Check This Out: In Brigantia

It’s raining authors around the blog! Today, the amazing Andrew Murray (or Andy as many of you who know him and follow his blogs, City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts, call him) is here to talk about his latest poetry collection, In Brigantia. (His first was Heading North, which we talked about here.)

  

Stick around after the interview to learn about a giveaway of this collection. Now, let’s talk to Andy.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: Thank you! (1) I’m (at least) the fifth generation of Murray born in Manchester.
(2) My favourite place is Orkney.

 

Photos by Andy Murray © 2019

(3) A big Whovian, I once stumbled across a scene being filmed for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode, and was totally unaware of it until it aired on TV.
(4) My dreams begin while I’m still awake.

El Space: Please tell us how you came to choose the theme you chose for In Brigantia.

12294646_10153732827966740_3177437019818522964_nAndy: The title of the collection takes its name from the opening long poem, ‘Brigantia’ being the territorial name of northern Celtic tribe the Brigantes. Being northern myself, the poems are either set in, or were written in, that same area, though set in the modern day. My writing is often rooted in place.


Romano-British Brigantes map

El Space: How long did it take to complete this collection?
Andy: I never started writing with a collection in mind. I continued to write individual poems following the publication of Heading North in late 2015 and eventually, when I had a considerable number, I began to go through them with an eye on bringing some together in a new book.

Along with the post-2015 poems, there are three older poems also included, one dating back to the September 11th attack, when I received a postcard from a close friend of mine, on that very day, telling me that she was in New York and going to go up one of those towers. It shook my complacency about our friendship. That friend is now my wife.

El Space: Wow! What a great story! What’s your process for writing a poem? How do you know when a poem is “done”?
Andy: I never sit to write a poem; words and lines tend to come to me when I’m out and about doing other things. I take a note of them and they grow from there; it’s quite organic really. Knowing when they are ‘done’ is an instinctive thing, just a feeling I get. As with all writing, I guess, it’s a subjective process. I was sat in a coffee shop watching a guy working the room, trying, unsuccessfully, to chat up the girls who were in there, and straight away I got every single line for ‘Romeo of Lever Street,’ written on the handy notes section of my phone. That also comes in useful for phrases that come to me when on the edge of sleep.

El Space: Amazon’s description of this collection mentions historical royalty like Queen Cartimandua and Hollywood “royalty” like Marilyn Monroe and Tom Cruise. How did these individuals come to be in this collection?

  

Andy: There’s a story to the Monroe one. I was on a train journey, listening to an audio drama over headphones as we approached the next station. As the train pulled in, the guard announced, “The next station, ladies and gentlemen, is Mytholmroyd.” I really thought, above the story that I was tuned into, that what had been said was “Ladies and gentlemen: Marilyn Monroe!” I pulled my headphones off, “What?!” Looking wildly through the window to see exactly where we were. In my defence, I was also due to have my ears syringed soon at the local surgery, but still-—Monroe! I thought to myself ‘Wouldn’t that have been a sight for a Thursday morning?’ And that’s how ‘Mytholmroyd’ came into being.

Photo by Andy Murray © 2019

As for Cartimandua, she was the queen of the Brigantes tribe. Her name translates as ‘sleek pony,’ and that’s how I came up with the cover image for the book.

El Space: Which poem(s) in the collection had the most difficult birth?
Andy: ‘Hanging On ‘Til Morning.’ With this one I went against my usual writing process, mentioned above, looking to write lyrics instead of waiting for the lyrics to come to me. I say lyrics, because this originally was for a friend who is in a band and had asked for help in coming up with words for a song. I got carried away, imagining all sorts of melodies and chord changes before I came to my senses and reigned myself in. Music is his talent, not mine, so I gave him what I’d written and told him to adapt it however he wanted to fit what he was doing.

El Space: Which poets or other artists inspire you?
Andy: There are many. Different poets speak to different people. I like Kenneth White—he writes about the things that inspire me. Now in his eighties, I mentioned him in the foreword to Heading North and received a letter from him wishing me well upon my own journey, which was wonderful. I also like Werner Aspenström, but need to brush up on my Swedish as there is only a limited amount of his work translated into English.

  

  

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I will be turning to fiction next. A new publisher has expressed interest in a short story collection, tentatively called The Night Spills In. It’s the kind of stuff I read when growing up—folklore and the supernatural. I was that kind of kid! Beyond that I have the first draft of a contemporary novel, Seasons on the Hill, that I’ve left to breathe for a while, to pick up again. And I will still be writing poetry along the way.

Thank you, Andy, for being my guest!

Looking for Andy? You can find him at his blogs (City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts).

Looking for In Brigantia? You can find it at Amazon. But one of you will get a copy of In Brigantia simply because you commented. Winner to be announced next week sometime!

Author photo and other photos courtesy of Andy Murray. In Brigantia cover came from Andy’s City Jackdaw blog. Kenneth White and Werner Aspenström poetry collection covers came from Goodreads and Amazon. Romano-British Brigantes map from Wikipedia. Marilyn Monroe photo from thefashiontag blog. Tom Cruise photo from vulture.com. Doctor Who image from fandomania.

Check This Out: Brother, Sister, Me and You and Other National Geographic Kids Books

It’s not every day that I get to welcome to the blog one of my awesome grad school advisors. But here today is the one and only Mary Quattlebaum! She’s here to talk about the National Geographic Kids books she wrote, which were published by Penguin Random House, and include Brother, Sister, Me and You.

      

  Author photo by Michelle Rivet

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Mary: 1. I am the oldest of seven kids.
2. My favorite food is popcorn.
3. One of my favorite jobs was as an 18th century tavern wench for Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
4. All the dogs I’ve lived with as an adult have been rescue dogs, in one way or the other. One dog, Charlie, even conveyed with the house we bought, because the owner was going to put him in a shelter.

Mary with her elderly border collie Shine. Photo by Christopher David.

El Space: You’ve written a ton of books for kids, including your rhyming Jo MacDonald series and other picture books like Mighty Mole and Super Soil, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, and Pirate vs. Pirate, as well as your Jackson Jones novel series. Today, let’s talk about the National Geographic Kids books you wrote in the last few years: Brother, Sister, Me and You; National Geographic Kids Chapters: Hero Dogs; and National Geographic Kids Chapters Together Forever: True Stories of Amazing Animal Friendships! Many of your stories feature animals and the environment. Please tell us why that was important to you.

 

Mary: I’ve always been curious about the natural world, probably because I grew up in the country. And now there’s the added concern about the effect of climate change and pollution on the environment. Humans are deeply connected to other species, historically and in the present moment; we’re all part of an ecosystem. With my books—whether fiction or nonfiction—I guess I try to bring that connection to the fore and celebrate it. Plus, animals and plants are pretty amazing! Did you know that beaver kits help to care for younger siblings? And that a female guppy gives birth to live fry—sometimes 200 within a few hours?

El Space: Wow! I did not know that! How did you come to write nonfiction? What is the research process like for each project?
Mary: First of all, congratulations on your forthcoming nonfiction books! I’m looking forward to reading them!

El Space: Thank you. 😊
Mary: Now to your question: I’ve always enjoyed research, and for years I’ve written freelance articles for The Washington Post and other publications. But I had a palm-to-the-forehead moment when I wrote my Jo MacDonald books and realized the pleasures and challenges of writing narrative nonfiction for kids. Now, I’m doing both narrative nonfiction and straight nonfiction books. The narrative nonfiction chapter books often involve interviews—similar to what I do as a freelance journalist—as well the usual deep research into primary and secondary sources for traditional nonfiction.

   

El Space: I always roll my eyes when someone comments that writing a book for young children “must be easy.” What were the challenges of writing these books?
Mary: Well, when writing nonfiction, one big challenge is to ensure the accuracy of each fact, while presenting it in a way that’s going to engage kids. So, writers are always thinking carefully about sound, rhythm, sentence structure, etc. For Brother, Sister, Me and You, for example, I wanted a range of animals—not just cute mammals—and I wanted strong verbs so that children could act out the movements of the featured animals. So, I watched a lot of animal videos to make sure those verbs were accurate as well as fun. I also went to a pet store and looked at a tank of guppies to make sure that those little fish did, indeed, “flash with finny flicks.”

El Space: You teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts and you review books for The Washington Post, Washington Parent, and probably others I’m forgetting. How do you fit everything in?
Mary: Writers with families seem to juggle so much—deadlines, family responsibilities, teaching! Now, that my daughter is in college, time pressures have eased a bit, which makes for more time to walk the dog and garden—or at least think about gardening 😊—and to watch Schitt’s Creek. And I have to say, it’s a pleasure to work with motivated writing students who want to learn and grow, whether in Washington, DC, where I live, or at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had a great time working with you, L. Marie, and I’m thrilled for you with your forthcoming books.

El Space: You are making me blush, Mary! When I was a student, you told me to experiment with poetry based on the prompts in The Aspiring Poet’s Journal by Bernard Friot. I copied this quote from a handout you gave me: “The book gets one thinking not just about words on the page but about ‘seeing’ and experiencing the world in a creative, ever-present way.” Why is the exercise of writing poetry helpful for novelists or nonfiction writers?


Mary: So glad you’re still exploring poetry and wordplays! For me, anyway, there is nothing like the reading and writing of poetry to encourage a deep awareness of and appreciation for the possibilities of language. Every word and every mark of punctuation is important, sound and rhythm are paramount. And the writing of poetry seems to call for an attentiveness to the world, an alertness to the extraordinary in even ordinary moments. Dogs seem to be wonderful models for living in the present moment. I love seeing how our dog takes in his surroundings, with curiosity and gusto.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary: I’m now beavering away on an animal-related early-reader project.

Thank you, Mary, for being my guest!

Looking for Mary? Look no farther than her website! If you subscribe to The Washington Post or Washington Parent, look for her book reviews.

Looking for Brother, Sister, Me and You or any of Mary’s other books? Check your local bookstore, Amazon, Dawn Publications, Indiebound, or Barnes and Noble or your own doorstep, since one of you will be given a copy of this book or any of Mary’s books of your choosing simply because you commented below.

Since this week I will feature another wonderful author, I will announce the winners of both giveaways sometime next week!

The Squeezamals and Henry’s bear wonder when Mary will write a book about their friendship. They’re animals . . . sort of.

Book covers courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum, her website, or were found at Dawn Publications. Book spread courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum. See above for more photo attributions. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Beautiful Fonts

Type fonts have fascinated me ever since I learned to read via the daily newspaper ages ago. (True story.) Seeing words neatly arranged on a page always causes my heart to flutter. This is why I love books. (Well, that’s one reason why I love them.) Beautiful, clean-looking fonts always make me think of words being taken seriously. Font design is truly an art form.

And don’t get me started on cover fonts. I love when a designer uses a font that fits the theme of a book or some other aspect of it.

Out right now (cover by Alison Hunt)

Coming this June (cover designer—Dana Li; illustrator—Agata Wierzbicka)

Coming this October (not sure who the cover designer is, but the illustrator is Alice Brereton)

When I took calligraphy as part of my art studies in high school (yep, totally dates me), I had vague hopes of someday creating a beautiful font. Still waiting on that score. In the meantime, I can appreciate the beautiful fonts created by others. (And yes, I know—beauty is subjective.)

Duckbite Swash by Angie Makes

Alex Brush by TypeSETit

Reis by Marcelo Reis Melo

Girly Alphabet (yes, that is a thing)

 

Henry (um, he’s still working on this one)

 

Random photos that have nothing to do with fonts. Photo top left is a Squeezamal™. Photo top right shows sidewalk art (not drawn by me) outside my door that sort of matches the Squeezamal. Last but not least, a photo of the current occupant of my living room.

What covers or fonts have caught your eye recently? As you consider that, Andy of Thinkulum, come on down. You are the winner of The Contract between heaven and earth by John Howell and Gwen Plano! Comment below to confirm.

 

Duckbite Swash calligraphy font image fround at myfonts.com. Alex Brush found at naldzgraphics.net. Reis free font found at pesede.com. Girly Alphabet Font from designtrends.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals™ are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Guest Post: Interview by Sergeant Joe Friday

L. Marie here. A strange man calling himself Sergeant Joe Friday strong-armed me invited me to share this interrogation interview with the awesome John Howell. Enjoy!

I’m Sergeant Joe Friday. My partner is Frank Smith and I’m a cop. I was working the day watch in and around the county of Los Angeles. It came to my attention that one John W. Howell had finally left the safe confines of Texas and was due to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport this afternoon. Since Mr. Howell has long been on our list of persons of interest, we decided we needed to intercept him at the airport.

There we were standing around waiting for the arrival of the plane from Austin. My partner had gone to the snack bar for a coffee while I busied myself with the paper. Just as I was about to get to the score of last night’s double header, I spotted him. I signaled to Frank and we proceeded to catch him before he got outside.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“My name is Friday. Sergeant Friday. This is my partner Mr. Smith. We would like to have a word if you don’t mind?”

“Uh. I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. What’s this all about?”

“We just have a few questions. We can step into the security lounge for a little privacy.”

“Is there a problem?”

“No problem sir unless you decide to make one. Now how about it?”

“I guess it will be alright. My rental car can wait.”

“Thank you, sir. Follow us.”

We went into the security lounge and sat at a big table. I asked Mr. Howell if he would like a coffee or water. He told me he was fine. Although we startled him at first, he did not seem nervous. I didn’t know what to make of that so I asked my first question.

“So, what brings you to LA, Mr. Howell?”

“I’m attending a book conference.”

“Book conference huh? What goes on there?”

“It is a gathering of authors. We set up a table and talk to readers.”

“Talk to readers? Is that all?”

“Yes. We also hope they buy a book, but usually just talk.”

“What is this talk about?”

“Well, you know—”

“No, I don’t know Mr. Howell. You tell me.”

“Um. Well, I describe my book and the reader asks questions.”

“I see. You want to comment on what those are saying about you.”

“Who is saying what?”

“They say you write thrillers.”

“I confess. I do.”

“Confess? Frank, take this down. So, you freely admit you write thrillers?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to book you on a 416.”

“416? What’s that?”

“Unauthorized thrilling of readers.”

“Come on. They are the ones buying the books.”

“Maybe you are running some kind of mental persuasion scheme.”

“I hardly think so.”

“Well, before we take you downtown is there anything else you want to confess?”

“My last book was number one on Amazon.”

“Is that like a list of most wanted criminals?”

“Maybe most wanted books would be more accurate.”

“Describe the book for me.”

“Ahem. Well the title is The Contract.”

“Like in kill for hire?”

“No, no. The earth is under the threat of a catastrophic political event which could result in international warfare and destroy all life on the planet. In heaven, a divine council decides that extraordinary measures are essential. They call for an intervention that involves two souls returning to earth. The chosen two sign a contract that they will work to avert the disaster.”

“So, you are telling me your book is about heaven?”

“Well it is about how Heaven uses the Earth as a training ground.”

“So, you are saying there are aliens on Earth.”

“No. Brad Channing, a Navy SEAL, and Sarah O’Brien, a teacher, become heaven’s representatives on earth. The story follows them as they individually and then together face overwhelming obstacles and eventually end up on a strategic Air Force base in California. It is there that they discover a conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States. The terrorists have a plan for global dominance, and they are determined to complete their mission.

“So where do you come in?”

“I am one of the authors.”

“Uh huh. And the other?”

“Gwen Plano. Author of Letting Go into Perfect Love.

  

“So, a partner in crime huh.”

“No, a collaborator.”

“How did that go for you?”

“It was a rewarding experience.

“Frank, put out an APB on Plano. . . . Anything else you want to say?”

“How about where readers can find me?”

“Other than in the big house you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Okay here’s what we have on you.”

Fiction Favorites Blog
John Howell Facebook
John Howell Twitter
Authors db
LinkedIn
Goodreads
Amazon Author’s page
Gwen’s blog

“Man, that is a lot of stuff.”

“How about a few photos?”

  

  

“Thanks.”

“Here is your rap sheet. I think you are in big trouble.”

John W, Howell began his writing as a full-time occupation after an extensive business career. His specialty is thriller fiction novels, but John also writes poetry and short stories. His first book, My GRL, introduces the exciting adventures of the book’s central character, John J. Cannon. The second Cannon novel, His Revenge, continues the adventure, while the final book in the trilogy, Our Justice, launched in September 2016. Circumstances of Childhood in October 1st. 2017. The latest, The Contract between heaven and earth, his fifth book, is written in collaboration with award-winning author Gwen Plano and was launched in June of 2018. All books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

John lives in Lakeway, Texas with his wife and their spoiled rescue pets.

Okay, I’m back. I’m giving away a copy of The Contract between heaven and earth to a commenter. You know what to do. Winner to be announced some time next week!

Author photos and covers courtesy of John Howell.

A “Real” Hero

Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I wasn’t able to be with my mom (except by phone), but I enjoyed being with my in-laws.

This might seem like an odd post-Mother’s Day post, but here goes. (I never said I was normal. And I’m in between interview posts, so . . .) An article in Entertainment Weekly, “To Cap It Off,” discussed the “sarcasm-free wholesomeness” of the Marvel character Captain America. In the quote below, article writer Anthony Breznican quotes Chris Evans, the actor who plays Captain America (don’t worry, no Endgame spoilers):

Even the actor’s friends didn’t get it when he tried to explain Cap to them; one asked if he was supposed to be “boring.” Evans sighed. “If it comes out boring, I’ve really missed the mark. He’s not boring. He’s real.” (29)

I absolutely love love love (did I mention I love it?) that sentiment. Wanna know why? Even if the answer is no, I’ll tell you. It makes me sad that some people think a hero is “boring” if he or she isn’t out-snarking everyone or shooting first (looking at you, Han Solo). Look, I love a good quip, which is why Spider-Man is one of my favorite superheroes (loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). And like many others, I appreciate an antihero (looking at you again, Han Solo). But it takes effort to make a character not only real but admirable even if he or she never utters an ounce of snark. I can’t help thinking of the elevator scene in the 2014 film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Boring is not a word I would use to describe Cap. Sincere and willing to fight for what’s right—definitely.

Some view sincerity as “boring.” But I’m reminded of the 2017 Wonder Woman movie and how many admired Wonder Woman for that trait.

I appreciate Chris Evans’s desire to make the character he plays real. If you look at any of the Marvel films featuring Cap, you’ll notice that he never tries to hide how he feels, while some people, on the other hand, use snark to hide what’s real about them.

When I was growing up, sarcasm never worked with Mom. (See how I worked this back to Mom? Makes this kind of a Mother’s Day post after all.) I couldn’t use it with Dad either, especially once he gained a master’s degree in counseling psychology and would talk about the “walls” of sarcasm. But Mom would give me a look that said, “You are fooling no one. What’s the real story?”

What traits do you admire in a hero (and by hero I mean male or female)? While you think about that, I’ve got a book to give away: Up for Air by Laurie Morrison. (Click here for the interview with Laurie.)

  

And that book is going to Penny at LifeontheCutoff’s Blog.

Penny, please comment below to confirm.

Breznican, Anthony. “To Cap It Off.” Entertainment Weekly, April 19/26 #1558/1559. 26-30.

Chris Evans as Captain American photo found at contactmusic.com. Wonder Woman movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Author photo by Laura Billingham. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Up for Air

Hi ya! (See what I did there? Yes, I laugh at my own bad puns. If you’re still wondering what on earth I mean, think higher. Get it? Air? Higher? Okay, I’ll stop.) My guest is nudging me to focus, so, with me on the blog today is none other than the amazing Laurie Morrison. She’s been here before to discuss her debut MG novel, Every Shiny Thing, written with the awesome Cordelia Jensen. Click here for that post. Today, Laurie’s here to talk about her solo flight, Up for Air, published by Abrams on May 7.

   

Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe.

Stick around to the end to learn of a giveaway for Up for Air and to find out who won the $25 Amazon card I announced in this post. Now, let’s talk to Laurie!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: I’m very sensitive to loud noises and scared of fire, so I was terrified of fireworks as a kid. I love sweets and love coffee but hate sweet coffee. I used to wish I had straight hair and a name that ended in an “a,” but now I like my hair and my name a lot. I always loved to read but didn’t begin to think of myself as a writer until my mid-twenties.

El Space: Congratulations on your starred reviews for Up for Air, Laurie! [Click here and scroll down for those.] Please tell us how this book came to be.
Laurie: Thank you! Up for Air spun off from a YA novel I was working on when you and I got to know each other at VCFA, Linda. Annabelle from Up for Air was the younger stepsister of the main character in that book, a sixteen-year-old girl named Lissy. I still love that book, which was called Rebound, but unfortunately it never sold. However, right around the time when I was realizing that book might not sell, my then-seventh-grade student read it and told me she loved Annabelle and wanted me to write Annabelle’s story next. I loved Annabelle, too, and I had taught some other students who were excellent athletes and ended up playing on sports teams with older teens. I thought that dynamic, of a tween on a team with older teens, would be interesting to explore, and I loved the idea that I could use the setting and some of the characters from Rebound. It took me a little while to commit to writing Up for Air because I was afraid it would be seen as too mature for middle grade but too young for young adult and therefore wouldn’t be marketable, but I couldn’t let go of the idea.

Laurie talks with her Every Shiny Things co-author, Cordelia Jensen. Photo taken at the Up for Air book launch at Children’s Book World in Haverford

El Space: Annabelle’s story is such a rich conglomeration of angst, joy, family, friendships, crushes, and summer fun.  Who, if anyone, was the inspiration for Annabelle?
Laurie: I’m so glad you thought so! Originally, I created Annabelle as a character who would really push my old main character Lissy’s buttons,  so I guess Lissy was the main inspiration. Annabelle’s stepdad, Mitch, is Lissy’s father, and while Annabelle and Mitch have a great relationship, Lissy and Mitch had a pretty tense one. I tried to build Annabelle up as a kid who would seem to Lissy like the daughter her dad had always wanted.

El Space: Honestly, your book was painful to read at times because it is so true to life. What were the challenges for you in the writing of this book?
Laurie: I struggle with perfectionism, and I tend to feel a whole lot of shame when I think I have done things wrong. As I wrote this book, I really wanted to explore those feelings of shame and vulnerability because of “messing up,” so I channeled some painful and embarrassing experiences I’d had as a kid and as an adult. Annabelle’s experiences are very different from mine, but her feelings are the same. Interestingly, though, I didn’t find the book emotionally difficult to write. It was actually very cathartic.

Cookies served at the Up for Air book launch were made by Frosted Fox Bakery.

El Space: You taught middle school. What do you think your students would say about Annabelle’s journey? What do you want your readers to take away concerning girl power?
Laurie: I think 6th-8th graders like the ones I taught would say they are happy that Annabelle’s story delves into some things they don’t often get to read about in middle grade books—things like the social pressures that can come along with being friends with older teens, and the way it feels to get a certain kind of attention as your body develops. I want readers to see that girls can be competitive, yes, and Annabelle has a very competitive friendship, but girls also lift each other up and share their experiences in a very open and deep way, making each other feel less alone.

El Space: The swim team aspects were so realistic. Were you on the swim team at school? How did you bring them to life so vividly?
Laurie: Thank you! I was an athlete, but my big sport was soccer. I do know how to swim and love to do laps for exercise, though I haven’t done that for a while, and I also love to watch swimming during the Olympics! I drew upon my minimal knowledge of swimming and my more substantial understanding of what it’s like to be serious about a sport, and then I did a bit of research and relied on three readers who are swimming experts: my friend and critique partner, Laura Sibson, and two of my former students. All three of them helped me make the swimming elements more vivid and authentic.

El Space: Your book is considered upper middle grade. I remember reading Shug by Jenny Han years ago and thinking it was upper middle grade. What are the differences between middle grade and upper middle grade?
Laurie: Oh, I loved Shug! And that’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a clear consensus on what the criteria are or which books are middle grade and which are upper middle grade. I could say that upper middle grade books are designated by the publisher as age 10-14 versus age 8-12, and that is sometimes the case; Up for Air and Every Shiny Thing are both marketed as 10-14, and so are Melanie Sumrow’s unputdownable novels, The Prophet Calls and The Inside Battle. But then one of my favorite upper middle grade books is Paula Chase’s So Done, and that one says age 8-12 on the jacket.

  

   

I guess for me, the age of the protagonist is important. When the main character is 13 (an age that I think publishers used to shy away from), that’s one indication that you’re looking at an upper middle grade novel. It’s also about the topics the author is covering and the book’s tone. So I guess it’s an I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of thing. If I feel like a book is geared more toward a 6th-8th grade reader than to a 3rd-5th grade reader, then I personally would call it upper MG. I’m happy to say that I think we’re starting to see more and more upper MG, and I hope that’s a trend that continues!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m working on my next book, Saint Ivy, which is due out from Abrams in spring 2021. Like my first two books, it’s a story about friendship, family, and complicated emotions, but this one also features an anonymous email and a bit of a mystery. It’s proving to be a fun challenge so far, and I’m nervous but excited to see how it comes together!

Thank you, Laurie, for being my guest!

Looking for Laurie? Click on these icons:

            .

Up for Up for Air? You can find it at your local bookstore and here:
    ,    .

But one of you will find it in your mailbox just because you commented below. Yes, this is a giveaway, like the $25 Amazon gift card will be given away to Jill Weatherholt. See what I did there? Oh never mind. Jill, please comment below to confirm.

Everyone else, please comment below to be entered in the drawing. I’ll announce the winner next week sometime!

After reading Up for Air, Henry was inspired to hug his friends regularly, including new friend, the lamb’s head.

Author photo by Laura Billingham. Cookie photo by Elizabeth Morrison. Book launch photo by Mike Fabius. Cup of coffee from clker.com. Various icons from the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

What Gets You Through It?

See, it was like this: I wasn’t looking forward to my birthday. Accepting that I have reached this age took time to process (and no I will not share what age). Not only that, the master cylinder on my car had just decided to quit working and was demanding a pension. And I had deadlines on the same day. And rejections.

Still, I felt celebrated thanks to the well wishes of family, friends, and acquaintances, and the many meals out that I have enjoyed with family and friends, one of whom treated me to this . . .

. . . . which graciously premiered on my birthday. OF COURSE I WON’T SPOIL THE MOVIE! What do you take me for? Stop shaking your finger at me, please.

So anyway, I came out of my pre-birthday funk, though the days after my birthday looked like this . . .

   

(Yes. You are seeing correctly. That is snow. I think of the past weekend as Revenge of the Sith or The Empire Strikes Back. Winter was determined to get the last word in when I told it to leave.)

Recently, I felt a nudge at my elbow. When I turned, I saw this:

Me: Um, what’s this?
Henry: I’m giving you Boo Bear.
Me (noting Henry’s trembling lips and teary eyes): I can’t take your bear.
Henry (bravely): I want you to have him. He helps me when I’m sad.

I thanked Henry for the lovely gesture and decided to stop whining about birthdays and snow and master cylinders that conk out when I’m in the middle of driving.

Henry reminded me of the coping methods people use in challenging times. Henry has Boo Bear. Malik meditates on his own awesomeness.

Even Kitty chimed in with the fact that therapy has helped. In fact, she has enjoyed her sessions with her therapists, especially since she only has to pay them in Skittles.

What gets you through challenging times? Comment below to be entered into my birthday giveaway. What am I giving away? Certainly not Boo Bear. A $25 Amazon gift card. Nothing cheers me up like giving stuff away. I love to give presents similar to what I’ve received. So, it was either give a gift card or these:

  

Winner to be announced when I post next. (Sometime next week. Hopefully Monday or Tuesday.)

Avengers: Endgame movie poster from impawards.com. Other photos by L. Marie.