My Writing Space

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“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”  —Stephen King

My humble writing spot. I’d love to see photos of yours!

Writing Inspiration: Quotes

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As a writer, I’m constantly asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”

I can’t say where my ideas come from. From life, from other stories, from the interests I’ve naturally developed over time … They start out as a vague idea (nostalgia!) and then develop out from there (a teenage girl, World War II, a chateau with secrets…) Most of the time I just have bunches of ideas that only get fleshed out as I write (I’m not an outliner).

In the beginning, I like to collect quotes that inspire me and have something to do with the theme and tone of the book I’m trying to write. Does anyone else do that? So I thought it would be fun to share the quotes I currently have at the top of my Word document work-in-progress. See if you can guess where they’re from:

1. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

2. “Over time, the ghosts of things that happened start to turn distant; once they’ve cut you a couple of million times, their edges blunt on your scar tissue, they wear thin. The ones that slice like razors forever are the ghosts of things that never got the chance to happen.”

3. “You can throw yourself away, missing what you’ve lost.”

4. “But don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”

5. “All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way—if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.”

6. “The point was for one place in their lives to be impregnable. For just one kind of love to be stronger than any outside thing; to be safe.”

7. “Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does.”

8. “I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

9. “They know that tragedy is not glamorous. They know it doesn’t play out in life as it does on a stage or between the pages of a book. It is neither a punishment meted out nor a lesson conferred. Its horrors are not attributable to one single person. Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing. That is what the children know.”

(Answers below. Photo found here.)

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

MK’s Book Reviews: The Mortal Instruments

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So I’ve finally finished The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. (I say finally, but really it took me less than 2 months, with a couple other books in between. That’s not bad for six 500+ page books).

The Mortal Instruments is modern urban YA fantasy, about a teenage girl who discovers she’s actually a demon hunter, and is immediately drawn into a secret world of demons and angels and vampires and werewolves and magic. People draw a lot of parallels to Harry Potter, and I can see why (Clare actually started out as an internet-famous Harry Potter fanfic writer) but it’s definitely got a jibe all its own. It’s much more of a love story than HP ever was–the drawn-out sexual tension was one of the best things in the entire series–and it’s skewed to a slightly older audience. However, unlike Harry Potter, there were a jumble of things that weren’t particularly well-explained or well-plotted. Nevertheless, Clare is a beautiful writer, and this series was like crack to me–I could not stop reading.

This review covers all 6 books of The Mortal Instruments. I have NOT yet read the Infernal Devices (though I’m really looking forward to them!) so please don’t spoil anything for me in the comments I have read The Infernal Devices, and loved them even more; you can find my review of that series here.

Spoilers after the jump…

Continue reading

Friday Things

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As everyone else bitches about the cold, I’m really trying to savor winter, despite the fact I don’t live in a place as lovely as this. Staying in and writing, drinking hot toddies, bundling up in scarves, watching snow fall–is anyone else with me?

Here are some things that made my week:

1. This chart of how old best-selling authors were when they “broke out” is helping me feel loads better about my (non-)burgeoning career.

2. A teenager’s view on social media. So, so interesting and helpful, especially for those of us who are writing for teens. (Although this is the reason I set all my stories in the ’90s/early ’00s–social media changed everything.)

3. When I’m seeking inspiration, I always go back to stories that have blown me away. Those stories are not always in the form of books. Last night I rewatched a couple of Buffy episodes, and started sobbing, as always, at one of the most beautiful speeches in TV show history:

“I’ve been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I’ve seen things you couldn’t imagine, and done things I’d prefer you didn’t. I don’t exactly have a reputation for being a thinker; I follow my blood, which doesn’t exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes. A lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred plus years, and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of. You.

Hey, look at me. I’m not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it’s not because I want you, or because I can’t have you–it has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try… I’ve seen your kindness, and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You’re a hell of a woman.”

Have a wonderful wintry, inspiring weekend!

Photo found here.

Wanderlusty Wednesday: Dreaming of St. John

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Confession: I like winter. I really do. I like Christmas and I like snow and I like hot cider (even better when spiked: this recipe is amazing) and I like staying in under cozy blankets and writing and drinking tea. But yesterday as I was walking home from the subway, the wind off the East River in my face, my fingers frozen even through my gloves, I found myself dreaming of warmer climates.

I never used to think of myself of a Caribbean-type person; my travel-style has always been more adventure-inclined. However, there is something really nice about a trip where you’re supposed to just lie on a beautiful beach all day. If you’re up for one of those, I highly recommend St. John. It’s a quick flight (from the East Coast), tiny, not touristy, made up entirely of beautiful beaches, breathtaking sunsets, and painkillers (the best cocktail ever–and it doesn’t taste the same if you make it at home). We stayed at Gallow’s Point half the time, and the rest rented a beautiful house up in the cliffs where we could look out over this inlet.

It was a different kind of travel experience for me, to be sure, but isn’t that what wanderlust is all about–trying new things?

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Novel Interruptus

It’s time to talk about Novel Interruptus. I found this ingenious term on another writing blog and now I can’t remember which one, so if you know, please tell me so I can give the author credit.

Novel Interruptus is the term for the inevitable break in your writing flow during the holidays, which is something I think a lot of us experience. No matter how many years in a row I resolve to wake up early and write before I’m sucked into present wrapping, cookie decorating, or gift returning, I never do it. The holidays are just too filled with people and activities for me to get much time to myself.

So! How to get back into that writing groove you were in before all the mulled wine and candy canes muddled your brain? Here are the steps I take:

1. Reread I normally advise against too much rereading of what you’ve already written–before you know it, you get sucked into your beautiful prose and you’re spending your precious writing time reading instead of writing. But if it’s been a few days (or a week) since you’ve so much as glanced at your manuscript, you need to read through at least the part you were working on to get back into the mindset of your setting and characters. I’ve also found a quick reread of the beginning and any key scenes helps, too.

2. You don’t have to pick up where you left off Most likely, you stopped mid-scene or chapter. It can be hard to get back into the exact mindset you were in at that point–so don’t! Pick up the story again at whatever point feels natural for you.

3. Look through your notes Not every single one you’ve ever taken, but I’ve found the ones I’ve jotted down recently to be the most helpful. Even if I’m not working on my novel constantly during the holidays, I am thinking about it (and you should be too). In between present-opening, I’ll be jotting down thoughts or bits of dialogue in the notes section of my phone. These notes help immensely when starting back up again.

4. Pick a section and just dive in! I write in a somewhat roundabout fashion–thank God for computers, I don’t know how people write longhand–so after taking the above steps, I just start writing again. Don’t think too hard or long about it–time you spend thinking is time you don’t spend writing, after all.

5. Don’t feel guilty There are probably people out there who’d advise you to skip family time in lieu of writing. I am not one of them. Spending time with the people you care about is more important than your burgeoning writing career. Don’t feel bad about that.

6. Stick to your New Year’s Writing Resolutions (provided they were measurable and manageable) For me, I’ve upped my writing word count goals to 11,000 words per week. I’ve found that a weekly schedule works better than a daily schedule, since there are inevitable days when I’m swamped at work and I’ll fall behind, but that just means I have Saturday and Sunday to devote to several-hour writing frenzies. I’m happy to report that 2 weeks into 2015, I’ve exceeded my writing word count goals each and every week!

Does anyone else have any tips for dealing with Novel Interruptus? I’d love to hear them!

Above photo found on Pinterest with no link to it. If you know the source, please let me know in the comments.

Friday Things

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Happy Friday!

1. I’ve already posted about the deliciousness that is sage tea, but I’ve now found something that makes it even better: raw honey! If you haven’t tried it, you should: it’s healthier and more delicious than regular honey. (Downside: it’s a lot pricier!)

2. I made this soup last night and it’s AMAZING. In general, I’m always blown away by Angela’s recipes, she’s become my go-to food blogger. Check her out if you haven’t already (even if you’re not vegan–I’m not, and I love her food.)

3. I am about one chapter away from finishing The Mortal Instruments series, but I haven’t read all the accompanying series, like the Clockwork ones or the Magnus Bane Chronicles. I think I may need a break before diving into those. But I have so many questions and things I want to discuss about the first series, yet I’m afraid of googling for fear of spoiling the others. Does anyone else want to start a Mortal Instruments discussion group that covers just the first series?? Is there one I can join?

Have a wonderful weekend (and if you’re on the east coast, stay warm!)

Image found here

Wanderlusty Wednesday: Key West

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I’m a big proponent of international travel, but in the past couple of years I’ve been learning that there’s a ton to see and do right here in the US.

Case in point: Key West, Florida. It’s a lovely little island-like place that has captured my heart. In October I went down with some cousins for what we thought was a random family trip–and my cousin and his girlfriend surprised us by getting married while we were there! It made it that much more special.

While you may not have any secret surprise weddings to attend, I recommend visiting Key West anyways. Here’s a little guide to help you:

The Logistics:

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1. If you can, rent a house. (With AC. And a pool. It’s insanely hot and humid down there.) The house we found was on Caroline Street. It was like something out of 1960s Cuba, huge and airy and bright. It had a porch and balconies and was surrounded by palm trees and iguanas, and with five bedrooms and ten of us staying there, the cost per person wasn’t bad at all.

2. Key West is a tiny place; you can get around on a foot and/or a bike, no problem. However, some destinations like Bahia Honda and paddleboard yoga wouldn’t have been possible without a car, so I’d recommend renting a car for at least a day to do a couple of non-walking distance activities.

Beaches (because why go to Florida if you’re not going to go to the beach?):

FBahiaHondaL4This is the only image in this post that isn’t mine, I found it here. It was too hot and sticky to take my camera to the beaches.

1. Fort Zach Walking distance from anywhere in Key West. Small beach, but the water down there is like bathwater. Plus, we saw a pod (is that what it’s called?) of manatees swim by. Pretty cool!

2. Bahia Honda This beach is not on Key West; it’s about a forty minute drive away. But well worth it! Beautiful white-sand beaches and turquoise water, plus this cool old bridge you can climb up. Go there.

Must-dos:

15507274606_107c70095f_k15344202149_a4c68e84c3_k14909894864_85d50dc4fb_k Look at the extra toes! Freaky!

1. Hemingway Home Awesome. I’m biased (as a writer) but even if you’re not interested in listening to the extremely knowledgeable tour guide tell you everything you never knew about one of this country’s most influential writers, you should go to gawk at his beautiful house and grounds, and play with the descendants of his cats. There are about 60 of them, and they all have extra toes (seriously). Bonus: there is a somewhat creepy old man who, upon noticing your cat-loving cousin, will give you treats for the cats and invite you two to come back and play with them the next day, admission-free! (This may only happen if you’re an attractive young female, like my cousin is.)

14910133014_83aee8bfc0_k (1)15528159951_4fa70a4947_k15531661642_5848e43651_k16035873170_ac2468e302_k My cousin Will gives the sunset sail two thumbs up while my boyfriend John demonstrates the importance of sunscreen safety.

2. A sunset sail The site of my cousins’ secret surprise wedding. We used a company called Danger Charters, and they were amazing. Pricey, but you can do shared boats as well as private ones. This was definitely the highlight of our trip.

15345102390_abe73319d0_k How many creepy cemetery iguanas can you find?

3. The Key West Cemetery is creepy as hell. The graves are like in New Orleans or Pere LaChaise in Paris, above ground for the most part, but here they come with these crazy iguanas that pretend to be statues and then jump out and scare the hell out of you as you get close. I recommend going in broad daylight (which I think you have to do anyways).

4. Paddleboard yoga! We went to a place called Lazy Dog, and it was awesome, albeit a lot harder than dry-land yoga. You do need a car to get here, though.

5. Kayaking This was cool, but actually rather grueling. You have to navigate among the tightly-packed mangrove trees, and it’s a challenge both not to run into them and not tip your kayak over. It’s also HOT. If you want to test the strength of your relationship, this is the place to do it!

6. Dry Tortugas: This we did not get to do because we did not book in advance 😦 So I recommend planning ahead! It’s expensive but supposed to be amazing. Most people do day trips from Key West, but I think the best way to see the Dry Tortugas is to camp overnight–my cousin’s new wife did it and she says it’s way more beautiful after all the tour boats have left and you have the place to yourself.

Other things to do:

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1. Walk around It’s such a charming little place. Duval Street is like a chiller, cleaner, better-smelling Bourbon Street, albeit heavy on Jimmy Buffet music. There are also free-range roosters (protected by the government), beautiful architecture, big gnarled old trees … just wander around and take it all in.

2. Harry S. Truman Little White House Harry Truman’s vacation home left exactly as it was when he lived there. You can’t take any photos, but the tour guide’s wealth of knowledge makes it well worth a visit.

3. The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory A room of butterfies, flamingos, turtles, and birds, plus some super-kitschy knickknacks to buy as souvenirs. What’s not to like?

4. The Audobon House Everyone kept telling us we had to go here. It’s a house set up to show what life was like when the first settlers arrived in Key West. It was definitely interesting, but in my opinion missable if needed.

5. The Southernmost point Super touristy–nearly impossible to get a photo, with all the people around it–but worth the walk if only for the pretty houses you pass along the way. Also missable if needed.

Last but not least, eating:

To be honest, I preferred eating in at our beautiful rental house, but that may have had something to do with the fact that my cousin’s new wife’s sister is a chef and she cooked most of our meals 🙂 But for eating out, I recommend:

1. Louie’s: Hidden spot with great food and great views. The hostess is rather rude, but don’t let that ruin it for you.

2. Santiago’s Bodega The site of the post-wedding dinner. Delicious tapas!

3. The Cafe Mostly vegetarian, but not all. Both my meat-eating boyfriend and I loved it.

4. Frenchie’s Cafe French food! (With vegetarian options!)

5. Blue Heaven We didn’t actually make it here, but hear it’s amazing.

6. The Conch Shack We didn’t make it here either, due to the fact that we don’t eat seafood, but we hear this is the place to go if you do!

All in all, Key West is a wonderful place to spend a week, secret surprise wedding to attend or not.

15603240063_bab439d3c5_k    A shot from my cousins’ short, beautiful ceremony.

Have you been to Key West? Did I miss anything? Let me know!

My Books of 2014

These are all the new books I read last year!

City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments, #5)The Geography of You and MeThe Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World.City of Fallen Angels (The Mortal Instruments, #4)City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments, #3)City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)Light on SnowThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAnna and the French Kiss (Anna and the French Kiss, #1)ContactEleanor and ParkWe Were LiarsThe Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)Love Letters to the DeadWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailRequiem (Delirium, #3)The InterestingsWe'll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter MemoirPandemonium (Delirium, #2)The Rules for Disappearing (The Rules for Disappearing, #1)Delirium (Delirium, #1)David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsNeverwhereWhere She Went (If I Stay, #2)The Paris WifeThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #1)Before I FallThe Light Between OceansThis is Where I Leave YouPetals on the Wind (Dollanganger, #2)Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger, #1) Just One Day (Just One Day, #1)Orphan TrainIf I Stay (If I Stay, #1)The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat FriendZoliEasy (Contours of the Heart, #1)The Spectacular NowWhere'd You Go, BernadetteCutting for StoneThe Remains of the DayThe AviaryHollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #2)Divergent (Divergent, #1)

I’ve left out 6, because I disliked like them so much I didn’t feel like putting them here. You can, however, find them with their 1- and 2-star ratings on my Goodreads.

This is also not counting any rereads I did because I don’t keep track of that on Goodreads. As far as I can recall, I reread these books this year:

Tuck EverlastingMany Waters (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #4)Winnie-the-Pooh (Winnie-the-Pooh, #1)Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3)On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftThe Time Traveler's WifeBunniculaHowliday InnThe Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad, #2)In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Giver (The Giver, #1)

Mostly all-time favorites, mid-summer I went on a children’s lit kick, and On Writing is something I reread every year, probably twice.

So 52 new reads in all, 46 of which I liked or loved, plus 12 rereads (that I can recall). That makes 64 books, a little more than 1 per week. That actually surprises me, as I would have thought I usually get in more than 1 per week. But then again, some of these were long, and others I’m probably just forgetting about.

Which were my favorites? That’s hard! How about some other superlatives?

Made me weep uncontrollably: tie between Cutting for Stone and We Were Liars

Beautiful prose: The Remains of the Day (his books slay me) and The Secret Place (Tana French is the master of beautiful sentences)

Best sequel: Hollow City was awesome. Can’t wait for the third

Made me LOL (literally): This is Where I Leave You, Where’d You Go Bernadette

Other faves: The Spectacular Now, The Interestings, Dante & Aristotle, If I Stay, The Duff, Love Letters to the Dead, Wild … oh, there are so many beautiful books in this world, if only I had the time to read them all.

How about you? Send me links to your reading lists, if you have them. And be friends with me on Goodreads, if you aren’t already!

For the New Year

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“It’s so arbitrary,” my cousin said on New Year’s Eve. “This is just another day. We might as well wish each other a happy March 3rd every year.”

And so went our mellow New Year’s Eve celebration at my cousin’s house, which used to be my grandma’s house, the one our mothers grew up in. My cousin is right, of course. New Year’s Eve is an entirely human construction, meaningful only because we attach meaning to it. Nothing special actually happens on New Year’s Day. It is just another day. The specialness is all in our heads.

And yet, every year I feel compelled to stay up and count down the seconds until midnight, to kiss someone the moment the next year arrives and dole out exclamations of “Happy New Year!” to all within range. This year we found ourselves unexpectedly home in New Jersey, our plans not solidifying until evening. But it felt really right to be ringing in the New Year with a tiny group of people, most of whom I’ve known since birth, in a house that’s been occupied by relatives of mine for most of the hundred years it’s been standing.

Just a day, in just a house. But just because the things that make that day and that place special are entirely in our heads–that doesn’t make them any less special. It makes them more so.

We could choose any day to celebrate the passing of time, to have a fresh start, but we choose New Year’s because it’s symbolic–not just to you or me, but to people the world over. Things have meaning because of the people behind them.

A year could start and end any time, really. And then there are periods of time that are not human constructs, but those constructed for us by nature. I’m talking about a shorter period of time than a year: a day.

It’s easy to talk about what you’ll accomplish this year. But what about what you’ll accomplish today?

I came across this post in my Facebook feed today, and it really resonated with me. Go read it, then come back.Or if you’re too lazy, what it really boils down to is placing more emphasis on the now:

“If you have some goals in mind, vow to work on them day by day rather than making them a year-long project.”

This is so important. Saying to yourself “I will have x words written by June”, “I will take my DSLR out on weekends”  or “I will run three times a week” does nothing for you today. Instead, write 1000 words today, take your camera out today, go for a ten minute run right now. Because right now is the only space you really live in.

My goals for this year are predictable: to write more, eat better, exercise more, connect to more like-minded people on the internet by being more consistent with my social media platforms. But instead of leaving it at that, they are broken down into little things to be accomplished each day. 1000 words every day, exercise every day, even if it’s just a little, one tweet every day.

And while you’re busy with all this goal-making? Don’t forget about the most important thing in your life, no matter what you do or where you are: the people.

In addition to all these career-minded and self-improvement goals, I’ve added one more: to reach out to someone I care about every day. Most of those people are not people I’ll see every day–life drags us all apart, over time. But what if you were to be more deliberate about letting people know you’re thinking about them–just with a text–each and every day? It takes so little time, and it fills your days with the most important thing in the world: the people close to you.

Because it’s people who give meaning to things, who make up the best parts of your days. Don’t lose sight of that, in 2015 or ever.

Above photo taken by me, of lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, last winter.