Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolution

This has been one hell of a year.

It feels like a lifetime ago that I was having one of the best semesters of my college career (the semester in London doesn't count. That was the best five months of my life, college or no college), when I had two days off a week just to work on the manuscript that would become The Long Road Home, when I was taking great classes with my favorite professors, when I was still dancing, when I spent many an evening up far too late with my wonderful roommates.

I can't quite fathom that it was nine months ago that I stood in that stupid, ill-fitting black gown and switched over my tassel to the other side of my hat. Nine months ago that I stopped being a student and started being an adult.

Things have been... interesting since then. Don't get me wrong. Everything is, objectively, great. I live with my best friend, who is the coolest person I know. We have a fantastic apartment and two incredibly adorable cats (who persist in climbing the Christmas tree). I have a perfectly respectable job, and I'm paying my rent and my student loans and my internet bill. And I am grateful. I am so, so grateful for everything and everyone that is allowing me to take this stab at being an independent, adult-type person.

But being an adult is hard.

I was talking to a writer friend of mine who is also a recent postgrad. She was a psychology major, and she was explaining the concept of an "existential vacuum" to me. It's what happens when there's a sudden absence of something. We were talking about it in the context of "I've just finished this novel what am I supposed to do with my life now?" and also "post show depression," something anyone involved in theatre will know well.

Thinking about it later, though, it explains a lot about how I've been feeling about being a postgrad. I haven't wanted to talk about it much, since I would like to be professional on this blog and being constantly mopey isn't terribly professional.

And I've felt awfully mopey since graduating. I've felt so lost, so mired in worry that I'll never be able to do the one thing I think I'm actually any good at - writing novels. So afraid that I'll just spend the rest of my life saying "may I help you?" to people who often don't care that I'm standing there. So terrified that I'll actually never amount to anything at all, that no one will ever want to listen to the stories I have to tell. If all I have to offer the world are words that no one will hear...

I tend to be pretty good at just shuffling on through. I've done it for classes I've hated, shows that have been stressing me out, the hellish sublet Lisa and I lived in this summer. This too shall pass, I think, and I just buckle down and deal with it till it does. I'm worried I'm *too* good at that. What if it doesn't? What if I just allow myself to get complacent because I think "this too shall pass" and wind up stuck in a job I don't really want in a place I don't really want to be?

I'm a worrier, and that's never been more evident than it is now. I worry about myself, about my career, about my writing, about Lisa, about everything, in a constant loop.

Next year, things are going to change.

Next year, I am going closer to the mountain. I am taking another step towards being where I want to be, and who I want to be. Lisa and I are moving to New York City when our lease here in Ithaca ends. I'll miss my Ithacan friends, of course, and this town has done many amazing things for me, but I need to leave. I need to stop stalling in the place where I graduated from college. I need to get out there and start making the life I really want to have. I need to be in a city again, where there are convenient corner stores and an actual form of public transportation. I need to be in New York, where nothing ever stops. Because I feel like I've stopped. I'm waiting. And I don't want to wait anymore.

I want to run full-tilt at the kind of life I really want, sprinting towards it until I smash into it, until I catch it and tangle myself up in it.

And yes, I know it's going to be hard. Lots of well-meaning people have told me, in the same way that everyone said "Oh, college in Ithaca? It's cold up there you know," that living in New York is expensive. I know. I know everything won't be perfect when we move. I know I'll still worry about money and paying the rent all the time. I know there will still be plenty of days when I feel like a waste of space. But to be honest, I don't really care. I want this, and I'm going to go after it with everything I've got. 

Next year, I'm going to move to the place I want to be in. Next year, Lisa and I will have more city exploring to do. Next year, I'm going to find a job that's more engaging than simply selling stamps. I'm going to call myself a New Yorker, after years of growing up on the periphery.

And next year, I'm going to make a hell of a lot of really good art.

Here's to 2014. May it be kind to all of us.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Teaser Tuesday (on Thursday): Honor Among Thieves

Merry Christmas, dear readers!

I know I have been remiss in blogging (yet again), so I thought I'd share with you the opening of the project I've just started working on. It's called HONOR AMONG THIEVES and it is about two girls - Risa Nassar and Gianna Agnello - living in Venice in the 19th century, and stealing magical objects from elite Venetians and careless tourists, until one day they steal something very powerful from exactly the wrong person.

It starts out like this, and I hope you're intrigued!

--------------------------------------------------



Venice, Italy
April, 1873

            They’d named her Il Ragno because they’d all assumed such feats of daring could only be accomplished by a grown man, not a wiry girl of seventeen years. But she did not object to the title; that very assumption that Venice’s greatest thief was a man only allowed her all the more freedom. No one would suspect the small, dark-skinned girl in her cloak of shadows, not when they were looking for someone else entirely. 

            No one suspected her that night either, when the mist from the sea muted the moonlight shining on the canals, when the city slept soundly in its crumbling glory. As quietly and quickly as the spider she’d been named for, the girl skittered over the roofs of the palazzi until she’d settled on the one she’d chosen. 

            Il Ragno climbed down the elaborate fa├žade of the palazzo, her hands sure against the small niches and curled ornamentations. A smile pressed the corner of her mouth against the black mask fitted over her face when she saw the window swinging open, the curtain billowing in the salty sea breeze. This was going to be simpler even than she had anticipated. 

            She crept inside, her well-worn leather boots silent against the marble floors. The object she sought was meant to be displayed within easy reach, and there it was, settled on a table without even a bell jar to keep it safe. Don Fransisco must truly be a proud, foolish man indeed to display such a valuable scrying mirror for all the world to see. 

            For the fingers of Il Ragno to take. 

            She closed her fingers around her prize, when a sudden loud footfall caught her attention. A servant boy stood in the doorway, struggling to light a candle and still hold a knife pointed in her direction. 

            “Don’t move,” he stammered. “Stay where you are.”

            But the girl smiled beneath her mask, and she bowed low to the boy, tucking the mirror safely inside her tunic as she did. And then she grasped the edge of her shadow-cloak, pulling it sharply up over her head. 

            And Il Ragno vanished into the night as silently as she’d come, leaving the boy to stare at the space where she’d been and the empty table that had once held his master’s mirror.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

New Project Time!

So, fair blog readers - I have begun a new novel project.

I am working on it pretty slowly, to be honest, largely because I am usually pretty exhausted. I mean, I sleep. I sometimes conk out at 11pm. Sometimes 10:30. And yet I yawn my way through work and when I get home I would much rather just relax and hang out with my awesome roommate/best friend (whose work schedule actually aligns with mine now so I get to SEE her and it is awesome) and watch my cats play pounce-on-each-other.

And, let's be real here, when one is already tired, there's nothing like a snoozing, purring pile of kittens to make you think "all right, bedtime now."

Nevertheless, I am a couple thousand words into a project currently titled HONOR AMONG THIEVES (because I am so very clever at titles).

It is a story about Venice, magical thievery, curses, ballet, and, most importantly, best friends. It is (le gasp!) NOT a kissing book. (Sorry everybody.)

It is very strange writing this project, though. I don't quite know what it is about it - maybe I haven't done enough research, maybe it's just that I haven't started a new project from scratch in... um... a looooooooooooong time, but I feel like I've forgotten how to open a novel. I keep remembering that the audience doesn't actually know how these characters and this world work yet, and that *I* don't fully know that either.

It is strange writing characters who are so very unlike Maire. For about a year, I lived in Maire's headspace. Her view of the world was dark and angry and "I just want to punch it and make it go away." Risa and Gianna are very different. They're confident. They think, at least right now, that their world runs entirely according to their plans. They're about to find out that's not so, of course, but still. It's an interesting change. Nice, though.

Anyways. I'm going to go do some writing. Or maybe just watch my cats play pounce-on-each-other. We'll see.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Warning: Cuteness Overload

As I sit here and type this, fair readers, I am accompanied by this:


That's right, guys. I have a pile of kittens curled up next to me.

It is glorious.

I had been pretty set on only getting one cat, since I'd assumed that my roommate wouldn't really want one of her own. But then we were presented with this brother-and-sister pair that couldn't be adopted out separately and... well, that was the end of that, really.

Allow me to introduce you.


This is Mr. Darcy, my kitten, and the most photogenic cat in the world.


Here he is being appropriately British in a photo I cannot for the life of me turn the right way. Alas.

He is SUCH a sweetheart. I have never known a cat as social as he is - he loves meeting new people, which is great since they've already met most of our friends. He loves to be picked up and will happily climb into my lap or Lisa's lap and pin us down for a good hour. He's incredibly adventurous and very intelligent - you can really see the wheels turning when he looks up at high places and tries to calculate what he can jump off of to get up there. He purrs like a truck and meows like a squeaky toy - but really only when he's reminding me that it's dinner time.


BABYYYYYY.

And this is Lisa's kitten, Charlotte (Bronte).


Charlotte is the more skittish of the pair and therefore the more difficult to catch on camera. She has two healed breaks in her tail that were there when she arrived at the shelter; our hypothesis is that she was stepped on when she was very young, as she is still a little bit afraid of feet. She's hard to catch and certainly won't crawl unbidden into a newcomer's lap the way Darcy will, but once she gets used to you and if you don't make any sudden movements, she can be just as affectionate as her brother.


She also very much likes being under things, which is problematic when she got under my bed the other day. We're trying to keep the kittens out of our bedrooms for now, but she probably would've been perfectly content to hang out there the rest of the night.

I am really glad we came home with two. They keep each other company all day while we're at work, and they play games of pounce-on-each-other that last for hours. Our house, it turns out, is a cat jungle gym - they get to climb up and down the kitchen chairs and under the room divider screen and in and out of the staircase. They love it.

And, the first night we brought them home, they both fell asleep in my lap. It was the most wonderful thing.


Now, I promise this blog won't devolve solely into cat picture spam... but there are probably going to be a lot more cat pictures on it. Prepare yourselves, fair readers. :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Cats

In about three weeks' time, my wonderful roommate Lisa and I are adopting a kitten.

I am ridiculously excited about this, which I know makes my parents roll their eyes a lot. (Sorry, parents.)

But Lisa, wonderful though she is, has spent all her life as a Dog Person. Which means that it is now up to me, a lifelong Cat Person, to instruct her in the ways of cat behavior.

Fortunately, the internet loves few things better than cats. Well, perhaps comparing Benedict Cumberbatch to otters, but that's about it.  So I have compiled a handy list of the strange things that cats do to better prepare Lisa for this kitten.

1. They are strangely fond of sleeping in sinks.







2. Similarly, they are incredibly good at being in places where they do not belong.

3. Boxes are basically cat heaven.





4. For animals that are so graceful, they are really quite skilled at being massive derps. For example:


5. Cat hair will get everywhere. I mean everywhere.


6. They are really, really insistent.


(And half the time, for instance when you are eating a salad or something else very unappealing to cats, they will harass you until they are absolutely, 100% certain they didn't actually want it in the first place.)

7. They tend to think that you've died if you close a door on them.

8. This and other cat idiosyncrasies sometimes make daily tasks rather difficult.

 

9. I don't know how they do it, but cat paws on top of you almost always feel like elephant feet. Especially when they are unexpected.

10. But let's be real here. They are just.



So.






Damn.






CUTE.






I, for one, am super excited to have cat hair on everything and enjoy the company of a little fuzzy creature again. I think it's going to be pretty awesome.

And don't worry, dear readers. This is the internet. There will be cat pics. ;)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thoughts from Places: The Post Market

I'm feeling a little bit lame of late, dear readers. Pretty much all I do is go to work, come home, fiddle with edits or try desperately to catch up on How I Met Your Mother, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Not exactly the stuff of enticing blog posts, I'm afraid.

But I do have a pretty nice job, so I thought I'd tell you some interesting observations from working in a mail room.

1. A huge percentage of people are violently averse to licking envelopes.

2. The sound system plays a Pandora station that is essentially the same twelve songs on a loop, which has led to me making up some weird harmonies to Philip Philips' "Home" to pass the time. It has also led me to be way too amused at the way Pandora censors songs. It doesn't bleep things or add a different word; the sound just cuts out. So, the line in "Some Nights" sounds like "Who the      wants to die alone?" and "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" has two: First, "oh yes, but what a shame the poor groomsbride is a     " and "I chime in haven't you people ever heard of closing the      damned door" (so you can say damned but not goddamned? Okay...).

This clearly amuses me way too much.

3. There is such a thing as an international Forever stamp. And they're ROUND. (They're globe shaped. It's cool.)

4. There are a LOT of international students at this college. From all over! As someone who's more than a little sad that she is not currently zipping around London, it's really great to talk to people sending packages to Korea and postcards to Paris.

5. I really like this job. It's not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life, of course, but I like doing it a lot, and this is why: when I finish off someone's express mail right before the postman comes to pick everything up for the day, when I tell someone that another customer has left their tape behind and so there's free tape today, when someone finds out that sending a gift is going to be less expensive than they thought, even when I just give someone a booklet of stamps, they really, really mean it when they tell me thank you.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Query critiques?

Hello there, blogosphere!

As you know, I'm working on edits for my manuscript "The Long Road Home." But that means I also need to polish up my query letter.

So I'm going to do a possibly crazy thing that probably won't work and post it here and beg for some feedback. Let me know what you think, and what needs some tweaking. Thanks!





Dear Agent Awesome:

            Fifteen-year-old Maire Finn made a promise to herself: no matter what happened, she was not going to die. 

            Elbows in her face didn’t matter; she’d give as good as she got, so long as she came out of it with a handful of stolen barley in her pocket. But no amount of bloodied noses could keep black slime from spreading across the potato fields. And as much as she’d like to shove her fist into her overfed English landlord’s gut, even that wouldn’t change the fact that he was demanding money her family would never be able to find in time. 

            So when a mysterious man with a dangerous smile appears spinning a gold coin like a spider’s web, Maire jumps on his offer of work immediately. It’s only after she’s been whisked away that she learns she’s been tricked. Her Secrets Man is no ordinary human, and his plans for her don’t involve her ever seeing her family again. 

            Magical tricks or no, the farm he’s placed her on is real enough. But a full stomach hasn’t dulled Maire’s stubbornness. She is going to figure out what exactly it is that he wants from her. She is going to find a way to get around his rules and keep her family from starving. And she is going to save herself, on her own terms this time. 

            Even though crossing him might just be more dangerous than the famine.


            THE LONG ROAD HOME is a YA historical fiction with fantasy elements complete at 85,000 words. I hope it will appeal to readers who enjoy the combination of historical reality and the supernatural in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races or Elizabeth C. Bunce’s A Curse Dark As Gold

            I am a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where I got my B.A. in Writing with a minor in History. My historical nonfiction has received the 2013 Elliot Mayrock Writing Award and a Best Paper award at the 2013 Phi Alpha Theta regional conference. In addition, my fiction was the recipient of the 2013 Runner Up prize in Ithaca College's Writing Department Contest and is published on their website.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Adulting 101: Bookshelf Tour!

So I know I promised apartment photos, and I will deliver said photos when I have actually cleaned my room. (Some things never change.)

But let's be real, here. We all know what the important part is. We all know that my Friday night was just made by my newly reorganized book collection. And I thought I'd show it to you!

This is the pile of books that lives on my desk, because it is my pile of Favorite Books Ever in the World. Also featured: my red quill editing pen, a candle that smells like tea, and an "Out, Damned Spot!" eraser from the Globe theatre.

My wine box bookshelves beside my desk. Featuring classics on the top and classic fantasy on the bottom. And also the beribboned bludgeoning stick they gave me at graduation for being a smart person. Go figure.

YA fantasy and historical, and my shelf of adult fiction. There are some friends featured here!! Namely, Stefan Bachman's PECULIAR, Leigh Ann Kopans' ONE, Marie-Helene Bertino's SAFE AS HOUSES, and Eleanor Henderson's TEN THOUSAND SAINTS. Also, pictures of London and Paris, an empty Jelly Babies jar from the Imperial War Museum, a temari ball my mom made me, and my Venetian mask. Also my boots.

And last but not least, my shelf of nonfiction and YA contemporary fiction, the latter of which also features my friend Kody Keplinger's first two books! Also included: waaaaaaaaaay too many books on the French Revolution and some more pictures of friends.


So there you have it. My lovely collection of books! My room feels so much more like MY room now that they're all set up and organized.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to round out this incredibly nerdy Friday night with some Michael Buble and some postcard poster organizing.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

In Defense of "Looking for Alaska"

This letter was originally published in today's issue of the Verona Cedar Grove Times. 



An Open Letter to the Parents of Sophomores at Verona High School:

Dear Parents: 

            I have heard that there has been some controversy surrounding the inclusion of John Green’s Printz-award winning first novel Looking for Alaska on the summer reading curriculum. I would like to point out that this controversy is, quite frankly, ridiculous. 

            There is a lot to say on the topic of book banning and censorship and why these are never a good idea. I could discuss how, in his YouTube video “I Am Not a Pornographer,” John Green explains the existence of the controversial sexual portion of his novel.

 “There is one very frank sex scene. It is awkward, unfun, disastrous, and wholly unerotic… the whole reason that scene in question exists in Looking for Alaska is because I wanted to draw a contrast between that scene, when there’s a lot of physical intimacy but is ultimately very emotionally empty, and the scene that immediately follows it, when there’s not a serious physical interaction, but there’s this intense emotional connection… it doesn’t take a deeply critical understanding of literature to realize that Looking for Alaska is arguing against vapid physical interactions, not for them.”

Novelists write the scenes they write for a reason. In this case, the sexual content of Looking for Alaska exists to showcase something much more valuable: emotional intimacy. It is not there for shock value, or for the purpose of corrupting its teenaged readers. It exists for the same reason that everything in literature exists: to further the themes and the plot of the work in question. 

The author’s own words aside, there are a great many more arguments in favor of Green’s book. I could argue that it is absurd to hold more recent literature under such censorship and scrutiny, when students have been learning about Shakespeare’s dirty jokes for centuries. I could argue that hiding these things from your children will not keep them innocent, but rather leave them to face the world unprepared and perhaps more likely to make the dangerous decisions you don’t want them to have to face. I could argue that banning a book, or even removing it from the curriculum, might just have the opposite effect to the one that was intended and send teenagers to the library in droves. 

            But the argument that is most important, in this context, is one of empathy. 

            Looking for Alaska is a novel about Miles Halter, a boy who is obsessed with the last words of famous people and who decides to attend a boarding school one state away from his hometown. There, he meets Alaska Young, a beautiful, fascinating girl who lives next door to him and about whom he knows absolutely nothing. Miles spends the rest of the novel trying to understand Alaska, to really know her, but all he can see is his idea of her (except, perhaps, in the scene following the sex scene in question). He cannot fully comprehend her as the complex, problematic person she truly is, instead seeing her as the wonderful, perfect girl he wants her to be. It isn’t until the novel’s tragic ending that he even begins to understand his mistakes. 

            Miles learns to be empathetic throughout the course of Looking for Alaska. He learns that people are not what he makes of them, that the world is not only what he sees through his own narrow perspective. 

            Verona is a town of tradition. It is a small town where nothing has changed in years and where half the people, if not more, that you see walking down the street are people you know. It is a perfectly nice town, and I am happy that I grew up there. 

            But it is also a town that can, very easily, provide a child growing up there with nothing but a very narrow perspective on the world. Things don’t change in Verona. People grow up and come back instead of moving on. 

            Literature is one of the best ways to learn to be empathetic. When we read, we are being asked to connect intimately with the novel’s characters, to care about their lives and their problems as though they were our friends. Literature asks us to see beyond our own narrow perspectives, to understand other people as they really are, rather than how we want to see them. A novel like Looking for Alaska is perfect for students at Verona High School. It is a novel that has empathy as its central theme, that expresses the idea that imagining other people complexly is perhaps the most important and kindest thing that we as humans can do. 

            I would like to ask you, parents, to imagine things more complexly. 

            Imagine Looking for Alaska not as a novel with a Controversial Sex Scene, but as a novel that realistically portrays teenaged life with all its pitfalls and mistakes and bad ideas and wonderful friendships and exciting adventures. 

            Imagine your children not as innocents who need to be locked away in the tower of Verona to protect them from the outside world, but as people capable of reading critically and understanding the themes of the books they read in class. 

            I am trying to imagine you complexly. I know that you are reasonable people; I know that I did not grow up in a town of evildoers happy to throw controversial books on a pyre in the town square, and I know that is not what you are suggesting. I know that you are merely concerned about the things your children are reading, and whether or not the material is appropriate for them. 

            Allow me to leave you with this advice: do not ask the school board if the material is appropriate. Ask your children. Talk to them about the things they read, the things they see on television or at school. Discuss your concerns, and see if they are shared. The world is indeed a scary place, with a great many things we want to keep our loved ones safe from. But some monsters are only shadows on the wall, and the only way to find out the truth is to communicate. 

            Imagine your children complexly. And keep Looking for Alaska on the syllabus.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Well... now what?

The Irish Novel is packed up and shipped off to beta readers, waiting for their seal of approval (more likely, their long list of notes and things to fix).

And so... here I am... waiting for comments.

I hate this part.

It's very strange, not having anything to do. I don't have a book to read right now. I just finished rereading The Book Thief for the fourth time in preparation for seeing the movie in November (for the record: I still cried at the end. Zusak!!!) I have Cornelia Funke's most recent book on reserve at the library and quite a lot of bookstore gift card money from writing contests last semester, but I just haven't gotten around to getting down there and picking things up. (The one downside of living in the middle of nowhere is that you are in the middle of nowhere.)

And I haven't felt like starting another writing project just yet. Which is, admittedly, terrifying. Just at this moment I don't feel like I have a story I NEED to tell, and since that's kind of the THING that I DO all the time... well, it's a bit concerning that I'm not immediately wanting to jump into the next project. I'm hoping it's just post-editing laziness, and that an idea will come along and need me to write it soon.

I guess that leaves me to catch up with the couple of friends who haven't graduated and just moved back to school, make cookies, and continue working on this whole "being an adult" thing that I'm doing now. I think I'm steadily getting better at that. :)

Tell me, dear blog readers: do you always have another project you jump right into after finishing the last one? Or do you let yourself laze around a little bit first?