Friday, September 30, 2011

People Love to See What People Do

This lyric popped into my head today. From the musical Ragtime, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. The character singing it is a filmmaker and I've always loved it because I think it may be the simplest, truest explanation for why we read stories and watch films. Yes. People love to see what people do.

life shines from the shadow screen
comical yet infinitely true.
people love to see what people do,
here where everyone is someone new.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Don't Mess With the Lobster Man

I feel the need to share this.

There is a restaurant around the corner from my apartment. A cozy French restaurant specializing in fish. We are not quite regulars but we do go there often, particularly in the winter when it's too cold to walk too far.

Some time ago, the owner, a proud Frenchman who always wears a Fedora, became the subject of many blog posts and articles. Apparently, a patron sent back his lobster twice because it was undercooked and, like any proud chef, the owner did not appreciate this because, he yelled, it was not undercooked and he only serves the freshest and finest fish at his establishment.

Then... the owner threw a lobster at the customer.

This, of course, makes me ridiculously happy because I happen to love crazy people. And I especially love crazy people who are passionate about food.

Last week, the owner opened a wine bar next door to the restaurant. I will, no doubt become a regular there because I like wine. But he just announced the name of the bar. And guess what he named it?! Guess!

The Flying Lobster!

I'm dying.

Sorry. I don't get out much.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wait For Me


If I spoke that is about all that would come out. Or the wa-wa nonsense talk that comes from the adults in the Peanuts cartoons.

Apparently, I was a well-behaved child. But... my God you could whine, says my mother. I was very particular about how to make a proper cheese sandwich. I did not like to leave the swingset. I refused to stand on long lines.

Nothing much has changed.

I live in a neighborhood full of children. When I walk to the subway they crowd the sidewalks on their wobbling scooters, spill out of yellow schoolbuses, run when they're supposed to be walking.

Always, there is one little girl standing at the top of the steps, dragging a too-heavy backpack, sun stinging her eyes, hair in a wild tangle at her waist. And she's so ridiculously dramatic. The frivolous girl in a period piece. The one who is in constant need of smelling salts. Wait for me. She always cries. Whhhhy will no one waaaaait for me? Puhlease somebody just waaaait for me.

I hear ya, kid. Lately, I can't catch up to anybody or anything. I can't quite seem to get there.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Stolen Story- Celebrate The Joy

This weekend I visited Tyler's Aunt and Uncle in Connecticut. They are moving from their fairytale house, a geodesic dome, with acres of runaway land. Butternut squash moves through their vegetable garden like a swamp thing. The wood burning stove stretches way up to the dome ceiling and the fire cackles as they make their way through endless bottles of wine.

But they're ready to leave it, much to everyone else's dismay, and a new home waits for them in Maryland, while they wait to sell the dome. And so they find themselves in a holding pattern. In their minds, they are in Maryland already. They are ready for that new life. But, physically, they are in the same place they've always been.

I sympathize with this feeling. In recent months I've felt that I know where I want to be and I can't quite get there. I'm ready to be married to Tyler but we've somehow been caught in an unintentional, epic-long engagement. I know where I want to be professionally but it's taking a while to get there. My goal of published author is now four years in the making (at least twenty-four years in the dreaming stage) and it doesn't seem any closer, no matter how many words have been written, no matter how much I'd like to measure progress in other terms.

But Tyler's Aunt told me about an experience in a recent yoga class that changed her attitude and, after hearing it, it changed mine.

While stretching on her mat during class, her hand brushed against her husband's and so they stayed that way, for a moment, holding hands. When the teacher instructed they go into a resting pose, they immediately let go, shifting, following instructions, getting into the correct position.

Apparently, the teacher had seen them holding hands and told them to go back to that moment. "Celebrate the joy you have," he said.

Of course, she told me that story, and it touched me. I knew I had to have it. It's probably time I admit that I don't have any of my own stories. I steal them. I sneak out with them through the always open door.

Friday, September 23, 2011

We Fix Computers

For some reason I've held on to my Dell laptop for almost ten years now. It has been through a lot. At one point, the hard drive died and I temporarily lost everything I had ever written. A few years later, my backup drive died and I officially lost everything I had ever written.

That was the day an entire writing life vanished. I spent a few weeks in denial. Technically, the work still existed. I just couldn't retrieve it. When it hit me that was a problem, I did not panic. I actually became completely zen about the whole thing. I thought, It doesn't matter. Maybe all that work was meant to be a secret anyway.

Over a year ago, I dropped the laptop and a screw disappeared. Apparently, the screw was important because the laptop screen managed to detach itself from the keyboard. Somehow, and I do not, for the life of me, know how this is possible: it still worked. And, so, I went about my days, using hefty books to lift up the flopping screen, moving the laptop around the apartment, trying to figure out which wall would work best for me to prop it up on, so I could continue with my work.

"How do you work like that?" Tyler asked.

"I don't know. It's not a big deal."

After working like that for about a year, I was walking through my neighborhood and saw a Grand Opening flag and a sign that read: We Fix Computers. So I walked into a nearly empty room which had just one folding chair, a desk, and a few empty bookshelves. I walked up to a young man, his dark hair sticking up every which way, huge wire-framed glasses that took over his face and I asked, "Do you fix computers?" And he said, "Yes. We fix computers."

So I gave him my computer, shook his hand, found out his name is Ken, and became the first customer at the no-name We Fix Computers store.

Before Ken fixed it, he asked me how quickly I needed it back and whether or not I needed it for work. I shrugged and said, "I don't really need it. I just write on it."

And Ken said, "You're a writer?"

Despite the fact that I write things. Despite the fact that I actually write for a living, it did not exactly occur to me to refer to myself that way. "I guess so."

"If you're a writer than you must really need this computer."

Again. Dumbfounded. "I guess so."

"I'll order the parts and fix it as fast as I can."

I see Ken nearly every weekday. Our lives are timed in such a way that when I leave the subway, he heads towards it. And we smile and wave and nod.

I am grateful that Ken was there. Is there. To remind me that the work matters. That it is a big deal. That it doesn't have to stay a secret.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I *Do* Write This

Today, I'm reporting over at Laurel Garver's blog for the Thestral Gazette.

I've never really been one to try fan fiction but when Laurel came up with the idea to start a newspaper based on Harry Potter and she asked me to write a piece or two, I thought it might allow me to live out a fantasy I have to write fake news for The Onion.

And it did! It has been fun.

I often put myself in a box when I write. I think, I don't write fan fiction. I don't write flash fiction. I don't write essays. I don't write book reviews. I don't write historicals. I don't write...

My goodness, what do I write?

Lately, I want to stretch myself as far as I can as a writer. Maybe I do write this. Or that. To use the old cliche, how will I ever know if I don't try?

So, if you feel so inclined, hop over to my post and see what happened when Gilderoy Lockhart, a celebrity author who actually erased his own memory, decided to write another book.

And I'd love to hear your thoughts about stretching yourself as a writer, about taking on projects you never thought you would take on.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mary Karr, Nelson George, and a Story Sorta Song

On Sunday, I attended the Brooklyn Book Festival. It was quite a treat to be surrounded by so many books and authors. To celebrate books so close to home. The amount of panels and signings were overwhelming. Unmanageable really. So, like everything in my life these days, I had to choose carefully how to spend my time.

I decided to attend a talk with memoirist Mary Karr and the author and music critic Nelson George who were there to discuss music and literature. I'm embarrassed to admit that I have not read any of their work -- soon to be remedied because I actually felt real fear that Mary Karr would smack me or eat me alive if I didn't read her books, no real basis for that, just a feeling -- but the topic interested me more than any other on the schedule.

Among the many things discussed, there were musings on the rhythm and movement of cities, how each place has a specific music history, and the way musical styles influence writing styles. For example, George feels that Karr's writing sounds like whisky and honky-tonk. When he writes, he is attracted to a style that is concise but forcefully expressive, like James Brown.

Karr told a story about waiting for a singer to show up to a recording session for a record she is working on. When the singer did arrive, four hours late, she nailed the song in one take and left everybody in the room so overcome with emotion, they were sobbing.

Both Karr and George think that this rush of feeling, this immediacy, is what writers try to capture when they write.

Since music is important to the story I am telling right now, since I'm working with two singing fools in my novel, poor Adelaine and Luna, this discussion sent my brain into overdrive. I apologize, in advance, for the brain dump that comes next.

As many of you know, I love musical theater. But I know that a lot of people do not. They dislike the idea of telling a narrative through music and spectacle. I argue that musicals are not always about the big happy-clappy-snappy numbers. They rarely follow that show within a show structure anymore. The musicals I love are the shows that allow characters to speak and then step out into an actual and metaphorical spotlight and express their feelings through song.

I want to write a book that feels like that kind of musical. A story that steps away in those big moments and assaults you with the emotion, the way a powerful ballad does.

I don't think it's possible to take the feeling of live music and trap it inside the pages of a book. How could it ever feel the way a real voice or instrument feels? It can't be possible to tame the beat and measure it in words instead of notes.

But, in the same way that cities have their own music histories, I think that people have their own music histories. Music must flow through a life the way it moves through a space. Without getting too heady, too out-there (too late for that?) I think there must be a way to make music run through a character and come out in a way that feels a little bit like a recording, at least, of a song.

So I'm going to try to get my story sorta song right. I'll most likely fail. But, it seems I can only do one thing at a time these days (try as I might to do a thousand.) And this is time well spent.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In The Words of The Golden Girls' Theme Song: Thank You For Being a Friend

I just sat down to write, looked down at my attire and realized I had to share it with you all right away:

Black and white polka dot flip flops.

Pink and black paisley silk pajama shorts.

A red and white college tee-shirt.

A formal black wrap sweater that I would usually wear to work.

Rather fancy green dangly earrings.

And somehow my high ponytail just morphed into a high side ponytail.

I don't know how this outfit came to be. I would take a picture but...honestly... Somewhere under a fashion week tent in Bryant Park, Tim Gunn just wept.

I don't have anymore to say. Except thank you for being a friend. I realize what a challenge it must be. Especially during fashion disasters like these.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Everyone Stopped

Last night, I walked to the subway from spin class, thinking about all I had to do when I got home. I thought of all the people who might be calling on the dead cell phone I had forgotten to charge. My empty refrigerator which would not be so helpful for dinner. So many unanswered e-mails. A manuscript in shambles waiting for me to tend to it.

As I stopped at the corner of 14th street and 6th Avenue, eyes focused on the walk signal, all I could think was that the stoplight could not change fast enough, that there just wasn't enough time in the day to do all the things I needed to do.

But then I noticed all of these phones lifted up all around me. What was it that everyone had stopped to photograph? I looked to the moving traffic beside me, the deli across the street, the crowded sidewalk behind.

And then I looked up.

A purple sky. And all the once-silver buildings reflected gold.

Of course, there was no way for me capture it. No way for me to hold on. And I thought it was all the more beautiful for that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ten Things About Me & Winner of the Beth Kephart Giveaway

First I'd like to announce the winner of my Beth Kephart giveaway (I calculated the results through

Wendy @ carbibousmom

Please e-mail me at: thistooblog (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your prize. I feel very strongly about sharing these books and I hope you love them as I much as I do.

Susan Kane at thecontemplativecat tagged me in this post. She is such a great storyteller and I hope you will follow her blog. She challenged me to share ten things about myself. Since there are some new followers here I thought it might be fun. So here goes...

1. I really, really love to wear dresses. I get sad when the winter comes and all of my dresses get stored away.

2. I have a strange obsession with Julie Andrews. When I was sixteen years old, in a wonderfully embarrassing moment, my friend Leah and I created a life-size cardboard cut-out of her and stood outside of The Today Show with the hopes that this kind of crazy would allow us to meet her after her interview. Katie Couric did find us in the crowd (my goodness, how could she not?) and we had a relatively long chat. She promised she would try her hardest to help us meet Julie. In the end, it did not happen.

3. I have never met a cheese I didn't like.

4. I have the illogical belief that I can walk any distance. I'm pretty sure I could walk across the country and not get tired.

5. For a long time I was afraid to talk to people I didn't know. I have conquered that fear and now I have a tendency to babble to innocent strangers because of all those years without practice.

6. I love, love, love trees. I think they are so beautiful.

7. When I was a little girl, I lived next door to a woman who did science experiments on turtles. One summer all of her turtles got loose around the neighborhood and it became the summer of many strange turtle incidents. I firmly believe that this summer made me into the odd person I am today.

8. I used to send all of my letters without stamps when I was a kid. I would just switch the return addresses so that the letters would be 'returned' to them.

9. Outsmarting the US postal service was as rebellious as things got in my life. I received detention once in high school for cutting the first and only class I ever cut. When I walked into the detention room, the Vice Principal laughed at me and told me to go home.

10. Even though I love the outdoors more than the indoors, I have never been camping because I do not like bugs or sleeping anywhere but in my own bed.

Guess what? You're all tagged. Just go for it, my friends.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Attached to Books

I think my posts have been getting a little too long on the blog. I am constantly trying to edit myself but, sometimes, I just run away with words...

Today I'll be brief. I promise.

I've been thinking about physical attachments to books. I may have mentioned once or one million times that I live in a small apartment. There is simply not enough room to keep a massive library (though I dream of in Beauty and the Beast, where the ladders fly across the shelves and I can sing as I browse.)

I came to the conclusion that I would not have a problem donating almost all of the books in my library.

As I have come to know a few authors recently, I have several books that are signed specifically to me and I would most certainly keep those.

But other than that, I only have a few select books that I feel the need to have in my home. I'm not a re-reader. I just like the idea that those books are near me.

So tell me. Do you have a physical attachment to books? Are there books you need to carry with you always? Are there books you need to have in close proximity so that you can read them again or do you simply need to know they are there?

Today is the last day to enter my giveaway for a collection of Beth Kephart books. So click and enter if you haven't already. I will announce the winner tomorrow!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Home For the Past

I took a long walk through my neighborhood today. Through, what some would identify as, Carroll Gardens proper. New Yorkers are in epic disagreement about neighborhood borders (it is an endless conversation at dinner parties) so I can't give you the cross streets. Only to say: you know Carroll Gardens when you see it.

Streets canopied with trees. Gardens that stretch from the front steps of each brownstone to the sidewalks. Young professionals with baby bjorns and strollers, toting canvas bags from a trip to the Sunday farmer's market, bicycle helmets clipped to their messenger bags.

But there are also old women sitting on their stoops. Steeples of Roman Catholic churches creeping up towards the sky. And if you really look, you'll see them: Italian social clubs where men sit on plastic folding chairs playing cards.

As I bought an armful of used books, as I rummaged through boxes of old photographs and sheet music, as I continued to walk and look, I realized that it is a neighborhood trapped in a constant state of remembrance.

One shop after the other, desperate to hold on to an old Brooklyn. There are coffee shops with boxes and boxes of vinyl records lining the walls. Hamburger places that aim to mimic old soda shops. A modern day pharmacy (now called the Farmacy) that sells egg creams, sundaes, and tuna sandwiches at it's counters.

And it is a neighborhood that fights hard to preserve it's history. Tirelessly working to restore the nearby Gowanus Canal and conserve the gardens for which it gets it's name.

Today, I walked past a storefront I'd never seen before. To be honest, it looked more like someone's old apartment. Though it was closed, I looked through the window to find a shop full of junk. Faded newspapers scattered everwhere. Dolls and books and clothes in heaps on the floor. There was no order, that I could see, no rhyme or reason to anything.

But the sign in the window said it all: I appreciate all your donations to my store but I am overstocked. Please don't leave any more items at my door. Thank you!

And on a day like today, when there is just not enough room to hold all of our memories, when we wonder where we will keep them, I thought: this is what I love about Carroll Gardens. It is a place where it doesn't seem right to throw away the old. A place where someone is always looking to find a new home for the past.

Friday, September 9, 2011

It Wasn't A Dream! It Was A Place!

I'm feeling random today so this is just a mashup.

Because you can never get enough Beth Kephart in your life (just a personal philosophy) you should check out this Treasure Hunt. Two lucky winners will get a signed copy of her latest book You Are My Only and a 2,000 word critique on a work in progress. Did you catch that? Did. You. Catch. That? Writers, I think you should jump on the opportunity.

And of course, you can still win a collection of Beth Kephart books from my blog because I want you to fall in love with her books, as I have.

I did two things on the blog this week that I rarely do. I posted my fiction. And I put together the aforementioned givewaway. The only reason I have held back on doing these things in the past is because of fear.

Maybe you understand the hesitancy to put my work out there. But I'm sure you're wondering who, in the world, would be frightened to give away books? Me. That's who. Every time I post something on this blog I wonder: who will care?

And I'm always amazed, absolutely floored, that all of you do. You think I would have figured it out by now with all the times you've been there...but let me have my Dorothy-wakes-up-from-Oz kind of moment. Oh, but it wasn't a dream! It was a place! And you - and you - and you - and you were there. But you couldn't have been, could you?

Could you? You were. You are. So thank you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Balancing Act

While tuned in to NPR as I drove between Alabama and Georgia on Sunday, I listened with great interest to an interview with Sherry Turkle, a Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT.

Among the many topics discussed, there was an in depth conversation about our attachment to technology and how being constantly connected can lead to a new kind of loneliness and a new found social anxiety.

I found myself nodding vigorously as the conversation progressed. Yes, I know how that feels, I thought, as the interviewer confessed a compulsion to check her e-mail constantly, to obsessively follow up on blog comments, to answer every e-mail in her inbox before it becomes unmanageable, to post facebook statuses that look as if she is witty but not trying too hard. And to do all of this while being fully present in real life.

I don't think this anxiety is news to anyone. I suffer from it: big time. I'm nervous that I'm not living my actual life to it's fullest because my finger is scrolling to find a new e-mail. I'm worried about not being conscientious enough with my responsibilities in the digital world ('she read my blog today, what happens if I don't read her blog today?')

What did surprise me is that this panic is widespread, that people are desperate to find the right balance, that, as a society, we are unhappy about not being able to find it. And Turkle is not some kind of luddite. She's not recommending we shut out the digital world entirely. Technology is her life's work. She's been advocating for it her entire career. Instead, she's ready to start a dialogue about it.

This conversation was eye-opening for me because I feel pretty good about most of the ways I balance my time on the internet. A lot of the 'inadequacies' I feel in the digital space, I've been able to accept. I can't get to everyone. I can't do everything.

Except for one thing: I am very worried about my obsession with checking my e-mail. I used to have a really great system. I only checked it once a day and answered all of my e-mails in the evening. I felt really good about that system.

Since getting a smart phone, however, my finger is constantly at the ready, desperately searching for the alert that someone e-mailed me. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that I check it at least 100 times a day and it distracts me from many other things. (As a side note: all of this started when I began querying agents last year.)

So, I've officially decided to leave my smart phone home during the day and go back to that system of checking and replying to my personal e-mail only in the evening. By the way, I don't want anyone to read this post and stop e-mailing me or something. Because it would make me cry if all I got were ads. (See. Anxiety.)

I'd love to know if you're worried about striking the right balance between your real life and your digital life? Does it freak you out that there is actually a distinction between the two? (It totally freaks me out.)

And a quick reminder about my giveaway to win a collection of Beth Kephart books. You do not want to miss this.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

200 Words. A Challenge.

I took on the First Campaigner Challenge. A 200 word piece of fiction that must begin with the words "The door swung open..." It is inspired by an abandoned church I discovered in my travels.

I hate rules. Only because I am doomed to always follow them. But this begins as I was told to begin it. And I am proud to say it is exactly 200 words. It is #275 on the linky list.

The door swung open and my wrists fell limp at the keys, fingers caught in memory, the abrupt halt of a note half heard. I kept my back to her, legs stuck to the sturdy wooden piano bench.

“Keep playing.”

I shook my head. No. That was not why I had gone there. That was not why she had come.

In the darkness of the empty church, faded hymnals rested at a pulpit where no one stood, and I was there, breathing in the stale air, so that no one would hear. I was there because it was a place that had been forgotten.

I imagined her blackened feet against the wooden floor as she approached. “It’s outta tune, I bet.”

“I like it that way. That’s how I want to hear things.”

“But how’ll you know you got it right?”

“I don’t want to get it right.” I was too used to getting things wrong.

She sat beside me, her long hair dripping down her tiny shoulders like honey. And she leaned forward, tired, as if she were only resting her elbows on the kitchen counter, smashing into the keys, ripping apart the silence.

It sounded like a sigh.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Giveaway in Anticipation of Beth Kephart's You Are My Only

I have mentioned Beth Kephart on this blog before, mainly to say that I love her blog (which you must visit) and her books (which you must read) but not much beyond that. Not because I haven't wanted to say more, only because I have tried to understand why I love her books and have found it very difficult.

The experience of reading her young adult books is deeply personal for me.

I know it's not enough to say that the 'why' can not be expressed. It can be. I just haven't tried until today.

When I read her books, I am in them. Truly inside of them. A very safe place to be. These main characters, these girls, I know them, even if their experiences are vastly different than my own.

They are girls who are searching, who are curious, who want to understand and know. They are girls who are on their way to becoming and no matter how old I get I am still that kind of girl, always searching for a better someone to be. I'm always aware of a kind of ache in Kephart's books. Like resting inside of a long sigh. And I know this ache. It is familiar to me.

Her latest book, You Are My Only (due out on October 25th and available for pre-order here) is also a book about a desperate search. Two quests, really. Emmy, a young mother, searching for her lost child. And Sophie, who begins to question her world, seeking the one thing she doesn't know to look for. All of it culminating to a discovery that left me with sweaty palms and a racing heart as I turned each page.

There is color and hope and life in this book. When I imagine it (and I always try to imagine how a book really, truly feels) I think of paint against canvas, technicolor film on a page, every image, feeling, and character bursting, so real and vivid and bright.

As I read, I was let in and out of each scene at just the right moments, enough to feel that I was there, but aware of something just out of reach. And that's the shadow. The contrast. A secret. It is also what keeps Emmy and Sophie restless and yearning. What keeps me reading Kephart's books and writing my own because I, too, am desperate to know what eludes these girls. Girls like me.

I consider a good book a gift. And the way I see it, Beth Kephart has given me many gifts: her blog (a wealth of inspiration, a treasure), her books, and her friendship. And we are all so lucky because she is an amazingly prolific writer, the gift that keeps on giving, if you will, with twelve books out there in the world, two more coming out soon, and more in progress than I would know what to do with. So, in anticipation of the release of You Are My Only (October 25th. I'll wait here for you to put it in your calendar), I want to give the gift of four of her young adult books to you.

All you have to do is comment on this post and I'll randomly draw a winner and you'll have a chance to win four of Beth Kephart's young adult books: Undercover, House of Dance, The Heart Is Not A Size, and Nothing But Ghosts.

So the rules:

Comment on this post before September 13th.
If you blog about this contest you get 2 extra entries: +2
If you tweet about this contest you get an extra entry: +1
If you follow my blog or you become a follower of my blog you get an extra entry: +1
You must add them up and put that in your comment because I don't do math.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Basement Thinking

Guess what? I managed to finish the first edit of my work in progress, Rabbit Island, which involved a lot of rewriting, reorganizing, and rearranging. Now that there is a decent framework, I realize that there are a lot of plot holes. There are new scenes to be written. There is a new storyline I wish to weave through it all.

On to what I'm calling Edit # 1.5 because it doesn't feel like an Edit #2 just yet.

I know I need these particular scenes and this new storyline. What I find so strange is that I don't know how all of it will unfold. It seems that so much of writing is thinking. And though I am a person who wants to do, do, do, write, write, write, I need days where I do not write at all.

I need to think.

But the kind of thinking I need to do is, what I call, basement thinking. The thinking that happens when I do other things. It's not like Rodin thinking where you sit in a garden and get in position to think. You don't pose for it. It happens in metaphorical darkness, in the basement level apartment of conscious thought, when you're not even aware.

Do you set aside time to think about your novel? Or do you do basement thinking?

Or are you the kind of person who always knows what you want to say? Sometimes, I wish I was that kind of person.