Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Three R's of 2011: Renew, Resolve, Relinquish

Ok, those may not be The three R's but they are my three R's for the New Year.

First of all, 2011 will be the fucking hugest year of my life in a long time (Yes I can, I can describe it that way if I want to), as I am finally mere months away from an effort that was a decade in the making coming to fruition: the debut of my first novel, The Pull of Gravity, due on bookstore shelves near you on or about May 10, 2011, but likely to make appearances sooner, if I am learning anything about this book business (which I may not be).

Second of all, after several years of what felt to me like nearly-insurmountable upheaval, my life seems to be returning to a calm and peaceful "normal." In most ways, this is a pure, good thing and I am grateful. But in some ways it worries me as I don't want life to become staid or lazy. I don't want to find myself blindsided by a life lived in a rut, that is something less than I thought it would be. Thus, I want to count my blessings, but not settle. I want to remember to make life happen, and be brave enough to do so.

Which brings me to my New Year's Resolutions. I tend not only to make new ones, generally a mix of the physical and the emotional, but also to renew old ones that have made my life richer, or me a better person, even if it's only been in the struggling to keep them.

As such, here are a few of my Renewals, Resolutions and Relinquishments for the New Year, gulp, 2011:


  • take the stairs, up or down, for anything five flights or less (I made this resolution probably six or seven years ago and haven't broken it since except if there were no stairs to be found or if my arms were laden with heavy things);

  • Swim regardless - if there is one thing I have learned it is this: no matter how hard it is to drag myself to and in the water at times, I am NEVER sorry I swam. Never.

  • Be a good friend and confidante; do not share other's secrets nor say behind someone's back what you wouldn't say to their face - I am usually successful at these, and the few times I have failed, I have usually "reported" myself to the person on bended knee.


  • Attempt (and make) a five mile open water swim;

  • Burpees, every day. I don't know what it is about me and Burpees (they are my nemesis and I will beat them!) but I have decided they are the ANTI- ass-in-a-chair and I will do (X - number t/b/d) every day. If you don't understand why I think this, click on the word Burpees up there and do ten good ones and you will start to see;

  • Be Brave. Whatever this entails. I presume I may have to do some travelling alone this year, get up in front of audiences, push myself beyond my comfort zone. I'll just have to feel the fear, and do it anyway.
And, last but not least,


and by relinquish, I mean this more in a "let go of the things you cannot control" sort of way, rather than any connotation of giving up. Maybe the better word is ACCEPTANCE but it messed with my whole R thing.
  • Age gracefully. No matter what I do, my face and body will age. Nope. Are aging. If you are not yet 46, you will be one day, and you, like me, will go, "holy fuck, how did I get here?" No matter how many crunches you do, your stomach will be softer; no matter how squats you do, your knees will sag at least slightly; no matter how many miles you swim, the skin around your shoulder muscles will be softer. There will be 40, and 50, and 60, and godwilling 70, and 80 and more. I will age. I am aging. I might as well try to accept it with grace. Or, if that is too hard for now, at least, focus on it less.

  • Strive to do better without disregarding past efforts. I think I'll let that one stand on its own.

  • Enjoy the Success and Let Go. And, as for my book, The Pull of Gravity, it will get out there. I may love the cover or hate it; it may get less marketing attention and dollars than I hoped for, or more. Some people will like it, some (yes, breathe) will not. And if I am lucky, a few will find it memorable.
          It will be whatever it will be, and it won't be what it won't be. But it's gone to print now, so I might as well enjoy the ride.

Happy new year.


p.s. Got resolutions? I'd love to hear, and cheer you on.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Missing the Ritual and the Open Water

The spring/summer/fall of 2010 will be remembered as one that brought my life a new source of inspiration: the challenge, beauty, and camaraderie of open water swimming.

It not only filled me with a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm, but, for the first time in my life (since I was a gymnast at age 8 - 12 or so), at age 46, I actually felt physically powerful and capable.

As the winter slips in and I burrow more and more, I feel the glaring disparity between summer and winter even more than I have in the past. As someone who already suffers from a bit of seasonal affective disorder, this isn't the best thing. I already feel the winter sloth setting in. The lethargy. The 'everything aches and I don't want to go outside' blues.

Sure, I head to the pool on a tri-weekly (or more) basis, and the water fills me, but it just isn't the same.

I miss the open water.

I miss this:

and, this:

and, of course, this:

But, especially, I miss this:

Spring really can't return soon enough.

- gae

Monday, December 13, 2010

Of Bats and Beards

My lovely husband.
I have been married for hmmmmn-teen years now, and at times it has been great, and at times, um, maybe not so great. Through it all we have maintained a sense of humor (mostly) toward ourselves and each other and admired one another for our strengths and good qualities (truly), even if the lesser bad qualities were not doing it for us at the moment.

We've always said that the thing that has held our marriage together are our shared values and sense of humor. And if you asked me what I admired most about my husband, I would tell you that it is his humor, intellect, loyalty, and  quiet gentleness that move me.

Which is why it has me laughing for more than a week now, that when I conjure affection for him, I keep returning to the image of him leaving our house last week like The Terminator, a baseball bat gripped in each hand, on a day that he thought I needed some protection.

And, don't be fooled by his sweet face; he looked like he knew how to use them.

And it doesn't hurt that my usually clean-shaven man is now sporting a scruffy beard.


Foolish of me? Perhaps. But, true, nonetheless. So, I confess.

Of course, I still admire him for his humor, intellect, gentleness and our shared values.

But, oh, the bats and the beard.

- gae

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reading is Exce(r)ptional

photo credit: Rick Kopstein
Oy, what a stretch that title was.

(Consider that for you, Mike Wood).

So, fine, sue me. I'm overdue for a blog post here.

I've been lavishing the attention on my YA-friendly blog lately because, well, because that's the only type of book I've sold so far. *waves two womens' fiction manuscripts wildly through the air.*

At any rate.

As usual, I've been reading three books at once, all too slowly: one classic (The Great Gatsby -- would have finished it sooner but I (ahem) lost it for a week and only re-found it last night in one of those "Alzheimery" places which we will not discuss), one YA (The Miles Between -- because I write it, I need to read it too, not to mention I like it) and one contemporary fiction (Tinkers by Paul Harding, which happened to win the Pultizer this year.) I'm not very far into it, but already I see hints of why it might have won, and decided to share an excerpt that I wish I wrote with you. There is nothing after it, because I feel it deserves to stand on its own.

At the outset of Tinkers, we meet George Washington Crosby who is dying in a hospital bed in the middle of his living room, and is seemingly in the hallucinatory throes of his final days:

     "Lack of exercise might have been the reason that, when he had his first radiation treatment for the cancer in his groin, his legs swelled up like two dead seals on a beach and then turned as hard as lumber. Before he was bedridden, he walked as if he were an amputee from a war that predated modern prosthetics; he tottered as if two hardwood legs hinged with iron pins were buckled to his waist. When his wife touched his legs at night in bed, through his pajamas, she thought of oak or maple and had to make herself think of something else in order not to imagine going down to his workshop in the basement and getting sandpaper and stain and sanding his legs and staining them with a brush, as if they belonged to a piece of furniture. Once, she snorted out loud, trying to stifle a laugh, when she thought, My husband, the table. She felt so bad afterward that she wept."

- gae

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Moment of Thanks

It's Veteran's Day and I wanted to take a moment to thank all the veterans who have so bravely and selflessly fought -- or otherwise put themselves on the line -- to protect the freedoms we all so strongly believe in.

My father is one. A reluctant one, who was anti-war and never believed violence was the way, but went anyway, because he was called, and served valiantly, in a MASH unit in Viet Nam, 1966-67.

War changed him, even in some good ways. It made him a better and stronger doctor, and, likely, a tougher soul. Things that were also good qualities for a father. :)

During the year he was gone, my father wrote to my mother, my sister and me every single day. I have stacks and stacks of the letters - they are a fascinating, poignant, and honest chronicle of young love, death, fear, disillusionment, family, hope, medicine and the horrors of war. It is a huge regret that my sister and I have not yet managed to do what we hoped we would: put them together in a cohesive collection and have them published. I still hope we will.

This photo, above, is from the day my father arrived home from Viet Nam, to two children who were young enough when he left that a year away made him a stranger to them. He was never a stranger again. He came to my sister's class for show and tell right after that ("see, I have a father!") and to every recital, school play, gymnastic competition, moot court competition, family dinner, grandchild's baseball game, etc., etc. after that. He has been, truly, the best father a girl could have -- those of you blessed to have strong, hands-on fathers who teach, champion, support and protect you -- not to mention love and adore you -- throughout your lives know how precious this is.

So, on this veteran's day, a valentine to my father, and by extension, to all fathers out there, then and now, who leave their families to serve in war. May there never be another one. Ever.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

At the End of a Season, I Conquered.

     With water temps dropping precipitously into the 40's and air temps no better, the head of our swim pod (much to both my sorrow and relief) officially declared the 2010 open water swim season closed today. Even though I knew it to be true, the fact was a hard one to swallow. It's been an amazing season for me. In the end, I've not only done something I never thought I would or could do, but it has become an inexorable part of my being.

    From barely making it a mile the first day, to swimming a 5k by mid-July, from worrying about bunkerfish and horseshoe crabs to completing a swim where I alit from the water covered in jellyfish stings, this season has been one triumph after another. Granted they were small, quiet triumphs, but there they were triumphs, nonetheless.

Nothing illustrates this more than a look back on a snippet from my blog post from June 1:

"Conquer and Fail, But More Conquer than Fail...

So, this weekend I squeezed on my wetsuit... neoprene booties and a beanie cap, and, yes, special gloves, got up at 6:00 am and trekked off to join up with a group of water-loving strangers to do my first-ever "open-water" swim despite talk of mating horseshoe crabs, and water temperatures that hovered easily below sixty.

I didn't chicken out which was huge; and I swam over a mile in much harder conditions than I am used to in my and the local "Y" pool.

The fact that I did it made me feel good. Although, I was admittedly frustrated with my performance as well. I did not, on Day One, make it as far as the rest of the group... I had trouble breathing -- getting the pace of my breath -- in the cold with all the tight straps around my neck. I had to keep stopping ... and, at one point, I ended up separated ... and my anxiety got the best of me. I turned back ...short of the goal. All the way back, I asked, "Is this a metaphor? Will I stop short in my life of where I want to go?"

So then, so far the answer to that question is, NO. I did not fall short. Not only that, but I went farther than I ever thought I could go.

Believe me, those are nice words to write. There have been plenty of times in my life I have fallen short, turned back, sorely disappointed myself. So just for a moment, I want to reflect on the triumph, bask in the conquer, and remind myself never to answer the question with anything other than a resounding NO. As I embark on this second half of my life -- and especially this big scary year ahead -- I plan for my answer to be "no." I know there may still be times that I fail, but I hope there will never be times I don't give it my all.

     Now, enough sappy, here's a shot from the day I realized only after our swim I'd forgotten my pants. It's a good thing I wasn't ticketed on the way home. <3


p.s. if you're interested in reading more about our open water exploits or seeing some awesome photos, here's a great place:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Under Cover Blues

I had planned to blog about my cover for The Pull of Gravity today, because after a first-cover misstep (ugh, don't ask, it was horrible), I got an email on Thursday containing the cover of my dreams.

The Cover Gods Had Interceded.

Giddiness ensued.

My kids and my mother went crazy. ;)

Ok, fine, my agent and I went crazy too.

I imagined coming here today to tell you how cool, hip, whimsical, smart, funny, graphic, and iconic it is and how I can't imagine a teen or grown-up alike walking by it without wanting to pick it up. I imagined how fun that post would be to write. Did I mention I was giddy?

But What the Cover Gods Give, the Cover Gods Taketh Away

(also known as: and then came yesterday...)

That's a long story made short, but suffice it to say, yesterday morning I got an email from my editor saying not to get too excited, that, while the creative dept. agrees and loves the second (new, shiny, fabulous) cover, sales & marketing is set on the first (don't get me started) cover.

Giddiness gone, misery ensued. Er. ensues.

After the email, I went through the well-known stages of grief:

Posting My Misery on Facebook,
Depression and

Ok, I may have stopped short of Acceptance. We'll see how today goes.

In the meantime, I'm praying. You know, in my I-don't-really-believe-in-praying sort of way. I'm praying that people will come to their senses. The cover gods were there for me once. Maybe they'll be there for me again.

After all, it took me ten years+ to get to this point, they wouldn't desert me now. If they do, I'll be sure there is no (cover) god.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hats for Sale

It's been one of "those" (two) weeks. Where I'm juggling hats frantically (mother, lawyer/mediator, writer, wife, friend). When the only hat I really want to don is a swim cap.

I've had a few mediation sessions and two mediations come to the drafting point (which now only means reviewing the 40-page agreements my partner writes -- as opposed to when I used to write them and my old partner did the reviewing, a smart change I made to my practice when I got my book deal, but which still requires several combined hours of my time); son One (15) has been preparing for PSAT's and needing rides places; son Two (12) has been juggling school/homework with travel baseball AND a new travel basketball team (and games and practices for both!); it's been the school physical/orthodontist/eye doctor/dentist (please, let's not count cavities) time of year; a dear friend's daughter desperately needed help on her college essays; and my revisions on my option book are taking way longer than I want (the book, despite lots of slicing away at dead weight is now about 20 pages longer and I am only half way through). And, of course, there are dishes and, ahem, laundry to do.

In the middle of that, something that should have been awesome happened: the rough final of my book cover for The Pull of Gravity came in. Except, instead of the moment I'd been waiting for, you know, the one where golden light streams down from the sky and book angels sing, I was underwhelmed both with the cover art and the tagline, and I spent the next week arguing (sweetly) via email with my editor and assistant editor about my concerns and frantically redrafting "suggestions." The cover has gone back for some tweaks. We shall see if there is golden light from the heavens still to come...

At any rate, with all of these hats flying, is it any wonder that all I really want to do is this?:

I know, I know. For a lot of you the answer may be, "um, yes?" But for me, that place, those moments, are bliss. Heaven on Earth. And some days even, salvation. A place where all the other hats drown (too harsh? er, melt away) and there's only me, the water, and sky.

And, the other "Pod" swimmers who completely understand what this means. And agree, wholeheartedly.

And with the temperatures dropping (a few days last week were barely above 45 with water temps a brisk 55 - 58) the Open Water Season is rapidly coming to a close. Honestly, I don't know what I'll do without it.

Meanwhile, another week is here. With it comes the juggling of hats. Luckily, if I have anything to say, one of those hats will be an ugly, magnificent swim cap.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Refuse to Blog this Week

as I am overwhelmed by revisions. Let's just stare at the water instead:

Monday, September 27, 2010

A moment among moments...

About a year ago October, after years (and years) of trying, as most of you know (ad nauseam) I got my first book deal - for my YA novel, The Pull of Gravity.

Since that moment, there have been several moments, that have been surreal, exciting, wonderful: the look on my boys' faces when I told them I had finally succeeded; the moment I called my husband (my sister, my parents) to tell the good news. The first time I sat in the small, sleepy office of my editor, the incredible Frances Foster (Holes (Sachar), Someday this Pain Will Be Useful to You (Cameron) The Wall (Sis)) in the flatiron building in NYC and listened to her gush on about the characters in my novel.

The moment I opened a check from Macmillan in the mail. :)

But the truth is, there is one moment above all others that truly stands out in my mind: December 4, 2009, when some of my best friends I've known "forever," came togther with some of my best friends I'd never, until that very moment, even met (and who had travelled across the space-time continuum to be here -- okay, at least from as far away as Virginia, Seattle, New Mexico and, you heard me: Scotland) to celebrate my small moment of success with me.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime night that I'll truly never forget, and I hope in some way to return the love and support shown me to each and everyone of them. Even those who could only be there in spirit (you know who you are).

In the meantime, here is a tiny glimpse into one captured moment of it. A toast by my dear friend John Aragon, writer -- and human being -- extraordinaire.

Happy Monday. I hope each of you has the chance to share at least one evening like this one.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Where Stories Come From . . .

This morning after my swim, as I floated and stared up at a sky so pure blue-gray that its solid, monotonous color was the only thing in my line of vision save for those little floater things (you know, the little paramecium that slip along the periphery of things, viscous, scientific and strange), a line came to me that I knew would likely be the last line of the novella I am working on, if, in fact, the novella ever comes to full fruition. And, trust me, it may, or may not.

That, and a conversation last evening with my dear friend Evelyn's husband, the gorgeous and gregarious (if slightly giddy ;)) Karlito, got me thinking again about where my stories come from -- my beginnings and middles and ends -- and how differently I seem to write than many of my friends who (enviably) write from well-formed ideas reduced to detailed outlines, their chapters and plot (oh dear god when will I EVER learn to plot?) mapped out before them in bulleted, organized glory.

I write with no such bulleted, organized glory.

For example, evolution of The Pull of Gravity: I read an article about this guy, see, and something about him intrigued me and I found myself wondering what his real life might be like. How what he had done (set out to walk across America to lose weight, in this case) would affect his marriage and, more importantly to me, his children, his family.

Here. This is a real photo of him walking:

He became the first central character driving the story, except that I knew that the story would be told from his son's perspective (I do not remember if the real guy has a son).

The second thing that happened was, as I was thinking vaguely about the story, my younger son spiked a fever, which brought the first line of the book to me, and the few lines that followed:

"A fever was what started everything. That, and the water tower, and the cherry cola. Well, also, Dad and his condition, and Mom being in Philadelphia and all."

Nothing else about the story had come to me yet. But I just started writing, and eventually a story unfolded.

Little known fact (nearly forgotten by me): the first working title of the book in my computer files was Fat Man Walking -- a far cry from Steinbeck, The Scoot, and the Pull of Gravity, now just The Pull of Gravity, eh?

Anyway, this is how I write, despite that all I had in this case was a character or two, some lines that appealed to me, and my own desire and intrigue. Lord knows how I got here from there.

For example, evolution of Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me:

The title came to me one morning as I woke up. Nothing but that title. There was a reason that Kerouac was on my brain, and I was ruminating on my next YA, but other than that, and the sudden realization that somehow butterflies were also to be involved, I had little else when I set the manuscript in motion. How the rest unfolded remains a mystery to me.

For example, evolution of Frankie Sky:

The first line, "The first time I see Frankie Schyler, he’s diving into the deep end of the Lawrenceville Country Club pool," came to me together with an image of a small boy, angelic looking, diving confidently into a swimming pool surrounded by onlookers, appearing to swim sort of miraculously, then drowning instead. I was in the pool, underwater, when the image came to me.

All of my stories are like this -- springing from bits and pieces, vague ideas, images that pull at me, call to me while I swim, or drive, or sleep. I suspect this is not the best way to write, and worse, I suspect it is why, while my writing is repeatedly praised, editors continue to struggle with my stories, my plotting, the way things unfold in my novels, over and over again.

Perhaps it is not the best way to write, but so far, it's the only way I know how.

How do your stories come to you?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to REALLY be alone...


my blog post this week is here, at my young adult friendly blog:

thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

a day in my writing life...

I am the featured "day in the writing life" author here on the Elevensies website this week. Check it out, and check out some of the other great up-and-coming YA and MG authors who have shared their writing days while you're there. The posts are a lot of fun!

xo gae

Friday, August 20, 2010

Driving and Zipping and Rafting, Oh My!

I was home, and then I was home again.

In between, over the course of 5 nights and 6 whirlwind days I was captive in a car for a total of 17 hours dipping our wheels in four different states; I minigolfed, badmintoned not-too-terribly (did I mention I have no hand-eye coordination so, yes, this was actually one of the more difficult of all the "feats" for me),  ziplined and whitewater rafted, and in between all of that I eked out a massage and a few gloriously-quiet and relaxing swims.

Of course, it was only the latter that felt like the traditional definition of vacation, but I'm not complaining.

I am neither an athlete nor a daredevil, and I am the only girl in the house. One of the main reasons I plan these "non-stop, on-the-go" vacations is to give my two boys -- 12, and about to turn 15 -- a true chance to bond.

The truth is, they are very different boys with very different interests, and at home, with other options at their fingertips, they don't always spend the kind of quality time together I had hoped they would.

But shoved in a car with new things on the horizon, there is truly the need and opportunity to bond. To cuddle up together, And to find common ground.

Despite the dollars spent on ziplines and raft excursions and 40 ft. ropes courses, this vacation that opportunity was found in the simplest of places: in the car (okay, only on the ride there) and on the badminton court at our hotel.

There were silly, fun, exhausting matches of us against them (we lost, we lost, and, er, we lost), and, more importantly, there were Federer-Nadal quality matches between them that lasted more than two hours.

In the end, the older son bettered the younger son by a few mere points, which in our house is a very good and important thing.

But most of all there was good sportsmanship, a sheer joy at playing with one another, and, most importantly, talks about wanting to find a badminton league here where they can be a team and "destroy" everyone else TOGETHER.

For me, the vacation had high highs (I am now officially a zipline addict) and low lows (sometimes, in a family of three men, I am the only one to rally to do anything and everything, and yet, still, the far less appreciated and, -- harder -- the less "wanted" parent).

But the knowledge that my boys, for a few short days, bonded and admired each other, was well worth the money, the heartache and the trip. And, my own personal exhilaration was a bonus.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Inertia, and the Art of Water Cycle Maintenance.

So, thank god I swim. Because other than swim, (ok, and a few paid mediations) I've done absolutely nothing productive in more than three weeks.

I'm in what is known as a rut.

At least as far as my writing is concerned.

As far as my writing is concerned I am annoyed, frustrated, heartbroken, befuddled and shut down. I'm sure I could add to that list.

First there have been the endless rejections on Swim Back to Me, several that have started with great hope -- a jazzed editor sending my agent a note about how she can't put it down, how the writing is gorgeous, how the mood is evocative. Then, the inevitable silence. Either that or a brief rejection at the executive board level. And then silence from my agent again.

Follow that with mixed feedback from my editor on my option WIP, Frankie Sky, a manuscript both I and my agent strongly believe in.

Now, I've got two pieces I'm working on: a women's fiction piece (I actually started a long time ago and was -- at the time -- excited about) called The Garden of Ruin and Story, and a rewrite of my YA manuscript, Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me (titles inevitably to change). But I find I open the screen on either one of them and just stare. Or maybe type a sentence or two and then switch to email or Facebook.

The bottom line is, I'm in a rut.

Utter inertia.

At least everywhere except the water.

*top photo credit Rick Kopstein,

*bottom photo credit Carol Moore,

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jellyfish Jam

Ogden Nash once wrote:

"The Jellyfish
Who wants my jellyfish? 

I'm not sellyfish!"

Hmmm... no offense, Ogden, but I think I can do better than that.

Jellyfish, jellyfish
with your long stringy arms
your gelatinous body,
so short on charms
your thoughtless mind,
your sucking fingers
your sting that burns like heck,
then lingers
your bulbous looks
like peeled-back brain,
you act aloof
then inject your pain,
oh Jellyfish, jellyfish,
through my hands you flutter,
can't you please ditch me
for the peanutbutter?

Hmmm, okay, maybe not.

So, why do I once again have jellyfish on my brain? Because it is August and they are out in full force. This morning's open water swim was a veritable jellyfish extravaganza. Especially the harmless moon jellies, which I don't really mind coexisting with.

But, now, the lions mane are out too, and during this morning's swim, my friend Evelyn got stung by one. A MERE 20 feet from me. And she's the second victim this season.

She called out and we stopped as she clutched at her arm and suggested we not "swim over there."

Er. Okay then. But we all know that jellyfish are like cockroaches: once you see one, you can be sure there are hundreds you can't see.

Then again, after the initial pain and creep out, she was fine, and we all kept on swimming at her behest, so why is it that I spent the rest of my swim panicking and periodically jerking up out of the water to shriek like a girl?

What is it about jellyfish that elicit such fear in me?

Is it their long gelatinous bodies without faces? Or the slippery way they flutter as they catch in my fingers? What is it about them that has me slathering on $13/bottle Seasafe lotion that promises to deter them, and ordering a $79 Ecostinger long sleeved, full body swimsuit that promises to detract? Because, it's not their sting itself, since I have now been with two swimmers who have been stung and then been quickly fine enough to carry on.

Nope. It's just definitely the freak out factor. The fear of being accosted by some slimy, faceless alien from the deep.

So, I'm working on a new plan. To be like Spongebob, friend to all the jellyfish in the sea.

I've got step one underway: the Jellyfish Jam. So turn the music up and dance it with me. Come on, you know you want to:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Trying to Truly Internalize the Subjectivity of Art

(also known as bracing myself.)

But the truth is, well, that it's true. Art -- books, movies, paintings, theatre, dance, music, etc. -- is subjective. What you love, I may not. What I love, you may hate. Or simply not connect with. We may not see art the same way.

I often remind myself of this in relation to my own writing, trying to figure out how you weather and withstand a bad review when and if it comes out. Or worse, what about a scathing one? Forget about Booklist and School Library Journal. Have you ever read some of the customer reviews on Amazon?

At any rate, I got a real reminder this week of the true subjective nature of art.

Last week, for my mom's birthday, we went into the city to see two plays (both still in final throes of previews) and have dinner. The first piece, which I will not name here out of the goodness of my heart, was a horrible, over-acted, over-directed trifle of a thing that was meant to be funny but, to me (and the other five people I was with, all avid theatre goers who have seen a remarkable amount of theatre in their lives, from Broadway to so off-off-off Broadway they ran out of offs), was not funny, nor nearly as schocking as it meant to be, but instead was stale, silly, offensive, unbelievable, and without a redeeming bone in it's ugly theatrical body.

The good news for all was that evening's play, a wonderful piece called Trust with Zach Braff in the lead, redeemed things. Everything about it -- sets, costumes, dialogue, acting, were fresh and nearly pitch perfect, at least in the first act. If the second act didn't quite hold up, it still was a great piece of memorable theatre that we all thoroughly enjoyed.

Ah, but then art is subjective, remember?

Last night, I saw my mom. She said, "remember [insert name of play]?" At first I didn't because I had conveniently wiped all thoughts of it from my mind. But then she said, "it got universally good reviews."

According to the New York Times, the matinee we all unanimously hated was "lacerating" and a "sensational comedy," and most of the other major reviewers I could find agreed with the New York Times.

Does this mean I was wrong, or does this say something higher about art? About how what we think of art truly depends on what we, as an individual, bring to its viewing?

And what of Trust? Well, no reviews have come in yet, but if they come in negative, skewering, scathing, was I wrong? Have I seen less of a show?

Food for thought anyway, as I brace myself for my own round of critical judgment to come.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's my Birthday, so what is there to be scared of?

46, that's what.

Because that is seriously close to. . .

Hmmm. . .


Never mind.

That actually looks kinda pretty.

Ok, I changed my mind. I'm not afraid of 46. After all, it's just another number.

So, here's what I'm really afraid of:

Jelly fish.

I mean, with their brainless suction and long freaky tentacles wrapping around my legs and arms as I swim? Seriously, this is Long Island.

New York.

We're supposed to have muggers here.

And scary bad hedge fund managers.

And traffic.

But we're not supposed to have things that look like they belong a safe distance off a tropical island somewhere on the coast of where I can't pronounce. So, sue me. But I'm afraid of them.

And, you know what else?

The Rejection of my next manuscript.

Yep, I'm pretty darned scared of that.

*checks email reluctantly to see if their is news...

(there is NOT).*

But that's not what I'm most afraid of.

I'm most afraid of my children being hurt or worse.

Because, seriously, that scares the bejeezus out of me. And it just happened here yesterday, around the corner from me. A beautiful, quiet, good, 17-yr old girl from our school district who lost control of her car.

So, all you kids out there, listen to your parents and be careful. And remember to take your time. And know when I'm blowing out those candles, I'm making a wish for all of you.

Because, 46? Nope, not scared at all.

And all those candles just mean that many more good wishes.

I've said one for you and your children now.

Now, somebody pass me more cake.

*dedicated to the memory of Nikki K.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Sometimes it's Blood...

and sometimes, it's sweet and sour chicken."

This saying became famous in my family years and years ago, but has often served me since.

This is how it came about.

My parents have great dane dogs that they love and adore like their own children (we shall not here, now, discuss my love-hate relationship with them - suffice it to say, great dane slobber, hair-shed, and poop are all proportionate with their size which may cause me to appreciate them more from a safe distance).

One day when we were all visiting with them, one of their puppies came into my mother's bedroom with its face covered in blood. Its entire mouth up to one of its eyes, and one of its paws, were bleeding profusely, Also, the dog looked to be in distress.

We immediately went into panic mode. My mom pulled the dog over while my sister and I ran to get my father, warm washcloths, etc., but when we returned my mother was laughing uncontrollably. Apparently, while we were gone, she had discovered that the blood was slightly sticky and too orange and smelled vaguely like their last evening's chinese food. The dog's discomfort was likely attributable merely to the spiciness of the food.

Now, trust me on this, out of context at least, sweet and sour chicken sauce looks a lot more like blood than you think it does.

We loved the whole incident. Not only did it take us fifteen minutes to stop laughing that kind of laughing that comes in waves until the tears roll out of your eyes, but we really felt we learned a life lesson. Therereafter, my mother, sister, and I often reminded each other that sometimes in life it is blood, but sometimes it's just sweet and sour chicken.

The point of this story? Well, remember those jellyfish stings from my 5k?


I wore my new wetsuit this morning out on a longish swim against the current. You know, the sleeveless one that is lowcut and can't possibly cut/chafe my neck in all the usual suspect places where the welty stings were? Well, when I returned to shore, my neck was "stung" and red and swollen in exactly the same places as last weekend.

So, while the threat of jellyfish -- and the dreaded Lions Mane -- does exist (and, indeed, apparently a fairly large one was spotted on the race course by a co-swimmer and race official last weekend), suffice it to say that, this time around, my neck was chafed by, not sealife, but my wetsuit and the memories of sweet and sour chicken.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Oops, I did it Once...

and, after I did, for a few hours (ok, make that many hours), I never wanted to do it again.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to waking up this morning: I kinda wanted to do it again.

Of course, for those of you not following along before, I am talking about swimming an open water 5k.

First, I wondered if I had simply dreamed it. But, then, the proof was still on my arm.

You have to understand that, other than a short stint as a gymnast from about age 9 - 12, I was never EVER an athlete. I was the opposite -- the kid picked last for gym teams (having no ability to hit or catch or smack a ball or run), the one who quit gymnastics because it was ultimately too hard on my body. The one who quit tapdancing and ballet because, well, because I am a pretty crappy dancer. And, yes, I was the one who skied off a cliff into a tree with my best friend and two boys watching at age 15.

For most of my adult life the extent of my athletism, therefore, was relegated to secretly doing Jane Fonda or Tae Bo tapes in the privacy of my own home. For a few years I did some hot yoga to keep fit.

But if there was one thing I wasn't, it was anything that resembled athletic. Or hardy. Or hard core.

And, then, two months ago, I braved an open water swim. I went from being able to do under a mile to a mile and a half and then two. In doing so, I braved not only cold water, horseshoe crabs and other slimy things that hit your fingers and your face as you swim, but currents that could seriously fool you when you're body was already tired. I began to think of myself as stronger and to believe that I could push myself in ways at 45 I never had before.

And yesterday, I showed up for a 5k.

And, I jumped in.

And I swam.

The first half was relatively easy. The sky was magificent and I swam with a friend. A few times we stopped to adjust our goggles, check our bearings and even laugh so hard that we both swallowed water. At about the half way mark, I stopped her and told her to pay attention to the fact that we were both in our 40's and had actually done it, and made it half way through, and to not miss enjoying the scenery as we swam.

At the three quarter mark, she cramped up and had to stop back at the kayak. I waited for her at the turnaround. By then, we must have been nearing two hours in. The swim back should have been not much more than 20 minutes. I felt good. I could do that easy.

But then the current set in. The guy at the turn around boat warned us. She fell behind again, and now, each time I stopped to try to wait for her, the current dragged me back to where I had just swum from. My body was getting tired and I was afraid that I wouldn't make it and the next time she stopped, the kayakers waved me on. For the first time in the race I was alone. I couldn't see her or our kayak anymore. The swells picked up and my muscles really started to hurt. The yellow house to my right stayed exactly in place at my left shoulder no matter how much harder I swam. Thick sharp (?) seaweed got in my face, kept strangling my arms and legs. I started to wonder if I'd actually make the finish.

But somehow, nearly an hour later I did.

When I got out of the water, I had a battle scar to prove it. Something mean had gotten to my neck. It didn't hurt while I was in the water (too many other things distracting me?), but on land it definitely did.

Exhausted but proud of myself, I went home and slept. And slept and slept and slept. Everything hurt. I was glad I did it, but vowed having done it, I'd never ever do it again.

And then I woke up this morning. And I felt good. And I saw the 14 on my arm. And, the first thought that popped into my head was, "...hmmm, when's the next 5k swim?"

So, I guess maybe we'll see.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What the %!$%! Was I Thinking?

Right now, it's Friday at 6:30 pm.

Around 36 hours from now, I'll be waking up and getting ready to try to swim a 5k. Not for speed, mind you. Just for distance, to see if I can. *


Why not?

Ok, I don't know why.

Maybe just to prove that I can.

And that's where the fear comes in. Because, what if I can't?

And by can't, don't get me wrong. I'm not afraid of anything bad happening. I'm not afraid of drowning. But what if I embarrass myself - veer off course, fall way behind, never make it to the finish line? They only give you one hour from when the first person finishes to finish the course yourself. And then they pull you out.

And, trust me here, I don't want to be pulled out.

But it could happen. Last year, because of intense currents one of the strongest women in my group who is way faster than I am took 3 1/2 hours to finish. Would that mean four- plus hours in the water for me? Er.

On second thought, maybe I DO want to be pulled out.

At any rate, cross your fingers and wish me luck. Either way, I'll report in.

Unless my swimming partner (and the woman who talked me into joining her) doesn't show up to pick me up on Sunday morning. Then I'll be blissfully sleeping in.

(*I think that is me on the left in the red and white cap.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Words Can't Capture . . .

This morning, my older (and often tired, lethargic, naysaying) son somewhat surprisingly came through and joined me during my 6:15 a.m. open water swim.

We had just bought him a brand new kayak in the hopes he would, but still, with a 14-yr-old (especially of the lethargic naysaying variety) you never know. After all, school just ended and there's a whole summer ahead of him, and I came in to wake him at 5:15 a.m.

"Let's go," I said. "You said you were coming."

And he did something miraculous: He got out of bed.

As we loaded the kayak on the car and strapped it on, I still had my doubts. As we arrived at the beach and unloaded and dragged it down to the waterline, I still had my doubts. As he looked at the seaweed and lapping waves that carried the potential jellyfish and other sealife he's heard me talking about for the past several weeks as I, myself, conquered the world of open water swims, and said, "Okay, I'm not touching that," I still had my doubts.

But then, he stepped in, sat down, and started paddling.

He had told me he had done plenty of kayaking at his week-long sleepaway camp over the past two summers, but I had never seen him, so really had no idea.

My mother's nerves tugged at the back of my brain, as off he went beyond the ropes to wait for me and the rest of the swimmers to join him.

And, then, it happened. It became abundantly clear that he was adept with the kayak; that he was even in his element. He steered away from us and cut across the water's surface like a pro.

As I swam along behind him, periodically glancing up to catch a glimpse of him against the serene background of water meeting early-morning sky, in his flame red-orange kayak, a red life jacket and puff of brown hair moving farther and farther away from me, it filled me to see my boy this way: Capable. At peace. Self-assured.

It is an image I won't forget, though words will never capture the way it made me feel.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dragging slowly toward publication (and, still, all the other excrutiating waiting...)



I mean, don't let the title of this post fool you, it's not the "dragging" and the "slowly" and the "excrutiating," but rather the words "toward publication," that one must focus on, and not all those other silly, whiny words that snuck in there.

Because, yes I am waiting -- with ever more waning hope, to either get a deal, or %$!*& ing close out Swim Back to Me.

And yes, I am I waiting -- on ridiculous pins and needles, for my editor to read Frankie Sky and report back on whether they, FSG, my most-awesome publisher, will want to option it, or whether they will send me and it out into the cruel world of shopping it to other publishers (see excrutiating waiting above).

And yes, I am waiting -- for The Pull of Gravity to become an Advance Review Copy with a pretty cover and all that, which will then be sent out into the wide world of the reviewers and other important bookish-type people, and, then, thereafter will become a real book that you can order on Amazon or pick up in your local bookstore.

But, amidst all that waiting, I am also inching forward toward that last one -- the actuality of my first novel as a real book -- with an email in my inbox this weekend from the head of FSG marketing offering to set an in-person meeting with me (and hopefully my agent) for the week of July 8th, a luxury and a privilege rarely afforded to most debut authors (and, yes, I do know this . . .).

So why do I get this luxury and privilege?

I'm not exactly sure why. One reason is that my editor (a legend in the business, who has worked with the likes of Louis Sachar (HOLES) and Roald Dahl (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, etc. etc) is old school and willing to sit down with her authors in person (although this was also something I specifically requested), and this has allowed us to form a real and caring relationship.

Another reason may be that I've done a reasonable amount of legwork on my own already, setting up both a West and East Coast launch of my book at some pretty cool and prestigious places, securing some cool corporate sponsorship (sort of...) and generally working hard to make connections and let them know I am serious about getting my name and this book out there.

The third reason may be that I am one giant pain in the ass. But at least I am a genuinely grateful one.

And the fourth and best reason could be that they, themselves, have high hopes for this book.

Whatever the reason(s), a week or so from now, I'll be headed to FSG to learn more of the details about how they plan to promote The Pull of Gravity. Maybe I'll hear numbers. Maybe I'll actually get a release date.

Whatever happens, I'm excited because it means I am inching ever so slowly, but surely, toward publication.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The "Lure" of Body Parts and Kissing the Baby Goodbye

I've been in a sparkly, brightly-colored nail-polish phase (perhaps one I should title my Regression Period?), which, given my new penchant for open-water swimming, I suddenly realize could have some hazardous results.

Because while most of me is covered while I swim (wetsuit, bathing cap, neoprene booties), my short, shell-shaped nails flash beneath me in the murky water like a perfect set of ten sparkly lures.

I have visions of lifting my hands on each stroke with a series of sand eels and other creatures latched to the tips of my fingers.

In other news, I turned my new baby, my young adult manuscript which bears the working title Frankie Sky, into my agent today, which will receive a cover letter from her and travel on to my editor by tomorrow. Pursuant to my contract with FSG, they have the first option on the book. The few readers who have read the early version of it have given it a pretty hearty thumbs up. I look forward to seeing its journey. At least if it's a successful one. :)

Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter 4 of Frankie Sky.

* * *

I blink my eyes and look over at Simon’s cement frog again. The forget-me-nots are in full bloom. In a few weeks they’ll get this weird rot and turn black and we’ll quickly cut them back to the ground. But it’s okay, because already the bleeding hearts will be open, draping their white and pink teardrops over him. Those will last most of the summer. In fall, Mom will cut those back and encircle the frog in mums, and in winter everything will be dead, so instead, she’ll place a series of brightly-colored glass gazing balls around him. Because, in addition to all things drowning, Mom is excellent with her grief- appropriate gardening.

* * *

Now, off to paint my nails another shiny color. Maybe irridescent purple? :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To Fresh Water or Salt Water . . .?

. . . that is the new question.

Why, you ask? (yes, you did, come on...).

Well, as some of you know, I have embarked on a new activity, doing "open water" swims with a great group of water-loving crazies from my area. It has been an exhilarating, if at times frustrating, challenge.

Though personally satisfying to me to see I can bring myself (not exactly your hardy-Survivor-type soul) to brave the elements -- cold (COLD!) water, mating horseshoe crabs one must trip over to get to the deep water, and the recent appearance of jellyfish, not to mention all the "things" I cannot see beneath the brackish water (though my fisherman-friend tells me there are any number of biting, 10-pound+ things that are likely swimming along with me just waiting for me to unwittingly happen into what he lovingly (?) refers to as a feeding frenzy) and, yes, those pesky swans -- I have, to date, been the slowest, most-pantingly-breathless member of the group. Still, I've done it. And most people wouldn't, even if those that do are way more kick-ass than I am.

So, here's the problem.

As most of you also know, much of my writing ideas -- plot, character development, those gems of ideas that come to me through what those of us who write often call our mystical, magical, and deeply-desired Muse -- often come to me under water.

And my Muse is pool-water powered. She simply has not acclimated to the harbor.

It's not my Muse's fault.

Because, try as I might, while I'm open-water swimming, there's so much panting and breathing and pushing and kicking and timing and lurking-creature avoiding going on, not to mention the constant spotting of the other swimmers so I don't unwittingly drift off toward Connecticut nor lose sight of the nearly-elusive (but-fuck-you-I-made-it!) yellow buoy, there's no way my poor Muse can come. She's sitting on a blanket in the corner of the beach with a Mai Tai and a story idea just waiting for me to come the fuck in.

Meanwhile, my agent gave me "notes" on my new manuscript and I need to rise to the occasion. And since my option period is running, I pretty much need to do that now. Not to mention the open-water group is doing "causeway" swims this week, which are at least a quarter mile further than the damned nearly-elusive yellow buoy.

So for today, at least, I'm headed toward the chlorine at the Y in search of my pool-loving muse. Let's hope she's waiting for me there.