Monday, September 29, 2014

A-holes on a Train

Amtrak is many things. It is expensive. It is usually late. It is pretty much the only option if you wish to travel in the Northeast by rail and also not be accosted by drunk people on their way back from the beach. But first and foremost, it is a hotbed for assholes.


On a relatively recent summer Sunday evening I was on my way back from a book reading in the Hudson Valley. My train was scheduled to depart at 6:29, but shortly before it was due, the station manager came on the intercom to announce that it had "pulled over to let another train pass" and would be 25 minutes late. The train originated in Montreal, so I tweeted something jokingly detrimental about Canadians. Then I took a series of failed selfies with some meaningful graffiti:

But the train came eventually. It was fine; it was a Sunday night. I mean, we were all just going home to drink the dregs of some past-its-prime rosé and then binge-watch Inside Amy Schumer, right?

Apparently not.

A little before 9 pm, almost to Penn Station, our train stopped north of the George Washington Bridge. due to "police activity." It took about three minutes before the man sitting next to me began intermittently groaning. I wondered at first if he was in labor; the contractions seemed evenly spaced at about two-minute intervals:

Fine, fine, fine--
Nothing, nothing, nothing--

He didn't look more than about four months along, but I didn't want to make any assumptions.

Soon, someone started saying that there was a jumper. As in, a human being who had leapt to their death from a great height.

The immediate reaction was annoyance.

"I don't see anything on Twitter!" the woman sitting in front of me, who I could not see but who I quickly judged to look like some hybrid of Cruella DeVille and Judge Judy, said defensively. "Plus, isn't this like the third one this month?" She was clearly taking points off for creativity.

"Why can't we move?" someone else chimed in. "I mean, the dead body's in the water, right?"

"How long does it even take to move a body?" Cruella DeJudy demanded.

The man seated next to me advanced to transition and began cradling his scalp in his hands.

Within about ten minutes, when the Amtrak conductors could not offer details on the police activity, a man sitting across the aisle took it upon himself to call the police.

"Yeah, I'm sitting on a stalled Amtrak train," he began, in a tone that suggested the train was also located on the Gaza Strip. "They say it's because of police activity, but I want to know exactly what's going on that the train can't move."

Somewhere, I imagined gunshot victims and elderly neighbors collapsing from the July heat waiting on hold, keeping the faith that their call would be answered in order of priority.

"Yeah... yeah... OK. OH. OK, that makes sense," the man across from me said. He hung up and reported to the car, "The body is on the train tracks."

"How is that even possible?" Cruella demanded. "I don't see how that's physically possible."

"That's what they said," the man shrugged.


"Give me the number," Cruella demanded in her raspy voice. "I'm going to put on my bitchface." Something told me it was already firmly secured.

"Yeah, HI," she said brusquely when she reached the police headquarters. "I'M ON A STOPPED AMTRAK TRAIN." The officer, it seemed, was not grasping the urgency of the situation. "Someone told us there was a body on the tracks.... yeah. Right. So what I need to know is, why can't they just move the body?"

Why can't they just move the body? I know that's the first question I jump to when someone has the gall to expire directly in my path.

"Yeah, but how long does it take?" she asked impatiently. She laughed bitterly and hung up. "One to two hours," she reported. "I mean, seriously."

Just then, the conductor walked into the car. "We're going ahead to Penn Station," she said. "No one was hurt."

One might think this news would bring jubilation, or, at the very least, reluctant optimism. But my fellow passengers only grew more disgruntled.

"No one was hurt?" Cruella laughed. "I think jumping off a bridge onto a train track would hurt."

"Yeah, I think you'd probably be dead," the man across the aisle chuckled.

"Nice conversation," the conductor snapped. After she left, the two began loudly conspiring along with my suddenly-recovered seat mate about how to get her fired through a letter-writing campaign.

As I deboarded moments later, expelled into the steamy bowels of Penn Station, I had a few moments, trapped on the escalator behind a herd of enormous wheeled suitcases and their handlers, to reflect on the questionable progress of humanity.

On the one hand, it's possible to ascertain the cause of a transportation delay within minutes through the use of social media and the shameless harassment of law enforcement officials. On the other hand, people are jaded and horrible and we're doomed as a species.

Except for Canadians. They remain, as ever, fucking polite.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Letter From My Hair, Re: Live Readings and Other Public Appearances

Because I now occasionally appear in public for reasons other than to purchase toilet paper and expired generic fig bars from the Korean grocery store near my house, my hair and I decided it was time she made a statement. My apologies in advance. 
To Whom It May Concern, i.e. Everyone With Eyes:  
I want to officially state that I regret my appearance at this function. To clarify, I don’t mean that I wish I wasn’t here today--Una cannot pull off bald, no matter what she may envision during her annual, self-pitying, and might I add horrifyingly inappropriate cancer fantasy. I mean that I regret the state I’m in.  
This morning, I was styled by an extremely chatty gentleman named Arturo, who had as much talent with a blow-dryer and he had valuable insights into the state of Gwyneth Paltrow’s "conscious uncoupling." Based on my appearance now, you might think that Una spent the rest of the day taking joyrides through car washes on the back of a Vespa that made a pit-stop at a magical fountain where she wished on an enchanted penny and accidentally exchanged scalps with 1970s-era Frank Zappa.  
I only wish this were true.  
The fact is, her afternoon involved nothing but a box of mini donuts, three back-to-back episodes of a Food Network show about how taffy is made, and a slow but unstoppable follicular downfall that I unwittingly perpetrated. I’d love nothing more than to explain exactly what happened, but honestly I blacked out for most of it. All I know is that one minute I was lying languidly against Una’s neck, curling ever so slightly so as to avoid the donut shrapnel shooting from her lips, and the next thing I knew I was frizzier than Phil Spector dry humping a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.  
Flawless (I Woke Up Like This)
If Una could pull off a kicky fedora or a hijab, I wouldn’t even be writing this, but seeing as she is genetically hat-challenged, I felt it was important to come out, in public, and accept the blame for what would under kinder circumstances be one of the most Facebook-tagged days of her life. The truth is that I put the “sham” in shampoo, and am a disgrace to my brethren lower down on this surprisingly hirsute body. 
In closing, I am deeply sorry for my betrayal, and I hope that you can look past me, maybe to the fetching neon EXIT sign behind Una’s head, for the remainder of this truly unforgettable evening.

Yours limply,
Una’s hair


Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Writing Process, Expressed in 37 Gifs

On good days, I'm all,

So then I take a few hours days months off to rest.

But on bad days, I'm like,

And I resort to desperate measures.

One day,

The next day,

One day,

The next day,

One day,

The next day,

Most days end like,


My husband is all,

When I leave the house, strangers look at me like,

And I'm all,

Some days my husband finds me like,

And he's all,

Finishing the first draft feels like,

My inner voice is all,

I get drunk and hit send like,

And I picture my editor all,

Until I do some more reflecting...

And realize she could also be like,

I update Facebook all,

But then my self-deprecating sub-Tweets are like,

And then instead of torturing myself waiting for judgment,

I'm just,

In related news, I have a manuscript due at the end of the week. Pray for me.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pub Day!

They say the Facebook posts explode on pub day...
They say there's desperation in the air...
But when you refresh Amazon
And your book's not at number one*
Frustration sets right in and you're nowhere....

*pronounced "Juan" for rhyming purposes

 They say that Twitter treats you fine on pub day....
But looking at it just gives me the blueeeeeees
'Cause how you gonna make the Times
When all you got are subpar rhymes**
And supbar rhymes won't even buy your booze

**I'm just being mean, these are par

For those whoa are not fans of smooth jazz soul ballads about becoming a Broadway star, that was a parody of "On Broadway," which I first fell in love with when it was used in the soundtrack of 1988's Big Business, when Roone is riding a Greyhound bus from Jupiter Hollow to New York, wearing very tight jeans.

But I digress.

It's PUB DAY! Which means my new book, LIKE NO OTHER, is finally out in the world. You can find links to buy it from the online retailer of your choice at the top right of the sidebar, or you can walk into a regular bookstore like you've got legs and you know how to use 'em. Or you can be lazy and wait for me to put the links right here in the post because I know that's what I'd want:

Thank you so much for all of your support and tolerance of this self-promotion. Even though I rarely blog these days, I'll never forget this is where it started, and that without you guys I'd just be some pantsless troll searching the internet each day for Andrew Shue memorabilia.

Oh... wait.

Friday, May 2, 2014

LIKE NO OTHER news: McNally Jackson event and signing July 24!

Hi guys,

My latest YA novel (which just got a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, something I'm pretty sure would have been impossible for my mom to plant) comes out July 24, and to celebrate, I'll be appearing at McNally Jackson Books in SoHo to read, make awkward chit-chat, sign copies, etc.

If you live in or near New York City and can make the trek, I would LOVE to see you. And if you can't make it for geographical-, schedule-, or longstanding grudge-related reasons, you can pre-order a signed, personalized* copy from McNally Jackson using this link.

Thanks! You may now return to your regularly scheduled Friday afternoon time-wasting.

*All personalization requests will be granted, no matter how uncouth. 90s pop culture references accepted and ENCOURAGED.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Celebrity Autobiographies That Need to Exist for the Good of Humanity

Bacon Bits, by Kevin Bacon
I mean, duh. This is a no-brainer, like Geiss Cubes from 30 Rock.

Woah is Me: Blossom-ing Out of My Shell, by Joey Lawrence
Am I the only one waiting for this? You know what, don’t answer that.

I Once Got Busy in a Burger King Bathroom, by Humpty Hump
Sells itself, plus bonus fast-food advertising tie-in.

Barack The Boat: Paddleboating With POTUS
I’m envisioning a coffee table book with lots of glossy photos of Barry in cut-off shorts.

You Can’t Spell Tyranny Without TYRA, by Tyra Banks.
Optional subtitle: … or Tranny!

Duckie Tales--OR!--Cryer me a River, by Jon Cryer
He worked with Charlie Sheen for eight years. Let the man tell his stories.

Ione Have Skyes For You, by Ione Skye
I may be taking this a little far.

Any of the following by Tori Spelling:

Public lavaTORI 
Rectal supposiTORI 
NoninflammaTORI Gastroenteritis 
Finding the cliTORIs

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Writing Process--Not That You Asked!

Last week I featured Patty Chang Anker on the #MyWritingProcess blog tour, and now it's my turn! Gird your loins and grab some Tootsie Rolls. This will be only semi-educational, I promise.

What am I working on? 

The following sentence would make the teenage Una experience a debilitating euphoria not felt since Allison Parker kissed Billy Campbell at the end of episode 29 of season one of Melrose Place: I’m in various stages of writing three different books. My second young adult novel, Like No Other (which you can pre-order here!), comes out July 24 from Razorbill (Penguin’s YA imprint), and right now I’m doing early publicity, like speaking at schools and libraries, as well as awaiting the final manuscript to approve before it goes to print. My book of comic essays, Unabrow, is with a copy editor at Plume (coincidentally, another Penguin imprint) as I type this, and I’ll be getting a galley to look at in the next month. It won’t come out until late March 2015, but publishing houses generally start working on promotion and publicity at least 6-8 months ahead of time… which explains why so often, I hear friends and family members say, “Wait, that didn’t come out yet? You’ve been posting about it for what feels like my entire adult life.” (I choose to hear this as a compliment rather than a complaint.) Finally, I’m very excited about a third YA novel, also with Razorbill, that I’ll be starting to write in May, for publication in the fall of 2015, but since I haven’t signed the contract yet I can’t share more details right now.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

It’s my firm belief that the primary (and sometimes the only) thing that distinguishes one creative work from the next is the author’s voice and point of view. Back in college, I remember my film professor telling our class that there are really only about 10 different plots in movies when you break them down to their bones, and that the important thing isn’t about coming up with an idea that no one else has ever had before (a feat which, in today’s over-saturated market, is close to impossible), but to tell the story in a way that no one else could. And that was a HUGE relief to me, because we all have an authentic, original voice and point of view, which means that we are all capable of writing--or painting, or photographing, or dancing, or whatever--in a way that hasn’t been done.

That said, I’d like to think that what distinguishes my young adult writing is that I balance out the angst and drama (which, let’s face it, are the two most important ingredients in most stories set amidst the emotional minefield of post-adolescence) with wit and humor. I think that we don’t give teenagers credit for being able to appreciate the humor inherent in the fumbling path to adulthood. As far as my humor writing goes, again, I hope what distinguishes me is simply my voice and my way of interpreting and reflecting on life experiences in a way that other people can relate to and laugh at. I haven’t had a particularly exceptional life on paper. I haven’t had crazy experiences or terrible tragedies. I am awed and humbled by people who do have extraordinary circumstances and incredible stories to tell, but I’m happy to just write about universal stuff like unrequited crushes, althletic humiliations, and wondering if the people behind you in line at the drug store are judging you for buying wart removal pads and a double-feature DVD of My Girl and My Girl 2 that was on sale for $4.99.

Why do I write what I do? 

This photo should, much like Clarissa Darling,  explain it all.
I write humor because it's the lens through which I can best understand and process my own life. This is not to say that I don’t take things seriously, or that all I do in real life is crack jokes. In fact, I yell a lot at inanimate objects and cry probably more than is normal. No, what I mean is that seeing the humor in awkward or painful moments helps me to cope with them. To be honest, I never imagined I would write fiction, but now that I’m doing it I want to keep doing it for as long as people will let me. I love writing YA, even though it sometimes makes me feel old. It lets me exercise a different creative muscle, get my head out of my own ass (writing exclusively about your own life can make you into an insufferable narcissist if you’re not careful), and it gives me the chance to reach someone who, like me, might have more books/pimples than friends. I know I’ll never be Judy Blume, but if I can make a kid laugh during a shitty week, or make someone connect to a character in one of my books in a way that makes them feel normal and understood, or see a window to a future in which high school won’t define them anymore, that’s good enough for me.

How does my writing process work? 

It’s chaos, I won’t lie. I wrote my first book (Five Summers--out in paperback soon!) when my son was 6 months old, and basically I would write during his naps and after he went to sleep. I was stressed and exhausted all the time, and I freaked out on a daily basis. By the time I wrote my second novel I had a slightly better grip on how to manage my time, but as a full time stay-at-home, work-when-I-can-hide-in-the-bathroom-during-Blue’s-Clues parent, I still make it up as I go. Generally, I will create an outline or loose structure for a book first, either a series of paragraph-long chapter summaries or, in the case of Unabrow, a grid I taped to the wall and covered with Post-Its like a cray-cray Carrie Mathison.

The only difference is that my office isn't nearly this clean and Mandy Patinkin almost never visits.

Then I’ll make a schedule for a first draft over the course of about 12-16 weeks, and then I crack open some wine and place myself at my editors' mercy. I now have babysitters in the mornings for three to four hours, so I do the bulk of my writing then. I still work during naps and at night, but I’ve discovered that my creative brain isn’t very functional post-8 pm, so whenever I can I take nights off. I do work on weekends whenever my husband takes our son on an outing, but I don't write at the same time every day and--get ready to have a heart attack--I don't even write every day. Almost all writers will tell you that you HAVE to write, EVERY DAY, to WORK ON YOUR CRAFT, or else you are NOT A REAL WRITER. But riddle me this, Jonathan Safran-Foer: does a brain surgeon operate on brains every day? Does a rocket scientist science rockets every day? Does a plumber plumb every day? And is he not still a plumber, nay, the best plumber of his generation? OK, fine maybe not the best, but he's still a plumber. Which is my point.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, whether you are a writer, an aspiring writer, not a writer at all, or (fingers crossed) Inigo Montoya clicking a Google alert on his own name.

To continue the #MyWritingProcess tour, I am tagging:


Susan's debut novel, Vintage, was published in March! Booklist said that she should have "a built-in fan base for this book-club-worthy story of redemption, healing, and love." She also writes every Wednesday at The Debutante Ball, a blog for debut authors. Find out more at


Leila is the author of Nantucket Blue and the forthcoming Nantucket Red, which are set on the titular Massachusetts island but are so, so much more than beach reads. Her debut not only garnered a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, but also praise from The New York Times. THE NEW YORK TIMES. Follow all of her awesomeness at

(Sorry for the delay tagging a second author; apparently I can't get my shit together. Which is really the overriding theme of my writing process, so we've come full circle.)


Monday, April 14, 2014

Patty Chang Anker on Her Nervy Creative Process #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour

I'm so excited to be a part of this month's #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour, where writers from across genres and continents talk about how they write. Today I'm featuring the incredible Patty Chang Anker, one of my costars in Listen To Your Mother, whose debut book, Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, was called "downright inspiring" by (OPRAH! DOT COM!), and was chosen as a Book of the Day by Elizabeth "Eat Pray Love" Gilbert.

As a fellow non-genetically-predisposed-to-bravery (let's not say coward, shall we?) woman, I so identified with Patty's struggle, and it didn't hurt that she wrote with incredible warmth and humor. I cannot wait to see what she tackles next!

OK, enough fangirling out; now I'll let Patty take over in her own words (she has a way with them...)

What am I working on? 

Right now I’m working on blog pieces for (about overcoming anxiety during the learning process), (about Team #SomeNerve training for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour), and Facing Forty Upside Down (about finding community as a way to fight fear). I’m also preparing a talk, and drafting content for the paperback of Some Nerve. The long term thinking, working, revising a book length project have turned into quick turnarounds for shorter pieces, mostly about how to apply the “lessons learned while becoming brave” in our lives. It’s fun to take the stories from the book out into the world.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work is part immersion memoir, part journalism, part self-help. It’s different from most memoir because it’s set in the present and is as much focusd on other people as me. It’s different from most journalism in that while I do often observe classes, therapy sessions, and other interactions without interfering and I do interview experts in traditional settings, I also actively participate at times. I will introduce someone with a fear of driving to a driving instructor, or take friends with a fear of heights to a ropes course. I set story lines in motion without knowing what’s going to happen and then write about what does. And it’s different from most self-help in that the information, whether it’s techniques from Toastmasters or psychological approaches used by therapists, is related by what it’s like for me or others to experience these things and not through case studies or tip sheets.

Why do I write what I do? 

I write what I need to read. I need to acknowledge all the crazy talk in my head, poke a little fun at myself, figure out how to find strength to push forward when I’m scared, have enjoyable--even peak--experiences more often, find out how other people tick, imagine being different tomorrow from today, and then commit all of this in writing so that my girls will remember me as more than “Mom sure was tired.” I’ve been through many periods of feeling alone--and I write to reach anyone else who feels that way, to tell them it’s ok, come out into the sunshine, come laugh with us and we’ll become brave together.

How does my writing process work?

For quick short pieces I write well during the day while the kids are at school but for the book, the old “butt in chair” and “writing is a job show up for your job” or “every day set a timer produce X number of words” advice didn’t work at all. I found the enormity of writing 100K coherent words on deadline overwhelming, and when things needed to be done for the house or the kids once interrupted I couldn’t pick up again. I was so consumed by what I call my Greek Chorus of Perpetual Doubt--“You can’t do this, you don’t know how, another day is gone, tick, tick TICK”--showing up for my job left me exhausted and actually steps behind from where I was the day before. I realized I needed to forge my own way, which was to focus on research until I felt ready to write. This took 8 months out of the 14 I had before my deadline and was nerve wracking. I’ve always performed best close to deadline but it’s one thing to do that for a term paper, it’s another for an entire book! But I’m glad I allowed myself to just be in the field because once you’ve fully absorbed the experiences the stories take root and the brain makes connections to other stories from your past and before you know it elaborate plots with fully developed characters are alive and begging to come out. Once I was ready I wrote when I felt most free to write – at night when I was least likely to be interrupted, when everyone else’s needs were met and I wasn’t expected to be productive. I wrote until 4 in the morning, alone and in the dark but laughing and weeping with all these people I’d grown to care so much about, remembering incredible stories of them at their most courageous, feeling less alone than I’ve ever felt.

So much of writing is getting out from under the guilt that we should be doing something else, or we should be doing this a whole lot better. I say wherever and whenever you can push through that secret bookcase that leads you to a hidden room where you feel most free, that’s where and when to write.


Patty tagged me (obviously), and Ava Chin, a native New Yorker who is the author of Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal (coming in May), which Kirkus Reviews called “A delectable feast of the heart.” The Urban Forager blogger for the New York Times, her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Saveur, the Village Voice, and Martha Stewart online. She blogs about foraging, green living, and DIY-food at

I'll be posting my own answers (and tagging more kick-ass writers) next Monday, so come on back, y'all, ya hear?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

How to Wish Someone a Happy Birthday on Facebook and (Maybe) Not Sound Like a Douchebag

Disclaimer: I wrote this a few years ago, but since my birthday is coming up next week, and I've been riddled with guilt from not wishing OTHERS a happy birthday on Facebook, it's been on my mind.

Once upon a time, when a family member, close friend, or loved one celebrated a birthday, you were expected to send them a card. In the MAIL. That you wrote a personal message in. And bought a stamp for. Okay, seriously, stop laughing.

Then, e-cards absolved us of the oh-shit-grandma’s-birthday-is-TODAY guilt. Plus, phone calls were still valuable emotional currency. And maybe I’m just unspeakably rude, but it’s gotten to the point where I only call blood relatives on their birthdays. Close friends might get texts if I remember, but EVERYONE gets a Facebook message.

Why? Well, partially because without Facebook’s upper righthand corner, I would never know when anyone’s birthday actually was. And also because the Facebook Happy Birthday has become the lowest common denominator of affection. It’s so easy (now you don’t even have to go to the person’s wall–the message box appears right on your homepage!) and you’re already there–so, really, unless you have a legitimate reason to hate the person whose birthday it is, you’re basically obligated to throw your uninspired well-wishes onto the pile.

BUT WHAT TO WRITE? You’ve got some options:


Happy Birthday!

(Of course, you can lowercase the B if you want. Get crazy. A single exclamation point is standard. If you don’t use any punctuation, you look like a serial killer, just FYI.)


Happy Birthday, Mike!

(This proves you took the time to glance at the person’s name and retype it. This obviously makes you and Mike BFFS, and straight-up schools the impersonal Classic writers.)


Happy Birthday, Mike!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hope it’s a GREAT ONE, BUDDY!!!!!!!!!

(I pity these fools, but at the same time, I get it. Say you really ARE besties with Mike? How are you supposed to distinguish yourself from the other people who so thoughtfully included his correctly-spelled first name, other than have the most exclamation points, plus a generic message of goodwill? Oh! Maybe…)


Happy Birthday, Mikey Skidmarks!

(Yeah, in your face, sycophants. Nobody knows Mike like I do.)


[Insert any of the previous greetings here]. Can’t wait to douse you in Jager bombs on Friday!

(Nothing says love like a passive-aggressive intimation that you are invited to someone’s party and the rest of these poseurs aren’t.)



(This is the James-Spader-in-Pretty-in-Pink of FB birthday messages: cool, pretentious, with a cigarette hanging from its lips and a sneer of superiority. What has two thumbs and only had to use one of them to type Mike’s birthday message? This guy.)





(Someone always has to get fancy. Yeah, thanks for making me scroll down for this vertical version of what everyone else already wrote, asshat.)



(I take it all back. Who says you have to write on Mike’s wall for his birthday? Maybe you didn’t check Facebook today, because you were too busy waiting on line at the post office to send him a card. Retro is so hot right now, just look at Instagram! And hey, when he gets it sometime next month, he’ll know you care the most. Definitely more than that d-bag with the Jager bombs.)

NEXT TIME: How to Memorialize a Dead Celebrity on Facebook and (Maybe) Not Sound Like A Douchebag. Hint: Do not express shock and awe that the person in question wasn't already dead. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...