Tuesday, April 30, 2013

New Voices (in which writers are awesome)

OH HELLO THERE BLOG. It appears to be Tuesday, which means that I ought to write something here, oughtn't I? Heh. (This post could also be subtitled, "in which Caitlin should really get her act together and write/schedule to post blogs in ADVANCE, but will she do that, nooooo.")

It's not even that I have nothing to talk about: I'm just currently swamped in the very bizarre mixture of do-not-care and so-much-anxiety brought on by my last week of school EVER.* Senioritis is not just for high schoolers, let me tell you. So I'm trying to balance being kind of over the whole homework thing with actually still wanting to do well in my classes because I am the Overachiever Extraordinaire, and on top of that there's the panic of leaving college and I'm-going-to-miss-my-friends-a-lot and I have an apartment! and also a sublet! but not yet a job! so oh dear rent help!

Adulting is fun times, dear readers. Fun. Times.

But that is not what I want to talk to you about today. What I want to talk to you about today was the sheer awesomeness that was last week's New Voices Literary Festival here at IC. It was a pretty hectic couple of days - three readings, half a zillion panels (okay maybe about six but STILL), on and off campus locations and adventuring (I missed the adventuring and I shall be FOREVER SADDENED), ludicrously late breakfasts and therefore conversations with caffeine-starved writers and fellow students, class visits, et cetera et cetera et cetera.

In order to explain the genesis behind New Voices, I shall direct you to this article here (I am quoted in that article and do not sound particularly articulate *facepalm*). Basically, New Voices was an idea forged by Professor Holmes of the English department and Professor Henderson** of the Writing department to be a) a collaboration between the English and Writing departments, since that happens never and b) a supplement for our current Distinguished Visiting Writers series, but with writers who are more up-and-coming.

Enter stage left, me, in about January: over winter break I'd emailed the professor in charge of Distinguished Visiting Writers (DVW). It was a very long and detailed email, and it was about how we had never had a YA writer come to campus and why I thought we ought to fix that. I have a sort of strange dual reputation in the writing department: if you talk to my Editing & Publishing professor or the professor in charge of internships, I am the Queen of Queries; if you talk to ANY of my fiction professors, I am the YA Crusader. So, there I was, crusading about YA, and I was told that the roster for DVW had already been filled, but Eleanor Henderson was doing this thing with the English department, I should ask her what she thinks about that.

So I did, fully expecting to be rejected because the authors had all already been chosen or some such thing, but Eleanor said "that sounds like a great idea."

Fast forward to April, and I'm one of the student guides for the festival, and am standing in our local independent bookstore introducing Sheba Karim, author of Skunk Girl, and Ithaca College's first ever invited YA writer - or indeed genre fiction writer of any sort.

If I'm the YA Crusader, I think this means I won.

Sheba was super nice - someone must have told her that I was the resident YA Crusader, because she thanked me for championing the cause and signed my book "maybe I'll introduce you one day!" which made me feel awesome. She's writing some historical fiction right now, so we chatted about that a good deal. Super Shy Caitlin didn't wholly go away, so there are probably a ton of things I should have asked her and didn't, but it was really delightful getting to guide her around for a few days.

The best part about the festival, for me, was that there were eight writers there all at once - eight writers who were really excited to be there and talk to each other and the professors and us undergrads. My favorite part of the festival was the hour or so during lunch on the second day when the couple of guides who'd stuck around were just talking to the authors about whatever - SNL skits, the inevitable kinderhorde in an opera (that moment when the children's chorus comes swarming onstage), writing, reading. All of them were so very lovely. One of the other guides and I were telling Marie-Helene Bertino how we just wanted to be best friends with all of them, and she not only seemed quite pleased at the prospect, but she signed my shiny new copy of her hilarious book of short stories Safe as Houses with "To Caitlin - BFFs."

Writers are completely ludicrous. Robin Ekiss, who referred to herself as the "token poet," (well, I mean, she was) took advantage of her short stature to create a photo study of tall people leaning on her head, and when one of Robin's student guides then tried to take a serious picture with her, novelist/memoirist/blogger Jane Roper leaned in behind them with an excellent growly face.

All of the eight authors (aside from Eleanor, Sheba, Marie, Robin, and Jane, there were Rebecca Makkai, Tim Horvath, and Nathaniel Rich) were really wonderful, and I loved hearing them all read pieces of their work one after the other. It was such a great mix of people, and it really helped show me that yes, there are actual adults who do this thing I want to do. Yes, writers are wonderful human beings. Yes, you can and should do whatever it takes to do this crazy thing that makes you happy.

You should write, and read, and be friends with writers and readers.

The New Voices festival was a really crazy couple of days, especially right smack dab in the middle of my senioritis/overachiever existential crisis, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. In fact, I have a new life goal:

Publish my novel.

And get invited to the New Voices Literary Festival.

*Unless I decide later to go to grad school. But as of right now this is my last week of classes EVER. *dramatic music*

**P.S. you guys should read Eleanor Henderson's book Ten Thousand Saints. It is awesome. She also read the opening of her work-in-progress at New Voices and I REALLY want to read the rest now.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Teaser Tuesday: Insults in the Rain

Hello all! Well, we have reached That Time of the Semester again - the time when I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to do all the things I need to do. This week is made much more insane but also much more awesome by the New Voices Literary Festival, in which I am a student guide and get to introduce the FIRST EVER YA writer invited as a speaker to Ithaca College. (This was totally my idea. Just sayin.' *toots own horn*)

Anyways, due to the insanity, you guys get a teaser today! YAAAAY. It is from my senior project / that Irish Famine novel. Maire's new friend Caleb is a shepherd at the farm Maire's ended up at, and she's instructed to bring him and the other shepherds dinner even though it's pouring rain. She runs into someone else instead...



She plodded across the fields again, pushing her sopping hair out of her eyes as she went towards the sheep pastures. The basket was heavy, and she wondered what four shepherds could possibly need that felt like rocks. But she dragged it along behind her, her hands slipping on the wet wicker, peering through the rain-splashed darkness to find some sign of Caleb. 

She walked directly into someone as she was looking the other direction for some sign of sheep or shepherds. 

“Augh – sorry, I didn’t-”

And then she stopped. The figure in front of her in the darkness was not Caleb or Sean or one of the other shepherds. It was not someone from the farm at all.

“You’re capable of apologies,” the Secrets Man said, his smile just visible in the dim light. “Interesting.” 

“What are you doing here?” Maire snapped, stumbling backwards. 

He had no reason for being there, in the rain, of all things. He had no reason for reminding her so starkly of her betrayal, of reeling her in again. She’d thought she was free of him, now he’d trapped her in this place. Thought he was done with her. 

“I just thought I ought to happen by, see how you might be holding up. It is a difficult thing to leave one’s family, after all.”

The smile, all she could see of his face beneath the shadow of his brow, widened slightly. 

“You tricked me,” she snarled, gripping the basket handle tightly, wishing it was something less unwieldy, something she could strike him with. “You said nothing about leaving them forever, you bastard. This is your fault.”

 “You can blame me if you like,” he said, shrugging calmly. “If that’s what makes you feel better about all this.” 

“I don’t-” she stammered, but then she stopped. She didn’t want to tell this man just how much she hated him. She didn’t want to tell him that she’d likely kill him given the chance. And she could not let him know how very broken he’d left her, and just how much she knew this was all her own fault. “Why? Why did you bring me here, of all places?” 

“I knew you’d be treated well, fed, paid, the like,” he answered. “That is what you wanted, wasn’t it? You wanted to save yourself. You can do that here.”

“But – why another Cunningham? Why a place that’ll just feed the English?” 

“Well, I thought you might like to have some familiarity.” 

Maire had no words for him then. There was no phrase found in heaven or hell that would properly express just how much she loathed him. 

“So how are you faring?” 

“Why should you care?” 

“Temper, temper!” he said with a laugh. “I’m merely being polite.”

“Why did you bring Agnes here? Why did you bring any of us here?” 

“Because there’s some good you can do here. I thought she could, but it seems that I was wrong.”


She spun round, looking for the sound of the voice, and saw Caleb materializing through the rain. He was going to see the Secrets Man, he was going to find out everything horrible about her. But when she turned again, the Secrets Man had vanished into the dark as easily as a puff of smoke.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

This is Home

Ever since I got back from London I've been struggling a little bit with the concept of "home." Home is, of course, the house I grew up in, the little red house with my bed and walls and walls of bookshelves and the view of the park from the front windows. Home is my mom and my dad and my sister and my cat. Home was the place I went back to from school, where there were home-cooked meals and less homework and catching up that needed doing. Ithaca wasn't ever home in that sense - Ithaca was a place where I went to school, that I missed when I was away more because of the other people who gathered there than because of any specific ties to the place itself.

And then I went to London, and things got complicated. Those old-fashioned streets where they drive the wrong way became more home to me than Ithaca had ever been. My little Victorian row house of an apartment started rivaling the little red house in New Jersey. I was independent there. I was my own person there, in a way I'd never really been before. I could catch a bus to Cardiff or a plane to Prague if I felt like it. But that home was the home of adventure and independence, not the home of home-cooked meals and mom and dad.

Things got weird when I came "home" from "home." Which one was really home? What was I supposed to do about it? I couldn't just up and move to London - for one thing, the visa stuff would be a nightmare, and for another, I couldn't permanently move across the ocean from my parents. I'd miss them too much.

And then one of the biggest connections to my first home broke. The girl who'd been my best friend since we were in the fifth grade stopped speaking to me, for no discernible reason, in August.

I haven't really wanted to talk about this online, partially because I was too devastated by it to form coherent, not-whiny thoughts, and one does not wish to whine about one's personal life on the internet, especially if one wants one's blog to remain a professional writing blog. I'm past the point where I think I would come across whiny, but that has changed everything for me. It's turned what used to be home into something like deja vu - something I recognize, but that's out of place, not quite right.

I'm not moving home after graduation next month. There are a lot of reasons for that, some probably better than others. I'm not moving home because I really love living with my roommate Lisa, because she's the coolest person I know and because she's my best friend and because she's super easy to live with, and because if I stay with her I won't have to find a new place to stay by myself. I'm not moving home because I don't want to have a kind of limbo waiting period - I want to start my adult life, I want to take care of myself, I want to have my own place, my own things, and here, I'm lucky enough to be able to do just that. I'm not moving home because I think I still need more time to get over the most epic of all friend break-ups, one that I'm still having a hard time keeping from coloring the past eleven years as some kind of lie. I'm not moving home because I can't afford to live in New York City yet.

Those reasons for not moving home don't include disliking home. I have an awesome relationship with my family, one that I think is far, far better than the one most people my age have. Of course I'm going to miss them a lot.

But I'm going to be in Ithaca, not London. I can always visit that first home, and I certainly plan to.  Hopefully my family will come visit me when they can, too. (I've already made plans to kidnap my sister after she graduates high school.)

Lisa and I just put a deposit on the apartment we'll be living in for probably the next two years. I'm trying to find a job to keep up with that apartment, but aside from a slight sense of panic that graduation is SO SOON and things are ending SO SOON, I'm extremely excited. I love the apartment. Our landlady is extremely nice. It looks like an area that will be beautiful when the leaves turn in fall.

I'm excited to carve out a new kind of home for myself - to get a real person job, to have my own place, to get my own cat (his name shall be Mr. Darcy and he and I shall be the best of friends). I'm ready for some new adventures. I'm ready to figure out just what this concept of home really means.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Finding Your Author Voice

Last semester, I took a class called Writing the Short Novel. I've shared some snippets from that project, Up in Smoke, with you here on the blog.

At the start of this semester, my professor, Eleanor Henderson, nominated me and two others from my class to read from our short novels at the Ithaca College Whalen Symposium. The Whalen Symposium is a day of presentations of student research, mostly involving science research or various thesis projects but also featuring some fiction and poetry.

So I read my work aloud in front of an audience for the first time.

And I have that video here for you! I hope you like it!

As my roommates can attest, I was really, really freaked out going into this, but once I got up to the podium, I actually found it kind of fun to share my work with an audience like this. I'm convinced that every writer has an Author Voice - we all react similarly to reading our work aloud. Our voices drop about half an octave, and we sound quite serious and important. My friend Sarah told me that she thinks someone is meant to be an author if they have an Author Voice, and that I most certainly do, so that was certainly reassuring. It is, after all, why I agreed to present in the first place - even though I was really scared about it, I thought it would be excellent practice, because being an author is the only thing I truly want to do with my life.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Thoughts from Places: Oh Ithaca, My Ithaca

I tend to refer to my college's town as "the frozen north," and it is never so appropriate as when nature fittingly gives us an April Fool's Day dusting of snow that's still clinging to the ground in the face of the next day's sun. And let's face it, it's probably going to snow again today. It precipitates so much in Ithaca, and often of such an indeterminate manner of precipitation, that my roommate's freshman year RA started calling it "Ithacation" and the term's stuck.

But for a place that is grey and dreary for about nine months of the year, it sure is gorgeous when the sun comes out.

This is the view from my apartment window. I'm spoiled forever.

My family stopped in Ithaca when we were on vacation in Watkins Glen, a few years before I was applying to colleges. We walked around the Commons - Ithaca's downtown area for pedestrians - and got delicious smoothies at Collegetown Bagels. (By the way, if you are ever in Ithaca, GET THEE TO COLLEGETOWN BAGELS POST HASTE.) I liked the vibe of this place, this strange little city essentially in the middle of nowhere. "There's a college here," my mom said. "We could look into it."

And now here I am.

I have a tendency to refer to Ithaca as "Hippieville USA," and it is. But I like that. I like that I can compost my plate in pretty much every cafe and that so many interesting people can be found here. I like that it's a little microcosm of a town set in between Ithaca College and Cornell University.

For most of my time here at IC, I was basically a hermit. I didn't really go much of anywhere. I stayed inside on weekends, watching Disney movies and doing laundry with my roommate. And now there's so much I have to catch up on before the great and terrible diaspora of graduation - things that technically speaking I'd have time to do later, but not with the people I want to do those things with. I have to go to the gorges and waterfalls that Ithaca is so famous for (we have t-shirts that say "Ithaca is Gorges," as well as various spoofs; my favorite is "Ithaca is Cold"). I have to go to Waffle Frolic (seriously, what a great name for a restaurant). That lake in the picture above? I've been staring down at it for four years and never been.

I've had so many adventures in places that are not here, and I think it's time to fix that.

I never really thought that I'd stay here after I graduated; I'd always thought that my chosen college town would be the place where I went to college and that would be that. But here I am, making plans to stay. And I like that. This town is giving me the chance, or at least, I hope will be giving me the chance, to make my transition from "student" to "real actual adult person" a little easier. I'll be able to tear off the Band-Aid slowly here. This is a place that is safe and familiar for me, a place I've spent four years tucked cozily away between cinder block walls and cocooned by textbooks. It's a place where I have friends - my roommate who will be staying here with me and who is kind of my best friend, as well as some other friends who won't be graduating yet. It's a place where I can navigate all the scary things adulthood brings - paying rent, buying groceries not on my parents' credit card, owning a car, paying off student loans - with some sense of solid, familiar ground.

I'm looking forward to discovering this place I halfway know. I'm looking forward to turning Ithaca into more than just South Hill and the IC campus. I'm looking forward to really claiming this place as mine, for a little while longer at least.

And, let's face it, I actually really like snow.