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: 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: Resolved to Be Prolific

Today, I am happy to introduce a guest post by the marvelous Lyn Miller-Lachmann. (Check out her previous guest post here.) Stick around to the end and I’ll tell you about a giveaway of one of Lyn’s novels.

I don’t have a great record for achieving New Year’s Resolutions. The average attainment rate for those pledges to improve one’s fitness/relationships/life is around 20%, and mine may be even lower. But I have a standing resolution, one that I’ve dutifully kept since 2000. I’ve resolved to keep writing and revising my fiction no matter what.

My resolution grew out of my decision 10 years earlier to quit. When I graduated from college, I vowed to write the Great American Novel. Ten years later I’d written and extensively revised three entire book manuscripts—one adult and two young adult, after an agent who took me on thought the best characters in my adult manuscript were the teens. She and I parted ways after the next manuscript didn’t sell, and when I self-published it—a novelty at the time—I went through three revisions of a third YA manuscript with an editor at a major house before she backed out citing exasperation at our persistent miscommunication. Having come so close to selling a manuscript, I gave up in despair.

I wrote reference books and textbooks for those 10 years in the creative desert, but without creating stories I felt something missing from my life. After finding myself writing my middle school-age son’s creative writing assignments, I decided to try again and this time never to give up. I stripped the core of that first adult novel and turned it into a subplot of an eco-thriller that I wrote and rewrote multiple times until it became my debut novel, Dirt Cheap (Curbstone Press, 2006).

Apparently, I’m pretty average in that my fourth full-length novel manuscript became my first published novel. And I needed all those manuscripts, rewritten over and over, to develop my craft. Recently, I’ve read the accounts of debut novelists whose eighth, tenth, or twelfth full manuscript was the first to find a home. These are heartening stories because they show perseverance, dedication, and the truth that at a certain level of craft, publishing is a lottery of having the right book at the right moment, and the more lottery tickets one holds, the better the chance of winning a prize.

So when Bad Things happened to me—smaller publishers going out of business, a poor match with a large publisher, unsold manuscript after manuscript—I found myself taking their stories to heart. Rather than quit, I tried new things. I now have, finished and mostly finished and gone out on submission, two contemporary chapter-book proposals with sample chapters, a full YA contemporary novel, three YA historical novels, and seven picture books. I’ve approached two authors with ideas for collaborations and have just started an own voices picture book for one of those collaborations. In 2018, I completed two-thirds of a draft of my first novel in verse. Before I started it, I’d never realized how much I’d enjoy writing not only the verse novel but also poetry in general. Like my protagonist in the verse novel, I’ve joined a Poetry Club, a group of people who write a poem each week in response to a prompt.

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Rather than giving up, I’ve resolved to be prolific. The more things I have ready to go out, the more chances I have of hearing the word “yes.” I’ve also looked into self-publishing again.

My plan right now is to write. Write the story that speaks to me, the one only I can tell, and tell it with passion and skill.

Then worry about what to do with it.

* * *
As a treat for all of you who’ve read this far, I offer one of the poems I wrote for my Poetry Club in response to a picture prompt that I chose, a photo my daughter, a teacher, took on a family heritage trip to Berlin and Prague. The photo is from an exhibit at the Museum of Communism in Prague, Czech Republic, of the last day of primary school in the 1960s.

CHILDREN RUNNING OUT OF SCHOOL FOR THE SUMMER


When the final bell rings
children burst from the door
running
screaming
throwing ragged, used-up notebooks
backward
over their shoulders.

The best student in the class
waves his report card
boasting to his friends
of the present
his parents
will buy him.

The inseparable blond girls
make plans for the summer
the letters they’ll write
when one goes to camp
and the other stays home.

Behind the open door
the quiet, dark-haired boy
unwraps the chain
from his bicycle.

He had hoped to make a friend
this year.

He will go home to the line of books
he’d arranged
in alphabetical order
on his shelf.
Tales of heroes in magical worlds
where they can dream and hope
and their dreams and hopes
come true.
Tales of real heroes
of the times of his father
and his father’s father
who struggled and triumphed
when everything
seemed lost.

The quiet, dark-haired boy
will read these books
and they will save him.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of the eco-thriller Dirt Cheap and three novels for teens—Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and Rogue—and a translator from Portuguese and Spanish to English of children’s books, screenplays, poetry, and academic articles. Gringolandia—the story of a refugee teenager from Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship and his relationship with his father, a just-released political prisoner—was an Américas Award Honor Book and selected for the ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list in 2010. She reviews for The Pirate Tree and blogs on travel, politics, and writing at www.lynmillerlachmann.com.

* * *
Hi! Me again! (L. Marie, in case you’re wondering.) I’m giving away a copy of Lyn’s adult novel, Dirt Cheap. So it will be dirt cheap for you, since it’s free. Ha ha! I crack myself up. 😀 😁 Anyway, comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on January 14.

Click here to find a synopsis of Dirt Cheap.

Photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Author photo by Joan Heffler. Book image from somewhere online.

Check This Out: Yoga Frog

With me on the blog today is one of my wonderful classmates from Vermont College of Fine Arts—the awe-inspiring Nora Carpenter. Nora is here to talk about her picture book for young readers, Yoga Frog, which debuts today, people!

 

Nora is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Yoga Frog was published by Running Press Kids and was illustrated by Mark Chambers. Nora also is the author of Yoga Frog: Reflections from the Lily Pond, which was written for adults and published in April (also illustrated by Mark Chambers). Check it out here. One of you will be given a copy of the Yoga Frog picture book for for young readers. Stay tuned after the interview to find out how. (Or skip ahead if you so choose. But you won’t be given any cake.)

Let’s talk to Nora!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1. I grew up in rural West Virginia, where my closest neighbor was a mile away. I loved roaming the woods, but the distance from people was also challenging because I’m more extroverted than introverted.
2. I’m passionate about the environment and conservation, so I’m a super active board member and incoming president of the Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, where I now live. The Nature Center is an AZA-accredited zoological park that cares for animals that either couldn’t survive in the wild or are part of species survival and management programs.


3. I’m a Suzuki-trained violist, though I’ve been known to fiddle on occasion. 
4. I have three kiddos, ages 4 months, 3-1/2 years, and 6 years. I am . . . busy. And need to practice lots of yoga and mindfulness. LOL.

El Space: How did Yoga Frog come to be?
Nora: I’ve been practicing yoga since the early 2000s and became a CYT—certified yoga teacher—back when I lived just outside DC. I taught both adult and children’s classes, but I really fell in love with teaching yoga to pre-K kids. At that time, there weren’t a lot of quality materials for teaching yoga to young children, so I decided to write the book I wish I’d had as a teacher. It turned into a collection of yoga poems for children, and my graduate reading at VCFA included some poems from that collection. Several years later, a fellow alum who loved the poems went on to work for Running Press Kids, the publishing house that approached me about writing the book. I had never let go of the dream of introducing the healing world of yoga to kids through literature, so of course I jumped at the opportunity!

El Space: How long did it take to write? What was the path to publication for Yoga Frog?
Nora: Once I found the right framework, it didn’t take me super long to write, because I’m a yoga teacher and have had a yoga book idea for years and years! But like everything I write, the book went through numerous drafts. The first draft was a story about a little frog who learns yoga from Yoga Frog, whereas the final draft ended up as nonfiction with Yoga Frog as the sole character. Maybe one day I’ll revisit and reshape that original story. But I think Yoga Frog is definitely a better teaching tool in its final form.

Illustration by Mark Chambers

El Space: The illustrations are great! What was it like working with the illustrator, Mark Chambers? How much input did you have in regard to the illustrations?
Nora: Aren’t they adorable?! I’ve only met Mark virtually, because he lives in the UK, but he’s incredibly talented and kind. He made a Yoga Frog activity sheet for me to use at presentations, which was just so nice. And I LOVE the way he brought Yoga Frog to life. I viewed numerous versions of the illustrations and poster, including preliminary pencil sketches. My input included minor changes to the character’s body position to make sure Yoga Frog was clearly and accurately modeling each pose. Oh, and once I noticed that on one page he didn’t have eyebrows. LOL. But really, Mark did such a great job that I didn’t need to make too many suggestions. Also, he taught himself animation, which you can see in the Yoga Frog book trailer.

   

Book poster. Lemony Limes especially loves the resting yoga pose.

El Space Note: I wanted to feature the book trailer. But this post went live before the book trailer went live. You can find it online.
El Space: In 1935, famed author Margaret Wise Brown said, “A book should try to accomplish something more than just to repeat a child’s own experiences. One would hope rather to make a child laugh or . . . lift him for a few minutes from his own problems.” Would you agree? Please explain. What do you hope children will take away when they read Yoga Frog?


Nora: I absolutely agree. I designed the opening lines of Yoga Frog to help kids identify with Yoga Frog, but also to set a fun tone that will, I hope, take them away from their own problems for a bit. I also hope that the book gives them a fun, accessible way to manage those problems and stresses, which is why the poses have kid-friendly names in addition to their Sanskrit names. If kids have fun practicing yoga, they’ll want to do it again. And again. And again. Before they know it, they’ll have developed a life-long healthy habit that they can practice anytime they feel anxious or need a little mental or physical boost. The book includes an Author’s Note for parents with more explanation of yoga’s benefits for kids.

   

Left photo is Nora teaching an interactive presentation of the book at the Greensboro Bound Literary festival. Photo on right shows Nora’s sons.

El Space: Based on what you’ve learned in writing Yoga Frog, what advice would you give to a newbie picture book author? Why?
Nora: That’s a big, important question. Definitely READ current picture books, of course. Lots of them. And write. Constantly and ferociously. The longer I write, the more I understand the necessity of looking fear in the face and tackling your project in spite of it. This applies to all kinds of writing. Heck, any creative endeavor really. If you’re like me, there’s always that inner critic nagging at you: What if I’m not writing this story the right way? What if no one likes my idea? What if—heaven forbid—I make a mistake? To the best of your ability, tell those What Ifs where they can go. You’re going to make mistakes. You must. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not writing enough, and you’ll never uncover the rich ideas beneath them, the ideas that wouldn’t have emerged if it hadn’t been for those previous mistakes. Oh, and get yourself a writing group whose members will both give you honest, constructive feedback AND boost your confidence when you need it.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: I’ve got a couple projects up in the air, but my primary writing focus right now is my next young adult novel.

El Space: Thanks for being my guest, Nora.
Nora: Thank you so much for having me, Linda! Always great to chat.

Looking for Nora? You can find her at her website, Instagram, and Twitter.

Looking for Yoga Frog? You can find it at your local bookstore or online at Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com., and Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Yoga Frog just by commenting. That’s right. Comment below and you’ll be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on June 11. Why then? Because another classmate is coming on the blog soon. That’s right. I’m hosting two giveaways!

Now, free cake for everyone! It’s gluten free!

Author photo, book cover, Nature Center sign, book illustration, and yoga photos courtesy of Nora Carpenter. Author photo by Chip Bryan Photography. Yoga Frog illustration by Mark A. Chambers Book birthday image from romancingrakes4theluvofromance.blogspot.com. Goodnight Moon cover from barnesandnoble.com. Cake from goodtokmow.co.uk. Lemony Limes photo by L. Marie. Lemony Limes Shoppie doll is a registered trademark of Moose Toys.

Check This Out: The Book Passage Children’s Writer’s Conference

I don’t think I have ever talked about conferences for writers on the blog, let alone had someone on who coordinates one. But with me on the blog is the fabulous Pamela Livingston, who roomed with me during grad school. She’s here to talk about the Book Passage Children’s Writer’s Conference in Corte Madera, California.

  

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Pamela: 1. I was the Macy’s Easter Bunny.
2. I am the proud owner of both a VCFA MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults degree plus a Picture Book Certificate which I may have illustrated before finally finding space on a wall.
3. My newest aka is “Mama Goose” of Goosebottom Books since purchasing this award-winning publishing house from its founder, Shirin Bridges.
4. I’ve been a circus star stage mom.

El Space: Tell us about Book Passage. What is it? What is your role in this conference?
Pamela: Book Passage is one of the greatest indie bookstores in the world, having survived and thrived for forty-one years and counting under the eagle eye of Elaine Petrocelli, the voice of indies for NPR and other media outlets. I’ve been the conference director since 2016, although it feels more like a curatorial position, developing a potent experience for our participants. Over fifty percent of our attendees return year after year—this was the first writing conference I attended over ten years ago. Since I also head Book Passage’s Path to Publishing program, this conference provides me with an opportunity to mix in all of the components for children’s writers and illustrators.

El Space: How long is the conference? How many years has the conference been held?
Pamela: This conference is a three-day, Friday morning through Sunday afternoon, festival which includes meals with our faculty under a northern California sky. For almost twenty years we’ve held it at our Corte Madera store, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the first children’s writers and illustrators conference in the San Francisco Bay Area.

El Space: What challenges do you face setting up a conference like this? What do you find most enjoyable?
Pamela: Embracing all of our children’s literary community is my highest priority while providing educational excellence. To that end, our faculty represents members of SCBWI, VCFA’s Writing for Children and Young Adults program, award winners from a wide range of genres, diversity in all sectors, experts in the business of books, plus dedicated editors and agents who can move our participants’ work to the next level.

I thoroughly enjoy every aspect of this process, from coordinating with the authors, editors, and agents whom I’ve long admired, to hanging out with the conference’s attendees. It’s as if a wand was waived by the Fairy Queen of Books to create a dream weekend for my favorite people in the world. When I take into account faculty such as Elizabeth Partridge, Ellen Klages, Gennifer Choldenko, Tim McCanna, and Ying Compestine; plus Creston Books’ legendary founder Marissa Moss; Jennifer de Chiara’s venerable agent Stephen Fraser and representatives from West Coast agencies; editors from Bloomsbury and Cameron Kids—all in one place—I know I’m in for three days nestled in the Land of Enchantment.

El Space: I’m especially stoked that Betsy Patridge (photo at the right) will be there, since she was one of my lovely advisors. Why is a conference like this important for a writer? What makes this conference unique?
Pamela: Conferences are the best way for a new writer to learn if this is a world they want to be in, what it will take, plus pick up the tools and network they need to get them there. As this conference is held at the most lauded independent bookstore in America, we are able to pull back the curtain on the business of books. My journey began as a storyteller, but I knew nothing about the mechanisms behind the business of bringing those stories from the page to the patron. Even my two graduate degrees in writing were light on the business end of this process. It wasn’t until I managed a bookstore and bought a micro-publishing house that I developed a clear picture of this process. This conference not only focuses on the craft of writing, it provides the creators of children’s stories with an understanding of the business of books.

El Space: What can a writer expect at a conference like this?
Pamela: Our conference is both intimate and active, with options for participants to choose their educational opportunities along with a comfortable bookstore setting and café to meet, chat and get to know the faculty and each other. At last year’s conference, I was as impressed with the participants as I was with the faculty, since our attendees included a multi-Grammy award winner, adult genre-published authors changing to the children’s market, author networking leaders, teachers, librarians, etc. And did I mention the food? Let’s just say that one of the best restaurants in the county caters dinner!

El Space: Who should people contact for more information?
Pamela: For more information, folks will want to check-out our website where updates are posted, along with our Book Passage Conferences Facebook page.

El Space: What are you working on?
Pamela: Besides the conference, finding the perfect illustrator for a Goosebottom Book on Marco Polo, learning Quark, and praying that a particularly wonderful editor flips over one of my circus picture books.

El Space: Thanks for being my guest, Pamela!

Photos of the conference crowd scenes by Ying Chang Compestine. Conference logo designed by Mary Osborn. Pamela Livingston photo by Valerie Kippen. Elizabeth Partridge photo from her website.

Check This Out: Maud—A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery

With me on the blog today is the awesome Melanie Fishbane! She’s here to talk about her novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery. Yes, that Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon fame. Maud was published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017.

    

If you follow my blog, you know the drill. I’ll discuss a giveaway at the end of the interview. If you’re new to the blog, well, the same information is appropriate. Now, let’s talk to Melanie!

El Space: What made you decide to write a novel based on the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery?
Melanie: I’ve been reading L. M. Montgomery for most of my life. I first read her when I was about 11 and was enamored by the woman behind the books. I’ve also always wanted to write historical fiction for kids and teens. It was one of the reasons I did my first M. A. and studied biographies for children—in that case it was Joan of Arc—so when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say, “No.” It was the perfect symmetry of everything I loved coming together. Maud’s teen years are also something rarely explored, so it felt like I would be telling a new story. This story has never been told, and it felt important to show a side of Montgomery that many people had not seen. Essentially, the portrait of an artist as a young woman.

L. M. Montgomery

El Space: What was your process for researching this project?
Melanie: It was important to me that I visit where the novel took place, so I spent about a week in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and returned often to Prince Edward Island to do research. In fact, I travelled to all the places Maud lived, including Leaskdale, Norval and Toronto, Ontario.

I also interviewed as many people as I could. In Cavendish and Park Corner, PEI, I interviewed Maud’s relatives and in Prince Albert, I spoke to the archivist at the Prince Albert Historical Society, as well as a local volunteer who drove me around and showed me where things once were.

There were also many hours in the various archives that included Montgomery’s journals, book collection, and other artefacts, such the L. M. Montgomery Institute, and L. M. Montgomery Collection Archives and Special Collection at the University of Guelph. Then I went to the secondary sources and her times, including the history of PEI, a local history of Prince Albert, and Saskatchewan, as well as a book on indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan. I also used websites with old newspapers, such as Island newspapers and Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

Prince Edward Island

I included a selected list of these books and the websites at the back of Maud and in my References and Resources section on my website.

El Space: I love Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and other books. Anne was irrepressible. Was L. M. Montgomery anything like Anne or like Emily Starr, or another of her heroines? Why or why not?
Melanie: Montgomery encouraged a connection between herself and her characters and the world she built. In her autobiography, The Alpine Path, she shows particular places in Cavendish, such as the Haunted Woods and Lover’s Lane, that appear in the Anne series. Avonlea is inspired by the village that Maud grew up in. Anne’s situation, being an orphan and her imagination, is reflective of Maud’s experience. Maud felt like she was. Her mother died when she was 21 months old and she used her writing as a way to channel these feelings. Montgomery, however, said that it was Emily Starr, the character in the Emily series, she was probably most like, and that the series would be the most autobiographical, because it was the story of a young writer.

     

El Space: What did you learn about yourself as a writer as you worked on this novel?
Melanie: I have so much to learn. 🙂 Seriously, I discovered a lot about how much I enjoyed the revision process. While some writers might like the first draft, I found that it was getting into the weeds of the revision process where I could really find my story—Maud’s story. I also see how close I can become to things, and the importance of the editor in the process. My editor was amazing in pushing me to the next level, and gave me room to make mistakes. And there were many. . . .

El Space: What writing advice do you have for authors who want to write novels based on real people?
Melanie: Depending upon who you might be writing about, people have particular ideas about who that person is. Having some compassion too—that is important, but it is also important to allow your character to emerge. Be true to the story you need to tell, that your character is inspiring you to. I would also say that it should be realistic.

One of the things that I had to realize is that the real Montgomery was quietly subversive, mostly in her writing. She never stood up and marched or was an activist in our contemporary understanding of what that might mean. She was a product of her times and Victorian codes of behavior, and that meant that she wouldn’t necessarily be overtly “feminist.” She didn’t even call herself a suffragette. But her books are feminist. At this point she would have to learn how to navigate these constricting spaces and that meant being true to this. As much as modern Mel would have liked Maud to stand up for certain injustices she saw or fight for things in the way we would like to today, it wouldn’t have been true to her character. So, I stayed true to that. I got out of my own way. Be true to the character, his/hers/their times and story.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Melanie: Currently, I have two essays due at the end of the month. So I’ll be working on that. 🙂 In terms of fiction, there are two novels that are whispering to me. We’ll see which one will win this summer.

Thanks, Melanie, for being my guest!

Looking for Melanie? Check out her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

You can find Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But stop the presses! One of you will get a copy sent to your address! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 29.

The girls wonder when Melanie will write a series about them, since they’re irrepressible too.

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari. L. M. Montgomery photo from freeclassicebooks.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Map of Canada from commercialpropertycashflow.com. Prince Edward Island map from commons.wikimedia.org. Writer thinking image from clker.com. Stick figures from clipartpanda.com. Rosie Bloom, Kirstea, and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The World’s Greatest Detective

Hi, ho! Please help me welcome back to the blog the one and only Caroline Carlson. (Click here for Caroline’s last visit.) Today is the birthday of her latest middle grade novel, The World’s Greatest Detective! It was published by HarperCollins with a cover illustrated by Júlia Sardà. You can read an excerpt of the book at Entertainment Weekly’s website. Click here to do so.

    

Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies. Now, grab your deerstalker and magnifying glass, and let’s talk to Caroline!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Caroline: I believe there is an inherently delicious way to cook any vegetable, but sometimes that way is hard to find.
I can tap dance. I’m pretty good.
I am that obnoxious sort of person who likes to get to airports several days in advance of my flight.
I’ve been visiting schools and bookstores talking to kids for five years now, but I still get nervous every time!

El Space: You’re known for your pirate series—The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates. So, what inspired your new middle grade mystery novel, The World’s Greatest Detective? Is this a series also?
Caroline: I’ve always loved reading mystery novels and have wanted to try my hand at one for a while now. All three books in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series have elements of mystery in them, actually, but The World’s Greatest Detective is the first book I’ve written that’s styled after classic whodunits. Readers who are familiar with Sherlock Holmes or with Agatha Christie’s novels will probably recognize a lot of the story’s elements, and that’s intentional—one of my goals was to honor my favorite mystery icons and introduce kids to the genre in a fun and humorous way.

     

The World’s Greatest Detective isn’t part of a series, at least for now. I’d love to send Toby and Ivy on a new adventure someday, but I don’t want to write another mystery novel unless I have a really good idea for the mystery at the heart of the story, and that hasn’t happened just yet. It’s also been lots of fun, after working on a trilogy, to write a book that can stand on its own metaphorical feet.

      

El Space: Batman considers himself to be the world’s greatest detective. But he’s got money and gadgets to help him out. Without giving any spoilers, what do Toby and Ivy have to help them solve mysteries?
Caroline: I don’t know if Toby and Ivy would be any good at saving Gotham, but they do the best they can with their limited resources. Toby has learned a little bit about detective work from his uncle Gabriel, who has an office on the famous Detectives’ Row, and he also happens to be enrolled in a correspondence course to become a junior detective. Ivy’s got a huge library of true crime stories, a clothes rack full of disguises, a skeleton named Egbert, and a knack for setting traps with tablecloths and trip wires. Ultimately, though, they’ve got to put away their gadgets and rely on their powers of deduction to solve the murder that happens right under their noses.

El Space: Sounds exciting! Steve Moser, who was a former police detective in real life, gave some tips from this article at the Police Magazine website. Here is one of them:

Take time to step away and regroup. Sometimes you have to step back and either do something else or just take a break. Many ah-ha moments occur this way.

Would your characters agree? Why or why not? Why is this also good writing advice?
Caroline: Toby and Ivy would hate to step away from a good case, but I think they’d grudgingly agree that some of their most crucial insights have come at the moments when they’ve been forced to remove themselves from an investigation. And I certainly agree that breaks are essential to my own writing process. By the time I’ve finished a first draft of a book, I’ve been working on it nonstop for months, and I usually don’t have much of a sense of what’s working and what’s not. It’s hard for me to view the manuscript objectively—as an editor or a reader would—until I’ve taken some time away from it. Sometimes a writing problem that seems intractable can be solved with a little bit of time and distance.

  

El Space: Did you have a favorite mystery book or series when you were a kid? If so, what? Why?
Caroline: Yes, lots! I particularly loved mysteries that encourage readers to solve a puzzle along with the characters. My favorite example of this type of book is Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. There are a few subtle Westing Game references in The World’s Greatest Detective; let me know if you find them!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Caroline: I’m just finishing up a draft of my next book, which is a fantasy adventure tentatively called “The Door at the End of the World.” It has a little bit of magic, lots of jokes, and too many bees.

Thanks, Caroline, for being my guest!

And thank you to all who stopped by to chat with Caroline. Looking for Caroline? You can find her at her website, Twitter, Facebook.

The World’s Greatest Detective and other novels by Caroline can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound. But I will send a copy of The World’s Greatest Detective to one of you who comments below. Winner to be announced on May 29. (Another giveaway also will be announced then.)

Author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. The World’s Greatest Detective cover courtesy of the author. Other covers from Goodreads. LEGO Batman from fanpop.com. Detective images from cctvcamerapros.com and clipartpanda.com. Veggies from clipartlord.com. Bee image from Pinterest.