Now, That’s Classic

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve consumed quite a few costume dramas, some of which are lengthy BBC productions like

Little Dorrit (2008)
Bleak House (2005)
Emma (1996)
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Northanger Abbey (2007)

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You don’t have to be an English major to know that all are adaptations of classic novels by Charles Dickens (the first two) and Jane Austen (the last three). (Though I confess to having read all of the above when I was an undergraduate English/writing major.) I have another waiting in the wings—North and South, an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, starring a pre-Thorin Oakenshield Richard Armitage. Whenever I’ve mentioned North and South to others, most of the people I talked to assumed I meant an adaptation of a book of the same title by an American author, John Jakes. No, I mean this:

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I see the gleam in your eyes, oh fans of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice—the six-hour A & E production featuring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. I have that as well.

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I experienced a bit of culture shock as I dragged myself out of nineteenth-century Britain back to the U.S. in 2014. Though I’ve seen all of these adaptations more than once, they still have the power to captivate. And my goodness, Andrew Davies has been quite the busy bee, having penned three of them, with the exception of Emma, the screenplay of which was written by Douglas McGrath, and Pride and Prejudice (2005), which was written by Deborah Moggach. However, he wrote the script for the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice and tons of other productions.

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Andrew Davies

Every once in awhile, I get a hankering for ‘em. Such works are pure escapist fiction for me, each with its share of joy and sorrow—some more heavily weighted on one side or the other, with a touch of romance in all. Even the tragic aspects are vastly entertaining, thanks to villains I love to despise and plucky heroes (male and female alike) who bear up mightily in pressure-cooker circumstances.

Some might view aspects of these stories as too black and white, particularly those of Dickens, who was fond of populating his novels with loathsome people like Mr. Tulkinghorn and Mr. Smallweed in Bleak House or Rigaud in Little Dorrit, characters without a single redeeming quality. And Jane’s books include their share of unpleasant people as well, like Caroline Bingley (and her sister Louisa) in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Elton in Emma, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice). On the other side of the coin are Esther Summerson (Bleak House) and Jane Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)—characters who might be deemed too saintly or perfect. But with each side of the social divide so sharply delineated, black and white characters help emphasize the dichotomy.

While paragons like Esther Summerson and Jane Bennet don’t really draw me again and again to the books in which they reside, I can appreciate the parts they play and how different they are from other characters skillfully devised by Dickens and Austen, characters like the obsequious and ridiculous Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice or the equally ridiculous Mr. Guppy in Bleak House. (With a name like Guppy, a character can’t help being ridiculous.)

I wish my novel had a place for a character like Collins or Guppy. But both characters were painted with such broad comic brushstrokes that I fear neither would work with my other characters. Not that all lack a streak of ridiculousness. They come from me after all. :-D

Though some classic novels are avoided now because of the lack of diversity and outright racism in some (though not in the above novels), I still turn to the list above or their adaptations whenever I need a master class in character development and plotting. But mostly, I dive into them when I can’t afford to take a journey, but would like to get away from it all to a world where problems and plotlines are all neatly wrapped up in a reasonable amount of time.

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Gratuitous stuffed animal photo—my lion and his friend the dolphin

Pride and Prejudice movie poster from movieposter.com. Little Dorrit poster from cinemagia.ro. Northanger Abbey cover from movieberry.com. Emma from fanpop.com. Andrew Davies from BBC.com.

All Roads Lead to . . .

crossroadI worked with a guy who should have had his own version of Six Degrees of Separation. Every time I’d mention someone, he either knew that person or knew someone connected to that person. So, if I ever grew angry with my co-worker and wanted to vent, I had no one to talk to about him, because he’d eventually hear about it. I don’t dare mention his name, because you might know him.

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A six-degrees of separation flowchart

Know someone like that? If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s nonfiction book, The Tipping Point, you know about connectors—people who have an innate ability to connect people to other people. (Read this if you want to know more about connectors.)

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I am probably the only connection-impaired person in a family of connectors. I’m usually the person who goes, “I saw What’s-his-name the other day. You know. He’s married to What’s-her-face.”

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This is me, sort of. Actually, it’s Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (2005). But I relate to the posture of standing alone, or at least standing in the wind trying to recall someone’s name.

Connectors know lots of people. My older brother was one of the most popular people at our high school. He’s always naming people he heard from recently. (To which I usually reply, “Oh yeah. I sorta remember him,” knowing that I’m drawing a blank.) My younger brother was popular at his university. Do you know how difficult it is to be popular at a university which boasts tens of thousands of people? His birthday parties are usually populated by at least 40 of his closest friends. Now, I’ve known my younger brother all of his life, but at a recent party he threw, there were people who came that I did not know.

My dad knows tons of people. My mom always manages to connect to people who know everyone. My parents are used to the connecting way of life, because they’re from large families with a combined total of over twenty siblings (though, sadly, several are dead now). My in-laws also know everyone. I remember being in a mall in Houston with my sister-in-law, only to have her run into someone she knew. (We don’t live in Texas by the way. You know you’re a connector when you bump into people you know while traveling.)

Many bloggers are connectors: Andra Watkins; Jill Weatherholt; K. L. Schwengel; Charles Yallowitz; Marylin Warner; Laura Sibson; Sharon Van Zandt; Lyn Miller-Lachmann; the Brickhousechick; T. K. MorinCeline Jeanjean; Mishka Jenkins; Sandra Nickel—just to name a few. And I have several classmates (besides Laura, Lyn, and Sandra, and Sharon) who are born connectors. Whenever I want to inquire about agents, publishers, marketing, or anything else, I head straight to them for advice.

We look to the connectors in our lives, especially when we need to network, don’t we? It’s nice to know someone who knows someone else trustworthy. Connectors seem to love to match you with people they know. Need your car fixed? They know the perfect place to take your little Yugo. (Remember those?) Need your roof fixed? They know the people you should avoid calling. The only awkward thing about some connectors is that they think they know your taste when sometimes they don’t. Like when I was blindsided at a dinner by a well-meaning connector who tried to match me up with someone who also did not understand that this was a matchmaking meal. Talk about awkward, especially since we had no interest in each other.

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A Yugo

Authors are the ultimate connectors in a way. If you’re a fan of Charles Dickens, you know that in many of his books, he often reveals hidden connections between his characters. Then he adds a connector to connect the dots. Don’t believe me? Read Bleak House or see BBC’s adaptation of it. I won’t spoil the mystery for you.

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The challenge for an author comes with connecting characters in a noncontrived way—and by that I mean beyond shock value. Oh, I know. There’s something fun about the “Luke, I am your father” announcements. Have you explored the connections between your characters in ways that might surprise or delight a reader (or a viewer)? I’m reminded of a movie, Whisper of the Heart, written by Hayao Miyazaki, in which the main character, Shizuku, checks out library books and constantly finds the name of another character on the checkout cards. (This movie was made in the 90s, so checkout cards were used then.) He becomes an important connector for her. Knowing your characters’ back stories really helps. I’ve been a bit lazy in regard to back story with some of my characters. Some seem too isolated ala the Lizzie Bennet photo above. I’m trying to rectify that by providing more connecting points (i.e., interactions with friends, family, acquaintances, and enemies).

Connectors are a reminder of the richness of being in a community. I’m grateful for the threads like connectors that link us together.

Who are the connectors in your life?

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Gratuitous chicken photo

Crossroads photo from amersrour.blog.com. Six degrees diagram from commons.wikimedia.org. Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet image from pinterest.com. Yugo and chicken photos from Wikipedia. Book cover from Goodreads.

Summer Spotlight: L. Marie

L. Marie:

Hi! Today, I’m over at the wonderful blog of the equally wonderful Jill Weatherholt! Stop on by if you have a minute!

Originally posted on Jill Weatherholt:

It’s Me, L. Marie

Hi, I’m L. Marie. Everyone so far has been a tough act to follow. I’m a little nervous, so please bear with me. Um, let me see. You want to know about me. Perhaps this would go more smoothly if you asked me questions before I answer the ones that Jill provided. I’ll pretend that you did.

You: I’m guessing you’re some sort of blogger?

Me: Yes. My blog is El Space: The Blog of L. Marie. I blog about writing and life. Both are broad topics, so that leaves me with plenty of subtopics on which to write. So of course I’ve chosen topics like the perfect bathroom reading and the use of hand puppets to brighten one’s day.

You (momentarily stunned into silence by that remark): Um, moving on, what’s with the name L. Marie?

Me: L. Marie is a…

View original 655 more words

The Sweet Life

I’ve been on a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory kick lately. I reread the 1964 novel by Roald Dahl and watched not only the Tim Burton 2005 movie of the same name (starring Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore), but also the 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder and directed by Mel Stuart. I’ve seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory twice recently. Slight spoilers ahead.

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Charlie’s story is a Cinderella story—a good, but poor kid desperately wants to gain one of five golden tickets which allow the bearers to visit the world-famous chocolate factory of the reclusive Willy Wonka—the prince of the story. Charlie doesn’t stand much of a chance, since anyone in the world could find a ticket. But that’s what makes the book/movie such a delight.

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Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka

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Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka

Why the obsession? Fairy tales are the ultimate comfort food for me when life is tough and I feel overwhelmed by it. (Like when two computer viruses almost crashed my computer recently.) It’s great to know that good things can happen to nice people, especially when the news is full of stories of brutality and hate—proof that life is often anything but a fairy tale.

I’ve heard men quip that women are obsessed by chocolate. How interesting that this book was written by a man and both movies adapted from it were directed by men. Seeing all of that chocolate flash across the screen is fun, but dangerous. I usually need to have some chocolate on hand to satisfy the cravings inspired by the movie. (Same with the 2000 film Chocolat, based on the novel by Joanne Harris and directed by Lasse Hallström—a film that also starred Johnny Depp and also Juliette Binoche. I highly recommend the book and the movie. I might have to revisit both soon.)

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While Dahl’s story, like others he’s written, has enough of an acerbic edge to delight twenty-first century children, Charlie’s family interactions, by contrast have a sweetness that I appreciate. But the best parts of the book and films are when the extremely bratty kids receive their just desserts at the factory. (Nanny McPhee, a 2005 film written by and starring Emma Thompson and directed by Kirk Jones, is another good film for that. It’s based on the Nurse Matilda stories by Christianna Brand.) Those moments are a catharsis for me.

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Yeah, I know. A fairy-tale like story with a happy ending won’t solve all of the world’s ills. But it can make a bad day—or a bad week—a little sweeter. If only real life was just as sweet.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory photos from yamu.lk and fanpop.com. Book cover from Goodreads. Nanny McPhee poster from mposter.com.

A Desperate Struggle

Before I get to the reason behind the post title, it is my pleasure to announce the winners of the print copy and ebook of Stephanie Stamm’s A Gift of Wings. For the cover makeover post, click here.

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The winner of the ebook for A Gift of Wings is Mishka Jenkins!

The winner of the paperback for A Gift of Wings is Sue Archer!

Congrats, winners! Please comment to confirm below, then email me your information at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. For the ebook winner, I’ll need the email address you use with Amazon. For the paperback winner, I’ll need your snail mail address and a phone number. Amazon will not deliver without a phone number. I’ll pass along your information to Stephanie, who will have the books sent to you. Thanks for commenting!

Now, onto the reason for the title. I’ve written posts about the sunflowers outside my apartment building. This is the last one, I assure you. I couldn’t help noticing how the sunflowers have been drooping lately, though we’ve had some rainfall. I wish I knew how to help them. I’m no gardener, but I can’t help wondering how plants this size thrive in such hard, shallow ground so close together. How could they gain adequate nourishment? Perhaps that’s why the bottom leaves look so unhealthy.

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I feel the same frustration with a scene I’m working on: an action scene involving a fight between two enemies. My nephew read it, because I had misgivings about it. It seemed to droop, rather than crackle with life. His assessment? It lacks tension and emotional depth. In other words, it’s too shallow.

“I wish I could help you more,” he said. And then he asked the question that was more helpful than he could have guessed: “What would you do [in this situation]?”

At first I avoided the question, because I was supposed to be thinking like the point of view character. Who cares what I would do? But I really needed to know. I was too clinical, too eager to get from Point A to Point B. There wasn’t enough emotional grit to make a reader eagerly turn pages.

I needed to remember when I was at my rawest emotionally, when I was desperate to survive. Interestingly enough, years ago I lived on a block where drive-by shootings occasionally happened, thanks to a gang member who lived two doors away. Yet even the memory of those days didn’t take me to a raw place, because occasional gunshots and police sirens were part of the nighttime fabric in my old neighborhood. (Amazing what you can get used to, isn’t it? Sadly, many innocent people have been killed in drive-by shootings.) I needed to go deeper.

The memory of almost choking to death came to mind almost immediately. Several years ago, a piece of steak lodged in my throat and for a few frightening moments, I didn’t think I could get it out. Talk about being fully present in a moment. When you’re struggling for breath, every millisecond has an epic weight to it. Someone who has asthma knows this all too well. Thankfully, the Heimlich maneuver works. I wouldn’t be able to write this if it hadn’t.

That wasn’t the only desperate moment. I had an allergic reaction to penicillin one night a few summers ago. I had taken it for a sinus infection, little knowing the problems that would arise. A fluid-filled sac developed on my tonsils that slowly closed off my airway. Instead of calling someone or wasting time waiting for an ambulance, I drove myself to the hospital. I’ve never driven so fast in my life! Miraculously (and it was a miracle), I hit green lights all the way. The hospital was less than fifteen minutes away. After an examination, the doctor recommended an overnight stay to allow various antibiotics to be administered through an IV to reduce the swelling. The doctor mentioned that my body had built up an intolerance over time. He then led in a parade of interns eager to take pictures of the sac on my tonsils. After the gawkers left and I was taken to a room upstairs, I was told how fortunate I was to get help in time.

My scene lacks that kind of heart-pounding desperation. But now that I’m reliving those horrible moments, moments where I was completely present, completely desperate to live, I find I’m in a better place to revisit the scene.

Ever have a difficult time writing a really tense scene? What did you do to put yourself in the moment?

Time Waits for No One

I’ve been remiss in saying thank you to Celine Jeanjean for nominating me for this award awhile ago. Thank you, Celine. (Be sure to check out her blog.)

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I’d also like to thank all of my readers for your continued support of this blog. Thanks for reading and commenting. Starting a blog is always a gamble. There’s no guarantee that anyone will read it one time, let alone more than once. So, thanks for stopping by.

Wondering what finally prompted my long overdue gratitude? You’ve undoubtedly heard about Robin Williams’s recent death. I’ve read many blog posts with eloquent thoughts on this tragic event. I have nothing new to add, though Robin Williams will be missed. But I’m in a pondering mood, nevertheless. This event spurs me to express my thanks for the people in my life who have offered love, support, and friendship over the years. I can’t thank you enough.

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It’s sad that a death is the impetus necessary to spur me to say, “Thanks” or “I love you” or “Here is what I’ve always found delightful about you” to someone else. I’m not proud of this. I can’t help recalling my grandmother’s funeral a few years ago and how I talked to cousins I hadn’t spoken to in years. Years. Was life really that busy that I couldn’t pick up a phone or write a quick email?

It wasn’t.

We always think we’ll have enough time, don’t we, to assure our loved ones of their belovedness. How human of us. If only we would put aside our assumption that we can predict the amount of time we’ll have with each other (i.e., “we have plenty of time”), hence our putting off vocalizing how we feel. If only we would take the time to say what we think doesn’t need to be said, but always needs to be. After all, no one is a mind reader.

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The people you love the most might need to hear, right now, that you’re grateful they’re in your life. You might think they should know how you feel, because you work hard to give them nice things or you make nice meals or you nag them (for their own good) to be better people. And they are better people—you’ve done your job. Now do them and yourself a favor. Tell them they’re worth all of the nagging and meal making. And maybe they’ll have a gift for you. Maybe they’ll tell you what you mean to them.

But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. You already regularly tell others how you feel, don’t you? But for anyone else out there who needs a little reminder, if you saw X-Men: Days of Future Past, you heard this poignant Jim Croce song, “Time in a Bottle.” It’s a reminder about time. (I also thought of the Jacksons’ song, “Time Waits for No One” too, hence the post title.)

I’m off to take my own advice. There are a lot of people in my life who could use a hug or a “thank you” right about now.

Robin Williams photo from fanpop.com. Valentine from heroeswallpapers.com.

Cover Makeover: A Gift of Wings

Today on the blog is the fabulous Stephanie Stamm, who is here to talk about a cover makeover for her novel, A Gift of Wings. Here is the old cover:

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Now feast your eyes on the new cover by the also fabulous Ravven, who also designed the cover for Kate Sparkes’s Bound.

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Continue to feast away while I talk to Stephanie.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Stephanie: (1) I just got a Smart TV and have recently become a Netflix addict. (2) I’m afraid of spiders and falling off ladders. (3) I don’t have any tattoos. (4) I love avocados and cilantro, which pretty much makes guacamole the perfect food.

El Space: Guacamole is pretty awesome! Tell us about your book, A Gift of Wings. How many books will there be in the Light-Bringer series?
Stephanie: A Gift of Wings is an urban fantasy set in Chicago about a girl named Lucky who, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, starts seeing wings on people and gets drawn into a world of angels, demons, and ancient gods. As she joins what is to her a new world, she also pulls half-angel Aidan back into the life he’d walked away from two years before. The book gives us both their stories as they come to understand who they are and what they are capable of.

I envision the series as a trilogy. But I’ve also thought about writing additional novellas exploring the stories of some of the supporting characters.

El Space: Why angels? What do you find inspiring about them?
Stephanie: (1) I’m fascinated by winged beings. I once created a shadowbox art piece for a charity auction that I called “Luna Venus” where I gave Bouguereau’s Venus Luna moth wings. Wings are an ancient symbol of power. Plus, who doesn’t want to be able to fly? (2) I find something compelling about combining the human with the angelic “other.” Playing with the mythology of the angel-human hybrid Nephilim is great fun, because they are both human and more than human. Different angels have different traits and abilities, so I get to play with those as well. (3) I love mythology and fairy tales, and the Judeo-Christian tradition is the one I know best. I decided to create my fantasy world out of that tradition.

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Luna moth

El Space: How did you come up with Aidan or Lucky? Who are you most like? Least like?
Stephanie: It’s funny, but Aidan (then unnamed) first occurred to me as a joke. I was just contemplating the bare idea of the story, and I thought, Oh, and one of the characters could be the front man for a band called Icarus. You know, because of the whole flaming wings, falling from the sky thing. My next thought was, Yeah. Why not? I ran with it. And then Aidan had his own ideas about where his story should go.

Lucky took her time in coming to me. I knew some of the things I wanted to have happen to her, but I didn’t know who she was or what her overall story was for a while. That came to me in bits and pieces.

Between Aidan and Lucky, I’m more like Lucky. I’ve lost loved ones—in my case, a much older sister and my mother—to Alzheimer’s, and I lived in Hyde Park—though I was older than Lucky when I did. But her background is different than mine, and she’s braver than I am. Maybe that’s why I found it easier to write the scenes from Aidan’s perspective. The words flowed more easily when I was writing in his voice.

El Space: Now tell us about this beautiful cover and how it came about.
Stephanie: I have you among others to thank for this beautiful cover! :) Awhile back you did a cover reveal for Kate Sparkes’s Bound—an awesome book, by the way—and then later did an interview with Kate. That cover blew me away. It’s just stunning. I had been wanting to get a new cover for A Gift of Wings, because I knew the one I had didn’t really speak to the novel’s genre or target age group. So, I checked out Kate’s cover credit and then contacted the multi-talented Ravven about doing some covers for me as well. She did a gorgeous job with this one and the cover for the sequel, A Gift of Shadows.

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El Space: What brought you to the urban fantasy genre?
Stephanie: Reading Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black, among others. In some ways, my attraction to urban fantasy is the same as my fascination for hybrid beings. It’s that sense of the extraordinary hiding or barely hidden right behind the ordinary, everyday world we inhabit.

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El Space: How would you finish this sentence: “In the urban fantasy genre, I’d like to see more ______________”? Why?
Stephanie: I know it’s a current buzzword, but I’d like to see more diversity—not just in urban fantasy. I tried to include diverse characters in A Gift of Wings, but I know I could do more in future work. No one book or series will ever be able to include all possible variations, but we could do better at avoiding common tropes and learning about other cultures, etc., so we can write outside our comfort zones.

El Space: Amen to that! What books/authors inspire you as an author?
Stephanie: I have a huge writer crush on Neil Gaiman. I love Neverwhere and American Gods. The man knows mythology better than anyone. Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett, is also a favorite—well, it is about angels and demons. I find Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift series—A Madness of Angels, The Midnight Mayor, The Neon Court, and The Minority Council—completely compelling. Talk about urban fantasy. In her novels, the urban is fantastic and the fantastic is urban. I’m in awe. On the YA front, the Harry Potter books, of course, and the Hunger Games, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

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El Space: What advice do you have for authors who want to write urban fantasy?
Stephanie: Read it and read it and read more of it. Then, let your imagination run. What kinds of places and images do you find evocative? And who do you want to people your world? What kind of characters do you love? Mostly, I think, whatever genre we write in, we need to read it. And we need to write what we love. There’s no point in trying to write urban fantasy if cozy mysteries are what light you up. That’s not to say that we can’t explore or write in multiple genres, just that we shouldn’t try to force ourselves into being who we aren’t.

El Space: What writing project are you working on now?
Stephanie: I’m working on the second volume of the Light-Bringer series: A Gift of Shadows. It’s with beta readers now. I’m hoping to be able to release it at the end of the year. My mind is also churning with ideas for the third book.

Thanks, Stephanie, for stopping by the blog!

Looking for Stephanie? You can find her at her blog. A Gift of Wings is available here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords

In honor of her cover makeover, Stephanie is giving away a paperback and an ebook of A Gift of Wings. Comment below to be entered in the drawing! Winners will be announced on Monday, August 18.

A Gift of Wings cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. Other book covers from Goodreads. Luna moth from fwallpapers.com.