Thursday, November 29, 2012

YA: What's Next, Thoughts on Publishing Conferences

Yesterday, in classic last-minute-Melissa fashion, I was really lucky to attend the YA: What's Next -- Children's Publishing Conference hosted by Publishing Perspectives.

I felt so incredibly happy and proud to hear my friend Beth Kephart who delivered the keynote. Her beautiful words started the conversation and placed us all in this remarkable mind-space, capturing the beauty, the immediacy and the urgency of young adult literature, how it transcends any label. You can read the start of it: here. (UPDATE: Read the speech in it's entirety here !!!)

When I attend publishing conferences, I love to learn from the people who call this industry their home.  Sometimes, I don't love what I learn.  Sometimes, it sounds like a lot of very loud noise with unwavering definitions and slaps of labels.  Sometimes I see boxes and lines being drawn and I see a real danger in that way of thinking.

What, for example, would have happened if someone had followed the rules and drawn lines for a book like The Book Thief, one of my favorite books of all time?  What would have happened if someone said, this isn't narrated by the voice of a 14-17 year old protagonist, and it doesn't belong on any shelf, and it doesn't fit in the six letter alphabet we've created for ourselves: YA, A, MG, PB?  What story would the world have lost because a set of words didn't exactly fit into a planogram?

Sometimes, if I'm being honest (and I am), I start to see the publishing industry as a fortress, a military stronghold that nurtures certain big blockbuster books and doesn't let anyone else in.

But, then, I remember that The Book Thief is a book.  And Beth Kephart's books are books.  And all of the incredible and important books that aren't conventional or aren't blockbusters, books that challenge labels and yet are labelled in some way, some form, because someone allows them to fit somewhere, thus changing the very label they own (which, if you think about it, is amazing), are...



And then I feel really great about the publishing industry.

Have you been to a publishing conference?  Do you go through a similar (or different) wave of emotion?  Or am I just weird? (Don't answer this last question.  Okay, fine. Answer it)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

An Amazing Discovery: Steinway Hall

Today (which, as I write this post, turns into yesterday) I discovered what I now think is one of the most beautiful places in New York City: Steinway Hall, the flagship store of the legendary Steinway & Sons.  

I walked the showrooms in awe. Sheet music lined the overstuffed shelves. Music escaped from the practice rooms. The place is all marble and gold, grand and impossible.  So much black and white gleam, your own image reflects in the propped-up lid and a set of four hands runs across the keys. 

It reminded me how beautiful and regal the instrument can be. The kind of epic stories it can tell.  I will walk this place when I want to feel joy. 

I miss playing the piano.

Also...I apologize if this blog is turning into a strange photography romp through New York City.   I'm going through a bit of a rough patch in this space and I hope to find some kind of focus soon.  Until then.  Well.  I don't know.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Sending love to you all this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2012

This Is: New York Alive

This. As a follow-up to last week's photo. Because we're still counting the years. We're still trying to decode the mystery.

Them. Because they are tangled, windblown, like I used to be. Because they're together but each one looks towards another something else.

Her. Because the words can't wait.

This. Because maybe gold will stay longer than we thought it would.

For the story of New York Alive go here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thoughts On The Great Unexpected By Sharon Creech

Obviously, I like to read many different books but it's rare I find the kind of book I like to read.  The Great Unexpected, for me, is that kind.

I like books that have a sort of 'grounded magic' (I just made this up.)  And when I say that, I mean that I like books that feel magical, through the music of their prose or the way they dance through an experience.  These books don't have to take us to foreign magical lands because the author or the characters see this life, this world, as a place of wonder.  A place that is magical enough.

In this book, a boy falls from a tree and a reality is shaken at the same time that the event bridges a connection.  A girl 'goes to the moon' and it's not a physical journey but, instead, a new perspective, a way of looking down and asking what 'truth' is, what 'real' means.

I like the humor in this book as much as its seriousness. I like the voice, the way it questions and yearns.  But I really like the wonder in it.  The magic.

I can't share thoughts about Sharon Creech's work without sharing the beauty of her words and the complexity of her ideas.  So just one moment (of many) here:

I told Nula the story of the knight and his glimmering armor and the golden woods.  She said, "Naomi, you know that is a story, don't you?"

"But what is 'a story'?  It's in here now" -- I tapped my head -- "with all the other stuff, so maybe everything is a story."

It is hard to tell, sometimes, where a story ends and a life begins and where memory fits in between. I like the idea that they might all share a space together without distinctions.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Writing When the Sun Comes Up

Since I can remember, I have written late at night, after all else is completed and the day is done. In recent years, this has meant that the clock will tick towards 10pm and I'll finally sit down on my little couch, fling my knees over the arm of it, and begin.  It also means I'll go to bed very late with a fever of words and I will not fall asleep until something inside me simmers and slows.

In the aftermath of the Sandy storm, I was given a rare week off from work.  I researched, wrote and cooked most of each day.  I read before bed, then fell asleep quickly.  For the first time in years, my sleep was heavy.  I woke up rested. I remembered my dreams.

My restful sleep may have had something to do with the fact that I did not have to go in to the office. But writing during the day also meant that my mind was far more peaceful at night.

As a result, I've decided to make a significant shift; to reverse my writing life. To write in the morning after I rise with the sun (well, in these days, before it.)

It's only been a few days since I began the experiment.  I'm not sure it will be an easy transition.  I have always written very late at night. Since I was a little girl. My parents would go to sleep and I would turn my light back on. Writing has always been a secret in the dark. Just for me.

But since I began, I realize the ritual is symbolic. Writing is the first thing I do.  Not the last.  I wake up happy, knowing I have given myself the time to be with my secret, to do what I love.

We'll see how this goes.  I don't know how I'll feel at the end of the week, how my body will react to new hours of sleep, how I'll fare for the hours I need to be at the office and the freelance work that awaits me when I get home.  But we'll see.

What time of day do you write?  Have you ever made a significant adjustment to your writing schedule?

Monday, November 12, 2012

New York Alive

Last week I mentioned in an email to a friend that New York looked (among other adjectives) 'alive'.  She asked what New York alive looked like. Which is one of the best questions I've ever been asked.  The answer came to me in a film strip of images.  

I thought it would be fun to look for and capture New York alive which can be interpreted in many ways. I thought it might help me be a better see-er which will make me a better writer. I thought it might be fun to place my findings here whenever I feel like it.

So that's my upfront.  This is what I'm finding.

What does your home, your city, your town look like alive?

 These. Because the shoes are birds.

This. Because there's wonder in a fallen tree. We run our fingers across the rings. We measure growth. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Scattered Brain

Ugh. How many blog posts have I stopped and started today?  So many different topics. What I mean to say, what I can't seem to say, in all my stops and starts because I am so concerned about making sense (and really, what the sense in sense?) is all this.  A series of mini blog posts from my scattered brain:

You guys.  The blog. I feel so lost with it these days.

After an exhaustive search, I found a perfect pair of purple pants.  I need your help.  What shoes (color, style, etc.) does one wear with purple pants?  Note: flats season is over in these parts.

Time. TIME.  Do you crave it as much as I do?

Today, my friend/birthday sister/coworker said: Jobs are great to have.  But why does it have to suck so much when you have one?   I don't know if I'm overly emotional these days or what but I nearly started crying, thinking how unhappy a job can make people, how unhappy my job has, often, made me. 

 It wasn't my own unhappiness that upset me so much (I have come to terms with my work. I have made some important decisions in the past few months.) it was this idea that the unsatisfied feelings are so widespread.  How many people feel trapped in their jobs, in their lives, in their circumstances?  How many? 
I saw a quote I can no longer  find about the enchantment of snow.  How it snows and you wake up and your world is new. How so few things in life provide that kind of magic. As it snows in the northeast at this inopportune time, I am trying to remember this.  The joy of waking up to a new world. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We'll Just Plant the Seeds

Red Hook Community Farm earlier this summer
Our local farm (yes, we have a farm in Brooklyn) is in Red Hook, whose border is just one block away from our apartment and one of the hardest hit neighborhoods after the storm.  The farm is non-profit.  It is an affordable resource for an underprivileged community and it also serves as an educational site for many youth programs.  Unfortunately, the land was badly damaged in the storm.

After making donations, then delivering food and supplies to the housing projects and local businesses in Red Hook, Tyler and I decided to work on the farm for a day. They needed to remove all the remaining crop which had been sitting under several feet of toxic water after the storm.  

Boy did it hurt my foodie heart to dig out thousands of peppers, pumpkins, eggplant, swiss chard, kale...the list goes on...  

Boy did it hurt my human heart to know that people were digging out their homes and lives in much the same way.

As I sat snipping eggplant leaves for composting, I talked with one teenager who had been working on the farm all year.

Does it bother you that everything's ruined after all your hard work? I asked. 

She shrugged.  I'm sad.  But we'll just plant the seeds again.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


The week has been strange in the aftermath of the storm.  While my office remains dark, I've spent the days writing and, for too few hours, I offered help where I could. I usually see time as a gift but, this week, I am clumsy and uncertain with it.  As soon as I open my curious eyes to every image, I want to close them. One moment I'm desperate to step outside then I do and I want to go home. Like fishing lure. Cast out. Reeled in.

I keep returning to this idea of remaining quiet. Still.

In the stretches of silence, I have been given endless room to reflect on my work.  To come to realizations about characters and plot.  To finally understand how a story must end (no matter how much it will hurt my heart to write the words, to take my characters there.) Decisions that once seemed drastic suddenly seem just right. So I feel a strange sense of peace where I have otherwise felt all tangled up.

I don't know what I mean to say.  I don't know where the connections are.  I guess I'm just grateful for all I've been given this week while so much has been swept away.