Category Archives: writing

A Dry-Erase Board by Any Other Name…

I can’t really call mine a whiteboard, because it’s blue…or a dry-erase board, because I use non-smear ink pens which need to be erased with a damp cloth. It’s magnetic too, which puts it in an entirely different category. All I know is whatever this thing is, I LOVE it! It’s incredibly useful when you’re in the midst of writing a novel–for plotting, keeping track of facts and timelines, inspiration–you name it. Especially when you live in a New York City apartment where space is at a premium and your office is, literally, a converted walk-in-closet. Hanging a magical board on the door expands the work space. TAH-DAH!

Dry Erase Board (Blurred)

[Sections have been blurred for purposes pertaining to paranoia]

For a previous book I was working on, I used a virtual “canvas service” called Lino for basically the same purpose as a dry-erase board. (A novel approach! Pretty impressive. Kinda fun.) Lino Board The advantage is you can create as many online boards as you like and include links to videos and documents. (Space-saving. Transportable. So, what’s not to like?) Well, the downfall, for me anyway, is you have to view these boards on your computer, and my 23-inch screen is already jam-packed with my manuscript, notes, maps, pictures, etc. When I’m in the “sacred zone” of writing, I don’t have the patience for the 1/100th of a nanosecond it takes to click on a link and wait for something to load. I simply want to glance to my right and see the info I need immediately. (Or my left. I’m flexible.) “A tangible board that’s right there in your face at all times?” you ask. Yes, please! Not very high tech, I know, but the heart wants what it wants.

Traveling back even further in time…I remember using prehistoric index cards taped to my door to keep track of plots and timelines. A crude approach, as there was no rearranging them without having to replace the tape and pulling up paint chips. Eek! (It was a different world. We didn’t know better back then.) Post-It Notes to the rescue! The problem with these little beauties is they don’t stay up for very long. Even the new and improved super-duper strength Post-Its will eventually come fluttering to the ground like sleepy butterflies and wind up stuck to the soles of your shoes–or the cat.

Cat Post-It

Not to diss the almighty Post-It. I still use them for many different things–but for this specific purpose, they’ve been happily replaced with something called mcSquares Stickies Dry Erase Notes. A tad expensive but they’re durable so you can rearrange them at will–plus they come in different shapes and sizes. (I swear I’m not a spokeman for the company–just a fan. There are other brands out there as well, like SlickyNotes that come in different colors!) These things stick to most smooth, flat surfaces so you don’t even need a whiteboard–or blueboard–or whatever. I find that the non-smear variety of markets work best in this scenario. (Tackie Markers and Writey Liquid Chalk are my faves. Again, not a spokesman.) You’ll need to use a damp cloth instead of a dry-eraser with these but it’s so worth the iota of extra effort.

So, that’s the scoop. Carry on and HAPPY WRITING!MARKERS

It’s Alive! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

A short story I published in Highlights magazine way back in 2004 has suddenly resurfaced as an Audible Audiobook! Hwah?! It’s always exciting to see my previously published poems and short stories show up in classroom workbooks, student testing–and now audiobooks (even though the statute of limitations has long run out for any sort of residual payments, dang it.) Still, it’s a joy to see these things take on a new life.

Inspired by my own book-report writing experience in which I ALWAYS over-decorated the covers, eliciting criticism from my classmates–things like “Oooh, that is SO not fair; he only got an A ’cause of his fancy-schmancy cover” (yes, we said things like “fancy-schmancy” back then)–You Can’t Judge garnered me a Highlights Author of the Month Award. I remember how surprised I was when the engraved pewter plaque was delivered to my door! Wait, let’s see if I can find it…

Highlights Plaque.jpg

Here it is. A little scratched and dented but–aren’t we all? Can’t wait to see what pops up next. Maybe that Christmas poem I wrote in second grade will reemerge as a made-for-TV movie on the Hallmark Channel! Love you, Highlights! xo

You Can’t Judge a Book Report by its Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warwick Children’s Book Festival – 2017

Warwick book fest logoNo less than 61–count ’em–61 authors and illustrators took part in the children’s book festival in beautiful Warwick, New York on Saturday, October 7th, including yours truly.  After spending the night at the idyllic Warwick Village Bed & Breakfast (which reminded me a little of the Dragon Fly Inn from Gilmore Girls),Warwick B and B I met up with my fellow authors at the Railroad Green in the center of town where we were greeted with swag bags, balloons, live music, snacks galore (apple cider doughnuts!) and a huge crowd of enthusiastic readers. Warwick 2

Warwick 4

Warwick 1

Such much going on! A finger-puppet making station? Even doggy volunteers eager to be read aloud to by reluctant readers.

Warwick 3

 

And what a delight meeting renowned children’s book author Jane Yolen (who penned nearly 300 books–yikes!) and her author-daughter Heidi Stemple. Great writing genes in that family! We actually met during breakfast at the B&B and within seconds we were all three laughing our heads off. My kind of peeps.

 

Here we are at the festival looking appropriately amiable and authorly…

Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple and Me

And here we are when a fly the size of the Hindenburg decided to photo-bomb us…

Jane, Heidi, Me, and the FLY

I’m summoning a volunteer with a  flyswatter to come help. (Many thanks to the many volunteers in the green T-shirts, by the way, who were super helpful–even going so far as to recharge my cell phone.) Warwick 5

Couldn’t leave town without a visit to Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe, which is just as charming as it sounds. I love things that start with “Ye Olde”…except maybe Ye Olde Sushi Shoppe.

Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe

Thank You card

 

Bye bye, Warwick…until next time. Back to ye olde Times Square!

Warwick Children’s Book Festival

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/

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!

Madhattan Mystery Makes Bank Street’s Best Books of 2013 List!

I’m beyond thrilled to announce that Madhattan Mystery is on Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books of 2013 list in the 9-12 Adventure and Mystery category! *DOES HAPPY DANCE*

http://bankstreet.edu/center-childrens-literature/childrens-book-committee/best-books-year/best-books-year-2013/

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And rewinding a few weeks…

Had a FUNderful time on May 18th at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY at their first ever League of Extraordinary Readers event for middle-grade books. Here I am with fellow authors, Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Sarah Mylnowski.

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Publishers Weekly liked our shiny smiling faces so much, they published this photo in their pictorial salute to Children’s Book Week!

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/57378-children-s-book-week-2013-a-bookstore-photo-essay.html

“Happy Trailers To You…” (Book trailers, that is.)

I was really excited to create my own book trailer for Madhattan Mystery but with zero budget, I couldn’t exactly go high tech. I’d have to use what was already at my fingertips: a camera, my imagination, and an old version of Windows Moviemaker. (The newest version wasn’t compatible with my XP operating system. Did I mention I need a new computer?) Since I live in Manhattan, I had tons of fun traipsing around the city, snapping most of the photos myself—but some stuff was impossible to get, like a photo of the abandoned underground train station in Grand Central since the public isn’t  usually allowed down there. But after an online search, I found a great photo by a professional photographer, Sam Horine, who granted me permission to use it. Whew!

More complications were cropping up regarding the rights of a few more photos I had found online, so I ended up having to replace them. My friend, Delores, a second-grade teacher in Chicago, agreed to step in and pose for the character of Aunt Roz; and for the pic of a  homeless woman, my friend, Mary-Ann, volunteered to sit on a dirty curb, wrapped in a blanket, holding a cup of coins. “A friend in need is a friend indeed!” But when it came to the photo representing Kim Ling, I was really stumped. A street smart Asian-American girl with blue-streaked pigtails and an angry expression that makes your skin crawl? Try Googling that! Luckily, a woman in my writing critique group came to the rescue. Her daughter, Catie, was eager to portray the character in a photo shoot and she knocked it out of the park.

Then there was the endless search for the perfect royalty-free music to accompany the video but that’s a whole other story. I’m so happy to have ultimately found a piece called “Sneaky Snitch” by Kevin MacLeod on incompetech.com. Let’s leave it at that.

So I guess my point is that even going the easy route and creating a trailer with still photos was not that easy–for me anyway. It takes a village!