Gripped


I always think of the branches of this tree as the fingers of a cupped hand. Yes, winter has a firm grip in this area. It simply won’t let go. Even last night we had a fresh snowfall, one of many we have had. Even as I type this post, snow continues its “take that and that and that—mwahahahaha” approach.

While I might think of winter as the ultimate supervillain, I can’t help thinking of Wintersmith, in which the late great Terry Pratchett depicted winter (aka the Wintersmith) as an extremely confused would-be lover determined to woo a love interest, regardless of the cost to her community.

The fingers of winter, which that tree represents, inspired me to think about the things that have gripped me lately. One of those things has been discouragement and rejection. Okay, that’s two things, you might be saying. But I typed one and the other came along for the ride. Glancing at some of my old posts (I don’t make a habit of doing that; from time to time I copy photos and links from old posts), I can’t help noticing how I use to write more from a well of greater joy. But within the last year or so, the well had run dry.

Even in other types of writing—short stories, novels, nonfiction—I picked at the words like a young kid might pick at a vegetable on his or her plate. (“Do I have to eat that? Okay, how many do I have to eat?”) It was just a chore.

Some of the feeling of writing as a chore came from discouragement over the rejection of others. (See, that’s why I only said discouragement and rejection were one thing, rather than two. Totally planned it. . . . You’re not buying that, are you?) It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve queried agents and publishers. Gotta expect a certain amount of rejection, we’re told. But every once in a while, it gets to you. I’m not made of stone after all.

And then last week, I watched a video of a guy singing and playing the piano. He had so much joy. And I realized what was missing—the joy of writing.

When I was a kid, my best friend and I used to trade stories back and forth because we loved writing them. We didn’t care about style or how “good” they were. We wrote for the fun of it.

That’s joy.

I let the measurement of others take that from me. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying I should never go through rejection. What I am saying is that I started second- and third-guessing myself because of what others have said. Consequently, writing became onerous. It bore a weight—the weight of trying to measure up to whatever standards someone else has—it should never have borne.

Please don’t misunderstand me again. (I have to throw that out there, because I’m really thinking this through and realizing things as I write this.) There are standards of excellence. I believe in that wholeheartedly. What I am saying is that I want to take myself out of the grip of a pre-rejection mindset—thinking that whatever I do will be rejected, so what’s the point?

If by now you’re scratching your head and wondering what on earth I am babbling about, think of this as a therapy session you stumbled into inadvertently. Or maybe you too have been gripped by something you want to shake free of. (See, that sentence was not exactly grammatically correct, but we’re shaking ourselves out of the grip of stuff right now, so . . . yeah.)

So I wrote this post and didn’t give it two thoughts. Just wrote it because I wanted to write it. And the fact that I wanted to write it—really wanted to—calls the tears to my eyes and a hope in my heart that I’m back. Back to joy.

Photos by L. Marie.

Creating Conflict

I recently broke one of my rules by deliberately reading a spoiler-filled book. Though I have not yet seen the animated movie WolfWalkers (now on Apple TV), I read with delight the pages of The Art of WolfWalkers, a book by Charles Solomon that is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. The film (click the movie title above to learn more about the movie) has some fantasy elements, but is based on real events in history. Click here to read more about those events.

  

The book was given to me by a friend (thank you, Sharon). I don’t have Apple TV, so there is no telling when I’ll see the film. But I love the work of the studio that produced it (Cartoon Saloon), and the director behind it—Tomm Moore, an Irish filmmaker who has helmed some of the movies that are now among my all-time favorites: Song of the Sea (2014) and The Secret of Kells (2009). So I’m usually interested in anything that helps me learn about his creative process.

  

An exercise the book mentions intrigued me:

Tomm heard Jim [Capobianco, a story artist whose work Moore admires, who had the idea for the film Ratatouille along with director Brad Bird] say that when he’s trying to come up with ideas, he writes two lists: things he loves and things he hates. Obviously, all good stories have conflict, so he would make the lists to find the conflicts he needed. That’s what Tomm and Ross [Stewart, the co-director of WolfWalkers] did. (New York: Abrams, 2020. 15)

I found that fascinating, because the creation of conflict(s) in a story has always been challenging for me. Yes, I know that conflict is essential to the plot and comes from the way characters relate to each other, based on their characteristics and beliefs. And this is not to say that making these lists is the thing to do for every story. But if you’re stuck, you might give the list making a try. I plan to do so!

If creating conflicts comes easily to you, got any tips you’d like to share? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Rural Voices, an anthology of stories acquired and contributed to by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. For the interview with Nora, click here.

  

The winner of that book is Marie!

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

Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Rural Voices

With me on the blog today is another of my classmates, the awesome Nora Shalaway Carpenter (woot woot). Nora has been here before (click here) and is here today to talk about Rural Voices, a young adult fiction anthology for which she was the acquiring editor and contributor. Rural Voices, published by Candlewick Press, is an NPR Best Book of 2020 and a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

 

Nora is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Please join me in a conversation with Nora.

El Space: Thank you for being here, Nora.
Nora: Thanks so much for having me, Linda!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1) My favorite candy is Dark Chocolate Craisins. 2) My current fave song is Can You Feel the Sun by Missio. 3) I used to like dogs more than cats, but now have a new appreciation for felines thanks to our rescued cat, Pumpkin. 4) I grew up off a dirt road in rural West Virginia. My closest neighbor was a mile away.


I could only find a photo of Milk Chocolate Craisins. They look tasty! 🥰

El Space: Please tell us how Rural Voices came to be. What, if any, goals did you have for getting this project off the ground?
Nora: I’d been secretly thinking about an anthology of rural voices for a while, but the project began after a conversation with my author friends and VCFA classmates Mary Winn Heider and Rachel Hylton. When I lamented that no one had yet compiled a YA collection of rural voices, they encouraged me to do it myself. I sent an email to my agent during that chat and the rest is history!

My biggest initial goal was to show readers that rural America was so much more complex, valuable, and diverse than the tired clichés usually presented in popular media.

El Space: How did you go about acquiring authors for Rural Voices?
Nora: This was a little tricky, because a lot of people don’t flaunt their rural roots because they are sick of being shamed about them. Luckily, I had a nice core group of rural authors that I knew from VCFA. A number of them knew other rural authors to recommend.

El Space: What were some of challenges you faced as you worked on the anthology? How long did the project take to complete?
Nora: Coordinating the submission and revision deadlines of all the contributors was one of the biggest challenges. The timeline was much faster than it might have been—about a year—because Candlewick and I really wanted the book to come out before the 2020 election.

El Space: What is one misconception you hope will be erased as readers dive in to this anthology?
Nora: I hope it challenges a lot more than one, but at minimum, I hope it shows readers that rural people are as vibrant, smart, and worthy of dignity and respect as every other person.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: Ah! I’m so excited about my next project. I wish I could tell you all about it, but it is due to be announced anytime, so please keep a lookout on my social media channels—@noracarpenterwrites on IG and @norawritesbooks on Twitter! After that, I’ve got another contemporary YA in the works, this one set in rural West Virginia.

Thank you, Nora!

Looking for Nora? Check out her website and the social media channels mentioned above.

Looking for Rural Voices? Check out Bookshop, Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. And don’t forget Nora’s other books:

The Edge of Anything is a Cybils Awards Finalist, a Kirkus Best Book of 2020, and A Mighty Girl’s Book of the Year.

Comment below to be entered into a drawing to receive a copy of Rural Voices. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Craisins image from Bing. Rural homes image from healthline.

Okay, So It’s 2021 . . . All Right Then


Just made a post-holiday work deadline this very day (or at least the day on which I’m writing this). So, if you’re wondering why you haven’t seen me at your blog on in this space, that’s why. Now that I’ve come up for air, I can say what I’ve been meaning to say: Happy New Year! I hope you had an enjoyable holiday season.

I spent the holidays working to meet the deadline, so all was quiet. Not a creature was stirring, except me, getting up to get more coffee or chocolate.

Yup.

As per my usual routine, I never make New Year’s resolutions. If a year like 2020 has taught me anything, it has taught me that plans can be changed at the drop of a hat. This is not to say that I plan to coast through the year without any desire to improve or perform any of the actions usually birthed through resolutions. But I don’t like to make promises that I can’t keep.

Another thing that 2020 taught me was to monitor my expectations. Ever read a book by an author that you thought was so outstanding, your expectations were sky high before the next book rolled around? Or, ever experience a time so bad, you thought, Well life can only go uphill from here? Expectations naturally form when something new dawns, and we can’t help approaching the unknown, based on our experiences. (Maybe that’s what’s been happening with Wonder Woman 1984. But I digress. . . .)

Many a time my expectations were so unrealistically high about a thing that nothing could possibly match them. I’m sure you know that feeling. So I have a “Take it as it comes” approach as I ease myself into 2021.This is also not to say that I lack hope. I’m just . . . cautious.

How about you?

Anyway, wishing you a joyous new year!

Meme from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie.