The Divining Wand

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Presenting Debutante Elise Allen and Populazzi

June 13, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books


To date, Elise Allen has earned and enjoyed a successfully diverse writing career in both Hollywood and New York, however it’s the upcoming publication of her solo YA novel Populazzi — debuting August 1, 2011 — that has her heart right now.

Introducing herself at The Debutante Ball in the August 30, 2010 post, If It’s Monday, It Must Be Deb Elise, she wrote:

“I live in L.A., and came out here immediately after college to follow my big dreams of becoming a wildly successful… actress.

Just one problem with that. I freak out on camera. Seriously.”

Seriously that’s how and why her writing career began. After all, if Deb Elise couldn’t appear on the big/small screen, she could certainly have her ideas and words in the spotlight.

It should not be unexpected then to learn that the author’s idea for this novel took root with a movie, Ten Things I Hate About You, back in 1999. Elise, working as a TV writer, landed a meeting with a film executive looking for projects similar to Ten Things — in other words, new versions of classics. She had recently read Edith Wharton’s Custom of the Country, about a character who moves to turn-of-the-last-century New York – a very stratified social culture – and is fiercely determined to climb her way to the top no matter what. And as Deb Elise explains:

“I kept marveling at the parallels between its version of New York society… and the equally stratified world of high school. An idea started percolating about a girl who is thrown into that world and tries to climb her way up… but I wasn’t interested in a calculated, popularity-at-all-costs girl. I knew there was a way for a girl to make that choice and take that journey, but do it for reasons and in a way that kept her likable and relatable.”

No she didn’t figure it out in time for the pitch meeting with the movie producer, but did write 8 chapters of the book only to put it away until 2008 when a former TV executive — turned book packager — encouraged her to sell the book. Which is how, in the tradition of Hollywood “happy endings,” Populazzi and its synopsis came to be:

WHAT WOULD YOU DO if you had the chance to erase your past and reinvent yourself as the person you’ve always wanted to be? Would you grab it? Would you stick with it, no matter what the consequences?

Cara Leonard always wished she could be one of those girls: confident,
self-possessed, and never at a loss for the perfect thing to say. One of the Populazzi.

It always seemed impossible… but now could be her chance.

When Cara moves to a new school just before junior year, her best friend urges her to seize the opportunity and change her life… with the help of The Ladder. Its rungs are relationships, and if Cara transforms herself into the perfect girlfriend for guys higher and higher on the Popularity Tower, she can reach the ultimate goal: Supreme Populazzi, the most popular girl in school.

The Ladder seems like a lighthearted social experiment — a straight climb up — but it quickly becomes gnarled and twisted. And when everything goes wrong, only the most audacious act Cara can think of has a chance of setting things even a little bit right.

The Populazzi Trailer

(If the video does not appear on your monitor, please view it here.)

Although there is noteworthy Praise, the ultimate, “must read” accolade can be found in the April 17, 2011 post, Deb Elise’s Grandmother Gets Naughty With Populazzi.

Elise’s grandmother worries about Cara Leonard — the likable, if not misguided main character of this substantive novel — and these concerns are well-grounded. For Cara doesn’t need to climb a Ladder of popularity, she’s perfect as she is BUT — being a teenager, alone at at a new school — she doesn’t understand that yet. Or, more importantly, she doesn’t understand who she is yet!

At first glance Populazzi may appear to be a light-hearted tale of silly mistakes or poor teenage judgment. While definitely a fun read that brought a smile to this reader with the situational and character’s sense of humor, the book also is:

Smart — The lessons taught and the insights portrayed are spot-on. Cara, herself, is smart and a good student (in a home where grades are everything). However there’s no competition between good grades and being acknowledged as popular.

Thoughtful — Like almost every individual, who has survived their teenage years, Cara and the entire high school student body are in search of their identities. During her climb up the Ladder, Cara tries many on for size before finding her true self fit.

Bold — The cast of characters are not supportive extras to the storyline, but rather a remarkably diverse group of individuals (albeit some unfortunate) who allow for a good look at high school students, warts and all.

Poignant — Truth be told, Cara and many of her classmates’ problems begin at home. Without giving away *spoilers*, popularity to the main character could be equated with seeking/receiving unconditional love that she’s not used to feeling.

Triumphant — This describes more than just the book’s ending, instead it includes all that Cara learns about herself and others on every rung of the Ladder.

TRUTH: Elise Allen’s Populazzi is solid, meaningful, and classic. In fact her first solo novel is a deliciously satisfying feast for both heart and soul.

Populazzi comes out August 1st, please feel free to Pre-order now….no matter what your age!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Populazzi by Elise Allen in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Elise Allen on YA = Your Age

June 07, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

[A few days ago the entry on my desktop calendar read: “Years do not make age.” __George Sand. And, in today’s guest post, Elise Allen — debuting with her YA novel, Populazzi on August 1, 2011 — serendipitously proves the truth of that quote.]

YA= Your Age

Okay, maybe not your age specifically. I don’t know how old you are, and I swear I’m not trying to wheedle it out of you. I do want to talk about why YA (specifically Populazzi, for this post, though this is a favorite topic of mine and I’d love to talk about it in more sweeping terms another time) is relevant to people of all ages, and that was the best acronym I could make.

Here’s what starts Populazzi‘s back-cover summary:

Cara always wished she could be one of those girls: confident, self-possessed, and never at a loss for the perfect thing to say. A girl at the very top of the popularity tower. One of the Populazzi.

I wrote that about a 16-year-old girl about to start a whole new school full of people she never met. I could just as easily have been writing about myself, last week, walking solo into a “networking” party where I knew no one. Or about my 90-year-old grandmother last year, moving into an assisted living facility where all the social groups seemed set in stone.

Sure, there’s a difference. My grandmother and I both have a stronger sense of ourselves than we did at sixteen, and once you’re out of high school the “Tower” isn’t as stratified – the pecking order isn’t usually as distinct or as seemingly inflexible. (At least not socially – there’s an argument that one’s career is also a popularity tower, with the most successful people occupying the hallowed role of Supreme Populazzi.)

Still, each time we enter a new situation with new people, most of us get that familiar feeling of butterflies, and hear the echo of that chant we recited while we stared at ourselves in the mirror before heading off to school the first day of the year: “I hope they like me. I hope they accept me. I hope I can be one of them.”

I have a big birthday coming up on July 6th. We won’t discuss how big, though in my Q and A with Larramie I did mention I had my first driver’s license in the 80’s, so there’s math to be done. I’ve been discussing this birthday with a lot of my friends from high school and college, because we’re all knocking it down one by one. Surprisingly, we all agree that we’re more excited than freaked out, mainly because we feel like now more than ever, we have a solid grasp on who we are and what we want.

Sure, we all have our issues we’re working on and want to change, but at core we’re entering the decade happier and more confident than any other year. We are who we are, and if who we are doesn’t work for some people… hey, that’s okay.

And yet… there are still those situations. The call from my friend in a panic before her daughter’s birthday party, worried what the other moms will think. The text from another friend on an adventure trip with a tour group of strangers: “They’ve all bonded except me!” My own silence as I stand around before boot camp starts and I can’t think of anything to say to the other people.

You don’t have to be the main character’s age to love YA. If you’ve ever been there, you remember those feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty, combined with the overwhelming desire to be seen, recognized, and loved for who you really are; and no matter how far you’ve come, you still feel their shadows sometimes. A great YA story will resonate for the same reason a “grownup” story does: the characters are fleshed-out and real, and it rings emotionally true. That’s something we can all appreciate at any age.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of From Bad to Cursed by Katie Alender in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Katie Alender and From Bad to Cursed. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

The Revealing of Elise Allen

June 01, 2011 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles, Q&A

Having earned success as a busy, popular, collaborative writer, Elise Allen is preparing to launch her solo career as a novelist with her YA book, Populazzi coming August 1, 2011. But first Elise will savor her two Daytime Emmy Nominations for being a writer of Dinosaur Train — the PBS animated show.

Then it will be all about her book, Populazzi, focusing on many an adolescent’s wishful thinking of:

WHAT WOULD YOU DO if you had the chance to erase your past and reinvent yourself as the person you’ve always wanted to be?

Here’s early praise:

“Fresh, funny, and sometimes wrenching, Populazzi nails what it’s like to try and find yourself while navigating the crazy world of high school. I loved it.” –Hilary Duff

“Populazzi is a smart, fun, and energetic ride through the twisting hallways of high school popularity.” –Deb Caletti, author of The Six Rules of Maybe

“Hilarious, psychologically chewy, downright Machiavellian, and heartfelt in all the most satisfying ways. Populazzi had me blazing through pages. Elise Allen rocks!” –Matthew Quick, author of Sorta Like a Rock Star and The Silver Linings Playbook

“Populazzi is a fresh, fun peek behind the popularity curtain. If you ever wanted to fit in, wondered how to climb the popularity ladder, or needed how to figure out which guy was the best for you- then you’ll love this book. Elise Allen is a welcome new voice in YA fiction and Populazzi is destined to climb the best seller lists.” –Eileen Cook, Author of The Education of Hailey Kendrick, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, and What Would Emma Do?

The Divining has scheduled a presentation/review of Populazzi for Monday, June 13, 2011. But, in the meantime, let’s meet the author through her “official” bio:

Though Elise Allen hails from Philadelphia (home of Tastykakes, the best soft pretzels ever, and her beloved Philadelphia Eagles), she resides in Los Angeles, where it never has the audacity to snow. Elise has a wildly eclectic writing career, including that run the gamut from Cosby to Dinosaur Train. She recently fulfilled one of her many life’s ambitions by writing for the Muppets. She is Hilary Duff’s co-author for the book ELIXIR, and looks forward to the release of her first solo YA novel, POPULAZZI.

She lives in L.A. with her husband, daughter, and insatiable food-hound of a dog, Riley.

Duly impressed? Of course. But getting to know Elise, upclose and personal, is even better:

Q: How would you describe your life in 8 words?
A: Laugh-out-loud funny, surrounded by love and creative chaos.

Q: What is your motto or maxim?
A: I will totally pay for my child’s therapy bills.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness? A: Living in the moment and feeling perfectly at home in my own skin… ideally while swimming in the ocean in Hawaii with my husband and daughter.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: Anything bad happening to my daughter.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: I mentioned Hawaii, right? Specifically, the Kapalua Bay Hotel, where my husband proposed and where we went for our honeymoon. But since that hotel has been torn down, I’ll choose Napili Kai Resort, right next door.

Close second? Disneyland.

Q: With whom in history do you most identify?
A: Walt Disney – the good parts, not the hideous anti-semitic parts. Jim Henson as well, and both for the same reasons. These two men had boundless dreams and imaginations, but both knew that wasn’t enough – they had to put in the legwork to make those dreams come true. Both did, and both also knew you can’t make things happen on your own. They pulled together teams of incredibly creative and talented people, all of whom worked together to make the impossible a reality.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Fozzie Bear! He’s funny, he’s constantly coming up with new ideas and throwing himself into them headfirst, and no matter how many times he’s knocked down, he always jumps up laughing and ready for more.

What do you mean he’s not a living person? Of course he is! He’s Fozzie Bear!!!

Q: What are your most overused words or phrases?
A: “awesome,” “highly entertaining” and/or “highly amusing”, and the one that would make Stephen King loathe me, “cool.”

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: I’ve said it before on TDW, and I stand by it – I totally want that Hermione Granger trick of doubling up on time so I could get more done in every day. Barring that, I’d really love to surf. I managed all of ten seconds on the board once, but it was a seriously magical ten seconds.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: I’d say my daughter, but I can’t take credit for her. I swear she came out incredible, and I just stand back in awe and hope I don’t screw her up too horribly. I’m very happy with my career and where it’s going, but big-picture, my greatest achievement was being smart enough to recognize how incredible my husband is, and not screw up the relationship in its early days, when I was very young and tragically inept about these things.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: LOL – I just went through a mental laundry list! I think my worst mistakes happen because I can beat myself up to the point of self-indulgence, where I’m so irritated at myself that I’m no longer seeing what’s really around me. When that happens, I’ll close off or lash out, neither of which are things I want to do, and I’m not proud when I do.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: I feel like no matter what happens, I can find the funny in it. I can relate the worst experiences in my life as the best stories, and it’s not because I’m sugar-coating – I’ll find the fun and enjoy the ride, even when it’s bumpy.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Bad parenting moments – those times I’m feeling cranky or tired or self-critical and I say something to my daughter in the wrong tone of voice and I see her reaction and I want to turn back time immediately.

Did I mention I’m totally paying her therapy bills when she’s older?

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: At the risk of sounding very Gilderoy Lockhart, I have no desire to be anything but myself. I’m flawed in a zillion ways – maybe two zillion – but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anyone (or anything) else’s. Maybe I’d wish to be me, further along in my journey of evolution, but then I’d miss all the bumps and scrapes along the way, and the bumps and scrapes are badges of honor.

Q: What trait is most noticeable about you?
A: Big curly hair! You should have seen me in the ‘80’s. I blew it out every day. I didn’t blow it straight… I blew it out. My first driver’s license picture is nothing but giant hair and lip gloss.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Thursday Next from the Jasper Fforde series. She’s smart, self-possessed, has a wickedly dry sense of humor, and she hangs with fictional characters for a living. What’s not to love?

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
A: Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz from Phineas and Ferb. GENIUS!!!! I can’t even express how much I adore him. I got to meet Dan Povenmire recently (show creator and voice of Doofenschmirtz) and I completely geeked out on him. To his credit, he was very gracious, and even tossed me a “Curse you, Perry the Platypus!!!!”

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: DONOVAN MCNABB!!!!! I’m a HUGE Philadelphia Eagles fan, and while Donovan is no longer with the team, he had an amazing run, and from all accounts is a genuinely good-hearted human being. As for what I’d say to him, I’d thank him profusely for everything he did, then ideally settle in for hours of stories about what it was like for him to quarterback the greatest football team ever.

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: You know in the dishwasher, those little grates for the silverware? My husband likes to push them up and out of the way, loading the silverware into the baskets in bulk, while I’m obsessed with using the grates and putting each piece of silverware into its own little puzzle slot. If I open the dishwasher and see the silverware in his way, I’ll actually spend the time to take the silverware out, put the grating in place, and drop each piece of silverware into its properly cradled spot.

For a woman who is at heart a raving slob, this is madness; so I don’t say anything about the compulsion, I just do it.

Q: What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A: I’m most satisfied when I’m doing something physically challenging outdoors, like a tough hike, a long bike ride, or a long run.

That… or going to Disneyland.

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Is it dorky to say I’m already doing it? I guess the fantasy part is that I want to be so successful at what I do that I can get into Disneyland’s Club 33 anytime I want. (Club 33, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a super-secret club/restaurant in the middle of New Orleans Square. You pretty much have to be a huge muckety-muck or know someone to get in. Friends have gotten me in twice, and it’s AWESOME!)

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Compassion, generosity of spirit, and a great sense of humor.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: I think fresh strawberries! It’s strawberry season, and I keep hitting the farmer’s markets and buying more because they’re so good! I might be addicted – I’ve been eating close to an entire flat of strawberries a day. But I’m not sick of them yet, so I could probably handle them for the rest of my days.

Q: What are your 5 favorite songs?
A: How do I narrow it down to five???? Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart, Elton John and Kiki Dee; Only the Good Die Young, Billy Joel; That’s Rock and Roll, Shaun Cassidy (uh-huh, I SO just threw down Shaun Cassidy); Amazing, George Michael; Rio, Duran Duran

Q: What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
A: Again, you’re killing me with the narrowing down to five! From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams; The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde; Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott; The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell

Thoughtfully creative, generous, and fun — with energy to spare –, Elise Allen is definitely an author to watch, read, and follow on Twitter and become a fan of on Facebook.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagán in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Camille Noe Pagán and The Art of Forgetting. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is tonight at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in tomorrow’s post. If you enter, please return tomorrow to see if you’re a winner.

Guest Elise Allen on
Collaboration Celebration: a Summation

October 14, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Guest Posts

[Elise Allen (Populazzi YA coming August 1, 2011) has written for children’s television and film and is the co-writer of Hilary Duff’s first novel for teens, Elixir, which debuted two days ago — Tuesday, October 12, 2010. Elise believes she’s been part of a writing team for most of her life and, in today’s bonus guest post, the co-author describes the collaborative process.]

Collaboration Celebration: a Summation

A couple months into eighth grade, my best friend slipped me a notebook page filled with two paragraphs of scrawl. The first was all about her dazzlingly romantic life with George Michael. The second detailed my torrid romance with Andrew Ridgeley.

I was furious. George was clearly supposed to be mine. I had no choice but to continue both halves of the story, with George getting a nasty case of amnesia, forgetting all about his marriage to my friend, and falling madly in love with me, while Andrew swept my lovelorn friend off her feet in some completely random way that might have had something to do with an elephant.

A year of back-and-forth chapters later, we had what we firmly believed was a brilliant novel. Or the most ridiculous soap opera ever. Or both. And while it would be a supreme stretch to say that was the beginning of my writing career, it definitely cemented my love of collaborative writing.

There’s a stereotype of the tortured writer sitting alone at her keyboard, ideally in a garret, though a back table at Starbucks will do in a pinch, locked in an eternal struggle with her own demons as she battles to get the perfect words down on the page. While the image does have some truth to it (especially if you throw in several large boxes of breakfast cereal getting crunched down by the handful… though that part might just be me), the truth is the writing process is also incredibly collaborative.

Sometimes that collaboration is constant. When I first started writing sitcoms I worked with a partner, and we literally sat together in front of a single computer hashing out our spec scripts, feeling like Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers in The Dick Van Dyke Show as we bantered back and forth to massage the perfect cap to a three-act runner about peanut butter between George and Elaine. (“Peanut butter” turned out to be the perfect cap. I didn’t say it was a good spec script, just that we had fun writing it.)

When I landed on my first sitcom staff (Cosby — not the America’s Favorite Show you’re thinking of, but the one that came after. It’s okay, no one else watched it either), the collaboration rose to a fevered pitch. Instead of two of us in front of a computer, there were sixteen of us, all screaming out joke and story pitches to improve or completely rewrite a script that would officially be “written by” just one of us. We didn’t mind that; it was part of the process – our job as part of the writing staff. And when it wasn’t completely intimidating (I was 24 years old and pitching along with veterans of The Simpsons, The Larry Sanders Show, and the co-writer of Blazing Saddles), it was insanely fun.

That of course was TV. Novel writing, I imagined, would be back in the garret with the decaf grande nonfat lattes.

Not so much.

I did go through a ton of decaf grande nonfat lattes, but I got to drink them side by side with Hilary Duff as I worked with her on her debut novel, Elixir. That was a process I loved. Once again, I got to experience the electricity of hands-on collaboration. It was like being back with my first writing partner – Hilary and I would sit at our laptops and agonize into the wee hours over manuscript sections that weren’t working… and the heady rush when we finally figured them out was beyond exhilarating.

It was also thrilling to work with someone so passionate about the final product. We’d have absurdly deep discussions about whether a sentence should start with “yet” or “but.” We’d laugh at ourselves for doing it, but (yet) at the same time it felt great to know we both cared so much about what ended up on the page.

Direct collaborations like that are fantastic, but none of the writing I’ve done has been in a vacuum. I’ve written a lot of freelance TV and DVD features, and they always involve notes from producers, head writers, network executives… all kinds of people. And most of the time the notes are terrific, shining new light on a story. My own debut novel, Populazzi, would be nowhere near as honest, rich, and layered without the wonderfully piercing notes of my editor Samantha McFerrin. She pushed me out of my comfort zone, and helped me get the book to a place I never would have found without her incredible insight.

To me, collaboration not only makes writing more fun, it also makes the end result a million times better. Sharing what I’ve written, and letting input from people I respect push me to hone and improve it, is among my favorite parts of the process. And since that extends to blogging, this piece won’t really be finished until your thoughts are included too.

Do you love to collaborate? In what ways? What collaborations have been most successful for you? If you’re working solo, at what points do you share your work with others? When you do, do you always go to the same core group of people, or does it depend on the particular project?

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your thoughts!

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Announcement: The winners of Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine are Stacey W and Ann. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and your book will be sent out promptly.