Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Amy Got a Book Deal!!! So We Made A Video

I met Amy Sonnichsen through the Hacky Sack Club, the brainchild of Amy and Janet, and after a series of embarrassing videos, that led to silly emails, that led to more serious emails, Amy and I began reading one another's work and encouraging one another through this wild publishing journey. I learned many things through these exchanges, a few of which I'll share here:

Amy is superhuman. She manages to take care of five adorable children, write (multiple) entire novels, revise (multiple) entire novels, critique (multiple) entire novels written by others, answer my ridiculous emails, comment or like every facebook status I write, AND talk to me on the phone to give me her brilliant advice while making some sort of broccoli casserole. I don't know how she does it.  I recollect her critiquing a query letter for me while two of her children were puking. She's a multi-tasker all right.

Not surprisingly but, perhaps, most importantly, Amy has a huge, HUGE heart.

And Amy writes the most gorgeous books. Lucky for us, you'll be able to read her middle grade verse novel in 2015 because, earlier this summer, RED BUTTERFLY sold to Simon & Schuster!!!!!!!

When she told me about her book deal, I couldn't have been more thrilled because Amy works so hard, writes so beautifully, and inspires me with her enormous talent.

So, in classic Hacky Sack Club fashion, the amazing Janet and I decided we had to post some ridiculous video to celebrate the occasion because we share, both, Amy's joy over this amazing news and her penchant for silliness.

So all of you get to hear us sing and watch our brilliant acting skills. (Janet is actually brilliant and funny at this. I, on the other hand, had to do something like 25 takes while Tyler shook his head at my appalling ability to pretend to 'squint'.)

Congratulations Amy! I couldn't be happier for you.

Without further adieu...let the celebration ensue...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Meant To Live

I've wanted a garden so, without my own plot of land in Brooklyn, I've tried to grow one indoors. I've been through many plants that have thrived and many that were never meant to be inside. A shedding begonia stands out in my memory, managing to last an entire year before Easter rolled around again and it seemed to say are you kidding me? Then it withered away.

The leaves you barely see to the right belong to an angry basil plant that is nitrogen deficient, and I feed it teaspoons of some kind of $20 fish-smelling concoction, such is my dedication to keeping its spindly limbs and flimsy, fragant-less leaves alive.  The plant I've cut off on the left is belligerently sparse, never the pink-spotted sprite its supposed to be, because I've forced it to grow too long behind its glass jail cell. And then there was oregano, who, when I carefully snipped a few leaves for tomato sauce, seemed flat out offended and refused to bloom again.

But, now I've discovered the succulents you see, planted just today, because all the other succulents have done so well around our home. Maybe it's the desert-like conditions of our top-floor apartment or the south-facing sun-soaked windows. Or maybe it's the fact that, yes, they are okay to grow indoors but, beyond the African violets, they are the kindest to me.

My grandmother, who also lived in a sauna of an apartment, kept beautiful plants in her home, some, no matter their condition. These were stick-like and yellowed and I'd wonder why she bothered. She'd tell me she was trying a new spot in her home or fresh soil or less water or more and remind me that so much of plant-growing is about trial and error. Often I'd return weeks later and find that they were healthy again.

Despite everything, I grow angry basil each year. I've tried oregano three times and will try again. I see a begonia at the farmer's market and wonder if I should buy another. I guess I always hold on to the hope that, against all odds, something never meant to thrive, will. That, at a new angle, on a new surface, away from this light or that one, it will discover a new way it was meant to live.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Exploring Red Hook, Brooklyn

This is Red Hook, Brooklyn, a neighborhood I'd call mine if real estate divides hadn't designated us as the Columbia Waterfront. It's a short walk towards the bend and bust of rusted fences cornered with overgrown grass. I look through metal bars at the cruise terminal and encounter the careful swirl of paint against aluminum and brick.

Red Hook is as deliberate as it is haphazard. Beyond the projects, the ball fields, the towel skirts and inner tubes spilling from the community pool, there are farm to table restaurants next to stores that sell high-end baby clothes. Printed onesies of a Kentile Floors sign silhouette. The old abandoned trollies sit at the foot of a warehouse turned artist's collective and gallery. The chocolate factory pumps a whispered Wonka reminiscence, a place that also managed to carve out a barrelled whiskey distillery in a courtyard of trees.  

There are buckets of key limes in a smoky shack where they make, only, key lime pies. I'll see them carefully packaged and sold with labels at the local grocery store and it seems too Easter pastel and pristine for the goods of a place cranking out graham cracker crust and slippery green next to the glass-blowing artists at the pier.

At night, there's the slight twang of blue grass from Sunny's bar, a simple hum that spawned rabid kickstarter campaigns when the bar had to close its doors after Sandy blew through.

The streets of Red Hook are quiet, often deserted, but just beyond the brick and cobblestone, creativity pulses, the way the dock-workers there once drummed the New York harbor to life. I love this place and sometimes claim it when asked where I live. Near Red Hook, I'll say. On the border of an accidental neighborhood. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Happy, Happy Personal News To Share and 25 Steps for Writers...

It's a beautiful day and I'm trapped in the work pod during an incredibly stressful week, taking a break to mentally wander away for just a moment to blog and share updates, then determined to leave the grind for a few moments in the sun.

I do have the happiest of happy news to share with you all: Tyler and I are expecting a baby boy this January! Which is excitement doubly, triply wrapped in fear and smiles and all kinds of emotions which no blank blog space is able to hold.

The first few months left me in an exhausted, somewhat sickly, fog. The strangeness of new found ailments, aches and pains had me in a whirlwind but as promised by all articles, studies, and advice-giving mothers, last week, I woke up in the 16th week and felt that I had truly woken up, not only to an incredibly messy apartment, but to this life again. Of course, it left me wondering what I might have been saying or emailing or writing over the last few weeks while in my dazed exhaustion but I think it vacillated between deadpan, exclamation-mark-less statements, and absurd, drama-queen, proclamations. Hope I kept things interesting for all family and friends.

So, that's where we're at. Feeling incredibly lucky.

Beyond that, I hope you will all check out this article: 25 Steps to Being A Traditionally Published Author by Delilah S. Dawson. There is something here for writers who are at every point in the process, whether starting out, finishing a novel, finding an agent or getting ready to launch a book. Warning: the article is pretty no-nonsense and there's a lot of necessary tough-love, but it had me laughing so hard. I thought the advice here was hilarious and, above all, spot on.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Coney Island Today

Sometimes I think it goes without saying: I love Coney Island. But then, I remember, not everyone has wandered the phasmatrope inside my head for the past few years as I wrote a novel inspired by the heart of this special place. They haven't heard the flap and slap of my character's feet against the loose wooden planks of the boardwalk or peeled back the sidewalk to reveal the underworld I created from the contrast of color and grit.

I take trips to Coney Island like I'm entering some magical land, one I have to shh and awe and gaze and point at only once or twice a year, because, to go there too often, well, I couldn't. I have never wanted to know every turn or bend. I prefer to leave Coney Island to my imagination and get lost there.

Last October, after the Sandy storm, there were questions about Coney Island's recovery. I'm not going to pretend that the people who call this place home are not still suffering from the tremendous loss. I'm not going to pretend there isn't work to be done. 

But this is Coney Island today (well, technically, yesterday) with its crowded boardwalk and thrill rides at Luna Park (what's your thrill level: extreme, high, moderate, or mild?) This is a packed Brooklyn Cyclones game and the original Nathan's, the Surf Avenue location, open again. And the dazzling new lights of the Parachute Jump, 8000 of them, said to be seen from space.

I wish we could have known last fall. 

Papa Burger

Boardwalk Flight - A Sky Coaster

Parachute Jump before Sunset

Crowded Boardwalk

Filming the Boardwalk Flight from the iPad mini.


Parachute Jump at Sunset

Brooklyn Cyclones Game

I just really like the Nathan's sign

Wonder Wheel

Just reminds me of 'Big'

A 10:30pm Cyclone ride anyone?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Looking Toward the Sky

Yesterday, I left the looming walls of the office pod, rode the length of the river and into the Bronx to help renovate an elementary school library. We painted carts and chalkboards and walls with the purple and green paint, I learned how to use an electric sander, I even 'gardened', as the spunky school librarian, Roseanna, liked to call it -- meaning, I cleaned a bunch of fake plants with soap and water. I know fake plants are tacky, she said. But these kids don't have a playground. They don't see anything green.  It didn't seem tacky at all.

Of course, I had to know everything. Which books were the favorites. (Captain Underpants. American Girl.) How many students. (800. 6 classes a day. 35 students at a time.) How she became a librarian. (At some point the principal gave her the library to 'see what she could do with it'. She decided she better get a degree in library sciences.)

And then the stories came. A school of 800 students with only a handful of bookshelves, no computers in the entire school until last year, when, after years of grant writing, Roseanna finally received $10,000 and 25 laptops.

Then the story of deciding to host a book fair and having everyone tell her to set her goal low because of the demographics of her students in this low-income community she works in. She dismissed them, laughed, set her goals 'too high' according to popular opinion, and, on the days of the fair, doubled the goal.

Then the story of calling every parent in the school she could get a hold of and walking to every local business owner in the community so she could host an after school reading event that ended up being standing room only, exploding into the hallways and adjacent classrooms.

Then the story of how she wrapped 800 books last Christmas and gave every student their very own book.

And finally the story of how she kept getting emails from someone named Caroline Kennedy, surely not that Caroline Kennedy, until it was that Caroline Kennedy at the security desk one morning, planning to visit her 'little' library and her 25 new laptops.

I know there are many schools in the country like this. I know there are many amazing, awesome, aren't we so incredibly blown away fortunate we have people like this in the world, Roseanna's. But, I loved the passion and energy here. Yes, there has been a concern of not enough at this school but I didn't hear any stories about that. Only about the abundance. The doubling fundraiser. The from-zero-to-twenty-five laptops. The feet to the pavement, word of mouth spiral, and the book event that spilled out and ran the hallways. And, finally, I heard about Roseanna's future goals, a long, inspiring, then this, then this, and then this, list, that ended here:

And then, I'm going to get a bookstore built in this community.  I want every child here to know what it's like to walk into a store and buy a book. 

I have no doubt she will.

At the end of the day, the group of us sat down on the new rug, which, again, needed to be green, because Roseanna wanted it to look like grass, and we all agreed that it did feel an awful lot like being out in an open field. So it was decided we had to take a photo of all of us, head to head, looking toward the sky.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Back From Ireland, Holding on to Then, Now.

I'm back from a most beautiful trip to Ireland and the sun and blue and cool air have, so far, followed me home. I felt lucky there because I saw blueberry skies when everyone said I should expect grey and rain. The incredible expanse of green didn't quite follow me back. The ground is silver and tar here. But the blue did. It did.

I hope the calm I felt there also stays. Spending that many hours on country road drives, climbing mountains, or standing at the foot of the shore breathing and thinking and being, everything wide and open, looking out, feeling as if all I saw could sail the dirt if it wanted to, it made me feel more peaceful than I have in a long time.

There came a moment, towards the end of my travels, when I realized I wanted to go home before the trip was officially over, which is a very rare occurrence for me. Usually, I have to be dragged away kicking and screaming.  But, this time, I didn't want to dig through suitcases for the shirt I had forgotten or sleep on the old, foreign sheets anymore. I wanted to be home and walk the familiar streets and hardwood floors of my real life. And it was the most amazing feeling, to want to return to all I have, but hold on to the calm I felt. I felt it was possible to do that then and I feel it is possible to that now and however that changes in the rush and crowd and squeeze of this real life, I'll try to remember how I believed in the possibility that it could be done.

Beyond that, I bought a fancy new camera and I loved experimenting. I'm looking forward to learning how to really use it in the coming months and years. These are a few of my favorite photographs of Ireland.

The beach in Connemara

Sky sparkle in Clifden

The Cliffs of Moher

Connemara National Park at the top of Diamond Hill

Sunset in Spanish Point

A sheep who posed just for me.