Tag Archives: my writing

I’m Reading from My Memoir at The Penny Farthing

29 May

c3June22014

I’m super excited to share with you that I’m reading this upcoming Monday, June 2, 2014, with one of my favorite groups and venues!

That’s right — I’m reading at Beyond the Mic, a C3 Storytellers event, hosted at The Penny Farthing (103 3rd Ave., downstairs in the speakeasy), right here in New York City.

The C3 Storytellers have been supportive of my writing for awhile now. The first time I read with them back in 2012, one of the other poets literally made up a poem on the spot about my memoir. You can read it here. Then the next time I read with them, I read from the Kerouac biography I was coauthoring that hadn’t yet come out. C3 Storytellers’ and The Penny Farthing’s support earned them a place in the acknowledgments of Burning Furiously Beautiful. Needless to say, I’m grateful for welcoming groups like C3 Storytellers and artist-friendly venues like The Penny Farthing.

I’ll be reading a different section from my memoir-in-progress again this time around. I’m just one of many people who will be sharing work. I’ve always been very inspired by the other artists as well so you’ll be in for a treat hearing them. Doors open at 7pm. The event is free, though there’s usually a basket for donations (no, they don’t go to me); and you can purchase food and drinks. I’d love to see you there!

* * *

My memoir is still a work in progress, but you can purchase the Kerouac biography here.

* * *

Check out the appearance section on my website for other upcoming readings and workshops. I love giving back and encouraging other writers, and I co-lead a free writing workshop once a month through Redeemer (the next one is June 23). If you’re interested in having me give a reading or writing workshop, contact me at snikolop {@} alumna.scrippscollege.edu.

 

 

Advertisements

What a Difference Five Years Make

4 Dec

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

~Lao Tzu

 

While looking for a receipt the other day, I stumbled across one of my old diaries. I knew better than to open it. Every time I clean or dig through my drawers to look for something, I come across a journal, a letter someone had sent me, or a box of old photographs and am quickly derailed. For the next hour or so, I was lost in the pages of my diary, caught in the past and thinking about the future.

I tend to start diaries on my birthday, and this particular one was from five years ago. It was a big birthday for me, both because it was a milestone birthday and because I was on the precipice of a new direction in my life.

The year leading up to it, I had spent an embarrassingly long time getting over a break up. I had also been quite ill for a long time, which made commuting from New Jersey excruciating. These two circumstances made me think a lot about where I was spending my time and where I wanted my life to go. I quit a bunch of low-paying freelance writing gigs and moved into Manhattan about three months before my milestone birthday.

That next year was one full of adventure and changes. What had seemed like a monumental move into the city turned out to be more of a convenience than a lifestyle change, since I’d been commuting for so many years from northern New Jersey and so much of my life was already there. Still, once I was there, I knew I could never go back to Jersey. My family had moved from New Jersey to Greece, and much of my vacation time up to then had been spent traveling to Greece to see them. Traveling is so fundamental to who I am that I decided that year instead to go to South Korea and Japan. That summer I also went to Minneapolis and reconnected with family, which made me understand myself better.

It was that year that I also recommitted myself to writing. It’s not that I had ever stopped writing. Far from it. I was always writing and even getting published in little publications here and there. But the writing wasn’t me. It wasn’t authentic to my voice. I decided to start writing for myself again. I began carving time out to write personal essays about growing up Greek American. I began reading the Beats again. I joined a writers group, where I learned the term MFA.

Then, right before my next birthday, I lost my job. I went to Florida for Christmas to escape and regroup. Being there was hard. It was the first year I’d been back to my grandmother’s place since she’d died when I was in college. Upon my father’s recommendation, I applied to only the best MFA programs (“anything less won’t be worth it”). While I wasn’t confident that I’d get in anywhere, I also didn’t realize just how difficult it is to get into the programs. I applied quickly to whichever programs were still accepting admissions and only later read how writers agonize over which essay to send and whom to get recommendations from. I ended up getting into the top creative nonfiction program in New York City. I also was rehired by my old company.

I often feel like one of those cartoon characters that’s running in place. You see the little puffs of clouds materializing under the feet, but they never seem to get anywhere. When you’re young, there are clear markers of time passing. You graduate from high school and then college. You get your first job. You rent your first apartment. And if you’re me, you go through a gazillion hairstyles. As you get older, there are fewer markers along life’s journey, and wildly changing your hair seems perhaps best left to young people and celebrities. Still, as someone who likes stability, I worry that I am too easily prone to falling into ruts.

Reading through my diary, I realized, though, how far I have come. I realized that change doesn’t always happen overnight, that many of the best accomplishments in life take time. However, the little choices we make today matter. They put us on a path.

Today is my birthday, and many of the dreams I wrote about five years ago have come true. The funny thing with dreams, though, is that they don’t always happen the way you think they will and they don’t happen without a few tears being shed. This past year has been another one full of change. I haven’t always embraced it. It’s been difficult and emotional. Great things have happened, but I’ve also faced challenging and sad circumstances.

I find myself again at a crossroads.

* * *

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Writing Wednesday: Choosing the Right Writing Tools

25 Sep

Alison Nastasi recently posted a great article on Flavorwire entitled “The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors.” Critics have long had a disproportionate fascination with Jack Kerouac’s implementation of the typewriter, and I commend Nastasi for noting Kerouac’s use of notebooks.

A Columbia friend of Kerouac’s used to always carry along a little notebook, and Kerouac picked up the practice from him. In fact, his notebooks became so important to him that one of his girlfriends accused him of caring more about taking notes on what was happening around him than actually living life. When I interviewed Kerouac’s Lowell friend Billy Koumantzelis, he mused that Kerouac was always jotting down notes in his hometown bars. As he told me this, the intonation suggested he thought Kerouac was a bit eccentric in his writing habit. In Burning Furiously Beautiful, Paul and I go into more detail about Kerouac’s use of notebooks because it’s an important aspect of his development as a writer.

Truman Capote famously quipped that Kerouac was merely typing, and indeed typewriters are important to understanding Kerouac’s editorial process. His father was a printer so Kerouac grew up accustomed to printing technologies and was a masterful typist. His L.C. Smith and Underwood typewriters allowed him to spill out a mad rush of words, capturing the speed of the highway. These words and ideas, however, were culled from his notebooks.

It’s important for writers to find the right tools for them. Some authors commit their best works directly into their laptops. They are used to composing emails, and typing on the computer is more natural than writing longhand. Other writers, however, find that starting their first draft in a Word document only results in stilted text, as they are too quick to rely on shorthand, thanks to all the time they spend on Twitter. For many writers, a combination of different media work best, as they find the ease of cutting and pasting helpful to their editing process once they’ve gotten a first draft done in a notebook.

For me, personally, it depends on what type of writing I’m doing. If I’m writing a blog post, I indefinitely type it directly into the computer. Blogging isn’t my best writing. I care more about the content than the style when I blog.

If I’m writing research-heavy nonfiction, even then I will often write the majority of it on the computer, as I find it helpful to be able to keep my notes together and play with the placement of quotes. If I hit a wall, I’ll print out the work and mark it up with pen.

For memoir writing, though, I enjoy writing with ink in a notebook or even just a loose-leaf piece of paper. It feels more intimate to me, like I’m writing in my diary or writing a letter to a friend. I do a lot of my editing even with paper and pen.

When I was a teenager, I sometimes wrote on an electric typewriter. I think there was a part of me that had romantic literary notions associated with typewriters. I loved the click-clack of the keys. As an adult, I still see the value of writing on a typewriter. It is too easy to hit the delete key and to play with the order of paragraphs on the computer when starting a draft. Good drafts are often the ones where we don’t censor ourselves, where we commit words to the paper for a good long while before we look at them again and decide what stays and what goes.

Every writer needs to find what works best for them. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error. Sometimes it helps to shake up the routine every once in a while.

What are your favorite writing tools?

 

You may also be interested in:

Overarching Writing Tips from Writers from Big Sur: Don’t Censor Your First Draft

I Just Give Myself Permission to Suck

If You Miss a Beat, Create Another

Today’s the Day

 

I Am One in 20 Million

30 Jul

goodreads_logo072413

I just read in Shelf Awareness that Goodreads has reached 20 million readers. While that number itself is impressive, even more astonishing is the fact that in this past year alone they had doubled their numbers.

I joined Goodreads a while back after someone at a Mediabistro party raved about it as a great way to find out about books and connect with others in the publishing industry. What I like about Goodreads more than reading other people’s reviews is connecting with people who have like-minded literary interests. There are groups for people interested in the Beat Generation and for those interested in travel literature, and, although I’ll admit I don’t check in too frequently (so many social media sites, so little time…), I do enjoy connecting with readers and authors on the message boards.

I also have an author’s page up, where readers can find and review the books I’ve written or contributed to. It’s been encouraging to see people put one of the books I’m working on on their to-read list even before the book has been published! It motivates me to make the book worth their time.

If you’re on Goodreads, will you please add my book to your to-read list? Also, if you’re an author, let me know in the comments below how I can find your book to add to my to-read list.

Writing Wednesday: Publication Therapy

30 Jan

The other day I was updating my submissions spreadsheet. Yes, I’m that big of a nerd. The spreadsheet tracks the articles, essays, and other creative works I’ve written, so at a quick glance I can tell what I have to pitch, where I’ve submitted it, and when—if at all—I’ve heard back from a publication.

There are a lot of blank rectangles on the spreadsheet.

In the past, the blank rectangles used to indicate that I had yet to submit my work. Rejections seemed scary so I wouldn’t even submit to journals because I was so worried the editors wouldn’t be interested in my work. This meant my work had zero chance of getting published. When I became an editor myself I realized how much editors depend on writers. It’s not this terrible power struggle I’d imagined. Editors really want to like writers’ work. They want to publish us. Getting a rejection doesn’t mean they hate us. If you want to have your work published, you have to send it out.

After a while, though, it was the “accepted” column that had the blank rectangles. I carefully sent queries or unsolicited manuscripts out and then suffered to hear from someone—anyone! Opening my mailbox and refreshing my inbox became subtle forms of self-torture, as I never knew when I’d hear back from a publication and what the news would be.

But more frequently I’ve been getting rejections. This is not a bad thing! I’ve come to realize that the greatest writers have gotten rejections. Jack Kerouac couldn’t get On the Road published for years. Stephen King nailed all his rejection letters to the wall, the stack growing larger and larger before he found fame.

I just read an article in Bloomsberg Businessweek about a guy named Jia Jiang who is doing a project called 100 Days of Rejection Therapy, in which he opens himself up to rejection at least once a day in order to desensitize himself to the pain of rejection so that he can go after his dream. The concept is attention-grabbing, and I think there are some valuable lessons to learn from it about courage and perseverance. There are also fundamental flaws to this approach, though. It’s easier to not get hung up on a rejection when you’re not invested, and in this case the rejections Jiang is receiving have nothing to do with his real dream. Furthermore, the project title itself suggests and attracts self-defeat. Although Jiang hasn’t gotten rejected from everything he’s tried, he believes he will be rejected. Although his rejection therapy is supposed to give him the courage to not let fear of rejection keep him from pursuing his dream, it essentially is saying that he thinks he will get rejected. Otherwise, why not call it Achievement Therapy? Or Success Therapy? Or Acceptance Therapy?

Also, as the article itself points out, there are valid reasons for rejection and we can learn from them:

But career coach Nemko suggests Jiang focus on what made the initial investor balk. “I have clients who apply for a number of jobs [and] who get rejected a bunch. They like to brush it off, like, ‘Oh, it’s the economy,’ but I say: ‘Take a look at yourself. Do you need more skills? What’s your employment track record? Are you obnoxious?’”

Back in 2011, I blogged about how Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was rejected sixty times. Here was someone who was truly invested in her work, and yet she didn’t start asking donut makers to do strange things to her donuts in an effort to build her confidence in her writing abilities and achieve success. She actually took a good long look at why she was getting rejected and revised her work accordingly.

Sometimes you need criticism, even if it comes in the form of a rejection, to improve your work. Other times, there may be nothing wrong with your work, but it’s just not the right fit for that publication at that time. It happens. It’s worth being part of a writing group and getting honest feedback on your work from more than one person who is not your mom.

Lately, the rejections I’ve been getting have come with personalized notes that say things like “great story but it’s not timely enough” or “great writing but it’s not for us. Feel free to submit again in the future.” I don’t like getting rejections, but I have learned from them. I’ve taken the comments I’ve received from editors and revised my works. I’ve grown as a writer, and even when my work isn’t what the editor wants, I know it’s getting closer to hitting the mark.

The other day when I was updating my spreadsheet, I smirked at the callousness with which I treated my rejections. There was a time when I would’ve taken them so personally, but now I realize that rejections come with the territory.

This applies to life too. No one ever did anything great in life without taking a risk.

Life after the MFA

5 Jun

As thesis submission deadline approached, people began asking me what I was planning on doing after graduation.  Then they’d stop themselves, afraid they may have asked too painful of a question.  But it’s not!

In one of my last posts, I left off telling you about grabbing a cup of tea after turning my theses in.  What I didn’t tell you was that on my walk back to my office, while sipping that delicious tea, I made a phone call to biographer Paul Maher Jr.  Paul’s books are some of the most well respected in his categories, and they’ve been translated and sold around the globe.

Inspired by Laura Vanderkam’s List of 100 Dreams, I created my own a while back.  Become a scholar on the Beat Generation was on my list.  I’ve been studying the writers generally categorized as Beat for more than a decade now.  I did my MFA at The New School, where Jack Kerouac took writing classes, and where I connected with writers who had known Jack Kerouac.

Now, my dream of becoming a Beat scholar is being realized.  Paul and I are working on a book that tells the true story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  The phone call to him on Monday was to discuss cover ideas.

I don’t have a big life-altering answer to the question of what I’m doing after the MFA.  Paul and I have been working on this book for a while now, and since I won’t be simultaneously working on a thesis anymore I’ll simply be refocusing my creative energies into the book.  It helps that I didn’t enter the program straight out of undergrad.  I’d already been working in book publishing, a career many of my classmates are hoping to enter, and so graduation isn’t a big scary unknown for me.  I’ll be continuing in my editorial role.  For me, life after the MFA is about continuing to follow my passions while also seizing new opportunities.

I’m extremely excited to say that my post-MFA plan is to co-author a book on Jack Kerouac.

Thesis!!

30 Apr

I’ve got army print nail polish on to tackle my thesis!!

 

The Distance Between Me and Me

23 Apr

 

I recently workshopped a new memoir chapter I had been working on, and it wasn’t until after I left the workshop that it occurred to me that perhaps the distinction between the author and the narrator had gotten jumbled in the evaluation of the piece.

I don’t enjoy self-deprecating memoirs, but I had written a rather self-deprecating line to make a point about my past.

“We don’t see you this way,” someone said.

I didn’t get the sense that she was suggesting I needed to show evidence in the work to prove I was that way in the past.  I think she was surprised to see my negative statement and was concerned that I had low self-esteem that wasn’t based on fact.

I rambled off some explanation that only made me sound more pathetic and weird, and then I left feeling exposed and awkward.  But I was trying to explain the person I was—not the person I am today.

I believe good writing takes readers into the feelings of a particular moment in time.  When I write about myself, I think back to how I felt when I was going through a particular period.  I try not to censor myself.  I try to be true to who I was at that time.

Maybe I need to write in double perspective.  Perhaps I need to explain right up front that who I was then is now who I am now.  But I feel like writing and reading is a journey, and I think sometimes you have to wallow in the past a bit before explaining away and fixing things, and saying, “I’m alright! I’m alright!  Don’t worry about me.  My story gets better.”

I’m okay with who I was in the past.  I love that shy little middle-schooler and I love that twenty-something who was naïve and nervous and emotional, and I don’t want to change her.  She is the foundation for who I am today.  But she is not who I am today.

The person I am today is not someone who you can get to know in one chapter or one blog post.  I am not someone who you get to know over one semester.  And I am not the same person in the office as I am when I’m at home.  I’m not someone easily identified by the types of books I read, and I hope no one would ever judge me on my indulgent music playlist.  (I think I almost lost a few friends the day I posted on Facebook that I don’t like Radiohead.)

And I hope tomorrow I’m not the same person I am today.  Maybe that’s self-deprecating.  Or maybe it’s just honest.

Quotes about Place

20 Apr

Some places are so iconic. I think this may be one of them.

 

Every story involves place, whether real, imagined, or seemingly absent.  Place isn’t just a physical location, it’s a feeling, a memory, a metaphor, a symbol.

My writing has always centered around place.  My memoir is a complicated look at what home means.  It’s about how even for people who live in the same house together home can mean different things — can even be different places.  And sometimes, oftentimes, the place you call home changes.  It’s about the physicality of a house, the emotions of a home, the culture of a country.

Meanwhile, the book I’m coauthoring on Jack Kerouac is also about place in its own way.  It’s about exploring, about living, about identity.  It shows that place itself can become a character and plot device.

I’m teaching on place this weekend at the Festival of Faith and Writing, and I think one of the most valuable ways to learn is to read how other writers have talked about place.  Here are some literary quotes about place.  Feel free to share your favorite quotes about place in the comments section.

 

How hard it is to escape from places.  However carefully one goes they hold you – you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences – like rags and shreds of your very life.

~Katherine Mansfield

But I do like churches.  The way it feels inside.  It feels good when you just sit there, like you’re in a forest and everything’s really quiet, expect there’s still this sound you can’t hear.

~Tim O’Brien

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.

~Joan Didion

Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.

~Nikos Kazantzakis

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil.  My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.

~Nathaniel Hawthorne

This is the most beautiful place on Earth.  There are many such places.  Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.

~Edward Abbey

The landscape affects the human psyche – the soul, the body and the innermost contemplations – like music. Every time you feel nature deeper you resonate better with her, finding new elements of balance and freedom…

~Nikos Kazantzakis

Bravo for Writing a Greek-American Memoir

9 Apr

On my lunch break one afternoon I met a man from Greece at a coffee shop.  He had been born in Greece, but currently resides in New York.  He didn’t have the thick Greek accent that would’ve indicated a recent move, and yet like so many Greek people I’ve met, he was still very much hung up on Greece.

After some rather dull conversation he perked up when I told him the memoir I’m writing is about growing up Greek American.  It made me kind of hate him.  I know that’s a terrible, overdramatic reaction, but his reaction gave me the distinct sense that in his eyes my ethnic heritage played a role in my worth.

The Greek American community is incredibly proud of its Greek heritage.  As we should be.  We have a beautiful culture with a rich and fascinating history.  I often feel I don’t live up to Greek ideals.  I know the reason I inwardly cringed when the man expressed interest in my heritage above all else is because I feel like I fall short of the standards of Greek American identity.  I don’t speak the Greek language, I don’t look particularly Greek, and I’m not 100% Greek.  Culturally, I’m not very Greek.

In fact, those who know me well are surprised when I say I’m writing a memoir about growing up Greek American.  Spoiler alert!  The memoir isn’t really about being Greek.  It’s about being American.  It’s about growing up American but going through an experience as an adult that ties me back to Greece.

Life is too complex for anyone to be categorized or valued based on just one aspect of their identity.