While I’ve Been Writing…

I’ve just emerged from a self-imposed push to finish a new project on top of my novel revision on top of a big freelance deadline and I was here pushing myself so hard that, last night, I went to bed complaining my “bones hurt.” But I did it. I reached the freelance deadline, I finished the writing project (this stage of it anyway), and now I’m back into my revision. Oh but first I need to answer like two dozen emails.

While I was so preoccupied, stuff happened—in addition to the two dozen emails.

I stupidly lost my iPod. I thought it was gone forever, but a kind person found it in an elevator—how I lost the iPod in an elevator is beyond me; I really must be distracted—and, since I didn’t have my name on it or on the case, this person looked up a way to hack into it to get my email address off my Pandora account and emailed me asking if I’d lost it and now I have it back. Can you believe someone would go through the trouble to do that? People in New York City can be kind, I’m telling you. Speaking of, I once lost a checkbook—during a windy day it flew out our high floor window onto 100th Street and Broadway when I first lived here when I was 19. And someone found that checkbook in the street and tracked me down and returned it. Maybe I should stay away from open windows and elevators until I’m at least done revising my novel, huh?

Sixth graders made a book trailer for my book! A class of sixth graders had the assignment to make a book trailer for one of their favorite books they read this year. Well, you won’t believe it, but four of those students picked Dani Noir, and I have permission to show you the amazing book trailer they made for the book—check this out. I love the polka-dot tights! Thank you to Julia, Hannah, Angelica, and Monica from Mrs. Schmidt’s class—it’s perfect! I’m thrilled! I think I can embed it here:

I’m featured in an upcoming book of Hudson Valley writers. Now don’t be confused. Yes, I live in New York City and I have for pretty much all my adult life, but I’m not from here—and no matter how many years I walk these streets I will always be aware of that. I’m from the Hudson Valley, moving from towns including Saugerties, Kerhonkson, Woodstock, and West Hurley, and pretty much all my writing is set there, like Dani Noir and the upcoming Imaginary Girls. And now I’m one of the writers featured in a book of photographs and interviews called River of Words: Portraits of Hudson Valley Writers, which will be out from SUNY Press this August. I’m in some amazing company, including Chinua Achebe, Nick Flynn, Ann M. Martin, Susan Orlean, John Sayles, and many more. It looks like it will be a beautiful book.

I went to the ocean and put my feet in. It was my mom’s birthday, so I left my island! Shocking, I know. While at the shore I also dressed up all in black with sunglasses and a hat and the Jersey Shore sunbathers looked at me funny. Hey, I’m a writer. I burn easily. I’m weird. What do you want from me? I also safely avoided jellyfish. (The photo featured with this post is not me. That’s my beautiful baby sister with a flock of birds on her shoulder.)

I read an incredible book. I’ve been very, very busy. And it was one day this weekend, at my busiest, that I picked up a novel just to read the opening chapter, with full plans to come back to it later after I’d completed my projects and put away the laundry and had more time. Well, hours later, I was deep into the book and could not for the life of me put it down. I finished it that same night and it really opened my eyes to what a “dystopian” story can be—and what could become of our world, easily, not too far ahead in the future. I don’t write book reviews. I only know what touches me personally, what resonates, and what I like. This book was the YA novel Restoring Harmony by Joëlle Anthony. (Full disclosure: We share the same agent, but I would have loved the book regardless.) Go read it for yourself.

I admit how I quit my job. I haven’t announced this openly on this blog, but if you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may have noticed that I’ve stopped complaining and stressing about my day job. It’s not that I’ve become a more relaxed and accepting person and found a way to exist without need of sleep. It’s that I left the job and started writing full-time. Plus freelancing. I’m reluctant to step away from publishing work entirely, so I still continue to freelance for a couple different publishers as a copy editor and proofreader and it’s keeping me pretty busy. This may be temporary. I may not make it and panic and send out my résumé for a new day job in the fall. Maybe I’ll learn to be a barista. But until that day, while my time is more flexible, I’m working as hard as I humanly can to start a real career as a writer. I’ve wanted to do this for ten years and I never before had this chance. I’ve written on the side through a series of four full-time day jobs and now here I am without one. So that’s why I’m pushing myself. That’s why I have to avoid distractions if I can. That’s why I’ve taken the time to work on the new book project on top of the book I’m already revising. That’s why I will work until my bones hurt every day because no way am I looking back on this time and saying I didn’t try my hardest.

It’s all about trying for me. Only I know how hard I’m working, you know? I can fake it to other people, but not to myself.

If I slack off, someone remind me to come back and read this post for a kick in the pants.

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When the Novel Gets Close But You Don’t Want to Leave the Igloo

I’ve got this novel that wants to be ready. This novel that’s close to show. I’ve spent much of the weekend on it—to the detriment of my unread and unanswered email inbox and putting away the clean laundry and only doing four hours a day of freelance instead of eight, which is really going to catch up with me on Monday. I just completed yet another draft of this novel’s synopsis and wrote some new pages. I have a little more work to go before I can show it and I’m sloooooolllly working through the pages today, taking my sweet time, not yet wanting to think of the moment when I hit the inevitable Send.

This morning there I was in the café, thinking, Oh wow I like this. Wondering, Should I like this? Worrying, It’s too soon to admit I like this. But this novel wants me, and I want it. At least it’s mutual.

At some point, and soon, I’ll have to let go. I’ll have to show my agent. And he’ll have me work more on it and then, once it’s ready, I’ll have to show a publisher. I’ll have to face the scary part. I think that’s why keeping myself writing it feels so safe and secure. Like a nice little igloo. It’s warm inside.

Does it ever get easier for seasoned authors? Every time I have to show something I’ve written and wonder if anyone will want to publish it, it’s the most humbling, frightening experience. If and when it happens for this particular novel, the submission process, I won’t be able to talk about it at all. Not until after.

But I’m not there yet.

Not yet.

What a relief.

After You Disappear from the Party

Sometimes I cheat and log in to Facebook, like to wish my mom a happy birthday. I’ve got this blog automated to tweet my posts… so it might sometimes seem like I’m on Twitter, though I’m not. I’ve realized that, when you take the plunge and unplug a few distracting lamps in your life, very few people notice you’ve gone a little dim unless there’s a big announcement about it. And then, when you log back in quietly, just to see, you realize… maybe it’s not so essential to be constantly aware of the conversation. Because, look: it’s gone on without you and no damage done. It’s like when you slip out of a crowded room during a party. You could wonder if, at any point, anyone turned and asked, What happened to her… wasn’t she just standing right here? And would it be worse to discover no one did?

It’s like what happened yesterday. I went to the shore, and I had no internet access all day, from morning until I got home at past 1:30 a.m. What will I miss? I wondered. What if something important gets emailed to me and I don’t answer right away and I miss out and there’s a big problem and what if?

Guess what I missed?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Someone needed to reach me about a freelance project, but she didn’t email, she picked up the phone and left me a voice mail.

In my email inbox, I came back to various announcements from arts organizations. Junk messages, deleted, all of them.

And I think this is the lesson I’m forcing myself to learn right now. Something I thought—still think—is so important may very well not be, in the scheme of things. What happens if I unplug, entirely, for a day? Nothing of consequence! How horrifying.

So what have I been doing while being (partly) invisible? Freelancing, yes. Swimming in the ocean, no (the Atlantic was freezing yesterday). Writing, yes yes. I’ve been working on something that could turn into SOMETHING. Sometimes I’m so excited about it I want to log in to Twitter and tell everyone all about it and then I realize: telling other people doesn’t make something real. Doing the work makes it real. These pages, right here, every minute I spend with them instead of talking about them only makes them more real.

So I’m trying to work harder.

But, all around me, there are people who work harder than I do, with far greater obstacles. I watch them and I’m amazed. Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be a moment when I stop and pat myself on the back and say, You’ve done all you can. I sure haven’t, not yet.

Where I Write, Revealed on the Huffington Post

Do you ever wonder where writers write? Kitchen table, comfy couch, noisy café, tidy office, mattress in the backyard under a beach umbrella? (I am now curious if I know any writers who write on a mattress in the backyard under a beach umbrella. If so, do reveal yourself!)

Well, the writer Allison K. Gibson recently asked me that very question and here you’ll find my answer posted today on the Huffington Post. Comment there and reveal where you write!

Literary Blog Relay: A Stranger Comes to Town and Says, “I know your sister…”

This post is honored to be the final leg of a literary blog relay started by Christine Lee Zilka. As she explained:

One writer writes a 250 word post/story/fragment and then tags another writer, etc., etc. We can write whatever we want, so long as our posts begin with the last line of the previous post (in bold here) and are linked to a central theme; in this case, “A Stranger Comes to Town.”

To read the post before mine, check out Alexander Chee’s stunning piece on koreanish.com. I’m the final writer in the relay, so here goes…

___

“I know your sister,” the man whispered to me after he told me to lie still, after he locked me up in the box and wheeled me around into the light, after he smoothed my hair off my forehead so it didn’t cover my eyes. “I know your sister,” he said, as if that would comfort me. He was about to saw me in half in front of an audience and I think he didn’t want me to scream.

No one had invited the man to our town or knew he’d come to perform for us. No one asked him up to stage; he insisted. We had no use for magic anymore, and though we were a small Midwestern town and his truck had plates from California, we knew there were no cards that could trick our eyes, no coins that could be hidden in our ears. He couldn’t fool us, though we knew he’d try.

I was in the audience. I was seventeen, and my sister was nineteen and long gone, and I felt sure I’d be stuck here forever. This knowledge was knotted up like a scarf tied to another scarf tied to another scarf wrapped tight around my waist.

But when the man called for a volunteer, it was my arm that raised as though there were an invisible string attached to my wrist and he’d given it a tug from up on stage. I stood, electrified, and my boyfriend took my elbow to sit me back down. “Don’t be an idiot,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. He didn’t want me to embarrass him, though he thought nothing of embarrassing me. I walked up to the stage, my spine ice. My boyfriend was a fire I left blazing uncontrolled in the folding chair behind me.

The man had me in the box before I knew what would happen. He said my sister’s name and announced that he would now cut me—the great actress’s little sister—clean in half and then put me back together again right before everyone’s eyes. I was spun in circles, in figure-eights. Then I was poised below the blade. I watched it shimmer through me and I felt nothing.

Before he pulled me apart to show the audience his slice, I asked, quiet so no one could hear, “Do you really know my sister?” And he admitted, “Well, I asked for her autograph once.” We both knew the real magician was my small-town sister, who’d gone west and become a household name overnight.

Then the man split me in half, and with my organs to air, my guts exposed, a thought emerged near my ear like a trick coin: my sister found the way out of here, and so could I. By the time the man put me together again, and made me stand up out of the box for my entire town to see, I was a whole new person. I had lost my legs and gained them back again and soon, like magic, I’d use them to walk away.

___

And that’s the final entry in Christine’s blog relay! Yes, I know I went over word count… such is the story of my life.

Thank you, Christine, for including me with so many talented writers! To check out the other wonderful pieces and read the relay from the very beginning, see the links below.

THE FULL LINEUP, IN ORDER:

  1. Wah-Ming Chang: http://wmcisnowhere.wordpress.com
  2. Jamey Hatley http://jameyhatley.wordpress.com
  3. Stephanie Brown http://scififanatic.livejournal.com/
  4. Andrew Whitacre http://fungibleconvictions.com/
  5. Heather McDonald http://heathersalphabet.wordpress.com/
  6. Christine Lee Zilka http://czilka.wordpress.com/
  7. Jackson Bliss http://bluemosaicme.blogspot.com/
  8. Jennifer Derilo posted at http://czilka.wordpress.com/
  9. Alexander Chee http://koreanish.com/
  10. Nova Ren Suma = ME!

(The image of the red curtain isn’t mine. Photo by Emily Searle, borrowed for this post courtesy of Flickr.)