Category Archives: On Authors

wow challenge 5: art as inspiration

This post published itself before I could get here to alter it. Recent devastating events in Boston have alternately left me at a loss for words versus bursting with writing power. This contest is still in place until April 24, but I will be republishing this on Monday. Please peruse it now if you’re looking for something to do. Until then: #bostonstrong

Welcome to the fifth installment of the “Week of Writing” (WOW) challenge! Please scroll to the bottom of today’s writing prompt to view the full contest details.

Today’s #wowchallenge: art as inspiration.

In the movie adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, we meet Patrick Bateman — a character unlike any other character in the world.

By JBBStudio (Flickr: Bret Easton Ellis), via Wikimedia Commons

By JBBStudio (Flickr: Bret Easton Ellis), via Wikimedia Commons

Robert Longo’s Men in the Cities series, which are shown in
Guggenheim Museum

Craft a creative piece that is inspired by a work of art. Writers find inspiration everywhere: coffee shops, within their personal relationships, the frenetic energy of a city, the calm tranquility of the countryside. This time, you’ll compose something based off of an image.

You can choose one of your own (if you do, please post the link!) or use Robert Longo’s “Gretchen” as inspiration.

This concept isn’t new. William Butler Yeats composed “Leda and the Swan” after seeing Paul Cézanne’s oil painting; Samuel Yellen wrote “Nighthawks,” inspired by Edward Hopper’s classic; even Anne Sexton wrote “The Starry Night” based on van Gogh’s famous artwork.

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The #wowchallenge Contest Rules:

Based off of the feedback I receive after this full week of writer’s challenges, it has a high potential to run again in the future.

Basically, how it works: there will be 5 challenges (Monday through Friday of this week.) Writers who submit one finished product in the comment section (of any 5 challenges) will get their name in a hat. If you submit two finished products, then you get your name in said hat twice. Three, three times. That said: you have up to five chances to get your name in the hat by submitting your writing.

What do you win? One of two prizes!
(If you don’t want to be considered for one of the prizes, then please make that clear in the comment section.)

Prize 1: A copy of Q & A A Day: 365 Questions, 5 Years, 1,825 Answers. This book was published by the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. It’s been a lifesaver for me in terms of writing, teaching, deep questions, and thought inspiration.

image (6)image (9)

Prize 2: I’ll do a FULL edit of up to 10 pages of your writing, double-spaced. (My credentials include two stints as a editorial board member, 18 months as a copywriter for LivingSocial, a Creative Writing M.F.A., a number of published works, two novels in the running, and five years as a professor.) This does not have to be the one that you submit for the challenge. It can be ANY story or poem, a college essay, an email… anything.

Winners will be picked from the hat and announced on the blog on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. When you submit your comment, please submit with the understanding that a collection of my favorite entries will be published in a special blog post, with full credit given to you.

Happy writing! Be sure to post your work in the comments section to be considered for the #wowchallenge contest.

wow challenge 1: opening and closing lines.

Composition Notebook

Welcome to the first installment of the “Week of Writing” (WOW) challenge! Based off of the feedback I receive after this full week of writer’s challenges, it has a high potential to run again in the future.

Basically, how it works: there will be 5 challenges (Monday through Friday of this week.) Writers who submit one finished product in the comment section (of any 5 challenges) will get their name in a hat. If you submit two finished products, then you get your name in said hat twice. Three, three times. That said: you have up to five chances to get your name in the hat by submitting your writing.

What do you win? One of two prizes!
(If you don’t want to be considered for one of the prizes, then please make that clear in the comment section.)

Prize 1: A copy of Q & A a Day: 365 Questions, 5 Years, 1,825 Answers. This book was published by the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. It’s been a lifesaver for me in terms of writing, teaching, deep questions, and thought inspiration.

image (6) image (9)

Prize 2: I’ll do a FULL edit of up to 10 pages of your writing, double-spaced. (My credentials include two stints as a editorial board member, 18 months as a copywriter for LivingSocial, a Creative Writing M.F.A., a number of published works, two novels in the running, and five years as a professor.) This does not have to be the one that you submit for the challenge. It can be ANY story or poem, a college essay, an email… anything.

Winners will be picked from the hat and announced on the blog on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. When you submit your comment, please submit with the understanding that a collection of my favorite entries will be published in a special blog post, with full credit given to you.

Today’s #wow challenge tackles opening and closing lines. It’s in the spirit of John Irving, who always knows his closing line before he begins writing a book. According to Irving at a recent J.F.K. forum, his working closing line for his upcoming novel is: “Not every collision course comes as a surprise.”

Today’s challenge is a two-part one. You can use it to bracket a poem, short story, or even a novel, if you’re brave.

First, come up with an alluring opening line based on this picture.

Hint: this brunch photograph was taken on a late September morning in a major U.S. metropolitan city.

If you’re curious: this brunch photograph was taken on a late September morning in a major U.S. metropolitan city.

Then, come up with your closing line. You can choose to either:

1. Come up with a line based solely off of the first picture/what might happen there, or

2. Invent an entirely new line based off of the picture below, and use your creative magic to get from A to B.

Rooftop Pool

This picture was taken on a late August morning at the top of a hotel in a relatively minor European metropolitan city.

BONUS: If you can guess both cities, then you get your name in the hat one extra time. (Your writing doesn’t have to be set in either one, but the pictures should serve as inspiration.)

Happy writing! Be sure to post your work in the comments section to be considered for the #wowchallenge contest.

a conversation with khaled hosseini

Today, I had the opportunity to participate in a live chat with bestselling author Khaled Hosseini, hosted by People.com

via Wikimedia Commons

By U.S. Department of State (U.S. Embassy in London), via Wikimedia Commons

Readers of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are already quite familiar with his work. Hosseini also has a new book entitled And the Mountains Echoed (coming out on May 21). Hosseini came off as funny, engaging, humble, and grateful, which are pretty standard good-guy character traits.

A couple things I learned about Hosseini:

  • He was born right in Kabul, Afghanistan, and is now a Goodwill Envoy for the UNHCR. (Very cool.)
  • He’s a trained medical doctor who left medicine for writing.
  • He doesn’t write with an outline in mind; he prefers to be surprised. 
By Joe Burger from Siegburg, Germany (flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

By Joe Burger from Siegburg, Germany (flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

One thing this blog focuses a lot on is the writing process – especially the “unplugged” version. When asked about his writing process, Hosseini writes:

“I write at home, on a computer, in a room I have turned into office. I write from morning, from about nine AM, to about 2PM. My goal is to get about 3 pages a day. Some days I exceed that and other days that goal seems far too ambitious. I have written as well in libraries and coffee shops, but they are often too noisy and I get distracted.”

On advice for new writers (the text in bold is what I think best sums it up):

“I wish I had some illuminating, earth shattering advice to give to new writers, but the truth is that, the way I see it, there are two things that are indispensable if one wants to be a writer: First, you have to actually write (I cannot tell you the number of times people walk up to me and tell me they are sure they have a novel in them if they could get around to it.). Second, you have to read. You have to read a lot, and all the time. I think writers learn from each other, especially young writers. The business side of it is a combination of luck and perseverance, assuming the manuscript is of quality. There are entire books written on ways to get published, etc. But the first thing is to write a compelling story. If you have written one, then you have to believe in it and persevere and hopefully you will catch a break and get the manuscript into the right hands.

I have no doubt that I’ll download this book ASAP, but if you’re curious about the description of an upcoming book directly from the source, here it is:

And the Mountains Echoed is structured a little bit like a tree. There is a trunk at the center, and then a number of branches that sprout from it. The trunk of the book, if you will, is about a brother and his sister, named Abdullah and Pari, whom we meet them in the early 1950’s when they are ten and three respectively. They live in a remote, impoverished little village south of Kabul with their father, their stepmother and a little half-brother. Abdullah and Pari have a very close, tender, and loving relationship, they are really each other’s world. They are, as one character puts it, two people in whom love of the simplest and purest kind had found expression. But when we meet them, the family is at a crossroads and has to make a painful, agonizing decision, the end result of which is the rupture of the bond between Abdullah and his little sister. And it’s this act of rupture, borne out of desperation, that sets the rest of the book into motion. And what the book does is then pursue the far reaching ripples of this event, both geographically, across continents, and through time, and it examines a number of different characters, who whether they know it or not, are connected to one another because their lives have been touched and transformed by this early event in the story.”

The full session (available here) was truly eye-opening. Thank you to Khaled Hosseini for the time and invaluable advice!

Next week, I’ll be hosting a “Week of Writing” (WOW) contest with a double prize! Stay tuned. All of the details will be released tomorrow.

 

5 things friday: 5 likable movie characters

I’m going to go ahead and call the coherency of this post into question, because my insomnia kicked up into high gear last night. Despite being physically in bed at 11 p.m., which I almost never do, I was wide awake until at least 4:35 this morning. When my alarm went off at 7:19, I was furious. And now I’m cross-eyed.

On the plus side, I did a lot of thinking about this new novel I started this week. After writing 1100 words in about an hour yesterday, I was feeling good – and I had a great idea somewhere around 2:45 this morning.

One thing I’m thinking about, though, is the oft-repeated concept of “making a protagonist likable.”

I completely understand this concept, especially as a reader. I root for the characters who I like. Right? If a character is whiny, or annoying in some other way, then you’re not going to particularly care where things wind up.

But sometimes, the most successful books have really unlikable characters. I’m sure I’m not alone on this, but I can’t stand Holden Caulfield. He is petulant and narcissistic, and I don’t care if he succeeds or fails.

It should go without saying that what makes one character likable for someone isn’t going to cut it for all readers. For example, when a character is very sweet and kind, I immediately dislike him and become suspicious of his motives.

I had upwards of 17 professors who warned against making a protagonist a “damsel in distress.” I agree, completely. But then, characters like Bella Swan of Twilight fame and Anastasia Steele of the Fifty Shades trilogy rule the bestseller lists; thus, I become bewildered. (Sidebar. The last names in this series are Steele and GREY? Are you kidding me? Steel grey?) In one scene, Bella is actually carried by her supernatural hero because she is so tired.

So for today’s 5 things Friday, I asked myself what my favorite characters possess – and how that makes me like them.

5 Things Friday: Likability Edition

5. Humor.
I could do a million 5 things Fridays on my favorite characters in movies, but honestly: why do I love Forgetting Sarah Marshall so much? Scenes like this.

4. Jerks who do nice things for people.
I suppose this is really just a form of redemption, but when a jackass does something nice, it’s worth way more than when an already-kind person does something fantastic. It’s like brushing your teeth. Everyone does it twice a day, so it’s pretty routine, but what about someone recovering from a traumatic brain injury who brushes his teeth on his own for the first time? Heart becomes warm.

3. Innocent people who are doomed by the world at large.
In a literature sense, it’s easy to think of this as the Lennie complex (Of Mice and Men). These characters break my heart into a thousand sad pieces. The #1 soul that takes the cake is John Coffey from The Green Mile. 

2. The presence OR absence of self deprecation.
In real life, I love self deprecating people. For example, Jennifer Lawrence describes her first meeting with Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence as follows: ”Our first conversation was on the phone. I was in the bathtub, and I had to tell him that I was in the bathtub because I was afraid he would think I was, like, playing in the toilet when he heard water swishing around. [...] Then we had breakfast in Santa Monica, and I spit egg inside of his mouth when I was talking. Like, it went in. Into his mouth.”

In characters, I LOVE people who take themselves too seriously. Case in point: Rex Manning, from Empire Records. Best quote by far (with accompanying hand gestures) is: “Why don’t you all just… fade away.”

1. Intelligence.
In Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne is the Ultimate Victim. Framed for the murder of his adulterous wife, he spends the majority of the movie in prison, where his naked intelligence is so admirable I almost despise it.

What do you like in real people, or in characters?

on friends

Way back in 2009, Jeffrey Zaslow chronicled the lives of eleven childhood friends in a nonfiction bestseller, entitled The Girls from Ames.

Jeffrey Zaslow

Jeffrey Zaslow’s national bestseller

I can’t remember all the similarities four years later, but: These women grew up in Ames, Iowa. We grew up in Easton, which is the home of the pseudo-famous Ames family. We went to Oliver Ames High School. Easton is also where one of the women, Jane Nash, is a psychology professor at Stonehill College. They are a very overwhelming group. We are a very overwhelming group. (We are also lucky because none of us has died, unlike one of the Ames Girls.) There are a million character traits in this book (valuable for any writer) and plenty correspond with our group. They vacation together, which we try to do sometimes, too.

July 2, 2005

July 2, 2005 – Our summer “Capehouse”

On page 98, one of the women, Cathy, says of her friends: ”We root each other to the core of who we are rather than what defines us as adults by careers or spouses or kids. There’s a young girl in each of us who is still full of life.”

Maybe that’s what keeps us so connected.

We learned that it’s hardest for women to stay friends in their late 20s and 30s. So, three years ago, a friend and I came up with the most original idea ever. We decided to start a book club with our friends from high school.

That didn’t exactly happen.

The "ten" of us at my wedding.

The “ten” of us at my wedding.

With our careers, boyfriends, husbands, house-buying, engagements, weddings, babies, and the like, we hadn’t been setting enough time aside for each other. However, because of our busy lives, it quickly became obvious that not everyone would have the time or share the same taste in fiction.

Since no one would ever read a book, it turned into article club  (read: a cocktail club), for the Boston-area members of our little crew. 

We’d grown up doing “potlucks,” and it kind of transformed naturally from there.

200_?

200_?

2003?

2003?

We meet each on the first Thursday of every month, at rotating homes. At the end of the “rotation,” we try to head out to dinner. The month’s host picks out an article that we, as a very tenacious set of friends, can debate.

The requirements of the article are simple: it should be controversial, and capable of inspiring both opinions and conversation. Past topics include assisted suicide, autism, and whether or not teachers should be paid based on merit. In addition, the host is responsible for providing appetizers and a specialty cocktail.

us, enjoying specialty cocktails

us, enjoying specialty cocktails

Most of the time we don’t even talk about the article for longer than five minutes, if at all.

hot messes.

hot messes.

Cheers to my friends: The Girls from Oliver Ames.

girls3As a writer, I count myself very fortune for the intricacies of these friendships. They remind me every day to include the little things, details, and inside jokes within my characters.

We’ve got our April cocktail club this evening! So tell me: do you have any lifelong friendships? What have they done for you?

book bite and author love: lois lowry

There are board books for babies, chapter readers for children, and novels for adults. Often, there’s dystopias, vampires, dragons, pregnancies, murders, love stories, adventures, talking animals, and mysterious strangers, although they’re usually not in the same story.

What about the books that stay with us?

As of now, I write for both children and adults. That means that I read everything from Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody series to young adult crisis stories to William Landay’s Defending Jacob (which I really enjoyed, by the way). The sample feature on the Kindle is a life changer. I study, study, study the greats, and the not-so-greats. I think this, plus physical practice and age, is the only way I can grow as a writer.

With that in mind, I recently read Lois Lowry’s Son, which is the culmination of The Giver quartet. Current unplugged readers know that I love The Giver, as I just revealed it as one of the books I read every year. To a kid with a weird/elderly name (who is named “Joan” anymore?), Jonas was a pretty close match.

The Giver

This is my second copy of the book, which is why it isn’t overly dog-eared. I replaced it about three years ago after my mom’s beagle, Seamus, ate my old one.

I’ve taught it in a couple of my English classes. I kind of fell into becoming a professor, which sounds far more pretentious than I’d like it to sound, when I turned 22. (I still remember applying for my first professor job at my mom’s house. I was recovering from my most recent knee surgery and filling it out in between horror-watching, in a car accident kind of way, Jon and Kate Plus Eight.The Giver helped me connect with my first set of students, and a whole bunch since then.

So naturally, I explained all of this to Lois Lowry in a recent e-mail.

Obviously, one of my idols.

Obviously, one of my idols.

I’m not going to post the full e-mail that I received back from Ms. Lowry, but I seriously almost cried when she got back to me almost immediately. And other than certain shows, nothing makes me cry. Just know that Lowry’s e-mail ended with:

“…And today is my birthday! So your note was a nice gift.”

 And so, onto the book bite.

The Son, Lois Lowry

Fans of The Giver will probably be most fascinated with the first section of Son (which is divided into three “Books”). Book 1 explores the same utopia that we’re familiar with, from a parallel perspective: that of Gabriel’s Birthmother, Claire. It answered many questions I had about the process and were left ambiguous in the first novel.

In Book 2, Claire ends up in an agrarian community and undergoes a transformation that reminds this reader of Jonas’s original journey into the world of color. Very clever, Lowry. We again meet The Trademaster, who readers will remember from The Messenger.

Finally, and perhaps most important, we come to Book 3, where we learn the fates of all of the characters that was left unanswered in The Giver. We learn whether or not Jonas really did hear music and see lights. That’s all I’ll say without becoming a spoiler-monger.

As for theme: there’s the inevitable clash of good vs. evil, but most interestingly, there’s a sense of journey for Claire’s character, as she will stop at nothing to find her son. It’s the mother’s love that was most touching in this novel. I read this novel with a sort of biographical perspective: I know that Lowry’s own son, Grey, was in a tragic accident some time ago and she lost him. I hope that in Son, she was able to heal some of her own mother wounds.

 

nostalgia, senses, and andrew jenks.

This post explores nostalgia, its connection to our 5 senses, TV commercials about chocolate, and even Andrew Jenks. If that’s not a hook, I don’t know what is.

Let me preface this by saying: I don’t watch much TV, but I’m not above sitting with reruns of Friends while I wait for my nighttime tea / sleep aid to take effect. It was in this manner that I stumbled upon Andrew Jenks’s new show, World of Jenks.

This show is making me an emotional disaster.

When I was 16, I didn’t cry when I blew out my ACL and my meniscus while skiing. I walked, furious, one mile down a snowy mountain with emergency personnel trailing me warily. I didn’t even cry at my grandmother’s funeral, which is probably an enormous red flag for other reasons.

But this show has so far made me: A) believe I have hip cancer, B) second-guess myself, C) laugh and choke up AT THE SAME TIME every time Chad comes onscreen,  D) research professional contortionists, and E) wish I was an activist for Oakland, California’s Measure Y program (Boston zip code aside). I’m even attracted to Jenks himself. Especially after they showed these pictures of him lying to Men’s Health about doing 50 pull-ups every time he goes to the bathroom. How tall are you, anyway?

By Melissaterry via Wikimedia Commons - the only picture I could find to use under the Creative Commons license.

By Melissaterry via Wikimedia Commons – the only picture I could find to use under the Creative Commons license.

How is this show doing this to me? It’s attacking all of my senses, which every good writer should do, as Kristen Lamb mentioned on her blog recently. It has to be a really delicate balance, though — too many blocky and unique descriptions will make readers go running.

Sight is the sense on which too many writers rely. He looked; she saw. Yawn.
Touch is unique. I try to think about what something feels like, or what words I’d use to describe something. Including seamless tactile descriptions is not my strong point.
Taste isn’t always easy to relate, but when it’s done well, your reader will literally be able to taste what you’re describing. I always think of the sour candy (Warheads?) that felt like I was putting a penny on the nerves in the back of my tongue. That candy was so sour that it used to make my ears hurt.
Sound: Music, natural sounds, a house settling, and, perhaps most notably, silence — all of these will make your setting come to life.
Smell is the most “nostalgic” of the senses. Olfactory glands can store information right into your brain, a phenomenon cleverly called “olfactory nostalgia.” You know what Thanksgiving smells like; you know what rain smells like. The scent of my mother’s spaghetti sauce takes me right back to being a child.

Perhaps it’s the senses, then, that influences what we reread, rewatch, or replay. Hearing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” puts me at my first-ever slow dance in 7th grade, as does the scent of Coolwater perfume. The senses link right in with our sense of nostalgia.

http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/nostalgia

Definition of “nostalgia” from the Oxford Dictionaries.

TV execs know to pray on your sense of nostalgia, too. Most relevant, right now, is the age-old Cadbury audition.

a blurry TV picture from the Cadbury Commercial

an obviously non-HD TV pic, snapped from the Cadbury Commercial

And at Christmas, the first time this commercial comes on, everyone I’ve ever observed has stopped to watch it with a half-smile on their face before bemoaning that the holidays come earlier every year, that Christmas decorations are in stores in September, etc.

Hershey's holiday commercial.

Hershey’s holiday commercial. Too old for HD.

And every August, this one comes parading through homes…

The dreaded/beloved back-to-school TV commercial by Staples.

The dreaded/beloved back-to-school TV commercial by Staples.

Aside from essentially zero production costs, these commercials are relying on one thing: your basic nostalgia.

What about books? I reread three every year: A Widow for One Year by John Irving, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

So… what makes you nostalgic? What do you reread, rewatch, or replay? What commercials or TV shows prey upon your emotions? Writers: what senses do you find successful, and which do you wrestle?

visual versus verbatim

The movie-versus-book debate is a pretty old question, by now. What people fail to recognize is how they’re united by one particular element: storytelling.

Everyone has a friend or family member who is a terrible storyteller.  The story takes about a year and a half to unfold, falls back in on itself faster than The Time Traveler’s Wife (I love that book, by the way), and ends up being far less funny and/or significant than it seemed it would be.

The first time I really considered the book vs. movie concept was in fourth grade, when Little Women came out. My mom said that I couldn’t see it because I hadn’t read the book yet. I promised I would. I did. And then I could only picture Winona Ryder as Jo. Book ruined.

little women

Alcott, via Wikimedia Commons

Without further ado, here are 4 visuals that I prefer over their written counterparts.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
(novel by Ken Kesey, movie directed by Miloš Forman)

Take a book about psychological experiences in an institution and the human brain, then add Jack Nicholson to it. What do you get? Five Academy Awards. (And one of my all-time favorite characters: Nurse Ratched.)

prescription pills

By J. Troha, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Fight Club
(book by Chuck Palahniuk, film by David Fincher)

I’m disappointed in myself about this, but I always find wading through Palahniuk’s prose difficult. My attention span flies out the window faster than my resolve not to drink on weeknights every time I sit down with one of his novels. The movie, on the other hand, is pretty entertaining, and has become something of a cult classic.

Fight Club

image taken by GlobalAdventureSpecialist via flickr Creative Commons

2. The Sookie Stackhouse series
(series written by Charlaine Harris, TV series created by Alan Ball)

Harris’s protagonist is stuck in a different era. The True Blood series, on the other hand, is TV gold, and a major reason why I’m cool with Sunday nights in the summertime.

Sookie Stackhouse as played by Anna Paquin. image via myspaces flickr

Sookie Stackhouse as played by Anna Paquin. image via myspaces flickr

1. Forrest Gump
(novel by Winston Groom, movie directed by Robert Zemeckis)

This was the most life-changing movie of all time for me. Ironically, it occurred the same year as the Little Woman fiasco. The book as some weird scenes – Forrest gets caught up with some cannibals for four years, and pals around with an ape named Sue for a while. This movie has taught me more about writing than most books. It also has spawned a feverish devotion to anything Tom Hanks that’s lasted a lifetime. Hanks is my movie John Irving.

Tom Hanks

image by Donna Lou Morgan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

0. If Empire Records was a book, the movie would be better. This ”where are they now” update from Buzzfeed is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.

Agree? Disagree? What are some of yours?

 

an evening with john irving.

I have unbelievable news.

I’m pretty sure John Irving has read my writing.

That’s because I wrote a question on an index card for him to consider answering at a recent forum at the J.F.K. Presidential Library in Boston. That has to count for something. Right?

johnirving

My parents did not regulate my reading when I was a child, nor do I think that they coached me well on appropriate reactions to the things that I was reading. I wildly and uncontrollably sobbed in their bed after reading Cheaper By the Dozen (fair warning: the book is not the Steve Martin movie). They explained that bad things happen. I then read Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia and held all of my feelings inside, subsequently developing a lifetime of insomnia.

Consider where you’re at in your career, or you passions, even. How did you get there? What drew you to what you do (or to what you like)? Forum moderator Tom Perrotta commented that “Garp was the first writer I ever really knew.” I had a similar experience when I read A Widow for One Year at age 12. (Like I said: not so much parental supervision when it came to reading.) This book is tied with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as the two most important pieces of literature I’ve ever read, because they are what compelled me to become a writer. I felt like I knew the characters on a personal level. The gardener who was afraid of small women because of their disproportionate anger; the poor, bumbling Eddie, the sassy, yet sad and promiscuous Hannah… and even the “sound like someone trying not to make a sound” that becomes a character in and of itself. I learned that, like Ruth, child characters in adult novels can only have a partial understanding of the world, and that they’re about to learn more; they will not learn this in a good way.

A friend of a friend actually works at this library, and was able to seat me in the “reserved” section, next to friends and journalists. I landed two seats over from Tom Perrotta’s wife, Mary Granfield. I know this because I am insane, and I Googled every name around me. (I was 90 minutes early – and thus, I was front row, dead center.)

I can’t quite describe my starstruck behavior when it comes to John Irving. I once walked, head-on collision style, into Stephen Tyler at a local Apple store. I apologized to him like he was a regular person. NKOTB superstar Jordan Knight sat next to me at a bar a couple of weeks ago. Nada.

The only other comparison I can make to my John Irving excitement is as follows: While on our honeymoon, my husband and I saw Elton John eating at La Petite Maison in Nice. I was so distressed that I broke my no-media rule and, roaming charges aside, internationally texted my family and close friends immediately. I also took pictures of him that I did not publish via social media so as to not “betray” Elton John.

I was so discombobulated that I missed the fact that Madonna was there, too. In fact, my husband and I directly witnessed this moment. (Madonna has fabulous in-person arms, which is what I noticed about her before I noticed that she was Madonna.) She brushed by our table when she left and sort of “twinkled” her fingers at us.

This is what we looked like immediately after Madonna waved at us.

This is what we looked like immediately after Madonna waved at us.

The wave was not as exciting as John Irving’s forum, especially when we made eye contact.

Here is what I learned about John Irving:

  • He always has 3-4 novel ideas in his head at a time.
  • He keeps an idea in his head for an average of 8-9 years.
  • Writer’s block doesn’t exist, in his mind. That’s because he never stops writing.
  • In his mind, A Prayer for Owen Meany’s beloved narrator Johnny Wheelwright is “probably a non-practicing homosexual,” with his love for Owen Meany evident on the page. (I believe this to be akin to the moment when J. K. Rowling revealed that Dumbledore is gay: unsurprising but unsaid.)

Irving knows the first and last sentence of all of his novels. His next novel focuses on a Mexican-American character, who intends to take one particular journey, messes up his medications on the way, and winds up taking a very different trip than he ever thought he might (which, because it’s a John Irving novel, was the intention the whole time).

He quoted the last line to this next novel, which is currently:

“Not every collision course comes as a surprise.”

“I like obsessions, and characters who are obsessed,” says John Irving. Me too.