Check This Out: Coming Up Short

With me on the blog today is the fabulous Laurie Morrison, who is here to talk about her latest middle grade novel, Coming Up Short, released on June 21 by Abrams. Cover art by Mike Burdick and design by Deena Fleming. Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe. (Click on Abrams above to be taken to the synopsis.)

El Space: Now that you’ve got four published novels, if you could go back in time to before you knew Every Shiny Thing would be published, what would you say to yourself then to encourage yourself?
Laurie: That’s a great question. As you know, it took a while (and a handful of shelved manuscripts) before Every Shiny Thing sold, and there were times when I felt disheartened because I was pouring so much time and work into writing books that didn’t get published. Looking back from my current vantage point, I would try to reassure my former self that none of that work was wasted. All those early projects helped me hone my craft and develop a whole repository of ideas and characters that have found their way into books that did get published. So I would urge myself to trust my own process and have faith that as long as I am writing stories I love—stories that no one but me could write in quite the same way—then I am doing everything I can to make my dream of becoming a published writer come true, and my work has value whether it ends up in bookstores or not.

El Space: I love that! Great answer! What inspired you to write this novel? Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Laurie: After writing Up for Air, which features a competitive swimmer, I was eager to write another sports story. There are so many compelling dynamics to explore when it comes to sports, and I was so moved by readers’ responses to Up for Air that I wanted to offer a follow-up that people who loved that novel would be excited about. This time, I wanted to write about softball—a sport I played growing up—and I wanted to focus on pressure and performance anxiety because I was a kid who loved sports but didn’t respond well to the intensity that comes along with sports once you reach a certain level. I also really wanted to write about a kid who feels pressure to be perfect and responsible for her parents’ happiness; those are other pressures that I’ve dealt with and seen my former middle school students grapple with, but I hadn’t seen them explored much in middle grade fiction and I think they’re important to delve into.

El Space: What characteristics of yours does Bea share? How is she different from you?
Laurie: Bea has some of my perfectionism, and she and I both feel responsible for things that aren’t really our responsibility and we’re hard on herself when we make mistakes. But she’s a whole lot tougher and feistier than I am, and she’s a much better softball player than I was!

El Space: What inspires you these days—books, podcasts—whatever?
Laurie: Two middle grade novels that have inspired me a lot are Erin Entrada Kelly’s Those Kids from Fawn Creek and Tae Keller’s Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone. They’re the kinds of books I want to read once for enjoyment and then again to analyze and learn from them. I recently binge-listened to Hayley Chewins and Lindsay Eager’s Story of the Book podcast and found their conversations about craft to be extremely inspiring and illuminating, and I’m also really inspired by the picture books and chapter books my young kids are devouring. We’ve been reading a lot of Princess in Black books recently, and it’s been such a joy to see how that series builds and to notice which aspects delight my kids the most.

 

El Space: As an author, what other formats do you think you’d like to try—graphic novels, screenplays, etc.? What would you stay away from?
Laurie: I’ve always wanted to write a book that’s entirely epistolary, and I’d also like to write a short story or two as well as a novel that’s really funny. There’s some humor in all my books, but I’d like to try something where the humor is central. I keep waiting for all the books I read with my kids to rub off on me because I’d love to try writing for a younger audience, whether that’s a picture book or chapter book, at some point, but so far I feel most drawn toward writing for an upper middle grade audience. Maybe someday I’ll try another age category, but I’m happy in this niche for now. I don’t think I’d ever try to write a graphic novel script—though I love graphic novels—because I’m not very visual or concise, so I don’t think that format would play to my strengths at all!

 

Two epistolary novels

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I have another realistic upper middle grade novel in the works that hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m excited about it. For now, I’ll just say that it features academic overachiever rivals, distance running, the summer between eighth and ninth grade, and more of a romance than any of my other books to date.

How awesome to have Laurie on the blog! If you’re looking for her, you will find her on her website, Instagram, and Twitter.

To find Coming Up Short, check out Children’s Book World, Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. And check out Laurie’s other books.

  

Comment below to be entered into a drawing for a signed copy of Comng Up Shorr. Winner to be announced sometime next week..

Author photo courtesy of Laurie Morrison. Author photo credit: Laura Billingham. Books covers from Goodreads.

A Few Baking Facts

(WARNING: The images below might make you hungry. Sorry about that.)

I am a fan of cooking shows, particularly baking shows like Sugar Rush (and its various forms like Sugar Rush Extra Sweet and Sugar Rush Christmas), Baking Impossible, and Zumbo’s Just Desserts. The shows I watch via Netflix are filmed in the States and in other countries, and often involve terms and techniques with which I am not familiar since baking and I are seldom on speaking terms. (Though baked goods and I are old friends.)

On the shows, the why behind an action—i.e., why do you need to temper chocolate? What exactly does that mean?—isn’t given because the contestants are supposed to know this stuff. So I’m faced with a choice each time: watch in a state of semi-confusion or look stuff up. I decided to do so and found stuff like:

The why behind tempering chocolate. According to the Ghirardelli website, tempering chocolate is “heating and cooling chocolate to stabilize it for making candies and confections—gives chocolate a smooth and glossy finish.” If you want to know how to do that, go here.

Tempering chocolate

Buttercream choices. Love frosting on cakes, cupcakes, and other baked goods? Did you know there are several different types of buttercream? Swiss meringue, American, German, French, Italian meringue. For more on that, go here.

Swiss meringue buttercream

The difference between a macaron and a macaroon (besides the extra O). The Food Network site helped me out here. A macaron is a “French cookie that’s made of finely ground blanched (peeled) almonds suspended in a meringue.” Comparatively, a macaroon is a coconut cookie.

Macarons:

Macaroons:

Crème Pâtissière. This is pastry cream bakers use in eclairs, tarts, and other pastries. It is made with milk, eggs, sugar, and cornstarch. This site talks about why cornstarch is preferred over flour.

Maybe you already know all of this. Or, maybe you’re wondering: Why go through the trouble of looking for that information? Well, besides natural curiosity, looking up information is a habit, really. Whenever I write a book, an article, or curriculum, I have to do some research. And whenever I edit a book, I have to check every fact.

When you hear a new term or are made aware of information you don’t know, do you search a library or search online to gain more knowledge? Do tell in the comments below.

Macarons from WallpapersHome. Macaroons from the Food Network. Show logos from somewhere on the internet, via Bing.com. Tempering chocolate photo from Real Simple. Crème Pâtissière found at idee-cuisine.fr.

Board Games or “Bored” Games

Every day, I pass by the board game in the photo below, which has been waiting patiently by the door for ages. It was a Christmas gift from some dear friends. (Click here for more information about this game if you want to know more about it. This is not a paid advertisement for it, however.)

I have yet to play it due to work busyness, the virus (still going around in my area), and other factors. But this is the type of game I usually like to play—role playing games with certain actions you take each turn.

Like this one:

Though I haven’t played it in a while.

The first board game I bought—yes, actually bought with my own money when I was a kid—was Clue. My best friend at the time and I pooled our money—$6.00 (which was equivalent to 600 pieces of penny candy at the gas station; oh, I’m going way back in the day)—to buy it. Today, the game is double that price at Target.

The version I bought way back when (this is not my actual game, however):

Clue and Monopoly were favorites. These games, and the Game of Life, were the incubators that hatched my love of RPG games. One time, my brothers and I played the same game of Monopoly for three days before a winner (my older brother) was declared. Yes. Three days. I’m fairly certain that win was clinched with the surreptitious acquisition of unearned $500s into his stash. Not that I didn’t help myself to one or two of those, to be honest. But board games came out when we were bored and wanted something fun to do.

Nowadays I see more kids whipping out a Nintendo Switch and playing a videogame when they’re bored. I have a Switch, so this is not a criticism. Still, a board game costs a fraction of the cost of a new videogame on the Switch, many of which are $60. Click here to be taken to an article on the subject, if you are doubtful of that fact. PlayStation 5 games are $50—$70. And of course, some of the older games are cheaper. Some are even free. I downloaded Tetris 99 for free on the Switch.

Do you play videogames? Board games? Both? What are your favorite games to play with friends and family?

Bonus question: Based on the title, did you expect a criticism of board games? I’m asking out of curiosity. 😊

Clue image found at eBay. Other photos by L. Marie.