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  • I read a lot, and I have a lot of opinions, so I can't believe I haven't made a list like this before. If you are even a little bit like me or you want to get a peek into my psyche (you probs don't), these are the books to read.

Archive for June, 2009

21 Questions

Posted on June 3rd, 2009 by annakjarzab

Yesterday, Dog Mutha Heidi Kling had an amazing idea: Ask a Tenner. She opened up an unlocked post on the Tenners LJ and invited teens, bloggers, book fans, and other writers alike to post a question for the Tenners to answer. It was an amazing success–500+ comments and counting! To be honest, it made me a little cross-eyed, but it was so fun that I’m still answering questions, and I know lots of Tenners are, too. We’ll probably do it again, along with chats, so be sure to watch the LJ, follow us on Twitter, or keep an eye on this space for more opportunities to bombard us with awesome questions.

Along those lines, I thought I’d use today to answer the 21 questions New York Magazine asks prominent New Yorkers on their Daily Intel blog. Okay, I’m not a prominent New Yorker. But come on! Don’t you want to know more about ME? Oh, you don’t? Okay, well then you might not want to venture into the FAQ section.

Here we go:

Name: Anna Jarzab

Age: 25

Neighborhood: Morningside Heights

Occupation: Writer, marketing ninja

Who’s your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional? Stumped on the first real question. Is it stupid to say Chuck Bass? Also, Edna St. Vincent Millay, just because I think she’s so interesting. I keep meaning to go to her old house in the Village, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Have you read Savage Beauty? You should.

Also, Jill Zarin. Sorry, Marc Indelicato, I copied you. Team Jill!

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in New York? I don’t tend to eat very fancy, so I’m probably going to go with the Napolitana macaroni & cheese from Pinch ‘n S’mac. I know that makes me a seven-year-old, but what are you going to do? Also, the pulled pork sliders at Bua.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job? Well, my day job is top secret, but suffice it to say I spend a lot of time on the Internet. For my writing job I…spend a lot of time on the Internet. Let’s face it, I live in cyberspace, so really I should just go all “Kill Switch” and upload my brain to the web and be done with it.

Would you still live here on a $35,000 salary? …Yes

What’s the last thing you saw on Broadway? Equus, right before it closed.

Do you give money to panhandlers? Sometimes.

What’s your drink? It used to be Diet Coke, but ever since I gave it up for Lent I’ve been trying to cut back, and I’ve been reasonably successful. I drink a lot of iced tea now, peach Snapple and lemon Lipton’s from the mix.

How often do you prepare your own meals? This goes sort of week by week, but I would say 4-5 out of 7 days.

What’s your favorite medication? Excedrin. I’ve been headache/migraine prone ever since early childhood, and my TMJ exacerbates that, and Excedrin is really the only thing that works. That said, my tolerance for everyday aches and pains is pretty high and I’ll usually wait until I’m miserable to take anything.

What’s hanging above your sofa? A bare lightbulb. Seriously. Our couch is in the middle of the room and after I replaced the lightbulb in the ceiling, I couldn’t get the fixture back on, so it lives on our floor. It’s not cute.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut? Anything over $50.

When’s bedtime? Midnight, usually. I try to be in bed with all but my reading lamp off by then.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square? Times Square changed in, like, the eighties right? When I was a zygote? So I’m going to go with the new Times Square, since it’s the only one I’ve ever experienced. That said, I hate Times Square and avoid it at all costs except to go to the theater and when people are in town and want to go, but I will not go quietly! It edges the old Times Square out for me only because I hear that the old Times Square was seedy and dangerous.

What do you think about Donald Trump? I can’t see how this is a relevant question, but okay. I don’t think about him at all.

What do you hate most about living in New York? How much time you got? Just kidding…sort of. I hate how there’s so much noise it’s like living with a radio implanted in your brain. I hate the expense. I hate how hard it is, how stressful, how much of a struggle every day can be.

Who is your mortal enemy? Um, I don’t know. I guess I don’t have time for mortal enemies–that sounds like a lot of work. I do, however, have a few people that I adamantly don’t trust or like, but it’s not the sort of thing I feel without provocation–that’s a hard-earned status.

When’s the last time you drove a car? Hm, January I think. When I was in California for Christmas. So, a while.

How has the Wall Street crash affected you? I have a couple of friends who are out of jobs, which is sad and upsetting to me, especially because I want so badly to help but I can’t. It also caused rents in New York to go down, so that’s good for me. Mixed bag. Mostly bad, though.

Times, Post or Daily News? None, really, I don’t tend to read the paper, but I guess the Times online.

Where do you go to be alone? My bedroom.

What makes someone a New Yorker? I don’t know. I tell people that if you’re not planning on getting the hell out of dodge after a year, you’ve earned that title. Unless you’re being subsidized by your wealthy family, being young in New York is hard work, so if you don’t run away screaming after a year, you’re one of us.

Save the matryoshki!

Posted on June 2nd, 2009 by annakjarzab

So, according to a link Kim sent me, apparently matryoshka dolls are in danger of disappearing! Now, I mean, let’s not front–I love a good matryoshka doll. They’re all over this very site, and one figures as a very important turning point in All Unquiet Things. I own two legitimate matryoshki and one set of ceramic measuring cups made to look like a matryoshka doll, plus I own a pillow covered in matryoshki, and two matryoshka ornaments that I’ve hung on my wall as decoration. I plan on collecting more in the future, because I love them and because I think they’re a really apt metaphor for a whole bunch of things as I have previously mentioned.

According to the story on Jezebel, the Russian government is organizing a bailout of sorts, but it’s hard to see if that will translate into availability of the dolls in the US. Which is a real damn shame, because I’ve never found any here. My editor told me recently that she’d been looking for a nice matryoshka doll even before she acquired my book, and has yet to find one not online. I told her to check outside the Met, because I’ve seen a guy there selling matryoshka dolls in the past, although I couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t be painted to look like Mike Ditka or whatever (is that even a relevant sports reference anymore? If I made it, my guess is not).

I love my matryoshki. The first one I got actually wasn’t given to me–it was given to my sister, who didn’t feel any particular attachment to it, whereas I ADORED it. My parents brought it back for her from St. Petersburg, when they went on a Baltic cruise for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I asked if I could have it, and she generously gave it to me, and that’s the doll that inspired one part of All Unquiet Things. You can see it on the About the Site page: it’s the blue one with the strawberries.

That one on the left in the photo is the ceramic measuring cup set my friend Briz gave me for Christmas last year. The matryoshka doll on the right was given to me by Kim, the one who told me about the article on Jezebel in the first place. Shh, don’t tell anyone, but this is my favorite matryoshka, even though Kim was worried I wouldn’t like it because it’s seasonal. First of all, there’s no reason not to have a little Christmas cheer all year round. Second of all, this is such a great set of dolls. They get SO SMALL, and I love miniatures. I mean, this set gets down to a little snowman the size of a Tic-Tac (it might be a painted Tic-Tac, to be honest). My favorite doll is the one right before the snowman, an adorable tiny penguin. I think Kim told me she got it at a craft fair in Denver (??–Kim, comment to confirm).


Despite the title of this post, I don’t really know how to save the matryoshki. I guess I’m going to have to depend on the Russian government for that, which, yeesh.

The myth of creative genius

Posted on June 1st, 2009 by annakjarzab

Thanks to everybody for their comments on my BEA post! It was a lot of fun, and I can’t wait until next year. Also, Mary, I don’t think Berk wants your first born–he’s got one of his own, and one on the way. He says to send diapers or cash.

Sunday I was planning on going to BEA again, but then I got lazy and decided to sleep in. As you do. Then it was time for my date with my roommate. A few weeks ago, my friend Natalie wrote me an email and asked if I wanted two free tickets to the Museum of Modern Art that she wasn’t going to use. Many of the New York museums have donation based admission fees–basically, they suggest $20 per person, but you’re free to give whatever you want (although if you give them like a dollar, you might get a face).

The Met(ropolitan Museum of Art) and the Natural History Museum are both like this. My own general rule is that, because I live in New York and I pay taxes that go to support the museums and I also go more than once a year, I donate $5-10 each time I go. I usually suggest to people who are tourists that they pay more, like $15, even the full $20, because they’ll only go once.

Anyway, the MoMA isn’t like this–it’s a flat $20 admission fee. Which is expensive! The MoMA does Free Target Fridays, where from 5-8 PM every Friday the museum is free, but of course it’s always packed and I don’t get off work until 6 and it’s just not worth it. So, long story long, Natalie’s tickets were very welcome indeed, at least for my first time, given my…confusion regarding modern art.

The museum, in short, was great. We saw a small collection of Polish posters in the design section, and my roommate gave me a primer on modern art. I have a passing familiarity with Picasso, Pollack, and Rothko (my roommate’s favorite), but I just don’t get modern art.

Art is something I have no real intuitive feel for. I can look at something and say whether or not I like it, but I just don’t have as deep an understanding of art–especially modern art, because I like narrative and symbolism, and modern art tends to want to subvert that rather than indulge it–as I have an understanding of literature. I can tell you if a book is good or not–I cannot tell you if a painting is objectively good, only if I like it myself.

Anyway, my favorite piece I saw all day was Magritte’s Empire of Light II:


But anyway, there was an entire room where there were studies of paintings and performance art being displayed. A study is a “drawing, sketch or painting done in preparation for a finished piece, or as visual notes,” according to Wikipedia. In this room, there were studies of costumes and set pieces for plays as well as sketches for paintings and sculptures. Roommate, who loves art and says the most awesome things, was like:

“You know, these are all works of art in themselves, and they’re just practices of the finished work! This blows the myth of creative genius right out of the water. You don’t just stand in front of a canvas and paint a masterpiece–it takes hours and hours and hours of work to make one piece of really good art.”

Of course, I immediately thought of two things: that weird story about the study for Marc Chagall’s “Over Vitebsk,” which was stolen from the Jewish Museum in New York and ended up in a Topeka, Kansas post office, and writing.


Over Vitebsk by Marc Chagall

Writing is difficult. Anyone who tells you differently is lying, or isn’t a writer. I love talking to writers of all kinds, but I tend to get frustrated when people tell me that they “want to be a writer” but either “don’t have time to write” or “can’t get started.” We all have angsty times in writing, and I’m not saying it’s not depressing to put down 2K words on a page and then read it over and realize it’s terrible. That’s a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling, and it only gets worse when you’re agented and/or published because back when you were just on your lonesome, you only had to worry about disappointing yourself–now you can’t help but think of all the other people you tricked into thinking you were a good writer, who are going to find out that you’re not when they read the slop you’re writing.

That feels awful. I’m going through some hard writing times myself at the moment, so I can relate. But it’s important to understand, and to remind yourself daily, that good writing is a process, not a gift. Sure, there’s the occasional genius, but odds are you’re not that person–I’m definitely not that person. All Unquiet Things is seven years old. I’ve completely rewritten it once, and revised it countless times. Who knows how much work my next books are going to require? For most people, there’s no such thing as a Muse, there’s no such thing as creative genius–it’s just a real investment of work and thought and consideration and the helpful advice and support of your team (be that your family, your friends, your professor, your critique partner, your agent, your editor, etc.).

This came up again last night when I was talking to my cousin Emma, who’s finishing up her senior year of high school. She’s in a creative writing class, and she has to turn in a story pretty soon. She was stuck with it and wanted advice. I couldn’t tell her where to take her story (although I could tell her what I would do with it, because it raised some really interesting possibilities), but I was able to say “I totally get it” when she complained to me, “Every time I read it I hate it more and more!”

Because the first draft, or the zero draft as some like to call it, isn’t very good most of the time. It always has kernels of brilliance, but it has sagging middles and awkward dialogue and too many adverbs and inconsistencies and misplaced paragraphs–it’s just a big old hot mess 99.9% of the time! The more drafts you do, the more you fix, and the more brilliant kernels you add, until it’s polished enough for editorial feedback, which polishes it more, then copyediting, which polishes it even more.

Art takes work. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to work at your writing, you’re pretty dead in the water. So take a hint from the masters and do a study. Do ten studies if you have to. Keep plugging away. I’m right there with you.

P.S. Eric added the LiveJournal plug-in, so let’s see if it works!