After the Storm

Today is Halloween, and while much of the five boroughs still grapples with power outages and isolation from the shutdown subways, the children in my neighborhood prepare to Trick or Treat. It is an odd sensation, being in a city hit so hard by the storm, and yet going about our day as if that disaster didn’t just happen. Our neighborhood, which sits at the top of a steep hill in Brooklyn, has emerged almost completely unscathed by the storm. In fact, out of respect for the areas hit hard I will not even post pics. We never lost power, we never lost water. Our lights flickered, our microwave beeped, and the wind howled, but the storm passed overhead and left us to ourselves.

I find myself feeling reflective in the wake of that, and feeling a different kind of isolation all-together. When a disaster happens so close to you that you can hear it, but yet you feel none of it, what does that mean? There are grand ideas of lending a hand, but without transportation that seems impossible. I have heard stories trickle in of other neighborhoods around the five boroughs banding together to charge cell phones and make calls to loved ones outside the city. I have heard about darkness that prevailed over the streets of Manhattan broken only by the whirring lights of the police sirens.

Then there was a devastating fire that stole homes and lives in Queens. All of this startles me, shakes me, and makes me bashful of my thankfulness for my own safety. I realized this morning — walking in the stream of sunlight breaking clouds and letting a chilling blue sky through — that life will go on in spite of our need to process. Life goes on when death occurs. Life goes on when trauma is felt. New York City can shed the skin of this disaster, and will, because that is the New York way. That is the human way.

And, even in the midst of humility, I can say I am thankful that the storm didn’t destroy everything. I am thankful to take my son Trick or Treating. I am thankful to be able to get coffee with my friends at a new neighborhood cafe. I ache for those displaced by the storm, and those who lost homes, whose cars marinate in storm water in the underground parking garages of Lower Manhattan, and who still haven’t gotten in touch with family. This is the way I can process my own storm, and find my own recovery.

New York City Braces

When we moved to New York City, I don’t remember expecting to deal with two hurricanes, an earthquake, and tornados in the span of fifteen months. Under the threat of Sandy, we have all begun to prep for war, it would seem. We gather our ammunition against the storm (candles, flashlights, lanterns); we gather our sustenance (canned, food, bread, water); we fill our tubs and pots for clean bathing water should the lines be shut off.

We prepare because it is the only thing we can possibly do when faced with a storm so much larger and so much wilder than we are. When a storm rages at sea, and the sea consumes land for it’s supper. We are forced to watch and wonder and scramble for safety because that gives our fear purpose. It is what we must do. As a believer, I do something else though. I pray. I petition the one who sees all storms as small and manageable that He would remember my family in the midst of it.

I do not hide behind the belief, I allow it to support me as I stack my cans of food and set out my candles to light. I remember that the earth rages with dangers, and natural disasters are no more than that. They are natural to a world weakened by its many years. They are something we cannot escape, but we have to face. Whether that means we heed the warnings of our city officials and evacuate, or we hunker down in our home with more food than we need and enough batteries to last out a zombie apocalypse. (Though should Sandy bring flesh-eaters to the shores of Brooklyn, I fear I am ill-prepared to fight them.)

Today, as the winds began to pick up, and the windows were splattered with the spit of rain, I sat in a tent in our playroom with three kids. I made smores and told fables and pretended the storm was a backdrop for fantasy. The storm was an excuse to stay still, to imagine. Life goes on in the midst of a storm, and that is how you triumph. You move wisely. If the tumult tosses you, you regain your footing. You allow the fear and the certainty of your mortality to give you strength. And then you snack, you watch movies while the electricity is still on, you make sure all your electronics are charged, and you wait for the storm to pass. You can try to fight it, or ignore it, but in a storm, the best thing to do is just to weather it.

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Inner Life of a Writer, Some Thoughts

I have talked at length about my obsessive nature with friends, family, my dog. No mental health professionals yet, but I never rule out a logical progression. By discussing it down to it’s finer points (and yes, I realize this is the very definition of obsession) I have concluded that I may never really get away from it. Or at least not as long as I write. John Updike said this:

The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.

It couples obsession with art, making the obsessed, when in pursuit of creative truth, a hero rather than a villain. Following obsession to the very point of insanity is a scary place I am sure. I am not there, nor do I expect to ever be, but I felt the gentle nudge to the edge of the cliff. The abyss below is where many authors reside.

Why does this happen? When an author begins to submerge themselves in the chasm that is their creative process, a lot of things can come undone. It unleashes the mind to explore, and often times, the mind has a hard time reigning itself in. I was speaking with a friend about this recently, also an artist, and he laughed at me. “So, your writing allows your obsessive behavior and your schizophrenia a proper outlet?” I very inscrutably said, “Well, yes.”

When I was in the final weeks of this last revision, writing stuff I didn’t want to write but that I loved, breaking down barriers I had put in place to keep myself comfortable, building on my world, I found it very difficult have conversations with people at the end of a writing day. I was turning into Gollum and my manuscript was my one ring.

Anyone who saw me while we were visiting Texas, in those last few days, can probably attest to the shift. When I was done I felt like I could finally see people. Like I was a horse removing blinders after a long race. Oh there you are, world I live in, friends and family. I had almost forgotten what you look like. I became Frodo with his task completed.

(Note: I realize this pic of Frodo is when he goes off to eternity with the Elves, which is a little morbid. But he’s finally HAPPY!)

For me, writing is both an outlet — as my friend put it — but also a cell in which I am prisoner. You may read that and at once declare concern, but don’t be hasty. When I am a prisoner to the words, I am alive inside. So when my warden releases me, and I am expected to reenter society and contribute, part of me longs for the cell again. The writer in me is never fully sane unless writing. I love my other hats. The mom hat. The wife hat. The friend hat. I relish that there are people in my life who love me and enjoy my company, and who I love and enjoy as well. I take great pride in teaching my son something new. But always, the writer hat is in my pocket, folded up and ready to be unfurled. You don’t turn that off, you just try to contain it. (For this reason, among other law related ones, I do not take mind-altering drugs. I don’t need help unleashing the monster inside.)

So, what about you? Do you have an obsession in your life that you also kind of love?

Road Trip Wednesday: #153 Book-to-Film

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This weeks topic: It isn’t surprising that this month’s Bookmobile selection, Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bonehas sold film rights; the darkly magical world of the Shadow Fold begs for an on-screen translation! But that got us wondering. We’d like to know, in your opinion, what is it that makes some books seem ideal for a film translation?

I am inspired by this topic for a couple of reasons:

1) Like most readers, great world-building and character development are the food for my imagination. Envisioning the world, and “casting” a book I love is one of my favorite parts of reading.

2) With my screenwriting background, editing a book for movie translation is something I never seem to be able to avoid. Some books are easy (like when I read The Hunger Games, but Suzanne Collins used to be a screenwriter) some are hard (like Pure, with it’s multiple plot lines and sensory overload), all are fun.

I agree with the author of this topic, Shadow and Bone will lend itself well to film. It’s ripe with vivid images and told in a straight line by the narrator. Finding the visual narrative thread, and knowing what perspective to shoot in, should not prove too complicated for the writer tasked with adapting the screenplay. And that, in essence, is my answer. Book to film translation is so tricky for those very reasons: narrative voice and scope. When you read a book, the author has pages and pages of time to build and fill and maneuver the characters into the heart of the reader.

When writing a screenplay, every page (which is made up of minimally described scene, action and dialogue) has to do a lot of work. Each page of a screenplay is the equivalent to one minute of screen time. Most screenplays are 120 pages, (2 hour films) with some being much shorter and some being much longer. The Hunger Games screenplay, for instance, would have been roughly 142 pages for its 142 run-time. The book was 382 pages, a 140 page gap. This is not even taking into account the difference in word count per page.

My point? A book to screen adaptation is reliant largely on how easy the information given in the longer novel is to translate into action. Screen time is action driven, even if its a character piece. This is where the breakdown happens, I think, with a lot of books turned to film. For a book to work as a film there needs to be a strong action thread (By action I do not just mean running, fighting, or killing. Action is just anything that pushes the plot forward.) and one that is easy to show on film.

To drive this point home: the seventh Harry Potter book made a horrible movie. The last half of the book, as well as the second film, was easier to interpret because it was pretty purpose driven. The first part of the book, and the first film, was plodding and pushed forward by sheer will. We got through both because we were all fully vested in the characters. This will not happen for every book-to-film adaptation.

Divergent should make a pretty compelling film, as long as they remember Tris’ energy and don’t get too bound up in being overly-clever with storytelling. With first person POV translations, the trick is finding a new narrative voice (why I think Twilight was such a massive failure) to help the audience into the story.

All of this to say…book to film is always difficult because as a medium they are completely different. The best adaptations are ones with clear purpose, clean storytelling, and images that lend themselves well to screen.

One of the best book-to-film interpretations ever.

And…done!

Last Tuesday afternoon I had the immeasurable pleasure of texting both my agent friend and my husband (who had already returned to New York) that my revisions were finished. A whole bunch of Awesome! and Wow, well done! followed. Then the panic set in. What had I done? I finished!!!!!!!!!! My OCD rose up and began to line-edit (again!) and beg for mistakes, work needed, moments with my characters to fill me up until I begin the sequel. All of these things are, of course, completely unnecessary. There will still be work because I am not a copyeditor, an editor, or my agent friend. I am just the lowly, obsessed author with a brain that won’t be still.

Today, after reveling in my rechecking, I sent my manuscript to my agent friend for a read. I’ve been spiraling since, and excited. Revisions are a funny friend. They make you feel like you are losing your mind, lost in your own world and out of control. This revision has seen me scrutinizing every scene to the last word, asking myself the hard question that no writer wants to ask: is this moving the plot forward? My answer was sometimes no, and sometimes for scenes I truly, absolutely loved.

I have had the question asked, over the last month of revisions, what is my next step?  My simple and untempered answer is: I don’t know. I have ideas, a swirl of ideas in a brain filled full. I have plans, and hopes, and scope, but I can’t tell you the order. I can’t be in control of that and I am utterly grateful for that fact. For now, I sit in a place of completion. This revision feels like a real end. And I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh here (only sub in my manuscript and a glass of wine):

The Austin Teen Book Festival

September 29th was an especially awesome day in Austin for teen readers (and adults who pretend to be teen readers) and writers who want to write for those teen readers. I am the latter, and since my visit to Texas coincided with the festival, I thought, “What the heck?” Over 3,000 other truly cool people like me felt the same way, despite the soggy Austin weather. The Palmer Event Center was adorned in Texas stone and filled with lots of bathrooms (this may not seem like an important detail, but shove that many teens into one space and it totally becomes one).

My husband, as I said in my Keep Austin Weird! post, attended with me. He was cute, with his total oblivion to these books and really kickin’ Adidas tennis shoes. He sat with me, courteously listening and only getting on his computer when no one was looking. I owe him a thanks, because he also allowed me to wander and fidget around as necessary, preserving our awesome front row seats.

We got there on-time, 9 am, me still sucking down coffee and trying to pretend I was awake. Me and rainy mornings are not best friends. I like bed. I had received an email from the Festival staff that Neal Shusterman would not be giving the Keynote due to a family emergency. I was disappointed, and come the announcement to the kids, my feelings were shared. But, not to worry, Libbra Bray (check her out on Goodreads, and send me a friend request while you’re there) courageously stepped up in his place.

I had not read any of her books yet, after her speech I added like all of them to my TBR list. She was brilliance in the flesh. She opened her speech by donning a cape and wielding a light-saber to duel her quite theatrical husband in the dark. She then got serious, and thirsty, stating, “I need a little water. It’s thirsty work spearing people with a light saber. They don’t show you that in Star Wars, how dehydrated you get.”

She called her speech, which had 20 bullet points, “the complete history of everything I have ever learned to date, abridged.” With silly points like: “Change your underwear” or “When in doubt, Let’s order pizza, is probably a good answer” or the well received “Farts are always funny”. Within those, she also said things that carried weight for writers and readers alike.

One of my favorites was when she boldly informed everyone that “Tests are Bullshit!” Teens loved this, for the cussing and the content. When she began to talk about writing and revision saying, “First drafts are like presenting a false front. Revision is like your very best friend cutting that away. Writing is digging down to the very deepest, darkest place and then putting that on a page for everyone to read.” (That quote is slightly paraphrased.) When she segued into a personal anecdote about the time in her life when she experienced a horrific car accident that resulted in her face being almost irreparably wounded. This story was met with silence and awe, and then roaring support and understanding. She told it as a way to show how you can return from truly being broken, and it was powerful.

The Keynote speech ended with us (the teens, not me personally) putting on a rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart, accompanied by a fog machine. It was thoroughly special.  Libbra Bray had a lot to say that was valuable and super entertaining. Also, she wore a DR.WHO t-shirt. This made her innately cool in my book. I did hear a few parents say, “She said bullshit a lot,” accompanied by their giggling teen, “Libbra Bray said Bullshit!”

I also attended the panel called “We’re not in Kansas Anymore”, featuring Bray, Sarah Rees Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Rae Carson, Kami Garcia, and Margaret Stohl. This panel was exactly what I needed to hear. These authors discussed creating imagined worlds and how they formulated the magical forces in their worlds. They talked about research. They talked about Star Wars (Rae Carson is a Luke fan, as I was as a child. The others fell firmly on the side of Han.) One of my favorite quotes came from Margaret Stohl. She was discussing her readers. Her books are published in 48 countries, and when she was in Malaysia doing a panel much like the panel she was doing for these Austin teens, she met a sixteen year old girl who was about to be sent into an arranged marriage. She said, “As much as you guys here are my readers, this girl is too.” That was profound to me. A girl, living under law we in America would write fiction about as loathsomely barbaric, is reading and connecting with this literature. She is finding herself there. That is a testament to the power of the written word.

I volunteered in the afternoon, but as expected, the Teens had the blogging, twittering, tumblring down to a fine art, so I ended up directing traffic. I was just glad to lend a hand, and chat a little with the teenagers and observe them like the total weirdo I am. I especially liked to watch the Dads who had been dragged their by their daughters. It was adorable. (And not unlike my knight-in-shining-armor husband.)

Overall, the Festival was a great experience, and one I hope very soon to be experiencing from the other side. Thank you Austin Public Library Friends Foundation and Book People for putting on such an awesome, free event! Here are pics. I didn’t get a lot because I was recording voice memos in my phone while listening to the panel, and I am a socially awkward penguin when it comes to asking for photos. I putter and blush.

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RTW # 150 — There is a season, turn, turn, turn

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This weeks topic is: How does your writing (place, time, inspiration) change with the seasons?

First, I want to say I had a wonderful time at the Austin Teen Book Fest and will try to do a post about it by the end of the week. Look forward to that!

Now on to the question. I like this question. I have always been highly susceptible to change in weather. When it’s sunny, I feel happy. When it’s gray, I feel introspective and gloomy. When it’s cold I imagine myself burrowing into a cave like a bear and emerging with a renewed vision come spring (also thinner because I’ve been hibernating and not eating). I love the colors of fall, and the romance of winter, and the clarity of spring, and the laziness of summer.

When I began working on my novel — exactly one year ago this week — fall was upon New York City. Fall in the northeast is a rhapsodic time. Poems can (and have) been written about it. Painters flock to the city and the surrounding land to capture the brilliance, this tangible proof that beauty can and always will be possible. The world is transformed, by leaves aglow from light like fire, by softened sunlight, or even by the reemergence of sweaters, stockings, and little wool caps.

I was very influenced when creating my world by the atmosphere of fall. I still am. My book takes place in late fall in a woods much like you would find sprawling across New England. Even as winter, spring, and summer have come and gone since I’ve been writing, in my mind I’ve tried to hold on to autumn.

So, I guess, to answer the question completely: I am not very influenced at all. I carry a season around with me as long as the project lives in that season. My manuscript is over 300 pages, but still it is just barely winter when it ends. As I come to the end of these revisions (my third round) I also come to the beginning of fall. Full circle, maybe even completion.