Friday, January 29, 2010

Step Right Up and Sit Right Down

I have a confession to make. I am completely and totally obsessed with getting a seat on the subway during my morning commute. I leave during peak hours and very rarely get a seat right away. But when we roll into the Jay St.Borough Hall stop, all of that changes. It's a hot transfer spot from the F to A. I am ready to pounce on the next available seat and no one can stop me.

So, I'd like to report my findings on the 3 best ways to get yourself a much coveted seat on the New York City Subway:

1. Position yourself next to the right kind of people
Pregnant people, the elderly, the disabled...they are my subway seat archenemies. I have no chance against them, so I position myself as far away as possible. They get the seat. There's no point competing. Fortunately, there's still some kind of weird chivalry on the MTA and if I stand next to a man, the odds are better that if a seat becomes available, I'll get it. Female Brooklynites in their skinny jeans and slouchy boots are another story. They, like me, are ready to pounce and they can often squeeze into tiny spaces. They're more likely to fit next to large people who take up the space of 1 and 1/2 average sized people. They are the biggest competition. Proceed with caution when you stand next to them.

2. Figure out who is getting off
I always place myself near someone who is seated and who I believe will be getting on the A train, so that when they get up I can immediately take their seat. It's a little game I play but it's becoming increasingly hard. The A train, perhaps more than any other train in NY, is incredibly diverse. It stops in the financial district, TriBeCa, the West Village, Chelsea, the theatre district, the Upper West Side, Harlem, and Washington Heights. I mean, this could be anyone from a business suit to a hipster to a Dominican person to a Columbia student to a tourist. It could be anyone! Lately an A train passenger is just too hard to point out. But say you need a seat just when you get to Chinatown, I'm not trying to be stereotypical, but the odds are a little better that you know who is getting off.

3. Keep you eyes open. If you see something, don't say something: JUST GO!
Since #2 is proving to be difficult, keen observation is my next trick. As people approach their time of exit, some shifting is bound to happen. Books become bookmarked, iphones get tucked in the pocket, newspapers get folded, and bags are placed in prime position for subway escape. But guaranteeing that you are standing in just the right spot to grab the seat from that one person who is getting off is next to impossible (nevermind that some people are just antsy. Not that I would know anything about that...)

In conclusion...there is absolutely no surefire way to obtain seating in a crowded subway car. Everything and anything you can do is absolutely futile. Luck is never on your side during rush hour.

Despite all of that, I sincerely hope that you all fight the odds and find yourself a nice, cold, hard, plastic, covered-in-is-that-poop-or-just-a-frito seat on your next subway ride. Godspeed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tuesday Books for Writers! The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz

Read this if you are writing:
A multi-generational story
With footnotes
About Dominican Culture
About a 'Ghetto Nerd'
With multiple POVs
A story that covers a long period of time
A non-linear narrative
Dialogue with slang/dialect/non-English
Fiction that infuses history

I'm not going to lie. I had a lot of difficulty getting through this book. I have an INTENSE dislike of footnotes. I don't know Spanish. I am bored by historical accounts. I don't get any references to speculative fiction. And I am often annoyed by non-linear storylines. This lovely, Pulitzer Prize winning little diddy, included ALL of these elements. There were some 'can't put it down' moments. But also the feeling: 'Can't pick up. Not today. No mami.'

When I turned that last page, I was never so happy to have finished a book. For two reasons.
1. Dios Mio! That was really hard to get through.
2. Wow. If you can get through it there's a really wonderful story in there.

There are a lot of reasons that you should read this as a writer. Most of them are listed above. There is a lot crammed into 325 pages. It's an epic novel for the ADD. It plays with everything. Structure, language, POV, style, and all kinds of literary things I don't even know about. I'll leave that kind of analysis to the smart people. If anything, I was most impressed with the sheer amount of ground that it covered.

If you can get past a lot of the distractions (yes, I consider footnotes a distraction), there's a really, truly brilliant story in there. It's incredibly powerful. In my opinion, it's a story that could stand on it's own. Start to finish, with the wonderfully, fresh voice of a most endearing narrator about four strong characters: Oscar de Leon (the title character) his sister, Lola, his mother, Beli, and his grandfather, Abelard. When I finished the book, I left confused about Dominican history, but very aware of this personal struggle that spanned generations. I understood the enchantment of Santa Domingo. I felt a lot of complex emotions about what these four characters had endured. A marvelous story that still stands out amidst the playful technique and structure. There's a lot to be learned from this book. And when you're finished, not only will you get to see what a 3 page footnote looks like, but, in theory, you'll know what it takes to win a Pulitzer! :-)

Monday, January 25, 2010


I am a very impatient person. I don't like waiting in line for anything and I avoid it as much as possible. I open presents immediately after they are given to me. If someone tells me they are having a baby, my honest to goodness first thought is, 'How on earth are you going to wait nine months for that?" And when they look at me oddly, I say, 'No. Seriously. How are you going to do it?' This also means that if I want something, I am determined to find it and insert it into my life as quickly as possible.

This hasn't always been the simplest feat. Waiting on college and graduate school applications, trying to find an apartment in New York City, looking for new jobs, saving money to travel, finding love...all of this has been an exercise in a virtue I don't truly possess. I often feel like an agitated parent whose child is throwing a tantrum in the dairy aisle at a supermarket. What I really feel like doing is throwing milk cartons at unsuspecting shoppers, dragging the child by the ankle, and screaming, "COME ON ALREADY!" But instead, I grit my teeth and say firmly, "You are really trying my patience sweetheart."

As it turns out, the thing I've wanted most in my life, since I was six years old, my parents reading Charlotte's Web over and over again before bed, is to write and publish a novel. And it turns out that is the worst exercise in patience I have ever given myself.

I've been writing query letters to imaginary agents since before I knew what my novel was about. I have imagined the exact scenario of learning I have a book deal (it's a very dramatic event that involves me picking up the phone during an office meeting, leaving said meeting while jumping up and down and screaming, then running through the streets of New York City to tell all my closest friends and family members by foot.) I even have answers prepared for Q and A sessions that come after the book signings of a novel that hasn't even been completed yet.

Uh. Yeah.

So, imagine my despair in discovering that it took a year to get through a first draft. That revisions are taking months. That writing a query to an agent is an art form that can barely get you through the slush pile. That if you manage to get through the slush pile and someone requests pages, they may not take the manuscript. That if they take the manuscript and send it to editors, all the editors can pass on it. That if they don't pass on it, there are more and more revisions and more and more edits to be done. That if you get through the edits, it takes months and months to find it's way to a shelf near you. Oh, and then people actually have to read it. So that you have a hope of going through the process again.

The chances of making it that far, are slim. Realistically, it is more likely that my novel will never find a home and I'll write many more that don't. This is not a cue for all of you to coddle me and massage my ego. It's just a simple fact.
This 'adventure' (again something I am saying through gritted teeth in the middle of the supermarket) has truly been one of the biggest challenges to my patience, ever. I want to start pitching agents today. But I'm only on my first edit. I want to know what the cover looks like. But I'm only on my first edit. I want to write my 2nd novel. But I'm only on my first edit!
So, I go back to my desk, and I ignore every impulse to do anything else but get through the next hurdle. And the next one. I am slowly learning that writing is not something for a person who is wildly impatient. And yet, I can't imagine how you could get through it all unless you are a person who is wildly impatient. A person who is always, always looking ahead. A person whose patience is constantly on trial.

Friday, January 22, 2010

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to...wait, what?

I really enjoyed editing Part I of my novel. I felt more confident in the story I was setting up, the characters and conflicts I had introduced. I was re-energized by my main character, who was a little flimsy and unsure in those first 100 pages before the edit. Now she's real. She has convictions and goals that drive the story forward. I know her better.

But beginning revisions for Part II was an instant crash from an exhilerating high. Everybody's ready. Bags are packed. Jacket's on. Got everything we need. And now it's time to push GO.

Um. Uhhh. Can I just stay behind? I like setting up the conflict. I like introducing my characters. I like beginning complex relationships. Now I actually have to follow-through? The conflicts have to get bigger? The people need to actually grow and change? The relationships have to GO somewhere? You mean I might actually have to say 'I LOVE YOU?!' No, no, no.


I've heard all the cliches. Life's a journey, not a destination. But I like getting all excited and ready to go. And I like it when I actually get there. The travel in between? Not so much.

Right now, I'm in the car. The gas tank is full. I've started the engine. But nothing's on the radio, it's probably gonna rain, there's nobody to talk to, and my turkey sandwich is already getting soggy in that zip-lock bag. And I've got hundreds of miles to go before I actually arrive.

There's no short cut, right?


If you need me I'll be in some podunk town at a rest stop eating stale twizzlers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Mozzarella Maker

I learned about Georgiana DePalma Tedone from the New York Times One in 8 Million Collection. Every Sunday in 2009 they profiled a New Yorker through a black and white photography slideshow overlayed with an audio interview. I heard some incredible stories, but one of them particularly stood out and that was 'The Mozzarella Maker'. Georgiana DePalma Tedone is 91 years old and has been making mozzarella by hand at her shop Tedone Latticini in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for 75 years. She wakes up every day at 2am, makes mozzarella for about 3-4 hours, then works in her shop for the rest of the day. 6 days a week.

I could not wait to meet this woman. With the day off for Martin Luther King Day, Tyler and I took a trip up there to get some mozzarella and see what her place was all about.

An old string of green tinsel was draped along-side the cheeses and meats hanging from the window of the unmarked storefront. There were a few religious figurines on the window ledge. The Virgin Mary's bright blue dress stood out in the dull light. When we walked in, there were no signs or prices in the bare white room. The deli case was completely fogged over so I couldn't quite tell what was in it. An old woman with white-as-snow hair sat at the cash register in a grey folding chair. Above her, a few foot-long wooden shelves held jars of, presumably, olives and sauces.

There wasn't much beyond that. The counter had a small grey basin with 2 balls of fresh mozzarella in plastic wrap. And there was a deli-slicer beside it. A fast-talking old Italian man asked us what we wanted.

"Mozzarella," we said.

"What else?" he demanded, "How about prosciutto? Do you need some meats? Why don't you take some of the prosciutto?"

We had heard that it was very difficult to leave there with just mozzarella. :-)

We looked at one another and shrugged, "We'll take a 1/4 pound."

As he took out a slab of prosciutto and placed it against the deli slicer, we tried to peer into the deli case to see what else might be in there.

"What kind of dried sausages are those?" Tyler asked.

"Sweet and spicy. I have fresh sausage too. Do you need some fresh sausage? 'Cause I've got fresh sausage. You can bbq it."

"That's ok, we don't have a grill," I said.

The old man laughed, then handed us a piece of proscuitto.

As soon as we began to eat, the old woman eyed us carefully. She spoke in her shaky voice, "Do you like it? That's the good stuff. The imported stuff."

"Of course," we nodded. The buttery prosciutto melted in our mouths.

"Try the provolone," she urged. A few pieces sat in a small clear Tupperware. It was, again, delicious.

As they rang us up, then packaged our meat and cheese, the old woman looked on with a smile, nodding appreciatively when we thanked her. I only noticed her eyes grow curious and large when we tried the food. And it reminded me of the Italian women in my family- watching your face as you try each meal, wanting to see your joy. Your satisfaction. Other than that, she didn't move from her folding chair. But this was her territory. I felt lucky to be a visitor.

I really hope you'll click on her story below. She is an amazing woman.

Georgiana DePalma Tedone: The Mozzarella Maker

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Winter Tree Perspective

You've all seen how nostalgic I've been for biking in these cold months. Well, thank you mother nature, for giving me two glorious biking days in the middle of January. 45 suddenly feels like beach weather (I choose to ignore the cold air in my lungs going up the hill in prospect park and my nose running as I pedal up Union Street...)

And I want to thank the winter tree. The winter tree affords me a completely new perspective. When I rode the loop through Prospect Park yesterday, I saw everything through the bare branches. Don't get me wrong, I love the lushness of every tree come Spring, but to be able to see through all that, right into the park is a lovely thing. It's also quite fantastic that I only have a view of New York City from my the winter. Because of the winter tree. That makes me smile.

Yesterday, I reached my goal of finishing the revisions for Part I of my novel. February 15th is my next deadline, the revisions for Part II. This is going to be a lot more difficult. Part I of my novel was a lot more polished. It came before the whole 'I've got to get this 1st draft over with or I'm going to jump out of a window' feeling. The pacing in Part II is quite wonky and there are some very obvious plot holes. It also requires a lot more new scenes than the Part I revisions did, so I'm back to the terrifying blank page.

My fingers are crossed that Part I has become a winter tree. That I was able to trim all the leaves back so I could see a little bit better for Part II. I guess I'm about to take a look and see...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blogs I Read: Day 6

That wraps up the week in: Blogs I Read.

Obviously, I read a lot of other blogs. Many of them are about the publishing industry and literature. A smaller portion are about children's media and food. I've learned SO much from SO many blogs about SO many things; particularly when it comes to the world of books and entering the 'business' of writing.

But I wanted to feature blogs that get to the heart of why we write and why we read. And I think I've captured a few of the things I look for when it comes to good story-telling: Craft, Character, Intrigue, and Place.

With all of us trying to absorb so much content on the internet day after day, I hope you find some inspiration in all the words you read.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blogs I Read: Day 5

Ironically, it took moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn to realize what a rich history New York City has. The cozy neighborhood feel of the street I live on now is very different from my old cramped, studio, surrounded by a lot of nail salons and pizza places (but there is still a special place in my heart for that old, cramped studio with its leaky ceiling [sigh])

When I walk out of my apartment there are bakeries and butchers, churches, and restaurants that have been there for decades and I get a greater sense of that history. It's easier to see it tucked in my small neighborhood than in the center of crowded Manhattan.

Lost City honors a lot of 'lost' landmarks in this constantly evolving place. And, despite its often harsh stance against real estate development, it usually invokes a lot of curiousity in me. When I learn about a place that no longer exists or threatens to vanish, I wonder about the past, present, and future. For that reason, I find the blog and all the places it features very inspiring.

Are there blogs you enjoy that feature places that inspire you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Procrastinate by Supporting Haiti

Support Doctors Without Borders in Haiti
Instead of writing this evening, I took every opportunity to watch all the tivo-ed episodes of Guy's Big Bite on the Food Network and fooled around on the internet for as long as I could. All this after scarfing down two huge slices of pizza and a bunch of Dove Peppermint Bark chocolates. Needless to say, I felt pretty gross. But luckily, all this procrastination (amidst the gluttony) led me to researching how I could respond to the Crisis in Haiti.

Now at 9:48pm, I count my lucky stars that all I have to worry about is not having written yet tonight. Now I go to my desk and write what I can...

Feel free to click and donate what you can.

Support Doctors Without Borders in Haiti

Blogs I Read: Day 4

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon The Sartorialist but I'm very glad that I did. I love this blog for the same reason that I love looking at portraits (The National Portrait Gallery in London is my favorite museum). People have incredible stories. And when a person is frozen in time, all the mystery and intrigue of their personal story is caputured at the very same moment.

Technically, The Sartorialist is about fashion and style. But it's more than that. It's also about the confidence and spirit that a person carries in the clothes they wear and the places they find themselves. I can't imagine how many stories are waiting to be written about each and every photograph that is featured on this blog.

Are there particular photography blogs that inspire you to tell a story?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blogs I Read: Day 3

I discovered Writing As Jo(e) after she responded to a question I had on twitter regarding the Indianna Dunes. She was kind enough to e-mail me her impressions of this landmark. In order to better describe a fictional location in my novel, I was trying to better understand this area that I'd never been to. How kind she was to respond and how happy I am that it allowed me to discover her blog.

I enjoy her observations of the world. She often shares lovely simple stories about her family, friends, and neighbors. And I particularly like her connection to the natural world. I feel a bit like a voyeur as I peek into her life (I guess that's what blogs are about), but as the people and places in her world become more familiar to me, they are like characters in a story, and her blog feels like a friendly place to stop by and say hi.

What blogs do you read that have a cast of 'characters' you like to hear about?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blogs I Read: Day 2

I recently came across Beth Kephart Books . The first blog post I stumbled upon included a video with a writing prompt for the group readergirlz. I immediately liked her voice and her style. She spoke a bit like a poem.

As I read her blog, I feel as if I am being let in on a little secret. Her prose is beautiful and thought provoking. I recently finished one of her books, Undercover, and I'm hooked. From her video, to her blog posts, to her fiction I feel that same quiet but powerful voice and I want to know more.

I feel I've discovered her blog and her books at just the right time. I am able to learn about her journey as it unfolds on her blog. And read her published work (which spans several genres including memoir, non-fiction and young adult) from the past 12 years. I've just learned that she has an adult novel in the works too. That type of diversity from a writer is very exciting.

Is there a blog you read for the beauty and depth of its prose?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blogs I Read: Day 1

Confession: I read an embarassing amount of blogs. My google reader is overflowing with posts and I am completely anal about getting down to zero un-read items. I have them broken down into categories and my google-reading is down to an absolute science. I read almost every single blog in my google reader and I rarely 'mark all as read'.

So, I decided that every day this week I am going to feature a blog that I find particularly useful or entertaining. It will be a bit like my Tuesday Books for Writers posts (which I've been slacking off on as of late. I apologize!) and I hope you'll find it beneficial.

Check back this week for updates!

Since you're here now, I feel I must leave you with something. So I'll send you to a blog that has nothing to do with writing at all. It just fricken hilarious. If you're not already reading Cake Wrecks you should be!

What's the funniest blog you read?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Comment Challenge

One of my goals for the year is to become a little bit more active in the blogging community. I read a lot of blogs, but I must confess that I am a professional lurker. I don't always comment and participate in the conversation. Yet, when someone comments on my blog, I become very giddy. It may or may not involve clapping hands, jumping up and down and/or squee-ing.

So I decided to participate in a challenge from Mother Reader and Lee Wind. It is a Comment Challenge. Just comment on 5 new blogs a day for the next 21 days. After I signed up, I realized it encourages commenting on Kid Lit Blogs. But since this is also a personal challenge for myself I am going to comment on all kinds of blogs including Kid Lit Blogs. I hope to discover some new blogs in the process. So comment away!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Biking Memory #2

I had no idea I had so many biking memories, until the weather got too cold to bike. I guess this is what happens when you grow up in the suburbs and live your summers outside, sunrise to sunset.

We glanced at the darkening skies, only a quick glance, before continuing on. At that time, the streets in our neighborhood were new to us. We'd never been on them before, by ourselves, our hands gripping the handlebars whose rainbow streamers fluttered in the wind. I felt the smallest drop of rain and ignored it. We wanted to keep riding, see how far we could go before we couldn't go anymore. The rain fell harder, but it was warm against our skin. A summer rain that didn't leave a chill. Soon, it was pouring. We didn't think about our tires skidding, our hair and clothes getting soaked, our parents probably wondering where we were, we only thought about going farther, never turning back around.

I think that's what I love about biking, it makes the streets you walk and drive on every day seem new. You can always go a little bit farther and see what else there is to see.

And, there's no disclaimer here. I firmly advocate biking in the rain.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blogiversary! And a giveaway...sorta...

So, I realized this week that today...January 5th, 2010... is my one year anniversary of blogging!

I would give you some stats for the year but soon realized that would be futile. I didn't post as much as I would have liked to (97X). I don't have many 'official' followers (A whopping 2! lol.) I don't have many google feed subscribers (10) but I've had an impressive sounding amount of visitors (1,097).

The most searched terms for my blog are:

1. "harry potter naked"
2. "te quiero barcelona"

So, I apologize to all the screaming teen girls, perverts, and Spanish speaking people of the world...I'm pretty sure you didn't find what you were looking for.

I've learned a lot this year, by writing this blog and reading so many others' (my google reader is completely obnoxious). I found out that I love to blog and I wish that I could find a full-time job blogging (if you're hiring, please feel free to contact me! ;-) I also discovered that the blogging community is filled with incredible content and extraordinarily interesting and talented bloggers. I would start a list, but that's another post all-together. Look for it soon.

When I realized this anniversary was upon me, I immediately wanted to do a give-away. Because...well...why the heck not! Tyler and I brainstormed a bit and came up with a few amazing prizes:

1. A ROUND TRIP TICKET!! (on the MTA from Brooklyn to Manhattan)
2. A moleskin notebook! (with my notes already in it)
3. Home-made ice cream! (Sent by post)

I soon realized, there wasn't much I could give away. You've seen the stats. This blog isn't exactly pulling in the big bucks. I don't have any sponsors. Shocking, I know. I could give you something out of the kindness of my heart, but let's face it, my heart is kind, but my pockets are not I'd give you a crap-load of free toys (ask me about my day job offline some time :-) but I would promptly get fired. Nobody wants that...

So, I really thought about it. What could I give my loyal followers? All 1,097 of you. (So...half of you wanted to see Harry Potter naked. But that's my favorite stat, ok?)

It surprised me that I didn't think of it sooner. After all, it's what this blog is about.

Without further adieu...

An excerpt from 'He Who Shall Not Be Named' work in progress...(A prize will be given if you can find a name for this damn book)

My main character, Elisabeth, and her new friend, Dallas, are on a swing set. At night.

"What about this run-away sister of yours? How’d she get out of going to Northfield?”

“She’s developmentally disabled,” I knew no other way to say it, so I threw out the politically correct term.

“How’d she get to be that way?” he asked.

I realized that very few people asked it like that. It was always what was wrong with her. Or why she was like that. Never how. Which was, of course, the one question I didn’t want to answer. Had never wanted to.

“I guess that’s just the way she is,” I lied.

“So what exactly is wrong with her?” he urged.

“It’s unfair to say there’s something wrong with her,” I said defensively.

Ok. Then what’s right with her?” He offered.

“It’s not as simple as that.”

“I’m sure it’s not. I was just kind of curious.” He was so sincere.

“She just…doesn’t connect with people,” I started pumping my legs harder again, pulling back severely on the chains so that we quickly fell out of sync, “I don’t know how else to say it.”

“Not even with you?”

I considered this, “No.”

“How can that be?”

“You ask it like there’s some kind of answer. If I knew…if people knew, they would fix it.”

“Maybe it’s not meant to be fixed,” he said simply.

I grew frustrated, “You asked me what was wrong with her. When you ask things like that, it assumes that’s something that needs to be set right. I don’t want to make those kind of judgments. I can’t.”

I wanted to concentrate solely on the task at hand, trying to get higher and higher in my swing. In my peripheral vision I saw Dallas’ sneakers as they reached up into the air.

My sincere thanks for reading this blog. I hope someday you get to read this book. :-)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bring the Past to the Present

For the longest time, I had one character that was particularly gnawing at me. I only discussed him in flashback and I knew he needed to be brought to the present. Too many memories were holding my novel back, making it feel static, distancing it from the urgency of 'now'. Taking him to the present in the edit has made all the difference and I now realize how someone can very easily transfer from past to present- a feat I thought was near impossible.

If someone is holding your main character back in the past, they can easily do the same in the present. If there's a reason to remember them then, then there's a reason to know them now. This was very eye opening for me. I have now taken all of my flashbacks and made them part of the action. It moves my novel forward at a better, more lively pace.

Given that I am learning so much about the writing and editing processes right now, I feel hesitant to give out advice. But, this was an incredibly useful discovery for me. When we're writing, we know what's important, even characters who we think belong in a memory. Don't get me wrong, there's a place for flashback. It's a powerful tool and sometimes it works within a structure. It just didn't work for me.

So, if you feel something is lagging, if a character or a place is very insistent in your story's past, maybe they belong in the here and now. Try it. You can always hit the 'undo' button and put them back where they belong.