One Idea Is Not Enough

I had the pleasure of seeing Gabrielle Zevin, author of All These Things I’ve Done, and her editor do a reading and Q&A session at WORD last night. (WORD is a very cool indie bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The shelves are like a who’s who of what New Yorkers are reading — or a what’s what, or something.)

At one point her editor asked, “How did you come up with a future New York where chocolate and caffeine are illegal and a teenage girl who is kind of a mob boss?” Gabrielle had a long and funny answer involving migraines and dark chocolate and organized crime movies, but at the end she added: “One idea is not enough.”

I also just finished reading Inheritance by Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb. Each story has an introduction explaining its origins. (These are hard-hitting stories, the kind that stick with you and make you think. Or maybe just give you an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach, mostly in a good way. A masochistic, that was good writing, kind of way.) As I’m at the beginning stages of trying to figure out what my next writing project is going to be, the explanations were fascinating and made me think about where my own stories started.

The first book started from a dream I had. The dream was a pretty complete narrative. In the end some parts of the book strayed far from that original dream, but others remain pretty faithful.

The second book was what Sherwood Smith recently called “white fire” in a post on Book View Cafe Blog Writers on Writing: The White Fire. The story poured through me in a rapid torrent from somewhere else. Never have I written so easily, so fast, so confidently in the story. Not to say there weren’t parts I labored over with blood coming out of my pen instead of ink, but for the most part the story came to me, like a package in the mail. Kind of. Sometimes I feel desolate, wondering if I will ever have that experience again. It also came from what I call postcards from the imagination. In my mind, I saw the main character grinning at me and I saw the setting.

The third book came out of the second, plus the rage that I was experiencing at that time in my life. No one has read that one yet, and I wonder how much of that rage is still there. This book was an act of pure will. I almost lost the thread — of the story, of my determination — many times, and I wrenched it back on path. Maybe back on path, as it technically isn’t finished. When the rage passed I don’t know if I lost a lot of the propelling energy behind it. That might be why it was so hard to find the ending to the story. But again it started with a character and this time a question left unanswered.

But now I’m starting from scratch: no dreams, no white fire, no postcards from my imagination. And slowly I am building up an idea of something I want to write. A vague idea about what kind of main character I want to spend so much time with. A bit of a setting. Something stolen — an unusual physical trait that I admired in a well-known book that I wondered, “how can I steal that and make it mine?” Which l did, in quite an inspired way, I think, and in a way that makes it indisputably mine. Two names for secondary characters. A dose of what-if. And yet, it’s still not enough to start writing. Because one idea, even several ideas, is not enough.

So how much is enough?


Diversity in YA, Take 2

I can’t read fiction right now. (I hate when this happens, but it usually means my brain is working on my own creative projects, which is a good thing.) I can barely read non-fiction, which makes my hour-long commute bo-ring.

So instead I’ve been pondering.

And one of the things I’ve been pondering is why I liked the Diversity in YA panel so much.

First, it’s a subject near and dear to my heart: diversity among the authors of fiction (especially YA and scifi/fantasy, the genre I read the most) and diversity among the characters in fiction. And the diverse panelists were there to talk about this very subject to a sympathetic audience. I say sympathetic because this topic can become very fraught with accusations of white-washing or intolerance and racism. Because of the nature of the panel and the questions asked by audience members, the audience was filled with fans, people of color and allies; sympathetic.

Many of the panels of authors I’ve been to have had one or two people of color, or none at all. Ditto on the gay or queer, or gay or queer friendly authors. So to have a whole panel that was diverse was a joy, a validation, and an exciting mirror and window, as someone said. As best I remember, three of the panelists identified themselves as Asian Americans (one South Asian and two South-East Asian), three as black and one as Latino. Among them, three said they identified as biracial as well, one as a lesbian and one as queer.

Second, they were all awesome authors. Ok, I admit, I have only read the books of two of the seven, but they sure came across as awesome.

Third, the moderator, Cheryl Klein, from Arthur A. Levine Books, who is white (I assume, although you know what happens when you assume. However, since she didn’t say, I have to), was everything you want a moderator to be:  prepared, a good speaker, a good timekeeper, had excellent questions and of course knew her stuff.

Fourth, I think everyone is curious about race, ethnicity and sexual diversity. Oftentimes that curiosity gets constricted by notions of what it is acceptable to speak about, discomfort with the topic, racism, lack of ways to express it, etc. So to have a panel on the topic — and one where, at least to me, it didn’t seem like the authors were being asked to or expected to represent for their entire group —  was fun. More, it satisfied a deep seated need to think about and explore these topics with like-minded people in a very specific context: the YA reading and writing context.

Diversity in YA Tour

One of the best things about living in NYC is I get to go to awesome events, like the NYC stop on the Diversity in YA tour. Not only that, but there’s a picture proving I was there!

The panel, hosted by Books of Wonder, made me want to read all their books:

Matt de la Peña, Malinda Lo, Kekla Magoon, Neesha Meminger, Cindy Pon, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and Jacqueline Woodson, and moderated by Cheryl Klein

I didn’t take very good notes, so I can’t quote many people verbatim, but the questions were awesome and the answers were thoughtful, inspiring and often funny. Especially the lightening round when Cheryl Klein asked questions of such earth-shattering importance such as “Doughnuts or ice cream?”

Jacqueline Woodson (author of at least 30 books!) said, about mentors: “the books that I read were my mentors. Write all the time, don’t be afraid of what you are writing. Surround yourself with people who get it.”

Kekla Magoon, on editors: “Good editors help you to be better at what you want to do, not what they want you to do.”

Neesha Meminger, possibly quoting someone else (see, bad note taking): “Create art that matters.”

I’d have to say that Matt de la Peña, as the token male, was the class clown. (I mean that in a good way). Actually, everyone was pretty funny. He passed on answering “Edward or Jacob?”

Cheryl Klein’s favorite YA book, or the one she would recommend (see, ditto): Very Far Away From Anywhere Else by Ursula Le Guin (No way! A Le Guin book I haven’t read?!)

Cindy Pon’s favorite book growing up was A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (huh, wikipedia just told me that it was published in 1905 and had started as a serialized novel in the 1880s). I loved to sob over that book when I was a kid.

Everything Malinda Lo said was awesome, but I just finished Ash and I’m in luv (with the book y’all, Malinda is taken and so am I). I was too nervous to introduce myself beforehand, (duh) but I did go up to Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, who will be teaching the Friday humor intensive I signed up for at the NJ SCBWI Conference in June. She was excited to meet one of her future attendees.

Matt de la Peña: I Will Save You

Malinda Lo: Huntress

Kekla Magoon: Camo Girl

Neesha Meminger: Jazz in Love

Cindy Pon: Fury of the Phoenix

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich: 8th Grade Superzero

Jacqueline Woodson: you know, I’m not sure what book she had up with her, but one of her others is After Tupac and D Foster


From the marvelous Jennifer Garam, Founder, Writeous Chicks Writing for Women
In this seminar you will:
Gain an introduction to Writeous Chicks & Jennifer’s creativity techniques
Get a sampling of 6-week class Celebrate Your Voice! (and celebrate your SELF while you’re at it)
Participate in fun & freeing exercises
Mix & mingle with other fabulous women
WRITE, in a supportive, nurturing, & celebratory environment
This seminar is designed for women at ALL LEVELS with their writing practice – from brand-new beginners to experienced pros.  All that matters is that you have a passion for writing & a desire to write!
Date:  Wednesday, October 14th, 2009
Time:  6:45pm-9:45pm
Place:  A convenient Midtown Manhattan location, close to the A/C/E trains
Contact:  Jennifer Garam ● (917) 509-7564 ● jeng@writeouschicks.comRegistration Fee:  Only $25!
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What Students Have To Say About Writeous Chicks Classes & Workshops…
“Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!  This class has been amazing!  It was everything I expected and so much more.  The goals I had coming into class have all been met – it pushed my limits, forced me to delve in further and made me more comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings.  I am grateful for what it has opened up in me…All of the assignments are fun, exciting, unique and juicy!  Absolutely fabulous!”
     -Julie, 33, Event Planner
“First of all, thank you Jen for creating this writing workshop.  It felt so great to just be free and moving and alive and writing without any censors… or naysayer voices telling me I have no time…it empowers me to be around women who are on the path of self-knowledge, self-growth, self-praise….willing to let go of the negative to pursue their dreams.” 
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Jennifer Garam graduated summa cum laude from Boston College with a degree in English and Theatre. She has studied writing at the Northwestern University Summer Writers’ Conference, Sarah Lawrence Playwriting Conference, and Ensemble Studio Theatre, and acting at The Neighborhood Playhouse and The Barrow Group. Three of Jennifer’s one-act plays have been selected for The Samuel French Festival. In addition to readings at The Lark Play Development Center, The Belt Theatre, and the Time Inc. Author Connection Reading Series, she has performed her solo material at the Drama Desk Award-Winning Barrow Group Theatre. Jennifer’s celebrity music articles have appeared in Interview magazine. She writes the blog “One Writeous Chick” at, and her writing has also appeared on,, the blog “Hip Slope Mama,”, and The Huffington Post.  As the founder of WRITEOUS CHICKS®, she teaches writing workshops for women with an emphasis on personal growth, self-care, and having fun!  Jennifer has been practicing yoga for 11 years, and infuses her passion for spirituality in all her teachings.

Copyright © 2006-09 by Jennifer Garam

Finite Words

I volunteered at the Brooklyn Book Festival  today thanks to Marcela Landres  and sat in on a portion of Edwidge Danticat’s talk. Edwidge is a great writer, but she’s also a good speaker and has the kind of presence that makes you want to be around her. The fifteen minutes I stole to listen to her were well worth the 4 hours I put in volunteering. (Tickets were free all sessions, but I hate waiting on those lines.)

During the question and answer section, a woman in the audience asked Edwidge what she liked most about writing and what challenges she encountered. Her answer: what she likes most about writing is the writing. She said she’s not happy unless she’s writing. As for the challenges: that what you put on paper never matches what you have in your mind. Early on, Edwidge talked to one of her mentors about her frustration with a writing project. The mentor told her: Everyone has the same problem. The mind is infinite and you are attempting to capture that with the finite number of words contained in language. (More or less, I didn’t write it down.) And that you have to just keep going.

It always helps to hear it one more time: Just keep going.

Other pluses of the day: I met Paul Auster …well, he asked me where he could sit and I told him. That counts as meeting in my book. Plus my husband is going to be so jealous that I got to breathe his second-hand cigar smoke. I attended the session with Jonathan Lethem and Mary Gaitskill and learned how to pronounce his name. Lee-them not Ley-them. I ran into Teri and Matt at Horse+Dragon.

Also I got to spend the day outside, after two weeks chained to my computer and I biked there, ditto the two weeks and my computer. And I talked to people, ditto ditto.

All in all, no minuses. Definitely check it out next year.