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.

Expert Advice

First, let me announce that this is NOT an April Fool’s joke.

The other day, I thought about expertise and what exactly makes someone an expert. Years of experience? A large social media platform? When you seek advice, do you seek advice from an expert? It really depends on what you need, right? After all, you wouldn’t go to someone for legal advice who was still in law school. But you might go to that law student if you were looking for advice about the application process, since that person successfully completed the process.

When it comes to publishing, I usually look for someone who can offer me more experiential knowledge than I currently have. Though I have many years of experience in publishing, I still don’t consider myself an expert, because no one masters every imaginable genre in publishing. So there’s always something to learn, especially from a fellow writer, an editor, or an agent. Even as an editor, I can only give an opinion to the author about what may or may not need to change—even in line edits.

Awhile ago I pitched a manuscript to a mentorship program where mentorships are offered by published novelists if your pitch is picked. Once chosen (not everyone is) you would then submit your manuscript to the mentor or mentors who would then help you to submit it to an agent. The one I’m referring to is this one. Click to find out more information. That’s one way of seeking expert advice.

What expert advice have you sought recently? Were you satisfied with the result? While you consider your answer, let’s celebrate the winners of the following:

Laura Bruno Lilly’s Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) (Click here for the interview.)

and Sandra Nickel’s Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson (Click here for the interview.)

The winners of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) are

Jennie

Nancy Hatch

The winner of Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson is

S. K. Van Zandt!

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

Covers and photos courtesy of the composer and author. Expert image expertly done by L. Marie.

Check This Out—War of Nytefall: Eulogy

On the eve of Clyde’s dream becoming reality, his life will be torn asunder.

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

As his dream of peace becomes a reality, Clyde faces his darkest challenge.

With the Dawn Fangs’ existence exposed, the time for negotiations has begun. Mortal rulers and the council of Nytefall gather to discuss terms, but chaos is already stirring. It does not take long for Clyde’s dream to become a nightmare as villages are slaughtered by a Dawn Fang who is rumored to be the newly crowned Vampire King. Bodies of friends and enemies pile up as this mysterious imposter reveals why mortals should fear Clyde. Will Clyde’s final adventure see his dream of peace fail before it is realized?

The truth is more horrifying than the Dawn Fangs ever imagined.

*****

Curiosity piqued? Check out this teaser!

The Truth?

Coming to the windmill, Magrus coats his body in a protective shell and carefully climbs to the top of the broken structure. Slowly turning in a circle, he scans the area to get a full sense of the remaining magic. He ignores the auras of the guards, who are sifting through the wreckage to find more bodies. Those who have been located have already been moved to the outskirts where they are being prepared for transport. Peering down the narrow road, he can see an oxen-driven cart is getting closer and sighs at how it will not be enough to collect all of the dead. Magrus considers warning the lieutenant, but he fears it will lead to a long conversation and waste more of his precious time. He turns to where the man is helping to prop up a wall, which has crushed a family of four. Shaking his head, the Zarian climbs down from his perch and uses his staff to help him navigate his way out of town. Nothing catches his interest, but he stops momentarily to send a few more lost souls to the afterlife.

“Let us see what really happened,” Magrus whispers as he reaches the woods.

Turning back to the village, the man plunges his staff into the earth and grips it tightly to prevent himself from falling over. His eyes develop a rainbow shimmer over the gold as he wavers on his feet. Fighting through the looming fatigue, the priest lets his magical vision change from what is in front of him to revealing phantoms of the past. Transparent buildings rise back into place and ghostly figures go about their lives even though he can still sense a little of what is truly there. Magrus scowls at the sight of a black-haired figure landing a few feet away, the puff of dirt revealing an illusion covering the small crater. Within seconds of appearing, the man rushes at the town and begins destroying everything in sight. Using only his fists and feet, he breaks houses and shatters people. The attacker’s speed is almost too much for the Zarian to follow, so he focuses on examining the phantasmal carnage for clues. He spots bite marks on several necks and sees the chickens were devoured in the blink of an eye. Torches and candles are knocked over to start the fires, which explode into an inferno connected to the illusionary plume of smoke. Magrus is not sure what caused the sudden blast since the attacker had been tearing the local blacksmith in half at the time. Deciding he has seen enough, the man freezes the vision before falling to his knees from the exertion. He is able to hold the image for another second before it disappears, but it still gives him a clear view of the rampaging figure.

“This cannot be shared,” Magrus says as he takes out a piece of paper. He mutters a spell to transfer the image of a black-haired man with a corn-shaped necklace from his brain to the parchment. “It would appear that Clyde of Nytefall is not as big a fan of peace as one would believe. Yet, I still see mysteries here. The fires grew without his influence and I see no reason why he would want this place discovered. I have many questions, Lady Zaria, so I cannot purify the Vampire King until I have answers. There has never been a man or monster who has escaped my thorough investigations. This one will be no different. I swear on my goddess’s crimson hair that Clyde and the Dawn Fangs will be judged. Then, if necessary, they will be punished.”

Click here for your copy of the Dawn Fangs’ final battle for
99 cents on Amazon!
Help spread the word by adding it to your Goodreads ‘To Read’ List!

*****

New to War of Nytefall?Grab all 8 Volumes for 99 cents each ($8 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 Clyde’s final adventure by clicking here!

L. Marie here. I’m giving away a copy of War of Nytefall: Eulogy to a commenter. So to enter the drawing, please comment below!

When I Relax, I . . . Work?

Sadly, I did not get a post out last week to announce the winner of Charles Yallowitz’s War of Nytefall: Anarchy. The week got away from me with its awful stress. I’m sure you can relate to stress. One of these days, I’ll have the emotional wherewithal to tell you alllllllllllll about it. For now, let’s discuss a stress management tactic—rest/relaxation. I don’t mean taking a nap, though my mom says that’s her favorite form of stress relief. I’m not much of a napper, because napping subtracts from my nighttime sleep hours. The only time it doesn’t is when I’m really ill.

  

One of my favorite forms of rest/relaxation, besides watching this show (based on the book by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus)

or playing this

is to crochet. I’m currently making an underwater habitat for this little whale as part of a gift.

   

Whale crochet pattern by LittleMagicHouse

Coral, seaweed, and shell patterns by TheYarnConspiracy.

It might seem like a lot of work. And it is. But with every stitch crocheted or felt sewn, that’s minutes of stress off my back. I’m not sure why it works that way for me. Some people do crossword or jigsaw puzzles (looking at you, Jill Weatherholt and Charles Yallowitz); I crochet. I like to keep my hands busy while watching a movie or show on Netflix.

What do you do for relaxation? While you consider that, Marian Beaman, consider yourself a winner of Charles’s latest book!

Thank you to all who commented and faithfully read this weird blog.

Book cover and author photos courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

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.

Saturday Winner and Question from Henry

I popped on with Henry (see below) because I said I would post the winner of Saint Ivy by Laurie Morrison. If you’re confused about that statement, click here to be taken to the interview post.

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So as not to keep you in suspense, the winner is Nicki. Yes, even the people I interview are still eligible to win books. The winner of her book will be announced next week.

Nicki, please comment below to confirm.

Henry 6-11

Henry is here with his best friend—correction, one of his best friends—Gerry. Gerry is a little shy, so please forgive her if she doesn’t answer any questions. Just know that she says hello. But Henry wanted to be here today because he wonders if you have a best friend. He’s a young yeti, so that question is typical of the young. Older yetis might pointedly ignore you because of the human penchant for not believing they exist. Making sure you know they are ignoring you is their way of letting you see how it feels for someone to act like you don’t exist.

I’ll answer the question, Henry.

Henry: Thank you.

When I was a kid, I had a best friend. But we grew apart in our middle school years—a very difficult season of my life.

In high school I had only a few close friends—unlike my brothers. They attended the same high school and were very popular, not only there but at their universities. Though I’ve never been popular, I gained some great friends during my undergraduate and graduate school years.

So since childhood, I haven’t had one specific friend who has filled the role of a best friend. I think collectively, the really great friends I have, many of whom I have known for over a decade (some for decades) are even better than having just one best friend.

What about you? Do you have a best friend or best friends?

Laurie Morrison author photo and book cover courtesy of Laurie Morrison. Henry photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: When in Vanuatu

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Photo by LifeTouch

Today, I’m pleased to welcome back to the blog the fabulous Nicki Chen, who is here to talk about her sophomore novel, When in Vanuatu, published in April 2021 by She Writes Press! Oh yeah!

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El Space: What inspired you to write this book?
Nicki: It may seem strange to write a novel inspired by a place, but when we moved to Vanuatu, I was immediately charmed by the country. It was a storybook place. Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Somerset Maugham all wrote stories about the South Seas. James Michener was stationed there when he wrote the story that became South Pacific, the musical and the movie.

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Coincidentally, only months before we moved to Vanuatu, I was accepted into the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, motivation enough for me to consider my surroundings as bursting with stories and mystery.

El Space: How did you separate your real-life experiences from your fictional characters’ experiences?
Nicki: I like to keep the setting real and everything else fictional. I had very few photos to rely on for the setting. Before cell phones, I didn’t take many pictures. I did keep a journal, though. I filled it with descriptions of the setting, especially of Vanuatu, a place that was so new and fascinating to me.

Vanuatu13 001

Photo by Nicki Chen

My protagonist, Diana, was her own person with her own history, hopes, and problems. She and I did have in common the experience of being expatriates, but every expat’s life is different from that of every other. The December 1989 coup attempt against Philippine president, Cory Aquino, was something else we had in common. Everyone who lived in Manila at that time shared that experience. It wasn’t the first coup attempt, but it was the most serious.

El Space: What did the writing of this novel teach you about your growth as a novelist?
Nicki: When in Vanuatu is so totally different from my first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, that I’m not sure I can compare the experiences as a way to see my growth. I suppose I’m becoming more confident, more able to recognize what’s working and what isn’t.

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El Space: What excites you the most as you think of readers diving into your novel? Them seeing the setting through your eye? Meeting your characters? Other?
Nicki: We all like to share. We point out pretty flowers and snow-capped mountains. We hold up photos of our grandchildren. So yes, I am excited to share my novel, both the parts of it that are based on places I’ve been and sights I’ve seen and the fictional characters that have come to seem real to me after spending so many months (years) with them. I hope readers will empathize with my characters and enjoy living for a while in Diana’s skin.

El Space: What authors inspire you?
Nicki: Any talented author is an inspiration. Some of my current favorites: Liane Moriarty, Margaret Atwood, Tana French, Kristen Hannah, Ian McEwan, Jess Walter, Joyce Carol Oates, and Salman Rushdie.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Nicki: I’m working on a collection of short stories now. Once again, they’re set in the South Pacific. It’s a place teeming with stories and the promise of more.

Thank you, Nicki, for being my guest!

Looking for Nicki? Look here:

Website: http://nickichenwrites.com/wordpress/ 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NickiChenAuthor  
Twitter: https://twitter.com/NickiChenAuthor

Looking for When in Vanuatu? Look here:

Amazon
B&N
Target

Meanwhile, enjoy this excerpt!

Ever since Fiji she’d been gazing out at the ocean’s pretty blue surface as though that were all there was to it. She hadn’t given a thought to the real ocean, that deep, deep watery world below her. All those creatures–sharks and turtles, rays and whales and spiky sea urchins–all of them hidden from view. The thought of that huge mysterious world sent a chill up her spine.

Suddenly the plane’s engines changed pitch. Oh my god, she thought,  we’re almost there. Almost there, and Vanuatu was as much a mystery to her as was the ocean. Somehow in her rush to move, her single-minded focus on this one solution to her problem, she’d neglected to imagine what it would actually feel like to live on a remote little island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. She gripped her armrests and stared at the seat in front of her.

“What?” Jay folded a page and put his book away.

“Nothing.”

He leaned across her lap. “Look. I see something.”

And there it was, a strip of turquoise beyond the ocean’s monotonous blue, surf splashing white on a beach, a fringe of green trees. Their plane dropped lower until they were skimming over a plantation of shiny green coconut palms. Then they were on top of the runway, dusty bushes along the side, a few drying puddles. The plane settled onto a blanket of air, resting for a moment in that zone a few feet from the ground where you seem to be speeding up before you touch down, holding your breath before you land.

“Well, honey,” Jay said, patting her knee as the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac. “Welcome to paradise.”

Like that? Comment below to be entered in the drawing to receive a free copy of this book. One winner will be chosen next week.

Book cover, author photo, and Vanuatu photo courtesy of Nicki Chen. Author photo by LifeTouch. Vanuatu photo taken by Nicki Chen. Other book covers from Goodreads.

Check This Out—The Debut of Saint Ivy: Kind at All Costs

Awhile back I featured the cover for Saint Ivy by the awesome Laurie Morrison. But Saint Ivy, published by Abrams, has now debuted, so here is Laurie back on the blog. Wooooooot! Though I have already given away a copy of this book, one of you will be given another copy. But first, let’s talk to Laurie. Oh, before I forget, Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe.

Laurie-Morrison-Headshot-1-683x1024 Saint-Ivy_CV-1-694x1024

El Space: This book started as a proposal. What was that process like? How much of the book did you submit with your proposal? How long did writing the rest of the book then take?
Laurie: My agent and I submitted about 50 pages plus a very detailed synopsis for the proposal. I had almost a year to finish the initial draft after it sold, and that felt like a lot of lead time. . . but I ended up needing every bit of it! Despite my detailed synopsis, I got pretty stuck on the second half of the book. It was stressful to know the book was under contract when I wasn’t sure if I’d ever achieve my vision for it, but now I’m grateful that my deadline forced me to keep going because I’m glad this book exists!

Book-Proposal-Template

El Space: How is Ivy like you? Different than you?
Laurie: Ivy is a whole lot like me. Her family situation is different than mine was and I was a little sportier and more focused on academics at her age than she is, but I’ve gone through some similar “what makes me special” soul-searching at different points, and I really, really relate to all the ways she struggles to be as kind to herself as she is to other people.

El Space: You taught middle grade for years. What do you think some of your former students would say about Ivy and her friends?
Laurie: That’s a great question. As a teacher, I was struck by the pressure many of my students felt to have a “thing”—one main talent or interest that made them stand out. And I saw that sometimes they felt like middle school was “too late” to pursue a new sport or hobby since there were other people who had already been doing it for so long, or there was this expectation that you “should” pursue the things that you excel at or have been doing forever, regardless of how much you enjoy them. I also noticed the pressure many girls felt to be nice and good all the time. Those pressures are a LOT for kids to manage, and I explored all of them in some way in this book. So I hope my former students would relate to what Ivy and her friends go through and would say that Ivy’s experiences helped them reflect on some of their own.

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El Space: How do you think your book can help kids who are still processing the pandemic and its life-altering effects?
Laurie: At its core, Saint Ivy is a book about self-compassion. During the pandemic, kids have had to manage incredibly difficult stuff. There are a lot of “good,” cooperative, considerate kids who are struggling right now but don’t think they deserve to dwell on their tough feelings because other people have things worse. This is a story about embracing the complicated, messy emotions we sometimes push away or think we’re not “entitled to.” I hope Ivy’s journey toward being kinder to herself helps kids figure out how they can be kinder to themselves, and I hope it encourages kids to open up and ask for help when they need it.

El Space: As I mentioned to another of our classmates, not counting VCFA authors since there are too many great ones, which author or authors inspire(s) you? Why?
Laurie: There are still so many! I’ll start with two who directly impacted Saint Ivy. Brigit Young writes nuanced, character-driven page turners, and her debut, Worth a Thousand Words, gave me the idea to turn Ivy’s story into a mystery. Melissa Sarno writes beautiful, lyrical, “lean” (a.k.a. short) middle grade novels, and I’ve come to rely on her as a reader because she’s so good at identifying the places in my work where I’ve overwritten and need to pare back. But I could go on and on! Erin Entrada Kelly, Lisa Graff, Tae Keller, Paula Chase, Barbara Dee—there are so many incredible, inspiring authors writing middle grade right now.

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El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m about to start line edits for my next upper middle grade novel Coming Up Short, which is coming out next spring. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old softball star named Bea who self-destructs on the field during the biggest game of her life after a very public scandal involving her dad. She goes away to Gray Island (the setting from my last book Up for Air!) to visit her estranged aunt and attend a softball camp where she’s determined to fix her throw to first base and, hopefully, her family. I’m excited to share more about that one soon!

Thank you, Laurie, for being my guest!

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

Looking for Saint Ivy? Check out Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, Indiebound, and Children’s Book World, Amazon, and your local bookstore, where you can also find these amazing books by Laurie:

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You can also return here next week to see who has been chosen to be receive a free copy of Saint Ivy! Comment below to be entered in the drawing.

Author photo and Ivy cover courtesy of the author. Other book covers from Goodreads. Book proposal image from somewhere online. Pressure image from JoyReactor.com.

Check This Out: The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Random squirrel meme:

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

Adaptations

I recently watched and loved Enola Holmes, a Netflix original movie starring Millie Bobby Brown in the title role.

What’s unusual about this, at least for me, is that I hadn’t read even one of the books by Nancy Springer prior to watching it. (Not sure how I missed reading the first book at least when it debuted.) So I can’t say if the movie is a faithful adaptation or not. But watching it made me want to read the books. It had a great cast, an exciting plot, and decent production values.

  

Usually, if a film is adapted from on a MG or YA book or series, more than likely, I would have read the book first. Twilight? Check. The Fault in Our Stars? Check. Harry Potter? Duh. Hunger Games? C’mon. You’re not even trying.

  

One of my pet peeves is when the movie adaptation is so far removed from the source material that I wind up questioning why the film company optioned the rights in the first place. Why bother if you plan to completely change it? And I know: sometimes changes are made because the producers think new fans won’t care, since they probably didn’t read the book in the first place. If that’s the case, at least make it good.

When I think of my favorite adaptations, my go-tos are LoTR and the Harry Potter franchise. I also love Howl’s Moving Castle, though it is very different from Diana Wynne Jones’s classic novel. But since it is a Miyazaki film, I couldn’t help loving it.

  

I won’t go into my least favorites, because that would I don’t want to add a negative rant to this post. I’ll say this much: both begin with the letter E. I shudder every time I think of them.

What’s your favorite adaptation? While you think of that, I’ll move on to the winner of A Home for Her Daughter by Jill Weatherholt.

    

The winner is Ginger!

Ginger, please comment to confirm! Expect a signed copy of A Home for Her Daughter to be sent to you.

Thank you so much to everyone who commented!

Enola Holmes poster from vitalthrills.com. Deathly Hallows Part 1 poster from collider.com. Return of the King poster from goldposter.com. TFIOS poster from WordPress.com. Enola Holmes series covers from Goodreads. Other photo by L. Marie.