If I see a really good DVD, I almost always watch the bonus features. I love hearing the behind the scenes info about art direction, actors talking about their experiences, etc. It often doesn’t faze me to immediately rewatch most of the movie with the director’s commentary on. (If you haven’t seen the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, rent it asap! Then watch the movie with the commentary on. It will blow your mind!)
So, below are a few pictures of the real places that inspired the setting for You Are Not Here. All of these places are in the neighborhood I grew up in: Douglas Manor, NY. It’s right on the border of Queens and Long Island. It’s a beautiful place and I feel very lucky to have grown up there.
(In order the photos are: where Brian and Annaleah first met, where Brian died, where Annaleah watches fireworks with her friends, the cemetery where Brian is buried.)
After writing my memoir, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, I was eager to try fiction. Eager, but totally stumped as how to begin. When I wrote I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, I knew the story, the characters, the setting, the ending. But when I started developing You Are Not Here, all I knew was that there was a teenage girl whose boyfriend died, and that he is buried very close to her house. That was it. That was all I had. At times, it was scary to think that every moment — every word — had to come from somewhere inside my brain. I have some friends who write fiction, and they think that all those possibilities are freeing (and that writing a memoir would be considerably harder), but it was the opposite for me. So I started with what I knew…
Read the rest of this entry »
Only 30 days until You Are Not Here launches! To celebrate I’ll be doing several new blog posts about my writing process, inspiration, behind the scenes info, and more. So check back every few days for something new!
People often ask me, “How long does it take to make a book?” I still don’t have a good answer (besides: somewhere between a few weeks and a lifetime). But I can tell you how long it took to write You Are Not Here…and how long it took to get from the manuscript stage to a finished book!
Read the rest of this entry »
After many, many months, my book has a name: You Are Not Here.
It also (sort of) has a cover. Not sure when I can show it, but it’s a really beautiful photograph. An image I had thought about while writing, actually…and my publisher came upon it without me even mentioning it. It’s nice when things work out.
So, I am back from vacation, very rested, and eagerly waiting for notes on my second draft. For this draft, I did A LOT of new writing and moved around the order of many of the poems. That’s sort of the beauty of writing in verse–it gives you the ability to shuffle things in a way that I don’t think you can with prose.
Below is a sneak peak at a poem I really like:
Read the rest of this entry »
At long last, I’ve heard back from my glorious editor about my manuscript. I think the highlight of his email is when he wrote that the ms was “thoroughly disturbing.” I don’t think I could come up with a better compliment that that. But, uh, I guess that’s just me.
So, the work begins again. I’m really excited to get back into it after months of distance. (It’s also not so bad that I have a shiny new apartment and shiny new desk to work at.)
More to come! I hope to be posting more frequently about the revisions process.
So the first draft of my new novel has been delivered to my editor! The last few weeks have been totally exhausting and I am so glad that I have some time before I’ll need to look at the manuscript again.
The process was not easy (and it’s far from over). But it was also really interesting. I’ve never written fiction before. A lot of people said that fiction would be easier than memoir—after all, you can make up whatever you want in fiction. But for me, that made it even harder. I had to come up with everything—every place, every name, every emotion. When I wrote I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, I knew the story. I knew the characters. I knew the emotions. Because I lived it all. The hardest part was figuring out how to tell the story (as opposed to figuring out what the story was).
This novel has been years in the works. It was probably sometime in late 2006 that I first got the idea. And it came from such a random place. I was in a meeting and a coworker said something like “Wow. That would be a crazy place to live.” I don’t even remember what he said, but the first thing I thought of was that it would be weird to live across the street from a cemetery. And later, I thought it’d be even weirder to live across the street from a cemetery if someone you cared about were buried there. Then this little idea came to be a bigger idea. What if a teenage girl’s boyfriend suddenly died and was buried outside of her window? At first I thought that I would make it about really lovely relationship, but soon realized (or was it my editor who told me?) that happy relationships are boring (to write or read about anyway). And then my brilliant editor had the idea to make the boyfriend already dead on page one. And so it went… (Only now, the cemetery is a few blocks from her house. It seemed like overkill to have it be right out her window.)
This may seem so obvious to everyone, but I was shocked at how much of my own personal life I could work into the book. I would love to do some sort of annotated manuscript or interactive website where you could click on a part of the book and it would tell you the real story behind the inspiration. For starters, the cemetery that the book takes place in is in my parents’ neighborhood. The dead boyfriend is made up of bits and pieces of people I’ve dated. An important photo that the main characters references a few times is based on an actual photo of me as a baby. Names of people in the book are based on people in my family. Even the ending is completely based on something that happened to me when I was about 17. Or at least it’s based on what I remember 13 years later.
More to come once I get comments from my editor!
Here’s the first poem of my new book. Alas, the book still doesn’t have a title.
This poem’s still a work in progress. Just like with I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, I am starting with a bit of a flashforward…
PS: The first draft is due in less than 4 weeks…OMG!
I walk down my block
and then take a right turn.
Two more blocks
and I’ll be with Brian.
For the first time
in a long time,
I know he’ll be there
waiting for me.
I sit down on the grass next to him.
He has flowers,
but I know they’re not for me.
I wonder who gave them to him,
but I don’t ask.
I tell Brian about my day.
I say, “I saw your dad
at the supermarket.
I didn’t talk to him—
not like he knows who I am
and even if he did,
I wouldn’t know what to say.
I watched him
take things off the shelves,
look them over
and then put them back.
There was almost nothing
in his cart.
I wonder if he’s always been like that,
or just lately.”
I say, “I miss you.”
I ask if Brian missed me too,
then wait for his answer.
If that squirrel runs up that tree,
then Brian’s answer is yes.
If it stays on the grass,
his answer is no.
The squirrel doesn’t move,
and my breath catches in my throat.
After a moment,
it zips up the tree.
I smile and lay down
next to Brian.
I wish he would hold me
like he used to,
but he doesn’t.
The warm sun makes me drowsy
and I fall asleep on my side
next to Brian.
When I wake up,
grass is imprinted
on my arm and leg.
I get up and brush the grass off my clothes.
Brian doesn’t move.
I say, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I reach out to touch him.
My fingers make contact
with smooth, cold granite.
I trace my fingers
over the deeply imprinted words:
Born February 11
Died age seventeen
Beloved son and friend
Remember how a few months ago I said I was writing a new book? Well, up until very recently I haven’t done very much (you know, aside from going to that dang full-time job I’ve got). Well, I can finally say that I am actually writing my new book. See? This photo proves it. Sort of, anyway.
Fiction is really challenging. People tell me that it should be easy compared to writing a memoir, but it’s not. I didn’t have to outline my memoir. I didn’t have to come up with a plot or characters. I already knew it all. But writing fiction can be very overwhelming. I need to construct this world, filled with people who have actual lives and feelings… But I’m getting there. I’ve been working steadily for a few weeks and I pretty much think about the book, its plot, or the characters everyday. That NEVER happened before and I’ve been toying with the same concept for 2 years.
In short, this new book is about a teenage girl named Annaleah whose sort-of-boyfriend has just died. (They would hook up and hang out, but he was a flake and never called and could never really be depended on. But when they were together, just the two of them, it felt perfect. Special.) The first page of the book takes place the morning of his funeral.
Right now I have about 17 typed pages of poems. The pic above is from my journal. I use it on the subway during my commute, if the mood strikes.
The inspiration for this book came from a lot of different places:
* The first is an experience I had when I was about 19. One of my closest friend’s friend died suddenly. While I had only met her a few times, it had a huge imapct on me. (this is in my memoir)
* Another inspiration comes from my general fascination with loss and death and how people deal with each. Okay, let’s not mince words . . . what I actually mean is my fear of death.
* The next reason it pretty simple. I’ve had a few “sort-of-boyfriends” and have plenty of experiences to draw from.
* The last reason (for now anyway) is that there are people who I’ve dated (or been friends with) who are no longer part of my life. I don’t talk to them or see them and that feels like a death to me.
I think I might post some early poems from the book. That, and scanned images of a collection of poems I wrote AND illustrated when I was in 6th grade. There’s a good chance it might make you laugh so hard you’ll cry.