New York City

Inspired by Coney Island

IMG_4461 Happy holiday weekend, everyone!

So yesterday, in honor of the Fourth of July, I had the great pleasure of hitting up Coney Island with my fiance and a good friend. It felt like the right kind of thing to do on Independence Day.

I've been to Coney Island a couple of times before, but there was something about seeing such a diverse group of people, locals and tourists and folks from all over the world, just have a good time on a holiday. And the thing about Coney Island that is hard not to love as a writer, is there are just so many stories here.

There's the history first off, the fact that you can literally ride a ferris wheel built in 1918. Then there's the fact that for me, I know my grandparents used to come here to go to the beach in the 1940s, as likely many people's grandparents did and do. There's Nathan's and the hot dog eating contest and all the men and women who look far too skinny to be able to pack down sixty hot dogs in ten minutes. There's the famous "Sideshows by the Seashore," which over the years has been home to more stories than any novelist would need in a lifetime. And beyond that, there are the characters. While in line for the Thunderbolt, my friend and I met an official member of ACE, which stands for American Coaster Enthusiasts, a middle-aged woman who spoke about roller coasters like a sommelier discussing fine wine. At the Sideshow, we saw a brother-and-sister team breathe fire and swallow swords. Taking a break on the beach, we saw countless families tossing beach balls and building sandcastles and trying to keep their kids from running off too far.

Coney Island is like a nostalgic dream. It's one of those kinds of places they always show on TV but never actually feels real until you're there. It's all the things that make you feel wild and silly and like a kid again--greasy food and scary roller coasters and a boardwalk that is enough in and of itself to entertain you for hours. Like New York, it is a mishmash of stories, and though I'll probably never set a novel there, it's one of the many reasons why I love living in this city.

Here are some more snaps from our day:

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The famed "Face of Steeplechase."

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Nathan's already counting down to the next hot dog eating competition.

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Fourth of July wouldn't have been complete without some greasy grub.

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My friend and I all strapped in for the scream-inducing Thunderbolt coaster. IMG_4480

(That's us after the first drop.)

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Bikers and strollers on the Riegelmann Boardwalk.

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Pointing the way to Deno's Wonder Wheel.

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A particularly patriotic swingset.

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Bathers packed onto the beach, as seen from the Wonder Wheel.

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A view of the city from the Wheel.

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The boardwalk from the beach.

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Finally got to see the famous Sideshow!

New York Trip Part Two: Book Expo America (with lots of pics!)

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Since my return from New York, I have of course been way behind on everything, but I am belatedly getting to one of my favorite events there--Book Expo America (BEA).

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Let's be clear--I have never been to a book event of this magnitude before. It's thousands of square feet at Javits of ... BOOKS. Yes, it is truly, amazingly booktastic, and now they open it to the public one day, so you should def check it out next year.

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But anyway, my publisher had set up a half-hour signing for me in the autographing area. It felt super official (and super nerve-wracking). You had to go sign in at this special booth and then make your way through this behind-the-scenes curtain (where they stored boxes of everyone's books) to pop out just as the author before you left and make everything look super seamless. Then a bunch of people get in line and you just sign your book to your heart's content. Since I'm such a new, unknown, I was a little worried I'd have the sad empty line, but I didn't. It was full the whole time. I met a lot of cool people, and got some great practice on my autographing skills :) It was awesome to meet people who'd seen the book in the show catalog and had marked it down as one to pick up!

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After that, the publicist swept me back to the F&W booth, where we did another impromptu signing with my tower of books. See above. (It's not really allowed, so shhh, but it was really fun.)

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All in all, it was truly an amazing and humbling experience. I felt like a real author for maybe the first time. One of the women walking by even said, "You're the author? You look to young to be an author!" I'm going to take that as a compliment.

Other highlights included cool LEGO structures and getting a glimpse of the Ron Hubbard scientology booth. See below.

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I want these.

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Really bad.

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That's right, a book really is sold every 2 seconds... If that's not terrifying, I'm not sure what is.

This Week's Events in New York City!

New World Trade Center from BrooklynAs you can see from the photo above, I'm back in the big apple. Above is a view from my friends' lovely balcony in Brooklyn, overlooking the new World Trade Center. My feelings toward the five boroughs and all their amazingness can hardly be expressed now. I'm deep in a mix of excitement to be back and nostalgia for the life I lived during the five years I was here. Thankfully, I had an afternoon of gross weather and crowded subway rides today to remind me that everything here isn't perfect all the time.

But anyway, today I did my first event for The After Girls, a school visit at Hudson High School in Manhattan (more to come on that later, but it was amazing), and I've got two more awesome events planned this week. Stop by if you can!

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Tomorrow night (Wednesday), I'll be celebrating the publication of The After Girls at Revival near Union Square from 7-10 pm. There will be books. There will be treats. I will sign your book between beers. Above is the info.

And finally, I'll be attending my first Book Expo America this year. Bloggers, book-lovers, booksellers and librarians--I'd love for you to stop by Table 18 in the autographing area at 1:30 on Friday. I'll be signing ARCs of The After Girls.

Other than that, I'll just be enjoying this wonderful city, and will post so many more pics next week.

The Ten Things I Love Most About San Francisco (So Far)

Meet Marilyn! I'm not going to lie--I do miss New York. It's the place where I got my first job, made all my post-college friends, fell in love, sold a novel. I've already expounded on the many reasons I love it here. But for everything I miss about New York, there is so much to love about San Francisco--especially the things that you just can't get anywhere else (and especially not in New York). Here are a few.

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The Drives: First off, I bought a car. Her name's Marilyn (that's her up at the top), and she's amazing. Second, driving here is so much fun. Ignore Bill Cosby (actually don't, because it's hilarious). The hills are really fun to drive (there's an excitement to reaching the crest and looking out on the whole city, then cruising down to the next valley), and there are all sorts of cool windy roads in the city and outside. Even my annoying commute down to work is right along the bay (I see ships and sunrises as I drive in the morning). And basically anything in Marin is completely magical (see above).

Riding to the beach

Riding my Bike: Sure, you can ride your bike in New York, but everyone I knew who did always seemed really stressed out (case in point, my boyfriend, while in the bike lane, almost got hit by a cop car). Here, there are way more bike lanes and just friendly, quiet streets where that you don't have to be a pro to navigate on two wheels. Not to mention the park (more on that later) and beach just ten minutes from my apartment. Then there's also the wiggle, which I've yet to try, but describes the curvy route commuters take to avoid the hills. Love the name.

The Bookstores: There's City Lights with all its history. Green Apple Books in Richmond. Alley Cat books in Mission. It is actually hard to find a Barnes & Noble or a Borders here. What you have, instead, are tons of independent booksellers. A dying breed, but very much alive in SF.

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The Weather: Before I moved here, everyone I spoke to who had lived here said, "You're moving to the land of perfect weather," while everyone who'd maybe visited or read about it said, "Good luck with the weather." The city (and especially my neighborhood) gets a reputation for foggy, cold, dreary, rainy days. I have yet to see it. The sun shines all the time, it does rain (but no more than any other place I've lived, and it usually doesn't last all day), and the fog clears by mid-morning. What you do have are days in January warm enough to go out in a t-shirt or a light jacket. It's pretty much like permanent spring and fall. Also, there are great rainbows.

There's a dog in my beer.

The Food and the Drinks: Nothing will replace NY pizza or bagels, but SF more than makes up for it with authentic, fresh Mexican, great options for sushi, Burmese, Indian, Vietnamese, and just general freshness. Thinking steaming pho, spicy tikka masala, pork tacos, and grass-fed burgers. Then there are tons of great breweries (like Lagunitas, above).

Composting/Recycling: I have never composted before, but it is so easy here. You just toss it in the bin and the city picks it up. Not to mention all the things you can recycle, which you don't have to sort, just toss in the bin. And it's like that everywhere you go (even the movie theaters have composting bins). All of that equals very little waste. Our trash can is about half the size of our recycling container, and we take it out far less frequently.

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Golden Gate Park: No offense to Central (they were designed by the same person, actually), but GG is so much more. The sheer number of different species of plants, trees, and flowers puts it in a different category altogether. Then there are waterfalls, lakes, and ponds. Serious fishing and miniature boat sailing. A bunch of futuristic-looking museums (walking through at night feels like you're heading towards the mother ship). Oh, and buffalo. There are actually American bison that live in the park.

Thomas and the fish

Dancing with Sea Creatures: Located in the park, California Academy of Sciences has a 21+ Thursday-night event where you basically drink and look at science. There is a biodome and planetarium that I have yet to see, but the whole bottom level is an aquarium. Nothing beats touching starfish with a drink in the other hand, or dancing to house music while surrounded by underwater creatures (there's my boyfriend making friends with the fish).

The Work/Life Balance: 9 to 5 actually exists here. Not 9 to 6, 9 to 7, 9 to 10:45. And no one judges you for actually keeping those hours. That may exist in New York, but in five years, I never found it. "What do you do?" is also not the first question people ask when they meet you.

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The Views: Every morning as soon as I open my eyes I see this. Enough said.

“A sensitive look at the wake of a friend’s suicide, infused with genuine emotion, hope, and just enough well-placed romance.”~Booklist

“The Writing King of Difficult Subjects has to be John Green. After reading The After Girls, I would definitely put Ms. Konen in his court.”~Ink and Page

“A striking debut and an eerily good book… THE AFTER GIRLS is a vivid portrayal of interrupted lives and enduring friendships. It is as much about the known as the unknown and as much about healing as loss.”~Michael Northrop, author of ROTTEN, TRAPPED and GENTLEMEN

Ella, Astrid, and Sydney were planning the perfect summer after high school graduation. But when Astrid commits suicide in a lonely cabin, the other girls' worlds are shattered. How could their best friend have done this--to herself and to them? They knew everything about Astrid. Shouldn't they have seen this coming? Couldn't they have saved her?

As Ella hunts for the truth, and Sydney tries to dull the pain, a chilling message from Astrid leaves them wondering whether their beloved friend is communicating from the after life. The girls embark on a journey to uncover Astrid's dark secrets. The answers to those questions--questions they never dreamed of asking--will change their lives forever.

Get a copy of my debut young adult novel, THE AFTER GIRLS, here. 

Vintage Photos as Writing Inspiration

How cool are they? So, my grandparents were married 66 years ago today ... in New York City ... in the famed St. Patrick's Cathedral (I don't know how they pulled that off, either). That's them, above. Aren't they gorgeous together? I never remember meeting my grandmother, Mary. She passed away shortly after I was born. But my grandfather, Gordon, was one of the happiest, smiliest, most kind-hearted people I've ever known. Here's to them!

Anyway, I'm home visiting my parents right now, and I've been looking at a lot of old photos--ones of my other grandparents on the West Coast, standing in front of a classic car and a dusty landscape (I'll share that in a separate post), ones of me and my sister as a kid, ones of my parents as babies. Old photos are so amazing (I mean, just look at that car!). They can completely transport you to a different place and time, much the way a good book does.

I set my writing mostly in present-day, so photos aren't necessarily a window into another era for research purposes, but I guess when I look at them, I just realize how many stories each person has. I remember the way I felt when I was a kid. I remember places I used to live and visit. All of it makes me feel very creative, like there are endless tales to tell, moments to capture,  you just have to find them.

As a writer, what fun it is to be able to jump into a character's head and find their most happy, sad, dramatic, distraught, elated, book-worthy moments. I think that's one of the reasons we all love writing.

Anyway, enjoy the photo--and happy anniversary to my grandparents in heaven!

Book Deal!!!

I've been meaning to announce this for awhile, but between being superstitious/paranoid about telling too early and the little matter of driving across the country, moving into a sublet, and setting to work finding a new apartment, I've been a little preoccupied.

That said, the contracts are signed, the revisions (which I completed--I kid you not--in the passenger seat of a 16-foot Budget truck) are in and accepted, and my first official novel, The After Girls, will be coming out from Adams Media/Merit Press Books in hardcover in spring 2013!

Even after getting and accepting the offer, talking to my editor, the talented Jacquelyn Mitchard (of The Deep End of the Ocean fame--good book, if you haven't read it already), and embarking on a light revision, I don't think the news really hit me until I saw the cover, which was the exact thing I never knew I wanted, and I will share it here as soon as it's ready and I'm allowed to. As my editor said, seeing the cover of your book for the first time is like meeting a child--you feel like you've known them forever even though you're seeing them for the first time.

Well, all I can say was that she was right. I'm thrilled that this thing I've created is going to be real and on paper, but mostly I'm just thrilled that so many people decided to take a chance on my story, from my amazing agent, Danielle Chiotti, to my friends, family, and boyfriend  who supported me the whole time I was writing it, to my Mediabistro writing group who gave me amazing notes, to the editor and publishing team who are putting it on the shelves.

More than that, I'm blessed to be embarking on this new phase of my writing life in a beautiful new city with my wonderful boyfriend, and in a new apartment (we sign a lease next week)--I only have to figure out the little matter of finding a new job.

It's weird how the good and the bad always seem to come together. My boyfriend and I moved out of NYC literally two days before Hurricane Sandy hit. And even though the coverage has waned in the wake of the election, there are still so many without power, without homes, mourning loved ones, eager to get back to work, having two-hour commutes each morning. I've been hesitant to talk about all the good things happening to me during this time, but all I can say is, I'm incredibly blessed--and incredibly grateful--and I'm thinking of the brave people of New York every day.

My Last Weekend in New York: Karaoke, Gossip Girl, and 4 out of 5 Boroughs

I'm sitting here, it's nearing one a.m., and I'm trying to finish a revision before I move to San Francisco in just three days. I'm surrounded by packed boxes, bubble wrap, blank-looking walls, odds and ends, and what looks like too much work to do in the time alloted. It will get done, though--it always does. I'm not worried about that. I not even worried about moving somewhere new with no definite job--or driving 10 hours a day for six days--or fitting two people's lives into a Budget moving truck.

I'm not worried--but I will miss New York. And my last weekend here didn't help with that. My wonderful friends--the same ones who've always supported my writing, who've helped me find jobs and finish bottles of wine, who've danced and picnicked and been generally far too silly with me for the last five years--threw me a surprise karaoke party. It began with a sake-soaked sushi dinner that led to a private karaoke room in midtown. We started with Mariah Carey and ended--I kid you not--with a group rendition of "Don't Stop Believing." My boyfriend jumped up with my best friend from high school's older brother to belt out "Lady in Red." My fellow North Carolina friends stood with me to indulge our country roots with "Friends in Low Places." It was a dream of a night and one I'll never forget.

Saturday was spent recovering and packing, eating pizza, and then heading to the Palace Hotel in Manhattan for the Gossip Girl series finale wrap party. It's the show my boyfriend has worked on for six years, the same one that serendipitously stopped shooting for good the week we'd planned over a year ago to move. The Palace Hotel is a beautiful place (that's one of the rooms in the photo above), the champagne was flowing, there was a PHOTO BOOTH, and my boyfriend had the chance to say goodbye to the crew he's worked with day in and day out. Everyone wished us well, many expressed hints of jealousy, and most had one story or another of a winery or must-see locale in Northern California. When we'd had enough glitz for one evening, we took a taxi over the 59th street bridge into Queens and down into Brooklyn--the driver, who'd at first given us a hard time about going into Williamsburg, shared his strategies for getting the most customers in any given night (he likes to go against the crowd).

Sunday--in all its mild, sunny fall beauty--was spent taking the train over the Manhattan Bridge into Bay Ridge, having lunch with my boyfriend's grandmother, and then heading to Staten Island to see the rest of his family. It was a day of amazing food and company, and we topped it off by driving by the new Brooklyn Nets stadium on the way home.

There's a lot to love about this place--and it's not just the glamour of New York (which is never as glamorous as it seems on TV, though the GG party did come close)--more than anything, it's the people who somehow manage to make you feel at home in a city of 8 million. It's them I'll miss the most.

The Ten Things I'll Miss Most About New York

I'll be leaving this great city in exactly a week, and I've been thinking about the parts of it that are truly irreplaceable. Here are a few:

The Craziness: I’ve seen a Spiderman impersonator using the leverage of a cart to bounce off walls like a scene from The Matrix. Celebrities walking down the street unnoticed and unbothered. Elmo suiting up in the subway station to get money from tourists in Times Square, only to be arrested a few weeks later … only in New York.

The Contradictions: There are dozens of amazing restaurants within a few blocks and yet I’d have to take a 30-minute train to buy good socks. There are film crews—big and small—everywhere, but no one here ever goes to the movies. 500 square-feet is considered HUGE. You get the idea.

Free/Cheap Stuff: New York is super expensive in a lot of ways, but some amazing things are surprisingly inexpensive. $30 to see Kevin Spacey as Richard III. $5 to get into the Met and see Van Goghs, Monets, the works. I saw Florence and the Machine for free—just had to put my name on a list. My boyfriend and I went bowling once and were treated to a performance by the original singers of The Lion Sleeps Tonight—while bowling. Jazz music is everywhere. At restaurants, coffee shops. Most recently in the bar below my apartment, drifting through the window on Sunday nights.

Everything About Williamsburg: Widely known for its droves of hipsters, tattooed or not, Williamsburg is a great neighborhood. There’s a park, a waterfront, amazing food, great bars, good music. TWO GREAT BOWLING ALLEYS. The list goes on. There are people rocking fashions popularized anywhere from 10 to 80 years ago. There are lots and lots of puppies. And of course, there are enough ridiculous characters for my former roommate and I to regularly play Hipster Bingo. Fluorescent overload, FTW!

Central Park: Sheep Meadow in the summer, where a man will make a mojito with a portable blender for $5. Bethesda fountain, which pops up in countless TV shows once you start to notice it. Strawberry Fields and a guy singing “Imagine” while strumming a guitar. Motorized sailboats. The sweeping reservoir. People getting married. More people getting married. A zoo, which seemed to come out of nowhere the first time I came across it. It’s one of the best parts of NYC.

Street and Subway Performers: My boyfriend and I once saw two guys do the entire “Who’s on First” skit in the time it took to ride the L train beneath the East River. Then there’s the guy who plays Nirvana on his stand-up bass, or the one who carries a HUGE piano all over the city. There are acrobats, Julliard musicians, dancers, soul singers, accordion players, garbage can drummers--everything you could ever imagine--all you have to do is pay attention.

The Pace: Everyone is always moving here, and I’ve grown used to it. It’s what makes people think New Yorkers are rude. They’re kind, generous citizens who love this city and the people in it. They also have a places to be, and if you’re in the way and just standing around, expect an earful or a slight nudge.

Picnics: Wine, cheese, salami--enough said. I’m lucky to have lived in a place for five years where everyone loves to picnic.

The Pizza: Seriously, how is it so much better here than anywhere else? I’ve heard it’s something to do with the water. Anyway, as much as I’m thrilled for tacos in SF, I’m going to miss having access to the best pizza ever. Fresh mozzarella. Chicken and broccoli. Spinach pinwheels. Everything oversized and perfectly foldable. I will also miss knowing the pizza guys well enough to engage them in gun-control debates while ordering a slice.

The People: I think E.B. White put it best: “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.”

“A sensitive look at the wake of a friend’s suicide, infused with genuine emotion, hope, and just enough well-placed romance.”~Booklist

“The Writing King of Difficult Subjects has to be John Green. After reading The After Girls, I would definitely put Ms. Konen in his court.”~Ink and Page

“A striking debut and an eerily good book… THE AFTER GIRLS is a vivid portrayal of interrupted lives and enduring friendships. It is as much about the known as the unknown and as much about healing as loss.”~Michael Northrop, author of ROTTEN, TRAPPED and GENTLEMEN

Ella, Astrid, and Sydney were planning the perfect summer after high school graduation. But when Astrid commits suicide in a lonely cabin, the other girls' worlds are shattered. How could their best friend have done this--to herself and to them? They knew everything about Astrid. Shouldn't they have seen this coming? Couldn't they have saved her?

As Ella hunts for the truth, and Sydney tries to dull the pain, a chilling message from Astrid leaves them wondering whether their beloved friend is communicating from the after life. The girls embark on a journey to uncover Astrid's dark secrets. The answers to those questions--questions they never dreamed of asking--will change their lives forever.

Get a copy of my debut young adult novel, THE AFTER GIRLS, here.