Novelist. Poet. Professor.

Novelist.  Poet.  Professor.
Novelist, poet, professor, and mother of dogs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

And a Few More Odds and Ends

Volcanic rocks and cookie fortunes

Poet Bernadette McBride, the second of my Round Robin Blog Tour invitees has posted her own blog on the writing process.  Check it out here!

And thanks to the book bloggers who have been giving some lovin' to the gorgeous Love, Lucy book cover.

BiblioPunkk included in their list of recent Cover Porn.

And Daisy Chain Book Reviews listed it as a Book Cover of Awesome.

Late March Odds and Ends

Last weekend, Andre and I ventured into the swamps of Jersey to celebrate my birthday and see Willie Nile perform.  (He and his band are one of our favorite live acts, but this was the first time we'd seen them as headliners.)   I'll be posting about that show soon, but you know how it is: the better the weekend, the worse the Monday.  I'm still getting caught up.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to mention a thing or two.

Thing One: this coming Sunday, March 30**, I'll be doing a book signing from 1 to 4 at Books-a-Million (BAM!) in the Springfield Mall.  (That's Springfield, Pennsylvania.)  If you're in the neighborhood (1250 Baltimore Pike), please drop by.


Thing Two: Remember the Round Robin writing process blog tour?  Well, Anne Higgins, the first of my two invitees has posted her response.

As for me, there's a lot of classes to be planned and several big, fraught campus-wide meetings to attend.  But I hope to come up for air soon.

James Franco (patron saint of MFA programs) looks on while I read student stories.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Play Date: Out to Lunch

Spring came to Pennsylvania yesterday, one day behind schedule:  morning birdsong; crocuses finally splitting the earth.  After so much snow, so much road salt, so many killer potholes, it's hard to trust that it's really here.   (If any snow has been forecast for next week, please don't tell me!)

This winter has kicked my butt in more ways than one, but today I got to celebrate the new season by going out to lunch with my dear friend Diane.  We took a mini version of one of our Thelma-and-Louise-style roadtrips, and ventured to The Local, a cozy (and delicious) little farm-to-plate restaurant in a former train station depot.  I got to glimpse a charming little town I'd never seen before-- 

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--which made me realize I've been traveling in a rut these last months, from work to home and back again, with hardly any detours.   I've clocked a lot of miles--1,000 at least count--but they've almost all been on my treadmill desk.  

When I'm trying to squeeze writing time into the interstices, I can forget how important it is to wander off the beaten track, to breathe fresh air and see new places.   And to try a little peanut butter pie:

 Today, the third day of spring, is a good time to remember.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Adapting Jane: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE at People's Light and Theater

Jessica Bedford as Jane Bennet
There's nothing I love more than an adaptation of a classic Brit lit novel...especially if it's one by Jane Austen. I'm endlessly interested in how great works are translated--into film, literary retellings, and stage performances.  What gets kept in, left out, transformed?  I'm hungry to find out.  

So I was thrilled when People's Light and Theater Company in Malverne, Pennsylvania, invited me to attend their production of Pride and Prejudice, coupled with a pre-show open house.    

Part of the festivities included a brief lesson in regency dance. That's my husband Andre in the front and to the right, prepping for the Netherfield ball.

But of course the night's highlight was the play itself, a spirited and swift production in which dance was used to bridge key dramatic moments.  

The entire cast was splendid, the set spare and elegant.  Electricity crackled between the two main couples, and Robert DePonte (Mr. Collins) and Tom Teti (Mr. Bennet) were laugh-out-loud funny.

Marc LeVasseur as Mr. Darcy

There's still time to catch the show, which runs until March 30.  
and Julianna Zinkel as Elizabeth Bennet
I'm also eager for People's Light's upcoming production of Sarah Ruhl's Dear Elizabeth, a dramatization of the correspondence between two of my favorite poets, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Having a Blast

Paperback and Ebook

Today a post of mine about the new paperback cover of my novel Catherine goes global, thanks to Jaime and Rachel at Rock Star Book Tours.  They've set up a cover blast, encouraging book bloggers to sign up and run my post as part of their energetic campaign to help Young Adult connect with readers.

So instead of posting here, I'm going to invite you to  read my post at one of the many great blogs that are featuring it.  I wish I could post a link to each and every one, but here are a few blogs that caught my eye.  Click on one...or discover them all!

Talking Books

Ladybug Literature

Kimberlyfaye Reads

Book Hounds

Thanks to these book bloggers and to Rock Star Book Tours for doing what they do with so much energy and savoir faire.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

How I Write: A Round Robin Blog Tour


1)     What am I working on?

These days I’m writing the first draft of a young adult novel set on a study tour in Greece and inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  I'm about one and a half chapters away from the finish exciting place to be.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ve written three young adult novels, all of them contemporary retellings of classic literature; I’ve retold Jane Eyre (Jane), Wuthering Heights (Catherine), and A Room With a View (the forthcoming Love, Lucy).  

Literary retellings have become huge in the Young Adult world lately--so huge, Epic Reads invented a chart to help a reader make sense of this boom.  My retellings fall into the category of contemporary realism; I transplant characters like Jane Eyre, Heathcliff, and Lucy Honeychurch into the present, exploring how they might remain themselves and how their story would be changed--by cars, jet planes, cellphones, the internet, and evolving social mores.  Maybe everyone who writes retellings would say this, but when I write I'm very conscious of trying to be true to the spirit of the novels I'm retelling.  

3)     Why do I write what I do?

There's a very particular challenge to retelling a story people already know and love, and I really enjoy walking that fine line between respecting the old and experimenting with it.

I write poetry too, some of it formal, and in a way riffing on an existing plot is not unlike writing contemporary poems using very old poetic forms.  Both projects involve working within parameters somebody else set a long time ago, and taking liberties to make something new.

Also, I can only write about subjects I care deeply about.  I've always been obsessed with the classics; that's why I became an English professor in the first place.  And setting retellings in the present allows me to bring in other elements that fascinate me—rock music, in my first three novels, the culture of backpacking in Love, Lucy, and photography and filmmaking in the book I’m writing now. 

4)     How does my writing process work?

When I decide to retell a novel I reread it; I might also watch film adaptations and listen to it on audiobook as I sleep at night, letting it seep into my subconscious.  After a while, though, I put the book aside, trying to gain a little distance.  I come up with a plot outline which I then follow loosely, and sometimes diverge from altogether.  It helps to have a framework, but also to feel free enough to make discoveries along the way.  

As far as the actual act of writing goes, I wish I could write faithfully every day as writers are told to. I tend to get so  lost in my imaginary world that I am likely to forget to go to work, so I only write on days when I've got nothing else urgent to do--one day a week during the school year, if I'm lucky, and five days a week during the summer, or spring and winter break.

I start one of those writing days with coffee--lots of it.  I read a bit of the newspaper, or fiddle around on Facebook, all of which helps me to feel a bit less tense about settling down to write.  Writer's block terrifies me, so anything I can do to ease myself into writing is helpful.  

The goal is to get somehow into that blessed state when the characters start talking to each other and I feel like I'm listening in, taking dication.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's the best part of the process.

Next up on the round robin Writer's Process blog tour are two very fine poets.  Their answers to the blog tour questions should be up on their blogs around about March 25th or 26th, so be sure to drop by!

The first, Anne Higgins, teaches English at Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and is a member of the Daughters of Charity.  She has had about 100 poems published in Commonweal, Spirituality and Health, The Melic Review, The Umbrella Journal, The Centrifugal Eye, and a variety of small magazines.  She was invited to give a reading at the Art and Soul Conference at Baylor University in February 2001, and at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing in 2002.  Garrison Keillor read her poems "Open-Hearted" and "Cherry Tomatoes" on The Writer's Almanac on October 8, 2001, and August 8, 2010, respectively.

Four full-length books and two chapbooks of her poetry have been published: At the Year's Elbow, Mellen Poetry Press 2000, Scattered Showers in a Clear Sky, Plain View Press 2007, Pick It Up and Read, Finishing Line Press 2008, How the Hand Behaves, Finishing Line Press 2009, Digging for God, Wipf and Stock 2010, and Vexed Questions, Aldrich Press, 2013.  Visit Anne's blog here.

The second, Bernadette McBride, is the author of Waiting for the Light to Change (Word Tech Editions, 2013) and Food, Wine, and Other Essential Considerations—an Alphabet, forthcoming this year from Aldrich Press. She has taught writing at colleges in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including poetry and fiction writing at Temple University and gives workshops in memoir, fiction, and poetry writing, as well as on the intersection of art and writing. A Poet Laureate of Bucks County, PA, her work has appeared on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, has been recently published in the UK, widely published nationally in both journals and anthologies, and has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She directs the monthly poets’ reading series at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, PA. Visit her blog here.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa: Bernini's Glorious Statue and a Poem it Inspired

On this, the last official day of spring break (weekends don't count), I thought I'd share a poem inspired by a piece of art that has fascinated me ever since I encountered it in Art History 101.  A couple of years ago, I tracked the sculpture down to its home, Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, and everything that was mind boggling about it in photographs is even more so in person--the body language, the facial expressions, and especially the various textures of cloth, cloud, wing, and flesh.

So I wrote this poem: 

St. Theresa in Ecstasy

after Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini

The angel, when he comes at last
in a trumpet blast of light
glistens like a newborn, smooth
of cheek and chest, his slender waist
cinched in wind-washed gauze.  She’d willed
this visit, prayed for days, refusing
sleep and food.  Now he appears
beside her, naked arm drawn back.
His fingertips caress a spear,
point it at her heart; his smile
betrays amusement.  This could be
the moment just before his arrow
plunges through her breast--as if
to pierce my very entrails,
she would write--or it could be
the aftermath.  Her heavy vestments
lift and rustle; from their depths
she swoons, lips parted, body curling
upward toward that flame-tipped arrow,
that cauterizing point, and though
the whole tableau is stone, she vibrates
like a harp string as the hand
draws back.  One bare foot clings to earth
as, limp, she crests a wave of pain
surpassing sweetness, tasted once
and hungered after: Now the soul
is satisfied with nothing less.

This poem and others like it may be found in This Bed Our Bodies Shaped, my second poetry collection, published by Able Muse Press.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lovin' Bloglovin'

<a href="">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>

Please excuse the above weird posting.  I had to put it here so that I could also put up the button (to your right) that lets you follow me via bloglovin.  I'm finding bloglovin to be a really fun and easy way to keep track of my favorite blogs.  So I wanted their button, even if it does make for one awkward post!

Nico says: please consider clicking on the bloglovin' button...or on the Google +1 button (also to the right).  

And who could say no to Nico?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Memory Cards Light the Corners of My Mind (a Spring Break roundup)

Window Shopping in Florence, Italy

Love, Lucy gets her first Waiting on Wednesday mention from Stories and Sweeties.  Waiting on Wednesday is a fun weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Every Wednesday book bloggers list the soon-to-be-released Young Adult books they can't wait to read.

The January 2015 release of Love, Lucy feels so far away.  In the meantime, though, it's spring break, and I'm writing up a storm, working on the yet-untitled Greek novel.  For research and inspiration purposes, I've been digging around, looking for the lost Greek memory card, the one with a thousand pictures from my last trip.  Instead, I've been finding all sorts of other old pictures, like the one above, taken when I was in Florence, researching Love, Lucy.

And then there's this, taken two summers ago:

Some of my friends will undoubtedly recognize the handwriting, but for all the others, this is a speech, spelled out phonetically by Bruce Springsteen, in advance of a 1999 concert he gave in Milan. Finding it on the wall of the Hard Rock Cafe Florence was like bumping into an old friend far from home.  

Speaking of bumping into old friends, I also found a lot of family photos on that same memory card.  This one in particular:

It's my Ophelia: tail in motion, eyes full of love, sitting next to two bags of souvenirs I'd lugged home from Italy and Greece.  There will never be another Feef!

Monday, March 10, 2014

They're Heeeeeeeeere!

The Advanced Review Copies of Love, Lucy, reached me today.  And they're every bit as pretty as I hoped they'd be!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

In Which I Steal Somebody Else's Photo Because Venice

I lifted this photo from the Italian America Facebook page--and I don't usually lift other people's photos for this blog.  It's just that this one reminded me powerfully of a little hole in the wall cafe around the corner from the  hostel I stayed in the last time I was in Venice, researching Love, Lucy.  

I ate my cornetto and drank my cappucino standing at the bar, and felt simultaneously like I was having a private moment, but also was part of something, among friends.  The guy behind the bar chatted with regulars who came in and out.  The cornetto was perfect--crisp and fragrant and just  a little bit sweet--as was my cappucino, and all of Venice waited just outside the door to be explored.

The next morning, and the morning after that, I wandered the streets around the hostel, looking for that same cafe, but somehow I just couldn't find it.  But this morning I woke to this photo and felt like I'd accidentally wandered back in.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Midterm Interlude: While I Grade Portfolios....

Nico is emitting powerful "stop grading and hug me" vibes.

Meanwhile the struggle for the future of Saint Joseph's University wages on:

Saint Mary's Hall

Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits
To pacify myself/procrastinate, I look at pictures of travels past and dream of travels future.

With my sister: outside the duomo in Florence
and inside the duomo
And I look forward to Monday.  If I can only grade fast enough, I can let myself return to my Greek novel on Monday.

At Knossos, looking up

Friday, March 7, 2014

Confessions of a Crazy Guinea Pig Lady (With a Poem by Alfred Nicol)

Leeloo says hello

We all wear many hats, and in addition to my most public ones (wife/mother/professor/writer/Springsteen fanatic) I have a semi-secret alternate identity: Crazy Guinea Pig Lady.  Or, to be more accurate, Crazy Rodent Lady.  People who know me from Facebook--including many folks I've never actually met--know I have a soft spot for rodents of all types, but especially for those docile, kidney-bean shaped puffballs we call guinea pigs (although nobody seems to know exactly why, seeing as how they're not pigs, and they're not from New Guinea).

These days, my house is home to two rescued guinea pigs, Leeloo and Tootsie Roll.  They're actually our second piggie pair; before them we had two boys, Turk and Bartleby.  

Back in the days of Turk, the best guinea pig ever

Back then, the internet was privy to my struggles to keep both boys alive despite their frequent bouts with bladder stones. When that battle was lost, the internet looked on as I obsessed over whether or not to adopt another pair, and if so, which pair out of the many lovely piggies in need of homes.  Around that time I started paying attention to all sorts of guinea pig rescue groups, and posting particularly adorable adoptables on a more or less daily basis.

All of this is how I became a Crazy Guinea Pig Lady.  Lately, when a cute picture of a hamster, guinea pig, rat, mouse, gerbil, or even a capybara, starts making the rounds on Facebook, it's a dead certainty that more than one friend will forward it to me.  And the other day I received this more or less anonymous giftie in the mail:

And of course I squeaked with glee!

Tootsie takes center stage

I could go on and on about how guinea pigs have distinct personalities, and how they have a predisposition to love and be loved.  I could tell you the legend of Turk, who never greeted me without kissing me on the lips, even when he was terribly sick, or of his friend Bartleby who sat beside him in those days, seemingly to comfort him.

Bart's turn

Instead I will post a beautifully crafted poem on the subject by my friend poet Alfred Nicol--a poem that cuts to the heart of why these patient little pets have a thing or two to teach us.

(As a guinea pig obsessive, though, I need to add a couple of fussy caveats.  The poem mentions alfalfa.  Better to give your guinea pigs timothy hay, my friends, and plenty of it. Alfalfa can cause those dread bladder stones.  And the guinea pig in the poem lives alone, but pigs are social animals and most of them are much happier in pairs.)

Guinea Pig

A pet, domesticated overmuch,
Inhabiting interminable lulls,
Most pusillanimous of animals,
Inertia's own, quiescent as the sands,
And shy to venture even round the hutch,
Her pleasure is a motor in my hands,
An instrument set racing with a touch.

A little thing of breath and heat compact,
Mildest of spirits, in a flask of fur,
Without even a sound as signature,
No bark or whinny, whistle or meow,
No word to instigate or to react,
She gently nods assent to here and now,
An answer well-considered and exact.

I'll learn from this one how much not to do;
How large a silence to accumulate;
To serve with those who only stand and wait,
To change alfalfa, sawdust, water, salt,
For other needs as moderate and few;
To thrill when lifted; visited, exalt;
Nor ever speak till I be spoken through.

If you're interested in learning more about these dear creatures, check out Guinea Lynx, the internet's best source for reliable piggie info.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Come Write With Me

I'm thrilled to report that I'll be on the faculty of the Summer Nightsun Writers Conference at Frostburg State University in Historic Downtown Frostburg, Maryland.  The faculty includes Bruce Weigl (poetry), Brenda Clough (sci-fi, fantasy, and horror), Marion Winik (nonfiction), Clint McCown (fiction), and me (young adult fiction). 

The program will include workshop opportunities, individualized feedback on your work, and craft sessions. There will also be readings by participants, workshop faculty, and special guests.  The conference runs from July 24-27, and it will be a great opportunity to generate new work and hone your craft.

Drop by the website for more information.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Writing about Rock

Marc Scibilia at the Tin Angel in Philly

Thanks to With Her Nose Stuck in a Book, one of my favorite blogs about Young Adult fiction.  Today they're featuring my guest blog post on writing about music--why I can't seem to stop doing it, and how my obsession shaped my second novel, Catherine.

By the way, the guy at the top of this page is Marc Scibilia, a phenomenally talented singer songwriter who has opened for and recorded with another of my musical idols, Butch Walker.  

One very cold night in February we went to see Marc play at the Tin Angel in Philly, and he was impressive from start to finish. Check out this video for a taste of his songwriting and performing skills:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Living Will: A Poem By Darius Degher

I'm thrilled that Darius Degher's first poetry collection, To See the Sound, has arrived in the world.  A while back, Darius gave me the opportunity to read and blurb the manuscript, and I was charmed by his wordplay, his quirky subject choices, his command of craft, and for the way his poems mix intelligence and heart.

Here's one of my favorites from the collection:

Living Will

While filling in his living will
he discovered the will to live again.
For unacceptable qualities of life
he checked the boxes on the form
for chronic coma, feeding tubes,
persistent vegetative state.

For a week he lived his testament:
didn't sleepwalk through the frozen foods
or ignore the glorious florescence.
Quickened by the canteen's quiche,
he lost track of what a colleague said,
smiled about a project gone awry.
He notched his deepest ever breaths,
exhaled slowly like a yogi,
was dazzled by his prism paperweight.

Darius is a musician too.  His latest album, The Coyote Cantos, is available here.

And here he is, performing a song from an earlier album on Swedish t.v.:

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Snowpocolypse Now

What is it about an impending blizzard that makes everyone run for the grocery store?  It's not like we couldn't pull on some boots and walk the five blocks to SuperFresh if we forgot milk or ran out of bread in the middle of a storm.  Nevertheless, we spent yesterday stocking up.  And up.  And up.

And once we'd laid in supplies for the Snowpocolypse, we ran out to squeeze in a little fun before the latest in a string of weather-imposed house arrests.  A movie.  And a plate of Bucatini Amatriciana to remind us of sunnier times--the week we spent in Rome a couple of summers ago.

I'll be cooking in earnest once the snow starts to fall.  Until then, I plan to cheer myself up by stealing a little precious writing time to work on my Greek novel.

Maybe I'll stream an Athenian radio station.  Maybe I'll peek frequently at the weather in Santorini (a comparatively balmy 59 degrees Farenheit at the moment I type this).  I'll browse through old photographs to conjure blue on blue on blinding white, steep cliffs, caper flowers bursting through sidewalk cracks, jasmine spilling from terraces, the jingle and clop of mule trains climbing the steep trail.

And I might even read some poems by James Merrill.  Especially this one--which so perfectly captures Greece, and travel, and memory, and the disorienting return to ordinary life.

After Greece

Light into the olive entered
And was oil. Rain made the huge, pale stones
Shine from within. The moon turned his hair white
Who next stepped from between the columns,
Shielding his eyes. All through
The countryside were old ideas
Found lying open to the elements.
Of the gods’ houses, only
A minor presence here and there
Would be balancing the heaven of fixed stars
Upon a Doric capital. The rest
Lay spilled, their fluted drums half sun in cyclamen
Or deep in water’s biting clarity
Which just barely upheld me
The next week, when I sailed for home.
But where is home—these walls?
These limbs? The very spaniel underfoot
Races in sleep, toward what?
It is autumn. I did not invite
Those guests, windy and brittle, who drink my liquor.

Returning from a walk, I find
The bottles filled with spleen, my room itself
Smeared by reflection onto the far hemlocks.
I some days flee in dream
Back to the exposed porch of the maidens
Only to find my great-great-grandmothers
Erect there, peering
Into a globe of red Bohemian glass.

As it swells and sinks I call up
Graces, Furies, Fates, removed
To my country’s warm, lit halls, with rivets forced
Through drapery, and nothing left to bear.
They seem anxious to know
What holds up heaven nowadays.
I start explaining how in that vast fire
Were other irons— well, Art, Public Spirit,
Ignorance, Economics, Love of Self,
Hatred of Self, a hundred more,
Each burning to be felt, each dedicated
To sparing us the worst; how I distrust them
As I should have done those ladies; how I want
Essentials: salt, wine, olive, the light, the scream—
No! I have scarcely named you,
And look, in a flash you stand full-grown before me,
Row upon row, Essentials,
Dressed like your sister caryatids,
Or tombstone angels jealous of their dead,
With undulant coiffures, lips weathered, cracked by grime,
And faultless eyes gone blank beneath the immense
Zinc-and-gunmetal northern sky.
Stay then. Perhaps the system
Calls for spirits. This first glass I down
To the last time
I ate and drank in that old world. May I
Also survive its meanings, and my own.

Free the Mice!

  Thanks to Bearings Online , for publishing my poem about trying--and sometimes failing--to be kind to the mammals who only want to sha...