Monday, March 2, 2015

Ansel Elkin's Autobiography of Eve

Not my poem. Great poem. Love this poem. You will too! Hope to get her permission to use it in the YA mss I'm working on ... Check out the poet at!

Autobiography of Eve, by Ansel Elkins

Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
I leapt
to freedom.
Copyright © 2015 by Ansel Elkins. Used with permission of the author.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Late To the Party

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

This YA novel has been out for a few years, but I just picked it up a few days ago. It started out slow--intentionally, I'm sure of it. I was thinking, "Oh, no, not another one about rich white girls with boy and popularity struggles, not to mention the drinking, the smoking weed. And gaa, throw in a gratuitous car accident."

But by the middle, the top of my head had lifted off. By the end, I was crying, but also cheering.

She hoodwinked me with the opening! And if she hoodwinked me, she hoodwinked sooooo many YA readers whose attitudes and outlooks have to be improved by this oh-so-not-heavy-handed but incredibly compelling narrative.

And isn't that the point? To make the world a better place? While leaving some gorgeous lyrical prose?

I can't believe I missed this brilliant debut when it came out. I really have to start paying more attention to my daughter Annie Stone's recommendations.

Her most recent rec? All the Bright Places  by Jennifer Niven.

I just put it on reserve today.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Black Lives Matter

Last week I had the great privilege of meeting Kekla Magoon, a relatively new on the scene novelist who specializes in YA but oh-my-god it is so not only for young adults. I picked up a copy of her most recent novel. How It Went Down, and couldn't Put It Down. 

Based on a shooting similar to that of Trayvon Martin, the novel has nineteen narrators, all characters directly and tangentially involved with a shooting in a not-so-nice Baltimore neighborhood. White man jumps out of car and shoots young black man who looks--to him--threatening, and maybe has a gun. 

Or is it a Snickers bar in his hand?

Blood is spilled and a young life is lost.

Every voice in the novel is distinct and recognizable. Every scene is poignant. Every character is affected. 

And it doesn't stop with them.

Last week, after getting to know Kekla just a little bit at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, I met my son by the Boston Common to grab a quick dinner and catch up on one another's lives before I headed back home to the suburbs on the commuter rail. He had to duck out of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) meeting early to meet me because I had to catch that last train out. 

For at least an hour, his head was still in the meeting. He was distracted. He hadn't wanted to leave. He wanted to participate in the discussion of open space protests. He's already marched several times. I felt guilty at taking him away from this important work.

Last week, while this issue was at the forefront of my consciousness, Yale police detained a young black man leaving the Yale library. NY Times' columnist Charles Blow's son is that college student. 

My son is a student at Tufts. In his nearly four years there, never once did he leave the library in his ever present hoody to be accosted by a Tufts police officer. Is it fair to assume that because he's not a black college student he doesn't look threatening?  

It's easy to understand why Kekla is so passionate about the issue, as is Charles Blow. As President Obama said years ago, that young man could have been his son out there. 

It's less easy to understand why a "white" college senior takes time away from campus and studying to participate in BLM meetings and marches.

However, it's quite simple. My son has white man guilt. My son has a conscience. My son is angry, sad, outraged, and compelled to speak up.

Perhaps, with more young men like my son joining the movement, young men with lives as disparate as Mr. Blow's and Mr. Martin's will become more valued and respected. I would like to hope that the melding of both privileged and underprivileged white voices and both privileged and underprivileged black voices will make a difference.

This is our nation. We need all voices to speak. I am not a marcher by nature, but I am a writer. And I assure you this issue will be in my writing. I will not let this go on without my own form of protest.

Join us however you can. Otherwise, those voices we lose on the streets of Miami, New York, and all our communities, already tragically disrespected, neglected, and silenced by gunfire, will fade.

The voices in Kekla's brilliant novel cry loudly for all of us to step out of the silence.

See you there?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The purpose of writing

I write.

I write because when I don't, I become worse than unhappy. I become morose, clogged, unsure what to do with everything I am thinking. I see clouds where there is sunlight. I fail to look up at the leaves.

I write in hope that just one person will read what I write. I write in hope that thousands of people will read what I write. I write in hope that I will change one person's life. I write in hope that I will change the world.

I write to give others pleasure. I write to make people think. I write to help others connect with something outside themselves.

I write to connect with everything outside myself.

I write not to leave a trail but to open one.

I write to let the characters in my head breathe.

I write to exorcise my demons.

I write to celebrate joy.

I write because I'm alive. I write to become more alive.

I write because I must.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting there

Never before have I been this devoted to a fiction manuscript. I just won't quit. I don't know what it is--empty nesting and it's now my child, unemployment (I hope temporary), an upcoming writers' workshop at VCFA I need to submit to, desperation as I get closer and closer to the end of life?

Well, I'm only 56. But still.

I've never been able to write about my writing process with any confidence or validity before--but this time, after tangling with multiple beginnings, drafts, and muddles, I realize I know my characters, I know the plot, and I know the setting. I know the theme! I know the middle! I know the ending!

It took several months of spilling crap out on the page. Weeks of writing with success for a couple of hours a day followed by weeks of paralysis. Months of reading other fiction I admire which can be inspiring or ... not, in that it leads to the afore-mentioned paralysis.

I think the real difference is that I have accepted that this draft will suck. It's crap! It's murk! It's completely not profound!!

This I learned through reading so many other writers' thoughts on the process that I finally know I'm not a shitty writer, I'm just a writer.

I live in misery some days. Other days I live in the vast and ephemeral world of flow.

This is cray-cray, as young adult readers might say.

I love my characters. I've loved characters before, and let them die.

Please world, don't let these characters die.

That's a prayer.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Feel the warmth from within

Hi Writers,

At my workshop last week, participants asked for more prompts to keep them going. For this week, with the sun sinking earlier and earlier and the chill driving us indoors, many of us feel the dark. Light lamps can help, but what helps even more is becoming in touch with the peace within. This season is one for rest and rejuvenation--even if you are a skier!

So, what contributes to loneliness for you, and what are some ways you can overcome it?

The most profound way to overcome loneliness is to watch the emotion enter your head and accept it, then let it pass by. There is always companionship from within.

In some of us, there are way too many voices in our heads!!

The problem, of course, is that if we listen to the typical narratives that run through our heads, we might find ourselves in the story we tell that we are alone, not good enough, rejected, ignored ... and any number of other fictions.

Let's get to the truth of it. We are never alone. Love doesn't require physical presence, and the love we feel and receive from the universe, our Higher Power, God, the Goddess, or whatever name you would like to use, sustains us remarkably well.

Consider this: Is the truth that you are actually more bored than lonely?

Don't turn on the television to cure boredom -- at least not for hours at a time. Make a conscious choice how you would like to use this wonderful time.

And then, write about it. Here is a piece you will be eager to share with others who experience similar feelings.

Our society has so much isolation built into it, but the words we use can change our attitude. What if we were to use words about enjoying solitude, instead of suffering alone time?

Light a candle. Put on some of your favorite contemplative music. Perhaps get yourself a cup of tea with honey and milk -- one of my favorite things to enjoy in fall and winter. Cocoa will also do!

Write a journal piece on the benefits of solitude, the ways you enjoy using quiet time, the beauty of the season. Write about times when you were so busy you wished you had this quiet time. Write a short poem, rhyming or not, about the silence of winter, the view from your window. Write about a few favorite winter foods you enjoy, and one you like to prepare. Recall things you did in winter as a child that gave you pleasure, and describe them.

Write a gratitude list for all you have lived in the summer months that you don't want to forget ... Write a gratitude list for all you have available to enjoy in the colder months. Start with the blessing of being able to be inside where it's warm!

There are a few prompts for you to help you prepare for the season in which the light within us must shine even more vibrantly to combat the darkness without. Feel the balance. Feel your breath and the warmth of your heart.

Wrap yourself in that feeling.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Self Forgiveness

Last evening, I watched someone forgive herself for something that she'd felt badly about for decades.

In a writing workshop at The Enchanted Fox in Medway, Massachusetts, eight participants and I gathered for Meditation and More--a two-hour session of intimate conversation, journal writing, and cleansing breathing.

A few of the women knew each other from a writing group they participate in, but the rest of us had never met. Through some simple writing exercises that took only 5-10 minutes each, we all started revealing to ourselves and one another some of our most troubling life situations and challenges, even those that are "only" in our heads.

Truth is, the ones in our heads are the toughest to conquer. That squirrel who runs riot in our skulls is not easily quieted.

When you reflect in writing on an old misdeed, some amazing things happen. You see how minor that offense was, even if it seemed major at the time. You forgive yourself because you can see, via the writing artifact, that the person who made that error was truly another person. Still yourself, of course, but also someone younger with less knowledge, wisdom, and compassion than you have today.

Next is the real miracle, however. Forgiving yourself once makes it easier to forgive yourself again, for things that might have just happened yesterday.

Part of forgiving ourselves means making an amends sometimes. But if that isn't yet possible, the writing of the amends is the first step toward the actual. 

Other times, we have simply exaggerated the importance of the mistake. We tend to think of ourselves as more important than we really are. Everyone is not focused on us. When we see the description of the behavior that is so disappointing to ourselves, we can then go on to imagine the other person's life and get a clearer perspective of whether that person really took it as seriously as we did ourselves.

We are often our own worst critic.  Writing lets us let go of that voice for a short time, and then read what we did so that we can do it again.

Back down, inner critic! 

Then, balance the writing with a short retelling of something good you did for another person that day.

Get some perspective. Write it out.

I watched this woman's eyes light up with the realization that she can forgive herself as rapidly as she can forgive others. 

There's so much to be gained through this process, and really, nothing to lose but 20 minutes or so. And is that really a loss? 

We enjoyed being together. The group energy was in itself healing. All those good vibes directed toward one another! All that mutual support ... even among women who had just met.

There's more to say about this great experience, but not to cloud it, I want to focus today on just that one moment. Self-forgiveness. It's a beautiful thing.

Write it out. Rewrite yourself.