Check This Out: Moonwalking

Put on your ’80s going-to-the-mall clothes! With me on the blog is the awesome and prolific Lyn Miller-Lachmann (left), who is here to discuss Moonwalking, her historical novel in verse co-authored with the equally awesome Zetta Elliott. (See cover reveal post here.) Moonwalking was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on April 12. Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.

   

For a synopsis of the book, click here.

El Space: You have two books debuting this month! We’ll talk later about the second. But how amazing is that? How does that make you feel?
Lyn:
Very busy! My last book launch, not including translations, was June 2015—seven years ago—so it was a huge adjustment to get back into promoting my books. Also, the industry has changed and my last book was a YA novel, Surviving Santiago, so how I’ve gotten the word out about the books has been different. I’m grateful to my co-author, Zetta Elliott, for doing more than her share in terms of blogging about Moonwalking and going on social media. This is an exciting time, and I’m learning a lot, which will surely help me when my next YA novel, Torch, launches on November 1 of this year.

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El Space: Congrats on getting four starred reviews for Moonwalking from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and Horn Book. How has that recognition been a game changer for you?
Lyn:
The starred reviews for Moonwalking are the first I’ve received for any book I’ve written, though I did get Kirkus stars for two of my translations from Portuguese to English:The World in a Second (Enchanted Lion, 2015) and The President of the Jungle (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020). I feel that the starred reviews have given me a certain level of approval in terms of craft that’s especially gratifying because I spent a lot of time in the seven years between publications to improve my craft and try new forms and techniques like the verse novel. These stars make me think of when JJ gets his social studies project back and sees, “My first A+ ever!”

El Space: How did you decide that Moonwalking needed to be a novel in verse? Did you experiment with other formats or was telling the story in verse the chosen way from the beginning?
Lyn:
Zetta suggested the verse novel format right at the beginning, as we were coming up with the story line and the characters. She’s a celebrated poet for adults, but she’d never written a verse novel for young readers, one that foregrounds story arc and accessibility. She wanted to try a form that captures the artistic flowering of 1980s New York City even though neither Pie nor JJ see themselves as poets. I had been working on a YA verse novel at the time—one in which the protagonist does dream of being a poet in the mold of Elizabeth Acevedo’s groundbreaking The Poet X—but I put it aside to work on Moonwalking. We sold the book on the basis of a detailed synopsis and three poems each. I’d never sold a novel with so little written before, so this was a new experience for me—and it was a verse novel from the very beginning.

El Space: Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Lyn:
I came up with JJ’s story because I wanted to write about a white boy who’s grown up comfortably middle class and privileged, losing it all when the government fires and blacklists his father and the other members of the PATCO union after the August 1981 strike. I read Gregory Pardlo’s haunting memoir, Air Traffic, where he talks about his family suddenly descending into poverty and instability as his father is unable to find regular work. Sadly, this has been the story of so many Americans of all races (Pardlo, for instance, is Black), but the growing numbers of white Americans who have lost the economic security and communal ties that unions offer make them especially vulnerable to demagogues seeking to blame the Other. JJ is struggling to find his way within these circumstances, but he’s also coming to see how he often gets more consideration because he’s white.

El Space: What was the process of collaborating with your coauthor? Did you guys each start with a character? With the plot?
Lyn:
We started with our individual characters and their stories—JJ, the newcomer to Brooklyn trying to find his place, and Pie, the longtime resident who loves his neighborhood and the nexus of adults who support him but also wants to escape to something better like his artistic role model, Jean-Michel Basquiat (photo below). Because I broke my ankle in January 2020, around the time we signed the contract, I was stuck at home with lots of time to write, so I finished my poems long before Zetta, who moved house three times in the middle of a pandemic. Once she finished, we looked at what we had, brainstormed some endings that diverged from our original outline/synopsis, and added, subtracted, and revised poems.

El Space: How long was the writing period? What was the road to getting it accepted at a publisher?
Lyn:
We had a tentative acceptance within a week after submitting the outline/synopsis and sample poems. Several publishers were interested. We spoke to them by phone over the course of a week, and ultimately decided on the pre-empt with Grace Kendall at FSG—the editor of Zetta and Noa Denmon’s Caldecott Honor Book, A Place Inside of Me—because we loved her vision and her equal appreciation of both boys’ stories. It took me about six months to write my draft of the poems, another six months for Zetta to finish hers, and another six months for revising and incorporating our separate narratives into one unified narrative.

El Space: What novels in verse inspired you?
Lyn:
Besides Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and her dual point of view, Clap When You Land. I especially appreciated Susan Hood’s WWII verse novel Lifeboat 12 for its portrayal of a 12-year-old boy who felt invisible in his family and in school and struggled with what probably were learning disabilities. Like Ken in her book, JJ has a lot going on inside and doesn’t realize the extent of his power and what he can accomplish if he stands up for what’s right. At the same time, many of the people around him don’t recognize that he’s a keen observer of the world around him and the hypocrisy within it, and that he’s on his way to becoming a composer of the music that allows him to express himself when his words can’t.

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’m going back to that YA verse novel, but I’ve also been working on several nonfiction projects for older elementary school students related to twentieth century history. I like the idea of working in multiple genres and categories, but related topics, because it allows me to reuse and expand upon the extensive research that I do.

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

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website and Twitter. Moonwalking can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Bookshop

I’m giving away a copy of Moonwalking. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week sometime.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other covers from Goodreads. Jean-Michel Basquiat photo by Andy Warhol found at Wikipedia.

The Whole Story?

The other day, I discovered on Netflix an interior design show that was new to me. I’m not going to tell you which one. Suffice it to say that in the introduction, a fresh-faced young couple mentioned (in a couple sentences or so) an eleven-year journey from self-trained interior designer to internet sensation to having nearly 100 employees, an affluent clientele, and a we’re-working-on-it-still dream house with over five thousand square feet.

All the while I watched the show, at the back of my mind, I wondered, What’s the whole story? Interior design is not a field that I know anything about outside of watching HGTV shows years ago and a few Netflix shows. I’m someone whose friends, out of pity, came and hung their own pictures on my walls because I didn’t have any. So I don’t know how easy or difficult it is for someone to go from friends admiring his or her taste in decorating to acquiring a huge internet following with paying clients willing to shell out huge amounts of money to redo their rooms. Not when I have family members who have done the same thing in that amount of time who have neither a huge internet following nor wealthy clients.

I often think, What’s the whole story? when I hear success stories of any kind. How many times have we heard a debut author say something along the lines of, “I wrote a book. Two weeks after querying agents, ten agents were interested in my manuscript. Seventeen publishers fought to get it. Once it was published, it hit the NYT bestseller list, where it currently rests after being on it for six years.” Okay, that is a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one. I know publishing journeys that fit this description pretty closely. So for some authors, that might be the whole story. But those situations aren’t the norm, even if they make for a good news story.

I will be the first to tell you I have queried a book that was rejected 91 times. You read that number correctly. By the way, I know an author whose book was rejected three times that amount before an agent and a publisher picked it up. So in her mind, I’m just getting started. You might be thinking, “Why would you query it that many times? Why not give up on it?” I mentioned that fact not to get into whether or not I should have continued querying but to let you know that this is my reality. And yes, I have felt the sour grapes sensation when someone has talked of querying for a couple weeks only to land an agent. Please hear me when I say I don’t begrudge people their agents. The point of this post isn’t to gripe about that but to ask, are we hearing the whole story when we’re told about these things?

Why am I asking that? Because many, many people over the years have come to me asking me how they can get into publishing. Many had the idea that they could easily get an agent or a publishing deal because they saw such-and-such a news story describing what seems to be the instant success of someone.

During a school visit years ago, a group of kids asked me if I made as much money as J. K. Rowling, because that was their frame of reference. None of them seemed to know that she had received many rejections. This article tells how many.

I’ve heard several speakers say there are no overnight sensations. One person in particular (Person A) mentioned that someone said to her, “Where did you come from? What an overnight sensation!” because she had been invited to speak in a huge arena. But Person A explained that for twenty years she had been doing what she was doing in obscurity before stepping into the limelight. Twenty years of faithfulness.

Those are the stories I appreciate. I love when authors mention how they toiled at it for years before getting the visibility they later acquired. Like Jill Weatherholt who has posted numerous times of the multiple rejections she received, but persevered through. I’m not suggesting that people have to toil for years, sweating and suffering. But I remember their stories more because I haven’t had an easy road either.

This is not to say that authors who quickly get agents or publishing deals have had an easy road. Somewhere along their road they had to have hit a snag somewhere. But often we only get a quick soundbite, rather than the full account.

Spotlight from clipartix.com. Rejected imaged from clker.com.

Check This Out–War of Nytefall: Anarchy Is 99 cents!

As the vampires battle in the shadows, a new enemy appears to drag them into the light!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

The paladins of Windemere have had enough!

As the Vampire Civil War heats up, mysterious murders are being committed against members of every holy order. All signs point to the culprits being vampires, which has resulted in the creation of a unified paladin army. To protect his people, Clyde must find the killers before the holy warriors unleash their purifying crusade. It is a battle against frustrating obstacles as the war inches closer to mortal civilization and ambitious new allies join Nytefall.

One slip is all that is needed for the secret of the Dawn Fangs to be revealed.

Curiosity piqued? Check out this teaser!

The urge to move faster nearly overtakes Lost’s common sense, but she reminds herself that adults are supposed to be patient. As if her mind is trying to undermine her actions, she is on the verge of whistling the first tune that slips into her thoughts. Sucking in her lips, the Dawn Fang pierces them with her fangs to stop them from causing trouble. The pain makes her eyes water and she squishes mud in her hands to hold back a scream. Reaching out with her telepathy, she tries to locate her targets while she lets her unfocused thoughts run their course. A distant prayer to Ram the War God causes her to change her direction and she takes a deep breath to regain her composure. With the paladins so far away, Lost moves a little faster, but stops short of giving in to her silly, impatient urges. Seeing the edge of the tall grass, she drops again and uses her elbows to pull herself along like she remembers seeing Titus do on several missions. As she comes out of her cover, the bright sun blinds her, so she is unable to stop herself from banging into something metal, which falls onto her back.

“Get off of me!” Lost shouts before telekinetically hurling the object into the river. She scrambles to her feet and freezes at the sight of six paladins standing in her path. “Such shiny and pretty armors, you have here. I really like the guy with the big helmet. Is that an ostrich feather? I keep meaning to ride one of those again. So, nice day for a walk. This is bunny who is totally unable to fly. That’s why he’s on my head. Your friend seems okay, so there’s absolutely no reason for us to spend any more time together. Bye!”

“You must be Lost,” Lord Adam says through his great helm. He takes a step forward and holds out a diamond fused to a bronze chain. “We are well aware of you and your abilities, monster. That is why I travel with this. None of your mind tricks will work on those who stand in my presence. Even your keen senses are tricked by the spells designed specifically to thwart your actions. Be honored that we went to so much trouble to design items with you in mind. No other Dawn Fang has earned so much individual attention.”

“That’s kind of creepy,” she replies as she steps back. Seeing weapons getting drawn, she stops retreating and playfully slaps at the mud with her bare feet. “Needed to wash some gunk out from between my toesies. Well, this is awkward. You brought me such a pretty present and I don’t have anything for you. Bunny says that I need to work on my manners. There’s really no need for violence. Dawn Fangs are mostly good. Just like mortals, we have some bad ones, but we’re all individuals like all of you. I mean, we all eat soup the same way, right? I really hope you all use spoons for that comparison to work.”

“Abominations such as you-” the paladin begins to announce.

“Look at the naked heretic!” she shouts while pointing into the distance.

All of the holy warriors, except for Lord Adam, turn to see what Lost is gesturing at, so she flings mud at their leader’s helmet grating. The man coughs and hacks as the Dawn Fang sprints back to the river and launches herself to the other side. A quake meets her as she lands and she nearly topples onto her side, but manages to stumble along. Glancing over her shoulder, she does not see any of the paladins in pursuit and considers slowing down to get her bearings. Lost’s eyes go wide when she sees the powerful steeds rise into the air, arch over the river, and land in a perfect line that immediately charges ahead. The open plains allow the warriors to move at full speed, which is only slightly slower than the sprinting Dawn Fang. They hurl spells and glowing weapons, which return to their hands, but the attacks never hit their mark. Those that come close are deflected by a telekinetic shield, which repeatedly shatters upon impact thanks to Lord Adam’s diamond weakening her even from a distance. With the relic defending the paladins’ minds and muffling their hoofbeats, she has to repeatedly look over her shoulder to make sure none of them have disappeared. To her relief, they never break formation and she gets a sense of their attack pattern, which never falters.

Get a copy of this vampire action adventure for
99 cents on Amazon!
Help spread the word by adding it on Goodreads!

*****

Want to catch up on War of Nytefall? Grab the volumes 1-6 for 99 cents each ($6 total)!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

Interested in more Windemere? Then don’t forget to check out Charles E. Yallowitz’s first series: Legends of Windemere

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

About the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After spending many years fiddling with his thoughts and notebooks, he decided that it was time to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house with only pizza and seltzer to sustain him, Charles brings you tales from the world of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you and drawing you into a world of magic.

Blog: www.legendsofwindemere.com
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cyallowitz/

Enjoy the fang-filled adventure by clicking here!

L. Marie here. Comment below to be entered into a drawing to receive a free copy of War of Nytefall: Anarchy. Winner to be announced next week.

What Makes a Hero/Heroine?

Lately, I’ve watched a number of videos on YouTube (like this one if you’re curious) where the same complaint was made about protagonists in television shows and films who are portrayed as powerful but without growth or struggle. Two of these protagonists are the title character in the live action Mulan and Rey from the last three Star Wars films. I didn’t see the live action Mulan, though I love the 1998 animated version. I saw all of the Star Wars movies, however.

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This isn’t a post for or against the Star Wars movies or the live action Mulan. Many better qualified people have videos on YouTube discussing these movies. But rather, this is a post asking the question posed in the title. YouTube videos aren’t the only catalyst for that question. A friend showed me a book she’s in the middle of. I won’t share the title or the author’s name. But I will say that on the first page of the book, the main character announces her lack of fear in a situation. (Sorry to be vague.) She is calm in and in control, like a strong hero/heroine should be, right?

Right?

Hello?

Okay, I’ll answer that, since you’re clearly waiting for me to do so. In Mulan and the Star Wars movies (episodes 7-9 to be exact), Rey and Mulan do great feats because of their special gifts. As I mentioned, I didn’t see the live action Mulan, which is very different (I’m told) from the animated version where the title character trains hard, instead of being born with power, and uses ingenuity in extremely difficult situations. As for Rey, though she is an orphan left to fend for herself, I never had tension in regard to her situation because the movies kept telling me how special and amazing she is without showing me the efforts she went through to gain mastery over her gifts.

I have an easier time rooting for and identifying with a character who starts at a low point (I’m afraid; not sure what’s happening), rather than in a position of strength (I am fearless; I am in control; I am powerful), mainly because I have felt fear and a lack of control. (Hello, COVID.) When a character admits to some kind of weakness (fear; lack of proficiency) and then goes off on an adventure, I have tension because the character will have to learn and grow in order to survive.

I can’t help thinking of a chosen one character like Harry Potter, who has innate magical ability, but at the beginning of the series lacks control over that power and has to grow in proficiency. Even in the seventh book of the series by J. K. Rowling, he still makes mistakes. Another chosen one character who comes to mind is Paul Atreides in the Dune series by Frank Herbert who keeps having to say this litany, “Fear is the mind-killer. I will face my fear. . . . I will permit it to pass over me and through me” though we know he is terrified.

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Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter; Alec Newman in the 2000/2003 Dune miniseries

Above all, I think of Wonder Woman, a character undeniably powerful, but vulnerable also, who trains hard (at least in the first movie; I didn’t see the second one).

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I also think of a well-known speech given by Theodore Roosevelt on April 23, 1910 (found here).

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

What about you? Do you like your heroes/heroines totally proficient and fearless from the get-go or do you like see an interval of growth? While you ponder that, FictionFan, get ready to receive your Amazon reward! Just in time to make your TBR pile grow even higher!

Wonder Woman movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Deathly Hallows Part 1 poster from collider.com. Alec Newman as Paul Atreides found in the Dune Wiki. 

Details, Details

Quiz time for fiction writers. No need to fear. This is easy.

  • As you think of the main character(s) in your work-in-progress, what color is that character’s hair? Eyes? (See? Easy-peasy.)

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  • Does he or she have a nickname? If so, what is it?
  • Where does that character live? Town, city, or rural community? What is the character’s street address (or what are the landmarks that lead to this dwelling if an address can’t be given)? This can be a made-up address like 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Kudos to whoever knows this address from an old TV show. Skip to the very end of the post to see if you are right.
  • What animals are in this character’s life (like a pet or a warhorse)? What are their names? Species? Colors?

Now think of a secondary character and answer the above questions. If you have fifty secondary characters, could you easily answer the same questions about all of them?

By now you are probably wondering why I’m being so nosy. Well, for one thing, sometimes I forget some of the information about my characters, especially in a book with fifty plus characters. That’s why I have to keep a list of people, places, and things, especially when I am writing a series. But I keep a list even for a standalone book with fewer characters. Nowadays I add to the list as I write the book. I remember how tedious it was to write the list after the book was done.

I’m wondering how many authors keep a list of pertinent character information. Some authors have told me they keep track of everything in their head. Do you? If you don’t keep a list, would you consider doing so? I ask this also as someone who wears the freelance book editor hat from time to time. I have had to email or text authors to inquire about hair and eye color, names, addresses, etc. because of inconsistencies found while editing.

Speaking of other useful things to have, I also think of a timeline sheet for a book. Do you keep a list of the day-to-day events (for example, June 4—the Fruit Fly Festival in Harbor Creek)? If you say a book starts on a Tuesday in April and ends on a Wednesday in May, do you check a calendar to make sure the timing of the story events works? If you’re writing historical fiction, do you search the internet to see if May 4, 1925 really was on a Monday as you mentioned in your manuscript? (It really was on a Monday, by the way.)

may-th-day-month-simple-calendar-icon-w

Maybe you’re thinking, Why should I do any of this? The editor is going to check all of that. True. But why not do it for your own sake, instead of waiting for a busy editor to take time out of his or her day to ask you questions about inconsistencies. After all, none of us is perfect. Okay, I take it back. You are. But for everyone else, if you keep a list, maybe the questions won’t have to be asked by an editor (or a reader, who might not be kind).

This public service broadcast was brought to you by I-will-now-mind-my-own-business.

And now onto the winners (finally) of the following books written by Charles Yallowitz and Sandra Nickel respectively. (Click here and here for the interview posts with these authors.)

savagery TheStuffBetweenTheStars

New Charles Author Photo SandraNickel

The winner of The Stuff Between the Stars is Marian Beaman. The winner of War of Nytefall: Savagery is S.K. Van Zandt.

Marian and S. K. Van Zandt, please comment below to confirm. Thank you for commenting!

Address Answer: 1313 Mockingbird Lane is the home of the Munster family in The Munsters.

Author photos and book covers courtesy of the authors. Eye image from lolwot.com. May calendar image from dreamstime.

Check This Out—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

Welcome to the blog! Returning to the blog today is the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book biography, The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe. It was published by Abrams in March of this year and was illustrated by the amazing Aimée Sicuro.

SandraNickel   TheStuffBetweenTheStars

Check out the fab book trailer.

If you’ve been around the blog over the years, you know the drill. Once I talk to Sandra, I’ll tell you how you can get this book for free in a drawing that I am hosting.

El Space: Since your picture book is all about astronomy: If you could name a star, what would you name it?
Sandra:
Does it have to be one star? Or can it be a star cluster like the Pleiades? I always loved the idea of the Seven Sisters, up in the sky, named after their mother. My mother gave birth to three of us. Maybe we could be the Eleanores.

El Space: How did you come to this project? Sadly, I didn’t know anything about Vera Rubin until I read your book. I certainly didn’t know her connection to the study of dark matter.
Sandra:
I also didn’t know about Vera Rubin, not until Kate Hosford (below), a wonderful picture book author, texted me and told me about a tribute to her in The New York Times. I read the article and was captivated. I started researching that very day.

red photo cropped

El Space: Tell us about the research. How did your findings help you decide on the story angle? At what point did you decide you’d done enough research to make a start or to conclude the writing?
Sandra:
When I read The New York Times article, Vera had died two days before and papers were flooded with homages to her. After reading these, I found articles and a book Vera had written. The greatest discoveries, however, were interviews with Vera. They gave such a clear vision of her personality, childhood, home life, and struggles.

For the most part, editors no longer require picture book biographies to tell a person’s story from cradle to grave. They are looking for a story that fits into the classic story structure. Introduction. Rising Action. Climax. Resolution. I had the introduction early on, because Vera said she fell in love with stars when she was eleven. The climax had to be her discovery. That left me searching for rising action. Vera had so many challenges thrown in her path—far more than made it into the book. Once I was confident that I had found the most important ones, I knew I had enough to start putting the rising action together. The trick was to select experiences that resonate with children. I chose the experience illustrated below because everyone can understand how awful it is to be the only one against a crowd.

Vera Facing the Senior Astronomers

El Space: Your book is so beautifully written. How challenging was it to explain scientific concepts in picture book form?
Sandra:
From the beginning, I knew I needed to come up with imagery that would help children understand. I searched and searched for different ways to describe gravity, galaxies, and dark matter. Once I had all of these in my head, it became very clear that these same descriptions could be used to portray Vera Rubin’s life itself. It was challenging from the point of view of filling my mind with new ideas. Minds don’t always want to accept new things. But once that was done, it wasn’t challenging at all. The metaphors appeared as if they had always been there.

El Space: How long was the process from writing to publication? Did you have much contact with the illustrator, Aimée Sicuro? Why or why not?
Sandra:
It took over four years from the afternoon I read The New York Times article to the day The Stuff Between the Stars came out. With some nonfiction picture books, the writer and illustrator need to exchange information because the writer discovers photographs and descriptions through private sources not available to the general public. My book Nacho’s Nachos was that way. The Stuff Between the Stars was completely different. There are a number of photographs of Vera Rubin online, and Aimée Sicuro discovered each one of them. She asked for only one thing from me: one of Vera’s equations. She incorporated it into the gorgeous illustration below where Vera stays up working at night as her family sleeps.

Vera Working at Night as Her Family Sleeps

El Space: What did you learn about Vera’s life that inspired you in your own life?
Sandra:
The greatest Vera Rubin lesson is: Choose your own way. I know that seems cliché. But it’s harder than it sounds. It’s easy to fall into thinking that life is just hard, that suffering is part of the journey. I love that Vera said, I don’t like being treated harshly, I don’t like all the negativity. I love that she found a way far from all that and then discovered something bigger than everyone else. I’ll never discover something as immense as dark matter, but by doing things my way, my writing will hopefully be infused with joy. Because it makes me happy. And that is marvelous already.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra:
There’s a book I’m working on right now with an editor that I hope will bring readers the kind of joy I’m talking about. It involves a very big bear and a very little fish who see the world in very different ways.

Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

If you want to learn more about The Stuff Between the Stars, check out this video produced by the Smithsonian. In it, Sandra reads the book and interviews Aimée Sicuro. You’ll also see a fun demonstration by Aimée on painting a galaxy.

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for The Stuff Between the Stars? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

But one of you will look in your mailbox or tablet and go, “Oh my goodness! A free book!” Comment below to be entered in a drawing to receive a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Aimée Sicuro. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. 

Check This Out: The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy

Please join me in welcoming back to the blog the one-and-only Mary Winn Heider. Woot woot!. Mary Winn is here to talk about her latest middle grade novel, The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy, which was published by Little, Brown and Company on March 16.

Jacket Pic MWH     Losers1

Cover designed by Sammy Yuen

Lest you think this is a novel about space exploration (some of you might be thinking of The  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams), click here to read the synopsis. At the end of the interview, I will discuss how you can receive a copy of The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy. Now, let’s get to gabbing with Mary Winn. (P.S. If you are wondering about the extra space between the questions and the answers, I have no idea how to fix it! If you do, please let me know in the comments.)

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?

Mary Winn: I live in Chicago.

I got an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts with you!

I started the pandemic with one aloe plant and now I have eleven. They keep having babies.

I’ve played the flute, the French horn, the bagpipes, and the ukulele (but never the tuba)!

El Space: Please walk us through the inspiration for The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy. Why CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy)? Why the tuba?

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Mary Winn: This book was a real puzzle. A lot of the pieces fell into place in sort of non-linear ways, and the CTE element is one of those. I wrote a scene that became the seed for the story, and that took place on a football field—but it still took me a while to understand how football actually figured into the story. When I eventually realized that a football player was going to figure prominently in the story, I knew that I couldn’t in good conscience write about players without including CTE—and in that moment, I suddenly understood the source of the grief that had been an undercurrent in the story all along.

The tuba was a lot simpler! After years and years of band, I’ve had a lot of time to consider which instruments are the funniest and which ones are the saddest, and in my weathered old opinion, I believe that the tuba has the ability to be both funny and sad better than a lot of your other typical school band instruments (the bassoon as well, which also has a brief cameo). So despite it being an instrument I’d never played, it was the clear choice

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El Space: Without giving any spoilers, what was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

Mary Winn: I’d say the grief component. I was grieving some of my own losses as I wrote it, and there were periods when it was really hard to want to spend time in the story. I discovered that by outlining and giving myself more structure, it wasn’t as impossible—it felt safer, in a way. Still, there were long stretches of time where I felt incredibly disconnected from the story, and those were tough to wrangle with.

El Space: Which character’s perspective seemed the easiest for you to slip into? The most difficult?

Mary Winn: Winston’s perspective was the easiest! Like him, I can be very dramatic in my internal life, and like him, I love playing instruments, but am not particularly good at them. Louise was more difficult, because she’s a hard scientist, and as much as I love dabbling in science, I have never been as serious about it as she is.

El Space: What did writing this novel help you discover about yourself as an author?

Mary Winn: The discovery that outlining could give me bumpers for my bumper car—but not inhibit my exploration of the story—was huge. And since this is my second novel, it was fascinating to discover that my relationship to my own books isn’t necessarily the same from book to book. This one was a lot more complicated.

El Space: Not counting VCFA authors, because there are too many great ones, what author(s) inspire(s) you?

Mary Winn: Oooooh SUCH a tricky question! EVEN not counting VCFA folks, I will inevitably feel like I’ve left off about a thousand writers who were incredibly influential to me. I’m going to take this in a few different directions—the following writers inspire me with their gorgeous writing, but they’ve also influenced me in an additional authorly dimension. Dhonielle Clayton is one of the hardest, smartest working writers out there—and she took the time to help me out in a big way at my first conference when I was a bumbling newb.

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Her generosity in a moment when she was the absolute biggest cheese in the room is something I’ll never forget and that I’ll spend the rest of my career trying to pay forward to other new-to-it, deer-in-the-headlight writers. I’m so, so excited about her upcoming Marvellers series. Mel Beatty, who wrote Heartseeker and the sequel Riverbound, is the queen of dialogue that absolutely crackles, and she worldbuilds like nobody’s business. But she’s also a bookseller, and has a sixth sense about what books to recommend for people—the joy she puts into the world by intuiting what people are ready for is a whole super power. And finally Chad Sell, whose books—Cardboard Kingdom, Doodleville—are so beautiful and full of heart. He’s a genius at building narrative arcs. We’re working on a project together right now, and my process has been so radically improved by the experience of learning his process.

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El Space: What will you work on next?

Mary Winn: The project with Chad is a series based on an idea he had. I’m writing and he’s illustrating—and it’s just a blast. We started about two weeks before the first lockdown, so we’ve been meeting over Zoom, and those meetings have been the highlight of this last year. Working with him has turned out to be such a joy—it feels like together we make one bigger, smarter, funnier brain.

El Space: Thank you for being my guest!

Mary Winn: Thank you, thank you for having me!!!

Looking for The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy? Look at Bookshop, Indiebound, and Barnes & Noble.

Looking for Mary Winn? Then head to her website, Instagram, and Twitter.

But one of you will look up one day to discover a free copy of The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy handed right to you. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced some time next week!

Tuba from clipart.com. Author photo by Popio Stumpf. Book cover photo by L. Marie. Cover designed by Sammy Yuen. Other book covers from Goodreads.

What’s Your Genre of Choice?

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

 

   

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Guest Post: Seasons of Story

Today, I welcome to the blog a good friend who has been here a number of times—the great Lyn Miller-Lachmann. You have the floor now, Lyn!

Spring is my favorite season. I appreciate the buds and blossoms, the longer days, the fresh smell of grass after a rain shower. Yet I don’t feel the urgency to get outside with each warm day, the way I do in the fall. I know there will be many more warm, sunny days. I can afford to waste a few of them.

Writing fiction, though, I have to break the habit of wasting days. I don’t mean procrastinating in my daily word count. As a fan of spring and its endless possibilities, I tend to let my characters dilly-dally, smelling the roses, spending an afternoon on a winery tour in southern Moravia while the bad guys hunt them down.

A tight timeline is a writer’s friend. While many successful novels take place over the course of a calendar year, or in books for kids and teens, a school year (or four), tension rises when events occur within a short period of time. In some cases, there’s a ticking clock—something bad that will happen within a week if the protagonist doesn’t stop it. Long timelines tend to defuse tension, though they’re better suited to quieter novels that prioritize the emotional growth of the protagonist over a triumph over an evil adversary. As any critic of insta-love will tell you, genuine relationships and emotional transformation need time to develop.

I’ve found that my most successful novels take place over the course of one season. Of the middle grade and YA manuscripts I’ve completed—three published, two unpublished, and two due to be published in 2022—two take place in spring, two in fall, one in the northern hemisphere summer but the southern hemisphere winter, one in a six-month period between February and August cutting across three seasons, and one over the course of an entire year. The weakest manuscript, now shelved, takes place over the entire year, and much of it feels like vignettes rather than a story that builds tension to a climax. The other unpublished story awaiting revisions is a YA historical romance that takes place over a few weeks, and I’m coming to realize that I need a longer timeframe for the romance, one that balances the ups and downs of their relationship while taking into account the outside threats that the new couple faces. I will need the entire season, not just a month within it.

Given that I tend to keep the timeframe within a single season, how do I choose the season for each story? In general, I let the school calendar define my window, as school is such an important part of life for children and teenagers. My forthcoming middle grade verse novel Moonwalking, which I’m writing with Zetta Elliott [below], takes place in fall because it’s the start of the school year and my protagonist, JJ, is a newcomer to his neighborhood and school. Faced with the foreclosure of their home on Long Island and JJ’s inability to secure a scholarship at his Catholic school due to poor grades and behavioral issues, his parents move to his grandmother’s basement apartment in Brooklyn just before the school year starts. The novel explores JJ’s adjustment to attending a public school for the first time, one in which there are few white kids like him.

In contrast, my 2015 YA historical novel, Surviving Santiago, is a summer vacation story. While her newly remarried mother goes on honeymoon, Tina journeys to visit her father in Santiago, Chile, where it’s the middle of winter—though a much milder winter than it would be in her Wisconsin home. In Chile she counts down the days until she returns to her friends and her daily routines. Her father’s home is a disorienting and dangerous place on the cusp of transition from dictatorship to democracy, a time of settling scores with people who upheld a violent regime and people like her father who helped bring it down. The countdown in this “upside-down” situation means returning to safety, at least until Tina meets a mysterious boy her ago with so much in common, and then she doesn’t want to leave at all. In Surviving Santiago, the season of the year works on multiple levels, including as a metaphor for the situation in which Tina finds herself.

Other factors can determine a choice of seasons. What sports are in season at the time? That had a lot to do with my choice for Rogue, set in a northeastern US spring with opportunities for mountain biking through muddy trails and swollen creeks. With historical fiction, reality often determines when the story begins. The inciting incident for my forthcoming YA novel, Torch, involves a teenage political activist motivated by actual events that occurred one and two months earlier, in January and February of that year; in March, he would be the third to carry out the same act.

Choosing the season for your setting, and using it as a ticking clock or metaphor can help you structure your story. Your details specific to that season root your story in a time and place and help your setting become a character in itself. If you don’t like that season (and I’m not a fan of either summer or winter), you can give your book a dystopian feel, as I did with Surviving Santiago. Or you can imbue it with the kind of possibility that you feel when the calendar, and the weather, turns to your favorite time of the year.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann writes fiction and nonfiction for teens and translates children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English. She debuted with the award-winning historical novel, Gringolandia, followed by its companion Surviving Santiago, and  has two more historical novels forthcoming in 2022: Moonwalking (co-authored with Zetta Elliott) and Torch. She also wrote the pioneering #ownvoices middle grade novel, Rogue, based on her experience of growing up autistic but not yet diagnosed.

L. Marie here. I just learned of another book project that Lyn is working on—a nonfiction book. Check it out here: https://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/i-get-to-write-another-book/

Author photos courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Photo of Lyn by Joan Heffler. Daffodil photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: A Home for Her Daughter

I’m so pleased to welcome to the blog today the fabulous Jill Weatherholt. Many of you know her and love her. She’s here to talk about her latest Love Inspired novel, A Home for Her Daughter, which was published on August 25.

 

      Here’s the synopsis:

One little girl could change her mom’s mind about love…To give her daughter a brighter future…she must leave the past behind. Inheriting a house, money and a camp is the fresh start Janie Edmiston has been praying for. But the will stipulates Janie must work with her childhood friend—and crush—Drew Brenner, to get the camp running…or lose it all. The newly divorced mother and the widower aren’t looking for love, but sometimes it takes a child to show two broken hearts the way forward…together.

Since Jill is known for her Would you rather . . .? interviews, I decided to use the same format with her.

El Space: Would you rather research and write your next book in Paris or Hawaii?
Jill: Definitely Hawaii. I’m not a city person at all. The ocean is my happy place. The sound of the waves, the smell of the salty air, the gentle breeze, the feel of the sand on my bare feet. I’m ready to go now! I could walk for miles and miles. For me, it’s the perfect place to be still.

El Space: Would you rather have to write a novel next to a room in which a baboon will screech for three minutes every hour for nine hours or write with the knowledge that at some point in the day, an unknown animal will suddenly appear (no advance warning) and brush you with its tail feathers for fifteen minutes?
Jill: I’ll take the baboon. I’m not a fan of surprises, so the idea of something suddenly appearing without notice, would scare me to death. Plus, I’m very ticklish. I could prepare for the baboon’s visits. I like to be prepared.

El Space: Would you rather have coffee or tea for deadline days?
Jill: Coffee for sure! I do enjoy tea, and I drink a lot of it in the winter months to stay warm, but I’ve yet to find one strong enough. I need that jolt. I drink my coffee black and extra strong. Derek has often referred to my cup of joe as “motor oil.”

El Space: You’re celebrating the release of your novel. Would you rather have a slice of cake, a cupcake, or the world’s finest granola bar?
Jill: Granola bar? Seriously? No way! I’m celebrating. Give me the slice of cake and cupcake, but only if it’s chocolate. Anything else is wasted calories.

Thanks, Jill, for putting up with my strange questions!
Looking for Jill? You can find her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Looking for A Home for Her Daughter? (I couldn’t help chuckling at how that question sounded if taken out of context.) Head to Jill’s website for places to purchase. But one of you will find this lovely book in your very own mailbox. Winner to be announced on October 15.

Author photo courtesy of the author. Baboon image from blogspot.com. Hawaii image from Wallpaper Cave. Coffee image from Cup of coffee from clker.com. Granola bar image from the Food Network.