Walking for My Sister

Surely by now you’ve heard me talk about my baby sister. If you’ve read Imaginary Girls, you may have noticed her name on the dedication page, and maybe you read this interview I did with her on release day. Maybe you were in the audience during one of my readings weeks before the book came out, when she sat on a chair before the stage, and in the darkness surrounding the spotlight it felt like I read only to her.

I adore my little sister, Laurel Rose. If you know me, you are well aware of that, because I can talk about her a lot.

What I haven’t talked about here before is that while I was revising the very last of the editorial rounds of Imaginary Girls—when the story was what it was, and Ruby and Chloe already chose to do what they did… I learned that my own baby sister, the one I would do anything for, was diagnosed with MS. I don’t want to talk about how devastated and helpless I felt, wishing I could take the disease away from her and take it on myself. I want to tell you that my little sister, Rose, is strong and brave and someone I admire to the ends of the earth, even when this disease is hard on her. She is truly amazing, and she will fight this—as will the many of us who love her want to fight by her side.

This May 5, for the first time, I am taking part in Walk MS in Philadelphia—my sister’s city. I am on her team, and all of us are going to do the walk to help fund-raise for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, to help those living with MS today—and to find a cure. This cause is very personal to me, as you can imagine, and that’s why I’m posting about it on my writing blog.

I posted the link to my Walk MS page on Twitter and Facebook last night, where you can donate to support me, and donate to support my sister and her team—and already, within one night, I met my fund-raising goal, thanks to two very, very generous donors! (Thank you so much, Lauren and Christine!!) But Walk MS is over a month away and now I’d love to exceed my goal: for my sister, and for others living with MS. You can donate any amount, nothing is too small, and be a part of my walk beside my sister on May 5. Or you can donate to sponsor my sister’s walk—or her whole team. Up to you!

If you decide to, you can donate here:

Here is more information about my sister’s local chapter of Walk MS and the organization your donation would support.

When a Novelist Wishes She Could Write Short Stories

File this under: Current Distractions.

"Yield to Whim" by Frank Foreman, 1983, on the road leading to the Djerassi Resident Artists Program

I know I’m working on a new novel proposal right now, quite possibly two, and I know I just revised a novel and will be revising said novel again soon enough—did you see that 17 & Gone has a season? It does! Spring 2013! Plus, I’ve been gobbling up a strange array of novels since I landed at the artist colony, but I can’t seem to quit my attachment to short stories.

I adore short stories.

In fact, I wrote a story just a couple of weeks ago, and it was a wild, familiar experience I’d forgotten, and all I can think is how I want to write more. What is it about a short story that calls to me so much? I really don’t think it’s all about the length… though how nice to write something under 300 pages, right? (I won’t tell you the current page count of 17 & Gone.) I think it’s more about the experience of reading short stories: intense, exquisite bursts of attention. And then it’s over. I like that feeling. I also like how, in a story, every moment is there for a reason, every single word is significant. For someone who loves a good sentence as much as I do, it’s the perfect form.

And yet, for someone who can’t seem to shut up, the way I do, a novel really is more suited to my writing… but I can cheat a little, can’t I? Not to mention that, often, a short story for me can be the jumping-off point for a new novel. Imaginary Girls was first conceived as a short story, after all.

I want to write some more stories this year, and I want to start sending out to journals again like I haven’t in years. Maybe I’ll somehow get myself to a summer workshop so I can work on this.

After I finish those novel drafts, of course.

Do you love short stories, too? Tell me why!

Inside an Artist Colony

What happens at an artist colony? I keep getting asked this, and each one is different, but here at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in the northern California mountains I’ll give you a small peek of what happens:

I would just like to take a moment and say the trees in California are REALLY tall!

You must apply to get in, and international artists of many disciplines can apply, so right now I am here with seven other artists: another fiction writer, a playwright, a choreographer, a composer, a media artist, and two visual artists. We live together in two shared spaces (an Artists’ House that holds mostly writers and an Artists’ Barn that holds special studios for dancers and composers and visual artists). We don’t pay to be here and we’re not given a cash prize: The award is the time and space itself. It’s the month of being here, doing our work. We eat dinner together at night and share presentations with one another. In fact, my presentation is tonight! (Nervous.) We talk. We crave cake and pounce on it when the amazing chef provides a dark chocolate Guinness cake with cream cheese frosting (oh my!). And during the workdays and late at night we wander the house in our pajamas, deep in our creative stupors, going back again and again for more coffee or more tea.

You’re here to do your work, at your own pace, for yourself, in any way you want. No one is policing your time—or your internet usage. If tomorrow I want to lie on the porch outside my sliding glass door with my notebook on my face and “write” in my head, I can do that. If I want to stay in pajamas all day and have a strawberry breakfast and write as much as my fingers will spit out, I can do that also—in fact, I might just do that.

We’ve also been: amusing ourselves with poems and scary stories; trading books; laughing; sharing chores; baking sweet potatoes over a wood stove; admiring the amazing view of the land and the Pacific Ocean in the distance; eating the delicious food the chef makes us for weeknight dinners; not watching TV; and working, tons.

The on-site staff members who live and eat with us are also artists—so you’re surrounded at all times by creative people. Oh and animals. So far I’ve seen: one snake, two bunnies, multiple deer, one hummingbird, and Neil Young’s cows.

The Pacific Ocean sometimes looks like a part of the sky. And on the property, in the woods, are a series of sculptures made by artists who’ve been residents here. They’re like treasures, peppered throughout the trees, made to last as long as they will and then weather away and become a part of the forest.

"Vanishing Ship" by John Roloff
Faery by Derek Johnson
"Orpheus Coyote and Friends" by William King
(someone forgot to write down what this sculpture was)

Feel free to ask me questions, but I hope this explains it!

To find out more about Djerassi artist residencies and sculpture tours open to the public, visit www.djerassi.org


A tiny note about the world outside the artist colony: Yes yes, I know The Hunger Games opens tomorrow. Yes, I am in mourning that I don’t have a way to see it. Please don’t tell me how awesome it is. I won’t be able to contain my jealousy. Just please go and make the movie very, very popular so it is still in theaters when I get back to New York City on April 13!

A Good, Creative Day

I finished the draft of a short story today, ate a cheese sandwich, did laundry, saw the lucky bunny outside my sliding-glass door (three times!), got a special care package containing my writers colony galoshes and more, took a short walk even though my bad ankle is bothering me, looked around at where I was, and just felt really happy to be here.

The Artists' House, where I'm staying.
The Artists' House at the top of the hill
The shortcut path between the Artists' House and the Artists' Barn
A view from the shortcut path
The Artists' Barn
View from inside the Artists' Barn (that blue there between the sky and the land is the Pacific Ocean!)
That really is a view of the Pacific! Wow.

Tonight after dinner and after the night’s presentation, I’ll make some revisions to the story. It’s due! Then what’s next when I turn it in? Can’t wait to find out.

My Muse at the Artist Colony

Today, I:

  • Worked feverishly—and will continue to work—on something due in to my publisher this week.
  • Attempted to cook myself tofu for lunch and dinner and set off the smoke detector in the house kitchen. Awesome. See? I can barely survive without Thai takeout.
  • Finished the amazing new novel by my friend Cat Clarke: Torn, which came out this December in the UK and I wish would come out in the US (US editors, have you read this yet??). Tagline: “Four girls. One dead body. A whole lot of guilt.” So good!
  • Walked around all day in my writing sweater and writing pajamas and writing slippers, a combination of such hideousity I won’t capture it here.
  • Missed E.

But you want to know more about my muse, don’t you? I give you Lucky, the bunny who lives in the garden below the deck off my room:

I’ve never seen a bunny in person before as far as I can remember… and I’m wildly excited to have him living outside my sliding-glass door!

Here I Am

A misty road between the house I'm staying in and the barn

Part of me wants to stay silent while I’m here at the artist colony in the misty northern California mountains, but another part of me wants to acknowledge where I am, in this moment, and that part of me has won out. I’m here to write. I’ve learned it’s important to keep yourself open when you go away on a writing residency: Whatever you are inspired to do, you should absolutely do. You don’t know what could happen. Follow your whims like you can’t always do so at home—and also write as much as you can, absorbing the scenery and the silence and the distance from reality. Of course, I currently have a deadline for a small piece due in to my publisher, but once I turn that in, my path is wide open and there are a few things I could find myself working on. No rules. No limits.

I am living here with other artists (most are not writers, which I find fascinating!) and I’m writing a special something I will share with you one day soon, and eating some very delicious food. My first few days here have been all the more magical because of the rain—my most favorite sound in the universe—and the pale mist that surrounds our house makes it seem as if I’ve entered another dimension. When it clears and the rain stops this weekend, I’ll be able to see all around us to where we are… and in the near distance the Pacific Ocean.

The view from my writing desk... when the mist clears, what will I see?

I have a notebook with butterflies on it and new pages written already. And I do miss E, but he’ll be reading everything I write while I’m here. I can’t wait to show him.

My writing desk