Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fan Mail

Many of you already know I'm a huge fan of Ke$ha. I have blogged about her awesomeness, most recently how I saw her in concert in Milwaukee. You may also know that Ke$ha is in treatment for an eating disorder (disgustingly encouraged by the very people making money off of her). I have blogged before about my penchant for writing letters and sending books to famous people I dig. Here's a link to a previous post about people who have not written me back. And here, right now, is a post about Ke$ha, who did.

I have been writing fan letters since at least junior high, although the first letter I really remember working hard on was to a band called Out of Order. They were the house band on a kids' talk show on Nickelodeon called, "Don't Just Sit There." I was madly in love with the bass player/lead singer, Chris Guice, so I wrote a letter (I have no idea what I said, but I'm sure it was brilliant. Or mortifying.) and my friend Tracy (yes, of Get Well Soon and Have a Nice Day fame) decorated the envelope with mosaic paper cutouts. One day, weeks later, I received my SASE back, and in it an autographed picture and a letter from Mr. Guice. I believe I cried. Here is a picture of me, taken on that very day. (I have no idea how I remember this picture is from that day. All I remember is that my friend Beth was over, and we took a bunch of pictures. Probably to commemorate the occasion.)

I must note that I am now "friends" with Chris Guice on facebook. Why, I do not know. It seemed funny at the time.

Over the years I have sent many fan letters to people. I am starting to reflect on why I, and other people, do this. I'm old enough to know that we won't become friends. Probably. But I feel writing a letter, and getting one back, would be some sort of validation, an "I exist!" acknowledgement from someone I admire. Which sounds really lame as I type this. Who cares if someone famous acknowledges our existence? (Obviously, a lot of people, since that's pretty much the whole point of twitter.) Whatever the reason, I can't help myself from still being a fangirl at age 39 (holy fuck I'm 39). With Ke$ha, it felt like a good time to write her a letter, supporting her when she's feeling a little low. As I'm sure thousands of other people are doing. In it I told her how happy her music makes me and how I think it's great how she is a proponent of being oneself. And I sent her some of my books because I know how long the hours in treatment can be (hell, one of my books is even about being in treatment!). Plus, I do happen to mention her a few times in The F-It List. Then I sent the books off, along with a SASE, and that was that. Until a letter with my handwriting arrived in the mail with a person named, "K. Damnit" in the return corner. To those who send out SASEs: are you always as confused as I am when one arrives back in the mail with your very own handwriting? It took forever for it to register that Ke$ha wrote me a letter. It turned out to be a really sweet one, and I was thrilled to get it. I didn't cry or take pictures of myself afterward, but, I will admit, I did write her another one. Because who the hell doesn't love a penpal? I come from an era of writing to people I didn't know but whose addresses I found in the back of teen music magazines because we both liked The Monkees. I had a penpal friendship that spanned junior high through college with a teenaged boy. I still write letters to my friend in Australia because it's fun to get international mail (and hella expensive). So, yeah, I wrote Ke$ha back. Of course I'm crossing my fingers and toes she'll write me back again. Because it's a damn good feeling to be acknowledged by someone I adore and admire. And I will never lose the excitement of going to my mailbox in hopes that something exciting is waiting inside. [note: by "something exciting" I do not mean the spider that lays eggs in our mailbox every year.]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Do I Name Thee?

Thank you to all eleven thousand-- oh, excuse me, eleven-- people who took my poll about blog content. I appreciate you taking the time to click on the button (Did that sound sarcastic? I was going for self-deprecating). The number one blog (six votes, yo!) choice was how I name my characters, so here goes.

I first have to remember the names of my characters. Let's start there. You know how Brad Pitt somewhat recently said he thinks he has some disorder where he can't recognize a face that he's seen before? I think I have something like that about names. And I think it may make me seem like an asshole on occasion, but it's a real problem. Just the other day one of my daughter's friend's moms made fun of me for not knowing any of the other moms names in her class [ to which I say, a) why you gotta make fun of me?, b) at least I know all of the kids' names, and c) I swear none of them actually look like their names!]. So when I choose character names in books, I try to select names that match the characters. What was unique as I wrote The F-It List was that I was pregnant at the time. And because of all of the pregnancy troubles I had dealt with prior to this last pregnancy (that resulted in my now seven month-old son), I was struggling a lot with the idea that this pregnancy would actually result in producing a baby. Because of some new, intense testing, I knew very early on we were having a boy. But we really didn't have any boy names we completely loved. Because of this, the main male character in F-It, Leo, changed names a multitude of times. And I solicited people for name advice, which I do not normally do. Maybe it was so hard to name Leo because it was so hard to connect a name to the possibility of a baby. But I'll get back to Leo in a minute. Let's look at the two main female characters first.

Alex and Becca's names were based on two friends who helped and inspired pieces of F-It and made it possible for me to really understand what it was like to be a teen with cancer. In real life, Alex (or Allyx, as she spells it), was the person with cancer, and Becky, her friend. I thought Alex seemed more like a name for the tough-on-the-outside narrator, and Becca felt like a more romanticized version of the name Becky. Plus, I didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea that these characters were completely based on real people. I am happy with my choices.

Looking at my list of characters, here are some name trivia tidbits:
  • Damien West was inspired by Damien Echols.
  • Eliza Klise has the last name of my good friend, writer James Klise.
  • Brandon Hathaway shares the last name of my longtime movie crush, Noah Hathaway.
  • Jenna Brown was originally Jenna Gold but had to be changed to be alphabetically locker correct.
  • Beth Sidell is a combination of Jewish friends from grade school (you probably see a lot of people named Beth, Liz, and with the last name Rubin in my books).
  • I kind of hate the name Lottie McDaniels.
  • Ms. Norton was the name of my first grade teacher.
  • The school nurse, Mrs. Kafcas, shares the last name of one of my close friends, as does the secretary, Mrs. Novack.
I chose Caleb for the home-schooled neighbor because it sounded religious to me. Not that the character is religious, but I pictured him being old-fashioned. He is definitely one of my favorite characters.

Back to Leo... I believe Leo started with the name Sam. It's a name I really like and one I think has a kindness to it. But then Matt and I thought maybe we would name our son Sam, so I had to take it out of the book. Then I changed it to Dean (fans of the TV show "Supernatural" will recognize those names), but Matt and I kind of liked that one, too, so it was gone. Looking back at emails with Liz, my editor, we came up with some other names like Griffin and Gabriel (but, again, Matt and I liked Gabriel, and Griffin to me seemed too trying-to-be-cool). Leo was semi-last minute, and I like it. I don't remember how I chose it, or even if I was the one who thought of it in the first place. I don't know if it fits the character as well as some of the previous names mentioned, but I knew I wouldn't name my kid Leo, so it was a safe choice. I'd be curious to know what you readers think!

And in case you didn't already know, we settled on Dean for the baby. It had a cool, 1950's vibe to it, and while it isn't a unique name it isn't very common these days, which we liked. It's short and simple, and if Romy and Dean decide to start a band, I think Romy and Dean has a cool ring to it. Truthfully, it's hard to tell if he's a "Dean," but I suppose he'll have to be. I hope he's as brave and loyal as Dean Winchester, his TV character namesake, and I certainly wouldn't mind if he turned out to be as good-looking. I do hope he has better luck with relationships. And, you know, doesn't go to Hell. [None of this will make sense to you unless you watch "Supernatural."] Naming a baby and a book character is a lot of responsibility. I hope I chose wisely!

Monday, January 20, 2014

I'm Back!

Did anyone notice I was gone? I have sort of faded away from blogging. I quite enjoy the format, actually, but life has just really taken over, as has lack of sleep. I have a seven month-old, and while his sleep is significantly better than it was a month ago (which means it was shit for over six months), my boobs are not catching up. Seriously, I could make this blog all about breastfeeding, since it seems that's all I do, day or night. My boobs have taken over my life. Even when Dean sleeps, my boobs are all, "Wake up! Wake up!" I kind of hate them. Anywho, since I received a really cool email from a guy who recently read The F-It List (twice!), I thought it was time for me to post Alex's horror movie list that I promised 700 years ago. Alex, for those who do not know, is the main character in The F-It List. She is a lover of horror films, as I am, and this list is culled from my years of watching horror movies as a teenager and college student. I tend not to watch as many these days, mainly because my husband does not love them and I can't stay awake for ten minutes of a television show, let alone a movie. Below is a picture of the list I attempted to keep as I wrote The F-It List of all of the horror movies I included in the book:

I like how at the bottom of the list it reads, "Casablanca." You can also see a tiny section of Alex and Leo's (named "Sam" on this page-- more on that in another blog post) class schedule on the right side. Those are the kinds of notes I take as I write to help me keep track of things. I fully intend on typing the movie list up and posting it here and on the official F-It List page on my website, but for now I hope you can read my handwriting. I will go into more detail on the titles, if people like, to help you best with your viewing decisions. In fact, why don't I post a good, old-fashioned poll? I used to love to post these on my blog. So, if anyone is reading, please take a moment to answer the question of which items you'd like me to post about on my blog. Feel free to embellish your answers or add other ideas in the blog comments.
What should I blog about next?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The End of the Edits

I told you I was going to blog about some of the final passes of The F-It List, where the book is basically finished and there are just small changes to make. Sorry it's been a while. Not for any reason except that I have kids, and they don't like when I'm on the computer. The only reason I may be able to write this post is that my daughter slept at her Grandma's last night, and the baby is on a mat on the floor next to me. We'll see how long that lasts. Or how much drool collects.

This is what a manuscript looks like when I get it back from the copy editor.

This is usually the second-to-last time I can make any changes to the book. Those Post-It flags are mine. I go through heaps of them during the final two revisions. I put one on every page that needs attention. It could be that I don't like what the copy editor has suggested, I don't understand what the copy editor means (I should really make more of an effort to learn about all of those marks), or if I need to change something altogether. Much of the time, I wonder how stupid the copy editor thinks I am. When I finish going through the changes, I spend hours on the phone with my trusty editorial assistant, Anna Roberto. Our conversations are usually hilarious and nitpicky, and I love them. Here is a list of some of the things I flagged in The F-It List's copy-edited manuscript:
  • On the very first page is the note, "Compositor: please do a global change from 2 spaces after period to 1 space." This is something I try to do nowadays (remember back in the day when two was the norm?), but I guess I still stutter out two spaces sometimes.
  • There was a war of the hyphens in F-It (even the title technically has a hyphen!), and I started to get very perturbed by the number of suggested hyphens throughout the manuscript. Words were being strung together by hyphens far too often for my liking. Things like, I'm-going-to-die list and you're-got-to-be-kidding look. I felt like hyphens weren't always needed, or sometimes the same effect could be made with italics. But it was getting personal. When cheese-and-peanut-butter crackers had hyphens inserted, I wrote a note in the margin: "Why hyphens?" Later in the book, my comments veered toward the dramatic: "Really? Hyphens?"
  • One of the funniest (to me) things was that somehow my word "asseyed" was changed to "assayed." This carried over into the ARC, I think. Page 86. Maybe that one needed a hyphen?
  • I never know what to do with class names. Do I capitalize them? And I always screw up blond/blonde. I also compound the hell out of words that shouldn't be compound words.
  • I changed Big Time Rush to Zac Effron somewhere in the book.
  • Funny note from the copy editor: "DES: set upside=down crosses." Find that one in the final book.
  • Words the copy editor underlined for capitalization: butt and mullets anonymous.
  • T-shirt should always be t-shirt, in my opinion.
When the pages come back to me again, they are formatted to look like the actual book pages.

But I still have one chance to make changes. This time around, I made a lot of them. Some books, I only make a few. These are less grammatical and more fine tuning. I spent another hour or two on the phone with Anna debating the minutia, such as:
  • Changing "message" to "smoke signal" 
  • Taking out "video store" [yes, I'm old]
  •  Still battling the hyphens
  • Wondering why we capitalize Mohawk when referencing a hair style
  • Changing Ryan Gosling to Channing Tatum [any day, people]
  • Switching a dog reference to a cat reference (in the book, the line is something about "even dogs were going through cancer." At the time of my final revision, my cat, Tobin, was dying of cancer. He is also mentioned in the dedication.)
  • Double-checking that the List references corresponded to the correct phrasing and numbers as the actual List.
  • Making sure that the characters had the correct names (like who worked at the sub shop with Alex).
  • "Urinal cake with a candle sticking out of it" became "stack of frosted urinal cakes with a candle on top."
  • Certain words look bad when hyphenated onto the next line, such as "cof-fin" or "douche-cake."
  • "Some perfume to spray on it?" changed to "A spritz of Kardashian's butt spray." [It makes more sense in context.]
The final phone call is often pretty funny, with Anna and I debating the finer points of "asshole" vs. "dickwad." It's great to hear an actual person laugh at my work instead of me wondering if only I thought it was funny. Writing funny books is like doing standup comedy to an empty room most of the time. Anna is my audience of one!

I could write more, but Dean is now sitting on my lap and staring at the computer screen. That is probably not so good for his baby brain. Plus, he keeps pressing keys. Let me know if there's more you'd like to know.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Cyber Monday at the Blog of Wonder

Welcome to Cyber Monday at the Blog of Wonder! Some deal-esque items coming up, but first a little recap of blog stuff. Last week you may have missed two posts with some interesting factoids about working in the publishing business. First was my interview with April Ward, the designer of The F-It List (among many other books). Next up was a great interview over at MacTeens between me and my assistant editor, Anna Roberto. You can read all about who she is and how it is we work together on my books. Coming later this week I have a post planned about the hilariously specific changes Anna and I work through when my book is complete but just needs those tiny tweaks. Since my blog readers don't seem to be huge commenters, I'm not sure if you find these posts fascinating or not. However, I think the publishing process is probably interesting to a lot of people, considering the number who come up to authors and say some variation of, "I've always thought about writing a book." I thought I'd give you a look into at least this writer's process. So stay tuned for that one. Plus, it's kind of hilarious having to discuss which word choice is better: "douchecake" or "douchetaco." [Douchetaco is awesome! I wish I had thought of that sooner!]

On to the Cyber Monday stuff. Since I have two new books in bookstores (the paperback of Have a Nice Day and the brand new The F-It List), and since Hanukkah is here and Christmas is coming up, I'd like to offer anyone who would like to buy my books as gifts (funny books make great gifts!) a chance to receive a signed bookplate. All you have to do is send a scanned receipt (or a picture of you purchasing the book, which would be extra awesome) to julie@juliehalpern.com, along with your address and to whom you'd like the bookplate signed, and I'll send it to you! Yowza! What a deal! Bookplates for all!

AND... Looking for that perfect, unique gift for a children's book lover, art lover, or someone who likes to put glorious drawings up in their kids' rooms? Look no further than the brand new Matthew Cordell Etsy shop! My husband, Matthew Cordell, makes the sweetest pictures, and I think art always makes a swell gift. So pop on over to the shop for some great holiday gift ideas! We're still working out the look of the shop, but items are up for sale and ready to ship. Fun!

And that ends my Cyber Monday post. Soon to be followed by Let Me Sleep Already, Baby Tuesday.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Covering Up

I always find it really interesting to learn about book covers that got away and the design process that goes into creating and selecting book covers. That's why I interviewed The F-It List's talented designer, April Ward! Below is the interview, and afterward is a selection of F-It List covers that didn't happen. I'm glad I don't have to design my own book covers. I have a feeling they'd all have something to do with cupcakes and Swedish Fish (of which I just ate both). Thank you, April, for the great interview and the gorgeous cover!

What is your job title, and what are your job responsibilities? How did you come to this position?

I am an Associate Art Director for Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. I design children's books, chapter books, and young adult novels for three imprints: Henry Holt, Feiwel & Friends, and Square Fish. I moved to NY after high school and studied illustration at Pratt Institute with a focus on children's publishing. I was taking some design and type classes as well but I thought graphic designers only worked on magazines and websites, which didn't interest me. My junior year I had an internship with an amazingly talented illustrator and designer, Kris Waldherr. At the time she was designing her book The Lover's Path which is an incredibly beautiful illustrated novel. Watching her process of illustration and design made me see book design in a totally different way. She also introduced me to some people in the industry which helped me land my first job as a design assistant at Harper Collins. I knew immediately that designing books was a good fit for me.

What is your process for designing a book cover? Do you always read the entire book first? Do you take notes along the way? Do images come into your head as you read? How do you take notes?
I like to read the entire book before designing it, though sometimes if we need a rush cover I will have to start on comps before I finish reading the whole book. I do read every book I design, I think that's one of the best parts of my job. While I'm reading I will write down little bits of the story that pop out to me visually like atmospheres, character details, moments…then I do little thumbnail drawings to get an idea of compositions that could work. Once I start in on photo research the concepts will change and morph into different directions based on what images are available. I have a little sketchpad with the original thumbnail drawings (now also covered in my daughter's scribbles) and I like to look back at those when the book is printed. It's interesting to see if an early concept stuck through to the final, or if the end result is something totally different.
How many cover design options are expected of you?
I try to to come up with 5-7 initial concepts, sometimes more depending on how many images I have that could work. Then based on feedback from the creative director and editor I'll do some revisions before presenting 2-3 covers at an art meeting.
Who has final say?
There are so many people involved in the process that I wouldn't say there is one person with final say. The final cover is chosen by a committee of sales, marketing, the editor, the publisher, the author, and even big book store buyers. Everyone's opinion holds weight and if one person has a negative reaction it generally means the cover will be reworked or at least discussed again, even if the comment comes after a point where the cover is considered final. We have to be really  flexible, which can be especially challenging when you're attached to a design.
Did you ever design a cover that you loved but everyone else hated? Has an author ever written to you and told you they hated the cover?
I've definitely done covers that I love that don't make it past the first round and you just have to accept it and let it go.  I've never had an author tell me that they hate a cover, that would kill me. 
Have you ever had the opportunity to redesign a cover after the book has been out? Say, for a paperback version of a book? Has the cover changed completely, and, if so, why?
Yes this happens pretty frequently, it's a good opportunity to rethink an existing concept or try to make the hardcover jacket punchier with a new direction. If a hardcover package is successful it doesn't necessarily need to be redesigned in paperback but I don't think it's a bad thing to give the book a new look for a new format. 
Are there any other questions you want me to ask you?
Sure! What was your daughter for Halloween?
A clown!

What are you doing this weekend?
Nothing!









Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We have a winner!

I'm having one of those moments where I can't have a single uninterrupted thought. Oh, wait, I'm having one of those YEARS. My children are trying to drive me mad. And they are very good at what they do. All I have to talk about these days is my kids, and all it is is complainy, tired bullshit. So here's a happy: congratulations to Ronni who wins the signed copy of The F-It List! I'll send you an email, too. Thank you to all who entered!

I was about to blog some more, but the five month-old is harassing me with his whines. God forbid I put him down and have access to BOTH of my hands. Thank you, ladies and gentleman, I'll be here all night. Two drink minimum. No hecklers, please.