Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sabbatical: Day 15

So the writer's workshop is almost over. Tomorrow is the last day, and already I miss it. They are all making plans to get together for dinner in Athens when they return on Monday, but I'll be on my way to Mykonos with Annalize (one of my new workshop buddies and an amaaazing woman), who will be going on to another island that afternoon, after which I'll be on my own.

Today we had a guest speaker, Adrien, a poet who lives in Athens. She told us a little about prose poetry and that the most important part of writing poems is precision. When writing poetry, you must be very economical with your words, using only the most necessary ones. There should be some sort of tension, as our instructor Natalie is always reminding us, followed by a resolution or payoff. If you're able to do this in a poem, it can only help your prose writing.

Then we workshopped a few poems in class. Amalia wrote a beautiful poem about the death of her father. Miriam read a gorgeous piece that she wrote for her daughter's wedding. I continue to be so impressed with everyone in this group!

Then we discussed the pantoum, a form poem in which the second and third lines of the first stanza become the first and third lines of the second stanza, and so on and so on, until the last stanza, where the third and first lines of the first stanza become the second and fourth lines of the last stanza. Yeah, I know that sounds confusing, but it's actually really cool and I urge you to give it a try.

We shared our poems with one another as we sat in the empty restaurant by the pool, listening to the sounds of a student dance recital being held on the tennis courts. (Greek kids seem to really like Gwen Stefani.) Dawn wrote a moving poem about her friend finally leaving her abusive husband. Dimple wrote about the pressure she feels to live up to society's expectations (it was great--and she's never written poetry before!). I'm reading Michelle's now, but I'm sure it's amazing. (She is working on a book of poems and I'm sure she'll be published as soon as she's done, she's that good.)

Part of what I wanted to accomplish while I am here is to write a wedding poem for my best friend, who is getting married in August. She requested a Velasquez original. So I decided to make my pantoum about her, about us--how we felt about love as 12-year-old kids and how we feel about it now all these years later, as she is about to marry a wonderful man. The other women in the workshop really liked it, including the visiting poet, to my relief. They all say that even though it's not a Hallmark-type poem meant to be read at a wedding necessarily, I should definitely give it to my friend. I think I will. It's a little personal to reprint here, but I'll give you the one I wrote when Natalie gave us the prompt: "I did it because..." Enjoy.

I Did It Because 
(a haiku by Crystal Velasquez)

I did it because
Everyone said not to.
What did they expect?

P.S. Tonight's dinner was Greek salad with giant blocks of feta cheese, risotto, pork, bread, some delicious cheese cake-type custard dessert with a gram cracker crust and berries on top, and big slabs of watermelon and green melon. I am going to miss this place very, very much. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sabbatical: Day 14 (?)--Andros

Sorry I haven't been able to update this blog. Today is the first time I've actually gotten a signal in my room! In any case, I've been busy writing, which is nice. The workshop so far is phenomenal. All the women in my writing group are amazing writers and their comments on my short story (well, the beginning of a short story that could become a novel) really helped. I've been working on this story for years and haven't finished it. But I think I might now. And they are recommending so many books to me that I may have to clear out the library when I get home.

The only down side so far: Right before I got on the ferry heading to Andros, I fell on a slippery sidewalk ramp and WHAM! I went down...hard. I twisted my ankle and have been hobbling around ever since. The hotel was kind enough to provide me with a pair of crutches, and they even took me to the hospital for X-rays, where I found out that nothing was broken. I just have some strained ligaments. My hope is I'll be fine in a day or two. But even if I'm not, I'll just limp around, I guess. Nothing will stop me from enjoying this trip!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sabbatical: Day 11 (I think)

Right now I am sitting on a balcony in a high-end hotel in Athens overlooking the Acropolis. 

It is about 6:30 in the morning and all I can hear are the chirping of birds and trees rustling in the breeze. Below me the streets are empty and the bushes are full of pink and white flowers. And soon I will get showered and dressed so I can have breakfast at the rooftop restaurant and then do a little shopping before I meet up with the other writers in the workshop.

Wow. It's been a long time since I've woken up this relaxed. It took a long time to get here (about 7 hours on a plane to Poland and then another two and a half from there to Athens), but it was worth it. Is this how the other half lives all the time? If so, I really want to be in that half. For now, I'll just enjoy this brief vacation from work, work, work. I'm looking forward to meeting the other writers and getting to spend some time writing something new, something literary, something with no deadline in sight. Aaahh... So far, I think Greece and I are going to get along just fine.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sabbatical: Day 1

Yesterday was my first official day of my sabbatical. No work for a month! I am free to do whatever I want! Naturally, I started off my day See, I foolishly accepted two proofreading jobs that of course need to be handed in before I leave for Greece. So I got up early and spent a couple of hours reading. The cool part about being a freelance proofreader is that I read all the time for fun anyway. So getting paid to do it almost feels like I'm running some sort of scam. Ha! They're actually paying me to read. Suckers!

But I couldn't do that for long since I had to get dressed and head to Times Square, where I met with a few friends of mine for Selena's birthday brunch at Blue Fin. If you ever get a chance to go, you won't be sorry. The food is amazing. We're talking feta omelets with peppers, tomatoes, and onions, home fries, perfectly cooked turkey bacon, lemon blueberry pancakes, warm raisin bread, creme brulee with fresh strawberries and cookies; chocolate mousse cake, peppermint tea... Mm mm good. Good call, Selena! The waiters brought the birthday girl a parfait desert with a lit candle and the rest of us sang her the birthday song while she blew out the candle. Then she opened her presents and we toasted to another fabulous year in her life. The four of us sat and talked for a long time, even after the food was gone and the rest of the place had emptied out. Then we headed over to the movie theater on 8th Avenue to see The A-Team. Loved it!

Finally, Dionne and Selena headed off to 34th Street to do a little shopping, Diane headed home, and I hopped on the 7 train to return to Flushing and get back to work. All in all, day one of my sabbatical? Good times.

On the menu today: More work, and a trip to a spa in Brooklyn with Stephanie. (We both have gift certificates that we never used, so we're cashing them in today.) Sixty-minute massage and facial, here I come!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Once again, I've been an absentee blogger. But the upside of that is that I now have tons of stuff to fill you in on. First of all, YOUR LIFE, BUT COOLER is now on the stands! So definitely run and pick that up. (You can find it online if you can't get to a bookstore.) Just today it was reviewed by Girls' Life magazine:

So far, so good.

I was also interviewed by Ellen Scordato for her Barnes & Noble grammar blog. My first interview! Check it out:

And I'm excited to report that I have had my first two official in-store author appearances! The first was at the Barnes & Noble in Princeton, NJ, on May 15. But, um, none of you were there. (Doh!) Too bad too, because I had on a new dress and some killer shoes that you guys would have loved. Oh well. Good thing I had invited some friends and my proud parents. We were a small crowd, but the B&N event coordinator, Debi, was great to me.

"You know how many people were at Stephenie Meyers' first reading?" she asked me. I shook my head. "Ten. You know how many were at her second?" I shook my head again. "Six hundred." Okay, so that made me feel a little better. You've got to start somewhere, right? Besides, truth be told, I was extremely nervous before I got there, and when I realized I would be reading only for my parents and a handful of friends (and some guy in the back who was talking on his cell phone), I was kind of relieved. Plus, I got to keep the promotional posters. (Yes, I plan to frame them and put them up in my home office. What of it?) I did do a short reading and even had a little Q&A session, so I got some quality practice in. And Debi showed me where they were displaying my new book and I was happy to see that not only was it placed with the cover facing out, but it was on a shelf at eye level! (Eye level is definitely where you want to be. Trust me.) Afterward my parents and I, along with my friend Shona, drove to downtown Princeton and did a little sightseeing and of course eating. (NOTE: Princeton University is gorgeous.)

The second bookstore appearance at the BookMark Shoppe in Brooklyn on May 20 went a little better in that there were actual kids there. (Hooray!) I owe that all to the genius of the two owners, Christine Freglette and Bina Valenzano, who had the brilliant idea of holding a writing contest for kids leading up to the event. The assignment was to write their own version of a choose-your-adventure story by taking their favorite story or poem and changing it in some way. They could insert themselves in the story, change the ending, whatever they wanted to do. Awesome idea. They got more than fifty entries! How they narrowed it down, I have no idea, because all the entries sounded great. (Speaking of great, if you're ever in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, you must go to the BookMark Shoppe. It's been awhile since I've been in an independent bookstore, and let me tell you, it was refreshing. They had a wonderful selection of books, gift items, cards...all kinds of cool things. And walking in there was just like walking into a warm hug or something.) Anyway, the kids were absolutely adorable, and they actually seemed psyched to meet me. But I was way more excited to meet them and read some of their stories. Again, I read a chapter from Your Life, But Cooler! and then I got to hand the winners their prizes--a gift card and a copy of my book.

Before everyone cleared out, I signed all of their books and we took pictures together. It was a really proud moment for me, and I hope the kids had fun. I'll post my own event photos soon, but in the meantime, you can check out this write-up in the Bay Ridge Eagle to read more about it and see pictures of the winners:

Or check out the BookMark Shoppe's site (check out their brag page) to see all the photos:

In other news, I have something pretty exciting coming up: a trip to Greece and Prague! As you may know, I have a day job at a book publishing company. Because I have worked here for ten years, I am entitled to take a sabbatical, a one-month vacation to use however I wish. Well, I decided I wanted to do something exciting, but where I could also learn a thing or two and be creative. So at the end of June, I'll be participating in a writer's workshop in Andros, one of the islands near Athens. I will spend six days there, writing fiction and poetry, and reading what other people are writing--all while staying in a beautiful hotel on a Greek island. After that, I'm going to see the islands of Mykonos and Santorini. (For all you Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants fans, Santorini is where Lena spent her first summer.) And then I'm off to Prague, which I hear is magical. I. Can't. Wait! I'm a little nervous since this will be the first trip abroad that I've ever taken all by myself, but I hear that's something every person should do at least once in their lifetime if they can. I'm excited to be doing it now. (Of course, I'll be paying for this trip until I'm about 85, but whatever...) And don't worry--I'm taking all of you with me. I'll keep updating this blog as often as I can while I'm traveling and I'll post lots of pictures either here or on the Your Life, But Better Facebook page. 

Oh! And there's one more bit of good news: My manuscript for book #3, Your Life, But Sweeter, has been accepted! Phew... You have no idea how relieved I am. To be honest, I had a bad case of writer's block on this one. But thanks to my friends Camille, Tom, and Dereeka, and my mom--all of whom spent way too much time helping me brainstorm--I got through it. (Thanks, guys!) So be on the lookout for that one this December. 

Okay, time for me to get out of here and drag myself to the gym. (This blog isn't the only thing I've been neglecting while working on the book.) We'll talk again soon!