Today the sun fought with the rain, a war I watched from a treehouse in Princeton. Off and on the clouds breathed on the tall windows, surrounding us in a gray sweater, only to be pushed away a few minutes later by rays of sun that just wouldn’t give in.
I appreciate a good set of windows. My friend — the one who lives in the treehouse, which is really a detached garage apartment that sparkles with colors and patterns and rainbows, with framed photos and homemade artwork and coziness, with skylights and floor-to-ceiling glass that overlooks a greenery I never fully appreciate until I see it in person — shares her space with deer and rushing creeks and a wall of trees that manages to startle me each time I visit. I miss certain kinds of trees here in Brooklyn, and the ones in Princeton — old, peeling, with branches that crack and fall to the tune of thunder — are what one thinks of when one hears the word ‘forest.’
It is nice, to say the least, when a group of women comes together with no purpose other than marking a passing of time. My friend always has a plan for her birthday. It’s a day she celebrates by inviting a curated list of people, which sounds exclusive but is handled deftly in a way I admire, and creating an agenda of food and poetry and yoga and sangria. She hosts us in an old-fashioned way — hands out goodie bags and treats on our way out the door, down the treehouse steps. We never get to the poetry reading part; we spend all our time catching up instead.
At a certain point in your life it’s easy to say no, to say that’s so far for a day’s trip, to say I’m busy and I’m tired and I just saw you last month and I’ll see you again next month and can’t we just Facebook instead? It is easy, and sad, and each time I say yes, each time I make the effort to see my old friends face-to-face, in their own treehouses, I am greatly rewarded.
There’s a photo taken of me from two summers ago, standing in tree pose on a ledge overlooking the southernmost tip of Long Beach Island; a 20-foot drop to a rocky bottom. The late August sun burned into my shoulders. We had driven down to the end of the island just to show off the view to our friends — a faraway Atlantic City skyline — and to dance in a different ocean for a few moments. I saw my opportunity, eager for an audience, and stepped up; a one-legged balancing act, looking out to the sea.
I inherited the panic gene from my mother, who wears it like a bracelet, jingling with every flick of her wrist. And I’ve come to terms with it — the tingle in the stomach, the train of adrenaline that rushes by and pools in my fingers. So at odd moments – the breath before sleep, the split second before the phone rings — I find myself always back on that ledge, considering the drop, remembering the sun, squinting my eyes. What a foolish act, I think, getting up on there and standing like a tree, breathing in deep, trying to find an om somewhere on the ocean. What if my balance had been off that day? What if a gust of wind, a rogue wave, had taken up more space than I had accounted for? How much damage could have been done?
Worry is a funny friend. I can laugh at some of the things that used to pinch my insides with fear now, years after the fact, but there’s a danger in cockiness. Just when you think you have both shoes in the ground, a third one comes falling out of the sky. So I’ve learned to like my panic, or appreciate it, at least; a little anxiety is preferable to a fall over a ledge, to a broken bone, to a gun pointed at your stomach in a foreign country.
I don’t know how many diaries I bought as a kid. I just know it was a lot, considering I never (ever) filled them up and never had a lot of money to spend. But diaries were my downfall. The key, the lock, the smooth covers, the fresh, blank pages…there was so much potential in them. In the Thrift Drug in the center of town there was a case of them, pale blues and pinks, and I would run my finger over them and think, “I can say so much in here!”
I never did, though. After a few half-hearted entries they’d fall to the wayside, one by one; a graveyard of calm colors dumped under my bed.
I had this yearning to be the kind of girl who wrote in diaries back then, similar to my yearning to always be acting out a scene from Teen magazine, like how, the night before the first day of school, I would almost always hot-roll my hair and put on a face mask and call my friends on the phone, even when I didn’t have anything to say and besides, I hate talking on phones, because that is what I thought I was supposed to do as a pre-teen girl; that is the story I wanted to convey. (One year, the mask took so long to dry, and my mom was working that night, and my dad got annoyed at me for not being in bed yet, but I couldn’t go to bed because I had to let the mask dry. And then it was too late to call my friends, and even my sisters were near-asleep already, and my whole staged scene was ruined that night. I woke up with red eyes and a lingering hiss of betrayal at Teen.)
Back to diaries: sophomore year of high school my friends and I had a little, fat notebook we called Phat. We used it in lieu of passing notes to each other — instead, we just passed around Phat, which was filled to bursting with secrets and doodles and song lyrics and crushes and recaps of that day’s General Hospital episode. A core group of us shared Phat, with occasional guest posts from other friends. (I like to think of it as my very first shared blog.) Sometime in college when K and I found Phat in our bedroom, its green cover tattered, we realized how dangerous it was. All the original writers were off at college, steeped in new lives and new allegiances, and the level of change made Phat risky. So we shredded it. the only real diary I’ve ever finished. I still regret it.
Today I found this article about a new kind of digital locked diary, and my heart leapt. I found myself thinking, how could I use this? Would people laugh at me? But what if I kept it secret? Then I would have a secret about a secret diary and…maybe that feels a little much. The drive for a locked book where I could dump everything hasn’t gone away, it seems. Even though I know better now. I know I would never write in them.
Today, when I hear other writers talking about how they filled diary after diary as a kid, graduating to proper journals as a teenager, I can’t help but think, “Liars.” But maybe they’re not like me, is all. Maybe they haven’t saved it all up to parcel it out, piecemeal, into various manuscripts.
I was 21 when I took my first flight, a commuter jet to Boston, and it rumbled and shook and I held my first passport close to my chest. My second flight was more substantive — Boston to Brussels, the one where I actually needed the passport — and since then there have been dozens just like that one, soaring over Europe, leaving windmill imprints behind my eyelids. Layovers, turbulence, crying jags in British Airways business class when a friend and I chose to watch “The Notebook,” not realizing how it, combined with little sleep, would leave us red-faced and ashamed, but gleeful too. Buzzed flights, productive flights, painful flights; missed connections in Swiss airports where no matter how fast I ran I knew I’d never make it; Heathrow runways where I took my time, confident I was already so late, only to be surprised by a delay that meant I would get home on time. Flights where I welled up looking out the window, wondering if I’d ever see him again, wondering why an ocean has to be so big. Dozens of short flights, and one long flight to and from Sri Lanka, where, at three hours in, I realized I had only hit the 25% mark; where I and some other passengers came down with food poisoning. Flights where I fell asleep even before takeoff; flights where my boss had pulled out her laptop and typed away, so I, in turn, did the same. Flights where I tuned out, and some where I tuned in.
The airport in Vermont is a charmer. Currently under construction in one area, once you get through security the bathrooms are literal port-a-potties, with thin painted plywood built around them to give the illusion of a room; with a running sink in which you must pump your foot in order to actually access the water. Whatever. We ate lunch at The Skinny Pancake and waited, and waited, as weather delays in Newark put our plans on hold.
The thing is, I never mind waiting at airports. It’s not like there’s nothing to do — one can always buy books and magazines, or food, or martinis with fat olives that wake you up three hours later with a ring of salt burning your throat. There’s always ample opportunity for people-watching, for catching up on Twitter, for reading a type of magazine you would never purchase but were delighted to find on an empty seat. And there’s always time for reflection, for deciding which memory from your trip was your favorite, the one you’ll hold close always.
For me it was this moment, sitting with my mom and my sister on a deck on Lake Champlain, feeling like summer is mere moments away.
An old friend from LA emailed and when I wrote her back, I told her I loved her photos of her city — burnt and hot-looking on her Instagram account, offering a glimpse of a place I’ve never visited but have always secretly loved. Los Angeles, or the vision of it I have in my head, is my single instance of coastal regret. Why am I in New York, I sometimes wonder?
But here is where I settled. The settling happens, whether it’s into bones or cities or routines, and I always knew New York would be good, it would be how everyone said, and even better, and then some. But there are losses, sacrifices I forgot would revisit when I least expected them.
Last fall, a lovely 23-year-old I worked with jumped ship; a cross-country move, a dream job. I told her then how jealous I was, and I had never been more serious, and it was a thick jealousy, a mournful one. For a while I struggled with the reasons behind my reaction. I moved to New York after college, lured by a communications job for a respected news organization. I spent six years at that job, loving things, but far from settlement. I read books on LA, on how to become a writer, on how to write for TV, on how to work in entertainment. My Amazon bill for those books was more than I could afford and I remember thinking they felt dated even then, in the early ’00s, and they felt less than useful. But I read them, and wrote occasional poems, and when I thought ahead I knew I wanted to be a writer, but it was a vague notion, and besides, wasn’t what I was doing already just a type of writing?
I like your wedding dress, aunt Morg. (I was wearing a brightly patterned maxi dress.)
I’m going to swing on the swings now, but I’ll be careful, so everyone calm down.
Back it up, sister.
Good morning! Let’s get this party started!
Aunt Morgie, your hair looks bad.
Aunt Morgie, I like your long hair.
You be the dragon that’s chasing me. I’ll save myself, though!
Come in the moonbounce with me! The age limit is 28. (Me: I’m 33.) I mean, the age limit is 33.
My niece and her curly hair; my nephew and his lopsided smile and his penchant for exclaiming “Yeah!” like he’s singing backup for Usher; the way the sun slants across their backyard in Pennsylvania…these are the things that make a weekend worthwhile.
A few weeks ago, the lovely folks at LinkedIn asked if they could interview me for their Get Connected video series. My first inclination was to say no; that’s embarrassing, I thought, and there goes a whole afternoon. But I was reading Lean In and everyone around me told me to do it, so I worked through my issues and finally said yes.
The team was supremely wonderful — funny, warm, and clearly talented — and they edited my nervous rambling into something pretty coherent. Huge thanks to them and to LinkedIn and to my job for all being awesome. Here’s the video.
The Philadelphia row home my grandparents lived in always smelled like sauerkraut, and while that sounds like an insult, I don’t mean it to be. We would visit a few times a year, and as we pulled onto their street the green awning over their door was the only way I could pick them out of the lineup. As we got older, the television in the house would grow louder; the mess on the dining room table, bigger. There was always a bowl of black olives from a can to snack on, and Pop-pop taught us how to jab our fingers into each olive and eat them, finger by finger, can by can; reveling in the aluminum aftertaste.
Today the office smells like that old row home in Philly, like old-fashioned food and tulips, and this week has been quiet. I finished my book on Saturday and turned it over to my writing group, my critique buddies, and while they read I get to luxuriate in this freedom, this moment before I have more work to do on it. It feels like a spring break of sorts, which is neat timing, considering New York City seems to have closed for the week, too. The subways have been empty; my emails have dwindled as the sun stays up later, stretching out the days. I am warming up to Spring, my least favorite season, as a ray of sun latches onto my exposed forearm and begins to remind my bones of what it can do to me.
Spring’s always been a temporary stop on a train to someplace better. Maybe this one will prove me wrong, show me what she’s got besides a teasing warmth and an itchy nose.
My parents put us in dance classes when I was four. At my first recital, I walked out on stage, clad in my red sequins and some messy feather headpiece, ready to dance to “76 Trombones.” But then I looked around, waiting for the music to begin, my cue to start tapping.
I was horrified to discover this wasn’t dance class anymore, where I got to stare at myself in the safe mirrored room. Instead I was facing hundreds of people — all of them strangers — who had the luxury of sitting in a comfortable, dark seat while my forehead itched under the lights and sequins. No one told me this is what performing would be like. I burst into tears.
The music started, but I couldn’t stop crying. All around me, my friends were shuffling and flapping, feathers flying in their eyes. But I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get over the tragedy of being unprepared for an audience. Finally, someone crept out on stage to escort me off. (My twin sister stayed, unaffected by my tears.)
Somehow, luckily, I got over that. I continued dancing for another decade and never had stage fright like that again, which I like to believe set me up for a lifetime of being mostly unafraid of public speaking, but that’s just a theory.
This week I went back to my roots. Remember the “Friends” episode where Monica goes to a tap class to confront the woman who’s stolen her identity? Ever since then, I told myself I’d go back to an adult tap class, especially once I moved to New York. Well, I’ve been here for 11 years now. It was time.
Back I went into the safe mirrored room, lined with a barre and a sense of purpose. When I was around nine I was named a Baby Starlet at my dance school and got a tap scholarship, which meant I got to attend class with the older girls who, at the time, felt like superstars, with their long legs and high-heeled tap shoes. I stood at the barre with them every week, my pride at leaving my peers behind helping to hold up my head just a little higher. Smokey Robinson would blare from the overhead speakers and we would warm up, leg by leg, ligament by ligament. When the tap instructor this week turned on Stevie Wonder from an old-fashioned boom box in the corner, it felt almost the same, like this was it, I had come full circle.
I’m in the middle of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (who isn’t?!) and she writes about the quote that most resonates with her, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?,” and I guess my answer is, I’d tap.
Years ago (five, maybe? Who can remember?) I took a day-long writing workshop from MediaBistro. I was toiling with my first YA (now one of those books-in-a-drawer everyone talks about) and just needed some focus, and the class was helpful. But what was greatest about that class was that I met Laura Sibson, who’s been a valued critique partner and all-around fun-to-text-with friend ever since.
Yesterday she tagged me in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, a traveling blog that asks authors to tag “the next big thing” and ask them these questions. Here’s her post, in which she talks about her work-in-progress. (Edie sounds awesome, btw.) The idea behind the Blog Hop is to get writers to share pieces of what they’re working on.
The thing is, I am kind of weird about blogging about my writing. There are countless blogs out there by writers at all stages of publishing who talk about what they’re working on, their processes, their statuses (seeking representation, on submission, etc.) and I almost find it overwhelming. I don’t try to be precious about my writing at all — quite the opposite — but I think there’s a part of me that wants to surprise people, maybe, with it when it’s ready?
But! This month I am thisclose to being finished with a brand new book that I’m really excited about. So I’m breaking my don’t-talk-about-writing mindset right now, because I want to talk about this book.
What is the working title of your book? I love naming things, but I am struggling with this title. I call it THE GEMSTONE RESURRECTION, but my back brain is still working on something better!
Where did the idea come from for the book? Two places: when my grandmother died I received some of her jewelry, including her old engagement ring. I was wearing it one day, and while waiting in line for lunch I started twirling it on my finger and thinking about her. We had a complicated relationship. (She and my mother didn’t get along too well, and I am a mommy’s girl.) And that line — “I have a complicated relationship with my dead grandmother” — popped into my head. I wrote an entire opening chapter based on that line.
Then, a few weeks later, I was in Charleston, SC (amazing place!) with my sisters and mom for her 60th birthday. (See? Mommy’s girl!) We took a ghost tour — a total tourist trap, but a super fun one. The guide told us a story about a woman who haunted the graveyard, and I found myself disagreeing with his telling of the story. He clearly thought we should all hate the woman for what she did, but I found myself defending this woman — this supposed ghost — in my head. So I wrote a chapter, thinking it would be unrelated to the chapter mentioned above, about her story. When I got home and began working on the book, I realized they were actually parts of the same story.
What genre does your book fall under? It’s YA, with alternating chapters that are contemporary and supernatural. Which means it’d be shelved in the paranormal section, which is a shocker, because I never, ever thought I’d write paranormal!
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Gemma would be Elle Fanning with dark hair; Pearl would be Troian Bellisario (Spencer from Pretty Little Liars).
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? First, a funny story: I wrote one and sent it to my sister for her thoughts. She wrote, “It’s good, but I always think of Pearl as the main character, not Gemma.” Readers, she blew my mind. Why was I thinking of Gemma as the main character? (Well, a lot of reasons, but too many for this blog.) So, after multiple drafts and a total shift in thinking, here’s my one-sentence synopsis:
Pearl Briar needs an heir – not to her fortune (she’s only 17), but to her secret sorority, the Gemstones, but after a miscast spell throws her plans into disarray, new girl and outsider Gemma Martin becomes an unwitting participant, a powerful competitor, and maybe the most vital Gemstones component of all.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I’m represented by Amy Tipton of Signature Lit.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I am a slow writer — it takes me time to get into a story and figure out what it is. Plus, I have a full-time job (that’s often more than full-time). All this is to say, I started writing this in earnest in early spring 2012; it’s now nearly early spring 2013, and I’m about 8,000 words away from finishing it. (So, this weekend, maybe? Although I said that last weekend, too.)
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma comes to mind, which is so beautiful — not because I think my book is technically similar (or anywhere near as great) but because there’s a freedom and a magic in that book that I think is also present in mine. You don’t know what’s real versus what’s not; the world of the characters sometimes feels murky.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? I had just recently turned in edits to my agent (for a contemporary YA that hasn’t yet sold) and was tossing around a few ideas for what I’d write next, but nothing was sticking. So I decided to not even worry about what to write next. And like I said above, then the line about my grandmother’s ring came, and then the ghost story, and I thought, “I’m going to make this book as crazy as I can and see where it takes me.”
My friend Sarah MacLean always says, “Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen to your characters? And then do it to them.” So I tried!
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Four words: Secret high school sorority. Oh, and one more word: Witches.