What Is My Song This Season?

Anyone else feeling the timey-wimey-wibbly-wobblyness*** of the passing days? Hours seem like seconds. And if I don’t check my calendar, I lose track of days. (Feels like tomorrow already.) Anyway. . . .

Whenever we’re not bombarded with snow in my area (which has happened a few times lately), and the temperature is reasonably warm, I hear birdsong throughout the day. Lately, the various songs and sounds of birds have seemed so plentiful and joyous. Which got me to wondering , ..

Can you identify the bird based on each call? (Pretty sure you can.)

1.

2.

3.

(For answers, check the **** below.)

Some bird calls are more recognizable than others. I’ve enjoyed hearing the birds’ songs and conversations. Such normal, happy sounds. Maybe they’re happy, not only for spring and mating season, but because they don’t have to think about viruses or masks or long wait times at the grocery store.

But hearing them caused me to wonder what my song is in this season. Some days, it is the sound of irritation, frustration, and fear, like raucous notes banged on a piano. My inner territory is too narrowed by circumstances, my song too one note. I want to change the tune, even if circumstances don’t change anytime soon. The best way I know how is to pray and to look outward instead of inward, to lighten someone else’s load if I know how, or brighten someone’s day. One way I can do the latter is to give away stuff.

With that in mind, onto the winner of The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. Go here for the interview.

       

And that winner, according to the random number generator is Nancy Hatch!

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

Sparrow from Orange Free Sounds. Loon sound from Archive.org. Robin call from SoundBible.com. cloudcentrics.com. Bird silhouette from clipart-library.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

***If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you recognize this.
**** The sounds are (in order) Robin, loon, sparrow

Check This Out: The Edge of Anything

With me on the blog today is another of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA: Nora Shalaway Carpenter. You might remember her from this post. She’s here to talk about her young adult novel, The Edge of Anything, which debuted on March 24. It was published by Running Press Teens/Hachette Book Group. Click here for the synopsis.

  

Nora is represented by Victoria Arms Wells of Wells Arms Literary in association with HG Literary. Now let’s talk to Nora!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1. My favorite food is watermelon.
2. I am a certified yoga teacher.
3. My favorite imaginary creature is a phoenix.
4. My hair is often blue.

 

El Space: The Edge of Anything is very powerful and moving. How did it come to be? What came first—the characters or the plot?
Nora: Thank you so much, Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The characters definitely came first. I’ve always wanted to write a volleyball character because I played volleyball growing up and it was a huge part of my identity. However, I never found any books about teen volleyball players while I was growing up, and I wanted to change that. That’s how Sage got her start.

Len evolved because I wanted to write a character who was unknowingly suffering a mental health crisis. This happened to me in early adulthood and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced. I had no idea what was happening, and even though I had a supportive spouse and good health insurance, we had an incredibly tough time not only figuring out what was happening, but then finding the right care. I remember thinking I was going to die. I also remember feeling so incredibly alone, like no one else had ever experienced anything like what I was going through. I later found out that wasn’t true, of course, but there’s so much stigma and misinformation about mental health conditions—and the people who suffer from them—that many people don’t talk about it. I wanted to open a conversation. The Edge of Anything is the book I wish I’d had during that awful time in my life, a time when I doubted if things could ever get better. I wanted to create a book that showed a character struggling authentically and that depicted the hidden internal battles a person goes through daily. Most importantly—I wanted to show that Len—like all real people struggling with mental health—is so much more than this condition that is terrorizing her brain. She is a regular person, worthy of love and respect and dignity.

El Space: What were the challenges of bringing personal issues to light?
Nora: I talk about this a bit in the author’s note, but the biggest challenge was dealing with any lingering shame I had about my own experience with severe OCD. Over the years, I found that the more I talked about having OCD, the more people connected with me about it and offered their own experiences, and the less shame I felt. Still, writing a book is a whole different level of opening up. But I wanted to. Communication can be life saving when it comes to mental health conditions, and if my story could help someone, then I wanted it out there. It’s also important to note, though, that The Edge of Anything is not autobiographical. I used my own emotional experiences to inform Len’s, but the story is fictional.

El Space: Why was the setting important to you?
Nora: Place always plays a big role in my stories. A number of important scenes in The Edge of Anything take place in the forest surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it was super important that the book be set somewhere where the characters had easy access to such a place. There are also hiking scenes, and as I live in the North Carolina mountains, I drew on my own experiences hiking the area.

Blue Ridge Parkway

El Space: I love the emphasis on female friendship. Please tell us why that was valuable to you.
Nora: I’ve always been fascinated with deep friendships—why they form and how they last. Female friendships have been incredibly important in my own life, and so I wanted to really dig into what puts one of these life-changing friendships on a different level than an average friendship. How is that bond established?

El Space: As you wrote your novel, what craft advice, if any, helped you along the way?
Nora: I struggle with perfectionism, which is basically the antidote to productive writing, so while writing The Edge of Anything I adhered to the mantra “write shitty.” It might sound silly, but my writing flows much better if I have permission to write badly at first. I even have a sticky note on my laptop that literally says, Write shitty, Nora. It makes me laugh, and it also makes writing much more manageable for me. I want my work to end up beautiful and cohesive, of course, but if you set out trying to write a finished product from scratch, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

First drafts are always bad, unless you’re the kind of writer that revises while you write, which can take a long time. But when I see my note to myself, I relax, because the pressure is off. I know I can write shitty, and so the words start flowing. Then, after I get the story out on the page, I can go back and see what themes my unconscious has put into the book, and start to tease those out. I can revise and re-vision and make the words beautiful. That mantra got me through drafting the book, and I recommend it to writers constantly. One of the biggest challenges for many writers, I think, is getting to the end of a draft when you know there are lots of things you want to fix in the beginning and middle. Of course there are and there’s time for that. But you have to get to the end so you can see the whole picture.

El Space: Did you read YA books growing up? How do you feel being part of the community of YA authors now?
Nora: This is an interesting question because there weren’t that many books designated as YA when I was growing up. At least I didn’t know they had that designation if they did. I feel like I jumped pretty quickly from reading the Berenstain Bears to middle grades like Tuck Everlasting and Bridge to Terabithia and then Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451. I do remember reading The Catcher in the Rye and freaking loving it. In fact, I’m a little afraid to reread it as an adult because I’m worried I won’t enjoy it as much. It’s truly a life-long dream come true to be part of the author community now.

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Nora: Other books and nature. Whenever I’m feeling creatively stifled, I always start reading a ton and I spend as much time as I can outside and away from my phone and social media. For me, there is nothing like soaking up great books and reconnecting with the earth to get those creative juices flowing.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: I’m currently writing another contemporary YA. This one is set is rural West Virginia. But my next book is a mixed genre anthology called Rural Voices: 15 authors Challenge Stereotypes of Small-Town America, out October 13, 2020 from Candlewick Press.

El Space: Thanks, Nora, for being my guest!
Nora: Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Linda!

Looking for Nora? Click below:

            .

Looking for The Edge of Anything? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe. Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Nora’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed next week sometime.

 

In these days of social distancing, the book club had to meet on Zoom. But they were on the same page when both said they wished the characters in The Edge of Anything were friends of theirs.

The Edge of Anything book cover and author photo courtesy of the author. Chip Bryan took the photo. Cover illustration: Fabio Consoli. Cover design by Frances J. Soo Ping Chow. Other book covers from Goodreads. Volleyball from cliparts.co. Blue Ridge Parkway map from blueridgeparkway.org. Watermelon image from download.com. Yoga clipart from 101clipart.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out—War of Nytefall: Eradication

Is the Orb of Durag the key to Clyde and the Dawn Fangs destruction?

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

As Dawn Fang vampires are found dead across Windemere, their infamous leader will remember what it is to be afraid.

With the truce between Nyte and Nytefall nearing its end, an old enemy has emerged to rekindle the vampires’ most ancient feud. A Duragian priest is on the move and he is wielding a weapon that can depower and kill Dawn Fangs. This follower of the Sun God has claimed enough victims that Lord Tempest wants the weapon for himself and Clyde is beginning to worry that his fledgling kingdom is in danger of extinction. When it becomes clear that the mysterious relic and Clyde’s transformation into the first Dawn Fang are connected, he will be forced to face a past that he can barely remember.

What can Clyde do to defend his people, his life, and the child he does not know is on the way from the terrifying Fist of Durag?

Excerpt: Stirring

The thick darkness that greets Clyde’s eyes is suffocating and disturbingly familiar. A disconcerting numbness flows along his skin and plunges all of his senses into a mental fog. He groans as he sits up and touches the warm ground beneath him, his fingers finding it rough and jagged. The memory of being in Gregorio’s lair strikes his mind like a perfectly aimed arrow and he tries to stand up. A dull ache courses through his legs and forces him to remain on the floor, which trembles for a brief moment. Picking up a stone, he can feel the faint carving of half a sun with a grinning face. With a yawn, the vampire throws the rock away and waits for it to land, but the sound of it bouncing takes several minutes to reach his ears. Clyde scowls when the noise ends with a strange thud that reminds him of a fist punching flesh. The distant gurgling of a stream draws his attention to the right and he squints at a strange form that is gradually taking shape in the gloom. Finding the energy to rise, he gets to his feet and wipes the dirt from his body, which he learns is unclothed. The Dawn Fang’s senses steadily return to their full strength and he realizes that his vision has been blocked by his own hair. Luscious and tangled tresses cascade from his head to cover everything from his scalp to his elbows. Wrapping all of the strands around his left hand, he uses his right to slice them off and is about to use his fingers like scissors when his body locks.

The ruins of the Duragian temple are laid out before Clyde, their details making it clear that they are the genuine articles. Bodies of civilians and priests are strewn about the area, all of them having been drained of blood. A white-bricked wall has been marked with scratches that the vampire knows are a foolish attempt to keep track of time, which he abandoned after he had run out of prey. Far in the distance, he can see the tower where he was once held prisoner, its top seven floors having snapped off as it sunk. Light pulses from the enormous structure to drive the cavern’s darkness into the corners. Smaller shrines help to illuminate the streets, which are littered with debris. The smell of rotting meat is thick in the air, the stench emanating from the abandoned food and corpses. Not far away, the vampire sees a cleared area with a burn mark in its center. It takes him a moment to recognize the battered ruins of the execution square, its right side having slumped into a sinkhole.

A pang of doubt and anxiety races through Clyde’s mind as he recalls getting struck by the fake Fists of Durag. He begins to walk through the ruins in search of signs that he is being tricked, but it becomes clear that he is not trapped within an illusion. All attempts to see through the spell are met with failure, which feeds a primal rage in the pit of his soul. Coming to a broken fountain, he kneels and scoops up a handful of stagnant water to drink. The foul liquid makes his tongue burn and his stomach twists to the point where he has to vomit in order to avoid passing out. Focused on his own body, Clyde releases his severed hair when he realizes that his heart is no longer beating. Jamming a finger between his ribs, he touches the organ to find it wrinkled and still. With a growl, he swings his fist at the nearest building only to find that he cannot knock the whole structure over. The vampire stares at the hole in the wall and flexes his fingers, which make the gestures for a claw-growing spell. He curses loudly when he feels his nails lengthen and harden into natural blades.

“What in all of Windemere is going on?” Clyde asks.

Get War of Nytefall: Eradication on Amazon for $2.99!
Add it to your Goodreads To-Read Lists!

*****

Start the adventure from the beginning with War of Nytefall: Loyalty!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

Then, follow the vampire-filled fun with War of Nytefall: Lost!

Cover art by Alison Hunt

Afterwards, continue the action-packed journey with War of Nytefall: Rivalry!

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

All 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
Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cya

L. Marie here. I’m giving away a copy of this book. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week!

Nostalgia

Happy Martin Luther King Day! He had a dream. What’s yours? As you think about that, I’ll move on.

Lately, characters from past television series have been making the news because of their return to the silver screen. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, below). Lizzie McGuire. The cast of Saved by the Bell and Full House. Not to mention MacGuyver, in a show rebooted awhile ago. I’m just waiting for an announcement about a Columbo reboot, though I can’t imagine the show without the late, great Peter Falk.

Nostalgia has been the catalyst for the return of many film franchises, shows, toys, and candy. This is probably why you can see so many old favorites from the past (toys, candy, TV shows on DVD) at the gift shops of restaurants like Cracker Barrel or specialty shops.

As I read Shari Swanson’s picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), which we discuss here, I felt a sense of nostalgia watching young Abe exploring the woods near his home. He had a lot more freedom than most kids his age do nowadays. So did I. When I was eight (a year older than Abe is in the story) and was given my first bike, I would tell Mom, “I’m off,” and would be gone for hours, riding around the neighborhood. Even with T-Rexes still roaming the earth back then (totally dating myself), I had the freedom to go off with just a friend who was my age.

    

Lest you think, What awful parents, this was the norm back then. Starting in kindergarten, my best friend and I walked to school without hovering parents. And I lived in a neighborhood in Chicago!

My parents had taught my brothers and me to always look both ways while crossing the street, as well as teaching us “Stranger Danger” stuff, like never talk to strangers or accept anything from them. Even with all of that freedom, I survived childhood. (Spoiler alert in case you wondered.)

Nowadays parents would probably be arrested for the amount of freedom my parents and Abe’s parents allowed kids. Sadly, we live in a world where many parents have to go the extra mile to keep their children safe. I hardly ever see kids out by themselves, with the exception of my neighbors’ kids. But I know their parents are just a shout away.

So I’m nostalgic for the times when I was free to roam without fear. If I had a dream, in the vein of Martin Luther King, Jr., my dream would be for a world in which children could do the same.

The winner of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln is Lyn!

Lyn, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented on the interview post.

What makes you feel nostalgic?

Patrick Stewart photo from The Daily Telegraph. Dream image from clipart-library.com. Martin Luther King, Jr. image from wallpapersin4k.org. Candy from 4imprint.com.

Check This Out: Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

With me on the blog today is the fabulous Shari Swanson (another great Secret Gardener classmate; for others, click here and here), who is here to talk about her picture book, Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, which was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins and debuts today, people! Woot!

     

Shari is represented by John Rudolph. After Shari and I chat, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway of this very book. Now, let’s talk to Shari!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Shari: My favorite color is periwinkle. Actually, periwinkle is a favorite word, too. Perhaps I’ll write a book about Mr. Perry Winkle and his Phantasmagoric Adventures Through Color. (Dibs. 😀)


• I love games, all sorts—puzzles, mysteries, board games, sports, hiding pictures, and treasure hunting.
• I have a beloved dog named Honey, not, surprisingly, named after Abraham Lincoln’s dog.
• I love words—etymologies, derivations, roots, cadence, sound, rhyme—everything about words. When I was in high school, I read All About Words by Maxwell Nurnberg and Morris Rosenblum while suntanning on the beach. One of my favorite courses in college was linguistics.

El Space: How did you come to write this picture book about a dog and Abraham Lincoln? How long was the process of writing the book?
Shari: When I was teaching middle school literature early this millennia, we read about Abraham Lincoln’s early years from an excerpt of Russell Freedman’s book on Lincoln. It was fascinating. I hadn’t ever heard about Lincoln’s Kentucky years and wanted to know more. I thought perhaps children would like to read about Lincoln when he was their age. I had the pleasure of meeting the late Russell Freedman at an SCBWI conference in 2006 and told him how much I wanted to write a picture book expanding on those details from his book. With tears in his eyes, he encouraged me and told me what a wonderful picture book that would be. When I was deep in that research, I discovered Honey. Honey had saved Lincoln’s life! What would the world be like if we hadn’t had Abraham Lincoln? Honey was an unknown hero. Honey, I thought, would make a wonderful picture book. And then I set off to write that story. The first draft of my book was written when I was doing the picture book semester at VCFA, back in 2011. I sold it in 2016, and now it is finally in the world!

El Space: How did you get started writing picture books?
Shari: I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this. I’ve always loved picture books. But I didn’t always understand that I could write them. Somewhere along the line, I realized that you don’t have to be a master artist to write a picture book, and that made me think maybe I could try it. I took a course in picture books at UCLA Extension way back in the early 1990s, I think, so it’s been a lifelong dream. I enrolled in the picture book semester when I was at VCFA with Julie Larios, and a workshop just prior to that with Julie and Uma Krishnaswami. That six months was maybe my favorite in my entire education as it was so filled with play and words and sheer delight.

El Space: How much input did you have with the illustrator? What was your reaction to seeing the illustrations?
Shari: Every picture book author/illustrator interaction is probably different. My editor, Maria Barbo at HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen books, was wonderful at taking my thoughts and opinions into account at each stage of the process. First, she asked me if I had an illustrator in mind to suggest. That inquiry sent me on a delightful tour through bookstores and libraries, trying to find artists that had the right feel for Honey. When she suggested Chuck Groenink, she sent me links to his portfolio. [Click here for a post about Chuck and his process on another picture book.] We both loved his work, especially his use of light in dark scenes, a skill that would be important for the cavern scenes in Honey. Seeing Chuck’s first drafts for Honey was a highlight of my life. Right there in my hands was this charming beautifully-realized art bringing my words to life. As we moved forward, I had the ability at every stage to offer my thoughts. One suggestion that I am thrilled Chuck incorporated was adding more detail to the forest scenes. I wanted the readers to feel just how distracting the woods were, with all the sounds and animals, and have the reader be literally distracted by the detail on the page just as young Abe was distracted on his journey.

El Space: What picture books have inspired you as a kid? As an adult?
Shari: As a child, I loved Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Are You My Mother, by P. D. Eastman, and all things Dr. Seuss. As an adult, I love picture books that are poetic and musical; those that have wildly creative art, perhaps looking at things from unusual perspectives, and those that celebrate characters who are not stereotypic.

     

El Space: Any advice for would-be picture book writers? What do you think a twenty-first century kid needs to see in a picture book?
Shari: My best advice it to read your work out loud. Notice where the pauses and awkward phrasings are so you can fix them. I also think it is hugely important to make a picture book dummy, eight sheets of paper folded in half to make 32 pages, and block out your story. Where are the breaks? Are there interesting page turns? Is there something that is illustratible on each page? Finally, don’t give up. Take the time to create as often as you can. The joy is in the journey. I’m not sure what a modern kid needs to see in a picture book. I hope in Honey, a modern reader can both identify with young Abe—his distractedness, his love for animals, his desire to help—and think about the differences, too, like how Abe walked miles alone through a wild dangerous forest, so that the book is both timeless and grounded in its time.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Shari: I have several more works in progress, but the one getting my immediate attention is a non-fiction picture book, another heartwarming story of an animal/human interaction, this one from WWII.

Thanks, Shari, for being my guest!

Looking for Shari? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Looking for Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

One of you will receive a copy of Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed January 20, 2020.

The first meeting of the picture book club almost ended in a fistfight. While Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal agreed that Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln, is a great book, they disagreed on the refreshments, or the lack thereof. “It was your job to bring tea with honey for us to share!” the Squeezamal grumbled, Lazy Buns having only remembered to bring herself a cup of coffee.

Author photo by Christie Lane Photography. Book covers, with the exception of Shari’s book, are from Goodreads. Periwinkle flower from Wikipedia. Book storyboard from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

The Gift of Story


When I was a kid, I learned to value stories. My parents read books to me at bedtime, which made me want to read stories for myself. Many of the stories they read were fairy tales or fantastical adventures written by Dr Seuss. As soon as I learned to read, I read just about everything—fiction and nonfiction. I had (and still have) an insatiable curiosity for the stories of others. Sharing stories is the main reason why I love to give books away.

  

I love being taken on an adventure through the pages of a book. So many aspects of life are stressful these days, so I value more and more the stories I read and the characters I grow to care about. My favorite time of day is the time I can spend with a book, watching the workaday world fade away beyond the edges of the pages in front of me.

So without further ado, here are the winners of the books for the Christmas giveaways, which were announced in this post and this one:

The winner of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries is Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Up for Air is Laura Bruno Lilly!


The winner of The Art of Breaking Things Is Nicki!


The winner of A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is Marian!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Happy reading! And thank you to all who commented!

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Book stack from blogs.mtu.edu. Books covers (with the exception of those being given away) from Goodreads.

Check This Out: Love, God, and Mexican Pastries

With me on the blog today, for the first of two holiday giveaways (’tis the season) is one of my Secret Gardener VCFA classmates, the wonderful Karen Ripley. Karen is here to talk about her recently released young adult novel, Love, God, and Mexican Pastries, a Gallina Roja publication. You can find the synopsis here.

   

One of you will get a copy of Karen’s book. But we’ll discuss that later. Let’s talk to Karen!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Karen: (1) I had to fill the Santa cookie jar with old, leftover Halloween candy because I ate all the cookies.


(2) Yesterday, I went to an exercise class with my t-shirt on inside out.
(3) My kindergarten report card says, “Karen is great at napping.”
(4) My sixteen-year-old daughter and I goof off by practicing kickboxing in the kitchen when we’re making dinner.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this young adult novel? Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Karen: ***BIG spoiler alert. Don’t read this if you are like me and don’t want to know the ending of a book before you read it.*** This novel is based on a very personal experience. Many years ago my young niece became pregnant and decided to place her baby for adoption. We’re good friends and I watched in awe at her faith as she courageously went through all heartbreaking steps and placed her beautiful daughter with a loving family. I asked myself over and over, how could someone make such a sacrifice? I don’t know if I ever answered that question, but this novel is me searching for that answer.

El Space: Your novel has gone through quite a metamorphosis. I’m so glad you hung in there with Melina [the main character]. How did critiques and your editor help you shape the story?
Karen: When I started writing, I read and heard advice such as trust your reader and make sure your character is likable. I thought that along with cutting out the adverbs, I was doing all of that. But when my critique group pointed out scenes that weren’t moving the story along and my editor said my character was starting to bug her, that’s when the real revision started. It was a lot of serious work but it also made me really proud of my writing.

El Space: How did the characters change as the story developed?
Karen: Probably the biggest change for me was coming to really love my characters. Starting the book, I knew some characters were going to do some rotten things and in many of my drafts, some of the characters, maybe all of them, felt more caricature-like than real. It wasn’t until I got to know their back story completely that I could understand them and I saw them develop. Recently, my daughter was reading my book, and said, “I’m so furious at Marcus right now.” And my first thoughts were, He’s really a good guy who’s just messed up.

El Space: What were the challenges of writing this novel?
Karen: Probably the biggest challenge was and is overcoming my own doubts and fears. I started this novel over a decade ago. I’ve needed to learn a lot about writing and it’s taken a long time. It’s so easy to doubt your abilities when it takes years and years to get a novel out. I put the manuscript aside for a solid year and worked on another novel after a very painful face-to-face rejection with an agent. Looking back, a year off was exactly what I needed to be able to come to the story with new eyes; but I really struggled with feeling like a failure.

El Space: How did you select the title?
Karen: Ha! 😄 Really, it was like the whole writing process, trial and error, critiquing, revision. I tried lots of cheesy titles such as: Love Story and The Right Forever. After bunches of cheese, I threw out Love, God, and Mexican Pastries almost as a joke. My daughter really liked it, my editor loved it, and that’s how it came to be.

El Space: Who designed the cover? How did you feel about it when you first saw it?
Karen: Shawnda Craig was the cover designer, and she’s amazing. As an indie author it’s different than traditional publishing where you usually don’t get to consult with the cover designer, but Shawnda and I chatted about different concepts and went through several drafts. When she sent me two covers I loved, it felt like seeing the first snowfall of the year.

El Space: What are you hoping teens or other readers will take away after reading your novel?
Karen: I’d love readers to finish the book with a feeling of hope and a joy in family.

El Space: What books have inspired you lately?
Karen: I’m reading about book marketing lately. Make a Killing on Kindle by Michael Alvear has a lot of great advice for indie authors. I enjoy reading to my grandson, though he’s 18 months and only sits still for a couple of pages. I love reading Long Ago, on a Silent Night by Julie Berry to him. And every night I try to read something beautiful, and lately it’s been The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan.

   

El Space: What will you work on next?
Karen: I’ve got a middle-grade story about a spunky girl who goes to battle with her bus driver. Another middle-grade story about a young cowboy who competes in the rodeo is in a rough-draft state. Also, I’ve done a little free writing on another YA novel but so far that’s just mush.

Thanks, Karen, for being my guest!

Looking for Karen? You can find her here. Looking for Love, God, and Mexican Pastries? (Or all three in a different context?) Click here.

One of you will be sent a copy of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries simply because you commented. Winner to be announced after next week’s giveaway.

Katie insists that you read this book, because it’s the best book ever and you should also feel that way, ’cause she is always real with people and that’s how she feels.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photo by Sara Brewer. Love, God, and Mexican Pastries cover courtesy of the author. Other book covers from Goodreads. Santa cookie jar from ebay. Kickboxing image from clipart-library. Failure sign from teachertoolkit.me. Other photo by L. Marie. Katie is one of the Capsule Chix, a product of Moose Toys.

Hidden Figures

After reading the title of this post, you’re probably thinking of the 2016 movie of the same name. But I’m thinking of this person.

Back in the day, I was really into the Waldo books. If you don’t know what those are, they are picture books in which the reader is tasked with finding Waldo, a character hidden within a crowded scene.

Like this one.

Not as easy as it sounds. How about you? Have you see the Waldo books? Were you ever a fan?

Though I knew this series was the creation of London illustrator Martin Handford (left) back in the 80s, I didn’t realize the character was originally called Wally in the UK until I looked for images for this post. The name had been changed when the books were published in the U.S. The character also has different names in other countries where the books are found.

I wondered why finding this character (and others, like Wenda, Wilma, and Odlaw [below]) was and still is popular. (You can even find Waldo on Facebook.) According to this article at Smithsonian.com, it all comes down to the satisfaction of visual search—staring fixedly at something until you find what you’re looking for. This is why word searches are so popular. Also, the search for Waldo/Wally has helped scientists study eye movement.

 

Here’s another article on the science of finding Waldo: https://exploringyourmind.com/how-does-our-brain-find-waldo/

Writing a memoir or a biography is a kind of search. Instead of looking for Waldo, the author looks for his or her place or his or her subject’s place in the vast arena of history. And yes, that’s the segue to the reveal of what you probably came for: the winner of a copy of Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl by the one and only Marian Beaman. Click here for the interview with Marian.

   

The winner of Mennonite Daughter—The Story of a Plain Girl is Lori of Lori’s Lane!

Thank you to all who commented.

Henry is convinced that he would make an excellent Waldo. In fact, he thinks you’ll have a hard time finding him in this photo.

Waldo postcard from blogspot.com. Book cover from barnesandnoble.com. Martin Handford photo from waldo.fandom.com. Wenda from somewhere on Pinterest. Odlaw from Waldo.wikia. Henry photo by L. Marie.

Check This Out: A Mother for His Twins and An Apple Orchard Reunion

Hello! With me on the blog today is the amazing Jill Weatherholt, who has three publications to discuss: her latest Love Inspired novel, A Mother for His Twins; her novella, An Apple Orchard Reunion in the Autumn Hearts anthology, and “A Labor Day Reunion,” a short story in Woman’s World Magazine—just in time for Labor Day, the holiday that just passed.

      

    

Jill is represented by Jessica Alvarez. After Jill and I talk, stay tuned for a giveaway announcement.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Jill: 1. I’m afraid of heights and will not ride on an escalator, but I’ve always wanted to go skydiving.
2. When I was twenty-years-old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.
3. I once won a limbo contest while vacationing in Key West.
4. I love cayenne pepper and I put it on most foods.

El Space: Jill, so much is happening for you. A Mother for His Twins just released. Your novella, Autumn Orchard Reunion also debuted in Autumn Hearts. And you have a short story in Woman’s World. You’re very committed to romance and happily ever after stories. Please tell us why this is so and why you see stories like this as important today.
Jill: When some people think of romance, they often associate it with a Fabio-type hero and heroines who are helpless or weak. For me, writing romance and happily ever after stories is a way to unplug from the 24-hour bombardment of news stories that are often tragic and can leave me feeling hopeless. People say you should write the book you want to read. When I read, I want to escape from the pain and suffering going on in the world. I want to have faith that things can get better and good things can happen, even when it feels like all hope is lost. When I read that last page, I don’t want to be left feeling sad or depressed. I want to be reassured there is still good in the world.

     

El Space: What were the challenges for you in producing your third novel for Love Inspired?
Jill: As you know, through our email exchanges, A Mother for His Twins was the most difficult book for me to write. It was a challenging time for my family. Distractions and worries kept me from maintaining my focus. At times I felt physically and emotionally drained. I wondered how in the world I’d ever meet my deadline. I questioned my ability. I felt like I was sinking in quicksand. Thankfully, through prayer and the support from those who care about me, I could press on and get the book done.

El Space: Family members have inspired some of your characters. Who, if anyone, were the inspirations for Joy and Nick in A Mother for His Twins?
Jill: That’s true, in some of my short stories, family members have been my inspiration, particularly my mother. Joy and Nick weren’t really inspired by anyone I know. I developed these characters through journaling from their point of view and I allowed them to surprise me as the story unfolded.

El Space: How did the opportunity to write a novella come about? How did you decide what to write?
Jill: A fellow author and friend presented the opportunity to write a novella for a collection with four other writers. I’d never considered self-publishing, but I thought going in with a group might be a good way to get my feet wet. Since the collection was autumn-themed stories, I decided to write a reunion story that revolved around an apple orchard.

El Space: What advice do you have for would-be romance writers?
Jill: Study the craft, write, and always keep an eye open for contests.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Jill: I’m currently working on my fourth Love Inspired book and continuing to write short stories. I have a new aspiration that I’m working towards. . . . Time will tell.

Thank you, Jill, for being my guest!

Looking for Jill? Click on the icons below:

                    

Looking for A Mother for His Twins or Autumn Hearts? Click here for Jill’s website, which has a link to retailers. Looking for Jill’s short story? Check out the Woman’s World at your local grocery store!

One of you will receive a signed copy of Jill’s novel in the mail. Two of you will receive a download of Autumn Hearts. Just comment below! Winners to be announced sometime next week.

The book club agreed that A Mother for His Twins is a great book. Reading about snow and cooler weather has Royal Bee and Neonlicious totally craving hot chocolate.

Book covers from Jill Weatherholt and Goodreads. Author author photo courtesy of Jill Weatherholt. Fabio photo from theguardian.com. Quicksand image from thepandorasociety.com. Apple orchard from abcparish.blogspot.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Check This Out: The Art of Breaking Things

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

         

Cover designer: DANA Li
Cover illustrator: AGATA WIERZBICKA

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

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

Laura at the Philly book launch with her husband and sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

     

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

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

 

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

Thank you, Laura, for being my guest!

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

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

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

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

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