My Thalia Book Club Camp Visit

Cropped Thalia Group Photo 2016There’s something really magical happening at Symphony Space in Manhattan. It’s called the Thalia Book Club Camp, where young reading and writing enthusiasts sign up for a week-long summer camp of visiting authors, creative writing activities, and exciting field trips within NYC.

I was lucky enough to be invited to talk about my middle-grade novel Madhattan Mystery on Wednesday to this group of eager, mega-talented kids. And smart? Holy guacamole. When I asked if anyone knew what onomatopoeia was, (when your last name is Bonk! you have to ask) every single hand went up. Same deal with “red herrings”. Very impressive!

After a little Q&A session, I conducted an experiment on how incorporating the five senses into writing can really make it come alive. So I brought out the blindfold and asked for a few brave souls to come up with some juicy adjectives for the mystery objects they would be touching…smelling…and tasting. A tad messy–but SO MUCH FUN!

Armed with some really great descriptors, the group wrote a few New York City-themed paragraphs in which they including some of the five senses we’d just explored. When they shared their writing with the group, MAN, was I impressed. Jaw-droppingly good!

Book signing was next…then lunch…and then a field trip to Grand Central Terminal to relive some of the fictional moments from Madhattan Mystery. WHAT?! Yep. For real. These kids LOVE to read out loud, and so several got to read sections from the book in the actual spots where they occurred. Spots like…

…the train platform…then over to the information kiosk adorned with the gilded, opal-faced clock…then downstairs to the Lost & Found…and then everyone’s favorite… (wait for it…wait for it…) THE WHISPERING GALLERY! Oooh. Aaah. The very thing that inspired the whole book!

A farewell scene came much too soon and played out in front of the restrooms–gritty reality–and then I was homeward bound in the 95-degree heat with a happy heart and a bagful of whispers and memories.

Thalia 2016 Grand Central Goodbye

A great big THANK YOU to Madeline Cohen, Katie Barasch, Matt Cody, and all the happy campers! I had a blast!  Be sure to check out the Symphony Space/Thalia Book Club Blog.

Thalia 2016 Grand Central4       Cropped Thalia Artwork

 

MADHATTAN MYSTERY MAKES BOOKLIST’S TOP 100 LIST

mystery monthMay is Mystery Month at Booklist, the review journal for the American Library Association. How thrilled was I to discover MADHATTAN MYSTERY on their list of the “100 Best Children’s and YA Mysteries of the Past Ten Years”? Plenty thrilled! And the company I’m with isn’t too shabby either–New York Times Best-Sellers…Newbery winners…literary superstars. THANKS AGAIN, Booklist. Mwah! I must be doing something right. I guess. Sorta. Maybe.

http://www.booklistreader.com/2015/05/20/mystery-fiction/the-100-best-childrens-and-ya-mysteries-of-the-past-10-years/

WRITER’S BLOCK (But not the kind you think.)

Every December, the block where I live, West 43rd Street in Manhattan, explodes into a holiday wonderland… (Er, maybe “explodes” isn’t the best word to use these days, considering the craziness going on in the world) –TRANSFORMS into a holiday wonderland! 43rd Street 1

Taking center stage–which is tough to do since the twin high-rises that flank the block are packed with actors–are the glorious Christmas trees for sale, filling the air with their intoxicating scent. The smell of doggy urine is a faint memory as I skip down the block (well, in my mind I’m skipping anyway) breathing in all that piney goodness. That is, of course, until you pass the Little Pie Company. Have mercy! Pies Baking. Mouth watering. Their sour cream apple walnut pie is unquestionably the best pie on earth. On Thanksgiving they have to set up barriers because the lines to pick up preordered pies are around the block. No kidding. And they always have the best windows. Simple. Artful. See what I mean?   Little Pie Company

Keep walking and you might pass a guy selling expensive olives in barrels. Yeah, you heard me right. On weekends in non-winter months, our block turns into a mini-farmers market with vendors from Upstate NY and New Jersey selling their fresh produce. This olive guy just won’t take “snow” for an answer. Olive Vendor         43rd Street

A few more steps down the block and I run into Chris (in the black coat), my neighbor from across the hall. “Hi, Chris!” She sells her homemade jewelry on the weekends. She’s also starring in the latest Marie Callendar’s commercial–the one with the fruit pies. (That might be a running theme here, huh?)

Chris

A grand jete away from Chris is Patricia, another neighbor who lives on my floor selling Christmas cards that feature her original artwork. She’s an incredibly talented artist and I think she may have been Marc Chagall in a former life. (And apparently brainy, too. She wants to read the German version of my novel, Madhattan Mystery called Gefahr im Central Park to test her language skills.)

  Patricia

So, if this writer ever suffers a bout of writer’s block, a stroll along West 43rd Street in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, can clear my head and stir up those creative juices. And if by the time I pass the Starbucks, two restaurants,  newsstand, our package pickup depot, florist, Food Emporium, vitamin store, diving equipment shop, and health club I’m still not inspired, well, there’s always PIE. Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie(See how I tied that together? Actually the mother in the novel I’m working on now is baking a slew of pies for the county fair so that may be why I have pie on the brain. Hmmm.) Okay, stick a fork in it. Glance up at impressive lobby tree on way to elevator… Time for a long winter’s nap?Lobby Tree

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. God bless us, everyone.

Tiny Spaces, Big Ideas: My New York Walk-in Closet Turned Office

Manhattan dwellers who live in small spaces, like me, can do the craziest things–like turning perfectly fine, albeit dreary, closets into charming, cheery, fully-functioning offices. Or as I like to call them, “cloffices.”  I’m lucky enough to have two other closets for my clothes, shoes, hula-hoops, Christmas ornaments, etc. (a rarity for New York City apartments) and so, as a writer, turning my walk-in into an office was a no brainer. And an absolute must. It wasn’t very expensive either, other than my all-in-one computer and the fancy-shmancy teal file cabinet posing as a chest of drawers. This piece is a real space-saver, though,not to mention one of my favorite colors, so I had to splurge.

                        Office1 2014

The hanging cabinets were around $80 a piece unfinished from Home Depot; the banker’s chair around $100. The white desk top and black file cabinet supports were free from a former employer; the shelf I happened to find on the street. (You can find great stuff on the streets of New York!) So, other than the aforementioned purchases, plus paint, a few new accessories, and the Martha Stewart storage cubbies that I got online for a steal on Black Friday (I think it was around $50 for the set), I simply utilized what I’d already owned. Then it was just a matter of arranging things just right–to avoid clutter and elbow-banging. I did have to enlist the help of my building’s Maintenance Department to install the cabinets, an electrical wall outlet, and a new ceiling light ($130 for a schoolhouse-style lighting fixture plus $200 for labor) and voila, my new cloffice was born! Office2 2014

A window would be nice but who am I kidding? So, a faux topiary and an Eliot Porter print of autumn trees help bring the idea of nature into the space. Gotta have nature!

Apartment 31G 007
BEFORE (Bleah.)
AFTER (Aaah!)

AFTER (Aaah!)

The Inside Story on the “Inside Story” at Bank Street Books

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators sponsored a nationwide event called “The Inside Story” and I was lucky enough to be part of it at the Bank Street Bookstore on the Upper Westside of Manhattan on Saturday…

Inside Story Event at Bank Street Bookstore - Nov. 2013

The middle initial “J” is VERY popular amongst writers.

Inside Story - waiting in the wings

Here I am “waiting in the wings” next to Paula J. Freedman, author of My Basmati Bat Mitzvah (note her middle initial). She’s a fun lady who used to work with my friend Linda at Scholastic, who was in the audience beaming and snapping these pix with her phone. The lovely redheaded woman (Mackenzie) was timing our presentations on her tablet. It was kinda like the Quick-Fire Challenge on “Top Chef”–only with words instead of prawns.

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Now Paula is doing her thing while I munch away on popcorn. Not really. I was sucking on a Ricola cough drop. Just getting over a cold. (sniff-sniff) Hey, how’d I end up going last anyway?

INSIDE STORY at Bank Street Bookstore - Nov. 2013

My turn! (My backup dancers didn’t show.) I blabbed on and on about how it was a mystery that I wound up writing a mystery. (I still think it’s weird to be able to see faces in the audience. When I used to perform in musicals, the audience was always just a giant dark blob.) Suddenly I realized I was finished because I heard cheers and WILD applause. Well–polite clapping. Hands up, utensils down!

Inside Story Pro Shot 1

One of my official photographs taken by the ever-patient Primwatee Groover. We had the hardest time getting a squintless shot. Every time I smiled, my eyeballs disappeared! She’d say, “Okay, I think we finally got a good one this time…eh, nope.” I couldn’t help laughing my shiny round head off.

Bank Street Bookstore (2)

Then there was mingling, and book signing, and chocolate chip cookie eating, and since it’s nearly impossible to walk out of a bookstore empty-handed, I wound up buying a copy of Maryann MacDonald’s Odette’s Secrets (we share the same agent!) and Chris Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. (He’s a hoot and a really nice guy.) So, THANKS AGAIN, Bank Street Bookstore and SCBWI! Until next time…

Get the “Inside Story” at Bank Street Bookstore

Wanna get the juicy story behind MADHATTAN MYSTERY? I’ll be part of a fun middle-grade author panel and we’ll all be revealing the inside scoop about our novels at Bank Street Bookstore in New York City on Saturday, November 2nd, 2013 at 2:30 p.m. I hear there are some great prizes, too!

http://www.scbwi.org/inside-story/

INSIDE STORY POSTER

http://www.bankstreetbooks.com/event/scbwi-inside-story-author-event

“Lino It” – the virtual corkboard – love it!

After downloading a few trial versions of creative writing software like the popular Scrivener, it dawned on me… I really don’t want to spend hours going through tutorials—days even–learning how to use these programs! I’d much rather spend that precious time on my actual writing instead. Heck, I’m comfortable using Microsoft Word—and that’s the program most publishers are going to want to receive your final manuscript in anyway. As it turns out, the only thing I really LOVE about that fancy-pants software is the virtual corkboard feature. I’m a big fan of plotting things out on index cards that you can see at a glance and rearrange at will, but as a Manhattan apartment-dweller, I have very limited office wall space on which to post such things. (My office is a walk-in closet, literally. A cloffice.) The only real blank space I’ve got is on my door. And during the writing of my last novel, I had it completely smothered in index cards as I plotted out my mystery.

Then I discovered Linoit.com. (Why does this suddenly sound like an infomercial?) Virtual corkboards that use “sticky notes” instead of index cards. (Same diff.) But not just your everyday sticky notes. Magical sticky notes! You can choose any color, add decorative icons, resize them, move them around by dragging and dropping. You can add picture and photographs, link to documents and websites—even YouTube videos. It’s completely free and you can create as many canvases as you like. I prefer the classic corkboard look but there are other funkier background designs to choose from. Everything is stored online, so you do have to log on to access them, but you can opt to keep your creations completely private. (And please do, if you’re writing a novel. Duh.)

I’ve got a few boards going for the novel I’m currently working on. One for plotting, one for each character, and here’s one I started for research…

Screenshot (3)

The proverbial possibilities are endless. It’s fun, creative and infinitely helpful—especially if you’re a cramped New York City middle-grade novelist like me. Check it out at linoit.com!