I Heart Lincoln Center

posted in: Musings, The Muse | 0
The Lincoln Center Plaza

Much of The Muse is set at Lincoln Center. It’s where Ballet Theater of New York performs in their season. It’s where Darcy confesses his love to Elizabeth, and where she reads his tell-all letter in the wake.

It’s also one of my favorite places in New York City, an aspirational corner of the city for those who love the performing arts. Lincoln Center is the largest performing arts complex in the world, home to 13 theaters, a public library, several movie theaters, classrooms, restaurants, and more. Many of NYC’s beloved cultural institutions call it home, including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet (NYCB’s feeder school), and the Julliard School. American Ballet Theater, while not located on the campus, also performs there.

The David Koch State Theater, where the ballets are performed.


Ironically, Lincoln Center came into being after the filming of West Side Story, which happened several blocks away. Once the opening dance sequence of the movie had been shot, the entire neighborhood and its historical tenements were razed to make way for the arts complex.



Recent renovations have made Lincoln Center a more open place to the city’s residents.

There’s always tension between “culture’s” place within a larger culture, with many artists looking down upon what the masses call “art” and many regular folk finding “art” hoity-toity and inaccessible. Lincoln Center’s physical location in New York City embodies this tension. Prior to its recent facelift, Lincoln Center was often criticized as being walled-off from the rest of the city. Pedestrians could only enter the complex through the plaza at Columbus Avenue – the posher side closer to Central Park. Separated by a literal wall at the back of the complex were city housing projects. Recently, Lincoln Center underwent renovations to make it more pedestrian-friendly and open to the people of New York City. Now, there is more outdoor seating, including a lovely grassy knoll perfect for sunbathing and picnicking, and free outdoor events.

Lincoln Center offers daily tours of the complex, but the best way to experience it is to buy tickets to a ballet, opera, play, musical, or concert. It’s utter magic, particularly when the iconic fountains are lit up.

Did you know I’m on Pinterest? Click here for more pictures of Lincoln Center, NYC, and images that I love: Follow Jessica’s board NYC on Pinterest.

Turn Off the Fluorescent Lights!

posted in: The Muse, Writing Life | 2

This post touches on writer’s craft and has some spoilers.


Writing should be like Chinese brush painting.

I used to write love scenes like fluorescent lighting: I revealed everything. Like a sportscaster giving the play-by-play, I accounted for every breath, every moan, every facial expression, every body part.

Then, I stopped doing that.

Call me a prude, but knowing exactly what was going on in every love scene really turned me off. In Chinese ink painting, the concept of negative space is just as important to the composition as the dark strokes of ink on the paper. The idea is to capture the essence of the thing in as few brushstrokes as possible.

Now, I try to do the same thing with my words that Chinese painters do with their brushes: I try to build emotion and sensuousness by not only carefully choosing words, but by choosing to not use words. I say things simply. I use fewer adjectives and name fewer body parts. I write the essence of the love scene and not the play-by-play.

For example, one love scene that I wrote in my book, The Muse, was described entirely through the Elizabeth’s drunken flashback. She barely remembers her night of passion, so the love scene is fragmented, told only in blurry snapshots. Here’s an excerpt:

She could only recall the night in flashes—like photographs in a slide show:

Banging her knee against an iron bistro chair as they scurried, mid-kiss, back into the bedroom… The touch of his fingertips as they brushed against the nape of her neck… The feel of his abdomen under her fingers, ridged yet soft when she’d peeled off his shirt.

Also, in the climax of my story, when Elizabeth and Darcy have finally settled their differences, worked out their misunderstandings, confessed their feelings towards each other, and come together for their first real kiss, this is what I write:

William drew her close and kissed her. They came up for air some time later, wild-eyed and flushed.

By not describing the softness or wetness or slowness or deepness of the kiss, I might be disappointing some readers, who have been waiting the entire book for this moment. But, actually, this kiss leaves room for imagination. It’s coy. It continues to entice and titillate, even as it relieves tension.

Am I suggesting you cut out entire love scenes? Am I suggesting that we stop describing sex or kisses or longing looks? No. But your writing doesn’t need to be weighed down with endless description of who’s doing what to whom and where they’re doing it. That actually slows the pace and, to me, is less satisfying. Sometimes, writing less makes the reader use her imagination more.

Fluorescent lights show everything. They’re unsexy. Now, I write like candlelight, painting my love scenes with a gentler, less revealing light.

Review of “For Darkness Shows the Stars”

posted in: Reviews | 0

As part of an Austenesque reading challenge on Goodreads, I’ve decided this year to read as much Austenesque as I can. I’m also a middle school English teacher, so part of my professional responsibilities include keeping up on the latest in middle grade and young adult fiction. (This is one of the best parts of my job, BTW.) For this challenge, I’ve decided to combine my passions for both Austenesque and YA to seek out books that are both. I started reading For Darkness Shows the Stars in December and just finished today. I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed. I enjoyed this book a lot!

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund is an unusual and well-written reimagining of Persuasion, my second favorite Jane Austen novel.
What I liked:

– Well-developed characters, particularly the protagonist, Elliot North. Peterfreund beautifully retained the original Anne Elliot’s reserve and emotional inner life. As in the original, Elliot North harbors one regret: that she didn’t run away with her best friend and first love, Kai, when she was 14. But Elliot and Kai came from different worlds – Elliot was the daughter of a lord, and Kai was the son of his servant. Four years later, Kai returns to Elliot’s life no longer an impoverished slave, but a wealthy sailor and explorer. Elliot is stunned and ashamed and oh-so-mournful. Although 18 years old, Elliot is mature and self-possessed beyond her years. She is a capable farmer, mechanic, and landowner, who is essentially running her father’s estate while he wastes the family’s money on extravagances like building racetracks in the wheat fields.

– The dystopian world Peterfreund creates. I gotta admit, I’m pretty tired of the badass-teenage-girl-dismantles-her-entire-society trope that so many of the YA books in the genre use (and reuse and reuse). In this novel, Peterfreund paints the picture of a post-apocalyptic society where most modern-day technology was not only destroyed, but where its re-invention is also banned. The Luddite leaders of this society claim that technology like genetic modification practically destroyed humanity, and is therefore evil and against God. This society is divided rigidly into castes with the Luddites at the top and the Reduced, mentally impaired humans, are at the bottom. Smack in the middle are the rising class of of the Post-Reduced, of Children of the Reduced as the Luddites call them. The Posts are humans that have been born with the same intellectual abilities as Luddites but are still bidden to work as slaves for the Luddites. There are many bad things about this world – namely the rigid caste system and enslavement of the Posts/Reduceds by the Luddites – but this is a world painted in shades of grey, in which some Luddites can be good and responsible leaders of society. Elliot North is one of these. She truly cares about the people under her responsibility; everything she does is for their wellbeing whether it’s breaking the rules of society to graft new forms of hybrid wheat or remaining on her father’s estate to care for them instead of pursuing her heart’s desire.

– The gorgeous writing and beautiful prose. This book was just such a pleasure to read.

What I didn’t like so much:

– The book started off slow. I almost gave up on it, but decided to keep plugging through once Kai re-entered the picture. The book picks up after this.

– The decision to make Elliot North 18 years old. It didn’t seem necessary to me and, in fact, I believe something was lost from the original in making Elliot so young. Part of what makes Persuasion such a captivating read is that the protagonist, Anne Elliot, is basically beyond marrying age. It makes her story much more melancholy and her struggle so much more relatable. To Peterfreund’s credit, this is a YA novel, and there are other elements in this story that add to the tension between Elliot and Kai (some of these are spoilers), but I just wished Elliot had been older.

Give this one a go. It’s unique and refreshing as both a YA dystopian novel and a Jane Austen re-imagining.