Check This Out: An Impossible Distance to Fall

On the blog today is the second of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates, the marvelous Miriam McNamara. No stranger to the blog is Miriam. (Click here for her last visit.) She’s here to talk about her young adult historical novel, An Impossible Distance to Fall, published by Sky Pony Press on July 2. (Click here for a synopsis.)

   

Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein. After our conversation, stay tuned to hear about a giveaway of An Impossible Distance to Fall.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Miriam: 1. I’ve never flown a biplane or wing walked, but like Birdie, I’ve always loved to dance! The dance scenes were some of the most fun for me to write as I played with how movement and emotion interact in the body creatively. Yum!


2. I went to college pretty young—when I was sixteen—around the time a lot of upheaval in my family of origin was happening. When I got to school, I was kind of adopted by a group of queer upperclassmen who looked out for me and invited me to things, and made sure I was doing okay. Birdie’s departure from her family and integration into the barnstorming circus is based on that experience.
3. I started this novel during the Recession after 2008, when the stock market crash of 1929 and how it affected people seemed particularly relevant. My generation and the young adults of today are still dealing with a lot of financial uncertainty, so I think these lessons of the past are particularly interesting.


4. I have a lot of tattoos, but Birdie’s tattoo that she gets in the novel is based on a stick-and-poke tattoo that I gave my friend Ivy in college. It was a flock of bird silhouettes, just like Birdie’s, and done in the same manner, with a needle and thread and India ink.

Miriam at her book signing at MOON PALACE BOOKS in Minneapolis

El Space: Your last novel was about pirates. What was the inspiration behind this novel about wing walkers and a barnstorming circus in 1930?
Miriam: A nonfiction writer read aloud from a work-in-progress about a real-life wing walker from the ’20s at a workshop I attended, and my mind was blown. I’d never heard of such a thing. As I listened to her read I thought, I would NEVER take such an insane risk as walking out on the wing of a flying airplane! But at exactly the same time, I remembered who I was when I was sixteen, and knew that that me would have done it in a heartbeat. It made me want to write a story about that person.

El Space: What do you hope teens will gain from your main character Birdie’s life and the times in which she lived?
Miriam: Birdie’s external life explodes when the stock market crashes—but what causes her deepest pain is the loss of her father when he disappears. For young Birdie, life and her dad both seemed ideal. She has to learn to accept that things aren’t always perfect. People and circumstance will let you down over and over. You have to love and honor the good stuff while acknowledging that other stuff sucks and it’s okay to be hurt and to grieve. And when your life explodes or falls apart, it also leads to so much possibility and openness that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Storms bring rainbows, you know?

El Space: Birdie interacts with a large cast of characters who aid in her evolution as a character. Who were the most fun or the most challenging to write about?
Miriam: I think the most challenging for me was Gilda, the woman that Birdie’s father chases after. Birdie initially thinks of her as this Jezebel character who has stolen her father away. It was challenging to really communicate Gilda’s complexity. She plays this seductive character professionally as a lounge singer, but she’s actually a real person who did nothing wrong, and Birdie’s anger is misplaced. It took me a few tries to show who she really is beyond the role she plays in Birdie’s life, which leads to a lot of growth in Birdie.

The most fun to write, though! It’s so hard to choose. I loved writing Colette, the tattooed lady; she’s so cranky and deadpan and soooo NOT impressed with Birdie—but then at the crux of the novel, Colette lets Birdie know that she sees and values the person struggling inside of Birdie’s perfect veneer.

But then there’s June. Sigh. . . . I love writing a love interest! June is so sexy. I loved writing her lanky tomboy-in-a-flight-suit Southern Charmer personality.

 

El Space: This is your second historical fiction novel. What is it about historical fiction that appeals to you?
Miriam: I love reading historical fiction, but queer people, especially queer women, have been so written out of history, always relegated to tragic plot devices if they are included at all. I want to write them back into history, and give them so much love and life and joy along with their struggles.

El Space: What was your research process? How did you keep the details you gleaned from research from overwhelming the story you wanted to tell? [One of the tips offered for historical fiction writers in this post here.]
Miriam: With my first novel, I often felt like the details overtook my narrative! The struggle is real. With this novel, I let the narrative guide me into my research. How did banks fail? How did the larger stock market crash impact the financial chain? Who were some wing walkers and women pilots and barnstormers I could use for inspiration? I tried to stick to the story I wanted to tell without getting sidelined by too many interesting details as I came across them. Once I had a strong narrative, then I went back to add in a lot more fun historical stuff—and that led to a lot of richness being layered in once the story was there.

El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Miriam: This year I decided I was going to read as many books by queer people about queer people as possible. I am very inspired by LGBTQ+ authors telling their stories, especially for young readers. So over the past few months I’ve been super inspired by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, some VCFA friends who are writing all sorts of queer stories; I finally was introduced to Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novels, which are amazing; I read awesome books by Kacen Callender and Lev Rosen and Alex Gino; and a Minneapolis author, Junauda Petrus, has a queer young adult love story coming out this fall called The Stars and the Blackness Between Them that I haven’t read yet, but I’ve heard excerpts read aloud, and I know it’s going to inspire the hell out of me.

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Miriam: I’m taking a break from research and writing a contemporary YA novel, but I also have an idea for a historical fantasy that I’m itching to write. I’m definitely taking it slow and feeling out where I want to go from here. Publishing two books in the past two years has been such a whirlwind, accompanied by a lot of life craziness. I could go anywhere from here, you know? Kinda like Birdie. Anything is possible from here. . . .

Thanks, Miriam, for being my guest!

Looking for Miriam? Look no further than her website or Twitter. On Instagram she is booklovemiriam.

Looking for An Impossible Distance to Fall? (Taken out of context, that question is very interesting.) Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound. Also look no further than your very own mailbox or Kindle (if you prefer), since one of you will get a copy of this book simply by commenting below! Winner to be announced one day next week.

Royal Bee looks skeptically on as Neon practices her wing walker routine. “Looks more like a mummy walking than like Birdie,” Royal Bee quips.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Miriam McNamara. Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Other book covers from Goodreads. Wing walker image from wallpaperim.net. Dance image from clipground.com. Newspaper clipping from balkanplumbing.com. Old airplane photo from pxhere.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Check This Out: The Art of Breaking Things

With me on the blog today is my good friend, the awe-inspiring Laura Sibson, who is here to talk about her debut young adult novel, The Art of Breaking Things. Laura is the first of two awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA on the blog this week.

         

Cover designer: DANA Li
Cover illustrator: AGATA WIERZBICKA

Laura is represented by Brianne Johnson. The Art of Breaking Things was published by Viking/Penguin on June 18. Click here to read the synopsis. After I talk with Laura, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of this very book.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laura:
• When I was sorted as a Gryffindor on Pottermore, I was both surprised and slightly dismayed. I expected to be Hufflepuff, but also it seems to me that Gryffindor has fallen out of favor of late. When I asked my sons if I should take it again, they were like: “Mom, you’re a total Gryffindor.”

Laura at the Philly book launch with her husband and sons

• I love flowers and plants, but I murder every plant that has been brought into my house, except one. I have a peace lily that was given to us after my mother-in-law died and I have kept that plant alive come hell or high water.
• When weather permits, I work at my laptop on my back deck. At the moment, I feel a slight breeze despite the heat. I hear different birds singing their morning tunes. And I see that the big old hydrangea tree in my line of vision is readying itself to bloom.
• While The Art of Breaking Things is my first novel to be published, it’s the third manuscript that I completed. It took ten years from finishing my first manuscript to the publication of this book.

El Space: The Art of Breaking Things is partially based on your own experience. How challenging was it to separate what happened to your main character, Skye, with your own experiences?
Laura: Early on, someone had advised me to write the truth first and then set it aside. When I was ready, I started to fictionalize the story. I was interested in exploring what could happen in a small family of three females if an abusive father figure re-entered their world. I was intent on writing an active—not a passive—main character. As soon as Skye appeared, I knew she could carry the story in the way that I hoped. She was fierce and passionate. Through her voice, I was able to keep my personal story separate from the novel I was crafting.

Laura with Cordelia Jensen, another of our awesome classmates who has been on the blog (click here and here).

El Space: How did the supporting characters change as the story developed?
Laura: Initially, Emma, Skye’s sister, read as way too young. Luisa, Skye’s best friend, was more critical of Skye hooking up and their friendship was fairly shallow. Ben, Skye’s best guy friend—and maybe more?—sort of existed just for Skye’s benefit and Keith, a guy they go to school with, was an obnoxious jerk. Through revision, I worked to learn more about those characters, ensuring that they had lives outside of Skye’s life. Revising those characters made the overall story deeper and allowed me to create more nuance.

El Space: You were interviewed for an article on the #MeToo movement for Publishers Weekly. [Click here for that article.] But you wrote this book before that movement started. How has being linked to the movement been a game changer?
Laura: I started drafting the book in 2014. By the time I queried the agent who said yes, the #MeToo movement had broken and my agent saw a way to pitch my book. She was right because she sold the book in six weeks! When I started drafting the book, it was just for me. I wasn’t sure that anyone would want to read the difficult story of a teen girl struggling with the aftermath of sexual assault. But #MeToo has helped us remove some of the stigma around discussing these experiences. I’m grateful to the movement because it’s also helped me let go of some of my own shame.

At HEAD HOUSE BOOKS in Philadelphia with fellow debut author ALEX VILLASANTE

El Space: How important is the premise when it comes to novel writing?
Laura: For me, the basic premise helps frame the overall story. Though I am not a plotter—I wish I was, believe me!—I do like keeping the overall premise in the forefront of my mind as I draft. For The Art of Breaking Things, I knew that I wanted to explore how a teen attempts to protect her younger sister when she can’t speak up about past abuse, and I wanted to place a party girl in the limelight. Many plot points around that premise changed during drafting and revision, but the basic concept remained the same from the very beginning.

   

THE CHILDREN’S BOOKSTORE in Baltimore (left); Laura with her niece

El Space: Based on Skye’s journey and your own, what would you want a teen or anyone else who has gone through trauma to come away with?
Laura: I want readers to see that we aren’t good girls or bad girls, we are all just girls. I hope that young survivors feel seen and that they can begin the journey toward letting go of shame. I hope that people see that there can be healthy relationships after trauma and that there are resources to help you with the process of healing. But I also hope that people experience The Art of Breaking Things simply as a good read.

     

Laura at ALA (left); Laura and Alex with Katie Locke at B & N NESHAMINY

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Laura: Being in nature inspires me. Scenes often unfold for me as I’m walking in the woods. I can see them clearly and then I can’t wait to return home to write them down. I also find that I can untangle plot problems while walking my dog on the two-mile loop that we do most days. I read a lot, so I’ll also get inspired by the ways that authors bring their own stories to life. While I’m actually drafting, a hot cup of coffee doesn’t necessarily inspire me, but it helps keep me in my seat. 😄

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laura: I’m working on a new YA novel—a grief narrative that explores family relationships and the ways that we try to keep memories alive. The main character is living on a houseboat with her grandmother in southern Maryland and she’s being visited by the ghost of her mother who died less than a year earlier. In this story I’m particularly interested in the lies we tell ourselves about the people we love and ways that the loss of a parent can affect the way that a teen moves through her world.

Thank you, Laura, for being my guest!

Looking for Laura? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Instagram.

Looking for The Art of Breaking Things? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

But one of you will receive a signed copy of Laura’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed after an interview that I will do with another great classmate later this week.

The first meeting of the book club went well. Though Royal Bee and Neon agreed That The Art of Breaking Things was the ideal first book to read, they argued about who would be more compatible with Ben.

Book cover, book signing photos, and author photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Author photo by Rachael Balascak. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Check This Out: In Brigantia

It’s raining authors around the blog! Today, the amazing Andrew Murray (or Andy as many of you who know him and follow his blogs, City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts, call him) is here to talk about his latest poetry collection, In Brigantia. (His first was Heading North, which we talked about here.)

  

Stick around after the interview to learn about a giveaway of this collection. Now, let’s talk to Andy.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: Thank you! (1) I’m (at least) the fifth generation of Murray born in Manchester.
(2) My favourite place is Orkney.

 

Photos by Andy Murray © 2019

(3) A big Whovian, I once stumbled across a scene being filmed for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode, and was totally unaware of it until it aired on TV.
(4) My dreams begin while I’m still awake.

El Space: Please tell us how you came to choose the theme you chose for In Brigantia.

12294646_10153732827966740_3177437019818522964_nAndy: The title of the collection takes its name from the opening long poem, ‘Brigantia’ being the territorial name of northern Celtic tribe the Brigantes. Being northern myself, the poems are either set in, or were written in, that same area, though set in the modern day. My writing is often rooted in place.


Romano-British Brigantes map

El Space: How long did it take to complete this collection?
Andy: I never started writing with a collection in mind. I continued to write individual poems following the publication of Heading North in late 2015 and eventually, when I had a considerable number, I began to go through them with an eye on bringing some together in a new book.

Along with the post-2015 poems, there are three older poems also included, one dating back to the September 11th attack, when I received a postcard from a close friend of mine, on that very day, telling me that she was in New York and going to go up one of those towers. It shook my complacency about our friendship. That friend is now my wife.

El Space: Wow! What a great story! What’s your process for writing a poem? How do you know when a poem is “done”?
Andy: I never sit to write a poem; words and lines tend to come to me when I’m out and about doing other things. I take a note of them and they grow from there; it’s quite organic really. Knowing when they are ‘done’ is an instinctive thing, just a feeling I get. As with all writing, I guess, it’s a subjective process. I was sat in a coffee shop watching a guy working the room, trying, unsuccessfully, to chat up the girls who were in there, and straight away I got every single line for ‘Romeo of Lever Street,’ written on the handy notes section of my phone. That also comes in useful for phrases that come to me when on the edge of sleep.

El Space: Amazon’s description of this collection mentions historical royalty like Queen Cartimandua and Hollywood “royalty” like Marilyn Monroe and Tom Cruise. How did these individuals come to be in this collection?

  

Andy: There’s a story to the Monroe one. I was on a train journey, listening to an audio drama over headphones as we approached the next station. As the train pulled in, the guard announced, “The next station, ladies and gentlemen, is Mytholmroyd.” I really thought, above the story that I was tuned into, that what had been said was “Ladies and gentlemen: Marilyn Monroe!” I pulled my headphones off, “What?!” Looking wildly through the window to see exactly where we were. In my defence, I was also due to have my ears syringed soon at the local surgery, but still-—Monroe! I thought to myself ‘Wouldn’t that have been a sight for a Thursday morning?’ And that’s how ‘Mytholmroyd’ came into being.

Photo by Andy Murray © 2019

As for Cartimandua, she was the queen of the Brigantes tribe. Her name translates as ‘sleek pony,’ and that’s how I came up with the cover image for the book.

El Space: Which poem(s) in the collection had the most difficult birth?
Andy: ‘Hanging On ‘Til Morning.’ With this one I went against my usual writing process, mentioned above, looking to write lyrics instead of waiting for the lyrics to come to me. I say lyrics, because this originally was for a friend who is in a band and had asked for help in coming up with words for a song. I got carried away, imagining all sorts of melodies and chord changes before I came to my senses and reigned myself in. Music is his talent, not mine, so I gave him what I’d written and told him to adapt it however he wanted to fit what he was doing.

El Space: Which poets or other artists inspire you?
Andy: There are many. Different poets speak to different people. I like Kenneth White—he writes about the things that inspire me. Now in his eighties, I mentioned him in the foreword to Heading North and received a letter from him wishing me well upon my own journey, which was wonderful. I also like Werner Aspenström, but need to brush up on my Swedish as there is only a limited amount of his work translated into English.

  

  

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I will be turning to fiction next. A new publisher has expressed interest in a short story collection, tentatively called The Night Spills In. It’s the kind of stuff I read when growing up—folklore and the supernatural. I was that kind of kid! Beyond that I have the first draft of a contemporary novel, Seasons on the Hill, that I’ve left to breathe for a while, to pick up again. And I will still be writing poetry along the way.

Thank you, Andy, for being my guest!

Looking for Andy? You can find him at his blogs (City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts).

Looking for In Brigantia? You can find it at Amazon. But one of you will get a copy of In Brigantia simply because you commented. Winner to be announced next week sometime!

Author photo and other photos courtesy of Andy Murray. In Brigantia cover came from Andy’s City Jackdaw blog. Kenneth White and Werner Aspenström poetry collection covers came from Goodreads and Amazon. Romano-British Brigantes map from Wikipedia. Marilyn Monroe photo from thefashiontag blog. Tom Cruise photo from vulture.com. Doctor Who image from fandomania.

Guest Post: Interview by Sergeant Joe Friday

L. Marie here. A strange man calling himself Sergeant Joe Friday strong-armed me invited me to share this interrogation interview with the awesome John Howell. Enjoy!

I’m Sergeant Joe Friday. My partner is Frank Smith and I’m a cop. I was working the day watch in and around the county of Los Angeles. It came to my attention that one John W. Howell had finally left the safe confines of Texas and was due to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport this afternoon. Since Mr. Howell has long been on our list of persons of interest, we decided we needed to intercept him at the airport.

There we were standing around waiting for the arrival of the plane from Austin. My partner had gone to the snack bar for a coffee while I busied myself with the paper. Just as I was about to get to the score of last night’s double header, I spotted him. I signaled to Frank and we proceeded to catch him before he got outside.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“My name is Friday. Sergeant Friday. This is my partner Mr. Smith. We would like to have a word if you don’t mind?”

“Uh. I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. What’s this all about?”

“We just have a few questions. We can step into the security lounge for a little privacy.”

“Is there a problem?”

“No problem sir unless you decide to make one. Now how about it?”

“I guess it will be alright. My rental car can wait.”

“Thank you, sir. Follow us.”

We went into the security lounge and sat at a big table. I asked Mr. Howell if he would like a coffee or water. He told me he was fine. Although we startled him at first, he did not seem nervous. I didn’t know what to make of that so I asked my first question.

“So, what brings you to LA, Mr. Howell?”

“I’m attending a book conference.”

“Book conference huh? What goes on there?”

“It is a gathering of authors. We set up a table and talk to readers.”

“Talk to readers? Is that all?”

“Yes. We also hope they buy a book, but usually just talk.”

“What is this talk about?”

“Well, you know—”

“No, I don’t know Mr. Howell. You tell me.”

“Um. Well, I describe my book and the reader asks questions.”

“I see. You want to comment on what those are saying about you.”

“Who is saying what?”

“They say you write thrillers.”

“I confess. I do.”

“Confess? Frank, take this down. So, you freely admit you write thrillers?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to book you on a 416.”

“416? What’s that?”

“Unauthorized thrilling of readers.”

“Come on. They are the ones buying the books.”

“Maybe you are running some kind of mental persuasion scheme.”

“I hardly think so.”

“Well, before we take you downtown is there anything else you want to confess?”

“My last book was number one on Amazon.”

“Is that like a list of most wanted criminals?”

“Maybe most wanted books would be more accurate.”

“Describe the book for me.”

“Ahem. Well the title is The Contract.”

“Like in kill for hire?”

“No, no. The earth is under the threat of a catastrophic political event which could result in international warfare and destroy all life on the planet. In heaven, a divine council decides that extraordinary measures are essential. They call for an intervention that involves two souls returning to earth. The chosen two sign a contract that they will work to avert the disaster.”

“So, you are telling me your book is about heaven?”

“Well it is about how Heaven uses the Earth as a training ground.”

“So, you are saying there are aliens on Earth.”

“No. Brad Channing, a Navy SEAL, and Sarah O’Brien, a teacher, become heaven’s representatives on earth. The story follows them as they individually and then together face overwhelming obstacles and eventually end up on a strategic Air Force base in California. It is there that they discover a conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States. The terrorists have a plan for global dominance, and they are determined to complete their mission.

“So where do you come in?”

“I am one of the authors.”

“Uh huh. And the other?”

“Gwen Plano. Author of Letting Go into Perfect Love.

  

“So, a partner in crime huh.”

“No, a collaborator.”

“How did that go for you?”

“It was a rewarding experience.

“Frank, put out an APB on Plano. . . . Anything else you want to say?”

“How about where readers can find me?”

“Other than in the big house you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Okay here’s what we have on you.”

Fiction Favorites Blog
John Howell Facebook
John Howell Twitter
Authors db
LinkedIn
Goodreads
Amazon Author’s page
Gwen’s blog

“Man, that is a lot of stuff.”

“How about a few photos?”

  

  

“Thanks.”

“Here is your rap sheet. I think you are in big trouble.”

John W, Howell began his writing as a full-time occupation after an extensive business career. His specialty is thriller fiction novels, but John also writes poetry and short stories. His first book, My GRL, introduces the exciting adventures of the book’s central character, John J. Cannon. The second Cannon novel, His Revenge, continues the adventure, while the final book in the trilogy, Our Justice, launched in September 2016. Circumstances of Childhood in October 1st. 2017. The latest, The Contract between heaven and earth, his fifth book, is written in collaboration with award-winning author Gwen Plano and was launched in June of 2018. All books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

John lives in Lakeway, Texas with his wife and their spoiled rescue pets.

Okay, I’m back. I’m giving away a copy of The Contract between heaven and earth to a commenter. You know what to do. Winner to be announced some time next week!

Author photos and covers courtesy of John Howell.

Check This Out: The Door at the End of the World

Hello! Help yourself to a breakfast pastry and have a seat. With me on the blog today is the awesome Caroline Carlson, who is here to talk about her middle grade science fiction novel, The Door at the End of the World, which debuted on April 9.

  

The Door at the End of the World was published by HarperCollins. Like the cover? The cover artist is Poly Bernatene.

Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies. She also is a member of steaMG. See this post about that organization. Be sure to stay till the end for information on a giveaway of this book. Yeah!!!!! Now let’s talk to Caroline!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Caroline: (1) I love to bake because baking feels like the exact opposite of writing a book: you just follow the instructions in the recipe, and a few hours later, you have a finished product! Books don’t work that way at all.
(2) My least favorite noise is the sound that Styrofoam makes when you lift it out of a cardboard box.
(3) When the zombie apocalypse comes, I would prefer to be one of the first people eaten so I don’t have to deal with all the stress of trying to survive in a zombie-ridden dystopia.


(4) I have been told that I have natural ghost-repelling qualities.

El Space: Wow! An awesome ability to have! You’ve written books about pirates and detectives. Now you’ve written a portal story. C.S. Lewis once said that a faun carrying an umbrella was the image that started his writing of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. How did The Door at the End of the World come to be? Is this a stand-alone or the start of a series?


Caroline: The Door at the End of the World came to me in a way that most stories don’t: It started with the title. I’d been wondering what it would be like to write a book about the end of the world, and then I thought, What if the end of the world isn’t an event? What if it’s a place? What if it’s where our world meets the next world over? And what if there were a door between the two worlds that you could travel through? Would you need a passport? Would someone stand guard at the end of the world to make sure people weren’t sneaking through the door illegally? What if there were a whole series of worlds, all connected by doors, each with its own unique characteristics? The story really took off from there. It’s a stand-alone novel, but I barely scratched the surface of some of the eight worlds my characters visit, so maybe I’ll set another story in this universe someday.

El Space: Without giving any spoilers, what can you tell us about your world building and how you came to develop characters like Lucy and the worlds mentioned in your book?
Caroline: There are eight different worlds in the book: a magical world, a high-tech world, a world covered in oceans, another world that’s full of cows, and our own world, just to name a few. Each of the worlds is special in its own way, but the world called Southeast, where a lot of the action is set, is a little bit . . . ordinary. Lucy, the heroine, is a little bit ordinary too. It’s her job to file papers and stamp passports at the end of the world, but she doesn’t get to go on any grand adventures, and she knows she only got the job because her parents and her older brother are very famous and important. Over the course of the story, though, Lucy meets a couple other ordinary kids, and they discover together that even though they’re not famous or important, they’re capable of doing truly extraordinary things—like saving eight whole worlds from destruction.

 

El Space: That sounds awesome! How did the process of writing this book compare to the writing of The World’s Greatest Detective or any of your Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates books?
Caroline: I’m usually the sort of writer who plans a book before I start writing. I outlined each of the three novels in my Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series, and I had to make an extensive and complicated outline for The World’s Greatest Detective, which is a murder mystery. When you write a mystery, you need to know exactly how the crime is committed, how the criminal will cover their tracks, where all the clues and red herrings will appear, and how the detective will put together all the pieces to arrive at the solution. I can’t imagine writing a book like that without planning in advance!

    

    

When I wrote The Door at the End of the World, though, I didn’t outline at all. Most days I’d sit down to write without knowing what was going to happen next in the story. For a writer like me, who loves structure and planning, it was kind of a terrifying experience. But it was also invigorating, like reading a favorite book for the very first time. I didn’t know what would happen on the next page, but I kept writing because I was excited to find out. Fortunately, it all came together in the end, and a few rounds of thorough revision with my editor helped to make the story nice and tidy.

El Space: Kirkus likens your book to those by Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson, How do those comparisons make you feel?
Caroline: That was one of the nicest compliments I’ve received on my writing. Both women are among my literary heroes, and Diana Wynne Jones’s work in particular was a huge inspiration for The Door at the End of the World. As a young reader, I sped through her Chrestomanci books—a series of stories set in linked parallel worlds that were painted so vividly—I felt as if I’d visited those magical worlds myself. The worlds-wide adventure that my own characters embark on is very much intended as a tribute to Diana, and I hope that readers who love her books as much as I do will enjoy this story, too.

    

El Space: What will you work on next?
Caroline: I’m not sure what my next published book will be, but right now I’m working on another middle grade fantasy novel that’s full of magicians, spies in hot-air balloons, and an opinionated talking goat.

Thanks, Caroline, for being my guest.

Looking for Caroline? Check out her website, Facebook author page, Twitter, Instagram, and steaMG.

The Door at the End of the World can be purchased at your local independent bookstore, as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, and Powell’s. But two of you—that’s right, two—will be given a copy of this book, simply by commenting. Winner to be announced on the day after Easter—April 22!

Henry is hoping that this door will take him to one of the worlds described in Caroline’s book. I fear that he is doomed to disappointment.

P.S. My heart goes out to the citizens of Paris and those all over the world saddened by the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of Caroline Carlson. Author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Other book covers from Goodreads. Zombie from somewhere on Pinterest. Henry photo by L. Marie.

Guest Post: Nicole Valentine of steaMG—The Middle Grade Sci-Fi Authors Alliance

Today, I’ve turned over the reins of the blog to my good friend, Nicole Valentine, whose middle grade novel, A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, will be published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner this October (but is available for preorder now). Nicole is here to talk about her latest venture.

A big thank you, L. Marie. for giving me the opportunity to answer two questions here on your blog. She asked me, “What is steaMG and why did you create it?”

SteaMG.org is a collective of authors who want to celebrate sci-fi and science-inspired fiction for middle grade readers. Currently, there are fifteen of us. Our member authors contribute to the blog and we have special guest posts too. Our aim is to add new member authors twice a year, while always looking for interesting guests. Every member has a middle grade book either published or on contract that can be described as sci-fi, spec, or science-inspired fantasy or fiction. We write about time travel, parallel universes, strange new worlds, outer space, and nature doing weird and wonderful things—all subjects that inspire wonder and awe.

As to why I made this collective, when I first had the idea, I wanted an online space where fellow authors could talk about their love of the genre, be an online source of information for librarians, teachers and readers—and also for each other. I envisioned a discussion board where fellow middle grade sci-fi authors could talk and schedule events with each other and share ideas. My biggest worry was no one else out there would join me! I decided the only way to see if it would work was to start it—an “if you build it, they will come” approach. I posted on several discussion boards and talked to other friends in the industry and that is how I found the initial fifteen. I give them a lot of credit for signing on to something that did not yet exist. It’s a bit like agreeing to take a voyage before the ship is built.

My initial blog post at steaMG.org, “The Science of Awe,” talks about why the emotion of awe is so important and why I think it’s important that we foster it in children at an early age. I credit sci-fi books with saving me as a kid. I read whatever I could find about time travel after losing my father to a sudden heart attack. To adults, trying to learn how to time travel sounds like an illogical solution to grief, though in many ways, it worked! Those books taught me hope. They gave me something to chase after—the feeling of wonder and awe. They gave me tools to cope.

That’s just my own personal story about how I relate to the genre, but there are so many ways it works well in children’s books. It’s full of possibility in creating empathy, introducing children to the possibility of worlds and people beyond their own, and seeing their intrinsic value. It helps children step outside of their viewpoint and witness their own world as an objective visitor. You don’t need to travel through outer space to do that either! Fellow steaMG author Caroline Carlson’s novel, The Door at the End of the World [debuting this April] does this really well with a fun, sly wink. I hope she’ll talk a bit more about that in her upcoming post. I’m really looking forward to seeing all my fellow steaMG members talk about what inspires them and why they write what they do.

    

As to what you can expect in the coming year, we will keep you up to date on middle grade books coming out in the genre. We have thought-provoking guest posts lined up in the next few months: one takes a deep dive into middle grade sci-fi from an academic viewpoint, another will talk about the genre in short story form for middle grade. There will be brilliant insights on the craft of writing from member authors, and an interview with the artist whose sci-fi art graces a fair portion of our site and the very strange coincidence that brought him to us.

And that’s all just the beginning. It’s a big universe and there’s a lot to explore. We are accepting guest contributors and traditionally published authors who would like to join are welcome to head over to steaMG and say hello.

Nicole Valentine has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is her debut novel. She teaches writing at the Highlights Foundation. Previously, Nicole was a Chief Technology Officer at Sally Ride’s Space.com, Figment.com, and an early member of the web team at CNN.com. Nicole resides outside of Philadelphia with her family, two large dogs named Merlin and Arthur, and two small cats named Pickwick and Tink.

L. Marie here. I hope to have Nicole back at a later date for the cover reveal of her novel. And speaking of novels, Melanie Crowder, whose novel, The Lighthouse between the Worlds, was featured in the Christmas giveaway (see this post), also is a steaMG author.

 

SteaMG Logo by Jim Hill. Nicole Valentine author photo by Nina Pomeroy Photography. Space image from graphicsbeam.com. Caroline Carlson author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Infinity clock image from ufo-spain.com.

Check This Out: Every Shiny Thing

Today on the blog, you will find not one, but two of my incredible VCFA classmates: the marvelous Cordelia Jensen (left) and the awesome Laurie Morrison. They are here to discuss their middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing, which was published by Abrams in April. Click here to read the novel’s synopsis.

   

Cordelia and Laurie are represented by Sara Crowe. After the interview, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of their novel.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: 1. I used to be able to hula hoop for hours on end, doing all kinds of fancy tricks. 2. I ran three marathons before hurting my knee while training for a fourth. 3. I think chocolate chip cookies are pretty much the world’s most perfect food. 4. I have a brother who can play the piano by ear, like Ryan can in Every Shiny Thing.

Cordelia: 1. I was a certified scuba diver in high school. 2. I was a camp counselor for eleven summers. 3. When I turned 39, I got my first cavity, my first dog died, and I broke my first bone. It was like I turned 9 not 39! 4. I have boy girl twins who are 12, now we all read the same books!

El Space: How did your premise—two middle graders who come up with what has been described as an ill-advised Robin Hood scheme to raise money for people in need—come about?
Laurie and Cordelia: We started with a vision for our two characters and the relationship they would form, and we thought it would be compelling if Lauren developed a compulsion to shoplift and Sierra felt like she had to cover for her. But Laurie, who wrote Lauren’s point of view, is terrified of breaking rules and couldn’t fathom why Lauren would shoplift until she thought of the middle school students she taught and how passionate many of them were about social justice. We thought: what if Lauren is angry about the inequality she sees in the world around her and wants to do something to make the world a fairer place, sort of like Robin Hood…but then she gets carried away and her well-intentioned scheme spirals out of control?

El Space: The book was written in prose and poetry. What was your process for writing? What was your favorite thing about working together?
Laurie and Cordelia: Laurie wrote Lauren’s sections in prose and Cordelia wrote Sierra’s sections in verse. We had a big brainstorming session before we began writing, during which we figured out the midpoint and ending, and once we had written a little more than half of the book, we met again to plan a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of the story so it wouldn’t run away from us. But for the most part, we just went back and forth in a Google doc, one of us writing a chapter, then the other building off that chapter to write the next one, and so on. We both found the process incredibly energizing because we could bounce ideas off each other and improvise with each other as we went. And it was pretty great to get immediate feedback on the sections we wrote so we knew right away what was working and what wasn’t. And we gave each other lots of compliments as we went, which was also very fun and validating!

El Space: Talk to us about your main characters—Sierra and Lauren. How are they different than or similar to middle grade you? What advice would high school you give to Sierra and Lauren about surviving middle school? Why is this important?
Laurie: I was conscientious and loyal, like Lauren is, and I had brothers I felt somewhat protective of. I cared about injustice, but not as single-mindedly as Lauren does. And I was a rule-follower, so I never would have stolen! I think high school me would have been overwhelmed by the misguided intensity of Lauren’s Robin Hood plan. There were a couple of times when I was in high school when I really wanted to help a friend but realized I was not equipped to figure out how to do that, so I went to a trusted adult—the guidance counselor at my school—to ask for advice. High school me would have gone to the guidance counselor to work out a plan to help Lauren, and I likely would have tried to help her talk to someone she trusted, like her Aunt Jill or her teacher, Mr. Ellis. I would have advised her that there are times when things get intense and hard enough that you may need adult reinforcements and sometimes you may want to turn to adults other than your parents, and that’s just fine.

Cordelia: I was definitely a caretaker like Sierra is, which is part of the reason I wanted to write this book. I would tell Sierra (1) you are safe now, let yourself trust in your new environment and the people who are caring for you (2) if you feel overwhelmed in a relationship, seek help and support. Dare yourself to ask for help even if it feels impossible. Feeling like you are the only person who can help someone can become an addiction itself.

El Space: Social justice is a big theme in society and in your book. What do you hope kids will take away from your book?
Laurie and Cordelia: The School Library Journal review of Every Shiny Thing says the novel may encourage some readers to examine their privilege, which we were thrilled to see because we definitely like the idea that the book would make readers stop to think about things in the world that aren’t fair and things they can do—without resorting to illegal measures like Lauren does—to make a difference.

In addition, if kids are struggling with an addicted parent, we hope they will see that there are resources out there that can offer help.

El Space: Please tell us how your passion for writing books for kids developed.
Laurie: I only began writing fiction after I began teaching middle school. There was something about my students’ passion, humor, creativity, and honesty that inspired me deeply. I also went through a lot of big life changes when I was in middle school and high school, and I very vividly remember what it felt like to be that age and deal with big revelations and relationship shifts. I feel a lot of empathy for my middle school and early high school self and am moved to explore some of the intense feelings I had at those ages.

Cordelia: I have always been a writer and even concentrated in Creative Writing at Kenyon College as an undergrad. However, I began writing for kids after working with them. Besides having an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I have an M.Ed in School Counseling. I worked as a counselor in my twenties and was also a camp counselor for a long time (see fun fact). Once I became pregnant with my own kids, I was drawn to write stories and poems for the kids I had worked with for so long. I felt I had a lot more to say to kids and teens than to adults.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m finishing up edits on my next middle grade novel, Up for Air, which is a summer story about competitive swimming, self-esteem, fitting in, and standing out that will come out next spring, and I’m working on a couple of other projects that are in much earlier stages.

Cordelia: I’ve been working on a picture book, a MG novel, and a YA—all in verse!

Thank you, Cordelia and Laurie, for being my guests!

Looking for Cordelia and Laurie? You can find them at these locations.

Laurie Morrison: website, Twitter, Instagram.

Cordelia Jensen: website, Twitter, Instagram.

Every Shiny Thing is available at a bookstore near you and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound.

If you’re a teacher and need resources to teach about the topics in Every Shiny Thing, click here.

One of you will be given a copy of this book simply because you commented. Check back on June 21 to discover the winner. 

Having read Every Shiny Thing, Lippy Lulu and Macy Macaron are inspired to do something to help others in need.
What would you do?

Cordelia Jensen author photo by Marietta Pathy Allen. Laurie Morrison author photo by Laura Billingham. Hula hoop from keywordsuggest.org. Scuba gear from ladyasatramp.blogspot.com. Social justice image from stephenandmary.org.au. Google docs image from heavy.com. Robin Hood image from freepins.com. Middle school image from sites.google.com. Shopkins Shoppie dolls—Lippy Lulu and Macy Macaron—by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.