“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!

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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.

2013-05-18 16.58.12

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

MADHATTAN MYSTERY makes Booklist’s Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth: 2013 list!

Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth: 2013. 

Cooper, Ilene (author).

FEATURE. First published May 1, 2013 (Booklist).

Mystery comes in many forms in this top 10: wartime spies, treasure hunting, kidnapping, robbery. There’s a wide range of choices for a wide range of mystery lovers here. These titles were selected from books reviewed in Booklist between May 1, 2012, and April 15, 2013.

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity. By Elizabeth Wein. 2012. Hyperion, $16.99 (9781423152194). Gr. 9–12.

In this gut-wrenching mystery, Julie describes her life as a double-agent during WWII, all the while strapped to a chair after the latest round of Gestapo torture.

Code of Silence: Living a Lie Comes with a Price. By Tim Shoemaker. 2012. Zonderkidz, $14.99 (9780310726531). Gr. 7–10.

This crackerjack thriller has a breakneck beginning: a robbery and brutal beating. But 13-year-old Cooper and his pals can’t go to the police because they might be part of the problem. Realistically portrayed characters populate a gritty novel.

The Curse of the Pharaoh. By Steven Stevenson. Illus. by Stefano Turconi. 2013. Grosset & Dunlap, paper, $5.99 (9780448462172). Gr. 3–5.

Twelve-year-old Londoner Agatha Mistery surrounds herself with a cast of sleuths who solve well-plotted mysteries like this one, which involves a missing Egyptian artifact.

Four Secrets. By Margaret Willey. 2012. Carolrhoda/Lab, $17.95 (9780316125871). Gr. 7–10.

Three junior-high friends are locked up after being found guilty of kidnapping the class bully. The mystery twists like kudzu, creeping ever closer to truths that need to be disclosed.

GameGame. By Barry Lyga. 2013. Little, Brown, $17. 99 (9780316125871). Gr. 10–12.

Jazz Dent, teen son of a serial killer, is called upon by the NYPD to get inside the head of another killer on the loose. A serious (and bloody) novel.

Hold Fast. By Blue Balliet. 2013. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545299886). Gr. 4–7.

When 11-year-old Early’s father disappears and her family becomes homeless, it’s up to her to figure out what happened and why.

Island of Thieves. By Josh Lacy. 2012. Houghton, $15.99 (9780547763279). Gr. 4–7.

A search for hidden treasure leads to plenty of adventure as Tom and his not-quite-upstanding uncle find themselves kidnapped in Peru almost as soon as they step off the plane.

Madhattan Mystery. By John J. Bonk. 2012. Walker, $16.99 (9780802723499). Gr. 5–8.

Lexie thinks she and her brother are just going to New York to visit her aunt. Then she overhears details of a jewel heist and so begins a Big Apple adventure. Good plot; good characters.

Raven BoysThe Raven Boys. By Maggie Stiefvater. 2012. Scholastic, $17.99 (9780545424929). Gr. 9–12.

The Raven Boys, friends at the Aglionby Academy, get involved with a mystery: finding the body of the sleeping king of Wales. But they’re not the only ones on the hunt. A marvelously tangled tale.

Three Times Lucky. By Sheila Turnage. 2012. Dial, $16.99 (9780803736702). Gr. 4–6.

Mysteries abound in this book set in a small North Carolina town and narrated by sixth-grader Mo, who wants to know who rescued her from the creek when she was a newborn and who has murdered one of the town’s most unlikable residents.

THANK YOU, BOOKLIST! I’m smiling so hard that it hurts! Happy to be in such fantastic company.

MAD About MADHATTAN Tour Stop #3: Central Park Carousel

Continuing the MAD About MADHATTAN tour of the coolest spots in New York City that are featured in my middle-grade novel, MADHATTAN MYSTERY, let’s go to Central Park and ride some horses! Like Lexi McGill, you might be thinking, “But don’t we need special boots and an insurance policy?” Nooo. Not those kind of horses.

The Central Park Carousel is one of the largest in America with 57 hand-carved painted horses. It was originally created for Coney Island in 1908 by the Brooklyn carousel makers Stein and Goldstein. Over 250,000 people ride the carousel each year and at $2.50 a pop who could resist? Did you know that there were several carousels in Central Park that came before this one? The very first was in 1870 and was turned by a crank (and probably a very cranky crank operator). The second, in 1873, was turned by a horse (which is really sad—especially since it’s said to have been a blind horse hidden under the platform. Good grief.) In 1924 a humane mechanical version came along but it burned down, as did the next one in 1950. (I’m thinking the horse did it.) The Central Park Carousel is pretty spectacular but it’s not the only carousel in Manhattan.


Right next to the New York Public Library on the southernmost side of Bryant Park sits Le Carrousel, a scrumptious little French carousel. Consisting of fourteen colorful animals, it was specially created to complement the park’s French classical style. At two bucks a ride, grab your child and a chocolate croissant and hop aboard this confection of a carousel. You’ll instantly be transported to Paris as you revolve to the sound of French cabaret music. Très magnifique!

Then there’s the new Pier 62 Carousel in Riverside Park, next to Chelsea Piers, the humongous sports complex located along the Hudson. This modern industrial-ish looking carousel opened in May 2010 and features 33 animals indigenous to the Hudson River Valley. There’s a turtle, a turkey, a seahorse, a raccoon, a unicorn… (Wait, I’ve never seen a unicorn galloping along the Hudson. While I was a awake, anyway.) No matter. This carousel is definitely worth checking out. Where else can you ride a fish wearing a saddle?



Anyway, circling back to the oldest carousel of the three and the most famous, the Central Park Carousel, here’s an excerpt from MADHATTAN MYSTERY…

“This goes a lot faster than your average carousel,” Kim Ling had to go and say when they met up with her at the ticket booth. “A lot faster. And no brass ring. That’s ’cause they don’t want kids reaching for it and busting chins.”

“What?” Kevin turned that greenish shade again. “I don’t know about this, Lex.”

“C’mon, Kev, it’ll be fun.”

“Geez, man up!” Kim Ling said to him, handing three ticket to the ticket-taker. “It’s not like it’s a mechanical bull—it’s a baby ride.”

That remark got Kevin unstuck somehow and he followed the girls onto the carousel platform with the enthusiasm of someone boarding the Titanic II.

“That’s what they said about the Haunted Mansion ride at Kingsley Park,” Lexi whispered to Kim Ling. She helped Kevin onto the smiliest horse with the shiniest gold mane and just as she was about to mount the one next to it, a boy in a plastic fireman hat beat her to it. “Shoot. Are you going to be okay by yourself, Kev, or should I—?”

“Just go already,” he said, wrapping his arms around the shiny pole.

“I’ll be on this one right in front of you. Hold on tight.”

A rinky-dink rendition of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” began playing loudly and Lexi quickly hopped onto the horse Kim Ling was saving for her. As soon as the carousel came to life, Kim Ling leaned over to her and shouted, “So, what’s the scoop?”

“Shhh! Kevin fell off a ride. He was around five. Split his head open.”

“No way.”

“Way. They had to shut it down and everything.”

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That’s it for now. Thanks for joining me on this Carousel-ebration through Manhattan!

 

“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!

 

Summer Snarkiness

      This is a repost from last year, but since it’s hotter than a witch’s bunyons again here in the Baked Apple, I felt the need to complain openly and in rhyme–and my brain’s too overheated to think of a new poem. So, feel free to pour yourself a frosty tall glass of iced-tea, crank up the A.C. and have at it. (You’ll feel so much better afterward, I promise.)

       IT’S HOT!          

It’s one of those sweltering, hot summer days.
Not a hint of a breeze and the sun is ablaze.

The sidewalk is smoking, the air is too thick,
I need gallons of water and ice cubes to lick.

The people out walking look sleepy and damp,
And the letter I’m mailing won’t stick to the stamp.

My sneakers are melting and stuck to my toes,
And my glasses are foggy and slide down my nose.

My clothes are all wrinkled and wet—nothing fits.
And Olympic-size sweat pools encircle my pits.

With no trace of spit, I can’t swallow or speak,
And I’d run for that bus, but I can’t—I’m too weak.

It’s too hard a choice to go left or go right,
My whole body’s expanding, my hair is too tight.

That pen in my pocket’s too heavy a load,
And I think I just saw a small pigeon explode.

Those men wearing suit jackets aggravate me,
’Cause they won’t take them off—IT’S ONE-HUNDRED-AND-THREE!

It’s only July, lots of summer to go.
I can’t wait to complain about blizzards and snow.

                                                                                                                                                             Copyright 2012 John J. Bonk

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