Thursday, December 23, 2010

Crazy Christmas

I'll be taking a bit of a blogging break over the holidays, as I travel to Long Island, South Carolina, and Florida. But I'll be back before the New Year.

I'll leave you with just a few photos of the strange little Christmas Wonderland of Dyker Heights, a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for competitive Christmas decorations. I don't think these photos from my little phone do it justice because visiting this area was like nothing I had ever seen before, with traffic blocking the streets and crowds of people viewing the lights as if it were Rockefeller Plaza. Frank Sinatra blared from booming speakers and 40 foot nutcrackers guarded massive Santas, surrounded by spinning carousels and mechanical reindeers. Blow up characters littered the lawns and sparkling snowflakes hung from the windows. It's a little crazy, I thought. A little over the top. But I like crazy sometimes...

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!





Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Only Takes One 'Yes'

And now we stop our regularly scheduled blogging to share some exciting news!

No...I do not have a literary agent (yet). I have something much better.

I have this guy! Who will kill me for posting this picture...



In other words, Tyler and I are engaged! We are really excited and it's a wonderful reminder that it truly does take one 'yes'. ;-) What a wonderful way to kick off the holidays and finish 2010. I feel so lucky and blessed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Be Jolly By Golly Blogfest

Jen at Unedited and Melissa at Through the Looking Glass are having a lovely holiday blogfest so if you're looking to feel jolly and get some wonderful holiday recipes, check out the other participants here!

This is the first year I have had my very own Christmas Tree! To be honest, I'm not sure why I never one before. Even though I don't spend the holidays in my apartment, the tree has been so wonderful to look at the past several weeks and I don't ever want to take it down. I'm just glad that they make small trees for small apartments. If I may say so myself, I think my tree is very charming.

My favorite treat around the holidays is extra sharp provolone and spicy sopressata, which is a big part of my Italian Christmas Eve. If you live in Brooklyn, I highly suggest you take a trip to my neighborhood butcher, Esposito & Sons, otherwise known as The Jersey Pork Store (if you're lost, there is a giant ceramic pig to welcome you in front of their shop.) They are doing wonderful things at the pork store, like homemade mozzarella, imported prosciutto, aged provolones and sausages. I am so grateful for old shops like these.



For those of you who don't find cured meats as exciting as I do, the next best treat I can offer you is a Linzer Tart. Growing up my best friend's mother used to make them every Christmas and I would devour them. I have a lot of fond memories of sitting around Mrs. Minervini's kitchen table eating what, for so many years, I called 'The Linda Tart' until I discovered it's real name. The lovely and talented Barefoot Contessa has a recipe for Mini Linzer cookies. I have never made these but I do not question the Barefoot Contessa. She is a cooking Goddess. If I can't have Mrs. Minervini's, then I want these (recipe below).

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with many decorations and treats and loved ones (and sopressata!) to make you feel jolly.

The Barefoot Contessa's Mini Linzer Cookies

Ingredients

3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup good raspberry preserves
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/4-inch thick and cut 2 3/4-inch rounds with a plain or fluted cutter. With 1/2 of the rounds, cut a hole from the middle of each round with a heart or spade shaped cutter. Place all the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and chill for 15 minutes.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature. Spread raspberry preserves on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust the top of the cut-out cookies with confectioners' sugar and press the flat sides together, with the raspberry preserves in the middle and the confectioners' sugar on the top.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Put It Out There

On my trip to DC this past weekend, I went to see some live jazz at a venue in the U Street area. Eric Lewis played piano there. He plays what he calls, RockJazz, which, according to his website is 'an inspired melding of ragtime, rock, and pop...'

He stands at the piano with an unusual stance, his legs drawn out into a standing split, and his fingers leap furiously across the keys, often using the underbelly of the piano as a drum and plucking at the piano strings of the baby grand, which creates a really unique and, often, eerie sound. His compositions are just as physical as they are musical and I found him really entertaining to watch and listen to.

At one point he played a song he had never played for an audience before. When he was done, he told us that it still needed a lot of work and he wasn't entirely happy with it but 'like every creative endeavor, sometimes you just have to put it out there. You know."

And...I did. As a writer, it can be so valuable to set your words free. I think a lot of people hold on to their work, hiding it from the rest of the world, keeping it close to their hearts. And they think, when it's ready, when it's perfect, I will let it go. For so many years I didn't let a single soul see my work. At the time, maybe that's what I needed to do for myself.

But, I can't tell you what a relief it was to just...let go. Sometimes we need to unleash it before it's ready. Before we're really sure. Because, as scary as it can be, it can also be rewarding to send it out to a reader, then go back to the page knowing it has already made it's debut and that it's time to perfect it for the rest of it's run.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Library of Congress


This weekend Tyler and I took a trip to Washington D.C. to visit our friend Becky and explore the city. I've made my love for libraries very clear, so when Tyler suggested we visit The Library of Congress, which boasts the largest collection of books in the world, I was really excited about it.

The library is exquisite, certainly one of the most elaborate libraries I have ever seen and, though we missed the formal tour, we wandered around looking at the beautiful architecture, Thomas Jefferson's impressive collection enclosed in glass, and the gift shop.

I was a little disappointed to learn that I could not enter the reading room or look at any books without going through a formal process to do so. Since you can't take any books out of the library (that is their policy for cardholders) I don't see any reason why you can't go exploring through their books at will. Lord knows that the security checkpoints at every possible exit would prosecute me with a beating if I dared take something away. So, why not let me wander?

I know there are practical reasons for this. I mean, the people in the main reading hall don't want tourists like me roaming around while they research. However, I tend to like the idea that I can walk into a library, as a cardholder or not, and, within reason, do whatever I like. At The Library of Congress, which is the mecca of libraries, a symbol of the institution of libraries, if you will, you are not allowed to touch a thing. You must look through glass at people reading, which is very stodgy and stuffy and made it seem like getting to their collection was a privilege rather than a right. And that is not what libraries mean to me. You walk in. You read. End of story. I have never been to a library in my life that didn't allow me to do just that, so this was surprising.

Despite my disappointment, I had fun at the library and I recommend going there to see how lovely it is. I liked the various quotes they had below the ceiling tiles. The true university of these days is a collection of books.


I liked their Christmas tree, which upon closer inspection was a tree of books.


I liked their gift shop which had $2 books and Jane Austen action figures (with writing desk and quill pen!)


And I learned that, one of my literary heroes, Charlotte Bronte apparently looked like a transvestite. I mean, seriously? What an unflattering portrait...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Recruiter

The other day, Tyler was talking about how his coworker's son is being recruited by college football coaches for his prowess on the field. We thought it was so exciting for him to be sought after for doing something that he loves.

This led to a discussion about how much fun it would be to be a recruiter! At first, I was thinking about this purely in terms of high school sports. And I wondered, what sport would I recruit for? Since I played tennis in high school, I thought this would be the natural choice for me (yes, I love to put myself in 'what if' situations...) but then I thought it would be fun to get a little creative.

What if you could recruit aspiring writers to be on your 'team'? How would you do it?

For me, it would not be in any typical fashion, like reading a writing sample or something boring like that. No, no, no. I would line up unsuspecting writers and hold up blank pages before them, not allowing them to write, in order see how long they lasted before they had a nervous breakdown. Longest time wins.

Soon after, I would test their ability to handle caffeine by force feeding them jolt and red bulls and see which loser throws up first. I might also test their typing skills in diverse weather conditions and varying levels of darkness. Blizzard. At dusk. GO!

The audio test would be a good one. See how much they could write while playing sound effects of screaming children, crowded coffee shops, highways and sirens.

Then. The ultimate test. I would scream, "Write 250 words. Stat!" While they furiously wrote, I would egg them on, shouting "What's your hook?! Hook me, b***es! Hook me in 250 words or less!" If they failed to hook me, this would result in paddling.

I also considered playing a broken record that said, "I'm sorry, I just didn't connect to the material as much as I had hoped" to see which sorry soul cracked first. But I thought that was pretty cruel.

Hey...wait a minute...


Photo credit: Brit

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Point of View

I very rarely write in third person POV. Which explains why I'm so confused these days. I can not for the life of me understand why, when I sat down to write the new words of a new novel, third person casually fell out and took me away. It feels unnatural and, yet, the story demands it. I feel I have no other choice. I am the one to tell this story even though I desperately wish the main character would take it away from me. She's not.

It has never occurred to me that we might choose what point of view we want to write in. All I know is that third person feels like the right fit and I'm not able to verbalize why. It's third person limited which means I can't tell my readers what anyone else but my main character is thinking or feeling. It allows me to have a unique voice just as loud and insistent as first person. I keep asking myself, "Why is it third when it could easily be first?"

Right now, it's only a feeling. "I" insists on being "She". I wonder, if it is a problem.

What point of view are you writing in? Are you comfortable with one or another?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Obsession

Some random thoughts today:

I updated the look of my blog last week and just now got around to announcing it. There is some more information about my writing projects and my work in children's media, which I've been meaning to put on this blog. It's also just a little easier to navigate. I don't really like the sorry picture of the flower blowing in the wind right now (I mean, it's pretty obviously a template) but I'll get around to making that more 'me' sometime soon. So if you're reading this blog through a reader, click on through and let me know what you think!

I've found myself completely obsessed with 3 things in the past week.

1. Tom and Lorenzo. Their blog has me laughing out loud. It's clever and fun, without being mean, which is unique for a pop culture blog. They also happen to review and comment on three television shows that I love: Project Runway, Mad Men and Glee. Their Mad Style commentary is incredible. I have been known to drool over the gorgeous style in that show and I love their smart observations.

2. The discovery that Family Ties has come to the Hub Network. I discovered this at about midnight on Saturday night. Sunday morning, I immediately got a Season Pass on my Tivo and was devastated to learn that the show would not be taping until 2am. So I went to Hulu and watched back to back episodes of the show. I watched an episode in which Alex becomes obsessed with Donna, an unwed expectant mother, and convinces himself he is going to be the father of her unborn child. And an episode in which Jennifer and Steven Keaton grow apart when Jennifer begins to flourish into womanhood. MY GOD, this is the stuff of GENIUS people. GENIUS. I'm not sure what's going to happen to me now that I know this show is airing in reruns. And did anyone realize what a remarkable actress Justine Bateman is? I haven't seen the show since I was about 13 and it never occurred to me how wonderful she is, perhaps because of the big personalities on that show like Michael J. Fox and Meredith Baxter Birney. (Yes, these are the things that keep me up at night. Why was Mallory overshadowed?!)

3. PBS' Great Performances: Sondheim! The Birthday Concert My love of Sondheim runs deep. Since Tivo-ing it, I have watched select performances repeatedly. Especially Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters rendition of Move On. I watched it SIX times in a row and the only reason I stopped watching it was so that I could watch Elaine Stritch's 'I'm Still Here' SEVEN more times . I know...I know... it's sick. I also came to the conclusion that if you want to be a great singer you have to have a really gigantic mouth. People, I can not tell you how much I love Marin Mazzie and Patti Lupone but their mouths are insane. It's like they have been taken possession by a crazy alien. These photos don't even really do it justice.

What are you obsessed with lately? Or am I the only one who gets caught up in things like this?





Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ten Is Enough: Excerpt

So, when I was 11 years old, I wrote a novel called Ten Is Enough. I thought you guys might get a kick out of reading the first paragraph in all of it's glory. With all of the typos. And my writer's commentary in parentheses.

Hi! My name is Lauren Compwell and I'm going to tell you about the ten people in my house. (Good idea, Lauren! Way to cut to the chase...) First, I think I should tell you about me. (Okay!) I have brown hair, blue eyes, and olive skin. I'm 11 years old and I am in sixth grade at Milford Middle School. (Such poetic details!) I live in a 2 story house with Wendy, my older sister, Bryann, Danny, and Scott, my triplet younger brothers, Raymen (Do you mean Raymond?), my older brother, my Mom Cindy, my Dad Bob, my grandpa and grandma and soon either Timithy or Christina. (Thank you for the run down.) It's very annoying to have 10 people living in your'e house and soon 11. Everyone says 10 is enough, but my mom thinks having another baby will be okay. But I sure don't, as I said '10 is enough! (In case you didn't catch the title.) Wendy is 16 years old and she is learning how to drive. Mom doesn't like it. I do, now my sister can take me to the mall. (Way to have priorities Lauren!) Wendy has blonde hair, blue eyes and tan skin. Wendy is very smart. She is in all honors. (I didn't know you could be inside of an honor but okay.) She wants to be a docter and go to Cornell. (A docter huh?) She will get in too, she's that smart. She hates the the fact that mom is having another baby. "Ten is enough", she complains. (In case you didn't catch the title).

And that's the first paragraph. Are you hooked?

FACT: Yes. I am an only child. Yes. The School psychologist would have had a field day with this one.

FACT: I used to watch the television sitcom Eight Is Enough incessantly. I don't think this had anything to do with my decision to go with this title. None. None at all.


FACT: 7 years later I did go to Cornell University. Discovering that I had written about it at 11 years old made me really happy especially since I didn't have dreams of going there until I randomly decided to apply my senior year of high school.

FACT: Every single main character I ever wrote about for the first 15 years of my life had olive skin and blue eyes.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

MeNoWriMo Complete

Well, here we are. The annual frenzy is over. You can move your eyes away from the computer's soft glow. Soak your little fingers, fatigued from endless typing, coated with pen ink, in a hot bath. Cut down on the caffeine. To all of you who participated in NaNoWriMo, whether you 'won' or not, I applaud you for taking on such an insane challenge. It's hard to write a novel. But in just 30 days most of you have proved that it is not impossible. And that really is something.

I promised an update on MeNoWriMo so here it is.

Melissa's Novel Writing Month didn't include writing a novel at all. Instead, it included focusing my writing goals and completing the first draft and one edit of a short story. Which I did! I like this story. I'm in love with some of the secondary characters. I identify with the protaganist. And I like the subtle, quiet action. You should know that my action sequences mainly include two people sipping a glass of wine at a dining room table. It's like Die Hard and Indiana Jones rolled into one, I tell you.

I jest.

As for focusing on one project and setting goals, I managed to do it. I wrote 1,000 words of Rabbit Island, a contemporary YA loosely based on Coney Island in its heyday. I'm telling the story of Adelaine Cross, a sixteen year old girl who has a story to tell. Here Now, the novel I began this summer, has been put aside because it is lost at the moment, trying to find it's way. I have a bunch of really depressed characters sitting on a foggy beach just as it's about to rain and I simply don't know where these silly people belong.

I plan to have a first draft of Rabbit Island by March 15th. At least, that's the idea. For now.

Another goal I had was to submit a short story to some magazines or journals or contests, once a week for the rest of my life until it's published, is what I believe I said. As I began to delve into this, I realized that this requires a lot of research as to what journals and magazines and contests might work for the type of stories I write. And so I hope to have at least 20 ideas of places to submit for the end of this month.

And that's about it. Thanks for letting me talk about my work and tell you my goals. Accountability is what allows me to finish all of my projects and it's thanks to telling all of you what my goals are. So thank you, thank you.

I hope you'll share your own progress on your creative endeavors, writing or otherwise, right here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Taking It To The Whole

Every once and a while I'll be sitting at a meal eating something delicious and I'll discover that I am full. My pants will feel a little tighter. My stomach will feel a little queasy. And I'll start to feel a bit gluttonous. But, here's the thing, if it's delicious enough, it won't matter. I will continue to eat until it is gone.

This is what I fondly call: Taking it to the whole*.

This means that I could be sitting at the table, eating a hamburger and french fries, groaning and whining that I'm so full I could die. And then I'll take another bite. Yeah. It makes no logical sense. Basically, I make the conscious decision that, it's so delicious, there is no way I'm going to leave a spare bite behind.

This also happens to me when I'm reading books. I'll be innocently reading, making my way through the words and I will get to a moment. And I will literally say to myself, That's it. I'm taking it to the whole. This means that, no matter how late it is, whether I'm on page 5 or 500, I have reached a moment where there is NO WAY I am going to put the book down until I've devoured it completely.

I'm thrilled to let you know that this has happened to me three times in recent weeks. Three times! It doesn't happen to me often (at least not as often as it happens to me when I'm eating) so I was really excited. It happened with Kate Racculia's This Must Be The Place. I reached one of those big reveals, which I sometimes call a Maury Povich moment: (You are NOT the father!) and there was simply no way I was going to put the book down until I found out how it unfolded. Then it happened during Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People. I was so invested in the characters that there was no way I was putting the book down until I knew they were all going to be okay. And Rachel Simon's memoir, Riding The Bus With My Sister, in which I just had to know where everyone ended up after a literal and figurative crazy ride.

I just get to this point and there is absolutely no return. Since I mostly read at night, that means that taking it to the whole leaves me sleep deprived.

Does this happen to you guys? With books or food? How often do you take it to the whole?

*I have no idea if this is a real expression or where I ever heard it. I could be using it incorrectly and I wouldn't know. It's occurred to me that the expression could very well be "taking it to the hole" like you are taking it to the grave. Either way, I would like to take delicious food and amazing books to the grave, so I still feel it's appropriate.

UPDATE: Even though I googled and binged it, not finding much on what this expression means, it has come to my attention (Thanks Tyler!) that this is, perhaps, a basketball expression, in which you are 'taking it to the hole' and putting it in the basket. Still works. Still think taking it to the 'whole' in these cases is fine. Any other definitions for this expression are welcome.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Books I Am Grateful For

Everyone is grateful this week. I know I am. And for the usual suspects. My family, my friends, my health, roof over the head, shoes on the feet, and food in the belly. I am lucky. I am blessed.

But let's move on to what I'm also grateful for. And that, my friends, are books. I'm glad people read 'em. I'm glad people write 'em. I'm glad people buy 'em. Whether online, in the store, or on the street. Seems like wherever there are people, there are books. Except where there are not. Because I know not everyone is lucky enough to have their very own books.

I couldn't imagine a life without books. I don't want to get all preachy or anything. You all know a place or a person in your community that needs a book, so maybe you'll find a way to get them one this holiday season.

But I am very grateful I grew up in a house where there were a lot of books. These are some of the books I am especially grateful for:

The Night Before Christmas. This is the first book I remember owning. According to my parents, even before I could read, I read this book. Because it had been read to me so many times, I had memorized every word and the point in time that my parents would turn each page. Apparently, I plopped the book in my lap and began to 'read' the book in its entirety, out loud, for my Uncle Anthony. At the tender age of 3. He thought I was a prodigy.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I can remember sitting in a circle at school while my teacher read me this book. I was so excited. I don't have a lot of vivid memories of people reading to me (even though I know they did) so I really treasure this one. The fact that this Caterpillar grew. That we got to hear the words and then the teacher would flip the book around and show us the picture practically blew my mind.

The Swiss Family Robinson. I didn't like this book. But I was really happy to receive it. At some point in elementary school, my teacher made the announcement that she was going to give each one of us in the class our very own book to keep. This meant that it wasn't one of the books everyone in our class had to read together and then discuss. The teacher claimed that each book was hand-picked and no two were alike. The few weeks after the announcement, there was a lot of anticipation about what books we might get. Lord knows why my teacher thought I would enjoy a story about a family of 3 boys shipwrecked on an island in the East Indies. But it was a gift for me. And despite the fact that I didn't particularly like it or that I don't even remember which teacher gave it to me, I think it's amazing that, 20 years later, I remember which book I got. It meant something that a book was chosen especially for me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interpretation vs. Reinvention

On Saturday, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. I loved it and thought it was a really beautiful interpretation of the books. The colors in the film are gorgeous. All of the blue, grey, and white tones as they wander through winter...so perfect. The emotional beats when portraying the relationship between Harry, Hermione, and Ron are so well done. It is, of course, the darkest of all the books and I thought the film depicted that wonderfully especially with the scenes at the ministry, at Godric's Hollow, and with Bellatrix. The story of 'The Three Brothers' was absolutely amazing. For those of you haven't seen it yet, that part was, for me, a surprising treat.

In reading some reactions to the film so far, I've seen that a lot of people like this seventh film because it is 'the most accurate'. It does not stray far from the books and, because they've split the film in two parts, it is better able to take it's time and tackle more scenes from the book. These kinds of reactions made me think a lot about the expectations we have when we walk into a film adaptation of a popular book.


It sounds to me like a lot of people get really angry if a film strays too far from the original plot of a book. People tend to like a straight interpretation. They don't like a director changing the order that things happen or adding scenes that were not in a book or leaving out important parts of a book or, particularly, changing the ending. They walk in expecting 'the book' and if they don't get 'the book' they are disappointed.

I'm kind of torn about this.

I've loved every Harry Potter film because it's brought the books alive for me. Sometimes characters or environments didn't look the way I expected them to, but I've always accepted the choices they've made in the film and, in most cases, applauded them. It's the filmmaker's vision. Not mine. I haven't done a strict analysis of book to film (have any of you?) but I've never left any of the films in a huff thinking that they destroyed the books or completely misinterpreted them. Sometimes I wondered why they may have left something out or extended a scene that wasn't so long in the book, but, I've never thought that there were giant leaps made from one to the other.

There are also things that the film brought to me that the books did not. Even though Rowling's descriptions are very detailed, the majesty of Hogwarts, characters coming to life in portraits and pictures, moving stairwells, and quidditch arenas were brought to me in ways I couldn't have imagined, in much grander, more magical ways, and I'm grateful for that.

However, there are two film adaptations of books that I struggled with because, in my opinion, they went to far. "The Namesake" which is one of my favorite books of all time. And "My Sister's Keeper" which is a book I didn't love, but found an entertaining read. In "The Namesake" the film follows the mother's story, while the book follows her son's story. That is a major departure and one I didn't like, even though I still enjoyed the film on it's own. In the film version of "My Sister's Keeper" the ending was sold off to Hollywood and is vastly different from what happens in the book, to a point where I found it offensive that the filmmaker would go in such an opposite direction.

For the most part, I am open to film adaptations. I'm open to learning something new about a book, adding some scenes, changing dialogue, perhaps even going off into a new plot direction. Mostly, I can separate a book from a film and judge it on it's own. But a reinvention of the story rather than an interpretation doesn't always work for me.

How important is it for you to see a film that portrays a book accurately? What kinds of changes from book to film can you accept? What can you not accept?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Tillerman Moment

I've been thinking a bit about Harry Potter these days. With the penultimate movie coming out, I've been feeling a bit sad. After the final installment, I wonder if there will ever be any big moments for the series again. No more midnight premieres or book launch parties. No more sitting for uninterrupted marathon readings, avoiding news coverage, reviews, and idle chatter, in order to avoid spoilers of each new book. And the hardest thing to comprehend: nothing more to discover. Even though the books are complete, at least there is still the anticipation: "How will they film this scene? How will it look? How will it feel?" But once that's done, there will be no more to wonder about. The story has been told and, after July, the film will have interpreted the story and that will be all. There will be no more...more.

And yet...

Just last week, I had a strange recollection of a series I read when I was in middle school: The Tillerman Series, by Cynthia Voigt. It begins with the four siblings of the Tillerman family, led by 13 year old Dicey, who have been abandoned by their mother and embark on a journey to find their Grandmother. The writing was raw, honest, and real. And it made me want to be a writer who wrote these kinds of stories. Stories about people, the things they do, the places they go and the people they meet. Really simple, honest story-telling.

What's strange is that I have not thought about this series in over 15 years. But, suddenly, the urge to reread it is oddly insistent. I've scrambled to find the books on evil Amazon, ebay, and beyond. I can't wait to rediscover what I loved about characters whose names I barely remember and reassemble the pieces of a blurry and broken plot.

It has already been over 9 years since I opened the first pages of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone. I have not yet reread the series, as if I have been saving it for what I'm now going to call the Tillerman Moment. The moment I'll want to discover something I thought I already knew.

Have you had a Tillerman moment? An urge to rediscover something you once loved?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Save the Words!

Thank you to my dear friend Krista for introducing me to the site Save The Words, where you can adopt words that have fallen out of use from the English language.

I just adopted the word: aquabib

n. water-drinker.

Let's use it in a sentence:

Sally Tutu was such an aquabib that she woke up one day to find her eyes swimming in her head.

Feel free to adopt a word and use it in a sentence in the comments!

Monday, November 15, 2010

As It Turns Out: Somebody Likes This Blog

Thank you to the lovely, talented Lisa Galek for honoring me with my first ever blogging award: The Honest Scrap Blogger Award. Apparently, I'm honest. Which is quite ironic given the fact that I'm a fiction writer. Mwahahahaha! I write lies! All lies!

I have to share ten things about myself and share this award with other honest bloggers. So here goes...

1. For quite a long time I have had the story of a 16 year old girl in my head but had never written for a young adult audience. So, I was pretty scared to write it. This week, I officially decided to take the plunge. I hope all of you YA writers will welcome me with open arms and loving hearts and help me not be so scared.

2. I wrote a novel when I was 11 years old called "Ten Is Enough." In the coming weeks I plan to subject all of you to a few excerpts. Get excited!

3. I love to cook and I love to eat. I am obssessed with the farm to table craze and I belong to a CSA which forces me to figure out how to cook with things like 12 pounds of Kale.

4. I have lived in New York state for 27.5 of 30 years. 2 years were spent in Boston. .5 in the UK.

5. Of the 27.5 years in New York, 1.5 of them were spent in Astoria, Queens. 17 of them were spent in a town called Hicksville which is on the semi-north shore of Long Island. (Yes, it's called Hicksville.) 3.5 of them were spent in Ithaca. 4 of them were spent on the island of Manhattan. 1.5 of them were spent in Brooklyn.

6. I currently live in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood technically called the Columbia Waterfront District. Some people call it Red Hook. Others call it Carroll Gardens. I call it no-man's land because it is a 10 minute walk from the subway. I live with my boyfriend, Tyler.

7. I am an only child but I like to think I play well with others. Unless you want to borrow my bike, in which case, I'll cry.

8. I work at a toy company as a writer and producer. In other words, if you push a button on a toy, I wrote, recorded, edited, and produced all the music and speech you hear. Every time I tell people what I do, they ask me if working at a toy company is like the movie Big. I am here to tell you, it is nothing like the movie Big.

9. I loooooove dresses and skirts. From May to September, I do not wear pants. In the winter, I wear the same clothes but I put turtlenecks and wool tights underneath them.

10. I really love to blog and read your blogs. This whole 'I write, you read' then 'you write, I read' thing makes me really happy.

I would like to extend this award to the following bloggers:

Sharon Mayhew at
Random Thoughts, who was my first blogging friend. She is as sweet as cake and writes about cake. I plan to to buy all of her children's books when they are published and give them to my kids.

Lori H. Walker, who always has so many thoughtful, interesting things to say about writing and teaching on her blog.

Karen at
The Oliva Reader who reads and reviews the kinds of books I like to read on her blog. We are encouraging one another in our month of writing and I'm very excited.

Kerri Arista because her songs and her words are beautiful and honest and I'm excited she is writing a book.

Christine at
Inwardly Digesting because I've just discovered her blog and I like it very much.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Small Streets, Tiny Windows


As I was looking through photographs from a trip to Provence last November, I found a rather interesting trend. In all of the towns we explored, Montaureux, Aix-En-Provence, Nice, Cannes, Avignon, Marseilles, I had taken numerous pictures of tiny, narrow streets. The sun creeping up one side and shadows, on the other, crawling down to the cobblestone path.

There is something I feel when I see a small street, a little room, slivers of windows, tables pressed together in charming village restaurants. It is intimate, comforting, dark, close. I always think to myself who goes there? They are always the kind of secrets I want to know...






Monday, November 8, 2010

Writer = Reader. Right?

After reading Lauren Miller's piece in Salon and an intelligent response at My Friend Amy's Book Blog, I began to think a lot about reading as writers. To sum up the issue, Lauren Miller wanted writers to think twice about participating in NaNoWriMo because she believes that putting quantity before quality is irresponsible. She also scolded writers, believing that we should really take the time to read more, not write more. My Friend Amy responded by applauding and encouraging writers who participated in the challenge this month and she brought up an interesting argument: Literacy is a much larger problem and writers are not the target.

Amen.

While I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, I am inspired by a month dedicated to novel writing. Maybe everyone does have a novel in them. And what's the harm in that? Maybe you don't need to go to the Iowa Writer's Workshop and sit in a dark room for ten years playing the role of tortured writer before birthing a novel.

Do I think that writers who participate need to realize that sitting down to write 50,000 words does not a novel make? Of course! Those who participate should take the time to revise and edit and hone their craft beyond the November frenzy. (Sorry for the public service announcement.)

Not only does it seem irresponsible to discourage a new generation of writers, but accusing an entire community of writers for not reading is offensive.  Because, as far as I can tell, writers are not only reading books, but devouring them whole, plugging them on their blogs, giving away dozens of copies, interviewing authors, participating in campaigns not to ban them, joining online challenges to read more of them, buying more bookshelves to house them, forcing unsuspecting family members to read them, and spending their entire paycheck to buy them. They have to-be-read piles in their homes that are toppling over and to-read lists that are virtually impossible to maintain given the life-span of an average human being.

There are a lot of reasons I love to write. But the biggest one is that I love to read. If I didn't, I'm not sure why I would want to enter the publishing industry, where salaries are embarrassingly low and new writers aren't exactly pulling in the kind of seven-figure advance they dream of. In my opinion, an aspiring writer wouldn't spend the days writing hundreds of thousands of words, spending ridiculous amounts of money on writing conferences, workshops, and fed-ex submissions, crying over hundreds of e-mail and snail mail rejections from magazines, editors, and agents, unless they had an absolute psychotic love of the written word. Because writing, in general, (never mind 50,000 words in 30 days) is INSANE, my friends. And there's no reason you would do it unless you love books, on certain days, more than your first-born.

But maybe I'm flat-out wrong. Maybe you've all never cracked the spine of a book in your life.

Tell me, writers, do you read?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Dystopian Novel Anthem

Do you write Dystopian Fiction?

I was listening to some Muse and happily discovered what I'm calling "The Dystopian Novel Anthem".

Assume this will run in the credits of the upcoming Hunger Games movie ;-) Eat the berries Katniss! Eat the berries!




UPRISING
Lyrics by Matthew Bellamy

Paranoia is in bloom
The PR transmissions will resume
They'll try to push drugs that keep us all dumbed down
And hope that we will never see the truth around
So come on

Another promise, another seed
Another packaged lie to keep us trapped in greed
And all the green belts wrapped around our minds
And endless red tape to keep the truth confined
So come on

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious
So come on

Interchanging mind control
Come let the revolution takes its toll
If you could flick the switch and open your third eye
You'd see that we should never be afraid to die
So come on

Rise up and take the power back
It's time the fat cats had a heart attack
They know that their time's coming to an end
We have to unify and watch our flag ascend
So come on

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious
So come on

Hey, hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey, hey

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious
So come on

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuesday Books for Writers! Breaking Away

I am not following the rules of Tuesday Books for Writers! this week. Not that there are really that many hard and fast rules to this, but the label does suggest that I will be discussing a book. I'm not. I'm discussing a movie.

Because Tyler and I are obsessed cyclists, we rented Breaking Away, a film from 1979 about a young man from a working class family in Indiana who is obsessed with Italian cycling. It was a fantastic coming of age story. A story that would probably translate to Upper YA in the publishing world. Dave Stoller is not-quite college bound and believes he's destined for cycling greatness in Italy. But his friends believe they are more likely destined to stay in their small town working dead-end jobs, living in the shadow of the prepsters at the local University. And Dave's parents also question their son's inane ambition. By the end of the film, everything is turned on its head and none of the characters end up where they thought they would be.

The characterization in this film was near perfect. Within the first ten minutes I knew exactly who the main characters were and got an immediate hint of their struggle. That is quite a feat in ten minutes! It reminded me how important those early moments are in any story. That we must share what type of person each character is through specific dialogue and behaviors. It also reminded me something an old screenwriting professor told me. That the first five minutes of a character's time on screen shapes what viewers will believe about them for the next two hours. It's no different in a book.

Not only were the characters well developed, but their character arcs were also fantastic. Even secondary characters had major arcs throughout the story. The people they became made sense given their intentions from the beginning of the story, even when their goals changed as they faced obstacles and setbacks. The script was really a great example of the hero's journey and seems like it would be a pretty good format to follow in your own writing if you really dissected it.

So if you writing a coming of age story or if you're just interested in learning more about character development, I highly recommend watching this film. It's also quite funny, so you're in for a treat. And if you've seen it please let me know what you thought!

Monday, November 1, 2010

MeNoWriMo

I wanted to wish everyone the best of luck with NaNoWriMo this year. It has me excited that so many people plan to write their butts off this November.

I toyed around with the idea of participating, but realized that this kind of challenge wouldn't work for me this month. I'm a little lost with my writing lately. I'm losing interest in project after project, abandoning pages and words left and right. So I wouldn't even know where to begin if I did it. And the truth is, I write really slow. Painfully slow. I know the goal of NaNo is to write and not self-edit, but the goal is also to get 50,000 words and I don't feel comfortable forcing myself to get to a word goal when I'm just not ready.

So, instead I'm participating in Melissa's Novel Writing Month, which can also be adapted to Me and My Novel Writing Month.

It goes a little something like this. By December 1st, I plan to accomplish the following goals:

1. Nail down which project I am going to focus on.

2. Come up with a solid concept for that project.

3. Come up with a writing schedule for that project.

4. Begin that project and gooooooo.

5. Submit my short story, "The Symphony" to 1 literary magazine a week for the rest of my life until it gets published.

6. Recap on Dec. 1st on this here blog so that I am held accountable for these goals.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? What are you working on?

Is anyone not quite ready for NaNoWriMo, but ready to focus their writing goals?

If so, I hope you'll join me this month and rock out to Me and My Novel Writing Month. Which basically means, set some personal writing goals that work with who you are and where you are with your writing.

GOOD LUCK to all NaNoWriMo and MeNoWriMo participants! :-)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Haunting

I'm participating in the Halloween Haunting this year, from Theresa Milstein's Substitute Teacher's Saga. If you are looking to discover new blogs, make some new writing friends, or land a critique partner, the rules are simple:

From 10/28-11/1 go haunt Theresa's blog.

Leave a comment:

1) Tell us about your blog.
2) If you’re a writer, what genre(s) do you write?
3) Are you looking for a critique partner?
4) Did you advertise the Halloween Haunting?

Then haunt at least 3 other the blogs of at least three other commenters

I've already discovered some new blogs and I'm excited about it! Happy Haunting!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Are What You Read

I've been so excited about the launch of You Are What You Read. Tyler's group at Scholastic is the mastermind behind it and it's very cool.

The concept is that you pick 5 books you've read that have shaped you as an individual. That's your bookprint. Many celebrities have contributed and it's fun to discover their bookprints, as well as those of your friends. Turns out Katie Couric and I have similar bookprints. I can deal with that.

So head on over and create your bookprint! And add me as a bookmate! You know my name: Melissa Sarno.

Word.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Da Funk

I seem to be in a reading and writing funk these days.

Apparently I’m unable to sit for more than 5 minutes and read a book. I just can’t concentrate on anything! But because it’s not an option for me to just…NOT read, I decided to read a book about an 8th grader: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick. It’s helping. I’m actually able to read more than one paragraph at a time. The voice is truly refreshing. I think sometimes it’s good to step outside of the comfort zone.

The writing funk is a much bigger problem. I started on a novel this summer called Here Now and I abandoned it in September to work on a short story and a writing exercise that included 3 chapters of a middle grade novel. You’re probably wondering why on earth I’m suddenly writing and reading middle grade, so I should clarify that, at this time, I’m not actually striving to write novels for this audience. But writing for kids is a big part of my day job and I like to get into it every once and a while. And, of course, my employer is the only person who pays me to write, so it occurred to me that maybe I should practice it more.

Anyway, I’m done with my random 3 chapter exercise and the short story is boring me. So, it’s time to go back to Here Now. There are a lot of things that excite me about the book. The premise. The main character. The setting. Some new friends my main character just met on the beach even. But, I dread sitting down to write it each day. The blank page is paralyzing me. And this means that when I get home I make dinner and the television goes on. And even thought I say 9pm is when I will start writing, I watch the clock slip and I do not go into my little room to write. I just…don’t.

The truth is, I can not bear to think that I’m in this one for the long haul. 80,000 words? Night after night struggling to get 1,000 words on the page? The next 2 years of my life dedicated to this beast? It sounds like absolute torture.

And I’m wondering, does this kind of thing excite a real writer? Am I not a real writer because this does not sound appealing to me? Or do some of you guys feel this way on occasion?

Sometimes, I wonder if the task of writing can get in the way of the love for it. What to do when writing feels like a chore? Please help!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Becoming a Writer

Two years ago, to the day, I began my very first writing workshop. I had taken writing classes before then, throughout college, and I did do an MFA program for screenwriting. But that day was the first day I had set out, post college and grad school life, to become a real writer.

A few months before that workshop I had decided to tell the story of a woman who went on a physical and emotional journey. I knew that the premise was: ‘people will help you discover what you’re looking for’. But that was all I knew.

Somehow, I had convinced my employer to pay for a writing workshop that year, telling the company that writing classes would help me write content at work which, of course, it would. But the decision was personal. I signed up early for a workshop at the New School, only to learn that something had gone wrong with my application and I was put on the waitlist. I showed up on the first day and the instructor said: “Stay for the class, but there’s no way you’re getting in. We’re too full.” I remember saying to him, “But you have to let me in. I need this.” What I wanted to say, in typical dramatic Melissa writer fashion was: “I will be lost without this. I will drown. At the same mediocre job. The same mediocre life.” Call it over the top but that was how I felt.

Shut out of the New School, I managed to sneak into another writing workshop at Gotham Writer’s. The class started on my birthday and I had no idea what to expect. After the 1st week, I already had people critiquing my pages. Twenty people sitting in a circle telling me what they thought. It felt like they were critiquing years of work that had sat in the drawer.

I remember those early critiques. Almost all of the people in my class thought my protagonist was insane. Like, clinically insane. I sat back and listened. I didn’t say a word. They were all excited that I was going to write from the point of view of an insane person. How exciting, they said, it’s all very Girl, Interrupted. I like how you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. It’s so obvious that she’s completely spiraling out of control.

Interesting. Considering that I was writing from the point of view of an articulate, intelligent, logical young woman who I had intended to be perfectly sane.

Talk about missing the mark.

Since that day, I grew a lot as a writer. I gradually nailed down the voice, figured out what my story was actually about, who the characters were, and where they would end up. One would think I would have figured all of that out before I started out, but such is the writing life of a panster (i.e. someone who writes by the seat of their pants rather than plots out their story.) The people I met in that class became my writing group. I started a blog and learned about the business of publishing. I became involved in the writing community online, ‘meeting’ published and unpublished writers alike.

The day I stepped foot in that workshop I intended to become a writer. I had wanted it for a long time. And there had certainly been other steps I had taken earlier in my life that reflected that intention. But that day was different. It was the day I said, I am going to live this life. A writer’s life. How fitting, that it also happens to be the day I was born.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brooklyn is Now

Since living in Brooklyn, I have wanted desperately to write a story that is set here. Every day, I walk past churches and old butcher shops and bakeries. I see old women chatting on the sidewalks, pushing their grocery carts. I see a lone canoe cross the polluted Gowanus Canal. I walk the boardwalk on Coney Island in the middle of winter past the grey amusement park, a place that, for me, is haunting. It whispers, we used to be something majestic…and now… I bike through Williamsburg on the Sabbath and witness a culture that is foreign, secular. A face that stares straight ahead as if to remind us, you may walk beside me but you can’t know me.

There’s so much of it that inspires. I’ve often wondered why I am paralyzed, unable to tell a story that resides here. But I am concerned about the history of a place. Preserving that history. Understanding that history. I wonder why, when it comes to real places, I am afraid to learn more. The thought of pouring through pages, digging through archives frightens me. So, imagine my awakening when I discovered that Brooklyn is then and, through time, I will come to know it. But that Brooklyn is also now. And I know now.

Photo via dailypostal

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

Some of you had inquired about my neighborhood deli, which I told you was the victim of the fire. I am pleased to announce that the deli has re-opened with renovations that include: a brand new awning, a spanking new name “The Express Grocery”, the addition of floor to ceiling windows, and bright lights that shine from the awning in an otherwise dark, and dingy corner above the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I saw the two owners smiling as they re-stocked their shelves and I thought all was right with the world.

Of course, not every story has a happy ending. I have not yet discussed what happened at the Laundromat because it is too confusing and painful. But I’m ready to tell the story now.

I do a Wash and Fold. For those of you who may not know, this means that I drop off my laundry and someone washes it, dries it, folds it and I pick it up when it’s done. Hence the name: Wash. And. Fold. It is a ridiculous expense (About $40 - $50 a month) but I don’t care. I am proud to say that I have not done my laundry since early 2004. To be fair, I have never had a washer/dryer in my apartment OR even in my apartment building since moving to New York City. In all honesty, I have forgotten what these strange contraptions look like. I enjoy living in ignorant bliss.

But things are not all rosy, happy, snappy at the Wash and Fold on Union Street. Maria is gone. My Maria. The woman who had me singing West Side Story as I skipped to and from the Laundromat. Who greeted me each morning with an amazing smile and said, “I hope you have a beautiful day Meleesa!” Who wondered where I was when I came back with a heap full of clothes after a vacation. Who told me I worked too hard and I deserved a rest when I arrived after 8pm to pick up my laundry (but who never once complained that she had been there since early morning). Who insisted that Tyler carry the laundry because that is the ‘right’ thing to do, the ‘chivalrous’ thing. Who told me, rather cheekily, that she makes her husband do all the laundry even when she could do it where she works.

She’s just…gone.

It’s now been 4 months without Maria and I’ve finally given in to that fact that she is not coming back. I don’t know who these crazy people are at the Laundromat now. There’s someone new every single day. They have some weirdo automated machine that prints out laundry tickets and they spell my name: Mallissa. And Tyler’s name: Taillor. Despite the fact that they have the machine, the drop off now takes forever and a day. They won’t do Taillor’s shirts because they have holes in the elbows (don’t ask, the guy has knives for elbows) even when he gives them permission to do so. They sigh when I tell them what time I will be coming to pick up the laundry. They can never remember what color my laundry bag is. AND, I didn’t want to bring this up, but I feel I must. There was once a pair of foreign black underwear in my laundry bag after a pickup. Let’s just say they were not mine and leave it at that.

I’m really devastated about Maria. Not because of my laundry, but because I just thought she was a warm, generous person I enjoyed chatting with in the mornings. I’ve considered frantically calling out her name on Columbia street in Red Hook (she once told us she lives on this street). But that is a predominantly Latin neighborhood and I’m sure there are probably 500 Maria’s in the many high rises that stretch along that one street. Other than that, I haven’t come up with any other creative ideas to find her. I’ll miss her very much. As the little Von Trapp children said in The Sound of Music when Maria went back to the convent, She didn’t even say goodbye…

If you are reading this post and you happen to know where Maria is, please let me know. I need some closure. And if any of you meet anyone named Maria, anytime, anywhere, please ask her if she once worked at a Laundromat on Union Street in Brooklyn and, if she did, send her my love.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Real Work in Progress

I am exactly one week away from turning thirty years old. This birthday has not sat well with me. Even while typing this, I feel confused about what I'm trying to say. But there is a nagging feeling that I'm just not supposed to be where I am. I am supposed to be a little farther in life. Not so stuck behind. I expected a lot to happen to me by the time I turned thirty. Unfortunately, none of it has happened. In fact, life in general, has happened a lot slower than I imagined it would.

Almost all of this has to do with my writing. Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a writer. And a big part of this is that I 100% planned to publish my first book by the time I was 30. But somewhere along the line, I got lost. After college, I took a strange path. One, I'm unfortunately still on. To be honest, I just don't understand how to have a career as a writer and so I'm following this endless yellow brick road to find the wizard and ask him how to get back on course.

I know that I am supposed to be happy with my accomplishments up to this point, but there is a very large part of me that is truly disappointed. I am just not the person that little girl imagined being.

The idea for Spared came about because of one line in a Bob Dylan lyric: Everybody will help you discover what you set out to find. Just the idea that people will help you find what you're looking for. Even if you don't know what it is.

I am grateful for the many people I have in my life who are helping me discover what I need. You all know who you are and I want to thank you, because you're helping me figure things out every step of the way.

Oddly enough, I am very relieved to know that my self-imposed deadline will be lifted next Wednesday. It's time for me to find a new way to be the person I intend to be.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pages and Pages

I'm not sure how I found Kerri Arista. Somehow or another I stumbled upon her blog, or perhaps it was the other way around, and then discovered this wonderful voice. Both her blogging voice and singing voice are beautiful to listen to and I'm so glad I've come to know her through her blogging.

She recently chronicled her journey in
The 50/90 Challenge, a challenge to write 50 songs in 90 days. And her final song reminded me so much of how it feels to finish the first draft of a manuscript, I had to post the song and lyrics for all you writers out there. I think creative endeavors are not all fanciful muses, inspiration, light bulb, and unicorns. It's a lot of work. A lot of pages.

Thank you, Kerri, for letting us listen! :-)



pages and pages
by Kerri Arista

i'm gonna make it to the bitter end without becoming bitter
i'll make it to the finish mark and declare that i'm a winner
i've crossed so many milestones
i've risen from the dead
the only bags i packed were full of words inside my head
i've filled pages and pages to get to the truth
dug up memories hoping they would give me a clue
sordid little details of unimportant things
forgive me for i've included everything
i'm run down to the ground and i'm on my last leg
i will crawl in if i have to cuz i've got something to say
but it's a fight down to the finish
and there are ink stains on my hands
i've been alone with all these words about as long as i can stand
i've filled pages and pages to get to the truth
dug up memories hoping they would give me a clue
sordid little details of unimportant things
forgive me for i've included everything

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Lost Stories

About a year and a half ago, my dear computer was on the fritz (is that a real expression? I've heard my mother use it). It had strange start-ups, often went into safe-mode, and it froze a lot. While I could still get on, I frantically took everything I had ever written in the past five years and put it on a flash drive. Just in time, because a few days later the computer officially died. I asked the IT guru at work and he told me I needed a new hard drive which, to my surprise, was not very expensive. He was also nice enough to install it and update it and everything. I basically had a brand new computer and it works to this day.

Flash forward to about six months ago. I had been knee deep in my novel for two years by that point and I was not working on anything else. Suddenly, I realized that I had never taken all of the backup files from the flash drive to put them back on to my computer. Imagine my surprise when I plugged in the little key and it said: ERROR. This can't be, I said to myself, You can't lose the backup. Who backs up a backup? That's what the backup is for.

For the past 6 months, I have enjoyed living in denial. I have plugged it back in several times since then and received the same error. I nervously giggled and politely said to my little flash drive: Oh my little flash drive, you're so silly. Your errors must be erroneous.

About two weeks ago, I decided that the flash drive's behavior was unacceptable. I downloaded a host of programs to 'reformat' the drive. And they were all unsuccessful. I took it to the geek squad and was laughed at: Sorry lady, that thing is completely toasted.

And so, I very slowly let it sink in. I have officially lost about 5 years worth of writing. Which includes three full length screenplays and at least a dozen short stories. As well as a lot of false starts that I always planned to come back to.

Alas, it is not meant to be.

I will miss the screenplays. They were not very good, but there were some good ideas there and I would very much like to read them. And I will miss the short stories. Because, my goodness, they've sat alone long enough. I thought I might like to edit them and work to get them published. But most of all, I will miss the false starts. Because I do believe they deserved a second chance.

And so, I'd like to honor some of lost stories here and now:

Baz and Andy. I hope you are well on the north shore of Long Island.

The girl who stole the piece of the old fountain. What will you do with it now?

The boy who lost the water fight who later ended up in jail. Sometimes it's hard to change true stories, even when you pretend they are fiction.

Susan who lives upstairs, who was always looking down.

The woman in France. I'm sorry that you are frozen in an unwelcome reunion with your gluttonous sister.

Leyna and the professor. My goodness I've left you two in quite a mess, haven't I?

And, mother and daughter, Anna and Claire. Two people who will forever haunt me. You're very persistent, more so than all the others. I know your story will get told.

Thank you all for getting me where I am today. Wherever that may be...

Please feel free to honor any lost stories in the comments below.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Time Travel

Yesterday, I began reading Justin Cronin's The Passage. To be honest, I don't know much about the book. I know it's been getting a lot of buzz. But the back cover description went over my head and I'm not exactly sure what kind of story I'm getting into.

So far I've only read the first 18 pages, but I was immediately struck by the pace of the novel. Those pages alone cover 6 years. 6 whole years! As I read it, I realized that what happened in those 18 pages had enough meat for an entire novel.

It made me think a lot about the way we travel through time when we write. It's hard for me to imagine covering 6 years in 18 pages. My novel, Spared, takes 77,000 words to cover roughly 14 days. One of my favorite films, Before Sunrise, covers only 12 hours. Just a moment in time.

I wonder, how many of you like novels that take on a small period of time with that kind of excruciating detail? I tend to like them. But I also found it refreshing to breeze through 6 years at such lightening speed. It tells me that I am getting into something much larger than a moment. That I am going to take a much bigger journey. That's very exciting.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Girl I Mean To Be

My love for The Secret Garden is no secret. It is one of my favorite books of all time. I loved the movie. I saw the musical 3 times when I lived in London. While it takes on many themes, at it's simplest it says: "We can help others grow" and that is something I truly believe.

I was listening to one of my Pandora stations the other day. The one I only listen to when Tyler is not in the house because I realize not everyone can listen to 5 hours of showtunes at a time. A song from The Secret Garden musical came on: The Girl I Mean To Be.

I know a lot of people who read this blog write young adult fiction. And maybe some of you write women's fiction, I'm not really sure. But, when I listened to this song, I thought it encapsulated a lot of the kinds stories I like to read and write for both young girls and women. The heroine's journey, so to speak. It is a song about finding a place and about becoming the person you mean to be. I realize it might be a little cheesy, but I thought you might like to hear it. And I apologize but the only rendition I could find was a strange video on Youtube.

I hope you'll take a listen:

The Girl I Mean to Be

Lyrics by Marsha Norman
I need a place where I can go
Where I can whisper what I know
Where I can whisper who I like
And where I go to see them
I need a place where I can hide
Where no one sees my life inside
Where I can make my plans
And write them down
So I can read them
A place where I can bid my heart be still
And it will mind me.
A place where I can go when I am lost
And there I'll find me.
I need a place to spend the day
Where no one says to go or stay
Where I can take my pen and draw
The girl I mean to be.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Confessions

I have a few things to confess today:

1. Lately, I can't write more than 5oo words a sitting and, even that, is slowly killing me.

2. I had ice cream for lunch on Saturday. Yup. Just ice cream.

3. When my bicycle tire popped once, two male cyclists stopped to help. Even though they called me a 'damsel in distress' and made some other quips about my inability to change a bicycle tire due to my gender, I gritted my teeth, batted my eyelashes and let them do it.

4. I don't actually know how to change a bicycle tire.

5. I really hate answering the phone. If you called me right now, I probably wouldn't pick it up. So don't try.

6. I get really angry about people's insane use of plastic bags. Did you get a plastic bag at all today? If so, I judge you.

7. Still, I use at least 100 paper towels in a 24 hour period.

8. I check my e-mail about every 30 sec. to see the fate of my stupid writing.

9. My writing is 'stupid' 50% of time. And a 'heartbreaking work of staggering genius' 50% of the time.

10. When I do get an e-mail, 100% of the time it is Delta airlines telling me a way to get new miles.

What are your confessions for today?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Following the Rules

I've always been the kind of girl who follows the rules. I always did my homework. I always listened in class. I always came home on time. I rarely gave my parents any grief. Of course there were a few screaming fits with my mother in my early teens that ended with me getting my ponytail yanked and getting some privileges taken away. But, for the most part, I never strayed far from the path. I remember being in high school, taking an exam in my French class. I was so innocently involved in the exam that I didn't notice that the entire room was actually involved in a huge cheating chain. Imagine my surprise when everyone got an A on that exam but me. Clueless.

But, I can't say that it didn't benefit me to follow the rules. I cut class only once in my high school career, towards the end of my senior year. I didn't even do anything scandalous with my time. I think I just sat in the lunch room for an additional period. I received a detention and when I walked into the room with my detention slip, the Assistant Principal laughed and said, "Melissa Sarno? I've never seen you in here before. Go home." One other time, I had some brat in my gym class begin harassing me. I might be innocent, but I don't take lightly to people getting in my face. I believe my exact words were: "F&%k off you little b^&ch" Of course, this got me sent straight to the Assistant Principal's office where she laughed and said, "Melissa Sarno? What did that girl say to set you off? You go back to gym class and send that one back to me!" So, being a goody-two-shoes can have it's perks.

When I applied for an internship in college, I remember getting an interview and being told to respond to a specific e-mail with a writing sample or information of some kind. I responded directly to the e-mail I received (not the one specified). I was told that I couldn't follow instructions and that they weren't interested in interviewing me. And that this was a 'lesson' perhaps more valuable than the internship itself.

Maybe it was. I tend to do fairly well in my professional and personal life. And, ya know, I stay out of jail. It also means I'm an excellent query-sender, quadruple checking guidelines and following instructions like it's my job. So, you can imagine my surprise when I made a pretty big omission in my latest submission (An omission in the submission. Conjunction junction, what's your function? )

I did not take well to this. I remembered that honorable C on my French exam. Not one, but two, free passes from the assistant principal. The fatal error that kicked me out of the running for the internship. No! I prided myself on being the one to do it right. That's my shtick. That's my gig. Not following the rules? Not reading the instructions? I actually began to cry. Head buried in the bed and everything. (Oh, Tyler, you're a saint.) Yes, I'm that crazy. But I didn't know where to go, what to do? What are the rules when you forget to follow the rules? I frantically admitted to my mistake, sending a kind of sickeningly-professional e-mail to an unsuspecting literary agent's assistant (oh this poor dear child). And the response?

"No worries. Happens all the time."

No worries?

If you need me, I'll be in therapy for the next 5 years.