Saturday, April 28, 2012

Claiming Space

I see him each day right in the middle of the bike path on Columbia Street, next to a fence covered in tarp, near the shipyards lining the waterfront.   He sits in a dilapidated lawn chair, poking at the air with an umbrella as a cane.  He is blanketed in all black, head and shoulders draped with candy colored serapes, shrouded in a cloud of bobbing pigeons.  Stray cats leak from his feet, circle him like the horses of a slow carousel.

He is a fixture, the subject of local articles, a prophet of sorts, sharing the thoughts of the alley cats he claims to know.  At night, I am told, or so the articles say, he leaves for Manhattan, rides his bike or walks over the legend of a bridge.

When I pass, when I pedal or run the path, he is not kind.  The whites of his eyes grow large and he often stands, makes a show of it, sticks the flaking, dry skin of his middle finger right in my face.  I make a point to thank him.  Out loud.  I say the words because I know no other way to acknowledge his anger than to be unapologetically grateful that I am the recipient.

He thinks the space, the slice of concrete, is his to keep.  He thinks I do not belong there with him even if I am just passing through.  What have you really claimed? I want to ask.  What's here but you?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tomatoes From Seed: Progress

I continue to attempt to grow tomatoes from seed. Last I wrote, the seeds had germinated and I was waiting for true leaves.

They have been upgraded from the recycled egg carton to the plastic tumbler cups.  When temperatures allow, I adjust them to the outdoors. I bring them back to the sill.  I sing to them because I am told that helps and, besides that, they don't appear to mind listening. The roots nudge, impatiently, and their space grows smaller and mine diminishes too.

I'll move them to proper pots, to full sun.  I'll witness their progress and hope it's a bit like viewing my own.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Followed (Not Quite) Home By the Tabby Cat

He walked in the kind of blur my life has been.  This orange and white tabby. He crossed streets with me, stopped when I stopped, scampered ahead, then paused, looked back, waited for me to catch up.

I shook my head in the darkness, No. I am not the one you want to follow. 

But he stayed close.

After ten minutes, we reached the footbridge together, the rush of highway roaring beneath us, and he stopped at the corner while I continued ahead. I looked back. I wanted to see him give up.  I wanted to know that it was not me who let go.

Instead he watched me.  He would not cross but he would not turn around.

I thought I'd stand there forever.  Thought we'd grow old together.  Follow or go, I pleaded with him, without words, only in the way I lingered on the bridge and waited there while the cars streamed below.

He did not move.

Of course, it would be me.  I would be the one to turn away.

The End of A Beginning

While I have been writing since I was a young girl, have been sitting with a dream, swinging my legs impatiently, it wasn't until 2008 that I began to write with the idea that I wanted to be published.

I wrote a novel with the aid of writing workshops and fell into the lap of a writer's group made up of characters I had no business meeting with (a New York Times staff writer, a Professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia, to give you an idea of how far outside the league I sat.) 

This writing thing...we're all a bit like bored housewives, aren't we? one of the big leaguers said.  And I thought, if this 'writing thing' is a frivolous endeavor to someone like him, an established journalist frequently on assignment in Iraq with one non-fiction book already under his belt, then what on earth would it be to someone like me?

I decided to take the plunge anyway, decided to take myself seriously enough to learn, at least, all I could about the publishing industry, the business of it, and what it would mean to be a part of it.

I started by reading two blogs where I learned...well...everything I know.  Which is to say, very little, and yet a lot. That's just how much there is to learn.

Last week, both of these bloggers, just one day apart, announced they would no longer be blogging.  What now? I wondered.

This now, I guess. I thought I'd share the archives of their blogs here, their wealth of information, in the hopes that if you didn't begin there, you'll end up there anyway.

Allison Winn Scotch's Ask Allison

Jessica Faust's The BookEnds Literary Agency Blog

Is there a place you began learning about writing and publishing? Please share!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On the Tracks

I saw these objects on different days (weeks apart, actually) and at different train stations.

It startled me, how similar they were. How similar they are.

A lost story (a book.)  An abandoned heart.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Standing on the subway this morning, holding on to the slick of greasy pole, I stood before a woman sitting in a fur vest who, after staring out into nothing, erupted into sudden laughter.  Shoulder-shaking, head thrown back, breathless squeaking, twelve year old girl at a sleepover with underwear in the freezer kind of laughter.  She wasn't holding a book, a phone, listening to a music player, or watching a scene unfold. I searched for the cause of laughter. I looked at the people sitting beside her, to see if anyone joined in, to see if she was a part of something I could not place, but she laughed alone. 

So, I deemed her crazy.  Harmless crazy (on the New York City subway we must make these distinctions) but crazy none-the-less.

After the laughter subsided, and this laughter had gone on for quite some time, after she caught her breath, wiped her eyes and sat still, she turned to the man sitting beside her, who had been quietly reading a book, and fell into the ease of conversation, because, all along, they had been paired.

Their connection surprised me.  I had labeled him: 'man reading'.  Her: 'crazy person laughing'. I had thought them strangers to one another.  And I don't know why it bothered me, to discover their togetherness.  But it did.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cyrille Aimee and A Crowded Mind

My mind is crowded these days. If I've been out of sorts, I apologize.  I've been pushing myself really hard and if I'm not pushing, if I'm sitting for even just a moment, I am angry with myself for not pushing far enough forward, and it's strange and exhausting and I'm working on this part of me that can't sit still, can not relax, I swear I am, but working on it is, in reality, just another thing to do.

(Is this making any sense?) (I've been asking that a lot lately. In metaphorical and real parentheses. Like this.)

Tonight is what I'll call 'working on it'.  I'll see one of my favorite singers, Cyrille Aimee.  I LOVE her voice, I love to be in it for the time it takes to step inside and I can not wait to see her live for the first time.

I rarely click on videos when people post them .  I'm not sure why.  But I hope you'll click on this video, because you don't have to watch it, there's nothing to see, you just have to listen while you run off and do other things.

Maybe you'll like to listen to Cyrille (we're on a first name basis, I've decided) as much I do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The 'Hated' Manuscript

When I finish writing, I mean really finish, after sending the work to willing readers, making countless revisions and exhausting edits, after multiple rewrites and drafts, after telling myself, there is nothing more that can be done, that I know, anyway, I tend to banish the finished product.  Send it into exile.

I convince myself it is not important to me. I tell its characters I despise them. With a cheeky Chita Rivera West Side Story bye bye, I lock them out of my heart. 

The truth is, most written works are sent out into the world to be, essentially, slaughtered.  And I do believe it's a lot easier to watch characters you have unconvincingly convinced yourself you hate...get tossed into the inevitable bloodbath.

Today I went back to one of these 'hated' manuscripts.  One of these good for nothing, you deserve to get the crap kicked out of you projects and I read a random page.  

I expected to throw it against the wall,  give it the finger, maybe I'd metaphorically drown it in a bathtub or toss a glass of whiskey in its face or pee on it, like I was a guy, ya know, that kind of take that piss.

Of course, it felt like looking at a portrait of someone I once loved.  And I hated it all the more for that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Several weeks ago, I had a few moments to spare.  Not enough to do anything substantial, so I sat in front of the New York Public Library for a good ten minutes. I had my camera out but I didn't take any pictures. I held a book in my hand but I didn't read.

I sat in a sort-of daze and stared.

At some point, I looked down at the glass of the blank camera screen, which sat in my lap, unused, and saw this reflection.  

None of it made any sense. A camera lens smashed up against my canvas bag.  An image regardless.  A phone to act as camera.  An unread book sitting next to an extraordinary building of books.

This is simply being, I thought.  This is what it means (is meant) to be.

Monday, April 16, 2012


My days have been very full lately, too full, some have told me. I work full time and push through other mandatory projects most of the evening and night.   Beyond work, there will be a wedding in just four short weeks.  (I should mention that the wedding is mine.)  And planning a wedding is, I have learned, no small joke. I have to find time to fill my days with sun, books, exercise, and friends. You know. Real life. And very late in the day (about the time today becomes tomorrow) I write fiction.

Through all this, Tyler introduced me to an application for iOS called Doors. This is a real game.  I'm not sure how to explain it except to say that all you are given is a locked door. There is no instruction. Just a room (a different room each level) with a door you need to open.

Together, Tyler and I sit and look at the room.  We search.  And, against all logic, we find a way to open the door.

(Is this making any sense?)

From one level to the next, we find our way by exploring.  We touch.  We look. We find. We try. We fail.  We try again.  Sometimes we discover a pattern and we follow it through and the door unlocks.  Sometimes the door opens and everything we've done finally makes sense when it didn't before.

Tyler's strategy for this game is to stare at the room for long periods of time.  He studies it and finds the small pieces, the tiny connections, the most obscure pattern.  Then, he makes a move.

It should come as no surprise that I click everywhere.  I touch everything in the room in every possible pattern until something happens and, then, I touch everything again.

"Stop touching everything!" says Tyler.

"Do something!" I shout while he stares.

This is, apparently, the only way I know how to unlock doors.

Friday, April 13, 2012


I meant to be productive this Friday afternoon.  I really did.  Instead I fell asleep next to an open window, curled up inside the breeze, and had a dream.

I wanted to mark it here because I think it's the start of something.  And beginnings are often hard to place.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers/The Strangeness of Being Kind

I rocked the drop earlier today with Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall.  Union Square Park held on to the wild smell of mulch and I looked for the right spot to leave the book behind, while this band of rainbow color and brass set up for a concert I never heard.

I left the book on a bench, quickly snapped a photo to document the drop, and escaped the park, crossed the cobblestone street to head back to the office.  Unbeknownst to me, he had followed, all that way, called after me, held the book out with concern.

"You left this," he said breathlessly.

"Oh.  No. I meant to," I stumbled for words. "It's this thing.  Rock the drop.  You leave a book for someone."

He stared blankly.

"You can keep it, if you want it."

"But it's yours.  You forgot it."

"No.  Well.  Yes.  But I meant to.  Do you want it?"

"You forgot it," he insisted.

Before I knew it, the book was back in my hands and he was gone. I stood on the street corner, having never loved New York City (its kindness, its strangeness) more.

I crossed back over the cobblestones, passed the band, found my bench and placed the book there.  Again.

Rock The Drop Today

I actually had a dream about rocking the drop (information below.)   I was in France and I had to leave a book behind and I worried because the book was not written in french.

I'm not in France. 

But this will be my mission today. 

Will it be yours? 

Click here to learn more. From the readergirlz website:

Once again, readergirlz and Figment are going to ROCK THE DROP in honor of Support Teen Lit Day, 4/12/12. We can’t wait! Here’s how you can get involved:

Snag the above bookplate and/or banner, created by the uber-talented David Ostow and add it to your blog and social networks, linking back to this post to share the love. Proclaim that you will ROCK THE DROP!

Print a copy of the bookplate and insert it into a book (or 10!) to drop on April 12th. Drop a book in a public spot (park bench, bus seat, restaurant counter?). Lucky finders will see that the book is part of ROCK THE DROP!

*Plan to snap a photo and post it at the readergirlz facebook page. Then tweet the drop at #rockthedrop with all the other lovers of YA books. 

Get ready for the celebration! Get ready to rock! 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sevens- Words from A Work In Progress

My friend Angie Cothran tagged me in this madness.  In which I must go to page 77 of my current manuscript, go to line 7, copy down the next 7 lines and post them as they are written.

I have not yet reached page 77 of my work in progress. The process for this particular novel has been painfully slow and, rather than punish myself, as I have been known to do, I've decided to embrace my snail pace.  So you get page 7.  You get the 7th line and the 7(-ish) lines paragraphs from there.

When I got to the page, when I set myself up to copy and paste and follow the rules, I was thrilled.  I didn't expect to come across one of my favorite moments and I wanted to give you more of the exchange. So I won't follow the rules or do as I'm told. Because it's my blog.

            Anna  kicks up her laced boots next to the tea cup and I see a vase crash on screen, crushed flowers, a woman, on her hands and knees, sobbing while a door slams and I can’t bear the thought of watching anymore. “This is absolutely ridiculous.”
            “You’d care. If you watched all the time,” Anna says.
            “I can’t even stand to watch fifteen minutes.”
            “Well, Claire, if you knew these people the way I know these people, you’d realize how pivotal this scene really is.”
            “But only if I knew them.”
            “The way you know them.”
            “Exactly.  You’d know that the flowers are forsythias.  Her favorite flowers.  The first of spring.  You’d know that she told him they were her favorite flowers the very first time they met. And you would know that he picked them.  Plucked them.  From the earth. After she told him about the brain tumor. While they danced in the rain.”

Monday, April 9, 2012


I've been writing in a new spot these past few days that I have off from work, at the Brooklyn Public Library, at a long wooden table with a hardbacked seat.  I sit by the window and, in these three days, the tree in view has gone from white to green to a wild wind-tossed blur.

I have learned that the library is no longer a quiet place.  There are children running around crying, squealing and fighting like maniacs; librarians quoting Bon Jovi songs to the actor sitting beside me (I spied at his computer, read his email signature, discovered he was once on The Soprano's.); people in deep conversations about a film called Vitus (which I've seen, which you should see.)

I just met Pat, who moved to the neighborhood in 1960, who once had a telephone conversation with Mike Wallace, who attended Yale graduate school because, at the time, they didn't let women into undergraduate there (so she went to Brown.)  She hails from Waltham, Massachusetts and she doesn't cook, she gets her food ready-made from Caputo's and she lives across from the park.

At one point, a child sat beside me, learning reading comprehension from a patient tutor.  What's your prediction?  The tutor kept asking. Together, they looked at the cover and discussed what the book would be about.  They read each page out loud and pondered what might come next.

At some point, the child stopped reading, mid-sentence.  I want to change my prediction, he said.  It's not what I thought.

Go right ahead, the tutor encouraged.

It's so rare we analyze a thought process like this.  And, I think, if this is the way we comprehend what we read, maybe it's how we comprehend our own lives.  I wonder how it would feel to step out the front door, walk through life, make predictions about everything we might encounter throughout the day.  How quickly our predictions would change, how fast our own stories would surprise us.

I want to change my prediction. I say this, without saying it, every single day.

Friday, April 6, 2012

It's Right Now

Is it any wonder that this was my favorite set piece of the night? A giant book! I shouted.
Last night I was fortunate to see Cirque Du Soleil for the first time.  Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.  I won the tickets through a raffle at work and watched and listened to the show with great interest. I remembered the time (pun intended) when I was a little girl and wanted nothing more than to sport a red leather jacket or one lone sparkle glove.

As everyone contorted their rubberband bodies in their Bonnie Blair suits, as they sprung out from the stage and up into the air, I wondered about these dancers.  They look happy.  Free. I thought. They're doing what they love. But what happens to them when they are old, when they can't dance anymore?

It's a lousy thing to think during an exciting pyrotechnic-ed spectacle. But, well, that's where my mind went. Straight to the terrible, don't invite me to your next party thought: this is not forever.

I tried to remember, to hold on to the idea, that it might not be forever.  But it's right now.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Right Moment

Do you ever read a book at just the right moment?

I recently read A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.  I stumbled upon it in a used book store and purchased it after scanning the jacket copy without really taking it in because if I had taken it in, I probably would not have purchased it.  Despite the fact that I enjoy nearly every historical novel I ever read, I consider myself a reader who does not like historical novels. (Don't ask. I'll be the first to admit this is completely nonsensical.  Cognitive dissonance at it's finest.)

Both the book and the author were new to me, which I can only blame on my own ignorance.  But I liked the cover, the price suited my needs, and so it sat on my nightstand for some time before my stack of books grew smaller and it appeared at the top and I thought, Well then, this next.

I am grateful to the book for many reasons. For the simplicity and beauty of its words.  For the voice, which sang to me.  For the story, which river-flowed at the right pace and emptied just where it should.

But I am most grateful that it found me when it did.  I had been struggling for weeks to understand the structure of my current manuscript and in a just-like-that moment, in a blade of grass snap, the lock was broken.  All that I'd been doing wrong, this book does right.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Obsolete

I snapped this picture quickly because I don't know the last time I've seen this.

He tried his quarter again and again. It never took, fell through and popped out with a hollow tink.  But he was relentless, stood for a good five minutes, dialing a number that had been written, in pen, on the palm of his hand.

The last time I kept a number written on my flesh was probably about the same time I last used a pay phone.  In high school, notes and numbers were scribbled quickly after class or next to a metal locker. And I used the pay phone in the lobby to call my mother to pick me up after recitals, tennis practice, or a late track meet.

I felt sad that this stranger couldn't get through.  Because phone numbers on the hand always mean something special, written in the heat of a moment, no paper or napkin or digital keypad to memorize the connection for you.  "Call me," it says. "Don't forget."

When was the last time you used a pay phone?  Wrote a number on your hand?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Things We Hold On To

I found these peach blossoms at the market.  I bought them too early, at the beginning of a morning full of errands.  So I carried the branches through the neighborhood, snuck them through crowded sidewalks.  They brushed past boarded construction sites and I raised them to avoid strollers, street lamps, stray passersby.

The hunchbacked butcher, who I love, who moves slow and steady behind the counter lugging meat in his blood-stained coat, asked me if I had brought them for him. I held them out and he laughed and told me he has his own tree in the yard, how beautiful it is, though he worries about the cold snap, how many blooms he'll lose.

Later, we rode our bicycles through Williamsburg, to Greenpoint, and an endless string of cars lined the streets to Steiner Studios.  An open trunk revealed giant sacks of potatoes and carrots.  Men in suits, with wide-brimmed hats and payot, slung them over their shoulders and moved through the procession to an event we wondered about, one we could not possibly know.

As I pedaled, I saw many hands clutch leafy palms as church let out. I was reminded of Sundays as a little girl, sitting restlessly in wooden pews. I'd kick my feet against the sturdy pew in front of me, snatch a bundle of palms when they came my way.

My mother, a talented knitter, would effortlessly weave them together in delicate designs. I'd bend and twist and curve my palms and it frustrated me that they never looked like hers.

Do it to mine too, I'd pout.  And she'd take them from me in the car on the way home, braid them the way she braided my hair.  I'd sit in the backseat and she'd hand them back to me, something newer than what they were, the green ends dangling like delicate ribbons of silk.