OUIJA: Room 9 and my real-life ghost story

New York, Writing, YA Fiction

I was pretty flattered to have been asked by Wattpad to contribute a story in support of Universal Pictures’ theatrical release of Ouija: The Movie. The only requirement for the story’s plot was that it feature a ouija board.

Seriously… no problem.

When I was a student at NYU, it was common knowledge that the school’s biggest freshman dorm, Rubin Hall, had been an apartment building before being converted into the Hotel Grosvenor in 1925, and then was turned into a dormitory in 1964.

Assigned to a room on the twelfth floor as a freshman, I hear rumors about strange occurrences on other floors all the time. There was (terrifyingly) one corner room at the end of a dark hallway that was sealed and unavailable for student occupancy, and as far as any residents knew, it always had been. Equally scary was room 903. The girls who lived there said that the water in the bathroom dripped constantly from the sink and tub unless you marched in there and demanded that it stop. Then, it did. Without fail. Items went missing in that room, doors closed on their own. The occupants never felt unsafe, but were all convinced that the room was haunted by a benevolent ghost who just enjoyed messing with them. He, who they called Stanley, just wanted attention.

This was the early nineties, a few years before all college students had their own computers and could easily Google the history of their dorm room assignment. The stories about the haunted rooms at Rubin were passed down in a vocal history that spanned decades. Another common rumor about the hotel was that Mark Twain had once lived there back when it was a hotel, and that Rick Rubin began his career as a music producer in his own room there, hosting parties at which the Beastie Boys were in attendance (sources are conflicted on the latter rumor, as it’s also believed that Def Jam originated a few blocks away at Weinstein Hall).

I did not have a ghostly disturbance in my room freshman year, although I did have two bothersome roommates. However, my luck ran out the summer between sophomore and junior years when I landed in Room 903 by myself for a few weeks. Like the girls I’d known as a freshman, I never felt like I was surrounded by an evil presence in the room, but I also never felt… alone.

My experience that summer inspired my contribution to the Ouija marketing campaign, Room 9C, which quickly found a fan in Poland who asked Universal Pictures if she could translate it into Polish.

Ouija cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Room 9C in Polish

 

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Famous People I Have Seen in Cobble Hill

New York

1) Ethan Hawk rushed past the Starbucks on Court and Dean once on a hot summer day and all of the middle-aged yoga moms inside the coffee shop freaked and were fanning themselves.

2) Paul Dano regularly frequented my Court Street deli at the same odd hours as I did. He’s very cool.

3) Paul’s girlfriend, Zoe, occasionally got coffee at the other Starbucks in the hood on Smith. Like Paul, she seems cool.

4) Michael Shannon often goes running in the neighborhood when he’s in town. He is both handsome and imposing to encounter in person. Basically, imagine seeing General Zod out for a jog.

5) Once, Robin Williams was shooting The Angriest Man in Brooklyn and I didn’t realize when I went into Pacific Green to buy yogurt that he was waiting in there for his cue. It makes me sad to even recall that morning, but we had a little moment where we exchanged glances because I was (naturally) surprised and he made me feel like I was in on a terrific secret without even saying a word.  What a huge loss to the world that he’s no longer here.

6) Keri Russell, too many times to list. Sometimes you might refer to a woman as “pretty” or “beautiful” and you might definitely be using the most accurate word, but neither of those words do Keri Russell justice. She is gorgeous beyond description.

7) James Iha, who was getting off the A train at Hoyt Schermerhorn and looked pretty lost.

8) Paul Giamatti, too many times to list. I have nothing to report on him, as he gives off a “don’t talk to me vibe,” which he is probably 100% right to do.

9) The original Becky from Roseanne. That chick used to be out and about all the time. One night, we made drunken plans once to go to Niagara Falls together in the morning because she’d never been. For the record, that trip never materialized.

I’ve never run into famous Brooklyn Heights resident Bjork, and not for lack of persistent trying. I’ve also never run into Nora Jones, Alexis Bledel, or Michael Pitt. My friend saw M.I.A. at the snooty French bakery on Smith Street, but I wasn’t around that day. I also used to see Michelle Williams all the time before she moved to Red Hook, but it seems weird to include her in the list because it was so long ago.

Movies I Will One Day Write About My Neighbors

Annoyances, New York

Living in New York City is full of many perils (crime, vermin, subway derailments, etc). Life here also offers a great many annoyances, most of which are related to the fact that there are far too many people living here, crammed into buildings that are rapidly falling into rack and ruin.  Even the most pleasant of neighbors can become a most hated enemy in a matter of hours if a leaky faucet, raucous party, lonely dog, or toothing toddler are involved.

Here is a list of movies I will one day (maybe today) write about my apartment building neighbors, past and present:

1) The Alcoholic Wore Tap Shoes

2) 365 Days of Furniture Rearrangement

3) Colic (a horror movie)

4) Saturday Night Minstrel Jam (tagline: Why book a gig when someone has a living room?)

5) Vampire Methheads

6) 4AM Lockout (tagline: Carlos discovers that sometimes people DO sleep in the city that never sleeps, specifically at 4AM when the locksmith comes over with a power drill)

7) The Endless Break-Up

8) The Asthmatic in the Sixth Floor Walk-Up

9) The Boys Next Door (Love the Beastie Boys)

10) The Rooftop Party Empire

Breaking hearts, enchanting minds

Light as a Feather, Writing, YA Fiction

Every author likes to imagine her reader reaching the last page of a book and wondering how life will possibly go on now that the story has ended.

Or, at least, that’s one of my favorite fantasies (mine, truthfully, are more elaborate, involving tears, negotiations with God, and a slow descent into madness). When I reached the last page of The Goldfinch, I stared at my Kindle for a good half hour wondering how on earth I could continue on with affairs not knowing what becomes of Boris.  This is not a new phenomenon. As a teenage I cried for an entire weekend at the end of Tiger Eyes.

My fantasy has sort of become a reality, because I hurriedly posted the last chapter of the interim sequel to Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board that I’ve been writing for the Wattpad community on Sunday, and madness ensued.

Here, for your enjoyment, are some of the comments.

jadox

Jeraldfaelnar KaciDanielle Keysiheart Leilani163 madika101 michk96

A New Cover, and Tips for Writing for YA

Light as a Feather, Writing, YA Fiction

My paranormal romance for teens, Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, was published just about a year ago, and to switch things up, we changed the cover last week. I think readers approve, because it’s suddenly #1 on the Amazon free teen paranormal romance and Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00036]horror lists. Exciting!

Here are a few things that I’ve noticed from readers’ comments that I never would have guessed as a novice YA writer. Use them to either avoid pitfalls, or capitalize on what I’ve learned!

1) if the prose of your book contains the words “one” and “direction,” whether you were intentionally trying to reference the boy band or not, female readers will find those two words together and freak out instantly.

2) if you develop a cute, emo teen boy love interest, threatening his life or killing him off will provoke a greater reaction from your readers than anything else that might happen in your story, including having your heroine die, commit terrible sins, or experience dire hardship (John Greene co-signs this point, with Augustus as evidence).

3) teen girls actually really like feisty, strong-willed female characters. In writing this book, I didn’t think too much about the sharp-witted, pint-sized character Mischa, but because she’s the most outspoken character in the book, she’s by far the readers’ favorite. There’s an abundance of wishy-washy female characters in YA, and this generation of teen readers doesn’t identify with them.

4) Female readers will discover and invent references to pop culture influences in their own lives whether you want them to or not. There’s no need to load your book up with mentions of Austin Mahone, the Beebs, Harry Styles, or whatever style sneakers kids happen to be wearing today. Mahone fans will find context in your work even if you try to avoid it. How can you possibly memorize every single lyric? You can’t. You don’t have to, your readers have already done it.

Scary Movies

Uncategorized

Last night I had a terrible dream about Oculus, that super scary movie about a haunted mirror. I haven’t even seen this movie. I don’t even have the balls to watch the whole trailer when I’m home alone and yet it’s already messing with my head.

When I woke up this morning I realized that a project I’ve been working on for little kid readers about magical realism actually makes much more sense as a really scary story targeted at grown-ups. There’s a very, very fine line separating magic from horror. I actually find the topic of old-timey magicians during the age of vaudeville to be kind of terrifying.  Most of the famous guys, Houdini’s competitors, were grifters and tricksters in addition to illusionists, like the super shady Alexander C. who was rumored to have married over 14 ladies, some of them at the same time (wasn’t life grand before computers prevented us from breaking laws)?

These fathers of conjuring and optical tricks have always fascinated me, and their legacy lives on today in our fascination with reality TV mediums.

Said Joseph Dunninger, famous illusionist and friend of Harry Houdini, “There is one primary rule in the fakery of spirit mediumship. That is to concentrate upon persons who have suffered a bereavement.”

It came just the same

New York

I spent this past weekend in Chicago visiting my family before the big rush of holiday airport traffic, which gives me severe agita. My family is blessed to have my three-year-old nephew Declan, the most charming rascal you’ll ever meet, with a glint the size of Texas in his eye. “Thanks,” is how he replies when he’s told that he’s cute. “I know,” is how he replies when he’s told that he’s funny.

Declan and I settled down on the couch to read his holiday favorite, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I got through the whole book, performing goofy voices for him at his insistence, and then I came to a line that I just couldn’t get out without my voice cracking:

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

The reason why this line in a children’s book makes me stop cold has little to do with the Grinch, himself. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was standing at the corner of 29th and Fifth Avenue, surrounded by co-workers. I’d gotten up late for work that day and was not only annoyed with myself, but annoyed with whatever craziness was going on in the city as I trudged, head down, toward my office near the Empire State Building. In 20o1 I didn’t own a cell phone yet, and hadn’t bothered turning on my television set that morning in my haste to get to work. I heard sirens and saw people rushing around, some standing on corners, pointing and gawking, but I had no idea that the World Trade Center had been attacked. After a summer of consistent tenement fires in my neighborhood and construction accidents across the city, I just assumed that the usual urban nonsense was to blame.

I didn’t have the slightest clue what was happening until my walk from the East Village brought me to the top of Madison Square Park, where the National Guard had cut off access to anyone trying to go further north on Fifth Avenue. Several of my co-workers, banished from our office building, were lingering there, not sure whether to walk home or stick around. Cabs had pulled over on both sides of the street, and cabbies leaned out of the open doors of their vehicles blasting news radio. It was then that I finally turned downtown and saw smoke billowing from the towers. My co-workers informed me of what had happened, or at least what little they had been able to piece together. A plane had hit. No one knew what was going on. Everyone was making sarcastic assumptions about how dang long it would take to fix the building, how subway service would be messed up. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that there had been casualties.

And then, much to the horror of the thousands of people who’d been ambling around at the little intersection where we’d been collecting, the first tower fell as we helplessly watched.

Three months after that horrible day (three months that were filled, in New York, with the inescapable stench of burning jet fuel, tattered photographs of the lost taped to buildings by loved ones, and in my own personal case, a dangerous case of strep throat that had resulted in a brief stay at the hospital), I was really not in the Christmas spirit. I was daily waffling through a full range of emotions, as I think a lot of city dwellers were that year. On a walk past the holiday windows at Lord & Taylor, my attention was caught by robotic models in a diorama spinning to the tune of  “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and I burst into such a violent torrent of misery for families that had lost someone in the tragedy that I gave up on my errand (I’d been on my way to buy tickets to see Cynthia Nixon in The Women on Broadway) and walked home for the afternoon to sit alone in the dark.

And that year, my wonderful friend Paul, a talented artist who had made a habit of sending hand-illustrated Christmas cards every year, sent a simple card with that line from the Grinch:

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

Despite the fact that no one in the city was feeling festive, the holiday arrived.  Despite all that had happened, it came just the same. And that year, Christmas gave us a reason to be especially thankful for our lives, our safety, our families, our jobs. As a city, in the months between September and December, we had pulled together. We had witnessed something unspeakably awful in each other’s company. We had hugged strangers in the street. We had shed tears over people we’d never met. We’d donated blood for survivors who never arrived in emergency rooms. We shook the hands of the men and women in the National Guard who arrived in tanks to protect our neighborhoods, who gave us a sense of security that we desperately needed even if the  actual danger had passed.  Paul’s card had been an emphatic reminder that even though we weren’t ready for Christmas, there was no avoiding it. It was time to start healing.

Even now, twelve years later, the simple line of that children’s book for me carries with it a profundity that surpasses a statement on materialism. Christmas comes once a year as a gentle reminder to look around, be grateful for our lives, and to take the time to  enjoy them. I may never again read all the way through The Grinch without my throat closing up, and I’m not sure that I’d ever want to, because Christmas for me is a time of peaceful remembrance. If you have a three-year-old in your life this holiday season, spend half an hour with him or her and read a book together. The time you spend with him or her is worth far more than any gift you could buy.
grinch

A Christmas chance to win stuff.

Light as a Feather, YA Fiction

If you love Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, here’s your chance to WIN this holiday season!

The junior class at Weeping Willow High School is playing a game of Secret Santa.* If you’d like to play, leave a comment on Facebook, and I’ll assign you the SECRET student from Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board for whom you have to get a holiday gift. You don’t REALLY have to buy a gift, just pick something out online that costs less than $50, and post the gift you’ve chosen in the comments on the contest post on Facebook (if you want to post a picture, Facebook is easier than here). You can mention the gift by name, post a link to it online, or post a picture. With your post, mention the name of the student you were assigned, and why you thought the gift was perfect for them.

From all of the entries received, ONE lucky winner from in between Wattpad and Facebook will be chosen at random and win:

1) a new pair of Sleepover Cotton Pajamas from Victoria’s Secret

2) a selection of TEN holiday nail polishes by Formula X for Sephora

TWO runners up will be chosen at random and win 3 bottles of Formula X each.

Formula X for Sephora

Winners will be chosen on January 1, 2014.

Let’s get this holiday party started!!

For Facebook entries: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Light-as-a-Feather-Stiff-as-a-Board/475835895814438

*If you’re unfamiliar with this game, it’s when everyone puts their name on a piece of paper into a box (or a Santa hat!) and draws one. You’re the “secret Santa” for the person whose name you’ve drawn, and on Christmas, you give them a special gift based on their personality. Usually there’s a cash limit on the prizes so that people don’t go too wild with spending.

** If you live outside the USA & Canada and are chosen as a winner, we may have to substitute your prize as it might not be possible to ship nail polish and we don’t want you to have to pay duties on your prize.

It’s snowing, and the gnome socks are on

New York

It’s snowing in Brooklyn and it’s almost Christmas, which means two things:

1) Christmas tree “farms” have popped up on sidewalks all over my neighborhood (see below)

and

2) I’m rockin’ my gnome socks, a snow day tradition (also see below w/cameo by Silvio the cat).Xmas tree farm gnome socks Verandah Pl.If this street looks a little familiar, it’s because it’s the street where the scene from Season 1 of Damages was shot where the crazy cop-turned-bad chases David’s sister, Katie, intending to kill her to keep her silent about what she saw in Miami, but then she turns around and confronts him and he chickens out.

I know, I watch too much TV. But this street’s 2 blocks away from my house, and I think about Arthur Frobisher every time I walk past it.