Category Archives: work

Some musings on writing and teaching in 2018 & some goals for 2019

2018 A Look Back: Writing and Teaching

I wrote my goals for 2018 in the front of my planner last year. As I transferred info from one planner to another, I was pleasantly surprised; I had actually accomplished a few of my bigger goals. I finished Stagecraft—a novel I’ve been working on longer than I care to say. I started it back when we lived in New York after reading Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, a noir thriller about cheerleaders. I thought to myself, I can do this type of story with musical kids. And that’s exactly what I set out to do.

Unfortunately,  the first go needed a lot of revisions. My agent’s feedback was good but included major changes. And then we moved to Austin and had Darcy and moved to Dallas, etc. So, finding the time and space to work on a long piece of fiction became more and more challenging. But I’m proud to say that in May of 2018, I sent a finished manuscript to my agent. Now, we wait. Margaret sent the book to five editors, all imprints of large publishing companies.

I also set a goal of publishing two more articles. I know that’s a really low number and I’ve pitched upwards of 10 different stories but only two got published. Between finding the time to do good work and matching myself with a publication for that work, two new articles felt like a manageable expectation. I wrote a short story for The Dead Mule School ofSouthern Literature and a braided essay about my son’s school farm for Thrive.

I wanted to expand my tutoring services in 2018. When I started tutoring, I really hadn’t anticipated how much I would enjoy working one-on-one with students. My only experience was in the classroom where I had to manage anywhere from smaller groups of 10-12 to a class as large as 32 seniors (Hello,Class of 2007!). I decided that I would take on a few more students and offer a writing class in the summer. Everything went really well. Having consistent clients is the best possible compliment to my work as a tutor. And it’s always nice to get a phone call from a new parent that begins with, “Hi! I’m a friend of [current client’s] and I was hoping you might be able to fit in my son/daughter…”

Finally, I wanted to do a great job as a long-term substitute at Hockaday, an all-girls K-12 private school here in Dallas. I haven’t taught in a traditional classroom since Jackson was two-years-old. I went back to teaching right after he was born and then for two years after that as a part-time teacher. It was one of those work situations where it was great and convenient until it wasn’t.

So, when the chair of the Hockaday English department contacted me about the position last winter, my initial reaction was “Sounds like a lot of unnecessary stress for me. No, but thank you for thinking of me.” But I think that reaction was borne out of fear. I thought about all the reasons it would be wrong. I hadn’t taught in six years. Preston was far different from Hockaday (really, the only thing the two schools have in common is the all-girls factor). I have two kids and two schedules to juggle. C.K. travels more than he did when I was teaching at Preston. And I hate grading papers. And I’d have to do so much reading to get ready for it. The reasons piled up and so did my fear.

But I’m happy I said yes. Hockaday is a lovely school with even lovelier students. I enjoyed doing the reading over the summer. I got to read or reread some amazing literature. With the help of my husband and parents, juggling the kids’ schedules was doable—not easy, but doable. I kept up with working out (Hello, 5:30am class!) and I kept up with the chores (mostly) and even better, I learned to ignore the stuff that doesn’t need to get done. (Yes, it’s okay that the playroom is a mess.) Most importantly, I learned that I could work and be mom. And I found a little piece of my pre-motherhood identity that had been lost, a piece of my soul that is fed by great literature and even better class discussions.

2019 Goals: Writing and Teaching

My great hope for Stagecraft is that an editor will love it, have to have it, and publish it right away. Picture a lady named Maxine wearing big tortoise-shell glasses saying that. And then it gets published and the readers just love it and have to have it and tell their boozy book clubs about it.

After talking to Stagecraft beta-readers, I have a good idea for a sequel. I have about 8K words of the sequel. The working title is Curtain Call and it’s a flash-forward ten years to an alumni show back at Whispering Hills Country Day school. I want to answer the questions I left open-ended with Stagecraft and put to rest the conflict between main characters Skylar and Hannah once and for all.

Just like last year, I want to publish two more articles. I think I’d love to pitch an article about my grandfather and his time at the FDNY. Maybe I’ll pitch that to the new NYT column “TIES.”

I’m also working on a NSFW short story that follows a character from my pilot Soccer Domme into a neighborhood New Year’s Eve party that turns into a swinger party. I’ve been meaning to “play”with Kate Wright’s character more. Maybe it will turn into a good short story. Maybe it will turn into a chapter from Soccer Domme the novel.

Either way, one of my main writing goals is to be more disciplined about my craft. You don’t get better at something without a lot practice. Even if you are talented, you still have to hone your skills. I want to start writing every day. Whether I’m working on fiction or personal essays or posting more to my blog, I want to carve out some time in my agenda just for writing.

I’m good at focusing when it comes to teaching and grading and prepping classes. I think it’s because teaching is so structured. Class starts at 8:30 so that lesson better be prepared. It forces the time management on you. But writing is different. All the motivation comes from you. All the drive to sit at the computer and draft or revise comes from within.

And writing a long piece of fiction requires reflection time—so much thinking about your characters and their back stories, and their anxieties. All that thinking time doesn’t show up on the page, but you have to do it. Characters won’t be authentic unless they live with you. I find focusing on this aspect of writing difficult as well. I want to start drafting. I want to be editing sentences already. I don’t like spending time with bigger ideas, with characters and the many tentacles of their personalities.

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The 90s Nostalgia Writer Position at Bustle Mag

 

Hey Mariah! Go back like babies and pacifiers.

There’s a part-time position open in the Lifestyle vertical at Bustle. One of the questions on the application is “Give us sample pitches” that pertain to this vertical. I thought it would be fun to share my possible articles for Bustle.

Headline: How Mariah Carey saved 90s music.
Vision of Love was released in 1990 and since then, the ubiquitous diva has proved she’s not going away. Like her or not, she outlasted the one-hit wonders and released the greatest holiday album of all time. And you know you’ve tried to hit those high notes.

Headline: The Teacher Took It: An Index of Confiscated Artifacts from the 90s Classroom
Don’t get caught adjusting your snap bracelet over and over. Don’t get caught feeding your Tamagotchi. And definitely don’t get caught passing a note.

Headline: The Best Literature of the 90s (No, this list doesn’t include Oh, the Places You’ll Go)
You think you know 90s literature because you read Harry Potter when it first came out? You don’t. Expand your mind and have snobby books to namedrop in conversations with these titles: The Things They Carried, Infinite Jest, Underworld, and The Love of a Good Woman.

Headline: My Pager: An Essay about Life before the Tyranny of Smart Phones

(I forgot to write the first few lines for this one. I blame my kids. Insert anxious emoji here.)

Headline: Sh*t We Were Scared of in the 90s (and the sh*t we should’ve been concerned about):
Y2K? Clinton’s taxes causing a massive market crash and recession? No.
Climate Change? Apparently scientists in the 90s didn’t think it was an issue.

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Mommy & Novelist…Or Maybe the Other Way Around

Jackson prepares for the Mud Run.

Alternate title: “How To Write and Market Your Novel, Be a Stay-at-Home Mom, and Deal with the Pull of Guilt from Both Your Literary Baby and Your Real Baby.”

I started writing North Shore South Shore in 2007 when my husband was relocated to Los Angeles. I was working as an editor for AOL’s TV Squad. I joined a writer’s group with my husband just to fill some time. I took the relocation hard and didn’t have many friends in L.A. or much to do for that matter. But I drafted the first iteration of my novel.

We moved home just a year later, I started working as a high school English teacher, and North Shore South Shore collected figurative dust filed away on a USB drive. Plus I started back pursuing my second Masters. For a solid year, the novel was just a large file, forgotten and finally moved to make room for lesson plans and graduate work. I looked at it a few times during school breaks. I had to revise much of it and add a fourth narrator. But I couldn’t even get to writing because I would have to read the whole thing before I could put fingers to laptop.

In 2010, I had Jackson and finishing North Shore South Shore looked unlikely. But in the summer of 2010 (five-month-old in tow) I buckled down during naps and after bedtime. North Shore South Shore was “coming along.” I even started posting about it on my facebook page (because if you don’t mention it on facebook, it’s not real). By the following summer, I had something of a manuscript and an active, charming 15-month-old. I had also finished my second Masters. My husband’s voice was now a familiar refrain: You need to finish it. How many people say they are going to write a novel and never write one? You have over 100,000 words. You never know–it might get published.

Jackson takes the road not taken.

And I have him to thank for the completion of North Shore South Shore. My refrain was something like this: I don’t have the time. I have the baby to care for. I have a part-time teaching gig still. It’ll never get looked at anyway. But, despite my best efforts to convince myself NOT to finish the novel, I finished it. I created this blog to document the process. The book became an old friend that I would catch up with whenever I had the chance. I looked forward to times when I could work on it the same way I looked forward to taking Jackson to the zoo or the playground.

While writing the book was a focused, intense process, marketing my book to both buyers and literary agents is a multi-headed monster, like the mythical one that Hercules kills in his labors. But Hercules killed his wife and kids (ain’t no Disney ending there) and therefore is suspect as a role model for this process. Talk about missplaced rage.

Still, I’m left with the task of fitting it all in (and without mythical role models). Oh, and I should mention we’re potty training right now. My days alternate between the guerilla marketing of North Shore South Shore and taking care of Jackson. I confess, sometimes I just want to focus on caring for and playing with him. When I’m working on novel stuff, Jackson beckons “I play you, Mommy” and grabs my hand. (Cue pang of guilt.) I feel like I’m missing something. He’ll never be this age again. “It goes so fast so enjoy it,” said the lady in the diner peering over her walker with tennis balls on the bottom and I get this eerie feeling that my octogenerian self is warning me. (It should be noted that before said lady walkered over to our table, I was trying to make Jackson sit in his high chair and he was calling “Help! Help!” to other diner patrons.)

But if I’ve spent the whole morning with Jackson, my literary baby beckons.

So my days include (but are not limited to) potty training, updates to the novel’s facebook page, emailing queries to agents, cutting up fruit for snacks, play dates, formatting the book for release to eReaders, scouring Pinterest to fill out North Shore South Shore‘s Pinterest page, tweeting, emailing, diaper changing, playing with blocks or trains or play-doh, and the occasional art project.

And despite every expectation that I should not be able to accomplish both, things are getting done. I’ve had several requests for full manuscripts from agents. My kickstarter project started two days ago and is already 31% funded. My facebook page has over 300 fans. And the book is finished and will be released in October.

And my laundry is done. And my apartment is (somewhat) tidy. Because mommies can do anything. After all, we gave birth. That s*** was ridiculously hard.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll allow for some advice (not of the sage variety but advice nonetheless):

1. It’s okay to want to work on your work, especially if you’re creative like me. Just as my child is a living, breathing being in need of my love, North Shore South Shore is an ever-expanding and contracting text that has taken on a life of its own via twitter, facebook, and kickstarter. Taking care of both babies feeds my soul in different ways. I’ve learned I’m learning to be at peace with working on the project.

Jackson paints a blob.

2. Do something meaningful with your child (either once or multiple times a day depending on the age). I find that Jackson’s attention span for me is only about 20-30 minutes. After that, his interaction level decreases and he moves on to something else. So I try to do a few activities in a day with him. We paint, craft, build block towers, pretend play with Go Diego Go toys, build Thomas Tracks, and read books. Some days I spend a few hours in the morning with him at the Botanical Gardens or the Bronx Zoo and then I spend more of my afternoon marketing North Shore South Shore or doing quick stints of proofreading.

3. Get in some work when your child is napping or eating. The naptime work session is obvious. But I get in some writing after I set Jackson up with breakfast or lunch. I find it takes toddlers at least a half hour to eat anything. He is a gourmet who savors each cheerio, each bite of penne, each strawberry half. By contrast, I eat lunch standing at my kitchen counter, putting away dishes with one hand and stuffing a sandwich in my mouth with the other. Because of my obsessive need to multi-task and damaged relationship with food, I can get plenty done during his lunchtime.

4. If you feel like there’s something you want to do, DO IT. Write the book. Start the business. (I have a friend who makes beautiful invitations from home and another who crafts adorable bows for little girls.) Finish the degree. (I have two friends working on their dissertations right now.)  Just do it. I certainly believe you can.

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Summer Reading List

At Preston, we require students to read the following: two required books, one from the nonfiction list and one from the fiction. I’m not sharing any of those lists here because I don’t feel like searching my computer to find them. But I did want to share what books I read this summer.

Two Required Books: Sister of My Heart by Divakaruni  & The Kite Runner by Hosseini (These are the required books my seniors needed to get through.)

One from the Fiction pile: The Help by Stockett (This is easily my favorite book in a long time.)

One from the Non-Fiction pile: Decoded by Jay-Z (I confess I started reading this to break up my other non-fiction pic–What to Expect: The Toddler Years. And I started it because C.K. wasn’t finished with Clash of Kings, the sequel to Game of Thrones. But Decoded is smart, engaging, and has moments of real depth. Jay-Z’s talents in writing extend far beyond his incredible songwriting capabilities. And his perceptiveness is evident on every page. It comes with endnotes for when Jay-Z “close reads” his own songs–an aspect of the book that borders on academic. Decoded is definitely the “Seabiscuit” of my summer reading so far.)

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Century 21, New York’s Best Kept Secret

Century 21
Okay, so it says that on the sign but Century 21, as you can tell by the packed lot, is no secret to New Yorkers. There’s one in the city, one in Brooklyn, and one on Long Island. Last Friday, my mom and I visited the Long Island store for some “back-to-school” clothes. Century 21 carries all kinds of trendy brands and designer names at half price. Of course, you have to check the sizes and check for any weird sewing errors. The store gets surplus and some awkward stuff. But as long as you’re willing to sift through racks of clothing, you could find some really good buys. In fact, last year I found a Nicole Miller gown for a friend’s wedding here. I paid $40 for it. It’s normal retail was about $400. My friend Kim was shopping with me and agreed that I was losing money if I didn’t buy it. Like my awesome shopping logic?

On Friday, I bought C.K. four polo tops (Izod, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger included in that). I also needed some tops for work at Preston this year. Because schools don’t have air conditioning and September can be warm in New York, I needed a few professional but light, airy tops to wear to work. I got a few things. A nice Da-Nang cotton top with peasant sleeves among them.

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Schoolhouse Rock rocks

This is my favorite Schoolhouse Rock video. The Verb one is a close second.

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The Wiz soundtrack

I just bought The Wiz soundtrack today. I found out this week that one of my new jobs at Preston will be to direct the musical. I’m so excited about this — I can’t even begin to explain it. Previously, I only had “Ease on Down the Road” in my iTunes library. But today, I went ahead and finished the album. I’ve been listening to it all day. Surprisingly enough, the birdies were quite calm listening to the songs from the “super soul musical.” Sonja and Misha usually freak when we play music. But some songs have the magic touch as it were.

An interesting anecdote–this past year has been a rough ride for CK and I. When I was feeling particularly down, I would play certain songs in my car as I drove to an event for TV Squad or todance class. I know it’s cheesy but for some reason, Broadway songs always made me feel better. Perhaps it’s because each song is part of a narrative and I could escape if just for a moment into that story. I played “Ease on Down the Road” a lot this year. Those of you who know the lyrics can understand why. Weird how things work out sometimes.

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