Winter cleaning

Maybe it's my small apartment; maybe it's the way baby items have overtaken my living room, my nightstand, my office...whatever it is, I've become ruthless about getting rid of Stuff.

Most of 2015's bloodletting has been focused on clothes. I had a lot to get rid of or store away, post-baby. But something else happened too: my style changed when my body changed. I went back to work in the late winter and every day I hated my outfit, even if it had been a staple the year before. Bags of clothes piled up. Every weekend felt like a trunk show. I didn't know how I was supposed to dress anymore. Working mom? Brooklynite? Woman-displeased-with-her-body? (How original, I know.)

So I shopped, and returned things, and cleaned things, and shopped some more. I tried on old things and new things and have been working on figuring out what feels like me, now. I just did my final ("final," ha) sorting last week, though that was just of my closet--not my dresser--which generated three more bags of clothes. A friend came over and picked through, took what she wanted.

Now, with the new year here, I'm thinking even more about what to clean, to parse through, to consider. I scan my shelves and realize even some of the books I wouldn't imagine getting rid of just two years ago have lost their importance. This week alone I've decided to sort through my overflowing jewelry box and the mess under the bathroom sink. (Do I need three hair straighteners, considering I don't straighten my hair anymore?)

After I had the baby, I started to feel like the walls of my apartment were closing in on me. We have a homey, love-filled place but when there's more than three people in it it can feel stifling. I want clean lines, the perception of space. I want to come home from a weekend away and not discover all the empty jewelry boxes I keep next to my earrings (why? Why do I keep empty boxes?) have fallen to the floor in a gust of winter wind from the window I left open because the heat in our building is always too high.

Tomorrow is the last day of 2015, a strange year if there ever was one, and I will eat a delicious crab feast with my husband and pop open some champagne but I'll also be thinking of consolidation, of things I don't need anymore. Of how I can focus all of my apartment cleaning into mental clarity, into goal setting, into continuing to build a life I'm proud of. 

Further reading, if you want it: I like this Refinery 29 slideshow (uh, I know, sorry) on a New Year's Pagan Cleansing Ritual.

Happy 2016!


F train reading

Screen shot 2015-07-16 at 2.28.19 PMListen, no one enjoys their time on the F train. (If you do please contact me so I can nominate you for intense psychological analysis.) But this summer I have been so enthralled with the books I'm reading that my hour or so on the train each weekday has become a highlight. TL; DR: there are some amazing books out right now and I need to shout about them.

Here's what I've been reading and LOVING this summer:

Dietland by Sarai Walker: You guys. YOU GUYS. This is the feminist book I wish I'd written but don't you dare roll your eyes at that description. It's not a book centered on a moral issue; it's political but only in a deeply engaging, narrative way; and most of all it's inventive, witty, smart, and pretty damn genius. I've been talking about this title on Twitter so much that the author has joked about paying me but I'm the one who should be paying her because this book brought a type of hope to me that has been much needed.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: I haven't read the first book from this duo (the smart team behind Go Fug Yourselves) but Twitter couldn't stop raving about this one so here I am, in love with it. It's a sort-of re-imagining of Will and Kate, Duke and Duchess, but here's the kicker: I don't give a damn about the British royal family, despite my love for London. But I definitely give a damn about this book.

In the Unlikely Event and Summer Sisters by Judy Blume: You don't need me to recommend Judy to you, obviously, but her newest -- Unlikely Event -- was so immersive and reminded me how much I love her writing that upon finishing it I had to go re-read (for the 100th time) Summer Sisters, one of my favorites. Here, listen to NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour episode about it.

Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan: Have you ever read a book you thought was about one thing and ended up being about something else entirely? Maybe it's the cover image, but I thought this was a book about the sinking of the Titanic. Pro tip: it's not. It has a plot I haven't seen before in YA and, while I had some slight issues with some things, I still immensely enjoyed it.

Up next: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which I'm hesitant to start because, from what I understand, it's an incredibly emotional book...and not necessarily positive emotions. So I'm mentally preparing myself to be upset. Also on deck: the new Beatriz Williams, Tiny Little Things, because I adore her writing.

So, because I seem to be on a book buying binge, feel free to leave your suggestions for what I should read in the comments.

The privilege of reading

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 9.21.29 AMLast night we put our baby in her crib for the first time. She cried for five minutes and then dropped right off to sleep. We thought we got off easy, but then she woke up an hour later, cried for 38 minutes* (yes, we counted), and then seemed to look directly at the monitor to give us a Look. After a few minutes, she closed her eyes and slept. She slept from 9pm to 5:45am straight, which means--if this trend continues--my husband and I have been given the gift of time.

With all that glorious time, I started thinking about what I should do with it. Not surprisingly, one of the first things that I had to set aside when I had a baby was reading. I knew it was a temporary break, but it was a break nonetheless. (I keep joking that I'm mostly excited about going back to work in February because I'll have an hour of commute time...think of all I can read during that hour!) And I miss those worlds I used to visit. I miss the artfully arranged words, the universal truths, the racing action.

We all know books are a privilege, of course, and entire organizations are dedicated to helping underserved kids snatch some scraps of that privilege. (Like First Book, and Reach Out and Read, and Reading is Fundamental, in case you've got out your checkbook for end-of-year donations). But I started thinking about how reading itself is a privilege. Because, for most people, being able to read for pleasure means you have leisure time. It means you're not working a second or third job during your off hours; it means you're not taking care of someone or something. There might be chores to do or errands to run, but if you're reading, chances are they're not urgent.

I'm staying in this New Year's Eve. My husband and I will put our gorgeous baby to bed and then have a crab cake feast, shipped from Maryland, and finally open that mead we bought on our honeymoon. My sister will be stopping by on her way to a party to lend me her ereader, which is shored up with books she's assured me I'll love. And while I don't know when or if I'll ever get to all of them, I know I will have some time in 2015 to read some things for pleasure. And for that I am so, so grateful.

Happy New Year--I hope it's filled with things you're grateful for too, whether it's books or time or perfect babies or something else entirely.

* We practiced a version of sleep training recommended by our pediatrician. 

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My year in books (2014)

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 7.28.05 PMAh, books. I remember those...I think. So I began logging the books I've read last year and, amazingly, stuck with it this year, too. That's the good news! The bad news is, since having a baby in October, I have read exactly one book (and, cough, I haven't even finished it yet). So when I began tallying this year's booklist I expected it to be much shorter than last year's, which clocked in at 34. But surprise! I hit 33 books this year!

Another interesting thing about this year was the Amazon issue. I mostly read on a Kindle and stopped purchasing ebooks from Amazon in the spring due to their shady activities with publishers. That changed my reading plans quite a bit! So I got a library card and made do, but there are definitely books on this list that might not have otherwise been on it had the Amazon shenanigans not happened.

Anyway, here's the breakdown: 11 Adult titles, 13 Young Adult titles, 5 Middle Grade titles, and 3 nonfiction titles. Here's the full list:

After the Red Rain, Barry Lyga, Peter Facinelli, and Rob DeFranco
Shug, Jenny Han
Counting by 7s, Holly Goldberg Sloan
A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd
Gutbliss, Dr. Robynne Chutkan
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
Expecting Better, Emily Oster
Blythewood, Carol Goodman
The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, Elizabeth Kelly
Second Chance Summer, Morgan Matson
Likeable Business, Dave Kerpen, Theresa Braun, Valerie Pritchard
Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead
Family Tree series, #2 & #3, Ann M. Martin
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Jenny Han
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E Lockhart
Dramarama, E. Lockhart
Confessions of a Not It Girl, Melissa Kantor
Witches of East End sequel, Melissa de la Cruz
[a lot of false starts with library books, which I'm not counting]
The Fever, Megan Abbot
The Vacationers, Emma Straub
Going Bovine, Libba Bray
I Hunt Killers 3: Blood of my Blood, Barry Lyga
Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight
Friendship, Emily Gould
The Secret Life of Addison Stone, Adele Griffin
All the Summer Girls, Meg Donohue

Some standouts of the year: The Poisonwood Bible, Astonish Me (I read it twice, back to back, I loved it so much!), The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, and We Were Liars. I was also in love with the Family Tree series (I love Ann M. Martin so hard) and really enjoyed the Veronica Mars book, too. And, a big shout out to Expecting Better by Emily Oster for helping me survive pregnancy.

Anyway. I miss reading. Someday, I'll do it again!


Summer reading, or not

Beach reading is the best. I usually plan my beach reading weeks -- months! -- in advance, curating what I hope will be the perfect books to complement my summer days. This summer, though, I didn't. Partly that's due to Amazon. Because of their business practices (read more here), I stopped purchasing from Amazon sometime in the early spring. And considering I was exclusively reading from my Kindle, that means my book habits have changed significantly.

Basically, I find it difficult to actually access the books I want to read now. (The New York Public Library has been helpful for older e-titles, and I've been reading more print books than I have in years. Also, lots of magazines!) So when I went to the beach for a week in July, I didn't bring any books with me and decided instead that I would read whatever I could get my hands on -- leftover books found at the rental house, borrowed titles from my friends, etc.

I wrote about my week without books here on Medium.

The house of...something

morgan_wharton_coverLast spring an unexpected offer had me teaching two classes this past semester, both for graduate students at NYU. It's something I never thought I'd do -- teach -- especially when I work full-time, sometimes more than full-time, at a job that keeps me engaged and checking my social platforms at midnight. (And especially considering I don't have, and don't want, a graduate degree.) I may have danced around with glee after I turned in my grades this week, but there's lots I'll miss about teaching. But oh, how nice it feels to have free weekends and Wednesday nights again. Just in time, too; next week we move into our new place, which means right now our apartment is part mess, part chaos, with boxes blocking the TV and random scraps of paper littering our floors. No one likes moving, of course, but we Cancers despise it most; my home is important to me, and a sense of unease has overtaken me when I walk in. It's temporary, but it's there.

All my books are packed (thanks, mom) and I have put myself on an ebook-buying hold, which means I'm currently reading a tattered old copy of The House of Mirth, a favorite. Or at least, I thought it was a favorite; I'm finding it tough to get through, but that's partly because the state of my mind these days is less than focused. It feels like a harkening back, though, like a visit to a memory; a piece of the familiar when everything else is changing. I'll take it.

Dancing shoes

astonish-me-by-maggie-shipsteadI'm reading a book set partly in the ballet world (Astonish Me, Maggie Shipshead) and eavesdropping on three young men, dancers too, on the A train tonight, talking about how their new choreographer actually respects them, how this dance is different from the others before it. How this choreographer saved them from walking out that day, from quitting dance altogether. Dancing is a commitment. If you ask me I'll tell you I was a dancer as a kid, but as an adult it's pretty clear that what I did back then wasn't dance, it was mime. Routines, memorized. Sometimes when the lights were just right, bouncing off the sequins dangling from our headbands, it was more than that, maybe, but only sometimes. At my tiny dancing school in New Jersey in the 1980s, dance was a jazz warm-up set to Janet Jackson; a series of back walkovers set to (still inexplicably) an old, slow, sad song called "Send in the Clowns." Dance was French braids backstage, blue eyeshadow, long rides in our minivan, clouds of hairspray. Dance was missing out on school field trips to Ellis Island because there was an important dance competition in rural Pennsylvania, and we needed the day for travel.

I was a dancer until one day I decided I wasn't, and that was that. Preteen me realized I was never going to be a professional dancer, so why continue? High school me realized I was never going to cheer in college,  so why continue? I suppose that's just who I am; I wake up sometimes and realize something that had been a part of me has broken away in the night. What did dance bring me, I wonder. Besides great memories and a flair for being onstage, what did all those years do for me? So what that I still perform tap routines when no one's looking? Was it worth it?

I've still never been to Ellis Island, even though I've lived in New York for years, and the answer is still yes, will always be yes.




A Willa Cather winter

9780307959300_custom-b74b240940d1f5c0fca7134c17ea2e56d0164a7e-s6-c30It's been a long winter, says everyone in the US. Me too. Despite my insisting for years that winter is my favorite season, that I crave the cold and dark, I'm leaving it behind this time. No more winter love from me. This winter has been a season of mismanaged expectations. Things I thought would happen never did; things I thought would take longer happened right away. A few times I gave up on things I'd long counted on, only to have them snap open by themselves in the middle of the night like haunted books.

It feels like a Willa Cather winter. If you read My Antonia, you know what I'm talking about: a season you might not survive. Some nights I pick up her Selected Letters, heaving that brick of a book onto my stomach; it's so uncomfortable to hold when you're used to a tiny Kindle. (How did I manage textbooks back in the day? Are my wrists out of shape?)  Still, I read on, enthralled. I'm struck by her challenges, her gifts; Willa the person, not the author. How her dimples shine through her old photos, how through her old letters I start to think of her as a friend.

I didn't keep any letters from my childhood. These days I don't even save emails; I'm purging things wherever I go, trying to make space for something new. I wonder, what kinds of nonfiction collections will be published in the next hundred years, since no one writes letters anymore? How will our future descendants get to know us? How will they know what our winters were like?



Teenage fandom

137964I just saw a selfie some fans took at the "Divergent" premiere and got a serious pang of jealousy. I have never read Divergent and don't plan on seeing the film, so this is not about Divergent, but it's about fandom, and more specifically, teenage fandom. Here's where I'm going with this: a lot of people read and loved Divergent. And just like with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and Twilight, they get to see every part of its journey, from being something a friend told them about in geometry to being a household name that people get tattooed on themselves. From being a cool book you and your friends read to being a real brand, with actual merchandise.

I wish I had had that as a kid. I'm trying to imagine what it must be like, at that formative age, to have something you love become so...big. When it's already all-consuming in your head and then it turns an all-consuming love of the larger world around you, I just can't even picture it. It must be like what my first Tori Amos concerts felt like, magnified by a billion.I would have passed out if something I love(d) as much as Tori was mainstream the way young adult literature is these days. Do you all even know how cool that is? How new? How lucky you are? *now get off my lawn*

Sometimes I worry I picked the wrong time to be a teenager. Teens in the eighties had malls (and I am sorry/not sorry to see their mall culture eroding), and teens in the aughts had/have the Internet, but what did we nineties teens have, apart from some flannel and Spice Girls? Was there even a defining book of my teenage generation?

Since there's not, I'm thinking of the ones I wish could be it. Like the Sunset Island series. No, wait! It would be the entire Christopher Pike oeuvre. In fact, here it is; I'm declaring it now. Dear fellow peers who are couched on the border between Generations X and Y, Christopher Pike was our Divergent, our Hunger Games. (It wasn't our Harry, because let's be real, nothing can compare to the Harry phenomenon.)

Now. Where's my movie premiere? (I'll settle for a tee shirt.)

(Also, I had no idea Christopher Pike was a pseudonym!)



Maiden, mother, crone

410px-Poisonwood_Bible"But look at old women and bear in mind we are another country."  (The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver) This morning I finished reading The Poisonwood Bible (here's the story behind that). It is stunning; the kind of book that changes you. The kind of book that makes you roar with injustice, with hope. It murmurs sentences like the one above, lines that made me cry, on nearly every page.

It should be required reading. Forget Catcher in the Rye; forget my love for The Great Gatsby, for the Whartons of the world. (Sorry, Edith. Love you always.) Make this the title all seniors in high school have to read before graduating.

It's also the kind of book that makes a writer go, well, fudge. I didn't write that. And how can we all go on breathing when there are people writing things like this among us, and we are not revering them as gods?

I've been on a writing break since I finished revisions to a manuscript and sent them off in December. Now I am waiting. The trick to this long, neverending game is knowing that the waiting will creep in and settle down into your pores if you're not careful, turning you into a bottle of impatience, ready to pop.

The trick, also, is wondering if maybe I will be an old woman, my own country, too, before this, this big goal, happens for me. And maybe that's just the train I'm on, carrying a ticket I can't remember buying, but resigning myself to the ride. And maybe I just have to be okay with that, and keep taking day trips to other cities in the meantime.




My year in books

Screen shot 2013-12-26 at 1.18.02 PMI once met a girl in high school who kept track of all the books she'd read in a tiny, fat spiral-bound notebook, and I've never forgotten her. (That's a lie, of course; I have no idea her name or how I met her.) Since then, each December I've caught myself remembering some vague promise to keep track of the books I'd read that year. "Oh, that?" I'd think. "Yeah, I was supposed to do that. Oh well."

Oh well indeed. Because guess what, folks? I finally did it. Take that, past self! In January I started a spreadsheet and dutifully tracked every book I read, with two exceptions.*

Pre-2013, I made an effort to read more adult novels this year (for many reasons, none of which anyone else cares about); and I think it shows, especially compared to last year. In total, I read 20 children's books (Young Adult and Middle Grade) and 14 adult, for a grand total of 34 books (again, see exceptions below). I'm pretty proud of that number.

I always like to know what other people read, so if you're interested, here's my list (it's even in order!).

The Princesses of Iowa, M. Molly Backes
Ask the Passengers, AS King
Beautiful Creatures, Margaret Stohl & Kami Garcia
I Hunt Killers (re-read), Barry Lyga
Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
Stay with Me, Paul Griffin
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty
Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
17 & Gone, Nova Ren Suma
Going Vintage, Lindsay Leavitt
Gallagher Girls series, #1-4, Ally Carter
Someday, Someday Maybe, Lauren Graham
September Girls Bennett Madison
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, Matthew Quick
Family Tree #1, Ann Martin
Game, Barry Lyga
The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg
Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton DiSclafani
The Engagements, J Courtney Sullivan
A Hundred Summers, Beatriz Williams
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty
Austenland, Shannon Hale
Night Film, Marisha Pessl
The Silent Wife, ASA Harrison
Debutante Hill, Lois Duncan
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers, Lynn Weingarten

And because we are a world of rankings, here are mine:

  • My favorite adult reads of the year: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls; A Hundred Summers; The Goldfinch; Where'd You Go, Bernadette.
  • My favorite YA: A Corner of White; Eleanor & Park; Game; Stay With Me.
  • My favorite MG: Ann M. Martin, whose new series, Family Tree, is just darling.

I'm in the middle of a couple of books already, but they'll count for the 2014 list. (Including another non-fiction title!! It's like I don't even know myself anymore.) I'll definitely keep going with this list -- it made book recommending this year so much easier, and it's super interesting to look back and remember what I've read.

If you've got any recommendations for me, please do leave them here!

*I didn't list all The Baby-sitters Club books I read. This is because a. that's embarrassing and b. they're so short I don't really count them. The other exception is various works-in-progress from my husband and my writing group. (One of which is a massive, thousand-page tome, so please note that if this list looks sparse, it's because I spent all of June immersed in that.)

**In general, please remember I work in children's publishing, but these opinions are my own.

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Museum dreams

I don't go to museums enough, and living in New York, the fault lies with me and my laziness. 6885325696_b5f26398bdSo a few weekends ago my friends and I went to the Met to see an exhibit about girls and cats, only it turned out to be kind of a gross exhibit and the artist was surely breaking some laws when he painted those pre-teen muses, but that's not the story here. What is the story is this: I went to the Met for the first time in years right as I was reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which (no spoilers, don't worry) has a Met component, and the book is lush and intense and I get lost in it on my morning commute, and now I can't stop dreaming of museums.

The high ceilings, the long walls. Room after room of the European masters, which makes me repeat Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts from memory; gift shops where I nearly become convinced that I could do this, I could be someone who frequents the Met and has art books on my (nonexistent) coffee table. Museums and their corresponding dreams make me want to be a better person.

Instead, I go home to my old sketchbooks, my certificate from high school declaring me "best artist," my charcoals. I go home and think about my art again, and what I could and should do with it, how it's a form of meditation. How it's just another way of telling stories.

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Stage fright

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 6.10.16 PMMy 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.

So here I am, new tap shoes in hand.

The Next Big Thing: Gemstones edition

Ah, editing. The fun part. (?) 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.

And I'm tagging the lovely Melissa Sarno!

My year in books

When I was about 15, I met someone who kept a reading journal, listing every book she's ever read and a sentence or two summing up her feelings about each one. She wasn't smug about it, but she had every right to be.

Reader, I was jealous. If there is one regret in my life, it's that I have literally no idea how many books I've read. I don't know how many books I read each year, I can't remember when I read certain things and how they connected to my life at the time, and, perhaps scariest of all, I even have trouble remembering whether I've read something and what I thought of it.

Because of all of this, I am actually making a 2013 resolution. I will be documenting every book I read next year. (Don't worry, not publicly or anything. It's just an exercise for me.)

But first, I just need to spend a moment talking about the books I've read this year. Because, holy mother of goddess, I read some amazing books this year. I would venture to say this has been my favorite reading year in a long while.

The highlights:

Dare Me by Megan Abbot: I talk about this one here.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters: My twin sister and I often swap Kindles, and she's very organized about the whole thing, handing it over with instructions on which books to read in which order. Beautiful Ruins was at the top of her list last time we swapped, and I dove right in, not even knowing the title of the book. (What a wonderful way to read, by the way -- zero expectations.) It blew me away.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: The danger of similar book titles! I recommended this book to several people, only I got the title wrong. I thought I was recommending The Age of Desire, the fictional retelling of Edith Wharton's life. (I read that, too, and it was lovely.) After reading The Age of Miracles, a friend said, "This isn't about Edith, but I think you'll love it anyway." So I did. And reader, I loved it. I'm chalking this one up to a wondrous act of the reading gods.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: I just finished this yesterday, and it was another one of K's surprise picks. I read it on the heels of finishing The Diviners and now I am obsessed with the 1920s and 30s in a way I wasn't before. This was so captivating, with such a fun, almost kooky voice, and completely wonderful characterizations.

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling: You know, if she hadn't written it, I wouldn't have read it. But I'm glad I did. It took a while to kick in -- there are LOTS of characters -- but by the near-end I was utterly hooked, and then left heartbroken and almost disgusted. In a good way, I think. The kind where you can't stop thinking about it.

The Diviners by Libba Bray: I read this in hardcover, and it's hefty, so it sat on my nightstand for months as I made my way through it slowly and deliberately, a few pages here and there. I feel like this is a book that needs to be read that way. It seeped into me and I hope it never leaves.

There were others. The Year of the Gadfly, The Vanishers, Imaginary Girls. (Edited to add: And The Crane's Dance, which was so phenomenal and definitely one of the best of the year. Thanks for the reminder, K!) The wonderful works-in-progress from my writing group friends and my fiance; many, many Baby-sitters Clubs. Too many to count.

What were your favorite books of the year?



On this rainy Friday

I dreamt of lying on benches, waiting for trains, with quotes circling the air like thought bubbles I could reach out and touch. I fell asleep feeling guilty about how the days pass so quickly; sometimes it will be dinnertime before I know it, and I've spent an entire day only talking about work, and there are never enough hours to call my mom. But I woke up to rain and a new attitude, humming the Demi Lovato song I haven't been able to get out of my head. Several months ago I told my sister about a book she should read, only I got the title wrong -- I was supposed to say The Age of Desire and instead I said The Age of Miracles. And it's a good thing I forget titles as often as I do, because she then read The Age of Miracles and said, "Morg, it's not about Edith Wharton like you said it was, but I think you should read it anyway."

I finished it last night on the train home, savoring every moment. (And then I read the acknowledgements, where the author thanks people I know, and I was reminded again how small this planet is.)

Gimme a...

"Where'd that world go, that world where you're a kid, and now I can't remember noticing anything, not the smell of the leaves or the sharp curl of a dried maple on your ankles, walking? I live in cars now, and my own bedroom, the windows sealed shut, my mouth to my phone, hand slick around its neon jelly case, face closed to the world, heart closed to everything." There is something wrong with the F train these days, and some nights it actually leaves me near tears, because we all just want to get home, presumably, and we never can, at least not in the time we thought we'd be able to. So last night I'm waiting, and waiting more, and brushing condensation off my forehead, which is just another way of saying I was sweating like crazy, because everyone knows Broadway-Lafayette is the hottest subway station in the world, and did I mention I am ready for summer to be over?

And I'm waiting, in a rush, but no F trains come and when two finally do, they're so bursting with people that none of us can get on without risking our lives. And even though I desperately want to get on, I enjoy my life a lot, so I don't push myself in, I don't make the other sweating, smushed people hate me for smushing them in even tighter.

So I read. I read to distract myself from the heat and the anger and the near-tears.

And then I read that passage above, from Megan Abbott's Dare Me, and just like that, there is no subway station, there is no New York, there is no long work day and no jerks leering at me and no exhausted pregnant lady next to me (won't someone just give her their seat already), there is just me and a book, me and my own memories of high school cheerleading, where a new coach came and tried to whip us into better shape, just like in the book; where I took my varsity captainship and shoved it because I had my own awakening at the start of senior year that, wow, I actually hated almost everything that squad had become, and even though I missed the competitions, I missed the lights on my face during pep rallies, my senior year became more about me.

The myth of the cheerleader so often misses the mark -- there are complicated layers to cheering, at least to me -- the power and the flounce and the ponytails all swirl into something kind of dangerous for a lot of us. We start thinking we're invincible.

Dare Me is the first book I've read where the author gets it. She gets what the cheering is all about, what it's for. And who.

On hard books

This is a serious post: how difficult should books be to read? I think back to my college days (English major here), where I was reading for hours a day -- Dosteovsky and Coleridge and Rich, Melville and Dillard and Chaucer in its original English. I would be tired, spent after some of those books. Rejuvenated, too; like I had just run a mental marathon.

There's a burst of rebellion I think many English majors succumb to post-graduation when we're suddenly free to read for fun in more ways than we could before. For me, that meant lots of chick lit and bestsellers; then I joined Scholastic and my pleasure reading became almost exclusively YA. And then I started writing YA for real, and studying the genre. And then I realized how many amazing books I was missing from other genres and started to make concerted efforts to expand. Now I think I have a nice balance of reading material, but still -- there are so many good books to read, and not enough time.


It is no secret I read a lot of children's books...and, well, some of them (considering I have a penchant for old series from the '80s) aren't always the best quality. I mean, that's a can of worms right there (because any book that gets a kid to fall in love with reading is a good book!). But the actual text of some of the stuff I've been re-reading is on the weak side. (I love it, but still.) And as a writer, lately I've been struggling with what I read for fun, and whether it's (perhaps negatively) influencing my writing.

I am a writer who is mostly inspired by other writers -- meaning, reading a fresh poem triggers something in me, or getting lost in a new book makes me rush to finish so I can get back to my own. I have read some ah-mazing books lately -- The Vanishers by Heidi Julavitz, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller...but I've also just come back from vacation, and a few days of illness where I wanted my comfort books, so I've been reading some not-so-complicated books lately, too. (Like my beloved Baby-sitters Clubs.)

There's something to be said for making your brain hurt now and then. So I'm taking this list of the 10 Most Difficult Books from Publishers Weekly (some of which I've read -- but only some) and thinking: do I need a month of "hard" reading? Do we all? Should my reading be about challenging myself, or about comforting myself? What's my role as a reader -- what's my obligation to the world's best authors?

Where should I start?

What's on your nightstand?

I try to check in with The Hairpin regularly, and today this post about The Secret History caught my eye. (Oh, apparently it's actually on The Awl. It's cross-posted, I swear!) For starters, what a great book, right? But this is what grabbed me: "Do you have a guest room? Put this next to the bed." I have two tiny nightstands (not even tables! Just stands! They barely hold a lamp!) on either side of my bed (or on one side, staggered, depending on my mood) and I always, always have books on them. The books, however, are not my TBR pile. They're just...books? That I own? That one night I felt like reading a passage or poem from, and failed to ever put them back in their appropriate shelves? I'm not sure.

Right now there's a Margaret Atwood Selected Poems copy and, if I recall correctly, a copy of my boyfriend's graphic novel. And maybe something else? What does it mean that I can't remember, that I haven't touched the books on my nightstand in months?

Here is what I'd like to put on my nightstand, as a way of defining myself, my life, my mood right now:

  • The Hunger Games (I saw an advance screening last night -- Gary Ross even came! -- and wowza.)
  • William Blake's collected poems (For some reason, spring = poetry to me.)
  • The Baby-sitters Club Super Special #2: Baby-sitters' Summer Vacation (I know I joke about the BSC a lot, but I'm actually not kidding. I always want to be reading them, particularly this one. It is a permanent nightstand book for me. In fact, when I'm home next, I'm going to take it OUT of my special "favorite books" bookshelf, the pretty one on display in my living room, and put it on my nightstand. Just to make me feel good. Love you, Ann M Martin!)
  • The Age of Innocence (Goodness, I'm a broken freakin' record sometime. But I re-read this every summer, and I'm working on a writing project related to this, and it's just my jam. And it's so pretty! And adult!)

I've never lived anywhere, ever, that had a proper guest room. But when I do, I'm going to take the Hairpin's advice and leave my copy of Donna Tartt on the nightstand.

Um, except my copy is electronic. Damn.