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.

Only for Special Occasions


When I was growing up, my parents had a set of china, but then acquired another set. This is one of the plates of the first set:

We used the first set more often. As a consequence, I remember breaking at least one of these plates.

The second set has plates with a gold rim and blue flowers. I don’t have a photo of this set. Because my brothers and I had a tendency to . . . ahem . . . break things, they were rarely used. Only on special occasions—like maybe Christmas and Easter. We called them “the good plates.” They had to be hand washed and dried—careful, careful—and quickly stored away. (Whew, didn’t break anything.) They certainly could never be used in the microwave.

Mom has a set of pearls—also only used for special occasions back then. But the occasions that came our way didn’t seem special enough. So, she never wore them.

Until . . .

Until one of her closest friends died of breast cancer. She was 34 years old. Suddenly, the just-for-special-occasions rule seemed too narrow, especially when Mom went through her first bout of cancer. Every day was worth celebrating. Every day was precious. So, we started using the good plates more often. Mom wore her pearls too.

I don’t have a photo of the pearls either. But you don’t need to see them to consider the things that are just for special occasions in your life. You know—the things you think are “too good” for every day use.

Maybe take out those pearls. Wear that sweater, that jacket. Break out the good plates or that fancy stemware, even if you’re just having a meal of Ramen noodles. Why? Because you’re special. Not just the day. You.

P.S. Please keep the people of Texas in your thoughts and prayers. They have had a time of it with the cold and the power outages.

China plate photo by Stan Washington. Other photos by L. Marie.

This Is Winter

 

Don’t let the sunshine fool you. I took these photos while standing outside in -7 degrees Fahrenheit/-21 Celsius air (-25F/-31C wind chill at the time). Lest you wonder why, I was on my way to start my car. When your car is old and you’re parked outside in weather like this, you need to start it every day, even if you don’t go anywhere.

The car gave me attitude, acting like it didn’t want to start (I have a sudden flashback to my teenage years and how I was in the morning), but I was determined that it would start.

The next day, the temperature was a balmy 14 degrees to allow for more snow. Wheeeee!

On the day that I’m writing this, earlier I crunched outside (snow crunches, in case you are wondering about my verb choice) to start the car and to brush the powdery snow off so that I could head to the store, since we’re expecting—you’ll never guess what—more snow.

At the time (6:48 a.m.) the temperature was one above zero. A thirty-two-degree day seems almost tropical. I can’t remember the last time we had one. Maybe the week before last? Three weeks ago?

It’s amazing what you get used to. I’m now used to the rhythm of going outside, armed with my tools, just to be able to move my car.

My best friends now.

  

The shovel is the MVP. Not shown is the windshield screen a pastor gave me out of pity.

I can’t help thinking of the line spoken by Richard in Richard III, Act I, Scene I—the first line in the play in fact:

Now is the winter of our discontent.

But you have to read the next line to get more context:

Made glorious summer by this sun of York

Okay, maybe that line doesn’t provide a ton of context. It is interesting how Richard is being sarcastic here as he contemplates his misery during a supposedly happy time, thanks to his brother becoming King Edward IV. This is not a post on Richard III, so I won’t go into the why of this, though you could check out David Morrissey performing the soliloquy from which the above line derives. (If for some reason the video below disappears, click here to view it.)

But the contrast of happy days (summer) to dark days of war epitomized by winter was too apt for me to ignore. And yet . . .

I have to let the temptation of yearning for summer, or even spring, pass. It’s so easy for me to long for what’s to come (warmer temperatures), instead of living in the now (the freezer).

After all, freshly fallen snow enabled me to spot these:

Coyote tracks from a couple weeks back; the pack has taken shelter somewhere else lately.

I’ve also gotten to know several neighbors simply because we were all out shoveling snow around our cars.

This is winter. This is now. And yes, that wreath hangs on my door.

When the snow photo above was taken, the temperature had climbed to 16 degrees Fahrenheit /-8 Celsius. Good job, Winter! I knew you had it in you.

Photos by L. Marie

Gripped


I always think of the branches of this tree as the fingers of a cupped hand. Yes, winter has a firm grip in this area. It simply won’t let go. Even last night we had a fresh snowfall, one of many we have had. Even as I type this post, snow continues its “take that and that and that—mwahahahaha” approach.

While I might think of winter as the ultimate supervillain, I can’t help thinking of Wintersmith, in which the late great Terry Pratchett depicted winter (aka the Wintersmith) as an extremely confused would-be lover determined to woo a love interest, regardless of the cost to her community.

The fingers of winter, which that tree represents, inspired me to think about the things that have gripped me lately. One of those things has been discouragement and rejection. Okay, that’s two things, you might be saying. But I typed one and the other came along for the ride. Glancing at some of my old posts (I don’t make a habit of doing that; from time to time I copy photos and links from old posts), I can’t help noticing how I use to write more from a well of greater joy. But within the last year or so, the well had run dry.

Even in other types of writing—short stories, novels, nonfiction—I picked at the words like a young kid might pick at a vegetable on his or her plate. (“Do I have to eat that? Okay, how many do I have to eat?”) It was just a chore.

Some of the feeling of writing as a chore came from discouragement over the rejection of others. (See, that’s why I only said discouragement and rejection were one thing, rather than two. Totally planned it. . . . You’re not buying that, are you?) It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve queried agents and publishers. Gotta expect a certain amount of rejection, we’re told. But every once in a while, it gets to you. I’m not made of stone after all.

And then last week, I watched a video of a guy singing and playing the piano. He had so much joy. And I realized what was missing—the joy of writing.

When I was a kid, my best friend and I used to trade stories back and forth because we loved writing them. We didn’t care about style or how “good” they were. We wrote for the fun of it.

That’s joy.

I let the measurement of others take that from me. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying I should never go through rejection. What I am saying is that I started second- and third-guessing myself because of what others have said. Consequently, writing became onerous. It bore a weight—the weight of trying to measure up to whatever standards someone else has—it should never have borne.

Please don’t misunderstand me again. (I have to throw that out there, because I’m really thinking this through and realizing things as I write this.) There are standards of excellence. I believe in that wholeheartedly. What I am saying is that I want to take myself out of the grip of a pre-rejection mindset—thinking that whatever I do will be rejected, so what’s the point?

If by now you’re scratching your head and wondering what on earth I am babbling about, think of this as a therapy session you stumbled into inadvertently. Or maybe you too have been gripped by something you want to shake free of. (See, that sentence was not exactly grammatically correct, but we’re shaking ourselves out of the grip of stuff right now, so . . . yeah.)

So I wrote this post and didn’t give it two thoughts. Just wrote it because I wanted to write it. And the fact that I wanted to write it—really wanted to—calls the tears to my eyes and a hope in my heart that I’m back. Back to joy.

Photos by L. Marie.

Creating Conflict

I recently broke one of my rules by deliberately reading a spoiler-filled book. Though I have not yet seen the animated movie WolfWalkers (now on Apple TV), I read with delight the pages of The Art of WolfWalkers, a book by Charles Solomon that is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. The film (click the movie title above to learn more about the movie) has some fantasy elements, but is based on real events in history. Click here to read more about those events.

  

The book was given to me by a friend (thank you, Sharon). I don’t have Apple TV, so there is no telling when I’ll see the film. But I love the work of the studio that produced it (Cartoon Saloon), and the director behind it—Tomm Moore, an Irish filmmaker who has helmed some of the movies that are now among my all-time favorites: Song of the Sea (2014) and The Secret of Kells (2009). So I’m usually interested in anything that helps me learn about his creative process.

  

An exercise the book mentions intrigued me:

Tomm heard Jim [Capobianco, a story artist whose work Moore admires, who had the idea for the film Ratatouille along with director Brad Bird] say that when he’s trying to come up with ideas, he writes two lists: things he loves and things he hates. Obviously, all good stories have conflict, so he would make the lists to find the conflicts he needed. That’s what Tomm and Ross [Stewart, the co-director of WolfWalkers] did. (New York: Abrams, 2020. 15)

I found that fascinating, because the creation of conflict(s) in a story has always been challenging for me. Yes, I know that conflict is essential to the plot and comes from the way characters relate to each other, based on their characteristics and beliefs. And this is not to say that making these lists is the thing to do for every story. But if you’re stuck, you might give the list making a try. I plan to do so!

If creating conflicts comes easily to you, got any tips you’d like to share? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Rural Voices, an anthology of stories acquired and contributed to by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. For the interview with Nora, click here.

  

The winner of that book is Marie!

Marie, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Rural Voices

With me on the blog today is another of my classmates, the awesome Nora Shalaway Carpenter (woot woot). Nora has been here before (click here) and is here today to talk about Rural Voices, a young adult fiction anthology for which she was the acquiring editor and contributor. Rural Voices, published by Candlewick Press, is an NPR Best Book of 2020 and a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

 

Nora is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Please join me in a conversation with Nora.

El Space: Thank you for being here, Nora.
Nora: Thanks so much for having me, Linda!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1) My favorite candy is Dark Chocolate Craisins. 2) My current fave song is Can You Feel the Sun by Missio. 3) I used to like dogs more than cats, but now have a new appreciation for felines thanks to our rescued cat, Pumpkin. 4) I grew up off a dirt road in rural West Virginia. My closest neighbor was a mile away.


I could only find a photo of Milk Chocolate Craisins. They look tasty! 🥰

El Space: Please tell us how Rural Voices came to be. What, if any, goals did you have for getting this project off the ground?
Nora: I’d been secretly thinking about an anthology of rural voices for a while, but the project began after a conversation with my author friends and VCFA classmates Mary Winn Heider and Rachel Hylton. When I lamented that no one had yet compiled a YA collection of rural voices, they encouraged me to do it myself. I sent an email to my agent during that chat and the rest is history!

My biggest initial goal was to show readers that rural America was so much more complex, valuable, and diverse than the tired clichés usually presented in popular media.

El Space: How did you go about acquiring authors for Rural Voices?
Nora: This was a little tricky, because a lot of people don’t flaunt their rural roots because they are sick of being shamed about them. Luckily, I had a nice core group of rural authors that I knew from VCFA. A number of them knew other rural authors to recommend.

El Space: What were some of challenges you faced as you worked on the anthology? How long did the project take to complete?
Nora: Coordinating the submission and revision deadlines of all the contributors was one of the biggest challenges. The timeline was much faster than it might have been—about a year—because Candlewick and I really wanted the book to come out before the 2020 election.

El Space: What is one misconception you hope will be erased as readers dive in to this anthology?
Nora: I hope it challenges a lot more than one, but at minimum, I hope it shows readers that rural people are as vibrant, smart, and worthy of dignity and respect as every other person.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: Ah! I’m so excited about my next project. I wish I could tell you all about it, but it is due to be announced anytime, so please keep a lookout on my social media channels—@noracarpenterwrites on IG and @norawritesbooks on Twitter! After that, I’ve got another contemporary YA in the works, this one set in rural West Virginia.

Thank you, Nora!

Looking for Nora? Check out her website and the social media channels mentioned above.

Looking for Rural Voices? Check out Bookshop, Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. And don’t forget Nora’s other books:

The Edge of Anything is a Cybils Awards Finalist, a Kirkus Best Book of 2020, and A Mighty Girl’s Book of the Year.

Comment below to be entered into a drawing to receive a copy of Rural Voices. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Craisins image from Bing. Rural homes image from healthline.

Okay, So It’s 2021 . . . All Right Then


Just made a post-holiday work deadline this very day (or at least the day on which I’m writing this). So, if you’re wondering why you haven’t seen me at your blog on in this space, that’s why. Now that I’ve come up for air, I can say what I’ve been meaning to say: Happy New Year! I hope you had an enjoyable holiday season.

I spent the holidays working to meet the deadline, so all was quiet. Not a creature was stirring, except me, getting up to get more coffee or chocolate.

Yup.

As per my usual routine, I never make New Year’s resolutions. If a year like 2020 has taught me anything, it has taught me that plans can be changed at the drop of a hat. This is not to say that I plan to coast through the year without any desire to improve or perform any of the actions usually birthed through resolutions. But I don’t like to make promises that I can’t keep.

Another thing that 2020 taught me was to monitor my expectations. Ever read a book by an author that you thought was so outstanding, your expectations were sky high before the next book rolled around? Or, ever experience a time so bad, you thought, Well life can only go uphill from here? Expectations naturally form when something new dawns, and we can’t help approaching the unknown, based on our experiences. (Maybe that’s what’s been happening with Wonder Woman 1984. But I digress. . . .)

Many a time my expectations were so unrealistically high about a thing that nothing could possibly match them. I’m sure you know that feeling. So I have a “Take it as it comes” approach as I ease myself into 2021.This is also not to say that I lack hope. I’m just . . . cautious.

How about you?

Anyway, wishing you a joyous new year!

Meme from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie.

“Minuit, Chrétiens” aka “Midnight, Christians”/“O Holy Night”

Peuple a genoux, attends ta delivrance!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

The following are the lyrics many know. Though they are different from the above, the music is the same.

Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Composer: Adolphe Adam (1847)

Lyrics: Placide Cappeau (whose original title was “Cantique de Noël”)

Translated from French to English by John Sullivan Dwight.

The winner of the delightful, soon-to-be-a-Christmas-staple, The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas by Mary Winn Heider (click here for the interview with Mary Winn), is Marian Beaman!

 

Marian, please comment below to confirm. Happy Holidays to all!

Nativity image from somewhere on the internet. Mary Winn’s book cover is from her website. Author photo by Popio Stumpf.

Check This Out: The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas

With me on the blog today is the marvelous Mary Winn Heider, another Secret Gardener classmate, who is here today to talk about her picture book, The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas, which was published by Running Press Kids. Mary Winn is represented by Tina DuBois.

 

El Space: How on earth did you come up with this concept? Why unicorns?
Mary Winn: And of course the flip side to that coin, how could it possibly be anything but unicorns!

El Space: Good point!
Mary Winn: The truth is that I didn’t come up with the idea—my editor pitched me the premise and I thought it just sounded like so much fun. So I started with the idea that Santa has to use unicorns instead of reindeer, and then I experimented with a variety of scenarios explaining why it had to happen and how it ended up like that, which included both a Magical Animal Temp Staffing Agency and a parody version of The Night Before Christmas. I really love the wild brainstorming phase. But the more I worked on it, the more I was drawn to this very sweet unicorn troop who were absolutely bowled over to be invited to audition as reindeer substitutes. There is something so adorable to me about these fantastic, magical, stylish unicorns being so gaga about Santa.

El Space: Your book is so funny and quirky—a really tough balancing act to pull off. I can’t help thinking of Santa Cows by Cooper Eden, though your book isn’t about cows. 😄 I also think of Elf, a movie I love watching each year. It seems to take just the right balance to keep the humor from sinking into the sea of coy. How do you achieve that balance? I can’t help thinking of your novel, The Mortification of Fovea Munson [click here for the interview with Mary Winn about that book], which also has that balance.

 

Mary Winn: That’s such a lovely compliment—thank you for that, Linda. I agree with you that the balance is important, and while I’m drafting, I definitely err on one side and the other. That overstepping is a really useful part of my writing process—and I think for how I write, the metaphor really works: it feels exactly like being on a balance beam. I start off making big swings and toppling into the tries that don’t quite work, and then gradually making more nuanced adjustments until I feel a sort of intuitive rightness. I don’t have an algorithm so much as a very, very loose recipe. I like to make sure that as absurd and ridiculous as I get (and I like to get real absurd and ridiculous—my writing partner on my current project just sent me comments on a chapter today, which included the note, Mary Winn, this is preposterous. And to be clear, I consider that a really positive note)—as absurd as I go, I make sure that the story always stays grounded in something true and real. In this case, it’s the unicorns’ sincere need to not let Santa down.

El Space: So glad to hear about your process and the hard work you put into your books. And I love the illustrations! How much input did you have with the illustrator, Christian Cornia?
Mary Winn: I didn’t talk to Christian until after the book was out, but I adooooooore the way he drew the unicorns. All the little details, like that How to Rainbow book that one of them is reading at the top—just to die for. And the crocodiles! That crocodiles spread is among my favorite things ever.

El Space: That is a great spread in the book [which you can see part of if you click here and scroll down]! What Christmas book, if any, did you love to read when you were a kid or as an adult? Why?
Mary Winn: Hmmm. . . . Good question. I don’t actually recall one that I liked to read specifically at Christmas. I was a weird, indiscriminate kid, and loved to read seasonal books all year. But I do associate Christmas with reading, because I’d be off from school and I could just read the entire break!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary Winn: My next novel—The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy—comes out in March, so I’m starting to think about that book again. It’s funny how they sort of hibernate in your brain between the time that you finish them and they come out. And I’m working on a really exciting hybrid graphic/prose novel with an illustrator pal. It’s definitely the most exciting part of my days right now!

Thanks as always, Mary Winn, for being my guest.

Looking for Mary Winn? You can find her by clicking on one of these:
Website, Highlights, Twitter, Instagram, and Barrel of Monkeys.

Looking for The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas? Look here: Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop

But one of you will receive a copy at your home! Ho-ho-ho! (After Christmas, sadly, but something to look forward to.) Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced early next week.

 

When my copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas arrived, Henry quickly commandeered it. “And look how nicely it fits under the Christmas tree,” he said, I guess as a hint for me to get him a copy of the book since I snatched mine back.

Random squirrel meme:

Mary Winn’s book covers are from her website. Author photo by Popio Stumpf. Santa Cows cover from Goodreads. Elf movie poster from Ebay. Random squirrel meme from sayingimages.com. Balance beam image from HuffPost. Henry photos by L. Marie, who is grateful for her copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas.

What’s Your Genre of Choice?

I’ve mentioned in other blog posts that I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy. My parents read fairy tales to me at bedtime and various fantastical books by Dr Seuss. As I grew older and more desirous of reading material, people kept handing me fantasy/sci-fi books or recommending them. The elementary school librarian recommended Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I then had to read the whole Time Quintet.

 

   

 
But around the house, a cache of science fiction books by C.S. Lewis and Isaac Asimov could be found. Also, my dad had a set of Star Trek novels by James Bliss that I read. And yes, when I was a kid, I read many books written for the adult market. Some I probably shouldn’t have. . . .

But I digress. Every year for Christmas, I would receive a Stephen King novel (okay, I guess that’s not much of a digression), so I guess you could say I dabbled in horror at times. But once I discovered Tolkien’s The Hobbit, it was like discovering a family member I hadn’t known before. Of course, I had to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, because y’know, I had to. And that led to many, many other fantasy books by authors like Lois McMaster Bujold, Juliet Marillier, Charles Yallowitz, N. K. Jemisin, Ursula Le Guin (may she rest in peace 😭), and—one of my absolute favorites—Sir Terry Pratchett (photo below; may he rest in peace 😭).

 

 

What genre of books do you turn to again and again? While you consider that, I will reveal the winners of the $25 Amazon gift cards, who, thanks to the random number generator, happen to be Jill and Jennie!

Thank you to all who commented! The holiday giveaways will continue next week. (P.S. If the photos look wonky, it’s because I’m having trouble with the WordPress editor.)

Some book covers from Goodreads. Others by L. Marie. Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia.

Thankful

Yes, Thanksgiving Day has passed. But I’m still thankful for . . .

Friends who deck the trees

Games for stress to ease

Easy hiding spots

Yarn that really pops

Blue light blocking ways

And some snowy days.

I’m also grateful for you. With that in mind, comment below to be entered into a drawing for not one, but two $25 Amazon gift cards. (No, one person will not receive two. Nice try.)

Who or what are you thankful for? (Please don’t mention me. I didn’t write this post for that. I would love to know what’s on your thankfulness list.)

Winners to be announced some time next week.

Photos by L. Marie.