Check This Out: Eternal Road

Today on the blog I’m happy to have the one and only John Howell here to talk about his latest novel, Eternal Road. It was published on August 23. Go here to read a synopsis of the book. Now, give it up for John!

  

John: Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, Linda. I certainly appreciate being here with you.

El Space: My pleasure, John. Four quick facts about yourself?
John: 1. I write every day.
2. I’ll be 80 years old in the spring.
3. I am a pantster and do not outline my work.
4. When I begin a novel, I write the last three lines and then go back and write to that conclusion.

El Space: Groovy! What inspired you to write this book? I can’t help thinking of a film from 1978 called Heaven Can Wait. The premise of that film is nothing like your book. But the life-after-death aspect of your book made me think of it.
John: I wanted to do a historical fiction novel. While I was doing the research, I wrote a short story that started with a couple hitchhiking, and then as the characters came alive, it went in a different direction. Sam, the female protagonist, is reminiscent of a childhood friend who moved away. James, the male protagonist, exhibits the feelings I had as a boy when I lost my childhood friend. She did eventually die when we were both 30. The story is pretty much a way of coming to grips with that double loss so many years ago.

El Space: I have to ask if there is a story behind the use of a 1956 Oldsmobile. Please shed light on that.
John: When I was in high school, a neighbor had a 1656 Oldsmobile identical to the car on the cover. I used to wash and wax that car and fell in love with it. I wanted to honor those memories somehow, so the vehicle is in the story as a tool for Sam and James.

El Space: Time travel also is an aspect of the story. What are some of your favorite time travel stories?
John: I’ve read and seen so many, but I have to say The Time Machine by H.G. Wells is my favorite. Another one was on The Twilight Zone, where a successful guy went back in time to start over for the thrill of building an empire all over again. He went back to the time before the automobile and tried to get people to help him make one. Of course, no one had the skills, so his trip (and deal with the devil) is a waste.

    

El Space: C. S. Lewis once mentioned,

All my seven Narnian books . . . began with seeing pictures in my head. At first, they were not a story, just pictures. The Lion [The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe] all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.

When you think of developing a story, which comes first for you—images in your head? The characters? The plot?
John: This is like asking a golfer if they inhale or exhale before their swing. Let me think a moment. I think my stories come about as a result of the images in my head first. These images can be relatively sparse and only a partial picture of what will become the full story. After the images, I then concentrate on the characters. The characters guide the story, and as they develop, they have a hand in developing the plot. Many times, the characters will create plot points by merely acting the way they usually would behave. In Eternal Road, a massive scene develops in the basement of a house due to following the instincts of the two characters. They are in the place and want to look in the basement. I had not planned to have them discover something there until one character all of a sudden said, “I wonder what we will find in the basement.”

El Space: What genre would you love to tackle that you haven’t yet?
John: I would love to write a pure Science Fiction book. I think it would be fun to create a futuristic world complete with political and social infrastructure. At this point, I’m not sure if it would be a thriller type of Sci-fi story or not. I do think the characters would have to be from Earth and on a mission of some sort. I would hope the mission would be one that, if accomplished, the Earth would be better off. Maybe something like word has been received that the inhabitants of a nearby system have discovered the cure for Cancer. The mission would be to go to a planet and bring back the cure. Of course, it would not be all that easy. Maybe the therapy only works on those who carry the DNA of ancient space travelers who visited the Earth many centuries ago. Everyone else who gets vaccinated for the disease dies. Well, I guess it would be a thriller after all.

El Space: Wow that sounds great! Hope you write that book someday. In the meantime, what will you work on next?
John: I had not intended to extend Eternal Road into a series. There have been a couple of reviewers who flatly state that it should be a series. I was going to get to work on a long-awaited story of one of the characters in my John Cannon Trilogy. His name is Ned Tranes, and he is the police chief of Port Aransas, Texas. Now I think Ned’s story is going to wait another year. He is very patient since he has been waiting for three years already. The last encounter we had, Ned’s wife, was taken hostage by a band working for the drug cartel. You know nothing good can come from that. Well, let’s hope they treat his wife nicely until we can get back to set her free.

 

El Space: Oh dear.
John: So I think I will jump in and write book two of Eternal Road.

Good idea! Thank you, John, for hanging out with me.

Looking for John? Check his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon.

Looking for Eternal Road? Click here!

One of you will find a copy of Eternal Road on your device or in your mailbox. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on September 30.

Other books by John:

 

Author photo and Eternal Road book cover courtesy of John Howell. Eternal Road book cover by Roseanna White Designs. Other book covers from Goodreads. Twilight Zone logo from Bloody Disgusting. Heaven Can Wait movie poster from RogerEbert.com.Sci-fi image from wallpaperup.com.

The Care and Feeding of a Freelancer

I have been a freelance writer/book editor/developmental editor/manuscript reviewer/indexer/copy editor/proofreader/several other hats for many years. I won’t say how many. Suffice it to say that when I started, cuneiform was the hot new mode of communication.

Being the kind and considerate person that you are, you probably have questions about freelancers. Perhaps a stray freelancer followed you home and you’re wondering how to take care of him or her. So glad you asked me to provide tips.

Handy Tips
• Always brush with the fur and not against.

• Be quick to offer chocolate, doughnuts, cake, cookies, other kinds of candy, and salted snacks of all varieties. The freelancer undoubtedly is house trained and won’t make a mess.

 

• Keep your freelancer hydrated with coffee, tea, and especially water during work hours.

 

• Homecooked meals are appreciated, especially during weeks when deadlines keep your freelancer chained to a computer. But don’t be surprised if your freelancer tells you, “I only have eight minutes to eat, so I’ll have to eat and run.”

• Encouragement/affirmations of any kind are welcome. Here are a few if you can’t think of any right off the bat: “You are the most interesting person on Planet Earth.” “Pajamas are a good look for you.” “That book should win a Pulitzer simply because you edited it.” “Don’t worry. I’m sure your client didn’t notice your bedhead in the last Zoom meeting.”

Things to Avoid
• Calling in the middle of the day to ask, “What are you doing?” with the assumption that “Nothing, because I’ve been waiting for your phone call” is the answer. The middle of the day (and sometimes the middle of the night) is prime working time. If your freelancer is anything like me, he or she probably works around the clock and doesn’t get weekends or paid holidays off. (If you don’t work, you don’t get paid.) Also, freelancers often are hired to take on fast-track jobs that regular staff members don’t have time for, hence the tight deadlines necessitating long work hours.)

• Saying things like, “You must get paid a fortune since you are freelance.” Freelancers have things like self-employment tax, equipment replacement, and other worries. Though many freelancers may have a number of projects to work on, the income is not often steady. I waited three months one time to get paid.

• Telling a freelancer, “Get a job with a steady income.” You might think that sounds logical. But have you checked the unemployment statistics lately? Need I say more? This piece of advice is about as welcome as “Snap out of it” is to someone depressed.

And there you have it! Just keep chucking chocolate and affirmations at your freelancer and before long, his or her coat will be glossy, and he or she will continue to thrive.

Now onto the winner of War of Nytefall: Ravenous by Charles Yallowitz. (See this post for more information.) That winner is Jill Weatherholt!

  

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

P.S. Thoughts and prayers are with the people on the West Coast in the wake of the terrible fires.

Freelancer image from PHXNews.com. Peace dove from clipart-library.com. No cell phone from firstoaktm.wordpress.com. No money sign from crazzzytravel.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Taking Root

So, a dear friend sent me this housewarming gift:

Because that is what kind, wonderful people do. (And for anyone reading this, that was not a hint for you to send a gift. You’re kind and wonderful without that.)

Though I was really pleased and thankful, I also had this reaction:

Because as far as plants are concerned, I have been this:

I texted a Plant Whisperer friend who knows what to do, since I really want these plants (the basket has multiple plants) to survive. She texted me a gif like the following for the plants.

Sigh.

Seriously, being the great friend that she is, she told me what to do for them. Eventually, they will need to be divided into separate pots. But for now, they seem content to be together.

After examining the basket of plants, another awesome friend (I am rich in friends) told me, “These plants are hard to kill.” Guess they’re like terminators in a way, only they aren’t out to kill Sarah Connor or her son John. (If you’re scratching your head, Google the Terminator movies.)

Plants represent for me the need to be planted where I am. Possessing even one has always meant, “I’m not going anywhere.” So, this plant grouping reminds me to put down roots. (Fun fact: some of the tenants of my apartment complex have lived here over forty years! Talk about roots!)

Plants also remind me to be responsible. I can’t just leave for weeks on end without a game plan for their care. Not if I want them to live.

Do you have houseplants? Enjoy caring for them? Or are you indifferent to them? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by another dear friend, Sandra Nickel. See interview here.

   

The winner is Nicki!

Nicki, please comment below to confirm. As usual, I’m grateful to all who commented.

Author photo and book cover courtesy of the author. Rabbits and Grim Reaper gifs from tenor.com. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the terminator gif from somewhere online. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack

I love featuring books on the blog, especially books written by my friends. And I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome to this space my friend and fellow Secret Gardener, the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to chat about her fabulous picture book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack. It was published by Lee & Low Books on August 11 and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.

   

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Let’s give it up for Sandra! (There will be a book giveaway at the end of the post, in case you wondered. 😁)

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sandra:
1. I adore writing picture books, absolutely adore it!
2. I grew up in a small town and still live in a small town—except the small town I live in now is in Switzerland.
3. I’ve been a colossal nacho fan since I was a kid.
4. I had the enormous honor of being taught how to make Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya’s original recipe in the birthplace of nachos, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.

El Space: What was your path to picture book writing? How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Sandra: My path to picture book writing was long and twisty. I’ve had all kinds of jobs, the penultimate of which was being a lawyer. The catalyst for change was my daughter, who asked for stories—made-up stories—whenever we were in the car. She was a ruthless muse, asking (read: demanding) that I revise on the spot. After this story-telling boot camp, I enrolled in the “Harvard of Children’s Literature,” the MFA program for writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like most in our class, I started off writing novels, but then I discovered picture books, and there was no turning back!

About the inspiration for Nacho’s Nachos, one day I was making nachos in my kitchen and wondered, Hmm, where did these come from? I hopped online and discovered that Ignacio Anaya [below] had invented them. It was unbelievable to me that I didn’t know my favorite snack was created by a generous, quick-thinking man, whose nickname was Nacho. When I realized this culinary hero had mostly been forgotten, I decided to do what I could to tell the world about his story.


Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio

El Space: As I read it, I craved nachos! What were the challenges of writing Nacho’s Nachos? How long did it take from writing to publication?
Sandra: It’s been six years since that day in the kitchen. When I discovered the stories on the internet didn’t agree about how nachos were invented, I travelled to Piedras Negras. The families of Ignacio Anaya, Mamie Finan—the woman for whom nachos were invented—and Rodolfo de los Santos—the owner of the restaurant where nachos were invented—still live in the area and very generously agreed to speak with me.

An original nacho in Piedras Negras

What I discovered was that even in Piedras Negras, folks have different versions of the story. It made me double down on research and look beyond the internet. I found two archived newspaper articles, where the reporters interviewed Nacho himself. When I read them, I felt that I was as close as I was ever going to get to the truth. With those articles and the details I gathered from photographs and interviews, I at last had my story! Lee and Low chose Oliver Dominguez to illustrate, and the book was released in celebration of 80 years of nachos!

My nachos

El Space: What was the process of working with Oliver? How much input did you have?
Sandra: First of all, let me say that I am delighted beyond words that Oliver is the illustrator for Nacho’s Nachos! He’s immensely talented, conscientious about getting details right, and a fabulous human being.

About your question, the general rule of picture books is that the writer writes, the illustrator illustrates, and each is careful not to step on the creative toes of the other. With a nonfiction like Nacho’s Nachos, there is a bit more collaboration by necessity. The families of Nacho, Mamie and Rodolfo kindly shared photos of the protagonists and the Victory Club. I shared these with Oliver so that the details of the illustrations could be as accurate as possible. In addition, our editor, Louise May, acted as our go-between, passing on questions Oliver and I had for each other.

El Space: I’m curious: how much have nachos evolved since their creation?
Sandra: They have evolved! A lot! The original nachos weren’t the piles of tortilla chips we now see all loaded up with lots of toppings. Nacho’s original creation was pure and simple: a freshly fried tortilla quarter, with melted cheddar cheese, and a single strip of pickled jalapeno pepper.
The incredible thing about Nacho’s invention is that it has inspired others to create their own versions. I’ve seen recipes for reuben nachos, hotdog nachos, caviar nachos, kung pao chicken nachos, and s’mores nachos. And that’s just the beginning. The sky really is the limit when it comes to nachos!

El Space: You’re always so helpful to writers, Sandra. What advice do you have for picture book writers?
Sandra: The best trick I discovered for myself is to divide the story into fourteen spreads once I’ve done my brainstorming and initial draft. This way it’s pretty easy to see the narrative arc of the story. As with novels, the best picture books have a start, rising action, crisis, climax and resolution. With fourteen spreads I can basically graph out what needs to happen where and then revise. The spread divisions also help me keep an eye on the all-important page turn.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra: I have two picture books coming out in 2021—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe and Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson. I am doing all the things that go along with that. Brainstorming marketing ideas for The Stuff Between the Stars. Revising and fact checking for Breaking Through the Clouds.

As for writing, I have a picture book coming out in 2022 about a worrywart of a bear and an adorable fish. Those two have taken up residence in my mind, and they’ve been bugging me to write down another of their stories. They’ve gotten so loud I don’t have a choice anymore!

Thank you so much for this chance to talk with you. I always love spending time with you!

Thanks so much, Sandra, for coming to chat!

Here are some great reviews of Nacho’s Nachos:

★ “Nickel’s thorough research, including communications with the descendants of the principals, brings to life the man behind the world’s favorite cheesy bites. . . . Nickel’s homage to this congenial, hardworking man and his renowned snack is a celebration of ingenuity and kismet.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review

“This tale of the humble origins of nachos, bolstered by vivid and period-specific illustrations, will whisk young readers away to a different time and place.” —BOOKLIST

“VERDICT A unique biography read-aloud title for younger kids.” — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

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

Looking for Nacho’s Nachos? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, or your favorite local bookstore.

Or look in your mailbox, ’cause someone will receive a free copy. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on September 7.

Henry with a Yeti-size plate of nachos. He prefers his nachos with a touch of ground beef, a dab of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and peppers.

Author photo, nacho photos, and book cover courtesy of the author. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio. Map showing Piedras Negras from somewhere on the internet. Picture book layout by Debbie Ohi. Henry photo by L. Marie.

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.

Crayons—Promises of Proficiency

I’ve written about crayons before. Like here.

Crayons fascinate me, particularly the box of sixty-four. What an array of colors! When I was a kid, a big box of crayons made me fit for any task—whether I needed to color a page in a coloring book or make my own illustrations on a blank piece of paper. Each crayon in my hand was a promise that I could make things happen. Back then, I never doubted that I could.

 

These days, I don’t use crayons as much as I once did. And some days, doubts creep in that I’m fit for the task. The bane of adulthood. Ever been there? On days when I doubt my proficiency, I think I know what to do instead: open my box of crayons and remember the promise.

Andy of City Jackdaw, here’s a promise: you will see a copy of Charles Yallowitz’s book, War of Nytefall: Eradication on your Kindle device! Please comment below to confirm.

Book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Photos by L. Marie.

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.