Tuesday, May 29, 2007

who are you?

"Whether we are describing a king, an assassin, a thief, an honest man, a prostitute, a nun, a young girl, or a stallholder in a market, it is always ourselves that we are describing." -- Guy de Maupassant


Anyone who knows me well and reads A NOVEL IDEA invariably says, "Oh Aimee, Norah is so...you." And it's true -out of all my published novels thus far, Norah is the character who is closest to my true self -- the bookish, romantic (but mildly deluded) city girl who often makes a fool out of herself for the sake of love. Some key differences are that Norah is an older, not a younger sister; Norah grew up in Brooklyn, I in Queens; and (for better or worse) Norah's parents are a lot less involved in her life than my parents were when I was growing up.

But the novel I just finished writing --THE YEAR MY SISTER GOT LUCKY (my first hardcover--out from Scholastic in December 07!) has a character who is so me it's ridiculous. Her name is Katya and, like me, she is curly-haired, a ballet dancer, and has a close, complex relationship with her older sister. That's what the novel is about actually -- the two sisters, and how they change when they move to a small town. It was such a fulfilling experience, writing this book, but because it's so personal, it also gave me the most trouble. It's funny how when we write characters that are NOT us, there's a greater sense of freedom, a sense of play -- less investment. When our books are semi-autobiographical, there's more weight, more at risk.

But aren't all our characters versions of ourselves? I love the above quote by one of my favorite authors (if you haven't read his short stories--you must--they're fabulous exercises in economy and surprise endings). I like to think that some of my characters are not even a slight version of myself -- but, really, how can that be? They come from me, after all. It's like trying to deny that your biological children share your genes.

What do other authors think? Are most of your characters versions of yourselves? Or do you consciously try to separate yourself from the people who populate your fictional worlds?

Hope everyone is relishing in the warmth!



Monday, May 28, 2007

In Cannes, no one can hear you snore....

No, joke, it's the real city that never sleeps. Silly me decided to catch some shut-eye the night before Noah's premiere, and missed...wait for it...an IMPROMPTU MIDNIGHT CONCERT by U2! Of course N got to see it in full, since his idea of beauty sleep is to stagger in at 5am after a 3am technical screening.

Not that I blame him. I'd be wired, too.

These were both the longest and the shortest seven days of my life. I'm exhausted, and I wasn't even the one in the biz, running to and fro from official Meetings and whatnot. I got to lounge on the beach while N pitched future projects.

Parties? Why, yes. Every day. At least a million, a thousand of which N really wanted to attend. Not for "fun," mind you, but to chat people up. You think I'm kidding. These parties were about as lighthearted and festive as the sales conferences we used to have back at my corporate job, once upon a time. I sipped Champagne while everyone else talked shop. (Being a writer? At Cannes? Is incredibly frustrating. There is no such thing as small talk, for real. If you can't further their film, NO ONE wants to schmooze. Thankfully, the bars are always open). But don't feel too sorry for me. I got to drink cafe au lait and people watch. I got to read. I got to attend glamorous red carpet premieres!

Speaking of which...the day of Tehilim's premiere was spectacular, save for the fact that we all had to shake ourselves out of bed around 8am (again, this was easier for me than for Noah). We met Step-Ma and Pa Harlan at the Grand Hotel for caffeine and sustenance (even though we were too nervous to eat), took a bajillion pics with the cast and crew, and then we were off!

Wives and girlfriends were relegated to walking the red carpet together, separate from the actual people who actually, you know, created the film. Go figure. Nonetheless, the carpet itself was red, and dazzling, and intimidating, and amazing. We were ushered into the VIP section. Once inside, we could watch the outside activities onscreen. I saw Raphy being interviewed (boy is humble. Seriously), and I saw Noah grinning alongside his colleagues. We all smiled so hard I was afraid our cheeks would fall off (they didn't).

I won't spoil the movie for you, but to say that it's quietly devastating, nuanced and moving. We've heard rumors of a few distributors sniffing around, but let's not jinx anything.

After the show it was a cocktail party, photo call (not for me, despite my lovely pink shoes), and press conference. And at night it was the official, Arte-sponsored soiree. A proper soiree, on a boat and all. Guess who was docked next door.

Sharon Stone.

Sharon Stone!

Other highlights of the week include: meeting Fisher Stevens (of "Short Circuit" fame), attending the premiere of "Paranoid Park" and getting to see supercool YA Author and friend Blake Nelson walk the carpet, attending a black tie premiere with Noah that was so wretched people jeered aloud (serious, MAJOR jeering), reading good and mostly-good reviews of "Tehilim," hearing every single person at the festival congratulate Noah on the film, eating a ham and cheese crepe at 4am yesterday, after successfully navigating a lukewarm villa party in the hills on the outskirts of Cannes, and lots of other cool stuff that I'm totally forgetting.

The French? They enjoy their pizza. Another thing we have in common.

Other sightings include: Brett Ratner, Karl Lagerfeld, Rosario Dawson, Brad Pitt (on the red carpet jumbotron), Roman Polanski, Jeremy Piven, and some extremely skinny Asian woman who posed for a zillion pics before "Paranoid Park." No idea who she is. But obviously, she is Important.

I had more notes, but lost them at some point (where? How? Keep an eye on Page Six for me, willya?). Suffice it to say that it was a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm so thrilled that I got to do it, and got to do it with Noah.

Of course, we're so exhausted that I don't think I need to go back until the next time he has a film in competition. Which I'm sure isn't too terribly far off.

We're at the Four Seasons Provence this weekend, keeping up with the theme of being much more fabulous than we actually are. It's the exact opposite of Cannes: green, serene, private. Tomorrow we visit a Medieval town and then hit the spa, but for now, N is passed out on the couch still clutching his magazine. This is both adorable, and also exciting, as I now have WIRELESS ALL TO MYSELF! The French pronounce it "Wee-Fee." Hee.

Saturday it's back to Paris, and on Tuesday, the Paris premiere. There's not enough espresso in the world...not that I'm complaining.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Kids Rock!

I had the greatest day yesterday. I spent the entire day in a school in New Jersey talking to kids. It was part of the school's young authors day, and I had the opportunity to talk to readers from kindergarten straight up to sixth grade about everything from their wishes and dreams, to how to write a book, to whether or not I was rich and famous. It was so much more fun than just doing a signing or a reading, because I had 45 minutes with each grade, and I really got to connect with the kids in a way you don't get to do through a quick smile, photo op, and signature. What I discovered is that there are plenty of eager readers out there, and that we will have a lot of competition in the next few years--these kids really want to be authors.

And they're going to be great authors. Contrary to popular belief, these elementary school kids aren't just into princesses, American Idol, and the Yankees. They wanted to know if the books were printed on recycled paper, and whether or not Katie Kazoo would ever turn into a president during one of her switcheroos and stop the war in Iraq. (If only it were that easy!)

Amazingly enough, some of the fifth and sixth graders had already read my teen books Love & Sk8 and Dawn's Early Light. That was a little frightening, since I'm not sure some of the subject matter's on target for them. Let's just say Angie in Love & Sk8 doesn't have quite the same hobbies as Katie Kazoo, y'know. Still, it was proof that if you can get a kid to love your books from a young age, they're a fan for life.

You guys have to hit the schools as often as you can. Not only will it provide you with plenty of fodder for your future books, it'll give you hope for the future.



Sunday, May 20, 2007

No clothes for you!

After yet another failed shopping trip yesterday, I have come to the conclusion that I am not able to buy the following items, and I could save myself the trouble of trying them on:

-Things that are long. I am short. The logic of the tunic, it escapes me. The hemline intended for hip length hits at my knees, and the sexy vee of the neckline shows my belly button. "Layer a tank top under it," you say?

-Things that need to be layered. Why are layered fashions for summer invented in the frozen tundra and shipped to Alabama? Occasionally you will see people around here actually wearing them. Either these people never go outside, or they are naive and also sweaty.

-Things that are not marked down. I am my mother's daughter, and my mother grew up on a farm in rural Alabama. Money was tight. She and her siblings did not have toys. They played with ducks. Real ones. They staged a lot of duck weddings with a goose as the preacher and chickens as bridesmaids. I am not making this up.

-Things that will no longer fit if I gain five pounds. My son has a birthday coming up soon, there will be cake left over, and it is illegal in Alabama to throw away perfectly good cake. I want to set a law-abiding example for my son. Last year I tried to outsmart myself by freezing the leftover cake. I am not sure for what occasion you would pull out, thaw, and serve one half of a birthday cake decorated like a NASCAR dashboard, but at least it would not be thrown away, and it would be relatively inaccessible for snacking. Or so I thought at first. As it turns out, frozen cake is delicious and not all that hard to cut with a sharp knife.

-Things I do not understand. There is a complex wraparound shirt popular now with ties in odd places. Stacey London should host a show called Are You Smarter Than a Tenth Grader? on which teens explain to non-teens how to tie the straightjacket shirt and how to secure their hair in a disheveled bun using two pencils.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Death is Part of Life

Man, I would love to be able to post something cheerful, but bad news first. My mother-in-law did die a month ago, and I forgot to post here. After 25 years of marriage, Jean and I were very close. Then yesterday we had to put down our 16-year-old Pointer, Bessie. Although she'd been failing for quite a while, I never dreamt it would be as tough as it was. Coming so soon after Jean's death, it was a double whammy. My daughter Sarah is making an urn for Bessie's remains in her pottery class, and that will be comforting to have around. We still have two more dogs, since we haven't got a lick of sense.

Something cheerful: We're all going to Jekyl Island in two weeks for my little brother's wedding. He was married for 18 years before, raised his kids, and bailed on a troubled marriage held together by spit and chicken wire. His fiance is a real doll, and this wedding will be the family reunion we haven't had in a long time. Jekyl Island (not sure if I spelled that right) is off the coast of Georgia a bit south of better-known Hilton Head Island. My two kids fit in perfectly age-wise with his three daughters, resulting in 16, 17, 19, and two 20-year-old cousins. The three older girls are bringing their boyfriends, and my brother and I spent about half-an-hour yesterday trying to figure out proper sleeping arrangements. Too much! But life does go on.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Aggressive Acts of Kindness

I am the fortunate recipient of an aggressive act of kindness.

There’s a beautiful woman who lives by me. Her name is Drienie and she’s from South Africa. She’s a columnist and writes lovely articles and feel-good stories. Like me, she is a very busy lady. Yesterday, she called me and said, “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes to watch your boys so you can write.”

You see, my life has been such that I haven’t been able to sit down and write for ages. Writers will know how frustrating this can be, especially when you’re really excited about a certain project (or multiple projects) but have to walk around pretending to be normal when in reality your head is about to burst with all the creative ideas stuck inside.

Drienie came to my house, arms full of groceries and treats, and shooed me into my office. She meant business! My boys were so excited to see her, and they made Krispy treats and paper airplanes and played ping pong and laughed themselves silly.

I got so much done. It was amazing. My faith in myself as an author was rejuvenated in just one afternoon. And what’s more, she’s coming again next week. My boys are ecstatic, and I can’t tell you how much it means to me that someone would do this for me.

We’re all busy. We all have too much to do. We all have good intentions.

Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Just do it. Be aggressive!

Has someone done something over and beyond for you lately? Or have you done something special for a friend? I’d love to hear about it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Paris, Je T'aime

Pardon my French. Or rather, lack thereof.
I cannot believe that as of 9pm tomorrow night
(fingers crossed that Air India runs a tight ship!),
Noah and I will be en route to the Cannes film

We've spent the last month or so in preparation--Noah
scheduling meetings and buying passes and phone cards,
me hitting the gym and the Crest Whitestrips obsessively. It's not every day that a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey gets to walk the red carpet....

Although we have both been busting our butts at work
(Noah has been dealing with the marketing company he
just acquired, and I have been scrambling to finish up
my semester at Vermont), we've also had a lot of play
time lately, too. Because our birthdays fall in the
same week, we get to live it up for several days in a
row (okay, fine, they're only three days apart--April
26th and April29th, but what can I say? We like to
live large). Last year, Noah took me to Paris for the
big 3-0. This year, when a friend asked me if
we were doing anything special for our birthdays, I
replied, "well, nothing as good as a trip to France."
She reminded me that we were going to Cannes.

Oh, right. Cannes. In the south of France.

I don't speak the language, alas. Not a word. But this
is a culture gap that I can't wait to bridge.

Wish us luck and wish me tan! We'll have lots of great
pictures to post when we get back.
Now, I must be off to start packing....

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

With the advent of warm weather, the animals are out in earnest at my house. A rabbit has made her den under my compost pile (she runs off in terror every time I come near, which means I may have to start a new pile elsewhere.) A robin has made her nest under my back deck (and Mr. Robin screeches at me every time I walk outside...but I'm ignoring him, since I refuse to stop using my deck.) But the most amusing-slash-sad animal happening took place this morning. While going out to pull weeds (carefully staying away from Ms. Robin's new digs), I happened upon a toad. Sadly, Mr. Toad had taken his last wild ride. He was large, sprawled out, and dead.

I decided to give Mr. Toad a better place to hang out and scooped him up, intending to head for the compost pile (or as close as Ms. Rabbit will let me come) and fling him in that general direction. But then I noticed that the neighbor kids were watching me. Very, very closely.

My first thought: they planted Mr. Toad, wondering if I'd freak when I found him at the bottom of the deck stairs. My second thought (upon seeing their thoughtful expressions): they think I have a dead animal in my hand, but aren't sure. And they just might be the ones to freak.

This, naturally, is when my neighbor decides to come over and chat. Do you have any idea how it feels to have a conversation about things like perennials and your upcoming town election while knowing that you are hiding a DEAD TOAD in your hand? But no way was I going to excuse myself when her kids were right there, wondering what I'd found in the yard.

Finally, I was able to escape, fake toward the garden, then send Mr. Toad to a more appropriate resting place on the compost pile. Unfortunately—you guessed it—I got a little too close, and the flying toad body upset Ms. Rabbit but good.

On a brighter animal note, however: I'm about to be a mama! A black mini poodle puppy will be moving into Casa Niki next Thursday. In the meantime, I'm puppy-proofing the house and thinking of names appropriate for a happy, personable little girl.

My newest book, GODDESS GAMES (click the link to see the cover...didn't Simon & Schuster do a fabulous job?) arrives in stores next week, but I have to admit, I think the arrival of the puppy will be just as exciting! And I promise to post pictures when she arrives.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

What did you get your mom for Mother's Day?

I got my mom a super-cute Liz Claiborne purse in the coral color she wears often. When I was in high school, Color Me Beautiful sessions were popular--you would sit in a special light and let the technician lay different colors of fabric under your face and calculate what colors suited you best. Since then, my mom has worn a LOT of coral, which is convenient because Liz Claiborne likes coral too. I have not followed the Color Me Beautiful advice myself. I would be wearing nothing but teal.

And I got her Jennifer Crusie's Tell Me Lies to go in the purse. Very important to my mom and me for a purse to be big enough to hold a book.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Prom & Twins

Hey there,
Erin Downing here. It has been a long time since I last posted (sorry, Jenn!), but I've been a little preoccupied...

First, it's PROM season! Let's celebrate! I have seen so many lovely (and not-so-lovely) dresses and tuxes out and about for pre-dance dinner and I'm nostalgic! I loved prom - obviously, since I wrote a book about going to multiple proms. I was visiting my hometown of Duluth, MN, last week and there was a prom going on somewhere in town. I seriously considered trying to crash, but would have had a hard time fitting in given this next point, which is...

The second reason I've been preoccupied is that I am pregnant...with TWINS! Yes, seriously. I have one little baby already, so I am going to have one ginormous family. I am an only child, so I've always wanted to have a house full of people - this will certainly be that. In the midst of all this pregnancy stuff, I've also been working on a new proposal for another romantic comedy. I'm working on something with a big (obnoxious) family theme - seems fitting, doesn't it?

Wish me luck on the proposal - send creative vibes my way. All I want to do is sleep and relax in the sun (it's so warm in NY!), but I need to get cracking if I want to try to write this book before these babies are due.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Stupid cheers

My mom is currently kicking butt in the Echols family weight loss challenge, so I e-mailed her a cheer from her high school days in Tallassee, Alabama:

Are you ready?
Well I guess!
Tallassee! Tallassee!
Yes yes yes!

I know this cheer by heart because she will yell it whenever you ask her, "Are you ready?" Just as when you say, "It's a beautiful day," she will launch into the soundtrack from the musical Oklahoma. "Ooooooh what a beautiful mooooooooorniiiiiiiiiing, oooooooh what a beautiful daaaaaaaaay..." Loudly. You learn what not to say around her to avoid triggering her.

In honor of Mother's Day, my favorite cheers from my own high school days are ones that include the term "yo mama." There was a lot of "yo mama" going on at my high school.

We can take care of
We can take care of
We can take care of
And yo mama too.

And this one's going into the book I'm writing now about football:

You ain't got no alibi
You're ugly! Hey hey,
You're ugly! *clap, clap-clap*
How you think you got that way?
Yo mama! Hey hey,
Yo mama! *clap, clap-clap*

Can you top this? What's your favorite stupid cheer?