Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Year In Reading - 2014

I had hoped to share my reading list this year. As I did last year, I had tracked it all on a google map, all the settings and cities and villages of each book, labelled all pretty. In mid-November, I clicked to add a new book and its location, slipped to a key, and somehow lost the map in its entirety. Despite a lot of whining, no recovery possible.

So, it is fitting, in a year in which my life turned upside down with the birth of my son, that I have no record of all the books that let me live inside them.

And I had hoped, when I began this post, that I would come to a deeper reflection of this loss.

If it isn't already clear, I have not.

So. I read a lot of books this year.

I lived, for a time, in many beautiful worlds.

There's no proof I did.

Next year, I will track them inside me, instead.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Wish This Christmas

I wish you love.

The lyrics from a Natalie Cole song. And a sentiment I've been thinking a lot about this Christmas Eve. 

This past week, my family lost someone very special, my beloved Uncle Sonny. The story of his character, his heart, and his incredible life could fight its way through page seams, take off on an endless, runaway scrawl, too fervent and restless for this small space.

So I'll say only this. His voice was always very quiet. You had to lean in to hear it. He had a way of speaking that made it sound like he was constantly reaching for his breath. But his words were always certain. And anyone who knew him, knew how easily and honestly he said I love you.  It's hard to explain. A rare thing for a man of his generation. He said these words multiple times at every encounter I have ever had with him, a repetition that was insistent but always tender and genuine, never strange. It was as if he had to make sure, without a doubt, I knew.

My Uncle Sonny was the patriarch of our family, many years older than my mother, and, so, in a way, grandfather to me. When I think of all he built in his 82 years here, I think of this constant affirmation, his foundation of love.

I wish it for everyone. I wish for love's insistence.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Check out these snack-able stories for purchase

Earlier this month I was able to participate in a unique project from the Head and the Hand Press at the Science Leadership Academy. A vending machine in the school features the work of students and authors in the form of chapbooks; short, 'snack-able' stories. I was so happy to share my chapbook, The Song Inside.

For those of you who can't make it to the school who are interested in purchasing chapbooks, they are now available in the online store of the Head and the Hand Press for $3 (including shipping.)

The chapbooks are packaged so beautifully and, as one astute parent noted at the vending machine's launch party, they would fit very nicely in a Christmas stocking. I hope you will check them out.

They are available here.

A description of each story, my story included, is below.


Browse through our 4th Floor Science Leadership Academy Vending Machine Chapbook Collection and choose any 1 chapbook for $3 (shipping included)! Just put the titles you want in the note section in checkout and we'll send you a confirmation that we received your selection.
About the Collection
The Head & The Hand Press is proud to offer the 4th Floor Science Leadership Academy Chapbook Collection in partnership with Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy, named after the school's literary magazine, The 4th Floor. In fall 2014, The Head & The Hand Press installed a chapbook vending machine in SLA's building which includes the works of four YA authors and two current SLA students – all available for purchase here!

  • “In Memory of Lester” by Jennifer Hubbard –When Nicole’s friend Carter asks if she’ll be attending a funeral for their friend Zaren’s dog, Lester, she doesn’t know what to expect. She asks Carter, “What do you do for a dog’s funeral?” Carter doesn’t have an answer either, but both know that they need to support their friend. Through the course of an elaborate ceremony, Nicole, Carter, Zaren and the other attendees find out that this funeral is more about the relationships and anxieties between friends and not so much about Lester.
  • “Believe!” by Tara Altebrando – After praying for someone to get her out of her Chemistry test, Kelly Branham received a blessing that some kids only dream of—her sister Melissa and Melissa’s new boyfriend,  Will, sign her out of school for a spontaneous trip to SeaWorld. But what should be a fun afternoon between sisters and sea life slowly spirals into revelations of infidelity, family strife and a young girl’s realization that the adults donot have it all figured out.
  • “a chain of paper dolls” by Autumn Konopka –We don’t publish much poetry at The Head & The Hand. But when you receive a poetry collection with titles like “The boy with the firecracker heart,” “The girl who cut out her own tongue,” and “She wore a necklace of human hair,” it’s hard to say no. In this collection by Autumn Konopka, the wordplay dizzies your senses and the characters oscillating between reality and fantasy stick in your mind.
  • “The Room Where Bo Was the Devil” by Eliza Martins - “Christ’s Home for Children” certainly sounds like the ideal place for the orphaned and abandoned. But as Lisa soon finds out, Sister Slade and the rest of the nuns are harboring a dark secret on the top floor of the home. Lisa loves a challenge and a mystery, so one night she sneaks up to the locked room to find out what exactly is going on. What she discovers there changes her forever.
  • “The Song Inside” by Melissa Sarno – Many say that youth is a time to try new things and explore one’s true self and talents. But for Clara, she already knows that search’s destination: she wants to be a pianist. And as her dedication and talent show, she is a pianist. So when a broken wrist temporarily takes away her ability to play, she spends a summer having to face those other tough questions of who she is and how she fits into this world around her.
  • “Mad” by Ruby Jane Anderson – In this compelling moral tale, student writer  Ruby Jane Anderson introduces us to Jane Jimenez, a hardline pharma executive who begins to doubt her product. Jimenez quickly worked her way up the corporate ladder at McMorris Pharmaceuticals onto a team working to promote what she believed to be an essential vaccine for mad cow disease. But as events unfold and intrigue spikes, she finds out she was involved in something much more sinister.
  • “Fade to Black” by Robert Marx – Student writer Robert Marx tells the story of Jimmy, a wayward slacker who’s down and out at a bar called “Bob and Barb’s.” Through dark, lyrical language and character development beyond his years, Marx writes of people who feel forgotten and the places where they go to forget. Aside from a man sending his severed finger to his wife in Paris in an effort to win her back, nothing of real importance happens. But, then again, that seems to be the point.
  • “Margot and Moises” by Lilliam Rivera – It’s safe to say that Margot doesn’t fully fit in with her new friends Camille and Serena. Margot constantly misses the inside jokes while she stocks shelves at the supermarket and they sit in Camille’s room talking about boys from their class, but at least her friends make life a bit more tolerable at the Somerset School where Margot has been enrolled. After a tortuous phone call between the three where Camille and Serena toy with Margot over a boy who may possibly be interested in her, a friend of Margot’s brother named Moises from her neighborhood sits down next to her. It’s just a simple afternoon chance encounter, but its impact makes Margot rethink who she is and where she comes from.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich

There are bird people. I wouldn't consider myself one of them. Where I live, the birds are rats of the sky, teeming pigeons, sputtering their wings at my approaching bicycle wheel, pecking at scraps of lunch. They make their homes at window sills and peeling benches, in the shafts of subway platforms. They are friends with the neglected, with the sidewalk dwellers and tattered-robe wanderers. They are no friends of mine.

It is with this bias, this complete ignorance, inattention and disassociation to winged creatures that I sat down to read Erdrich's collection of essays on motherhood: The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year. I sought the book out because I am in need of friendship and understanding and I search in the pages of women writers. Women writers who also mother. Because mothers who lawyer or doctor or teach or, or, or, etc. etc. probably look for their mentors in their own fields. So I search in mine.

Erdrich, unlike me, is a bird person. She follows them in rapt attention. The dancing and thievery, the water skimming and cloud swarms. She lives, at the time these essays were collected (1995), in New Hampshire. In a place of quiet. Where creatures burrow and thump beneath her floorboards and stare back at her between trees. She carries her children over roots and untrampled earth, not cement and subway stairs. I'm certain the air she breathes is cleaner than my air, the kind whipping in torrents from the wheeled traffic of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

Despite the differences in our environments, I found we shared a geography of the self. A self split in many twos, between who we were and who we are, between the child we carried and the child who takes his first steps away. We are both a collection of many women separated between floorboards and walls and veils. 

In recent months, I have been reading a lot of written reflections by mothers and have found fellowship and understanding in the string of all their words. But it is Erdrich and, of all things, her birds that I think, perhaps, best understand me. It feels like they are all at my window, sharing what I see from here. I love when I find the books that know me as well as I come to know them.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Trip to Philly to celebrate stories in a vending machine and do my first reading

UPDATE: Many of you asked how to purchase these stories. They are now available here for $3 (shipping included.)

I spent last evening in Philadelphia, dreaming words on the train, sitting on the benches in Rittenhouse Square, looking up, in the wet dark, at the twinkling Christmas lights. Then, I walked down a blue lit path on 22nd street and went to the Science Leadership Academy. It's a school I've heard about and wondered about. I've seen the TED Talks and articles and the PBS stories about the work this school is doing and how it is inspiring others to relook at their own models of education and follow suit. 

I was there for the launch party of the 4th Floor Chapbook series, an awesome publishing venture from the Head and the Hand Press in collaboration with SLA's students and staff. See that vending machine in the photo? It's selling chapbooks. Snackable stories. My story, The Song Inside, sits alongside some amazing work and it was so cool to be a part of it. 

I wore flowered tights and, you guys, I did my first reading in front of a live audience over the age of six -- feeling very grateful for my friend Tracy, who used to make me read my work aloud in her living room, but only after giving me liquid courage in the form of wine. Don't worry, I was completely sober for this experience, unless you count the delicious potato chips I had beforehand. 

I was able to talk with Nic Esposito, who founded the Head and the Hand Press and told me stories of his son and his urban farm, which he wrote about in his collection of essays, Kensington Homestead. Linda Gallant, who might be the nicest person ever and it's clear, took great care with our stories. The author Jennifer Hubbard, who read from her fantastic story In Memory of Lester, and advised me where to get middle-eastern food. And Robert Marx, a senior at SLA, who is waiting for his college acceptances, no doubt to do great things wherever he ends up. He blew me away with his story, Fade to Black, which I read on the train ride home. 

It meant a lot to me, to share my work in such a unique venue. My story sits next to great talent. To pop in a few dollars and watch books fall through the machine was a great thrill. If you can't make it to the school itself, I hope to be able to point you toward the place to purchase these stories in a few weeks. 

Thank you to Beth Kephart, who told me about this series. If you haven't noticed, she pretty much points me toward everything awesome.

Now, I must return to my regular scheduled programming in our Brooklyn apartment. Little O has found the recycling bin, its contents are in a pile at my feet as I write, and I think he just tried to bite into a metal can.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

On Monday, I walked along the river, looked up and found a message along the metal folds beyond the railway,

             your life is beautiful. 

Some letters were cut in half but the words were still readable. The period at the end made it fact. It secured the sentence in its place. The words could not float away.

The certainty of it made me pause. I knew that there, standing beneath those words, I could not argue, and I carried the message with me as I walked away.

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope that, no matter where you stand, you find comfort in that conviction.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Winner of Free Critique from Sharon Mayhew

Thanks to so many of you who entered to win a free critique from Sharon.

I asked Tyler to pick a number between 1 and 11 and he picked 2.

Therefore, the winner is: Joanne Fritz! Joanne, I'll put you in touch with Sharon.

This colorful photo seemed festive for the occasion.

I wish you all a very happy week.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Win A Free Critique from Writer and Editor Sharon Mayhew

Some of you may know the amazing Sharon Mayhew, our BLOM (blog Mom), friend, writer, and editor. She just started her own editing business and is giving away a free critique!

Sharon has critiqued my work and helped me enormously. When I struggled with the opening chapters of my novel (and we all know how important opening pages are) she gave me great advice that helped me re-look at it. This advice helped me land a lot of full requests from agents, and eventually, an offer of representation from an agent.

She has a great eye, is knowledgeable about the industry, and has sat on both sides of the slush pile. She's always so thoughtful, smart and kind with her feedback.  If you're looking for an editor, I highly recommend working with her.

More about Sharon's decision to start editing can be found here.

More about her services can be found here.

To win a free critique, please comment on this post by November 24th.

The winner will receive the choice of the first 250 words of a picture book critique/line edits, the first seven pages of a novel critique/line edits or a query critique/line edits.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


At my new writing desk, in its new room, I sit one window east of where my old desk used to be. I'm closer to the sill and the glass is cold. Now that the leaves are falling away, I begin to see a small piece of Manhattan's skyline. From this window, the Freedom Tower is just out of view. But I know it's there because one window west, at my old writing space, it is.

Tonight, I relish in the new view, in it's new angle. I am an impatient writer. I don't always like the pace I write at, which is to say, slow. In the month of November, everyone ticking away words, I feel especially less-than. But in the past few weeks, nothing worked, and I had to stop myself from soldiering on the cluttered path. I became slower than a slow writer. I became a writer who didn't write at all.

And it was exactly what I needed.

I cleared away some of the doubt and smudge and, this week, I returned to a story I had been working on. 

I had crowded a character with too many competing plots and I thought I was the grand puppet master. I thought I could bend anyone and anything to my will. I thought, I was the storyteller. Ha. Ha. 

Once I let all this go, I realized that she, alone, knows her story. I stand up to the microphone, make my introduction, swing my arm out in grand gesture, and say, take it away.

Holy smokes. She has a lot to say. 

I'm finally listening. I'm finally seeing what's been there all along. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea

A few weeks ago, we spent a weekend away in Maryland, and I walked with Tyler's Aunt. We talked about the miles Little O's stroller must log. We talked about my elusive writing 'career'. She asked if I had read Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea. I hadn't. And so, she loaned me a small book, so love-worn, it had been broken in two. The pages smelled of must and old furniture and, like many old books, its pages hadn't faded, but instead deepened, to a rich, sandy brown.

Not my usual fare, this inspirational essay. I don't always love books of grand proclamations or extended metaphors. And yet...

It's a book from 1955 about being a mother. Or a woman. Or a person. Or one.  It's a book of quiet but astute observations and questions. Of being whole and of being half. A book written far before the simple movement of today and, perhaps, representing it better. It's about the sea's gift. A shell.  Its polished, or unpolished, or barnacled, outer un-gleam. Its true center, our true center, found alone.

I'm not doing a good job of explaining it. But it exists and hundreds of thousands, according to the course, creased, jacket copy, have found solace in it. 

I did too.

I'll share my favorite piece of it. It starts with a quote I've heard many times. But where it goes is far more interesting than the oft-repeated line. I have always dreamed awake, in the very late night, have always felt compelled to stir in the dark. Maybe now, I better understand why.

... good communication is stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. Before we sleep we go out again into the night. We walk up the beach under the stars. And when we are tired of walking, we lie flat on the sand under a bowl of stars. We feel stretched, expanded to take in their compass. They pour into us until we are filled with stars, up to the brim.

This is what one thirsts for, I realize, after the smallness of the day, of work, of details, of intimacy -- even of communication, one thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide.

And then at last, from the immensity of interstellar space, we swing down to a particular beach. We walk back to the lights of the cottage glowing from the dark mist of trees. Small, safe, warm and welcoming, we recognize our pin-point human match-light against the mammoth chaos of the dark. Back again to our good child's sleep. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Celebrating Lenny Lee!

Today a bunch of us in blog land are celebrating the incredible Lenny Lee who turns the big 1-5.

To Lenny, my birthday 'twin', (yes, I am honored to share my own birthday with him) I hope this year is as special as you are.

I send you a bright, happy, orange-pumpkin-spooked-out-cow birthday wish. I'm so lucky to call you a friend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


These days, I sit uncomfortably with the blank page, shifting in my hard-backed seat, taking the laptop to the bed, balancing it on my knees. I sigh. I let my gaze wander, toward the clock, the window and the light of the streetlamp, broken into orange-streaked pieces by the bamboo shades. I delete more than I write. This is possible. To erase the words before letting them find their way. 

There are books in piles on my nightstand, on the floor, stacked in the too-stuffed bookshelves, each bookmarked somewhere in the middle. They are as restless as I am, as unfinished as the stories that sit in my journals and hard-drives, in my heart and head. 

I scold myself, I tell myself, I am losing time. I am losing so much time. I'll waste a whole life. Never tell a single story, never share it, never see it on a shelf or in a store. So obsessed with how I spend my late-night hours, how I waste them, staring into space, writing nothing but sketches I erase, rip up, and I begin to hate myself, sick of and angry for being less-than. Than what? Than who I expect to be.

In the day time, I sit on the floor with Little O and his wooden puzzles. In one, the pieces are set behind little closed doors. There's a cookie jar door and when you flip it open, there's a puzzle piece of cookies. There's an oven and, inside, a turkey piece. I flip them open. He smacks them closed.

At first, he does not understand how to use his finger, how to guide it toward the hole, to open each door. He only knows how to slam it when I open it. Over and over again, smacking it shut, so the little door hinges rattle closed. Look, I say. Look. But no. He does not want the puzzle piece. He does not want to see what is inside. Again and again, he slaps it shut and waits for the next moment he can smack it back in place.

Yesterday, I did not want to sit with the smacking pieces. I set him down. I walked away. 

I found him, moments later, with an open door, a cookie piece in his hand. He marveled at the piece, had this way of lifting his arm and hands like a child with a slow paper airplane woosh, arm up, gaze up, and I marveled at him, at his first instinct to take what he has finally found to the sky.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Space Of Our Own

I've missed this space in recent months. I miss how it fills me up and allow me to share my words/myself and meet so many amazing readers and writers.

This is the only place I can share my words, who I am, and who I wish to be without harsh judgement. Maybe others judge in private, in which case, that is fine with me. They move on. They stop reading. I never know.

Though it has never happened to me, some might judge in public. And if they did, I would simply delete their harsh words right off this page. It's my space, after all. But trolls ... they don't seem to come here. I thank them for staying away.  

I choose what I wish to write about. What the border looks like. The template. The photos. I choose the books and writers I want to read and celebrate. There's no editorial calendar. No one waits with a deadline and a finger wag. There are no request for revisions or stamp, stomp, DENIED.

No one tells me my words aren't funny enough or commercial enough or interesting enough. (And, hooboy, I know I've written some posts that have been real doozies.) Though I've tried not to, I've probably said stupid or uninformed things throughout the years. But I own them. They are mine.

My revelation, today -- and it answers a question others have asked me, a question I've asked myself, why do you bother? why do you blog? -- is that there is no other writing space in the world where this is the case. Maybe a journal but, with a journal, there's no opportunity for someone to whisper, or maybe shout, yes or me too or I understand or I don't or have you seen it this way? and it opens my eyes to how you and I fit together in this world, whether we're linking arms or laughing or nodding or wondering or pointing one another toward a new understanding.

This isn't me signing off, it's me signing in. Maybe it's the glop of love hormones from baby boy, but it's me saying thank you for reading my words and for letting me read yours. In this small corner of the universe, we have a space that is all ours. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Brooklyn Bridge

I found this miniature Brooklyn Bridge along the sidewalk yesterday.

It made me happy to stand above it and look down.

Monday, September 1, 2014

September and finding my place

For me, it's not about the new year but September. September is when I begin again and make a fresh start. In the northeast the school year begins after labor day and, when I was a girl, new things came with that start: a new teacher, a first day of school outfit, a new book bag, and blue-lined notebook pages, blank and ready and eager.

We'd rearrange our desks in a new classroom and, with the new set up, our friendships would adjust themselves accordingly. I'd find myself in between the quiet girl or the cool girl or the gross boy who finger-pinned and flipped his eyelids and these people would become my day, my week, my year. 

We are, I think, whether we like it or not, creatures of proximity. I wonder who and what I will align myself with this year.

I know I'll make a new start with a novel I've been dreaming. Since Little O's birth I have discovered I will always make time for writing in all the hours between everything else. I'll let go of sleep or television or cleaning (the dust...my floors...you would be appalled.) 

What I do need to make time for...is the paying work. Or I should say, I need to find that work. Work that fulfills me, gives me a paycheck, and allows me to spend a majority of my week with my son. I don't know that such work exists but I have given myself this year to find it, a luxury I planned for, but a luxury still, and I search and wonder and interview and let the world evaluate who I am and who I could be, how I might be useful or useless and the hours fade and the days fall into one another and I wonder where I'm headed at all.

Having a child, leaving my job, I find myself outgrowing the life I once built. My work. My apartment. My neighborhood. My city. In so many ways, I'm caught inside a life that no longer makes sense for me. Maybe this is what it's like to grow up. I don't know. 

Looking out into my future, seeing a long, wide expanse of unknowns is not easy but, I guess, it's a part of moving forward. Moving on.

It's September and my notebook is open and blank and the world rearranges itself around me. I look forward to finding my place inside it all. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thoughts on Nest by Esther Ehlrich

I loved this book about a young girl who loves birds, who searches for them, spots them and spouts out their facts, a girl whose name speaks a bird's earliest sounds, Chirp.

Chirp dances through her life in Cape Cod. She watches, as if through binoculars, as those around her try to cope with a year of change. Her mother, a dancer who taught her to see the world, its lilaacs, its stars, and its graceful swan boats, has been diagnosed with MS. Her sister flits between childhood and adolescence. And her Dad, a 'head shrink', who is always asking questions no one wants to answer, can not pull his own wife from the grips of a chronic depression.

Chirp deals with it all as she knows how, searching through the beauty of nature, mimicking the graceful movements of a loon's dance, slowly coming into her own as she discovers that the world her mother has opened her eyes to see is beautiful, yes, but also prickly and unknowable.

I'll call my own personal summer, the summer of the loon. A bird I had never heard of until I learned about it while visiting Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, where my husband spent his summers as a child. We searched for it on Rust Pond but I never saw it or heard its call. So, its presence in this book was even more beautiful to me, imagining its bob and sway through Chirp's eyes, how it lifts off from land and sea. I hope to see it some day.

I loved so many things about this book. Chirp's voice; authentic and pure. A sadness that is handled with subtlety and grace. It does not shy away from hard topics but it also lingers in the magic of walking through this life, eyes wide open to the world and the people we love. Its rhythm brought me back to my own childhood obsessions: swimming and trees and poems and fireflies and riding my bike in a perfect circle in the rain.

Some scenes I imagine as if they happened to me, so masterful in the details and how they convey the feeling of being alive. This one, in particular, made me catch my breath and nod. I was that girl, dancing with my friends in just this way:

When I start whirling in circles, Sally copies me. Our hair's whipping around and the room's spinning. We're bonking into the beanbag chairs. Watch out! We're shiny silver balls in a pinball machine! Sally takes the hem of her T-shirt and sticks it through the collar and yanks it down so it turns into a T-shirt bikini top. I turn my shirt into a bikini top, too, and now our bellies are out. Our bellies are out and we're wiggling them. We're wiggling our bellies and we're wiggling our hips and we're wet with sweat and when David Cassidy sings "I think I love you," we know he's singing to us. He's got to be singing to us because we're just so filled up with everything good and bright and shiny that how can he not be crazy in love with us?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Photographs and 'A Coney Island Of The Mind'

I go to Coney Island in as many seasons as I can, to capture the land of my imagination on camera. The people are as vibrant as the amusements.

This past trip made me think of a book of poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind.

Here's a small snippet from #21

At a certain age
her heart put about 
searching the lost shores

And heard the green birds singing
from the other side of silence

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Slow Books -- The Patient Reader and Writer

Since my son's birth, I've been thinking a lot about time. I think of it in broad, mountain-range ways. How the days are long but the months race ahead. How it doesn't ever fall backwards. How I will never know my son as a newborn again.

I think of it as a choice. How I choose to spend time a certain way, how I struggle in my imperfection, trying to be present in moments, without skipping quickly ahead. 

I think of it in minutes on a clock. The next feeding. The next nap. In my loneliness, the sound of the building's front door, the scuffle on the stairs, how the air passes through the minute my husband returns home from work.

As a writer, I also think of time within the stories I want to tell. I'm often chastised for reading and writing stories that move slower than others. So each time I sit down to write, I am conscious of getting to the proverbial there quicker, pulling narratives so tight in revisions, that I remove one line, and the novel unravels like the snag of a knitted scarf.

Trying to get published, I read so much of what agents and editors and readers want. There are contests and workshops. Hook me, they say. In the first line. In the first paragraph. The first page. The first chapter. 

Hook me, they say, right away. Or I will not read on. 

With time so much on my mind, in my writing and personal life, the idea of this immediacy, the hook has been dutifully brought to the forefront. To the point where I have just stopped myself in this blog post, scolded myself, told myself, look Melissa, just look, how long it took you to get here, to this, to the point, when they've already stopped reading, I'm sure. 

In my revisions, I'm often desperate. Slashing. Burning. Get there, get there. Faster.

Last week I read two books and had identical reading experiences. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Atonement by Ian McEwan. Two bestsellers. Two critically acclaimed books by beloved writers.

Two books I nearly abandoned because they were much too slow. 

And, remember, I am someone who loves slow books, who stays with them. For me to say this, it means they are lead-footed and unhurried to an extreme. And they were. They did not hook me in the first line. Heck, they did not hook me in the first 200 pages. No snap, crackle, car-chase pop. No shocking first lines. No run-away, breathless beginnings.

They were inherently British. Come along, they said, we're going to span a hundred terrible years. We'll take you on a tortured ride through the fog of the howling moors. Come watch the long, slow, painstaking ruin. (What? You know it's true. It's a bit like this blog post.)

Yes, I stuck with them because I felt I should. I stuck with them because the writing held up. But, with each book, I reached a moment, hundreds of pages in, the sharp, electric epiphany: I was hooked. I raced through the latter three quarters of each book, reached both ends, breathless, impressed. Changed. 

I realized the slow beginning was purposeful, beautiful even. With time, I had become entrenched in the psychology of the characters, their worlds, so absorbed in details, I could not escape and I no longer wanted to. I loved both of these books. I was so impressed with their ambitious, epic span. The narratives were carefully and thoughtfully spun. They had their own way of unravelling, remarkably, with time and purpose.

I wondered, were it not for the name of their trusted authors behind them, would these books have kept so many rapt in attention? I understand all books need a hook but with so much emphasis on the quick hook, are we, as readers and writers, missing long, evolving stories, that are deliberate in their slow exploration?

Should we be more patient? Once we've dutifully removed the unnecessary, instead of wondering why, a few sentences in, we are not yet wowed or wowing, should we allow ourselves to get to the wow when we get there? Or, in this hurried and Veruca Salted I want it now life, is there simply not enough time? 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The joy of friends and memory. New England. The sorrows of parting.

I just returned from a trip to New England, where I slept in a house set among the most gorgeous trees.

We were 'out of service'. No internet. No phone. We hiked and walked, kayaked and cooked. Together, with my parents, we celebrated the life of one of their best friends, my Uncle John, whose ashes flew away from the top of the great Mount Snow, and, at its slope, in his memory, I remembered my own childhood visits to Vermont.

My black diamond triumph. The smoky wooden smell of his cabin, sleeping with my feet tucked beneath its slanting roof. Candlepin bowling, a small and delicate sport, the way dollhouses are to a child, there's something small like me. The glittering hill where we used to sled, now overgrown with brush.

We visited friends and family across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, each one planting a kiss on Little O's forehead. We sat on the dock of Rust Pond and stories I have grown to love became vivid scenes as I saw for myself where my husband spent weeks of summer as a child.

I met the children of two of my best friends, all born within months of my own son, a beautiful trio spread out across a blue blanket, in purple and flowers and stripes and polkadots, feet in hands, smiles ripe and ready, eyes wide to the world.

Every child Little O meets is labelled a friend. 

This is your friend Nora, Rosie, Meghan, Augie, Brooks, Addison. On and on. This list of new friends.

And so it was with a strange mix of joy and sadness, I drove away. What a beautiful thing, to ride a long yellow line from one person to the next, to be fortunate enough to have so many people to see and hug. What a terrible thing to physically separate from a string of names. A long, winding river reel of the people I love.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Space To Write

I might have mentioned my office became a nursery.

I might not have mentioned I have a new space to write.

The tiniest desk I could find.

Can you imagine me? Running through Ikea aisles with a baby stroller, determined to find the one and only desk to fit in the one and only available (25 inch) space in our apartment?

But I found it.

And so I sat, late into a raucous Friday night, with the unassembled pieces, a bag full of screws, and the wordless directions from Scandinavian furniture whizzes, and felt very serious.

I would put together this desk.

I would sit at it in the moonlight.

I would become someone.

I got a lamp. A striped seat cover. I stacked the old notepads. And now it's mine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Currently -- Summer


These days we are watching Louie. I love the brilliance of this show. It's surprising, strange, thoughtful, self-aware, offensive, funny, poignant ... I recently heard Emily Nussbaum, the television critic for The New Yorker, say it is a show we don't yet know how to watch. 

I would agree that this is the best way I've heard it described. I don't yet know how to experience it. But I'm watching with great interest. And I'm still amazed and reeling, all this time later, from Parker Posey's haunting performance of last season. 


I just started Ian McEwan's Atonement.  

I recently finished an ARC for a book I hope to write more about in a bigger way, After Birth by Elisa Albert. It is a fictional story about the social exile that many women experience in motherhood. It really resonated with me. 


It's rained a lot this week so I've been in the house with Little O, listening to music. After years working in the toy industry, I don't do a lot of baby music here. A Lena Horne record I found on the street. Ella Fitzgerald on Spotify. And O.A.R. from Tyler's iTunes library.


Baby food for Little O. Ice cream for me. Stories, when I can. 


Like maybe I'm on the brink of something new.


A trip to Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts to hike and explore and visit with many family and friends. 

I'm also dreaming of a new space in my home to write. When my office turned into a room for baby boy, I found myself a bit displaced, moving from the bed to the couch and working around Tyler's television and sleep schedule. I realized, early this week, that there is just one unused nook in our tiny apartment, tucked in the corner of our bedroom. I have found the smallest desk possible to fit in it. I can't wait to pick it up this Friday.


Ice cream. Fireworks. Summer walks with friends. Little O's smile and the sound of his laughter. He thinks the broom is very funny, even if I don't find sweeping very amusing. After thinking about various manuscripts over the years and the moment of knowing  you must walk away from them...I began singing Kenny Roger's 'The Gambler' out loud (you've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run) and Little O now thinks that is the most hilarious thing he has ever heard.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Street Finds - The Books of This Summer

There are many reasons I love Brooklyn. One of them is the mysterious exchange that happens on the sidewalks and stoops of our homes. I haven't seen this anywhere else. Even after six years just over the river in Manhattan. But, here in Brooklyn, we love to leave books and records outside for anyone to take.

I have built a beautiful, if worn, library from these finds. And I have left many, many of my own books at the foot of the tree directly in front of our building. They disappear like forgotten secrets. I feel better knowing they are in another's eager hands.

I always want to read what's new, what's now but, this summer, the streets have been talking. They've been saying, Melissa, you've missed the best. I'm almost embarrassed to admit I haven't yet read a single work of the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez or McEwan's most well-known, Atonement. Tyler's been nagging at me to read his beloved Simon Winchester. And others have shouted of Saunders and Patchett. I've managed to miss them all.

But, no more. These are the books that have found me this summer. I can't believe my good fortune. They've been waiting. It's time.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What If? and The Art of 'Stopping By'

This morning, Tyler and I had a discussion about 'stopping by'. About the knock at the door, the unannounced, the smile, the hug, the we're here when we never said we'd be.

It surprised me when Tyler, who lets nothing bother or fluster him, said he'd prefer to be prepared. It surprised me when I, who, if I could, might edit every conversation I've ever had, every word that's ever come out of mouth (such is the control I wish to have over my interactions), said I'd love for almost anyone we know to stop by anytime.

When I was a girl, my mother and I used to visit her cousin Rosemary. We rarely, if ever, called ahead. We knocked on the door, were ushered in to her kitchen, with its wide open window, the walls knick-knacked with tiny shelves, a little pantry where she kept her husband's bags of salty potato chips.

Rosemary pooled together the remnants of boxed Entenmann's. One chocolate glazed donut, some slices of crumb cake. She knocked back the flimsy lid, poured coffee into eager mugs. She had the sweetest iced tea for me and she had stories, long runaway strands that stretched from the Astoria, Queens of her childhood, the stoops, the dress shops, the carts along Ditmars Blvd., to her home, and back again.

An hour turned into hours and throughout that time, the characters at the table would grow in like thicketed shrubs. Her son would return home from work, flip his dark hair back, swat the air with a cigarette, and make us laugh until our insides hurt. There was a German neighbor. A friend from mahjongg, Irene, who read paperbacked novels, who talked about her quiet mornings at a stool in Dunkin' Donuts, the books she read, the friends she made.

There were other cousins and friends and, somehow, in that time, the water would boil for pasta, the oil and vinegar of a salad dressing would be shaken and emulsified, and we'd suddenly be eating dinner, dark falling from the sky, past the window, calling in a dessert of Oreo cookies and a coffee maker who readied itself for another pot.

Some stories were told over again each visit, their retelling making it feel as if I'd been there the first time around when, in fact, I hadn't yet been born. A newly married Aunt who used paper towels instead of coffee filters, the polite realization of her guests, the laughter that found its way from their lips to mine. A story of a soured sour cream and a choice between two marriage proposals, that always ended in the somewhat strange, sudden silence of what if, what if. 

Last week, the emails went around. A group of friends I love were trying to get together for a summer meal. Dates thrown and sent back like boomerangs. A collective sigh from all of us. Perhaps...the fall.

Maybe this is why I dream of a knock at the door, a wide-opened hug, a rummage through the fridge to make a meal. My own cast of characters filling my home. In this over scheduled life, I wonder about the unexpected symphony of mug to table, table to chair, story to story, told and retold, what if, what if. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thought on leaving my job, transition, and dreams

A lot of things have changed since the birth of Little O. One of the biggest of those changes...I did not return to my job.

I made the decision to leave long before I was pregnant, quietly building a network around me so I could walk away. I interviewed at other companies, turned down a job offer for a not-quite-right fit, turned down another due to poor timing, all the while, keeping my head down, trying, and often failing, to tune out the corporate noise, while working on novels and other freelance opportunities to feed my soul.

Then I got pregnant and this sweet boy came and I knew for certain what I had known long ago: my time at the company was done. The decision didn't scare me. It felt like walking out into the sun. Still, I imagined I would walk out shining, with some big news of a book deal, or a daring digital project in the world of children's media. While this new life gig is more challenging and rewarding than any other I've experienced, I still thought I would leave with a snazzier title than mother. 

Instead, I told my boss (who I loved and who had nothing to do with the decision) in a teary-eyed confession. Then human resources quickly over the phone. After nearly eight years, there was no party. I was not allowed back in the building during office hours to say goodbye to my friends. Since it was in the middle of my maternity leave, I left quietly, with only one heartfelt and sincere goodbye email to the company, which had to be sent via an 'approved' sender (i.e. not me).

I don't regret this decision even a little. There is nothing more important than the work I am doing right now. I would not miss a moment of Little O's life to go back to a company I had completely lost faith in or a job where I felt undervalued and under appreciated. And while the title doesn't sound snazzy, mother is the most incredible of all the jobs I've taken on. I'm even hesitant to call it a job because it just feels like a role I've slipped into, even with all its hardships, a role that feels like just the right fit. 

But I don't want to make it sound like this transition has been easy. 

I know, in my heart, that I am in the right place and, yet, I feel a bit displaced. I don't step into an office anymore. I don't knock things off of a long task list. I collaborate with no one. I spend whole days without a word to anyone but a tiny human, who is kinder and more beautiful than anyone I've ever worked with, and who, in some strange twist of life, loves me unconditionally, but...

...it's lonely and it's strange and I try to understand who I'm supposed to be. 

I strategically planned my finances to be able to take this time to be with the most important person in my life and live the moments with him. While I feel lucky I planned for it, I know that time and space may run out.  

And there's still a space in my heart that believes I'm a writer. So I write when everyone is asleep, moving a laptop from my bed to the kitchen table to the couch, to find the quiet and the space I need. But writing doesn't, yet, bring our family enough money. Most of my stories don't reach anyone else but me. 

I walk every day, pushing a stroller along the river. I scheme. I live each moment with Little O, yes, and I try not to let my thoughts cascade too far ahead. But I worry. I wonder how to live all my dreams. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

A few friends tagged me in this blog tour about my writing process. I apologize for the long-ish post but I hope you'll read it all: I'll celebrate those who tagged me, then tell you a little about my process and tag two writers I'd love for you to meet, if you haven't already.

All-righty then. On with the show.

I was tagged by my friend, Susan McCulley, who has a wonderful blog, Focus Pocus. Susan is a Nia instructor and writer and all around beautiful person who I love. She writes insightful posts about the mind-body connection in a style that is, both, humorous and profound. Her posts always make me stop and think about how I move through life and how I create.

My friend Becca Rowan, who I've never met, but who I've known in this blogging space for many years. As the title would suggest, her blog is made up of Reflections On Life In General. She a lovely and elegant person who always teaches me about slowing down to reflect and I know we are kindred spirits because we both share the only-child connection and a love of piano, books, bicycles, and savoring quiet.

And my friend Amy Sonnichsen, who is a trusted critique partner and who I've celebrated on this blog for the upcoming release of her gorgeous novel in verse RED BUTTERFLY. She also writes at her blog, The Green Bathtub, and she's a super awesome person who is beautiful inside, out, and on the page.

What am I working on? 

I'm deep in the trenches of a first draft right now. I wander through first drafts, so it's hard to say what it is, and part of me likes to keep it a secret, close to my heart, until it is more fully formed. I'll say I'm really, so excited about it. I'll say it is a young adult novel about two sisters I've wanted to write about for years. It takes place along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn and centers around a rare and beautiful tree.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a hard question. I don't know how to answer it. I think, maybe, my stories are more dreamlike than others.

Why do I write what I do?

Characters and a sense of place guide my fiction. I follow them wherever they take me. I think I've said this on the blog once before but I write realistic fiction because I think life is strange and magical and I want to write about people who, like me, have complicated feelings about the people they know and the world they live in. There's a lot of gray in the world and that's where my stories live.

How does your writing process work?

To be honest, I learn every day how to write and every day it's different. As I said, I like to wander through a first draft. By the time I near the end, I think I know what has to be done. I make huge revisions. I send it to trusted friends/readers. I revise again and again. Then it goes out into the world. Past experience has taught me that once it goes out into the world, I'll probably have it returned to me and have to rewrite it at least three times.

And, finally, I'm tagging two people whose work I admire:

Sylvie Morgan Brown, a friend and colleague I work with in children's media, who I just learned has the most beautiful, beautiful blog about food and life. Like the best food writers, she has a lyrical writing style that makes me feel like I'm in her kitchen sharing delicious food and conversation.

Melissa Middleman Firman, who I have come to know through her blog and through her passionate Facebook statuses. Along with thoughts on life, writing, autism, politics, Pittsburg and more, she also posts insightful book reviews on her blog. The girl doesn't mess around, shares her thoughts with urgency and heart and I love it.

So, please, go forth and read all of these women and their work.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Subway Sketches and a Short Piece Published

I've written a lot, over the years, while riding on subway and train cars. It's resulted in dozens upon dozens of sketches where I capture moments, real and imagined.

It's no wonder, then, that in all the years sending work out into the world, only two small stories have ever been accepted for publication and they've both been part of what I shall now call the subway series (like baseball but more lyrical.)

So, I'm happy to share one of those stories, this flash piece in the latest issue of Cleaver Magazine. I hope you will check out this issue and all the wonderful work the magazine puts out. It's cool to be a small part of it.

With thanks to the lovely Beth Kephart for pointing me towards the magazine, the way she points me in the direction of so many cool things.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Tony Awards and Finding Completion

I watched the Tony Awards last night, an event I've avoided in recent years.  I'm not going to pretend I ever experienced any real heyday in theater (unless anyone considers the 90's a heyday) but there was a time when I used to see a lot of shows, finding my way around the staggering ticket prices (there are ways and they require a lot of time, something I don't have a lot of these days.)

In my humble opinion, Broadway, in an effort to become more accessible, has become completely inaccessible. A strange place with one Disney movie after another mousing its way on to the stage and ticket prices so insanely steep ($250!) it has become almost impossible to experience it in any real way.

But...shoot, I digress. This is not what this post is about. What I meant to say is that I watched the Tony Awards last night and there were some incredible performances. Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig. And Jessie Mueller in Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, who was so amazingly...well...beautiful.

It's also one of the first years in which a lot of different musicals and plays took home various awards instead of one show sweeping it all.

There were a lot of very nice speeches and many wonderful nods to theater education, including a new series of prizes that award education in the arts.

David Binder, the producer of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which won for Best Revival of a Musical, said something that resonated with me. As a writer, who very often tags the words 'and producer' to most of my professional pursuits, I was pleased to find the simplest and, perhaps, best explanation for what a producer actually does. Something I've had a lot of trouble explaining to friends and family (and the poor people at cocktail parties who are forced to speak with me) for most of my adult life.

I think a lot of people think it's the producer's job to find new ideas, but I think it is actually the other way around. And then it's our job, as producers, to move them forward, to find wholeness, to find completion.

He goes on to say that Hedwig was the idea that found him and he thanked all the people around him who completed the idea so remarkably.

I think it is this way for all artists and that all artists are, in their own way, producers. I know it's really quite simple. But simple is most always true. The idea chooses us. It is about having the vision and finding our way forward, toward completion.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Celebrating the cover for RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnichsen

Today I get to share something really special with you all. 

The cover for RED BUTTERFLY, a novel in verse by the lovely Amy Sonnichsen. The book will come out in 2015 and I'm so thrilled for Amy, who writes so beautifully and who I am lucky to call a friend. 

I'm also excited to join in the celebration because, this cover, this cover, you guys, it is just beautiful. Isn't it?

So fitting for the words and story that are inside.

Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more? 

Told in lyrical, moving verse, Kara’s story is one of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.

A.L. Sonnichsen grew up in Hong Kong and then spent eight years in China as adult. She now lives on the dry side of Washington State with her dashingly handsome sidekick, five talented children, and a luxury cat. Red Butterfly is her first novel. Learn more at alsonnichsen.blogspot.com.