Thursday, March 29, 2012

Books I Love: Scarlet

Behold, my favorite book I've read so far this year:

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen presupposes that Will Scarlet (a member of Robin Hood's band of Merry Men) is actually a girl posing as a boy. Scarlet knows her way around a knife. She also has a past full of secrets that she won't share with anyone -- not even the charismatic Rob. Unfortunately, when the cruel thief taker Lord Gisbourne goes bounty hunting for Robin and his men, it seems Scarlet's past is out to find her.

I'll be the first to tell you that the Robin Hood legend never did much for me. However, I kept hearing buzz about how awesome this book was and became compelled to pick it up. I'm so glad I did.

Why? For one, Scarlet herself rules. She is a strong, flawed heroine with an ultra-compelling voice. For another, the action in the book is non-stop and fantastic. And, finally, I was so invested in the romance because Gaughen takes her time in building it up beautifully and realistically.

And underneath all that heart-pounding plot are a lot of deep questions and themes: about religion, gender equality and class systems. It's the kind of book that gives you so many things to work with and think about, all while being as entertaining as they come.

I actually think I'm going to be reading it again before the month is out! Will you be picking Scarlet up? Or, if you've read it already, feel free to wax poetic in the comments!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mapmaker ARC Giveaways x 2 (Plus an Interview)!

Well, folks, as release date draws ever nearer, I think you're going to start seeing my mug/book in more places. Sorry about that.

But, hey, along with a brand new interview, there are now two separate contests where you can win The Mapmaker and the Ghost ARCs and signed swag.

And, guess, what...I myself have one ARC left that I'll be giving away starting on Sunday (to commemorate that we are officially one month out from publication...eek!).

You can check out Word Spelunking's ARC giveaway and interview with me (where I reveal my favorite MG villain) here. And Cari's Book Blog's ARC and swag giveaway here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Persian New Year!

Today is the first day of spring. Which also means it's Persian New Year! *confetti*

Here are some quick, fun facts about Norooz.

1. Norooz literally means new day. It falls on the spring equinox every year which means that its exact date and time changes by a little every year. For example, this year, it was this morning at 1:14 AM EDT.

2. One of the traditional things to do at Norooz is set the table with certain symbolic things. These are known as the "Seven Ss"(Haft-seen). They symbolize things like life, love, patience and good fortune.

3. Norooz lasts 13 days and on the last day, everyone goes on a picnic. In Iran, that is a 13-day holiday...however, it is also the only work holiday throughout the year (and the work week is 6 days long).

4. The last Wednesday before the new year is something called Chaharshanbeh Suri. This involves--not dressing up a celebrity toddler in designer clothes--but leaping over a giant bonfire and is about as scary as it sounds. (For me...most people love it).

5. It is now the year 1391. You can bet I'll be putting on some sweet 90s music on my iPod today. Ace of Base and Collective Soul, here I come.

Eidetan Mobarak! (That means Happy New Year. You can say it to anyone you come across today with dark hair and sculpted eyebrows.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

On the Radio

This weekend I was a guest on my first-ever live radio show...and I had a great time!

Mostly because host Barry Eva has done almost 500 episodes of his A Book and a Chat show. He was such a great interviewer, had obviously done a ton of research and made me feel very much at ease. A big feat considering I was drawing a blank for days before as to how on earth I could fill an hour-long radio show with anything.

So, without further ado, here is the show where you can hear Barry and me chat about writing, the pros and cons of criticism and the piles of my old junk that are laying around my parents' house. And if that isn't enough to entice you, how about the fact that Barry has a wickedly awesome British accent? Yes? Listen below!

Listen to internet radio with A Book and a Chat on Blog Talk Radio

Barry also wrote up a lovely blog post and review of The Mapmaker and the Ghost which you can read here if you're so inclined.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Read the First Three Chapters of MAPMAKER...Right Now!

Why, hello again.

Are you unable to wait until April 24th to find out what this The Mapmaker and the Ghost book I've been endlessly discussing is all about?

Well, you're in luck because Bloomsbury has just put the first three chapters online for free! And you can find them by clicking on the cover image below. If you read it, please do let me know what you think!

In other news, the Bloomsbury Kids Facebook page has a new cover model that you can see here. I assure you Goldenrod is very, very humbled!

And to put it mildly, I'm having a pretty good day. Hope you are too!

My First Print Review!

The first print review of The Mapmaker and the Ghost is appearing in Library Media Connection magazine this month. Not only is this the first print review I've ever had, but it's especially important because LMC is targeted toward school librarians and whether or not books are good fits for their curriculum and collection.

So, without further ado, here is their review of The Mapmaker and the Ghost:

“Because her best friend and partner in exploration left her to survive upcoming middle school alone, Goldenrod sets out to create a map of her town and the forest behind her house in honor of her idols: Lewis & Clark. Several obstacles thwart her efforts, but the ghostly image of Meriwether Lewis encourages Goldenrod to pursue her goal. As she gets closer to finishing her quest and map, events come into play that will change the course of the mission. Full of adventure and mystery, this novel is sure to bring out the explorer in every reader. There are many minor characters that are sometimes difficult to keep track of, but each character’s back story helps. Historical tidbits will give some readers an incentive to learn more about Lewis & Clark, and maybe even mapmaking. RECOMMENDED.” – Lisa Wright, Library Media Specialist, West Yadkin Elementary, Hamptonville, North Carolina

And their key:
Recommended: Consider seriously for inclusion in the collection.

So...I'm thrilled. This line alone makes me extremely happy:  "Full of adventure and mystery, this novel is sure to bring out the explorer in every reader."

Thank you librarian Lisa who wrote the review and my friend, librarian Beth, who told me she ran across it when she was looking to order my book. In fact, thanks to librarians everywhere.

In related news, The Mapmaker and the Ghost will soon have a downloadable teaching guide, so if you do know anyone who might want to incorporate it into a curriculum, stay tuned (or have them email me at sarvenaz at sarvenaztash dot com and I will let them know as soon as it's available).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Confessions of a New Book Mommy

I was working from home yesterday when the mailman came and basically rendered me useless for the rest of the day (luckily, it was in the late afternoon).

Because...he brought with him an actual, genuine, hardcover copy of my final book.

I knocked on it and everything. Yup, it's real.

Immediately, like the overprotective mother I am, I made it make friends.

True that it's cavorting with those above its station, but I figure it could pick up a few pointers.

Then I took some pictures of it naked and posted it on Facebook.

Then I took pictures of it from every other conceivable angle.

Sneak peek at the inside map!

And, finally, I shoved it in other people's faces and asked, "Isn't it pretty?!"

I think I'm going to like this book mommy thing.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Voice Behind the Trailer: Rachel F. Hirsch (Or How I Learned That Being an Actress is Shockingly Similar to Being a Writer)

Today I'm so excited to spotlight the #1 reason I love my trailer: Miss Rachel F. Hirsch, the fantastic voice you hear in it.

Rachel is an actress who grew up in Alabama where she practically spent her whole life on a stage (she even got married on one!) before moving to the home of the Great White Way (that's New York City). Throughout our friendship, we have discovered that, even though Rachel wants to belt out songs on stage and I want to hide under my desk most of the time, being an actress and being a writer are very similar.

How, you might ask? Read on to my interview with her to get that insight along with a lot of fascinating information about how to pick up accents! Which is going to come in very handy for my future spy career. (Where I feel like my talents for hiding under desks might be put to good use).

Can you tell us a bit about your acting background?
Rachel F. Hirsch: My love affair with acting started when I was teeny-tiny. I was lucky to grow up in a town (Birmingham, AL) with an amazing theater scene (I's surprising, right?), so I had a fantastic summer theater workshop available to me every summer and spent childhood to 18 performing in the local professional and community theater shows, and traveling the state and country with a performing group. I continued my training in college at George Washington University, and made the inevitable move that all actors with Broadway on the brain do…to NYC right after college. All this training and traveling has led me to work with companies like the Really Useful Theatre Company with the national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (longest title ever!), National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, Washington National Opera, and Manhattan Repertory Theatre.

And then of course I added voiceover to the mix, but I'm sure we'll get to that in minute…

What made you decide to get into voiceover work?
RFH: Ahhh and there it is! As a kid, when I wasn't performing or taking some sort of theater based class, I was watching Disney movies and The Muppet Show. For me, the most interesting parts about those movies and shows were the people behind the voices. I always loved when I got to see behind-the-scenes footage--when I got to put a faces to voices. I started to listen and try to recognize who was who, sometimes even attempting to mimic their sounds and styles. With someone like Robin Williams for example, I loved when I picked out his voice even if it sounded drastically different each time. The way he could change his sound depending on the role was like magic. I wanted to do that.

When I moved here as an actor, I realized I could finally get started pursuing this crazy dream of mine. As a singer I have a strong ear and good control over my voice. Those skills have definitely made it an easier transition for me.

You did a fantastic British accent for my trailer (you probably couldn’t tell, but Rachel is not really British!) Do you have other accents you can do? What are they?
RFH: Haha thanks! British accents are particularly fun because there are so many different kinds! Actually though, for the trailer I approached it more as an animation project than a narrative in an accent. With character work I usually try to get a visual in my head. For example, for the trailer I imagined an older lady in a rocking chair knitting and telling this story. Somehow, that character seemed to me like she would speak in a slightly British know, like old ladies in rocking chairs tend to.

In my voiceover work I do specialize in accents/dialects and character voices, so when I'm working on projects that require accents, I have quite a few to draw from. My strongest are different variations on British, Russian, Southern, Italian, French, and Eastern European/Yiddish. But if I'm required to do something new, it's just a matter of spending a few hours doing research and I can usually start to get it down.

Do you practice and develop different voices? Tell us a little bit about your process when you get a voiceover project and how it differs from your theater work.
RFH: Wow that's actually three questions at once! I'll start with the first one: Yes! Whenever I watch a movie or TV show and someone has a strong accent I secretly whisper to myself, repeating what they say. I pick up most accents, dialects, and character voices by watching people's mouths. It's something I've done since I was a kid. The way we sound when we speak is mostly based on tongue placement, lip shape for vowel production and cadence. I pay close attention to these three elements any time I encounter or want to learn a new accent. YouTube is a fantastic tool for watching videos of people talking and there is this great site called the International Dialects of English Archive that I often turn to as well to listen to recordings of authentic international accents speaking English.

As far as approaching new projects, my process really depends on the project type. I already walked you through character work a little bit. For commercial projects it's more about who I'm talking to and why. Those generally require my natural voice, but even that needs tweaking depending on the project. Is the speaker supposed to sound sexy, funny, silly, friendly? Once I figure out the tone I start working on the sounds and placement.

The biggest difference between theater work and voiceover is the size. On stage you have to be a big presence. Your acting choices have to read all the way to the last row of the balcony. Voiceover is more like the approach to film acting--it usually needs to be much smaller. If your choices are too big it can come off sounding phony and sometimes even abrasive. (Think local car commercials). The key is to be natural. Whether it's animation, commercial work, narration, it needs to sound natural…like you are sitting with a friend at a table. That has definitely been the hardest transition for me to make since I have spent most of my life and career focused on stage work.

What are some dream voiceover projects you’d like to attempt?
RFH: If they start to regularly bring back Disney Princess movie musicals (as it seems like they might be) that would definitely be my dream role. In the past, they used to use a separate actor for the speaking part and the singing part. My dream was always to do both parts! I would also really love to be the voice of a commercial campaign--like if Flo from those Progressive commercials was a voiceover (although I'd take an onscreen campaign as well!) And I LOVE to cook and am a little obsessed with The Food Network, so it would be pretty awesome to be the voice of that channel as well or something like that.

You’re also responsible for creating Actors’ Embassy, a resource for actors living and working in New York City. Could you tell us a little bit about what led to that? How has creating a community for actors helped you in your career and pursuits?
RFH: Like you do with writing, I write a blog about being an actor called I Hope I Get It--which I've written for about a year and a half. It started out as me addressing all the questions I had when I first started out in the biz but didn't know where to get answers. I started to realize though, that the real issue wasn't just a lack of answers in the acting community…it was the lack of community! So I set about to help facilitate change.

Actors' Embassy is now an extension of the blog in 3 parts. Part 1 is a comprehensive website which serves as a resource for actors. There are also forums on there so we can crowd-source answers to issues and questions that might come up. Part 2 is a monthly free event for actors featuring industry speakers. This gives us a chance to hear about the business in ways we may not have thought of and meet each other to start forming our own sense of community. And part 3, which is a little ways down the road, is a shared workspace for actors. It would be like an office space but specific to actors' needs: internet, printers, showers, lockers. A home base for us really.

I created this out of my own need for a sense of community. The work I've done with it so far has introduced me to some amazing folks. I've started to realize that I'm not alone in thinking this business is pretty…well, lonely. All us actors go through the same struggles and triumphs every day, but we aren't necessarily able to connect with each other to talk about it all. But hopefully, with the introduction of Actors' Embassy, we will be able to.

You and I have discovered that pursuing writing and acting have a lot of similarities (perseverance, dedication, the importance of finding a community). Could you share some of your thoughts on that?
RFH: You and I have so much in common when it comes to figuring out our prospective businesses. We both have had to learn to self-promote.

Neither of us have built-in colleagues. If we want that, we have to look for it. And thankfully, it seems like we have both found ways to create that for ourselves.

We both have had to learn to navigate the world of advocates--agents and managers; for me coaches and directors; for you publishers and editors.

And, of course, both of our businesses require a thick skin and true passion for what we do. Neither is worth pursuing if you don't come equipped with those qualities. The funny thing about passion, though, is that most people are drawn to writing and acting because of it. But those that are successful are the ones that take the time to figure out the business, too. Being an artist is great, but if you don't realize you also run a business you are going to have a much harder time getting anywhere with it.

I absolutely could not say it better. Thank you, Rachel!

I highly recommend you check out Rachel's singing here (it is a very cruel thing to go karaoke with her) and definitely take a look at her amazing actor's resource, Actors' Embassy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Making the Trailer: Trial & Error

I won't lie: there were a lot of ups and downs when it came to making The Mapmaker and the Ghost trailer that debuted last week.

Originally, I thought I wasn't going to make a trailer. I really wanted a high production quality, live-action one and I knew I didn't have the resources for that. But about a month ago, thanks to the random creativity of the Internet, I was struck by an idea to try and do a stop-motion one. Stop-motion is a method wherein inanimate objects appear to move (think claymation) because of thousands of photographs strung together with just a tiny bit of movement in each one.

Like so:

Spike Jonze - Mourir Aupr├Ęs de Toi from Freak! Produtora on Vimeo.

(That one is spectacular by the way -- especially for all book-lovers. I highly recommend it).

So Graig and I set about brainstorming how to do it. I'd made some short films in college before but never a stop-motion.

First, Graig spent a couple of days hand-painting all the elements of my cover.

Then he scanned them in and printed them out and I spent a good portion of time cutting them out with teeny, tiny scissors.

Not what one usually means by "cutting a trailer"

We glued the background together and spent a while figuring out our uber-sophisticated set-up:

By this point, it was 11 PM on a Saturday. Obviously, all natural light was gone. I spent a large chunk of time trying to remember what on earth I had learned about three-point lighting in film school (fact: lighting was my worst subject there). I attempted to recreate said lessons with three lamps.

We spent a couple of hours shooting, with Graig moving the pieces just a little bit for every shot and me snapping a photo with the iPhone remote (so that the camera wouldn't move by me touching the screen).

And then we watched the results.

Here is a still:

They were...not good.

I wondered if it was cute and kitschy homemade-looking, or just I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing/awful homemade-looking. When I woke up the next morning, I knew it was the latter.

I was pretty bummed and spent about half an hour sure I had to scrap the whole thing.

But then I listed to the amazing voiceover that my friend Rachel F. Hirsch had done for me, and I knew I just had to try to get that out into the world somehow. If only I could get the images to match the quality of her work. I stared at my screen. I stared at my cover. I stared at the credits I had made for the trailer.

And ever so slowly it dawned on me. Since, unlike claymation, the elements of my stop-motion were originally 2D art anyway, I could simulate stop-motion via basic computer software.

So I did. And about two straight days of work later. Voila!

I actually had a lot of fun going back to my film school roots, both with the actual editing work and with the problem-solving. And, ultimately, my failed 'trial'er ended up being a good storyboard for the finished product.

And a little lesson in perseverance never hurt anybody, especially not me!

Friday, March 2, 2012

'The Mapmaker and the Ghost' Trailer!

It is here...I can finally share it!

So, without further ado...

I had a lot of fun making it and I'll do a series of posts next week on some of the trials and tribulations of that process!

In the meantime, you can read an exclusive interview with me over at Jen Bigheart's blog where I also reveal the voice behind the trailer.

Let me know what you think!