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.

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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.