Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I don't usually reflect upon years past. I am a very impatient person, always have been, and I much prefer to think of what lies ahead. I much prefer to think about what I need to do rather than what I've done.

But this year is a little different. This year, I accomplished something I've been meaning to do my entire life: write a novel. I'm really proud of it- even as it soaks in its own filth right now and I attempt to clean and polish what I can. I learned a lot about myself as a writer. Now I know that when I sit down to write something, no matter how many distractions there are in life, I can do it. And now that I've done it once, I can do it again. And I will.

But I'm not going to sit in the past for much longer. There is an edit to complete. A new novel to start. The search begins for an agent, for an editor, for a publisher. And if I send my novel out into the ether and it never finds a home (a distinct possibility that scares me every day) I will find a way to self-publish it, or podcast an audio book, or whatever I can do to use the technology I'm learning more about every day to make things happen for myself.

Thanks to all my family and friends for supporting me on this writing journey. And to all the people I don't quite know who read this blog. I hope you don't lurk too much so we can support and encourage one another to accomplish all of our goals (writing goals or otherwise).

Always looking forward...


Monday, December 28, 2009

Darling I Don't Know Why I Go To Extremes

Last night, I had a dream that I wrote a blog post and it was titled after the Billy Joel song lyric Darling I don't know why I go to extremes...

It reminded me of a dream I had a few weeks ago. I dreamt that the title of my novel was: Wrap Around.

Yeah folks. 76,000 words and an entire year of blood, sweat, and tears and that's all a little rapid eye movement could come up with.

I consider this the worst decision my subconscious has ever made. It's absolutely terrible. Wrap Around? What does it even mean? All I can think of is when you select the 'wrap text' option on an excel spreadsheet. And excel spreadsheets remind me of 9-5 jobs in dirty, grey cubicles with fluorescent lighting. And memos. And casual Fridays.

But the subconscious has a way of being tricky so I thought I would humour it this time around and start with a blog title, then create a little content to go along with it. Which is the opposite (the extreme if you will) of writing an entire novel and trying to sum it up in one title.

So, how do you deal with titles?
1. Do you start with an idea and a title in mind, then write the book?

2. Or write the book and then create a title that fits it?

Which extreme?

I'm currently dealing with #2 and, I gotta, tell you, #1 is lookin' pretty good in retrospect.

I mean...Wrap Around. Seriously?!

Thursday, December 24, 2009



May your days be filled with lots of delicious food (I will be feasting on the 7 fishes as the fat Italians do on Christmas Eve), love, warmth, happiness, and...for all you writers out stories to tell.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Day I Met The Pioneer Woman

I realize I'm a bit late on updating about my meeting with Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman). And I certainly apologize. Because I know you were losing sleep over it. You can rub your tired eyes.

I met the Pioneer Woman.

She was nice.

She was pretty.

She was funny.

She signed my cookbook.

It was nice.

That was my 3rd grade rendition of it. My adult rendition of it goes a little something like this:

Borders required a bracelet to attend the signing- which I didn't know about until late in the game. As soon as I found out, I started panicking, then sent wild, frantic e-mails to my friend Jess (whose entire future happiness depended on my meeting the Pioneer Woman...which I'll expand upon later). I'm not really sure how it happened, but I managed to leave work in about 5 seconds flat, get from Chelsea to Columbus Circle, get a bracelet, and return to work in about 30 minutes time, which, frankly, is unheard of in this city. I consider myself a superhero for this feat.

I got to Borders about an hour and 15 minutes before the signing because, let's face it, my entire future happiness depended on meeting the Pioneer Woman as well.

The Border's people were very strict. They required me to sit in a certain place and then they proceeded to ask me the correct spelling of my name and write it on a post-it with a sharpie. I was told that I must put the post-it on the title page and when I put it on the page with a picture, an impatient hand from above shot down into my book and immediately placed it on the opposite page to the tune of a loud, scolding sigh. At that point I became scared and sat quietly in my seat.

An hour and a half later, after lamenting that I didn't have any friends (there were so many groups of girlfriends there laughing and having fun!) and re-playing the traumatic post-it ordeal , Ree Drummond came out and answered lots of questions. She was incredibly sweet, well-spoken, and very funny. It was a lovely experience. I wish I could tell you what people asked, but I was in awe and only remembered something about her wanting sushi, her hoping she didn't mess her kids up by homeschooling, and her husband being very supportive of her blog.

At that point, the Border's people began running around with their headsets and they made us sit quietly then get up row by row to meet Ree. I think one woman was hit with a night stick when her un-braceleted friend tried to get in line to take her picture (I'm telling you, these Borders people were scary!). I was surprisingly nervous because I wanted Ree to like me. Which is silly. But that's how I felt. And my mother tells me to embrace my feelings.

Soon, it was my turn. I'm not really sure what happened at that point. She signed my book and I think I said I was excited to meet her and that I enjoyed her blog. More likely it came out something like this: I. Melissa. You. Pioneer Woman. Hi. Which is really quite stupid because the post-it had my name.

Then I proceeded to babble incessantly. Because my friend Jess and I had prepared a portfolio of sorts. A portfolio to set up Jess with Cowboy Josh who works on the Pioneer Woman's ranch and is apparently willing to be set up through the Pioneer Woman's blog. I truly believe that Jess would get along swimmingly well with this man that I have never met, based solely on the fact that Jess likes tall, skinny men, who are rugged and have intense gazes. It was a 'Top Ten List of Reasons My Friend Jess Should Meet Cowboy Josh.' I presented the portfolio to Ree Drummond and she said she would pass it along to Cowboy Josh. I think I told her to read it 'in her travels'. If someone could tell me what that means, I would appreciate it. I also said something about waking up at 4am and that was crazy. Which I realize is insulting to a woman who wakes up at 4am every day to work on a ranch. I had a serious case of verbal diarrhea.

Then, I forgot to get a picture, despite the fact that Tyler was standing there with a camera the entire time waiting for that very moment. When my face fell, a very nice woman noticed. She was holding a camera. She was a very soft-spoken, smart-looking young woman. I soon found out she was Ree's editor (after another embarrassing chapter of 'The Babbling Chronicles' starring Melissa).

I managed to get a picture because her editor was nice enough to interrupt things. I vaguely recall the Pioneer Woman saying she was 'glad I came back' which I appreciated very much since I felt bad to interrupt the flow of the signing.

Overall, it was great! I presented the portfolio for Jess. I got my cookbook signed. And I met my favorite blogger! I also learned that she is publishing, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels (a series from her blog) which is exciting! Maybe our novels will get published at the same time and we can go on a book trip together (excuse me while I go laugh at myself for even uttering that.)

This is the Pioneer Woman looking so lovely (please excuse how dark this photo is.)

This is the Pioneer Woman thinking I am crazy after I handed her the portfolio. She looks amused...but frightened.

The Pioneer Woman: So what is this? A resume?

Melissa: More like a top ten...[incessant babbling]...Read it in your travels...[incessant babbling]...

The Pioneer Woman: Where does your friend live?

Melissa: Boston...[incessant babbling]...she wanted to meet you tomorrow in person but she was driving here...and...and...she would have to wake up at 4am which is crazy...[incessant babbling]...

The Pioneer Woman (beautiful, sweet, polite, well-spoken Pioneer Woman): Well, I will certainly pass this along to Cowboy Josh.

This is the Pioneer Woman wondering why I came back for a picture and probably looking for security.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Biking Memory

Now that the frost is nipping at people's noses and it's dark and dreary at 4pm, it has become impossible to do one of my favorite things. Bike. Every year I come to this point, constantly checking hoping that there's a weekend day above 40 degrees (that's my biking temperature cut-off). It doesn't happen often and when it does, I still battle cold winds and numb cheeks, and I find it difficult (and sometimes painful!) to do the long bike rides Tyler and I so desperately enjoy. This year, due to busy and/or rainy weekends this fall, my biking season ended much earlier than it should have. Now I find myself even more restless than usual as the cold weather drops in and overstays it's welcome.

Every once and a while I like to nestle in a memory. Today of course my mind wanders to days of biking...

Before our annual block party, all the kids that lived on the same tiny street of my childhood home participated in a strange ritual. It took place in the morning, as our parents dragged out patio tables and chairs to the street, set up the bbq and placed toys on the lawn. We all hopped on our banana seat bicycles and proceeded to line up and ride in a tight circle. Around and around, over and over again, in a swirling, dizzying, wonderful circle. I remember how important it was that we participate in this ritual year after year on that special day. A day we looked forward to all summer. It's a blurry memory and I really only envision the dizzy, grey concrete underneath my bicycle tire. But I love that memory. And I always wonder when we broke away from the circle, one by one, and parted ways.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Revision Day 1

Ok, so I forgot that yesterday was our office holiday party and, therefore, I did not begin my edit as planned. I begin today, after spin class.

Despite my minor freak-out session on Monday, I do have a revision plan and one I think might actually work for me.

I am going to read the darn thing from start to finish, making notes as I go. I am going to break down my draft into scenes and, because I enjoy speaking back and forth to my 3rd person self, I am going to ask questions:

1. Why does this scene belong in the book?
2. What is it trying to accomplish?
3. Does it accomplish it?

Every time I introduce a character, I am going to make sure this character lives up to the Owen Meany First Sentence.

Once I finish all of this, I hope to have a better idea of the arc of the story and how to make it work better.

Then I shall prepare a list of To Do's. There will be many, that I can assure you.

I'm rather excited about this whole 'revision' thing. How different it is from sitting down to a very white, very blank first page.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why did you eat the Flan?

Tomorrow I begin what I fondly call: 'the dreaded edit'.

I took one month off from the novel and spent my time being French for a week, then eating a lot of cheese, going to spin class and watching people die on Grey's Anatomy. It's been fun!

But now it's time to get back into the weeds and follow all of Tim Gunn's marvelous advice to 'make it work' so I don't get 'auf'ed by a tall, blond, literary agent wearing lederhosen. (Wait. What?)

Problem is, I don't exactly know what I'm doing and it's making me slightly nauseous. I just opened the document for the first time in 30 days and I literally wanted to puke. (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the 5 pounds of chorizo I just consumed at our office holiday lunch.)

A lot of things started running through my head:

Melissa! You don't even have real chapters! (I write scene by scene and I don't know how to slap numbers on them.)

Melissa! You don't even have a title! (Seriously, I can't even think of one. Can you pitch a book called 'Untitled'?)

Melissa! One of your characters has supposedly been dead for 20 years and he's in the first 3 alleged 'chapters' of your book. (I'm sorry! I didn't even know he was dead until 250 pages in.)

I could go on. But I won't. Because I've already started speaking back and forth to myself in 3rd person and it's only going to get worse from there.

Melissa! Why did you eat that flan today at lunch?! (I don't know. I just don't know.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Pioneer Woman Cooks! And she writes too!

Guess what?! Tonight I am going to see The Pioneer Woman! I have been reading her blog for about 2 years now and she is one of my favorite writers.

I know she's better known for her blog and cookbook than as a writer, but it takes a lot of skill to write a blog and I hope that is never lost on people. She writes with incredible wit, honesty, and humour. And, perhaps more importantly, she has such a distinct voice. I consider a unique voice one of the most essential qualities a writer must have and when you find that voice on a blog, you want to go back to it day after day. I'm incredibly impressed with her following but, not surprised, given how strong that narrative voice truly is.

So, tonight, maybe I'll get to hear her real voice! Sometimes I forget that I live in a city of 8 million people. Because in a city of 8 million people, there's always the possibility I may not even be able to step foot in that Border's tonight. In a city of 8 million people, even a wristband for an event might not allow me to step foot in that Border's tonight. This issue actually deserves another post all together (Can you tell the city crowds are getting me down?)

But I digress...

Here's hoping I get to see the Pioneer Woman tonight!

Oh, and if someone has any tips for how I can shower at the gym with the wristband, let me know. I didn't think of that when the nice man at Borders slapped it on my wrist...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Do Not Resuscitate

Since I finished the first draft of the novel on November 15th, I told myself that there would be a nice period of rest for exactly one month. The novel had to sit and soak for a bit. It had to breathe. Honestly, it had to be nearly forgotten so I could come back to it with fresh eyes.

Decompressing from the launch of a big project at work, I told myself this would be a period of pure relaxation. I would not let the constant, gnawing thought: 'I should be writing' creep into my brain. At first, I found it a bit difficult. For the past year my evenings centered around finding time to write. The first couple of days I came home from work or the gym and I did what I would always do: quickly calculate how long it would take to eat before I could sit at my desk and go at it. I really wasn't sure what I would do with all of this new-found time. Don't worry though. Slowly but surely, I found something to do. And that, my friends, was this:

Watch Grey's Anatomy.

Watch twenty-one back to back episodes of Grey's Anatomy. With Season 6 pending in the queue.

About 2 years ago, I completely gave up on this show, despite it being one of my favorites. Something had happened. Something had snapped. I found every character incredibly annoying. I wanted nothing to do with the tumultuous Shepard/Grey relationship. And I hated the formula: patients coding at the end of every frickin' episode, Bailey or the Chief's motivational speeches, Izzy's sunny, happy, knit-a-scarf, personality.

Now, I simply can't get enough. Every time that heart rate flat-lines, I squeal with delight. I root during a motivational speech by singing Queen's 'We Will Rock You'. Seattle Grace is now host to a grueling marathon and I want to run more miles. I'm holding picket signs outside of Shonda Rhimes' doorstep screaming: GIVE ME MORE! GIVE ME MORE!

Instead of wondering how much writing time I can fit in, I wonder how many episodes I can watch before bedtime. I have dreams about transferring to pediatric surgery and who the new chief of cardio is going to be. I wonder if Christina Yang wants to be my friend. Or if I have to settle for Lexi Grey. [gasp]

On Dec. 15th, it will all end. I realize this is just a fleeting fantasy. Just a fling in the on-call room. But for now, I am completely caught up in a new and exciting story-line. And as my little novel sits and breathes, I consider calling it: McSteamy. [sigh]

P.S. I am two years behind the rest of the world. If you even so much as breathe a word of what happens on this show to me: I will kill you. And forge the Do Not Resuscitate form. Don't mess with me people. I am a woman on a rampage.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In which I learn my numbers but let other logic slide...

I would like to tell you a few things today. I've numbered them. So at least you know I can count.

1. I wore suede black boots in the rain this morning.

2. Yes. They were suede. Yes. It was raining.

3. I am wearing fluorescent, striped rain boots in the office.

4. I also wore them for an hour long presentation to the VP of Design.

5. Let me re-iterate. Not only are they shockingly fluorescent. Just to add insult to injury: they are also striped.

6. I used a broken $5 umbrella from Filene's Basement on my 10 min. walk to the subway this morning.

7. Tyler's sturdy, massive, golf umbrella sits dryly in a corner.

8. There is a good explanation for all of this but I'm still deeming the whole situation ridiculous.

9. You can too. I won't judge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tuesday Books for Writers! The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Before I begin gushing over this book, I'd like to propose something: As a writer I'm always looking for book recommendations that will help me with my writing. I've been in many writer's workshops and critique groups where someone recommends a book to me that they think is relevant to my work.

Instead of saying: 'This [type of scene] isn't working for me and here's ways you can fix it' (which is certainly helpful but not always effective). They can say: 'This [type of scene] isn't working for me and you know who does [type of scene] really well?' and proceed with a book recommendation.

An active reader/writer can do so much more with that!

So I'm trying to figure out how to make 'Tuesday Books for Writers' into a larger resource for writers. If anyone wants to participate in a 'Tuesday Books for Writers' blog post on their own blogs, let me know! I know there's some way to link them together that I plan to figure out soon. The only qualifications are that you have to have read a book you think might be relevant to somebody writing and tell them why. And, well, to be honest, most books have something redeemable, however small, that can be useful to a writer. So basically...the only qualification is that you have to have read something, sometime in your entire life. Thanks bunches.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
by Mary E. Pearson
Read this book if you're writing:
A YA Novel
About Ethics in Medicine
A slow, deliberate revelation
A book that plays lightly with structure (particularly poetry infused in a long work)

I have to start off by saying that I was fascinated and compelled by this story. And I have to thank Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? for recommending it. Wowsa. I could NOT put this book down.

Which brings me to why it was soooo helpful as a writer to read this book. This book has a nice, compelling, slow, deliberate reveal. This is hard for me to say. But I am just going to say it. I'm pretty sure the pacing in this novel is simply perfect.

It builds so remarkably well, that I was absolutely blown away. It slowly leaks information and yet it drives plot forward at lightening speed. And when you get to the reveal, it does not disappoint. It's a whopper. Then we experience the reveal with more and more depth as it gets bigger and bigger. And it doesn't end there, people. Oh no. Just when you think it's all out there on the table, just when you think there's no where else to go, you're still compelled to go on. Because lawsie me, you've got to figure out how to cope with the reveal. And that's what the novel is really about.

The reason I find this whole thing so mind-blowing in its simplicity is because every book has a reveal, no matter how minor. Characters are keeping secrets left and right. And they are discovering things about the world like it's going out of style. If you can build to each and every reveal with the kind of power and force that this novel does, I think you'll be in amazing shape. I hope to be in amazing shape now that I've seen how well it can be done and how I can use the same pace and build in my own novel. It's such an easy thing to say: build to a nice climax or reveal. It's another thing to see it done so amazingly well.

Oh. And please go read this book immediately. It's an order. I'd even give you a copy. If mine didn't belong to the New York Public Library.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Lisle Inn

Last February, I posted my Ode to Small Towns and mentioned the town of Lisle:

It also reminded me how amazed I had always been driving up to Ithaca, NY revelling in the small town of Lisle on Rt. 79 which is completely run down with it's dilapidated, abandoned buildings on its tiny main street. And despite the vacant, grey vibe that town always gave me, I found it simply beautiful. It was fascinating that it could be so intimate and yet spacious and empty all at the same time.

Thanks to Lost City I learned a little bit more about why Lisle was in this condition: A series of floods back in the 30's and the movement of people down South as NY became too costly to do business in. I also learned that I am not the only one who had a soft spot in their heart for this place. But, most tragically, I learned that the Lisle Inn, which I always considered a landmark on my journey to and from Ithaca year after year, burnt down this past week.

The reason I bring it up is because one of the settings in my novel is actually based on the town of Lisle, so I feel I must pay homage to it. It amazes me that a town in such ruin was able to inspire me. So much so, that I was able to create an entire world for my characters to nestle inside of.

The Inn itself always stirred the imagination. Who lived there? Who kept it up? Who would have wanted to stay there? It always seemed the Inn represented a place that was holding on to a false hope. For someone to visit. Or return.

I think there are many stories about this place that are still left to be told...