Going for the Heart

Today, I’ll reveal the winner of Charles Yallowitz’s Legends of Windemere books. (See author interview here.) But before I get to that, let me get to this. . . .

When I was a kid, Saturdays were for watching martial arts films and Godzilla movies. I didn’t care so much about plot or whether or not a story was emotionally satisfying. Watching two people with a specific skill set fighting each other or watching a crowd running from a huge monster provided enough satisfaction for a kid like me who generally felt powerless.

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Bruce Lee!

But when I became an adult, a story’s emotional core mattered. Plot and action scenes without heart failed to interest me. And heart is shown through good, solid characters with emotional arcs.

In an article in Entertainment Weekly about Christopher Nolan and his latest film, Interstellar (in theaters November 7), writer Jeff Jensen said of Nolan, “Finding new ways to emotionally engage an audience has become increasingly important to him” (Entertainment Weekly 23).

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Glad to hear it. I’ve generally found Nolan’s films to be emotionally engaging. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are two of my favorite superhero movies ever. I love Nolan’s ability to write/produce/direct a film that engages the brain and the heart—not an easy task. So of course, I’m looking forward to seeing Interstellar, which stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, and involves a wormhole.

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Charles Yallowitz is another author who strives to engage the brain and the heart with his books. (How’s that for a segue?)

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So, let’s get to the winner of his books, shall we? The winner of the Legends of Windemere books is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy of City Jackdaw!

Congratulations, Andy! Please comment below to confirm, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide the email address you generally use with Amazon. If for some reason, you cannot accept, please let me know and I will choose another winner.

While you cheer for Andy, please tell me the name of your favorite Christopher Nolan film or, if you like, name something (or someone) a film has to have in order to engage your heart. I’ll start by telling you two words that generally work for me: heroic elves. Now if Christopher Nolan somehow worked them into the plot of Interstellar, he has my loyalty for life.

Jensen, Jeff. “Interstellar.” Entertainment Weekly. 24 Oct. 2014. 20-28. Print.

Bruce Lee photo from fanpop. Instellar images from hdwallpaperscool.com. Batman Begins poster from filmoria.co.uk.

They’re Back

There I was, driving down the street next to my apartment building when I saw them, huddled at the curb, as if daring me to draw nearer. In fact, they chose that moment to saunter into the street. My heart sank and I slammed on the brakes. As they crossed to the next curb, each turned and gave me a look as if to say, “Yeah. We made you stop. We can make you do whatever we like. And there’s nothin’ you can about it, ’cause we own this street. Mwahahahaha!!!!!”

Who are they? Canadian geese. They’d been away much of the summer. Now that the weather cooled down, they were back. Since I was driving, I couldn’t grab my phone to snap a photo of my own. I had to find one on the Internet.

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Look at ’em. They’re plotting to walk in front of my car.

I don’t know why they usually feel the need to saunter into the street the moment they see my car. But whenever I see them, my attitude instantly shifts toward the negative. And they don’t have to do anything to merit my negativity. All they have to do is show up.

Ever feel that way? Not just about geese but about a person or a group? What about teens? I ask about them specifically, because sometimes, when I see a few geese sauntering down the street, I think of teens. This doesn’t mean that I have the same negative attitude toward teens as I’ve expressed about geese. But teens in my neighborhood, like geese, gather in groups in parks and on street corners. Many have an “I dare you to stop me” manner, as if they expect anyone they encounter, particularly an adult, to thwart them in some way. (Not all behave that way of course.)

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Look at ’em. Waiting for the rest of the gaggle.

When I was a teen, I usually knew when adults had a negative attitude toward me, especially those I saw each day on the bus on my way to school or at the mall. Perhaps they had an expectation that my friends and I would be too loud or too impetuous or too _______ (fill in the blank). That attitude was usually expessed with a look that told me, Oh no. Teens. Why do they have to be here? As if they wished us 50 miles away.

Perhaps their attitude sprang from a bad experience with a teen or from a lack of understanding of teens, though they were teens themselves once. Perhaps suspicion has created a gap neither side has bridged.

You know, suddenly I’m reminded of my attitude toward the geese. My jaded attitude comes from dodging geese in the road or dodging their poop in parks. But my attitude says more about me than about the geese, doesn’t it? Even if I think I’m justified, am I really?

The day I saw the geese, I was impatient to get to my destination. The geese happened to get in my way. I felt that my desire to get where I was going was more important than their desire to cross the street. When their rights coincided with mine, intolerance was the result.

So, I know what I need to do. I need to deal with my own issue, instead of blaming the geese. Yes, they’re back as they usually are at this time of year—just in time to remind me that patience and tolerance are virtues I can cultivate.

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Are you lookin’ at me? Honk if you are.

Canadian geese from Wikipedia and elsewhere on the Internet. Sims FreePlay teens from blog.mezzacorona.it.

Check This Out: The Compass Key

Hello, and welcome to one of my favorite pastimes on the blog: author interviews. Today on the blog is the always awesome Charles Yallowitz, the author of the Legends of Windemere fantasy series. Welcome, Charles!

You undoubtedly know Charles from his blog. But do you know his series? Five books have been published, the latest of which is The Compass Key. (Read the synopsis here.) Take a look at the groovy covers with art by Jason Pedersen.

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Later, I’ll tell you about a giveaway I’m hosting. If you’ve read an interview on this blog before, you already know what I’m giving away. Let’s talk to Charles, and you can see if you’re right.

El Space: Now that you’ve published the fifth book of your series, what have you learned about yourself as an author?
Charles: I learned that I’m still learning how to improve my style. Through writing full-time, I’ve made friends with other authors and some editors who have given me pointers. So I’m using this knowledge to improve my writing as I continue. My core style remains the same, but it’s more the mechanics and how to make things neater that I’m improving on.

Honestly, the fifth book didn’t really change anything for me. I expected a lot to happen, but it seems to be business as usual as far as sales and social media activity. In fact, I was kind of disappointed since so many people said “things change” when the fifth book of a series is released. So I’m starting to think that I should focus more of my attention on editing and writing the other books than hunting for trends. In that respect, I’m falling back into the role of carefree writer than number-obsessed author, which is what I was for a little while.

El Space: What pleases you most about your characters’ evolution? Is there anyone whose growth surprised you? If so who? Why?
Charles: I like how I never know exactly how the characters will evolve. I get the basic ideas of where I want them to go, but they routinely take detours, fall a few steps back, or go in opposite directions. It feels very organic and natural since I’m not forcing them to step out of their established personalities just because I want them to be a certain hero. I think it makes the characters more relatable since everyone has had moments where they fall back in their personal “evolution.”

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Luke and Nyx

It’s hard to pick a character who stands out since so many of them went differently than what I planned. Baron Kernaghan, the main villain, came out a lot more benevolent and kind than I expected. I enjoy writing his scenes because I actually like the guy even when he’s doing something evil. Every piece of his past that appears makes him more human and oddly sympathetic. On the other hand, another villain was supposed to start off mildly evil and rise into sadistic menace. Then I started writing him and his first big scene is him torturing one of the female heroes. I’m not sure where this character can go from there and I really look forward to the book where I get to kill him off because he’s so vile.

El Space: What did you find the hardest about writing The Compass Key? The easiest? Nonspoilery, of course. :-)
Charles: The hardest part about The Compass Key is that it closed up a lot of old plotlines and introduced several new ones. It was a rough transition and I was always wondering if I was doing justice to the things I was retiring and introducing. This was made more of a challenge with the book having more action scenes than the previous volumes. I believe I counted 36 separate fights throughout the book, which is why I had the characters showing signs of mental and emotional exhaustion near the end. Don’t get me wrong though. Writing the action scenes was a lot of fun and it helped me see how the heroes interacted with each other, but it felt strange to have so much action after being more focused on dialogues and character interactions. Nothing I could do though, because everything was necessary. Oh and there’s a scene near the end that was truly gut-wrenching to write.

The easiest part about The Compass Key was that I had been planning it for so long. It’s a turning point book in the series, so I’ve had to foreshadow toward it. So it meant that there was more of a foundation than the books that had their own relatively contained story like Allure of the Gypsies and Family of the Tri-Rune. Those had planning, but they were so character driven that things kept changing as I wrote. That wasn’t the case with this one because it was very much about jumping from the old stories to the new.

El Space: If a videogame were to be made using characters from your series, what would you envision as a quest? What characters would be involved in the game?
Charles: Somewhere in my room is a notebook with information on a Legends of Windemere videogame and I believe I got as far as designing Timoran Wrath. Given the epic quest and character-driven stories of the series, I’d go with an RPG along the lines of classic Final Fantasy, though I’d like more active combat where you can switch between the characters on the field. Again, I have the naïve setup somewhere and I think I had it as squads depending on how many characters were involved in the scene. Since you need all of the heroes in the story, it would be set up that you could take control of whichever one you wanted.

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I do remember there was a side quest where you gathered magical instruments, sheet music, and other bard-based items so that the six champions can perform in a tavern. It doesn’t come up that often in the books, but each hero knows how to play an instrument or sing.

El Space: Recently I read an article at this website on the future of science fiction and fantasy. How would you answer the question posed there: “What is the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy?”
Charles: The future is ahead of us and possibly behind us. The genres are kind of weird because it really depends on what an audience jacks into. I can only speak for fantasy, but currently it’s all about dark, gritty stories with political intrigue and anti-heroes. This is probably due to the popularity of Game of Thrones. Before that, you saw more quest-based stories like Lord of the Rings and there were the series revolving around a chosen hero like Harry Potter. So there are cycles that happen within fantasy and you never know when it’s going to come around.

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If people are wondering if these genres will vanish then the answer is no. Fantasy will always be around because it’s pure escapism and I think that will always have an audience. There does seem to be a rise in people reading to find plot holes or show how science disproves magic, but that could just be a vocal minority. In the end, fantasy will survive and continue drawing people out of reality either by quests, gritty dark fantasy, or whatever else the genre will evolve into as new authors appear to put their own twists on things.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Charles: Right now I’m finishing up this interview. After that, I’m going back to editing Family of the Tri-Rune in my project to read through all of my books and use my new knowledge to clean them up a bit more. This is nothing more than cosmetic changes and I’m double-checking my continuity. I already have the first 8 books written, so I want to make sure everything is in its proper place before I tackle Book 9. That’s another big transition book, especially for two of the heroes. As far as publishing goes, Curse of the Dark Wind is still being edited and I’m waiting on cover art. I’m not able to say when it will be released, but I’m hoping for December to take advantage of Christmas. It really depends on how chaotic things are for me and everyone else involved.

Thanks, Charles, for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by!

You can find Charles at his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, and Twitter. The Legends of Windemere series can be found at Amazon. One of you will win all five books of this series. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on Tuesday, October 21.

Cover art for the Legends of Windemere by Jason Pedersen. Character art by Kayla Matt. Final Fantasy image from arts-wallpapers.com.

A Patch of Blue

All morning I’d been gloomy over the gray, gray skies and a dearth of ideas for my novel. Having felt about as creative as a spoon, I went for a drive—a usual head clearer for me. As I headed home, however, my spirits lifted at the sight of a patch of blue in the gray sky, a patch like the blue lining of a gray pouch.

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Though “the blues” is a euphemism for depression, the color blue “is a practical, happy color for many,” according to an article, “What Your Car Color Says About You.” Look for that here. In another article, one at the Huffington Post website (from 2012—I couldn’t find a more current one), blue is a favorite house paint color for many in America.

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My favorite color is red, but I also love blue. The house paint article mentioned the “serenity” of the color blue. I can understand the feeling. You can too, right? Many of us would gladly loll on the beach, gazing at cool blue water. Watching the waves gently lapping the shore makes me feel peaceful. And I usually cheer up immensely when I see a blue sky after days of rain, rain, rain let loose from an iron gray sky.

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There are sooooo many beautiful shades of blue.

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Here’s one of my favorite blue items (the TARDIS from Doctor Who in case you’re wondering):

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And this one:

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Seeing that patch of blue in the sky during my drive reminds me that gray won’t always be the prevailing color. There is the hope of change.

Random daisy photo (another reminder of hope):

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Blue shoes from blackbridalbliss.com. Buttons from galleryhip.com. Blue water from fanpop.com. Pantone blue shades from genx10.com. Blue sky from iloveeasthampton.blogspot.com.

Cover Reveal: Surviving Santiago

You’ve heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to produce a good book—a literary “child.” And that’s true of Surviving Santiago, a literary child by the awesome Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Feast your eyes on the cover.

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You might know Lyn from her blog and from her visits here.

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A good book needs a place to call home. Surviving Santiago, a young adult novel, found a home at Running Press. It is a companion book to Gringolandia (Curbstone/Northwestern University Press, 2009) and debuts June 2, 2015. Here’s the synopsis:

To sixteen-year-old Tina Aguilar, love is the center of her world with its warmth and ability to make a place into a home. Thus Tina is less than thrilled to return to her birthplace of Santiago, Chile, for the first time in eight years to visit her father, the man who betrayed her and her mother’s love through his political obsession and alcoholism. Tina is not surprised to find Papá physically disabled from his time as a political prisoner, but she is disappointed and confused by his constant avoidance of her company. So when Frankie, a mysterious, crush-worthy boy, shows interest in her, Tina does not hesitate to embrace his affection.

However, Frankie’s reason for being in Tina’s neighborhood is far from incidental or innocent, and the web of deception surrounding Tina begins to spin out of control. Tina’s heart is already in turmoil, but adding her and her family’s survival into the mix brings her to the edge of truth and discovery.

Romance and intrigue intertwine in Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s coming-of-age story set amidst the tense anticipation at the end of the Pinochet regime in 1989. Fans of Gringolandia will recognize the Aguilar family as they continue their story of survival and redemption.

You know you want this book. I can tell.

A good book needs champions at a publishing house. One of Surviving Santiago‘s champions is the editor, Lisa Cheng, who also edited The Color of Rain by the ever wonderful Cori McCarthy, who was interviewed on this blog. Another champion is the publicist, Val Howlett, who helps spread the word about Lyn’s book.

Last, but not least, a good book needs a good cover. (That’s your cue to take a second look at the cover above.) Surviving Santiago‘s cover was designed T. L. Bonaddio. Click here for her website.

Wondering what Lyn thinks about the cover? Wonder no more:

My reading of Latin American detective fiction influenced Surviving Santiago, which blends history, romance, and suspense. One of my favorite authors for adults is the genre-crossing Chilean-Mexican-Spanish writer Roberto Bolaño. Surviving Santiago’s cover references his Distant Star, a novel that explores truth and revenge at the end of the Pinochet dictatorship.

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Looking for a good book? You can preorder Surviving Santiago here:

Indiebound
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Curious about Gringolandia (another good book)? Click here.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of Gringolandia (a 2010 ALA Best Book for Young Adults) and Rogue. She has an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin. She is the former editor of MultiCultural Review and has taught English, social studies, and Jewish studies. She is the assistant host of Vientos del Pueblo, a bilingual radio show featuring Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history. She grew up in Houston and currently lives in New York with her family. You can visit her online at http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/

Lyn is represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

Like a Movie?

I’ll get to who won Kinda Like Brothers by the awe-inspiring Coe Booth in just a minute. But first, you know me. I have to share what’s on my mind.

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Three years ago, I wrote a fight scene and submitted it to one of my grad school advisors, thinking that it was pretty good. She totally ripped into it. Her problem with it had to do with cause and effect. If Adam punches Claude (cause), what is the effect of that punch? If the effect is Claude falling against Jared, why didn’t I state this? Why did I instead cut to Sam throwing a knife, when I started the fight talking about Adam and what he’s doing to Claude? And where is Adam positioned by the way? Where is Claude? I didn’t provide enough information to make the fight understandable. 

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Though I thought I adequately conveyed the scene I saw in my head, I left out key steps to help a reader track the action. I’ve begun to think of that experience as “movie shortcut thinking.”

In a movie, we can see a ton of action in a wide shot. I can’t help thinking of a scene from The Return of the King (2003, directed by Peter Jackson), specifically, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields where thousands of characters fight. (Um, my fight scenes are not on such an epic scale by the way.) A camera can easily pan or zoom in quickly to show us key elements in a scene. Also, a director might make the decision to fade to another scene altogether in the blink of an eye.

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The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

We’re not bothered by the switch in scenes, because the eye can process a lot of images quickly. We’re getting used to seeing films like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, directed by Peter Jackson), which was filmed at 48 FPS (frames per second). But the mind’s eye is different. In a book, a reader’s imagination requires more cues to track the action. While writing my fight scene, I had taken too many shortcuts, as if I were a camera panning across a landscape. The scene I presented to my advisor needed more work than I’d originally thought to make it effective. Every action needed a reaction. Newton’s third law at work.

According to Newton, whenever objects A and B interact with each other, they exert forces upon each other. . . . For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

fall_2013_sketcheskey_3I needed to show the pertinent actions and reactions in this fight. Doing so doesn’t mean spelling out every microbe (which would be boring) and spoon-feeding a reader (which would be condescending). It simply means making the action clear and compelling. That required slowing down and writing the fight step by step.

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But I didn’t understand all of this when my advisor ripped into my scene. Understanding dawned finally this year when I was asked for my opinion about a manuscript written by the relative of a friend of mine. I had trouble tracking the action in—you guessed it—a fight scene. I didn’t understand who was fighting whom or which actions caused the reactions described. Now that I had walked a mile in my advisor’s shoes, I understood her frustration with my scene. Some lessons take years to sink in, I guess. The gist of the lesson: when it comes to writing, a shortcut is not a good thing.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth.

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That person is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

Sharon Van Zandt!

Congratulations, Sharon! Please confirm below. Let me know if you want a hardcover or eBook.

Battle of Pelennor Fields image from comicvine.com. Step 1 from kirbasinstitute.com. Step 2 image from addictionblog.org. Action/reaction image from wired.com. Fight scene image from forgotmylines.com. Mind image from bubblejam.net.

Cover Reveal: Skyscraping

Stand by for some awesomeness. Are you ready? Boom.

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Now that I have your attention by this gorgeous cover, let me give you the stats. This awesome novel in verse was written by a friend and fellow VCFA alum, the fabulous Cordelia Jensen.

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But wait, there’s more. Check out the synopsis for Skyscraping:

A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgiveness

Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.

Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.

And check out this blurb:

Skyscraping is brilliant, sharp and bright. A stellar story. Jensen has written a powerful tale about love and loss, a story that will stick with readers long after they’ve reached the end. Her poetry is vivid, tangible, and visceral. She’s a rising star with a breathtaking debut. This is a novel made of star stuff.
       —Skila Brown, author of
Caminar

Skyscraping, edited by Liza Kaplan and published by Philomel, debuts June 2, 2015. But you can preorder it right here. Look for it on Goodreads also.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you can preorder Skyscraping from the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Email orders@bigbluemarblebooks.com or call 215-844-1870. In January, you also can preorder Skyscraping at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores.

Stay tuned! Cordelia will be interviewed on the blog a little closer to the pub date for Skyscraping. In the meantime, you can catch up with her at her website and Twitter. Here’s more about Cordelia:

Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 and 2007. She is a Writer in Residence at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens and conducts author interviews for their blog. She also teaches in the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.