Of Bunnies and Birds and Apples and Poetry

Ever since I learned to crochet, I’ve always loved discovering and trying new crochet patterns. I’ve made sweaters, afghans, and numerous amigurumi patterns including these:

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Traveling Tu bunny pattern by Doris Yu

Apple and bird patterns by The Wandering Deer

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I had the same love of experimentation back when I first put pen to paper. Case in point: Back in first grade I wrote my first song with a friend.

We don’t wanna play with Jennifer
Jennifer
Jennifer
We don’t wanna play with Jennifer
Because she’s soooo bad.
Yeah!

We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna play with Jenn-Jennifer

We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna
We don’t wanna play with Jennifer!

We actually sang this to Jennifer. Yes, I was a brat, I am ashamed to say. Needless to say, this song did not make the Billboard list.

Anyway, besides song writing, over the years I dabbled in other poetic forms (haiku, iambic pentameter even!), and also wrote stage plays and screenplays, short stories, devotionals, graphic novels, novels, newspaper and magazine articles, and product ads. Now, when I say “wrote” the above, I made several failed attempts at some of them. But I at least wanted to try my hand at every form of writing I could, because experimenting was fun. And I netted some sales as a result

So why is it that nowadays, I have steered less toward experimenting and more toward the tried-and-true forms of writing I have done over and over again? I don’t actually expect you to answer that question by the way. I know the answer: fear of rejection. You would think after receiving literally hundreds of them I wouldn’t fear rejection so much. But I realize now how much having a fear-of-rejection mindset has hampered me.

I love how Jill Weatherholt, who is the winner of When in Vanuatu by the way (click here for the interview with the awesome author, Nicki Chen), kept trying to get a story published by Woman’s World. She didn’t let “no” stop her. She kept writing and submitting stories because she loved to do so.

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I want to return to my writing experiments. I’m in the middle of a novel that needs more of my past pioneering spirit.

What about you? Do you like to experiment?

Author photo and cover courtesy of Nicki Chen. Author photo by LifeTouch. Other photos by L. Marie.

Saturday Winner and Question from Henry

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

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

Nicki, please comment below to confirm.

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

I’ll answer the question, Henry.

Henry: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

Check This Out: When in Vanuatu

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Photo by LifeTouch

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Nicki Chen

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Nicki, for being my guest!

Looking for Nicki? Look here:

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

Looking for When in Vanuatu? Look here:

Amazon
B&N
Target

Meanwhile, enjoy this excerpt!

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

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

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

“Nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Laurie, for being my guest!

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

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

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

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

Um, So Next Week Then?

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Hi! Sorry about the shortness of this post and the fact that once again I am posting on Saturday. This week, I said I would announce the winners of these books.

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The week got away from me due to a tough project that I am slowly, carefully working on. Every time I looked up, another day had passed. And here I am writing this post on a Friday!

With that in mind, I unfortunately have to postpone the announcement of the winners until early next week. You might wonder, Why not do it now? I like to take my time writing posts, even a post to announce the winners of the books I’m giving away. Besides, the winners have not yet been generated.

Once again, I’m sorry. See you, hopefully, next week.

Jean Luc Picard facepalm from fanpop.

Check This Out—War of Nytefall: Savagery

It’s Monster vs Monster and Only One will Keep His Head!

savageryFor the first time in over a century, Clyde will know what it means to feel powerless and weak.

Headless bodies appearing across Windemere is only the beginning as Clyde faces the terrifying vampire hunter, Alastyre.  Able to match the Dawn Fang leader in power and ferocity, this new menace shows no signs of weakness or mercy.  With both friends and enemies getting dragged into the battle, Clyde will have to find a way to become stronger.  For that, he will have to accept an ancient challenge and pray that those he cares about and trusts can hold Alastyre at bay.

Which monster of Windemere will claim the top of the food chain?

Want to hear more?  Enjoy this Teaser!

Alastyre disappears for a moment before reappearing in front of Clyde and grinning at how the Dawn Fang does not react. “I have waited many years for this day. You probably don’t remember me since it has been so long. The temptation to tell Mab the truth when she was my captive was so strong that I knew I needed more time to mature. I should only feel happy and excited when we are about to clash. By the way, your enemies put up an entertaining fight. It lasted no more than a couple of minutes, but I enjoyed it. My hope is that your reputation is true and I will get to use my full power for once. The thought of ripping your head off and adding it to my collection is one of the few dreams that gives my life meaning. Is this where we’re going to fight? I see that there is a lot of sand and giant boulders scattered about. Do you use this courtyard as a large rock garden in order to relax? You are a more amusing monster than I expected.”

“I don’t like you,” Mab growls before she is grabbed by the face.

“A drug-addicted worm should watch-”

“Put . . . my . . . partner . . . down,” Clyde growls from behind the hunter. The illusionary vampire fades away as the real one materializes, his gauntlet sword already pressed against the man’s meaty neck. “You say we’ve met before and you’ve been training to fight me. Looks more like you’ve altered yourself to become a freak. The smell of your blood reeks of corruptive magic and demon influence. There’s a hint of Dawn Fang and dragon in there too. You’re nothing more than a glorified golem. Bunch of parts and auras cobbled together to turn a weak mortal into a monster. I’m not impressed, Alan Stryker. Still trying to strike fear into the rotting hearts of my kind? At least your name isn’t as stupid as it was before.”

“Wait, do you mean that guy who attacked you outside of Lord Shallis’s castle?” Titus asks with a chuckle. He grunts when his sister is thrown into him, the force sending the siblings crashing against the patio’s railing. “I told you that keeping him alive was a mistake, but I didn’t think it would turn into this. You must be angry that nobody believed your story about vampires that are immune to the sun. Is that what this is about?”

With a casual flick of his finger, Alastyre sends Clyde’s sword and arm flying across the courtyard. “No because it was another hunter who survived and told that tale. Your leader was so distracted with Mab biting him that he failed to notice a second mortal that he failed to kill. I focused on recovery and getting stronger because I refused to follow such a ridiculous plan. The fewer people who knew about the Dawn Fangs, the better my chances were at being the one to succeed. Please know that I only want to destroy your leadership. Originally, I wished to wipe all of you out of existence, but that could prove to be impossible. You monsters are more talented at hiding than anything else I have hunted, so I could never be sure of your extinction. The next best thing is to take over Nyetfall and use it as a jail for your kind. All Dawn Fangs will be contained on this island once they no longer have their precious rulers. Don’t you agree that this is much better than extermination, Clyde?”

“I have no opinion because it’s never going to happen.”

“Do you accept my challenge?”

“You never officially made one.”

“I demand that you fight me to the death.”

“Thank you for being straightforward and not making me hunt you down.”

“We fight in an hour then.”

“Why not now?”

Alastyre points while mentioning, “You are still missing an arm. I want to face you at full strength.”

“Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance,” the Dawn Fang says as he continues healing the injury.

Get a copy of this vampire action adventure for
99 cents on Amazon!

Help spread the word by adding it on Goodreads!

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Want to catch up on War of Nytefall?Grab the volumes 1-5 for 99 cents each ($5 total)!

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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:

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

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

Enjoy the fang-filled adventure by clicking here!

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

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

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

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Check out the fab book trailer.

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

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

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

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

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

Vera Facing the Senior Astronomers

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

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

Vera Working at Night as Her Family Sleeps

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

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

Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to Fall/Fail

I don’t usually post on Saturdays, but I promised I would post this week. So here we go. . . .

I learned to ride a bike when I was eight. I wasn’t one of those kids who had a bike with training wheels. My first bike was sky blue and had a banana seat and a white basket. Kinda like this one. (This is not my bike, however.)

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My dad held on to the back of it and coached me to balance and pedal. Ha. Easier said than done. Those of you who learned to ride via this method will know that I immediately crashed into something, especially when I realized that my father no longer held on to the seat nor was he providing the balance my brain told me I lacked. Oh yes. I became well acquainted with trees, the grass, the concrete sidewalk—you name it. I fell countless times before something clicked and I was able to ride without fear.

Learning to use a pair of inline skates was a lot easier. For one thing, I took a class from a traveling group of people who taught in a parking lot. The best thing I learned during that class was how to fall. Knowing that falling was part of the process made learning easier. I still fell many, many times. Yet the attitude of my teachers toward falling was the thing that kept me going. They were so cheerful and matter-of-fact about it. “Keep your knees bent,” they said. This advice made falling easier.

Inline Skate

It’s interesting that in our society, we see the success stories. The stories of failure are usually less intentional and more along the lines of, “So and so was caught doing something wrong and here is that story.” We’re taught that failure is something you shove at the back of your closet and shut the door to prevent anyone who comes to your home from seeing it.

That’s why I love stories of authors who talk about the many rejections they have had, and how those rejections were part of the process that took them from point A to point B. They knew how to fall and get back up again.

I also appreciate advice I was given from advisors: to experiment and freewrite. This was their way of teaching me how to fall gracefully. Because once I realized what didn’t work, I could try again until I found what did.

Mary Winn Heider can certainly relate to try, try again. Click here to read the interview with her concerning her latest MG novel, The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy. The winner of that wonderful novel is Laura Bruno Lilly. Laura, please comment below to confirm.

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Bike photo from somewhere online. Skate photo by L. Marie.

  

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

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

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Cover designed by Sammy Yuen

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

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?

Mary Winn: I live in Chicago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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El Space: What will you work on next?

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

El Space: Thank you for being my guest!

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

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

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

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

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

Check This Out: Rural Voices

With me on the blog today is another of my classmates, the awesome Nora Shalaway Carpenter (woot woot). Nora has been here before (click here) and is here today to talk about Rural Voices, a young adult fiction anthology for which she was the acquiring editor and contributor. Rural Voices, published by Candlewick Press, is an NPR Best Book of 2020 and a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

 

Nora is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Please join me in a conversation with Nora.

El Space: Thank you for being here, Nora.
Nora: Thanks so much for having me, Linda!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Nora: 1) My favorite candy is Dark Chocolate Craisins. 2) My current fave song is Can You Feel the Sun by Missio. 3) I used to like dogs more than cats, but now have a new appreciation for felines thanks to our rescued cat, Pumpkin. 4) I grew up off a dirt road in rural West Virginia. My closest neighbor was a mile away.


I could only find a photo of Milk Chocolate Craisins. They look tasty! 🥰

El Space: Please tell us how Rural Voices came to be. What, if any, goals did you have for getting this project off the ground?
Nora: I’d been secretly thinking about an anthology of rural voices for a while, but the project began after a conversation with my author friends and VCFA classmates Mary Winn Heider and Rachel Hylton. When I lamented that no one had yet compiled a YA collection of rural voices, they encouraged me to do it myself. I sent an email to my agent during that chat and the rest is history!

My biggest initial goal was to show readers that rural America was so much more complex, valuable, and diverse than the tired clichés usually presented in popular media.

El Space: How did you go about acquiring authors for Rural Voices?
Nora: This was a little tricky, because a lot of people don’t flaunt their rural roots because they are sick of being shamed about them. Luckily, I had a nice core group of rural authors that I knew from VCFA. A number of them knew other rural authors to recommend.

El Space: What were some of challenges you faced as you worked on the anthology? How long did the project take to complete?
Nora: Coordinating the submission and revision deadlines of all the contributors was one of the biggest challenges. The timeline was much faster than it might have been—about a year—because Candlewick and I really wanted the book to come out before the 2020 election.

El Space: What is one misconception you hope will be erased as readers dive in to this anthology?
Nora: I hope it challenges a lot more than one, but at minimum, I hope it shows readers that rural people are as vibrant, smart, and worthy of dignity and respect as every other person.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Nora: Ah! I’m so excited about my next project. I wish I could tell you all about it, but it is due to be announced anytime, so please keep a lookout on my social media channels—@noracarpenterwrites on IG and @norawritesbooks on Twitter! After that, I’ve got another contemporary YA in the works, this one set in rural West Virginia.

Thank you, Nora!

Looking for Nora? Check out her website and the social media channels mentioned above.

Looking for Rural Voices? Check out Bookshop, Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. And don’t forget Nora’s other books:

The Edge of Anything is a Cybils Awards Finalist, a Kirkus Best Book of 2020, and A Mighty Girl’s Book of the Year.

Comment below to be entered into a drawing to receive a copy of Rural Voices. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Craisins image from Bing. Rural homes image from healthline.