Sunday, February 27, 2011


On Saturday, Tyler and I took a trip out to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. As we walked east, up the slope, I realized that I've felt trapped these past few months, commuting back and forth from Carroll Gardens to Chelsea. Back and forth. Up and down. The same few streets, the same insides of the subway car, the glow of the computer screen, escaping work only to find that the sun has already dropped in the sky, wondering where the time, the day, has gone.

Travelling to Sunset Park felt like freedom. In the spring, summer and fall that's the way we spend our weekends and evenings. Trolling around the city, exploring on our bikes or by foot, eating at food vendors, paying 50 cents for the Coney Island museum and taking part in all the strange activities a city like New York can offer.

As we walked up the slope, we saw the string of bodegas, discount shops, and dollar stores, heard the loud Latin beats, watched a little boy ride his skateboard head first as he soared down the sidewalk on his stomach, while his Grandfather shouted and cheered, speaking frantically in Spanish.

But as we continued on, only one avenue away, the neighborhood transformed. Everyone walked with purpose, carrying dozens of orange plastic bags and there were groceries and markets spilling out into the streets, the forceful, jerky, often startling speech of Mandarin as we made our way through to Pacificana, a Dim Sum restaurant in the middle of Chinatown, Brooklyn.

For a brief moment, we found ourselves having to travel the wrong direction on the subway (due to construction), edging out farther, farther on the island than we wanted to, into Bay Ridge, listening to the Russian women gossip in their soft woolen coats, until we turned back around and found a new course back.

I marvelled at the change. How we shifted through cultures and rediscovered our own traditions. Because that is what we do when we're not bundled and clothed, our feet aching in rubber boots, our chins scratchy against the the woolen scarves. We explore. And I've missed that, trapped as we've been in the dark days of winter.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Filming the Hole

My. Brain. Hurts.

I literally googled 'blog post ideas' because I'm completely tapped out. It didn't lead me to anything useful.

I remember one of my screenwriting professors once told our class that if there's a hole on the set, film the hole. So this is my attempt at that. Basically, it means that sometimes the funk, the bunk, the mishaps and mistakes, they are the things that make the art, so it's best to admit your shortcomings and see what happens, before you try to cover it up.

I did that once. In my writing. I'll tell you about it.

I once wrote a cheesy scene. I'm not really one for writing cheese. I prefer the depressing reality of things. Give me war torn villages, cancer with a capitol C, suicides and murders, unrequited love. Anything that allows me to say This is the way things really are, when, in fact, they're probably not... While I can get past the cheese in novels and films and television shows, and musicals, musicals, musicals, I love me some big ensemble happy clappy tappy numbers, it's not what I tend to focus on in my writing.

But a cheesy plot twist found it's way into my writing (I'm sure there have been many throughout the years) and, when I was finished, I wasn't sure what to do with it. I figured it would be best to throw it away. But a strange voice whispered: Film the hole. So I tried it. My main character basically looked at what just happened (1st person narrative, how I love thee) and said, all that stuff that just happened... That was cheesy. That was Hollywood. And, to tell you the truth, it worked out well. It said a lot about who she was and the way she observed life and highlighting that was one of the best things I could have done.

I don't think you should consistently make excuses for mistakes in your work, or put a spotlight on the things that aren't working, but I urge you to experiment with this idea a little. See where it takes you.

I had no blog post and I admitted I didn't and now I do. So there's proof in the puddin'. ;-)

What do you think about filming the hole?

Monday, February 21, 2011


Today I'm going to tell you something I don't like about writing.


I did not decide to sit down and take on this crazy thing called writing so that I could figure out silly, stupid, little things like logistics. If Person A can't know where Person B is between the hours of 12:00AM and 12:15AM but Person A needs to get information from Person C and Person C can't ever leave Person B's side or the entire book falls apart, which train gets to the station first?

I found myself caught in a serious maze of logistics the other day. And I hit each dead end, panting, pulling my hair out, kicking at the walls. It's amazing that you can create a world and lock yourself out of it before you realize that you had the key all along. But it happens. More often than I would like. And it's mind numbing. It's not what I signed up for. (Where exactly is the sign up sheet, actually? I'd like to know.)

But, there I am. There I'll be. Sitting in Chapter 3, crawling around in the dark, trying to figure out how to get a character from Point A to Point B when I cut down all communication and transportation systems in Chapter 2 (figuratively of course.)

I sit there looking at the pages and the words and I want to say: "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! I own you!" But, of course, I know that's not entirely true...


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

On Tuesday, I went to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. This is an annual tradition for me and Tyler. It began 3 years ago, when the ever charismatic Uno became the first beagle to win best in show. He howled and crooned, wagging his little tail as if to say, "Look at me! Look at me!" And we watched as he enjoyed his Peter Luger steak the following morning on The Today Show. We marvelled that a 20 pound beagle had beat two foodies like us to the famous steakhouse.

The following year, it was Stump that won our hearts. At ten years old, ready for retirement, he took one last chance at greatness and aren't we all glad he did? He became the oldest dog ever to win the prize. We cheered and cheered as he waddled up and down the arena, his little legs trying to keep up with his handler, his long brown coat, skirting the floor like a shimmering mop.

I don't know what it is about this spectacle but I take great pleasure in watching these creatures prance around as if they own the place. They are most certainly too cool for school. And I love them for it, as they stand around, getting poked and prodded by the groomer, looking utterly bored with the whole ordeal.

We found them in the benching area late last night, behind the scenes, long after the curtain closed. Well, we can't all be winners. But it must have been a long, hard day of looking pretty.

At least Misty had personalized M&M's for the humans to perk up a little. Thank you, Misty.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dream A Little Dream

All right people, I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I had to relay this dream I had the other night. Think of it as a public service announcement to all those querying.

In the dream, I had received an e-mail rejection for the novel I am currently writing. Which is only 17K in a first draft and is obviously no where near the query stage.

Anyhow, this is what the rejection (in the dream) said:

Dear Melissa:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your manuscript. Unfortunately, I am going to have to pass on the novel.

I actually enjoyed the read very much and considered offering representation. But when I got to the last page, there was urine on it. I find the fact that you peed on your manuscript very unsettling and I just couldn't get past it.

Thank you,

[Real Agent's Name]

So there you have it folks. Whatever happens, resist the urge to urinate on your novel and send it out. It will only lead to heartache. Now you know.

Ever have any weird dreams about your writing? Or peeing?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Demand

Last week, I went to one of my favorite independent bookstores in Manhattan: McNally Jackson. If you find yourself in the city, I recommend checking it out. You won't be disappointed. I hadn't been there in a while and I was surprised to see this little contraption:

The Espresso Book Machine

Of course, my first thought was: what the heck is that? After reading the explanation, I immediately took a picture to show all of you.

This gleaming hunk of technology can print books, nearly any book, while you wait. The EBM will be able to find you any millions of books available from the public domain or provided by publishers. The best and dearest books you've never been able to hold before can be yours in minutes. And, dear scribbler, the Espresso Book Machine can print your own book by the copy or by the dozen. The EBM is live and ready. Simply ask a bookseller for help to get started printing your own book.

And, some samples:

Well, there you have it. A bookstore that embraces self publishing. And, in many ways, takes a leap of faith. That you might still want to hold a physical book in your hands. Do you?

UPDATE: Several of you have asked how much it is to print your book. Click here for details. It looks like it is determined by length.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Pages Underground

I was standing in a crowded subway car and in every direction I turned, I saw this. There are people that say we are reading less, that the magazine, the newspaper, the book...they are all dying. I don't see it here. I never do.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Bookstore

Since trying to get published, going to the bookstore is a very different experience for me. It's no longer a place for wandering around in ignorant bliss, breathing in the smell of books, stumbling upon a diamond in the rough. I have no time for this. The book store is research. The book store is serious frickin' business.

Do not get in my way. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. I am off to the new fiction table and you will not stop me.

Here's how it goes down. I begin by touching every single book on the table. I try to determine what genre the book is just by looking at the cover. I laugh haughtily because I'm right about 95% of the time. My research so far has shown that women's fiction titles depict a woman on the cover in 1 of 3 positions:

1. facing forward, her face like a blurry Monet.
2. in shadowy profile
3. with her back to you and one loose strand of hair caressing her bare neck

There is often a bird somewhere on the cover, pecking at something. I urge you to try this. Once you start analyzing, you will very quickly see what's what. You will be able to walk into any bookstore and find the exact genre you want after only a 1 second scan. Unless, ya know, you're sane and you want to actually enjoy yourself in the bookstore, then I don't encourage you to do this.

Then, I read the back cover. At this point, 1 of 2 things happen. I begin to sulk as I determine that the book is absolute crap and that the future of publishing is going down the toilet and I'll never get published if this is the rubbish the book world wants. Or, more often, I begin to sulk that there are so many wonderful writers with unique and brilliant ideas and I'll never get published if this is the quality of fiction that is out there.

If I'm intrigued by the back cover, I read the first paragraph. At this point, I begin to sulk that are so many wonderful writers with brilliant prose and I'll never get published if this is the quality of prose that is out there.

If the book is similar in any possible way to the genre, topic, or writing style of my own projects, I quickly skip to the acknowledgements section of the book. I pull the Android out of the messenger bag and begin to type their agent's name in the notes app on my phone. Random/Useful fact: A lot of times, that agent is already in the notes for a previous entry. It's nice to make that connection.

Once I've successfully done this to every book, I stand at the table, stare off into space, and make a serious mental list of all of the reasons those books have been published and mine have not (it's a sick, sick game, I tell you). Usually, I'll set aside about 4 books I want to buy and then purchase 3 of them. (Because 4 is just too many. I mean, seriously.) Without fail, I will refuse the Barnes & Noble members card, because it's just not worth it. There is no chance, absolutely none, zilch, zero, that I'll ever buy a book again. Right? ;-)

Then, with the whole ordeal behind me, I go to the young adult section and do it all over again.

Ya know what's even crazier? I LOVE IT. I love every single second of it. I don't miss the aimless wander. I don't miss getting lost amidst the stacks (that's what old libraries and used book shops are for.) I have a purpose. A goal. To see my book with all of those books. And if I want to be there, I have to know it better than anywhere else.

I've highlighted all of the sulking and self-pity that goes on as I analyze each book. But it never gets me down. In fact, it's just the opposite. An adrenaline rush like you wouldn't believe. The book store is where it's all happening. Where books are going out into the world.

How do you shop at the bookstore?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Being A Part Of The Group

I've been thinking a bit about the groups lately. Not necessarily a group of friends, just the groups we find ourselves in (or outside of) throughout our lives. I wrote about my history as a singer, in which I rejected being labelled as one and never felt a part of my school chorus during the ten years I was in the group. I blended into the background, almost as if I were trying to remain unseen and unheard. As if I was afraid of becoming too much a part of something larger. It was something I did a lot growing up. Something I still do now.

I've always seen groups as a threat to my independence. In high school, I was obsessed with musical theater, but I never fell into the drama club crew, which I always saw as an incestuous group, all of them dating one another, rotating through boyfriends and girlfriends, singing together in the hallways and wearing the same clothes. In college, it was the same. I saw every play the school produced, I reviewed theater for the university paper, I took playwriting courses and classes that analyzed dramatic works but I never made a friend in that clique. If someone came into class crying that their lighting designer had quit the day of opening night, I'd casually shrug and fill in. I would step into their group for only a moment and quickly fall out of step as soon as I could.

In my professional life, I have, for reasons, I'm trying to figure out, always chosen a path that veered a little off course with what everyone else was doing. While getting my M.F.A. in screenwriting, everyone was focused on writing Hollywood blockbusters or independent tear-jerkers for film, so I immediately threw myself into writing for television. In my first job out of school, I worked with social workers and teachers in a classroom for kids with disabilities. I was the only one who had no intention of going into that field. Then I worked in a company of only 15 people. 13 of them were animators and designers. I was 1 of only 2 who wrote and produced. Now, working in the toy industry, I do what no one else on my team understands, and I watch as they all talk industrial design and cost analysis, then look at me skeptically when I tell them it will take me 2 weeks to write the script.

It has occurred to me that I've spent most of my life on the outskirts of a group, observing it, but never fully joining in. My mother has always said, leave it to Melissa to do it differently. I was and, perhaps still am, afraid of being the same as everyone else.

I wonder about that fear. It's a strange one. It means I've never actually been a part of a real group. But now, as I join writing workshops and classes and meet bloggers and writers, I think, this is the group I've been looking for all of my life. It's the only group of people I want to be just like. Only took me 30 years. (Don't worry, I won't copy your wardrobe and date your boyfriend behind your back.)

How about you? Have you been a part of a lot of groups throughout your life? Have you felt truly a part of them?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Liberty

If you look closely, she is there in the distance. Between footprints and islands and branches, carving out a path for the sun.