Check This Out: Big Bear and Little Fish

I’m so glad to welcome back to the blog the amazing Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, Big Bear and Little Fish. It was illustrated by Il Sung Na and published on September 6 by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group. Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

Check out the book trailer:

El Space: Well, now, you’ve gone from nonfiction to fiction! Congratulations! Please tell us how this book came about.
Sandra: After you and I graduated with our MFAs in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I did an extra semester. This time, I focused on picture books, and had the great luck to study with Kathi Appelt, who as you know, is a Newbery Honoree and a two-time National Book Award finalist. During that semester, I worked on nonfiction, but I also wanted to understand how some of my favorite fiction authors did what they did. I was particularly fascinated by Arnold Lobel, who wrote stories with heart and humor, and a touch of philosophy.

I read every single one of Lobel’s stories. I read them slowly and repeatedly over a period of four weeks. After I finished, I didn’t have much time for the writing I owed Kathi Appelt. I was worried. But then, I opened my laptop and Bear and Little Fish tumbled out. I think Kathi was a little surprised when they landed on her desk. They were so different from everything else I had sent her. But there they were, all the same, a bear and a fish.

 

El Space: How did you shape this tale of friendship? Did you base Bear or Fish on people you know or did you start from scratch? Why or why not?
Sandra: I didn’t consciously base Bear or Fish on anyone. But I must admit that I’m a lot like Bear. I’m a worrier, as she is. I try hard to get things right, but so often don’t. So, I guess you could say, I’m Bear. And what about Fish? Thanks to your question, I’ve realized that Fish is a conglomerate of my close friends. She’s thoughtful, a bit of a philosopher, and wonderfully positive and upbeat. She’s a fantastic friend like my friends and the perfect counterpoint for the worriers of the world.

El Space: Kirkus called Big Bear and Little Fish a “lovely, gently humorous story,” and “a delightful tale.” I totally agree. What were the challenges that came with writing your book?
Sandra: There really weren’t any challenges. As soon as I opened my laptop after reading Arnold Lobel’s books, Bear and Fish were there. I had heard other authors talk about how their books wrote themselves. How characters showed up and talked to them. How the characters told their own story. But this had never happened to me, not until Bear and Fish. And what a joy it was to listen to them and write down their story! It was so much easier than my nonfiction books, with their months of research and just as many months of reducing that research down to a thirty-two-page story.

El Space: Il Sung Na’s illustrations are just perfect for your book. Do you have a favorite spread? If so, which one?
Sandra: I 100% agree about Il Sung Na being the perfect illustrator for Big Bear and Little Fish. I had this incredible wave of joy the first time I saw the final illustrations. That cover! The look on Bear’s face is so befuddled, you can’t wait to throw open the book and find out what is going on. And those endpapers! I laugh each time I see Il Sung’s vignettes of Bear’s different emotional states as she adjusts to the idea of a little fish being in her life.

As for my favorite spread, hmm, that’s a tough one. I really do love all the illustrations. But for you, L. Marie, I made myself choose one—well, two. I love the spread where Bear is bringing Fish home for the first time. Il Sung has given Bear an extremely worried expression and emphasized her emotional state by casting her in a purple shadow that is reminiscent of a dark fairytale forest. The combination of setting and Bear psychology is brilliant! Bookending this spread, toward the end of the story, is Bear after she’s walked through all the shadows and worry. Here, she’s on the other side of her discoveries about Fish, and more importantly, the discoveries about herself! She is surrounded by bright light, she carries Fish on her head, and is thrilled with her place in the world. The juxtaposition of these two spreads is inspired and so fulfilling for the reader.

El Space: Your book is so quirky. Are there any humorous picture books that inspired you? If so, which ones?
Sandra: You’ve already heard about Arnold Lobel and how he inspired me. During my extra semester, I also read other friendship stories. George and Martha by James Marshall and Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. We’re all used to these stories now, having read them since childhood, so we may have forgotten how really quirky the characters in these books are. George likes to peek in windows. Martha loves looking at herself in mirrors so much that she wakes up during the night to look at herself some more. And as for the Hundred Acres Wood, it includes a piglet who is scared of nearly everything, an owl who is not as smart as he thinks he is, a donkey who has become synonymous with doom and gloom, and a bear who thinks he is empty headed but is, in fact, quite the philosopher. Each of these characters is fun and funny because of their utter uniqueness. When it comes to humor, the more the character is filled with foibles, the more fun it is.

   

El Space: How will you challenge yourself next? What are you working on?
Sandra: I just received an offer for my most recent nonfiction book, so I think I’ll turn to fiction again. Maybe a garden story. Or, one about friends. Or, one about ideas. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even dream up a sequel to Big Bear and Little Fish. Wouldn’t that be fun!?!

Yes it would! Thank you, Sandra, for being my guest!

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

Looking for Big Bear and Little Fish? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

One of you will received a signed copy of Big Bear and Little Fish. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Check out Sandra’s other books:

 

Author photo, Big Bear and Little Fish book covers and spread courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Il Sung Na. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Other book covers from Goodreads. Kathi Appelt photo from the VCFA website.

Imagine


Now that John Lennon’s iconic song is probably running through your mind, I will start by stating I’ve always been fascinated with the imagination. To think that trips to the Moon and Mars started in the imagination. Oh I know that linear algebra, differential equations, and single variable/multivariable calculus played a role. But imagination paved the way.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “The imagination is a muscle that must be exercised” or words to that effect. When I searched for that saying via Google, I found it attributed to several people, including Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. So while I don’t really know who said it first, I can see the truth in it.

In an increasingly visual-oriented culture, exercising the imagination can be challenging with so many images, videos, TV shows, and movies available.

Please hear me: I am not against these items. They are greatly appreciated. But a viewer doesn’t have to put much effort into imagining how a character looks if that character is shown to him or her on the screen. And I know that some characters differ from book to screen. If you read a book before seeing an adaptation, you might have a different picture in your head concerning a character, despite what the screen shows. But for me, even if I have actively pictured a character in my mind, seeing that character in a film adaptation changes the landscape of my imagination. Case in point: nowadays, whenever I read The Lord of the Rings, I always picture Frodo as Elijah Wood, who played him in Peter Jackson’s trilogy though I first read the trilogy many years before those movies debuted. This is not an indictment against Elijah, who was excellent as Frodo. But now, I find I can’t “unsee” him and picture Frodo on my own.

Reading plays a large part in refueling my imagination. Good stories give my mind a needed workout. Whenever I’m in a reading slump, my imagination shrivels. As a further consequence, I’m never fully satisfied with any fiction I attempt. Though I am creating my own world in my stories and not trying to copy anyone else’s, I still need the mental exercise I gain by traveling through the worlds others create. And yes, realistic fiction counts as creating a world, because you have to make the world we know vivid enough to engage a reader.

What fuels your imagination?

Nicki, you don’t have to imagine yourself holding a copy of Big Rig by Louise Hawes—at least not for long (click here for that interview), because soon you will do so in reality! Please comment below to confirm.

 

Thank you to all who commented.

Imagination image by L. Marie. Elijah Wood as Frodo photo found somewhere on Pinterest.

Surprise!

Some surprises are more welcome than others. Years ago, when a friend and I took a trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica, every day we would wake up in our hotel rooms to this sight on our curtains.

This is the Jamaican turquoise anole. According to Wikipedia, it is indigenous to Jamaica.

Though I was surprised by them, I wasn’t bothered by them. Not as bothered as the people in this thread. I just shooed them out the nearest window.

When I was a kid, I got up to go to the bathroom one night in the early morning hours. I flicked on the lights and—surprise! I walked softly, so that was probably why the two mice on the rim of the bathtub didn’t immediately scatter. Instead, they stood there, looking as startled as I felt. This moment is what I can only describe as a pregnant pause. It was like the world stopped, waiting to see what would happen.

Well, my shout woke up my grandmother, who was visiting at the time and sharing my room. She ran into the bathroom, grabbed a tube of toothpaste, and gave chase. One mouse escaped, while the other foolishly ran into my room, which was directly across the hall. Grandma cornered it under the bed she had been sleeping in, and . . . Well, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, we had to get another tube of toothpaste.

So, since I had suffered through mice and roaches at different points (the fruit of big city life—you just never knew what would surprise you when you flicked on the light), I wasn’t bothered by lizards. They were too chill to be a nuisance.

Now onto what I hope is a good surprise! Jennie and Charles—surprise! You are the winners of Coming Up Short by Laurie Morrison (Jennie) and She Persisted: Temple Grandin (Charles). (See interview posts here and here.)

 

Thank you to everyone who commented!

Lizard image from Wikipedia. Mouse from Clipart Panda.

Check This Out: Temple Grandin (The She Persisted Series)

I had planned to reveal the winner of Coming Up Short by Laurie Morrison this week. Before that reveal, I had planned to post the following interview at the beginning of the week. Alas I was a little under the weather. The best laid plans of mice and men as they say. So here at least is that second interview. Both winner reveals will have to come next week. Now, on with the show!

On the blog today is no stranger to the community: the amazing Lyn Miller-Lachmann here to talk about her book She Persisted: Temple Grandin, which was published on April 5 by Philomel and illustrated by Gillian Flint,. Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.

 

El Space: What did it mean to you to write this book on Temple Grandin? How did it come about that you did?
Lyn: The authors of each volume of the She Persisted series share some aspect of lived experience with their subject, and I’m one of them. I was diagnosed on the autism spectrum in 2007 and had already written a book published by Penguin Random House loosely based on my time in middle and high school as an undiagnosed outcast who would do anything to have a friend. That novel, Rogue, came out in 2013 from another imprint at Penguin Random House, Nancy Paulsen Books. In 2020, editors Jill Santopolo and Talia Benamy at Philomel approached my agent, Jacqui Lipton, and asked if I’d be interested in writing Temple Grandin’s biography for this series, and I jumped at the opportunity. She’s a hero of mine, and I’m honored that they asked me to write about her life and work.

El Space: Were you able to talk to Temple Grandin? What was your research like for this book?
Lyn: I didn’t talk to Temple to research this book, but I have met her. She was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in Chicago, there to talk about her book The Autistic Brain. She signed her book for me, and I told her how she’d inspired me to speak out about my own experiences as an autistic person. In addition to reading her books and Oliver Sacks’s 1995 article in The New Yorker about her, I took notes at her keynote speech and asked her about the speech when she signed my book. In her speech, she said, “When you’re a weird geek, you’ve got to learn to sell your work,” and when I spoke with her, she encouraged me to promote my work based not on my personal charm but on its quality and how my writing can improve the lives of my readers.

El Space: How long was the process of writing?
Lyn: I wrote the first draft of this book in about six weeks, with another two weeks for revision. I had a short deadline and could meet it because the book was part of a series, and all the titles have a similar structure. In addition, I’d already read a lot of Temple’s books and seen the HBO documentary based on her life [click here for the trailer], so I had a big head start on the research. I have a journalism background, so general nonfiction and biographical profiles are easier for me to write than fiction, and I use the techniques of fiction, such as the hook and scene structure, to enhance my nonfiction.

El Space: What do you want kids to take away after reading this book?
Lyn: When Temple talks about being autistic, she uses the words, “Different not less.” People who are different—who think differently, who have different backgrounds and experiences—can often identify big problems that other people don’t see as problems, and they can find solutions because they look at those problems from fresh perspectives. For instance, Temple observed farm animals and was able to interpret the world from their eyes because of her experiences as an autistic person. I’d like young readers to embrace their unique ways of looking at the world and acknowledge the perspectives and experiences of those they may have dismissed for being different or weird.

El Space: Well said, Lyn! I know with some of these projects, authors and illustrators never meet. Was that the case? How much input did you have in the illustrations?
Lyn: The She Persisted series uses the same illustrator for all the chapter books, Gillian Flint, which gives the volumes a unified appearance. However, I like my cover and illustrations best because they capture Temple’s affection for the animals she studies. I knew right away that young readers would gravitate toward a cover that had her petting a cow. As far as input, I had a chance to look at the illustrations ahead of time and point out places that might be inaccurate or confusing, and several illustrations were tweaked to make them clearer.

El Space: Will you do more projects like this? Why or why not?
Lyn: I love the She Persisted series! It’s accessible, and the women featured have accomplished so much against the odds. Their refusal to give up unites them across time, place, culture, language, and area of accomplishment. Right now, when girls and women face the curtailment of their rights and opportunities in the United States, they can look toward these women as role models who encountered similar obstacles and endured many defeats before achieving their goals. The series has been renewed for at least another two years, and I’ve proposed a biography on a sports star who fled a totalitarian regime when her outspokenness led the government to restrict her participation in her chosen sport.

 

In addition, I have a forthcoming collective biography of 15 contemporary women directors, co-authored with Tanisia “Tee” Moore, coming out at the beginning of September 2022, titled Film Makers, part of the Women of Power series from Chicago Review Press, it’s for readers aged 10 and up. Like the She Persisted series, it focuses on women from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’ve been working on several nonfiction projects related to the history of unions in the United States and around the world. In addition, I’m a translator of children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English, mainly Portuguese because there are fewer other translators from that language and a lot of great books published in Portugal and Brazil. I just picked up a translation for my first graphic novel, and I’m really excited about it because I love the story. More details to be announced soon. I’m also trying to finish a YA historical novel in verse set in Portugal, but right now it seems like I’m moving backwards because I took out one character in a love triangle, which means my plot has to be something else besides a love triangle. Writing is hard!

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 She Persisted: Temple Grandin. 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. Movie poster found somewhere on the internet. Illustration photo taken by L Marie from her copy of the book.

Check This Out: Coming Up Short

With me on the blog today is the fabulous Laurie Morrison, who is here to talk about her latest middle grade novel, Coming Up Short, released on June 21 by Abrams. Cover art by Mike Burdick and design by Deena Fleming. Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe. (Click on Abrams above to be taken to the synopsis.)

El Space: Now that you’ve got four published novels, if you could go back in time to before you knew Every Shiny Thing would be published, what would you say to yourself then to encourage yourself?
Laurie: That’s a great question. As you know, it took a while (and a handful of shelved manuscripts) before Every Shiny Thing sold, and there were times when I felt disheartened because I was pouring so much time and work into writing books that didn’t get published. Looking back from my current vantage point, I would try to reassure my former self that none of that work was wasted. All those early projects helped me hone my craft and develop a whole repository of ideas and characters that have found their way into books that did get published. So I would urge myself to trust my own process and have faith that as long as I am writing stories I love—stories that no one but me could write in quite the same way—then I am doing everything I can to make my dream of becoming a published writer come true, and my work has value whether it ends up in bookstores or not.

El Space: I love that! Great answer! What inspired you to write this novel? Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Laurie: After writing Up for Air, which features a competitive swimmer, I was eager to write another sports story. There are so many compelling dynamics to explore when it comes to sports, and I was so moved by readers’ responses to Up for Air that I wanted to offer a follow-up that people who loved that novel would be excited about. This time, I wanted to write about softball—a sport I played growing up—and I wanted to focus on pressure and performance anxiety because I was a kid who loved sports but didn’t respond well to the intensity that comes along with sports once you reach a certain level. I also really wanted to write about a kid who feels pressure to be perfect and responsible for her parents’ happiness; those are other pressures that I’ve dealt with and seen my former middle school students grapple with, but I hadn’t seen them explored much in middle grade fiction and I think they’re important to delve into.

El Space: What characteristics of yours does Bea share? How is she different from you?
Laurie: Bea has some of my perfectionism, and she and I both feel responsible for things that aren’t really our responsibility and we’re hard on herself when we make mistakes. But she’s a whole lot tougher and feistier than I am, and she’s a much better softball player than I was!

El Space: What inspires you these days—books, podcasts—whatever?
Laurie: Two middle grade novels that have inspired me a lot are Erin Entrada Kelly’s Those Kids from Fawn Creek and Tae Keller’s Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone. They’re the kinds of books I want to read once for enjoyment and then again to analyze and learn from them. I recently binge-listened to Hayley Chewins and Lindsay Eager’s Story of the Book podcast and found their conversations about craft to be extremely inspiring and illuminating, and I’m also really inspired by the picture books and chapter books my young kids are devouring. We’ve been reading a lot of Princess in Black books recently, and it’s been such a joy to see how that series builds and to notice which aspects delight my kids the most.

 

El Space: As an author, what other formats do you think you’d like to try—graphic novels, screenplays, etc.? What would you stay away from?
Laurie: I’ve always wanted to write a book that’s entirely epistolary, and I’d also like to write a short story or two as well as a novel that’s really funny. There’s some humor in all my books, but I’d like to try something where the humor is central. I keep waiting for all the books I read with my kids to rub off on me because I’d love to try writing for a younger audience, whether that’s a picture book or chapter book, at some point, but so far I feel most drawn toward writing for an upper middle grade audience. Maybe someday I’ll try another age category, but I’m happy in this niche for now. I don’t think I’d ever try to write a graphic novel script—though I love graphic novels—because I’m not very visual or concise, so I don’t think that format would play to my strengths at all!

 

Two epistolary novels

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I have another realistic upper middle grade novel in the works that hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m excited about it. For now, I’ll just say that it features academic overachiever rivals, distance running, the summer between eighth and ninth grade, and more of a romance than any of my other books to date.

How awesome to have Laurie on the blog! If you’re looking for her, you will find her on her website, Instagram, and Twitter.

To find Coming Up Short, check out Children’s Book World, Indiebound, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. And check out Laurie’s other books.

  

Comment below to be entered into a drawing for a signed copy of Comng Up Shorr. Winner to be announced sometime next week..

Author photo courtesy of Laurie Morrison. Author photo credit: Laura Billingham. Books covers from Goodreads.

How High Are Your Aspirations?

I watched a documentary series on Netflix that I hadn’t seen before: Made by Design—which features interviews with creatives like Demi Samande (photo below), the CEO of Majeurs Chesterfield, a furniture manufacturer based in the UK and Nigeria. I guess her company is the place to go if you want a $1700—$5,000 sofa. But what I found fascinating about this interview is the fact that Samande, an architect, turned to manufacturing furniture—particularly the Chesterfield style of furniture (click here if you have no idea what that is)—and opened a business with an international following.

Maybe she had moments where she wondered if her idea for the business wouldn’t work and maybe she should do something else. But that didn’t stop her from continuing to move forward toward success. She wound up restoring furniture for the prime minister in England not because she wasn’t sure she could do it, but because she knew that she could. She was invited to do so because of the excellence of her work.

Here is the vision statement of her company:

We envision a world where one will find a Majeurs Chesterfield piece in every home, office and public space.

I was fascinated by her interview, because as I look back over my life, I never once thought, I want to see a copy of my book in every home, office and public space. Please don’t read that as mockery. I’m simply stating my lack of a vision this wide. Mostly, I thought about working to pay rent or writing stories that are like safe havens for children. That sort of thing. Very ground level and unfocused.

I think what separates Samande and I is a mindset. I’ve never met her, so I am not 100% sure about this. But the results and the confidence she exuded during her interview speak for themselves. She comes across like, “I’m going to do this.” But I am often of the mindset, “I don’t think I can do this.”

I’m old now—a year older today in fact. But I know that low-level mindset needs to change even at my age. And no I will not reveal my age. But I know I need help from God to change. That may not be your way of thinking. But it is a truth for me.

How about you? What do you aspire to do? While you think about that, Laura Bruno Lilly get ready to celebrate. You are the winner of Moonwalking, the collaboration of Lyn Miller-Lachmann and Zetta Elliott!

   

Thank you to all who commented.

Chesterfield sofa from the Majeurs Chesterfield website. Photo of Demi Samande sneaked in by L. Marie.

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

At long last I have posted. I’m thrilled to have on the blog once more the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to talk about her latest picture book, the gorgeous Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson, published on March 8 by Abrams and beautifully illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia.

Check out this book trailer:

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

El Space: You’ve written books about the invention of nachos and about astronomy. So what made you turn to meteorology?
Sandra: That’s the golden question, isn’t it? Nachos. Dark Matter. Clouds. What do they have in common? The through line is that Ignacio Anaya, Vera Rubin, and Joanne Simpson each achieved something incredible, yet they remain unknown to most. I wanted to help broadcast their achievements. I wanted kids to know about them. Nacho invented nachos. Vera discovered dark matter. And Joanne was not only a trailblazing female meteorologist, but she also sparked a whole field of science by creating the first mathematical model of clouds—a model that helped us predict upcoming weather.

   

El Space: What did you do to prepare to write Joanne’s story?
Sandra: Before Joanne died, she gave boxes and boxes of her scientific and personal papers to Harvard University. I went to Harvard and looked through everything in those boxes. I learned about her discoveries, examined her work and family photographs, reviewed her personal thoughts, and read what others said about her in newspaper and scholarly articles. Then, I took all of that, keeping a clear eye on how Joanne told her own story, and formulated that into a story for children. It’s fascinating and challenging to learn about a life with its many facets and then try to reduce it down to the 32 pages that are normally in a picture book.

El Space: Since Joanne Simpson was such a trailblazer, I can’t help thinking of Vera Rubin, another trailblazer you featured in a book. [See cover above. Click here for more information.) What do these trailblazers inspire in you?
Sandra: It wasn’t easy for Joanne and Vera. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, the barriers for women in science were higher than for women in other areas. Joanne was the very first woman in the world to receive a Doctor of Meteorology. One of her professors told her that no woman ever had, and no woman ever would. But, Joanne did. Vera also faced strong resistance as a woman in astronomy. What I admire about these women is that they went on to actively support the young scientists coming after them. Just think about all the female meteorologists we see on TV these days. That’s thanks to Joanne. As one young meteorologist said, Joanne didn’t just blaze a trail, she blazed an entire road.

El Space: I love what this Publishers Weekly review says:

Enlivening simply relayed cloud facts (“Just like people, cumulus clouds are born, grow, and die. But unlike people, they exist for no longer than two hours”), Nickel threads the well-paced tale with myriad weather-related metaphors.

First, congrats on this great review. I wish I could think of a weather-related metaphor to aptly describe your beautiful prose! What do you do to hone your craft?
Sandra: I read. I read a lot. And then, for the science-based stories I tell, I try to think of ways to make the stories engaging and understandable for children. In the case of Breaking Through the Clouds, I used weather-related metaphors, as Publishers Weekly mentions. Then, of course, I have lots of people read my drafts before I submit to my agent and editors. There is nothing in this world like having others read your work and tell you how it reads to them.

El Space: How much collaboration was involved in the picture side of things? How did you communicate with the illustrator, Helena Perez Garcia?
Sandra: Since I had the chance to visit Harvard, but Helena didn’t, I sent photos that I had taken of Joanne’s notebooks and the pictures Joanne archived there. I also fielded questions she had—scientific questions, but also time-period questions, such as what type of projector Joanne used when she watched films of clouds. I sent all of this information via our editor Maggie Lehrman at Abrams, so Helena and I never spoke directly until the book was finished. It’s always fascinating to speak with an illustrator after the project is done and learn about their process. If anyone is interested, you can read about Helena’s work on Breaking Through the Clouds here.

El Space: You have another picture book debuting later this year—Big Bear and Little Fish. Congratulations! What will you work on next?
Sandra: I always have a few projects going at the same time. I have a picture book about the secret creator of the Tiffany Lamps (hint: it wasn’t Louis Tiffany as everyone thinks). I’m working on a story inspired by my three uncles who are blind. I have a story about a pigeon. And, I’m working on a collaboration with a wonderful writer, L. Marie about two girls who share a love of creating hats.

El Space: 😊 Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

Sandra: Thanks so much, Linda! It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you about books and the craft of writing.

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

Looking for Breaking Through the Clouds? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, or your favorite local bookstore.

Good news! One of you will received a free copy of Breaking Through the Clouds. Comment below to be entered in a drawing. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Author photo, book spreads, and Breaking Through the Clouds book cover courtesy of the author. Illustrations by Helena Perez Garcia. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Big Bear and Little Fish cover from Goodreads.

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!