This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001


Michael Buckley’s YA debut, UNDERTOW, is set in Coney Island (photo by Dana Gallagher)

Michael Buckley’s YA debut, UNDERTOW, is set in Coney Island (photo by Dana Gallagher)

163 Court St. between Dean & Pacific Sts.
Tuesday, May 19, free, 7:00

Brooklyn-based author Michael Buckley has gone from writing advertising copy to the text for Macy’s holiday window display to a pair of New York Times bestselling series for middle-grade readers, the Sisters Grimm and N.E.R.D.S. He has now made the leap to YA with Undertow (Houghton Mifflin, May 5, $18.99), the first in a trilogy about an alien race, known as the Alpha, in Coney Island. A tall, gregarious fellow, Buckley, who was born and raised in Ohio, was a stand-up comic, and it shows in his wickedly wry and playful sense of humor. He’s just finishing up a nine-city book tour that took him to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salk Lake City, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Rochester, concluding May 19 in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and young son. I’ve known Buckley for more than ten years now — his wife and my wife are partners at Stonesong, his literary agency — and it’s been exciting watching his career skyrocket. Just as he returned home from the tour, we discussed Coney Island, migraines, immigration, China, and imaginary friends.

twi-ny: On your blog, you recently wrote, “Undertow is the culmination of a lot of hard work and a whole lot of wishing and risk taking — not only by me but a whole lot of other people.” What were some of those risks?

Michael Buckley: Anytime a writer tries to do something new there’s a risk that their audience is not going to embrace it. For some, a fear of losing their fans can get in the way of growth as an artist, but I don’t do anything because it’s the safe thing to do. I want to try new stories and ways of telling them. I’m blessed to have editors and publishers who are supportive, because it’s not easy on them either. Every time I try something new, it takes a lot of energy by lots of folks to get the word out about it, to find ways to get my readers to give it a chance, and to make sure booksellers get excited about it as well. That’s a lot of long hours at work for everyone. I try not to lose sight of the fact that every risk I take is one I am not taking alone.

twi-ny: In the book, you write very candidly about migraines, which the protagonist, Lyric, suffers from and grades on a scale. Are you writing from personal experience?

MB: Actually, I rarely get headaches at all, but I have friends who get them and from what I understand they can be destructive. I asked a few what it felt like and how they handled it and most of them had different experiences and different strategies that helped them cope. Some have little tricks they do that can fend off a migraine, while others know the stimuli that cause the pain so they can avoid them. I have the utmost sympathy for these people, but I’m also in awe of them, too. There is an incredible amount of bravery and personal strength in people who suffer from migraines. They’re tough people, far tougher than me.

twi-ny: Undertow is set in Coney Island. Prior to writing the book, what was your opinion of Coney Island? Were you a regular visitor?

MB: I’ve been drawn to Coney Island since I moved to NYC in ’96 and have spent many a summer day in Rudy’s Bar or walking on the boardwalk. It’s grungy in the best possible ways — a real people’s amusement park, filled with faces from every corner of the world. I also worked in documentary films earlier in my life and researched Coney Island’s glorious history. It was once the biggest tourist attraction in the world until the original park burned to the ground in 1911.

twi-ny: What do you think about the changes going on there these past few years?

MB: I like some of the things that are happening down there now — the Cyclones’ ballpark is spectacular, and some of the new rides are fun, but it’s important to me that the park stays affordable. It’s getting a bit too expensive in my opinion, especially for the people who live in that neighborhood. I hope the city and the investors are considering the community.


twi-ny: The story in Undertow is an apt metaphor for the current heated debate over immigration in America. Where do you stand on that issue? I gather you’re not hiding much by giving the female politician most against the Alpha the last name Bachmann. Then again, you also give an ultra-right-wing conservative pundit the last name Rifkin.

MB: America is an amazing place to live, so no one should be surprised when people want to come here. We’ve also got a giant statue in New York Harbor that asks the world to send us “your huddled masses yearning to be free.” I mean, if we’re not going to welcome the world to this country, then let’s take the statue down — it’s false advertising. I think it’s hypocritical — we’re either welcoming them with open arms or we’re not. It’s not like we don’t have the room. There are plenty of places to live in the US. Have you ever been to North Dakota? Fifteen people live there! As for the Bachmann name, that could be purely coincidental. I mean . . . the character in my book is clearly insane and manipulative. She’s also a moron. Who could that be? [As far as that other name,] I’m not sure whom you’re referring to . . . ahem.

twi-ny: Undertow has elements of a number of science-fiction movies, from Alien Nation to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Did any specific films or books either influence or inspire Undertow?

MB: I was wildly inspired by District 9. That movie blew me away — not because it was a film about aliens, but rather that it felt real to me. I have no doubt that if an alien species crash-landed here and could not fly away, we would put them in a camp with a big fence around it. I was inspired by books as well. The Outsiders was a huge influence.

twi-ny: Your previous series, the Sisters Grimm and N.E.R.D.S., were for middle-grade readers. With Undertow, did you consciously set out to write a YA trilogy, or did it just happen that way?

MB: Undertow is the first young adult novel I have written and it was daunting. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. First, the themes and ideas in a YA book are far more complicated than in middle-grade books. You can explore ideas and feelings in a way that you can’t when writing for a younger audience, and I had never really had the opportunity to try it. To prepare, I gave myself a sort of master’s in young adult literature, reading everything I could get my hands on, then interviewing some of the authors behind the books I loved the most to find out what they thought was important for the readers, how to write a teenage girl, how far to go with adult themes — they were true friends and mentors to me. When I felt like I understood YA, and more importantly, when I realized I loved YA, that’s when I knew it was time to give it a try.

twi-ny: You’ll be at BookCourt on May 19 in Brooklyn, where you live. Is it exciting to come home, or is a book tour all just a big blur?

MB: Book tours can be both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I get to meet fans and booksellers and teachers and librarians and occasionally other authors, so that part is always fun, but getting up early and racing to airports and forgetting what your rental car looks like — well, there’s a million stories there. I’m excited to finally have an event here in Brooklyn. BookCourt has always been a great supporter of what I do and it’s a fantastic indie shop that really knows what people like to read.

twi-ny: Do you have anything special planned for the event?

MB: We’re going to throw a little shindig with some mermaid cupcakes and a little wine for the grown-ups. I’m hoping to see a lot of faces both familiar and new.

twi-ny: You’ve also contributed the story “Mr. Shocky” to Jon Scieszka’s sixth Guys Read volume, Terrifying Tales, and you’ll be signing copies of the book later this month at BEA. How did that come about?

MB: Jon is one of the leaders in getting boys to read, which is sometimes a complicated endeavor. He’s done a few of these Guys Read books in the past, but this was the first one in which I was able to contribute. I was thrilled to be able to write something scary — another new thing I’d never tried. I’m very excited to see how people react to it. Everyone involved has said my story is one of the scariest they’ve read.

twi-ny: I agree; it’s tremendously scary. It deals with a boy and his imaginary friend; did you ever have an imaginary friend growing up?

MB: I had an imaginary friend, but then he met another imaginary friend, and they both stopped hanging out with me. That’s sad. Wait, that could be a great story!

twi-ny: You recently got back from a trip to China with your wife and son. What was that experience like?

MB: China is nothing like I expected. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, during the Cold War, we were taught to fear all things Communism, and I had heard a lot of stories about China that turned out to be nonsense. What I saw was a vibrant, exciting country filled with amazing architecture and food and art. The people were friendly and kind and there was very little of the “police state” I was led to believe existed. In fact, if you ask me, they could use more police. Everyone drives like a maniac there! I can’t wait to go back.

twi-ny: Do people ever confuse you with so-called “Internet Celebrity” Michael Buckley of The What the Buck Show?

MB: I do get confused with him all the time and even get some of his fan mail. We connected on twitter awhile back. He gets some of my fan mail, too. I’ve become a fan of his — he’s hilarious, but every once in a while someone puts a picture up of him when they should have put a picture of me. Then, it’s not so funny — lol.


The mad rush for New York Comic Con begins on May 13, when tickets go on sale for the October event (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

The mad rush for New York Comic Con begins on May 13, when tickets go on sale for the October event (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Who: Spotlight Guests Jewel Staite, John Rhys-Davies, Adam Hughes, Chris Claremont, Greg Capullo, Masashi Kishimoto, Scott Snyder, Todd McFarlane, and John Rhys-Davies, Featured Guests Allison Sohn, Amy Reeder, Charles Soule, Terry Dodson, and many, many more to be announced
What: New York Comic Con
Where: Javits Center, 655 W 34th St. at 12th Ave.
When: October 8-11, single day $40-$50, three-day pass $75, four-day pass $105, tickets go on sale Wednesday, May 13, at 12 noon
Why: New York Comic Con continues its exponential growth as it reaches its tenth anniversary, making it harder and harder to get tickets, so there’s no time to waste if you want to go to the annual celebration of pop culture, with particular focuses on gaming, science fiction and fantasy books and films, anime, and all things comic-book-related. The four days, part of New York Super Week, are chock full of panel discussions, sneak-peek screenings, photo and autograph opportunities, book signings, and tons and tons of costumed fans. It’s getting so that those who come dressed in regular clothes are the minority. Tickets will go very quickly, so get yours now; don’t wait around until the big-time celebrity attendees are announced, as there will be plenty of major stars there to promote their latest work and smile for the camera with you.


Edgy Moms

Edgy Moms will gather together on May 12 at the Old Stone House to read their manifesto and other writings about mothers and motherhood (photo courtesy OTBKB)

Who: Julia Fierro, Lisa Gornick, Stephanie Thompson, Sophia Romero, Sean Grover, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Louise Crawford
What: Tenth annual “Edgy Moms” literary gathering, presented by Brooklyn Reading Works
Where: The Old Stone House, 336 Third St. between Fourth & Fifth Aves. in Washington Park, Park Slope, 718-768-3195
When: Tuesday, May 12, $10 suggested donation, 8:00
Why: They’re not just moms — they’re moms on the edge. Well, actually, they’re Edgy Moms, and they’ll be celebrating their tenth anniversary on May 12 at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn, where they will share their writings about mothers and motherhood. As always, the event, curated by Louise Crawford and Sophia Romero, will start off with a reading of the Edgy Moms Manifesto, which was written by founder and OTBKB (Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn) blogger Crawford and which explains what makes someone an Edgy Mom: “She’s feisty and fun and a little bit zany. She whines to her friends and can be a bit of a martyr. She fantasizes about taking long trips without her children, and getting a room of her own on Block Island with a computer and a view of the sea. She lets her kids have dessert before dinner, reheated pizza for breakfast. . . . She’s afraid she’s ruined her kids somehow. That everything is her fault. If only she’d followed those expert books. Or even read them. . . .” Among the patron saintesses of Edgy Moms are Lucille Ball, Melissa Etheridge, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Lenore Skenazy, Maya Angelou, and Marge Simpson. Happy Mother’s Day to all!


Hope Davis, Bobby Cannavale, and Parker Posey will participate in thirtieth anniversary of Selected Shorts at BAM

Hope Davis, Bobby Cannavale, and Parker Posey will participate in thirtieth anniversary of Selected Shorts at BAM

Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St. between Ashland & Rockwell Pl.
Saturday, May 9, $30, 7:30
Festival runs through May 10

BAM’s second annual RadioLoveFest, a collaboration presented with WNYC, continues with a special Selected Shorts evening celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the popular Symphony Space series in which a roster of film and theater actors reads short fiction. On May 9 at 7:30, Hope Davis (American Splendor, In Treatment), Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, The Motherfucker with the Hat), Parker Posey (The House of Yes, Broken English), and host Robert Sean Leonard (The Music Man, House, M.D.) will focus on works dealing with unexpected encounters. RadioLoveFest continues through May 10 with such other programs as Hilary Frank’s “Speed Dating for Mom Friends,” Glynn Washington’s “Snap Judgment LIVE!,” Anna Sale’s “Death, Sex & Money,” John Schaefer’s “Mexrrissey: Mexico Loves Morrissey,” and “Leonard Lopate & Locavores: Brooklyn as a Brand.”


Translators and authors will gather at Japan Society for special discussion on May 7

Translators and authors will gather at Japan Society for special discussion on May 7

Who: Jay Rubin, Ted Goossen, Aoko Matsuda, Satoshi Kitamura, Motoyuki Shibata, and Roland Kelts
What: Lecture, discussion, and reception
Where: Japan Society, 333 East 47th St. at First Ave., 212-715-1258
When: Thursday, May 7, $12, 6:30
Why: Haruki Murakami is one of the world’s greatest living writers, but he couldn’t have reached that level without working with outstanding translators. That critical literary art form is explored in this Japan Society program, featuring Jay Rubin, who has translated such Murakami books as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Norwegian Wood, and 1Q84, and Ted Goossen, who translated The Strange Library and this summer’s Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels, the long-awaited official English-language publications of Murakami’s Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. Goossen will also talk about his debut novel, The Sun Gods. Joining Rubin and Goossen will be authors Aoko Matsuda and Satoshi Kitamura and Murakami translating partner Motoyuki Shibata, with Monkey Business coeditor Roland Kelts serving as narrator. The literary evening, which will conclude with a reception, is part of a Monkey Business tour that will also be stopping off at BookCourt on May 3, Asia Society on May 4, and McNally Jackson on May 7; the latest edition of Monkey Business features a new essay by Murakami. Murakami fans might also want to check out Ninagawa Company’s theatrical production of Kafka on the Shore, which comes to the Lincoln Center Festival July 23-26.


independent bookstore day

Multiple locations in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan
Saturday, May 2 free

More than two dozen independent bookstores in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens are participating in Independent Bookstore Day on May 2, with signings, readings, lectures, film screenings, art exhibits, children’s activities, giveaways, games, food tastings, discussions, and, in several cases, free beer, to steer you clear of Amazon and B&N. Guitarist Gary Lucas will be performing live at bookbook on Bleecker St. Paul Durham, Matt Myklusch, Michael Northrop, Dianne K. Salerni, and Josh Lieb join together for a Fantastic Middle Grade panel at Books of Wonder. Amy Hest, Chris Raschka, Deborah Heligman, and Cynthia Weill are among a dozen authors and illustrators who will be at Bank Street Book Store. Housing Works will host a Kidlit Game Show emceed by C. Alexander London. Colm Tóibín, Eileen Myles, Joseph O’Neill, DJ Spooky, Said Sayrafiezadeh, and others are among the literati taking part in a marathon Langston Hughes reading at McNally Jackson. Jon Scieszka will lead a Mad Scientist Party at the Community Bookstore, followed by an evening celebration with Paul Auster, William Corbett, and Felix Harr. The powerHouse Arena will launch Luke’s Lobster’s Real Maine Food, with sample treats. And Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman will be team captains in a game of Pictionary at the Astoria Bookshop during this first-ever national Independent Bookstore Day.


Large crowds will gather to see the blooming cherry trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this weekend (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Large crowds will gather to see the blooming cherry trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this weekend (photo by twi-ny/mdr)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
900 Washington Ave. at Eastern Parkway
Saturday, April 25, and Sunday, April 26, $20-$25 (children under twelve free), 10:00 am - 6:00 pm

It’s been a ridiculously cold and long winter, but springtime finally seems to be here, and with it comes one of our favorite annual festivals, the Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The weekend celebrates the beauty of the blossoming of the cherry trees with live music and dance, parades, workshops, demonstrations, martial arts, fashion shows, Ikebana flower arranging, a bonsai exhibit, Shogi chess, garden tours, shopping, book signings, Japanese food, and more. Below are just some of the highlights of this always lovely party, with many events going on all day long.

Saturday, April 25

The Battersby Show: Beginner Cosplay Crafting, with Charles Battersby, Ann Milana, Lady Ava, Mink-the-Satyr, and Uncle Yo, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 12 noon

Sogetsu Ikebana Demonstration, with Yoko Ikura and Shoko Iwata, auditorium, 1:00

Dancejapan with Sachiyo Ito, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 1:15

Ukioy-e Illustration Demonstration with Artist Jed Henry, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 2:00

Samurai Sword Soul, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 2:15

Urasenke Tea Ceremony, auditorium, 3:00 & 4:15

Takarabune Dance, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 3:15

Hanagasa Odori Parade with flower hat dance by the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 4:15

Akim Funk Buddha’s Urban Tea Ceremony, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 5:00

Sunday, April 26

Children’s Suzuki Recital, Brooklyn College Preparatory Center, auditorium, 11:30

Awa Odori Parade, with Takarabune Dance, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 12 noon & 3:00

The Battersby Show: What Is Cosplay? with Charles Battersby, Aleta Pardalis, Dokudel, Mario Bueno, Uncle Yo, and YuffieBunny, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 1:00

Rock and Roll Love book signing with Misako Rocks!, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 2:00

Sohenryu-Style Tea Ceremony with Soumi Shimizu and Sōkyo Shimizu, auditorium, 2:30

Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York performs Minbu dances, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 3:00

Magician Rich Kameda, J-Lounge at Osborne Garden, 4:00

NY Suwa Taiko Kids All Stars, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 4:15

The Sixth Annual Sakura Matsuri Cosplay Fashion Show, with original music by Taiko Masala, Main Stage, Cherry Esplanade, 5:15