Check This Out: Through His Disciples’ Eyes

With me on the blog today is the fabulous L. Virelli {Lori}, who is here to talk about her recently released novel, Through His Disciples’ Eyes.

Here’s a blurb:

As the author, I found it difficult to choose a specific genre for this novel. It’s not fantasy, but there’s mysticism. It’s not romance, but there’s love. It’s not Christian, but there’s Christ. It’s not psychological, but it’s emotional. It’s not religious, but it’s spiritual. In addition to all of the above, it’s an impassioned, poignant, inspirational tale which takes three characters on soul searching journeys they don’t even really know they are on.
***
What if Jesus lived in modern times? Would history repeat itself?

In the year 2029, the world is broken, and so is Max Greenwood. In his attempt to find inner peace, he learns of a long-lost prophet—Joshua Cane—who lived in the 1950s. His life appears to mirror that of Jesus, complete with healing miracles, disciples, and being murdered in his thirties. Researching for more, Max uncovers information on two of the disciples. Tobias Jones is a tempestuous man who separates from Cane’s other followers to spread the prophet’s teachings on his own. His ideas to control the righteous message lead to trouble. Julia Flores is a teen whose mother kicked her out. Homeless and feeling unloved, she finds purpose in following Joshua Cane on his Mission to spread peace. As she travels with him, emotional issues from her past emerge, causing drama along the way. The stories of these troubled souls searching for meaning trigger life-altering revelations for Max Greenwood—revelations not only about Joshua and his disciples, but about himself and all of us.

L. Virelli interweaves concepts from self-help, spirituality, the Bible, and New Thought into an allegorical tale.

El Space: What inspired you to write Through His Disciples’ Eyes?
Lori: You’d think this would be a simple answer for an author, right? This one is not easy to explain. The inspiration to write this novel began around 2005. I’ve written blog posts about a time of seeking I went through due to unexpected circumstances in my life. I was doing inner work and spent lots of time in the spiritual and self-help sections of the bookstore. Sometimes I read entire books while sitting in a chair at Borders. Several of those books were helpful for my growth, and most of them were instructional. I was wishing for one in story form as well—one that gives hope—characters with difficult issues they overcome. I had enjoyed the book Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman, which was partially fiction. That was when my mind started churning with ideas for my own fully fictional story and characters.

El Space: How long did it take you to write this novel?
Lori: The format of the book was a difficult one to put together. It starts out eight years in the future and then goes back in time to the 1950s and 60s. The author of the earlier centuries is the character, Max Greenwood, telling the story of the two other characters, Julia Flores and Tobias Jones. In addition, I needed to integrate deep spiritual principles. Since I only had short stories published at the time, and hadn’t written a novel yet, I decided to start with something easier first. I began writing Through His Disciples’ Eyes after publication of my first novel, Whit’s End, a family saga.

After writing Through His Disciples’ Eyes, it went through my critique group for fixes, and then my editor for more fixes. It ended up being five years from the first words on the blank page to publication. But it’s been a long time coming since my first ideas around 2005.

El Space: How did you research it?
Lori: The research for the book was from all the spiritual seeking and reading I’d done years earlier. Many of the spiritual principles I derived from the Bible and my favorite author and sage, Paul Ferrini. I modernized some Bible stories for the twentieth-century characters. I watched old movies, TV shows, and a couple documentaries to research the 1950s and 60s for the trends and lifestyles.

El Space: What was the hardest part about writing this novel?
Lori: The hardest part was writing three separate stories and then tying them all together at the end.

El Space: What kept you going through the writing process?
Lori: Though the novel is not fully Christian in nature, reading the Bible and watching stories about Christ kept me going.

El Space: What do you hope a reader will take away from reading your novel?
Lori: Hope. There are three broken characters who go on soul-searching journeys they don’t really know they’re on. I want their processes of learning and overcoming to offer hope to others.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Lori: I have outlined a coming home story—about an empathic woman floundering and stumbling through life. She leaves home at eighteen, thinking moving away will improve her life, but matters only get worse. Will going home mean finding herself?

Thank you, Lori, for being my guest!

Looking for Lori? Check her out at her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Looking for Through His Disciples’ Eyes? Check Amazon!

One of you will be given a copy of Through His Disciples’ Eyes, just by commenting. Winner to be announced next week sometime. And check out this other book by Lori by clicking on the photo.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of L. Virelli. Other book covers from Goodreads.

Christmas 2022


O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
O come and behold Him, born the King of Angels

O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord

“O Come, All Ye Faithful” by John Francis Wade

And now to announce the two winners of these books by the fabulous Sarah Aronson and Kate Hosford respectively (see this post for the interview):

   

    

The winners are Marian Beaman (Brand-New Bubbe) and Laura Bruno Lilly (A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals).

Winners, please comment below to confirm.

Happy holidays to all!

Crocheted Christmas lights pattern by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me. Check it out here.

Baby Jesus image from freeimages.com. Crocheted lights photo by L. Marie.

Check These Out: Brand-New Bubbe and A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals

Today, I am privileged to be here with two amazing picture book authors who are no strangers to the blog: Sarah Aronson and Kate Hosford. Sarah is here to talk about Brand-New Bubbe, which was published by Charlesbridge.

   

Kate is here to talk about A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals, which was published by Running Press Kids/Hachette.

    

Sarah is represented by Andrea Cascardi and Kate is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. (Click on the book titles above to learn more about each book.)

El Space: What inspired this book?
Sarah: Becoming a brand new bubbe! Hi Sylvie, Alice, and Emmett! When my stepson announced that he and his wife were expecting, my husband and I were delighted! I couldn’t wait to be a bubbe! I immediately found a dark lipstick! When I shared the good news with friends, someone said, “Does it feel odd, since technically, you aren’t related?” Not related? I couldn’t believe my ears. Our blended family IS family! I began thinking about our family and how family really is more than blood. It’s made with love. That was all the inspiration I needed! I sat back and thought about all the changes in Jillian’s life, and how change is hard for kids. And then I thought about how family, like soup, is made of love . . . Just like writing, right? I’m so grateful to my editor, Yolanda Scott, for seeing the potential in this story, and for finding Ariel Landy to create the illustrations. Now, when I read this book, I invite kids to make their “family constellation,” and include all the people that bring light into their lives. It’s amazing!

Kate: My original inspiration for this story came from reading The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by the naturalist, Sy Montgomery. After finishing this amazing book, I was sure that I wanted to write a poetry collection about octopuses for children. Although I did not know the author, I reached out to her to see if I could write to some of her contacts at the New England Aquarium. To my delight, Sy invited me to go to the aquarium with her and a group of friends. During our visit, I met her namesake, Sy the Octopus, along with many wonderful aquarium employees and volunteers.

But somehow, the poetry collection for octopuses never happened. My poems either seemed too serious or too trite, and I felt that I could not do justice to these incredibly intelligent and complex creatures. However, somewhere in the midst of my research, I discovered that some scientists believe that octopuses can dream. This led me to research the sleep habits of many different animals. After I found out that otters hold hands while sleeping, zebra finches rehearse their songs while dreaming, and frigate birds can sleep while flying, I knew I had found a new topic for my book. In 2019, A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals was published with Running Press Kids.

El Space: The joy of writing always comes through in each of your books. I know there had to be challenges, because every great book has those. But what was the most delightful aspect of writing this book?
Sarah: Always the most fun is getting the illustrations! I LOVE how Ariel Landy depicted Jillian and Bubbe—and their pets. I love a great subtext! Like every book I write, this one took lots of revision, tinkering, and reimagination. The turning point in this story came after I made a dummy. Writers, I know it can be hard, but it is such an important step. That dummy showed me where the pacing was working . . . and where it wasn’t.

Kate: Thank you for saying that! The most delightful part of writing these poems was twofold: I loved the challenge of translating the science into accessible poetry for children, using many different poetic forms. I also loved corresponding with animal scientists who are probably one of the most generous communities I’ve ever encountered. I reached out to experts from all over the world and almost all of them took the time to write me back, edit my research, and generally educate me on the sleep habits of animals.

One of my poems was about a snail who had been found in Egypt and added to the collection at the British Museum in 1846. The museum conchologists glued the shell to a label, assuming the snail was dead. In 1850, the conchologists noticed a slimy mucus plug underneath the shell and realized that he still might be alive. After the shell was bathed in warm water, and the snail emerged, no worse for wear. It became so famous for its long nap that its portrait was drawn by a prominent artist at the time. The snail is now housed at the Natural History Museum in London.

I had been corresponding with Jonathan Ablett, the senior curator of Mollusca at the Natural History Museum, who said he could show me the famous snail’s shell if I came to London. We were planning a vacation there anyway, so my husband and I were able to see the shell along with many invertebrate specimens collected by Darwin, and all sorts of other fascinating creatures housed in the floors beneath the museum’s exhibition halls. Jon also kindly added my book to the museum’s library of mollusca and cephalopods. This was, beyond a doubt, one of the highlights of my career.

Kate’s book, with a very orange octupus.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sarah: I am finishing up work on my next picture book biography, Abzuglutely: Battling Bellowing Bella Abzug (Calkins Creek, Astra Publishing). I just got a peek at the illustrations, and WOW. It is going to be gorgeous. Bella was one of my childhood heroes, and I am SO HONORED to be writing about her. I also just finished an adult novel and I’ve got a couple of projects in other genres, too. Anyone that knows me knows that I can’t say no to any idea, or a new genre! Creativity should not come with a brand. It’s all about joy! And reaching for more. And thinking and dreaming big, always with wonder and appreciation.

Kate: I usually work on many different things at once. My picture book, You’ll Always Be My Chickadee will come out with Chronicle in the spring of 2024. I wrote it during the summer of 2020, which we spent in Vermont where I grew up. I thought a lot that summer about all the time I had spent with my family exploring the forest, river, meadow, and other natural wonders around my childhood home, and bonds that nature can create between parent and child. I have also sold another book and will be happy to reveal more about that soon!

In terms of other projects, I am working on a book about animal mothers, a collection of poems about things that shed, a story about a day spent wearing pajamas, an early reader series, and a book about the moon.

Thank you both for being my guests!

Kate: Thank you for having me and Sarah on El Space today!

Looking for Sarah? You can find her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Looking for Kate? You can find her at her website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Brand-New Bubbe: BookshopIndiebound, Booked, Amazon, Barnes and Noble

A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals: Bookshop, Amazon, Barnes and Noble

A copy of each book will be given away, Kate’s to one winner and Sarah’s to another. (Happy Holidays, y’all.) Comment below on your favorite seasonal cookie to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week.

Other books by Sarah and Kate (click on each book to learn where to purchase)

  

 

Book covers from Goodreads. Sarah Aronson author photo courtesy of Sarah Aronson. Kate Hosford author photo and museum photo courtesy of Kate Hosford. Sleeping otters photo from Reddit.

Some Favorites

The other day, I thought about the authors who are no longer with us whose books I’ve read all of, or if not all, at least a majority of them (or a specific series by them if their writing crossed more than one genre). Those authors are below. I purposely didn’t include authors who are writing now, because there are too many to list and I did not want to insult anyone by forgetting him or her. So, only dead authors made the list. Some favorites I also didn’t include because the author wrote one book that I loved, but  died before writing another one (like Mary Ann Shaffer, who wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but died before the book was through the editing phase).

Jane Austen (including the unfinished books)


L. Frank Baum (including books by other authors who continued his Oz series)


Agatha Christie (started reading her books probably when I was ten)


Charles Dickens


Madeleine L’Engle


Ursula Le Guin (the Earthsea books that is)

 
C.S. Lewis (fiction and nonfiction though the book at the right does not count as strictly nonfiction, since it is an allegory based on events in the author’s life)

 
George MacDonald (the fairy tales)


Ellis Peters (at one point I couldn’t get enough of her Cadfael series)


Terry Pratchett (his Discworld series is one of my favorite series ever)


Dorothy Sayers (the Lord Peter Wimsey books, but not the one finished by another author)


Shakespeare (read him in high school and took two classes in college—we had to read a ton)


J. R. R. Tolkien (definitely among the top favorites)

The books in the photos are those I grabbed off the shelf and don’t necessarily represent my absolute favorite by said author, though some are. Many of these authors became known to me when I was an English major in college. Some I began reading when I was a kid. Others were introduced to me by readers who loved them. After reading one or two books, I loved them too.

This list is not the complete list of all of the authors whose books occupied many of my reading hours. These are the ones I thought of off the top of my head mainly because I happened to be near the bookshelves that house my adult fiction, or I was in a conversation and a particular author was mentioned. I don’t have an explanation for why some authors became such favorites that I grabbed whatever books they wrote. There are some authors whose books are favorites—but I have read only a few of their books for some reason. Consequently, they did not make the list. 😊

Are any of these your favorites? Are there authors whose books you will read no matter what they write? Feel free to share!

Now on to the real reason for this post: to announce the winners of Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors and the upcoming young adult novel, Torch, by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. (Click here for the interview with Lyn.)

 


The winner of Film Makers: 15 Groundbreaking Women Directors is Andy!
The winner of Torch is Nancy!

Thank you to all who commented!

Photos by L. Marie, except for the books and author photo of Lyn Miller-Lachmann.

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.