Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Eat

So...I have a strange habit. I take a picture of almost everything I eat. I have no idea what compels me to do this. There are, literally, hundreds of photos on my phone. They sit there. They serve no purpose. I'll admit. It's a little weird.

So, I share them with you. In the hopes that you'll want to go to these places or make these dishes yourself.

Hurricane Irene Lasagna @ My Kitchen

Chicken Cacciatore Concoction @ My Kitchen

Linguine with Clam Sauce @ My Kitchen

Caprese Salad with basil from my fire escape garden @ My Kitchen

Caprese Salad with no mozzarella because I forgot to buy it @ My Kitchen

Blurry Spicy Pork Ramen @ Momofuku Noodle Bar

Connecticut Style Lobster Roll @ Red Hook Lobster Pound

Cherry Lime Rickey I only ordered because it sounds like something from a book @ Tom's Diner

Do you have any weird habits you'd like to share? This is a safe place.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Books for Writers! The Book Thief

Two things first.

1. In recent months Tuesday Books for Writers has been all but non-existent. The idea behind it: to better articulate why a book works...which, for me, is a difficult thing to do. I decided to give myself the challenge and have, more often than not, failed to get the posts up. So I have decided to retire the idea and talk about the books I read in another way.

2. Yes, I realize I am quite possibly the last person on earth to read Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.

Now this.

I read The Book Thief during Hurricane Irene. I curled up in it on the couch, then the bed. Back and forth. It is quite possibly the best book to get lost in during a hurricane. But it is not necessarily the best book to finish during a hurricane. Mainly because it is not a book you can easily leave behind. It's hard to look up from a book like this one and put yourself back inside the day.

I have never in my life sobbed so hard for a group of characters. I have shed tears over words and pages...but not like this. This was the kind of emotion I would only be able to sum up in cliches because it would be too exhausting to find the right way to say how it made me feel.

There are so many reasons a writer should read this book. I'm not smart enough to know all of them and list them here. But here is what I can tell you:

The world of this book is huge, all-encompassing. You are in it and you know it. You feel the streets. You know what it means to be there. A remarkable thing.

The words and the way they are strung together are beautiful. Even though so many of the words themselves are strange and ugly. I would never think to put them next to one another and, yet, when I saw them together I would think, there is no better way to say this. Even if there are a million ways to say it.

The characters are really wonderful (understatement of the year.) And you only need to read the book to understand. There's not much more I can say about that.

But there is one device in the book that is used over and over again. And it's the only thing I was able to define and pass along to you and think about using in my own work. (The rest, I could only hope to absorb through a powerful kind of osmosis.)

The Bomb Theory!

Which I learned about from Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Have you heard about it?

Two people sit at a table having a conversation and Boom! a bomb goes off. That's 15 seconds of surprise.

Two people sit at a table having a conversation and we, as viewers, see a ticking bomb underneath their table. And we wait. And we know what's going to happen. That's 15 minutes of suspense.

You know which method Hitchcock used.

As I read The Book Thief, I could think of no better example of how to effectively use the bomb theory in a book. It's hard for me to say it's a device because it sounds gimmicky and it is not used that way in this book. But almost every chapter begins and gives away the outcome of the scene. And we read, desperate to find out how the book gets to the place we already know it will get to. It's bold. It's risky. And it works in this book.

There is a lot more to say about this wonderful book but this is, at least, some kind of start that will have no end.

I do feel it is a good place to end Tuesday Books for Writers until I find a new way to talk about the books I read on this blog.

If you've read the book, please let me know your thoughts!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricanes and Other Thoughts

Along with so many others on the east coast, I spent the weekend with Hurricane Irene. We live just one short block away from the mandatory evacuation zone. And while I questioned whether there are such specific paths of destruction, whether devastation has such distinct borders, we decided to stay put and wait it out.

We bought flashlights, bottled water and other non-perishables. We stocked the wine fridge. I filled my bathtub with water because The Weather Channel said I should. The city emptied. Public transportation shut down. And we had no other choice but to stay put or rely on our feet to get us anywhere. We sat. We watched. We waited.

She came late on Saturday and we heard the wind, the rain. The windows shook. The branches and leaves slapped the windows. I heard sirens about every hour. In the darkness, I never knew what brought the authorities. And when I woke up...all was well.

The city hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. We were lucky to experience minimal damage. I know that others in the path of Irene are not so lucky. They are still without power. Trees have been uprooted. I know that people have lost their lives.

My parents are still sitting in the dark. I have family on Long Island who are wading through floods, who will have to repair their homes. But they are safe. They are okay.

When I was four years old, Hurricane Gloria came through Long Island. It was especially memorable for my family because a tree fell on our house. The whole side of the house was damaged but we were all fine.

When the storm had calmed my Dad took me outside, put me on my tricycle and set me down next to the massive fallen tree. He made me pose for a photograph, made me put my hand to my mouth as if I had knocked over the tree with my tricycle: Oops!

He thinks this is a funny story. He still tells it. He likes to think the picture made everyone laugh.

He always tells me things can be replaced. People can not. I always try to remember that.

I hope that everyone in the path of Irene is safe. My thoughts are with you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Taking Risks

When the weather cooperates, I ride my bike to work. I gather my things, my backpack bulging on my back, and I ride over the Manhattan bridge. The first moments of my morning are spent looking at the skyline of lower Manhattan. The Hudson River glistens underneath the sun. And you can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. I see it all again in the evening as the sun sets in the sky.

Lately, I haven't stopped to take it in. Because I am just trying to get where I need to go. And, the past few weeks, it seems that everyone is on edge. Even more so than usual. The traffic is maddening. Other bikers are not paying attention. Cars are whizzing past me like I am invisible. People are smacking their cab doors into my hand and I am left purple and bruised.

I am not a reckless biker. I follow the rules. I stop at lights. I use the bike lanes. I try my best. But it seems I'm not getting anywhere.

And I watch other bikers as they ride the wrong way down the streets, as they cut in front of cars, ring their bell through intersections where they don't have the right-of-way. Yes, it's dangerous. No, if I were them, I wouldn't test it.

But, you know what? They are getting somewhere.

As someone who has spent most of her life trying to do the right thing, I wonder about this. A lot.

How can you be seen and heard and still follow the rules? How do you get somewhere and still play it safe?

When I write, I think: here is a place to take risks. Here is a place to be reckless.

I don't know how many times I've asked myself why I write. There is no real answer, I'm sure. But I think that must be one of the reasons. And I hope I am taking enough risks there. I hope I can find other places in my life to take the right risks.

The Bad Blogger

I have to apologize because I've been neglecting this blog lately. Please know that I read all of your posts and follow your lives, your projects, your brilliant minds but these days I've been more of a passive participant in the blogging community due to lack of time.

Work has been very demanding. As many of you know, I write and produce content for toys. It's hard for me to talk about my job on this blog because there are a lot of restrictions to what I can and can not say (crazy, I know). Just know that when my development schedules slip (and would you look at them go? slip sliding away, she sings), the engineers get grumpy, the sales teams get frantic, the big chain stores yell 'where are my toys!' Everything explodes. And somewhere...a spoiled child cries. And that's the gist of each day.

My nights are far more exciting as I frantically edit my work in progress, Rabbit Island. Goals of finishing the first edit by next Wednesday are just out of reach. I stay up as late as I can but there is a point when exhaustion takes over.

And that’s when the travel comes in. I will be leaving for far-off lands (Georgia…Alabama) next Wednesday for the holiday weekend in the states.

All this to say: I’ve been a bad blogger. I’ll try to be better.

Part of that effort: I joined Rachael Harrie’s Third Writer’s Platform-Building Campaign. Will you participate with me?

And tell me, how have you been spending the final days of summer?

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Trip to the North Fork

Yesterday, Tyler and I left the city to visit the North Fork of Long Island. We will be getting married out there next May and there are wedding related things to care of but, to be honest, we took the trip to escape the city and enjoy the excellent food and wine the region has to offer.

We do not own a car so we rely most often on our feet to get us places. It felt like a luxury to rent a car for the day, to ride east next to that long yellow line.

We discovered 88.3, WBGO, the jazz station, and listened with great interest to a program called Singers Unlimited with Michael Bourne. I was pleasantly surprised to turn on the station at the exact moment Rosemary Clooney sang out 'The Man That Got Away' which is, oddly enough, a song important to Rabbit Island, the work in progress I am frantically editing away at-- cutting and pasting and rewriting to get a framework worth working through.

I had forgotten what it was like to be in a car, to listen to the radio, to see a glimpse of something through glass and watch as it drifts away.

There were horses and farm stands, wine tastings and lunch beside the water. We found The Winemaker Studio, a little wooden tasting room where the winemakers in the region are selling their private labels. And when I learned what that meant, it took on even bigger meaning for me. Instead of making wine for the wineries and their owners, instead of adhering to the standards of an already established brand, they are making wine for themselves. And that's interesting...that makes me want to know more...

And of course, any time there is a sign pointing the way to cheese, I am happy. I am in a kind of heaven.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Penn Relays

I woke up this morning with a memory. I don't know how it connected to what I may have dreamed before it. It was just there. And when things are there and they don't belong anywhere else I put them here. (Just so you know how this works.)

When I was in high school I ran track. I was a sprinter. I never had the legs to endure long races. I was the kind of person who believed she could do anything in the shortest distances. I would run until my feet bled, until my legs ached, until I couldn't breathe, until I needed to vomit, whatever it took to get it done.

My sophomore year, my coach invited me to go to the Penn Relays, the largest track and field competition in the states, but I wasn't allowed to race with the rest of the girls, a team of seniors who had more experience than I did. I was to learn. And before I could even get on the bus, I was forced to watch endless videos of past relay teams from our high school as my coach analyzed every start and finish, every baton hand-off, the way the girls sprinted the straight-aways, how they took the turns.

All of this, so I could sit in the stands and watch everyone else run.

My coach told me it was a privilege to miss school and attend this event. But I wanted to race.

When I thought of the Penn Relays this morning, I pictured the blazing burnt orange track beneath me (it may not be orange but this is how I remember it) so far away from the blur of colors I sat with.

I have mixed feelings about this memory. On the one hand, I think what a brat I was to believe I somehow deserved to race before I was ready. On the other, I wonder why this coach made me attend so I could sit by myself and hope to one day be there for real. (I was never invited again.)

I am not a patient person. I know this. And so, I wake up every day wanting to do a million things and I say to myself: Take your time. Sit back. Learn.

But I also know that I am the kind of person who falls so easily into the role of observer rather than participant. Sometimes I accept the fact that I am invisible and I remain unseen.

Lately, and I don't know what has triggered this, I am sick and tired of reigning myself in. Lately, I do not feel it is privilege be there. I do not feel it is enough to stand back. I want to be in it.

Brooklyn Public Library Increases Hours

We've all heard the abysmal news about libraries. The budget cuts. The closings. I don't need to recount it for you here.

So, I give you this headline, this link, just to say: keep the faith.

Brooklyn Public Library Increases Hours by 21 Percent.

I knew I lived in the right town.

What's going on with the libraries in your neck of the woods?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

'Firing Off Rat-a-tat-tat-tat'

I spent a lot of time at the library when I was a teenager. When I look at the crazy schedule I had back then (tennis, track, Lit Mag, French club...the list goes on...I was a classic overachiever) I do wonder when I found the time to read the amount of books I read. And I especially wonder how I found time to read 812.

When I say 812, I am referring to the dewey decimal system. 812 is American Drama. And for some reason, my teenage self found it necessary to read 812 in it's entirety.

Some clarification: We're not talking the Library of Congress here. We're talking the Hicksville Public Library. 812 consisted of about four shelves of loosely packed, hard-cover plays (I only mention that because paperback would be much thinner and take up less room, allowing for more plays in the section) and it was my goal to read every one of them.

I did.

Add that to semesters of playwriting and screenwriting classes. Tack on a few months transcribing documentaries and several years writing scripts for children. And you have a person who is obsessed with dialogue. Who is in an ever-constant investigation of the spoken word as it is written on the page. Who struggles every day to write dialogue that rings true, voices that rise and fall a certain way, conversations that one, two, one, two back and forth at just the right moment for the time, the place, the mood. Like I said, it is my writing obsession. When I write, when I read, I pay careful attention to dialogue. And maybe I'll get it right someday in my own work. For now, all I can do is study and try.

(insert transition here)

Enter 'One Crazy Summer' by Rita Williams-Garcia. Here's a book that I admired for it's many dead-right, spot-on qualities but one I especially admired for it's beautiful dialogue. So if you're struggling, if you're investigating, as I am, this book is, in my opinion, a resource.

Just a sampling from the book of this trio of sisters: Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. Who speak in poetry (And their rhythm of speech is dissected here. I told you. Like a resource. A guide.) It is wonderful.

When my sisters and I speak, one right after the other, it's like a song we sing, a game we play. We never need to pass signals. We just fire off rat-a-tat-tat-tat. Delphine. Vonetta. Fern.

I said, "What if all the people could recite all of your poems?"
Vonetta: "And they said them on the radio."
Fern: "And you became famous."
Me: "You couldn't hide then."
Fern: "Surely couldn't."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Write It Wrong

I'm still struggling with this character I may have mentioned. She has me up late into the night and I can't seem to crack her, can't seem to get her right. I sit in front of a blank screen and dance around her, get to the end of a sentence just before she is about to appear, and the cursor blinks, and I freeze.

Yesterday, I heard her for the first time. And by heard, I mean, she spoke (from behind a closed door no less, still refusing to be seen.) There was dialogue. One measly line. And it stopped me. Is this right? Would she say this?

On our walk to the subway I told Tyler about my frustration: I can't get it right. I just don't know her well enough.

And he said: Well, what are you going to do? Take her out for lunch?

And I suppose that's what I need to do, take her out and see what happens. I think the only way to get through this is to forget everything and just...write it wrong.

Do you have any characters you need to get wrong before you get it right?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Get in Position

Every morning, Tyler watches Morning Drive, a morning talk show on the Golf Channel. I am not a morning person, so I sleep until the very last minute, and frantically shower, dress, blow-dry and pack up my bag with barely enough time to scarf down some cereal before I head out to work.

But, as I scarf, there is Morning Drive.

Everything I know about golf, I know from Morning Drive: which is to say...very little. During the few minutes I watch, I spend most of the time commenting on the two hosts, Erik Kuselias and Gary Williams.

Do you think they like eachother off camera? I ask Tyler. Or do you think they leave the show wanting to punch the other in the face?

Who would you rather go out for drinks and talk golf with? Erik or Gary?

I'm going to call Erik Kuselias, Erik Ku-silly. Because he's silly.

And Tyler politely ignores me.

This morning, someone by the name of Ron Sirak was on the show, chatting about whatever it is they actually chat about while I'm wondering whether or not I'd rather be friends with Erik or Gary (FYI, I'm leaning towards Gary. No. Erik. No wait...Gary). And Ron said something along the lines of: That's what you have to do to win a major. You have to get in position to win a major.

I quickly dismissed this comment and labelled it: VERY silly. I thought: Great advice, Ron. I'm going to call Tiger Woods and say, 'Tiger! Did you know that if you get into position to win a major, you're going to win one? I bet you didn't know that, did you?' This is life-changing, Ron. Life-changing. Back to my cereal.

For some reason, however, this got stuck in my head. And I actually began to think that Ron is right. And that it is life-changing.

I mean, did you know you actually have to write a book to get published?

It sounds silly. But I dreamed about becoming a published author when I was five years old and I didn't do anything about it until a few years ago. Sometimes, it is easy to get caught up in the goal and not think seriously about what you need to do to get there.

So, the question is, whatever you want to accomplish in your life, are you in position to do it? I'm going to ask myself that question every day.

Photo credit: Golf Uncensored

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

My eyes are tired. Too much time in front of microsoft word documents or a library book. They need to rest. So I dream of this day in Cannes, even though it is colorless and hazy, about to rain.

I like how the stone and concrete mirror the condo towers along the water and the buildings up in the hills. Tiles of white and grey and all the spaces in between. I admire this man. Arms at his sides. Bundled. Waiting for the sun. Still. For just a little while.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Flat. Down. Up.

I rode my bicycle through Prospect park on Saturday, thinking about my writing, about this blog. I can not tell you how many blog posts I have 'written' while I've pedalled, how many plot holes I have worked out while gripping my pink handlebars (It's almost time for new tape, what color do you suggest?)

On this particular ride, I was thinking a lot about my novel, with it's completed first draft, which sits until I can sit with it. I have designated Friday afternoon as the time to do that. To read it, in it's entirety and see what can be done. Since I began writing the book, I've struggled to define one of the most important characters. She is a catalyst for everything that happens to my main character and I have danced around her for 72,000 words. There are decisions that need to be made and there are literal blank pages waiting for me to make them. I have lost sleep over this woman. She has made me insane.

My ride through Prospect Park did not provide any breakthroughs but I am very, very close to figuring things out.

What I did realize is how cathartic it is to ride this particular loop. I begin on a flat road, then I dip down a long hill where I fly and feel free. At the end, there is a steep slope upwards and I sweat and curse to myself the entire time. While I'm climbing, I think, I'm going home. There is no way I can do this again. But then I come to that flat and I take off for another round.

As I tried to sort through this mess of a character, I thought about what I was doing. I thought about the loop. And it made me feel better. Not just about my book but about life in general. Flat. Down. Up. And how natural it is to start again. I realize it's cliche, these hills and valleys. But to feel it, really feel it, makes me know it's true. Because that's what it's really move across the earth this way.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Best Friends

Pat and my mother have known one another since they were infants. My mother's grandmother lived in the same two-story home in Astoria, Queens as Pat's grandmother...and so began three generations of friends.

When they are together, it is a flurry of high-pitched conversation and laughter. It is impossible to tell who is speaking. They yell over one another and still manage to know exactly what the other is saying. When our families got together over the years Pat's son, Drew, and I always looked at one another across the kitchen table and wondered what in the world was happening.

Here they are in purple and blue at Drew's wedding. Their friendship amazes me. It has lasted 64 years.

You look like sisters, I told them earlier in the night.

We are sisters, my mother said.