New words, old machine

Typewriter


My grandparents had an old typewriter I loved to set up in their living room, pulling off the dustcover with a flourish on lazy summer days. In fifth grade, well before the age of smartphones and tablets or even personal computers, my typing skills weren’t exactly stellar. It took me forever to type even the simplest of sentences, and I constantly debated carriage returns so I wouldn’t run out of room on a line (the horror!).

It was fun, and I wrote all sorts of short stories — mostly about a bunny family or a tornado ripping through a small town (watching too much “Twister”). I’m pretty sure some “Star Wars” and Luke Skywalker fan fiction was sprinkled in there, too. But being a lifelong perfectionist, having to cover up my mistakes with correction fluid was intolerable.

Intolerable. And messy.

Friends, I was the kid who could not stand cross-outs and misspelled words in her assignments — yet refused to write in pencil. To this day, I’m a gel pen girl all the way. I was OCD enough to rewrite any essay littered with mistakes, carefully forming the letters until it was absolutely crisp . . . even if it took all afternoon. Rough drafts all the way.

I wrote on college-ruled paper, refusing to touch the wide-ruled stuff. I hated my handwriting until middle school, when I began to practice and practice and practice creating words and sentences until they were pretty and perfect, just the way I wanted to be.

I haven’t changed much.

Though I loved the look and feel of that old typewriter with its thin, unmarred pages, it was a potential disaster zone of incorrect punctuation and unclean sentences. Living in the digital age, I love the ease with which I can crank out thoughts on a “page” — or, um, Word document — to be shared in a blog post, on Instagram, in a Facebook post. I love the instantaneous connection of Twitter, the community we’ve built here.

But there’s something nostalgic and romantic about the humble typewriter, isn’t there? Out at a giant antiques store with my mom and sister last weekend, we found tons of them on side tables in vendors’ booths. The one at top was a favorite — weathered, a little dusty, but able to produce bold words again.

When Spence and I have the space, I’m getting one.

Maybe it’ll even be pink.


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Etsy Find Fridays: Writerly inspiration

The first thing I can ever remember writing was a poem about rain. I was 6, in the first grade, and I’d just begun to make the connection that letters formed words . . . and words? Well, words formed everything. In the living room on a rainy day, I took a small pink (pink!) notebook and scribbled down a few phrases. Then I proudly showed my handiwork off to my baby sister and parents.

I don’t remember their reactions, but I’m sure they were struck dumb by my brilliance. I mean, rain? Who has ever written a poem about nature’s beauty — or that wet stuff falling from the sky? I was a prodigy. A revolutionary. I was changing the world!

Ahem.

Aside from a stint in the creative writing program in college, I haven’t crafted many poems — but have diversified my subject matter. Twice a week, I write about my life and adventures for the newspapers where I work. Only 450 words and focused on whatever pops into my brain, the columns come easily. It’s like blogging . . . just in print. Where 50,000 people read it.

Sometimes that scares me.

But that’s another blog post.

No, the columns don’t cause me any trouble, friends. Sometimes the stress of trying to be consistently witty is a little daunting, but that’s totally a #firstworldproblem and not something I would ever complain about. (You know, not in public.) I know how lucky I am.

It’s everything else that’s tricky.

The short format of my articles and these here blog posts have ruined me. After failing to complete a novel for National Novel Writing Month for the second year in a row, I’m beginning to worry that I don’t have the stamina to sustain a single plotline over the course of a 200-page manuscript. Am I now only capable of writing short non-fiction? Am I — gasp — A SHORTY?

Well, yes; I’m short (5’2″). But I don’t want to be known only for the little thoughts I scribble down. I do want to finish another novel, and I do want to seek publication for my works. So unless I’m scooped up and asked to pen a hilarious memoir about cupcakes, online dating and pumpkin spice lattes, I need to get my act together. I’d love to be the next Laurie Notaro or Jen Lancaster, but I have to be realistic. I have yet to be informed that someone soiled themselves while reading something I’ve shared, so I have plenty of work to do. And have to get back to pluggin’ away on ye old book.

But first? I need a little inspiration. And leave it to Etsy to deliver it.


Literary Megs, volume four: Meg Rosoff

Sometime in the not-so-distant past, I got on a young adult dystopian kick — and, you know, of course I blame book bloggers for my introduction to a genre that has simultaneously captivated and horrified me. It all started in 2009 with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and quickly progressed to Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, a book which kept me up late at night in a cold sweat. A book I couldn’t stop buzzing about.

Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now was a book similar in scope but with a totally different feel. Set in an undisclosed future, it chronicles the life of 15-year-old Daisy, an American teen visiting her aunt and cousins in England when a war breaks out. We never know the nature of the battle, nor what’s really happening; it’s all a blur of Occupation, death, destruction and fear.

In the wake of it all, though, is love — and that’s the part that’s stuck with me. Regardless of whether or not it triggers your gag reflex, Daisy falls in love with her cousin, Edmond, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen incest portrayed in . . . well, in such a believable way. Because Daisy and Edmond didn’t really know each other before her arrival in the UK, right? It’s not as though they were raised side-by-side in the same loving family, only later acknowledging their feelings for one another.

Have I intrigued you yet?

As I wrote in last year’s review, How I Live Now was a powerful read that has stuck with me — especially after my memory was refreshed in July. And who do we have to thank for that but Meg Rosoff, the book’s author?

Rosoff is an American writer based in London, according to Wikipedia, and has published numerous young adult novels since How I Live Now, which debuted in 2004 and garnered the Michael L. Printz Award in 2005. Other titles by Rosoff include The Bride’s Farewell, What I Was, Just In Case and Vamoose!.

Visit her blog and back catalog on Goodreads. And when you can? Pick up How I Live Now — I’d love to hear your thoughts.


“Literary Megs” is an occasional feature I do covering — you guessed it! — authors and books related to the name “Meg.” Past posts have featured Meg Cabot, Meggie from The Thorn Birds (my namesake) and Megan’s Island, a childhood favorite of mine.

Jonathan Safran Foer might be a jerk, but I kind of still love him

An interesting discussion broke out on Twitter yesterday — as interesting discussions are wont to do — between the wonderful Andi of Estella’s Revenge and yours truly. After I noticed the list of attendees for this year’s National Book Festival had been posted, I gleefully announced my excitement over the prospect of seeing Jonathan Safran Foer, an author I’ve respected and admired for years.

Er, well, that’s basically what I said.


(If you want a history of the whole #pantyworthy thing, stop by The Book Lady’s Blog
Rebecca’s the originator. And it was too apt to not include.)


Anywho, friends, I sent out my gleeful tweet and started pondering the ways in which I would get close enough to touch Jonathan Safran Foer’s little writing fingers (is that creepy? Am I weird?) when Andi hit me back.



And this got me thinking. What do I see in Foer? I know many folks share Andi’s thoughts and I’ve certainly read enough interviews/reviews to know many think he’s pedantic, irreverent, conceited. Arrogant. Haughty. And so on.

Usually when someone is generally accepted to be a pretentious jerk, I run so far and fast from their work, you’d think I was headed to a Starbucks offering unlimited pumpkin spice lattes. But Foer? No. Not my Foer.

. . .  And why?

In the summer of 2006, I read Foer’s two novels to date: Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I might not have read them both that summer, but I read them in a very short time period while I was commuting to Washington, D.C., where I had an internship with a city newspaper.

My typing fingers were very busy that summer as I researched articles, made phone calls, interviewed locals and wrote, wrote, wrote. It was exhilarating. It was terrifying. At 20 years old, I felt like I was doing something. Going somewhere. Each morning as I left the commuter bus from Southern Maryland and stepped foot on K Street, I felt like a real, serious member of the world. I didn’t think journalism was for me — ironic, considering I’m now an editor and columnist at a newspaper — but I loved it all the same. In between the times I was so nervous about screwing things up, I feared I was having a panic attack.

As I made my daily trek from the suburbs to downtown D.C., I had plenty of time on the bus to do as I pleased — which, when I wasn’t napping, meant reading. It’s hard for me to now remember a world in which I didn’t blog about books, but for a while? Well, I read like a maniac — but never recorded a thing. The details of so many books I read during that time — four or five books a week — have softened, faded and dulled. I can’t tell you the plots, characters or settings. And I can barely recall what I read unless someone asks me about a specific book.

Foer’s novels, though, have remained whole, intact in my memory: souvenirs from my summer adventure. Everything Is Illuminated was a book I devoured over two days. It drew me in from page one, depositing me in a foreign world with a foreign narrator and enveloping me in this whacky, difficult quest. The flashbacks were disorienting; the language could be confusing. Sometimes? Well, honestly, I wasn’t sure what was going on.

But I fell in love. With the book. With the author.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, told from the perspective of a young New Yorker whose father died on Sept. 11, was in a completely different vein — but I loved it just the same. Some of the passages and images included, especially of the “Falling Man,” have haunted me. They hover just behind my eyelids before I fall asleep. It was such an emotional read, a book that has stuck with me. It was also the first novel I’d read that addressed Sept. 11, a subject which was still rough and raw — especially for people I knew, people who lived and worked and played in D.C. It seemed like every local community and town lost people in the Pentagon attacks; several of those we lost attended my high school.

It was hard.

So I did love the books. And, you know, I think he’s cute. (And I know he’s married and I’m all kinds of in love, too, so don’t worry about me waving Foer’s novels around and tryin’ to be a homewrecker.) But what is it that keeps me coming back to them, that makes me remember them with a sense of awe — and even reverence?

Well, it had to be the time period.

When I think of Everything Is Illuminated — actually think about the book — I picture myself propped up in a comfy seat, bent slightly over the creased novel I’d just taken from my work bag. I’m sweaty from walking down the street to catch the bus, the stickiness and nastiness of summer in Washington clinging to my dewy skin. I’m young, relieved to be done with the work day; I’m struggling to move forward, still nursing a broken heart. I reach deep into the novel to take me away, and it’s not long before I’m crying. The first novel to make me cry in public.

Remembering Foer’s books makes me remember that time in my life — a difficult time, but an exciting one. Young, still in college, with a whole lifetime before me — well, it makes me nostalgic. There’s no other way to put it.

Now, I’m not exactly washed up. At nearly 25, I have a job I enjoy, a great family, a handsome and ridiculously awesome boyfriend. I get to write and read for a living. I run this blog, my pretty baby, which has brought so many wonderful people into my life.

But looking back to that summer, well . . . it just makes me feel whimsical. For what was and what I knew would eventually be. I made new friends, new contacts — I worked in a real office. I had my own work number. I was in the city and worked near the White House. It was the year I came of age, if you will. And Foer’s books were a definitive part of that.

Now, whether the guy is actually a pretentious twit? Well, I’ll let you know come September. Don’t let me down, Jonathan. Please don’t let me down.


Pam Jenoff: Fear and Loathing — The Three Scariest Moments In A Writer’s Life

When I was but a lowly bookseller at the chain bookstore in my hometown — which was, you know, about a year ago — I distinctly remember holding a paperback copy of Pam Jenoff’s The Diplomat’s Wife in my overworked fingers. My coworkers raved about it; customers raved about it. But my time with Pam Jenoff was still yet to come!

Because it’s now my pleasure to welcome Pam to write meg! with a topic near and dear to my own heart: a writer’s life. And while I can only hope to one day experience the terror Pam describes below, we’re all fortunate to share in her wisdom — and excellent books. Almost Home, recently reviewed, was a fabulous thriller full of all the British details I love above all else — and I can’t wait to grab The Diplomat’s Wife and The Kommandant’s Girl in the near future.


Fear And Loathing —
The Three Scariest Moments In A Writer’s Life

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Being an author is scary — really scary. Maybe this comes as no surprise, but when I was an aspiring author (okay, I am still aspiring to write, but I’m referring here to the pre-publication days) I thought getting there would be the hardest part. And that was very difficult, but I find the actual process of being published and putting my work out there even more terrifying. There are three moments in particular that send chills down my spine just thinking of them.

First, there’s sending off a manuscript to my editor (and sometimes my agent as well). There can be many weeks (or months) of nail-biting before getting feedback. I’ve actually had a nightmare during this waiting phase about an editor telling me what a stinking pile of poo the book I’d just labored on for a year really was. In actuality, the feedback is more positive and constructive than that. The second part of this phase, after I incorporate the editor’s feedback and wait to see if I’ve hit the mark, is equally frightening. Once it is all over, and the editor is generally satisfied with the manuscript, my stomach unclenches somewhat. In fact, I think the three sweetest words in the English language may be “delivery and acceptance” (meaning the manuscript is largely good to go).

The second terrifying phase to me is the pre-publication reviews. A few months before a book hits the shelves, it can be reviewed by one (or more if you’re lucky) of four industry publications: Publishers’ Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal and Booklist. This is the first taste of what the trade thinks of a book and it is always a real nail-biter for me. Some of these publications may denote books which reviewers particularly like with a star. The much-coveted “starred review” can send important signals to booksellers and can also cause a publisher to pay more attention to a book. But the whole process is so shrouded in mystery: Which publications will review the book this time? Will reviewers like the book, and if so, which parts? Will it get that elusive star?

But I think the scariest phase of being published is the period after the book comes out. You walk into the bookstore and finally hold your baby in your arms. Then you realize: People are going to (hopefully) read your guts-spilled-out-and-bound-up-as-book. People you don’t know, some of whom will post nice-and-not-so-nice reviews. People you do know like (gulp!) your mother. You fiendishly check your Amazon rankings and wait for the feedback.

At some point (hopefully early on while you are still waiting for editor feedback) you have to put the fear away and sit back down at the computer and keep working on the next one. After all as authors, that is what we do — write. (And fret. Lots and lots of fretting.) Then, depending upon the nature of your contract, it’s time to take the next one out to market, and see if the door will open when you knock once more. But that’s a whole other type of fear… and a topic for another day.

— Pam Jenoff

Since writers write, I’ll be writing

So after a very long dry spell in which I spent the majority of my time editing, reading and reviewing other people’s books, I’ve recently returned to a novel I started over the summer. I wrote about 17,000 words — roughly 50 pages — before hitting a wall with the plot. It didn’t take long for me to back away and find something else to do . . . anything else to do, really. Like reading books. And making stuff. And cleaning. And blogging. And getting all excited over a boy I met this fall — before just trying to forget that boy.

But now? It’s December. I think I’ve had plenty of time to enjoy holiday preparation, read, shop, make things and, oh, live outside the confines of one single Word document. So the moment to return to a vast and terrifying world of my creation had come; it was time to get back to that novel.

The only trouble there? I was terrified.

When I started work on this story several months ago, I felt I’d hit a stride — and was finally writing in my own “voice” and fleshing out a unique story only I could tell. It was fiction, sure, but my own little brand of fiction! I’m sure that’s arrogant and ridiculous. And maybe all writers feel that way. (Do they? I don’t know.) Basically, I didn’t think my story sucked. Was it going to win a Pulitzer? Probably not. And especially not if I only had fifty pages written. But it was a start.

Pulling up that document a few days ago was stomach-pain-inducing. Through my NaNoWriMo troubles this year, I kept reminding myself that I did have something on the backburner — I couldn’t be too mad at myself because I did start a new novel this year and, with any luck, it wouldn’t be terrible. I can still call myself a writer because I do write, and I have written something in 2009!

And I would finish it, bringing the grand total of My Life’s Important Body Of Work to four novels and a fat portfolio of random, mostly lovesick poetry.

If my book on the backburner — this project I thought could be The Project, see — turned out to be drivel, I’d be back to that insecure, terrible beginning: trying to find a healthy, viable plot. And that can be kind of a scary place to be. And by “kind of,” I mean really, really scary.

So imagine the general bolstering of my spirits when I clicked open the book — creatively titled “Movie1.doc,” as part of the plot revolves around the writing of this “very important” screenplay — and read ten pages. And laughed. And then read ten more — and smiled. And then read the remaining thirty pages or so and immediately began writing, shoving right past the creative wall I’d struck headfirst before to push the story forward by miles. I can already spot some plot holes and definitely need to deal with a switching-to-present-tense in the middle of the story issue (you know, um, minor things like that), but overall? I’m liking this — genuinely liking it.

And instead of just worrying about the story “going somewhere,” I’m going to make it go somewhere — without the endless drama and excuses on my part. Writers write, and I am a writer. December is my month; 2010 will be my year. Posting this is a way of forcing my own hand — of publicly stating this serious promise to myself. And it’s one promise I will definitely be keeping.

the atlantic ocean makes a comeback

pen_journalLike cleaning out an attic, basement or bedroom, cleaning out the files on my flash drive is a daunting task! It’s impossible to tell what I’ll find on there: old novels, started then discarded; random photos I’ve culled into “collections” over the years; bits of story ideas, some developed; favorite quotes; graphics I’ve made for others, and for myself.

The most surprising thing I’ve found lately is a collection of poetry created in my senior year of college. During my final semester in the creative writing program, we were asked to compile our favorite works by poets both popular and unknown. I had a crazy time trying to narrow it down to less than twenty, but I did succeed — and I put them all in one Word document, making sure I had the fonts and spacing exactly similar for each one! That’s my editor OCD kicking in again.

Since printing out those poems and putting them in a folder two and a half years ago, I’d completely forgotten about my project — which I called “atlantic ocean.” I wasn’t into using capital letters then — including in my own name! — and I’d forgotten how different and serious I was! I guess that’s a byproduct of sitting around, writing poetry all day. Poets aren’t typically heel-clicking, cackling and ecstatic people. In fact, a lot of sallow-faced, beret-wearing scribblers come to mind! (For the record, I look terrible in hats — no beret for me.)

So who made the cut and was featured in Megan’s “atlantic ocean: an anthology”? Folks like Robert Frost , Billy Collins and Charles Simic, of course, but also outstanding writers like Li-Young Lee , Kim Addonizio and Galway Kinnell.

Poetry was once such an enormous part of my life, I would actually find myself “translating” life into poetry as I went about my daily nonsense! As I strolled across campus, sat down to have lunch or tapped a pen restlessly against a desk, I would try to pick out pieces of everyday living that made me question what I was or where I was going. Or just to look at something simple — something mundane — and examine it with fresh, open eyes. Since finishing my time in the English department and departing for the “real world,” my life-to-poetry translator device has been switched off like a basement light. I wonder how much of that was a conscious decision on my part and how much was merely life becoming, for a time, less interesting and less beautiful.

I wrote my first poem in two years this weekend and, though it’s certainly nothing to matte and frame, I’m proud of it. I’m proud that, for the first time in a long time, I parted my lips with something to say. Something that was real — something just for me. And finding this anthology buried in my files has only made the moment that much sweeter!

As fall is settling down into the crevices of every sidewalk, back yard and shopping mall, my life, too, is beginning again.

And I can’t talk about poetry without sharing poetry, so here are a few of my favorites from “atlantic ocean”:



Eating Together
by Li-Young Lee

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.



Love Poem
by Linda Pastan

I want to write you
a love poem as headlong
as our creek
after thaw
when we stand
on its dangerous
banks and watch it carry
with it every twig
every dry leaf and branch
in its path
every scruple
when we see it
so swollen
with runoff
that even as we watch
we must grab
each other
and step back
we must grab each
other or
get our shoes
soaked we must
grab each other