Check This Out: Moonwalking

Put on your ’80s going-to-the-mall clothes! With me on the blog is the awesome and prolific Lyn Miller-Lachmann (left), who is here to discuss Moonwalking, her historical novel in verse co-authored with the equally awesome Zetta Elliott. (See cover reveal post here.) Moonwalking was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on April 12. Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.

   

For a synopsis of the book, click here.

El Space: You have two books debuting this month! We’ll talk later about the second. But how amazing is that? How does that make you feel?
Lyn:
Very busy! My last book launch, not including translations, was June 2015—seven years ago—so it was a huge adjustment to get back into promoting my books. Also, the industry has changed and my last book was a YA novel, Surviving Santiago, so how I’ve gotten the word out about the books has been different. I’m grateful to my co-author, Zetta Elliott, for doing more than her share in terms of blogging about Moonwalking and going on social media. This is an exciting time, and I’m learning a lot, which will surely help me when my next YA novel, Torch, launches on November 1 of this year.

9780762456338

El Space: Congrats on getting four starred reviews for Moonwalking from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and Horn Book. How has that recognition been a game changer for you?
Lyn:
The starred reviews for Moonwalking are the first I’ve received for any book I’ve written, though I did get Kirkus stars for two of my translations from Portuguese to English:The World in a Second (Enchanted Lion, 2015) and The President of the Jungle (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020). I feel that the starred reviews have given me a certain level of approval in terms of craft that’s especially gratifying because I spent a lot of time in the seven years between publications to improve my craft and try new forms and techniques like the verse novel. These stars make me think of when JJ gets his social studies project back and sees, “My first A+ ever!”

El Space: How did you decide that Moonwalking needed to be a novel in verse? Did you experiment with other formats or was telling the story in verse the chosen way from the beginning?
Lyn:
Zetta suggested the verse novel format right at the beginning, as we were coming up with the story line and the characters. She’s a celebrated poet for adults, but she’d never written a verse novel for young readers, one that foregrounds story arc and accessibility. She wanted to try a form that captures the artistic flowering of 1980s New York City even though neither Pie nor JJ see themselves as poets. I had been working on a YA verse novel at the time—one in which the protagonist does dream of being a poet in the mold of Elizabeth Acevedo’s groundbreaking The Poet X—but I put it aside to work on Moonwalking. We sold the book on the basis of a detailed synopsis and three poems each. I’d never sold a novel with so little written before, so this was a new experience for me—and it was a verse novel from the very beginning.

El Space: Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Lyn:
I came up with JJ’s story because I wanted to write about a white boy who’s grown up comfortably middle class and privileged, losing it all when the government fires and blacklists his father and the other members of the PATCO union after the August 1981 strike. I read Gregory Pardlo’s haunting memoir, Air Traffic, where he talks about his family suddenly descending into poverty and instability as his father is unable to find regular work. Sadly, this has been the story of so many Americans of all races (Pardlo, for instance, is Black), but the growing numbers of white Americans who have lost the economic security and communal ties that unions offer make them especially vulnerable to demagogues seeking to blame the Other. JJ is struggling to find his way within these circumstances, but he’s also coming to see how he often gets more consideration because he’s white.

El Space: What was the process of collaborating with your coauthor? Did you guys each start with a character? With the plot?
Lyn:
We started with our individual characters and their stories—JJ, the newcomer to Brooklyn trying to find his place, and Pie, the longtime resident who loves his neighborhood and the nexus of adults who support him but also wants to escape to something better like his artistic role model, Jean-Michel Basquiat (photo below). Because I broke my ankle in January 2020, around the time we signed the contract, I was stuck at home with lots of time to write, so I finished my poems long before Zetta, who moved house three times in the middle of a pandemic. Once she finished, we looked at what we had, brainstormed some endings that diverged from our original outline/synopsis, and added, subtracted, and revised poems.

El Space: How long was the writing period? What was the road to getting it accepted at a publisher?
Lyn:
We had a tentative acceptance within a week after submitting the outline/synopsis and sample poems. Several publishers were interested. We spoke to them by phone over the course of a week, and ultimately decided on the pre-empt with Grace Kendall at FSG—the editor of Zetta and Noa Denmon’s Caldecott Honor Book, A Place Inside of Me—because we loved her vision and her equal appreciation of both boys’ stories. It took me about six months to write my draft of the poems, another six months for Zetta to finish hers, and another six months for revising and incorporating our separate narratives into one unified narrative.

El Space: What novels in verse inspired you?
Lyn:
Besides Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and her dual point of view, Clap When You Land. I especially appreciated Susan Hood’s WWII verse novel Lifeboat 12 for its portrayal of a 12-year-old boy who felt invisible in his family and in school and struggled with what probably were learning disabilities. Like Ken in her book, JJ has a lot going on inside and doesn’t realize the extent of his power and what he can accomplish if he stands up for what’s right. At the same time, many of the people around him don’t recognize that he’s a keen observer of the world around him and the hypocrisy within it, and that he’s on his way to becoming a composer of the music that allows him to express himself when his words can’t.

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’m going back to that YA verse novel, but I’ve also been working on several nonfiction projects for older elementary school students related to twentieth century history. I like the idea of working in multiple genres and categories, but related topics, because it allows me to reuse and expand upon the extensive research that I do.

Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!

Searching for Lyn? You can find her at her website and Twitter. Moonwalking can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Bookshop

I’m giving away a copy of Moonwalking. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week sometime.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other covers from Goodreads. Jean-Michel Basquiat photo by Andy Warhol found at Wikipedia.

Expert Advice

First, let me announce that this is NOT an April Fool’s joke.

The other day, I thought about expertise and what exactly makes someone an expert. Years of experience? A large social media platform? When you seek advice, do you seek advice from an expert? It really depends on what you need, right? After all, you wouldn’t go to someone for legal advice who was still in law school. But you might go to that law student if you were looking for advice about the application process, since that person successfully completed the process.

When it comes to publishing, I usually look for someone who can offer me more experiential knowledge than I currently have. Though I have many years of experience in publishing, I still don’t consider myself an expert, because no one masters every imaginable genre in publishing. So there’s always something to learn, especially from a fellow writer, an editor, or an agent. Even as an editor, I can only give an opinion to the author about what may or may not need to change—even in line edits.

Awhile ago I pitched a manuscript to a mentorship program where mentorships are offered by published novelists if your pitch is picked. Once chosen (not everyone is) you would then submit your manuscript to the mentor or mentors who would then help you to submit it to an agent. The one I’m referring to is this one. Click to find out more information. That’s one way of seeking expert advice.

What expert advice have you sought recently? Were you satisfied with the result? While you consider your answer, let’s celebrate the winners of the following:

Laura Bruno Lilly’s Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) (Click here for the interview.)

and Sandra Nickel’s Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson (Click here for the interview.)

The winners of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) are

Jennie

Nancy Hatch

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

S. K. Van Zandt!

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

Covers and photos courtesy of the composer and author. Expert image expertly done by L. Marie.

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

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

Check out this book trailer:

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms.

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check This Out—War of Nytefall: Eulogy

On the eve of Clyde’s dream becoming reality, his life will be torn asunder.

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

As his dream of peace becomes a reality, Clyde faces his darkest challenge.

With the Dawn Fangs’ existence exposed, the time for negotiations has begun. Mortal rulers and the council of Nytefall gather to discuss terms, but chaos is already stirring. It does not take long for Clyde’s dream to become a nightmare as villages are slaughtered by a Dawn Fang who is rumored to be the newly crowned Vampire King. Bodies of friends and enemies pile up as this mysterious imposter reveals why mortals should fear Clyde. Will Clyde’s final adventure see his dream of peace fail before it is realized?

The truth is more horrifying than the Dawn Fangs ever imagined.

*****

Curiosity piqued? Check out this teaser!

The Truth?

Coming to the windmill, Magrus coats his body in a protective shell and carefully climbs to the top of the broken structure. Slowly turning in a circle, he scans the area to get a full sense of the remaining magic. He ignores the auras of the guards, who are sifting through the wreckage to find more bodies. Those who have been located have already been moved to the outskirts where they are being prepared for transport. Peering down the narrow road, he can see an oxen-driven cart is getting closer and sighs at how it will not be enough to collect all of the dead. Magrus considers warning the lieutenant, but he fears it will lead to a long conversation and waste more of his precious time. He turns to where the man is helping to prop up a wall, which has crushed a family of four. Shaking his head, the Zarian climbs down from his perch and uses his staff to help him navigate his way out of town. Nothing catches his interest, but he stops momentarily to send a few more lost souls to the afterlife.

“Let us see what really happened,” Magrus whispers as he reaches the woods.

Turning back to the village, the man plunges his staff into the earth and grips it tightly to prevent himself from falling over. His eyes develop a rainbow shimmer over the gold as he wavers on his feet. Fighting through the looming fatigue, the priest lets his magical vision change from what is in front of him to revealing phantoms of the past. Transparent buildings rise back into place and ghostly figures go about their lives even though he can still sense a little of what is truly there. Magrus scowls at the sight of a black-haired figure landing a few feet away, the puff of dirt revealing an illusion covering the small crater. Within seconds of appearing, the man rushes at the town and begins destroying everything in sight. Using only his fists and feet, he breaks houses and shatters people. The attacker’s speed is almost too much for the Zarian to follow, so he focuses on examining the phantasmal carnage for clues. He spots bite marks on several necks and sees the chickens were devoured in the blink of an eye. Torches and candles are knocked over to start the fires, which explode into an inferno connected to the illusionary plume of smoke. Magrus is not sure what caused the sudden blast since the attacker had been tearing the local blacksmith in half at the time. Deciding he has seen enough, the man freezes the vision before falling to his knees from the exertion. He is able to hold the image for another second before it disappears, but it still gives him a clear view of the rampaging figure.

“This cannot be shared,” Magrus says as he takes out a piece of paper. He mutters a spell to transfer the image of a black-haired man with a corn-shaped necklace from his brain to the parchment. “It would appear that Clyde of Nytefall is not as big a fan of peace as one would believe. Yet, I still see mysteries here. The fires grew without his influence and I see no reason why he would want this place discovered. I have many questions, Lady Zaria, so I cannot purify the Vampire King until I have answers. There has never been a man or monster who has escaped my thorough investigations. This one will be no different. I swear on my goddess’s crimson hair that Clyde and the Dawn Fangs will be judged. Then, if necessary, they will be punished.”

Click here for your copy of the Dawn Fangs’ final battle for
99 cents on Amazon!
Help spread the word by adding it to your Goodreads ‘To Read’ List!

*****

New to War of Nytefall?Grab all 8 Volumes for 99 cents each ($8 total)!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

Interested in more Windemere? Then don’t forget to check out Charles E. Yallowitz’s first series: Legends of Windemere

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

About the Author:

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

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

Enjoy Clyde’s final adventure by clicking here!

L. Marie here. I’m giving away a copy of War of Nytefall: Eulogy to a commenter. So to enter the drawing, please comment below!

When I Relax, I . . . Work?

Sadly, I did not get a post out last week to announce the winner of Charles Yallowitz’s War of Nytefall: Anarchy. The week got away from me with its awful stress. I’m sure you can relate to stress. One of these days, I’ll have the emotional wherewithal to tell you alllllllllllll about it. For now, let’s discuss a stress management tactic—rest/relaxation. I don’t mean taking a nap, though my mom says that’s her favorite form of stress relief. I’m not much of a napper, because napping subtracts from my nighttime sleep hours. The only time it doesn’t is when I’m really ill.

  

One of my favorite forms of rest/relaxation, besides watching this show (based on the book by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus)

or playing this

is to crochet. I’m currently making an underwater habitat for this little whale as part of a gift.

   

Whale crochet pattern by LittleMagicHouse

Coral, seaweed, and shell patterns by TheYarnConspiracy.

It might seem like a lot of work. And it is. But with every stitch crocheted or felt sewn, that’s minutes of stress off my back. I’m not sure why it works that way for me. Some people do crossword or jigsaw puzzles (looking at you, Jill Weatherholt and Charles Yallowitz); I crochet. I like to keep my hands busy while watching a movie or show on Netflix.

What do you do for relaxation? While you consider that, Marian Beaman, consider yourself a winner of Charles’s latest book!

Thank you to all who commented and faithfully read this weird blog.

Book cover and author photos courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out–War of Nytefall: Anarchy Is 99 cents!

As the vampires battle in the shadows, a new enemy appears to drag them into the light!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

The paladins of Windemere have had enough!

As the Vampire Civil War heats up, mysterious murders are being committed against members of every holy order. All signs point to the culprits being vampires, which has resulted in the creation of a unified paladin army. To protect his people, Clyde must find the killers before the holy warriors unleash their purifying crusade. It is a battle against frustrating obstacles as the war inches closer to mortal civilization and ambitious new allies join Nytefall.

One slip is all that is needed for the secret of the Dawn Fangs to be revealed.

Curiosity piqued? Check out this teaser!

The urge to move faster nearly overtakes Lost’s common sense, but she reminds herself that adults are supposed to be patient. As if her mind is trying to undermine her actions, she is on the verge of whistling the first tune that slips into her thoughts. Sucking in her lips, the Dawn Fang pierces them with her fangs to stop them from causing trouble. The pain makes her eyes water and she squishes mud in her hands to hold back a scream. Reaching out with her telepathy, she tries to locate her targets while she lets her unfocused thoughts run their course. A distant prayer to Ram the War God causes her to change her direction and she takes a deep breath to regain her composure. With the paladins so far away, Lost moves a little faster, but stops short of giving in to her silly, impatient urges. Seeing the edge of the tall grass, she drops again and uses her elbows to pull herself along like she remembers seeing Titus do on several missions. As she comes out of her cover, the bright sun blinds her, so she is unable to stop herself from banging into something metal, which falls onto her back.

“Get off of me!” Lost shouts before telekinetically hurling the object into the river. She scrambles to her feet and freezes at the sight of six paladins standing in her path. “Such shiny and pretty armors, you have here. I really like the guy with the big helmet. Is that an ostrich feather? I keep meaning to ride one of those again. So, nice day for a walk. This is bunny who is totally unable to fly. That’s why he’s on my head. Your friend seems okay, so there’s absolutely no reason for us to spend any more time together. Bye!”

“You must be Lost,” Lord Adam says through his great helm. He takes a step forward and holds out a diamond fused to a bronze chain. “We are well aware of you and your abilities, monster. That is why I travel with this. None of your mind tricks will work on those who stand in my presence. Even your keen senses are tricked by the spells designed specifically to thwart your actions. Be honored that we went to so much trouble to design items with you in mind. No other Dawn Fang has earned so much individual attention.”

“That’s kind of creepy,” she replies as she steps back. Seeing weapons getting drawn, she stops retreating and playfully slaps at the mud with her bare feet. “Needed to wash some gunk out from between my toesies. Well, this is awkward. You brought me such a pretty present and I don’t have anything for you. Bunny says that I need to work on my manners. There’s really no need for violence. Dawn Fangs are mostly good. Just like mortals, we have some bad ones, but we’re all individuals like all of you. I mean, we all eat soup the same way, right? I really hope you all use spoons for that comparison to work.”

“Abominations such as you-” the paladin begins to announce.

“Look at the naked heretic!” she shouts while pointing into the distance.

All of the holy warriors, except for Lord Adam, turn to see what Lost is gesturing at, so she flings mud at their leader’s helmet grating. The man coughs and hacks as the Dawn Fang sprints back to the river and launches herself to the other side. A quake meets her as she lands and she nearly topples onto her side, but manages to stumble along. Glancing over her shoulder, she does not see any of the paladins in pursuit and considers slowing down to get her bearings. Lost’s eyes go wide when she sees the powerful steeds rise into the air, arch over the river, and land in a perfect line that immediately charges ahead. The open plains allow the warriors to move at full speed, which is only slightly slower than the sprinting Dawn Fang. They hurl spells and glowing weapons, which return to their hands, but the attacks never hit their mark. Those that come close are deflected by a telekinetic shield, which repeatedly shatters upon impact thanks to Lord Adam’s diamond weakening her even from a distance. With the relic defending the paladins’ minds and muffling their hoofbeats, she has to repeatedly look over her shoulder to make sure none of them have disappeared. To her relief, they never break formation and she gets a sense of their attack pattern, which never falters.

Get a copy of this vampire action adventure for
99 cents on Amazon!
Help spread the word by adding it on Goodreads!

*****

Want to catch up on War of Nytefall? Grab the volumes 1-6 for 99 cents each ($6 total)!

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

Interested in more Windemere? Then don’t forget to check out Charles E. Yallowitz’s first series: Legends of Windemere

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

About the Author:

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

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

Enjoy the fang-filled adventure by clicking here!

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

Message Received?

In a movie review, Jeremy Jahns, a YouTube reviewer I usually watch, talked about social commentary in movies based on fictional stories in a way that I found very thought provoking. While he mentioned a specific film, what he said could apply to many films and other types of stories. Of course reviews are subjective, so take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, he said,

A picture is worth a thousand words. But this . . . movie would rather use a thousand words to paint a picture.

In other words, he felt the social commentary was too obvious and heavy handed and would have been better had it been more subtle and the story and characters better developed. I have heard statements like this about a number of movies. Though I didn’t see the movie he reviewed, Jahns’s statement got me to thinking about the messages I’ve noticed in some fiction books or on the screen in the last ten years or so. Obviously this is my opinion which you can take with a grain of salt, but sometimes the messages have seemed a little too obvious, with characters practically saying things like, “And that’s why _____ (fill in the blank) is bad.” Sometimes the whole reason for the existence of a book or film (again please keep in mind that I am talking about fiction, rather than nonfiction) seems to be to deliver a message.

I totally get the need to encourage change through a well-written story. That is the power of words. But I’m drawn to stories where the message doesn’t rest on top in a blinking lights kind of way. I like to glean the message for myself. I can read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and see the awful toll war takes on people, something Tolkien experienced firsthand, without having to be told by a character, “Do you see what disagreements like this could lead to? How awful everything is? How needful it is that we come together in peace and goodwill?”

What about you? Do you like messages that are a

and as obvious as this:

Or do you prefer the subtle approach? Are there some messages that need to be wrecking ball clear? Do tell! While you ponder that, Anne Westrick, get ready to receive a signed copy of Edie in Between by Laura Sibson! Please comment below to confirm.

    

Jeremy Jahns photo from famousbirthdays. Quote from August 27, 2021 review. Stupidly obvious messages from dreamstime and ebaumsworld.

Check This Out: Edie in Between

It’s been a while since we met, but here we are to welcome the awesome Laura Sibson, who is here to talk about her YA fantasy novel, Edie in Between, which debuts today!! It was published by Viking. The illustrator of cover is Lisa Sterle. Cover designed by Jessica Jenkins.

Laura is repped by Brianne Johnson. Click here to read a synopsis and to get to an excerpt of Edie in Between.

El Space: You and I have had conversations about fantasy shows and book series we like. Please tell us how you came to write this contemporary fantasy.
Laura: I’ve loved stories with magic for as long as I can remember. I especially love stories in which magic could be just out of sight; magic that exists in our world but is kept secret from us. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write such a story. When I pitched ideas to my editor for my second book, she suggested a mash-up of two ideas. One was about a girl dealing with the death of her mother in an unusual way and the other was about a girl who found her magical lineage burdensome. By merging the ideas together, I was able to create a story in which magic exists, but it also serves as a metaphor for acceptance.

El Space: As you consider the characters, the magic system, the plot, and the romance, what was the most fun part about writing your novel?
Laura: You may already know the answer as you were a trusted early reader. I love writing blooming romance and banter between friends. Those elements come easiest to me. Crafting the malevolent aspects of the magic system was challenging, but in a problem-solving way. Plot is always the most difficult part of drafting for me.

El Space: Your book has dual narrators. How did you keep track of each storyline?
Laura: Not only did I need to keep track of the individual storylines, but I also needed to ensure that Maura’s journal entries appeared when Edie needed to read them. I draft my stories in Scrivener which allows you to view the order of scenes in a sidebar. Each scene was titled with the narrator’s name so I could see at a glance where Edie’s chapters appeared relative to Maura’s. I also used index cards on a big white board to help me visualize how the scenes interlocked with the overall scavenger hunt storyline.

El Space: Edie in Between has strong themes of friendship and family. Without giving any spoilers, since this is a book about family secrets, why were both—friendship and family—important for you to include in this book?
Laura: Edie In Between was always going to be a story about intergenerational family relationships. I was especially interested in looking at how Edie and her grandmother dealt with grief in different ways and how that could create tension between them. I also love the idea of found family and how friends will show up and support you through hard things when maybe your family cannot.

El Space: If you could have magical power, and could choose what power you have, what would your power be?
Laura: In my story, the magic that travels through the Mitchell family is elemental. Edie struggles with her element of fire, her mother commanded water and her grandmother, GG, commands earth – especially plants. Of all of those, I’d most like GG’s magic because she can grow anything. Not only does that seem incredibly useful to me, but I also love lush, overgrown gardens and I’d like to have a talent for creating one like GG’s.

El Space: Excluding the great VCFA authors who are too numerous to name, who are some of the fantasy authors you find inspiring?
Laura: Akwaeke Emezi for their talent for showing over telling. Laini Taylor for full-on originality. Holly Black for making me feel all things while also creating delicious fairy worlds. Tomi Adeyemi for the infusion of West African myth. Leigh Bardugo for balancing a huge cast of interesting characters. Brigid Kemmerer for retellings.

   

  

El Space: What are you working on now?
Laura: I am working on another young adult novel with paranormal elements. In this story, a group of friends summon an urban legend connected to their historic private school in hopes that it will grant wishes. The legend is more dangerous than they’d believed, so they’ll need to work together to defeat it—before one of them dies. But when a student transfers into their school in the middle of the semester, it seems that he has his own interest in the legend—and it’s at odds with theirs.

Thank you, Laura, for being my guest!

Looking for Laura? You can find her at her website, Instagram, or Twitter.

Looking for Edie in Between ? Check out your local bookstore, Children’s Book World, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound. Be sure to check out the book launch—info here: https://www.childrensbookworld.net/sibson-edie-in-between/

One of you will receive a signed copy of Laura’s novel. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be revealed next week.

And don’t forget Laura’s first novel:

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Author photo by Rachael Balascak. Other book covers from Goodreads. Magic image from dreamstime. Garden image found on Pinterest.

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
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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.

Details, Details

Quiz time for fiction writers. No need to fear. This is easy.

  • As you think of the main character(s) in your work-in-progress, what color is that character’s hair? Eyes? (See? Easy-peasy.)

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  • Does he or she have a nickname? If so, what is it?
  • Where does that character live? Town, city, or rural community? What is the character’s street address (or what are the landmarks that lead to this dwelling if an address can’t be given)? This can be a made-up address like 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Kudos to whoever knows this address from an old TV show. Skip to the very end of the post to see if you are right.
  • What animals are in this character’s life (like a pet or a warhorse)? What are their names? Species? Colors?

Now think of a secondary character and answer the above questions. If you have fifty secondary characters, could you easily answer the same questions about all of them?

By now you are probably wondering why I’m being so nosy. Well, for one thing, sometimes I forget some of the information about my characters, especially in a book with fifty plus characters. That’s why I have to keep a list of people, places, and things, especially when I am writing a series. But I keep a list even for a standalone book with fewer characters. Nowadays I add to the list as I write the book. I remember how tedious it was to write the list after the book was done.

I’m wondering how many authors keep a list of pertinent character information. Some authors have told me they keep track of everything in their head. Do you? If you don’t keep a list, would you consider doing so? I ask this also as someone who wears the freelance book editor hat from time to time. I have had to email or text authors to inquire about hair and eye color, names, addresses, etc. because of inconsistencies found while editing.

Speaking of other useful things to have, I also think of a timeline sheet for a book. Do you keep a list of the day-to-day events (for example, June 4—the Fruit Fly Festival in Harbor Creek)? If you say a book starts on a Tuesday in April and ends on a Wednesday in May, do you check a calendar to make sure the timing of the story events works? If you’re writing historical fiction, do you search the internet to see if May 4, 1925 really was on a Monday as you mentioned in your manuscript? (It really was on a Monday, by the way.)

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Maybe you’re thinking, Why should I do any of this? The editor is going to check all of that. True. But why not do it for your own sake, instead of waiting for a busy editor to take time out of his or her day to ask you questions about inconsistencies. After all, none of us is perfect. Okay, I take it back. You are. But for everyone else, if you keep a list, maybe the questions won’t have to be asked by an editor (or a reader, who might not be kind).

This public service broadcast was brought to you by I-will-now-mind-my-own-business.

And now onto the winners (finally) of the following books written by Charles Yallowitz and Sandra Nickel respectively. (Click here and here for the interview posts with these authors.)

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New Charles Author Photo SandraNickel

The winner of The Stuff Between the Stars is Marian Beaman. The winner of War of Nytefall: Savagery is S.K. Van Zandt.

Marian and S. K. Van Zandt, please comment below to confirm. Thank you for commenting!

Address Answer: 1313 Mockingbird Lane is the home of the Munster family in The Munsters.

Author photos and book covers courtesy of the authors. Eye image from lolwot.com. May calendar image from dreamstime.