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...


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


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

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


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.