The Big Reveal

Back when I was in fourth grade, one of the most exciting things to happen at school was a magic show performed during assembly by a visiting magician. By now, you probably have in mind the image of a cheesy stage magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat like the one in the image here (which is why I posted it). Rabbits were pulled out of a hat, yes. But the magician also had a cabinet into which his assistant went.

The cabinet door closed. The magician waved his hand and said a magic word that of course you know:

Abracadabra!

The excitement in the room was palpable. (Yes, I know that is a cliché, but it fits the mood.)

The magician waved his hands and said another magic word. Say it with me:

The lights briefly dimmed, then brightened. When the cabinet door opened, the assistant had vanished!

We laughed. We shrieked. We were delighted.

The magician waved his hands again and said, “Abracadabra!” The lights dimmed. When he said,

the lights turned fully on, the door opened, and we could see that the assistant was there!

Okay, I get it. You’re not surprised by that reveal. Well, maybe this will surprise you. Remember the post about an Amazon card giveaway? Click here for that if you don’t. Instead of one winner, two were chosen to receive the $25 Amazon card. Abracadabra! I will now make the two winners appear! I can’t dim the lights where you are, but imagine them dimming. I will say the magic word:

The lights return to reveal . . .

Mark

and

Nicki

You are the winners! Please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

Magician image from https://en.ac-illust.com/ First Presto from clipart101.com. Second Presto by L. Marie. Dimming lightbulb by Giphy.

Just Coasting Along


This kind of goes with what I last posted.

Back in the 90s, I took up inline skating because I thought it looked cool. One day, I up and decided to take a class and—voilà —I learned to skate and loved it!

I really needed these pads though.

I also learned to write a screenplay, because I wanted to learn.

In 2010, I decided to return to a graduate program, having quit one (journalism) many years before that. This time, I switched to writing for children and young adults (fiction/nonfiction) and finished the program two years later.


My hood

In 2018, I wanted more of a career challenge. So, I took on the challenge of developmental editing. Didn’t take a class. I learned by being thrown into the deep end through a freelance assignement given to me by a publisher to work with an author on a manuscript for eight months.

In 2019, I . . .

In 2020, I . . .

In 2021, I . . .

You might wonder how I would finish those statements. I was trying to think of a way to say, “I rested on my laurels” in a way that didn’t make me look like the poster child for the subject of a sermon I recently listened to—complacency. Before you run for the door, thinking I plan to tell you point by point what I heard, I brought that up because of the subject matter (complacency, if that previous sentence was too convoluted). And yes, I know we were in the mniddle of a pandemic. But I had a computer and a wifi connection. What was to stop me from learning anything?

Not that you need this, but let me give you the definition of complacency given in that sermon:

Complacency is a feeling of quiet pleasure or security often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.

I can finally admit that I have been complacent about where I am and what I’ve learned so far. I didn’t think I needed to learn a new skill or improve an old one. Just telling you the state of things. Scold away if you want. But I want that to change. Maybe you feel that way too.

With that in mind, for my annual birthday giveaway—if you are a regular follower of this blog, perhaps you thought I forgot all about that this year—I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card (or whatever equivalent it has in the UK). Why? To stir you to learn something new or make some other change. That’s only if you want to. No judgment here. Maybe life is A-OK for you. If so, great!

Maybe you want to use it to buy a craft book (writing, gardening, needlecraft, art—whatever). Or maybe, because you’re stressed and want to change that, maybe you want to buy spa items or something else to help you relax. Maybe you’ll buy art pencils (which aren’t cheap) to start sketching again. Twenty-five dollars may not be a king’s ransom. But if it helps inspire you to take the next step to where you want to be, I’d call that money well spent. Winner to be announced sometime next week, hopefully. (I had a deadline last week, so I didn’t post.)

Photos by L. Marie.

How High Are Your Aspirations?

I watched a documentary series on Netflix that I hadn’t seen before: Made by Design—which features interviews with creatives like Demi Samande (photo below), the CEO of Majeurs Chesterfield, a furniture manufacturer based in the UK and Nigeria. I guess her company is the place to go if you want a $1700—$5,000 sofa. But what I found fascinating about this interview is the fact that Samande, an architect, turned to manufacturing furniture—particularly the Chesterfield style of furniture (click here if you have no idea what that is)—and opened a business with an international following.

Maybe she had moments where she wondered if her idea for the business wouldn’t work and maybe she should do something else. But that didn’t stop her from continuing to move forward toward success. She wound up restoring furniture for the prime minister in England not because she wasn’t sure she could do it, but because she knew that she could. She was invited to do so because of the excellence of her work.

Here is the vision statement of her company:

We envision a world where one will find a Majeurs Chesterfield piece in every home, office and public space.

I was fascinated by her interview, because as I look back over my life, I never once thought, I want to see a copy of my book in every home, office and public space. Please don’t read that as mockery. I’m simply stating my lack of a vision this wide. Mostly, I thought about working to pay rent or writing stories that are like safe havens for children. That sort of thing. Very ground level and unfocused.

I think what separates Samande and I is a mindset. I’ve never met her, so I am not 100% sure about this. But the results and the confidence she exuded during her interview speak for themselves. She comes across like, “I’m going to do this.” But I am often of the mindset, “I don’t think I can do this.”

I’m old now—a year older today in fact. But I know that low-level mindset needs to change even at my age. And no I will not reveal my age. But I know I need help from God to change. That may not be your way of thinking. But it is a truth for me.

How about you? What do you aspire to do? While you think about that, Laura Bruno Lilly get ready to celebrate. You are the winner of Moonwalking, the collaboration of Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Zetta Elliott!

   

Thank you to all who commented.

Chesterfield sofa from the Majeurs Chesterfield website. Photo of Demi Samande sneaked in by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Moonwalking

Put on your ’80s going-to-the-mall clothes! With me on the blog is the awesome and prolific Lyn Miller-Lachmann (left), who is here to discuss Moonwalking, her historical novel in verse co-authored with the equally awesome Zetta Elliott. (See cover reveal post here.) Moonwalking was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on April 12. Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.

   

For a synopsis of the book, click here.

El Space: You have two books debuting this month! We’ll talk later about the second. But how amazing is that? How does that make you feel?
Lyn:
Very busy! My last book launch, not including translations, was June 2015—seven years ago—so it was a huge adjustment to get back into promoting my books. Also, the industry has changed and my last book was a YA novel, Surviving Santiago, so how I’ve gotten the word out about the books has been different. I’m grateful to my co-author, Zetta Elliott, for doing more than her share in terms of blogging about Moonwalking and going on social media. This is an exciting time, and I’m learning a lot, which will surely help me when my next YA novel, Torch, launches on November 1 of this year.

9780762456338

El Space: Congrats on getting four starred reviews for Moonwalking from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and Horn Book. How has that recognition been a game changer for you?
Lyn:
The starred reviews for Moonwalking are the first I’ve received for any book I’ve written, though I did get Kirkus stars for two of my translations from Portuguese to English:The World in a Second (Enchanted Lion, 2015) and The President of the Jungle (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020). I feel that the starred reviews have given me a certain level of approval in terms of craft that’s especially gratifying because I spent a lot of time in the seven years between publications to improve my craft and try new forms and techniques like the verse novel. These stars make me think of when JJ gets his social studies project back and sees, “My first A+ ever!”

El Space: How did you decide that Moonwalking needed to be a novel in verse? Did you experiment with other formats or was telling the story in verse the chosen way from the beginning?
Lyn:
Zetta suggested the verse novel format right at the beginning, as we were coming up with the story line and the characters. She’s a celebrated poet for adults, but she’d never written a verse novel for young readers, one that foregrounds story arc and accessibility. She wanted to try a form that captures the artistic flowering of 1980s New York City even though neither Pie nor JJ see themselves as poets. I had been working on a YA verse novel at the time—one in which the protagonist does dream of being a poet in the mold of Elizabeth Acevedo’s groundbreaking The Poet X—but I put it aside to work on Moonwalking. We sold the book on the basis of a detailed synopsis and three poems each. I’d never sold a novel with so little written before, so this was a new experience for me—and it was a verse novel from the very beginning.

El Space: Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Lyn:
I came up with JJ’s story because I wanted to write about a white boy who’s grown up comfortably middle class and privileged, losing it all when the government fires and blacklists his father and the other members of the PATCO union after the August 1981 strike. I read Gregory Pardlo’s haunting memoir, Air Traffic, where he talks about his family suddenly descending into poverty and instability as his father is unable to find regular work. Sadly, this has been the story of so many Americans of all races (Pardlo, for instance, is Black), but the growing numbers of white Americans who have lost the economic security and communal ties that unions offer make them especially vulnerable to demagogues seeking to blame the Other. JJ is struggling to find his way within these circumstances, but he’s also coming to see how he often gets more consideration because he’s white.

El Space: What was the process of collaborating with your coauthor? Did you guys each start with a character? With the plot?
Lyn:
We started with our individual characters and their stories—JJ, the newcomer to Brooklyn trying to find his place, and Pie, the longtime resident who loves his neighborhood and the nexus of adults who support him but also wants to escape to something better like his artistic role model, Jean-Michel Basquiat (photo below). Because I broke my ankle in January 2020, around the time we signed the contract, I was stuck at home with lots of time to write, so I finished my poems long before Zetta, who moved house three times in the middle of a pandemic. Once she finished, we looked at what we had, brainstormed some endings that diverged from our original outline/synopsis, and added, subtracted, and revised poems.

El Space: How long was the writing period? What was the road to getting it accepted at a publisher?
Lyn:
We had a tentative acceptance within a week after submitting the outline/synopsis and sample poems. Several publishers were interested. We spoke to them by phone over the course of a week, and ultimately decided on the pre-empt with Grace Kendall at FSG—the editor of Zetta and Noa Denmon’s Caldecott Honor Book, A Place Inside of Me—because we loved her vision and her equal appreciation of both boys’ stories. It took me about six months to write my draft of the poems, another six months for Zetta to finish hers, and another six months for revising and incorporating our separate narratives into one unified narrative.

El Space: What novels in verse inspired you?
Lyn:
Besides Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and her dual point of view, Clap When You Land. I especially appreciated Susan Hood’s WWII verse novel Lifeboat 12 for its portrayal of a 12-year-old boy who felt invisible in his family and in school and struggled with what probably were learning disabilities. Like Ken in her book, JJ has a lot going on inside and doesn’t realize the extent of his power and what he can accomplish if he stands up for what’s right. At the same time, many of the people around him don’t recognize that he’s a keen observer of the world around him and the hypocrisy within it, and that he’s on his way to becoming a composer of the music that allows him to express himself when his words can’t.

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’m going back to that YA verse novel, but I’ve also been working on several nonfiction projects for older elementary school students related to twentieth century history. I like the idea of working in multiple genres and categories, but related topics, because it allows me to reuse and expand upon the extensive research that I do.

Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website and Twitter. Moonwalking can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Bookshop

I’m giving away a copy of Moonwalking. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week sometime.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other covers from Goodreads. Jean-Michel Basquiat photo by Andy Warhol found at Wikipedia.

Characters and Unwise Choices

While reading reviews for Robin Hobb’s Liveship series (you can click here for that series if you like), one review caught my attention. I don’t know the reviewer, so I don’t have permission to cite the review. However, if you click on the link, you’ll see it for yourself. Anyway, the reviewer was appalled by the stupid decisions (that reviewer’s description) the characters made, which led me to write this post.

After having read some books or watched movies or TV shows, I have bemoaned the choices of characters some would describe as too stupid to live. But I have to wonder whether the plots of those books or shows would have suffered had those characters made logical choices.

As you know many conflicts are based on the choices characters make—wise or unwise, leaving the author at the mercy of readers who disagree with said choices. For example, some readers complained about the choice of hobbits to take the ring to be destroyed in Mount Doom (Lord of the Rings). If you’re ready to take umbrage with me, thinking I just gave a spoiler (though the books have been around since 1955 and Oscar-winning movies have been adapted from them), please see the Complaints Department. You’ll have to fill out a form to make a complaint though. Anyway, I have heard a number of critics say. “The eagles could easily have taken the ring.” But the ease of this, in my opinion, would not have made a compelling journey story.

Some people complained about Bella in the Twilight series and how stupid she was (in their opinion). Yet that series sold out the wazoo. Apparently, many people weren’t bothered by her choices. While I didn’t agree with every decision the character made, I found the series enjoyable to read. If that bothers you, again, please see the Complaints Department.

Striking a balance between a realistic decision someone might make versus one made purely to fulfill a plot point is a tough call for an author. It’s easy for an audience to scream, “Don’t go in the basement,” while watching a heroine in a horror movie. But would we still watch the film if said heroine decided, “Nope. Ain’t happening! Zombies and vampires are probably down there” and avoided the basement like the plague?

Do you have any advice on how to strike a balance or any examples of compelling decisions made that cost a character something? While you’re thinking, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens comes to mind. A number of characters make very costly decisions. Yet I loved the book because of their choices.

What was the last book, show, or movie you engaged in that enraged you in regard to the character(s)? Had you written that piece, what, if anything, would you have done differently?

Book covers either from Goodreads or my library.

Expert Advice

First, let me announce that this is NOT an April Fool’s joke.

The other day, I thought about expertise and what exactly makes someone an expert. Years of experience? A large social media platform? When you seek advice, do you seek advice from an expert? It really depends on what you need, right? After all, you wouldn’t go to someone for legal advice who was still in law school. But you might go to that law student if you were looking for advice about the application process, since that person successfully completed the process.

When it comes to publishing, I usually look for someone who can offer me more experiential knowledge than I currently have. Though I have many years of experience in publishing, I still don’t consider myself an expert, because no one masters every imaginable genre in publishing. So there’s always something to learn, especially from a fellow writer, an editor, or an agent. Even as an editor, I can only give an opinion to the author about what may or may not need to change—even in line edits.

Awhile ago I pitched a manuscript to a mentorship program where mentorships are offered by published novelists if your pitch is picked. Once chosen (not everyone is) you would then submit your manuscript to the mentor or mentors who would then help you to submit it to an agent. The one I’m referring to is this one. Click to find out more information. That’s one way of seeking expert advice.

What expert advice have you sought recently? Were you satisfied with the result? While you consider your answer, let’s celebrate the winners of the following:

Laura Bruno Lilly’s Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) (Click here for the interview.)

and Sandra Nickel’s Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson (Click here for the interview.)

The winners of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) are

Jennie

Nancy Hatch

The winner of Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson is

S. K. Van Zandt!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Covers and photos courtesy of the composer and author. Expert image expertly done by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)

With me on the blog today is the amazing composer/musician/performer Laura Bruno Lilly, who is here to talk about her album Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) and the process of composing.

Cover designed by Rita Moore

First, here is the intro:

El Space: How long was the process from composing the music to this finished product?
Laura: The actual length of time from start (inspiration) to finish (digital/cd music release) took 11 years. However, it took only a month or so to compose Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon. While it was a complete piece in and of itself, it just didn’t feel finished. It wasn’t until after our between-homes journey came to an end that I realized it could be developed further in keeping with the structure of a suite. More accurately, those goats insisted there was more of their musical story to tell!

Photo by Terry Lilly

My Goat Suite (Saga) was composed and written while my husband and I were living on the compound in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico from October 2010 through August 2011. It is a self-contained, yet complimentary slice of a larger project, Swimming with Swans: the music & vignettes of our three-year journey between homes which encompasses two standalone, yet related segments comprised of musical and literary material I created during that time on-the-road from June 2009 through June 2012.

Goats in the Garden naturally morphed into the middle movement within a larger three movement piece. Both the first and third movements were completed within a few months of each other, making the total composition time of the piece about a year from start to finish.

So you see, the composing itself didn’t take all that long. I’m very hands-on. Doodling with multiple parts on different instruments, putting it all together—I love that stuff! Composing is my sandbox where I get to play with all the parts of the piece in the course of creating it.

Next came the technical aspect of setting the music into a readable score for use in recording and later future performances. To that end, I purchased and learned a score notation program that enabled me to write down the parts more quickly than if I continued to write it all by hand. as it is scored for two classical guitars, mandolin, 12-string acoustic guitar and rainstick, I’m sure the wisdom in this time investment is obvious!

Once in final score format, I set it aside. The journey from that to the finished product took a more circuitous route. I applied for and was awarded a small grant from the Puffin Foundation to aid in the financial aspect of recording my Goat Suite (Saga). Around that same time, my 93-year-old Dad in Colorado entered hospice. Already juggling long-distance care-giving for a few years, this catapulted my focus 100% on Dad’s final days, shelving everything else.

After Dad’s passing, while getting his house cleared out and ready to sell, I managed to schedule some recording studio time with two longtime colleagues in the area. This effort yielded a finished mix ready to send elsewhere for mastering.

Once mastered, it was just a matter of finalizing the cover art, designing the physical product, pressing the CDs, registering the music with various agencies, sending it off for distribution on various streaming platforms and setting up an internet storefront.

And here it is. Now. Finished.

El Space: When did you decide to become a musician/composer? How were you encouraged as a child?
Laura: I don’t know that there was ever an actual decision made to become either. Most composers are/were also performing artists, so I view composing as a natural outgrowth of being a working musician.

As far as receiving encouragement as a child, most of my upbringing was taught by example. This quote expresses how my Jazzman Dad influenced my musical journey in general.

Each jazz musician when he takes a horn in his hand—trumpet, bass, saxophone, drums—whatever instrument he plays, each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer. He is saying, “Listen, I am going to give you a new complete idea with a new set of chord changes. I am going to give you a new melodic conception on a tune you are familiar with. I am a composer.” That’s what he is saying.
Charles Mingus

El Space: Which composers inspired you on your journey?
Laura:
Beethoven, Vivaldi, Berlioz. John Cage, Philip Glass, Max Richter. Janet Feder, JoAnn Falletta, Joan Tower. John Duarte, Eduardo Falú, H. Villa-Lobos. Mike Oldfield, Herbie Hancock, Ry Cooder. Ennio Morricone, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck. Foday Musa Suso, Billy Strayhorn, Anonymous. And more! Google the names and give them a listen.

        

Ennio Morricone (left), Eduardo Falú

Billy Strayhorn (Photo by Carl Van Vechten)

El Space: What leitmotifs occur in the music? Why?
Laura:
The second movement revolves around the most obvious one, introduced by the solo guitar within the first three measures. This Goat Bleat Motif was inspired by conversations held between Mama Goat and her kids. Based upon the intervals of each goat’s voice pitch, I assigned each goat a note and when bleating all together, their monotones made up a minor seventh chord. Then as a compositional element, a Reverse Goat Bleat Motif was used for further development of the second movement—all in keeping with the flavor of goats in the garden frolicking and dancing about.

El Space: What advice do you have for budding composers?
Laura:
Learn an instrument! It doesn’t matter which one. Noodle around with banging pots and pans, humming tunes or sounding the odd finger harp thing hung on your mother’s front door. Music composition in its most basic form is merely an organization of sound. The best instrument for understanding music theory visually is indeed the piano, but that does not have to be your primary instrument. Use it is a tool in context of understanding the underlying structure of composition. Strive to actively participate in a swirl of musical styles. This will surround you with tonal possibilities, blasting through untold sonic boundaries. Along with all that hands-on sort of stuff, listen, listen, listen to a plethora of musical genres. Explore translating your feelings into a compositional piece. Try your hand at arranging already created music. Hone your craft by taking classes, studying alongside a music teacher/professor/mentor and then, just do it. The more you do, the more your own voice will emerge.

Thanks, Laura, for being my guest.

Looking for Laura? Look on her website.

Looking for Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)? Click here
I’m giving away two copies of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga). Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be revealed next week.

Album cover, embedded intro, and photo courtesy of Laura Bruno Lilly. Photo by Terry Lilly. Ennio Morricone and Billy Strayhorn photos from Wikipedia. Eduardo Falú photo from secondhandsongs.com. Music note from wallsave.com.

Check This Out: Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson

At long last I have posted. I’m thrilled to have on the blog once more the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, the gorgeous Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson, published on March 8 by Abrams and beautifully illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia.

Check out this book trailer:

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

El Space: You’ve written books about the invention of nachos and about astronomy. So what made you turn to meteorology?
Sandra: That’s the golden question, isn’t it? Nachos. Dark Matter. Clouds. What do they have in common? The through line is that Ignacio Anaya, Vera Rubin, and Joanne Simpson each achieved something incredible, yet they remain unknown to most. I wanted to help broadcast their achievements. I wanted kids to know about them. Nacho invented nachos. Vera discovered dark matter. And Joanne was not only a trailblazing female meteorologist, but she also sparked a whole field of science by creating the first mathematical model of clouds—a model that helped us predict upcoming weather.

   

El Space: What did you do to prepare to write Joanne’s story?
Sandra: Before Joanne died, she gave boxes and boxes of her scientific and personal papers to Harvard University. I went to Harvard and looked through everything in those boxes. I learned about her discoveries, examined her work and family photographs, reviewed her personal thoughts, and read what others said about her in newspaper and scholarly articles. Then, I took all of that, keeping a clear eye on how Joanne told her own story, and formulated that into a story for children. It’s fascinating and challenging to learn about a life with its many facets and then try to reduce it down to the 32 pages that are normally in a picture book.

El Space: Since Joanne Simpson was such a trailblazer, I can’t help thinking of Vera Rubin, another trailblazer you featured in a book. [See cover above. Click here for more information.) What do these trailblazers inspire in you?
Sandra: It wasn’t easy for Joanne and Vera. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, the barriers for women in science were higher than for women in other areas. Joanne was the very first woman in the world to receive a Doctor of Meteorology. One of her professors told her that no woman ever had, and no woman ever would. But, Joanne did. Vera also faced strong resistance as a woman in astronomy. What I admire about these women is that they went on to actively support the young scientists coming after them. Just think about all the female meteorologists we see on TV these days. That’s thanks to Joanne. As one young meteorologist said, Joanne didn’t just blaze a trail, she blazed an entire road.

El Space: I love what this Publishers Weekly review says:

Enlivening simply relayed cloud facts (“Just like people, cumulus clouds are born, grow, and die. But unlike people, they exist for no longer than two hours”), Nickel threads the well-paced tale with myriad weather-related metaphors.

First, congrats on this great review. I wish I could think of a weather-related metaphor to aptly describe your beautiful prose! What do you do to hone your craft?
Sandra: I read. I read a lot. And then, for the science-based stories I tell, I try to think of ways to make the stories engaging and understandable for children. In the case of Breaking Through the Clouds, I used weather-related metaphors, as Publishers Weekly mentions. Then, of course, I have lots of people read my drafts before I submit to my agent and editors. There is nothing in this world like having others read your work and tell you how it reads to them.

El Space: How much collaboration was involved in the picture side of things? How did you communicate with the illustrator, Helena Perez Garcia?
Sandra: Since I had the chance to visit Harvard, but Helena didn’t, I sent photos that I had taken of Joanne’s notebooks and the pictures Joanne archived there. I also fielded questions she had—scientific questions, but also time-period questions, such as what type of projector Joanne used when she watched films of clouds. I sent all of this information via our editor Maggie Lehrman at Abrams, so Helena and I never spoke directly until the book was finished. It’s always fascinating to speak with an illustrator after the project is done and learn about their process. If anyone is interested, you can read about Helena’s work on Breaking Through the Clouds here.

El Space: You have another picture book debuting later this year—Big Bear and Little Fish. Congratulations! What will you work on next?
Sandra: I always have a few projects going at the same time. I have a picture book about the secret creator of the Tiffany Lamps (hint: it wasn’t Louis Tiffany as everyone thinks). I’m working on a story inspired by my three uncles who are blind. I have a story about a pigeon. And, I’m working on a collaboration with a wonderful writer, L. Marie about two girls who share a love of creating hats.

El Space: 😊 Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

Sandra: Thanks so much, Linda! It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you about books and the craft of writing.

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Breaking Through the Clouds? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

Good news! One of you will received a free copy of Breaking Through the Clouds. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and Breaking Through the Clouds book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Helena Perez Garcia. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Big Bear and Little Fish cover from Goodreads.

Innovation or Nine Years of Blogging . . . Umm, Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder, I Guess

in·no·va·tive
/ˈinəˌvādiv/

adjective
1. (of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and original.
“innovative designs”
o (of a person) introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking.
“an innovative thinker”

I watched a Wired YouTube channel video of Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen testing and rating gadgets I never knew existed. (Click here if you want to see that.) Like a machine to measure the humidity in wood. Um, okay. Or a magnetic wristband to hold nails and screws. I guess there’s a need for that.

I’ve never been a gadget inventor. My father likes to come up with labor-saving gadgets. My grandfather and uncles on my dad’s side tinkered with machines and other gadgets. They also were good at fixing and building things, because they were taught to do so at a young age.

When it comes to writing, I’ve been taught to be innovative, to go beyond the usual and press toward the unusual. But, hold the phone, I hear some of you say. Is it hard to be innovative when you see the retellings, adaptations of existing works, and other things being bought and marketed? Or maybe it’s just me asking that. But I know you’re thinking that. You are also thinking, What has this got to do with blogging? I’m getting to that.

When I first started this blog, I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t, by the way. I was challenged by my younger brother and a guy I barely knew at church to start blogging. So I thought to write about what I knew: writing and life. I see that look in your eye. Both are very broad topics. And I’m no expert at either. But when has that stopped anyone from sharing an opinion? I also chose to write the blog under a pen name because that was the name I would use for my fiction.

And here we are—nine years later. Actually, my blogoversary was at the end of February. But I’m still in the ninth year. I’ve learned a lot about myself in nearly a decade of posting. For one thing, I didn’t think I would last even one year as a blogger. So I learned that my predictions can be wrong. For another, I didn’t think anyone would read my posts. I learned otherwise. So I’m grateful that you found your way to my little neck of the blogging woods. I’ve met many wonderful people who are not just bloggers or people I happen to know—they are family.

If you came here looking for the weekly challenges that many other bloggers follow, you’ll be disappointed. I determined at the outset to do my own thing, mainly because I’ve never been good at a routine like that. But if you came here looking for posts like the perfect bathroom reading (an actual post—click here), you’re in the right place!

Blogoversary image from somewhere online that might no longer exist since I used this image seven years ago. Innovation image from inventhelp.com.

The Whole Story?

The other day, I discovered on Netflix an interior design show that was new to me. I’m not going to tell you which one. Suffice it to say that in the introduction, a fresh-faced young couple mentioned (in a couple sentences or so) an eleven-year journey from self-trained interior designer to internet sensation to having nearly 100 employees, an affluent clientele, and a we’re-working-on-it-still dream house with over five thousand square feet.

All the while I watched the show, at the back of my mind, I wondered, What’s the whole story? Interior design is not a field that I know anything about outside of watching HGTV shows years ago and a few Netflix shows. I’m someone whose friends, out of pity, came and hung their own pictures on my walls because I didn’t have any. So I don’t know how easy or difficult it is for someone to go from friends admiring his or her taste in decorating to acquiring a huge internet following with paying clients willing to shell out huge amounts of money to redo their rooms. Not when I have family members who have done the same thing in that amount of time who have neither a huge internet following nor wealthy clients.

I often think, What’s the whole story? when I hear success stories of any kind. How many times have we heard a debut author say something along the lines of, “I wrote a book. Two weeks after querying agents, ten agents were interested in my manuscript. Seventeen publishers fought to get it. Once it was published, it hit the NYT bestseller list, where it currently rests after being on it for six years.” Okay, that is a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one. I know publishing journeys that fit this description pretty closely. So for some authors, that might be the whole story. But those situations aren’t the norm, even if they make for a good news story.

I will be the first to tell you I have queried a book that was rejected 91 times. You read that number correctly. By the way, I know an author whose book was rejected three times that amount before an agent and a publisher picked it up. So in her mind, I’m just getting started. You might be thinking, “Why would you query it that many times? Why not give up on it?” I mentioned that fact not to get into whether or not I should have continued querying but to let you know that this is my reality. And yes, I have felt the sour grapes sensation when someone has talked of querying for a couple weeks only to land an agent. Please hear me when I say I don’t begrudge people their agents. The point of this post isn’t to gripe about that but to ask, are we hearing the whole story when we’re told about these things?

Why am I asking that? Because many, many people over the years have come to me asking me how they can get into publishing. Many had the idea that they could easily get an agent or a publishing deal because they saw such-and-such a news story describing what seems to be the instant success of someone.

During a school visit years ago, a group of kids asked me if I made as much money as J. K. Rowling, because that was their frame of reference. None of them seemed to know that she had received many rejections. This article tells how many.

I’ve heard several speakers say there are no overnight sensations. One person in particular (Person A) mentioned that someone said to her, “Where did you come from? What an overnight sensation!” because she had been invited to speak in a huge arena. But Person A explained that for twenty years she had been doing what she was doing in obscurity before stepping into the limelight. Twenty years of faithfulness.

Those are the stories I appreciate. I love when authors mention how they toiled at it for years before getting the visibility they later acquired. Like Jill Weatherholt who has posted numerous times of the multiple rejections she received, but persevered through. I’m not suggesting that people have to toil for years, sweating and suffering. But I remember their stories more because I haven’t had an easy road either.

This is not to say that authors who quickly get agents or publishing deals have had an easy road. Somewhere along their road they had to have hit a snag somewhere. But often we only get a quick soundbite, rather than the full account.

Spotlight from clipartix.com. Rejected imaged from clker.com.