Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Being In Summer

I saw this woman at the beach on Sunday and I understood. Sometimes you can not put a book down. Sometimes you want to be in too many places at once.

This summer has been so busy and, until Sunday, I had not been able to get to the beach. So I found, in between endless appointments and projects and obligations, one hour this weekend. I forced myself out of bed much earlier than usual (I am not a morning person) and went out to this beach on Long Island, just a twenty minute drive from my parents house, where I was staying for the weekend. I wanted to sit in the sun and read for hours. I wanted to be in the water for as long as I could.

But I only had one hour.

It was enough to remind me of the silence I do not get to hear. How refreshing cool waters can be when I am not racing across hot pavement to my next destination. I remembered summer in a way I hadn't in a while: as a time to sit. And be.

Are you finding time this summer to really be in summer?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rita Williams-Garcia

Last night, I had the great fortune to meet Rita Williams-Garcia whose book One Crazy Summer has been named a Coretta Scott King Award Winner and a Newbery Honor Book. The book also won the Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction and it was a National Book Award many accolades that you can barely see the title of the book because these awards are plastered all over the cover.

I really enjoyed Ms. Williams-Garcia's talk. We all sat in Dylan's Candy bar, with it's cotton-candy drinks, it's red-and white striped chairs, easter-egg pastel tables that look like carousels, and even admist all of this color, she stood out like a bright star. She shared stories about her childhood, how, at just 12 years old, she sent out stories and received rejections that made her happy as a clam. Doesn't she know she's been rejected? her family would wonder, but all she could think was, Wow! Someone read my story and wrote me a letter! (Perhaps we can all take lessons from 12 year old Rita...)

She's been writing for 25 years without an agent, working with the very same editor she sold her first book to and, until just recently, worked a full-time job. She originally began writing for young people because in college she worked with the kinds of kids she called: women-girls. These young adults who had more adult experiences than she had.

She talked about pitching hard books like middle grade books that tackle subjects like genital mutilation and about making difficult choices that limit your market and your readership. In the end, she always has to ask herself, what is the big thing I want to get across? What can I sacrifice, if anything at all?

Her excitement was infectious, the rhythm of her speech frenetic and thoughtful at the same time. When I told her that she seemed so bright and full of energy, she just said, It took me 40 years to get here. I am happy.

She reminded me that there is joy in writing and in sharing your work with others. That we can push ourselves to take on hard topics and bring them to children who read these kind of books, breathe a sigh of relief, and say: I am not the only one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nothing to Say

I keep opening blogger and staring blankly at the screen. I have nothing to say, I think. And then I immediately launch into sung dialogue from Sunday In The Park With George, trying to imitate Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, which is really hard for one person to do because their lines overlap one another as they sing:

George: I've nothing to say

Dot: You have many things

George: Well, nothing that's not been said

Dot: Said by you though, George

George: I do not know where to go

Dot: Nor did I

George: I want to make things that count. Things that will be new

Dot: I did what I had to do

George: What am I to do?

This happened about three times before I realized I better just give you this song.

That's all I've got, friends. What do you have to say?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Some Kind of 'End'

Somehow, in the midst of this heat that won't break, after climbing hills of resistance in spin class because there is no way to bike in this wet blanket weather and stuffing myself with spicy gazpacho which seems to be the only thing we can eat in this summer fire, I finished the first draft of my WIP.

Of course, it needs work. This is only the beginning. But, somehow, there are 72,000 words and I don't know where they came from. I just feel grateful they are there. And I feel like it is some kind of end, even if it is not quite the end.

Since Tyler is sound asleep and I don't think the people in our little brownstone building would appreciate me banging on their doors to tell them the news, you, my friends, are the first to know.

And now I sleep.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Place To Sit

I recently joined the community garden just across the street from my apartment. It is called The Amazing Garden and it is, indeed, amazing. It has many places to sit and raised flower and vegetable beds. It even has four barbecue grills.

I have lived in New York City since March of 2005, which puts me at seven years in this town. Perhaps I am considered a 'real New Yorker' even if the requirements for garnering this title are unclear (I've heard as little as five years and as many as fifteen.) In all seven years, I have never had an outdoor space, a little patch of land, even a terrace to sit on.

It is one of the things I like least about living here. Being outside is what I crave most. Ever since I was a little girl. I finished my homework as quickly as possible so I could barrel down the front steps and call on my friends. And in the summers, I played outside until the sun dropped in the sky.

Even now, I try to spend as much time as I can outdoors, riding my bicycle, browsing farmers markets, sitting in parks and at rooftop bars, walking along piers. But it is not something I can do with ease. It is not as simple as stepping outside and sitting down with a good book.

The Amazing Garden will, hopefully, eliminate the problem. I can, quite literally, step outside and have a place to sit within seconds, without having to pack up my bike and find uncharted territory in New York City's overcrowded parks. And the grills...oh the grills! We already had a small barbecue for Tyler's birthday on Sunday.

Someday I hope to look out at acres and acres of land that are all mine. I could live in the tiniest shelter imaginable. I've already survived years of unimaginably small quarters in New York. But, I dream that I will have grass and trees and hills.

Right now, I have a place to sit. It is a start.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Writing, Research, A Projection That Inspires

I took this photo Saturday night from my phone, trying to capture a moment that reminded me of my current work in progress, Rabbit Island. The film is China Seas, starring Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. I didn't see it, but it was projected against a white brick building in our community garden, just across the street from our apartment.

I have two characters with a passion for old film stars. One who wants to live her real life with the same emotional intensity and intrigue of certain Hollywood actresses. Another, who is so wrapped up in the glamour of these old films, she is unable to cope with reality.

Now that I am nearing the end of the first draft-- I feel like I've been saying this forever, but really, truly, this is the end. This week. I swear-- I find myself in the wonderful position of having to do research on a topic I am passionate about: movie musicals!

I will be reading biographies about two Hollywood film stars I am most interested in: Audrey Hepburn and Judy Garland. And catching up on as many movie musicals as I can. First on deck: A Star Is Born.

I have not always been put in good research positions after working on a project. There was this whole camping situation once and then this guy who made beer for a living. Don't get me wrong, I like nature. I like beer. But I did not find the research as interesting as I had hoped.

But movie musicals? This is a Melissa dream come true.

Are you a research person? Writers, do your characters put you in awkward research positions?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trick or Treat

I hope you are enjoying my walk down memory lane when it comes to Harry Potter.

What I've realized is that reading the books and seeing the films have become a larger experience than just sitting in a room reading a book. I have never felt this about any other book or series I've read: this shared anticipation for each book or film to release, such widespread passion for specific characters and their stories. It goes beyond the page.

So, my last Potter memory:

During my final year of college I attended a Halloween party and dressed up as Harry. My friend Katie suggested we go trick-or-treating. It was a ridiculous idea. I had just turned twenty-one years old. I was a senior at a university, on my way to the workplace or to graduate school, to become an adult. I probably had not been trick or treating since I was fourteen.

But I was lucky. I looked very young. Katie did too. This has not always benefited me in my professional and private life. It is hard to be taken seriously when you look like a child. But in that particular situation looking young was an advantage. So we decided to test it. We went trick-or-treating as college seniors. We nodded when people asked us if we went to the local high school, I showed off my Harry costume to a bunch of impressed six year olds, and we got bags and bags of candy. It is one of my fondest memories of college: the day I got to act like a kid.

That's another thing I love about the Harry Potter experience. There's a kind of innocence about the whole craze. A bunch of people who are just excited. About a boy wizard. About a good book.

In anticipation of the release of The Deathly Hallows Part II, check out some other bloggers talking about Potter this week:

Lisa Galek
Jennifer Daiker
Abby Minard
Michael Di Gesu
Laurel Garver
Renae Mercado
Colene Murphy

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Night I Bought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I was in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at Down South, a music venue whose cavernous basement looks like a military bunker. My friend Bert, better known as Bob Foxx, was spinning his tunes in the shadows. And I remember creating a spectacle when I tripped on a bar stool and sent it crashing to the cement floor. Everyone thought I was drunk but, in actuality, I was just clumsy, ungraceful.

As midnight approached, I sat next to a girl I didn't know, a friend of Bert's sister. A few beers had left me buzzed and I'm not sure why I turned to her, but I did, I don't know when I'm going to get my Harry Potter book.

She clasped her hand to an open mouth, Holy s***, that's tonight.

I nodded and she looked at her watch, rose up from her seat, Well, come on. We've got to go get one. As if there were no other choice, as if, obviously, this was what we must do.

We left the bar abruptly and came up to the street then looked around, frazzled, trying to figure out where to go. My new Potter companion thought she knew an independent bookstore in the neighborhood and we wandered until we found it, this charming shop, so tiny it looked as if all of the books were spilling out of it. Bookshelves stacked to the ceiling. Towers of books on sturdy wooden tables.

I looked for the kids, the costumes. All of the chain stores were boasting massive parties, expecting lines to curl around the block. But, we were the only ones at this particular shop. They gave us cookies and milk, handed us the heavy book, with it's orange flame cover.

And so we left, victorious, descended into the underground bar. Our adventure was just a little rest stop before we continued on with the night. I remember that we caused quite a stir, the two of us with our hefty books. People were amused, some jealous, Where'd you get that? they asked and when we told them, they went on their way, returning with the book tucked under their arm.

I will always remember how strange and perfect that experience was. The night I got the final Harry Potter book.

In anticipation of the release of The Deathly Hallows Part II, check out some other bloggers talking about Potter this week:

Lisa Galek
Jennifer Daiker
Abby Minard
Michael Di Gesu
Laurel Garver
Renae Mercado
Colene Murphy

Monday, July 11, 2011

It All Ends

I was walking on the Highline this past weekend, a boardwalk along the elevated train tracks on the west side of Manhattan. If there is anything New Yorkers crave it is space and the Highline demonstrates one of the most creative uses of space I've ever seen. The city took the abandoned tracks and turned it into a park. Long wooden planks form a path that spans 15 city blocks lined with runaway flowers and benches.

But, like many things in New York, it has become crowded. I mean, stupid crowded. We're talking stuck in foot traffic, walking at a snails pace, bodies crammed up against one another like Times Square kind of crowded. And so there goes this idea of space. It becomes something else, all of the people in the city stuck together, like we always are, competing for space on sidewalks and streets and subway cars.

At one point, I looked out, past the wildflowers to see this Harry Potter billboard: It All Ends 7.15. And I thought how epic that sounded, how apocalyptic, how catastrophic. I can't believe it, said the girl directly behind me, practically breathing down my neck. Harry Potter. It's all over.

And it does feel that way, doesn't it? This world phenomenon coming to some kind of end.

I remember reading the books for the very first time just outside of London, in my little dorm room on the campus of the University of Westminster. My room was roughly the size of the bathroom in my apartment now. My bed and my desk were about one foot apart from one another. And I had my very own miniscule bathroom where the shower head did not have a proper stall, it just poured down over my toilet and sink.

I sat in that room and read the first three books, each in one sitting, cover to cover. I read the fourth book in a tiny sleeping car on a train in Europe. I don't remember where I was going, only that I lay down with my head on my backpack, feet curled up on the seat, and I kept the overhead light on. At the time, I didn't know very many people who had read the books, except for my Dad (who, in a strange role reversal, introduced me to the books) and my friend Lynn. I would still wait for the release of three more books in the series. None of the movies had come out yet.

I remembered this as I walked on the Highline, listening to the girl behind me say that Daniel Radcliffe was too short to date. Her friend argued, But he's Harry Potter!

And I thought about the idea of space and how we occupy it. From a book in my little room or that tiny train car. To a giant billboard in one of the most crowded places in New York City.

In anticipation of the release of The Deathly Hallows Part II, check out some other bloggers talking about Potter this week:

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Glee Project

Since I use Fridays on the blog to discuss bizarre obsessions, I thought I'd highlight the latest and greatest: The Glee Project.

This is one of those reality competitions where a group of contestants battle to become the next best thing. In this case, one lucky teen will win a role on Glee. The contestants have to sing and dance and all that jazz to win the attention of casting directors, choreographers, and vocal directors. The final decision about who to auf each week comes down to the creator and head writer of Glee, Ryan Murphy.

In other words, folks, the writer HAS ALL THE POWER. Mwahahahahaha.

And that is the most fascinating aspect of the show. Of course, the contestants boast tremendous talent. The musical numbers, which they turn into clever music videos, Glee style, are brillilant. And it's fun to watch the behind-the-scenes casting decisions. But, in the end, the show is not just about finding a new talent, it is, at the most basic level, about creating a new character.

Because each of the contestants, singing and dancing their hearts out each week, have to inspire Ryan Murphy to write a story. They have to become someone that audiences must care about and tune in to watch week after week. It's totally mind-bending, when you think of it this way, these contestants have to ask themselves: How do I become a person with a story? How do I tell a story by being me?

At the end of each episode, they take the three 'weakest' contestants and make them perform a solo. I'm always fascinated by the songs they choose. One week, they chose 'Big Spender' from the musical Sweet Charity for a very innocent looking young girl, who was about 18 years old but looked much younger. The song has always been sung as a kind of striptease and the creators wanted to see what she would do with it.

In the end, she sang it, as it's always been done, like a striptease, trying to be something she was not. I became tremendously disappointed. When I saw this rosy-cheeked, freckled young girl and thought about the words of the song, I did not envision a seductive song from a chorus girl. I saw what it could have been had a different character sang it. A very sad song about an intelligent, thoughtful girl who meets a boy who is out of her league, who does not pay her any attention, who does not see her as she wants to be seen.

The minute you walked in the joint
I could see you were a man of distinction
A real big spender
Good looking, so refined.
Say, wouldn't you like to know
What's going on in my mind?
So, let me get right to the point
I don't pop my cork for ev'ry guy I see.
Hey, big spender
Spend a little time with me

It's right there in the lyrics but it's amazing what kind of story a new character can inspire in the words of a song I thought I knew. I like this show for that, for being about characters and what they can inspire.

Has anyone seen this show?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: The Standoff

I took this photo at the Magnolia Gardens outside of Charleston. I'm not sure whose turf this is. Who doesn't belong. Sitting together, staring one another down, neither retreated. They made my day.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Mighty Gowanus

Tyler and I roamed around an empty city this weekend. We biked and ate and lay on the grass. We saw Super 8 (I don't recommend it), sang karaoke with friends (it seems that The Carpenters should be my karaoke artist of choice) and cooked delicious treats from the farmer's market and our CSA (skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, roasted beats, & braised kale with beet greens.)

But exploring the Gowanus Canal was the highlight of the weekend. We took a canoe out there and paddled around. It was, perhaps, one of the strangest activities we've participated in around these parts. In the past, I've held my nose and biked or walked over the canal but never before been in it, really in it, until Saturday.

It should be noted that canoeing the Gowanus Canal is not like taking a boat out onto the beautiful blue bayou.

The canal is, and this is the best way I can put it, if not the most eloquent, a disgusting mess. Years of commercial shipping and an extremely flawed design that did not allow for proper water flow have left its murky waters polluted and environmentally unsound. After much controversy between the city and the EPA, it was named a Superfund site in 2010, for better or for worse. We can only hope for better.

So, we went canoeing in it. Because, sometimes, the ugliest or most neglected of places are the places that need to be seen.

Thank you to the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club for standing outside in the heat, for keeping the boat sturdy when we stepped into waters we could not touch, for telling me about the flowers native to the Gowanus, and, most importantly, for teaching environmental awareness in such a unique way.

How did you spend the weekend?