Friday, September 24, 2010

Wishes and Book Characters

Way back in the last millennium, I went to my first writer's conference. It was a looong time ago (maybe 15 years), but I remember it, especially the "first book" panel discussion.  As an unpublished writer and newbie, listening to the journeys of other writers was inspiring. But mostly I remember sitting in the crowded room wishing.  And dreaming. And hoping that one day, I'd get to talk about my own first book.
So tomorrow, my wish comes true.  I'm on a panel called "First Crop: Planting an Idea, Harvesting a Book" with YA author Jennifer R Hubbard (The Secret Year) and PB author Jeannine Norris (Tonight, You Are My Baby).  Btw, we're part of a really fun group of authors/illustrators called the KidLit Authors Club  
It's time for true confessions. I've never been to Philadelphia. Why, yes, I do live closer to that city than I do to any other city in the USA. As a long time New Yorker I still have that mentality that "the city" means NYC.  In my defense, I have friends and family in the NYC area. (It's a paltry defense, but it's all I have)
Yeah. I'm jumping up and down again. I'm really excited about the weekend.
But here's the other thing. My book characters in my w.i.p. have decided to start talking to me.  Finally!! And I'm experiencing that wonderful feeling of being torn between real life and my writing life. 
It happens when I'm in the middle of a story.  No matter what's going on in my real life, I find myself pulled into another world.
When you write, how do you leave your characters behind? 
It's hard for me. Even when I'm having a dream-come-true  moment, I can't let them go. Besides thinking about what they'd do in their own world, I start wondering what my characters would think if they were in mine. Would they like the library where I work?  My favorite view of the Barnegat Bay? And what would they think of Philadelphia?
I guess I'll find out the Philly answer soon.  It's time to get all of us into the car and hit the road.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Debut Author Laura Toffler-Corrie Comes to Ramble Street

This week debut author Laura Toffler-Corrie stopped by Ramble Street. Laura is the author of the very funny middle grade book The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz (Roaring Brook Press, 2010)
Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“Told in wry emails and brilliant little one-act plays, this laugh-out-loud debut novel offers quirky characters, a whimsical tour around New York City, and an appealing story about what it means to be a good friend.”

And here’s what Newbery Honor Winning Author Patricia Reilly Giff says:

“Amy Finawitz pops right off the page! Her opinions and wry observations made me laugh out loud and her lively adventures are both surprising and captivating.  This is certainly an author to watch.  I loved Amy, and I bet you will too.”

This book is extremely funny. It has great heart (and a really fun mystery too).

Laura and I have a lot in common. We both grew up on the south shore of Long Island, our birthdays are only days apart (and we’re the same age) and our debut novels are published by Roaring Brook (which means we got to work with the same amazing editor, Nancy Mercado).

So Laura, welcome to Ramble Street.  Let’s start the interview.

I don’t normally laugh out loud when I read.  But I did when I read AMY FINAWITZ.  So let’s get to the question I’m wondering most about.  How do you write such great comedy? Any tips for writers?

"Well, comedy is a funny thing (sorry, couldn’t resist). I’m not sure that you can be taught to write humorously. I think it’s a sensibility, how you naturally perceive the world. I’ve always loved what’s absurd or ironic. I do think, though, that you can learn from other writers, Dickens, J.D Salinger, Woody Allen and Vonnegut to name a few, who do it well. I guess my tip is to not try too hard and to create fully realized characters and situations, otherwise humor can seem flat or ‘jokey.’"

What was it like when you got the editorial letter? Did you enjoy the editorial process?

"At first, getting the editorial letter was exhilarating! I was so happy to have sold my book and anxious to get working with my editor, and yours, the fabulous and insightful Nancy Mercado. Then the scary part set in. How do I incorporate someone else’s vision with mine? Can I make the book better? Will Nancy be happy with my work? I quickly discovered that working with her was an inspiring interaction. Ultimately, it was exciting to see my book develop into everything I wanted it to be."

I had the same feelings and fears. By the way,“inspiring interaction” is a great way to describe working with Nancy Mercado.  

I loved the places in NYC that Amy, Beryl and Miss Sophia visited. I can't believe I grew up so close to Queens and didn't know about Houdini's grave. How did you come up with such interesting places for your characters to travel to? Have you visited Houdini's grave?

"Because the first few drafts of AMY were more focused on a scavenger hunt around New York to search for clues to solve a historical mystery, I spent a lot of time thinking up cool places for Amy to go. I think I actually even googled  ‘cool places in and around N.Y.’ Honestly, I can’t recall what led me to Houdini in the first place, but as I started researching his life and death and discovered the secret message to his wife from beyond the grave, I became determined to make him a small part of the story. Having a Houdini’s graveyard scene in AMY was too awesome to pass up though. Actually, my agent, editor and I did an abbreviated ‘Footsteps of Amy’tour around NY, including Houdini‘s grave. Check it out here "
The tour looks like great fun.  Now I have so many new places to put on my “to visit” list.

One of my favorite parts of your book was learning about the immigrant Anna. Her story is so intriguing.  I don't want to give anything away here, but did this happen in history?

"The historical mystery in the book is true. I was breezing through an article about Jews in American history and came across this three line blurb about it. I was shocked that I’d never heard the story before. So, even though, Anna is fictional, this odd piece of American history seemed like the perfect element to weave into her story."

What's the best writing advice you ever received?

"‘Success leaves clues,’ is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard just generally. When I started trying to emulate the habits and philosophies of writers who I admired, basic concepts surfaced, like write everyday, stay focused, persevere in an intelligent way."

It was just announced that you have a second book coming out. Congratulations! Can you tell us about it?

"The working title is THE ACCIDENTAL SAINTHOOD OF JENNA BLOOM, which I really like and am thinking will probably stick. It’s a humorous YA and the easiest way to describe it would be to quote Publisher’s Weekly which says, ‘a comedy of errors about an awkward teen who becomes the unlikely object of her guardian angel's affection, much to the calamity of the town musical, the dismay of all the popular girls and the demon who has it in for her.’

It was acquired by Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook and I’m very excited to be working with her again. You could say that I’m just excited in general and looking forward to diving into the book. Right now, it’s scheduled for release in the spring of 2012."

 Thanks for stopping by Ramble Street, Laura. To find out more about Laura’s book and to read her very entertaining blog, visit her at

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Big Birthdays

It's 4:48 in the morning and today is my birthday. I can't believe I'm writing this. I'm not the type of person who mentions that sort of thing. There have been years where if it weren't for my friends and family I would have forgotten about the day completely. And all that attention makes me run the other way.
When I was growing up, my mom would offer to make homemade frosted cupcakes for me to bring to school. Every year I refused. What if the teacher didn't celebrate birthdays or the kids in the class didn't like homemade cupcakes? Come to think of it, in all my years of school that never happened, but September was always the beginning of a new year, and you just never knew.
So maybe the reason I mentioned my birthday is because I'm still in that pre-coffee sleepy state. But it's also a big one, and those always make you feel more contemplative and perhaps a bit more brave.
I've got no major plans for the next decade. Okay, I have a few but I'm not talking about them. I try not to take them too seriously. Plans can scatter. Something as simple as a phone call can change everything. Sometimes that call can bring what you've only dreamed about and other times...well...oh heck, it's my birthday so I'm not going talk about the other times. But let's just say the past decade had a few major twists and turns.
I'm not sure if there really is such a thing as birthday wisdom, but there should be. What's the point of growing older if you haven't learned something? So please forgive and indulge my philosophical ramblings, but you only have big birthdays once every decade so I promise not to do this again until the next one.
Let's talk about your day for a moment. I bet it's going to be busy. I bet it's filled with projects, meetings, chores, a to-do list the size of the state of Texas, lots of unfinished business and then there's that front door that slams shut and you keep telling your husband that it's really bad feng shui and you don't know how to fix it (okay, maybe everyone doesn't have the front door issue). But there's a good chance that some part of your body hurts and you're dealing with a few aches and pains. And I bet there's something that you want to buy that you can't afford. And that there's something you want to do, but you don't have the time to do it.
And that is the good stuff. Really.
Some day it's not going to be like this.
I don't want to cue the scary music here. I mean this in a good way. Change isn't bad. Oh sure. There are going to be some major bumps, but your life could take wonderful turns. Amazing things will happen to you (and to me too). But for better or for worse, there will be a time when your life is very different than the one you have now. So enjoy this day.
I could never have imagined all the twists and turns that my life has taken. And when I was younger, I could never have imagined being where I am. But I'm glad I'm here.