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


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.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Books for Writers! Sophie's Choice by William Styron

There is so much I want to say about Sophie's Choice. I decided to read it for very bizarre reasons. I knew the book had been made into a film and people usually expressed that it was very tearful. I knew that it took place in Brooklyn, not very far from where I currently live.
That was all.

Turns out I was in for an absolutely heartbreaking read, that is so beyond 'tearful' and 'takes place in Brooklyn' you have no idea. You 'witness' pure evil in this book and sometimes that's hard to take. While I was reading it, people would look at the cover and raise their eyebrows. "Sophie's Choice, heh?" As if to say, why don't you take the prozac now before it's too late?

If you have not read this book or seen the film (I still have not seen it), I will say that there are moments that will make you laugh. And I did not want to curl up and die after reading it. So I don't want to get all melodramatic and make you think you're in for a story that will leave you pale and sickly with no desire to live. That being said, it will break your heart many times and you'll probably never be able to mend it. How's that for being melodramatic?

In any case, if you like to write, read, or you're just a human being walking the earth, you should read it. It's a pretty epic tale. I was in awe of the beautiful language and the sheer craftsmanship it takes to weave a story like this.

Without giving much away, Stingo, a young writer, lives in a Brooklyn apartment and meets two lovers, Sophie and Nathan, who live above him. The two have an incredibly tumultuous relationship and Stingo gets wrapped up in it. And then he learns about Sophie's tragic past in Nazi-occupied Poland. So it weaves through quite a history. It seamlessly switches tenses and effortlessly sneaks through past and present. I often do not like non-linear stories and, yet, I held on to this one for dear life. It is told as you often hear a person's past unveil itself, through bits and pieces, through lies and truths, over many days, weeks, and years. It builds until you can't take it anymore. The suspense is mystifying. (Yes, I said mystifying. Forgive me, I'm in a blind haze.) It does get the honor of 'masterpiece', so no lies in this blog post. Writers, get thee to a library and say a prayer that you learn through osmosis.

Has anyone read this book?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pimping Myself Out

I've been thinking a lot about blogging lately. I can not tell you how much it means to me that people read my blog. Every time I get a comment or a follower, I squeal. No really. It's particularly embarrassing in the office. I love the blogs I read and I love the friends I've met through this community.

But, lately, I've been reading a lot about building a platform and building an audience. About getting a facebook fan page. And a twitter account. About getting known 'before the agent', 'before the book deal', 'before the book release'. I've been told what I should be doing. I should be posting every day. I should be commenting on blogs. I should participate in forums. I should join writing communities. I should discover what I have to offer readers, what I have to share that makes me different, makes me unique. I should be offering to guest post. I should be holding contests. All of these things will help me gain loyal followers and readers that will forever be my audience.

So, I've dutifully been thinking about all of these things. And, I've got to tell you, as my mother would say when I was a kid, "Geeze, Melissa, you're giving me a splitting headache." I just don't have the time to commit to all of these tasks! Yesterday, I actually told Tyler, "Do you know that if I spend just 15 min. a day on twitter, I inevitably get at least 2-3 more followers?" And then I stepped back and thought. No no no. This is not why I do this.

Honestly, there are million bloggers out there. They have a lot to offer. They've got writing advice. And publishing advice. And blogging advice. They've got friends in high places. They've got agents. And book deals. And there's nothing I can give you that all of these capable bloggers can't.

The only thing I can really offer you is me. So, that's my 'strategy'. I'm going to write this blog. And I'm going to read your blog. Because that's what I love about blogging.

Reading blogs.

And writing my blog.

After all of this soul-searching and figuring out how to use my time wisely and blog the best that I can, all I can say is that I hope me is enough. 'Cause that's the only thing I can really give you that you can't get anywhere else.

Yes, I realize in another context, these words could potentially be illegal. *hugs*

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday Books for Writers! Real Life & Liars by Kristina Riggle

I read Kristina Riggle's Real Life & Liars over labor day weekend. After biking from Brooklyn to Piermont and back again, I couldn't wait to get off of my bike each time and get back into this book. It's been a while since I've had an 'I absolutely CAN NOT put down this book' moment. It had also been quite a while since I've read a book that was similar in tone and style to my own works in progress. I'm not flattering myself. Obviously, this book and its author are miles and miles away from where I currently tread. But it felt like literary fiction. It wasn't overly melodramatic. There were no Jimmy Choo's involved. And, yet, it was written for a female audience. I guess it's what people are calling 'upmarket' women's fiction, a niche I have, for selfish reasons, been all to eager to find.

But I digress...

This book is essentially a family saga. It takes place over two intense days. Mirabelle Zielinksi is about to celebrate thirty years of marriage, while she harbors a terrible secret about her medical health and her three children deal with crises of their own. Which, of course, all come to head at the much anticipated anniversary party.

I think that part of the reason I adored this book is because it reads like a play. For the most part, the characters don't navigate very far. And most of the action takes place through dialogue. I'll sit and watch a play like this any day.

The rest of the action takes place through a lot of internal voice. And the reason I think writers should read this book is because Mirabelle and all three children each have a voice in this book. Did you catch that? Four points of view. That's four points of view. Did. you. catch. that.

My mouth nearly fell open with how well it was executed. I would tremble in fear, probably curl up on the floor and cry while trying to write four multiple points of view. It seems to me Riggle took it all in stride and probably went to get a pedicure instead. At least, that's how effortless it looked. Very impressive. I hope you'll read it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where I'm At

It seems like lately I've been telling random stories on this blog and haven't really delved into the heart of things. Ya know, this 'writer's journey'...

But it occurred to me that some of you may be curious.

I was at a local restaurant when there was a very strange incident. We were sitting down to dinner and something came hurling through the open window. Tyler was whacked square in the back by a full Poland Spring water bottle. He was not hurt in any way. But as soon as it happened, two people in the restaurant took off running after the kids who had thrown it. One of them returned, out of breath, and said he couldn't catch them. The other guy, the waiter, came back, called the police, and offered Tyler a free glass of wine. The whole thing was utterly ridiculous.

Why am I telling you this story?

This incident led me to my current work in progress. Working title: Here Now. The main character came to me after the incident. And the story has absolutely nothing to do with getting hit by a water bottle in a restaurant. It just alerted me that things can happen in an instant. And they can be over so quickly, it's like they never happened in the first place. And therein lies a story.

So that's where I am at.

If you're working on a creative project, what are you working on? What inspired the idea?

If not, I don't want you to feel left out. Can you answer me something? If you could only eat one kind of cheese for the rest of your life, what would it be? Sharp white cheddar for me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I need a bookmark

Last week I was at the book shop purchasing "real life & liars" by Kristina Riggle (more on this book soon) when I overheard a wonderful conversation.

A little girl in a marvelous pink sundress, funky braids sticking out every which way on her head, pointed stubbornly at a display of bookmarks and said, "Daddy, I NEED a bookmark."

If she, by some remote chance, was actually old enough to read, she most certainly did not read books that required a bookmark, but her mature little stance, hands on her hips, as she made her declaration was perfectly remarkable. I nearly scooped up this child and carried her home with me. Heck, I would have lured her with candy and bookmarks right out the door.

Her Dad was much more practical, of course, and he said, "Do you need it? Or do you want it? There's a difference."

And, I have to tell you, this girl did not proceed to jump right in and start defending herself as children often do. Instead, she really thought about this. I mean, seriously considered this. She truly took her time. Eventually, she sighed, and said with confidence, "I don't need it. I just want it."

I nearly offered to buy this precious child 100 bookmarks of her choosing. She was just too much.

But, she made me think a lot about the things we need. I'm not sure how often we step back and ask ourselves: Do you need it? Or want it?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Statue

My friend Taryn was chatting about an experiment she had heard on the radio to study job satisfaction. You'll have to forgive me if I get some of the details wrong. I had a few glasses of wine before she told this story. ;-) The study was conducted using two groups. Each member of the first group was asked to construct a tiny statue out of a kit. And after each statue was completed they were given $1.

The other group was also asked to make the same statue using the same supplies. After each statue was completed they were given $5. But once they finished their statue, the organizer disassembled it and asked them to make it again. When they finished it, the organizer disassembled it and asked them to make it again. And when they finished it...well, you catch the trend?

The second group walked out on the job much quicker than the 1st group, even though they were making 5 times as much money.

This story really made me think. I actually don't consider this a metaphor for writing or editing or querying or critiquing or any of that. Yes, as aspiring writers, there's a lot of getting knocked down and picking yourself back up again. But, unless you have some really mean critique partners, people aren't exactly destroying what you've created.

It just occurred to me that not every creative outlet is like that. There are jobs in which creativity is often analyzed and revised and ripped apart until none of the original intent is left. So I actually found it lucky that, for now...and I don't exactly know yet how this might change... writing is a creative outlet in which everything I build is 100% mine. That makes me happy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I've been thinking a little bit about competition these days. I haven't really competed in anything seriously since high school when I participated in a variety of sports teams. And after high school, I no longer participated in those sports. I never became competitive about grades at the university or climbing the corporate ladder in the work place.

Even now, I participate in activities that challenge no one but myself. I bike, not to win races, but to prove to myself that I can climb a hill or go a distance I never thought I could. And I write stories only to prove to myself that I can.

As I thought about this, I noticed a trend. In a way, I'm always in a competition between the Melissa, last week, and the Melissa, this week. The Melissa, this week, wants to win. She wants to bike a little farther. To get up the hill a little faster. To write a better story than the last one. Everything is an inner competition that doesn't involve anyone else.

I wonder about that. Are you a competitive person? Do you compete with others? Or yourself?