Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Birthday Bash #27: 1920s Murder Mystery Party

I like to throw theme birthday parties. Case in point: this.

For my 27th birthday, I decided to do something I've always wanted to do. A murder mystery party.

Granted, my idea of a real murder mystery party involves a weekend at a rambling house a la that episode of Saved By the Bell (and you know the exact one I'm talking about). In my head, said house is either in Vermont (a state I've never actually visited but somehow equate with this) or the British countryside.

But since I didn't think I could convince 30 of my friends to travel for a weekend just so I could turn 27 in style, I opted for having it at a friend's apartment in Brooklyn instead.

Here are the key ingredients for a successful murder mystery:
1. Friends who are creative, adventurous and big hams.
2. See above.

Everyone dressed up.

Nobody broke character all night.

We had a fog machine.
Hence why all the pictures are a bit hazy...that's me, giving instructions for the mystery by the way. Instructions: exactly how all mysteries should start. Right?
And I ended up with a tiara inherited from my "grandmother."

...who unfortunately became deceased shortly after this was taken.

Which was sad. But, still...I had a tiara, people. A tiara.
Also a murderous gleam in my eye.

Literally. Because, and this, my friend, is where the plot twists and turns like you never expected: I was the murderer. That's right: sweet lil ol' birthday girl/party hostess me.

It's always the ones you least suspect.

Funnily enough, I had picked my character out at random, not knowing the real deal until I'd opened up her packet. It ended up working out that I was the culprit though. I wouldn't have had much of a chance to solve the crime since I had to perform various hostess duties and this way, I knew whodunit from the start!

If you're at all interested in throwing your own murder mystery party, here's the site I bought the kit from. It was a lot of fun!

Later, I found out our murder mystery kit has a sequel...which may be coming to a birthday party near me (and my friends) very soon. (Because, like a true 20s jailbird, my character gets sprung, naturally.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Books I Love: Kat, Incorrigible

This weekend, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene (by which I mean the inordinate amount of cans of tuna I now have in my cupboards), I fell in love.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Kat, Incorrigible.

Yes, it's a book. Don't tell me you're surprised.

Here's another non-surprising factoid: two of my favorite things in the world are Jane Austen and Harry Potter. So when I first heard about this Middle Grade book a few months ago--a story that was inspired by Jane Austen, took place in Regency England and involved magic--I was absolutely intrigued. I knew I had to read it. I hoped very much that I would love it but I also knew that, with my high expectations, there was a good chance it could disappoint me.

It. didn't. In the least. I spent my Sunday afternoon reading the book and--when I wasn't laughing out loud--batting my eyelashes at it moonily.

As just an example, here are the first two lines:

I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin.

I made it almost to the end of my front garden.

It only gets better from there. This book is hilarious, charming and gorgeously, effortlessly plotted. I'm in awe of how author Stephanie Burgis brought the period of Regency England to life while still making the relationship between her three main characters (three sisters) feel absolutely timeless. With the exception of certain vocabulary, they could be having those conversations in 2011, practically anywhere in the world. It's marvelous really is.

And speaking of those characters: I can't begin to describe how much I adore them. The heroines! The villains! The would-be villains! The tragic, romantic guy! (Seriously...they're all in there). And then, wonderful, glorious Kat. Our plucky, twelve-year-old heroine who can get herself out of any jam.

No doubt, kids will love this book. But I really think adults will love this book, too. Especially anyone looking for a massively fun page-turner and an exceedingly pleasant afternoon of reading. In my opinion, Jane Austen would most definitely approve.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

TV I Love: 90s Nick Edition

Before I begin, I just want to say...this is my 100th blog post!

|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*SELF-THROWN CONFETTI!|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*

Which begs the question...what on earth have I been blathering about for 100 posts?! Oh...I know. Stuff like this:

How ill was 90s Nickelodeon, y'all? It was da bomb diggity. Hopefully, with the success of its "The 90s Are All That" block, Nick realizes this.

I watched a lot of Nickelodeon growing up. Doug, Rugrats, Wild & Crazy Kids, Double Dare, Legends of the Hidden Temple...I could go on and on. But I won't. Instead, allow me to wax poetic about two of my favorite all-time shows.

Clarissa Explains It All
 Clarissa was, without a doubt, the coolest. Yes, she was blond and pretty but the show didn't dwell on that at all. Instead it focused on how she was an oddball, an individualist, and the owner of a crocodile named Elvis. Her relationship with her little brother Ferguson was hilarious. Her relationship with best friend Sam was beyond sweet.

One of my favorite episodes was about how Clarissa was totally annoyed with a poetry assignment courtesy of her English teacher, who seemed to like only poems about rainbows and daffodils. Instead of doing it, she came up with a computer program that created random "poems" based on keywords (you can guess what she put in: yup, rainbows and daffodils). Of course, her teacher ended up loving the ensuing poem, leading Clarissa to feelings of guilt...

Sophomore year of film school, I took a Comedy Writing class. My teacher's name was Mollie Fermaglich and we hit it off right from the start. It was at some point in the middle of the semester that I found out: Mollie was on the writing staff of Clarissa!! To say I was starstruck is a bit of an understatement. But I never forgot that feeling, meeting someone who was creatively responsible for one of my favorite childhood pastimes. It would be amazing if I ever found myself on the flip side of that a few years from now.

Salute Your Shorts

I never went to summer camp (and I always wish I had)...but this show was the next best thing. I loved the theme song, the fact that they called their counselor Ug (short for "Ug" Lee, his last name), and I had a major crush on Michael, the blond kid who was only around for the first season. You know who else was awesome? Danny Cooksey, the fabulous actor who played Budnick.

My favorite episode was about how Budnick and Michael--sworn enemies--ended up being stuck  together in the sick ward, thinking they could get into the tonsillitis stash of ice cream. Meanwhile, the stash ends up being locked up and the rest of the kids end up going off on some desirable escapade. By necessity, Danny and Michael bond (excellent character backstory work here). And even put a puzzle together...BACKSIDE UP. (I can't tell you how badly I've always wanted to do this, but the sheer magnitude of the undertaking scares me).

I remember reaching a point where I knew I had seen every single episode of Salute Your Shorts (multiple times) and that there wouldn't be any new ones for me to watch. That was a sad day. In other news, doing research for this blog post has lead me to find out that the actor who played Pinsky (Michael's Season 2 replacement) ended up forming the band Rilo Kiley. Crazy!

Holla at me. Weren't the 90s Nick shows hella cool?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Ones That Got Away

Sometimes, writing is like dating.

An idea hits you. You find it interesting, intriguing maybe. You sit down and you explore it a little. You're liking it more and more. You spend more and more time with it. At moments you feel infatuated, obsessed. At moments you even feel...dare I say love.

In the middle of all these feelings of euphoria, you have some moments of doubt. Sometimes, you examine things closer and question bits and pieces of your newfound love. Sometimes, you even question your entire relationship. What were you thinking? And where your friends throughout all this to talk you out of such a bad idea?

Sometimes, you have to leave for a little while, let something go, only to find that you'll come back to it with a fresh perspective. You'll find a way to make it work. You'll complete it and, in the end, you'll end up with something that will be a part of you forever.

And, sometimes, you realize you have to let things go entirely. No matter what your initial interest, or your little moments of excitement, it's just never going to work out. This was not a story you were ever meant to write. It hurts, letting go of something that consumed your time and energy for so long. But, often, it's for the best.

I have a graveyard of writing projects on my hard drive. Some are completed works, destined to never see the light of day. Others are fragments, pages of a characters' thoughts, a dozen chapters of a story that never really took off. Whenever I happen across them, it tends to bring a wistful smile to my face. It turns out even the broken ones, the irreparable ones, they're all a little part of me, too. They may not be as important or as life-changing as the few that have emerged on the other side, but still. I've learned a little something from each and every one.

Of course, whenever I start a new project, I can't help but wonder: which side of the divide will this fall on? A soulmate or a never-meant-to-be?

Do you have a project graveyard? Are there any that really broke your heart because they didn't work out?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Vlog, Swag and Other Four Letter Words

Yesterday, as a part of WriteOnCon (an annual online children's writing conference), I was in a group vlog with the Class of 2K12, a group of 21 authors with debut YA and MG books coming out in 2012. I have to admit I look pretty stiff and awkward in this vlog BUT, if you're a writer--especially one looking to get published--I think you should check it out for the wise/inspiring words of my classmates. And try to take my word for it that I'm less awkward in real life (maybe by a smidgen, but still. Less awkward).

You can watch the vlog here. Plus, if you leave a comment, you can win a tote bag of some 2K12 swag Which...

...segues nicely to my next four letter word. Swag! I have the final version of my stickers to share with you.


Now, I'm guessing this doesn't entirely make sense without having read the book. Hope you think they're cute anyway. I really love them.

And according to this blog post title, I promised you other four letter words. So hear they are: goop! ears! whoa!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movies for Writers: Midnight in Paris

Last week, I went on vacation with four of my favorite people. We went to Bar Harbor, Maine. I'd actually never been to Maine before but two of my friends on the trip go every year. I can see why: it is GORGEOUS.

And there are wild goldenrod everywhere:

(Goldenrod happens to also be the name of the mapmaker in The Mapkmaker and the Ghost.)

We did a lot of hiking, eating, swimming in the lake, eating, kayaking and eating. Our Maine experts Billy and Julie also took us to one of their favorite Bar Harbor locations: a movie theater called Reel Pizza.

Why the pun, you might ask? Why because Reel Pizza serves you pizza in the middle of your movie. That's right. You order it right before the movie starts and then you sit down at a seat that has a table in front of it (the front two rows are couches and Barcaloungers). At some point in the middle of your movie, a giant bingo board lights up with your number, and you go and grab your pizza. There's even an intermission in the middle of every movie in case you need more.

The pizza itself wasn't bad (sorry, I'm a New Yorker! We're very picky about/proud of our own pizza), but the novelty was awesome. And the most awesome thing was that we happened to catch two great movies there.

One of which was Woody Allen's latest, Midnight in Paris. (Trailer can be found below.)

Because, unlike a lot of Hollywood fare, this trailer actually does a great job of not spoiling the movie, I won't either. But what I will say is that I think writers in particular will get a huge kick out of it.

For one thing. Woody Allen is definitely a writer's filmmaker and he always has been. The dialogue is as witty as expected. But there are also a lot of writerly jokes and characters that I think will resonate (especially for this screenwriter turned novelist, just like the movie's protagonist).

Check it out if you get a chance: I think you'll enjoy it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Doctor Is In!

My friend Jenny has been telling me for years to start watching Dr. Who. I'd been shying away only because there were over 70 episodes to get through and I usually don't have much time to spare for TV.

However, I was taking a little writing break over the past couple of months and decided to give it a try. I liked the first few episodes, but somewhere around episode 8 of Series 1, I got hooked.

Yup, Dr. Who. I love it now. And 70 episodes? Pshaaaw! That's nothing! (In other words, I probably needed to get off my break and back to writing much sooner than it actually happened. Yeaaah.)

Wanna know my three favorite doctors, companions, and episodes?*

Okay! Here they are in order (with my absolute favorites on top).

*These lists are only about the new series which started in 2005; I haven't yet watched the older episodes which started in the 60s.

1. The Tenth Doctor: the perfect mix of goofy and heart-wrenchingly serious when it mattered. It also doesn't hurt that David Tennant is totally dreamy in a wonderfully nerdy way.

2. The Ninth Doctor: I really got to love this much darker, brooding version of the Doctor and wish Christopher Eccleston had stuck around for at least one more season. (It's also a shame that there seems to be some bad blood between him and the series' execs.)

3. The Eleventh Doctor: It took me the longest to warm up to him, but I finally did during the 11th episode ("The Lodger") of Series 5. I think this has less to do with Matt Smith and more to do with how much I miss David Tennant. But I do like him now, too (and maybe have finally accepted that he's the new doctor and I just have to deal with it!)

1. Rose: this sweet, quirky friendship that turned into a love story is my absolute favorite. I love the chemistry between Billie Piper and both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. And I also love the surrounding characters (Jackie and Mickey) of her story.

2. Donna: is hilarious. After a few seasons of companions crushing on the doctor, it was really refreshing to have one who most definitely did not feel that way about him ("too skinny!"). I think some of her episodes made me laugh the hardest.

3. Rory: I think I can count him as a companion at this point, right? Rory is the sweetest and his devotion to Amy makes me like her more, too.

4. Special Bonus Companion: Captain Jack Harkness. I don't know if he ever technically counted as a companion, but his suave, chiseled character (especially against the 9th Doctor who found him totally cheesy) was awesome fun.

Episodes (for the purposes of this list, I chose one favorite from each Doctor):
1. "The Doctor's Wife" (the 11th Doctor): Neil Gaiman writing a Dr. Who episode? Yes, please! Quirky plot, razor sharp dialogue and peppered with poignant moments. What more could you ask for?

2. "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End" (the 10th Doctor): My favorite season finale so far. I loved the return of all of the Doctor's companions to help him save the world (natch)...especially the return of one very important, seemingly lost forever blond (see above).

3. "Father's Day" (the 9th Doctor): I think this was the episode that made me really love the show wholeheartedly. It was filled with a ton of human emotion (alongside the bad guy aliens) and it made me care deeply about both Rose and the Doctor.

So there you are! Who fans, who are your favorite Doctors, companions and episodes?

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Writer, the Editor and the Art of Collaboration

When I was 17, I was very shy and had lots of writing I had hardly shown anyone. I applied to six colleges with an undeclared major and then NYU film school. My decision was that if I got into NYU's film program, that it was "meant to be." And, if not, I'd go elsewhere and pursue another major (English, most likely).

I got into NYU and I loved the 4 years I spent there. But there were three lessons I learned almost right away at film school:

1) I wanted to be a writer, not a director.
2) I needed to get a thick skin...and fast. Not only was I showing my work to people, I was showing my work to some of the most talented and creative kids and professors in the country. Taking constructive criticism well was a must for survival.
3) Filmmaking is an extremely collaborative art. All you have to do is to sit through the credits of a major motion picture to see that for yourself.

Like I said, I loved film school and I loved screenwriting. When I decided to branch out and try my hand at novels, one of the thoughts I had was that prose writing was much less collaborative and required many less personalities to contend with.

In some ways, that's true. But in other ways that I did not expect, it's actually not.

Although my name will be on the cover of The Mapmaker and the Ghost, there is still a team of people that have made those pages happen. The most important of which is my editor.

The editor is not just the person who corrects your grammar and helps you weed out your awkward phrasing. The most important job of the editor is to help shape the story with an objective eye into the best that it can be.

And a really great editor (and I truly believe mine is top-notch) does that in an extraordinary way. When I received my editorial letters from Stacy, I was surprised with how broad the suggestions were. Of course there were line edits, too, but with the actual story, her notes never said, this is what should happen: a, b, and then c. Her notes said things like, the ending isn't as satisfying as it could be. Can the book be leading to something bigger?

At first, notes like that can be incredibly daunting. But, slowly, as I let them sink in, I found my mind opening up to new story possibilities I hadn't thought of before. It was like she removed some boulders which then rerouted the stream and made the book that much more flowing and dynamic.

For me, it's a wonderful feeling. The book is still my story, but it is also SO much better because of the collaboration.

In fact, I think Stacy deserves her own "title card."

So, thank you:

Stacy Cantor Abrams

If you have an editor, what has the process been like for you? And, if not, do you have any questions about the process?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Opening Lines

If you've ever taken a writing class, you probably have had it drilled into your head how important your opening pages are: you're supposed to grab the reader, set up your story in the most brilliant way possible and give the audience an honest sense of your voice.

Yeah, that's hard. It's not entirely surprising to me that most authors (this one included) spend the most time working on their beginnings.

I've started writing six different novel-length manuscripts so far in my writing career and have completed drafts of four of them. I thought it might be fun to go and look at the first lines of all of them.

Here are the opening lines as they now stand--in the order they were written in.

If ignoring unpleasant situations could be defined as an art form, then Sara Taober was an artist and had been one ever since she first recognized somebody as beautiful and realized that she never could be.

My father died today.

Goldenrod Moram had a first name that sounded like it belonged in the middle of a fairy tale, where she would be the dazzling princess in need of rescuing.

Rox Whitby sat on the catwalk above the school auditorium.

The class president is balding. 

The idea came to Davood the djinn on a perfectly ordinary day as he was sitting on a windowsill high above the bazaar, bored out of his mind.

Whoa, that first one is wonky! The manuscript it comes from was really just an experiment, though, to see if I could actually finish writing a novel. The novel itself wasn't good...but I finished it. And I definitely learned from it. In fact, I think I could say I learned something from every first line, last line, and all the lines in between I've ever written. Getting those lines as good as I can make them, and hopefully getting even better each time, is what keeps me going.

Any first lines from your work that you care to share? Or is there a published first line that you just love? Hit me up in the comments section!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Top 5 Disney Heroines

I grew up watching a lot of Disney movies. Even though I very rarely played with Barbie dolls and didn't really consider myself a girly girl, there was something about Disney heroines that captured my imagination.

And, yes, I realize that most of them are princesses. Blame the Mouse House for that one!

Here are my top 5 favorite Disney heroines of all time.

1. Belle, Beauty and the Beast
A princess who was brunette (huzzah), able to see inner beauty (double huzzah) and--wait for it--LOVED TO READ! So the fact that Belle spent most of her time ignoring those around her in favor of having her nose in a could say I related to that. Also, I think this is one of the most beautiful movies Disney ever made, both story-wise and visually.

2. Ariel, The Little Mermaid
Two words: headstrong teenager. Ariel wasn't going to let anyone or anything keep her down: not her strict merking father, a terrifying sea witch, or the fact that the love of her life happened to live on land while she was supposed to be under the sea. It doesn't hurt that this film has my favorite all-time Disney soundtrack. Every song is a winner. And who hasn't picked up a brush from their vanity table and thought..."Look at this stuff. Isn't it neat?"

3. Dory, Finding Nemo
I thought long and hard about whether to include Pixar on this list and then, finally, decided I couldn't not have Dory on here. Besides being hilarious, Dory is also extremely loyal and the fish you'd want by your side in the most dire of circumstances. Her advice to "just keep swimming" has popped up in my head on many occasion. Besides, she can speak whale!

3. Duchess, The Aristocats
Admittedly, I'm not much of a cat person and Duchess is a cat. But she's also beautiful, sweet and a fierce protector of her brood. I also loved the romance between her and "wrong side of the tracks" alley cat, Thomas O'Malley. In fact, I think I loved her so much because he did. I Can Haz Kitty Romance?

5. Jasmine, Aladdin
Okay, I admit. This one is here by default only because she's the first mainstream character I ever saw who shared my Middle Eastern heritage. As a character in her own right, I don't think she was particularly special. But it was really great as a kid to see my culture depicted in such a positive light (and I really do love this movie).

What about you? Who's your favorite Disney or Pixar heroine?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Catalogue Copy

Last week when I received my ARCs, I noticed there was a little something extra in the box:
It's the Winter 2012 Bloomsbury/Walker catalogue!

Incidentally, that cover art belongs to my fellow Apocalypsie Megan Miranda's Fracture. I've been lucky enough to read an ARC of this book and it's absolutely stunning. I can totally see why Bloomsbury chose to make Delaney (Megan's main character) their cover girl!

And look what's on page 33.

It's so pretty and colorful and full page-like!

My favorite part is that Bloomsbury does these Debut Discovery "From the Editor's Desk" notes for all their debut authors. Here's a close-up of mine.

 Oh, I love it. Thanks, Stacy!

Now, is it considered bad form to ask your editor to blurb your book?

By the way, Firefox's spell check keeps wanting me to spell catalogue without a 'ue' at the end. But I refuse, Firefox. I have looked it up and both are technically correct so you can just continue to chase your own tail, my friend.