Sunday, December 4, 2011

So what's new with me?

While my blog has been gathering dust, I haven't been doing nothing. Here's what's been going on:
My agent Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider has been an enormous help with my new book, BREAKING GLASS. I'm very excited and completely awed by Victoria's genius and dedication in helping me get this polished to a high shine. And of course, much thanks, as always, to my critique group, the Cudas for their slash and burn crits, as well as their wonderful friendships. Also, a big hug to my ever faithful beta reader, Colleen Rowan Kosinski, who has never ever let me down. If you'd like to read the first chapter of BREAKING GLASS, click here.

But what you may not know, is that while I was revising BREAKING GLASS, I worked on a picture book with the incredible Michelle McLean. Our book, illustrated by me and written by Michelle, is titled LYRIA'S EXTRAORDINARY WISH and is also currently out on submission. If you'd like a peak at the art, check it out right here:

Also, I have started on a new WIP, tentatively called Finders. (not crazy about the name, and so far I have changed the mc's name three times! From Davy, to Danny and now to Bobby! He's kind of a country bumpkin with a strange paranormal problem, so I think Bobby works.) No samples. Not ready to share!

Lastly, can someone please tell me what to do with the book I wrote before BREAKING GLASS? It's called LIFE AND BETH. It did not sell, but I still love it. If anyone wants to read a chapter and thinks they have some ideas what I should do with it.. click here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9-11

I'm a New Yorker and I'm not finding all of the recollections and talk of 9-11 easy. But somehow, reading other people's memories of the day is oddly comforting.

So here is mine:

That morning I was in a great mood. It was nice and early--8:30 AM and I was well ahead of schedule. We'd recently rolled out a few brand new courses at the college where I teach, and I'd finally started to feel I had things under control.

I paused before getting into my car and stared up into that implacably cloudless blue sky thinking I'd never seen a nicer morning in New York City. Yet, while driving to work, though the day was glorious, a vague sense of dread took hold of me, the same sense I'd had pretty much since 1999—that something bad was going to happen. I hadn't felt it for awhile though, especially after a summer where the biggest news was a series of shark attacks.

But that morning, the vague sense was back.

As I was about to turn from Sedgewick Avenue onto Hall of Fame Terrace, I heard Claudia Marshall's soothing voice on my favorite radio station, WFUV, announce rather calmly that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. At first, I assumed it was an accident, and envisioned a small plane hitting the building like a bug on a windshield. But the knot in my stomach clenched tighter.

I pulled onto campus and into a parking spot right in front of my building and sat listening to the car radio as an eyewitness who worked in the Empire State Building recounted how he'd watched a jumbo jet swoop down and fly straight into one of the towers. I was paralyzed with fear and knew this was no accident. I got out of the car, just as our office manager, Sharon, was coming to work and told her what I'd heard.

In my office, I sat, shuffling papers around. At the time I didn't have an internet connection in my office and was cut off from the news. A few minutes later, Sharon came in to tell me a second plane had hit Tower 2. That's when we hugged and started to cry.

We, along with the only other person on the floor, Cesar, our lab tech, tried to get the news on TV. It was hard then, as there wasn't much in the way of broadband and our TV reception stank. But there it was, that horrible image of the burning towers.

Meanwhile, I had a class to teach. And so I went. About half of my class managed to make it, most of them having no idea what had transpired. Again, with the poor internet of the day, and with cell phone and internet finally petering out, it was hard to get information. But, one of my students had a husband who was a police officer. It was she, Rosa Cordero, who informed us that the first tower had collapsed.

It was a small group that had wandered in that morning, maybe about nine students. We were in a state of raw shock. For lack of knowing what else to do, we gathered in a circle, held hands and prayed. A few minutes later a car with a bullhorn demanded that we evacuate the campus immediately. Without delay, we left. With no cell service, I could not reach my husband, who worked two blocks from Ground Zero and who often got a bagel in a bakery in the train station under the WTC. That morning, I wasn't sure what route he had taken to work and I couldn't reach him.

It took me nearly an hour to drive the ten minutes from the college to my kid's school, where my daughter was in Kindergarten and my son in fifth grade, since all the bridges to Manhattan had been blocked and the traffic in a normally quiet area was insane.

When I got to the school, all was chaos. I picked up my daughter and a few of her friends, because their parents were stuck downtown. My friend, who was home recovering surgery, had picked up our sons and another boy. Somehow, I ended up with seven kids in my house, fielding calls from their panicked parents.

The thing I remember most clearly was my son, Ben, sitting next to me on the bed in my bedroom. He was three months past his tenth birthday and he recalled that birthday very clearly, because on that day, June 19, 2001, the four of us had on a whim gone to the observation deck of the World Trade Towers for the very first time and watched the sun set. While we were there a jet flew low over the Hudson River and my son was alarmed.

"That plane can fly right into the building!" he said, fearfully.

"That will never happen, honey. Planes fly here all the time."

So when he faced me and said, "You lied, Mommy," I knew exactly what he meant. And what was I to tell him? What on earth were any of us supposed to tell our children from that moment on?

In that moment, I knew our world had changed forever. Safety was an illusion and we were all going to have to find a way to live with the knowledge that a day that could begin with a clear blue sky could end in horror.

This is the world my kids have grown up in. This is why I started to write, and why, I realized that nothing is too frightening or horrifying to share with a child. That you have to live in the moment, in the now, and take each day as the gift that it is.

Eventually, that afternoon, my husband called. He had decided to bike to work that day, since it was so beautiful, when he was originally going to take the train. On his ride on the bike path that follows the West Side Highway, he heard crazy sirens and care radios blaring with news he couldn't figure out. Something awful had happened. He found out as he got to a spot on the bike path with a clear view of the towers, just in time to witness the first tower collapse.

It took us all, my family, my students, every one I know, a long, long time to heal--to become ourselves again. For weeks that smell lingered in the air--the awful smell of burning fuel and death, a smell I hope I never smell again because I will most certainly cry.

For the rest of the semester, the students at my college were like automatons, diligent robots who went about their work mechanically. All of us were filled with unspoken outrage, that we should be attacked, that such a perfect day should be marred with such hate. Our days were filled with mentions of the dead and the missing--people we knew were lost and never coming home again.

One of my students was an ex-marine on National Guard duty who got called to Ground Zero to rescue people and recover bodies. He returned to class two weeks later, tightly wound and bristling with restless and chaotic energy. After an nearly violent outburst in class, I advised him to get help from the VA--which he reluctantly did—eventually finishing the class quite admirably. To me that brave student, Leo Rosado, will forever represent the bravery that all of us here in New York needed to get up every morning and face our frightening new world--to have hope again in the future.

And to heal that semester, we did the thing we do best--art. The art department created a 9-11 memorial exhibition and all my classes 9-11 projects to help us deal with the event.

But we got through--and that New York--the one that pulled itself together, the New York that came out onto the streets of my neighborhood that night to sing the national anthem and just hold hands and be together is the New York I will never forget. Because we learned just how strong we are.

In the years that followed many good things happened in my life. My son, then 10, who after facing his own academic and emotional struggles, is now 20, and a junior at a great college. My daughter is a beautiful and spirited teen, nearly 16. She doesn't remember much about that day. I turned to writing and art to heal, and it worked.

It's sad, though, to think of how divided this country has become in the years since. But this city, my city is not. We stood together and thrived in this past decade despite the economic downturn and political upheavals that have rocked this country--despite everything. We put aside our petty differences. We learned that in the face of adversity, you can prevail, that life is too short to bicker over differences in color, or gender preferences. It's a lesson I have taken to heart in just about every aspect of my life. No amount of fear will ever squelch our spirit here in New York.

As a footnote, I'd like to mention that in 2002, I entered a web-design contest sponsored by my employer, The City University of New York--and to my surprise, won. The website I designed is still up and running and featured today on the homepage of

It was a healing experience to create that website and I am forever grateful for the opportunity it gave me to express my grief and emotions from that day.

If any of you blog followers (if I have any left after being too negligent) want to share your memories, please do.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Road Trip to Rhinebeck, center of the YA universe...

Thanks to Suzanna Hermans and Jennifer Laughran, bookseller and agent extraordinaire, OBLONG BOOKS in Rhinebeck, New York has become a veritable children's book mecca.

Friday night, my critmate Dhonielle Clayton (of Teen Writer's Bloc) and I went on a road trip to see Libba Bray, and two other panelists, Michael Northrop, & E. Archer at Oblong for the Hudson Valley YA Society's: Survivor Edition. It was an entertaining evening, with Libba talking about her awesome new book BEAUTY QUEENS, mad libs style. A peak moment for me was when I managed to get a moment to talk to Libba, who is one the of the most hysterically funny and down to earth people I have ever met. I told Libba how one of my students is a huge fan of hers. She asked if I had the student's phone number and it just so happened I did. Libba called and left an adorable message!!! What a lady!!! And, I should also mention, BEAUTY QUEENS, is an ambitious, incredibly original and hilarious, can't put down read. Libba, you are just the BEST.

But, also, another excellent perk of visiting the hamlet of Rhinebeck is getting to hang out with Jennifer, the Gertrude Stein of childrens' lit. Jennifer is full of information and advice which she dispenses freely and generously for no particular reason other than that she just plain old knows everything and wants to share. Thanks, Jenn!

Another really great part about my mini road trip? Talking non-stop with Baby Cuda (her title as youngest member in my six year old online critique group), Dhonielle-who, poor dear, never seems to tire of my interminable babbling. If some day someone should ask how I plotted my current WIP and the book that my incredibly tenacious agent Victoria Marini has out on submission (BREAKING GLASS) I'm going to have to admit that my super secret technique is the Dhonielle and Lisa road trip. Yep--we have worked out plotting kinks for four of our books and came up with some new book ideas to boot. I highly recommend taking a road trip with a simpatico fellow writer. We had SO much fun (plotting our books is like crack for us--and of course, as usual, we missed our exit), and got so much done. And did I mention we stayed at the world's creepiest motel?

What a great little trip. If you are anywhere close to New York City and can take a drive up to Rhinebeck, NY--you've got to visit Oblong Books. Say hi to the wonderful Suzanna Hermans and Jennifer while you are there. But if you do run into Jennifer---bring plenty of cash, because you will not leave without a book. It's pretty hard to say no to one of the top agents in the biz when she's trying to sell you something. Pity those poor editors. :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rising from the dead to review the Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

Okay, not exactly dead, but buried in my WIP, BREAKING GLASS, nearly done at 242 pages. I've just been SO ENGROSSED, I hope you'll all forgive me.

I'd promised long ago to review Ellen Potter's KNEEBONE BOY and now I am going to keep half my promise—I'm having a guest blogger, my brilliant and generous critique-mate of five years, Cyndy Kennedy Henzel do the review. When Cyndy told me that she, too was as big fan of this rather unheralded book from 2010, I asked her if she'd like to do the review for my blog. She did and hear it is:


by Cynthia Kennedy Henzel

I love surprise endings, and Ellen Potter’s KNEEBONE BOY delivered. The Hardscrabble children, Otto, Lucia, and Max, set off to stay with their cousin in London. When they discover she has gone on holiday, they find their way to their great-aunt’s, who lives in a miniature castle behind a sinister real castle once owned by the Kneebone family. Here, the story falls into the pattern of a semi-fantasy as they discover the morbid history of the castle then face dragons, secret passages, and other fantastical elements as they try to rescue the Kneebone heir locked in a castle tower.

THE KNEEBONE BOY, however, is not a fantasy. Or an adventure. Or a mystery. It is more the tale of a dysfunctional family with a dark secret. The father takes periodic trips to paint portraits of displaced royalty. The oldest son Otto, 13, hasn’t spoken since their mother mysteriously left five years earlier, and the great-aunt is wildly wacky.

The reader is lulled into complacency by the Lemony-Snicketish voice of the narrator, one of the children but which one is never identified, into accepting the characters and events that unfold as normal. This works wonderfully to disguise what is actually happening; the clues to the surprise ending are all masterfully planted. However, since the story is told in the past tense, the voice is somewhat jarring at the finale. We are surprised, maybe even shocked, but it is difficult to be empathetic. The narrator also tends to pause to tell the reader something is going to happen; a device that tends to pull the reader from the plot and doesn’t seem really necessary.

I’ll admit I was tempted to put the book down halfway through, thinking that it was just another tale of wacky characters off to visit the wacky relative in the mysterious house and having a somewhat silly adventure. It is not. Keep reading. It is a masterfully plotted story. You will be thinking about this book for a long time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Homework Helpers by Michelle McLean

This post is in honor of the release of Michelle McLean's new book

HOMEWORK HELPERS: Essays and Term Papers

Michelle is a young adult writer also, and a long time pal of mine. This is her first published book and I am here to attest, first hand that it is awesome.

Why do I know?

Because my daughter and I used it!

Last spring my ninth grade daughter had a massive research paper due in a class whose sole focus was that paper. The teacher had them put together research, work on grammar, learn to site sources, etc. Unfortunately, the class was less than systematic and so was the time frame. The students were given about two weeks to complete the entire paper, and my darling daughter, bless her dear little heart, had NO idea what she was supposed to be doing and when. So the NIGHT before the ENTIRE paper was due, we both realized the whole massive thing was due the next day. And what had she DONE? Nada. Now you can imagine how many gray hairs were formed that night and how high my blood pressure spiked.

Okay. Some parents might have taken the *you made your bed now lie in it* approach. Okay, I admit--I am a bit of a helicopter. But I didn't waste a breath on anger. There was no time. Instead, I emailed Michelle. I knew her book wasn't due out until NOW, but she was kind enough to email me her proofs. Which I USED to help my daughter organize herself, literally the NIGHT BEFORE. AND...drumroll, with Michelle's clear-eyed, systematic GOT DONE. By 10PM.

Final grade: 88

I think the teacher was a little stingy, because the paper turned out AWESOME.

And if not for Michelle's book, my daughter and I would have been rendered into a quivering mass of jelly.

So--consider this an endorsement of a fabulous tool for students of all ages--and go out and get it.

Michelle a freelance writer and the Chief Editorial Consultant for PixelMags, LLC., a company that digitizes magazines and other literature for use on mobile devices. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in History from Weber State University and a Master of Arts Degree with Distinction in English from National University.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Upcoming events and an artistic breakthrough

Well, well, well--I have been--uh--lazy? Also, I got myself a new gmail account and that messed up my blog sign in. So I had to puzzle that out (with not much gusto) for a bit. But here I am, and unlike alot of other more diligent bloggers I am NOT going to promise wonderful things on my blog. I am going to remain true to my impulsive blogging self and only post when I actually have stuff to say or share. Which is not, to be honest, all that frequently.

I do admire regular posters. You have a lot of discipline. Discipline I don't possess. Not for blogging, anyway. I prefer to save my limited stash of discipline for writing, artwork and doing my job. Lately I am going to add--going to a REAL gym--as opposed to Curves.

First, let me congratulate my two critique-mates, Heidi Ayarbe (COMPROMISED 2010) and Kate Milford (THE BONESHAKER 20210) on their YALSA nominations. That's HUGE and I am so proud--but hardly surprised. They are brilliant writers (and two of the very nicest people I know).

So, I have two things to share. Well, maybe three. I am hoping to interview Ellen Potter of THE KNEEBONE BOY. And I am going to feature a post about my friend Michelle McLean who's book HOMEWORK HELPERS: ESSAYS AND TERM PAPERS is due out this month.

The third thing is that I have finally made a major breakthrough on my languishing picture book. I am now, officially on a roll with the art, though I have not written a single word. (see below). Also, I got a thumbs up from my agent, Victoria Marini, on the premise for my new WIP, so that gives me the kick I need to dive in.

My book LIFE AND BETH is still out on submission. We've gotten two rejections, but as Victoria assures me (she is so ASSURING) they are GOOD rejections. In other words, they are not about the quality of the book, but more about marketing issues with the particular publisher. Not sure I totally buy this, but I am not going to sweat it. Everyone can't fall in love with you, right? But a perfect match is out there. I found Victoria, after all. Just need an editor that has as much faith.

Anyway--keep an eye out for my post on the wonderful Michelle McLean. I have known her for many years and I have actually used her book to help my daughter pull off an academic miracle last year when she waited until THE NIGHT BEFORE to turn in a ten page research paper. And somehow--with the help of Michelle's book (ARC emailed as an amazing courtesy) she not only got it done but got an A- on it.