Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Overheard: F Train, York Street

She had huge brown eyes and a swinging ponytail.  Her backpack bunched up her shoulders. She wore a black coat, black pants.  Her friend was the one dressed in rainbow. Long spidery eyelashes. Earrings that brushed her shoulders.

I think when I'm finished with school, when I'm a nurse, I'll be a nurse for twenty or thirty years and then I'll be done with it.  I'll be something else.

You'll go back to school? The friend asked. When you're fifty?

I don't want one career. I want two careers.  I'll be a nurse and then I'll be something else. And when I'm fifty, I'll appreciate school more. When you're young you don't appreciate school.

What will you be when you're fifty?

Maybe. A dentist.

She looked through the glass of the subway doors as we slowed to a stop.  Her eyes did that frantic zig-zag scan, the kind of flash panic that comes when you've passed where you thought you might be, but you're really ahead of it. 

I totally thought we missed our stop.  This is it.

I loved her way of thinking.  The certainty that she wouldn't be one thing but many. The idea that she may not appreciate now what she might then or that becoming doesn't end with youth.

I started to think if I could be one thing now and something else in twenty years, what would that be?  

What would it be for you?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New York Alive: In Bloom

To me, this scene, these people are magic.  The very essence of New York in spring. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The journey, finding an agent, and all that

Some of you have inquired a bit about the journey to finding an agent and it occurred to me that I've been somewhat quiet here over the years about this part of the process, when, in fact, it has been a larger, nagging presence in my life than I've let on.  

So here's the story, and I apologize, in advance, for the length of this post.  Get a drink, kick back, skip to the end if you're bored.

Technically, I sent my first query letter in 1992. I was eleven and I had written a poem and, since I spent most of my mornings reading cereal boxes and whatever mail my parents left on the kitchen table, I read one of those weekly free community news circulars and discovered they had a very small poetry section.  I wrote a handwritten letter that said, 'I wrote this poem. I hope you like it!'*  And a month later, my poem appeared in the circular.

Since then, I have spent years sending short stories and novels into the universe. But that was the first and last time anyone has ever published my fiction.

In April 2010, I was serious about publishing a novel inspired by two sisters I had met long ago when I worked at school for children with special needs.  That story was really important to me and I queried it, slowly, for about a year.  Because I had done a lot of research about querying, I actually received a lot of requests to read the book but, in the end, I received around sixty rejections and about twenty of those were rejections of the actual material.

At some point during that process, I actually received a rejection from a reputable agent for a book that wasn't mine. As in, she gave me all kinds of feedback regarding a character named Logan (there was not, has never been, a character named Logan in the manuscript.)  She later apologized that there had been a mix-up but, at that point, having then received, not only my own beautiful stack of rejections, but, also, in some cruel joke, the rejection of someone else, I made a very difficult decision to shelve that novel and move on.

I wrote RABBIT ISLAND, a young adult novel inspired by the historic Dreamland fire of Coney Island. It's about a burning amusement park, a young singer trying to find her voice, and an abandoned amusement park ride and group of siblings she discovers underground.

In January 2012, I queried it. Over time, I received many rejections. A few agents, however, gave me very encouraging feedback.  One of those rejections was so incredibly kind and encouraging that I actually cried in my grey cubicle while at work, on the phone with a very confused IT person in India.  I cried because it felt as if I had come close.  I felt that maybe it had been good but not good enough, and, sometimes, it can be hard to always feel not good enough.

After querying some more agents, I decided to put that manuscript aside. I was trying to change some things in my life, gain career experience I wasn't getting at work, and plan a wedding. Somehow, I managed to write 15,000 words of a novel, then, one day, discovered that a very reputable young adult writer had already written it. Sigh.

But, in the summer of 2012, in a rather surprising string of events stemming from some words I had written about a treasured friend's book, on this very blog, I met with a real-life editor who reached out to me about my work (color me floored.) I explained some of my projects to her and her enthusiasm for RABBIT ISLAND made me think it might be time to re-look at it.

So I did.

I rewrote it. I changed third person to first, brought characters back to life, sent others to their rooms with no dinner, re-imagined an underground world I thought I knew, and discovered the motivations and the past of a mother I had not understood. I sent it to critique partners and received amazing feedback.  I revised again and sent it to others, then to an amazing friend who I did not know, when I first sent it, but later learned, was the one person I needed to read this book.

Then, last month, in mid-March 2013, I felt ready to send it out. I felt that if no one loved this novel, it wouldn't matter, because I had done all I could.

I was in conversation with a freelance editor partnering with an agency about my work but, beyond that, I queried just one agent. The one who had sent the kindest rejection. The one who, yes, had made me cry (because the rejection was so kind.) The one who, last Wednesday told me she loved the book and Thursday offered representation.

So here we are.

*For the record, I firmly believe all query letters should only consist of the words 'I wrote this. I hope you like it' because, what more is there, really, than that?**

**If you're new to querying, don't do that. Email me.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I have an agent! no really. it's true.

Happy news to share today, news I have been waiting to share with all of you who follow along here:

I have an agent!

I will be working with the amazing Michelle Andelman from Regal Literary!

She tells me she loves my book!

She instructed me to follow a pink bird (the agency's logo) to her offices so I felt like I was following a magic bird to a secret garden!

She has made me so, so, enormously happy with her intelligence, thoughtfulness and kindness.

And, most importantly, she wants to share this journey with me.

I can not stop smiling.

Of course, there are stories to share and I will share them.  Of course, this is only the beginning of a longer, more difficult (and exciting!) journey.  But it is the beginning of something and I feel it is important for me to thank all of you.

In the years since I've been blogging, this space has been the space of my writing life. I went from having a handful of people read this blog, to meeting some of the most treasured friends I have. All of our correspondence and conversations have, truly, made an impact on my writing.  In all this time I've written a few books and received many (many) more rejections, and, it has been no small thing to open my inbox to an alert from a commenter and friend. These comments and emails have always made me think I might have a story to tell and there may even be someone listening. I am not exaggerating or being melodramatic when I say that many of you are the only reason I continue to try and tell any story at all.

So. Thank you.

Now I dance at my desk. : )

Friday, April 19, 2013

Waking up to the world today, trying to live in it

I wake up, for the fourth day in a row, to helicopters hovering over the New York harbor.  Heightened security.  Because the world is angry.  And we pretend we are prepared.  

Two young boys run with bombs strapped to their backs. Boston, a city I love, have lived in, where people I love still live, empties itself of all its life, forced behind closed doors.  There’s a manhunt on the streets.  The stuff of Hollywood thrillers. But this is real life. 

I ride my bicycle through the streets of Mahnhattan and a cab driver rolls down his window just to shout, for no reason, to tell me to get the f*** off the road. When I ask, out loud, confused, from my seat, in the wind, on the pavement, in this place I live and ride and love, are you kidding me?  He says, firm, confident, I am not f***ing kidding you.

No one is kidding anyone.

These are serious times.  The world is angry.  And it hurts to watch. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Our Kitchen on Sunday

This is every Sunday in our kitchen.  

Many things boiling, stirring, pouring, baking.  There's meat for chopping, cookies cooling, an Ipad with its multiple recipe screens for scrolling.  There's no room for any of our equipment so we purchase more bookshelves so that every space of wall in our tiny three room apartment is boarded with already-packed shelves (panicking, panicking, but where will more books go?)  

The refrigerator is too small to fit the groceries, never mind the weekly baby photos friends send and expect to see proudly displayed when they visit.

And with no dishwasher and a sink that is full after just one sauce-stained pot, there is a constant stream of clean up.  

I don't know if it's clear that there's one foot of space between Tyler and the window, where we look out at the neighbor's tabby cat and pretend it's ours.  But that one foot is the space where I get through, from the fridge to cutting board to the cupboard to the table to the sink to the garbage and back again and I don't know how many times I've smacked my butt into the dripping cupboard beneath the sink or stubbed my hip into a drawer but let's just say a lot. 

We think of future homes. Although we already feel very blessed in this life, we wonder if we will ever spill out into wider, longer, deeper blueprints.  Tyler dreams of a backyard pizza oven. (!) I have this wild idea that we will have a long counter with nothing on it. Nothing. Just a wide open space of culinary possibility. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Untold Histories and the great books that found me this week

I'm sorry I've gone missing from the blog. I've been feeling a little uncertain in this space. I'm hoping it will pass.

Over the last few days, I read two extraordinary books: The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes and Look At Me by Jennifer Egan.  The first came to me after a long hold at the library. The other was left for the taking on a stoop (this is a wonderful Brooklyn thing.)

I was amazed at the shared themes between these two (very different) books.  As if I put one down and it bled into the other.  So many incredible ideas about personal story. The way we put together pieces of our pasts to create a narrative and how listeners fill the gaps with assumptions. How we spin stories and sell them for consumption, how they change our futures in their telling. Does the essence of who we are ever change beneath the veil of legend?

Lately, I've been looking hard for silence.  I've been thinking for every email I read, every conversation I have, how many things are left unsaid. I'm wondering if there is a deeper truth in the omissions, the untold histories.

So, I've been reading and writing and working and living and maybe none of that is interesting or all of it is -- as I figure out what to share here.

In the meantime, maybe none of this makes any sense, but what I mean to say is that I read not one but two great books, and so I'm wondering what you are reading out there?

Monday, April 8, 2013


Today the trees look like shattered sky. I know this desire to bloom, to become.

Lately, I've wondered if I've been looking so hard, I can not see.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


On Saturday we climbed. It's lucky I had new boots because I didn't know what I should have known -- from the foreboding name of this peak, Breakneck Ridge -- I didn't know I'd be scrambling up steep shelves of rocks, placing one hand on the jutting rough, nudging one foot in a sticky crease while the other dangled. I didn't know a fear of heights would lead to getting caught like some splayed out toad on a narrow crest, so the stranger behind me in hot pink with the white gold hair would call out need a boost?, and my stubborn pride would send me flying even over phobias, I don't need anyone's help...not me. 

Getting to the top meant getting nearer to clouds, seeing the water in its green and brown and blue, like smooth camo pants between mountain shadows.

These days I find myself in a forever pattern of wanting too much, too many things, my ponytail swinging over a sweaty neck, ever-gracefully tripping on micro-slopes I hadn't seen beneath the moss because I was moving too fast, my husband having to remind me to calm down but you understand, don't you, that I have to keep up a certain momentum.

And I did want to keep going, even when he wanted to look at the map, when the fallen tree looked nice enough to sit on (but was it really?), when I wondered how many miles we had gone, how many feet we had climbed and someone had to laugh and ask the question, because I certainly wasn't going to, do you want to enjoy the hike or just finish?

I don't know the answer to that question, of course, I don't know, I don't know, my heart beat out at the top of things, because you can hear it when you are that high and there's nothing else, you can hear it banging.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monday Quiet in Nice, France

I once spent Easter weekend in Rome and Vatican City with my friend Lynn. The alter of my memory is gilded gold, a four poster bed of towering candlesticks.  The crowds outside the Vatican pulsed with a kind of fury I didn't understand and if I close my eyes, I remember the sleeve of a nun's cotton dress at my cheek, the tweed of a man's suit at my wrists, we were that close together, all of us, dancing a swell of emotion.

I saw tears and mercied fists shaking up at pressing skies, such was the hunger around me to experience what I had merely come to see. I remember Rome alive, even on Easter, with silverware clanking at outdoor tables, fountain splashing plazas, and scooters bumbling across cobblestone.

I don't know the time of day we left or which train window I slept against.  I don't remember the station or the hostel or stepping out into the air.  What I do remember of Nice, France, when we arrived on this particular Monday after Easter, in 2001, an April that may be like this one, despite the years, is startling quiet.

Something makes me think the streets were pebbled white.  Somehow, even if the pictures show salty blue, my memory sees sheets, yes sheets, white, folded, clean. I remember our whispers, our wonder, why is nothing open? the lights beyond the glass in their vaguely brown dim, the  streets of the old city, faded and empty.

I don't know how long we wandered alone, who we asked or when, only their surprise that we did not know, It's Easter Monday. It's sacred.

Each year, I tell Tyler this same story, how I had spent Easter, the holiest of Christian holidays, at the Vatican, one of the holiest of cites, and everything bustled and towered and sang.  And then we travelled to France the day after, walked hallowed streets, everything solemn and still.

So, I always think of Nice on the day after Easter and try to honor the day as it felt to me.  The surprise of that beautiful, quiet, reflective Monday. A city asleep next to the sea.