Throwback Thursday

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Reading through old blogs is like getting a letter from past me. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking and full of hope.

Today, I’m going back to New York – but only in my mind.

Sometimes I think about living there and I swell with panic. I remember endless climbs from the subway carrying my two-year-old and a stroller. I remember the loneliness. I remember the disillusionment. I remember the bitter cold and the blistering heat.

Sometimes, though, I remember the pizza from 5th Avenue or the bagels from 9th. The picnics in Prospect Park and all the trees we climbed. The local bar, Rhythm & Booze, where I took my kid for dinner before it got too rowdy, where we waited out storms and we got midnight fries. The time I saw THE NUTCRACKER and had a martini at the Plaza. The time I was in the same room as Daniel Radcliffe.

Then I remember the most important part of all.

That I did it even though it terrified me, and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am now. And none of it has been perfect, or easy, but it was right. And thank God it’s sunny here, that the flowers are blooming, and I have a pool – that I haven’t, and won’t, ever go backwards.

#TBT to this message from past me, and all the grace carrying each and every one of us through.

“There is a moment in the midst of the waiting, and crying — a moment in between public outbursts of anger and private laughter over pizza — that you realize the grace is holding. And it’s holding you. It’s holding your baby when he sleeps in his new bedroom. It’s holding the dog when he finds a spot on the floor in your empty house and takes a nap. It’s holding your parents and brothers and all those at home that you miss and miss you. It’s holding. The bottom hasn’t fallen out of your world. You’re just in a new world.”

Blooming

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When I moved into my new house in LA, I wanted a yard full of poppies in springtime. A small thing, sure, but I could see it, and it was going to be glorious. Rows of sunset orange, tangerine, cream and dusty green. I bought seeds, put them in the fresh, damp ground — I expected them to grow.

As spring arrived, and the whole of California it seemed was bathed in that orange glow, my backyard filled up with green stalks. Rows and rows of green. Not a single blossom anywhere. I would walk outside, combing the —what really just looked like weeds at this point — green for the smallest sign of color.

And I was disappointed. I really wanted those flowers to bloom and they weren’t. Every time I saw a poppy on the roadside, or in my neighbor’s yard, it was a small reminder that my flowers might never bloom. It was hard to be happy for the rest of California when my yard was still poppy-free, and my expectations were totally dashed.

But, I didn’t pull up the green, even if it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. One day, maybe, there would be poppies in this garden, maybe I would get to see it, or maybe I would have moved on to some other house, some other garden, some other field of wildflowers waiting to bloom. One day, I would get my little sunset garden.

Sunday afternoon, while I was doing homework at the kitchen table with my son, my eyes traveled to the backyard, to all that wild green, and they caught on something.

Bright, vibrant, wide open, bathing in sunlight. A few perfect poppy flowers.

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When I look closely now, I see a multitude of blooms waiting to open up, promising me flowers for days, more than I even expected.

Expectations can create a false sense of urgency, they can push your patience into panic, your faith into fear. They can make you feel like everyone around you is getting the fields of wildflowers you hoped for, while you are getting green stalks of flowerless weeds. But patience pays off in time. Not pulling up the flowers you planted because they aren’t blooming yet, pays off, too.

Waiting for that warm Sunday, when the sun touches the garden just right, and the first little flower opens up, pays off in spades.

 

A Writer’s Journey

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I wrote my first novel during my then 2-year-old’s afternoon naps in my tiny living room in Brooklyn, NY. Writing it was a fever dream & I was consumed. I poured everything I could muster into it.

But I learned a lot writing that book over and over. I got close to signing with agents and met many of my core writing community during that time. I also learned how to let something go when the time was right.

I used the only guide I had as an early writer: the books I was falling in love with. I copied Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth, Maggie Stiefvater and Leigh Bardugo. I spent way too long revising. Like three years. I obsessed. I didn’t want to give it up.

I wrote another YA fantasy, & it was better because I was a much stronger writer then. I landed an agent & I went out on sub. I wanted the sale, and it never came. It was time to go back to the drawing board again.

I also kept writing screenplays. Then, thanks to a real life fangirl experience, I fell in love with Comic Con. I became deeply fascinated, rooted, to what it meant to be a fan. I wrote a screenplay set at Comic Con that was about grief & isolation & being alive.

I ended up submitting that script to Austin Film Fest & placing in the second round of the competition. I decided to write it as a book. I’d never written anything contemporary before, or this personal, or this truly, deeply completely ME. It was exhilarating.

During the writing of that book, we decided to move to LA, and then I decided to part ways with my agent. To go back into the query trenches was terror inducing, but staying where I was no longer felt right.

I began querying again in January 2017. I had a 100% request rate. It was a roller coaster of feels. And then it was nothing. After few reluctant passes, mostly silence, I felt powerless, & confused, & I was not doing great with it.

I started writing a book with my writing partner. For six months, we wrote ELLIE IS COOL NOW on Wattpad & I worked on a solo book in the background. Then ELLIE took off. We were nominated for the Watty Awards, and won! It was freeing, and empowering.

January 2nd, 2019 I decided to query five more agents. I decided that would be it. Whatever happened, it was well with my soul. I searched MSWL on Twitter, & that’s when I saw Devin Ross. I had a punch in my gut that I should to query her.

And then she requested. Then she emailed me less than a week later in the middle of the night to set up a call. I ran around the house. I punched the air. (& maybe my husband a few times from excitement.

She offered to represent me. She loved this thing I loved and wanted to work on it – wanted to work with me. It was exactly where I was supposed to be, a whole year later than I expected.

The journey we take as writers is a lot like the journey we take as people. We think we have a path we’re on, & that we know where it’s leading, what it will look like. We even think we know what we want. Then we learn: we don’t know, not a lick.

Your journey may be different. It might seem easy for me to say “Never give up” because so far that’s worked well for me. But it isn’t. There’s nothing easy about looking back. At any point I could have stopped – I DID stop even – & I might never have gotten back up.

Now I have to believe that book will sell (and sure, another will if not that one but that’s not the point) – I have to believe somewhere very near is my next yes, and somewhere out there is yours.

Never give up. No matter what.

COMMIT

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WRITING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A HOBBY.

When I was 26 -years-old, I moved to Brooklyn with my husband and son. The move was for my husband’s career — at the time my career was caring for my then two-year-old son. But I had always WANTED to write. To be a WRITER. I had dabbled in it for years- mostly with one act plays and screenplays that lived in perpetually unfinished states of being.

Writing was a hobby, for me, not a career.

I will never forget the moment that changed. I was sitting on my front stoop watching my son draw with chalk on the sidewalk. The sun was low and everything was bathed in orange and pink light. I had just started writing my first novel EVER and I was in that heady stage of early romance with the process. It was unfamiliar and sexy and deeply, unthinkably terrifying.

It was a beautiful evening, and I was doing what I had always done with my time — and LOVED doing — except one thing had changed.

ME.

My fingers itched to type. My head swam with a character’s voice. I was in another world and it was exactly where I wanted to be. Right then and there, I knew I had to commit.
I had to call myself a WRITER.

I had to admit I wanted to make money with my craft. I had to claim the time necessary to get there. Because I wanted it for more than a hobby — I was love-drunk with it and I never wanted to break up. I knew that in order to get where I wanted to go, I had to stop pretending there was anywhere else I COULD go. That any other thing would ever be ENOUGH.

Making the transition from I WRITE IN MY SPARE TIME to I AM A WRITER takes nothing more than a moment of choice. For me, that moment was there on a red brick stoop outside my Brooklyn pad, watching the sunset and knowing I had work yet to do that day. Every time I sit down to write, I commit again. I’ve been committing for seven-years straight. Through multiple novels and screenplays, ghostwriting jobs, and MANY ups and downs in the publishing industry.

I KEEP ON COMMITTING.

If you want to be a writer – then you are one. You don’t need permission. You just need to commit.

MORE

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Today we signed a lease for a new place in LA, and we’re so excited, but not just because it’s bigger, with a yard and a pool and a cute little patio, on a quiet tree-lined street, but because we just did a thing neither of us ever really expected we’d do. And we LOVE surprising ourselves.

Six years ago, we were living in Brooklyn, and we needed to move. Our grocery store had closed down, which had changed the landscape of our neighborhood dramatically – something you can really only understand if you have lived in New York City. I couldn’t imagine committing to another apartment, because that meant committing to Brooklyn for another year. So we didn’t. We found a house back in Texas, and we left.

For years I have gone back to that moment, the moment I chose to leave. I’ve examined it from different angles, in different light, under a microscope of new experience, lessons learned. I never question my choice, but recently I began to question the reason behind it. I was afraid of that really being where I lived. I was afraid of not making it there. I couldn’t commit because I didn’t believe I was capable, or it was right.

We don’t have to move in LA. Our apartment is nice. We have a Starbucks right across the street. Our landlord is low-key. But still I knew— as I began to make new commitments in LA, and my son wanted friends over, wanted space, more autonomy, and my dreams began to take shape in big ways— we were starting to outgrow the walls of our apartment.

Examining your feelings can be SCARY. It always surprises me what I’m actually feeling at all when I take the time to look closely. When I saw this house was for lease, I knew, in that small place reserved for absolutes, this was my house. It was easy to choose it, and then easier to pursue it with bulldog tenacity. Then easier still to work through the challenges that arose, the fears, the stretching. It was easy because I DECIDED it would be.

Guys. I cannot stress to you enough how important that part of the equation is. Deciding to believe, or not believe, will make the difference. Faith is not about what it visible and proven, it is about what you believe without seeing.

So when I signed the lease today, sent the money, drove by again to glimpse my future, I wasn’t scared of all the unknown ahead of me. I was excited for all the growing I get to do in that bigger, brighter house. Because now there is space for something MORE.

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The Art of Goal Making

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I’ve been thinking a lot about goals. What they actually are. How we achieve them if they are dependent on outside forces. Where we draw the line in our pursuit and shift the goal so we can find success. I’ve been thinking a lot about it because, from the outside, it looks like I must have a lot of goals. But recently I realized, I don’t.

Before you roll your eyes and point to my Instagram, listen.

Eleven-years-ago, I was a receptionist at a title company in Texas. I vehemently despised this position. People irritated me. Having a boss irritated me. Making cookies for house closings, irritated me. I was irritated about getting up in the morning, and irritated about going to bed at night. The job was a means to an end. My husband was in school full-time, and we needed the income until he graduated.

What I really wanted was a baby. I didn’t actually know if I could ever want anything more.

It was an all-consuming desire that turned into an unachievable goal.

Every month I wasn’t pregnant, my mind whirled with fear. All the trying in the world (and believe me, we tried A LOT) wouldn’t make it happen. I did everything right. I ate well. I cut back on caffeine. I was active. I spiraled and spiraled. All around me, friends jubilantly announced pregnancies, sent photos of sonograms, cried happily into the phone. I wanted to be happy for them, obviously I did, but there was a tiny, barren place in my heart where true joy for them, and real hope for me, went to die.

And, oh yeah, I still really hated my job.

During that year, I began working on a screenplay I’d had in my head for years. And even though I still had the desire for that baby, and even though I still wanted to burn the cookies and tell off my boss, I began to want something else, too. I didn’t yet have the words for what it was or the courage to say it allowed, but I was changing. The goal still mattered, but it wasn’t the only goal.

Ten years ago, I was fired from my job as a receptionist. They were downsizing and looking for fat they could trim. I literally volunteered — I might as well have been Katniss. My husband was about to graduate, we had some savings, he’d get a job — whatever. We agreed it was the right time.

Free from my desk job nightmare, I threw myself in writing. I finished the screenplay. I began planning something new. And the week before I found out I was pregnant, I had a straight up gin martini and told my husband I was glad I hadn’t gotten pregnant when I wanted to.

I had found peace in the pursuit.

At no point in this journey did I consciously alter my goal. Never did I make a declaration— privately or otherwise — that I didn’t care anymore about being pregnant. I never stopped pursuing it, even though there were times I really believed giving up would at least lead to some inner peace. I continued to do my part, which, let’s face it, was super fun, and somewhere along the way I stopped holding so tight to the when.

It wasn’t until my son was two-years-old, that I genuinely started to imagine a life as a writer. I’ve talked about this before, but I made some serious missteps in my goal setting there. Because, I made the goal something totally outside my own ability to control, and I have spent years undoing that. I’m still undoing it.

The goal is the work — the creative life. Everything else is external, and in case you didn’t know, you have no control on the external. You cannot make an agent love your book. You cannot make a publisher buy it. You cannot make readers run to bookstores or download it on their Kindle.

You cannot make anyone give a shit about you. It is more important that you give a shit about yourself.

Love the hell out of your work. Write the book, the screenplay, the poem. Take your time. Do all the work. Learn all you can about the work. Love every minute even when that particular minute majorly sucks. Then, take a seat, have a gin martini straight up, and thank God you didn’t get it when you wanted because look at all you have learned along the way.

You never know when it’s going to change.

All the Dreams

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I’m going to tell you a story about why I write for young readers. Years ago, before I had my son, moved to Brooklyn, or ever wrote a YA novel, I wrote one act plays for kids. They were produced locally, and I always ended up directing for lack of anyone else stepping up. During that time, I met and worked with a slew of 7-12 year olds who had never acted or read a script in their young lives. They didn’t know they could or should.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be famous. My mother and father were familiar with big dreams, so they encouraged me, but parents are usually the last person you want to hear from when you’re young and ambitious. It would have been something to have a teacher, or a cool, successful artist, a someone other than my parents tell me I should keep shooting for the stars. In spite of that, I never lost my drive, though occasionally it did get waylaid.

While writing for and directing these kids, I uncovered heaps of hidden talent — kids who went on to become YouTube famous, stars of high school plays, dreamers of other big dreams at top tier colleges.

A few months ago, while visiting Texas, I ran into one of the girls I’d plucked from shyness and set center stage. She’d been twelve at the time, with long brown hair and a tiny button nose, and she’d never been asked to sing in public before, never been under a spotlight. I had a gut feeling she could sing, and so I promised her she wouldn’t regret singing during her audition. She landed the lead role in the play. A lead role with a difficult (original) solo. She’s now a senior in college, a stellar violinist about to graduate with a music and vocal major.

As we talked, reminiscing about that special time all those years ago, she said, “I just want you to know, if you hadn’t made me play that role and sing that song, I would never have studied voice in college. You showed me it was an option.”

Even writing this now, I’m tearing up. I’m thinking how my certainty we should always do the very scary, big thing created an opportunity, her trust that I would protect her in the room gave her the confidence, but her talent carried her onto the stage. She was always gifted, she just needed someone to provide a spotlight.

I am not a teacher. I know teachers must know how this feels, much more profoundly than me. But in that moment I knew, my investment in that child had paid off in ways I never imagined. And it was so incredibly worth it.

This weekend I spent time with my friend Sara Biren— a fantastic writer and award nominated author —and her two kids. Actually, mostly her two kids. I was in town for a Book Awards ceremony to honor Sara, but now that I’m homebound, I wonder…maybe I was in town for her kids, too.

I talked to her daughter about the possibility of traveling the world, of never limiting yourself to a safe and obvious path. We filmed a YouTube video. I talked to her son about becoming a filmmaker, discussing themes and shot composition. How he’s not getting off with any excuses that he’s too busy or it’s too hard. How his love of movies is more than entertainment.

We are never too old to pursue our dreams. We are never too young to believe they can one day be real.

We sometimes do need a push in the right direction.