Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Courtney Love?

Some people cannot listen to music when they write. Some people can only write when they listen to music. Some simply need music without lyrics. Some people—well. I need music. Sometimes. But most often I need to decide what my characters would listen to. The problem is—I’m often ten years behind the times. Right now, all I want to listen to is this.

I am loving this album. I listen to it at the gym. I listen to it when I’m writing. I put it on while I’m making coffee. It’s so fierce. Noelle would love this album. If she had ever even heard of Hole. So what is it, I keep thinking, that brings me back to Courtney Love and her yelling and torn slips and girl-rocking. Is it because I’m writing about 16 and I was 16 when I first listened to this album… or is it because I want to yell and scream a little bit. I am thinking I’m going to make a playlist that goes through phases of the writing. But for now, I’ll start here—after the first draft, gearing up for real revisions. I should warn you—there is no method or pattern to my playlists. It’s just what I need to listen to. Or what they need to listen to. I mean the characters.

Monday morning February 25th PERMANENT INK playlist

Hole; Celebrity Skin in its entirety
Wilco; Reservations
The National; Apartment Story
Mirah; Don’t Die in Me
Bob Dylan; I don’t believe you (she acts like we have never met)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fiction Vs. Real Life

J and I have been sharing work recently. It is sort of strange to share work with someone who knows you better than most people on the planet but has never read your actual writing.

In August of 2005 I moved to Rome. This is a big and sprawling story but the part I want to talk about today is 244. That was my apartment. Blocks from Stazione Trastevere and facing the sprawling Porta Portese market on Sunday mornings our apartment had cool marble floors and vaguely Victorian furniture that might remind you of you grandmothers’ house. Quite unexpectedly I moved into 244 with strangers and met some people (who I’ll tell you a million stories about as time goes on) who became like a family I can’t quite live without. 244 had two incarnations—the first year and the second year but almost all of it revolved around this almost grand dining room table where we took turns cooking meals (some of us were better at this than others) and playing trivia with old cards that had questions about the Soviet Union and leaning out the window listening to the echoing ring of the Number 8 tram.

J would be mad at me. Or make fun of me. If I told you too many stories about him right here. But mostly what I want to say is he keeps me honest. And what I mean is that he calls me out (quite loudly) when I even think about lying about myself. Or to myself. Which is a maddening and amazing thing to have in a friend. This makes writing fiction very interesting. Because when we share this fiction with each other it sometimes seems like autobiography.
It’s not autobiography, he says.
But it is, I say, thinking of all the true stories he’s told me.

But it’s not. It’s just that fiction become supremely complicated when you know the writer.

In any case, what I want to say, is that I miss these guys like crazy tonight.

J, me and K. A fortress town in Malta, accidental Spring Break

The whole family. A little bit sad, a little bit crazy, a little bit uncomfortable having our picture taken in front of a dumpster.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Welcome to the world.

This is my niece Ruth Nightingale. She is five weeks and three days old. She is absolutely the most stunning amazing beautiful thing I have ever seen. She is part my brother and part my sister in law and she has my grandfather’s eyebrows and when I hold her she stares up at me and sometimes she reaches her hand and puts it against my chin and I know she knows I’m her aunt. And that, unfortunately, one day, those eyebrows might grow together and I will have to teach her about getting waxed. Unless she has her mothers eyebrows, which are lovely and thin and sort of perfect. Every time I think about her I can’t believe she exists and I wish I were closer to her. But she lives on a mountaintop in Vermont where her parents built a lovely yellow house that sort of feels like it sits in this place of peace and calm on top of everything. She is going to grow up and know how to cook the most delicious things with three ingredients like her dad, and make chandeliers and collaged birthday cards and paintings and postcards like her mom and she is going to ride horses and play basketball and be the most beautiful and loved and strong and brilliant girl this world has yet seen.

And one day she’s going to read my book. And I hope it’s the kind of book that tells a certain truth to her. But I also hope that it’s unfamiliar to her. I keep thinking about her now as I’m writing because I’m thinking about all of the things that make Nadio and Noelle real and sad and hopeful to whomever will read them. I don’t want Ruth to ever feel sad over a boy or alienated by her friend or angry at her mom or scared of what she might want or exhilarated by not knowing. But maybe we all feel these things and that’s why we write about them...

But she’s pretty perfect, my niece. I can’t wait to go through this life with her.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Something to Think About

“We come back to the same people to learn something about how we have changed. We want to be assured that we have changed—that we are different and better and older and thinner and wiser and cooler. We want the maps of ourselves to paint different.”

This is something I wrote almost exactly two years ago. It began as something very true, and then it became a scene in my novel. Which then became something quite different.

Recently some YA writers have been posting first lines. The first line of the first draft of a novel and then, the final first line. This had me thinking about the places where stories begin. For me PERMANENT INK started as another story altogether. And then one day I was thinking too much. And I wrote the lines at the top of this entry. And a new character came to life. And he belonged in this old story. And suddenly, then, it had this brand new breath and fury. The first line for me is sometimes at the end or in the stomach of the story. It’s never the actual first line. It’s the line I write that makes me go, oh, that’s it. I’ve got it. And then I can’t stop writing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy valentines day.

I have two thoughts today.


Your Catfish Friend
by Richard Brautigan

If I were to live my life
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
one evening
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think, "It's beautiful
here by this pond. I wish
somebody loved me,"
I'd love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
at peace,
and ask yourself, "I wonder
if there are any catfish
in this pond? It seems like
a perfect place for them."

And Two.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Family is not just what you’re born into

For the past seventeen, almost eighteen years, sometimes (like this weekend) H is the only person I want to talk to. It's so easy. Sometimes we are lucky enough to find that.

I am working on revisions for PERMANENT INK. I am having a really hard time with Keeley. Keeley has always been very clear in my mind. I know exactly what she looks like and what books are on her shelf and that she only sleeps well in her own house and that she listens to Belle & Sebastian. What I am having a hard time with, is filling out the history of her friendship with Noelle—and I mean the history that happened in the lifetime before the pages of the book. I want the page to show how a friendship can be pure joy, how sometimes when we are kids, we meet someone who we were supposed to meet, who is always going to be a part of our lives, who will feel at times like relief, like delight, like anger, like obligation, like Christmas, like birthdays, like the last person you want to see or the only voice you want to hear. I want Noelle and Keeley to look like this picture.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Read This

Because two years ago I taught a class called English Comp to the most amazing group of students. Most of them didn’t really want to be in the class but they realized pretty quickly that I am a sucker and a few of them even took it semi-seriously. In the end they wrote some truly incredible essays and even paragraphs that still knock the wind out of me.

When I was working with English Comp, I couldn’t teach what I normally taught and I had no curriculum to follow. I dug through boxes of tattered essays and shelves of dog-eared books. I tried it all (who knew they'd hate On the Road? I was schooled. sorry, guys...) What I learned is this: they needed to read something that was written to them—in a voice that was clear and wise and sharp and entertaining and challenging all at once. They needed to read someone who spoke to what they were living that very day and did so with beauty and grace and without condescension. And, most importantly, with an understanding of their secrets.

Because I wish I knew about Jason Brown then. Because what is more raw and real and intense than the moments he captures here? I don’t know. You tell me.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

My Gypsy Soul is not being rocked.

I have lived a lot of places.

It all started here where I was born. Evanston, Illinois, home to Northwestern University. I always thought I'd go there but I didn't have very good SAT scores...

Then we moved here. This is lovely downtown Middlebury, Vermont. This, I suppose, is where I am from. My mom still lives here.

This is where dad lives. I spent summers here, a lot of Christmases and even other vacations. I got addicted to airports flying down here. The south Carolina coast. I have some beach in me, and some mountains.

This is my other home. This is where I went to boarding school. I lived here for four years and I have five zillion stories yet to write about this place. Seriously.

This is the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. I did not live ON the bridge. But I lived all over the other side of the river while I went to Bard College. I lived in an old gymnasium and you could see the foul line peeking out from under my couch. I lived in the dorms. I lived in what some might even call a double wide trailer. It had a swingset.

I lived here for six months. Home to the most inspiring library in the world.

I really did live here. For almost three years. One day I'll tell you about how I secretly miss LA sometimes.

This was a weird kind of moving "home" for a while. But I did have a really sweet little place on the third floor of a brownstone that looked like the west village even though it felt waaaaay upstate.

Roma Roma Roma. Even after two years my Italian is laughably bad. But O. Roma.

And finally here we are. (this is actually my second time living in NYC but, well, I'm here now...). Homehomehome. My favorite thing is the 59th street bridge at night. Which isn't even my bridge anymore. But you're going home and you're anonymous and alive all at once. And its New York. And its all what you dreamed about.

But MAN my gypsy soul cannot sit still. She is feeling a little nutty.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What I'm Longing For

“In retrospect it seems to me that those days before I knew the names of all the bridges were happier than the ones that came later, but perhaps you will see that as we go along. Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in New York, how six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, for that is how those years appear to me now, in a long sequence of sentimental dissolves and old-fashioned trick shots…” Joan Didion, ‘Goodbye To All That’

There are two things I can’t stop thinking about: the next president. And the desert. I already pleaded with you about the former. But here is what I have to say about the latter: I want to move there. Suddenly I have this almost physical hunger for erie purple skies and endless sandy roads and craggy alien rock formations and no neighbors for miles and maybe a small town where the old cowboys wonder what I’m doing out in that square house with yellow curtains (I’m writing. Of course) I am in love with New York City in a very deep way but lately I have this strange feeling about the desert and all of the stories that are growing there.

I Can't Help It

I don’t know about the rules of proclaiming political allegiances. I work in a school and I am (mostly) careful to whisper my politics. Unfortunately they always seem to be louder than a whisper. I can’t help it. Isn’t that how it should be, though? Shouldn’t we be so passionately in support of a candidate that we cannot keep quiet? Last night I held my breath for six hours watching voter returns. I stood on tiptoes and squealed a little bit and grabbed the arms of people next to me. Amazing, I said. Or Scary, I said. Depending on what I was seeing. I couldn’t sleep until California was projected. And even then, I couldn’t sleep.
What is going to happen?
I can’t answer that question. If I could, there wouldn’t be all of these excited knots in my stomach. What I can say is there is so much possibility lying in wait between now and November. We should all be passionately about something: speed limits or school lunches or drivers’ licenses or health care access or school uniforms or foreign oil. There is certainly a moment in your life (if you close your eyes, you can recall it) when you worked so hard for something you could barely walk, when you wanted something so badly that it made your stomach hurt, when you were so excited you could only see one thing. Right now, this is all I ask of you. Find that thing. Find the candidate who agrees with you. And fight your heart out for a little while.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

This is my very first blog entry. Ever. And even though I feel quite comfortable calling myself a writer. This feels a little bit weird because… who am I writing to? In order to answer this question I have been reading other peoples’ blogs. Obsessively. And what I think is this—people write to their friends. Or their fans. In some cases these people are one and the same. I don’t think I have any fans. But I do have friends. And they listen to me quite patiently. Maybe in the writing of these entries, I’ll even make some more… which gets me back to the reason I am starting this blog: I JUST SOLD MY FIRST BOOK! (this is me giddy and delighted) which somehow makes me feel, well, legit. So this is my blog. Which I’ll use to write about all things directly or quite indirectly related to my BOOK (and all the books that will come after). So the first thing I want to say is this: when I was 12 or 13 I already knew I was going to grow up and be a writer. But then I read this book called Over the Moon. And I knew I wanted to write a book exactly like that one day. I can still remember the floors of Maddie’s bedroom that she painted with white porch paint and the sounds of her feet on the creaking floor and the sadness Kate felt when her sister left home on a motorcycle, and the first time Kate went to New York alone to see the boy she loved, who had loved her sister. I feel like I walked in Kate’s footsteps from her Aunt Georgia’s house all the way through New York and across the ferry to find her sister and herself and a boy. And then a few years ago the amazing author Elissa Haden Guest (who writes fantastic children’s books now) even took me out to lunch in Santa Monica and sent me a signed copy of the original hardcover version of Over the Moon and I couldn’t believe that I got to meet her and she was so nice and we talked about living in New York City and writing stories and her daughter getting ready to go to college and after lunch I hugged her and walked back to my car and I thought. Whoa. Real people write books.