Check This Out: An Impossible Distance to Fall

On the blog today is the second of my awesome Secret Gardener classmates, the marvelous Miriam McNamara. No stranger to the blog is Miriam. (Click here for her last visit.) She’s here to talk about her young adult historical novel, An Impossible Distance to Fall, published by Sky Pony Press on July 2. (Click here for a synopsis.)

   

Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein. After our conversation, stay tuned to hear about a giveaway of An Impossible Distance to Fall.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Miriam: 1. I’ve never flown a biplane or wing walked, but like Birdie, I’ve always loved to dance! The dance scenes were some of the most fun for me to write as I played with how movement and emotion interact in the body creatively. Yum!


2. I went to college pretty young—when I was sixteen—around the time a lot of upheaval in my family of origin was happening. When I got to school, I was kind of adopted by a group of queer upperclassmen who looked out for me and invited me to things, and made sure I was doing okay. Birdie’s departure from her family and integration into the barnstorming circus is based on that experience.
3. I started this novel during the Recession after 2008, when the stock market crash of 1929 and how it affected people seemed particularly relevant. My generation and the young adults of today are still dealing with a lot of financial uncertainty, so I think these lessons of the past are particularly interesting.


4. I have a lot of tattoos, but Birdie’s tattoo that she gets in the novel is based on a stick-and-poke tattoo that I gave my friend Ivy in college. It was a flock of bird silhouettes, just like Birdie’s, and done in the same manner, with a needle and thread and India ink.

Miriam at her book signing at MOON PALACE BOOKS in Minneapolis

El Space: Your last novel was about pirates. What was the inspiration behind this novel about wing walkers and a barnstorming circus in 1930?
Miriam: A nonfiction writer read aloud from a work-in-progress about a real-life wing walker from the ’20s at a workshop I attended, and my mind was blown. I’d never heard of such a thing. As I listened to her read I thought, I would NEVER take such an insane risk as walking out on the wing of a flying airplane! But at exactly the same time, I remembered who I was when I was sixteen, and knew that that me would have done it in a heartbeat. It made me want to write a story about that person.

El Space: What do you hope teens will gain from your main character Birdie’s life and the times in which she lived?
Miriam: Birdie’s external life explodes when the stock market crashes—but what causes her deepest pain is the loss of her father when he disappears. For young Birdie, life and her dad both seemed ideal. She has to learn to accept that things aren’t always perfect. People and circumstance will let you down over and over. You have to love and honor the good stuff while acknowledging that other stuff sucks and it’s okay to be hurt and to grieve. And when your life explodes or falls apart, it also leads to so much possibility and openness that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Storms bring rainbows, you know?

El Space: Birdie interacts with a large cast of characters who aid in her evolution as a character. Who were the most fun or the most challenging to write about?
Miriam: I think the most challenging for me was Gilda, the woman that Birdie’s father chases after. Birdie initially thinks of her as this Jezebel character who has stolen her father away. It was challenging to really communicate Gilda’s complexity. She plays this seductive character professionally as a lounge singer, but she’s actually a real person who did nothing wrong, and Birdie’s anger is misplaced. It took me a few tries to show who she really is beyond the role she plays in Birdie’s life, which leads to a lot of growth in Birdie.

The most fun to write, though! It’s so hard to choose. I loved writing Colette, the tattooed lady; she’s so cranky and deadpan and soooo NOT impressed with Birdie—but then at the crux of the novel, Colette lets Birdie know that she sees and values the person struggling inside of Birdie’s perfect veneer.

But then there’s June. Sigh. . . . I love writing a love interest! June is so sexy. I loved writing her lanky tomboy-in-a-flight-suit Southern Charmer personality.

 

El Space: This is your second historical fiction novel. What is it about historical fiction that appeals to you?
Miriam: I love reading historical fiction, but queer people, especially queer women, have been so written out of history, always relegated to tragic plot devices if they are included at all. I want to write them back into history, and give them so much love and life and joy along with their struggles.

El Space: What was your research process? How did you keep the details you gleaned from research from overwhelming the story you wanted to tell? [One of the tips offered for historical fiction writers in this post here.]
Miriam: With my first novel, I often felt like the details overtook my narrative! The struggle is real. With this novel, I let the narrative guide me into my research. How did banks fail? How did the larger stock market crash impact the financial chain? Who were some wing walkers and women pilots and barnstormers I could use for inspiration? I tried to stick to the story I wanted to tell without getting sidelined by too many interesting details as I came across them. Once I had a strong narrative, then I went back to add in a lot more fun historical stuff—and that led to a lot of richness being layered in once the story was there.

El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Miriam: This year I decided I was going to read as many books by queer people about queer people as possible. I am very inspired by LGBTQ+ authors telling their stories, especially for young readers. So over the past few months I’ve been super inspired by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, some VCFA friends who are writing all sorts of queer stories; I finally was introduced to Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novels, which are amazing; I read awesome books by Kacen Callender and Lev Rosen and Alex Gino; and a Minneapolis author, Junauda Petrus, has a queer young adult love story coming out this fall called The Stars and the Blackness Between Them that I haven’t read yet, but I’ve heard excerpts read aloud, and I know it’s going to inspire the hell out of me.

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Miriam: I’m taking a break from research and writing a contemporary YA novel, but I also have an idea for a historical fantasy that I’m itching to write. I’m definitely taking it slow and feeling out where I want to go from here. Publishing two books in the past two years has been such a whirlwind, accompanied by a lot of life craziness. I could go anywhere from here, you know? Kinda like Birdie. Anything is possible from here. . . .

Thanks, Miriam, for being my guest!

Looking for Miriam? Look no further than her website or Twitter. On Instagram she is booklovemiriam.

Looking for An Impossible Distance to Fall? (Taken out of context, that question is very interesting.) Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound. Also look no further than your very own mailbox or Kindle (if you prefer), since one of you will get a copy of this book simply by commenting below! Winner to be announced one day next week.

Royal Bee looks skeptically on as Neon practices her wing walker routine. “Looks more like a mummy walking than like Birdie,” Royal Bee quips.

Book cover and author photo courtesy of Miriam McNamara. Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Other book covers from Goodreads. Wing walker image from wallpaperim.net. Dance image from clipground.com. Newspaper clipping from balkanplumbing.com. Old airplane photo from pxhere.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Check This Out: The Art of Breaking Things

With me on the blog today is my good friend, the awe-inspiring Laura Sibson, who is here to talk about her debut young adult novel, The Art of Breaking Things. Laura is the first of two awesome Secret Gardener classmates from VCFA on the blog this week.

         

Cover designer: DANA Li
Cover illustrator: AGATA WIERZBICKA

Laura is represented by Brianne Johnson. The Art of Breaking Things was published by Viking/Penguin on June 18. Click here to read the synopsis. After I talk with Laura, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of this very book.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laura:
• When I was sorted as a Gryffindor on Pottermore, I was both surprised and slightly dismayed. I expected to be Hufflepuff, but also it seems to me that Gryffindor has fallen out of favor of late. When I asked my sons if I should take it again, they were like: “Mom, you’re a total Gryffindor.”

Laura at the Philly book launch with her husband and sons

• I love flowers and plants, but I murder every plant that has been brought into my house, except one. I have a peace lily that was given to us after my mother-in-law died and I have kept that plant alive come hell or high water.
• When weather permits, I work at my laptop on my back deck. At the moment, I feel a slight breeze despite the heat. I hear different birds singing their morning tunes. And I see that the big old hydrangea tree in my line of vision is readying itself to bloom.
• While The Art of Breaking Things is my first novel to be published, it’s the third manuscript that I completed. It took ten years from finishing my first manuscript to the publication of this book.

El Space: The Art of Breaking Things is partially based on your own experience. How challenging was it to separate what happened to your main character, Skye, with your own experiences?
Laura: Early on, someone had advised me to write the truth first and then set it aside. When I was ready, I started to fictionalize the story. I was interested in exploring what could happen in a small family of three females if an abusive father figure re-entered their world. I was intent on writing an active—not a passive—main character. As soon as Skye appeared, I knew she could carry the story in the way that I hoped. She was fierce and passionate. Through her voice, I was able to keep my personal story separate from the novel I was crafting.

Laura with Cordelia Jensen, another of our awesome classmates who has been on the blog (click here and here).

El Space: How did the supporting characters change as the story developed?
Laura: Initially, Emma, Skye’s sister, read as way too young. Luisa, Skye’s best friend, was more critical of Skye hooking up and their friendship was fairly shallow. Ben, Skye’s best guy friend—and maybe more?—sort of existed just for Skye’s benefit and Keith, a guy they go to school with, was an obnoxious jerk. Through revision, I worked to learn more about those characters, ensuring that they had lives outside of Skye’s life. Revising those characters made the overall story deeper and allowed me to create more nuance.

El Space: You were interviewed for an article on the #MeToo movement for Publishers Weekly. [Click here for that article.] But you wrote this book before that movement started. How has being linked to the movement been a game changer?
Laura: I started drafting the book in 2014. By the time I queried the agent who said yes, the #MeToo movement had broken and my agent saw a way to pitch my book. She was right because she sold the book in six weeks! When I started drafting the book, it was just for me. I wasn’t sure that anyone would want to read the difficult story of a teen girl struggling with the aftermath of sexual assault. But #MeToo has helped us remove some of the stigma around discussing these experiences. I’m grateful to the movement because it’s also helped me let go of some of my own shame.

At HEAD HOUSE BOOKS in Philadelphia with fellow debut author ALEX VILLASANTE

El Space: How important is the premise when it comes to novel writing?
Laura: For me, the basic premise helps frame the overall story. Though I am not a plotter—I wish I was, believe me!—I do like keeping the overall premise in the forefront of my mind as I draft. For The Art of Breaking Things, I knew that I wanted to explore how a teen attempts to protect her younger sister when she can’t speak up about past abuse, and I wanted to place a party girl in the limelight. Many plot points around that premise changed during drafting and revision, but the basic concept remained the same from the very beginning.

   

THE CHILDREN’S BOOKSTORE in Baltimore (left); Laura with her niece

El Space: Based on Skye’s journey and your own, what would you want a teen or anyone else who has gone through trauma to come away with?
Laura: I want readers to see that we aren’t good girls or bad girls, we are all just girls. I hope that young survivors feel seen and that they can begin the journey toward letting go of shame. I hope that people see that there can be healthy relationships after trauma and that there are resources to help you with the process of healing. But I also hope that people experience The Art of Breaking Things simply as a good read.

     

Laura at ALA (left); Laura and Alex with Katie Locke at B & N NESHAMINY

El Space: What inspires you as you write?
Laura: Being in nature inspires me. Scenes often unfold for me as I’m walking in the woods. I can see them clearly and then I can’t wait to return home to write them down. I also find that I can untangle plot problems while walking my dog on the two-mile loop that we do most days. I read a lot, so I’ll also get inspired by the ways that authors bring their own stories to life. While I’m actually drafting, a hot cup of coffee doesn’t necessarily inspire me, but it helps keep me in my seat. 😄

 

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laura: I’m working on a new YA novel—a grief narrative that explores family relationships and the ways that we try to keep memories alive. The main character is living on a houseboat with her grandmother in southern Maryland and she’s being visited by the ghost of her mother who died less than a year earlier. In this story I’m particularly interested in the lies we tell ourselves about the people we love and ways that the loss of a parent can affect the way that a teen moves through her world.

Thank you, Laura, for being my guest!

Looking for Laura? Look no further than her website, Twitter, or Instagram.

Looking for The Art of Breaking Things? Check out your local bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

But one of you will receive a signed copy of Laura’s novel in your very own mailbox. Just comment below! Winner to be revealed after an interview that I will do with another great classmate later this week.

The first meeting of the book club went well. Though Royal Bee and Neon agreed That The Art of Breaking Things was the ideal first book to read, they argued about who would be more compatible with Ben.

Book cover, book signing photos, and author photo courtesy of Laura Sibson. Author photo by Rachael Balascak. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

In Fashion

Back when I was a teen (in Magellan’s day), I was very fashion conscious like many teens were (and are today). I paid attention to magazines like Glamour, Vogue, Seventeen, etc. If miniskirts were in, they were in my closet! Yet I was never a kid who had much money. My jeans had holes, but not because I bought them that way. In college, mostly everyone I knew had jeans with holes in the knees because we were broke, and living on ramen.

 

My parents were of the “If it’s at Sears, it’s good enough for you” variety, as were the parents of many people I knew back then. Though I begged for designer jeans, I was not going to get them unless I used my hard-earned money to buy them. So, I occasionally spent all of my money on fashion at the mall while shopping with a friend.

I realize now that I wasn’t so much fashion conscious as image conscious. What will people think of me? was a question on my mind all of the time. And that was before the internet and social media existed!

Nowadays, capris and leggings play a major role in my summer wardrobe regardless of whether or not they adorn the pages of Vogue or Glamour (probably don’t). I wear them because I like them.

In the past, I’ve had similar thoughts about the stories I’ve written. What will people think of them? is a question I’ve asked myself many times in the last decade. If what I’m writing is not in fashion—fitting the latest trends or the public’s perceived taste—perhaps it isn’t worth pursuing. Or so I thought.

There are gatekeepers and others who determine what gets published, bought, or noticed. But writing, like fashion, is subjective. One person might like something that ten others don’t. So, I finally determined that whatever I spend time writing, I want to enjoy it whether others might deem it “fashionable” or not.

What about you? How do you decide what to write? Do you go by trends? Your own desire?

Vogue Magazine logo is from Wikipedia. Seventeen Magazine logo is hollywoodrecords.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Neonlicious and Royal Bee OMG Fashion Dolls are products of MGA Entertainment, Inc.

Red Rover, Red Rover and Other Red Things Malik’s Red Garden


So yeah, here’s another color post (click here for the last one), one in which Malik was particularly insistent that he appear, though red is my favorite color and he did next to nothing to contribute to it. Don’t worry—not a quiz in sight. 😉

So here are a few of “Malik’s” (picture air quotes) favorites in his garden of red (not an exhaustive list):

 

 

    

 

Other favorites
Red Rover (the game)
Red Light (the game)

In the visible spectrum of light, red has a frequency of 405–480 THz (lower than that of blue). It is a primary color frequently seen on flags, store and brand logos, superhero costumes, and in nature (leaves, flowers, dawn, sunset).

Yet the color red has some associations that might be seen by some as less positive. For example, blood (though blood also is necessary for life, therefore it has its charm); “The Masque of the Red Death”—Poe’s infamous 1842 short story; “red in my ledger”—Natasha/Black Widow’s assessment of the deaths she caused; phrases like “red with rage”; and others you can undoubtedly think of. Another that comes to mind is one my insurance agent once said to me about red cars: “Red is an angry color.” And this article mentions the red cars seem to get more tickets. I certainly had my share of tickets when I drove a red Honda Accord. But I can’t blame the color of the car on that. Those tickets were my fault!

I’d love for the color red to get a fresh coat of paint in the writing arena—more happy phrases associated with it. (“The red blush of dawn” comes to mind—a lovely image.) Can you think of others? Please comment below. Or, tell me which red items are your favorites. 😄 ❤️

Iron Man photo from nathanrabin.com. Boston Baked Beans from candycrate.com. Red Hots from Walgreens.com. Red Skittles from somewhere on Pinterest. Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Cubs logos as well as the red maple leaf are from Wikipedia. Other photos by L. Marie. Malik is part of the Fresh Squad of dolls designed by Dr. Lisa Williams, founder of the World of EPI.

The Language of Flowers

On my walk the other day, I was drawn to the peonies in the yard. I love this time of year, with its abundance of green grass and trees, and especially with flowers blooming everywhere. And since we’ve experienced a ton of rain in my neck of the woods (with a flood advisory in some areas ☹️), the flowers are growing quite nicely.

Looking at the flowers got me to thinking about what flowers symbolize in the floral arranging community. When I checked online, I learned a new word: florigraphy—the language of flowers. According to howstuffworks.com, the following flowers have these meanings (captions and punctuation as per that website):

Peony = I’m shy, but I like you a lot.

 

Iris = Thank you, or Sending sympathy.

Gerbera daisy = Cheer up, or Thank you.

Tulip = Happy housewarming, or You’re a great host.

Red rose = I love you.

But during my walk, the peonies spoke a different message to me. The closed bud below reminded me of how I sometimes approach life—with a closed mind when opportunities to stretch or change come my way, or with closed hands when asked to give time or energy that I think I don’t have.

Or I’m like the peony below: sort of open but still wary.

The fully open peony reminds me of open-handedness or open-mindedness. I wish my default mode was flexible/open. But as of late, I’ve realized how cautious I’ve been about trying new things. Perhaps that’s a factor of getting older. But I know I’ve played it too safe at times. I’m working toward being more open. How about you?

Jennie, I hope you have an open hand to receive your copy of Mary Quattlebaum’s book, Brother, Sister, Brother, Sister, Me and You.

  

And Charles, the same goes for you in regard to Andy Murray’s book In Brigantia. Please comment below to confirm.

 

Tia Tigerlily and her mini-me are pleased at the floral theme of the post and the fact that the FTD site mentioned that the tiger lily symbolizes “confidence, pride, and wealth.” “Very fitting for me,” she said (though she probably has about 37 cents to her name).

Photos by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie is a product of Moose Toys.

Photos by L. Marie

Check This Out: In Brigantia

It’s raining authors around the blog! Today, the amazing Andrew Murray (or Andy as many of you who know him and follow his blogs, City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts, call him) is here to talk about his latest poetry collection, In Brigantia. (His first was Heading North, which we talked about here.)

  

Stick around after the interview to learn about a giveaway of this collection. Now, let’s talk to Andy.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: Thank you! (1) I’m (at least) the fifth generation of Murray born in Manchester.
(2) My favourite place is Orkney.

 

Photos by Andy Murray © 2019

(3) A big Whovian, I once stumbled across a scene being filmed for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode, and was totally unaware of it until it aired on TV.
(4) My dreams begin while I’m still awake.

El Space: Please tell us how you came to choose the theme you chose for In Brigantia.

12294646_10153732827966740_3177437019818522964_nAndy: The title of the collection takes its name from the opening long poem, ‘Brigantia’ being the territorial name of northern Celtic tribe the Brigantes. Being northern myself, the poems are either set in, or were written in, that same area, though set in the modern day. My writing is often rooted in place.


Romano-British Brigantes map

El Space: How long did it take to complete this collection?
Andy: I never started writing with a collection in mind. I continued to write individual poems following the publication of Heading North in late 2015 and eventually, when I had a considerable number, I began to go through them with an eye on bringing some together in a new book.

Along with the post-2015 poems, there are three older poems also included, one dating back to the September 11th attack, when I received a postcard from a close friend of mine, on that very day, telling me that she was in New York and going to go up one of those towers. It shook my complacency about our friendship. That friend is now my wife.

El Space: Wow! What a great story! What’s your process for writing a poem? How do you know when a poem is “done”?
Andy: I never sit to write a poem; words and lines tend to come to me when I’m out and about doing other things. I take a note of them and they grow from there; it’s quite organic really. Knowing when they are ‘done’ is an instinctive thing, just a feeling I get. As with all writing, I guess, it’s a subjective process. I was sat in a coffee shop watching a guy working the room, trying, unsuccessfully, to chat up the girls who were in there, and straight away I got every single line for ‘Romeo of Lever Street,’ written on the handy notes section of my phone. That also comes in useful for phrases that come to me when on the edge of sleep.

El Space: Amazon’s description of this collection mentions historical royalty like Queen Cartimandua and Hollywood “royalty” like Marilyn Monroe and Tom Cruise. How did these individuals come to be in this collection?

  

Andy: There’s a story to the Monroe one. I was on a train journey, listening to an audio drama over headphones as we approached the next station. As the train pulled in, the guard announced, “The next station, ladies and gentlemen, is Mytholmroyd.” I really thought, above the story that I was tuned into, that what had been said was “Ladies and gentlemen: Marilyn Monroe!” I pulled my headphones off, “What?!” Looking wildly through the window to see exactly where we were. In my defence, I was also due to have my ears syringed soon at the local surgery, but still-—Monroe! I thought to myself ‘Wouldn’t that have been a sight for a Thursday morning?’ And that’s how ‘Mytholmroyd’ came into being.

Photo by Andy Murray © 2019

As for Cartimandua, she was the queen of the Brigantes tribe. Her name translates as ‘sleek pony,’ and that’s how I came up with the cover image for the book.

El Space: Which poem(s) in the collection had the most difficult birth?
Andy: ‘Hanging On ‘Til Morning.’ With this one I went against my usual writing process, mentioned above, looking to write lyrics instead of waiting for the lyrics to come to me. I say lyrics, because this originally was for a friend who is in a band and had asked for help in coming up with words for a song. I got carried away, imagining all sorts of melodies and chord changes before I came to my senses and reigned myself in. Music is his talent, not mine, so I gave him what I’d written and told him to adapt it however he wanted to fit what he was doing.

El Space: Which poets or other artists inspire you?
Andy: There are many. Different poets speak to different people. I like Kenneth White—he writes about the things that inspire me. Now in his eighties, I mentioned him in the foreword to Heading North and received a letter from him wishing me well upon my own journey, which was wonderful. I also like Werner Aspenström, but need to brush up on my Swedish as there is only a limited amount of his work translated into English.

  

  

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I will be turning to fiction next. A new publisher has expressed interest in a short story collection, tentatively called The Night Spills In. It’s the kind of stuff I read when growing up—folklore and the supernatural. I was that kind of kid! Beyond that I have the first draft of a contemporary novel, Seasons on the Hill, that I’ve left to breathe for a while, to pick up again. And I will still be writing poetry along the way.

Thank you, Andy, for being my guest!

Looking for Andy? You can find him at his blogs (City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts).

Looking for In Brigantia? You can find it at Amazon. But one of you will get a copy of In Brigantia simply because you commented. Winner to be announced next week sometime!

Author photo and other photos courtesy of Andy Murray. In Brigantia cover came from Andy’s City Jackdaw blog. Kenneth White and Werner Aspenström poetry collection covers came from Goodreads and Amazon. Romano-British Brigantes map from Wikipedia. Marilyn Monroe photo from thefashiontag blog. Tom Cruise photo from vulture.com. Doctor Who image from fandomania.

Check This Out: Brother, Sister, Me and You and Other National Geographic Kids Books

It’s not every day that I get to welcome to the blog one of my awesome grad school advisors. But here today is the one and only Mary Quattlebaum! She’s here to talk about the National Geographic Kids books she wrote, which were published by Penguin Random House, and include Brother, Sister, Me and You.

      

  Author photo by Michelle Rivet

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Mary: 1. I am the oldest of seven kids.
2. My favorite food is popcorn.
3. One of my favorite jobs was as an 18th century tavern wench for Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
4. All the dogs I’ve lived with as an adult have been rescue dogs, in one way or the other. One dog, Charlie, even conveyed with the house we bought, because the owner was going to put him in a shelter.

Mary with her elderly border collie Shine. Photo by Christopher David.

El Space: You’ve written a ton of books for kids, including your rhyming Jo MacDonald series and other picture books like Mighty Mole and Super Soil, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, and Pirate vs. Pirate, as well as your Jackson Jones novel series. Today, let’s talk about the National Geographic Kids books you wrote in the last few years: Brother, Sister, Me and You; National Geographic Kids Chapters: Hero Dogs; and National Geographic Kids Chapters Together Forever: True Stories of Amazing Animal Friendships! Many of your stories feature animals and the environment. Please tell us why that was important to you.

 

Mary: I’ve always been curious about the natural world, probably because I grew up in the country. And now there’s the added concern about the effect of climate change and pollution on the environment. Humans are deeply connected to other species, historically and in the present moment; we’re all part of an ecosystem. With my books—whether fiction or nonfiction—I guess I try to bring that connection to the fore and celebrate it. Plus, animals and plants are pretty amazing! Did you know that beaver kits help to care for younger siblings? And that a female guppy gives birth to live fry—sometimes 200 within a few hours?

El Space: Wow! I did not know that! How did you come to write nonfiction? What is the research process like for each project?
Mary: First of all, congratulations on your forthcoming nonfiction books! I’m looking forward to reading them!

El Space: Thank you. 😊
Mary: Now to your question: I’ve always enjoyed research, and for years I’ve written freelance articles for The Washington Post and other publications. But I had a palm-to-the-forehead moment when I wrote my Jo MacDonald books and realized the pleasures and challenges of writing narrative nonfiction for kids. Now, I’m doing both narrative nonfiction and straight nonfiction books. The narrative nonfiction chapter books often involve interviews—similar to what I do as a freelance journalist—as well the usual deep research into primary and secondary sources for traditional nonfiction.

   

El Space: I always roll my eyes when someone comments that writing a book for young children “must be easy.” What were the challenges of writing these books?
Mary: Well, when writing nonfiction, one big challenge is to ensure the accuracy of each fact, while presenting it in a way that’s going to engage kids. So, writers are always thinking carefully about sound, rhythm, sentence structure, etc. For Brother, Sister, Me and You, for example, I wanted a range of animals—not just cute mammals—and I wanted strong verbs so that children could act out the movements of the featured animals. So, I watched a lot of animal videos to make sure those verbs were accurate as well as fun. I also went to a pet store and looked at a tank of guppies to make sure that those little fish did, indeed, “flash with finny flicks.”

El Space: You teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts and you review books for The Washington Post, Washington Parent, and probably others I’m forgetting. How do you fit everything in?
Mary: Writers with families seem to juggle so much—deadlines, family responsibilities, teaching! Now, that my daughter is in college, time pressures have eased a bit, which makes for more time to walk the dog and garden—or at least think about gardening 😊—and to watch Schitt’s Creek. And I have to say, it’s a pleasure to work with motivated writing students who want to learn and grow, whether in Washington, DC, where I live, or at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had a great time working with you, L. Marie, and I’m thrilled for you with your forthcoming books.

El Space: You are making me blush, Mary! When I was a student, you told me to experiment with poetry based on the prompts in The Aspiring Poet’s Journal by Bernard Friot. I copied this quote from a handout you gave me: “The book gets one thinking not just about words on the page but about ‘seeing’ and experiencing the world in a creative, ever-present way.” Why is the exercise of writing poetry helpful for novelists or nonfiction writers?


Mary: So glad you’re still exploring poetry and wordplays! For me, anyway, there is nothing like the reading and writing of poetry to encourage a deep awareness of and appreciation for the possibilities of language. Every word and every mark of punctuation is important, sound and rhythm are paramount. And the writing of poetry seems to call for an attentiveness to the world, an alertness to the extraordinary in even ordinary moments. Dogs seem to be wonderful models for living in the present moment. I love seeing how our dog takes in his surroundings, with curiosity and gusto.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary: I’m now beavering away on an animal-related early-reader project.

Thank you, Mary, for being my guest!

Looking for Mary? Look no farther than her website! If you subscribe to The Washington Post or Washington Parent, look for her book reviews.

Looking for Brother, Sister, Me and You or any of Mary’s other books? Check your local bookstore, Amazon, Dawn Publications, Indiebound, or Barnes and Noble or your own doorstep, since one of you will be given a copy of this book or any of Mary’s books of your choosing simply because you commented below.

Since this week I will feature another wonderful author, I will announce the winners of both giveaways sometime next week!

The Squeezamals and Henry’s bear wonder when Mary will write a book about their friendship. They’re animals . . . sort of.

Book covers courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum, her website, or were found at Dawn Publications. Book spread courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum. See above for more photo attributions. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.