Category Archives: writing

“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!

 

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Madhattan Mystery is Booklist’s “Review of the Day”!


It’s Mystery Month on Booklist Online, so I was hoping…with fingers crossed (which makes it very difficult to type)…but hoping, nonetheless, that my middle-grade novel MADHATTAN MYSTERY might be lucky enough to be featured as their “Review of the Day.” Well, this morning I received an email from my editor at Walker/Bloomsbury announcing that–zippity-doo-dah–my book has actually been selected! I’m basking in the glory, but I have to be quick about it–24 hours goes by so quickly. Don’t forget to check out their incredible site! http://www.booklistonline.com/home

THANK YOU, Booklist, for my very first starred review! 

Madhattan Mystery.
Bonk, John J. (author).


May 2012. 304p. Walker, hardcover, $16.99 (9780802723499). Grades 5-8.
REVIEW. First published May 1, 2012 (Booklist).

The title rightfully includes mad because this is a madcap mystery—and a delight in every way. Lexi and her brother, Kevin, are staying in Manhattan while their father and his new wife are on their honeymoon. The kids’ theatrical Aunt Roz has signed them up for City Camp, which they’ll attend with Roz’s neighbor, Kim Ling Levine. That’s the plan, anyway. Coming into Grand Central Station, Lexi thinks she overhears information about a jewel heist in the Whispering Gallery. When she learns that a cache of Cleopatra’s jewels, scheduled for a Met exhibit, has been stolen, she puts two and two together. But has she come up with five? Some mysteries concentrate on plot, while others focus on characters, with the actual mystery an afterthought. What Bonk does so well here is give each its due. The who, why, and how of the missing jewels lead the kids through deliciously dark tunnels, busy train stations, and Central Park at night, and come complete with a nice turnaround. However, equally as developed is the cast. Would-be journalist Kim Ling is bright, caustic, and knows how to toss in a Yiddish word when appropriate; Kevin is the quintessential 10-year-old; and Lexi’s dynamic first-person narrative shows her evolution—to readers and herself. That it also beautifully fits in the story of Lexi’s late mother gives this caper even more heft.

— Ilene Cooper

Back to my roots…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look what I got in the mail today! It’s from my alma mater, Richard Edwards Elementary School in Chicago. (SHOUT OUT!) When I discovered they had transformed into a performing arts school, how could I not send them copies of my first two middle-grade novels, Dustin Grubbs: One-Man Show and Dustin Grubbs: Take Two! which are about an 11-year old who longs to be an actor? (I think I sent them three copies of each book, so technically speaking, that’d be a total of six books, but anyway…) Memories of my days at Edwards started flooding back.

I remember they never used to put on plays. The most you could hope for was a solo in the yearly Christmas concert and that was about it. As a plucky 5th grader, having once again been tragically overlooked for a coveted solo, I decided to approach the powers that be to ask for permission to put on a play called “The King in the Kitchen” in the big auditorium. I would star as the King–of course–and also direct! This way they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. The principal gave me the green light with the caveat that a teacher had to be present at all times during rehearsals. Cut to us performing that play about a zillion times–for every assembly, PTA meeting, awards ceremony–fire drill, whatever.

The next year, due to our rousing theatrical success, the principal decided to put an actual drama teacher in charge, Mrs. Tabitz. (Okay, she doubled as a 2nd grade teacher, but as far as I was concerned, she was Steven Spielberg in a dress.) I was thrilled when she chose a musical for us to perform. No, not just a musical–an operetta! Okay, it was a really watered-down version of The Mikado by Gilbert & Sullivan, but it was still pretty ambitious for an elementary school! Mrs. Tabitz wanted me to play the comic lead, Ko-Ko, but I insisted on playing the romantic lead instead, Nanki-Poo. (Didn’t I know it was a serious tenor role? Didn’t I know I was a goofy baritone? Apparently not. No wonder those high notes wouldn’t come out–and I kept getting laughs.)

MANY YEARS later after moving to New York City in pursuit of my theatrical dream, I wound up doing several productions of The Mikado Off-Broadway for the Light Opera of Manhattan. And guess which role I played? KO-KO!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It just goes to show–never underestimate the prophetic powers of your grade school drama teacher!

The “MAD about MADhattan” tour kicks off at Radio City!

In anticipation of the May 2012 release of my middle-grade novel, MADHATTAN MYSTERY, I’m taking you all on a virtual tour of the many spectacular Big Apple sites that pop up in the book. So, grab your camera and a light snack, hop on the tour bus and LET’S GO!


HAPPY HOLIDAYS! It’s that “most wonderful time of the year”, so what better place to begin our tour of Manhattan than Radio City Music Hall? Located a block from the gigantic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, their trademark “Christmas Spectacular” features the high-kicking Rockettes and it’s a show—no, not just a show—an other-worldly experience unlike any other! Plenty of dazzling dance numbers, singing, costumes, and sets—plus, an onstage ice-skating rink, ballet dancing teddy bears, and a living nativity scene with live camels, donkeys, and sheep. And as if that weren’t enough, now they’re incorporating 3D effects, too. Yep, there’s actually a pair of 3D glasses attached to the programs. See?

   

You certainly can’t fault them for not keeping up with the times. Did you know that there are even small rechargeable microphones attached to the bottom of each of the Rockettes’ tap shoes?! SO COOL! (As a former tap dancer myself, I find this really fascinating.) I saw the show for about the fourth time last year with some friends visiting from Chicago and it knocked my socks off. (No wonder my ankles were freezing when we took that horse and buggy ride through Central Park.)

 Here are some more pix…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a snippet from Chapter 20 of MADHATTAN MYSTERY featuring Radio City. 

   

Entering the lobby was like stepping into a giant Donald Trump living room, provided Donald Trump liked lots of plush red and gold—and crowds. And the jaw-dropping grandiosity continued inside the theater itself. Lexi had never seen so many seats. They extended clear into the heavens, tier after tier, like a humongous wedding cake.

“Can you believe they were actually going to tear this down?” Aunt Roz said as the usher led them toward the stage, which was a glowing orange sunburst that was practically as big as the sun. “I haven’t been inside since the renovation. Melrose, have you ever been?”

“I saw the Christmas Spectacular once, back when I was, like, a fetus. Alls I remember is one of the camels in the livin’ nativity scene takin’ a dump onstage.”

That angel-of-silence thing was happening again—the fifth time that night, if you were counting, and Lexi was. Something was definitely strange with Melrose—well, stranger than usual. She had started off the evening glowing and now she was glowering, and Lexi couldn’t figure out why.

Check out Radio City’s website for more info on this beautiful and historic theatre. http://www.radiocity.com And be sure to stop back here for Tour Stop #2: Grand Central Terminal!

Cover Story

HERE IT IS! A sneak peek at the fantastic cover for my middle-grade novel coming out next spring for Walker/Bloomsbury. This is the version they’ll be using for the ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) and for the publisher’s catalogue. The final-final version may have a few more tweaks. Go ahead and click on it to make it bigger.

That’s Lexi McGill, the heroine, with her head sticking out the window.  (I’m hoping the artist can grab a virtual curling wand and add a few more curls to her hair for the final version.) Her little brother Kevin is sitting next to her in the baseball cap, looking a little freaked out. They’re from a small town called Cold Spring, so New York City is quite a jolt. The brunette with the wry expression and funky pigtails (with bluish streaks, if you look closely) is native New Yorker, Kim Ling Levine. Her parents own a brownstone on 73rd and West End Avenue which is  where Lexi and Kevin’s aunt lives and where the kids are staying–but I don’t want to give too much of the story away. Okay, only that it’s “dislike at first sight” for Lexi when she meets Kim Ling. “Like a left to right handshake, we just don’t fit.”  Can you recognize Grand Central in the background? It’s the famous railroad terminal, where several scenes in the book take place. In it, around it, and way, way, way below it.

Erwin Madrid is the incredibly talented artist who created this cover. I really like how it has a kind of 3D effect–and how the scenery almost looks like a photograph. Besides doing book covers, Erwin does animation drawings for DreamWorks and has worked on some of the Shrek and Madagascar movies. (You can sort of tell from the way he draws people. I can almost see them hopping around on the silver screen.) If you ask me, he’s kind of a genius when it comes to art–and apparently has the patience of a saint.

See, this is about the fourth version of the cover I’ve seen, and I’m sure there’ve been a ton more versions that my editor didn’t show me. (I probably would’ve driven her nuts, if she had. I’m very picky when it comes to art. Okay, I’m very picky about just about everything.) Just from the few versions I’ve seen, the angle of the buildings has changed completely, the scene has gone from night to day, the Chrysler Building was cut out, the letters have gone from yellow to red, the cab has gotten much bigger, and the direction of it has changed.  (Did you know things have to be moving from left to right on a cover, otherwise it looks weird?) I’m glad my publisher is just as picky as I am, ’cause now we’ve ended up with this drool-worthy cover!

The rest of the book is in typesetting right now, so it won’t be long before I get to see what it looks like in actual print–you know, the galleys. Three words: Hold. Me. Down.

The Hero’s 2 Journeys–that’s right, TWO.

I happened upon a great audiobook entitled, The Hero’s 2 Journeys by Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler on iTunes. (Also available on CD and DVD.)  Renowned screenwriter/teachers Hauge and Vogler deliver a lively presentation examining both the inner and outer journey of the protagonist, referencing popular movies along the way. (They use Shrek as one of their go-to examples, which I love.) It’s based upon Joseph Campbell’s famous Hero’s Journey but, oh, so much more. First, they cover the outer journey—the essential structural principles driving every successful plot; and then they take you step-by-step through the protagonist’s all-important inner journey, distinguishing between his identity and true essence. When the two “journeys” are melded together, it’s guaranteed to take your story to the next level. (Well, they don’t actually offer a guarantee.) Geared mainly toward scriptwriters but novelists will benefit heaps of knowledge as well since the basic recipe is the same. You’ll feel like you’re right there in Hollywood with the rest of the attendees, who undoubtedly paid a huge fee to get into this sold-out event (not to mention dealing with L.A. gridlock) but you get to listen to it at your convenience via your iPod, iPad, or iWhatever—and for a reasonable price. It’s a goldmine of information, maybe a bit too formulaic, but ridiculously insightful and with plenty of solid takeaways. A must have for any fiction writer!

Copyediting: What to Expect

After you’ve taken your manuscript through two or three rounds of initial edits with your editor, it will be passed along to a copyeditor, who examines each line of text with a fine-toothed comb. When you receive your manuscript back from them—coffee-stained and curling at the edges—it will be peppered with proofreader symbols along with corrections on typos, spacing, wording, grammar, that type of thing, written in one color (usually red pencil); and directions specifically for the typesetter about  font, design elements, etc. in another color (probably green). There will also be a slew of sticky-notes attached to the pages with questions for you regarding every detail of your manuscript imaginable. Daunting as it may seem, this is a good thing. We want to get it right, and these folks are the eagle-eye, nitpickers we need to zero in on the minutia we may have glossed over. You’ll get specific queries, such as: “Gyp is derived from the word gypsy and can be seen as a derogatory. Change to cheat?” “Kleenex is a TM and they insist on using Kleenex-brand-tissues. Substitute tissues instead?” “The ice cream is still  rock solid after a night in a powerless freezer? Revise or OK?” “They’ll also point out copyrighted material in your text—things like poems and song lyrics. For instance, I had just assumed that the song “Happy Birthday” was in the public domain, meaning, free. Wrong! You can only quote so many lines from it before your publisher would have to pay royalties. Who knew? There are ways to fudge it, though. Just use bits and pieces of the song—or substitute a few lyrics with “dum-dee-dums,” that sort of thing. Your publisher’s Legal Department will most likely be the final judge. 

For your changes, you’ll be asked to use a different color pencil from the copyeditor’s marks (I chose purple) and to write directly onto the manuscript. (Don’t even think about using an ink pen!) If you agree with a suggested change, you simply leave it as marked; if you disagree, you mark a dotted line under the words you want to keep and write STET in the margin, which means “let stand.” Now is also the best time to make your last major changes, adding or deleting copy, because after your book is typeset it gets difficult and expensive for the publisher to do so. This can take skill on your part. You have to use neat, teeny-tiny handwriting (or I should say hand-printing) to fit between the lines of text, and it must be done with the utmost of clarity. If I’m changing more than a word or two, I like to work out that specific section on my computer screen first and then transfer it into the manuscript, to avoid over-erasing and—heaven forbid!—holes in the paper. You’ll be advised, when adding more than a just few sentences, to type out the new text on a separate piece of paper, then clip it to the page. Heed this advice. 

Now, what about all those proofreader’s marks? I think it’s wise to have a list of them handy as you’re working through your edits to interpret what all the hieroglyphics mean—those little squiggles, symbols, carets, and lines. Most of these are intended for the typesetter, but you should be able to decipher them yourself so you can incorporate them when marking your changes. Little, Brown had provided me with an instructional booklet entitled “From Manuscript to Printed Book” which included a glossary of proofreader marks, but Walker/Bloomsbury didn’t. They’re easy enough to find online, though. Merriam-Webster’s site has a good one: http://www.merriam-webster.com/mw/table/proofrea.htm

You’ll usually have a pretty short period of time in which to complete your copy edits and return them to your publisher—I had less than a week. So, it’s essential to work fast and work smart. Keep a pencil sharpener handy (the sharper the pencil point, the easier it is to write clearly in limited space). Resist the urge to work outdoors. If a thunderstorm or a mighty wind comes along, you could be in a heap of trouble—tons of work went into copyediting these pages and there’s no computer backup. As a safety net, I like to take notes on all the major changes I’ve made to the manuscript just in case there are follow-up questions. (And there are always follow-up questions.) This is an exciting time. After you’ve completed the copy editing process, your manuscript will be sent off to the typesetter. This means the galleys are right around the corner!