Another Year Older

posted in: Musings | 0

Whelp, it’s happened.

I had another birthday: the big three-four. I’m officially in my mid-thirties. Somehow, this scares me more than when I turned thirty proper.

My birthday is my own personal New Year’s celebration. It’s a time to get reflective, to think of all that’s happened to me in the year and to think ahead to the next. I’ve gotta say 33 was a heckuva year. One of the best so far.

First, I celebrated the publication of The Muse,which was just so much fun. Becoming a real author with a real book was a long cherished dream of mine. I loved connecting with readers in the JAFF community and feel so grateful for all of the praise the book received.

IMG_3104Another cool thing that I did in my thirty-third year was taking a cross-country road trip from New York City, where I live, to Jackson, Wyoming to meet my boyfriend’s parents. We saw a lot of corn, listened to a lot of podcasts, and saw so much of our beautiful country. At some points, I thought I would cry from boredom (I actually did once on the trip), but looking back, it was an adventure.

IMG_3288
Rowan & Eddie, my cat babies.

Then, I adopted two adorable cats: Eddie and Rowan. At first, it was stressful being a cat mom. I didn’t know what to do when they came down with a case of the crazies and started sprinting all over the house. I’d never seen so much hair accumulate on my carpets. And then one got an infected claw and the other got asthma. It’s tough being a cat-mom, but it’s fun, too. As I write this, Eddie, in a sweeter moment, is kneading the blanket next to me and purring. And now he’s back to jumping in and out and in and out of his favorite plaything: a cardboard box.

Last, in exciting news, I got engaged! My boyfriend proposed in August and we plan to get married next July in New York City. Wedding planning is not easy, even though I consider myself a pretty laid-back bride.

That’s all to say that life is keeping me busy and I’m happy. It’s been a good year. Here’s hoping my 34th will be just as happy.

Miami Memories

posted in: Musings | 2

Although I live in Brooklyn, NY, I was born and raised in Miami. South Florida is a strange and unique place. Yesterday, while waiting for my flight home, I got a little nostalgic and began to catalog some of my memories of my hometown.

Alba
Port of Miami with South Beach in the background

 

I remember cheek-kisses as greetings instead of hugs or handshakes.

I remember the ballet moms sharing gossip and tiny cups of cafecitos as they watched their daughters dance from the waiting room of Ballet Etudes.

I remember how the pleather seats of the school bus burned the backs of my thighs every afternoon from September to November and again from April to June.

I remember running through the sprinklers on the P.E. field during summer camp.

I remember going to my first quinceanera and learning how to booty dance.

I remember the worst sunburn I ever got, waiting in line to go down the waterslide at C.B. Smith Park.

I remember pizza with my dad on the Hollywood Beach boardwalk.

I remember a tourist approaching me when I worked at Banana Republic to tell me that I should get a tan, so I didn’t look so pale and sickly.

I remember strawberry picking in January.

I remember palm trees with Christmas lights on them.

I remember turquoise waters. I remember the first time I saw the Jersey Shore and thought, “This isn’t a real beach.”

I remember skipping school to go to South Beach.

I remember traffic jams caused by dead chickens in the middle of the road.

I remember my parents pulling over on Kendall Drive to pick up a stray avocado that had fallen off of someone’s backyard tree.

I remember blinding afternoon sun and cumulus clouds like pillows of cotton candy.

I remember red flamboyan trees dotted along the highway.

I remember sweating.

I remember the musky smell of evening humidity.

I remember afternoons that were too lazy and too endless.

I remember all of this whenever I come back.

Lessons from Creative Writing Workshop

posted in: Musings, Writing Life | 0

Student TeacherI spend my days teaching 6th graders how to read and write. This semester, I taught my first creative writing elective and so last week, with the end of the semester, I gave my students a survey so that I could get feedback on what they liked and what they didn’t. Their feedback made me think about my writing practice and what I need to help me continue growing as not only a teacher, but as a writer, too.

Here’s what they told me:

1) Fewer lessons

At the beginning of every class, I’d teach a short lesson (no longer than 15 minutes) on some element of the writing process or writer’s craft. One day, I might teach students how to describe their characters more or how to come up with ideas when they were stuck. While I’d invite students to try the strategy in their own writing that day, I didn’t require them to.

Still, overwhelmingly, in their surveys they told me that they wanted fewer lessons and more time to write. Well, duh. <smacks forehead>

The only way we learn to write is by writing. Students, especially emerging writers, do need lessons on writer’s craft, so I won’t put an end to mini-lessons entirely. I am, however, going to reduce the number of lessons I give each week so that students just have more time to write.

2) More teacher feedback

Some people may not be able to imagine a 6th grade classroom that doesn’t have include a daily lesson. “What will the children learn?!?!1” they cry in dismay, tearing their hair out (or something like that.)

I know that the best way for me to improve my own writing is through targeted and personalized feedback. My students agreed. They wanted to hear more from me. So my plan for next semester is to do more writing conferences.

A writing conference is a one-on-one lesson that a teacher has with a student-writer. It usually starts with an open-ended question like “How’s it going?” and finishes with the teacher giving specific feedback on the student’s piece. This kind of feedback works well for two reasons: 1) it’s immediate so students can revise their pieces before turning them in, 2) it cuts down on the amount of time I spend reading and giving written feedback on student work.

3) More opportunities to share

This one came as a surprise. In my class, I allowed students to work with each other every day. I taught different ways of sharing work and giving and receiving peer feedback in pairs, small-groups, and whole-class. I often left 10-15 minutes at the end of class for students to share their work in front of the class, yet few took me up on the opportunity. I’m not sure if it was from shyness or false modesty. I’m not sure if it was fear of being criticized by other classmates.

In any case, many students said they enjoyed hearing their classmates’ writing and wanted more time for sharing and feedback. One thing that I’ll continue thinking about is how to encourage all of the writers in the room to share with each other.

 

All of this feedback got me thinking about my needs as a writer. I need:

1) Time to write. Writers grow by writing. Time to write is precious, and I need to show up for my writing every day.

2) Feedback. I’d like more beta readers who’d be willing to give me feedback on my writing so that I’m not only relying to feedback when the story is finished.

3) Opportunities to share. Blogging, writers’ groups, online writing communities, and more publishing! I need to seek out more opportunities to share my writing, being careful not to fall prey to shyness or fear.

 

I love how my students often make me reflect on my own writing practices!

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.

Looking Back and Ahead

posted in: Musings | 0

Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. He’s characterized by having two faces – one that looks forward, and one that looks behind him. It’s appropriate, then, that our month of January is named for Janus, as the new year offers a great time for looking back on the past year to learn from our accomplishments and mistakes, and to look ahead to set goals.

Janus, Roman god of beginnings and transitions

2014 was a monumental year for me. This year, I saw one of my long-cherished dreams come true when I published my first novel! 2014 began with a flurry of revisions. In the beginning of the year, I tried to submit the book to agents and publishers, and then, when that didn’t pan out like I’d hoped, I sunk into a short-lived funk in which I thought my dream would never become a reality. In September, signing with Meryton Press revitalized me. The run-up to publishing The Muse involved so much work: revision, editing, web design, social networking, and book marketing and promotion. When it finally released a few weeks ago, I stared at my Amazon author page, basking in relief, joy, anxiety, and exhaustion, and thinking, “What now?” I spent so many years being an “aspiring writer.” Now that I’m an “real writer,” I’ve had to shift my identity and my priorities a little bit.

Here’s what my year of The Muse taught me:

  • Revision is hard. Plan first. Don’t be afraid of the Delete key.
  • Find and keep a network of writers. This year, I joined the Romance Writers of America’s NYC chapter. In addition to soaking up the advice of some very savvy writers, chapter meetings inspired me to keep writing, revising, and submitting. The authors in the Meryton Press network also share writing and marketing ideas, which proved to be very useful as I embarked on this journey. I can say with 100% confidence that, had I not had these writing networks, I would not have been able to publish my book.
  • In that same vein, being a part of a reading community has been essential, too. Writers need to read. I use Goodreads and Facebook to interact with other readers and shared books, articles, pictures, and jokes.

Looking ahead at 2015, here is what I hope to accomplish:

  • Continue to build my network of fellow readers and writers by participating in RWA meetings, becoming more active on Goodreads and Facebook, and perhaps even attending a writing conference or two!
  • Prioritize writing in my life by carving out and protecting time to write daily and weekly. As a writer with a full-time job and full-time life, it’s easy to schedule work, friend dates, time with my boyfriend, Internet surfing, etc. into all of my free time. This year, I’m going to start scheduling writing dates with my MacBook into my calendar. Similarly, use school breaks (winter, spring, and summer) to write.
  • Start (and finish!?) my next book. I have a few ideas for the next project. The problem is choosing one and going with it!

What about you? What has been your biggest accomplishment of the year? What have you learned? What goals will you set in the coming year?

Giving Thanks

posted in: Musings | 0

It’s that time of year…when we express our love and gratitude for the special people in our lives in $5 increments via Starbucks gift cards. When we show peace and goodwill towards all people by running each other down in WalMart to grab a deal on an XBox or iPhone. When we try to out-bake, out-light, and out-decorate our neighbors in displays of joyful festivity.

It’s so easy to see what we lack in life: a new pair of boots, a new laptop, a basket for my bike, a set of Jane Austen’s novels with redesigned covers, a Turkish kilim for my eclectic living room.

I love the holidays, but the consumer-driven focus really detracts from the spirit of celebration and reflection during this time of year. And a few weeks ago, amidst the chaos of another school year, the run-up towards the release of The Muse, and the busy pace of daily life in the city that not only never sleeps, but can’t even take a 5-minute nap, I realized that I lost sight of the many gifts that I already have.

I read a Latin saying somewhere once that translated to: everything that I want, I already have. I believe this. I have many gifts: friends, family, a home, a fulfilling job, enough money to go out to dinner occasionally or buy myself something I like.

But it’s easy to lose sight of this. I need a reminder. So I have decided that the “gift” I will give myself this year is one of gratitude. Every day from Thanksgiving until New Years, I will write a list of the people, places, and things for which I am grateful. I invite you to consider joining me. What are you grateful for?