As you pass through each story you enter a new Brooklyn.

I’m not sure that
Olive Kitteridge completely fits the theme. But why let one unique book ruin the party? It is a series of short stories about the residents of a small town and a woman who is not always accepting of the world around her.

When You Reach Me is all about opening ourselves up to the possibility that we can travel beyond this world and live parallel to it in a new space.

What are the last five books you read? Any shared themes you notice?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday Books for Writers! Olive Kitteridge

I officially finished Olive Kitteridge and was officially floored. Elizabeth Strout wrote a book made for Melissa. A series of straight-forward, non-sentimental tales about folks these days. A book completely rooted in realism (which I love). A book that takes all the ordinary conversations, moments, and situations of our lives, studies them with a wide-angle lens, makes the micro...macro. A book made for Melissa. I loved every excrutiating detail, every quiet conversation, every unspoken word... Loved. Loved. Loved.

If anyone is crafting a scene between two people and is struggling to say everything you want to say in a short period of time without it becoming too forced, too unnatural, go to this book. It can be your bible. The writing is so tight. There's not a word that doesn't belong. Every gesture a character makes, every word a character says is so subtle, so perfect, so clean. I know, this sounds simple. It almost sounds dumb. Yes, Strout makes it look so easy, you feel like a complete moron. But I want to feel like a complete moron when I read. I want to just be like, wow, wow, wow, this blows my mind, my brain is mush, mush, mush.

Okay, I realize this makes no sense. I clearly should take a few cues from Strout. Here's what I learned from this book. Things I've heard, but not always seen.

1. Say what you have to say.
2. Get in the scene and get out.
3. Pick the right word.
4. Know just how the character moves at that very moment.
5. Know exactly why the character moves that way.
6. Once you've said it, don't look back.

Easy peasy. Right? Right.

Mush, mush, mush.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Giving It Time

I went on a yoga retreat this past weekend. The yoga practice was much more intense than I am used to. We did a lot of backbending. And I spent a lot of time on top of my head.

For me, the yoga experience is usually chaotic, travelling by a subway to get to a studio or to the gym, participating in the flow, contorting my body in ways I didn't know possible, leaving the room and hitting the city streets, taking the trek home, finally eating dinner at 10pm. It is rushed. It is something I do in between everything else I need to do.

But, the retreat allowed me to explore my practice a bit more and understand the way my body moves. I surprised myself with some of the things I could do. I surprised myself with some of the things I could not do. I learned that my shoulders are weak. Suddenly everyone was up on their hands or resting on their forearms with their legs in the air and I could do nothing but collapse to the ground. It frustrated me to know that I couldn't do something while everyone else floated into it so effortlessly. But, when you challenge your body like that, it takes patience. It builds over time.

We were told by our wonderfully, patient instructors, that you always have to literally look ahead. You have to direct your eyes where you want to end up. And it makes sense. If you look down, you will fall down. If you look forward, that's where you'll go. That is a rule in sports. Imagine a tennis player looking down at the court after he takes a swing. Where do you think the will the ball go? It's the same with everything. The direction you look towards in life is the direction you'll take.

Of course, with all of this time to reflect, I thought of my writing. Like yoga, writing is something I do in between everything else. I can't always give it the time it needs. I always have the 'looking ahead' part down. I always know where I want to go. But it takes more than that. It takes practice. Whether it's handstands or novels...I just need to give it time.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why Do You Blog?

Have I told you that I really enjoy Elana Johnson's blog? She tells it like it is and that is a quality I very much admire in people. Her post about understanding why we blog really made me think. She urged us to understand what our goals are and what we'd like to achieve with a blog. So I thought it might be nice to state these goals here.

1. First and foremost, I blog because most of my work sits in a drawer unread. I like to write and have people read what I have written. I don't know if that's a very popular writerly belief. Maybe I'm supposed to pretend I do all of this purely for the love of the written word? But this is about being honest and I'm telling the truth.

2. I didn't know this would happen when I started but, now, I blog because I've 'met' interesting people in the writing community through this blog and I want to keep these invaluable connections. They have helped me grow as a blogger and writer. Hopefully, I've helped them too.

3. I write this blog because I do feel it's necessary to have an online presence as a writer and, if I blog with honesty and integrity, I can't imagine it would hurt my writing career to have one.

Those are the main reasons I blog. Maybe a lot of them are selfish, but I hope not. I suppose a lot of these goals will change as my life changes. But that's to be expected. Sometimes I whine...very loudly I might add...Tyler has heard it...about not getting a lot of comments, visitors, or feedback on my blog, but, when I step back and think about why I'm blogging and what my goals are, that's not a reason, so I need to calm down about that. Originally, I thought I might like to make money from a blog or get free stuff, but, it turns out that's not the reason I do it either.

So, I'd love for you share the truth: Why do you blog?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Because of A Book

I'm blogging over at Write For A Reader today for Shelly's Because Of A Book feature. I love this series because I think sometimes we forget that books impact our lives in so many ways. Well, maybe we don't forget, but we don't always stop to articulate them. I found this to be such a great exercise for me- remembering my favorite books and how they changed my life. I hope you'll click the link below and check it out!

Because Of A Book

Monday, August 2, 2010


It's been an interesting month. Trying to get back into a writing routine. It's awkward and exciting to meet new characters and learn about the places they live, the things they do. I've been trying, and failing, to keep the agent search alive during the slow summer months. I did not know that the publishing industry hid themselves away for the summer. Especially because this is the time when the toy industry is cranking. A time in which I'm faced with new challenges at work. Creating a kind of toy I've never made before, witnessing the children interact with it in ways I never thought they would. All of this, made all the more exhausting by the severe heat in the northeast.

So, I thought I would share a few random summer discoveries...

1. $20 can get you a lobster, corn, potato salad or cole-slaw, and a whoopie pie in Red Hook, Brooklyn. And the lobster is brought in from Maine daily.

2. Writing in 1st person/present tense is fun. I love the urgency. It is insistent. It says: what is now is now. It is less of a sigh...well, this happened once.

3. Still...1st person/present tense allows you to say, well, this happened once, this is happening now, this is what I wish would happen. It allows a lot of freedom and I'm intrigued...

4. There is never, ever one opinion...about anything.

5. It is possible to show a child a toy and have them:
a. Shield their eyes
b. Cry

6. Three and four year olds take things very literally.

7. Five and six year olds take things less literally.

8. When you begin to think too hard, too long, too deeply about the things you create, remember this: silly bandz are a national phenomenom.

9. Some books are meant to be read quickly.

10. matter how wide you open the windows, how high you turn on the air conditioning, which direction you face the fan, which doors you close or leave open, which parts of the stove you don't use...sometimes...the heat does not want to go away.

What things are you discovering this summer?