Check This Out: Like Water on Stone (Part 2)

Hey, thanks for returning for part 2 of the interview with Dana Walrath. As I mentioned in part 1, Dana is here to talk about her novel-in-verse: Like Water on Stone, published by Delcorte Press.

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Now, on with the show . . .

El Space: How did you come up with Shahen, Sosi, and Mariam? Of these characters, who are you most like? The least like?
Dana: To honor my grandmother Oghidar, and her younger brother and sister, who I knew as Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice, I always wanted three siblings to make this journey together. But I never wanted to make this story literally theirs, so I started out with Shahen as the oldest looking out for his two younger sisters. As the mother of three sons, I am drawn to writing male characters. But Sosi’s voice was the one that came most easily. It took me time to discover Shahen’s inner journey, his frustrations at being small and not heard, but as I understood him, Shahen and Sosi grew into twins and equals. This explained their strong bond and gave more tension to their different stances toward their homes. An older Sosi also fell in love, adding tension to their flight.

As I was researching about eagles I was delighted to discover the shared experience between Ardziv and thirteen-year-old Shahen, that female birds of prey tend to be larger than males. Mariam got her name from a friend of my grandmother’s from the orphanage who went on to marry in NYC many years after the genocide. But the similarities stop there.

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For Mariam, I thought long about how someone so young would process these experiences. Her magical thinking supported all three of them. In turn, the love and care Shahen and Sosi show for her enabled her to survive in tact.

Who am I most like? What an interesting but hard question! There are pieces of me in each of them. Like Shahen, I get frustrated when I see things broken in the world and want them to change but have only limited power to do so. Like Sosi, I find comfort in the domestic tasks that connect me with my ancestors. Often when I am preparing Armenian food at home, I imagine a group of women chatting together as they roll up the grape leaves or chop vegetables finely. Like Mariam, using my imagination keeps me whole. But this is something all three young ones came to do. Shahen and Sosi both used stories to nourish one another when the food ran out, not to mentions the music, dance, and weaving that sustained them. Like all of them, I believe in the transformative power of art.

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El Space: What do you want readers to take away from reading this book?
Dana: I want readers to be touched by the strength and courage and the power of imagination that individuals marshal during crises. Like Water on Stone is not a story about passive victims; instead, it is one of agency and strength that can give readers hope and courage in their own lives. I want readers to know the richness of Armenian culture and to imagine the impact of such a loss on generations. I also want readers to see our shared humanity and not to fall into a trap of saying that all Turks and Kurds are bad because of what the Ottoman government perpetrated one hundred years ago. At the same time, I want readers to understand what happened during the Armenian genocide and to know that genocide does not end until denial ends.

El Space: Too right!
Dana: Without recognition and reparation, a signal is sent to people in the present that genocide will be tolerated. As a world we all need to understand the stages of genocide as outlined by Professor Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch, in order to prevent and end it globally.

El Space: I think inspiring people like you can make a difference. Which reminds me: what book, if any, inspired you as a child or teen? Why?
André MauroisDana: As a child I was completely in love with and inspired by a book from my father’s childhood: Fatapoufs and Thinifers by André Maurois (photo at left). First published in France in 1930 with fantastical illustrations by Jean Bruller, it was translated into English in 1938. It tells the story of two brothers who find their way to an underground world where two societies—the Fatapoufs, round, friendly food enthusiasts, and the skinny, efficient, driven Thinifers—are in the midst of a terrible war. The brothers, separated according to their respective shape and size, strive over the rest of the story to come back together and to bring about peace. A new, blended world comes about that uses the strengths of each of these cultures. As a political allegory that drew on the relationship between France and Germany through World War I, it eerily foreshadowed the coming war. This book gave me a creative context in which to place the activism and assassinations that were happening during the formative years of my childhood. Above all, it gave me an absolute commitment to our common humanity that is distinct from what we look like, and from our beliefs and practices.

Aliceheimer_s-AA_cover-demo-faceEl Space: What are you working on now?
Dana: As always, I am working on several things at once! The first is part two of my graphic memoir, Aliceheimer’s, tentatively called Between Alice and the Eagle. It blends Alice’s continuing story with the stories that I learned from elders in Armenia during the year I spent there as a Fulbright Scholar. I am also working on a contemporary novel called The Garbage Man about a daughter coming to terms with her father’s hoarding disorder. I am busy incorporating drawings into it. A second novel, Life It Gives, follows the story of Armenian immigrants in New York City. The main character is the daughter of Sosi from Like Water on Stone. I’ve also got several picture book manuscripts in the works. This strategy of jumping around might seem frenetic to some. But for me, it lets me let things simmer with my subconscious when I am stuck and also lets me respond to other demands in my schedule. This fall I have been working most actively on The Garbage Man. With the launch of Like Water on Stone last week, it was so good to turn to picture books to keep my hand in the writing process. I am speaking about comics and dementia at the American Anthropological Association meetings at the beginning of December and am creating some new comics that will advance Between Alice and the Eagle.

Thank you, Dana, for being a great guest! With all of your projects, you make me feel lazy!

And, as usual, thank you to all who stopped by. Like Water on Stone can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s

But one of you will find a free copy winging your way. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winner will be announced on December 3.
Looking for Dana in the meantime? You can find her at her website and Twitter.

Have a great Thanksgiving! This one is for Andy of City Jackdaw:

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Eagle from animalscamp.com. Armenian pattern from ms-seo.de. Comic from pinterest.com.

Check This Out: Like Water on Stone (Part 1)

Hello! Glad you made it here. Today and tomorrow I’ll be talking to the way fabulous Dana Walrath, another awesome author friend from VCFA. Dana is here to tell us about her young adult novel-in-verse: Like Water on Stone, published November 11 by Delacorte Press/Random House.

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Dana is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I’ll announce a giveaway at the end of the interview tomorrow. Intrigued? Stay tuned. Now, let’s get started.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Dana: Thanks so much for having me here! I started out as a visual artist. Though I was always a voracious reader I never imagined myself a writer until recently. The act of writing a dissertation in anthropology—my attempt at being practical—made me start to think of myself as a writer. I love growing older because these disparate threads have finally become integrated!

El Space: Like Water on Stone seems to be a very personal story for you. What made you decide to tell it now?
Dana: As the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide, I’ve been sitting on this story for most of my life. I was haunted by my family’s story but confused when teachers in grade school would ask me about Armenians. The realization that my teachers, who were entrusted with educating me, did not know about a genocide in which 1.5 million people died, became my first introduction to the politics of writing history. My Armenian mother responded to this vacuum by marrying an American and raising us to aspire to be blond and to climb the American hierarchy. I responded, in turn by chasing my Armenian identity for much of my life.

I travelled to my grandparents’ homeland, in what is now Eastern Turkey, in 1984; to Soviet Armenia in 1977. I filled my college language requirement with Western Armenian; I made large oil paintings and intaglio prints inspired by the Armenian landscape; I gave my children Armenian first names. When I discovered writing, this story began to come out. Because I tend to work on many things at once, the “now” of when Like Water on Stone was written is quite long.

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El Space: How did you decide on the novel-in-verse approach?
Dana: Considering that I had spent most of my life poetry-phobic due to my own inability to “interpret” poetry adequately, writing in verse wasn’t so much a decision I made. Instead the story decided its own form, appearing in fragments with line breaks. I never put two and two together about poetry, the rhythms of language, and my love for picture books until I started to write. Along the way I fell in love with this fascinating hybrid form through books like Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust and Witness; Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade; and Margarita Engle’s The Surrender Tree and The Poet Slave of Cuba. This let me trust the voice of Like Water on Stone as the fragments grew in verse form.

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Looking back, I’ve come to realize that the subject matter dictated the form. The brutality of genocide, the heaps of emaciated bodies, walking dead, rape make us all turn away. Just as I could only let fragments in, I did not want readers to turn away. I wanted them to have the white space to feel and process this experience. I wanted readers to know that people can turn their pain into hope and can emerge ready to reach and touch others. On a personal level, I was also reaching back across cultural and temporal divides to connect with my ancestors. Free verse gave me a way to both transcend and embody that connection. Today I love both reading and writing poetry, though my other fiction, picture books excepted, is written in prose form.

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El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book? How long was the process from start to finish, including research?
Dana: I found the various characters’ voices and the verse form of this book long before I found a true nuanced story line. As a survival journey I already had that basic outline of a story, but had to figure out how to create the details of the flight and character’s inner journeys so that the three siblings survived not just alive but whole. From the earliest fragments to publication it took about a decade for me to write this story with two beautiful years getting an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts about halfway along the journey. I worked on this story along with a host of other projects while there, but did not have this story in submittable from until two years after graduation. During that time, the magical realism and the omniscient narrator, Ardziv the eagle, appeared. Once this happened, everything fell into place. I went from having a dozen or so distinct narrators to the four that remain. Ardziv and his magic kept me safe as I dug deeper into the story.

In terms of research, I would have to say that my entire life was part of researching this story. For example, when I travelled in Western Armenia—now Eastern Turkey—in 1984, I had no idea that I was doing research for a novel. I just wanted to walk the same earth that my grandparents had. I kept my identity hidden and was welcomed as part of a young American couple into people’s homes with the hospitality characteristic of the region. People fed us foods that I had known my entire life and said, “I bet you have never tasted anything like this before.” Anti-Armenian stories kept me cautious until I got to Palu, the place where my grandmother’s family had run a mill. We visited the crumbling defaced church set high on a hillside. In Turkish we asked people about whether there were any mills nearby, and were directed across the eastern branch of the Euphrates River and up into the woods. There, the lady of the house served us tea on the roof, mounds of apricots drying in the sun beside us. When I asked about the history of the mill, she told me that this mill had been her family for 60 years, but before that, it had belonged to Armenians. For a moment, as we held each other’s gaze, the official Turkish policy of genocide denial evaporated. I do not know whether this was my own family’s mill, but the mill became the setting for the book.

I’m afraid we’re going to have to stop here for today. But stop by tomorrow for more of this interview with Dana Walrath and to learn of the giveaway.

Can’t wait until tomorrow to catch more of Dana? You can watch her give this TED Talk now.

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Jordie thought that being in water was a way to celebrate the title of Dana’s book. Perhaps he believed he would sink like a stone. Sigh. Forgive him. He gets a little confused, but he has good intentions.

Book covers from Goodreads. Poetry image from clker.com.

My Kind of R and R

When you’re in need of some R and R, and you conside watching a TV show or a movie to help you chill, what would you watch? After an exhausting week involving cooking for a birthday lunch for one friend and an emotionally draining visit to the emergency room with another, all while attempting to meet my curriculum deadline (and failing to write a word of fiction during all of this), my go-to for relaxation was . . .

Drum roll please . . .

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series . . .

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. . . and anything Batman related

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Perhaps my choices seem surprising. They were to me. I would have thought something soft and feminine like a Hallmark movie would suit me like an angora sweater. Well, at certain times of the year (Christmas), I’m all over those movies. But lately, nothing relaxes me like men and women leaping about with lightsabers, clones steering sleek starships out in space, or a tortured man running about dressed like a bat.

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Clone pilots are the new angora. . . .

While some aspects of characterization on Clone Wars are grating, I still watch the episodes. I wish I totally understood why I feel so relaxed, especially when every episode is about an aspect of war. But having grown up with the Star Wars movies, I have to say I find George Lucas’s incredibly realized world very inspiring.

And then there is Batman, whose film noir life has some unsettling aspects. Yet watching many of the DC direct-to-DVD releases are as restful as a mug of warm cocoa. I don’t mean they put me to sleep. I just find them almost as comforting as the chapters in Fellowship of the Ring where the hobbits, after being terrified by Old Man Willow in the old forest, find safety in the house of Tom Bombadil. (Another comforting chapter is a one in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame where Mole and Rat find safety in Mr. Badger’s house after a frightening trip through the woods. But I digress. . . .)

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I’ve seen many episodes of The Clone Wars and the Batman animated shows and movies at least ten times a piece. They’re great background for my crocheting projects. And I’ve got ten hats to crochet in the next few weeks.

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Jordie is killing time watching The Clone Wars, Season 5. It was either that or Video Game High School on YouTube.

Perhaps some of the relaxation stems from my love for cartoons, which dates back to my watching Saturday morning cartoons with my brothers. They had bunk beds, so we’d climb to the top bunk and watch the TV in their room. We called this gathering our weekly bed club. Ah, such bliss.

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Watching criminals trying to shoot Batman or General Grievous fight Obi-Wan Kenobi is a far cry from the cartoons I used to watch when I was a kid. But after a trying week, they offer the kind of rest I need.

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Here’s lookin’ at you, Obi-Wan!

Batman animated image from power-animals.com. Angora from nancyelizabethdesigns.com. Top Cat from gifsoup.com. Bunk beds from beds2udirect.com. Obi Wan Kenobi from simplywallpaper.net.

Hello, Killer

Look at her. You wouldn’t expect her to be a public menace.

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Public enemy number 1?

But recently McDonald’s recalled 2.3 million of the Hello Kitty Happy Meal toys because of one containing a whistle. Turns out it was a choking hazard. Because of reported incidents of choking, thankfully with no loss of life, the recall had to happen. So while the Hello Kitty figure above might seem like a fugitive from justice, she isn’t the one specifically described in the recall notice. You can see that notice here. But she has guilt by association.

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The real culprit

It’s sad, isn’t it, when something meant to bring joy to a child turns out to be harmful. Yet the toy as a harmful device can be found in the world of fiction also. The most effective villain is one you don’t see coming. Who would suspect a toy? Dolls/action figures seem to be the toys of choice when it comes to mayhem. Perhaps this is because some dolls look sort of creepy. Sorry to break this to you if you’re a fan, but I’m simply not a fan of the porcelain dolls so many people collect. They’ve always given me the creeps. Apparently, they scare others also.

I can’t help recalling “Invasion of the Secret Santas,” an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold where an action figure every kid wanted for Christmas turned out to be a tiny robot programmed to steal from the families unfortunate enough to have one. Guess that’s what you would call a ho-ho-heist. (By the way, the Santas below are not the toys I just mentioned. I couldn’t find an image of those toys. But these robot Santas with their cheerful, porcelain faces and hidden bombs caused chaos also.)

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“Joy to the world! Your town is doomed!” Everybody sing! Or perhaps “You better watch out . . . Santa Claus is comin’ to town” is more appropriate.

Kim Possible, an old Disney show, had a similar premise in a movie release—So the Drama (2005)—where toys in the kiddie meals were evil robots.

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An episode of Twilight Zone from 1963 called “Living Doll” featured Talky Tina, a persistent doll who turned to murder when she took a dislike to someone.

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Creepy, isn’t she? You don’t want to make her angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. (Hint to those who recognize that last statement. It’s from the old Incredible Hulk series from the late 70s/early 80s.)

You’re probably thinking of the Chucky horror movies right about now, aren’t you? They feature a doll possessed by the soul of a serial killer.

Stuffed animals also get their licks in. Let’s not forget the Toy Story movies, which had villainous toys as well as hero toys.

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Lotso the Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear had lots o’ attitude. You don’t want a hug from him.

Childhood fears have such power, don’t they? That’s why a toy as a villain has extra potency. It taps into the fears we remember. Better on screen though, than in real life. No child should have to fear being harmed by a toy.

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He looks safe. . . .

Batman: The Brave and the Bold image from ign.com. Talky Tina from examiner.com. Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear from officialpsds.com. Kim Possible: So the Drama poster from disney.wikia.com.

Testing . . . 1, 2, 3

Call me silly, but I sometimes take quizzes or watch videos like this that tell me what my car color, sleep habits, or choice of donut allegedly says about me. (I’ll bet you thought I was kidding about the donut. Look here.) Do you look at quizzes or videos like these? I didn’t learn as much about myself as the above video promised I would learn. If you don’t care to watch the video or can’t for some reason, it’s all about sleep positions. In case you’re wondering, I start off on my side, but somehow wind up on my back when I wake up in the morning. I’m not sure what that says about me. That I have commitment issues?

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This is my donut of choice: a chocolate cake donut.

Side sleeping is what the majority of people do (54%). At last I’m part of the in crowd. According to the doctor on the video, you can train yourself to sleep in a particular position. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like too much work. Yet I can see the benefits to it, especially if snoring is involved.

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I’ve also seen videos and blog posts where experts state that you can train yourself to dream a certain way. My natural bent toward laziness rebels against that.

gryffindor_crest_print-r92608dde23aa4bca82f74baab045c6a5_geub_8byvr_512And then there are quizzes that tell you which fictional character you’re like or which fictional environment or faction best suits you. Like this or this. (No training is involved.) I don’t know about you, but I don’t always tell the complete truth when I take a quiz like this. If I know the desired person, environment, or group (Dauntless; Batman; Wolverine; Black Widow; Gryffindor; Aragorn; Rivendell; Harry Potter), I’ll tailor my answers to fit that person or group. Hey, I don’t want to end up in Slytherin. And I’m too selfish for Abnegation. But for some reason, no matter how many answers I fake, every time I take the superhero quiz, I wind up as Superman.

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That’s me for both. (The fiery symbol is the symbol for Dauntless.) I’d better get used to the color yellow.

One test I’m tempted to lie on but don’t is the Mary Sue Litmus Test for fictional characters. You can find it here. Unsure what a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu is? Go here. The test is to help you gauge whether or not your character is too idealized. It also provides tips to help you develop stronger characters.

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A Mary Sue. But if your characters are fairies or angels, don’t let this stop you. Just keep on truckin’.

My natural writing bent is toward the convenient, so making the effort to go beyond a Mary Sue has been challenging. It mainly involves letting my characters suffer instead of protecting them like a Mother Hen. That’s not pleasant. But I know that in the end, my novel will benefit from the effort I put into making my characters strong. Now if I can only figure out their sleep positions/Divergent factions/Hogwarts houses, my work would be complete.

Donut from Wikipedia. Woman asleep from theaustintimes.com. Gryffindor crest from zazzle.com.Dauntless symbol from first-jumperr.tumblr.com. Christian Bale as Batman from comicvine.com. Superman logo from thehummusoffensive.blogspot.com. Mary Sue image from lydiakang.blogspot.com.

You Know, You Almost Had Me

Indonesia2002Wildlife-LI’m talking to you, Doubt. There you were, lurking about like a bloated but still hungry spider every time I heard, “No” or “I don’t take high fantasy novels.” I fell into your web for a while. But now I want out.

Hold on a minute, Doubt. Someone somewhere is probably asking this question: “What’s high fantasy?” Let’s ask our dear friend, Wikipedia, shall we?

High fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its setting in an imaginary world or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot.

Gandalf2Thank you, Wikipedia. Some high fantasy books/series you may have heard of include

• The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
• Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
• The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond Feist
• A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
• Earthsea (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, etc.) by Ursula LeGuin
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
• The Abhorsen series (including Sabriel) by Garth Nix

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Go here for others. Writing a good high fantasy novel, let alone a series, takes a ton of effort that includes research. Yes, these worlds are made up, but the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry still apply. You have to research such things as the anatomy and physiology of animals and which types of plants and trees mix well together, even if you’re making up your own animals and plants. But the people who write these books put in the effort, because they love what they do. I don’t have to tell you this. If you love their books, you love them because their authors loved them first.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it, Doubt? I stopped loving my books and valuing the high fantasy genre because of the few who didn’t value them or the genre or because they valued something I’m not currently writing. Shame on me.

And shame on me for thinking that I should switch to another genre in the belief that a story in that genre will sell or at least get noticed. Okay, Doubt. I’ll give you that round. I’m human. I fear writing a book absolutely no one would want to read.

But you know what, Doubt? Remember the times when I’ve written books that paid $500 on a work-for-hire basis? Though the publishers profited greatly and I didn’t get a cent in royalties, I enjoyed the writing ride.

And that’s what I’d lost sight of, Doubt—the fact that I enjoy the ride, regardless of who else does or whether or not I profit by it. I profit by the fact that I get to visit characters I love. And I love even the characters who do ghastly things. They remind me that I’m not perfect—that I sometimes do ghastly things. And one of the ghastliest things I’ve done recently was to stop writing.

Jordie the Jester (my blog mascot, given to me by Lyn Miller-Lachmann) is handing me a tiny notebook (it’s actually a playing card, but I’d like to think of it as a notebook), which I guess is his way of saying, “Get back to work.” Thanks, Jordie. You always know just what to do.

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Thanks especially to my good friends Sharon Van Zandt and Laura Sibson for coaxing me out of my hiding place and telling me to get back in the saddle and continue writing my series. You are the best! Maybe someday, my readers will thank you too. :-)

As I end this post, I’m reminded of words spoken by Charles Xavier to Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past (you have to see the movie to know why and how): “Please Charles . . . we need you to hope again.” Truer words were never spoken.

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Other good posts on the courage to write or writing past doubt:
http://ellaroutloud.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/tattoos-confessions-guilt-continuing/
http://www.lisaakramer.com/2014/11/09/writing-through-the-frustrations/
http://writeatyourownrisk.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/writing-encouragement-and-poetry/

Spider from divydovy.com. Gandalf from lotr.wikia.com. Book covers from Goodreads.

When the Well of Words Is Low

Today is Reveal Day for the winners of the awesome Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s young adult novels, Rogue and Gringolandia. (And if you’ve heard the TED Talk of Jill Shargaa, let me quickly say that I mean awesome in an appropriate way. Wondering about that talk? Head to the awesome Ellar Cooper’s blog here to listen to the talk.)

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Lyn and Jill

If you’ve decided to remain here, that’s cool too. I want to apologize for dropping the ball lately on blog posts. This is one of those weeks when the well has been on the dry side. The words that come to mind most readily—“Are you going to pay me soon?”—don’t make a good blog post. And no, I will not go into detail about that question. Suffice it to say that the life of a freelancer is often fraught with weeks like this. (If you know a freelancer, be kind to that person. Ply him or her with fruit salad, warm mittens, snuggly blankets, and popcorn. Chances are, he or she could use those.)

Fruit Salad

So, lately my mind has been filled with cotton batting and those words I mentioned in the paragraph above. When I’m feeling anxious or “pen tied” (my way of saying, “at a loss for words”), I let my crochet hook do the talking. And lately it’s been saying two words: “Make hats.” When life hands you lemons, make hats, I always say. I’ve been on an owl and minion craze. It’s my way of keeping my toe in the pool of creativity.

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004A hat still in the making

One thing I need to do that I’ve done in the past is return to the exercises of this book.

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I recommend it to anyone feeling a bit “pen tied.” Friot reminds me that writing can be fun and frolicsome. But what do you usually do when you’re at a loss for words but feel the need to be creative in some way?

While you consider that, let me introduce you to the minifig given to me by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. I’m calling him Jordie. Lyn felt that Jordie would make a good addition to the blog. Please say hello.

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Jordie says hi back.

You’ll see more of him in posts to come. Today, he wanted to be present when the winners were announced. So without further ado . . .

16101109The winner of Rogue and some crocheted flowers is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!!!

hbc_gringolandia_front_medThe winner of Gringolandia and some crocheted flowers is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andra Watkins!!!

Congrats, winners! Thanks for commenting. You know the drill. Please confirm below and your book will be mailed to you.

Fruit salad from teamripped.com. Book cover from Goodreads.