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.

The View from the ER


So, Thanksgiving was not the way I’d planned it. The signs of its unusualness started on Monday with sinus pain that worsened by Tuesday. The trip to my sister-in-law’s parents’ home that I had been looking forward to was starting to look like it wouldn’t happen. I made the call most of us dread—to get a doctor’s appointment, only to discover the only available one was 11 days away.

I can tough this out, I thought. Ha. A few nights with little sleep thanks to pain caused me to ditch that plan and head to the ER on Friday, after a turkey-less Thanksgiving spent at home. Now, one does not head to the emergency room lightly. You have to come prepared. I brought a book, my Nintendo Switch, and a writing pad. Hmm. Which one would I choose? If you answered none of the above, you would be right. I sat there instead, trying to sleep, just wanting the pain to stop.

Now picture in your mind the sound of a record scratch. If you were born after a certain year, you might not know what that sounds like. Go here to hear it. A record scratch, according to Merriam-Webster is “something that abruptly calls attention to surprise or change.”

There I was, feeling sorry for myself when a woman arrived with an infant carrier. When asked the baby’s age, the mom replied, “Four months. She tested positive.” And then I heard the most chilling sound I think I’ve ever heard in my life: an infant wheezing—a tiny, gut-wrenching sound.

More sick children were carried in. Sick adults came too, some in wheelchairs. I was surprised at the amount of lower back pain people were experiencing. Some had had a fall, which left one woman concussed.

All of us waited for hours to see a doctor. I heard a nurse tell someone that the estimated wait time was two hours. A low estimate, I later discovered. Another nurse announced a stroke alert after a man came in with numb fingers. A woman came in with chest pain. The patient shuffling began with high-risk patients like these.

After four hours I saw a doctor for probably less than five minutes. His pronouncement—dental abscess—was met with prescriptions for a high-powered antibiotic, a probiotic, a high-powered pain pill, and a lesser potent one.

   

But though I came for what I needed, I was left with something more: a remembrance of that baby wheezing, a tiny note of fear and helplessness that caused me to pray and think of someone besides myself.

   

Photos by L. Marie.

On a Snowy Day

Quite a contrast to the last post. The autumn-to-winter juxtaposition of the posts was not deliberate, however. I didn’t post last week because I couldn’t think of a topic. And I didn’t know about the snow until last Saturday when my younger brother announced its scheduled arrival on Tuesday (the day I wrote this). Sure enough, overnight, it came. The Grinch couldn’t stop it like he couldn’t stop Christmas from coming. I admit to feeling a tiny bit grinchy when I saw it though. So yes, Ally, I feel the pain expressed in this blog post.

Still, days like this, I’m reminded of the classic book by Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day, which Amazon adapted for the screen. As I gaze at the snow-laden branches through my balcony window, I feel the fire of joy trying to melt my cold heart, encouraging me to appreciate the subtle beauty of winter as fall leaves are replaced by white lace.

A mug of hot chocolate is in order!

The Snowy Day cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

Autumn Beauty

On Halloween, as I accompanied the trick-or-treating kids of some friends, I couldn’t help noticing the beauty of autumn. The vivid colors of the leaves, late afternoon clouds, and vivacious shrubs seemed more sharply delineated.

 

The 60-degree Fahrenheit/15-degree Celsius temperature lured many outside to huddle near firepits, with bowls of candy on tables for trick-or-treaters. It was a lovely day to be outside, watching groups of eager children running from house to house. A change from years past when snow or cold rain made the experience less than fun.

   

I didn’t solicit candy, though I was given some regardless. Yet I received much more: the evidence of autumn beauty.

Though the temperature downshifted later in the evening, a lovely fog rolled in.

Photo by Ben Pyykkonen © 2022

A perfect ending to the day.

How was your day?

P.S. Here are two photos of pumpkins carved two days before Halloween. Exhibit A (left) was carved by my niece and I. Exhibit B was carved by my nephew, the subject of Exhibit A.

  

Fall photos by L. Marie. Photo of the fog by Ben Pyykkonen.

Some Favorites

The other day, I thought about the authors who are no longer with us whose books I’ve read all of, or if not all, at least a majority of them (or a specific series by them if their writing crossed more than one genre). Those authors are below. I purposely didn’t include authors who are writing now, because there are too many to list and I did not want to insult anyone by forgetting him or her. So, only dead authors made the list. Some favorites I also didn’t include because the author wrote one book that I loved, but  died before writing another one (like Mary Ann Shaffer, who wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but died before the book was through the editing phase).

Jane Austen (including the unfinished books)


L. Frank Baum (including books by other authors who continued his Oz series)


Agatha Christie (started reading her books probably when I was ten)


Charles Dickens


Madeleine L’Engle


Ursula Le Guin (the Earthsea books that is)

 
C.S. Lewis (fiction and nonfiction though the book at the right does not count as strictly nonfiction, since it is an allegory based on events in the author’s life)

 
George MacDonald (the fairy tales)


Ellis Peters (at one point I couldn’t get enough of her Cadfael series)


Terry Pratchett (his Discworld series is one of my favorite series ever)


Dorothy Sayers (the Lord Peter Wimsey books, but not the one finished by another author)


Shakespeare (read him in high school and took two classes in college—we had to read a ton)


J. R. R. Tolkien (definitely among the top favorites)

The books in the photos are those I grabbed off the shelf and don’t necessarily represent my absolute favorite by said author, though some are. Many of these authors became known to me when I was an English major in college. Some I began reading when I was a kid. Others were introduced to me by readers who loved them. After reading one or two books, I loved them too.

This list is not the complete list of all of the authors whose books occupied many of my reading hours. These are the ones I thought of off the top of my head mainly because I happened to be near the bookshelves that house my adult fiction, or I was in a conversation and a particular author was mentioned. I don’t have an explanation for why some authors became such favorites that I grabbed whatever books they wrote. There are some authors whose books are favorites—but I have read only a few of their books for some reason. Consequently, they did not make the list. 😊

Are any of these your favorites? Are there authors whose books you will read no matter what they write? Feel free to share!

Now on to the real reason for this post: to announce the winners of Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors and the upcoming young adult novel, Torch, by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. (Click here for the interview with Lyn.)

 


The winner of Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors is Andy!
The winner of Torch is Nancy!

Thank you to all who commented!

Photos by L. Marie, except for the books and author photo of Lyn Miller-Lachmann.

Check This Out: Film Makers and Torch

With me on the blog today is the awe-inspiring Lyn Miller-Lachmann who is here to talk about two more books she has written. She’s already been on the blog in recent months to discuss two other books. Click here and here for those interviews. Today, we’re celebrating her nonfiction book, Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors, which was coauthored by Tanisa “Tee” Moore and published by Chicago Review Press on September 6.

       

Torch, her historical novel for young adults, will be published by Lerner/Carolrhoda on November 1. Click here to read the synopsis.  Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.

El Space: Lyn, you have been quite the workhorse this year with so many books debuting. Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors debuted last month. Torch debuts next month. There’s a connection between the two, besides you as their author. Please share that connection if you can, unless there is a huge spoiler you can’t reveal.
Lyn: No spoiler at all! I came up with the idea for Torch after watching the TV miniseries Burning Bush, which begins with the self-immolation of Charles University student Jan Palach in Prague in 1969 to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year and his people’s passivity after losing their freedom and independence. The director of that miniseries is Agnieszka Holland, a Polish director who has made a number of significant historical films, including three that explore the Holocaust and the more recent, Mr. Jones, about the Soviet terror-famine known as the Holodomor in 1930s Ukraine. Holland is one of the groundbreaking women directors I included in Film Makers and one of my all-time favorite directors.

El Space: You have so many interests. I’m always curious as to how you choose a project to work on.
Lyn: While Burning Bush showed me the different ways the people of Czechoslovakia resisted the Soviet occupation, I never got a sense from the miniseries of the young people who bore the brunt of the repression, including Palach, who sacrificed his life. I asked myself, Who were his friends? How did his death change their lives? What consequences did they face as a result of their association with him? From there, my characters of Pavol, Štěpán, Tomáš, and Lída emerged.

In the case of Film Makers, my agent, Jacqui Lipton, represented other authors who were writing for Chicago Review’s Women of Power series, and she invited me to submit a proposal. I like films and use them heavily in researching my historical fiction, so I suggested women directors. And since one of the filmmakers I wanted to include was Ava DuVernay and Tanisia Tee Moore, who was one of Jacqui’s other clients at the time, is a huge fan of her work, I suggested Tee as a co-author.

El Space: I was only familiar with nine of the fifteen filmmakers featured in your book. How did you research it? Were you able to talk to the featured directors?
Lyn: The series features contemporary directors, ones still working in the industry, so Tee and I chose some of our current favorites. We wanted directors from diverse backgrounds, those who worked with both popular franchises and indie films, documentary filmmakers, and TV directors and showrunners. Most of the directors make both feature films and TV episodes. We weren’t able to talk to the directors personally—that’s show business—but we saw several in exclusive panels for festivals and premieres.

El Space: How did the characters of Torch come to you? Why was it important for you to tell their story?
Lyn: Pavol is based on Jan Palach and even more on a secondary student, Jan Zajíc, who followed in his footsteps a month later. The first one of his friends who came to me was his girlfriend Lída, who, unbeknown to him, is pregnant with his child. Tomáš is my most autobiographical character—an autistic child of privilege who cannot fulfill his father’s expectations because of his neurodivergence but has a keen eye for the hypocrisy of the communist elite. Pavol is a genuinely kind person, and Tomáš clings to him as his first and only friend. Štěpán, on the other hand, is the bully who has tormented Tomáš all the way through school. However, his friendship with Pavol—due in part because they share a desire for freedom, and in part because he has an unrequited crush on Pavol—motivates Štěpán to change, even though change is hard for him. I wanted to tell these stories because all four teenagers lose their dreams and their futures when the democracy and freedom of expression they’ve been promised is taken away. This freedom is precious to them, and they’re willing to give up everything—their families, their homes, even their lives—to keep it. This is a something I think many young people in our country are becoming aware of now, because we’re beginning to lose our freedom in so many areas.

El Space: Though Torch is historical fiction, it feels current thanks to recent events. How did you wrap your head around the past events? Did you have to turn off today’s news in order to stay immersed in the past?
Lyn: I’ve written about young activists and human rights, most notably my debut YA novel, Gringolandia, about a Chilean refugee teen during the Pinochet dictatorship whose father, an underground journalist, is released from a political prison and comes to live with his family in exile. I think that growing up in an oppressive social and political environment in the South and being bullied because of my differences has made me keenly aware of how societies bully and oppress. And no, I didn’t turn off today’s news. It’s in the background of everything I write.

El Space: What was your process for working on multiple projects with more than one co-author? Is there anything you would do differently? Why or why not? What advice do you have for an author who juggles multiple projects?
Lyn: For both Film Makers and Moonwalking, the verse novel I wrote with Zetta Elliott, my co-author and I were responsible for alternating chapters in the book. In the case of Moonwalking, I wrote the poems from the point of JJ, my white autistic character obsessed with The Clash, and Zetta wrote the ones for Pie, the Afro-Latinx honor student who wants to make it in the art world like Jean-Michel Basquiat. For Film Makers, we divvied up the 15 directors and drew from our backgrounds and experiences in writing their biographies. In both cases, the collaboration worked because each of us had our strengths that complemented each other. But it takes a lot of trust in each other to make that happen.

As far as juggling multiple projects, which I continue to do, what helps is scheduling blocks of time for each project. By now, I have a good idea of how much time each needs and the best environment—work space, time of day—to work on each.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’m working on four translations from Portuguese—two picture books and two YA graphic novels. I’m also in the middle of a YA verse novel that’s set in Portugal and inspired by several of my translation projects. There will be more exciting news to come!

Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website and Twitter. Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors  and Torch can be found here:

Amazon        Amazon
B&N              B&N
Indiebound    Indiebound
Bookshop      Bookshop

One commenter will receive Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors. Another will receive Torch. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be announced sometime next week.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Ava DuVernay and Agnieszka Holland photos found somewhere on the internet.

Cozy, Stress-Free Reading

Lately, I’ve heard more than one person describe the stress he/she feels. I can relate! So, in times of stress, at bedtime I turn to books that are calming. Like picture books. Yes, I’m an adult who reads (and loves) picture books. I’m also reading The Silmarillion, in case you’re wondering. But my nighttime favorite picture books include the following. To learn more about them, click on the titles below.

 

Big Bear and Little Fish and Knight Owl

 

Extra Yarn and I’m Not Scared, You’re Scared

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

They make me laugh, think, and cause a warm feeling to well up inside each time I read them.

What, if anything, do you read at night or during the day to de-stress in general? If books aren’t your thing, but other activities are (exercising, puzzles, cleaning, building model cars, crocheting/knitting [me too], sitting with your puppy or kitty in your lap), do tell!

Photos by L. Marie.

Critique Group

Someone reading this might think this is a post on critique groups—people who give opinions on manuscripts. I’ll get to what I mean by it. But first: there have been many TV shows and other media content that have been deemed controversial. And critics weigh in on the controversies in their reviews of said media. That’s their job. But what I’ve been seeing lately are videos devoted to explaining how awful one particular show is—how bad the writing is, how deplorable the characterization, etc. No, I will not name the show. I was struck by how much hatred the show has garnered by people who continue to watch it.

If I don’t like a show, I’m not going to continue watching it. Watching more episodes, at least for me, is a waste of time and also gives tacit agreement to its continuation. Maybe I’m silly, but that’s how I feel. Sometimes, however, I’ll give a show a second chance if someone close to me tells me that something shifted in the show and it’s worth my time to reengage.

Critics review films and TV shows because they love the media, though they might dislike a movie or an episode of a TV show. A reviewer whose reviews I really like (I won’t mention his name either) reviewed some episodes of the show to which I am referring. After stating what he disliked about it, he stopped reviewing further episodes of the show on his channel. If he doesn’t like something, he doesn’t continue to review it.

Jay Sherman, main character of The Critic, a show created by Al Jean and Mike Reiss and voiced by Jon Lovitz

Okay. I know you’re probably wondering at my obstinance about withholding information. The point of this post isn’t so much about a particular show that people hate but the fact that critique groups have spawned just to spread hatred for it. My question for them is, what are you building? We all know how easy it is to criticize something. It’s not so easy to build a world of your own.

I saw one positive review of the show by an author with multiple books in the genre. He was excited and happy to see the show. Perhaps he could be objective, because he’s already building his own literary landscapes.

That is what really stuck with me: someone who isn’t just hating on something, but is busy with his own work, yet willing to express positivity about someone else’s work.

I have to tell on myself here. I know about the many, many videos criticizing the show because I sought them out. I sat there watching several of them, wallowing in my anger about certain aspects of the show, just as I did when I saw a movie on Netflix that I disliked. I wanted to find someone who agreed with my perspective, who felt as angry as I did. But in those hours—literally hours—of watching content creators spewing their dislike, was I working on my own stories? Was I shoring up my world building so that my world feels as real as Narnia? Absolutely not. I was feeding something that wouldn’t take me anywhere.

One summer, I read over 100 middle grade books. I couldn’t get enough of them. I kept going to the library and pulling them off the shelf. I was hungry to build my own literary worlds. I needed to feed that with good books. After that, for two solid years I read nothing but middle grade and young adult novels. The only material for adults I read were craft books and books I used for research. All of this was fuel to take me where I needed to go in my writing.

So, in my contemplation of the critique groups of one particular show, I’m reminded to focus on what is needful for my writer’s soul. To focus on what feeds, rather than depletes.

What feeds you? What depletes? Feel free to comment below.

P.S. In response to Marian Beaman’s latest post, here is a picture of some trees in my area.

The Critic image found somewhere online. Critic sign from picpedia.org. Fall trees photo by L. Marie.

Back in the Day

I’m from an era where baseballs broke windows. Lest you wonder when baseballs stopped doing that, let me explain. I was born and raised in Chicago. When I was a kid playing baseball back in the dark ages, during one game, the batter made a line drive that would have been celebrated had it not broken a neighbor’s window. No, I was not the one who was at bat. And yes, I am not lying. I got into enough trouble on my own without having to borrow someone else’s trouble. But I thought about that incident when someone the other day mentioned being from an era where parents made you go outside and play.

My parents didn’t have to make my brothers and I do that. In the summer, we went outside as soon as breakfast was over and didn’t return inside until lunchtime. After lunch, back outside we’d go. In the fall, we went back outside as soon as we threw our book bags inside the house after school. We practically lived outside. Being kids, usually trouble found us in the form of broken windows; forbidden fences climbed (that was me); doorbells rung, followed by fleeing feet (again, me). Dennis the Menace (a character created by Hank Ketcham) has nothing on me.

Lest you think, “You hooligans,” we were just average kids. In elementary school, the neighborhood bullies beat you up at 3:15 (after school) or threatened to sic their dogs on you. That was about as dangerous as it got. If you had an older sibling like I did, you might get provoked into a fight once or twice by a bully in your grade who liked living dangerously. But when your older sibling got involved, the bully soon got the message to leave you alone, at least until your older sibling went to middle school or high school. You were on your own then. I got into more fights in middle school than any other grade.

I’m a product of my era and environment. This doesn’t mean I can’t change or that I want to remain in outmoded thought patterns. It just means that the years created a texture within my personality, adding layers that make up who I am. There is an authenticity to this shaping of years.

This is why I usually heave a troubled sigh when I read a book or see TV productions set in a specific historical era but the enlightened attitudes and mode of speech of the characters are purely twenty-first century. Ironically, I loved A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger, a movie with anachronistic dialogue and songs on purpose. It worked for me, because I understood that purpose.

I’ve heard some showrunners and editors say that people (teens in particular, since that’s the audience I think about the most) today can relate more to vernacular in use today.

Some words are built out of an era. It’s like the layers I mentioned earlier. When an author casually drops them into the dialogue of someone in an era that hasn’t yet produced the factors that would shape that language, I wince every time, despite the presumed accessibility to a modern audience. Take the word subtext, for example. It had a completely different meaning in the 1800s (see this post for why) to what its meaning became in 1950. (See the same post highlighted in the previous sentence.) Yet I have seen this word used in books with the 1950s meaning, but spoken in the dialogue of characters in the Regency period or even earlier. You might think, Oh my goodness, are you nitpicking. And you’re probably right. But I can’t suspend belief that I am in a specific time period and a character is using words and idioms that would only mean something to someone born two hundred years after this character is supposed to have existed, just because people today use them.

I’m just rambling today, sorry. Sometimes my mind goes in a direction and I just go with it. Feel free to put me in my place in the comments below.

Broken window from apexwindowwerks. A Knight’s Tale album image from Amazon.

Day Brightener

Not long ago, I did something I don’t usually do: I bought flowers for myself. They immediately brightened my day. Even the cashier complimented them.

A picture can’t adequately show dimension. The daisies are four inches in diameter. Every time I look at them, I feel a tiny spark of happiness. Gerbera daisies are my favorite flower—the one I go to on flower-giving occasions. And no matter how sad or ill the recipient feels, he or she usually mentions the beauty of these flowers.

They are a reminder to me today to give a ray of light, rather than darkness. The other day, a well-meaning person snail mailed to me a long, negative news article. I’m not exactly sure why, other than to ask me to comment on something that frightened her. I won’t say what the story was. I sent a note back saying I didn’t have a comment—that I could only provide an uninformed opinion that wouldn’t change the situation. Yet there was a noticeable contrast to how I felt in that moment and how I felt the moment I saw those daisies at the grocery store.

I didn’t mention the above to shame the person, nor am I soliciting comments that would do so. I couldn’t give her the assurance she seemed to want. After all, I’m not God. And I totally get it. Things are happening. Sometimes life feels like it’s out of control. In those moments I’m often tempted to share whatever bad mood I’m in or whatever horrible thing that has happened.

But the daisies remind me of the effect of sharing joy. As I mentioned, even the cashier complimented them. Her countenance noticeably brightened as she rang up the purchase.

How has someone brightened your countenance lately?

Photos by L. Marie.

Delightfully Weird

The other day, I watched a 2019 animated movie called Klaus on Netflix. Maybe you’ve seen it? It was written and directed by Sergio Pablos, a former Disney animator. Click here to get the Wikipedia explanation for it.

When a scene from the movie popped up on Netflix, there was something about the weird looking town and people that instantly appealed to me. They reminded me of art by Edward Gorey—surreal, but in color. If you’re not familiar with who Edward Gorey is, click here. More than likely, you’ve seen his work somewhere. Here’s a clue: if you watched Mystery on PBS back in the day, his artwork was used in the intro. Click here for a video of that. You know it’s old, because Vincent Price used to be the host. He died in 1993.

Anyway, back to Klaus—this post is not a review of that movie, but merely an expression of my admiration for how gutsy Pablos was to retell such a familiar story—the story of Santa Claus—in such a quirky way. Though I was not directly reminded of the movie Elf, I was reminded of how I felt watching Elf for the first time—how it captured my attention immediately to the point where watching it became a yearly tradition.

Klaus is not like Elf though. Many of the characters in the film are unlikable for quite some time. For me that is usually a serious strike against a film. Normally, I would’ve stopped watching it. But the premise was so weird, engaging, and oddly sweet, that I couldn’t stop looking at it.

It’s not for everybody though, I’m sure, especially since some aspects of it do not make  sense. But it caused me to consider how a filmmaker or an author can retell an old story in a fresh way without going off the rails. I wish I had tips for how that can be done. Though I don’t usually retell stories, I started a fairy tale retelling a couple years ago, but stopped, having lost inspiration for it along the way. So I admire the people who stick with a retelling and wind up getting their story published.

Well, now I will segue to an original story told by the great Sandra Nickel. The winner of Big Bear and Little Fish is Jennie!

   

Jennie, please comment below to confirm. Please note that the book will not be sent until after Sandra’s book signing (after September 24). If you have a particular dedication, please let me know in the comments. And thank you to all who commented.

Klaus poster from Wikipedia. Klaus cast and black and white image from somewhere on the internet. Klaus Krum-Ellingboe image from Jasonsmovieblog