Tag Archives: quests

in which my violin is fixed by a russian master and his dog

As you may or may not know, a few months ago I bought a violin. It should be noted that I am not an accomplished violinist by any stretch of the imagination. The word “novice” seems a bit generous to describe my skill. So my goal in purchasing said violin was to find something cheap but functional. I ended up buying one off Craigslist1. And for someone who knows nothing about violins and just wants to be able to play Greensleeves marginally well, it worked fine.

Until it didn’t. As the seasons changed, the pegs that hold the strings in place inexplicably refused to do their job. It didn’t seem like a big problem, but also not something I could fix on my own.

So a few weeks ago, I Gogglged violin repair. The first place that came up had both a high Yelp rating and was located near my school. Great, I thought, I have to pick up my diploma anyways. So I strapped my violin case to my back and set off.

sheeer

What I failed to notice was that the shop was located next to the symphony hall. And if I had noticed this, I might have realized that this probably meant they were accustomed to a certain caliber of clientele. Namely, not wannabe Craigstlist-trolling slightly-less-than-beginner violinists.

I approached the shop door and found myself greeted by a sign that announced in large, firm-looking letters NO WHISTLING. That’s weird, I thought. Maybe it’s a joke and these lovely violin-fixing people have a great sense of humor.

As soon as I opened the door, I realized immediately that this was not the case.

Inside, I found a room with fancy red carpet and walls lined with framed newspaper clippings and magazine covers, fancy art2, and only a few violins. As someone who used to get a lot of enjoyment out of walking into fancy stores in Europe and pretending I was rich, I know that the emptiest stores are always the most expensive ones. This shop was very clearly very expensive. The only furniture was a table so shiny you could see your reflection in it, surrounded by three straight-backed green leather chairs, and a desk at the opposite end of room with a tiny man and a tinier woman bent over it, neither of whom looked up when I entered. And stretched on the floor in the center of it all was a massive blonde dog. My parents have a St. Bernard, so I know a thing or two about big dogs, and this dog was BIG.

I hovered in the doorway, debating whether or not I should bolt. The giant blonde dog seemed to be the only one who noticed me, and he trotted up and sat down at my feet. I scratched him behind the ears.

sherly

After a few uncomfortable minutes, the man behind the desk acknowledged my presence by calling, “Yes, what is it you need?” He had a very thick accent that I can only describe as Bond villain-esque.

Tentatively, I edged across the room towards them, and began with a confident, “Um, hi. I have a violin and it has a problem, and I didn’t buy it from you guys3, but I was hoping you could maybe fix it for me.”

“Where did you buy it?” the man asked without looking up.

“Uh, Craigslist,” I said.

Slowly and simultaneously, they both raised their faces from the desk and gave me what can only be described as “the look.”

“Craigslist?” he repeated. I lost a few inches of height under his glare and nodded. I half expected him to raise one long, bony finger and use it to point me firmly to the door. Instead, he pursed his lips, removed his spectacles4 and said, “You may place your violin case on the table and wait for me.”

Oh really? May I? I thought.

But I was too intimidated to be a smart ass. So as instructed, I wordlessly placed my violin case on the table and sat down in one of the very straight chairs. The massive blonde dog wandered over and put his head on my lap. I opened my case and waited.

After a minute, the violin man came over and peered inside. And he cringed. Actually cringed as though I had opened my case to reveal a clump of festering human organs rather than my slightly battered violin. “My God,” he muttered, then removed my violin and began a doctor’s examination of it. I watched. The massive blonde dog drooled gently on my lap.

sherlcok

After a moment, the violin man put down my violin and gave me “the look” again. I wilted. “Come here,” he commanded. The dog and I both stood and came to his side. “Hold out your hand,” he commanded. I disentangled my fingers from the dog’s fur and showed him. “You are a pianist,” he said. I was a little freaked out by whatever voodoo powers had granted him this knowledge I had definitely not volunteered, but I nodded. Then he said, “You are not a violinist.”

I began to babble senselessly about how that was definitely true, hence the crappy violin, because I didn’t really need anything nice and I couldn’t afford anything better, I just wanted to learn because I’d always wanted to learn and sometimes you have to follow your weird dreams—

Thankfully, he cut me off. “I can fix it for $10.”

“Great,” I said. “Great, great, awesome, great, thank you.”

The massive blonde dog and I sat down again and waited while the violin man took my violin into the back. I tried and failed to regain my cool. The blonde dog sat as straight as the chairs. I scratched him.

After about ten minutes, the violin man brought me my violin back and started showing me how I should be tuning it, and why the way I had been tuning it had apparently compromised its internal structure. At one point, he made what I thought was a joke about what a mess my violin was. I smiled and said something like, “Ha ha, yeah, I know it’s a terrible violin,” and thought to myself, maybe this man has a sense of humor after all.

He did the slow look up again, and I realized immediately that he didn’t. “That is not a joke,” he said. “You should not laugh, you should be crying.”

I shut my mouth.

While in the process of showing me all the ways I was slowly murdering my already corpse of a violin, a young man walked in. The violin man stopped his diagnosis of my dying violin and gave the young man the same critical eye he had given me. “Excuse me,” the young man said in a thick accent. “I am in the States for sixteen days and while I am here I wish to purchase a violin from you.”

“What’s your budget?” asked the violin man.

“No more than five thousand dollars,” the young man replied.

I snorted before I could stop myself. They both looked at me, and I chose not to explain that I had paid one hundred dollars in cash to a man out of the trunk of his car for mine. I should not even be there.

The violin man told the young man he could wait in one of the straight backed chairs5, and commenced his free lesson on how to make my crappy violin less crappy.

sherls

Turns out, the violin man was not humorless. When I handed him my credit card, he asked me how I survived with a last name like mine6. We had a good laugh over that. Or rather he laughed and I nervous giggled. Then he looked me very seriously in the eyes and said, “You can still take good care of it.”

I told him I was going to. And then I skedaddled out of there without asking why patrons were so vehemently prohibited from whistling.

 

  1. Literally bought it out of the trunk of a man’s car down a dark alley. I am a Dateline special waiting to happen.
  2. And three more “no whistling” signs
  3. You guys! Surely no one had ever referred to these very upright people as you guys.
  4. Nope, not glasses. Spectacles. The word spectacles was invented to describe this variety of eyewear.
  5. The blonde dog abandoned me for him at that point, since his lap was more available.
  6. It should be noted my last name is not Lee. It is in actuality a Dutch monstrosity that consists of fifteen letters, six syllables, two capitalizations, two words, and a space.

 

 

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in which I hike Angel’s Landing

You may remember that a few months ago I came to the end of my 101 in 1001 list. The 101 in 1001 is a list I made about three years ago of 101 things I wanted to do or accomplish in the next 1001 days. It’s a bucket list for people who fear commitment and/or buckets.

Upon finishing my 101 in 1001 list, I sat down and made another one, because the only thing I like more than self-reflection is lists. On this list, I wrote “Hike Angel’s Landing.”

What is Angel’s Landing, you may ask? Angel’s Landing is a legen1dary trail in Zions National Park that offers a startling rise in elevation, a precariously narrow trail that involves scrambling on narrow red rock fins, and what I had been told was a very worthwhile view.

I completely forgot I put this hike on my 101 in 1001 list until my family arrived in Zions National Park last week and were discussing trails we could take. It was my dad who mentioned Angel’s Landing, and I said I had always wanted to and they should do it with me. Cajoled, may be the best word. I cajoled my family into hiking it with me.

And the fools followed me blindly.

We were not prepared for Angel’s Landing.

We moseyed over to the trail head about ten in the morning and were greeted by a sign warning that since 2004, six people have died on the trail. We shrugged that off. “They must have been stupid, or hiking in a blizzard, or died from a lightning strike or a random but vicious squirrel attack,” we thought. Surely no trail would claim the lives of innocent hikers who brought proper hydration and sturdy shoes. And so we began casually climbing with no notion of what waited for us on the last mile of the trail.

This. This is what waited for us:

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Yes, that is a trail. A trail they let any old moron hike on.

Friends, I consider myself a pretty good hiker, but this trail was hard. And steep. And involved rock scrambling and chain holding and clinging to slick rock canyon walls like a gecko. I also consider myself pretty fearless, and while I wouldn’t say I was afraid on this trail, I was, shall we say, very aware of my own mortality as I peered over the edge at the thousand-foot fall waiting for me if I miss stepped2.

But the view at the top…not to wax poetic, but this was a super ultra mega awesome view.

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However, much like the rest of the trail, the ledge on which you soak in said view is both narrow and thousands of feet off the ground, so my dad’s parent instincts came out in full force as we walked along it. He kept a tight hold on the MT and my collars, resulting in us ending up like those leashed children at Disney World that keep scrambling for a better look only to be jerked backwards by anxious parents. The anxiety was merited. It was a long way to fall.

By the time we reached the bottom and were again by the “six people have died” sign, we had an entirely different attitude. As we walked away, my dad murmured under his breath, “Only six3?”

But Angel’s Landing has been hiked. It has been conquered. It has been crossed off the 101 and 1001 list.

  1. Wait for it.
  2. Hiking is significantly less fun when you’re pondering your own mortality the whole time.
  3. It is a remarkable low figure when you consider how many college-aged boys riding a spring break high and trying to show off for their friends hike it. Also boy scouts.
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in which I have bookseller adventures

As you may or may not know, I am currently funding my extravagant Bostonian lifestyle by working as a bookseller in the children’s room of the Harvard Coop Bookstore. The Harvard Coop is, to use a technical industry term, a big-ass bookstore. It is four floors of books. Four grand, Harvardian floors of books, complete with a sweeping spiral staircase, shelf-lined galleries, and a well-read, articulate staff.

….so we’re basically just a glorified Barnes and Noble. But still. Harvard.

Now if you have never worked in a bookstore, particularly the children’s room of a bookstore, you may think that the job involves primarily handing out books to tiny people and their accompanying adults. You may think booksellers do little more than talk about the books they love to their similarly polite and well-read customers and then read covertly behind the counter while sipping tea and waiting for the next customer to chat them up about Tolstoy or the derivative nature of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

Oh contraire, my friends. Oh contraire.

Being a bookseller is hard. There is a lot of carrying books up and down those four sweeping staircases. There is a lot of fielding ridiculous questions and impossible requests1. There is a lot of talking to people who don’t know a darn thing about books (or in my case books for children), which is why they’re talking to me. There is a lot of putting things back where they belong because most patrons seem incapable of it. In the children’s room there is, on top of all that, clean up of snacks, reading at storytime2 and making really excellent crafts3 that the kids can then duplicate.

Today, the job also involved some light spelunking.

When I returned to the floor after lunch, I found the children’s room empty and the Boss behind the counter, grinning her most maniacal grin at me.

Boss: Why hello there4.
Me: …Hello?
Boss: Did you have a good lunch?
Me: I am very suspicious of this conversation.
Boss: So something happened while you were gone.
Me: Did it?
Boss: And now we have to fix it.
Me: So long as it does not involve me carrying the 160 copies of Panic by Lauren Oliver back down the stairs after already carrying them upstairs this morning5 then I am okay with just about anything.
Boss: I’m glad you said that.

So here’s what happened: while I was at lunch, the Boss made a classic rookie mistake. She gave the bathroom key to a small child and her nanny and told them to bring it back instead of walking them to the bathroom and unlocking it for them herself as she has told the rest of us time and time again we are supposed to do. It was a rather lazy and pathetic move on her part6. A few minutes later, the nanny returned rather sheepish and informed the Boss that while they were in the bathroom, the laws of physics had stopped, resulting in the key becoming nonsensically and impossibly wedged inside of the fold-out diaper changing table.

“No trouble,” thought the boss. “I got this.”

But she did not “got this.” Not even close. We discovered rather quickly that the key had fallen at such an angle that our adult-sized hands could not reach it7. It took a good half hour, a pipe cleaner, two straws, a dowel, a beehive of packing tape, and some very creative maneuvering before she and I working as a single until managed to chopstick that son of a bitch out from the interior of the diaper changing table and into our waiting palm. We both touched a fair amount of unmentionable things in the process, dug out some crayons that had also fallen victim to this strange black hole, and dropped enough McGyver references to last a lifetime.

But at last, with a small plop, the tiny silver key, now a bit tarnished and smelly, fell into the Boss’s hand. We cheered in unison. There might also have been some high fiving and victory dancing.

And then the Boss, still riding the high of successfully conquering the bathroom changing table, threw all our now soiled tools in the trash can and reflexively threw the newly-rescued key in after them. I let her fish it out of there.

We then returned to the desk and disinfected ourselves.

Friends, today was One of those Days. The sort of day where you find yourself stretched like a gymnast across a unisex bathroom while trying to prop the door open with your foot and simultaneously root around shoulder-deep in a diaper changing station with straws clutched like chopsticks fishing helplessly to get a key out from between the hinges of a collapsible diaper changing station, all the while cursing loudly and with great relish. It was One of those Days.

Being a bookseller is not a very glamours life. We’re not all the bespectacled, cardigan wearing do gooders you see in films8. So do me a favor–go thank your bookseller today.

Or bring them chocolate. I have it on good authority that booksellers love chocolate.

  1. Example of a real question I had: “I’m looking for a book. I don’t know the title but the cover has writing on it.”
  2. And doing the librarian hold until your arm starts to cramp.
  3. An example of one of my best, but ultimately rejected, ideas:IMG_0997
  4. She may have actually swiveled around in her chair while stroking a white cat and wearing an eye patch. Details blur together.
  5. True story.
  6. I can say this, because I know she is reading and because at the end of our harrowing adventure she said, “You should put this on your blog! But I don’t want to be named.” Careful what you wish for, Boss.
  7. And we both ended up with gouged knuckles to prove it.
  8. Though it should be noted that at this moment I am both bespectacled and cardiganed
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in which I protest taxation without representation

Last Saturday, a group of Bostonians1 dressed as Mowhawk Indians snuck aboard the British ship The Eleanor and dumped over a hundred crates of tea into Boston Harbor in protest of unjust taxes without representation.

Here’s photographic evidence of the event:

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Okay so what actually happened is that the Shark and I went to the Boston Tea Party Museum and got to reenact the Boston Tea Party. Including the part where you throw crates of tea into the harbor while causing a ruckus. We were really good at that part. We were also really good at the part where we were asked to vocally show our support to Samuel Adams’s speech about the tyrannical British rule. There was much foot stomping and pew banging and shouting of “Huzzah!” and “Fie!” in turn.

I haven’t done a lot of touristy things here in Boston. I keep waiting for someone to come visit me so I have an excuse to do them. But the Tea Party Museum was the Shark’s birthday gift to me, since we have both been insanely curious what was going on every time we walked by the harbor and saw tourists throwing tea into the water.

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The Boston Tea Party Museum is awesome. Mostly because it is not the sort of museum where you walk around quiet galleries and read long signs and look at artifacts you have no context for looking at. It is the sort where you get to attend a Sons of Liberty meeting, put feathers in your hair, board a replica of the ships that were in the harbor, and fling crates of tea overboard2. It’s living history, which is the best kind of history. If you find yourself in Boston anytime between now and the end of the world, you should go to the Tea Party Museum and take part in a historic event. It is well-worth the treason charges and possible hanging.

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Saturday was such a good day, for a lot of reasons. Before we went to the museum, the Shark and I got lunch on the waterfront. While walking around with our sandwiches, we stumbled upon one of the many colorfully painted pianos located around Boston3. We ended up sitting by the water and listening to this handsome young man play the most beautiful song while people gathered around him and little kids danced. And the sky was blue, and the sun was on the water, and it was that perfect fall sort of warm, and my sandwich was delicious, and I was just completely overcome with how wonderful the world was in that moment.

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This month has beaten me down a little bit. I’ve fallen hard-core in love with Boston, which has been great, but there’s been a lot of disappointment, and a lot of things didn’t go as expected. It’s been a little discouraging. But this moment, this beautiful moment and the whole lovely, mad day that followed, was a peculiar sort of answer to a prayer. The sort of moment that makes you wonder how you could be sad in a world so bright and lovely.

 

  1. Mostly tourists and non-natives.
  2. And at the end you get to sample the types of tea that were thrown overboard by the Sons of Liberty. All I will say is it was good that I was not a Colonial tea drinker. Those things would clear your sinuses with a sip, they were strong!
  3. This is exactly what it sounds like. Pianos are released into the wild around the city and anyone can play them.
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in which I solve a Maurice Sendak mystery

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a detective.

I think every kid goes through this phase at one point, and I remember mine very distinctly. I read detective books. Played detective games1. Had a detective club2.

But I was never good at solving mysteries. Not even the really obvious ones that all my friends claimed they had figured out from page five. I combated this by mostly reading mystery books that were billed as unsolvable, like Westing Game and And Then There Were None, so I didn’t feel so stupid when I couldn’t figure them out.

I’ve always loved mysteries, but real life mysteries are not like books. The clues never appear as conveniently or fit together as neatly as they do in books. And mysteries, contrary to what Nancy Drew led me to believe, do not happen every day.

But this week, I got to solve a real-life mystery. And not just any mystery—a kid lit mystery!

The story of my kid lit mystery begins yesterday morning. I was very grumpy yesterday morning. The hard drive on my work computer died, and thus I couldn’t do any work for a while. The only non-computer assignment I had was one my editor had given me a few days ago: a man had called and asked us to find a song he thinks was maybe in the Friend sometime between now and forty-five years ago, and he didn’t know the title, just the first line3. Seriously. So my job was to go through old copies of the Friend from the sixties and find the song.

I was not looking forward to this job, so I grumpily pulled up a stool in our archives and started grumpily going through copy after copy after copy of vintage Friends.

And then I found this:

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The cover of the November 1969 issue.

And I immediately thought to myself, “That looks a lot like Maurice Sendak art.” And I opened the cover and found this. Image

And then I freaked out. Maurice Sendak, my favorite artists ever, one of my favorite kid lit writers, had done a cover for our little LDS children’s magazine! I immediately ran to tell my editor, who shares my passion for children’s books. We had a moment of surprise and celebration, and then she said, “What else do you know about it?”

Nothing, I said. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know if the painting was commissioned by the Friend. I didn’t know where it was now. I didn’t know how a Caldecott-winning artist and outspoken atheist had come to do art for a Mormon magazine.

So I decided to solve the mystery of the lost Maurice Sendak painting4.

I started with the Google, and found exactly one other place that the painting appeared: there was a grainy iPhone photo of it accompanying a Sendak obituary. I tweeted the author of the article about it, and he directed me to the Rosenbach Museum, where all Sendak’s art and papers were collected after his death.

The curator at the Rosenbach was very helpful, and emailed me back in minutes. He said:

“I know only a little about that piece, but basically I think you’re correct that Children’s Friend (as it was called at the time) commissioned the art from Sendak.  His usual process was to do an unknown number of doodles or sketches, then compose them in pencil on tracing paper, usually using a light table.  I believe we have this preliminary drawing at the museum.  The “final” artwork…is privately owned in the hands of Sendak collector Justin Schiller.”

To Justin Schiller’s website!

He replied this morning:

“I purchased the original watercolor for “The Children’s Friend” magazine (as it was then called) directly from the artist in early 1970.  All I can recall was that Maurice told me at the time he had a friend associated with the magazine who asked him to illustrate a cover design.  I do not recall the name of the friend ever being mentioned.”

Dead end, it would seem! But I had to know who on staff of the Friend had known Maurice Sendak! What ties did he have to my weird little Church. So I took a different approach.

One of the many strange things about the LDS Church is that they really keep tabs on their members. Not like CCTV or hidden camera tabs or anything creepy like that, but they know where you are and what you are doing and how to contact you at all times through pretty comprehensive membership records5. The benefit of this is that I was able to take the staff names from the table of contents in the November 1969 Friend and send them to our secretary, who was able to get me their records. Turns out they were almost all dead. But I had their posterity’s phone numbers and addresses. So I swallowed my crippling fear of talking on the phone to strangers6 and began to call.

I called probably ten people. No one knew anything about their parent’s work with the Friend, and less about a connection with Sendak. I was starting to despair. Perhaps I just would never know the origin story.

Then I got a phone call on my lunch break today from a man in Virginia. “You left a message for me,” he said. “About the Friend.”

I told him my problem. “I’m trying to find out who on the Friend staff would have known Maurice Sendak,” I explained. “Do you have any idea?”

And he said simply, “It was my mom.”

So here is the story. It’s maybe not novel worthy, or really that dramatic at all, but I solved it. I followed the trail of clues and I found my answers7.

In the 1960s, Gladys Daines was the managing editor of the Children’s Friend. In 1962, she had bought herself a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and fallen in love with its boxy, whimsical art. So, bold as brass, she called up Maurice Sendak and asked to visit him. She flew to his house in New York and they had a good chat and hit it off. She then asked if he’d be willing to do some art for the Children’s Friend. Apparently, he was more than happy to do it. They collaborated on the initial ideas, he sent her sketches, she approved them, and then in November 1969, the cover was published. Though at the time the Friend kept most of the art they commissioned, Sendak kept his painting because he was such a prominent illustrator. He sold it a few years later to collector Justin Schiller, who owns it today. The sketches Sendak sent to Gladys are in the Rosenbach.

And this is now featured prominently on my desk.

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My first real mystery—solved. Ten year old me would be so proud, and current me is ecstatic.

  1. Which did not work, because I was both creator of the mystery and solver of it.
  2. Which did not work because there were no mysteries in my neighborhood, though books led me to believe that if I had the intention of being a detective, mysterious things would start happening. Children’s lit lied to me.
  3. This is not the mystery I solved. Just FYI.
  4. Not technically lost. I sort of hoped it would be, and I would have to crawl through the bowels of the Church Office Building, fight some corrupt art dealer, and then eventually would have a write up in the paper after the painting was recovered with my photo under the word “CHILDREN’S LIT HERO.” None of those things happened.
  5. Don’t think too hard about this or it all starts to feel vaguely 1984.
  6. FOR SENDAK! *raises sword and charges into battle*
  7. You really do get a rush from detecting. This must be how Sherlock Holmes feels all the time!
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in which I get colorful

So none of the photos loaded, because I tried a different uploading technique which was apparently a terrible idea. Photos are now there!

Three words/phrases that do not describe me:

  1. Visual artist
  2. Cat person
  3. Athletic

It is the third one I would like to particularly focus on. Because in spite of the fact that I can hardly tell a soccer ball from a basketball, and that I have faked injury multiple times to get out of participating in various sporting events, this past Saturday, I found myself standing at the starting line of a 5K with a number safety pinned to my tshirt.

???????????????????????????????Fortunately, it was not your average 5K. It was the kind of 5K where you get colorful chalk dust thrown at you.

And fortunately we did not do much running.

Team DFTBA—which consisted of me, the MT, 14, and a friend who is making her blog debut, so let’s call her Rose Tyler—made the color run into a casual walk rather than anything that required athletic prowess, primarily because 14 is the only one out of us that would have had the stamina to run a 5k. And it was 3 to 1 in favor or walking, overwhelmingly against 14 and her physical fitness.

IMG_7094

I have never done a 5K that wasn’t elaborately themed. I’m not really into running, so there has to be a big push1 for me to actually get out and put my trainers on. The other run was a mud run, which was only slightly dirtier than the color variety.

IMG_7103

But it ended up being a lovely morning. In spite of being robbed of my usual Saturday morning lie-in, it was lovely and cool, and I got to spend time with friends I don’t see very much. Except the MT. I see too much of her2. I have always loved walking, which I know is a bit odd, but I think it’s a residual of my year in Europe. Wherever it comes from, it couldn’t have been a better morning for a walk through downtown Salt Lake while people threw handfuls of dyed cornstarch at you.

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Points go to my father, who I asked to come and take pictures, and he ended up walking the entire race with us, even though he didn’t register3. He stayed on the sidewalk, out of the line of fire.

He also took what is one of my new favorite pictures ever, in which I appear to be levitating out of an orange cloud.

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Oh to be young and weird in Salt Lake City.

 

  1. Other than the whole charity thing
  2. Before the race, the MT who, like me, is prone to fits of irrational anxiety, almost didn’t do it since she was concerned everyone else would be running and we would be humiliated by our inevitable last place finish. If it were the podracing scene in Star Wars, we would be that one guy who never makes it off the starting line. But I dragged her there, on account of she had already paid the entrance fee, and she calmed down significantly when she saw children at the starting line. Also dogs. So we wouldn’t lose after all.
  3. I say this like it was some tremendous feat, but we really weren’t that hard to keep up with. We were being lapped by children. There were actually times when my father ended up ahead of us. Which was embarrassing.
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The Writer’s Voice

So. Remember how I was going to get better about talking about my own writing? Well today we’re taking a big leap forward because I am entering a contest called the Writer’s Voice, which requires that I post a query (pitch) letter and the first 250 words of my novel. So here it is.

Query

Moriarty is the son of Death, raised believing in the beauty of ending a life. Then he takes over his Father’s work, and finds that ripping souls from mortal bodies is nothing like the stories that populated his childhood. It’s violent and bloody, and as hard as he tries, Moriarty can’t find anything to love in it.

Until he meets his next victim: Rocsanne Vetrario, the bold, bohemian daughter of Venetian glaziers. Instead of ending her life, Moriarty accidentally saves it, thus kindling a friendship that tumbles into love amid the canals of 1890’s Venice.

But their summer together shatters when Moriarty learns that Rocsanne’s step-mother Lavinia is on a crusade to recover the lost secrets of Venetian glass and its power to bestow immortality. When Lavinia discovers her daughter’s romance with the soul collector himself, she threatens to kill Rocsanne unless Moriarty helps retrieve the legendary glass.

Surrendering the glass would give Lavinia control over Moriarty and his work, but if Rocsanne dies, he would lose her forever to the afterlife. Moriarty will do anything to save Rocsanne—he isn’t about to kill the only girl who ever loved Death.

DEATH AND THE GLASSMAKER’S DAUGHTER is a YA historical fantasy complete at 67,000 words.

I am currently a graduate student at Simmons College, earning my MFA in writing for children and young adults. I have had short pieces published in Talkin’ Blues, Pandora’s Box, and The Newport Review.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

ONE

The first thing he noticed was the rain.

Moriarty had never felt rain before. It didn’t rain in the Greylands, nor did the brushed-black sky wink with tiny pinpricks of light, like jewels floating in a glassy lake. Even the sky itself was new—there was no sky in the Greylands.

But the rain was the first, and most marvelous thing—the way it felt against his skin, each drop unexpected and ephemeral.

Yes, Moriarty decided. I like the rain best.

Hector hadn’t told him about the rain.

But Hector had hardly told him anything about the humans, or mortality, or the work he would be doing there, the work that used to be Hector’s.

Though they had never discussed it, Moriarty had always known that someday, Hector would grow weary of soul collecting, and the work would pass to him. Father to son.

He had not expected it to be so sudden.

He had thought that, day by day, Hector would begin to impart to him the secrets of his work. The little things, like how to know which humans were the closest to dying, and what it looked like when they did. Then he would begin to take Moriarty with him on his errands to the human world, show him the correct way to separate a reluctant soul from the mortal body that housed it. They would steal together through mortality, disguised, and visit workhouses and operating theaters, places where Hector could school him in the exact moment that a soul was released, and how to catch it between his fingers. He would let Moriarty try it a few times under his watchful eye before the day that he remained in the Greylands and sent his son ahead alone.

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in which I celebrate world book night

Happy World Book Night, everybody!

Today, on the birthday of Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare, thousands of people all over the country and across the pond are giving out free copies of twenty-five outstanding books by twenty-five outstanding authors, graciously provided by the organization World Book Night America. I’ve spent the day handing out copies of Looking for Alaska by John Green1. Not sure how many of the people who I gave books to will actually read the books I give them, but still. I enjoy spreading the gift of reading.

Yesterday, in honor of World Book Day, I got to meet Neil Gaiman. This was a big, star-struck moment for me, because he is basically a literary god2. I was surprisingly coherent as he signed my book—we talked about children’s lit and Doctor Who.

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that is Neil Gaiman, and that is me.

He also said something wonderful during the Q&A, when I asked him how he approached writing children’s lit differently than writing adult lit. He said something to the effect of how he takes writing kid lit much more seriously than he takes writing adult lit, because of how immediate the possibility is that a children’s book will change someone’s life. When you write kidlit, you are writing stories that children are going to be carrying with them for literally the rest of their lives. It will always be stored somewhere inside of them, and a part of them that influences who they are. Children are so moldable, and the books they read have the potential to help them create person they are going to become.

All the while he was answering, I nodded and smiled while he answered, pretended like I was totally cool with the fact that NEIL GAIMAN was answering MY QUESTION and looking me RIGHT IN THE EYE. But really, I thought his answer was brilliant, and it reminded me of the following quotation. Which I found yesterday. On tumblr.

“They are not just simple kids’ books. They are stories that we are continuing to read even today. They’re stories that we remember years later, even when other stories fade from our memories. They’re stories we will never forget, and for good reason! They’re stories that helped shape our childhoods, through well thought-out writing, imaginative drawings and endearing morals…Maybe these “simple kids’ books” are far more adult than you give them credit for. And…years from now when kids AND adults will still be reading these “simple kids’ books.” Good art doesn’t come from focus groups and statistics. It comes from people who share how they see things in their own unique way.”

I love being part of this community of book creating and giving children books that will change them. I hope you all take a moment to think back on your favorite books as a child, and celebrate how they made you what you are today3.

Happy World Book Night, all. Now sit down and READ!

  1. While this is my least favorite of the John Green novels, even the least of John Green is excellent.
  2. He is also, as I learned last night, incredibly kind and humble. Which just makes him all the more awesome.
  3. Even if it’s in a negative way, like the fact that I still have stress dreams where I’m trapped in the cover of a Goosebumps novel. I never read Goosebumps, because the covers were too scary, but they still scared the crap out of me when I saw them displayed at the library. I was a very impressionable child.
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in which I give a guy my number.

I am not what you would call a brave person. I am also not what you would call a romantic person. So when the need arises for me to be brave in a romantic situation, I generally run the other way.

I have three times in my life gone way out of my comfort zone and attempted to initiate romantic contact with a stranger to which I bore some form of physical attraction. And generally, I have crashed and burned. Hard core.

Allow me to expand on these three times.

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“I would have stolen you a whole orchestra.” -Ted Mosby

One: The Accordion Player

The Scene: A young Mackenzi Lee, with her improbably red hair and a poorly-put together outfit1, has returned home from her first year of college. She sits in the audience of the MT’s middle school choir concert. The choir is accompanied by a band of college-aged looking gentlemen, including a very handsome accordion player. Mackenzi Lee, in her misguided, naïve, just broke up with her college boyfriend way, watches the accordion player more than she watches the actual show, and gives him what she thinks is a coy, flirtatious smile. He never meets her eyes, so that goes unrewarded. Thank god.

After the show, as she greets the MT:

The MT: Did you like the show.

Mackenzi Lee: Yeah, great—hey, what do you know about the hot accordion player? I mean, the normal accordion player?

The MT: He’s in college, and all the girls in choir have a crush on him.

Mackenzi Lee: I must have him!

The MT: I’m out.

Mackenzi Lee writes a note to the Accordion Player on the back of a piece of the MT’s sheet music. It contains several borderline cheeseball phrases she probably stole from the one Nicholas Sparks novel she ever read, and concludes with the invitation to phone her sometime for a date. She also draws copious smiley faces, because nothing says true love like a well placed emoticon. She leaves the note on the Accordion Player’s accordion, then walks out to the car with the MT.

Upon arriving at the car, she is struck with a terrible realization:

Mackenzi Lee: I DID NOT WRITE MY PHONE NUMBER ON THE NOTE!!!!!!

Mackenzi Lee rushes back into the auditorium, muttering “idiot, idiot, idiot” under her breath and vowing to destroy the note, since this folly is certainly a sign of the fruitlessness of her quest. She rushes up to the accordion, reaches for the note…and finds herself face to face with The Accordion Player.

Mackenzi Lee: Hi.

The Accordion Player: Hi.

Mackenzi Lee: (Looks at note, still lying folded on the accordion. Then decides to screw her courage to the sticking place and go for it) So…you play good accordion.

The Accordion Player: Thanks.

Mackenzi Lee: And you’re…really cute.

The Accordion Player: …

Mackenzi Lee: And I left you this note to tell you I think you’re cute and you should call me sometime so we can go out.

The Accordion Player: (eyes shift to the exits, as though plotting his escape route, as he reaches for his rape whistle)

Mackenzi Lee: But I forgot to write my number on the note, so…I came back to write my number on the note so you can call me and we can go out.

The Accordion Player: I’m going on a mission.

Mackenzi Lee: …Great. (stares awkwardly at the Accordion Player, then, without breaking eye contact, picks up the note, scrawls her phone number on it, and replaces it on top of the accordion.) Well…just in case.

Mackenzi Lee flees.

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“I was wondering…if you’d like to have coffee.”
“Black, two sugars, I’ll be upstairs.”
-Molly Hooper/Sherlock

Two: British Boston Burberry Boy

The Scene: Mackenzi Lee, a few years later in a Boston bus station, hardened by her failed romantic exploits several years previous with the Accordion Player has sworn never to give her number to strangers again. It is nightfall, and she reads on a bench, certain the bus will never come and just about ready to get a taxi. A young man appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and approaches her.

British Boston Burberry Boy: Excuse me?

Mackenzi Lee: (internally curses stranger for interrupting her reading, and also reaches for the hairspray in her bag, since she doesn’t have mace) Uh, what?

British Boston Burberry Boy: Have you got the time?

Mackenzi Lee: (aside) He is British. And also handsome. I shall answer him. (To British Boston Burberry Boy) 8:45. (Panics, and returns to book)

British Boston Burberry Boy: Any idea what time the bus will be coming? Only, I’ve just moved here, and I don’t know how the buses work.

Mackenzi Lee: (aside) Ah! Frustration over busses! Common ground! I shall bond with him!

Mackenzi Lee and British Boston Burberry Boy discuss the atrocious Boston bus system until a bus comes, which they both board, and sit by each other. They spend the entirety of the bus ride discussing England, the Wars of the Roses, Shakespeare, and their shared love of Burberry, where British Boston Burberry Boy works. Mackenzi Lee watches two, then three, then four stops past her own fly by outside the window, but says nothing, because she thinks she is flirting successfully for the first time in her entire adult life.

Finally, knowing she will be walking an extra mile home in the dark at this point, she speaks up.

Mackenzi Lee: Sorry, but this is my stop.

British Boston Burberry Boy: Oh, I’ve got some friends going out for a drink this weekend. Would you like to come?

Mackenzi Lee: Obviously.

British Boston Burberry Boy: What?

Mackenzi Lee: Yes. (scrawls phone number down for him) Give me a call.

British Boston Burberry Boy: I will.

He never called.

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“Cyrano, you’re awesome….at delivering love letters to Christian for me”
-Roxanne

14 once pointed out that you really have nothing to lose by giving a stranger your number. Best case scenario—they call, you date, fall in love, marry, live happily ever after. The worst that could happen is he says no, and you say okay, and you never see each other again. So this is how I’ve always tried to think of it, but she’s kind of wrong. Because seriously, if he says no, or doesn’t call, it is SO MUCH WORSE THAN THAT. It is pain, agony, self-loathing, humiliation, wanting to bury yourself in the sand and die a virgin.

And so, after these two missed connections, plus another slew of failed love affairs that resulted from situations where I did not have to be brave, I was leagues away from being inclined to solicit dates from strange men.

And then, last weekend, I met someone that I really hit it off with. We talked, shared mutual love of Star Wars and Sherlock, and parted ways. I wasn’t sure we’d speak again, but I wanted to. And I only had seven days before I flew back to Boston.

And so, in an entirely out of character move, I gave a stranger my number.

And he called. And we met. And we had dinner. And I had a nice time.

And then we parted. And Monday, I go back to Boston, and he stays in Salt Lake, and it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t the start of some passionate, romantic love story, because for once, when I was brave, it paid off. Everything worked out roughly the way it was supposed to2.

Moral of this story is that sometimes you don’t learn anything—you just fail.

And other times….well, other times, you don’t.

 

  1. This story takes place before she had anything resembling fashion sense.
  2. I could have done without the flu and catastrophic snowstorms, but hey, life isn’t perfect.
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in which I write a novel in thirty days

Today is November 30, the last day of November.

Meaning it is also the last day of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Across the country, hundreds of almost novelists are furiously scrambling to get those last ten thousand words written on a barely readable draft they have composed over the past thirty days. And if your novel isn’t barely readable, you are doing it wrong.

I have attempted NaNoWriMo twice before this year without success. Once in a sort of misguided attempt my freshman year of college where I signed up for an account, and then totally forgot about it until around November 29, at which point I decided that I was already too far behind to catch up. Then again my senior year of college, when I was in that shaky “what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-maybe-I’ll-write-books” phase. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo as sort of experiment to see if I could actually write a book. This was a total disaster – November of my senior year was the month the proverbial crap hit the proverbial fan in terms of pretty much everything. So after failing to write for the first week of November, I surrendered1.

Then it’s 2012. I had no expectation for finishing or even starting NaNoWriMo, primarily because grad school is just sort of an extended version of NaNoWriMo, in which you are constantly asked to write more than you think you can under an unreasonable deadline and it’s really stressful. But then I told the MT about NaNoWriMo, and to my very great surprise, she said, “I want to do it!” At which point, my big sister instincts sort of kicked in – both the “I must be the Gandalf to her Frodo and guide her on this quest” sort and the “anything you can do I can do better” sort. But mostly the first one. So I said okay, look, if you do, I’ll do it too.

And suddenly, my little sister and I, with two thousand miles  between us, were writing novels together.

Writing with the MT actually kept me on track. I felt like I was reporting to her, and when she got ahead of me, I felt a push to catch up. I knew I would never hear the end of it if she finished a novel and I did not. And just as much as my competitiveness kicked in, I also wanted to cheer her on, and she cheered me on. We sent each other our first chapters, and asked each other questions when we got stuck2. We frequently sent each other “I CAN’T DO THIS!” texts, and responded accordingly when the other was freaking out. We helped each other with names, and jokes, and settings, and just provided general encouragement and inspiration.

And really, without the MT, I would have given up. I would have quit, because this month was busy, and my novel was terrible.

But because of the MT, I finished.

So the result of NaNoWriMo is this: I wrote a terrible novel. A really terrible novel. An unreadably terrible novel. A novel that is so fantastically bad, I will probably never revise it. I’m just going to let it fester and gangrene in my folder until I amputate it3 in the form of deleting it permanently from my hard drive. But more importantly, I wrote a novel. In thirty days. On top of grad school and work and life. I made time each day for writing, which is something I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life. I wrote in a genre outside my comfort zone4. I did not go back and edit, which is really hard for me. I did not plot ahead of time, which is also really hard for me, and resulted in my characters suddenly running off in a direction I did not intend.

Over the course of November, I wrote some really great lines5. I wrote some really terrible lines6. I wrote some utterly ridiculous lines solely for the purpose of making my future self laugh when I go back and reread everything7. I left myself a slew of snarky notes in regards to the quality of the manuscript8.

But the unexpected result of NaNoWriMo, and the best, was what I got out of doing it with the MT. We are far apart now, and so we don’t share things the same way we did when we were kids. Our experiences have become our own in many ways now, and as our lives have veered in two different directions, I feel myself more and more explaining my world rather than sharing it with her.

But for thirty wonderful days, we have occupied the same space in a way we haven’t since childhood. We have shared an experience across states and it made me feel closer to her9.

So thank you, NaNoWriMo, for giving me thirty days of literary abandon, a fantastically terrible zombie novel, and a better relationship with my sometimes-distant sister10.

  1. In the end, this was probably a good thing. The novel I was going to write for NaNoWriMo, I ended up writing a few months later and it turned out infinitely better than it would have been if I had written it quickly and grouchily during that hellish November.
  2. Me: I have a zombie problem. The MT: May I suggest a bazooka?
  3. Still in the zombie novel mindset. Sorry for the graphic metaphor.
  4. I might be the least likely person in history to write a zombie novel. I frequently texted the MT with basic zombie knowledge questions like, “Do zombies sleep?” “Do zombies understand English?” “Do zombies dream of brain-eating sheep?”
  5. “It was lighting through her soul, and Carolina Rose was seared, scorched, up in flames. Then, just smoke.”
  6. “Her heart was pounding, racing with the speed of something that moves really fast.” – see these are the sort of things you write when you can’t think of the right word and you are writing just to fill a word count.
  7. “Stiff Thompson was leaning against the bar, thumping his hook in time to the music.” This still makes me laugh every time.
  8. After the paragraph detailing the first kiss of hero and heroine – “I’m throwing up in my mouth a little.”
  9. *cue throwing up in mouth*
  10. Don’t tell her, and I will never admit to this if asked, but her novel is infinitely better than mine.
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