Improv and Creative Writing sitting in a tree…

Last week, I published a post over at Middle Grade Minded about Why I Write Middle Grade. I wrote about how books helped me through a tough time in my life, 6th grade. It’s all so true that my face reddened while remembering the shrinking, diminished, afraid feelings I had during that time. Oh and that hair. That hair. Lord…lord…

Books gave me solace and helped me find my footing at the end of a day. But it was only part of the story, and I want to share the other vitally important thing that happened in middle school to help me become myself – drama class.

Seems simple, but it was profound. I didn’t know the word for it at the time, but a lot of the early exercises we did in class were improvisation warm-ups. Just laughing and making ridiculous noises, or flopping all over the room like a bunch of unencumbered adolescent weirdos. It was awesome.

drama

Why was it so important? I think because improv let me find my voice in an atmosphere of safe risk-taking, acceptance, and creative expansion. The way books gave my inside life power, improv gave my outside life power. Power to get through the day and participate in the world. To raise my hand in class. To look people in the eye. To respond to questions out loud, without doubting myself. Stories and improv go hand-in-hand in my experience. Creation is creation, stories are stories, expression is expression. For me, they were life-savers.

With my book coming out this fall, I feel like I have a unique opportunity to do something cool.  I’m creating curriculum for workshops that blend the worlds of creative writing and improvisation. I’m so excited for the possibilities and can’t wait to learn more about the ways we can help kids feel more power, less alone, and better able to let their unique voices be heard – on paper, or in some honking, hooting, nonsensical, gorgeous growing-and-shrinking machine.

I’ll be looking for both geographical and non-geographical locations in the near future (e.g.,  if you want to beta test with your class, organization, or camp group – get in touch!)

 

 

 

Thoughtful pausing: An attempt.

I read some great things this morning over on a site called Brain Pickings. There’s a great post about Willa Cather and her decision to leave the corporate world in favor of a quiet life. Here’s an excerpt from a letter  from her friend (The writer) Sarah Jewett:
…you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up. Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality — you can write about life, but never write life itself.
Willa was working in journalism and moving fast. Yes, deadlines, but also being a woman in a male-dominated industry must have been pretty exhausting. The bit in Sarah’s letter that reads “what might be insight is only observation” resonates with me. I rush a lot –not a super unique experience, I know. But how much do I miss in living, and in writing, by moving too quickly? I risk not taking time really see things, hear things, and feel things.

It’s a great time of year to think about what we’ve done, and what we want to do. I want to take more time to listen to the world and myself. I want to open up to possibilities and expansion. Live beyond screens, alarms, deadlines, and schedules. Play more. See more trees. Run with my kid more. Run more, in general.
I just finished a draft of my second book, so I have a great pause to explore before I get my first round of edits back. I’m going to do my best to fill it thoughtfully. There is a mile-long list of things that stand staunchly in the way of this endeavor, but trying is something.

willa cather

Willa Cather, from Wikipedia

Update: Short and sweet or TALL AND BITTER?

Hey everyone! Just a little update.

Right now I’m:

  • Working away on THELMA BEE edits. This is happy work!
  • Planning a new author website! I’m working with the awesomely creative Mike Robinson of Portable Heroes* fame. We should be launching sometime in September.
  • Getting super excited about a project that Mighty Media Press has in the works for THELMA. I’m going to keep it secret for now, but stay tuned 🙂

Also, I’ll be a guest on Parenting Your Human at the Riot theater on August 7th – wouldn’t it be fun to hang out!? Come join us!

I guess there’s nothing tall or bitter about this update, sorry for the false advertising.6_20Cinnamoroll_20Cab_original

cute pastries via ubertiny.storenvy.com

*Portable Heroes is my husband’s high school rock and roll band. This is a true thing.

Good Stuff Friday

It’s Friday and it’s almost May. Feels like a good time to send out some virtual high fives.

  • Audiobooks. Recently starting a job with a long commute, these have kept me sane and actually looking forward to long drives. My life is many, many books richer due to the wonder of Audible.
  • Writers on Twitter. You guys, it’s incredible how unique the query-to-publication process is and the community of writers that I’ve discovered on Twitter has been such a support over the past few years. I’ve been able to connect with people in different states, with completely different lives than I have – and we can create a meaningful connection through shared experience. It’s incredible.
  • The Fabulous Twos. My kid is hilarious. The words are coming so fast, and her sense of humor is developing in this magical way. Yeah, we’ve got tantrums like anyone else, but I love this age. She does this bit where she makes her duck say “meow” – like a CAT even though it’s a DUCK. Ridiculous.
  • The slightest, most subtle hint of Spring. I will take it. It’s colder than normal for this time of year, but shoveling is OVER. Summer is around the corner. We did it, New England. We did it.

I hope you have a stupendous weekend.

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  • photo from eonline.com

You got this.

A Confusion of Michaels

I need to talk about Michael J. Fox, Alex P. Keaton, and Michael Keaton. Maybe I’m not alone on this childhood confusion (I’m probably alone).

When I was younger, I watched the show Family Ties. I thought it was just a sitcom until I saw an interview with Michael J. Fox in which he referred to his character, Alex P. Keaton, as a separate person. Like, “I think Alex is just a normal kid who happens to love republican politics”* As a child, I was confused by this. It seemed that he knew the real Alex and conferred with him.

Family Ties, I concluded, must be based on a real family.

Cut to the 1989 Batman movie. It stars a man named Michael Keaton. It made sense to me that Alex P. Keaton (the real one), inspired by his friend and counterpart, Michael J. Fox, decided to go into acting. He must have changed his first name to Michael, inspired by his Hollywood friend Michael J. Fox.

One problem, this Batman Michael was old. Too old to be Alex. P. Keaton. What happened? How was this possible? I was quietly confused about it for years, more than I care to admit.

Michael-Alex JP Foxkeaton – you may not be a real thing, but you’ll live in my imagination forever as the republican kid who grew up to be Batman.

Batman_ver2

*Not a real MJF quote.

Women in Improv: Power

Note: This post is inspired both by #yesallwomen and a conversation I had with a female improv student who wanted advice on what to do when a male scene partner makes you uncomfortable on stage.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic if they differ with my own. I just kind of have OPINIONS on being a female in improvisation.

Improvisation is the most democratic form of comedy. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, physical ability or disability, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, the improviser creates his or her own reality on stage.* The improviser is not at the mercy of a script someone else wrote.

In college, I had a conversation with a (wildly talented) female comedian who was in a sketch group. She felt like she got edited out of shows. They didn’t usually include her writing and any time she appeared on stage it was as mom or wifey. This kind of thing doesn’t have to happen in improv because you’re the writer, the editor, the performer, the set designer, the whole thing.

If you are in an established group, the hope is that you enjoy and respect each other. In fact, I will go so far as to say that some of the best men on the planet are improvisers. I think it attracts guys who are smart and funny who listen well and are genuinely fantastic. That has been my experience working in groups. You know each other’s personal boundries. However, in a class environment when you are paired with strangers, this mutual understanding is not a sure thing. You want to hope that a guy will pick up on cues if a lady is uncomfortable when he gets randy and that he modifies behavior. You want to hope that.

But here’s the incredible thing about being a woman in improv – you can have a machete in your backpack and threaten his life if he doesn’t back off. Or you have a laser gun that turns men into cows. Or you are a super powerful wizard and know like a million spells including ones that render men respectful.

I mean, we don’t want to Michael Scott our way through life, but the point is this – IT IS MAKE BELIEVE! It doesn’t exist! That means you have power. You have so much power.

We should make the stage a safe space for everyone. As a community we should all agree to not be jerks. The #yesallwomen hashtag has been painful and illuminating for me. Just thinking about how much crap we put up with and don’t think twice about on a daily basis – it’s awful. Here’s something cool though – you don’t have to put up with crap on stage. And if someone gives you a hard time for not “yes anding” something that makes you uncomfortable – screw it. You are the priority. The only wrong answer is being a jerk.

My opinion about women in improv – we are powerful. Power is beautiful. Use it.

amy-poehler-book-cover-h724POEHLER POWER

 

*As with all performance, this is compromised if you have a disrespectful audience – and lord knows I’ve performed in front of bachelorette parties.

** If you are a potential bachelorette party goer reading this, please have mercy on the performers. We do think you are special and hilarious and we hope you’re having a good time. Just, you know, be quiet during the show.

About a year later…

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Boston Marathon bombing lately because it’s almost been a year. For those new to the blog, I was a block away from the explosions last year with my then eight-week-old baby.

Tragically, last night, two Boston Firefighters were lost in duty and their incredible bravery hits home once again. It feels like punch in the gut, a personal loss. It reminds me of last year.

This is the first trauma I’ve ever dealt with, and it poses challenges I couldn’t have predicted. The panic feelings when I hear a story on the radio, or walk past the sight, for example. Also, my complete inability to access empathy for the suspect in custody – it’s not like me, but it’s real. I reach for that empathy like I’m reaching for my wallet, but all I find is an empty pocket. Experiencing true fear does unexpected things.

But even in those moments, I appreciate the distance. I appreciate the year of healing that our city has undergone.

Boston, the way I see it, is just like a spunky, loud-mouthed five year old boy on the playground*. He talks bigger than he can act, but it makes him kind of  lovable. Last April, he got the crap beat out of him and ran to his mom’s arms. As he sobbed into her shoulder she whispers, “Hey. Hey – what are we?”

“Strong,” he whimpers between hysterical gasps.

“What are we?” she asks again, his chin in her hands.

“Strong.”

We weren’t. We were scared, hurt kids, but we started saying “strong”.  It made me feel better. It helped me to heal – to some degree. And whether I like it or not, that day pulled a strong string around my heart and wove it into the fabric of this city.

My thoughts today are with the Firefighters and their families. We owe a lot to the people who keep us safe and put their necks on the line for their fellow citizens. Boston, it turns out, is a pretty small town.

 

 

 

*OK, so if I’m characterizing cities I’ll make New York a 12-year-old girl who just got back from a summer abroad and owns like 17 scarves all the sudden and keeps taking photos and whining about trans-fats.

Being good enough for baby in 2014

I want my daughter to:
– Exercise for joy, to feel good and healthy
– Eat things that make her body function at its best
– Feel excited about her talents
– Nourish her relationships and her creativity
– Be free from unnecessary anxiety and guilt
– Know the difference between things that deserve energy and things that don’t
– Spend alone time when she needs it
– Have a bulletproof sense of self that is grounded in love
– Be stoked about any projects she’s taking on
– Be kind to everyone (including herself)

I hear that kids learn by example. So, this is my 2014 to-do list.

My Agent Love Story: True Grit

In the beginning of 2012 I finished writing my first manuscript, a middle grade story called THELMA BEE. I sent it to some writerly friends and they gave great support and a few suggestions. I put it away for a while and later revised. “Now, I’m ready!” I thought. Wrongly. It was a wrongly thought thought.

I got a few requests. Supportive rejections trickled in. But then a contest called The Writer’s Voice happened.

Brenda Drake is the Khaleesi of writing contests. Once I started following her on Twitter, everything got a lot more exciting (and clear). During The Writers Voice I was chosen for Krista Van Dolzer’s team. Krista was an incredible mentor and helped me whip my query into shape. The contest did two things:

1. Plugged me into an informative, supportive, amazing group of writers/agents/editors on Twitter

2. Got my manuscript some VERY exciting requests.

Now we’ve got some momentum. Go go go go go gooooooPREGNANCY.

So I threw up for months and months and months. And I didn’t write. I didn’t query. I just looked out the window and then I threw up more.

Cut to my baby being old enough for me to think relatively clearly again — this past summer. I connected with some of my old Team Krisa pals and one of them, Michelle, gave THELMA BEE a read. She provided me with some excellent, detailed edits that helped me look at the book in a new light.

Then, one day on Twitter I saw #MSWL. That stands for Manuscript Wishlist. Agent Laura Zats asked for a quest that wasn’t a treasure hunt and if I remember correctly, a creepy swamp. Well, friends, this I can deliver. I queried her. She asked for a partial. Then the full. Then, right before Thanksgiving – she asked for a call.

I screamed. Whatever, it was exciting.

We scheduled the call for A WEEK AND A HALF in the future because of the holiday week. So, I hosted Thanksgiving for 12 people and that was a good distraction.

During the call, I put a slide show of calming forest scenes on my laptop. We chatted and she was awesome and very in tune with the characters and the story. At one point I made mention of Thelma’s town being a little bit Star’s Hollow and she immediately got that and excitedly compared one of my book’s locations to Luke’s Diner. In my mind I thought “YEP, NAILED IT. LET’S DO THIS THING”.

The week that followed “the call” brought two other phone conversations with great agents, each with different situations, each of whom would offer different paths for the manuscript in the next few months. I hounded my Team Krista friends (including Krista herself) with constant emails, and bugged fancy pants Twitter friend Summer Heacock for her expertise. At the end of it, I had to go with my gut and my gut was telling me to go with Laura.

I signed the contract on Christmas Eve. That was very cool.

As writers I think we sometimes try to force life events into a narrative arc to make it neat. This wasn’t a hero’s quest – it was messier. I loved my story, and thought it was good when I finished my first draft. But I learned the true meaning of revision over the months (and months) I worked on THELMA BEE. It was about letting go of my ego and really getting my hands dirty. It was also about not giving up even though it got hard and I saw other people sail past me, getting agents book deals while I was diving back in for the 35th revision.

If you love your story, don’t give up. Make it better and then make it best. I have come to a point in my life when I realize that for a writer (or a mom, for that matter) grit is one of the most important things. This process involved not a lot of luck, but a lot of persistence and willingness to reconsider and rework. It had much more to do with examining my use of gerunds than fairy dust. It actually had a lot to do with gerunds.

true_grit_clips

I’ve got a ton more work to do, but I’m very excited to be embarking on this next stage of my career with Laura.

FIN

Thanksgiving

Sorry turkeys, Thanksgiving week is here! This means different things to different people. You might have a half day on Wednesday, or you might travel to your hometown and drink beer with high school friends. Maybe you’ll spend the holiday quietly stabbing yourself in the leg and smiling while your aunt spouts super homophobic crap and you can’t tell if it’s worth getting into an argument, or if you should just fake diarrhea to get away from the table.
Or, if you’re like me, you might feverishly vacuum your entire house three times and pray that the first huge turkey you’re cooking satisfies the expectations of 12 guests.
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It’s great! It’s going to come out great! Great! It’s great!
Whatever it means to you, I hope that you have time and opportunity to reflect on the good stuff in your life this year. Maybe that’s a new job, or a loving marriage, or maybe it’s just the fact that your hair has been looking super hot this week. All things to be grateful for.

I also hope you don’t have to work.  If you do, I’m really sorry. I think it stinks. There’s something icky about the Black Friday/open on Thanksgiving trend and it has something to do with the income based pecking order in our country. We now have folks who need cheap gifts being used to exploit people who work for (mostly) low wages. It’s a weird sort of economic/cultural cannibalism and it’s NOT SUPER CHRISTMASY, YOU GUYS.

You do you, as always, but I’ll say that I am not going to be shopping for gifts on Thanksgiving. I hereby put my vote in for long, warm, uninterrupted family time for everyone. Even if your homophobe aunt gets drunk and starts in on immigration, try to take it in stride. Pour a big, big glass of wine and hug the ones you love, they’re happy your home.