Monday, September 20, 2010

SCBWI Fall Workshop

So I've dipped my toe in and I find I'm late to the party, as usual...(ooh, mixed metaphor!)
On Saturday my local SCBWI chapter sponsored a workshop. Chris Eboch, author of The Well of Sacrifice and the Haunted series, was there to do critiques and lead us through a workshop on description. She was amazing in a your-favorite-teacher kind of way -- easygoing, unassuming and yet so professional and full of good advice.
We also had peer critiques in the morning, and a session with Nancy Davis, an illustrator who lives here in Las Vegas now and has done some fantastic illustrations for picture books.
Best of all, I found a local critique group which meets on Saturdays. And I met a dozen or so people who are doing what I do and who couldn't have been more friendly.
As I said in a previous post, a year ago I couldn't have done this. The idea of reading to or letting strangers read my work would have been excruciating. But I got to this point partly because of blogging. The past year has drawn me out of being the one weird person who wrote and made things so much easier. I think the latest of my illusions to be shattered is the idea that you can do it alone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On the scale

I was always the skinniest girl in my class, as well as the shortest and the flattest. For many years I never topped 110 pounds. I never dieted and I never worried about what I ate. When I got pregnant I gained a reasonable amount of weight and lost most of it quickly. (Breast-feeding helps.) I lived in NYC, so I climbed subway stairs and I took the kid out in the stroller up and down Ocean Parkway and I bicycled to church.
Then I moved to Las Vegas. I did try to walk somewhere not long after I got here, but it was hotter than I realized (in April!) and suddenly the sidewalk stopped and I had to pick my way across a construction site. Before long the 120s were a distant memory. I began working out, but the numbers on the scale kept going up. I'd been a vegetarian for many years, but I'd drifted away from the "combine proteins" mantra that was predominant when I'd learned how to cook vegetarian. At the end of the summer, two years ago, I was over 150. And I was sick, which is what prompted me to reform. I drastically changed my diet, lowering carbs and increasing protein, and the way I worked out (goodbye 45 minutes of cardio, hello weights.) I stopped eating between meals and I took a grim pleasure in never having any birthday cake at office parties. The numbers on the scale began to fall.
I don't expect to ever gain that weight back as long as I continue to work out and eat the way I do now. But as the numbers began to fall something unexpected awoke in me.
I was part of the generation which "discovered" anorexia. It was fashionable when I was in high school. I never had anywhere near the problems that most anorexics do, but I flirted with the idea. And now I find, standing on the scale, that the belief that my worth as a person depends on whether the level finds its mark at 124 or 126 is still there after all these years.
Weight is such a funny thing. I'm almost on the verge of not posting this, because I guess I think if you write about your weight, you're opening yourself up for almost any kind of criticism. Part of me thinks it's frivolous, I suppose.
I'm trying to write a scene where a character is standing on a scale and battering the slider back and forth, as if she doesn't care what it will come out to. I haven't gotten it right yet, and I haven't been able to fit it in where I want it to go. But it will go somewhere, because it's important.

Back to School Blogfest

Roh Morgan of Musings of a Moonlight Writer is sponsoring a Back to School Daze blogfest. Go check out the others at her site!
The section below is from HOW TO SEE THE ELEPHANT, YA historical fiction, set in 1862.

The stair and hall carpets were trodden gray by schoolgirl slippers. In the art room there was the same bowl of fruit as on the day the name Thefish was coined, along with a plaster statue of a Greek slave and a large etching of the Roman Forum. The same thick pencils and erasers, ten girls sketching and rubbing and blowing on the paper. The same grammar and history lessons, papers screwed up and thrown into the unlit fireplace, and compositions begun again, copied and recopied until they were entirely free of inkblots. No matter what the class the same subject studied all the time: young ladies. Young ladies did not tell lies or raise their voices. (This I already knew.) They did not cross their legs. They did not let their backs touch the back of a sofa or chair. They did not indulge in coffee or tea, which sapped vitality. They avoided the grosser cuts of animal flesh. They did not whistle. They did not drink excessively chilled water. They did not belabor their minds with serious reading; nor did they display a weakness for frivolous novels. They did not say “oh, yummy!” when dinner was announced. They did not yawn before eight o’clock in the evening. They did not jump up and down so they could watch their bosoms bounce. (I was not guilty of this last one.) They did not open bedroom windows and let in the night air. They did not pinch their cheeks to make them look redder. Above all, young ladies did not want things – things they could have or things that could happen. “Want must be your master,” they said to us. Mama had said that, too. I had never really understood what it meant.
This was what I had wanted. This was education. It was music and French verbs and the Great Men of History. So why did I sit there with my eyes on the window, where the rain was now ending, hoping for a fire engine to pass? Why did I close my eyes and imagine what I’d be doing right now on the wagon? The smell of harness and horse, the rhythm of hooves, dogs barking as we came into town. I would be reading the map to Pa, persuading him that a certain route would save us a half-hour on the way to Princeton. Or talking to one of the wholesalers about a new kind of spade...
What was someone who could do all that, who’d been as good as an adult for the past two years, doing here? I looked around the rest of the class. Jenny was rubbing her pen along the edge of her nose, something she did every day to give it (the nose, not the pen) a more distinguished shape. Sarah Stephens was drawing a row of monkeys down the side of her composition on “Ambition.”
“Miss Wymore?”
“Yes, Miss Matilda?”
“I don’t believe you have recited for us.”
“ ‘I’, Miss Wymore.”
“I? You mean me?”
Miss Matilda sighed, to laughter all around. “Yes, you, Miss Wymore. Please come up and recite. You may choose any selection in the reader.”
I stood up, smoothing my apron, and walked towards the front of the class. The Fourth Reader lay open on Miss Matilda’s lectern to “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” I closed it with a small thump and turned to the class.
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,”
I said,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea..
I let my hands wave just a bit to suggest the sea. If you make too many gestures when you recite you start to look ridiculous.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed
As I spoke I watched the girls. Jenny was no longer rubbing her nose. Polly was sitting with widened eyes, as was Ellen. Sarah had stopped drawing and was looking at me as if I might prove to be not uninteresting.
“…And the widows of Ashur are loud in the wail!”
I proclaimed,
“And the idols are broken in the temple of Baal!”
I shook my fist.
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,”
I paused and looked around the room, careful to hold their attention. Lord Byron wrote the ending kind of punchy, but I liked to give it slow, letting the line build to a triumphant conclusion:
Hath melted like snow... in the glance of the Lord!”
Applause? Yes, real applause, not just grudging claps. Ellen turned and smiled as I made my way back to my seat.
“Well,” said Miss Matilda. “Well. Thank you, Miss Wymore. Thank you very much.”
I sat back down, trying not to look triumphant. None of them knew how many times I had slain the fourth reader class in Mansfield with that old chestnut.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy New Year

Yesterday morning it rained. It was the best kind of rain: unexpected, creeping up over us in the middle of the night and turning the morning soft and gray. Puddles on the porch and the smell of rain in the air. Headlights on cars as I drove in to work. Thick clouds with dramatic shafts of light breaking through over the valley. I delighted in it all the more because not one single mention was made on the weather of the possibility of rain. It was like someone saying, miracles still happen.
It was like the beginning of fall, too. This is a great time of year in the desert, where we look at seasons differently. We don't say "summer is over." We say, "the heat is over." Now we begin to emerge and think of hikes and trips and 5k runs and Shakespeare in the Park and planting vegetables and re-doing the garden.
The other great thing about this time of year is that I work at a Jewish-sponsored school so I get a bunch of holidays, all in a row. It throws my routine way off, but I look forward to it. I'm finally getting my hair cut and I have a bunch of slow-cooker recipes I want to try and there'll be lots of time for writing. So if I'm not around for awhile, that's what I'm doing. See you in October.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Street Diary

After the last post I went back and looked at the "Street Diary" I kept when I was living in NYC and I've decided to post some of the entries below. My intent keeping this diary was just to write down overheard conversations or scenes of small everyday importance. I started out calling it a "Subway Diary" but I expanded it to any public area, especially streets. I was fascinated by encounters and interactions between strangers (or not) in the streets of the city and on public transportation.

All you really need to know to understand what follows is that I lived in Brooklyn in a Russian/Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and I worked in midtown Manhattan. A Yeshiva (if you haven't seen Yentl) is an Orthodox Jewish school.

July 15, 1997 Greenwich Street between Canal and Spring St., Manhattan, 6:30 pm

Written (painted) across a building: WATER SPILLED FROM SOURCE TO USE. Next door, a wooden board rests on the sidewalk – COOKBOOKS.

The door (a house) is propped open with a small brass teapot. Red carpet, start of a wall of books half-visible.

Across the street, faintly visible, with imagination, painted on the side of the building -- Fletcher's Castoria.

August 1, 1997 F train to Brooklyn 5:10 pm

The girl next to me, smartly dressed (beige dress, silk scarf), lanky hair behind her ears, smooth, bright face, asked: “Can you tell me approximately how long it will take this train to get to the World Trade Center?”

“Is this the E train?” I asked.


I leaned forward to look at the sign. “No, this is the F. You’re on the wrong train.”

“How did that happen?”

“They run on the same track – the first two stations in Manhattan they’re on the same track.”

“What should I do?”

“You can change at West Fourth. Go downstairs – “

She did not understand when I said, “three or four stops,” thinking I meant the World Trade Center. “No 23rd St, 14th St, West 4th St.” She pulled out a map and I showed her, “the blue, that’s the E train. Go downstairs – I’m sorry, go upstairs.” An Asian guy in a suit, wearing glasses, carrying a briefcase was listening, he nodded now.

She put her hands to her face. “I’m so late already.” As much to him as me, “I’m meeting someone I haven’t seen in four years.”

Boredom, slightly, as we were only at 34th St – now I would either have to talk to her or interrupt myself at West 4th to remind her to get off.

When she stood up the Asian man was getting off too – “Are you going that way…” she asked.

August 15, 1997 M-1 bus, Fifth Avenue, near St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Tourists on the bus.

“Mom, look at that cathedral.”

“Gosh, that is huge.”

After a pause, she adds:

“I think that’s the one that was in a book or something.”

“Do they have any gargoyles?” the boy says, and repeats, “gargoyles?…gargoyles?…”

October 11, 1997 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn

Homeless man lying on a bench under a thick red blanket (coat?). Calls out to me:

“What time is it?”

“Three o’clock.”

November 13, 1997 Fifth Avenue E/F station (upstairs) 5 pm

The way was blocked.

“The platform is full,” one of the MTA workers said. No one could hear. “Both platforms?” A man with an Indian accent said angrily, “I can assure you the platform to Queens is not crowded.” The MTA guy ignored him. A woman pushed through. “They are not letting anyone through – I can’t wait!” she cried.

“But people are coming up! You should let people through as people come up!”

“Come on – I’ve got sitters to pick up!”

“I can assure you,” the Indian man said again, “The platform to Queens is not crowded.”

“Assure us?” a voice said.

“Yes, I can assure you! I will bet you 100 dollars! 100 dollars! Do you want to bet 100 dollars? Do you have 100 dollars in your pocket right now?”

When I got downstairs the platform was as near to deserted as I have seen in weeks.

November/December 1997 Wednesday nights, 18th Ave./Newkirk Ave. B8 bus stop, Brooklyn

Yeshiva boys. They pace the sidewalk, talking so fast you can hardly understand them. And then an odd word comes up – “Flubber” – for instance. Once one said in a mocking voice, “uh…what’s nudity?” and the one beside him sniggered. Last week a car drew up and the woman on the passenger side said: “Where are you going?”

“47th and 18th.”

“Well, we will take – I don’t know how many will fit – but we will take –"

Four piled in, one came out. Off the car went.

“Benny got a ride with a stranger.”

December 15, 1997 1 pm

One of those stray sentences you hear sometimes, floating, on the street. In front of Archiva, Madison and 75th Street – a middle-aged woman, barely seen, behind me, looking at the window display.

“Books have come so far."

June 16, 1998 10 pm, cab across the Brooklyn Bridge

Jostling in traffic. A man in a sport utility vehicle refused to let the cab into his lane. Rolling down the window he said, “You do it to me all the time.” The driver (Russian?), a middle-aged man, began muttering, “What’s the hurry? We’re all going to the same place…” (I thought he meant across the Brooklyn Bridge) “…six feet under, right?”