About L. Marie

I am an aspiring writer of fantasy for kids and teens. This blog encompasses my thoughts on the writing life, movies, animation—whatever pops into my head (not always a good thing). I was a student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I have worked as an editor, a ghostwriter, a technical writer, a bulk foods stocker, a receptionist, and a babysitter. I brake for squirrels and geese.

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.

The Big Reveal

Back when I was in fourth grade, one of the most exciting things to happen at school was a magic show performed during assembly by a visiting magician. By now, you probably have in mind the image of a cheesy stage magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat like the one in the image here (which is why I posted it). Rabbits were pulled out of a hat, yes. But the magician also had a cabinet into which his assistant went.

The cabinet door closed. The magician waved his hand and said a magic word that of course you know:

Abracadabra!

The excitement in the room was palpable. (Yes, I know that is a cliché, but it fits the mood.)

The magician waved his hands and said another magic word. Say it with me:

The lights briefly dimmed, then brightened. When the cabinet door opened, the assistant had vanished!

We laughed. We shrieked. We were delighted.

The magician waved his hands again and said, “Abracadabra!” The lights dimmed. When he said,

the lights turned fully on, the door opened, and we could see that the assistant was there!

Okay, I get it. You’re not surprised by that reveal. Well, maybe this will surprise you. Remember the post about an Amazon card giveaway? Click here for that if you don’t. Instead of one winner, two were chosen to receive the $25 Amazon card. Abracadabra! I will now make the two winners appear! I can’t dim the lights where you are, but imagine them dimming. I will say the magic word:

The lights return to reveal . . .

Mark

and

Nicki

You are the winners! Please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

Magician image from https://en.ac-illust.com/ First Presto from clipart101.com. Second Presto by L. Marie. Dimming lightbulb by Giphy.

Just Coasting Along


This kind of goes with what I last posted.

Back in the 90s, I took up inline skating because I thought it looked cool. One day, I up and decided to take a class and—voilà —I learned to skate and loved it!

I really needed these pads though.

I also learned to write a screenplay, because I wanted to learn.

In 2010, I decided to return to a graduate program, having quit one (journalism) many years before that. This time, I switched to writing for children and young adults (fiction/nonfiction) and finished the program two years later.


My hood

In 2018, I wanted more of a career challenge. So, I took on the challenge of developmental editing. Didn’t take a class. I learned by being thrown into the deep end through a freelance assignement given to me by a publisher to work with an author on a manuscript for eight months.

In 2019, I . . .

In 2020, I . . .

In 2021, I . . .

You might wonder how I would finish those statements. I was trying to think of a way to say, “I rested on my laurels” in a way that didn’t make me look like the poster child for the subject of a sermon I recently listened to—complacency. Before you run for the door, thinking I plan to tell you point by point what I heard, I brought that up because of the subject matter (complacency, if that previous sentence was too convoluted). And yes, I know we were in the mniddle of a pandemic. But I had a computer and a wifi connection. What was to stop me from learning anything?

Not that you need this, but let me give you the definition of complacency given in that sermon:

Complacency is a feeling of quiet pleasure or security often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.

I can finally admit that I have been complacent about where I am and what I’ve learned so far. I didn’t think I needed to learn a new skill or improve an old one. Just telling you the state of things. Scold away if you want. But I want that to change. Maybe you feel that way too.

With that in mind, for my annual birthday giveaway—if you are a regular follower of this blog, perhaps you thought I forgot all about that this year—I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card (or whatever equivalent it has in the UK). Why? To stir you to learn something new or make some other change. That’s only if you want to. No judgment here. Maybe life is A-OK for you. If so, great!

Maybe you want to use it to buy a craft book (writing, gardening, needlecraft, art—whatever). Or maybe, because you’re stressed and want to change that, maybe you want to buy spa items or something else to help you relax. Maybe you’ll buy art pencils (which aren’t cheap) to start sketching again. Twenty-five dollars may not be a king’s ransom. But if it helps inspire you to take the next step to where you want to be, I’d call that money well spent. Winner to be announced sometime next week, hopefully. (I had a deadline last week, so I didn’t post.)

Photos by L. Marie.

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.

9780762456338

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.

Check This Out: Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)

With me on the blog today is the amazing composer/musician/performer Laura Bruno Lilly, who is here to talk about her album Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) and the process of composing.

Cover designed by Rita Moore

First, here is the intro:

El Space: How long was the process from composing the music to this finished product?
Laura: The actual length of time from start (inspiration) to finish (digital/cd music release) took 11 years. However, it took only a month or so to compose Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon. While it was a complete piece in and of itself, it just didn’t feel finished. It wasn’t until after our between-homes journey came to an end that I realized it could be developed further in keeping with the structure of a suite. More accurately, those goats insisted there was more of their musical story to tell!

Photo by Terry Lilly

My Goat Suite (Saga) was composed and written while my husband and I were living on the compound in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico from October 2010 through August 2011. It is a self-contained, yet complimentary slice of a larger project, Swimming with Swans: the music & vignettes of our three-year journey between homes which encompasses two standalone, yet related segments comprised of musical and literary material I created during that time on-the-road from June 2009 through June 2012.

Goats in the Garden naturally morphed into the middle movement within a larger three movement piece. Both the first and third movements were completed within a few months of each other, making the total composition time of the piece about a year from start to finish.

So you see, the composing itself didn’t take all that long. I’m very hands-on. Doodling with multiple parts on different instruments, putting it all together—I love that stuff! Composing is my sandbox where I get to play with all the parts of the piece in the course of creating it.

Next came the technical aspect of setting the music into a readable score for use in recording and later future performances. To that end, I purchased and learned a score notation program that enabled me to write down the parts more quickly than if I continued to write it all by hand. as it is scored for two classical guitars, mandolin, 12-string acoustic guitar and rainstick, I’m sure the wisdom in this time investment is obvious!

Once in final score format, I set it aside. The journey from that to the finished product took a more circuitous route. I applied for and was awarded a small grant from the Puffin Foundation to aid in the financial aspect of recording my Goat Suite (Saga). Around that same time, my 93-year-old Dad in Colorado entered hospice. Already juggling long-distance care-giving for a few years, this catapulted my focus 100% on Dad’s final days, shelving everything else.

After Dad’s passing, while getting his house cleared out and ready to sell, I managed to schedule some recording studio time with two longtime colleagues in the area. This effort yielded a finished mix ready to send elsewhere for mastering.

Once mastered, it was just a matter of finalizing the cover art, designing the physical product, pressing the CDs, registering the music with various agencies, sending it off for distribution on various streaming platforms and setting up an internet storefront.

And here it is. Now. Finished.

El Space: When did you decide to become a musician/composer? How were you encouraged as a child?
Laura: I don’t know that there was ever an actual decision made to become either. Most composers are/were also performing artists, so I view composing as a natural outgrowth of being a working musician.

As far as receiving encouragement as a child, most of my upbringing was taught by example. This quote expresses how my Jazzman Dad influenced my musical journey in general.

Each jazz musician when he takes a horn in his hand—trumpet, bass, saxophone, drums—whatever instrument he plays, each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer. He is saying, “Listen, I am going to give you a new complete idea with a new set of chord changes. I am going to give you a new melodic conception on a tune you are familiar with. I am a composer.” That’s what he is saying.
Charles Mingus

El Space: Which composers inspired you on your journey?
Laura:
Beethoven, Vivaldi, Berlioz. John Cage, Philip Glass, Max Richter. Janet Feder, JoAnn Falletta, Joan Tower. John Duarte, Eduardo Falú, H. Villa-Lobos. Mike Oldfield, Herbie Hancock, Ry Cooder. Ennio Morricone, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck. Foday Musa Suso, Billy Strayhorn, Anonymous. And more! Google the names and give them a listen.

        

Ennio Morricone (left), Eduardo Falú

Billy Strayhorn (Photo by Carl Van Vechten)

El Space: What leitmotifs occur in the music? Why?
Laura:
The second movement revolves around the most obvious one, introduced by the solo guitar within the first three measures. This Goat Bleat Motif was inspired by conversations held between Mama Goat and her kids. Based upon the intervals of each goat’s voice pitch, I assigned each goat a note and when bleating all together, their monotones made up a minor seventh chord. Then as a compositional element, a Reverse Goat Bleat Motif was used for further development of the second movement—all in keeping with the flavor of goats in the garden frolicking and dancing about.

El Space: What advice do you have for budding composers?
Laura:
Learn an instrument! It doesn’t matter which one. Noodle around with banging pots and pans, humming tunes or sounding the odd finger harp thing hung on your mother’s front door. Music composition in its most basic form is merely an organization of sound. The best instrument for understanding music theory visually is indeed the piano, but that does not have to be your primary instrument. Use it is a tool in context of understanding the underlying structure of composition. Strive to actively participate in a swirl of musical styles. This will surround you with tonal possibilities, blasting through untold sonic boundaries. Along with all that hands-on sort of stuff, listen, listen, listen to a plethora of musical genres. Explore translating your feelings into a compositional piece. Try your hand at arranging already created music. Hone your craft by taking classes, studying alongside a music teacher/professor/mentor and then, just do it. The more you do, the more your own voice will emerge.

Thanks, Laura, for being my guest.

Looking for Laura? Look on her website.

Looking for Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)? Click here
I’m giving away two copies of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga). Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be revealed next week.

Album cover, embedded intro, and photo courtesy of Laura Bruno Lilly. Photo by Terry Lilly. Ennio Morricone and Billy Strayhorn photos from Wikipedia. Eduardo Falú photo from secondhandsongs.com. Music note from wallsave.com.