Thursday, March 29, 2012

Truth As Fiction

I have written on this blog before about the kindness of a certain young girl I work with.  She comes into my life only a few times a year but she leaves an impression.  She tells the best stories, always shares them with big eyes, wild hand gestures, and the hugest of hearts.

Together, we talk books because we can not get enough of them.  Her mother loans them out with you have to read this clutches to her heart.  Her father talks about bookstores like most men talk of sports teams.  And she, herself, exclaims that my books (I mean, I say this loosely. I have manuscripts, not books) sound really good.  To have a reader like her would make me one of the luckiest, richest writers alive.

Who is this fairytale family? You must be wondering.  You'll know them soon enough because, I'm telling you, this girl has big plans, she's going places, there's no dilly-dallying, and she can not wait for you to catch up.

Yesterday, I chatted with her father about writing. A retired employee from an intelligence agency (yes, that one), he's written of his experience (but if he told you he'd have to kill you.) 

Folks, if you think getting a book published is hard, if you think getting a foot inside these locked industry gates is nightmare enough, imagine trying to get a book published about the internal workings of a place like that. The man must submit his work to the intelligence agency itself before he even enters the publishing trenches and, as he says, he gets huge red stomping stamps of REDACTED every day.

I wondered, out loud, what this meant for the truth of his story.  How would he be able to tell it with these kind of censors?  How is he working around these frightening red stamps to tell it like it really happened?

He said something that stopped me.

He's rethinking his approach.  "I think, to tell the whole truth, I'm going to have to write it as fiction."

Honestly, I can't think of anything more strange and wonderful than that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Overheard: They Have Bacon

I walked past Frankie Spuntino, an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood, made for the Brooklyn foodies. They take Grandma's favorites, give them fancy pants, jack up the prices, and we all devour accordingly.

A little boy who couldn't have been more than five or six years old stomped restlessly beside his mother and sister.  He pouted.  "But they don't have bacon at Frankie Spuntino.  They have it at Prime Meats."

"Yes they do," shouted the know-it-all sister, not much older than him. "They do have bacon.  Don't they Mommy?  Frankie Spuntino has bacon."

"Yes, they have bacon."

And aren't we glad it's all cleared up for the two Brooklyn foodies under the age of eight.

From Seed

I have wanted a garden but circumstances have made that difficult.  Real estate in New York City is tricky and with each decision, sacrifices must be made.  With a garden came a small kitchen, no office, but a short walk to the train.  With an office (i.e. a place to write), came a larger kitchen, a longer walk, no outdoor space.

So the mind navigates these twists and turns and, somehow, we end up with a place, a home.

I have found ways to grow the things I don't actually know how to grow.  On the sun-soaked sill, on the shaky fire escape. This year, I thought, I'll try something.  Tomatoes from seed and if I fail, I fail.

Look. They've germinated.  Now I wait for true leaves.  The plant beside it grows wild. And I learn something new.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Tree

This is the magnolia tree in front of the house I grew up in. I don't know the last time I was able to see it in bloom.  But I happened to be there.  Lucky enough to see it blossom early.  

This was not my climbing tree.  That was cut down long ago.  That tree, technically, resided on our neighbor's property because, in suburbia, we must draw those lines, make the proper distinctions.  One day I came home from school and it was gone.  Maybe they didn't like me dangling from its branches.  I wonder.

But this tree is still there.  The only magnolia tree on the street.  The most beautiful. I think I'll call it mine.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

You Know You Work In Children's Media When...

1. You schedule a phone call to discuss the logical flow of a preschool classroom that ends in an argument as to whether or not you eat lunch or go to recess first. (Lunch first, of course!)

2. You become involved in an epic, in-depth conversation about your favorite Disney Princesses. And when you share the fact that you spent an evening (okay several) perfecting your rendition of the dramatic opening of Belle's 'Provincial Life' in Beauty and the Beast, and wonder how it's possible to do all the townspeople's parts as well as Belle's, no one flinches.  In fact, they express jealousy and add it to their to-do lists.

3. You label 'being unable to find Dora The Explorer's hairbrush' a toy emergency.

Ever step back like that?  Where am I? I ask.  I can not answer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (or...Somebody Interviewed Me)

I've been so fortunate to *meet* the fabulous Angie Cothran through this strange and wonderful blogging world.  She asked to interview me as part of her Won't You Be My Neighbor interview series

This is my first interview, well, ever, and I had a lot of fun.  Angie is kind and warm and so incredibly funny.  And even though I have never met her, I always picture her with a smile on her face. 

If you feel so inclined, you can check out the interview here.  We talk books, writing, New York City, petticoats, and bras (don't ask, it just happened.)   Angie always makes me laugh and think and I'm really lucky to know her.  If you aren't following her blog already, I hope you will.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jhumpa Lahiri, Beth Kephart, and More Attention Given to the Sentence

I was happy to find Jhumpa Lahiri in The New York Times Sunday Review this weekend.  I wait, impatiently, for her books, her words.  When they come, I devour them quickly, then I come up for air, look around, wild-eyed, wish for more.  

The article (here) is about sentences.  And while I do believe my friend Beth Kephart was writing about sentences well before this article was published, I am pleased to see these thoughts extend from one of my favorite writers to another.  Because, as Lahiri says: is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.

The article is the first in a series called Draft which according to The Times will feature 'essays by grammarians, historians, linguists, journalists, novelists and others on the art of writing — from the comma to the tweet to the novel — and why a well-crafted sentence matters more than ever in the digital age.'

And now that I've read the article, I have learned why I must wait for Lahiri's words.  She waits for them too.  She takes care with them.  She does not rush.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Splurge

I may have mentioned once or one hundred times that I love Linda Eder.  Just hours ago, I was fortunate enough to see her live (I mean really see her, just 20 feet away) at Feinstein's, a classic Manhattan night club that feels like stepping into a time warp.  In the ladies room, I saw two elderly women with snowy puffs of perfectly coiffed hair, wearing fur coats on this unseasonably warm day.  This is the Upper East Side, folks.  Steps away from Bloomingdales.  A glitz and a ritz away from Madison Avenue.

To be honest, I could not afford this show.  And I certainly could not afford the insanely overpriced bottle of Pinot Noir on our table.  It was both a surprise and relief when I landed a new writing gig this afternoon AND when I stepped into my boss's office to receive a (very modest) bonus check.  Both justified that bottle of wine and my initial splurge.

Tyler and I chatted with the woman sitting at the table next to ours.  She had flown from Utah.  She had ordered a feast at her table for her and her alone.  An appetizer, entree, champagne, dessert. She would not only see this show, but she would see Linda Eder at tomorrow night's show and, again, at the show the night after that.

Suddenly, my 'splurge' did not seem so epic.  Later, we wondered if her costly trip was a bit excessive.

I am far too sentimental about music.  I cry way too often over a violin.  I barely held it together during Linda Eder's rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Is there no song sadder for a person with too-big dreams?)  Maybe that sentimentality is the fault of the novel I am desperate to publish right now. I hang on to old songs. I try to write about once-famous singers.  I think finding your singing voice is a coming-of-age tale.

But, I don't know, I am lucky.  So very lucky to have what I have.  Maybe I'm spending money on the wrong things.

How much would you pay to take a long walk with someone you love on a blue-sky day?  Look up a tree?  Eat an ice cream cone?

Maybe there is no price too high to listen to a beautiful song.  To hear a voice that brings you joy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First Bike Commute of the Year

There aren't the right words for getting to live a blue sky day.  I rode to and from work for the first time this year.  Over the Manhattan bridge.  The North side.  Slipped straight through the warm breeze.  

New York City has never looked so bright and full of blue.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In Which I Speak Hindi While I Hacky Sack

The amazing Janet Sumner Johnson and Amy L. Sonnichsen had a most brilliant idea to form the Hackysack Club, in which bloggers can basically make fools of themselves showcase their talents instead of sitting at their lonely writing desks.

You should join HERE.

This is my video.

I apologize in advance.

Oh. And my hindi skills are actually better than my hacky sack skills.  Which is saying a lot.

Oh. And I'm a dweeb.

The Rules

I hate rules.  Because I am doomed to always follow them.  To the letter.  I always walk the straight and narrow.  I do not stray.

In the publishing world, particularly for those querying, there are a lot of rules.  There are #pubtips and #querytips.  There are how-to's, explicit contest rules, and inflexible submission guidelines. My research is both extensive and exhausting. I take caution.  Follow instructions exactly.  I tread carefully.  Try not to make too much noise. 

I try to (but of course I can not) do everything right and then I wonder if that means I'm doing it wrong.

Because there's a lot of that out there.  Have you noticed?   A lot of You're-Doing-It-Wrong rants.  You're sending your work too soon, too late, too often, too little.  You have the wrong greeting, the wrong subject line, the wrong word count...the wrong book. You, my friend, have not followed the rules.

And so, I've become a little fanatical about them.

In a dance class the other day-- yes, I have to learn how to slow-dance now, for this wedding, so we don't embarrass ourselves or my parents on the dancefloor in front of all of their friends-- the instructor asked, and he was dead serious, if I might be obsessive compulsive?  Because I quickly make up for a too-little step with five big ones, that I'm ahead when I should be behind.

I didn't know how to answer that.

Yesterday, I reached some kind of turning point.  If it can be called that.  After three hours of extensive agent research, I finally felt ready to send one new query.  Just one.  I read it over roughly 36 times and then I pressed send.

And there it went.  And as it went...I froze.

It is not clear to me how a person can read something 36 times and not realize that she has failed to copy and paste the first word of her query into the email.  Meaning the first impression of me, of someone who calls herself a writer, will be that she is missing full words, that she starts in the middle of a sentence instead of the beginning.  I mean, it's common knowledge, isn't it, that you have to start there?

So I stared at this mistake which can't be fixed.  And sighed.

Because I've read the rules.  I've been following them since I learned red-light/green light, hide and seek, seven-up.  Since I shook my head if the opportunity to skip a high school class arose.  Since I eyed my friends and pointed to my watch as we neared a curfew.

Something about this first-word-loss put things in perspective.  Like finding a typo in a published work.  Of course it must-be-done a certain way.  But, the truth is, it isn't always, and not for lack of trying.  For all those making rules, I'm pretty sure that's a rule.

Friday, March 9, 2012

They'll Grow Back

I think of my Grandma today.  The little television set in her kitchen. Her closet.  A treasure chest of costume jewelry and coloring books.

I picture myself curled up on the couch cushions beneath a portrait she made, from thread, of a girl reading.  How it came to our house when it no longer belonged in hers. 

I remember, just after she was gone, someone wondered out loud, if we had been close.  And I didn't know how to answer that.  I didn't know if I had ever been close to anyone.  What it meant to be near anything at all.  So I stumbled over words. Well.  No. Yes. But...still.

She kept plants at the window, always. Some bright and in bloom.  Others with leaves yellow, withered.  I asked why she kept those at all. 

They'll grow back, she said, standing over a pot of coffee. 

And they did.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Through The Trees

It's been a warm winter in New York City.  Too warm, some argue.  We were blanketed with white only once and it melted hours later.  March has, so far, refused to live up to its fate. It has come in like a lamb. 

Yesterday, I left the office in the middle of the day to read.  Maybe a little reckless of me.  But.  Well.

I sat at Madison Square Park and was struck by all you could see through the trees.  It is the best thing about winter.  The view it affords.  With trees in bloom, I would not be able to see the Empire State Building, the clock tower, or building tops dipped in gold.

Later that evening, I walked to Bryant Park before attending a late night recording session for work. And again, I could see the New York Public Library and buildings soaring into sky just before the sun dropped. 

I'll try to remember the relief of this winter, next winter, when I'm stuck inside, when I'm shivering while waiting for a train.  I'll try and look up and remember that bare trees allow us to see so much more.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I have mentioned before that each morning begins with Tyler watching The Golf Channel, tuning in to Morning Drive while I rush about in a frenzy because there is never enough time (because I do not leave enough time) to do all that needs to be done.

I sit on the bed, half-dressed, because I don't ever know what to wear, what clothes I even own, with a hair straightener in one hand, my phone in the other as I try to catch up on your blogs, a kindle book downloading in the background for the subway, through all this shouting to Tyler, is it raining?  Is it going to rain?  What's the temperature?  Checking my work calendar to see about meetings, wondering if I packed my gym clothes, still half dressed, still wondering, a sweater?  A tee-shirt?  A coat?   

Through it all, Golf Channel hums in the background, predictable in its format.  Host Eric pumps his fist  as he shouts: 'Yeah [insert day of week]'  Holly Saunders saunters in with her questions.  And the commercials are always the same.  Day after day.  David I. Pankin, the bankruptcy lawyer (Take control of your life and your finances.)  National Car Rental (There you go, business pro, there you go.)

This morning, I leapt out of the shower to engage in the mad ritual outlined above, and Tyler said to me, dead serious, "Hey. Do you want to turn your passion into a profession?"

Of course, I knew this commercial.  It's part of the block. 

"Yes.  Yes I do," I responded.

"Then Professional Golfer Career College is for you," he teased.

I laughed.  Because I have to laugh.  Because it's funny. Because turning your passion into a profession is what it's all about.  Because the Professional Golfer Career College is the place to do it.

As I rummaged through drawers for clothes I couldn't find, put one earring in, forgot the other, I thought about turning your passion into a profession.  I thought about writing, my forever passion.  I thought about all I've been thinking about in the past few months, few years, really, as I take a good look at my life, my career, and try to assess, make sense of where I am and where I'm going.  Because every day, I am pushing, racing forward, trying to get somewhere, anywhere.

And sometimes I forget.  That my passion is already my profession.  That despite the interruptions, the corporate madness, the blurred lines, I write for kids.  That every night, I come home and do more of what I love.  That there are hundreds of thousands of words on faded pages. That there are books in my head.  That no matter how long it takes, no matter how many people say 'no', I will keep going, writing towards something, anything.

I've been so crazy lately, so entirely out of my freaking mind (and I'm sorry, I'm really sorry to those of you who have been listening) I've forgotten that. 

So here is the question.  Is your passion your profession?  It's not about money.  It's not about a title or what you put on your business card.  It's a vocation.  A declaration.  A calling.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Celebrating The Fish

I've been feeling 'meh' lately, lonely, disconnected from people, frazzled, a little over-programmed.  My life has become very structured.  A full work-day, then time at the gym five days a week. I return home, cook, eat later than I would like (around 9:30pm), write something, anything, sleep, repeat.  Through this I've been planning a wedding, force-feeding agents one novel, researching another.  

It's getting to be a bit much.  I miss people.  I miss lounging.  Sleeping.  I'm re-evaluating.  Everything.

A few weeks ago, I decided I would plan a short trip to DC to rejoin the living and visit my friend Rebecca (better known as Becky.  Sometimes known as the Fish.)

She expects a blog post out of it.  As she should. One of the first and most dedicated readers of this blog, she deserves one.

We biked through Rock Creek Park. (You didn't expect me to go on a trip and not take a photo of the trees, did you?)

We listened to live jazz.

And fell in love with a giant teddy bear singer named TQ.

She cooked Indian food.

Then put together a puzzle while I organized the pieces by color. Puzzles are, uh, not my strong suit.

As we killed a bottle of wine, my brain in a fuzz, I remembered something random.

"Once you told me you loved Bette Midler and then we listened to her albums on repeat. This is when I knew I adored you."

"Tell everybody that," she requested.

So I am.  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Allowing Yourself To Dream

I've been feeling cautious, lately.  Trying to manage my expectations.  I've wanted to publish a book since I was a little girl.  Sometimes, I see that desire as being too grand.  To want something so badly isn't healthy.  It leads to disappointment.

In recent weeks, I've forced myself to be so conservative in my thinking that when I send my writing off to anyone, my attitude borders on self-flagellation.

So, this morning, when I read this blog post from my amazing friend Sharon, in which she left us with the question, What will you do when you get a book deal? I immediately shut down.  This is not the way to think, I warned myself.  These are not the visions to have.

But a little girl, like the one I was, did not question her dreams.  She stated them loudly.  She talked fast and made big hand gestures as she fidgeted with them.  She didn't wonder what others thought of them.  She did not strategize about how to achieve them.  She said what will happen before she could possibly know what will happen. 

And so, today, in an effort to honor that girl, I will allow myself to answer Sharon's question.

I will immediately go outside because I really like to be outside.  Even if I'm supposed to be at work.  Even it's raining.  Even if it's cold.  I will not care.  I will go outside and be happy with the news.  I will call the people I love.  I will find the ones nearby and tell them out loud.  I will have champagne.  And I will eat the most expensive cheese I can find.