Tag Archives: Writing

World, meet GHOST GIRL

28 May

So it’s been….sometime.

It’s not that things haven’t been happening, because they definitely have it’s just, well, I couldn’t talk about it.

Do you know how hard it is to keep a secret for four months? Pretty darn hard.

So back in January I had a really good day. It was January 29th and I got two phone calls. The second one told me that my mammo came back clear. Normally that is the best phone call I can get. But January 29th was so darn good that the first phone call was even better.

Because the first phone call was from my agent telling me I sold my novel to Harper Collins.

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Since I’m not terribly good at talk about my books, I’m going to use the summary that my friend Tomi wrote because she is very good at talking about my books. (She’s also an excellent beta reader):

“It’s a supernatural thriller about three troubled children in a small town who create a bond of friendship by coming together to save their broken families from a devil masquerading as a savior and the whole thing is a kind of allegory about consent and the masks people wear to hide the pain they’re struggling through”

I grew up in the Hudson Valley, about an hour outside of NYC. My best friend, Dan lived around the corner. We were, (and still are) thick as theives. We spent many summer days traipsing through the woods, making up fantasy worlds like Narnia and Terabithia. We drew eyes on trees so they could watch out for us. We made up spooky stories like the BirdMan who had giant bird feet and would steal kids. We were convinced if we followed the spells in the Worst Witch we could also do magic.

I realize now we were, in fact, magic.

 

And this story was sowed in those woods, like a sapling that needed some years to grow. It would not exist without them.

People often talk about the “book of their heart” and this is mine. It’s not a flashy book, though I think it’s got a few good scares. It’s not a tearjerker. But it is something that has lived in me for a long time, since I was a little girl reading Madeline L’Engle books and realizing that someone had the very incredible job of making STORIES. From that point on it was the only thing I wanted to do.

I cannot wait for you to meet, Nellie, Elijah and most of all, storytelling, stubborn, towheaded Zee.

My GHOST GIRL

 

 

 

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.

To NaNo or not to NaNo

22 Dec

Logo_of_National_Novel_Writing_Month

 

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.

magicalworld

Let’s go exploring.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

Van Gogh Painted the Sky Last: Thoughts on John Grochalski’s Winedrunk Sidewalk

2 Sep

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So that’s a photo of a van Gogh painting that hung in the recent exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new location, MET BRUER, called Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.

The whole exhibit was really fantastic but this painting really floored me.

Because van Gogh painted the sky last.

Last.

Something about this strikes me as counter-intuitive. I mean, sky’s are a pretty integral and magical part of the man’s work.

and of course:

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This got me thinking about artist process. How did van Gogh paint? How did Beethoven compose? How does art get made? And is there a right or a wrong way to do it?

I know how I do it.

I get up every morning at quarter to five and I write until it’s time to get ready for work. I do this five days a week, taking weekends (and of course vacations) off. This is also the schedule that John Grochalski keeps. In fact I got my schedule from him, and not just because he sleeps next to me in bed.

John decided that if he was ever going to get any real writing done he needed to make sacrifices and the sacrifice he chose was sleep. I thought he was crazy and watched for years as he pulled himself out of bed each morning and made something out of nothing.

Then I saw all the something he made.

See that pile there next to the computer?

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That’s a lot of poems.

Eventually I joined him.

In conjunction with this schedule, he created a blog called Winedrunk Sidewalk in 2008. He vowed to write a poem a day.

Every day.

And (with a handful of exceptions) he did.

For nearly 10 years.

This week John informed me he was done with Winedrunk Sidewalk, that it no longer served in the way it was supposed to. As he said on his final post:

But I soon developed WineDrunk into a poetry site, mostly to keep me writing regularly. I think I’ve achieved that. And it’s been really wonderful to have had people read and comment on the blog. I think of WineDrunk as a fine piece of digital art. But this year I’ve gotten rather restless with the whole thing. Concentrating on writing a novel while revising another novel lead to a lot of frustration on my part in having to post a poem daily and to try and have that poem at least maintain some quality, some shred of artistic value.

8 years. A poem a day. That is nearly 3,000 poems. Three thousand times that he crafted something from nothing and while the poems themselves are art, the blog, as a whole is also art. A testimony to the process of making art.

So how exactly does one make art? Pretty much everyone in the world has an opinion on that.

If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written. – Neil Gaiman

Solid advice but is that true for poets too? Should they only write when inspired? What constitutes inspired? What’s the difference between that and procrastinating? I know so many talented people who want to make art but don’t because they don’t make time or because the only wait until they are inspired. Is that better? Is the art better?

What makes you a good writer? What is the proper mix?

Much has been written about this. Charts have been rendered. Famous writer’s brains have been picked clean.

In the end, everyone’s routine is different but one thing seems abundantly clear. Without a routine, there’s no work. Without work, there’s no art.

Three thousand poems is an impressive feat and putting yourself out there every day takes real guts.

Everyone is going to find their own routine. Those that write every day might find the same kind of magic and frustration that John found creating Winedrunk Sidewalk. It’s never going to be perfect but it will always be true.

Sometimes we paint the sky last.

Sometimes we write a poem every single day for nearly a decade.

Either way, we make something from nothing.

Rest in peace, Winedrunk. You done good.

 

Where the Fuck Did May Go?*

24 May

*Yes it’s a David Bowie reference. Yes, I’m still upset. Leave me alone.

We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavoring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination. – Tchaikovsky

 

So wow….I seemed to have lost a month. During the beginning of which I turned 39 (!!) and by the end of which, today, my husband reached over and plucked a white hair out of the top of my head.

I’m not even kidding. It was WHITE. I’m officially old.

So in between now and then I have a few people to thank, list-style

In other writing news, I’ve been working with Six Gallery Press and Low Ghost Press on edits to Better Luck Next Year which should be out end of July. In case you don’t know it’s the poetry book that’s all about the cancer escapade. I won’t say journey cause I hate that term. Anyway, I gave Kris at Low Ghost a giant hot emotional mess and out of that he has helped to carve a really honest and raw look at what 2014-2015 was like from the days before diagnosis to the end of treatment.

Caveat: So I’m just going to put this here because a number of people have asked me about treatment lately, specifically Am I done? and if not When will I be? That’s a hard question to answer, even as I come barreling towards Cancerversary #2.  I’m not going to be “done” for a few more years. I’ll be on tamoxifen for at least three more years unless it causes potentially dangerous side effects. I’m still going to be getting injections of ovarian suppressants (Zoladex) for another year and a half. But what I do each month is not at all like what people typically think of when they say “treatment” which is chemo. So I guess the answer is yes-ish but also no-ish.

/end caveat

I’m really excited for Better Luck Next Year. I think it contains some of my best writing – and if not then it’s definitely got the rawest and most honest stuff I have done. I promise it’s not to terribly “woe is me” or too terribly depressing.

In other writing news, I’ve been doing a lot of hand wringing lately over Palimpsest (the massive nightmare that is the sci-fi book.) I’ve been querying agents and I’ve had some very promising leads and bites and interest but nothing that has panned out into an offer. Which is fine, these things take time. That said, at the beginning of the month I had a really interesting conversation with an agent who made some suggestions that would require a big revision.

Big.

And I have been heming and hawing about it for a month now, whinning to friends and beta readers if I should go through with it and “one person’s opinion” and “am I willing to do the work” and whine whine whine.

Ultimately the problem is the end. Endings are HARD. And then a friend shared this list of suggestions from Billy Wilder to Cameron Crowe:

  1. The audience is fickle. Grab ’em by the throat and don’t let ‘em go.
  2. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  3. Know where you’re going.
  4. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  5. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.*
  6. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you for it.
  7. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees; add to what they are seeing.
  8. The event that occurs at the second-act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  9. The third act must build, build, build in tempo until the last event, and then …
  10. … that’s it. Don’t hang around.

 

* emphasis mine

My friend wrote a whole post about it here which is great and you should read it. It was number five from this list that hit home for me.

And I think I found the problem in the first act. So the only question is should I cut my loses, scrap this to “one person’s opinion” and move on?

Or am I able to do the heavy lifting – the WORK – that will be turning this book around? Am I willing to put my other stuff on hold to go back into the trenches with Palimpsest again?

Oh who am I kidding?

My alarm is already set for 5 am. There is no spoon.

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

 

 

At Least We Didn’t Get Arrested: Attending the Anti-Trump Rally in NYC

21 Mar

So before we get into the story of how I almost got arrested this weekend, I have a couple quick writing thank yous to share.

First off, thanks to Clockwise Cat for accepting this poem, New Strange Life, for the David Bowie tribute issue. Always an honor to be included. And to Boyslut for taking Moment and finally Yellow Chair Review for taking Please Don’t Call It a Journey and for publishing my new essay about Betty Tompkin’s amazing exhibit.

How To Be An American my poetry book has also gotten some love. First up was Alison Ross at Clockwise Cat who said:

“The content of the poems, sans pedantic preaching, scream volumes about what’s very toxically wrong with American society
– its consumerism mania, its revolting xenophobia, its laughable “Jesus-was-American” attitudes, its faux-patriotism.

“How to Be An American” is the “Idiocracy” of poetry, serving to amuse, yes, but mostly to enrage and enlighten – about a freakishly frightening society.”

The full review is available in the new issue of Five 2 One.

And then Matthew gave this review on goodreads:

It never occurred to me that I would open up a book one day and be transported back to the basement of Sacred Heart Church. Ally does that a lot in this book though and that makes it interesting. Having played dodge ball, being a traveler (and rarely a knowledgeable person of places I travel), and being an American I find myself in this book sort of surprised by the glare of the stage lights. ‘How to be an American” puts you uncomfortably back in your skin. I think this is good poetry because it can do all of this transporting and or recollecting in very few words. Anyway, that is my initial assessment. i will come back and read it over and over and add more comments to this site eventually.

So thank you both for the love.

Speaking of How To Be An American…..I found myself in the midst of a political rally this weekend.

I knew about the Anti-Trump rally that was taking place in Manhattan earlier this week. The march was beginning at Columbus Circle and ending at Trump Tower on Madison. For the bulk of the week we had planned on attending. Then we found out that they didn’t have a permit and we were feeling a little iffy.

The way it works in NYC is that if you get a permit, you get to march right in the street. If you don’t, you get to increase the likelihood of arrest if you a) go in the street or b) you block the sidewalk.

Thousand of people were saying on Facebook that they were going. Thousands of people marching without a permit. Hmmmmm.

So that Saturday we found ourselves not too far from Trump Tower around 1:30. The rally was supposed to start at noon at Columbus Circle. I figured they would already be done but we figured hey, why not? Let’s walk up and see what we see.

And this is what we saw:

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There were about four Pro-Trump people corralled behind the metal barricades. As we got closer, another pedestrian asked them why they were protesting in front of Trump Tower. And they answered:

“We’re not. We’re here to protest them.”

Lady: “Who?”

ProTrump Person: “Can you hear them coming?”

And like something out of a movie, the protesters snaked into sight, drums banging, voices chanting. It was a beautiful thing:

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So we joined the fray! (you’ll want to use headphones. Pardon all the cursing on these videos.)

NYC Anti-Trump Rally March 19, 2016 from ally malinenko on Vimeo.

By this next video we were down to where the Pro-Trump people were

NYC Anti-Trump Rally March 19, 2016 pt. 2 from ally malinenko on Vimeo.

Obviously there were a lot more of us than there were of them but that didn’t stop one of them from screaming at these two girls next to me to “keep moving” and “shut up” when they were chanting “love not hate.”

Unfortunately we had hit the end of the sidewalk. The police had the metal barricades up so we couldn’t go any further. So everyone yelled “Turn Around” so that we could head back the way we came.

Unfortunately it takes a long to relay that message through thousand of people. So we got bottlenecked and stuck. At this point the line of cops started playing the announcement (which you can hear in the second video) that we were in violation of new york city law because we were blocking the sidewalks. If we continued to do that, the announcement said, we would be subject to arrest.

Then the message came through the crowd that they had closed off the sidewalk on the other end, essentially trapping all of us in a city block.

We couldn’t stay and we couldn’t leave. And it was looking very likely that we were going to get arrested.

At which point I turned to my husband and said, “We did a very very stupid thing.”

We managed to get through the crowd far enough to reach a cross walk where legally we could get to the side of the street, which we did.

And then we saw these:

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And these:

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We figured this would be a good time to head out.

Turns out we were right because after we left the pepper spraying and the arrests started. According to the Daily News (who unlike the Times actually covered the event) people spilled into the streets and were then sprayed and arrested at 57th.

But this video which another protester posted shows a different story.

This is our country, friends. It’s terrifying.

I get to vote at the end of April. I hope to participate in further protests. And I really hope to not get arrested.

I don’t know what happens next.

I only know that I can’t stand by and watch this demagogue spew hate and vitriol.

Silence = endorsement.

Love trumps Hate.

Peace, love and Starbursts,

Ally

 

*all photos and video (except the last one) courtesy of John Grochalski*

Everyday Sexism, with a Twist (more spoilers) and some Thank Yous in the New Year

5 Jan

Happy New Year kids!

Before we talk some more about Star Wars, I need to do a little recap and say thank you to some people who were end-of-the-year awesome.

First off, thanks to Mark Lindberg who wrote this really wonderful review of This Is Sarah (which you can buy here for 99 pennies!) including the following:

Colin’s hope and single-mindedness is infectious, it’s hard not to believe him, extremely hard not to root for him, but at the same time, we hear the people around him constantly telling him he has become dangerously obsessed and possibly delusional, which it’s also hard not to believe. A fantastically complex place to put me in as reader!

You can read the whole thing here.

And if 99 pennies is more than you want to spend you can throw your hat in the ring for the 2 copies that we’re giving away on Goodreads here. I’ll sign them for you! Entries are open for the next 13 days.

Secondly I want to thank Susan Tepper for her really wonderful review of my new poetry book How To Be An American:

Every poem in this collection is rock-solid and jarring. If you care about the world at large, you might want to read this intelligent, captivating book by Ally Malinenko who is not afraid to speak out. Most highly recommended.

*Blushes*

You can read her whole review here. And if you want, you can also enter the Goodreads giveaway (also 2 copies) which also ends in 13 days!

Yay books!

Thirdly, many thanks to Peter at Portside for giving this poem about East Germany a home. I have done an absolutely terrible job of sending out poems (or writing them for that matter) so the fact that I have anything to share at all is basically a miracle.

And finally, I started a new novel while the other resides in submission hell causing me to refresh my email like a psychopath and habitually curse out any spam that appears. The new thing is still a gooey mess but a) I don’t hate the first 3K plus words (which is a miracle) and b) I’m excited to work on the next few chapters (also a miracle).  Oh and I’m trying really hard to not say “What Would Rey Do?” every single time my MC opens her mouth….. just every other time.

Okay so STAR WARS…..POSSIBLE SPOILERS YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

I posted some spoilers last week after I saw it and it included my excitement that my niece Neve will have a character like Rey to look up to and because I knew that my sister was having trouble finding a Rey toy, I offered to brave the Disney Store in TIMES SQUARE (that’s how much I love Neve) to see if they had anything. They didn’t. Neither did the comic book shops. Or book stores. Or anywhere toys are sold.

Because apparently Hasbro screwed up big time prompting a #WheresRey hashtag.

So they got this:

Rey

Annie Rose, ladies and gentlemen, taking us to church!

Hasbro responded with this:Rey

Right, sure. Insert massive eye roll here. Because, lest we forget both Mattel and Hasbro neglected to include Black Widow in the sets for Age of Ultron and worse THEY GAVE HER MOTORCYCLE TO CAPTAIN AMERICA AND FREAKING IRON MAN.

So while we were in Forbidden Planet we saw this, hanging on the wallorphan black

That’s hands down the most bad ass Orphan Black t-shirt, a show I adore, in which Tatiana Maslany plays 4 amazing clones. My husband is also a fan of this show and when he saw the shirt he audibly squealed and then said, “What do they mean, ‘women only’?” because next to it was a little sign saying exactly that.

That shirt is available in women’s sizes only (i.e. cut tight). No sizes for him.

There were other “women only” t-shirts on display at Forbidden Planet. They included Ms. Marvel, Lumberjanes (which won the Eisner btw) Ghost World and Orphan Black.

All shows/comics with women in the main role.

And it’s not really Forbidden Planet’s fault. The makers of the shirts didn’t bother to make a male version. Because what red blooded American Male would want to walk around with a WOMAN on their shirt??? How embarrassing. And what boy would want to play with a  GIRL flying the Millennium Falcon?? GASP!

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Hmmm…Chewie, BB8 and Finn. Last time I checked, neither BB8 nor Finn flew that fucking ship. Ever.

Makers of things: Men can’t be allies against sexism if we don’t give them a chance to be proud of strong female characters. That’s pretty obvious, right?

Everyday sexism, kids, with a twist.

It’s 2016. We shouldn’t be having these conversations anymore.

 

Flying Monkeys, Books and the Cold Unfeeling Universe

4 Dec

Where the flying monkeys did this year go?

I mean honestly. I distinctly remember whole days in January 2015 and there is no way way they were 12 months ago.

Anyway I wanted to do a whole book blog about what I read this year but that’s going to wait till next time because we got some other things to talk about. Good? Good.

 

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First and foremost How to Be An American is out in the wild and for sale!

Here’s proof:

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That handsome devil up in the left hand corner is none other than Oscar Varona, the amazing artist who created the cover collage. And that sly fox on the right is Aida.

Aida is a phenomenal artist. Here’s a bit of her work:

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Those are from a series she did on women who influence her. Incredible.

As for my book, someone needs to give a copy for Christmas to their super Team USA relative so they can write a scathing review on amazon calling me communist and telling me to love it or leave it. Seriously. Can we make this happen?

Until then, here’s what Jessica Fenlon had to say:

drawcloseGot @AllyMalinenko‘s “How to Be an American” today – so happy to read these ‘rejected’ poems! The tough kind to write – and to read – thin clear slices of moments, the good part of Bukowski, walking a line leaning to one side and then another but never falling down, never tangling really. So clear when we hit the drop-lines in the poems they sink into you. Sometimes there isn’t a drop, sometimes it’s a slow eddy, a dance with an idea I myself have considered. I like the steps Ms. Malinenko takes . . . 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (5 of 5 stars)

So the book is on amazon – but I’ve got a few copies in my hot little hands that I will sell to you for less than the drones at Amazon so by all means hit me up in the comments or via email (ally dot malinenko at gmail dot com) if you’re interested. And if you’ve got something creative you cooked up I’d be happy to do a swap!

In addition, Bookfish Book who published This Is Sarah has lowered the price of the ebook to 99 pennies. I may be biased but I think it might be worth that.

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Also the other morning while I was staring at the wall wondering what the hell I was going to do with my writing mornings now that my sci fi book is done, I spotted a few copies of Sarah just sitting there looking all sad and lonely and wishing that they were in the hands of readers so I decided that because I don’t visit the post office nearly enough, I would do a goodreads giveaway. So that’s in the works in case you want to try and win a copy.

Next up, in the book department is this little number:

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I’ve certainly crowed about how much I love Jersey Devil Press here before but seriously, they’re such a great home for all us little weirdos. I’m over the moon honored to have not one, but TWO (I know, right!) stories in their anthology. The first is Paper Heart and the second is Vital: A Love Story (which was written for Eirik and Monica when they were going through some serious shit)

I’m super excited about this because honestly, I love these two stories so very much. And I’m honored to be included in such a great collection.

So a huge thank you to Laura and Sam and Eirik and Mike.

And while I’m dishing out the thanks, thanks to Richard Vargas and his amazing Mas Tequila Review for including some of my poems in the new issue, which I have been pleasure delaying the end of because I don’t want it to stop.

And thanks to Drunk Monkeys for publishing Telling All My Secrets about that super crappy day I had to spill the beans to my amazing parents about having cancer.

Another of my favorites, Clockwise Cat, also included two of my poems in their new Clockwise Cat Strikes Back Issue. Thanks you timely feline.

And because it’s the end of the year, it’s award time so a million trillion starburst-y thanks to Drunk in Midnight Choir for nominating me for a Pushcart. It’s an incredible honor that out of all the amazing pieces that DMC published this year, they highlighted mine.

And finally, here’s an interview I did with Your One Phone Call

What is your writing process?

I write a sentence. I re-read the sentence. I change the sentence. I polish the sentence. I re-read the sentence. I delete the sentence.

This goes on for years.

And because it bares saying in the wake of the Paris attacks, the multiple mass shootings in the US, the Syrian refugees desperately trying to find safety, the UK deciding to bomb Syria, the GOP turning into the party of hate and whatever retaliation Putin is planning for Turkey………..Please for the love of the Cold Unfeeling Universe, hug your babies tight.

And remember…”We are all passengers pitching downward into the night…so get up and help someone.”

 

Peace, love and Starbursts,

Ally

 

 

 

Stories Are A Lie And A Truth All Rolled Up Into One

22 Nov

When I was in college, a friend told me that she thought I had Borderline Personality Disorder.

I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.

Here’s some of the signs:

  • Extreme reactions—including panic, depression, rage, or frantic actions—to abandonment, whether real or perceived
  • A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, opinions, values, or plans and goals for the future (such as school or career choices)
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few day
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness and/or boredom

 

Needless to say, she was wrong. She didn’t mean borderline like that. She meant borderline like something on the edge. Open to interpretation.

She was trying to say that I have a malleable personality.

Flexible? Yes.

Ranging in extremes? Yes.

Subject to flights of fancy? Hell yes.

I saw my oldest sister the other day and during our conversation she told me a story about one of our Ya-Ya weekends together. Our Ya-Ya weekends were when my two sisters and I would get together for one weekend a year and hang out. We all live far away, my family had been through some hard shit at the time, so my sisters and I decided that we would make a point of seeing each other, just the three of us, once a year.  I have fond memories of these weekends.

But the story she told me  was one I didn’t remember, which isn’t a shock – I have a terrible memory. It’s the reason I have kept journals since I was a teenager.

So at one of these weekends I apparently burst into tears when my sister was faux-complaining about the “press 1 for English” thing on the phones. Again, I don’t remember this. I can only assume it happened because it SOUNDS like me.

I think it’s empathy to a fault.

Faulty empathy. Squishy-mushy personalities. I can quite easily put myself in someone else’s shoes. The problem is, I never seem to give them their shoes back. I just sort of keep them, carry them around with me emotionally.

I’m like an emotional junk lady.

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Remember her?

I just keep collecting other people’s stories and twisting them together with my own.

When I was younger I had a problem with lying. I like to think it was an unhealthy expression of my innate desire to tell stories but the fact is I hurt people so I don’t deserve to get off the hook that easily.

But it’s like I would pick up pain or happiness or fear or anger and stick it on my back and it would become a part of me. Even if I didn’t own the cause of those feelings to begin with.

I was thinking about this because the number one question I have gotten from people who have read my book This Is Sarah is that they want to know if this is based on a true story.

And I tell them again and again, it’s not. I am not Sarah, or Colin, or Claire.

No one I knew had been kidnapped.

So, they wanted to know, how did I know so much about what it’s like to go through something like that?

Because everyone I knew had lost someone.

Had grieved. Including me. And grief, regardless of how it arrives, is universal.

I thought that was a pretty good answer. And yet more often than not they were disappointed.

As if my “making it up” was somehow untruthful.

A lie.

I had deceived them.

They wanted the story itself to be real. It didn’t matter that the emotions were. It didn’t matter that the pain and the anger and the fear were. It didn’t matter that some people, like Colin, shut down in the face of death. That other people, like Claire, refused to. None of that mattered as much as wanting it to be true.

Strange how people are, isn’t it?

John Green wrote a book called The Fault In Our Stars. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s pretty famous. He dedicated the book to Esther Earl. Esther was a young girl that died of cancer, and the author of “This Star Won’t Go Out.

Mr. Green met Ms. Earl at a Harry Potter convention. He was moved by her story and he credits her with being part of the inspiration for his character Hazel. The book was published in 2012, after her death.

In a goodreads interview John said the following:

I could never have written this if I hadn’t known Esther. She introduced me to a lot of the ideas in the book, especially hope in a world that is indifferent to individuals, and empathy. She redefined the process of dying young for me.

Walking out of the hospital in 2000, I knew I wanted to write a story about sick kids, but I was so angry, so furious with the world that these terrible things could happen, and they weren’t even rare or uncommon, and I think in the end for the first ten years or so I never could write it because I was just too angry, and I wasn’t able to capture the complexity of the world. I wanted the book to be funny. I wanted the book to be unsentimental. After meeting Esther, I felt very differently about whether a short life could be a rich life.

But a lot of people have interpreted that to mean that John’s main character IS Esther.

As if a story about death – the most universal thing of all – the only thing that equalizes every living creature – wasn’t as powerful if there wasn’t one specific life behind it.

Again, people are strange.

Gayle Forman, also pretty famous, wrote a book called If I Stay. It is the story of Mia, a girl who narrates her story from a hospital bed after losing her entire family in a car crash. Except Mia is in a coma.

Gayle wrote a piece for the New York Times about how that car full of people were her friends. Except for Gayle, no one lived.

Mia, the cellist, was fiction, but the accident, and Mia’s family — her punk-rocker turned 1950s throwback of a father, her strong-willed mother and her adorable little brother — were resurrected from the ashes of my loss. A loss that no longer had the power to sucker punch but instead had become part of me, like a scar, or maybe a smile line.

I fell off a waterfall one year in high school. I also fell in love with a boy who fell in love with another boy. That’s a story I’m working on telling but in the end, it will just be that: A story.

The power in stories lie in the fact that they are universal. That the people that populate them are us.

You. Me. Them. Us.

That they are talking about something that we all know.

Love. Sadness. Hearbreak. Fear. Joy. Misery. Loneliness.

Stories are woven. They’re partially the writer, partially the people they know, part strangers, part imagination, part reader.

They’re a lie and a truth all rolled up into one.

And if they’re good, then they make us remember what it means to be us.

 

 

THIS IS ALLY-WEEN

31 Oct

 

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Happy Halloween kids!

Easily my favorite holiday of the year. You can keep your overcooked dried turkeys and your relentless jingle bells. All true mischief makers know that Halloween is the best holiday of the year!

I heard from a pretty reliable source there was promise of Dum-Dums in my future.

ROOTBEER DUM DUMS!!!

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Before we close out this month, I have a couple quick thank yous to share:

Revising/editing/publishing This Is Sarah and revising Palimpsest has really taken up a huge chunk of my writing time in these last 10 months. Poetry has certainly (until recently) taken the backseat so I’m always especially grateful when awesome mags pick up something. So many thanks to Underground Books for taking these poems from the How To Be An American Series and to Commonline Journal for accepting Marriage.

The Blue Hour – one of my favorite magazines – has a new anthology out. This is their third one and if it’s anything like the other two (and I know it will be) it will certainly be a fascinating collection. The best thing about Anthologies is that you get to discover new poets in them! Check it out if you have a chance. Blue Hour doesn’t sell on Amazon so be a gem and get it directly from the site. Then you’re supporting small presses, poetry, and non-behemoths. A win for us all!

In book news, I’ve got a few copies of This Is Sarah involved in a massive giveaway hosted by Krista and Kristen.

I wrote about it here.

So if you want to win some books, there are approximately 9 bajillion available. Enter here!

And in other Sarah news, thanks to Rosie at Eat Read Glam for the review and to Missy at MidSummer for the same.

Blog reviews are gold to a small press publisher. And FINALLY I had a blast bs-ing with Tasha Cotter, my press buddy.  Her new book, Red Carpet Day Job is forthcoming from BookFish Books.

And that’s about it for my month.

Anyway kids, have a blast tonight.

Start Some Trouble.

Fall in Love.

Do the Time Warp Again.

Play piano with a pretty little dead girl.

 

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