Does Fantasy Seem Less Fantastic These Days?

I recently overheard a conversation between these doughnuts that got me to thinking about the question posed in the title of this post.


“What’s that?” you say. “Doughnuts can’t talk. That’s unrealistic.” Herein lies the issue that some people seem to have with fantasy.

Let me back up. I had a conversation with an actual person about a fantasy novel we both read, the title of which I am withholding. We came to the conclusion that the fantasy elements seemed downplayed in favor of a social injustice message. This is not to say that social injustice is a bad theme. But when a book blurb touts that a book is “full of magic,” I expect something along the lines of the Harry Potter series, the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend, Charles Yallowitz’s books, or the Oz books. You know—dragons, flying cars, lunch pails growing on trees, huge cats, inventing gnomes, and fantastic hotels. But that’s not what I found. Instead, I found rich people indifferent to the plight of the poor and magical healings that weren’t called magical healings—just healings.

   Cover art by Jason Pedersen 

This is not the first book I’ve read where the fantasy elements seemed a little scarce. As I pondered that, I couldn’t help recalling what the son of a friend once told me: “If a story isn’t realistic (The Hurt Locker as opposed to The Lord of the Rings), it isn’t real to me.” I’ve heard similar sentiments from others, most of whom would never crack open a fantasy book. As if stories of imagined worlds are inferior somehow. But imagination has been the key to so many breakthroughs in our world. Ask any trailblazing inventor who dreamed of a new way of doing something.

“That’s for kids,” someone else said to me about fantasy stories. Yet the Harry Potter series, a fantasy series “for kids” in that person’s estimation, has sold the most copies of a fiction series worldwide than any other series. When each book in the series was released, I remember seeing more eager adults standing in line waiting to pick up their books than kids. But I digress.

This is not a knock against anyone who dislikes fantasy stories. It’s all a matter of preference, isn’t it? And for the record, I love many realistic stories too. This is just an observation from someone who never really grew up; who never really stopped loving fairy tales with dragons and knights and princesses.

You see, I read or watch movies to escape. I love diving into fantasy worlds and learning about the people and creatures who inhabit these worlds. I want to escape from the horrors of the current news stories. So I wouldn’t purposely search for a book because I need to know more about social injustice. You can call that burying my head in the sand all you want. I call it saving my sanity.

Just my two cents. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

The Merchant of Nevra Coil photo courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Deathly Hallows from Goodreads. Dragon from en.gtwallpaper.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

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.

How Much Time?

time%20clock

Hi! It’s L. Marie. It’s been a minute since I last posted. Sorry about that. I drew a blank every time I thought about what to post (summer? Independence? COVID?) so I didn’t. 😑 But here I am finally. It’s about time, you’re probably thinking. And to that I say you’re absolutely right about the subject of this post.

The catalyst for it was a YouTube video I watched on a videogame, Link’s Awakening. The YouTuber proclaimed that it took 11 hours to finish the game. For him, that seemed to be an incredibly long amount of time. The median amount of time for the game, which I’ve played, is 14 hours. Click here for more details.

Link

That got me to wondering about time and how relative it is. With that in mind, consider your answers to the following questions below. My answers are in bold.

What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent . . .

  • Playing a videogame? 1000+ (Animal Crossing)

Animal Crossing

  • Writing a short story? Two weeks for a 1200-word story. I spent a week writing and rewriting a five-hundred-word chapter and five days writing and rewriting a three-hundred-word story.
  • Writing a novel? Three years from draft to revision
  • Binge watching a TV show (not counting special events like the Olympics) or miniseries? Six hours for the TV show. A friend and I binge-watched episodes of the first season of Heroes back in 2007. We spent ten hours watching the miniseries, The 10th Kingdom years before that. It debuted back in 2000.

Tenth Kingdom

Novel adaptation of the series

  • Knitting a sweater or some other craft work? A week.
  • Other?

I see you staring at the thousand plus hours I listed for the videogame. For some, a videogame might seem like a waste of time. I won’t debate that here. But I’ll just add that the game was played over the course of 15 months. And that amount of time is not unusual considering the pandemic. Click here for an article that discusses the matter.

Years ago, I read a blog post by a writer who wrote a novel in nine days, revised it over a couple of weeks, and sold it to a publisher less than a month later. Granted, she had already published a fantasy trilogy. But I recall balking at what seemed (to me at least) an incredibly short amount of time. Some of that balking—really, sour grapes—stemmed from the three years I’d spent on a novel only to net zero sales.

Time is relative.

Sometimes I’ve felt shame over the amount of time I spent doing something. Ever feel that? Like for instance, the fact that it took four hours for me to defeat the first dungeon in Link’s Awakening, when others, like the YouTuber I mentioned earlier beat it in 55 minutes. I know that’s innocuous. But I’ve also experienced shame after hearing about how quickly some authors gained an agent (one now famous author I read about gained one a month after querying), knowing I spent years querying to no result.

Is there anyone among us who has cornered the market on time—who knows exactly how long anything should take? Oh, I know there are jobs where time limits are premeasured. I once had a proofreading job where one of my five supervisors told me that certain assignments took a certain amount of time and I had better adhere to that time frame. But what I’m getting at here is that it is so easy to criticize someone for not “measuring up” to a specific amount of time.

I can’t help thinking of my undergrad years and how some students were shamed for taking longer than four years to finish college. A guy who worked on the food line at my dorm had been there four years when I arrived and was still there when I graduated four years later. Now, I think the average amount of time to finish college in the U.S. is five to six years. Go here for an article on that.

Do you ever share an opinion with others on how long something should take? What do you do when someone shares an opinion with you?

Clock image found somewhere online. I used it before in a post back in 2013, but got tired of scrolling through the photo library to find it. Other photos by L. Marie.

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.)

R6dd1f6c7189dff5bf8bf419f5b8bef5f

  • 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.)

may-th-day-month-simple-calendar-icon-w

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.)

savagery TheStuffBetweenTheStars

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.

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

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

SandraNickel   TheStuffBetweenTheStars

Check out the fab book trailer.

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

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

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

red photo cropped

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

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

Vera Facing the Senior Astronomers

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

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

Vera Working at Night as Her Family Sleeps

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

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

Thank you, Sandra for being my guest!

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Conflict

I recently broke one of my rules by deliberately reading a spoiler-filled book. Though I have not yet seen the animated movie WolfWalkers (now on Apple TV), I read with delight the pages of The Art of WolfWalkers, a book by Charles Solomon that is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. The film (click the movie title above to learn more about the movie) has some fantasy elements, but is based on real events in history. Click here to read more about those events.

  

The book was given to me by a friend (thank you, Sharon). I don’t have Apple TV, so there is no telling when I’ll see the film. But I love the work of the studio that produced it (Cartoon Saloon), and the director behind it—Tomm Moore, an Irish filmmaker who has helmed some of the movies that are now among my all-time favorites: Song of the Sea (2014) and The Secret of Kells (2009). So I’m usually interested in anything that helps me learn about his creative process.

  

An exercise the book mentions intrigued me:

Tomm heard Jim [Capobianco, a story artist whose work Moore admires, who had the idea for the film Ratatouille along with director Brad Bird] say that when he’s trying to come up with ideas, he writes two lists: things he loves and things he hates. Obviously, all good stories have conflict, so he would make the lists to find the conflicts he needed. That’s what Tomm and Ross [Stewart, the co-director of WolfWalkers] did. (New York: Abrams, 2020. 15)

I found that fascinating, because the creation of conflict(s) in a story has always been challenging for me. Yes, I know that conflict is essential to the plot and comes from the way characters relate to each other, based on their characteristics and beliefs. And this is not to say that making these lists is the thing to do for every story. But if you’re stuck, you might give the list making a try. I plan to do so!

If creating conflicts comes easily to you, got any tips you’d like to share? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of Rural Voices, an anthology of stories acquired and contributed to by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. For the interview with Nora, click here.

  

The winner of that book is Marie!

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

Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Book covers and author photo courtesy of the author. Photo credit: Chip Bryan. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas

With me on the blog today is the marvelous Mary Winn Heider, another Secret Gardener classmate, who is here today to talk about her picture book, The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas, which was published by Running Press Kids. Mary Winn is represented by Tina DuBois.

 

El Space: How on earth did you come up with this concept? Why unicorns?
Mary Winn: And of course the flip side to that coin, how could it possibly be anything but unicorns!

El Space: Good point!
Mary Winn: The truth is that I didn’t come up with the idea—my editor pitched me the premise and I thought it just sounded like so much fun. So I started with the idea that Santa has to use unicorns instead of reindeer, and then I experimented with a variety of scenarios explaining why it had to happen and how it ended up like that, which included both a Magical Animal Temp Staffing Agency and a parody version of The Night Before Christmas. I really love the wild brainstorming phase. But the more I worked on it, the more I was drawn to this very sweet unicorn troop who were absolutely bowled over to be invited to audition as reindeer substitutes. There is something so adorable to me about these fantastic, magical, stylish unicorns being so gaga about Santa.

El Space: Your book is so funny and quirky—a really tough balancing act to pull off. I can’t help thinking of Santa Cows by Cooper Eden, though your book isn’t about cows. 😄 I also think of Elf, a movie I love watching each year. It seems to take just the right balance to keep the humor from sinking into the sea of coy. How do you achieve that balance? I can’t help thinking of your novel, The Mortification of Fovea Munson [click here for the interview with Mary Winn about that book], which also has that balance.

 

Mary Winn: That’s such a lovely compliment—thank you for that, Linda. I agree with you that the balance is important, and while I’m drafting, I definitely err on one side and the other. That overstepping is a really useful part of my writing process—and I think for how I write, the metaphor really works: it feels exactly like being on a balance beam. I start off making big swings and toppling into the tries that don’t quite work, and then gradually making more nuanced adjustments until I feel a sort of intuitive rightness. I don’t have an algorithm so much as a very, very loose recipe. I like to make sure that as absurd and ridiculous as I get (and I like to get real absurd and ridiculous—my writing partner on my current project just sent me comments on a chapter today, which included the note, Mary Winn, this is preposterous. And to be clear, I consider that a really positive note)—as absurd as I go, I make sure that the story always stays grounded in something true and real. In this case, it’s the unicorns’ sincere need to not let Santa down.

El Space: So glad to hear about your process and the hard work you put into your books. And I love the illustrations! How much input did you have with the illustrator, Christian Cornia?
Mary Winn: I didn’t talk to Christian until after the book was out, but I adooooooore the way he drew the unicorns. All the little details, like that How to Rainbow book that one of them is reading at the top—just to die for. And the crocodiles! That crocodiles spread is among my favorite things ever.

El Space: That is a great spread in the book [which you can see part of if you click here and scroll down]! What Christmas book, if any, did you love to read when you were a kid or as an adult? Why?
Mary Winn: Hmmm. . . . Good question. I don’t actually recall one that I liked to read specifically at Christmas. I was a weird, indiscriminate kid, and loved to read seasonal books all year. But I do associate Christmas with reading, because I’d be off from school and I could just read the entire break!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary Winn: My next novel—The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy—comes out in March, so I’m starting to think about that book again. It’s funny how they sort of hibernate in your brain between the time that you finish them and they come out. And I’m working on a really exciting hybrid graphic/prose novel with an illustrator pal. It’s definitely the most exciting part of my days right now!

Thanks as always, Mary Winn, for being my guest.

Looking for Mary Winn? You can find her by clicking on one of these:
Website, Highlights, Twitter, Instagram, and Barrel of Monkeys.

Looking for The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas? Look here: Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop

But one of you will receive a copy at your home! Ho-ho-ho! (After Christmas, sadly, but something to look forward to.) Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced early next week.

 

When my copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas arrived, Henry quickly commandeered it. “And look how nicely it fits under the Christmas tree,” he said, I guess as a hint for me to get him a copy of the book since I snatched mine back.

Random squirrel meme:

Mary Winn’s book covers are from her website. Author photo by Popio Stumpf. Santa Cows cover from Goodreads. Elf movie poster from Ebay. Random squirrel meme from sayingimages.com. Balance beam image from HuffPost. Henry photos by L. Marie, who is grateful for her copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas.

Cover Reveal—Saint Ivy: Kind at All Costs

Today on the blog I’m delighted to have with me the always fabulous Laurie Morrison, another of my splendid Secret Gardener classmates. Laurie is here to talk about the cover of her upcoming middle grade novel, Saint Ivy: Kind at All Costs (Abrams/Amulet Books). Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe.

Feast your eyes!

Here is the synopsis:

A thoughtful middle-grade novel about caring for others and for yourself—and what it truly means to be kind and vulnerable

Thirteen-year-old Ivy Campbell has always been a good kid: She supports her soccer-star brother, bakes with her nana, and puts her friends’ needs before her own. So of course, Ivy is 100 percent supportive when her mom decides to be a gestational surrogate. But when Ivy finds out the surrogacy treatment worked and her mom is pregnant—and has been for weeks—she’s shocked that she’s jealous and worried about what others will think. And most of all, she’s ashamed that she isn’t reacting to this news in the right way. The Ivy way. Ivy is determined to prove to herself that she’s just as unselfish as she’s always believed, and she gets the chance to do that when she receives an anonymous email from someone who needs her help. But the more Ivy dives into helping this anonymous person, the further she gets from the people she loves—and from the person who she wants to be.

El Space: When Saint Ivy was accepted for publication, what thoughts, if any, did you have about what the cover might look like? How involved were you in the cover process?
Laurie: I didn’t have a concrete vision for the cover, but I figured my publishing team would want it to pair well with the cover for my last novel, Up for Air. So I thought this cover would also have bold, bright colors, and I assumed it would be illustrated, rather than using a photo as some MG covers do. I was right about those things! But I also thought it might have more than one character on it. I was vaguely picturing Ivy in the middle with other characters around her. A lot of the plot is centered around some anonymous emails Ivy receives, and at different points in the book, she thinks different people might be the mystery emailer. So I thought maybe the characters she thinks could be emailing her would be surrounding her in the middle or something like that. But I love what they went with instead!

I wasn’t involved in coming up with the concept, but I was asked to provide a list of character descriptions back at the beginning of 2020, before the book had gone through edits, so that the team knew what all the characters looked like when they began cover discussions. And then I saw a few different versions once they’d settled on the concept, and my agent and I gave some feedback about Ivy’s appearance and the color scheme. The designer and illustrator made some great tweaks to accommodate our feedback, and it came together really well!

El Space: I love the cover! Who designed it? Who illustrated it?
Laurie: Thank you, me too! Jason Ford did the illustrations and Marcie Lawrence is the designer.

El Space: What was your reaction to the cover?
Laurie: From the first time I saw an early version, I loved the concept. I thought it was so smart, fun, and fresh. My editor and I had gone back and forth a lot about whether Saint Ivy was the right title for the book, because it’s not a book about religion. It fits the book well in a lot of ways, but we wanted to make sure the title wouldn’t give the wrong idea about the story. I’m so happy with the way the cover leans into the “saint” idea and plays around with it. The inspiration was to create a “lives of the saints” style fresco, but with fun modern objects that relate to Ivy’s story instead of religious iconography. I love the illustration style, which reminds me of the style for Up for Air even though it’s a different illustrator, and I think it’s really intriguing to have all those objects around Ivy because it raises questions about how they all fit together. As a reader, I would look at the cover and be eager to find out what all the items mean—if I hadn’t already read the book 500 thousand times, that is 😊. I also love Ivy’s hair—which is a lot like mine!—and her outfit. The first version I saw wasn’t yellow, and when I saw the final version with the color change, I was excited. It’s so vibrant!

El Space: When can we expect to see Saint Ivy out in the world?
Laurie: It’s coming out on May 18, 2021! And the paperback of Up for Air will release the month before, on April 13, with a sneak peek at the beginning of Saint Ivy inside.

El Space: Yay! I understand you have some other great book news. Please share!
Laurie: Yes, thank you! I’ve been working on an upper middle grade softball book called Coming Up Short, and it sold to my wonderful editor, Maggie Lehrman, and is slated to come out in spring 2022. Here’s the short pitch: After her father’s very public fall from grace, thirteen-year-old Bea self-destructs during the biggest game of her life. She doesn’t know how to connect with her dad if she isn’t a star shortstop, so she sets off on a summer trip to stay with her estranged aunt and attend a softball camp where she’s determined to fix her throw to first base and, hopefully, her family.

It partly takes place in a fictionalized New Jersey town that’s a lot like where I grew up, and it partly takes place in Gray Island, the setting from Up for Air! I’m very excited and grateful to get to keep working with Maggie and the whole team at Abrams, and this story is especially personal and important to me. Plus, I just love writing about girls playing sports!

El Space: Thank you for being my guest, Laurie!
Laurie: Thanks so much for having me and for your awesome questions!

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

And while you wait for Saint Ivy to debut, check out Laurie’s other books.

  

Comment below to be entered into a drawing for a preorder of Saint Ivy! Winner to be announced some time next week (once I make my deadline).

Author photo and book covers courtesy of Laurie Morrison. Author photo credit: Laura Billingham.

Check This Out: Eternal Road

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

    

El Space: C. S. Lewis once mentioned,

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Looking for Eternal Road? Click here!

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

Other books by John:

 

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