Thursday, December 31, 2015

So What?

It's taking everything I have to not write pages of New Year's resolutions. If I do, they'll quickly turn into grocery lists that prick at me instead of inspire.

After all, when you're a perfectionist, you always expect more. You drive harder. Your disappointment settles deeper. Go. Go. Go. Onto the next goal.

I challenge myself to stop. Just for a second.

---
1.

I was a solid competitor -- a gamer, I'd even say -- up until my first year competing Level 9. Sure, I'd had occasional bad meets with multi-fall beam routines (what's a greater rite of passage than falling four times and wiping out on your dismount?). Yet I'd also had plenty of success; although I'd started gymnastics at the relatively ancient age of eleven, I'd blown through the levels thanks to coaches who believed in me and judges who rewarded my clean execution.

But Level 9, man. Talk about culture shock. Instead of lighting up under pressure, I could be counted on to fall on multiple events, run into the vault, knock over my coach, and crash on floor. Just for starters. Couple that with the fact that I was also a junior in high school with the "what does my future hold?" fear kicking in, and it was the perfect storm of self-doubt.

"You can't compare yourself to those other girls," my coach said after a practice where I fought back tears. "They've been doing this since they were four. You've been doing this for six years."

I understood the logic, but at the same time, it didn't sink in. It didn't make me say, Hey, you're doing okay for yourself. I wanted to be neck-and-neck with my competitors instead taking myself out of contention. I wanted to blast through my fears that instead took so freakin' long to tiptoe through.

Was I really cut out for this?

---
2.

The one thing I'd always known for certain about my future was that it would involve writing.

Like a true rebellious teen, I'd sneak downstairs at night to write on the family desktop. I made it through senior year of college with thinly-veiled pieces of memoir and flash fiction. I continued to splash around in grad school in poetry, screenwriting, novel writing.

I would get published one day. I didn't know what the process entailed, or whether it'd be fiction or nonfiction, but I was certain I could do it. More than that, I wanted it.

Here's what I didn't count on in a post-book deal world: the debilitating fear that settled in and hasn't given up residency in the past couple of years. You'll never finish anything else. You're not cut out for fiction. Nobody cares what you have to say. 

I started a new book. Scrapped it. Started something else and picked at it slowly, in bursts followed by silence.

Just finish this and you can retire, I began telling myself this summer. You don't have to write another book. 

Was I really cut out for this?

---

3.

The worst thing happened that season: I didn't qualify to States.

While my other teammates prepared, I quietly took a day or two off. And then I was back at practice, going about my business. I still had another year before college, and there was no way I was graduating without competing at States.

Then, when senior year rolled around, I was the last gymnast left standing.

The teammates who were my age had all quit or switched gyms. Suddenly, I was the oldest in the gym and the highest level, with my fellow Level 9s several years younger than me.

Slowly, I began settling into my skills. Sure, I still had some solid crashes. At my first meet of the season, though, something was missing: the I'm-going-to-puke nerves. The nerves that had helped me to some of my best performances (and my worst). I no longer felt completely terrified. I was simply going to do what I could do and try to enjoy it as best as I could.

And when I competed my final routine at States and wiped out on my bars dismount, I stood up, saluted to the judges, and laughed.

---
4.

This August, everything came to a head -- the perfect collision of artistic frustration and matters completely out of my control. Before I said anything about it, I sat down as the sun began to set and opened, for the first time, my NaNoWriMo project from 2012.

Let's call this beast "bro comedy meets Game of Thrones." It's unfinished; although it clocks in at 50K, there's still more story to tell. In fact, it had been so long since I'd actively thought about it that I was genuinely surprised by several twists in the plot. It was my first real attempt at writing high fantasy, and it was really fun.

Then there's NaNo project 2011, which I love. Then I turned to NaNo project 2013 -- what the heck was that? Accidental magical realism?

Regardless, where had that writer gone? The one whose blog was her lifeline in college? The one who could write something that was kind of a mess but laugh along the way? The one who, at other times, could set it down once and get it just right?

I pulled back to examine everything that was happening -- what I could control and what I couldn't. Then I asked myself, "So what?"

What's the worst thing that can happen?

Then what?

Then what?

I let the catastrophes cascade, rolling faster and faster, until I reached the end of the "so whats" and found me there at the finish, writing stories as the night grows long. Stories for no one. Stories for obscure websites. Stories for maybe, for possibility.

I am more than just this book. And the next one. And the next.

And that audacious girl who wrote fearlessly and laughed at her mistakes instead of sinking under them -- I'd like to find her again this year.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Pitch Wars 2015: Lend Me Your Words!

About me:

I'm from (the state of) New York and coach competitive gymnastics, throwing girls into the air and catching them on the way down. I love country music, driving down back roads, all things Peeta Mellark, and quotes from The Office. I also like to run (slowly).

I've been part of Pitch Wars since the beginning, partaking as a mentee in the inaugural year and mentoring ever since. Along with being excellent humans and writers, several of my past team members have become agented and one of them, Goldy Moldavsky, has a hawt book coming out in with Scholastic in 2016 called KILL THE BOY BAND that you will all need in your lives!

Why should you pick me?

I'm a writing professor well-versed in providing constructive, in-depth feedback. My BA and MFA are in writing, earned from the blood, sweat, and tears of hours of workshops. I know what it’s like to have your work up for review and what kind of comments are especially useful. (And the ones that aren’t. You know the kind I’m talking about.) I'm encouraging, collaborative, and love brainstorming.

Speaking of feedback/blood/sweat/etc., I’m an agented writer who’s been through the query trenches (and my first novel, LESSONS IN FALLING, is forthcoming!). I’ve also interned with literary agencies, so the slush pile and I have become quite intimate. I see what stands out from the crowd, and I'm going to help your manuscript achieve that -- while having fun at the same time! You can look forward to in-text comments as well as an "edit letter" of sorts that details what's working and offers suggestions for where to improve.

You and I will be a great fit if you're ready to work hard, maintain an open mind, and have a great sense of humor! I also love keeping in touch with my past team members.

NOTE: If I'm intrigued by your entry and want to see more material, I will request a synopsis.

I'd love to see:

Contemporary new adult: Characters in NA situations where romance plays an important role, but so do family, friends, and growing pains. (See: MAKE IT COUNT by Megan Erickson and FIERCE by LG Kelso.) I'm also partial to military stories (SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL by Trish Doller). Humor is welcome. Darkness is welcome. A blend of both? Perfect.

Contemporary young adult: Darker stories and complicated relationships (see: POINTE by Brandy Colbert, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga, CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert), stories that invert expectations (RECLAIMED by Sarah Guillory and 17 & GONE by Nova Ren Suma), beautifully-written prose (THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson, JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta). Once again, humor is quite welcome as well (FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, the forthcoming KILL THE BOY BAND by Goldy Moldavsky).

In both, I also love:

  • Stories where the setting is like another character; 
  • Serious athletes (so many great narratives in sports -- send me your athletes!); 
  • Strong friendships, fascinating secondary characters, and love interests with a slow burn are all winners for me.

Feel free to chat with me on Twitter to see if we'd be a good fit!

For more details and to see the other mentors:

Visit the indefatigable Brenda Drake or hop along here:


1. Kes Trester (co-mentoring with Jennifer Hawkins)
2. Mindy McGinnis (co-mentoring with Kate Karyus Quinn)
3. N.K. Traver
4. Kristin B. Wright
5. Laura Heffernan
6. Mary Ann Marlowe
7. Joy McCullough-Carranza
8. Lisa Lewis-Tyre
9. Jenni L. Walsh (co-mentoring with Trisha Leaver)
10. Sarah Glenn Marsh
11. Julie C. Dao
12. Kellye Garrett
13. K.T. Hanna
14. Jessie Devine
15. Rosalyn Eves
16. Jami Nord
17. Samantha Joyce
18. Helene Dunbar
19. Jenna Lehne
20. Linsey Miller
21. Jessica Vitalis
22. Stacey Graham
23. Dan Koboldt
24. Brighton Walsh
25. Kate Brauning
26. Lisa Maxwell
27. Wendy Spinale
28. Sarah Cannon
29. L.L. McKinney
30. Juliana Brandt
31. Scarlett Cole
32. Hayley Stone
33. Jennifer Blackwood
34. Kendra Young
35. S.P. McConnell
36. Nikki Roberti
37. Emmie Mears
38. Lori Goldstein (co-mentoring with Chelsea Bobulski)
39. Jennifer Hawkins (co-mentoring with Kes Trester)
40. Elizabeth Briggs
41. Ron Walters (co-mentoring with Meredith McCardle)
42. Fiona McLaren (co-mentoring with Dionne McCulloch)
43. S.M. Johnston (co-mentoring with Stacey Nash)
44. Max Wirestone
45. Jaye Robin Brown
46. Molly Lee
47. Rachel Lynn Solomon
48. J.C. Nelson
49. Holly Faur
50. Sonia Hartl
51. Natasha Raulerson
52. Marty Mayberry
53. J.C. Davis
54. Rebecca Wells
55. Michelle Hauck
56. Tabitha Martin
57. Rebecca Petruck
58. Sarah Henning
59. Alex White
60. Jeanmarie Anaya
61. Laura Salter
62. Wade Albert White
63. Brooks Benjamin
64. Margarita Montimore
65. Megan Grimit
66. Charlie Holmberg
67. Diana Gallager
68. Stefanie Wass
69. Tamara Mataya
70. Rebecca Sky
71. Kara Seal
72. Lee Gjertsen Malone
73. Katie Bucklein
74. Kevin A Springer
75. Brianna Shrum
76. Kate Karyus Quinn (co-mentoring with Mindy McGinnis)
77. Kim Graff
78. Emily Martin
79. Trisha Leaver (co-mentoring with Jenni Walsh)
80. Kim Long
81. Catherine Scully
82. Stacey Trombley
83. Stephanie Scott (co-mentoring with Valerie Cole)
84. Valerie Cole (co-mentoring with Stephanie Scott)
85. Lizzy Charles
86. Dannie Morin (co-mentoring with Alexandra Alessandri)
87. Kate Foster
88. Elly Blake
89. Julie Sondra Decker
90. Lady Lioness
91. Susan Gray Foster (co-mentoring with Monica Bustamante Wagner_
92. Kelly Calabrese
93. Sarah Nicolas
94. Kelly Siskind
95. Roselle Kaes
96. Monica Bustamante Wagner (co-mentoring with Susan Gray Foster)
97. Renee Ahdieh (co-mentoring with Traci Chee)
98. Traci Chee (co-mentoring with Renee Ahdieh)
99. Janet B. Taylor
100. Jessie Humphries (co-mentoring with Mara Rae)
101. Lynnette Labelle
102. Erica M. Chapman
103. Summer Spence
104. Marieke Nijkamp
105. Meredith McCardle (co-mentoring with Ron Walters)
106. Thomas Torre
107. Phil Stamper
108. J.A. Souders

I look forward to reading your work!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Night We Said Yes: A Muffin, A Sunrise, and the End of the Island

Thanks to the awesomeness of being part of the Fearless 15ers, I've had the pleasure of reading Lauren Gibaldi's THE NIGHT WE SAID YES (releasing tomorrow!).

Here's the description:

Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over her ex-boyfriend and graduate high school—simple as that. But Matt—the cute, shy, bespectacled bass player—was never part of that plan. And neither was attending a party that was crashed by the cops just minutes after they arrived. Or spending an entire night saying "yes" to every crazy, fun thing they could think of.
But then Matt leaves town, breaking Ella's heart. And when he shows up a year later—wanting to relive the night that brought them together—Ella isn't sure whether Matt's worth a second chance. Or if re-creating the past can help them create a different future.


Intrigued? Check it out on Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

*

And here's to a night that I said yes:

It was no earlier than 1 a.m. on an April morning as we scampered in the sand. In a town known for catering to lavish summer clientele, the off-season meant making your own entertainment. Driving to 7-Eleven. Hitting up a dive bar (bring your friends; you'd be the only people there). More often than not, we'd hang around the dorms to watch a movie or walk through campus in the fog, looking for ghosts. 

All gussied up for the holidays. 

On this morning, "we" meant Lauren, my friend from home who basically lived in the dorms with me, and Tony, my boyfriend in those tender early relationship stages. We ran toward the ocean, halting when the frigid foam sprayed too close. I did some handstands. Tony did, too, gallantly flopping into the sand. Behind us, the mansions stayed back safely on the dunes, windows dark. Their occupants wouldn't return until Memorial Day at the earliest. The beach was ours.

Then someone said, "Wouldn't it be awesome to go to Montauk for the sunrise?"

Nods all around. Montauk rests on the tip of Long Island's South Fork, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. It's the site of World War II conspiracy theories and contemporary surfers. It is, as the T-shirts in souvenir shops advertise, the end of the island. And it's the first place to be hit with sunlight over the watery horizon. 

Driving out there would be spontaneous. It'd make for a good story. But it'd probably leave us exhausted once the sun was high enough. 

We looked at each other. 

"Let's do it," said Tony, and just like that, we were on a mission. We climbed in his car and drove off into the night.



(Well, after we went to 7-Eleven for the essentials, like a blueberry muffin (me) and coffee (Lauren).) 

We listened to music and laughed, amped up as we drove down near-empty streets. At some point, the bottom of my muffin disappeared, never to be seen again. (When Tony finally got rid of the car, he cleaned it out. No muffin. One of those crazy time-traveling theories at work?)

Once in Montauk, we drove past the lighthouse and found a spot in the empty parking lot. The sky remained dark, with dawn still hours away, so we hunkered down for unsatisfying naps in our respective seats. 

As the sky began to lighten, we roused ourselves. We hurried down the path to the beach, brushing past branches and reeds, and emerged onto the rocks. The water was calmer here than the waves we'd faced hours ago, but the wind was fierce. 

Winter jacket + sweatshirt = ready to rumble.

The sky bloomed pink and purple, the ocean glowed orange, and through squinted eyes, we served as the first witnesses to the dawn. 

Worth it. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Do What You Love

1. 

I wrap my hair into a bun and attack it with hairspray so it doesn't tumble out as I tumble.

I'm in the hotel bathroom the morning of my final gymnastics state championship. It's senior year and when the meet is over, we'll check out nearby colleges that I've been accepted to.

In the quiet between nerves and the TV mumbling in the next room, I realize a simple truth: I don't want this meet to be the end.

So I'll make sure it's not.

2.

The good: I make it onto the college team.

The bad: I keep breaking things. ACLs, MCLs, meniscuses. (Menisci?) Metatarsals. Ribs.

I keep coming back.

3.

"You should really think about majoring in education," my father tells me on the phone. It's sophomore year of college and I'm keen to find something to pursue along with my writing degree. A "get a job with this one and write on the side" field of study.

I look into education -- childhood and secondary. I look into athletic training.

I choose Spanish. I don't know if it will unlock any secret doors, but I love all of my classes.

Ay, dios mio.

4.

Senior year of college, I apply to a mix of MA and MFA programs. Something about the MA seems more "professional," with a clearer track to a PhD.

You'd rather write your own stories, not write about literature, a voice tells me.

You hate writing research papers, another voice adds.

I push away the thoughts. I can make it work.

My dad and I are driving when I tell him my school choice -- an esteemed MA program a few hours away.

He hits the brakes. The car stops. "Why would you do that?" he says. "You want to do creative writing."

5.

I've yet to get that education degree, but with my MFA (thanks, Dad), I teach community college students. I also coach gymnastics, which requires a degree in Extreme Patience, something I am continually working on. And I'm writing, which I wanted to do all along.

I don't work normal person hours. I have tried. I don't work at a desk. I've tried that, too. It's taken time, a good amount of stubbornness, lots of soul-searching, and plenty of ice cream. At the end of the day, I do my own thing, pieced together, and it works for me.

It's eight in the morning and I hand out the assigned reading, Tony Hawk on NPR's "This I Believe." The subject: do what you love.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New year, new title, and a lesson in falling


Happy 2015!

I've started the new year with plenty of snow, joining the Fall Fifteeners (coming soon!), and a new title for my novel.

The book formerly known as What Happens in Water is now Lessons in Falling. It's an encompassing summation of all of the novel's threads. Gymnastics falls. Mistakes made. Falling apart. Falling in love. (And falling into the water. Don't worry, there's still plenty of water to go around.)

If any of that sounds enticing to you, you can add it on Goodreads!

(I've also seen a mock-up cover with the new title and OMG. That is all I can say.)

And because the universe works in wonderful ways, I witnessed quite the lesson in falling this weekend.

It's inevitable in gymnastics that you'll wipe out. Sometimes, it happens publicly. The struggle, then, is how you'll react. Will the rest of your routine become a fall fest as you sob through the rest of your skills? Will you shrug it off and come back fiercer?


This weekend, "publicly" meant "a competition with over 2,000 gymnasts from across the country." It's a great meet with six gyms running simultaneously, judges from different regions, and the general atmosphere of bringing one's A-game.

One of my gymnasts began her beam routine. Her teammate, phone raised, dutifully pressed play as soon as she was on. Chances were good that the routine's highlights would be fodder for their group Instagram account.

Press handstand -- good. Jumps -- solid. Full turn -- wiggly, but safe. She raised her arms for her back handspring, paused, and jumped backwards --

-- Onto her face.

"Are you okay?" I called.

She nodded. Her face twisted in a look of "I want to cry but I have to wait." She climbed back up and continued the routine.

Then she landed her dismount, saluted to the judges, and ran past them to her teammates, calling, "Can we use that for Fail Friday?"

Conclusion: when life gives you lemons, turn it into an Instagram post.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Gratitude.

That when I was a college senior wrestling with the MA versus MFA and told my father that I'd decided to attend an MA program, he stopped the car and said, "You don't want to do that. You want to do creative writing."

That one of my Spanish professors agreed. "You can read all of those books on your own," he said. "You should do the creative writing thing."

That there are people willing to read my words (and reread) (and reread again).

That ten years after surgery that replaced my torn ACL with a graft of my patellar tendon, I can do stupid things like run five mile races without training and have no pain.

That when the spirit moves me, I can still kip with my feet off of the ground.

That when I return from wandering dark roads, faces turn to greet me.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why I Write

The song that pierces you. The lyrics you know by heart, although for the life of you you can't unravel an antiderivative anymore. The open road, the stars over the dash, the throb of the engine. The single light on the mountain. The highway that twists away in a puff of exhaust. 

Best friends giggling in the dark. Sweatshirts and fall wind against bare legs as you run over red-gold leaves and long grasses that scratch at your skin. Sometimes you want to lie down, breathless, and other times you want to sprint so they can't catch you. 

The promise of a look. The moments that exist just between us. The hiss of rain, the first peal of thunder. Lightning on the water. 

To sing to you. To sing to myself. 
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