Poet Michael Henry to Read in Buffalo: Join Me!

No Stranger Than My Own, by Michael J. HenryDenver poet, executive director of Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and Buffalo area native Michael Henry is coming to town! Before I tell you the whole long story of why this is so exciting (because you know there’s a story, right?), here is the event information. Consider this an official invite for all you Buffalo peeps to join me as Mike reads from his collection of poetry, No Stranger Than My Own, at Talking Leaves next week.

Reading Event Details:
Michael Henry at Talking Leaves Books
Thursday, May 13, 7:00 PM
3158 Main Street
Buffalo, NY, 14214

Now, for the whole long story…

Why Twenty Boy Summer Fans Should Show a Little Love for the Lighthouse Poet

Mike Henry is the reason I write young adult books.

I mean, yeah, I know was born to do it and everything, but if it wasn’t for Mike, I don’t know that I would’ve found my way to the YA section in time to figure that out. Judy Blume aside, most of the books I read as a teen were the stuff of nightmares: V.C. Andrews, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King, Robin Cook, and the few adult romance novels I could sneak from the library into my room in a doubled-up Super Duper grocery bag. I’d spent my entire young life reading and writing everything but YA, hiding behind marketing communications jobs that skirted the edge of writing without forcing me to bare my creative soul in public. It was never enough, though.

Here’s the part where the movie voice-over kicks in…

In a world where artists are afraid to bare their creative souls in public, a formerly closeted writer pulls off a death-defying stunt to get her work noticed, and in facing her very public humiliation, discovers the path to her literary dreams…

It was 2003. We’d just moved from New York City to Denver and, in keeping with the new beginnings theme, I’d promised myself I’d sign up for a writers workshop. I Googled “Denver writing groups” and stumbled onto an excerpt about growing up in Buffalo. The author was a Buffalo area native who’d relocated out west and co-founded Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an independent creative writing program in Denver. Well, you all know how I am about signs, right? Right. So I signed up immediately for Mike’s next class: a memoir and personal essay workshop. I was 27 years old.

This is the part where the VH-1 voice-over kicks in…

But then things turned tragic for the band…

I was the youngest person in the class and, in my own opinion, had no business writing a memoir. I’d never done a critique workshop before. Never reviewed anyone’s writing and never willingly put my own out there for public response. All of the writers in that room were so talented, especially Mike, and he’d kick off each class with a 15-minute freewrite during which group members produced better stuff than I could cull from two decades of poems and journals. I lost a lot of weight that semester—I was totally on the nerve diet.

On the day of my critique, I thought I might pass out. Maybe I did, and I just hallucinated the whole thing. Writers weren’t allowed to talk during their own critique, so I just had to sit there and take whatever came. Was I immature? Did I lack style and substance? Was I a no-talent hack? I held my breath and prepared for the attack. But the writers in my class—the ones I’d spent the first half of the semester alternately admiring and feeling unnecessarily intimidated by—were so supportive, encouraging, and amazing. They liked my stuff. They actually liked my stuff!

When I left class that night, I was overjoyed. My smile was fixed; my head was in cloud central. I guess that’s how it happened, just as I waved goodnight to Mike Henry in the parking lot. Well, I was waving. Turns out Mike’s gestures loosely translated as, “Dude! You’re about to hit that telephone pole! STOP!” And here I thought his semi-jumping, two-handed flailing was just a little extra encouragement for the ride home: “See you next time, you shining, literary superstar!”

Ugh. I dented and scratched up my car, and I nearly died (of embarrassment, anyway), all because someone whose writing I’d admired had complimented mine. Ah, the things we do for art!

After class the following week, Mike pulled me aside to discuss one of my pieces—an essay I’d written recounting some trouble my BFF and I got into when we were fifteen involving some makeup and two power-trippy store security guards. He said the essay had a great teen voice and asked if I’d ever considered writing for young adults. Nope. I hadn’t really considered anything at that point—I just knew that I loved writing, had to write, would write anything. Mike told me that Lighthouse had a YA novel class with Jenny Itell starting up soon; he encouraged me to check it out. So I did. Four times in a row.

Looking back on the night of the telephone pole incident, I like to think that Mike saw a lot of unrefined potential in me. A wayward writer with a natural talent and passion on the page—someone who just needed a little guidance to find her true artistic footing. Maybe he just saw me as a liability and wanted me out of his class. Whatever his motives, Mike set me on the path to YA literature—something I’d never before considered. In the Lighthouse YA class, I read Laurie Halse Anderson, Deb Caletti, Sarah Dessen. I wrote and revised. I read and critiqued. I practiced. Under Jenny’s guidance, I wrote Twenty Boy Summer, and I found my voice—my right place on the bookshelves.

And the rest, says the movie voice-over, is literary history.

It’s been seven years since the telephone pole incident and my first class at Lighthouse, and almost three since I last saw Mike. And now he’s coming to Buffalo, and I won’t miss it (or drive into it. Maybe I should walk, just to be safe)!

I can’t wait for Mike to share his latest collection of poetry, No Stranger Than My Own, at our hometown indie next Thursday. If you’re in the area, please join me at Talking Leaves Main Street to show your support for this talented writer and artist. See you there!

A Message from Chancho

Greetings, long-lost friends!

Chancho, my three-legged lucky writing pig, wants to apologize on my behalf for the prolonged and unplanned blog truancy and assure you that hey, I’m workin’ over here! My summer wasn’t just a breezy collection of lackadaisical days on the beach1!

I’ve been writing / revising / reading / reviewing / book-planning my ass off for three months (neither the blog nor the ass reflects this, but Chancho will vouch for me!). But rest assured, long-time fans and loyal stalkers, I’m back… with a tan2, a lucky pig, and whole bunch of writing updates for those of you that still care (or at least pretend to).


Last month, I reviewed and marked up and sent off3 the first pass pages (FPPs) for 20 BOY SUMMER, meaning… last chance to make any changes. And first chance to see the typeset pages with…

(I know we’re all supposed to be serious professional writers, but allow me this momentary break from my otherwise seriously serious professionalness…)

…my name on them and little seashells in the corners and my copyright and chapter headings and fonts and everything!

*ahem* As I was saying….

20 Boy Summer, First Pass Pages

Because of the timing of the FPPs and some other deadlines, I did a little work on my Martha’s Vineyard vacation (see above), which I’d planned to do anyway but in the moment felt a little “Sarah can’t come out and play until she finishes her homework!” because beyond the big sliding doors was the deck and then a pond and then… the ocean. Which I couldn’t visit until the 3rd day but it was totally worth the wait.

By now I’ve read 20 BOY SUMMER so many times that I can recite it backwards in my sleep, but I finally had to stop tweaking it and send it off into the world (the secret publishing world… it’s still not ready for the big scary real world), much like a mother watching her Kindergartner board the bus for the first time…


In other news, Little, Brown sold Dutch and German rights for the book. I had to resist editing the text to include what would be translated into “Das ist verboten!” which is my favorite German phrase but alas wouldn’t really work unless I added a new scene where Frankie was like, “Anna, let’s go stomp on those cute little sand castles and make the kids cry,” and Anna was all, “No way, Frank. That’s, like, totally forbidden.” That, and I don’t know the German phrase for like, totally.


Almost finished, but I can’t4 share anything about it yet. Just that it’s not a sequel, it takes place in Vermont in the summer, and there’s a girl named Delilah. To say anything more is like, totally verboten! But Chancho is with me for the home stretch and he truly is a good luck writing pig. And he’s so adorable that every time I feel overwhelmed with writing or just generally whatevs about life I can look at him and everything is magically okay again.

Chancho makes me happy!

See what I mean? Don’t you feel better now?


No way, man. This one is top top top secret with a capital TOP. Just know that I’m working on it and will move fully ahead as soon as Delilah is done, with Chancho by my side. Before long you’ll be reading blogs full of rants and questions and disconnected ramblings about all new characters in all new places with all new issues and conundrums and none of the characters will say like, totally.

On a final note…

A Lighthouse Writers Workshop WOW!

Many of you know that I owe much of my writing success to the dear friends and faculty I met through Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop. So it is with great joy and OMFG over-the-moon-ness that I congratulate fellow Lighthouse member David Wroblewski. His debut novel, THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE, was just selected as Oprah’s latest book club pick. People have been raving about this book all around me since its debut this summer, and all this time, I had no idea that David was a member of my fave writing group. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him before I left Denver, but I couldn’t be happier or more proud of Colorado’s literary community! Congrats, David!

I think that’s enough for one update, right? Stay tuned later this week for…

  • Moving News! Where do we go from here? Hint… it’s not New York City, and it’s happening in 9 days!
  • How I Spent My Summer Vacation (after I finished my homework)! What have I been doing with my free time for three months since I clearly wasn’t working on my blog? Where did Chancho come from? And where has all the sea glass gone? All this and more…

Thanks for sticking with me, loyal readers. See you soon.

1. Okay, there were some lackadaisical days on the beach, but I wouldn’t call it a collection or anything.
2. Beige is a tan, right?
3. Sent off, as in, paid extra to have it FedExed priority overnight from MA to NYC so it would get there first thing in the morning. Only it didn’t, because the plane was somehow grounded in Memphis due to “issues with the plane,” which later became, according to the FedEx representative I called, “you know, hurricane
Ike?” Yeah, she said it just like that, like I’m some horribly insensitive person for questioning a service failure in the middle of a natural disaster, even though on the day I shipped the package, Ike didn’t even have a name yet because it was just a baby storm in the Atlantic Ocean far far away, which is probably why the first woman told me the plane had issues, not the weather. And also, I didn’t know that Memphis was en route from MA to NY but then again, I’m a writer, not a cartographer or a meteorologist, which is why I ultimately allowed them to refund half of my money instead the full amount.
4. By “can’t” I mean “won’t,” because it won’t come out until 2010 and, assuming the world is still spinning in two years, I don’t want to use up all of my reader excitement just yet.

NYC Writers Retreat, Day 1

Around this time last summer, still a resident of Colorado, I spent a week at the Shadowcliff Lodge for the Lighthouse Writers Grand Lake Retreat. Seven days of immersive writing workshops, seven nights of equally important immersive writing tomfoolery. In Grand Lake, I worked on 20 BOY SUMMER revisions for my agent, after which the manuscript went on to achieve great things. It’s also where I met Rachel, Lisa, and lots of other new writing pals. The Shadowcliff Lodge and all of the Lighthouse writers and faculty have a special place in my writing heart.

I wanted to go again this summer, but skyrocketing airfares (Delta is even adding a fuel surcharge for supposedly free award tickets!) and timing issues will keep me in New York City.

Those little snags won’t, however, keep me from enjoying my own writer’s retreat here in Manhattan. My friends are on vacation in the Tetons, and I’ve taken over their home for an entire blissful, solo, writing-filled, not-sure-I’m-gonna-give-it-back-when-they-return week. Unlike the Lighthouse retreat, the Manhattan retreat requires me to cook my own food and doesn’t have:

“…a wonderful chance for you to forge a supportive and stimulating community, a collective spirit to help reinvigorate your writing voice. And a chance to work with excellent writers and teachers…” —Lighthouse Writers Workshop

But here, I get to people watch when I need character ideas, and my retreat is, well, free. And I have many unrestricted hours in which to write, write, write, and more write. If I stay focused (so, ya, don’t call me or anything), I might actually be able to finish book 2… this week!

I guess I’d better get to it.

Authors, Celebrities & Book Deals

Most authors don’t reach celebrity status. I mean, we all know the name JK Rowling, right? But unless you’re a hardcore Harry Potter fan (or stalker), you wouldn’t recognize her on the street. Wait, does JKR even go out on the street? Okay, bad example. Stephen King maybe? Dan Brown?

Personally, I always get star-struck when I meet authors. I guess it’s because they’re such an inspiration to me – it’s like meeting my dreams personified. If given the choice between meeting God or the president or Paris Hilton or my future self or any of the people named in a “if you could only meet one famous person” question, I’d pick Jack Kerouac or Sarah Dessen every time (especially since Jack is my favorite author ever, and he’s dead).

A few months ago, Ann Brashares came to Denver to read from her newest book, The Last Summer of You and Me. The characters are a bit older than her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants girls, so the plot and themes have a few more layers, complexities, and heartbreaking scenes. I stayed up all night reading my autographed copy, and when that happens, wow, it’s one of my favorite things in life.

When I got to actually talk to Ann, I felt like a little kid trying to justify my qualifications for kickball so as not to get picked last. I told her how much I enjoyed all the Pants books (leaving out the part about how I cried after the last book and when Mr. Bims asked me what was wrong, all I could say through my tears was, “They lost the pants!” because come on, I’m a fan, not a psycho. Mostly.), and how she’s always been an inspiration to my writing and all of that. She was so warm and friendly, especially since I was buying her book, and she told me to email and keep her posted on what happens with my novel (oh, I might have casually mentioned that I’d written one… is that bad?).

And now, three months later, I have something to tell her. Something other than, “Dear Ann, I love your books. They make me cry. Always remember our good times at Tattered Cover Denver. Love, Bims.” Something like…

… Last week, I sold the book!

I’ll spare you the details for now, as many of you have already heard the news (big gigantic mouth? Who, me?) and I have to ration out my blatherings so you don’t get too tired of me!

Back to meeting authors… last night, Tobias Wolff came to Denver for a Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop event. During the introduction, Lighthouse program director Andrea Dupree made a public spectacle of me, announcing the news, pointing and laughing and making me stand up and wave and generally look like a goofball. Oh, don’t let my feigned annoyance fool you – it was wayyyy cool. 🙂

Author Eli Gottlieb interviewed Tobias about writing, ideas, critiques, and growing up. Tobias also shared some of his short stories with us. After the reading and interview, when it came time to have him sign a few books for me, I prepared for my typical star-struck, anxious-fan, tongue-tied-ness (because OMG, Tobias Wolff?? For real?). He reached for my books and smiled. “So you’re the novelist, huh?” he asked. I almost looked behind me, and had to play it off like a facial tick or something. Yes, Bims, he means you. You have a book deal, remember? “I guess so,” I laughed, somehow remembering how to talk and smile at the same time in the presence of a personified-dream-literary-master (it’s harder than you think). I graciously accepted his signed books, and his multiple congratulations and compliments. “It’s really tough to get that first deal,” he said. “Be proud of yourself.”

I’m trying. I’m grateful and shocked and generally freaking out every five minutes, but that counts as trying, right Toby?

More to come, I promise-slash-warn you!

One Time, At Writer’s Camp…

I’m in Grand Lake, CO this week, inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, for the Lighthouse Writer’s annual retreat. As I lie in my top bunk last night, parallels to my younger days as a camper at Dunkirk Conference Center flooded my mind and kept me awake, reminiscing. I mean, I slept on the top bunk and all – highly coveted in the old run down, red-roofed cabins at DCC, reserved only for the first to arrive in musty rooms of Amy D.’s Cabin 10. It’d been about 15 years since I last attempted the gymnastics and courage required for such a feat as the top bunk, and it wasn’t as fun as I remembered. I was up most of the night, paranoid about tumbling off the edge and whacking my head on the chair below. Or worse, waking my roommate!

Meals are served in the community kitchen, and each of us must sign up for a clean up and set up shift, just like camp “hoppers”. Only there’s coffee (not strong enough, but 3 or 4 cups should do the trick) instead of “bug juice” (so named for it’s saccharin-sweet property with the perfect combination of sugar and red stickiness to attract every bug in the camp) and the food is actually edible. Good, even. Very un-DCC-like, with it’s rubber eggs unidentifiable meat surprise.

There’s even a chapel with an outdoor area overlooking the majestic lake. Much calmer than Lake Erie, but not as blue. Still, the mountains and evergreens surrounding us more than make up for it.

But unlike my glory days at the DCC, everyone at the Shadowcliff Lodge in Grand Lake is asleep by ten. I don’t have to sneak out my window with my bunkbed ladder if I want to go outside at night. Which I don’t, honestly, because there are bear alerts warning us to lock our cars and be alert after dark, but still. There won’t be any communal sneak-out with our sleeping bags to sleep under the big oak tree by the lake. No laying in the grass searching for satellites and shooting stars. No permission slips for smokers, sneaking in alcohol, making out with your “camp” boyfriend behind the dining hall (a relationship destined to suffer a firey death at the end of the camp week when you realize that a 2-town difference means everything when you’re 15). No crying because you’re just happy and sad and overwhelmed with the beauty of life and all that lays on the path ahead. No value pack No-Doze to pop at regular intervals so not to miss any important memories-in-the-making. No hug chains or craft time or forced rest hour. No karaoke, Dooleyaoke, “RISE AND SHINE AND…” No snack bar, no pool that everyone wanted to swim in when we were kids but were too cool after age 13. No Vespers on the beach. And no campfires, because it’s wildfire season and all outdoor fires are banned in Grand Lake this week.

So I guess it’s not so much like camp after all, but just enough to make me look back and smile on those formative years summering in Dunkirk. Much love to all you former campers (“Monday meat loaf, Tuesday chicken, all you lucky campers, we wish the same to you!”)!