The Highlights of Highlights

I recently returned from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where I’d spent four days at the campus of the Highlights Foundation.

Yes, that Highlights, which produces this magazine.

Why’d I go there? For an unworkshop. What’s that? An unscheduled time without a workshop leader, giving you time to write, write, write; eat excellently prepared meals (the only scheduled aspect to the unworkshop); and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I went with three friends and fellow writers. We each had a little cabin in the woods—the proverbial ideal writer’s retreat. (Well, our little cabins in the woods were on the edge of a clearing. 😁)

  

Three meals a day were served here:

Behind that building was

where I could go for

or when I just needed a good word. (Who doesn’t love cattywampus??? It’s okay if you don’t, but I do.)

   

Very few trips were made to the internet. I spent the time reading books, writing, walking, and having great conversations. I met many other writers, some of whom were on their own unworkshop. Others were on a meditation/revision retreat. Still others had come for a poetry workshop.

The staff at Highlights is friendly and the food is excellent! I loved my little cabin. Throughout my stay, I had that “ahhhhh” sense of being cared for, with snacks provided whenever I wanted them, meals I didn’t have to shop for or provide, a coffee maker and coffee packets if I wanted to brew my own, or hot coffee/tea already prepared at the Barn if I felt like walking over and chatting with whomever was there.

Two writers I met told me they’d been at Highlights six times. One writer returns every few months. Many others request to stay in the same cabin each time. I feel the same way! My friends and I hope to return to Highlights next year.

What’s the most memorable place you’ve been to recently?

Photos by L. Marie.

Building a Unicorn

Over the past year or so I’ve bought or been given unicorns by friends.

    

Just writing that statement makes me laugh because it sounds so ridiculous—or would have if you and I were talking on the phone and you did not see the above photos. It sounds like, “Yes, I own some unicorns. They’re parked out back.”

Lately, I’ve been crocheting a unicorn for a little girl’s unicorn-themed birthday party. The pattern was designed by ChiWei at OneDogWoof. You can find her blog here.

First, you crochet the head, then the ears, and the alicorn (what the horn was called way back when).

Next comes the body, which takes almost twice as long as the head, then the legs and hooves (both thankfully crocheted in one piece).

   

Lastly, you have to crochet the tail (made of multiple curlicues) and cut strands of yarn for the mane. I chose this yarn. A unicorn must have a rainbow tail and mane.

   

Once all of the pieces are crocheted, I have to build the unicorn—at least that’s what I think of the assembly process, which involves a lot of whip stitching to keep the pieces together.

It’s sort of like the process of writing a story with a unicorn as a character. Okay. I see that look. You’re thinking these processes are very different. But character building of any sort involves putting pieces together: characteristics of people you know, characteristics from your imagination; quirks of your character that affect relationships with other characters; dialects shaped by the setting; etc.

I have loved unicorns since I was a kid. I wrote a fairy tale about unicorns probably twenty years ago for my own amusement. But that was then and this is now. When I made the decision to include unicorns in a more recent novel, I did some research.

Maybe you wonder why I would bother. Aren’t unicorns pretty standard? Though they come from the mythology of many countries, they all seem to heal with the horn on their head and seem ethereal. Well, the thought of writing about a “typical” unicorn, one like cream floating on a breeze, offering a healing touch without saying or doing anything else, was not very inviting. I wanted to write about unicorns that had more personality.

I read books by Diana Peterfreund who has a killer unicorn series for young adults. Not killer in the slang sense of “That dress is killer,” but in the sense of “those unicorns kill people.” You can find details about it here.

I also read this series (photos below), which has more books than just the ones shown here. I love one snippy warrior unicorn character who demanded vows of service from people in exchange for assistance. So much for giving away free stuff like healing. I love a feisty unicorn.

   

Well, I’d better get back to getting the mane situated on this unicorn. It’s going to take awhile. (The unicorn might look small on the photo. But it is about 15 inches tall.)

What do you think of unicorns? Do you like to read stories about them? Are you indifferent to them? Please share your thoughts below.

Rampant book cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

It’s Puzzling

I can thank Jill Weatherholt for my new puzzle obsession.

Actually, it’s not a new obsession—more like an awakened obsession. I used to love putting jigsaw puzzles together when I was a kid. Back then, I gravitated to the 1000-piece puzzles, particularly if they had an image by artist Charles Wysocki. There was something comforting about his paintings—these visions of simpler times.

One of Charles Wysocki’s paintings turned puzzle

I breezed through Target the other day and happened upon some puzzles made with images of his paintings. They brought back memories of many autumn days of my childhood and the large piece of cardboard on which I would assemble my puzzles. But that day in Target, I selected a puzzle with a different image—one that reminded me of summer. (Yes, in the photo above and below, those are ice cream scoops.)

I’m an edge builder. I gather all of the pieces of the edge and put those together. With that framework, I work the rest of the puzzle. What is your strategy for putting jigsaw puzzles together?

I’m sort of the same way as a novel writer. By “sort of,” I mean that I only partially work on an outline—the framework of a story. I’m a hybrid writer—pantser and plotter. I usually work through some of the plot off the bat. But the rest comes as I write. Still, I find it helpful to know the boundaries of the story—what pieces need to be there and how they might fit. Like with my main character. I have to know who I am writing about.

I ask myself: Who are her

Friends?

Enemies?

Family and extended family?

Pets?

How will any relationship conflicts work thematically with my main character’s desires? How much of her back story will I include? How is the setting emphasized? These (character, setting, plot) are the puzzle pieces that I and other novelists sift through as we draft.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t coin the usage of the puzzle metaphor in regard to writing. But as I work on a puzzle and a novel (not at the same time of course), I can’t help being reminded of the connection between the two.

The puzzle metaphor sounds nice and neat, doesn’t it? But if you’ve worked on a book, you know that writing is often messy. So the puzzle metaphor is apt in another way: we’re puzzled about how we’re going to take our mess—all of those pieces we come up with—and make a cohesive whole out of it. As with many difficult puzzles, we often have to roll up our sleeves to solve them. But the satisfaction of seeing the whole puzzle put together is worth it! (And no, I didn’t finish the puzzle above. Look at the first photo. That is what the finished puzzle is supposed to look like. 😀 😁)

Charles Wysocki puzzle from puzzlewarehouse.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Shopkins Shoppie dolls and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys. Black Panther figure by Funko. Shuri action figure by Hasbro.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other


Remember the old Sesame Street song, “One of These Things”? If you aren’t, check this out.

The other week I headed to GameStop to pick up Pokémon HeartGold. While I waited in line, the guy at the counter talked to an eager Fortnite player. If you’re not sure what Fornite is, click here.

  

Now, when you think of the average Fortnite player, what demographic comes to mind? If you have no idea, click here to view a chart on the average Fortnite player. A guy in the line behind me fit that exact profile.

But the person who talked to the store clerk didn’t. At all. Picture a grandmotherly type with white hair, a soft smile, and an equally soft voice. Someone who might read a picture book to sick toddler. Someone you might find behind the checkout desk of the library. Now picture her mowing down husks (zombie-like creatures) or other players in the game, Hunger Games-style. It almost breaks your brain, doesn’t it?

One of these things is not like the other. . . .

But there’s something about that image that delights me. Oh not necessarily the zombie destruction, though I have destroyed many a zombie in the video game, Plants versus Zombies, but the fact that it goes against what’s expected. I think that woman would make a great character in a book. I wish I’d talked to her, and asked her questions to learn more about her.

A character who surprises a reader in a good way is a delight to discover. I especially love quirky characters who are just being themselves. They aren’t shouting from the rooftops, “I’m quirky! Look at meeeeeeee!” They’re just quietly going about their business, like the woman at GameStop.

Who was the last person (a book character or a person in real life) who surprised and delighted you?

While you consider that, here is the moment you also may have been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of The Way the Light Bends by Cordelia Jensen. (See interview here.)

   

The winner of The Way the Light Bends is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nicki Chen of Behind the Story!

Nicki, please confirm below. Thank you to all who commented.

Black Panther figure by Funko. Shopkins Cutie Car Perfume Le Zoom by Moose Toys. Shuri action figure by Hasbro. Photo by L. Marie. The Sesame Street song lyrics can be found here. Pokémon Heart Gold image from pokemon.wikia.com. Author photo courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Plants versus Zombies image from somewhere on Pinterest.

Check This Out: The Way the Light Bends

Before I continue with today’s post, let me first say that thoughts and prayers are with those who live in the areas affected by Hurricane Florence. Florence, you have outstayed your welcome. Go away!

Now, please join me in welcoming back to the blog the awesome Cordelia Jensen. She was here not long ago with Laurie Morrison to talk about their middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing. (Click here for that interview.) Today, she’s here to talk about her young adult verse novel, The Way the Light Bends, which was published by Philomel Books earlier this year.

      

Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe. Okay, let’s strap on our gab bag and talk to Cordelia!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Cordelia: (1) I grew up in Manhattan where Skyscraping and The Way the Light Bends take place.
(2) Currently, I live in a neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia where Every Shiny Thing, the MG book I co-authored with my friend Laurie Morrison, takes place.


(3) I’m the mom of boy-girl twins. They just started seventh grade! Eep!
(4) Along with an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults, I have a MEd in School Counseling and a certificate in Family Therapy. Although I don’t actively use my counseling degree, I do think it comes in handy as an author!

El Space: You are having a busy year, with the release of Every Shiny Thing, and The Way the Light Bends. What, if anything, did you find most challenging in the writing of your verse novel?
Cordelia: The book was sold on proposal and I had never done that before. So, it went through a lot of different drafts and stages. At one point, which you know already since you read it at that stage, the book was actually a dual POV between the two sisters, Linc and Holly. Probably the hardest part of the process was writing Holly’s POV and then cutting it. But, in the end, it helped me get to know her so much better and I hope the book reads more authentically from me having spent that much time getting to know Holly’s journey.

El Space: Linc and Holly’s relationship as sisters is very poignant, as is Linc’s relationship with their mom. Please tell us how you came to write about these relationships and their conflicts.
Cordelia: The idea for the book first came to me from hearing a story on NPR about Seneca Village. When I heard the story, I immediately saw two sisters—one white, one black; one biological, one adopted—wandering Central Park. I knew they used to be close but were very disconnected and that part of the work of the story would be them finding each other again.

When my twins were little, I used to write articles for a publication about multiples and once I interviewed “virtual twins” for one of these articles. That idea of kids being just a few months a part but raised in the same home as twins, always stayed with me as a really fascinating family dynamic. Competition is often an issue in a twin dynamic and I guess I think that can often be encouraged or discouraged due to parental style. In this case, I wanted to write about a parent who favored one girl so much over another that she was doing serious damage to virtually everyone in the family. The mom is clearly the antagonist in The Way the Light Bends, although it feels to Linc sometimes that Holly is I think. The reasons behind the mom’s behavior though wasn’t clear to me from the beginning. I had to write myself into a place of understanding her and her behavior.

This story is about sisters but, in a way, it is almost as much about how parents can impact the self-esteem of their children.

El Space: Linc is a photographer. I loved the photography imagery you used in the titles of the poems and elsewhere in the book. Why did you choose that art form for Linc?
Cordelia: Thanks! It was fun to learn more about photography, as my mom is a professional photographer, but I didn’t know a lot about the technicalities of the art before writing The Way the Light Bends. Honestly, it didn’t feel like I chose it. When her character came with me, her camera came too!

El Space: When we talked about your other novel in verse, Skyscraping (click here for that interview), you mentioned that astronomy was a theme, and that playing with space in poetry is important. What was important to you theme-wise in this book? Why?
Cordelia: It was very important in this book that the verse reflected Linc’s imaginative and artistic personality and viewpoint. So, I played with white space even more than I normally do and saw some of the image construction as actually the way she sees the world—if that makes sense. Like, there is less metaphor, though there is some, and more of a fantastical way of actually seeing the world. Sort of like La La Land, where it is harder to distinguish what is happening and what is in the character’s imagination. I also played around more with fonts!

El Space: You teach creative writing. What to you are the ingredients of a great verse novel? Or are those easy to pinpoint? Why or why not?
Cordelia: I think any verse novel needs to use poetic elements to create an overall narrative to be considered one. I think a great verse novel has to play with white space, play with language, and use imagery, while having a strong handle on plot, setting, character development, etc.

El Space: Who are some authors who inspire you?
Cordelia: I guess my favorite authors write lyrical, coming-of-age stories that are both beautiful and sad. So, I love writers like An Na and Jandy Nelson. I also have really enjoyed Celeste Ng’s books, though she technically writes for adults.

   

El Space: What will you work on next?
Cordelia: I have started a middle grade book, a young adult book, and a picture book—all in verse! And Laurie and I are also working on collaborating on a project again.

Thank you, Cordelia, for being my guest.

Looking for Cordelia? You can find her at her website, Twitter, Instagram.

The Way the Light Bends can be found at your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Big Blue Marble Bookstore. But one of you will be given a copy of this verse novel just for commenting. I will say it in rhyme!

One of you will win this book.
Leave a comment that’s worth a look.
Come on the twenty-fourth, and you will see
who the winner of the book will be.

Author photo courtesy of Cordelia Jensen. Book covers from Goodreads. Camera image from cliparting.com. lifeasahuman.com. Seneca Village images from roadtrippers.com and Pinterest.com. La La Land movie poster from backstageol.com.

Check This Out: Lost (War of Nytefall Book 2)

Glory to the Princess General!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

As the Vampire Civil War of Windemere rages on in the shadows, a mysterious girl appears to deliver mayhem to both sides.

Rumors of old-world vampires disappearing and mortals being attacked by an army of humanoid monsters have reached Clyde’s ears. Still learning how to rule the city of Nytefall as a strong, but fair leader instead of a vicious warlord, the former thief assumes he has rogue agents on his hands. Instead, his people stumble upon Lost, a teenage Dawn Fang looking for her father and aided by a decrepit bunny that might be an animated corpse. Bounding from one side of the Vampire Civil War to another, this carefree girl will turn out to be more trouble than she looks as all of the demons of her past emerge to get what they have been promised. Yet, her chaotic actions are nothing compared to the secret of her creation, which will change the very fabric of the Dawn Fangs’ world.

It is time for the womb-born to be revealed.

Book Excerpt: Lair of the Thief

The four-story building looks no different than those around it, except for the window shutters being on the inside. A winged hound statue sits on the flat roof and leans over the eave, its eyes locked with a matching piece across the street. Clyde stares up at the red-eyed decoration while blindly waving to those who excitedly greet him. Licking his lips, he kneels in front of the door and picks the lock in a few seconds. He still pushes it open as carefully as possible in case there is a chain, which he snaps with a simple flick of his finger. The vampire slips inside and nearly bumps into a pile of bags that are leaking silver coins. Closing the door behind him, Clyde is amazed at all of the treasure that is left in the hallway and rooms. A bedroom to his right is filled with jeweled armor that nobody would wear for battle, the metal visibly fatigued from having so many gems fused to its surface. Moving without a sound, he takes in the sight of jewelry hanging from hooks and goblets meticulously stacked to the ceiling. He stops at the entrance to what used to be a bathroom and has now been turned into a storage place for a ten-foot tall fountain that once stood in a Gaian courtyard. Heading for the second floor, Clyde can see that the nearby kitchen has been left untouched by the widespread hording as well as uncleaned. A sniff of the air tells him that the mess is recent and is a combination of chocolate and hot sauce. Unnerved by the unfamiliar pairing, he moves with more caution and keeps his right fist ready to strike.

Reaching the third floor, Clyde hears the tinkling of coins falling and makes his way to the end of the hallway. He is about to enter the room when it finally dawns on him that he probably should have knocked before entering the house. The former thief scratches his head and turns towards the stairs only to look back at the door. With a shrug, Clyde creates an illusion of a loud bang at the front door and leans against the wall. It is only when he glances at the floor that he spots discarded clothes on the rug, including a hydra-skin jacket. Before he can hide or move for the stairs, the door opens and Mab walks out. Muttering curses, the brown-haired Dawn Fang is completely naked and fails to notice her old partner until she is halfway through with putting on her underwear. Neither of the vampires are sure of how much time has passed as they stare at each other in horror and discomfort. Clyde regains his senses and opens his mouth to talk, but he is immediately blinded by a clawed swipe to the face. He slumps to the floor as the burglar gathers her clothes and rushes back into the room, the door slamming hard enough to knock over several teetering piles of treasure throughout the house.

“What the hell, Mab!?”

“Don’t barge into my house!”

“First of all, I broke in. Second of all, are you bathing in coins?”

“I was counting my latest haul.”

“Why were you naked?”

“It’s hot in here!”

“Then open a window.”

“And let a burglar sneak in?”

Get War of Nytefall: Lost on Amazon for $2.99!
Add it to your Goodreads To-Read Lists!

*****

Start the adventure from the beginning with War of Nytefall: Loyalty!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

Interested in more Windemere? Then don’t forget to check out Charles E. Yallowitz’s first series: Legends of Windemere

All Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

About the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Blog: www.legendsofwindemere.com
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com

The Pressure to Be Something

I went to the same school as Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ll pause to give you time to look up which school they went to. (If you are a follower of this blog, you already know which school.)

You’re back? Okay good. The first thing you’ll notice is that they are celebrities and I am not. Not everyone who went there is. But while I was an undergraduate, and even after graduating, I felt the pressure to live up to the prestige of the university. During my time there, when I chose to major in writing, many people gave me the stink eye. “Major in something useful,” I was advised over and over. (Code word: more prestigious, at least in their eyes.) “In that way, you can make a lot of money and be an alumna the school can be proud of.”

   

The pressure to be something.

(Though nowadays, the latter message comes through in the frequent invitations to donate to the alumni fund. The pressure to give something.)

Ever feel the pressure to be something others have decided is the definition of success?

As a writer, I definitely feel the pressure. My grad program has turned out graduates who have won major awards and who have sold many, many books. Even the organization of children’s writers and illustrators that I belong to routinely sends emails about those who have “made it,” while extending the invitation to “Send us your success stories.”

But what if you’re the writer of some books that went out of print within two years? Or you’ve racked up 89 rejections for a book?

The pressure to be something.

Ever feel like you didn’t measure up somehow? Maybe like me you even fell into the funnel of comparison recently, and felt yourself squeezed out of the small end.

Comparison—the bane of our existence

Thoughts like that swirled through my head as I drove to Wal-Mart the other day. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t let such thoughts hold sway. I’m trying to get my mind right and defeat negative thinking. But for some reason, I thought about the sister who had died the year before I was born. I found myself crying and wondering why she was stillborn, while I lived. Not that I’m ungrateful for life. But because I lived, was I really being all I could be? Was I living up to the potential teachers and others had told me I had over the years?

The pressure to be something. The pressure to make my life count because my sister was dead and I was alive.

But after prayer (because I was really getting worked up), I realized, Wait. I could silence that nagging voice in my head—the one that caused me to feel the pressure to measure myself against someone else’s ruler. I could silence the strive, strive, strive, you’re not doing it right, make things happen and just be.

Be . . .

Content in who I am—someone who persists past rejection and failure.

Joyful regardless.

I’m not Stephen Colbert. I like the guy. I really do. But I don’t have to be him or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be somebody. I already am somebody. I might not do life like them. But I do what I do, because I like doing what I do, whether that fits someone else’s protocol or not.

Pressure dispelled.

As Nancy Hatch of Spirit Lights the Way would say, “Aah, that’s better.”

And now, I’ll leave you with a Lindsey Stirling video, suggested by a friend who went to Lindsey’s concert the other day. It’s for anyone who needs to get out of the pressure and into joy.

Marsha Mello likes being with the Unfinished Tiger. His chill approach to life—that all of us are works in progress—soothes her.

Stephen Colbert photo from enspireusall.com. Julia Louis-Dreyfus photo from popsugar.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Marsha Mello and Donatina Shoppie dolls from Moose Toys.