Our Faultless Stars: What John Green Got Wrong

13 Aug

So I finally did it. I read The Fault in Our Stars, easily once of the most beloved novels by one of the most beloved novelists.

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I didn’t read it earlier because I feared that my own cancer story would make me biased. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to give it a fair shake, wouldn’t be able to see whatever one else saw. And what did everyone else see? Something like this from the New York Times Book Review:

“The Fault in Our Stars” is all the more heart-rending for its bluntness about the medical realities of cancer. There are harrowing descriptions of pain, shame, anger and bodily fluids of every type. It is a narrative without rainbows or flamingoes; there are no magical summer snowstorms. Instead, Hazel has to lug a portable oxygen tank with her wherever she goes, and Gus has a prosthetic leg. Their friend Isaac is missing an eye and later goes blind. These unpleasant details do nothing to diminish the romance; in Green’s hands, they only make it more moving. He shows us true love — two teenagers helping and accepting each other through the most humiliating physical and emotional ordeals — and it is far more romantic than any sunset on the beach.

“Unpleasant details….make it more moving” Yeah. Cancer is pretty unpleasant. No doubt. Too bad the unpleasantness tips from honesty to…I don’t know…some sort of cancer porn that you find so moving but we’ll get to that later.

The reason that I chose to read this book now is because I’m writing my own cancer book. It’s different than Fault for many reasons, the biggest of which is that I actually had cancer. I’m not saying that someone who doesn’t have cancer can’t write about someone who does have cancer but like with any chronic illness or disability, or race, or gender, the view from the inside is a little, well, different.

I tried really hard not to hate this book. But I suppose we all have our internal biases and quiet frankly I was already tired of seeing sick kids die so that other people can learn to appreciate life. While everyone thinks it’s romantic (and I know you all do because we’ve been weaned on suicidal Ophelia and Romeo and Juliet for all of eternity) I find it sort of, well, tiresome.

I’m not saying dying is easy. It’s not. But there are other things that can be even harder. I’ll get to that later.

The reason why I didn’t think I would like it is cause from the onset Hazel Lannister (Stage IV thyroid cancer metastasized to her lungs) makes it very clear that this is NOT a cancer book. Except it might be the MOST cancer book to ever cancer book.

Ever.

Hazel meets Augustus Waters in support group who is smart and gorgeous and had osteosarcoma which means he wears a prosthetic leg. After their first meeting, they decide to go hang out together and Augustus is going to drive. Which is does HORRIBLY, nearly killing them. He also struggles with getting out of the car and general movements and all I could think reading this was John Green didn’t take the time to talk to a single amputee because if he did he would know they could drive. They can run. They can do all the things that he can do. Why would someone who doesn’t know what the experience of having this specific disability choose to write it to do so with such a lazy disregard?

I don’t know. All I can do is look to my friend, Kati Gardner, (who wrote a fabulous book about her cancer story called Brave Enough which has a sequel coming out. If you want good cancer rep read this instead) who was talking to me about this and answered my question quite clearly.

She said, “Because he didn’t care.”

These kinds of details, knowing how a disease works, these are things that kids with cancer will pick up on. Hazel doesn’t know what drugs she’s on or what the side effects are. That might be one of the most untrue things in the entire book. There is no way a teenager with cancer doesn’t know what is happening. Neither does her father, just her brave long suffering mother.

But what Hazel does do is talk about cancer. Constantly. She and Augustus and Issac, who goes blind from his treatment, spend a LOT of time talking about cancer even though they claim to not be one of those “sick kids.” Eventually it starts to feel like there is nothing to these characters but their cancer. And this is where John Green starts to spill into Sickness Porn. There is an obsession with harm. Issac going blind, Gus stopping treatment so he can take his girlfriend to Amsterdam to fulfill her Wish (which is his Wish but whatever). It feels like a fetish, like he can’t wait to kill one of them off. In what universe would parents or doctors agree to this? Then when discussing his dead ex girlfriend Augustus calls her tumor (brain cancer) the Asshole Tumor but then amends this to say that maybe it wasn’t the tumor and maybe she was just a bitch. (I cringed thinking about all the kids with brain tumors who had this book shoved in their hands). When cancer is all that your character is then you don’t have a character. You have a disease that talks. And even if, like Hazel, she can recite poetry from memory. Also John Green picks and chooses which parts of cancer to talk about. There is one scene, when Augustus needs an ambulance that felt, authentic but that was it. Everything else was romanticized. Horribly disturbingly romanticized. It’s like I almost like dying young is the most beautiful romantic thing that can happen. (Looking at you Shakespeare)

Cancer treatment is a huge part of our lives but….we still have lives. And I think that might be the part that John Green missed the most. To him, we don’t have lives. We just have dramatic deaths, we just waste away so that other people can appreciate what they have. Augustus (SPOILER! for the last person on earth who hasn’t read this book) doesn’t even get a death that feels like it was his. He’s too busy making sure he leaves behind little clues so that once he’s gone, Hazel will know it’s okay and that she was loved.

I want more generosity in death then that. Generosity from the LIVING. Yes the living experience the death of their loved ones but the dying are doing it too. This is happening TO THEM.

I have seen so many bad representations of this – most recently being John Wick. John Wick’s dying wife has time to find and arrange the delivery of a puppy so that he’ll have something to love. This is so ridiculous. Have you never seen someone die? It really takes up all their time what with it being the end of their life and all.

All I’m saying is if you’re going to insist about writing about dying children, then the least you can do is have some respect for them.

And while you’re at it, try and acknowledge that cancer doesn’t make you profound. It doesn’t make you wise or pretentious. Tumors don’t offer advice. Cancer did two things to me. It made me scared and it made me angry. I wasn’t a warrior. I did with the doctors told me to do and I hoped for the best because more than anything surviving cancer is a CRAP SHOOT. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. That’s it. There’s no magical thinking, no wistful poetry recitation. There is just treatment and then hoping for the best.

And what is the best? Living, right?

Except living after thinking you were going to die is hard. Living after you’ve stared into the void, after you’ve been told that this might not work out the way you hoped, after carrying that darkness around in you – a darkness that sometimes shifts into such blinding anger that you could tear the stars from the skies – learning how to live around that, how to breathe, how to stop being afraid, THAT is hard.

Living is hard.

But living, especially in childhood cancers, more often than not is the outcome. Survival rates for childhood and adolescent cancers are 80%-90%.

See that’s the thing, John. Lots of sick kids live. They deserve to see that in the books they read. But I’m starting to realize, John you didn’t write the Fault in Our Stars for sick kids. You wrote it for the healthies so they can romanticize death and illness without ever having to really get too close and stare it in the face. They can play sick without being sick.

My friend, Kati, whose book I mentioned before (Brave Enough) had a note at the end of her book that really drove the point home. She said:

“When I was a teenager and reading every book I could get my hands on, I was desperate for a girl that looked like me. For a girl who had cancer and lived. And it was really hard to come by. So, I wrote one.”

Sick kids deserve to see themselves. Representation matters.

So with this book that I’m writing, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to write the kid that went through it, that stared into the void, that has to learn how to live again. That has to learn how to carry the anger and the fear of remission. That has to learn how to be a kid again.

It’s what sick kids deserve.

The Land of the Rising Sun: Adventures in Japan

21 Jun

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I know a few people who have been to Japan and all of them have told me that it will be unlike anywhere else that I have been. I believed them but I didn’t BELIEVE them believe them. But they were right. Japan has raised the travel bar more than any other trip. I have been home for almost a week now (!!) and I miss it terribly.

The route was Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka and back to Tokyo. We bought Japan Rail passes which I highly recommend to anyone planning on leaving Tokyo. Even if you are just going to Kyoto it will pay for itself. And it can be used on the train lines within Tokyo. Win Win! (Important note: The passes have to be bought BEFORE you get to Japan!) Okay let’s go!

Tokyo:

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Tokyo is BIG. Like really big. Like Endless City Big. It’s the stuff of science fiction novels. This is the view from the top of the Tokyo Tower. Those building just keep on going. The night shots were also incredible. This is from the Mori Tower (and it includes the Tokyo Tower!)

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We did the Shibuya Crossing (you’ve seen it in movies, trust me)

Right across from where we shot this video was an amazing Mural called the Myth of Tomorrow by Taro Okamoto. It depicts the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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And we saw the statue of Hachiko, the most loyal doggo in the world

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And of course there were the temples and the shrines and pagodas!

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One of my favorite shrines was this little one for Basho, the great haiku poet, situated where they believe his house was when he set out on his journey north.

 

And of course the crown jewel, the thing I had dreamed about seeing since I was a kid hanging out in the basement of my house, looking through National Geographic: Fuji-san

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Even though we were there during the rainy season we were blessed with a clear day. It was one of the most incredible things I have seen on this planet.

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You can catch the reflection of Fuji-san in the rice field. Amazing!

From Tokyo we headed to Kyoto

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The Bamboo Grove is the only place on the whole trip where it rained and it only lasted a few minutes and honestly it made everything look even more beautiful.

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These are women who rented kimonos but I did for a brief second spot an actual Geisha in Kyoto and she was so beautiful she stole my breath. I didn’t take a picture (cause I’m not a jerk) but she was wearing the traditional dress and make up like this

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Kyoto was just utterly beautiful

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From Kyoto we went to Hiroshima

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This was LITERALLY the view from the hotel. I will miss those mountains till I die.

The Hiroshima Memorial Park was a beautiful, heartbreaking space dedicated to the possibility of peace. Sadly, in this day and age, it seems farther away than ever. This is the A-Bomb Dome (Formerly the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall). It was very close to the Hypocenter (where the bomb was detonated) and everyone inside was killed instantly. The building stands today as it did after the bomb dropped.IMG_1527

Also in the peace park is this monument built for Sadako Sasaki, one of the bomb victims who survived the initial bombing but was caught in the black rain and developed radiation poisoning. She started a campaign to fold 1,000 origami cranes as a symbol of peace and a tribute to the innocent victims of nuclear war. Those cases behind the sculpture are filled with hundreds and hundreds of cranes. People still send them in to this day to be added.

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On a very nondescript street not far from the A-bomb dome is plaque on the wall marking the Hypocenter – the actual site of the bombing. We also toured the Peace Memorial Museum which was incredibly difficult to walk through reading story after story about people who lost their children or their parents, about the chaos and pain of that day, and the years that followed of slow torturous death. Towards the end there is a ruined melted baby’s tricycle which gutted me.

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This was up towards the Hiroshima castle, a beautiful shrine that we were lucky enough to catch right at sunset.

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Near to Hiroshima is the island of Miyajima. It’s about an hour on the train down the coast and then a ten minute boat ride but to be honest you might as well have traveled to a magical land. IMG_1570

Miyjima is famous for the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate

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Okay I took a lot of pictures of this Tori.

In addition there is the Itsukishima Shrine built in 593

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It is right in the bay so when the high tide comes in, the shrine itself also seems to be floating.

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And of course the most famous residents of Miyajima: the deer!

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They are 100% native to the island and roam around the way squirrels do at home. Though I did learn it’s best to keep moving if you have some food with you. They are not shy about their love of fried chicken.

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From Hiroshima we went to Osaka for ONE SINGLE DAY which was mostly spent at the Dontonbori, which is like the Times Square of Food!

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This is Taro. He’s a super weird clown who plays the drum. A small version of him will be hanging on my Christmas tree this year! (Take that Eggbert!)

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Then we headed Osaka back to Tokyo. With one day left we took a train trip down to Kamakura to see the Great Buddha!

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There were these adorable little school groups of children at the Big Buddha practicing their English and they interviewed me about what I liked the best in Japan and then we took pictures together and it was so cute I died and came back to life.

And of course, the Pacific Ocean. In 2010 I went to Venice Beach in California and touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time. In 2019, I touched the other side!

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And of course, along the way we ATE…and ate….and ate…..

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That’s Butadon and it’s pork belly and heavenly and I miss it so much I could cry

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GYOZAS! Dumplings rule

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Okay this I didn’t eat cause that’s a whole octupus (with a quail egg in it’s head) and me and the creatures of the sea leave each other alone.

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SOY DONUTS WITH CARAMEL SAUCE! *drools*

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Japanese fried chicken (Karaage) is a thing and it’s delicious

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This is okonomiyaki (sometimes called Japanese pizza but it’s made with cabbage and fried noodles) and this was one of my favorite foods! IMG_1746

And of course all the RAMEN. This one was in Osaka at the Dontonburi and it had a whole pork rib in it! IMG_1676

And all the soft cream! This one was Matcha flavored but I also had Ramune (which is a soda flavor), green tea and grape and Jay had sweet potato!

Jay also had Kobe beef. Here’s his reaction in 4 acts!

First bite:

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What’s this?

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Oh it’s good!

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Oh it’s sooooooooooooooooooooo good!

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Now that I’m back the question everyone is asking me is: What was your favorite part of Japan?

Seems hard to choose right? I mean, between the all the cities and temples and mountains and sea, how could I choose my favorite part.

But I can. Easily.

We took the train down to Miyajima and we sailed out to the island and took tons of pictures and toured the temples and scritched the little deer on their little deer noses and climbed all the way up to the pagodas and ate delicious Karaage, we settled in at a little cafe called Cafe Lente

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They have a little deck you can see there with a lovely view and we ordered some beers and rested our weary feet. Conversation lapsed as we watch the deer roam around and the waves lapping at O-Torri. I was thinking about how long I had been wanting to see this particular tori and how hard we worked to get here and I turned to Jay and I said, “I can’t believe we’re really here.” And he smiled at me and said “Considering where we were five years ago…”

And my breath caught and I realized I had forgotten.

I forgot that it was June 10th. I forgot that it was the five year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I had spent the whole day on this island and I just completely FORGOT the worst day of my life.

Japan let me forget, if just for a little while. Japan stopped me from counting time from the break in my life, from what I call The Cleaving. Japan let me relax and instead of thinking about what is going to happen next Japan insisted that instead I just lived.

Japan gave me that and I will always be thankful.

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“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot

The world forgetting by the world forgot

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.”

                                        – Alexander Pope

Peace, love, and starbursts,

Ally

Updates! I’m Still Alive (and that’s about the end of the good news! jk lol)

27 Feb

Hello friends.

It’s been a while since I’ve written – mostly because I didn’t have much to write about and then also because in January I got hit by a car.

Wheeeee!

So this year is off to a hell of a start.

I was crossing the street a block from my house, with the walk and the driver made a left hand turn, claimed they had foggy windows and didn’t see me. Oddly enough I didn’t see them either because in my memory, I was looking at the walk signal and thinking about the fact that I was having tater tots with dinner and then next thing I know I’m on the sidewalk, wondering why my clothes were so wet (spoiler it was raining!) and very very confused and in much pain. It wasn’t until the ambulance that I realized I had been hit by a car. I thought it was an earthquake. I couldn’t come up with a better reason that I had been knocked to the ground. Listen, my brain goes to weird places.

I think we should back up a second because I want to make sure that everyone realizes that had this accident been more serious and I…I don’t know….DIED my last thoughts would have been about TATER TOTS and that is literally the most ON BRAND Ally story ever which sadly no one would have known about what with me being dead and all.

But huzzah, I’m not dead. I do have a broken collar bone and some nerve damage. The collar bone is a month into the three months it takes to heal and I’m starting physical therapy soon. The nerve damage will take longer and fingers crossed will heal but I was warned it could be permanent. So throw some good juju into the universe for your girl, will ya?

That said, not a day has passed where I haven’t realized it could have all been much much worse and I’m so thankful it was not.

Since I have no filter, I will say my mental health is sort of in the trash can. Crossing streets has gotten way more interesting what with all the paranoia about cars and such. That said, turns out the neighborhood of Brooklyn that I live in has 400 more vehicle accidents than any other borough in Brooklyn so maybe it’s not just paranoia.

But I am on the mend and looking forward to putting this whole thing behind me.

Check out that empty sleeve (I’m wearing a sling to keep my arm still so my clavicle can heal)

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In other exciting good news, my most recent WIP – the one I half NaNoWriMo’d – went back to my agent and she loved it!! So that means soon I’ll be going on submission again, making my I’m On Submission Face.

This one:

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I do love this little ghost story that I wrote and because I’m cheesy I made an aesthetic so you can get a feeling of what I’m doing.

 

(And yes if you’re feeling the Nick Cave inspiration you are RIGHT!)

The really exciting thing is that if this book sells and someone asks me what kinds of books I write, I can say “Books to terrify your children!”

Wheeeee!

 

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

To NaNo or not to NaNo

22 Dec

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Isn’t that the question?

Unless, of course, your question is “what the hell is a NaNo?”

NaNoWriMo, as it’s awkwardly and affectionately called, stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is billed as a competition – something you either win or lose – to push people to write a 50K word novel in 30 days.

It’s ridiculous, frankly. And it’s something that, considering my writing schedule, I have always disregarded, even, looked down upon. After all, I get up at 4:45 in the morning, 5 times a week (okay, fine, lately it’s been more like 4 but I’m OLD as sin so leave me alone). I write regularly. I don’t write because there’s some random competition about word count.

BUT.

I’m a SLOW writer. I worked for years on Palimpsest before it went out on query. But that’s okay, I tell myself. Anything good takes time, right?

Maybe.

I do believe that writing is an art that must be practiced. I don’t believe that you can sit down in one month and write a book that will be worth a damn. I believe that writing is a daily act, that writing is rewriting and that you need time to do that.

But…I also feel like I write TOO slow. That a book that should only take 1-2 years takes me 3-4. Sometimes more. Not that there is anything wrong with this. But it is frustrating. I had been working on this Ghost Book for a few months and lately, it seemed, I was just re-writing the beginning over and over again. I wasn’t moving the story forward. I was, in all honesty, stuck.

So this year, I NaNo-ed.

I signed up for an account and on the morning of November 1st, the first day of the competition I did exactly what you weren’t supposed to do.

I cheated.

I entered my word count when I finished writing that morning at 20,352 words because that was the point I was at in the Ghost Book draft. In order to complete 50K words in 30 days, according to NaNo, you need to write 1667 words a day. And not just week days.  Every day.

So I was feeling pretty good about my 18K word lead.

And that good feeling lasted for awhile. Each morning I was hitting 2K words or so. This is about as fast as Ally goes, by the way. After that my brain melts inside my skull and runs out my nose.

For about two week, my word count was way above where it needed to be and when I entered in my numbers at the end of the morning, I was feeling great.

Then, things changed. I missed a morning (not to mention weekends) and the space between my word count and the necessary word count started to diminish. I watched my chart on their website with anxiety. (Yes they literally make you a graph. It’s too much.)

Like I didn’t have enough to be anxious about in life, now stupid NaNo was making me feel lousy. Had I turned this thing that I normally loved to do, this art making of mine, into something debased?

Maybe.

Was I advancing my story? Definitely.

Were the words great? Some. But the rest were fixable. See, it’s in the editing and rewriting that I find my voice. But if I don’t have the words on the page, well, there’s nothing to fix. Nothing to work with. It’s like trying to bake with no ingredients.

By the end (technically before but now I’m just being petty) I had 55, 250 words. The NaNO site gave me a little trophy next to my graph.

I’m not gonna lie, I felt like I deserved it.

In the end, it was an interesting experiment. I don’t know if I would do it again. On the one hand it pushed me through that middle ground where I had half a book and couldn’t envision where to go from there. On the other hand, when my word count started to dip, I felt lousy. I don’t want writing to make me feel lousy (at least not more than the usual run of the mill every day lousy it makes me feel.)

I will say this: I’m competitive, especially with myself. So having a bar to hit every day was a genuine motivator. I know some other writers that have systems similar to NaNo where they give themselves marks (or stars) on a calendar for every 1K words. They track their progress. That might be a good path for me going forward.

I don’t know when I would have finished this first draft of Ghost Book if I didn’t do NaNo. Mabye 4 months. Maybe more. What I do know is that getting up to write every morning is HARD. Writing is hard. If something like NaNo helps you get your work done, why not try it?

Just don’t take it too seriously.

And finally, as we wind down 2018 (this was a long one wasn’t it?) and we take stock of what we accomplished and what we didn’t I think it’s important to remember, especially as a creator, that only part of this process is in our hands. So if you didn’t get the agent this year, or sell your first book, or whatever, that’s okay.

All that matter is that you did the work.

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So here’s to 2019. Another year. Another chance to do it.

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Let’s go exploring.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

My Kind of Town

31 Oct

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Hello friends.

I’m 100% trying to be better about keeping this up to date. Now that my revisions have gone back to my agent and I’ve started a new book (more on that later) this all seems like it might be possible. I’m probably setting myself up for failure, but hey….

So this month we went to Chicago! And let me tell you, I love this town. This is my third trip to Chicago but it feels like the first time I got to actually see and understand this city. The first time I was in college and I sold off all my cds to get gas and hotel money. We were only there a weekend and I never got off the Miserable …ahem, Magnificent Mile which is like being stuck in Herald Square forever. *shudders*

The second time we were traveling the country and it was another short trip with similar results. But this time I finally got it right.

It’s a really beautiful city.

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This was a very far walk.

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Of course we made it up to Wrigley Field

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and out to Andersonville to got to this incredible feminist bookstore, Women and Children First.

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We at cheezborgers at the Billy Goat Tavern (three times, DON’T YOU JUDGE ME).

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Yes you know them from this Saturday Night Live skit

Speaking of we were at the Billy Goat Tavern when Jason Van Dyke, the police officer who murdered Laquan MacDonald was found guilty. They had it up on the television and when the verdict was announced it was incredible. They read each “guilt” by bullet so he had to sit there and listen to all sixteen bullets. It was like a poem, it was so intense. I was so happy the people of Chicago got some justice.

When we first got there we hit up Millennium Park to see the Cloud Gate or as Chicagoians affectionately call it, The Bean.

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This park is full of lots of cool things like fountains that spit on you.

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And obviously we went to the Art Institute – home of NightHawks by Edward Hopper. It was the piece of art my husband was most looking forward to seeing. On the way he joked about it being lent out so naturally……it was.

We were standing in the ticket line and there was the sign saying it was in Shanghai for an exhibit. The poor boy just started laughing but trust me the whole thing felt VERY familiar.

Not that we didn’t see great art:

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Chagall

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O’Keefe

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Amy Sherald (yes she painted Michelle Obama’s portrait)

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Dubuffet

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van Gogh

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van Gogh

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van Gogh

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Seurat

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Picasso

And we went to INTUIT – The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art and it was incredible.

This is Lee Goodie – she lived on the streets of Chicago and made these paintings

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And this is Aldo Piacenza – he made to scale models of famous chapels. They’re BIRDHOUSES!

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But the center piece to INTUIT is Henry Darger. Henry Darger is probably one of the best known outsider artist. He lived here:

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and in this space he created In the Realms of the Unreal –  approximately 15, 145 page work that was bound in 15 densely typed volumes, many of which contained hundreds of scroll-size paintings.

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And the subject of the Realms of the Unreal is even better. From wikipedia:

The largest part of the book, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, follows the adventures of the daughters of Robert Vivian, seven princesses of the Christiannation of Abbieannia who assist a daring rebellion against the child slavery imposed by John Manley and the Glandelinians. Children take up arms in their own defense and are often slain in battle or viciously tortured by the Glandelinian overlords. The elaborate mythology includes the setting of a large planet, around which Earth orbits as a moon (where most people are Christian and mostly Catholic), and a species called the “Blengigomeneans” (or Blengins for short), gigantic winged beings with curved horns who occasionally take human or part-human form, even disguising themselves as children. They are usually benevolent, but some Blengins are extremely suspicious of all humans, due to Glandelinian atrocities.

And the INTUIT museum recreated his living/artist space:

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It’s strange. You got to a place like INTUIT and you see these amazing works of art and then you go to the Art Institute and you see equally amazing works of art. It’s strange, the gatekeepers of culture, how they decide who lives on the street making art and who is hung in the most hallowed of halls, decreed with genius. Is Lee Goodie’s work any less affecting than deKooning? Is Darger’s?

We also found the Biograph where Joe Dillinger was caught by the FBI

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and murdered in the alleyway behind

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We also went to Oz Park, a tribute to Frank L. Baum and his creations. The city put up these amazing statues. They were adorable. Look how cute the lion is!

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I scored some new buttons

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and a tee! (yes I’ll be wearing it to the premiere of Bohemian Rhapsody do you even have to ask me that?)

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Also our walk to our hotel most nights lead us past this horrible building so naturally I paid my respects

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#RESIST

We stopped at the Green Mill, an old Al Capone haunt, for some drinks and stumbled into a free comedy show which was lovely.

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Not sure if you can see it, but seated in the last booth to the right are two dope queens (yes I said it) who together form the rap group Glitter Moneyyy who were amazing. They’re streaming on all the things so please, do yourself a favor and download.

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Oh! And before I forget yes, we found the Haymarket Riot memorial (if you don’t know about the Haymarket Riot you need to do some reading about this damn country).

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And because I couldn’t resist, we found Championship Vinyl…because JOHN CUSAK

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It was a really fantastic trip even though our flight home was cancelled and we were stuck in O’Hare for far too many hours and then entire flight home was a turbulent nightmare that had me swearing I was never going to fly again and we landed very late at LaGuardia of all places.

So since then, I’ve been back to writing. Palimpsest, as I said before, was re-written for middle grade and my agent has that now. I still need to work on the all girl pickpocket heist book – mainly on world-building – but I set that aside to write a new middle grade ghost book with a scary Preacher Man. Must be all the Nick Cave I have been listening to.

So yeah, that’s where we’re at. I’m making things. MAKING ALL THE THINGS!

And in even better news, today is Halloween. Happy Allyween, my witches.

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Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

I’m still alive!

11 Aug

Hello friends.

It has been a VERY long time since I posted here and many things have happened. Some good, some great, some heartbreaking.

So let’s start with Italy! We spent two weeks and saw Rome, Livorno, Bologna (where I ate the best tortellini of my life) and Venice.

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We picked Livorno because it was the home of Modigliani. They have a museum in his childhood home but sadly we planned poorly and while we were there it was closed.

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Livorno itself was very pretty and we ate at a fascinating restaurant where the waiter was literally the menu based upon what he bought at the market that morning and at the end we paid for a our wine based on how empty the bottle was. They weighed it.

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Bologna as you can see was also gorgeous and I wish I had more time there. Best tortellini. It was so good I would go back just for that.

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And then there was Venice. Beautiful, lovely, Venice. That, as my friend Dan calls it, “sinking jewel box of a city”

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We stayed in Dosoduro and we saw so much art. Titans, Tintorettos all of it breathtaking.  The Peggy Guggenheim is not to be missed should you find yourself wondering the canals.

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It was truly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. My friend Dan, who has spent a lot of time there suggested that I do a number of things one of which was to buy a blank notebook on the Rialto Bridge, so I did.

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And when I returned I used it to plot out my next book. Which is what I was supposed to be writing this summer. I was supposed to be writing my kick ass #MeToo inspired book about an all girl gang of pickpockets in space.

Instead, I am revising Palimpsest.

Yes, again.

So let’s get into that shall we? As of this past June I had been on submission for 8 months. We had gotten a number of good rejections. Yes this is a thing. There are good rejection in publishing. It meant that editors were seeing the potential even if they weren’t going to take the book on. Within a few months there was a theme in these rejections. Many editors started saying they really liked the book but that they didn’t think it was young adult.

They thought it was middle grade.

Readership for young adult is typically 13 and up. Middle grade is 8-12 years old. So for instance the first two Harry Potters are middle grade while the rest are young adult.

So my wonderful agent said, “What do you think?” and I scoffed. It wasn’t middle grade, I thought. So I opted to wait.

Then my book went to acquisitions. This is a big deal. A book going to acquisitions means an editor read it, loved it and was not going to talk to her fellow editors and marketing and they were all going to agree that it was going to make a million dollars and they would publish it. This is the final stage. This is the last hurdle.

This is also where it got rejected again and I ugly cried on the subway home, frantically DMing fellow writer friends so they could tell me stories about how these terrible things happened to them and they survived it.

They came through:

So the rejections kept coming in. More said it was middle grade. So last month after a long talk with my agent, I decided to revise this book to make it upper middle grade.

And friend, let me tell you, this is a HUGE undertaking. The beginning of the book still worked and many of the chess games still worked but everything else needed to change. This was more than just cutting out the sexy bits, lowering my MC’s age, and cutting 25K words. Middle grade also has a very distinct narrative voice to it. I needed to find that. I buried myself in middle grade, picking up old favorites like Wrinkle in Time and new books like Ben Gutterson’s charming WinterHouse and the breathtakingly beautiful Counting By 7s. I also cracked open Harry Potter because, to my never ending delight, my eight year old niece just started reading them. It is NO EXAGGERATION to say that I have been waiting since the day she was born for this to happen. It was a long eight years to wait.

(Side story – I was visiting her the other week and we were talking all things Potter and I asked her which house she would be sorted into and she paused, thought about it and said Gryffindor and I smiled because I thought to myself, oh no, honey you are the most Hufflepuff that ever huffled. Needless to say, she was sorted on Pottermore and yes she is a Hufflepuff god bless her heart. And if anyone is interested, yes I have always been and will always be Ravenclaw.)

And so this is where we are at with book news. My pickpocket book is tabled for now and I’m working through this revision. I have to say, even though it’s hard (and believe me, it is HARD) it feels right.

After all, the very first book I ever wrote was middle grade. It’s the books that mattered the most to me growing up. It’s the books that made me fall in love with storytelling. It’s the books that made me want to be a writer.

And my last bit of news is that my yearly MRI came back just fine. This girl is all good to go for another six months.

We celebrated like we always do – with root beer floats

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There’s probably more but I’m not remembering right now. Anyway keep me in your prayers for this revision. So help me god, I’m going to fix this book.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

David Bowie Is

12 Mar

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This weekend, I went to with some very dear friends to go see David Bowie Is at the Brooklyn Museum. To say that I had my mind blown and then reformed and then blown again and then reformed again would be an understatement.

Firstly before we get into the finer details can we take a moment to appreciate the Bowie doll my friend made?

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I mean gosh.

Before we get into the exhibit I feel the need to mention what Bowie means to me. In the darkest time of my life, Bowie was the only music I could still listen to. After diagnosis everything was severed, except for him. The starman managed to traverse that chasm and I am forever grateful for it. I needed a starman to help me stitch back together the ruins that this diagnosis made of my life. I needed his voice to distract me from my premature death. I needed a starman, a hero.

In a very real way David Bowie saved my life.

So with all of that in mind, you must know this was a big day for me.

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Going forward, these pictures are not mine. You weren’t allowed to take photos in the exhibit so everything coming up is from articles or the Brooklyn Museum site.

The first thing you see going in is this.

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I mean honestly this is how it STARTS.

You also get headphones. As you move through the exhibit you’ll hear different songs playing, snippets of conversation and as you get closer to different television screens, you’ll hear the songs that are playing or the interview that is going on. It’s a completely immersive experience. And I do not use the word experience lightly. Lots of things claim to be an experience and more often than not they rarely are.

But this. This is an experience.

Yes, there are the costumes.

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The 1984 “Blue Jean” costume by Alison Chitty, left, and the 1980 “Ashes to Ashes” costume by Natasha Korniloff. Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

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The pink jumpsuit Bowie wore in his “DJ” video in 1979. Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

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Cage boots created for Bowie’s “Dead Man Walking” video in 1997

There were his paintings, litographs from album covers, sketches of set designs for things he created, like the 1980 Floor Show

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Bowie’s original sketches for some of his costume designs for “The 1980 Floor Show.” Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

One of the things that really got me were his set of keys from his Berlin apartment on Haupstrasse 155. I went to that apartment in 2015. I saw the door those keys opened and now here, were the keys.

Another of my favorite were his paintings.

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Portrait of Jo – 1976

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Self-portrait – 1978, Inspired by the cover for the album cover of Heroes (Victoria and Albert Museum)

There were clips of his movies, including Labyrinth which if you know me you know that was my second introduction to Bowie (Space Oddity was my first and it scared the crap out of me). They also had Jareth’s riding crop and one of the crystal balls.

Oh and because I couldn’t decide WHICH of my Bowie shirts to wear I went old school.IMG_3401[1]

I was in there for four hours. Towards the back, you are instructed to remove your headphones and you enter a room with wall to wall screens upon which are live clips of David playing different concerts – including the Reality tour (a personal favorite of mine). I never saw Bowie live.

This was the closest I ever came and let me tell you, it was damn good.

Oh and if you go, his cocaine spoon is in that room so be sure to check it out.

But by far my favorite parts were the lyrics, including marginalia for himself. He was so nice to himself as a creator – noting in the margins if something wasn’t working that he just needed to give it a little more attention, a little more time. That he was sure it would work out. The exhibit is filled with little moments like that. Where you can really feel his joy in creating.

I have marginalia notes too and let me tell you, that’re not nearly as encouraging. I think I should change that. (Thanks again, David).

And the journal entry where he mentions recording Fame with Lennon is classic. When he first mentions meeting him he writes “Lennon (a beatle).”

The exhibit ended with Blackstar, of course. They had the book the preacher holds up in the video, notes about set and concept and costume design.

When you went into that room, you could listen to Blackstar, a ten minute work of art, which I did, leaning against the wall, with my eyes closed. When it ended, I whispered, “thank you david,” and then handed my headphones back over and exited through the gift shop (much poorer than when I had entered!)

It’s a stellar exhibit and if you’re even a casual fan and have the opportunity I highly recommend it. I for one will be going as many times as I can between now and it’s closing date in July.

Afterwards, we stopped at The Norm for some much needed, Bowie inspired drinks.

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Left – Thin White Duke Center – Fame Right – Starman

Again, there really is nothing like this exhibit.

Nor do I imagine there ever will be.

I mean, who other than David Bowie could have the scope, the talent and the body of work to inspire something like this? Let us all thank our lucky stars we were fortunate enough to share the same time and space with our Starman.

It began in London, where Bowie is from and it ends in New York, where he spent his final days. If you’re in town, please by all means, come see it.

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