Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What's The Point?

Today, I sat down with my boss to talk toys. It is, of course, what we always talk about since it's our job to make them. But we also talk music and life and family. He often takes home the toys we make and he has the best stories about his daughters' reactions. They always give him, and us, a heaping dose of reality.

After playing with a toy, this particular one bursting full of content, dozens of buttons and learning games that required pages and pages of logic scripts, a mind numbing amount of bug tests, and endless debates about whether it was too 'learny' (I've trademarked the term) or not 'learny' enough, after pressing every button, playing through every game, answering every question without a word, his daughter looked up and asked:

Ok Dad. I played it. But what is the point of this toy?

Oh my goodness, this made me laugh out loud.

And it made me think.

It's a very sophisticated question for a child to ask about a toy. It's a very sophisticated question for someone of any age to ask about anything. Because it's really a kind of prompt or plea. It says: Give me a reason. To believe in this. To stay with it.

I've questioned the point of many things. Small things. Like making the bed in the morning when you're just going to get into it again that night. Wearing a veil at a wedding. (As a side note: I was shocked to learn that questioning this would throw people into a state of rage, confusion, and a frenetic this-is-the-way-it's-done tizzy.) And big things. Like writing a novel. Having a career. Falling in love.

There are a million answers to each and every What's the point? question. But, whether it's a small thing or a big thing, I think it's important to note that people often ask it when things are just about to break, when they are hanging by the thinnest thread.

So I think it's important to ask it. I think it's important to find an answer. I believe it is not good enough to live your life inside a giant 'just because'.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Something's Coming

I feel very quiet today. The words are in the stories. As I rework passages of my novel, toss out sentences, bring in new ones to replace the old, I find myself in an unusual position, caught in the breathless anticipation of something coming.

I've never been one of those writers who has a lot of ideas. To be honest, that's probably one of the hardest things for me when it comes to writing, coming up with ideas. It's a strange thing to say but, really, I just don't have any.

I don't know how to jump from one project to another with a dozen nexts stashed away. I generally sit down with nothing. A blank page. An empty space in my head. And I just think: fill it. Because that's how I approach my whole life. That's just what I do.

But, all the sudden, here I am with a little something. A someone. A fragment. One stitch of a seam. And, of course, I am not at all prepared. Not at all ready.

Monday, November 28, 2011

On Forgetting November and Hugo in 3D

This past weekend was full of so many wonderful happenings, I barely know where to begin. The weather in the northeast has been extraordinary and I was reminded, as I am each year when November breezes through with its mild temperatures and canvas blue skies, of an old Professor who once said during an unbearably cold winter in Boston, Everybody forgets November. Remember how lucky we were in November.

Over the weekend I saw family, rode my bicycle great distances, ate Tapas, went to a college hockey game with friends, listened to my favorite radio show, and finished reading a book. I wrote and rewrote so much of my novel. Turned over a new writing project for review. I put up my little Christmas tree and experimented with new ice cream flavors (homemade butterscotch pie crumble-- yes, I made it up.)

And I also saw Hugo in 3D. Probably one of the most visually stunning films I have seen in a long time.

For those of you who love to go to the movies, I urge you to see this. It is an absolute love affair with film. There are films within this film itself. It honors the medium, its history and its future. It shows what has been done with the moving image, what can be done, what will.

As a writer, I will admit, there are major story problems. At times, my heart fell, thinking how extraordinary the film could have been if they got that part right. The pacing felt off. Convictions were unecessarily extreme. Characters gave in too easily. Backstories were overdone or nonexistent. Dialogue often trite. And, sometimes, longing looks and Bergmanesque holds on facial expressions were excruciatingly long.

But, as someone who loves beautiful things, who cries while listening to good music, who tries desperately to wake up to see a sunrise (and so often fails), this movie took my breath away.

Have you seen the film?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sky in Flames

Taken from my fire escape just moments ago. I went camera crazy, nearly dropped the camera from the window. Nearly fell out of it myself. Because you know how fast a sunset drops down from the sky. You know how quickly it all goes dark.

And I knew what I was seeing was my novel.

Not metaphorically. I mean, for real. This is it. This is what the world of my novel (Rabbit Island, the place) actually looks like. Right here.

A sky in flames.

My imagination on fire.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Very Best

In the past few months I've been restless and unsatisfied, thinking that I have to find a way to be a better person and live a better life. I've been wondering, what is next for me? What will happen? Will anything happen at all?

And so this time of year creeps its way towards me and I feel like an absolute fool. For thinking about next. And new. And better. Because all that is happening, all the now and here and today are so full. Bursting, really.

I will make a promise to myself and to you that I will stop. I will listen. And take a look. I promise to know, really know, that what I have at this moment is more than better. It's the very best.

I send my love and gratitude to all of you. Happy Thanksgiving :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Recently Read

I got into a great e-mail conversation with Tyler's cousin, Mathias, who is deep in his studies at Brooklyn College and will receive an MFA in Creative Writing at the end of this year.

Mathias always talks with great passion about books and language. And he is so incredibly well-read, I often leave our conversations feeling as if I should shed all of my responsibilities, sneak into the library, hide in the stacks, and stay overnight for the next year to catch up.

Our discussion was about lyrical writing. Fiction that feels like poetry. Sentences that hold together with the most perfectly chosen words.

He asked a simple question: Have you read any books recently that do this well?

I've read all kinds of books recently. I've even (you'll be surprised to know after seeing my list) read a lot of adult fiction recently. And I realize a few of these books have not been written recently. But I read them recently. And that was the question.

I also realize that what Melissa read recently isn't exactly a perfect sample to make grand, sweeping judgements about the state of literature. So, just to clarify, that is not what I'm doing here.

I'm just talking about the question. And the list I thought to share:

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

First Light by Rebecca Stead

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I've got to tell you. I was so very thrilled after I shared my list. This makes me happier than I can say. How amazing it? How incredibly lucky are all of these young readers? They have such wonderful books written for them. They are reading, in my very humble opinion, some of the most beautiful words.

It made my day.

What have you read recently that made you fall in love with the writing and language?

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Are You Wearing? A Blogging Conundrum

I'm going to be honest. I struggle, sometimes, with this blog. I will often spend hours (hours, people, I'm not exaggerating) on a post and discover that no one has read it. Some days, I will take five minutes to write about a ridiculous outfit I am wearing and it will become the most highly trafficked post in the history of this blog (I'm serious).

I use this space to write what I enjoy writing, to share what I love to share, to learn what I can from all of you. I know that other blogs have a lot more to offer and I'm not interested in competing with them. I just give you myself and my thoughts and hope that's enough.

The friendships and connections I have made through blogging have been invaluable. So, I do not worry about how many followers I have or how many comments I get. But I do worry that there is a preference for posts I don't write...if that makes sense. That people would prefer I write about what I'm wearing (skinny jeans, brown boots, a long black sweater with a cowl neck. Yes, I believe in wearing black and brown together, fyi) or some other content I have not been giving.

Anyway, that's what I'm thinking about today. Or worrying about. Sometimes I feel as if I have a worry list and before I go to bed I check my worries off. Did I worry about this today? Did I worry about that? This issue I speak of is on it. I don't know why. Don't ask me. It just is.

I wonder, do you worry about content for your blog? Am I the only one?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Playing with Two Hands, Medleys, and Shards by Ismet Prcic

I have a few things on my mind today but, mostly, a weird thought about playing piano with two hands because I'm reading this fascinating book Shards by Ismet Prcic.

When I was a little girl first learning to play piano I was really impatient about wanting to be able to play with two hands. And even when I did, finally, learn to do it my teacher always made me plunk out the notes of a song separately, let each hand settle into its role before allowing them to play together.

You think I would have learned something from that experience but this day (though it has, admittedly, been a while since I sat down to play) I will look at a new song and automatically attempt to play it all at once. It's always a stupid mess. And I always have to step back, play each hand seperately, and put it back together again.

Last weekend I listened to the Sunday Show with Jonathan Schwartz. I'm totally obsessed with this show. It's crazy. If we have plans on a Sunday I become the most irritable person on the planet if I can not get my Jonathan Schwartz fix.

Anyway, he played this Irving Berlin medley (below) and I just thought how hard it must be to sing a song while the person, standing right next to you, is belting out an entirely different song. How you have to be all tucked inside your song and, at the same time, know the rhythm and feel of the other person's song.

So, this is what I'm thinking about. Having to know, I mean, really know, two pieces of something before you can put it together and have it make any kind of sense. I think Ismet Prcic, so far, as I am not yet through the book, is doing something experimental and wonderful with that idea in terms of the actual structure of the book and the theme of diaspora. Stepping back to understand all the pieces of a person before you understand the whole.

And here are Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley singing that Irving Berlin medley. I apologize that it has the cheesy cabaret feel. It's the only rendition I could find on You Tube. I think it's worth sticking it out to listen to them sing together. IT'S CRAZY. It just blows my mind whenever I hear two different voices and two entirely different songs come together like that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One More

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about space. I live in a city that has always built up and out, that has taken every inch of available space and transformed it. As a result, I often find myself craving space, desperate for more room to spread out, to dream, to roam.

When I leave New York City, I am in awe of the vastness that surrounds me. Even something as simple as a restaurant looks massive. These huge rooms with doors that lead to other rooms. They have multiple bathroom stalls, empty stools at the bar, available tables. And it feels a little bit like boasting, a stick out your chest kind of pride, we have so much space, we can't even fill it!

Because it does seem that New York has already been filled to capacity. I stand in a crowded subway car, reaching for something, anything to hold on to, pressed up against strangers, tucked in the funk of another armpit and I think there is no way, it isn't possible, to fit one more soul. But the subway stops. And the door opens. And someone steps on.

Here, there is always room for one more.

One more person.

One more building.

One more restaurant.

I think people are daring enough to always ask that question: Is there room for just. one. more?

As a result:

A gallery pops up in an abandoned warehouse in Red Hook.

The tracks of a no-longer-used elevated train become a destination.

The piers of the Brooklyn waterfront become an enormous place to play.

So I begin to question my aversion to this cramped feeling. Filling up a space, reimagining it, takes courage. It takes wild ambition. I'm not advocating that we take all of our far as the eye can see fields and trample over them but I do want to view space differently, understand how I pass through it, what I want from it, and what I actually need. Because, as I've learned these past few months, to occupy a space, to step inside it, can be a movement.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Talk To The Listeners

I sat in the dim lit Elephant Room. The once gold shine of beer and brass had turned Amsterdam-red. Elbows leaned. The tables wobbled. And the piano player, in his newsboy hat, his John Lennon wire framed glasses, rocked forward then back, so that he almost appeared headless. A too-slow shutter. A blur.

Soon the puffed cheeks behind the trumpet deflated. Hands clutched the instrument but the air abandoned the memory of its rasp. In its absence, only the din remained, the jangle, the tumble of voices, of laughter.

The man with the trumpet spoke. "It's loud in here."

He waited.

"I know it's a jazz joint. I get it. But we're playing up here. And it's loud. And people are trying to listen."

"So talk to us," a voice called out. "Talk to the listeners."

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Are We Qualified to Write?

Most of the time, when I write, it begins with a character. A whisper leads me forward. I sit and listen to the story.

For my current novel, however, it all began with a place. I knew not a soul when I started. And, slowly (very slowly) people filled the space. Every one of them, when they came, when they walked the grey sidewalks and tread across the grass, surprised me.

To be honest with you, they marched in with histories that frightened me. Mostly because they were so far from what I knew. And for a while, I danced around many of their issues because I did not know how to deal with them. I had convinced myself that I was not qualified to tell their stories. That no amount of research could lead to an authentic telling.

What stilled me, what gave me pause, was this idea that I could not write what I did not know. That, as soon as a situation that I did not understand crept into the story, (and there were many) I was immediately held responsible for portraying it as accurately as possible. And how could I do that if I hadn't lived it?

There is no way we can know everything as writers. But I do feel there is an idea, when someone takes on contemporary fiction, that the writer must be qualified to write what he or she writes. I see it in examples of successful query letters, in interviews with published authors. A story about drug abuse is immediately followed with, 'I spent two years working at a rehabilitation center.' Even something as simple as a story that takes place in Louisiana is quickly qualified with 'I grew up in Baton Rouge.'

As if to say: I know all about this. Trust me.

When I look at my novel (still in revisions, still in the state of being nothing and everything all at once) I can't think of anything that qualifies me to write it except that I'm human. I'm compassionate. I tell the truth as I see it. But if I really stepped back, I could not find any qualifier like the examples I noted above. My main character is in a terrible situation that many young people experience but I have only been able to imagine. I do believe, however, that her hopes and fears are my own. That, I know. Deeply.

I always, always, think writers should write the story they want. Not the story they know. In my mind, those hopes and fears connect a reader to a character, and not the issues or situations the character is dealing with. But there is a part of me that wonders, do I know this? Can I ever really? And how does it affect the story when I don't?

What do you think of all this knowing and not knowing? What makes us qualified to tell a story?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Before I Die...

Last night the never ending work on the F train forced me to take a detour to downtown Brooklyn en route to Manhattan. Instead of taking a snail paced, herky-jerky shuttle bus, which always leaves me dizzy and impatient, I begrudgingly decided to take the half hour walk. I carried flowers and a bottle of wine for a friend's birthday dinner, sweat in my purple wool coat, and sighed loudly as I stomped.

But then I came upon these words, this wall. The rainbow colored dreams of downtown Brooklyn.

...go to Paris. a teacher.
...have a happy life.
...make music.

Thousands upon thousands of endings to one unfinished sentence: Before I die I want to...

It stopped me. It made me think. If I only had one piece of chalk, one fill-in-the-blank space to keep a no longer secret wish, what would I write?

What would you write?

A little more about the Before I Die project by artist Candy Chang:

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you. With help from old and new friends, Candy turned the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood into a giant chalkboard where residents can write on the wall and remember what is important to them. Stenciled with the sentence “Before I die I want to _______”, the wall became a space where we could learn the hopes and dreams of the people around us.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

'Mister Rogers and Me' and Creating Content That Is Deep and Simple

The lovely and talented Amy Kraft over at Media Macaroni alerted me to this film in a guest post: Beyond the Red Sweater, Mister Rogers and Me.

I eagerly anticipate its DVD release. (March 2012)

I think very seriously about the content I create for children. I always question the best way to release words and music and art into the world. I always think: these stories, these characters, are what inspire new stories, new characters. So I see it as a very important endeavor.

Fred Rogers dedicated his life to educating and inspiring young people (though he managed to inspire people of all ages.) And this quote from him, which inspired Benjamin Wagner, a real life neighbor of Mr. Rogers, to make the film, nearly took my breath away:

I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.

I'm going to think about this. I want to figure out how to always create content with that in mind.

Winner of 'If I Stay' by Gayle Forman (and Being Ready To Leap)

First I want to announce the winner of a copy of Gayle Forman's If I Stay:

Please email me with your mailing info!

I've been feeling a little unfocused lately, unable to stay still with one thought. I sit here. I want to blog. But my mind races. It can not settle on a topic.

So I leave you with this picture. It captures how I feel today. Holding on to the edge of things, ready to let go.

And before you take this to mean I'm plunging to my death, before you call for medical professionals and straight jackets, and your nosey neighbor leans in to whisper Well, Melissa's gone off the deep end, I'll just say, that's not it. That's not it at all. I just mean to say, I've been holding on too tightly. I've clung to these walls. And now I'm ready to exhale. Ready to leap.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Interview with Writer and Musician Jessica Bell

I first found writer and musician Jessica Bell because of her beautiful book trailer. I'm rarely impressed with book trailers but this one, in my humble opinion, was special. I'm so very happy to have Jessica on the blog. Her debut novel String Bridge was released November 1st.

First a little bit about String Bridge.

Greek cuisine, smog and domestic drudgery was not the life Australian musician, Melody, was expecting when she married a Greek music promoter and settled in Athens, Greece. Keen to play in her new shoes, though, Melody trades her guitar for a 'proper' career and her music for motherhood. That is, until she can bear it no longer and plots a return to the stage—and the person she used to be. However, the obstacles she faces along the way are nothing compared to the tragedy that awaits and she realizes she's been seeking fulfilment in the wrong place.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writer's journey? What is the first thing you remember writing?

Wow. Now I have to think … it was probably a poem I wrote when I was about 12, sitting by the Mediterranean Sea, on a huge rock with a castle on top called Monemvasia. I think I wrote something about the sea and sky being deep blue and the rocks being jagged like “you.” (who ever that was … I can’t believe I just conjured that memory!)

Like you, Melody, the main character in String Bridge, hails from Australia but lives in Greece. Can you describe how each place inspires your writing?

That’s actually a difficult question because I don’t feel like inspiration is different depending on where I am. Of course, there are environmental factors that come into play, such as weather, scenery, etc, but my inspiration stems from a “feeling” which I’m not sure I can describe very well. It’s a kind of happiness, but like a wave of thought, light-weightedness, a release from day-to-day responsibilities. And I get this feeling when my environment is relaxing. I don’t notice which country I’m in, I just notice that I have time and space to open my mind to what is going on around me.

In the book, Melody seems to think that she can not pursue her music dreams and be a good mother/wife, which is a theme I notice in a lot of women's fiction; this idea that women have to make sacrifices for their family that men don't. What are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s something that every woman struggles with regardless of how much gender equality has progressed in society. But it doesn’t have to do with women having to make sacrifices that men don’t. I honestly don’t believe that’s an issue nowadays. The thing is, women are always going to feel like this because we have an instinct to nurture. And when things begin to threaten our ability to do that, we feel guilty. It’s ingrained. Well, I believe it’s ingrained. I don’t have kids. But I still, with the freedom I have, feel guilty when I don’t have time to wash the dishes or make my partner some dinner. I want to look after him, to make him feel good, and I think that’s the mother in me spreading her wings I guess. It can’t be avoided. Unless we are somehow born with more testosterone in the future, I think this will always be a strong theme in women’s lives.

I'm fascinated by writers who are also songwriters. Can you share how your song writing influences the way you write novels?

I think sound is a very difficult thing to describe so it certainly helped me with that. I spent a long time trying to perfect those parts where music is illustrated. It was quite a challenge to be honest. But what helps, in general, is the fact that I thrive on making sentences with cadence. I love playing around with different words and sounds and seeing how differently they roll off my tongue. It’s just like singing without a melody. It’s writing to a tempo.

What are you working on now?

Muted is set in Arles, France, in a totalitarian society where it is illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it's also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous Italian a cappella singer from before “the change,” breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope with living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river, clothed in a dress stained with performance memories from her hometown, Milan. But Concetta's suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as saviour? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain? From this moment, the reader will discover how Concetta came to be in this position, and what will happen to her after the suicide attempt.

Muted will explore a variety of themes such as overcoming loss, coping with mental illness and disability, dealing with discrimination, loss of freedom, inhibited self-expression, motivation to succeed, escaping oppression, expression through art and music, self-sacrifice, channelling the thoughts of the deceased, and challenging moral views and values.

And some fun 'Would You Rather' questions based on String Bridge:

Would you rather:
See a live show? -OR- Perform live?

See a live show. Performing live freaks me out, but I think I’m going to have to find a way to overcome that.

Have a button pop off of your shirt during a presentation? -OR- Sit through an awkward conversation with an ex-boyfriend in a pub?

Ha! The latter …

Eat only Vegemite for a week straight? -OR- Eat only Feta cheese for a week straight? (With no risk of any and all digestive problems ;)

Feta cheese for sure. I love vegemite, but I don’t think I could handle it for a week!

String Bridge is available at:
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

The soundtrack is available at:
Amazon UK

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

All I Needed

I went missing from the internet last week. Packed my things, warm-weather clothes because I hadn't yet put them away, despite the fact that the Northeast has already seen snow and freezing temperatures (even the air conditioning unit is still in the window. I am so very behind.) I took a plane to Texas, a place I'd never been, to explore and celebrate the wedding of a very good friend.

I like to be prepared for things but it has been a whirlwind few weeks (months?) so I did nothing for this trip. No research. I forgot to rent a car. Packed all the wrong clothes. Wore a wrinkled dress two sizes too big for the wedding. Its a wonder I didn't inadvertently flash anyone.

So when our plane landed, all I knew of Texas were the songs inside me. Amarillo By Morning and If It Wasn't For Texas (George Straight). I kept my eye out for Austin city limit signs, suns high in a Texas sky. Thought about bucking at the county fair. I sang loud and long in the car about the San Antonio Rose. Made Tyler drive to Luckenbach, Texas so I could get Back to the Basics of Love (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson.)

And, as it turned out, I needed no plan. I needed only to wander, to take a listen, to give a look. Aqua pools carved out into white rock. Dry land that stretched out beneath blue sky. Rivers sneaking lazily through a city. Three dollar beers in dark jazz joints. Fingers skipping over piano keys. The loud thwack of the bass.

And all the songs I knew, the only part of these places I could know, were right. All of them creeping like the sigh of the wind, moving the way a person might mosey instead of walk.

Everything I got is just what I got on. And it does seem that's all I needed. Not much more.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

If I Stay by Gayle Forman (And A Giveaway!)

Gayle Forman's If I Stay had been on my to-read list since it came out so many years ago. I feel as if I missed the wave and now I'm wading in the ocean whispering, You out there. Did you read it? Can we talk?

It does seem appropriate, as misguided as I was to put it off for so long, that I managed to buy the book twice. At my local bookstore early last week. And then, without realizing it, tucked inside a too-large online shipment. So you, my friends, can benefit from my absentmindness and win the book! Because I don't need two of anything (except double ice cream scoops.)

There is much to say about this book. Most of it has already been said because I showed up so very late and emptyhanded to the party.

I will say that I was struck by the sheer goodness at the heart of this story and I found it refreshing.

Forman writes a main character, a seventeen year old girl, who is not brooding or sarcastic, who sits on the narrowest edge between life and death and, despite darkness, sees the light of her past, the possibility of her future. Parents who are fully present, quirky, wise and daring in their love for their daughter. A love story that is full of passion but not complicated by a third party, a series of cliched misunderstandings, or wild insecurities. Instead, these young, ambitious lovers are so sure of themselves and their love that it is their bold aspirations and dreams that threaten to tear them apart.

And despite some comparisons to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones and Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, I thought this book stood on its own. It is not about standing in purgatory to right past wrongs. It is about looking back on all of the quiet beautiful moments of the past and choosing to see love.

To win a copy of If I Stay please leave a comment below. If you feel like it, share a recent happy moment in the comments because my heart is full and happy after reading this book and I want to ride the wave for as long as I can ;) I will announce the winner November 10th.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Interview With Melissa Goodwin, Author of The Christmas Village

I'm very happy to share an interview with Melissa Goodwin who just released her middle grade book The Christmas Village (which she'll tell you about below.) We also chatted about her experience self-publishing, her upcoming travels, yoga and writing, among other things. She is willing to answer any questions in the ask away!

Tell us about your book, please.

My book, The Christmas Village is a fantasy adventure targeted to readers age 9 and up. I say "and up" because it's the kind of children's story that grown-ups really like too! It's about 12-year-old Jamie, whose father has disappeared under somewhat shady circumstances. Jamie is hurt and angry and wishes that he could turn back time. He and his mother go to Vermont to spend the holidays with his grandparents. Grandma has one of those miniature Christmas villages. Jamie fixates on it, thinking that village must be a perfect place to live, a place where nothing ever changes and nothing bad ever happens. Several times, he makes a wish that he could there, and ....

One night just before Christmas, his wish magically comes true.

Jamie discovers that the village is called Canterbury, and the year is 1932. He makes friends and is taken in by the villagers, but now that he is there, of course he wants nothing more than to get back home to his own family in time for Christmas! If and how he will do that become an adventure with twists and turns and surprises to the very end. Along the way, Jamie learns a few things about life, people and himself. Ultimately, The Christmas Village is a story about family, forgiveness and friendships that last a lifetime.

Did you ever want to live in a Christmas Village like your main character, Jamie?

Oh my, yes! In fact, that's how the book came about. I was looking at our pretty little lighted village on the table at Christmastime a few years ago, and I started thinking, I wonder who lives in that house over there by the covered bridge? I wonder what song the carolers are singing? I wonder who built that snowman? And that's how it all started.

I'm always curious about people's writing journey. What is the first thing you remember writing?

The first thing I remember writing is a play that I wrote in high school. I don't remember much about it except that the main character was a court jester. Our class voted on which play to perform and they chose mine. I think they thought it had deeper meaning that it really did!

What made you decide to self-publish? How have you found the experience so far? Any lessons learned that others can benefit from?

I had an agent and we were about two months into the process of sending the book out to publishers. We'd gotten some nice comments along with some "it's not for us" responses. In the meantime, I had reconnected through Facebook with a high school chum who has successfully self-published three books. He was willing to be my mentor if I decided to self-publish. Then, my mother died and left me some money. I felt like events were coming together in a way that was encouraging me to take my destiny into my own hands.

It also helped a great deal that I had had two agents offer to represent the book, because that told me it had appeal. And my agent had been an editor, so I knew we had really vetted it. I have a very independent spirit, and suddenly it just felt right to take the leap. I was scared but the minute I took that first step, it felt right.

I can honestly tell you that my experience working with Createspace, the publishing arm of Amazon, has been exceptional. They were extremely professional and responsive. Everything was always done on time. They answered my questions quickly. I was especially pleased with my illustrator - she got my idea immediately, and I've gotten rave reviews about the cover.

Lessons learned? First, I'd say, if you are thinking self-publishing might be right for you, don't be afraid! They make it very easy for you.

Second, don't be defensive about your choice. The fact that you have self-published your book does not make it "less" than traditionally published books. Look at how many lousy books get published by traditional publishers. I'd be happy to work with a traditional publisher someday, if it made sense for me to do it - financially and otherwise. But I am also ready and willing to self-publish my next book.

Third, be ready to work hard at promotion. You'll have to do this no matter how your book gets published, but if you self-publish, it's really and truly Your Baby. Embrace it, run with it, and most of all, have FUN with it!

You are going to buy an RV and hit the road next year. What prompted this decision? What's the first stop on your adventure?

My husband is quite a bit older than me - he just turned 71. But he's a young 71, and has a wanderlust that I wasn't aware of earlier in our relationship! Both my parents passed away recently, and I think my husband and I are both feeling that "life is short" thing. There are so many places in the U.S. and Canada that I haven't been - Yellowstone, Yosemite, Jackson Hole, Nova Scotia. I want us to see those places together, while we are "young" and healthy.

I also like the simplicity of it - not owning a home and having all the care and worry that goes with that. And, I look forward to more time spent by the ocean, more time to write, and more time to spend with friends and family.

First we'll head east to see our families, and then we will head up through Maine to Nova Scotia. I've always wanted to go there, and I hope to spend most of next summer there. After that, we'll see!

You are a yoga instructor. Do you find connections between your yoga practice and your writing?

Absolutely! In fact, my yoga and my writing seemed to blossom simultaneously. I use meditation before writing to clear my mind and reconnect to my story. It helps to calm and center me. And in those moments of quiet, inspiration often strikes. The active yoga practice also helps you learn to focus. When doing a pose, you can't think about anything else, and developing that ability to focus is helpful when sitting down to write.

Stephen King recommends sitting quietly for at least 15 minutes before starting to write. He says to stay there until you can "see" your scene clearly, until you can hear the sounds and smell the smells. Only then, should you start to write. What he describes is very much like the meditative part of yoga. First I sit long enough to clear my mind of everything, then I allow my story to come in. King probably didn't think he was doing "yoga" when he described that process, but he kind of was.

Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog. I look forward to chatting with your followers, reading their comments and answering any questions they have for me.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Another Sort of End

It always seems I finish writing drafts too late into the night. There is never anyone to tell.

I would never wake up Tyler.

And even though a strange part of me wants to knock on the door to the apartment downstairs, wake up five year old Leo, who is always shouting, 'Melissa! Melissa! Guess what!' with my own, 'Leo! Leo! You'll never believe it!'...I won't.

So I share it here.


[knock knock] You'll never believe it! I finished another draft of my silly novel!

No doubt there are rips and tears but not the gaping blackholes I left last time around.

And even though I'll read through it one more time. Even though I'll make some more changes. Even though I'll send it off into the world and everyone will tell me all I did wrong, I feel that there are a few things, very few, I've done right. And that makes me happy.