Of Bunnies and Birds and Apples and Poetry

Ever since I learned to crochet, I’ve always loved discovering and trying new crochet patterns. I’ve made sweaters, afghans, and numerous amigurumi patterns including these:

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Traveling Tu bunny pattern by Doris Yu

Apple and bird patterns by The Wandering Deer

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I had the same love of experimentation back when I first put pen to paper. Case in point: Back in first grade I wrote my first song with a friend.

We don’t wanna play with Jennifer
Jennifer
Jennifer
We don’t wanna play with Jennifer
Because she’s soooo bad.
Yeah!

We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna play with Jenn-Jennifer

We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna play with Jennifer!

We actually sang this to Jennifer. Yes, I was a brat, I am ashamed to say. Needless to say, this song did not make the Billboard list.

Anyway, besides song writing, over the years I dabbled in other poetic forms (haiku, iambic pentameter even!), and also wrote stage plays and screenplays, short stories, devotionals, graphic novels, novels, newspaper and magazine articles, and product ads. Now, when I say “wrote” the above, I made several failed attempts at some of them. But I at least wanted to try my hand at every form of writing I could, because experimenting was fun. And I netted some sales as a result

So why is it that nowadays, I have steered less toward experimenting and more toward the tried-and-true forms of writing I have done over and over again? I don’t actually expect you to answer that question by the way. I know the answer: fear of rejection. You would think after receiving literally hundreds of them I wouldn’t fear rejection so much. But I realize now how much having a fear-of-rejection mindset has hampered me.

I love how Jill Weatherholt, who is the winner of When in Vanuatu by the way (click here for the interview with the awesome author, Nicki Chen), kept trying to get a story published by Woman’s World. She didn’t let “no” stop her. She kept writing and submitting stories because she loved to do so.

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I want to return to my writing experiments. I’m in the middle of a novel that needs more of my past pioneering spirit.

What about you? Do you like to experiment?

Author photo and cover courtesy of Nicki Chen. Author photo by LifeTouch. Other photos by L. Marie.

Saturday Winner and Question from Henry

I popped on with Henry (see below) because I said I would post the winner of Saint Ivy by Laurie Morrison. If you’re confused about that statement, click here to be taken to the interview post.

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So as not to keep you in suspense, the winner is Nicki. Yes, even the people I interview are still eligible to win books. The winner of her book will be announced next week.

Nicki, please comment below to confirm.

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Henry is here with his best friend—correction, one of his best friends—Gerry. Gerry is a little shy, so please forgive her if she doesn’t answer any questions. Just know that she says hello. But Henry wanted to be here today because he wonders if you have a best friend. He’s a young yeti, so that question is typical of the young. Older yetis might pointedly ignore you because of the human penchant for not believing they exist. Making sure you know they are ignoring you is their way of letting you see how it feels for someone to act like you don’t exist.

I’ll answer the question, Henry.

Henry: Thank you.

When I was a kid, I had a best friend. But we grew apart in our middle school years—a very difficult season of my life.

In high school I had only a few close friends—unlike my brothers. They attended the same high school and were very popular, not only there but at their universities. Though I’ve never been popular, I gained some great friends during my undergraduate and graduate school years.

So since childhood, I haven’t had one specific friend who has filled the role of a best friend. I think collectively, the really great friends I have, many of whom I have known for over a decade (some for decades) are even better than having just one best friend.

What about you? Do you have a best friend or best friends?

Laurie Morrison author photo and book cover courtesy of Laurie Morrison. Henry photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: When in Vanuatu

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Photo by LifeTouch

Today, I’m pleased to welcome back to the blog the fabulous Nicki Chen, who is here to talk about her sophomore novel, When in Vanuatu, published in April 2021 by She Writes Press! Oh yeah!

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El Space: What inspired you to write this book?
Nicki: It may seem strange to write a novel inspired by a place, but when we moved to Vanuatu, I was immediately charmed by the country. It was a storybook place. Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Somerset Maugham all wrote stories about the South Seas. James Michener was stationed there when he wrote the story that became South Pacific, the musical and the movie.

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Coincidentally, only months before we moved to Vanuatu, I was accepted into the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, motivation enough for me to consider my surroundings as bursting with stories and mystery.

El Space: How did you separate your real-life experiences from your fictional characters’ experiences?
Nicki: I like to keep the setting real and everything else fictional. I had very few photos to rely on for the setting. Before cell phones, I didn’t take many pictures. I did keep a journal, though. I filled it with descriptions of the setting, especially of Vanuatu, a place that was so new and fascinating to me.

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Photo by Nicki Chen

My protagonist, Diana, was her own person with her own history, hopes, and problems. She and I did have in common the experience of being expatriates, but every expat’s life is different from that of every other. The December 1989 coup attempt against Philippine president, Cory Aquino, was something else we had in common. Everyone who lived in Manila at that time shared that experience. It wasn’t the first coup attempt, but it was the most serious.

El Space: What did the writing of this novel teach you about your growth as a novelist?
Nicki: When in Vanuatu is so totally different from my first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, that I’m not sure I can compare the experiences as a way to see my growth. I suppose I’m becoming more confident, more able to recognize what’s working and what isn’t.

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El Space: What excites you the most as you think of readers diving into your novel? Them seeing the setting through your eye? Meeting your characters? Other?
Nicki: We all like to share. We point out pretty flowers and snow-capped mountains. We hold up photos of our grandchildren. So yes, I am excited to share my novel, both the parts of it that are based on places I’ve been and sights I’ve seen and the fictional characters that have come to seem real to me after spending so many months (years) with them. I hope readers will empathize with my characters and enjoy living for a while in Diana’s skin.

El Space: What authors inspire you?
Nicki: Any talented author is an inspiration. Some of my current favorites: Liane Moriarty, Margaret Atwood, Tana French, Kristen Hannah, Ian McEwan, Jess Walter, Joyce Carol Oates, and Salman Rushdie.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Nicki: I’m working on a collection of short stories now. Once again, they’re set in the South Pacific. It’s a place teeming with stories and the promise of more.

Thank you, Nicki, for being my guest!

Looking for Nicki? Look here:

Website: http://nickichenwrites.com/wordpress/ 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NickiChenAuthor  
Twitter: https://twitter.com/NickiChenAuthor

Looking for When in Vanuatu? Look here:

Amazon
B&N
Target

Meanwhile, enjoy this excerpt!

Ever since Fiji she’d been gazing out at the ocean’s pretty blue surface as though that were all there was to it. She hadn’t given a thought to the real ocean, that deep, deep watery world below her. All those creatures–sharks and turtles, rays and whales and spiky sea urchins–all of them hidden from view. The thought of that huge mysterious world sent a chill up her spine.

Suddenly the plane’s engines changed pitch. Oh my god, she thought,  we’re almost there. Almost there, and Vanuatu was as much a mystery to her as was the ocean. Somehow in her rush to move, her single-minded focus on this one solution to her problem, she’d neglected to imagine what it would actually feel like to live on a remote little island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. She gripped her armrests and stared at the seat in front of her.

“What?” Jay folded a page and put his book away.

“Nothing.”

He leaned across her lap. “Look. I see something.”

And there it was, a strip of turquoise beyond the ocean’s monotonous blue, surf splashing white on a beach, a fringe of green trees. Their plane dropped lower until they were skimming over a plantation of shiny green coconut palms. Then they were on top of the runway, dusty bushes along the side, a few drying puddles. The plane settled onto a blanket of air, resting for a moment in that zone a few feet from the ground where you seem to be speeding up before you touch down, holding your breath before you land.

“Well, honey,” Jay said, patting her knee as the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac. “Welcome to paradise.”

Like that? Comment below to be entered in the drawing to receive a free copy of this book. One winner will be chosen next week.

Book cover, author photo, and Vanuatu photo courtesy of Nicki Chen. Author photo by LifeTouch. Vanuatu photo taken by Nicki Chen. Other book covers from Goodreads.

Check This Out—The Debut of Saint Ivy: Kind at All Costs

Awhile back I featured the cover for Saint Ivy by the awesome Laurie Morrison. But Saint Ivy, published by Abrams, has now debuted, so here is Laurie back on the blog. Wooooooot! Though I have already given away a copy of this book, one of you will be given another copy. But first, let’s talk to Laurie. Oh, before I forget, Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe.

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El Space: This book started as a proposal. What was that process like? How much of the book did you submit with your proposal? How long did writing the rest of the book then take?
Laurie: My agent and I submitted about 50 pages plus a very detailed synopsis for the proposal. I had almost a year to finish the initial draft after it sold, and that felt like a lot of lead time. . . but I ended up needing every bit of it! Despite my detailed synopsis, I got pretty stuck on the second half of the book. It was stressful to know the book was under contract when I wasn’t sure if I’d ever achieve my vision for it, but now I’m grateful that my deadline forced me to keep going because I’m glad this book exists!

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El Space: How is Ivy like you? Different than you?
Laurie: Ivy is a whole lot like me. Her family situation is different than mine was and I was a little sportier and more focused on academics at her age than she is, but I’ve gone through some similar “what makes me special” soul-searching at different points, and I really, really relate to all the ways she struggles to be as kind to herself as she is to other people.

El Space: You taught middle grade for years. What do you think some of your former students would say about Ivy and her friends?
Laurie: That’s a great question. As a teacher, I was struck by the pressure many of my students felt to have a “thing”—one main talent or interest that made them stand out. And I saw that sometimes they felt like middle school was “too late” to pursue a new sport or hobby since there were other people who had already been doing it for so long, or there was this expectation that you “should” pursue the things that you excel at or have been doing forever, regardless of how much you enjoy them. I also noticed the pressure many girls felt to be nice and good all the time. Those pressures are a LOT for kids to manage, and I explored all of them in some way in this book. So I hope my former students would relate to what Ivy and her friends go through and would say that Ivy’s experiences helped them reflect on some of their own.

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El Space: How do you think your book can help kids who are still processing the pandemic and its life-altering effects?
Laurie: At its core, Saint Ivy is a book about self-compassion. During the pandemic, kids have had to manage incredibly difficult stuff. There are a lot of “good,” cooperative, considerate kids who are struggling right now but don’t think they deserve to dwell on their tough feelings because other people have things worse. This is a story about embracing the complicated, messy emotions we sometimes push away or think we’re not “entitled to.” I hope Ivy’s journey toward being kinder to herself helps kids figure out how they can be kinder to themselves, and I hope it encourages kids to open up and ask for help when they need it.

El Space: As I mentioned to another of our classmates, not counting VCFA authors since there are too many great ones, which author or authors inspire(s) you? Why?
Laurie: There are still so many! I’ll start with two who directly impacted Saint Ivy. Brigit Young writes nuanced, character-driven page turners, and her debut, Worth a Thousand Words, gave me the idea to turn Ivy’s story into a mystery. Melissa Sarno writes beautiful, lyrical, “lean” (a.k.a. short) middle grade novels, and I’ve come to rely on her as a reader because she’s so good at identifying the places in my work where I’ve overwritten and need to pare back. But I could go on and on! Erin Entrada Kelly, Lisa Graff, Tae Keller, Paula Chase, Barbara Dee—there are so many incredible, inspiring authors writing middle grade right now.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m about to start line edits for my next upper middle grade novel Coming Up Short, which is coming out next spring. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old softball star named Bea who self-destructs on the field during the biggest game of her life after a very public scandal involving her dad. She goes away to Gray Island (the setting from my last book Up for Air!) to visit her estranged aunt and attend a softball camp where she’s determined to fix her throw to first base and, hopefully, her family. I’m excited to share more about that one soon!

Thank you, Laurie, for being my guest!

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

Looking for Saint Ivy? Check out Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, Indiebound, and Children’s Book World, Amazon, and your local bookstore, where you can also find these amazing books by Laurie:

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You can also return here next week to see who has been chosen to be receive a free copy of Saint Ivy! Comment below to be entered in the drawing.

Author photo and Ivy cover courtesy of the author. Other book covers from Goodreads. Book proposal image from somewhere online. Pressure image from JoyReactor.com.