Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mr. Darcy, Ron Weasley and Willy Wonka All Came Over...

What happens when I get asked to throw a virtual dinner party with my favorite fictional characters AND party games?!

My favorite guest post ever, that's what.

Check out my post on Stacked where you can find out what happens when I gather Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Ron Weasley, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Dolores Umbridge, Turtle Wexler, Harriet M. Welsch, Jamie Fraser and Willy Wonka for an unforgettable evening.

You can also read my twitterview to get my no holds barred view on the absolute horror of first drafts.

I am now off to figure out how I can take this party idea off the page and MAKE IT HAPPEN. Luckily, I have about 10 months until my next birthday.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Otherwise Engaged

Dear Blog,

You'll never guess what happened. Last week...I got engaged!

There was, like, a ring and--even--a golden snitch involved!

I think this might mean he like me likes me.

As you may know, Blog, Graig and I do things like:

Dress up as Cinema's Greatest Bromance.

Strike poses that belong in [what we for some reason think] Vanity Fair [publishes].

And generally act like complete idiots. 


I don't think I can recommend acting like a complete idiot with your future spouse enough.

Also, I realize this means I get to plan my greatest theme party of all: a wedding.

I have a vision. It involves a musical number.

And Muppets.

The bridal party will LOVE. THIS. Especially since you can totally shorten that Fozzie outfit and wear it again.

In short, Blog, I'm very happy, very lucky and very excited.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Birthday Bash #30: The Tridecade Tournament

I turned the big 3-0 this year, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to throw my biggest (and, by far, most complicated) theme party yet.

I thought long and hard about this year's theme but, ultimately, decided that there would be nothing so appropriate as one of the great obsessions that defined my 20s: I'm talking, of course, about Harry Potter.

But this wouldn't just be a Harry Potter party, oh no. This would be the Tridecade Tournament, featuring an elaborate game with rules of my own making (I told you it was complicated).

Now, the thing is, about half of my friends are really into Harry Potter and the other half (pour souls) have never read the books. My goal was to ensure that everyone had a magical time, whether wizard, squib or muggle.

So...first there was:

The Decor

Floating Candles

Appropriate Literary Imbibements
House Banners

Which, of course, gets us to the Sorting:

This is what it looks like when a Dementor gets sorted.

Everyone was sorted into one of the four houses, naturally. I, as the host, remained unsorted and therefore impartial.

You try brewing Polyjuice Potion in your second year and then you talk to me!

And then the games began!

Task One: Physical Challenge

I readily admit that I stole all of the ideas for these games from Minute to Win It.

Here they are attempting to stack 6 dice onto a popsicle stick.
There was also a whole box of Oreos that succumbed to a cookie-stacking-on-the-forehead challenge, and other tasks that involved a variety of items ranging from pantyhose to cereal boxes.

Task Two: Trivia

With categories like Name that Ging and Vocabulary Transfiguration everyone could put their noggin to the test! It should come as no surprise that Ravenclaw did pretty well on this round.

Name that Ging. And, no, I have no idea what face that is I am making. It might be after-effects of the Polyjuice.

Task Three: The Biggest Ham Round

We started off with a British accent challenge which I realized halfway through I could not actually judge because everyone was so good and/or hilarious.

And, finally, the costume contest which was voted on by all party attendants. The winners were:

Luna Lovegood
Wizard Chess Piece
And, for your viewing pleasure, here are some other fantastic costumes:


A witch trying to pass for a Muggle
Professor McGonagall's Patronus
And the ultimate Tridecade Tournament winner was...'re not going to believe this but it was Hufflepuff!!

That's right. The underdogs swept in there at the end by nabbing spots 1 and 2 of the costume contest. (Ravenclaw was leading for most of the game. Slytherin came in last because, as we all know, evil never prospers.)

I think, of all my theme parties, this ended up being my favorite. I really have my friends to thank for being awesomely good sports about all of my mad ideas. It made turning 30 a whole lot easier.

Now...on to figure out what crazy shenanigans I'll have going on next year. I sincerely hope no one thought turning 30 would stop me!

*Special thanks to my friend Julie who pulled a Colin Creevey and took most of the photos you see here (all the good ones are hers!)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Love New York: Sleep No More

I moved to New York City when I was just shy of 18 to go to college. When 21-year-old me wrote a letter for 30-year-old me to open, one of the questions I asked myself was whether I still lived in New York. I knew then what I know now: that it's my absolute favorite place in the world and I can't imagine living anywhere else.

How I love New York; let me count the ways. I love that you can be as anonymous or as conspicuous as you want to be; you can even do it depending on your mood. I love that you can wear whatever you want, grubby or outrageous, and barely anyone will give you a second look. I love the history of it, knowing the sheer amount of fascinating people that have walked the streets I'm now walking on. I love its unique beauty, at once grimy and exquisite. All the song lyrics are true, really.

But what I love most is how much unique art and culture is going on around me at every minute of every day. I've sat in the front row as Alan Rickman performed Ibsen in front of me. I've sat in the back row as Daniel Radcliffe sang out to the rafters and I've seen a lot of amazing things in between.

And this is the world's longest intro to talking about one of those amazing things: the theater/dance/interactive art piece Sleep No More, which I recently attended.

The experience takes place at a 5-floor warehouse that has been converted into the fictional McKittrick Hotel. Upon entering, audience members are given a playing card and a mask that looks like this:

For the duration of the 3-hour show, the audience must wear these masks. And then you are set loose upon the five floors, free to roam as you choose, trying to find and follow different actors who are performing various scenes all throughout the space. They are maskless and, mostly, silent (and wearing fabulous vintage garb that spans from the twenties to the forties).

It involves a lot of running around, opening drawers, sometimes being led into private rooms by the actors and more. (I should mention here that it also involves a lot of nudity so it's not meant for children.)

The story is very, very loosely based on Macbeth, which I brushed up on before going to the show. I can tell you that, for the most part, I still had no idea what was going on. But I loved every minute of it. It's such a unique, extraordinary experience...not to mention that my thighs got a great workout running up and down those stairs for three hours.

If you're in the New York area, I highly recommend checking this out. You likely won't see anything like it again!

Monday, December 12, 2011

All I Want for Christmas (Is Not a Macy's Commercial Disguised as a Mariah/Bieber Music Video)

The holiday season is upon us! Do you have a writer in your life that is in desperate need of a present? Here are some ideas for you!

1. This:
It is a well-known fact that writers like Snuggies. How else are we supposed to sit on the couch and type without our arms getting cold?

With this Snuggie, we can not only stay warm but feel like Wonder Woman as we get tortured by our own various neuroses, awkward sentences and characters who refuse to do what we want them to. I am writer, hear me roar. No, seriously, villain, hear me roar and STOP FINDING EXCUSES FOR NOT GETTING IN THE HERO'S WAY.

2. While we're on the subject of bedding:

So, apparently, this is something called the boyfriend pillow. I guess it's supposed to feel like you're cuddling up to your honey?

Romance writers can certainly use it for inspiration. Or mystery/thriller authors can use it for its semblance to a severed body part. I also like the Dexter-esque white gloves. It's a nice touch.

The rest of us can simply use it to sleep. That's that thing where you spend like 6-8 hours of your day not worrying about a deadline or a beta reader or a character arc.

3. This set of three posters:

Always good to remember as a writer  especially when the last chapter you just reread seems to signify the end of your grasp of the English language and plausible plot developments.

For those times when nothing short of magic will help salvage your WIP. Also good for torturing yourself with the realization that the Harry Potter books are so freakin' amazing. And what you just wrote...yeah...

I hate Dawn. That witch.


Obviously perfect for the aforementioned mystery authors but, trust me, any writer has someone they will need to pretend is this therapeutic pen holder that they can use to hold their pen. They can use it to hold their pen over and over again.


Feeling guilty about the whole pen incident? Tell it to Leonard Cohen, Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allan Poe. As crummy or sad as you may be feeling about anything, these three adorable pals can out-morose you anytime. Think of them as your own glum barber-shop quartet! (Morrissey was crying in the bathroom when this photo was taken.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Growing up with a name like Sarvenaz was...interesting. My classmates were baffled, substitute teachers feared me and, mostly, I just wanted to disappear into my chair and change my name to Mary.

I remember complaining to my mom about how hard my name was and asking her if we could change it. She told me no and then said, "Hey, if you ever become famous, you can teach people how to pronounce it. Think about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Do you think his name was easy? But now everyone knows how to say it!"

I'm definitely not famous but I recently did get an opportunity to record the pronunciation of my name for where they have pronunciation guides for all sorts of amazing authors (like Louis Sachar and Libba Bray)!

So, without further ado, if you ever wanted to know how to really say Sarvenaz, here is a very short recording of me pronouncing it:

Oh, and if you were ever curious as to how I got my name, the full story of that is here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

2012 Debut Books I Love: Remarkable, Love & Leftovers, and Under the Never Sky

Since I'm part of the Apocalypsies, I've been lucky enough to get to read ARCs of some of next year's (about to be this year's, oh my!) debut authors.

I really mean it: I've been lucky. Some of these books have completely blown my mind with their awesomeness and I can't wait for them to come out so that the rest of the world can love them too.

Book blogger The Story Siren is running her annual Debut Author Challenge in which she challenges bloggers and readers to read and review 12 YA or MG books that are debuting in 2012. Whether you're participating in the challenge or not, here are just three of my book recommendations.

Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley
1. This is exactly the type of book I would have loved reading as a kid.
2. This is exactly the type of book I love reading as an adult.
Laugh-out-loud funny, oh-so-clever and sneakily filled with so much substance, this story made my heart soar with pure delight.
You'll love this book if you love: Dr. Seuss's sense of the absurd; awesomeness

Love & Leftovers by Sarah Tregay
This was the first novel-in-verse I ever read and, I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about being able to be drawn in by a whole book of poems. There was no need to be skeptical. I devoured this stunningly realistically romance in just a couple of hours. My heart loved, ached, and broke right along with the main character's.
You'll love this book if you love: romance with depth; quick, impactful reads

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
This might just be one of the most beautifully complex examples of worldbuilding I've ever seen that was only matched by the depth of its two main characters. Right from the very beginning, I was hooked on this stunning, page-turning story.
You'll love this book if you love: the action of The Hunger Games and the addictive qualities of Twilight.

And just in case you think I only read three amazing 2012 debuts, think again! I will be featuring more of my favorites on this blog in the coming months.

What do you think? Do any of these titles pique your interest? Or, if you've already read any of amazing were they?!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The End of NaNoRevMo

Holy Christmas lights, Batman.

It's November 30th. Which officially means that today is the end of NaNoWriMo. Anyone write 50,000 words of a novel this month? (If so, I am in serious awe).

For me, it means that it's the end of NaNoRevMo. I'm pretty far along in revising my WIP. Although, I won't be finished by tonight (I wish), I'm pretty sure I will be finished with a complete pass by the end of this upcoming weekend. And I'm pretty happy about that.

I have to admit, this hasn't been the easiest month of writing for me. There have been a couple of snafus along the way, some more major than others. But today, I found this still from a Nintendo commercial and it made me feel better.

The thing is, add a few years to that boy and he could totally be the main character in my WIP. (*mysterious voice* Make of that what you will...) It made me really happy to see him. His name is Dave, by the way. (*mysterious voice again* Make of that what you will too even though it tells you absolutely nothing.) I think I might tape this picture of a younger Dave up above my laptop to get me through the next few days.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

'Tis the Season!

Last year, I had the opportunity to be a mentor for Girls Write Now.

Girls Write Now is a New York City-based organization which pairs a professional female writer with a teen writer from an underserved public school. Each week, mentors and mentees meet up for an hour-long one-on-one session while 6 times throughout the school year, the group gets together for genre workshops ranging in everything from fiction and journalism to memoir and sketch comedy.

It was one of the most amazingly supportive, creatively intense, ideologically pure programs I've ever had the pleasure to be a part of. I got to experience firsthand some of the most exciting and powerful new voices and I know for a fact that my mentee, Sharline, made me a better writer by pushing me with her commitment to excellence (and she really was excellent).

The organization has been going strong for 13 years and has even been recognized by the White House. This year, GWN's holiday drive is trying to raise $80,000 to continue their award-winning program.

Since writing and teens are two subjects near and dear to our hearts, we at the Class of 2K12 have pledged to help! We're trying to raise $300 for GWN through our First Giving page and I'd like to ask you to consider giving $10-$20 to this extremely worthy cause. You can donate securely and easily here.

Thank you!! And even if you aren't able to give, I recommend you check out Girls Write Now's site. It's sure to bring you some inspiration and holiday cheer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Is That Holiday Where Manuscripts Magically Revise Themselves...Right?

Checking in from NaNoRevMo! I finally made it past page 100 yesterday in my revisions. Of course, the second half of the book is the one that needs the most from-scratch work but let's not focus on that at the moment.

It's Thanksgiving week so let's focus on the reasons to celebrate:

- a shortened work week
- a delicious home-cooked meal courtesy of my amazing mother.
- oh and my sister's mashed potatoes! Which are also amazing, especially when she makes them extra lumpy for me.
- the fact that Thanksgiving calories, much like birthday calories, don't count. *
- the fact that I will magically emerge from this 4-day weekend much farther along in my revisions, exactly like the Pilgrims of yore. ** That is what is meant by revisionist history, yes?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Anyone have any exciting plans (writing-related or not) to share?

*This may not be factual.
**This may also not be factual on both counts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

5 Ways Being a Screenwriter Helped Me Write a Novel

The rumors are true...I am an outliner.

The truth is I need to see the plot naked and bare and without all the frills of, you know, good writing. Things like fully-formed sentences or descriptions that make sense...they only drag me down when I'm first embarking on a novel.

And for this, I have to thank my screenwriting background and film school, where I learned all about beats, character sheets, three-act structure and more craft commandments at whose ground I now worship.

Check out my Class of 2K12 blog post all about it here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Birthday Bash #29: 90s Prom

Get ready to have your minds blown...I never went to prom.

I know what you're thinking. You want to give me that speech Annie Potts gives Andie in Pretty in Pink, don't you? At the very least you want to give me a hug. When I was in high school, I had at least one older co-worker tell me that I would regret it forever if I didn't go to prom...

I'm here to tell you that not only did I survive not going to prom, but I never looked back and wistfully wished I had. It just wasn't for me.

BUT...when it came time to throwing my 29th birthday party, I decided it would be great to make it 90s-themed. And then I decided it would be great to have my prom, my way (a la Johnny Castle in the pivotal final scene of Dirty Dancing). my 90s prom:

Everyone got to be prom king and queen.

My friend Jenny dressed like it was the 1890s because, as she rightly pointed out, I did not specify which 90s.

We danced until 4 AM.

Some of us interpreted dancing as "Hammer Time."

Beanie Babies were handed out as party favors.

The decor: Prom posters, obviously. Some very spirited friends came over and helped me make these. (In what was a very "green" move, they were actually zombified, spookified and turned into Halloween posters the following week).

The costumes: We had everything from real prom dresses to 90s goth chic. Crispy bangs to boy bands and--even--a celebrity sighting involving Bodyguard-era Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. It was pretty spectacular.

Naturally with laser backgrounds.
Clearly, the greatest boy band picture of ALL TIME. All they need is some marionette strings.

The music: While making my 11-hour playlist (seriously...and that was whittled down), I began to realize just how schizo the 90s were. You had your very early 90s extension of the 80s music, followed by grunge, followed by bubble gum pop and techno dance club hits. It was mad crazy.

And even though I was following a rule of 1-2 songs per artist, I realized it was impossible for me to cut out a single one of the four totally amazing Gin Blossoms songs that you and I know and love. So they all stayed. That's right, people. Nirvana got two songs but Gin Blossoms...FOUR. Who wins in life now?

Prizes: Superlatives such as "Best Dressed" and "Most School Spirit" were voted on. The prizes were hella cool DVDs such as Clueless and Reality Bites.

In short, I'm pretty sure this was way more fun than my real prom would ever have been. Honestly, did you get genuine Beanie Babies at your prom?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuning Out to Tune In

I love blogging, Twitter and social media in general. I love connecting with people online and this past year of being introduced to a wonderful world of other writers--and actually being considered one of their own--has been filled with wonder and delight.

At the same time, my real writing (the one where I'm trying to tell cohesive long-form stories, not write silly tweets about 90s pop songs that are inexplicably stuck in my head) sometimes needs that encouragement and energy of all these wonderful other writers. And, sometimes, needs to unplug, needs outer silence so that I can tune into what the story alone is telling me.

It's a conundrum I've been struggling with lately. I'm currently revising a new story that I feel very passionate about. But I also know it's not there yet; it's not great...but it could be. And for that to happen, it needs all my focus.

Unplugging is very difficult. There isn't a day that goes by where I'm not online; there hasn't been in over a decade now. Lately, there isn't a day where I'm not on Facebook or Twitter or thinking about blog posts. I want to be involved in this community. I want to hear other people's amazing news and read their stories.

But I think, at least for the next few weeks, I'm going to have to limit my social media usage. I need to cut out some of the noise so that, hopefully, I can hear the (right now too quiet) strains of what this story needs from me and where it wants to go. I sincerely hope I can do it justice. And I sincerely hope I can momentarily disconnect without feeling disconnected.

Monday, November 7, 2011

MG Author Spotlight & Giveaway: Interview with A.J. Hartley

I'm so pleased to have this month's MG author on my blog. A.J. Hartley is a New York Times bestselling author and a Shakespearean professor. His first middle grade novel came out just last month. It's called Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact and it's filled with adventure, fantasy and a great, great friendship at its core. It also has a British protagonist (and, you might know, I'm a bit of an anglophile) and is a novel suitable for boys and girls of all ages.

Read on after the interview to see how you can enter to win a copy of A.J.'s book!

Eleven-year-old Darwen Arkwright has spent his whole life in a tiny town in England. So when he is forced to move to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with his aunt, he knows things will be different - but what he finds there is beyond even his wildest imaginings!

Darwen discovers an enchanting world through the old mirror hanging in his closet - a world that holds as many dangers as it does wonders. Scrobblers on motorbikes with nets big enough to fit a human boy. Gnashers with no eyes, but monstrous mouths full of teeth. Flittercrakes with bat-like bodies and the faces of men. Along with his new friends Rich and Alexandra, Darwen becomes entangled in an adventure and a mystery that involves the safety of his entire school. They soon realize that the creatures are after something in our world - something that only human children possess.

To borrow (and modify) a question from James Lipton, what’s your favorite middle-grade appropriate “curse word” or insult?
A.J. Hartley: As a Brit, all my favorite curse words are a bit obscure. My current favorite is "chuff": a nicely flexible Northen English curse which can mean happy or pleased (as in "I'm right chuffed that Chelsea lost on Saturday") but is also a less specific intensifier: "He's a right chuffin' idiot, he is." Or "What the chuff do you think you're playing at?" "Chuffin' 'eck!" is the exclamation form. It's a chuffin' useful word to have in your arsenal.

If you could step into a magic mirror and go anywhere, where would you go?
AJH: I have favorite places in the world. Delphi, in Greece, for instance. Uxmal, in Mexico. Kenilworth castle or the Castlerigg stone circle in England. But I think if I had a truly magical mirror I'd want to be surprised. Take me somewhere completely unknown. Somewhere impossible.

You're already a bestselling author, but Darwen Arkwright is your first children's book. Were there any challenges you didn't expect in writing for a younger audience? Were there any similarities in your process?
AJH: It really is a completely different process in some ways, and not at all in others. I hope that in the end children's, YA and adult books are all finally about story, character and good prose, but the MG market is entirely new for me and in many respects what I've tried to do with DARWEN feels like an entirely different entity from anything I've written before. At first I worried that I might be pitching the language at too sophisticated a level, but I talked to R.L. Stine about this and he assured me that if I considered "dumbing down" the book, I would be making a huge mistake and that my readers would sniff out that they were being condescended to. In the end, I took the path of a great storyteller like Dickens, who knows how to be absolutely clear and straightforward without simplifying his ideas. Shakespeare too, though his language seems more arcane to us now, is often at his most powerful when he is most simple in his word choice.

One of the things I love about writing middle grade books, though, is that I don't have to worry quite so much about genre, since MG is defined by age group rather than literary categories. When I write adult books I'm accutely conscious that I'm often blurring or straying entirely from the genre I'm supposed to be working in, and that this will irritate my editors and readers. I don't feel that in MG. So long as the story makes sense according to its own internal logic, I don't worry if the tone shifts, or that some scenes are closer to horror than to fantasy, humor to sci-fi etc. I'm also delighted that I don't have to DECIDE not to write literary fiction for younger readers, or that sensational story lines might disqualify me from being a 'serious' writer :)

Like Darwen, you're an Englishman who now lives in the South. Do you remember the first American phrase/idiom that really caught you off-guard?
AJH: Tricky. Like most Brits I've been exposed to American language use through film and television from an early age, and British English continues to morph towards an American standard. No one where I grew up would ever use the word "guys" to describe a group including women, and when I first spent time with Americans I found it bizarre to the point of irritation. I now use it all the time regardless of gender. I still refuse to use "momentarily" to mean "in a moment" rather than "for a moment." I just can't get away from the grammatical logic of the thing no matter how many times I am told someone will be with me momentarily. But then I also wince when people (everyone, now, it seems) use "impact" as a verb... I know, I know. I'm a fuddy duddy. Which is ironic, when you think about it. No one says fuddy duddy anymore except fuddy duddies.

What are two MG books you'd recommend and why?
AJH: John Masefield's The Box of the Delights, because it's old and reminds me of childhood Christmases, and is one of those archetypal Travels to Other Worlds stories (like my own) which I always loved as a kid. The resolution of the story feels a little dated now, but I love the villainous card-sharping curates on the train who, when looked at the right way, look like foxes...

Right now I'm just discovering (somewhat behind the curve) the delights of Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles. Fun stuff. I love the bickering narrators and the sense of ancient magic.

Oh, and can I add Joseph Delaney's Last Apprentice series? Tales of seventeenth century Lancashire witchcraft. I grew up in the bleak hills which are the core of the stories and he manages to master an understated creep factor which really gets under your skin. The first MG books to actually give me nightmares for a very long time!

Thank you A.J. for an awesome interview. My goal for the year is to find a way to use 'chuffed' in daily conversation.

And now, I'm right chuffed to present this giveaway! (Mission...accomplished)

The giveaway is now closed! Congratulation to winner, Aiecha, and thanks to everyone who entered!