The Supple Writer

Reading Nicki Chen’s great post on killing your darlings (click here for it) got me to thinking—always the sign of a great post. What was I thinking about? Being supple as a writer.

sup·ple
adjective
bending and moving easily and gracefully; flexible.

This is not a post telling people what to do or how to be. This is just a reflection on how life sometimes makes you into what you never thought you could be.

I’ve worked as a writer for two book packagers (click here if you aren’t sure what a book packager is) over the years (and publishers too). Rule #1: please the client. You write a book. Client says, “Hmmm. It’s okaaaaaay. But I want you to make changes.” You rewrite the book. Client says, “Hmmm. Still just okay. I want you to make changes.” You rewrite your rewrite. Client says, “Hmm. I liked it better the first time.” You pull out the first version of the book, having learned the hard way to always save every version of a project until the thing is published.

Gemma Stone after her last revision—badly in need of chocolate, coffee, and maybe a warm towel to throw over her face. Oh and maybe a hug.

Fickle clients? No, this is you on the treadmill of writing, learning that darlings get killed over and over, while your writer muscles get exercised. Not just darlings. Stuff you were just on a first date with. Gone.

Apple Blossom wonders what to change next in her manuscript since she’s been told to drop 5K words.

This is you, mainlining coffee and M&Ms as you work to meet each deadline, some of them as fierce as tigers, growling at you sooner than you would have liked (like you have a month or two to do the whole thing, despite having to revise two or three times).

Pinkie Pie is on the fourth revision of her novel. She thinks maybe the chicken could write the book better by now.

Supple—when you learn how to write a picture book three different ways because you had to.

Supple—when you get the word from on high to start the whole thing over just because.

Supple—when you’re waiting on feedback that might mean having to go to Plan B.

When have you had to be flexible in your writing? Please tell the full tale in the comments below.

Another post on killing your darlings: https://thewritepractice.com/kill-your-darlings/

Photos by L. Marie. Pinkie Pie is from the My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set by My Little Pony. Gemma Stone Shoppie and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys.

Building a Unicorn

Over the past year or so I’ve bought or been given unicorns by friends.

    

Just writing that statement makes me laugh because it sounds so ridiculous—or would have if you and I were talking on the phone and you did not see the above photos. It sounds like, “Yes, I own some unicorns. They’re parked out back.”

Lately, I’ve been crocheting a unicorn for a little girl’s unicorn-themed birthday party. The pattern was designed by ChiWei at OneDogWoof. You can find her blog here.

First, you crochet the head, then the ears, and the alicorn (what the horn was called way back when).

Next comes the body, which takes almost twice as long as the head, then the legs and hooves (both thankfully crocheted in one piece).

   

Lastly, you have to crochet the tail (made of multiple curlicues) and cut strands of yarn for the mane. I chose this yarn. A unicorn must have a rainbow tail and mane.

   

Once all of the pieces are crocheted, I have to build the unicorn—at least that’s what I think of the assembly process, which involves a lot of whip stitching to keep the pieces together.

It’s sort of like the process of writing a story with a unicorn as a character. Okay. I see that look. You’re thinking these processes are very different. But character building of any sort involves putting pieces together: characteristics of people you know, characteristics from your imagination; quirks of your character that affect relationships with other characters; dialects shaped by the setting; etc.

I have loved unicorns since I was a kid. I wrote a fairy tale about unicorns probably twenty years ago for my own amusement. But that was then and this is now. When I made the decision to include unicorns in a more recent novel, I did some research.

Maybe you wonder why I would bother. Aren’t unicorns pretty standard? Though they come from the mythology of many countries, they all seem to heal with the horn on their head and seem ethereal. Well, the thought of writing about a “typical” unicorn, one like cream floating on a breeze, offering a healing touch without saying or doing anything else, was not very inviting. I wanted to write about unicorns that had more personality.

I read books by Diana Peterfreund who has a killer unicorn series for young adults. Not killer in the slang sense of “That dress is killer,” but in the sense of “those unicorns kill people.” You can find details about it here.

I also read this series (photos below), which has more books than just the ones shown here. I love one snippy warrior unicorn character who demanded vows of service from people in exchange for assistance. So much for giving away free stuff like healing. I love a feisty unicorn.

   

Well, I’d better get back to getting the mane situated on this unicorn. It’s going to take awhile. (The unicorn might look small on the photo. But it is about 15 inches tall.)

What do you think of unicorns? Do you like to read stories about them? Are you indifferent to them? Please share your thoughts below.

Rampant book cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

It’s Puzzling

I can thank Jill Weatherholt for my new puzzle obsession.

Actually, it’s not a new obsession—more like an awakened obsession. I used to love putting jigsaw puzzles together when I was a kid. Back then, I gravitated to the 1000-piece puzzles, particularly if they had an image by artist Charles Wysocki. There was something comforting about his paintings—these visions of simpler times.

One of Charles Wysocki’s paintings turned puzzle

I breezed through Target the other day and happened upon some puzzles made with images of his paintings. They brought back memories of many autumn days of my childhood and the large piece of cardboard on which I would assemble my puzzles. But that day in Target, I selected a puzzle with a different image—one that reminded me of summer. (Yes, in the photo above and below, those are ice cream scoops.)

I’m an edge builder. I gather all of the pieces of the edge and put those together. With that framework, I work the rest of the puzzle. What is your strategy for putting jigsaw puzzles together?

I’m sort of the same way as a novel writer. By “sort of,” I mean that I only partially work on an outline—the framework of a story. I’m a hybrid writer—pantser and plotter. I usually work through some of the plot off the bat. But the rest comes as I write. Still, I find it helpful to know the boundaries of the story—what pieces need to be there and how they might fit. Like with my main character. I have to know who I am writing about.

I ask myself: Who are her

Friends?

Enemies?

Family and extended family?

Pets?

How will any relationship conflicts work thematically with my main character’s desires? How much of her back story will I include? How is the setting emphasized? These (character, setting, plot) are the puzzle pieces that I and other novelists sift through as we draft.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t coin the usage of the puzzle metaphor in regard to writing. But as I work on a puzzle and a novel (not at the same time of course), I can’t help being reminded of the connection between the two.

The puzzle metaphor sounds nice and neat, doesn’t it? But if you’ve worked on a book, you know that writing is often messy. So the puzzle metaphor is apt in another way: we’re puzzled about how we’re going to take our mess—all of those pieces we come up with—and make a cohesive whole out of it. As with many difficult puzzles, we often have to roll up our sleeves to solve them. But the satisfaction of seeing the whole puzzle put together is worth it! (And no, I didn’t finish the puzzle above. Look at the first photo. That is what the finished puzzle is supposed to look like. 😀 😁)

Charles Wysocki puzzle from puzzlewarehouse.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Shopkins Shoppie dolls and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys. Black Panther figure by Funko. Shuri action figure by Hasbro.

The Pressure to Be Something

I went to the same school as Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ll pause to give you time to look up which school they went to. (If you are a follower of this blog, you already know which school.)

You’re back? Okay good. The first thing you’ll notice is that they are celebrities and I am not. Not everyone who went there is. But while I was an undergraduate, and even after graduating, I felt the pressure to live up to the prestige of the university. During my time there, when I chose to major in writing, many people gave me the stink eye. “Major in something useful,” I was advised over and over. (Code word: more prestigious, at least in their eyes.) “In that way, you can make a lot of money and be an alumna the school can be proud of.”

   

The pressure to be something.

(Though nowadays, the latter message comes through in the frequent invitations to donate to the alumni fund. The pressure to give something.)

Ever feel the pressure to be something others have decided is the definition of success?

As a writer, I definitely feel the pressure. My grad program has turned out graduates who have won major awards and who have sold many, many books. Even the organization of children’s writers and illustrators that I belong to routinely sends emails about those who have “made it,” while extending the invitation to “Send us your success stories.”

But what if you’re the writer of some books that went out of print within two years? Or you’ve racked up 89 rejections for a book?

The pressure to be something.

Ever feel like you didn’t measure up somehow? Maybe like me you even fell into the funnel of comparison recently, and felt yourself squeezed out of the small end.

Comparison—the bane of our existence

Thoughts like that swirled through my head as I drove to Wal-Mart the other day. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t let such thoughts hold sway. I’m trying to get my mind right and defeat negative thinking. But for some reason, I thought about the sister who had died the year before I was born. I found myself crying and wondering why she was stillborn, while I lived. Not that I’m ungrateful for life. But because I lived, was I really being all I could be? Was I living up to the potential teachers and others had told me I had over the years?

The pressure to be something. The pressure to make my life count because my sister was dead and I was alive.

But after prayer (because I was really getting worked up), I realized, Wait. I could silence that nagging voice in my head—the one that caused me to feel the pressure to measure myself against someone else’s ruler. I could silence the strive, strive, strive, you’re not doing it right, make things happen and just be.

Be . . .

Content in who I am—someone who persists past rejection and failure.

Joyful regardless.

I’m not Stephen Colbert. I like the guy. I really do. But I don’t have to be him or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be somebody. I already am somebody. I might not do life like them. But I do what I do, because I like doing what I do, whether that fits someone else’s protocol or not.

Pressure dispelled.

As Nancy Hatch of Spirit Lights the Way would say, “Aah, that’s better.”

And now, I’ll leave you with a Lindsey Stirling video, suggested by a friend who went to Lindsey’s concert the other day. It’s for anyone who needs to get out of the pressure and into joy.

Marsha Mello likes being with the Unfinished Tiger. His chill approach to life—that all of us are works in progress—soothes her.

Stephen Colbert photo from enspireusall.com. Julia Louis-Dreyfus photo from popsugar.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Marsha Mello and Donatina Shoppie dolls from Moose Toys.

Branching Out

When I first learned to crochet, all I made were granny squares for afghans and scarfs. They were easy to make.

   

Yes, this is a scarf I made. I have made Granny squares like these from Pinterest.

But I searched for more challenges as the years went by. Recently, I went through an owl phase in my crocheting. The owls below were created by a pattern designed by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me, which you can find here.

   

But in the last month, I decided to branch out and try something different. I found a pattern online for making small lambs. How small? I placed a red ruler behind the lamb it so you can see how small it is (just under six inches seated; click on the photo to see).

This amigurumi pattern was designed by Stephanie at her All About Ami blog. You can find it here. (Wondering what amigurumi means? Go here for an article.)

I started off making the lambs exactly the way Stephanie instructed, using the yarn she suggested, which was in the usual lamb colors. But after a while, I wanted to branch out yet again:

Not the usual color for a lamb, but the color makes me happy.

Random flower break. Just because.

Speaking of branching out, I can’t help thinking of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí (1904–1989). While that might seem like a random remark to you, let me ask you this: What’s the first painting you think of you when you think of him?

I think of this painting:

It’s called The Persistence of Memory. (Instead of The Melting Clocks Painting as I always called it in my head.) What do you think of it? (I think the word you’re searching for is surreal.)

I thought of Dalí as I wrote this post, because of a conversation that took place when I was a grad student. We had a guest speaker one semester—author/illustrator David Macaulay (right). If you don’t know who he is, click here to see a list of his books. Macaulay told us about his years at the Rhode Island School of Design. He didn’t start off doing his own thing. He had to learn how to paint like one of the old Renaissance masters—learning form and color—before branching out.

So that’s why I thought of Dalí. Check out this description from Wikipedia:

Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in August 1931.

So Dalí too learned from the old masters, but took what he learned in a new direction.

Maybe there’s something you’ve learned that you’re now ready to take in a new direction. If so, dish about it in the comments below.

While you consider that, I’ll reveal the winner of one of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s translated books. Go here for her guest post.

The winner, thanks to the random number thingie, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of the LifeontheCutoff’s Blog.

Penny, please confirm below. I believe you requested Queen of the Frogs. Do you still want that one? Let me know. I hope you will enjoy it!

Thank you to all who commented.

Granny square found on Pinterest. Dali painting from Wikipedia. Dali photo from wallpapercave.com. David Macaulay photo from Wikipedia.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The Mo & Dale Mysteries by Sheila Turnage

Today on the blog, I am thrilled beyond measure to have one of my favorite authors—the one and only Sheila Turnage! I’ve mentioned her in this post, this one, and others.

She is here today to talk about her middle grade mystery series, the Mo & Dale Mysteries, which began with the Newbery Honor-winning Three Times Lucky (click here to read a synopsis). In September, it will end (sob!) with The Law of Finders Keepers. Penguin Random House is the publisher of this series. Trust me. You will want all of them.

 

 

Sheila is represented by Margaret Riley King at WME. Her editor/publisher is Kathy Dawson of Kathy Dawson Books (which is the imprint for the last three books of the series). Now, let’s talk to Sheila!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sheila: I grew up on an NC tobacco farm, and live there today with my husband Rodney, a dog named Callie, and way too many chickens, guineas and ducks. Well, I guess that’s more than four, even after I left out the goats.

El Space: Three Times Lucky won the Newbery Honor in 2013. How has winning this award been a game changer for you?
Sheila: Winning a Newbery Honor was huge for me. Honestly, at the time, I had no idea HOW huge. Thanks to that award, I get to visit schools all over the US and talk to kids about my books and about writing. Plus Three Times Lucky is published all over the world, which is just amazing. It astounds me to think of my mystery involving two best friends—Mo LoBeau and Dale Earnhardt Johnson III—being read by children in China, or Sweden, or . . .

The Newbery Honor was huge for my heart, too. It’s an amazing feeling, hearing your name called and walking out in front of all those librarians to accept that award. And it’s an incredible acknowledgement of a lifetime of work.

2657El Space: Mo and Dale are some of the best kid characters I’ve read on this side of To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, all of your characters (Harm Crenshaw, Miss Lana, the Colonel, etc.) are well realized. What were the inspirations behind Moses, Dale, and their town—Tupelo Landing? Which character, if any, is like you? Least like you?
Sheila: Wow, thanks for the compliment!
Honestly, Mo’s just one of those characters who shows up, and starts whispering her story in your ear, if you know what I mean. She was just THERE one day—vivid and sassy and tender. And wearing those plaid sneakers. And Dale kind of grew into whatever space Mo left vacant, I think. They’re a great team.

Of course the voice is rural North Carolina—which is where I was born, and live. I’ve been hearing the poetry of that language all of my life. And readers hear it in Mo’s voice, too.

As for Tupelo Landing, there are lots of small towns in rural North Carolina, and they’re the inspiration for Mo’s and Dale’s little town. If you come to visit, you’ll find tiny towns scattered all along our many rivers and streams. The waterways used to be avenues of commerce. They’re not now, but those great towns are still here—sleepy and slow.

I think I’m a blend of Mo and Dale, probably. I’m more like Dale when I’m writing a lot. And more like Mo other times. I hope I’m least like Mo’s arch enemy—the very stuck-up Anna Celeste Simpson, aka Attila Celeste. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m the least like her. Which is a relief.

El Space: Yes! Of the books in the Mo and Dale Mysteries, which was the most challenging book to write? Why?
Sheila: Each one presented its own challenges. But in many ways, The Law of Finders Keepers was the hardest to write, maybe because I knew it was the last and I was grieving as I wrote it. I wanted to write a book that was strong enough to end the series on. I think I’ve done that, so I’m happy with it. But honestly, it was hard on my heart. I’m going to miss Mo, Dale and Harm. All of them, really.

El Space: I will definitely miss them! What mystery books or shows, if any, inspired you as you created this series? Did you always have a certain number of books in mind for the series? Why or why not?
Sheila: When I was a girl I loved reading the Hardy Boys and so I guess they inspired me, in a way. I’ve always liked books with cliffhangers, and lots of action—and that’s what I write.

I really didn’t start out to write a series. I wrote Three Times Lucky as a standalone, and things unfolded from there. Each book is designed to be read as a standalone, or in sequence.

For kids who’ve read only Three Times Lucky, and want to know whether Mo ever finds her Upstream Mother—well, all I can say is the Desperado Detectives take up the case of Mo’s long-lost mom in The Law of Finders Keepers. Mo’s fans won’t want to miss it.

El Space: I have been waiting to find out! In rock, paper, scissors, what do you usually go for the moment you hear, “Rock-paper-scissors”? Seriously, which one? Why?
Sheila: Rock! I’m suspicious of scissors because they’re so snippy. And I get tired of using paper all day. . . .

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sheila: Thanks for asking! I’m already working on a new middle-grade book for my publisher/editor Kathy Dawson (Penguin Random House). It’s set in Eastern NC again—this time on the Outer Banks, near the Graveyard of the Atlantic. I’m having fun with it, and I hope readers will too!

El Space: Sheila, thank you for being my guest!
Sheila: Thanks so much, Linda! You rock! (paper-scissors)

Looking for Sheila? Her website’s under construction currently to add her latest book. So, you can find her at her author page on Facebook.

You can find the Mo & Dale Mysteries at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wonderful bookstores near you. But one of you will win a copy not only of the first three, but a pre-order of the fourth, The Law of Finders Keepers, which is available on September 11. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winner will be revealed on Monday, August 13.

Book covers courtesy of Sheila Turnage and also Goodreads. Author photo by Rodney L. Beasley. Guineas from animal-wildlife.blogspot.com. Newbery honor medal from somewhere on Pinterest. Rock-paper-scissors image from dramafever.com.

Check This Out: A Father for Bella

Today on the blog, I’m pleased to welcome your friend and mine, the wonderful Jill Weatherholt. Many of you know her through her blog, which you can get to by clicking here. Jill is here to talk about her second Love Inspired romance book, A Father for Bella, which made its debut on July 17. Click here to read a synopsis of the book. One of you will win a copy of this very book.

  

Jill is represented by Jessica Alvarez. Let’s talk to Jill!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Jill: 1. I once won a limbo contest while vacationing in Key West during spring break.
2. I have a fear of escalators.
3. When Derek and I first met, I asked him if he and his twin sister were identical.
4. When I work a jigsaw puzzle, I keep the box face down.

El Space: So lovely to see your second Love Inspired book. The cover is absolutely adorable! When you wrote Second Chance Romance [which you can get here], did you know that you were going to write Faith’s story, or were you leaving a second book open to inspiration? Please explain.
Jill: Thanks! I love what the art department did with the cover for A Father for Bella. They completely surprised me, but in a great way. No, since Second Chance Romance was the first book I’d ever written, I didn’t know at the time if I was capable of writing a second book. Obviously God had a different plan for me.

El Space: Yes! I love the setting—an inn in Virginia. Please tell us how you decided on that setting.
Jill: I’m happy you enjoyed visiting Whispering Slopes. Although I currently live in Charlotte, NC, I was raised in Virginia and it will always be home to me. The Shenandoah Valley, which lies between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west, is my favorite area in Virginia. I love the quaint small-towns sprinkled throughout the valley which make for perfect fictional settings that the Love Inspired books provide.

El Space: How is Faith like you? Different from you?
Jill: My heroine, Faith, and I are similar in that we struggle with certain fears. She’s protective over her daughter, Bella, and I’m the same with my loved ones. Like myself, Faith doesn’t open herself up to someone until she’s gained their trust. Our main difference is she has a child and I don’t have children. If I did and I were in the same situation where I’d lost my husband and my daughter’s father, I couldn’t see myself withholding photographs or other memories from my child, like Faith did.

El Space: How did you come to write for Love Inspired?


Jill: Writing for Love Inspired was a result of a last-minute contest entry. In March of 2015, I heard Harlequin had a blurb-to-book contest where the winners could possibly be offered a contract. I opened an old NaNoWriMo project titled, “Capture the Dream,” that had been sitting on my hard drive since 2010 and decided to enter. From April until July, I advanced through the stages of the contest, rewriting a horrible draft that ultimately became my first published book, Second Chance Romance. It was truly an experience I will never forget and one that I loved sharing with Derek. From the beginning, he’s been so support and encouraging. As you know, writing under contract can be quite stressful. I have my moments where I’m not the most pleasant person to be around, but he loves me despite my occasional meltdowns. And that’s why I dedicated A Father for Bella to him.

El Space: I enjoyed getting to know Joshua, the hero of the story. Thinking of your own books and the books to which you’re drawn, what are the ingredients of a good hero? Why?


Jill: When I created Joshua’s character, I wanted a man who had a wounded past and struggled with trusting women. Since his wife had left him for another man, I journaled a lot from his point of view in order to connect with his pain and the feelings of abandonment not only because of his wife, but also his father. When he’s in a position where he and Faith have to work together to keep the inn open, he realizes he’s developing an attraction for her, but he must resist, because he equates relationships to heartache and suffering. I love a hero with protective instincts, so I enjoyed developing the relationship between Joshua and Faith’s daughter Bella, too.

El Space: You also write stories for Woman’s World magazine. Why is a happy ending important to you?
Jill: Yes, over the years I’ve probably submitted twenty or more short stories to Woman’s World, all resulting in rejections. Finally, last December they bought a story inspired by my mother. I recently sold another that will be published in late August, also inspired by my mother. I have so much fun with these stories. There’s definitely a formula that the magazine looks for, but once I come up with an idea, I can usually get it written in a couple of hours. I can’t imagine ever writing anything that didn’t have a happy ending. At my day job, I see and hear a lot of the not-so-happy things that take place in and around my city, so as a writer and a reader, I need to feel good at the end of a story.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Jill: Currently, I’m working on book three, also set in the Whispering Slopes community. I also plan to continue submitting stories to Woman’s World magazine as well as venturing into writing women’s fiction.

Thanks, Jill, for joining me on the blog!

If you’re looking for Jill, you can find her on her website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

A Father for Bella can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart, the Harlequin Love Inspired website, and Christianbook.com. But one of you will find a copy of this book in your mailbox just for commenting. This giveaway is U.S. only though. Sorry. The next giveaway will be international, however. Look for that interview next week. Winners to be announced on August 13. 

Author photo courtesy of Jill Weatherholt. A Father for Bella cover from Goodreads. Second Chance Romance cover courtesy of Jill Weatherholt. Jigsaw puzzle image from pixabay.com. Shenandoah Valley map from virginiashenandoahvalley.com. Woman’s World image from magazineline.com. Hero image from pluspng.com. Love Inspired logo found atbestreads-kav.blogspot.com.