NYC Writers Retreat, Day 2

The view from last year’s Grand Lake retreat:

Grand Lake Docks


The view from this year’s NYC retreat:

Plip Plip Plop


Not the most pleasant retreat weather here in New York today, but the storms are working hard to keep me inside and writing. I love listening to the rain on the street, the shush of the cars, the occasional laughing scream as someone who forgot her umbrella runs for cover. The thunder rattles the windows, and though I have to keep my computer unplugged during the lightning show, I do love hearing the sky fall.

Last night, I had the A/C on in the bedroom and started hearing noises. I know it was probably rain and thunder, but in the moment, I was pretty sure someone was trying to break in (despite the fact that this is a doorman building and someone would basically have to scale the wall and smash a window to enter without my permission). You know how it is when you’re staying in a new place—you have to readjust to all the new creaks, moans, groans, thumps, and rattles that differ in every home and don’t seem to show themselves until the late evening. I was jolted awake in two-minute intervals until about 5:30 this morning, so I’m getting a late start today. But I’m expecting the writing to go well and my sleep to come a bit easier later.

Better than being stuck out there, cold and umbrella-less!

Best of New York City

Dear Denver,

Thank you for rolling out the way-too-many-degrees-below-freezing welcome mat for my return last night. Since New York was also below freezing for the last day of my visit, I know you were only trying to prevent me from going into shock with a nice sunny day (even though you have nice sunny days every year, like 344 of them, according to the people who keep track of such things, but anyway).

I appreciate your efforts, but I’m afraid neither your balmy weather nor your restaurants that close at 8 PM can keep me in the Mile High City much longer. Not after my most recent trip to the homeland, featuring the following best of the best favorite things*, in order of appearance:

1. Brooklyn. Home to my brother-from-another-mother and the Total Wine Bar, my first ever book club from a way long time ago where I first read Jitterbug Perfume which became my favorite Tom Robbins book ever, my old friend Dennis, Firebrand Literary, and the people on my flight from Denver who made flying fun again with their clapping and whooping and declaration that, once they’re back in NY, they’ll never eat at another Chili’s again.

2. Pizza in a paper bag. I got to my BFFs on the UES well after 10PM, starving. Oh no! 10PM! Everything will be closed! Panic panic panic. But then… wait. It’s only 10. Nothing will be closed. And I can walk outside to hot, fresh, pizza in a paper bag in less than 10 steps. Foot steps – not, like, AA steps. I walked up to the glass counter. Picked out a beautiful slice with cheese and tomatoes. Watched the guy slide it into the giant oven, and then drop it on 2 paper plates, stuck backwards into a paper bag. Ohhhh. It wasn’t the best pizza I’ve ever had in New York. Just the best pizza I’ve had in a very long time.

3. Zen Palate. How can you make something that tastes just like BBQ ham out of tofu? I don’t know and I don’t care. I only care that they did it, even though we had to switch tables part way through because the waiter needed ours for a bigger party, and there were only like 5 tables in the whole place, and we had to bring our own wine. But still. Tofu? Ham? Yay!

4. Sephora on Lex & 57th and Nikki, skin care consultant to the stars. Hello, Bare Minerals! Gone are the days of makeup paint by number! Nikki, I… I love you.

5. Coffee. Really, I forget what it’s supposed to taste like. Mmmmm… good morning! It’s midnight! I’m awake now!

6. The view out Jensiah’s window. All those people walking to the train. For work. And I’m in my PJs (*snicker*), drinking aforementioned coffee, pondering whether to go with the neutral brown or the sparkly eye shadow from Nikki. Probably the sparkly, because it’s called Hottie, so how can you go wrong? And there was this really cute little girl outside in a purple coat racing her mom to the train, only her sleeves were too long and she had to keep stopping to push them up. Uh-dorable.

7. The subway. Upon which one can never run out of character ideas for new books, especially if one’s special talent happens to be writing creepy novels about people who don’t shower rubbing up against people who do while someone in the background reads quotes from the bible over the sound of the accordion player keeping time with his foot at the other end of the car. And also, what is that smell?

8. The offices of Little, Brown. Not only does visiting here remind me that I’m officially a writer (sometimes I forget), but they also provided a sticky name tag with my name and my picture (very legitimate-looking), writing and career advice, revision notes (thank you for not making me cry!), a copy of The Kayla Chronicles, a copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society, and my official Sara Zarr Sweethearts candy available for a limited time only. Remember Mel Brooks in History of the World when he’d grab everyone’s boobs and say “It’s good to be the king?” That’s kind of how it feels. Well, except for the whole boob-grabbing part.

9. Six-pound bagels. Wider than my fist, dripping with cream cheese and fresh, bright red tomatoes, toasted and sliced only through the top for easier hand-to-mouth maneuverability, wrapped in paper and foil so that when you sit on it to flatten it to a normal mouth-sized width, you don’t get cream cheese on your ass. God I love this town!

10. Palace Diner in Queens. And all diners, really, with their 17-page menus of cross-regional cuisine, full bars, and pickles the size of my foot. Oh, how I miss thee, great great diner.

11. MUMMIES! *Heart heart heart.* Saving the best of the best of the best for last. I braved the hurts-to-even-breath cold just to gaze upon the painted-on eyes of the sarcophagi for the second time in two months. Mummies, which amaze me. Mummies, which I heart. But look, I’m not the only one:

Everybody Loves Mummies


Inner & Outer Coffins

Burial Statues


* Things, not people. I didn’t list any people (except for the mummies. Which I heart) because you’re all my favorite. You know that, right? Hey. Don’t be a mummy-hater, yo.

East Coast Stompin’ Tour Recap

N Train, New York City

After 2 weeks, way too much food and alcohol, not enough sleep, 37 extra pounds, like a billion dollars unaccounted for (drinking + ATMs = bad), and probably some other stuff I shouldn’t mention on a family-friendly blog, Alex and I are finally back from New York. And all I have to say is, wow, it’s so quiet here in Colorado. And, wow, it’s so weird being allowed to stay up till 3 a.m. on a school night, doing whatever I want. If I didn’t have a live-in husband to consider, I’d probably stop showering. *Sniff sniff*

I extended my original itinerary from 4 to 14 days on account of being suddenly *terminated* and took full advantage of the extra time to see as many old friends, colleagues, and family (some older than others, not to name names) as possible.

From Sorting the Mail to Writing a Book: Career Full Circle

I visited with my first boss from my first job out of college (loosely titled “Marketing Assistant”) waaayyy back in 1997. A decade seems like a long time to know someone, so to commemorate the occasion, Judy and I hung out at the Met in the ancient Egypt exhibit checking out some really old mummies, artwork, and other beyond-ancient stuff that has generally fascinated me since my grandmother went to Egypt in the 70s and brought me back this wooden box with the Eye of Ra (where I used to hide candy to eat for breakfast) and a doll of an Egyptian woman with a woven basket on her head (I guess they were out of the I Heart Mummies bumper stickers). I’m going to have to find a way to work mummies into a future novel…

Egyptian Exhibit, Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Exhibit, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I also reconnected with old friends from my second job at the National Kidney Foundation (loosely titled “Program Director and Whipping Girl”). Not much has changed – people have switched floors and redecorated, but many of the same faces are still there. That job was honestly the most emotionally rewarding job I’ve ever had, all issues aside. It’s also where I met my favorite husband (who is thankfully quite tolerable of both non-showering and Top Model marathons), and where the first seeds of the idea for my novel, Twenty Boy Summer, took hold (I just didn’t know it at the time).

[Sidebar: Dear Marilyn, fellow NKF escapee who indulged me in a culinary escapade of the Queens-diner-with-giant-books-for-menus nature last week, I’m officially calling you out on this official Web site to officially get to work on your writing, officially. Loyal readers, feel free to leave Marilyn an encouraging message to GET HER ASS MOVING on that manuscript!]

To round out the visit down career memory lane, I had a nice long look at the future, too (hint: writing, the anti-corporation). I had dinner with my agent, Ted, who probably doesn’t even realize that in recommending the Stand, he introduced me to the best veggie burger in New York since Acme Bar & Grill. I also got to meet my editor, who is even more fabulous in person than in the various author blog posts I’ve stalked I mean casually read about her. And, she has curly hair! Everyone I met in the office was so great, and I can’t even say how excited I am to be working with them. I hope they like mummies. I would have asked over lunch, but an unhealthy mummy obsession is more of a second date revelation, don’t you think?

Egyptian Exhibit, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friends & Family: How to Overstay Your Welcome Without Really Trying

First, we defeated reigning Cranium champs Erika and Steve in their own home. To celebrate, we headed to Total Wine Bar in Brooklyn to drink up all of Ed’s wine. We’ll be back!

Cranium Total Wine Bar, Brooklyn NY

There was also the usual visit to the Christmas Crap store with Mom. Afterwards, Aunt Linda read our Tarot cards. “I see a lot of Christmas crap in your future…”


We allowed “Jensiah” (like Bennifer, only cuter) to dupe us into dragging the infamous “Red Thing in the Window” down the block to their apartment, but first we had to remove the guy who lived on it. Oh wait, I think I’m married to that guy…

The Red Thing in the Window The Red Thing

“I love it!” She exclaims. “But what is that smell?”

And then, the ultimate birth control: story time at Union Square B&N. That sweet little angel you see there is Ryan, and he in no way frightens me from the idea of children. It was more those other kids. The drooling, runny-nosed ones that flocked to Amy as if her pockets were lined with cookies. See, there’s one eyeing her up in the background. Ma-ma!


Scenic Shots

In closing, please enjoy a few scenic shots that encapsulate the trip.

See that steam? It’s like the pipe is a direct line to Hades. Seriously, you don’t want to smell it. But when it’s cold, and you walk over a grate emanating the same gaseous substance, it’s kind of nice. Warm. As long as you don’t think about it too much. My brother calls it the “peeing in the pool” effect. Mmmm.


First snow (for us anyway) on Lexington and 77th outside Jensiah’s place.

77th & Lexington, New York City

Bryant Park.

Bryant Park, New York City

And finally, the Williamsburg Bridge at sunset.

Williamsburg Bridge, Sunset

We’ll be home again soon. See you there.


In preparation for our eastward migration, which may start sooner than we thought*, Alex and I played a little game in our hotel suite at the Venetian in Las Vegas this week… a little game I like to call, “Where Would We Put The Bed?”

Since the company-sponsored suite was definitely larger (and most likely nicer, and probably cheaper) than any apartment we’ll snag in NY, we tried to envision how our existing furniture would fit into a space about that size.

Upon determining that our ever-expanding bookshelves will need their own bedroom, and that we could only dream of owning a sweet shiny gold couch like that, we gave up. I went back to reading Uglies (yeah, see how well that write vs. read decision went for me the other day?), and Alex went back to usability testing the minibar (it passed!).

After four days in the plastic paradise city where getting attacked by the Borg (assimilate or die!) at the Star Trek Experience was our most realistic adventure, we’re finally back in Denver. We miss that sweet gold couch, but no need to despair… there’s lots we can do right here at home to get into that New York state of mind!

Stuff to Do Before the Move:

  • Move all of our furniture into the living room and pretend that it’s our entire apartment
  • Close off the large bathroom and add a few cracked pink and black tiles, South American water bugs, and a loose, unlockable window to the smaller one
  • Lock up the garage and park on the street two neighborhoods over
  • Close off the laundry room and start hauling our dirty clothes in fabric bags to the nearest laundromat
  • No more SUVs for big, semi-monthly grocery trips! It’s back to walking the rickety old lady cart for us!
  • Purge our closets of all brightly colored clothes, leaving only black and, for a change-up, a few gray accessories (hey, gray’s a color!)
  • Break the spokes on our never-used Colorado umbrellas so we can leave them with their black and blue bumbershoot brethren in the 5th Avenue post-storm gutter
  • Practice writing a rent check with an extra 0 at the end
  • Bash up our car with a few door dents and key scratches
  • Throw out all those bottles of sun screen and reinforce our motley collection of gloves and scarves
  • Practice preparing and cooking food in a closet on one stove burner with a dorm-sized fridge and no microwave
  • Ask our maintenance guy to stop fixing broken stuff and to leave that trash in the parking lot right where it was thrown
  • Practice our swift-elbow-to-the-ribs moves for those subway passengers who refuse to “stand clear of the doors” on the 6 platform at Grand Central
  • Take $100 out of the ATM every day and burn it, then erase our memories so we have no recollection whatsoever of where that money went

Hmmm. Did I miss anything?

* It’s, like, super awesome to learn from an online newspaper that your company is about to be acquired!