Book Love: Judy Blume and Lena Dunham In Conversation

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A small gem of a paperback, only a little bigger than the glasses used to read it.

Yesterday, a package from Believer magazine arrived in the mail. It was much smaller than the usual magazine, so naturally, it was intriguing. Inside, was a pocket-sized gem of a paperback book: Judy Blume and Lena Dunham In Conversation. There had been an interview in the actual magazine itself, but here was a long version—in a perfect trim size—just waiting for me to devour.

It goes without saying—even though I talk about it a lot—that I greatly admire Judy Blume. Her books were always a treat to read, but in particular, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret was a touchstone for my younger reading self. She’s been controversial, she’s been banned, she’s been beloved. Throughout it all, she’s been honest and she’s taken her audience very seriously—and that counts for a lot in my book.

When it comes to Lena Dunham, I know only what I’ve read in interviews. I’ve never once seen the show Girls, but have wondered for some time if there’s something that I’m missing by simply not having the right cable television package to watch it. I’m more convinced than ever after reading this lengthy interview.

One is young and just arrived at her icon status, one has had time to adjust to it and live in her own skin as a writer. One has pushed the limits with her words, and the other sometimes does it with the baring of her own body. But both of these women have dared to go where no one expected them to—probably where a lot of people didn’t even want them to. They’re utterly brave in their creativity. So it makes sense that they sat down together—even decided to be friends afterward!—and talked about their process, their work, their families, and their lives.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to create—what the rewards and the drawbacks are, and why we as people are so drawn to the very act of creation. In the end, I think we all want to be brave as Judy Blume and Lena Dunham in what we create—whether we’re painting or writing or making music or dancing or acting or…whatever. We want to boldly go where no one has before—to tell a story in whichever mode of telling we choose that’s somehow both a part of ourselves and a part of something bigger than ourselves.

So, this interview—this brief look into the minds of these two very writers—struck a chord for me. If you have a chance, take an hour (or less, really) to read it. Heck, you can even borrow my copy. It’s a little dog-eared, but who minds that among friends?

Shocked—Shocked!—to Find Out that Writers Make No Money

Recently, Digital Book World published statistics on how much writers make. Turns out, it’s not very much. As a writer myself, and someone who works in the publishing industry, this was about as stunning as Captain Renault’s revelation that there was gambling at Rick’s Café.

Looking at the graph below, it’s particularly surprising, of course, that “aspiring” writers don’t make any money at all. Oh, Digital Book World, say it isn’t so!

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While it’s interesting to look at numbers like this sometimes—and the breakdown of what kind of publishing provides what kinds of rewards—it’s not terribly informative. Because as both the graph and life experience can tell you, writing is not a lucrative calling.  And writing for young people, in particular, is not known for its millionaire-making.  With very few exceptions, anyone who writes—or creates visual art, or music, or…well, I could go on endlessly—can tell you that it’s not the salary that drives her.

This is not to say that it’s not a very nice thing indeed to get paid for your writing—it goes without saying that it is. It’s frustrating, even infuriating, sometimes not to get paid a lot (or even at all) for your work.

But—and here comes a reference to The Bachelor (it is still Juan-uary, after all)—creative pursuits are all about the journey. And part of being there for the Right Reasons is knowing that you’re almost certainly not going to get rich doing it. Though, again, a little something here and there certainly helps.

So, thank you, Digital Book World, for providing this graphic. It’s very colorful and pleasing to look at, and give us aspiring writers out there something to actually, well, aspire to. That teeny little slice of green up there is certainly calling my name!

On MFA Residency and “Juan-uary”

Juan Pablo Galavix
ABC/Craig Sjodin

Do you watch The Bachelor? No? Whether you do or don’t, if you’re tuned into any kind of pop culture or own any kind of electronic device, you must have keyed into the fact that ABC has dubbed this month “Juan-uary” in honor of the current (hunky, deliciously clueless) Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis.

My husband and I love this show. So much so that I won’t even deign to call it a guilty pleasure—it’s just a plain, old pleasure. Last week’s season premiere did not disappoint. There was the usual round of craziness: The lady who shows up pretending to be pregnant. The other lady who brings her massage table with her, just because. The folks who give new meaning to the phrase “odd jobs” (I’m looking at you, “Free Spirit,” “Dog Lover,” and “Former NBA Dancer”). But it also was crazy on a whole different level: as in he gave the coveted First Impression Rose to someone who could barely tolerate his presence, and then during the rose ceremony, someone actually mistook Kat for Kylie—you know, the kind of mistake anyone could make—and two ladies came for a single rose.

Did I mention that I love this show?

Are you beginning to wonder if I’m ever going to get to the part where The Bachelor is like my recent MFA residency?

Well, wait no longer, because here it is: Like the beginning of Juan Pablo’s “journey,” my nine days at residency at Lesley were a little bumpy. The first day was cancelled because we got over a foot of snow. On the second day, I apparently dropped my wallet in the parking lot of a shopping center near campus. No one turned it in. This resulted in hour upon tedious hour of organizing bank, credit card, license renewal—you name it—all in the midst of seminars, workshops, readings, and time with friends I only get to see twice a year.

Then on Friday, it snowed again and I slipped on a patch of ice and hurt my knee. Nothing’s broken—only woefully swollen and sore. And so I missed the last day of residency.

The thing is, this was my last full residency, the one that kicks off my thesis semester in a program that has meant a lot to me. But, just like the proverbial path to true love (you had to know I’d bring it back to The Bachelor somehow), the course of this residency just didn’t run as smoothly as I’d hoped.

Even so, it was—as always—wonderful to see friends and faculty, to talk about writing with people who are also on this crazy journey, to think about craft and dive a little deeper into a story that’s come so far—and still has so very far to go.

So, Juan-uary didn’t begin quite as I thought it would. Big deal, right? I’m still on this wild MFA program ride for The Right Reasons. And as any true fan of The Bachelor will tell you, that’s all that really matters.

Stress Writing

The last few weeks have been among the most exhausting and stressful that I’ve encountered in many, many years for reasons far too mundane (and personal) to get into. Suffice to say, I’ve been feeling flat out.

When stress hits, some people turn to food. Some take to alcohol. Others turn to caffeine, exercise, bad TV—you name it. But I’ve got dietary restrictions that limit what I can eat and drink, and caffeine and my stomach are not the best of friends. So what’s a gal to do when stress hits hard?

Certainly, I’ve watched my share of good (and bad) television of late in an effort to take it down a notch or two. But I’ve also taken to writing to blow off some steam. Not writing of the useful MFA program variety, or even of the lucrative freelancing variety. Instead, I’m writing fluff. And it turns out that it’s a wonderfully fun to write fluff—where there’s no pressure, no deadlines, no expectations. Nothing at all but me sitting by the fire with my laptop and churning out whatever I feel like writing. And what I feel like writing is pure fluff.

This would have distressed me to no end mere months ago. I would have further stressed myself out by worrying that I wasn’t expending creative energy in more serious ways. Now…well…who honestly cares? It’s fun, it’s harmless, and it’s gotten me through the rather tedious month of November and beyond. I wrote 51 pages of a new story last week, just because I was on edge.

So, while I cannot actually eat the marshmallow-y goodness known as Fluff, it turns out I can churn out fluff on the page at breakneck speed when my psyche needs it.

Now if only I could have some caffeine….

 

 

Lazy Saturday

Much as I admire Andy Samberg (and I do), my idea of a lazy weekend day is somewhat different than the one he and Chris Parnell imagined in this video. This may, perhaps, be due to the fact that there is very little time for a lazy anything in my world at the moment (the lack of posting of late on this, my beloved blog, attests to that). When it does happen, it’s always on Saturday mornings.

On Saturdays, no one in my little family needs to be anywhere until a swimming lesson at the Y calls at 11:30. It is the only day of the week in which all three of us can just lounge around for hours. And since I gave birth to the earliest of early risers, I do mean that we have hours.

This morning, after a long family snuggle, we made pancakes. You can choose your own adventure in terms of berries, syrup, and even type of pancake (regular or almond flour) in our house. Personally, I go the almond flour ones heaped with every available topping. Then we lounged on the couch, drank copious amounts of tea, and generally relaxed together.

Should I have been working this whole time? Is there not school work, freelance work, and just plain old work work to be done? Alas, yes. But for once, I didn’t do any of it. These few precious hours of downtime were sorely needed, by all of us, I think.

All good things must come to an end, though, and this glorious morning has. My kiddo is off at swimming class (dreams of being an Olympic platform diver aren’t achieved without hard work, after all), my husband with her. And I’m about to start working right…about…

Now.

Literary Things to Love…at the End of a Hard Week

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found this to be a tough week, both on a personal and global kind of level. Right now, the sky is gray, the government is still shut down, I don’t feel great, and I generally need a pick-me-up.

So I went and found one…or maybe a few.

First off, here’s author Terry Pratchett, sporting a shirt he apparently wears to conventions. More reason to love Terry Pratchett? I’d say so.

terry pratchett's t-shirt
Via theonering.net.

And here’s a picture of Mark Twain and Helen Keller, who apparently had a lovely dinner together way back in 1901. If you want to read what he wrote in his journal about this encounter (and, seriously, why would you NOT want to read something Mark Twain wrote?), check out this piece in The Huffington Post.

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And as a parting shot, you can find a whopping 19 kick-butt book-related manicurescourtesy of Buzzfeed. But I had to share my favorite here, because someday, somehow I must have this on my nails.

One literary manicure to rule them all, one literary manicure to find them, one literary manicure to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Lord Of The Rings
Via chalkboardnails.com

 

 

Time Out (Miniature Edition)—For When There Is No Time Out in Sight

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted photos of any of my adventures, big or small, that qualify as time-outs from regular life (for that matter, it’s been a little while since I posted anything at all). There’s a reason for this: there have been no time-outs from regular life for me. Indeed, there simply hasn’t been time for anything.

So, while I don’t have any pictures of lovely places to share with you, I do have the recipe (literally) for a mini-break in a cup. Or as I like to call it, the “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter mug cake.”

Here’s all that you need:

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You mean you don’t have dark chocolate peanut butter and Vietnamese cinnamon in your pantry? Perhaps it’s time to seriously rethink the things you stock in your pantry.

2 tablespoons of whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ (or 2 if you’re feeling crazy) tablespoons of Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter or Nutella (or almond butter, or whatever suits your fancy)
3 tablespoons of skim milk
1/8 of teaspoon of baking soda
1 tablespoon of chocolate chips or peanut butter chips (completely optional but come on—this is supposed to be a mini-break, right?)
A pinch of Truvia (or whatever sweetener floats your boat)
A pinch of cinnamon

First, procure your beverage of choice. The whole process of making the little cake takes about two minutes, so you need to plan ahead in terms of what will accompany your vacation in a cup. I prefer a glass of cold milk. Tea works nicely, too. However, if you’re looking for something stronger than that, I certainly won’t judge you.

Put everything but the chocolate chips into a teacup—and be sure to use a teacup instead of a coffee mug as this is a dainty-sized treat—and mix it all up with a fork.

It looks gross, I know. It only gets better from here.
It looks gross, I know. It only gets better from here.

Now add the chips and give it one last stir to spread the goodness around the batter.

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Ah, that’s better. Especially with the chocolate chips. Just remember: super-dark chocolate = super low in sugar.

Pop it in the microwave for 50 seconds, or more in very small time increments if it’s not cooked—but this is like a good brownie, in which gooey is better than cakey.

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The finished product: gooey goodness. And did I mention the protein? Soooo healthy.

Then sit someplace quiet and enjoy your chocolatey-peanutty cup of joy. It’s kind of healthy (protein! whole wheat! skim milk!), and small enough to not have to feel guilty about it anyway. And as my daughter frequently tells me, sometimes a girl needs a break.

Happy Tuesday!

I Promised Myself I Wouldn’t Cry….

Alas, some promises are easily broken. Just ask poor Dawson.

This isn’t a matter of Joey Potter breaking my heart. (She was better off with Pacey, anyway.) It’s a matter of me breaking my own. Way back when, I wrote about how hard it is for me to write bad things into the lives of characters to whom I happen to be very attached.

It was hard then. There’s been a bumpy ride between then and now. Which means It’s even harder now. In finishing a first draft of a YA story I’ve been writing for seeming ages, it was time to face the truth of the matter. This was never going to end a blaze of hearts and flowers. I’ve known this from the beginning. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a blaze of hearts and flowers—truth be told, I kind of love them. But this just isn’t that kind of story.

So I sat down and wrote the hardest stuff that needed to be written, and I wiped away many tears as I did. Is it weird to be this caught up in your own story and characters? I hope not. Because if it is, something’s clearly gone awry with me. I’m awfully fond of these folks—I created them, after all. And like any good parent, I wanted to protect them from these ugly parts of the story, but there was just no way to avoid it.

But the deed is done.

I’m feeling good about it now that this part of the journey is over—and ready to start all over again (hopefully I’ll take a page from Melissa Manchester, though, this time around).

 

The Trick is Not Minding

 


The first time I saw Lawrence of Arabia, I was at the now-defunct Charles Theatre, watching the re-release in all its glory on a giant screen. It was, quite literally, dazzling—a larger-than-life film on a larger-than-life screen, the desert stretching out endlessly in front of us, while Peter O’Toole almost glowed in his white robes.

It was, in many ways, the ultimate movie-going experience.

I was remembering this particular scene this morning as I thought about the work in front of me in the next two months. Time is going to be shorter than it’s ever been, and the amount that needs to be done in the small hours I’ll have is a little overwhelming to ponder.

A worker-bee by nature, normally having a lot to do is merely par for the course. But this small stretch—and I do realize that two months is not an eternity—is, in fact, going to be really hard.

So I will attempt to take a page from Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, and I will jauntily attempt to not mind it.

We’ll see how I do!

 

Finding Your Voice…”In a World” That Doesn’t Always Value It

The official movie poster for In a World.

I don’t get to the movies as often as I’d like these days. There are good reasons for this. Money, time, and—you know—the whole working mother in grad school thing. So when we do get to the theater, we’re selective about what we go to see. I do realize that my “selective” might not be yours (my husband and I did go see Pacific Rim on our anniversary this summer). But this weekend we saw a movie that has tremendous appeal across types of film-selectivity—as well as relevance for female writer.

That movie was Lake Bell’s brilliant In a World. If you listened to a recent NPR interview with Lake Bell and the actor who plays her father in the movie, Fred Melamed, you’d think that the takeaway of the movie was sort of along these lines: Hollywood voice work—so crazy!

But it’s really about finding your voice. For starters, Bell writes, directs, and stars in what is an incredibly funny movie—what better way to have your voice heard in an industry that often shuts out female voices? But on top of that, the story itself is about having the confidence to make yourself heard—to stand up and say that your voice (literally and figuratively) truly does count. It also draws on the idea that having women raise their voices and be heard is particularly relevant and important.

Now, clearly, the world of children’s books is not the same as the world of Hollywood. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the only areas of literature where female voices are not only welcome, but thriving. This is for a lot of complicated reasons, but it is the fact. But it’s also fact that women, in general, have a harder time breaking into both the world of writing and the world of Hollywood. The deck is stacked in favor of male voices, and it’s just not right (as even the little second-grade feminist in my family will tell you).

Finding your voice as a writer can mean a lot of different things—giving voice to your characters, discovering just the right tone, or (something I’m struggling with right now) figuring out what kind of writer you want to be. But it also means having the guts to sit down and believe that what you’re writing is worth the time and effort—that your voice has something to say, and that putting it down on the page is vital in some way.

So, to watch In a World and to see Lake Bell making it happen for herself was—not to be too gooey (even though I will)—sort of inspiring. It leaves me waiting to see her next movie with great eagerness—and wanting to sit back down and write as well.