Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Interruptions

Leap Day.   I wanted to mark it somehow.  This time, given to us, because there is an excess of hours.  And so, moments before it fades, I come here with good intentions.  I stand at the door, breathless, ready, and yet...

There is nothing to tell, I think.  How unremarkable. The monotony of these days.  Walking through rain, clutching the subway pole, sitting where I always sit.

There were cupcakes today, for a coworker I knew only briefly, in passing, who will leave us.  Who will fly across the country to a new life.  Fifteen minutes away from meetings and emails and phonecalls to say goodbye to someone who peeked in. Who turned around.

I spoke to a friend, in the morning, first thing.  I sat at my desk with brown sugar and oatmeal. She smiled, spoke quickly, tripped over words, laughed.  Stopped.  Wondered.  I like him, she said.

And, I remember, that is everything.  There are hours.  And there are interruptions. The interruptions are so full of possibility.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Sense of Place

Place is important to me.  In my writing.  In my life. 

I like to understand how we fit inside a space or stand at the edge.  Places cling to memory.  They hold on to moments we've never known. 

I am working on a new story and I decided to set it on the streets I walk every day. I wanted to keep it close.  And true.

So I have to ask, where are you?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Glee No Longer Gleeful and What Message Do We Owe Bullied Teens?

So. I'm going to go down a road today. I don't know where it will lead.  Bear with me.

Last night, I tuned in to watch a recorded episode of Glee and I've decided to just...give up watching cold turkey. I've been disappointed with the show for a long time, hung on for reasons I didn't fully understand: the music woven through story, the memory of a first season that had such a delicious dark humor.

The show has lost all that was smart about it.  No longer a commentary on the absurdity of high school, it shed all its gleeful irony.  Became preachy, melodramatic, a sappy soap opera that forced me to keep a waste-bucket near should I feel the urge to puke (which turned out to be every .5 seconds.)

The main reason this show lost all its appeal for me?  The writing. Which I can only describe as appallingly bad.  The characters became puppets. The writers took each character, threw it into a situation, forced it to to spit-up dialogue that made absolutely no sense given all the character had been through before it.  Character motives were messy.  Storylines had strange beginnings, no middle, and unearned neat endings that left me WTF-ing.

And then they took on 'issues'.  Or, I should say, they repeatedly took on one issue: bullying.  Or, I should say, they repeatedly took on one issue: bullying gay teenagers.

The first time, one gay teen endured months of bullying, then made the decision to leave schools (then return to the school for unexplained reasons. Wait. What?) 

The second time, a bullying teen herself was publicly outed as gay and promptly disowned by a family member (there has been absolutely no followup to this storyline.) 

The third time, a bullying teen himself, struggling to come out, immediately attempted suicide after one week of being tormented through facebook, twitter, tumblr (the show really enjoyed ticking off the likely social media suspects.)

I respect any medium that attempts to deal with this issue.  It is admirable. It is vitally important.  

I can not respect a show that takes on the issue three times and fails.

In my opinion, the show has done a great job accurately portraying what is really happening out there.  Bullied gay teens are forced to leave their schools, they are ostracized by family members, and they are attempting suicide, among a host of other scenarios the show will, no doubt, take on in the future.

However, the show has failed to leave us with the message we need to hear: THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.

Instead we get the I'm-better-off-dead, the maybe-someday-Grandma-will-love-me-again, the wistful dream of a better future, group hugs, and tears, tears, tears.

Here you have a show with a massive media following frenzy.  And they take the bullying issue, grab it by the horns over and over, beat me over the head, again and again with it and what?  Slink quietly into the shadows...

Where is the character who, rather than sitting in a hospital bed crying next to some dead flowers, stands up and shouts: SCREW ALL OF YOU. I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE.

File this under: Missed. Opportuntity. Repeated missed opportunity.

I'm so upset about this. I mean, really upset.  As in tossed and turned over it, wrote a stupid, ranting blog post, wondered what am I doing with my life, I should be setting up my own massive media frenzy following with my own anti-bullying campagin, why am I so freaking useless, upset.

A lot of you write for children and teens.  Some of you are children and teens (I think there's, um, one of you who reads my blog.)  What do you think we can do to strike a better balance?  To accurately portray an issue and, at the same time, send the message: THIS IS HAS TO STOP. NOW.  Who does this right?  What am I missing?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Patience (Or the Making of Something, Like A Dream)

Patience is a problem for me. 

My desperate plea yesterday is a symptom of that impatience.  Of course, I can not expect an entire novel to reveal itself to me instantly.  Of course, I shouldn't label it.  I should go with it.  The process is going to take the time it always does and I'm fortunate to have that time at all.

I'll admit I spend a lot of wasted energy, panicking, thinking When am I going to get there? 

Yesterday I learned that a good friend at work (and in life) is leaving the company. I have known this was coming. She's been nurturing a kind of dream for a while, spent time taking classes and workshops, getting the necessary certification, meeting the right people, investing volunteer time.  Her process has been slow but steady (as the turtle taught the hare.)

Together, we've tested the limits, took too-long lunches to walk the Highline, circle Madison Square Park, and lounge in the secret garden-- there is one in this concrete jungle but, as the name implies, I can not tell you where it is.  We'd find ice cream and Indian food and, through it all, talk about hopes, make big plans. 

I'll miss her but I'm happy to have walked a small part of her journey, excited to see where she'll go next.

I think desire is easy.  Once it's been found, the I want this comes without any effort at all.  It's the making of a dream that takes time.  I'm learning this.

Just as I'm learning every day to be patient.  It is very (very) difficult for me.  But things come.  Not just to those who simply wait but, I think, to those who make.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Snapshots Only

I'm working on a new novel.  I find myself in a strange position.  Each passage I've managed to write has been in the form of a snapshot.  As if I have to lift the camera and capture it quickly before the image disappears.

In other words, I'm only able to write moments.  Not scenes. 

If I didn't know better, if the very thought of writing poetry didn't cause me to break out into hives, I'd think I was writing a verse novel.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.  It's just...well...

Someone please.  Help. Me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

When It Comes to Reading Is Timing Everything or Nothing?

I often find myself in terrible reading funks, unable to concentrate, disconnected and distracted.  It happens a lot more than this self-proclaimed book lover cares to admit, the weary push through book after book. Whether the book is good, bad, or mediocre, it can be an awful lot like pulling teeth.  The funk is Seinfeldian in nature. It's not you it's me, I whisper to the poor pages.

I am happy to report that I am on quite the opposite track these days.  I'm on a runaway reading spree.  Completely alert.  Flying through books.  As soon as I finish one, I'm ravenous for another. The New York Public Library can barely keep up with me.

But, again, it's me, not the books.  I recently raced through two books.  They were written by two critically acclaimed writers with big prizes attached to their names. The reading experience was completely painless.  However, I did not like them.  My impression of them will remain stagnant, stale.

I think it's interesting that a book can still be unsatisfying, whether I'm in the right mindset or the wrong one, whether I'm racing forward or slogging through.

And, in the same way, a book can stand out no matter what frame of mind I'm in. I read Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief during one of my worst reading funks to date. It lifted me out of the reading funk only temporarily, for the six hours I sat to read it, then I drowned in the funk quicksand immediately after.

And yet, the love of a certain book can be all about timing.  For example, I read Jane Eyre at the age of fourteen and despised it, then read it several years later and, to this day, count it as one of my all time favorite books.

But I'm finding little rhyme or reason to it all.

I'm curious to know your thoughts. Do you think it is particular mindset that allows you to love or hate a book?  Is it the quality of the book itself?  A serendipitous combination?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Puppies and puppies and puppies, oh my!

We now take a break from our regularly scheduled blogging to...


(Just so you know, all dogs in my world, regardless of age or size, are referred to as puppies.)

These were taken in the benching area of the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Puppy Show.

Not sure if you can see from the angle of the photo but this dog is about 3 of her.


This Samoyed, Hayley, had the softest fur. I almost stole her.

Long day for the Saint Bernard.

His name is Benson.

Don't mess.

This dog can only take so many cuddles. Bored to death of 'em huh?

Long day for the Golden Retriever.

Toto dog being groomed for the Terrier Group.

I realize she's not a puppy but she was sitting on the grooming table.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I Read This Today...

...and I wanted to hug it.  If you could hug words.  Which I believe you can if you arrange them just right.

I love the sun
I love a house
I love a river
and a hill where I watch
and a song I heard
and a dream I made

-Ruth Krauss from I'll Be You And You Be Me

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Time Set Aside

For a long time, I was foolish enough to think that expressing love for someone (romantic or not) meant that I had to sacrifice a part of myself.  I thought it meant losing my independence and I held on, tightly, to that notion, refusing to let go, fiercely protecting myself from that loss.

Eight years ago, I stood on the rooftop of a friend's apartment building, a few of us lingering above a house party bustling below, and I fell into easy conversation with a fellow graduate student.  Numbers were not exchanged but he found me anyway and a few weeks later we went to dinner in the North End of Boston.  I had the advantage of being completely disinterested in the entire ordeal.  In my mind, I was already in New York City, where I would be moving in a few weeks anyway.

And so, it came as a surprise, years later, when we found ourselves in the same city once again, reconnected with the aid of a since defunct social network, Friendster (Yes. Friendster.)  We shared a few meals over the course of a few months.  And in October, the weekend of my birthday, I went off to Savannah, Georgia with a few girlfriends, shrugging my shoulders when my friend Lynn asked about 'the boy', because I was, yet again and as always, disinterested in the entire ordeal.

My entire birthday passed without so much as a word from him.  And standing over a beer in the dusty glow of a Savannah bar, I said, 'Tyler did not call me on my birthday.'

And Lynn said, 'I thought you didn't care.'

I was stubborn. As usual. 'I don't.' 

I always tell Tyler, had he wished me a Happy Birthday that day, we would not be together.  Expressing that would have been far too much for a girl afraid to let go. 

And so, on Valentine's Day, a day to express love, I think about what it really means.  It is twenty-four hours.  A true gift of time and space to say the one thing that may seem mandatory but is truly not.

I am grateful, every day, for the irony of years spent apart.  For Tyler's silence that day.  For time set aside that allowed me to express what I was too frightened to know.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Toys and Puppies

I'm fuzzy today.  Nose stuffed, ears clogged, throat scratchy.  Most likely the result of every member of my team at work being sick.  

But it promises to be a whirlwind week because of New York City Toy Fair (massive sensory overload.) And it also happens to be what I have dubbed 'the most wonderful time of the year' (and I full-out sing the carol as I prance to Madison Square Garden) i.e. the week The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show comes to to town. 

I will be attending toy fair for work.  There are dinners, meetings, and hours spent walking the Javits Center floor.  I'll also attend the dog show tomorrow, as I do every year, a most romantic Valentine's date with Sudafed and tissues, trying to figure out how best to smuggle an Alaskan Malamute out the door.  Perhaps it is too emotional of a time for me to attend because I will still be reeling from the news that our landlords refuse to allow us to adopt a dog, which we were seriously considering, until they put the proverbial foot down just this past Saturday.

But we march on.

Every year these events fall within days of eachother.  This year they overlap.  It is an embarrassment of riches. 

Being overwhelmed with toys and puppies is not a bad way to live.   

Friday, February 10, 2012

I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest- Lost Words from the Work In Progress

It's Day Three of the I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest.  Today it's all about emotion.

Thanks Angie Cothran and Cassie Mae for hosting the blogfest. I learned a lot about my characters this way.

I have to lose the following scene from my novel but I'm having separation anxiety.  I'd feel better if I could, at least, let it live here.

I am there for the jukebox. For the slap of song against the next one. I press arrows.  Watch titles flicker and smack.  A crumpled dollar bill spits back out at me and I study George Washington, turn my head, face the way he is supposed to face, so that the world is sideways.

"It won't take the dollar."

The dim light barely cuts across the dark. Everything is half of what it should be. Everybody in profile. One side of an unkempt beard. One shoe scraping the floor.

Anna hovers over whiskey she knows how to drink, jet black hair draped over the shine of bar. "Don't worry about it."

"No. I'll get it." But the dollar bill shoots out, floats to the sticky floor.

She swivels on the bar stool, reveals her tall lace-up boots that creep like vines up her legs, then twist up into tight black pants and a matching turtle-neck.  Her blue eyes sparkle against all the black and she is up and down and reaching over until the dollar bill vanishes and her hand brushes against the jukebox as if it is only slipping down a banister and, just like that, we are full of song.

She pushes the cool glass of whiskey into the palm of my hand. As I open my mouth to protest, she is ahead of me. As always. "Live a little Claire."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest- Dialogue Introduction

The I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest (the brainchild of Angie Cothran and Cassie Mae) continues. This time with dialogue.  So far, it's been a great opportunity to learn more about my characters.

Have two characters introduce each other using only dialogue—no backstory, no internalization, just dialogue between the two. Max 250 words.

I just went for it, script style.  

CLAIRE: What is this?

JEREMIAH: A painting.

CLAIRE: Like graffiti?

JEREMIAH: No... A painting.

CLAIRE: How do you get each swirl to match so perfectly?  How do you line it up?

JEREMIAH: It's in the wrist.  You have to do it quickly. Wanna try?

CLAIRE: I can't.

JEREMIAH: Of course you can.

CLAIRE:  No really.  I can't.  I'm useless.

JEREMIAH: It's easy.  Try it.

CLAIRE: Trust me.  I'll ruin it.   

JEREMIAH:  It's not like anyone'll see.  No one ever comes through.

CLAIRE:  Then why do you bother?

JEREMIAH: I like it along the canal.  It's quiet.  Still.  I can think.

CLAIRE:  Me too. It think it's beautiful.

JEREMIAH: The water's toxic, ya know.

CLAIRE: No.  Your painting.  I like it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm Hearing Voices Blogfest- Characters On The Couch

Two wonderful bloggers, Angie Cothran and Cassie Mae, who always keep me smiling, came up with the I'm Hearing Voices Character Blogfest.

I immediately signed up to participate a few weeks ago.  Then I sat down to write the post, looked at the rules, and had a panic attack.  The truth is, I'm in such a weird place with my characters, the idea of bearing their souls on this blog gives me hives.

But I guess that's the point.  So here we go.

This is Anna.  She is the sister of my main character.

What is your biggest vulnerability?  Do others know this or is it a secret?

You've got to be kidding me, doc. I tell you my kryptonite while you nod and fake a scribble in that little notebook of yours?  No way.  We start on a level playing field.  

What do people believe about you that is false?

That I'm smarter than I look.  I'm just as smart as I look.

What would your best friend say is your fatal flaw?  Why?

You're really into this tragic hero thing aren't you?  I'm sorry. I'm not budging on this one. I mean, if you know how to take me down, we're just not going to have any fun here.

What would the same friend say is your one redeeming quality?  Why?

I'm loyal.  Running into burning buildings loyal.  Ya know, give my right arm kind of stuff.

What do you want most?  What will you do to get it?

There's this Bob Dylan lyric, 'Everybody will help you, discover what you set out to find.'  I want the 'what'.  Once I know that, I'll be there.  I'll take down a nun if I have to.  I'll be first one in line.  

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I have a strange fascination with the Gowanus Canal which runs just east of here.  I think it is beautiful.  Sadly, it's also toxic.

The community has rallied on the canal's behalf and it is now on a long and slow journey to be restored.

I wandered there today to think.  About a lot of things.  There is a lot weighing heavily on my mind right now. 

I left feeling hopeful.  That what is broken, might be fixed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Forever Dance

Last night, Tyler and I made butternut squash risotto from a recipe that required us to dig out the monster food processor for the squash (our Brooklyn kitchen is very small), then stand over heat and stir the pasta rice incessantly.

It's time I admit that I DVR and watch back-to-back episodes of The Cosby Show while cooking dinner. Last night I selected the latest episode and found that something else had been recorded: a fluorescent soul train swirled its way across the screen instead.  A quiet tribute to Don Cornelius.

In this particular episode, there was no announcement or introduction from him as the show began.  I'm not sure I even heard the first note of a song.  We were immediately pulled into the middle of an easy hip sway.  It felt like all the beautiful people on screen had been dancing long before we got there and would continue moving, in a kind of forever dance, even after all the cameras went away.

We slopped our risotto into dishes (pureed squash and creamy rice are not the most beautiful of foods) and waited for it to cool.  I tried to mimic their moves, my clumsy self unsuccessfully grooving across the room.

How did they select people to be on Soul Train?  I asked Tyler.

I guess you just had to look good, he said.

This is fun. I could dance all night.  Because sweaty socks are amazingly good for gliding across a hardwood floor.

After a while, I sat down to my risotto and we moved away from Soul Train. 

But I fell in love with this idea.  That we would go on living.  And they would go on dancing.  And we could join them anytime.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Holy Cow That Actually Stuck

I want to write a little bit more about the SCBWI conference.  The keynote speaker, Chris Crutcher, (described as one of the most successful and frequently banned authors of realistic fiction for teens) was incredible.  If I could bottle that speech up and send it off to all of you, I would.  But I can't. So I urge you to listen to his interviews on YouTube.

My favorite quote in the speech:

 The truth, as you know it, is what will get you published.

And I heard a lot of that throughout the conference. 

Write what you love. 

Your work will always find the right readers. 

If there's heart in your writing, it will shine through. 

A lot of agents and editors spoke of how they find what they want in a book and fall in love, stars in their eyes, fates aligning, I know it when I see it.

And then the harsh cold reality of a well-respected panelist: Make no mistake about it.  We're looking for best-sellers.  This is a 'hits' business. 


But we already know this.  Publishers are out there, molding best-sellers, throwing all of their publicity dollars into big glitzy series and in-your-face books that yell loudly.  At first this depressed me.  To think of it exclusively as best-seller or nothing. 

But then I stepped back. 

I know a little bit about what it is like to work in a hits business, working in the toy business. And no one could have possibly predicted the hits over the years: ugly babies delivered by a stork (Cabbage Patch Kids), a vibrating, giggling monster (Tickle-Me-Elmo), mechnical hamsters (Zhu Zhu Pets), fluorescent trolls (um...trolls), wacko alien plushes singing (Sing-A-Ma-Jigs), gumball machine treat playsets (Squinkies) or rubberband animals on your wrists (Silly Bandz).  And it should be noted that these are big-scale hits.  There are many, many more small-scale hits too.

Everyone who worked on these toys will tell you: they knew.  They knew they had a hit. They planned it that way.  Of course.

I am here to tell you, as someone on a team of people behind two of these hits (and when I say 'behind' I mean, I was in the very last row, trying desperately to see over big hair) that they. did. not. know.  In fact, they threw it against the wall and stood back in stunned silence, completely unprepared for the holy-cow-that-actually-stuck result.

In the toy industry, all the glitz and glamour items with big marketing campaigns and humongous advertising budgets sell.   They sell because they are deemed safe. 

But, make no mistake about it, they are not hits.
The hits, both big and small, come as surprises, when a risk is taken.  And the risks dictate what will later be safe to sell.  I think that's important to remember.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

From the Footbridge

I cross this footbridge (just one block from my apartment) at least twice a day.  It extends over a heavily trafficked highway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.  I'm sure that every time we cross we are taking minutes off of our lives as we inhale toxic fumes and take in all the noise pollution.

This church, however, gives me great joy.  I have never been inside.  But I've walked by and heard its song. 

No matter what mood I am in when I pass, the view yanks my chin upward.  There is something so majestic about the clock tower and that little sea foam gothic window. The steeple climbs so high, you can see it from across the river at Governor's Island.  It marks the spot.  As I approach it at the end of each day, I know I am close to home.

I have taken a picture of this church from every possible angle.  I like this one best.