Would You Rather . . . ?

Have you ever played the game of choices called, “Would You Rather”? You can find various lists online.

Usually, the choices are wretched and outrageous like this one: “Would you rather lick a dirty trash can or the floor?” And that’s just the list for kids, which you can find here. Even if you’d rather say, “Yuck, neither,” according to the rules, you have to choose one or the other. (I would choose the bathroom floor at my house growing up. My mom made sure that floor stayed clean!)

I prefer my choices to be less rock-and-a-hard-place awful but instead pleasant, like “Would you rather eat steak or lobster?” or “Would you rather date Batman, the Flash, Black Panther, the Falcon, Captain America, or all of the above?” That sort of thing.

  

I’ve got a “would you rather” choice for you. Would you rather spend $25 at Amazon or at Barnes and Noble?

              

This is actually a real choice. I’m giving away a gift card for either place. Why? Just because. (Internationally, you’ll probably have to settle for Amazon.) Comment below to name your choice. If you also want to say whether you would lick a bathroom floor or a trash can, feel free. Or, say which one you would choose: steak or lobster. Winner to be announced sometime the week of August 11.

Henry couldn’t decide which is cuter: the Squeezamal (left) or the Bearakeet. And then the Bearakeet bit him. Henry is now searching for obedience schools for Bearakeets. (He thinks the Squeezamal is cuter, by the way.)

Zobmondo Would You Rather . . . ? image from ebay.com. Batman from pngimg.com. Black Panther from marvel-movies.wikia. Other photo by L. Marie. Bearakeet is a Hatchimals CollEGGTIBLE by SpinMaster. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

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.

Check This Out: Up for Air

Hi ya! (See what I did there? Yes, I laugh at my own bad puns. If you’re still wondering what on earth I mean, think higher. Get it? Air? Higher? Okay, I’ll stop.) My guest is nudging me to focus, so, with me on the blog today is none other than the amazing Laurie Morrison. She’s been here before to discuss her debut MG novel, Every Shiny Thing, written with the awesome Cordelia Jensen. Click here for that post. Today, Laurie’s here to talk about her solo flight, Up for Air, published by Abrams on May 7.

   

Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe.

Stick around to the end to learn of a giveaway for Up for Air and to find out who won the $25 Amazon card I announced in this post. Now, let’s talk to Laurie!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: I’m very sensitive to loud noises and scared of fire, so I was terrified of fireworks as a kid. I love sweets and love coffee but hate sweet coffee. I used to wish I had straight hair and a name that ended in an “a,” but now I like my hair and my name a lot. I always loved to read but didn’t begin to think of myself as a writer until my mid-twenties.

El Space: Congratulations on your starred reviews for Up for Air, Laurie! [Click here and scroll down for those.] Please tell us how this book came to be.
Laurie: Thank you! Up for Air spun off from a YA novel I was working on when you and I got to know each other at VCFA, Linda. Annabelle from Up for Air was the younger stepsister of the main character in that book, a sixteen-year-old girl named Lissy. I still love that book, which was called Rebound, but unfortunately it never sold. However, right around the time when I was realizing that book might not sell, my then-seventh-grade student read it and told me she loved Annabelle and wanted me to write Annabelle’s story next. I loved Annabelle, too, and I had taught some other students who were excellent athletes and ended up playing on sports teams with older teens. I thought that dynamic, of a tween on a team with older teens, would be interesting to explore, and I loved the idea that I could use the setting and some of the characters from Rebound. It took me a little while to commit to writing Up for Air because I was afraid it would be seen as too mature for middle grade but too young for young adult and therefore wouldn’t be marketable, but I couldn’t let go of the idea.

Laurie talks with her Every Shiny Things co-author, Cordelia Jensen. Photo taken at the Up for Air book launch at Children’s Book World in Haverford

El Space: Annabelle’s story is such a rich conglomeration of angst, joy, family, friendships, crushes, and summer fun.  Who, if anyone, was the inspiration for Annabelle?
Laurie: I’m so glad you thought so! Originally, I created Annabelle as a character who would really push my old main character Lissy’s buttons,  so I guess Lissy was the main inspiration. Annabelle’s stepdad, Mitch, is Lissy’s father, and while Annabelle and Mitch have a great relationship, Lissy and Mitch had a pretty tense one. I tried to build Annabelle up as a kid who would seem to Lissy like the daughter her dad had always wanted.

El Space: Honestly, your book was painful to read at times because it is so true to life. What were the challenges for you in the writing of this book?
Laurie: I struggle with perfectionism, and I tend to feel a whole lot of shame when I think I have done things wrong. As I wrote this book, I really wanted to explore those feelings of shame and vulnerability because of “messing up,” so I channeled some painful and embarrassing experiences I’d had as a kid and as an adult. Annabelle’s experiences are very different from mine, but her feelings are the same. Interestingly, though, I didn’t find the book emotionally difficult to write. It was actually very cathartic.

Cookies served at the Up for Air book launch were made by Frosted Fox Bakery.

El Space: You taught middle school. What do you think your students would say about Annabelle’s journey? What do you want your readers to take away concerning girl power?
Laurie: I think 6th-8th graders like the ones I taught would say they are happy that Annabelle’s story delves into some things they don’t often get to read about in middle grade books—things like the social pressures that can come along with being friends with older teens, and the way it feels to get a certain kind of attention as your body develops. I want readers to see that girls can be competitive, yes, and Annabelle has a very competitive friendship, but girls also lift each other up and share their experiences in a very open and deep way, making each other feel less alone.

El Space: The swim team aspects were so realistic. Were you on the swim team at school? How did you bring them to life so vividly?
Laurie: Thank you! I was an athlete, but my big sport was soccer. I do know how to swim and love to do laps for exercise, though I haven’t done that for a while, and I also love to watch swimming during the Olympics! I drew upon my minimal knowledge of swimming and my more substantial understanding of what it’s like to be serious about a sport, and then I did a bit of research and relied on three readers who are swimming experts: my friend and critique partner, Laura Sibson, and two of my former students. All three of them helped me make the swimming elements more vivid and authentic.

El Space: Your book is considered upper middle grade. I remember reading Shug by Jenny Han years ago and thinking it was upper middle grade. What are the differences between middle grade and upper middle grade?
Laurie: Oh, I loved Shug! And that’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a clear consensus on what the criteria are or which books are middle grade and which are upper middle grade. I could say that upper middle grade books are designated by the publisher as age 10-14 versus age 8-12, and that is sometimes the case; Up for Air and Every Shiny Thing are both marketed as 10-14, and so are Melanie Sumrow’s unputdownable novels, The Prophet Calls and The Inside Battle. But then one of my favorite upper middle grade books is Paula Chase’s So Done, and that one says age 8-12 on the jacket.

  

   

I guess for me, the age of the protagonist is important. When the main character is 13 (an age that I think publishers used to shy away from), that’s one indication that you’re looking at an upper middle grade novel. It’s also about the topics the author is covering and the book’s tone. So I guess it’s an I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of thing. If I feel like a book is geared more toward a 6th-8th grade reader than to a 3rd-5th grade reader, then I personally would call it upper MG. I’m happy to say that I think we’re starting to see more and more upper MG, and I hope that’s a trend that continues!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m working on my next book, Saint Ivy, which is due out from Abrams in spring 2021. Like my first two books, it’s a story about friendship, family, and complicated emotions, but this one also features an anonymous email and a bit of a mystery. It’s proving to be a fun challenge so far, and I’m nervous but excited to see how it comes together!

Thank you, Laurie, for being my guest!

Looking for Laurie? Click on these icons:

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Up for Up for Air? You can find it at your local bookstore and here:
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But one of you will find it in your mailbox just because you commented below. Yes, this is a giveaway, like the $25 Amazon gift card will be given away to Jill Weatherholt. See what I did there? Oh never mind. Jill, please comment below to confirm.

Everyone else, please comment below to be entered in the drawing. I’ll announce the winner next week sometime!

After reading Up for Air, Henry was inspired to hug his friends regularly, including new friend, the lamb’s head.

Author photo by Laura Billingham. Cookie photo by Elizabeth Morrison. Book launch photo by Mike Fabius. Cup of coffee from clker.com. Various icons from the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

Happy Fall?

Well, if the weather were a song, it would go like this. (Um you have to supply your own music.)

You never stay the same.

There’s no need for me to complain.

   

I’m onto your yearly game.

These photos will try to explain.

Okay, it’s not much of a song. More like a chorus. 😀 😁

If you live in the Midwest, you know the drill. The weather is as changeable as some celebrities’ hair colors. Eighteen degrees Fahrenheit (-7.7 Celsius) one minute, 32 (or 0 Celsius) the next. Dry one day, snow the next, and then back to dry—all within a few days. Since the temperature is as up and down as a yo-yo, perhaps the celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma is the best musician to play a song based on it. (Okay, that was a groaner. Wuh-wah.)

At least Illinois ranked number 13 on the list of states with the worst winters. That means twelve other states have it worse! (In case you’re wondering, Minnesota is number one. Click here for that list. Hawaii is dead last, which made me laugh. Perhaps they could try harder this coming season.) And the winter season has not officially started! Still, the changeable weather makes deciding what to wear very interesting.

Speaking of interesting, you’re probably interested in who won the $25 Amazon card announced in this post. (Thank you to all who commented, by the way.)

Without further ado, the winner, thanks to the random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marie of 1 Write Way!

Congrats, Marie! Please comment to confirm below. I will need the email address you use for Amazon. If you prefer to email me that info, please let me know.

Doug from the movie up was found at Reddit.com. Amazon image from Amazon. Other photos by L. Marie.

Just Because Giveaway

So, the days have been looking like this.

   

On days like this, I’m tempted to do this all day . . .

. . . especially with all of the election stuff bludgeoning our senses and overfilling our mailboxes and “circular files.”

So, I asked the girls—Marsha Mello (below center) and her new friends, Sallee (left) and Noah—what I should do to avoid giving into the gloom.

Noah: Got any cake?
Me: What does that have to do with what I just asked?
Noah (shrugs): I just want some.
Sallee: I got a new puppy.
Marsha: I want a puppy.
Noah: I have a cat and a dog.

This was a simulation of an actual conversation I had a while ago with a group of second and third graders. This experience reminded me of something I’ve always found to be true (at least in my experience): whenever you’re feeling gloomy, talk to a kid. Some of the tangents they go on in conversations will cheer you right up.

Anyway, I didn’t really need advice for what to do. I already had a plan: I would host a giveaway. Why? Just because there’s been enough negativity in the world. Time to spread some joy. 😀 😁 Getting free stuff always brightens my day. (This is why I love samples at the grocery store.) What am I giving away? A $25 Amazon card (or its equivalent at Amazon UK).

What do you have to do to get it? Comment below to be entered in the random drawing. Tell me what you like to do on rainy days. Winner to be announced on November 12 or 13 (whenever I decide to post next).

Amazon image from Amazon. Other photos by L. Marie. Marsha Mello Shoppie by Moose Toys. Sallee and Noah Hairdorables are by Just Play.

’Tis the Season, or So We’re Told, to Be Thankful

With Thanksgiving around the corner here in the U.S., I couldn’t help making a list of things for which I’m thankful. At first, I resisted the idea, thinking that list making at Thanksgiving seemed a little too been-there-done-that. After all, do I really need a holiday to tell me to be thankful? If I’m not thankful throughout the year, how fake is it that I’m suddenly thankful on Thursday? (Well, I’m thankful for turkey!)

But since I’ve got the time, and you’ve come here anyway, here it is. I’m thankful for . . .

* Frost-rimed leaves representing the full spectrum of the seasons . . .

  

* Family and friends far and near who are as dear as family (Actual friends and family are not depicted in this photo. No one I know has a worm coming out of his or her head.)

* Friends who make cards for me . . .

* Blogger friends like FictionFan, who offer to send me free Audible books . . .

* This hand cream. Cold weather is hard on the hands, so . . .

* And chocolate of course. Oh and ice cream.

“Wait a minute!” you interrupt. “Are you really taking this thankful thing seriously? I mean, come on. Hand cream? Dead leaves? Chocolate? Ice cream?”

Well, I am thankful for those. And if I really want to go beyond just surface-level stuff, I’m really thankful to God and to incredibly generous friends who helped me through a difficult season. I haven’t mentioned even half of the things that have happened to me this year—good or bad. Some things I keep to myself.

But I am grateful. And that’s why I’m sponsoring another giveaway on this blog. Just because. No, I’m not crazy. And yes, I know this isn’t Christmas—the gift-giving season. But one way I show thankfulness is to give. Really, I only included the above list to lead up to this point. Comment below to be entered in the drawing to receive a $30 Amazon gift card (or its equivalent in Amazon UK). What are you thankful for, even if Thanksgiving Day is not something you celebrate? If you celebrate Thanksgiving, what are you looking forward to eating on the day?

Once again, the random number generator will decide the winner. I’ll post the name on November 27! Just in time for more holiday shopping (or to buy yourself something you love)!

Now, that’s something to be thankful for.

Turkey from wallyball.homestead.com. Lalaloopsy dolls by Mattel. Photos by L. Marie.

Get Cozy!

img_4118When you live in an area where lately the temperature seems to hover between 9 degrees (Fahrenheit) and 2 below zero, you tend to crave anything that makes you feel warm and cozy.

Like my Sherpa blanket.

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Oh yeah! If I could wrap up with it while waiting for the train on frosty mornings, I would. When I throw it on, I instantly feel the weight and warmth of it. It’s like having a sheepdog wrapped around me.

I’ve mentioned the maple apple cider tea that makes me feel especially cozy. Nancy Hatch and Lyn Miller-Lachmann, expect to get some in the mail soon. (Yes, that is my way of announcing the winners of the giveaway announced in this post. I decided to go with two, since they both said they wanted the tea in the comments. Winners, please confirm below. If you would prefer to have a blend of flavors [click that link to preview] instead of only the maple apple cider, please mention that when you confirm.)

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Another way of getting cozy is to watch a cozy movie. I’ve mentioned in many posts that movies and miniseries adapted from Jane Austen’s books are my usual go-tos. However, Enchanted April is another favorite. This 1991 movie, directed by Mike Newell, concerns four women (Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright, and Polly Walker) who rent a villa in the Italian Rivera. It’s based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. With a cast like that, I can’t help feeling cozy, especially with so many sun-splashed days and lovely walks in the Italian countryside.

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Still another way of getting cozy is to curl up with a cozy mystery. Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Ngaio Marsh, P. D. James, and Dorothy Sayers were my authors of choice for years on cold winter days. Agatha, Ngaio, and Dorothy wrote during the Golden Age of mysteries (the 1920s and 1930s). There are many cozy mystery series now. For a great review of a cozy mystery, check out FictionFan’s blog. She reviewed one of the Murder She Wrote novels starring the one and only Jessica Fletcher. (Click here for that review.) I used to read those ages ago. I think I’ll pick one up again.

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I feel warmer already!

What’s your favorite way to get cozy this winter?

Book cover from Goodreads. Photos by L. Marie.