A Dad, a Day, and a Book Giveaway

I’m writing this post on Father’s Day. To all of you dads out there—a toast to you! I live a thousand miles away from my dad, so I didn’t see him today. Instead, I talked to him on the phone and gave the requisite greetings. My younger brother, who also is a father, went there to be with him—his Father’s Day present from my sister-in-law.

The desire to be eloquent rises within me as I think about Father’s Day. But whenever I try to be what I’m not, I come off sounding phony. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll ignore that desire and just be myself.

Know what I think of when I think of my dad? I think of how he taught me to draw, how he read fairy tales to me at bedtime, and taught me to ride a bike. And every Christmas, like clockwork, I could expect the latest Stephen King novel from him.

I remember as a teen how embarrassed I was to buy feminine products at the store. If the cashier was male, I’d balk and refuse to make the purchase. But my dad had no problem buying what I needed.

“Got you some on sale,” he’d say proudly, as he plunked a bag on the kitchen table.

I remember my first car—a Hornet station wagon. (Yeah, I’m old. But it was old when I got it, so, yeah.) It had a tendency to break down on various roads. Dad would have to come get me, sometimes in the dead of winter. Dads do things like that, see.

The test of a father’s influence is when you still love something when you become an adult. My dad infused within me a love of animation, science fiction, and mysteries, fortified by the books I discovered on the bookshelves at our old house (Ray Bradbury; Isaac Asimov; Agatha Christie; Erle Stanley Gardner) and the shows we’d watch together (Doctor Who; Looney Tunes, Star Trek in various forms).

    

    

Each week, my father and I discuss books that we read or are currently reading. Right now, he’s into a series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

I’m also reading a mystery:

So, though I’m not with my dad on this special day, we’re still together, sharing the love of a good mystery book.

Speaking of good books, I have one to give away: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! by Sarah Aronson. (Click here if you missed the interview with Sarah.)

    

The winner of The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marie of 1WriteWay!

Marie, please comment below to confirm.

While we wait for Marie, do you have a great dad story you’d like to share? Please comment below!

Small critters wishing their dads a Happy Father’s Day

P. S. Thank you, Dad, for everything. 😀

Book covers from Goodreads, with the exception of the ones photographed by L. Marie. Father’s Day image from clipartpanda.com.

Remembering

As I set out to photograph the flowers around my apartment complex, I couldn’t help remembering my grandmothers: Lela (paternal) and Marie (maternal). Both are dead now, one as recent as 2011. Seems fitting to think of them on Memorial Day. Though neither fought in a war—Memorial Day being a day to pay honor to military service people—they were soldiers nevertheless. Just not in the military.

    

In keeping with my habit of not posting family photos (I’m writing this blog under a pen name after all), I will not post photos of my grandmothers. (Sorry to disappoint.) Instead, think of the flowers I photographed as representing my grandmothers. 🙂

Now, what do I mean by soldiers? Imagine being dirt poor and having kids to raise. You fight a battle against despair every day. But you have to win this battle for the sake of your kids. Both of my grandmothers had large families—my paternal grandmother having nine children, and my maternal grandmother having fifteen. You read that right. Two of my mother’s siblings did not live to adulthood.

My grandmothers didn’t go to college. One grandmother didn’t even go to high school. But all of her children did. College too. Both grandmothers wanted their children to have a better life than they did.

    

When I was a kid, my family spent many a weekend traveling to Pontiac, Michigan, to visit my paternal grandparents, and many a summer’s day driving to see my maternal grandmother in Lake Providence, Louisiana. We never thought about the fact that my grandparents were poor. They loved us, and we loved being with them.

My paternal grandmother taught me to crochet. My maternal grandmother taught me to be generous even if I have next to nothing to give. That was how she lived.

Some people talk about antiques or trust funds passed on to them by grandparents. Neither of my grandmothers had much to leave anyone. But they left something money couldn’t buy—a legacy of resilience, faith, and unselfishness. Not to mention precious memories of time spent with them. Their personalities imprint just about every story I write (and even one that I ghostwrote under a different name).

   

This Memorial Day, I also remember the people of Manchester and the victims of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert on May 22. My blogger friend Laura said it best in this post. She provided excerpts from a post and comments by another blogger friend, Andy, who lives in Manchester. Many of you follow his City Jackdaw blog.

Memorial Day also is a day for me to remember that I’m giving away two books.

    

Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of The World’s Greatest Detective is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Nancy and Jill, please comment below to confirm. If either of you would prefer an eBook to a physical copy of the book, please let me know.

Rosie Bloom is shocked to discover that the flowers she planted came up crocheted. She plans to contact the seed company to demand answers.

Photos by L. Marie. Rosie Bloom by Moose Toys.

A Sticky Situation

Ever try gluing something that seemed to resist the glue? Though the package tells you the item you’re gluing is definitely one of the items the glue works on, it stubbornly refuses to stick to the other item. I mean you’re just gluing one piece of paper to another piece of paper, for crying out loud! A glue stick should work!

And then you turn to other glues that supposedly work—Tacky Glue, Elmer’s School Glue, and—the last resort—hot glue. Nope. It’s like one piece of paper has set its will against sticking to the other.

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So then you consider stapling the two together. But a big staple will mess up the effect you’re going for. You really need Item A glued to Item B. So you ask someone for advice. But that person points to the glue stick, because it has worked for him every time. You growl at the person, telling him, “The. Glue. Stick. Does. Not. Work!” He insists you’re doing it wrong then. Seven buddies of his used a glue stick every time, and it worked for them. You hang up the phone, vowing never to speak to the dude again, though he’s your own brother.

Sounds extreme, right? But the glue situation happened to me with paper recently and with fabric. However, I did not vow to stop speaking to my brother. But let’s change the situation from gluing two items together to finding a job; getting a book published; finding an agent; getting a date; finding success—whatever you currently need. Maybe you can relate to the frustration I felt then. As for the items on the above list, been there done that too.

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When we’re looking for any of the above, people give us all sorts of advice they think should work, because the method they chose worked to achieve the same goal for them. The assumption is that Method A (applying online/at a dating website/whatever) will net Goal A at least most of the time. If Method A doesn’t work, then surely Method B (networking), C (blindly sending out resumes/hanging around places where lots of people frequent/whatever), or D (cold calling) will work. If these four don’t work, well surely we must be doing something wrong.

Not necessarily. After all, can you think of anyone who has been offered every job for which he or she has applied? (Okay, there are some people who get everything they want.) Sometimes, we get none of the jobs for which we apply.(Been there, done that.)

Time for Plan B!

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The fact is that sometimes things don’t work out the way we or others planned. I know. You didn’t have to read this blog post to figure that out. Just living life teaches you that. But we also don’t have to start doubting ourselves just because someone else’s advice didn’t work for us.

What, if anything, have you had trouble doing, even after taking the advice of others? Did you eventually succeed? (By the way, eventually, I managed to get the two pieces of paper glued together. Hooray for me.)

Plan B image from teenology101.seattlechildrens.org. Find a job image from vizfact.com.

Check This Out: Charlotte Cuts It Out

Yes, today is the day that I reveal the winners of The Lost Celt. (Click here, if you’re totally confused by that sentence.) But first, please help me greet the still fabulous Kelly Barson, who is back on the blog to talk about her latest contemporary young adult novel, Charlotte Cuts It Out. This book was published by Viking this past April. If you are a regular follower of this blog, you might remember Kelly from this interview a few years ago when her first novel debuted.

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Kelly is represented by Sara Crowe. Click here to read a synopsis of Charlotte Cuts It Out. We’ll wait till you return. You’re back? Just in time to hear some good news. One of you will win a copy of this book. Now, let’s talk to Kelly.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kelly: 1. I’m a grandmother.
2. I—well, my family really—collect antique steam tractors.
3. I’m left-handed and can write in mirror image, like Leonardo Da Vinci.

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4. I’m an INFJ who married an ESTP six months and one day after our first date.

El Space: I don’t think I’ve seen a book recently where a teen pursues a vocation. Very refreshing! So, what inspired you to write Charlotte Cuts It Out? I couldn’t help thinking of someone I know who participated in the cosmetology program of her high school. She’s out of high school now and working at a salon in my area.
Kelly: My daughter was a high school cos student. She’s now working as a stylist. Out of my four kids, only one went to college. The other three work in the trades, and each of them got their training while still in high school. Trades are viable career options, and they’re often misrepresented, if presented at all.

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El Space: What were the challenges and joys of creating a character like Charlotte, who really seems to know her own mind?
Kelly: Charlotte was both fun and challenging to write. Her sass was fun to write, but the annoying parts of her often mirror my own nature, so that was weird/interesting. The hard part was allowing her to be herself while still trying to present her as somewhat likeable, so readers care. Was I successful? That depends on the reader, I guess. My critical thesis at VCFA was on unlikeable protagonists, but that didn’t make writing one any easier.

El Space: If Charlotte had to create a style palate for Michelle Obama, what would she do first and why?
Kelly: This is hard because Michelle Obama doesn’t really need style help. She is already fierce and awesome. Charlotte (and I) would love to see her hair in its natural curl. She typically has it straightened with a flat iron, and it always looks fabulous, but she could mix it up a bit by going natural now and then. As for colors, she looks amazing in bright jewel tones. She and Barack are a stunning couple who can light up a room. No need to hide that. Her makeup is usually understated and accentuates her beautiful features, which is perfect for her. Oh, man, I’m going to miss her in the White House!

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El Space: If you had a chance to name a nail polish color, what name would you choose?
Kelly: This is easy. I did this in Charlotte: Iridescent Iris!

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El Space: What’s the best writing tip you’ve heard recently?
Kelly: This tip is from the prolific Cori McCarthy (AKA Cori McAwesome): Plot, but then don’t be beholden to it. Cori plots out her books, but isn’t afraid to let the story evolve how it needs to and change the outline as needed. She is fearless.

El Space: What are you working on next?
Kelly: I have several works-in-progress. One is another YA project about a girl and her sister who live with their hoarding grandmother. Another is a dual-POV story that takes place in 1976 and explores affirmative action. I worked on this at VCFA with Rita [Williams-Garcia]. I’m also working on a MG Christmas story. Then there are the stories that are still marinating in my brain space.

Good to have you as my guest, Kelly!

You can find Kelly at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Charlotte Cuts It Out can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

Do you know someone who pursued a trade, rather than attending a liberal arts college? Comment below to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Charlotte Cuts It Out. (Please comment, even if you don’t know someone.)

Now let’s get to the winners of The Lost Celt by A. E. Conran.

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Those winners are

Andy of City Jackdaw

and . . .

and . . .

and . . .

Penny of Life on the Cutoff!

Congrats to the winners. Please comment below to confirm. The winner of Charlotte Cuts It Out will be announced on June 13.

Author photo by Hal Folk. Book covers from Goodreads. Michelle Obama photo from africancelebs.com. Iris image from clisawrite.files.wordpress.com. Nail polish photo from Pinterest. Da Vinci mirror writing image from imgarcade.com. Cosmetology student photo from sites.google.com.

The Chosen One

While there is a Chosen One trope, this post is not really about that. . . . Well, okay, I will get back to that trope later.

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My niece has been accepted into five grad programs. I’m not going to mention the schools. Suffice it to say that many people want to go to these schools. I’ll pause here to allow you time to guess how old I have to be to have a niece about to graduate from college. (Though for all you know, she could be a twelve-year-old prodigy. But I won’t confirm or deny guesses about my age. Just so you know.)

Are you done? Good. Anyhoo, I’m embarrassed to say that my first reaction (other than pride in my niece’s academic desirability) was, Humph. I never had five of anything wanting me. Well, except for the time those bees were after me.

Now let’s back the pity truck up to my undergraduate years. I worked hard—at partying, that is. Because my GPA plummeted, I had to work really, really hard to get my grades up to “Well, okay, we won’t kick you out” status. My straight-A niece, however, has been a disciplined student for years.

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My industrious niece (photo at left; busy as a . . . well, you can see what animal) and me as an undergraduate by comparison (though I’m closer in looks to that chicken in the photo at right)

So, there is a certain work ethic to being chosen. Hard work often is par for the course. Think of the star high school and college players who go on to play professional sports.

Of course, we all know people who were handed opportunities simply because they were at the right place at the right time (or had the right parents). But some were chosen because of other factors—extraordinary looks, talent, or intelligence. For example, one of my college roommates senior year had the kind of head-turning beauty that made her many female enemies. (We got along fine . . . after awhile.) She could walk into a room and capture the attention of every male present.

We all want to be chosen, don’t we? We want to win the contest, get that scholarship or placement in our school of choice, the gold star, the book contract, the agent—whoever or whatever our goal happens to be.

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Perhaps that’s one reason why the trope of the Chosen One sometimes grates (besides the fact that it has been overused). An article at Fantasy Faction (you can read it by clicking here), puts it this way:

The chosen one is a trope that sets one character above the others as special. They are the hero, the one chosen by fate. . . . The idea that some people might be born better than others is something we tend to firmly reject today.

We might reject it, because we want to believe that if we work hard enough, good things will come to us. Or we want to believe that we’re good enough or special enough. But sometimes, though we work as hard as we can, and are good enough, we still aren’t chosen. Bummer, right?

But that leaves us with a choice still—like the one I had when considering my niece’s good news. I could celebrate with her (or others with good news) or fall back on statements showing envy like, “Some people have all the luck” or “Why couldn’t something this good happen to me?” Those are my usual fallback statements. Know why? Because they keep me from thinking about all of the opportunities I wasted—when I slacked off, instead of working or practicing or doing the types of things that make a person top choice.

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I’m tired of envying someone his or her chosen status. Instead I can choose to make better choices—like not comparing myself to others; like believing I’m special even when I’m not chosen. I know this choice is difficult, especially in matters of the heart (like when someone I love chooses to marry someone else, rather than me—yep; I’ve been there) or when I’m around a chosen one who is full of himself of herself. But even in that circumstance, I can still choose to be okay with myself.

Have you ever been “the Chosen One”? What was that experience like for you? Have you ever envied someone who was chosen?

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Me hard at work . . . or watching YouTube videos and thinking about work

Beaver from searchpp.com. Keep calm sign from keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk. First-place ribbon from sticker.com. Envy image from gograph.com. Photos of My Little Pony Pinkie Pie® by L. Marie.

The View from the Waiting Room

phcc_waiting_roomOkay, once again I disappeared from cyberspace! Perhaps you wondered what happened. Last week I headed to the Houston area to be present for my mom’s surgery. (If you’re wondering why she needed surgery, click here. I avoided taking photos for the sake of privacy.)

Last Tuesday, bright and early, my dad, my older brother, and I headed with Mom to Memorial Hermann Hospital for the procedure, which took place in a surgical center on that medical campus. Yes that’s right. A surgical center. (Have you noticed that lately more and more procedures are done outpatient than in? I certainly have.)

Mom squeezed my hand as the nurse called her name, as if I were the one in need of reassurance. (She was right.) As she followed the nurse to get ready for the procedure, she seemed calm—totally ready to get the thing over with.

After Mom was prepped, her surgeon came out to the waiting area to talk to us about the procedure. I liked her immediately. Her warm, compassionate nature makes liking her easy. After looking her up on Google, I learned the inspiration for that compassion. When she was 13, her mom died of breast cancer. That gave her the impetus to pursue not just medicine, but breast cancer as a specialty. In fact, she’s one of the first surgeons in Houston to make breast cancer a specialty.

While we waited, we knocked back cup after cup of hot apple cider (my older brother drank that, since he gave up coffee) and coffee (Dad and I) thanks to the Keurig in the waiting room. Since I seemed to know what I was doing with the Keurig, I had to help others who were a little mystified by cup sizes.

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While my dad dealt with paperwork, my brother and I slipped easily into a conversation with a man who waited for his mom’s surgery. That’s what happens in waiting rooms. You meet other people who would rather talk than sit there anxiously twiddling their thumbs.

Two hours later, out came the surgeon again with good news: the procedure went well. The tumor was a bit larger than she’d anticipated, which meant Mom had to have a drainage tube for a few days to prevent swelling. It came with a clear plastic grenade-shaped container that would have to be monitored and emptied every few hours.

When we took Mom home, monitoring and emptying that container were my tasks. But it was a privilege to do even that for the woman who did much more than that while raising me.

Having surgery was not the kind of birthday celebration I could have wished for Mom. But the procedure at least ensured that she would have more birthdays. After she heals up, she’ll undergo radiation to make those birthdays even more possible.

Watching Mom deal with cancer reminded me of the fragility of life. And soon after I returned home and the news broke about the terrorist attacks in Paris, I was reminded of that even more.

Cancer and acts of terror can cause us to push the panic button. But instead of giving in to helplessness and hopelessness, we can do what we need to do. Pray and take care of the people around us.

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Waiting room from onlythegoodieyoung.wordpress.com. Cup of coffee from clker.com. Pray for Paris image from lovethispic.com.

About a Boy: Crossing the Gender and Morality Lines

They say you should write what you know. Though I grew up with brothers, a father, and many uncles, and have had a number of guy friends over the years, I don’t pretend to know how guys think. Half the time I looked at my brothers as alien life forms when we were growing up. (Okay, yes. They felt the same way about me.) So whenever I have authored or coauthored a nonfiction book for boys or with boys as the main characters, I have had to do some research.

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I’ve mentioned before that I’m writing a middle grade novel. Framing the personality of one character, a boy who makes life miserable for my female main character, has proved challenging. I don’t want to strike the wrong note with this kid—i.e., making him a one-dimensional bully. We’ve seen plenty of those, haven’t we?

Some writers suggested using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help shape a character’s personality. I took the test as if I were my character and gleaned the ESTP designation—“Extraverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving (Extraverted Sensing with Introverted Thinking)” according to the Personality Page website. If you follow this blog at all, you might remember that I wrote a post on how I felt about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator awhile ago. (Click here for that post.) So I don’t have to tell you that the ESTP designation didn’t really help me understand my character any better. (Well, I guess I just told you.) The results felt too much like an armature without clay or the blueprint for a robot. Please don’t take offense if you swear by Myers-Briggs. Using this personality scale simply didn’t work as a character builder for me.

While I realize that a character is empty until I fill him or her with whatever personality I can provide, I needed my character to go “off the grid” a bit—to have less of a “ready-made” personality. In that way, he would feel more “alive” to me.

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Not this or this . . .

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. . . but this. Real. Alive.

I started by mining my memories for interactions with my brothers, male cousins, friends at school, enemies at school (like boys I’d fought in middle school), and boys in the neighborhood who were just acquaintances. Of course, back in the day, we didn’t have texting, social media, group videogame play, and other ways of communicating that kids today have. But our interactions had some similarities with those today: hanging out in parks; playing sports together; working on theatrical productions; serving on projects; being bullied.

That’s why I’m glad I have kids in my life: nephews; the children of friends; kids I’ve taught in Sunday school. They share their experiences with me even as we talk about videogames, movies, books, etc. For example, I once talked to a kid for over an hour about every Zelda game ever made. Because of that conversation, he felt he could trust me enough to tell me his worries about school.

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Other than the fact that they annoy their parents and siblings from time to time, the kids I talk to are basically nice kids who are not the bullying types. But in some ways, that suits my purpose. They help me to remember that sometimes people show different faces to different people. A kid who bullies others at school might not be thought of as a bully at home, especially if he’s nice to his grandparents and always takes out the trash.

As I continued to research, I cast my net wider: listening to kids in public places like malls, movie theaters, and museums. But you can see the limits of that tactic already. I run the risk of looking stalkerish. Yet watching them throw tantrums, laugh loudly and disruptively, and behave like, well, normal, has been helpful.

So imagination has to bridge the gap. (You knew I’d get to that eventually.) Imagination, free writing scenes that will never appear in the book, and soliciting feedback from beta readers all help to put clay on my character’s armature. The beta readers (which include some of the guys I mentioned in the first paragraph) are especially helpful, because they point out clichés and other blind spots.

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Not the betas I mean.

But in the end, it all comes down to spending time in the skin of my character, even when he behaves unpleasantly. I don’t have to agree with his actions. I just have to make them plausible. Going beyond the stereotype helps me remind readers that everyone is more than what he or she appears to be on the surface.

What’s the most challenging aspect for you about writing a character who is the total opposite of you?

Wooden art figure from polyvore.com. Robot from I, Robot found at irobot.wikia.com. Tween boys from howtoparentateen.wordpress.com, thehabarinetwork.com, and thelipkinsgroup.com. Bettas from worldofcutepets.blogspot.com and life.umd.edu. Scarecrow from commons.wikimedia.org. Link from dan-dare.org.