Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book Trailer: String Bridge by Jessica Bell

I just discovered this book trailer by Jessica Bell for her forthcoming book: String Bridge coming out in November 2011 by Lucky Press. You have to see it! It should be noted, I'm not a huge book trailer fan. I can count on no fingers the number of times I have bought a book because of the trailer. But this one really impressed me and made me want the book. I'm not an expert on book trailers (obviously, I just admitted I'm not so into them) but I'd call this one successful because it served it's purpose-- it gave me a feeling and a vibe about the book that made me want to read it. So I thought I'd pass it along. What makes it all the more impressive is that she's doing the vocals herself and her mother wrote the lyrics and song. Talk about a talented family. There is a contest associated with this trailer (check it out if you feel so inclined), but I would have posted it either way, I was that impressed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Thriving Where We Are Not Supposed To

For years my house plants survived in a poorly lit, ground floor studio. As soon as I moved in to my new place, sunlight poured through the high windows and, despite all logic, the plants withered away. I'll never understand it. And so, after a long hiatus, I bring the green back into our home. I hope that these tulips, however temporary, (and probably the least logical plant to bring indoors) have the strength to stay for a bit and perhaps grow again next year. Wish me luck...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Books For Writers! Three Junes by Julia Glass

I am really excited to talk about Three Junes by Julia Glass. A book I'm only able to speak about in cliches. "I loved the raw emotion", I told Tyler. "It's just heartbreaking." "Beautiful" Like I'm writing a bad blurb for the cover of the book. The books I like, I mean, really, really, like are the books I can't speak about with any eloquence. I feel something about them I can't express. And I just think: Love. Love. There is so much love for this book, I just want to gush and force it into people's hands and become completely inarticulate and say "I loooove this book" "You are going to looooove this book". Looooove.

But, (sigh), this is not what Tuesday Books for Writers is all about. I must articulate what I admire about the book. The craft. That is my personal challenge. So, beyond this 'raw emotion' and this looooooove, oh the love!, the thing I am most impressed with is...

...the narrative structure.

Gosh, I just re-read that sentence. What a let down.

But, for real, the narrative is tricky. It tells an incredible amount of story in a short period of time. Part I is told in third person and deals with the patriarch of a Scottish Family, who has recently lost his wife and has taken a trip to Greece. While we watch him discover Greece, Glass takes us back in time to tell three other stories: the story of he and his wife's meeting and eventual marriage. The story of one of his wife's colleagues. And the story of her dying. It alternates between his time in Greece and those three storylines in the past.

Part II does the same, but I don't want to spoil anything, because Part II really surprised me. It is the longest of the three parts of the novel and it is told in first person. A completely unexpected first person. And, again, it weaves a brand new present with a brand new past. And some of the stories overlap with the stories told in Part I, from a very different point of view.

Part III takes us to yet another surprising third person point of view, wrapping up some leftover cliffhangers from previous story lines and opening up a whole new story.

I have to tell you, it is an incredible way to tell one big story through a lot of little stories. That's the best way I can describe it. Really impressive. So I recommend this book if you're interested in a unique narrative structure. It may inspire you to tell your story differently. To experiment. Because if you can do it as flawlessly as Glass does in this novel, I think you'll, ya know, win the National Book Award. ;-)

And if you don't give a darn about narrative structure, and you just want to fall in loooooove, or finish a book and hug it to your chest while you exclaim how dare the author do this to you and can she please fill up a lifetime of books about these characters so you can follow them forever and ever and never have to leave them again...if you want that, then I beg you to go out and buy this book.

Have you read this book? Have you fallen in love with a book recently?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hard Topics

The week before last, I attended the Teen Author Festival at the New York Public library. I meant to tell you about it sooner but I guess it took me a little longer to digest than usual. I sat through 3 panels with some terrific authors: "Telling Truths- Hard Topics, Illuminating Fiction", the "Debut Author Showcase" and "I Think I Love You (But Maybe I Don't?)- Writing About Teens in Love"

I loved every minute of every panel and was truly excited about the literature out there for young adults. I was impressed with the people who are writing for teens. And during the "Debut Author Showcase" I just kept thinking, maybe if I close my eyes and make a wish, I will be up there someday. Of course, that's a hard thing for me to admit because I don't know if it will happen for me. But, as Tyler's Uncle Mike says, thoughts become things, so maybe I'll keep thinking and dreaming it and then it will be real.

The first panel was my favorite, even though the authors joked that they were upset to be chosen for the 'depressing' panel. Because hard topics are just that...hard topics. These authors write books that deal with issues like rape, kidnapping, death of a parent, cyber stalking, murder, etc. And, of course, I was all over that because those are the books I like. The books that have the courage to take on the hard stuff. I wonder if those are the books that other people like. Because I don't always hear about them or see them out on the front tables at the bookstore (admittedly, I am not as well read in young adult literature as I would like to be.) I'm not going to suggest that they don't exist. They absolutely do. They are the books I seek out above all else, even if I have to dig a little deeper for them.

I wonder if people like to read books full of harsh realities. Or if they like to read books where they can escape to some place a little softer. You know my preference. Which do you prefer?

UPDATE: Some of you had asked about the authors on the panels. You can find a list of the panelists here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: At the market

It seems that all we want to do is see food. Marvel at it. Smell it. Take it home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Will You Be My Date to the Genre Hop?

Those of you who know me or have followed this blog for some time know that my writing journey has been a bit haphazard. I have written my entire life, mostly short stories. But in college, I had a growing interest in film and theater which led me to an MFA in Screenwriting. I wrote a lot of terrible screenplays I never tried to sell, began working in television production (I hated it) and somehow fell into children's media, which allows me to write for children, a roundabout way of using my degree. Despite all of this interest and education in media, I had a nagging desire to write a novel, which led to writing Spared.

Spared was a natural story for me to tell, for a lot of reasons. At the time I read, almost exclusively, literary fiction (both adult and young adult) and I decided to write a novel about two sisters, which I later learned should be marketed as women's fiction. So I figured I was a women's fiction writer. (I use all of these terms loosely, of course, since I am not yet published.)

Once I finished Spared, however, I began writing a young adult novel. Again, the label of young adult was dictated only by the market. I had a sixteen year old protagonist. And that was that. In the same way that I thought I was a short story writer and got into screenwriting, and then decided to write a novel, while writing at my job for preschoolers, which made me a literary fiction writer who 'became' a women's fiction writer, I underwent another transformation (yeah, I'm getting dizzy too) I became a young adult writer. Bing, bang, boom.

Here's the thing. Both novels deal with young women and explore difficult topics (in fact, so did all of the screenplays). The style is the same. I would never write 'down' to a young adult audience, just like I would never write 'up' for an adult one. And since both novels are based in reality, the characters drive the story, so the things that happen to them are appropriate for their age and, therefore, my audience.

In this business, it seems that we are forced to label ourselves instantaneously. You write and publish a romance novel and, bam, you're a romance writer. But I think there is a danger in that. How do you grow as a writer once you've slapped the label? And, once you're published in a particular genre how do you push yourself outside of it? How do you tell the story you wish to tell if it doesn't suit what you know? Do you stay afraid of it and toss the idea aside...or pony up?

For a while, I was a little nervous about getting into young adult literature. It wasn't something I set out to do and I thought I wasn't qualified because I'd never done it before. But I'm glad I pushed out of my comfort zone. I'm glad I told the story that came to me and I didn't just tuck it aside because it didn't quite fit.

I have the sense that the publishing industry does not look positively at genre hopping. Maybe a teacher would encourage an aspiring writer like me to explore. But I'm not sure an agent would want to take you on if you admitted to hopping around a lot. They might question your maturity as a writer. Or if you were an established writer, there would probably be a lot of suits in a conference room, trying to figure out how to approach this lapse in sanity (I assume a pseudonym would be the answer?) Still, I can't help but think how exciting it would be if my favorite authors took on something entirely different. I'd love to see Jhumpa Lahiri take on science fiction or something crazy like that. I mean, why the heck not? If you love the way an author tells a story, what difference does it make if a literary author takes their characters to outer space?

How do you feel about genre hopping? Too risky? Or exciting? Would you encourage or discourage another writer to genre hop? Would it make a difference if they were published or not?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Blogfest

This is part of the Luck of the Irish SPD blogfest, hosted by Colene Murphy and Alexia Chamberlynn.

I'm not Irish but I've always enjoyed St. Patrick's Day. Any excuse to day drink is good in my book and everyone gets to be Irish for that day. To be honest, I'm not sure that the parade in Boston is even on St. Patrick's Day, so this memory may not exactly follow the rules. But I remember this particular day really well because I documented it. I don't keep a proper journal anymore but I did once. And in 2004, after attending the St. Patrick's Day parade in Southie, an area of Boston that is primarily Irish, I wrote these words:
Today I really liked Boston.

No small feat, considering that my time in Boston involved reading, studying, writing, and taking exams for graduate school. Don't get me wrong, I had my share of fun. Perhaps too much fun on some days (St. Patrick's day was likely one of those days.) But I never felt as if I got to know the city because I always saw it as an extended layover. New York was waiting for me and I was waiting to go.

But that day I walked from Southie to Allston, which is about 5.5 miles (if I read google maps correctly), and I saw the entire city. Through the smell of urine and beer, listening to the sound of soft r's, past Mom and Pop mini-marts, pubs and taverns, past rickety fences and wide open boulevards, over crippling cobblestones, into arrogant brownstone territory, and down Commonwealth Avenue as the trolley bell clanged. And all the while, the stoic Prudential Center stuck out into the sky.

I always think that you get to know a city best when you wander through it, when you feel the way it curves and bends, how it rises up and falls down. And I liked Boston best the day I walked it. It's not every day you document being happy. But it seems appropriate that happiness was related to St. Patrick's Day.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sixteen Candles

On Saturday, I attended the Super Sweet Sixteen for my cousin Gabby. It was at a fancy catering hall in Queens, NY and it was quite an affair! As I mentioned, it was a Tiffany-inspired birthday party, which meant that everything was decorated in that fantastic Tiffany blue, down to the seating cards, which were little blue boxes filled with white M&M's, and the cake, all fondant-ed out as a stack of blue boxes with white ribbon. Also, there was a lovely light projection on a curtain that read 'Gabby & Co.'

Gabby is a pretty creative girl and I know that she and her friends do all of these big cheerleading competitions. That, combined with the fact that her father works in TV production, made the entrance to the party quite spectacular. Several of her best girl friends, all dressed in little white dresses, were called 'VIP's', and they stood on the dance floor while a video of Audrey Hepburn standing in front of Tiffany & Co played. And then Gabby came out from behind yet another Tiffany blue box in a wild blue dress that looked like something out of a fairytale.

Beyond all the theatrics, it was a very 'sweet' party. Probably the most impressive part was the candle ceremony, in which she presented sixteen candles to the people in her life that meant a lot to her. The speeches she made about her family and friends were wonderful. It reminded me that young people can be such smart and confident individuals. And Gabby is a truly caring person who considers her grandparents celebrities and her older cousins, Aunts, and Uncles, friends. Having grown up with three macho, older brothers who are ready to pounce on any boyfriend she brings to the house, she knows how to hold her own, and I think it accounts for her maturity. She values her friendships and the people in her life and it is very refreshing to see.

When I was sixteen, I was a pretty awkward girl. I didn't have a lot of friends and I spent most of my time just figuring out where I belonged and how to avoid being such a social disaster. I had a lot of things to be confident about: I was good in school, a hard worker, and a good athlete and I had the support of two parents who I was often more embarrassed of than grateful for. Despite all that, I was kind of a mess, and I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to stand in front of people and share my feelings in such an articulate and mature way.

As an 'adult', I still wonder if I have the confidence to stand up and say how I feel about the people in my life and how grateful I am for them. I wonder who those sixteen people might be and if I have the guts to tell them what they mean to me. In general, it's not something we always have the opportunity to do. But, I hope I find those moments in my life and embrace them because I'd like them to know.

As you can see, the party was enlightening in many ways. The idea of a 'Sweet Sixteen' is certainly the stuff that young adult novels are made of. And as I find myself writing about a sixteen-year-old protagonist in a genre I never thought I would try, this party made me realize that the audience I am writing for is truly full of 'heart'. Maybe they are Tiffany-inspired girls or social disasters. But they are wildly intelligent and they value the relationships in their lives.

Maybe we all didn't have such spectacular parties to celebrate sixteen. I had my friends over and we watched movies in the basement. As my Uncle Anthony joked, 'When I turned sixteen, I got my brother's old bike. Maybe I had a cake. I'm not sure." But, I think we all remember what it meant to be sixteen and how we had to navigate our way through all the relationships we had and understand what the people in our lives meant to us.

Do you remember your 16th birthday? If you turned sixteen today, who would you give those sixteen candles to?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Super Sweet Sixteens, Blindness, and Linda Eder

My brain is working a bit strange these days, under the influence of cold medication and general exhaustion and stuffiness. I feel I must blog and so I do, with no rhyme or reason, or feelings of responsibility to/for what comes out.

I'm going to a super sweet sixteen this weekend for my cousin Gabby. I received an invitation in the mail that was sent in a little blue box and I was told that it is a 'Tiffany-inspired' birthday party. Well then. She's only inviting 80 of her closest friends so I feel privileged to even get an invite. I've also been told there is a special surprise in store for the birthday girl. I really hope it's Justin Beiber.

Yesterday, I stayed home from work to nurse my cold and I saw the episode of "Little House On Prairie" in which Mary goes blind. Wow. I That's all I can say. Those were some very serious times on the prairie. I'm not sure how I survived it, never mind the Ingalls'. I mean seriously, one day your eyes hurt and the next day you're blind? Is that how it works?

Speaking of blindness, I once thought Mandy Patinkin was blind because he had to wear these really big glasses whenever he performed. But it turned out that he had a corneal transplant because he was legally blind in his left eye.

And does anyone remember Nancy Kerrigan's mother? She was legally blind and she used to watch Nancy perform from the stands watching this television that always looked very fuzzy to me. I never understood it. Do you look at fuzzy things but it looks clear?

Guess what? On May 20th, I'm going to see Linda Eder at the Town Hall. I'm obsessed with her beautiful singing voice and I've been waiting for the dates and times and places to all line up so I can finally see her. And they finally did. I am so excited, I can barely stand it. You should watch this video of her singing 'Man of La Mancha' (below). Because you can be a woman and be Don Quixote if you're Linda Eder. That's just how it works.

Please feel free to share your feelings on any subject what-so-ever in the comments.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I realize I'm a year late to the party but, this weekend, I watched The Blind Side. I enjoyed the film and thought Sandra Bullock was very good in it. Whether or not it was an Oscar worthy performance is debatable...but I liked her frosted hair, her feistiness, and that twang.

While watching, Tyler and I often rolled our eyes and said, That would never actually happen. Yeah. Right. Like that's believable. So, imagine our surprise when we got to the end credits and discovered that it was based on a true story (I told you I was late to the party). I frantically googled Michael Oher and read his life story and it was, indeed, true.

This threw me for a bit of a loop.

My biggest complaint about the film was that it did not feel believable at all. Here are 2 reasons why:
1. There was absolutely no conflict in the film.
2. There were no setbacks or obstacles for any of the main characters

This is a story that is inherently riddled with conflict. Here's your logline: Rich family takes in boy from the projects.

Here's how the film went down: Rich family takes in boy from the projects, their children become best friends with the boy, the boy calls his new mother Mama and doesn't miss his real mother, and each time a small conflict arises, the boy or the mother immediately overcome it without struggle, ending with both of them thriving in every aspect of their lives.

And I didn't even mention the race conflict because, frankly, there was none, despite the fact that it takes place in an area of the country that still flies confederate flags.

Was it refreshing to see a story told like this? Sure.
Was it even more refreshing knowing it was true? Sure.
Did I still find the story completely unrealistic? Yes.

The element that the film lacked was complexity. I now believe that you can tell a story in which every scene ends in triumph. This film proves that it can be done. But how much fun is that? Even the romance novels and romantic comedies I read and watch have a lot of setbacks and confusion that keep the lovers from getting together until the end.

Despite the fact that I enjoyed the film, I feel it missed a big opportunity to tell an even better story. A story that could have triumphed over greater odds instead of relying on conflict that was simply 'a given' (Rich family takes in boy from the projects) What were the writer's afraid of?

How do you feel about stories that have no conflict? How do you feel about a character succeeding at everything he or she does?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Random Offerings

Lately I've been seeing several interesting contests to get your writing out there with agents:

The Knight Agency is seeking their next client through this contest which takes place Monday March 7, from 12-1pm EST. They represent everything *EXCEPT*: screenplays, short story collections, poetry collections, essay collections, photography, film treatments, picture books (graphic novels accepted), childrens books (young adult and middle grade accepted), biographies, non-fiction historical treatments

Query Tracker is hosting this contest with agent Weronika Janczuk from D4EO agency. It ends 9am EST on Friday March 4th. This contest is for ADULT fiction only and she will be accepting: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller, and romance.

And for those of you not ready for agents or those who don't qualify, I've seen some 'get your writing in gear' activities you might want to participate in:

A little March Madness to set writing goals for yourself which includes check ins for encouragement and inspiration. I've been participating and it's been a motivation for me to accomplish my writing goals each day.

And Miss Snark's First Victim is hosting a round next week for a 'Drop the Needle' Critique where you can get 250 words in the middle of your novel critiqued (in a public forum, but it's anonymous). The theme is Revelations.

Good luck! Let me know if you participate in anything so I can root for you :-)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dim Sum Delight

In which Tyler eats chicken feet

When Tyler and I went out to Sunset Park on Saturday, we went for Dim Sum. For those of you who don't know what Dim Sum is, it is a Cantonese tradition, and it involves small dishes of delicious food.

But, it is oh-so-much-more than that...

Dim Sum restaurants are usually loud and crowded massive ballrooms with hundreds of large, round tables that you share with strangers. On weekends, there is often a host at the entrance, giving out tickets and calling out numbers like you would at the deli. When your number is called, you're whisked off into the restaurant, where you are seated in record time and served tea. An empty bill is automatically placed on your table.

And then the food comes. And comes. And keeps coming. The waitresses move with carts full of small steamer baskets and plates. They'll bark at you, trying to pawn off what they have: Rice! Soups! Pork buns! Shumai! Shrimp! Dumplings! Chicken feet! Snails! And tons of other dishes I can't distinguish for the life of me. When you partake, the waitress takes a little stamper, stamps your bill, and scurries off while you wait for the next cart.

It. Is. Awesome.

Last weekend, I tried something that threw me for a loop. Soup dumplings. If you don't know what soup dumplings are, I'd like you to picture them in your head.

Soup dumplings.

Are you picturing the dish?

There ya go. Got a nice little picture in your head?


Did you picture this?

Where is the soup? I asked when it was placed in front of me. And what I discovered, my friends, nearly blew my mind. The soup was inside the dumpling. INSIDE OF IT, people.

Stick a fork in me. I'm done.

Have you ever had Dim Sum before? What about a soup dumpling? Ya know, the dumpling where the soup is inside of the dumpling. INSIDE OF IT, I tell you! I was amazed...