Friday, September 9, 2011

Guest Blogger - Tara Altebrando!

What feels like many moons ago (but was really just a few years), Tara Altebrando and I published our first teen books for MTV Books at the same time. I was given a galley copy of Tara's book, The Pursuit of Happiness. I absolutely loved it. I have told so many people about The Pursuit of Happiness since then, hoping they'd read it and love it as much as I did. It's perfect. So when I had an opportunity to invite a guest blogger to join us, I knew I wanted Tara. It helps that she has a new book that just came out, Dreamland Social Club.

I've started reading Tara's new book and thought it fit, in a certain way, with this month's theme - confrontation/conflict. From the very first chapter the main character is confronted by unfamilliar situations, places and people - from a decrepit, deserted house on Coney Island to the odd people she sees lingering around the boardwalk. It's an example of confrontation and conflict 101 in many forms. And because Tara's book is about Coney Island, a storied place we've all heard about but few have been, I thought it might be fun to have Tara share what she learned while writing her latest book. Tara, take it away!

Hey there, and thanks for having me as a guest! I'm going to write today, at the suggestion of Jenny, about the five most interesting things I learned about Coney Island, Brooklyn's world-famous boardwalk amusement district, while writing Dreamland Social Club. So here goes...

1) There is never any shade on the beach at Coney Island. Ever. None! Unless you make it yourself. The original Native American inhabitants of the region, the Lenape, called the island Narrioch—meaning "land without shadows"—because the beach gets sun all day. So pack your sunscreen when you go! And if, like me, you ever try to do a photo shoot out there, be prepared to hide behind clam shacks and climb down behind the boardwalk if you want a shot of yourself not squinting. Squinting definitely on display in my author video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOLIi_DH5bM

2) Donald Trump's father, Fred, bought Steeplechase Park—one of the three great amusement parks of Coney of old—after it closed. Because he wanted to build condos there and have the property rezoned accordingly, he hosted a sort of funeral/demolition party for Steeplechase and invited guests to throw rocks and bricks at the old rides. The point was to render Steeplechase beyond saving. Nice, Fred. Real nice.

3) Not long after that, an ambitious businessman who had made his fortune in fried chicken (for reals!), Horace Bullard, approached the city to allow him to rebuild Steeplechase Park almost exactly as it originally was. Now see, Fred could learn a thing or two from Horace, if you ask me. In fact, years and years before writing Dreamland Social Club, I had this idea for a movie called, well, "Dreamland," about a down-on-his-luck Brooklynite, maybe a ticket taker at one of the rides on the boardwalk (imagine Adam Sandler) who inherits a fortune from his grandfather and decides to use it to rebuild the Dreamland amusement park right down to the last light bulb. I still think it'd be awesome if someone could get it together to do that.

4) One boardwalk attraction at Dreamland that should not be re-created, however, would be the Premature Baby display. People had never really seen incubators before since they were just invented when Dreamland and Luna Park were in their heyday in the early 1900s, so the inventor charged people a few cents to peer at tiny babies in order to continue to fund his research. He was considered a quack at the time, though now we know better.

5) Dreamland amusement park, which to me was the most incredible of Coney's parks, with its minarets and towers and crazy rides simulating voyages to the moon and recreations of the Boer Wars and more, burned to the ground in 1911. But, incredibly, a bell that used to sit on the docks at Dreamland, weighing no less than 500 pounds, was found in the ocean in 2009. That's one hundred years under water, people! Incredible stuff. Or at least I think so! Which is why writing Dreamland Social Club was so much fun for me. I hope you'll check it out.

Thanks, Tara!! And don't forget to check out Tara's first book, The Pursuit of Happiness, it is sheer joy!

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